Happy Birthday Mum! @ Victoria’s Peak (Orchard Central)

We celebrated my mum’s birthday on Saturday with a sumptuous feast at Victoria’s Peak @ Orchard Central. I had been interested in checking out the place for a long time, and my mum’s birthday gave us the perfect reason to try it out!

I have this fascinated with restaurants that are high up and Victoria’s Peak is indeed at one of the highest points of the Orchard stretch, at the 11th floor of OC. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite leverage on that as the restaurant has no windows which allow you to have a view of the Orchard night scene. The ambience was therefore rather disappointing to me – but the food didn’t disappoint!

For some reasons, the photos mostly have this yellow hue which I really don’t like – perhaps due to the lighting of the room, but they shall suffice in displaying the food we had that evening. I don’t have the actual names of the dishes too, so my ‘translated’ names will have to suffice for this entry! Heh.

1. ‘Shou Bao’: What was unique about their ‘shou bao’ was that they didn’t just have lotus paste inside, but there was salted egg too! Not everyone loved it, but I did and my mum did too, because she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

2. Six of their best ‘xiao cai’:

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Smoked duck

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Pork leg (according to my uncle, this is taken from the
two front legs)

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Barbequed Roast Pork

The 2nd dish was a selection of the best xiao cai available in the restaurant.

I didn’t take photos of the other 3, but I recall there was silver fish too which was great with the mayonnaise given and tofu with garlic and prawns. The smoked duck was great – the meat was so tender and flavourful with a nice layer of fat to add some juiciness to it. The sweet sauce complemented the smoked flavour very well.

3. Prawns (The actual name was so exciting, but I completely forgot it!)

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The prawns were juicy and sweet and they provided us with a lovely sauce which was a blend of soya sauce, garlic, vinegar and other ingredients I couldn’t discern. I gave up just ‘dipping’ my prawns in the sauce and decided to just dunk and soak them in the sauce when I reached my final few prawns.

4. Crab clawIMG_0524

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This was alright, nothing really impressive. They prepared a special chilli sauce to go with this though which was nice, more sweet than spicy and not too starchy. The sauce was even steaming hot when the dish arrived! Plus points for pride even in freshly preparing their sauces.

5.  Broiled chicken soup: No photographs of this. It didn’t really photograph well either, as it was just clear chicken soup done well.

6. Crispy skin chicken generously sprinkled with deep fried chopped garlic

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Yum! This was great! The chopped garlic was so good and I ate so much of it.

7. Soon Hock

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This is a particularly bad photo as it doesn’t capture the size of the fish. We have soon hock quite often as my mum loves steamed fish, but this has to be the biggest soon hock we’ve ever had! This is the first time we were struggling to finish the fish. It was really fresh fish! 

8. Mushrooms with vegetables

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9. Ee-fu Noodles

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The last two dishes were rather typical – nothing much to comment on really. I thought the Ee-fu noodles were more tasty than the usual, but it wasn’t that impressive either.

10. Complimentary fruit platter and mooncakes!

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Enough of food. Now, time for the celebration photos!

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My mum with a lovely bouquet of flowers specially put together by Jasmine and a Swarovski bracelet bought by Wenda & Sharon

 

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My mum’s ice-cream birthday cake – a double layer macadamia nut chocolate ice-cream cake with a thick chocolate outer crust.

This cake was so difficult to cut, but was so yummy. A bit too rich though as most of us could not eat more than a ‘slice’ and we actually had to ‘da bao’ it back. We just put whatever was left into a da bao box and refroze it when we went back.

Group Photos!

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Happy Birthday Mum!

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Insightful Articles on National Day Rally 2011

1. Cherian George – “PM’s National Day Rally Calls for more rational online spaces

“PM Lee’s wish for open, balanced and reasonable online spaces requires a cultural change on the part of the establishment as well. The government will need to find within itself the capacity to respect the role of independent websites as convenors of Singapore’s online politics.”

Quite aptly, PM Lee’s comments on ‘cowboy towns’ has stirred up a lot of online controversy.

2. Andrew Loh, “Patching up holes as we go along

To me, the National Day Rally did not reflect a Prime Minister speaking from a position of power. It reflected a Prime Minister frightened and bullied by the electorate.” [quoted from his friend’s blog]

On a side-note, I was really quite perturbed when all I could find on the online media was criticism (rather harsh ones too) of the NDP Rally and no recognition of the efforts made by the PAP to engage its citizens more meaningfully. This week, at the Teachers’ Mass Lecture, it was commented during the Q&A session that critical thinking is viewed commonly as being ‘critical about the government’ and I warned my students against this too. There aren’t enough quality blog entries with balanced, keen insight to support government policies written online to counter this wave of anti-government blogging.

I found Chua Mui Hoong’s commentary on the Monday Straits Times rather heartening though as she struck a balance between highlighting what was done well (‘impressively speedy responses to ground unhappiness’ etc.) yet at the same time pointing out the rather ‘insular’ nature of the Rally which didn’t focus on the Presidential Election, the debt crisis etc.

