Buddy and tennis

When Buddy was a wee toddler, we encouraged him to be active and got him toy balls to play with. He became rather proficient at kicking the ball, compared to kids his age, before he even turned 2. We thought he might have a talent in football as he showed pretty good eye-hand coordination, and he could even throw the ball in the air and kick it. (See my earlier post Buddy and the ball dated 3 April 2014.) I actually mulled the thought that he might have a chance at soccer despite the crappy standards in Singapore.

2014 was the year the World Cup was held in Brazil, and my father-in-law bought a lot of toy balls for Buddy when he was vacationing in the US, including the orange World Cup ball. Like many parents, I had secret dream of grandiose that Buddy might be able to go to soccer school, perhaps he might even be talent spotted. In fact, subsequently, Buddy also showed he could shoot hoops, and needless to say, Jeremy Lin came to mind. We even got a small basketball hoop for him to play at home. (Yes I know I was in la la land then.) Next thing I knew, the interest in football and even basketball fizzled out and the dream popped!

Buddy continued to be active but did not show sustained interest in any particular sport. When we took him to the Decathlon shop, he went from football to basketball to boxing and then to Table Tennis. We decided that he was likely too young to decide what sport he really liked, and we probably had to wait till he goes to primary school to decide. Maybe he might go into track and field since he seemed to like running. Basically, lots of maybe this, maybe that, and I promptly dropped the idea of him being an athlete, let alone going to a sports school. Still, whenever I took him to the playground behind our apartment, we would pass by the tennis courts and he would be curious about the players and what they were doing.

Last year, after Buddy turned 5, he told us that he wanted to learn tennis. It was a pleasant surprise for my husband because he used to play for college tennis. So instead of engaging a coach, my husband decided to take up the mantle. He is one who doesn’t believe in half measures, and he started doing research on the various training methods. (After all, what he learned in the past is outdated, and besides he didn’t actually have proper training when he was younger.)

I became a skeptic this time; I thought it was one of his 5~minute passion, and didn’t think it was last though my husband was very enthusiastic. He read up on the lauded Spanish method (which produced the  great Rafael Nadal); a book written by Brad Gilbert (a master tennis strategist), biographies from the father of the Williams sisters and from Maria Sharapova; watched French and Japanese tennis videos on YouTube (never mind that he doesn’t understand what the hell was being said but looking at the actions was good enough), as well as videos from American tennis coaches. He then consolidated the learning and devised his own for Buddy.

First and foremost, he started Buddy with the slow red ball, following the Spanish’s training method for the beginners (though in their case they use the clay court which is widely available everywhere, and clay slows the ball down). Because the ball travels slower, there is a lower bounce and doesn’t hurt even when it hits the young player. Besides the ball is larger than the regular yellow ball, and being red, it is is easier to spot and hit. This is in contrast to what we notice among many kids learning tennis here. They are given the yellow ball for training, which is too fast and too much bounce, making it hard for them to learn the proper technique and to control the ball.

For his training, Buddy has to do footwork drills and learns to swivel his hips with a basketball (which allows him to use the stronger leg muscles to power the racket swing instead of the arm), as well as hitting against the wall. (I found out from him that many tennis stars did just that when they were young.) On top of this, there are the hand-fed top spin and drive volley drills. As for my involvement (if any), I’m the official videographer. I can hardly hit the ball even if my life depends on it. But Buddy likes to rally with me since he can beat me easily.

The drill

The important practice of hitting against the wall, which is required at every lesson.

He started not being very proficient with the ball. A few months later, he was able to rally albeit with double-bounce sometimes.

Buddy showing he can serve.

It has been a year since Buddy started, and his interest is going strong. (Amazing!) Now, he has lessons at least twice a week, and each time it is a 2-hour session. Even when he is not on the court, on some days he would hit against the wall at our patio. What he enjoys most is the rally with papa at the end of each training. He even got us to buy a yellow bandanna for him, like the one Nadal wore during the clay court tournaments.

Buddy is so into tennis that he sometimes practices his stroke even without the racket in hand. He even thought that table tennis is similar to tennis, and he will use the table tennis racket and ball to hit against the wall instead. Whenever we are at Decathlon, he goes straight for the table tennis  table instead of the basketball or football sections. It’s pretty funny to see him plays table tennis using tennis strokes. But it does work sometimes.

