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Friday, August 31, 2012

Favourite Political Meme of the Day: Eastwood / Chair 2012

So many to choose from, but I like this one the best.


Best Time to Buy Fish at a Black Market? At Night, Of Course

Sometimes one finds the most interesting things just by wandering around a foreign city.
Case in point: My friends and I had decided to take advantage of the cool winter temps in Doha during the first evening of the 2010 new year by walking back from the re-invented tourist bazaar that is Souk Waqif to our gorgeous Sharq Village and Spa resort. We estimated it would take perhaps no more than 15 minutes along the corniche that overlooks the ever evolving city skyline, and we'd also pass by the two landmarks that are the quaintly retro Pearl and Oyster Fountain, and of course the beautiful I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art.
Museum of Islamic Art
But what we didn't count on seeing was a makeshift and semi-clandestine fish market that had seemingly materialized along one tiny section of the waterfront.  There were perhaps 15 fishermen who had laid down their wares in full glare of portable flourescent lamps, ready to serve their predominantly local customers in the most expeditious manner possible.   Unlike typical fish markets, the ubiquitous hagglings were done with minimum fuss and in lower decibels, and it felt like I'd finally experienced something authentic in a city that's determinedly cannon-balling towards its explosive no-holds-barred expansion goals. 

Doha city skyline, circa 2010
(All photographs by Weng Ho)

Thursday, August 30, 2012 Asian Brands Buy In To Buoyant Australia

Cool....I was quoted.

Asian brands buy in to buoyant Australia

Photo Essay: A Snowy Hour in Beijing

It's days like today that starts with gloomy clouds and zero wind, which are then followed in quick succession with heavy fog, intermittent rain, determined sun rays breaking through the cloud cover, and oppressive feels-like 50-degrees-Celsius humidity that I long for those whackadoodle cloud seeding, "weather modification" tactics used by China to induce snowfall. In 2009, I was in Beijing leading a media group when one such freakish meterological event occured. It was fascinating to experience the extremely rapid conversion from sunny dry skies to a blustery snowstorm which lasted for only an hour before everything started to melt away. Totally incredible mad science at work, and it was an amazing sight to witness and behold.  Here are just some of the pictures from that day, correction, hour.

(All photographs by Weng Ho.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Lobster Bar and Grill at Island Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong

I'm very loosely paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain when he wrote in Kitchen Confidential that one should always order a restaurant's specialty instead of calling up some obcure item that even the chef can't remember is on the menu.  Well, that just sounds like common sense to me - although I have been known on one occasion to order something stupid like french fries at a Toronto Chinese restaurant (well, half the blame should go to the owner for having that ridiculous item in the menu in the first place.)  

But I digress. 

My point with this preface is that when I recently lunched at the unpretentiously ornate and elegantly comfortable Lobster Bar and Grill, I heeded my inner Bourdain instinct and zeroed in on the restaurant's signature lobster bisque that has just the right touch of V.S.O.P. brandy in it, followed that up with my personal favourite starter of the super refreshing lobster tartare on cucumber with lemon yoghurt dressing, and finished it off with savoury grilled lobster with herb butter sauce.  I would've gone so far as to sample a lobster-inspired dessert but the chef wisely thought that would be overkill (and probably a no-no in the crustacean culinary world) so I happily settled for the softest, creamiest, liquer-soaked tiramisu instead, topped off with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

Happy hour certainly started early that day.

The blinged-out lunch buffet spread - laid on top of a grand piano, no less. 
Liberace would've been inspired.
Lobster Bar and Grill at Island Shangri-La Hotel, Hong Kong.  Telephone +852 2877 3838.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Road Trip: Farrington Highway, West Oahu

When it was confirmed that I would leave Hawaii, in all its multiple-rainbows-a-day glory, for the acrid clime of Bahrain, there was, aside from cramming all the surfing one could possibly do without morphing into Laird Hamilton, one road trip left to do.

The western part of Oahu has always been regarded as the wilder, less commercialized part of the island.  All the kitschy souvenirs, ABC stores and bikini-cheek-to-boardshorts-jowl of Waikiki might as well be on the moon when compared to the unspoiled beauty of Waianae and Makaha.  Now, the funny thing about Oahu is that one can't drive all the way around the island (well, not us run-of-the-mill civilians, anyway.)  There's a break in Farrington Highway on the northwest corner between North Shore (near Dillingham Airfield) and Kaena Point State Park.  One has to then approach this Leeward Coast via Highway 1 and drive north for 28 kilometers, past many public beaches and state forests.  Not that I have to, but I still can't decide whether my favourite views on this drive are of the Pacific ("I hope it is still as blue as it has been in my dreams") or of the magnificent Waianae mountain range with hundreds of ridges extending from its dramatic spine to create beautiful valleys and vistas.  Yes, it's always nice to have a choice as fine as this one.  Aloha oe.

