Friday, July 31, 2009
Had been feeling feverish and suffering from a stuffy nose for the past 2 days. Information about N1H1 symptoms was not very specific on the Ministry of Health website, in my point, as to what is the specific temperature for a fever; whether it is a combination of fever, cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, body ache and tiredness that will consitute N1H1 symptoms or any one of those will. I did further research to learn that temperature reaching 37.5 d.c. will be considered a fever.
It was not until the temperature soared to 38 d.c. that I have decided to check it out with a doctor the next morning. I was comtemplating between private clinics and polyclinic. There are several private ones and only one polyclinic in the area where I live. This is one of the many conveniences that I missed, I need not travel far for medical and dental care. In fact, I just have to walk for less than a 100 metres. And most importantly, I do not have to make prior appointments. And I certainly enjoy the freedom of walking straight into any private clinics or polyclinics in any parts of this island irregardless of the neighbourhood that I live in and without having the need to register with one particular clinic first.
Private clinics charge higher fees while polyclinic are heavily subsidised by the government for citizens. The advantage of private clinics is that they are opened for 7 days a week although it will often be a half day on Sundays and stay open till 9pm. Polyclinics are opened to the public from Mon to Sat but only half day on Saturdays and they are opened till 4:30pm. Theoretically speaking, private clinics should have a shorter queue than polyclinics although from my own experience, this is certainly not the case. It took me 2 hours of wait to see my doctor and to get my medication at one private clinic and for having to pay more.
At the polyclinic, as it is in the height of N1H1 cases, there are several procedures to complete before you get to see the doctor.
1)At the entrance, walk-in patients were screened for fever/flu clinic or normal doctor consultation. Patients seemed to be joining the queue every second, indicating the masses that this polyclinic served.
2)Quick registration. Then I was referred to the fever/flu clinic with a queue number card.
3)At fever/flu clinic, another round of registeration and checking my previous record and I had to provide details of my conditions to the nurse.
4)Wait for doctor.
5) Submit prescription to pharmacy.
6)Get medication from pharmacy and proceed to the next room to pay.
Looking at the numbers on the number board which the doctors were serving, I have about 70 patients before my turn which was of no surprise as polyclinic serves the massive public. There were four doctors dedicated to fever/flu patients. As the waiting area was full, I had to stand by the railings. I came prepared and therefore took out my laptop and did a little bit of writing during the wait.
When I got to see the doctor, I learned that a fever running higher than 38 d.c. together with the rest of the flu symptoms were the likelihood of H1N1. He prescribed cough mixture, nasal spray, throat rinse and flu tablets for me.
The entire procedure took me an hour and 40 minutes and cost me a total SGD$14.80 (consultation plus medication). All this without having to be forced to pay to the monthly compulsory National Insurance contribution and the extra medication fee that one has to pay at NHS.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
View from the top floor of a flat over looking the little "park" area.
HDB residents hanging out their laundry to dry on bamboo poles and therefore, tumbler or dryer is an uncommon electrical appliance in our households.
Sheltered walkways for residents to get from one block to another block of flats.
A "block" of letter boxes stationed at the lobby of each HDB flat.
Staircase leading to each floor of the flat. It is is rarely used by residents as there is lift access to each floor.
For double security, there is an additional grilled door before the wooden door.
Views from the top of a staircase.
But life is always elsewhere, at least for a person like me, it is.
The constant being at elsewhere--whether mentally or physically or both.
I crossed the physical boundary of T into Y. My body is back at Y but the encounters at T, good and bad ones always end up as memorable ones in retrospect, imprisoned part of me. Unknowingly, I left part of myself at T.
I saw images of it by chance in the TV, read a line in a book about it, touched by a song about Z in a cafe and these coincidences gradually built up the fantasy of Z in me. I started living forward from here to Z.
I am here in the present but that scenary I saw 20 years ago is still fresh in my mind, clear as crystal. The colours have faded into a new coat of paint; the scent has weakened into the smell of age that lingered faithfully.......the strong, undeniable presence of being there. Waiting to be travelled back to it some time in the future. It's just a reconstruction of the past in the form of present tense, with inputs from my memory that is sprinkled with a touch of interpretation on my part, manoeuvred by my unconsciousness, so as to enact something which holds more credible truth than the actual truth itself.
