Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tower of Pain

It’s been an incredibly busy week with the planning and practise for the show on Friday, the arrival of my bestest friend in the whole wide world, and the planning of the new workshops coming up in April. I’ve hardly had time to eat, what more cook.

Since Graeme has been away from Singapore for so long, much of his itinerary has been to reacquaint himself with Singapore and more specifically, the food! Having lived here for many years before, he’s savvy enough to know that the best food is in the hawker centres and has been making a determined pilgrimage to as many as possible.

The experience has been rich and fulfilling but it is inevitable that we would encounter a bad apple in the wondrously sweet culinary bushel. We made the decision to visit an old band and friends at their new gig, which just happened to be near Orchard Towers - also known as The Tower of Pain for the sado-masochism required to traverse down the different levels of girlie bars. A couple of musician friends had informed me that lurking in the basement of this notorious den of iniquity is a food court which serves fairly good local and Thai food. We decided to brave it and give it a try before visiting our old friends.

Finding the entrance to the SBC Food Court is as much of an adventure as dodging the many dodgy characters trolling Orchard Towers. Tucked between the bright neon signs of a 711 and garish other signboards, is the rather innocuous signboard and a short flight of stairs leading you into a dingy basement filled with tourists, their companions of the night and some locals.

I was fairly disappointed to find only a few food stalls there. For some reason, I had expected more. What I should have anticipated is more disappointment. Graeme sighted a nasi padang stall and made an instant beeline for it since he missed his beef rendang fix that afternoon. Oscar, being a more health-conscious type, headed to a stall with numerous food porn advertising delectable looking stir-fried beef, fried fish, fried noodles, stir-fried vegetables and other drool-inspiring local fare. I vacillated between the nasi padang stall, the laksa stall next door and the wanton noodles stall right at the entrance. In the end, genetics ruled and I found myself irresistibly drawn to the surly Chinese stall keeper to order a bowl of laksa – extra hamful please.

My food came first, costing me the usual $4.50 (the extra 50 cents for the extra ham or cockles). Graeme came bearing a large, red lacquered plate filled with rice, beef rendang, a mountain of sambal ikan bilis and string beans cooked with sliced chillies. I thought the beef rendang and sambal ikan bilis were strange in colour. They were just too orange and the ikan bilis looked much too soggy.

I was just winding up to tease Graeme about his earlier intentions to have a light meal when he revealed the cost of his dish - $9! He was rightfully annoyed at being a victim of tourist discrimination. When confronted by a snarky comment from Graeme about his duplicity, the stall keeper tried to justify himself. He explained the extraordinarily high cost was due to the double portion of beef rendang which costs $2. By my calculation, the dish could not have cost more than $6. In fact, a plate of nasi padang typically costs $4-4.50 max. Graeme had every cause to be riled, especially as the beef rendang was quite inferior. The strange orange tinge was only the harbinger of an under-braised, under-marinated, under-spiced yet tough beef curry.

Oscar and I commiserated vehemently when Oscar was suddenly struck by the thought that the same might happen to him too. Like the nasi padang store, the stall keepers had not inform him of the price of his stir-fried beef and vegetables dish. The smart cookie immediately hightailed it back to the stall to check out the cost. I was breathing a sigh of relief that I had ordered at a stall with the prices printed in big, bold font. So my stall keeper was a little grouchy but I much prefer that to dishonesty.

A bemused Oscar returned to inform us that he almost suffered the same fate as Graeme. The highway robbers disguised as food stall keepers had tried to fleece him too, by charging $9 for his stir-fry beef. And they were mightily pissed off when Oscar cancelled his order and were casting evil eyes at our table till Graeme snarled at one of them. I started eating my food very quickly in preparation for a fight – food before fists, I say.

Following in my example, Oscar ordered lor mee from the same stall. His huge bowl of lor mee was only $4. All in all, he seemed to enjoy his noodles while I groused that my laksa was a let-down as the broth was too thin and insipid with a strange tang as if it could not decide between being a lemak or a Penang laksa. Still, I didn’t grumble too much in light of Graeme’s misfortune.

We were very happy to depart from this bastion of inferior food and inflated prices. SBC Food Court should be ashamed of themselves. In food paradise Singapore, they really do the country an injustice by leaving a distinctively bitter taste for tourists.

On a much lighter note, we noticed a particular humorous signboard while walking the streets of Orchard Road. I just had to take a picture.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

To Hades And Back

It was a story of betrayal, uncontrollable lust, possessive love, loss and greed. That was the story of my childhood and the themes of one of the most memorable myths my mother told me as a child.

I've always felt a real empathy with the story of Persephone, who so captured the ardour of Hades that he stole her from her mother. The Lord of the Underworld, Hades, and the Goddess of Abundant Harvest, Demeter, fought a bitter battle of wills over Persephone. In in the end, her fate was decided by 6 ruby gems of pomegranate seeds - forcing her to spend half a year with each combatant. How seedy indeed!

I felt really sorry for Persephone. When I first heard the story I immediately identified with her. I, too, was fought over by the Prince of Darkness aka my father and the Goddess of Overdoneness aka my mum. I, too, had to split my time between them but unlike Persephone, everyone wanted a piece of me so growing up, I was split four-ways and occasionally five-ways. Like Persephone, I suffer from terminal greed as well ... I cannot resist pomegranates.

Surprisingly, they are not that easy to find in the markets here in Singapore and I find myself hoarding my stash of pomegranates when I can find them. I keep having intentions to concoct luscious desserts from them or festive salads a la Nigella Lawson. But I love them so much that by the time I open one up, I can't help but pop each blood-red morsel into my salivating mouth, savouring the burst of tangy-sweet nectar on my tongue as I nibble around the seeds.

Yes, yes, I know the Greeks would consider it vulgar to spit out the seeds, no matter how delicately and discreetly I release them from the tip of my tongue into my paper napkin. But the seeds just ruin the taste for me which is why I indulged only at home.

I recently ate a whole pomegranate in one sitting. I meant to stop but it was an addictive compulsion that would have sent me to Hades forever if I were Persephone.

Around The World In a Meme

I like any airborne sports. Microlighting, hang gliding, bungy jumping, ballooning ... so when I realised that I'd been tagged by Ilva of dreamy, picturesque photos of food and nature and wonderful food recipes blog, Lucullian Delights, for the Around the World Meme, I was high with anticipation.

