Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: January 2012

My cousin J is the proud owner of these three sets of miniatures of Hong Kong cuisines. Since I have been posting pictures of real food here for a long time (for example, 2M* dim sum lunch), how about some plastic food for a change.

Dim sum, first.

They are all placed in a display case – there was nothing to indicate the scale unfortunately. Unlike those displayed in thw windows of Japanese restaurants which are life size (or even bigger to impress potential customers) – trust me, these are indeed very small.  Of course, the dim sum cart and the girl are not made to the same scale as the dim sum.

Other than the teacups, the bamboo baskets are most convincing.

Traditional banquet – 11 main course dishes, 1 dessert, 1 plate of oranges. Notice the folded napkins. Details everywhere.

The menu written in cursive chinese is impressively miniaturized and it is legible. You can use it to figure out the dishes.

The roast pork and roast chicken look a bit burnt.

Hong Kong-style cafe. Afternoon snack menus.

Check out real examples of these casual dishes at a congee and noodle shop that we visited in 2011.

Breakfast menu. The clay pot rice with pork chop and fried egg is obviously misplaced.

Ok. People, you must think I have nothing better to post.

I am getting hungry …

There is nothing more inviting in a frigid winter or a lunar new year feast than a hotpot 火鍋 ?   Known also as a steamboat as my Malaysian or Singaporean friends might call it or a fondue locally. While in the US, we had one made in Japan and the pot consisted of two compartments. Soups with different flavor could be heated in the same pot.  We used it for many years but had to give it away when we moved since 110 V appliance will not work here in Europe.

Our new hotpot is German (see switch panel). It is prettier and sturdier than the one we had. Shiny stainless steel, vented glass lid and a hot plate for grilling simultaneously.

The Swiss will use it for cheese fondue as it came with the long-necked forks for bread.  But it also came with wired baskets for Asian style cooking.

Unfortunately, it only has one cooking section – only one soup base at a time.  But the grill plate offers a whole new dimension – bulgogi ?

Our first meal was a hotpot with a kimchi-based seafood broth – we just started with tofu, daikon and chinese cabbage … then sliced meat … Yummy.

We improved our choices of food in our subsequent feasts to include scallops, baby bok choi, prawns, chinese black mushrooms, etc (can’t wait to eat, hence the messy photo, oops).

The meat was bought from Migros already sliced and labeled as Fondue Chinoise – the Swiss fondue culture apparently include Asian-style hotpot (some adventurous Swiss must have thought years ago – hey, we have the equipment already, why not swap out the cheese and put some spicy broth in the pot).  They like this concept so much that the local supermarket sells packs of sliced pork, beef, veal, and even horse meat, single variety or mixed. While Asians like to put many different stuff (including innards) into a hotpot, I have yet to see horse meat.  One can also buy packs with chicken and/or turkey.  The quality of the meat is superb – very tender and no fat! Regarding fat content, the Swiss taste diverges from the Asian preference (the more marbled the better). The Swiss also sliced the meat a bit too thick – it is really more suitable for sukiyaki than shabu-shabu.

Wishing all viewers a prosperous year of the Dragon.

恭喜發財 身體健康 財源廣進 心想事成

Here are some pictures we took last year when we spent Chinese New Year in Hong Kong and Macau (where firecrackers are legal).  A highlight of the visit during Lunar New Year was the flower market in Victoria Park (福 posters below) – go here to read about the flowers and here about the street food at the market.

Feliz Ano Novo Lunar – Kung Hei Fat Choi.

Lantern installation in front of the Ruins of St Paul (Ruínas de São Paulo, 大三巴牌坊)

Decoration in a mall in Hong Kong.  The more elaborate decorations we saw were in the Macau casino hotels, for example, see my earlier post on the MGM Grand and Lion dance.

For the first time, I had a haircut just before the new year. To cut one’s hair is an old-fashioned new year tradition advocated in the almanac. In my case, it happened by chance because my barber was fully booked the week before, I was not even thinking about it. With divine intervention, this must mean good luck for the new year.

We are off to Las Vegas this year in a week’s time. I hear the city and hotels put on quite a show for the Chinese folks (many of them enjoy gambling) at this time. Come back in a few weeks to see the photos.

This is coincidentally my 280th post  … 2 (easy) and 8 (fortune) are good numbers … now I must try my luck in Vegas.

In December last year (2011), I had two very short business trips each involving a stay at an airport hotel – here is the scenery or the lack thereof at my hotels.

The first was in Amsterdam and our conference host chose this Park Plaza as a venue. Although it is supposed to be an airport hotel, it is actually about half way between Schiphol airport and the city of Amsterdam. There is a business park next to the hotel with a maze of canals. Sue joined me after the conference and we stayed in central Amsterdam (See earlier post).

