Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Wore A Black Cat

The bff always knows what to get for me. For my birthday, she picked out the most beautiful fitted mandarin collar blouse from Taiwanese label Iohll. In the perfect size, of course. She has never bought me any pieces of clothing that required sending back to the boutique for alteration or a swop of sizes.

Totally squealed when I opened the wrapped gift. This blouse. Black. Cat. Black cat with gleaming luminous eyes. TOTAL LOVE. Mad love. I want to wear it everywhere, all the time. If I ever make the commitment to have pets, I would want to adopt a dog and a cat, preferably in jet black.

I really wanted to wear this for visiting during Lunar New Year. But I suppose it would get me chased out of the houses. People are oddly superstitious even when they say they're not. Ah well. There're other occasions to wear it. Lunches, dinners, work, whatever. My entire wardrobe is sorted in these sombre colors anyway. It's not often that I'm in a so-called cheerful color. I've taken the cat out for a stroll for few times now, wearing it with shorts, jeans or pants. LOVE.

Le Wu Cafe

When E texted dinner venue to be "Le Wu", I was completely bewildered. Thai food in a cafe with a French name? Okay, being Singapore, I shouldn't be surprised. What on earth is 'The Wu'? The owners are named 'Wu'? Then I realized, it's two Chinese words, Le Wu, or 樂屋, loosely translated into 'House of Joy/Happiness'. OICcccc. The girls have been eating there since forever. I don't know this place. I only know the other tiny Thai noodles cafe at Coronation Plaza.

I didn't realize that Emerald Thai at Greenwood Avenue, and Le Wu at the junction of Queen's Road off  Crown Center (adjacent to Coronation Plaza) are sister cafes. Had gone by Emerald Thai and didn't like its food and cooking style. I prefer Le Wu's old-school vibes. Very mediocre food but nostalgic. Heh. Reminds me of those cafes I always hop into to get a croquette after swim classes decades ago. Didn't mind sitting outdoors on an almost cool evening. We had been all bundled up in freezing seminar rooms the whole day. Didn't even mind the buses that shrieked by the bus-stop right outside the cafe. Noisy, but okay lah. You could sit upstairs in kinda stinky and stuffy air-conditioning.

Casual Thai food with my favorite people. Funnily, we wrapped our work-day and traveling from different directions, all got to the cafe 30 minutes earlier than the appointed time. It was good to sit down and take off our 'work faces'. Random impromptu dates that keep us smiling. That's the beauty of friendship.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lunch at Bollywood Veggies

The moment the friends got in to town, they wanted to buy the man a belated birthday lunch. He requested to makan at Bollywood Veggies' bistro. We love its concept and its food. It's a nice drive up too. Importantly, given a fun itinerary, these friends wouldn't whine about distance or weather, so we knew they would kinda enjoy the trek out west. It's always cool to do heritage or nature trails with them too.

You know, each time we come, we always miss out on nasi lemak. It's always sold out. That lunch wasn't any different. Grrrr. The vegetarian platter was good. Tempura of fried leaves. Yummy. Included dhal and potato curry. The platter came with brown and white rice so that we really didn't need to order anything else, but we still did. Greedy lah. The man couldn't resist trying the nasi biryani. He liked their version. Had cabbage omelette. That lemak nangka kampung was GOOD. Young jackfruit boiled in coconut milk with a few drops of turmeric. They named it 'jackfruit lemak'.

It never fails to rain during each visit to Bollywood Veggies. Hahahaha. This round, of course it rained and threw us off visiting Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve after lunch. There weren't many people out and about that afternoon. Maybe it was the dreary weather. We settled for a little trot around the farm. It was still drizzling. The friends laughed off my offer of an umbrella. Pffft. I wasn't keen on getting my head wet, even if it was a five-minute stroll. :P Merrily went home with four-angled beans (winged beans, yayy), banana cakes and bunches of pisang-something.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Picking Up A Cue

C and I met earlier at Ice Cold Beer before the rest of the humans arrived. We wanted to plonk coins into the pool table. I played there three weeks ago- two games on my own. Kinda missed it. I hadn't touched a cue for a loooong time. Tonight was a beer date though, not for pool. But C is a fantastic player. Couldn't pass up the opportunity to play against a human. Might as well have a few rounds. Best of five. :) Used ICB's the corner 7-footer away from the bar where not many people want to play at because of the wall and human snooks. The table held a crap cushion, unpolished balls and lousy cues. (PS: Happy 21st, ICB!)

