Thursday, August 31, 2006

Five things to eat before my time is up

Gee... I must be so out of touch with the young people of today. Evan tagged me for a "meme". What on earth was that? I googled and deduced that when someone "tags" you for a "meme" with a particular theme, you blog about the theme (and perhaps your are expected to tag others to continue the meme??) Thank God for the Internet - I could pretend to be young and keep up with the young. :P

So, what's the five "die-die-must-eat" food before I go? Though I'm a foodie, I have simple taste... and not very sophisticated one at that.

1. Hainanese Chicken Rice. Yes, like Evan, this is on the top of my list. For me, the secret in tasty Chicken Rice lies in the chillie. I don't have a particular favourite stall, but I do know the stalls to avoid. The one at Banquet in East Point serves pretty decent Hainanese Chicken Rice. So does a stall at Holland Village which I just patronised with Victor and a colleague last week. Can't remember the unit number, but if you'd buy me a plate, I could point out the stall to you :P

2. Pumpkin Noodle. One of my mum's specialty. It's cheap and simple to prepared - pumpkin, dried shrimps, fish cakes and lots of Chye-Sim. I like my pumpkin noodle with lots of cut chillie padi and fried shallots. It always makes me sweat and crave for more. I usually eat two bowls - BIG bowls that we usually use to serve soup.

3. The 合记五香贯肠 at Maxwell Road Food Centre 01-97. I practically grew up eating the ngor hiang and the guan chang from this stall which was originally located at China Street, a stone's throw away from Club Street where I grew up. I particularly like the crispy fried egg slices - tasty, crunchy and not too oily. And the sweet chilli sauce is simply fabulous! Don't quite fancy the egg-white sauce, though.

4. Char Kway Teow - The one at Hill Street used to be my favourite. But alas, it has shifted and I can't remember where. A close second is the stall at Ghim Moh Food Centre. At $3, it is served with a generous among of cockles, hmmmm... my favourite!

5. The "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" at the Prima Tower Revolving Restaurant. At $10000 per pot (for a table of 8, I think), woa.... I've yet to try, but die die also must get the money - rob or steal or kill - to try before I go! And yes, the Peking duck in the same restaurant looks saliva-dripping good too. What? Oh... that's SIX food I want to try before I go hah? Hmmmm...

Category: Food

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Two's company, but EIGHT ???

Give that man, and the woman behind the man, a medal. I'm referring to an article in today's ST about a couple with eight kids, of course. Incidentally, the blessed man, Joseph Kwok, happened to be the brother of a former colleague.

The Slim Lady and I decided to "close factory" and stop at two, after the arrival of Junior in 1992. We have a host of reasons for doing so. Financial is one; the fear of parenting and the responsibility that comes with it is another. And yes, admittedly, we took that decision for a selfish reason too, for having kids would surely take away a lot of our personal time.

But I do like a big family! Well, maybe not eight, but at least four. There would be challenges - bickering kids, complaints on unfairness and the danger of turning the house topsy-turvy. But they make for a family that's bustling with life, laughter and joy, not to mention headache, of course. But the headache pales in comparision with the family-togetherness brought about by the kids. I realise, through the years and as I mellow in age, that perhaps my perception has changed. Yes, I do long for a big family. I can't turn back the clock and this is something that I much regret.

Let's turn the focus on the Kwok's family. See how happy and contented Joseph's family is. Just look at their photos - the kids are all smile, the parents, too. They are happy kids, the youngest being four and the oldest 20. All appear to be well-adjusted and sensible. They may not have the latest toys or gadgets, nor do they dine out very often. But what is not lacking is the love that prevails in the family. The family of 10 survives on Joseph's monthly take-home pay of $3200, no mean feat considering today's standard of living. How I admire the couple.