Emma and me stopping to view the Pacific Ocean.
(All photographs by Weng Ho.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Jumbo Sunset

Photo taken from Aberdeen Marina Club.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Best Taiwanese Restaurant in London

Stumbled onto this narrow restaurant just off the main drag of London's Chinatown.  I wouldn't have given it a second look if I hadn't had to step off the kerb and almost get run over by by a cab, all because the sidewalk in front of the restaurant - simply named Leong's Legend II - was packed with loyal diners lining up to get in.  I tried the amateur critic's first line ploy of peering in the window to see what the patrons were having but it was too fogged up with the steam from the dim sum baskets and hot water cauldrons to see anything noteworthy.  But since I didn't really have any concrete dinner plans that evening, I joined the queue, and after 15 minutes of inching towards the hostess stand, I was directed to my table up a series of extremely squeezy stairwells all the way to the third and highest floor.

Leong's braised pork belly...possibly worth the flight to London alone.
The restaurant's interior was like something out of a low budget Shaolin movie set, with clunky stools and rugged wooden tables with uneven legs, set against gray stone walls and ceilings.  Service was brisk and efficient; it was amazing to witness the wait staff deftly maneuvering their way around the extremely cramped space.  Spartan lightbulbs over each table gave a distinctly impoverished Godfather vibe to the place but I liked how they illuminated the dishes on the table.  And man, those dishes were really something else.  Aside from the ubiquitous dim sum fare which were available all day and evening (the siu long bau and crispy shredded turnip were stellar,) there were also "Leong's Specials" to consider: ginger chicken with rice wine and sesame oil in soup, taro and preserved vegetables vermicelli soup with minced pork, and my personal favourite (see picture below) - the divine braised pork belly in dark soy sauce with rice.  Everything was so good that I did a first and returned 24 hours later to satiate my new cravings for Leong's home-made authentic Taiwanese goodness.   Dinner #2 did not disappoint either.  Am hoping I won't have to wait too long to come back for #3.

Leong's Legend II - 26-27 Lisle Street, Chinatown, London. Telephone +44 207 734 3380

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday Night at the Races

One of the things I love about living in Happy Valley is its upliftingly charming moniker; it makes me feel like I'm cohabiting with Teletubbies, Hello Kitty and the six (or will it now be seven with the introduction of Merida from Brave? God, I'm such a Pixar nerd) Disney princesses, surrounded by all things sparkly, sprinkled with fairy dust, and saturated in primary colours.

The reality is somewhat less cartoony but only by a smidgen.  Being home to one of Hong Kong's two race courses, and in this densely populated neighbourhood just a char siew pau's throw from Causeway Bay, Happy Valley is regarded as the centre of the universe (if the universe is mostly populated by  Chinese men wearing slippers and polyester shirts, with a death grip on their dog-eared, sweat-stained racing guides) every Wednesday, from September to July.  I know this because once every week, I sat amongst them on my tram ride home, watching them recalibrate, reassess and readjust their racing stats, before spilling out at the last stop near the racecourse entrance.  I'd always wondered what went on in that open-air mega-giga watt sphere, and on one humid Wednesday evening, I skipped my yoga class and headed for the races to see what the excitement was all about. 
A packed evening at the races - the scene that greeted me at the Public Grandstand.
Now, I'd mistakenly assumed that my no-makeup, hair scrungied in a knot, shapeless yoga gear would be a good cover amongst the senior XY racing brethren.  That was before I saw that the festive scene before me was more like an equine version of Mardi Gras, complete with costumed get-ups, live band performances, and attractive 30-something expats - some still in their banker-after-work uniform, some in relaxed Hamptons gear, and others squeezed into faux-leopard mini dresses with matching Sergio Rossi stilettos. And seemingly everywhere - on their hands, little cocktail tables, and the ground - were jugs and jugs of beer that one can buy from the makeshift Hoegaarden-esque tents peppered all over the public enclosure.  Suddenly, I felt like the night cleaner who had arrived too early for her shift.  
The "other" main attraction of the mid-week races.
But no matter, being relatively new in the city has its advantages, not least the anonymity it brings to oneself in a uber-social setting such as the one I found myself in.  I gamely made my way to the Parade Ring where the hardcore punters (no ties, loafers, and certainly no beer for these guys) were gathered to get a relatively close-up view of the next race's, well, racers, decked in their owners' colours.  And for the next hour, I had a heady time (even without a sip of Heineken) cheering on the steeds and their jockeys in two races right at the trackside.  I didn't bet a dime but I may well start carrying around my own dog-eared, sweat-stained copy of the racing guide next time I'm on the tram home.
Seeing the parade of the horses and jockeys before they head down to the start of each race
Eye-ballling the steeds
And they're off! 
Love the surreal background of the apartment blocks staggered on the hills surrounding the Valley.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Sweet Basil Thai Restaurant, Hong Kong