I envisioned myself in a morning coat and top hat, fawned over by a servile manservant (always desirous) as I traversed the world in a colourful hot air balloon. Then I read the meme and realised that no hot air other than mine will be called upon. Bugger.

Still, the fact that I was tagged just for sheer likeability appealed to the deluded egoist in me. So I thought I will participate like the good, easily flattered blogger that I was.

1- Please list three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try

Gee, I do this on a regular basis as there are so many fabulous recipes out there but after searching my files, these are the three latest contenders.

Dog-Eared Recipe 1
I must be the only food blogger with no oven but that has not stopped me from roasting and baking. Yes, I am the McGuyver of my own legend! I saw the recipe for Key Lime Bars at Savoury Notebook and thought, "Wow, cool!" in my usual articulate way. Of course, the original recipe is from Martha Stewart but hey, she should know all about bars, no? However, Alysha complained bitterly that it was way too much effort so I am thinking I might save it for a day when I need to do serious penance.

Dog-Eared Recipe 2
I love duck and have been drooling over Vicious Ange's Peppered Duck Breast, Poached Balsamic Figs & Garlic Crisps with Jus Gras. Yes, I got breathless just from reading the name, then had my breath completely taken away by the photo. I am just bursting to try this except I can't seem to find nice, fresh figs here - only the dried ones which I love too. Oh well ... I will continue to seek and one day, the duck gets it!

Dog-Eared Recipe 3
SurfinDave's wonderful post over at Serendipitous Chef about his daughter's birthday preparations thoroughly won me over. And then I took a gander at the menu and I was completely blown away. I salivated so badly over his Garlic-roasted Fresh Crab Salad that I just had to save it to my Must Try list. The sad fact is that I was just so jealous of his daughter. The man is a brilliant dad and I hope she appreciates it!

2-A food blog in your vicinity

Well, there are so many that I love and admire in Singapore alone but I have to admit my favourite is Kuidaore. J's lyrical prose, attention to detail, artistic eye and passion for food inspire and humble me. Every single post has the ability to make me both hungry and happy and, occasionally, rather depressed at my own inadequacy. I bow at the altar of this woman's greatness and can only wish and hope she starts classes one day so I can be a slavish devotee and student.

3-A food blog located far from you

Like who isn't??? Again, the choice is wide but if I had to choose one (and please note it is EARLY in the morning so if I did not name you it's not because I do not love you, I'm just sleepy), then I guess it would be Nami-Nami in Edinburgh.

4-A foodblog (or several) you have discovered recently (where did you find it?)

I'm super lazy so I find new blogs from Food Porn or from blogging events like Weekend Herb Blogging or IMBB. Like Ilva, I recently discovered Serendipitous Chef from his Paper Chef entry. I really like his recipes and the way he writes as I always enjoy reading posts where the blogger has invested a little of themselves.

As I only ventured into the food blogging world fairly recently, a lot of things are still new to me so although Food Beam may have been known to many, it was definitely a new experience for me. I love the photos, the vibrancy and the open passion to food that Fanny displays on her blog. I am so glad I troll Food Porn regularly since it led to this wonderful blog.

Any blogger who calls themselves Music in Your Ears deserves my recent lurking on their blog. Except I am a nosey bugger who cannot refrain from making comments, especially when they take a delightfully casual, experimental yet totally down-to-earth approach to cooking. The prose is catchy, the recipes unusual and the blog is The Gallumphing Gourmand. The discovery of this new blog came from the Cheese Sammich uprising.

Bit of a donut, I only discovered Fiordizucca recently when I drooled over one of Francesca's photos. Being a mite bit blind, I did not realise she had an English mirror blog till recently. Once I did, I was a regular visitor. I cannot remember how I found her blog but I am just bloody thankful I did!

Another case of my complete blindness causing me utter embarrassment was Küchenlatein. I had seen Ostwestwind's participation in some blogging event and cheekily emailed her to ask for an English translation of the recipe. She kindly pointed out the link to the English translation. The biggest embarrassment is that I actually learnt German in school. I need to get my eyes checked, I do ...

Perhaps the most prolific new food blogger I have come across is The Unemployed Cook, another discovery from Food Porn. Since her blog began just three months ago, Mrs C must have cooked more times than I have in a year, just judging from her posts! I've enjoyed the recipes, the photos and her enthusiasm.

5 - Any people or bloggers you want to tag with this meme ?

Ahhhh, the moment of evil ... bwahahahaha!!!

I will tag the following lucky bloggers in the hopes they have not already been tagged or will get pissed off by this.

Mrs C of The Unemployed Cook because it's time ... dum da dum de DUMMMM!
Antti and Anna of Doughboy because I like their blog
Sha of Wanderlust because it might be a last one on her blog for a while & I want to suck up to her so she'll take me with her!
Rachel and Rob over at Hungry in Hogtown because I just love reading about their molecular gastronomy and culinary adventures - they really go where I have not dared to go
Karin of Gluten Free Goddess because I can just see her typing out the meme in her fabulous new kitchen

That's it! The rest of you can breath a sigh of relief now!

Monday, March 27, 2006

WHB #25 - Casting Pearl Leaves Before Swine

Did anyone of you ever read Austenesque or Regency romancey type novels? When I was young, one of my aunts was a Barbara Cartland fan and from the infrequent peeks into her room, an entire wall was filled with the cotton candy-haired, bejeweled and petrified pooch-clutching novelist’s works.

Photo of petrified canine from

I was always terribly curious about Aunt Ruth’s room which seemed like an Aladdin’s cave full of art nouveau prints, roses, cameo brooches and “forbidden” novels. Alas, my high-minded mother and grandmother would only ever allow me to read “educational literature” so while I had a close relationship with Austen, Dumas and Shakespeare, the Cartlands were a complete mystery to me.

It wasn’t till preteen that I managed to borrow a romance novel to find out what all the fuss was about. All my classmates were devouring the Mills and Boons but I remember one dreamy-eyed, bespectacled girl had her head forever buried in the yellowed pages of Cartland novels. Always inquisitive, I finagled one from her. I proceeded with a very systematical approach. Lining up Emma (I knew it would be a survey error to do a comparison with Price and Prejudice), a Cartland book the title of which I cannot remember or want to remember now, a Mills and Boons novel and a Sweet Valley High issue, I began my literary adventure into fantasy land.

