Jeju In Full Colour

Sometime back, I read that The Jeju Weekly, an English newspaper in Jeju, was planning to publish a photo special of Jeju and was inviting readers to contribute photos for this spread in several categories: Coast, Mountains, Seasons, People, Food, Jeju City or Seogwipo City, Travel and Patterns.

I decided to submit eight photos that I had taken of Jeju last November to the newspaper. Apart from this being a fun thing to do, I was curious to know how it feels to see something that I created in print.  I wanted to have a new experience, or whatever one calls such feelings.

Of the eight, four managed to make their way to print together with photos of 12 other contributors.  The online edition of the spread came out today and it is available here and I am waiting for a hardcopy of the newspaper to be mailed to me.

The photos of Jeju are really not my best.  When I was sifting through my photos to shortlist some for the submission, I wished I had done better.

I find myself lamenting: If only I had used a neutral filter….  If only I had tilted the camera a little to the right….. If only I had bent down a bit more… If only I had adjusted the exposure, If only I had moved back five steps…and the ‘Ifs’ are simply endless.  I find myself thinking “if only I had a chance to redo this shot, I would have….”

That’s the thing about photography: you only have one chance, most of the time, to capture a specific moment or a particular scene and if you don’t make the best of it, that moment disappears.  For instance, you might experience the loveliest light at one point in time but once the clouds move a wee bit, the lighting alters and that moment seems alot different from what it appeared to be just a minute before.

Or sometimes, you hanker after getting the perfect shot that you completely miss out on experiencing the beauty of your surroundings.

At the risk of sounding cliched, I feel that photography is in many ways like Life: I tend to forget to savour the little moments of what life has to offer us because I am always focusing on something else that seems more important.

It is weird.  Until a couple of years ago, the camera was just something I used to document my travels: me and/or TBH posing for photos at places we were vacationing at.  The fact that I enjoy photography as a hobby still bewilders me today.

I shall try to add a gallery of the Jeju photos tomorrow.  Too tired right now to figure these things out.

Before I go to bed tonight, I have to remember to vote for Jeju to be named as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. 🙂

Happy Day

I woke up feeling very happy today.  I don’t particularly know why but I am guessing that it has someone to do with sleeping very well last night.

Or maybe I am a lucky winner in yesterday’s Mid-autumn Festival’s Special Toto Draw…..?

My friend bought a S$10 pack of Toto tickets on my behalf but I have not checked the numbers on the tickets against the draw yet.  So I am still hopeful that I could become an instant millionaire through gambling.

I haven’t been feeling that great lately.  And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to improve the situation.  It doesn’t help that I have been deprived of the joy of watching Korean dramas since I switched to Starhub’s fibre broadband and there have been some problems with my connection.

No point wondering why.  I should just enjoy the happy mood while it lasts.

Even the thought of having to fly to Shanghai for work on Tuesday didn’t dampen my chirpy mood.  (Arggghhh.  The pollution..! The awful food…!  Smoking indoors…!)

I spent the day pottering around the house.  I did my Japanese homework.  I also went to the hair salon to get a haircut and colour.  We had ramen for dinner and it was surprisingly good.

Now, I am at home – drinking sake and revising Japanese.  今、日本語をべんきょうしながら、お酒を飲みます。

Crossing my fingers that I wake up tomorrow feeling the same.  And Monday too (though highly unlikely…)

 

Hanoi: Odds & Ends

Some random shots.

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^ Hoen Kiem Lake. Those cage-like things hanging on the dead tree are light-holders. This scene would have been so pretty with a clear blue sky, instead of a smoggy-grey one.

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^ Opera House. Hanoiの道は 車とオートバイがおおいので、あぶないです。

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^ Lovely street murals.

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^ Don’t talk on the mobile while you are motorbiking.

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^ TBH in the Green Palm Gallery.

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My Heels For A New Life In France

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This book, written by Karen Wheeler, a British, was being reviewed on several book blogs that I subscribe to and reviews of the book were positive.  The book is about Karen Wheeler, a fashion and beauty editor based in London, who bought and renovated a house in rural France following a break-up with her French fiance/boyfriend and eventually, moved to live in rural France.

I was not very keen on the book at first. I am a little wary of such books because they invariably make me feel lousy about my life. But since the library had the book, I reserved a copy, thinking that I could read this on the plane to Hanoi. Afterall, if I did not like the book, it would cost me only $1.55 and some reading time.

I liked the book.  I read it twice.  It was delightful and fun.  It has been a couple of months since I enjoyed reading something. I appreciate her simple and direct writing style.  Some parts were funny, some parts were introspective, some parts were sweet.   Her tone of writing had none of the pretensions and self-importance underlined by a thin layer of smugness which I find annoying in several books of the same genre: “Do what I did and you’ll find happiness, like I did”.

