Saturday, January 31, 2009

balestier group at macritchie reservoir park

looks like this year's exercise programme for the balestier group is going to be more structured and frequent. at the lunar new year's gathering at jennifer's place, a decision was made to hold the monthly walk on the first saturday of every month. at the end of our first walk for 2009 at macritchie reservoir park today, someone suggested that we made this (walking session) a weekly affair.

with the new car-park in operation, macritchie is now teeming with joggers, walkers, canoeists and other active people. even with the increased number of parking lots, there is still the problem of finding a space if you arrive late, meaning after 8.00 a.m. at westlake avenue housing estate, all available space was also taken up.

made two discoveries today; both advantageous ones. first, if you are driving, you can exit the reservoir road near the former entrance. no more waiting for a break in the seemingly endless stream of vehicles coming down lornie road. second, if you are coming from thomson road or upper thomson road, there is no need to travel all the way to the former point (along lornie road) to make a u-turn; there is a turning into the entrance, below the flyover, just after thomson road.

a good introduction to macritchie walking trails is the prunus-petai trail. at our chat-and-stroll pace we managed to cover it in just under one hour. just the prunus trail itself is too short; when you are just starting to enjoy the walk, it is over. so, it is better to combine the prunus and the petai trails for a good enough work-out.

as we emerged from the trail, we bumped into mr chan chee seng, a former member of parliament (for jalan besar) and a former senior parliamentary secretary in the ministry of social affairs. he is a regular figure at macritchie park. at 80, he is still the president of the joggers association of singapore.

after cleaning up, we car-pooled in two cars to get to the whampoa food centre for our post-walk makan session.

sorry, forget to mention that we had a new member in our group today. she is chan chung hoi.

Friday, January 30, 2009

what's the name of this beetle?

i came across this insect during one of my nature walks. i have not been able to identify it. i do not seem to be able to find a picture of an identical insect on the internet.

i think it is a long-horned leaf beetle. it was on a leaf and it has long antennae.

does anyone know the name of this insect?

some other insects and creatures i have encountered during my walks

dog, cat, and rat

if these three can live in peace with one another, why can't we?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

jiao zi - another chinese dumpling

a friend, a chinese from northern china, made and gave us forty jiao zi for the lunar new year. we are going to fry some of them and the rest, we will steamed them and dipped in soy-vinegar with young ginger strips. the northern chinese traditionally eat jiao zi on the eve of the new year.

the term 'jiao zi' has a number of meanings. one of if is “midnight or the end and the beginning of time.” which is why jiao zi are made and eaten on the midnight of the lunar new year's eve. another meaning of the term comes from the literal translation to “sleep together and have sons” which is a good wish for a family.

not only does the shape of the jiao zi resemble the golden ingots, it also represents a crescent moon and symbolizes the hope for a year of plenty. occasionally people will add specific fillings to select dumplings in order to symbolize certain wishes. those who receive sweets will have a sweeter life, peanuts symbolize long life and dates and chestnuts represent the imminent arrival of a son.

because the word “dates” is homonymic with the word “early” in chinese, so are chestnuts (zhenzi), the syllable “zi” is homonymic with children. the tremendous amount of food prepared at this time is meant to symbolize abundance of wealth in the household.

rich families in ancient times added gold, silver and other precious stones in their dumplings. to get one of these dumplings was considered good luck. later this transitioned to adding coins in the dumplings. copper coins, for example, meant that one would never lack money. in contemporary times, only a few coins were washed and add to the batch of dumplings, the person who discovers the coin would enjoy good luck and make a lot of money in the coming year.

jiao zi typically consist of a ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together or by crimping. jiao zi should not be confused with wonton: jiao zi have a thicker, chewier skin and a flatter, more oblate, double-saucer like shape, and are usually eaten with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce (and/or hot chilli sauce); while wontons have thinner skin, are sphere-shaped, and are usually served in broth. the dough for the jiao zi and wonton wrapper also consist of different ingredients.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

reunion dinner - to usher in the ox

this year's reunion dinner is more complete than last year's and previous years'; this year, after a lapse of five years, ivy is able to stay on for the reunion dinner. except for her first year of studies when she managed to spend the lunar new year with us, all the other years she had either visited in june or, if she visited at the end of the year, she would have to rush back to melbourne because of her studies. now that she has started working, she is able to take leave.

