Monthly Archives: September 2008

First Ever F1 Night Race Just Completed in Singapore

Over the weekend, the first ever F1 Night Race happened in Singapore.  The F1 fever was on for the past year, with hotel prices at rocket high.  I wasn’t there to witness the event.  I heard and read about them.  BK told me it was a sold out, and Dad, ever patriotic to Singapore events, was down at the site to watch and support.  Apparently walk about tickets cost S$38 (approc US$27), and “black market” price was at S$100 (US$71).  Dad asked me if I updated anyone in Houston about the F1 race … err, no, I didn’t remember it was on last weekend.  Anyhow, Fernando Alonso won, and Lewis Hamilton was 3rd!

I got updated from reading Jinmei’s blog, she is my cousin-in-law.  Her entry was simple, to the point and offered important snippets of the race happening, that was all I needed to know actually.  I was just reminded Vincent, my cousin, is a race car fan.  Her entry is as attached:

The first F1 race held in Singapore was deemed one of the toughest race for F1, the following report tells why.  Top of the list:  the hot and humid climate?  Bumpy ride?  Space constraints? …  And the verdict by the reporter – “Singapore would certainly be certainly one of the toughest circuits for drivers and cars also, with the climate, duration, bumps, walls, kerbs and lots of braking. For what I see, not much should be changed, as these challenges are what these twenty of the best drivers in the world are paid for.

The F1 race was just many of the events and happenings in Singapore for years to come.  It is real happening.  Coming events include Youth Olympics in 2010, and Singapore’s first ever casinos at not one but two IRs (Integrated Resorts), which will offer tens of thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry.  Yeah, we are small, but determined, willing and definitely not boring.


Missing All the Occasions At Home

Pei San, my sis-in-law emailed me Laurna’s Birthday Party Invite … Laurna will be turning 4 this mid Oct and her party will be held at McDonald.  Laurna is the youngest of 3 sisters.  My bro and Pei San have made it a point that the sisters would get their party at McD when they turned 4, it all started when Laura turned 4 3 years ago and the party for family and close friends were held there, then they had to communicate to the younger sisters that they would get theirs when they turned 4 too, to avoid any form of jealousy among the siblings.  Last weekend when I spoke with Laurna over skype she said mommy will be writing and sending out invitation card for her party the following day, I reminded her that I would need to receive one, her second sis Lauren who is 5+, added that I could not attend even if they invite me!? ;(

I appreciate my family for making a point to celebrate each occasion together.  From June to Dec each year, we celebrate 14 birthdays at home, an average of 2 per month.  This year, my brother organized a BBQ birthday party at home for Judith and me – it was the week before I left for Houston and 2 week after I informed my family I have quit my job and will be taking up a Baking & Pastry Arts course with the culinary institute in Houston.  Judith is my eldest niece, the eldest grandchild in our family.  Her birthday and mine are celebrated together each year which kick-start all the birthday celebration every year.  Her age difference and mine? We are 2 cycles apart.  We were both born in the year of the rat.   Soon after I arrived in Houston, it was Joel’s 7th birthday in mid July, Joel is Judith’s youngest brother.  The USPS package I sent home went missing in transit, my first poor experience of the postal system in Houston.  In August, it was my dad’s 69th birthday as well as my sis’s 39th, I sent all the cards home separately.  In September, there were 3 birthdays at home – my bro-in-law’s 39th, my bro’s 38th, and Laura’s 7th birthday, again I sent 3 cards home in separate envelops. 

BK took charge of all the presents for the children, usually I would be the one shopping for them.  For Laura’s birthday, he skyped me that he prepared 3 presents, so that Lauren and Laurna would get a present too!  Pei San emailed me the picture after and commented she loved those bags that BK bought for the girls and he had picked the perfect shape, size and colour for all 3 girls!  Ha, I reminded BK he needs to continue to buy 3 presents for each of 3 sisters’ birthday, children remember acts they deemed unfair for a long time 😉

Lauren will be graduating this 1Nov – from kindergarten 😉  I will be missing her graduation ceremony.  I have attended almost all of my 6 nieces’ and nephews’ yearly pre-school performances and graduation.  I appreciate every occasion to bond with my family, and usually we would eat out togather or have the celebration at Chengam.  Frankly I always enjoyed the pre-schoolers’ performance, it can be hilarious and full of laughter. 

