Change – the only constant

Over the last few years, it seems like so much has happened since when I started working. Although it’s been more than 10 years, in the whole scheme of things, comparing it against the number of years that I would be in the workforce it isn’t such a long time. Yet, everything feels surreal and like in a drift.

When we were in school, there were always milestones to reach and goals to achieve. These were set for us by the academic system, to enter primary school, pass the PSLE and go on to secondary school, clear GCE ‘O’ Levels and either go to a JC or Polytechnic. From there, it could be onward to University or for some, they decide to enter the workforce. For most part of that schooling journey, exams are sort of the climax of each phase, and there is a fairly fixed time frame to work with. But the game changes entirely when we enter the working world. There are people I know who have set goals to retire early, as in reaching the stage where they choose to work, and not work because they need to. Then they work tirelessly towards that. I am not so ambitious, because simply put, I don’t know how I can work towards that, and I don’t know what would be a realistic age to set. As it is, I am not exactly young but yet not that old to look forward to retirement.

Sure, given a choice, I would rather not be working in a job where the only thing worth looking forward to is the monthly pay-check, and sometimes the bonus, or lack thereof. I would also want to arrive at the self-actualisation stage defined in Maslow’s hierarchy where work no longer feels like work, and that I actually enjoy what I do day-to-day. Then again, the lack of spirit just makes me think that is myth. Or it boils down to the fact that I don’t really know what I like to do. And if what I sort of enjoy doing can become something that could earn me a livelihood, or if I could even motivate myself to work so hard to be so good at it to make it a revenue-generating activity.

Some people have set other kinds of goals outside of the corporate life. To them, they accept that work can only be something that pays them to do what they like to do beyond it, so their goals are defined in their personal lives, such as getting married, owning a property (and more thereafter maybe), having children, and so on. The moment the kids come along, the milestones also change to revolve around their growth and development, and finally their own retirement. This is not something that I have considered or thought of at this point.

I don’t know where I am heading with this entry. It was just motivated from my internal rumination as I went through some photos and thoughts that surfaced when I considered the people around. Sometimes, life feels like a tiring and tiresome journey. We try so hard to keep things going yet it always feels so one-sided and pointless. At some point, it almost becomes that things I used to enjoy, I don’t really do and I don’t know what is it that I enjoy anymore and what is it I would enjoy at all. Everything just feels meaningless – life, people, things. Even travelling doesn’t seem appealing anymore because there just is no point in it.

Collated a set of food pictures from more than 3 years ago when I went to Tokyo, and as I looked at them, I realise that I no longer enjoy some of them, and don’t eat most of them anymore. Have my taste buds changed or do I just don’t get enjoyment from eating anymore?

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Menya Sanji, Orchid Hotel

There is this other ramen stall at Orchid Hotel with ridiculous queues each time I walk past, and I think it’s the Keisuke Tonkotsu ramen. I haven’t tried it before so I can’t comment if it is good or not, and it has been a while since I last had any ramen I think, but I hate queueing in general, so I never really considered having lunch there. There are a couple of times when I walked past and it was not crowded, but I wondered if perhaps they had already closed for lunch, or maybe they were sold out. Another shop that sells gyoza also sees quite turn-offish queues so again that isn’t a shop that have entered within my realm of consideration. In fact, I was not that keen on checking out this shop too, Menya Sanji, because we had to wait. But since we were the first in the line, and my colleagues were ok with the supposed short wait, I went along. The shop is really tiny, which explains the formation of queues during meal times I gather, but we were a little late for lunch that day so maybe that is the reason why we didn’t have to put up with longer queues.

Menya Sanji sells a variety of ramen, and some of them, from the pictures, look really sinful with fatty pork slices that I am not a fan of. I just don’t like the texture of fatty meat, even if they are supposed to be really good, and it isn’t because I am some health freak who cannot touch fatty stuff (think of all the roast pork, aka bak kwa that I have been having on an almost nightly basis for supper).

20140220-133015.jpgSo I decided to order the bukkake ramen, which is a version of dry ramen that comes with a sauce, three types for you to choose from, that you have to pour over the noodles, mix them up before eating. It reminded me of Tetsu, but the sauce is different and for Tetsu I think it’s eaten by dipping the noodles into the sauce like for Cha Soba.

Let’s take a closer look.

20140220-133022.jpgI actually quite enjoy this type of ramen, because maybe the fried spring onions gave it a nice flavour and in general there were several types of ingredients included. I won’t mention too much about the egg, as though the white was delicious, the yolk was unfortunately already in a near-solidified state, i.e. fail. I love the noodles though, which I was a tad surprised that they were cold (thought they’d be hot), but they were very Q and springy. The fact that they didn’t stick together in clumps made eating really easy and a breeze, even though I had not used much of the sauce provided. This comes in 2 sizes, a standard at S$9.90 and a large (costs S$2 more I think). It looks deceivingly small but the standard was more than enough for me, even though there was no soup/broth to bloat me up. My colleague thought they’d be insufficient noodles so she ordered the large and ended up with a lot of noodles left over. But I think she didn’t really like that it’s cold so maybe that’s why she didn’t finish it eventually.

