Monday, March 30, 2015

Following Edie Banister

Read Nick Harkaway's 2012 'Edie Investigates' at the hairdresser's. (He's really Nicholas Cornwell.) When I got to the end, I yelped. So short?! That shriek of consternation was loud enough for the lady in the next seat to turn and ask if I was okay. Grrrr.

To finish a book even before a 20-minute hair treatment was completed?! I felt cheated. It stated 'eShort'. But still???! Wasn't expecting the ending to be so abrupt. What a brilliant publishing strategy. How could it just end like that??!! I want to know what happens after, not just to now-octogenarian super spy Commander RN Retired Edith J. Banister, or now just Edie Banister, but also to Tom Rice, a young junior intelligence officer.

Luckily I had 'Angelmaker' right on the Kindle and could start on it straightaway and finish it over a beer while waiting for the friends for a late dinner. Hmmmph. It's not a continuation of 'Edie Investigates'. This follows the life story of a not-that-much younger Edie Banister in action, and introduces new characters like Joshua Joseph 'Joe' Spork, the son of infamous London crime boss Matthew 'Tommy Gun' Spork. Joe doesn't like that fact made known, preferring to spend his days quietly fixing antique clocks, a skill he acquired from his grandfather. (Reviews here, here and here.)

Joe Spork's quiet days dissipated after he was 'recruited', unknowingly by a seemingly harmless old lady who asked him to fix a complicated antique clock. That was Edie Banister, a now-retired international secret agent. He somehow activated a mechanism that triggered a countdown. The doomsday countdown began dictated by this 1950s doomsday clock. Here began Joe and Edie's separate crazy escapes from evil monks called 'Ruskinites', a big-ass villain named Shem-Shem Tsien, East End villains, and basically every bad guy in the world. The names are hilarious, succeeding in that deadpan humor only the English seem to be able to pull off. Too funny.

In the end, of course Joe Spork and Edie Banister triumphed. She always does. I probably wouldn't like this book as much if she was killed. You know, it needs that bit of wild chases, crazy theories, end-the-world-stuff, bit of fantasy, save-the-day-thing, like all good crime novels do.

"The gas taps in the kittchens," Dotty Catty says. "I have arranged that they should catch fire." She beams. Somewhere to one side, one of the Ruskinites makes a horrified choking noise. Brother Denis the Ruskinite stares at her, aghast. 
"But this palace is constructed over a natural-gas reservoir," he says in horror. "The entire citadel ... You'll blow the whole place like a bomb!" 
"Yes," Dotty Catty says. "It will be very distracting/" 
And just like that, Edie Banister is having a really bad day.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Man's 40th

It's been a long while since we did these crazy parties. Nine years have flown by since the man's last birthday when he shrieked the lines of Bohemian Rhapsody into a chicken wing. Turning 40 is a good reason as any to get drinks going at our stomping ground- casual Quaich Bar and for nostalgia, Ice Cold Beer (ICB).

Getting royally sloshed once every decade sounds about right. Or perhaps the last one at this fourth decade. In case, you know, it results in strange bone-jarring encounters with walls, staircases, corners of tables and chairs, etc, all of which would be a terrible occurrence at 50 years of age. There was an impromptu pre-party at Quaich Bar. That was the quiet night out with a few buddies for gorgeous single malts. Not puking. No no no. We don't regularly puke out alcohol. What a bloody waste. Single malts, vintage cognacs and armagnacs are meant to be savored slowly. This party was such a civilized affair- sip a few drams and swing on home happy. No hangovers. Not even tipsy.

All vintages from the man's birth year- 1975.
Glenglassaugh White Rabbit,
Castarede Chateau de Maniban Vintage Bas Armagnac, and
Hine Grande Champagne, Jarnac Cognac.

The next party at Ice Cold Beer (ICB) was a riot! In 2006, the guests' drink of choice was vodka and very little beer. Now, it's whisky and a fair bit of beer. Somehow, ICB pulls a really good crisp pint of Stella Artois. It fast became the party's choice of beer for the night. Not many choices of whisky available. Didn't matter. This isn't a whisky bar. We could do with whatever they had. Glenlivet 12y.o worked. Definitely terrorized the staff at ICB. Oh well. We bought plenty of drinks. Ka-chinkk for the bar.