Views from my top floor room window.

The Netherlands is so flat.

My second trip took me to Canada the following week and I transited in Toronto with an overnight stay.

Views from my 11th floor room window.

I can see the runway but did not hear any plane noise.

What a charming neighborhood!  There must be a conference center nearby. Toronto is also very flat.

I don’t know if it is my point-and-shoot camera lens but I think I can see the Earth’s curvature in a few of the photos!

The De Hortus Botanical Garden is apparently the oldest botanical garden in the world, being founded in 1638. It received many of its more exotic plants from the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th century (this might explain the image of a ship on the shield, see left side of the gate).

It claims to house on its 1.2 hectacres about 4000 species (6000 plants), which is roughly 2% of all plant species known to man. Given the size of this garden which is not huge (and miniscule relative to the land surface of Earth), this could be the place on our planet with the highest diversity of plant life. Artificial biodiversity it is, but nevertheless an important one. There must be a lot more plant species that we have not yet recognized.

There are seven greenhouses and a shop. The main entrance to the garden and the shop are humble and un-commercial, a bit unexpected given the amount of touristy publicity it receives in brochures. They could definitely do better with the shop – there was hardly anything interesting to buy, unlike the Van Gogh museum. I do not remember seeing any crown jewels or any specimen of palm being marked as a crown jewel.

It was December and many of the plants had lost their leaves and resembled a scattering of dry brown sticks.  Some are not visible above ground, its presence only recorded by a plastic label next to a little disturbance in the soil. The pond was dark green – no sign of life. The giant leaves of what I presume must be lotus in the pond were used as ground cover to protect something. I can imagine what the place would look like in spring or summer.

For one of the critically endangered, it stays behind bars out of the reach of any rare plant snatchers or lovebirds who like to declare their affection on tree trunks. To the uninitiated me, it looked a bit like a Christmas tree or a source of palm fronds for Easter.

The greenhouses are wonderful. Below is the palmhouse.  This picture is taken from an elevated walkway inside the palmhouse. Many different sizes and shapes.

Another walkway, this one in the subtropical greenhouse.  My glasses and camera lens was completely fogged up when we entered the tropical greenhouse. The desert greenhouse was nice, dry and cool and it had the most unusual looking plants.  Some of them – I have seen in a greenhouse in Neuchatel where they had a special collection of plants from Madagascar.  I should do a post on these weird looking plants later.

There was a greenhouse full of butterflies. While there are lots of them, I can only see four different species.  I wonder if there is a biological reason for not having a greater diversity in the collection.

They are fluttering everywhere, feeding on flowers, cut fruits, or what I think must be some sugary water in little cups placed in the middle of a printed flower. I wonder if the butterflies are attracted (or fooled) by the print, or it is just really for the visitors.

This species is remarkable -part of the wing is transparent. Other than the lens in our eyes, I cannot think of any higher land animal whose body parts are transparent.

They also had a display case where they kept the caterpillars and rows of pupa.  I guess if the timing was right, we could have witnessed the emergence of a butterfly from its pupa.

I would like to revisit the garden in a warmer season. This place reminds me of Brooklyn Botantical Garden.  At its location surrounded by brick houses in a big city, this place resembles a cute neighborhood garden. The collection and its history has a lot of potential – it could use a bit more entrepreneurial spirit to make it an even better institution of the city.

Amsterdam is historically famous for its tulips and it is one of the major centers of horticulture (which explain in part why the conference I attended was held here).  To extend the plant theme of my visit, but with very little time, we briefly visited the flower market (Bloemenmarkt) and De hortus, the botanical garden (next post).

The flower market opened in 1862, floats on the Singel canal between Muntplein and Koningsplein. The row of windows on the right bank of the canal above is the back of the market.

Unbeatable varieties, freshness and prices !

Riots of color.

I have never seen those green/purple flowers (below) before – they look like those decorative cabbages/kale that are planted in the winter, except that these are bouquets.

Tulip bulbs are sold with a picture of the color of the flowers – wow, the famous Black Tulip !

Just imagine if the signs are misplaced or the bulbs are mixed up by accident. It would be a surprising mess for those who plant their garden by color. May be that is the reason why they put  these “Don’t touch” warning signs in five languages at the very front – perhaps the market owner is really worried about mixing, and not people dropping or damaging the bulbs. Or may be the oil on our fingers will stop the bulb from germination, I don’t know.

Roses are red …

Continuing with our weekend tour of Amsterdam – which is well known for its nightlife.  Above is the largest department store (De Bijenkorf, literally the beehive in Dutch) in Dam Square, across the street is a performer swallowing flames in front of a Christmas tree and a crowd of tourists.

