June 6th, 2010

Charah coffee

The Blind Assassin - absolutely amazing.

The weather in Indonesia was so bad that it was almost I hadn't left Singapore. It got to a point where I wondered why I bothered washing my hair in the morning as all the effort would've gone down the drain an hour later with all the sweating and the dirt.

Anyway, I'm back, obviously, though not so thrilled to be back. Not that I loved Indonesia; I simply love the idea of being away. I guess the upside was that there wasn't any shit weather to "come back" to, as I was suffering under the viscous Indonesian humidity anyway.

I'm not much in the mood for writing (haven't been in the mood for it for awhile now) so I'll just say the following:

1. I finished Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin in Indonesia and I'm still emotionally affected by the novel. It's been a while since a novel had been this emotionally jarring. The love story - not only was it beautifully, and I really mean beautifully written, it was so tragic and devastating. I love the way she describes the feelings between the two characters, especially from the female character's point of view. It's so haunting, so precious, and the doomed nature of it only breaks my heart.

Her attention to detail is quite astounding. The novel is 521 pages long but doesn't feel like it. It's set in Canada between the two world wars, a location I don't give a shit about and a time period I'm not particularly interested in, but these things didn't even matter because the story was so vividly told. I felt like I was there, witnessing the events, and I could picture the words and what they're meant to depict in my head.

I didn't know it won the 2000 Booker when I bought it years ago, and the reason I bought it was because it was damn cheap (8 bucks for first edition hard cover). I didn't know either that it won the Booker when I started reading it - I was merely itching to read some good fiction, and Atwood, though her prose tends to get tedious sometimes, definitely writes well. I definitely didn't expect anything when I started reading it, so when I found myself hooked on the story I was more than surprised. When I found myself actually emotionally invested in the characters...well, it's certainly been a while since a book enthralled me this much, and it's entirely my fault that I haven't been reading and have thus forgotten the magic of the written word. Especially when the prose is so delicately-constructed and beautifully-produced.

I just - it's been a few days since I finished it and I still can't get it out of my mind. I'm even re-reading some parts now. I mean, I'm definitely a snob when it comes to books - I choose my books by how well-written they are and plot is always secondary. The Blind Assassin manages to combine both. And its greatest strength lies in how it sticks with me, gets itself stuck in my head, and refuses to let go of my heart.

2. Fucking French Open. The night Roger played his quarter-final against Soderling, I couldn't fucking sleep until someone told me what was going on. I had to text my idiot brother who couldn't even be clear in his reply as to what was happening. But I did find out that he bagged the first set, after which I went to sleep with relative ease.

Woke up the next morning to Yun's text that "fed" had crashed out of the French Open. Fucking put me in a damn bad mood for an hour or so in the morning. Thankfully I was overseas and had attractions to take my mind off things and my mood improved.

But can't say I wasn't really bummed - sad, actually - that he couldn't extend his streak of 25 consecutive grand slam semi-finals. Can't say, too, that I wasn't sad that he wasn't going to contest a grand slam semi-final for the first time in 5, 6 years.

On the other hand, though, it's amazing already that his record even exists. Number 2 on the list of consecutive grand slam semi-finals stands at 10 straight SFs. Roger managed 25. It was bound to come to an end at some point, and I did say that I wasn't hopeful about his chances of winning the French again. To be fair, no way in hell I even thought that he might lose before the semi; no way in hell did I think he'd lose to Soderling, whom he'd beaten 12 straight times.

But he's had a crap post-Australia season. He's had a not-so-great clay season, and him reaching the Madrid final was a miracle. He's still not in form; he might have lost against Wawrinka if Wawrinka had volleyed better in the tie-break.

Above all else, the French Open has never been good to him. If his streak had to end somewhere, I'm glad it was at the French. It's also my least favourite Slam anyway as it's contested on my least favourite surface (slow-ass boring clay with annoying long rallies), so if the streak had to end, it might as well have been at Roland Garros.

As for the final, I'm fully behind the Sod to win it against Nadal. It's not going to be easy, but it's been done before; more importantly, if Nadal wins, Roger becomes #2 - and he's 1 week shy of breaking Sampras' record of having the most number of weeks at #1. He's in his 286th week now, which is the record. If Nadal loses tonight, Roger will be #1 for the 287th week, thus setting a new record.


Charah coffee

Taipei 2010 - Day Four

I'm bored watching the French Open final - too many long, drawn out baseline rallies, with Nadal doing his usual retrieving and leaving all the trigger-pulling to the other guy. Clearly it works for him as he's up a set and a break. Oh well, if Roger got back his #1 ranking once, he can do it again.

Since I have nothing to do now, I shall continue blogging about Taiwan.


So Day Four - went to the Taipei zoo for the first time in years. Years. I could barely remember it, save for a scant memory of an uninspiring expanse of brown and dried leaves, almost desert-like. But since there were pandas, and I hadn't been there in so long, I was excited to go.

Before that, I had this for breakfast:

It's absolutely one of my favourite food in the whole wide world, not just in Taiwan. And I know I'm not supposed to but I love the 7-11 one; to me, it tastes better than the fresher ones sold in markets.

I also bought a cup of coffee from 85 Degrees C that had a strange name, something about a latte with sea salt in it:

My first sip was gross - it was too salty and yogurty. I took to stirring it and after that, heaven. I've never tasted coffee like this - tinged with a slight taste of salt enveloping the usual aromatic flavour of coffee. My only regret was not drinking it again. I certainly have never come across it in boring old Singapore, where things are always the same and ideas are never new.

And speaking of Singapore, I once again have yet another reason to side with the detractors who say Singaporeans are selfish idiots:

(That said, although I frequently criticise the people in this country for being rude, selfish, ungracious and inconsiderate assholes on the train, it's a different story entirely when foreigners are the ones doing the criticising. It's like how I'm allowed to insult my own brother but not you 'cause you're not a part of the family.)

