Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shop like an Australian...

I have just received an email from a cost-conscious Singaporean student from my old kampung, asking me to help keep her grocery budgets in check. Hmm. Where do I start? First of all, here are couple of tips on frugal living to consider, and you'll be right, mate. One caveat: Go through these at your supermarket to make sure they break new ground for your menu-planning. If not, it will just be another expense on the monthly tally and getting extra funds from Mum and Dad's ATM.

Think like a frugal foodie: Being a frugal foodie is easier with strategies such as these for the supermarket and kitchen. And can also save you enough money for an extra flight home to enjoy the hawker food you missed so much.

Shop like an Australian: Do not shop like Mum back home in Singapore. You can particularly get anything under sun in the Singapore supermarkets. Unlike Australia's strict quarantine regulations, they are able to source food items from anywhere in the world or any seasons. Buy fruits when they are in season and buy perishable items — such as fresh produce, bread and deli meat — more frequently. Inexperienced shoppers can unintentionally blow a budget by buying items you don't need or buying the wrong quantities or products of the items you do need. It's not malu (shame) to check out with a banana or a tomato at the grocer shops or supermarkets.You need not have to buy the whole 1kg bag, by buying in smaller quantities, there is less chance of waste.

Play the game like a pro: Saving money at the supermarket is skill you can learn. Take time to compare prices. And multiple-stop shop. Different stores are going to offer different prices on canned goods, meat and produce. Check the weekly supermarket's flyers in the letter- box for their specials.

Making the grade: Even without attending a single economic tutorial or lecture! Have on hand both cheap and higher-end grades of ingredients such as balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spices. You can almost always substitute in less expensive meat, cheeses, nuts and fishes for costlier versions. Cook with the less expensive stuff. You can wow your mates with a splash with the costlier condiments for drizzling, vinaigrettes, or when the flavor features more prominently.

Do your home work: You think you can escape from Mum's daily reminder since coming here to study. No, you are mistakenly wrong! You can't go out to shop without finishing your homework! Take a few minutes every week to plan and write out your meals. Without planning, you spend more time at the kit ai tiam, spend more money than you budgeted for, and may end up cooking more food than is needed. Yes, your mum is right.Have you finished doing your homework?

Don't shop hungry: Last but not least, a basic shopper's sutra that can't be repeated often enough. Never go shopping on an empty stomach. It has a way of magically overfilling a shopping trolley.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

About half a century ago, as a young child, I would listened to my maternal grandmother reminisced about her own journey back (balek kampung)to China. She talked about how she endured the month long journey on the Chinese junk boat that plied along the coast of Vietnam, the reassuring sight of the dense forest in the distant shoreline until seasickness overcame all on board when they sailed into the eye of the monsoonal storm that would whip waves "that rose hundred of feet" in the South China Sea.I do not know how many times she had made her journey home. But who would blame her, except her branch of relatives in her own village, for not making the obligatory journey home as a frequent happening during her lifetime.
Today,that same route would take you across to any part of Southern China from Singapore, on a regional airplane in a matter of hours.
It kept striking me since my last balek kampung that if I compared my feeling to those earlier immigrants in Singapore. I might not be surprised to find the same sentiment running in their hearts.
Homesickness is a part of it, but something more seems to resonate." Do you feel at home in Singapore or Sydney?" I was asked almost by everyone I met and I answered them in almost precisely the same way. I like to returning to my old country to search for my ancestral home, my old schools and places that still cradle my dreams, stroll along Geylang and Chinatown, reassured by the familiar sounding names of the streets and the facades of buildings, that Singapore was my island home after all.
But everything in the old country had changed. I felt crowded, disoriented even after the pain of assimilation and some reinforcement of my besieged identification in the first couple of days after arriving in Singapore. Even the food tasted wrong!

