I’m going to stay as far away as I can from the issues of gender roles in relationships. It’s been covered quite well here and at Ann’s blog. But I do intend to convey my sympathies toward those who desire their significant others to peel their prawns. I lack the required dexterity to peel prawns with utensils, and depending on the company I’m too prissy and needlessly self-conscious to commence with the deed using my hands. When unsure, I usually just crunch! crunch! crunch! like Ann mentioned (but that can invite weird looks from onlookers, too, depending on where you are).

When I was last at Yang’s parent’s home in Lentor for dinner, I had just arrived in Singapore that morning and hadn’t slept a wink in just shy of 40 hours. But once those large, juicy prawns were situated upon the table in front of me, I began to perk up. They were so enticing, but something occurred to me: How am I supposed to eat them? I didn’t want to commit a potential faux pas, so I waited until someone else dug in to see how they approached those tasty-tailed devils.

This required much discipline. A steely resolve washed over me. I watched as family members served themselves that oh-so-delicious rendang, tended to their soup bowls, and poked at the three-layer pork.

To my dismay, the prawns remained ignored. When Chek-Tchung, sitting to my right, reached across the table, my heart skipped a beat—but no, he chose instead to secure a hardy portion of Hainanese chicken. A more severe act of unintended cruelty I have never known. :)

Then finally Jasmine mercifully snatched up a prawn. I was all eyes.

But to my astonished horror, she began dismantling the little bastard with her fork and spoon. This, my friends, just would not do. In my incapable hands we’d have more prawns on Mrs. Foo’s floor than on the table. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone if they’d sent me to Pedra Branca to dodge bird droppings for the duration of my stay.

But, thankfully, Jasmine and others soon after chose to forego the utensils, merrily peeling away those translucent layers with their fingers and piling the remains into a tidy pile to be discarded later. Now this I could do and do well!

I’m of course playing up this little anxiety of mine, but it serves to remind me that in a casual situation having someone handy who can systematically peel those plump prawns is some kind of a blessing. And as for the dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Foo’s, it remains the culinary highlight of my stay in Southeast Asia—great company and great food!

28. October 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Music · Tags:

While I’ve been persistently listening to Classical Music for just over the last 20 years now, there was a long lull period during which I slowed down my classical music CD acquisition.

The dates are a little fuzzy right now, but from the period of 1988 to 1996 I amassed a collection of nearly 700 CDs of music. Most of it was the ‘core’ classical repertoire, e.g. symphonies by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert; the important piano concertos by Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, Schumann, several versions of Mozart’s four key operas, and the most well-known oratorios by Haydn (Die Schöpfung and Die Jahreszeiten), Handel’s Messiah etc.

It was quite an investment, as many of these sets are multiple CD collections that easily cost several hundred dollars each. It’s nothing like a pop music album which costs $20 a pop. Contrast it to say one box I bought in 1993 where pianist Malcohm Bilson performed on the fortepiano Mozart’s complete Piano Concertos, accompanied by the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (picture by Maciej Goździelewski from Wikimedia Commons). That’s a nine CD set and cost $195 back then (Amazon today sells it for just $70).

I stopped buying classical music CDs shortly after I started working. I figured I had most of the core repertoire, and more importantly $13 to $20 a CD wasn’t exactly cheap. Oh, there were a few CDs picked up during the years thereafter, especially Haydn’s piano sonatas and some alternate recordings of Haydn’s earlier symphonies. But nothing like the volume of 6-7 CDs a month.

So, it’s all quite a turn of events that 12 years later, I’ve got back into classical music. Times have all quite changed though since CD players aren’t in vogue anymore. It’s all MP3ed, and costs are much cheaper too. Specifically, the eMusic web site I blogged about some weeks ago has been a godsend. Huge catalog, 30 second samples for each track, and easy browsing.

Depending on the subscription plan, the service charges a flat fee per download. E.g. one subscription plan charges USD0.25 per track. By any measure, that’s a very cheap service. Because modern pop songs can cost two or three times on equivalent services. And in comparative terms, a fairly long symphony like Tchaikovsky’s No. 6 would cost just USD 1—there are four movements in that symphony—compared to USD 10 for the equivalent CD album.

