Monday, April 11, 2011

Norman Rockwell

I love Norman Rockwell, I love his illustrations, they bring out the kid in me - not that it takes a lot to do that. My aunt is American at heart, she loved New York, she loved the US, she loved American culture and American films. Back in her posh apartment a stone throw from the Eiffel tower in Paris, she lived the high life of a career focussed advertiser, a lot like Don Draper. Her apartment wasn't exactly child friendly but having no kids of her own and lots of money, she always bought great gifts for my brother and I. Going to her place was cool, she had Monty Pythons films, MASH and best of all Tex Avery - can't go wrong with Tex Avery. The next best thing was her book of Norman Rockwell in the midst of her collection of hundreds of LP records.

I spent hours seating on her sofa flipping the pages, studying every detail of each of his illustrations. They were sweet, innocent, more than pleasing to the eye, they conveyed feelings and reminded me of something I lived or would live. So I was well chuffed when I received the newsletter from Sommerset House promoting Norman Rockwell exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery and we made it just in time before our holiday and before the show ended.

I like this one, it's the day in the life of a little girl from breakfast, swimming, play, party, date, first kiss and sweet dreams. Rockwell drew the same with a little boy.

Le telephone arabe - not sure what it's called in English - when rumor goes around and the story gets twisted and when it goes back to the first person, it's a different story.

Ain't that just lovely!
Baignade Interdite in French - No Swimming in English - possibly one of Rockwell's most famous illustration.
The Picture Gallery had walls and walls covered with framed Saturday Evening Post covers. Just awesome. Shame I could not get my aunt over to the UK in time to see this, she would have loved it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A very overdue farewell

Alex, Julien, Justin & Janet for my 25th birthdayJustin Tan Seng Kooi
12 June 1972- 03 October 2010
friend, brother, son, lover, boss, colleague, astronomer, engineer, visionary, giver

I met with Janet and See Ming, I had not seen Janet since I left Malaysia in 2005, after long embraces and complementing each other on how well we looked and how well we were, we sat for coffee and See Ming excitedly prompted me to tell them 'everything I remembered about Justin!' I kindda guessed he'd make the main focus of our conversation but somehow the memories half faded by the years, still fresh from the grief - all came rushing together and stumbled messily upon one another in my head and I could not seem to be able to mutter any one story!

Justin was a good - no - a great friend. He was the kind of man you meet once in your life and they instantly touch your life. I met Justin in October 2000. I came out of Xavier's office, he was going to give me the Marketing job - See Ming had just left them, he called upon Jet to get me into the job and introduced me to Justin who was going to be my boss. He looked scruffy, he had big hair, torn jeans and his all-time favourite white tee-shirt and a big grin on his face. He always grinned that big cheeky smile like a kid. Fast forward a couple of months and I got a bit more into my role and worked a bit closer to Justin, Mark and Mickey. At the time Alex was doing a lot of due diligence and worked late every night, so I had nothing better to do than hang around the office, have dinner, get back to work, but never quite working, more like hanging out, listening to Justin boucing some business ideas and other BS while strumming his guitar.

Justin always surprised me at his outlook on life and his approach to people and matters. He never took anything quite seriously but at the same time made everything and everyone seem like it was the most important thing or person in the world - that was a gift all on its own. His mind was as tidy as his appearance and office was messy. He compartementalised his life: friends - work - hobbies, it took a bit to get to know him and his friends and his hobbies outside of work.

Two of my favorite memories of Justin are:

He liked his work, he disliked meetings - they were a waste of valuable work time, and as such he disliked going to PIKOM - I think it was every Tuesdays, he'd always look for excuses not to attend the meetings. But little by little he'd be missing more often than usual, I remember asking Emily, his PA at the time where he was going all the time, she said he had some business at Pikom - that arose amusing suspicion, Justin was very private so I would not even think of asking him directly, a couple of weeks later and Sam went to a function with Justin and reported back that Janet and him had been flirting openly all night. Haha! Janet was PIKOM secretary, it all made sense! It would only be a few weeks later that he'd be admitting to it and another month later before he introduced Janet and I. Turned out Janet was indeed as fantastic as he was and that they'd be making the wonderful couple they were.

