Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The inevitable

When I was in my late twenties, we lived in a small condo development with only 28 apartments. Below us lived a family with a young kid. The Taiwanese wife was the prettiest in the entire block. She was like an actress or what you might call the trophy wife. You know... porcelain complexion, delicate features, svelte figure, well groomed and always in pretty dresses.

Each time I saw her, I would go 'wow' and suck in my tummy. We lived there for about 8 years, residents came and went but she remained the prettiest mommy in the block.

Then one morning I saw her at the foyer as usual and she seemed to have aged overnight. Maybe my rose-tinted glasses weren't working anymore but the glow on her face was no longer there. The radiant skin had turned rather saggy and sallow.

Then it dawned on me that she had merely aged. She was already in her forties and the signs were beginning to show. I knew the same will happen to me one day.

When I entered my forties, I braced myself for that day. I constantly check myself in my photos for the signs. When we see ourselves in the mirror, we see not the real self but what we want to see. The truth is in the photographs.

Last night, I had to get some photos done for my passport renewal. Instead of going to the photo booth, SK kindly set up his SLR camera on the tripod so we could get the portraits shot at home. So convenient of course but the results were rather shocking.

Now seeing yourself in hi-resolution takes some getting used to. Nothing escapes the camera's lens. Every single spot and line show up clearly on your face.

While SK's youthful features are captured perfectly, all I see in my photos are the facial lines and wrinkles. Too bad we had chosen to shoot late in the night when my face is tired and at the droopiest.

Feeling somewhat dejected, I went online and submitted the photos for the passport renewal. I could have done some touching up first but it was already late. Besides, other than the immigration officers, who cares how you look on the passport anyway.

I am ready to admit that the day has finally come. Ageing is inevitable, just embrace it and move on.
Not for the passport...

Monday, 29 October 2012

Only dreaming

I often wonder what my day will be like if I were a stay-at-home-mom. It will be so nice to be alone at home while everyone's at work or in school. It's just a dream of course (for now) but thinking about it makes me happy.

For once, instead of always rushing and dashing about, I will do everything at a leisurely pace. I'll wake up anytime I please and start the day with a run or long walk. Then I'll head to the market to pick the freshest seafood and vegetables. Once I get home,  I will settle down with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and read the papers from cover to cover (instead of scanning the headlines like now).

I might potter around in the garden and retreat indoors when the heat gets too intense. After tidying up the house, I'll make myself a simple chicken salad and homemade lemonade for lunch. The rest of the afternoon will be spent doing the things I enjoy - reading, writing, baking or cooking.

There will be days when I meet friends for lunch, travel or make myself useful to society. All this sound so wonderful and idyllic. Will it ever happen? Quite unlikely.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Our jungle

My garden is turning into a veritable jungle. It is messy, crowded and filled with wild jungle plants. The left corner is home to SK's collection of nepenthes (pitcher plants). They are not exactly the most attractive plants to have in a home garden but like I've said, ours is a jungle, so they look quite at home here.
YK's plants invade the rest of the garden. They're mainly categorised under 'host' or 'food' plants. Mind you, they are not food for feeding the family. Rather, these are plants grown to attract butterflies into the garden.
Every morning we wake up to the sight of butterflies fluttering about. Curently the most common ones are the Plain Tiger and Lime Butterfly.
The Plain Tiger is a gorgeous butterfly but according to YK, they're not very disciplined because they tend to lay too many eggs (no birth control) until the caterpillars run out of food quickly.
The milkweed plants in our garden have been completely stripped bare by the caterpillars within days. Now all we have are stumps.

Spot them if you can.

 It makes YK very happy to see wild jungle plants like the snake weed, Melastoma (above) and Passiflora foetida (stinking passion vine) flourishing in the garden.
I don't really mind that the wild vines crawl all over the boardwalk and creep up the palm fronds. Afterall the garden is for all to share but that also means that my share of space has diminished. I can only grow my own food plants in all the nooks and crannies.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Chip off the old block

As I spend more time with SK, I begin to see so much of myself in him. Firstly, he has soft brown hair that even his female classmates are so envious of.

I used to have a head full of natural brown hair accentuated by coppery highlights. They've all turned white now. Hair colouring wasn't in vogue then, so my unique hair colour made many heads turn. I was often mistaken for a school swimmer or a Eurasian. Once, I believe a boy in junior college had a crush, not on me but on my hair. In the lecture theatre one day, he suddenly blurted out, "I like you because of your hair." Well, he was seated behind me and must have spent the entire lesson observing my hair. Weirdo.