It was hilarious when Bohemian Rhapsody came on. Nobody requested for it! It's still one of those songs that you'll hear at a bar like this if you stay long enough. He had to re-hash the chicken wing bit. Hurhurhur. Easily done. He was tipsy enough. The last time he was this woozy, it was nine years ago right at this very spot. Hahahaha. Otherwise, our alcohol intake has remained relatively modest. At the rate the prices of single malts keep increasing, I'm not about to waste a drop of it by being even anywhere near the scale of tipsy.

We're older now; it's tough to get everyone together in one venue on one date and timing. Many friends couldn't make it down, but whoever could, made a party. Even in the photos, I could only capture half of the people since they popped in and out through the evening. Too lazy to stitch shots together. Big love to all. The man totally appreciates the texts, gifts (aiyoh you guys!), company, and most of all, your unyielding and sound friendship/s through the years.

Many healthy happy returns of the day, partner. I am glad to have met you when you were 30. I would not have liked you very much in your 20s. :P 

To the next decade, D, I appreciate you as you are. I seek not to obstruct, but to stand with you in the continued chasing of your passions, as you have done for mine. Don't stay the same. Change, evolve, become. Stretch that intellectual capacity and keep that ever-acerbic wit. May you always find the space to dream and create. Be yourself. I love you.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Don't Feel Sorry At All

It's very hard for me to find something nice to speak about this deceased woman. Others still treat her as a learned and opinionated traditional sort of tea teacher who expanded their horizons and interests. I'm glad that in some circles, she still had their respect. To me, she was nothing more than a conniving and petty person who had more than a nominal role to play in killing my enthusiasm for tea.

She intentionally squandered my goodwill and wilfully owed me $1000 which was used to pay the bidding deposit for her new HDB shop space. The next month, she had the cheek to say it to my face that since she didn't think I needed the money to be repaid urgently, she would delay returning that amount. I kept quiet and waited seven months; she said nothing till I began legal action to retrieve the amount. You didn't ask me for a gift of money. You said you would appreciate it if I could use my credit card to help out, to get online and do the whole bidding process for the unit, on your behalf, then immediately return the monies incurred. She didn't expect me to be the type who would spend $10,000 to retrieve $1,000 because it is rightfully due, and because I was made to feel like a fool. I do not enjoy being taken for a ride and viewed as a meal ticket.

Throughout my association with her, she mocked my friends whom I sent to her shop to buy tea. They left empty-handed, bemused and a tad annoyed. It was the most embarrassing recommendation and error in judgment I made. She knew I did chargeable translations freelance and still insidiously asked for 'help', insinuating that I should do pieces of work at no charge for her. When I finally put a stop to that and said no, she feigned ignorance and emailed me five times in 24 hours, well knowing I was in London on vacation. Her idea was, if I was on vacation, then I'd be very free to do unpaid work for her. She actually said it aloud. Worst kind of client ever. I stopped being bothered about that, putting it down to her ignorance, small-minded opinions and cultural differences. She then came up with juvenile shit to insult my partner, the integrity of my marriage, and my religion, repeatedly. If it had been just the money and unpaid work bit, I could have forgiven the matter, even though she didn't apologize for the inconvenience caused. But to have her throw up the concept of reincarnation and the sly suggestion that my spouse isn't suitable or good, and that my religious beliefs to be an impediment to further (tea) knowledge... that was where I drew the line. Even after I sought to clarify and told her it was inappropriate, she persisted and didn't think it wrong. I will never let that pass.

Is this considered speaking ill of her? I don't care. I have no kind words for this woman. Do I feel conflicted? No. These are facts recorded, of which I kept logs and screenshots and all as...evidence in the event it went down to the Subordinate Courts. I had written two angry posts about her on this blog. With my 2014 decision to have nothing more to do with tea whenceforth, and this third post, it closes the loop to all my angst and disgust each time I look at a cup of tea or a teapot.

