Kampung girl: a weekend in the big smoke.

A picture of Kampung Boy Yesterday by Lat.

A picture of Kampung Boy Yesterday by Lat.

At the risk of sounding like one of Lat’s characters from “Kampung Boy”, I’m going to tell you all about my 2 nights, 1 day trip to Sydney. You’ve probably already read about my inaugural visit to my old school mates’ cafe, Not Just Coffee in Paddington, but I’ve yet to share with you the sheer wonder that met me as soon as I alighted from the plane.
There were people everywhere I looked. Not just a couple of dozen like at the Brisbane airport or in our beloved Queens Street Mall, but hundreds, possibly thousands of people, all dressed in their work-clothes. Men were suited and women had on carefully coordinated outfits and  ’em shiny patent leather heels. And there were cars, an endless stream of taxis pulling up at the taxi rank to match the deluge of passengers.
Since His Royal Highness’ had flown Qantas, courtesy of a drug company, and Amanda and I, Tiger, I had no idea that the carousel for all airlines were separate from one another. There we were, Amanda and I, standing next to the Virgin carousel the entire time, waiting for His Royal Highness to emerge when he had asked us to wait next to the Qantas one!
“But where are you?” he asked, calling me for the second time in a row.
For some reason, airports have terrible phone reception.
“At the carousel like you asked.”
“But I can’t see you. I said Qantas? Are you at Qantas?”
“Yes, yes…, ” said I, oblivious to the big Virgin sign. “Where are you?”
“At the Qantas carousel. Where are you?”
And on and on it went until I said, “Shuddup. If you say Qantas one more time, I’ll kill you when I see you.”
It was then I had the good sense to ask someone where the Qantas arrival lounge is. From where I was, I had to brave a throng of people, cross 1 road, walk through a covered car park, cross 2 more roads and voila, I was there. His Royal Highness was ringing me again as I walked up to him.
“Where were you?” he asked, irritation barely disguised. “Have you seen the guy with my name?”
The drug company was supposed to send a limo for him. Amanda and I were just hitching a ride.
“No, no, I didn’t see anyone.”
We waited and waited, craning our necks for a suited man carrying a placard with His Royal Highness’ name.
“I told you the Qantas carousel,” he said, grumpily.
“Shuddup. Don’t say that name again.” I had just ridden a Tiger into town and was worried they had stuffed a Tiger into the fuel tank the entire way. Seriously, it mystifies me how budget airlines make enough to maintain their fleet.
I wanted to fly Qantas too, but it was $400 + each way, for each of us. Tiger was only $430 for me and Amanda, return. 
Finally, I said, “Let’s just take a taxi to the hotel. I’m hot, tired and hungry. I can’t wait for this limo guy anymore.”
His Royal Highness knows how cantankerous I can be when ravenous so he agreed. We joined the million or so people at the taxi rank. I felt slightly underdressed next to all these immaculately turned-out folks, wishing I had chosen to wear the bejewelled Nine West flats I had in my suitcase, instead of the nude Birkies on my feet in typical Queensland style. But I’m going to The Westin, a 5 star palace in the heart of the city, I reminded myself. Who really gives a shit about what I’m wearing?
I changed my mind yet again when I scrambled out of our taxi. It was as if I had unwittingly arrived at footy’s night of nights, The Brownlow. There were women in resplendent gowns, men in their dinner jackets, more than a handful of Paris Hilton wannabes. I just wanted to shrink into the polished marble wall on the way in and disappear!
Our room was a typical 5 star hotel room; there were the nice touches like your name (His Royal Highness’, not mine) on the ginormous flat TV screen, an abundance of plump pillows on the bed, complimentary bottles of mineral water, in case you should get dehydrated during the night…What I was most taken with was the bathroom: I could watch the telly whilst lying in the over-sized tub, assured of hearing dialogue throughout thanks to surround-sound, plus was cloistered in enough marble to refurbish the Taj Mahal.
A picture of my bathroom at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my bathroom at The Westin in Sydney.

Oh, now this is the life!
We went down briefly to the restaurant, but upon finding it closed for the night, returned to our room to order room service. His Royal Highness was treating us since he had suggested I accompany him to Sydney so that he may see his daughter over the weekend. He managed to see us awake for an hour each day, between meetings.
The Westin has a special “Superfoods Menu” based on food research into lifespans, which I ordered from, but judging by the amount we ate, I don’t think we garnered any of the benefits. Since I was on holiday, I wasn’t fussed about lengthening my life anyway.
A picture of my Insalata Caprese at the Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my Insalata Caprese at the Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my smoked salmon at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my smoked salmon at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of me at dinner.

You can see how tired I was.  Here I am about to tuck into entrees. The hot food was in a sealed section, under the cart.

A picture of our hot meals under the room service cart.

The food was warm until we ate it.