SK is one of the few people I know who admires trees and finds them fascinating. I appreciate the way tree branches arch dramatically over our heads and provide us with shade on a hot day. I can say I like everything about them, from the forms and shapes to the way the leaves rustle in the wind. Trees provide us with beauty and life. Even in death, a barren tree can be artistically aesthetic.
We're tree lovers.
I have not found anyone who appreciates trees as much as I do. SK takes them even more seriously and gets upset if he sees trees being cut down unnecessarily as it also means many animals and insects will lose their habitat. During trekking, he takes great care not to trample on delicate plants. His respect for trees and plants is quite commendable.
Water lilies by SK.
He is also an animal lover. While my love is restricted mainly to mammals, his spans across all kinds of living things, from reptiles to amphibians, crustaceans and arachnids. I bet if dinosaurs are still in existence, he will find them quite adorable too.
SK is able to capture the beauty of insects through his lens.
Our temperament can be alike in some ways. Like the typical Virgo, he's the dependable kind who takes his responsibilities seriously. That also means he likes to get things done quickly and will become antsy if his plans do not go according to schedule. Well, I'm like that too.

Is it in the genes or upbringing? Maybe both.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A lady called Sabine

I'm afraid I'm growing old because I'm turning into one of  these little old ladies with so many grandmother stories to tell. Things I see these days simply trigger old memories. Just like when My Sinfonia mentioned about her popular jewelry design called Sabine, my brain went into overdrive.

Now, Sabine has a very special place in my heart. This enigmatic lady kept me on my toes for months. I wanted to know all about her extraordinary romance with Griffin. I even read all her love letters written in perfect manuscript.

Maybe I should tell you that Sabine is not my friend. She is not even real, but she is not simply any character in a story book. To me, she is mysterious and so enchanting, I read their correspondence over and over again, trying to imagine myself in their shoes. After buying the first book, I waited impatiently for the release of the next one. When the final one came out, the unexpected ending left me puzzled and searching for answers.

I had completely forgotten about the books until I heard her name again. It took me down memory's lane, back to the early 1990s. We had just moved to our new design studio, a large bright and inspiring place for creative people to work in. The bookseller came lugging the latest titles, mostly hardcover graphic design books. Intrigued by the postcard design on the cover of Griffin & Sabine, I bought the book.

I'm easily inspired by good design and moved by stories. This book captured my heart completely. At that time, design was our business. We ate, lived and breathed design. In our daily brainstorming sessions, ideas and concepts were tossed around the office like frisbee. Looking back, I miss those adrenalin-charged days. But then we were young and idealistic. I don't have that kind of mental agility now.

As if reminiscing about the old days wasn't enough, I went straight to Amazon to look for the titles. The Trilogy was on sale and I refused to leave the site without placing an order. The books arrived soon after and after admiring them properly, I decided to give the entire set to someone else who will appreciate it as much as I do.
That person is EY. I hope she likes the birthday gift and enjoys the stories as much as I did.
Griffin: It's good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right -- the wine glass has more impact than the cup. --Sabine
But Griffin had never met a woman named Sabine. How did she know him? How did she know his artwork? Who is she? Thus begins the strange and intriguing correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. And since each letter must be pulled from its own envelope, the reader has the delightful, forbidden sensation of reading someone else's mail. Griffin & Sabine is like no other illustrated novel: appealing to the poet and artist in everyone and sure to inspire a renaissance in the fine art of letter-writing, it tells an extraordinary story in an extraordinary way

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Being a dog owner

If you tell me your dog sleeps on your bed every night, I will probably shake my head and go 'tsk tsk tsk'.

And if you go on and tell me that he loves to roll on your freshly laundered sheets and burrow under your pillows and blanket, sometimes right after his walk, my eyes might widen with digust.

When you get to the part about how he has even puked on your bed in the middle of the night, I will surely roll my eyes and tell you to get rid of the dog. That is not all, you say.

Your dog takes great satisfaction in indulging in a vigorous scratch which sends fur flying all over the place, settling on the couch, rug and clothes. He drools on the floor, on your feet and every damn place he pleases. He prefers to drink from the toilet bowl and needs his walk even if is storming on a cold Sunday morning. The worst part is, you pick his shit at least twice a day.

It sounds terrible to be a dog owner.

Well, Rusty does it all and then some. Call me bias if you must but only I can put up with all his antics.