News of her cancer didn't rouse emotions. Being informed of her stroke stirred indifference. Stumbling across the news of her eventual death roused reflection. I take no joy or satisfaction in her death. I hold no relief or sadness either. I'm well aware of how karma goes around. Yes it's still Lent and Palm Sunday tomorrow. My parting words to her when she was alive and well, "Karma exists." Today, I don't regret having said that. Not one bit. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

We Are Singapore

Prime Minister, I wonder if it is true that when you were leaving Cambridge your tutor said "Well, Mr. Lee, when you get back I hope you will keep the flag flying" and that you replied "When I get back I will make it my duty to get the flag down".  
If that is true, then you succeeded in this as in so many other things. 
But running up your own flag you were wise enough not to break the links which matter. 
~ so said Margaret Thatcher to Lee Kuan Yew towards the end of her speech at a formal dinner on 8 April 1985, held at the Istana Dining Room of the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. (Link to full speech.)

Felt an emotional wrench each time as I stare up at the many state flags flying at half-mast. They don't just speak of the passing of one legendary statesman. They also remind us that many many of us share similar sentiments of quiet mourning, and for some, deep sorrow, and others, ambivalence. Singapore has never felt so subdued, sombre, sad, reflective, united and cohesive all at once, regardless whether one chooses to observe the declared mourning period.

We've outdone ourselves in possessing this amazing ability to queue. In this humidity and blazing sun. It's nothing short of magnificent. I'm so pleased that Singaporeans don't just queue for freebies, burgers and Hello Kitty items. A big thank you to grassroots volunteers, civil servants, public service officers, and ordinary citizens who simply reached out to help one another. You put in extra hours to keep this country running efficiently, holding it all together so that we could go about daily affairs without interruption. We definitely appreciate you doing what you do. This is the efficiency we're known for. We get things done. This week of national mourning, we also celebrate us, Singaporeans.

There's a massive amount of kindness going around. Very touching, really. Singapore, you do have a softer side even though you show so little of it. The whining too, has impressively lessened. And dare I say this, a fair number of gracious words and acts. I see graciousness everywhere. It's lovely. If this is SG50, then this is the sort of camaraderie I want, the naturally warm and sincere people-to-people vibes. This is the Singapore I love. This week, I've never felt prouder of fellow residents, and to be Singaporean.

Tribute center at Tanjong Pagar Community Club within Tanjong Pagar GRC.
My GRC. And yes, I've never voted. Dunno about 2016.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Black Chicken Ginseng Pear Soup

For someone who doesn't like chicken, I'm fraternizing too much with it. The man had the audacity to flash me a cute grin and asked me to do black chicken soup. What. I glowered at him suspiciously. What?! It is his birthday month. All right. I'll cook him at least four different pots of soup this month. At least he's not asking for soup every day. That would be a problem. This business of boiling soup is a full-time job. Seriously.

I really don't fancy a mix of pork and chicken in my soups. Just chicken will do. Also I might have a slight OCD problem. I've zero interest in using electric thermal cookers or crock pots. In fact, I've been bo liao enough to cook the same soups in different pots and material to check out if material matters to the ultimate flavor of the soups and decide on my favorite pots. There's a ridiculous number of dutch ovens and stew pots at home. Might as well have some fun. Wanted to also look at how the soup texture and consistency turns out in double-boiling and normal fierce bubbling. I don't have that much time on hand. It's just that I like boiling soups at night because I could do about hundred other tasks simultaneously.

Went out to replenish ginseng. My stock for the year was depleted in a month. Hahahah. Came back with a gigantic bottle of sliced up pieces. Looks like they'll be used up fairly quick. This pot was just plain 'black chicken ginseng pear soup'. But it sounded more poetic in Chinese- 雪梨人參黑雞湯. Whatever, as long as it doesn't taste too sucky. I'm certainly not eating it. The man can have it all. Only scooped spoonfuls to taste at intervals to check what else is needed in it. The man seemed to like it very much. The ginseng offset the sweetness of the dried fruit and pears. Well, it's boiling up a pot of random ingredients. Not exactly real cooking. But I suppose it counts lah. #impieCooks2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brunch with the BFF

I don't fancy Café & Bar Gavroche's dinner menu or vibes. Not a fan of its big brother Brasserie Gavroche. However, I do like the cafe's brunch vibes. Must be the cheerful sun-lit airwell. Kinda nice to sit under it.