So I'd just returned to Hong Kong from a three-day trip in Bangkok and what do I do?  Head straight to Causeway Bay for my fixin' of some spicy Thai, that's what.  Frankly, I don't even see a reason for all the bewildered eye-rollings from well-meaning friends when I tell them of my craving that had charged forth less than 24 hours after I'd landed. Their logic fails to dissuade me - why should I stop eating a nation's signature dishes just because I'd just left it?  Good food is good food, so it doesn't really matter to me where, when, why or how.  And who's to say Hong Kong doesn't have its fair share of super authentic som tum, pad thai and kaeng khiao wan?  My UN appetite knows no geographical bounds.

So off I went to my current favourite haunt for the cuisine from the Land of Smiles that is Sweet Basil Thai Restaurant on the 6th floor of Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay. I'd first seen it a month back when I visited the only other restaurant on that floor - Domon Sapporo Ramen (it's awful, don't waste your time, appetite or money there.)  I remembered being super impressed by the speed in which the Thai restaurant filled up with appreciative patrons (while mine never got beyond serving three tables) and whatever dishes I could only enviously eyeball from where I was sitting looked and smelled fantastic.  And what I had last evening certainly did not disappoint.

Here are some of my dinner highlights:
An extremely spicy green papaya salad with the right amount of sour crunch
Pad Thai - the non egg-wrap version. I was apprehensive when it first appeared, thinking it was going to be all ketchup-y, but it didn't turn out that way at all - thank god.
Roasted duck in red curry with pineapple and
(I must admit, this is a first for me in this dish) lychees
Deep-fried tofu with long beans and basil
Fresh mango slices with black and white glutinous rice, smothered in coconut cream.
Absolutely and truly divine.
Sweet Basil Thai Restaurant - 6/F, Lee Theatre, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Telephone +852 2890 1993

Travelscapes: Sri Lanka by Kenneth Wong

These are photographs taken by my
gear-obsessed pal Kenneth Wong from his recent trip to Sri Lanka.
Loving the colours.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thanks for the Olympics Memories

What a momentous year for far.
Haven't always been smooth sailing,
but all that's now water under the bridge.
Photograph by Weng Ho.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Majulah Singapura, Indeed.

This is how I usually picture Singapore in my mind -
perpetually growing, constantly evolving, always charging forward.
Happy National Day to my Singaporean friends and family.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bite-Size Review: Waterfall Cafe at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore

You know, there are some weekend mornings when I just want something good for breakfast; something not too complicated, not too buffet-y, not at a faux-kopitiam, and certainly not anything gluten-free.  I'm talking pancakes, waffles (freshly made, mind you, not that frozen-then-microwaved crap,) pastries that have just leaped out of the oven, a good selection of hot beverages, and eggs....lots and lots of eggs, made every which way that God intended them to be made.  That's why when I was recently staying at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, I studiously avoided the legendary manic breakfast line at, well, The Line, and made a detour to its newest culinary kid on the block - Waterfall Cafe, tucked between the outdoor pool and the Hef-like grotto that features Flintstone-y rocks, cascading water features and contentedly plump koi.  
The new cafe is lovely.  Truly.  It's cheery, comfortable and chic.  The decor is what I'd like to call, using my limited interior design verbiage, mod-Mediterranean colonialist.  Yes, it's hard to imagine I just made that up.  The cafe has great ambience and the open kitchen, chatty chefs, wide counters, warm wood panellings, copper-hued ceiling fans, blindingly white louvre doors, full-length glass windows and super relaxed dress code make it an ideal place to read, chat, chill, peruse the organic spices for sale, and oh yes, eat.
Here's a selection of our breakfast highlights:
Freshly-cut papaya slices with lime / Long black

Sugar-dusted buttermilk pancakes with blueberries

Eggs en cocotte - with salmon
In-house baked danish with strawberries

Selection of organic jams and spices for sale
 Waterfall Cafe - Shangri-La Hotel, 22 Orange Grove Road, Singapore. Telephone +65 6737 3644
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