Good Things

Happy Year of the Golden Tiger to one and all! Yes, it has been about a month since my last posting. The teaching work started with the new semester at the National Institute of Education and Nanyang Technological University in mid-Jan: hence the silence. Since this weekend is a long one due to the lunar new year public holidays, let us catch up with the blog.

Despite the festivity of the season, I will be like Scrooge and say, “Humbug!” to the Lunar New Year. Over the years, I have grown to dislike the Lunar New Year. It seems to me that in Singapore, the Lunar New Year is more a family-based occasion than Christmas (whereas one is freer to celebrate Christmas with friends). As a child, it was fun visiting relatives during Chinese New Year and eating oneself silly at each port of call. Sadly, both my maternal and paternal sides of my family have moved from Singapore or passed away over the years. Compulsory visits to older relatives and family friends have disappeared as now my mother is the oldest in her generation left living (who is still in good health) in Singapore.  While there must be some preparation to host the few that visit my mother and I, one wonders whether the pre-festival hoo-hah is worth it due to the actual numbers that do visit. And this year, my nieces left before the new year started for their studies in Perth and my sister and brother-in-law left last Thursday for Perth to spend the long weekend with their children — hence, making this year’s Lunar New Year even more low key than ever before.

Part of the pre-festival prep is usually baking with my sister — which did not happen this year, due to my sister’s travel plans and the fact that I was sick about 2 weeks ago (preventing me from scheduling baking time). As I have no oven at home, I need to bake at my sister’s place. My CNY specialty is cheese straws; whereas my sister is more adventurous (e.g. tarts, chocolate chip cookies, peanut cookies, cornflake cookies — depending on how much time she has to bake). Most of the stuff we bake are given away; some we keep. So in the years that we have baked, after including the cookies etc that are also given to us, it takes months for both households to finish all the goodies.

This year, even though we have not baked, we have been given a lot of stuff. While I have stopped counting the calories since Chinese New Year’s Eve (having brought my mother and my sister’s maid out for the mandatory Reunion Dinner at a buffet and pigging out the whole of of yesterday) and will only resume the weightwatching on Wednesday, I cannot imagine how I can help to consume all the food over the next few months if I am to stick to my exercise/diet regime and lose another 12 kg. Sigh… What sideways slingshots the universe sends to knock us off our course… But then, in Singapore, it is always hard to watch the weight from December until Chinese New Year is over…

Usually, my sister and her family come over to my place for lunch on the first day of the Chinese New Year. My mum gets into a tizzy making sure the lunch goes off well. (Over the years, the lunch has been simplified in many ways, such as my sister ordering caterred food. But my mother still get excitied over what little extras that she plans for beyond the caterred food.) This year, I told my mum to really keep things simple since my sister and her family weren’t going to be around. So she prepared Aunty Hu’s Shanghainese nian gou.

Ah… When the late Aunty Hu prepared her nian gou, it would be a delectable dish with somehow the rice sticks, shredded meat (originally pork, but later substituted with chicken breast for health reasons), preserved vegetables, winter bamboo shoots and stock all perfectly proportioned together. It’s fairly easy to prepare — hey, when I studied in London during 2003/04, I prepared it for my classmates, the ingredients being easily found in that city. You soak the dried rice sticks for 24 hours in cold, clear water. You shred the meat and marinade in light soya sauce and lightly fry in sesame oil before hand. You also shred the winter bamboo shoots and preserved vegetables (from cans). When you want to eat, bring the stock to a boil, throw in the rice sticks and cook until soft, then throw in the bamboo shoots, preserved vege and the meat. Bring to a light boil. Serve. But alas, not even my mother can replicate the nian gou in the way Aunty Hu made the dish…

(Side story about how Aunty Hu and nian gou: Born in Malaysia, Aunty Hu’s maiden surname was Tan. She was Hokkien in family stock, not Shanghainese. She married Uncle Hu, who was Shanghainese. Despite the fact that Shanghai was in turmoil during the late 40s and early 50s with the Communists coming to power, Aunty Hu found herself in that city during that period for as a dutiful wife, she had to accompany her husband wherever he went. So she lived with her Shanghainese in-laws for several years, and in the process, learnt how to prepare nian gou. How she got out of Shanghai with her children: that is another exciting story…)