My husband is mighty pleased that Buddy’s skill is continually improving. Even though he has told me a couple of times that it is very difficult to become a professional tennis player (most can’t even make money out of it), I bet he secretly hopes Buddy is good enough to compete. After all, why would he joke, “mama, when Buddy plays at Wimbledon in future, you’ve better have makeup on! Otherwise, you might get mistaken for the tea lady!”

Cheongsam news of the month

I want to apologize to everyone for the looooonnnnggg radio silence. Work has been crazy busy!!!!

Peter Kor’s Studio 55 boutique is having a sale now till 25 June. This is a pretty good time to get some cheongsams which include those from this year Chinese New Year collection. The discount is also pretty generous, with many dresses going for only S$99. So do check out the boutique at #02-03, 222 Queen Street before your sizes run out.

Sissae has just launched the new “Luminance” collection, with its signature luxurious look. I’m only showcasing the cheongsam tops and dresses here, since the collection includes a mix of pants and other types of dresses. So we have here the Macy long vest, which I must say looks rather elegant. The embroidery is appears exquisite as well.

There are a couple of tops available, like this white Zoe blouse with dark green piping.

The other is the Agnella blouse in pastel blue, which looks like it is more suited for a pregnant lady though.

The Agnella also comes in a beautiful qipao which I would rather go for than the top. The embroidered duchess satin fabric looks absolutely gorgeous, and the back zip comes with a tassel which is a nice touch. I especially like the fact that the embroidery extended to the back which is typically absent in many dresses. This is a stunning piece of cheongsam!

Another elaborate piece of qipao is the Jade Ruffle, which as its name implies, has a ruffle sewn on the left shoulder. For this cheongsam, there is no embroidery at the back though.

Next, here is a halter-neck dress, the Fiona qipao, though I have some misgivings about the simple faux buttons running the front of the dress. It could have been a sexy stunning dress but the buttons make the dress looks plain. The embroidered lace at the back is the only saving grace.

Finally, the Emery cheongsam which has a conservative feel to it.

To round off, we have a couple of cheongsams from Hana. The designers must be having the garden theme in mind with these two dresses. They are pretty eye-catching but a little too elaborate for my taste though.

A quick update on Lai Chan cheongsams

It has been quite some time since I last checked out Laichan cheongsams for CNY. I returned last week for a dress alteration and also to look for new designs. Met up with Eddy who told me that they were only just starting to line up a new range for production. There were only a few new prints and designs in store, but I thought I should feature them here. So, let’s start with the signature cheongsams.

Here are a few dresses which caught my eyes. I’m especially taken in by the second orchid print dress and the lavender sequinned snake-skin print. Now, usually sequins can be rather uncomfortable to the skin, like they can be prickly on the neck and armpit. Eddy told me that they would snip off the sequins at these areas to make the dress comfortable for the wearer, and I thought that is so considerate.

Next, we have a couple of red evening dresses for the wedding dinner. The top cheongsam features embroidered lace appliqué from the armpit down, with a flare-out bottom.

The second red dress is this elaborate outfit with beautiful embroidered floral appliqué surrounded by tassel. A long row of red buttons lined the back. A stunning dress for a bride that will grab attention!

For the men, there is a stately-looking long mandarin-collared jacket that comes with button.

I spotted an interesting cheongsam top while I was at the boutique. It is a combination of both modern and traditional, with a contrasting Sakura print in front and polka dot pint at the back. The different sleeve lengths add on to the contemporary look.

The Penang Food Trip: third Day (part 2)

After the non-stop eating binge in the morning, we decided to do the touristy thing again and visit Penang Hill. We figured it would do us good to explore the place so that our tummies were ready for the next bout of food tasting. (To be honest, I lost count of the number of meals we had that day.)

Penang Hill is located 6km from the center of Georgetown, and was used as a retreat during the British colonial days. Now it’s a major tourist attraction, with a hotel, nature reserve, museum, gardens and restaurants/cafes. It’s not very tall, only 833 metres high. To get up there, you can take the train from the base station located at its foot.

It’s quite pleasant to be up in the hill, and I can understand why it was used as a retreat as the weather is not scorching hot despite it being a sunny day. For those who don’t want to walk and explore, you can opt to rent a buggy with a driver. But we would rather walk since we had so much food earlier; and Buddy was delighted to see wild monkeys along the road. While strolling around, we kept hearing an animal roaring; and Buddy wondered if there was a tiger somewhere. Of course, judging from the nonchalant attitude of the people there, it didn’t seem like a dangerous beast was on the loose.