I must say I much preferred Austen for the humorous and wry depiction of human foibles. But Cartland spent enough time describing innocent, limpid eyed heroines in formal, flouncy gowns that it was like reading a fashion magazine – with more text and no pictures. Kind of like a very dumbed-down Vanity Fair. Or an intellectual Hello magazine. Did I just say that?? As to the Mills and Boons, I just felt like shaking the heroine for being a silly female and kicking the hero in the gonads for being a chauvinistic lout. And let’s say I was really glad I went to an all-girls school instead of Sweet Valley High.

Anyway, my point is … and I do have one … is that in both Austen and Cartland novels, the women seemed forever afflicted by fainting spells and migraines. Growing up, I scorned these as wimpy, contrived feminine wiles unleashed by women to either prove their delicate constitution as part of their refined upbringing or to get their way around their unsuspecting and long-suffering menfolk.

Imagine my horror when I experienced my first fainting spell. I did not even have the excuse of lung-crushing corsets and there I was, prone on the ground as concerned teachers and classmates hovered around the fuzzy peripherals of my dazed vision. For some reason, I had become anaemic.

Photo from

My hippy mother had determined that red meat was bad for us and insisted that I only ate white meat. For once, she won that argument despite my grandmother’s vehement and scornful disdain. Fortunately, I actually liked chicken and fish so I had no problems eschewing red meat. The occasional sneaky lamb roasts and mutton curries from my grandmother helped but on the whole, I was an obedient child faithfully following my mother’s latest fad. Until the fainting spells.

This latest debacle and my family doctor’s exasperation gave my grandmother and the family more reason to revile my mother’s unorthodox and unpopular child-rearing methods. Apparently, because of my physically demanding schedule, I required a lot more nutrients and protein. I was immediately beset with a red meat-filled diet until my body sorted itself out.

I had a few fainting spells along the way, which never failed to embarrass and mortify me. But I never even knew what a migraine was … until my final exam at Cambridge ‘A’ Levels. In the midst of a busy scribble with my 3B pencil, a massive sledgehammer swung point blank at the side of my head, cracking my unsuspecting cranium, plastering brain matter wantonly across the wooden floors.

Not really.

But it sure felt like it. I was taken completely by surprise. I’d never even had a headache before that day and had absolutely no idea what had just blindsided me. I came to dread migraines. Because my migraines come with the lethal force of a 3-ring circus, alien sightings and terrorist attacks. Never one to do anything in half measures, I have migraines that pummel me into the submission by searing my corneas with even the dimmest light, magnifying the softest whisper into a banshee’s scream, and heightening gentle touches into a swinging frying pan in the face.

Photo from

And they last forever! The recent attack lasted three days and I only just recovered today after succumbing at long last to the oblivion of industrial strength painkillers. Which unfortunately, made me miss an appointment with 3A Gurl. I feel exceptionally bad. At our last phone conversation, I was delirious with pain, mutered incoherently and ended the conversation abruptly as her voice was driving ten inch nails into my brain. I decided I will cook some chicken rice for her and 3A Hubby as compensation.

But that did not eliminate the problem that I had not had anything to eat today while knocked out from drugs. I rummaged in my fridge and discovered a packet of green herbs I had purchased the day of the dreaded migraine. For months, I had loitered wistfully at a particular vegetable stall in the local wet market which sold the most intriguing vegetables. Unfortunately, the stall owners spoke nary a word of English and I did not speak their Chinese dialect, so I have never been able to ask them what the vegetables were.

On that day, however, there was a young lady manning the stall who looked like she could speak English. Seizing upon the chance with alacrity, I engaged her in conversation and next thing I knew, she was translating between her father and I. The vegetable that most intrigued me was a silvery green herb that looked like a feathery fern. Unfortunately, father and daughter did not know the name of the vegetable and all he impart was that it was a vegetable called hia, which apparently you cook in scrambled eggs. Even his daughter looked sceptical.

The other vegetable that caught my attention was a pointy-leaved specimen that reminded me of coriander and mint. The father told me, through his patient daughter, that it was called zhen zhu ye, which translated meant pearl leaf. I had never heard the like. It felt quite hardy with rather woody stems and coarse, fairly tough leaves. It smelt very herby and grassy yet with a faint hint of aniseed. I was very intrigued especially when the father divulged that it is a herb used to purify the blood. Through some clumsy sign language and the helpful translation of his daughter, I found out that it is best cooked in a soup with pork to help the body purge itself of stagnant and impure blood. In other words, it is ideal for women just coming out of their monthly cycles.

While it is not that time of the month for me yet … yes, yes I know, too much information, I was still entranced enough to purchase some to experiment with it. Even more mysterious is that I found no reference of this “pearl leaf” in any of my books or on the web. This was truly a mystery herb. I had no other recourse or resource except the elderly vegetable seller. I decided to take the plunge … just for you guys, I will try this vegetable. OK, so my curiosity is the main reason.

At home, I examined it closely. The purplish stems lent a gothic, regal appearance to the zhen zhu ye that closely resembles the commonplace flowering plants around some of my neighbours’ gardens. Somehow, I knew this humble vegetable was a hardy, strong herb that is often overlooked and under-rated. For that reason, I was inclined to give it more time and respect. Plucking the leaves from the stems was a little tedious, which explained why no one was purchasing this vegetable in the market. I’ve noticed that some Singaporeans are quite lazy in the kitchen and avoid any plant which they think take too much work. I once heard a couple complaining that they never cook watercress at home because the leaves were too prolific, tiny and fiddly to pluck and clean. I was absolutely horrified.

Although the father told me to cook the pearl leaves with spareribs or sliced pork, I decided to use pork balls instead. Since I was still a little woozy from all the painkillers, I decided to just have the soup and to make it fast. The only thing that took time was the shaping of the pork balls. I kept it as simple as possible as I wanted to get the true measure of the zhen zhu ye and did not want anything adulterating my first taste of this mysterious herb.

I did not measure anything so forgive me if the measurements given below are as fuzzy and incoherent as I am.

