Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 roundup

Best Movie — the selection of movies playing at highstreet cinemas in Singapore is really crap so we rely on the occasional film festival to put on something special.

Our favourite movie was probably the ethnic comedy from Germany Kebab Connection, directed by Anno Saul (2004). "Kebabs, kung fu and forbidden romance are the ingredients of this multicultural comedy set in Hamburg. Young Turk Ibo is a film director who dreams of making the first German kung fu epic. To convince investors he's up to the task, Ibo makes a spectacular martial arts flavoured commercial for his uncle's takeaway kebab shop. The ad is a raging success, and everything on Ibo's horizon looks bright until his German girlfriend, Titzi, tells him she's pregnant. Thrown out of home, his follow-up commercial is a flop, and Titzi leaves him. In desperation he agrees to make a 'comeback' ad for a rival Greek restaurant. Cast: Nora Tschirner, Denis Moschitto, Güven Kirac. Winner of Audience Awards at the Turkish-German Film Festival in Nuremberg and Festival of German Cinema in Madrid."

Another notable movie we saw was John Lynch's (1999) Irish movie Night Train. "Poole, just released from prison, owes his former gangster boss a lot of money. Before long, his whereabouts are discovered by his acquaintances, and Poole finds himself on the run. Homeless, he takes a room in the quiet, suburban home of a middle-aged woman and her irascible mother. When Alice, his landlady, is invited into Poole's room, she is charmed by the world he has created there. They find themselves falling in love. Inevitably, Poole's past catches up with him, and Alice finds herself drawn into the murky intrigue of his unsavoury friends. Cast: John Hurt, Brenda Blethyn, Pauline Flanagan."

Other fun movies we saw in 2005 include The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and Sideways (2004).

Kan cheong king award for the film with the most chair-gripping scenes goes to Peter Jackson's remake of the 1933 classic King Kong. Amazing special effects! Phil had to close his eyes for the last 15 minutes, when Kong was on top of the Empire State Building, as he was suffering from vertigo (Phil not Kong; hence no bungee jump from Phil in NZ)!

Best Book — a tough one, we both ploughed through quite a lot this year, but I think our combined favourite was Marina Lewycka's "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" (Viking, 2005), which "hilariously and affectingly records the fall-out when an elderly Ukrainian widower long resident in Britain falls for a flamboyantly busty Russian gold-digger in search of a passport to prosperity" says Peter Kemp in The Sunday Times.

Other favourites included Zadie Smith's "On Beauty" (Hamish Hamilton, 2005), Andrea Levy's "Small Island" (Headline, 2004) and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake" (Harper Perennial, 2004). I enjoyed revisiting some classic crime and coming-of-age novels such as Don De Grazia's "American Skin" (Jonathan Cape, 1998) and several re-isssue titles from London-based publisher No Exit Press (thanks to Chris for the recommendations). I tried to read as much as I could from the authors participating in the Singapore Writers Festival in September 2005 (two of Monsoon's authors, Gerrie Lim and Stephen Leather, were also involved) and I did enjoy prose by Australian author Peter Goldsworthy and poetry by Singaporean Yong Shu Hoong. Sandy read Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" (Penguin, 1998) and was particularly moved by it.

Best Meal — hmm, tricky, I did some restaurtant reviewing in Singapore for Wine & Dine at the beginning of 2005 but nothing stood out as being exceptional. We've actually gone out a lot less this year and cooked a lot more at home (unusual for Singapore!). New Year's resolution: try more restaurants! I think our favourite meal this year was probably at Le Bon Bolli in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Touted as the most awarded restaurant in Christchurch, Le Bon Bolli serves brasserie-style French food and a great selection of New Zealand wines. It was very good food but the experince was also accentuated having survived on bad Kiwi pub food for the previous two weeks. We pigged out big time, downed a lot of very good local wines and were still pleasently surprised at how cheap it was compared to Singapore. (As I write this, the bread machine in beeping, announcing another loaf is freshly baked — that is one thing we really need as the selection of bread in Singapore is bad!)

