Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ramen in Singapore

The Clairvoyant and I both love Japanese food and had a great time while together in Japan in February 2008. I was able to take her around to see my haunts in Yokohama and Tokyo, and were also able to go explore Kamakura one weekend. Even when we are in the Philippines, we regularly eat Japanese especially when we find a new restaurant. We always prefer "honest"Japanese food and not the fusion stuff you find on the menu of many restaurants these days. The Clairvoyant loves sushi and sashimi, and we always order salmon sashimi if we perceive it to be safe to order. Some restaurants may have sashimi in the menu but you may get something that seems to have been thawed recently and it certainly won't be enjoyable to eat. In my case, I seem to be ordering chicken katsu kare if its available on the menu and if I believe its worth trying, in my search to find the best in the Philippines.

When we moved to Singapore early this year, living in the city-state certainly opened the door for more explorations not just for Japanese food but for other cuisines as well. Already, I have written about eating at an excellent Italian Restaurant with a Filipina chef and having Peranakan food one Sunday. We also regularly eat at Din Tai Fung. What I have not yet written about is eating Japanese food in Singapore.

So far, we have yet not eaten at any fine dining Japanese restaurant. But that doesn't mean we haven't had good Japanese food in the many restaurants in Singapore. For one, we did enjoy lunch with a couple of friends one Saturday at an izakaya at Suntec City. We do enjoy ramen especially since a meal is usually just enough and doesn't leave you feeling too full. Two of our favorites so far are Men-ichi and Ramen Play both found at the NEX mall and having other branches all around Singapore.

A bowl of Men-ichi's Wafu Kyoto Shoyu Ramen is truly delightful with its flavorful broth mixing perfectly with the home-made noodles. This goes very well with their gyoza!

We usually get the set meals and order different ramen so we can share in trying out the different types of ramen. We look forward to the next meals at these restaurants while hoping to find and try out other places in Singapore. Maybe in the near future we should push through with long overdue plans to go to Kyoto, Japan.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Revisiting Ondoy/Ketsana

Today's post is quite timely considering I'm holed up at home due to another typhoon. At this time, Pedring (international name: Nesat) is pounding Northern Luzon with its powerful winds and driving rain. It has already caused a storm surge strong enough to have inundated Roxas Boulevard and places such as the US Embassy. The noontime news show the highway to be passable only by boat.

Exactly two years to the day, Metro Manila and much of its adjacent areas especially Rizal were submerged by water from unprecedented rainfall. It was the equivalent of a month's rain pouring unto Metro Manila over a 6 hour period. And the result was devastation everywhere with more than 400 people killed according to official estimates. Much of the Marikina Valley including where we lived and my parent's house were deep in muddy water with Marikina City one of the hardest hit by floods that reached up to the second level of many homes.

Following is a photo journal of the flooding brought about by Ondoy:

September 26, 2009: Day One

We woke up to find floodwaters rising so fast that we only had time to take one car parked outside to our garage. We thought the flood won't even enter our garage.

The two cars didn't stand a chance as the water rose steadily. We made the painful but helpless decision to abandon thoughts about the cars. Instead, we concentrated on saving much of what we had at the first level of our home. These included books, documents, and appliances that we could carry upstairs.

We were able to set-up a makeshift kitchen on our second level where we could cook. An old dining table from our former apartment that was converted into a working table was again made into a dining table. We left our dining table and other furniture downstairs. Fortunately, most of them were made of hardwood and floated. They were mostly undamaged by the floods.

We couldn't save our sofa but these were eventually cleaned and dried a week after Ondoy and a couple of other typhoons. We still use them today in our living room, a testament of sorts to surviving disaster. The photo above shows the flood level on our first floor in mid-afternoon. Our helper was a bit traumatized as she had not experienced such flooding in her life (same with the Clairvoyant). She went back to her hometown in December but returned the following year. She's still with us today.

This was what our first floor dining area looked like when we finally decided to call it a day. The big item floating in the center is our refrigerator. Surprisingly, water was not able to enter the unit and most of the food inside was preserved. There was still ice in the freezer and whatever items we were able to cook in the following days. The ref was not damaged and after cleaning and drying, it went back into operation as if nothing had happened to it.

