Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Jim Beam came in from Kentucky, Absolut from Russia and Dona Patrizia from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was good times with good friends, just like the way it should be. After the party, my cousins and I hung out in the patio, talked, had mixed drinks and live music by Dion.
When the Kohs throw a party, they throw a party. I have a feeling we outdid ourselves this year. On the third day of the New Year, we always have family and close friends over for a feast and last night, we had FORTY (40) guests. Dear me. That's 10 bottles of wine, 20 cans of beer, 30 boxes of iced tea and the following spread:
- Yu sang
- Keong chou (braised pork hock in a sweet vinegar sauce, a Hakka specialty)
- Buah keluak (a Peranakan dish with a nut and chicken in a rich sauce)
- Two gigantic fried fish, one in a sweet soy sauce, one slathered with oatmeal
- A stew with auspicious seafood like sea cucumbers and abalone and mushrooms
- Braised oxtail
- Sayoh lodeh (a malay vegetable curry)
- Lap meh fun (a platter of steamed rice with various types of Chinese sausages)
We had Uncle Robert's home-made yogurt for dessert.
To kick off the feast, we had a lion dance troupe perform in the garden and driveway. According to legend, a ferocious beast, Nian ("year"), would terrorise Chinese villagers every new year, but was finally scared off by the beating of drums and cymbals and a costumed lion. The lion dance is now a symbol to remember the heroics of our ancestors. My cousin Pei was part of a lion dance troupe in high school and declared this year's performance of a higher quality than the previous year's.
Tonight, the fourth day of the New Year, my dad hosts the annual company dinner where he treats his employees to a lavish meal. As with previous years, it's at the Shangri-La Hotel, one of the best in Singapore.
I'm going to work out this afternoon.
Monday, January 30, 2006
On the second day of the new year, we gamble (not on the first day, because you don't want to risk losing anything to start off the year).
First, we play blackjack. Half of the family gathers around a round garden table in Grandma's patio, and the wheelin' and dealin' begins. I played two hands -- one for myself (drawing even) and one for Uncle Charley (I won him $6 and got $1 as a tip). It gets pretty crazy with smack talking -- man, we're rowdy.
Then, we play mahjong. It's the smartest game in the world -- down to the fact that the cards are porcelain tiles which stand on their own, so you don't have to hold them in your hands, and so you can authoritatively or triumphantly throw them with a loud clack in the middle of the table. It also helps keep old ladies' minds sharp and is an antidote against senility. Cases in point: both my grandmothers, who are also mahjong partners. I won $20, but the big winner was Uncle Limcy, who walked off with $55.
Before all that, we had brunch at Ah Ma's again:
- Yu Sang
- An assortment of Chinese sausages
- A traditional Hakka stew -- I forget the name and can't identify what's in it, but it's very tasty
- Mutton soup
- The hodgepodge dish again
- A new dish by Ah Ma -- fish shaped into little fishes, with peas for eyes, a shrimp's tail for its tail and a cross-sectioned slice of chilli for its mouth
- Ngoh hiang -- it translates into "five spices," a sort of spring roll with a meat filling
Mmm, iced 7-Up to go with brunch on a sunny day!
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Roger Federer, you're my hero. Even though Dad said after Marcos Baghdatis took the first set in the Australian Open final that he thought the dude from Cypress might win the match, I never lost faith -- the match reminded me of the U.S. Open final when you tightened up after going down to Andre Agassi, got the wake-up call, then played with your usual brilliance to bag the championship. This isn't the pre-2004 Roger Federer who never lived up to his potential.
In other sports news, Sara emailed to tell me that our soccer team won our first match of the season (after two unnnecessary losses, close games). How did she know that I was wondering about the outcome of the match I missed? I'm such a nerd.
I'm up at 6.20am because I crashed right after we got home from dinner at Uncle Eddie's. It's less jet lag than catching up on sleep I've lost on the plane, I think. I hope. Again, Uncle Rob cooked, and we ate:
- Yu sang (a cornucopia of various shredded vegetables and fried wonton pieces tossed by everyone in plum sauce as we call out auspicious greetings to one another)
- Lobster in a spicy chilli sauce
- Crab in the same sauce
- Grilled salmon
- Shrimp tempura
-Vegetables with scallops
- Braised pork's feet (mmm! Mom's contribution)
- Beef rendang (a type of Malay curry; again, from Mom)
- Chicken curry (once more, courtesy of Momma)
Mmm! Mmm! Good!
I haven't weighed myself since I got home but my growing gut tells me a true story. I'm going to go back to bed and try squeeze in a run by the beach before brunch at Grandma's.
Because it's a New Year tradition to not eat meat before noon (so you're starting the new year cleansed), we eagerly counted down the minutes to noon at Grandma's this morning before we could invade the tray of bak kwa.
