Friday 29 February 2008

Fondue dinner

We were supposed to meet CH's old friends for dinner last night but both the ladies couldn't make it in the end. Since we wanted some company, CH asked his best friends but one was leaving for Bangkok while the other was down with a cold. So, it was back to the two of us again.

Oh, what the heck, we settled for a romantic dinner for two at La Fondue, where we could huddle over a fondue pot all night long.

We arrived at Dempsey Hill bright and early. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant when we walked in. The high ceiling with black timber beams and the dim surroundings invoked a nice cosy ambience, like we were up in the Swiss alps.

The menu presented mostly sets for two, where you start with a salad followed by cheese fondue, the main course and chocolate fondue for dessert. When confronted with the large variety of cheese to choose from (from traditional Swiss cheese to Mexican herb cheese and wasabi cheese), choice of meats (chicken, beef, seafood) and cooking methods (in a broth, or a bourguignonne, or a grill) for the main meal, it all became a blur. That's when the manager stepped in to help with the recommendations.

Just then, my best friend called up and suggested meeting up for drinks later. Great! We agreed to meet at Margaritas after dinner. Our food arrived soon after...

While the garden salad was nothing to shout about, the Caesar salad, tossed with bacon bits, croutons and lots of cheese, was very tasty.

The thick and spicy Mexican cheese fondue was bursting with flavour when eaten with vegetables (brocoli, carrot, baby corn, sausage and new potatoes) and foccacia bread. It was so delicious, I could savour the gooey goodness on its own. Yum yum!

Next, a grill pan was set over the induction cooker. We had earlier picked marinated chicken, garlic/herb chicken, sirlion strips, prawn, cajun fish and lemon fish. Of course we had to do our own cooking on the pan and soon the entire room was filled with smoke and the aroma of grilled meats. The meats were very well marinated and tasted great even on its own, we didn't really need to use the assortment of dips (wasabi, mango, vinegar, chilli, etc).
The highlight of dinner at La Fondue is the chocolate fondue of course! A pot of melted milk chocolate was presented before us, together with a platter of cut fruits, brownies, marshmallows and vanilla ice cream. The chocolate had a very strong taste of milk. I would have enjoyed dark chocolate better but for some reason, we were not offered that choice.
By that time, I was suffering from a throbbing headache which had already started bothering me in the afternoon. Though I had popped 2 painkillers before I left my house, the pain was slowly creeping back throughout dinner.
When we left the restaurant, it was hurting quite badly we decided to call off the drinking session with my friend. I got home, took some painkillers and went straight to bed.
Thank goodness, it's almost completely gone this morning.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Odd one out

Here's a simple quiz. Look at the pictures below and pick the odd one out.

Oh, so you know the answer too? Sorry, I've run out of prizes. Try again next time.

Ok, I admit. My brain is so fried up, I can only manage this lame post today. It's been an uneventful week. I haven't found a new office space. Our landlord is still not going to budge on the rental. So, while staring blankly at the wall this morning, I managed to spot the difference!

See, some progress there. At least my brain is still working...



Howdy folks. It's bedtime!

Good night, sleep tight,

don't let the bed bugs bite!

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Container houses

In our shipping container business, we trade in US Dollars. I remember 6 years ago, every US$ I made was equivalent to S$1.82 (Singapore dollar). So, you can imagine my excitement when I sold my first container.

That euphoria started to diminish as the exchange rate became less favourable as the years went by. Today, it had sunk to a disappointing low. Every USD we make is merely equivalent to S$1.38!

That doesn't seem like alot but assuming for every US$1 million in revenue, we make S$440,000 lesser now compared to then! That, coupled with inflation and rising costs, only means we have to work much harder in today's difficult market.

Now I am beginning to see why my dream house is getting out of reach, especially in our buoyant property market. I'm sure many other people are affected too.

I see a business opportunity here. Maybe I should build and sell container houses. Any takers?

The 2 sides of competition

My eyes nearly popped out when I saw an advertisement in our morning papers. It only costs S$286 (all in) to fly to Kuala Lumpur on Singapore Airlines. Last year, I paid S$440 (US$315) to fly there on a 35-minute flight just to attend a 30-minute meeting and back.

Competition does wonders I must say. For the longest time, 2 airlines SIA and Malaysia Airlines have enjoyed a lucrative, 35-year stranglehold on the Singapore-KL route.

