Thursday, 31 May 2007


I was saddened to hear about an accident that happened at the exit of the treetop walk trail yesterday afternoon, the same spot we were at hours earlier. A man in his 20s was killed when he was struck by a fallen branch. It was raining heavily and the wind was strong at the time of the incident.

Just over two weeks ago a woman was killed and two of her friends injured, when a raintree in the Bukit Batok Nature Reserve collapsed on them. On the same day, a Singaporean man died in Mount Ophir in Johor, when a tree fell on him. And five days later, another man died in the same way, also on Mount Ophir.

I am big admirer of trees. Trees are a thing of beauty. I love the way the branches spread out majestically from the trunk. I even love the unique shape of each different species, and the way the leaves open up to receive sunlight and close at nightfall. I like reading under the shade provided by trees. What joy to see the silhouette of trees against the rising sun as I drive along the highway every morning. I love cruising along the shady stretch of Old Thomson Road which is flanked by old trees which arch gracefully across the road.

How can something so beautiful be a killer? It's hard for me to accept. Still that doesn't change the way I look at trees.

What's your flavour?

If there’s one thing in life that I can’t give up, it’s got to be ice cream! How not to love ice cream on our sunny island?

Our ice cream flavours come in the most imaginative concoctions, from the boozy to the nutty, fruity, spicy or even savoury… we've Japanese, Turkish, American, Australian, Italian or local… you name it, we have it!

When I was in Italy, I had a gelato a day. I can't help it if there’s a gelataria in every street corner. Can you imagine I was standing in line at the most famous gelataria in Trieste, in the middle of the night to get my daily fix? Where else in the world can you find an ice cream line at this hour?

I couldn’t get enough of the irresistable creations at Coldstones in America. “If you want it in your ice cream – you get it”. Oh, I always get it! I’d go for their freshest, crunchiest roasted almonds with my favourite ice cream flavours! I’d describe my ultimate ice-cream fantasy to friends back home who cared to listen. We don’t have Coldstones here and it’s hard to describe the mixing on cold granite stone …

Of course I love my Haagen-Dazs (rum & raisin) and Ben & Jerry’s (chunky monkey) too. But nothing beats our local parlours that produce the freshest and most exotic east-meets-west creations.

My latest ice-cream indulgence was at the Daily Scoop. As I peered at the tubs of colourful goodies, I could see why it’s one of the best in Singapore. I was in ice-cream heaven! Hear this - Kahlua Krunch, Hazelnut Haven, Mocha Mania, Brandied Figs & Honey, black forest cherry, durian, chempedak, jackfruit… I picked Lychee Martini which lived up to its reputation as one of their bestsellers. The velvety smooth ice cream is peppered with chunks of juicy lychee pieces. It’s not too rich and cloying, but oh, so refreshing on a hot afternoon. I wish I’d bought a tub!

No visit to Meidi-ya Japanese supermarket is complete without ordering a scoop of my favourite green tea/red bean flavour from the Japanese ice-cream parlour. Being the more adventurous one, CH always orders a new flavour which he’ll share with me. Thanks to him, I’ve tried black sesame, chestnut and wasabi, but I still like mine the best.

We’ve visited many local parlours with interesting creations. There's one that gamely encourages customers to suggest new flavours. Thanks to the abundant supply of local and imported fruits, we probably have the most unique concoctions you can think of. All I can say is, the more the merrier.

Ting! Ting! Ting! Oh, how can I forget our favourite ice cream man! He comes around the neighbourhood on his motorbike, ringing his bell. He pulls out a block of ice cream from his portable freezer, cut it into slabs and put them between 2 pieces of wafers or bread. He's every kid's best friend!

Eh, I think I solved another mystery today….you know, the middle-aged spread mystery. I should cut down on ice cream? I scream!

In case you're wondering, I indulge in ice cream occasionally. After my weekly run with my best friend, we treat ourselves to soymilk ice cream at Mr Bean. It's healthy and yummy!

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Treetop walk

I’m back from the hike. The sky is dark and it’s pouring outside as I write. What a change in weather!

While I was driving to Macritchie this morning, the red ball of fire rising from the east gave an indication of a hot morning ahead. True enough, the sun was beating down on us when we started walking at 8am.

We took the nature trail from Venus Drive near the Singapore Island Country Club that leads to the treetop walk. It’s almost an uphill climb all the way. Soon, our wet shirts were plastered to our backs under the sweltering heat and humidity. We walked on gravel foot paths, paved tracks, muddy trails, boardwalk and timber steps before reaching the bridge.

Nestled in the lush Central Catchment Nature Reserve, this free-standing suspension bridge that is 25m above the ground offers a fantastic view of the canopy. We saw butterflies, birds and a monkey on a treetop and were entertained by the shrill sounds of cicadas, crickets and birds.

The return route took us up and down a series of boardwalks. By the time we finished at 11am, the heat was unbearable. That’s a sign of rain.

True enough, it’s pouring now, and it feels alot cooler. Well, that’s our typical tropical weather. Rusty is sound asleep under the table. It's the perfect time for my afternoon nap too!

Vesak Holiday

It's Vesak day (the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha) today. The exact date of Vesak is in the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar (typically May), coinciding with the first full moon of that month.

It's 6.30am and I'm ready to leave the house. We're going trekking at MacRitchie Reservoir. It's been a while since I've gone hiking. Look out for my post later.


Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Home again

By now, Mother Hen should be almost home after a long flight across the oceans. Her hubby will be eagerly waiting for her at Portland Airport to take her home. Already feeling unwell from a cold, she must endure another 5-hour drive before she can step into her house in Bend again.

Oh, but how happy she’ll be to see hubby again! Being away from a loved one for 3 long weeks is certainly no fun, especially when you’re sick.

Isn't it so nice to be home? So comforting to be back to the familiarity of it all. You’re free to wear your old PJs, sleep on your own bed, hug your pillows and most importantly, go back to your old routine.

It was nice having you here. I really hope to see you sometime soon!

A simpler life

Thank you, Holly, for making me "reawaken an old lonely post". This is an early favourite. It reminds me of my priorities all over again.


Today, I heard about a close relative who had almost passed out during a meeting at work. A visit to the hospital revealed that he has a blocked artery in the brain. A successful entrepreneur with business spanning across Asia Pacific, he has everything going for him. He is at the prime of his life but right now, he is probably reorganizing his priorities.

Today, my best friend was talking about her customer who had just passed away. He was a director of a large MNC in the semi-conductor industry. He was only in his fifties and had climbed his way up the corporate ladder in an extremely competitive industry. He had probably devoted his entire life to work and was looking forward to his upcoming retirement. We all know a person or two who left us too early.

These were people who had slogged all their lives chasing their dreams. They were the same people who thought they could travel the world some day or see their grandchildren grow up.

This is a wake-up call. Today, I have decided to reprioritise and to simplify my life….
I will eat simply. I will feed my body with more healthy and natural food.
I will live simply. I will stop acquiring unnecessary things that will clutter up my life.
I will spend more time outdoors, take more walks in the parks and rediscover nature.
I will take better care of my mind and body though adequate exercise, rest and relaxation.
I will travel to see the world.
I will chat with mum more often.
I will play like a kid when I am with the kids.
I will catch up with old friends.
I will listen more and talk less.
I will be more tolerant of myself and of others.
I will smile more and frown less.
And the list goes on….

So womanly

While cleaning out my closet the other day, I threw out some tiny pieces of clothing. It’s amazing how I could fit into those things 5 years ago! Then again, I was at least 10 pounds lighter then.

Like all women, I whine about my weight all the time. I started watching my diet in my teens, to my parents’ dismay. Friends tried to convince me I wasn't fat but I never believed them. When I look at my old photos now, I realize I was indeed fit and trim.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I have learned to accept my slightly softer silhouette. Well, to be honest, no woman will ever come to terms with a rounder figure. Mum is so kind to tell me that it's nice to have a womanly figure. People tell me I look more radiant now. Of course that extra layer of fat does plump up the skin…

I’m wearing an old pair of khakis which used to swivel around my hips. Today it’s clinching tightly around my waist. If this thing is going to creep up on me surreptitiously despite my exercise regime and healthy diet, I guess I have to embrace it. Mum is probably right. Better to be womanly and healthy than gaunt and sickly.

Oh, wait! I just read a report from the American Heart Association. Apparently women who lift weights twice a week can prevent or at least slow the middle-aged spread.

Sheesh, middle-aged spread… is that what they call it? Sigh. Let me go lift some weights.

Monday, 28 May 2007

These boots are made for walking

To you, this looks like a tattered pair of boots, but it's my most beloved pair in the entire shoe closet. I saw it in the men’s section at Timberland exactly 7 years ago and fell in love with it the moment I put it on. Since its maiden voyage to Europe in 2000, this rugged and dependable pair of boots has gone on many journeys with me.

