Thursday 20 June 2013

Haze gets to my head

Driving through the smog to the office today made me so angry. It looks like the end of the world to me. The streets are empty. There are no joggers, cyclists and people walking their dogs. Those who are out wear a pained expression on their faces. I don't hear any laughter or the sounds of children playing. The sun is just a weak ball of red. You don't see the any clouds and the sky is perpetually gray. There is no breeze, the heat gets trapped in the still air, smothering us day and night. Even the butterflies and birds are missing.

It's like living in a gas chamber. The eyes smart and the throat is dry. The healthy lifestyle that we've been adopting go up in smoke just like that. It makes the no-smoking zone seem so pointless now.

Ok, I'm done ranting.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Just smile and wag

Mommy's so fed up of the haze, she has gone on strike which presents an opportunity for me to sneak up quietly and write. If she's not going to blog about me, I shall do it myself!

This morning, I heard a nice gentleman who held the gate open for mommy say, "Very handsome". He must be referring to me, surely he can't be calling mommy handsome right? I was so flattered that I held my head up high and forgot to smile at his dog.

I hope it was loud enough for the other 2 dogs nearby to hear. I can see them admiring me from the distance as I strut out the gate every morning but I'm too busy to care.

Come on, I have more urgent matters to attend to.

Besides, I have no lack of admirers. When I'm out, kids try to molest me, dogs check me out and sniff my backside, it's like dealing with the paparazzi!

Just smile and wag, boy, just smile and wag...

Morning walks used to be fun until the air started smelling smoky. Mommy's always in a hurry to get me home but she should know by now that I can't be rushed. I've mastered the art of ignoring her pleas. She can tap her feet or twiddle her thumb while I investigate every puddle along the way. It makes me feel like Alfred Hitchcock. I know who's been peeing around in the neighbourhood.

As if dealing with dogs is not enough, I have to put up with the annoying stray cats. They're everywhere and think they can bully me just because I am small. Just wait till I get off the leash!

Some cats have no manners, just like this little furry thing that brazenly strolled into our house like a diva. It didn't bother me at first until everyone started gushing and carrying her around like a gem. When I offered to cuddle her, I was sent into the bedroom to be locked up right away. My admiration for the cutie evaporated in a hiss. Pfft, don't you dare step into my territory again!
 You must understand that nobody gets cuddled in this house except me. Just so you know, people here stand in line to enjoy my undivided attention.

 Being a pet is not as easy as you think. I have to be at their beck and call. I have to be photogenic and put up with their nonsense.

They dare to complain about my stinky breath. What do you expect if you don't floss my teeth?

 And I'm supposed to look cute and perky at all times? I'm already pretty good looking for my age. Can you look this good at 60?

But really, age is really catching up. Can't go on any longer. I'm tired. It's time for a nap.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Machines on strike

Lately all the heavenly stars must have been congregating at the wrong places on my chart because I've never seen money draining out of my pocket so rapidly.

It all started one fine morning at the office. My laptop crashed and could not be revived. So I got myself a new one.

Then SK's laptop started developing problems. Ever since he began the design course, his laptop hasn't been able to cope with the intensive workload. Since he's in such an urgent need of a better computer, I got him one too.

It doesn't end here of course. Water started leaking from the bottom of the washing machine and the rinse cycle wouldn't work. I sent it in for repair along with the dryer which broke down months ago. They came home with a hefty bill.

I can only say it's sheer bad luck when SK woke up one morning to find his mobile phone inside his fish tank. How on earth? We suspect it vibrated, fell from the table, onto the bed and bounced into the tank below.

So we went to the shop to get him a new iPhone 5. We brought it home and within hours, it was dead. No amount of resuscitation would help. It is so defective that even the repair centre could not retrieve the serial number on the phone. In other words, we got ourselves a lemon. We can't even get a replacement until Apple is able to wring the number out of it. All we can do is wait.

As if we have not been waiting enough... YK ordered a pair of sneakers online in April. It arrived in Singapore in early May but somehow never got delivered to our house. After many weeks of tracking and waiting, we're finally told that it has been returned to sender. We don't know whether we'll ever get it back.

Obviously SK is frustrated in landing himself a defective phone. YK is angry that the shoes he paid for is nowhere in sight. And I am just mad at the spate of bad luck.

Monday 17 June 2013

The week in pictures

It was a great week of celebrations and meals. On Thursday, we watched Dirty Dancing at Marina Bay Sands. Based on a 1987 American romance film, the performance was a highly energetic one, with lots of sensational dancing. I particularly enjoyed looking at their fabulous bodies. 

