Reading With Overdrive

I just discovered Overdrive Media Console, a cool app which lets me find, check-out and read ebooks from the local library on my iPad.  The app is free on the iTunes store and you do not have to pay anything to reserve and/or borrow digital books online.  Overdrive, the company which developed this app is based in the US with an office in Australia, is a digital distributor of ebooks, audiobooks, music and video worldwide.  

I have been using this console for a couple of days and I love it.  The search, check-out and return functions are intuitive.  The interface is clean, simple, and has functions that are similar to those in iBooks.  The console allows you to create bookmarks, look up the meaning of a word, or change the look (such as margins, number of columns, line spacing, text alignment and fonts) of your reading screen just by tapping an icon.  It looks like Overdrive has been around for quite a while, so why has it taken me so long to learn about it…?!

The entire process of using Overdrive is straightforward.  All you have to do is to download the app from iTunes (I am fairly sure it is compatible with the Androids), add your local library to the database, find a digital title or audio-title, check-out or place a hold on it (if the available digital copies have been loaned out), download the title and you can start reading!  Once you are done with the title, you can easily return it just by tapping an icon.  If you prefer not to download the digital title, the console allows you to read the ebook through the built-in browser, or a browser of choice.

I added the Singapore National Library to the console.  Out of curiosity, I performed a search on the library database and learnt that there are many libraries around the world which are part of the OverDrive database.  I have no access to these overseas libraries as I do not have a membership account with them.


Zheng Yi Hainanese Beef Noodles At Tai Thong Crescent

 photo DSC_0351-140312-v2__zps820f480e.jpgIt took me four visits before I managed to eat a bowl of beef noodles from this stall run by a middle-aged Hainanese lady (not the one in the photograph above) at a corner coffeeshop at Tai Thong Crescent.  I always relish the opportunity to order my food in Hainanese ‘cos besides my maternal grandmother and mother, there is hardly anyone else whom I can converse with in that dialect.

I love eating dry beef noodles.  The beef noodle stall at the now-defunct Scotts Picnic foodcourt was the one that I used to frequent as a teenager.  Then I started going to the popular Purvis Street and Hwa Heng shops.  But I have never really found a stall that serves beef noodles having the flavour of of the ones that my maternal grandparents used to bring me to eat as a child.  My grandparents had distant relatives (that is, people who came from the same village as them in China, and not necessarily part of the same family) who made a living here selling beef noodles.  Sadly, these relatives are no longer around.

Zheng Yi Hainanese Beef Noodles photo DSC_0356-140312-v2__zps632572d3.jpg photo DSC_0359-140312-v2__zps1d114cb4.jpgI ordered a bowl of dry mixed beef noodles (containing beef slices, beef tripe, beef tendons and yes, beef balls) topped with spring onions, peanuts and fried shallots.  It costs me $7. 


Korea: Songgwangsa Temple In South Jeolla

Every photo decluttering exercise is an opportunity to reminisce about my trips. This time, I am cleaning up the folders containing photographs of my 5-week trip to Korea in late autumn of 2010.  I dugged out some photos of my favourite places to put up here.  I have no idea why it has taken me several years to do so, but as they always say, better late than never.

I love visiting Korea, and I have gone back every year since 2007.  With the exception of the 5-week trip, the rest of my visits were short trips lasting between 4 days to 10 days.  I have been there in all four seasons and autumn is my favorite time of the year to visit because the fall colours are beautiful.  Despite having been there so many times, there are still so many parts of the country that I have not seen.  I haven’t been to the DMZ, for example; or gone to Andong, or seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

I cannot exactly explain what about the country that I am besotted with. I like the scenery.  Both the urban and countryside landscope. I like the culture. I like the food.  I have no problems eating Korean food three times a day, or kimchi everyday.  I suppose it is also largely due the fact that it is a place that I feel comfortable travelling around on my own even though I cannot speak the language.

People have asked how I manage to get around the country, especially in the countryside, when I don’t speak the language.  I bring along Korean versions of maps of the city or town that I am in, circle the places that I want to go to on the maps, so that I can show them to cab-drivers or to anyone whom I may be seeking directions from.  I also copy down names and addresses of the hotels or motels that I would be staying at, in Hangeul, to reduce the difficulty of getting understood (or misunderstood) by the locals.