After dinner, I had a nice soak in the tub, followed by a rain shower to wash my hair in the separate shower stall. Then I tucked in for the night. I slept so well, I missed breakfast the next morning.
Amanda and I were supposed to check out Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera house and Darling Harbour in the morning, but due to our lie in, I decided to visit my friend’s cafe first. After all, who can think without food?
Amanda and I took a taxi to Oxford Street, which until arriving, I had not realised is the equivalent of Chapel Street in Melbourne. Brisbane’s version is James Street in New Farm.
“What sort of people live here?” I asked the taxi driver.
“Gays, alternative living types.”
“Gays?” said Amanda. “You mean like girls who like girls? Or boys who like boys?”
“Shush,” I said.  “And what other sort of people are there, driver?”
“It’s like a different planet here. They’re all rich and crazy.”
Sounds like my kind of place. I love rich and crazy. I’m okay with gays too. Poor and crazy is just sad. Look at the many parts of Darwin if you need a reference for that.
All the big names in fashion were there, as was my dream audio-equipment retailer, Bang and Olufsen, with their highly lauded, art-gallery-worthy, sound systems. Oh, just you wait until I have money B & O. I’ll be back! I’ll be back!
After spending roughly an hour at my friend’s cafe, Amanda and I caught a bus to Circular Quay. From there, we soaked up the glorious Sydney sunshine as we made our way to the Sydney Opera House.
A picture of Amanda and I in front of the Sydney Opera House.

A picture of Amanda and I in front of the Sydney Opera House.

“It’s worth missing your art show for, isn’t it?” I said to Amanda at the sight of the Sydney Opera House. She had been most upset to skip her school’s art show to come with us.
“Yes, it’s beautiful,” she gushed.
A close up picture of the Sydney Opera House.

Can you see the wings of a swan and the waves of the sea? That’s supposed to be the inspiration for the Sydney Opera House’s design.

We walked around this famous monument to the arts, taking photos from every angle. Then we wandered into the Botanic Gardens, where we caught the Choo-choo train to spare our poor legs from walking the entire area. After that, we strolled back to Circular Quay, and caught a ferry to Darling Harbour from there. The winds were certainly blustery aboard the ferry. Amanda, who usually insists she is strong enough to stand the cold, made nary a whimper of protest when I suggest we move from sitting outside to inside.
We had a brief look-see in Darling Harbour, before heading back to The Westin by taxi.
A picture of Amanda aboard the Choo Choo Train at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

A picture of Amanda aboard the Choo Choo Train at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

Not Just Coffee: a place for good friends and great food.

I’ve a little confession to make: I was in Sydney over the weekend and due to the sheer brevity of my visit (1 day) saw no one (I’ve got quite a few friends and family there), apart from one former classmate, Yuens. Beside the fact that she and her partner, Kit, run this awesome, fabulous, superlatives-can’t possibly do justice cafe called Not Just Coffee at the rear of 264 Oxford St in Paddington, it was high time we met up since we hadn’t seen each other in all of 17 years!!! Hence the exception to my sightseeing schedule.

Plus, some three to four odd years ago, Yuens wrote to me, asking me about Australia. At the time she was living in the US of A, working as a professional.

“What do you want to know?” I said.

“Oh, you know. What’s it like to live there?”

“The people are nice, the weather is good and the animals are delicious.” I was joking about the last. Anyone who’s ever had Kangaroo, will know how gamey it can taste.

Soon, she confided that she was looking to relocate here. At the time, she probably had no idea how expansive a continent Australia is. I was in Townsville, about to move to Brisbane, where I have been for the past three years. My idea of Australia was based on that and the other places I’ve lived in or visited. It goes without saying that living in Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, is vastly different to living in the country.

Then, just over a year ago, Yuens wrote to ask me for some help with the menu to a cafe she was about to open. She wanted me to jazz up the description of items. Since I have patronised more than my fair share of cafes and have an affinity for the written word, I was happy to do this for an old friend.

Anyhow, after sleeping in like a pig, since I was officially on holiday, Amanda and I made it to Not Just Coffee in Paddington just as Yuens and Kit were welcoming the lunch crowd. I immediately fell in love with the vibe there; tucked at the rear of 264 Oxford Street, accessible through a small lane, the place has this laid-back, secret hide-away in the city atmosphere about it. It’s the sort of joint you might rendezvous at with girlfriends to catch-up on gossip or exchange notes from the week, while enjoying a cuppa and a bite.

A picture of Amanda inside Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

The black boards by the door list the day’s specials. A picture of Amanda inside Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A picture of some of the seating at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of some of the seating at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of a section of Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A picture of the kitchen at Not Just Coffee. Seating is spread across 3 levels with the upstairs balcony offering sun, the lower levels offering shade and privacy.

Which is just what Yuens and I did, between her tending to customers, after she brought me and Amanda our sandwiches. At Yuens recommendation, I had the weekend special of poached eggs laced with Dukkah, served on a bed of toasted sourdough topped with fresh tomato salsa and avocado. The eggs were still runny in the middle when I cut into them with my fork, the toasted sourdough oven-fresh and crunchy on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle, the salsa an unparalleled symphony of sun-ripened tomatoes and capsicum. An avocado fiend, I was rapt to find a whole Avo, instead of half.

Me and Yuens at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Old school chums meeting up after 17 long years!!!