Pork Balls with Pearl Leaf Soup

Pork balls
- About 125g of minced pork
- 3/4 tsp cumin powder
- Pinch of Mexican cumin powder
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- Pinch of ground turmeric
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp mirin
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 very large shitake mushroom, sliced

1 large basket of zhen zhu ye aka pearl leaves
¾ cube of chicken stock
2 ½ cup of water
Pinch of salt
3 dashes of white pepper powder
2 tsp of oil

1. Mix all the ingredients for the pork balls in bowl and set aside for about 10-15 minutes as you prepare the pearl leaves

2. Pluck the leaves from the woody stems and wash well to get rid of all the dirt. You will need at least 3 washes before all the grit is removed

3. Start rolling out the pork balls

4. Heat the oil and sauté the garlic till just blistering and starting to turn golden

5. Add ¾ of the sliced onions and sauté till slightly transparent and very fragrant

6. Add the water, rest of the onions and the chicken stock cube and bring to the boiling point, covered

7. Once boiling, add the pork balls and shitake mushrooms and bring to simmering

8. When the pork balls float to the top, add the pearl leaves and cook on medium heat for about 8-10 minutes. I cooked it a little longer as the leaves were still quite hardy at the 5-minute mark.

9. Season to taste and serve immediately

10. I added some sliced red chillies as I wanted some heat. Unfortunately, these red chillies were as hot as red capsicums … oh well …

The soup was wonderfully tasty and nourishing and I was glad I made the decision to make this simple soup with a new ingredient. The pearl leaves had a texture that was coarse and rustic but the taste was unusual. As I surmised, it tasted like a cross between a coriander and a watercress with a hint of aniseed and mint. It is certainly unusual and the herby flavour is quite brash yet elusive at the same time. Elusive because you spend much of the time trying to identify what it reminds you of and finally you have to surrender to the idea that it is quite unique.

I cannot tell if it has any overt benefits as yet but I would be interested in seeing if it has any effects in the next few days. I did notice that it left a subtle aftertaste of mint on my breath which made me wish I had kept some leaves to see if they work as breath fresheners. I will endeavour to find out more about this plant. Perhaps further conversation with the old vegetable seller and his daughter is in order. Or I can bring a leaf to the Chinese medical hall to ask if it has any other medicinal value.

So, on the taste scale, my meal today scores a 8/10. While still unsure of the fruition of the pearl leaves’ alleged benefits, it was still a healthy meal, garnering a 9/10.

And there is my entry this week for Weekend Herb Blogging #25 – the mysterious Pearl Leaf. Hopefully, it has not been a case of casting pearl leaves upon this swine. That saying, it's off to sleep away the last remnants of this pesky migraine in the hopes that I can cast that off permanently.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dance or Dunce Judges Part II - The Bi Guan Journals Continues

Watching the So You Think You Can Dance show produced a phenomenon known among my friends as “The Stephanie”. Every time I see a fantastic performance, I spend a sleepless night practising and dancing to improve myself in dread that I will never measure up. Every time I see a very bad performance, I spend a sleepless night practising and dancing for fear I will become as crap as those dancers if I do not work at it. Yes, I am that neurotic.

I spent the first part of my bi guan in a panic that my dance knowledge was as scant and narrow as the show’s judges and producers. Sleeplessly, feverishly, I studied all my videos and tried to practice almost every dance form I have ever learnt. By morning, I was a trembling, exhausted and totally spaced out cadet.

But the OCD-ly furor did me good. By my performance on Tuesday night, I was loose, fairly relaxed and more open to challenges. Realising I was performing on the Iranian New Year (Happy belated New Year to all Iranians) made my choice of music and dance style much easier. I chose a saidi cane dance and really dressed down with just a simple robe and belt and a fully-covered costume, relying on dance skill over flashy costumes or music. It was a lucky choice as it turned out the Egyptian ambassador was there too and this is his favourite dance.

My Stephanie moment was propitious as the performance threw up many surprises including two encore requests and also a couple of conversations with a film producer and a concert planner. From experience, I never take much stock in such “conversations”. The impulsive proposals would normally have stuck me as extremely left-field to be dismissed immediately without a second thought.

But because I had watched So You Think You Can Dance and spent time bi guaning, I had reached a transient level of expansiveness. Spurred by the narrow-minded and insular ignorance of the judges and producers I forced my mind to open up to more dance experiences, thoughts, philosophy and styles in the last two days to prove that I am not as mired in mediocrity and bias. So I gave some thought to the possibilities presented.

I ultimately dismissed them though. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I will never accept any business proposals if there is even a niggling doubt of their sincerity. No and a hundred times no to poorly-disguised bids to get into my robes or to market me as some strange and bizarre sex symbol for the half-blind and tasteless. I’d rather bi guan, thank you very much.

The other benefit of the recent bi guan is the time spent to ponder the industry. Just 30 minutes before my performance, I was warned about two superbly demanding Iranians in the audience. A third party gossiped that they absolutely hated a recent performance by a dancer I know fairly well. And apparently, they made this known to their inner-circle.

I think this was unfortunate. Firstly, I like the dancer, C, as a person. Secondly, it is a case of buyer beware. In our dance circle, it is well known that she is not a classical dancer, being more a MTV-type dancer. Yet, the people who hire her put her out there in front of discerning audiences who expect a high standard of traditional and classical dance training. Furthermore, she is not aware of cultural sensitivities or preferences and, occasionally, her choice of music or dance style may be inappropriate. To condemn and blacklist her is unfair especially as she is a rather good dancer. Essentially, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Not that she is a monkey by any means but you know what I mean.

I hate hearing people lambast other dancers spuriously. Especially people who are not dance-trained. I am no angel and of course, like my other brethrens, have indulged in some giggles and sniggers when it came to dancers I think are pretentious or delusional. However, it is like family. While you can criticise and make fun of your own family members, no one else has that right.

I did not appreciate hearing about this dancer’s “blacklisting” as this comes in the wake of comments about another group of dancers recently. An event organiser complained incessantly about two dancers he kept proclaiming were “horrible”. After much probing, he revealed that he thought they were fat and ugly and the dancing was bad. How bad and in what way he could not elaborate. I had the sense he did not see beyond the physical appearance of the dancers. Which really, really pissed me off.

I suspect I know who these two dancers were from his description. If my guess is right, one of them is a very poor dancer but then again, she only had fleeting classical dance lessons. The other dancer is also not classically trained but together, they are entertaining and although one is no raving beauty by any means, it is unkind to label them as fat and ugly. And who is this man to make such a judgement? Do you want dancers or super models?

