Surrounded By Pine Trees


Eversince we returned from Bhutan, we have been asked by a number of people if we would recommend Bhutan as a holiday destination. 

I get the sense that many people I know associate Bhutan with “the so-romantic wedding of Tony Leung and Carina Lau” because the next question (after the one asking about the place being a good holiday destination) that I inevitably get is: “So did you stay in the hotel where Tony Leung and Carina Lau held their wedding?”  

Or if someone gives me the ‘Huh-Bhutan-is-where’ look when they hear that we have just returned from Bhutan, all I have to say is “You know, the kingdom where Tony Leung and Carina Lau went to get married…?” and bingo, you immediately see the light in their eyes. 


Well, yes, we did stay at the Tony-Carina-Got-Married hotel – the Uma Paro.  We loved the hotel for its charming Bhutanese architecture and idyllic, peaceful, and calming ambience.  By the way, all buildings in Bhutan have to be constructed using traditional Bhutanese designs and architecture otherwise the owners will suffer the government’s wrath.

But what is best about the hotel is not the interior but the exterior – it is surrounded by beautiful pine trees that guests can enjoy from the window of their room or by taking a stroll around the estate.  I could spend all day wandering around the estate drinking tea, picking pine cones, watching birds and taking archery lessons (which unfortunately, I didn’t have the time for).  If only.


The dining room in Uma Paro is my favourite place in the hotel because of its unique circular design, beautiful wooden beams and the expansive view of the surrounding pine trees.  But due to our tight schedule, we hardly had time to enjoy the hotel.  Pity.

Back to the question of whether we would recommend Bhutan as a holiday destination.  Definitely.  Although to be honest, I don’t think Bhutan is everyone’s cup of tea.  I feel that Bhutan will be a great destination for mainly 3 types of people: (1) those who love nature and rugged mountainous landscapes; (2) avid trekkers or mountain bikers; and (3) very serious bird-watchers. 

Bhutan is very rustic and the people live off the land that they till.  There are hardly any modern facilities such as shopping malls, restaurants or cafes.  No Starbucks.  No McDonalds.  No winebars.   There are cinemas in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, which screen Hindu movies and nothing else.   So it can be quite challenging for people who need some form of modern-day entertainment such as shopping.

According to our guide, watching Bhutan Idol on television is something that the Bhutanese is very fond of.  But seriously, most of the Bhutanese men I have seen have Idol-like looks. 

Men in skirts.  Dishy!

Family Tradition and Chicken Rice Balls


Growing up in a Hainanese home, we ate chicken rice very often for meals.  It is family tradition for us to eat chicken rice balls instead of rice. I swear that chicken rice balls taste so much better than eating rice.

A standard chicken rice meal at home prepared by my maternal grandmother or mom, depending on who was the chef of the day, has steamed chicken, chicken rice balls, chap-chye, cabbage or seawood soup and chili for dipping. 

One bite of the rice ball, one bite of chicken dipped in chili sauce, another bite of the rice ball.   Using our hands.   

It is fascinating to watch my grandmother deftly shape chicken rice balls from piping hot rice using her bare hands.  I used to think that her hands must be made of leather for her to handle such hot rice without flinching from the pain.  Her chicken rice balls are always very firm and not oily (oil from the chicken is required to ‘glue’ the rice grains together). 

I tried making a chicken rice ball myself many times with my hands but without success.  The rice is too hot for me to handle!  I have since decided that it is easier to buy an onigiri mould from Daiso for such purposes.


I love chicken rice balls and could eat up to three of my grandmother’s rice balls at any one sitting when I was younger.     But don’t be deceived by the rice balls – they may look small but each rice ball packs a pretty big serving of rice.  I think 7 rice balls of the size seen in the photo came from 3 cups of rice. Plus the rice balls are made of ‘very fattening’ chicken rice.

My plebian husband cannot appreciate rice balls because he does not like eating with his hands.   I remember how he jabbed at the rice ball with his fork to break it up when he ate this at my mom’s place for the first time.  Right at the dinner table.  In front of all of us.  I was so horrified!  It had taken so much effort for my grandmother to shape a rice ball and this guy had just demolished my family tradition with his fork so carelessly.  I wanted to box his ears right there and then.  Since that incident, my mom always serves him a plate of rice while the rest of us eat our rice balls.

I also love mom’s chap-chye.  Just that it takes so much work to make chap-chye and I am not inclined to try.  Nowadays,mom makes me a huge portion of chap-chye to take home.  I will slowly ration the chap-chye for dinner over the week .   

I have always eaten my chap-chye bibimbap-style.  Scoop chap-chye over hot rice, throw in a generous dollop of mom’s home-made chili, and mix everything up in the bowl.  Mmmmmm.


