Musings


cant belive that i havent blog for five months … work’s hell so havent had the mood nor enthusiasm to pursue this although there are a couple of materials in my head … perhaps i will pen something down soon

anyway, interestingly enough, this site has seen a small but steady flood of visitors despite me not putting up any new material, mostly strangers keen to read on my features about Egyptian food …  whereby i should offer myself some self-congratulations that the blog had, besides serving to help me cope when i first arrived to Cairo about 2.5 years ago, also been a kind of info-guide to those about to come to this very fascinating country for the very first time …

so there, at least ive been a good guest and helped in my own small way to ‘sell’ this country to the many visitors … yup, after two plus years, its still a difficult love-hate relationship … but like i always tell my friends here – i do suspect Cairo  really really loves me

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And now i know why im a fast food addict ……..

admit it – if you have driven via the N-S highway before, you will have been tempted to stop at the rest point with the A&W restaurant to savour the root beer float, coney dog and curly fries, rite? …

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Feb 14, 2010

I’m loving a bite of nostalgia

By Teo Cheng Wee

Ah, Chinese New Year. My favourite culinary time of the year. A month of indulging in delicious pineapple tarts, bak kwa, love letters and… the McDonald’s Prosperity Burger.

Yes, amazingly this McDonald’s burger has become as much a part of my Chinese New Year diet as the traditional snacks.

In case you missed the advertisements that are liberally splashed in all the papers, the Prosperity Burger is a seasonal McDonald’s burger which comes around this time of the year.

It is, as its advertisement says, a burger that delivers ‘juicy beef patties spiced with black pepper sauce and onions’ – and invariably photographed against a joyous red backdrop and auspicious Chinese characters.

I know what you’re thinking, so let me stop you right there.

If you think I have suddenly become a paid spokesman for McDonald’s, allow me to clarify.

Firstly, McDonald’s doesn’t hire no-name columnists as spokesmen.

Secondly, I hate fast food.

Thirdly, I especially hate McDonald’s. I’m, to paraphrase its own tagline, not loving it.

In fact, I make a face whenever someone suggests eating there.

‘McDonald’s? What are you, a teenager?’ I’ll always ask in a disdainful tone.

‘But I am a teenager,’ my young cousin would usually reply. ‘And stop making a face. You’re not a child.’

Whatever. You can’t reason with kids these days.

Just like I can’t reason why I have already eaten the Prosperity Burger meal five times in the past month, when I haven’t even stepped into McDonald’s five times in the past year.

But then I’ve come to realise that I have a love-hate relationship with fast food, if you can call a relationship that is 99 per cent hate a love-hate relationship.

My reason for disliking fast food is not uncommon: It’s unhealthy, gimmicky, not particularly delicious and often promoted by ghastly mascots (I mean, a creepy clown and a dead colonel? Seriously, it’s amazing kids don’t run away screaming).

Yet, fast food restaurants, with their Disney movie tie-ins, cheery layouts and sprawling playgrounds, have an amazing hold on the young ones.

What’s even more amazing is the hold they continue to have after people have supposedly outgrown fast food.

Therein lies the 1 per cent love.

Take the Prosperity Burger, for example. It’s fairly tasty – I think more so than its regular burgers – but a big part of its appeal for me is its nostalgia.

I still remember the first time the Prosperity Burger was introduced when I was young, as well as the Samurai Burger, which came with teriyaki sauce.

Now these were not exactly the best burgers in the world, but they were the burgers I ate when I was a kid.

Which is why I’m not surprised that Wendy’s is attracting all sorts of queues since it reopened at Lau Pa Sat. Wendy’s had first come here in the 1980s, when people my age were discovering the magical world of french fries and Coca-Cola.

It’s not hard to imagine why fast food restaurants would hold fond memories for people of my generation.

Fast food was still considered a luxury when I was a kid. As such, it was a place my parents took me to only if I did well in school or if I was celebrating my birthday.

Even when I was older, it was a place where I could treat myself only once in a while because meals there cost so much more than at the school canteen.

Nostalgia is the same reason that drives many of my friends to A&W whenever they visit me in Malaysia, where I travel to for work sometimes.

The main draw? Waffles and root beer float.