The "hardware" in the factory may have become rusty and act a little quirky, but I've no doubt that the Slim Lady and I could still father a child or two. But being eight years shy of crossing the half-century mark (my wife's two years younger), I do worry about people mistaking us as grandparents. I guess it's too little too late for us, not that the Slim Lady is willing anyway. It's all wishful thinking on my part. And I may have to take her forcefully, if I have too :P

But I've done my maths. The youngest child, Antoine, is just four. And if Mrs Kwok was reported to be 45, that means she had the boy when she was 42. My wife is relative younger. Besides, it's not as if I'm 50, or 54 :P There's hope yet.

Years ago, another colleague of mine was also featured on TV with her day-to-day life as a mother of five. Again, it evoked that feeling in me, the feeling of joy in having a big and boisterous family.

Category: Family

Saturday, August 19, 2006

My Army Daze. The day after .....

Long as it was, my enlistment day had to end somewhere. That was at about 2359H, when the instructors told us to "light-off". That was their way of telling us, "Recruits, now you can sleep!" I don't think it was just me; but as soon as our botak heads hit our beds, we were sleeping like babies. We had never been so shag and exhausted in our life! Of course, we had no idea then that life in the army would only get worse.

Then, as I lay asleep in the squeaky bed, deep in my dreamland, I heard, as did many of my platoon-mates, a voice that went "Golf company, wake up! Golf company, wake up!" It was only 5 am. Huh? Time to wake up? And I thought I only caught a wink! The voice went on for a good 5 minutes, between intervals. If I tried hard enough, I could still hear that deep and loud voice, which belonged to a fella recruit named Jeffrey Ong. I remember how on the ball (an army lingo - more on that in subsequent post) Jeffrey was. He was always the first to rise in the morning, the first to cross the finishing line during the IPPT, and if given a chance, I suspect he would be the first to be in the front line to fight for our country. Basically, he was all that I wasn't. But he also became the platoon's "human" alarm clock (self-appointed). LOL.

We were always sleep-deprived. And I missed the sun badly. The moon? It was shining when we light-off at 2359H, and shining still when we rose at 0500H, sometimes earlier at 0430H if we had a shooting range exercise. I hated the moon!

Many of us had never shared much personal time and space with others the way we did during the BMT. Imagine having to do so with recruits of different shapes and sizes, the fit and the weak, the meek and the garang, the bright and the sotong. This is communal living quite unlike those we have with our neighbors, friends and relatives. And like a husband and wife team, it's important that we get along, or life would have been one living hell.

Happily, got along we did. We had no choice. If someone blunders up, the whole platoon got punished. So we were forced to help one another, to complete a task in a specific time as instructed by the instructors.

My fellow recruits-in-suffering

I have vague memories of my fella recruits. Other than Jeffrey, there was lanky Gilbert Leong whom I had caught on TV once talking about, if my memories serve, some sort of investment in a TV programme. He was really tall, and was the one who was always humming songs like "Tie a yellow-ribbon round the old oak tree" in the bunk, especially during book-out time. He was also a bit of a drama king. Once we were told to go fight a bush fire (don't ask me why, but since when had recruits become firemen?), I lost my footing and fell on a rocky ground. Gilbert started shouting, "Casualty! Casualty! Someone fell! Casualty!" Damn drama, man!

There was the very courteous Wee Tee (can't recall his surname). I remembered him because he was scolded by the OC for his good-manners. You see, the instructors and the OC would tell us recruits to "drop down 20" at their every whim and fancy. This is the army lingo to tell us to do 20 push-ups as a form of punishment. Once we had done so, we must ask permission to stand up; so we went, "permission to recover, Sir?!". The instructors or the OC would usually respond, "carry on" unless they want to tekan (another lingo) us. So in this instance, when our OC said, "carry on", our friend Wee Tee quipped chirppily, "thank you, sir", to which our OC shouted, "Don't be a cartoon! When I say RECOVER, don't thank me! There's no Thank You in the army!!" How's that for friendly forces? Hee.

