Tuesday, September 19, 2017

At Piao Ji Fish Porridge

It was a Saturday at noon, and still the queue at Piao Ji Fish Porridge (標記魚粥) at Amoy Street Food Center averaged 35 minutes. Good lawwd. One could literally clear emails and pay for bills while waiting in line. It was more bearable today because most of the stalls were closed and foot traffic was minimal; there were no office crowds too.

The friends and I came here after gym class in dri-fit gear, so we didn't mind sweating it out. I'll never understand how people can deal with eating at this food center in the crazy heat on week days. There was a constant breeze coming through this afternoon, so it wasn't so bad. Still! Sipping hot soup + our humidity = being completely drenched by the time we were done with the meal. Luckily we were headed straight home to get a cold shower.

The stall doesn't offer any options for fried fish slices. Just freshly broiled in soup. For carbs, they don't seem to do noodles or beehoon either. One could only pick steamed white rice. Didn't need the carbs. I wasn't too hungry, so just the portion of protein and soup were fine for me. Since we queued so long for it, I got a big portion. Hahahaha. S$12 for the large bowl. The slices of mackerel were superb. Came with fish roe too. Quite treat dipping them into the chilli and soy sauce. Wheeeeee!

Piao Ji Fish Porridge (標記魚粥)
7 Maxwell Road Singapore 069111
#02-100/103 Amoy Street Food Centre
Hours: Daily 10.30am to 3pm; closed on Thursdays

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Island of Manticura

Picked up Nuraliah Norasid's 'The Gatekeeper' (2017). A fantasy world 3000 years into the future where humans and non-humans of Cayanese, Feleenese, Scereans, Tuyuns, live together in seeming harmony on the island of Manticura.

Two medusas with writhing snakes for hair- younger sister Ria and older sister Barani, live with their human grandmother in the farthest part of a village in Krow City. Attending a regular school doesn't turn out so well, and the boy Barani likes betrays her, never actually wanting to marry her. Tragedy happens when the grandmother die, and the villagers want to take their land. In confusion and anger, 10-year-old Ria turns the entire village into stone. The sisters flee to an underground city of Nelroote which accepts them, since every resident is a non-human, and after a war and 50 years later, Nelroote and its entrance are shrouded by a cemetery.

Almost predictably, in this time of 50 years later, a human-minora, a Changer (who can shapeshift from his usual human form into his animal form, is hard to kill and has talons for fingernails) model Eedric (Jonathan) Shuen comes along to move Ria's heart. Eedric Shuen's fancy urban cosmopolitan world is completely different from Ria's. Since medusas age differently, now a young lady still, Ria is the gatekeeper of Nelroote. This is more than a romantic development. There's a raid on Nelroote, prisoners taken, and the medusas hunted down, and how a pregnant Ria is captured and used for scientific research, or as a weapon.

I like the ending, in how Ria couldn't escape the demons of her past, and is still very much manipulated by her circumstances and politics. As in all fantasy, there're lessons in there, of races and how people deal with others who are different. But let's not consider that in the context of Singapore or her social construct, or that it's written by a Singaporean, or that it won a local book award. I simply read it as it should be- a debut fantasy novel by a newly minted author.

More prisoners had by then emerged from their cells and all of them were looking at her. There was uncertainty in a lot of their expressions; puzzlement as to what she was doing there. Perhaps a few were eyeing her a little too eagerly—too hungrily—and she knew it was a dangerous place for her, me-tura or not. She cast a final glance up at the window and thought she could make out the forms of people watching her from behind it. 
She did not expect the announcement at all when it blared from an invisible sound system: "Attention, wards. The first to kill the medusa will earn a president's pardon." 
This brought new life to the eyes that now cast themselves upon her, even in those who were resigned to their capital fate. She found herself feeling disgusted by this new sport. She had thought, from the clean streets and the ordered stacks of homes, that this country, this Manticura that others had once fought for, that still more had trusted—that this country would have in it a sense of justice, if not for people like her, then at least for the full-bellied people of their middles and those on top. 
Yet, at the same time, she was not surprised. She understood. She was not to die that day. In that moment, it felt as if she was no more than a severed head stuck upon the shield that the nation-state sought to build. For what? Against who? Ria realised she was no longer in any position to ask. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sonic Flow™ the Second Time

This two-hour Sonic Flow™ with Amanda Ling focuses mainly on sound therapy. No floating in a pod like the last round. This second session offered a more in-depth understanding than the first one I attended, and felt wayyy better. Perhaps it was the wood flooring that transmitted sound vibrations from the bronze alloy bowls much better than a concrete floor. Perhaps it was because my circadian rhythm prefers stretching out in the day over the nights. Or maybe because the two hours taken this time felt less rushed than a one-hour session.