8-ball and 9-ball used to be a regular thing. Competitions and whatnots. I was practicing three hours a day. Every.Single.Day. For like three years. On days when there weren't scheduled sessions, I would get out to the pubs for fun. Well, playing against humans at all levels and watching competition games are the best ways to observe strategies and tactics. It was an ego-boost too! In the sense that I played to win. Losing wasn't on the plan. :P Then life got in the way and it became a weekly thing instead. After a while, the traveling and many trips began and I simply didn't bother to make regular dates to play anymore. Grinned when I caught bits of CSI Las Vegas on AXN last night. It was S15E10- 'Dead Rails'. On what else, pool, hustlers and a murder.

Was gleeful to know I could still see the angles, feel the cue-to-ball, and place my shots. Hadn't lost the touch to finish a game in two cues on a tiny table. Sadly, the one-cue games aren't possible until I've had some practice. Had fun with C! Cues were terrible leh. No glove too. Wasn't keen to play longer. Heh. Plus I wanted to start on the beer. I don't drink when I play. Alcohol affects my reading of the game and hinders focus on the shots. Don't need to pick this up again regularly lah. I don't even own any cues. Random games once in a bit are fine; while I defer to better players, I still don't like losing. LOL. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Does the Nordic Model Still Work?

Attended a panel discussion by the Ambassadors of Denmark, Norway and Sweden to Singapore on the Nordic model of growth, values and welfare. Moderated by Donald Low of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the discussions touched on the pressing socio-economic issues faced by each country.

How could the Nordic societies refine its welfare model in order to compete globally and still be socially coherent?

Denmark (H.E. Berit Basse) spoke about its economic growth outlook, and its green agenda and transition to becoming the world's first fossil-free country. Norway (H.E. Tormod Cappelen Endresen) shared its thoughts on the role of trust in society, the effects of falling oil prices on its economy and the value of trust in society. Sweden (H.E. Håkan Jevrell) talked about its approach to innovation, entrepreneurship for the future, the digital economy and its immigration policies which challenge its distribution of welfare funds.

It was a good hour of listening to the speakers and hearing the questions posed by the audience after. There was this strong thread of the concept of 'mutual trust' brought up as the intangible force binding the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries' coalition governments seemed to have found a balance between politics and efficient delivery of public services, and gained trust from its citizenry. Denmark stressed that "nobody really want to live on unemployment benefits", and it's also the people who would want to work and contribute to the greater good of the society. Norway mentioned that when the welfare state worked well, there would be this belief and feeling of 'we're in this together', allowing for bigger redistribution (of income and wealth); people trust that someone would benefit.

There're heated discussions floating around on whether Singapore should head that way or how good the Nordic societies have it in comparison to us. Well, while some opinions are born of idealism, many are valid. It is a sort of testament to our economic progress, education opportunities and growth of civil discourse that we can debate these issues not just politically or academically or society-at-large, but indivudally and across social spheres. All good I say. It's something the electorate should think about, in relation to all taxes, the quality of government medical provisions, pension funds (erm CPF in our case) and what we can do for ourselves.

