Foodied out

The problem with cramming too many food tastings in three days, is that it inevitably wears your palate out. Clear standouts: the potato skins with ocean trout caviar at One Rochester and the braised tiger prawns in chilli (crab) sauce at Chinois by Susur Lee. And surprise of surprises, a little homemade bacon mushroom aglio olio in the middle of it all. Now I know why one should bother to caramelise onions.



Things I hadn't planned on doing over the weekend that turned out to be a good idea anyway:
  • Re-watching bits of Battlestar Galactica season 4, including the series finale (O Starbuck!).
  • Eating a hearty heap of Indian rojak, complete with extra dipping sauce.
  • Taking lots of showers --- pesky hot weather.
I wish yakking about Battlestar Galactica qualified as appropriate small talk at all the food tastings I have to go to this week ...


Cable TV no more

Lost TV

I returned my Starhub cable set-top box today, which means I no longer have cable TV reception at home. For the longest time I haven't known what's on TV at what time, least of all whether it's available on the channels on my subscription plan. I still watch TV series --- I just don't do appointment viewing anymore and if I want the news, I have the Internet.

Just over a year ago I passed the VCR (that's videocassette recorder, for you young 'uns reading this) and surviving blank videotapes to my mother, who still watches the odd tape of Cantonese TV series from Hong Kong. She had a working VCR at the time, but I figured it was good for her to have a back-up since it'll be obsolete technology soon.

I remember when we got our first VCR in the family. It must've been in the mid-1980s and we certainly weren't early adopters of that technology, more like catching up with the Joneses. When I got married, we got our own VCR as a matter of course, along with a cable TV box. That was just over ten years ago.

Faster and faster things whirl. I suppose I should try to tune the TV set to get free-to-air channels, but I'll have to Google that first.



The rest of the Chinese New Year holidays

Leaf-littered stairs

Tuesday: Walked. A lot. And then it was Bukit Chandu, just in time for the annual sounding of the Public Warning System to commemorate the fall of Singapore in World War II. As I tweeted: surreal.

Tuesday night: Drank. A lot. And then it was dawn.

Wednesday: A blur. The good kind. And then the long weekend was over.

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Oranges are not the only fruit

I did not eat a single mandarin orange today. I had chok (thick Cantonese-style porridge), lasagna, pineapple tarts, bak kwa, kueh lapis, muruku, chocolates, nuts, and finally a very non-traditional dinner of lamb tagine, Moroccan mint tea and two bottles of Trappist beer to round off the day --- but not a sliver of mandarin orange.

However, I came home with eight oranges --- four for the remaining Chinese New Year visiting I have to do in the next few days, four to eat when I feel like it and because my mom thought she had too many and did her best to offload some on me. Maybe I'll toss some into the bag for tomorrow's Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk.

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Welcome to the Year of the Tiger

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger

I was born in the Year of the Tiger. Tigers are cool, yo. None of that namby-pamby Rabbit or dour-faced Ox stuff. But of course, in the grand scheme of Chinese patriarchy, Tiger daughters are disdained. Tiger women are supposed to be fierce, aggressive. One of my aunts was nearly given away because she was born in the Year of the Tiger. In his Chinese New Year message this year, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw fit to remind Chinese Singaporean couples that "children born in the Year of the Tiger [...] are really no different from children born under other animal signs." I can't believe some people still need that reminder. I also can't believe (okay, yes I can, but I still wish he didn't say it) that the Prime Minister --- whose wife is the CEO of the government's leading investment company and whose deceased first wife was a doctor --- ditched a teachable moment (TM Barack Obama) about sexism for yet another expropriation of women's fertility for the PAP government's idea of national good. I wish tigers were not rapidly approaching extinction. I wish people would be nicer to animals.

This is only the third time in my life that I can remember the Year of the Tiger coming by, so pardon me if I get a little proprietary over it. I like being a Tiger. I look at my cats and I think, ah, they would be great tigers. Ink would preside majestically over some jungle, while Sisu would dart around more cautiously, occasionally sinking her teeth into your hand when you thought she was tame enough for you to pet her. The last time the Year of the Tiger swung around, I did not have any cats (nor any blog). I was also ... well, let's just say I was in a different place, then.

What's strange to think about is that I'm probably about halfway through my life now. I'm not about to get morbid (or maudlin, for that matter), but these 12-year cycles are certainly a different way of reckoning things. Since I've gone freelance, I've often felt like every year has to have something, to mean something. The museum project, the book, Vietnam, Korea --- what's this year's thing then? All the more (and I realise this isn't exactly a rational urge) because this year is my year.

My friend Cheryl is writing a book called A Tiger in the Kitchen. She's a Tiger too, so it's a clever title. I'm not quite a Tiger who cooks, but it's not like I've spent my life deliberately throwing myself against stereotypes either. I'm just not very good with the cooking, no matter how hard I try. I much prefer to just eat. Is that Tiger-like?

