Sunday, January 31, 2010

cube sculpture quiz

1 at which reservoir can you find this solid cube?

2 what was the original name of this reservoir?

3 in which year was the expanded reservoir officially opened?

4 who declared it open?

The answers to all four questions can be found on the information board at the reservoir.

Friday, January 29, 2010

akin to durian

i have walked the prunus-petai trail at macritchie reservoir park so many times that i have lost count but today was the first time i saw the beans dangling from the petai tree. i have seen fresh petai sold at the market many years ago. it was in the days when the old kandang market extended onto the road. there was this malay man who would sell the petai from his 'bicycle stall'. he would usually be stationed in the middle of the road, nearer to campbell lane.

whenever i walk at bukit batok nature park and when i am near the disused quarry pond, i will be gazing at three of the trees, hoping to see the strings of beans. i have not seen any up to this day.

today, you can get the shiny petai seeds, sold in packet at sheng siong supermarket. each pack of about 50 seeds cost $2.80.

petai bears long, almost flat edible beans with green seeds the size and shape of almonds. the beans have a peculiar smell, which some people find offensive.

i have been told by my friend that eating petai is an acquired taste, just like eating durian - you either like it or hate it. sometimes it is very difficult not to use the race label when discussing food. i ask a number of singaporean chinese and none of them like the 'stinky bean' but from my malay friends, it is a different response. all of them seem to love eating sambal petai udang or sambal petai ikan bilis.

here's a link to a petai recipe.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

19th century tombs at bukit timah rd

while looking for the candlenut tree at the eco garden, we did a bit of exploring on a sloping piece of land between the former singapore management university and the present jacob ballas children's garden.

we found at least three graves, two of which the tombstones are clearly seen but the tombstone of the third one has almost been wrapped up by the roots of a banyan tree. i had to get closer to read the inscriptions on the granite slab.

two of the graves were believed to have been constructed in 1842, making them one of the oldest chinese tombs still around. the other was built in 1888.

you can go to this blogsite to read more about the history of these tombs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

every indian must watch

caution: bad language used.

Monday, January 25, 2010

candlenut tree (buah keras)

the other day i went with my walking kaki to malcolm park to look for the candlenut tree. the small park next to the s'pore chinese girls' school was once designated a spice garden and my kaki was very sure that this tree existed in the garden. we looked at all the trees but could not identify the candlenut tree.

today, we went to the eco garden at botanic gardens to take photographs of two candlenut trees which are flowering. we did not see any fruit on either of the trees.

the candlenut is often used cooked in indonesian and malaysian cuisine, where it is called kemiri in indonesian or buah keras in malay.

each nut contains one or two waxy white kernels, and after suitable preparation, are widely used as a flavouring ingredient in indonesian and malaysian households.

the usual practice is to roast the nuts, crack them open and saute the kernels. these are then crushed with other ingredients like shallots, garlic and chilli to produce a mixture used in savoury dishes.

the nuts contain a toxin which make them unsuitable to eat raw; but, during cooking, the toxin disappears.

the nut is very oily and it has been used in the past to make candles and hence its name - candlenut.

the candlenut looks very much like the macadamia nut (above picture). both candlenut and macadamia go rancid easily. outside of this region, macadamia nuts are sometimes substituted for candlenuts. the flavour, however, is not quite the same, as the candlenut is much more bitter.

the candlenuts are sold in packs of 100g, 200g and 1000g at sheng siong supermarket. the smallest pack retails for 70 or 80 cents, depending on the brand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

pearl's hill city park

today, i went hunting for a heritage tree - the bodhi tree - at the pearl's hill city park. i had mentioned this conserved tree in my previous blog entry. i found the tree and at the same time discovered another gem within the city - a peaceful and tranquil sanctuary sitting on top of a hill just a stone throw away from the hustle and bustle of chinatown.

the park was built in 1974. it was built around an old service reservoir. that part of singapore must have been quite well populated to be served by a reservoir that was built as early as 1904. the reservoir sits on top of a hill. a few years before the park was built, from the top of the hill, one could have seen the outram prison. the prison was demolished in 1968. today, the view from the top is one of an open field. even the blocks of hdb flats which came after the prison are gone.

picture from national archives of singapore

pearl's hill service reservoir

within this quiet park, there is a lotus pond. the lotus plants that are growing in this pond are different from the variety that i see growing wild at kranji. the flowers look the same but the leaves are much smaller.

it was also near the pond where i came across the largest number of squirrels concentrated on one tree. i counted six squirrels on the same tree. they were the least people-shy squirrels that i have ever encountered in singapore.

