Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pairing


No real reason for this post. I just happened to be drinking and reading South African.

Last week, when we were doing the Christmas food shopping, L saw some cider and asked if I wanted to get some. I didn't at first, cider not being a Christmassy sort of drink like eggnog or mulled wine. But in the end, I got some because I hadn't had any since summer, and it brought back memories of a British holiday where I drank freshly drawn cider by the pints like it was juice.

It wasn't until I tore into the six-pack that I realised that this was from South Africa. It was the only cider in the supermarket, they didn't have anything British or Australian though they used to. There was a particularly cleverly named one called SydneyCider. I should have realised that anything called Savanna wasn't going to be from pommie country.

On top of that, the small print that wasn't seen through the six-pack outer wrapper warned that it contains sulphites. Well, it hasn't given me a headache so far. It tastes faintly beery. Yeasty. Or is it hops. That distinctive taste in beer. It's not at all like the fruity ciders of this summer past.

Maybe pairing it with JM Coetzee might make it go down better. Oh wait, Coetzee lives in Australia now, doesn't he? Could be Australian already. That's not going to help my chip-on-the-shoulder cider.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Tak shiok"

I was playing the new Freddie Mercury-less Queen album, and after that, I had to put on Queen's Greatest Hits I & II.

"Tak shoik, right?" said L. "You listen to Queen but there's no Freddie so you had to play the old albums just to hear his voice."

He's got his finger on it. A term quite untranslatable if you don't speak Singlish. Shoik is usually used to describe yummy tasty food. Tak shoik would literally be not yummy but translating it like that just doesn't cut it.

No reviewer, not even anyone in Rolling Stone can come close to such a neat little description for the album: Nice but just tak shoik.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A sweet Christmas


I guess my friends -- and even my neighbours -- know what I like. And this doesn't include a stash that a colleague brought back from Italy -- a box of Italian Lindt and a thin bar of dark Tuscan chocolate packaged simply in anonymous brown paper but was outstandingly good, was never brought home, it was my supply at work.

I guess all this could last me till well into the New Year. Thanks, guys.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Christmas food post



The turkey turned out great. All these Christmasses, we've never done turkey because it seemed too much for just two people. For Christmas, it had always been steak, or prime rib, or duck.

This year, we found a small Butterball in the supermarket freezer and L said why not. It was the size of a big chicken and it can't be any harder to roast a turkey than a chicken.

The last time either one of us cooked turkey at Christmas, we were both students, and it was in our respective dorms where the fellow diners weren't fussy.

Well, this time round, the ones who were going to get most of the turkey -- after we were done with it -- weren't as fussy either. We froze a leg for the dogs and there's another good side of meat for them in another tupperware in the fridge to add to their kibble over the next few days.

They also had the giblets cooked up for them as we didn't use it for the gravy. We opted not to make gravy because I had some frozen cranberries in the freezer that I turned into a sauce. It turned out more jellylike than saucelike and I guess I now have cranberry jam for my toast the rest of the week!

On Christmas Eve, we had steak and L got the idea of doing the potatoes this way from Bill's Fare on TV. You slice them, mix in some cream and then put them into a muffin pan and into the oven for 30-40 minutes. They're supposed to come out muffin-like.


All the strips sticking out of the muffin pan is grease proof baking paper. You put two strips crosswise, then the potato slices on top of it, and the paper strips will serve as handles to help lift out the potato muffins later when they're done.

Only I think L must have forgotten something in the ingredients, something that will bind the potato slices together. Because when we lifted the potato muffins out, they didn't stay in shape but collapsed onto the plate into what seemed like scalloped potatoes. They taste nice and creamy though, just like scalloped potatoes, only with more crunchy edges.



Perhaps next time we'll put in some egg maybe, or a little Bisquik mix with the cream as a binding agent. Some grated cheese would be good too. I can see we're going to do this again, with a whole lot of different variations.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And there was no room on the couch



Because They (and their toys) have taken it over.

And what are they getting this Christmas? More toys.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Our very own droid



Is it just L and me or do the battle droids in the animated Star Wars instalment The Clone Wars bear an uncanny resemblance to a fox terrier? The gangly limbs right down to the elongated shape of its head? Years from now, some animation historian (look, you have art historians now who study the Old Masters; stands to reason in the next generation you'll have animation historians who study Star Wars) is going to discover that some graphic artist probably had a fox terrier when he was a boy or something.