Another memorable meal was at the unassuming-looking Xin Hua coffeeshop in Geylang, where three of us feasted on scallops in black pepper; jumbo prawns in garlic; steamed sting ray; delicious crab vermicelli; and veggie. It's a regular dirty old coffeeshop in the middle of Singapore's redlight district, the service is appalling, it's common to wait two hours for the first dish to arrive, recommended dresscode is shorts and a T-shirt but the food is fabulous and it cost more than Le Bon Bolli in New Zealand! Admittedly Anthony Bourdain filmed here, which might account for the high prices.

Best Bar — oh this is easy ... the open-air Sirocco bar on the 64th floor of the State Tower in Bangkok, Thailand. We found this place with Holly and Nel and, despite the fact that one round of drinks cost more than a night in our two-bedroom hotel suite (OK, it was a crap hotel), we could not get over the amazing views of Bangkok's skyline at night and stayed gawping at the view for hours. You must check this place out next time you're in Bkk.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boxing Day walk

Boxing Day walk was delayed for a few days but we finally dragged ourselves out of the house and took a quick walk around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Birdwatching ... as well as an unidentifiable cuckoo (see below), we saw a pair of beautiful Chestnut-bellied Malkoha and a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

We saw this cuckoo at the summit but we didn't hear it call so it's pretty difficult to identify. It's either an Oriental Cuckoo or an Indian Cuckoo ... anybody able to confirm which?

We saw more monkeys at the entrance to the nature reserve than in it.

A late lunch of eggplant with minced meat and dried shrimps; pork with preserved veggie; tofu with century egg; and dan dan mien at a Taiwanese Hokkien Restaurant in Bukit Timah.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

Christmas at Don and Loretta's has become something of a tradition. Clockwise from bottom left: Idah with Keisia, Ainsley, Philip, George, Loretta, Don, Karen and Kaylee. As usual, many thanks to Don and Loretta.

Twenty-four floors up, overlooking the ... quickly checks a map ... Singapore Strait (?), this is Christmas with a view. The Urquharts have bravely removed all the window grills and, with the window at waist height for adults, it's a long drop if you overdo it on the brandy butter. Don and Sandy ...

Ainsley and Keisia are both fabulous kids and growing up so fast.

Looking down onto East Coast Park

Looking West along the coast towards the CBD

Ainsley ...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

It was a New Zealand reuninion for Christmas Eve dinner. Having not read the invitation but assuming dinner would start around 7 or 7.30pm, we turned up 3 hours late ... it started at 4pm. (Sandy was in charge of this one so takes the blame; I was in charge of getting to Christmas Day dinner on time, which we managed, but were an hour earlier than everybody else!) Pot luck dinner with paella from Sharina, meatballs and mince pies (not together) from us, melon and prosciutto from Yeoh & Shannon, a Japanese rice dish from Tsegumi, and more. A great evening, thank you Tsegumi and Andrew!

Sharina & Collin practising for the real thing with Jolin and Misaki ...

Beatiful wrapping from Nuts Ideas designer Ling (and great presents inside!) ...

Henry and Sandy

Watching as Collin wins the lucky draw and takes home a 21-in flatscreen TV!!

Joey lifting dumbbells ...


The hosts: Andrew and Tsegumi with various kids ...

We brought a box of Christmas crackers only to find that nobody had ever seen them before (provoking worried questions as to whether they would be safe for us to use inside). Also, the food wasn't quite what you would expect for Christmas but it's good to see that one tradition is the same all over the world ... there's always somebody snoring away on the sofa! This time Eric takes the credit!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is that our cat?

From BBC online :
In the dense central forests of Borneo, a conservation group has found what appears to be a new species of mammal.
WWF caught two images of the animal, which is bigger than a domestic cat, dark red, and has a long muscular tail. Local people, the WWF says, had not seen the species before, and researchers say it looks to be new. The WWF says there is an urgent need to conserve forests in south-east Asia which are under pressure from logging and the palm oil trade. The creature, believed to be carnivorous, was spotted in the Kayan Mentarang National Park, which lies in Indonesian territory on Borneo. The team which discovered it, led by biologist Stephan Wulffraat, is publishing full details in a new book on Borneo and its wildlife. "You don't find new mammals that often, and to do so must be extraordinary," said Callum Rankine, head of the species programme at WWF-UK. "We've got camera traps there, which are passive devices relying on infra-red beams across forest paths," he told the BBC News website. "Lots of animals come past - it's much easier than pushing through the forest itself - and when an animal cuts the beam, two cameras catch images from the front and back."

