Nuffnang

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saying sayonara to SMAP

Finally, the time has come.

Much as how reluctant you are, you have to say sayonara to SMAP at the end of tonight. Nonetheless, it really isn't a complete goodbye since the five members will still be around working on their solo careers. In that sense, nothing much has changed, only that they no longer function as a group and the name SMAP goes into history. Perhaps for fervent fans, it might hurt a lot more.

As you can probably tell, I am not a die-hard fan of SMAP. However, they've been a part of my life too, in one way or another. The very first Kouhaku Utagassen (delayed broadcast though) I watched featured them singing "Dynamite" and that should be back in 1997. Can't believe it's been 19 years since that "fateful" encounter. I found the song very catchy so that got me interested in knowing more about SMAP. Since then, I've watched many of their dramas, movies and variety shows. As for the music side of things, I don't really keep a close tab on their releases after 2003.

I must admit that I don't actually like SMAP as a group.

It's kinda different from what Arashi and TOKIO mean to me because I like them as a whole and all the members within the groups, albeit in differing degrees. With SMAP, it had always been more about Nakai and Kusanagi. For Kimura and Inagaki, the feeling has actually swung from being indifferent to neutral by now. As for Katori, hmm...let's just say that he's never been my cup of tea.

All along, everyone probably knows that SMAP members aren't chummy with one another. To me, that's fine as long as you work together well professionally. And when groups form, there is a day when they might split. To be honest, I have always wondered when they might split up, not if they will do so.

Nonetheless, when it really happened, I think it was the process which made everyone upset. The members didn't say what happened between. All the media reports are skewed, be it blaming the "traitor" or "defectors". As such, it gets really sickening to hear all the noise in this blame game while the truth remains hidden from sight. Maybe the members will be able to talk and laugh about it in years to come. Or maybe this will remain a mystery for as long as they stay in the same agency.

Considering how the group didn't break up due to external pressure such as when Mori left the group or when Inagaki and Kusanagi got into trouble with the law, the fact that they are breaking up due to internal issues makes it very sad. This seems to be the perfect textbook example of "united we stand, divided we fall". On the other hand, rather than being forced to stay together and put on a grumpy face on screen, they should just break up and make sure they will be happier after that.

Sayonara SMAP. Thank you for the past 25 years of hard work!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review of Teochew Festival Singapore 2016

Teochew Festival is back this year, literally with a bang. Since its inaugural edition two years ago, the organisers seemed to have gained some insight from the experience then and made several improvements to this year's edition.

If you've read my review of the 2014 version, these were the points which I highlighted as being lacklustre then:
- the lack of air-conditioning at certain parts of the small festival area
- the use of coupons which was a huge inconvenience and necessitated "spending exactly the same amount as the value of the coupons you bought"
- the festival being more like a trade fair rather than a cultural event

This time, the venue has been changed to the larger, posher and definitely more comfortable Sands Convention Centre. As such, despite the sweltering weather this afternoon, I could enjoy the event in cool comfort without having to sweat literally. Coupled with the fact that it was a weekday, the crowds were not as intimidating as they could be during a weekend.

With more space, the stalls and booths are spread out compared to when they were squeezed into that small tent two years ago. This allows the businesses and exhibitors to showcase more of their stuff without having that cluttered feel. And I do notice that the staff and shop owners seem more open to the idea of visitors taking photos of their booths, displays and merchandise which I suppose could be due to the prevalence of social media these days and any form of publicity would be welcome. As a visitor, I don't have to look over my shoulder and worry about being told to stop taking pictures so it is effectively a win-win situation.

As a result of the expansion of the event space, the food street is so much bigger now and I think there are more stalls this time, of which a number of them are rather famous names in the Chinese dining scene. Compared to last time when I had to stand to eat and squeeze in just to queue for my food, the experience this time was definitely more enjoyable.

The second issue about the coupons last time has been resolved with the advancement of new electronic payment methods such as Nets FlashPay. This is possibly why the Teochew Festival has chosen to use Nets as the default payment mode to eliminate the need to carry cash and the hassle of having to exchange for cash coupons like what was done in the last edition.