The battle droids are the enemy but they're silly and hence, likable. They're comic relief and they're not that smart -- that part is definitely foxie.

Roop's kinda like them too, ready to respond to anything you want. Only thing is, his interpretation of what you want could be something else. And he's always the crack first response team whenever HRH not so much growls but clears her throat while staring out the window.

The battle droids respond to their orders with a nasal "roger, roger". And that's why L has been going round saying "roger, roger" to Roop, who leaps up, ready and game for anything.

That poor brainless blighter probably now thinks his name is Roger.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

OK, now we're truly ready for Christmas

Because we have an angel in place.



And what's Christmas without a reindeer?



With many thanks to Catswhiskers

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How far along did you say she was?


This is part of the Christmas tableaux display that stretches down the Orchard Road pedestrian mall. This one is the 'No Room at the Inn' scene. Mary doesn't look terribly preggers, does she?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ready for Christmas



We couldn't put up Christmas decorations until Sunday past -- the 49th day of my father-in-law's passing and the day that the rites and stuff were all over. Seeing that it was just 10 days till Christmas, it didn't seem worth the bother to put the tree up.

But that's not to say that we haven't got a tree of sorts. This tree-like thing started life as a Christmas hamper filled with goodies that was delivered to my office a few years ago. Probably a gift from a PR or contact, and as is company policy with gifts and hampers, it was auctioned off at the office Christmas party with the proceeds going to charity. Whoever bought the hamper then shared out the goodies and I got to take the "tree" home.

I strung up some Christmas lights on it, and most years, stood it in a corner of the room, well away from the real -- well, plastic -- real as in de facto Christmas tree. Because of the dogs, we don't leave the presents under the tree -- in fact, the tree has to elevated on an end table. And the tree-hamper became the repository for the presents. This year, it'll also be *the* tree.

Now, it's time to fill it. And I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet. I've been bad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Little bitch

Queeni went for her quarterly post-cancer checkup on Saturday. It's all good. Instead of the usual three-month window for the next checkup, the vet says the next one can be in four to five months.

And just when HRH thought it was all over and she could stop shaking, Evil Dad left her in the groomer's next door. He went back to collect her two hours later and reported that he received the shrillest scolding of his life.

But that wasn't as devious as what she did to me. When they came in the door, she came straight at me, jumped on my lap and covered my face with licks.

"Don't kiss her," L said as he stepped in.

"Too late, she's kissed me. Why?"

"She sniffed poop downstairs when I peed her."

You gotta admit, that's a royal revenge.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Satisfying a craving



I've been hankering for Mongolian beef ever since a friend blogged about her midnight snack and included a really yummy picture of it. A few nights ago, when L asked if he could fetch me a snack as he headed to the kitchen, I asked him for Mongolian beef. And he thought he was going to be fetching me yogurt or fruit or something more easy.

So it stood to reason that when we went grocery shopping yesterday, I bought the ingredients of Mongolian beef. And that I fixed that for dinner last night. Her picture looks yummier than my version, though. But I did enjoy mine thoroughly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Perfect timing



Not.

It's the long year-end school holidays here and the neighbourhood kids are restless. And the town council chooses now to ringfence the playground for works. Someone there is a planning genius, I tell you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yin and Yang



When the world is spinning and stupid things are happening at work, there's nothing like coming home and watching the furkids sleep.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's home


One of my colleagues found my missing cookie jar today. It was on a counter at the side of the room, almost hidden by a pile of newspapers, and far away from the food table where it was placed.

I'm so relieved. Now I can call off my crack SWAT team of Queeni and Rupert, whom I wishfully wanted to take with me to work today to sniff out the perpetrator and take a good bite out of him/her.

The jar's cute isn't it, the little guy dangling from the lid. An Alessi design. But what made me more upset at having thought it was swiped wasn't just that I would have lost a piece of designer homeware but that it has sentimental value, having been given to me by a friend. Who has gone on to give me several more unique designer homeware, including two pottery cups she made herself.

I don't think anyone meant to steal it, or at least I hope not. Perhaps someone was walking about with it, helping himself/herself to the cookies and then set it down in a corner and forgot about it. But as another colleague pointed out, that person had no right to do that since the cookies were communal food. Which made him/her still no less a dickhead.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Somebody just stole the Christmas spirit from me

Since I had more Christmas cookies than L and I could possibly eat, I decided to take some in to work today.