It turned out the sound came from the Dinosaur and Aviary Garden. Buddy was excited when he saw the big dino figures and went straight into the garden while I was still wondering if it was worth paying for the entry fee. It turns out there is an admission fee for adults but not kids, which is not surprising. This place is using the kids to get the adults in, because Buddy couldn’t wait to climb onto the T-Rex.

The garden is really no big deal, at least to me, since other than the fake dinos, the birds are mostly made up of peasants, peacocks and some parrots though they are real. Buddy was more interested in the Dinos of course. If you do get pulled in by a kid, be prepared to feed the hoard of hungry mosquitoes in there. You will need DEET to protect yourself from those bloodsuckers.

My husband wanted to check out a colonial restaurant with a beautiful view that comes with an “atas” name of David Brown. We had to climb up a flight of steps to reach it, and it touts itself to be the highest restaurant in Penang.

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I have to say the place is rather serene, and there is a beautiful garden next to the alfresco dining area with a pond in the middle. We decided to have a short break here, and ordered drinks and a dessert of bread and pudding. We would have ordered lunch if not for the fact that we promised my father-in-law that we would take him to this Teochew restaurant for lunch. (He kept talking about this restaurant that we had to oblige.) My husband and Buddy gave the dessert the thumbs up. We should return in our next trip to try the proper food.

At David Brown restaurant, there is an added bonus of a spectacular view of Penang city.

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Now, for that Teochew Restaurant, Goh Swee Kee, located at 5, Jalan Sri Bahari, at George Town. To be honest, we had never heard of this restaurant and didn’t see it being recommended on TripAdvisor unlike Tek Seng. But my father-in-law insisted that the food was very good. Apparently it was the favourite restaurant of my husband’s Uncle who had introduced it to his dad. On the way there, I did a quick research to find out what the signature dishes are. It turns out to be quite popular among the locals.

In Teochew cuisine, the braised duck is a quintessential dish and naturally we had to try it, Besides, I love duck.

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Other dishes included the stir fried egg plants with sambal, the fried Loh-Bak (five-spiced pork roll), and braised cabbage with mushroom.

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I have to say the food was better than what I expected; very tasty and balanced flavors. Like the egg plants, they were cooked to the right texture, not too soggy nor chewy.

The highlight of the meal was the oyster noodle with fresh sambal. Once the sambal was mixed into the noodle, the aroma was amazing! The noodle, soaked in the sauce, and the juicy oysters was so good that we had to order a second plate as my husband was trying hard not to devour everything and would have ended up in a fight with me.

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Even in Singapore, we can only find the oyster noodle in Teochew restaurants though I haven’t tried any. But a related dish that is commonly available is the Fried Hokkien prawn noodle, where basically the prawn replaces the oyster. (On a side note, we discovered a stall that offers fabulous fried prawn noodle, after we returned to Singapore, that would have been even better than this oyster noodle dish in Penang, if it is paired with the fresh sambal. In fact it would have been a dish made in heaven.)

To round off the meal, we had Orh Nee (yam paste with sesame seed, gingko nuts and dried orange peel). Knowing that this dessert is very satiating and the yam paste is really thick, a large spoonful is served on a sauce plate to each guest.

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Our verdict on Goh Swee Kee? It’s two thumbs up! A must-visit restaurant for anyone who visits Penang for its fabulous teochew cuisine.

That evening, which was also the last night in Penang, we wanted to go to the Pulau Tikus Market Hawker Center for hawker food, which is quite close to the coffee shops that we went this morning. However, among checking Google, my husband found out that it was closed. We tried another so-called night hawker street but it turned out to be a pathetic couple of stores. My father-in-law suggested a Hainanese resturant but it was not opened until 7.00PM, and it was not even 6.00PM then. At the end, all roads lead back to Tek Sen, which turns out to be just round the corner.

In addition to my favorite Sambal Kachang Botol, we tried a few new dishes, like this fried tofu with egg white sauce, the bitter-gourd with salted egg, and the prawn paste chicken wings.

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When all else failed, Tek Sen will not disappoint. Indeed, these dishes are just as tasty as expected. Though simple food but very yummy. At least, we had a very satisfying dinner to round off the trip.

