Thursday, September 27, 2007

weird and wonderful

My 'currently reading' list shows four books (on the right side of the blog) but in actual fact I've got more than that.

I'm currently adoring George Saunders' Pastoralia, a collection of short stories both weird and wonderful. It opens with the one called Pastoralia - and its narrator is a caveman. Not in the Geico ad sense, but it's his job: he works as a caveman, in a theme park. He skins goats and picks insects and makes pictograms. But he's also got a fax machine in his 'Separate Area' where he gets updates from his wife back home. His cave partner is a woman named Janet, who unlike the narrator, doesn't give a damn about the park's rules. She uses English in the display area and talks to visitors. But the narrator tries to be a friend and in his Daily Partner Performance Evaluation:
'Do I not any attitudinal difficulties? I do not. How do I rate my Partner overall? Very good. Are there any situations which require Mediation?
There are not.'
Management however, isn't quite so sure. And it's Staff Remixing time, where they explain in a note to the employees:
'we find ourselves in a too-many-Indians situation and so must first cut out some Indians and then, later, possibly, some chiefs. But not yet, because that is harder, because that is us. Soon, but not yet, we have to decide which of us to remove, and that is so very hard, because we are so very useful.'

Another weird and wonderful book that I'm loving is Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, where she travels around America in search of assassins, political ones that is. I've been following as she traces the path of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who shot Abraham Lincoln. She visits the museum which holds the bullet (and fragments of Lincoln's skull) and tracks down the home of one his co-conspirators. Political murders so fill her world that her friend remarks:
'Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we're talking about, you will always the bring the conversation back to a president getting shot.'
You gotta adore a writer who teaches her nephew the word 'decapitated' at Christmas when playing knights.
'Owen was winning. I was doubled over onto my parents' living room floor and he was pretending to slice my head off with his sword. Trying to be an educational aunt, or as educational as a person can be when a three-year-old is trying to chop her head off, I told him that the act of chopping off a person's head is called "decapitation" and that a head that's been chopped off is called "decapitated".'
I am also plodding my way through Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. It's very long and it's a little silly. And sometimes I wonder why I'm reading it. But it is quite entertaining although I'm only managing a few pages at a go. I suppose I'll finish it, eventually.

Jose Saramago is one of my favourite writers. I started with Blindness, worked my way through the Cave, and The Double, and now it's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, set in Portugal in 1936. I've only just started so can't say much about it right now. But I have this fondness for Saramago's rambling sentences. Although, especially since reading Don Quixote, I do wonder about translated books. How does the translator capture the essence of the sentence, the original poetry of the words? How different would it be to read the original version?

I've also been just picked up Anais Nin's Henry and June. I've never read anything by her before so I figure now's as good a time as any to start. This book is from Nin's journal entries in the year she met Henry Miller and his wife June (1931-2).

And I've also just cracked open Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Although he has a more recent book, the Flight of the Creative Class, I wanted to begin with this one published in 2002. It's a little background reading for work. Essentially, it traces the growing role of creativity in America's economy: how people's values and tastes, choices of where to live are changing.

To round it all off, I am rereading, for what's probably the sixth time, Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea Quartet. It's one of my all-time favourite reads. And there's always something comforting about rereading a good book. It's like coming home to people you know and love, and hearing stories you've heard over again but just can't wait to hear them one more time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Breakfast at Hediard

I'm not entirely convinced that eating here warrants such prices. There's a lot of fancy crockery with 'H' on them like that cute little butter dish with its dome porcelain cover. But $12 for a glass of OJ? And scrambled eggs for more than $10? (can't remember the exact price) I'm not sure.

But let's start from the beginning.

After a downpour, Sunday was turning out to be quite a sunny one after all. But I still lugged along the large umbrella all the same. My bus ride was a blurry one - obscured by those horrendous stuck-on ads on the outside. I get to Hediard a little early and wander around the red and black store, noting the lofty prices of well, everything. I wonder what would make their white pepper any different from the white pepper at a supermarket, except of course, that fancy 'H'. (Note: I still have not started my new job yet so the purse is feeling extra light).

The rest of the party arrive and we all order the 'H' set ($19) which comes with:
- toast, butter and a variety of jams
- a pastry or 'viennoiserie' (choose from croissant, pain au chocolat, brioche)
- a half-boiled egg
- OJ
- tea or coffee

The next set option 'XL' is at a gasping $45. It adds a scrambled eggs and a smoked salmon or parma ham platter to the basic set. There wasn't a choice in between, say, with just a scrambled eggs add-on, which the others wanted. So they just ordered an additional scrambled. No one commented on the eggs though, so I figure it was decent enough.

