Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What would you like to be when you grow up?

Even though the picture of Sakura (from the famous online trio, Ninjagirls) as a grass cutter seems a little too sexy to be true, her latest article had me ponder a bit.

When I was little, I was constantly being 'brainwashed' by my mum to either become a doctor or a lawyer (now doesn't that sound familiar), so much that it seemed like these 2 are the only respectable jobs in the Universe, and the only 2 that will serve as a benchmark to my success as a person and my mum's personal achievement as a parent. And as Sakura mentioned, it's not uncommon to hear parents using cleaners and grass-cutters as a warning to their children if they do not do well in school.

I have posted my fair share of complaints (and praises too) about Thailand on this blog since I came, but I will have to say that after being immersed in the Thai culture for a best part of 5 years, a lot of my perspectives have changed.

I get greeted a warm "Sawadee Krup" by the guards at my condominium, banks, malls whenever they see me.

Ladies of all ages clear plates at food courts with a smile, and toilet cleaners also look just as happy as their counterparts working in nice offices. This bodes well to the end result of their work too, most public toilets in Thailand are extremely clean, even those at petrol kiosks and small eateries.

More than half of my own staff held odd jobs before they joined me, even some of my more senior staff.

I see locals making a good living in ways that would likely be discouraged by most parents in Singapore/Malaysia. Some spend years as waitresses at the same little restaurant, some repair air-conditioners so well that the ended up forming a team of technicians which can serve as many as 6 households at one go, some lose their jobs and find a new lease of life selling grilled pork along the streets. One thing that stands out, is that even if life is tough, they will try to enjoy their work when they are at it.

I have to admit though, in spite of all this, I will not be the proudest parent if Noah ends up spending his life cutting grass and pruning trees (even though I sell brush-cutters and chainsaw parts myself), but I believe that there is beauty in every job, and to excel, you have to try your best and have fun while you are at it.

At the end of the day, 行行出状元, we must give due respect to every profession that adds value to the society.

No job is more important than another, and as long as my children are happy and making a decent living out of whatever they are doing, who am I to complain?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sharing the experience of choosing an International School for my child in Bangkok

*Disclaimer*
Throughout the entire research process for Noah's school, my wife was the one doing all the work. I only made visits to a selected few and took part in final discussions before making the decision together. This piece represents my personal view only, sharing my after-thoughts after the whole exercise.

Of the many obstacles we have to overcome being a foreign family in Thailand, our children's education proved to be one of the trickiest ones. Unlike in Singapore, where parents have their hearts in their mouths while waiting to see whether their children have been given a place in their preferred primary school, Thailand presents a set of completely different challenges.

Firstly, the public education system is simply not a choice. It's largely monolingual in a language we do not understand, so we have to look to international schools.

Secondly, once it comes to international education, we have to decide which curriculum to go for. Established ones will naturally be the American, British, and yes, you guessed it, Singapore curriculums. We ended up opting for the Singapore curriculum not because we feel it's the best one, but because Singapore international schools here focus on both English AND Mandarin, while most British and American schools only conduct classes in English, with limited emphasis on other languages or offer them as out-of-curriculum options.

Thirdly, Bangkok is not a place blessed with good traffic, especially during peak hours. As much as we would love to send our kids to the best school possible, it is more important not to end up spending half the day on the road. It is logical to choose the most suitable school out of the ones near our residence.

Lastly, international schools are expensive. No matter how much financial mileage I get from living in a "cheaper city", it will eventually be used up in my children's education. International schools hire foreign teachers (all foreigners have a high minimum salary which varies with country) and all language teachers are native speakers. On top of that, the student-teacher ratio is kept very low, so we could easily look to spend between 650-2500SGD per month in school fees for our child, depending on the school and the kid's age. We need to start spending this amount per month from age 2.5-18 before spending another bomb for University education. Take this, consider inflation and rise in school fees over 2 decades multiplied by the number of kids I have, my children's education fees can LITERALLY BANKRUPT me.

Having considered all the factors above, we visited every school that offered the Singapore curriculum around our apartment.

School A:

We were greeted by a huge moving water display, a sign of good 风水 (especially for the school after seeing their fees). It was followed by a rather impressive visit of the facility, with particular emphasis on their "Wall of Fame" showcasing the usual suspects' proud academic achievements in international competitions. It was really a 'back-to-Singapore' experience, which was what I was NOT looking for since we were already out of the island. I personally grew up in a similar atmosphere, with a relentless emphasis on academic performance. Ultimately, even though I benefited from my results to a certain extent, I am sure I would be better served in an atmosphere that focused more on actual learning than results.