As usual, we arrived at 10am and immediately, everyone mobbed everyone else with hugs and New Year greetings. Grandma was avalanched by mandarin oranges -- given to a person of seniority as a sign of respect, signifying wealth. After taking the annual family portrait, we broke out into two groups for a vegetarian brunch -- the grandkids on the patio, everyone else at the main table in the kitchen. We ate:
- The hodgepodge dish (I forget the name, but we eat it every year as a Hakka -- our Chinese ethnicity -- tradition), a braised stew of cabbage, various types of mushrooms, fatt choy (a fungus delicacy that looks like a clump of hair)
- Fake siew yoke (roast pork), char siew (barbequed pork), kidney (why would you fake that?)
- Spring rolls
- My mom's vegetarian curry
All served with rice, chased with water.
Then, the best part of New Year -- the snacks. The kok zhai (peanut cookies), love letters (rolled-up wafers), almond cookies, pistachios, cashews and all are great, but oh, the bak kwa!
It's time to re-focus on the Australian Open -- Roger Federer has a seventh Grand Slam title to win.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Why, hello there. And happy new year -- it's still the eve of Chinese New Year in Chicago, but it's 1.07am in Singapore and officially the year of the dog and 4703. The Chinese people have been in existence for many moons -- that's a scientific fact, because it's the lunar new year.
So much has happened today that I couldn't resist resuscitating the old blog (vroom! vroom!), and since I'm no longer a corporate drone, perhaps my daily life would be more exciting and I'd be posting on a regular basis. I hope you, friends and readers, will keep me honest.
The best thing so far, this new year, is having Uncle Rob home from Sydney to celebrate it for the first time in almost 25 years. No kidding. And, Uncle Charley! He's not a real uncle like Uncle Rob is -- Robert is my mom's older brother. Charley Desanges is one of my dad's best friends, who's stopped over in Singapore on his way back to Nice (where he's from) from Nomeau, where he's been for the last two weeks, visiting his two brothers. (Nomeau is a French island in the South Pacific, where everyone surfs and catches fish with a hand-thrown harpoon.) You know that scene in "The Sound of Music" when the Captain gets the telegram that the Baroness and Uncle Max would be visiting, and the children scream in jubilation, "Uncle Max!!!" That's my brother and me this morning, when my dad said that Uncle Charley was in town for a week-and-a-half. "Uncle Charley!!!"
We usually have the traditional new year's eve reunion dinner (that's like Thanksgiving dinner, when the whole family comes together from wherever everyone is and eats a meal of abundance -- to ensure we'll always have enough to eat for the whole year) with my dad's side of the family, but since my cousin Kevin was home from New York last week, they celebrated a week earlier. So my mom's side came over, and earlier in the week, after a brief quibble, Uncle Rob won the coin toss to make dinner. Uncle Rob owns a rotisserie in Sydney but used to be the executive chef at the Waterfront, one of the top restaurants in the city -- he ran a kitchen of 60 (sixty!) cooks. The menu:
- Cold seafood platter (lobster, oysters, prawns)
- Les moules (Belgian-style mussels)
- Black pepper steak
- Baked ziti in marinana sauce
- Tuna carpaccio with Japanese seaweed salad
- Caesar salad
- Six bottles of wine, ranging from French to Australian to American
It was the first time in family history that we had a non-Asian feast for our reunion dinner. I had to nap for 10 minutes before we made our annual visit to the temple just before midnight to receive blessings for the year -- I have never faced Buddha half-drunk (merci beaucoup, Uncle Charley) in my life, and I wasn't going to start this year.
But, I'm barrelling ahead too quickly. The day started out great with Amelie Mauresmo's victory over Justine Henin-Hardene in the women's finals at the Australian Open. I avidly hate Henin-Hardene -- no sportsman should be as cocky and smug about their talents as she is. Mauresmo won in a strange fashion... it was almost too easy for the current World No. 3 who had never won a Grand Slam, or was it karma? Her semi-finals opponent Kim Clijsters retired in the third set from a torn ligament and Henin-Hardene gave up the battle in the early second set, because of an upset stomach. But my heart broke when Henin-Hardene walked slowly and heavily -- the antithesis to her tennis play style -- to the net to announce her retirement with the same whatever it was that enabled her to last 56 minutes into the match, taking a beating and playing like Venus Williams circa recently. And that was all that held her up... she broke down at her seat and again during the trophy ceremony.
For someone to whom winning is so important -- you'd think that it is all muscle on Henin-Hardene's small frame, but it really is muscle and pride -- pulling out of a Grand Slam final must be like losing the killer topspin off your power forehand (that's Justine's bread-and-butter shot, if you don't follow tennis). She had an upset stomach because she doubled her intake of anti-inflammatory pills to numb an aching shoulder. She would always do what it takes to win, but this time, she got too far ahead of herself. It's not breakfast of champions this morning in the Rod Laver Arena, it was the humble pie of would-be champions. And losing is always a hard pill to swallow. Maybe a better game next time, Justine... and Amelie, one of those Notre Dame gargoyles must've been grinning down on you today.