Justin had a bike, I had my kancil, so when we went out for drinks, I'd be driving. One night, he took me on a wild goose chase around KL, he needed to pick up a friend somewhere. When I saw the friend I could not help but notice that his friend was even scruffier than he was if that was ever possible! We went to a rat infested street in KL for teh tarik and mee goreng. Turns out the friend was quite interesting too as were all the people Justin surrounded himself with. Later, Justin asked me to stop behind what looked like a terrible motel - he went in and I stayed chatting with the man (I can remember his face, but not his name or what we talked about). Justin came back out and the man bid us goodnight and went on our way. As we drove away, I asked Justin who he was. Nothing prepared me to what I was about to learn about Justin... The man was an ex drug addict, just out of rehab, he had no job, no money and no place to go. Justin was his 'big brother', visiting him regularly at the rehab, so he was still looking our for him, he gave him money, and arranged for a place to stay at a brothel while he found himself a job. I knew Justin was very generous but I had no remote idea What a selfless man he truly was.

Another one of his passion was astronomy, and some of the most fun arguments we had was me trying to argue that the universe had some sort of influence on our lives and that there was something greater than life but Justin disagreed - Mr No-Nonsense. More fun arguments came out from his philosophy, he had views on relationships that I could not understand. It was only years later that some the things he said started making sense. He was my 'quit smoking buddy', we put on weight and dieted and started smoking again together. We had some cool debates about life, people, relationships, dreams versus reality and commitments.

Justin had something to do with me leaving Malaysia. He became CEO, became empowered into a role he did not want, had to step up to the challenge, turned Extol into a new dynamic and efficient model, had the chance to implement a new structure and vision, but had no time for friends. Combined with a couple of other reasons, I knew I'd miss the times we spent together and thought that if I was away - at least we'd have a good reason not to be hanging out. Still, he always kept a special place in my heart and I was always looking forward to seeing him again when visiting Malaysia.

To date, and in spite of the love I have for the men in my life, Justin is possibly one of the most extra-ordinary man I have ever met and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by some very wonderful people indeed. I shall always look up to him for the simplicity of his brilliant mind and his beautiful heart and his childish grin and laughter. I hope he knew. Miss you dearly Just.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cooking with Pum

I ended our holiday in Phi Phi with a cooking class at Pum's cooking school. I met with two lovely young American travellers one of which was heading back to the States, the other heading for Borneo after teaching English in South Korea for a few months. Noi was our chef, he was teaching us three Thai favourites: Red Lipstick, Green Lipstick and White Lipstick, respectively Tom Yum, Curry Curry and Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup).

Here's a recipe for you to try (if you can find the ingredients)

Tom Yum Goong
Prawns x a handful (2-3/person)
Water x 340ml
Galangal root sliced x 4-5 pieces
Lemongrass (sliced 3-4cm) x 1/2 stalk
Kaffir Lime Leaves x 2 (you'll know when you find it cos it smells amazing!)
Thai Shallot x 1 (I use normal shallot)
Small green chillies x 2
Fish sauce x 2 tablespoons
Sugar x 1 tablespoon
Lemon Juice x 1 tablespoon (we used a lime pressed it for its juice)
Chilli paste x 1 tea spoon (or two if you like it hot!)

In a pot, bring the water to a boil and add the chilli paste, mix well
Add the fish sauce, sugar, lemon juice and add the herbs, stir well
Bring the soup to a boil and add the prawns
Done. Enjoy!(PS: Libellule, je te donne ma recette du Singapore Fried Mee Hoon des que je suis a jour avec mes updates!)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sawadika Part Two - Koh Phi Phi

Day two - heading for the dream
The sun is shining through the roman blinds into the room, the deafening song of secadas prevailing, cutlery clatters on the terrace outside our room, breakfast is being served. We lazily wake up and step outside on the patio where our fry up and coffee await. After a quick shower we head to the pool - soaking and swimming sipping watermelon juice and enjoy the cliff sights surrounding. It doesn't get better than this...

