Monday, October 30, 2017

The unpredictable nature of life - Lamenting the demise of Kim Joo-hyuk

I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me when I read the headline.

"Kim Joo-hyuk passes away due to car accident"

How could it be? So sudden, so unexpected and so saddening.

It was just yesterday when I watched the latest episode of 1n2d on KBS World when they were giving out awards to the members, past and present, and their guests in conjunction with the 10th anniversary celebration. And they were just teasing him endlessly and referring to him affectionately by his nickname of Gutaeng Hyeong which was born out of his stint on this show. It feels like you are seeing this person right in front of you one day and the next, he's gone. Forever.

Details of his car accident are still pretty sketchy especially since his agency hasn't said much yet other than they are trying to confirm the news. However, with so many news reports on this case since the accident took place 4.30pm KST, I think that there is little likelihood that this is fake news. The agency wouldn't have let this spread like wildfire if this was untrue.

My first encounter with Gutaeng Hyeong wasn't actually through 1n2d. Years ago, I happened to come across his 2008 drama "Terroir" while channel-surfing on cable TV. Although I didn't finish watching that drama, my impression of him (partly due to his image there) was that he was suave and cool. However, I haven't seen any of his other works although he was well-known as an actor.

Of course, 1n2d showed that my initial impression of him was wrong. This show is "notorious" for unveiling the true self of whoever appears on it and that's part of the show's charm because it is such raw fun to see the cast shed their images and have fun. Although Gutaeng Hyeong was clumsy and fumbling his way through most of the time, he made an impact with his endearing nature. In particular, there was an episode when he went to the places where his parents visited in their youth and that was really moving to see him retrace their footsteps.

I know life is unpredictable. I've had people near me who just passed away all of a sudden without a chance for me to say a proper goodbye. That really hurts a lot. Even though I may not know Gutaeng Hyeong personally, it just feels sad to see someone you know, even from a distance, go away forever in such a manner. I can imagine that it must be worse for those who know him personally especially his family and girlfriend.

Suddenly, it just makes me feel that my own troubles don't seem to be that big anymore. Of course, they are still serious issues to me. Nonetheless, in the face of death and eternal separation, they probably seem so much less important. I keep reminding myself not to let the negative things in life bring me down and try to embrace each day with a positive mindset. It's easier said than done, really.

However, I really don't need to see another example of such sudden loss around me.

And I really should be counting my blessings for each day I am alive to do what I want to do.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review of "Piece of Peace World Heritage Exhibit Built With Lego Brick"

Lego bricks have always been fascinating to me especially when I see art works made of these tiny building blocks of various shapes, sizes and colours. When I was a child, I didn't have the luxury of playing with Lego but I always marveled at the wide array of things which could be created using these building blocks. Back in 2013 when I attended Nathan Sawaya's exhibition at ArtScience Museum, I was so awed by his creativity and the amazing forms which these Lego bricks could take on but while playing with the bricks made available to the visitors, I realised that I wasn't very imaginative and talented in this type of 3D building. As such, I didn't have the inclination to go and buy Lego and explore the world of building things.

The "Piece of Peace" exhibition which is currently taking place at the Singapore Fort Canning Arts Centre, combines Lego with the theme of UNESCO World Heritage sites whereby these well-known places, structures or buildings are recreated using Lego blocks. Apparently, the exhibition has been touring around the world since it began at Japan in 2003 so this is a first for Singapore to be included as part of the tour. Most of the exhibits are displayed on the 2nd floor of the building while Level 1 features creations with local influences by Singaporeans, a play zone for children and a platform featuring Lego figures of various local iconic places and buildings.

With regard to the exhibits, I think that most of them were quite detailed and close to how the "real thing" looks like. However, the lighting in the exhibition hall wasn't that ideal because the angle from which the lights were shone and the strong brightness created white-washed effects which made the colour of the exhibits look paler than they should be. As such, when taking photos of such exhibits, the colours didn't turn out to be vibrant at times and there were some shadows caused by the strong lighting which made it difficult to observe the details. It was also annoying to see reflections and shadows of people or even myself projected onto the glass panels so I had to keep finding a suitable angle to take photos without these unwelcome distractions. As such, the lighting could be improved to showcase these exhibits in a better manner.