Before the show, we ate at Daniel Boulud Bistro. They guys ordered burgers while EY had the seafood casserole. We shared a starter of crisp pork belly salad. The pork was rather dry. We all agree that my choice of duck confit was the best. The skin was perfectly crisp while the flavourful meat remained tender and succulent.
Duck confit.

The next day, I had dinner with CH and the kids at Momoya Restaurant, our go-to place for Japanese food. The buffet dinner menu is quite extensive and quality of food is good. At $32++ per head, it is good value for money. 
On Saturday, we celebrated Father's Day with a cake. The family also put together a scrapbook.

Someone gave me a bunch of home-grown bananas which began to ripen too quickly.  To use them up, I made a batch of banana choc brownies using this recipe.

On Sunday, we treated our German friend Christiane to the fabulous Sunday beer buffet brunch at Paulaner Brauhaus.
Christiane on the extreme left.

Patricia enjoying the apple strudel.
And we had a visitor during the weekend. This cute kitten strolled into our living room. We fell in love with it right away but had to send it back to the owner living just above us.

 CH's brother is in Sicily and his wife has been sending me photos of delicious food, granita and perfect skies. How I wish I can escape from the terrible haze here.

All about toes

I was searching for something in my blog when I chanced upon this silly post. Years ago, I had the habit of posting something everyday. Now I wonder why I have nothing to write about. You really need to be in the right frame of mind to find something amusing out of every situation. Here's one about injured toes from 2007...

My best friend’s mum fell into a hole last weekend which landed her in the A&E department when her entire leg swelled up. Feeling sorry for her mum, my friend massaged her leg to help reduce the swell.

Her mum, ever the stoic lady, said, “If you think this is bad, let me tell you what happened to Ah Soh, the lady who lives downstairs.”

Last weekend, Ah Soh went for a picnic at West Coast Park with her grandchildren. She tripped and fell so badly, most of her front teeth were knocked out leaving her with a mouth full of blood. That was some bloody picnic. Poor Ah Soh!

My friend’s mum is in a way relieved that her injury wasn’t quite as bad as Ah Soh’s. Of course by now I should keep very quiet about my injured toe but still I must tell you this story about my friend’s toes.

When he saw me with a bandaged toe, he told me about how he injured his, long ago. He was riding his bike to the barbers, carrying his cousin on the bicycle frame in front. They were going downhill, he tried to slow down but discovered the brakes were not working. A wall was looming ahead of them! In a state of panic, he used both feet to slow down. Boom! They crashed and he landed on his poor cousin who ended up dazed, and with 3 little stones stuck to the forehead. My friend’s shoes were totally worn out exposing 10 bloody toes!

We were both roaring with laughter when he finished his story. I know, I have learned to count my blessings.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Strawberry shortcake

When it comes to baking, I like to take the easy way out. I make muffins and cakes that use ingredients I already have. Needless to say, my creations aren't pretty to look at. As long as they're tasty, I'm happy.

YK, on the other hand, is totally the opposite. To him, presentation is paramount. When he feels like baking something, it means a trip to the supermarket to grab a basketful of ingredients. The amount of money spent can buy us a fancy cake from the patisserie but as long as he enjoys the entire process, I'm more than happy to eat cake.

Inspired by a simple Japanese strawberry shortcake recipe he saw online, he decided to bake one last Friday right after booking out from camp. Maybe it is his way of relieving stress after a week of army training.

I could not believe that he could make a nice sponge cake using just 2 eggs, 60g cake flour, 60g sugar and 20g of melted butter. No rising agent was used, yet the cake turned out well.

It was the whipping cream that proved to be difficult. We whipped 300ml with a tablespoon of sugar over a ice water bath until it was thick and glossy when it suddenly curdled. There was no hope of salvaging. It happened again to the second batch.

We ran out of cream and had to drive out to get some new ones. Luckily he managed to get it right this time and quickly slapped it on the cake. Adding the strawberries made a huge difference. The results were quite stunning. And the cake was delicious too.

Woes of a washer woman

The most important appliance in my house broke down last week after suffering years of abuse. I've shoved in mud-caked clothes and army packs, wooly blankets, comforters, curtains, stuffed toys and cushion covers. I've poured in vinegar, dish washing liquid, bleach and baking soda. I like to crank up the temperature to the boiling point to kill germs. I've made it run 5 loads of laundry a day. Oh, I can be such a slave driver!

The repairmen came and gave me a lecture before hauling it away. One look and he knew I've been up to no good. Only a pro like him can tell from the soapy residue on the floor. He asked to see the washing detergent and said, "There is something else you use..."