My family lives within 5 minutes of each other, but soon my sis, David and their 3 children will be moving further … to the other end of Yio Chu Kang Road, about 20min away.  Come to think of the distance in Houston sense, they will still be living pretty close.  Now we live a short walk from each other. 

BK’s birthday falls on Halloween, he may be flying into Houston then enroute to Boston so that we can celebrate together, how nice.  I told him I may need to work that evening, but it didn’t really matter.  If he doesn’t fly Houston, he would attend Lauren’s graduation on 1 Nov, and my family will celebrate his birthday then.  I was supposed to start my voluntary internship at Chef Dominique’s restaurant, still waiting for the existing intern to complete the hours which was further disrupted by Ike.

Friends asked me if I miss home, if I miss Singapore … I miss the get-together and celebrations at home, I miss the Man at home, …  other than that, I love and cherish my time and experience in Houston.

My Home Singapore

Have you been to England?”  Chef Pierre asked me yesterday.  Yes, for travel after my university days and to eat Devonshire cream tea recommended by a local taxi driver ;p  Chef Pierre was from Brittany, been in England for 10 years, then about 2 years in Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong and last couple of years in Trinidad before he arrived in Houston.  I didn’t know why he asked me suddenly about England.  Then again later, he asked me where and who I learnt my English with.  In school, it is our first language in school and I learnt from local teachersYou speak with a British accent, he finally said.  He gathered that from my presentation of the pastries as chef of the day during lunch where he was the presiding chef.  I was surprised as foreigners in Singapore sometimes refer to some of our spoken English Singlish.  Just looked up wikipedia for Singlish – “… most Singaporeans speak a localised hybrid form of English known as Singlish (“Singapore English”), which has many creole-like characteristics, incorporating vocabulary and grammar from Standard English, various Chinese dialects, Malay, and Indian languages.”  Maybe only in Houston, since no one would understand me if I sprinkled my English with Malay and some Chinese dialect … or maybe Jennie would as her first language is Bahasa Indonesia but even our Chinese dialects are different but sometimes recognizable.  I told him Singapore was a British colony, this was the only closest explanation I can give for my English. 

For historic reason, our national language is Malay, many of us know a few words in Malay but we communicate mostly in English and our mother-tongue.  At home, I speak to Dad in English and Mum in a mix of Mandarin and our Chinese dialect Teochew, representing where our grandparents came from in China – Swatow.

I was curious and asked Chef Pierre if he had been to Thailand (about 2 hr by flight from Singapore) and Vietnam (about 1.5 hr ~) and Hong Kong (about 4 hr ~), why had he not been to Singapore?  It was not in my route.  Then he told me his impression of Singapore which I found a little hilarious but also partial truth depending on which side of the law you stand.  His impression – Singapore is a no nonsense country.  He got the impression from a guy who got on the wrong side of law after partying … then a t-shirt in Trinidad that listed all the No’s in Singapore eg. no chewing gums, I laughedYes, there is a tourism t-shirt that stated proudly Singapore is a FINE city.  I told him for no reason one will not be fined.  Don’t think I convince him or change his impression of Singapore.

What food do you have in Singapore? … wow, many delicious dishes.  The first thing that came to mind, I said “Char Kway Teow” … Chef Pierre went “Ah huh??!!” … oops I realised what I said was not English, even though it was exactly how it was printed on the menu board, originated from Chinese dialect Teochew and a common local delight.  I explained Char = fried, Kway Teow = flat rice noodles.  Ah, street food.  The food in Singapore is broad based and international.  Most local food are found in food centres and coffee shops (or locally known as kopi tiam in Chinese dialect; kopi = coffee, tiam = shop).  I miss spicy local food.  The food is ethnic-based, and some dishes are already mixed or we can call it fusion.  Historically, the immigrants to Singapore were from southern China, straits of Malaya, southern India and a population of Eurasians and others.  “Oh, beef rendang …”  What is that?  “… you made that during the week when Indian dishes were prepared …“, I told Chef Pierre.  Maybe called by beef curry then… or maybe it was lamb curry but the curry base is the same taste.  Chef was surprised he made a Singaporean dish I am familiar with.  All food stores and restaurants in Singapore are graded A-D according to hygiene standard, one will only see A-C as D will already be suspended, A is McDonald standard cleanliness, but many are of our favourite yummy food are in C.


