Friday, 29 July 2016

When The Student Becomes The Instructor

         When I turned forty last year, one of the resolutions I made was to return to a permanent exercise regime. My deteriorating health this year gave this resolution the impetus needed. I signed up for membership at SculptFitness, a sleek and contemporary boutique style fitness centre at Lebuh Ceylon, Greentown. In addition to making use of the many gym equipment like recumbent bicycle and elliptical trainer, I attend their yoga, pilates, TRX suspension training and zumba classes.
I look forward to all the classes, and especially the zumba class, the latest fitness craze to take the world by storm. It's an extremely high energy workout that incorporates all kinds of dance moves ranging from jazz, salsa, tango, hip hop to country. The music is very upbeat, which really helps to relieve stress, combat boredom and make exercising fun. At a zumba class, expect to swivel your hips, tone some flab and be drenched in sweat. And the best benefit of zumba is an average person will burn between 600 to 1000 calories in a one-hour class!
     When I went for my zumba class this morning, I was expecting the usual small turnout as the Friday morning class is conducted by Carmen. Her class is somehow not very popular, unlike Mervyn's Tuesday morning class, but I am comfortable with her and am gradually able to follow her steps. I was surprised when a different instructor walked in, smiled pleasantly and greeted me, "Hello Miss Chan!"
     He turned out to be Jian Jin, my ex-student. It has been ages since I've been addressed as 'Miss Chan'. He affirmed that I taught him way back in 2006. His was a familiar face but had he not greeted me, I would not have made the connection. The Jian Jin I knew was a shy, quiet boy. This Jian Jin, the zumba instructor, exudes confidence and exuberance and maintains expressive eye contact. A total transformation!
     I was in for another surprise. When the "aunties" sweating it out at the gym below caught sight of Jian Jin coming up to take over today's zumba class, they all deserted their treadmills and made a beeline for his class. Apparently, Jian Jin's evening zumba class is a big hit. The "aunties"...oops, I meant to say the ladies...just love him!
     For one hour, I imitated my student-turned-instructor's dance moves. I pranced, leapt, hopped, twirled, sashayed and gyrated. As I did all these, I marvelled at how successful my student has turned out to be. He did not excel academically but he found his calling in dancing. In addition to zumba, Jian Jin is also a ballroom dancer and has won competitions. Together with Carmen (his sister) and Janice (his sister-in-law, also a zumba instructress at SculptFitness), Jian Jin has opened a zumba centre in Bercham.
     Today's zumba class was indeed exceedingly enjoyable, because of its highly invigorating moves, and more so because I was taught by my student.
The teacher and the student-turned-instructor

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Possessing a Weakness for Hakka

     I admit that I possess a weakness for, I'm not going to say Hakka men. It's a weakness for Hakka cuisine. As mentioned in an earlier blog, I have a penchant for many Hakka dishes, including the Hakka style fried pork belly and braised pork belly with black fungus. Both dishes were a regular feature, and a real hit, in my kitchen. The past tense "were" was used because now that I need to wage a war against the dreaded cholesterol, poor hubby will see less of the pork belly.
     Back to the Hakka topic...another great Hakka love of mine is the Hakka noodles. My family's favourite place for Hakka noodles is at Paris Restaurant at Hugh Low Street. Owned and run by three brothers together with their younger charges, the Hakka noodles stall used to operate at a smaller shoplot opposite. My maternal grandmother, who was an avid foodie, used to say that this is the best Hakka noodles in town.
     The pièce de résistance here is their springy homemade egg noodles topped with minced meat. Before I dig in, it is obligatory for me to swirl in more fish sauce and a spoon or two of its chilli sauce. We do order some of their side kicks like fish balls, meat balls, stuffed tofu and fried yam beans, but these are all average in taste. It's their noodles that win us over and make this stall one of our brunch haunts. To give you an idea of how much I enjoy their noodles : I always order one and a half portions of noodles (they sell single, one and a half, and double portions)!
The Hakka noodles that make me drool over and over again!

