Wednesday, March 31, 2010

johnnie ray - just walking in the rain (1956)

no umbrella? just walk in the rain

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

the potato sack race

how many still remember the gunny sack race you took part in on sports day when you were in primary school? the sack race used to be something universal: primary or junior school pupils all over the world have had the experience of the wrestling with the rough sack as they tried to haul it across the field as quickly as possible to the finish line. in singapore, it looks like not many primary schools have retained this fun event as part of their sports day programme.

i remember in our primary school days, we referred to it as the potato sack race. why potato sack? it is because the jute bag's original use was to pack agricultural produce such as potatoes, corn, coffee beans and grains like wheat and rice.

some pupils disliked the feel of the coarse jute rubbing against their body as they struggled with the sack to maintain their speed and balance. it got hilarious when some participants tripped and stumbled. this particular event is a test of speed, strength and flexibility. you were supposed to get into the sack, gripped the top tightly and jumped or hopped all the way to the finish line. if you walked or ran, you might finish but you would be unlikely to win the race.

do you know that the sack race was an olympic event in the 1904 olympics held at st louis?

what about these other events held on the school field twenty, thirty or forty years ago? do you remember them? the egg and spoon race? balancing the bean-bag on the head race? crawling through cane hoops race? throwing objects into a wicker waste-paper basket? balancing the quoit on the head race?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

who holds the umbrella up?

when a man and a woman share an umbrella, who should be holding the umbrella?

i have observed that generally, among senior citizens, the man is likely to hold the umbrella up for his partner. however, for the younger people, i have come across a mix: sometimes it is the woman though most times it is the man.

when i am with my wife, i am normally the (up)holder of the umbrella unless my two hands are full. with other women, it depends on whom i am with.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

bath time in the kampong

picture from national archive of s'pore

bathing in the kampong generally meant bathing with cold water, no matter what time of the day. we did not have this option of warm and cold waters, that is available (nowadays) by merely adjusting a knob. nevertheless, on warm days, when the metal pipes got heated up, we did get warm water gushing out of the tap, provided we bathed with the water right off the tap. during the rare times when we had to bathe with warm water - like when we were feeling under the weather - we had to boil a kettle of water and mix it with water from the tap or water from the container. on such an occasion, we would use a metal or plastic tub to hold the lukewarm water.

most households would have a huge ceramic or clay water container in the bathroom. this did not serve as a bath tub although it could have been mistakenly used as one by some unknowing guests, especially those from the then more developed countries.

the water collected in this pottery container was most of the time cooler than the water from the tap. in fact, it was cold. it was so cold that, i remember, my father had to thump his chest a few times before he splashed water on himself.

with this common pool of water, sometimes two or three children could have their bath at the same time. they just needed more scoops or they shared the scoop.

those days, bath foam or soap in a liquid form was unheard of. the fairer sex would use the fragrant 'lux' or 'palmolive' soap while most men would use any ordinary soap. some even used the 'axe brand' laundry soap.

picture from national archive of s'pore

there was, however, a choice of where you would like to take your bath. you could do it in the out-house or the bathoom - usually located in the kitchen area - where you enjoyed some privacy or you could compromise your privacy and take your bath at the public standpipe or at the communal spring. there was no public well in our kampong although a few households had their own wells.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

market experience in melbourne

unlike markets in singapore, those in melbourne or, for that matter, in australia are not conveniently open 7 days a week. even queen victoria market - the one known to most visitors to melbourne - is closed on wednesdays and thursdays. some markets are held weekly, some, monthly and there are the 3, 4 or 5 day-a week markets.

the once-a-month market at red hill in the mornington peninsula, which i visited, has the atmosphere of a food-cum-fun fair. although billed as a craft market, the number of food stalls clearly outnumber the number of craft stalls.

the casual and colourful atmosphere lend itself to attract people who come in their heritage cars and some who come with their canine friends, even though there is an explicit notice stating that dogs are not allowed. not all, however, come with the intention of buying something; some are there just to browse and to soak in the atmosphere.

besides food, clothing and household stuff, you can also get potted plants and colourful flowers from this market. the prices of these garden organisms are generally lower than those at the nurseries.

like a fair, you have people, in the form of acrobats, jugglers or musicians, providing almost free entertainment.

