Tuesday 30 December 2008

Counting down

It's the last day of 2008 and we have nothing planned for today except the obligatory fish-shop-hopping stint with the kids in the afternoon. They're now eating the last bit of curry I made yesterday.

I'm thinking of cooking curry again tomorrow as it is my best friend's favourite food. I can hear the boys groaning already! I'll also be making ngoh hiang (minced meat rolls) and pasta vongole. For dessert, it will be cold cheng tng (sweet soup with dried longans, dates, ginkgo nuts and white fungus). These are the kind of food that will go down well with her hubby, kids and everyone at home.

It certainly doesn't feel like a new year's eve today. Since most companies are working half-day, we decided to make it an off-day. I don't see the point in getting everyone to the office just for a few hours. We can easily check emails and attend to phone calls from home these days.

I don't do the count-down bash anymore. There were some unforgettable ones like the year we entered the new millenium which was spent in a friend's newly built bungalow by the sea in the sunshine coast of Australia. While the house was amazing and in a posh neighbourhood, I wasn't exactly feeling too celebrative or comfortable. I realised that you could be in the most fantastic place but if you're not amongst people you enjoy very much, it means nothing at all.

There was another year when I just got divorced and best friend did her best to cheer me up during that difficult period. She and hubby dragged me to the club for a countdown party. The folks at the club were all retirees, we felt like a bunch of gate crashers at the wrong party.

I'm glad I'm so at ease with myself now and don't feel the need to be somewhere for the sake of being there. Being comfortable with myself is most important. Of course, being with loved ones is the icing on the cake.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Good friends

It's 9.30pm and my house is alive with music and laughter. YK's friends are here the whole day and it's wonderful to see a group of good friends enjoying each other's company.

Some of the talented ones are playing very impressive tunes on the keyboard right now, it makes me sit up and pay attention. Earlier, they were huddled over the laptop, chuckling over a comedy. It doesn't take alot to keep them amused. They're happy just being together.

Knowing they have a healthy appetite, I bought chips and donuts to see them through the day. For dinner, I cooked pasta and the well mannered boys thanked me profusely for a delicious meal. Well, I like cooking and feeding people, so it makes me happy seeing them enjoy the food.

What I really enjoy the most is seeing a bunch of friends having a good time. They're so carefree and happy. These are indeed the best years of their life. It's no wonder YK is already feeling sad that they will be separated as they get posted to different schools next year. I hope their friendship, forged through the years, will continue to stay strong even as they go through different paths in future.

Monday 29 December 2008

Looking ahead

I'm thinking about the year ahead but my mind is a blank. What's the outlook like? Gee, I really don't know. I wish I could say something positive and uplifting, but as far as I can see, the road ahead is paved with uncertainties.

However, one can still wish and hope for the best.

I hope my kids will continue to enjoy school so that when they grow up and look back, they'll realise that these were the best years of their life.

I hope that my parents will be blessed with good health. Mum has had a really difficult year, healthwise, so I hope that her quality of life will improve tremendously in the coming year.

I hope that I'll do well in business so that I don't have to worry about providing for my family and that my employee will enjoy working with me forever.

I hope that my relationship with CH will continue to grow and that he'll be blessed with happiness, good health and success in his endeavours.

I also wish my brothers and family members, friends and blogging pals all the best for the coming year.

For myself, I'll like to be more patient and cheerful, active and sporty, positive and inspiring. I hope to be more aware of my actions and to the people and things around me. I should also try to be less judgemental and gossipy. Most importantly, I should constantly remind myself to be thankful for what I have.

Oh yah, I mustn't forget about the pets too. I hope Rusty will stay cute and adorable always and that every fish and coral in YK's tank stay healthy and disease free. The same goes for SK's crayfish in the tank. I've got everyone covered now, haven't I?

Rockscape in YK's marine tank.

Mushroom coral.

Jewel coral.

Royal gamma.

Blue damsel (left) and trigger fish (right).

Mandarin fish and Bangai Cardinal.

Clown fish with blue fan coral in the background.