My preferred mode of traveling between cities or towns is by coach, and by cab within the area.  Getting around Korea by bus is very easy, convenient and affordable even if you don’t speak the language.  All I have to do is to take a cab to the city or town bus terminal, buy a coach ticket, stick my suitcase in the luggage compartment, board the bus, go to sleep and wake up at my destination several hours later.  I have taken the KTX and comparing the train and coach, I find the coach a much easier way to travel between cities or towns because coach travel rarely requires me to change coaches, or lug my luggage up and down platforms.  I never have to worry about missing the connecting train, or getting off at the wrong station.

During the 5 week trip, I started out in Seoul, then travelled to Gangneung, Jeju, Jeonju, Gwangju, Suncheon and Gyeongju.  I liked Suncheon alot, especially Suncheon Bay and the Songgwangsa Temple.
 photo SonggwangsaTemple_zps5ba23cf7.jpgPrior to Suncheon, I was in Gwangju.  I took an early morning coach from Gwangju to Suncheon, arrived just before noon, checked into the motel, dropped my bags and went out to Songgwangsa Temple.

Songgwangsa is about an hour-half away by bus from the city center of Suncheon. I boarded the bus outside the Suncheon Station, and the scenic bus ride took me along the streets of Suncheon, into the outskirts, then the countryside before climbing up winding roads of a mountain to reach its final destination at Songgwangsa Temple.  It is a short walk to the entrance of the temple from the bus stop.  I recall paying a small fee – nothing more than 5,000 Won – to enter the temple.  

 photo DSC_0502-1-101119-v2__zps33040b2b.jpgDotted with tall, beautiful trees, and some of these crowned in fall colors, the grounds of Songgwangsa were beautiful, tranquil and peaceful.  The whole place is as pretty as a picture.  I imagine how green and lush the place will be during spring and summer.


Oslo Throwback

I was decluttering the folder of photos in my computer and came across the ones which I had taken in Oslo.  It has been one-and-a-half years since we visited Oslo.   If you were to ask me what I remember most about the city, it would be the clean, crisp and pollution-free air, the shiny, glowing faces of the Norwegians and how frightfully expensive everything was for a tourist like me.  

I spent most of my time wandering around the city while the husband was attending meetings.  It was easy to get around on foot, or the tram.

 photo Oslo11-140226-v2__zps1661e421.jpgThe Nobel Peace Museum, a short walk away from the waterfront.

Oslo photo Oslo8-140222-v2__zps291cc236.jpgThe Stortinget (top), the Oslo Parliament House.  The venerable Grand Hotel Oslo (bottom).


Make Your Own Caspian Sea Yoghurt

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I found a new thing to do, and that is making yoghurt. I love eating yoghurt, especially Greek yoghurt with honey and granola. But eating store-bought yoghurt regularly costs quite a bit of money, so I thought about making it.

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I bought two sachets of freeze-dried Caspian Sea yoghurt culture from Medi-ya and followed the given instructions for making yoghurt carefully.

I sterilised a half-quart glass jar (including the cap, spoons and measuring cup), poured 500ml of whole milk into the jar, added yoghurt culture from one sachet to the milk, mixed thoroughly, covered the jar and left it in my study room for approximately 24 hours. And I got yoghurt!

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The texture of Caspian Sea yoghurt is thick (but not as thick as Greek yoghurt), creamy and a little tart, with a viscosity similar to honey.  Actually, the texture that is closest to the yoghurt that I can think of is yamaimo or nagaimo (grated Japanese mountain yam), which I love too.  It took me several days to get used to the texture of this yoghurt, ‘cos it is so different from what I am used to in a Greek yoghurt.

I drizzled the Caspian Sea yoghurt with a little honey and topped it with homemade granola and blueberry compote.  Yummy.  I have already used the first batch of yoghurt to grow two more batches of yoghurt.  And I may never have to pay money for yoghurt at the supermarket again. 🙂  

Spinach, Pineapple and Banana Smoothie

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It is so much easier for me to eat better when I am not working. I have the time and energy to prepare vegetable and fruit smoothies for breakfast, or whenever I feel hungry during the day. I eat lesser hawker food, although delicious, is oily and fattening.

