Friday, April 30, 2004

checking out Wangfujing

we popped down to Wangfujing, Beijing's Orchard Road to check out the environment, before the May Day hordes descend on the place. Even though the place was already filling up with tons of people, you don get the cheek by jowl congestion because of the wide pedestrian boulevards. Shopping centres lined both sides of the shopping district.

first Peking duck in Beijing

our fellow Singaporean expat friends, Linda and Teck Koon brought us to sample the ubiquitous Peking duck last night. it was excellent! the crispy skin simply melts in your mouth. Their son, Joel, soon to celebrate his first birthday, was the centre of attention. many of the waitresses came by to play with him. we were told that this was quite common, that serving staff would be very happy to mind your children while you makan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Chinese carpets

happened to come across a carpet shop in a shopping centre here. mainly silk carpets from Henan and wool carpets from Tibet and Xinjiang. but Persian carpets seems better in terms of colour, quality and design to me.

however, a web search came up with an interesting article about Chinese carpets. it seems that a lot of popular motifs in Persian rugs had originated from China. another article also told interesting stories about Mongolian, Xinjiang and Tibetan rugs. intriguing...more things to learn for me...

local TV

yup, watching Phoenix TV here has been both educational and frightening!

there are chlorine gas disasters ala scenes from First World War German gas attacks. In a Chongqin Chemical plant, tanks were brought in to fire armour piercing shells at storage tanks to burn off leaking chlorine gas. plus bogus baby milk powder (with almost ZERO protein) sold by crooked merchants killing babies from poor peasant families. also discovered that even "free range" eggs can be faked. they feed chickens with red pigments so that the yolks can be a pleasing reddish yellow colour.

you learn something new everyday...

Monday, April 26, 2004

first post from Beijing

Robina and I have just arrived in Beijing. now staying in Traders Hotel. we'r in the West Wing :-) and guess what: they have free broadband!

just changed config on iBook and voila! back in business oredi!

apparently it had not rained in Beijing for months and temperature here last week was very hot (abt 28C!). turns out that it started raining yesterday and now it's a cool 10C! Robina is demanding that she need to by thicker clothing (all our cold weather clothes are being shipped over). the next few days will be spent house hunting. been told that there are many apartment developments in Beijing, so got plenty to choose from :-)

Sunday, April 25, 2004

last hurrah!

went down to the prata joint at Casuarina Road to load up on local food before our departure on Monday. it was really worth the trip. the prata and murtabak was very crispy and delicious! between Robina and myself, we gorged on chicken curry, prata kosong, cheese prata, murtabak, thosai; washed down with teh tarik, kopi and lime juice. yummy!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

night of no bites

we were at the seaside opposite Coney Island last night with a bunch of Punggol neighbours and dog owners for a spot of fishing! It's a relatively short distance from our Punggol flats but what a difference it was to enjoy the cool sea breeze and casting the lines (think "Legends of the Fall"). sadly, the fishing enthusiasts didn't have much luck bcos of the strong current and rising tide. Another angler was there with his family. he had a good night ending up with 18 flower crabs!

we brought our dogs for a night out too! they had a fun time rolling on the grass, chewing things of dubious origins, barking at the resident pariah dogs and collecting spiky seeds in their fur. their owners had to improvise mosquito coils with rolled up newspapers to ward off sandflies and mossies! big mistake to forget coil and repellent! but in all, I think all everyone had an pleasant time spending a friday night by the sea...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

soil subsidence, my ass!

heard about the Nicoll Highway road collapse on a taxi after my grocery shopping in NTUC Tampines. began to SMS all and sundry, especially those who were overseas.

the immediate media coverage was shaky and sorely lacking. the first "live" image was only at 1710hrs, the collapse happened at about 1530hrs. CNA's initial characterisation of the incident was a "soil subsidence". as if macham that it was a pothole! if this was Taiwan, the media would be there on the scene before the first police patrol car (well, it could be a good or bad thing). a lot of the "live" call-in coverage was gabra-like zebra. the correspondents were nervous and didn't know what they were talking about. one guy said "er, I have left the scene oredi..." What! having kopi isit???

so far, the casualties are 1 dead, 3 injured. Police, SCDF rescuers and sniffer dogs are now on the scene to check if anyone was trapped in the wreckage. thus far, it appears that no motorists were on the collapsed section of Nicoll Highway. Police says no evidence of terrorist sabotage thus far.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Sally at the vet

brought Sally to Animal Clinic at Sunset Way yesterday for her annual checkup and booster shots. as usual she was very curious in the waiting room but was scared shitless once in the vet examination room. once we out her on the stainless steel table (a standard fixture at all vet clinics), she knew something was wrong and tried to scramble up to us. The vet was very nice and pronounced Sally to be very healthy. Sally is now 9.4kg and slightly fatter than her usual 8kg since her last vet visit.

