Monday, July 06, 2015

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Had earlier wanted to buy Sonny Liew's 'The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye'. I've liked Sonny Liew's drawings for a while. However, I didn't bargain for this first print run to sell out pronto thanks to the stunt pulled by National Arts Council (NAC). I was a little too busy to hop into a bookshop to buy a copy. When I next took a look, it was all sold out. ARRRGH.

'The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye' is a graphic novel afterall, with erm 'unsavory' contents, totally not mainstream. Awesome that it's selling so well. Good on Epigram Books to take an initial hit on the print run, and did a merry second, and now a third. May all publishing costs be covered. Not going to make the same mistake. I put in pre-orders for its second print. It was delivered quickly. Hurrah.

I read it thrice, each at a sitting. First for an overall feel, a second look at the beautiful lines of the illustrations, and a third to ponder over the brilliance of satire and clever commentary, and the bravery of Sonny Liew and Epigram Books in sketching and publishing the graphic novel. It's more than entertaining. IT'S SO GOOD. It could have very well been banned or subjected to yet-to-be-implemented name and image copyright restrictions.

We ought to be slightly more than familiar with Singapore history, along with the backdrop of Malayan and regional milestones before attempting this graphic novel. Do not let anyone presume that we might, for a moment, take a satirical graphic novel as undisputed facts and a government-approved history textbook.

We should have the brains and gumption to analyze the events post-war, pre-1965, in the early years of independence, and the contentious 1970s. We should be able to discern facts from unverified assumptions, rumors and unrecorded data. Oral histories must be triple-checked and then some. Let it be said that Singaporeans have the maturity to read a non-mainstream and perhaps controversial publication and have full cognizant abilities to decide what we want to get out of it.

At the end of the day, I was not there. I wasn't born. What do I want to take away from that era? Do I know those people, do I care, and should I care? What truths, untruths and warped facts matter? We are capable of independent thought and should have our own firm answers. Political inclinations are one thing. We shouldn't offer blind faith and support. Neither is everything set in stone. If we (the forty-something-year-olds) have our set of beliefs, life experiences and knowledge gleaned from facts, then no book, speeches or whatsoever-agenda could hope to sway us from that. I suppose we just have to decide if we're thinking of 'individual expression' or 'for the greater good'.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Som Tam Cravings

Dunno where the insane craving sprung up from. But I really wanted som tam (ส้มตำ). A properly spicy and piquant Issan green papaya salad. Only three eateries in Singapore do it the way I want. Obviously this craving was satiated at Diandin Leluk. I've been plonking myself here for too many meals with different groups of friends these few months.

Ordered a regular version with no meats except for the fish sauce and shrimp paste, and another one with brined crabs and fish- som tam pu khem ส้มตำเค็มปู. Didn't get sticky rice. Opted for regular jasmine rice to go with it instead. Oh happiness. The sour, spicy and bit of sweet flavors exploded on the tastebuds with each crunch. Love it. Diandin Leluk's som tam is superb.

Couldn't resist the tom yam clear soup, and the steamed seabass in plum sauce (ปลากะพงนึ่งบ๊วย). The style of steaming is Teochew. Well, many words in Thai are similar to Teochew. บ๊วย is one of the names used to refer to this sort of small plums for Thai cooking; it's pronounced 'bu-oay', which is almost how you would pronounce it in Teochew or Hokkien. (While I understand Teochew/Hokkien almost fully, I can't seem to speak it, :p) A most satisfying dinner. It's what I call a 'light Asian meal'. Hehehe. LOVE.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Old Playgrounds

These old HDB playgrounds built in the 1980s take inspiration from local sights and items, intending to convey a sense of identity. Slides built in the designs or shapes of bumboats, trishaws, watermelons, pelicans, clocks, and dragons quickly filled newly built public housing estates, providing hours of fun for the bourgeoning population.