the interest, need and education of young children are also taken care of. apart from the usual farm animals and pets, there were also some unusual animals on display at the red hill market.

how can a market in australia be complete without some spirits or booze? as this is a community market, a lot of the local produce is on sale at the market. you can get products like strawberries and jams which come from the well-known sunnyrise strawberry farm nearby as well as wine from the wineries in that district like red hill and t'gallant.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the hen that flew the coop

i was browsing at queen victoria market in melbourne, when i came across cages of chicks, ducklings, ducks, quails and hens. it makes me wonder if australians are immune to bird flu. in singapore, a quail farm at lim chu kang lane 6, which was very popular with school-children and other visitors, had to quickly close its door, or rather its gate, when the bird flu hit. these days, in singapore, you do not get to see any live poultry at wet markets or any other market.

poultry reminds me of my kampong days. we used to keep free ranging - as the australians call them - or kampong chickens and ducks, just outside the compound of our house. my mother would go to the vicinity of the now defunct kallang gaswork to buy the baby chicks and ducklings. to protect the young poultry and to keep them warm, an oil lamp would be kept burning in the cage throughout the night.

those days, the baby chicks and ducks cost a few cents each. i do not recall the ducklings being noisy but the chicks would be chirping away throughout the day and intermittently, at night. the chicks and ducklings were reared to be sacrificed, when they became adults, to the gods on the many festivities that are celebrated throughout the year.

however, some were spared. the egg-laying hens and ducks did not end up on the altar table. i recall having to go around collecting the eggs laid by the hens and ducks that we kept. the newly-laid eggs were warm to the touch. the hens' eggs were smaller than the ducks'. sometimes, the birds strayed to the neighbours' compound to lay their eggs. the taking away the egg became atricky and sensitive issue.

once, i remember, one of the hens flew to the top of our zinc-roofed house. we tried to coax it down but to no avail. finally, i had to climb to the top of the roof, via the guava tree, to shoo it down. it was also something of a realisation for me..that chicken can fly and fly quite high.

some chickens were destined for a higher purpose. these were the cockerels that were castrated. the caponised rooster would grow very big but when the time came, they would be offered to the heavenly god (tii kong) on the 9th day of the lunar new year.

today, in singapore, if you want to see chickens, you will have to visit some of the big commercial poultry farms at lim chu kang, sungei tengah or jalan murai. ever since the bird flu scare, the authorities have banned all forms of small-scale rearing of poultry, so you do not see chickens or ducks in somebody's backyard, not even in rural pulau ubin.

Monday, March 8, 2010

kung pao chicken

before i came over to australia on march 1, i tried my hand at cooking kung pao chicken twice at home in singapore. i first enjoyed kungpao chicken at this food stall in an industrial canteen at quality road, somewhere in jurong. it is called seng's kitchen and it is the only stall (in that canteen) that stays open in the night because its regular customers come from all over singapore.

i found out that this dish is quite easy to prepare. the ingredients, other than the chicken, include dried chilli, ginger, garlic, black sauce, light sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and corn starch. one other essential ingredient, which i do not add to it, is vinegar. i was told that it is the vinegar that gives it its subtle taste. i do not like vinegar and cashew nuts, which some people also add to the dish.

for the chicken, i use breast meat or the boneless part of the chicken. you can cut it into cubes but i prefer to cut it into strips. i use pepper, sesame oil and hua tiao wine to marinate the chicken.

the dried chilli has to be de-seeded and cut into about 3cm long. the ginger - which cost $26 a kilo in melbourne - is cut into strips. the garlic is chopped until it is quite fine.

for the sauce, i use one spoonful of black sauce, one spoonful of light sauce and one spoonful of oyster sauce. i also add two spoonfuls of water before adding the corn starch. you have to stir the mixture till the corn starch dissolves in the sauce.

first, fry the chicken pieces until they are almost cooked. remove from pan. fried the garlic, ginger and dried chilli until fragrant. then throw in the chicken. finally, pour in the sauce.

you can substitute the chicken with other meat. i have also tried cooking kung pao pork.

