Saturday, February 28, 2015


This success of this supposed delicacy of pen cai (盆菜), literally 'Basin Vegetables' (or in Cantonese, 'poon choi') depends entirely on how each restaurant or family stews the broth. It's not similar to lo kai yik (卤雞翼), which is a Cantonese dish of chicken wings braised in fermented red bean curd sauce and loads of tau cheo (brown bean paste). Many versions also hold pork belly and pork skin. Nowadays, it's the simpler braised soy sauce chicken that's common.

Pen cai's base stock comes from stewing pork for hours. It's apparently eaten layer by layer. But often, we simply stir everything up so we could eat it all at the same time. Heheheh. Also, I especially like the daikon at the bottom. Fish maw, shark's fin, abalone and sea cucumber make up the bulk of the cost of this dish. But I would prefer to give all those a miss. Scallops and prawns would do fine.

I happen to like pen cai. Well, some of its ingredients, when I get over the pork broth or pork trotters. Some restaurants don't do it well and the meat stink is terrible. I understand the significance of this dish, although we aren't in the middle of a siege within a walled village in a protracted war. I welcome the idea of equality and communal dining of this dish. BUT PLEASE USE SERVING SPOONS AND CHOPSTICKS. Otherwise it's super EIOOWWWW.

Towards food I don't like, I go "Eeeee...I don't like this", "Yucks....I hate that". Well, I still do that, but quietly and inwardly. At many Asian meals, it's a 90% chance that you'll get more than four dishes at a table, which means, I can easily pick out items in a dish I want to eat. If I'm dining with elders at the table, I defer to their dining choices, although my stance on endangered species as food stands. You can eat it, please don't insist I do too. But I've stopped voicing aloud vehement objections. I also reserve all rights in accepting dinner invitations to meals that comprise largely of foods that I don't eat. With age, I've learnt something called respect versus loud assertions of dietary preferences. People have realized that I prefer to keep quiet than to comment, unless it's to rebut bigots and stupidity. Also, by now, many know my firm opinions on various matters and they've learnt not to ask me questions that they're not prepared to hear the answers to. Gatherings are so much more amiable after we very quickly reached this understanding.

This weekend (5 March, really, but whatever) marks the end of the traditional celebration of the first 15 days of Lunar New Year. Whewww. I can stop carrying that silly ang pow pouch around.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Punk Star from PurpleCloud

I'm not opposed to wearing cheongsams. Fine with whichever beautiful fabrics of silk, velvet, brocade, cotton or whatever. I just have a huge problem with their prints, colors and florals. Regardless of what every tailor says, I feel extremely uncomfortable and stupid wearing colors and giddy bright prints. It's just not me.

Also, I don't look good in the contemporary cheongsams with A-line flared bottoms. No no no. I'm really sorry, but not all figure-types are appropriate for that look. I happen to be one of those who'll look like a stunted dumpling in A-line or poofy skirts. And no cheongsams with dainty heels. It's already annoying enough to have the narrow dress restrict mobility. I refuse to totter about precariously for the sake of looking fashionable. I have worn cheongsams with flip flops. During lunar new year visiting, there's no point wearing anything else if all that is done is to remove shoes from home to home. And I certainly don't care about photo-taking. The fewer photos I am in, the better.

It's been years since I specifically buy clothes for the Lunar New Year. There isn't a need to. New clothes could be bought all year round. This is Punk Star from PurpleCloud's 'Collection 3 Punk Pao'. In denim with trims of gun metal studs and a brooch of chains. Pairs perfect with whichever pair of Doc Marts I'm currently fond of. This is about as festive as it gets in my wardrobe.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

华艺 :: 韶琴邦音乐会

I'm not a fan of the erhu (二胡). Its sound gives me goosebumps, regardless of which genre it's innovatively used in. I was keen to attend this concert because it involved this new version of an erhu in the shaoqin (韶琴). Since the friends didn't mind checking it out, we went to listen to Shaoqin Bang (韶琴邦), part of Esplanade's Huayi Festival.

