Category Archives: Eat

Foto Friday: Wild Strawberries

Annapurna Range, Nepal
May 2010

Wild Strawberries

Wild strawberries lined the tracks of the Annapurna sanctuary. One could literally walk along, pluck some fruits, and pop it right into one’s mouth like a snack. These round strawberries were small, no bigger than a centimetre in diameter, but boy were sweet, juicy and very refreshing, a perfect treat for a walk under the harsh afternoon sun.

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Every photograph we take contains a story, but we often do not spend enough time sharing that story with others. Hence, Foto Friday was born to give some recognition to these forgotten photographs and the memories they hold. Taken over many trips (2004-present) using my crappy cameras and whatever minimal photography skills I have, these photographs serve to give you a little insight into my travels. And if you haven’t realised by now, they’ll be out on Fridays.

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Foto Friday: Winning 2kg Toblerones, or not

Göteborg, Sweden
May 2008

Now that's a huge-ass Toblerone

Two kilograms worth of Estrella (Potato Chips), Toblerone, Marabou, and Daim Chocolate Bars – These were prizes up for grabs at the several game booths all over Liseberg Amusement Park. All one had to do was to place a “bet” on a number at the counter, and spin a wheel. If the wheel landed on the number, one would win that two kilograms worth of goods.

Seven of us had gone to the theme park together. We eyed other visitors carrying boxes and boxes of these around and decided that we simply had to give it a shot to get our own box of chocolate. We went to the Toblerone booth and each chose a number and placed a “bet”; there were only three other people there who took the remaining three numbers, so our chances of winning were pretty high. Apparently someone up there did not want us to die of chocolate-overdose as we did not win that bet. We tried over and over again throughout the night, but not one of us even won a single bar.

We walked away that day empty-handed (without chocolate, potato chips, or cash, having spent all on the “bets”), but knowing, thankfully, that we would be safe from choco-intoxication.

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Every photograph we take contains a story, but we often do not spend enough time sharing that story with others. Hence, Foto Friday was born to give some recognition to these forgotten photographs and the memories they hold. Taken over many trips (2004-present) using my crappy cameras and whatever minimal photography skills I have, these photographs serve to give you a little insight into my travels. And if you haven’t realised by now, they’ll be out on Fridays.

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Celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival The Way My Family Does

September 22, 2010

In the ever-progressive country of Singapore, where we have advanced so fast in our short 45-year history as an independent nation to become the modern cosmopolitan that we are, and where many of us, especially for those in my generation, speak English as our first language, it is very easy for us to lose parts of our roots and culture.

As a Singaporean Chinese who speaks English 95% of the time, I admit that I am not very fluent in my native tongue, Cantonese. However, I’m glad that my family still tries our best to follow certain customs that my late paternal grandmother, who immigrated to Singapore in the 1930s and passed away two years ago, introduced to us at a young age. For instance, we celebrate Dong Ji (Winter Solstice), a festival where we gather as a family to eat tong yun (glutinous rice balls), a festival that I dare say that most Singaporean Chinese tend to forget about. Did you know that it’s one of the most important Chinese festivals along with Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Festival? We are traditional in that way.

Which brings me to my point about Mid-Autumn Festival. I shall not delve much into the significance of the festival itself as Wikipedia can probably do a better job, but there is something else I would like to share. I do not know whether this is an actual custom or this is just something that my grandmother came up with:

Last year's pomelo "chicken" lantern

Every year, my grandmother would make a lantern in a shape of a chicken out of pomelo skin. She would then place a tea light inside, and go around every corner of the whole house with the lantern, turning on all the water points (taps, showers etc) where ever they are positioned, while reciting the phrase “路路两头遇贵人”, which translates to something along the lines of: meet benefactors at both ends of the road.

Truth be told, growing up, I never followed my grandmother around the house; only my sister did. And even then, none of us knew what she was saying and the significance of her practice. We later learned it was her way of blessing the family and the household.

The year she passed away, my dad, who is the head of the household, took over the “duties” of carrying the lantern around the house. Admittedly, we do it now, in my opinion, more so in honour of my grandmother. That said, I believe this custom has continued to bring my family together, which is after all part of what this festival is about, and has helped to maintain some semblance of this custom in my family.

My dad bringing the pomelo chicken lantern around the house (I've blurred out his face to maintain his anonymity)

This year, my parents were away in Japan, but my dad’s sister, who’s not married, came to have dinner with my siblings and I, and the four of us repeated this custom of bringing the pomelo chicken lantern around the house.

