Monday, 29 April 2013

A muddy Saturday

When our friends at The Rainforest Sports Hub told us about the huge football tournament on a Saturday that would attract thousands of parents and kids from the international schools, we were intrigued. So when they organised an English market that day, we jumped on the bandwagon and took up a spot to sell our vegetable growing kits.

Alas, the weather wasn't cooperative that morning but the persistent rain didn't dampen the spirits of the young players. As we stood under the tent, we saw team after team filing by, stomping on the wet gravel, splashing through the puddles and raring to go for a good game.
The funny thing was, none of the expat parents seemed bothered by the rain and mud either. Some came in their wellies, others simply waddle through the puddles, sending muddy water splashing up to their thighs and buttocks.

Many brought their dogs to join in the fun. As you can imagine, the dogs ended up caked in mud as well.

As the day wore on, the sun began to shine. Some kids went home with trophies while others left with bruises and bandages. It didn't matter how muddy, wet or stinky they were, their parents simply herded them into the car, dogs and all, and drove away just like that.

I was most impressed.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

YK turns 21

YK turns 21 today. He says he no longer needs my consent to get married. He was joking of course. But really, he is no longer a kid. For the first time in many years, he's not mugging for tests or sitting in mid-year exams. Having just been posted to the Infantry unit as a combat medic, he's adjusting to life in the army. Last week's outfield was tough but he has seen nothing yet. He is bracing himself for even tougher training ahead.

During my time, 21st birthday celebrations were such big deals and receiving a golden 21st birthday key was de riguer for the birthday kid. Of course, this dates from an old tradition that at 21 years old, you were considered old enough to be a keyholder to your family home. I doubt golden key giving is still practised today. I can already imagine YK rolling his eyes.
With him being away from home during the week, it's difficult to celebrate his birthday. Last weekend, I hurried to Cedele late in the night to buy a cake but only managed to get few slices. We stuck some candles on them and YK said, "No need to sing birthday song!"

Even though he's an adult now, he will always be my child and my love for him will never diminish.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Hong Kong quickie

Hong Kong is one of the favourite destinations for Singaporeans because it is only a 3.5-hour flight away. Having been there many times for work and play, I've personally witnessed how the service levels have improved over the years.

Once notorious for their gruff attitude and reluctance to communicate in anything other than Cantonese, the service staff is now happy to converse in Mandarin. The availability of English menus at most restaurants also makes ordering a whole lot easier and the fact that they've stop growling and tossing plates around also makes the experience less intimidating than before.

Regrettably, the only thing that has not improved is the air quality. The first time I brought the kids to Hong Kong Disneyland, YK had an asthma attack triggered by the pollution. We spent a couple of days holed up in the hotel room, venturing out only to buy congee from the cafe downstairs. We were so sick of eating porridge after that!

When I went back with YK again in 2011, the smog no longer bothered him. We didn't spend any time sightseeing for he was there to visit the marine fish shops along Goldfish Street. Being the foodie that he is, we also ate copious amount of food in three days.

So, it seemed like Déjà Vu when I made a similar trip last week, this time with his younger brother. SK was interested in trawling the freshwater fish shops instead. Frankly, it doesn't matter whether they are marine or freshwater, I am simply not a fan of fish. 

Thank goodness there are other distractions along the street, such as restaurants, cafes and shops selling aquatic plants. I was happy to find a shop that sells everything you need to start a vegetable garden at home.
Miniature water plants for the aquarium.
Happy City Farmer sells everything you need to start a vegetable garden.
To lessen the hassle of commuting, I booked a hotel (Royal Plaza in Mongkok) nearby so we could walk to the fish shops within minutes. It was a good move because the smog levels hit nearly decade-level highs when we arrived, obscuring the city’s skyline behind a blanket of white. The sky was overcast, with light drizzle throughout our 3-day stay, so it wasn't exactly the best time to visit Hong Kong.

I know of people who travel to Hong Kong just to satiate their food cravings.We're not the kind who go to great lengths to eat that but since we were there, we ate without much restraint. 

I wanted SK to try the food at my favourite restaurant in Hong Kong - Hing Kei Restaurant at 180 Nathan Road. While waiting for it to open at 6pm, we bought a piece of egg ball waffle from the popular stall outside. It was so good.
Egg ball waffle.
The fried mantis shrimp was so fresh and sweet.
Braised home-made tofu.
Extremely peppery but yummy clam soup.
Another excellent dish - steamed bamboo clam with garlic.
The restaurant owner insisted that we try their signature dish - rice noodles with roast goose.

