Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Turning 40: A Milestone Birthday Letter to Myself in Groundhog Year 2021

And just like that, (in case you are interested), I am 40.

I will be easy for me to say, "Time flies," or, "Where did the time go?" But damn, it wasn't easy to get here.

I also have to admit that more than half my life is already behind me, like it or not.

Life before 40 was my youth, a period most would consider the 'best part' of their lives.

So what lies ahead, nothing but down?

I had my first child when I was 31, around the same time as when my Dad had me. Looking back, my more impactful memories of him started when he stepped into his 40s. 

There could be many reasons for this, including the possibility of me being too young to understand/remember much when I was a little kid under 10 years old. I, however, choose to believe that it was because the most influential part of his life probably started after 40. A lot of that period remained crystal clear in my mind, including major highs and devastating lows both in his health and career, culminating in an inspirational turnaround when he was 50 when he started a new company back in Kuching which has sustained the family for the last 20 years.

With that in mind, I am convinced that I might not have seen my best years yet, but man, this Covid and the never-ending Groundhog Years are really not helping, though there's never a good reason to give up.

Dad, if you are reading this, I want to tell you that your little son is sorry that he has not been able to perform his duties to take care of you properly. This situation is really a test of our discipline and patience. Go easy on the cigarettes and diet coke, rest more, take some walks and always wear a mask. Please stay safe, stay healthy with Mum, take good care of each other. We all love you very much and we will meet soon.

To my peers and people who call me their brother (including my own of course), whenever life is too hard and seemingly impossible to fight another day, never forget that there are people we love who are always watching. 

Our parents are watching with concern,

Our kids are watching us as their role model,

Our spouses are watching with all the love in the world we do not deserve,

Let's make them proud.

Happy 40 to me. 

Happy post-40 years to all of us.

To many (better) years ahead!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2020: Koh Kret - small island near Bangkok with a bit of everything

Yeah I know. It's already September 2021. I'm almost a year late.

We can't travel anyway. What does it matter whether such information comes in January or September? I contemplated whether to write this at all, but decided to because my kids look too cute in the pictures =D. Also, winter's coming soon!

This will be a family photo album.

Anyway, during my first 11 years, I've never even really heard of Koh Kret, and I went there for the first time in September 2020 only because I was involved in coming up with an article about it (so if you would like a comprehensive Koh Kret Guide, please see here).


Personally, I feel that Koh Kret has a certain charm that you will usually expect to get further away from Bangkok. It's only an hour's drive + a minute's ferry ride away from most places in Bangkok, yet possesses the old-time energy of rural towns, with a good mix of its own character (eg. pottery, Mon culture) and modern vibes (eg. craft beer brewery, hip new cafe at old rice mill etc.). I love it that most of the stalls are run by folks who have lived on the island for generations, and that there are cool riverside views almost everywhere you go.

Literally a 1-minute ferry ride.

What made this trip special was that it was completely random. I woke up one Sunday morning not expecting the cool weather to visit Bangkok again (having arrived and disappeared a few times over in the past weeks), and was determined to do something completely spontaneous with the family.


So off we went, with no plans and no expectations, just a day together walking half the island, snapping and eating along the way, in comfy cool weather. 

And island of nostalgia.

It was a first for the kids to visit a 'leaning tower'.

"Leaning Tower" of Koh Kret, Wat Paramaiyikawat.

A first for us to take an old-school family portrait.

Only took us a few minutes to get this precious memory.

A first for them to make their own pottery.




It was also a first for them to follow some free-range chicken and walk accidentally into a stranger's backyard, only to be greeted unexpectedly with warmth by the friendly villager, all on this 3kmx3km island on the Chao Phraya River.

They really had a great time.

I watched a video a few days ago on the current state of Koh Kret following this current Covid wave. As expected, it's not anything like before, when local tourists fill it every weekend. It's a little saddening but we also know that Bangkokians will flock back again once the situation allows. Hang in there, Koh Kret!

This picture makes me think of mooncakes.

 


Monday, August 2, 2021

Bangkok Life Hacks: International Fund Transfer from Thailand to Singapore via Bangkok Bank Mobile Banking. Fast, Convenient, Low Fees.

I don’t think anyone expected the pandemic situation to last for years when it first broke loose around Chinese New Year in 2020, but it has. In fact, the general situation is getting from bad to worse in most countries. I bet many of you are like me, stuck in Thailand for the longest time yet without traveling home and from what I see in many forums, practical things like transferring money in Thailand back to Singapore are increasingly becoming an issue.

I believe many of us might be familiar with some usual suspects like DeeMoney who can do the job, but while they are established and can help with larger amounts, signing up for a new account requires us to physically verify our identity at an agent location (which is risky in the current climate in Thailand), and the money will reach the payee in at least 1-3 working days.