Never mind that Malaysia is overrun with delightful street food. Or that even I, a culinary idiot, can take out a glass mug from a fridge, pour root beer into it and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The point was that while we were eating, all we were reminiscing about was how we would rush to A&W on Tuesdays because it was Coney Day, when the Coney Dog went for just $1.50.

We would also pop into Malaysia’s KFC because it still has chilli and ketchup bottles, rather than packets.

‘Just like the old days,’ we would say with a silly grin on our face.

Fast food can never compare to mum’s cooking, but from these experiences, it can sometimes evoke the same memories.

And for those fleeting moments, we would forget that this stuff is way too greasy or sweet or overcooked and – like we did all those years ago – just tuck in.

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ive been receiving quite a lot of flak over the lack of activity on my blog so here is a short (but relatively uncreative) entry to update a little as well as to placate my ‘tough customers’. 

so what has happened to me actually?  why the radio silence?  well, things have been a little rough in the recent two months both professionally and personally so ive been keeping to myself quite a bit.  nothing life-threatening but serious enough to keep me occupied and not want to speak up so much.  important thing is im alive, have enough to eat, enough to spend and a roof over my head, so it’s always crucial to keep the bumps of life in perspective, don’t you think so? 

a fren working alone overseas once told me that what cant kill you can only make you stronger.  i personally think that if one’s spirit ‘dies’, he is only a living shell.  it’s so important to always stay positive, keep communicating and also to hold on to the support of people who care so that one’s mental, emotional and spiritual self will continue to thrive.  so yes, all you avid readers and commentators here are treasured because you bring life to what are mere words on a screen.  keep at it! 

anyway, it will be a couple of months more before i take another 2-3 week holiday back home.  time really flies – without a doubt.  its getting colder here already but winter is a welcome relief after the tough and hot summer months that i had to endure here.  the air is still bad though – apparently the locals here also practise the burning of vegetation to clear the land ala the Indons so there’s a burning smell wafting in and out of my apartment day and night.  nothing like the smell of home eh?

looking forward to the year-end festivities indeed (despite a very busy work schedule in the lead-up to December).  last year was quite a fiasco spending Christmas here.  no atmosphere, no Christmassy lights, no Christmassy food and to make matters worse, no holiday either.  i had to keep my internet radio tuned to Christmas carols throughout December to create a semblance of the Christmas spirit! 

on another note, ive been thinking also a little about money recently.  i mean of course we need it.  and if i have it, of course i will spend it.  but seriously, its way overrated, no?  most of us (though not all) seem willing to literally put work/earning money at a higher priority than our health, family lives, relationships, political freedom and precious time, and just be fixated in wanting to accumulate more and more, and keep up with the Joneses.  seems like a Ponzi scam to me …

am i the only one here who has such a bizarre thought here?  what do you think?

For your reading pleasure.

Thought that this was a good poignant piece.  Perhaps I truly have been away for too long.  Perhaps its because I can identify with the writer.  Or maybe simply because in busy busy stressed Singapore, I have learnt to barricade my eyes, ears and heart. 

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FAMILY PORTRAITS

You may strike a thousand poses but nothing in life will mean more than the one of you in a family photo

By Ignatius Low

 

Every Sunday morning, I go back to my parents’ house in Paya Lebar for breakfast.

For me, it’s the one time each week to catch up with my family and, a few weeks ago, we were engaged in a most serious discussion.

My mum had reminded us that we were going to the photo studio later that evening to take a family photograph.

‘Better dress properly,’ she said, giving my dad a pointed look.

‘Aiyah, it’s only a photograph what,’ he started to protest.

My dad, you see, is not one to fuss about and dress for the occasion. He is the type who secretly revels in showing that he cannot be bothered.

But this was no ordinary family photograph. It would be displayed next to other similar family photographs of my entire extended family.

These photos are part of my sister’s art installation for the upcoming President’s Young Talents 2009 exhibition. She has been nominated for the national award, together with three other artists. I felt I had to step in.

‘Do you want the whole of Singapore to walk into the Singapore Art Museum, look at the picture and say: ‘Eek, that’s the artist’s dad?’ ‘

I don’t know if it was my warning or some sense of occasion that eventually kicked in, but my dad showed up for the photo shoot more smartly dressed than I had ever seen him.