Despite this undesirable hiccup, I thought it was fun trying to identify the UNESCO Heritage sites through these Lego figures. Some of them were really easy to guess since they look so similar to the actual building or structure but some took a bit of thinking e.g. the Machu Picchu exhibit. Perhaps it was the colour of the blocks used which made it more difficult to tell at a glance e.g. the Great Wall of China exhibit.

Another thought after viewing this exhibition was that, there are still many places in the world that I would love to visit but haven't had the chance to yet. The world is really bigger than you think it is and there are so many beautiful things and places to discover. Rather than get hung up over those upsetting and petty things in life, I need to remind myself constantly that there is more to do and experience. I think this emotional boost came in at an opportune time when I was feeling really upset over some things recently. And I really should spend more time on doing the things that truly make me happy rather than waste it on those things which don't deserve my attention.

For those who are interested to attend this exhibition, here are some tips for you:

- Tickets can be bought online here so you can avoid the queues especially if you are going on a weekend.

- Weekday tickets are cheaper than those on weekends. However, if you have a Passion Card, you can get at least a 10% discount while the discount goes up to 15% if you buy at least three tickets.

- Frankly speaking, the venue is not that accessible because it's quite a walk up Fort Canning. Walking in the afternoon sun was a no-no for me and I didn't know about the shuttle bus service beforehand so I resorted to using Grab from the nearest MRT station since there was a discount promotion. For those taking public transport, you can take their free shuttle buses from Plaza Singapura or Raffles City Shopping Centre (the taxi stand facing Chijmes). The schedule of the bus service can be found here.

Before I end this post, here are the photos of the exhibits which I liked. If you have been to this exhibition, do share with me what are your favourites!

Haw Pha Bang in Luang Prabang, Laos

Wat Sorasak in Sukhothai, Thailand

Changnyongmun Gate at Hwaseong Fortress, South Korea

Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, Japan

Taj Mahal in India

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Roskilde Cathedral in Denmark

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey in London, United Kingdom

Signature items in our local breakfast - this was pretty cute!

The iconic buildings in Singapore made of white Lego blocks

Sunday, July 30, 2017

New tendon specialty restaurant in town - Shitamachi Tendon Akimitsu (Plaza Singapura)

I'm usually not the type to head to the newest places even if I do know about them mainly because I simply hate to queue for a long time no matter how appealing something may be to me. In other words, I have no patience and interest in wasting time in queues. As such, I tend to wait till the hype dies down before checking out new places such as restaurants or food shops e.g. Bake Cheese Tart.

Coming across Shitamachi Tendon Akimitsu (下町天丼秋光) was a coincidence. I happened to be at Plaza Singapura to do something and was walking around when I saw this new shop on the 4th floor of the previous Atrium@Orchard wing. Apparently, this is a tendon specialty restaurant which has been around since 1889 and is located at Asakusa in Tokyo. For those who are interested in checking this out when travelling in Tokyo, here are the address and contact details on their official website. Akimitsu has been expanding overseas since 2016 and they can be found in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Australia (Melbourne) and Canada (Toronto) which is opening in October. Apparently, the Singapore branch is less than a month old since it only opened in mid July.

Although I do like to eat tendon, I don't eat it often mainly because of the composition of the tempura items provided. For example, Tendon Itsuki has one thing which I really dislike i.e. chicken breast meat which tends to be dry and rough to eat. And it doesn't help that the bar counter seating there is really uncomfortable and I always get a not-so-nice smell on my clothes after I leave the place. That's why it's always a struggle for me whenever my friends want to go there. At some other places where I've been to, vegetables such as eggplant or eggs are added so whenever I see things in the menu which I don't like or eat, I tend to avoid ordering the tendon. I don't really What attracted me to try Akimitsu was the fact that they had an all-prawn tendon with none of the things I dislike and I was keen to find out if they are really as good as reputed. It also helped that the layout of the shop would probably not result in the customers smelling bad after eating there (the kitchen is sealed off with glass panels, there was a fair bit of ventilation and the shop space was wide enough without making me feel uncomfortable about sitting too close to the table next to me.

On the tables, you can see the two pickles containers which contains beansprouts and cabbages. Personally, I prefer the beansprouts version which tasted more seasoned to me while the other version seemed a little bland. Perhaps it needed more time for the flavours to seep into the vegetables. For those who need more of the tendon sauce, you can have your fill as there is a bottle of it on every table.