Enter Bangkok Bank, which since end April 2021, has successfully unveiled the linkage of Thailand's PromptPay and Singapore's PayNow real-time retail payment systems. This means that, if you have a Bangkok Bank account and are using their mobile app, you can do an immediate cross-border fund transfer simply with a Singapore phone number linked to the payee’s Paynow account. The daily transfer limit (also single transaction limit) is currently set as 1000SGD, and there’s a fixed transaction fee of 150THB
.

If you are worried about the exchange rate, it will be based on Bangkok Bank’s real-time T/T selling rate, which you can check here.

At the time of writing, the selling rate of SGD on powerhouse Money Exchange Service Superrich is 24.55 for amounts less than 1000SGD, so it’s extremely close and competitive.

So if you want to see the full instructions, you can either refer to
this page, or watch the short video below (in Thai with English captions). Just know that if you want to pay a friend in Singapore for helping you to buy something, give your parents/sibling/children their monthly allowance, or even transfer them a birthday/CNY blessing, it’s really as simple as paying for your delivery meal now.

PS. Using the same gateway, you can also transfer money from Singapore to Thailand with the same daily limits.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Back to Basics Mother's Day 2021

6.30am, Sunday 9th May, I got out of bed and looked around, taking in the peace of watching my family members fast asleep. They would not be awake anytime soon, unlike during weekdays where my children will be glued to their laptops from as early as 7.30am for their Home-Based Learning. 

I decided to use my morning quiet time to do something I'd never done before - hand-make my favourite pasta - orecchiette (little ears). It's exciting yet a little scary at the same time, knowing I had to get it ready for lunch. With 300g of Semola Rimacinata (De Cecco brand) and approximately half the amount of tepid water, I kneaded the dough, rested it for 30minutes, and started to press my first orecchiette with a butter knife. A few 'little ears' later, I was gaining confidence, as both the dough and the resultant pasta looked 'passable'.

My kids then appeared beside me at the dining table. Timely actually, as the final move of flipping the pressed dough inside-out over my finger was slowing me down, so I delegated this job to them. Together, with just a butter knife (which would not even be required had I decided to make Strascinati), we made enough pasta to feed a family of 4. It took a while, but we managed to finish before 9am, in time for a late Sunday breakfast.


The sauce to go with it was equally straightforward. I opened a can of Fiamma cherry tomatoes, a can of Mutti tomato paste, a can of anchovies and some leftover olives and capers in the fridge, plus the only fresh ingredient - sliced garlic, to put together (you should know by now), some Puttanesca sauce.


I was fascinated by what I was able to achieve all in a morning. To most, it's just a plate of food, consumed in a matter of minutes at the dining table, but for me, I was transported back to the olden days, where our forefathers had to make the best out of whatever little they had.

Look, I didn't have a pasta machine. Heck, I didn't even use a rolling pin. Even if I had NO eggs at home, I would still have pushed out this dish. It was really back to basics. Yet, how many restaurants can cross their hearts and say they serve dishes made the way they were supposed to be? I am all for efficiency, consistency and creativity. I enjoy all sorts of delicious food, but why has traditional "back to basics" cooking become the minority? Anyway, that's a debate for another day.

With this spirit, I pushed on for the rest of the day.

I turned tiny, tart, borderline-inedible local plums into unexpectedly-delicious jam using just brown sugar and a pinch of salt, and cured some egg yolks with sugar, fish sauce and vinegar. So much can be done with so little, as long as you believe you can and bother to give it a go.


This bloody irritating pandemic might be a major pain-in-the-arse for all of us, but it's becoming quite obvious that it has also forced mankind to reshuffle its priorities and get 'back to basics'. At least for me, more than ever, my top priority has become my health and being responsible for all the people in my direct sphere of influence, be it my family, friends, colleagues or customers. 

I hope all of us will walk out of this better prepared for future crises, equipped with closer bonds with the people who mean the most to you and a deeper appreciation for simple things in life. 

Meanwhile, happy Mother's Day to the evergreen beauty of the house!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Throwback to the First Funeral I attended in Thailand

2017

"Eddie, Carlos has passed away, do you want to send him off?"

Carlos. 

I had been avoiding him for the best part of 6/7 years. In this case, I decided not to avoid him anymore.

I arrived at his cremation ceremony. As expected, there was hardly anyone. Some direct kins, and a few work associates like myself. Everyone was still trying to avoid him, I guess. I was happy I turned up. He deserves this.

I sat through the ritual, holding the paper flower in my hand. I was then asked to move forward to give my final blessings. Moments after I stood by the coffin, something completely unexpected happened. They opened its cover. It was shocking to have to see him like that. Lifeless, shriveled. No wonder most of the funeral attendees remained on their seats. They obviously knew what was coming. 