At the start of our trip, our Bhutan guide told us that there are some 50 rhododendron species in Bhutan and we would see plenty of them during the trip.

Driving up and down the mountain roads, we did see alot of these two varieties of rhododendrons growing on the side of the mountains, in a bright reddish-purple colour or a deep red.  The leaves of the rhododendrons are quite interesting – they come together in one bunch under the flower instead of sprouting along the branches.


Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I could not capture a nice photo of the flowers. Most of the time, they were too far away from where I was (that even my telephoto 18-200mm lens can’t quite reach) or the light wasn’t right. All my photos turned out very bad and I gave up after many attempts.

At the end of the trip, our guide plucked two blooms from some of the trees which we passed by so that I could take a picture of the flowers. He probably took pity on this deranged woman who kept asking the driver to stop the car whenever we drove past rhododendron trees. That’s how I managed to get a picture of the two varieties seen in the photo above (still a bad photo, nonetheless).


Another rhododendron tree heavy with bright red blooms (another bad photo…). What attracted my attention was the beautiful bird perched on one of the branches. Our guide gave us the name of the bird, but I can’t remember what it is now.

If only we got to see the famous blue poppies in Bhutan but they were not yet in season.

Bits of Japan’06

Looking back at the photos of our trip to Japan in 2006 makes me feel that I have to retrace the same route one day.

But with the DSLR this time. 

Below are photos of some of the places which we really enjoyed visiting during that trip, taken with our trusty Panasonic Lumix.


^ The Itsukushi Shrine torii gate in Miyajima, an island off Hiroshima, which is built over water and appears to float during high tide.


^ Bamboo groves behind the Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto.


^ Osaka Castle


^ Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome which is the remains of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Building after being the target of the atomic bomb attack on August 6, 1945. 

We also spent some time in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where we watched video clips of the devastating Atomic bombing and the aftermath.  The sights shown in the clips were very disturbing and I felt quite ill after that.

The First Time I Saw Autumn

I am in the process of re-organizing all my digital photos taken over the years which are stored in various external storage mediums.  I haven’t been labelling the folders containing my photos diligently and they are now in a complete mess.  Quite a number of the folders have only a ‘date description’ which means that I have to open them up one by one to see what photos are stored in them.

When I opened this folder labelled as “101_PANA”, I realise that it contains photos of our trip to Japan in November 2006.  BUT.  I see only photos of the second half of our trip and I have no idea where I kept the photos of the first half of the trip.   (TBH always wonders aloud that he is amazed I haven’t been sacked from my job, given how awfully disorganised I am most of the time.)


Browsing through the folder, I see photos of maple leaves in brilliant autumn colours, which I had taken in the island of Miyajima.  Experiencing the beauty of autumn for the first time in my life (and on my birthday), I recall being stunned by the breathtakingly beautiful red, orange and yellow hues in front of me.  I did not want to leave Miyajima.

I remember reading this lovely quote by Albert Camus, the French philosopher:

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

I wanted to bring some autumn leaves home as a momento.  I could always use the dried leaves as bookmarks.  The funny thing was that I simply could not find a nice maple leaf on the ground that had not yet turned brown or did not have holes in them.  And TBH wouldn’t let me pluck any leaves from the trees.  No momentos for me.

Sometimes, I wish we had different seasons in Singapore.  I could do without spring and winter but having autumn would be perfect. 

Enough of reminiscing.  Now, I have to hunt for the missing photos.  Like the ones taken in Seoul during the summer of 2008.

Baking Sables

I felt like eating butter cookies today and decided to bake sablés, a French shortbread cookie.

Butter. Shortbread. Cookie. Coffee.  AWWWW.

^ Sablés are NOT supposed to look like that!

My cookies turned out looking completely blah.  Mis-shapened when they are supposed to be round. Brown when they are supposed to be a light shade of buttery-yellow according to the photo in the recipe book.  And there are all these fissure-like lines on the top of the cookies.  Something must have gone wrong somewhere.

Okay, never mind how they look, at least the cookies are edible and crumbly.

Growing up, I loved eating butter cookies. Remember the Royal Dansk Danish butter cookies that come in a round, blue tin with an assortment of 5 cookies? My grandmother always had a tin of those lying somewhere in the house.

Amongst the 5 cookies, my favourite has always been the round cookie, the light colored one (I would steal all of them in every new tin of biscuits that we had in the house), followed by the swirly-shaped cookie and the square-shaped one.

I didn’t like the Pretzel-shaped cookie (no idea why but it might have to do with the fact that I am not fond of Pretzels) and the other round cookie which is darker in colour (this one tasted odd – I think it had coconut in it, or was it something else) and tried not to eat them if I could help it.

