Happy birthday!

So without much fanfare as per the norm these days, my birthday came and went. It was such a typical day, going to work… just that I got the afternoon off and went off to meet my sis(-in-law) for lunch.

What are birthdays without cakes, especially when I have developed a sweet tooth somewhere along the way over these years.

This wasn’t a birthday cake. In fact, I got this for my friend (and also for myself to try) when I visited her at her home while she was recuperating from a surgery. It’s a new cake offered by Starbucks, a Coconut cream sponge cake, that was surprisingly quite nice, to me. Perhaps because it’s meant to be a sponge cake after all, it didn’t feel dense and heavy, and the coconut scent/taste wasn’t too strong or overpowering. I didn’t really take the cream that much so I can’t comment how good or bad it is. But overall, it’s pretty alright and good for sharing, as always!This was a real birthday cake. Ahead of my birthday, and also my bro’s, who has his birthday in this month too, my eldest bro and sis-in-law took us out for lunch one balmy Sunday afternoon, and surprised us after a hearty and comforting local delights lunch with these 2 slices of birthday cakes topped with candles! This was the one and only candle that I blew out this year. The food we had was good, it had a rather authentic ‘wok hei’ to it, and the cakes were also delicious. Maybe it was made even better because of the thoughts behind and enjoying the special moment as the birthday girl. 🙂Not a cake, but there’s still ‘cake’, i.e. Korean seafood pancake. Haha. Met a friend for dinner and she was having a craving for Korean food so off to a Korean eatery we went! The food was yummy, whether it’s the main or the ban-chan. I loved the japchae, even if it was a little oily but perhaps that was what made it so good! The portion was so generous for it being called an ‘appetiser’ or ‘starter’ so thankfully I didn’t order any main. With the ban-chan, the japchae and the pancake, I think I was already stuffed but yet I couldn’t resist not cleaning up whatever I could because the food was just too good (imho) and I hate wasting. As much as I possibly could.So when I met sis for lunch on the actual day, she brought me to U-town and we had lunch at a bistro. Even though we went fairly late for lunch, the place was still packed. But with the luxury of time that afternoon, we could afford to sit around and by the time we were done with our mains, the place already sort of cleared out and we could enjoy our cakes and coffee in peace while having a nice chat.

The carrot cake that we ordered wasn’t as good as we had hoped or expected it to be. But oh well, we can’t really tell if it’s good just based on looks. It had a rather flat taste and the sponge part felt a tad too dry and hard. But the apple crumble tart was good though! Sis commented that the carrot cake carried more cinnamon than the apple tart but I thought the taste came from the spiced apples within the tart. Anyhow, we really enjoyed the tart and it was a great and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.So that summed up my birthday celebration, if you would even consider it as a celebration. I suppose that as time passes and we age, birthdays become less of an event and quieter. We don’t need to be surrounded with people to celebrate our birthdays, or huge and noisy parties. That was never really my thing anyway. Quiet one-on-one or family gatherings are preferred because these are the people who matter anyway. 🙂

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Revisiting Flock CafĂ©, Moh Guan Terrace

I thought I read somewhere, maybe on Facebook, that Flock at Moh Guan Terrace was closing. That was after my first visit, and I had actually wrote an email to the address listed on their website but I didn’t receive any response. Yesterday, since I was on leave and was free in the early evening, I decided to go for a coffee break, even though I felt that I already had consumed sufficient food to last me to dinner. So anyhow, it has been a while since I took a walk around the “neighbourhood”, so despite that it was humid balmy day, I took the risk anyhow. There are always back-up options in the vicinity anyway, if Flock had really closed, but I was quite happy when I rounded the corner of the block where they are located, to see that they are still in business. Woohoo!

If my stomach had allowed, I would have liked to order their scrambled eggs with sourdough, something I had on the first visit that I enjoyed thoroughly. They had other all-day breakfast options too, and various other food options; in fact, I think they have quite an extensive menu considering that typically these cafes don’t offer much in terms of food. But I resisted. And ordered for myself a muffin and coffee. There were some cakes available, both the moist and creamy-looking type as well as the simpler tea-cake kind. But somehow they didn’t really appeal to me yesterday. The only muffin available was something called “Ondeh Ondeh muffin”; oh my, that sounds interesting enough! So here goes (and any diet or wellness-eating plans).