Only a dog owner can experience the joy the pet brings. It's like having a child who is always grateful and contented; and who will never talk back or sulk. He's always at home waiting for your return, yet he doesn't demand for attention or affection. How can I not love him?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

This old house

Last weekend, the old cactus at my parent's place finally toppled and died. SK was visibly upset and kept saying what a pity.
SK is known for his love for plants and animals. Whenever we visit, the dogs would come running to him for cuddles. No matter how wet or muddy they are, SK would give them his undivided attention.
The cactus was planted by me when we were visiting one weekend about 15 years ago. The kids were very young then. They played and caught spiders while I toiled in the garden. I grew a tiny cactus on the rocky mound beside the big pond. The hard and stony terrain isn't the most ideal place to set up a garden. Over the years, the cactus grew into a giant thorny tree while the other plants perished.
It also survived all kinds of abuse. When the kids were young (and bored), they whacked the cactus with long sticks until white milky sap oozed out. Very often, huge container trucks turning into our cul-de-sac would accidently brush against the plant, causing the branches to snap like twigs. But nothing is more resilient than our cactus. It just kept growing.
I should be the one feeling sad over the demise of my huge cactus. Instead I am filled with nostalgia. Suddenly I remember the excitement of moving into our new house at the farm 20+ years ago. My parents were in their early fifties, still healthy and full of vitality. They had invested their life savings into the 12-acre farm and had no time to lose.
My older brother had just graduated while my younger brother had just entered university. I was single, independent and living my life without a care in the world. All I thought about was how to decorate my new room. It was an exicting time for all of us.
One by one, we got married and moved out. Then my parents became grandparents. They have aged and health problems is beginning to creep up on them. They no longer have the same energy and drive as before. Even my father who has always been very athletic is showing signs of wear and tear.
Now I recall one of mom's favourite sayings: "Time and tide wait for no man."
Sad, but very true.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Some time ago,  my customer who treated me to lunch said "At our age, we don't make new friends. We're lucky if we don't lose old ones."

His words stuck in my head because he's already in his 60s and has seen some good friends die of old age and ill health.

A solid friendship often take years to forge. I've known my best friend for four decades. By now she can read my mind and I can finish sentences for her. We're close like sisters.

At my age, I thought I have no more capacity to develop strong and close relationships with new friends but I was wrong. I've become friends with a group of ladies, all of whom were met through the blog.

Then there is my Korean friend EY who is very dear to me. It's funny how well we can get along considering she picked CH's best friend as her husband.
It's not easy to find such a lovely person with a good heart and I enjoy her company very much. Before she came along, I never thought it was possible to have more than one best friend. Well, the more BFF, the merrier.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Meet our dogs

My friend ML asked me a funny question that day. She wanted to know how dogs would react when the sky is getting dark and the owner isn't home yet.

I've always had dogs in and around the house, so I can only say that like humans, dogs have their own personalities. I have heard of dogs who wait by the main door in the evening until the owner returns from work. Some dogs like Rusty couldn't care less as long as he gets fed and walked. My neighbour's female jack russell terrier vents her anger and destroys things if she's kept waiting for too long.

Come to think of it, all our 3 dogs are very disciplined and well behaved. Rusty lives a pampered life but he has never thrown a tantrum. We've never sent him for training yet he doesn't pee or poop in the house, steal food or destroy things. In fact, he's such an important member of our family, we cannot imagine life without him.
 Bodhi was a stray pup who showed up near our condo one day. We couldn't bear to see him being captured and euthanised by AVA, so we brought him to my parents'farm. Read his story here.  From a shy and timid pup, he has grown into a big, handsome and faithful dog. He recognises the sound of my car engine and would come galloping (he gallops like a horse!) down the driveway to welcome me.
 Harry is a beautiful Japanese Spitz who was abandoned outside our farm. Read his story here. Other than the occasional skin problem, he is a healthy and energetic dog. He can be bossy towards Bodhi but is otherwise an affectionate dog with sweet temperament. He has found his way into my father's heart and that is quite an achievement.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Empty nest

Petunia talked about her feelings of lostness, and I understand completely how she feels. I'm in the same boat.

Ever since YK got enlisted in the army, the house has become empty and quiet. I miss those loud chuckles coming from his room. I even miss hearing that annoying song that he plays over and over again.

In our family, dinner doesn't start until everyone is home. It has always been the highlight of the day. Having one less person at the table now feels somewhat incomplete. Food doesn't taste as good without the lively conversations and commentaries by YK.

Luckily, the void has been filled by SK who is currently on school vacation. Things are going to change when his school term begins next Monday. Looks like I have to make do with Rusty for company.

