Saturday, July 07, 2007

This friendly fellow welcomes diners to Beaulieu House, the little eatery in Sembawang Park. I was feeling bo liao myself, so to take some refuge from the remnants of mid-year exam marking that's currently frying my brain, I thought I'd have a little lunch here.

Odd that this place isn't that far from where I live, relatively speaking, but this is the first time I've ever attempted to eat here. Then again, when I'm here I'm usually with Q-tip who isn't allowed inside most eating places. Today, I was flying solo.

There's a warm, rustic charm to the interior. A little country, and a little history, after all, this quaint little Colonial house is supposed to have been the residence of some European Admiral at some point in the past.

On the menu is the option to go Chinese or Western. I was in the mood for a Western set lunch.

Despite the atas name and setting, the food is neither posh nor pretentious. The starter was a simple pile of fresh tossed salad covered over with French dressing. The main course, a chunk of boneless roast chicken, smothered in a little mountain of fried onions and garlic; chips; and more salad and French. Dessert was a serving of chilled sliced pineapple, watermelon and papaya.

The cuisine here turned out to be more of the home-cooked comfort food variety. There's quantity, and there's the feeling that someone you know, maybe Mom or Grandma, cooked this meal for you. That, and the iced tea, hit the spot this afternoon. Mmm...
The JC1 kids are off honing their leadership skills over at the MOE Labrador Adventure Camp, so I went over to snap a few shots for NYconneX. Can't have an award-winning mag if it isn't constantly kept up-to-date, right?

This batch of kids got to play on the high-elements while the other batch went topo-ing around outside base camp. All the climbing and descending from great heights looked like so much fun, I felt like joining in. Perhaps next time there's a training for instructors...?

But today I had an appointment with JY and Jo in the East. I promised to help Jo with 'blading, and for a beginner she seems to have learned the basics quite quickly. She's already able to walk forward quite confidently without support, so all she really needs is to work on her aesthetic. One thing at a time.

Both JY and I are so exercise-deprived we jumped at this opportunity to de-mothball our 'blades and get moving once again. JY's elated that after only one session, Jo is already tempted to go shopping for her own gear. Definitely some female bonding is imminent.

We, sans Jo, met Mel, B-lo and Haze for dinner at NYDC, Wheelock. Company's a bit different from the usual crowd, but no less engaging and noisy. NYDC offers a reasonable baked pasta/rice dish. I tried the "Three Amigos" variety, the "Three" referring to a meatball, Itie sausage, ham combo. Coated thickly with mozza, plus my own liberal sprinkling of Parmesan, it was quite a substantial meal for only $10.90.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Took M2 back to Mazda. They're recalling all M2s in batches to replace the front coil spring. I believe that's something to do with the shock absorbers, though what the problem actually is, I'm not clear about. Still, it's a free service and they gave M2 a long overdue wash and vacuum too. Job done in less than 3 hours. Didn't feel any different driving home, but will keep monitoring...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I found this little surprise in a UPS package on my desk this morning. Looks like NYconneX has finally got some recognition, at least from this organization that looks at the effectiveness of corporate communications publications and gives out this yearly award.

This award didn't exactly come out of the blue, though. I sent our favourite college newsletter webby in as a entry a few months ago, but considering we were going up against professional corp comms departments, all I could hope for was some constructive advice from the judges about how we could do better next year.

But to receive a Grand Award plaque was totally unexpected. Considering what our fellow awardees produced -- Flash animation, slick layouts, big attractive pix, layouts optimizing use of space, easy navigation -- for the moment I'm still wondering what we did right to impress the judges. The judges' comments will appear on the Awards website "in the days ahead", so I'll keep checking in until they say something about us.

This award belongs to Loga and the journo batch of '06-07, for with their faithful updating of content, with Christine's web design, with the variety of articles ranging from the thinking to the bimbotic, we are really getting a behind-the-scenes view of the college from the students' perspective, and perhaps that "inside" information about our college organization was what got the judges' attention. Just speculating for now.