The most significant thing though is that I’ve been able to look for less well-known music that either was under my radar or was too obscure to have spent precious moola on them previously. Some of my most previous acquisitions including music I haven’t heard listened to before have included:

  • Hummel: piano concertos
  • Mozart: Cosi fan tutte, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni – in English (!)
  • Rossini: La gazza ladra
  • Wassenaer: Concerti Armonici (apparently this dude was well-known for one composition, and this is it. Picture right)
  • Gilbert & Sullivan: Ruddigore
  • Haydn: Harp concertos (I didn’t know he actually wrote these; though I think they’re rearrangements from his piano concertos)
  • Haydn: Complete Symphonies (all 104 of them performed by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra; collectively this is around 40 CDs)

It’s all well and good, though in the period of six weeks I think I’ve bought about 90 CDs of music alone. That’s gonna take a while to listen through all of them!

Three things kept bothering me during this period of pregnancy:

Nausea

Bloatedness

Constant exhaustion

So far, I didn’t vomit. Thank God! It’s just that the lurking background nauseous sensation kept me from feeling normal. Chewing on a few pieces of cereal helps to stop the sensation for a while. I found out that certain cooking smells can make me more nauseous. I read that this ‘morning to night sickness’ will go away in the second trimester where the level of HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) will drop. One colleague shared with me that her second trimester was her happiest. She felt sickly in her first trimester too.

I learned that if I ate normal portions for the usual 3 meals a day, my digestive system couldn’t cope well. Pregnancy causes digestion to be sluggish. Hence, I have to reduce my intake at each meal to about half or else I would feel very bloated. This takes a while to adjust to. I also have to eat small portions frequently in-between meals. I don’t have to deliberately feed myself at appropriate times as my system will cry ‘hungry hungry!’ every 2-3 hours. I have been spending so much time eating that I can’t help but feel like a pig. The challenging part is that I have to watch the nutritional value of my food and stay clear of certain foods that can be detrimental to the development of the foetus.

Feeling flat out tired during this period makes me quite ‘useless’. I’m no good to do any work and my brain is processing information rather slowly. Thank God that I got pregnant after the year-end examination. I can’t imagine the struggle I have to go through to complete the marking within a limited time. Truly, I shouldn’t be complaining. Thank God that the timing is just right. :)

One of the most interesting exchanges that occurred just several days ago in The Straits Times was that age old argument about why (some) Singaporean men are going offshore and bringing back foreign brides.

Yep, the debate shows up every so often, and this time round it started off with a piece written by a Alvin Tan explaining why he chose a China bride. The full article’s right here, with excerpts below.

In February, when The Straits Times reported the results of a survey on singles, this ‘contradiction’ was raised. Many women still expect their dates to carry their handbags and pick up the tab. Asking to split the bill is still widely unacceptable on the local dating scene.

From my own experience and what I’ve heard, it seems many Singapore women tend to interpret feminism in their own way. A woman who shells prawns for her man is deemed archaic, but a man who carries a woman’s handbag for her is being gentlemanly, even though it might make him look silly.

Now, Mr. Tan’s story got a really hot response from a clearly aggrieved Sherry Aw who said the story was “an insult to S’pore women” in her letter a few days later.

What also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex. If wanting a man to hold the door open for a woman, an act of ‘gentlemanliness’, can be construed as weakness, does my ability to open my own door signify how strong and masculine I am? I pray not, or I would face a serious identity crisis.

And really, does having our own career or equal abilities to men mean we have become men ourselves? The ‘equal footing’ treatment we demand is recognition of our abilities to carry out our jobs. Not to be treated like men, but acknowledgement that we are as capable as men. If we ‘should expect to be treated equally – the way men treat other men’, then perhaps from the perspective of a woman, the equal treatment Mr Tan is looking for is to be treated like a best buddy-cum-girlfriend and not boyfriend material.

Now, I need to be extra careful on my view of this since I like my bed just fine and have no wish to sleep on the floor tonight LOL. But seriously, one thing that’s fortunately never come up (so far) in my knowing Ling and our life together are big disputes over gender roles.

