Category Archives: My Friends

Japanese Pan @ ABC Culinary

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Osaka, Japan was to meet up with Sachiko.  Where would you like to go?  I can spend time with you on my off days on 3, 6, 9 April.  Sachiko wrote in her email exchange with me prior my travel.

I got to know Sachiko along the streets in Adelaide in 1997.  Both of us were travelling alone ~ she on a 6 month working holiday (ie. work while travel) in Australia and New Zealand, and I was on 2 week holiday in Adelaide.  Since then, we visited each other’s country and home and had travelled within Japan and around Singapore together.

I would like to make Japanese bread!  I told her I would like to visit a Japanese pastry kitchen but since it was not going to happen, I was going to learn to make bread instead.  I found a culinary website by ABC Culinary, it conducts casual classes but I couldn’t understand the content in Japanese.  So Sachiko made the enquiries and we registered ourselves for Japanese pan (pan = bread in Nihon-go) making class for 500 yen.  500 yen?  Is it just demo?  500 yen is equivalent to US$5, and I was doubtful.  Yes.  Sachiko confirmed it cost only 500 yen and the session was hands-on.  The promotion price was meant for first time attendees at ABC Culinary Studio, as an incentive to understand their courses and join their membership and sign up for certification courses.  All the classes were conducted in Japanese, Sachiko told me she would translate for me.  Ha!

On that day of lesson, we were to bring our own apron, a pair of indoor slippers and a towel.

The Topic:  Mayonnaise Egg Pan and Cranberry Pan.

abc-culinary

We met at Umeda branch of ABC Culinary Studio.  We were introduced to our Instructor, Yamaguchi-san.  Actually both of us didn’t catch her name, I translated her Japanese name in kanji from the photo.  It turned out that Yamaguchi-san speaks Japanese, English and Italian, and pretty fluent in them even though she humbly pronounced her insufficiency in the foreign languages.  It was interesting because Sachiko had picked up Italian language too, spending a half year in Italy a few years ago to learn the language.

The group ratio was 1 instructor to maximum 5 students.  In our session that day, there were only 2 of us.  All the different sessions for bread and cakes were ongoing at the same time in an open concept.  One working table was shared by 2 sessions.  Initially I was surprised, then I realized it was possible because the Japanese are generally considerate in their manners and behaviour. 

The recipe was in Japanese, so Sachiko helpfully translated for me loosely over dinner later.  I had also taken some notes during the session so it helped.  The steps were simple – mix all the ingredients together, knead well, 1st proof, roll into balls, 2nd proof, form the shape, 3rd proof, into oven done.  Over the 2 hours there, the proofing time was a time for coffee break, chit chat and washing the equipment used.  I was joking to Sachiko that I felt like a Japanese housewife instead of a student.

I shared my observation with Sachiko – I noticed the instructors and students acted in manner so different from the speed and actions in the kitchens I am familiar with, whether at CIAML, at home or the hotel.  Take for example, the act of egg washing the final bread dough, the action was meticulously slow and looked nice.   Sachiko told me that in their society, they are conscious of what others thought of their actions and behaviour.  We both agreed though that as long as we are doing right in principles we do not really need to bother too much.

At the end of the session, we each ate 2 breads, and got to bring back 3 others in varieties.  It was an interesting way to interact with a friend other than the meals we shared together.  I also learnt a basic Asian bread dough to make, bake and eat all within 2 hours.  Cool!

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Bringing My Little “Precious”(s) Back to Singapore

My last night in Houston ~ a place I called home for the last 22 weeks.

Sitting in my apartment, knowing I have a couple of hours more to pack my luggage before dawn breaks.  And tonight, Houston is snowing, the temperature outside is 1 deg celcius.  Am I not blessed… Houston snows approximately every 4 years and tonight it is snowing… my last evening in Houston.

I just got back … from sipping warm coffee near a cozy fire place, with nice company on a snowing winter night … hmm when I wrote this, I thought it was so beautiful, yes it was indeed, and I know I am indeed so blessed.  No more words needed. 