The ferry over to Phi phi was a good opportunity to work on that much needed tan. Sharing my iPhone with alex we listened to the tune of our holiday, chicane's latest album, Giants.
Once on the island we were greeted by our friendly Host, barman, waiter, and entertainer (they know the meaning of multitasking!!) And after a lunch on the beach we headed to meet Trevor at long beach dive centre... Trevor wasn't there, he'd gone to Phuket to greet his niece and nephew, but Noe was there. Noe is Swiss and he was going to be our instructor :) we are later joined by Parisian couple Laurent and Dora. Eager to start after a long chat and a fresh coconut we Start off watching the first three modules of the Padi open water course.
Day three - just under the surface
The last morning we got to sleep in and after a long breakfast, feet in the sand, starring at the deep blue sea and shallow turquoise water, we started on our training. Assembling the kit was child's play but exercises in stumpy waters as a storm broke out was less fun. I totally freaked out when I first had to breathe underwater! How very embarrassing! For a split second i felt like i struggled to breathe only through my mouth and could not handle the water getting in my nose but that was resolved the minute I had the mask on. Phew.
It was an exhausting day, the choppy water, the current, the lack of visibility spoiled the fun and we were glad when it came to an end. Although the day was far from over with having to study the manual before a series of quiz, which we sneakily read on the long chairs on the beach with some cocktails from our friendly waiter.
Day four - first open water dives
We were up at dawn and after revising everything we had learned we took the boat to Koh Phi Phi Lei, Maya Bay for our first dive. Much to my disappointment, it was nothing like in Finding Nemo! The corals were dead :(such a sad sight. Still I saw lots if little fishes including Nemo's relatives and some other exciting sorts but at that point I was more interested and focussed on my buoyancy, making sure I did not lose Alex, hit the reefs or the sand bed or float back to the surface unwillingly! But the second dive was a whole lot more fun, feeling more at ease and seeing more sealife like a giant pufferfish, lots of angelfish, Scorpion fish, but ended this wonderful experience swimming with a pair of turtles!!!
Day five - Completing the course
Now half way through our course, we jumped off the bed with eager anticipation at going on our next dives! There was a lot more people on the boat diving with Trevor, his relatives, and a South African diving with Celia (Noe's girlfriend). The morning dive was leisurely, I was focussing on improving and controlling my buoyancy. Saw a couple of lion fish, barracudas, yellowback snappers, but this was nothing compared to what we were about to do and see for our last dive... a Leopard Shark!!! What an amazing creature and how lucky were we that he'd stick around with us, swimming back and forth just 2 or 3 meters away from us.
The day ended with the PADI exam, and me running up and down the beach between dive shop, hotel room up the hill and down the beach to get a tailboat to get back to Tonsai Beach where I had booked a cooking class, but that's a story for my next post.
What an adventure, what an experience, what a feeling. We are both so chuffed we've done it and we can hardly wait for the next diving adventure.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sawadika Part One - Ao Nang

The Cliffs Hotel, Ao NangAfter a not too tearful goodbye kiss with our toddler, we head out to Thailand. A couple of hours later and we land in Krabi, and it's about to rain. This does not dampen our spirits, we check in our jungle room and immediately hunt for a typical not touristic restaurant for some authentic tom yum soup and pad tai before heading to the beach but the tropical rain gets heavier so we head back to the room to try out our fabulous outdoor bathroom and shower.
tom yum & pad tai Outdoor Bathroom at The Cliffs Hotel, Ao NangBefore heading down to the spa we booked, we sipped some cocktails looking at the mist raising against the cliffs backdrop. The rain has stopped so we walk to the beach but it s dark before we get there.