A picture of my weekend-special open sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney

A picture of my weekend-special open sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda's toasted cheese sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda’s toasted cheese sandwich at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Amanda had a toasted cheese sandwich, which she suggested, none too subtly, I make for her to take to school! She even offered me up a bite, so that I’d improve on my current, slightly stale, fridge-dehydrated offering.

“We’ve got to come back for another sandwich,” I told her.

A picture of Amanda colouring at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda colouring at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

A picture of Amanda and I at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Having a great time at Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

Yuens brought Amanda one of Kit’s cupcakes with pink frosting and a sprinkle of M & Ms on top. Watching her tuck in, I was slightly envious and in need of a little after-meal treat myself, so I ordered Not Just Coffee’s signature 69% Dark Chocolate drink. It was simply divine. Much better than similar offerings from some of the renown chocolatiers out there.

A picture of Amanda marvelling at one of Kit's cupcakes at Not Just Coffee in Sydney

A picture of Amanda marvelling at one of Kit’s cupcakes at Not Just Coffee in Sydney

A picture of my 69% dark chocolate and Amanda's babycino at Not Just Coffee, Sydney

A picture of my 69% dark chocolate and Amanda’s babycino at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

I rounded off my visit to Not Just Coffee with a survey of their cakes and tarts. As you can see from the pic, I was highly temped to indulge further. Damn the diet.

“You’ll see me again when my husband starts printing money,” I promised the baked goods.

A picture of me salivating over Kit's baked goods at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of me salivating over Kit’s baked goods at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of butter croissants at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A picture of butter croissants at Not Just Coffee, Sydney.

A selection of Kit's baked goods at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of Kit’s baked goods at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of ready-made sandwiches at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

A selection of ready-made sandwiches at Not Just Coffee in Sydney.

Great food aside, I was thrilled to see Yuens and Kit living their dream of running a cafe. Many professionals fantasise about ditching their day job for something different, but these two have actually taken the plunge. It is with this last thought, that I bade farewell to the duo. Until my next visit to Sydney that is …

A picture of Kit, Yuens, Amanda and I outside Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.

One for the road! A picture of Kit, Yuens, Amanda and I outside Not Just Coffee in Paddington, Sydney.



What I know about love and relationships.

I have a friend who once told me, “Relationships should be easy, Estella. Not like work. If my relationships were like work, I wouldn’t be in them.”

This person has never been in a lasting relationship.

Another friend said to me, “What’s so good about being in a Chinese relationship? Chinese relationships are…” the comments were mostly derogatory.

This person too has never been in a lasting relationship. By lasting, I mean something that goes on for a couple of years, preferably half a decade or more, where both sets of parents know of the existence of the relationship, as do friends, even mere acquaintances.

I had to add the half decade clause because there are some people, in their eagerness to have their relationship validated by the world, show off just about every partner, regardless of how long they’ve been together or how much further they intend to take the relationship.

For example, one of my friends goes around parading a succession of women, even as he drops elephant-dung-sized hints about wanting to be in a significant relationship with one particular woman. By significant, I mean he wants to have kids with her. But he thinks he’ll impress her by taking his current girlfriends to meet his family and friends first.

You can see the ridiculousness of all this, can’t you?

I may not be the world’s foremost authority on love and relationships but this much I know:

1) Everyone is an expert. Regardless of whether they’ve had a lasting relationship or not, everyone has an opinion on love. Don’t be afraid/perturbed/offended if their opinions are ill-matched to your reality because that’s just what they are: opinions. Everyone can have one; although for your own good, it might be best if you discounted most of them.

2) No 2 relationships are the same. Yes, there are similarities between relationships that endure and relationships that don’t. But what works well for one couple, might not work so well for another. Take for instance, religion. God-fearing people advocate that both man and wife centre their relationship on faith. If I did that, my husband and I would have rows until the end of the earth, because he has absolutely no interest in religion. Zilch. Fortunately for us, I believe faith to be a personal issue, best pursued alone.

3) Arguments are NOT the end of everything. A friend of mine locked her husband out of the house and burned all his clothes because he vexed her. Even though he’s no pushover, he sat outside patiently while this happened. I’m pleased to tell you that they  are still married, their relationship spanning close to 3 decades.

By contrast, there’s this other couple that had no arguments. One day the husband decided to visit his mistress in the next state instead of attending his wife’s niece’s wedding. The wife just calmly turned to him and told him their marriage was over.

She didn’t want counselling, she didn’t want a second honeymoon, she just wanted to move on with her life.

4) We all have issues with the in-laws. People who say otherwise are telling BS. That’s because all families are different. Caucasians  are more respectful of these differences whereas Asian mothers of boys tend expect their daughters-in-law to conform to their values, standards and mores because they did too upon marriage. Then there are some for whom, no girl is ever going to be good enough for their sons. Consciously or subconsciously, these mothers view the wives as usurpers of their place in their sons’ hearts.

Even though I have no mother-in-law, I still have problems with my in-laws because I constantly find myself subject to their Pygmalion Project. As anyone who’s had some sort of contact with me will know, the quickest way to get on my wrong side is to insist I obey.

5) You MUST talk to your partner. It’s not just about the big things, but the little things too. Share your day-to-day experiences, the many hours when you are away from each other. What I’m saying is include him or her in your life, otherwise, he or she will have more of a connection with colleagues, friends, even random strangers, than with you.