In the menu, there are four choices of tendon i.e. signature tendon which contains prawns, white fish, egg, seaweed and assorted vegetables, ebi tendon which is the prawns-only version, vegetable tendon which contains assorted vegetables and the kakiage tendon. All these sets come with miso soup and chawanmushi. Alternatively, you may vote for the teishoku versions of mixed tempura, ebi or vegetable where the rice and sauce is served separately. Those who like chasuke should be happy with the kakiage tencha version (tendon chasuke) where you pour the dashi over the kakiage don.

I ordered the ebi tendon set which slightly surprised me because I wasn't expecting to see as many as 6 prawns in the bowl. The price of the tendon was the most expensive among the four types of tendon while the bowl's size was a bit smaller than I thought so in that sense, it was pricier compared to similar versions from other places. The good thing was, the aroma of the tendon was very inviting when the dish was served. I also liked the fact that the batter covering the prawns was on the thin side because some tempura batter versions I tried before tend to be too dense or overpower the taste and affect the texture of the ingredients within. The downside to having the batter so thin is that you probably can't take your own sweet time to take photos of this beautiful dish as the tempura will cool down pretty quickly and you may find the batter flaking off as you pick up the tempura with your chopsticks. The prawns were rather large and tasted really juicy and fresh. When eaten with the rice and tendon sauce, the combined taste was heavenly. If there was only one thing which I may complain about, that would be wanting more rice to go with the tempura. Nonetheless, I guess this portion size is just nice for most people so for bigger eaters like me, you may find yourself running out of rice when you still have quite a few pieces of the tempura left. You may wish to order other items like edamame, cold tofu or baby octopus or opt for a dessert to round up your meal to make it more satisfying.

Currently, there is a promotion going on where you can get a free matcha ice-cream puff as per the photo on the right or a bottle of Ito-en green tea if you "like" Akimitsu's Facebook page. The catch is that you have to dine in between 2pm and 5pm on weekdays.

On the whole, I was happy with my unexpected discovery but can't help but worry if the shop's location may not be in its favour since it's on a higher floor and not as visible than those on the lower floors due to the foot traffic. Nonetheless, if you do a quick search on the Internet, it seems like the more prominent food bloggers have already been there and written some good stuff about this place so it will probably help to boost the shop's popularity. Moreover, I haven't seen how the shop's crowds are like during weekends so it may be that you have to queue for a while during those days. Last but not least, if the food is good and prices are reasonable, I'm sure that there will be many repeat customers which will surely bode well for this restaurant. I for one would like to go back and try the ebi tendon again and this time, with the spicier version of the tendon sauce since I had the original version this time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A refined German taste from Japan - Juchheim's matcha baumkuchen (Takashimaya)

Although I have passed by Juchheim many times to date, I have never had the urge to buy their baumkuchen for some reason. Perhaps it was that I always had the impression that baumkuchens are expensive due to the effort and skill needed to produce them or that Japanese brands tend to have this pricey image. However, when I saw the limited edition matcha version publicised on Juchheim's Facebook page, that was the best excuse to try their baumkuchen.

Baumkuchen which means tree cake in German (Der Konig der Kuchen), is regarded as the King of German cakes and also the symbol of the German Confectionery Association. In Germany, confectioners can only earn the title of Meister after mastering how to make this cake. Karl Juchheim, the founder of Juccheim, was the first to bake the baumkuchen in Japan back in 1919.

Much as I am very into anything matcha, I still felt apprehensive about buying a whole baumkuchen on my first attempt especially since it does not have any preservatives and can only last for three days. Coupled with the fact that there were no samples for this flavour, I pondered over this a lot at the counter which I suppose must have made the staff there wonder if I had no intention of buying anything. To make things even more complicated, seeing another limited edition version i.e. dark chocolate swayed my will as I deliberated between matcha and this flavour. In the end, I finally bit the bullet and went ahead with my initial choice. Luckily, the baumkuchen turned out to be better than I expected.

I was expecting a somewhat drier texture and sweeter taste from the matcha flavour based on the impression I got from the lemon version's sample. However, the matcha flavour turned out to have the right amount of moisture and the texture was smooth enough to eat it on its own. If paired with tea, I think it will be a great teatime snack or after-meal dessert. Although the staff did mention that the outermost layer may be a bit sweet, I thought that it was still acceptable for me. Price-wise, the matcha flavour is slightly more expensive than the original flavour but for this quality and size, it's a worthwhile deal after all.

