Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's that time of the year again!

Ahhh white truffles... That, among all the autumnal goodies including moon cakes, sanma (pike mackeral) and ankimo (anglerfish liver) truly gets my juices going.

White truffles on linguini at Iggy's.
So simple yet mind-blowingly good.

White truffles on scallops and mashed potato at Senso.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Science lesson for the Straits Times

See today's Straits Times, page H1.

Krist, a whale shark is NOT a marine mammal. It is a shark, i.e. a fish, i.e. NOT a mammal.

A simple Google search would have turned up this well known fact.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rather stupid

Chicago marathon winner slips on sponsor's decal as he crosses the finish line. Suffers brain hemorrhage. Officials discover plastic is slippery when wet.

Duh.

See the video here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We're back!

We're back after a short break! No prizes for guessing where we went... : )

Konichiwa!
Daddy had some airmiles to burn. And yah, it was nice to holiday with Mommy again after quite a few years. So we left the kids with the Grands and zoomed off in search of the quitessential Japan Hour experience. You know, the whole ryokan-onsen-kaiseki-"oiiishiii des!!!" combo. The place was a little onsen town called Kurokawa, a 3-hour bus ride from Fukuoka. We stayed at two ryokans there - Yamamuzuki and Okunoyu. Here's what they look like (click on the pix for slightly bigger versions).

Main entrance at Yamamizuki

Traditional Japanese bedroom

Attached onsen bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath

Main entrance at Okunoyu

Japanese-Western combo room

Attached outdoor bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath
Overall, we got what we wanted in all its Japaneseness. A few observations though:

1. The ryokans differ quite a bit in style, but also in subtle details which make all the difference, like whether the decor includes kitschy faux-bamboo, whether you can see the hot water piping or whether they conceal it so well that you actually think it springs from that gap in the rocks. Like whether each dish in the kaiseki meal just feels like it has been given that personal touch. Yamamizuki wins hands down, we think.

2. No matter how many times you have seen it on Japan Hour, it's still a culture shock (but in a such good way!). Like how there's no shower in the room (it's in the communal bath), or how there's no bed in the room at daytime at a traditional ryokan (where do you collapse in front of the TV then?). And of course, bathing au naturel in the open (which Daddy enjoyed, but Mommy took some getting used to).

3. That onsen bathwater is si peh hot!!!

4. That we ate surprisingly little seafood. Maybe foreign Japanese restaurants overemphasize this part of Japanese cuisine. The food was still pretty shiok, though.

Kaiseki spread at Okunoyu. Yamamizuki's was better
but served course-by-course, and less photogenic.
Kurokawa itself is a nice little town, in a Japanese-alpine village kind of way. Here's what it looks like.

A river runs through it
The weather was good, and the autumn colours were just showing. A month more and it would have been brilliant.

Nice to get away from the haze!
We also spent two days in Fukuoka, which is a nice little city, much more manageable in size than Tokyo. Food and shopping were pretty good, and not a expensive as you might think. Like-for-like quality-wise, Japanese food is cheaper than in Singapore. Only thing which marred the experience was that we got ripped off at the local food stalls (which were still cute as a button). Nuff said - do unto others, right?

Fukuoka gets even for Newton Hawker Center
Special mention to Maiko, who sacrificed her half-day off to show us what's special in her part of the world. If you are reading this Maiko, thank you so much. You are welcome at our home anytime.

Arigato gozaimas, Maiko-san!

Fukuoka off-takes

Click on the pix for bigger versions.

How do you get people to come if it's so terrible?

When you cannot think of a name for your building

Top row, fourth from left says "Toddy Coffee".
Must be from the estate.

Food from all over = GROVAL Buffet?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can Malaysia move on?

The Business Times published an article today about an "acrimonious debate" which has broken out in Malaysia over a think tank's claim that the ethnic Malay share of corporate equity had reached 45% by Sep 2005. The current figure, according to the government, is 19%. The think tank's claim is controversial because since 1971, the government has always pushed for Malays to own at least 30% of the country's corporate equity. The article goes to some length to discuss the various methodologies which are employed by both sides to derive their stated results.

One may debate the details, but Manu Bhaskaran, an economist whom I admire a lot, cuts to the chase, saying:
'What strikes me as surprising are all these old stories. The world is moving on and talking about globalisation, of attracting the best talent - and Malaysia is still obsessing about the ethnic division of spoils.'
So the question, I think, is this: can Malaysia move beyond its racial politics and plug in to the world? Or will it be left behind, bickering over who gets what of the pie, and yet ignoring the fact the the pie is in fact shrinking, no, getting eaten, by global competitors?

Going by what PM Adbullah has said, one would think that the Malaysian government is in fact quite aware of the issue at hand. In a speech in Apr 2006 to the KL Business Club, he said:
'We have seen increased competition from our neighbours and from other regions. We have seen foreign direct investments chase new development opportunities elsewhere... With everything that is happening in the world – escalating oil prices, the rise of China and India, a continued global macroeconomic imbalance – the next five years will probably determine whether we’ll make it... The sense of purpose and urgency that it has created is not without basis. I am not an economic historian but as someone who has studied the rise and fall of civilisations, I am under no illusion that this is one of those turning points in our history.'
On the realities of racial politics, he goes on to say:
'If my government had to politically rely solely on a constituency represented by this audience here tonight, we will be out of business. Although you move and shake the world of business, you are in a minority. The mission will only work if i have the support of the majority... The economic philosophy that has allowed for this to be accepted as a national mission is that growth must be accompanied by distribution… Without a solid social foundation created by a distributive policy, we will not have the stability to stay relevant. Policies to help the bumiputera – a cornerstone of our social contract – will continue but will be designed to bring the best out of the community rather than consigning them to a culture of dependency. These socioeconomic priorities are uniquely Malaysian and are firmly non-negotiable.'
Which all sounds very first-world and yet sensitive to local realities. But yet nothing much has actually changed. So where's the disconnect? In all probability, it boils down to the necessities of staying in power, made all the more troublesome by the criticisms of an ex-PM, no less. And the fear is that Malaysia will not be able to get with the big picture, take the tough medicine and move on from the way things have been for the last 35 years...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jia-Hui is one!

And this blog was started when she was born - how time flies! All four kiddie cousins gathered at grandma's as usual for the celebrations. But then, hor, combine four rowdy kids, a camera-phobic baby and a jealous elder sister, and you're going to have seriously few decent photos. Still, Daddy got a good one with the girls:

And got Mommy in for one as well:

The kids participated in seasonal festivities:

And had a blast as usual:

Oh, and check out Xin-Hui's vintage tai-kor-tai water bottle!