You just can’t win

You just can't win

Do you ever get the feeling that some days, you just can’t win with the Food Gods? I swear this is what happened to me on the day I was walking around seeing mirages of fried rice with an omelet on top. This is weird. What’s goin’ on?

Yeah, I know. It’s so out of character for me to eat restaurant fried rice when it’s something I can always cook at home. Maybe it was because the weather had been kinda cool that day (if you can even call 80F cool *slaps forehead*) and I was reminded of the winter version I used to make and eat straight out of a big common bowl.

Now if I could just step into a time machine and go back to those grey days of hugging my bowl at the kitchen table and savoring every spoonful of that piping hot fried rice. And it’s a gorgeous 40 degrees out! Yeah, that must be it. That explains the mirages.

And here were my feet beginning to take me to that nearby cafe where I often go to relax and read a book. I seated myself and waited for someone to take my order. Ten minutes passed, then 15. The place wasn’t that busy, it was still early and I swear that at least one of the servers had seen me. Was I being ignored?

I looked around and all the servers seemed to have disappeared. Okay, if I ain’t gettin’ served, then I’m outta here! So I got up and walked out. No big deal. This is not new. It’s been done before. Walking out, I mean.

But dang it, I got to have that fried rice now! I wandered a few doors down to another restaurant whose miles-long menu I’ve browsed before but found nothing that tempted me. I figured I’d give their menu another look. Flipping page. Scanning page. Aha, fried rice!

I stepped inside and was pleased their air-conditioning was on full blast. Woohoo! Maybe this place ain’t half bad, eh? That was me trying to convince myself that I was making the right choice. They have a long list under Fried Rice too. Super hungry, I picked the one with the pork chop and omelet.

Now what could possibly go wrong with that, right? Wrong! Look at this. This was what they served me.

You just can't win

Ouch, what’s this? This can’t be my order. I don’t see any fried rice!! WHERE’S MY FRIED RICE???? I signaled the server over. “I ordered fried rice. This is not fried rice.” Silence. The standard 2-minute processing time it takes to mentally translate English to Mandarin. She disappeared and came back with the menu. Because sometimes it’s easier to just point than articulate.

Another 2 minutes of silence later, I finally figured out that the item I ordered said ‘rice’, not ‘fried rice’ but it was listed under the title page ‘Fried Rice’. If that even makes any sense at all!?!?! Obviously not to me. Because if I’d been the person creating the menu, this would never have happened. The horror and disappointment!

I stared at my plate for a lo-oong time. I have no idea how I’m going to eat this. First off, there’s this layer of thick sweet black sauce on the pork chop which I absolutely will not eat. So I scraped it all off. Every bit of it.

Second, everything on the plate is dry and disconnected. Something is missing here. Usually there would be an accompanying soup or gravy (even on the veggies) or something to pull everything together and make it presentable. Nothing! This just looks like something a kindergartener might’ve made out of playdough. Ugh!

*Big groan* Dear Food Gods, I hope you guys are having fun playing with me. First, no service. Now this. I just can’t win today, can I? You just won’t let me. Not only am I not getting my fried rice, I got this. Just look at it. How do I eat this? Seriously!

I’m not sure what I was more sore about – the fact that I didn’t get my fried rice or the fact that my order turned out to be these four arid, standalone things on a plate. Looking on the positive side, maybe their fried rice could’ve tasted worse than this, who knows? Now wouldn’t that be hilarious!!

The thorns must be laughing

The thorns must be laughing

How I ended up at, of all places, a durian restaurant, I don’t know. But yup, even the thorns must be laughing at me. While driving past one the other day, I recall my passenger having mentioned durians twice in the past week. She didn’t exactly say she wanted to eat them but in the Asian culture, many things are never said directly but often inferred from knowing someone well.

Oh yes, about the durian (pronounced dew-ree-ann). In case you’re wondering, it’s a fruit with a thick skin of thorns protecting the luscious seeded fruits inside. It’s a fruit like no other – you either love it or hate it. One whiff of that odor or fragrance (depending on how you view it) of rotten eggs is enough to put some people off forever and transport others to the edge of heaven.

