Missing Hotel Life

Whenever I am on an overseas assignment, I have always stayed in a hotel.

(The service apartment that I stayed in Bangkok, overseeing the Chao Praya river – so far one of the best of all the ‘hotels’ that I have stayed)

I have stayed in 4 star hotels and I have also stayed in “rumah tumpangan” alike cheap hotels. It all depends on the country, budget and time frame of my stay.

Staying in a hotel has its perks – security, room service, regular house keeping, in-house laundry service, cable TV and concierge services. Nothing beats the comfort of having someone to do some work for you with a smile after a long day at work. For some hotels which have restaurant and pubs, it is blessing in disguise – we don’t have to walk far for food or beer and if we get so drunk, bed is just couple of steps away.

However Iran proved to be a challenge on itself – they do have good hotels (so I was made to believe) but we decided to rent an apartment instead. It was cheaper and big enough to accommodate all of us. Besides, it is a good place to stay in especially on cold nights and we have a fully furnished kitchen to do our cooking when it is just too cold to venture out especially for dinner.

However, staying in an apartment proved to be a challenge and the main three ones are:-

1. Own Housekeeping

That’s right – no room service to turn up your bed or to vacuum the carpet or to clean the bathroom. We have to do it ourselves.

We could always hire someone to do the cleaning for us. It cost about R200,000 but after looking at the quality of cleaning (the cleaner just do ‘touch and go’ kind of cleaning and asks us to provide meals for them), we decided to do it ourselves. It is cheaper and much cleaner if we do it ourselves. However for all the guys in the apartment, doing housework is something alien to them. Some of us have not lifted a finger to do housework when we are back in Malaysia.

But here in Iran, we not only have to vacuum the carpet but we also have to mop the floor, wash the bathroom, clean the table tops and chairs, clean the windows and kitchen. That itself takes at least 3 – 4 hours to complete and by the time we finished, we are almost dropping death from tiredness (salute our wives and moms to be doing the housework on daily basis!). Of course, we wished to have cold beers after a hard day house work but this is Iran where the only beer that we get is the non-alcoholic beer.

So house cleaning is one chore that we wish to put off for next week or the week thereafter.

(Here is another room from my stay in Bangkok – 2 separate beds for one person and this even nearer to a large supermarket and a famous red light area)

2. Own washing

Thankfully we have laundrette nearby so that it was a big relieve when it comes to washing our clothes. It is not cheap but we rather get our shirts and pants washed at the laundrette than trying to do it on our own and get crumpled shirts and pants (not mentioning, not properly washed clothes – sorry but we simply don’t have the patience).

However, we decided to wash smaller items like our undies, handkerchiefs and socks on our own (perhaps to save some money or to get some exercise or to avoid the lady at the local laundrette from freaking out seeing our “rainbow” coloured undies, I don’t really know).

For that very reason, I brought extra, extra undies, socks and handkerchiefs for this trip but there is always a day in the week where I need to soak them in soap water and wash them (we don’t have a washing machine since we have laundry service). Washing is the difficult part but drying is not. The air in Iran is so dry that a fully wet towel will be bone dry within several hours.

3. Own cooking

We have a fully furnished kitchen so we do try our hands on some bachelor alike messy cooking (in other words, plenty of frying foodstuffs like eggs, sausages, nuggets, etc). As much as possible, we try to eat out but eating out is a big problem here – 1. There is not much choice (almost every restaurants has the same menu – sandwich, pizza, fried chicken, sandwich, pizza, sandwich, pizza…you get the idea) and 2. Sometimes it is too cold to venture out – we can hardly walk out couple of meters without freezing our “…toot…” off.

If it has been a hotel, we just need to pick up the phone and call for room service but in this apartment, we need to pick up the frying pan and decide what to fry for dinner. Once in a while we try to be creative and quite often the taste becomes unbearable. We have to swallow our pride and eat as if it is very tasty when fellow colleagues comes over, look at our messed up creation and asked “how’s the taste?” in a “fear factor” look in their eyes.

Staying in a hotel is good but so does staying in an apartment when one needs to do their own washing, cooking and cleaning. Damn, what I am saying here? I miss hotel life….sob

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Dinner Time

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(Cooked chicken cocktail with fried eggs and good dose of Maggi sauce)

Lately we have been finding harder to get by without having a good dose of vegetables – going for the ‘big job’ has not been as smooth as it used to be.

Unlike Malaysia where vegetables are abundant, in Iran, there is nothing much other than plain onion (to be eaten with a thin slice of bread) or salad (a mixture of minced carrot, cucumbers and salad leaves). No doubt that the Persian diet consists of a lot of yoghurts and yoghurt drinks which is good for digestions (although it takes some time to acquire the plain yoghurt taste) but nothing beats having a good dose of green vegetables.

