Friday 30 November 2007

Dinner at Cicada

As usual, our Friday night turned out to be a good one though it was very sad that our friend Yvonne couldn't make it as she was admitted to hospital.

We had the wonderful company of my affable customer Miguel who flew all the way from South Africa to meet me. It was a great idea to bring him to the newly opened Cicada Restaurant which is located in the offbeat location of Portsdown Road. We sat under the huge tree in the yard, surrounded by lush greenery and flickering candle lights. The quiet setting was perfect for relaxed dining and chatting under the stars. We talked about work and our pets and learned a whole lot about South Africa within a few hours.

The food was great too. For starters, we shared a plate of sauteed mushrooms which surprised us with its rich flavour and texture. The Mexicano pizza proved to be one of the best I have ever eaten in Singapore. The combination of green chilli, pepperoni and cheese on a thin crust makes this a winner.

For the main course, Miguel ordered the Cicada burger which he proclaimed was delish. C.H had the very tender and buttery Chilean seabass compared to my roasted spring chicken (with a ragout of organic mushroom) which was rather dry and unexciting.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves last night. The setting and company was perfect, we couldn't ask for more....except for Yvonne to get well quickly.

Thursday 29 November 2007

It's Friday!

Picture taken at the Museum.

Yay! it's Friday! My favourite time of the week. We're meeting a dear friend tonight for dinner and drinks at Cicada, a new hangout.

You have a good Friday. I know you're happy too! But be careful, don't run too fast or you may slip and fall!

A night at the museum

Last night, we were at the National Museum to see the works of GROOVISIONS, one of Japan’s leading and most provocative design teams. They were making a rare appearance to share their expressive talents and display retroactive designs and products. I particularly enjoyed their award winning motion graphics. Of course, we finally got the opportunity to see the much-loved and much-talked about icon, CHAPPIE, the affable, multi-dimensional Japanese celebrity character, designed and talent managed by GROOVISIONS.

Last week, I showed you the museum exterior, here's a peek at what it looks like inside...

Here's a view of the dome from the inside.

I like how the interior looks like an exterior.

After the exhibition, we walked to Fort Canning park which managed to look quite spooky at night!
This imposing building, Fort Canning Centre, used to be the barracks and headquarters of the British Army in the 1920s. It is now the home of the Singapore Dance Theatre.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Flowers for you!

As an avid gardener, I have noticed that most flowers (like us) look their freshest when they bloom early in the morning. I always return home to see them either closed or withered after a hot day.
I was greeted by these blooming beauties as I was leaving for work this morning. I couldn't resist taking some pictures with my mobile phone. Don't you agree they're so lovely?
I dedicate them to all my readers!

I rescued this Gloxinia from my office. It was almost dead when I brought it home. After leaving it in a shady corner of our porch, it sprang back to life and surprised me with a gorgeous velvety violet bloom!

Our neighbour, who grows aquatic plants for a living, gave me this water lily some years ago. I simply plonked it in our old dragon pot. Yet, this much neglected plant is still producing flowers everyday.

I have forgotten the name of this plant. In fact, I had forgotten all about its existence in my garden as it eventually became hidden beneath the surrrounding big plants. After a recent bout of trimming and clearing, this plant finally found the opportunity to emerge from the jungle. With adequate sunlight and rain, it has been producing lovely flowers that fill the garden with an intoxicating fragrance.
This morning I woke up and suddenly remember the plant's name. It's Indian Heliotrope. It's funny how some words are stored away and takes a long time to retrieve from the memory bank. Well, it's slow but still working...

How to fix my life?

I have been tagged by Mike to do this meme. It sounds simple really...but I have been cracking my head all morning! Help! I need to attend a course on 'quick thinking'.

The rules are as follows:
Devise a list of 5-10 courses you would take to fix your life.

It's more fun to be in classes with friends, so include one class from the person who tagged you that you'd also like to take. Tag 5 others.

These are the courses I really need to take to make my life more complete:

1. How to eat and stay slim forever
I mean eat anything, not just lettuce and carrot! I want yummy cakes and chocolates and ice cream in any amount without having to run like a greyhound for months after. Can I have my cake and eat it too? I wish!