Till a child was injured, and international rules for playgrounds were created. People also complained about dangers of unhygienic sand and inconsiderate passers-by who threw sharp objects, spit and cigarette butts into the sand pits. Then HDB stopped building these slides in 1993 and made the switch to a supposedly safer modular style found in many cities. Many people are nostalgic about the old playgrounds. Besides the National Heritage Board's summary of their history, there're many blog posts about it.  (More information over at Jerome Lim, Singapore Memory Project/Justin Zhuang, Delphine Wee, Susan, CNNtravel and SilverKris.)

Playgrounds didn't thrill me as a kid. My caregivers were mean. They brought me to these playgrounds for a bit of a run and interaction with other children, but I wasn't allowed on the slides or hang off the rings or do any sort of jumps and flips. Those were supposedly to be properly done at the dance studio or gymnasium. While I don't feel a big sense of loss to see these old playgrounds gone, I'm glad to have seen them. These unique structures win anytime over cookie-cutter foam and beams. Playgrounds are as safe as only the caregivers' vigilant eye, and luck.

What is sad, we lack these actual playgrounds, and what happens is we get 'fake' ones. During the month-long June school holidays, we see inflatable slides and temporary plastic structures in the exact shapes of the dragons, pelicans, watermelons and all sprouting up at the front lawn of the National Museum and the indoor event space at Marina Square Mall...the sorts. I also see mini versions of the slides to be used for display at the National Day Parade performances at the Padang. THE IRONY.

After finishing an assignment in the area, and not wanting to de-brief in an office or a cafe, the work associates and I went in search of a quiet nook in the nearby HDB housing estates with loads of public space. Found one. Bought packets of cold homemade barley and lime juice from the kopitiams and went to chill out at the playground in front of Blocks 241 and 242 at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. It's one of those old ones- a baby dragon slide with new foam instead of sand. Perhaps it's the time of the day; the playground was empty. We hung out there close to an hour, enjoying the serenity. Under the shade of the trees and a light breeze, we were shielded from the sun at its zenith, this hottest hour of the day.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Crabs and Cake

Celebrated T's birthday at 3 Crab Delicacy, or 3号. It's been serving up fairly consistent zi char since 2003. Its crabs are good, but its other dishes are just as decent. For some reason, we were really into its stir-fried dry crab beehoon that night. In addition to a version in milky soup and other dishes, we ordered...three large plates. However, we didn't demolish that many crabs. Just three crabs for a table of 12. The crab-eaters went conservative. Then we adjourned to the bar for the eating of the birthday cake and light drinks. It was a week day after all. No one intended to get sloshed.

Drinks were as expected, gentle. YAYY. I just got well from a bad cold over the weekend of rushing around, and this night of the party was after a long day at work that started at 7am. So while I was hungry and ate loads, I didn't want to touch much alcohol. Literally had two sips of beer and abandoned the glass. As much as we wanted to call it an early night and everyone whining about an early start the next day, most of us left the bar at 1.30am. Oof.

This night wasn't exactly a surprise dinner or party. Pfffft. T kinda knew that there was going to be something, just not sure exactly what. So we went for the familiar. An easy zi char dinner, and a get-together of friends at the usual whisky bar. He declares that it's really difficult to surprise him after he plans so many surprise parties for everyone else. Just you wait. We don't have to do alcohol parties. One fine day we're going to kidnap you and stuff you into a beach villa somewhere.

There're many dessert fiends among this group of friends. Those couldn't make dinner, made drinks or vice versa. Birthday boy T loves cakes and ice-cream. Had to have a delicious cake for him. His partner took care of that. She asked for chocolate, peanut butter and everything in the larder to be put into the cake. Loads of effort went into organizing everything.

THE CAKE WAS EPIC. Proudly baked by the amazing Little Favors by Ethel. I understood she also threw in Snickers bars. Mind blown. Ethel does amazing desserts and tries to lower the sugar level in the 'cake'/sponge portions for people like me. The topping was kept for those with a sweet tooth. T isn't that old and we could place the required number of candles onto the cake. Yup, all of them. 37 tall cheerful sticks. Hurhurhur.

