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Question, have you ever travelled with your parents?

And I don’t mean a holiday trip with the whole family together, that doesn’t count. It has to be only just you, your mum and your dad, that’s it. If you have done it, would you do it again? If you haven’t, would you or would you not? My recent trip to America was exactly that – I spent almost a whole month with my folks in San Francisco – wherever we went, whatever we ate, and whatever we did, we did it together. As much as I love and respect my parents, but…

Travelling with parents can be a nightmare, fact.

I’d be lying to you and myself if I told you that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. No, it wasn’t, it was actually quite the opposite. No matter how mentally (and physically) prepared I was, they still pushing all my buttons the wrong way, left, right, front and center. I totally lost my shit a few times. It was a real test of father-mother-and-son relationship and trust me, if you do not have balls of steel and some guts, “Don’t do it!”

You see, what makes the trip even more challenging is that my parents can’t read and speak in English. So I was the guardian, the tour guide, the interpreter and it was my responsibility to make sure they can get from Point A to Point B without a hitch. And since my parents are still living in Malaysia, I had to physically catch an extra flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur to pick them up before flying out to San Francisco together with a layover in Taiwan in between. It was brutal, felt like on Amazing Race, so many road blocks, detours and checkpoints. And our holiday haven’t even started!

Eventually we arrived in San Francisco without a scathe. Oh no, nothing smooth sail from here….

First thing first, we needed food. Oh no, not just any food, it has to be Chinese food if you don’t mind. I was just glad that my brother knew where to find Chinese food for my parents while we were staying with his family. Sometimes we cooked at home, and sometimes we ate out, lunch or dinner, but it would still be Chinese food. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Chinese food but since if I was already in America; it would be a trip wasted if I don’t get to try all the burgers, donuts, fried chickens and BBQ ribs. Seriously, the amount of Chinese food we ate, I possibly able to come up with a post titled – “America, I ate all your Chinese food!”

Secondly, my parents have this “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. No matter what it is, it will never be good enough for them.

(In a Chinese restaurant)
Me: “How’s the noodle soup?”
Folks: “It is edible, not as good as the one in Malaysia.”

(at Yosemite National Park)
Me: “These trees are so big and tall!”
Folks: “The ones in China even bigger, they should cut them down and make power-poles.”
Me: (speechless)

(on a scene train from Seattle to Portland)
Folks: “How long does it take to get there?”
Me: “About four ho…..”
Folks: “Aiyuh…. four hours! In China, the bullet train zooms there, shoossshhh shoooshhhh… and reach there already by now.”
(Okay, they were quite right on this one, the train was slow)

(breakfast in the hotel)
Folks: “I don’t know how can you eat this. In Malaysia, we can eat whatever want for breakfast. Wonton mee lah, nasi lemak lah, Ham Jim Beng (fried donut) lah, …..”
(Okay, they were right on this one too…)

Anyhow, the trip wasn’t as bad as I made out to be. I am just a bad son rambling about my parents. My folks are alright, they actually weren’t that fussy and happy to tag along where I go, and they would eat whatever I ordered when Chinese food wasn’t on the menu. My dad was the funny one, he was actually quite adventurous when comes to food and would try everything once. Occasionally my mum would remind herself with an old Chinese saying, “Enter the village and follow their customs”, then she would grabbed a croissant and gobbled it up.

My parents are the hardworking type, and I definitely inherited that habit. Despite they are already in their late 70s, they actually still running a hardware store back home and in no rush of retiring. For them to just close the shop for a month and jetsetting to the other side of the world wasn’t an easy decision, but they were glad they did it. So they were more than happy to take time out, relaxed at my brother’s home and watched the grandchildren played in contentment.


At the end of the day, blood is still thicker than water, I am still my parents’ son.
And, I survived the trip.

~ Billy L.






Back to the recipe, I didn’t learn this dish from my mum, but actually from Poh when she made it on Masterchef! Our family is actually the descendant of the Hokkien clan from Fujian province in China, whereas Hakka clan is believed originate from the lands bordering the Huang River (Yellow River) or Shanxi. Each clan has their own style of cuisine and this dish is definitely not something I was familiar with when growing up.

The abacus was possibly the most important tool of trade for many Chinese back in the old days, it is only right that someone decided to pay homage and created a dish with yam noodles that resembled the individual abacus beads. This is simple comfort food, clean and healthy with wondrous of texture; from soft tofu to chewy yam beads and shiitake mushroom to crunchy wood ear mushroom and water chestnuts.

One thing you need to know is that ‘taro’ is what we called ‘yam’ in Malaysia. For Americans, yam is more like sweet potato. In Australia, you should be able to find taro at any Asian supermarkets, sometimes even at Harris Farm Market. Taro has a dark brown almost black rough skin on the outside, and the flesh is usually white with purple fibres flecks throughout. So don’t get it confused.

Mise en place is quite important for this recipe, but once you have everything prepped, the rest will just follow. If you are feeling nostalgic and homesick, then do give this dish a try.


Hakka Yam Abacus Beads

(Recipe published in Home & Decor Malaysia Magazine)
Serves 4

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
A small knob (5 gram) ginger, peeled then julienned
120g water chestnuts, cut into cubes
6 dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 1 hour, thinly sliced
15g wood ear, soaked in hot water for 1 hour, thinly sliced
2 block firm tofu, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoon Shaoxing Wine
2 sprig spring onion, thinly chopped
2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Abacus beads
500g taro, sliced into 1cm thickness
100g tapioca flour, plus extra for dusting
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil


1. First, prepare the abacus beads a day ahead. Place taro in steamer and steam until the taro has soften, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer taro to a large mixing bowl, mash with a fork while taro still hot. Add tapioca flour a little bit at a time and mix it in until combined, repeat until all flour used and knead the dough until no lumps. Add salt and oil to the mixture and knead for another minute. Wrap the bowl in cling film, set a side to rest for at least 10 minutes.

2. Prepare a tray lined with baking paper or a greased plate. Pinch a small clump of the taro mixture and roll into a ball size of a marble, poke into the center of the ball with index finger to make an indentation then place the taro bead on the tray. Repeat until all dough is used.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil on high heat, and also prepare a large bowl of chilled water on the side. In batches, drop the abacus beads into the hot water, once the beads are cooked and float to the surface, scoop them out with a strainer and transfer them to the chilled water. Drain and transfer to a bowl, pour some oil into the bowl and keep it a mix so the beads won’t stick together. Transfer the abacus beads to refrigerator and let it cools down overnight.

4. Add a dash of oil in a frying pan on medium-low heat, in batches, fry the abacus beads until golden brown on both sides. Place them slightly apart to prevent sticking together. Once all done, place them on a plate and set aside.

5. In a wok, heat 2 tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat, add garlic and ginger, stir-fry for a minute. Then add mushroom, wood ear, tofu and water chestnuts, stir-fry for few more minutes. Add abacus beads and spring onions, then season with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, white pepper and sesame oil, now stir-fry gently for another minute and is ready.