Of course, most people are so cynical about Straits Times now that they see it as a ‘tool of government propaganda’, but after reading so many online blogs and alternative news websites, I find the Straits Times to be one of the more reliable sources of news that contains credible commentary that doesn’t try to shove its perspectives on you.

People Power and The Presidential Elections

This is indeed shaping up to be one of the most memorable years of politics for Singapore. The most fascinating part for me is not the candidates, but actually observing and understanding how Singapore has evolved as an electorate.

Two interesting reads for today:

1. Challenging the OB markers for an Elected President by Catherine Lim.

Where the government emphasizes dignity, gravitas and acumen as the most important qualities for the EP, the people want to see fearlessness, courage and readiness to stand up to a powerful government. Where the government wants the presidential voice, if it needs to be critical, to be so only in quiet, private consultation with the Prime Minister, the people will be satisfied with no less than open and public accounting.

2. Obsessive compulsive behaviour (again) in presidential contest by Alex Au

Once again – sharp and insightful analysis backed by solid data and evidence.

The final section that looks at the study by IPS during GE 2011 is the most fascinating. Alex Au argues that in this Presidential Elections, the swing voters are especially dangerous as we are all presented with the same slate of candidates, regardless of GRC and in essence, Tony Tan only had a solid bank vote now of 20-25%.

What’s interesting too then is that our final winner of the PE might be one who gets less than 30-40% of the votes, meaning that he has more who didn’t vote for him than voted for him.

Like Catherine Lim claims in her article, the ‘greatest loser’ in this year of political change might eventually just be the Elected Presidency.

Thoughts on the National Day Rally and the Singapore Memory Project

[This isn’t a critical analysis of the rally, but a personal response to it – so if you’re looking for a point by point detailed analysis and evaluation, you won’t find it here.]

The Rally is always a time of good news and for the first time, I actually felt that there was a piece of good news that affected me directly – the rise in income ceiling for purchasing a flat. That was definitely worth celebrating. Other moves like the modified age ceiling for PCPS were definitely worth celebrating, but not something I feel strongly about yet.

At about 9:10 p.m., the Rally moved away from being about facts and figures and started to become truly a ‘rally’, where PM Lee started to engage our hearts and let us realise that we too have a part to play.

I was particularly excited about the Singapore Memory Project by MICA because this was the exact proposition of my Pre-U Seminar team this year. We realised that it was important for us to build a culture of story-telling in Singapore so as to retain a strong sense of history. This idea is not original or new as it was taken from Warren Fernandez’s ‘Thinking Allowed’ (written almost 10 years ago), but I’m glad the government is finally picking up the ideas of some of its best thinkers – outside of the government.

However, the two stories that were chosen for display – the Bukit Ho Swee inferno and the Malaysia cup – had really little resonance for me – and I believe, for most of the younger generation, that is the case too. I do recognise that these events were significant, but the Bukit Ho Swee inferno was from a completely different era and social situation as compared to what we have now. And as many respondents on Online Citizen’s FB page indicated, we no longer have the same national pride as 1994 as our football team comprises of many foreigners. It’s also unfair for me to comment on the ‘connection’ with Malaysia cup as I wasn’t and am not interested in soccer.

I sincerely hope that the Singapore Memory project will not go back and recover narratives of WW II, the Maria Hertogh Riots, the merger and exit from Malaysia etc, because unfortunately, these stories have little resonance now. And these are the stories we keep repeating to our younger generation. I really hope it will uncover stories and heroes from our present day, from the 1990s onwards at least – stories that our young can truly and meaningfully relate to. These stories might reveal some ugliness in our current society, but they are real.

For me then, the ‘rallying’ part of the Rally wasn’t quite effective and left me feeling rather disconnected.

I’m sure more will unfold over the next few days about the facts, figures and effectiveness of the policy changes mentioned in the Rally. I do have my opinions and reservations about the policies and data presented, but I’m sure someone with more expertise and knowledge will present something either in the online or offline spheres over the next few days.

Beyond the specific measures, schemes and upcoming developments mentioned in the speech, I picked out a few salient themes in the Rally:

1) The government has heard what people on the ground are saying and want to continue hearing what you have to say. In fact, the people’s voices are so important that we are now working on a project to compile 5 million personal stories of Singaporeans.

2) The government has been working hard and will change some of its policies in response to what we have observed and heard. However, do note that a) the changes will take time, b) with some of these changes come certain tradeoffs.

3) The government alone cannot change Singapore. We need everyone to play their part from the ground-up to build the Singapore that we want.

4) The government must avoid becoming a welfare state and it needs to cultivate a sense of self-reliance amongst its nation and as a nation too. Unlike EU nations, nobody will come to Singapore’s rescue when we are down.

5) There is a lot to look forward to in Singapore’s future.

These 5 key themes were more effectively conveyed for me than the rallying call at the end.