When we first moved into this apartment, I longed for a bigger space and vowed to move out in three years. Four years on, I often find the house too empty and have lost the desire for a larger one. But secretly, I still harbour hopes of building a house that is large enough to accommodate three generations under one roof. How nice if we can all stay together till the end of time. I mustn't lose hope.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Chocolately and savoury muffins

I really need to reorganise my kitchen. I've acquired so much stuff in four years that I don't even know what I have anymore. One day, I found a brand new muffin pan stashed away behind some cooking pots.
It was the discovery of the year! I gave one away because it was too big to fit into my oven. I must have bought this smaller one later but really, I don't remember these things. If only I knew I had a muffin tin, I wouldn't be using the loaf pan to bake everything!
This pan came in so handy one day when I decided to whip up a batch of muffins for a party. My friend said the chocolate muffins tasted just like the famous 'Death by Chocolate'. Well, it sounded really flattering but I'm quite embarrased to say they were so easy to make. I didn't even pull out any fancy equipment.
I love recipes that call for just a whisk, measuring cup and a large bowl just like this Chocolate muffins  recipe. I made some modifications to it.
2/3 cup cocoa (I used Van Houten)
1 3/4 cups plain Flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon instant coffee
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs

1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 180 degree celcius. Line a standard muffin pan with paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, coffee powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and vinegar. Add melted butter.

Mix the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir to blend and add in chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin until it fills just over half the cup.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Since I was already baking, I also made some savoury muffins for the party. This was a first for me and I had no idea how they would turn out. Well, they were surprisingly good.

2 cups plain Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk ( I replaced with some plain yoghurt)
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 cup melted butter
1 red capsicum (chopped)
1/2 cup cheese (I used old cheddar, crumbled into small pieces)
1/2 cup caramelised onions (onion cooked in olive oil)
handful of herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives etc)
pinch of salt
Optional - you can add chopped ham, olives, sundried tomato etc.

Preheat oven to 180 degree celcius. Line a standard muffin pan with paper.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in flour and make a well in the centre. Pour in milk, butter and egg. Stir batter until almost combined.

Stir in rest of ingredients. Spoon mixture into the muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean.
They can be eaten plain or served with salsa.

Bringing up babies

Last Friday, we went to visit the newly minted mommy and her three-week old baby. For a couple of hours, five mommies were engaged in animated discussion about poop colour, breastfeeding and bringing up babies. Wen Ai brought her charming Beanie who kept us entertained while the newborn slept peacefully in her cot.
Little Beanie.
Looking at the cute little ones brought back memories of the days when my boys were little. I've had my share of anxieties but had to contend with flipping through my guidebooks for answers. I also sought help from confinement nannies and relatives.

The modern mommies today turn to friends or support groups and receive feedback instantly via Facebook or Whatsapp.

The methods may have changed but as the saying goes - It takes a village to raise a child.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A typical Saturday

Now that YK is in the army, weekends have become even more precious. Instead of resting at home, he prefers to be out taking photos. This is the only time of the week he gets to do what he enjoys.
Today, we took the bumboat to our favourite haunt, Pulau Ubin. The island was surprisingly quiet with just a handful of cyclists. I think it has something to do with the school examinations. Well, we like it this way.
Since Pulau Ubin has been earmarked for redevelopment by the Singapore Government, most of the villagers have been resettled into the mainland. There are few remaining ones who choose to stay until redevelopment begins. They are the lucky ones. I would love to have a house here.