2. How to ask for payment
There are some dumbasses in my life who have always evaded me when it comes to payment especially an ex-customer in New York. How to make him pay up without having to go on my knees or sue him, that I need to know!

3. How to sew beautifully
Yes, I would love to sew my own dresses and hem my clothes. I'm such a klutz when it comes to delicate tasks like this. I already knew that at the age of 8 when the girls in our class were asked to stitch patterns. I was so hopeless at it, I was relegated to weave baskets with the boys! How I wish I could crochet, knit or even make my own jewelry.

That's enough courses for today. If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to update.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

The fish called Wonder

About 15 years ago, my brother brought a little fish home which he put in our pond, together with the koi and promptly forgot about it. As usual, it became my dad’s job to take care of the little animals that we brought home.

That little fish grew and grew. It grew so fast, it became a monster! That was when we realized it’s an arapaima – the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world. To satisfy its insatiable appetite, dad switched its diet from fish pellets to fresh fish from the market. Well, it's a top freshwater predator afterall! We always had a freezer full of fish at that time.

It was a gentle giant that didn’t harm the other fishes. However, by the time it was 3 feet long, it started to knock the kois around and eventually became the only creature left in the pond. Strangely it leapt out several times (only during full moon) which took several men to put it back in again. Dad later built a wire enclosure around the pond.

While the giant was mostly tame, feeding sessions were quite a frightful sight… it would leap up like a crocodile and catch the food in its big, gaping mouth, producing such a big splash and loud suction noise! Naturally, it became a big attraction at home. Everyone who came marveled at its size. Its fish scale was almost 2 inches long!

When it grew to 6 feet, our pond obviously became too small for it to swim freely. So, dad built a new pond in the yard, complete with a nice filtration system.

Well, the sad thing is, it died one day without any warning... before it could enjoy its new pond. Obviously we were devastated to lose our giant pet.

You can find pictures of the arapaima here:

The new pond that dad built. It is home to a bunch of freshwater fish today. At one time, 2 bull frogs were living inside and their mating calls almost drove us crazy!

Monday 26 November 2007

Nostalgic journey

After sending my car to the workshop this morning, I decided to take the 45-minute walk back to the office. I have done it several times before... it gives me an opportunity to walk through my old neighbourhood, the one that the kids spent their childhood.

Contrary to what many will think, I have nothing but good memories of those years (it's wonderful how my mind can filter out bad and bitter memories). Our apartment was big and always bright and breezy. I spent many lazy afternoons reading on the couch while the kids played with Lego blocks and toy dinosaurs. I was always baking cookies in the kitchen, often delighting the kids by baking their deformed creations in the oven.

Of course, how can I forget the many birthday parties for the boys and their friends, including the cherubic Korean kids next door? Or their first day at pre-school? Or spending hours with the kids in the pool and the spacious yard below... riding bikes or hunting for spiders and caterpillars amongst the bushes.

Today, the neighbourhood looks familiar even though many old buildings have been replaced by spanking new ones. Our old apartment block has already been redeveloped into hundreds of smaller apartments. I was intrigued by the changes around me....

This is where our 7-storey apartment block used to stand.

The old swimming pool is replaced by a huge one surrounded by tall buildings. No more privacy!

One thing that remains unchanged is this little house next door. I remember the little girl Nurul who used to attend the same daycare center as YK. I wonder if she still lives here with her grandparents?

Soon, ominous dark clouds started moving in as I walked down memory lane. Lightning was flashing in the distance yet I was determined to continue walking to the old daycare centre up the hill. That's where YK spent his formative years since he was barely 2 years old. Alas, the daycare centre is no longer there. In its place is a new house.

The daycare centre was torn down and rebuilt into that tall building in the background.

It began to drizzle as I quickened my pace. In the end, I had to abort my walk and run to the bus stop far away. I should know that I can't control the weather or outrun the rain.

I ran past a school ...