Forever lost in the space between the past and the future, between being just there and being elsewhere. Always failing to find the path that leads to now and here.
But this is.
Friday, July 24, 2009
For a Chinese, the importance of food surpasses everything. There is an ancient Chinese saying "Men deem food as God". That was as early as the 1st century and the "men" in that phrase were presumably the Han Chinese. Chinese back then already knew how to worship/treasure/value the food they eat. This "tradition" and "characteristic" continued long and deep to this day.
When you travel through different Chinese regions, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore, one thing that you can't miss are the scores of eateries practically everywhere and many stay opened up till late into the nights or even into mornings.
Therefore, this passion for food might explain the presence of chinatowns across the world. Where the Chinese (irregardless of region) are, there must be a place where they can find Chinese ingredients/food/drinks to satisfy their hunger pang.
Singaporeans love to eat and that is one of the two past times we have apart from shopping. The body weight of many Chinese Singaporeans is a good evidence of that love for food and therefore with this solid evidence, I strongly dispute the myth that one's body weight is closely related to genes. Look at our sizes and you will know that dietary habits play a VERY significant role.
I remember clearly when YR was offered an overseas position and he was given a choice working either in the US and France, he went for France without further consideration and that surprised alot of people. Obviously, to work in France, one has to go through the hassle of learning a new language. For YR, the choice was obvious and simple : what's there to offer in the American cuisine? This epitomizes our passion for food.
Thanks to Singapore's immigrant population in the last century, different ethnic groups that came to settle brought with them their provincial culinary. Therefore, even within the Chinese community, there is a culinary difference among different clans and the same goes to the Northern and Southern Indians. In addition to that, different ethnic groups influence one another in their culinary skills, coupled with the colonnial tastebuds, we do have a large number of dishes which are uniquely Singapore.
I am going to share some of the food that I have had since I came back though I must say that some of them are not local dishes.
Traditional (and some with a twist)
Stewed pork with salted vegetables
I must admit that there are still alot of local dishes that I have never tried or have never heard of. For instance, I discovered this stewed pork with salted vegetables served in cute little bamboo pot. It comes with a soup (although it was as blend as water) and all that for SGD$4. I like this dish apart from the fats.
Typhoon Potato chips
This is not local to Singapore but to an island off Hong Kong. I saw a lot of street hawkers selling this in Cheung Chau. It's deep fried potato but sliced potato in a single piece. The physical appearance is eye-catching but taste-wise, I will say it's just so-so. Nothing special.
Soya beancurd (almond flavour)
My all-time favourite! It's just curd served with syrup. But I saw mainland Chinese serving it very differently from us. They have salty and sweet soya beancurd and apparently, the salty ones are more popular, which are served with soya sauce and spring onions. I tried to hide my shock (to be exact, it was disgust) when I first saw the hawker pouring soya sauce over the beancurd but this goes to show how geographical difference contributes to differences even within the same ethnic group. Therefore, there is always a genuine need for open-mindedness once we stepped out of our hometown.
Soya beans are so commonly used in Chinese food products--soya sauce, soups, milk.....Soya beancurd and soya bean milk have come a long way. They are served traditionally with syrup, either hot or cold.
We have now a few franchise specialising in soya bean milk and bean curd with a modern twist. You can now have a large variety of soya bean milk with flavour like mango. I fell in love with the almond soya beancurd.
Crushed ice with (canned) longans
When C first saw locals eating a mountain of colourful crushed ice, he was wide-eyed. He couldn't understand why in the world would people be eating ice. In his perception, ice is not meant to be eaten.
Well, this is definitely not the case in our climate. I remember from our history lessons, in the early days before our independence, street hawkers sold crushed ice in balls. They first crushed the ice and then compressed them into a ball. It was then served with syrup sprinkled over the ice ball and it was a good way to cool down from the heat. It is no longer served in a ball but in a bowl and we have all kinds of crushed ice--the most famous one has to be ice kachang which is crushed ice piled up over a mixture of jellies, atap seeds and red beans and with colourful syrup poured all over it. Nowadays, there are all kinds of crushed ice desserts as it is all up to the hawker's imagination.