September 27, 2009: Day Two

We awoke early the following morning to survey the devastation. Peering out of our bedroom window, we could see the rooftops of our 2 cars in the garage. Ondoy's waters were actually deeper and we couldn't see the rooftops at one point during the night. Two of our garbage bins apparently floated around and found their place atop my old Crown. Note the muddy waters and the mud that settled atop the cars.

Our neighbor's cars didn't fare any better and one could see two submerged vehicles in the photos above - one black and one red Lancer. We were a bit lucky because we found out later that other cars floated, drifted and collided with others in the basketball courts in our subdivision.

This was what our dining area looked like mid-morning of the 27th when the flood waters were receding. The highwater mark is indicated by the watermark on the curtain on the upper left part of the photo.

This was our kitchen after we had cleaned out the mud from the tops. We had to clean-up the all the time so that the mud wouldn't have the chance to harden. Fortunately, we had a good supply of disinfectant that we could use at the time.

Meanwhile, people were already boating outside our home using makeshift rafts.

September 28, 2009:

That's me talking to our next door neighbor whose home improvement project was delayed because of the typhoon. The waters have already receded but the gargantuan task of cleaning up was just starting for many of our neighbors whose homes were lower than ours.

The mud on our garage was quite thick and we only got to clean it up after the cars were towed to the repair shops. The Crown survived Ondoy but is practically "comatose" and is now garaged in a repair shop, still awaiting parts that may not be found anymore.

This was what one of our cars' engine looked like when we finally had the chance to inspect them. Today, our Mazda 3 is working perfectly, and you wouldn't guess it was a flooded unit except perhaps with the new sound system and the lights that show remnants of mud from Ondoy's floods. We had the air condition unit, panel board, and airbags replaced. We also had it detailed and made sure about the fluids. Fortunately, the computer box was not damaged. Even so, we spent a small fortune in repairs.

This was what our living area looked like post Ondoy. We're thankful to officemates who came by to help in the cleaning. UP wasn't flooded and most of my staff lived on campus and extended helping hands for the cleaning effort.

A look at our makeshift dining area in one of our second floor rooms. Notice all the things we packed inside this room. We have 3 rooms on our second level and ample space for most of our things. We also have 2 toilets upstairs so we had no problems regarding sanitation.

Two months after Ondoy, we had our home repaired and repainted in time for the Christmas season. We are just hopeful these days that with every typhoon that comes our way, there won't be another Ondoy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Time pieces

I got my first watch when I was in Grade 3. At the time, the "in" things were the digital watches. I think the most popular were the Casios that had mostly rubberized or plastic bodies with rubber straps. The typical digital watch had a light (so unlike the analogue types) and 3 buttons for adjusting time and selecting features like the timer or alarm. Most digital watches were also water proof and at the time there were many that already indicated you could take them for a swim and take it to a certain level (50m, 100m). The more affordable analogues weren't as good as some would have moisture penetrate them and settling just in front of the dial to obscure your view of the time. The more pricey watches had calculators and these were immediately banned from schools because of the potential for mischief during math classes. Eventually, a solar watch was also released but at the time they were more for novelty considering they weren't as sensitive and as good as today's solar-powered watches. You'll find the latest generation of these digital watches in Casio's G-Shock line that are still quite popular and have "leveled-up" with data storage and even camera features!

Anyhow, my first watch (I am hesitant to call it a timepiece as the word evokes a more sophisticated or expensive item.) was an Alba and it was of stainless steel. It had the same features I mentioned earlier and was perfect for our swimming classes at school as it indicated water proof to 100m. I remember being excited about this and took my watch to the shower knowing it could withstand the water.

Through the years, I have had a few more watches including a couple of Seiko analogue watches. By the time, their water resistance were better and I was amazed at how thin the analogue quartz watches had become. Digital watches seem to be bulky and I guess the analogues were more elegant. My only complaint was that most of the leather straps seem not to last long and they didn't respond well to water or sweat so I couldn't take them for baths or swimming.