In this concert, George Gao (高韶青) led Shaoqin Bang (韶琴邦), comprising musicians Wu Xudong (吴旭东), Zhu Yunqi (祝云琦), Ye Chunhong (叶春红) and Guo Mengyu (郭梦雨) on the low, mid and high parts of the shaoqin. This performance also included vocalist Jenny Zhang (张海京)George Gao (高韶青) introduced his invention of shaoqin (韶琴), and explained how it worked in comparison to the erhu, which raised my goosebumps even more because while it could go lower than the range of the erhu, it could also go one octave higher. The shaoqin's easier tuning pegs, timbre and tone makes it more versatile than the erhu.

I was wishing super hard that they wouldn't play any concertos from 'The Butterfly Lovers'梁山伯与祝英台》 of which I like neither its story, music or current connotation in which a Singapore Minister recently referred to it as a very strange analogy when explaining how the tender process screwed up for a site not meant for a commercial columbarium but was intended for a Chinese temple. Three weeks later, he followed up with another analogy that seemed to imply that losers or wrong-doers should commit suicide, which is really rude, insensitive and obtuse. "In Japan, the chairman and CEO would call a press conference, take a deep bow and, in the good old days, they may even commit hara-kiri." 

Anyway, the concerto wasn't played. But a refrain of 'The Butterfly Lovers' was played to exhibit how versatile the shaoqin is in the high and low parts of the concerto. I cringed. George Gao is totally at ease on stage and he's as good a composer as he is a talented musician. He also showed off the instrument's competence and his mastery of it by playing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, which would not have been possible on a traditional erhu.

George Gao had played with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in November 2012. Imho, contemporary pieces don't do justice to the shaoqin or erhu. There isn't enough depth for these pieces to showcase the range and soul of the instruments. While Michael Jackson's 'Bad' might lend a cool factor when played by the group, it frankly sounded terrible. An original George Gao composition titled 'Tiger Rock', derived from a Beijing opera (京劇《智取威虎山》之打虎上山) showed off the versatility of the electric shaoqin that was plugged in and kinda sounded like a guitar when piped through the iPhone app (probably an iRig or AmpliTube) and a modulator. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the concert was, given that it was a tad flat in the sense that only one instrument was used.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peking Duck Cravings Satiated

K's in town for a bit. Gotta fix a craving and get her Peking duck. No better than Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck to satisfy her craving. I haven't had Peking duck for a long time, the last being K's home cooked version of Peking duck in Norway! Before this date, I hadn't stepped into the restaurant, but it should be pretty decent.

Now, I must have forgotten how Peking duck actually taste like. And I'm one of those who didn't go bonkers over Peking duck in Beijing or Shanghai. When I bit into this one, I was a tad disappointed. Sure, the skin was as good as could be, crisp and all, but the meat, I thought, while tender, was a tad bland. Nowadays, I'm definitely used to the duck being more flavorful than this. And K's duck, while unable to achieve the super-crisp skin that required a huge oven and fire, its meat was definitely tastier and equally tender. Still, I'd come back to this restaurant if anyone else has a craving to satisfy.

K ate her fill of wraps and skin, and meat. We were ambitious and ordered other dishes at the side. Vegetables and egg tarts. All eaten up. Muahahahah. Always good to have chat with the woman IRL. Of course I was happy when I learnt she would be hopping into town. But it was only in the few days before she was due to fly off, that I began to miss her and started a silent tracking of her flight and transit all the way to Singapore. Like how I track parcels in the post. OCD much. Lol.

At Ristorante da Valentino

I've heard much about Ristorante da Valentino, but I've never visited till the girlfriend wanted to buy me dinner and that happened to be a convenient-enough venue. Yayyyy. Time with her and any excuse for pasta always make a good combination!

I love pasta. Not picky about the shape and form. I'm conservative with sauces though. I like aglio olio e peperoncino (less oil and more garlic and peppers please), carbonara (preferably without the bacon), pesto and pomodoro (or alla puttanesca). That's pretty much it. Heh. But I don't dare to eat so much carbs all the time. I've gone easier on the meals of pasta. Definitely can't be doing this for consecutive meals without balancing it with daily workouts.

The restaurant took a lovely wide space at The Grandstand. It'll be noisy because it's perpetually full with large tables of diners. I like the casual vibes. That's what I'm looking for most days- a dependable and easy but comfortable meal. Service was efficient and oddly effusive. Think I'm too used to surly servers at restaurants. What a nice change.