Initially, I didn’t know what to expect of the muffin because I was imagining that it would perhaps have a soft, molten core that contains some gula melaka syrup that would ooze out when I cut into the muffin. But instead, my fork met with some resistance when I attempted to pierce the top of the muffin. It’s pretty firm and hard, even though I think they did warm it up a little (this I couldn’t be sure). The top of the muffin was just how I liked my muffins to be, firm and crunchy and best of all, not too crumbly. It didn’t just fall apart into bits despite that it’s a little tough to cut into.
Taste-wise, it did have quite a distinct flavour of pandan or coconut, whichever I can’t really tell apart because to me, they are pretty similar. There wasn’t anything oozing out, but instead the ondeh ondeh flavour is just infused into the whole muffin itself. Biting into it, you won’t mistakenly think that you are eating an ondeh ondeh because the texture is totally different, but it’s just the similarity of the taste and flavour, except that in this case, it probably isn’t as strong as when you are eating the real thing, covered with shredded coconut shavings and of course, the colour is entirely different.

I spent a nice, quiet hour in the late afternoon there, and it being a weekday, it’s pretty quiet even though there were a few sets of other patrons there, mainly just solo customers or in twos. It contrasted with the Saturday when I was first there, where we had trouble finding seats and customers were mainly in twos or larger groups, with a much more elevated noise level. It’s a nice time to have, just indulging in some sinful goodness and aromatic coffee, with a good read too. Ok, I won’t exactly call it a good read since it’s just the newspapers that I was reading, but yesterday’s free daily contained many articles aside from news stories, it being the anniversary of the passing of our founding father.There have been many opinions about him before, whether they are right or wrong, fair or not. But I think arising from his death last year and the various TV programmes that talked about his life and work, many people have began to see him in a different light and better appreciate what was being done by him, albeit in an authoritarian style and with an iron-clad manner. That worked for the generation then, where the country was mostly directionless and in need of a strong leadership voice. For the current generation that is more well-educated that has also spawned lots of opinions (some informed, others just plainly emotional and irrational), a different kind of leadership style is needed, which I think the current people are striving to achieve through continuous change and improvements.

Enough said about that, politics are never an easy thing to discuss and that’s not the main point of this post. As I read some of the articles, not without distraction though because I just cannot seem to be able to focus on reading with good concentration… this quote kind of spoke out to me:
Recalled an undergrad, “create the life we want to live, and make the most of what we’ve been blessed with”. It is not something I haven’t heard of before, but really, it’s an apt reminder that I should bear in mind – to always be thankful for what we get in life, and for what we have, make the best of it. Comparisons are inevitable because we don’t live in a vacuum, but letting comparisons get the better of us do not serve us any purpose, especially if they only lead to us envying others and lamenting.

In a state of haze…

Again, I have lost the will and motivation or inspiration to write. As I talked to a friend over lunch today, I realise that there is something I need to do. To let go and just take care. Yet it is often easier said than done.

Sometimes, it hurts a lot inside, from what I do not know exactly. Probably it is just the culmination of things that happen around, stuff people do that somehow have an impact on me, whether it is a case of over-sensitivity or over-thinking on my part, or simply because it is easier to think that way rather than feel positive. Oddly, it feels so much tougher to be positive.

Flash back to July when I went to Sapporo for holidays, we rented a bicycle on the second day when we visited Furano. In stark contrast to the first day when we went to Farm Tomita where the sun blazed down furiously and threatened to give me a heat stroke, the second visit saw the temperature almost halved as a light drizzle fall from the low-hanging rain clouds overhead. It was a cool, almost cold (at least to me) day, which made it a nice ride at a leisurely pace. However, we probably overestimated our own stamina and fitness, because some parts of the route that we had to take to the Cheese Factory were somewhat uphill that left us panting for breath. Particularly when the bicycles that we had weren’t exactly the best that facilitated easier riding.

But still, it was a nice week away from everyday life. Sapporo, though just another city like Tokyo, is rather different. It is much smaller in comparison and the pace of life seemed to be slower too. It was more enjoyable in a certain way, and each day on waking it was just to think of where we should go for our daily meals to indulge our gastronomic senses.It is haze season in Singapore right now, if that is the right term to use. Haze visits us almost on an annual basis, courtesy of our neighbouring country, but it comes at different times depending on the year. I can’t remember when it usually happens, but the last time when it was really bad was in 2013 and that came in June, when thankfully I was away on a business trip in France, and suffered through the choking haze upon my return for a day before some heavy rain and change of wind direction took the haze away pretty much.

