September, 2008

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The search goes on

I’m quite determined to look for the best laksa in Singapore. Conditions apply though: 1) The stall shouldn’t be too far away from my home, e.g. Tuas, 2) The rating is based on my preference. Hee hee :)

The laksa stall I’m blogging about today claimed to be the original Katong laksa. It has re-located to Bedok North already. I read about this stall on a local food blog and decided to give it a shot. This stall was mend by an uncle and another helper uncle (who brings you the laksa). It is situated in an old coffee shop of a HDB block which behind the Bedok Stadium and beside the SPC petrol kiosk. The stall name says ‘Marine Parade Laksa’ in English but ‘Katong laksa’ in Mandarin.

When I ordered a bowl of $3 laksa, I noticed that chopsticks were given. Hey, I though Katong laksa is well known for using only the soup spoon to eat from? Hmm, never mind. The laksa was served in the old-fashioned Chinese soup bowl with fresh laksa leaves garnishing. At first glance, the soup looked less milky and not as thick and viscous as 328 laksa. Hmm, okay. Now the taste. This soup has more complexity than 328’s. Good recipe. I continued slurping at the thick rice noodles and drinking the soup. Ah, it is homely and satisfying without the guilty notion that one is consuming too much unhealthy coconut milk. However, if you want the kick, then 328 will deliver it right to your face.

Next stop, the laksa at Roxy Square. :P


This is one of those rare weekends where my mind is in the care-free mode.

I’ve finished marking, returning and discussing my students’ work and now they are all busy with their final preparations for the examination tomorrow. In the meanwhile, they didn’t know that their teacher is having a great time :)

I called Doreen, my best friend of 20 years, to find out whether she was free to do some catching up. We managed to squeeze out a common time yesterday afternoon to do some cooking, chit-chatting and watching BBC’s Pride and Prejudice together. Since I had been keen on trying out a Ratatouille recipe taken from the Internet, and darling dearest doesn’t like eggplant, this was a perfect opportunity to cook and eat with my best friend who is adventurous in food. :)

The list of ingredients and steps for the dish looked daunting enough for me but the actual dish turned out to be surprisingly easy without a messy kitchen Yang had expected. Hee hee. *victory sign* “D The only thing about preparing this French dish is having the patience for the eggplant to release its juices during the simmering process.

We ate Ratatouille with slices of baguette and oh, it was so healthy and satisfying. We ate it warm but it was also good after it had cooled down to room temperature. :) The recipe I used had an unconventional ingredient, i.e. button mushrooms. In addition, the recipe I chose seemed to be easier to manage than others available on the Internet. :)

I found out that Doreen had been going through house-keeping training in her mission study course too! She used to take her own sweet time (me too!) to wash the dishes but yesterday changed my perception of her. Oh you should see how fast she was in helping to clean the dishes. I’m impressed. She’s definitely good for being a missionary and also a home-maker. Hee hee. :D

Show me the money!

My book!

One of my (secret) dreams after I started teaching and lecturing 12 years ago has been to publish something. I’m not quite sure where that came from, but it was sort of at the back of my mind. Oh, I had other dreams, like singing the role of Figaro, or performing one of Mozart’s piano concertos in a concert hall. But of all these wants, this one about publishing seemed to be the least fanciful and possessing that tiny glimmer of possibility. After all, my throat croaks and my fingers are as nimble as Matt’s are he eats 6 roti pratas (!), so singing and performing are all out.

Things picked up substantially when I started the Ph.D. It’s not necessary to publish when doing a Ph.D program. In fact, a couple of fellows at my research office didn’t publish at all as they just don’t have the time for it. I did, so in a sense, my very first ‘publication’ ever was a paper for an international conference that NUS was hosting in June 2004. Never mind that I thought my paper was pretty crappy, but hey it was peer reviewed, accepted, and my name’s in a Proceedings now. But the Proceedings are only available for conference delegates who show up and pay their fees, or in online databases – and those require subscription too. So yeah it’s a publication, but not the one that I’d ultimately been hoping for.

Many papers later, and 4 years since I first had a paper in the proceedings, I’m thrilled to say here that I’ve finally published a book proper! The type that people can pay good money, buy and read my trashy writing! But seriously, it’s really my doctoral thesis published by VDM Verlag, a German-based publisher of academic literature and theses.

This isn’t a big thing by any measure in academic circles by the way, since this publisher actively solicits academics for theses and works in areas they’re interested in, so it’s not as though they invited my thesis publication because I wrote something that qualifies for a Nobel prize.