I have been staring at my apartment for a while now.  I put the valuables to one side so I remember to pack them, and my precious to another coz I will never leave them behind or trash them.

Leaving with me tomorrow are 7 little rats or mice I have received in Houston – 3 of them are of the same breed but have different shades, and a cartoon book.

rats-bkThis mousey was from BK when he visited me in Houston on 30 Oct.  It was his birthday the following day but I received the present instead.  This mousey flew in with him from Singapore…  Before this, we were apart for 17 weeks since the day he left for Singapore on 5 July 2008 after settling me in Houston.  

rats-psrThis mousey was from a special couple … interestingly I wondered why someone would make a cheese knife in the form of a mouse and gave it 2 ears and a long tail??!!  Isn’t it such a wonder…  a symbol of my friendship with the special couple which began less than 10 weeks ago.  And this mousey will certainly reside comfortably in my precious collection and will go nowhere near my car boot sales. 

rats-jennie-lThese mouseys were from Jennie.  She gave me 3 as the 3 symbolized the friendship between 3 friends who met in Houston – Jennie is Indonesian Chinese who has adopted Houston as her home, Rafaella from Brazil and I from Singapore … guess who the fair one represents, who loves to show her left profile?  The amazing thing was we were not even from the same batch but we graduated together and we shared many a moments together in the last 20 weeks. 

rats-liz

This mousey was from Elizabeth.  On the second last day of school – 26 Nov, she gave it to me before class started, and she said she found it over the weekend and she hoped I would like it.  Of course, and no doubt about it!  Liz was my first partner on my Day 1 at CIAML on 7 July 2008 … and knowing I am double her age and I would usually give in to her, she knew she could try many things on me 😉  Then she helped me matter of factly on many occasions.

rats-misshu

This mousey was from Missshu, who shipped it to me from Sydney.  It was the first mousey that accompanied me through a couple of weeks in Houston while I worked on the laptop.  What made it so special was she got this for me during a time when beautiful things were happening to her.  And she now knew what I meant, when I told her last year – when it happened, you would know it … with your heart!  

joys-book1

This mousey cartoon book was bought over amazon.com, when I was researching on sugar flower books for my wedding cake.  It detailed the traits of persons born in the year of Rat through the journey of Ralph the rat who rescued his friend using traits others frowned upon.

The conclusion of the book ~ People born in the Year of the Rat are ambitious, clever, and thrifty.  They are nimble, optimistic, and sensitive.  But sometimes they can be competitive and possessive.  Though they may be nosey and a little thin-skinned, rats are truly resourceful and trusty pals.

Traits can’t be generalized based on birth year alone, it takes a character to become who he really is.  Be.

Along the way … I met and made friends who shared significant moments of my life at this point or another and friends who continued to hold me dear even tho’ I decided to relocate to Houston and now I am relocating back to Singapore… and I truly believe this friendship will continue to hold us dear through the distance, wherever we are.

You know what, I am ready to go home.

Celebrate Birthday Away from Home

On Saturday morning, I suddenly recalled it was David’s birthday as the familiar date popped out from the laptop calendar I was looking at.  Garren and I decided to celebrate for him that evening.

Garren, David and I are fellow Singaporeans ~ no matter that David was from Ipoh, Malaysia but now his family lives in Singapore.  David has been in States for last 4 years, having completed his University education at Michigan State last year, and now working in Houston.  Garren just arrived into Houston end June this year, on a 6 month stint with a corporate company in the Energy sector.  Both of them met virtually via Overseas Singaporean forum.  Garren found me through my blog and linked me with David and a couple others from Singapore.  It is so amazing that we formed a trusting friendship quickly away from home, while we may never know each other back home.  I had met both of them for the first time post Ike.