The thorns must be laughing

I kinda think of it as an acquired taste. If you can get past the first 126 and a half possibly nauseatingly pungent mouthfuls, there’s a good chance you may just come to like it? Maybe even crave it? Thing is you won’t know till you try, and by then, it may be too late, your tastebuds may forever be doomed. Or captivated, who knows?

I used to like durians when I was a kid. But after returning from studying in the US, I was totally turned off it aka showed no interest, wouldn’t touch it for years. These days, I’m okay with it but it’s not a big deal to me. If it’s there, I’ll eat it. If it’s not, I’m not going out of my way, as is my attitude with most foods anyways.

So you could think of me as someone who wouldn’t normally give roadside durian restaurants a second glance. It’s too sunny and blazing hot to get out of the car, and frankly, I’m not particularly drawn to (to put it mildly) eating at places that offer scenic views of pails, garbage bins and yucky floors! Then there’s this thing about the sticky, messy business of eating durians in public which I’d rather not have to deal with.

Okay, so I turn to my passenger and asks if she wants durians for lunch, hoping she’d say no. She’s hesitant, but only because she knows me too well. Her answer isn’t clear so I infer it’s a yes. So I turn “excitedly” into the parking lot, hoping not to find a spot. But there it is, right there and I’m like, oh “lucky” us!!

I’m not sure if we’re there at the right time but it sure don’t look to me like there’re as many durians as I would expect. But that’s not the problem. One look at the laminated menu of the different varieties of the fruit and I’m stumped. A menu?! You gotta be kiddin’ me! I read and re-read the items. Apart from a couple of more famous varieties, I’ve no idea about the rest. Besides, all the fruits look the same so how do you tell?

Well, looks like we’re off to a great start already!

I discreetly try to blend in with the people milling around the glove-handed, knife-wielding sellers, hoping to glean some information to use in my own decision-making. Very quickly, it becomes apparent there’s not much information to be gleaned. Everyone seems to know what they want. So where does that leave me?

The thorns must be laughing

I look around at the sellers trying to pick one who looks the kindest and most likely to be patient with me. Ah yes, I see him! A skinny guy with glasses talking to a young man in front of me. Yes, this is the guy I want! He starts going on about the most expensive and raved about variety. And if you know me, you know I really don’t care about brand names.

I’m like, look bro, my brains are running on weekend mode so please spare me the 101 and just find me a fruit that’s bitter. and one that’s sweet for my passenger. and I don’t care which variety. Turns out to be a great decision on my part. He picks us some mighty fine fruits and soon, I’m flagging him down again for more.

The thorns must be laughing

What’s nice is that there’s a ready expert to select and open up the fruit for me. It’s definitely better than trying to pry them open yourself like we (not me) used to in the old days. Thankfully these days, the thorny work is part of customer service and a price you wouldn’t mind paying if you value your fingers.

Given a choice, I’d much prefer having durians drop from the sky like they always do but I’d say this experience has been somewhat bearable? Except for the ambiance, and the hassle of eating it in public (but at least plastic gloves and tissues are provided). Would I do this again? Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe, if I’m under duress. Unlikely, if there’s a choice. Probably not, if I can help it lol.

To Club Med and back

To Club Med and back

Hey, I’m back from Club Med. Finally found my way into what once used to be an exclusive club. These days, everyone and their pet emu wants in on a piece of the action, or inaction to those who truly understand what Club Med is all about. From Silicon Valley techies to Hollywood celebrities, everyone’s flocking there like ants to honey.

Indeed the Club Med I’m talking about has nothing to do with the fancy beach resort where you chuck your kids to resident daycare and happily dance off into the deep blue in your bikini. This is the other Club Med. Club Meditation, that is. A clever play on words for a retreat where you pretty much spend all of your waking hours in meditation, one of the central tenets of Buddhism.

While Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, famously switched off his phone at a 10-day meditation retreat, I chose a non-residential one instead. I figured if I can pull off one whole day of nothing but meditation, I might well be moving one step closer to enlightenment. Maybe. Hopefully.