as has been the practice over the years, my brother's family of five and my youngest sister lynn join us at the reunion table with my mother. my 86-year old mother, who stays with one of my sisters, will spend the last day of the old lunar year and the first day of the new year at my place.

we have been having steamboat dinner for a number of years. this year, we cut down on the amount and number of food items because the year before we had quite a lot of leftovers. the stock for the steamboat soup came from pork ribs which was bought from ben's. not all ingredients were raw; some like the quail eggs and the fish balls - bought fresh - were pre-cooked.

these days, you can get thinly sliced meat done the shabu style from the supermarket. this makes preparation much easier. we do not marinate the raw meat at all. other items that ended up in the hot pot included chicken meat, prawns, scallops, fresh squids, prawnballs, shrimp wonton, stuffed tofu balls and cheese sausages.

the vegetables that went into the soup were tung oh, local leaf, long cabbage and inoki mushroom.

another 'tradition' of sort is the cleaning of the gaps between the tiles in my flat. my brother's family members and my sister would get down on their fours, use the wonder sponge to whiten the gaps.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

every breath you take

bernanke, the right choice?

unusual sign
no, i did not make any 'noise' to cause one of the letters to drop off. i picked up this 'noise' thing from icemoon's blog but i still do not know what it is. i am sure you know the letter which has dropped off. or could it have been physically removed by someone?

i came across this along neo tiew crescent.

2008 chinese new year song 新的一年 astro 新秀


Sunday, January 25, 2009

wishing you good health, happiness

prosperity this lunar new year

Saturday, January 24, 2009

bunga manggar

i thought the flower stalk of the umbrella tree resembles the colourful ‘bunga manggar’ or palm blossom made from tinsel paper accompanying the malay bridegroom when he fetches his bride. i had thought that the bunga manggar was fashioned after the flowering stalk of this tree, which is also known as the octopus tree.

when i was in melaka last year, i saw a few of this type of trees near the melaka sultanate palace. the melaka sultanate palace - a replica of the melaka sultan's palace during the period of the melaka sultanate - is located at the foot of st paul's hill.

in singapore, so far, i have seen only one such tree growing by the side of the road near the kranji reservoir park.

an article in the new straits time of malaysia talks about the original bunga manggar.

in the old days, the malays tied bunches of coconut palm blossoms (mayang kelapa) to one end of bamboo poles. bunches of tiny blossoms on a tall coconut tree are not visible from the ground. some of the blossoms, when mature, will become coconuts. the blossoms are exquisite in off-white colours and the texture is smooth and medium hard.

it is no wonder that the beauty of the blossom earns it a place at the head of processions especially for weddings and other traditional events. usually, there will be two bunga manggar bearers leading the procession, followed by a kompang (traditional tambourine) group and others.

in terengganu, the original bunga manggar is used in the famous traditional dance called ulit mayang (ulit means crooning).

today, perhaps due to the difficulty in getting the original bunga manggar, the malays have settled for the artificial ones. though these are less exotic, they still evoke the celebratory mood.

Friday, January 23, 2009

pretty flowers in your hair?

these pretty flowers all belong to the same species. you do find some of them growing in the wild. i have seen them growing at the edges of some secondary forests. but those in the pictures above were planted by the people from nparks. the place where they are planted is not open to the public yet.

the flowers change colour as they mature. so on the inflorescences, you may see florets of two or more colours.

the berries of this plant are edible when ripe though like many fruit are mildly poisonous if eaten while still green.

the spread of this plant is aided by the characteristic of the leaves, which are somewhat poisonous to most animals, while the fruit is a delicacy for many birds which help in distributing the seeds.

the common names for this plant are shrub verbenas or lantanas. these flowers are pretty but i do not think any pretty maiden will wear them in her hair. most people dislike the smell of lantana flowers, but the foliage is quite fragrant, smelling, in fact, like citrus. the malay name for this plant is bunga tahi ayam (chicken's droppings).

yesterday (25 jan 09), i drove to keppel island. while driving across the cable-stayed bridge, i discovered that one side of the road was lined with these beautiful flowering plants.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

this building used to house a school

the school that once occupied this building had its humble beginning at coleman street. it was established in 1917. from less than a hundred girls, the enrolment grew rapidly and soon they had to look for a bigger building to accommodate the expanding population.

the new school building at bencoolen street was ready in 1921. however, because of some financial problem, the school was forced to close temporarily. following a series of public appeals, funds poured in to enable the debt to be settled and the school to re-open.

in 1928, there was again a need to expand the school because of the growing student population. in 1941, the building - in the above photograph - was ready. the school functioned at two places. the one at bencoolen street became the branch school.

unfortunately, tragedy struck when the japanese invaded s'pore. the building was turned into the headquarters of the japanese imperial army. the school had to be closed one more time.

in oct 1945, the school reopened. the school's management committee raised funds to rebuild the school and to enrol students. with overwhelming financial support from many parents, the school went on to start secondary classes and the enrolment rose to 700.

the school's last and final move was made in 2003.