When I first came to Houston, I had not thought of meeting anyone from home.  I did not make any effort to find people, except to locate Cafe Singapore for Singapore National Day.  I prepped myself that since I am only here for 20 weeks or slightly more, I would focus only on school and anything pastry.  Even now, very much so.  They knew that I don’t go out on weekdays as I reserve my energy only for school.  So that I have no form of excuse, whatsoever.  Most of the time during weekdays, I am comfortable spending time reading, surfing, writing, dreaming and napping.  It is so unreal, a luxury.  On weekends, I enjoy reading and drinking coffee at a bakery cafe … these are the times my mind will be working most actively ~ ideating.  Sunday is very much my recovery day – wake up late and do whatever I wish. 

We did not decide on a place to go – Garren picked me about 7 and we were on our way to pick David from his apartment along beltway 8.  Garren suggested Nonya Grill at Sugarland as he recalled David loved the food there the last time a group of Singaporeans met there 2 weeks ago.  I did not join then as I was hibernating… ha.  The drive to Sugarland felt like a short one, though it looked further on the map.  Nonya Grill serves Malaysia and Singapore cuisine, the dishes from the 2 neighbouring countries are pretty close but vary in taste.  Nonya means Peranakan or Straits Chinese ~ forming a unique and colourful culture of its own from inter-racial marriages of the past.

The food at Nonya Grill was yummy indeed.  Very flavourful.  My fav were Oyster Egg Omelette and Hot Plate Tou-fu.  I love egg in all forms, it adds a sweet flavour to the food, as well as a thickened consistency.  Eating out with these 2 guys means no vegetable dishes.  The business was brisk at the restaurant, the servers were mostly from Malaysia, I think.  During our dinner, we were entertained by an African-American who sang Chinese pop songs, he was just helping out as a resident singer for the time-being, he told us he can sing about 50 Chinese songs… and he sounded pretty good indeed.  We had a hearty celebration dinner with close-to-home-hawker-fare indeed.  On the way out, we met Keetha at another table, with her husband Brett and 3 other Singaporean friends and another friend.  It was my first time meeting her.  Garren was introduced to Keetha by Linda and George, the Singaporean couple I had met 3 weekends ago at the Hawker Fare organised by Malaysian Singapore Association.  In fact, we found out that Linda and George were supposed to be at Nonya Grill last night if George had not fallen ill.  Keetha pointed to another table, a big group of all ladies – she said they were a Singaporean party too.  There is a sizable community of Malaysians and Singaporeans in Houston, most are energy industry related, I believe.

We dropped by Hong Kong Market along Bellaire, my first time there.  I do not miss any Asian food or ingredients as I could get the basic stuff easily at H.E.B., Kroger, or Central Market, and I don’t really need to visit an Asian supermarket in particular, so I seldom visit Bellaire.  But I was zooming in on a bunch of leaves, and I read that these can only be found at Hong Kong Market.  Mission accomplished.

Next we let David choose the next destination since it was his birthday.  I suggested a place to drink, David was quick to direct us to The British Pub for a beer … I really meant a cafe to drink coffee, hee.  It was a cool evening to sit outside, not chilly.  There was a live band.  We were entertained by a post-wedding party, the group has a couple of pretty strong vocals.  The groom offered us 4 large pieces of his wedding cake … much appreciated but we were too full to eat, I tasted – the cake was soaked with syrup which made the cake moist.

What was interesting ~ for the first time, I knew non-alcoholic beer exists.  I had asked for something non-alcoholic, and the server went “which non-alcoholic beer …?” … Huh?  Non-alcoholic beer!!??  It is okay, just choose one for me.  It wouldn’t have made any difference to my taste bud.  I was served O’Doul’s, the label read “Now richer and smoother”, manufactured in Missouri, St Louis … contains 0.5% alcohol.  Anyway, the beer tasted like water with some gas in it, the verdict of a non-alcohol drinker.

