Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Dogs have feelings too

I have a special affinity for dogs. Even though I had been bitten by dogs twice in my life, my love for them has never changed. I see sweetness in every dog's face, even more so if they are strays in dire need of help.

If you understand dogs, you will not fear them. If you are gentle and kind towards them, there is no reason for them to atttack you. They do so only when they feel threatened and believe me, the strays have every reason to be defensive because people do not treat them kindly.

When I first met Bodhi, he was just a pup. Can you imagine how adorable he looked as a black and white pup? He must have been bullied because he was so afraid. He hid in the undergrowth all day and ventured out only when the coast was clear. He would never allow anyone to go near him let alone cuddle him.

He had every reason to fear because even though he never caused any trouble, the AVA sent four big men with steel wires and lasso to capture him one day. His life was spared when my parents adopted him.

As you can imagine, getting him to my parents' home was a mammoth task that required many days of strategising. We finally got him settled into his new home. It took months to earn his trust again.

It helped that we had Harry, our other adopted dog, to keep him company. Even though Harry bossed him around and gave him a hard time in the beginning, it was heartwarming to see Bodhi trotting behind little Harry like a gentle giant.

In three years, he grew so close to Harry that whenever Harry went to the vet, he would run around the yard looking for his little friend. He was always overjoyed at Harry's homecoming, showering him with affectionate licks and nudges.

Harry's sudden demise has been hard on Bodhi who at this point is not aware his best friend had gone to doggie heaven. Seeing him looking desperately for his bestie breaks my heart. He came towards me looking for answers. I tried to comfort him only to hear him whimper. Then he ran towards the garden again, searching and whimpering softly hoping that Harry could hear him.

Monday, 9 December 2013

R.I.P Harry

Mom called today and told me to brace myself for what I was about to hear. "Harry is dead", she said.

I could hardly believe my ears. When I saw him barely two days ago, he was as normal as could be. By that, I mean he was bossy (over Bodhi mostly), lively, playful, affectionate, attention-seeking, adorable and as healthy as can be.

Sure, he had skin problems from time to time but nothing that the vet couldn't fix. Just this morning, he was still barking and running after visitors at the farm. Half an hour later, they found him lying motionless at the garage. He was already dead. Maybe he had a heart attack.

If you had seen Harry, you wouldn't have guessed he was a Japanese Spitz. When he first came to stay, he had a beautiful coat of white fur. Over time, we discovered he had a severe skin condition that required regular treatment. We figured that could be the reason why he was abandoned near our farm.

From time to time, his fur fell off in patches, revealing wet weeping wounds beneath. He would return from the vet shorn and looking quite naked. It was quite a comical sight.

To manage his skin condition, I bought a pair of electric clippers so we could groom him ourselves. Because I had zero talent in styling, poor Harry had to put up with the bad workmanship. Of course that didn't stop him from behaving like the leader of the pack.

While he was bossy with the other dogs, his perfect manners quickly stole our hearts. He was affectionate and such a joy to be around with, we think he was my father's favourite dog of all time. My father must have been heart broken to find his loyal companion gone this morning.

We will miss you dearly too. R.I.P Harry.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Up close and personal with Cambodian kids

I remember quite clearly how, as a teenager, I would roll my eyes whenever mom talked about the hardship she went through as a child. Life was particularly tough after World War II but the hardship did not dampen their spirits and their big family lived harmoniously under one roof.

Obviously she never failed to remind us how lucky we were which only made us scowl even more.
I've learned that it is pointless saying all these things to teenagers unless they experience it for themselves. Naturally we can't travel back in time but a trip to Siem Reap might be able to change that.

Going to Siem Reap is like going back to Singapore in the 1950s. The city, centered around the Sivutha Street and Old Market area, has colonial and Chinese-style architecture. Only the main streets are paved while the village dirt roads are filled with potholes.

You really need to go beyond the bustling city to see what life is like for the common folk in the villages.

What my mom said about going hungry and working in the farm as a young child is still happening here. The young kids walk for miles under the blazing sun (with no shoes on) to the village school and return home during sunset to continue working in the padi fields.

When I first visited Siem Reap, I was surprised to see how tiny the kids are for their age. Despite their poverty, they are bright-eyed and full of life which makes them even more endearing. I had the opportunity to be up close and personal with the Cambodian kids at the orphanage.

When you have 51 children of different ages living in a small orphanage, there is no room for favourtism or sibling rivalry. They quickly learn to share and care for each other. The older kids keep a lookout for the younger ones.

They're brought up in a loving environment with heaps of help from volunteers from all over the world, so the kids are well adjusted and taught to be respectful of others.