During my bi guan moments, I pondered this. Having been sneered at by some for being invited to perform only because of my looks, such as they are, I admit I still carry a chip on my shoulder. When I first performed here, many in the dance circle gave me a hard time and used that ugly stick to beat me down. Since then, through years of silent indignation, I think I have managed to gain some reluctant respect but it has made me extremely careful about where and for whom I perform for. It has also limited my choices and garnered me a reputation for being both difficult and expensive. So it is ironic when I hear of people asking for someone younger but able to dance like me – which according to some dancer friends, have created a tiny coterie of misguided Mini Mes. I am not sure whether to be flattered, insulted or just amused.

Thus, I have a real abhorrence of being regarded as a "sexy" dancer. When I heard that the Iranian diplomats had expressed a concern that I would be a C-like dancer, my usual paranoia and self-doubt kicked in with a vengeance. I was relieved I had chosen a saidi cane dance and my costume.

Dancing under the yoke of such potential censure left me feeling disadvantaged. But because I had bi-guaned, I was relatively centred and chilled. It also helped that I spotted a very old and good friend in the audience as well as the sweetly kind Egyptian ambassador before I went on stage. Their supportive, encouraging smiles were soothing balms of acknowledgement and faith.

I've been asked if I get nervous before performances even after these decades. Yes I do. Being terribly neurotic, I always have nervous attacks days and even weeks before a performance, leading to The Stephanies. But seldom just before a performance. I like my dressing room time - if I get my own dressing room, that is. I typically avoid speaking with or interacting with anyone just before I go on. Unfortunately, this quirk has caused some to think I am incredibly stuck-up when all I want is the solitude to centre myself.

I like the quiet time alone as I finish my makeup and don my costume. A calm descends on me and I go into a zone. Everything goes on super sensory alert. My hearing is sharper. I start to feel a vibration through the ground. Sliding up my limbs. Into my belly. Echoing my heartbeat. Rushing into my ears. My limbs seem to stretch longer and my centre actually rises a little higher in my unwinding body. My skin prickles and even the softest breeze on it is intensified.

With each slick of makeup on my face, I assume a different identity. I am the happy, go-lucky, cheeky lass. The woman scorned. The mourning lover awaiting her beloved's return. It’s hard to define but until I dance a story, I do not really dance. Even the simplest and shortest dance must tell a story for me or you can sense my disconnect.

Does this ability to assume an identity make me a better dancer? I do not know. I only know that is the only way I block off the audience and lose myself in the music ... in the dance. Blocking off potentially negative vibes, thoughts or criticism emanating from the dark mass of faces. People have noted that I am a very expressive dancer and they really connect with me when I dance. I am loathed to tell them I actually do not see them. Even if I make eye contact, smile or raise an imploring glance towards them, I do not see them. They are part of my performance. The evil mother-in-law. The lecherous king. The uncaring lover. The lost child.

I am not real to many of my audience. But then, they are not real to me too. At least not when I am on stage. To them, I am a dancing marionette, a graceful gazelle(their words, not mine) or an exotic oddity. To me, they are characters in my little dance world. Is it little wonder that the relationships between dancers and their audience is so dysfunctional then? Because we are not real to each other?

As I continue with my bi guan, I realised that I cut myself off from my audience, and even other dancers sometimes. I am guilty of distancing myself to protect myself from unwanted attention, malicious criticism and anything that may disturb my centre. I think I am actually embarrassed to hear compliments after my performances. Being so neurotic, I always wonder if they are sincere or mere words of politeness. I try to be more open and receptive but my natural reticence frays at the edges of my seeming bonhomie, making me seek my dressing area or the kitchen, if there is one.

Yes, I ran off to the kitchen after my performance, made friends with the caterers and ate there while I chatted about recipes with the cook. (The Iranian chicken and a vegetable puree were to die for!) Isn’t that hilarious? People pay to watch me dance and try to capture my attention after every performance. Instead, I bugger off to dance a little jig with the cheerful Indian cook and her waiters while they fed me satays, chicken, rice and wine. I had a ball.

By the time I re-emerged, only a few stragglers remained, including the Iranians and the Egyptian ambassador. I was immensely flattered when the fastidious Iranians thanked, complimented and invited me to perform for them. This was extremely gratifying considering how they cut C. Even more flattering was how the kindly, old ambassador was proudly regaling another guest about my credentials and heritage. It was adorable how he even remembered all my personal details and was behaving like a proud uncle. No wonder he is my favourite ambassador and client in Singapore. Perhaps I should not be so shy and spend more time with my audience after all! I have enough vanity to enjoy all that gushing.

Sometimes feedback is good. Often times I take the criticism of others too much to heart and The Stephanies begin to take over my life as I strive to battle my biggest critic - myself. Avoiding the audience shuts out possible confirmation of my greatest fears but it also silences any positive affirmation.

I’d try to make more contact with the audience next time. As long as there’s no kitchen to distract me. I need to bi guan now. I am petrified I will disappoint the Iranians and myself. And the neurosis continues ...

Dance or Dunce Judges Part I - The Bi Guan Journals


This week has been a week filled with dance. Dance performances, choreography, music, schedules, lessons plans …

It’s been a week of extreme disappointment, heartache, highs, lows, bewilderment, frustration and thankfulness. And it’s only Wednesday. I’ve been on a rollercoaster. It was time to withdraw to calm my senses and introspect upon my churning emotions and doubt-speckled thoughts.

Friends and acquaintances have noted that I have a tendency to “disappear”. One moment I am there and the next I am as elusive as Big Foot. No, I only wear a size 5, loveys.

I’ve always been jealous of my own time, thoughts and space. Probably because growing up, I had very little control over these with everyone trying to dictate what, with whom, when and how I utilise them. By the time I hit 12, I became well known for being mysterious or sulky depending on whom you are talking to. Relatives still talk about a time when I refused to speak to anyone for almost a year because someone or something pissed me off. Some might say now that they were very lucky.

That’s not to say that I do not make myself heard or open myself up to those I consider dear and true friends. But I do go into seclusion to ponder things, lick my wounds, create or even just to (WARNING: Gross out moment incoming!) wax my legs! Is a girl not entitled to her privacy anymore??? Sure, I may take more time than other people but that just means I need a lot of time to myself. I like to say I am my favourite person so is it wrong to want to spend time with your most favoured person? Is that self-centredness or just self-preservation?

I need space and alone time to survive this crazy world. Appreciating their value, I always give the same consideration back which some people take as being uncaring. Not true … I care about your right to privacy and would never intrude unless asked to. Therefore, I truly appreciate and respect those few friends who know enough when to push and when to let me go to my own little la-la land.