As we sat chatting, we decided to meet a year from now, 25 October 2009, and most likely we would all be back in Singapore … to review our dreams we spoke about and to celebrate a friendship we forged in Houston … and of course to celebrate David’s next birthday.  Shortly after me, Garren will be returning to Singapore by end of Dec and David by January next year when his visa expires.

As we made our way back, David was happy and was singing his lung out.  I am happy he is so happy … that we made it a point to celebrate his birthday away from home.  I was reviewing a video clip I took of his singing, it was hilarious and cheerful. 

Last evening I found out – David is 24, a cycle younger than me.  Many happy returns.

Rat ~ Air Flown From Australia

No rat?

Shu has just skyped me last week, asking if I have received the rat she sent from Australia.  No.  … Then I realized I did not check my mail box often, if I received any mail, they were usually parcels delivered to my apartment or the leasing office or left outside my apartment if I am not around.

Shu and I were ex-colleague till last August.  We call her miss-shu for fun, and when it is said faster, it becomes “miss-U“.  When I left the company, she was in Vietnam then, and now she is based in Sydney office.  She had gone to Hunter Valley a couple of weeks back and she came back … with a little mouse for me.  Nice.

~We both love the old fashion bread with bean paste in it. She loves it to a higher degree, I guess.

Thursday ~ I remembered to opened the mailbox, as usual there was a pile of junk mails, my electrical and internet bills, and there it is – an envelop airmailed from Sydney, Australia.  I opened it first thing when I got back to my apartment … just realised the pile of letters and junk mails was still left untouched on my desk.

As I opened the envelop, there were a paper bag and another layer of paper before I saw the Little Mouse.  かわいい! (pronounced ka-wa-ii) … The Japanese would say cuto, and we say cute!…  On the backside of the mouse was printed “Red Gum”, indicating the type of wood it was carved from.  When Shu first skyped me, she hoped I didn’t have the same wooden mouse … What type of wood is it?  She actually emailed the gallery she bought from to check, without looking at the backside where the name of the wood would be printed.  Each addition to my rattie collection comes made with a unique material not already in my collection – I have 6 wooden rats and now another, Yeah!  And they are made from different types of wood.

In her note, she wrote “My dearest Joys, the Australian mouse as promised *smiley*, I have emailed the shop to ask what wood the mouse is made of so I hope they will reply!  I am sure life is fruitful and exciting over there in Houston and I am happy for you.  Things are starting to look rosier for me too … *smiley* … says the mouse looks like a “Marcus” … but up to you to name him.  Hee.  (heart heart, sign) miss shu“.  Oh I have never mentioned to Shu that I don’t name any of my rats … I just love to look and fuss over them.    

I recalled about 10 years back I was in a little wood specialist shop in Hahndorf, Adelaide, South Australia, I gave up a painted wooden boomerang to bring home as a souvenir for 3 wooden rats, believed one rattie was made from aromatic sandalwood and one was a cedar?.  I figured I can always find a boomerang of a design I like in future, but I may not see the same rattie again.  Each new addition never fails to make feel joyful and blessed.

[8:41:53 PM] Joy Joy says: BTW SO かわいい

[8:41:55 PM] Joy Joy says: cuto

[8:42:03 PM] shu says: eh? the mouse?

[8:42:12 PM] Joy Joy says: of course lah

[8:42:15 PM] shu says: haha

[8:42:18 PM] shu says: how i know?

[8:42:24 PM] shu says: happy u like it!

[8:42:28 PM] shu says: i love the ears

[8:42:34 PM] Joy Joy says: cheerful too. thank you :*

[8:42:38 PM] shu says: 😉

[8:42:58 PM] Joy Joy says: i love the expectant look

[8:43:30 PM] shu says: har har!

[8:43:36 PM] shu says: u are so specific

Indeed, I love to look into the eyes of each rattie, it seems to talk to me, and each time I feel so blessed.  Each reminds me of the special person I share a friendship with … or when I found them myself, it reminds me how blessed I am to travel the places over the world to find them.  Among the different animal figurines I have seen, rattie is the most uncomplicated animal – just simple lines, a tail and a pair of ears.