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I made a smoothie with local spinach, a small frozen organic pineapple, a banana, some Greek yoghurt and milk. The result is a lovely mint green coloured smoothie. It is a coincidence that I have matching green paper napkins from Ikea and paper straws with green swirls from Eco U, a local online shop that sells biodegradable disposable tableware.

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I know many people cannot get past the idea of raw vegetables in their smoothies. The truth is that you can hardly taste the vegetables beneath all the fruit! And it is so easy to drink my required daily intake of vegetables, then to eat it!

I shall make a purplish-blue smoothie next! 🙂

Strawberry Smoothie

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Now that I am not working, my form of retail therapy is visiting the wet market and supermarket several times a week.  I don’t have to jostle with the crowds during the weekdays, which allows me plenty of opportunity to meander around.  I end up buying more groceries than I actually need, and come home only to realise that I have absolutely no space in the fridge for that watermelon that I had just lugged home.  The only way to store the watermelon is to cut it up into cubes, bag them and stick it in the freezer.  

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The lovely, cool weather in Singapore has come to an end.  Sadly.  It was blistering hot today and we were feeling extremely parched after spending the morning outside. I remembered that I have a bag of watermelon cubes sitting in the freezer.  Long forgotten.  I pulled it out of the freezer and let it defrost for a while before blending the watermelon cubes with some Greek yoghurt and honey.

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The cold, sweet and slushy texture of the smoothie was perfect in this weather. Gawd, the heat can only get worse and we are only in February! I offered some of the smoothie to the husband and he told me to go away! I guess to a man, pink just isn’t an appealing colour in a drink.

Frangipane Tart With Macerated Strawberries

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I am very fond of fruit tarts. My earliest memories of fruit tarts are the ones sold in Delifrance.   I ate these tarts very often when I was in junior college, at a time when a tart costs $1.80.  I used to hang out with my classmates at the Delifrance in Parkway Parade, when we had time in between classes or after classes, socialising over croissants, tarts and sodas.  The tarts were not too expensive then and I could still afford the indulgence with my allowance.  

Last week, I came across a frangipane tart recipe on a blog known as Jo The Tart Queen.   She topped some of her frangipane tarts with macerated strawberries and others with orange and grapefruit slices.  Since I had a packet of ground almond sitting in my kitchen, I decided to try baking a frangipane tart topped with macerated strawberries using the instructions here.

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The tart turned out quite well.  The smells of the sweet tart dough coming out of the oven were wonderful.  I wish I was less clumsy with the sifting of snow sugar over the tart.

I am going to try making the tart with grapefruit and orange slices next, in a rectangular 14-inch pan.


Vacation At Lombok Lodge

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On the third day of Chinese New Year, after completing our Chinese New Year visiting, we left on a 5D4N getaway to Lombok.  Late last year, we started looking around for a resort in the region for a short vacation, and decided on Lombok.  Quite a number of people I know have been to Lombok and there are others who have never heard of the island. Lombok, an Indonesian island located next to Bali, is two-and-a-half hours away from Singapore by Silkair or Tiger Airways.  Unlike Bali, the majority of the people who live in Lombok are Muslims, and the rest are Hindus and Buddhists.  

Compared to Bali, Lombok is less touristy, less commercialized and hence, less crowded.  A couple of friends recommended that we stay in Qunci Villas & Hotel, but after some research on TripAdvisor, we settled on Lombok Lodge situated in the northern part of the island.  It is highly rated on TripAdvisor and has many positive reviews by guests of various nationalities.  What really nailed it for me was the fact that it is a small property, with only 9 villas (or what the resort refers to as Lodge Suites).  We like small, quiet resorts which come with very good service and hopefully, an excellent chef/kitchen.

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We bought a package that comes with daily breakfast and 5-course dinners as well as two-way airport transfers.  