Coincidentally, today was the inaugural meeting of the '07-08 journos headed by Clara. I just had to wave the plaque at them during the meeting to spur their ambitions a bit more. Hope I didn't overdo it with my gushing... heh.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I intake wine in very small quantities, very infrequently. Especially now that I drive, I've seen even less of the stuff than previously. A little vino looks good at the right occasion on the table, but generally, I'll pass on it if offered. My past experience with alcohol isn't a happy one: just a tiny amount of beer makes me puke my guts out, vino knocks me right out.

With this past history in mind, I signed up for the Wine Appreciation session Linc organized for the staff this afternoon. He promised cheese and crackers in between sips of a few different wines, plus I believed I would be in good, jovial company, so I couldn't resist paying $40 for the experience.

I honestly didn't expect to be impressed with the wine selection. Don't all wines taste the same? No they don't, as it turned out. For every bottle opened, I accepted enough to wet the bottom of my glass, but also enough to savour the different aromas and tastes of the New World wines the supplier brought.

Guess as an inexperienced drinker, I liked the lighter wines better: the sauvignon blanc and the merlot; while I poured away most of the shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Taste-wise the latter were too tart for my mouth to enjoy. The surprise was the last bottle, an expensive, award-winning Old World Italian wine. In an instant, I learned that expensive wines taste expensive, and I understood why people would pay money for a good bottle. This one would have been a waste to pour away, so what I couldn't drink, B-lo cheerfully finished off for me.

The cheese that Linc bought also kept us good company. The cheddar was standard, but the spiced cheese, brie and camembert went well with the Carrs (both regular and peppered) as always. Fun as it was to crunch cheese and crackers between refills of wine, I'm glad we paced ourselves so that our supplies lasted the entire afternoon.

Oddly enough, all that vino didn't affect me like it usually does. I didn't drink much, but combining the 6 bottles we sampled, I must have consumed more than half a glass, the amount of which usually puts me right out. Guess it must be due to the pace we were going at: swirl, sniff, sip, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, sample cheese, sample cracker, sample cheese and cracker, sip some more, repeat a couple more rounds, then we're ready for the next bottle.

Our $40 fee also bought us a bottle of merlot and a bottle of shiraz to take home. Think they'll make nice Christmas gifts for the right people.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Not a day after the release of the iPhone, we are already getting reports that some people's motivation to fork out US$500-$600 for this shiny new piece of gadgetry is to smash it up just to see what's inside. Then they show off what they've learned by publishing their research on the 'net, like the folks at Wired mag did. Granted, 'Wired' probably used a corporate account to finance the operation, but other regular joes paid out-of-pocket too.

Would we S'poreans ever do such a thing? For a few weeks, I even kept the protective plastic layer on my Samsung's glass panel, just to keep pristine (*blush). And I paid a comparative fraction of what a new iPhone would have cost me for it.

See, the difference is that we S'poreans are ultimately end-users. We pay retail for a gadget, we max out its functionality, occasionally we personalize its aesthetic to suit our tastes, and when it gets obsolete we dump it and get the next-gen model. We don't care what goes on inside, we don't care what makes it tick. We don't work on it, we want it to work for us. We get maximum benefit, wring it dry, love it and leave it. There's a word for this kind of behaviour: superficiality.

We do the same thing with people too. Our maids, foreign workers, employer-employee, vendor-customer (both ways). We don't bother with what's going on inside them, what they're thinking about or what motivates them. As long as they work to our specifications, there's no trouble, but as soon as there's friction we're already thinking of a replacement.

For them Americans, they're willing to pay good money to settle their curiosity. They think about how it works, while we're busy wondering, "why doesn't it work?" They're busy tinkering, innovating, and making lots more money when they come up with a new device. We're just happy to buy new stuff. I ask you, between the California blonde and the SPG, who's the real bimbo?