C went for crushed ice longans of course as he prefers canned longan to fresh ones.
This is a snack from childhood and I never know its proper name nor of its ingredients (who cares what it is made of as long as it tastes good?). It is made out of eggs, flour, coconut milk, sugar, corn flour, water and food colouring (I am reading this from the package information). It is a kind of snack that I enjoyed when I was a kid and I do still enjoy them to this day.
International and fusion
Japanese Charcoal grilled
The skewers are not in the photo on the right but charcoal grilled food appears to be the signature of this restaurant. I wouldn't say that all the skewers were excellent but the subtle taste of charcoal blended with the food which was nice, I thought. We were distracted by our rice--C had garlic rice sprinkled with spring onion while I had rice in fish broth. Yummy! The teriyaki chicken was superb and so was my beancurd swimming in the company of four different types of mushroom.
The Japanese cuisine really amazed me because of their ability to create tonnes of different dishes using a very limited range of ingredients and sauces. Each Japanese restaurant that I went to has their own different dishes.
It is my all-time favourite as well. The taste of lavender (very subtle) blends perfectly with the dark chocolate that is not too sweet. You can easily finish the whole piece without feeling sick of the taste or with the feeling of an overdose of sugar.
I couldn't forget my experience of lavender cake I had on a farm shop when I was in Taipei. I never knew how fragrant and refreshing lavender taste was. A few years after, someone finally, has the imagination to introduce our very own version of lavender cake that finally puts an end to my long years of yearning.
C had this dessert thrice over a span of 16 days and is still in love with it.
Green Tea Latte Float
Green Tea Egg Tarts
The egg tart must be the influence of the Portugese. We came upon a food festival (although I have no idea what was the theme about) and discovered a stall selling all kinds of egg tarts, including double chocolate, chicken, chilli crab and green tea. What an innovation! The Portuguese definitely can't beat us in terms of flavours can they?!
My resolution for the next few months will be to put on weight.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"Sim Lim" means "jungle" in Hokkien--one of the main Chinese dialects among the last generation in Singapore. I never realize how appropriate this name is to this building which is dedicated solely to IT-related retails shops, for instance, mobile phones, computers and peripherals, video cameras, MP3 and MP4, cables......This is the IT jungle for us.
This is a 5 or 6 storeyed building which I used to hate to visit unless it was absolutely necessary. Each level is dedicated to a specific type of electronics. The large number of shops made my head spin and the worst thing is having to bargain. Well, there is always the paradox of time and money, isn't it? If you have the money, you can afford to value your time; if you haven't got the money to spend, you gotta spend your time. I don't have spare cash and therefore have to waste my time doing "homework" and learn to bargain shamelessly.
PX and I used to do our "homework" industriously when we were in need of electronics, mainly laptops and printers before we tread cautiously into this IT jungle. We have to work separately, checking paintstakingly on each shop, recording meticulously the price of the models that we had in mind as the prices for the same products vary from shop to shop and from level to level. We would then compare our findings for the cheapest offer and then proceed to the shops to get the items and of course, without forgetting to bargin for as much discounts as possible or to get free gifts. It was a tiring ordeal.
Having to live with PC World and Curry (British "IT" malls) and the very, very limited range of items to offer, I can now put up with this once notorious IT mall of ours. (There used to be reported incidents of violent bargaining...but I don't hear of such now) I enjoy being delightfully pampered by the large selection of items that cater to every kind of budget and preference.
Take my mouse for instance, I bought it for SGD$14-17, a Chinese brand that I have not heard of but it is cute-looking and there was a choice of colours--a big difference to the traditional, staunch-looking Logitech or Microsoft brand and the most important thing is that it is cheap and functionable. I am not a big fan of Chinese products to be honest, but you can hardly find any thing that is not produced in China nowadays and I'd rather pay for a Chinese brand and Chinese made product than INTERNATIONAL brands but Chinese-made and then at INTERNATIONAL price. This cheap-looking mouse is still alive and kicking after two years of usage while my last mouse--a branded one some more, breathed its last breath of life after one year.