     Being a food paradise, Ipoh has many other noteworthy Hakka noodles stalls such as the one at Cathay Restaurant, Hong Hin in Old Town and the one at Osborne Street. But for us, this Hakka noodles stall at Paris Restaurant wins hands down, followed by Yik Sun.
     Yik Sun is an unassuming coffee shop in Old Town, near the famous Thean Chun coffee shop. The current owner, an affable young man, continues his father's legacy. The Hakka noodles are a notch below those at Paris Restaurant, but the saving grace is in its incredibly tender beef strips in a bowl of beefy broth. Besides the mandatory topping of minced pork and the usual accompaniment of balls, we can order the beef strips to go with the Hakka noodles. It's an unusual yet delightful combination.
Such tender beef strips in a most slurpylicious soup

Hakka noodles at Yik Sun

     I know Kuala Lumpur has its fair share of tasty Hakka noodles, but apart from KL and Ipoh, I do not know of anywhere else in Malaysia that serves such a fare. Boy, am I glad I live in Ipoh!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Praying For Forgiveness

If I had been impatient or callous,
If I had been cold or unapproachable,
If I had been wilful or calculative,
If I had cut someone deep with my words,
If I had added salt to an injury,
If I had uttered idle words,
If I had criticised and caused despair,
If I had cast aspersions or had been judgmental,
If I had turned someone away because of time constraints,
If I had inflicted damage on someone's self-esteem,
If I had laughed off someone's insecurities,
If I had let my ego rule my head,
If my indifference had shattered hopes,
If my lack of empathy had left someone in the doldrums,
If my pride had stopped me from mending fences,
If my actions had caused a misunderstanding,
If my joy had been on someone's expense,
If my wants had superseded others' needs,
Dear Lord, please forgive me.

The list above was inspired by a famous hymn "An Evening Prayer" sung by Jim Reeves. It was playing as I was driving home from work one evening. It somehow evoked a sense of poignancy in me and I reflected on how our words, actions and even our inaction can have an impact on others.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Going Gaga Over Dumplings And Noodles

     Trips to Kuala Lumpur are much looked forward to. Apart from satisfying the shopaholic in me, I get to eat at one of my favourite restaurants --- Din Tai Fung. Originating in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung now serves patrons in Australia, the United States, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Dubai and Malaysia. There are six Din Tai Fung restaurants around Malaysia (five of which are in KL, and one in Penang).
Din Tai Fung at Pavilion, KL

     Din Tai Fung is certainly not one of those ubiquitous restaurants sprouting up just to claim a share of the profitable food and beverage business. It really prides itself in delivering sterling quality and outstanding service. It is not surprising then that Din Tai Fung was named one of the top ten restaurants in the world by the New York Times in 1993. In 2009, its first Hong Kong branch earned the accolade of one Michelin star and a year later, its second Hong Kong branch was also awarded one Michelin star.
     Although Din Tai Fung specialises in xiao long bao (steamed dumplings filled with meat and soup), there are many noteworthy dishes in its menu, ranging from appetizers to desserts. Another must-order in Din Tai Fung is its la mian (pulled noodles), which comes in many varieties, either in soup or dry.
     Hubby and I have tried several of Din Tai Fung's dishes but our firm favourites are its pork xiao long bao and pork chop la mian soup. And I never fail to order the lemongrass and lime drink. Sometimes we try to sneak in other dishes like golden pumpkin with salted egg, which is exceptionally good but laden with cholesterol.
Little darlings waiting to be gobbled up

Such springy noodles with perfectly-marinated pork chop in a delicious soup

Blissful lass

Golden pumpkin with salted egg...yum

     Din Tai Fung's xiao long baos are lovingly crafted by the many chefs in its signature glass-enclosed kitchen. Each xiao long bao must have 18 folds with a golden ratio of 5 grams of pork to 16 grams of dough. The skin is translucent, not too thick, but thick enough to encase the meat and broth. Pick a xiao long bao up gingerly with your chopstick, dip it in its mandatory condiment of julienned ginger with vinegar and soy sauce, place it neatly on a spoon and perform the delicate art of slurping the broth before gobbling down the rest of the dumpling.
     Dining at Din Tai Fung is really a most enjoyable experience. Prices are neither cheap nor exorbitant, but do expect to fork out approximately RM80 for a meal for 2. And a word of advice : the queue outside the restaurant can be long, so do try to get there early. I am so glad that hubby is as gaga over the dumplings and noodles as I am.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Getting Hot And Bothered, And Then Icy Cold