The big conference table in the middle of the newsroom doubles up as a food table, and people usually send out a message on the system when there's communal food left on it. I had included in my message that I want the cookie jar back. This is because, sometimes, people also take the food containers, especially if they're in pretty hampers given by hotels and PRs at this time of the year. For good measure, I also stuck a note on the jar: "Please return me to A when I'm empty."

You guessed it. Some prickhead took my cookie jar along with the last cookie. Yes, I just said a rude word. I called him/her even ruder names. You do something nice and somebody comes and broadside you with a nasty. I'm particularly upset because the cookie jar, an Alessi jar with a pink cover of a little cartoon guy hanging on the underside, was a present from a friend.

To be fair, most of my colleagues were aghast that the jar was taken, despite pleading messages asking for its return. Some walked around the room, helping me look for it. They're mostly nice people. Except for the one dick in the room.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Christmas is coming


Only the Christmas cookies are in existence. The tree and decorations and the furkids' stockings aren't up yet. We're not supposed to celebrate anything until 49 days after my father-in-law's death. It's not exactly a mourning period, it was explained to me. The 49 days is the time he's taking on his last journey. That won't be till next weekend. I'm not quite sure.

So I probably won't put up the tree at all this year because it'll only be a week till Christmas by the time I'm "allowed" to put it up. But the furkids' stockings will certainly be up. Their stocking stuffers have already been bought. I've done all their Christmas shopping already but haven't started on the husband's. Typical.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's Neil Gaiman's fault that I was late for work today


I was reading on the train, and when it reached my station, I was at the cliffhanger finale near the end of the book. So I got off the train and sat on a bench at the platform and carried on reading until I finished the book.

I must have sat there 20, 30 minutes. At least transit security didn't think that I was loitering or behaving suspiciously. Whatever that means these days. Lugging or leaving behind a heavy bag.

Luckily, reading is light activity.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Furry help



Nothing like a little help with holding a book when you've got a pile to read.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Books now

“When I get a little money, I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” -- Erasmus



Because it takes me two months to finish a suitcase of books.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Even more music


I've heard Julian Bream perform John Dowland before (the joys of a regional Arts Centre in a provincial university) so Sting's Songs From the Labyrinth didn't really pique my interest. But then, it's Sting. Rock star plays lute and does Elizabethan ballads. So I caved in and bought it.

And it wasn't bad. I think I was subconsciously holding my breath with this rock superstar goes classical thing ever since Liverpool Oratorio (again, the education of the abovementioned Arts Centre) put me off Paul McCartney even though I like the Beatles like anyone else. Sting's tenor rather suits Elizabethan ballads. I guess he could have been a rock star four centuries ago too.

But I don't think I will cave in so easily to buy a ticket for his coming tour in early December (whaddaya know, Sting in Singapore twice in a year). $25 for a CD is one thing, $100-$500 for a concert ticket is something else. Even if I paid $350 x 2 for the Police reunion tour in February. And there's no Stewart Copeland this time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More music


This must the week that pigs finally flew. If The Cosmos Rocks was three years in the making, then it's nothing compared to Chinese Democracy -- which was on again, off again, and took 15 years.

The Guns 'n' Roses album was released this week, hot on the heels of the Queen album, and it's quite interesting to listen to one after the other. There's one rock group that carried on without a vocalist while the other is the vocalist carrying on without the rest of the band.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Long live the Queen


This album was a long time coming. In early August, I got wind on the Internet and in rock magazines that it was scheduled for a September release. It still wasn't out by the time I left the UK in mid-September although a copy of Mojo that I picked up then had already reviewed it. It should be out in the stores any day now.

Any day now dragged on till November. In between, everytime I walked past a record shop, I'd pop in to ask. I got a whole range of negative responses from salespeople ranging from the clueless (how can anyone who works in a music shop not know who Queen is) to the argumentative (who wanted to know how could Queen possibly have a new album when they have no lead singer).

Then last Thursday, one of my colleagues, also a Queen fan, said it had to be in the stores now because Amazon had finally started selling it. I happened to be going downtown that day, so I hit almost all the music shops in the shopping district. And got the same range of clueless answers from the salespeople.

And then I walked into Borders. And found it -- just the one copy buried among the old Queen stuff. You'd expect stacks of it to be piled high on the new releases shelf but no, there was just the one sole copy hidden away. Like they'd only brought in one copy because they weren't sure that it would sell.