Crafted in leather with rugged rivet details and a thick rubber sole, it’s the perfect role model for boots. It has kept my feet warm during winter and endured the toughest conditions. Whether we’re trudging through swamps and forest floors, crossing rivers and valleys, or walking on snow, ice, desert sand, rocks or pebbles, it has never failed me…. except once, when the rubber sole fell off while I was hiking.

I refused to throw it away. Instead I brought it to the cobbler at Mister Minute who lovingly stitched the sole back, giving it a new lease of life.

Despite its age, I think it’s still a good looking pair of shoes. So well seasoned, it fits me wonderfully and looks great with jeans, khakis and shorts. Besides, the thick sole gives me a lift, making me look a little taller.

I have been thinking of retiring this old dame but it looks like it’s ready for another adventure. Ah, just one more journey ok?

Sunday, 27 May 2007

To the library

I’ll be going to the library to return my books – Turkey by Lonely Planet and Style City Istanbul. Looks like I don’t need them anymore.

Maybe I’ll pick up a book on Provence or a French phrase book while I’m there.
Apparently, on my 5-day cycling holiday, I will be able to: traverse idyllic Provencal country as featured in ‘Jean de Florette’, explore landscapes that inspired the impressionists Van Gogh and Cezanne, get a local life while staying in the villages of Provence, wander through the Luberon with its rows of lavender and flower-filled meadows.

Maybe I’ll be so inspired. I really should learn how to sketch pronto. Remind to self - pick up a book on sketching at the library later. CH, remember to pack your sketchbook and pencils!

Playing Doctor

My niece received a new set of toys yesterday. Look! What's this? Ok, ok, I'm listening.
Oops! Gimme a break.
It's only my first day at work.

Lost and found

Yesterday CH told me someone's Jack Russell also called Rusty had gone missing. The lady owner had put up posters of her pet in the park.

Last night, before we went to bed, we discovered Rusty wasn't in our room. We called out several times but he didn't turn up. We have a big shed with storerooms outside. So he could be snuggled somewhere fast asleep.

This morning, I went outside and called out again. Rusty didn't come on cue. Cookie wasn't around either. I got worried. Come to think of it, I haven't seen them since yesterday evening. Lots of people come to our neighbourhood during weekends to visit the farms. Something could have happened to the dogs.

Then mum decided to investigate. She walked around the shed and thought she heard a faint yelp. I ran to the storeroom and heard the jingling of Rusty's bell. When I unlocked the door, the overjoyed dogs rushed out immediately and ran around in circles around the yard.

Apparently they were snooping around in the storeroom and the workers accidentally locked them inside.

Thank God they are OK. I hope there's a happy ending for the other lost Rusty too.

Eight Treasure Duck

So I brought a fresh duck home from the supermarket. I dug around my book shelf but couldn’t find the recipe. I couldn't find one that I'm familiar with on the Internet so I had no choice but to vaguely recall how it was done the last time. Here goes…

Rub some salt, five spice powder, dark soy sauce and pepper all over the duck, inside and out. Leave it to marinate for several hours.

Ingredients for stuffing
Dried chestnut (soak in hot water until soft)
Barley (Soak in water for a couple of hours)
Ginkgo nuts (canned or fresh)
Dried Lotus nuts (soak in hot water until soft. Remove green stem inside the nut)
Dried oysters
Chinese sausage (cut into small pieces)
Dried shrimp (soak in water until soft)
Dried Shitake mushroom (soak in water until soft)
Red dates and wolfberry seeds
Shallots (cut into thin slices)

Heat up some cooking oil in the pan. Fry shallots and dried shrimp until fragrant. Add in barley and the rest of ingredients and stir fry for a while. Season with dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and pepper. Add some water or chicken stock if it’s too dry. Leave the stuffing to cool.

Fill the duck’s cavity with stuffing. Truss the duck with a piece of string or use toothpicks to close up the cavity.

Heat some oil in the frying pan. Brown the duck slightly on both sides. Place the entire duck on a big tray and steam for 3 hours or longer if you like the meat really soft. Make sure you have enough water to prevent the pot from drying out.

The end result – a sweet, savoury, succulent duck that is tenderly delicious and bursting with fragrant filling that has taken the flavour of the duck and the seasoning.

All I can say is it's Yummilicious!! Thought I should share the recipe with anyone who's interested. The picture didn't turn up well. So I'm not showing it.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Dad's birthday

We're celebrating my dad's birthday today. He turns 70 at the end of this month. Everyone will be home for a nice dinner but I haven't decided on what to cook yet.

Mother Hen's coming too. She's always raving about my Eight Treasure Duck. Dad likes duck too. OK, that's what I'll cook tonight. I shall go get one right now. No... I'm not going hunting, I'll get it from the supermarket this time.


Oh, I had a most horrible nightmare last night. Can't recall the details now but Rusty was all bloody and dying, and terrible things were happening to my favourite people. It felt so real and I was so devasted. Such a big relief when I woke up. Phew!

I don't get nightmares like this very much. I must have eaten too much meat at the BBQ last night.

All my favourite people

I just came home from a BBQ at my best friend's house. It's one of those gatherings that I always feel so at home. The kind that conversation flows freely and food is simple but plentiful. No need to dress up or pretend to fit in or make conversations all night.

The best part is, all my favourite people were there. My best friend and her family, Mother Hen, CH and my son, all together in perfect harmony. It's amazing when I think about it .... these people I have met in different phases of my life having a great time together like one big family. That's really something!

Friday, 25 May 2007


I have been thinking a lot about intuition and gut feel lately, thanks to the Turkey trip.

We finally made the decision to cancel the trip but why didn’t I think of it earlier? Right from the start, there was a gut feel that didn’t sit quite right with me. I didn’t dare tell my parents or the kids where I was going for my next vacation. I was planning to say “Europe” because I didn’t want them to worry about my safety. Who am I kidding?

When I was younger, I would jump on any chance to do something dangerous or exciting. I’d almost accepted a job in Club Med, Mauritius because it sounded exciting. I probably have done and seen more than most of my friends. But as I grow older, I try to be more responsible and risk-adverse.

I remember one year, I made a business trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai while SARS was just rearing its ugly head. Mum and the kids warned me not to go. I was adamant about going to meet my associates who were flying in from USA. I can’t simply cancel. The epidemic escalated to great proportions which left many people dead. Needless to say, my family members were worried sick. When I got home, mum refused to talk to me for 2 days. I felt terrible. Finally what she said knocked some sense into this thick skull of mine. “Don’t just think of yourself next time. What will happen if you bring back the disease and spread to everyone in the family. Do you think it’s a wise thing to do?”

I know I should trust my gut feel more often. If there is ever a need to hide anything from the ones who care about you, whether it is that wrong man you’re dating, or a sleazy job you’re doing, a dangerous place you’re heading to or a risky activity you’re doing… then back off. It is probably not the best thing for you.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

School's Out!

Tomorrow marks the start of the 1-month school holiday. It was easier when the boys were younger. I’d pack them away to zoo camps, explorer camps and art camps. We’d go on a trip to kid-friendly places for a week or so. Before you know it, their fun-filled holiday is over.

Now that they’re older, it’s increasingly difficult to make any plans. They’ve outgrown these fun camps. “Please don’t send us to any more of those silly camps.” they implored. “We don’t want any of those lame coach holidays either.”

I start asking them for suggestions months ahead. “Why are you asking us now? It’s not even near our holidays yet?” The holidays looms ahead and we haven’t made any firm plans. I played the elimination game.
“How about Italy?”
No, too far.
“Or Turkey?”
No way!
Don’t like.

Finally, it’s back to Club Med at Bintan with my best friend and her kids. Four days of lounging by the pool, eating and chilling out with friends.

Turns out to be a blessing actually. They came home with a timetable marked with school camps and extra lessons. Looks like they’re going to be pretty occupied already.

Think before you dial

First there was pizza delivery. Then, we have fast food delivery. Now when hunger strikes, you can even have sushi or a host of local favourites delivered to you. Simply SMS Express Delivery and food will appear at your doorstep. At home, kids have their glass of water delivered to them by the domestic maid.

Singaporeans are too spoilt. Most of them don’t cook. There are food centres everywhere you turn. Even in the remotest area that I live, there is a food village less than 3 km away.

Granted if you are hungry but busy, please go ahead and dial. I suspect most people are just lazy. And not even hungry. I notice a big change in the staff mix at fast food restaurants. The number of delivery guys at McDonalds far outweighs the kitchen staff. You see them in their bright red shirt and helmet hanging around waiting for the next delivery. These guys often risk their lives sending you that Big Mac to satisfy your cravings, especially on a cold stormy night.