       Whilst lazing in bed upon waking up early, I was reading The Star Online. I was instantly sobered up upon reading "Downpours To Replace Dry Spell", which forecasts that after sweltering under the effects of the strongest El Nino in 20 years, Malaysians will have to bear the brunt again when La Nina lashes out in the next few months with heavy rain and devastating floods.
     Although both El Nino and La Nina (which mean "Little Boy" and "Little Girl" respectively in Spanish) are naturally occurring weather patterns, most scientists believe that in recent years, these two kiddos have acquired aggression partly due to the greenhouse gases that humans have put into the atmosphere. So blame it not on the weather, but blame it on ourselves!
     El Nino may stem from the rise in ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator and his effects are most dramatic around the equatorial Pacific, but other parts of the world are certainly not spared of his violence. Places that are accustomed to cool temperatures and lots of rain suddenly suffer from dry, warm weather. And we can even get snow in a desert!
     Speaking of snow, I love snow and have many dreams connected to snow. One of it is to walk hand-in-hand with my sweetheart in a snow-covered forest. Up to this day, I have experienced snow, but just not with my sweetheart.
     Another snow wish had already been fulfilled way back in 1997. There was an extremely rare snowfall in Plymouth (Plymouth is surrounded by seawater which has travelled from the Gulf of Mexico and has gotten warmed up in the process, hence less chances of snow). We woke up in our halls of residence, exhilarated to find snow falling steadily, and willed for it to snow harder. Soon we were able to rush out to have snow fights and to build snowmen all around. It was indeed the time of our lives, and for me, it was a dream fulfilled.
Meet Frosty the Snowman that was lovingly built by my friends and I!

     Just reminiscing about that glorious winter's day has made me feel cooler. And it has reminded me that I need to fulfil another snow wish --- to have a romantic stroll in the snow with hubby. Hokkaido or Shirakawa-go, wait for us!!!

     Now how did I go from serious to dreamy? 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Tantalising Thai Dinner

        Holidays are indeed a terrific time to catch up with good friends. Although we had been talking about meeting up for a meal for some time, it never materialised due to our hectic schedules. At long last, we took advantage of the Hari Raya break to have dinner together --- Fabian, Lee Lean, Derrick and I.
        I picked Sawasdee Thai Cuisine at Bandar Seri Botani. The restaurant was already fairly crowded by the time we arrived at half past six. That was not surprising as the food there is really tasty and prices are most reasonable.
From the main road of Bandar Seri Botani, turn in at Jalan Lapangan Siber 4. They are on the left (Jalan Lapangan Siber 9).

        We ordered a tom yam steamed tilapia, pandan chicken, fried thai curry squid, onion omelette and stir-fried choy tam. All the dishes looked so tantalising and we tucked into the food with gusto. Everyone agreed that the fish, replete with fresh lime, lemongrass, chillies, onions and Thai spices, was the winner of the day.
Tom yam steamed tilapia (RM30)

Pandan chicken (RM8)

Fried thai curry squid (RM18)

Fluffy and crispy onion omelette (RM10)

Stir-fried "choy tam" (RM10)

        Food always tastes better when eaten with the right company. True enough, we had such an aroi mak mak dinner, whilst exchanging news and laughing at jokes. Apart from the food photos, we even forgot to take a photo of us together as we were too caught up with eating, talking and joking. Ah well, I suppose that means we will just have to meet up again soon!
For now, we make do with a photo of the 4 of us taken at Fabian and Lee Lean's lovely homestay in Cameron Highlands

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Celebrating My Wonderful Papa

        My dad turns 77 tomorrow (4 July). Besides giving him a dinner treat, it would also be fitting to thank him for all that he is, and has done for me.

#1 Thank you, Papa, for being a masterful storyteller.
        I can never get tired of listening to his stories of his childhood in Tronoh, the heart-pounding moments of living under the Japanese Occupation, his boarding school days in ACS Ipoh, the wonderful years in the United Kingdom and his teaching experiences in various Johor schools. Back in those days of the 70s and 80s, power outage episodes were fairly frequent. To soothe his fidgety daughter, Papa would regale her with his stories whilst fanning her all the time.

#2 Thank you, Papa, for instilling a sense of humour in me.
        Although Papa faithfully reads the newspaper from front to back and the books on his shelves revolve around politics and politicians (I always associate newspapers and politics with being serious and dull),  Papa has a great sense of humour. He is usually the life and soul of the party. We love to poke fun at each other. Most importantly, he has taught me that it is imperative to live life with humour. He has also reminded me not to be overly sensitive and regard jokes directed at us as personal ammunition. Could this be his secret to his youthful looks?

