Friday, March 27, 2015

We Are Singapore


Prime Minister, I wonder if it is true that when you were leaving Cambridge your tutor said "Well, Mr. Lee, when you get back I hope you will keep the flag flying" and that you replied "When I get back I will make it my duty to get the flag down".  
If that is true, then you succeeded in this as in so many other things. 
But running up your own flag you were wise enough not to break the links which matter. 
~ so said Margaret Thatcher to Lee Kuan Yew towards the end of her speech at a formal dinner on 8 April 1985, held at the Istana Dining Room of the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. (Link to full speech.)

Felt an emotional wrench each time as I stare up at the many state flags flying at half-mast. They don't just speak of the passing of one legendary statesman. They also remind us that many many of us share similar sentiments of quiet mourning, and for some, deep sorrow, and others, ambivalence. Singapore has never felt so subdued, sombre, sad, reflective, united and cohesive all at once, regardless whether one chooses to observe the declared mourning period.

We've outdone ourselves in possessing this amazing ability to queue. In this humidity and blazing sun. It's nothing short of magnificent. I'm so pleased that Singaporeans don't just queue for freebies, burgers and Hello Kitty items. A big thank you to grassroots volunteers, civil servants, public service officers, and ordinary citizens who simply reached out to help one another. You put in extra hours to keep this country running efficiently, holding it all together so that we could go about daily affairs without interruption. We definitely appreciate you doing what you do. This is the efficiency we're known for. We get things done. This week of national mourning, we also celebrate us, Singaporeans.

There's a massive amount of kindness going around. Very touching, really. Singapore, you do have a softer side even though you show so little of it. The whining too, has impressively lessened. And dare I say this, a fair number of gracious words and acts. I see graciousness everywhere. It's lovely. If this is SG50, then this is the sort of camaraderie I want, the naturally warm and sincere people-to-people vibes. This is the Singapore I love. This week, I've never felt prouder of fellow residents, and to be Singaporean.

Tribute center at Tanjong Pagar Community Club within Tanjong Pagar GRC.
My GRC. And yes, I've never voted. Dunno about 2016.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Black Chicken Ginseng Pear Soup


For someone who doesn't like chicken, I'm fraternizing too much with it. The man had the audacity to flash me a cute grin and asked me to do black chicken soup. What. I glowered at him suspiciously. What?! It is his birthday month. All right. I'll cook him at least four different pots of soup this month. At least he's not asking for soup every day. That would be a problem. This business of boiling soup is a full-time job. Seriously.

I really don't fancy a mix of pork and chicken in my soups. Just chicken will do. Also I might have a slight OCD problem. I've zero interest in using electric thermal cookers or crock pots. In fact, I've been bo liao enough to cook the same soups in different pots and material to check out if material matters to the ultimate flavor of the soups and decide on my favorite pots. There's a ridiculous number of dutch ovens and stew pots at home. Might as well have some fun. Wanted to also look at how the soup texture and consistency turns out in double-boiling and normal fierce bubbling. I don't have that much time on hand. It's just that I like boiling soups at night because I could do about hundred other tasks simultaneously.

Went out to replenish ginseng. My stock for the year was depleted in a month. Hahahah. Came back with a gigantic bottle of sliced up pieces. Looks like they'll be used up fairly quick. This pot was just plain 'black chicken ginseng pear soup'. But it sounded more poetic in Chinese- 雪梨人參黑雞湯. Whatever, as long as it doesn't taste too sucky. I'm certainly not eating it. The man can have it all. Only scooped spoonfuls to taste at intervals to check what else is needed in it. The man seemed to like it very much. The ginseng offset the sweetness of the dried fruit and pears. Well, it's boiling up a pot of random ingredients. Not exactly real cooking. But I suppose it counts lah. #impieCooks2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brunch with the BFF


I don't fancy Café & Bar Gavroche's dinner menu or vibes. Not a fan of its big brother Brasserie Gavroche. However, I do like the cafe's brunch vibes. Must be the cheerful sun-lit airwell. Kinda nice to sit under it.

