ECLECTIC LIST

I always veered towards Latin American literature when I would look for a book either from the library or a bookstore years ago. I chalked it up to being a creature of habit aside from the fact that Gabriel Garcia Marquez and ilk are brilliant writers. I have re-read 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the time of Cholera, and his other works. Maria Vargas Llosa still never fails to leave my jaw hanging. The habit of reading has not disappeared, but concentrating on a particular type of literature has changed. My reading list has become a little more eclectic than usual, which I can only attribute it to me trying to be a little more flexible. These years I’ve shuttled between young adult literature and non-young adult literature, giving me a sweeping look at both worlds.

Indonesia, Etc. by Elizabeth Pisani was a birthday present some years back from my gal-pal from Singapore. Pisani wiped away the filters I was viewing Indonesia with and gave me a better understanding of the country through her narrative of her various dealings with people from all walks of life. The thought going through my mind as I turned page after page was “If Pisani can do this, so can I”.  This is an author who came to an understanding of a country that was completely different from hers and came out not judgmental or preaching tolerance. She indirectly taught me to look at the bigger picture with acceptance, understanding, and patience.

indonesia-etc-by-elizabeth-pisani

Anthologies are a favorite too, but they were mostly compilations of detective stories by either Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Dashiell Hammett. Then I was handed the catalog of Oxford University Press and came across the Oxford Bookworms Collection. There are six anthologies to the collection: Crime Never Pays, A Window on the Universe, And All for Love, A Tangled Web, From the Cradle to the Grace, and The Eye of Childhood. The latest addition to my collection are the latter titles. Until A Window on the Universe, the only sci-fi stories I read before were the Star Wars novels (pre-Ken Rylo era). The collection introduced me to sci-fi giants such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, et al. Crime Never Pays reminded me of the TV show “Twilight Zone” because of the twists in the stories while And All for Love offered interesting perspectives on romantic relationships. A Tangled Web focused on stories dealing with “secrets and lies” and the idea that “deception can sometimes lead to quite unexpected complications. I discovered a new author, Maeve Binchy, and got reacquainted with Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, V.S Naipaul, Paul Theroux, Somerset Maugham, and Oscar Wilde. I am excited to plunge into the new anthologies because of the topics covered – the trials of life from youth to old age in From the Cradle to the Grave, and seeing the world through the eyes of a child in The Eye of Childhood.

oxford-bookworms

Book series also became a perennial staple of my reading diet. I read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series twice and was hooked on Derek Lundy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books for some time. Then there was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series (I have read four of the 13 books) – tracking down all the books is proving to be challenging.  The latest I’ve read are Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance series and Ransom Riggs’ Tales of the Peculiar.

I don’t normally watch the film adaptation first but I saw the movie Eragon first and read the books a few years later when one of my students lent them to me. Reading the series really entails having the determination to see the narrative through the very end because the four books are lengthy. Strained eyes aside, it wasn’t difficult staying married to the books because the storyline of Dragon Rider Eragon and his dragon Saphira was very engaging. The different worlds – i.e. elves, humans, dwarves – were described in detail that you could really picture the distinct settings. Character-wise, Saphira has spunk and a sense of humor; Arya, Eragon’s love-interest, is intriguing; and Brom, an annoyingly lovable Dragon Rider-in-hiding.

inheritance-series

I got wind of Riggs’ Tales of the Peculiar series from one of my former students who presented it for Show & Tell. She was intrigued by the books because there were vintage photos that played a huge part in the narrative structure which Riggs confessed to scavenging for in various places. These photos, dovetailed with the attention-grabbing characters and their special powers, reeled me in to finish the entire three books. However, I was, admittedly, disappointed with the film version because certain character identities and the plot of the story were changed.

tales-of-the-peculiar-v2

The eclecticism continues judging by the mini tsundoku in my room: an anthology of mystery stories, vol. 2 of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a book by Camille Paglia, Arthurian Legends, Iris Chang’s Rape of Nanking, J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise (Tom Hiddleston graces the cover of the edition I have), etc.

 

 

 

PUDDING, ANYONE?

“Good choice!” said waiter number one after I had made my choice for dessert and went to get my order done. It arrived within several minutes.

“Here you go,” said the waiter number two cheerily, gently putting the plate in front of me.

“Whoa! That’s a huge serving of bread and butter pudding,” I exclaimed.

“Actually, I find the serving portion a little small. I can’t get enough of it. Enjoy!” he retorted.