Logically and on a policy level, I can understand and see that the government is working to connect with us, yet on the heart level, I’m not quite sure if they are any closer to us than they were before and during the General Elections. However, the Singapore Memory Project gives me some hope that an attempt is being made. Now, let’s hope it will be a successful one.

Unique Snack!

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My relative came back from Thailand and bought a rather unique snack – dried durian pieces! 

I’ve eaten the much thinner version of durian chips, which are pretty much like your tapioca or potato chips in terms of texture and shape just with a different flavour. However, this is the first time I’ve tried a durian snack in this form.

How does it taste? It actually tastes pretty much like the real thing, just more powdery and dry. It’s packed with the fullness of durian flavour and you can imagine them just sun-drying a piece of durian to produce this, though I’m sure the process must be more complicated!

More on Understanding the UK Riots

I’ve been reading up a bit more on the UK riots just to understand what’s happening.

I read UK Riots Fuelled by Moral Collapse [Steve Blizard’s blog] first this morning and was particular interested in the article’s claim that the lack of committed fathers and the endorsement of single parent families led to the riots.

Salon.com’s article -  Britain’s prime minister only makes things worse  [a rather attention-seeking headline I must say] – has a different take on it though. Nina Power sees the act of pushing the blame on single mothers as masking the real causes of inequality, poverty, unemployment and ‘a lack of alternative narratives’.

Straits Times actually had a very good article in Review today by John Cooper ‘Invite the Louts to the Party’, which describes the youth in UK as lacking a ‘sense of entitlement’. They don’t feel they are entitled to a job. In light of the economic situation in UK, I am more inclined to side with Nina Powers.

This article from NYT For Egyptians, British Riots are a Mix of Familiar and Peculiar [from NYT] is dripping with irony! It provides an  overview of what Middle Eastern countries say about the riots. There are some rather funny, tongue-in-cheek tweets quoted like – “Egypt’s protesters are upholding democratic principles, while London’s rioters are holding-up plasma screens.” It’s interesting when the tables are turned on the Western world and the leaders find themselves having to eat their own words.

Updated:

I just watched this BBC Talkshow video (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14513517) with David Starkey, a famous historian, proposing a very typical ‘colonialist’ us vs. them argument that the riots are caused by invasion of ‘black, Jamaican’ gangster culture. He even does a ‘linguistic analysis’ of what the would-be Olympics ambassador says when looting the store and compares it to Jamaican patios. It’s an example of an over-academic, ludicrous argument and the other participants of the talkshow shoot him down mercilessly.

Another insight on the cause of these riots – The Moral Decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom.

Are Feelings Important?

It is often said that we need to be reminded more often than taught. We had an in-house training session yesterday on Developing Social Emotional Competences and a lot of what was mentioned was truly a needful reminder to me to focus on what’s most important and not just what’s important.

The trainer printed many interesting readings for us on this topic. The article, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” by Daniel Goleman, wrote:

As family life no longer offers growing numbers of children a sure footing in life, schools are left as the one place communities can turn to for correctives to children’s deficiencies in emotional and social competence… [Since] virtually every child goes to school  (at least at the outset), it offers a place to reach children with basic lessons for living that they may never get otherwise.

The rioting in UK really brings home this point strongly.

I read an insightful blog post this morning titled ‘UK Riots fuelled by Moral Collapse’, which identifies one of the root causes of the riots to the collapse of the family unit, specifically the absence of committed fathers. And, the result is – “fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them.”

Even in a so-called Asian society where the family is more intact, we cannot deny too that the family unit is under attack and slowly, it is losing its position as a key influence over our youth today. Schools really become the place where the young are socialised and learn what society is like.

One of our key struggles, as educators though, is how exactly can we teach such social emotional competencies. The opportunities abound but often we don’t catch them and are too focused on our tasks at hand.

Goleman, however, mentions something very important:

Whether or not there is a class explicitly devoted to emotional literacy may matter far les than how these lessons are taught. There is perhaps no subject where the quality of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles her class is in itself a model, a de facto lesson in emotional competence – or the lack thereof. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, twenty or thirty others learn a lesson.”

We don’t realise how much power we hold as teachers. Students look to us as role-models of how to handle themselves socially and emotionally. How we handle our students speak volumes to them about how they should treat those around them too. Of course, the degree of influence each teacher has also depends on how much they respect you – but that’s another topic for another day.

This post on another fantastic educator’s blog titled “What Swimming Taught Me” does encapsulate this idea of teaching by modeling quite well. In the middle of the post, there’s a list of reflection questions that are useful for all teachers to ask about their own teaching. I myself have been guilty of some of those things. The post ends off rather meaningfully with this principle which she is going to focus on – “learning can be frustrating, and frustration interferes with learning.  If a teacher can acknowledge and adjust for frustration, a student can learn better”.

In the run up to the big examinations, this is indeed an important reminder for me. I need to know that my behaviour towards students teaches them just as much as the content and skills I impart to them. The content might not be as relevant after this year, but the impact of my behaviour to them will be remembered for a long time to come.