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Archive for the ‘Personal Observation’ Category


Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection”, a very very hauntingly beautiful piece which sends me into tears each time I listen to it. I performed with the London Philharmonic Choir in 2009. At the time, one of our sopranos had just lost her husband, also an esteemed member of the choir and we dedicated the concert to his memory. There was not a dry eye in the house when we were done.

Fast forward almost three years later, with me now living as a semi recluse in a quaint little stone town, I had the honour and pleasure to see my dear friend return to the University of Nottingham to perform with the University Philharmonia and University Chorus, the epic Mahler Symphony No. 2.

I will share with you a few precious snapshots of the University Park- which I had wanted to visit for ages (but in the past, lets just say I gave myself more excuses to not go, then to think of a reason to go.) but had yet to tick off my list of to-do things.

Blessed with beautiful weather, I took a couple of snapshots of the artfully landscaped grounds. Here are some for your viewing pleasure:

You probably must be wondering what on earth the poor child is doing? Well before I came, I painted the graduation photograph of my friend when he was conferred with a PHD, almost six years ago. Thought it would be a good idea to hold up the small painting against the actual background. Artists’ quirk if you like.  Also for someone who is rubbish at directions, I had to show this painting to the taxi driver to let him know where I was going. Yes, it may not happen to most people but I think the fateful taxi driver must have been scratching his head, wondering where I’d come from. A tardis maybe?

Picture perfect!

For me the trip was a real eye opener as I had been debating going back to full time study for a while now. Safe to say, I felt right at home on campus. I could picture myself living and studying here for more than a year, I think. It was quite a revelation for me personally- as I never really had similar sentiments when I visited other campuses. It was a very nice, warm and comfortable feeling.

I even had about 45 minutes to do a quick sketch of the iconic Trent building. It is unfinished so will probably make its appearance once I manage to finish it 🙂

Anyway lest we forgot the whole point of this blog post, back to Mahler. A quick whirlwind tour of Beeston and Nottingham on car, snapping photos along the way later, it was time for the concert.

I am not a music critic so will only describe the feelings which went through my mind as the performance unfolded. First and foremost, I had recently lost my grandfather so the principles which guided Mahler when he wrote this piece, death, life, suffering and resurrection struck a strong chord with me. I realised that one part of me will never get over not meeting my grandfather for the last time before he passed away. Perhaps this was how he intended it to be.

Being a singer myself I am partial towards the fifth movement. As the choir sang “Auferstehn, Ja Auferstehn” (Rise again, yes Rise again) I could literally feel the melody and words penetrating my core. I can completely understand why the second soprano who lost her husband had to take time out from the rehearsal before she could return to sing with us, a good couple of minutes later. Mahler is a true genius and this piece, every single time, certainly for me, will evoke emotions of pain, hope, resilience, acceptance, all mixed into one.

It was a beautiful beautiful concert. For me, I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Nottingham, and more importantly, to see my friend in concert. I did this in the same day. Secondly, Mahler’s Symphony No.2 is very special to me and always will be- for the reasons which you now know.

The fragility and unpredictability of life transcends into an art form which would touch anyone who has a spiritual soul. I am one of those people. As my brother used to say, I must be made of water as I get touched very easily. I like to think that this side of me is beginning to manifest itself a lot more as I get older. My mother was and still is at her grand age, bless her. We are who we are, I suppose at the end of the day.

 

 

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This is a very special 3.75 year old who thinks of me all the time- asking when she can see me. Since I started my new job I have not had the time (or regrettably, not made the time) to meet her. Today I did. Worried I was as kids tend to forget (or so I thought) you if you leave meeting them for too long. My heart melted when she saw me today, ran out of her buggy and threw herself into my arms and planted a huge kiss on my cheek. She knew it was my birthday and had saved the one and only chocolate cookie she baked in class to give it to me.

When I reached home i started the sketch above whilst savouring the precious cookie piece by piece. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I felt very guilty for not seeing her- and yet her innocent love for me knows no bounds. I am such a lucky person to earn the trust and love of a child whom I don’t see very often.

I guess as I grow older tiny little sentiments like this ignites the emotional side of me really easily. Did they not say that you get stronger as you grow older? 🙂

 

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Women certainly have come a long way. Holding up the other half of the fort as they say, since time immemorial.

Here’s to all the mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, lovers, kindred spirits who inject that little bit of magic into the lives of their loved and cherished ones every single day.

Let us love ourselves more as the day goes by. Understand what our needs are, what our goals are and work hard to achieve them.

Let us live every single day as if it were our last and strive our best to achieve all that we can. Je Ne Regrette Rien should be our motto in life.

And no matter how hard things seem to be right now, there is never a time for giving up. A rest and a break, maybe, but never ever give up.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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5 March- can’t believe it has been that long since I left everything behind to move to this island.

What a roller coaster journey it has been, with euphoric highs and at times, really depressing lows. I feel like a piece of play doh that has been shaped, pulled and stretched beyond limits which I never knew possible.

And I find myself becoming more assertive, articulate, self assured and at the same time, humbled by the opportunities that have come my way.