I like how Karen Wheeler focuses the story not entirely on herself but on the friendships and love that she gained and lost in France; that despite uprooting her life and relocating to another country, all the things that went wrong in her life did not automatically become right.

A beautifully written passage describing the experience of living in rural France:

I love the feeling that I am living in sync with nature.  In London, I measured the passing seasons in terms of bare legs or winter boots and whether or not to wear a coat.  Here, the markets are more elemental and I’m much more aware of the passage of time.  Even in the dying days of autumn, I have found much to love about my new life: the sense of space and timelessness, the new baker’s melting chocolate macaroons, and the fact that no one cares about whether or not I’m carrying the latest ‘It’ bag.  I have even learnt to love the church bells, jolting me awake at 7.00a.m. every morning.  I love driving along deserted country back roads surrounded by flat, open fields, past dilapidated stone barns and houses with pretty blue-grey shutters.  I also love the old-fashioned courtesies that mark everyday life here – the fact that when you walk into a shop or restaurant you are expected to greet everyone with a friendly ‘Bonjour, Messieurs, Mesdames,’ (it’s considered the height of bad manners not to).  I get a buzz from the fact that, just crossing the square to buy a newspaper in the morning, I will recognise and say ‘bonjour‘ to at least half a dozen people.  In London, I would step out of my front door and be told to ‘get out of the effing way’ by a cyclist speeding up the road the wrong way.

Another lovely passage describing her enjoyment of the simple pleasures in her new life:

Despite the fact that I am nearly forty and on my own, my life feels that it too is in a state of ‘epanouie‘. This is partly because I have decided to scoop up all the sad feelings I have been travelling around with for so long and pack them away, like old clothes. Rather than wait for happiness to drop down out of the sky, I have decided that I am going to find it in small ways. I find pleasure in the simple, daily rituals of French life: waking up to the peal of church bells and birds singing above the high stone walls; throwing open the shutters first thing to the sight of sunshine and geraniums; walking up to the bakery on the square to buy freshly baked croissants. And then, after a day working at my computer, the early evening ritual of watering the roses and the potted herbs – basil, sage, chives and rosemary – in the courtyard signifies that it’s time to relax. My favourite ritual of all, however, is hanging out the washing. Having lived in a top-floor flat with no outside space for most of my last ten years in London, being able to peg my clothes on a washing line and watch as they sway seductively in a subtle breeze is a real luxury. There is no bottled scent as lovely as that of just-washed cotton sheets hung out to dry in the sun. Finally, I have found pleasures that do not involve a credit card.

She says in the penultimate chapter of her book, after losing the opportunity to start a new relationship with someone who changed his mind about her for no apparent reason:

So much has changed it seems, for so many people, in just in the space of a few weeks. Alone in front of my log fire in the evenings, I think back to how much I have achieved in the past year or so; my French house, which was unloved and falling apart when I found it, is now completely restored. And as I have rebuilt the house, I have also rebuilt my life. I have learned that I can move to a place where I know no one and create a new life for myself. It is very empowering to know that.

If only I could express and convey my thoughts as simply and clearly as she does…

Hanoi: The West Lake

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TBH has been to Hanoi twice for work before this trip, staying in hotels located in the city. His experience with the hotels in the city was that they can get quite noisy with the street traffic.

So we decided to stay at the West Lake area which is about 10 minutes away from the city by taxi. It was a good choice because this area is much quieter – no honking and tooting – and the only noise I hear from my hotel room is the screams and shouts of children splashing around in the swimming pool directly below my room. We could live with that.

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^Around the West Lake.

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^Seeing these shopfronts at the West Lake, I imagine that I am somewhere else. The French Riviera, perhaps?

The hotel is also a short walk away from a number of restaurants and cafes at the West Lake area where one can relax and enjoy the view of the lake while nursing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

I like strolling along the perimeter of the lake in the evenings when the weather is cooler, watching locals fish in the lake and just enjoying the area for what it is. Ahhh, wouldn’t it be nice to own an apartment overlooking the lake..? Or any huge body of water for the matter.

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We discovered Don’s Bistro on our first day in Hanoi and was charmed by the Chinoserie-style interior. The food is quite good, with a wide selection of Western and Vietnamese courses.

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Best of all is the view of the lake that the bistro affords its diners.

We had brunch at Don’s today and will probably head back for dinner later on. If we don’t get too lazy which we probably will.

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^Oysters served in the conical Vietnamese hat.