During class for chocolate and pastillage this week, I had asked Chef Philippe each time how the products will be affected by warm temperature and humidity.  For chocolate, Chef recommended appropriate packaging and communication to the customers.  For pastillage, Chef said it will remain relatively stable unless we are talking about humidity of 100%.  I remembered humidity is high in Singapore but to be sure, I just google-searched, prompted by Chef’s question to me today about the weather in Singapore.  The weather is summer all year round, relative to Houston, the weather is similar, maybe not as hot but more humid.  My search showed that the “climate is characterized by uniform temperature and pressure, high humidity, and abundant rainfall. Temperatures range from 22 °C to 34 °C (72° to 93 °F). On average, the relative humidity is around 90 percent in the morning and 60 percent in the afternoon. During prolonged heavy rain, relative humidity often reaches 100 percent.”  So humidity in Singapore is in the high range of 80-100%!

Despite the summer all year round Singapore, I managed to stay fair, without sunblock, seldom in longs.  We are almost always in air-conditioned places from homes to basement or multi-storey carparks or sheltered public transport areas to air-conditioned offices and malls.  I got darker in Houston instantly and now my arms are darker than the rest of me as I am almost always in long pants.  I find the weather in Houston comfortable, I think it is hotter here but I don’t perspire much.  In my apartment, I only need air conditioning for 10min to cool down the unit and another 10min in the evening, that was about it.  Today while working in the lab, I was comfortable compared to yesterday heat, rather it is tolerable, till Chef reminded us it was about 86 deg F (or 30 deg C) – the culinary institute was still in semi-darkness, the level 2 pastry lab is brightly lit though no a/c, no induction stoves, no oven … but Chef connected a fan facing us while we worked on pastillage, that helped.

Have I thought of moving out of Singapore?  No, for the long term.  Maybe because the country is small, many of us are travellers, especially during long weekends and hols.  For me, I enjoy travelling and experiencing the cultures in various parts of the world.  In last couple of years, travelling in and out of a country for work was a different story.  I guess I appreciate Singapore more each time I travelled to another country and returned home.  Singapore offers me a stable, safe and clean environment to live and take a break, it offers me peace of mind.  The pace is fast on a daily basis, sometimes it gets too packed and noisy, sometimes there are too many tolls to pay on the roads.  Among the population, Singapore got a large expat community, it made no difference as we are used to multi-racial environment.  A good friend Nathalie and her family relocated to Singapore for work a couple of years back, they were from Paris, she had also worked in Belgium, Vietnam before Singapore.  2 years ago, tired from work, she told me she may consider moving back to Europe, then she went back Paris for summer vacation.  Soon after she came back, she told me she will stay put in Singapore for next 10 years … that was nice to know!

Nathalie once commented she never knew I was so nationalistic from something I wrote in my journal, ha I corrected her that I would never think any of us are but I am patriotic, whatever that means.  When I was small in the 70s, I lived in a family home with a huge compound, my family included my grandparents, my parents and siblings, uncles and their families.  I remembered my granddad used to remind me how Singapore had progressed and how the government made things worked for the people, then Singapore was probably only 10 year old as an independent country.  He had arrived in Singapore by boat about 40 years earlier.  Today Singapore had indeed progressed further – fast and furious.  I have vague memories of how Singapore looked in my growing up years except for the family home.

Today in class, Chef was recalling aloud where each of us came from.  Many of us came from out of Texas state – 3 from Texas, Sarah is from Missouri, Jill from Colorado, Quin from Tennesses, oops – can’t recall where Amber and Ashley were from, Chef from northern part of France … and Chef went “Joy from far away”It is not too far, Chef, Singapore is only 24hr away by flight from Houston.

While I was reading wikipedia, this info made me laugh – Since I could remember, I always know Singapore as a Lion City – the history I read in middle school, the merlion we have at the river front, the Singa we used to promote courtesy campaign for years, the logos we used on tourism leaflets etc – … “The name Singapore comes from the Malay words Singa and Pura, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit words singa सिंह siṃha (“lion”) and पुर pura (“city”).  According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, landing on the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on the shore, which his chief minister erroneously identified as a ‘singha’ or lion.  Recent studies of Singapore, however, indicate that lions have never lived there, not even Asiatic lions; the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was most likely a tiger, probably the Malayan Tiger.”  Huh?