6) Have reasonable expectations. Just what is reasonable? Only you know the answer to this. Suffice to say, if you hanker after the life of a tai tai (known in the West as “ladies who lunch”) but are married to a regular Joe, then obviously it’s not gonna happen!

Take me as a case study: since my husband is a surgeon, I can’t expect to have as much “couple time” (actually any time for that matter) with him as someone whose spouse has a desk job. That’s what I tell the wives of newly married surgeons or those whose spouses aspire towards equally demanding careers. As my mother says, “You can either have the man, or you can have money. You can’t have both.” Few have both. Some have neither.

7) Know the things you should keep secret. Most of you, idealists, will probably protest against this. After all, doesn’t keeping secrets undo all your effort to build closeness through continued sharing?

Let’s put it this way. Would you really like to know what your husband thinks of you mothering, wifing etc? It’s all well and good if he thinks Mother Theresa couldn’t do a better job than you. Or that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But what if he looks at your now grown kids and thinks they are all failures because you were a pushover with them? Would you like to know that? Or how he compares you physically to other women?

What I’m saying is share. But don’t feel like you have to share everything.

8) Couples that laugh together, stay together. Back to my friend who burned her husband’s clothes while he sat patiently outside. She also told him that her ancestors, cannibals, had eaten his. Upstanding guy that he is, he laughed her comments off.

Looking at them and my own relationship, I can tell that humour is all the more important as the years pass. If you can see the funny side of things together, then you can work through whatever rough patch you encounter. It’s when the laughter dies that you know the relationship is deteriorating swiftly, for sure.

9) Staying committed is a daily exercise. I borrow this from a friend who once told me, “Love may began as a feeling, but it is the decision to stay committed that keeps it going.”

The reason people change relationships the way they change their undies is because they are not cognisant of this fact. Back to my friend at the start of this post. He expects love to be easy (there’s already an unreasonable expectation right there), he expects there to be no work; meanwhile, anyone remotely observant, who’s ever witnessed a long marriage within their family, will be aware of how much work is involved with staying connected to another human being.

That’s all I have to say about love and relationships. Have you anything to add to this list?




Words of wisdom from a dying man.

The dying often strike me as having the most profound insights into life. Perhaps because their time left is finite – actually everyone’s is, except we don’t know when, where, or how we’ll leave this physical plane – they make the most  of everyday, almost all reflecting on the life they’ve led, quite often regretful for the choices they have made.

I was in bed last night, about to shove off to see Confucius, who I have nightly dates with, when His Royal Highness started reading the speech given by one Dr. Richard Teo, at the Dental Christian Fellowship. Usually, His Royal Highness has no interest in anything with the word Christian in it, or any other religion for that matter, and frankly, neither have I, except that this Dr. Richard Teo was a 40 year old millionaire cosmetic surgeon with stage 4 lung cancer. In other words, this man was the same age as His Royal Highness and terminally ill. Now he’s dead.

We’re often thrown by the passing of another person our age because, rather narcissistically, and there’s no shame in this, we wonder how much time we have left. I read his voluminous address until the end because I was curious to know why this man chose God after a lifetime of chasing money. Although it is a speech with a pronounced Christian-slant, these are the insights into society and the human condition that I gleaned from reading it:

1) Man as God. He said, “I’m a typical product of today’s society. Before this, I was talking about how the media influences us etc. So I’m a typical product of what the media portrays. From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy, is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.”

2) Wrong heroes, flawed ideals. “The truth is, nobody makes heroes out of the average GP in the neighbourhood. They don’t. They make heroes out of rich celebrities, politicians, rich and famous people. So I wanted to be one of these. I dived straight into aesthetic medicine. People were not willing to pay when I was doing locum back in those days. Anything more than $30, they would complain that “Wah, this lo kun (doctor) jing qwee (very expensive)”. They made noise and they were not happy. But the same people were willing to pay $10 000 for a liposuction. So I said, ‘Well, let’s stop healing the sick, I’m gonna become a beautician; a medically-trained beautician.’

3) Everyone wants to pay. I learnt this when I tried to give away some of my old clothes. Even though they were mostly new, no one wanted them. People want to pay for things. He said, “There was so much demand that people were literally queuing up to have aesthetic work done on them. Vain women – easy life!”

4) We are arrogant, know-it-alls. “I had a lot more things to pursue in NUS  – girls, studies, sports etc. After all, I had achieved all these things without God, so who needs God? I, myself, can achieve anything I want.”

5) When God gives you a sign, it may not be what you want.  “I told Danny and my friends, “If God really wants me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.” Lo and behold, 3 weeks later, I was back at church.” He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

6) Obviously fit people can be seriously ill. “I was still running around, ‘cause I’m a gym freak and I always go to the gym training, running, swimming 6 days a week. I had some backache, and that’s all I had, but it was persistent. And so I went for an MRI to exclude prolapsed disc. And the day before I had my scan, I was still in the gym, lifting heavy weights, doing my squats. And the next day, they found that half my spine had bone marrow replacement. I said, “Woah, sorry, what’s that?”