Love their bread basket with pesto. Absolutely delicious. I didn't want so much of it and in the end, we finished the entire basket. o.O The girlfriend puts in a ton of time at the dance studio and gym, and could afford a full plate of carbs. Hahahaha. Pasta it was for her too. My spaghetti alla puttanesca was done nicely al dente. Anchovies and capers. Mmmm. For some very strange reason, that night I was reminded of chai poh (diced preserved radish). Haven't had chwee kueh and salty chai poh for a while too! Super satisfying meal. We lingered late and nursed our one glass of wine. Nobody chased us out. Definitely returning for another meal. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


We didn't step into the friends' houses or visited their parents till the third day of the Lunar New Year. Put on our gaudy chirpy festive colors and went visiting with gifts and mandarin oranges. Eight homes this year! These are people whom we see regularly and love; these are homes that we want to be in, and not because we're obligated to do so.

The visits were a riot! The dogs and the cats were all excited too and determinedly hung around for possible snacks coming their way. Nope, dearies. No snacks for you. Same rule- don't feed the pets like how you don't feed the children without prior permission. This thing about visiting and eating. We've been plied with plenty of food, bird's nest soups, and fabulous snacks. Plenty of good coffee along the way. I didn't reject emping (belinjo crackers) or muruku, and by the time 4pm rolled around, I welcomed all alcohol. :P

Many lo-heis done today too. Even scrambled to grab an impromptu takeaway lo-hei platter. Luckily Fullerton Hotel kindly prepped it for us at super short notice; it was the nearest convenient pick-up location to where we were. Hurrah. I quite like yusheng (鱼生、捞起). It's raw fish and shredded vegetables. Literally a salad. Don't even mind the plum sauce. Having this as a festive dish means many hands make the tossing quick and we get to the food faster. Heh. It's mind-boggling but we received many ang pows today. STILL. Haizzz. These naughty parentals. Luckily we had prepped little gifts of appreciation.

Monday, February 23, 2015

'The Strain'

A few years ago, I wasn't too impressed when I rushed through Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's trilogy 'The Strain'. It read like a story waiting to be adapted to big screen, which is really what's intended.

When the television series debuted last July, I wasn't particularly fixated on it. Was occupied finishing 'American Horror Story S4' and 'Penny Dreadful S1', and catching 'Constantine'. Finally got around to the 'The Strain S1'. The first three episodes started off well. I kinda lost interest mid-way but I persisted. Mixed feelings about it. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

I would venture to suggest that the television adaptation seems to play out slightly better than the books. Just for fun, I flipped through the trilogy again, to remember what exactly it is that I'm not impressed with. Titled 'The Strain', 'The Fall' and 'The Night Eternal', the trilogy uses standard narrative techniques and devices. The story of a small team of humans against the greater evil. There's always a quest, a hunt and a mission of sorts. Many characters that annoyed me in the books definitely irritated the hell out of me on the screen, especially Dr Ephraim 'Eph' Goodweather and his son Zachary 'Zack'. Couldn't they have chosen better actors? Lead vampire hunter and Holocaust survivor and Abraham Setrakian was disappointingly uncharismatic.

I'll try not to give anything away since the television series will probably follow the books, given that Guillermo del Toro is involved in producing every episode. Book Two 'The Fall' repeats so much of what happened in Book One that I felt like time had been wasted reading 'The Strain'. On television, S1 has ended and S2 has begun production.

By now, the original strigoi- the first generation of vampires, the Regis Air victims and their Dear Ones - had begun their second wave of maturation. They were becoming more accustomed to their environment and new bodies. Learning to adapt, to survive - to thrive. They attacked at nightfall, the news reported "rioting" in large sectors of the city, and this was partially true- looting and vandalism ran rampant in broad daylight - but no one pointed out that activity spiked at night.   
Because of these disruptions occurring nationwide, the country's infrastructure was beginning to crumble. Food delivery lines were broken, distribution delayed. As absences increased, available manpower suffered and electrical outages and brownouts went unserviced. Police and fire response times were down, and incidences of vigilantism and arson up.

