Welcome to the Eat, Shop, Play, Love blog. This is a writing experiment that aims to lend a voice to the millions of Asians around the world who have left their native countries to live their lives in a different place, for whatever the reasons may be. Read the authors' profiles here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cruisin' Canada: Of Coves, Caves and Birthday Cake

This summer, Una Ragazza decided to abandon her long-held beliefs that cruising is for AARP members. A ship was leaving north of the Intrepid here in New York, and she planned a birthday surprise for Un Ragazzo that involved lots of eating, shopping, playing, loving... and eating.

Enjoy her first -- and slightly wonky -- attempt at making a Prezi presentation on her first American cruise.

Oh Canada! Our home and lovely land (for a week)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Una Ragazza on Love: Home is Where the Heart... (Part I)

Growing up in Chinatown in Singapore was a busy, noisy and colorful affair. My life revolved around a fascinating two-block radius in the neighborhood of Telok Ayer, meaning "bay water" in Malay.

Learning to bid at a neighborhood charity auction with Ah Ma
At the front of our shophouse was Ah Gong’s stall of immaculately cut fruit and crates of Coca Cola and Fanta bottles. Beyond that, to the left, the five-foot way (shophouse corridor) led to my favorite hangout, the neighborhood mama shop, where I spent many, many afternoons deciding the best way my 15 cents should be divided among the large array of candy, gum and kiam-sng-tee (“salty, sour and sweet” preserved fruits). 

As a child, I liked my orange peel salty, sour and sweet

If I ventured a little further west, I could lean against the gates of Chongfu Primary School as I unwrapped my sweets and admired the five-storey-high building, the tallest structure known to me at age five.

Chongfu: The big school on the block
Opposite the school was Thian Hock Keng, the oldest Hokkien temple in Singapore that was dedicated to the Taoist goddess of the sea and patron of sailors. I remember the sale of flowers, incense and food offerings outside the temple, and the giant buses carrying tourists in funny hats and giant black boxes slung around their necks. They often stopped by Ah Gong’s shop to buy a soft drink, where they paid his tourist price of “wahn doll-ah.”

Thian Hock Keng was built with donations from Chinese immigrants grateful for safe travels from the motherland
To the right of our shophouse was the focal point of the neighborhood -- a coffee shop fronted by an amazing muslim-food stall that sold fried chicken, lontong (curry rice cakes) and nasi lemak (creamy rice with chicken, chilli and anchovies). The coffee stall was at the back of the shop, where I used to sit and watch the uncle prepare my breakfast of milo, half-boiled eggs and roti kahwin (toasted bread  lathered with egg-jam and butter), which he occasionally  scrapped with a small metal  knife if he’d left the bread on the grill for a little too long.

The cross-generational appeal of half-boiled eggs and coffee-shop coffee
The shop also housed a delicious economy rice stall, which was a local concept of rice heaped with your choice of meat, vegetables, egg and tofu. My sister and I frequently ordered our favorite szechuan vegetables, pork cutlet with a lobster-red sweet sauce and tofu with minced pork, which the proprietor delivered directly to the dining room behind our fruit stall. Lunch before afternoon school was always tasty and satisfying.

Finally, across our shophouse was a mosque -- which I later learned  was our landlord  -- and Telok Ayer Green. The latter may be the tiniest park  in Singapore, but at that time, crossing it felt like an exhilarating excursion that would literally bring me to the edge of my childhood world.

In the 30 years since I'd left, Telok Ayer Green has been spruced up to include bronze statues of coolie immigrant life in colonial times
In the mid 1980s, due to urban renewal plans, our entire family and all our neighbors were uprooted and relocated to other parts of the island. Back then, I was a pre-teen who was growing up fast, and eager to see a new world. I could always come back to visit, I told myself.

Years went by and I would go on to live in many different neighborhoods around Singapore and within Europe and the United States. During this time, Telok Ayer underwent massive transformation to scrub away its grittiness and increase its tourist appeal.