Day 4 in Pastry Arts … Working a Sweat

We were supposed to receive power at the culinary institute this morning, Jean-Luc told me as I got in.  Great!  But power or not, we were gonna have class, so it wouldn’t really matter except then we could work more comfortably.

Chef Emmanuel was starting his class in his cuisine lab today, we have used his lab for the last 2 days.  Chef Philippe gave us 3 choices: Go home, Go field trip, Go back up to Pastry Lab and do pastillage at a room temperature of about 30 deg C.  No one chose to go home, so we willingly went back up to the Pastry lab and did pastillage.

My ingredients were used by Chef for demo, I didn’t have to do the pastillage dough.  My conclusion was that it was more difficult watching others do than be doing, I felt conscious of the warmth when I was not doing.  I decided to wash up the stuff at the sink, just then Chef Sebastien came in with the level 1 classes – his and Chef Rudolf’s – about 20 students.  When I turned around, Chef Sebastien greeted me with “Good morning, Joycelyn“, before I could reciprocate, he told his students that I was his student and now I was no longer his student, I no longer greeted him??!!  Not guilty.  Ha, today he said to me 2 times we didn’t greet him … again not guilty.

Back to class and finally I can shape my pastillage.  It looked easy when Chef Philippe was demonstrating to the class, rather he made it look so comfortable and easy.  I enjoyed the feel of pastillage more than chocolate … Use the right tool!  I had taken out a knife with a sharper blade than paring knife for Jillian when Chef left the lab and we didn’t realise a toolbox existed on Chef’s work table with all the scalpels and I had conveniently used the knife on the table to cut instead of the precision blade.  No excuse, got it … Roll out like a tart doughgoshI love tart dough, I mean since day 2 I rolled and shaped tart dough evenly with no issue, but somehow I had a problem – I was too conscious to roll the dough evenly, I forgot to feel and enjoy it.  A simple round strip I measured and cut nicely turned out short, ok next …  the second strip I cut and didn’t measure was not even in height at the closing edge and when I looked at the cross section, it wasn’t even in thickness – I really questioned my heart.  It was just a strip, goodness.  Then the bamboo – I rolled not once, twice, and this time the strip wasn’t long enough to wrap round the pole, tried as I might … “Oh sxxx“, oops I let out a loud exclamation, more to release the congestion in my heart  … I caused a commotion in class.  Chef turned round, “Joy, what did you just say? … You must put this on your blog” Anyway he assured us we still got some time … I knew Chef must have read I seldom swear – I went through level 1 and only cursed under my breath and maybe only after week 5(?), and I was now only on Day 4 in level 2 and I was just doing “play dough” which was supposed to be fun and easy.  I decided I have to find a new word to release any congestion in future – I wasn’t frustrated, I just didn’t feel it and I needed to let go.  Let me think of a new word.

After a break of staring into nothingness (yes, behind a noisy generator), I actually felt better.  I don’t like break room, I don’t like smoke, sometimes I just need a space to breathe some air and stare into nothingness.  But I made an effort sometimes to join my classmates at the stone bench.  The second part was easier – flowers and butterflies.  I loved the third part best – I felt better for the freehand though I had thought otherwise.

The third part – Leaves, and Calla Lilies.  I will only know tomorrow if the stems I did for my Calla Lilies fit.  I was happy Chef introduced Calla Lilies coz I dreamt (rather visualised) about them on my wedding cake, a small bouquet with simple greens with Lily of the Valley.  Last week, at Barnes & Nobles,  I read from a book (ha, and I copied down) that Calla Lilies come in ivory, yellow, orange, light pink, dark pink, red dark burgundy …  More about Calla Lilies – no scent, and it stands for Ardor, Magnificient Beauty, Feminine, ModestyNice.  And they are simple and elegant.  I was looking up Lily because its Chinese name 百合 has a significance for 百年好合, which literally which means 百hundred 年years 好good 合harmony & union, a very good blessing to wedded couples, blessing them to stay in love with each other forever.  But Oriental Lilies appeared too bold (more the size but what is the word?) for the cake.  And Chef recommended we start looking up desired piping to practise for our wedding cake, I was dreaming about how the cake looks and still thinking about the piping fit.

Something must change … or rather I must change myself.  I must relax and enjoy, I must feel it.  Then I thought of tomorrow.  Spray paint the pastillage?… I never painted since high school but again I have a choice tomorrow.  Raffaella told me Chef will teach us the technique.

