Saturday, September 23, 2017

BBC2's 'Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week' Series 1

The friends raved about this 2015 reality series 'Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week' on BBC Two. I had to watch it, and straight-binged all six episodes of Series 1 in a night. Woah! 30 amateur athletes from the UK volunteered for this show to train like how the various Special Forces train recruits. Volunteered. My gawwwd. Their two-week boot-camp was more than grueling. If the reality show didn't lie to the audiences, these athletes went through seriously brutal exercises.

I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Cringed at many junctures and felt their pain. So many push-ups (or press-ups if you're British), so many burpees!! Sleep deprivation and the cold, and friction burns. Eeeeks. Many dropped out and many more got kicked out. The unrelenting instructors whittled the initial 30 down to six to compete in the final challenge led by the British SAS. There were older men and an older woman, all 50-somethings and they were fantastic in matching up to their younger team-mates. Mad respect there. British champion obstacle course race athlete, and by profession, haematology doctor, Clare Miller won it. She had carried Bergens and extra weight that comprised more than one-third of her body weight. She's a tiny woman, and it's amazing how she pulled through physically and mentally, and won. Such grit.

Yeah, I know everyone measures fitness in different ways. But... Sometimes, I need to remind myself that it's OKAY if I don't hit every fitness goal. There isn't a need to. Age isn't really an excuse (for me) because I know fellow forty-somethings who're ridiculously fit and flexible. You know how in the past I don't bother about triathlons (the cycling, never) or duathlons because that level of fitness is way out of my league. Now, I'm a little bit like, oh a 1.5km swim and a 10km run? It's exhausting but I think can do it. BUT I'm not good with crowds and I really don't fancy being elbowed or kicked by hundreds of people in the water or on the road. So I chickened out of an aquathlon next month. 😔

Friday, September 22, 2017

Loads of Champagne

Went to R's party for his 40th birthday and farewell (he's relocating) at Beast & Butterflies at M Social Hotel. Giggled at the giant bottles of champagne and red wine. (They would be empty by the end of the night.) The champagne was delicious! Had about six happy glasses! The red wine looked promisimg too, but I had an early morning start scheduled, so no matter how curious I was about the red wine, I prudently stuck to champagne all night.

Of course I ate. Loads. Had to balance out all that bubbly! The servers came around with canapés. At the buffet table, there were other selections of food. I took vegetables, fish, and a pilaf of sorts, and also shamelessly ate many samosas (stopped counting at the sixth) and piled heaps of mango salad on the plate.

Didn't know the rest of the guests; neither did I 'work the room' since I'm never inclined to. At a friendly party like this, one could trust serendipity. As the night went on, a number of lovely chats with a few nice people simply happened. As the venue got noisier, we had to chat above the volume of the not-too-bad house band. I love asking questions. It's a lot more fun associating new faces with their hobbies, or interesting recent experiences rather than their jobs (there's Linkedin for that). By the end of the night, I tend to end up knowing many details about people, more than they'd know of me. 🙃

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Daisy's Dream Kitchen

We haven't stopped by Daisy's Dream Kitchen at West Coast Road for a loooong time. When it was just a little stall at Tiong Bahru Market for 14 months, we ate there all the time. When it moved to the current bigger premises as a restaurant in 2012, it became rather out of the way for us, so we couldn't go as often.

Tonight we had time and since a dear friend was in town visiting for a few days, we took him to dinner. He enjoys Malay and Peranakan spices, and wanted to go somewhere very local. Okay. Daisy's Dream Kitchen it was.

Portions are small, but they're sufficient for three small eaters, and definitely enough for two persons. We had babi buah keluak with many extra nuts, beef rendangotah, and sotong hitam. Food was great. All these went perfectly with steamed white rice. It's very hard to reject having rice with this sort of food; there's something magical and superbly tasty about rempah drizzled over steamed white rice. 😬

Since we had humans at the table, we ordered soup. The itek tim hit a spot, as always. Mmmm. It's as appetizing as the last time I had it. Thick and balanced. I haven't had time to cook recently, and if I do itek tim, this is exactly how I would want it to taste. I love the sambal belachan at Daisy's. It's one of my favorite iterations. I can't re-create anything close to it. This version is so piquant and while spicy, it's full of awesome flavors.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Quaich Bar Turns 10

I pretty much only drink whisky, and some beer, staying away from cocktails and trendy bars. I like my watering holes casual. Quaich Bar isn't what most people call 'hip' or 'polished', and that's exactly what I love about it. Sláinte! 🥃

A decade ago, it introduced me to the gorgeous expressions from my now all-time favorite distillery Bowmore. The bar turns 10 this September. My goodness, has our happy relationship lasted this long? The bar has always made me feel welcomed and taken care of. Nothing patronizing or over-the-top, but nothing lacking either. I used to frequent the bar a lot more, but have not done so recently, only because I've decreased overall alcohol intake.