I have always been partial to bread and butter pudding as dessert ever since I served myself a bowl of it from the buffet restaurant of Royal Plaza on Scotts. From then on, nothing could compare to bread and butter pudding of Carousel until Taste, Hotel Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen’s restaurant. I decided to be more adventurous – stop being a creature of habit when it comes to food – and try other versions of bread and butter pudding. That moment came when I hankered for dessert after my now-favourite bento box of chicken teriyaki from Taste.  And it was a truly serendipitous culinary find!

The “bread” was not your regular day-old white bread. Taste’s version was a croissant – or it could have been brioche – dusted with powdered sugar that topped the heavenly custard, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It was a perfectly put-together pudding: the croissant or brioche was melded well with the non-gelatinous soft custard which paired brilliantly with every spoonful of vanilla ice cream. However, unlike waiter number two who yearned for a bigger portion, I could only finish half of the bowl, and it wasn’t because it became cloying at the end. I was simply satiated with the chicken teriyaki. I think my game plan next time is to simply have the bread and butter pudding on its own for lunch or at high tea. At S$9, it was and is one delicious steal.

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It’s a good choice for dessert – the bread and butter pudding of Taste restaurant.

LUNCH WITH KITTY 


Curiosity egged me on to journey to the other side of Singapore – from Bugis Junction to the airport – for a late lunch. I was once an avid collector of its merchandise in my younger days, so upon learning that Hello Kitty had morphed into a bistro-cafe naturally piqued my interest. It was something I had to see for myself. A Hello Kitty- themed birthday party seemed more possible than a full-pledged dining place. I was mistaken.

Named Hello Kitty Orchid Garden, it is located at Level 1, Terminal 3 of Changi Airport and festooned with colorful orchids high above the ceiling and its white metal grates carved with the tell-tale silhouettes of Hello Kitty. The backrest of the chairs are shaped into Hello Kitty’s iconic bow while the marble top tables are stamped with her face. At the entrance is a display counter of Hello Kitty pastries and to the right is a Hello Kitty wall of merchandise. The place wasn’t that full or empty at 230pm, its tables filled with either solo diners or those with children in tow. Its menu is a Hello Kitty picture book of dishes – pasta and rice, chicken, fish, sandwiches and wraps, pastries, sundaes, and many more. 


The feeling was surreal; I was half expecting Hello Kitty’s friends, Kiki and Lala (popularly known as Little Twin Stars), and My Melody, to come out of the kitchen bearing my order. But that was my mind on hyper imagination mode. The service crew who took and brought my order out were definitely regular humans decked in jeans and red/black checkered long-sleeved polo shirts. 

Closing the picture book-menu, I settled on Enchanted Forest (S$17. 90) for my main course and Hello Kitty goes Banana Split for the sweet coup de grace to my dining experience. Admittedly, I was intrigued by the name, Enchanted Forest, and persuaded by the pink bow attached to the name – it is one of Hello Kitty’s specialities. How would a magical woodland translate to a culinary affair? For this immortal cat, it is a wooden platter of quesadillas, or four pieces of tortilla shells filled with prawns, slices of avocado, caramelized onions, melted cheese, and their special blend of wasabi sesame mayonnaise. For someone who isn’t fond of wasabi mayonnaise, it was a treat biting into the quesadilla as the flavor slowly built up into a soft, gentle explosion in the mouth. There was no need to keep drinking water to quell the fire in the mouth. It was a smooth transition from one quesadilla to the last one. 

The waiter highly recommended the Hello Kitty goes Banana Split (S$18.50) when I asked for suggestions for dessert. His first suggestion was a panna cotta, but the banana split won me over. Hello Kitty’s version tweaked the classic banana split. The usual three scoops of ice cream has been replaced with gelato – wild strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate – while the plain slices of banana has been reduced to one but topped with caramelized sugar. To complete the banana split, pieces of macarons and berries are added, and finally drizzled with marshmallow sauce and raspberry coulis. One would think that the whole concoction would be overly saccharine, but it wasn’t, as there is a perfect balance between the gelato scoops, macaron, and berries with every bite.


From merchandise to a full-blown bistro-cafe, Hello Kitty has come a long way and her orchid garden-themed place has not disappointed. Hello Kitty fan or not, there is something to highlight one’s dining experience. I was fortunate on two counts: I got to enjoy a trip down memory lane and savor delectable spins on classic dishes.

CUMBERBATCH & CHURROS 

Who would have thought that an hour plus of Cumberbatch and a cup of churros would banish the blues? Trust my gal-pal to know the remedy when I once again hit rock bottom. It is just one of those days when fatigue from work and working out, a whole day weekend of teacher training, and missing my wonderful man like crazy coalesced to pull me down to one of the nadirs of my life. Gal-pal Fistri came to the rescue with plans to catch Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr Strange at Bugis Plus mall on Victoria Street. Originally, it was just to meet up over a cup of Monster Ice cream – picture a mountain of soft serve vanilla ice cream wrapped in caramel popcorn – but the doctor thought eye candy would do the trick. The eye candy treatment was effective! Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange worked; I take this to mean that he was able to create a persona that had no traces of his rendition of the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes. And he had this wonderful chemistry with the Cape of Levitation.