If our heart is the biggest muscle in our body, I can safely say that it has received one heck of a workout with the dumbbells and weights and crunches of life. 🙂 And grown stronger and bigger. Stronger, to deal with the challenges and hardships which test one’s endurance everyday. Bigger, to accept people for who they are and genuinely care for them, especially if they care about you with all their heart.

The silver lining is pretty clear.

 

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I had the most lovely weekend of birthday celebrations, catch up and lots of walking with my dearest friends. Ever since moving to London, early March has always been a highlight for me as I get to celebrate my birthday with two dear former colleagues, who have since become my closest friends. Work aside we have been supporting one another emotionally, pulling one another back to track when one of us starts to go “astray”, giving each other hints and tips in life, work and of course play.

I am indeed, a very fortunate and blessed person- to have friends like these who are my family away from home.

We went for a lovely country walk on Saturday near Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge. I always get excited whenever the sun makes its grand appearance and we are rewarded with breathtaking views like this:

And this:

I probably also had a little too much to drink over the weekend but it is a time to be merry.

How was your weekend?

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If there was anything which I had absolutely no confidence in cooking, it would be the humble Hainanese style steamed chicken, or locally known as “Pak Zham Kai”.

For years I resigned to the fact that I would never be good enough at cooking this dish. There is just so much to think about- the type of chicken to use, the cooking temperature, the ice bath, the chilli sauce, etc.

Yesterday, in line with my single track minded moment of goofiness I decided to give this dish a go. After all, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain (yummy chicken!).

This is my method and by no means is this meant to be the “Gospel”, but do try it out at home 🙂

What you will need:

Chicken

One 2kg free range chicken: I prefer free range as this dish is all about tasting the freshness of the chicken. Remember to check the size of your pot that you will be poaching the chicken in- all will be quite lost if you have a massive chicken with a small pot. It just would not do the job.

One big piece of ginger, sliced

Spring onions, sliced. Reserve some for garnishing

Salt to season

Whole white peppercorns, for the broth

Method:

  1. Clean the chicken inside out, pat dry and scrub the skin with coarse salt if necessary to get rid of any impurities. Rinse, pat dry and season with salt and stuff sliced ginger and spring onions in the cavity of the chicken.
  2. Bring a pot of water (about 4 litres) to the boil. Add salt to the water, peppercorns, ginger slices to season the broth.
  3. Gently put the chicken in the pot when the water boils and leave it for 15 minutes at high heat. Immediately bring the temperature down to simmer and let the chicken poach for 35 to 40 minutes, lid on. Skim away any scum that forms on the surface of the broth.
  4. Turn the heat off, remove the chicken (do not hold it by the legs, the skin may split. I used a hand held colander which is normally reserved for tossing noodles) and dunk it into another pot of ice cold water. If you do not have another pot, clean your sink, plug it and  use that instead.  This step is essential in order to stop the chicken cooking any further, resulting in taut skin and smooth flesh.
  5. Lift the chicken out of the ice bath after 15 minutes (if the water gets warm during this process, add more ice or more cold water), pat dry and put on the chopping board to rest.
  6. Once the chicken has completely cooled down, chop into 8 pieces and season with my version of the non-spicy oyster sauce/shaoxing wine dip. Soya sauce and sesame oil works just as well.
  7. Serve with rice. I did not make chicken flavoured rice as it is generally quite oily. Plain white rice will be just as good.

 

Chilli Sauce

3 tablespoons Sriracha Medium Hot chilli sauce (or the super hot variety, if you prefer)

Juice of one lime or lemon, vinegar will do as well

One level teaspoon of sugar

Two tablespoons of the reserved chicken broth

Chopped ginger and garlic

Method: Blend everything to a smooth consistency in the blender. If you do not have a blender, just chop the ginger and garlic really fine so that you don’ t bite into clumps of ginger or garlic in the sauce.

 

Soup (Optional)

Bring the reserved poaching broth to a boil, add Szechuan preserved vegetables and then bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn the heat off, serve garnished with fancy curly spring onions (chopped ones will be just as good) and sesame oil. If you want a bit more of a fancy taste, gently sautee some chopped garlic and shallots in a frying pan until fragrant. Once the garlic and shallots start to change colour, immediately remove from heat and put in a bowl to maintain its temperature and prevent it from cooking further. You can add a couple of drops of this oil to your soup.

Unfortunately I only have one picture of the chicken, whole, before I massacred it into different body parts ^^.

Hope you enjoy cooking this dish as much as I did!

The chicken rests having taken an iced cold bath, and a boiling bath before that!

 

 

 

 

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I finished reading “The Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom” in an hour yesterday. It was a fascinating read.

I shall not do a review of the book here as there are other biased and unbiased reviews which you can read on Amazon. I will however write about how I felt, after I read her book.

A lot of readers, and I risk the wrath of uttering a sweeping statement as I type this- a lot of which originated from the West, were appalled at the first few chapters of the book. In particular, Amy’s choice of words (calling her daughter garbage) and threatening to burn her daughter’s dolls if she didn’t practice piano etc. Some people stopped reading and started writing their review. Others read on but could not get these “inhumane” incidents out of their mind.