Not a lemur
The find was made in Kayan Mentarang national park on Borneo. So far, two images are all that exist. But they were enough to convince Nick Isaac from the Institute of Zoology in London that the animal may indeed be new. "The photos look most like a lemur," he told the BBC News website. "But there certainly shouldn't be lemurs in Borneo." These long-tailed primates are confined to the island of Madagascar.
"It's more likely to be a viverrid - that's the family which includes the mongoose and civets - which is a very poorly known group," Dr Isaac said. "One of the photos clearly shows the length of the tail and how muscly it is; civets use their tails to balance in trees, so this new animal may spend chunks of its time up trees too." That could be one reason why it has not been spotted before. Another could be that access to the heart of Borneo is becoming easier as population centres expand and roads are built. The WWF says this is the heart of the issue. It accuses the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia, which each own parts of Borneo, of encouraging the loss of native jungle by allowing the development of giant palm oil plantations.

Last week Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, chief minister of Sarawak, the larger Malaysian state on Borneo, said that such claims are unfounded and part of a smear campaign. He told the BBC News website that palm oil plantations are mainly sited on land which had previously been cleared for cultivation or are in "secondary jungle". But the WWF says species like the new viverrid - if new viverrid it be - are threatened by such development. It is concerned that other as yet unknown creatures may go extinct before their existence can be documented. The group is planning to capture the new species in a live trap so it can be properly studied and described.

Last post to UK ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


George — Sandy's friend Mel's dog — caught in the act of trashing Mel's living room in Bangkok ...

... and taking a well-earned rest before starting on the bedrooms.

Orchard Road Christmas lights

While belting down Orchard Road in a taxi, rushing to make Happy Hour at the local, I managed to stick the camera out of the window and get off a few shots of the Christmas lights.

The annual battle of the shopping malls to display the biggest, brightest and best Christmas settings is in full swing and the displays are as tacky and gaudy as ever. At least there's no fake snow this year. Easier on the eye are the Heineken and Tiger beer girls who have swapped their usual costumes for very flattering Santarina outfits.

3 new bars

Three friends of ours opened three different bars in the same week. Jay opened "Second Round Pub Lounge " in Far East Plaza (5th floor) ... seated on the left is a very grumpy-looking Edward!

Murphy opened "pod" in Telok Ayer Street, next door to the beautiful Thian Hock Keng temple, one of the oldest Taoist temples in Singapore ...

and Justin opened his new bar, still without name, in Hat Yai, Thailand. He's built the actual bar counter from timber and exposed bark. Photos coming soon. We might try and check out Justin's place in early Jan with Holly if she flies out then.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snakes spotted outside the flat

Nick Baker, our neighbour and Chairman of the Vertebrate Study Group of the Nature Society (Singapore), who hosts the Ecology Asia website, has identified and photographed nine species of snake outside our flat:

Reticulated Python
Equatorial Spitting Cobra
Brahminy Blind Snake
Oriental Whip Snake
Paradise Tree Snake
Striped Kukri Snake
Banded Malayan Coral Snake
Common House Snake
Painted Bronzeback

The Reticulated Pythons have eaten ten cats on our street in two years (including our cat Fishball, RIP) and an Equatorial Spitting Cobra was responsible for the death of a neighbour's Jack Russel. We see Equatorial Spitting Cobras at least once a fortnight, sunbathing on the concrete path behind the flat or next to the mosque in the mornings.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Owl spotting