When the food doesn’t arrive within the promised 30 minutes, you yell into the phone or threaten to cancel the order. The poor chap weaves in and out of traffic to serve you. Will you know if they've skidded and fell? No! The restaurant sends another one out immediately to pacify you.

Spare a thought. If you really must eat at 2am in the morning, please think before you dial.

Vacation vexation

As you would know by now how excited I am about the Turkey trip. Honestly, deep down inside, I have been worrying….

At first, I was concerned about the election crisis looming ahead. I was at the edge of my seat when the demonstration was going on in Ankara. So thankful it blew over without incident. I started watching for signs of other developments. When I read about the street protest in Istanbul, I started getting nervous. We’ve already paid in full. Should we cancel the tour now or wait a little longer?

So when Abdullah Gul’s candidacy for president was annulled, I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe we should just go ahead with our vacation afterall.

Then came the news of the bomb blast in Ankara that killed 6 and injured 80 people. This was the last straw. I can’t do this. I don’t want to go on a vacation watching my back or looking for suspicious characters. I certainly don’t want my family and friends worrying about me. For goodness sake, it’s a vacation!

We're going to change plans. It’s going to cost us because last minute changes will not get us any refunds. According to the travel agent, the tour will still go on because it is no big deal. Bombs will go off anywhere anyway.

We’re planning to go cycling in Provence instead. The consolation is, at least it would be safer to be amongst cows and olive trees.

I can’t believe what a turkey I am! But better safe than sorry. My life is worth more than a thousand bucks!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A few good men

Ring! Ring!

I pick up the phone. Customer A is on the other line.
A : Can you call the depot to ask them why there is a..... and why they are not allowing us to see the....yak yak yak"
Me : Let me check :-(

Just then, my friend L who shares the same office, walks in the main door and chimes "GOOD Morning!!" :-) :-)
Me : ..morning... :-I

I print out some stuff and walk to the printing station. L has just printed some stuff too. I hand him the printouts.
L : THANK YOU!! :-) :-) :-)
Me : Today I bad mood hor :-(
L : It's OK! :-) :-)

How come he's always so cheerful. CH is like that too...always smiling. :-D

Gee. I wish I can be like them too.

Abusive men

The verdict is finally out! The man who shoved his ex-girlfriend into the path of an oncoming MRT train is sent to jail for one year.

Only one year?! The badly shaken girl who was wearing high heels and knee-length skirt, performed an amazing act of agility to save her life. She landed on her feet, picked herself up, stepped over the tracks and a rail carrying an electric current, then vaulted over a low parapet wall…all within a space of 5 seconds.

Now she worries about whether he’ll look for her after his release from prison in a few days time and whether she’ll be as lucky the next time if he tries to do anything.

I know a woman who got out of an abusive marriage. It was a bitter divorce and she fought hard to win custody of her two children. She brought them up single-handedly without receiving alimony or child support from the ex. The ex never cared about the welfare of the kids. He drifted in and out of the kids’ life, taking them out whenever he feels bored, and claims he’s playing the role of a father. He became bolder and wanted more time with the kids now that they’re older and more fun to be with.

Naturally the woman was concerned. “Two weeks? They have school camps and extra classes during school vacation. ”

“I have my right as a father you know?” He retorted.

“Then you should do more for them like taking care of their welfare and paying child support.”

He got mad. “So, it’s all about money huh? What about my right as a father? Don’t tell me I can’t even spend time with my own kids?”

“I have never stopped you from seeing them. But it’s time you be responsible for their education and welfare as well.”

“So, it’s all about money! You fxxking bitch!” He slammed down the phone.

Watch out! Another abusive man on the loose.

Meaningful birthday

This morning, EE and I were talking about motherhood and she told me a touching incident.

Last week, she accompanied her sister and nephew to the Raffles Institution open house. At the RI boarding school, she saw a foreign Chinese student wrapping a gift. She asked him why?
He replied, “It's for my birthday.”

EE was puzzled. “Shouldn’t you be receiving, instead of giving, presents on your birthday?”

He said, “It's for my mum. My birthday is the day she went through so much pain giving birth to me.”

How sensible indeed!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The mystery of the reappearing toads

Mum is often puzzled to find baby toads in the kitchen. How did these little toads get into the house, she wonders. She’ll sweep them gently onto the dustpan and put them back in the garden.

The mystery was solved early this morning! She saw Rusty strutting into the kitchen with the prized catch in his mouth. He walked behind the refrigerator and dumped the traumatized little fella there.

Then he walked out into the garden again, in search of other creatures to terrorize. Well, we can’t blame him for he is a little hunter. He has attacked chickens, birds, lizards, chameleons, frogs, toads, beetles and snakes. The bigger toads emit a certain toxin in self-defence, leaving Rusty gagging and foaming. Yet, that hasn't deterred him from trying.

The Jack Russell Terrier is a perky, merry, devoted, and loving dog. Spirited and obedient, yet absolutely fearless. They have strong hunting instinct and should not be trusted with other small animals. They like to chase and explore. Jack Russells like to bark and dig. They tend to get restless and destructive if not kept fruitfully occupied and well exercised.

Look what I found!

Old vs New

I can't believe my eyes! I was rummaging through my cupboard, looking for matches for YK's art project when I saw a familiar brown object lying in the corner. It’s the wallet that I lost on 13th April.

How it ended up there, I have no clue. I don’t want to know either. I opened it up carefully and yes, everything is inside… my credit cards, ATM cards, fuel cards, $65.40cts, house key, driver’s licence etc. The cards are useless now that I have replacements. Still, thanks to YK, my good old wallet and I are reunited again!

It’s uncanny isn’t it? To find it on the same day I bought a new one to replace it.

Now, what shall I do with the new green wallet? Is it destined to languish in the dark corner of my cupboard? Hmmm...

Buy Buy Buy

Today I went on another buying spree. I offered to drive to Parkway Parade to get vacuum cleaner bags for the office and ended up with bags of goodies.

First stop - Hello! Store to check out the Blackberry. An hour later, I walked out with a shiny new phone, the Nokia E61i. WOO HOO! I can finally pretend to work while I am skiving by the beach. How cool is that! Nobody will ever know I am slacking if I am replying my emails right?

Look! Isetan’s having a big sale! A little bright green wallet is screaming out to me “Buy me! Buy me!”. Yup, just what I need….a wallet in the colour of a tree frog so that I will never lose it again. Good buy! Good buy!

Gee, I need to get some new t-shirts for the boys too. They’re outgrowing theirs so quickly. I walked into Levis and found a khaki tee at 20% off. Great! I'll take it. Giordano has some new arrivals too. Cool stuff. I got a black tee with “007” on it. SK is going to love it!

Oh dear, it’s almost time to go. I sprinted to the supermarket, grabbed some sushi and almost left the mall without the vacuum bags.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Time really flies

Mother Hen is traveling to Penang today and won't be back until end of this week. I hope she comes back early so that we can do some catching up before she flies back to Oregon next week.

How time flies. There are so many things we haven't done together! We haven't even gone out for that much anticipated chilli crab dinner! And what happened to all those places we wanted to visit? Gee, I wonder where all that time had gone to.

It's time to do some serious planning here... let's see.... Chilli crab on Friday, BBQ on Saturday, laksa lunch on Sunday, last minute shopping on Monday...

Oh, will you please stay a little longer!

Susan my astrologer

I used to look forward eagerly to my monthly horoscope by Susan Miller who is such an engaging writer, she keeps me going back month after month. She gives an elaborate account of what's going to happen at work, in your relationship etc. Well, I still visit the website but not as religiously as before. I guess at that certain phase in my life, seeing what the astrologer had forecast seemed rather important.

I would mark my calendar with full moons, eclipse, retrogades and highlight the 'five star' days. I even planned my dates around the most romantic evenings and scheduled events around planetary alignments.

I learned to back up my data or avoid signing big contracts when my moon retrogrades in case documents get lost, communication go haywire or negotiations come to a standstill.

I still believe in astrology, only to a certain extent. I read her old forecasts and am often amazed that her predictions are pretty accurate. Of course you can’t take everything at face value because everyone’s unique, from their Sun sign to the Moon sign and the general forces affecting their lives…

Looking at what Susan has predicted for me this month makes me smile already:

Travel will be a main priority for you in the glorious month of May. (How true!) Even though you'll have work to finish up, you've decided there is no way you'll stay cooped up inside while warm breezes flutter the gauze curtains in your bedroom. (No way!) A perfect time for a short trip will be near May 2, the full moon. (The date’s a bit off but yes, we made that trip to KL on 19th!) Your sister may want to come too, and actually, this time inviting her along might be a good idea. (Not sister, but my cousin went along. Close enough!)