In 1996, I bought my first watch. This was a first generation Seiko Kinetic that had a power indicator. It is now with my younger brother and already had its capacitor changed after 5 years of use.

In 2001, I bought my second Kinetic, and one that I still use today as my "main" time piece. Yes, I consider it as a timepiece considering its price and more advanced features including Auto Relay, perpetual calendar, power-saving, and longer lasting capacitor. It is also my first titanium watch. The favored watch is now 10 years old as I remember purchasing it when I had a 3-month stint in Japan during the summer to autumn seasons of 2001.

Seiko Kinetic Auto Relay Titanium

In 2005, I happened upon a sale of watches at our favorite store in Okachimachi in the Ueno area of Tokyo. On a corner were stacked Swatch watches. I paid no attention at first and did some research when I returned to my hotel room. I was not familiar with Swatch models although they were the "in" thing back in high school and college. They were cheaper but were Swiss watches. Somehow, their being branded as Swiss made them desirable and the designs combined with their affordability meant they were competitive with their Japanese counterparts. My quick research revealed the watches were legit but were older, discontinued lines. But these were still brand new and were probably old stock that were being disposed off to clear inventory. No one suspected that one could get these at a bargain and, of all places, in Tokyo, Japan. The watches retailed for 1980 JPY net, which at the time was the equivalent of roughly 800 PhP! These were definitely steals as the newer models retailed for about 3,500 PhP. I quickly got a couple each for myself and the Clairvoyant - our first Swiss watches. Later, I would get a few more for my brother and friends in subsequent trips to Japan.

Swatch Automatic - features what looks like a tourbillon seen through its transparent case

Swatch Chronograph Diver - with Velcro straps, is my preferred watch for expeditions to the beach. It has served me well in Palawan, Bohol, Sarangani and Batangas

Swatch Autoquartz - the company's version of Kinetic

Swatch commemorative pieces - the Clairvoyant wearing her St. Theresa's College piece and I wearing the University of the Philippines' Centennial watch.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Champions again! The UP Pep Squad

The UP Pep Squad were repeat champions at the UAAP Cheer Dancing Competitions yesterday after a nearly flawless performance. In fact, they practically swept the competitions yesterday if we were to include a new category in the competitions where only a few participated for what were mostly stunts that were executed in only a few minutes. With apparently little preparation, the small squad was able to come up with a performance that was also quite breathtaking given the quick but very fluid aerial exhibition. Then, of course, for what was practically an eye candy feature rather than a competition, one cheerleader from the Pep Squad won a special prize from the sponsor.

A link to the UP Pep Squad's performance in the UAAP 2011 Cheer Dancing Competitions may be found here.

Indeed, the Pep Squad gave UP something to cheer about. After all, there's already quite a lot to be sad about given the budget cuts and the miserable performance of our basketball team in the UAAP. But while basketball is still the most popular sport in the UAAP even for UP, the State U's teams in football and swimming are usually the ones to deliver. And we all know that football is the most popular sport in the world. But sour-graping aside, I would really like to experience witnessing UP winning it all in basketball if only for the thrill of it. The last and only time that happened was in 1986 (It actually almost happened in 1985) when a team led by Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc defeated a strong defending champion UE team in the finals.

Going back to the Pep Squad...I'm among the rest of the University in congratulating them for a job well done and for showing everyone what good, hard work can result in. The outcome obviously was the product of blood, sweat and tears given their preparations for the competition. I know this for a fact because I was among their supporters when there were few. In fact, one of them was a student of mine at CE a couple of years ago. Another, who is part of their training staff now, was a regular encoder in our projects at the Center. We often provided a free ride for them to go to competitions and performances back in the day. And I am happy that they now get all the support that they truly deserve. Good luck for the international competitions coming up soon!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lunch at Bussorah Street

The Clairvoyant had a guest over at our home in Singapore and they decided to go out to lunch last Sunday. Almost 9 months since she moved into Singapore, there were still a lot of exploring to do and considering so many good restaurants still to be discovered, the Clairvoyant decided to take advantage of the situation to have a look (and taste) of the restaurants near the Arab Street. Following are snapshots from Kampong Glam area. Says the Clairvoyant: "the charming Derwish restaurant exterior, yummy balloon bread with a platter of hummus and otherappetizers, the heart-stopping Turkish coffee, and the largest mosque in Singapore as viewed from Bussorah Street, which is parallel to Arab Street."