This time, it’s already September but the haze suddenly came to us and one evening it got so bad that from Raffles Place where I could usually see far beyond the horizon of the Marina Bay area, I couldn’t even see the Singapore Flyer. Supposedly, the PSI went up past 200 that evening, but a light rain eased it slightly, and then rains over these couple of days have also helped a bit, although the wind direction is still not changing to move the haze away from us.

In one of my yoga classes, the teacher reminded us to still be thankful, because we know this is temporary, and as compared to certain cities that are perpetually shrouded in smog and haze for the good part of the time, we are already very lucky. She told us that when we have our sunny skies or rainy days back, we ought to think back on this hazy period and give thanks that we can have those hot, sunny days or wet, rainy days where the sky is blue and the air is crisp.

There are many things to give thanks for, yet I just want one thing now, though I have no idea when that is going to happen.

Blessings crown my head

As the years go by, we realise that our social circles get smaller and smaller. In most cases, it is a matter of choice because we start to get more selective of people we hang out with, spend time with, because time has become such a precious commodity that we see no point in spending these valuable moments with people who do not really matter, or perhaps people whom we feel we don’t have a connection with. In any case, my lifestyle has also dictated the way my social circle has dwindled over the years, and the energy level that I have these days just don’t lend myself to staying out for long hours whether it is after work or on weekends to socialise.

It sounds a little like I am wallowing in self-pity, what I am about to write, but this is really something that I want to write about to show a sense of thankfulness for what I have.

My birthday was last month, and I’m grateful for friends who remembered the date and sent me their well wishes via Whatsapp or through Facebook, despite that I had not publicly-listed my birthdate for Facebook to send reminders to my friends of it.

A few of my friends asked me out, but I ended up only being able to meet them, one a week or so after the actual day, another just a week ago and finally one today. Even if there wasn’t that kind of ‘fanfare’ associated with celebrating birthdays anymore, I suppose it is also a matter of choice and I still appreciate their thoughts in giving me a treat or buying me a gift. 🙂

Since young, my family never really had the habit of celebrating birthdays in a big fashion with cakes and what nots. I didn’t have any fancy celebration for my 21st, and so maybe it has also become typical for me to just spend my birthday as just any other day. While I was in school, and maybe in my younger professional days, there might have been friends who have made the day a bigger affair, buying cakes complete with candles and stuff, birthday cards and presents. These days, it is but a muted event.

Yet, I did feel a lot of love this year. My brother asked where I would like to go for dinner on my birthday. And coming from my brother, it kind of took me by surprise, and I was really touched at his gesture. There was no big celebration, sure, but what mattered was that the important people in my life were there with me that evening for dinner. It was a really traditional, Chinese-style kind of dinner, not what I usually would have picked, but my parents enjoy Chinese food and so it was an easier option for us too. I really love the char siew! The rest of the food weren’t too shabby either, but regardless the taste of the food, my heart felt warm that day. And I got a second surprise afterward, when I got home, and my other brother disappeared for a short moment and returned with 2 slices of cakes, because as he said “I don’t know what flavour you like so I bought 2.” Awww. Well, I don’t have special preferences for cakes these days, since carrot cake seemed to have fallen off the charts lately, but the tiramisu and mango cake were not too bad. I even got a candle to blow out as I made my birthday wish, which now I don’t remember what I wished for anymore.

Remembering to be thankful

Happiness can be as simple as this. A bowl of plain yogurt with a tinge of sourness, topped with granola that adds sweetness to the bowl, and a cup of coffee. Perhaps these are not the best things to go together, yogurt and coffee, the latter which would dissolve away whatever calcium is available in the yogurt? I don’t know but this is a simple enjoyment on a weekend.

