Saturday, January 26, 2013

Kueh buloh: pre-baking prep

CNY is just around the corner and June's itching to try out a new recipe. These here are aluminium kueh buloh moulds for oven baking. We got them from a kitchen supply store on Joo Chiat Road, towards the Geylang Serai end.

The talkative auntie at the cash register advised us on how to prepare the moulds before baking in order to avoid the little cakelets getting stuck in them:

1) Do NOT wash the moulds first thing you get home. Instead, coat them all over with cooking oil.
2) Baked the oiled-up moulds for about a half-hour in a gas oven, or an hour in an electric oven.
3) Pour away the excess oil and set aside to cool to room temperature.
4) Lightly wash the moulds just before you're ready to fill them with the kueh buloh batter.
4) If you're not ready to bake kueh buloh immediately, don't wash the moulds but rather wrap them in newspaper and store until you do want to use them.

Oh, you want the recipe? Sorry, no idea about that.

Edit 01:
pre-bake prep didn't actually work 100%. June's experiments eventually resulted in her temporarily giving up and baking cupcakes with the remaining batter instead. Still a few kinks left to figure out, but there's still time. No pressure.

Friday, January 25, 2013

After the final pitches in Punggol East

If I had to go to the polls this Saturday to vote a new representative into parliament, what would my options be?

First, I'd have to consider my position in life: I'm decently happy, possibly to the point of being complacently so. Married; have something of a family and a job that pays a fair wage for a fair day's work. My living conditions are comfortable, while the neighbourhood is still developing. It's not particularly upscale, but it's not exactly a slum either. It's a position I'd like to keep for a long time to come.

After tonight's final rallies, my take on the candidates is as follows:

The green guy who's aiming for a job that requires him to talk in parliament can barely make himself understood talking online. He has no discernible platform beyond wanting to be in parliament and on my behalf run interference on crucial matters that require a decision because that's what an Opposition does, thus proving that Opposition unity is possible. Mr Logical, himself.

The yellow guy alienates everyone the moment he opens his mouth. It's not his grating colonial accent but his air of superiority that tends to rub the wrong way. For a person who claims he can out-debate the PM should he ever have the opportunity, it's puzzling that he would deliver his last speech -- haltingly -- reading his script word-for-word, which he had prepared on his smartphone. Maybe he should not have forgotten to bring his reading glasses.

It's really down to the last two candidates who deserve more serious consideration.

The blue lady represents a party that has been building credibility of late. It's a party that's been increasing its vote share over two consecutive national election campaigns because it promises to do in parliament what many people would love to do personally, but would get arrested if they tried: slap the decision-makers for making stupid decisions, "stupid" being a relative term: if the decision was not for an option mooted by the blues, it's probably stupid and deserves a slap.

The new white guy isn't above hamming it up for the camera and making some incredibly dumb assumptions about private transport ownership during televised interviews. A touchy subject, considering he owns two and so many other people own one less than he thinks.

At this point, neither looks like a viable choice. Let's now examine the blue vs white campaign strategy to see if there's anything there that could sway my vote.

While blue lady raises important issues that many people are concerned and even angry about, as a (hypothetical) voter in a by-election I feel that she's addressing the wrong crowd. For all the rhetoric she raises on behalf of stay-at-home-parents and single parents, just how many of such people actually make up the electorate in Punggol East constituency? In a national election, perhaps such issues might make a difference, but as an average HDB dweller, I'd rather have assurances that my neighbourhood will be well taken care of. Blue lady assures us that as soon as she's elected, she'll take over the town council expediently... but that's it. She has more important issues to consider, issues of national importance, so I should just go home and suck it up. Gee, thanks.

The white guy, oddly enough, has the smart game plan for once. He knows his audience. He's talking about things I want to hear about: literally concrete issues like maintaining the upkeep and the upgrading of the neighbourhood where I live in and getting the mall fixed up. In a by-election with only one seat being contested for, I know voting in a non-majority candidate will make absolutely no difference to the party proportions in parliament. I'm not going to sacrifice the next 3-4 years of development of my constituency (and my property value) for a symbolic political principle. Plus, unlike the other guys and gal whose language sounds imperative and commanding -- vote me in 'cos I know what's good for you -- white guy is offering a hand in partnership and is saying let's work together.

Yeah, yeah, I know it's all campaign blather, but in the end we have to trust that what comes out of the mouth originates from the heart.