There are apparently lots of South American steak houses in (at least) the touristy areas of Amsterdam – mostly Argentinian. I wonder why we did not see any Dutch steak houses – after all, there must be lots of cow here given the amount of cheese the Dutch produces.

The South American influence continues … there was even a Chinese-Surinam restaurant!  I would like to have tried it but ate dinner already when we walked past the place. This place is near the beginning of Warmoesstraat.

The Chinatown of Amsterdam is central, old and inhabited mainly by Cantonese.  This restaurant Wing Kee on Zeedijk was written up by a local Chinese newspaper as an old stand-by for Chinese settlers and visitors. We had some noodles there before leaving for the airport.  The staff and ambiance definitely reminded me of those eateries that I frequented in London during my student days.

Next to Chinatown is the red light district, famous for the scantily-dressed girls who offer themselves in neon-lit windows.  Below is Casa Rosso on OZ Achterburgwal, the default safe-for-tourist erotic entertainment establishment of Amsterdam.  There seems to a crowd outside of it, the few times we walked passed.

A weird sight in the red light district is the swans and ducks that loiter in this section of the canal. Presumably, they know there are lots of visitors in this part of town at night or the water there is warmer, who knows.   But no one was feeding the swans – after all who will bring bread crumbs at night to the red light district ?

This is the entrance to the red light district, looking down Oudebrugsteeg. We stayed at the Radisson Blu in the red light district – it is on a quiet street but the location is really excellent since every thing of interest in central Amsterdam is within walking distance.

Another famous thing about Amsterdam is the coffeshop, which is not to be confused with a  cafe.  They do serve coffee but most patrons go there to consume cannabis and mushroom which are openly sold.  The varieties and accessories on display and the subculture – is unique to Amsterdam.  Below is the Greenhouse Effect coffeeshop on Warmoesstraat.

The red light district felt somewhat safe with bright neon everywhere, almost carnival-like and not seedy – despite the abundance of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll on offer.

A popular chain of late night fast food stores – Chipsy King. Haha.

We spent a weekend in Amsterdam in December last year after my business meeting.  Neither one of us had visited Amsterdam recently and with only 2 days – we started with a canal boat tour of the city – the best way to see this place properly and leisurely. It was sunny but much colder than we expected.

We started the tour near Ronkin, headed down river Amstel (Binnenamstel), and turned into the canal Herengracht.

One of the “skinny” footbridge – a look alike of the Magere Brug.

Near the “Golden bend” at Herengracht where many of the houses had a wider facade facing the canal. Compare these with those below.

I hear that on average, one car per week plunges into the canal. I can imagine someone doing parallel parking in the dark and misses … (on certain stretches, there are no curb!)

Because the buildings are narrow, the stairs are even narrower, the hook at the top of the buildings is used to hoist furniture up and deliver it through the window.

There are bikes everywhere and they are a menace to pedestrians. It is a bit like having NYC messenger biker multiply by 1000’s on narrow streets a few feet from water.

The facades of the buildings are so varied and appealing to look at – if I have the time, I would photograph or even draw all of them (comme Michel Delacroix) – someone must have done this for the entire Amsterdam before.

House boats.

Our tour boat ventured out to the harbor via the Central Station, pass the custom house (see above) and the VOC ship. Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – the United East India Company is reputedly the first multinational that issued stocks, it had a 21 year monopoly on Asian trade (this ship is a replica).

Just to the left of the VOC ship in the photo above and in the photo below (please ignore reflection) is NEMO, a science center built by Renzo Piano.

Every year in early January, many of us are thinking about new year resolutions. What happened to last year’s ?

Since this is the first post of 2012, I will indulge a bit on this exercise here. The graphic above and one at the end are borrowed from the web site of Alain de Botton, a writer who applies philosophical concepts and ideas from literature to address issues of modern living in his books. Last year, I came across one of his book – “Status Anxiety” (here is an extract) – in a small collection of English language non-fictions in our local library. Didn’t get to finish it. Although it is not strictly speaking a self-help book, his analysis is well reasoned and the expositions can be helpful in provoking interesting thoughts.

English edition cover (above).  I might pick up a few of his books in 2012, such as …

Alain de Botton started an educational institution in London called the School of Life. It is running a three-day course (starting on 3 January)  which purports “to give you the chance to step outside your daily existence and think productively about your strengths and weaknesses, values and priorities, goals and dreams.” It aims to supply ideas to help one find answers to some of these questions:

  • How can we make our lives more fulfilling?
  • How can we enjoy better relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and most of all ourselves?
  • How can we best negotiate the challenges of modern life, whilst ensuring we stay true to our core values?
  • How can we make the most of our potential, and also understand our limits?

Is this cheesy self-help mumble jumble? I am curious.