He wore a trendy dark purple shirt with a silver tie. He had also combed his hair neatly and put on his best pair of spectacles. When the cameras finally started clicking, I couldn’t help but choke back tears.

It was a Yasmin Ahmad moment for me. Like many of the characters in the late Malaysian director’s commercials, we stood there just so happy to be together after all these years.

And unexpectedly so, perhaps, but still proud as ever to pose together as one family.

When I got home, it struck me that in this digital age, we take more photos than ever before. Yet we hardly ever take any of our family.

I, for example, have thousands of photos of myself with my friends and colleagues. We’ve struck all sorts of funny poses and captured memories of everything from breathtaking scenery to fancy restaurant food.

But I can clearly remember only two other occasions when my family and I went before the camera.

The last time was during my sister’s university graduation in London, and the time before that was my own university graduation.

This means that in the last 20 years, I have taken just three pictures with my family.

Does this also happen in other countries and with other cultures? A cursory look at the online photos of some of my foreign friends seems to suggest otherwise.

And, as you often see in television dramas such as Brothers And Sisters, many Western families seem to prominently display family photos in their homes as markers of the passage of time – even though their family ties may not necessarily be any stronger than ours.

I can think of two reasons why Singaporean families don’t do the same. The first has something to do with how unerringly practical we are. Many of us think we don’t have the time or the energy to be sentimental about something as mundane as our family.

The second reason has something to do with our country’s size. In most other countries, children leave home to work in the city or in another state.

They travel home only a couple of times a year for Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year celebrations, so there is always a sense of occasion that calls for a family photo.

Whatever one’s misgivings, I’ve found that they disappear when you actually look at family photos and see how deeply poignant they can be.

I loved the photo that my family took that Sunday evening so much that I immediately put it up on Facebook for all my friends to see.

My parents look young even though they are both well into their 60s.

My mum is positively beaming in the photo and she has the aura of a woman who is genuinely happy about how her life turned out.

She worked in Tangs for many years where she picked up the finer points of selecting and selling silk and batik. In the photo, she is wearing one of the brightly coloured pieces from her own clothing label, which retails at OG.

My mum is the reason both my sister and I are in creative jobs. She’s fiery but kind-hearted in real life, and I inherited from her the daring to allow me to write a column like this, for an audience which she says will always appreciate you if you listen to what they want and speak sincerely from your heart.

My dad is smiling a lot more now that he is semi-retired and free from the worries of supporting the family. He was a para-legal in property conveyancing for most of his life.

From him, I inherited a conservatism that balances my mum’s creative spark. Because of him, I look before I leap and understand the benefits of moderation, both in work and in life.

But despite possessing what some might see as a serious, no-nonsense demeanour, my dad was also the author of some of my sweetest memories as a child – sitting with him and his guitar, singing country songs and driving in his Datsun to Queensway to eat and shop.

Finally, there is my sister Felicia, 33, who is four years younger than me but infinitely more mature.

We may possess the same sort of talents in life, but she has a singularity of purpose and a pureness of heart that takes her much further in life than I can ever hope to go. I am into public service but she is into social service. I aspire to be arty but she aspires to be an artist.

Because of this, she has broken new ground in many ways throughout her life. She studied A-level Art on her own because Catholic Junior College did not offer it as a subject. With the help of her secondary school art teachers, she not only scored an A but won a government scholarship to do an art degree in London’s Goldsmiths College.

As an artist, she has tried to fuse art with social work – working with prisons, hospitals and underprivileged or underperforming students.

Her body of work, which will be on display at 8Q@SAM as part of the President’s Young Talents award show, is so unique its genre doesn’t even have a proper name – it’s called New Genre Public Art.

She’s been nominated for many national awards but remains one of the simplest and most unpretentious people around. And she is still the one person in my life I am most proud of knowing.

It’s a simple picture – just the four of us, no kids who herald the future, no missing members that echo the past.