C, a all-time big fan of any IT gadgets love this place at first sight although his love waned a little after realizing the ordeal of checking out prices from shop to shop. But if you want to stretch every dollar, you have to pay a price for it. He bought a SGD$14 universal adapter and then to find cheaper deals at SGD$8-9 for the same functions (not the same brand though). Finally, he found his dream speakers after having checked a number of IT shops at various shopping malls before he settled for one at Sim Lim Square for SGD$40 and surprisingly powerful sound for a USB powered device. And sleek-looking, I must say.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Once I read about a traveller in an Irish town, puzzled by the fact that he couldn't see a single soul of the local residents anywhere. He then went into a local pub to find the entire population there.
We don't have that many pubs and pubbing is not the usual past time of an average Singaporean. But shopping malls here share the same importance of a pub, to a certain extent. We have a 4 million population on this 700 square metre large city-island. But you don't find this island especially crowded on the roads or in any public areas until you pop into any of the shopping malls where you will find trails after trails of people heading towards the modern mecca of consumerism. That is where you can find the bulk of the population. Shopping malls are equivalent of pubs to the Irish and English population I suppose. Malls used to center at Orchard Road but for the past one and half decade, there is a fierce outspread of malls to the neighbourhoods (residential areas) on the west and the north of the island. These neighbourhood malls have taken over the traditional role of city centres where local residents used to go to for their daily needs. There is such a huge infestation of malls in the neighbourhoods to such an extent that one can find one shopping mall for every two MRT stations (tube stations) and some of them are not small in terms of scale. Malls are trendy looking and are havens on a hot day with free air-conditioning and not to mention, the endless materialistic temptations.
In spite of the widespread of malls across the entire island, new ones are still appearing each year and one bigger than the other in size. This year saw the completion of ION at Orchard Road and Iluma at Bugis. There must be a saturated point to the amount our population can spend! And not forgetting the rents of each retail shop and restaurant paying into the pockets of property companies and fattening their cheeks!
Restaurants at the basement of Jurong Point
Japanese Alley at Jurong Point
I enjoyed the architecture and the space allowed in the building. You wouldn't fail to notice the irregular contour lines both on the outside and the inside of the mall, which seems like an attempt to depict wave lines in order to blend into its surrounding. Vivo City sits at the southern tip of the main island facing the sea.
Antoni Gaudi came into my mind, one who defied straight lines and refused to use any single straight line in any of his architect and furniture designs. Vivo City has lots of balconies that spanned over irregular angles, imitating the flow of currents and also unexpected space allocation at certain corners. I appreciate the spacious walkway and the tall ceiling of this mall, having grown up in a country where every inch of space and land are calculated in terms of monetary returns and therefore, I am used to shopping in malls that made me feel I am packed in sardine cans.
Being my second visit to this mall that is located in the southern tip of Singapore, I discovered something new: the pools and grasslands at the rooftop of the building brought a refreshing touch and concept to a shopping mall. It looks exactly like a ground level but it is actually sitting at the top of the building, facing the sea, just like a promenade. But I must say that the sea views have very little to offer as the port on the right scars the serenity whilst the offshore island Sentosa (an overly-enthusiastic developed island targetting tourists' pockets that lacks of a soul and an identity of its own) looks better if it were to disappear this minute. On fair weather condition, one could really have a picnic on this roof top and some people actually did!
Pools and grasslands on the roof top
An English colleague once asked me whether there were any shopping malls where one could buy clothes and cosmetics in Singapore. I thought it was an odd question to start with and how I wished I could tell her that we were living in a jungle no more but in a jungle of shopping malls instead.
I am not a Japanese and neither a big fan of the Japanese culture, but still, I can't explain my love for food products with green tea flavour. If given a choice of flavours, I will pounce on the ones with green tea flavour no doubt.