Friday, March 5, 2010

differences between sydney & melbourne

i have been to sydney at least three times but i have lost count of the number of visits i have made to melbourne. it should be around twenty times. i have also driven from sydney to melbourne. oft i have heard friends and relatives making comparison between the two cities. in fact, there are two rival facebook groups, one claiming that 'sydney is better than melbourne' and the other counter-claiming that 'melbourne is better than sydney'.

when i was a student, i had wondered why sydney was not the capital of australia. now i know why. it was the rivalry between these two cities and because they could not agree, it resulted in the federal capital being sited at canberra.

i was surprised to learn that sydney has not always been the largest city. in fact, from 1865 to the early 20th century, melbourne was the largest city in australia. however, sydney has the distinction of being the oldest city.

today, sydney is the largest city in australia and the state capital of new south wales. it has a population of 4.4 million living in an area covering 12, 000 sq km. the icons associated with sydney include the sydney opera house, the harbour bridge and bondi beach. sydney is also the most expensive city in australia and it is ranked among the top 10 livable cities in the world.

i cannot think of any structure that you will immediately associate with melbourne. the best i can think of is the flinders station. melbourne is the second largest city in australia, with a population of almost 4 million. the land area is about 8806 sq km. it is the state capital of victoria. melbourne boasts of the largest tram network in the world. because of the trams, it is necessary for motorists to master the 'hook turn'.

when you compare beaches, melbourne is nowhere near sydney. sydney has the world famous bondi beach and some equally popular ones such as manly and congee. melbourne's beaches like st kilda, brighton and bells at torquay do not attract the kind of crowd that you see on sydney beaches.

according to people who have lived in both cities, the general perception is that people in melbourne are friendlier and the environment is more relaxed. melburnians are viewed as being more approachable. motorists in sydney tend to be in a greater hurry and so they can be intimidating.

then, may i ask, what is the pull factor of sydney. according to my younger daughter and her cousin, sydney has more 'life' than melbourne, even in the suburbs.

when it comes to food, melbourne wins hands down, according to ida and her cousin. however, i feel that some of these perceptions are somewhat subjective, coloured by our own experiences and biasedness. when it comes to food, some sydneysiders will strongly dispute this claim.

while sydney is considered the finance and media centre of australia, melbourne commands as the arts, cultural and sports centre.

personally, i prefer melbourne to sydney and it is not because my two daughters are here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

england/north wales tour 1997 (1)

outside our accommodation in london - 1a gosfield street, off oxford circus - for which we paid s$240 a night. we had travelled on mas to london, with a one-hour transit stop at subang in kuala lumpur. throughout the nearly 13-hour flight, we had to endure cigarette fumes in the smoking section. ironically, my friend victor samuel, a heavy smoker, who had taken an earlier flight, was nicotine-starved on his sia flight. in 1997, all flights on sia were already smoke-free.

victor and his wife helen were at heathrow terminal 3 to meet us. we rode on the tube from the airport to oxford circus. the 50-minute ride cost us about s$17.80. we had to change train at piccadilly. that night, we had dinner at a nearby chinese restaurant.

on day 2, we did a lot of walking in central london. from oxford circus, we walked down regent street towards piccadilly, passing carnaby street along the way. we so walked past the sign pointing to soho but we did not visit that area. the london palladium - where the musical 'oliver' was being staged - is about 800m from gosfield street.

we joined the pride of london sightseeing tour at piccadilly. for first-time visitors to london, this was the recommended way to see most of london's famous landmarks. the 20 stops that the open deck double-decker bus made included the west end, piccadilly circus, traflagar square, st james's place, hyde park corner, buckingham palace, westminster abbey, the houses of parliament, big ben, whitehall, downing street, horse guards, strand, fleet street, st paul's cathedral, the mansion house, london bridge, london dungeon, tower bridge, the tower of london and shakepeare's globe.

places which we made multiple visits to included leicester square, covent garden, trafalgar square and charing cross. we found leicester square the most exciting place to be in the evening, especially on a saturday.

which child could resist feeding the pigeons at trafalgar square? there were more pigeons in the later part of the morning and early afternoon. there seemed to be fewer pigeons in the evening, especially after seven. the pigeons were apparenty well-trained; they would take food from visitors/strangers but would not steal from the stall that sold the bird food at 30 pence a cup.

we were there not to admire nelson's column or to take pictures of the four impassive lions. all three times when we went to trafalgar square, it was to feed the pigeons.