When I last visited in 2011, my beloved shophouse had been turned into a little food court, flanked by a Korean eatery and an espresso cafe. Office workers from the nearby skyscrapers were pouring onto the street during the lunch hour, fighting for space alongside the many tourists seeking proof of the co-existence of a temple and mosque on my narrow little street.

Despite the gentrification, Telok Ayer remains the ‘hood where my heart is, the place that I believe most shaped the person I am today

I never thought I’d feel so strongly about anywhere else I’d ever live. Until a recent move to my third neighborhood in New York.

Ah Gong and his giant homemade starfruit juice strainer at the back of our shophouse

Telok Ayer the way I will always remember it
(to be continued)

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[Some pictures taken from the Internet]

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lady J on Shop: Buying second-hand

I’ve always had this belief that “One’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The concept of buying second-hand goods sounded a little foreign to me when I was growing up. If the shelf-life of our household equipment comes to an end, we simply buy new ones to replace. And what do we do with the old ones? We sell them to the neighbourhood Karung guni man. Same goes with our newspapers and magazines. We just bundle them up and pass them on to the Karung guni man who gladly takes them in exchange for a couple of cents.
The resident Karung guni man in the 80's

What’s Karung guni? It’s a modern form of rag-and-bone men that visit residences door-to-door. They used to be pretty common in Singapore in the 80’s and early 90s. These days, there are a little of a rarity but I still spot some of them making their rounds in my neighbourhood.
So what do they do? They make their visits in carts collecting old newspapers and other unwanted items. These items are then resold at specialised markets to be recycled and reused.
The term “Karung guni” came from a Malay phrase for gunny sack, which was used in the past to hold newspapers. The karung guni men would haul these heavy sacks on their backs ringing their hand-bells and shouts of this particular phrase - "karung guni, poh zhua gu sa kor, pai leh-lio, dian si ki..." [meaning “Rag and bone, newspapers, old clothes, spoilt radios, televisions, etc” in Singlish and Hokkien] can be heard from a far.
A common site at my neighborhood when growing up

Mom has sold many things to the local karung guni man and she’s often pleased that she made a couple of bucks from the sale. I guess Dad is just happy that the house is not cluttered with too many unwanted items.
So what happens to these second-hand items? If they are in good condition, they are usually being resold at flea markets or even sold on online auctions. Apparently, there are people who trawl these places in search for a good bargain. Well, Mom has always told me to steer clear of these places preferring that I don’t pick up more junk to mess up the home.
I probably tried my hand at bargain-hunting when I visited Melbourne with my friends after graduation. Armed with really little cash then as a student, we ventured into a thrift-shop just wanting to browse but walked out of the store some hours later with huge sacks of ‘treasures’. We found used clothes, jewellery and handbags for as little as 5 AUD. We were thrilled as we combed through the piles of racks happily in search of cheap bargains.

Off to the local Brocante store for some second-hand shopping
I’ve often griped that some of the things in Geneva are a little more pricey compared to what I could get back in Singapore. Some of my expat friends felt the same way too having relocated from the US. But one of them got round to scoring some really cool furniture and household appliances at the local broccante store. I later learned that Switzerland has an active second-hand (gebraucht, occasion) market, particularly in antiques, motor cars, gold and gem stones. There’s also a local second-hand furniture and junk store (Brockenhaus, broccante) in most towns. These items are usually in really good condition because many expats come and leave Geneva in a couple of years, and prefer to leave these items behind instead of bringing them back to their home-country.
So us girls made the trip to the local broccante store one afternoon. I had wanted to browse and possibly get some vintage cutlery and silverware. My friend S wanted to a raclette grill and/or fondue machine. While she didn’t get the item, I went home a happy gal with the desired plates that will be put to good use when we have guests over.

A gorgeous traditional fondue set up for grabs
There you have it, “One’s man trash can really become another man’s treasure”. You never know what you can get while hitting the thrift-shops, so keep your eyes peeled open for treasure may just lie beneath that layer of dust. Just wipe it off, brush it clean and it may just be a brand new item for you.