So it's the Year of the Tiger, and here I am.

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What Google Buzz is good for

1. Procrastinating.

2. Telling the whole world something --- by default Buzzes are public, which I think is an extremely confusing state of things for the average user since Buzz resides in Gmail, which is very much not public. (The first Gmail "add-on", Google Chat, defaults to private mode too.)

3. Telling the whole world who your most frequently emailed contacts are, unless you remove that information from your public profile (Business Insider shows you how to do that, via The Not-So Private Parts).

4. Never losing another idle comment again, and storing it in a much more searchable format than Twitter or Facebook.

5. Ambient information overload. As Kashmir Hill writes in "Why Google should have stayed out of social networking":
The problem with Google Buzz is that it basically tracks and consolidates EVERYTHING that we do on the Internet.
At this point it feels like my Buzz stream is just replicating everything I already get through my other information streams. So ... we'll see.

By the way, I've finally made my Twitter stream public and I might have another go at using it. I blame it on Buzz.



Talking about it

In case you haven't been following the ongoing furore over Singaporean pastor Rony Tan's comments about other religions at a church service:
  • Tan made comments about Buddhism and Taoism that, according to a Ministry of Home Affairs press statement, "were highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted the beliefs of Buddhists and Taoists". Online videos of Tan's statements were circulated on YouTube; they've since been taken down, but I watched and transcribed the ones in which he "interviewed" converts from Buddhism --- one male, one female --- in front of his congregation, and my firm impression is that Tan was behaving in a way that was flippant, disrespectful and wilfully ignorant of Buddhist beliefs.
  • The government's Internal Security Department "called up" Tan on Monday and told him not to "run down other religions" (again, I'm quoting again from the Ministry's press statement).
  • Channel Newsasia reports that Tan published a public apology on his church website on Monday. It's four paragraphs long and the apology itself reads:
    I realized that my presentation and comments were wrong and offensive. So I sincerely apologize for my insensitivity towards the Buddhists and Taoists, and solemnly promise that it will never happen again.
  • Tan met the president of Singapore Buddhist Federation and the chairman of the Taoist Federation on Tuesday to make an apology.
  • The Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng characterised Tan's statements as "clearly offensive to Buddhists and Taoists". However he said that Tan was not arrested, as three young men were for posting racist remarks on Facebook, because – as far as I can make out from the Minister's statement – someone lodged a complaint with the police against the three men, so the police had to take action. Which I guess meant arresting them if sufficient suspicions had been raised? By inference, did Tan avoid getting arrested because no one lodged a formal complaint with the police against him?
Now that the online videos seems to have all been taken down (and I wouldn't be surprised if someone's taken a hammer or strong magnet to the hard drive that held the original files), the message from the powers that be seems to be: keep calm and carry on. Which doesn't stop people from fretting over several possible issues:
  • "ZOMG we are shocked --- shocked! --- to find that pastors are saying these awful things to their congregations about other religions! We must stop them!"
  • "We need to make our feelings known! Please join this [Facebook] group to demand that Rony Tan be sufficiently punished for his religious insensitivity!" (No, really. The group is called "Embrace Religious Harmony! Disgrace to Zealots like Rony Tan" and currently has 295 members. Via Temasek Review.)
  • "No double standard! Either Arrest Rony Tan or let the three young Facebookers off with a public slap on the wrist!"
Interestingly, someone named Andrew left this comment over on the website Blogpastor, responding to the post about this incident:
I just don’t see the fairness in all this. To me it’s all always double standards. When the Da Vinci Code movie and books were popular here, it hurt many Christians and caused many to question their faith, yet the authorities did nothing about it, though we voiced our concerns. It was quickly followed by documentaries on TV that further undermined the Christian faith. It seems like its ok to ‘mock’ Christianity here, but it’s not okay to mock the other faiths. What’s up man?!
Which brings me to what I think is the crux of the entire matter. Yes, Pastor Rony Tan said some very questionable and upsetting things. But the worst thing about his entire shpiel was not that he was caricaturing certain religions. He could've been caricaturing anything, but the worst part was that his line of questioning and conclusions were so obviously flimsy, barely containing anything resembling proper logic, and yet he gets away with standing up there every Sunday and saying things that don't quite add up logically, and no one goes up to him politely and says, "Excuse me, sir, all due respect, but you're not making any sense."

I mean, that's the thing about this surreal world called Singapore. In this system, we can castigate people loosely for threatening religious or racial harmony, but we can't sit down, look closely at what they say, examine it thoroughly, thinking it through, and point out, "Um, excuse me, this sentence is relying on faulty logic."

