Monday, 31 March 2008

Daddy green fingers

My dad has green fingers. During weekends, you'll find him tending to the fruit trees in the garden. Like the way he cares for the family, he feeds his plants with organic fertilisers and mulches the garden bed regularly.

Here are some fruits of his labour.

Dad's friend gave him some pitaya (dragon fruit) cactus. After taking care of the plants diligently, a large flower bud appeared one day.

The white large fragrant flower of the pitaya opens only at night, hence it is sometimes called moonflower or queen of the night.

The flower develops into a green fruit with leathery skin covered with scales.

It turns pinkish as it develops. The fruit can weigh from 150-600 grams and the flesh, which is eaten raw, is mildly sweet and rich in fiber and minerals. Some of the fruits have white flesh with tiny black crunchy seeds like the kiwi fruit. Our dragon fruit has red flesh with black seeds.

I bought this soursop plant from the nursery for YK to breed a particular type of butterfly. From a small plant, it has grown into a tall fruit tree. Though it flowers continuously throughout the year, we've not seen any fruit. After my dad started fertilising the plant, we're beginning to see more flowers and even a little spiky fruit. I can't wait to taste the sweet succulent pulp.

My kids love passionfruit. When I was young, we could find them growing in the wild but you can hardly find them around these days. So when I saw this plant at the nursery, laden with fruits, I bought it even though it cost $45 (US$32). It's a good buy because it keeps producing fruits. Now that we have 4 passionfruit plants at home, dad has built a new flower bed around the plants and added more top soil.

Papa's pride and joy. He grows the papaya plants from seeds.

Our lime plants at home are always laden with fruits. I use the limes for making salad dressing. I also make a dip using lime, garlic and chilli padi which goes very well with steamed fish.
The broad leaves belong to our grape vine which refuses to produce any grapes. In the past, we've had some grapes but they were even more sour than the lime.

Our jackfruit tree produces too many fruits until it is now leaning on one side. It grew from a seed that I brought home about 10 years ago after I ate a piece of jackfruit from the fruit stall. It produces huge fruits with lots of sweet yellow flesh and hard round seeds inside. It's a pity we leave the fruits on the tree until they rot away.

Blissed out

When I went to bed last night, I realised that I was still grinning from ear to ear. The reason for my happiness, I analysed, was because I had a wonderful dinner with all the favourite people in my life.

Mother Hen and her hubby treated us (CH, me and the kids) to dinner at Crystal Jade Restaurant. After a yummilicious dinner of noodles, dumplings and an assortment of dim sum, we adjourned to Geylang for durians.

It was one of our most enjoyable outings. The formula?

Good food + loved ones = happiness!

The steamed dumplings were really delicious. In the background, you can see Mother Hen and her Alec-Baldwin-lookalike-hubby's hands and chopsticks. Oops, their faces are hidden. Sorry about that...

YK ordered seafood noodles while we had la-mian.

Durian - We don't care if you think it smells like stinky sneakers. We just love it!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Whirlwind tour

I often travel on business with my associates. Being a male dominated industry, my fellow travelers are mostly men. Now I am beginning to realise the difference in our traveling style.

While the guys like to huddle around the bar after meetings, I prefer to go out and explore the surroundings. It doesn't matter if we're in a small town or an industrial city, I would still put on my walking shoes and head outside where I can observe the landscape, plants, animals, buildings and the way the locals go about with the daily lives.

All the guys want to do is talk about work all day long. I can't understand why. Surely life is more than just work, work and beer right?

Just before we left Taoyuan, I decided to make a whirlwind tour of the heartlands. It was drizzing when I boarded the taxi after breakfast. When I told the driver to send me to the 'big temple', he asked, "Do you want me to stop at the front or the back gate?"

That sounded like a sprawling area. I wondered if I had enough time to see everything. As it turned out, the temple's a pretty small one and soon I was back at the hotel to complete my packing.

I've arrived at the big temple. Well, that's all to it.

The temple ground is flanked on all sides by intricately carved entrances.

Caged dragon in the front yard.

Side entrance.

This pavilion is where incense paper is burnt.

The main temple building is quite a piece of art.

Huge incense jar at the entrance.
The side doors of the main temple feature beautiful illustrations of deities.

Taking a last look of the temple from the outside.

The temple ground is surrounded by rows of shops and a bustling market.

This small alley is where fish, meat, fruits and vegetable stall holders sell their produce. It was so packed, I could hardly walk.

Locally grown tangerines, tomatoes and other fruits for sale. I lugged back some waxed water apples for the kids. Conrad was almost too embarrassed to be seen with me at the airport. He couldn't believe how anyone would buy fruits home. "But, they're for my kids!"