We have noticed that some of the shops here do sell vegetables but it is not easy to cook them as we do not have other ingredients to go along with the vegetables. I guess this is why the vegetables in the Persian diet in restaurants consist nothing but fresh salads (perhaps we did not ask about this).

On other days, we eat a lot of fruits namely red apples but we soon get tired of eating just apples. Another alternative is of course, to take in high fibre tablets which does the ‘job’ the same.

When it comes to cooking our self, other than cooking the good old Maggi Mee, we managed to cook eggs (another easy one to do), sausages, nuggets, chicken and vegetables (Chinese style). Buying processed meat can be tricky here. What looks like processed chicken meat can turn out to processed red meat.

Cocktail 1

(Boiling is one good way to de-ice the meat and ensure the inside is cooked well)

Recently I just found out that ‘Chicken Cocktail’ is really made of chicken so it has been my ‘main’ choice when looking for items to cook at home – DIY style. It comes handy to just boil it and added the sliced chicken cocktails into the pot and has it together with instant noodles or fry it until it is well done and have it with scramble eggs.

Talking about eggs, we have been shopping around and found onions in one of the shops, so now we can also cook onion with eggs (instead of just plain eggs). Yesterday we found fresh gingers but we have to determine how best to cook something with ginger in it (we are goggling for easy ideas).

(To be continued)

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If there is one thing that brings the ‘best of me’ when I am abroad, it is learning to be independent in the kitchen – independent in the sense of able to cook something for dinner. As every Malaysians would know, one of the lifelines for times like this is Instant Noodles.

Local Maggi

(One of the ‘local’ instant noodles on sale here but compared to Maggi and despite both takes the same 3 minutes to cook, it was rather bland and tasteless)

This time around, I did not packed as many instant noodles as my friends did for the Iran trip. I guessed that 15 packets would be enough for the 3 months duration. Others brought about 30 packets or more. Initially I thought even bringing 15 packets were abit too much since I have not planned to depend so much on instant noodles. However given the recent spat of rainy nights in Tehran, sometimes we have no choice but to cook at home. Instant noodles, chicken nuggets and fresh eggs make a hearty meal anytime of the day. If there is nothing much to cook with it, then we have to resort to eating just bread and fruits.

Interestingly if it has been me at home back in Malaysia, it would have been a rather rare occasion of me going to the kitchen to cook something. Kitchen would have been my wife’s department at home and I must admit that her cooking is much better than me, given any time of the day of course. On some nights when instant noodles would have been the ultimate meal, my wife usually takes care of it, often with additional ingredients added to spices up the meal.

Cooked Food

(For one heavy dinner, we are having fried eggs, nuggets and instant noodles)

For breakfast, it is a different thing all together. My friends still take the trouble to cook something in the morning for breakfast (instant noodles is one of them, instant oats is the other) but I find it quite difficult to do the same especially when I have a hard time waking up. So I opt for bread and milk which is not exactly heavy (I miss the heavy ones back in Malaysia – fried noodles with tea or nasi lemak with teh tarik) but is sufficient until lunch break.

For lunch, the good thing is that since we will be out from the house, we will usually eat packed food – rice and kebabs (rotating between chicken and lamb). Rice once a day is more than enough for us here in Tehran. Probably that is why I felt like I am loosing weight – I hardly take plenty of rice during the night.

(To be continued)

Birthday Cakes

[This post is a bit overdue]

What is a birthday without a birthday cake, right?

My son celebrated his 2nd birthday twice this year (a record sort of in my family) – one was in Taiping and another when we came back home. It has been some time since that function but as I was running through my photos, I realised that even the decorations on the birthday cakes has come a long way since my childhood days.

In those days, cakes were pretty much standard, there were not much decorations on the top and plenty of cherries on the side. Sometimes there were not enough cherries on the cakes, so every one of us will be “fighting” for a piece.

(The cake in Taiping – Spiderman, Doraemon, Mickey Mouse and Garfield made courtesy call to the birthday party. By the way, those “snow covered houses” was edible)

These days, the thing that what is worth fighting for, among the kids, is those decorative toys on the top of the cake. The toys on my son’s cakes were quickly snapped up even before my son had a chance to hold them (not that he wanted to – he is busy with other things). Doraemon seems to a favourite with the bakers in Taiping and Puchong – it was on my son’s cakes on both occasions.

(The cake at home – Doraemon was there, so did Pikachu. Not much on the cake – perhaps it is due to the size too)

The cake in Taiping had a more generous decoration compared to the one at home. That should give you some idea of the cost of living between the 2 areas (the size of the cake also mattered).

I wonder what more will be on the cakes in future.