Depot dogs

When I was at the container depot this morning, these two friendly dogs came forward to greet me. They were strays adopted by the kind people at the yard. My friend Winny who works there has fed them so well, they all have a shiny coat and winsome smile!

Look at how happy they are!

This is Spark. He's has a brownish black coat and white 'booties'!

'Ah Girl', who is a little bit too chubby, has interesting stripes on her forehead.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Where is Rusty?

My niece Qi is only eleven but she created a "Where is Rusty?" game using Powerpoint. I'm so impressed. In the game, Rusty ran away while I was walking him and jumped into one of the 9 holes. I was supposed to look for him. Well, I found him very quickly! There is no running away from me Rusty!

Thanks Qi, you're indeed very talented and I love that picture of Rusty you drew too!

Monday blues

It's the last Monday of the year and it's been raining since I got up. I'm still stuck at home. Rusty is waiting to be walked. The kids are still sleeping. Suddenly I miss my best friend. I wonder if she's back from Japan? I hope she isn't stuck in Hokkaido. I read about the avalanche warnings. Christmas wasn't the same without her around. I'll send her a message to see if she can come by for lunch before the year ends.

It looks like another quiet way to end the year. Like most years, our industry grinds to a halt during this period. We've got to get it moving again quickly. My livelihood depends on it!

Oh, best friend has just replied. They got back yesterday. It had been 'fun' running after 2 kids, her parents and mother-in-law during the 2 weeks in Japan. The hardest part, she said, was getting the old and the young to wear layers and layers before stepping out into the cold. What she needs is probably a spa holiday with me!

The good thing is, they're coming over for lunch on new year's day! I'll start cracking on what to cook. A new year's party sounds like the perfect way to start the new year!

Saturday 27 December 2008

Prata on Sunday

I've finally completed my chores, the house is spick and span again. For how long? I don't know! Many people are already spring cleaning for the Chinese New Year. It's way too early for me to start. With two boys and a dog, the house will be messy again tomorrow.

We had chicken curry and roti prata for lunch. With just days to go before my resolution (healthy eating and exercising) starts, I'll eat as sinfully as I can before the deadline. Might as well open a can of Tiger Beer to wash all that spicy food down.

Talking about prata, I saw a scene at the meat stall at the market that grossed me out completely. While the stall owner was busy attending to customers in front, there were black birds (crows I think) pecking at raw chicken and mutton at the back of his stall. That was so horrible and unhygenic. I had never patronised that stall (and will never do so). What if he supplies contaminated meat to the prata shops nearby?

So I always cook my own curry. I made Indian curry today using tomatoes, potatoes, chicken and curry paste. I didn't add coconut milk so the stock is not too rich. I even buy frozen pratas and cook them at home. They may not taste as delicious as the store bought ones but at least I know the food is clean and hygenic. Some people may think I'm paranoid...

Gimme a Tiger!

It's 3pm, I need a break. It's time to retire to my cosy chair and read the newspapers but it looks like somebody has beat me to it.
Rusty! GET UP!

Guess who won again?

Friday 26 December 2008

Friday at Clarke Quay

We have been neglecting our friday outings lately. The last few ones were spent in front of the TV with the kids, so we decided it's time to revive it before it completely disappears from our routine.

CH turned up looking very smart and handsome in his all black outfit whereas I was in a casual t-shirt, shorts and sports sandals. We looked totally mismatched and he was towering over me in his leather shoes. I looked like a little elf!

While our outfits did not match last night, our similar taste in food made up for it. I suggested Japanese food and we headed to Central, the mall with so many Japanese restaurants, we can't possibly go wrong.

There were lines outside the popular ones. We're not that fussy and are not the type to queue for food, so we walked into Kyomomoyama, a Kyoto style restaurant.

The menu is so extensive, it took me a long time to decide what to order. Finally I settled for Katsu Toji (deep fried pork cutlet in onion and egg gravy) and tempura set which came in a generous serving. The meat was really delicious but so chunky I could only manage to finish half before handing the rest to CH. We shared the chawan mushi, tempura prawn and vegetables too.