The spa was to die for - 90 minutes of bliss Thai and foot massage in a dreamy surrounding.
The Spa at The Spa Resort, Ao Nang Massage OilsFor dinner we want seafood, we don't have to look very far for a broad selection of restaurants. We have steamed curry crabs and BBQ squid, tiger prawns and barracuda- scrumptious comes to mind.
Seafood spreadAfter a short digestive walk through the hundreds of roadside stalls and shops selling among other things penis shaped artifacts (?!?) we ended up in the Coconut bar near our hotel - self proclaimed- number one bar in ao nang listening to the live band, drinking chang beer and watching the fire show performed by the twenty something barmen, waiters and band members! The ambience was amazing and I reckon it must indeed have been the number one bar in ao nang.

Day two - before making our way to koh phi phi

The sun is shining through the roman blinds into the room, the deafening song of secadas prevailing, cutlery clatters on the terrace outside our room, breakfast is being served. We lazily wake up and step outside on the patio where our fry up and coffee await. After a quick shower we head to the pool - soaking and swimming sipping watermelon juice and enjoy the cliff sights surrounding.
Sunny Cliffs It doesn't get better than this...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Feast Fit for Kings in a week

How I love weeks like this, when everyday is a feast.

I'm one of those people who gets by the day looking forward to the next meal, I get up looking forward to breakfast, then when the morning gets dull, I start looking forward to my lunch and if by any chance it's a planned lunch with a friend or colleague, it becomes a bit like looking forward to Christmas, and the afternoon goes by ever so quickly looking forward to dinner pondering what nice meal I am going to put together. And if people ask me what I'm doing this weekend, I will probably tell them what's on the menu! I must have starved to death in my previous life, so really appreciating it this lifetime. I know cooking is a hobby but can food on its own be a hobby as well?

Anyway, this week takes the cake. It's the food king week.

First of all, it's Chinese New Year, so that's two days of celebrations and it coincides with Alex' birthday, another excuse to throw in a special meal (or two)

Chinese New Year's Day
Special Fried Rice
Oyster Sauce Chicken
Stir Fried mixed veggies with prawns

Chinese New Year's Day 2

Singapore Fried Mee Hoon
I was also supposed to prepare Asam Laksa Fish, but there was plenty of SFMH, and I thought it was over-ambitious.
Alex' Surprise Birthday Party
Regretably, I was going to do a Murder Mystery Night but a couple of friends could not make it and there weren't enough of us to do the game, only postponed for another time.

I had planned a dinner I was comfortable with like Poulet Basquaise and rice - but got stuck at the starter... while wondering what kind of starter to make, I thought Dim Sum would be great, since it's still CNY - hence I am changing my dinner plans and menus:

Dim Sum for Starters, a selection of Steamed Sui Mai (Pork) and Ha Kau (Prawn), and fried Sui Mai with Sweet Chili Sauce and Hoi Sin Sauce (Plum)
Special Fried Rice
Penang Curry Chicken
Sayur Achar (pickled vegetables)
And my friend Julie made a fabulous Orange cake for dessert.
Served dinner with Champagne and a couple of lovely red Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Bergerac wine.

In order to not arouse too much suspicion for Alex, I pretended to be cooking for a couple of meals ahead - Note to Self - not be a bad idea for the future.

I had a bit of technical difficulties with the Dim Sum as the steam seemed to be escape all around and not actually through the bamboo baskets, but I eventually thouhgt of placing a cloth over the wok to keep the steam within - only worrying about whether the kitchen towel might catch fire!

Dinner turned out perfect and as ever, we all had a good time.

We were supposedly hoping to finish the week with a day out to China Town in London - we made it for another wonderful Dim Sum meal and caught a glimpse of two Lion Dance, but the day got cut short because our little angel was ill. Not sure we'll do it again next year though as it was terribly busy and we don't really have to wait for CNY to have Dim Sum.