Let's just say I don't like the ending. It's weak and unimaginative. This vampire apocalypse doesn't appeal. It's not even as riveting as the storyline of 'Underworld'. I won't be watching 'The Strain S2'. Trying not to do spoilers here, and extracting only these few lines from Book Three 'The Night Eternal', foretelling what happens in the future, what could only happen when humans are not as strong or as united.

The Master's plan was a resounding success. In brutally Darwinian fashion, the Master had selected the survivors for compliance and malleability. Its growing strength was nothing short of terrifying. With the Ancients destroyed, its control over the horde - and through them, the world- had broadened and become ever more sophisticated. The strigoi no longer roamed the streets like raving zombies, raiding and feeding at will. 
Their movements were coordinated. Like bees in a hive or ants in a hill, they apparently each had clearly defined roles and responsibilities. They were the Master's eyes on the street. 
In the beginning daylight was entirely gone. A few seconds of faint sunlight could be glimpsed when the sun was at its zenith, but other than that, the darkness was unremitting. Now, two years later, the sun filtered through the poisoned atmosphere for only two hours each day, but the pale light it gave was nothing like the sunlight that had once warmed Earth. 
The strigoi were everywhere, like spiders or ants, making sure that those left alive were truly fitting back into a routine...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

农历年初四 :: 华艺节 'What Is Sex ? 红楼梦'

Attended Edward Lam Dance Theatre's epic 'What Is Sex? 红楼梦', kicking off the first of the shows the friends and I are catching at this year's Huayi Festival (华艺节) presented by Esplanade. Didn't watch Edward Lam Yik-wah's (林奕華) earlier presentations of the other three great Chinese classics at Huayi in the previous years.

3.5 hours which included a 20-minute intermission, saw a prologue and 17 scenes that followed the chapters of Cao Xueqin's eighteenth century classic novel 'Dream of the Red Chamber'. (曹雪芹《红楼梦》) That's where the similarities end. Thank goodness. It's not a bad book in terms of looking at it as a social commentary, the rise and the fall of aristocratic clans, eighteenth century social norms, etc. But I've no love lost for this classic when I had to study it for the examinations. I abhor this genre of fiction and by the end of the year, I nurtured a distinct aversion to flowers, manicured gardens and pavilions, and truly wanted to stab Lin Daiyu (林黛玉) and Jia Baoyu (贾宝玉) and everyone in the two family estates of Rongguofu (荣国府) and Ningguofu (宁国府).

In this musical where the setting is a rather peculiar sort of book club, 12 "highly desirable men" are engaged by well-heeled female clients to read this classic to them. The men were actors, storytellers and narrators, taking on the female roles with a fair amount of ease, simply because the roles turned into thoughts and words, not so much of action. Couldn't stifle my giggles. This notion of 'cute guys' and all, is extremely subjective. LOL. Edward Lam used a predominantly female cast for male characters in his interpretation of 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms' (三国演义). I'm not going to read anything into the gender-flipping thing. It's nothing to do with sexism or subversive gender themes. In the thick English-and-Chinese program booklet, Alexander Hsu wrote a short note on 'Hatred. Remorse. Regret. Revelation. - The Rationale Behind A Male Cast For What Is Sex?'. He made two observations, "It is not gender that determines language, but language that determines gender" and "the subtext in language is not gender, but what we associate with gender".

The blurb suggested, "In each of us, there exists a void—a deep, bottomless emptiness. And we are all trying to fill this void." This contemporary interpretation of the novel is supposed to inspire audiences to look within and find some meaning in the angst of everyday living or in the hypocrisy of the world. “每个人都要补自己的洞。” 所谓《红楼梦》的虚实相生与真假变化,人生挣扎与蹉跎,无论什么年代,还是那么熟悉。This play certainly doesn't provoke such deep thoughts in me. I wasn't entertained by the singing and dancing. You know how I feel about musicals and the ilk. I watched this for the sole purpose of seeing Edward Lam's vision and stage direction. The theme song 《似曾》 sung by William Wei (韋禮安) is catchy enough for me to want to tinkle it out on the piano later and memorize those lyrics pronto. This song pretty much summarized the uhh musical. Heh.