This year's Pomelo "Chicken" lantern

Some other photos:

Water Caltrops (they resemble bull heads, complete with “horns”) and yam. These are seasonal autumn food and are traditionally laid out as offerings. My family still does that, though merely symbolically:

Water Caltrops and Yam

Some not-so traditional food, a result of globalisation and localisation. I’m not a fan of the traditional mooncakes with the salted egg yolks so no photos of that:

(i) Chocolate+champagne+pandan and (ii) Durian snowskin mooncakes

Besides celebrating with the family, Mid-autumn festival has evolved to become a time for my friends and I to gather and relive some childhood memories of playing with lanterns and sparklers (the sparklers bit isn’t exactly traditional, but fun nonetheless):

Playing with Sparklers

Playing with more sparklers

Lighting the paper lanterns

Lit lanterns

To the Chinese of the world, hope you had a great Mid-autumn festival!

PS: Sorry if some of the photos are blur. I took most of these with my mobile phone.

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Wales: Gastronomic Indulgence

I am fairly certain that by the end of the trip, all of us had put on a bit of weight. This trip had been one of pure indulgence for our palates – Loads of rich, delectable food, white wine, red wine, beer, cider, just to name a few.

A typical spread of dinner everyday looked like this:

And we got an opportunity to eat other yummy dishes like this:

Welsh Breakfast: Cockles, Laverbread (Bread with Seaweed), Bacon, Egg

and this:

Prawn Salad

I often chose to try Welsh food to get the full Welsh experience, such as the Welsh rarebit (It does not contain rabbit meat and typically includes Cheese topped on Bread, with mustard and is a vegetarian dish), Cawl (A stew with potatoes, carrots, celery and onions), Lamb Leek Pudding, and Smoked Haddock.

Unlike these bloggers, who probably took photos of every dish they ate, however, I missed out on photos of the above-mentioned dishes.

Dong Gu, Nellie, Aries

We’d often eat so much we’d be unable to even move, but we’d still stuff ourselves plenty. Thou shalt not waste food anyway right? Especially not food that tastes so damn good.

And of course, in the presence of such glorious food, what best to accompany it but drinks?

Here, Aparna‘s taking it all the way by drinking from the bottle:

Aparna drinking out of the wine bottle

The night we were at Cardiff, we went to a bar, not knowing that it was a gay bar, until we went in and saw a drag queen show, which was pretty interesting and Anthony even interviewed the two drag queens. Of course, another awesome fact is that a pint of beer only costs £1.70.

Nellie, a guy whose name I never got, Anthony, Colin, and Lorraine -At a gay bar in Cardiff

As I was nursing a cough and was still on medication, I barely drank the entire trip, unlike everyone else who was downing wine and beer at every other given opportunity.

Does this not sound like an absolutely decadent lifestyle? Once in a while, just once in a while, I would not mind such a life..

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I went to Wales to accompany 6 travel bloggers from around Asia as part of The Great Welsh Showdown, a Visit Britain initiative to introduce the beauty of Wales to the blogosphere.

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Of life, beer, and the people we meet.

It’s amazing how much can happen in a single train ride. For starters, I’m not even in Xining (Qinghai province) now, but in Xi’an (Shaanxi province) right now. And in case you were wondering, no, we did not board the wrong train thinking that Xi’an was in fact Xining given the similarities of their names. And no, we also did not miss our stop and ended up somewhere an additional 12-hour train ride away from my original destination.

 

When we first boarded our train, HX and I discovered we weren’t even seated next to each other; we were separated by an aisle. She was sitting next to these two Swiss girls who were also in the same tour group as we were in in Tibet, while I was seated next to an old man heading to Lanzhou. ‘Fate’ had it when the two Swiss girls, deciding that a 48-hour train ride to Beijing was too long to endure while seated, managed to obtain an upgrade to “hard sleeper” class, and so, HX and I shifted in and took over their seats. Seated opposite us were two Tibetian students who were also about our age and another Han Chinese guy. 

Because of that now one empty seat and our ‘prime’ location at the start of the carriage near the train attendants’ office, there were always two train attendants who always took the opportunity to skive and chatted with all of us seated there. Our conversations somehow always revolved around HX’s and my trip to Xining as well as life in Singapore. Everyone kept asking us why we were heading to Xining when there’s not much to do there. The two Tibetian guys, who studied in Xi’an for four years and were heading back for graduation, as well as the Han Chinese guy, who lived near Xi’an, told us that Xi’an was more fun and even the two train attendants agreed. 