But it’s one that speaks volumes to me and will continue to do so for many years to come.

ignatius@sph.com.sg

One of the most fascinating conversations ive ever had with the ang mohs, Arabs and other ethnic groups that i meet here is when i have to share a bit more about the sunny island that i hail from.  You see, contrary to popular belief (mostly held by the MIWs), seriously not many people know the Little Red Dot.  Most of their experiences with Singapore can be categorised into:

(a) “Yes, of course i know Singapore.  It is clean and green.  What’s that?  Oh, unfortunately i couldn’t see more of your country as i was on transit at the airport”

(b) “You are from Singapore eh?  So tell me, is it true that you can’t chew gum there?”  [note: a variation of this is when im speaking to an American, in which case he would say that he recalled us caning/spanking some American kid].

(c) “You are a Singaporean?!!?  So you are a commie! Interesting…”

Anyway, the most exasperating moment is when i had to explain what is the language of Singaporeans.  You see, this is a complicated process that requires a lot of patience from both sides!  A sample dialogue goes like this:

ang moh: so you are from Singapore? wow, great [note: usually said in a fake way that you can tell] … so may i know what language does the Singaporean people speak?

me: oh, we speak English as we are a multi-ethnic society.

ang moh: oh i see, so English is your national language?

me: oh, nope.  it is Malay actually … according to the Constitution anyway.

ang moh: right.  so you can speak Malay, great.

me: erm, no.  actually i cant put a sentence in Malay beyond my national anthem.  my mother tongue is actually Chinese/Mandarin so i learnt that instead.  im a Chinese you see.  

ang moh:  ok, so since you are a Chinese, you speak Chinese all the time right?  you must be fluent in Mandarin then. 

me: erhhh, no again.  i actually use English most of the time as its the language most used at the workplace and in schools etc. 

ang moh: hmmm … ok, Malay is your national language but you don’t speak it, Chinese is your mother tongue but you aren’t exactly fluent in it, while you are good in English but you aren’t exactly a native speaker … how strange!

me: i know its confusing … but have i told you that i can speak Cantonese too, which is what the people from Hong Kong speaks?!

haven’t been blogging much lately as i haven’t been thinking much lately.

in other news, it had certainly been a surreal three weeks.  flitting through three countries within three weeks is just like going through a portal – u step into an aircraft and hey presto! ur in another place.  that certainly feels like it anyway.

also, the disconnection with things and people back home were thankfully not as strong as i expected it to be.  still the changes were there, the tensions were there, time had left its mark there.  that is to be expected and thank God it was not too difficult a pill to swallow.  just more food for thought back in Cairo.

certainly daft …  

have you ever experienced this phenomenon when a song just keeps going on and on inside you?  im currently trying, to no avail, to get this song outta my mind!

“That you give me no, That you give me no, That you give no, That you give me no, Soul i hear you calling, Oh baby please …”

know this one? yup, Erasure’s “A Little Respect”.  Not that its a lousy song, in fact its kind of fun having this little number on “loop” mode inside me. heck, i even feel like doing a little jig! unfortunately, im in the office.  anyway, not sure when this whole episode started but it also brought back good memories of the crazy retro days of the late 80s and the 90s. among other things, those tea parties, Fire, Mambo nights, white t-shirts, vodka lime, falling into drains, a certain Lynn (private joke but im clean here. honest!), turntable, vinyl records etc.

and i also recalled strangely that since 1999, i have not followed the music scene – local and international – since.  just like that.  somehow, i decided overnight that it just wasnt worth the time and effort anymore.  i decided there and then that the songs that have followed me through my teens and semi-adulthood shall suffice to entertain me henceforth.  somehow the music of yesteryear seemed to be so much more meaningful than what is churned out now.  both musicians and songs now dont make that the kind of impression that the ‘older’ songs do.  in fact, they could even be downright brilliant but it just isnt the same. 

i remember reading sometime back that songs jolt our memories and different songs bring us back to different certain phases / points in time of our lives.  perhaps that is what happened to me back then.  i no longer want to be reminded of the present (and future).  the past is good enough for me to live the present.  strange?  perhaps.  but then again i always felt that nothing is really wrong with me.  not when i see tens of thousands of both young and old fans pay buckets to watch the reunion concerts by Led Zeppelin, The Police, The Eagles, Take That (gasp!) etc.  

now does anyone know if Erasure is coming back together for a reunion concert too?

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Note: For what its worth, the author is a big fan of Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses, Dire Straits, Suede, The Cure, Sheryl Crow, Erasure, Take That (only one song – “Back for Good”), Alan Tam, REM, among many others.    

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