December, 2008

now browsing by month


New Year Resolution

New Year Resolution: we intend to quit working for DBS Bank!

What’s that about? It’s about our home loan we took in September 2006 for our Rivervale home.

OK, this is pretty old stuff. We got our home at a pretty good bargain, the more so as it was just before property prices went right up. The price of our home was $430K. Ling and I had been working for several years before 2006. So while I exhausted most of my personal savings for Ph.D studies and a good chunk of both our accounts was used for wedding expenses, we were blessed that our CPFs were untouched that allowed us to foot a substantial amount of the home price.

That said, I wasn’t working at the point of our home purchase, so the monthly DBS housing loan installments could only be paid for by Ling’s CPF. So, it was a just under 60% home loan over a 25 year loan period. The loan installment is pretty low at the repayment period. However, it also means that over 25 years, a substantial amount of money is paid through interest. Close to a 6 digit interest figure if I got it right. Ouch!

So, after peering very hard at our finance spreadsheets and projecting our per year CPF accumulation and how our personal savings were growing per month, I’ve resolved to figure out some way not to keep working for DBS for the next 23 years left of the loan period. Initially I put together a plan to fully pay off the outstanding principal amount by Dec 2010. We actually have about enough right now in our combined savings and CPF accounts to pay off the entire remaining principal in fact, but it’ll also reset what we’ve got in the bank to a nice fatty Zero. Too scary for thought, so no go on that one. So the safer option was to project progressive savings until 2010 where we’ll be able to comfortably do a complete redemption of the home loan, and still have some savings for our regular use and safety nets.

However, after speaking to the bank officers, we worked out a very slightly better arrangement: we’ll pay off 60% of our outstanding principal immediately first, then shorten the remaining amount over a 5 year period. Yeah, it’d mean we’ll still be working for DBS past 2010, but Ling liked the about four digit savings if we went with this rather than the full loan repayment in 2010.

In any case, our child will be coming to 4.5 years old by then, so that’ll be about the right time to, well, start saving up for his/her, er, University tuition fees LOL.:)

More music rollicking

There’s a date each month on the calendar that I look forward to these days. Specifically, it’s the 20th when my subscription on EMusic gets refreshed and I can pick up a few hundred more music pieces. I’ll be pretty much in music nirvana, getting introduced into new musical compositions. Here’s what I’ve picked up just this week:

19 of Albinoni’s Oboe Concertos (3 CDs). This is baroque music, and Albinoni’s stuff is like Vivaldi’s: they all start sounding alike after a while.

Five of Fumiko Shiraga’s albums (5 CDs). I’ve blogged about her recordings recently.

Beethoven’s symphonies performed by Minnesota Orchestra & Osmo Vänskä (5 CDs). I’ve got several interpretations of these symphonies already, including the famous recording of the 5th with the late Carlos Kleiber. But this set of recordings was highly recommended on Amazon, and WOW they didn’t disappoint. Amazing lower strings section.

Brahms’ Serenades (2 CDs) performed by the Dresdner Philharmonic & Heinz Bongartz. These are some of the composer’s most lyrical compositions, but the audio quality was awful with distortion at the high frequencies. Didn’t listen to it more than once.

Mozart’s Piano Variations (3 CDs) performed by Francesco Nicolosi. I haven’t heard these works before but hey it’s Mozart.

Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflote‘ (2 CDs) performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by octogenarian Sir Charles Mackerras. My, dunno, fifth recording of this opera…?

blog-handelHandel’s Organ Concertos (4 CDs) performed by Thüringisches Kammerorchester Weimar & Johannes-Ernst Köhler. I think I’ve got an older analog collection of these recordings on Decca CD somewhere. These are new and modern recordings with all the benefits of newer sound technology.

Joplin’s Piano Rags. Joplin’s most famous for The Entertainer, a piece that just about every grade VI+ piano learner will play, but he wrote several dozen other similar rags too.

There’s also an assortment of other works; choral selections from Handel’s oratorios (other than ‘Messiah’ LOL), half a dozen of Bach’s cantatas, the lesser known W. F. Bach’s symphonies, trombone concertos, more piano sonatas by Haydn, overtures by Weber etc.

Totaled together there’s about 40 hours of music. At times like these I wish I had two or three pairs of ears so I can finish listening to all of them before the next 20th of the month comes along again.:)

Five or six

blog-2008-aquarium-p1000524-six-ottosOne thing the two of us couldn’t agree about the aquarium at home was how many Otocincluses we had in in the tank. I’ve always thought we’ve got five, but Ling believes there’re six!

For those of us not in the hobby, Otocincluses, or usually just called Otos for short, are dwarf sucker catfishes. They’re among the most hardworking of algae eaters, and one typically finds one or two of them in a freshwater aquarium.

