Monday, May 22, 2006

Taipei break

Robina and I visited Taipei last week for a short break. Robina discovered that her tolerance for Beijing was fast running out, so a quick dash to a more civilised Taipei was in order. so far, the ROD for Robina is about 5-6 months (TTC blogger Dan calls it aptly, "the cycle of funk").

funny thing was that we really appreciated Taipei only after moving to Beijing. I guess it's all relative. Now we kowtow to the Japanese-level of gracious service that is common in Taipei. not to mention the delicious Taiwanese and Japanese food that we could find so easily in Taiwan. the only drawback for Taipei (also for Beijing) was that english books were hard to come by, but the situation in Taipei was better since you could still find a reasonable range of english books in places like Eslite or Kinokuniya.

for some strange reason, we had to dodge another typhoon during this trip, Chanchu (pearl in Chinese). thankfully, our flight to HK was not delayed even though the typhoon was moving towards the mainland and quite close to Taiwan after hitting the Philippines.

after the tanking up on some civilisation, I hope to travel to more ulu spots within China. maybe a short trip to Qinghai Lake during summer to see the migratory birds and Tibetan culture. or to experience the grassland steppes of Inner Mongolia. the downside is that, we have to pick some really ulu boondocks in order not to find the rest of China there as well. we discovered to our dismay during the May holidays that local tourist spots were innundated by hordes of humanity. not surprising, since one fifth of humanity is in China.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Snoopy hardware

this is FYI for KPW. spotted in Watson's in Taipei. a whole range of Snoopy household electrical appliances, from hairdryer to kettle and fan. you can outfit your house or kitchen.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sally's haircut

before. scruffy Sally (pic by Sherry).

after. neat, tidy and dead tired.

We picked up Sally after we landed yesterday. Apart from staying at the dog farm, Sally got a bath and groom just before going back home with us. Sally's long winter coat has been shaved off. Now she's recovering from being kept with a pack of pesky puppies. We think that Sally must be have been thoroughly harassed by the puppies. from how tired she looked, she must have missed a decent snooze for the six days.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Unagi special

We tried this Japanese restuarant, Yu Xin (Songjiang Rd, Lane 124, no.31; near junction of Nanjing East Rd and Jilin Rd) this evening. their specialty is unagi bento (NT240 or NT140 for big or small portions). the eel was grilled to perfection. you can taste the crispy outer surface with the smoking flavour from the grill but the meat is tender and moist. Apparently, the eel was grilled, then steamed and then grilled again.
We also tried their sushi roll, with unagi, prawn, bonito flakes, crabstick, asparagus rolled in seaweed and omelette.
the tempura prawn is excellent with light and crispy batter, not oily at all.

bitter tea

went to this herbal tea shop behind the busy Chunghsiao East Rd (taipei's orchard rd). had a bowl of their "bitter tea" to clear the "heatiness" in our system. to counteract the bitter taste of the herbs, we are served small white pellets of sweet hawthorn (Shan Cha). Robina has been taking TCM brews recently, so she did not feel anything.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

toro tuna

We struck gold at Taipei's Breeze Centre supermarket, which we knew always had excellent and fresh sushi and sashimi. The moment we stepped in we saw a huge crowd. It was the start of blufin tuna season and the supemarket had brought in a whole tuna. the staff was busy carving up and slicing the fish for sashimi and sushi.
During the summer months, tuna would be in season in Taiwan. caught off the sea off Taiwan and the Philippines, the bluefin tuna we get here is very fresh compared to even the fish exported to Japan. Robina and I used to love having fresh maguro (tuna in Japanese) during summer in Taipei. for the same few slices, we would have to pay at least S$50 back in Singapore. While the crowd queued up for free samples, I quickly chosed a slices of bright red tuna and asked the chef to slice it up for sashimi. the chef told us that the tuna was so fresh that we did not need soya sauce or wasabi.
Later when the crowd subsided, the supervisor told us that they sliced up half the carcass and the rest of the fish would be sold tomorrow. Robina and I quaffed down the maguro slices in no time at all. it was deliciously heavenly! the fish was melt-in-your-mouth tender and sweet. it was the colour of fresh steak. We decided to come back on Monday to buy more tuna, after checking with the staff that there would be more bluefin tuna in stock

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sherry in town

Bio grad, Sherry Nee and her husband was in town with tour group. since they were in a tour group, they were fed the usual tour group meals with same old unappetising dishes even tho they were in Beijing (the land of a 1,000 restuarants). instead of free time (and shopping time), they were brought around to "factories" for captive sales pitches.
we brought them out for some shopping and went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. later, we went to our place for coffee and Sherry managed to see Sally after all this while.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

live GE results monitoring

just got off an exciting and exhausting GE monitoring session. conducted via iChat with SS, Airani and Peck Wai. we cannot get CNA in our apartment and the CNA website was down due to high volume (thanks hor CNA!). I was also doing live re-broadcast to friends in Beijing via SMS.

it was fun trading irreverent remarks and tracking the results as they came in. this was the closest to live broadcast since I was fed the election results hot off the TV screens in Singapore. turns out that another of our fren was a returns officer on duty in Singapore.

well, till the next GE. signing off...