Dunno how to describe the yoga portion since I don't actually do yoga. Neither do I know much about it. This session was supposed to be a yin-yang flow which stretches out the lower body. Lots of hips, quads, toes and feet. After stretching out, we had a good 30 minutes of sound therapy. Laid down (yogis call it 'savasana') to enjoy the sound waves wash over us. That felt wonderful.

Amanda explained that the each bowl represented the seven chakras and the right use of it in producing sounds would guide meditation and rebalance chakras. Okaaaay. I was lost. I did better with information on music theory and math- in terms of how each bowl is tuned to an interval of fifths, the tritone. The layered binaural beats (+2 or -2) soothe the mind and help to clear it of thoughts. I was able to filter out the traffic sounds, the irritating pop music from ceiling speakers of the shop downstairs, the dragging of a trolley past the shophouse, et cetera. Sank deep down into a state of relaxation. I was thinking about...nothing. I was just happily floating in my mind space. Till Amanda 'called' us back to reality with three gentle chimes on the tingsha.

At the end, Amanda had time and could come to each of us to place the bowl on our preferred areas on the body and make it sing. That was fun to feel the vibrations sinking down into the body. I really couldn't tell if the sound vibrations help with chasing away physical aches and pains. However, stretching and a quiet relaxation window with minimal sound pollution and appropriate sound accompaniment would.

The practitioner, the person creating those sounds from bowls, will affect the sounds. It's like, no two guitarists will play the same riff exactly so. (I like Amanda's style.) It could be in the way they strike the bowls, the pacing, the material on the mallets or it could also be their frame of mind. I wouldn't know. The whole premise of sound healing could be quackery, or not. New Age? Definitely. It's like the matter of crystals. If you believe in them and lovingly bathe them in moonlight, then they work for you. As long as a session of sound healing achieves your desire of chilling out or have a calm moment to yourself amidst crazy work deadlines, then I suppose it's all good.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Teochew Porridge Dinners At Tanjong Katong

On nights without cravings or plans, the man and I do casual dinners. After a long day, we don't exactly feel like cooking or ask the helper to whip up a meal at short notice. We head to Heng Long Teochew Porridge (興隆潮州糜・飯) in the east in Tanjong Katong. This isn't the outlet at Upper Serangoon Road since that's too far for us. The Serangoon outlet seems to be a magnet for disgruntled customers given to flipping tables. :P

Food has always been all right at this non-air-conditioned eatery. No complaints so far. It's a Teochew porridge stall offering sufficient variety of dishes; it's honest, basic sustenance done decently. Nothing gourmet about it. You could eat a not-too-oily, not-deep-fried or carb-laden meal for two under S$35, including a small fish. That's a steal in Singapore. It's cheaper than us buying groceries to cook the same dishes at home.

The other evening, we picked a steamed mullet done Teochew style. They butterfly filleted it for us and served with salted vegetables. Steaming the fish with the scales intact ensured that the meat doesn't dry out. That was delicious. Tonight, we chose an already steamed regular sea bream tail. It was over-steamed, but it tasted okay in soy sauce. That's how it is when the tail or fillet is placed out for diners' selection. We didn't select one from the tray of fresh fish. The man wanted the stir-fried pork liver with chives. Heh. He doesn't get that often, so he orders it at any chance he gets. On nights like this, bits of salt, fish, vegetables, eggs and tofu made for a fairly nutritious enough meal. The stomach was happy.

Heng Long Teochew Porridge (興隆潮州糜・飯) 
240 Tanjong Katong Road Singapore 437028
(at intersection of Parkstone Road, and opposite Eng's Noodle House)
Hours: Daily, 10.30am to 3.30am

Thursday, September 14, 2017

TypeWriter's New EP & DIIV

TypeWriter doing their groove.

TypeWriter (Singapore)

Managed to squeeze in two gigs over the final busy weekend of SIFA happenings. Didn't take much to decide going to the launch of TypeWriter's new five-song EP 'What You're Feeling Is Not Enough' over Dashboard Confessional's gig (with a full band instead of just Chris Carrabba. Haizzzz.).

While TypeWriter's indie pop-rock songs aren't quite my cup of tea, they're quite an easy introduction to a decent example of local sounds. They apparently have a new one titled 'The Golden Mile' that isn't in this EP, but it would go into their next EP. Yeah they played it. It's kinda cool that they stuck it out through their day jobs to keep writing, for nothing else but a love of the music. It was a pretty fun night.

DIIV (Brooklyn, New York City, USA)

Not like I'm a big fan of DIIV, but I didn't mind checking them out live once. It's just less motivating to do so when ticket prices are S$60 here instead of the super reasonable range in Seattle which we very much appreciate. In fact, I only bought a ticket (online) on the morning of the scheduled gig.

Led by Zachary Cole Smith, the five-piece Brooklyn band has like, two albums- 'Oshin' (2012) and 'Is The Is Are' (2016). It was a short 80-minute set. Went with zero expectations and came away feeling okay. It wasn't the best show, but it was decent.