Well, I guess you noticed that I didn’t mention anything about the famous Penang Assam Laksa and the Char Kway Teow. It’s not that we did not want to try them, and we did include them in our food tour. The problem is that, because we stayed at Bayan Lebas, which is about 30 minutes’ drive to Georgetown, it was quite a hassle for us to follow through. Plus we had to take into consideration Buddy’s nap, and even my father-in-law wants his nap. The constant to-and-fro travelling was very exhausting for us, and we had to pare down the trips. In fact, both my husband and I suffered from headaches from the exhaustion. We decided that, for the next trip, we should rent an airBnB apartment in Georgetown. We had a car and driver who brought us around, though we also discovered it’s quite easy to Uber around and the fares are pretty cheap (for Singapore standard).

So, if you are planning a food tour in Penang, stay in Georgetown where the best food is, and go for Uber.

The Penang Food Trip – third day (part 1 updated)

I have to divide day 3 post into two parts because we went to so many places, and naturally so much to write about. Anyway as I was uploading the pictures of the food we had in the morning, I couldn’t stop myself from drooling! In fact, my husband, who walked past the PC then, remarked, “Don’t show them to me! That’s food porn!” I guess it’s obvious how fantastic we think the food was.

That morning, we got up early to go for breakfast at Georgetown, aiming for the coffee shop / hawker fares. We found out that the area around Burmah road and Moulmein Close is where the food gems are, and the coffee shops are located within a stone’s throw of each other. Our first stop is Kedai Kopi Swee Kong, a coffee shop recommended by Niki for its famous claypot sweet Apom and Penang prawn noodle.

Swee Kong, like the other coffee shops at Georgetown, tend to be rather run down, in fact the description “hole in a wall” is an apt one. I didn’t dare go to the toilet there, but my husband’s aunt did. When I asked her, she said it was a squatting toilet. So if that is scary for you, you’d better make sure you empty your bladder before the trip.

Before coming to Penang, I had never heard of Apom. I saw some pictures on the net, and it didn’t look familiar. It was only at Swee Kong that I realized Apom is a paper-thin Crepe that is filled with sugar and desiccated coconut. At this particular stall, Pulau Tikus Claypot Apom, it is made in a claypot as its name implies, which I found out is rather rare in this day and age. Because of this, the apom smells especially good.

An online reviewer mentioned that the apoms sell out quickly and it’s best to be there early. We took the advice to heart and arrived at 8AM. Around the apom stall, I noticed that the tables and chairs were covered with white flakes and wondered why the shop was so dusty. I later realized they are actually desiccated coconut. So the clean freak in me took out anti-bacterial wipes and started cleaning our table and chairs, while my husband lost no time in ordering the food; the apoms, the fishball kway Teow soup and the prawn noodle. (Yes I know, the locals had spotted a Singaporean in the midst.)

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We like the apoms, slightly crispy and yet chewy and smells really good! Actually the adults love it, but strangely Buddy wasn’t a fan. By the way, the Indian sellers can speak Hokkien! Unfortunately I forgot to take picture of the claypot Apom stall.

Turns out Buddy prefers the fishball kway teow, and I can understand why. Notice the dish comes with sliced chicken! The fishball noodle is cooked in a tasty chicken broth, though I find it a tad too saltish. But the kway teow (flat rice noodle) is so smooth and lip-smacking good.

One thing that is available in many food in Penang but missing in Singapore is fresh sambal. Check out the prawn noodle below. This is the secret ingredient that makes the food in Penang tastes so damn good! As my husband described it, it is the “piece de resistance” of any dish. In Singapore, unfortunately, only dried sambal is available. This soup base is a rich prawn broth. With fried shallot added and mixed with the smoky and spicy flavor of the fresh sambal, it is one hell of a combination! Possibly the best prawn noodle ever!

Across the narrow road from Swee Kong is another highly recommended coffee shop, 77 Food Yard, quite a strange name if you ask me. Unlike Swee Kong, other than the stalls within, there are food trucks stationed outside. This was our next stop.

My husband immediately ordered the curry mee.

He was also quick to spot the seafood char Koay kak truck, which he placed an order.

He saw the “Min Chang Kueh” truck, but he didn’t get any. Instead he asked me to do so.