School B:

The closest to our house, which would make the most sense for us if it proved to be fitting to our requirements as well. It is relatively new, so the campus is pretty small, not a big issue for me if other things fell into place. However, everything started to fall apart after sitting down with the principal.

A brief boast about the academic achievements of her children was followed by an extended interview on whether my company will be paying for my children's education expenses. When I told her it would be unlikely, she started discussing with me a whole range of reasons why I should be reimbursed and even sounded a bit impolite towards my bosses who have given me everything I have since I moved to Thailand. My head hurt a little when I left the office, as it was more of a HR meeting than a meeting with my son's potential school principal.

School C:

The furthest of the 3, but still within reasonable driving distance. A humble but rapidly-expanding school campus. I do not remember hearing of any wall of fame nor any HR lecture, but something about them keeping their fees reasonable by not spending any fees on marketing and re-investing their earnings into more facilities for their students. Music to my ears indeed. It also helped when we already had 2 friends who put their kids there and did not have bad things to say.

In the end, our choice was pretty clear. That said, Noah will not formally start class with them until next week, so it is a bit too early to pass judgement. Let's just hope for the best.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Authentic homely taste of Mainland China savoured in Thailand

Guess what dish is this? Clue: It's our dessert

Chinese food is widely available in Thailand. As most of the early Chinese immigrants are from Swatow, there is a huge Teochew flavour in Thai cooking. Braised duck and pork trotters are some of the chinese flavours commonly found along the streets of Bangkok.

When we visit the Chinese restaurants in good hotels, decent Chinese cuisine is not hard to find, but these are mostly, as expected, Cantonese flavours. Little did I expect that somewhere just a few kilometres outside Bangkok, in the neighbouring province of Samut Sakhon, will I enjoy authentic Hakka food in an eatery which does not even have a signboard. As I told my staff, this is real China Chinese (客家家乡菜) food, not the typical Thai-influenced Chinese food we get anywhere else. 

I have decided to list down the dishes I ate on my blog before I completely forget about them in the future:

Claypot bean curd soup.


Deep-fried fish in sweet and sour sauce, I believe the pineapple was the only local touch in the entire restaurant.

Stir-fried bean curd skin, black fungus and mushrooms.
How they made such humble ingredients taste like heaven with a spatula and a wok, I will never know.

Deep-fried tofu with a minced-garlic sauce.

Wok-Hei-filled fried kway teow

I believe that even in Singapore or Malaysia, we will struggle to find ourselves Hakka flavours as original as this. I would never be able to relocate the eatery by myself in the future, so I am counting my blessings to have tasted these delicacies in Thailand, and hope my new customer will bring me back there again soon.

It's yam paste, not too sweet and slightly savoury, served with a generous sprinkle of sesame and peanut. 




Thursday, August 14, 2014

When the Stranger cooks: The BEST Home-made Pork Burger

Yes, I made this myself, and I am proud of it, but now, you can do it too!

I frequently share pictures of the food I eat on my blog's FB page, as food is a essential part of my blog. Once in a while I share pictures of food I cook, and some garner better feedback than others. A few weeks ago, I made some burgers at home and got a few requests to share the recipe, so here I am. However, I do not cook with fixed recipes and many dishes are made by a sudden influx of inspiration, so pardon me if I have already forgotten every single step I took to achieve this 'masterpiece'.

When it comes to burgers, there are 3 essential elements, the bun (I can't bake for nuts, so I buy my burger buns from the supermarket), the patty and the sauce. I am going to share a few secrets to tell you how I actually made things easier for myself.

Firstly, what is the best sauce for your burger? I do not like the idea of ketchup, because putting ketchup essentially means the burger tastes like nothing but ketchup. What else? Mayonnaise? Barbeque sauce? I don't use these sauces frequently in my cooking, so buying bottles of them for an occasional burger will result in wastage. For me, no sauce beats some gooey melting cheese with cracked black pepper on top and the succulence of a thick wedge of juicy fresh tomato. Don't believe me? Try this burger recipe and tell me again. You can even use this formula for all your burgers.

Secondly, the patty. This is where it gets interesting. Most burgers use ground beef, as it has a deep meaty aroma and do not have to be cooked through to preserve the patty's moisture. I use pork, a much lighter-looking and tasting meat that absolutely has to be cooked through. So, to taste good and moist. It needs help.

My tiny secret to my pork patty is..... CARAMELIZED ONIONS. Putting raw onion on top of your patty is something regularly done, but it leaves a stench in your mouth that follows you through the day. Putting caramelized onions on top of the patty is a great idea too, but if you are looking for the sweetest moistest tasting pork burger, why not chop up the caramelized onions and mix them INTO the patty instead?