If you see past the emotional blackmail she imposed on her girls, the endless music practice, the strict regime, trying to “manipulate” or mould them to achieve what she deems as being worthy, at the end of the day, Amy Chua is a brave mother. Not many second generation South East Asian chinese mothers I know would firstly, stick to their guns of child rearing principles in a Western world, and certainly not every mother will readily admit that the tough love approach does not necessarily work on all children. She certainly saw a huge level of resilience from her youngest daughter, and I think it is tough to go through a daily tug of war with your own children knowing that at their age they probably hate your guts for what you have done. But Amy ploughed on. Every emotion she poured into her book, was as raw as the day the incident occured. Did she regret ruling with an iron rod? Not in the least. Did she find it tiring? Without a doubt, this method is not for the faint hearted. Did it bother her that her daughters may grow up to hate her? If it did, her sense of responsibility overshadowed any flicker of self doubt.

As my mom used to say, “it is because you are mine, so I take the extra effort to teach you and guide you. If you belonged to someone else, why should I even bother to say anything and risk having you getting upset and mad at me? Do you think I like my own children getting mad at me?”

As I grow older I am beginning to see a lot of sense in what mom says.

In my younger years, I could identify with Sophia, Amy’s eldest daughter on many levels. When mom occasionally blew her top off I would just wait for the storm to pass, and never fought back. I like to think that it was my love for my mother and that she must be correct at that point in time, and that I just needed to go with the flow and try and understand later why she said it the way she did. Therefore as a child, I was branded the mindless sheep by most of my relatives, the one who was easily manipulated, the one who would never say no to my mother even if it didn’t make sense.

Looking back, I just think- if I am ever to be manipulated, then let it be the woman who gave me life and the right to spend time on this Earth. Other people will try and manipulate you as you live life, for their own gains and advantages. You might as well learn from a young age.

But say as much as you like, I just had this blind faith that my own mother would never do anything in my detriment and yearned for her approval. She had a reasonably obedient daughter whom she could bring with her on social events and I had the opportunity to see the world in my own eyes. I cannot deny that this had some bearing on my social skills later on in life-why I feel comfortable speaking to people on many levels. The embarrassment and self doubt which I had for myself were put to test during these visits. As much as sometimes I dreaded these social events, I got used to it and soon enough, as they say- practice makes perfect. I have no qualms these days holding my own audience.

The relationship between me and my mom has distilled to that of a kindred spirit and we now chat happily like friends. I can only imagine what a relief it must be for her to be able to speak to me now like an adult, who understands her point of view. However, old habits do die hard- she sometimes still worries about me like I am a little child, but I can deal with that. It is after all, a very welcome luxury for me, living so far away.

Like any other South East Asian Chinese mother worth their salt, my mother understands me inside out and knows that emotional blackmail can be a very good tool. These days I try and reason with her. I even find it mildly amusing as well that I have to “pacify” her on certain issues. I suppose, you could say that having spend more than three decades being her daughter I should by now know her inside out as well. (I wish..)

The other thing about most Chinese parents and mothers is that they are never good at expressing their inner thoughts and feelings. Which can be a bit of a bother when you are trying to understand them from their point of view. On this point I feel fortunate because my mother says whatever comes to her mind. There is no hidden agenda- all I have to do is to listen and understand where she is coming from.

I can see what my friends mean by “having a child changes your life completely”. The suffering you go through to bring them into the world, the nurture and care you provide, the stern words of wisdom you try and impart, the pain of having to see your kids hate your guts when they do not see your point, and the courage to plod on even though WWIII probably is about to take place in your house- perhaps such a concept is comparatively alien in a Western world. Asian moms have been told that they take things too personally, take things too hard.

But, as my wise mother said “If I cannot get personal with my own flesh and blood, what else can I be personal about?”

Indeed. There is no right answer to child rearing. Having a child is for many, an emotional decision. Why would you love someone so unconditionally? Why would you allow a child to hate you when you are trying to discipline them? Why would you let them leave the nest and establish themselves in a realm you now find difficult to grasp? Why do you allow them to take you for granted, again and again?

So Tiger Mom, Amy Chua- I salute you. For all the negative reviews and the hostile television interviews that you were subject to, I personally believe that what you did, you truly did it for your girls. Speaking as a working adult who could relate to Sophia when I was her age, I can promise you this- for all the hating and screaming and tears on their pillows feeling indignant at what you subject them to, they will love you with all their heart. It is not Stockholm syndrome (she wrote this in her book). It is gratitude that you showed them what life is about and how life can sometimes be unforgiving. And most importantly, you did not allow them to have any glimpse of self doubt or self pity. You pushed them along, and they will look back at their achievements and gasp and gawk in awe. They will say “Did I really do that? If I can do that, I can do anything!”

Because- at the end of the day, even when no one believes in you as a human being, when no one believes that you can actually achieve something, you, as a responsible individual for your existence, must never ever lose faith in your abilities.

I rest my case 🙂

 

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