Edit 01:
The election results are in. It's an odd feeling to see that what I thought was the rational choice was not what the majority decided on. Emotion and feel-good won the day, and perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised. There's been too little of that going around our little island recently. And now that the people are seeing that a bluer Parliament will not usher in the end of the world, it's clear that this blue wave is just starting to pick up momentum. Let's prepare for a more balanced Parliament at the next GE, trusting that head and heart can work together for the benefit of the body. At least the people are still discerning enough to keep the lunatic fringe where it belongs: out there.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shooting for aces in GP

As I understand my place on the General Paper (GP) team, my little division has been entrusted with helping the kids with higher potential to achieve their aces. That's not a bad thing. Since we have kids with the ability to reach higher, it's both my duty and my pleasure to get them on their way.

Working with higher ability kids, though, requires a different strategy from the average group. I'm not being elitist, but that's the way it is. For the average kid, GP is a test of knowledge. The strategy here is the common approach: pump them full of content; predigest for them template approaches so that they can hopefully identify and plug in the right argument structure and pass with a sigh of relief.

Although knowledge is a prerequisite to a pass, knowledge alone will not ace the GP H1. The presumption about the higher ability kids is that they're better read than their average peers; they have a stronger command of the English language; and they are perhaps more willing to take "riskier" options or approaches to engaging their questions. This bunch knows they have the ability to do better than what their test results are returning, and they are probably frustrated.

So what do we do to help them do better? My take is that we change the rules and objectives of the game for them. At higher levels, GP is no longer about how much knowledge the kid has, so providing them with more material to swallow and regurgitate will not help them increase their grade perceptibly. Instead, we view the GP H1 as a test of mental agility and train this lot of kids to handle questions as if they were completely unexpected situations. So rather than approach the questions from a position of knowledge, they approach the questions from a position of ignorance.

To the average person, to feel ignorant is to be disadvantaged. Embarrassment and panic set in; confidence collapses; and abject surrender becomes a very tempting proposition. However, the problem of a knowledgeable kid approaching a familiar question is the tendency to show off his smarts while disregarding the question. His pride is his fall.

A smart kid who approaches his question humbly is more likely to pay attention to the requirements of the question. With this focus, he can cut out all the noise in his head clamouring to be vocalized on paper and prioritize what knowledge he can bring to bear that is pertinent to what he is being asked -- regardless of 'topic'.

If the kids want their aces, they're going to move up from being mindless footsoldiers wielding blunt cudgels while making loud noises to intimidate the enemy and become quiet, disciplined snipers who can adapt to any environment and boast a hit ratio of one shot, one kill.

Sotto voce: Oh, man! What am I getting myself into?

Today's post was inspired by "Mental agility: how to react quickly to any situation".

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How to have more kids

Nope. The Population Dept has got it wrong again. Throwing more money at the problem of a shrinking population, and now endorsing paternity leave as well won't lead to more babies... though it might lead to even less.

It has always been a resource problem. We've always thought of money as being the resource that we lack, but that's not it at all. The scarcity is not in the money but in the children themselves. In truth, there are a lot fewer children than there is money to spread around.

Couples today aim to stop at two, or one, or have none at all. In fact, what is happening is that we are artificially restricting the supply of children. Because children are scarce, they come at a premium. Suddenly the price of having children has skyrocketed. Now we can never save up enough to send our sole little precious to school and see him (or her) grow up with all the luxuries his or her little heart desires. And for some of us, we feel WE don't deserve even one child because we'll never be able to work hard enough to ensure that our child will grow up to live the life HE or SHE deserves.

As my kids in discussion shockingly observed: in the past, respect went to the eldest in the family and trickled down through the hierarchy. However, these days, mommy and daddy have become slaves to their kids. Is it any wonder that we have little desire to serve yet another Pharaoh in our household? We're already slaves to our jobs in the morning and when we do manage to escape home we need a break. Oh, wait, Junior's there. Damn. I'd rather stay at work. At least my boss looks like a boss. Please don't make me take paternity leave! I'm serious!

If we really want to encourage our people to have more kids, we need a mindset change for couples to start having kids indiscriminately. Every household norm should have seven or eight kids whom we can then view as disposable commodities. Multiple redundancy drops the value per kid to near zero. If one kid screws up or dies or something, there's always another to replace the faulty product.

Economies of scale would mean that they all share the same toy, clothes, food, and they don't even have to go to the best schools. That's because whether they study and be educated or not, it's their lives and not my problem. Out of the many, all I need is one good kid -- if I'm so lucky -- and the rest, well, good luck to them. If I work hard, the money goes to me. Conversely, if you don't work hard, don't come crying to me for a handout. The next population campaign should go: Kids aren't precious -- have as many as you like!

When we live in the First World, it's easy to overlook the simplest of solutions which our Third World neighbours are so much wiser to.