7) Life can change in an instant. Dr. Richard Teo had bought a Ferrari, was about to buy a piece of land to build a house in Singapore. Anyone who knows anything about Singapore knows how much it costs to own landed property. He was going to buy land.

He said, “Can’t be, I was just at the gym last night, what’s going on?” I’m sure you know how it feels – though I’m not sure if you know how it feels. One moment I was there at the peak, the next day, this news came and I was totally devastated. My whole world just turned upside down.”

8) We all hear voices. This disembodied voice said to Dr. Richard Teo, “’This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.’ At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried, alone there. And I knew then, subsequently, what it means to understand that why this is the only way.”

“If I were diagnosed with stage 1 or 2, I would have been looking around busily for the best cardiothoracic surgeon, remove a section of the lobe (do a lobectomy), do preventive chemotherapy…The chances of it being cured is extremely high. Who needs God? But I had stage 4B. No man can help, only God can.”

9) We are stubborn. “I wasn’t sold after that, because of the inner voice, I became believing, prayers, all that. No I wasn’t. To me, it was just ‘maybe there was a voice; or maybe that was just me talking to myself.’ I didn’t buy the story.”

10) Knowledge can be a torture. “You know, once you have the clinical knowledge, you know the statistics. One year survival, two year survival; having all this knowledge is not a good thing. Cos you live with the knowledge that even with all this, the cancer cells are so unstable, they keep mutating. They will overcome and become resistant to the drugs, and eventually you’re gonna run out of medication.”

11) Material objects don’t give true joy. “I thought true joy is about pursuing wealth. Why? Cos let me put it to you this way, in my death bed, I found no joy whatsoever in whatever objects I had – my Ferrari, thinking of the land I was going to buy to build my bungalow etc, having a successful business.”

“It brought me ZERO comfort, ZERO joy, nothing at all. Do you think I can hold onto this piece of metal and it’s going to give true joy? Nah, it’s not going to happen.”

12) True joy comes from interacting with other people. “When you pursue your wealth, Chinese New Year is the best time to do it. Drive my Ferrari, show off to my relatives, show off to my friends, do my rounds, and then you thought that was true joy? You really think that those guys who sold you your Ferrari, they share their joy with you? And your relatives, wow, they share this joy with you? In truth, what you have done is just illicit envy, jealousy, and even hatred. They are not sharing the joy with you, and what I have is that short-term pride that wow, I have something you don’t have! And I thought that was joy!”

13) We need to sort out our priorities. “Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.”

14) The more we have, the more we want. “There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely all right, because God has blessed (us). So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it.”

15) None of it belongs to us. “When you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom than to further ourselves.”

So that’s my summation of the key points from Dr. Richard’s Teo’s speech. Do read it for yourself. It certainly prompted His Royal Highness, a borderline atheist, to bring it to my attention, and made an agnostic like myself sit up and take notice.

O’ brave new world of strange days!

I have Amanda at home with me today, courtesy of a state-wide “Pupil-Free Day.”

“What’s that?” asked His Royal Highness when he heard about it on Saturday, two days into his on-call marathon. “Are the teachers at her school going on strike?”

Teachers from the Catholic schools were on strike recently, in protest of current wages, as were those from some government schools. Ours was not one of them.

“It’s a day when there are no pupils at school,” said I.

“But is it a holiday?” he asked.

“The teachers are going to have a very big meeting on Pupil-Free Day,” piped up Amanda.

Over the course of Amanda’s almost 4 years at school, my vocabulary has extended to take in Pupil-Free-Days (a day when there are no pupils at school), Free-Dress Days (a day when kids wear whatever they want to school as apart of a drive to raise money for a particular charity, by donating a gold coin for the privilege), Bandana Days (a day when kids can sport Bandanas sold by CanTeen through schools, again to raise funds), Book Week, the highlight of which is Book Day (when kids can come dressed as their favourite storybook character), Sports Day,  Under-8s Day (a special day of programmes for kids under eight), Fiesta (open day), Halloween (another dress-up day) Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day … That’s just in terms of days.

We also have weeks. Multicultural week (I should think this one is self-explanatory), Book Week, as I already mentioned, Arts Show Week, National Indigenous Week (to learn about the “first Australians”, as they are known)…

Frankly, I can’t keep track of all these events without the free calendars Amanda’s school sends home with kids at the beginning of each term. Mine for this term is stuck with magnets to the fridge, jostling for attention among the other bits I have there.

As most parents would realise, all these days and weeks, fun though they may be for kids, usually cost money. Weeks ago, Amanda managed to weasel $20 out of me to buy 3 books during Book Week.

“How about just getting 1?” I asked her. After all, our shelves, which I’ve since sold in anticipation of our move to Perth, were overflowing.

She brought out a list. “But these are the books I want to buy from all those on sale.”

Fine. If this were my mother, she’d say, “But what about those World Book Encyclopaedias your dad bought for you?”

It was the one line she trudged out whenever I asked for new reading material. The only reason she allowed my father to buy the Encyclopaedias, at a princely RM 2400, was to give her friend, Anne, a hand in her Encyclopaedia selling business. Friends who praise me for my writing prowess are especially amazed by the fact. Just imagine the dizzying heights I could aspire to if my mother did have an appreciation for literature!