#3 Thank you, Papa, for supporting me financially.
        Despite not having deep pockets, my dad has always been (and still is) generous with his money. When growing up, he was my automated teller machine. When living off the government’s bursary in the United Kingdom, Papa made it known that I never needed to worry should funds run low. He did not want me to take up part-time jobs to supplement my allowance as he feared that it would be detrimental to my studies. I, on the other hand, did not want to be the parasite scrounging off my dad. We compromised, and I worked at a Chinese takeaway for only one day of the week so that I could save up for a holiday in Europe. For my graduation, Papa bought me my first car with his gratuity money. And up to this day, I am still the recipient of generous angpows for special occasions.

#4 Thank you, Papa, for forcing me to be independent.
        Leaving home at 18 for further studies in Kuala Lumpur, this pampered only child, who had led a rather sheltered life, suffered terribly from homesickness. If I had had a free rein to things, I would gladly have made the four-hour journey back to Ipoh every single weekend (this was before the North South Highway was completed). But Papa put his foot down, insisted that I needed to learn to pull away from the strings of attachment, and only allowed me to go home once a fortnight. Oh, the weekends that I was not permitted to go home were indeed torturous! Fortunately, my cousin Pek Yim very often took me back to her Taman Seputeh home to stay and treated me as if I was her own sister. Now on hindsight, I am indebted to my dad for imposing independence on me. It made my subsequent years of living in the United Kingdom and Sabah so much easier.

#5 Thank you, Papa, for being my walking encyclopaedia.
        Long before Google reigned supreme in our lives, I could count on my dad to provide an answer to anything under the sun. Papa is THAT knowledgeable. He is a mine of information on everything from aerodynamics right up to zoology, I kid you not. The only snag is Papa can give Wikipedia a run for its money in terms of lengthy explanations.

#6 Thank you, Papa, for being my Mr. Fix-It-All.
        Having an uncle who worked as a carpenter, my dad’s a whiz at carpentry. However, his skills do not end there. He believes in giving things a second chance to work so in our house, things are not easily discarded but are instead, given a new lease of life after some tinkering. His “works of art” include the unsightly yet extremely practical hooks around my car. Hoarding knick knacks is the downside of him being adept at fixing things because he is in the opinion that we do not know when we need this or that so it is prudent to just keep them. Halfway walking on the pavement one recent morning, Papa kept stopping to pick up some round metal pieces left lying around after some renovation work. He thought those might come in handy one day and his daughter had to dutifully help him to pick them up.

#7 Thank you, Papa, for being my safety net.
        Who do I call when I have car trouble? Papa. Who do I depend on to set a trap for the rat? Papa. (By the way, just in case hubby feels left out : who do I depend on to exterminate the rat in the trap? Hubby.) Who do I count on to remind me of fixed deposits, insurance policies, income tax filing, road tax and other miscellaneous items that are due for renewal or submission? Papa. Who do I entrust my financial planning to? Papa.

#8 Thank you, Papa, for teaching me to give people the benefit of the doubt.
        It is much easier to judge and condemn. But my dad has always urged me to put myself in that person’s position and assess to see if I would have acted otherwise. He has advised me not to be so hasty in shooting down new ideas but to give them a try. When I think someone has done something out of order, I let it pass as I remember Papa telling me that I could have misinterpreted the whole scenario. From my dad, I have learned that it takes a wise person to try and understand someone’s situation after being hurt by that someone.

#9 Thank you, Papa, for passing on to me your genes of meticulous planning, good sense of direction and ability to not misplace things.
        I am sure genetic predisposition has nothing to do with these strengths. I suspect my meticulous planning, good sense of direction and ability to not misplace things are all due to good training from young plus learning from Papa’s example. But I strongly believe that I have Papa to thank for all these. I get things done well, meet deadlines without any problems, enjoy self-drive holidays with hubby without hitches, weave around residential areas using shortcuts, find our car easily in an unfamiliar and enormous car park, can rush out of the house in less than 3 minutes because I know exactly where to grab my things and never have to turn the house upside down to search for my keys or wallet.

#10 Thank you, Papa, for never putting pressure on me to excel, and yet you are one of my biggest fans.
        As my dad was a teacher, one would have expected him to pressurize me into excelling academically. But no, Papa believes that a child should be allowed to develop at his or her own pace. He never required me to be in the top three, but allowed me to enjoy my school life at my leisure. He never dictated that I pursue a career in medicine or engineering, but left it to me to chart my own path. And yet, Papa has proudly kept all my school report cards, attended every prize-giving ceremony, carefully cut and kept every single article that was published in the newspaper and still holds my university degree under lock and key.

So to my darling Papa, thank you for all these reasons and more. I love you very much, today and always. Happy birthday, Papa!