Note that there is a booth within the exhibition hall which sells a set of special edition NETS cards with designs of some famous Teochew operas on the front. To buy the whole set of 6 cards with no cash value in them, this would cost $50. On the poster shown on the left, the cards with the values indicated are those with cash already preloaded into them so you can buy them individually and use the value to purchase food and merchandise. If you happen to run out of cash in the NETS card, you can use the machines on site to top up accordingly.

With each entrance ticket, there is a discount voucher of 3 dollars included which can be used to offset against your purchases. To utilise this, you would have to surrender your entrance ticket to the cashier so if you would like to take a photo of your ticket, be sure to do so quickly before you start buying food or things.

Last but not least, the cultural aspect of the festival seems to have been greatly enhanced this time with a section devoted to showing how the Teochew ancestors came to Singapore and what kind of lives they led. The content is presented in both English and Chinese and substantiated with artefacts from the past to make the historical information easier to understand and relate to.

At the exit of the cultural gallery, there is a stall where a calligraphy master is writing couplets for the visitors on red paper. With the upcoming Lunar New Year in a month's time or so, the couplets would come in handy as decorations. It doesn't look like any purchase is needed to get the couplets so the queue seemed to be going on endlessly every time I walked by the stall.

At the main stage area, there is a wide range of performances and activities every day. While I was there, a Teochew opera performance was going on with the seating area fully occupied and many others standing by the sidelines watching intently. To help those who may not understand the language, there were Chinese subtitles flashed on the screen which helped the audience to understand the opera lines better. However, it would be even better if there were English translations shown together for the visitors who don't know Chinese or have a weak command of the language so that they can understand the meaning of the opera lines which tend to be in the traditional form of the language.

During a subsequent Teochew talk session, there were no subtitles though so it was more difficult to understand what the speaker was talking about.

As for the food selection on offer, there is a wider range this time and the large number of seats around makes it easier for the visitors to buy their food and find a seat. Teochew signature dishes such as braised duck, fishball noodles, fishball dumplings, orh nee, oyster omelette, bak kut teh, shuijingbao, chwee kueh and pig trotters from various famous restaurants can be found here. My only grouse is probably the higher-than-usual prices which I suppose should be due to the costs involved this time at a better venue and the scale of the event which has been upgraded. The saving grace is that the quality of the food I tried this time was better than the last edition so I didn't feel that bad about having to pay so much for the food.

With regard to the festival-related merchandise range, the items on offer such as the notebooks, umbrellas and cushions seem to be largely the same as the last edition's range so it was a bit disappointing not to see new stuff being developed and released to the market.Surprisingly, at the stall which sells traditional oil paper lanterns, there are some soaps and candles made in the shape of Teochew kueh as shown in the photo on the left which look quite nice and smell good so you may wish to check these out. Honestly, for this type of special-themed items, they tend to be priced slightly higher than the norm and not readily available in shops so it will be good if they can be purchased more easily e.g. via online and priced more competitively to attract more buyers.

On the whole, I think this year's festival is a marked improvement from the inaugural edition but that is not to say that it is perfect as yet. Hopefully, when the next edition comes along, there will be further enhancements to make it even better.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A preview of Food Japan 2016 happening this Saturday, 29 Oct 2016!

Last year, it was the first time I had visited Oishii Japan. As I had arrived pretty late on the public day, I didn't really get to see and taste a lot of things or even buy much because a lot of the booths had already sold all their stock or it was too crowded for me to take a good look at what was being offered.

This year, with a rebranding and name change to Food Japan, I was intent on making my trip count for what it's worth thus I registered for the media accreditation which could give me access on the trade visitors' days on 27th and 28th October i.e. Thursday and Friday. Thankfully, I succeeded in getting the media pass despite being having such a small presence online (thank you Asia PR Werkz!) so I could see every booth in great detail and at my own pace. Phew!

