Friday, October 1, 2010

China travelogue: scenic Chaozhou and Fujian

Our Chinese forefathers hail from South China (the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan), as evidenced by the dialects spoken here, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese and Hakka.

Just some scenes of Chaozhou (a district within Guangdong province) and Fujian during my recent sojourn there.

Guangji Bridge in Chaozhou, China, spans the Han River, an important waterway between eastern Guangdong and Fujian province. Interesting bit about this 12th century bridge is that the centre of the bridge is formed by boats moored to join up eastern and western piers daily between 10am and 5pm, so it's called a "floating bridge".

In the same vicinity is Guangji Men, one of four doors in this fortress like wall which stretches 2100 metres from end to end. This is the old city wall of Chaozhou prefecture built in the Ming Dynasty (1370AD). There are seven gates each with a tower on it.

Tiger Stream Rock (Huxiyan) is built out of a rocky outcrop on the outskirts of Xiamen (formerly known as Amoy, in the 19th century). You can see rock overhanging roofs. Once a tiger lived in a stone cave here, hence the name. Donglin Temple (Rock temple) is here. Digressing, Amoy then was a treaty port and a foreign community was established on the island off it called Gulangyu.

A Victorian style house on Gulangyu island. In the 1860s foreign representatives built churches, consulates, villas on the island. The island was designated an international settlement for Europeans and the Japanese in 1903. There is no traffic on the island except for a tram that goes around.

Zhongshan street is a shopping area in Xiamen. And Xiamen on the coast of the South China Sea across from Taiwan is modern, modern modern. Well, as with other modern Asian cities, the new and the old buildings cohabit side by side.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Do you want to be a pink doughnut?

Won't it be stuffy to be inside a pink doughnut? Oh but what sweetness looking at a walking pink doughnut!

Do you spy a Macdonald's French fries? A chicken drumstick behind doughnut head? There're more sinful snacks walking around that did not come into the camera's view. I don't want to add more temptation. :)

So what's the hullabaloo about? Eat a healthy soy snack. That's the marketer's message. Quite a sweet campaign if you ask me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Facebook is kind of a reality show. Spill the beans on what's on your mind. Upload your vacation photos. And declare your relationship status. We're talking personal in public domain. We're evolving into ... public property. Sort of.

Saw this installation at the tunnel going to the Esplanade.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nature's garden

I wandered into a fruit farm in Desaru (Malaysia) and saw fascinating plants like...

(top to bottom)
Cat's whiskers - This has medicinal value but I've totally forgotten what the guide said.

Cultivated mushrooms - these are grown in sawdust mixed with slate lime and kept in a shade house for two months and the mushrooms bloom in two week cycle until the sawdust mixture has decayed. The mushrooms look like Shitake mushrooms and tasted good fried in batter.

Roselle plant - this has medicinal value and the drink I had extracted from the red roselle was sweet and refreshing.

Hanging bananas -this phallic looking thing is purely decorative as this species of banana isn't eaten. The locals will start wishing from top to tip - it is another version of a wishing well.

Trellis of gourds - Interesting trellis, and not only gourds are grown like that but also passionfruit.

In short, look into nature's garden and you'll find a treasure trove of health benefits in plants.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Straits Chinese cuisine

Straits Chinese cuisine is one of my fave foods. It is Malay in expression but Chinese in essence. Well that's just my lazy way of saying. Straits Chinese are Chinese who were living in the Straits Settlements (a colonial construct that comprises Penang, Malacca and Singapore) and who have adopted Malay cooking, Malay dress and speak Malay. Signature dishes are bakwan kepiteng (a soupy dish of pork balls shaped with bamboo shoots and minced garlic, see that soup bowl in picture), ayam buah keluak (chicken curry with black nuts), chap chye (mixed vegetables and includes black fungus, can see in picture), babi pongteh (a pork dish), you can see on the plate. Ate this at a restaurant, shall not name it, because I find the standard less than authentic, but alright for a meal. Then there're the desserts that are made up of kueh or cakes that again take a leaf out of Malay desserts.