Now that the matcha baumkuchen has won my heart, I guess it's time to get the dark chocolate version soon before it gets taken off the shelf.

Friday, May 5, 2017

When nostalgia strikes - the golden age of Hong Kong dramas

There used to be a time when I was very into Hong Kong dramas. In those days especially during the 90s, cable TV wasn't that widely available and affordable and online streaming was not as prevalent as it is today. As such, there were limited ways to feed my craving for these dramas. Nonetheless, compared to J-dramas, it was lucky that there were more sources I could tap on for HK-dramas. I could wait for the broadcast of older dramas dubbed in Mandarin on free-to-air channels, watch the broadcast in the original Cantonese track on Malaysian TV or shell out money to rent video tapes. I preferred watching the Cantonese versions and actually picked up the dialect through watching these dramas. I guess that was a great takeaway from the hours spent on watching these dramas.

Being a poor student then, it was not possible to use my limited pocket money to rent video tapes for every drama. Most of the time, I resorted to watching the dramas on TV but there was only one drama which I did rent video tapes for - Detective Investigation Files II (刑事侦缉档案II) which goes to show much I love this drama. I have a thing for detective / thriller / suspense stories and this drama has a nice blend of these elements with bromance and a very interesting love triangle featuring Michael Tao (陶大宇), Kenix Kwok (郭可盈) and Amy Kwok (郭藹明).

Recently, this drama has returned for yet another re-run on cable TV and I'm watching it for the nth time (can't remember how many times I have watched this to date). Although I know the story inside out, I still continue watching it and have never lost interest in this all these years.

However, when it comes to the HK dramas in the last 10 years or so, I struggle to come up with a title which gives me the same amount of satisfaction and the motivation to keep watching it over and over again. Perhaps it is due to the fact that many of the big-name HK drama actors and actresses have left the TV station so the casting choices do seem quite limited these days. However, I feel that the issue of dissatisfaction lies more with the storyline rather than the cast. There were a few dramas which were engaging from the beginning but faltered right at the end which was a great pity. Many were lacklustre for a variety of reasons.

As I rewatch Detective Investigation Files II for another round, I can't help but wonder when I will come across another good and enthralling HK drama again.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Marriage of cheese and matcha from Otaru - LeTAO's double fromage matcha cheesecake

To be honest, it is tough to be a fan of anything Japanese. You have to pay a premium for anything imported from there to here unless you head to the country itself and bring back the things yourself. Much as you understand the quality and effort put into their products and the costs involved in bringing these items from Japan to Singapore thus justifying the higher price tag, it can sometimes be deterring to shell out so much money to get the real deal. This is why it took me so long to get LeTAO's double fromage cheesecake even though it has already entered Singapore some time ago. For those who are not familiar with LeTAO, this company from Otaru, Hokkaido, is famous for their cheesecakes which have been in production since 1998. They currently have a counter at Orchard Ion's Level B1.

Honestly speaking, the size in relation to the price was the biggest reason why I held back. I have no doubts that the quality of the cheesecake will be quite good especially after hearing rave reviews about it everywhere. However, the common grouse was also that the cheesecake was not available in single slices and that the whole cake was small at just 12cm wide and weighing 330 grams but cost SGD 28. Of course, I've come across more costly cakes than this but the size was still an issue for me. And since there was no option of buying single slices to test the flavour, it was even riskier to buy the entire cake while not knowing if I would like how it tastes.

What got me to "take the plunge" literally into unknown territory was the magical word - matcha. I am a big lover of anything matcha and the sight of this matcha version which is only available for a limited period only and has only 30 pieces per day was really tempting. Still, it took a fair bit of deliberation even up to the last minute when I was right in front of their counter before I finally decided to get the cake.

First of all, the taste is really as good as the reviews say. I don't really like cheesecakes with a very dense texture but this version which is made from Hokkaido cream cheese and Italian mascarpone cheese was so light on the palate. The green tea layer made from matcha from Kyoto was already so aromatic before eating and upon tasting, it did not taste as heavy as I imagined it to be from the matcha scent. As such, don't be surprised to find that you are able to eat more than what you usually can because the light sensation will have you craving for more. The sole disappointment was the appearance of the cheesecake though because the matcha powder on top was sort of "flaking" and you could see patches of white here and there which wasn't how it was featured in the promotional materials. I didn't take a long time to get home after buying this nor applied a lot of movement to the package which could possibly "shake off" the powder. As such, my hunch for this happening could be that I bought the chilled version which is most likely defrosted from the frozen version thus the matcha powder did not stay onto the top surface as it should have been. Alternatively, it could be that this issue doesn't arise for the original cheesecake and chocolate flavours because their topping is not in powdery form like matcha powder? Perhaps I need to buy the regular cheesecake or chocolate frozen versions next time to test my hypothesis?