So here we have the seafood char koay kak on the left and curry mee on the right. I first knew about Koay Kak at the Malaysian Food Street food court at Resort World Sentosa. My husband explained that it was similar to the fried carrot cake in Singapore but not quite. (This is a misnomer as it’s really diced radish.) The Malaysian Koay Kak is multi-dimensional because it has bean spout, squid, prawns and sliced fish cake; whereas the Singapore version is kinda plain with only fried egg and cubed radish, and a sprinkle of spring onion which is optional.

Firstly, the koay kak is very tasty; the mix of crunchy texture from the bean sprout and soft texture from the radish is lightly flavored, with the seafood adding different layer of depth to it.

As for the curry mee, the base is white curry like Hot Bowl and comes with clotted pig’s blood as well. But the similarity stops there, this one has prawns added instead of cuttlefish, and is garnished with mint leaves. My husband mixed the curry with the fresh sambal, and after we tried it we went “wow!” The curry is rich and subtle in flavors. In fact the taste is sublime because it is so well balanced! It’s much better than hot bowl, and I seriously think this curry mee is worthy of a Michelin star. In fact, of all the food I tried in Penang, this dish left the deepest impression on me, and I would make a trip there just for this as well as the Min Chiang Kueh.

MCK, also known as Ban Chang Kueh, is peanut pancake; although there can be other types of fillings. But the most popular is peanut with sugar filling. In Penang or Malaysia, sweet corn is added as well, which my husband loves, but you don’t get that in Singapore. This food truck, operated like a relatively young guy, allows customers to choose the fillings, and there is a great variety available, including chocolate, egg, kaya, banana etc.

(Update: my husband reminded me that the MCK was so good because the vendor makes it to order. This is unlike in Singapore, where we can hardly find any that is freshly made.)

Anyway, as instructed by my husband I bought a couple to try. Goddamn! This is the best MCK I’ve ever had! Crispy on the outside, chewy inside, and it has the right thickness! I’ve never had such amazing MCK in Singapore; it’s either the pancake is too thick, or too crispy, or that it is of the right thickness but it is chewy throughout. I don’t know how the hell this guy made such fantastic MCK. I told Niki about this, and strangely he was nonchalant about it, remarking, “this is the standard in Penang.” Really?? But I did not encounter other MCK stalls though.

Next to the coffee shops is a market, where we checked out the fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is what the winged bean or Kachang Botol looks like, the vege that I love.

Though we are not very big on dessert, we wanted to try the ice kachang and chendol in Penang, since they have different versions there. There is a famous ice kachang shop called Kek Seng at 383 Jalan Penang which is not far from our breakfast joints. Kek Seng is more like a coffee shop with different stalls selling hawker food such as Char Kway Teow, Popiah and Assam laksa etc.

The shop also touted having home-made durian ice cream, and naturally buddy wanted it since he loves that flavor. It’s probably the best in Penang, but inferior to what is available in Singapore. The taste is more like durian-flavored vanilla ice cream.

Till then, we still hadn’t had the famous Penang Char Kway Teow. Since it’s available in the shop, my husband suggested I ordered a plate to try. Unlike the Singapore version, you can request for salted duck egg to be added. We didn’t know what to expect since this shop is not one of the listed best CKT in Penang, but we must say it is quite tasty. It has “wok Hei” and a distinct salted egg flavor which I love.

And now for the signature ice kachang! We ordered it with ice cream and it comes with jelly as well. The ice kachang in Penang has peanuts added, which is missing in the Singapore version. The verdict? Nothing special, and the ice is not as fine as we like it. We’re not sure what is the big deal with the ice kachang here since it is not better than those we get in Singapore.

We ordered the popiah at Kek Seng as well, but it was horrible! There is so much turnip gravy that it causes the popiah skin to become soggy. We couldn’t bring ourselves to finish even one roll.

If you ask me, forget about Kek Seng. The hype is not worth checking out. There are other much better food options.

We had also tried the Penang Road Famous Teochew chendol at its original stall at Lebuh Keng Kwee, though I don’t have any pictures on this. (It has become so famous that it has opened several outlets throughout Malaysia and there is even one at Tang food court in Singapore.) It started off as a small stall along an alley, and there is even a rival right across from it called “Penang Road Famous Chendol”. But the former is more popular with many tourists crowding around it. I bought one each from both stalls for a taste test. Buddy, again, strangely doesn’t like the taste of chendol.