I appreciate that subtle bitterness in green tea and especially so in food products. You need to be very sensitive, in this case your tastebuds, to detect that subtle green tea taste that has blended into the taste of the food products. It shouldn't be over-bearing as green tea itself will never be and it shouldn't be so weak that all the taste of green tea is lost. It should leave just enough traces of its presence, definitely not in an evident manner. This is the beauty of sublety.
I often wonder, of all the types of tea that you can find, why do the Japanese fell madly in love with green tea only. And they make no secret of their green tea mania. Consequently, they managed to green-tea-nize every food product that they can lay their hands on. Even table salts and kit kat with green tea flavour.
It's interesting to know that one man's meat may be another man's poison. I understand that the colour of green in food products may not appear as appealing to me as to people of the West because of the negative association of the colour. To me, green looks soothing. YR once treated his French colleagues to our local speciality: pandan cakes (sponge cakes with the flavour of pandan leaves which is a type of tropical plant). His colleagues stared at the greenish-looking cake suspiciously and commented that the cake looked as if it has been poisoned. I was bemused. They must have run for their lives if they were ever offered a pot of green tea ice cream, I suppose. But then again, what about the chocolates that Europeans raved about? The colour could easily resemble closely to that substance in our bodies that we.....but then again, you will never associate chocolates with that, will you?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
This cafe stays open till 2am and this shows the hectic and vibrant
life-style of the Hong Kongers. It is difficult for a non-ethnic Chinese to tell the differences among regional Chinese cuisines but they really differ from one region to another. Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Taiwan and not to mention the provinces within China, each has its own distinctive feature in their local cuisines. In spite of the presence of a large ethnic Chinese population, Hong Kong and Singapore locals enjoy toast (bread doesn't exist in a traditional Chinese cuisine) for their breakfast and sip more coffee than tea--an influence from the colonnial times. Portuguese tarts settled into the Macauese cuisine, and of course with a Chinese twist, and so now we have Portuguese tarts with a selection of almond, pineapple and the traditional flavours.
C took a looooooooong time to decide which dish he would go for. He went for a black peppered chicken rice that was served with an egg and some vegetables. He loved the cripsy chicken skin even though he hates fats in his food. I went for congee (a Cantonese type of porridge) with pork floss and a sprinkle of sliced ginger and spring onion. In fact, we were not in the least hungry but we finished everything off the bowls. For dessert, I went for steamed payaya with almond cream while C went for something cooler--crushed ice with grass jelly and watermelon. Crushed ice is a good way to combat with hot climate.
All of that cost SGD$30, including service charge and GST and with air-conditioning!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
There is a huge concentration of hotels in the Marina area as it faces the sea and offers a nice view of a skyline that is dominated by the skyscrapers in the CBD area. It is especially romantic at night when the lights from the buildings decorate the skyline and the lights play in the reflections of the water.
When the sun goes down, the temperature drops and it is quite refreshing to wander through the maze of buildings with the gentle night breezes in Millenium Walk. Without any doubt, the architect here emphasized on the use and importance of space on this space-constrained island and thereby provides a nice oasis in this concrete jungle.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Our forefathers from China arrived into the then British colony in search of better lives. They built up this area with their bare hands. The dwellings, the cuisine and lifestyle bear a strong reflection of the colonnial influence. The multi-racial characteristic of the colony has shaped our ethnic Chinese cuisine into a unique style that is nothing like what you can get from any other Chinatowns in the world. Our Indian and Malay friends' taste for chilli has found its way into our cuisine and this explains why chilli is commonly used in the Chinese dishes in Singapore. We have laksa, Hainanese chicken rice with that special chilli sauce, fried kuay teow etc are some of the dishes that you can't find in the usual Chinatowns.
This is the main reason why I find little affinity in chinatowns away from home. Their Chinese-ness can't quench the homesickness in me because they are nothing like home!
After living away from home for a few years, I started to appreciate Chinatown at Outram Park more than ever before. I used to dislike this area for its chaos, the hygiene level and the aging outlook. But now, I love Outram Park for the way it is, totally unpretentious--apart from the area which was renovated by the Singapore Tourism Board which is just a showcase to tourists to what Chinatown should look like. This "Chinatown" is a typical economic and pretentious gesture of the authority that places more importance to economic returns than one's heritage. I could even find the same souvenirs here that I saw in Manchester Chinatown! Sourvenirs that are totally irrelevant to the historical development of Chinatown.