It was all very proper and the service was pretty good. I did like the coffee, which according to their website, was of 'Madeleine' blend. The brioche, though tiny, was yummy with the various jams. We got to sit by the large window to watch the world (or at least Tanglin Road) go by but that didn't last long, as all these busy working people I was breakfasting with had things to do and people to see. I, on the other hand, being currently a lady of leisure (I blame it on HR which is apparently still processing my formal offer), had absolutely nothing planned. Unfortunately, being a lady of leisure also meant that I couldn't afford another coffee there.

Hediard Café-Boutique
123-125 Tanglin Road
Singapore 247921
Tel: 6333 6683

'when women stop reading, the novel will be dead'

NPR on why women read more than men.

And Ian McEwan's 2005 article
where he and his son conduct their own informal survey by offering free books to passersby.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

weight gain

fei zai
At a hawker centre in Commonwealth, this was one of the few stalls that were closed on a Saturday afternoon.

weight gaining
On closer inspection.

Time travel

I really had meant to go before writing my dissertation, but now that I've seen it, perhaps it was for the best that I hadn't.

Today, my mum and I took a trip back in time with a visit to the old Ford Factory at 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, which became a national monument just last February.

ford factory Singapore
It is a lovely old building, restored to its former glory. Apparently built in 1941 (according to the website).

While it looks nice on the outside, I wasn't quite so impressed with what went on inside. It was a 'Memories at Old Ford Factory' exhibition, explaining what happened during the Japanese Occupation.

ford factory, singapore
Yes, this is the exhibition. It looks like it was designed, displayed and laid out by a student. There is so much text that you're not sure where to begin. And a lot of the text is above and below eye level - am I really supposed to bend down to read all that small print?
There are fewer artefacts than I expected - I suppose all that text and quotes and newspaper articles are meant to make up for that. Instead, all it did was put me off reading the displays. It was quite evident that a lot of research and effort had been put into this exhibition. However, sometimes, less is more. And in this case, far far less.

The designers also need to rethink the flow of the exhibition. There are numbers on the panels but as I walked through the hall, the numbers jumped from 14 to 20. I had to backtrack and head to the back, near the exit, to continue to read about life in Endau, which was what number 15 was about. That would've been the perfect place for the final displays - the Japanese surrender. Instead the last exhibit I saw before I exited was an old toilet.

I suppose it's partly because I spent several months researching this topic that I feel really strongly about it. I'd read many of the stories and autobiographies, and even had listened to the oral archives. Yet the exhibition emerged as impersonal and cold. Those who created this exhibition missed out on a good chance to leave an impact. And it makes me wonder what happens to tourists who have little knowledge about the Japanese occupation - like the Japanese couple I saw entering as I was leaving - will they leave, like me, confused and irritated?

The one saving grace was the rather decent documentary that was screened in the AV theatre, which is separate from the main exhibition hall. Why wasn't it screened first as visitors enter the exhibition, to give an initial clearer picture of what happened?

While I commend the effort to restore the building and to educate people about the Japanese occupation, the exhibition does not do it justice.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reading week

I love book lists. I make them up and I borrow others'.
But this, this trumps them all. It's based on Peter Boxall's 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, which I haven't actually looked at (but now don't need to really). In the site is a download of I an excel file with the whole list (all 1001), and you can tally up the percentage you've read, and the number of books you need to read a year to finish the rest. I've got 15.68% down, or 157 books - how about you?

Since I've got time before I start my new job, I've been doing quite a bit of reading, and adding to my to-read list. But I'm interested in reading more non-fiction. I've got two on the shelf right now, Amy Chua's World on Fire, and Marion Nestle's What to Eat. Both are equally fascinating.

What to Eat is admittedly quite difficult to read - not because it's badly written or the content is heavy. It's just that it makes me question my food choices. It makes me wonder about the food I've just eaten. It makes me ask - is that salmon I bought from Cold Storage safe? After all, fish farms are known to dye their salmon pink (farmed salmon don't eat krill, which is what turns wild salmon pink). It makes me realise that food is about politics - it's about lobbyists and campaigns and PR. It's also about assumptions and misleading research. One day, there's some new research, say, that coffee is good for you. The next day, it's not. It's hard to believe what's what anymore.