The cup of mini churros was a serendipitous find as Fistri and I rode the escalator down to the first floor after the movie. Tucked in a little corner of the fourth, at the foot of the escalator, is Churro 101. Like a moth drawn to the fire, I quickly gravitated to it much to the surprise of Fistri. It is like the Californians who go agog over In-and-Out burgers because it reminds them of home. Churros throws me back to my un-jaded self particularly to the time I first set foot in Disneyland Anaheim. I walked around the happiest place on Earth munching on a long, thick churros drizzled with cinnamon-sugar. The version of Churro 101 is, I find, more practical. They’ve cut up the churros into bite-size pieces, placed them in a cup, and included two stick pokers for you to eat them without having to dirty your fingers. Verdict: the cinnamon-sugar churros was just right, not too sweet, not too bland, not greasy or tough. 

A cup of churros to chase the blues away


Fully medicated with a dose of Cumberbatch and churros, I climbed easily back to the ne plus ultra of life. 

READING ON THE GO


“We have plenty of time to get there. We are actually early, Miss,” said Pak Diyan, who was tasked to take me to the airport.
“No problem, Pak. I have my book,” I replied through the rearview mirror, waving one of the books I had packed in my rucksack.

Part of the marvels of traveling has always been the fact that I can read at the airport. There is a lot of waiting going on for, say, the check-in counter to open, for your turn to check-in, to board the plane, and the journey itself. I find myself reading more than making use of the entertainment system, if there is one.

This trip had me bringing an eclectic collection of books for the brief sojourn to Singapore. It was a preventive measure against buying another book at Periplus and another tsundoku. This Japanese word refers to that condition where you have a lot of reading materials piling up with the good intention of reading them but never get around to it. I am in the midst of clearing tsundoku pile one which started collecting in a little corner of my room last July.

Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” was a serendipitous find at – of all places – a corner bookstore near the entrance of Siloam hospital ( I went to see an eye specialist). It was a steal at Rp50,000 and was the only copy left. I did a little jig of joy eliciting this odd look from the cashier who probably thought I was on medication. My interest in the book began after I had seen that Michelle Pfeiffer movie where she played a divorced woman who falls in love again with the character of Daniel Day Lewis, but society then was unforgiving of such dalliances. I had to put down “Madame Bovary” every now and then, brought down by the author’s heavy writing style and Madame Bovary’s silliness and sufferings. My emotions vacillated between wanting to berate her for her shallowness and commiserating with her. The drama at times became too difficult to bear. However, I am determined to see how Madame Bovary fares. My plowing through the pages of Flaubert’s work led me to dive into Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. Like a breath of fresh air, there wasn’t the heaviness that shrouded me in “Madame Bovary”; Anna Karenina was feistier in temperament, less caught up in romantic fantasies, and eschewed frivolity.

Rick Riordan’s “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series is a break from the other heavy books (e.g. I am half-way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Way to Paradise” and hemming and hawing with Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”). His reworking of the mythologies of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and now Norse have gotten my students reading, so I need to keep myself abreast with what is happening. In the Riordan style of demystifying the pantheon of gods and goddesses from each mythology, the second book, “The Hammer of Thor”, had me snickering or laughing at the untimely moments drawing stares from people around me. I especially liked the fact that he characterized Thor the Viking that he truly is – a undeniably strong lout with a voracious appetite. The inclusion of a Muslim as a Valkyrie, Samirah “Sam” al-Abbas, is a much applauded move: it deconstructed the misconception of veiled women as unable to do anything apart from pray and follow tradition.

Lastly, the name Italo Calvino is not a stranger to me. He is one of the authors my father reads to this day and our book hunts would always involved looking for his works. I found “The Path to the Nest of Spiders” in this pop-up book store in a mall, which my wonderful man bought for me, and the purchase brought a smile to the pop-up owner’s smile. He approved the purchase. I am moving through the Preface written by Calvino and I feel like I am back in one of literature classes in university, a place I am perfectly at home at. Finally, I have the opportunity to discover the wondrous author in his first novel.