Shuddering, I lowered my paper flower into his coffin and murmured a final blessing. 

Sharp, tricky, sarcastic, he was. It was a pain to be in the same room as him. I warned my staff time and again to be careful of him.

Then again, he was also talented, multilingual, resourceful, and always paid for his orders. I have to remember him as a good customer.


*********************************

Life.

Fleeting and unpredictable.

Let's inspire and bless as many people as we can, while we can. 

Let's remember the good of others, not hold on to the bad.

2021 has not started off as expected. Since the end of February, various people around me have fallen.

Stuck in Thailand, I'm emotionally shattered, yet helpless as they are all happening in countries I call home but struggle to return to amidst the pandemic.

RIP. Uncle, Choon, KL, and Carlos. I will remember you fondly, every one of you.

Bye Bye Uncle, thank you for your love and generosity.



Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Follow the Chef: Gabriele Luna, the soulful Italian chef in Bangkok

Update 26/3/2021:

Since 1st February 2021, Chef Gabriele has taken his talents to L'Oliva, a beautiful Abruzzo restaurant in Sukhumvit 36. I personally feel that it's a nice step in his career, as he can share his cooking philosophy to a bigger group of mainly-local diners, and for me, to be able to enjoy his food in an even more comfortable environment. You know where to "follow' him now!



*********************************


Foreword: I wanted to describe him as the "hidden pasta granny" in Bangkok, but chickened out in the last second! The soulful Italian chef works too I guess, just not as well😂.

I couldn't allow 2020 to fly by without blessing you guys with a Bangkok-based addition to my "Follow the Chef" series could I? It hadn't been an easy process in my search, but I am proud to write about Chef Gabriele Luna of About Eatery as the latest one on my brilliant (if I may say so myself) list.

Chef Gabriele Luna with his Spaghetti Carbonara

Pasta is something close to my heart. Even though I am not Italian, it's probably the 2nd most-cooked food group in my personal cooking repertoire (after my mum's cuisine), and that is also why not many restaurants (even specialty pasta restaurants) can truly impress me with their pasta dishes, until I was invited to About Eatery last year by dear friend and fellow foodie Rosalind.

In fact, my first impression of Gabriele had nothing to do with pasta. I sat at the kitchen counter at About Eatery watching Chef Gabriele prepare his Locale tasting menu for me, which was quite memorable as I seldom see a chef show passion and attachment to his food in his every demeanour so naturally.

During my subsequent visit though, I tried his signature Strascinati, which convinced me that there is a whole new world of pasta Gabriele knew that I didn't. It's a world Chef Gabriele spent all 36 years of his life understanding, eating, making, cooking, and now, blessing all foodies in Bangkok with.

Strascinati, the first pasta shape Chef Gabriele made as a little boy

I grew up manipulating plasticine, my kids grew up kneading Playdough. Chef Gabriele, on the other hand, had a childhood in his native Basilicata surrounded by real pasta dough. His nonna (grandmother) made and sold hand-made pasta everyday, and by the time he was 6, Chef Gabriele was already making his first pasta shapes sitting under the kitchen counter. His first shape? Strascinati, the exact shape (with his fingerprints and all) he wow-ed me with, and also the dish he chose to showcase during his feature video on Iron Chef Thailand.

One of his proud signatures at About Eatery

Even though he spent a few of his younger years studying Computer Science Engineering in University, Gabriele's lived his life with cooking in his blood, learning in professional kitchens and eventually graduating from cooking school and working this way through around 10 restaurants in Italy, ranging from Michelin Star kitchens to high-volume restaurants (4 cooks serving 200 covers every service). A period of note, must definitely be his stint with "King of Carbonara" Luciano Monosilio, one which honed his skill to making the best version of this world-famous dish, one that you must not miss at About Eatery (not the set-lunch version!!).

Maybe the best Spaghetti Carbonara you will ever eat.

Ultimately, his love the culture and people (😄)of Indo-China brought him to Bangkok. Starting off at the recently-closed former Italian food powerhouse L'Opera, Chef Gabriele is now completing his 3rd year as executive chef at About Eatery, a restaurant more known for owner/sommelier Giulio Saverino and his catalogue of hand-picked natural wines. It's also a place that allowed Chef Gabriele to spread his wings and express himself. A place where he can scour Italy for the best ingredients to serve his customers on his intricate cold-cut boards and pasta dishes.

I would like to end off by mentioning a dish he prepared for me that touched my heart deeply. This Trittico Lucano (made of 3 different shapes of hand-made pasta served in a rich ragu and chilli oil) was the same pasta he ate every Sunday from young till he left his hometown at 26. While I chewed on it, I was imagining myself sitting at his family table in Basilicata. It was a moving moment, and an honour to have had the privilege to enjoy. 

Trittico Lucano

Then again, it would be thoroughly unfair to leave the final impression of Chef Gabriele as plainly a pasta expert. Even if his pasta dishes are out of this world, he is an accomplished chef who gives equal love to all the dishes he creates, pasta or not.

Let's just hope he continues to stay in Bangkok, or move to anywhere I may go in the future 😍, as having him around is certainly a huge blessing from the Italian pasta grannies. I will leave you with a video of him making pasta at his dedicated pasta corner at About Eatery.



"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New Normal 3D2N Family Road Trip to Hua Hin

2020 has been a special year. My wife and kids literally did not step out of our little apartment from March to June, and our usual trips back home to Singapore and Malaysia during summer vacation also wiped out due to the border closures.

That said, we can consider ourselves lucky to be in Amazing Thailand, where the situation is largely under control. It’s the perfect time for us to explore the country we live in and appreciate even more what it has to offer. We made a family road trip to Hua Hin last week, just to squeeze in a final getaway before school reopened.

The kids enjoying the pool view in the morning.

Then again, travelling is a touchy subject  in this climate, as most of us are understandably still focused on keeping our families safe. Thus, instead of listing down my full itinerary, I will share some tips and tricks I learnt from this Hua Hin exercise for you to make a more informed decision should you decide to embark on a trip yourself.


1. Go on weekdays and avoid long weekends.

I understand that some attractions only open during weekends in Hua Hin, but keeping social distancing in mind, I highly-recommend going Thu-Sat or Sun-Tue instead of Fri-Sun.

This way, you not only get to enjoy part of the usual weekend vibe, you also give yourselves a couple of quiet days, likely a less-occupied accommodation, and the choice to avoid crowds.


2. Choose a hotel/resort that gives you a peace of mind.

For me, this has to be the basis of your trip-planning. Through some research and direct communication with the shortlisted accommodation, you should have a feeling whether it has done its due diligence to keep its guests safe.

Thorough sanitization by Amari Hua Hin.

My choice this time was Amari Hua Hin, as I understood how their new Onyx Clean initiative originated from a reaction to the pandemic. Their efforts started from the moment we arrived and their sanitization and crowd-control measures (splitting breakfast crowd to 3 timings, installation of sneeze guards for buffet stations, masked+gloved staff etc.) gave us a lot of assurance.

Sneeze Guards installed for the buffet breakfast.

They have also added many family-oriented activities to their repertoire, like a bigger Kids’ Club, cooking lessons, indoor movie screening and even beach-side boxing sessions, which was really an unforgettable experience. We ended up spending half our trip enjoying ourselves within a well-prepared beachside hotel.

The amazing Muay Thai by the Beach experience.

Pizza-making class for the kids,


3. Choose Nature

Whenever I make a roadtrip in Thailand, I will make sure I give my children a dose of nature, as a contrast to their everyday-life in the bustling city.

Enjoying at Hua Hin beach.

In this time, I feel it’s even more crucial for this, as not only do they get to learn about things they hardly get to see in Bangkok, they also gain access to space and fresh air.

Long Rak Na

Aside of the beach, which is not as crowded these days, we went to  Long Rak Na, a restaurant overseeing a lake in Petchaburi on our way to Hua Hin, and Pran Buri Forest Walk, a spectacular mangrove walk just a short drive away from our hotel. If the weather was more forgiving, we would have gone to the vineyard in the vicinity as well.

Viewing tower of Pran Buri Forest Walk.

4. Hua Hin Favourites

I am happy to announce that many of our favourite attractions at Hua Hin are already open.

Hua Hin Train Station

We went to Hua Hin Night Market, which is open every night and the historical Hua Hin Train Station, which is in normal operation.

Hua Hin Night Market

Our all-time favourite haunt in Hua Hin, Cicada Market is also open every Friday to Sunday. I have to give a special mention to their Cicada Amphitheatre, which gave us a brilliant magic bubble show during our visit, one so intriguing that the audience stayed through to the end in spite of the unrelenting drizzle.

Cicada Amphitheatre

It is also good to know that precautions have been taken at many of these favourites and many vendors/visitors are wearing masks.

Precautions taken at Cicada Market.


5. Your own mentality

I can’t stress this enough.

At the end of the day, how much you enjoy a trip largely depends on your own attitude.

First and foremost, we have to do our part to be responsible for our family and the people around us.

Travelling in the new normal means we have to, at the very least, wear our masks and wash our hands as much as possible.

With sufficient research, we can also make sure we stay in and visit places that have made reasonable precautions.

One other challenge we faced during the trip was the rainy season. We worked our loose schedule around our limitations, even if we are clad in raincoats, holding umbrellas, or plain drenched, happily taking in everything Hua Hin had in store for us.

New Normal Family Portrait!

It was a great trip!





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