Note though that the matcha version is pricier ($35) than the regular versions selling at $28 but since it's a limited edition item and daily quantities are limited, I guess that explains the price discrepancy. Another thing to be aware is that these cakes should be consumed within two days after you open the packaging. On a related note, I noticed that there is a slight difference in the taste when you eat it on the day of purchase compared to the following day which I attribute to the cool air from the fridge being in contact with the cake.

Much as I didn't regret my purchase this time, I still have this lingering thought that the deal would have been sweeter for me if the price was lesser. Guess there is no such thing called perfection after all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chocolates with a "wa" twist - Salon de Royal Kyoto's pop-up store @ Japan Food Town

At the mention of chocolate, most people would probably associate it with countries such as Switzerland and Belgium which are well-known for their quality chocolate. This is intriguing in the sense that cocoa beans, the source ingredient for chocolate, are largely grown in Africa and South America and these countries famous for chocolate don't actually grow their own cacao plants. In the same sense, you might not associate Japan with this sweet treat, especially not when it comes to Kyoto, the old capital which embodies everything Japanese even in this modern era of speed and technology. Interestingly, there is a chocolatier from Kyoto which has been around since 1935 and is well-known for its amazing range of chocolates and by-products. This spring, if you are in Singapore, you should visit their pop-up store located at the event square of Japan Food Town (Level 4 of Wisma Atria) to find out what makes them so good.

I attended the opening day event on 18 April, thanks to the invitation of J Passport after I signed up for it on their website. Today's event was restricted to the media and invited guests (about 50 as per the website) but due to the size of the venue, it was a bit difficult to move around without running into another human wall. Coupled with the spot lights dotting the perimeter of the event square, I got rather hot and bothered especially after I had rushed to make it in time for the event. In addition, despite the fact that I had provided my blog URL in the application, I was classified as a guest rather than media which I can understand to a certain extent since I don't belong to a formal media outlet. The main differences between being a guest and media representative were that the latter got a detailed write-up about the company and the pop-up store and a bigger goodie bag.

Salon de Royal was founded in Kyoto on 1 April 1935 and combines the best of East and West influences in its products. As mentioned above, chocolate is usually seen as a Western product but it goes through an amazing transformation here which is quite unlike the chocolates you find in Europe. As explained by the company's representative during the event, it produces three main categories of chocolate i.e. chocolate bonbons, Hannari (Rinpa) chocolate and pecan nut chocolates. Not only does the company incorporate ingredients with a strong "wa" (Japanese) feel into its products such as matcha and arare (rice crackers), its packaging also embodies the deep Japanese influence due to its roots in Kyoto. For example, urushi boxes i.e. lacquer coating and Japanese tea bowls (chawan) are used as packaging for the chocolate bonbons. For its Hannari and pecan nut chocolates, the outer packaging is influenced by Rinpa-style paintings which is one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting.

The highlight of the event would have to be the live demonstration by Chef Emori Hiroyuki who is Salon de Royal Kyoto's official adviser and the 2015 champion of the World Trophy of Pastry Ice Cream Chocolate. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good look at his demonstration because there were too many people crowding around the table. I couldn't help but think that it would be nice if there was a video camera hanging above to capture the process and project it on a TV screen just like what we see in a lot of those cooking demonstration videos online. This would ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to observe the demonstration. Otherwise, it might be better to reduce the number of people attending each demonstration because the venue is simply too small. If you are attending the event for the public held on 19 April, you might want to get near to the demonstration table before it starts so as to secure a good spot.

As it was too hot and uncomfortable for me to squeeze in, I ended up catching glimpses at parts of the demonstration through the mobile phone screens of those who took videos of it. This photo I have here was taken after the matcha ice cream cake was completed. Apologies for this unflattering picture which does not show the true beauty of this cake because I was standing too far back.