We walked towards the spice garden trail today but it was closed for upgrading. Along the way, we saw these big passion fruits grown by one of the residents.
After hitting the deadend, we turned and walk towards the main road. We prefer to explore the island on foot and had to tell the numerous bike shops lining the road that we have no interest in renting bikes.
Pulau Ubin reminds me of the village I grew up in. Life here is idyllic. The dogs run freely and lead such a happy life. This female dog was sitting quietly at the top of the steps until her male friend came along to ask her out to play.
The residents grow all kinds of fruit trees in their backyard. It's durian season and the trees are heavily laden with fruits.
Our favourite area is the old prawn pond where coconut trees, colourful water lilies and pure white lotus flowers sway in the breeze.
 SK was enjoying the tranquility when a handsome black dog came running towards the pond.
 A smaller female dog with brown, black and white markings like that of a beagle, was following closely behind.
 It turned out that the black dog was thirsty and he led his friend to the pond for a drink.
 Satiated, he ran towards the swamp and jumped in for a swim. The female friend followed suit but could not catch up with the strong swimmer.
 She hesitated and decided to swim back to shore.
She ran along the shore to meet her friend at the other end of the swamp. They make such a sweet couple.
These are the things that make Pulau Ubin endearing. I wish the Government would leave it untouched. If possible, I would like to live in this house overlooking the trees and lotus plants. Of course, this is wishful thinking.
 While it is nice being close to nature, it also means living amongst insects, snakes and lizards. 
  We came across this croton plant (which hardly blooms) that's bursting with pretty flowers.
Before we leave the island, we always stop for refreshing cold coconut at our favourite shop by the jetty. Sometimes we eat at Ubin seafood restaurant but today YK wanted me to try the food at Penang Kitchen at Coronation Road. So we came back to mainland and drove through heavy rain to eat Penang food.
Penang Kitchen is the place to go to if you miss authentic Penang food. The fruit salad here is very nice, thanks to the thick and gooey rojak paste.
 The prawn noodle soup is rich and full of prawn flavour.
 The Penang fried kuey teow here is a winner.
 The chendol is rich and coconutty. I tasted a hint of coffee in the gula melaka syrup which makes this sinful dessert tastier than most of the chendol I have eaten.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


'Bau' (pronounced as Ba-Ooo) in Malay means 'smelly', and that did not deter us from traveling 45 minutes there on the last day of our stay. We had a plane to catch in the afternoon and instead of wasting the morning away, SK decided to look for the Nepenthes northiana, a tropical pitcher plant that grows on the limestone cliff in this region.
Bau is a former mining town famous for the magnificent limestone caves. In case you're wondering, Bau doesn't reek of any odour. The name probably came about after many deaths that took place here due to conflicts. In 1837, the Skrang Ibans invaded the Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuh settlement on top of Bratak Peak, killing over 2,000 Jagoi-Bratak Bidayuh men and taking 1,000 women captive. Another major conflict in 1857 named the Gold Miners' Rebellion saw few hundred rebels burnt or suffocated to death.
There is nothing there to remind us of the morbid past. Many younger residents have moved to the city to find work. Not many tourists come here to visit the Wind Caves. Even lesser take the trouble to visit the Fairy Cave. More should be done to promote these natural attractions.
For us, it was an eye-opening experience to see the round head house of the Bidayuh, also known as Land Dayaks who live mainly in the steep limestone mountains within the catchment of the Sarawak and Sadong rivers.
Annie and Eric, the owners of Fairview Guesthouse, were so kind to drive us around in search of the elusive Northiana. Our first stop near Turn Red Mini Zoo and Restaurant turned out to be futile.
A little pup helped to brighten the day.
As we drove towards the Fairy Cave, SK was ecstatic to spot pitcher plants growing high up on the limestone cliff. You can see some of his photos here
Whilst he was preoccupied with the plants overhead, I was looking around at more interesting things like this beautiful snail and a lantern bug.
The Fairy Cave was just a short walk ahead. A new longhouse has been built by the newly appointed headman of this area. He is a Dayak, small in built and about 50 years old. He spoke excellent English and is a lecturer at a local institution. Apparently the older Dayak people converse well in English.
I spotted two interesting fruit pods the size of a rugby outside his hut. These are the pods that hold the buah keluak, a delicacy in Asia.
The fresh fruit and seeds contain cyanide and are deadly poisonous if consumed without prior preparation.The seeds are first boiled and then buried in ash, banana leaves and earth for forty days whereby they turn from a creamy white colour to dark brown or black
The headman spoke of his plans to promote the Fairy Cave as an attraction. Currently entrance to the cave is free but the area really needs some sprucing up.
Entrance to the cave is via a series of stairs.

At the entrance.

For me, the highlight of the morning was the visit to a farmer's market operated by the Dayak people. There were so many unfamiliar fruits and vegetables here.
A kind of wild fruit.
Savoury glutinous rice in pitchers.

So tempted to buy some of these baskets.
Wild vegetables.

Taking pitchers from the wild is prohibited, so they shouldn't be sold.
Big, wriggly and fat grubs! I wonder how they are eaten?

The famous Sarawak pineapple.

We made one last stop at Serikin - a small village near the the Sarawak/Indonesia border that is famous for the weekend market. It was very hot and we were running out of time, so we drove through the entire market, but you can see photos of the market here.
Right at the end of the market, you will find lots of vendors selling vegetables and fruits. According to Annie, the prices are no longer cheap, so we left without buying anything.