Grandmother’s Tales

My paternal grandmother passed away 13 years ago at the age of 100. I was blessed to have spent a fair bit of my childhood in her company, where she’d regale me with fabulous tales of China, my grandfather whom I never met, of how my father was when he was a child like me, and how all that mattered was that you were Hainanese because every other dialect/ethnic group in China were barbarians.

When she visited us from Seremban in the 70s, she’d take me (her favourite grandchild) on trishaw rides to across town, which in those days were divided by the Singapore River into what the Chinese called “Big ‘Pore” and “Small ‘Pore” – with Big ‘Pore on the west of the river, and Small ‘Pore on the east.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, because she was the most ‘western educated’ of anyone in our family, Ah Por would buy me treats from Hainanese streetside vendors and get me Chinese bowl haircuts from Hainanese streetside barbers. I later learned that these were in Little Hainan, the few blocks beginning from Seah Street next to the Raffles Hotel.

It was only after her passing that my father told me how the family had settled in Malaya. Some time around the early 1930s, my grandfather was apparently a communist who had been arrested and jailed on account of being accused of arson and destruction of property in Hainan, then part of Canton. Ah Por, who was then his mistress/2nd wife, managed to bribe officials into securing his release and departure from China – he fled to and settled in Port Dickson with my father’s older brother, where he took on another wife, unleashed his inner capitalist and started buying and selling goods and foodstuff.

Ah Por and my father would have been out of sight and out of mind, but for Ah Por’s steely determination – she sent word that she’d send my father, then six years old, on a boat to Singapore for Grandpa to pick up, and that with the remainder of her resources, would travel overland to Port Dickson to meet them later.

It still gives me goosebumps thinking about their epic adventure settling here. I’ll write more about this in due time, but if you’ve got a grandmother’s tale to share, there’s this event coming up soon called “The Grandest Story Ever Told” – where if you’re able to bring your grandparents, or a photo of them and a story to tell, you’ll get a free coffee at Chye Seng Huat Hardware Coffee House on Tyrwhitt Road.

Come and contribute, and listen to other people’s grandmother’s tales.

Fool For A Cigarette

I keep saying that people don’t make a big enough deal about how much of an addiction smoking really is. Calling it a “habit” is really understating it, unless you were talking about a heroin “habit” or a cocaine “habit”.

And while I’m sure there are people who’ve used weaning methods like nicotine gums, patches and e-cigarettes (smokeless, tar-less vaporisers) and succeeded in kicking the “habit”, the fact that you need to use a chemical to replace your dependence on the same chemical says a lot about how nasty this smoking business is.

I tried nicotine gums and patches once – at the same time. It felt so intense I decided I needed a cigarette to calm me down. I’m pretty sure I damaged some synapses or something with that episode.

When I was in the Army my priorities for field training were in this order: 1. pack enough cigarettes to last the training, 2. make sure they are in waterproof bag, 3. pack field pack”.

I know of smokers who’d walk through blizzards and hailstorms just to spend their last $12 on a pack of ciggies, or beg someone to give them one. These are hallmarks of a serious addiction, and you’d be very lucky if it didn’t ruin your health and you.

Luckily the difference between cigarettes and illegal drugs like heroin is that the physical craving / withdrawal symptoms of cigarette addiction is far less painful and lengthy. I read somewhere that if your body can get over the nicotine pangs, you’re good after three minutes.

If you’re ready to quit, I support you getting over it. It’s easier than you think. I smoked for over 20 years and quit in two days. Quit for yourself and your family. I did.

These days, the first thing I look forward to in the morning is not lighting up one to get me going, but spending a good few minutes playing with my son before he gets ready for pre-school.

Sleepyhead Papa and happy kid. (I tried to make him pose with the “I Quit” sign, but couldn’t stop him moving).

Check out the I Quit Club on FB and get the support you need to quit.

Europe 2012: What The Doctor Ordered Me Not To Order

I’m back on my regular low-carb, low(er) fat diet, but my stomach had a really good holiday:

Calves’ liver with rosti – Restaurant zum Weissen Kreuz, Zürich
Local Oysters – St Martin-de-Re
Brioche mouna pied noir, St Martin-de-Re
Best macarons we’ve ever had – Sadaharu Aoki, Paris
Suckling lamb – Helene Darroze, Paris
Burger – Burger & Lobster, London
Lunch – Dinner by Heston, London (clockwise from top left: meatfruit, spiced pigeon, salt caramel ice-cream, tipsy cake, bone marrow).

The Only Celebrity Sighting Worth Having

We had several celeb sightings and near-misses on our trip. Our traveling companion L found Kanye West blocking her view of some freshly launched merchandise at Colette; her husband S found himself gushing about some ‘famous French actress I forgot her name but she is very popular’ after dinner at Hélène Darroze; I cursed about the lifts at Selfridges being slow, only to see that it had been commandeered by Liz Hurley and Shane Warne, or rather, their security detail.

But as far as Kai was concerned, the celebrity that meant the most was Tom Kerridge, who happened to be at Harrod’s doing a cooking demo for the Staub brand of cookware when we walked into the store to take refuge from the very English weather.

Kai was cranky and acting up, so when I spotted the cooking demo, I told Naomi that I would bring him to be distracted. Watching the chef make an interesting looking omelette made him hungry and even crankier, and we eventually had to ask for two plates of the demo omelette, which he walloped very quickly. No mean feat when he normally doesn’t like eggs.

It was no ordinary omelette in any case. It was Tom Kerridge’s Omelette Arnold Bennett, and it was damn shiok. We don’t care how many stars Michelin gave this fella, but if he makes our son eat eggs, he’s a champion.

Eggs by Tom Kerridge
Eaten by Kai