Have a very happy New Year of the Rabbit everyone - lots of love, happiness and prosperity.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2nd birthday

Two years old already... where did time go? Well I guess the first nine months went in playing all day long and not sleeping all night long and meeting little girlfriends while eating cakes and drinking tea and laughing and loving wholeheartedly. Then I went back to work, and there was a whole lot less cake n tea parties and not a lot more sleep, but a lot more fun yet with first steps and first words and other kinds of first times. Anyway, we got there soon enough - 2 years old.

Since we have the most beautiful place in the world - I decided to throw a proper party, complete with gift bags for little guests, finger food, beer and wine for grown-ups and juice for the pregnant moms. Of course, I over estimated everything and invited more people than I could possibly cope with - but somehow wonderously managed to!

We had her three little friends from birth, Matilda, Emma and Libby, with their moms and dads as well as friends from nursery, Amelia, Billy, James, Marleigh and Oliver with their moms and dads. Unfortunately, Byelle felt a bit overwhelmed with the crowd though and clingged on to mom or dad throughout the afternoon, until it was just her three bestfriends left, upon which she had a great time dancing and singing and playing!

Gabrielle was quite spoiled with lots of toys and books and jigsaws but I guess her favourite moment was dancing along 'ring a ring of roses' with Emma, Libby and Matilda or jumping on the bed with James and Amelia!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Muybridge Exhibition - Tate Britain

I was walking in the tube - I can't remember whether it was the time after my xmas lunch with various editors or after our Christmas party, when I saw this photo on a poster. I was fascinated, I stopped to look at the images. I loved it, it was intriguing and different, pictures of people or animals in motion - 'moving pictures'.

Eadweard Muybridge lived in the 19th century and was from Kingston - if I had bothered visiting the local museum, I would have known that!

His motivation was to prove that a horse could fly - not as crazy as it sounds - he reckoned that in the galoping motion, a horse had all four hoves off the ground, but the motion was too quick for the human eye to capture.

So he set up an elaborate device to photograph a motion under three different angles - he also invited a device - called a zoopraxiscope to show played the motion pictures in a form of animation - a few years before film strips were invented.
(For the record, apparently, the first device ever invented was in 1870 and was called a Praxinoscope, while Myubridge's Zoopraxiscope was invented in 1878 - both devices were at the origin of cinema).

Muybridge not only proved that a horse is indeed airborne for a split second but more extraordinarily, what he really achieved despite himself is 'motion pictures', which he referred to as locomotion or moving-picture. His method is the 'technology' that was used in shooting the film the Matrix. So there, you all learned something new :)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Book of the Dead - British Museum

The British Museum offers a great display of Ancient Egypt, but this exhibition offered so much more. The display in the central dome of the museum was very cool - with the rooms layed out in a spiral.

If you know a little about Ancient Egypt, you'd know that they sought eternal life in the afterlife pretty much like Christianity or Islam which both promise eternal life in Heaven or Jannah respectively. And as true as it is in these 'modern' monotheist beliefs, Egyptian believed that they had to live their lives a certain way to prepare for the afterlife and to be entitled entry to their equivalent of Heaven.

My knowledge of Islam is limited but to gain entry into Heaven, you need to live your life - or rather not live at all that would make it much easier - as a saint and then you might just get your ticket in. Between me and you, it sounds a lot like the lottery, I'd rather keep that tenner in my pocket, than bet it on a ticket that might possibly maybe win me a million pound, in this context, I'd rather live my life and take my chances with a potential maybe eternal happiness or damnation later.

The Egyptians did not just need to live lives of saints but also had a strict and complex rite of passing - now that's much more similar to Buddhism, which dates back from the same time (approximately 5000-3500 BC), whereby once dead, there is a complete physical ceremony, which is not what this exhibition was about, but the spiritual journey into the afterlife.