It's a good thing he ordered the sushi set or we would end up with too much food. Oh, I ordered a platter of carpaccio (mixed raw fish salad) as well instead of the typical sashimi. That was nice too.

Pictures of the menu lifted from Kyomomoyama website.

We went for a stroll along Clarke Quay after dinner. It was cool and breezy. There were lots of happy people around, soaking in the bright lights and carnival like atmosphere. I leave you with some pictures taken before and after dinner.

The skies were still bright when we were walking to the restaurant.

Tourists on the bumboat river cruise along the Clarke Quay.

A trishaw rider parked outside the Central Mall.

Sweet potato soup

While I was snooping around mum's kitchen this afternoon, she urged me to bring some eggs home. She receives free eggs from her tenant (an egg dealer) at the farm every week. Actually I was more interested in the basket of sweet potatoes which my dad replenishes weekly. So I went home with some eggs and sweet potatoes.

It was almost tea break when I got home, I decided to boil sweet potato soup for all to share. Since Dongzhi festival is just over, I added in some glutinuous rice balls as well. I remember how we looked forward to eating rice balls in sweet soup during the Dongzhi Festival (Winter Solstice Festival) when we were young. It's a tradition that's fast disppearing from our calendar these days but mum still makes them every year. She says dongzhi brings the family closer together.

Anyway, we have no winter here and it's hot and sunny outside but still, a steaming bowl of sweet potato soup with rice balls never fails to warm the heart.

Sweet potato and rice balls stuffed with ground peanuts.

Thursday 25 December 2008

Mum to the rescue

Before I went to bed last night, I texted YK to take the train home after the Christmas bash. His friend's father is from Europe, so they were celebrating Christmas in a big way. I received YK's call at 11.40pm. The gates at the train station had already closed as service ended early due to the Christmas holiday. "What about your friends?", I asked, annoyed that my sleep was interrupted.

"Their parents have fetched them home. One walked home cos he lives nearby. I'm the only one at the station. Sorry to wake you up...."

So, I picked him up from the station which is about 10 minutes drive away. It's mum to the rescue again. That's something nice about having a family, somehow you can always count on parents and siblings for help.

I remember how mum would rouse my father from his sleep on cold rainy mornings to send us to the bus stop. When I was a young adult, I would come home from parties in the wee hours of the morning to find dad waiting up for me.

Sometimes I wonder about other parents, especially those with abusive or bad kids. I know an old lady who has a son like that. He never cares about her welfare but would come knocking whenever he's in need of money or help. She avoids him like plague yet sometimes she feels sorry for him. He's her son afterall.

I often read about criminals being sentenced to death or imprisonment. Their parents would be at the court hearing, traumatised and heartbroken. How did their child end up like this? They chide themselves for not bringing their kid up properly. Can a parent ever hate his own child? It's a very tough one. And it is too easy to judge other people but no parent wish anything like that to happen to their own child.

I wonder how I end up discussing about this today. I, for one, can never stay angry with my kids for long. It'll be interesting to hear what other parents have to say but I've got to go now to bring mum to the dentist and then to her GP to pick up some medicine.

Ponggol Beach

The day is almost over and I'm pleased to say that we've accomplished all that we had set out to do today. I walked to the hardware store and bought myself a small saw to cut down the tall bamboo plants in the patio that had been shedding leaves all over my garden and into my neighbour's patio everyday. They're too huge to be taken away, I had to cut them down. While sawing away, my neighbour was sweeping his yard. I could almost hear a huge sigh of relieve!

While YK was over at his friend's place, SK and I went back to my parent's house to pick up a fish tank. On the way home, SK bought a stripey crayfish from the fish farm nearby. We got back, I put a pizza in the oven and started clearing the debris in the garden while SK busied himeslf with his aquarium. There were bamboo leaves and branches everywhere, it took me a long time to put them away.