Within days in the BMT, one could also tell the sotongs or blur kings from the smart-alecks, the keng kings (one who malingers) from the hardworking. The blur kings are the one who fumble over things, and who couldn't seem to understand simple instructions. There was this chap Low Chin Fie, who asked his mum to sew up the opening of the pockets of his army pants, when the instructions from the instructors were to just sew up the hems of the pockets. It was funny, but the blur kings are usually the one who inadvertently sabo the whole platoon. There were also some who weren't blur but acted blur, very much like the keng kings. The latter are those who malinger to avoid work. I remember a chap called Anthony Liang, who feigned a sprained-ankle just to avoid going on exercise. I knew because I saw him in the toilet walking up-right instead of limping the way he did out in the open, especially in front of the instructors. But I didn't blow the whistle. Don't ask me why.

I remember Ng Fatt Keong, who became a photographer for Pioneer Magazine (I think he signed on as a regular).

Blur kings, keng kings or smarty-pants, we were forced to stick together come hell or high water. We trained together, suffered together, and I'd like to think that we came out of the BMT ordeal a fitter, a more disciplined, and overall, a better person.

Some wonderful friendships were formed out of the camaraderie we experienced during BMT. I've lost touch with my buddy Tan Kian Guan and often wonder the whereabout of him or what has become of him. I'm sorry I can't remember many of the rest of chaps, and even if I were to run into them on the street, I doubt I could even recognise them. Not even the platoon's photo may be of help.....

27th Intake Basic Military Training
Golf Coy Platoon 28
23rd March 83 - 17th June 83

Category: Yesteryear

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Army Daze (Part 2)

Amy talks

The first thing that we recruits have to get used to in the Army was the army lingo and especially the colourful expletives often uttered by the lau cheow on us recruits. It started almost as soon as we stepped onto Tekong. The word lau cheow, by the way, is the army lingo to mean a veteran in Hokkien. In this instance, a reference to the BMT instructors who are mostly NCO, or the CO, the officer in charge of the platoon, or the recurits who have since passed out and obtained their ikan-bilis stripe (a Lance Corporal) before you.

Other lingo:

  • Fall in - to get into lines
  • Double up - to run instead of walk
  • Standby Bed - and inspection on the tidiness of your bed and cupboard by the NCO or officer
  • Extra Duty - usually a form of punishment in the form of performing guard duty (to patrol around the came on foot) over the weekends while your lucky camp-mates book out.
    Talk cock
  • Knock it down 20 - drop down and perform 20 push-ups
  • Extra Drill - well, this is not really an extra drill, but rather a drill that you have to perform in double quick time, i.e., you kebelakang pusing in double quick time, you march in double quick time. This is really a torture and it requires a medic to standby just in case any of us recruit drop dead or pengsan (faint)
Then there are the many expletives uttered by the instructors and NCO alike which is enough to make a soldier, I mean a sailor brush. To a goody-two-shoe like me, it was a shock. And to be sworn at in this fashion, it was total humiliation, well, at least in the early stage. Eventually, everybody got sworn at, and I realised that everybody around me, except the gods in the form of the NCOs and the officer, was an a**hole, everybody was a blur f*ck, and you just don't feel the humiliation any more.

........ next "Let's Get Physical".....

Saturday, August 12, 2006

My Army Daze. The enlistment day .....

Chun See's account on his NS days stirred up memories of my own.

I can't recall much of my emotions on the day I entered the army. But it must have been one of apprehension and fear. Unfortunately, this fear was perpetuated by none other than my mum. She was always telling me how skinny and physically weak I was and how I would definitely suffer when I eventually enlisted for my NS.

The Enlistment Day

Well, that day arrived on 23 March 1983. I remembered how long a day it was. We were told to report first to CMPB where my pal Victor, the downgraded soldier, served as a clerk several years prior to my enlistment. From there, we recruit-to-be were then brought, on a 3-tonner - the first time I was ever onboard an army vehicle, to the jetty at Changi to take an RPL to Pulau Tekong camp, our new home for the next 3 months.