...and the row of shophouses. The old MuayThai school where I used to learn Thai boxing is now a Montessori school.

Finally I arrived at the bus-stop and it started pouring!

I boarded the bus in the pouring rain and alighted 2 stops later....

So happy to arrive at the office, safe and dry.

Looks like I made the right decision to give up walking or I'd be drenched (and sorry)...

Sunday 25 November 2007

Enterprising people

It's that time of the year when the Enterprise 50 Award is given out to the fifty most high performing privately-held local companies in Singapore.

For me, it's an opportunity to read inspiring stories of people who overcame adversities to emerge as champions. The newspapers today is full of stories like that. We all know building a company is hard, growing one is even harder.

Ms Angie Tang had a tough childhood. She grew up with 3 brothers and a younger sister in a village. Her father, a hawker, died when she was 6 and her mom was a washer-woman who didn't earn enough to raise the kids. Angie learned to be an independent survivor from a tender age. She set up her own company supplying rigging equipment and services for the offshore oil and gas industry amidst the economic recession in the mid-80s. Today, her company sees an annual turnover of US$165m and employs 450 employees spanning the globe.

A one-man business which started out as a bicycle shop tucked away in a corner in Little India has today grown into a conglomerate worth US$10.3m specialising in asphalt, bitumen and lubricants. Mr Lim was only 18 when he started the bicycle shop with nothing more than a primary school qualification. His foresight to venture into the distribution of petroleum lubricant products has certainly paid off. When asked how he faced hardships, he replied "We do it by showing resilience and tenacity. We tighten every bolt, we never give up, we face it all. And when the situation gets real tight, we re-invent ourselves..."

Talking about enterprising people, an old Indian man approached us while we were dining at Changi Village on Saturday night. He was carrying a huge sack filled with little packs of pappadums (thin, lentil crackers that are really delicious). He came up to us, "50cts one packet. 2 packets $1. Here!" Two packets landed on our table. He made a quick sale in 1 second. Every table bought some from him. Now, that is what I call enterprising!

The moral of the story is, if you are determined and resilient, you can make it! If you can't sell petroleum products, you can make a decent living selling pappadums too!

A sad day

We woke up to the sad news of "Bodies of dragon boat paddlers recovered" accompanied by photos of 5 brawny and tanned young men splashed across our newspapers today.

The five young men of our national team had been missing since their dragon boat capsized in a freak acccident during the annual dragon boat races in Cambodia as part of the capital's Water Festival celebrations. Seventeen other Singapore teammates were rescued.

After a massive rescue effort spanning 40 hours, the bodies were recovered. Amongst the 5 sports enthusiasts were a Mr World Singapore 2006, a physical education teacher, an engineer, an undergrad and a corporal in the army. We read about these motivated guys 'never say die' attitude and passion for the sports.

It's heart-wrenching to see 5 young lives gone in a tragedy like this. Words simply can't describe the sorrow the families are going through right now...

Help Kelso

My blogging buddy Panther Girl has a greyhound she rescued named Kelso. Kelso had a spinal disk problem that landed him in the animal hospital for a week. The bill was $3200!

If you have plans to purchase something at, please get to Amazon via The Dog's Breakfast and she will get financial credit for any purchases you make. You don't need to buy the stuff featured in her side bar - you just need to get to Amazon via her sidebar and then buy something.

Please help Kelso. I hope he gets well soon.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Beach stroll

We had seafood dinner at Changi Village last night to placate SK's craving for crabs. After a hearty meal of salt and pepper crab, oat-meal prawns, spicy clams and stir-fried vegetables, SK proclaimed it's the best dinner he's had all year. Yah, the food at Tekong Seafood Restaurant was delicious. Thank you C.H!

Changi Village was abuzz with people. Besides the usual dinner crowd at the food centre, there were lots of anglers and families camping by the beach.

Bright lights at the bumboat jetty.

Though Singapore is surrounded by water, we don't have spectacular beaches. Yet there were many campers last night... grilling food, fishing or simply idling under the full moon.