After a quick lunch of pizza, we set off to Ponggol Beach. SK was rather disappointed he couldn't see anything interesting today. Even though Singapore is an island, our beaches are rather unexciting. The Ponggol shore is rocky and polluted. The tide was out and when we arrived but we found nothing except crabs in the rock pools.

The rocks are covered with small green mussels.

Look at the mussels!

SK was trying to show Rusty a crab hiding under the rock.

Can you see one between the rocks?

There were some slug like creatures too. They're so good at camouflaging.

Sniffing around.

A dead horse shoe crab.

There are lots of debris along the beach. See the plastic basket?

On the way back to the car.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas

It's nice waking up to fine weather on Christmas Day. The sun is not even shining, the sky is overcast but at least the weather's pleasantly cool.

YK has a Christmas lunch party to attend and I've promised to bring SK to the beach, so everyone's up early. Rusty has been fed and is now waiting for me to bring him out. Let's hope the weather stays this way so our trip to be beach will not be marred.

It has been years since we've been to the beach. SK loves the sand and sea since young. Seeing YK's marine tank has also rekindled his interest in keeping a tank. He's now planning on keeping crabs and crayfish again. For years, he had several tanks while we were living at the farm. We'll probably swing by there today to bring a tank home.

Now that Rusty is living with us, we're also limited by the places we can go. We can't bring him to the mall, restaurants or food centres. So a trip to the beach and park sounds like a perfect place for everyone.

Meanwhile, here's wishing all my friends around the world a very Merry Christmas!

Christmas dinner

We had almost an entire day of rain. I walked to the market with an umbrella over my head. The larger fresh chickens were sold out by the time I arrived, so I bought two smaller ones.

Back home, I rubbed salt and black pepper all over the chickens and stuffed half a lemon, an onion and a few cloves of garlic into the cavity. In one of the chickens, I stuffed in a bunch of freshy cut rosemary from my garden as well.

The good thing about making roast chicken is the ease of preparation. After securing the chicken with string, I left them in the fridge for several hours until it was time to cook. We even had time to visit a couple of fish shops in the afternoon before returning home to prepare dinner.

I popped the chickens into the preheated oven, took Rusty out for a walk and returned quickly to peel and boil some potatoes in salt water (for 12 minutes).

After the chicken had been in the oven for 45 minutes, I flipped them over. YK brushed some honey all over the hot chicks. I covered the breast with bacon strips (so the meat will be tender and succulent) and tossed the boiled potatoes into the same pan.

Brushing honey all over.

I put everything back into the oven to roast for another 45 minutes. By then, the aroma was so amazing, Rusty and I lingered in the kitchen to take in all the wonderful smell.

CH came over with ice cream and presents for us, all very thoughtful gifts I must say. I received gardening supplies while the kids got a digital thermometer and magnetic tank cleaner (stuff they had been eyeing on) for the aquarium. Well, I didn't buy CH any gifts.

Roasting in the oven.

Here's what our dinner looked like. This is my first attempt at making roast chicken and I can hardly believe simple ingredients like salt, pepper and fresh chicken can produce such a heavenly meal. Everyone enjoyed the chicken very much. It was a success.

We had a pizza too. I bought several frozen pizzas from Cold Storage yesterday and chucked one into the oven while the chickens were roasting.

The pizza turned out ok. I like the crust but the topping was rather mushy. Maybe the oven was over crowded. Even then, we managed to finish the chickens, potatoes and pizza.

After dinner, we sat around eating ice cream, watching TV and the fishes swimming about in the tank. It was a quiet and relaxing way to spend Christmas eve but certainly an enjoyable one.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Crappy night

Just as I was drifting into deep slumber last night, I heard YK's voice. "Rusty shat on your bed!"

It didn't take me long to jump out of bed. Indeed, there were two wet puddles of brown stuff that looked like diarrhea. Oh man, what a crappy time for this to happen!

In my daze, I pulled out the sheet. The stuff had oozed through the sheet onto the mattress protector (thank God for the protector!). I brought them to the bathroom to rinse off the eeky stuff and realised it wasn't shit afterall. It was his vomit which explains why it didn't stink and there were bits of grass in it.