We arrived on a late Sunday morning. Clearing customs was a breeze because the airport was not crowded. That’s a very good start to the getaway  – no issues with customs. The one-half-hour drive from the airport was smooth, took us past acres and acres of verdant fields.  We also saw troops of monkeys scampering around the winding road as we drove through the Monkey Forest.

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The villas in Lombok Lodge are simply furnished, in shades of greys and whites.  My favourite colour palette (if you have been to my flat, you will know why…)  ‘cos it has a calming and relaxing effect on me.  The room comes with an iPod, a Nespresso machine and four capsules per day (I should have brought along my own capsules) and a DVD player.  There is a small library in the reception area where we could borrow books and DVDs to help you while away our time.

There is in-room wifi but the signal in the room was quite unstable as compared to outdoors.  I was able to connect to the in-room wifi using my Macbook Air but not with my iPhone or my iPad Mini.  Not sure what was the problem, but it didn’t create any major issues for me (except that I couldn’t watch any videos on my computer ‘cos the wifi signal was not sufficiently strong or stable).  So whenever I needed wifi connectivity on my iPhone, I had to pop out of the room into the patio to get a stronger outdoor signal.

My favorite spot in the villa was the bath-tub.  Just the perfect length for me, and I liked that they provide a sturdy removable tray placed over the bathtub which I used to hold my computer while soaking in the tub.  The bathroom was roomy with an outdoor shower room that has a strong jet of hot water from a rain shower.  Nothing more annoying than having a head full of shampoo and all you get is a weak stream of lukewarm water trickling out of the shower head.

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Due to its size, Lombok Lodge does not have many facilities.  It has a small spa and an infinity pool but does not have a gym or yoga classes.  They constructed a small deck facing the sea that guests could use for yoga but we have never seen anyone do so.  My husband likes to plonk himself on  the deck after breakfast to think deep thoughts while I play HayDay on my iPhone.

What else does one do when staying in the Lombok Lodge?  The resort offers complimentary boat services to the nearby Gilis Islands for snorkeling or we could hire a car to take us to see the waterfalls or the traditional village.  We were perfectly happy not to leave the resort at all, and did just that.

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Besides us, we saw American families with young kids, a Belgian family living in Shanghai, a group of Singaporeans, and several couples, also Asians, who were staying at the property.

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I am not sure about the quality of the cocktails concocted by the bar ‘cos we have only tried the Lombok Mojito.  We loved the mojito and had at least two glasses everyday.  It is not easy to find a good mojito and when I find one, I become greedy.  If the rest of the cocktails are anything like the Lombok Mojito, then they must be pretty good too.  

The bar facing the sea is a nice place to hang out with a cold bottle of Bintang beer, or a cocktail.  We did not get around to doing so ‘cos the weather was too warm during the day and it drizzled in the evenings. 

Whenever we go to a resort, we like to stay in for our meals as much as possible, so having a good restaurant where we could look forward to each meal is very important to us.  In the case of Lombok Lodge, there are not many dining options around the resort so it was necessary to eat in every night.  We were so glad that the chef exceeded our expectations.  The food was excellent, and we could tell how much passion and love the chef has for cooking.     

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The breakfast menu contains the usual Western items – breakfast rolls and croissants, French toast, pancakes, eggs benedict, croque monsieur, yoghurt, granola, fruit, etc, and Indonesian fare such as mee goreng and Indonesian chicken rice porridge.   I ate the same things every morning – juice, smoothie, yoghurt with fruit and coffee.  My husband usually goes for the savouries and heavy-duty stuff such as the chocolate French toast and mee goreng.

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The spicy beef salad was sooooo good.  The chili in Lombok can kill people.  It is SO spicy.  After the first meal where my mouth felt like it was on fire, I learnt my lesson and was always careful to tell the resort staff to keep the level of spiciness in my food mild.

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Our package came with daily breakfast and 5-course dinners.  Lunch was not included.  When the resort sent me an email to confirm our reservation, they asked that I let them know if I had any special requests and they would try to accommodate.  So I put in a special request for our usual beetroot juice (made with beetroot, carrot, green apple and kale/spinach) to be served during breakfast, and they said OK.  Except for one morning when beetroot was not available, two glasses of beetroot juice were brought to our table every morning.