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^ Mr Tan’s steak-something, can’t remember what this is called.

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^My first bowl of Vietnamese pho in Hanoi. Oddly, at Don’s Bistro and not one of the local street stalls.

I am not a big fan of Vietnamese food because I find it a little too bland for my tastebuds. But the broth in this bowl of pho tastes different from the ones that I have tried previously. It had a very robust flavour, somewhat similar to the Hainanese beef soup that we have back home.

Hanoi: TBH’s Birthday Dinner

27 August 2011.

This Hanoi trip was to celebrate TBH’s *erm* 4X birthday. Prior to the trip, I did some research and decided on having his birthday dinner at La Badiane, a modern European restaurant located in an alleyway in the city.

We ordered the 3-course dinner. The food was pretty good, prices were reasonable and service effusive. The only complaint that I had was that service was a tad too slow. They took ages to serve each course. The problem when food takes too long to turn up is that it gives my stomach time to chat with my brain about how stuffed it is, resulting in me losing my appetite. Like right after the appetiser.

Photos are a bit orange-y ‘cos of the lighting and ‘cos I didn’t pay much attention to the camera’s white balance.

For no really good reason, I shall start with dessert, a course which I never fully enjoy because I am usually too stuffed by the time it is served.

Desserts:

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^Chocolate-Cointreau mousse on shortbread cookie & raspberry delicacies; “Crème brulée” delicacies (peach-thyme, banana-cumin & mint-Baileys)

Mains:

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^Grilled Australian beef tenderloin, roasted cherry tomatoes, green beans & onions, pepper sauce

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^Fried scallops, mashed potatoes with garlic & Persil butter, beans & carrots, lemon leave emulsion

Appetisers:

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^Crab remoulade on dill mimosa, kumquat dressing & sesame biscuit

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^Red tuna tartar with fresh coriander & herbs, passion fruit juice, fresh coconut & spices

We literally rolled out of the restaurant holding our bellies looking for a ‘Taxi Group’ cab to take us back to the hotel. Then we stayed up till 1am in the morning watching CNA for updates on the Presidential Election. Yes, there is CNA in the Intercontinental!

Hanoi: Old French Quarter

We did the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Old French Quarter. It was blistering hot, very noisy and crowded. The walk took us almost three hours to complete; by which time, we were driven half-mad by the constant honking and tooting.

I felt a little bad making TBH do this walk with me on his birthday.

We strolled along the narrow streets with shops packed tightly next to each other, taking in the street sights and smells of the Old French Quarter, and constantly rejecting cyclos wanting to offer us a ride.

Mid-way through the walk, we made two stops to rehydrate. At one of the stops, I decided to order a mojito. I figured that a mid-day alcohol was essential in providing me with the motivation to resist hopping onto a cab and heading back to the hotel where there is air-conditioning. And shade. And a bed.

We started the walk at the Ngoc Son Temple located on the Hoan Kiem Lake and ended at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

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^The red-coloured timber wooden bridge leading into the Ngoc Son Temple.

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^I find it very fun crossing the Vietnamese roads, darting around scooters, motorcycles and cars. It is like playing a game of dare with no rules.

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^ Love the architecture.

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^Bought a stick of deep-fried dough fritters from this hawker. The fritters look like doughnuts but unlike doughnuts which are chewy, these fritters were very hard.

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^Walked through the fresh produce section of the markets and saw hawkers skinning frogs (argh..!).

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^Marketing on a scooter.

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^I was tempted to get one of these conical Vietnamese hats to give me some shade from the sun.

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^ St. Joseph Cathedral.

End of walk.

I don’t think I will repeat this walk again unless it is at temperatures below 20 degrees Celcius. The weather is just too hot for the walk to be fully enjoyable.

てんきはあつくて、散歩したあまり楽しくなかったんです。

We visited the famous Hanoi ice-cream parlour, Fanny, for a much-needed ice-cream to cool down.

Arrived in Hanoi

Day view of the West Lake from our hotel room. The weather is very hot and the skies are foggy.

The Intercontinental is a bit old, service is spotty and the room has NO Wi-fi. Geez.

We haven’t ventured around much on our first day here. But I like Hanoi already. Alot more than Ho Chih Min.

Photos of Chiangmai

I was cleaning up the draft folder in this blog and dug up this old post containing some photos of Chiangmai.

I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked to because it was quite difficult managing a camera with a heavy lens and at the same time, swatting mosquitoes and scratching your legs, all the while sweltering under the heat.

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I have more photos here: Chiangmai: Botanic Gardens

While I am doing (frivolous) stuff like blogging right now, TBH is nagging at me to pack my lugguage for Hanoi. As an example of how different we are: he has almost finished packing his bags two days in advance whereas I am one who can-not start packing for a trip more than one day in advance.