I pounced on it like it was gold and when I went back to the office, waved it triumphantly at my colleague. He thinks I probably have the only copy in Singapore.

That was exactly a week ago. It should be properly in the stores now. Even if I'd ordered it from Amazon in the first instance, it would have arrived.

I only waited till now to blog about it because I was persuaded to write a review. I did it because someone suggested it; because there was no review filed for this week, the regular music guy being on reservist training; and it was one of those easy-peasy things that wrote itself in 10 minutes.

The practice is that inhouse reviewers don't get paid, even if they do it on top of their normal duties. The kickback is that they get to keep the review copy. However, this was moot to me since I already have my own copy. So I did it for fun, basically. But then somebody else took the fun out of it so I don't think I'll do this again.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter is coming

I live one degree north of the equator but I can tell -- because the cranes are back. These elegant, tall, white long-legged birds winter here from North Asia and can usually be found in feeding in the large grassy fields outside the development where I live and watering at the monsoon canals.

They used to be a welcome seasonal sight but in the past years, have been regarded as potential bird flu carriers. Times have changed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hot seat

I was on the train to work yesterday when an elderly gentleman got on, just one station before where I was going to get off. By then, there were no more seats left. So I stood up and gave him my seat. Osteo-arthritis notwithstanding. This guy was clearly waaaay older than me.

He didn't want to take the seat initially, until I told him that I was getting off at the next stop anyway. And then he smiled one of those sweet smiles only old folks have and shuffled towards the seat.

By then, a kid about 10 years old was inching his way towards the vacated seat and about to set his bum down on it.

"Oi! I didn't give up my seat for you!"

He leapt up like the seat was hot.

One day, young punks will have osteo-arthritis too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's confirmed, I'm old


I've been a bit creaky here and there lately but didn't think much of it as I popped glucosamine. Last week, I had the odd feeling that sometimes my right knee downwards wasn't connected to the rest of my body. I'd turn but the lower leg wouldn't turn with me, giving my knee cap a sharp twinge.

The GP thought it could be wear and tear problems, given my age, but insisted that I take an X-ray, just to rule out that I didn't break anything. I couldn't have, I haven't fallen or anything.

So I had an X-ray done last week and popped back into the GP clinic today for the results.

"The good new is," he said, "you haven't broken anything."

"The bad news, hmmm," he hesitated.

So I filled in the blanks for him. "The bad news is that I'm an old lady, right?"

I have the beginning of bone spurs in the joint and am one step along the way to osteo-arthritis. You know, Old People Stuff.

I am now Officially Old.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Aint it the truth

I got this from my dog e-list yesterday with the subject: Some things are so beautiful, you HAVE to share them.
And so here it is.

TODAY I RESCUED A HUMAN
 
I rescued a human today.

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her.

I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel I blocked her view from a little accident I had in the back of my cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card, I hoped that she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and my only desire is to make a difference in some loving human's life.

She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds to me. I shoved my shoulder and the side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I promised to keep her safe. I promised to always be by her side. I promised to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes everyday!

I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more are out there who haven't walked the corridors. So many more to be saved. At least I could save one.

I rescued a human today.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Relatively speaking

It's a small world as they say, and on top of that, Singapore is a small country. Everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows of everybody else.

But never in my wildest dreams did I think that a friend of mine would turn out to be a distant relative.

I have known R since junior college and she also went on to the same university as I did. She now lives in London and we spent many happy hours together when L and I holidayed in London in August/September.

We had talked about our families and she had remarked that her mother's maiden surname is the same as L's, and that her name was remarkably similar to L's father's name. We never really thought much about it until this week, she found out from a conversation with her mother that her mother and my father-in-law are cousins.

Which makes her and L cousins first removed, I think. Is that how you count "removed" cousins?
And her furkids -- two lovely Maine Coons and an independent-spirited Bengal whom I fell instantly in love with when I finally was able to meet them a few months ago -- and mine would be cousins second removed. Queeni grew up with a kitten and so has cat-like habits and loves cats. Now, she's actually related to cats!

Hi Cuz! *waves*

Hanoi

One of the reasons why I didn't blog about my recent trip to Hanoi was that I came home to a rather surreal time because of a death in the family. The other reason was that I had to write about it, and also supply pictures that I had taken. Now that the article has been published, I can finally put here the pictures that weren't used and the text that had been cut. This blog has no advertisers and therefore, I don't have to be as judicious as the lifestyle editor.