During yoga class today, the instructor reminded us to be thankful that we are still alive, that our bodies still intact. She implored on us to not take life so seriously. Those were the words that I recalled, others I don’t really remember, but I suppose she was meaning to tell us that we should live in the moment, enjoy each moment and not sweat the small things. She was mentioning this in reference to the Bangkok bomb blast that took place the evening before, in downtown Bangkok in an area popular with tourists and locals. As of now, the blast had claimed 20 lives, one of whom is a Singaporean. Lives that were suddenly terminated, dreams that remain unfulfilled and words left unsaid.
I frequently lament about the various nitty gritty things of everyday life, from having to wait minutes for a train, to having people knock into me while they are rushing or blocking my way when I am in a rush… there are too many things that I can’t help complaining about, despite that deep down, as I reflect on society, on life, that there is much to be thankful for, but I, like most people, am wont to complain and feeling victimised. I need to constantly remind myself that life has given me much, despite that materially, I wasn’t born into a family with much, there has been more than enough that more than made up for it.

As I meet people whom I feel mirror who I am, I start to realise how annoying such characters can be, how much of an irritant chronic pessimists and complainers can be. I hope that I don’t continue to walk that path, but rather on a daily basis, thank God for all that I have, for all that has been bestowed on me.While I am still trying to change my attitude, which I foresee to be a difficult but not impossible endeavour, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, so what if I don’t like my job and many aspects of it, so what if day by day I feel that I am losing myself, my value, my relevance, so what if I don’t get to enjoy many of the material things in life that my peers possess, that they earn much more than me, and that I have been struggling in many areas of my life all these years, unable to break through and break free. Life still goes on, and I need to give thanks that I am still breathing and still have my loved ones around me. May they always be safe and sound, happy and healthy.

 

Doutor Cafe, Japan

Just before my birthday last month, I jetted off to Sapporo, Hokkaido, for a week to take a short break. It hasn’t been that long since I visited in Tokyo in April, but I just felt like I needed a break. Even if time is passing by so fast, particularly this year it seems, holidays are like an oasis in the desert. Although I have been to Japan so many times over the last few years since my first trip there in winter of 2007, I have never set foot on the northern territories of Hokkaido. It was an opportune time to visit even if summers in Japan can be mercilessly hot, because summer is the period when flowers bloom in Hokkaido, and temperatures there are generally more forgiving and bearable than in Honshu itself.

So because we needed to transit in Tokyo to get to Sapporo, we decided to take a red-eye flight to Narita with a short hour-plus transit stop, where we had to collect our luggage and re-check it in, due to security concerns, before hopping over to the domestic terminal at Narita to catch the flight out to Sapporo. The queues at the custom was not too long, though there was still a fair bit of arriving tourists and foreigners waiting in line. We managed to have sufficient time to clear the arrival immigration, and still queue to deposit our luggage for the domestic sector.

By the time we arrive in Sapporo, it was probably around noon. We went to the tourist information counter, or the JR office, I can’t remember the exact name, where we bought ourselves a 5-day JR Rail Pass, as well as a ticket that would take us to the city, which is just about half an hour away on the limited express train.

Our hotel, Century Royal Hotel, is located not far from the JR station. There is an underground walkway that could lead us to the hotel, but with the luggage it’s easier to walk above ground, wheeling our luggage from the station, out onto the street and across a road, where the hotel stands. Hotel Gracery is also nearby, in the adjacent street, and its exterior facade somehow looks nicer. However, I think it either cost more when we were booking or it wasn’t available anymore because this is travel peak season and ours was a fairly last minute trip.

Finally, we settled for a late lunch, more like a tea break, after checking in. We were exploring the area for food options, feeling slightly zombie-fied from the lack of sleep in the flight. This was what we picked eventually, me wanting to have a coffee badly. As it wasn’t that far off from dinner time, we ordered these to share – a sandwich and a pumpkin tart.
Here’s a closer look at the tart. There are lots of such tarts being sold in the cafes all over Sapporo, mostly cheese tarts. Probably because it is Hokkaido after all, where milk, cheese and dairy are the thing to have! The texture of this cake was a little mousse-like and not really too sweet or heavy. Or maybe my taste buds had fallen asleep. But overall, it was a pretty good tea break!

Over the next few posts, expect to see more of these cafe shots and also food! What’s a holiday without savouring the gastronomical offerings of the destination?!?