After the photo session, the participants were treated to samples of the matcha ice cream cake. In terms of taste, I think that it was pretty good especially the matcha layer which was flavourful and aromatic. However, it doesn't seem that the pop-up store will offer this item though so you might want to attend the public event to sample this.

In the goodie bag given to the guests, there were a pack of candy-coated pecan nuts and a piece of chocolate bonbon. I don't eat bonbons that often because they are usually quite pricey so I can't say that I know a lot about this type of chocolates. Nonetheless, the bonbon given to me was very smooth and the aroma of the chocolate lingered on my palate for a while. Impressive taste but I think I would need more convincing to actually shell out money for it. As for the pecan nuts, the package contains two small packs each with 3 pieces. Considering that you need to pay $7.50 for each package, that works out to about $1.25 per piece. The refined taste and texture you get definitely justifies this price tag but to be perfectly honest, this is probably something you would want to buy to indulge yourself once in a while or as gifts to people who matter most to you. While looking at the displays, I saw a few more flavours which interest me so I should be going back to the pop-up store to buy them.

For those who are interested in attending the demonstrations open to the public on 19th April, the two timings are 12.30pm and 6.30pm and you would need to register through J Passport's website. Even if you can't make it in time for these, there will be five demonstrations daily by different patissiers and the pop-up store will still be around till 31 May.

Other than showcasing the company's products, there are also a series of events lined up during this period to introduce Kyoto's culture to Singapore. Do check these out if they interest you:
- Shakuhachi flute: 30 April
- Noh drama maskmaking: 6 May
- Calligraphy: 7 May
- Nishijin Ori Textiles: date to be announced

If you happen to be going to Japan, you can visit their main shop cum cafe which is located beside the Kamo River where you can sit outdoors during the warmer months from May to September. The shop offers a wide selection of the company's chocolate products along with desserts and beverages like coffee, tea and wine. Alternatively, if you are in Osaka, you can go to their shop at the B2 level of Hankyuu Sanbangai Departmental Store to buy their products.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thai goodness amidst fresh greenery - Basil Thai Kitchen @ Paragon

Whenever I go to Orchard Road, I sometimes find it difficult to find a nice place to eat at without burning a huge hole in my pocket or having to queue for ages just to get into the restaurant or put up with the buzz in a packed place. Coming across Basil Thai Kitchen was a coincidence as I needed to eat dinner on a weekday night near 9pm but some places were about to close then. As the food photos looked rather decent and the prices seemed reasonable, it was then decided that we would eat here.

Before I entered the restaurant, I wasn't aware that it was a different dining concept under Thai Express. As compared to the signature orange-themed Thai Express, Basil Thai had a lot of greenery in the form of flowers and green plants placed on the tables which gave it a fresh feel in line with the basil element in its name. Upon closer scrutiny of the menu, you would then notice some similar dishes between the two restaurants although servings and how they are plated do differ to a certain extent.

The first dish was tom yum soup which I thought was pretty good and whetted my appetite. To be honest, I usually do not like tom yum soup because some versions can be too sour while some are too spicy to my liking. However, this had the right balance and the amount of ingredients was more than I expected for a price of $8.90. I don't know if there are any differences in how they make this tom yam soup as compared to Thai Express because I usually found the latter to be too sour for me.

Next up was another Thai cuisine signature dish - pineapple fried rice ($11.90). The portion did seem a bit small as compared to the price but the saving grace was its taste and generous portions of seafood hidden within that bowl of rice. There was a nice aroma when this was served and the rice grains were fluffier than what I tasted before at Thai Express. The freshness of the seafood embedded within the rice also made a good impression on me. However, it might be good to alter the size of the plate as the extra space as seen in the photo reinforces the impression that the serving is small. Personally, for a big eater like me, this portion size is hardly satisfying but for small eaters, they might be content with this amount.

The Massamam chicken curry served with rice ($13.90) was definitely my favourite because the chicken's texture was so tender and the curry went very well with the plain white rice. The amount of chicken was also quite substantial for a big eater like me. Some curries tend to be quite heavy on the palate and leave a very strong aftertaste but this version was actually lighter and not that spicy as it looked even though I was slightly worried when I ordered this. Actually, the default option was to eat the curry with the crispy roti but I was too famished that night and wanted to have rice instead. Thankfully, the staff members were very accommodating and accepted my request for an alternative for this dish. Perhaps I will go back to try the roti version and see which pairing is better.