On a personal note, while I embrace certain aspects of the Nordic welfare model, for example, education and policies bridging social inequality, I'm not so enamored with the others, say, its provision of medical services for its citizens, or its concept of efficiency in delivering public services (not just transport). It's all a matter what we would like to see in our society. Looking at the consumerism that marks this city, and the always-pressing economic concerns, can we accept egalitarianism? It's impossible to create a Utopia. Some cities work and some don't. But we're a city and a country. We don't have the luxury of moving to another city within Singapore if something doesn't work for us. Singapore residents are lucky to have this choice instead of worrying about war, guns, religious strife, and civil and political unrest. We're back to this word and concept I'm incredibly suspicious about- trade-offs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The BFF's 37th

There was a theme going on for the bff's birthday dinner and drinks. Pink, and Hello Kitty. I should have known. My wardrobe has neither. I didn't even have pink varnish on the nails! Found her a pink birthday card. Not a milestone year. No need to do crazy drinking... or so she thought. This was like one of her many makan and drinks thingies over two weeks. Love having her in town.

First there was a filling dinner at Lollapalooza. The table adjourned to Jigger & Pony. I avoided the cocktails and that bottle of gin on the table and stuck to whisky, and sparkling water. We did rather civilized sips. I cringed when shots were ordered. Eh, I didn't instigate it. Three shots only for the birthday girl. A lovely dram of Plantation dark rum at ABV 73%, almost sweet; smelt lovely. Then a vile mix of sambucca or ouzo, vodka, and from the color, I believe, Jägermeister. Eioowwww. It was rounded off by a complimentary light sweet-ish cocktail; a very sweet gesture from the bar. Thank goodness the bar didn't do flaming drinks. My stomach churned as I watched her down the shots. The man just did those two weeks ago, way worse than what bff did. Hahaha! Oeh, they made me do that for a few years running. Their turn. *unsympathetic shrug (I'd better not spend my next few birthdays in any venue that serves alcohol.)

The birthday girl conceded defeat. Called it a night at 2am. I was in charge of ensuring that she got home fine. She didn't look like she needed someone to sit with her. Heheheheh. Trust me, I've seen her drink through the years! Woohoo. Packed the bff into an Uber and tracked her route all the way home. She was still texting people, and me. Okay lah, not drunk. Tipsy. Tipsy's fine. Hurhurhur. She woke up cool the next day at 9.30am. With a pounding headache and and queasy stomach. In time for lunch with her mom. Oooh. A celebration to her health and happiness for a year well lived, and to the next.

Happy 37th, darling. You're awesome. Love you much. xxxooo.

Monday, April 13, 2015

About The Nordic Model

A welfare state is the concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility of those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization. 
Modern welfare states include countries such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland which employ a system known as the Nordic Model. 
~ John McCormick's 'Comparative Politics in Transition'.

For both work research and personal interest, the desk has been piled high with case studies and journals about the political, economic, social systems of the four main Nordic countries- Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. These topics and comparisons were intensely debated during university and the years as an office-bound minion. The readings scrutinized every aspect of the Nordic model- from the tax structures and delivery of public services to labor market developments, provision of medical and welfare benefits to its citizens.

Okay, to preface, this post isn't an academic dissertation or a politcal comment. This isn't a skeleton for any presentation papers. Certainly not going to cite references or posit arguments on a personal blog. Form your own.

I was happy to plough through a number of readings online, on the Kindle, then borrowed the rest from the library. They're lengthy and could be tedious. But they help to clarify preconceived notions, review the policies of the welfare state since the early twentieth century, and provide articulate and different viewpoints to help me build a substantial opinion.

There's the backdrop of 'The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015' by World Economic Forum. There're Mary Hilson's 2008 'The Nordic Model: Scandinavia since 1945', Lejf Moos' 2013 'Transnational Influences on Values and Practices in Nordic Educational Leadership: Is there a Nordic Model?'T.K. Derry's 2000 'A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland', et cetera.