And then on 1 Feb 2008, budget flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur made their debut, offering flights at less than half the price. Now, I've never heard of any offers on this route by SIA until today. Take it or leave it, it was the only fastest way to get to KL. So, today I am shocked, and happy.

Competition can bring about positive changes but when one is not ready to face it, it can be demoralising. I'm sure you must have had enough of me whining about my 'homeless' situation by now. I shouldn't be complaining really because I do live in a beautiful place with my parents.

When we first moved back, it was a haven for me and heaven for the kids. They loved the huge expanse of space and enjoyed running in the yard, catching butterflies and bugs in the garden. Life couldn't be more carefree and fun. They couldn't wait to get home everyday.

And then they grew up. Suddenly the bugs weren't so appealing anymore. Teenagers want their own space. They want to watch cable and go online anytime they feel like. They want variety in their meals, not eat rice with chopped up vegetables and steamed fish every night. They want to meet their friends sometimes, go to the mall or just hang out and be seen (not tucked away in the woods). They don't like being nagged at constantly for staying up late.

It doesn't help that some of our friends live in really nice houses or that the kids' father is now driving a new Beemer or looking at huge houses and renovating his new showroom in the city (but not paying child support)... it just doesn't make me look good.

Now, I'm not competitive by nature and I love a simple lifestyle. The kids know that and they understand. Yet being kids, they sometimes ask innocuous questions like, " Can we afford a nice house with cable TV and a garden for Cookie and Rusty to run in?"

I usually tell them, "Yes, we will get there someday..." and they're happy to wait another few more years (as long as I don't cut their allowance). They're good kids really.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

The seven-year-itch

I've been feeling a little restless lately and I'm blaming it on the seven-year-itch.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not suffering from relationship restlessness (that one hasn't reached the 7th year milestone yet). It's almost 7 years since I started life anew. Yes, more than 2,000 days have passed since I moved back to live with my parents.

The first few years were more dramatic. There were debts to pay, kids to console, a new business to run and loads of other stuff to cope with. Things started falling into place over time to the extent that I feel that my life has stagnated. I have not made much progress after that.

What was meant to be a temporary move while I sort out my life and claim back my apartment has dragged into 7 long years of living off my parents.

My visions of the kids and I living in our own little house, each with our own room, the dogs in the yard and us lounging on our own furniture still remain a vision after all these years. While I'm glad that I've come this far today, I do feel a little sad that my dreams are still out of reach.

On a good day, I am so grateful that life has been good to us but on some days, I can't help but feel inadequate that I haven't provided even the most basic need for our little family, that is, a roof over our head. I know we'll get there some day. Maybe I'm just too impatient.

Monday 25 February 2008

Photo story

Since I spend so much time in the office, I like to be surrounded by my favourite plants, postcards, books and photographs.
Most people are drawn to my cosy corner. We had some visitors today and the ladies were snooping around, looking at the photographs.
"Is this your dog? So cute!"

Me: Thank you. :-)
When they saw this photo of us at a friend's wedding, one asked, pointing at CH,
"Is he a doctor?"

Me: No lah. :-) :-)
Then they saw photos of my kids, they went
"Wah, your kids so big ah! You don't look like a mom with such big kids!"
Me : Thank you. Thank you. :-) :-) :-)
When they came to this photo, they said
"And this must be your daughter. How many kids do you have?"

Me: Oi! She is my best friend! FYI, she's as old as me.
Oops! Suddenly, they both kept quiet. Then the matronly lady cleared her throat and said nervously, "Oh, it happens to me all the time..."
Er, thank you very much. By the way, this is not the first time I have heard this comment. I really should put this photo away.
On hindsight, maybe she thinks that girl in red is my daughter! Yah, right, dream on Blur Ting!

Sunday 24 February 2008

Lost in transition

Everytime I change to a new mobile phone, I lose a handful of contacts. When I ditched my Sony Ericsson for a Nokia last year, half my contacts list disappeared. Maybe they were stored in the old memory card which I couldn't retrieve as my cable wasn't working. Duh, if the phone wasn't faulty, I wouldn't change it right?

So I began the tedious process of collating numbers again. Just when I had finally updated my contacts list, I drowned my phone in a bag of water. I brought it to Nokia and was told the warranty does not cover drowned phones and it is beyond economic repair. Period.