we had to hold Sally for the vaccination jabs. she kena two shots in the butt. this was quite unlike Sally's previous experience in Taiwan. she used to be jabbed in the scruff of the neck. but she took the shots without a yelp unlike her previous injections.

met a 17-year old dog at the vet. in human terms, he must be about 120! although the dog has cataracts but his fur was in beautiful condition and still has enuff teeth. a miniature pinshcer came in with a slight lame. another terrier had a running sore on the head. all the owners had a fun time commiserating with each other's suffering.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

caffeine deprivation

in a departure from my usual two cups a day routine (OK lah, sometimes 3 cups...), I went without my morning caffeine dose since I woke up late and had to dash off to town to run errands. by 4pm, I had a splitting headache. by 5pm, I detoured into Far East to slurp down a cup of Ya Kun coffee (minus the kaya toast and soft-boiled egg). right now at abt 9pm plus, I'm still having a headache (less agonising though). now I'm trying to marinate my brain with another cup of coffee next to the iBook as I blog. missing that morning coffee was really painful and I had to make it up with two cups!!!

the last time I went thru such agony, ironically, was during my coffee-swilling postgrad days. Together with Siva, I took part in a drug testing programme done by Eli Lily in NUH (no radio-active spider was involved). They want to test drug excretion rate in Asians and caffeine was used as the test chemical. But because caffeine was the test subject we had to be caffeine-free for 48hrs before the test. Here comes the painful part, we had to lay off coffee, tea, coca or pepsi colas, even some vegetables like cauliflowers and cabbages. basically any possible source of caffeine or similar chemicals in our food. by the afternoon, I was non-functional. a skull-splitting headache was detonating my brain. I didn't remember how I got thru that 48hrs before we are supposed to gulp down two packets of 3-in-1 coffee. to add insult to injury, we were not allowed to pee during night. needless to say, I was hopping around by morning. but in the end, we did our small part for the advancement of medical science.

coffee, glorious coffee!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

carpet hunting part 2

we re-visited Ghazzal Carpets at Robertson Walk this afternoon. thankfully, we had Oi Yee with us to soften up Mr Hussein the owner with her bargaining skills. overall, we learnt a lot about appreciating persian carpets. it is like appreciating masterpiece artwork.

after boning up in persian carpet technicalities from Oi Yee, our visit last week and from the web, we went through a whole range of different carpets from Nain, Qom and Tabriz. Even among the predominantly beige and blue Nains, there are different grades from noolah, sheeslah to charlah using different quality of wool and silk. The boss patiently explained and showed us the difference in the wool threads: 3X3 for noolah, 3X2 for sheeslah and 2X2 for charlah. After placing different examples side by side, even novices like us could tell the difference between quality (and price!).

turns out that Airani, Robina and I all have good tastes. All of us thought that one particular Nain (high-end sheeslah) was beautiful in terms of colour and design. My jaw dropped when the boss quoted us the price: $10K…(Oi Yee later told us that it could be bargained down to $8K or below)

After looking at 10” by 6” Nains, we went thru silk Qoms. These are smaller at 6” by 4” but can be very quite expensive since they made of silk. their texture is luxurious and their colours and sheen change in different light and angle when you view the carpet. After narrowing down our choices (we stuck with one Nain and Qom we spotted last week), here comes the hard ball bargaining.

Oi Yee was the master at this, wearing down Mr Hussein. she will catch him off-balance by quoting some "tai lang pang huai" price (hokkien for cut-throat arson and pillage)! The rest of us was exhausted even though OY was the one tussling with the boss. I was ready to toss in the towel at one stage (Airani said that she would have surrendered very fast).

Mr Hussein was also very good at the bargaining game. He will tell you his sob story (asking price oredi below cost price & it takes 3 years to make the carpet etc) but will not lose temper or posture agressively like some other merchants. But even the wily man is at a lost after being harangued by OY (it’s my birthday in a few days!), I almost felt sorry for the poor man.

In the end, we got a relatively cheap Nain noolah and a silk Qom for quite a reasonable price (and a freebie doormat). But Robina is now eyeing the very shiok $10K Nain…

first cat

an archeological find in Cyprus might be the earliest evidence of cat's domestication by human beings. dated to about 9,500 years old, this pushes back the early history of feline association with humans from 4,000 years ago with the Egyptians. A complete cat skeleton was found with the skeleton of a 30 year-old human, together with burial offerings. The size of the cat suggested that it was very similar to the African Wild cat, the most likely ancestor of the domesticated house cat.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Sally's possum dinner

my suspicions that Kiwis are crazy were reinforced when I picked up a can of dog food at Pet Lovers' the other day. After inventing the bungee, zorb sphere and dwarf tossing, they also came up with possum in a can. It was touted as an organic dog food, both hypoallergenic and rich in Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids with possum as the main ingredient.