That said, these little critters can be hard to spot if you’ve got a well-planted aquarium, since they typically don’t move around much (ours apparently work at night only too), they’re small, and they can hide underneath plant leaves.

So, it was quite a surprise on Christmas afternoon when we were tidying up the tank for our small group event on the 27th, Ling spotted all of them lined up nicely along the filter intake. I didn’t have time to dig out the D300 or set up a nice shot, so the picture here is taken on Ling’s compact Panasonic camera.:)

All six of them!!

All children are blessings

My Christmas post!

One of the two discussion books our small group has been studying this year is on family. And as these discussions go, a couple of times the issue of having children has come up a few times. The opinions in my small group and from my other friends span the entirerange: “No way José”, “Still deciding”, and “Would love to have”.

To be totally honest, I oscillated a little about “starting a family”. Early on, that wanting was actually there. I mean, I had loads of fun with my nephews Danyel and Issac when I stayed at Lentor, and have a lot of admiration of how my elder brother and Jasmine brought them up. However, after I started working teaching 17-18 year olds, I started getting cold feet! I mean, just looking at the kind of trouble they get into… teenage pregnancies, and all the media reports about 17 year old girls posting up suggestive and revealing photos to attract boys and thinking  nothing of it. Or meeting up DOMs from chat lines. It’s scary stuff, especially if it’s your child who’s in that kind of trouble.


But there were two places I found encouragement in. One was from words my Godmother shared with me 15 years ago while I was a student in NTU. She firmly believed that if you bring your children up right in the first 18 years before they hit maturity, they’ll turn out OK. So, she disciplined her children when it was called for. And she has two wonderful grown-up children now, both I think in their mid and late twenties and who went on to do Ph.Ds at the Ivy League.

The second source of encouragement weren’t from words but from reason. Those fears that the children we have will turn into brats. But our own parents and before them faced those fears too, and didn’t we turn out just fine too?

OK, so one may argue conditions are very different today. We’re exposed if not outright bombarded by far more social values than our parents were at equivalent ages. 100, maybe even just 30 years ago, your formative years were spent maybe in a kampung. These days, the kids are connected to the larger world early on, and often at ages where they just may not have the maturity to decide what’s right and wrong.

But didn’t our own parents have the same fears even if the context then wasn’t the Internet or cultural invasion? Whether it’s fear of not being able to manage children, or fear of not retaining one’s beautiful body post-delivery, or just wanting to have a ‘two-person world’ as the Chinese phrase goes. If our parents had somewhere concluded not to have children, we wouldn’t be here discussing now right? Scary thought. *shudder*

After having thought it through and (re)convinced myself that having a family is the best thing we could do with our lives together, I no longer think those difficulties are insurmountable. If having children was a mistake, there would, reasonably, be plenty of parents around us that regret having children.

But none of my friends who’re mothers and/or fathers have said any such thing. Nada, zilch. Oh, of course sometimes they sound like they’re about to tear their hair out. But that’s always temporal. Their love and affection for their little ones always comes through.

One of our small group friends, Priscilla, said something during her prayer that Ling found very meaningful: that all children are blessings. If nothing else, if children weren’t supposed to be a blessing, our Lord would have said so.

He instead said quite the opposite:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

Night photography

A couple of colleagues and several Software Engineering students of mine headed out yesterday evening to take night shots of downtown. It was a fun and small event, though not much variety: it turned out to be a Nikonian gathering! Two D300s, two D40s, one D60, one D70 (one other colleague who just bought a D90 couldn’t come), three SB600s, one SB800 – and no Canon in sight LOL.

Our first stop was the Padang. I didn’t take too many pictures though (there’s a couple on the Flickr link on the right), and left early as Ling was feeling a little tired after shopping some distance away at Marina Square.


Breathing new life

blog-shiraga-1I’ve blogged here a few times now about a classical music subscription service I’m on. It shouldn’t be easy figuring out which pieces you’d like to listen or buy.  You’ve got many tens if not hundreds of thousands of compositions across the spectrum. There are recordings of classical music from works as early as the 15th century to today, and multiply it with the large number of performers and orchestras who each lend their individual perspectives to the composition.

That said, I don’t quite have the wide-ranging interest in all classical music eras nor composers either. I’m less interested in contemporary compositions than say the baroque or early classical ones. And over the years I’ve listened and collected I’ve accummulated a large number of versions for pieces in what listeners consider the ‘central’ repetiore of any collection.

So, I was really pleasantly surprised and then amazed when I stumbled on recordings by German pianist Fumiko Shiraga‘s piano concerto recordings. Yep you heart that right; Shiraga’s born Japanese but is German in nationality.

blog-shiraga-2Ok, what’s so special about her recordings of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin piano concertos? Well, She’s gone off the well-walked track and instead used rearrangements of those works by Beethoven’s contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Instead of an orchestra accompaniment for each piano concerto, each arrangement uses a very small chamber ensemble e.g. a string quartet.