We're looking forward to visiting the area soon and probably try out another restaurant. I do want to try out an Indian or Sri Lankan restaurant. When I was in Japan I was a regular patron of a Sri Lankan restaurant in Yokohama just a few minutes walk from Yamate Catholic Church. The chef was a fellow parishioner and he was always engaging and made sure the curry was just right for our taste.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 years ago - 9/11

It was 1o years ago when the world was shocked with the chilling images of aircraft colliding with the twin towers of what was the World Trade Center in New York. The terror attacks on the Big Apple is something that should be remembered not just for the continuing war that it sparked or the horror that it certainly placed inside us who witnessed the attacks and perhaps understood their implications for the future. 9/11 showed us the evil that man was and is fully capable of. It showed us the real face of evil and thinking that was devoted to such, without regard to the innocent lives that were snuffed out simply because of vengeful objectives. These same objectives were masked and erroneously justified by a religion that in truth taught compassion rather than violence.

I was hanging out with a couple of friends in a Baskin Robbins parlor just outside Saitama University that 9/11 evening (daytime in New York). We were oblivious to the attacks that were already being viewed by fellow residents at the international dormitory as we enjoyed light talk about life in Japan. I was only 3 weeks into a 3-month stint in Saitama as a visiting scientist sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and was to return home in early November. We ourselves were surprised when, upon returning to the dorm, we saw residents huddled in front of the huge TV in the lobby with some already frantically making calls to their families, many probably in their respective countries. We proceeded to also call our loved ones, having no trouble in connecting to the Philippines as it was already late night and most people probably slept unknowing about the terror attacks.

Months ago, the brain behind the terror attacks was finally eliminated by elements of the US armed forces. He was apparently enjoying himself while bottled up in a compound that was his safe house in Pakistan, far from where the battles against terror were being fought. With his death, we are sure that someone else will be taking his place and quite possibly continue his cause, no matter how wrong and how evil this may be. We can only be hopeful that the world today would be much more aware of their actions and the potential threats they may pose against us. We can also hope that learning from those lessons, authorities and common people will be more watchful about elements seeking to replicate or mimic actions in 9/11.

I believe we should also be aware and watchful of things happening around us. More that this, however, we should look inside ourselves and ask the question whether we are indeed losing ourselves in the past years. Are we losing our capacities for compassion, for caring or for loving? I hope we are not. And if we are, I do hope that we can realize it now while it is not too late and we can correct our actions if only to preserve what we still hold dear and for future generations who should learn from our mistakes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Baguio City in 2009

News about the garbage in Baguio City and the slide that caused the death of many in that city brought back memories of my last visit. That was back in June 2009 when we were conducting consultation workshops for the formulation of the national environmentally sustainable transport strategy. We stayed and held the workshop at a hotel that was a short walk away from the Good Shepherd Convent. The convent, of course, is famous for the strawberry jams and other delicacies bearing the convent’s name. Also nearby was the Mines View Park that used to give a breathtaking view of mountains covered with pine trees. Those among my older friends who were able to experience this many years ago attest to the pleasing scent of pine in the cool breeze that is also a characteristic of this city. Nowadays, the view is mainly of mountains covered with shanties and looking downwards you would have a good view of a lot of roofs and, surprise, even a couple of structures that look like graves! If you’re unlucky enough, you would be taking in the scent of smoke coming from something that is being burned nearby.