People have wondered what I get up to when I go into one of my little “seclusions”. Nothing mysterious or exciting, really. Most of the time, I spend it sorting out all the mess in my head, heart, soul and environment so that I have a blank or at least conducive canvas to create something true and unique. I’m not always successful but I find that I obtain the most meaningful epiphanies or insights during these moments.

In Chinese kung fu movies, the kung fu exponents always sequester themselves in some remote cave, cloud-hidden mountain or secluded river hut to master a new-fangled kung fu technique. They call it bi guan – not sure what that really means in Chinese but I know it happens in every kung fu movie. Yes, I watch way too many kung fu movies. Therefore, I’m just trying to pay tribute to an ancient Chinese custom. I’m respectful that way.

So I do not have a peaceful mountain retreat or a soothing riverbed but I have my little bedroom grotto to hide out in. In a fit of manic energy, I spent an entire day cleaning, laundering, tidying, wiping, spraying and generally Martha Stewarting my sleepy haven into shape. The incense simulated mists caressing the mountains. My aromatherapy air freshener lulled me as gently as the cascading waterfalls of a water sanctuary. And the drawn curtains and numerous candles illuminated my dark cavern of calm.

I was ready for my bi guan.

I’d heard of this new reality show called So You Think You Can Dance for a while now. The dance forums were peppered by some dancers’ posts about the audition process and how poorly judged it was. Unsure if this was mere sour grapes or a reality of the poor standards of reality shows, I did not intended to watch this. Then the trailers came on. I saw a lot of break dancers. A lot of hip hop dancers. And then … a middle eastern dancer doing a sword routine! OK, I had to watch it now.

All the other dancers were very dubious and no one was inclined to watch it but I’d watch anything once just to judge for myself. Missing part of the show, I still have no clue who the three judges were. Except that one fancies himself a posh Simon Cowell.

To be honest, I was appalled that the middle eastern dancers, the flamenco dancer and, even more horrifically, a modern ballet dancer were relegated to the “freaks” category by the producers of the show. Do these people even know what dance is and have any of them ever had any classical dance training???

The show’s choreographer was obviously a MTV, hip hop-style dancer but seriously, they should have had some classical dance expert among the panel or at least among the producers so they do not look so ignorant. Even without any knowledge of the judges, just from their comments and choices, I had the impression that their experiences were more Broadway, music videos and television commercials-related. Not that these are bad but you should have a balanced panel.

Some of their comments were justified, of course, as you would have to be blind, deaf and comatose not to cringe at some of the contestants’ ideas of dance. But the real shockers truly cast doubts on the credentials of these judges and the producers.

Firstly, sniggering at the break dancers, middle-eastern dancers and the flamenco dancers showed how insular, uneducated and sorry … American, this production was. Yes, yes, two judges were British but to me, they were the type of Brits who had been in the US so long they might as well be wearing stars and stripes underwear. If they had even superficially studied any of these dance forms, they would know how much skill, techniques and talent are required.

Secondly, the only break dancer featured was a very raw young man. His timing was off, his weight changes erratic, his moves not as smooth or finished as many of the others featured and his stage presence gawky. The only reason he received airtime was because he failed to keep up with the choreography in the second round. Now, to any trained dancer, you could spot his lack of training and inexperience immediately. By choosing to feature him over many of the other deserving and talented break dancers in the auditions, the producers were blatantly attempting to allude that break dancing is a lesser dance form and break dancers would never be able to make it in the “real world” of dancing.

I disagree and I am very sure some of the qualifying break dancers proved them wrong. Yet this was the message they chose to send out to the world. I think they did the break dancers a great injustice.

Thirdly, the host remarked on the astounding number of middle-eastern dancers who auditioned. Had they done any research at all, they would have realised that one of the largest population of middle-eastern dancers reside in New York, and the cattle call was actually posted on the New York belly dancers forum. The quick vignette of the dancers showed a few horrors but on the whole, most of them appeared to be “real” middle eastern dancers. I was extremely surprised to see a few familiar-faced middle eastern dancers and wondered what possessed them to lower their international cache by even entering the contest. (Yes, there is actually a middle eastern dance world with “superstars” and fandom).

What was galling was the short clip of the interview with an older dancer who performed a sword dance. It illuminated the puerile wit of the Simon Cowell-like judge who asked if it was a real sword that could kill people. She should have run him through with it, screaming jihad at the top of her voice.

However, the belly dancer receiving the most coverage (sic) was an incredibly mediocre dancer whose greatest claim was her two enhanced chest globes. Of course, wearing a costume one size too small highlighted these – as did the cameraman even when she was doing hip shimmies as he was obviously transfixed by the headlights. I remarked to 3A Gurl that he must be a Turkish belly dance cameraman.

The top-heavy dancer claimed her real name was Isis. Surname Cardona. When I expressed my sceptism, 3A sagely said it could be your real name if you had changed it by deed poll. Ah, right … But Isis won my respect with her delicately phrased response to the very vulgar line of questioning from the other English judge. He had the temerity to ask if all her “accessories” were real. She politely responded after a long awkward silence that they were the “most expensive accessories” she had ever purchased. I gave her a zill salute and a doumbek thwapping on head to the insensitive lout.

To give Isis her credit, she is probably fairly inexperienced to middle eastern dance and used it as a gimmick to get her foot (or tits – yes! I can so be a So You Think You Can Dance judge!) in the door. In the second round, her dance skills were more apparent and in control. And when she was disqualified, she showed a grace and class that was lacking in many of the contestants ... and the judges.

Fourthly, they paid a lot of attention to a Britney-Spears dancealike. You cannot see this but a petrified shudder reverberates through me even as I type the words Britney Spears and dance in the same sentence. There it goes again …

This young blonde was all over the place. While she has some raw talent, she had no control. She was also sloppy and rushed her movements. Obviously a student of MTV dance videos, she did not balance her youthful enthusiasm with grace and I was not particularly impressed. But the judges were. They professed to love her Britney Spears dancealikability. I am so biting my tongue and my ballet shoes now.

Lastly, and the most damning, was when the modern ballet dancer auditioned. I refuse to believe that any dancer, dance teacher or judge could have endured a dance career without a least one lesson in modern ballet. Therefore, the judges’ comment shocked and horrified me.