There is something else that I am absolutely crazy about at Hing Kei - this icy cold drink brewed from carrot and water chestnut. I know it is hard for you to imagine how a humble drink can taste so good but trust me, we can drink gallons of this in one night.
We ended up with a hefty bill. Luckily the rest of our meals were very affordable, yet delicious. We walked into this small restaurant along Tung Choi Street for lunch and was wowed by the quality of food. It is popular with the locals but the menu is in English with lots of photos, so it is tourist friendly too.

SK had century egg and fish porridge.

The fried wanton is out of this world. Even the skin is so delicious, I wonder what kind of cooking oil is used here.

The owner recommended their roast goose, fresh out of the oven. The meat was tender and juicy.

While shopping at Tsim Sha Tsui, we came across Ippudo Ramen Shop. The one in Singapore @ Mandarin Gallery is considered one of the best ramen shops in Singapore, so what luck to stumble across one outlet in Hong Kong. We ordered their signature Akamaru Shinaji and the classic Shiromaru Motoaji.

The 25-year old recipe requires the slow cooking over long hours to achieve a perfect emulsion of oil and liquid, creating a rich and powerful Tonkotsu that enhances the flavour of pork–bone topped with IPPUDO's secret miso, garlic oil, lean slices of pork, black fungus, soybean sprouts and scallions.

To satisfy my sweet tooth, I insisted on eating some Hong Kong dessert before our flight. This little shop along Tung Choi Street was good enough for me. I had the black sticky rice with yam and cream, served hot while SK had the mango snow ice. What a nice, sweet ending to the trip.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Things to do in Malacca

Last year YK went with some friends to photograph migratory birds in Malacca. They headed straight to the forest, shot the birds, ate at a roadside stall and returned to Singapore. He did not get to see the side of Malacca that makes people flock to in droves.

I was surprised to see the crowd in Malacca City over the long Easter weekend. What is even more surprising is to see the long lines of people outside restaurants under the blazing midday sun. Aren't Singaporeans famous for avoiding the sun?
Lunch hour queue for Peranakan Food at Nancy's Kitchen.

The line for chicken rice outside Chung Wah Coffee Shop starts early in the morning.
Queue for chendol outside Jonker 88.
All kinds of delicious chendol at Jonker 88.

According to the driver who drove us back to Singapore (all the bus tickets were sold out that day, we had to get a cab), Malacca is a dead town during the week. Come weekend, the streets come alive with tourists from Singapore (mainly), China (we saw busloads) and Malaysians from other states.

Having worked in Singapore as a limousine driver for over 30 years, he couldn't understand why Singaporeans are drawn towards Malacca. "If you like Peranakan buildings, you have beautiful ones in Joo Chiat and Arab Street. The best chicken rice in found in Singapore! I have tasted such good ones in your food centres, why travel all the way here to eat mediocre ones?", he laments, shaking his head.

After spending a weekend in Malacca, I was also left wondering. We arrived in Malacca after a 4-hour bus journey just in time for lunch. There was a long line outside our favourite restaurant (Nancy's Kitchen), so we settled for Little Nonya. Even though we were seated immediately, we could see how over-worked the restaurant staff were. We were greeted with surly faces and no one made any effort to make us feel welcomed. The food wasn't outstanding either, pretty much like what we normally cook at home. I left the restaurant thinking that the owners have lost the passion for the business. It appears that making loads of money no longer bring them joy.
Little Nonya Restaurant.

Generally, most of the tourists wander around Jonker Street after lunch to while away time until it is time for dinner. Shops that are doing roaring business are mostly food, dessert stalls and pastry shops. Oh, those selling hats are doing well too.

To compete for the tourist dollar, many shops are embellished in eye pleasing colours and graphics.

 Most people look forward to the night market along Jonker Street. By then, the heat is gone and street is closed to traffic so that vendors can line both sides with all kinds of delicious offerings.

Muah chee.

Fried carrot cake.
We had satay, chicken wings and char kuay teow for dinner.

For early birds like CH and I, morning is the best time to explore the heritage city on foot. There is no risk of being run over by cars along the narrow streets and the sun is rather mild.
Old church.
Melaka River is a river which flows through the middle Malacca Town. Once an important trade route during the heyday of Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century, it is today flanked by hotels and restaurants along both sides.

This is where they unload all the tourists on group tours. That morning, the entire area was filled with hundreds of Chinese tourists doing the KL, Malacca and Singapore itinerary.

To escape from the crowd, we climb up a flight of steps to St Paul's Church, originally built in 1521.

Today, it is part of a museum and you'll find tombstones dating back to the 15th century.

Back at Jonker Street, we were pleasantly surprised to find a small flea market with a handful of vendors selling knick knacks from yesteryear.

It was good to visit Malacca again after so many years. Would I return again soon? Maybe not. It's not worth the time going all the way to jostle with the crowd. Then again, it depends on who I'm traveling with. We had fun this time because of the great company.