He must be having stomach troubles because I caught him chewing grass during the last 2 days. I notice he does that when he has indigestion. Pets are like babies. We are always cleaning up after their mess no matter what time it happens. Babies grow up but pets don't.

Anyway, I couldn't bring myself to sleep on my bed last night. So I spent the night on the couch which I realise is very comfy. Rusty slept on the rug below, feeling miserable and neglected.

It rained during the night and is still raining heavily this morning. The sheets are now in the washer. I hope the rain stops so that I can go buy a chicken from the market. Remember we're having roast chicken tonight? It's a good thing we're not working today so I can spend time with the kids. SK's school holiday is almost over.

I hope Rusty's stomach is fine now so he can have some chicken tonight without throwing up on my bed again.

Monday 22 December 2008

Dried foodstuff

After running some errands in town, I walked to the wholesale centre nearby to buy some dried food. Chinese New Year is only a month away and soon this place will be buzzing with shoppers stocking up their new year goodies.

I bought dried shrimp, oysters and anchovies, dried red dates, wood fungus and seaweed, pistachio, almonds and some snacks for the kids.

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Front row: Dried seaweed, luo han guo, dried longan.

The products are sold according to weight. So there are weighing scales placed strategically around the shop. You can see dried seaweed (the round parcel at the bottom), wood fungus, dried gingko nut, shallots, garlic, dried chilli and dried cuttlefish in the baskets.

Bags of cashew, almond, dried longan, lup cheong (chinese sausage), dried persimmon, dried kumquat (oranges), peanut, black bean and fish maw. There are many grades of dried anchovies in the boxes on the left.

Dried plums, sweet preserved olives and plums, candies and pistachio.

Raw cashew and almond. I bought some almonds to snack with cheese after dinner.

Meaning of Christmas

Christmas is two days away but somehow I feel a little jaded. For the first time, I am relieved that I have no Christmas parties to attend this year. In the past, I would feel rather left out if I didn't get any invites. Thankfully, I've never had to spend Christmas alone so far.

My first lonely Christmas was right after the divorce. The kids spent the holiday with their father but I went on a weekend getaway with my brother's family in Malaysia. Last year, I had a Christmas get-together with my school friends at Goodwood Park. Every year, we celebrate Christmas at best friend's house but they are away in Japan now. CH's best friend has gone to Korea, so we're on our own this time.

With no parties to attend, we'll have our own little celebration at home. I'm thinking of Jamie Oliver's roast chicken. The coconut cake recipe featured in The Sunday Times looks really good. Maybe I'll bake that cake too. CH will bring ice cream. I think we'll have a nice time.

Yesterday I took a cab to work after leaving my car at the workshop. The cab driver, obviously a Christian, started chatting about the meaning of Christmas. The meaning of Christmas is lost, he moaned. Suddenly he asked me if I knew how the tradition of gift exchange came about?

"God gave his son Jesus as a gift to the world but now Christmas is all about giving presents, it has become so commercialised. Even worse, some companies practise gift-exchange amongst the staff and set a budget of $10 per gift, what is this coming to?" he exclaimed.

He asked if I had ever been to a church. Well, I studied in Anglican schools for many years. We had a chapel in our school and daily prayer sessions. Soon the journey was over and it was time for me to hop off but not before I chimed "Merry Christmas!"

Sunday 21 December 2008

(Lack of) Neighbourliness

I was just thinking about my neighbours this morning. We have moved in for 5 months now but strangely I have not met any of the 7 neighbours living on the same floor. I've only chatted with the guy next door but even then, it was very brief and stilted conversation. I had not spoken to his wife and his parents even though their main door is merely a foot away from ours. I could even peer into their living room from my balcony. We're that close!

I find the lack of neighbourliness very strange. While we do not hesitate to make friends online, when it comes to real life, we keep to ourselves and mind our own business. It's quite sad actually.