Over the last decade or so, more mainland Chinese from the central and northern parts of China have settled in Singapore and they have brought with them their versions of nian gou (and oooh, my other favourite from those parts of China: jiao zi, or steamed/boiled minced pork dumplings) to Singapore. The fried version of nian gou is more commonly found in Singaporean restaurants and coffee shops now — but tends to be oily and very starchy. The soup version of nian gou can also be found, but not as widespread. Except for once, most nian gou soups that I have tried in local eateries are not as fancy or refined as Aunty Hu’s version; they are mostly prepared with just shredded fresh white cabbage and pork strips. That one stall that prepared the closest to Aunty Hu’s version has since disappeared after that one time that I chanced upon it. Sigh…

Leaving gastronomic issues aside, I will now discuss other things that are no less sensuous in nature. For instance, have you explored the shelves of your local supermarket or pharmacy lately? Have you noticed how many new product lines of shower creams and hair shampoos/conditioners there are that claim to contain natural ingredients/oils/fragrances/stuff that make your skin/hair more shiny/soft/smooth/luxiurant/smell nice? Lately in order to make my gym experience more exciting, I’ve been buying samples of these new products to try during my post-gym showers. Oh my, sometimes I think that these manufacturers don’t just want you to apply these cleansers on your skin/hair; instead, they want you to eat the stuff. Without naming names, I just love one of these new shower creams available because it seems like the ripple ice cream that I craved to eat as a child. Everytime I shower using this cream, I am so tempted to put just a little into my mouth… Yummm…

Thus far in life, I’ve led a very straightforward, task-focused existence. But lately, the universe seems to be telling me to lighten up and enjoy the good things in life. For instance in December last year, I had 2 very sensuous experiences back-to-back.

The first one: For the last few years at the end of each year, I’ve been buying Noah’s Ark merchandise from my friend (and distant relative), Beatrice Tay, to help the animal shelter (Beatrice, being a staunch supporter of Noah’s Ark). For end 2009, I ordered 2 t-shirts from Beatrice and had to meet her specially to collect the t-shirts and pay up. So Beatrice invited me to ‘a product launch’ . I said yes. For the arranged Friday evening, I turned up at the Arts House and found out that the product launch was one organised by Dior to promote their new anti-aging serum. Prior to this, I had never attended a fancy cosmetics product launch before. So it was a very eye-opening experience for me and I was giggling all the way. Customers were seated at tables which had all sorts of skincare products in the centre; they were guided through what to use and how to use in order to clean and prep the face. Man-o-man, no wonder these cosmetic companies are rolling all the way to the bank. So many little bottles of unguents just to clean the face, slow down the signs of aging, revitalise the cells, prevent wrinkles and UV damage, moisturise… You mean in order to put foundation, you first need foundation (i.e. primer) for the foundation? Oh man, all this just so that a woman can at best look maybe at best 5% fresher? No wonder all these promo ladies at cosmetic counters look as if they wear masks! The amount of layers of stuff that goes onto the face (even before you layer on the make-up) is incredible!

Part of the goodie bag presented at this launch was a voucher for a facial at the Dior branch at Tangs to be used within January. Beatrice was so insistent in reminding me to make an appointment for this facial so as not to waste it. I made the appointment and turned up for the facial. Whereas during the launch the facial was self-administered, this facial was done by a therapist. It was alright. I did not buy the anti-aging serum. Instead, I bought for the first time in my life a Dior lipstick and blusher. You see at the end of the product launch, customers could request for Dior staff to do make-up for them. (It seems some ladies cannot go out in public without make-up, and they had removed their own make-up in order to do the self-administered facial. Even though they were probably going to go home after the launch, they still needed to reapply make-up to face the journey home. Hmmm…) So Beatrice got the launch MC to do make-up on me. I liked the lipstick and blusher used then and decided I would get them myself. But when and where I will ever use these 2 things, I don’t know.

The very next day after the Dior launch, I attended a perfume workshop, courtesy of Laura Schuster. In October 2009, Shelly Quick and I organised a joint birthday party and our mutual friend Laura bought both of us tickets to this workshop conducted by the Jo Malone company at the National Museum in December. It was fascinating to smell the different scents created by Jo Malone, sprayed on individual strips of paper, and even more fascinating to see Laura, Shelly and the other people at the workshop going goo-goo-gah as they whiffed the different perfumes and learnt the ways to mix and match scents. Alas after a while, all these finer things in life just washed over the head of the peasant that I am…

In the last few months as I’ve gotten physically lighter, I’ve tried concommittently to lighten up in other parts of my life. But sometimes, it’s hard to break the mold and try things that I’ve never done before. Hmm… Am I getting too set in my ways? Is age seriously catching up? How to expand one’s horizons/evolve according to circumstance, and yet retain me? Hmm…

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