The modern ballet dancer was quite good in my opinion. Her interpretation was not new or unusual (according to the producers’ ignorant scripting and the host’s snarky voice-over) but obviously part of her repertoire from a troupe or staged performance. Her timing was spot-on, her lines clean, her transitions smooth, choreography well crafted and her technique sound. She certainly deserved better than the pithy left-handed compliments paid her.

The damning comment came from the Simon Cowell wannabe. He emitted a surprised gasp and asked the other British judge if it was more difficult to flex the feet. Perhaps realising how daft he sounded, he later announced that not many people might know this but keeping the feet flexed when doing a leg kick is much harder than keeping the feet straight. It’s called pointé, mate. That gasp-inspiring move is a basic technique in modern ballet.

My disgust lies with the fact that he obviously knows nothing about modern ballet. Or even basic dance movement. In fact, they all seem to know very little about any other dance form except the MTV culture. As dance teachers or judges you should know at least a modicum of each dance form in order to guide and judge. To be so ignorant of basic dance technique is beyond the pale in a dance judge. I truly question the credentials of the judges and the misnomer of the show.

Watching the show led me to many questions about dance, dancers, dance shows and the common misconceptions. It distresses me how people are commonly associating sex and looks with dance nowadays. The fact that anyone can think that Britney Spears (let's just call her BS as I have to stop shuddering) and Jessica Simpson are dance icons makes me want to hang up my dance shoes. The proliferation of "sexy dancers" who rely on aesthetics over technique or skill drives me to tears. It makes me question why I stay in the business and why I care.

Honestly, the number of times I have been asked to dance a certain way or been invited to perform just from virtue of seeing my photo rather than my dance performance infuriates me. When students ask to be taught for a Shakira or BS-type dance style, I show them the studio door and give them the number for an exotic dance teacher. It pains me.

Then I go home to bi guan and do a Stephanie - an explanation of this will come in Part II. Am shuddering too hard now. I said BS' name 5 times in the same context as dance. Oh no, there it goes again ...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Somewhere Almost Over the Causeway ...

Having no time to cook demands that I have my meetings in places where I can eat and work at the same time. After a recent meeting which required me to venture forth to a part of Singapore I had never been to before, I took the opportunity to explore the shopping mall.

Of course, the first place I headed for was the supermarket, which turns out to be a Cold Storage. Surprisingly, this one was fairly large with a much better selection than many of the surburbian supermarkets I've seen. The Causeway Point Cold Storage was even better than the very popular Holland Village Cold Storage in my opinion. I was pleasantly surprised although there is still no way I would ever travel all the way there just to do my shopping.

In a shopping mall that size, I knew there must be a food court somewhere in the maze of shops. In most shopping malls, the food court would either be in the basement or on the highest floor. Gliding on the escalators, I descended to the depths of Causeway Point. The basement was the pit of food hell. There were only fast food joints and a couple of mediocre food franchises. I quickly climbed my way out, hopefully, to a better food haven.

I was right. On the top most floor, right in the farthest corner, was the food court. There were the typical high ceilings, garish fluorescent lights and maze of chairs and tables. And the usual food stalls. It was not very inspiring and I did not see anything unique that stood out. Still, I was willing to check on the quality if not the variety of food. Any hawker centre is a food paradise to me.

I picked a beef noodles stall to try out the fare at this busy shopping mall and food court. The food stall helpers were very friendly and generous with the bean sprouts when I requested for more. I don't know why but I always like ordering from nice old ladies at food stalls. They always make me feel all babied and pampered and they tend to be really nice which gives me a nice, warm glow that either enhances or disappears with the first taste of my meal.

In this case, the service was a lot tastier than the food. The beef noodles broth was decided bland and thin. It was healthy though as I could tell that no MSG was used at all - a rarity in hawker food in Singapore. To get the true measure of beef noodles, you need to have it in a soup rather than the dry version with the thick, viscous gravy. The gravy usually covers up the multitude of sins the soup version relentless discloses. Another test is to have the mixed beef platter. Yes, you cringe but until you taste the tripe, the shin meat, the intestines and flank steak strips, you cannot get a proper gauge of the quality of the food.

The flank steak strips were overcooked and dry. The tripe and intestines were fairly tasteless although still fairly tender. I could tell it had just been boiled in salted water instead of a flavoured, spiced broth. The shin meat was the only thing that still held some measure of flavour. But the real surprise lay in the chilli. It was thick enough to coat the meat lusciously yet thin enough to flow gently down the throat. With just the right amount of spice, garlic, and scalded oil, it perked the appetite robustly and satisfied the hankering for heat in even this spice hound.

Generously slathering the meat and internal organs with this delicious chilli made the meal a lot more appetitising. The beef noodles soup was an adequate meal if you are hungry and craving a semi-healthy option. But with so many other choices available in the food court, I would not go back again (if I do go back there again).

So, I give the beef noodles a 6.5/10 for taste and a 7/10 for health. But I would like to give a 8/10 to the two very nice stall helpers for excellent and genuinely warm service.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bikini Wax Blunder

I'm supposed to be working but in the midst of some torturous reading reminiscent of the mugging before a statistics test, I decided to give my eyes a rest by checking my emails.

And out popped this garish evite for a bar. Getting evites and ads from bars and club is not unusual. But this particular email was.

Drunk bikini waxer. Brazilian wax. I hope their insurance is up to date. This is certainly one of the most ludricrous ideas I've seen in a while ... and not in a good way.

Right, back to work.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wine, Whimper and Song

The best thing about living in Singapore is the fantastic variety of local delights. Nothing beats the hawker food in Singapore. Chinese, Malay, and Indian food has opened the way to more exotic fare such as Japanese, Thai, Korean and even a few European fare at the hawker centres and food stalls. Greater variety ... more hawker food adventures. What else can a girl ask for?

Something about sitting on the steel-legged metal and plastic stools, harshly white tiled floors and T-shirt and shorts-clad stall-keepers bearing delicious, honest food just appeals to me. Way too many times, I’ve vacated an over-rated fine dining establishment in disappointment (or sometimes outright disgust) to seek out a down-to-earth hawker centre or food stall for some delectable tucker.

I can only presume that, at heart, I am a glaringly common and simple woman. Or that I have spent so much time in the company of pretentious people and situations that I gravitate towards what I deem is real and relevant.

A few nights ago, I had a business meeting of sorts in Thomson. Years ago, I used to live in that vicinity on a previous stint in Singapore. However, it has been many years hence so the estate might as well be new to me again. I was rather pleased as this gave me an opportunity to explore the area and learn about the choices of food available.