For those who aren't aware of what Food Japan is, it is ASEAN's largest dedicated showcase on Japanese food and beverage, with an array of authentic Japanese ingredients and food, culinary techniques and equipment, plus demos and classes. Serving as a bridge for F&B businesses between Japan and ASEAN, Food Japan provides visitors with valuable opportunities to understand, explore collaborations and learn more about the versatility of classic Japanese ingredients, quality seasonal produces, unique prefecture specialities as well as innovative technology and machinery. (Portion in italics from the official website)

In its 5th edition this year, Food Japan showcases over 1,000 items from 304 exhibitions from 40 prefectures so this is a must-see if you are into Japanese food or would like what are the latest food and drink products out in the market. For the first two days, it is open to trade visitors only while the public gets to visit on 29th October which happens to be a Saturday and Deepavali. Prior to the opening of this event, you could pre-register for your tickets so this would have helped you to save some time in the queue. Although the pre-registration is closed by now, you can still get your tickets outside the exhibition hall at Suntec Convention Centre Halls 401 and 402.

Other than seeing the latest in F & B products and services from Japan, you can also take part in the workshops. You can either reserve a seat via this page or visit the registration counter in front of the workshop area which is located right at the far back of the exhibition hall. If you are choosing the latter option, I suggest that you go to register and make your payment first upon your arrival before touring the exhibition or else you might not be able to get a place. Here are the three classes on offer tomorrow:

11.30am - 12.30pm
Temari Zushi & Matcha Tiramisu Workshop
60 mins SGD 20

12.45pm - 1.45pm
Temari Zushi & Matcha Tiramisu Workshop
60 mins SGD 20

2.00pm - 4.00pm
Polkaros Café Presents - Mini Teishoku Workshop
120 mins SGD 45

One other tip that I would like to share with you is that you should bring ample cash if you are planning to buy any of the products sold by the exhibitors. Most of them only accept cash so it's only a few who accept Nets or even credit card for items which are more pricey. It's also better if you can prepare small notes if possible or else you may have to wait a while for your change especially with the crowds around.

If you are feeling peckish, you can head to the J Food Court area at the back (left side of the hall) to sample the selection from some of the well-known Japanese restaurants in Singapore. There's also a lot of food and drink sampling going around so your taste buds will be treated to a feast fit for a king as you go around the exhibition hall.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing more details on the booths I visited and the products which caught my eye. Nonetheless, I have a few observations on this event which I would like to mention here that may be of use to you too:

1) If you like something, you might have to make a decision on the spot to get it.
Based on what I gathered after talking to the exhibitors, quite a number of them have not entered the Singapore market yet so they are looking for distributors and importers. For those who have already done so, their presence is largely limited to the Japanese supermarkets here such as Meidi-ya and Isetan. And even if that's the case, some of them are only featured during special events so they are not available all year round.
As such, what this means is that, if you like something which you've tasted, you might have to consider making a decision to buy it on the spot or go to Japan to do the same if the product is not sold in Singapore.

2) The exhibitors are very proud of their products and more than willing to share with you on what makes their products so good or special.
Save for a few exhibitors who were seemingly more concerned with talking to people who looked like they would bring business to them or their phones were more interesting than the visitors in front of them or perhaps they were not very keen on talking to people like me who wore a media pass, the rest of the exhibitors I came across were very friendly and enthusiastic about sharing their products with me. Of course, I think the fact that I could speak Japanese helped a lot in breaking the ice between us and I really appreciated some of them willing to make an effort to talk to me in English even though they may not be that fluent. When you want to break into an overseas market, initiative is really important since you can't be sitting there to wait for business to come your way. If you are willing to approach them, they will reciprocate. And if you have any problems communicating, there are the interpreters who can help in bridging the gap.
During these conversations, I was really impressed by some of these companies and their products so that's why I want to write a detailed post and do some free PR for them. I'm not a bigwig from some established media company so it's inevitable that some people do not really take you seriously and wouldn't want to talk to you. However, since I'm already promoting J-ent in general, there's no reason why I can't do the same for Japan's F & B industry especially since I love Japanese food too. As such, do keep a lookout for these posts coming your way!

3) Learn from the experts, first-hand.
I'm sure many people like Japanese food but may not really understand or know the details or the profound knowledge that goes into making them. Besides learning through the workshops, talking to the exhibitors will definitely be an eye-opening experience. I learnt something new from everyone I talked to so it was a truly enriching day I spent at this event. Some of the information I got is not something you can easily find online or in books.