On the day that we arrived, we were again asked if we had any special requests.  I decided to try my luck and asked if the restaurant could prepare certain Indonesian dishes that were not featured on their lunch menu.  I had REALLY wanted to eat nangka curry (young jackfruit curry), mee bakso, mee soto and chicken Taliwang, a classic Lombok dish of spicy grilled chicken that is named after a village called Taliwang in Lombok.  I adore Indonesian food, the flavours are refined and subtle even though the cooking uses alot of spices and chili.

The resort said that they had no problems with our special orders as long as they were given a day’s notice in advance.  So we had mee ayam bakso (twice) and nangkang curry for lunch on three days, and chicken Taliwang was served as part of the set dinner menu one evening.  The food was soooo yummy.  This is really great service by the resort and we appreciate their efforts.  I felt like Christmas and Santa Claus came on holiday with me!

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While the lunch menu is a fixed one, the dinner menu changes everyday, alternating between Indonesian cuisine and European cuisine featuring local seasonal ingredients.  So we were not served the same dish twice during the course of our stay with the resort.  The dinner menus were displayed at the entrance to the restaurant every morning, so we know what it is we would be on our plate that night, and if there was something that we would like to change, due to food allergies or preferences, the resort was happy to accommodate.

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We were served the European set dinner on our first (seen in the first photo collage above) and last nights, the Rijstafel on our second night and the Indonesian set dinner on our third night (second photo collage above).  As the lighting in the restaurant was quite dim in the evenings, I decided against using my DSLR after the first evening.  I did not bring my speed-light with me and even if I did, the flash-light going off would have been very annoying to the other guests.  I used my iPhone where possible and the images were not great given the low lighting.

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This is the excellent 3-men band that entertained the guests over dinner during two evenings that we were there.

We enjoyed our stay at Lombok Lodge very much. Besides the food, what stood out was the level of professionalism exhibited by the the staff. Service was delivered competently, promptly, in a friendly manner and always with a smile or a joke or two.  Like how anyone working in the hospitablity industry should be, but you don’t always get that.  The resort manager and restaurant manager, both Indonesians, were easily accessible to guests and we could reach out to them directly whenever we needed to.  They were both so hospitable and accommodating.  I guess being a small resort helps!

This is definitely a resort that I would recommend to friends who like small, romantic, and exclusive places where they can chill out and do absolutely nothing for a couple of days.  After an unhappy stay in Clubmed Phuket last December, we are so glad that this getaway turned out so well for us.  We came home feeling relaxed and happy.

Baking Class At Dulcet & Studio

At the urging of a good friend, I signed up for a baking class at Dulcet & Studio, Tampopo’s new restaurant-cum-studio at Liang Court, one of my favourite malls because it houses Mediya, Nirai Kanai and Shin Yeh.  I love the Okinawan food at Nirai Kanai and the Taiwanese cuisine at the Shin Yeh.  Oh, and I cannot leave out the ramen at Tampopo.  I love to eat Tampopo Deli’s light and soft cheese chiffon cakes and it is great that they now have a spacious sit-down place where you can have coffee, eat cake or lunch and linger.

Back to the baking class.  My friend has been attending baking classes run by Dulcet & Studio for a while and keeps asking me to give their classes a try.  The classes are taught by Mayumi-san who, in a simple tee-shirt and jeans, looks like she has just floated out of the cover of Oggi.  Tall, slim, elegant and well-groomed. I am so envious of how most Japanese women manage to always look so effortlessly chic, stylish and cool.

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I signed up for the January class which taught participants how to make three types of sweets – a Mont Blanc, rum and raisin ice cream and caramel chocolate.  I don’t usually sign up for baking classes but when I do, I prefer hands-on classes, where I make at least 80% of the desserts from scratch.  I don’t like standing around or sitting on a chair watching demonstrations performed by the teacher.  I learn best by doing, not by watching or listening.