[Some images taken off the web]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lady J on Love: Taking stock

Time sure flies. We are now into December and this marks my 7th contribution to the blog. Gee, where did all that time go? That would mean that we’ve been living for more than six months in Geneva by now.

I wanted to coincide this entry with the recent major national holiday that most Americans would have celebrated - Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving is not widely celebrated in Singapore nor Geneva, I know how big this tradition is to my new American friends who will go round the table with their family and friends to give thanks and express gratitude for the recent year. I find the origin of this tradition really meaningful. Even though I have yet to partake in a traditional Thanksgiving meal, here are some of the things that I’m grateful for about living in Geneva.

Honing my cooking skills
Before Geneva, there was Tokyo. It was a time where I learnt how to cook rice. You may think: How difficult can it be? For me, it was rather challenging as I never found the need to learn how to cook while living with my parents back in Singapore.

Beyond instant noodles

Armed with my basic cooking skills from Tokyo, I took on Geneva with confidence only to come crushing down when I learned that Asian ingredients are often hard to come by and expensive when they do. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, so I trawled the internet looking for easy-to-cook recipes that are suited for a noob cook like me.

Making local carrot cake from scratch

I took a keen interest in food blogs and found myself salivating over the gorgeous food pictures. So with time on my hands, I started to dabble in baking. I found myself investing in a hand-whisk, food blender, processor and baking mats, to name a few tools. I never quite imagined myself loving the time spent in the kitchen but as my baked goods started looking decent enough to be eaten, I decided to document my baking and cooking adventures by putting what I cooked/ baked in front of a camera lens and photographing them.

My proudest achievement to date - learning how to make macarons

Looking back, I think I’m really grateful to be able to be given this opportunity to hone my cooking and, along the way, photography skills. I don’t know whether this will continue when we return to Singapore but for now, I’m pretty pleased with how my baked goods and cooked food have been turning out.

Appreciating nature
Having lived in concrete jungles for a good part of my life, I was never one with nature. But ever since I moved to Geneva, I slowly started to appreciate the changing seasons and the wonderful scenes that Mother Nature brings along with them. During my supermarket runs, I find myself taking a leisurely walk and just taking in what nature has to offer.

Sunset in Florence

Weekend getaways
We’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to travel extensively, to see other beautiful parts of Europe and what these other cities and towns have to offer. Geneva is really the perfect springboard for us to fly, drive or train to most cities in Europe. During our stay here, we’ve covered Austria, Spain, Italy and France, among other countries.

Taking part in Oktoberfest in a traditonal Dirndl costume

I’m definitely looking forward to December for that means that we will be hitting the slopes and indulging in one of our favourite wintersports – snowboarding!

I could go on and on with my long laundry list of the other things that I’m thankful for. But, the one big thing I’m truly thankful for is having family and friends who have supported us on this journey.

So raise your glasses and join me as we bid farewell to 2011 and wish you all the very best in the New Year!

Happy holidays!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lady J on play: The day I felt like Charlie

I guess the character Charlie in Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel titled ‘Charlie and the Chcolate Factory’ needs little introduction. The novel centers around a poor boy named Charlie Bucket whose life changed when he scored a golden ticket and took a tour through the greatest chocolate factory in the world, owned by the eccentric Willy Wonka.
As I read the book and subsequently watched the movie, I kept imagining what it would feel like to actually visit a chocolate factory. My dream came true the day we paid a visit to the famous Maison Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. I mean, we are living in Switzerland which has the highest per capita rate of chocolate consumption worldwide (approximately 12 kg per capita per annum) and what better way to immerse in the Swiss chocolate culture than paying homage to one of the very first chocolate brands established in Switzerland.
Chocolate factories must be a dime a dozen here in Switzerland. I recalled being blown away by the selection and brands of chocolate that one could get here when we first arrived in Geneva. One wouldn’t know where to start in the supermarket when picking out his chocolate. Friends who lived here for over 15 years told us specifically that the one brand of chocolate that most Swiss grew up with is Cailler.
The infamous Maison Cailler chocolate factory