So! I arrive at the meditation center bright and early. Eighteen minutes early, to be exact, as others are just beginning to trickle in. After checking in, I survey the large hall where thin cushions have been laid out neatly in rows. Okay, okay, I’m feeling all gungho already! Go me!

To Club Med and back

Image credit: depositphotos.com

For starters, we’re told to switch off our cellphones and place our bags on some designated shelves far away. I’m not married to my phone so I was quite happy saying “goodbye, phone, see ya later!” – a welcome chance to spare myself the daily chore of scrolling through and relentlessly deleting dozens of rubbishy messages and videos that I don’t even bother opening.

The day starts with a bit of chanting and brief instructions on meditation. No details are given about the day’s agenda except that we’re to observe silence throughout the retreat. We’re not allowed to speak. Okay, that’s easy enough. I’m probably more talkative on this blog than I am in person anyways.

At 11:30am, there’s a one-sentence announcement to proceed to the dining hall. Each person is allocated a box of simple vegetarian dishes over rice and a half cup of light sweet tea which I enjoy tremendously and wish I could get a refill (but no, no refills). As we eat, bowls of fruit are passed around to each table. I gingerly place 2 pieces of fresh pineapple and a banana on my box lid but pass on another fruit that looks questionable to me.

We’re encouraged to take a half hour to finish our meal, which is wa-ay longer than what we’d normally need to scarf down a meal this size. The point is to eat slowly, paying attention to what we’re eating. Which, of course, runs contrary to how we typically rush through a meal so we can move on to the next thing on our busy, crazy agenda.

As it turns out, it’s not that difficult to do and it feels pretty nice too. Taking my time to chew through each mouthful before refilling my fork and raising it to my mouth, I notice that the burst of flavors is much more distinct and I’m more aware of the taste. Hmm, this is interesting and you know what, I kinda like it!

Meditating for hours on end, however, is a whole new experience for me. I won’t say it’s easy but it’s doable. I went in without any expectations and I’m glad it didn’t feel like too much of a chore and somehow I didn’t even notice the hours going by. I think I did good (don’t you?) and for that, I’m happy. So yeah! or should I say, hooyah!

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Carrot at the end of the yawn

I’ll be honest. Grocery runs are getting to be a big old yawn. Things seem to be the same old, same old at the grocery store every week. I can think of grocery stores where each season brings new and exciting fruits, vegetables and products and where there’s always a yummy surprise waiting around the corner. Just a mirage, I tell myself, just a mirage, ain’t happenin’ here, just keep movin’, let’s get this over with.

The only bright spark in my grocery runs these days is lunch. Yeah, that’s right, at the very least, if nothing else, there’s that delicious carrot dangling in front of me as I run into the same old grocery dead ends. The thought of lunch inspires me to get my shopping done faster and if there’s self-checkout, you can bet I’ll be rushing over there versus the regular lines.

Once out the door, me and my shopping cart will be racing in the direction of food. Okay, so it’s obvious that a picky eater doesn’t have a whole lot of choices. What to eat, what to eat? Most times, to make life simple, I just go for the same thing. No point taxing my brains too much. I just wanna plant myself at a cool spot and chow down, know what I mean?

After eliminating a whole bunch of the things I don’t or won’t eat, there’s not much left really. But on occasion, I do get lucky and manage to assemble a small feast such as this. Freshly-made spring rolls, ondeh-ondeh (desiccated coconut-coated balls with brown sugar filling) and sushi, that’s a meal right there.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

Don’t worry, I didn’t eat all of this. I couldn’t if I tried nor would I want to try. Years of lunching with the Folks from Finance have taught me to do the math. If it works out cheaper in ‘bulk’, go for the ‘bulk’. This worked out even better because everything came in boxes that I can just chuck the leftovers into my ecobag and be on my way.

Though everything here was passable, I wish the spring rolls were less sweet and the ondeh-ondeh much less diabetic. As for the sushi, I’m not usually a big fan but these ones are okay because of the ratio of rice versus filling.