Thirty years after the Viet Cong saw off the Americans, the Vietnamese are still reducing them -- albeit tourists -- to a quivering mass. Charlie has returned as the cyclo driver. The cyclo is pretty much like a trishaw, only the driver is behind the passenger -- which is good from Charlie's standpoint since the passenger gets hit first in the event of collision. Charlie's modus operandi pretty much consists of heading straight towards what seems to be oncoming traffic and challenging bus drivers to cut into his lane. The bus driver wins. They always do. It's the same everywhere.

That the Vietnamese love their motorbikes is obvious, not just by the sheer numbers on the road but also by the case of one (parked) bike spotted -- its seat was upholstered in that unmistakable LV logo and motif more commonly stamped on handbags. Bike by Louis Vitton.

Most retailers will accept US dollars, and conveniently so, especially in the company of fellow travellers who can read double entrendres in "How many dongs have you got on you?"


Vietnamese organisation is written on the walls. While most places have graffiti spray painted in free hand, Vietnamese graffiti is stenciled. These, I was told, are phone numbers for contractors. They come along, identify a unit that is likely to be refurbished, and leave their phone numbers so as to save the owner from looking up the number in the Yellow Pages.


This is a view of the city from a local coffeeshop that is four floors up on a rooftop. There is no visible frontage of the coffeeshop at street level. You walk in through an art gallery (apparently almost every Vietnamese owns a motorbike and paints in oils) down an alley way, into an open courtyard that looks like someone's house and up a winding staircase. The rooms that you pass on your way up really are part of someone's house. If the guide didn't lead us, we would have never found it. As it was, we were the only foreigners on the rooftop. No Starbucks would have a view like this, since passing pedestrian traffic is everything in their business plan. And in anycase, there was no Starbucks in Hanoi, despite its coffee culture. There are small mercies in developing countries.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Heir and heiress



Mother-in-law, in tying up father-in-law's estate matters, has instructed their family lawyer to give $500 each to Queeni and Rupert from the estate. It's not exactly a bequest but a gift.

So the lawyer calls L and demands to know: "Do you have two children that I'm not aware of?"

"Err, yes, I have two kids."

"What are their names? Can you spell it out?"

"Queeni. And Rupert."
Lawyer was obviously writing everything down.

"Boy or girl?"

"Queeni's the girl, Rupert's the boy."

"How old?"

"She's seven, he's two."

"Can I have their IC?"

"Err, you can have their licences."

And now, hot shot lawyer -- who has an ongoing trial at High Court -- is completely stumped and needs to consult his partners on how to give money to dogs.

Under Singapore law, pets are not considered entities (like corporations are, although I know more animals with heart than some corporations). Instead, pets are considered possessions and you cannot give or bequeath money to chattel. If you want to do something like that, you're usually advised to start a trust fund and name an executor, that sort of thing. I don't think we're going into all that for $500.

Still, that's probably a lot in dog money. Or bones. Or chewies.

My furkids are gazillionaires.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Going bananas for a purpose

Back to mundane everyday-living posts. The only reason why I bought a bunch when grocery shopping the other day was so that I could use the new lacquer plate I got from Vietnam.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Friends in high places

A friend of mine emailed me to say that the wife of the new president of the Maldives is someone we knew at university.

The University of Warwick has a reputation for being a hot spot for student activism. Which is one of the reasons why it changed its mind about opening a campus in Singapore.

But I never imagined that my friend's former housemate would turn out to be the First Lady of the Maldives.

She is in illustrious company -- another housemate, a Jordanian, married into the royal family and is now a princess.

I feel like I've achieved nothing with my life!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Life is transient

I left for Hanoi on Monday. Sometime late Sunday night if not Monday morning, my father-in-law died in his sleep.

I came home on Thursday. My father-in-law was already cremated.

And all this while, L never wanted to tell me, didn't want me to cut short my trip. He even told my mother and our friends not to tell me. But then I got one rather odd text message late on Monday by the time I finally turned on my cellphone. L was uncontactable all day, so I called a friend. And that was how I found out.

Everyone, even my mother-in-law, said not to cut short the trip, seeing that it was already a short one. L didn't see the point of my getting off the plane only to turn round and get back on it.

So I went through the motions of Hanoi.