Crab, shellfish and fresh prawns.
Dog sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the hustle bustle around him.
Anchovies, fish roe and squid.

Morning walk

We arrived in Taoyuan on Thursday afternoon, freshened up at the hotel and went for our meeting. In the evening, we were treated to a wonderful dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant. For the first time, I ate the infamous stinky tofu which turned out to be surprisingly good. The table was groaning under the weight of so many other dishes like braised pork knuckle, lion's head meat balls , drunken chicken, cod fish, seafood soup, bamboo shoot and so forth. Our hosts were really hospitable.

Conrad, being an Englishman, was obviously quite appalled at the prospect of having to eat something that smells like sewer or chopped up lion's meat. It didn't help that we saw a squawking goose farm enroute to the hotel where I saw his face turned a shade whiter.

I said, "Don't worry, these are made using pork, not lion's meat." Anyway, he nibbled some tofu but didn't touch the delicious meatball. Since he wasn't feeling too well that day, we went back to the hotel after dinner.

I got up early the next morning and went for a walk around the neighbourhood.

We stayed at Monarch Plaza, the only 5-star hotel in this tiny province, so we were paying 3-star rates.

I came across a man on a unicycle. In case you're wondering if everyone here rides a unicycle, the answer is no. This was the only one I saw.

The pavement was lined with pretty flowers in red, pink and white.

I love these trees that have nothing but big peach-coloured flowers on their branches.

At 7.30am in the morning, the streets were starting to come alive with people walking their dogs, sending their kids to school and getting ready for work. The shops were still shut but I managed to see the locals going about their daily lives.

A cabbage plant outside a house.

While many Taiwanese go about on their scooters, there was no lack of luxury cars on the road. I didn't see any poverty around here.
In fact, I saw many opulent buildings such as this.

This modern library building belongs to the primary school right across our hotel.

I saw many parent volunteers at the road junctions and near the school gates, directing traffic and making sure the kids are safe. Here, it is interesting to see how they can form an impromptu crossing using flags.

Kids streaming into the school.

The streets started getting busy at around 8am.

Even in the city, there are small pockets of farmland in between the tall buildings.

An elderly man tending to his small cabbage patch and tiny vegetable garden.

Some of the farmland behind city dwellings are paddy fields. I wonder what they were planning to grow here.

This roadside plant looks like a mulberry tree.

It's hard to believe that this street is right next to the farm.

It's common to find a small but intricately carved temple next to a huge mansion or apartment building. Perhaps they are there to protect the buildings but I like the contrasting architecture.

This is one of the luxurious residential developments in the city. There were several stern looking security guards patrolling the premises. When I took a photo of the facade, one of them pointed and yelled at me. I simply walked away, hoping that he would not run after me or consficate my camera.

A tiny canal runs through the city, poviding irrigation to some of the small farms nearby.

More of my favourite trees and a small temple at the cross junction.

Taoyuan Night Market

After my Taiwan trip, I'm definitely few kilos heavier. I'm beginning to wonder how Taiwanese women stay slim. They zip about on their scooter through the streets that are lined with snack bars and street vendors plying delicious food.

While poor Conrad was lying in his room nursing a cold on Friday night, I decided to take a taxi to the night market. So, there I was, wandering about in the night market in Taoyuan district, checking out trendy clothes that were too teeny weeny to fit me. What to do if the clothes can't fit? Why, eat of course!

I normally dislike dining alone but having light snacks by the roadside seemed quite appealing on a cool night like this.

I found this little cutie guarding a stall at the market.

Shoes galore!

The night market here was very quiet on a Friday night. I can imagine the night market in Taipei, which is about 30 minutes drive away, must be bustling and packed with tourists and locals.

Steamed groundnuts and other snacks for sale.

Locally grown strawberries glaced in a sugary sweet coating.

Popular fried street snacks.

Hot noodles.

I ordered a bowl of noodles topped with pieces of fried fish and vegetables.

I also tried a small bowl of gooey seafood soup.

The wonderful smells from this tiny stall was too irresistable, I ordered a small bag of deep fried pork. It was the best thing I had eaten during my 3 days in Taiwan. The meat beneath the crispy batter was so tender and well seasoned, I am still drooling as I write. The vendor sprinkled some chilli powder to give this snack an extra kick. Ah, I wish I can find this in Singapore.

When I came across this brightly lit dessert store, I just knew I had to walk in and order something.

While I was eating my eight-treasure ice, I couldn't help staring at the other colourful pictures on the wall!
Aren't these tempting?