I bought myself a new phone, inserted my SIM card and found a large chunk of contacts missing. I am ashamed to admit that except for YK's mobile, my office and home numbers, I can barely remember anyone else's number. I couldn't even remember CH's number correctly. So I began the process of updating again.

When I asked SK's tutor for her contact number, she sighed, "What? You've lost it again?" She suddenly realised where SK gets his genes from!

The most embarrassing moments came when I receive text messages from close friends. The other day, a dear friend texted me, "Can you come to my place for BBQ?" and I replied, "Thanks for the invitation but who are you?"

Yesterday, someone sent me a message wishing me a good weekend. After exchanging several text messages, I finally asked, "Sorry, but are you Karen? I've just changed my phone and lost some contact numbers."

The replied came a while later, "No, it's Capt Frankie Lim."

Oops, he's an important customer. I hope I didn't ruin his weekend.

Friday 22 February 2008

Party animals

Friday night saw us attending a friend's baby shower party. We were treated to a tantalising spread of Indian food catered from the popular Riverwalk Tandoor Restaurant. The food stole the limelight cos we spent more time eating than admiring the pretty baby.

After all that eating, I was more than happy to bring SK and his friend to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve on Saturday. It gave me an opportunity to burn off some calories before attending another party at night.

The tide was coming in when we arrived in the afternoon. When the tide rolled in, a curious thing happened... the sea creatures started to climb up the mangrove trees.

Who can spot the mudskipper climbing up the tree?

This tree trunk was teeming with crabs. Some climbed all the way up the tree branches.
This was such a peculiar sight. The two creatures were sun-bathing together like best friends. At one stage, the tortoise even walked on the monitor lizard's head. The lizard got annoyed and swam away.

SK and friend looking out for estaurine crocodiles.

We couldn't see any crocs but there were lots of huge monitor lizards.
Once again, we ate more than we should at my friend's BBQ party. She's the mummy of my 16-month old god-daughter, so it was good to see the little cutie again. While she was happy to follow me home previously, she wouldn't allow me to carry her last night. After much coaxing, I managed to grab her for a photo shoot.
Look who's not smiling...
We were already feeling so stuffed when we left yet CH had another birthday party to attend. I brought the boys home and fell asleep soon after.
I'm glad I went for my run this morning. At least I burnt off a chunk of steak. All that gorging will have to stop!

Thursday 21 February 2008

Round the corner

It's still dark outside and all is quiet around me. I am already in the office. I got in at 6.45am after dropping the kids at school as YK wanted to go early to revise for his papers.

I love starting the day early like this. I don't have to deal with bad traffic or join the long line of cars waiting to get into the school gate. By leaving the house earlier by 20 minutes, we actually arrive 30 minutes earlier!

By 7.15, I've already cleared my emails, had my cuppa and done my blog. As I was making coffee, I looked around and gee, I do love this office. I hate to give it up.

When I was looking for an office space two years ago, I didn't even look anywhere else. I just knew I wanted to be in this development. By a stroke of luck, there were some units available. When I viewed this unit, I fell in love with it instantly. I didn't care if it's slightly bigger than what I was looking for. Sometimes you just know it when it's the right one for you, pretty much like meeting the right guy. Well, it was something like that with CH too. :-)

Anyway, before I digress... I love sitting at my desk, surrounded by the things I love and the familiarity which is so important to me. The few offices that I had seen in the past few days cannot hold a candle to this. Moving to a new location is going to be so disruptive to our operations. In business, time is money. The search is already making me cranky which is bad for everyone around me.

Suddenly I remember what an old friend used to say, "You can't go on cutting corners. You've got to elevate your game, up the ante and step up to the plate!"

Perhaps, like what Mike commented in my earlier post, the answer is just around the corner.

Yah, I should just go to the management office around the corner and negotiate for a better deal instead of scouting around, wasting time. That sounds so good to me.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

The 15th day

I woke up to a bright full moon hanging low in the horizon and the smell of incense in the hall. It's the 15th day of the Chinese New Year which marks the end of the festivities.

When I was a child, that meant we had no more red packets to collect. The family would usually gather for a sumptuous dinner and glutinous rice balls cooked in a sweet soup to round off the celebrations.