I recently re-watched the infamous "I'm on page 73" speech made by Thio Su Mien at last year's AWARE meeting and of course lots of people were heckling her even before she got to "I'm on page 73". But it intensified at that point because it was precisely the appropriate response: it was ludicrous for her to assert herself as a "feminist mentor" merely because she had been acknowledged in an AWARE publication as the first female dean of the law faculty. Benefiting from any gains made by feminism doesn't make one a feminist (exhibit A: Sarah Palin) --- that's just bad logic.

Coming back to Tan, there were countless instances of faulty logic in his comments, but instead of people having the opportunity to watch the videos and talk about them and peg him for what he is --- a poor thinker, who really shouldn't be allowed in front of a classroom of any size or age group --- he gets labelled as a religious bigot and will probably never speak of the incident again. Which means there's a very good chance that a) he'll never have to question or improve his powers of reasoning, and may go on to say other illogical things, just not necessarily about non-Christian religions, b) no one else will get to dissect his statements, check and improve their own thinking, and in future be better able to see through other specious arguments.

For instance, I think Andrew's comment above is well worth parsing. What is it, really, to mock a religion, and is the goal of society to be so happily harmonious that no religion or social group ever feels offended? I happen to be a huge fan of Dogma and a huge opponent of burning books, even the lamest Chicken Soup books, so you know where I stand on that. But I'm still saying we should have a conversation about it.

The other thing is, if the Internal Security Department gets activated every time anything drifts remotely close to a religious organisation, and/or the Sedition Act gets whipped out to police this type of speech, ordinary people are never going to learn to talk about race and religion in a meaningful way. All the more the current government and its gatekeepers will be wary of letting such conversations even happen, and we will be stuck in deliberate ignorance and with untested logical thinking skills. And then if another AWARE hijacking takes place, I'll be surprised if anyone has the presence of mind to notice that, hey, wait a minute, something's not right in the logic of what certain people are saying here ...

I don't think we should shut people up or shut them away for saying grossly bigoted things. I think we should stand up and point out (sans violence) their faulty logic and lack of compassion, and we should make it clear that their viewpoints are not acceptable in the kind of society we want to live in. I think we should train our minds to pay closer attention to what people mean when they speak. Yes, it's tiring. Yes, it's hard. But that is the only way to make sure people don't get away with saying outrageous things sidiously, moving around certain goalposts to suit a hurtful and/or hateful agenda.

Edited to add (February 13):
  • Commenter Astron has added links below for the videos on YouTube. I don't know how long they'll be active.
  • Channel NewsAsia reported on February 12 that the police have placed one of the three youths accused of starting a Facebook group that stirred racist sentiment on a "Guidance Programme", while the other two administrators of that group have been "cautioned"; none of them will have a record of criminal conviction (source: "Youths involved in Facebook racism incident to be given 2nd chance").
  • Kennethism highlights another video of Pastor Rony Tan speaking in church and making preposterous statements about gay people (again, I'm not talking about faith-based issues, merely all sorts of logical fallacies).



This is what it has come to

In my neighbourhood is a name-brand primary school, the kind founded in the colonial period by some rags-to-riches chap, whose reputation in Singapore over the years has calcified into some kind of saint-like symbol of generosity, philanthropy and all-round goodness. As I was walking by the school at lunchtime, a large MPV, the kind that costs S$70,000-120,000 brand new, pulled up. An elderly man got out from the driver's side, the kind of elderly man who has a head full of white hair and wears jet-black socks with sports shoes. He looked healthy enough, but he was moving at that decelerated pace that's not quite doddering but not quite spry, either.

Waiting at the pick-up point was a boy, seven or eight years old and small as they come. He got into the front passenger seat, while the elderly man made his way to the spot on the pavement where the boy had left his school backpack, picked it up, walked back to the vehicle and placed it in the back seat. And by school backpack, I'm talking about one of those units that come with little wheelies these days. It didn't look impossible for the boy to pick up.

So the boy leaves his backpack for his grandfather to pick up. Which grandfather does. Because, I dunno, boy is small and precious, or something.

Just yesterday I was catching up on my Instapaper reads, which included Nancy Gibbs' "The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting" in TIME. The second paragraph reads:
We were so obsessed with our kids' success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it's never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as "crispies," who arrived at college already burned out, and "teacups," who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.
I do admissions interviews for freshman applications to my alma mater, and every year on average they're getting more well-prepped and less able to talk about anything that wasn't scheduled into their lives. Being alternately coddled and prepped-for-life clearly isn't a "uniquely Singaporean" experience of growing up, but you know, who I'm worried about is not so much the boy, but all the other people who are going to have to pick up after him for the rest of his life.



Same same but different

For lunch today I made spaghetti aglio olio with bacon and white mushrooms.

For dinner tonight I had bak chor mee with minced pork and mushrooms (and liver, which I didn't expect but didn't mind eating anyway).

It's funny what two different cultures can do with noodles, pork and mushrooms.