The result of her efforts is like a fresh air to works I’ve listened to over 20 years now. Her performance is crisp and sharp. Without a large or even mid-sized orchestra accompaniment muddying things and with the piano now taking absolute center stage, one hears details that just weren’t obvious before. Like for instance, Mozart’s very well-known Symphony No. 40 in G minor that I’ve never quite liked that much. In Shiraga’s hands I can see textures that I’ve completely missed before, and just marvel at the genius Mozart was.

Shiraga’s discography here.

Tot Naming Part II

Part II of baby naming, and a continuation from Part I I blogged last month. Here are the names going from F to N.

F – Didn’t choose any names from this alphabetical character, since it wouldn’t have gone very well with the surname.:)

Gana (Hebrew) – Garden

Gracie (Latin?) – Not Grace Foo, so a variation!

Hannah (Hebrew) – Favored by God

Liza (?) – A short form of Elizabeth, and consecrated by God

Meredith (Old Welsh) – Just putting it in as an option. Means a lord (!?).

Noelle (Old French) – Born of Christmas

Favorites in the six names above… hmm; I like all of them! But if I had to choose, I’d go with Hannah, followed by Liza, then Gana.:)

Tang Yuan Soup

There’s a Chinese saying that goes: you(3) yang(4) xue(2) yang(4). Translated to English, it means ‘monkey see monkey do’.

That was what happened to me when I read Ann’s blog about her craving for round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour. Like her, I prefer those with fillings and especially those with black sesame seeds. The plain ones are just too, well, plain and tasteless.

So I took a 5 minutes’ walk from my place to Shop ‘n’ Save in search for tang yuan. I was so glad that they still have stock for black sesame seeds tang yuen. This flavour usually runs out very quickly.

The preparation for tang yuan soup is simple. In order to make it taste nicer, I added extra ingredients to the soup. Here’s my version of it:


1 pack of black sesame seeds tang yuan (~10 balls)
3-4 tbsps of brown sugar
2 stalks of pandan leaves
1 small, crushed ginger (1 inch)
12 dried longans
4 red dates (soaked for 1-2 mins and brush off the dirt stuck in the crevices of the wrinkled skins) – seedless ones preferred as the seeded ones tend to be rather heaty

1) For the soup pot, add 3 bowls of water, ginger, dried longans, red dates and pandan leaves tied into a knot. Bring the water to a rolling boil.

2) Once the water boils in the soup pot, allow it to simmer in moderate heat (can still see some bubbling) for 10 mins. Remove the pandan in the middle of simmering as it might cause the soup to taste bitter.

3) Start boiling the water for tang yuan once the soup pot is boiling. Add enough water to allow tang yuan to float in it later. (The tang yuan are cooked separately as they could cause the soup to become cloudy if cooked in it.)

4) When the water starts to boil, add the frozen tang yuan and wait for them to float to the surface.

5) Once the tang yuan float to the surface, allow it to cook for 1-2 mins before turning off the heat.

6) Scoop out and divide the tang yuan into 2 bowls. Pour the soup into the bowls. Serve while hot. (You can serve it chilled too.)

Preparation time: 5 mins               Cooking time: 15-20 mins

No. of servings: 2

Yang doesn’t fancy tang yuan though.

Korea Strawberries in Season Now!

Sweet, sweet Korea strawberries are selling at $3.95 per punnet at NTUC and $3.45 per punnet at Shop ‘N’ Save. Buy, buy! Forget about those from Australia, NZ or US. They often look big and red and hence deceptively sweet but bluff one! The Korean ones look elongated and less appealing to the senses but once you tasted them, you won’t forget their goodness. :D Buy, buy!


If you thought you saw the worst of it…

A couple of months ago when we were with our small group, our discussions for the night got into races. I remarked then that many a time I’m really not proud to be Chinese.

How’s that? OK, so the Chinese are a people who have thousands of years of history, and in ancient times were technologically more advanced than equivalent civilizations at the same time. Call it a simplistic (mis?)understanding of our ancestral and cultural history, but just the other day, a friend forwarded to me a PETA link which describes using video and static imagery exactly what a fur farm in China does.

Before visiting the link, do be warned: the imagery is very graphic and shows some of the cruelest things people of my skin-color do to animals just so someone else can wear their pelts. The video showed a living animal methodically beaten with its head crushed, and while still alive (barely), stripped off its fur by Chinese workers.

It’s crazy stuff and the sort of thing that makes your heart really boil. Makes you really ashamed of belonging to the same race as these guys, even if they’re several thousand kilometres north of where you’re at and saluting a different flag.