As they rely on the kindness of sponsors, they do not take what they have for granted. When we arrived with new beds, they all came running out to carry stuff. Almost immediately, they've got everything organised like clockwork. The floor was swept, bunkbeds were assembled and the new sleeping quarters was ready in double-quick time, thanks to teamwork.
When it was time for lunch, the kids washed their hands and lined up outside the dining room in an orderly manner.
 Then they took their place and waited for the cue before tucking into a simple meal of fish, rice and vegetable curry. I did not see any shoving, snatching or squirming.


It's close to a miracle to see kids of varying ages co-exist in such a peaceful environment. In Singapore, it's hard to see kids play together without getting too rowdy. It's the way they have been brought up. I hate to admit but we've spoilt our kids.

Of course there are always exceptions. It was amazing to see two Aussie teenagers volunteering their time during their school break. Alex (on the right) spent 6 months helping out at the orphanage. She has the biggest heart and what she has done puts most of us to shame. You can read about her journey here.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Downtown Siem Reap

Peering out of the window as you descend in to Siem Reap airport, a most peculiar sight greets you. Instead of buildings or patches of green, you will see miles and miles of tea coloured water littered with bits of green here and there. This is the Tonle Sap and its unusual vegetation known as indundated forest.

Covering 2,500 square km during the dry season, but expanding up to 12,000 square km at the peak of floods, the Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
Padi field.
Indeed, life here revolves around this all important lake.  Five provinces with over three million people live around the lake and 90% of them earn a living from fishing and farming off the water-logged plains. I have written about life at Tonle Sap here.

Each year, more than one million travelers visit Siem Reap to explore over a thousand years of Khmer heritage built near Tonle Sap Lake. The primary attraction is the Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temple Region, which blankets more than 300km of northwestern Cambodia. I visited some temples during my first trip to Siem Reap in 2011 which you can read here.

If you're not keen on the Lake or the temples, you'll still find plenty to see and do in the city. Maybe city is not the right word to use because it really is just a small cluster of shops built along the main road. The heart of Siem Reap’s tourist district is known as Old Market,  home to an eclectic mix of restaurants bars and shops geared towards tourists.

You will be amazed at the kind of cuisine you can find in the downtown area. In the 2 nights I was there, we had dinner at Mexican (Viva) and French (Abacus) restaurants that served excellent food. And the desserts at Blue Pumpkin are so good , we indulged in ice cream and cakes there every night.

My favourite place to stay is the chic Villa Medamrei boutique hotel. It is conveniently located opposite the old market, away from the crowded roads and merely a short walk to the downtown area.

If you're not bothered by the heat (it's always scorching hot) and dust (it's either muddy or dusty depending on the weather), you can practically walk everywhere within the downtown area. Because I like walking, I always return to the hotel covered in a layer of dust and sweat. This might explain why spas like these are popular here.

It is safe to walk (even the babies do it) but it is twice as fun to take the tuk tuk. The drivers are so enterprising, the moment they sense you're near, they will look up from whatever they're doing to ask "Need tuk tuk?"

They can bring you around the city for a dollar or two, or take you on a long bone-rattling journey through the village tracks to see the sunrise, sunset, river village on stilts or temple ruins. There is always something out there that is worth seeing, according to them that is. And they're happy to wait on their tuk tuk for hours while you're out exploring the ruins or on a boat ride.

The common folk here move themselves and everything else on their two-wheelers.

The biggest draw in Siem Reap are the markets.  The Old Market and the Night Market are located right smack in the heart of the city while the New Market is just a short tuk tuk ride away.

The New Market was teeming with people when we arrived on Saturday morning. Unlike the one in the city, this is the market where the locals go to for groceries, fresh produce and provisions.

Not many tourists venture out of the city to visit the new market because the sprawling Old Market or Psah Chas downtown sells just about everything!

At the fresh food section, you will find the local folks haggling over fish, meat and vegetable or bent over a bowl of steaming hot noodles.

The other half of the market is dedicated to selling souvenirs like scarfs, handicrafts and jewelry to the tourists. Everything here is sold in US dollars.

I like roaming around the smaller alleys along Pub Street in search of funky shops and boutiques.  One of my favourites is the Australian owned Wild Poppy.

You can find a list of shops here. Some are run by NGOs to help the underprivileged.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Visiting the orphanage

Siem Reap is one of those places that can get you hooked. I've just returned from there. My third trip, in case you're wondering, which is nothing compared to my friends who just made their 7th trip.

When they got home, the first thing they did was to secure tickets for the next one in 2014.  Booking tickets a year in advance saves them quite a bit of money. Every bit that they save will mean they can contribute more to help the poor.

They've help improved the lives of improvished farmers by building wells and patching their homes, as well as buying rice and provisions. This time, we pooled together some money to buy new bunk beds and mattresses for the orphans at Savong Orphan Centre.