He was right. My secret weapon is dish washing liquid. I use it when I wash greasy floor mats, dish cloth and apron.  "You shouldn't put dishwashing liquid in here. The foam will overflow and spoil your machine."

Now that the washer is gone, my life has been miserable. I dread getting out of bed every morning because the first thing I see is the big pile of clothes in the bathroom. It gets worse when YK brings home his bag of stinky and muddy army uniform.

I have no time to exercise because doing laundry takes up too much time. All the scrubbing, rinsing and wringing can be more tiring than a 5-km run. Hand washing is harder than you think. The clothes will smell if not washed thoroughly.

I've sent out a warning to the boys to stop wearing heavy jeans and sweaters because these are the hardest to hand wash. SK has offered to take over the washing because he knows it works wonders for the abs and arms.

Before he can even get started, the repair shop has called to say they're sending the washer over today. Thank goodness! I promise to treat it well.

Monday 10 June 2013

The Father's day project

This year, we celebrated Mother's Day by making mom a scrapbook. All her children and grandkids jumped in and contributed photos and mushy notes. Needless to say, mom was delighted to receive the gift of love from us.

Fueled by the success of this exercise, my sis-in-law proposed making one for Father's Day. Our reaction was less fervent. I was quick to declare that I'm not going to write any mushy stuff. It's not that we love our dad any less, but the thought of putting our admiration for him in words is rather overwhelming, for me at least. Years ago, I penned him a heartfelt message on his birthday and couldn't bear to look him in the eye after that.

Finding photos of dad poses another challenge for he's not the type who enjoys posing for the camera. As I was about the search through the family albums, mom pulled a tattered album out from the cupboard like a magician.

I had never seen this before. This album, which is filled with black and white prints of my parents and their classmates, was a project they did in school. It must be about 60 years old!  An old friend brought it here recently. Leafing through the album, mom pointed out some familiar faces and others who had already passed away.

The photos of my dad as a young lad blew me away. With his good looks, he could have been a star. According to mom, he was a quiet guy who only had his heart set on her!

This photo of him reminds me of SK. He must have been around SK's age. They have that same shy smile and physique. I'm quite curious to see my father's reaction when he receives the scrapbook. He's not the type who likes people to fuss over him but who knows, he might enjoy it.

I found some old photos of me with chubby cheeks and chunky thighs. Black and white photos keep really well. In this photo, I must have been about three. Studio shots like these were popular then.

Monday 3 June 2013

Lata Berkoh

Initially, I thought spending 7 nights at Taman Negara was overly excessive as people normally stay for only 3. Strangely time passed quickly when we were there.

The hotel prides itself in being minimalistic by not providing television, telephone and internet access in the room. The dimly lit room smelled musty, the floor was always sandy and walls dusty, but nobody seemed to mind. We even had a huge gecko sharing our room.

After an exhausting day in the jungle, I slept like a log except for one night when I heard something scuttle up the wall. The sound of rain pelting on the roof at night took some getting used to at first but soon became music to my ears. We woke up to the boisterous chirping of birds every morning and went to bed hearing wild boars roaming just outside the door. One almost barged into our room when we were eating.

With no work distractions, the blissful week flew past just like that. It was a rare opportunity to get away from it all.

One of our favourite spots in Taman Negara is Lata Berkoh which is accessible on foot (8.5km walk from the park HQ) or by boat. We found it easier to take the river boat which costs RM160 for a return trip.

I was there with my friends in 2001. The place hasn't changed at all.

With May Ling in 2001.

Lata Berkoh in 2013.
Back again in 2013.

The boat journey from HQ to Lata Berkoh takes about one hour.  The scenic ride along the shallow Sungai Tahan, lined with huge, leaning Neram trees which form an archway over the water, is very therapeutic.

The boat comes to a stop by the riverbank and it's another 1.2km trek through the forest to the cascade.
The boatmen will stop at the river bank and wait for your return.
You might even see butterflies along the sand bank.

The short hike through the forest is a pleasant one. The well trodden path flanked by large trees and bamboo clumps leads straight to Lata Berkoh. Be prepared for some uphill climbs along the way.
The water here is cool and clear with a brownish tint released from the tannin of the trees. Due to the strong undercurrents at the cascade, swimming is discouraged.

 We spent hours by the shore right by Lata Berkoh. While the guys kept themselves busy documenting rare butterflies and bugs, I was more than happy to enjoy the solitude, which in my opinion, is truly rare.

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...