Above, Isis and Nephthys the wife and child Osiris, God of the dead, played a role of protecting the deceased throughout his journey.
Under the scale in the middle, is Anubis, also protector of the dead, in charge of the weighing of the heart of the deceased.
And to the right, Toth, God of writing and knowledge - behind him The Devourer, the monster crocodile-headed, torso and legs of the lion and bottom of a hippo, punished those who were judged undeserving of the afterlife. You'd have to want it pretty bad to face that one.

The Sun God and creator of the world, Ra, represent the cycle of life, by being resurrected every morning to the East and dying every night in the West. He was also interpreted by the cycle of seasons and plantations and recolts.

The exhibition was great, it had an entire wall scripture of two versions of the book of the dead from two different authors and by judging the characters (hieroglyphs) used, they must have been written at different eras. Then tons of papyrus as well as wall sculptures and a couple of sarcophogus and a mommy.

I'd recommend the exhibition, but watch out of the crowd, in spite of booking in advance and having an allocated time slot, we struggled seeing everything, but Byelle kept nice and quiet throughout - watching Timmy Time on my iphone, the wonders of technology in the middle of History.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tough Love: my baby won't sleep

Running up to 2 years
2 years = 730 nights
730 nights with no more than 4 consecutive hours of sleep
730 nights getting out of bed once or twice or three or four times a night
730 nights listening to a little girl cry herself to sleep

I had enough - I read 5 books - heard countless 'have you tried...?' - tried countless things and methods - bookmarked hundreds of webpages talking about toddler's sleep (or lack of) - watched too many episodes of Super Nanny.

Control crying did sort out the 'going to bed' dilemma in the evening but it did not solve the 'waking up in the middle of the night.
Letting her cry it out, only resulted in completely sleepless nights.... until now

So forgive me - I'm not a bad mother - but I decided to give the latter another go. She can cry all she wants - cry all night long for all I care - she needs to learn that I will not be there until the morning - I decide when she wakes up not her.

And you know what?
It worked
It finally worked

In the many things I read, a doctor said there are two misconceptions from - the first one is that for a child to sleep from 12 midnight to 5am is sleeping through the night - but that did not even apply to my kid. The second is that in spite of your best efforts and applying the book rules to the letter - if your child is not ready - he is just NOT READY. I am suddenly finding out that this is very true.

On Monday night, Gabrielle cried - what felt like - most of the night
On Tuesday night, Gabrielle cried for very short periods (twice 15-20 minutes)
On Wednesday night, Gabrielle only cried once for 15 minutes
On Thursday night, Gabrielle only cried once but did not call for mommy or daddy
Tonight might just be the night where the cry is just a whimper and/or that she sleeps through.

The irony of it all is that I feel more tired than ever. I guess I have 730 nights' worth of sleep to catch up on.
For the benefit of desperate parents who might stumble upon this page, these are the books I read, but none of them helped except combined with each other -
  • Sleep by Beatrice Hollyer and Lucy Smith (in theory - should have been very good, it teaches you good habits and sleep routine before baby arrives - but that did not help with Byelle)
  • the no-cry sleep solution by Elizabeth Pantley (nothing good came out of it)
  • The Sleepeasy solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack (fixed the going to bed dilemma - with control crying - very reassuring for parents who don't want to hear their baby cry)
  • The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg (I personally don't like her)
  • The Sleep Guide by Gina Ford (another partisan of the crying method - but now I have to admit it works)
What you need to remember is:
1) control crying or letting your kid cry will work but maybe not this time
2) Your kid does not hold against you so stay strong and stick to the rules of the method
3) but if your kid is not ready - he's just not ready the first time we did control crying - she was 8 months old and cried all night for 2 weeks with no improvement whatsoever - the second time we tried letting her cry, she was 17 months for 3 nights and except for exhausting me and her dad had not made a dent in her bad habit
4) Books that claim you don't have to let your baby cry are lying - they will ask you to let your baby cry - but refer back to #2
feel free to email me if you have question or need support - I've been there and it's been exhausting.