To you, dude. To your 37th and many more. 

Said epic cake from Little Favors by Ethel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Baybeats 2015

It was a hectic but fantastic weekend spent at events of O.P.E.N and Baybeats and other work events! Was literally zooming around venues of 72-13 for the symposiums, The Projector for the films and Esplanade for the gigs. I brisk-walked between these venues. It was blooody hot but it was faster to walk than get all angsty over getting a cab or a bus especially on Saturday. Traffic was horrible- both vehicular and human. The NDP rehearsals were going on at Padang, roads were closed and the entire area was ridiculously congested.

O.P.E.N as a pre-festival over three weekends is pretty cool except for a strange intervention by MDA which resulted in the festival withdrawing the screening of 'Tony Manero' and 'A German Youth'. Very annoying because I bought the festival pass mainly to watch these two films in an indie cinema with a fairly restricted type of theatre-goers. It's an arts festival, ffs. Please keep your nose out of it, MDA. Beerfest was also happening at the Marina Promenade but I ignored it. In the matter of priorities in an ultra-packed weekend, chugging beer wasn't high. To that, I also gave up my tickets to Lars Voght at the Victoria Concert Hall since I've already missed Imogen Cooper.

Left: Seyra ; Right: arson.
Photos © Aloysius Lim. He takes the best photos of gigs and musicians. 

At least nobody cut anything out of Baybeats. Stoked to watch new bands and familiar older ones light up the stages. Although I've to admit that year on year, the bands are getting younger only because I'm getting older. *shrug* Many good bands who rehearsed like crazy to play at the festival. Hard to pick favorites. Couldn't catch every act but glad to have heard many. I'm not partial towards to heavy punk/death rock though.

The first evening saw an easy introduction to the lighter side of indie music, with SeyraMatajiwa (Indonesia) and The Caulfield Cult (Singapore). Happy to hear Caracal and Riot !n Magenta again. Even better to see newly-formed arson get better with each live show.

There was new small stage set up for 'Mixtape', a throwback to the bands of the yesteryears, like a tribute to the bands who played then. Mixtape was presented by Awakening Productions' John Chiong and Rockstar Collective's Razi Razak. For the first two nights, Typewriter included guest Esther Lowless, and Surreal had Caracal's KC Meals. The Fire Fight jammed with Benjamin Kheng of The Sam Willows and wrapped up the final night of Baybeats 2015. It had been a long time since I saw The Fire Fight live. The boys have grown up. Woohoo.

What a weekend! Crazy weather, but the shows rocked it all out. Pure adrenalin. It was awesome. Thank you music-people, and Esplanade!

Reunited after eight years- The Fire Fight.
Ah yes, that's a cut-out of Uncle Allahudin at the back.
He had a provision shop and generously supplied drinks and snacks to Wake Me Up Music
when it was a shop at Margaret Drive from 2002-2007.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lunch With Missy

Missy knows that Y and I meet without her for coffee during the school term. So the moment school holidays came around, she wanted in on lunches too. Muahahaha. Okay, little girl. We made a date at Prego for lunch. She excitedly showed me her touch-screen camera, the controls, how she could shift the auto-focus and brighten photos. She stopped us from tucking in immediately when the food arrived, and shifted table items around, eagerly snapping photos. Oops. Y and I had this look as we stared at each other. Oh dear, what have we done? Never mind.

Missy is quite the lovely lunch companion. She's very used to hanging out at cafes, tea-time, dainty crockery and all that. She enjoys sitting with us at lunch, reading the menu and deciding what to eat. She doesn't get bored that way. If Y and I are chatting and she doesn't want to interrupt, then she asks for paper to draw and scribble on, usually setting picture riddles and questions for us to guess, like Pictionary, except with a kinder timing.