THE GHOSTS ARE BACK


She said it was jalan-jalan cantik for me in her e-mail. Learning that I was off to Singapore over the weekend, there was this assumption that it would be a jalan-jalan cantik in the land of food and shopping. I discovered the meaning of that phrase some weeks ago when I met up with friends earlier on. The Indonesian phrase literally translates to ‘pretty walk about’; the not-so literal translation is a good weekend. She was right to a certain degree: my past jaunts to Singapore were indeed jalan-jalan cantik. In February, it was a Chinese New Year weekend holiday with a gal-pal, who had a wonderful time being a first-time tourist to the Garden city while I played her tour guide. The next one was just to get away from it all and chill with another gal-pal who resided in the country. The last one was when we – my Singaporean gal-pal – watched the musical “Wicked” at Marina Bay Sands (I missed it five years ago when it opened in the city).

This brief sojourn didn’t bode well because the ghosts were back. Returning to Singapore got easier through the years or so I thought. I have long accepted the fact that my life in Singapore is a closed chapter, having lived through the pain of seeing my life crumble and later on gaining the strength to rebuild it elsewhere. But these pesky ghosts that I have never bothered (read: reached out to), mostly left alone, seem to have a knack of coming back at, in my perception, inopportune time. (Aside: Has there ever been an opportune time to meet up with people you don’t want to see?)

Some of the ghosts formed an indistinguishable collage of faces shifting from one identity to another until it settled into distinct faces I, obviously, had not forgotten. E was a friend, at least that’s what I thought until I received an e-mail from her – this was 10+ years ago – saying she was ending our friendship because we had different family backgrounds. To this day, I am still haunted by that reason and it guts me inside out particularly whenever I find myself at the nadir of my life. It hurls me back to my elementary days when I was shunned by my grade school teacher and classmates because my parents gave me the right to choose my religion or during my high school days when I was ridiculed and bullied twice in the same day because I spoke English all the time. In fact, my clique and I were summoned to the principal’s office after being reported by the cooking teacher for speaking English all the time! Anyway, E, the e-mail sender, oddly enough, kept sending birthday cards and acted amicable through the years until she finally stopped because she probably cottoned on to the fact that I wasn’t responding.

The other annoying ghosts were Z and C. Both these men betrayed my trust and broke my heart into smithereens, prompting me to question what I did in my before-life to warrant such agonizing, soul-ripping relationships. Z, a mustached Malay version of Philippine crooner Rico J Puno according to some friends of mine, was a smooth player, pledging his heart like Baronet Thomas Sharpe (think of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak) and conveniently forgetting he couldn’t and shouldn’t. Meanwhile, C was this young, glib and charming man who swept me off my feet. The problem was he couldn’t accept my nationality and the age gap. He kept coming back into my life until I decided to severe ties completely.

These triumvirate of ghouls were my unwanted welcoming committee that descended in full force the moment I deplaned and walked towards arrival. They insisted on accompanying me to the train like a rain cloud that pursues those who just cleaned their cars much to my chagrin, too. My feelings towards them were more of annoyance than nostalgia or despondence. They made it clear they didn’t want to be in my life and I wasn’t about to let them back in. I was naive, vacuous, gullible, and fatuous then, but not anymore. I simply refocused – I want it to be jalan-jalan cantik.

NESBIT’S WORLD OF HORROR

Edith Nesbit came much later in my literary life. My list of gothic writers were relegated to the males who dominated the scene, beginning with the master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe followed by his contemporary HP Lovecraft. Then a trip to Singapore and a visit to a bookstore resulted in this serendipitous find, “The Power of Darkness: Tales of Terror”. It was the only copy left, so I quickly grabbed it from the bookshelf.

Nesbit book

Most popularly known as a writer of children’s tales, Nesbit’s ghost stories and tales of terror take you on a psychological supernatural journey. Upon reading the first few stories, I was suddenly reminded of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, which is scary, but minus the graphic bloodletting that other writers are known for. It’s your imagination that takes you to a world of horror that, surprisingly, commingle with, depending on the story, pity laced with understanding. You find yourself nodding at the plausibility of the existence of angered spirits, spirits in limbo, and ilk. This pseudo-epiphany comes from reading the preface which discussed the background of Nesbit and how her failed relationships unwittingly became the foundation of the supernatural beings that figure prominently in the stories. The preface, I found, offers the answers to questions plaguing the mind, such as “Where did she come up with such an idea?”, “Are they based on personal experience?”, “What was in her life that pushed her to write in this genre?” It’s reminiscent of one’s reading of Poe’s writings – his tumultuous life beset by personal and professional problems alike that became the impetus for his pioneering macabre stories.

Over a flute of champagne or cup of Asian Dolce latte, a foray in Nesbit’s world of horror can be enlightening. Against the oxymoronic backdrop, one gleams an insight to the workings of the mind and psyche of human beings who, with their fragile lives, are embroiled in one catastrophe after another.