I guess my comments are as thin as the food I ate today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands Singapore is an entertainment destination. Sin destination. Well, if you consider gambling a mortal sin. The casino has opened its hallowed doors but the true blue Singaporean will not step inside the promised land because we need to fork out a hundred bucks to enter. Pui! (the local equivalent of Jack throwing a spit into the ocean in the Titanic) It's bad luck to lose that much before you even start playing. So foreign workers hang out where locals fear to tread. Well, I'm sure there're those who are hard core and will hope to recoup what a mere $100. Not not me.

The casino is housed in that low building fronting the Singapore river, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Not all the shops are open during a recent foray. The usual deluxe brands like Salvatore Ferragamo etc etc flash their construction billboards. La Senza the Aussie lingerie shop is already open though.

Of course everyone's eager for the opening of the Sands Skypark which is that rooftop thing above the three luxury hotel towers, floating as it were 200 meters above ground and offering panoramic views of the skyline and the ocean. It promises a dining experience under a canopy of stars. Designed by world-renowed architect Mosche Safdie and opening in the second half of the year, meaning anytime soon.

Oh one more thing. Hard core gamblers can be barred from entering the casino by family members who apply for restriction orders.  And if you're not hard core yet you may wish to heed the writing on the floor of a train station - Crossing the line can lead to problems in gambling. Are you listening ? Whoever you are, I'm sure you're too busy taking the bus to casino to bother.

That's my World

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sir Stamford Raffles Statue

Singapore (formerly called 'Temasek') existed way before Sir Stamford Raffles, an Englishman, came here in 1819 and founded a trading settlement. That marked the founding of modern Singapore. He signed a treaty with Hussein Shah of Johor and transferred control of the island to the East India Company, in return for monetary compensation. William Farquhar became the British resident of Singapore and Raffles left soon after. Raffles left instructions for town planning according to the Jackson Plan establishing segregated ethnic quarters near the Singapore River. He also drafted the first Constitution of Singapore in 1823. He was interested in the natural sciences and established a Raffles collection that today lives on as the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. It has a fascinating collection of flora and fauna specimens. He returned to England in 1824 and not long after in 1826, at the age of 45, he died of apoplexy. The longest he ever stayed in Singapore is 8 months yet he left a lasting legacy.

The pictures show the statue of Stamford Raffles on the north bank of the Singapore River, at a spot he was believed to have first landed.

That's my World

Monday, March 8, 2010

ode to street food


I'm turning foodie, as in doing a street food series. Ode to street food. See previous post for first in series.

Our bodies need carbo right? In the West it's often bread and potatoes. In the East, we can't live without our rice. We start getting cold turkey without rice. Am I exaggerating? Not really. 

Rice dishes can take varied forms. The top picture shows the roast duck rice. Roast meats stalls sell this dish. The roasted duck skin is crispy and fragrant and the meat is also fragrant and taste gamey like duck. You eat it with cucumber slices and side condiment of chilli (if desired). It makes a satisfying meal.

The French loaf in the second picture is called roti john. The story goes that some English guy wanted it with egg and minced meat (beef or mutton) fried in the loaf and kept ordering it so the original vendor decided to call it roti john. You can drizzle with mayo or chilli sauce. Whatever. It also makes a simple tasty meal. You get this dish from Malay stalls.

The third picture shows prawn soup noodles. The prawns are deshelled and the shells are boiled to make a very rich stock so you get a tasty broth. Then just boil meat, prawns, vermillici, beansprouts and kangkong (water spinach), add fish cake slices, and voila, a noodle meal that's tasty. Some vendors add pork bones meat and charge more.

Mum's not cooking? No worries. Go eat street food.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pantheon of gods

G is easily associated with God, only in this post, God isn't monotheistic (as in Christianity, Judaism and Islam) but polytheistic.

The Hindu pantheon of gods include Vishnu, Ganesh (elephant god), Shiva, Kali (Shiva's wife), Brahma (creator) and in this temple at Tank Road,  the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple, the child god, Lord Muruga, rules. The temple is famous for a statue of an elephant's backside in a seated position, which is rare.