If you are keen to check out this event, do remember to head there early and hope that you'll have fun on your Saturday!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lunchtime goodness at Shin-Do (Century Square)

Shin-Do is strictly speaking not a new restaurant. It occupies the same shop space in Century Square's B1 and used to be known as Shin-Sapporo Ramen. However, the change is not merely in its name but also its entire concept because the former was more ramen-centric while the new version includes more options in terms of teishoku, sushi and appetisers.

To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with Shin-Sapporo Ramen in the past so I stopped going there since a long time ago. Apparently, under the new concept, ramen is still an integral part of the menu with the biggest attraction being the fire ramen but there are options for people who might not want to eat ramen that day. In a way, that helps in attracting a wider pool of customers other than the usual ramen lovers.

On a weekday afternoon while on the search for a late lunch venue, I walked past Shin-Do and saw its promotional panels. There they were, wholesome lunchtime-only teishoku sets which were going for as low as $8.90 ($10.90 for the more expensive items) nett with a free cup of hot or cold green tea thrown in. If you would like to have other drinks, you need to pay a small amount to top up. The food displays outside the restaurant looked rather appealing and I was keen to try a good deal if I spotted it so I decided to revisit or should I say, give Shin-Do a chance.

The set I ordered was the teriyaki chicken set which came with pickles (takuan) and a healthy dose of shredded cabbage with a small tomato. First of all, I've not been seeing takuan that often in the Japanese teishoku sets these days so it was a pleasant surprise to see it in my bento box. I really liked it for being of the right taste and the texture was crunchy enough despite it being sliced so thinly. I would have preferred this to be slightly thicker or to have more slices in the set. As for the cabbage salad, I thought that the portion size could be a tad too much for those who don't like their greens but I personally felt that it was a welcome addition to give the meal a slightly different texture. With regard to the rice, I thought that it was a bit too soft and overcooked but the grilled and shredded seaweed lent a nice aroma to the rice which was drenched in a sauce that tasted similar to the teriyaki sauce. Just one note of caution then, the chef might have to go easier on the amount of sauce for the rice since there was too much and made the rice saltier than I would have liked. Last but not least, the teriyaki chicken was tender and flavourful and there was more pieces than I assumed the set would contain. Anything that exceeds the customer's expectation is always welcome.

On another day, I came back for the tori karaage set which gave me a slightly different experience. The time of my second visit was during lunch hour so the wait for the food to be served was much faster than during the first visit. Not that I really minded the wait since I liked the taste of what I ate during that visit but it sure wouldn't hurt to have the food served quickly when I am hungry. In terms of portion size, I thought that the amount of the cabbage salad seemed to be slightly lesser and there was one less slice of the takuan. As for the rice, there was lesser sauce poured onto it and the flavour of the seaweed was even more noticeably this time which I attributed to it being grilled for a longer time before being shredded. The rice texture was also more to my liking this time. With regard to the tori karaage, it was slightly different from what I usually get which tends to be round-shaped. The version at Shin-Do had the chicken in long strips which I don't really mind unless they use breast meat which I dislike for its dry and tough texture if overcooked. Luckily, the fried chicken here was tender and juicy enough but there should have been more mayonnaise provided to eat the chicken with.

Both sets I had were in the $8.90 group and I must say, I was quite satisfied with their quality and portion size despite the low price. I'm glad that I found another nice place to eat at and will probably go back soon to try the other lunch sets or the items in the ala carte menu.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review of Sully

What attracted me to this film were two factors i.e. the true story behind the miraculous landing on Hudson River in 2009 and Tom Hanks. I must admit that I had some reservations upon finding out that the movie is only 96 minutes and wondered if this was long enough to contain what needs to be told. In the end, my worry was unfounded. In fact, this length turned out to be just nice and prevented the film from over-glorifying the hero or putting in unnecessary fillers which would have dragged down the quality of the story.