If innovation is to be our future, how do we stop being a nation of sarong-clad bim-bots? It starts with what we teach our kids (ya, ya, I know, groans all-round). Each of our subjects have a certain amount of content, but we've got to deliver the content in such a way that the kids can engage it with curiosity. They gotta want to question the content, take it apart, and see how it works for themselves. We gotta stop emphasizing that simply repeating content back to us is evidence that they know their stuff.

We can start by getting rid of our biggest crutch: the "ten-year series", which gives the faulty impression that the questions will always be the same, hence the answers will always be the same. We should get rid of our reliance on 'model answers' -- t'ain't no such animal. We need to teach the kids to respect every question on its own merit, and help them develop the skills to systematically work out their answers, rather than spew out everything they can remember on the topic, which only shows how well they memorized their stuff but says nothing about their ability to deal with the problem.

We gotta teach them how to relate to people better too, too see people as people and not just another appliance to be used for convenience sake, or whatever. Of course, all easier said than done.

And, no, I'm not gonna start by smashing up my Samsung. Nice try.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

ST asks if S'poreans are bad drivers. It's a valid question, after all the number of traffic fatalities is still high, incidents of road rage are on the increase, and we all could list a number of poor driving habits we encounter by our fellow drivers on our roads.

Generally, I encounter the impatient sort, the tailgater, the no-signal lane-changer, the idiot who speeds up to close the gap when I dutifully signal I want to change lanes. The morons who think my minimum safety distance is sufficient space to cut into my lane. Each incident raises driver alertness, but it also causes an emotional response as well -- anger, which often triggers a desire for vengeance or at least competition. All very dangerous impediments to safe driving.

There'd be a lot more of us still alive if we were a little more patient with each other, a little less in a hurry ourselves. Good luck with that in modern, busy S'pore, you say. Perhaps the problem isn't that the roads aren't safe enough, but rather, that our roads are too safe. According to the theory of 'risk compensation', animals and people tend to take greater risks the safer they feel in their environments.

Perhaps we need to remove our numerous traffic lights, our speed limits and warning signs. Get rid of our lane markings and do whatever else we can to raise the threat level on the road. Then perhaps our drivers will start taking more personal responsibility over the way they drive. Roads don't have to be safe. Drivers do.

Think I got this idea because I'm crazy? It's an idea that seems to work. Check out this article by Anne Casselman in Discover mag. Click.
Our popularity waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon. When nobody wants us, crickets chirp blissfully in the background. When we're needed, well... today for instance:

We finished mashing our egg-salad last night and took a 3-hour time out to sleep before buttering 17 loaves of bread this morning. Each slice thinly spread with an even coat of butter just so, in order to complement the flavour of the egg filling without overpowering it. We quarter each sandwich, so our target was to make 600 quarters before noon. Mission accomplished... just barely!

Showered and dressed, delivered the sandwiches to Bro in Geylang, then on to Queenstown to attend the wedding of Josh and Jan (pix left). In a compact little service involving lots of singing, they finally tied the knot in front of us (they had already tied the knot in front of Jan's folks in Bangkok a year or so ago). I always thought Josh reminded me of Bert, but as he sang to Jan, his easy-listening vocals reminded me then of Kermit's. Random thought.

Couldn't stay long, though the reception was quite yummy. We had a pot luck at Jen's place and we still had to go pick up dessert. Jen does a beautifully light pie-tee that we put together ourselves. She also cooked her Peranakan specialties while Adrian improvised an exotic chicken dish though he only returned from HK past midnight last night. Our dessert: Ritz apple strudel, hastily bought from Parkway Parade. We were late, and we'd just run out of imagination. Fortunately, Jen had a couple of tubs of Tiger Sorbet and Chendol ice-cream from Island Creameries to make our contribution a little more exciting. She's a great hostess!

Busy, busy day.