December 2014

 

December 2014 was and is a good month. It is always the best time of the year for me, whether in terms of how I feel with the festive vibes reverberating all around or the gradual cooling off of the temperatures albeit with a greater volume of rainfall that could cause some inconveniences on and off. It is also the time of the year when activity at work tends to slow down as many people choose this time to clear their annual leave and jet somewhere for year-end breaks, vacations and holidays, leaving the activity to those of celebration and mirth, shopping and gifting. Gifts have become somewhat of a rarity these days since gatherings and the likes have taken a backseat, as friends whom meet-ups are done tend to be a small select number, and larger group gatherings and gift-exchanging have become a thing of the past for me. Maybe it is just a phase that I have morphed into and whether it will be something to stay remains to be seen. After all, we never say never about anything, because changes do happen all the time, expected or otherwise.

Nevertheless, today being the last day of December and also the last day of the year, it probably calls for a sort of look-back and review. I did not make any conscious resolution for 2014 because I find it pointless that year after year my resolutions tended to be similar and there are always some that I always fail to keep or just roll forward to the next year. I just wanted to stay happy and contented with life, but the simplest of resolutions are the hardest to keep, and it is with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I was not very successful in this area. I have not been the happiest person in 2014 due to a variety of reasons, known or not to me. Sometimes it is weird that we don’t feel happy but somehow we don’t really grasp the cause.

In 2015, I still want to work towards being a happy, peaceful and contented person. It is tiring to feel unhappy. And it must be tiring for the people around me who care and who often have to sit by and listen to my incessant whining and lamentations. I am thankful for the few friends who have stuck by despite the apparent toxicity in me from these frequent gripes and I do hope as well that as I become a lighter and happier person, I will be able to bring a brand of sunshine and cheer to their lives too. Friendship is a two-way traffic and I want to be a good friend too.

Visited Hong Kong twice during the year, once in April and another time this month. April was a hectic 3-day trip that was mainly about eating and shopping (not so much for me as for my travel mates) and the weather was a little erratic, being the change of seasons between spring and perhaps summer. December was a much slower and relaxed trip, with a cooler climate. It was all about coffee and indulging, and I really enjoyed the long chat sessions over coffee and cakes, the long walks from one eating place to the next. Holidays do not have to be about rushing from location to location and ticking off to-do lists and to-visit places, for me, they are about relaxing and breathing in the sights and sounds, doing what we would usually do in our own home cities but in a different locale. At least that holds true for me.  /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1047.jpg

Latte and Piccolo Latte at Coco Espresso in Sheung Wan, a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe that I noticed last December when I visited Hong Kong and stayed with my friend in her service apartment in the area. Coffee was decent and as usual pricey (as compared to Starbucks) but my friend seemed to feel that the quality has deteriorated slightly from before. I wouldn’t know but I think it’s an ok place to hang out for a bit, if it doesn’t get crowded. We sat on counter seats, since there were probably just a couple of small tables within the cosy cafe. There were other places we visited, such as 18 grams in Sheung Wan, Coffee Academy in Causeway Bay, Fuel Espresso at the Landmark, Elephant Grounds at Gough Street… with many more that I would love to check out the next time I am in the busy city.

After returning from Hong Kong, another couple of weeks thereafter, it was off to Bangkok for the Christmas break. It didn’t really feel like Christmas in Bangkok despite the numerous Christmas trees decorating the malls, the festive lights and yuletide tunes. Even the slightly cooler weather on some days didn’t seem to inject that Christmas vibe that I felt in Hong Kong. I don’t know why, because even with the warmer temperature as compared to what I could ever remember of Bangkok particularly with the freezing cold malls, I just felt like it was a normal vacation at any other time of the year. This was yet another relaxing, chilling out trip, more so than Hong Kong perhaps, because we did not even do much walking around. It was just sitting from place to place, drinking coffee or eating and I felt like I had eaten so much in just those 4 days that I was there. But it is always about the time that we spend with people that counts more, and it was an enjoyable holiday over Christmas for me. We didn’t do any countdown, and we also did not wish each other Merry Christmas, but we all know that we are thankful for some things in our lives. Yes, even as we complain about many things, we also give thanks and appreciate the good things that some other people may take for granted./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1048.jpgFor the angels in my life, Thank You all for being there. I love you all and I wish you a very Happy 2015 ahead. Have an enjoyable New Year’s Eve tonight and Best Wishes!