Carrot at the end of the yawn

These sushis are scarce, almost non-existent on wasabi, hence BYO handy-dandy wasabi! Sure, they do sell little wasabi packets at checkout but the portions are tiny and they somehow look stale and unappetizing to me. And that’s all, folks, as far as lunch is concerned. till it’s time for the next big ya-aawn!

Humanity at its best

Humanity at its best

As I watched the events around the Tham Luang cave rescue of the Thai soccer team and coach unfold, I began to realize that this was more than a miracle, that there was something mystical, maybe even spiritual about this whole thing (one of which was the fact that the water pumps only failed after the last person had been rescued and the remaining rescue crew were able to get out in the nick of time).

I also began noticing some pretty amazing things happening on many levels, things we see too little of these days. My observations are based on what I’ve culled from the news, of course and these are merely some of my thoughts.

Humanity at its best

It’s interesting to see how the kids and their soccer coach were a team from start to end. I’m inclined to believe they survived because they worked and stayed together as a solid team, leaning on each other through the entire ordeal. From all accounts, it was the coach who was instrumental in keeping everyone together but it also helped that the boys listened to him and followed his lead.

To me, it seems like they’re a family. We may not normally think of a family as a team but in actual fact, it is. Very much so. So why are there families pulling away from each other, showing little compassion or empathy towards each other and sidelining each other? Food for thought, eh?

Then there were the expressions of gratitude all round. In the first video of the team being found, you can hear the kids saying ‘thank you’ to the British divers without being prompted by anyone. In handwritten letters, parents thanked the coach for taking care of their kids, and the coach apologized to the parents. In hospital videos and the press conference, the kids thanked their rescuers and parents over and over.

What’s more amazing is that the rescuers in turn thanked the survivors for trusting them to pull off a successful rescue. I mean, getting a regular thank you from people is hard enough these days. What more for someone who’s saved your life to thank you for putting your trust and your life in their hands? And to dismiss their heroics as merely ‘putting their skills to use’ – wow, that humility! Man, this is so beautiful *cries*!

Then there were the thousands of random strangers who dropped what they were doing and came running from all over the world to help in any which way they could and I’m just going, wow, just wow. It didn’t matter what they could offer, they just rolled up their sleeves and figured a way to dive in (literally and figuratively) somehow, even risking their own life and limb. I really salute these people.

Those who couldn’t help directly in the rescue found other ways they could jump in. One lady collected the rescuers’ soiled clothing from the cave every evening and stayed up all night doing their laundry which she returned before the dawn of each new day of rescue operations. One man spent his days offering free rides to and from the cave site on his motorbike. Farmers allowed their crops to be ruined by water drained from the cave. So many unsung heroes who made sacrifices for a bunch of kids they likely don’t even know!

So yeah, I think these past weeks have shown us humanity at its best. Most days I don’t bother reading the news because it just gets too depressing and ridiculous sometimes. It’s been refreshing to look away from our daily fixation on food and material life for just a bit and redirect that energy instead to cheering for the efforts of our fellow human beings and praying for a positive outcome to this crisis. My faith in humankind has somehow been restored.

What’s dessert got to do with superheroes?

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?

I came across a tweet last night that reminded me of Thai food which I happen to love. Yup, like half the world out there, I’ve been sitting here obsessively refreshing my tweet feeds and mentally praying that the Thai cave rescue of the last 4 (out of 12) boys and their soccer coach will go safely, smoothly and swiftly.

So to keep that unstoppable finger off my left mouse button, I figured I’d distract myself and keep my spirits up at the same time by talking about my favorite Thai dessert. Yums.

Well, y’all know me, I’m not much of a desserts person. Never quite fancied how overly sweet most desserts are that’re out there. No, seriously, where do you find a dessert that isn’t diabetic?

And yet, on an unbearably hot day last year, I surrendered to the call of tub tim krob. That’s not the name of a person, mind you, though it does sound like that distant grand-uncle who ruffled your hair when you were six?

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?

Okay, okay, so I’ve been having a hard time with the name, calling it tum tim tom, tim tum rom, tim tom kob, no, that’s not right either! Hopefully none of these are vulgarities I may have let slip without knowing their meanings but you get the idea. I just couldn’t get it right.