It’s worth a try, and service is courteous and more or less prompt, at least it seemed like they try to be very prompt. And there is complimentary free-flow of water if you need!

Tetsu Ramen (つけ麺), Tokyo

I have never tried the dry-type of ramen before this, or what is known as つけ麺, dipping ramen, etc. Basically it is ramen that is served with its noodles and broth separately, and you eat it like you would cha soba, or at least that is how I ate it, and how I saw others eating it. I think there is also a Tetsu stall at Ramen Champion at Bugis+ (previously known as Iluma), and perhaps also at the Ramen Champion at the airport, but my colleagues have always opined that the broth was too thick and salty, which has put me off trying it and instead I am always sticking to safer tried-and-tested acceptable ones.

So when I was in Tokyo one cold rainy night in search of dinner, I happened to come across this, located in the basement of the North Tower of Roppongi Hills and decided to give it a try after some deliberation. Initially I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure how the ordering would be like, seeing some people queueing outside and talking to the service staff in the shop, but then when the short queue cleared, I went to take a closer look, and they also operate using the ticket vending machine. You just have to select what you want on the vending machine, pay, and get a ticket. Then you tell the service staff how many of you there are and once you are seated, pass them the ticket.

tetsu_tokyo_4 I can’t remember if the vending machine came with pictures, but I suppose it did because I managed to pick out what I wanted, tsukemen with egg. No way was I going to miss trying the egg because that is the make-or-break thing for me where most ramen is concerned, sort of. 900 yen, at the exchange rate then, translates to about S$13, so price wise, it doesn’t differ too much from Singapore I think? Generally when I have lunch at Ramen Champion, inclusive of GST, I think I actually spend more than that.tetsu_tokyo_3I think you could actually request for the noodles to be served in a bowl of hot water, which could jolly well be what the person serving me was trying to ask. But obviously, my limited Japanese meant that I didn’t understand a word at all (haha) and as they were unable to explain in their limited English, I got my noodles dry. I saw that the other patrons seated near me all had their noodles in a bowl of water. Maybe that is meant to keep the noodles warm or ensure that they don’t end up sticking together, I don’t know. But I should think it is the former, since it was after all almost winter, and despite us being indoors it was still rather cold. It shouldn’t have been for the latter reason, because when it comes to noodles, the Japanese are matchless in terms of speed. I am not a slurper when it comes to eating ramen, even if that is the right way to eat ramen or udon or whatever. It isn’t that I am embarrassed to utter sounds while eating because nobody will care if I am slurping noisily (in fact when I don’t I am the odd one out), but I have tried it before and realised that it is difficult to eat noodles that way, and in the midst of all that slurping, I inhaled too much air simultaneously. So obviously I have failed.

But oh, the egg was really cooked to perfection. I really find it a big disappointment when I bite into an egg while eating ramen only to be met with a hardened yolk. So far in Singapore, there have only been a couple of times when I have eaten egg that is still in molten form. This one was so well done that after making that incision in the top of the egg, I could literally suck the entire yolk dry before I proceed to eat the white.

 

tetsu_tokyo_2And this is how the noodle and soup combo looked like before I started on it. Sorry for the incorrect order of pictures, but I am just lazy to correct them after WordPress kind of made me a little frustrated with lost posts. The broth was the pig’s bone type (i.e. tonkotsu) I think, and it was really thick and savoury, a tad salty, but that’s only if you decide to drink up the broth. I only used it for dipping the noodles and tried a couple of mouthfuls of the soup on its own, but overall I really enjoyed the meal, and particularly so in such cold weather. The portion of noodle that I ordered was the regular sized, and I couldn’t finish it, there was this slim Japanese lady seated next to me who ordered a large bowl and she cleaned up the entire bowl! Hats off to her! tetsu_tokyo_1Noodles were really nice and springy, though they were a little coarse, more towards the udon type but I prefer thinner noodles.

ra-ra-ramen!

I can’t remember when in 2011 they started the Ramen Champion thing at Iluma in Bugis but it was all the hype back then when it just started because I recalled hearing and reading about the long queues that would form outside with hordes of ramen-lovers waiting up to 45 minutes or maybe even more just to get a bowl of the delicious Japanese noodles.

Being someone who really do not like to queue, even though sometimes I will acquiesce for the crowd, I haven’t actually joined this queue since the only times I have dropped by for ramen would be during lunch time when the colleagues fancy having ramen and we would take a drive out from the office to Bugis. During lunch-time on weekdays it isn’t very crowded, and frankly I am not sure if the queues are still there now on evenings and weekends, since a second one has opened at the airport.

Anyway there are six brands of ramen in this ramen stadium of sorts, and until now I have only tried four of them. I have posted some pictures and my reviews of them on the food blog as I was lazy to scroll through my phone’s album to locate the two (Menya Iroha from Toyama and Ikkousha from Hakata) from longer ago. This was what I had recently, Tai Sho-Ken, which hails from Tokyo.