1 what was the name of the school that occupied this building?

Nan Hwa Girls' School. Today, it is known as Nan Hua High School.

2 where is its present location?

41 Clementi Avenue 1.

3 is it still an all-girl school?

Boys were admitted to the school in 1984.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

wild bitter gourd

when i first saw this creeper, i thought it looked like the bitter gourd plant. it also smelled like the bitter gourd plant. i started looking for its fruit and found a few rounded ones which resembled the normal bitter gourd, albeit much smaller in size. the small yellowish flower is also similiar to those found on the normal bitter gourd climber. the leaves, though smaller, are also star-shaped.

when i touched the fruit, it 'exploded', expelling some red seeds but there was very little pulp. i found this creeper growing on the new-constructed track leading to the yet-to-be-opened dairy farm nature park.

i think this may be the same type of bitter gourd that the taiwanese and vietnamese use to make the bittergourd tea drink.

the wild bitter gourd is edible. what someone once told me about bitter gourd is true. the smaller the bitter gourd, the more bitter is its taste. it is supposed to be good for those who are diabetics as eating it can help you better control your blood sugar.

when i was young, i hated bitter gourd. i refused to eat it but now that i am much older, things have changed. i have come to appreciate eating bitter gourd, especially bitter gourd fried with tau cheo (fermented soya bean) and i also enjoy bitter gourd soup.

Monday, January 19, 2009

more old cars in kuching

please refer to chun see's blog on old beauties at kuching. here are two more cars from kuching to add to the list. the car to identify in the first picture is the white car. the other car, in the picture below, is metallic grey.

the first car should pose no problem but the second car may be a bit tricky because we did not have many cars of this model in singapore. it was more popular in malaysia.

surveillance cameras in multi-storey car-park

there have been a number of cases of arson involving motorcycles in bukit panjang. the most serious was the one at gangsa road multi-storey carpark where 52 motorcycles were incinerated in october last year. it was the highest number of vehicle casualties in a single incident in 2008. many of these arson cases appear to have been committed by youngsters.

the bukit panjang-holland town council has finally gone ahead with the installation of surveillance cameras in the covered car-parks in bukit panjang. at block 541a, it does not cover all the six levels, only the lower three levels - basement, levels 1 and 2.

besides deterring arson, the cameras can also deter acts of mischief like vandalism -scratching of car bodywork - and urinating or defacating in public places. it would also be able to capture theft of cash-cards and other valuables from parked vehicles. it should be able to capture love-in-action if it takes place within the area under surveillance.

i wonder if any other interesting or scandalous going-ons will show up when they view the video captured by the surveillance cameras in the car-park.

when the residents come to realise the fringe benefits of such surveillance cameras, the three levels with cameras may become choice areas for parking. it is like having someone keeping an eye on your vehicle and should your vehicle be accidentally dented by some careless driver, there is a chance the accident may have been captured on camera.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

white-bellied sea-eagle

boat-wreck along the coast at kranji

a white-bellied sea eagle at kranji coast

most times when i take to the kranji trail, i would be the solitary walker. today, i had the company of a group of about eight nature photographers, led by someone from nparks. they were taking close-up pictures of insects, plants and birds. for birds, in this case it was the collared kingfisher, they had to use the 200mm to 500mm telephoto lens.

while walking close to the coast, i saw three white-bellied sea eagles circling over the tall trees. it seems to me that the number of sea-eagles has increased. just yesterday, i saw five of these magnificent birds soaring and gliding over the upper seletar reservoir area. on thursday morning, i saw a pair over the sea off sungei buloh wetland reserve. closer to my home, over at pang sua stormwater pond, there used to be a solitary eagle. these days, i often see a pair of them.

as i watched one of the eagles, i could not help feeling envious of it - gliding effortlessly up there and crossing borders without having to bother about immigration check. it flew over the johor straits before turning back.