So, that said; I’ve never had issues accepting equal parity in a dating / courting relationship, but I think both partners need to be consistent in their expectations i.e. you can’t want to be in a certain role but want none of the responsibilities that follow suit.

Nearly a decade ago a person I was seeing is quite the type that Mr. Tan is (apparently) weary about. She was drawing similar salary to what I was. Just citing one aspect: she remarked that if we were on a date at anything less than a four star restaurant, it meant I wasn’t taking the date seriously. So dining at foodcourts during any outing was unacceptable.

I think about the dates Ling and I had before marriage. Ling was always Ok going dutch, or we just naturally offered to cover different parts of each outing. Maybe she was sympathetic to the fact that I was a pretty destitute Ph.D student who had no income during those years haha.

(Cartoon from http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/swa0321l.jpg)

… because Ling’s expecting.:)

Ann – we did say it’d be announced here LOL.:)

It hit me 6 hours after breakfast 2 days ago. Boy, it happened in the midst of marking my student’s essays and I thought the words just lifted themselves off the page! I had to stop and go ransack the kitchen for food.

Yang doesn’t believe in stocking up food or snacks in the house. Hence, it was tough initially. It is only of late that he relaxed a bit. But today, I had a hard time finding decent food in the kitchen to tide my hunger until dinner. I searched high and low…ah ha, found a pack of instant mee goreng. I cooked it within 5 minutes and gobbled it all up in less than 2 minutes. Hunger pangs still there leh.

Next up, hard-boiled egg. Took me 10 mins to prepare. Dipped it in light soy sauce and white pepper before munching it down, hmmm… very satisfying indeed. Aiyoh, I still felt hungry. Made myself a cup of hot milo. There, much better now.

Whenever I need to tide over my hunger in between meals, I try not to have snacks that will spoil my appetite for a proper meal later. Sometimes, drinking water helps. Instant energy foods such as milo or energy bars can come in handy too. I have my own LL’s theory that proteins, besides sugar, is a necessary component to ward off my hunger since the food will go quickly to the stomach for digestion. Hence, protein-rich egg or a glass of warmed fresh milk with a tablespoon of honey added is great. A ripe banana, if you have it at home, is also a good option.

That was today’s breakfast menu.  Easily done and delicious. An ex-colleague shared this recipe with me and it has only been recently that I used it again.

Ingredients

Fresh white button mushrooms (1 tub)

thick slices of bread

butter

salt

ground black pepper

Italian dried herbs

Method

1) Clean the mushrooms off any dirt. It is okay to use tap water; it is a myth that mushrooms will absorb water.

2) Slice the mushrooms.

3) Heat up the frying pan with 2 tbsps of butter and lightly stir-fry the sliced mushrooms.

4) The mushrooms will soften and release their delicious smells and this is the time to add a dash of salt, pepper and Italian herbs. Liquid will start to ooze out of the mushrooms too. Stir fry for another 30 seconds or so and then transfer the mushrooms onto a plate. It is okay that the mushrooms are wet.

5) Toast the bread slices using a toaster.

6) Apply butter to one side of toast and distribute the mushrooms (do not include its fluid) on it. Optional: you can also add other light greens such as alfalfa or lettuce. Sandwiched with another buttered toast.

7) Enjoy while the toast is still crispy. :)

We don’t have a toaster at home. So we used our oven set to grill mode to do the toasting. It was better as we could toast 6 slices of bread at one go. :) Yang loved it.

The nutritional value of this recipe is high. Instead of using ham or sausage for breakfast, the traditional protein supplement, mushrooms are also rich in protein. Other advantages of using mushrooms: they are rich in fibre, good sources of antioxidants (prevents cancer) and have almost no fats. The only thing to watch out for is the use of butter which is rich in saturated fats. You can substitute it with olive oil for the sauting and soft margarine for the breadspread. But I feel that a little butter is fine especially when no oil can match up to butter for its wonderful aroma rendered in cooking. Eat in moderation and exercise to keep fit. Don’t forget to drink lots of water, eat a colourful variety fruits and vegetables and have the correct amount of sleep. Enjoy life! :D

15. October 2008 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Entertainment, Toys & Technology · Tags: ,

Since I haven’t been blogging much, here’s an echo of a game review for the other blog I write for.:)


Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Naughty Dog as a game development studio has been around for more than two decades now since their founding in 1986. While they’re better known for their Jak & Daxter video game series, they scored a surprise and big hit with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3 a year ago.