This month the travel bug will really bite. (Ouch!) It seems you may also have your eye on taking a longer journey - your next one would be quite adventurous and would happen this month or in June. (Yup! 2 trips in June!) With the Sun lighting your house of foreign people and foreign places, you may want to see how much French or Spanish you remember from college (That’s so right! I just borrowed 2 books from the library. Gotta learn all about Turkey!)

Oh, you wanna read your horoscope too? Check out

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Just do it

While I was out running in KL yesterday, a mini-drama was unfolding back home. YK was running a high fever. Because he’s allergic to some drugs, mum was hesitant about giving him any medication. Poor YK slumbered the day away. When I got home in the evening, his fever was at an all-time high. I rushed him to the clinic and the doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics for his upper chest infection.

Being the drama-king that he is, he said “I can’t believe you were overseas doing some silly run while I was dying in my room!”

It doesn’t help that the kids always choose the worst time to fall sick. I often receive phone calls from mum telling me the kids or pets have fallen ill. Of course there isn’t much I can do when I am halfway across the world except ensure they’re sent for treatment.

It’s tough but being a working mother who travels several times a year, I have learned to cope. When they were younger, I devoted all my time to them but as they become more independent, I found more time for myself. I think finding the right balance (without neglecting them in any way) is really important for my own well-being. I see it as a natural process of loosening the apron string, afterall the kids are going to leave the nest one day. Meanwhile, I’m sure they’d rather hang around with a happy and supportive mum.

I have wondered aloud if there’s a best time for me to go on a journey or do something for myself… and my best friend always tells me, "There’s never a best time, just do it." She’s right. Life will still go on.

Besides, I know she’ll always be there for me.

A good run

Ready, get set...

My friends are all curious to hear about the run. What can I say? It’s a humbling experience running with hundreds of Pacesetters Club members. My muscles are aching. I didn’t expect the route to be so hilly and wasn’t adequately prepared to tackle an undulating 15-km run. It seemed like we were going uphill forever but luckily the scenic route that’s peppered with beautiful mansions made the grueling run more tolerable. Along the way, playful macaques and squirrels made their special appearance, as if on cue, to cheer us on. Maybe they were sniggering, who knows?

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur after a long coach journey, checked in our hotel and realised we had to race to Padang Merbuk for our race packs. The light drizzle soon turned into a torrential downpour and we were drenched by the time we arrived.

In our rush to get there, I found that walking along the busy streets and alleys had its hazards. I could have fallen into a gaping porthole or sewer that’s missing a cover, or risked getting run over by huge buses while dodging garbage along the road. I had to muster all my courage when crossing the busy streets and I found that traffic lights didn't help very much.

Still KL has its charms. It’s a city of contrasts. Where else can you find a vibrant city with plenty of colonial buildings, a bustling Chinatown lined with street vendors and gleaming skyscrapers in the background?

By the time we were done with the collection, our starving group headed to Chinatown for a hearty meal of beef noodles. Everywhere we turned in the crowded alleys, we were bombarded with vendors calling out to us, “Genuine imitation!” What an oxymoron!

My eyes rested for a brief second on a Swiss Army bag and the vendor pounced on me. “90 Ringgit!” I smiled and declined. “OK, 70!” I started to walk away and he gave a last shot “For you, special. 50 only!” This is a lesson for all of you! If you ever visit Chinatown, remember to bargain or feign nonchalance and you’ll see prices tumbling before your very eyes! But don’t support the fake goods industry. You’ll find loads of other stuff to buy besides these ‘genuine imitations’.

Our run started at 7am on Sunday. We all have our own running style…. my aunt is the smart one who walks briskly uphill but sprints downhill; CH is a consistent runner who keeps going whether up or downhill while I run and walk in spurts... still we managed to pace each other and finished together in almost 2 hours.

What a great experience! We’re already looking forward to our next run in July!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Run for the Roses

We’re heading to Malaysia early tomorrow morning to participate in the NB Pacesetters 15KM Run on Sunday. It’s the first time I’m running with my aunt Rosemary. I found out she runs at marathons when we met up during a family gathering in February.

This sounds corny, but running with my aunt Rosemary makes me think of Run for the Roses by Dan Fogelberg, one of my favourite singers.

It's going to be a 4-hour ride to Kuala Lumpur. Lots to see and eat there. We need to get enough rest before the run though. Will blog about this when we’re back.

Putting things in perspective

I have come to realize another great thing about friends. They help me put things in perspective. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until Mother Hen tells me again and again what a loving family I have. I am, indeed, considering she lives thousands of miles away from her parents.

So, I made an extra effort to chat with mum this afternoon and tell her how she’s dearly loved by everyone in the family, even her daughters-in-law. It helps that she’s a nice lady but I have heard of other nice ladies being ostracized by their own kids and their spouses. She agrees that she’s very blessed.

I realize that I am just as blessed. When I complain about the kids, friends and relatives always tell me I have brought up them up well. Looking at how they’ve turned out, I do feel so proud.

It upsets me to hear people complaining about their partners, frivolous things like they’re not romantic or exciting enough. I’ve even heard women whining that they haven’t fought with their boyfriends for too many months. Hello! Aren’t you happy you’re not dealing with ‘real’ problems here? Do you think life would be better if you’re living with an abusive husband or cheating wife?

I have learned to count my blessings but sometimes I forget….until my friends help me put things in perspective again. That’s something I am always thankful for.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Today, Mother Hen used the term ‘Lighthouse’ to describe my mother. I can’t agree more.

Every morning, my brother drops his daughters at my mum’s place before going off to work. He picks them up in the evening, taking home a tiffin carrier filled with healthy dishes cooked by mum. My kids and I live with my parents and I like to think that we have a perfectly symbiotic relationship. We keep our aging parents company while they help to keep an eye on the kids. I help mum with some errands or bring her for health checkups. Because of them, I am able to go on business trips knowing that the kids are well taken care of.

Over at my best friend’s house, the same scenario is being played out. Her mother’s house is like a crèche. Her siblings drop their young kids there before heading to work. She lives with her mum during weekdays and returns to her own home only during the weekends. That way, after school, her kids can come home to a safe and secure environment under the care of their grandparents.

Mother Hen’s sister is able to travel overseas all year round because her mother lives with her. Her daughter comes home from school everyday to tuck into hot meals, lovingly prepared by grandma.

Unfortunately, we sometimes take our 'lighthouse' for granted. Imagine what life will be like without the support and guidance they are giving. Will we be able to focus on our work without having to worry about the kids? I don't think so.

I love markets!

I just came back from the Pasar Malam. What started out as an evening jog with my best friend stretched into a 3-hour jaunt round the neighbourhood…all because we ran past a brightly lit night market, also known as Pasar Malam. Maybe because of our hot weather, these markets in housing estates only come to life after sunset. You’ll find an interesting collection of stalls selling fruit, toys, clothes, movie discs and ornaments at reasonable prices. There’s lots of food too…Ramly burger, hot dogs, chicken wings, otah, fritters, steamed corn and nuts, noodles, ice-cold drinks and all kinds of snacks.

I love visiting markets everywhere I go. From the noisy, vibrant ones in Malaysia and Thailand, to the farmers markets in Melbourne, sunset markets in Darwin, Christmas markets in Munich, village markets in Bohemia, and flea markets across Europe and America, I love them all!

Every market has a life of its own. I love exploring the colorful alleys and treasure-laden corridors, admiring the variety of collectibles... arts, crafts, comic books, belt buckles, jewelry... savoring the local delicacies and be surrounded by music and laughter.

The mother of all markets must be the Global Village in Dubai where craftsmen and tradesmen of the world come together to sell their wares. The village will be thronging with millions of shoppers and over 40 participating countries selling their wares out of elaborately decorated pavilions that replicate some aspect of their home countries -- the UK's features Big Ben, China's a typical red temple. It’s like shopping around the world in a day!

Next stop, Istanbul. I've heard so much about the amazing bazaars in this wonderful city. Oh, I can hardly wait!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Marbles and five stones

The six years in primary school were the best years of our lives! We learned really elementary stuff (compared to what the kids are studying today) and spent hours playing in the dusty school yard.

The games were simple but fun. You'd find little girls in brown pinafore huddled together in groups, playing five stones, hopscotch, chupteh, skipping and card games like 'Donkey' or 'Family'.

The guys would be engrossed in a game of marbles, kuti kuti or kasing (tops) under the shady raintrees. The sporty ones who played soccer or sepak takraw (rattan ball) would come back to class after recess all covered in sweat and grime. No wonder we were never attracted to anyone of them.

Those were the days.


Talking about translations, there is the other problem of mis-spellings.

EE's boss almost fell off his chair when he received an email from his subordinate in Asia...

"As per your request, I will send the male and flesh report for your immediate perusal..."

Apparently they were emailing him a Flash presentation for the coming meeting in Asia.

I'm sure his wife wouldn't be too happy if she had snooped on his male! Oops, I mean mail.