If I hassled her for money the way Amanda sometimes does for school, she would have said, “Do you want lima buku?”

Lima Buku is Malay for 5 books. No, it doesn’t mean I would have gotten 5 new books. It’s an idiom of the fist I’d have received for my persistence. 5 is representative of the number of digits we have on one hand, balled together to form a “book.” Lovely metaphor, isn’t it?

Thankfully, I learnt pretty early on in life not to ask for things that would be denied me: dance lessons (she told my sister she could “ballet in the air”), books (one book is like the next book, remember?), parties (one party is like the next party), and so on.

My greatest achievement was getting my mother to a library when she and my father visited me in Cairns. She said, “I never knew there were so many interesting things in a library.” After several visits, during which time she discovered the library not only stocks books but CDs and newspapers from around the globe, she said to my father, “We should join the library when we get home.”

I thought I was going to be having a heart attack.

As for Amanda’s many special days and weeks, my mother has yet to experience any of them, save for Bandana Day. I have a happy snap from when Amanda was in Prep, wearing her Bandana with her arms wrapped around Grandma’s neck, tucked away in one of my albums. Oh happy days…

Experimenting with RAW.

Since I’m going back to Malaysia mid-December to see family and friends, I thought it wise to try to loose a couple of pounds as I’ll be presumably feasting for most of my stay there. Perhaps, if I return home looking like the overstuffed dumpling I do now, my mother, very much fat-phobic, will give me endless lectures on “the need to shake off some weight.”

Enter the Raw Food diet, a way of eating based on well, raw food. I intend to stick to this diet as long as possible, to shift 5kg of lard from my waist, hips and thighs. I’m a pear-shaped woman so these are my problem areas.

Before you send me care packages, rest assured that I am eating well, better than ever in fact. Last night for instance, with His Royal Highness on-call, hence not eating with Amanda and I, we had zucchini pasta with creamy Avocado sauce and a side salad of mix greens and truss tomatoes dressed in balsamic vinegar. This morning, I had a “garden vegetable soup” composed of the blended leftover zucchini pieces from last night’s pasta, 1 Avocado, 2  cloves of garlic, a tomato and a large handful of salad leaves.

A picture of my raw zucchini pasta with Avocado sauce.

Surprisingly delicious. A picture of my raw zucchini pasta with Avocado sauce.

A picture of my garden vegetable soup.

I got the ratio of green to red vegetables wrong, hence the unappetising colour. But it tasted good anyway. A picture of my garden vegetable soup which I could have had with flaxseed crackers.

So as to beef up my protein intake, in order to feel fuller for longer, I swung by my local health food store this morning after dropping Amanda off at school and bought Sun Warrior Raw Vegan Protein. It’s supposed to be a non-gritty powder, but obviously not as smooth as conventional Protein Powder made from soy or whey.

Weight loss aside, I’m motivated to give this diet a go as I’ve heard many good things about it; my mother, who once thumbed her nose at raw food, insisting that Chinese only eat cooked food, has recommended me many a juicing recipe after her half-brother, my half-uncle, recovered from pancreatic cancer.

A team of Japanese doctors had opened him up and discovered that the cancer had spread. Without doing anything, because nothing could be done for him, they sewed him back up and more or less told the family to be prepared for his demise. I told His Royal Highness about my half-uncle and he said, “He’s got at the most 6 months. Pancreatic Cancer is a very aggressive cancer.”

Touch wood, he’s still with us, years on, apparently in remission. According to the great family grapevine that is my mother, he was fed vegetable and fruit juices around the clock, apart from having chemo-therapy. Of note is soursop, a tropical fruit that has achieved cult status for purportedly being able to combat cancer. I hear he had plenty of that too.

If you’re interested in trying out raw food or just adding more vegetables to your diet, do check out Ani Phyo’s website or that of Jennifer Cornbleet. The former has come out with a raw food recipe book with Asian-inspired dishes, based on her trip to Thailand, that might appeal more to the Asian palate, while the later has many tasty recipes for soups, salads, main meals and desert. Because this is 2012, you can also find both on youtube.






Face value: explaining away uneven eyes.

Amanda came to me the other day saying, “Have you noticed something?”

She was making a weird scrunched up face at me.


“Look closely.”

I still couldn’t see whatever she was alluding to. “I give up. What is it?”

“It’s my eyes.” She scrunched up her face again. “They’re uneven.”

“Oh that.” Being her mother, of course I knew about the eyes. But why let the poor child obsess about something that is partly your fault? I mean, if I had chosen her a father with eyes similar to mine, then we wouldn’t have this problem.

“I hadn’t noticed,” I said, lying. “Really, you look fine.” Which is the truth. She could have one eye the size of a fifty cent coin and the other as small as a pea and I’d still love her.

However, since we live in the age of plastic fantastic, with an assortment of somebodies  and nobodies up and down East Asia getting their whole faces remodelled, I worry that this fixation with the size of eyes will lead to her going under the knife at some stage.