It was a weird trip. When I left home, this old guy was doing his own thing. A few days later when I got home, there was nothing left of his existence on earth. It was like he had never been, especially as I don't see him often. Life is odd.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Off again

I'm off to Hanoi, Vietnam on a four-day junket. I never put my name in the hat for junkets because they tend to be very businessy affairs, hosted by chambers of commerce who want to drum up investment or a company wanting to show off the production lines in a spanking new factory. The last junket a reporter went on just a couple of weeks ago involved a long-haul flight just to admire a new transit train.

The days you're absent from work when you're on the trip comes out of your vacation time. And worse, you're sometimes expected to write an article on the trip when you get back. So thanks but no thanks. I can just about sub business-type stories but I can't write them.

And then this Hanoi junket came up, and the chief sub did let on that it was hosted by a hotel. Which means it's hardly a business-type thing but a lifestyle thing. You know, nice resort, good food, maybe even a spa. I could live with that.

On top of that, it came at a time when I had just returned to work after a month away on holiday. I wasn't in a mood to knuckle down and get to work so I put my name in the hat for the junket draw. And I got it.

:)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ack

This is the first time that a recalled product has been sitting in my pantry. The recall has gone beyond dairy products to food products that have been made with China-sourced dairy ingredients. I don't buy Chinese if I can help it, and these recalled crackers weren't even China-made, just that the Malaysia manufacturer used ingredients of China origins.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Food for thought

I could hardly believe the news story I was subbing last night. Singapore Food Industries, a government-linked company is going to develop a "food zone" in Jilin province, China. It will start up a pig farm, and process and export pork. This is part of Singapore's attempts to ensure long-term food security, explained the prime minster, who was in Beijing to sign a Singapore-China free trade agreement.

Oh right. We're ensuring food security by processing food in a country that poisoned its milk. And pet food.

I need to ask the reporter who's there covering the China trip if the PM drinks his coffee black and what he eats his cereal with when he was there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fact and fiction

Because I work nights, I watch quite a bit of daytime TV (well, I don't always watch but L leaves the TV on) and the afternoon 3pm slot has gone through the gamut of drama series from the 80s -- The Scarecrow and Mrs King, The Fall Guy, now you know where old TV series go to die.

Only lately, that slot has been taken up by The West Wing and not only is it fairly recent, they're showing the season where Jimmy Smits runs for president. We know he wins it of course. Some programmer must be timing this for the run-up to the US elections.

Funny how fiction points to the future (well, let's see if this one turns out that way) -- brown Democrat candidate wins over old white man. With the other scenario mapped out in Commander in Chief -- woman VP from nowhere becomes president when old white guy in charge dies.

Do Hollywood scriptwriters know something that we don't?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sometimes, you gotta look a gift horse in the mouth

On Thursday, I happened to pass by a pet shop so I went in for a packet of dog biscuits. I don't always go there, which means the staff don't know me, and I didn't even flash my discount card since it was such a small purchase. Still, they gave me a free gift -- a plastic squeaky toy.

It's lurid Day-Glo orange and there's no label on it about where it was made but I bet you that cheap toy came from China.

Yesterday, the pet shop that I usually shop at, ie they know me there, sent me a flyer advertising a massive discount on a brand of rubber toys. This brand, I know, is made in China. I'd thrown out several of its products after the lead in paints in children's toys scare.

I think quite a few retailers are having trouble moving their China-made inventory.

Maybe they should just send all the toys to the ministers and the business leaders who keep going on how wonderful it is to do business in that country.

Even Hardy Amies, dressmaker to the Queen of England, are calling in the administrators because no one is buying their clothes as even rich consumers cut back on their spending.

Then small retailers, with warehouses full of cheap Chinese toys, haven't got a chance.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Who's laughing now?

In times like this when cash is king, the only thing that is stopping me from keeping money under my mattress are two dogs who would probably find it and chew it all up.

So I did the next best thing. I put the money that I had taken out of a foreign bank and put it in a local bank that's noted for its ringfenced conservatism and low leverage, in a plain vanilla fixed deposit.

Normally, when you try and open a fixed deposit there, some financial advisor tries to sell you an investment product. This time round, they didn't even try. I guess they knew nobody would buy. And the most amazing thing wasn't even that, it was that I had to wait 2 hours to open a FD account. You used to be served straightaway or maybe wait just 10 minutes or so.

There's that many people throwing money at Big Local Bank.