He's got a new bed to sleep on!
Some of the children here were abandoned or came from families that were too poor to bring them up. Some were rescued from abusive homes. If not for the centre, they all faced a bleak future.

But all you see at the centre are happy faces. Togged in old clothes brought by donors from all over the world, it amuses me to see boys dressed in marathon finisher tees or Brazil football club jerseys and girls wearing frocks and cardigans in the sweltering heat.
They are the most well behaved kids I've seen. During my trips there, I've never seen them bicker or fight. It is amazing to see 50 kids of all ages co-existing happily while eating, playing or studying. Even the handful of dogs living there wander happily in and out of the classrooms without getting in anyone's way.

The students from Xin Min Secondary School (Singapore) were also there to volunteer their time and services. This is their 7th year and they did such a great job in teaching and entertaining the kids with their games and songs, we heard nothing but laughter all afternoon.
Well meaning friends have cautioned me about giving away my time and money to orphanages in Cambodia. As with all things, it is our responsibility to assess and do our due diligence. So far, we're happy with the way this centre is managed. It is officially registered with the government of Cambodia and supported by an international team that contributes time, money and expertise.

Here is a good article written by Phil Cadwell, CEO of Savong Foundation. In Defense of the Cambodian Orphanage.

Today Savong Orphan Center (SOC) is home to over fifty disadvantaged children providing food, shelter, education and medicine in an adult-supervised setting. Children are taught discipline in their daily routines, each having to attend classes, clean up after themselves, and be respectful of adults and visitors.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Seafood stew for a rainy day

Anyone with two young kids will know that if you want peace and harmony in the home, you should always have buy two of the same things. That way, there is no need for them to squabble over colour, style and so forth. It just makes the parent's job easier.

This rule applies to food too. Thank goodness my kids are not picky eaters from young. Anything that I cook with seafood and tomato will go down well with them.  I shouldn't be calling them kids now that they are not so young but you know, they will always be my kids.

This seafood stew I made for them was well received on a rainy Sunday morning. It is really easy to put together.

Drizzle some olive oil onto a pan and add some chopped up onion and garlic.
Fry until onion is transparent.
Add fresh mushrooms (I used button mushrooms, quartered) and fry for a couple of minutes.
Then add fresh seafood (I used shrimp, crayfish and squid) and fry until lightly cooked.
Stir in chopped up tomato and fry for a minute before adding tomato sauce (I used pasta sauce). Season with some salt and black pepper.
Once the sauce bubbles, turn off the fire and serve immediately.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Citrus chicken

Cooking on a weekday can be quite stressful especially after a long day at work. Some days I arrive home and head straight to the kitchen. I dump my handbag on the floor and start preparing dinner immediately.

Rice takes around 30 minutes to cook, so I always start with that. Then I prepare the protein, usually fish or chicken. I always have fresh shrimp or squid in the freezer which are perfect when I'm in a hurry. These thaw quickly and are delicious anyway you cook.

We always have lots of vegetables to go with our meals. They're such a cinch to prepare and are the least of my worries.

I usually marinate fresh chicken meat during the weekend and chuck them into the freezer so I can cook them slowly over the week. I had wanted to make provencal roasted chicken one night but realised I didn't have enough time to roast an entire chicken. It was already marinated with oregano and rosemary butter, and had completely thawed, so I had to cook it quickly.

I googled and found the perfect recipe - Citrus chicken. I cut the chicken up into smaller parts which cooked beautifully in under an hour and the result was delicious.

Here is my version of Citrus Chicken.

1 whole chicken cut into smaller parts. Marinate with salt and black pepper.
2 oranges
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion
Handful of chopped up herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme or sage.
Salt and pepper

In a bowl, mix together the juice of one orange, one lemon, minced garlic, sugar and olive oil.
Arrange the chicken parts on a tray so that the skin side is facing the top. Pour the citrusy mixture over the chicken.
Cut the orange and onion into thin slices and tuck the around the chicken pieces.
Scatter the herbs over the chicken and sprinkle some salt and black pepper.
Place the tray into a preheated oven (around 200 degree celcius) and bake for about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


My friends from junior college got together one morning for a walk which took us from Hortpark to Mount Faber. We ended up having lunch at Jamie's Italian. The restaurant is huge and extremely packed. Despite going there without any prior booking, we were given the private room. 
After the excitement of having the room all to ourselves had died down, we got down to ordering. Everything in the menu sounded good but the prices were steep. We don't mind paying for good food but the lunch fell short of our expectations. Each of us paid $50 for food and lemonade. We didn't even order any desserts and walked out still feeling hungry.
I only order sides - fried nachos and baked mushroom (below).
Two of my friends ordered seafood bucatini.

Another two ordered tagliatelle Bolognese.