At least the venue didn't suck. It was held at The Pavilion at Far East Square. We were skeptical about it. All that glass. The sound system was pared down, but it seemed to work for the venue. The band sounded good live, much better than what I heard over the earphones.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

'Trojan Women'

I hemmed and hawed before committing to a night at Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) and National Theatre of Korea's commissioned 'Trojan Women'. It's described as "a contemporary Asian musical created from K-pop and pansori". It's an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 'The Trojan Women' (1965), itself an adaptation of Euripedes’ 415 BC Greek classic.

From the essence of a tale said to have happened around 1200BC that intrigued Homer, Trojan Women has been reinvented. Composed by celebrated master-artist, pansori singer and National Treasure, Ms Anh Sook-sun, in collaboration with K-pop composer extraordinaire, Jung Jae-Il, along with renowned Beijing choreographer Wen Hui’s signature movement work, Trojan Women tells the story of women in war in a showcase of gripping power and cross-cultural beauty.

I'm not a fan of K-pop, K-dramas, K-food, and not keen on musicals or operas at all. Watching them expanded my world, yes, but it doesn't mean I'm enthusiastic about them or enjoy them. It's simply a neccesary form of education. The only reason I went to 'Trojan Women' was to satisfy my curiosity- it's women-centric, and because it's directed by Ong Keng Sen, SIFA's festival director (in his swan song and last season for the festival) and every printed paragraph now refers to him as 'Founding Festival Director'. Hehehe.

I'm going to miss the quirky and brave programing of SIFA under Keng Sen. It's a trail he has blazed, pushing boundaries and making the authorities a tad nervous. But that's art isn't it? I wasn't fond of the milk and toast programs under the old umbrella of then Singapore Arts Festival. That was such lip service. I'm definitely an appreciative audience of SIFA these four years- edgy shows and content, and reasonable ticket prices. I really don't have confidence in our arts council in terms of letting boundaries float a little. Our government has such thin skin, and they can be such bureaucrats. In an interview with The Guardian published 9 September 2017, Keng Sen said,

“Singapore is [portrayed as] this kind of garden paradise, but you don’t know where the landmines are. And of course most tourists won’t step on them, but for locals there are lots of controls ... I want to reveal them, to have a more transparent society.” 
Until Ong came on board to revive the festival, it had been curated by the government and had therefore been exempt from licensing restrictions. “They forgot about that for the first year, and in the first year we had carte blanche,” Ong says. “But in my second year, the censorship came back.”

There was a lot of wailing in 'Trojan Women'. I already steeled myself for that, but to actually sit through it...was..., never mind. I was thankful for the musical's minimalist approach in its stage sets, costumes and colors (white, grey and red). That made it easy on the eyes. In an interview of Arirang News last November when the musical ('changgeuk') debuted in Seoul, Korea, Ong Keng Sen said, "The less we put on stage, the clearer we can imagine." I agree. I understand there's a local version of this play that was staged in 1991, also directed by Ong Keng Sen, but I was too young to know it then.

This was performed in Korean and of course there were English surtitles. So I understood what they were singing and how and why the story developed as it did. I admired the treatment and the production of the Korean pansori; appreciated the skills of the actors and musicians. Unfortunately the finer points of the pansori, its lament, and its songs are completely lost on me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Kerala Flavors

Went out to Spice Junction for some Kerala spices. It's a great lunch venue. We rarely attempt Indian cuisine for dinner unless it's an easy vegetarian set or two pieces of prata-bawang with fish curry. With the sort of good food to be expected, it's best to have it at lunch so you have the rest of the day to digest it. :P

Since it was Onam, we've had loads of fantastic vegetarian foods (in addition to the usual choices). So we could afford a little meat this week. Everyone went for the curry fish sets. We came late this afternoon and the kitchen ran out of brown rice already; had to settle for steamed white rice. Pfffft. It was hilarious how everyone took the little bowl of payasam to place it aside so nobody would accidentally would take the sweet with the savory or pour the sweet over the rice. Since we had a nice party of five, we added on a fried mackerel with a local twist of chilli-sambal over it, chicken curry (the thicker version without coconut milk) and mutton Malabar.

I like the prawn biryani at Spice Junction. It uses small prawns, but at S$14, the rice is gorgeous and the gravy well-scented. That's the whole point of the dish for me. It's never about how big those prawns are. It's always about the flavors. While it's a struggle for me to finish the whole pot of carbs, I try very hard. Hahaha. That means not having anything in the morning and having a super light dinner.

Monday, September 11, 2017

'Malice' from Childhood

Decades ago, I read this series of novels by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾) about the fantastic skills of Detective Kyochiro Kaga. It's similar to the many detective stories floating out there right now, except that Keigo Higashino is a very good writer in terms of plot lines and letting readers unravel the mysteries.