It is most notably the end point for Thaipusam, a festival which involves piercing of bodies and carrying of kavadis, elaborate structures which pierce the body of the carriers, in a procession of thanks.

abc wednesday

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Street food I love

The best thing about living in Asia is the food culture, especially its street food. In other parts of Asia you may get a more bazaar like feel in terms of street food like dining in the alleys. There's still that in Singapore, but since we value hygiene above all else, we've gone for a more sanitised setting in terms of hawker or food centres (used interchangeably but referring to the same thing) which I still like even though these are not air conditioned because there's open air ventilation. I just don't like the smell of food in air conditioned food courts, the clash of different food smells in a closed up space. Anyway that's just me.

So today's post is all about hawker foods I love. F for food, what else.

Here they are, top to bottom, char kway teow (noodles in a sweetish black sauce with cockles, fishcake, beansprouts), won ton mee (noodles in a tomato-based sauce with pork dumplings and sweet sauce pork called char siew and strands of leafy vegetables), kway chap (big and small intestines, bean curd puffs (tau pok), stewed pork slices, egg, amongst other choices, but I usually just choose big intestines and tau pok)) with a flour based kway teow, same texture as noodles), and finally, sambal fried garoupa and kang kong (water spinach) and eaten with steamed rice. The last you could choose off a menu of dishes in what is known as a zichar stall. Zichar means you fry the dish in a Chinese wok under high fire so the cooking completes in a fairly quick stir fry fashion.

This list is not exhaustive and I will post more hawker food in future post. Bon appetit just looking.

abc wednesday

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reunion eat

Over the last weekend, on Saturday (also Valentine's Day), the Chinese would have had their big reunion eat, the equivalent of Thanksgiving get-together, on the eve of the new lunar new year. The Chinese feast would have dishes like a hearty soup, curry, meat sauce dishes, roast meats, fish, prawn, vegetables - the Chinese go by the phonetic sounds of dishes to symbolise good fortune. For example, there's this moss like thing that's cooked with pork, because it sounds like 'you will prosper' (it's called 'fa cai'). It's just a crunchy algae taste and goes with the black sauce pork so well. My mum used to cook it. Then this black moss fell out of favour, apparently studies say it contained an amino acid that could be linked to neurological diseases, and also due to over harvesting (it grows in the acrid Mongolian Gobi Desert and Qinghai plateau) and it is listed as endangered (so China banned it). No moss, so sad.

Another interesting vegetable for the feast is the leek. You can see the picture of it at the supermarket above. Again, its phonetic sound, in Cantonese, is 'suan', which sounds like 'counting money'. You know Chinese are suckers for such things. The leek looks tattered but you sort of peel off those tatters and then slice them thinly and use it for a stir fry with prawn, beancurd and diced meat (optional). You can see the end result above as well.

Then there's yusheng, which translates to 'raw fish salad'. It's an appetizer comprising finely sliced raw fish (the version above uses smoked salmon), on a bed of julienned carrot, cucumber, radish, pickles and crispy crackers drizzled with sweet plum juice. Then everybody stands and do a big toss up and say some auspicious words, 'lo hei', and this act is supposed to bring good luck. There're now variations of yusheng, like Japanese, Thai versions. Everything is polygot nowadays including food.

E is for the big reunion eat, folks.

abc wednesday

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

death wish

The writing's on the wall.

'Last meals' is curated by Jonathan Kambouris, for a tunnel underpass in Singapore. Death row prisoners from the US lining the tunnel in an exhibit titled 'Art & the Law'. Macabre and so chocolate chip ice cream, one pitted olive, one tortilla chip, garden salad, a banana, steak, eggs, hash brown, Eucharist sacrament, nothing...

The Straits Times used to run a column featuring a chef and then ask what their last meal would be. Morbidly fascinating stuff. D for death wish.

abc wednesday

Monday, February 8, 2010

My World - English pubs

I thought I'd feature two pubs in Singapore, one English, one Irish. Both look adorably quaint.