*wink


STRANGER IN BANGKOK'S BEST HOME-MADE PORK BURGER (SERVES 3)

Ingredients:

  • 3 burger buns
  • 450g of ground pork (needs around 10-15% of fat for best results), 150g will be perfect for a burger
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 rashers of  bacon, 1 for each burger
  • 1 fresh juicy tomato
  • 3 slices of cheddar or your favourite cheese, 1 for each burger
  • 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs (optional)
  • paprika powder, black pepper, salt to taste

Patties sizzling away

Making the Patty:

  1. Thaw the meat completely, preferably overnight in the refrigerator, and put in a large bowl.
  2. Season with a generous amount of paprika powder, black pepper and a dash of salt to taste.
  3. Crisp up the bacon in your pan, set aside for burger assembly.
  4. Coarsely slice up your onion and caramelize in the bacon fat under medium heat, till slightly brown, soft and sweet.
  5. Chop the soft caramelized onion finely and mix into the ground pork.
  6. Finally, if you have any, add 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs, it makes the patty feel less dense yet binds everything nicely together. The patty will work properly too without breadcrumbs though.
  7. Coat your hands with a tiny bit of cooking/olive oil and carefully split the mixture equally into 3, rolling into balls.
  8. Using the same oil that you used for the onion, turn to medium-high heat and place the meatballs on the frying pan, then use a spatula and flatten the meatballs into the shape of a patty, about 1-1.5cm thick, which will fit just nice into a standard size burger bun.
  9. Your meat should be of room temperature, or even slightly warm after mixing with the warm caramelized onion, so it shouldn't take too long to cook through, I think 3 to 4 minutes on each side should do the trick.


Assembling the Burger:

  1. Once the patty is ready, put it on top of the bottom side of the burger bun. Place a piece of bacon on the patty before laying the slice of cheddar on top. Do the same for all 3 burgers and crack some black pepper on the cheese. Place in oven at 200degC for around 5 minutes for the cheese to melt and fuse with the bacon and patty. The top side of the buns should be placed in the oven too for warming and crisping the crust.

  2. As the patty is already cooked, your burger will be ready for final assembly once the cheese has melted. The last step is to lay a THICK slab of fresh tomato on top of the patty, cover with the top side of the burger bun and enjoy!


You will thank me for this.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Calling Mr Jeremy Lee, the Anti-Pram

Hello Mr Anti-Pram aka Jeremy Lee

If calling you Mr Anti-Pram sounds drastic, calling the "over-use" of prams (or a more appropriate term, stroller) a "truly distressing social ill" is, yes, you are right, truly distressing.

This is not the first, and certainly not the last article/comment (a fellow dad posted this a few hours after me) addressed directly to you regarding your now-notorious article, but I will have to write it anyway, because to you, a personal, one-sided, subjective rant like this is completely acceptable.

I will not go into detail explaining why parents need the aid of prams when bringing their child/ren out (it has already been done well here), neither do I care whether you are a parent or not, but the part about taking lifts is just a painful thing to read. If you, presumably a grown man with healthy limbs and an outstanding command of English, can roll your eyes at prams in lifts and expect kids to train their muscles once they are ready to walk without falling flat on their faces, why can't you expect yourself to take the escalator or even the stairs instead? If you fall flat on your face frequently while walking, please accept my sincere apologies and go train some muscles.

I cannot blame you for writing what you think. However, I shudder at the thought of this article being read, edited and subsequently published on the website I read it from. If this has been a tasteless form of driving readership, I have to admit, it has achieved its aim.

In any case, I have some final words for you.

Take comfort, because Bangkok, the city I have lived in for the last 4 years, does not encourage parents to bring prams into malls.

But, don't ever come to Bangkok, unless you decide to spend all your days burning on the streets and weekend markets.

Because, many major malls in Bangkok already have their very own fleet of prams ready for rental to all their customers with a simple exchange of any form of identification, so technically, no family needs to bring their own. These are certainly not considered "C-class" prams, but are at least "Altises".

So beware.

If you decide to come, and can't help but set foot into any of the world-class malls scattered across the whole of this City of Angels, be afraid. Be very afraid.

An entire army of "Altises" will be charging at you.

And the worst thing is, one of them could be mine.


Yours sincerely,
Eddie aka Stranger in Bangkok


In a feeble surrender to the marketing initiative driven by this article, those who wish to read the article I was responding to, you can do so here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When the Stranger cooks: Fettucine with rich meat sauce.

Home-made gourmet burger, even the patties were made from scratch!

I realise it's been a long time since I shared an original recipe. I have certainly not stopped cooking, but was too lazy to take enough nice pictures to make some recipe posts.

Baked seafood with lemon and potatoes

However, due to a couple of requests on my Facebook share last night, even though I lack pictures, I think I should share how I cooked my Fettucine with rich meat sauce, a dish which is frequently seen in my house in different variations.