The cabin was empty, but even during rush hour the situation didn't change. I don't...actually, on second thought, fuck this topic. Singaporeans aren't ever going to change and no amount of complaining and bitching from me is going to help that so whatever.

Moving on - me at the MRT station:

We reached the zoo and it was GREAT. Somebody must've visited the Singapore one, as it felt like a new and improved version of the Singapore zoo. Even better, it's YONKS cheaper. It's only NT$60 which is about S$3. Compare that with the entrance fee at the zoo, some ridiculous $18 or more. I mean, really. Seriously. Apparently we're getting pandas too, so let's all brace ourselves for a price hike.

Taipei Zoo was really awesome though, and the weather was good too. The sun decided to cooperate by staying away most of the time and it was nice and bright and cooling. It's not too humid in Taipei so I didn't sweat that much, and the weather was good enough to stroll through most of the zoo with minimum resting. I can't imagine that happening in Singapore. Grah I fucking hate the weather here.


At the entrance.

Just inside.


It was so gardenesque that there were many, many flowers everywhere, and many orchids like the ones in the picture. Whoever revamped the zoo deserves a medal for a job well done.

Our first stop was the pandas enclosure. It was relatively early - 11ish - and thankfully, there wasn't a queue and there wasn't a crowd. The pandas were kept in an enclosure separated from the visitors by glass panels but they were close enough to see clearly. The enclosure was quite big too, and when we reached one of them was eating bamboo!

So adorable! I wanted to lug it home.

There's not much to say but many pictures to show so here we go (and yeah lah I'm lazy to write):

A wolf. I must say my camera's zoom was pretty incredible and held up well when I really really reall zoomed it in.

Fucking reptiles enclosure. Once in primary school I went to the zoo with the family and when we went into the section with the snakes, I was so scared that I started crying. That day, I thought I'd got over my phobia and said boldly that I wanted to see the snakes. I went in, saw a snapping turtle, turned around, caught a glimpse of a snake, and then promptly ran out of there.

My brother got hold of my camera and took some pictures of the snakes. I haven't been able to look at those pictures when I'm looking at my photos. I HATE SNAKES. THEY CREEP ME OUT.

Mongolian horses. Never seen them before. Absolutely gorgeous creatures.

Oh my god, forgot what this animal is called. But they were really cute and they were JUST THERE, right in front of you.

Man, I need to go to a safari or something. A real one, not the Night Safari.

A turtle with numbers on its shell, marked by the zoo.

Got to the hippos area. Wow, they really stank to high heavens.

Just one example of how wonderfully they have cleaned up the place.


Koalas! Nothing's gonna top the experience of holding a koala in Australia, but these creatures are so adorable max that I'm never going to tire of looking at them and fawning over them.

Haha, super cheesy.

The giraffes were great and we saw a lot of monkeys. The tigers were disappointing, precisely because there was only one tiger. We ran into a zookeeper who told us that the tiger gave birth to 3 tigers so we were expecting 4 but only saw 1.

The children's section, though, was a terrible waste of time. They had rabbits and hamsters but they were kept out of reach. I wanted to see a dairy cow or whatever but there was only one poor buffalo splashing around in a shallow pool of water (Wei Chuen saw the picture and said the buffalo looked like it was being tortured. Boo). So yeah, not much to do for the kiddos.

We left the zoo at about 4.30 and went back to the apartment where I took a shower and prepared for DINNER. Dinner is in capital letters because we went to Taiwan's famous steakhouse that's supposed to be high class and really good.

Well, it was really good, and the service was top-rate. The menu was one page long. I ordered the fish (there was only one seafood dish) with prawn salad, corn soup, and chocolate lava cake. In between they gave us bread and a cup of plum juice and at the end a plate of fruits. Before the appetiser was served they gave us a glass of wine.

The croissant was INCREDIBLE. It was buttery and soft and I would've taken more if not for the fact that there was a lot more food to come, so I stopped myself. My mom ordered the dead pig and I had to laugh when it came and I saw this:

Biggest piece of pork chop ever. They sliced off the top of the meat and took away the ribs portion to be served later. They provided my mom and grandparents (who ordered the same thing) with aluminium foil with which to wrap the end of the ribs in, so as to prevent them from dirtying their fingers. Hahaha I thought it was cute.

I ate this:

I'm not a fan of prawns so I avoided that. The fish, though, was great. It was cod, which I usually hate, but the fish was done just right - not too oily, but juicy, and totally not fishy. The crust was exquisite too, peppered with parmesan cheese. You can never go wrong with cheese.

My soup was topped with puffed pastry which naturally made a mess on the table. Before they served the main course, the waiters came out and dusted off the crumbs for us. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE.

Dessert was good - you can never go wrong with chocolate lava cake. I was so full after dinner that I was hiccuping while looking at clothes at Gongguan; the salesgirl asked, "Did you eat a lot for dinner?"

Dinner companions. I miss Taipei already.

The whole 7-course (or was it 9) meal was only NT$1200 which approximates to S$60. Apparently the steak was good but obviously I wouldn't know. And the best part? Wang Steak is a Taiwanese establishment.

If there's one thing that the Taiwanese do better than Singaporeans, it's innovation. It's entrepreneurship. It's taking an old idea and doing it better than everyone else. It's taking an old idea and improving on it. The sea salt coffee from 85 Degrees C - I'd be happy to find it in Singapore but I'm not holding my breath. The fact that 85 Degrees C is sort of their version of Singapore's Breadtalk, but sells MUCH better bread and at the same price too.

I miss Taipei already.