It's a more realistic world for the kids today. Even before the Chinese New Year festivities were over, their first term school examinations have already started. Not many people observe the significance of the 15th day (元宵节) these days.

In traditional Chinese culture, it is also celebrated as the Lantern Festival and Chinese Valentine's Day. In ancient times, this was the only day that a single woman was allowed to dress up and go out in the hope of meeting her future husband. Sparks will fly at such gatherings and her suitor would later make a proposition to her family for her hand in marriage. During these outings, the girls would also toss oranges into the sea and make a prayer that they would find a suitable husband.

Well, as romantic as it sounds, I don't think anyone is going to toss oranges into our sea today and risk getting a $1,000 fine for littering!

It's my grandpa

My dad pulls into the garage. Ting rushes out to greet him. Rusty dashes out too.
"Rusty, STOP! He's my grandpa, not your grandpa!"


A mad house

Don't blame me if I sound like a lunatic today. I started the morning with an extra-strong cup of long black from McDonalds. I swear the machine must be faulty because it coughed out a darker and more bitter than usual brew that made me walk on air all morning.

Thanks to the freaky cuppa, I was finally awoken to the fact that I had suffered enough of the sporadic connectivity at home. I wouldn't be so mad if I were paying $50 a month for broadband subscription like the millions of homeowners in Singapore. But no, I am paying 4X as much all because our house lies in the commercial zone. I have brought the case up many times to the internet service provider, but it's no use.

To cut the story short, I brought the modem to the manufacturer (I seem to be visiting service centres alot lately). As luck would have it, my warrantly has already expired. The modem is still working but the technician urged me to put my ear close to the device, saying "Do you hear a hissing sound inside?"

The only hissing sound I hear is coming from me! But being polite, I said, "I think so." He said it's time to get a new modem but as usual, they're out of stock. They're the manufacturer, for goodness sake!

"Where can I find one?" So, off I went, to Challenger computer mart in town.

I got home and began installing the device. At least I asked some important questions before I left the service centre, like "Do I need to reconfigure my computers?" I felt so smart Alecky as I keyed in on the internet browser to begin reconfiguration. After clicking a series of commands, I could hear YK exclaiming loudly from his room, "YAY, the Internet is finally working!"

Yes, we've been so deprived. These past few weeks, the boys and I have been bonding over TV shows and comic books after dinner. So, the downtime was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

Just when I was about to settle down to do some work, my baby niece woke up and started screaming loudly, which startled Ting who was sleeping nearby. And so, we were treated to a cacophony of cries from two wailing babies. My boys got irritated and went out to shush them up, only to add to the noise pollution.

I escaped to the kitchen to cook dinner. As I was lost in my world of frying and braising, I heard Ting crying loudly again. What is it this time? While her nanny was tending to her baby sister, Ting snuck into my mom's room and reached for a bottle of peppermint ointment. Yah, I know, I know. These things should be kept out of reach...

Anyway, some of that nasty stuff got onto her face and she was feeling the heat. I decided to give her a small cup of fruity yoghurt to relieve the pain. After crying for 20 minutes, she finally settled down and ate up the yoghurt.

Her daddy had to walk in just when everything was peaceful again. Seeing her with the cup, he started lecturing, "Why are you eating this? No wonder you can't finish your dinner every night!'

I quickly came to the rescue. "I was the one who gave her the yoghurt. Let me tell you what happened....."

Monday 18 February 2008

The dream office

I got a shock when I called our landlord yesterday. I was told our office rental is going to cost twice as much when we renew our lease in a few month's time. I had already anticipated this because of the bullish market, but that's really too much. We have to give up our cosy office in a nice development in search of a cheaper alternative.

For one, we don't need to be in a prestigious office building as ours is a quiet business. Most of our customers are not based in Singapore anyway, so we don't expect many visitors. I also prefer a place that is near the kids' school, so they can drop by after school if they like.

My search began yesterday. The first place that I saw wasn't ideal but just as I was driving around the estate, I came across a charming little house behind a mall that can be made into a cosy office and a place for the kids to chill out after school.

I called the number hanging on the gate. The owner, Andrea, said I could arrange for viewing if I like but she was in a meeting and would call me back when she's free. I waited for her to call, but to no avail. When I swung by the place again in the evening, it looked even more attractive in the dusky afternoon light. I was even more determined to view inside.