Instead of just a night's celebration, Quaich Bar held a month-long series of tasting events. There was one of Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Glenglassaugh, and another of Irish whisky Tipperary and Shetland Reel from the Shetland's Island of Unst, and Springbank which included the launch of a 17 y.o single cask specially bottled for Quaich Bar. Pretty fun! I didn't attend these though. Predictably I popped in to the nights when they brought out Bowmore (owned by Suntory), and Tomatin (owned by Takara Shuzo Co., Ltd).

Bowmore (Islay)

Priced at S$30 per Bowmore tasting set (complimentary for members) of four expressions, it included a beautiful 25 y.o. The Cadenhead-Bowmore small-batch 12 y.o (as an independent bottler, Cadenhead has been churning out really decent whisky), and the official 18 y.o bottling are its staples, and have been fairly consistent through the years.  I love the 15 y.o darkest matured in oloroso casks bottled in 2007. The bottles after that year simply don't taste the same.

I'm most familiar with Bowmore's range of flavors and bottles, and how it has evolved over the years. But it's always nice to taste the ones I'm fond of side by side. Many friends turned up in droves for this event to, probably because they're rather fond of this distillery as well. It was a chance to catch up with those I hadn't seen for a bit. But as with all social events, it was hard to grab everyone for more than a 10-minute chat. It was hilarious how we all called it a night by 10pm. Hahaha.

Tomatin (Highlands, Speyside border)

Topping off the celebrations, the good folks at the bar, Khoon Hui and Joyce, visited Highland distillery Tomatin, and procured a single cask of 1983 and bottled it in July 2017, making it a 34 y.o. The bar launched its special anniversary bottle at this Tomatin tasting event. They also invited Tomatin representative Graham Nicolson to hop in for a chat with everyone.

That night, besides the 1983 single cask, we tasted three other expressions from TomatinLegacy, 12 y.o, and Fire. I enjoyed the spice in the Fire which touted heavily charred oak at 46% abv. It holds no age statement, but manages a rounded aftertaste without the sharp notes of typical of younger whisky. Wasn't expecting to like the Fire, but I do!

The 1983 34 y.o single cask is gorgeous. So pleased that they offered a dram of it in the tasting tonight. I was looking forward to tasting it, and it wasn't at all disappointing. It was exactly what I had hoped it would be. It was full of fruits and caramel, lingering long after the last drop went down the throat.

Khoon Hui and Joyce told us that the 250-litre cask was expected to produce between 180 to 190 bottles (750-ml each), thereabouts. However, in the end, they could only fill 158 bottles. Wow. Although it's not unheard of for 30-year-old spirits to lose say 45% of its volume, the angels' share for this cask was still significant.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

At Piao Ji Fish Porridge

It was a Saturday at noon, and still the queue at Piao Ji Fish Porridge (標記魚粥) at Amoy Street Food Center averaged 35 minutes. Good lawwd. One could literally clear emails and pay for bills while waiting in line. It was more bearable today because most of the stalls were closed and foot traffic was minimal; there were no office crowds too.

The friends and I came here after gym class in dri-fit gear, so we didn't mind sweating it out. I'll never understand how people can deal with eating at this food center in the crazy heat on week days. There was a constant breeze coming through this afternoon, so it wasn't so bad. Still! Sipping hot soup + our humidity = being completely drenched by the time we were done with the meal. Luckily we were headed straight home to get a cold shower.

The stall doesn't offer any options for fried fish slices. Just freshly broiled in soup. For carbs, they don't seem to do noodles or beehoon either. One could only pick steamed white rice. Didn't need the carbs. I wasn't too hungry, so just the portion of protein and soup were fine for me. Since we queued so long for it, I got a big portion. Hahahaha. S$12 for the large bowl. The slices of mackerel were superb. Came with fish roe too. Quite treat dipping them into the chilli and soy sauce. Wheeeeee!

