Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mongols in the Fall

The carpet of yellow and red stretched for as far as the eye could see.

From 25,000 feet it was a scene I remember well - the Canadian Fall. "Fall" always seems such an appropriate and utilitarian term for the season of "autumn".

Apparently we have the French to blame for the term "autumn" as it comes from the Old French word autompne and was later normalized to the original Latin word autumnus. Before the 14th century however the season was known as "harvest" a solid, self-explanatory and sensible British term!

Why do I mention the above while being safely ensconced in tropical Singapore away from all of the vagaries of the aforementioned season?

The answer is very simple - we are currently celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival, an event which is actually the Moon festival and dates back some 3,000 years to the Chinese Shang Dynasty.

The mid-Autumn date is the time that the Moon is meant to be at its most beautiful and everyone admires it.

There are no falling leaves in Singapore in the autumnal sense, just expanding waistlines as everyone buys and samples Moon cakes. These 'weight-watcher delights' are given as networking and relationship building gifts not only to family and friends but also by corporates to valued clients.

Legend also has it that the Mongols where overthrown during this time by embedding messages related to the popular uprising inside Moon Cakes.

Now the only embedding that takes place is the insertion of new and exotic fillings within the crust. Each year there are more and more unusal fillings literally breaking the mold.

This year for instance I have sampled; champagne Moon Cakes, rum liqueur varieties, roast chicken/pepper & lotus, bilious green pandan versions, green tea and even durian moon cakes.

I remain however a traditionalist with a strong preference for lotus paste and double egg yolk, the latter being salted duck eggs which are a strong counterpoint to the cloying sweetness of the lotus paste.

One is of course meant to take a small slice of the cake and have it with tea. The novice Ang Mo may attempt to eat a whole cake at one sitting but I doubt that this attempt would ever be repeated - they are simply far too rich.

There are also quite distinct regional variations of this delicacy. I prefer the Cantonese style crust which is a red-brown and baked. Also popular in Singapore are the Teochew style which is a flaky pastry version that is deep fried.

I confess to being "moon-caked out"! Yesterday we visited Takashimaya department store and in the centre court there were dozens of stores featuring mid-Autumn goodies and there was much sampling to be had. After doing the rounds of the various stalls we both felt rather ill from too many sweet offerings.

As a footnote I should also record that after more eight years of working in the university world I am leaving to take up a new role as Director of Online Operations(East Asia), for a well known international organisation that has its regional hub based in Singapore.

This is a challenge that I am very much looking forward to and, as my work will involve travel to at least 12 countries in the region, I will be able to further expand the geographic coverage of this epistle.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Today's Print

" Hearts " .......... Roger Smith

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Gourmet Fair

It's another Saturday afternoon in Singapore and as is our want, we spent the middle part of day in town and then returned home to take time out to read the Straits Times.

Today's visit took us back to Suntec, this time to take in the Gourmet Food Fair (pictured below). If truth be known there has been a promotion in the above mentioned newspaper which encourages people to visit the fair and leave their coupon, in the valiant hope of winning $6,888.

I am not sure of the odds of winning but they must be very long indeed. It was noticeable though that the foot traffic in the malls is definitely less than the same time last year. No doubt this is a result of financial downturn affecting all major economies, including Singapore's.

There were nibbles galore to sample as we did the round of the stalls from herbal jellies to various version of the classic Bak Kwa.

Following this we went down a couple of levels and visited the large Carrefour supermarket. Here too were a range of delights to try, as a variety of sales people did their best to get us to buy their products.

If one is clever enough is possible to sample the equivalent of a three course dinner without paying so much as a penny! Judging from one old Auntie I spotted making here second circuit around the display booths I suspect other have already worked this out long before I.

From the upper deck of the 111 bus on our return journey one could see the development of the Marina Bay areas and dominating the scene, the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (casino). It is meant to open next year but there still seems a lot of work to complete it?

Good news... the $New Zealand dollar has fallen below the $Singapore for the first time in about two years. This means that we can send funds back to put on deposit as the interest rates in NZ remain close to 9% whereas in Singapore one is lucky to get over 1%.

This week promises to be an eventful and exciting one and I hope to expand upon this observation when next I write.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Today's Print

"Caged - Robinsons" Roger Smith

Scripture With Fries

There is something all pervasive about fundamentalist religions, whatever creed they might be.

Not that I begrudge anyone their religious persuasion but I really do not enjoy having someone's beliefs bombarding me at every turn.

So it was with a degree of chagrin that I noted the raised arm waving staring back at me from the restaurant menu.

Sandwiched between the offerings of burgers, fries and Tex-Mex specialities were large dollops of religious text.

The proprietor of the establishment in Cuppage Place was clearly out to share the "word of the Lord" as much as he was to satisfy my hunger for more physical sustenance.

I should have read the small print before being seated. As we were about to leave a woman whom I take was one of the owners ( should that be congregation) passed my wife a pamphlet explaining that they also had a riverboat option moored at Marina South Pier.

Not that we will be paying it a visit as its name "Santa Fe All American Tex-Mex Grill (Marina South Pier) / Breaking Bread " has all the religious trappings of its sister establishment on dry land. One reviewer has described the riverboat's decor as "fervently Christian" which I think is an apt turn of phrase.

Clearly though it is the boat moving in 'mysterious ways' that causes most concern as other reviews refer to sea sickness as dampening the dining experience aboard.

On to more temporal matters. The Formual One promotion is gathering force as can be witnessed by this image taken in Vivo City last week.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Georgia On My Mind

Want Want Pig Organ Soup

The Want Want Pig Organ Soup stall is open for business in Queenstown across the road from the condo where we live. It is a popular stop for older Singaporeans who enjoy the heartiness of its fare. They swear by its rejuvenating qualities.

On our side of the road, tucked away near the MRT elevator, is the motorbike and side car combination of our local ice-cream seller. For the princely sum of $S1 one can enjoy a hand-crafted slice of Kings ice-cream sandwiched between two thick wafers.

While Kings ice-cream may not have all of the creamy virtues of a good New Zealand Hokey Pokey delight, it is none the less a most pleasant and cooling experience on a hot Singapore day.

Also running hot at the moment are the "paddlers' from the Singaporean table tennis team who have just won Singapore's first Olympic medal in 48 years. Irrespective of the fact that they were thrashed by the Chinese in the gold medal match, the Singaporeans (and I use the word advisedly as they are in the main Chinese imports) were deserved winners of the silver medal.

Singapore of course is not alone in buying in talented athletes and coaches. It is very much part of the international sports scene nowadays.

Meanwhile across the Causeway, the Malaysians have reintroduced their paper-based white immigration card system. We were fortunate last week not be held up by this arcane process.

It is also the season for National Day speeches and setting a precedent, the Singapore PM Mr. Lee Hsien Loong deferred his English presentation a day to allow the nation to view the ping pong finals.

One of the key topics of his speech this year has been to encourage Singaporean men to take a more active role in childraising as the problem of a low birth rate remains. For many career women, child rearing is not high on the agenda.

Personally I think a good hearty broth could raise the Singaporean libido and I know just the stall to deliver it!