I spent a couple of hours before bedtime poring over my gardening books to see how I can transform the little green patch by the porch into a lush tropical paradise. On my way to work this morning, I stopped by again and texted the owner to arrange for a 9am viewing. No response from her.

At 8.15am, I decided to call her. The phone rang but she hung up on me. What's up with this person? Maybe she has already found a tenant? But still, she shouldn't just ignore my call. Would I want to have a landlord like that?

Sigh, I felt my dream dissipate into thin air. Oh well, my search continues...

Sunday 17 February 2008

Lion dance

Announcing the arrival of the lion dance troop...

One of the members arranges 8 oranges, some lettuce and our red packet on the floor.

The cute orange lion steps in, and starts 'chewing' on the lettuce.

It prances around vigorously to the drum beat, tossing oranges and lettuce in the air.

It sits on the floor, moving about to the rhythm...

..sometimes making faces...

...and then it gets up to leave....

..leaving behind a tangerine artwork- prosperity!

If you wish to see a short video, click here

Green fingers

My colleague has green fingers. Her loving attention to our office plants has resulted in gorgeous blooms all year round. Look at what's blooming today!

We're also looking forward to the lion dance performance later this morning. It's an important tradition, performed as part of the Chinese New Year festivities to bring luck and happiness. Combining art, history and kung fu moves, the lion dance will be accompanied by a band of musicians playing a large drum, cymbals and a gong. It's going to be fun to watch. Will post photos later!

Fire! Fire!

This afternoon, I came home to find a fire engine in our yard and a long hose snaking all the way through the farm.
A group of firemen was here to put out a bush fire. Some anglers must have tossed a ciggy at the reservoir bank which started a fire that burned through the dry grass and all the way up to our farm.
Our store of plastic pipes that we use for irrigation started burning, producing alot of black smoke. After my father and the workers' attempt to put out the raging fire was futile, mom called the fire department.
By the time I returned, they had just put out the fire. Thank goodness our orchid plants and wooden stands were spared. The consequences would have been unimaginable if the fire swept through our farm.

Rusty was busy barking at the fireman.

This fireman continued spraying the plastic fittings for a long while to prevent the fire from re-igniting.

Due to the strong wind and dry weather, a rather large area of grassland near the reservoir was burnt.

As usual, the dogs were snooping around, getting in everyone's way.

I grabbed sooty Rusty and brought him home for a shower.

Saturday 16 February 2008

Fish & creepy things..

I was reading about the ultra-marathoners in the Sunday papers. It is no surprise that most of the runners are either (i) young (ii) single or (iii) married with grown kids. They train at least 4 times a week, all year round. Strenuous training is required in order to complete the 84km (52 mile) run.

It's not easy for people with young kids to find that kind of time for training. When my kids were growing up, I had to pick them up from the daycare centre after work each evening. When we get home, they had to be fed, washed and put to bed. Weekends were spent at the park or at the Montessori school for other lessons. There was simply no time for me to pursue my own interests. Everything revolved around the kids.

Now that they are older, I manage to find time to run after work or during weekends. Even then, how my weekends turn out depends alot on what the kids wanted to do. Yesterday morning, I brought SK to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve because of his interest in spiders. In the afternoon, I brought YK to World Farm because he wanted to buy some venus fly trap and pitcher plants.

After that, all three of us ended up having late lunch at Fish & Co. At least, that's something all three of us can agree on, FOOD!

While I was running around with the kids, CH (that lucky chap!) managed to do what he enjoys most. He went hiking at Pulau Ubin.

The kilted CH at Pulau Ubin.

SK at Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve.

Lots of migratory birds stop for refuelling at this nature reserve.

The tent spider.

We spotted 4 huge monitor lizards yesterday. This fella scrambled into the swamp when it heard us approaching. It was as fearful of us as we were of him.

A grasshopper.


Crab holes.

Praying mantis.

Spider. Not sure what it is. Maybe an orb weaver.

Another monitor lizard.
Now, back to the civilised world...

We had the refreshing passionfruit and cola soda at Fish & Co.

YK had the fish and chips. One of the best ever!

SK and I shared the seafood platter which was filled with shrimps, fish, mussels and squid over a bed of butter rice (which was really flavourful and yummy). I loved the chips so much, I ate up almost all of it.