Crazy as it seemed at that point, within the first eight hours of our ride, we knew that we had to go to Xi’an. We figured that since our friend, Seng, was only going to meet us in Xining on the 10th, meaning that we would be staying in Xining for at least a good six days, it was more wise for us to head elsewhere first. And, of course, the decision was made easier now that we knew two people who were practically local to Xi’an, and with whom we got along with very well – The Tibetian guys. 

Though they initially spoke to each other in Tibetian and we spoke to each other in English, we hit it off quite quickly in our only common language – Mandarin. 

We discovered over the course of our trip how generous Tibetians are. Perhaps it is due to their Buddhist nature or their good upbringing, but they never hesistated to share with us everything, sometimes even forcing us to accept the food and drinks they seemed to have plenty of. Air-dried yak meat straight from the bone, gua zi, chicken feet snacks, milk tea, chang wine, Budweiser beer, more Budweiser beer, HuangHe Beer (okay you get it – a hell a lot of beer). Oh and cigarettes too, which we kindly declined.’ 

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Eating air-dried Yak meat straight from the bone

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

Chang, Yak and Chicken Feet

These people really knew how to enjoy a good train ride. All they had with them were a luggage full of food and drinks, and perhaps just about one extra set of clothes.  

We spent most of our time hanging out with them at the lunch carriage where we drank and drank a lot. Did I mention we drank a lot? You really don’t want to know that we finished 31 bottles x 330ml of Budweisers during the 36-hour ride. Whoops, I didn’t just reveal that. And that does not even include the box of Huanghe beer they bought at a stop, and their stash of Tibetian chang wine. Interestingly, most of the other beer-drinking people in the lunch carriage were Tibetian, and boy did they drink a lot. 

First day of Budweisers

First day of Budweisers

HuangHe Beer

HuangHe Beer

Second day of Budweisers

Second day of Budweisers

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Tiger 'Crystal' Beer. All 24 bottles. At some bar in Xi'an.

Pretending to be Yaks

Pretending to be Yaks

  

My alcoholic friends would indeed be very proud. 

I guess when beer only costs 10yuan (about S$2) a bottle, it really isn’t that inaccessible. And, to my defense, the beer here is a lot lighter than what we’re used to back home. 

 Bonding over alcohol and some gua zi like old men playing chess at a HDB void deck, four of us quickly realised how ‘fated’ we were. Had the Swiss girls not have upgraded, we probably would have spent most of our time just speaking to them and not much to the Tibetian guys, especially since they were initially not sitting directly opposite us, and we will probably not be here in Xi’an right now. Also, almost the whole carriage was full of people who were much older than we were, yet we were seated so close to each other. How well we connected with each other, and what fun times we had. 

 Before this starts sounding like some epic love story, it really isn’t, but one about how fast life changes and the people we meet along the way who make life more enjoyable. And I’m really glad I got to meet these two people. 

I was just telling HX today that there were a few times in Tibet when I wished we had stayed in Nepal a couple more days since we had a few days to spare anyways. But I’m glad that we left as planned and travelled through Tibet, and got onto the right train from Lhasa at the right time and met our two new friends – Ciren Qujia and Tudan Yixi (direct translations of their Tibetian names).  

  

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi

Ciren Qujia & Tudan Yixi. Cant seem to flip the image.

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Photo of a photo taken at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda fountain show. Pardon its blurness

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Last photo before we had to say goodbye for good.

Back to travelling to Xi’an. So, we smsed the owner of our hostel in Xining to inform him of our delay, extended our ticket to Xi’an, and hoped hard that we would be able to find accomodation in Xi’an. So here I am writing this in my journal from my Xi’an hostel dorm room while HX is already snoring (literally. At least she’s not sleep-talking/laughing. Yet, that is.) 

We’ve been here a day (at the point of writing in my journal. And I digress: HX really did just sleep talk, asking if I heard some echo.) and I’m pretty sure we’ll be at least a little sad to leave Xi’an come Wed. 

But I’m learning to accept that’s how life really is: New destinations. New life stories. New amazing people to meet.

 

More random photos: 

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

View of the endless plains from the Tibet-Qinghai railway

  

The tracks

The tracks

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

Some of the people from the Tibet tour. The only ones remaining just before we alighted.

PS: We survived the 36-hour ride pretty well. Our bums are still intact, thankfully! I’m not so sure about our livers though. 

 

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