I enjoyed my class but I really pray that we get the power back.  After 2 weeks of disruption, as much as Chef tried to return us to normacy, I again wondered how these 2 weeks of lost time and momentum can be reinstated without compromising on the value of a diploma certificate from LeNotre Culinary Institute?

Lesson Learnt – Habit #1: Be Proactive

All in a day’s lesson.

Proactivity defined – “It means more than merely taking initiative.  It means that as human beings we are responsible for our own life.  Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.  We can subordinate feelings to values.  We have the initiative and responsibility to make things happen.”   So wrote Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Habit #1. 

I was reading this book last week and updating my journal entry halfway (for a couple of days now and still halfway) on Coco’s Crepes and my takeaway understanding on Habit#2 and what I needed to proactively apply.  I guess it was a good lesson I did not complete that entry yet, coz I just had a lesson today on Habit #1.  And again there is a reason why it is called Habit #1.

Lessons from the book.  1.  Between Stimulus and Response is Our Greatest Power – the Freedom to Choose (Self-awareness, Imagination, Conscience, Independent will).  2.  Responsibility = Response-Ability.  Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility.  They do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour.  Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based in feeling.

The school was still in partial darkness, the same as last 2 days.  For us, class was as per normal at 8.15am.  The circumstances – no a/c, no working fridge/freezer, no induction cooker, no familiar pastry lab environment, … we recognised Chef Philippe chose to conduct classes for us and we all chose to turn up day after day.

We did piping today.  Chef melted the chocolate for us and all we needed to do was scoop the chocolate from the pot and practise piping.  By 12, we were to finish with our practice for the day and clean-up, many of us wanted a breather and fresh air outside.  ” … hot water for cleaning“, … nothing happened we busied ourselves with cleaning our own work station and tools.  Usually, the hot water is automatic from the tap but the circumstance was that no power = no hot water, or was it really.  The next moment, Chef took a pot and boiled the water again, and he did not say anything.  Chef had boiled a pot of hot water the day earlier so that we can clean out our stuff of chocolate and for sanitation.  What else can I say?  We recognised that and that should not happen again

Act or Be Acted Upon.  We faced the reality of the current circumstance … We also faced the reality that we had the power to choose a positive response to those circumstance … wrote Stephen Covey.  Sometimes we wonder – for some of us, it may be a quiet thought, for some of us – we wonder aloud – why people react in certain manner to us, many time we fail to look at our own behaviour and our own contribution to those reactions.  We recognised again despite our non-action, Chef chose to be patient with us today and said nothing.  Moving forward, either we act or be acted upon.

Circle of Influence.  “Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence.  They work on the things they can do something about … Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern – … the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control … results in feelings of victimisation.

The next part of the lesson.  Chef Philippe went through with us the chapters in On Baking… chapter 1 on Chefs and professionlism, chapter 2 on Tools and equipment, chapter 3 on Principles of baking, chapter 4 on Bakeshop ingredients.

Listening is one thing.  Hearing and understanding the words is another.  In level 1, the focus was on the techniques, the whats and hows.  In level 2 and 3, the focus on whys increases.  Other than the whys he will explain during hands-on, he encouraged us “… to open the book to read, and understand the whys“.  From understanding the whys, we can create our own recipes.  When we move into pastry business, we should get and work on the BEST recipes, or understand whys to create our own.

That led him to speaking with us about our future.  The reality is soon for many of us.  “Think about what you want to do, how you want to live … CHOOSE the way you want to do it.”  Again, the word – we indeed have a choice, a freewill to choose.  For me, the reality is a little scary, a lot is mental, I have to confront it.  For Chef, he chose to teach after 18 years working in the business, mostly in the bakeries in France.  He again use the word, he “chose the way it is“.

His advice for our personal good – Buy something to Taste vs buy something to eat…  Cut down quantity and eat Good.  That again went into our learning of the quality of ingredients we choose to put into our future products.

To sum up the learning in a day – Our Free Will to Choose.  Be Proactive.  Whatever we choose, love what we do.

On a separate note, he reminded me something indirectly today – in his class, I am his oldest student.  In the culinary institute, I knew he was the youngest chef till Chef “New” came along.  And we are the same age.  But I guess when it comes to learning and teaching, age is but a number ;p