Ahhh, this little doll. Six months as a Primary One student, and she has changed so so much. There's a certain jauntiness in her facial features, and a subtle shift in this greater confidence when making decisions. It's very easy to expect more of her because she feels so much older than her seven years. We forget that she's still so very young. I'm secretly very happy that she still wants Aunty Imp to hold her hand as we stroll the streets. Don't grow up too fast, sweetie pie.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Jumping Bodies and Identities Again

I resisted getting Claire North's latest novel 'Touch' as long as I could. Succumbed after three months. Clearly Catherine Webb likes her pseudonyms. She has nicely separated the genres under each identity. Kate Griffin's voice is nothing like Claire North's.

Like her first 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', we are back to this concept of ouroboros. 'Touch' should be finished in one sitting. Grinned, settled in for the afternoon and read the book to IEHAC's 'The Kraken' track 12- 'Ouroboros'(Reviews hereherehere and here.)

A non-gendered entity named Kepler has the ability to leap from body to body to survive for centuries. Kepler can be male or female. It doesn't seem to have a preference. But there isn't time traveling involved. It can't do that. It has memories and competencies gleaned. The consciousness of these willing and unwilling 'hosts' are put to sleep when Kepler is in uhh residence, and when they wake, they remember nothing and only know they've lost time, be it minutes, an hour or thirty years. Ghosts, these entities called themselves.

The story is riveting enough. Of Kepler jumping bodies to go after the man Nathan Coyle who killed his last host and tried to kill him, occupying the body of Coyle, and even working together to find out what this shadowy organization Aquarius was up to in its research, experiments and planned murders,  a secretive sponsor, and what an old nemesis Galileo had to do with everything. But the conspiracy portion isn't sinister enough. Dunno, but murder and torture in these plots is too commonplace. There's something about the idea of beauty, being beautiful and being loved, something about the vibrancy of life sought by the 'enemy' Galileo. Then we're back to this concept of love. Of a very human love. And that was when the book lost me. Like everything had to go back to 'love', as an ideal, not so much of romance. I get it, yet I don't get it.

I am the stranger who gave you the white flowers she carried in her hand
the face you forget as it turned away
I am beautiful
until I see that she is more beautiful than me
and he more beautiful again
so beautiful and never enough
I am the woman who stood on your foot on the train
jostled you in the queue
asked you for the time
I am the ancient man who has forgotten his name
the tired old woman who wished to be someone else.
I am no one.
I am Kepler.
I am love.
I am you.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Le Chasseur at Eunos

We haven't stopped by Le Chasseur (樂食軒) for the longest time. It's been at its current Eunos location for almost two years now. Situated in a foodcourt within the industrial area, while it's only a 10-minute walk from Eunos MRT station, it's a bit far for us. But we try to go occasionally. Just ignore the name okay, it's kinda got historical meaning for its owner-chef. No air-conditioning, no problem. Dress light and we're all good. We love its chicken claypot rice which uses basmati grains instead of the usual jasmine rice. The eatery declared that it doesn't sprinkle additional MSG into its food.

When L stepped into town, it was the perfect reason to gather up a small table of four for her to have a taste of what zi char is. She didn't have time to do that with us during the last trip. She was kinda done with crabs, prawns and shellfish. So we skipped the seafood zi char stalls and the standard crab items. Le Chasseur totally hit a spot with its other stir-fried dishes. Home-style. Ordered very conservatively as we erm had a first round of nibbles at Amoy Street Food Center, and happy gin cocktails at The Spiffy Dapper.

L was totally into laksa on this trip and aimed to eat as many variations as possible. Not with those blood cockles though. She fell in love with the spices of the otah and was thrilled with the otah omelette, and also sambal kangkong. She could easily find dou miao back at home at a Din Tai Fung, so we had the big pea shoots instead. She has never really done good clear Asian soups except the Thai tom yam variations. She couldn't stop sipping the piquant salted vegetables and duck soup. Her tastebuds were completely charmed by it. Le Chasseur does a lovely one. We love it too. It's probably the only dish we would order as a large portion. Oof.

Le Chasseur (樂食軒) 
27 Eunos Road 2 S409387 
T: +65 63377677 (Reservations recommended for big groups)