From what I know, the classes at Dulcet & Studio are 80% demonstration and 20% ‘get-your-hands-dirty’, and you get to eat the desserts at the end of class.  Not the instruction format that I enjoy but the mouth-watering Japanese-style desserts looked so enticing in the promotion flyers, I decided to sign up.

There are only four participants in each class, and even then, the studio is too small to set up individual work-stations for each participants.  We watched the instructor put together the items, with a number of steps having been prepared in advance.   To make three desserts from scratch within a 3-hour timeframe, especially with the Mont Blanc being a more complicated item to make, was just not possible.  I felt that she was going through the demonstration at break-neck speed, with the rest of us trying our best to digest her explanations and scribbling away furiously on our instruction sheets.  

Although the class was scheduled for 3 hours, the instructor completed all three desserts in slightly less than 2 hours. I have no idea why she was in such a hurry.  All the hands-on work that we were required to do was pipe three meringues and the chestnut cream for the Mont Blancs.

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Mont Blanc

The instructor showed us two types of piping for the Mont Blancs. The one in the foreground is the ‘cross’ piping and the one in the background is the ‘spiral’ piping. My hands ached from piping three Mont Blancs ‘cos the chestnut cream was quite stiff.  I shall not complain about how much it costs to buy a Mont Blanc.

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Rum and raisin ice cream

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Caramel chocolate

At the end of the class, we sat down at a table and the instructor served us the desserts and a hot cup of tea. In one sitting, I ate a Mont Blanc, a huge serving of rum and raisin ice cream and tasted a piece of chocolate.  I was stuffed! I thought all the food tasted very good, with the ice cream being the most outstanding.  I also brought home three Mont Blancs in a beautifully boxed-up carrier and several pieces of chocolate.

Having seen the studio’s monthly promotion flyers for baking classes, I like the desserts that they teach.  The instructor speaks good English and is clear in articulating her thoughts and methods. However, the class would have been more enjoyable and beneficial to me if the studio focuses on teaching only one or two items at a slower pace and includes more hands-on opportunities. Unless the format of their baking classes changes, I suppose I will just stick with buying chiffon cakes at Dulcet & Studio.

Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa In Singapore

Wow, a cat cafe called Neko No Niwa opened up at Boat Quay in late December last year. The first of its kind in Singapore.

My friends and I made a reservation for an hour on one weekday afternoon to check it out. I like cats a lot but don’t have one at home. My friends adore cats and have taken in many stray cats, as many as 20 at one point in time.

The cafe currently has 13 cats which are housed in an enclosed area.  Charges are $12 for the first hour and $5 for each subsequent 30 minutes for time spent with the cats.  The cafe also sells cakes, pastries and drinks which customers can bring into the enclosed area.  We spent 1.5 hours in the cafe and could have stayed longer if time permitted.

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What do cat lovers do in a cat cafe, besides playing with the cats? Sit back and watch them.   I could do that for hours.

I love the pristine white cat called Emma. I wanted to bring her home.

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This cat’s face has so much character.  She is called Luna.

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This sleepy feline, Demi, has a gorgeous coat of fur.

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This one called Little Miss Muffet has silky soft fur, and looks like a puppy (to me). I prefer the short-haired cats ‘cos I like the feeling of stroking a sinewy body compared to a ball of fur.

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I think this one is called Robbie.

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Beautiful shade of colour.  This ginger tabby is called Kai Kai.

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Miley, a Persian cross breed.

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Awwwww. I will definitely drop by again. We had so much fun chasing the cats around and playing with them.

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(All photos were taken with the iPhone 5)

If you have a spare hour or two, this cat cafe is a really nice place to hang out and while away your time.  Reservations are recommended.

Cat Cafe Neko No Niwa
54A Boat Quay (Level 2)
Singapore 049843

Telephone: (65) 6536 5319
Mondays to Fridays: 11am to 10pm
Saturdays and Public Holidays: 10am to 10pm
Sundays: 2pm to 9pm

Chock Full Of Beans / Around Changi Village

We went to the newly refurbished Changi Village Food Centre to grab some local breakfast that comes in a combo of oily and unhealthy, but super-delicious food. That’s a plate of black carrot cake for me and a bowl of lontong for the husband. The food centre was crowded with families and cyclists having their morning meal.