Lost in translation

In my line of business, I deal with customers and vendors from around the world. Many of them in Asian countries speak very little English but they send me emails in English. I suspect they rely heavily on the translation tools for help.

Sometimes it takes me a while to decipher what they’re trying to say. I have often picked up the phone, rattle off very quickly and be greeted with silence on the other end, followed by the apologetic party telling me to repeat very slowly, and to wait for a reply via email. They may not be able to speak English that well, they can certainly craft an impressive email!

Their polite emails always begin with a nice greeting and lovely words to brighten your day. Take this person for example. He begins his email with “May Your Achievements Always Like A Sun And Your Efforts Like A Sun Flower." Now, doesn’t that just bring a smile to your face?

Then he says, “My interest is already reverted with out any flaw or vacuums.” Ok, I see his point but I can’t stop this crazy brain of mine from conjuring images of the floor and vacuum cleaner. Stop it! He’s just being formal and watch out because he’s getting serious! He went on to say “…once we open the deal the deal must be as clear as crystal and i really mean it.”

Yes sir! Understood!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

All's well that ends well

When that time of the year rolls around, mothers are suddenly thrust into the limelight. In the Sunday papers, writers talk about their relationship with the mothers. It’s not unusual to read about them coming to terms with their mothers after a tumultuous relationship with them while growing up.

Why do mothers always get the shorter end of the stick? Is it because mothers take care of everything in the house…from the meals to education, hygiene and general well-being of the kids? On top of that, many are working mothers. So the multi-tasking mummies turn into disciplinarians and naggers to get everyone on the right track. And you know how kids hate to be disciplined and told what to do. It becomes a vicious cycle.

So, poor mummy remains unpopular until the kids grow up and realise how unrewarding a mother's job really is. By then, most mothers have already mellowed with age, or lost that fire in their belly. They would have given up on nagging or simply found no one to nag at (except their poor hubby). Then the kids make a 180 degree turn and appreciate them or even put them on the pedestal.

It’s good to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Just remember, mummies mean well. You can't fire them and they can’t quit you know!

Mother Hen and I

Savouring lollipop
Time really flies when you’re having fun! What a joy to see the Mother Hen again! Always so generous, she brought a big bag of goodies for us. Sea-salt with roasted garlic, big bags of walnuts, almonds, and dried cherries. She even made haystack cookies for SK!

We couldn't stop yakking in the car. There’s so much catching up to do. Though we email daily, it’s never the same when you’re talking face to face with an old friend. We ate curry till we were too stuffed to move and lounged around on the comfy sofa while the plants her mum gave were starting to go limp. We mustn’t let these plants die on us. SK, always the energetic one, offered to dig holes in the ground. We put the plants in, cover up and were done in 10 minutes!
Our vegetables

She spotted some papayas growing in the yard, so we decided to make a Burmese style green papaya salad. CH climbed up the ladder and got us a nice big one while she picked limes from the plant below. CH skinned and grated the papaya into long thin strips and I prepared the dressing. Fry thinly sliced garlic in oil until brown and fragrant. Set aside. Next fry some small dried shrimps the same way. Finally, fry some chopped dried chilli in oil. Put everything into the salad bowl. Add some ground peanuts, fish sauce, tamarind water, sugar and lime juice. Mix well and serve.

The salad makes a great appetizer. For dinner, I cooked braised chicken with black pepper sauce, broccoli with fresh scallops, fried green vegetables and yong-tau-foo soup.

My brother brought us ‘confinement food’ (pig trotters cooked in black vinegar, steamed grouper fish and a sweet ginkgo-nut dessert.) which is nutritious food for post-natal mothers. Traditional Chinese confinement food consists mainly of old ginger, rice wine, sesame oil, black vinegar, lots of chicken and lean pork, white fish and some vegetables. We were able to enjoy these delicious dishes because of his post-natal wife.

Picture courtesy of

The grand finale was a special crepe cake for mum’s belated birthday celebration. Mille Crepe is a stack of 20 crepes placed on top of one another, with creamy durian filling in between the layers and a caramelised topping. This creation is so decadent, it is to die for!

By 9pm, Mother Hen was nodding off. It’d been a long but lovely day!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

The admirable Mrs Rajah

Mrs Rajah with granddaughter

I unlatch the wooden gate which opens up to a well-kept garden that’s bursting with beautiful pertunias and bougainvilleas. I walk past the swing that I am so familiar with, and the water fountain in the front patio, make my way round the side of the bungalow, until I come to the door that leads to the kitchen.

There she is, sitting with her back facing me, giving her last student of the day English lessons. I stick my head in gently so that I don’t alarm her, “Hello Mrs Rajah!”

She turns around, visibly touched to see me, and exclaims in her high-pitched voice and typical dramatic fashion, “Ting! What a surprise!” We hug and she sends the boy on his way, “Good luck on your exams!” She’s an expressive lady who’s so passionate and affectionate all at once. “You should have told me you’re coming”, she admonishes, “I’d have made you a pot of curry!” Her curry is the yummiest! She used to make me cart home a pot of curry when I picked SK up from tuition.

We met 5 years ago when I was looking for a tutor to coach my kids. She’s the mother of Dave who is the best friend of my best friend’s husband. Get it? I have not seen her since last October. She doesn’t teach them anymore now that they’re in secondary school.

Mrs Rajah is an admirable woman. At 40, she suddenly lost her beloved husband to a heart attack just when life was looking up for them. They had just moved into a lovely house with their three young children. As she’s from a conservative Indian family, she faced the prospect of raising her kids with nary a thought of marrying again. She continued teaching in a primary school while caring for the children and her aging parents-in-law. After she retired, she continued giving English lessons from her house, the same one that she takes great pride in. She's gifted at making her home cosy and the garden beautiful. More importantly, she’s a great teacher, you see kids walking in and out of her gate everyday.

Life must have been hard but looking at her jolly disposition today, one can never tell. I remember she told me about an incident long ago which would give you an insight into how stressful life was for her then. One morning, after preparing meals for her kids, she rushed out of her gate to run after a bus that was moving off. She got up the bus, sat down and realised that she was still wearing house slippers. The worst thing was, both sides were different. Luckily her long sari hid the glaring mistake while she was in school.

Of course her kids are all adults now. She has brought them up really well. They have successful careers in the USA, her daughter’s a university lecturer and the two sons are lawyers. She shows me photos of her five beautiful grandkids and tells me her son just visited her a week ago. They love her very much and she visits them every year-end.

She suddenly turns sober, “You know, they have been asking me to pack up and go live with them. I know they really care about me but I like living here. I still want to go on teaching for a few more years. I have lovely friends and Niluka (her loyal domestic helper from Sri Lanka) here. I can hop on a bus and go places on a whim. Besides, at my age, more and more health problems are cropping up, like my eyes.... But my Gold Card (gratuity benefit for teachers) takes care of everything. I get free medical treatment for life. I don’t want to become totally reliant on my kids you know…”

As she trials off, I can really understand how she feels. I have seen how much her kids cherish her. But I have also seen parents who totally give up their homes and move in with their kids only to lose their freedom and independence. Kids mean well for their parents but sometimes they forget that nobody likes to feel helpless and reliant, no matter how old or young they are.

I walk out the gate, wave goodbye and promise to visit again soon. I'll be back, Mrs Rajah.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Saturday's surprise!

Curry simmering in the wok. EE says it looks like fruit cake.

It's The day! Mother Hen's coming over today! Her mum's going to give us some herbs and seedlings to help us kickstart our vegetable garden. I'm cooking Indian curry chicken for lunch.

While the chicken curry is simmering away merrily in the wok, I run to the garden to cut a bunch of orchids for her mummy. Before picking Mother Hen up, I'm going to spring a surprise visit on Mrs Rajah who lives in the same neighbourhood. She used to give my kids English lessons. Oh, she'll be so pleasantly surprised and happy to receive the flowers. It's Mother's Day afterall but all her three kids and five grandchildren are living in USA.
Oh, the curry smells heavenly. It's almost time for me to leave now. Ciao!

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Mother's Day Bash

Anyone who doesn’t know Mother’s Day is coming must be living under a rock. The advertisers have been going out in full force, plying gifts and treats for mum. They pop up everywhere…in the papers, on radio, tv…making you feel guilty if you haven’t done anything for mum.

Yesterday, YK asked me “What do you want for Mother’s Day?”
I went, “Hmm, I want…ummm….”
“You’re supposed to say something like you don’t want anything from us and that you’re happy if we do well in school and love you….”
I laughed, “Of course. I was only pretending. If I’d asked for anything, I probably have to give you money to buy me a gift anyway.”

When the kids were little, they used to make little drawings and cards with lots of hearts and lovely words. They've bought little cute stuff from the school bookshop with their pocket money. I still keep them because some things are just priceless.