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

voting in Beijing

Robina and I went down to vote at the Singapore embassy. this will be her first ever election since her parents' place was in Queenstown and therefore in Tangjong Pagar GRC. here's Robina and her polling letter.

this is also the first time overseas voting is allowed for Singaporeans based abroad. however, some S'pore frens based here complained that there are still some restrictions. hopefully, by the next GE these would be relaxed even further to allow more S'pore expats to exercise both their legal obligation and democratic rights.after voting, Robina was asked by a friendly security guard (Chinese) if it was difficult to vote (errr...btw no voting here in China hor...). Robina replied that it was easy, just make a cross and drop in the voting slip. I guess voting itself is easy but it's more difficult to make the decision whether if you are thinking of lifts stopping on every floor or a broader issue of having a "balance in the force"...

after the hectic and exciting campaign (by Singapore standards), I will remember this as a GE of apologies. first, PAP demanding JG to apologise and account for the "FORM" incident; then PM apologising for the "fix" remarks and Irene Ng not apologising for the alleged "trouble maker" remarks. as the bak chor mee seller says: say sorry also must explain!

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Korean cold noodles

had a simple lunch at local joint in a scruffy alley just 50m behind the CBD mainroad. I could see that it was a busy place with many blue-collar and office workers. should be "safe" enuff, I thot.

everyone was ordering the Yanji cold noodles, which I liked as well. Yanji is in northeast China bordering North Korea. the cold noodle dish is influenced by a similar korean dish since there are many ethnic Koreans in northeast China. the light kimchi broth is ice cold and very pleasant in a hot summer day. the dish is also refreshing with cucumber slices, a slice of crunchy pear, kimchi, and half a hard-boiled egg and quail eggs.strangely (to me), everyone was ordering "yangrou chuan" or lamb kebabs (like our satay). the mutton is doused with chilli flakes and cumin seeds. the contrasts in temperatures, texture and flavours are quite interesting! noodles and chuan came to RMB12 (about S$2.40) only.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

more yunnan food

can't seem to get enuff of Yunnan food recently. a Singaporean fren suggested dinner at a popular Yunnan restaurant along Kui Street. the english name of the restuarant is "Food in a Novel"; at least it's not "food in a hovel". the chinese name is "border town", totally unrelated to the english name! this happens all the time here in Beijing...

apart from usual steam pot chicken soup and guoqiao mixian, we tried a few interesting dishes; like this starter dish which is deep-fried cheese with a plum sauce dip.
deep-fried rose petals in a tempura-like batter, plus fresh rose petals with slivers of srping onion. interesting...
stir-fried boletus fungus with chilli-peppers (not spicy ones)
this packs a spicy punch but went well with beer. its actually very dry beef that's almost like beef floss with chilli.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

pain in the ass

we visited Kangxi grasslands north of the Badaling Greatwall. this is the nearest piece of steppes to Beijing. many Beijingers head out to this place in the summer for horse riding and BBQs.
on the whole we found the place quite disappointing, mainly due to the poor conditions of the horses. cheapest "grade" cost about RMB100 (about S$20) per hour and then RMB200, and RMB300 for "better" horses. we rode before at a "proper" riding school, where the horses were better cared for and the sessions there costs RMB180.
the landscape was quite disappointing as well since the grasses have not grown much yet. We will also pissed off by the persistent hustling by the "guides". they keep pestering us to "upgrade" the horses and for tips. we would have tipped them if they were pleasant and helpful rather than behaving like they were trying to sell snake oil!
here, everyone looked happy to return to the stables. for some reason, the guides keep urging us to gallop the horses. but the horses are like mangy nags that did not respond to controls. the horses only perked up on the return leg since they knew that they were heading back. we had to rein back since the horses were ready to sprint back!
group photo. we went there with Pat & Winnie, Boon Peng & Joyce & Jovien and Boon Peng's parentswe stopped for lunch at a local restaurant near Longqingxia tourist attraction. the restaurant served typical peasant food. we enjoyed the delicious omelette made from their backyard-fresh eggs. the grilled trout was tasty too! the waitress told me that they have "wild chickens" and offered to show me. As I expected it was the Chinese pheasant.
there was even rabbit stew on the menu! poor bunnies! I declined the offer of wild game. at the back of my mind, all I could think of are "bird flu" and SARS!

Alvin's spiel

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