We would have done brunch at home, except sometimes, we're really too lazy to wash up and go through all the effort, even with a dishwasher or otherwise. Need to find non-hipster cafes that actually care more about their food than setting up for Instagram-worthy shots. Make a reservation and Café & Bar Gavroche never gets too crowded for a good set of eggs and brioche. They probably found a balance between diner capacity and staffing; we haven't had to wait very long for the food to arrive on the table. I get very cranky when restaurants or cafes make me wait forever and still can't get poached or scrambled eggs right. You only have one task- cook those damn eggs and toast the bread. What's so difficult about it?

Love it when weekend brunches are done with the bff. The woman can't stop flying about to stay in town long enough for long meals. To catch her, I would have to join her for circuit training or whatever gym workouts. No thanks. I is no gym rat. Pilates, parkour and the pool are more my kind of thing. We've been zipping to each other's office for quick coffees and lunches. Can lah. But more fun to linger over a leisurely meal. When it comes to food, we're equally persnickety. Luckily Café & Bar Gavroche has not failed us when it comes to its black coffee, eggs, croque-madame and croque-monsieur.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dinner For One


Came up from the evening swim and felt too lazy to head out for a bite. Didn't want bread and cheese either. Stared at the fridge and sighed. It would have to be whatever that was available and could thaw within two hours. Dinner for one. All right...it's like a mantra thing- I would utilize the kitchen more this year. Although it seems to be getting too regular.

Had cold food for lunch. Wanted hot food for dinner. Something light-ish. Noodles. Not really a rice person unless there's curry or gravy about. Instant noodles are usually eaten at the office, on-the-go or someone else's house. If I'm at home, I prefer not to do that. The fridge would always stock fresh or frozen packs of udon thick and thin and pasta which are just as quick. Had a bunch of maitake mushrooms (舞茸、まいたけ). Perfect. Udon it was. Boiled up an easy pot of dashi.

Thawed out two fishballs (the hand-pressed sort bought from the wet market), three pieces of tau-kwa  and tau-pok, and a kurau fillet. Since the fish was to be fried, might as well fry the tau-pok too. In the end, when the items were laid out on the table, it looked like a full meal instead of a harried bowl. Very satisfying. Okaay, a fair bit sort of nutritional value in there. This wasn't exactly 'cooking'. It was just assembling things, but whatever. #impieCooks2015 So yeah, most of the time I like what comes out of my pots. :D

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Passing of An Era :: Mr Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015


I didn't live through those turbulent times pre-1965 and the years that followed. There're the oral histories, the recorded history, and the books. I read them. But I don't pretend to fully understand those times, circumstances, sentiments and politics; though I didn't agree with many of Singapore's early social and manpower policies, and still don't fully agree with them now.

I certainly raise eyebrows at many of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's unapologetic opinions and management of dissent. But the one thing I know, I'm a beneficiary of the legacy Mr Lee Kuan Yew had left even before his twilight years- a stable economy, a relatively meritocratic society, an efficient public service, an internationally-envied passport and many national achievements to be proud of. I can call many cities home, but this is a passport I will never give up. Most of all, the system has provided an excellent education in-country and overseas that has shaped my thoughts, formed beliefs, questions and outlook. I lead a privileged life of relative affluence in a country where peace prevails instead of civil strife and unrest. What is there not to be grateful about?

Mr Lee's indomitable spirit has led the way, along with many other pioneers, including dissidents right and left wing, they shaped this city-state to what it is today. It is now in our hands to preserve what we will of this legacy (in the noun's full definition and as an adjective) in order to navigate that delicate balance between paternalistic politics and liberal democracy. Are we now mature enough to shape our own policies? We should be. We must.

He is a remarkable man. This is the respect we will accord this day of his passing and during the period of mourning. In a collection of interviews in 2011, then 89 years of age, he said,

'I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that's all. I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.'

Goodbye Mr Lee. You were a respectful and devoted husband, a firm father, a committed man, a formidable mentor, a visionary, and most of all, even as you had resisted the label, an inimitable statesman of the 20th century, because that is what you are. Rest well, Sir.