Moreover, publishing a book hasn’t been without its trauma. Specifically, given that this book is commercially available and can now be scrutinized by anyone who decides to fork out good money for it, I’ve suddenly become more than a little nervous that someone who reads it thoroughly will send me an email asking about the bloop in Chapter 7. Or the one in Chapter 2. Or the two in the References section. That’s not even considering any one of those game publishers who may decide to sue me off all my pocket money for saying all those things about their games!

And the book’s a whopping USD124 on! I wouldn’t buy my own book at that price. But seriously, I do get an author’s discount, so if anyone is in a mood to spend money, I’ll help you buy one with the discount.:)

All that said, it’s a milestone reached and what lies beyond is in equal parts scary and exciting. Most of all, it’s a dream that’s finally come true, and I should be allowed by 2 seconds of glory before I find myself a hiding hole and hope the wolves don’t find me haha.:)

No chi-na food for our household…

I’m sincerely serious about this.

I was at NTUC (Hougang Mall) to buy fruits today and deliberately steered clear of China Fuji apples and China yellow pears. I bought Ipoh’s Tambun pomelo (this is sweeter than the Thailand varieties), Australia’s navel oranges and Australia’s strawberries.

I’m a happy woman! :p

Switching sides

Yang has acquired some of my preferences for food after we have been married for about 22 months. *victory sign* :P That means we have more things in common and can enjoy the same things together.

When we started going out, he was a tea drinker. Earl grey + sugar + milk = Yang’s favourite hot beverage. Of late, he started to take a liking for white coffee too. Probably becos’ it keeps him perked up in the early morning at office. In any case, he started making coffee for both of us to bring to work every morning. It definitely tastes better than my usual 3-in-1. I’m the benefactor :)

He was not a big fan of laksa but the thing grew on him. After the latest sampling of the famous 328 Katong Laksa, he is a believer :) It wasn’t easy to convince him to go to Katong just to have that bowl of laksa. So I have to ‘ta bao’ (take away) for him. Hee hee.

Now this one is really a winner. Yang has been asking for Old Chang Kee curry puffs as snacks. He found them good when they were still warm. He is not as objectionable about eating them as before although I must add that he still thinks tip top curry puff is the best!

Well, the above leaves us with many different food preferences still. For example, Yang dislikes the aubergines and cauliflower but I simply love them, especially brinjal in green curries. He does not eat raw tomatoes of any varieties too. As for spices, ginger is not tolerated – hence, teh halia is one teh tarik he would never order. Oh ya, one other thing too, Yang doesn’t drink and his body has low tolerance for alcohol. :)

Still, it is nice to have him on my side a bit more now. Hee hee :P

On the 25th of September my true love gave to me…

One dozen roses

One digital photo frame

One Starbucks coffee mug

One digital compact camera

One coffee table photo album with 4 years of photos taken together

My darling’s so sweet and thoughtful.:) Each present was carefully selected with me in mind. The bouquet of flowers was the biggest surprise as Yang has been telling me how impractical flowers are. But he decided to bend a bit to make me flutter with joy. :D I received it this morning at work – what a great way to start a day!

Another gift which thrilled me even more was the digital photo frame; I had been captivated by its ability to display so many photos. Ya, we can also make the PC screen do the slideshow of photos but this small little frame is just so neat. I often stood mesmerized at the device whenever we go into Challenger or Best Denki at Hougang Mall. As expected, the gift came with a selection of 150 photos installed for me. I love my darling! :D

The next 3 gifts were given to me way before my birthday due to timing issues. For the mug and camera, it was my need to use them sooner as I broke the previous mug darling bought me (sorry, my dear) and the previous digital compact camera went kaput. When it comes to my needs, Yang always pay extra attention. :)

The coffee photo album was a first in its own class. Yang spent a lot of man-hours selecting and putting together a grand collection of photos that tell little stories of our lives together since the days of our ‘patho-logy’. He even did the captions in the album. There are 160 pages in total and the softcopy was sent to USA for printing into a book. Swell, isn’t it. And guess what, this is only book 1. Yang is already compiling book 2 le.

I was excited to blog about my 5 birthday presents but was wondering too whether I would come across as boasting. Anyway, I believe that if my man has done something well, the wife should honor him :)

Thank you so much, darling dearest :D

Birthday post

Ling can sure say the funnest things. In view of the latest food scandal, she came into the workroom last night looking very resolute (I was browsing music compositions on eMusic):

“Darling, I’ve made a resolution. I’m going to completely ban all Made-in-China products. No more China-made things at home, ok? Must throw them all away.”