Piao Ji Fish Porridge (標記魚粥)
7 Maxwell Road Singapore 069111
#02-100/103 Amoy Street Food Centre
Hours: Daily 10.30am to 3pm; closed on Thursdays

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Island of Manticura

Picked up Nuraliah Norasid's 'The Gatekeeper' (2017). A fantasy world 3000 years into the future where humans and non-humans of Cayanese, Feleenese, Scereans, Tuyuns, live together in seeming harmony on the island of Manticura.

Two medusas with writhing snakes for hair- younger sister Ria and older sister Barani, live with their human grandmother in the farthest part of a village in Krow City. Attending a regular school doesn't turn out so well, and the boy Barani likes betrays her, never actually wanting to marry her. Tragedy happens when the grandmother die, and the villagers want to take their land. In confusion and anger, 10-year-old Ria turns the entire village into stone. The sisters flee to an underground city of Nelroote which accepts them, since every resident is a non-human, and after a war and 50 years later, Nelroote and its entrance are shrouded by a cemetery.

Almost predictably, in this time of 50 years later, a human-minora, a Changer (who can shapeshift from his usual human form into his animal form, is hard to kill and has talons for fingernails) model Eedric (Jonathan) Shuen comes along to move Ria's heart. Eedric Shuen's fancy urban cosmopolitan world is completely different from Ria's. Since medusas age differently, now a young lady still, Ria is the gatekeeper of Nelroote. This is more than a romantic development. There's a raid on Nelroote, prisoners taken, and the medusas hunted down, and how a pregnant Ria is captured and used for scientific research, or as a weapon.

I like the ending, in how Ria couldn't escape the demons of her past, and is still very much manipulated by her circumstances and politics. As in all fantasy, there're lessons in there, of races and how people deal with others who are different. But let's not consider that in the context of Singapore or her social construct, or that it's written by a Singaporean, or that it won a local book award. I simply read it as it should be- a debut fantasy novel by a newly minted author.

More prisoners had by then emerged from their cells and all of them were looking at her. There was uncertainty in a lot of their expressions; puzzlement as to what she was doing there. Perhaps a few were eyeing her a little too eagerly—too hungrily—and she knew it was a dangerous place for her, me-tura or not. She cast a final glance up at the window and thought she could make out the forms of people watching her from behind it. 
She did not expect the announcement at all when it blared from an invisible sound system: "Attention, wards. The first to kill the medusa will earn a president's pardon." 
This brought new life to the eyes that now cast themselves upon her, even in those who were resigned to their capital fate. She found herself feeling disgusted by this new sport. She had thought, from the clean streets and the ordered stacks of homes, that this country, this Manticura that others had once fought for, that still more had trusted—that this country would have in it a sense of justice, if not for people like her, then at least for the full-bellied people of their middles and those on top. 
Yet, at the same time, she was not surprised. She understood. She was not to die that day. In that moment, it felt as if she was no more than a severed head stuck upon the shield that the nation-state sought to build. For what? Against who? Ria realised she was no longer in any position to ask. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Sonic Flow™ the Second Time

This two-hour Sonic Flow™ with Amanda Ling focuses mainly on sound therapy. No floating in a pod like the last round. This second session offered a more in-depth understanding than the first one I attended, and felt wayyy better. Perhaps it was the wood flooring that transmitted sound vibrations from the bronze alloy bowls much better than a concrete floor. Perhaps it was because my circadian rhythm prefers stretching out in the day over the nights. Or maybe because the two hours taken this time felt less rushed than a one-hour session.

Dunno how to describe the yoga portion since I don't actually do yoga. Neither do I know much about it. This session was supposed to be a yin-yang flow which stretches out the lower body. Lots of hips, quads, toes and feet. After stretching out, we had a good 30 minutes of sound therapy. Laid down (yogis call it 'savasana') to enjoy the sound waves wash over us. That felt wonderful.

Amanda explained that the each bowl represented the seven chakras and the right use of it in producing sounds would guide meditation and rebalance chakras. Okaaaay. I was lost. I did better with information on music theory and math- in terms of how each bowl is tuned to an interval of fifths, the tritone. The layered binaural beats (+2 or -2) soothe the mind and help to clear it of thoughts. I was able to filter out the traffic sounds, the irritating pop music from ceiling speakers of the shop downstairs, the dragging of a trolley past the shophouse, et cetera. Sank deep down into a state of relaxation. I was thinking about...nothing. I was just happily floating in my mind space. Till Amanda 'called' us back to reality with three gentle chimes on the tingsha.