Already she has asked me if her eyes are bigger than her father’s.

“Definitely,” said I. “Yours are like a cross between mine and his. His shape, but rounder.”

I live in fear of her developing a penchant for double-eyelids, like the rest of East Asia. That’s why I applaud PSY of Gangnam Style fame. He’s bucked the trend for standardised  beauty in a highly conformist society. He has neither the much-coveted eyelids, nor the V shaped face. Hailing from a culture that prizes height, he’s short, got full cheeks and is not all that fair either, unlike all the “Flower Boys”.

I thought Amanda had let go of her eye-size issues when I heard her ask her father, again making that scrunched up face, “Have you noticed something?”

He took one look at her and said, without the slightest hesitation, “It’s your eyes. They’re uneven.”

From the other side of our sofa, I shot him a look that said, “Why did you say that???”

“Isn’t it weird?” she asked him, scrunching up her face yet again.

“No,” said he with a big smile. “It’s perfectly normal. Look at me. I have uneven eyes too.”

“Oh, you do too,” she said, seemingly pleased at the discovery.

Now that those two have formed a bond from having uneven eyes, I’m the odd one out. Oh well, I don’t have any issue with that…





Cairns, an old friend with a new haircut.

Last Tuesday, I flew the red-eye to Cairns to visit some friends of mine who call this touristy country town home. Back when I was living there in 2007, there seemed to be more Japanese tourists than locals. Official records say they numbered in the thousands. This time around, a casual stroll through Cairns’ famed Esplanade revealed next to none.

There were tourists all right, but they were mostly Chinese. I could tell because as you might recall, I do speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese. I overheard them speaking to each other in the shade of the overgrown palms lining the periphery of the water attractions. I was there with my friends trying to get some respite from the midday sun.

Even without hearing their  chatter I could tell they were mainland Chinese because of the way they dressed: long black pants, black sports shoes, loose T shirts. This is what my mother and the other ladies in our neighbourhood in Ipoh wear for their morning walks.

Over the next few days, I discovered that the well-known Japanese shop “Kazaa” selling Japanese knick knacks had since shut its doors to business. When I visited Cairns in 2009, it had shrunk from a double shop with 2 entrances to a single shop with only 1. Now it was missing altogether, another victim of the GFC along with the strong Aussie dollar. It’s become much cheaper for Aussies to holiday in Japan than it is for Japanese to come holiday here.  

The year we lived there, His Royal Highness and I made it our goal to sample every single Japanese restaurant in Cairns since, due to restrictions on His Royal Highness’ time, we were not able to take advantage of the direct flights to the land of the rising sun from there. At the time, Cairns had roughly 25. That number has shrunk to slightly less than half.

Happily, I noticed that our favourite Ramen shop “Ganbaranba” is still there. Prices are still what they were in 2009; it is $8.90 for a tonkutsu ramen or $11.90 for my favourite Ikemen. If you go during lunch time, you can get 5 FREE Gyoza as part of the B lunch set.

A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

I cropped the photo out of respect for my friend who wishes to preserve the privacy of her child. A picture of Amanda and I at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

A picture of my Ikemen noodles at Ganbaranba in Cairns, Queensland.

My garlic infused Ikemen noodles with half an egg, slivers of Char Siew, half and egg and black fungus.

Having been away for 5 years, Amanda and I were no longer recognised by the owner of the joint. That’s a pity really, because we used to frequent the place at least thrice a week. It was in Ganbaranba that as a 2 year old, Amanda fell in love with noodles and learnt to use chopsticks. His Royal Highness and I were so enamoured by the mustard pickles served in covered containers on each table that we’d empty the container every time.

Around the corner from Ganbaranba was Orchid Plaza. It’s still there, with its many food-court style eateries, jewellery stores, language school and probably the only Japanese grocery store in town, Maruyu, which has a branch down on the Gold Coast. There are other Asian grocers in the city, but they are Korean, reflecting perhaps a change in tourists.

Cairns Central was devoid of Japanese too. There weren’t too many locals there either. Strolling around the mall, I wondered how businesses in there survive. Perhaps a sign of the times, I caught sight of large posters advertising direct flights to Shanghai. I picked up another Oroton bag in Cairns, my highlight of the trip, other than seeing friends of course. It costed much less than what it would in any of the major capital cities or online.

 A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A sign of the times: A picture of an advert for flights from Cairns to Shanghai.

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

A picture of an advert for flights direct to Shanghai, China from Cairns, Queensland

Feeling particularly nostalgic, we went past my old house on Minnie Street, four blocks back from the Esplanade. It’s still there in all its white and green glory, along with the next door neighbour who accosted me for allowing my child to cry in the middle of the night. Townhouses should have concrete between units, I tell you. Don’t ever live in one with plaster-board dividers if you have young children.

We also rounded the Sebel hotel which used to be known by another name. With my parents baby-sitting Amanda, His Royal Highness and I frequented a Japanese restaurant there for my 29th birthday. Not used to it being just the two of us, we sat there wondering what Amanda was up to. From memory, His Royal Highness seemed as relieved as I was when dinner was over.