Without looking up, I reply:

“Sure dear. Let’s start by going through your wardrobe. I think you need to throw out at least half the clothes you’ve got inside there. Then have to check the shoe cabinet; I think have to throw away two thirds of your shoes.”

(Silence for a minute. I continue looking for some of Brahms’ symphonies)

Then Ling finally says

“Er… let’s start off with food first!!!”

I chuckle.:)

As for the five things she got this year for her birthday run-up and actual day, I’ll leave her to blog about them, if ever.:)

(Un)lucky numbers

Here’s one of the most thought-provoking, if unintentionally hilarious to some readers, letter to the forum page in the last few days:

Sep 20, 2008
Baby’s birth cert reverses parental joy

THE arrival of my newborn daughter was a source of joy for my wife and myself – until I went to obtain her birth certificate from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

To my horror, she was given the number T08-XX444X. As Chinese Singaporeans are aware, the number four suggests death, and implies misfortune.

I appealed to the ICA officer, also a Chinese Singaporean who understood my discomfiture. But she firmly rejected my plea because rules were rules, I was told. Subsequently, I appealed to a superior officer and waited an agonising week, making several calls in between, only to be given the same answer.

… (etc.)

Thing is, lucky and unlucky numbers are part and parcel of life in Singapore. I mean, whenever there’s an accident along an expressway here, there’ll be traffic jams caused by Singaporeans jockeying around to get the vehicle numbers so they can buy 4D.

Sadly, in this day and age of education, there’re still people who’ll believe that somehow their lives and fortunes are governed by a bunch of digits. The online responses to this fellow’s letter haven’t been all that surprising, few of them sympathetic and most of them incredulous of both the letter writer and even disbelief at The Straits Times for printing what one poster called such “trash”.

Funnily, I was asking Ling the other evening that if we ever have a daughter, could we name her “Faith”? She laughed and said our daughter would have a lot to live up to then, though it’s still better than naming her “April”. :)

Sinfonia Concertante

Mozart wrote concertos for a large number of instruments: like his 4 concertos for Horn, 27 concertos for piano, 2 for flute, 1 for clarinet, oboe, bassoon each, 5 for violin etc.

In his list of compositions too, there are concertos for mixed instruments, two of which are called Sinfonia Concertantes; one for the Violin and Viola, and the other for Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon and French Horn. Both are coincidentally also in E Flat Major, but between the two, the first one for the two string instruments, is the more well-known one and is widely recorded and performed.

In truth though, the piece that holds special meaning for me is the second Sinfonia Concertante. How’s that? Well, it’s the piece that was performed by the very first concert I ever attended at the very first date I ever had with the very first girl I was ever interested in. Yep, that’s a long mouthful! This was in April 1988 and I was in JC1 at Anglo-Chinese Junior College. Students had concession tickets to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra concerts, and I remember paying just $3 for each ticket for the concert at Victoria Concert Hall.

Now, the rows we got were right up front like the second row from the stage. That certainly put a strain on our necks! Nor was the concert performed by famous musicians but by select members from the SSO itself. But I didn’t mind it all. Sitting so close to the stage let me have an amazing view of each musician’s artistry. And more importantly, I was awe-struck by the beauty of this composition that two decades later this Sinfonia Concertante for Wind instruments K297b remains one of my favorite pieces of music by any person.

Here’s an audio sample from the opening bars from the first movement.

A Little Wedding Music Part II

Here’s the funny thing. I’ve been keeping an ear out for wedding music for as long as I’ve been listening to classical music, so the feat of selecting the right music wasn’t all that difficult. By the time we’d fixed a wedding date, I already had several musical pieces in the short list, though that list was to both grow as I thought of more possibilities, then shrink later as other considerations stepped in.

My list for Processional included:

  • Main Title from The American President, by Marc Shaiman
  • The First Kiss from The American President, by Marc Shaiman
  • Prelude to Act II from Die Zauberflote, by Mozart
  • Main Title from The Patriot, by John Williams
  • Larghetto from Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, by Chopin
  • Romance from Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, by Mozart
  • Main Title (Excerpt) from Star Trek: First Contact by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Ba’Ku Village from Star Trek: Insurrection by Jerry Goldsmith
  • I’ll Always Go Back to that Church (Kip’s Lights) from The English Patient by Gabriel Yared

Let’s try a little litmus test first. How many of those pieces in that list is one familiar with? Maybe Kip’s Lights, but the rest of the music isn’t exactly mainstream music.