One of the professors at the NUS Business School has been giving a series of lectures to my organisation. He said that in his opinion, Asian banks aren't as severely affected as US banks by the subprime contagion because they were unexposed to sophisticated products. Basically, their ignorance saved them, he said.

And now, these dumb local banks are laughing all the way to the err, bank.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Would that be milking it?

The senior minister is in China and all the reports are on how far-sighted it is and what a wonderful place it is to do business etc.

I suppose no one asked him if, while he's there, is he taking his coffee black or with milk?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conditioning

It was back to pushing my way onto the train during the morning rush-hour yesterday. Now that we're learning to stand on one side of the escalator so that people can walk past on the other side, we're pretty much like London commuters. The only notable difference is, Singapore commuters don't read. Well, Singaporeans don't read, sniffs L. And this is despite two freesheets on offer. The Londoners grab their freesheets, Metro in the morning and The London Paper in the evening, and leave them on the backs of the seats after they're done reading so someone else can pick it up for a read. Or they've got their noses buried into books. I don't think I've ever seen anyone reading an actual Real Book here in a long while. In Singapore, people just stare blankly into space. Or play PSP. I didn't see a single PSP in the London Tube. Though I suppose if you're flashing one when you're heading out to say, Epping, then you're really asking for trouble.

Only yesterday, I read on the Guardian online how London mayor Boris Johnson proudly showed off the new air-conditioned carriages for the London Underground. Having only recently sweated it out on the Piccadilly line, I wondered why it took the world's first underground system till 2008 to install air-conditioned trains. And it's not for all lines but the newer ones. Commuters on Piccadilly will still have to sweat it out. Sorry, R.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revving up

You know that Formula One is bearing down on Singapore this weekend when the movies on TV all week have a distinctive theme: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle; 2 Fast 2 Furious; and Gone in 60 Seconds.

I know it's supposed to be a Big Deal, the first F1 night race and all. But it ain't doing nuthing for me, it's just cars making a lot of noise and going round and round very fast. And using a lot of fuel. And generating a lot of pollution. Ugh.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Holiday over


Now to dive into all those books (also part of the reason why a new suitcase was needed). And that would be a mini-holiday in itself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More curious finds

All the time I was living in Britain, I never felt the need to see Stonehenge. Oh, I was curious about it -- and who isn't -- but it was too far away; could only be reached by a bus that ran once a week or something; and completely fenced off. I guess the most off-putting thing was that I couldn't wander about it like Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

And then this trip, R&K took me to Avesbury. It contains what is said to be Europe's biggest stone circle. There are two rings, a moat and an avenue leading up to it. More amazingly, the village -- including the local pub (very important) -- is slap in the middle of the circle.

You can wander up to the stones and the only things that will stop you from doing so are the sheep. And the mud. So again, no Tess of the D'Urbervilles for me, just pictures from a distance.



Crop circles have been spotted in surrounding fields but we only saw a crop doodle, and only a very vague one at that as the wheat had already been harvested.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not a stoodent any more

The nice thing about going back to the town you lived in when you were a student is that you can now afford the things you never could before. Like finally having dinner at its only Italian restaurant. I used to treat myself to their gelato -- which wasn't often but unsuitable weather had more to do with it than prices -- but never ventured into the cave-like posh-looking restaurant (Etna, opposite the HMV, next to the post office -- information for YH, whom I'm sure has question marks above his head already).

This time, we could sit down to a three-course meal plus wine. And because one of our party had a birthday, the staff accommodated with candles in the tiramisu and a happy birthday song -- in which the other diners also joined. That really took me by surprise. This isn't Hard Rock Cafe where people are expected to break into song and dance. So much for the reticent British.

Not being a student also means there's no ISIC card to wave about for massive discounts.

But not being a (homeless) student also means that I can finally buy the beautiful handcrafted homeware I've always coveted (like these coasters). Which also partly accounted for the need to buy a new piece of luggage the day before we left for home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twenty years later...


* My Middle English prof is still looking like a Middle English prof, ie, he still has a beard down to his waist. Even if he has considerably less hair.