When the RPL finally anchored at the jetty some 45 minutes later, some of us guys might be forgiven for thinking that we had landed in Hawaii. It just showed how much in self-denial many of us were. There were the sun, the sand and the sea, not to mention the abundant coconut trees. The only thing missing were the Hawaiian girls welcoming us with garlands and cooing "aloha". Realities were soon to hit us.

We were the 2nd batch of recruits to be trained at Tekong. The first batch had it easy - they only shifted equipment and stuff from SBMT to Tekong and do area-cleaning most of the time, so were we told.

Back then, Tekong was not very well developed. Instead of proper road, we had earth - red earth. The army bunks were like longhouses. From the Tekong jetty, it was another 20 minutes march to the bunk. And by the time we reached the bunk, most of us were literally covered in dust.

I remember lugging along the huge kit bag, commonly known as the Ali Baba bag, all the way to the bunk. The Ali Baba bag was used to store all the issued items like the army boots, No. 4 uniforms and SOP before we transferred these into our cupboards in our bunk.

On arrival at our bunk, we were told that we've been assigned to Golf company; a company we subsequently learned to be one of the most "on the ball" and siong.

To many of us, the BMT was a rude awakening. Life thus far had been sweet and comfy. We were free to do what we want, answerable only to our parents. And many of us had never left home, save for a couple of nights at chalets with friends or family members.

But once we stepped into Tekong, it was as if we were living on the other side of the globe. The moment we put our stuff in the bunk, and changed to our PT kit as instructed, everything moved in double quick time. We were sworn at by the instructors, told to double up (the military term to run) from one point to another. In the army, you don't walk. No you don't, soldier. You double up from the bunk to the training shed, and double up from the training shed to the cookhouse. There was hardly time for us to breathe. And that aweful and dreadful chin-up bar. Yes, we had to do chin-ups before every meal. If there was hell, then this must be it. I found it almost surreal in the beginning. More about the "physical torture" in subsequent post.

The BMT was also the first time we experienced living with people of other races and of different cultures. Gruelling training aside, it was also a lesson in racial-tolerance and harmonious-living. How often do you get 36 boys - Chinese, Malay, Indian and the Eurasian - all living under the same roof? There were two Sikhs in my group. Have you seen how a Sikh does his turban? Not to sound disrespectful, but it was exactly how my late granny did her ang ku kueh bun. They simply twirled their hair round and round, followed by the turban itself, which is really a piece of long, oblong cloth.

As I said, it was a long day. I remember the hair-cut, or should I say hair-shearing session. All of us were brought to the Hall where the Indian barbers were waiting with their scissors and shearers. It was a dreadful time for most of us, especially those metrosexuals (okay, so that word hadn't been coined yet) with shoulder-length hair. Indeed, it's been said that the inevitable hair-shear is like a rite of passage into NS. But to many, it's a time for them to mourn the loss of their precious locks. As for me, half way through my turn, there was an electricity blackout. I just sat there with my hair looking ridiculously half civy and half army for a good 15-minutes.

Signs of things to come, I remember thinking. And as days turn into nights, and nights turned into weeks, I experienced many aspects of the army I never thought I would. It's not all bad memories; many are bitter sweet. be continued

Category: Yesteryear

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What makes me a Singaporean

Frannxis, a fellow blogger, seems to have problem understanding why people who profess to be proud of being Singaporean find it a bother to display the Singapore flags. He ponders and I quote: "Displaying the flag is just a small way to show our affection. Is it too troublesome? And if a lot of people think this way, then there will be only a few flags hanging out. It will look pathetic", unquote.

Yeah, why not indeed? And for that matter, to the truly patriotic Singaporeans, why not put up the flags the whole year round? Why does it have to be during National Day?