A quick search online and I realised that the Maison Cailler chocolate factory is located in Broc and a road-trip which took us about 2 hours from Geneva to Broc was planned. The factory was a bit out of the heart of town, but thank goodness for our GPS and some strategically-placed signs, we were eventually led to the Maison. We also noticed that the moment we started walking towards the factory, the aroma and fragrance of chocolate filled the air. I felt really excited as the doors to the factory opened.
The Masion Cailler chocolate factory dates back to 1897 when Alexandre Cailler, who was bicycling through the area, discovered the perfect spot to open his new chocolate factory. Milk is one of the most important ingredients in producing fine chocolate, so when he saw so many lush pastures dotted by plump cows, Mr. Cailler decided that Broc would be the ideal place to set up shop.
We went on the 45-minute interactive guided tour that began with a video on the history of chocolate. We also learnt how the Swiss learned to further process the cocoa bean by combining it with rich cream, thereby creating the wonderful chocolate that we know today.
Just like Charlie, I was mesmerised by the extensiveness of the factory and as I walked into the olfactory room, my hands dug straight into the bag of roasted cocoa beans to take in a waft of the fresh smells. I hopped from one bag to the next, waiting to see what I will be uncovering next. My attention was immediately shifted when I spied the massive production line where fresh chocolate was waiting to be packaged. I grabbed one of the freshly packaged chocolate and stuffed it in my mouth... Mmmm heaven! That’s what having a good piece of fresh chocolate does to me; my taste buds were treated to the fabulous flavours of the best cocoa and other delicious ingredients all tucked into that little bar.

I want me some of those chocolate, now!
Before the visit ended, we were whisked into a tasting room where large tables were set with trays laden with samples of every imaginable kind of chocolate cut into small tasting sizes. Needless to say, I got to nibble on these complimentary delightful chocolate to my heart’s content.
All that wonderful pieces of chocolate that we could eat.. Heaven!

By the time we left the factory, I felt a little guilty for stuffing my face silly with all that chocolate but hey, I guess for that brief moment, I knew how Augustus Gloop felt. Thankfully, I did not fall into some chocolate lake and get sucked away.
I know.. This definitely would not be the prettiest sight to be photographed in.

This visit to Masion Cailler chocolate factory has certainly taught me a thing or two. I will never look at a bar of Swiss chocolate the same way again and whenever I take a bite of that bar of Cailler chocolate, I would close my eyes and magically whisk myself back to that factory to relieve that chocolate experience.

[Some images taken off the web]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Una Ragazza on Play: Occupy October

October. My favorite month of the year. The weather cools down, the fall colors break out. We're that much closer to Thanksgiving (read: turkey and pie).

This year, so much has happened and the month is not even over as I type. The following images captured the essence of October 2011 in my little part of the world.

In early October, everyone's favorite tech genius and entrepreneur lost his battle to pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. The only appropriate way to capture this tribute outside my neighborhood Apple store was with the iPhone 4S.

During a visit to Zuccotti Park in mid October, I met a range of talented individuals.

This guy had a perpetual grin on his face as he pivoted around to ensure protesters and gawkers alike had a fair chance to read his message.

This guy painted all the flaps of the tiny box he was sitting in.

His latest sign read, "Let's show China how it's done."

The guy in the foreground slept through it all -- quite an accomplishment, considering the musicians on the steps were playing at a volume so loud that the nearby crowd couldn't hear each other speak.

This bicycle picture was taken for Un Ragazzo. It seemed like everyone at Zuccotti Park had a different goal and message.

Bring a t-shirt or apron and get a complimentary silkscreening.

On Halloween weekend, as the snow began to fall, folks at Zuccotti Park hunkered down beside Double Check, the bronze businessman sitting on a nearby bench.