On a separate occasion, this time on a Saturday evening, I went back and ordered their green curry chicken with rice ($10.90). Visually, it was rather disappointing to see such a big plate with so much empty space. The lone piece of lettuce didn't do much in enhancing the visual appeal of this dish and the rice wasn't even in a complete circle shape. As for the curry which I always order when I eat at Thai Express, the portion seemed somewhat smaller because I didn't get that many pieces of the chicken and the curry was on the bland side but somehow looked oilier. Considering the price, I might have been better off getting the pineapple fried rice which would at least satisfy my taste buds even though the portion sizes still left much to be desired.

Last but not least, here's the Virgin Basil Mojito ($3.90) which I considered to be a steal because you hardly get drinks below $5 in most restaurants these days. This is the perfect antidote for the sunny and hot weather here with its refreshing sensation and taste being a match for the spicy Thai cuisine. In terms of the portion size, there is also nothing to complain about.

Considering that there are still many dishes which I have yet to try here, I should be coming back for more visits especially if I need to get a decent meal at relatively affordable prices. Especially considering that the restaurant is located in the middle of Orchard Road and in a shopping mall known for its high-end branded offerings, this will be a good place to keep in mind during your Orchard Road visits. However, even though it is another dining concept under the same company, there needs to be a bit more done to differentiate the offerings from both brands. In terms of decor, there is nothing that links both brands together because the main theme colours are different but some of the dishes are replicated across both menus so there may be a need to adjust accordingly to the positioning of the brands. And one last thing, the portions either need to be adjusted to make them more filling or the plates need to be shrunk or else that feeling of dissatisfaction will probably mar the dining experience to a certain extent.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hanami in our forever tropical land - Blossom Bliss 2017 @ Gardens by the Bay

Thanks to Gardens by the Bay, you can indulge in the annual hanami every March without having to fly to places like Japan to view these little blossoms of pink and white heralding the arrival of spring. Having been to this event last year and this year, I noted that there were some noticeable enhancements in this year's edition although there were still some improvements to be made. In terms of crowd control, I can't really comment because I went to the 2016 event on a weekend (which was a really bad idea) while I went to the 2017 event on a weekday (crowded but still manageable). As for the condition of the sakura blooms, I noted that there were a lot of buds this year which were yet to bloom. It could be that there were some new sakura trees planted towards the end of the event to replace those which had too many wilted flowers so that was why I felt that the floral coverage was a bit sparse in some sections.

The first time when I went for hanami in Japan, the best shots I took were those with the cloudless pastel blue skies as the background or along a path with sakura trees lined up to form a natural tunnel of flowers. Unfortunately, due to the limitations we face in Singapore due to the sweltering weather and that the sakura trees were displayed indoors, these two settings are unlikely to be replicated here. Nonetheless, I still appreciate the effort in trying to showcase such a fragile flower here in unfavourable conditions. However, there were people who clearly do not appreciate this and do uncivilised acts such as tugging at the branches forcefully to take selfies with the sakura at close proximity or holding up the flow of human traffic by refusing to budge until they get their perfect selfie. When you come face to face with such behaviour, it no doubt affects the pleasure derived from the hanami experience.

Rather than using words to describe the beauty of these fleeting blossoms, I'll let the photos below do the talking ~

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Really not worth the time and money - NASA - A Human Adventure Exhibition

Lesson learnt today: Museums are meant to be enjoyed on quiet weekdays.

I usually go for exhibitions on weekdays which is naturally less stressful for me because I don't have to get annoyed at the people who keep blocking my view when I want to read the content and see the exhibits or stand in my way when I want to take photos. Coupled with those selfie maniacs who wouldn't rest until they get the perfect shot in that pitch-black room, the boisterous young people who just want to have fun rather than view the exhibition or those who are bent on talking big business on their phones in that quiet hall, weekend exhibition visits are usually a big no-no for me. The reason why I made an exception today was my inability to make it on a weekday these few months and that it's ending tomorrow so there was no choice. However, the whole experience left much to be desired and reaffirmed my belief that I should avoid exhibitions on weekends as much as possible.

If you are planning to catch this tomorrow on the last day, do take note of the following:

1) Book your tickets online first.
On hindsight, I should have booked the ticket online but I wasn't sure if I could make it today until the last minute so I didn't. As such, it resulted in a 30-min wait just to get the ticket and another 10 mins outside the exhibition hall to get in.
There is a shorter queue to get your tickets if you have made the online booking so it will cut the queuing time considerably.