Oh... I almost forgot.... There are rules about displaying our flag here. Firstly, you can't make clothes out of our national flags, like the Americans or the British are prone to do. You have to be mindful to ensure that the stars and the crescent moon on our flags are displayed on the right side, which is, well, on the left side. And oh... you could only display the flag for a certain period after National Day. Displaying your patriotism longer then allowed and you'd get a courtesy call by men appointed by the Gahmen.

I find all these rather amusing. Stand up for Singapore, they said. But hey, you can't stand up indefinitely, even if you want to. Let's not forget how "fine" a city Singapore is.

The STPB is absolutely right when it adopted the slogan "Uniquely Singapore". We Singaporeans are truly unique in our own way. And on this National Day eve, I'd like to reflect on what it truly means to be a Singaporean, or rather, why I think I'm a Singaporean. Well, I call myself a Singaporean because:

  • I'm kiasi, kiasu and very sometimes kiabor.

  • My favorite pastime is to queue-up at the 4-D outlet every weekend.

  • I don't know what you are queuing for here; but I'll join in anyway cos I know it will be something not to be missed.

  • I speak Singlish. Cannot meh? My business wat.

  • One of my passions is food and I like Hainanese Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow and Or Luak - in that order.

  • I "chop" the seat at the "1000-people restaurant" with my tissue paper and that seat belongs to me!

  • I love the gahmen when they gave me my "progress package" but "scolded" (ya, I know it's too mild a word) them when cost of living goes up.

  • I know it's crazy, but I paid big bucks for a small piece of paper we call the COE just to get my four wheels.

  • I "drag" my wheels to avoid the ERP.

  • My the other passion is shopping and I don't usually wait for the Singapore Great Sale to go on a shopping spree.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what I think Singaporeans are. I'm sure Victor or Chun See would have their very own list... And considering how obsessed Victor is with Sex, the figure 69, rubber and all (his healthy hobby, so he says), I won't be the least surprised if Victor writes:

I'm a Singaporean because I'm so sex and porno deprived.


Category: Musings

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The American heroes

The Americans are great story-tellers. No, correction - they are great film-makers. And I don't mean that in a sarcastic sort of way.

I've just caught Pearl Harbor on DVD. I'm not into American history, but I enjoyed the show thoroughly, especially the battle and combat scenes. And I love the music score (the current soundtrack on the background of my blog). Pearl Harbor was foremost a movie about war. But like many movies churned out of Tinseltown based on true-life events, Pearl Harbor also tells a love story about two pilots who fell for a nurse. It's a moving love story that leaves me in tears. The Americans have a propensity to mix factual events with fiction, more often than not, love stories, and not everybody is comfortable with that. I can see where they're coming from. The love stories are necessary as subplots, or the movie would have been just another documentary, hardly box-office material that would appeal to the masses.

But let's come back to the American film-makers. These are the guys responsible for the creation of many American heroes, many of them brought back to life from comic strips - the superheroes such as Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Then there are the protagonists from movies such as Die Hard, Independence Day, and yes the hero pilots in Pearl Harbor. These movies are box-office hits, many of them featuring violent and explosive scenes. And when we look at the atrocities committed by the terrorists today, it makes you wonder where these terrorists got their ideas from, doesn't it?

Indeed, when America was attacked during 911, people were known to have quipped: Where have all the heroes gone?

Category: Movies

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Synergy Challenge


Whatever it means. It's one of those buzzwords I often hear in my office, along with "INNOVATION".

I couldn't find the word in my pocket Oxford Dictionary. But a search on the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Synergy as follows:

And I thought it's the name for a brand of engine oil. How ignorant of me. Now I know it's really a name for TEAMWORK, something I've known since I started work more than 20 years ago.

But what exactly is Teamwork? Well, to create Teamwork awareness, my office devoted a week from 3 to 7 July to what it called the SYNERGY WEEK. It organised activities to promote teamwork and to make us workers understand what Synergy is all about. The bottom line? To increase productivity by "connecting" people, I guess.

Teamwork and Productivity. Cliche as these words may sound, I do think that these are two elements a successful office could not do without.