Another thing that caught my attention in 2009 was the uncollected garbage along the streets and in front of many houses and other buildings leading to the convent and the park. Residents explained to us that Baguio already had a garbage problem and that waste management and disposal has been an issue in the city for quite some time. Previous to this visit, I had the chance to go to the city a few other times, even staying there for almost week in 2004 when we were conducting another study. At that time, I was not aware of the garbage problem probably because the problem has not yet manifested itself as it did in 2009. It is sad that the city has done little to address such issues considering the many indications of impending (if not ongoing) disaster due to their waste. It is also disappointing to see their leaders pointing fingers at others but seemingly refusing to take responsibility for the tragedy of the garbage slide.

On the way up to Baguio, we usually take Kennon Road, which is usually my choice when riding our own vehicle, rather than the more common Marcos Highway. The latter is a relatively easier route that was constructed as a safer alternative to the two more traditional routes via Kennon or Naguilian Roads. I usually choose Kennon because the drive provides great vistas including those you can view from observations points along the road. During bad weather, however, Kennon and Naguilian can be treacherous with both being relatively narrow as compared to the newer and upgraded Marcos Highway. There are many incidences of rockslides or landslides that have often made these roads impassable. In fact, Kennon Road is usually only for light vehicles and can be challenging to those who are unfamiliar with its combination of curves and slopes. Naguilian is no longer a choice among travelers from Metro Manila as it starts further from both Kennon and Marcos. Buses and trucks commonly use Marcos Highway, which has slope protection along critical sections and even a roof along one that makes it look like a tunnel section. It is also easier to negotiate this highway for most motorists though there is one long climbing section just before you get off the highway that has caused many radiators to overheat or brakes and clutches to malfunction.

Hopefully, Baguio will learn from the harsh lessons brought about by the garbage slide and that city will be managed better. It is a pity that a city that was designed for 20 to 30 thousand people that is now home to more than 300,000 souls is deteriorating fast because its carrying capacity has been breached a long time ago. It will remain as the economic center of the region but urgent action is required to arrest its decline in primarily in terms of the environment. The summer capital of the Philippines as it is called is already in a depressing state and certainly deserves to be preserved if only because of the warmth the city has provided to many people who come to Baguio to experience life.

Monday, September 5, 2011

True Blue Peranakan Food

The Clairvoyant and I followed up our terrific Saturday lunch at Pizzeria Mozza with another lunch but this time enjoying Peranakan food over at True Blue Cuisine. The restaurant is located along the Armenian Street just a couple of blocks from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd where we usually hear Mass on Sundays. True Blue Cuisine is just beside the Peranakan Museum that is located in the building that used to house the Asian Civilizations Museum.

We enjoyed the ayam buah keluak or chicken stewed in black nuts, which to me looked something like adobong manok but certainly had its distinctive spicy taste that to me is a blessing in itself. We paired this with snapper fillet in curry and had fresh coconut juice in the shell for drinks. The interior of True Blue had a feel of a heritage house and the entrance is lined with frames hung on the wall that showed the many recognitions this restaurant has been awarded over the years.

All in all, that weekend's fare was excellent not just because the two restaurants were great finds and we got to enjoy excellent food but also because both offered great value for money. I look forward to more great restaurants as we continue to explore Singapore. But definitely, we will be eating again at the Mozza and True Blue.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guide dog

I've been wanting to upload and post this video on the net for some time now but always tend to forget where I saved the video. It features our two dogs, Troy (a dark chocolate Labrador Retriever) and Barbi (a mainly white Terrier mixed breed). This video was taken a few weeks after we took Barbi in from my in-laws. She was adopted after the Clairvoyant took pity on her for being bullied by her father's four Doberman dogs. The dog just had too many close calls with the Dobies that we decided to take her home where our "first-born" Troy wanted for a playmate. At this time, Barbi was still a little hostile and in survival mode considering her "upbringing" in an environment where the Doberman reigned supreme.

Troy was very helpful in making Barbi feel at home, being already trained (in a way) and familiar with our system. The video shows Troy attempting to guide Barbi by pulling on her leash. This was a routine for Troy when we take him out for walks and it seemed to us that he was demonstrating this to Barbi at the time. They look happy enough as their wagging tails indicate. 

There is another video (a longer one) somewhere that I hope to post soon enough.