To give some background into the story, allow me to describe briefly what happened on 15 January 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 which was heading from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, encountered double engine failure due to a bird strike within minutes of its takeoff. Without any engine power, enough altitude nor any nearby airports for the plane to land safely, the pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) made the unprecedented decision of landing on the Hudson River. Luckily, everyone survived the ordeal and were quickly rescued by the emergency response services amid the bitterly cold winter.

Instead of focusing solely on what happened during those 208 seconds, the meat of the film lies in the subsequent investigation. No doubt the survivors, public and media hailed Sullenberger and Skiles as the heroes, the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board seemed to be headed into another direction i.e. one which tried to find fault with the pilots' decision rather than mechanical or weather or accident factors. While trying to cope with the media attention, Sullenberger grapples with PTSD and the pressure from the investigation which questioned his judgement and threatens to end his career in an dishonourable manner. Of course, the results of the investigation proved to be in the pilots' favour in the end so it was a huge sigh of relief for the heroes who truly deserved the credit for saving everyone on board including themselves.

Much as most viewers will probably dislike the NTSB for their way of investigating the accident, I think that it is understandable to a certain extent because they have to be fair and not lean towards a certain view before the investigations are concluded. As the media and public generally viewed the pilots in a favourable light, the NTSB's stand of having to prove that the pilots could be potentially at fault for landing the plane on the river rather than seek an airport to land would not go down well with everyone. According to the film's director Clint Eastwood, there was a certain degree of dramatisation in the movie so it could be that the words used by the NTSB investigators were not as nasty nor filled with accusations as shown in the film.

Personally, I felt that the issue was more with their investigation methods and assumptions made rather than the stand they adopted towards the pilots which conveniently took out the surprise factor i.e. the reaction time which the pilots needed and did not take into account that they could not practise like those pilots doing the simulations. As such, when Sullenberger pointed out these fatal errors in the investigation, it felt like justice was done and he managed to save his and his partner's careers with his own efforts. It is easy to assume things when you are not put into such a critical situation and it would appear that the investigators did not consider this when making their conclusions. Without this film, we probably wouldn't have known that there were such loopholes in the investigation.

Besides the investigation, I think the film also had a feel-good and heartwarming aspect to it. Besides Sullenberger's concern for his passengers and crew as seen from his attempt to ensure that everyone was off the plane before he left and how he wanted to know the survivor numbers immediately, the way the emergency response services were pictured here indicated that the achievement did not belong to the pilots only but that these rescuers had also been instrumental in the success. Without them and their quick action, the survivors would have suffered in the icy cold river.

Another part of the film which I thought was handled quite well was the PTSD aspect. Sullenberger, like everyone else, is human after all so it was natural that he would be affected by the close shave ordeal. However, he was not given the time and space to recover psychologically due to the media frenzy, pressure from the investigation, looming threat of his career being ended at this juncture and possible financial hardship brought onto his family. It is easy to forget that heroes are humans too and Tom Hanks managed to show a very raw and real side to the hero which was probably not apparent in media reports.

Tom Hanks did a fantastic job in playing Sullenberger. There was hardly anything dramatic in his actions and mannerisms just like Sullenberger who thought that he was just performing his duty and wasn't enjoying the hero treatment. As such, it didn't feel like Hanks had to exert himself too much when playing this role. However, beneath that facade of calmness, he still managed to show the underlying worries and insecurities Sullenberger had when he started to doubt himself. When faced with those accusations from the NTSB suggesting that he was wrong, he tried to seek assurance but found that even if people agreed with him, he still wasn't 100 percent convinced. When self-doubt started to creep in, he could no longer maintain his confidence as shown by his confession to his wife that there might be a possibility that the investigation might not turn out well for him. He really projected the dilemma of believing in oneself and being cornered by those who didn't in a convincing manner. I also liked his chemistry with Eckhart and how both men did their best in the face of adversity, be it in the sky and on the ground i.e. against the investigation authorities.