This black stray ambled close to me for some affection. The brown one behind appeared quite upset and was later seen chiding the other "You're flirting again?!"

Friday 23 November 2007

Tropical paradise

We stuffed ourselves with delicious food and dessert at the international buffet spread at Carlton Hotel's Café Vic last night. It's our excuse to carbo-load for the half marathon next weekend. After the heavy dinner, we took a walk around the city which was ablazed with glittering lights and a kaleidoscope of colours from the Christmas Light-up. The old and new buildings were bathed in warm orange lights.

Wow, Singapore has transformed into a tropical paradise...
At 119 years old, the National Museum of Singapore is Singapore's biggest and oldest museum.

Designed in Neo-Palladian and Renaissance style, it consists of two rectangular parallel blocks, with a dome at the front of the building. It's a sight to behold in the night!

Singapore's newest university, the Singapore Management University, is located in the heart of our historic area in the Bras Basah Park district. The new state-of-the-art 4.5 hectare campus makes a striking impression in the city.

Another view of the SMU. Looking at the beautiful campus makes me want to study again!

It's impossible to miss this huge ball sculpture outside the imposing Singapore Art Museum (SAM). Housed in a restored 19th-century old St Joseph's Institution (SJI) building , the museum owns the largest public collection of over 7,500 20th century Singapore and Southeast Asian artworks in the world.

Another view of the museum on this full moon night.

Cats are drawn to C.H like a magnet wherever he goes.

Wesley Methodist Church is the oldest Methodist church with an English-speaking congregation in Singapore. The architecture of the Church features a broad triangular top borne by noble pillars. It is 'toned down, Gothic Revival' with red bricks, Gothic tracery mullion details in white stone or stucco with impressive wooden cross beams.

Where is Wally?

Now in its 22nd year, the Christmas Light-Up is a glittering tradition. The theme this year is “A Fairytale Christmas”. The streets in the city are transformed into a bewitching Crystal Forest decked with chandeliers, magic harps, glittering jewels, dazzling lights in red, gold and white, and even a magical carousel.

Souvenirs from Saigon

I'm a good traveler but a lousy shopper. Unlike other travelers, I don't lug home bags of goodies. In fact, the less luggage the better for I really dislike the endless waiting at the baggage belt.

This time I was tempted to buy this Vietnamese hat... but decided against it because it's too bulky to carry around.

Instead, I bought this cute mask for my nieces. The Vietnamese wear mask when they travel around the city on their motorcycle. The little masks for kids in pastel colours, decorated with cute animal graphics, are irresistable at S$1 each!
Ting can wear the mask when she's having a cold.
Of course, I had to get this Tin Tin t-shirt for Ting too!

Thursday 22 November 2007

Birth order

This morning, I read an article about birth order and started analyzing our personalities. In a nutshell…

First-borns are natural leaders and often high achievers. They tend to be picky, precise people who pay attention to detail, punctual, organised, and competent. They want to see things done right the first time. They don't like surprises. However, they can be moody and occasionally lack sensitivity or intimidating, particularly by pushing people too hard or refusing to take no for an answer. Sometimes they can be a bit 'know-it-all', and often they are poor at delegating - largely because they don't trust other people as much as they trust themselves. They also tend to be bossy, perfectionists and overly-conscientious.

Middle-Borns tend to be a people-pleasers and usually hate confrontation. Their basic need is to keep life smooth and their motto might be 'peace at any price'. They are usually very calm, will roll with the punches and are amiable, down-to-earth and great listeners. They are skilled at seeing both sides of a problem and eager to make everybody happy. That makes them good mediators and negotiators. They tend to be less driven than first-borns, but are much more eager to be liked - or at least be happy with them. They have a difficult time setting boundaries and can drift into becoming 'co-dependent' as they try to please everybody. They are not good at making decisions that will offend others. They also tend to blame themselves when others fail.

Last-Borns are the world's cheerleaders with strong people skills and love to entertain and talk to others. They make friends easily and immediately make others feel at home. They’re extroverts who get energised by the presence of other people. Last-borns tend to get bored quickly. They have a strong fear of rejection and a short attention span. When the fun stops, they've had enough and want to check out. To some extent they're self-centred. They may harbour unrealistic expectations of finding a relationship that is always fun - and of course, such relationships simply do not last.