Monday, January 18, 2010

tie a yellow ribbon round the old, old tree

did tony orlando get his idea or inspiration for the title of his song 'tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree' from what he had seen during his travels to india or some south-east asian country?

in this part of the world, it is not uncommon to see a large yellow or orange sash wrapped around the trunk of the banyan tree and sometimes, around the bodhi tree.

why do buddhists and hindus tie a ribbon or sash around the banyan tree and its cousin, the bodhi tree?

to the hindus, the banyan represents immortality. the banyan is viewed by hindus as the male plant to the closely related peepul or bodhi tree. i have blogged about the mystique of the banyan tree here.

the bodhi tree is revered by the buddhists because gautama buddha attained his enlightenment while seated under a bodhi tree. one of the heritage trees in singapore is the bodhi tree at pearl's hill city park. the tree is about 18m tall and it has a 6.2m girth.

there is also the belief that some spirits reside in these trees. it is regarded as a sin to destroy either of these trees.

now, what is the significance when a bodhi tree, like the one above, is tied with a red and white construction tape? if you are familiar with the national parks' practice, you will know that the tree is marked for execution.

like this clump of raintrees along upper bukit timah road, just before cashew road and across the canal from the espa condominium, they are all condemned to be cut down because they are in the way of the downtown line 2.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

zhi lu wei ma

this chinese proverb, loosely translated, it literally means "pointing to a deer and calling it horse''. no, i am not trying to show that my command of chinese (mandarin) is better than peter's. in fact, my highest level attained in chinese is the primary school leaving exam (psle).

i came across this proverb in an english book/novel and it reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago. i was not witness to the scene but it was related to me by my former colleague's wife.

she was at the zoo when she overheard an eager father pointing to an animal across the moat to his toddler son and calling out "bear, bear". she looked in the direction but could not see any animal that had any semblance to a bear. all she saw was a four-legged, hoofed animal that we normally refer to as a horse.

the teacher in her would not allow this wrong teaching to pass. turning to the man, she said: that's a horse, not a bear. the good natured man responded: in hokkien, we call that animal a 'bear'.

Monday, January 11, 2010

tree shrew and squirrel

just like the case of the water monitor lizard and clouded monitor lizard, i am quite sure that a number of adults have mixed up the tree shrew with the squirrel. i have. each time i saw a small creature scampering about on the tree, i would conclude that it was a squirrel until i came upon this information board during one of my walks. it depicted the differences between the tree shrew and the squirrel.

i am positive that i have come across both the tree shrew and the squirrel but i had no inkling that they were two different types of animals. actually, the tree shrew is not a shrew. neither is it a squirrel. there is more information on the tree shrew here. the tree shrew can be distinguished by its pointed snout and its less bushy tail.

it seems that there are three species of squirrels in our parks and forest reserves but so far i have only encounter one species - the plantain squirrel. the other two species are the slender squirrel and the variable squirrel.

this blogger managed to photograph both the squirrel and tree shrew on one of his nature walks.

this morning, i was at sungei buloh wetland reserve with my regular kakis. we came across five or six squirrels but did not see any tree shrew.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

ink-stone and ink-stick

sometimes our memories of the past are triggered by places we visit or by things we see. they can also be triggered by things you come across in your reading. i was reading another book by adeline yen mah - author of falling leaves - in which she mentioned chinese calligraphy and the use of ink-stone and ink-stick.

this transported me back to those days when i had neighbours who attended chinese medium schools. in those days, chinese calligraphy was part of the curriculum, much unlike today, when it has become a co-curricular activity or part of something designated as an enrichment programme in some schools.

i remember the ink-stone was rectangular and had a small reservoir for water. to produce the ink for writing, you dipped the ink-stick in the water and ground or rubbed it, in a circular motion, on the ink-stone or ink-slab. the 'mau pi' (hair brush) had a handle made from bamboo and the brush was made from some animal hair, usually sheep hair.