I should look out for Royal Dansk butter cookies the next time I visit the supermarket.  Stick a tin in my office, instead of Ferrero Rochers.   They are equally fattening anyway.

Hwe Dup

We had steamed pomfret for dinner last night.  Today, I had Japanese sashimi and unagi for lunch followed by Korean hwe dup (a cold, spicy sashimi salad) and spicy pollack stew for dinner. 

Fish overload.

Tonight, we had dinner at Bukang Tuna, a Japanese-style Korean restaurant at Red Dot Museum which we have walked past countless of times but not gone in. 

I have been dying to check out the place because the restaurant looks like it specialises in sashimi and fish-based stews such as spicy codfish stew, globefish stew, spicy pollack stew and some other non-spicy fish stews.  I can’t stop thinking about the flatfish sashimi that I have been seeing on the menu whenever I walk past the restaurant.

It is the first time that I’ve eaten hwe dup and it is delicious!  I love that it is cold and spicy-saltish-sweet, has thick slices of raw flatfish and loads of crunchy, julienned cucumber, radish and seaweed.  The dish is so refreshing to eat on a warm day. 

And I couldn’t keep my eyes off the huge platters of tuna sashimi that the folks at the table next to us were feasting on.

We are (at least, I am) definitely going back again and again!  Good thing that they have beef bulgogi on the menu so that TBH doesn’t starve while I stuff my face with raw fish.

A Bowl Of Kway Teow Tah


I cannot decide if I like bak chor mee (with a bigger serving of pig’s liver and additional vinegar) or mee pok tah better. 

When I was in college (again…!), I used to go to this kopitiam called Soy Eu Tua located at the corner or Jalan Tua Kong and East Coast Road to eat the famous mee pok tah which always had a long queue. 

It was dreadful waiting in that hot and humid kopitiam for my bowl of noodles and by the time it arrived, I would be perspiring profusely, with sweat streaks showing up on my uniform. Pretty awful.

Nowadays, we frequent this shop called Jln Tua Kong Lau Lim at Simpang Bedok which makes very good fishball noodles.  There is/was a relationship between these guys and the ones at the former Soy Eu Tua stall, which I can’t quite seem to grasp.  I think the Simpang Bedok guy is the disciple/helper of the guy who ran the Soy Eu Tua stall.  Mu-lah!

I have lost my taste for mee pok and these days, like to have my bowl of noodles with kway teow tah with chili. 

What do I like about the noodles?  Donch know.  I can only say that the noodles are tossed in a very delicious chilli sauce and contain a generous portion of crunchy beansprouts.   

Looking forward to breakfasting on kway teow noodles this weekend!  A bowl of noodles on a Sunday morning with a cup of teh and the newspapers or a magazine.  Lovely.

Poulet Roti, On Repeat Mode


The two French words that I learnt for the week are poulet rôti, or roast chicken. 

(I am only aiming to know enough words to read a menu that is written in French.)

I have been roasting chicken quite frequently during the weekends.  Practising!

But I get inconsistent results.  Some days, it turns out quite well.  Other days, either the meat is too dry, or the skin is not sufficiently crispy, or the skin is crispy but didn’t brown evenly.

I guess I will keep trying until I get it right one day.

Your New College Graduate: A Parents Guide

I was so tickled reading this New Yorker article on the train that I couldn’t stop smiling at my Blackberry and trying not to giggle.  People must think I am nuts.  At least it is a newspaper column that I was amused by and not the usual something else. 

(I have no idea whether it is okay to copy and paste the article here.)

Congratulations! It took four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you’re finally the parents of a bona-fide college graduate. After the commencement ceremony is over, your child will be ready to move back into your house for a period of several years. It’s a very exciting time. But it can also be stressful. We hope that this guide will answer all your questions and give you the information you need to care for your precious new college graduate.

What do I feed my college graduate?

Most college graduates are vegetarians and will become cranky or upset if offered meat. They also have irregular eating habits. Most prefer to skip family meals, but if you stock the fridge and the cabinets with snacks they will usually be able to find them on their own.

Why is my college graduate so fussy?

It’s normal for college graduates to be fussy. It just means that they feel frightened, vulnerable, or confused. You can usually get to the root of the problem by consulting this checklist:

Did somebody suggest that he “look for work”? Yes / No
Did the subject of graduate school “come up”? Yes / No
Has he been to a scary job interview? Yes / No
Did he see a scary LSAT book? Yes / No
Did his rock band “not get signed”? Yes / No
Was he asked to “help around the house”? Yes / No

What do I do if my college graduate cries? What do I do if he screams?