I love the array of food stalls that lined up People's Park complex. C is happily confused by the brightly-lit signboards and photos of the food that the hawkers are selling.
It is stuffy on a hot day (there is no air-conditioning here); the eating area is not the cleanest; the hygiene standard which the hawkers prepare the food may not up to the Western's standard but I love all of this now. Although the food complex has gone through several upgrading and hygiene standards have been raised, there is still a way to go to meet the usual standards.
Fruit hawkers selling fruits away from spick and span supermarkets. One can even "savour" the smells of the fruits in the air in these hawker stalls. Longans are in the season at the point of my visit. Some fruit hawkers are selling sliced fruit on a stick. It was a hot day and I went for a stick of chilled water chestnut while C went for kiwi.
Standing on the overhead bridge across Eu Tong Seng Road, one can get a spectacular view of the skyscrapers in the CBD area. Standing in this older and more deprived area of this island-city, I faced the prosperous and glamorous part of Singapore in the south. It bears a stark contrast to Chinatown. Once, I got a bit touchy with this view at the thought on how this Chinatown has toiled and aged for the future of this fast-moving and pragmatic nation that has long forgotten its roots.
We chanced upon a Thai restaurant at Marina Square and struck a good deal. There was a set dinner on promotion. We had:
1. two small plates of papaya salad
2. green curry with chicken
3. tom yam soup (seafood)
4. omelette with crabmeat (although we were looking painstakingly for the crabmeat in the omelette)
5. a plate of kang kong (vege) with sambal (a type of fried chilli with dried shrimps)
6. tapioca with coconut cream as dessert
7. a glass of iced lemon grass drink
8. a glass of iced plum drink
All that for SGD$30, inclusive of 10% service charge and 7% GST (goods and service tax)--in a restaurant with a moderately nice ambience and a window seat facing the road. Athough the food quality wasn't that superb but you can still get a lot of utility for that price you paid. This is something rare for eating out in the UK. Sometimes, even after paying GBP20 per person, you hardly get any utility at all for the price. :(
I must say, I can get reasonably good views from my bedroom. Although a highly urbanized landscape, there is a good mixture of green and concrete blocks. I love that canopy of rain trees lined up by the road for its practicality and aesthetic values. On hot days, the two banks of trees provide invaluable shade that is well-loved by all pedestrains.
From where my room is, I can even catch a glimpse of Johor Bahru (Malaysia)'s skyline. I like that skyline on rainy days when it is shrouded in a mist.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Honestly, I am still not used to the tropical climate after living with it for 30 years.
Back to the hot and humid climate once more, I must say that it has been tolerable so far. Haven't seen much of the sun, only overcast sky for the past couple of days. There were occasional breezes which was a blessing.
The persistent overcast weather forboded an imminent fierce storm and I was right. Raindrops pitter-pattered on the cement grounds. UK rains alot but I will hardly call that rain--"drizzle" might be more appropriate, in my opinion. I begin to appreciate the word "pitter-patter" with tropical rains.
I missed this thick scent of rain.
The size of the rain drops on a particular
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Rumaging through my belongings--it was like a watching a montage of myself over the years. Flashes of certain scenes or feelings or thoughts passed by before me when my eyes lay upon each item that I choose to discard. They form a certain part of me and as a result, I have always been reluctant to bin things that I have bought, gifts that I have received and cards or letters that I have received. They were evidence of where I am now. Each piece of these items re-ignited a certain part of my memory. Unsurprisingly, the pasts came back in bits and pieces, though I would say, some are clearly more vivid than the others.
If it was not the re-discovery of these items, I am afraid that they will be forever sleeping in a corner of my memory. Only dormant, and so they are not totally lost. Well........
I am still learning the art of relinquishing. Don't be afraid to lose. Treasure the present. If the past must vanish without a trace, there must be something of some form that has formed part of the future.