The Penny Black Victorian London Pub along Boat Quay was assembled together from parts shipped to Singapore from England. Its name is of course inspired by the first English postage stamp, issued on 6 May 1840.

Drinks include Tiger, Heineken and Guinness, Strongbow Cider, Old Speckled Hen, Kilkenny and Erdinger Weissbier. I haven't yet ate there but best sellers are Fish and Chips with mushy peas, Traditional Roast, and  home made Beef Burger. It's the hot hangout for the expat community.

Molly Malone's Irish pub is just a stone's throw away. There I've eaten many times. Its Fish and chips, Irish stew and pies will not disappoint.
Hope you enjoy my take on these two pubs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My World - Year of Golden Tiger

Sign of new Spring - faux plum blossoms suddenly blossom in Chinatown.

The beginning of the new lunar year falls on 14 February 2010 (yea Valentine's Day) and Chinese celebrate for 15 days because it takes that long for the new moon to become full moon. And we do that by visiting the clan, whoever is related to us, uncles cousins etc etc. And we bestow luck in the form of red packets with money inside. Although lots of people abandon tradition and go for a short haul holiday.

According to Chinese geomancy, there is an incredible shortage of water element energy in the charts which means you need to create your own springtime combination by having a Dragon image in your home to combine with the Tiger and Rabbit; and to adorn yourself with water by wearing blues and blacks and blue jewels and you need like a water feature in your home, I think in the East. I'm repeating advice from the doyenne of geomany Lilian Too.

The tiger carrier of mandarin oranges is kinda cute isn't it?

Monday, January 18, 2010

My World - Around Cavenagh Bridge

Fullerton Hotel looking grand and all lit up..

Dining on Cavenagh Bridge. The bridge opened in 1870 and exists in its original form, the only suspension bridge in Singapore. It is a pedestrian bridge linking the North and South banks of the Singapore River.

Isn't the preserved old sign adorable, bringing us right back to the horse and carriage days?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

yesterday once more

A bit of nostalgia puff about yesteryear.

The coffee pot with the cloth strainer, that was how we made our coffee. You get a good strong brew out of the sock filter. You can still see this contraption in traditional coffee shops. But of course now we gravitate towards Starbucks, so instead of Kopi O, we ask for latte, or mocha frappucino, which is my son's current fave. Unlike the totally wired and modern settees in Starbacks, with background music, you drink kopi sitting at the iconic marble top settee you see above.

On a different footnote, those wooden clogs that my grandfather used to wear in the kitchen and wet areas of the home, they're more or less extinct. Nobody wears them anymore. That picture reminds me of the wooden clogs I saw in Netherlands- they're similar, and different.

abc wednesday round 5

Monday, January 4, 2010

the port of Singapore: aerial view

Singapore is one of the world's busiest ports.

These are aerial views from the headquarters of the government agency that oversee our port operations, PSA International (PSA standing for 'Port of Singapore Authority'). The views are blurry but kinda rare, because these photos were taken during a specially arranged tour, a few years back.

Helps to have a bird's eye view of things, the new year and all. I guess my head is still up in the clouds, after the hols.

That's my World

Sunday, January 3, 2010


You know, new year, new resolutions.

Sort of goals you set for yourself. I hate to do open resolutions though. Like saying them out loud to the world at large is a kiss of death. Whether it's apparent or not, one year can change you on the inside, hopefully for the better. And probably you'll want to keep in mind the things you want to succeed in doing this year, things that seem within your control.

As for me, I want to make out small lists of projects to complete. If I succeed in one or two of them, that'll make me happy with myself.

So that you could produce a score sheet at the end of the year. God or whoever you imagine will tick off, so what did you do with your life last year? You score zero if you lazed around and mucked around and that will pretty much show up in your own thoughts and feelings about yourself.

Ate the last piece of fruit cake today. Will put away the Christmas tree and trimmings. Kids are back to school. Another cycle has started.