College graduates are setting foot in the real world for the very first time. Imagine how daunting that must be! They have so many daily needs, and yet they lack even the most basic tools required to survive in the world. They are completely helpless. Crying and screaming are ways for college graduates to communicate their frustrations, so that you can solve their problems for them. Again, you can usually find out what’s wrong by consulting a simple checklist:

Does your college graduate have enough cigarettes? Yes / No
Did you remember to fill her wallet with cash? Yes / No
Does she have Internet access? Yes / No
Has she had her daily nap? Yes / No
Does she have her Moleskine and/or sketch pad? Yes / No
Does she have her bottle? Yes / No

That brings us to another frequently asked question: How do I wean my college graduate off the bottle?

With difficulty! Ha ha ha. Seriously, though, it is extremely difficult to get a college graduate to stop drinking alcohol. Most require six to eight beers per night, plus occasional “shots” throughout the week. In general, college graduates outgrow this habit once they’ve moved out of the house and are forced to buy alcohol with their own money.

How should I respond to political temper tantrums?

It is perfectly normal for college graduates to have these kinds of outbursts, particularly if they graduate during an election year. As time goes by, though, the tantrums will lessen in intensity and frequency, and they tend to stop entirely once the graduate begins to pay taxes.

How do I teach my college graduate independence?

Good question! Experts have differing opinions on the subject. Some suggest a “firm” approach: assigning housework, banning marijuana, requesting politeness, etc. Others suggest a “liberal” approach: cooking and cleaning for them, praising their “poems,” etc. Unfortunately, neither approach works. But don’t worry. With a little patience and a lot of love, they’ll be out of the house in no time.

Charcoal Buns Filled With Custard


My colleague told me that Mirabelle’s chocolate croissants are very good.  Since we were in town, we swung by this little bakery at 27 Mackenzie Road, to pick up some for ourselves.  I visited this bakery once before but didn’t pick up any croissants; bought the sweet potato bread and some tarts.

Odd.  I love chocolate croissants but hate the plain ones.  For some reason, the plain ones make me sick in the tummy almost immediately after consuming them.  I used to overdose on the chocolate croissants (and blueberry tarts) at the Parkway Parade Delifrance because the cafe was one of our favourite hang-out places during college days. 

Ah, sweet memories. Somehow, I have been reminiscing alot lately.

The suaku me does not remember eating croissants from any place in Singapore except at Delifrance (and I have never been to France…).  I was supposed to try the ones at Hiediard but never got around to doing so.

Back to Mirabelle.  The chocolate croissants were amazing.  Light, flaky and buttery.  I wished I had bought more than just two croissants.  I am not eating croissants from Delifrance ever again. 

At Mirabelle, while waiting to pay, I saw a guy come into the shop and buy up all the bamboo charcoal buns on the tray (about 6 or 7, I think) and that were the only items he bought.  I had also picked up one of these black-coloured buns to try since they looked interesting and the colour reminded me of squid-ink pasta. Plus these buns had a custard filling and I’m a sucker for all things custard. 

All I could say about the charcoal bun was…UM. WOW! 

It was very good!  I loved the soft, chewy texture of the bread.  But I felt that the bun could do better with a more generous filling of custard.

I complained bitterly to TBH that I wished I had bought all the charcoal buns so that the guy who came in after me would be so disappointed that he had none to buy!  Now I have to wait till the next weekend to visit the bakery again since they are not opened on Sundays.   Okay, the next time I drop by the bakery, I am buying up ALL the charcoal buns. 

For sweet potato lovers – I am one – the sweet potato bun was very tasty too.

Alfresco, At Charlie’s Corner


Spicy wings and a chilli dog, all washed down with a Pink Killer (a delicious Belgian grapefruit beer). 


Have been eating their chilli dog since my undergraduate days.  Then, it was washed down with a big mug of guava juice, not beer.

Now, I have to find out where in Singapore can I get hold of a crate of Pink Killers.  They are great thirst-quenchers in this super hot weather.

Lub Kimchi Jigae


I have been having regular cravings for kimchi jigae eversince I watched the movie Le Grand Chef: The Battle of the Kimchi.  Yawn.  I thought this movie is nowhere as good as the previous one, in terms of storyline, casting and acting.  But the kimchi gastro-porn was good.

Everytime I crave for kimchi jigae, I head out to Red Pig for a quick-fix during lunch.  As I have some kimchi from K sitting in my fridge, I decided to make kimchi jigae for lunch. 

The kimchi was so yummy I snitched half of it from the bottle before I even started on making the stew.  The taste is very well-balanced – not too spicy or too sour, and it isn’t strong smelling like the ones sold in the supermarkets.  I really can’t eat those.

Just so that TBH wouldn’t give me the ‘You’re feeding me poison’ look, I used quite alot more stock in the stew than I would ordinarily prefer so as to dilute the taste of the kimchi.  What a pity!

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