Yet it’s one of the best things ever. Although tim tub krob looks as scary as your white-haired grand-uncle at first sight with that thick coconut milkiness, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on underneath that mountain of shaved ice – thinly sliced jackfruit, red and green rubies of water chestnuts and whatever else is in there, it’s all good.

What's dessert got to do with superheroes?

This is sweet but not grab-you-by-the-throat sweet. Having all those rubies inside helps cut through some of that sweetness. And of course, in weather like this, I love all things chilled and icy.

So then, back to the newsfeeds. It’s crazy to even try to comprehend what it’s taken to get to this point in a rescue that’s fraught with so many dangers and factors beyond human control.

What’s truly incredible and heartwarming are the stories of kindness, compassion and sacrifice, the many levels of brainstorms, tough decisions and planning, and the thousands of real-life superheroes who have literally emerged from out of nowhere in this time of need. Truly amazing!

Today is an important day in the rescue. They’re trying to wrap up the mission and get everyone out of there quickly and safely before the brunt of the monsoon. Okay, back to refreshing my feeds, sending positive energy and praying (join me, there can never be too many prayers for something like this).

Lockstep day

Lockstep day

I had a simple lunch today. Alone. All I wanted was to eat and absolutely not have to talk to anyone. The result of two mornings of dealing with organizations that specialize in runarounds, excruciating headaches and leg cramps. It’s beyond me how something so incredibly simple can become so insanely complicated??!

Anyways, there’s this cafe I go to that’s the perfect hangout. There’s nothing fancy about it. In fact, it’s plain, dull and rather dimly lit as cafes go, which probably explains why it’s so cooling inside. It has the feel of  a big cave, spacious and cool with ample angled corners and small spaced-out tables where you can sit and relax without feeling trapped.

Some simple noodles and a glass of cham (an ingenious concoction of coffee and tea) and I’m happy. These noodles aren’t that good but at least I have the peace and quiet to eat slowly and enjoy my book.

Lockstep

After lunch, I decide to take a stroll around the mall. No sooner do I get on the escalator when a young man with a backpack decides, at that same exact moment, to descend on that very same step and I’m like, what the heck is happening?!!

We’re squished together on one step when there’s like 35 other steps he could’ve picked. I give him the slanted eye as he continues to stand there like a bag of rocks, never once moving or turning his head. Okay, so maybe the poor boy needs his 20 seconds in the orbit of a mother, so sad for him lol.

At the top of the escalator, he turns right and I turn left (goodbye, my escalator friend) as my attention turns to… oh, nothing of interest in any of the clothing stores. I wander into Uniqlo for no reason and note that their current collection features jarringly obvious prints. Great but if I were to wear that, I’m guaranteed to run into 50 other people wearing the same exact thing! So no!

I walk around some more and wander, again for no reason, into Muji where everything is either gray, brown, white or black. Absolutely nothing wrong with that if I were feeling foggy but today, I’m feeling and looking like neon pink. So no!

And that brings me to the end of my nothing-interests-me tour of the mall. So what’s left? Not much except the grand old grocery store to scout for random veggies. I decide on avocados, pumpkin, bread… and after running the length of the vegetable aisle and finding only a pitiful selection, I’m forced to rummage through the organic section. Which, by the way, I find quite amusing.

As I’m coming out of checkout, another random young man falls into lockstep with me as he tries to get me to sign up for some credit card. Most times, this gets me slightly annoyed, especially when I can’t understand a single word of what they’re saying so my signature bored and beechy resting face is my unspoken answer right there.

Strangely though, this guy’s super cheerful, speaks English and refuses to be shooed away. So now even I have to smile when giving my standard answer – “No, no thanks”. Of course, he insists his card is like no other and that I simply must sign up now or forever regret it. He’s funny and frankly, I admire his enthusiasm. He’s prattling on like a train even as he tries to keep up with me. His is not an enviable job and I wish I could help him but the best I can do is tell him “No thanks but good luck”.

Some days, you run into random people that bring up question marks in your brain and other days, you run into someone that make you smile. I ran into both types today. Lucky me!

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