2) Make sure you go in a group of even numbers
The one-for-one offer means that you will be disadvantaged if you are going for this alone or in a group of odd numbers. There is no discounted price for people who are on their own so effectively, you pay the price for 2 tickets. What's more annoying is that, as a Sands member, there is no discount for this exhibition even though I've enjoyed this perk a number of times in the past.
By the way, in case you are wondering, you can sign up for the Sands membership for free and there is no minimum spending requirement. There are some privileges, offers and discounts at various shops and you can earn points which can be redeemed for rewards. One of the key reasons I got this membership even though I don't go to MBS that often is because it offers further discounts on the ArtScience Museum tickets.

3) Remember to get your free Vitaminwater
It is stated on the ticket that you get one bottle of Vitaminwater for each ticket presented to the museum shop so don't forget to get it.

4) Beware of the tight walkways
If you are intending to bring your kids along, you may want to consider leaving your prams outside although I'm not sure if you can leave it in the museum's custody. The main reason is that the huge number of visitors plus the narrower-than-usual walkways will make it difficult for you to navigate.

On the whole, I wasn't sure what the purpose of this exhibition was. It seemed like the exhibits were put together but there was no coherent "theme" linking all these elements sequentially in a line. For example, the section about the space missions only focused on Russia and US but it would have been better if there was some insight into the space exploration efforts from other countries as well.

The display of the information also left much to be desired. For example, in the section which featured various people who had visions about space exploration such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Jules Verne, the screen which featured individual write-ups about them took so long to move on to the next person that it was impossible to stand there and read everything especially with the never-ending batches of people coming into the hall and jostling for space. If it had been a less crowded day, this might not have been an issue but still, the slideshow really needs to speed up.

Another thing which got me really annoyed was that the explanation for the exhibits were placed too far from the exhibits. It wouldn't have been less of an issue if the hall was less crowded but then it looked as if the information was crammed into one board for a few groups of exhibits. As such, I had to keep shuttling to and fro just to make sense of what I was seeing. To do that against the flow of the human traffic was an arduous effort and you can't help but feel that people are annoyed about you "holding up" the traffic. In addition, some of these panels had a glass cover over it which created light reflections thus making it even more difficult to read the content.

As there were quite a number of equipment and space shuttle exhibits which are naturally quite large, this seemed to have affected the amount of space left for people to move around and to look at the exhibits from various angles. For example, there was a model of a space shuttle which was so long that I couldn't take a decent shot of it because the walkway was crammed with people who were watching a video on the wall opposite this exhibit. Just getting to see the information panel was a huge challenge. Based on my experience so far from various exhibitions, if videos are to be shown, there is usually a space for people to gather in front of the screen where there are seats provided at times. It is unusual for so many things to be fitted within one small space and it hinders both those who want to watch the video and those who want to see that exhibit. As you can see here, I didn't manage to take a picture of the entire shuttle and had to take four photos of different portions.

Considering how expensive the ticket was (mine was $19 for a local resident ticket but it would have been halved if someone shared the extra ticket with me), I wasn't expecting this G-Force experience to come with a fee. In fact, the museum's website didn't indicate that at all:

Experience gravity as you never have! Take a trip to space and back and have a taste of what it feels like to be an astronaut embarking on your journey out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Let astronaut and test pilot Gus Grissom be your guide as you go on the famous Mercury Liberty Bell 7 flight, the second in a series of successful U.S. manned suborbital flights in 1961.

Imagine my surprise that this comes at a fee of SGD 6 per ride! From my video taken outside the fence, the whole ride was a mere one minute. How does that sound to you? No wonder only the young people were queuing for this!

On the whole, I was very disappointed with this exhibition. Frankly speaking, even if I had gone on a weekday and didn't experience all these issues with queuing and crowds, I would still have been dissatisfied because the content was very lacking. This was a shame especially considering that most of the exhibitions I've been to at the ArtScience Museum met my expectations. When you think of the fact that their admission tickets are generally pricier than our local museums which offer free entry for citizens and PRs most of the time (except for some special exhibitions), there's got to be more effort in ensuring that the content matches up to the price tag. And I really hope that I won't be penalised yet again for going to museums alone.