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They serve tsukemen too, i.e. dry version of ramen that comes with a broth for dipping your noodles into. Initially I was rather tempted to try tsukemen but after hearing what my colleagues said about the broth being extremely salty, I decided to give it a miss and opted for the normal soup-based ramen. Forgot what the soup base was but surprisingly this wasn’t as salty as I expected and on this day that I went, the eggs were cooked almost to perfection. I really love it when the eggs are half-cooked and half-runny, this is how I would like my ramen eggs to be like!

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The last time I went before this, I tried Sapporo’s Gantetsu, which in my opinion, also wasn’t too salty. For the four that I have tried so far, I find Ikkousha to be the saltiest; its broth is very thick and flavourful so it is nice but perhaps it is so filled with the goodness of tonkotsu that it ended up being too overwhelming for me.

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Plus I like that there are a lot of other ingredients in the bowl that I ordered!

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There are two more that I have yet to try, Bario and Tetsu. I’m a little iffy on Tetsu because if it’s only tsukemen that they have I may just give it a complete miss since I really do not like the strong salty taste but maybe for completeness I will still try it, when I have the chance. Bario will be the next I’ll venture a try if I ever do go back there for lunch.

Just had a very big and sinful but totally delicious fried carrot cake for breakfast, so no I don’t have any food craving at this moment even after posting these ramen pictures and trying to recall their taste.

visit to the rock

When I arrived in San Francisco on a Sunday afternoon after flying off from Incheon on a Sunday evening (yay to gaining hours from differing timezones, but it sucks when I lose 2 days on the way back), it was so sunny that the sun’s glare hurts my eyes so badly I couldn’t do without a pair of shades. On the plane, the pilot announced that the temperature was 20 degrees Celsius but it certainly felt much more, maybe more like 30.

It was quite uncomfortable having to stand outside the airport waiting for the Super Shuttle that I’d pre-booked to arrive. I can’t remember how long I waited, maybe about 10-15 minutes but it felt longer because it was so hot and there was no shelter at all. So I just stood and got baked in the sun. But I must say that the Super Shuttle, or for that matter all the other kinds of shuttles that you can reserve online, is a rather great way to bring you to and fro the airport. It isn’t too expensive, including tips I paid USD20 for the trip from the airport to the apartment that we’d rented.

So even though the afternoon was so blardy hot, the moment the sun started to set the temperatures fell drastically too. Maybe it was also because we were at that time near the coast and so it was windy, which meant even lower temperatures. We headed out in the late afternoon and made our way to the piers to catch the ferry to Alcatraz where we’d booked a night tour of the prison. It wasn’t a long ferry ride, and a lot of people were crowded onto the open deck with all sorts of cameras that you could see, snapping away at the island that loomed up ahead.

As well since it was dusk, at some point we passed by some amazing sunset which bore the silhouette of the Golden Gate. All this time I was freezing from the chilly winds that were blowing so strongly, while trying to balance taking pictures with the digital camera and phone.

Finally we reached the island!

Looking back at the city of San Francisco from the quiet island, it felt a little poignant. Maybe that was also how the prisoners felt when they just set foot on the island…

We took an audio tour, so it was pretty much wandering around the facility on your own. This is a picture of one of the prison cells that I took, they all look alike, just that they were ‘furnished’ differently, for the purpose of telling some of the stories to visitors now. They aren’t unlike some of the prison cells that we see in some US movies, but I can’t recall which are the specific ones that featured prison cells. For the record, I don’t think I have ever finished watching The Rock, if I have even watched most of it at all.

Another familiar scene I suspect.

There was this part of the prison building that had a small window which looks out to this view of the sparkly brilliant city of San Francisco from the vantage point (or not) of the island. I think it’s so depressing because the city, with all that it promises such as freedom, was within such close proximity and yet still so far beyond the confines of the prison cell. The audio guide told stories of the prison and its history and also of people who tried to escape the Alcatraz, some who succeeded but eventually were still caught. However, there were some more dubious cases where a few escaped but there wasn’t much news on what happened to them. Maybe they really escaped or maybe they died in the waters, nobody really knew. Or nobody were meant to know.

From the outside of the building, the view across to the city was so beautiful…

This was the first day that I spent in San Francisco. We didn’t stay very long on the island because most of us were freezing so after the audio tour ended and a short additional talk that we listened to (held outside the building, which was probably also the reason why we decided to just head back), we boarded the return ferry to the mainland, and went to Katanaya in Geary Street for ramen! It was a really small eatery that included Japanese in their patrons so we thought it has to be quite good but I think I have had better. The noodles were in a huge portion so Jade and I shared an order, which was a very wise choice we made; the noodles weren’t too bad but the egg wasn’t runny. That is the make-or-break for me where ramen is concerned, not so much the noodles or the stock but the egg. Of course the stock would affect my view of it too but somehow the egg is very important!