Suddenly I wonder Why Rat is the first of the 12 Chinese Zodiac?  I have never thought much about zodiac, I do not believe a zodiac sign is predictive of who I am and what I can be.  Anyway, I googled, and …

There is a folk story that describes how the animals were assigned to the cycle of years. A long long time ago, the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals together to assign each of them a year. When the cat heard the news, he let his friend the rat know about it and the two animals decided to go together the next day. However, the next day the rat did not wake the cat who, being a cat and loving to nap, slept through the morning. Therefore, the cat did not make it to the assembly on time and did not get a year. This is why there is no year of the cat and this is why cats hate rats.          

The rat, on the other hand, made it first there and received the first year. He did not achieve this without trickery either. He knew that a small animal like him would not be able to compete with the others, so he begged the ox to let him ride on its head. The ox consented and they went together. Just when they were about to arrive, the rat jumped off the ox’s head and got through the finish line first. This is why the year of the rat is the first year in the cycle and the year of the ox is the second.  (http://www.logoi.com/notes/chinese_zodiac.html         

Ha.  I read further on the characteristic of persons born in the year of the Rat, according to mythology. … “The Rat is charming, imaginative, very clever and opportunistic in money. His best role is as a confidential agent to you. He loves things off the beaten track…”  As a Go-Getter, “The Rat is a go-getter. He’s active and highly strung and hard mental effort attracts him and also relieves him… The Rat respects laws but usually only his own laws, and can be the type that breaks taboos and defies the establishment. … He is also very detached, purposeful and adapts to all the changing circumstances around him. He is full of courage, industrious and hardworking and his brain is keen and alert. Rat people see the goal they want and go for it. He is unafraid of the unforeseen, so can move with whatever changes happen to him in a project or a profession.” … Who love, “Rats are anxious and sometimes aggressive; they would never win a prize for being the easiest to get on with. On the other hand, they are romantic creatures and never boring … The happy Rat is faithful and committed and will always appear to be the great advocate of sincerity. ”   (http://www.astrologycom.com/earthrat1.html)

Sounds good huhGosh, enough about Rats.  Time to live my weekend.

About My Girlfriends

Two days ago, a good friend Liane and I were sharing via email on our circle of girlfriends.  We have been friends since middle school days, that was a good 23 years back.  That set me thinking about my recent virtual communication with many girlfriends via facebook, skype and emails as well as some I have lost touch on a regular basis.

The meaning of a friend

I hold very strong view about friendship – someone I trust strongly and would go miles for, the level of connections beyond words can sufficiently define (with my limited vocabulary), they who would protectively stand by me and support me during times of uncertainties, laugh with me and celebrate my successes and victories just as I would for them.  With our individual priorities and pace of lives, the face-to-face contact becomes limited and a luxury.  But for a few, we still make it a point to meet up for wee hours coffee, celebrate occasions such as birthdays, festivities, new job etc and maintain the constant touch.

Friends I hold dearly

There are also friends I will always hold dear in my heart, we grew up together ~  We spent a great period of 4 years training together as a team to fight for first place honors in Nursing, First Aid and Footdrill competitions with St John’s Ambulance Nursing Division during middle school and we called ourselves J.Mick; ~  We trained the distance and sprints in canoeing, running, circuits and medicine balls during high school, and held our pride as NJ Canoeing Girls; ~  They stood by me and gave me comfort and strength when I flunked my first year exam in high school and there could never be a better way to know true friends; ~  We lived under one roof during university years, shared the growing up pains in relationship, study and day-to-day learning; ~  She whom I met along the street of Adelaide and shared many New Year meals with at her home with her family in Osaka; ~  The handful of ex-colleagues (okay, maybe more than a handful!) who became close friends and we talked beyond marketing planning and business strategies and shared our highs and lows through the years; ~  They who were ever ready to celebrate my successes in life and helped turn each challenging occasion to an uplifting moment.  For many of these friends, we shared a close association that only memories can match and only we can connect to.