Almost all the ingredients
Ingredients, serves 2-3:

  1. Half a large onion, diced.
  2. 250g of raw gourmet sausage (I used Sloane's Botifarra), break the casing and squeeze out the sausage meat. You could use normal minced beef or pork as well, but using good raw sausages is a cheat that will help you form a beautiful base for the sauce.
  3. 1 can of plum tomato, use imported ones from Italy/Spain.
  4. 200g of cherry tomato, halved.
  5. Half a cup of white wine.
  6. 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, optional, but it makes the sauce taste richer and fruitier.
  7. Dried herbs include paprika powder, cracked black pepper, oregano, a little of each according to your personal taste.
  8. Salt to taste.

Complete sauce, absolutely divine.
Cooking procedure:
  • Saute onions in a medium-hot pan with some oil, the key is to sweat them slowly to release their sweetness and not burn them.
  • When the onions have softened and turned a little brown, switch to high heat and put the sausage mince in to sear. You want to have a nice brown char on the mince so that it gives the sauce a depth of flavour.
  • When browning the meat, add some cracked black pepper, paprika powder and oregano to your personal taste. I personally love a lot of paprika and black pepper in my sauces.
  • When the meat has achieved a nice sear, keep the pan hot and add in the balsamic vinegar so that it reduces nicely, then add the white wine to deglaze the pan and form the beautiful base of the sauce.
  • Pour in the can of tomatoes and the halved cherry tomatoes, mix well, add in another half a can of water using the empty tomato can. Turn to medium heat, cover and leave it to simmer. You can simply use canned tomatoes, but I always like to add some fresh tomatoes to give it a more refreshing element.
  • When the fresh tomatoes soften to become part of the sauce and the sauce reduces to a nice consistency (like the bolognaise sauce you eat in a good restaurant), you can give it a taste and add a final bit of pepper and salt to your liking.

Of course, the dish will not be complete without your favourite pasta. I love to use either linguine or fettucine for my dishes, but this sauce works well with any type of pasta you prefer. Around 80-120g of pasta should be a good amount for an adult.

When cooking pasta, please salt the water generously, otherwise your dish will taste horribly bland, and lastly, follow the cooking instructions on your pasta packaging carefully, DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR PASTA. Any great sauce will be in vain if you serve it with fat, soggy noodles.

So there you have it, my Fettucine with rich meat sauce, a simple dish that you can whip up within an hour and make the people in your house very happy indeed.

Try it and let me know what you think of it!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Daddy's revelation among Potties, Urinals and Toilet Training

Noah is nearly two and a half years old and not toilet-trained. For everyone who knows me, you should understand that I have become more and more of a free-spirit after leaving Singapore for Thailand, or at least, I try to be.

Therefore, we have always let Noah be as free-spirited as he wants to be, not to the extent of freely throwing cookie crumbs all over the floor or tugging at wires, but we do not control his nap times and allow him to make reasonable choices as much as possible, and that includes things like toilet-training. We do not want to apply unnecessary pressure on him as we know that there will surely come a day when he will decide to drop the diaper and wear big-boy pants.

We started encouraging him to drop the diaper by reading him toilet-training-related books frequently, which he understands and enjoys, then putting a little urinal beside the toilet bowl in my toilet. In the last few months, I have started to invite him into my toilet while doing 'small business' so that he understands what's 'required' when the day comes.

Last night, the day nearly came.

After dinner, instead of a couple of hours of playing before his sleep routine, Noah said he wanted to pee in the 'potty'. Then came a few minutes of fully-clothed pretend-pee in my toilet. When he finally tried to take off his pants, I thought to myself, "This is it!" and ran into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

Then came nearly an hour of coaxing him to pee. He threatened to actually do it on a number of occasions, but ended up turning around to hug me giving me an embarrassed uneasy face every single time. I guess for someone like him, who has been wearing diapers 24/7 all his life, peeing into something other than a nappy is a big uncomfortable step, which he was just short of taking last night.

For me, squatting beside my son for nearly an hour with no end-result in my toilet with a bad back after a long day of work was not what I envisioned myself doing. I was mentally and physically drained after the entire affair, and of course, I could not hide my disappointment.

However, after waking up this morning and looking back at what happened last night, I could only smile and remember especially 1 thing that he said a few times throughout the hour we spent together cuddled up in the loo.

"Noah, are you 怕怕 (scared in Mandarin) to peepee in the potty?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "because got Daddy beside Noah, Noah no need to 怕怕 (scared)。"

Even though this is something I often tell him, but for him to remember it so well and answer me when I ask him the question, it just means that even if I am not the best father in the world, I must be doing something right.