But I can almost see Ling fainting now. I mean, wasn’t The Patriot that crappy three hour American Independence War epic starring Mel Gibson? And music from Star Trek…??? Isn’t that like a sci-fiction movie for geeks?!

Well, be that as it may. But the music by the late Jerry Goldsmith for these two movies is no joke. They are among some of the most lyrical pieces every written, classical or film soundtrack. The excerpt from First Contact is in F Major, with a majestic and slow march-like melody to it. In contrast, Ba’Ku Village from Insurrection is a lovely piece in B Flat major which begins with the harp, followed by the oboe introducing the melody line, then joined by flute and finally the string ensemble.

  • Main Title (Excerpt) from Star Trek: First Contact by Jerry Goldsmith (audio sample)
  • Ba’Ku Village from Star Trek: Insurrection by Jerry Goldsmith (audio sample)

The pieces in the list above are also very roughly in two types, depending on the type of processional you want. If you’d like a steady march-like tempo but yet with an uplifting song for the bride’s entrance, the choices could be the gorgeous Main Title from The American President (very catchy melody in E Flat Major), the Excerpt from First Contact, or Mozart’s Prelude from Die Zauberflote, which uses a slower tempo with the central melody played by wind instruments in F major.

If I didn’t have any sort of constraints, my choice for a Processional would be (very easily) the Main Title from The American President. I’ve had for years wanted this piece somewhere in my wedding.

  • Main Title from The American President, by Marc Shaiman (audio sample)
  • Prelude to Act II from Die Zauberflote, by Mozart (audio sample)

On the other hand, if a gentle piece is more your idea of the Processional, there’s the very romantic First Kiss which begins in E major with a shy but lovely theme on the piano with strings to follow. Or the Larghetto from Chopin’s Piano Concerto, or Kip’s Lights from The English Patient.

  • The First Kiss from The American President, by Marc Shaiman (audio sample)
  • Larghetto from Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, by Chopin (audio sample)
  • I’ll Always Go Back to that Church (Kip’s Lights) from The English Patient by Gabriel Yared (audio sample)

The short list above dramatically reduced in size after I started factoring in practical considerations. Among them included the length of aisle in the Wesley Sanctuary, how fast Ling was walking, how fast the flower girls and ring bearers would be walking, whether the music could be cued in and faded out at the right timings, whether I would be able to transcribe the music for Sean and Lok Sze, and whether/when the musical piece itself transposes e.g. into a minor key that would not had been appropriate for a processional.

Of that list, interestingly many failed on two counts: the problems of length, and minor key transposition.

So with these constraints, the choice initially was Kip’s Lights. This is a lovely piece that is heard when Hana and Kip are in the old church, and is performed by selected wind instruments and a string ensemble on melody and plucked. I’ve played the melody line for this piece occasionally at home and just before bible study at Ann’s place, and Ling’s been asking me if I could play for her the entire piece. It’s a simply, simply beautiful piece of music. The other choice was the stately Prelude to Die Zauberflote in F Major by Mozart.

As luck would have it, Ling was able to get Sean, her old disciple-group leader, and Lok Sze, an ex-student, to play during our wedding. She’s blogged about it 2 years ago here. As enchanting as Kip’s Lights is, I couldn’t for my life figure out how to transcribe that piece for piano and violin! So, for the Processional, the music was finally to be: Mozart’s Prelude.

  • Prelude to Act II from Die Zauberflote, by Mozart (audio sample)

All things taken into account and postmortem 2 years after the fact, I think the Prelude was the better choice. Music in G major can be a little shrill, and the plucked strings in Kip’s Lights would make it sound as though Ling should be skipping on tip toes down the aisle haha.

The other pieces I chose were Praise My Soul, the Kingdom of Heaven for the opening hymn and the Campra: Rigaudon for the Recessional (audio sample), a piece that Ling jokingly thought was a mite too grand for our very modest wedding. As for the evening gown entrance at the banquet, I chose the Main Title from The Patriot (audio sample). Yea the crappy movie, but Ling absolutely adored the music so that was the vindication for my choice. The title opens with a violin and guitar with a slightly melancholic theme that at the same time sings of discovery:

  • Main Title from The Patriot, by John Williams (audio sample)

So there you have it. Maybe I should seek casual employment as Event Music Suggestor. Or is there such a job LOL.:)