Well, it was SYNERGY galore alright. First, lunch times movies were screened at the auditorium, not just any movies, but movies such as 12 Angry Men and Antz that teach us the importance of working as a Team.

There was the Charity Relay Run, and it was heartening to see colleagues and bosses in every shape and size trying to raise money for the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA).

Then there was the photography competition to showcase the talents of budding photographers in the office (shucks, I forgot to snap those photos!) The shots with the best depiction of teamwork win handsome prizes.

On top of this, new books related to the topic of Teamwork were made available in the office library, courtesy of the National Library Board.

All very exciting, I must add. So exciting, in fact, that there was no volunteer for the Synergy Challenge segment. The organisers of the Synergy Week had asked for volunteers and when it suddenly hit them that nobody was coming forward, they panic and started to arrow. It was two days before the Challenge. Much time had been wasted. I hate to say that I was one of those arrowed.

Back to the Synergy Challenge. You could say this is the climax of the Synergy Week. Teams from different sections were given an area space of 5x5 tiles at the office Glass Atrium. Our mission? To construct a structure that best depicted the sections' Teamwork Quotients or TQ (yet another fanciful buzzword). The structures should mostly be made of newspaper and magazine and the aim is to get as many people in various sections to participate in building their respective structures as possible. During the competition, a representative from each section would have to tell everyone the theme of their structure, why he thought his team's structure is the best interpretation of Team Spirit and why his team should win.

Many of us were duly impressed by the creative and thoughtful art structures conjured up by the various sections. Who said civil servants are all squares and lack creativity? We could give those sales executives in advertising a run for their money. Take a look at these art works:

The Stadium

Looking at the structure, this team was apparently influenced by the World Cup craze that has left many of his team members looking like zombies. But I must say the idea was brilliant and you could see a lot of hard work and teamwork involved.

A close-up of the Stadium

The footballers, made of handicraft straws

The Spectators

Another creation by another section:

The Rocket

Notice rings of staff holding hands depicting teamwork and unity? It was about the time when North Korea attracted the wrath of the world for having test-fired her missiles, hardly a source of inspiration. But that did not stop this team from creating what I think would appeal to my 8-year-old son.

The bikini girl beckons...

How ingenious? Did you see that? No, not the bikini-clad babe. The dish drainer on top of the rocket.

I like it that the rocket team even made their structure "interactive". Yes, they had prepared cut-outs clothes from magazines to allow participants to pin them onto any of the paper staff on the rocket that caught their fancy. To some, it was sweet revenge. I mean how often do we get to cross-dress our bosses? And with bikini at that. ROTFL.

Here is one called "Pyramid" by another team. If you look closely, you could see namecards, representing individual in unity pasted on the pyramid.

And another, with the handprints showing unity.

Here's the structure by my section. We called it "Our Fortress".

And we adopted the theme "TEAMwork". The boxes in different sizes represent each unique individual in my section. The fortress also bears the handprints of everyone in the section, signifying cohesiveness and unity. The four columns T,E,A,M represent the pillars of strength. Put them together, it's really an acronym for Togther Everyone Acieves More. Neat, huh?

More picture on "Our Fortress":





But we didn't win the Challenge, though many agreed that we had the best structure with an equally good story on why we thought we should win, all eloquently put across by VT. VT is, after all, a man of charisma, with a booming voice and puckish sense of humour to match. Our hopes were high.

We were disappointed. But then winning is really secondary. What's more important is the team spirit that we've witnessed in the process of building the structure, and how we got everyone together to wrap the boxes with newspapers, and how we rally around everyone to get them to have the hand imprinted onto the boxes.

It's one event after another. Hot on the heel of the SYNERGY WEEK is the Inspiration Award event. We're looking for someone in the office who is an inspiration to all, a role model whom we could look up to, someone who is exemplary in everything that he or she does. Nomination is open. I think I have someone in mind. He sounds a lot like Victor. Hmmm.....

Category: Office