* There is beef rendang on the menu at what used to be the Airport Lounge (thusly named because of its airport-like carpet. Urban campus legend had it that it was picked because its 70s motif design would hide vomit spots). Heaven knows what it's called now (feel free to contribute, Yee Hung, it's the lounge on the first floor of Rootes Social Building). Outside the restaurant. Which used to be called the refractory. Now, every eating place on campus is a dang restaurant. Oh lord, how I used to pine for beef rendang. We used to have to trek to the Chinatowns in Birmingham or London for a chilli fix and now Warwick students get a bottle of sambal in a condiments tray that comes in the form of a dim sum steamer.

* There's a Costcutters supermarket on campus where you can get a sandwich for instant gratification and the ingredients for a meat and 3 veg if you're DIY, along with the pots and pans to cook it. We used to have to go to Coventry Market for tableware and cookware. Now, an Ikea has sprung up almost next to the market and I suppose ubiquitous Scandinavian designed plates have displaced willow pattern ones.

* My old room now has four power points in it. Plus high-speed Net access. WiFi. Back then, it had just the one power point -- and in an obscure round-pin at that -- and I had my first lesson in creative electrical wiring even before I went to class.



* The sapling outside my room window -- I had taken pictures of it through a year, during all the seasons -- is now a fully fledged tree. When I had mentally accounted for more buildings sprouting up on campus, I had forgotten to allow for how much trees can grow in 20 years.

I know, I'm going to sound like my own parents doing their "back in my time" act (and YH must be doubling over with laughter). If I had a beard, I'd be stroking it in a sage-like manner. Especially if it's waist long like a Middle English prof.

Interesting finds

L found silver spoons in Portobello, I found a bronze plaque to hang over the dog crate:


We also found a cafe called Makan. Very clever name, you know exactly who would head towards a sign that says Makan. It had laksa for five pounds. But we thought we could hold off till we came back to S$3 laksa. Still, that was a find we could pass onto R and other pining Singaporeans in London.

One of the best finds was an Italian cafe called Re:Hab where Max, the Italian waiter told us to forget about the menu. Instead, he would go into the kitchen to find out what "Christina feelsa like-a cooking-a". "Becausa it willa come out all gooda." We wanted breakfast so out came crusty bread drizzled with olive oil, italian sausage and eggs from Bologna with yolks so vividly orange like a sun rise that we had to take a photo.


The couple who owns the cafe was going to shut it down the next day and hightail it to their cottage in Italy for two weeks to "get some sun" because summer has been dismal. The husband is Australian and they fly to Melbourne every Christmas, with a three-day stopover at Singapore, staying in the Shangri-La, to break up the long flight.

That's pretty much like the lifestyle of the rich and famous for me. Makes you want to throw it all in and run your own caff in Notting Hill, doesn't it?

Buoyed by our experience with barges and locks, we hung around the one at Camden, waiting to watch people work them. We weren't going to laugh, honest. But no one sailed that way. I guess nobody wanted a bunch of tourists taking pictures of them being confused.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Only in Britain

* L and I are the only people speaking English in Camden.

* There's a hot water tap at one end of the sink and a cold water tap at the other. Which means that you either scald or freeze your hands when you wash them.

* You can get a pint and pay for it with loose change, without having to break into paper money. It's that cheap to drink.

* Doors would be "alarmed". Oh sorry, door, I didn't mean to startle you.

* Everywhere else, shoplifters would simply be prosecuted.


* Mr I Don't Feel the Cold, I Survived Canadian Winters So I Don't Need Woolies wears a cardigan (mine). However, he's still in the kitchen (of the barge) and still holding wine. So some things don't change. Especially the "eat and sleep" bits.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Half a century

We squeezed as many candles as we could on the cake but couldn't manage anywhere near the 50 required for the birthday boy.



As part of the slowing down process, the big five-oh was spent on a barge going at 4 mph down a Warwickshire canal.





Obligatory countryside pictures of sheep and cows follow.






Plus ducks, moorhens and swans. I also glimpsed a brown rabbit (or maybe it was a hare) by the water's edge. That was so cool, I've never ever seen a wild rabbit before. Swans can practically climb up a barge window for food.



Oh, and we managed a couple of locks without embarrassing ourselves. But that was only because we had tons of help and advice. The British are ever so polite.




Even during the very beginning of the trip when we had to make a sharp turn after sailing out of the marina. We made landfall very rapidly and must have startled two Brits sunning in deck chairs because we were going straight for them. They didn't say anything and personally, I think that they were sitting there to get a VIP view of inept boaters coming out of the marina. Another couple started video taping us. I'm sure we're going to show up on one of those Funniest Homevideos show on TV soon.