Once, when she [Kwa Geok Choo] was asked on his 80th birthday in 2003, what was the most misunderstood thing about Lee, she replied, "I read somewhere that 'few elder statesmen can command as much respect and condemnation simultaneously as Lee'. I will leave it to these writers to argue which one has most misunderstood Kuan Yew." 
~ From 'Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths: To Keep Singapore Going', 2011, published by Straits Times Press.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

It Isn't All About Vampires


Of course I picked up Karen Russell's 2013 short story collection 'Vampires in the Lemon Grove' totally for the title. Her fantastical worlds are awesome. These eight stories didn't disappoint. I slowly savored them over a long afternoon at the pool with freshly squeezed homemade lemonade. (Read reviews here, here and here.)

The collection begins with the eponymous title story, but oddly, I didn't quite fancy it. It's uhh...about rather...silly vampires. Eight stories, some I really dig, the others, not so much. They're mostly deliciously horrifying and hilarious.

The last story 'The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis' makes a strong social comment about bullying in school. Of four kids in Anthem, New Jersey, narrated from one of the four kids'- Larry Rubio's viewpoint. Of how they bullied fellow new transfer student Eric Mutis, who then mysteriously disappeared from school, and how the boys then found a scarecrow of dressed in Eric Mutis' clothes and Hoops sneakers found tied to an oak tree in Friendship Park. They pulled down the scarecrow and threw it into the ravine. Then they found the scarecrow being methodically amputated. There could be perfectly logical explanations. But in the minds of the young boys, it became somewhat like a horror story. Until residual guilt in Larry Rubio haunted him with thoughts of Eric, and he had to get his friends to help him retrieve the scarecrow from the ravine. And somehow, I suppose, he became a rooted scarecrow... heh...I'd like to think, permanently.

I spread my arms above the rabbit, so no birds dove for it. I had a knife in my back pocket. The thought occurred to me that I was the scarecrow's guardian now, and the symmetry of this reversal both pleased and terrified me. Yes: now I would stand watch over what remained of Eric Mutis. It was only fair, after what I'd done to Mutant. I would be the scarecrow's scarecrow. My shadow draped over the remains of the doll. 

I love the second story 'Reeling for the Empire'. Creepy. Of a world where silkworms have died. Japan is the only country still producing silk because they found a way to pull silk from humans, by literally altering their physiology and turning them into giant silkworms. The girls provide threads of different colors. Of the trapped innocent girls kaiko-joko, the evil Agent and eventual freedom. Loads of social criticism going on in there. A fabulous dark little tale.

"These wings of ours are invisible to you," I say directly into the Agent's ear. I clasp my hands around his neck, lean into the whisper. "And in fact you will never see them, since they exist only in our future, where you are dead and we are living, flying." 
I then turn the Agent's head so that he can admire our silk. For the past week every worker has used the altered machine to spin her own cocoon - they hang from the far wall, coral and emerald and blue, ordered by hue, like a rainbow. While the rest of Japan changes outside the walls of Nowhere Mill, we'll hang side by side, hidden against the bricks. Paralyzed inside our silk, but spinning faster and faster. Passing into our next phase. Then we'll escape. (Inside his cocoon, the Agent will turn blue and suffocate.) 
"And look," I say, counting down the wall: twenty-one workers, and twenty-two cocoons. When he sees the black sac, I feel his neck stiffen. "We have spun one for you." I smile down at him. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Double-Boiled Ginseng Lingzhi Chicken Soup

This isn't the pot to double-boil. Only for storage and re-heating.

At this rate, I'm going to bust the one-year KPIs for #impieCooks2015 within the quarter. I heard the girlfriend cough; it's that kind of cough. Well, she isn't going to stop coughing with one bowl of soup. Still. She likes Asian soups. She cooks good. But her schedule's been so hectic that there isn't a three-hour slot to get a pot going. Boiled up another pot of trusty chicken soup for her and made a midnight collection date.