Comparing both desserts, my husband and I prefer the one from the less popular stall, Penang Road Famous Chendol, which is less sweet and has a distinct smoky flavor of the gula melaka. The famous Teochew Chendol is basically sugared water, nothing special. Perhaps people are generally addicted to sugar, and prefer the sweeter version. Despite not taking much sweets, we come to the conclusion that the dessert standard in Penang is lower compare to Singapore. If you have a sweet tooth, Singapore is the place to go.

The Penang food trip – the second day

On the second day, we pigged out! Literally!

On the recommendation of my friend, Niki, we went to try Hot Bowl White Curry Mee, located at 58 Jalan Rangoon, for breakfast. (It’s opened from 8AM to 3PM, and is closed on Mondays.) If not for the large signage outside the restaurant, it’s easy to miss it because of its nondescript appearance and the fact that it’s situated along a narrow road,  lined both sides by a mix of shops and houses.

It’s a small eatery but still spacious nonetheless, and clean and bright as well.

I didn’t do any ordering, and basically left it to my husband and his dad since I was unfamiliar with the food. Seriously, I didn’t know what was white curry and never had it before. I’m not even sure if it’s available in Singapore.

I finally get to see for myself what it is, and it’s really white in color! To be honest, the dish doesn’t look exactly appetising with the clotted pig’s blood. It’s also served with dried bean curd skin, cockles, cuttlefish and yellow egg noodle. My husband told me it had to be eaten with sambal mixed into the curry, and the taste turns out to be better than its look. But it’s not something I am crazy about, because I don’t like the pig’s blood nor cockles.

Luckily there were other dishes available, like the meatball kway teow soup, the steamed chicken as well as a unique Malaysian dish called “Chai Boey”.

I like the meatball broth with kway teow (flat rice noodle). The soup is clear and has a well balanced flavour; whereas the hand-made meatball is soft and soaked in the tasty broth. The steamed chicken is quite good as well, but not a big deal since we have better  chicken rice in Singapore.

As for Chai Boey, now this is an interesting dish with mustard greens, leftover meat, sliced carrots and dried Chili in an oily stew. In fact, I found out that the name “Chai Boey” actually means “leftovers”. It’s my first time trying it; and yes, we don’t get this in Singapore as well. The stew is tangy and all the ingredients are cooked to a soft texture. Again, it does taste better than it looks. But not something I would deliberately order. It is definitely an acquired taste.

So what do I think of Hot Bowl White Curry Mee restaurant? The food is not bad, generally tasty, but I don’t think it’s a must-visit place, unlike Tek Sen. In fact, we found a hawker stall that serves fabulous curry and at a cheaper price. More on that later.

Now, the Penang trip wasn’t just about food, we also did the touristy thing of visiting attractions. After all we had to walk off the food, and so, after breakfast, we went to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (aka the Blue Mansion), an UNESCO world heritage site, which has been turned into a museum cum hotel. It’s quite a sight to behold, a large Chinese mansion surrounded by modern buildings. But once you enter into the garden/car park/driveway, it feels rather serene.

I really like the beautiful indigo color of the mansion wall, which is so unique. This is also the color of the juice of blue pea flowers, grown outside the wall, that is used for the blue colouring in Peranakan kueh.

The museum has guided tours in English and the guide is a feisty and sprightly lady who looks to be in her 60’s. She is a pretty engaging story teller, who related the fascinating tale of the original owner of the mansion, a mega rich tycoon by the name of Cheong Fatt Tze, who was also known as the last Mandarin.

The magnificent mansion was built in the late 19th century, and is huge at 56,000 sq ft! However, over the years, since CFT’s death in 1916, the mansion gradually suffered from disrepairs. In fact when a group of private individuals bought the place from CFT’s descendants in 1989, the mansion was seriously in a decrepit state. A lot of money was poured in to restore it to its former glory. Most of the furnishing inside and outside the museum is really not the original. Which is why, I suspect, the house was likely to be even more spectacular in its hey day because CFT wanted a super grand mansion and spared no expenses to make it so.

This is the main courtyard right behind the main hall. There is an air well on the roof that allows rain water to fall into the courtyard, as well as sunlight to brighten the place. CFT instructed the builders to construct an elaborate water drainage system within the house, in accordance to the fengshui master’s advice to keep and grow the wealth.