On Friday evening I received an urgent call from Sandy saying she had just seen and photographed a Collared Scops Owl roosting on a signboard outside the flat. It was about 7.30pm and I was already out drinking in town. I knew I wasn’t really supposed to be out drinking that night as we were going out the following night, so I wasn’t sure whether this was just a cunning plan hatched by Sandy to lure me back home with the promise of owl spotting. I wanted to see photographic evidence of the owl and asked Sandy to SMS me the photo she had just taken with her mobile phone. Sure enough, several swigs of Tiger later, my pocket started vibrating, alerting me to an incoming Collared Scops Owl. Below is the photograph I received ... (The owl is sitting on the left of the signboard, honest! —Sandy)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Slippery customers

Last week I trod on a third snake inside my flat. All three were Brahminy Blind Snakes. I stepped on the first two while walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It felt like an elastic band underfoot, until I realised I don't keep elastic bands on the hallway floor. The most recent one was attempting to burrow under my laptop bag but wasn't having much success penetrating the ceramic floor tiles. All three survived me stepping on them presumably because I jumped off pretty damn quick in surprise; all were rehoused in the garden. Our reptile-expert neighbour Nick (see snake post above) has identified nine species of snakes outside the flat; thank goodness I haven’t found anything larger than a Brahminy Blind Snake inside the flat. Yet ...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My nose

I haven't been able to breathe properly through my nose for 10 years so I finally went to see an ENT specialist in Singapore. A self-referral based on how good his website was and the hospital's proximity to my local bar! Anyway, I went for an endoscopy, where the doctor stuck a video camera the whole way up my nose and down the back of my throat. Nice. It was a tiny digital camera on the end of a computer controlled tube and it looked like an alien worm from a sci-fi movie as it approached my nostril, did a little dance of delight and dived right in. The video is destined for Cannes and the doctor kindly gave me a copy on CD as I told him I was heading to the bar after the consultation and wanted to play it back on the bar's big screen. (A mistake, one-foot-tall nose hair is not a pretty sight.) I then popped downstairs for a CAT scan. When the ENT surgeon saw my CAT scan x-rays he was shocked and asked if I'd been in any bar fights when I was younger. But I'm still young! Apparently I have a completely deviated septum. I don't remember breaking my nose as a kid, maybe I was hit by a tennis ball?!

The upshot is that I will need surgery to drain the gunk from my sinuses but due to my pathological fear of surgery, Sandy has offered to perform the operation at home with a pair of a chopsticks and a Chinese meat cleaver.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

TreeTop Walk

Check out the 25-metre-high TreeTop Walk that extends for 250 metres through the canopy of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in the heart of Singapore.

It's amazing that in the middle of Singapore you can walk for hours along the forest trails and see more than 500 species of animal including, if you're lucky, flying lemurs and pangolins! Of course Sandy and I saw absolutely squat. We did see one rather haggard-looking raptor that could have been a juvenile Brahminy Kite but I forgot the birdbook.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Black Studio is 1 year old

Potluck BBQ at Yeoh's place in Punggol to celebrate Black Studio's 1st birthday ... Sandy prepared Thai-style chicken skewers, I did prawn mousse on lemongrass stalks with tamarind sauce. Somebody sat on my prawn mousse sticks in the taxi (and it wasn't me or the taxi driver) so we had to remold each stick again, very leceh ...

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Durian king

An afternoon snack for Sandy's family in KL — 73 durians ... nice ...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sandy's 30th birthday

We spent Sandy's 30th birthday (16th June) at the Six Senses Evason Spa in Phuket, Thailand. Strangely enough at the same time Mum was spending her 60th birthday in a spa in Wales!

We arrived late at night and the funky entrance tunnel ...

led into a stunning reception sala

Sandy enjoyed a Steam and Sauna, Traditional Thai Massage, Natural Thai Facial, Scalp Massage, Thai Herbal Body Glow, Foot Acupressure, Six Senses Signature Tea ... and the hotel pool overlooking the sea

The hotel had it's own private island — the jetty was destroyed by the Tsunami and walking on the temporary jetty was like doing the cake walk at the funfair. Talking of the Tsunami, we met six forensic pathologists staying at the hotel who were still identifying bodies six months after the tragedy happened.

Eating Phad Thai on the island

... and then back to the hotel pool again

We shot this menu in a café at the airport in Phuket; in any other country you would assume this to be a spelling mistake but in Thailand you can never be sure ...