And it wasn't until the plane bringing me back to Sydney,and through the porthole windows, I glimpsed the orange terracotta roofs, the bridge and the opera house that I finally understood Sydney was after all, my one true home.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Appeal For Your Help

Hi everyone,
I've just heard from Uncle Phil, about the plight of a teenager in Singapore, who was involved with an accident and would now need continual financial support.

Here's the article that appeared in The New Paper on 19 Oct 2008.

And here's an appeal blog that was recently setup by the boy's father. They must be in need of help desperately now.

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of such cases in Singapore. We can't help everyone, but let's help someone.

I'm wondering if there's something we can do to help him for the longer term. Perhaps something that can generate some kind of regular financial assistance.

Thank you!

Hong Wee

Friday, January 15, 2010

Have we gone bananas over bananas?

It saddened me to read in the Sydney Herald last week, that our obsession with perfection is resulting in the destruction of one third of Queensland's banana crop, because the fruit is deemed too straight, too small or not yellow enough.It also stated that each year 100,000 tonnes of bananas considered sub-standard are chopped up and spread over banana plantations as fertiliser. The major supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, which buy 70 per cent of Australian bananas, reject fruit that is the wrong size, an imperfect shape or discoloured. And it is also reported that the Australian Banana Growers' Council said bananas must meet very particular length, girth and colour specifications before Woolworths and Coles take them. But shoppers are also to blame, leaving inferior bananas on the shelves in favour of the better looking ones. Popular consumer's culture present bananas as being yellow with a distinctive curved shape, must be blemish free and picture perfect in shape and size, in which is impossible to achieve without this horrendous wastage. Like shopping for all other fruits, customers, given the choice between fruit that is bruised and fruit that looks pristine, will choose the pristine fruit. But we've got to shift the paradigm in how we look at buying fruits in the supermarket, unlike most fruits, bananas get sweeter and softer after being harvested from the tree. It is better to buy them when they are still firm, with a green tinge at the stem , they are less prone to bruising at this point. They can be further ripen home by wrapping loosely in newspaper and keeping in a airy place at room temperature.Contrary to popular myth, bananas don't go off if refrigerated, chilly does turn the skin black but it halts the ripening process. Do not throw them away even the skin has turned black. Peel the blacken skin away, if the flesh is still white and slightly soft, you'll still have a perfect banana. Here is a simple recipe if you have some forgotten and over riped bananas in your fruit basket at home.
Kuih Kodok Recipe:


1 1/4 cup plain flour.
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 ripe bananas
3 tbsp sugar
2 cups oil
Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a mixing bowl. Mix the salt and baking powder into the flour and sieve.Stir in the flour into the mashed bananas and mix well to form a soft batter. Heat oil until hot. Use a dessert spoon to drop tennis ball size batter into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown. Drain fritters on paper towels and serve hot with a dollop of ice cream.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Balek Kampung

As I stepped onto the travelator leading to the immigration checkpoint with other passengers from a 7hrs flight from Sydney, I wonder what three decades of working and living away from Singapore have done to me. How will I feel to be back home again, even though the last "balek kampung" was only 11 months ago. I am back again this time, to attend a nephew's wedding. What if I have to ask this embarrassing question at the family gathering, "Who are your parents?" in order to know whom they belong to my siblings.
I am still familiar with the hot humid air that greeted me when I left the air-conditioned airport terminal building to board a taxi; and the unmistakable Singlish spoken in the queue; so is the aromatic smell of the local food that wafted through the hawker stalls adjacent to the wet market, on the next day.
But much has changed in the 30 odd years, I come to realize that most of me remembered only the dream-like visions of the past I grew up in, and the nostalgic feelings of the bygone days of my childhood, half remembered, half imagined still come to the surface, despite the ever changing skyline of modern Singapore. To be continued...
If you post a comment in my blog, please post it in the latest posting even if it refers to my previous posting. I have lost some of your comments as I have difficulty finding them. Cheers.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Hi Everyone,
My family and I'd like to wish each and every one of you a safe, healthy, happy and prosperous new year.