Tomorrow, we’re having a big Mother’s Day Bash at home for the 4 mums - Ma, 2 sisters-in-law and yours truly. We’ve already ordered a cake and we’re going to have a feast though I haven’t planned what to cook yet! But I know it’s going to be a blast because The Real Mother Hen is coming too!

The art of flattery

I accompany EE to the car showroom. She wants my opinion after test-driving some cars.

At the cosy showroom, a young and sweet salesgirl attends to us. Seeing how chummy the boss is with the staff, I venture, “Is he your father?”
She giggles, “No lah”, and calls out “Aye Boss! She thinks I’m your daughter!” before bursting into laughter.
Big Boss looks at me with a forced smile, obviously not very amused.
“But, but….this looks like a family business what!” I try to explain.

EE, obviously the one with the higher EQ, comes to the rescue. “Noooo. Not possible! Girlfriend more likely lah!”
Big Boss is now giving us a big smile, his head bobbing up and down in approval.
EE is ready to negotiate, “Now, let’s get down to business. I’m sure you can give me a better deal right?”
Big Boss' face lightens up. Grinning from ear to ear now, he says “Sure! Not only will I knock off $1,000, I’ll even throw in a FREE DVD player, GPS and leather upholstery.”
“Deal! Now, my friend here is also planning to change her car. What can you do for her?”
Big Boss looks at me with a grim expression, shaking his head, “Your car cannot sell lah. Nowadays, nobody wants to buy this kind of car.”

But why?! How can!? My car is only 2 years old. It’s sporty and so nice. I love my car!!

EE turns to me, “Go figure…”

Damn! I should learn some PR skills from her.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Touched by a book

When was the last time you were inspired by a book you’ve read?

I like non fiction, travel tales and memoirs. Hence, I am often inspired. Recently, in The Lonely Planet Story, I read about how the founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler grew the company. It was such a source of inspiration for me, I promptly went out and bought “Tales from Nowhere” published by their company.

Years ago, after reading An Embarassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof, of how she and hubby put their careers on hold, rented out their house, and sailed around the Caribbean for 2 years, I started dreaming of sailing away into the sunset.

When Remedial Rumination mentioned Frances Mayes in her blog, I remember how my trip to Tuscany materialised after reading the book Under the Tuscan Sun by Mayes.

I was transfixed after reading her beautifully written memoir about taking chances, living in Italy, restoring an abandoned villa called "Bramasole" in the spectacular Tuscan countryside, at a time when I was also rebuilding my life. The unexpected treasures at every turn like the faded frescoes beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, the vibrant markets and her loving descriptions of food, recipes, and gardening tips add sensuality to the book. The book touched me in so many ways, I even bought the DVD and watched the movie several times.

It's no surprise that I visited Italy soon after, starting with picturesque Tuscany (duh!), then northwards to the ancient city of Bologna, followed by Venice - the famous city on water, to the coastal town of Trieste before going down to Rome. It was a journey I had to make, all by myself like Mayes. I had the time of my life.

We're visiting Turkey in June. My friend Francesco has recommended a good book “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk, the talented Turkish novelist who examines modern Turkish society from various facets. I intend to get hold of this book soon for I know it will inspire me.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

From the A to the Z...

Thanks to The Real Mother Hen for tagging me. This sounds like an on-line dating profile but here goes…

A – Available or Single? Single but not available.
B – Best Friend? Can I have 2? My childhood friend Ms Blur Queen and Mother Hen who’s roosting in USA.
C – Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Pie? Cake! The soft, oozy and messy kind!
D – Dress Up or Casual (your typical attire)? Casual, ethnic stuff. I like to think I’m a gypsy…
E – Essential Item? Sad to say, it’s got to be my car. Where I live is inaccessible, we’ll all be stuck at home without my car.
F – Favorite Color? Black. My life is already quite colourful.
G – Gummy Bears or Gummy Worms? Bears. They’re definitely cuter than worms.
H – Hobbies? Gardening, reading, cooking, writing, traveling, hiking and most recently blogging. Does daydreaming count?
I – Indulgences? Chocolate, cheese cakes, nuts, ice cream…. and all the hot and cold Asian desserts. Yummm
J – January or February? January. I can finally put a stop to all that eating and partying and start a new routine. An exercise programme especially!
K – Kids? 2 boys. They fill my life with joy. They’re also filling up more space now that they are bigger…
L – Life is incomplete without….? Family, friends and pets. Other things can wait… until I get hungry, that is.
M – Money or Love? Love, because your loved ones will make sure you won’t go hungry. They can go earn the money.
N – Night Owl or Morning Person? How to be a night owl if I have to be up at 5.30am every morning? Nobody asks me out to party anymore :-(
O – Oranges or Apples? Oranges, only if they are sweet.
P – Phobias/Fears? Phobia is my middle name! Roller coasters, parasailing, bungee jumping, snakes, lizards and toads.
Q – Quote personally from you? I’m going to borrow shamelessly here, don’t sue me. “Just do it!”
R – Rock Star or Actor?
Can’t act to save my life. I wanna be a Rock Chick!
S – Share something you learned recently. Words or things that I used to have at the back of my head don’t come so easily to me anymore. Mum used to say that years ago and I never believed her. I can fully empathise with her now.
T – Tag Two People. This is a tough one. Most of my friends don’t blog and the ones who do have already done this. Maybe I'll email them instead.
U – Unknown or Little Known Fact About You? I appear tough but I am a real softie. I cry at almost every movie, even cartoons. I've been bringing lost animals home since young. When I was in China, there were so many beggars with little babies, I wished I could bring them home too. (the babies, that is)
V – Vegetarian or Oppressor of Animals? Love vegetables. I love animals too, so I try not to eat them. It’s mostly seafood and chicken for me.
W – Worst Habit or Habits? I reprimand the kids too quickly. I regret after that because I hated being reprimanded when I was a kid. But they still love me :-)
X – XXX's or OOO's? ‘O’ cos rounded edge is better for fengshui.
Z – Zodiac Sign? Virgo.

Welcome home V!

It's 7.30am on a Wednesday morning. My dear friend V must have just landed at our Singapore Changi Airport a couple of hours ago. She must be tired or even jet-lagged, having flown across the world, where the sun is setting on a Tuesday evening.

Yet, she cannot deny that feeling of euphoria for she's home at last! She's been away for more than a year, how can she not be happy to walk on this ground again? I know that feeling though I have never been away from home for that long.

Whenever I travel, the excitement of being in a new place starts to dissipate after 2 weeks or so. I'll be longing to be home again. I will miss my favourite peanut pancakes, listening to Mandarin pop songs and the radio Djs chattering away on air. I'll miss my daily routines and the faces of my loved ones. The moment I touch down is a feeling of joy and relief.

Welcome home V!

A Singlish lesson

As Singaporeans, we write in English but when it comes to talking, we switch to Singlish, our Singapore slang. It’s one of Singapore's best-loved quirks, used daily by everyone from cabbies to CEOs.

Overheard in school….
A: Wah lau, today the paper damn hard seah. How to pass like that? [The test paper was really tough. It’s going to be difficult for me to pass.]
B: Yalor, I also cannot finish. How ah? Like that sure die one. [Yes, I couldn’t finish answering the questions too. Looks like I’m going to fail.]
A: Who ask the teacher lah! Kena this kind of paper also bopian. [It’s all the teacher’s fault! But really, there’s nothing much we can do about it now.]
B: Hiya, I study so much also no use liao. All never come out. [Sigh. No use studying so much. The topics that I revised were not even tested.]
A: Nehmind, I bochap liao. Test nia. We go jalan jalan lah. Relac abit hor. [It’s alright. I don’t care anymore. It’s only a test afterall. Let’s go for a walk to relax ok.]
B: Ok lor. I also damn sian. We go there eat ice cream lah. They say damn shiok! [Ok. I’m so discouraged right now. Let’s eat ice cream over there. I heard it’s really delicious!]

Expatriates who are initially perplexed soon find themselves speaking some Singlish but it’s never quite the same because it’s such a complex rojak [mixture] whereby English follows Chinese grammar and is liberally sprinkled with words from the local Chinese, Malay and Indian dialects.

Our government frowns on the use of Singlish saying it reflects badly on us and is bad for Singapore's sober image as a commercial and financial center. As if having a reputation of being kiasu (afraid to lose out to others ) is not bad enough....

Well, I think Singlish is fun and witty. I won’t give it up for anything in the world. Where else can you call someone a blur sotong (clueless as a squid) or toot (uncool) or a bald person a ‘botak head’? Do you know a flat tyre is known as 'car ponchek' and to reverse is to ‘gostun’? Don't play play, ok.