As the second born, my personality is obviously very different from my elder brother's. When we were young, he was the model child and I was the rebel. While he produced stellar results, went to the best schools and never gave my parents any problems, I was always in some kind of trouble. His teacher asked to see mum one day. She went to school, wondering what mischief he had gotten himself into, only to hear the teacher singing high praises of his performance and good behavior.

Me? The teacher summoned mum to school because I talked too much or wasn’t paying attention in class.

Needless to say, even as adults, our lives can’t be anymore different. While he is the no-nonsense older brother we all look up to, I’m still the happy-go-lucky younger sister who rolls with the punches. My younger brother? He's the family's cheerleader!

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Daydream believer

Have you ever thought about what life is like 10 years from now? Well, I often fantasize about it.

In 10 years, my kids would be all grown up. Whether they're studying or working, it doesn't matter but they'll be independent adults. I want to see them often, and I want to see them leading a happy and comfortable life.

I would like to work less and read more. I dream of living in a modest house with a lush garden, a cosy patio and an outdoor dining area. I want a big study with shelves groaning under the weight of books. I'd like to spend more time experimenting in the kitchen, cooking simple healthy meals using herbs grown in the backyard.

I'd like to have a slow leisurely dinner in the garden with my loved ones, watching the sunset while sipping a glass of wine. I want to hear the windchime tinkling in the breeze and crickets chirping. I want to look up and see the stars at night and wake up to the sound of birds calling and the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen. I want to enjoy my cuppa in the patio, while watching my dogs play in the yard.

I would like to travel to new places, immerse myself in their culture and learn the cuisine. I want to come back home to my familiar surroundings again, enriched in every sense. I want to catch up with old friends, cook them all kinds of delicious food and talk and laugh into the night.

I am a day dreamer...

The end

I'm done with my Saigon travel series. I hope you have enjoyed the stories and photos. Now I shall leave you with some photos I took at Ben Thanh Market to gross you out!

I saw these in the market and wanted to show YK how real organs look like. He studies biology and I thought these photos would come in useful.

Well, these ears... they're just funny... aren't they? No?

Củ Chi tunnels

On Monday morning, we were back at that infamous pick-up point again to board the tour bus that would bring us to Củ Chi tunnels, an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country.

Once again, we were back at this crowded street, waiting to board the bus.

The enterprising locals were hawking their wares. This man came in a traditional Chinese outfit.

This man balanced a tray of doughnuts on his head.
And this guy was telling me his toys are the best!

Located 70km from the city, the bus journey to the tunnels took about 2 hours. Along the way, we made a scheduled stop at the handicap's handicraft centre to see how lacquer-ware and other handicrafts are made.

The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968.

They were used by NLF guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, and served as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters. The tunnels began in 1948 so that the Viet Minh could hide from French air and ground sweeps. Each hamlet built their own underground communications route through the hard clay, and over the years, the separate tunnels were slowly and meticulously connected and fortified. By 1965, there were over 200 kilometers of connected tunnel.
As the tunnel system grew, so did its complexity. Sleeping chambers, kitchens and wells were built to house and feed the growing number of residents and rudimentary hospitals created to treat the wounded. Most of the supplies used to build and maintain the tunnels were stolen or scavenged from U.S. bases or troops.

Life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, spiders and mosquitoes. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels; especially malaria, which accounted for the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds.

An above ground air vent disguised as a termite mound.

The trap door on the jungle floor leads down into the Củ Chi tunnels. The opening is so tiny, it can barely fit a skinny person. This one has already been enlarged by 40% for demonstration purposes.

Food was scarce during the war. We sampled boiled tapioca and roasted peanuts that were the staple food then.

Chowmahalla Palace

During our week in Hyderabad, some of the places we visited include the Mecca Mosque, the Charminar (the icon of Hyderabad), Sufi Shrine, Bi...