Another courtyard that separates the public area of the mansion from the hotel area. (There are not many rooms, only 16; so this is really a boutique hotel.)

The picture of the 7th wife of CFT below, who was also his favorite. We were told he had 8 wives!! Though the other 7 were married for the sake of business connections. The 7th wife and their only son were given the privilege of a room where the main courtyard is. The lesser relatives and not-so important people had to live in the other wings of the mansion. (I wonder if the other wives were accorded less favorable treatment.)

When CFT died, he left a will stating that the house and an annual maintenance fee of straits currency of 200,000 to be given to the 7th wife and their son. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be a wise move, as my husband said CFT didn’t even take into account inflation, which is unsurprising considering he wasn’t educated. And CFT left the running of the business to his various older sons (who were said to be adopted), typical of Asian family business, instead of bringing in professional management. Not surprisingly the businesses would eventually go south since the sons and their offsprings turned out not to be commercially savvy. Worse, there were so many hanger-on staying in the house, and the expenses inevitably rose. So, it is no wonder there was not enough money to fund the maintenance of the mansion, and CFT’s favored son and his family had to lease out the rooms to the poor, and the house became literally a slum.

This picture taken from the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion website showed how crappy the place was before restoration.

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Do check out the CFT mansion and the guided tour when you are in Penang. The story of the man and the house is a mesmerizing one. In fact I’m interested in staying at the hotel in future trip.

After the historical tour, we proceeded for lunch with a couple of my husband’s relatives and opted for Peranakan food. We went to Mum’s Nyonya Cuisine (previously known as Mama’s Nyonya Cuisine), located at 31-D, Lorong Abu Siti, George Town, pretty close to the mansion. It’s one of the recommended Peranakan restaurants in Time Out and Tripadvisor. So, naturally, we have some expectations.

I wanted a Chinchalok omelette (omelette fried with dried baby shrimp or krill), and unfortunately when I requested for it, I missed out “omelette” as I thought that was how it was usually done. When it arrived, it was totally not what I expected. Turned out it was Chinchalok fried with prawn, petai (stinky bean) and sambal. I didn’t like it, the flavor was too heavy and salty for my liking; and I wasn’t the only one who rejected the dish.

We ordered a lot of food (see pictures below), regrettably so.

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Loh Bak (deep fried bean curd skin filled with minced meat flavored with the Chinese five-spice powder)

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Inchi Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)

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Sayur Rumi (Stir-fried prawn with vege)

Assam fish curry

Chicken Curry Kapitan

Top – Stir Fried Long Beans with Anchovies; Bottom – Pork Belly Stew

All I can say about the food at Mum’s is that it’s nothing great and doesn’t deserve any accolade. The only dishes that were tasty were the Assam fish curry and the Curry Chicken, and even then, they were not fantastic. If this standard is considered one of the best Peranakan cuisines in Penang, I suggest you forget about it and focus on other food. This is definitely one of the food disappointments we had there.

After lunch, we went to Straits Quay to check out Monica Quen’s cheongsams that I wrote about in an earlier posts prior to Chinese New Year. When that was done, we continued with our food trip and this time it was afternoon tea at 1885 Restaurant located at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (10, Lebuh Farquhar, George Town), another UNESCO Heritage site. Yes, we were very gung-ho with our mouths and tummies.

The restaurant was named after the year the hotel was established, and it’s similar to Raffles Hotel in Singapore. This is not surprising because both hotels were founded by the Sarkies brothers.

Pardon for the lack of pictures of the hotel or the restaurant; I didn’t find the place that interesting unlike the Blue Mansion. In fact, I thought the restaurant had a musty smell, and the ornate and heavy English furniture doesn’t impress me.

When we arrived, the restaurant was quite full, though there was a long table available close to the entrance. But there was no staff at the counter; they were either serving some table or standing at some corner and we had to wave to one of them to get attention. She didn’t give us the empty table immediately, and instead had to discuss with a guy, who looked like the Maitre’d’hotel, before finally deciding on that table for us.

The afternoon tea costs MYR65.30 nett per person (Buddy ate for free), and consists of savory finger food, scones, cakes and choice of tea for each paying customer.

Before we went to Penang, I had checked out the reviews of the 1885 afternoon tea, and one of them was written by some English lady who took offense that the tea was not served in bone china teapot and cup. So when I was there, I checked and true enough, that was the case. (You can see from the picture above.) I’m afraid I’ve to agree with her that this cannot be  touted as “the finest colonial style dining” when ordinary porcelain tea set is used.