A photographer and musician friend brought me to an intimate and cozy wine bar nestled above a row of shop houses. Despite having just had dinner, I was still nosing around the maze of stools and food-laden tables. The aroma and the colours were relentlessly seductive and I could tell that it was the kind of true-blue Singaporean hawker fare that would lure foodies from all parts of the island. Robert assured me that we would adjoin to one of these shops for supper after paying a visit to the wine bar. It was the only way he could rouse me from my dazed stupour as I ogled the food.

I’d heard of Wine Flair many years ago when a girlfriend tried to entice me to visit when she was somehow involved in the marketing of the place. Unfortunately, being familiar with this particular girlfriend’s attempts at event organising and her abysmal taste in alcohol, I was determined never to step foot into Wine Flair, regardless of my deep affection of her. However, that was many years ago and she no longer had any involvement there. So when Robert suggested that I check it out, I decided it was time I cast aside my prejudice.

I had passed Wine Flair many times without realising it. I’d always mistaken it for a Chinese seafood restaurant or karaoke bar because of the gaudy gold Venetian blinds lining the broad windows of this second-floor establishment. The realisation that it was a wine bar sat as uneasily as the truly horrendous, loud swatches above dark maroon sofa chairs with dark khaki armchairs. To be fair, the décor and lighting were dark enough that nothing else really rushed up to hit you between the eyes.

I took a quick circuit around the room and deduced that this was a casual neighbourhood hang-out for young yuppies. The predominantly Chinese crowd of early twenty-somethings struck me as aspiring bon vivants with beer taste and wine budgets. While the wine selection was fairly limited to new world wines of younger vintages, which I realised is more accessible to young Singaporeans' palates, I noticed that no one was having wine. Instead, the usual Chinese alcoholic suspects of Tiger beer, vodka, gin and Johnny Walker were lining the tables with mixers of orange juices, tonics and sodas. A lot of yum-senging was going on and I had to check I had not accidentally crashed a Chinese wedding.

And speaking of tables, I was horrified to find that they were unfinished pine side tables from Ikea. That’s not the problem. These tables were wrapped in transparent plastic to protect the surface. Wrapped and stapled down. On the top. It’s unfinished pine side tables from Ikea. What are you protecting it from???

Despite these bizarre elements, the joint was easy-going and had an unpretentious bonhomie that was rather endearing. Almost as if you were visiting a friend’s home and he just happened to be a wine, pool and karaoke enthusiast. And that’s exactly how the owner struck me. An incredibly affable bloke, Roy had an easy charm and down-to-earth personality that immediately put you at ease. Much like his little establishment. You could tell that the clientele were there to let their hair down and did not care if it was not quite the latest hip, trendy hangout.

I’ve frequented a number of places where the décor is deplorable, the air quality toxic, the service clueless and the concept puerile. But the owners, managers and/or staff are true salt of the earth or possess such charisma that you overlooked these defects. The only thing I will not forgive is appalling music. If the music is bad, I can only “give face” a couple of times before running away to recover from the cruel assault on my ear drums.

The music at Wine Flair is much like watching American Idol. Except there is only one singer unless you count the many clientele who would beg Roy to let them sing despite his strained amiability and everyone’s cringes. The dusky skinned singer had a passable voice and stage presence but like many American Idol contestants suffered from some poor song choices. But the impromptu karaoke nearly turned me into a Simon Cowell. Yes, I did have to take fortifying gulps of my vodka ribenas as I whimpered piteously in a dark corner, rocking back and forth trying to find my happy place. And you may ask why I was drinking vodka ribenas in a wine bar?

Being the only girl in the group, I had to conform to the general male consensus to imbibe the more macho vodka. Also, Wine Flair is undergoing some minor revamp and thus, not all their wine selection was on display. More importantly, Roy’s wife was not around that night and she is the wine expert. Rather than risk drinking plonk alone, I decided to return on a night after the renovations were competed and when she was around so we could have a nice evening discussing and tasting some of new selection. I would have liked to try a couple of the wines - Wine Flair’s existing wine menu was predictably uninspired yet intermingled, like a rare, hidden gem, among the common varietals were some unexpected finds.

But aside from my dislike of drinking exceptional wine alone, I was worried about my ability to taste my supper properly after single-handedly demolishing an entire bottle. Priorities, people … priorities …

I was very eager for supper by the time we rolled down the narrow stairs at the back of the shop house and made our way to a shop house coffeeshop that Robert proclaimed had the best bak chor mee and laksa. I was quietly skeptical as I remembered the last time Robert declared a laksa as the best in Singapore, Johore and some say, Batam. Let's just say it was not pretty.

When our food arrived, it smelt heavenly. However, the cooks must be the messiest men ever! I bet they were the kids who could not colour within the lines in playschool! Sauce was slopping everywhere and it looked like someone had plated it with their bare hands. But the smell! To hell with presentation, I tucked in with a zeal.

The bak chor mee was as amazingly divine as Robert claimed. As he was the regular, he did the ordering and apparently there is a love-hate relationship between the lady proprietor and him. When he asked for extra laksa leaves, I believe they decided to take the mickey as half the bowl disappeared in a whimpering cower under the weight of the bright green invasion.

I liked the laksa. It was by no means the best but definitely among the top ten in Singapore. However, the undisputed star was the bak chor mee. The noodles were perfectly cooked. Al dente with a springy bite without the rubbery and over-kneaded texture, they were generously slicked with a glossy, rich sauce. The mince pork, liver slices and fish cakes were well balanced and delicious even if not outstandingly remarkable. Yet the entire dish worked. It was only with incessant nagging that I dutifully swapped the bak chor mee with the laksa with Robert since we were all sharing. But I did not give it up without a fight. Baleful and resentful glares were exchanged until more food arrived.

Tender squares of silken tofu wrapped in crispy cocoons of fine, golden crust and a crunchy cracker of meat-filled wanton. A golden globe staring unblinkingly into the fluorescent ceiling, stewing in the hot broth steamboat. I expected a simple supper. Instead Robert plied us with a midnight feast in the Thomson gardens of good and evil.

By the time we left the coffeeshop, we were deliriously sated. Waddling to the car, what did we talk about? Food. It’s true. People in Singapore talk about food morning, night and day. What a place, what a place, what place!