In order to properly appreciate what the scene was like a year ago though, one has to realize that the PS3 didn’t have very many big titles at that point, especially when compared to the XBox 360 that had already been released one year earlier, during which a number of well-received and popular titles had already been published for it.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is console-based action-adventure at its best. It has all the blockbuster production values, likable characters, amazing visuals, and all the nods to established icons of the game story’s genre . The story concerns a Nathan Drake, a (fictional) descendent of famous English explorer and privateer Sir Francis Drake of the 16th Century. The modern Drake is a treasure hunter, and in Uncharted, takes off on an expedition to recover the mythical treasure of El Dorado. Along the way, he’ll be supported by a cast of memorable characters, friends and foes alike.

What’s special about Uncharted? The visuals for one. While fans of the Metal Gear Solid series will swear that Hideo Kojima’s last magnum opus, MGS IV (with an upcoming review by GET staff Mr. Ng soon) is the most visually stunning game available on the PS3, there’re other gamers who’ll point to the year older Uncharted as an equally if not more visually impressive effort that uses fewer overheads, er, MGS IV loading times *koff*.

Simply put, Uncharted is replete with numerous moments where you’ll stare with eyes afixed at the screen taking in the visuals. Seeing what the PS3 can produce on screen will give you that sense of vindication of having spent a small fortune on a gaming console. Among especially outstanding scenes include the German U-boat run aground on a riverbed, a massive monastery that is hundreds of years old and in ruins, and a submarine pen that is a page out of a similar scene in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Animation was developed with the now ubiquitous mocaps, but still spendidly done nonetheless with eye, cheek movements and texture morphing on the faces.

The narrative in MGS IV is substantially stronger, with the story in Uncharted almost workmanlike. That said, the ingame story sequences in Uncharted are hugely enjoyable. They move along briskly compared to the occasionally indulgent story telling in MGS IV, with dialog that’ll make you chuckle and laugh on occasion, and carried through with a likable cast of characters. Nathan is assisted by a journalist, Elena, and a cigar-smoking companion, Victor, whose loyalties will seemingly shift in the course of the story. It’s probably a result of both the dialog script and also voice-acting that Uncharted is one game whose ingame scenes you’ll want to watch repeatedly, if only because they’re so well done and acted.

Heck. Even the characters resisting Nathan and his team’s efforts are likable. Of particular standout is the Indonesian (?) pirate Eddy Raja, voice-acted by James Sie. Sie’s comedic timing and with many of the game’s funniest lines, including a couple in what looks like Bahasa Indonesian, will have you laughing.

There’s a fair balance of platform-based and combat action in the game too. The platform based components and puzzles are pretty forgiving, so players looking for a bigger challenge would be better off with the Tomb Raider series. But they’re perfect for everyone else, including casual gamers.

The combat sequences in Uncharted don’t approach identical levels of realism or sophistication compared to some first-person shooters, but they’re still nonetheless enjoyable. Apart from four grenades, Nathan gets to carry just two guns at any one time; one side-arm and a rifle, and Nathan can only carry a limited amount of ammunition for both at a time too.

Fighting off pirates, rival treasure hunters and other critters isn’t simply an issue of charging head on too. Rather, your enemies will gun and duck for cover behind physical features of the terrain or buildings you’ll explore, and will in return typically flank or use grenades to flush you out.

Perhaps the litmus test on Uncharted’s appeal is to the untapped market segment of non-gamers. My wife for instance isn’t a computer gamer at all, but she got hooked on Uncharted’s platform scenes. She doesn’t possess much of the dexterity that PS3 gamers have when it comes to using the SIXAXIS controllers, but she enjoys having Nathan explore areas and solving puzzles on getting from one point to another.

The one down side though is the game’s comparatively short length. Experienced action game players will zip through Uncharted‘s 22 chapters (levels) in less than 10 hours. But even if one doesn’t replay the game through the different difficulty levels and bonus treasures for those who’re game completists, the 10 hours will be a tremendously fun ride.