We would have done brunch at home, except sometimes, we're really too lazy to wash up and go through all the effort, even with a dishwasher or otherwise. Need to find non-hipster cafes that actually care more about their food than setting up for Instagram-worthy shots. Make a reservation and Café & Bar Gavroche never gets too crowded for a good set of eggs and brioche. They probably found a balance between diner capacity and staffing; we haven't had to wait very long for the food to arrive on the table. I get very cranky when restaurants or cafes make me wait forever and still can't get poached or scrambled eggs right. You only have one task- cook those damn eggs and toast the bread. What's so difficult about it?

Love it when weekend brunches are done with the bff. The woman can't stop flying about to stay in town long enough for long meals. To catch her, I would have to join her for circuit training or whatever gym workouts. No thanks. I is no gym rat. Pilates, parkour and the pool are more my kind of thing. We've been zipping to each other's office for quick coffees and lunches. Can lah. But more fun to linger over a leisurely meal. When it comes to food, we're equally persnickety. Luckily Café & Bar Gavroche has not failed us when it comes to its black coffee, eggs, croque-madame and croque-monsieur.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dinner For One

Came up from the evening swim and felt too lazy to head out for a bite. Didn't want bread and cheese either. Stared at the fridge and sighed. It would have to be whatever that was available and could thaw within two hours. Dinner for one. All's like a mantra thing- I would utilize the kitchen more this year. Although it seems to be getting too regular.

Had cold food for lunch. Wanted hot food for dinner. Something light-ish. Noodles. Not really a rice person unless there's curry or gravy about. Instant noodles are usually eaten at the office, on-the-go or someone else's house. If I'm at home, I prefer not to do that. The fridge would always stock fresh or frozen packs of udon thick and thin and pasta which are just as quick. Had a bunch of maitake mushrooms (舞茸、まいたけ). Perfect. Udon it was. Boiled up an easy pot of dashi.

Thawed out two fishballs (the hand-pressed sort bought from the wet market), three pieces of tau-kwa  and tau-pok, and a kurau fillet. Since the fish was to be fried, might as well fry the tau-pok too. In the end, when the items were laid out on the table, it looked like a full meal instead of a harried bowl. Very satisfying. Okaay, a fair bit sort of nutritional value in there. This wasn't exactly 'cooking'. It was just assembling things, but whatever. #impieCooks2015 So yeah, most of the time I like what comes out of my pots. :D

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Passing of An Era :: Mr Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015

I didn't live through those turbulent times pre-1965 and the years that followed. There're the oral histories, the recorded history, and the books. I read them. But I don't pretend to fully understand those times, circumstances, sentiments and politics; though I didn't agree with many of Singapore's early social and manpower policies, and still don't fully agree with them now.

I certainly raise eyebrows at many of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's unapologetic opinions and management of dissent. But the one thing I know, I'm a beneficiary of the legacy Mr Lee Kuan Yew had left even before his twilight years- a stable economy, a relatively meritocratic society, an efficient public service, an internationally-envied passport and many national achievements to be proud of. I can call many cities home, but this is a passport I will never give up. Most of all, the system has provided an excellent education in-country and overseas that has shaped my thoughts, formed beliefs, questions and outlook. I lead a privileged life of relative affluence in a country where peace prevails instead of civil strife and unrest. What is there not to be grateful about?

Mr Lee's indomitable spirit has led the way, along with many other pioneers, including dissidents right and left wing, they shaped this city-state to what it is today. It is now in our hands to preserve what we will of this legacy (in the noun's full definition and as an adjective) in order to navigate that delicate balance between paternalistic politics and liberal democracy. Are we now mature enough to shape our own policies? We should be. We must.

He is a remarkable man. This is the respect we will accord this day of his passing and during the period of mourning. In a collection of interviews in 2011, then 89 years of age, he said,

'I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that's all. I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.'

Goodbye Mr Lee. You were a respectful and devoted husband, a firm father, a committed man, a formidable mentor, a visionary, and most of all, even as you had resisted the label, an inimitable statesman of the 20th century, because that is what you are. Rest well, Sir.

Once, when she [Kwa Geok Choo] was asked on his 80th birthday in 2003, what was the most misunderstood thing about Lee, she replied, "I read somewhere that 'few elder statesmen can command as much respect and condemnation simultaneously as Lee'. I will leave it to these writers to argue which one has most misunderstood Kuan Yew." 
~ From 'Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths: To Keep Singapore Going', 2011, published by Straits Times Press.