In conclusion, this film is definitely worth watching for its succinct take on the aftermath of the Hudson River miracle, great acting from Tom Hanks in particular and the ending brimming with positiveness and warmth. Be sure to stay till the credits roll because you will see footage of Sullenberger and Skiles with the survivors during their gathering and hear their thoughts about this incident and how it has changed their lives.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

First impressions of d'Good Cafe (Ngee Ann City)

I heard of this cafe fairly recently, thanks to the promotional efforts by some local celebrities who had been to here. Apparently, this cafe is co-owned by a local veteran actor Chew Chor Meng thus his colleagues were invited here before the official opening. Upon entering the cafe, you will a shelf beside the counter and cake shelf with two layers of cups containing coffee beans and signed Polaroid shots of these celebrities so you might want to do some "star-gazing" here to see if your favourites might be among them.

My visit was on a Saturday afternoon so naturally, it was packed with people. There are two dining areas i.e. the "outdoor" section which looks like a dainty English garden while the interior has a somewhat British feel with its London underground signs bearing the names of Holland Village and Orchard which is where its outlets are located at. The utensils and tea pots used also have a similar style. If possible, I think it's better to sit at the outdoor section which is visibly brighter and feels more spacious. I thought that the interior section was kinda cramped and tables were placed too close to one another. However, given that the shop itself does not occupy a lot of space in the first place, it is probably difficult to free up more space during peak periods. It might feel a lot better if the cafe wasn't that crowded.

At the entrance, there is a red telephone booth which again has a British feel but it's probably more for decoration purpose. It naturally attracts customers to want to take a selfie with it as seen from the number of people I saw crowding around this during my visit. As for the post box location just beside the telephone booth, it is there for a purpose. It seems that the management of this cafe are Christians and are offering to pray for customers who need it. As such, you can fill in the card placed at the post box where you provide your details and which area(s) you need prayers for whereby the cafe's team will do the necessary. I thought it was a rather kind gesture on their part regardless of your religion but it can do with a bit of promotion. Unless you walk to the post box and pick up the prayer request card, you probably have no idea what this is for and that you can request for prayers to be made on your behalf. As such, it is easy to miss this and dismiss the post box as a mere ornament even though it has a purpose to fulfill. I will post the contents of the prayer request card below so please take a look if you are interested.

Besides this prayer request service, the shelf beside the cake counter also has a level dedicated to featuring art works from TOUCH Special Crafts where the artistic talents of people with mild intellectual disabilities are discovered and nurtured. I thought that it was good that some of these art works are displayed for all to see and purchase. A lot of these charity initiatives may not be publicised widely so even if you are keen to buy their products to show support, you might not know where to turn to. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to spread the word and more people can be aware and do something. In this sense, the cafe deserves credit for giving a space to such charity initiatives despite their space constraint.

Despite the fact that this cafe emphasizes coffee as its biggest selling point, being a non-coffee drinker, I have no idea if it's really as good as it is said so you'll have to find out the answer yourself. As it was a rather sweltering day when I visited, I chose a mojito mocktail instead of hot tea even though I was quite tempted to order one just to see the pretty pots which were served with the tea. In the end, the desire for gratification from a cold drink took over so I skipped the hot teas.

Frankly speaking, I thought that the mocktail was pretty much of a disappointment. In a mojito, the mint is one of the key ingredients but I didn't detect any taste of it nor see the crushed mint leaves. In that sense, this drink already didn't qualify as a mojito to me. The lime flavour was slightly overpowering to the point of being sour while the soda added a tingly and rather gassy feel on the palate which I didn't like. Supposedly, there should be tea in this drink as well but I didn't seem to pick that flavour up. Maybe I'm just being too demanding since the cafe's specialty is coffee and tea so I can't expect too much from a non-signature drink. Then again, you probably need to make your alternatives decent enough to attract people who aren't into coffee and tea. Although I wouldn't recommend this drink to people who want something which resembles the mojito but minus the alcohol, you may actually like it more than I do since it's a case of personal preference. It's just that his drink needs a fair bit of adjustment and improvement in order to truly fit the bill as a mojito look-alike and taste-alike.