Monday, 7 May 2007

The art of listening

I had dinner with an acquaintance last night. I’ve known him for several years and we meet occasionally when he’s in town. He has lived in Dubai for a long time and is about to retire in Australia with his family. A well traveled man in his 60s, he’s a fine storyteller, and boy he has lots of stories to tell.

When I am out with him, I don’t have to rack my brain to think of anything interesting to say. Take last night for example. I wasn’t given much opportunity to open my mouth anyway because this man can certainly go on and on, in his slow monotonous tone. Sometimes, the stories get complicated like when he's talking about his friend A, who is married to B and how their domestic maid was found sleeping with C, who is a friend of A and relative of D… you know what I mean?

But that’s fine by me, I hear (but not really listening) and chew blissfully on my sashimi as his voice droned in the background. I zone in and out… I mean do I really want to know if A is sleeping with C or D? Just as I was about to put in my 2 cents worth, he began raving about his trip to Copenhagen the day before Prince Albert got married and how the people lined the streets in anticipation of the big do, and how he met so and so… Seeing how quiet I was, he asked “So, have you been to Copenhagen? You've heard of the wedding?”

“Huh? Oh, Yes... So how many days will you be in Singapore this time?”, unaware that my innocuous questions had given him another signal to start…

“I leave on Thursday night. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be going to an office at Marina House for a meeting, then Mr X will pick me up from the hotel for lunch at my favourite Thanying Thai Restaurant. After that, I’ll be meeting Mr Y for a drink at the lounge followed by dinner at the club. Wednesday morning, I have a round of golf at Laguna with Mr Z….and on Thursday morning, I’ll drop into the office for a couple of hours, check out of the hotel at noon, have lunch with Ms A, then I have nothing to do until I take a taxi to the airport for my flight at 11pm. Then I’ll fly to Sydney, stay for a month and go back to Dubai on 15 June. On 10 July, I will fly to Toronto to attend my niece’s wedding. You know Air Canada has a direct flight now from Sydney to Canada which means I don’t have to transit…..On October 10, I’ll fly in to Copenhagen, stay for 2 days, then fly to Bremen where Ms T promised to drive all the way from Hamburg to pick me up and bring us to the meeting at this place that’s about 3 hour drive away……”

As you can imagine, I had already zoned out, focusing my attention on the grilled salmon cheek that had appeared before us. Sensing that he had paused, I said “Oh wow, you’ve got your schedule planned out so far ahead.”

Encouraged by my respond, he launched into another segment of his itinerary… “After Germany, I will fly back to Sydney and stay there for one year and then I’ll…”

I looked up and found that the restaurant had gone very quiet. The waitress told us they’re closing in 10 minutes. Wow, has it been so long? But our friend wasn’t quite done yet. He said, “Can you bring us some green tea ice cream before you close?”

As we were eating ice cream, he started talking about the political situation in Sri Lanka and how he had almost invested in some properties there which would have been a big mistake compared to the fantastic investments he had made in Dubai....blah blah blah

I looked at my watch and exclaimed, “Oh wow, I’m sorry to interrupt but how time flies. I really have to go home quickly or my kids will be late for school tomorrow morning! It's so nice to see you again. Have a safe trip. Ciao!”

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Feng shui

I surround myself with lots of greenery and natural light in the office.

My latest addition - green Buddha bottle

I've some interest in Feng Shui which means "Wind and Water" in Chinese. Underlying the practical guidelines of feng shui is a general theory of Nature. Nature is generally held to be a discrete entity that breathes qi (a kind of life force or spiritual energy). Since life exists within either air or water, Qi is said to be the life energy that flows within these two environments.

It gets complicated to go into details but I'm always mindful of where I sit and what’s around me. Here are some simple guidelines that I adhere to. Some are commonsense actually.

- Avoid sharp corners especially those that point to where you sit, stand or sleep. Do not put cactus or plants with sharp leaves in the house. Choose those with round leaves.
- Do not sleep beneath exposed beams on the ceiling. It means you’re always under pressure.
- Do not sit or sleep facing exposed shelving. The horizontal lines of the shelves can ‘cut’ you.
- When sitting at a desk, the entrance door should be in a clear line of sight, and you should have a view of as much of the room as possible.
- Avoid sitting at a place where you are facing inwards, leaving your back exposed. That way, nobody can sneak up on you and give you a scare.
- Avoid installing mirrors beside your bed to avoid giving yourself a bad fright when you wake up in the middle of the night.
- When lying in bed, the entrance door should not be directly facing the soles of your feet. In other words, the end of the bed should not be in line with the door.
- Generally the best area in any room is the spot diagonally across the door.
- Avoid clutter or overdecorating your table with too many objects. Clutter blocks the flow of qi and those objects represent piles of stress and bad luck you could be carrying. You should be able to sit at a table and have an open view in front of you.
- Avoid living in houses in front of cemeteries, hospitals, and mortuaries.
- The most auspicious spaces for homes are lots located in streets shaped like a horseshoe.
- In choosing homes, it's best to go for the ones that have a hill or a taller building behind you. That means you will have strong backing. Do not choose one right at the top of the hill where you’re exposed to the elements.
- Homes or apartments that are square-shaped are optimal for chi flow.

Happy Birthday Ma!

Seventy years ago, a tiny baby was born in Singapore to Chinese immigrant parents from Fujian province. The first few years of her life were hard. Her father worked as a taxi driver who struggled to support a big family. A bad-tempered man who ruled the household with an iron fist, he had a soft spot for this frail girl, the child with a sweet temperament and delicate features. That little girl is my mum. Ma turns 70 today.

Living in a big household with ten siblings, life was filled with chores and childhood pranks. It was also filled with trauma for she was merely 5 years old when the Japanese invaded Singapore. Forced to flee for their lives and hide in trenches, they were lucky to emerge unscathed. Life resumed to normality soon after. Village life was simple but hard. Being one of oldest, she had her chores. At the crack of dawn, she and her sister would lug the laundry to the nearest well for washing. Imagine two little girls struggling to draw water from the well and scrubbing loads of dirty clothes in the cold morning! The task was fraught with danger too. Her sister fell into the deep well once, and Ma ran all the way home screaming for help. Her sister was lucky to be hauled up alive but in a state of shock.

Being the favourite child had its privileges. My grandfather had the foresight to give her some education. At that time, it was uncommon for girls to attend school. She became the rose among the thorns in class. Life in school was no bed of roses for her though. She was taunted endlessly by the boys in class, except for one quiet but seriously good looking boy who would become my dad. Being a smart cookie, she always topped the class and went on to an all-girls secondary school and pre-university. Traveling to school often proved to be a nightmare. Torrential downpours would leave the entire village flooded. Traffic would come to a standstill and there was no telecommunications to speak of. She would arrive home close to midnight, hungry and cold, after wading through chest-deep water. Till today, she would marvel at how they overcame such adversities at a young age. They could have been swept away by the currents…

After a brief stint as a trainee nurse, she realized that wasn’t her calling. She later found a job at the Royal Air Force. Those were the best years of her life. Her diligence and beauty attracted many suitors but she had her eyes set on my father. They got married and life was comfortable. I remember attending Christmas parties at the Air Base and getting presents from Santa Claus and her English colleagues. We used to visit her best friend Aunty Madevi who later married an airman and migrated to Australia.

After the British army withdrew from Singapore, she was given the golden handshake. Faced with three children and itching for something to do, dad suggested orchid farming. From a small farm in our backyard, Ma manages a commercial orchid farm with several workers today.

She’s indeed a remarkable woman. At 70, she’s mentally and physically alert. She walks up and down the 5-acre farm every morning doing some work to keep herself fit and busy. She’s got a better memory and vocab than me.

In business, she’s well liked because of her honesty and patience. Once she has made a commitment, she keeps to her word. Never extravagant, she’s fiercely independent and prefers a simple life. The idea of wheeling and dealing in a competitive world is distasteful to her and she’s rarely driven by the prospect of financial gain.

But underneath her calm exterior, she can be as stubborn as an ox if pushed against her will. I remember she was hotheaded as a young mother. I used to get scolded when she coached me in math. Being a busy mum, she made sure we grew up independent too. We had to wash and cook whenever she was busy in the farm. That is something I am always grateful for until today.

She’s mostly sociable and relaxed but occasionally a dark cloud looms over her and she’ll take on the worries of the world. She prefers serenity and she needs space to mull over problems and work through ideas, but being a smart woman, she always find the logical approach to her problems.

Every now and then she’ll be encouraged to try something new. She has traveled to many places across the world. We’ve gone on several mother-daughter trips which I always cherish.
Ma never nags and is always proud of our achievements. I’ve made some bad decisions in my life but she has never judged or criticized me. She doesn’t say “I’ve told you so.” Instead, she’s always encouraging me to move forward. She’s a pillar of strength and she shows her concern and care in so many ways. Her love is unconditional. She embraces me and the kids with wide open arms, we know we can always turn to her anytime.