The People I Used To Make Music With

^Photo taken with my iPhone by a staff in the restaurant.

This is the first photo of me and/or my friends on this blog. I thought about it for a while and decided that I really wanted to put this up because it brings me back to one of the happiest periods in my life.

I had dinner with a bunch of old secondary school friends sometime last month at Ikoi, a Japanese restaurant at Furama Hotel. The dinner was a farewell get-together for an old friend who was leaving for Vancouver.

We were not all from the same cohort: most of them were a year ahead of me, one was a year behind me and another was in the same cohort as me. But we were all in the school band.

Instruments we played: starting from me in an anti-clockwise manner, you have the trumpet, two clarinets, the drums, the saxaphone, the drums (again).

I haven’t seen some of them in the last 20 years. It is a little strange (and good in a way, I guess) that most of us do not seem to look very different since we were 16. See the short-haired girl in a white shirt next to me? She has had that same hairstyle since I knew her when we were 13 years old.

We had a great time catching up, gorging on sashimi, cam-whoring and making a din the entire evening. Exactly like how we were when we used to hang out at the KFC in Hougang after band practice every Saturday.

National Day Pow-wow

9 August 2011.

For some years now, it has become some sort of a National Day ritual (is there a better word to describe this..?) for us to hang out at a friend’s place over a home-cooked brunch, booze and plenty of yabber-jabber for hours until we become incoherent from food-and-alcohol-induced drowsiness.

It was no different for us this year. As always, we had a marvellous time eating very delicious food, downing fruit-based cocktails and just chatting.

Itadakimasu.  いただきます。

Onion, potato and gruyere galette.  とても おいしかったです。
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I could go on and on posting photos of different angles of this tart…! Couldn’t decide which one I liked better.  Gosh, I feel hungry looking at these photos.

Fluffy shortcakes. Eaten with butter and jam.  I like it best when eaten au naturale.
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Mini beef burgers cooking on the grill.
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The burgers were made with freshly-minced-at-home beef.  I should have also taken a photo of the back of the chef standing at the grill.  That would really be a ‘smokin’ hot’ sight.

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I had my burger California-style which just means eating the beef patty without buns, tomatoes, onions, pickles, the usual condiments, etc.  All the things associated with eating a burger that I am familiar with.

How is a ‘burger’ a burger when it does not come sandwiched between buns? The concept was a little alien to me at first. It is like eating chicken rice without the rice or kway chap without the kway.  While my mind took some time getting used to the concept, my palate and my stomach understood it immediately!

Strawberry slush with Grand Marnier.
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An innocent-looking killer.  You think you are drinking a really healthy strawberry smoothie until you wonder why you feel so woozy.

Nutella bread pudding.
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By the time we passed the half-way mark for brunch, my camera (or rather, the lens that was attached to the camera) decided that it had enough of food porn and just stopped functioning. Damn, why couldn’t the lens just stick it out until the meal was complete.  カメラを壊れてしまったんです。

I had to use my trusty iPhone to take photos of the rest of the meal.  We also had a berry crumble with freshly-whipped cream, Nutella bread pudding with creme anglais and TWO more fruit-based cocktails! But as we speak, photos of these are still sitting in the iPhone and I have not gotten around to downloading them.

I brought some crumble home and left it in the fridge.  I was happily eating cold crumble with cold creme anglais while typing this post.  These things taste even better after being left in the fridge for a couple of days.

We may never say it often enough.  But it is never too late to do so.  Candice: thank you for always making us such yummy food.  Candice-さんは 友達に いつも 美味しい食べ物を作ってあげるんです。I am sure there is a better of saying this.  Just that I haven’t learnt it yet!

Nori, The Dalmatian

I took this photo on my iPhone of Nori, my friend’s Dalmatian, when I was invited to his place for dinner last week. She is a very affectionate old girl.

I used to dislike dogs. When I was about 10 years old, my neighbour’s schnauzer decided to sink her teeth into my thigh for no apparent reason. It took me at least a decade before I overcame my irrational fear of dogs (should it be ‘rational’ since there was a reason why I got scared…?) and could let one come near me without (me) trembling in fear.

Back to Nori. On a whim, we decided to get Nori to sit down in front of a painting of a Dalmatian that is hanging in their dining room. We thought this would make such a pretty picture. And Nori obliged.

And was probably wondering why was there all this fuss over a painting when the real McCoy is in the house.

But no, that painting isn’t a portrait of Nori. Her owner just happened to see the painting in an art gallery and bought it.

I really like this photo.

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