As it was a cool and windy morning, we decided to take a stroll around the sleepy Changi Village neighbourhood and have a cup of coffee at Chock Full Of Beans before heading home. This neighborhood is one of those few places left in Singapore which remains more or less the same as how I remember it to be from twenty years ago.

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Even though I don’t really enjoy cappuccinos and lattes, I always order a foamy milk-based coffee at Chock Full Of Beans. Just to enjoy the beautiful latte art crafted by the barista. Look at the Keroppi and Little Piggy on our coffees and the Popeye sketch on the plate!  It is such a shame to drink the coffees and destroy the beautiful art.

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Stenciled signboards. Rusting metal grille gates. I hardly see these around.

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There is a huge cycling community that hangs out at Changi Village during the weekends.  Most of them take the bum-boat from the pier to Pulau Ubin to cycle.

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Rarely do I see anyone use the public telephones nowadays.

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Good old traditional toys for children. Buckets. Spades. Shovels. Watering cans. Overtaken by the iPad and the X-box.

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When you see crates of soft drinks being sold in a makeshift tent like this, you know that Chinese New Year is round the corner.


The Housekeeper And The Professor By Yoko Ogawa

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I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa recently, and loved it.  The main protaganists in the story are not given actual names, and are simply known as the Professor, the Housekeeper and her son, Root.

The Professor is brilliant at Math and used to be a Math professor in a university.  Due to a car accident in the 70s, the Professor suffered a head trauma which resulted in him having a memory span that lasts a mere 80 minutes, and remembering nothing after 1975.  Ever since the accident, he has been unable to work and lives under the largesse of his sister-in-law in a cottage in her backyard.  He spends all his time solving challenging Math puzzles, walks around with handwritten notes pinned to his clothes to remind him of the fact that his memory is only 80 minutes long.

The Housekeeper is a single mother who was hired to clean and cook for the Professor.  She was allowed to bring her 10 year old son along with her and he gets on very well with the Professor.  The boy was given the nickname Root because his flat-shaped head reminded the Professor of a square root sign. I thought the relationship depicted between the Professor and the little boy is beautiful.

“I’m going to call you Root,” he said.  “The square root sign is a generous symbol, it gives shelter to all the numbers.”

The story revolves around the daily lives of these three characters, the growing relationship and affection that the Housekeeper and Root have for the Professor and vice versa, how the Housekeeper is slowly drawn towards the beauty of Math through the teaching abilities of the Professor.  The story provides vignettes of the Professor’s daily life and how he struggles to live with a 80 minute timeframe before he completely forgets about the people and the events that had occurred in the last 80 minutes.

Besides the serious stuff, she has also weaved in plenty of interesting bits around Math, a subject which allows the handicapped Professor to remain connected with people and the real world. He has forgotten about many of the people and things around him but he did not forget Math or his love for children.

He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers.  For him, primes were the base on which all other natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world.

The story is a simple, elegant and moving one.  I like how the author manages to write so simply and with restraint, but without sacrificing the details and sentiment required to flesh out the personalities and affection that the characters have for each other.  She makes me feel for the characters and that is an important factor in whether I enjoy a book. 

I could not help but compare this book against The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami which I did not enjoy reading half as much.  The writing in The Briefcase was too gentle and restrained, such that I felt nothing for the characters, or their story.

I am going to read Yoko Ogawa’s other books soon, possibly Hotel Iris comes next.  I have just completed the first book in the Joe Sandiland crime novel series by Barbara Cleverly.  I am not won over by her writing yet but will definitely be reading a couple more books in the series before I decide.  I am mid-way through Uncommon Grounds, the first book in Sandra Balzo’s Maggy Thornsen series.  (I think Maggy should always be spelt with an ‘ie’ at the end, as in Maggie.  It looks better!) It is a breezy and entertaining crime novel, not at all dark and depressing.  I also like that the female protagonist owns a cafe and most of the novels in the series seems to be coffee-related.

On a separate note, I just found out that someone I know pens a cool book blog called Book Of Words!


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