At this age, she’s often plagued by small ailments which weaken her. She’s not as sprightly as before and doesn’t have anymore desire to travel the world. She’s done so much for us all these years, it’s time she enjoys her golden years, surrounded by lively grandkids and family warmth.

When I see her little face with the girlish demeanour, I see her past and my future.

When I grow up, I wanna be just like you Ma. Happy birthday!

Songs about girlfriends

I was running to the latest hits on the radio this morning. 98.7FM was playing ‘Girlfriend’ by Nelly. I notice how men love to sing about their girlfriends. Take this one by Cupid’s Chokehold for example. He proclaims his love for his girlfriend for the world to see, “Take a look at my girlfriend…”

Avril Lavigne came on air next shouting “Hey hey you you, I wanna be your girlfriend!’ But Natasha Beddingfield had to go and spoil it all by singing “I wanna have your baby!”

Hey you! Don’t you know that it goes downhill from here? You don’t see any guys singing about the mother of their babies, do you?

Maybe they’ll sing about their babies, but not about the wifey.

Hey guys, show some love please!

Saturday, 5 May 2007


I was reading in my room last night. YK came in and plonked on my bed.
“I’m so bored. Shall we go out?”
I said “Nope. Your exam’s starting tomorrow!”

Then he pretended to whine which made me very irritated.
“Go to your room and do something useful.”
“Why are you so angry when you know I’m pretending?”
“I don’t care if it’s real or pretend. It's very annoying.”
“Oh really? How about you try it on me?”

I don’t know much about whining. It’s probably too ridiculous for me to start. So I did what I know best…
“Your exam starts tomorrow and you’re complaining you’ve got nothing to do? You should go and revise your school work especially your weaker subjects like….blah blah…”
“OK, I’m out of here!”
I win!

While sending SK for tuition this morning, he asked, “Do you think you're the best mum in the world?”
“Nope, there’re lots of fantastic mums out there.”
“But every child thinks his mum is the best.”
“Oh, really? What about you?”
“Yah, I think you’re the best mum in the world.”

Friday, 4 May 2007

In good company

It's hot and sunny outside, what a great day to plant vegetables! First I had to clear the weeds. Using a 'changko' (hoe), I loosened the soil and made a bed before sowing sweet corn kernels. The sun was scorching by the time I was done. As I sat under the shade nursing a bottle of beer, Rusty snuggled up next to me. When it became too hot for him outside, he snuck back indoors. But that's ok. Russell, the spotted mongrel who lives in the neighbourhood, came by to keep me company.
Rusty would be so jealous!

Hurry, I want curry!

I cooked chicken curry for lunch today. I know you’re thinking "Curry again?"... well, it’s different from the one I made last week.

If you think there are only Indian and Thai curries, please think again. We have many versions here - Indian, Malay, Peranakan, Thai, Japanese, Eurasian - that use different combinations of spices to produce the most heavenly dishes.

Today’s curry is really simple to make. Just fry shallots, chilli and curry paste till fragrant, add in chicken and potatoes pieces. Stir in water and coconut milk and let it simmer. When the aromatic smell of curry fills the house, it’s time for me to run out to the garden to grab some curry leaves (careful not to get the ones with YK’s caterpillars or eggs on them). Have you ever sniffed curry leaf? It’s got the best smell ever! That few pieces really make a huge difference to the dish!

When the curry is cooked, serve with plain rice or baguette. Yummy!

Everybody here loves curry and extra points for the mummy who can cook curry in a hurry.

Satisfying night out!

I always look forward to my Friday outings with CH because it's the only weekday that I get to eat out! So sad right? Well, I have dinner at home with the kids and my parents on most days.

So I never let my Friday nights go to waste. We'd start thinking of what to eat the day before. I'd flip through the papers or recall food programmes on TV. Sometimes I surf the Net for food reviews...not a good idea because we'd turned up at food places that were long gone. The stuff that I read could be several years old! I'm more careful these days...

We were busy yesterday and didn't do any research. CH suggested 'zhi char' at Bedok. On the way there, we decided to turn off to Jackson Food Centre at Macpherson. We know it's famous for lots of yummy local food and I vaguely remember the unique "steamed shark head" dish being sold here. Yup...shark head! An enterprising chef realised that shark heads were being thrown away at the fish wholesale centre, hence he created this signature dish that made him famous.

We were greeted with lots of stalls in Jackson Food Centre. Dim sum, roast meats, frog porridge, hokkien prawn mee, ban mian, barbecue seafood, teochew porridge, mutton herbal soup, char kuay teow, fried carrot cake, oyster omelette and Katong laksa. The famous ngoh hiang stall is here too. A food centre isn't complete without a dessert stall and I wasn't disappointed! It was dispensing the most colourful icy creations. I must have some after dinner.

Again, when confronted with too many choices, my mind went blank. After scanning around and spying on what others were eating, we decided on roast duck, ban mian and dim sum.

The duck was roasted to perfection. I know how Singaporeans rave about the roast duck in Hong Kong and even London, this stall here (Hong Kong style, by the way) is good enough for me. It was seasoned just right and the meat was tender and succulent. Simply delicious on its own and tastier when dipped in the fragrant chilli paste!

The ban-mian (hand made) noodle soup was generously garnished with crispy fried anchovies, chye sim vegetable, chunky meat balls and egg. It came with a lethal chilli dip. The soup was so yummy, CH drank every bit of it. I felt very thirsty later in the evening. It could be the msg in the flavourful soup!

The dim sum with crunchy bits of asparagus, whole peanuts and fish paste wrapped in bean curd skin was rather unique and went well with the sweet chilli sauce.

So you can see, we had 3 types of chilli sauce on our table. All different in taste, colour, texture and degree of spiciness. That's what a typical local meal is like. I made a mental note to bring Viv to Jackson's when she's back.

After dinner, I stood at the dessert stall ogling at the huge array of desserts. From the traditional ice kachang to the ones topped with grated peanuts, durian, mango or strawberry, chendol, fruit jelly, ice ruby and hot desserts, they have it all. I finally decided on red bean milk ice and lychee ice.

The shaved ice mountain smothered with sweet mushy red beans and topped with a generous heap of sweet condensed milk was simply heavenly! It got tastier as the ice melted into a sweet milky slush. The refreshing lychee drink rounded up the dinner nicely.

Ahh, another satisfying Friday night out!

Happy ending

I bought myself a new pair of sunglasses last Friday and I left it in my car so that I can wear it while driving.

To my horror, when I wore it today, it didn’t fit my face anymore. The scorching sun must have caused it to warp.

So, I took some time off today and brought it back to the shop in town, half expecting scornful looks from sales people telling me there’s nothing they can do about it. I shouldn’t be feeling this way but you know how enthusiastic some sales people are when it comes to selling but the after sales service is just non existent?

I walked into Paris Miki and was greeted with smiling faces. So far, so good. I whipped out my glasses and they sprang into action. Yup, it’s warped alright but no problem, we’ll fix it right away! No questions asked. After shaping and washing, I tried it on and it’s back to normal!

Encouraged by their positive attitude, I brought out my old pair of shades for adjustment. No problem too. It was adjusted, washed and handed back to me with a smile.

I walked out of the shop feeling so impressed that I prompty visited their website to find out more about their company when I got back.

Founded in Japan in 1930, Paris Miki has always placed great importance in training their staff. They even have a school to train them from eyecare theory to technical knowledge and customer service.

They have achieved what they've set out to do. I wish other retailers would learn from them too.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Basheer and the Bookstore

Reading about “boi para’ in Time magazine suddenly makes me think of Basheer.

The ‘boi para” or “neighbourhood of books” in College Street, Kolkata, India offers the largest mass of secondhand volumes in Asia. Generations of Kolkata’s famous writers and revolutionaries have come of age amid its chaos.

Now, back to this gentle soft-spoken guy called Basheer. Back in the 1980s, before the proliferation of online bookstores, or the Internet for that matter, Basheer would come round to our design studio on his little scooter every month, plying us with glossy design books and magazines. This enterprising young man would, in his accented English, give a review of the latest publications. He'd wait patiently as we went through his collection and he'd allow us to keep our favourites for a week or two.

More often than not, these books would never leave our library. We’d find his bill in our mailbox later. The affable Basheer with the growing biceps, soon built up a stable of customers rapidly – architects, ad agencies, designers, fashion houses, animators etc – and grew the business regionally.

From one small shop in Bras Basah Complex, it expanded to two. Then a new one sprouted in Kuala Lumpur, followed by another in Thailand. I googled “Basheer Graphic Books” and found that they’ve even gone into publishing! Oh, they have a nifty website too!

Such determination and diligence had won him lots of respect from friends in the industry. Even in today’s highly competitive environment, the demand for Basheer’s books is still growing.

Well done, my friend!