Made an effort to read this one published in 2014 by the Nordic Council of Ministers (Norden)- 'The Nordic model - challenged but capable of reform'. Scandinavia has significantly shifted to the right since their tax-and-spend policies of the 80s and 90s. Almost Thatcherism-like. Their modern welfare state system is rooted in the early twentieth century. Nordic countries have largely avoided Europe's debt woes (clearly not mentioning Iceland and Finland here) and America's inequality and huge healthcare issues. However, it calls to question if their public spending that forms a huge portion of the GDP is sustainable. Scandinavia is battling issues of immigration, integration, increased burden on the systems, and wealth inequality. Norden identified challenges in five areas: 

1. Productivity growth 2. Human capital accumulation 3. The tax system 4. The sustainability of public finances 5. Employment

The million-dollar question for the next fifty years of Singapore's development, I suppose, is how do we sustain economic growth and stability, while strengthening the social safety nets without compromising efficiency and global competitiveness, or levy phenomenal taxes. And of course, this is open to debate among residents and citizens of Singapore. How do we want to do this? Where do we want to end up? I'm curious; there's a chance I'll be still be alive in 50 years, perhaps senile and bedridden, desperately requiring state welfare.

At the Annual Dinner of the Economic Society of Singapore in 2012, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his speech,

We face a fundamental choice as a society – do we want low taxes and targeted welfare benefits; or high taxes on all and comprehensive welfare? Singapore has chosen the first; the Scandinavians the second. The Scandinavian model works for them, because the Scandinavians are very different societies from Singapore, and developed Europe is a very different region from emerging Asia. The Scandinavians are rich in natural resources, with a large and affluent continent as their hinterland and major market. They live in a peaceful and stable continent, and can safely spend much less on defence. They have very long histories as homogeneous societies, whose members are willing to pay high taxes in exchange for high social protections for all. I do not believe that Singaporeans would be willing to pay the taxes that Scandinavians pay, or that our economy could be competitive at such heavy tax rates. 
Of course without being as generous as the Scandinavians, we could still increase our social spending and raise our taxes moderately as part of a new social compact. Within limits, that is indeed what we need to do in the longer term, with an ageing population and growing health care needs. But the limits are tighter than many people realise. For decades we have gradually reduced our income tax rates, and partially made up with indirect taxes like the GST, in order to stay competitive with other Asian economies like Hong Kong. This has helped to foster growth, and increase the resources available to strengthen our social compact. Raising taxes will do the opposite, long before they reach Scandinavian levels. 
[link to above Paragraphs 33 and 34 in the PM's speech in 2012]

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fish, Apple, Daikon and Escarole Soup

The man came home complaining about how a bowl of soup at lunch made his throat scratchy. "Must be the MSG!" It would be the first time ever that he complained about too much MSG. He doesn't seem to be very affected by it usually. I winced and sighed. If that wasn't a hint, I didn't know what it was. Offered to cook him another nice pot of soup.

Asian-style fish, apple, daikon and escarole soup. Easy. Takes only an hour over medium fire. You could use fish head I suppose. But I'm not cooking for 10 people. For that, heads of the sea bream and amberjack are preferred. At home, only four bowls of soup are needed. For boiling down, I simply picked a mix of four fillets of tarakihi, grouper and snapper. This wasn't meant to be herbal soup. Not bothered to use toman or haruan or heads. Whichever white fish fillets would do. Seared the fillets before plonking them into the pot.

A bulb of yellow onion, a few gingko nuts and slices of ginger went in too. Handle raw gingko nuts with care. Use sparingly. They've got neurotoxins as scary as apricots and all. Remember to dig out the eeky kernel from the center of fresh de-shelled nuts. Definitely didn't put in any chicken feet or pork ribs. NO. Fish soup means exactly that. No other strange meats. Not even bothered with prawn heads or clams. If I do that, then this turns into a bouillabaisse, of which I can also do extremely well.  That will be for another post. :)

I don't like ordering fish soup at restaurants because very few kitchens bother to strain the fish scales, tiny bones and whatnot. It's not enjoyable having to spit out things with each spoonful. When I do it at home, it makes drinking it much more pleasant. The man was pleased with the soup. Hurhurhur. I am pleased with it too. Of course I sipped it. Subtle. A light bowl of broth but not lacking in flavors.