There's also the Detective Galileo series, known for the third title 'The Devotion of Suspect X' (2005) with its eccentric and brilliant physicist Manabu Yukawa. I think there's a Taiwanese film adaptation of it, and there'll be another Chinese television series to be made soon. I uhhh have little interest in those and will stick to the books.

I read these novels in Japanese. Now that his books are finally getting translated into English, mainly by Alexander O. Smith. Bought a bunch of them at the Kinokuniya sale. These aren't books I'll keep, but I know where to pass them on. :)

I'll talk about 'Malice'「悪意」(1996) in this post. It was translated in 2014 by Alexander O. Smith. This is the fourth book in the series starring Detective Kyochiro Kaga. All about yet another a troubling murder, and Detective Kyochiro Kaga's wonderful sleuthing skills and insight. Don't read on from this point if you don't want any spoilers. (Reviews herehere, and here.)

On the night before leaving Japan to relocate to Vancouver, acclaimed author Kunihiko Hidaka was found murdered in his own home, in his locked office. He was first hit in the head with a paperweight, then strangled. His best friend Osamu Nonoguchi is the prime suspect. He's also a writer. He was previously a teacher, and now a not-as-successful writer. All evidence point to Nonoguchi as the murderer, with motives.

Accusations, hints and red herrings abound as to the real killer and his motives. Perhaps there was an old affair between Hidaka's wife and Nonoguchi. Perhaps it's a simple case of professional jealousy. Detective Kyochiro Kaga knows Nonoguchi from their days as teachers in a public school. Scouting around, he discoves that Nonoguchi doesn't seem as innocent as he has claimed. And murdered author Hidaka isn't as devious as spoken of, and certainly doesn't seem to have plagiarize the former's stories. Readers are given a story of low self-esteem and revenge, stemming from the bullying days of teenagers in middle school and an assault on an innocent girl. All these experiences and incidents seeded secrets, envy, dissent and malice that accompany adulthood.

When you realize your own death was imminent, you stopped holding back. You couldn't bear to leave this world with so much rage burning inside you. The fact that Hidaka knew about your past and he had proof that could expose those secrets, that wasn't the reason you acted. But it was enouh to push you over the edge, to push the darkness you held within you out into the light. You decided to spend your last days planning the perfect crime. You murdered a man and let yourself get caught in order to steal everything from your victim - to ruin his name and his honour and everything he loved, even stealing the credit for the books he wrote.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Asian Soups For Lunch

Lurked in the BFF's office all morning and followed her out to lunch at the basement of Republic Plaza. I didn't even know that the entire basement contained little restaurants and also One Shot Coffee. The BFF wanted soup for lunch. I was good with that. Stopped at The Herbal Bar. Asian soups. YAY!

Of course I like the promise of 'less oil, less sugar, less salt and no MSG'. The only issue- the kitchen uses a lot of herbs in its soups, given that the owners' family practices TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). I needed to be careful since I react to most herbs and flowers, including those scary herbal teas. Drinks are offered at the side, so while I wouldn't take anything herbal or even with chrysanthemum with wolf berries, a ginger and lemongrass concoction is fine.

Gulped at the BFF's choice of herbal chicken soup. I stuck to a safer-sounding Chinese cabbage with fish maw and meatballs. The meatballs held little bits of carrots in them too. I didn't know if it was all chicken or pork or a mixture of both, but I was pleased. They were delicious and not the least bit stinky. Ate them all up instead of chucking them aside. Asian meatballs can be rather inedible. (Like those at the Bedok bak chor mee stalls.) I love how the soups come with a little dish of soy sauce and chilli padi. We added mixed rice and a tea egg to our meal. There're additional options of carbs in mee sua and other sides of achar, red wine chicken, braised beef slices and watercress too.

On other days, I can do its fairly innocent kelp soup with pork, corn, carrots and chinese yam. Delicious if you like kelp loads. Heh. For some strange reason, its sliced fish soup (snakehead) with seaweed, tofu and carrot tasted oddly herbal to me the one time I stole a sip from a friend's bowl, so I didn't quite fancy it.

If I'm in the area, I'd rather eat here than at the soup stalls at Boon Tat Street or Telok Ayer Road, only because of the air-conditioning. If one is having a steaming bowl of hot soup, it's much more comfortable to eat it somewhere cooler than being totally drenched in perspiration. Also, it starts filling up at 12.05pm instead of 11.40am. Whewwww. A bit of respite from the usual CBD crowds.

The BFF donated her peanuts to me. She doesn't like them. 

The Herbal Bar 
9 Raffles Place #B1-07 Republic Plaza Singapore 048619
T: +65 9185 2835
Hours: Mon to Fri 8am - 8pm; Sat 11am - 4pm; closed on Sun and public holidays.