these fish eagles normally hunt for fish but they sometimes go for small animals like rats, frogs and sea snakes. i usually see them in the morning or evening or when it is about to rain.

from my bedroom window, i have watched how the eagle catch its prey. it would circle the stormwater pond a few times to look for its prey. sometimes it could be quite high up in the sky but at other times it would be just above the tree-top level. when it had spotted some potential food, it would glide over the surface and using its talons pick up the fish that had been swimming near the surface. it seldom misses.

it does not dive into the water as some people would imagine it to do. it is not a cormorant or an osprey. it just skim over the surface, pick up the target and fly off somewhere to enjoy its spoil.

you can go to this web-page to view some superb shots (by speedblade) of the white-bellied sea eagle at bukit panjang.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

why my pomegranate shrub bears such small fruit?

i have had this pomegranate plant - inherited from my sister who shifted house - for nearly a year. when it came to me, it had slightly more branches and leaves but over time these seem to have dwindled. however, lately, it has been blooming, with lots of red flowers but only a fraction of them get fertilised to become fruit.

the other day i was at mustafa samsuddin and the pomegranate fruit - which came from india - was at least four times the size of the largest fruit on my plant. wonder if it is because my plant is not big or that it is not getting enough nutrients from the soil.

the chinese refer to the pomegranate as the fertility plant as it bears many red flowers and fruit with lots of seeds. a friend explains that it is a holy or sacred plant when i asked why some chinese placed the shells of the crabs on the plant.

the pomegranate plant takes about three years to bear fruit. the fruit is ready for picking when it makes a metallic sound when tapped. when it is over ripe, the fruit will split open.

i have blogged here about how to go about eating the pomegranate fruit.

if you believe what they say about the benefits of drinking pomegranate juice here, then all of us should be drinking it regularly.

if you planning to grow one, remember the pomegranate plant likes a lot of sunlight and warmth. it is also a thirsty plant, so you have to water it every day.

i think mine is a shrub, that is why the fruit is so much smaller than those sold at supermarkets or fruit stalls. the commercial ones come from the bigger and taller pomegranate trees.

Friday, January 16, 2009

spa(rr)ing with the fish @ qian hu

took ivy and ian to qian hu fish farm at jalan lekar to have a go at the fish spa. ivy and ian paid $10 each to 'feed' the fish. since they went there in slippers, there was no need for them to use their slippers. the towel for cleaning and drying the feet after the spa session was provided free- of-charge.

qiah hu, which started with one circular pond, now has two ponds for this purpose. the original pond is filled with the toothless garra rufa but the other pond has other much bigger fish, some as large as 22cm. some of the fish look like barbs.

initially, ivy felt ticklish and kept lifting her two feet out of the water. after sometime, she got used to the sensation and felt quite comfortable letting the fish nibble at her dead skin. she stayed at the same pond and same spot for the entire session whereas ian transferred his feet to the other pond during the last ten minutes.

he compared the pleasant sensation of being nibbled by the bigger fish as being sucked by some miniature vacuum cleaners. however, when it comes to doing what they are advertised to do, he thinks that the smaller garra rufa are more effective.

i did not like the idea of fish tickling me so i did not give the fish a taste of me. for senior citizens, there is a concession rate of $5 for a half-hour session.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

toxin in sugar-cane juice?

i came upon this clump of sugar-cane plants at the back of some houses along joo avenue. it reminded me of the sugar-cane that we used to grow at the frontyard or backyard of our kampong house.

the other day we were at a food centre when i asked if anyone wanted sugar-cane juice. one of them declined citing a report that a pregnant woman lost her baby after drinking some sugar-cane juice which had rat's urine in it.

i was trying to explain to her that nowadays the sugar-cane do not come to the vendor as a whole plant but they are already cut to a suitable length to fit into a box. yes, in the past, they would be delivered to the stall in whole. the vendor would leave them standing in a corner of the stall.

according to the same report, sugar-cane being porous, whatever liquid was splashed at the base, including animal's urine, would be absorbed by the sugar-cane. so, a rat or a cat could have peed at the base and somehow the urine would have made its way into the cane.

i think some time ago - maybe two years back - there was a email i received which was meant to warn us about the hazard of drinking sugar-cane juice.

i am not affected by the report or the email. however, i do not drink sugar-cane juice as much as i used to because the price has generally gone up by 20% or more.