Meanwhile, back uptown, snow accumulated nicely on the brownstone roofs, as smoke spewed from some chimneys.

A pumpkin looked out the momofuku window at the sleet that soon turned to snow.

At the "neighborhood graveyard," the black crow got a new coat of white.

"Good weather" was clearly not in sight at the community garden in the 'hood.

A kids' halloween party snowed in.

Pumpkins on steps in hiding.

With two more days to go, will October bring another interesting twist? Don't hold your breath; Halloween Monday is yet to come.

(Some pictures taken from the Internet)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lady J on eat: Fresh foods

When we first moved to Geneva, friends talked about shopping for their produce at the weekly farmers’ markets happening in Geneva or the neighbouring towns around Geneva for produce found at these markets is renowned for being locally grown and is often at its peak of freshness. I must say the concept of a farmers’ market sounded refreshingly interesting to me. It’s basically an indoor or outdoor market consisting of individual vendors - mostly farmers - who set up booths or stands to sell their produce, meat products, fruits and sometimes prepared foods and beverages.

In Singapore, we have a similar sort of market as well. Known as “wet markets”, a huge variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, flowers, dried goods and spices, clothes and even household items can be bought there. The term wet markets came about for the markets are literally doused with water continually to keep the facilities clean.

"Wet markets" in Singapore

I thought shopping for local produce to stock up on our weekly groceries at the farmers market here in Geneva should be a walk in the park for me since it shouldn’t be quite different from the shopping done in our wet markets. However, my couple of experiences of the farmers’ markets didn’t leave me an instant first impression. I’ve visited the Carouge market which had about ten or twelve stands. It was pretty small and the variety of produce available wasn’t that great. Then there was a bigger market in Rive, the downtown shopping area but I’ve often found the produce available there is overpriced.

A local farmers' market at Carouge

Undeterred by my first couple of experiences, I decided to ask around and found out that there was a bigger farmers’ market that’s opened on Sundays located at Divonne-les-Bains, a town in the Rhone-Alps, France. The idea that a market could remain opened on a Sunday excited me very much for in most parts of Switzerland, the grocery stores are shut. If we decide to stay in Geneva over the weekend, I usually have to plan ahead the dinner menus for the weekend. I bugged J and we were off to Divonne for some fresh produce that very day.

We got an early head-start for most of the farmers’ markets are fully operational from 9am. Getting to the markets early also meant that you are assured of the freshest produce. When we arrived at the farmers’ market in Divonne, we were greeted by throngs of people and there was a general buzz about the place which was so different from the ones that I had found in Geneva. Stalls stretched from the town’s centre and branched into the side streets; for once, I didn’t know where to start. But we remained cool and collected. Armed with our dinner menu in hand, we started to make our way into the crowds.

My eyes darted around the stalls. All the food looked so much healthier and twice as luscious compared to the produce that we could find in the supermarkets in Geneva. We walked on and we saw fresh farm eggs that are almost double the size of the ones back in Geneva. We grabbed a dozen of those for they would come in handy for baking. We walked further and started putting in our bags fresh vegetables that we could use for our stew.

J making friends with the wine-maker and enjoying the spoils of the day

For the first time, I experienced the warm French hospitality here at the farmers’ market in Divonne where stall-owners handed us complimentary tastings of ham and cheese, and attempted to chat with us in whatever little English they could muster. J got to chat with a winemaker and sampled some of the French wine that he made. We ended up with a couple of bottles of the wine purchased at for a fantastic deal thanks to the easy friendship that he had with the winemaker himself.

Before we knew it, our shopping bags were filled with the entire week’s lunches and dinners. I was pleased with what we scored. So we loaded the boot with the week’s marketing and headed back to the farmers’ market to purchase some freshly baked bread, a selection of hams and cheese, which made for a great light meal for lunch by the side-walk.

Packing up when the day is over

This shopping expedition to the farmers market at Divonne kind of reminded me of home, granted that I’m not able to get a hold of other fresh meats and seafood, but the experience felt pretty close.