Highly recommended for those who have PS3s.

– Dr. Foo CY, 6 Oct 2008

Yang’s mother cooks great dishes. Matt can attest to that :) Recently, Yang missed Hainanese pork chops and asked me to try whipping up the dish.

I bought too much pork (~450g) and hence had to remove the potato slices from the recipe. Otherwise we’ll have trouble finishing up the food. The traditional recipe calls for potato. I’ll do that the next time. :)

I learned two new methods while preparing this dish: 1) Using crushed Hup Seng Cream crackers as bread crumbs, and 2) tenderizing the meats using the blunt spine of my chopper. Yang had fun creating the crumbs by pressing them in a ziplock bag while I enjoyed ‘boxing’ the meats with the back of my chopper. :P

The result was terrific. The pork chops tasted hmmmm juicy and tender and the sauce complemented well. The only thing about cooking anything deep fried is the lingering smell and oilyness of the kitchen. The cleaning up always require more time and energy. It’s time to check out those deep fryers.

Below is the recipe for those who are interested. :)

Ingredients (serves 2)

250 g pork chops / pork loin

1 small potato, sliced

1 tomato, cut into wedges

1 onion, quartered

Frozen mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, peas), 4 tbsps

9 Hup Seng cream crackers, crushed into fine crumbs in ziplock bag (alternative: panko)

1/4 cup plain flour

1 egg, beaten

Vegetable oil (I used rice bran oil)

Marinade for pork chops

a pinch of salt

rice wine, 1 tbsp

a dash of pepper

a dash of 5-spice powder

a few drops of sesame oil

cornstarch (1/2 tbsp)

Sauce Mix

water (1/2 cup)

cornstarch (1/2 tsp)

light soy sauce (2 tsps)

sweet chilli sauce (1/2 tbsp)

tomato ketchup (6 tbsps)

sugar (2 tbsps)

rice vinegar (1/2 tbsp)

a few drops of sesame oil

Method

1) Sandwich the pork chops between 2 sheets of cling wrap and beat lightly with the blunt side of chopper knife or a meat mallet to tenderize them. (Note: thick chops must be sliced to at least 1 cm thickness)

2) Mix pork with marinade, wrap and set aside for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

3) Pan fry potato slices until lightly brown. Set aside.

4) Get ready the flour, beaten egg and crumbs in 3 separate plates. Dip pork into flour, then egg and finally crumbs. Make sure pork chops are thoroughly coated with crumbs before deep fry until golden brown.

5) Let the chops cool before cutting them into strips. Arrange them on a serving dish.

6) In a non-stick pan, saute onion. Add tomato wedges and frozen mixed vegetables and stir-fry for 2-3 mins.

7) Add water & cornstarch mixture. Next, add sugar, chilli sauce, ketchup, light soy sauce and vinegar. Stir to mix evenly.

8) Add fried potatoes. Allow sauce to thicken. Add a few drops of sesame oil. Adjust seasoning if needed.

9) Pour over the pork chop strips and serve immediately with steamed white rice. Enjoy! :D

Sigh, have to cross out another favorite food of mine because of the reputation of MIC (made in China) products.

As Yang and I was eating our home-style stir-fry dish of sliced pork, asparagus and golden mushrooms for dinner just now, I became horrified all of a sudden. “These golden mushrooms are cultivated in China! The substrate used might be plasticky!” I cried. I always detested the chemical smell drifting from the plastic wrapping whenever it was cut. What was that? It seemed to resemble the smell from those disposable chopsticks. Sulphur dioxide? Worse still, was the substrate made up of ground used disposable chopsticks? *Shudder*

Pardon my wild imagination. :)

Anyway, the list of MIC items I’m avoiding is growing by the day. So far, the list goes like this:

1) China fruits (pears, Fuji apples, nectarines, hami melons)

2) China vegetables

3) China luncheon meat (This should be the first on my list. Yang knows the story)

4) China fungi (golden mushrooms, shiitake)

5) China dried products (scallops, birdnest, dates, seaweeds)

6) China biscuits

7) China rabbit sweets

8) China imported medicine, including dried herbs (mother would be upset)

Well, I have to be more resourceful now especially when alternatives can be much more costly. :(