Since I was just feeling peckish and didn't want to eat too much before dinner, I ordered the warm chocolate lava cake as a teatime snack. Appearance-wise, it's rather no-frills as seen from the photo so it might be good to doll this up a bit to make it more "Instagram-able". I don't have much to complain about the taste which has that chocolate taste without being too rich on the palate but the cake was rather cold when it was served. It certainly took a while before this was served which I was quite surprised since it shouldn't take that long usually. I am not sure if it cooled down too much in the kitchen before it was served or that it wasn't even heated up properly. Although the chocolate lava did flow out as expected, the lack of warmth in this dessert somehow made it feel like an ordinary chocolate cake rather than a chocolate lava cake. If this can be served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, I think it would be the icing on the cake since the hot and cold texture may accentuate the taste of the lava cake even more.

Since the cafe has been open for just a few weeks, there may be time needed to tweak the daily operations. The servers seemed a bit overwhelmed due to the crowds. I probably would go back to try the mains and the famed cheesecake but as for now, I think the cafe needs to distinguish itself a bit more in terms of its F & B offerings due to the tough competition in the Orchard shopping belt.

Here are some of the other photos I took while at the cafe:


The London underground-style signs on the wall


The cake counter at the entrance...looks tempting


The prayer request card


The art works from TOUCH Special Crafts


The coffee cups containing the celebrities' photos

Another set of coffee cups with the celebrities' photos


The dainty English-style teapots

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review of "Busanhaeng" 부산행 (Train to Busan)

I've never been keen on horror movies e.g. those involving vampires movies. As such, I wasn't particularly interested in watching "Busanhaeng" at first because I thought that it was just a horror film. I guess when age catches up, my appetite for such horror films has gone down by a lot. To think that I used to like watching horror movies in the middle of the night and relished seeing Sadako crawl out of the TV in the Ring series! However, after hearing rave reviews about the film from the people around me, my interest was piqued so I gave in to my curiosity in the end. And I have to say, it did exceed my expectations to a certain extent.

A disclaimer though, if you haven't watched this movie, beware of spoilers ahead.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role of Seok Woo, an investment fund manager who is so caught-up with his work and got a divorce from his wife. Although he is raising their only daughter Su-An (Kim Su-an) with the help of his mother, their relationship is somewhat aloof and frosty as seen from his absence from a school performance which led to Su-An being unable to sing her song and his buying of a gift for her birthday which was exactly the same as what he gave her during Children's Day. When Su-An asks to go to Busan to meet her mother, Seok Woo reluctantly books tickets on the earliest train from Seoul to Busan the following day so that he can bring her there personally and be in time to return to work.

However, things get off to a weird start the next morning as Seok Woo drives Su-An to the train station when emergency services seem to be heading off to somewhere in a hurry. Thinking nothing much about it, Seok Woo and Su-An board the first train to Busan, oblivious to what is happening at the train station. Su-An catches a glimpse of someone attacking the station master and is shocked but doesn't manage to tell Seok Woo who is taking a nap. Meanwhile, a wounded girl boards the train at the last minute thus marking the start of carnage on the southbound train.

As more passengers get infected by the virus which supposedly turns them into bloodthirsty zombies, those who survive the attacks (for now) gather in a single carriage, thanks to efforts by Seok Woo along with married couple Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi). When they get news that they can alight at one of the stations along the way to Busan and be rescued by authorities, the survivors find to their horror that even the soldiers have been infected and try to get back onto the train. Seok Woo, Sang-hwa and Yong-guk (Choi Woo Shik) are separated from the rest of the survivors and have a hard time reuniting with them but at the expense of Sang-hwa who puts up a brave fight against the vampires. However, the majority of the survivors fear that Seok-woo and Yong-guk may have already been infected along with Jin-hee (Ahn So-hee), Su-an and Seong-kyeong and decide to force them to be separated from the rest in a front carriage. This unwittingly proves to be the lifesaver for the small group as one of the survivors is so disgusted with the selfish behaviour displayed by the majority which led to the demise of her elder sister and unlocks the door to let the vampires in.

The ordeal does not end for the remaining survivors as the tracks are blocked by obstacles and they have to switch trains in order to continue to Busan. However, this causes more of them to be infected and Seok Woo, Su-an and Seong-gyeong are the only ones who make it to the breakaway train. Unfortunately, in a valiant attempt to save Su-an and Seong-kyeong, Seok Woo gets infected too and jumps off the train so as to prevent himself from attacking them. Su-an and Seong-kyeong finally make it to a tunnel where they walk on foot, unaware that soldiers are prepared to shoot them if they are vampires. Upon hearing the song Su-an had planned to sing for Seok Woo the day before, they are convinced that Su-an and Seong-kyeong are still humans and take them into custody.