On another health related note, the New Yorker has a fascinating article by neurologist Oliver Sacks on Clive Wearing, a musician who was struck by a brain infection in 1985, which left him with a memory span of just seconds.
Desperate to hold on to something, to gain some purchase, Clive started to keep a journal, first on scraps of paper, then in a notebook. But his journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements “I am awake” or “I am conscious,” entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: “2:10 P.M: This time properly awake. . . . 2:14 P.M: this time finally awake. . . . 2:35 P.M: this time completely awake,” along with negations of these statements: “At 9:40 P.M. I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims.” This in turn was crossed out, followed by “I was fully conscious at 10:35 P.M., and awake for the first time in many, many weeks.” This in turn was cancelled out by the next entry.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Last year the only mooncake I had was a storebought made-in-Malaysia, bought-in-Illinois one. It was alright. Can't complain. But this year, it's back to homemade mooncakes once again.

My mum's been making mooncakes, well, since I was a kid. And in recent years, I've been helping her assemble these mooncakes, my part being the moulding and shaping of the cakes.

These days mooncakes come filled with ice-cream or cheese. But the best mooncakes are those which are plain, with just lotus paste with seeds. And that's what we did in our mini test-run on Monday night.

250g Bake King premix
35g shortening
120ml cold water
1 tsp flavouring
1/4 tsp essence
(although as these snowskin mooncakes were to be white, we just used 1/2 tsp of banana essence instead, erm don't ask why banana. For the green snowskin, use pandan paste)
35g melon seeds, toasted
750g lotus seed paste

Mix the premix, shortening, cold water and essence/colouring. Mix till a soft dough forms. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

mooncake 101 - lotus seed paste balls
Take 30g of lotus paste (90g for the larger mooncakes), add melon seeds and roll into a ball.

Pinch off the dough into 30g balls (for larger mooncakes, use 90g). Flatten the dough with a rolling pin.

Wrap the skin over the lotus paste ball.

Press the dough into the mould and gently pop it out.

snowskin mooncakes

The new plastic mould is much easier (it comes apart instead of having to knock the mooncakes out) but it kinda looks like kueh-tu-tu.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Lake District

It's inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, who both lived in different parts of the district and wrote many of their works there. And I had the good fortune to spend two nights there, although the first day was a wash out, as it rained nearly the whole day until finally ending the drip drip dripping around 5pm. However, we didn't have much time so we got out and drove around all the same.

We drove through Rydal to Grasmere, which was home to Wordsworth.
Dove cottage
He lived in the lovely Dove Cottage.

And although we were obviously in the wrong season for daffodils, Wordsworth is probably most famous for his poem, reportedly inspired by Ullswater:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Some other places we visted include:
The Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick (pronounced with a silent 'w')

We drove around the Buttermede Fell area and through many winding steep roads.

lake district
And what's a blog entry on the Lake District without a picture of a lake. I can'tremember which this is unfortunately!!

And stayed at
newstead  B&B, windermere
Newstead Bed and Breakfast in Windermere - gorgeous!

english breakfast
The English breakfast.
You get your fruits, juice and cereal from the sideboard and then order your cooked breakfast with Joyce. I got the scrambled eggs on toast the second morning. Such fluffy yellow scrambled eggs! Delicious!

And on our last night, a gorgeous dinner at Jerichos, just a 10-minute walk from the B&B. We had attempted to get a table the night before, but being Saturday, they were full. We called to book Sunday just in case. And we rewarded with a lovely spread, and an interesting view of the open kitchen, which had a bookshelf above (didn't get a good photo though).

rosemary bread at jerichos
Started out with some rosemary bread - warm and crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. And shared a refreshing and generously portioned smoked salmon salad.

lamb at jerichos
I went for the lamb - so tender, and perfectly pink. It sat on a bed of vegetables that I later found out included samphire, which has this great crunch and seaweed-like taste.

steak and fries at jerichos
I also have to mention my parents' steak, which came with the crisp-est chips I've ever ever had. Just couldn't stop grabbing them.

A great finish to the Lake District leg of the trip.

paisley pig

Central is a maze of escalators, odd corners and hidden shops. The best way to navigate it from the MRT station, I've realised, is not to use the basement entrance (with the many signs pointing The Way to Central) but, to just ride your way upstairs to fresh air. It's a slightly confusing mall with seemingly different sections. The mix of shops seem to be just that, a mix put together by someone who picked them out of a hat. But it does have Tom Ton and its black pig.