On Standby

We lead different path and at different stages of life – some are pursuing their career with gusto, some are stay home mums, some are happily leading what they called “a normal life”, some prefer to live in denial, some prefer to remain a mystery, some would just appear when you need a clue to what is going on.

I want the best for my friends but I have since learnt to be On Standby, even if I feel like a filler (as my close friend called it) in their busy lives. 

I learnt – To be there for them only when they need me to, To feign ignorance if they don’t want me to know a part of them, To listen to their heart than to push my point which is limited to my own experience, To not judge their lives and pray in faith that as long as no harm come to them, To let go of my emotions when I feel let down. 

Over the years, I had disappointment with a few whom I called friends, and I have since moved on.  It is apparent we hold different values in our level of friendship and communication, I learnt not to impose on them my level of expectations, at the same time, I also allow the friendship to fade away.  I would still want them to live well and have successes, but the connection has become superficial.

“I have been busy…”

Before we realise time passed quickly. Often, we hear  “I have been busy…” as a grand excuse to explain ourselves and start our conversation.  There is really no need to.  Friendship is mutual, it take at least 2 persons to be connected.   Recently, I wrote this to a good friend – “Oh please don’t wait till i am back to keep in touch, keep in touch ok! Or after some time, this friendship becomes too virtual to be real and it is difficult to keep up.”  I mean it, I have known this friend for 13 years now since the day I joined my first company, we were from the same team and we shared a lot then, for the last 4 years we have not been able to keep up with each other, in her words “…seems that every time that I’m here you’re elsewhere.  Or perhaps it’s the other way around.”  

And recounting the number of close friendship I made in my last 29 years (I do not recall any friendship before elementary school!), I found it hard to define some friendship now.  We were really close at some stage in our life and somehow along the way, we lost each other – appropriately termed “lost in transit” as we move on and live our own lives.  Thanks to facebook, for some, we found each other again and continued our close association and trust even though we did not meet up as much.  For the others, we are still waiting for the other person to make the first move.

For my girlfriends who read this, thank you for being in the loop!

***

Aptly as we were on the topic of Girlfriends, I received an email from a close friend I have known since elementary school in 1979.  It reads as follow:

Stacy Koh <kohstacy@yahoo.com.sg>
Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 1:09 AM
Fw: GIRLS IN MY CIRCLE

GIRLS IN MY CIRCLE

When I was little,
I used to believe in the concept of one best friend,
And then I started to become a woman.
And then I found out that if you allow your heart to open up,
God would show you the best in many friends.

One friend is needed when you’re going through things with your man.
Another friend is needed when you’re going through things with your mom.

Another will sit beside you in the bleachers as you delight in your children and their activities
Another when you want to shop, share, heal, hurt, joke, or just be.
One friend will say, ‘Let’s cry together,’
Another, ‘Let’s fight together,’
Another, ‘Let’s walk away together.’

One friend will meet your spiritual need,
Another your shoe fetish,
Another your love for movies,
Another will be with you in your season of confusion,
Another will be your clarifier,
Another the wind beneath your wings.

But whatever their assignment in your life,
On whatever the occasion,
On whatever the day,
Or wherever you need them to meet you with their gym shoes on and hair pulled back,
Or to hold you back from making a complete fool of yourself,
Those are your best friends.

It may all be wrapped up in one woman, But for many, it’s wrapped up in several..

One from 7th grade,
One from high school,
Several from the college years,
a couple from old jobs,
On some days your mother,
On some days your neighbour,
On others, your sisters,
And on some days, your daughters.

So whether they’ve been your friend for 20 minutes or 20 years,
AND ONLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO, Pass this on to the women that God has placed in your life
To make a difference.

Thanks for being in my circle.

***

ps:  Thanks Stacy, for sharing the message just as I was thinking about it.  It must be God-sent!