Cairns suburbs were much the same: quiet, sleepy, almost like any other country town. The weather was beautiful most days, a balmy 20-something degrees. Plenty of sunshine, perhaps 1 shower all week.

God save the whales: our trip to Hervey Bay, Queensland.

As you may have gleaned from By Estella Dot Com’s facebook page, I’ve been away for awhile. Two Fridays before, I was visited by a friend from my first secondary school – ’tis such a difficulty keeping track of where I’ve been – so I took the day off. The day after that, my family of 3 made the 4 hour trip north to Hervey Bay, home to whales and other protected sea creatures, to spend the long-weekend with my good friend Tania and her family. The following Monday was the Queen’s second birthday of the year. Although on the verge of becoming a Republic more than a decade ago, Australia is still a constitutional monarchy, hence the holiday.

We had no complains as we all love holidays. The only bit that His Royal Highness found puzzling was the reason for our trip.

“To see whales,” I told him.

“But the only animals that Chinese view are those they eat,” he said.

Think of the fishies and what-nots in the tanks of most Chinese restaurants. We, Chinese, can’t go near an animal without thinking what it might taste like steamed, poached, braised or twice-fried. Instead of contenting themselves with lentils and cheese, our vegetarians have their gluten shaped into animal parts, so I’d argue that the urge to eat animals is very much hardwired into us. For special occasions, we eat an assortment of animals.

A picture of His Royal Highness' steak at Matilda in Kybong, Queensland.

Who knew you could get such a great piece of steak at a servo? Perfectly cooked and delightfully marbled beef rump steak for roughly $16 at Matilda in Kybong, Queensland.

As we neared the end of our journey, I said to His Royal Highness, “If you don’t want to see the whales, we can always hang out at the beach.”

By that time, we were fixated on another animal. We had driven past 2 signs saying “Golden Chicken.”

“Why do you think there are so many people there?” His Royal Highness asked me.

“I don’t know but Tania is expecting us for dinner.”

From our many dinners together, I knew that Tania served dinner at about 6pm. It was already 5.30pm. Golden Chicken would have to wait until the next day.

As though foreseeing our fixation with the last 2 signs we saw on our way up, Tania had chosen to roast a chicken for our dinner. She served us a quarter each with roast root vegetables on the side. In true Aussie style, we washed it all down with wine. Then we went to bed.

The next morning, with Tania and her eldest girl on their bikes and His Royal Highness, Amanda and Tania’s two other girls in our car, we made for the Urangan Pier where they have a weekly Sunday market. Coming from the big smoke down south, there wasn’t much for us to buy, apart from freshly caught and cooked prawns, crusted in coconut, and a couple of shell-made souvenirs for the kids.

A picture of the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A return walk is 1.8km on the Urangan Pier. That amounted to our exercise for the day.

A picture of the Sunday Market at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the Sunday Market at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the kids climbing an old banyan tree at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland

Who says only boys climb trees? A picture of the kids climbing an old banyan tree at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of a stall-holder performing magic tricks at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of a stall-holder performing magic tricks at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of HRH and I on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Could barely open my eyes there. A picture of HRH and I on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of an ibis standing atop a lamp post on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay.

Hhmmm…that will go well with sweet and sour sauce. A picture of an ibis standing atop a lamp post on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay.

A picture of the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of HRH and the kids at the end of the Urangan Pier in Hervery Bay.

Looking for jellyfish, a Chinese delicacy.

After a stroll to the end of the pier and back, we adults sat on the grass while the kids had 3 rides each at the small fair set up at the end of the market. Emboldened by company, my normally sedentary child went down the gigantic blow-up slide 15 times! After that, we all adjourned to the “Golden Chicken” for lunch; where else?

The “Golden Chicken” turned out to be Hervey Bay’s version of Red Rooster, a place selling the traditional roast chicken dinner with mash, peas and corn on the side and fish and chip packs to the hungry. For $37, we got ourselves 10 pieces of crumbed whiting, 1 large box of chips, 8 BBQ chicken wings, and 2 bottles of soft drink. What a steal! No wonder the place is so popular.

We hopped back into our car and circumnavigated Hervey Bay before going back to Tania’s place. She had already rode home after lunch with her eldest. When we arrived, she was out shopping for dinner. Since lunch was sitting heavily in our stomachs, His Royal Highness and I adjourned to our room for a long siesta.

When we awoke, the house was filled with the smell of Tania’s beef stew, bubbling away on the stove. I enjoyed the stew so much I had leftovers for breakfast, after which Paul led us to some beach near their place.

With the kids in Paul’s dinghy, Tania went through the day’s newspapers while His Royal Highness and I stared out to sea. Soon we were joined by the smell cooking bacon from the people using the public BBQ facilities behind the thicket at the back of us. Briefly it reminded me of those whales we had come to see. Fortunately for the whales, we had to leave that very afternoon as I was due to fly off to Cairns at 6.10 the next morning.

A picture of us at the beach in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Another lovely day in Queensland, made better with the smell of cooking bacon.

A picture of the kids in Paul's dinghy in Hervey Bay.

They each had a life-jacket on. A picture of the kids in Paul’s dinghy in Hervey Bay.