At the end, Amanda had time and could come to each of us to place the bowl on our preferred areas on the body and make it sing. That was fun to feel the vibrations sinking down into the body. I really couldn't tell if the sound vibrations help with chasing away physical aches and pains. However, stretching and a quiet relaxation window with minimal sound pollution and appropriate sound accompaniment would.

The practitioner, the person creating those sounds from bowls, will affect the sounds. It's like, no two guitarists will play the same riff exactly so. (I like Amanda's style.) It could be in the way they strike the bowls, the pacing, the material on the mallets or it could also be their frame of mind. I wouldn't know. The whole premise of sound healing could be quackery, or not. New Age? Definitely. It's like the matter of crystals. If you believe in them and lovingly bathe them in moonlight, then they work for you. As long as a session of sound healing achieves your desire of chilling out or have a calm moment to yourself amidst crazy work deadlines, then I suppose it's all good.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Teochew Porridge Dinners At Tanjong Katong

On nights without cravings or plans, the man and I do casual dinners. After a long day, we don't exactly feel like cooking or ask the helper to whip up a meal at short notice. We head to Heng Long Teochew Porridge (興隆潮州糜・飯) in the east in Tanjong Katong. This isn't the outlet at Upper Serangoon Road since that's too far for us. The Serangoon outlet seems to be a magnet for disgruntled customers given to flipping tables. :P

Food has always been all right at this non-air-conditioned eatery. No complaints so far. It's a Teochew porridge stall offering sufficient variety of dishes; it's honest, basic sustenance done decently. Nothing gourmet about it. You could eat a not-too-oily, not-deep-fried or carb-laden meal for two under S$35, including a small fish. That's a steal in Singapore. It's cheaper than us buying groceries to cook the same dishes at home.

The other evening, we picked a steamed mullet done Teochew style. They butterfly filleted it for us and served with salted vegetables. Steaming the fish with the scales intact ensured that the meat doesn't dry out. That was delicious. Tonight, we chose an already steamed regular sea bream tail. It was over-steamed, but it tasted okay in soy sauce. That's how it is when the tail or fillet is placed out for diners' selection. We didn't select one from the tray of fresh fish. The man wanted the stir-fried pork liver with chives. Heh. He doesn't get that often, so he orders it at any chance he gets. On nights like this, bits of salt, fish, vegetables, eggs and tofu made for a fairly nutritious enough meal. The stomach was happy.

Heng Long Teochew Porridge (興隆潮州糜・飯) 
240 Tanjong Katong Road Singapore 437028
(at intersection of Parkstone Road, and opposite Eng's Noodle House)
Hours: Daily, 10.30am to 3.30am

Thursday, September 14, 2017

TypeWriter's New EP & DIIV

TypeWriter doing their groove.

TypeWriter (Singapore)

Managed to squeeze in two gigs over the final busy weekend of SIFA happenings. Didn't take much to decide going to the launch of TypeWriter's new five-song EP 'What You're Feeling Is Not Enough' over Dashboard Confessional's gig (with a full band instead of just Chris Carrabba. Haizzzz.).

While TypeWriter's indie pop-rock songs aren't quite my cup of tea, they're quite an easy introduction to a decent example of local sounds. They apparently have a new one titled 'The Golden Mile' that isn't in this EP, but it would go into their next EP. Yeah they played it. It's kinda cool that they stuck it out through their day jobs to keep writing, for nothing else but a love of the music. It was a pretty fun night.

DIIV (Brooklyn, New York City, USA)

Not like I'm a big fan of DIIV, but I didn't mind checking them out live once. It's just less motivating to do so when ticket prices are S$60 here instead of the super reasonable range in Seattle which we very much appreciate. In fact, I only bought a ticket (online) on the morning of the scheduled gig.

Led by Zachary Cole Smith, the five-piece Brooklyn band has like, two albums- 'Oshin' (2012) and 'Is The Is Are' (2016). It was a short 80-minute set. Went with zero expectations and came away feeling okay. It wasn't the best show, but it was decent.

At least the venue didn't suck. It was held at The Pavilion at Far East Square. We were skeptical about it. All that glass. The sound system was pared down, but it seemed to work for the venue. The band sounded good live, much better than what I heard over the earphones.