my immediate neighbour had to write a few pages - i cannot remember how many - each school day. i would volunteer to help him write. you had to hold the brush straight and upright and your palm should not come into contact with the writing paper. i quite enjoyed the exercise because i treated i as a form of art, which it is.

according to my friend nah, who attended both chinese and english schools, at around that time, there was already chinese calligraphy ink that came in a bottle. the calligraphy writing book was double the size of the normal exercise book. the outline of the chinese characters were pre-printed and all you had to do was to follow the lines in the order stated.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

midin fern - unique to sarawak

when you visit kuching, you must try this local dish - midin. i have blogged about this dish before. the crunchy vegetable is actually a forest fern. my friends tell me that it can even be found growing by the roadside. midin actually grows wild in swampy and forested areas in sarawak. it seems the pucuk paku that you can get in west malaysia comes from a different variety of ferns.

midin has curly fronds and it is very crunchy even after it has been cooked. the natives have always considered the fern a tasty, nutritious vegetable and the jungle fern’s rise from rural staple to urban gourmet green occurred in the 1980s with the increased urban migration of the iban, orang ulu and other groups.

we bought two bundles at rm$2 each from the satok weekend market. we were to find out that the midin was not as crunchy as those that we had eaten at restaurants. according to my friend, it was because the harvested midin had been left around for more than two days. midin stays fresh up to two days after harvesting.

midin is enjoyed by all and most restaurants in kuching have the curly fronds on their menu, often stir-fried with sambal belacan. it can also be cooked in two other ways. i prefer it stir-fried with ikan bilis, onions and calamansi; i like the tangy taste. the other way is to stir-fry it with red rice wine. only the tender part of the fronds is used for cooking.

Monday, January 4, 2010

nutmeg and mace

today i learn something new. today, i was at lim chu kang when i saw some quite ripe nutmeg fruit on a few trees. there are some people, like my blogger friend, icemoon - whom i have yet to meet in person - who have no idea how a nutmeg tree looks like. maybe that was why he could not find the nutmeg tree in the istana.

using my walking stick, i managed to hit and knock a few fruit down. at home, when i cut open the fruit, i was surprised to see a red membrance encasing the seed. i found out that this red lacy stuff is called the mace. another thing that i learnt is that the spice that is called nutmeg is actually enclosed in the seed. the spice nutmeg is not the fleshy part of the fruit. when the fruit is ripe, it actually split open to reveal the mace within. the mace turns crimson only when the fruit is ripe.

along certain stretches of the roads in lim chu kang, national environment agency (nea) has planted nutmeg and other fruit trees. i have blogged about the soursop fruit trees at lim chu kang here. what i have not mentioned before is that you are allowed to pick the fruit. during the fruiting season, especially of langsat and mangosteen, a lot of people do that. unfortunately, there are no roadside durian trees. however, in lim chu kang, you can find them in the forested areas and some are quite close to the road.

a nutmeg tree is the only tree that produces two types of spices - nutmeg and mace. when i first visited penang about 30 years ago, i remember being asked to buy back a few bottles of the nutmeg oil. the nutmeg tree is widely grown on the island.

when i was young, i used to eat the shredded bits of fleshy part the nutmeg fruit. sometimes the pulp is sliced into crescent-shaped bits. not everyone takes to this titbits because of the peculiar taste. the strips of nutmeg which are taken as a snack are soaked in some sugar solution and after that sprinkled with sugar dust.

in penang cuisine, nutmeg is made into pickles and these pickles are even shredded as toppings on the uniquely penang ais kacang. nutmeg is also blended (creating a fresh, green, tangy taste and white colour juice) or boiled (resulting in a much sweeter and brown juice) to make iced nutmeg juice or as it is called in penang hokkien, "lau hau peng". (from wikipedia)

a bit of history to spice up this bit about nutmeg and mace.

the dutch waged a bloody war, including the massacre and enslavement of the inhabitants of the island of banda, just to control nutmeg production in the east indies. in 1760, the price of nutmeg in london was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the dutch voluntarily burning full warehouses of nutmegs in amsterdam. the dutch held control of the spice islands until world war ii. (wikipedia).

in the 19th century, there were nutmeg plantations in certain parts of singapore. a legacy of this is a road named nutmeg road. where is nutmeg road?