Instead of having to wait in line like the bigger groups, we opted to sit at the counter, just in front of the grill. But good ventilation meant barely any smell, plus counter seating means quicker service, and, as I found out later, an always-refilled cup of green tea.

We went for the 'Top Grade' tonkatsu (about $4+ more), although strangely, for the set, the 'Top Grade' one is an additional $5 added onto the 'Normal' price. The exterior was crisp and not oily at all. The breadcrumb texture was perfectly light. And the meat was oh, tender and juicy. It is a simple dish really, but when it is done well, it is heavenly!

The other dish we shared was the sukiyaki. It came with several slices of pork, leeks, mushrooms, tofu, cabbage and carrots, in a simmering broth on a gas flame. The broth was a bit too sweet and I doubt I could've finished this by myself because of that. But the pork was indeed very tender and the udon had bite, always a good sign.

After a wander around the mall, although by that time, most of the stores had already closed, we grabbed ringside seats at Paisley & Cream to do some people-watching. It was already after 10 and the young ones were heading out to erm, wherever young ones head out to these days. And some of them were so in need of an Ambush Makeover.

But back to the eating, or rather, drinking. I had a boring decaff americano (illy, if you must know), and eps had the ice lemon mint tea, which didn't have enough mint. The display counter was laid out with cupcakes of different colours and sizes, but cupcakes have never really done it for me. I've never been enticed by all that frosting. Worse, the frosting on these were quite lacking in imagination. The cafe is pretty though, down to the design on the tabletops. But the rather stiff-backed chairs could use a rethink, I reckon. I might pop by to see how they fare when it comes to food (by then the kitchen had closed).

And this marked my first real outing back in Singapore. I suppose there were better ways to have kicked it off, but in a way, Central is rather Singaporean. It's hyped up and not much thought went into it. It looks big and glossy on the outside, but on the inside, you think twice (especially when you step into their toilets).

Tom Ton Central
06 Eu Tong Sen Street
The Central
Tel: 63277887

Paisley & Cream Cafe
#01-09/10, Central@Clarke Quay
Tel: 6543-7962

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the village of Lewes

Lewes is about a half hour bus ride on the 28 or 29 from the university, which is itself about 20 minutes from Brighton.
an old bookshop in lewes
The Fifteenth Century Bookshop on High Street. Yes, the building really has been around for centuries and it's been a secondhand bookstore since 1986.

ageing bookshelves in lewes
Check out those bookshelves! I wonder what happens when it rains.

keere street

keere street in lewes
We wandered down Keere Street, which is a steep cobblestoned street lined with cute little houses with tiny doors.


Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes

Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes
Not far from Keere Street is the Southover Grange Gardens, with some gorgeous colours to brighten up this otherwise washed out day.

all packed

all packed
And then I was all packed and ready for a week driving around England.

back to school for the last time

sussex hall



And now for a factoid: the university was inspired by the Downs, which the campus is near to. thus the rounded slope-like shapes of the buildings, which were designed by Basil Spence. The Downs are chalk downlands, which are a feature of most of southern England. Apparently many awards were won. Then again it was the 1960s.

It's a small-ish school (student population of about 12,000, compared to say, NTU which has some 25,000), but it's a great school. And it was a good year. It was the first time that I felt challenged in class, and which gave my brain a good workout. I found that I could write a good term paper and argue my points. That I provided a different view from my classmates, who were all European. I became interested in Singapore and the region, and realised how unique and strange this country can be. I loved that the student body actually seemed to have a voice. And that nearly every week you had someone campaigning for something or other, like climate change, education cuts or freeing the Brightoner who has been detained in Guantanamo. I just wish it could've been longer than a year!

a meal of epic proportions


Or something of that sort, can always be had at Bill's in Brighton (no relation to bills in Sydney). It started as a produce store in Lewes and today it's Brighton eatery also stocks a variety of international foods and fresh produce.
I had the signature buttermilk pancakes - it was a rather monstrous platter topped with fruits, ice cream and maple syrup, what a treat for the eyes and the stomach!

bills cakes
Their cake display

bills hot choc
Hot chocolate

Bill's - good food for all ages.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It all started with this

all done

The whirlwind began with the handing in of the papers, then DSD's weekend visit, my parents' arrival and the start of our little roadtrip.
I'll start it off slowly.