In terms of pacing and entertainment value, "Busanhaeng" does not disappoint as the action and tension builds up nicely. There were many notable scenes which were so gripping e.g. when the vampires were charging towards the survivors after the train stopped halfway in its journey and when the survivors were chased down the tracks in their bid to board the runaway train with the vampires hot on their heels. Although the vampires looked really grotesque with their twisted actions and blood-stained faces, I thought that what was more frightening about them was their speed in attacking humans rather than their appearances. For those who like vampire flicks, this film should have enough action to satisfy you. Being confined to the constraints of a moving train, space is definitely limited so it looks like the cast had an even tougher time doing all those action scenes. In terms of this, I think they deserve accolades for their efforts.

As for the story, I thought that it was a bit lacking in some areas. First of all, the origin of the virus and how the outbreak came about was not explicitly explained. Through the phone calls between Seok Woo and his subordinate, it was implied that they had or rather their company probably had invested in some company which was making or researching the virus. However, that's pretty much all the information you get in this regard so I thought it was insufficient. The characteristics of the vampires' behaviour such as being blind in the dark and being tame when they do not see humans were also not explained so they were presented to the audience in the form of tested deductions by the survivors. Towards the end, there was also no clear explanation on how the virus was contained or the whole issue resolved so I thought that it wasn't a very satisfying ending. As such, if you can ignore these loopholes, the film itself is still an entertaining one to watch.

With regard to the cast, I thought that Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-seok stood out in their own ways. Although I didn't watch "Coffee Prince" and was never a fan of Gong in the past, I liked his performance in the movie "Dogani" (The Crucible) which was his first project after leaving the army. This time, I thought he nailed it as a workaholic who was more concerned with protecting his own interests to one who showed his natural instinct as a father to protect his daughter at all costs. The transition between both sides of his character was smooth and his last scene as he bade farewell to his daughter was indeed heart-wrenching. Of course, it would have been ideal if Seok Woo didn't die in the end but if he didn't, that might not have turned up the "touching" factor of this movie and showed his love for Su-an. On the other hand, Ma was a scene-stealer from the start due to his macho size which didn't quite match his gentleness in front of his pregnant wife. He was especially nimble and convincing in those action scenes against the vampires but it was a pity that his character perished too early. Jung Yu-mi did appear as a spunky yet somewhat foul-mouthed pregnant lady at first but without Ma around to carry on the banter, her screen presence sort of deflated to a damsel in distress saved largely by Seok Woo so she didn't make that much of an impact on me in the end.

In short, "Busanhaeng" is a pretty good film in terms of its action and entertainment. However, if the loopholes in its story could have been patched up, it would have been close to perfect.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review of Singapore Garden Festival 2016

I really dislike going to crowded places and try to make an effort to avoid going to such places or attending events or exhibitions during peak periods. First of all, it is difficult to move around due to the crowds. Secondly, when I want to take photos of things such as exhibits or flowers in this case, it irks me so much when I have to keep waiting for people who like to take selfies or wefies in a variety of poses while the rest of the visitors are waiting around impatiently for them to move away. It makes me wonder why they are so oblivious to their surroundings and don't seem to think that they need to move a bit more quickly to make it more pleasant for everyone. Coupled with the sweltering weather and my inability to get into Flower Dome due to the snaking crowds, the visit to this year's Garden Festival wasn't very pleasant for me after all. Fortunately, I managed to see some really nice exhibits so that helped to salvage the less-than-ideal experience.

One thing to note, the lighting in the sheltered areas can be improved especially in those sections which were deliberately dimmed. The direction of the small lights need to be adjusted a bit as they cast shadows or cause reflections e.g. in the terrarium section so it was really difficult to get good shots on some of the nice exhibits. I thought that it was a pity.

Here are some of the pictures I took during my visit: