Thursday, August 28, 2014

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

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?




  • 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.
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