Reading the TCM basics of '十八反、十九畏' (which is something like '18 Incompatibles and 19 Antagonistic or Counteractions herbs') convinced me that I should experiment no further with herbal soups beyond using lingzhi and American ginseng. You know, like Final Fantasy, like Ultima? Also I obstinately refuse to use herbs that I really don't like. For example, huai shan (淮山), some xia ku cao thing (夏枯草) that's also known as heal-all (or carpenter weed or heart-of-the-earth), cordyceps, dang shen (党参), dang gui (当归), almonds (南北杏仁), the sorts. JUST NO.

This round, I tried double-boiling. Double-boiled soups always look more like consommé rather than murky. Used Wisconsin ginseng, so I should do double-boiling instead of direct pot-fire bubbling. Kept it simple with the herbs to maintain the focus on taste. (人参灵芝鸡汤) Sneaked in a few cubes of pork loin too. Poked at the ingredients; there seemed to be some flavors left within. Okay, could pack that together with some carbs. Heated up a frozen square of udon to go with. Obviously it couldn't share the soup lah. It was quick to do a base of dashi and miso. At least it wouldn't be that bland. The udon didn't have to all soak in dashi. Just a quarter to keep the moisture would do. It was meant to be supper afterall.

Dunno why all these people like drinking soups in the middle of the night. The man is one, the bff is another. Now this girlfriend too. Glad she indulged my experiments and uhhh....didn't puke it out... :P

Friday, March 20, 2015

SAM's 'Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas'


There's only a short week of the school holidays. Resolutely blocked out and rescheduled one morning of meetings in order to have some time with Y and Lil'Missy at the Singapore Art Museum's (SAM) fifth edition of contemporary art exhibition for children. Themed 'Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas', it spreads across 8Q's four levels. Bring a pair of socks.

Paid more attention to the interactive quotient of the artworks than its artists. Well, it's meant to sustain the interest of children right? No matter how colorful or intriguing like the bugs made up of nuts and bolts and neon magical worlds in Kumkum Fernando's 'Kiko's Secrets', as long as the children can't touch it, then they aren't going to be very interested in checking out stuff after a while. I can't tell how much Lil'Missy likes the whole experience, but she definitely had some fun. She liked the pom-pom making in Izziyana Suhaimi's 'Let's Make! Studio'. Lucky us caught a break and quickly finished making two pom-poms before 40 children waltzed in and we whooshed out. Not going to have a chance to attempt sewing or embroidery.


Chiang Yu Xiang's 'We Built this Estate!' held such chirpy colors. It is supposed to be an interactive exhibit filled blocks designed like giant Tetris pieces, urging visitors to create whatever they can imagine, to build our tomorrow. Tetris! To the kids, they're just blocks to be shifted around. Kinda meaningless to the younger children because they don't have the strength to lift or move the soft foam (?) blocks, and they're not allowed to sit or lie and jump on them. Gallery sitters looked a bit stressed as they followed the children to tell them "Don't do this....don't do that..." Zzzzzz. There were hand-sewn fabric dolls stuck on the wall paintings with velcro. In theory, they could be pulled off and shifted. BUT, the gallery sitters would repeatedly remind the children to be gentle because they're handsewn. ERRMMMM. HALLO? Not going to work lor. If the fabric dolls are so precious, don't let them be removed or allow any handling. This exhibit slips into an unintended feature of 'Imaginarium' because it's eye-catchingly located right on the ground floor. Like a playroom for babies, toddlers and young children. Being continuously told don't don't don't was a real downer. It made me want to petulantly jump on those blocks.

Giggled at Lee Jeeyoung's 'Dream House'. That was really the photo-op room. Candy, giant lollipops and all. Kids were welcomed to 'join the artwork' by grabbing a paper sweet to hang onto candy trees. What was most cool- the doodles that wound around the staircases by Band of Doodlers. 'Imagin-a-doodle' held so many characters and illustrations that captured the attention of every child who walked by. Awesome. We couldn't have been the only ones who had an urge to color in the illustrations. LOL. Couldn't linger or tell stories or explain the artworks thoroughly to Lil'Missy right there and then simply because of the never-ceasing crowds. We went at 10am; it was crazy. If there was anything that had caught the little girl's attention during this visit that she would like to check out, she would have to return on a quieter week day.