before you condemn the kiwis as barbaric butchers of those cute doe-eyed furry animals, the possum is an alien invader that has caused an ecological and conservation disaster in New Zealand. The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is a nocturnal and omnivorous marsupial, originally from Australia. It was released into NZ in 1837 and managed to spread throughout NZ within 140 years. Without any natural predators, the marsupials soon multiplied like rabbits. current population estimates ranged from 70 to 90 million. all these hungry mouths chewed up about 21,000 tons of native vegetation every night. over 100 species of NZ's native flora such as rata, rewarewa, kohekohe, kamahi were devoured by possums and many of NZ's native endemic animal species (like the giant weta, takahe, kiwi, tuatara) are eaten out of their house and home.

Apart from spending NZ$50 million to control the possum population and conduct research, the creative and enterprising kiwis had devised various ways to make the possums pay for their damage. Many websites are selling possum fur products, ranging from fur pelts to sweaters, scarfs and caps. One of RMBR's (then ZRC) earliest education aid was a possum fur pelt donated by zoology postgrad Cheryl Tan from her NZ vacation. Since most of museum's mammal specimens were for research purposes and poisoned with arsenic as a preservative, the soft possum fur was something that visitors can touch and handle.

Apart from turning possums into fashion statements, another way to reduce their numbers is to eat them. Kiwis have tried to market possum as game meat. One possum dish created was "Road Kill Pizza" (bleeaah...). Apparently, possum meat can be BBQed or cooked in a curry (mmmm....).

Another money-making venture was dog food! well, Sally sampled some possum tonight. I think she approved since she licked her food bowl clean! In fact, the concoction smelled delicious after being microwaved and looked exactly like Bolognaise pasta sauce. Sally the ecologically friendly dog has done her small part in preserving NZ's middle earth landscape by doing what she does best: wolfing down her dinner...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Josh spotted

before Bradley Whitford landed the role as Joshua "Josh" Lyman in West Wing, he was in Robocop 3. spotted him while channel-surfing.

Horseshoe Crab on the menu

just came back from seafood lunch with my parents and in-laws at Turf City (the former Turf Club at Bukit Timah). they have a central seafood market (Unique Seafood) that supplies the nearby seafood restaurants and casual buyers. apart from local seafood mainstays like Sri Lankan crabs, tua tau clams (Glauconome), tiger prawns, Soon Hock gobby, Patin catfish, groupa, assorted spiny lobsters from Oz and local waters; they also have more exotic items like geoduck clams, live abalone from South Africa, Canadian oysters, Alaskan King crabs (some kind of spider crab), Snow crabs and King crabs from Australia (deep-water crab species).

Robina said that they all seemed to sense their fate...(that observation didn't affect her appetite though)

Interestingly, saw 2 tanks with live Horseshoe Crabs. I asked a lady I/C about the name and way the horseshoe crabs are prepared. She told me that it's called "Hard-shelled Fish" and it's eaten for its roe/eggs, presumably steamed. Maybe Fiona and Siva can have a post-project makan there...

carpet hunting 101

Oi Yee brought, Robina, Airani and me to visit her usual carpet dealer in Robertson Walk on Saturday. Robina and I were very impressed by the thick, luxurious and intricate designs of Oi Yee's carpets at her place. All her carpets were bought from this shop. so we ask her to bring us to check out iranian/persian carpets. we were newbies at this so Oi Yee filled us in on the basics of carpets.

the boss of Ghazzal Carpets was away in Iran buying new stocks but his wife showed us some of the new wool and silk carpets. apparently, old and well-used carpets actually increase in value since the colours mature and designs stand out better. some pieces were signed by the weaver, just like paintings.some of the heavy duty use woolen carpets are affordable while silk carpets cost much more. viewing a variety of carpets from various Iranian towns gave us a pretty good introduction to the style and designs.

Robina was captivated by the soft texture of silk carpets and by the sheen and changes in colours viewed from different angles. we like the blue and ivory style of Nain carpets. we also saw designs from Oom, Tabriz, Isfahan and Bijar (all different carpet-producing cities in Iran).

Some of these exotic places sounded familiar to us who followed the adventures of two singaporeans (Alex and Jo) cycling thru Asia from London back to Singapore. They passed thru Iran and was amazed by the hospitality and friendliness of the Iranian people. They were practically waylaid on the highways by drivers offering tea and fruits(and in one case, cash!); and even bundled off to join in wedding festivities. (see their site and blog).

although Mr Hussein the boss was not around, we had some idea about what we prefer. will pop by the place next week to view more carpets and get down to some hardcore bargaining.

Alvin's spiel

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