The funny thing is, while they're unwilling to make friends, they're very forthcoming when it comes to making complaints. It's ironic that while I was thinking about getting friendly with my neighbours, I received a letter from the management this morning. One neighbour had lodged a complaint against me and Rusty. He claimed that Rusty urinated outside his house entrance (without my knowledge).

I remember now. Last night Rusty dashed out of the house when we opened the door and ran along the corridor until YK caught up with him. Could it be he peed outside the neighbour's flat and YK failed to notice? I highly doubt it though because Rusty doesn't pee indiscrimately. Even then, I feel that the neighbour should have come up to me and I would gladly clean up the puddle instead of resorting to complaining to the management. It's only natural for male dogs to mark their territory (and find their way home), nothing to be upset about really.

Naturally I was quite peeved to receive this letter for I had been a responsible dog owner who cleans after Rusty everytime. You'd be surprised at how much dog poo we come across on our walks everyday. I guess the letter serves as a good reminder to watch my dog vigilantly so that we don't become a nuisance to the other residents.

When I was growing up, we knew all our neighbours and greeted them by name. We visited each other regularly, bringing food and cakes each time. The spirit of cameradie was very strong and everyone looked out for each other. Sadly that is missing in our life today.

When we first moved into our apartment, I was naive to think that the spirit of neighourliness is still alive. I am disappointed. I should really start working towards my ultimate dream of living in a private property with a garden for Rusty to wander around in.

Meanwhile, we just have to abide by the rules of communal living. I'll walk over and apologise to my neighbour if I have to. I just hope they're not hostile and would react graciously.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Fish hunting

I love this time of the year. We're experiencing lots of cool and breezy days. A bottle of chilled cider tastes extra nice especially after a long drive home from the far corner of the island. I can't believe we drove around the countryside for hours in search of marine fishes!

The day began with my usual Sunday trip to the market down the hill. YK followed me today because I told him he could see some unusual fishes at the fishmongers if he's lucky. We managed to see strange looking ones very similar to the frogfish at one stall today. Some were still alive. I wonder who eats those things. They look almost toxic like a toad!

This is the scenic path that we always take to get to the market.

After putting away the groceries back home, I brought Rusty for his morning walk around the estate. That's his favourite route (below). Of course his favourite activity is 'scaring the cats' behind the wire fence and he can easily spot 2 along the way!

When my chores were done, we set off to Lim Chu Kang in search of two fish farms that specialise in marine fishes. Incidentally Lim Chu Kang was where I spent the first 20 years of my life. It was once a sleepy village but today, it has become a commercial farmland.

While the boys were looking at fishes, I walked around the premises with Rusty. I like the countryside and enjoy looking at the vast expanse of greenery. From the farm, I could see many ponds in the field. I wonder if they breed fishes in these ponds.

These farm visits with the boys bring me back to the days when I first met their father who had always loved marine fishes since he was a kid. In fact he was so obsessed that he kept fishes in buckets under his bed and started diving when he was barely a teen so that he could admire them underwater.

When we had our first design office, the first thing he did was install a marine tank. It was a gorgeous tank filled with corals and colourful fishes which impressed many people. As you would imagine, our weekends were spent maintaining the tank and visiting fish farms. Not exactly my idea of a relaxing weekend.

Later, we had tanks at home too and the boys looked forward to the farm visits every weekend. Of course being boys, they enjoyed the excursions tremendously. I do not particularly enjoy keeping fishes but since they're also so enthusiastic now, I try to be supportive and drive them to these far away places .

I can't believe this old weekend routine is resurfacing in my life again!

Christmas - almost here

How time flies! It wasn't too long ago when we were only exchanging Christmas presents at my parent's home... has it really been a year already?

We don't celebrate Christmas at home but my niece and nephew put up a little performance after dinner, singing hymns and reading passages from the bible.

Tonight's performance.

Last year's performance.

Just look at how much my littlest niece has grown over the year. She can dance and prance now!

My nieces watching the performance last year.

My nieces unwrapping presents after the performance.

My nieces Qi and Ling.

Nobody bought Rusty any presents, so Qi drew him a bone.

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...