So, how did we find the food? It was alright, nothing to shout about. The pastries and cake are not as refined as some of the afternoon teas I had taken in Singapore and even in Thailand. Like the one offered by Goodwood Park Hotel (Singapore) is of better quality and spread, though the price is more than double what 1885 is charging, but that is because the Goodwood offering is actually that of a buffet. Anyway we went to 1885 for the experience, and once is enough for us.

That evening, we didn’t have dinner. Well, we did in a way, we had fruits instead. Our verdict, at the end of the second day, was that the food didn’t seem so impressive, however we understood that it was likely due to the type of food we had, and we hadn’t even tried the hawker food yet. That was reserved for day 3.

The Penang food trip – first day

We went to Penang for a vacation last month. It has been several years since I was there, which was to attend a wedding dinner of a relative. Then, we didn’t even bother to stay for an extra day to do the touristy thing; it was basically a quick trip. My husband and I were not keen to visit the island despite the recommendations from many Singaporeans about how good the food was. Though for him, who was born there, he had fond memories of his grandpa taking him to eateries where he still remember the wonderful food he had. Still, he hardly went back since his family moved away, and at the end he is as much of a stranger there as me.

This time, we made the trip with Buddy to visit my father-in-law who has moved back to Penang. And we decided to make full use of it and do proper research on why it is such a popular food destination. To do that, we decided on a 4D3N vacation to allow us time to explore the food scene. Lucky for me, I have a pogo friend, Niki, who was from Penang and is pretty familiar with the place. He forwarded me a list of locations for the famous hawker food, which I will write about in this and following posts. Since there are so much details to mention, I am breaking up the post by the day we were there.

We took the Malaysian budget airline, AirAsia, to Penang and booked the flights way in advance, a month in fact, and were able to get cheaper tickets at a total of about S$300. To be honest, the majority of the cost is actually made up of miscellaneous charges like security tax, admin fee, baggage check-in fee, and what nots, which is typical of budget airline to jack up the price.

We decided to book the hotel in advance as well, and my husband suggested we stay close to his dad’s apartment to make it easier for us to visit him. It is located at Bayan Lepas, which is pretty close to the airport and an industrial estate. We picked Olive Tree which, expectedly, is a business hotel, and throughout our entire stay, Buddy was the only kid spotted.

It’s a functional hotel, with even a gym and a pool available as well as 2 restaurants. We booked it through hotel.com as, strangely, the hotel website indicated no availability for the standard room despite otherwise. Anyway hotel.com offered pretty good rate at S$81 a night inclusive of wifi.

First thing Buddy did, when we got into the room, was to check out if the TV worked. (If you are wondering, there is cable tv available.) Our room was rather clean and there was enough space for the 3 of us. Seriously, you can’t really expect a lot for a business hotel at this rate and I thought it was pretty good for the money we paid. My husband used the gym during our stay there and he was pretty satisfied with it. Unfortunately we didn’t get to use the pool.

So, how is Penang like? It reminds me of Singapore in the 1990’s, or even 1980’s. The pace is slower there, and not as many entertainment options. Most people I know go there for food anyway. We were brought to a mall, after we checked in, for a late lunch. Of course I did wonder why we ended up in a food court when we were supposed to search for hawker food.

Anyway the mall is pretty new, looks upmarket, and it even has a Singapore feel to it. We later found out it is really run by a Singapore company. We went to the supermarket to get some stuff, and looking at the prices of the goods, after exchange rate conversion, they are similar to what we see at home. But I can’t imagine the locals paying for them. The Sing dollar is about 3 times the value of the Malaysian ringgit, and the Penangites are earning the same amount as Singaporeans, and some even less, but in their currency. Like I bought this Korean chocolate pretzel stick for Buddy which is close to MYR5, whereas I pay S$1.70 in Singapore.

Alright, enough of the less important stuff, now comes the main focus. My husband and I had planned the food trip like it was for the D-day invasion. Since we arrived in the early afternoon of a Monday, we thought we would take it easy for the rest of the day before settling down for a good dinner. We decided on Chinese cuisine, and found Tek Sen listed as one of the top five Chinese restaurants in Penang (Add: 18 Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown). It was not known to my father-in-law and the relatives, but to be honest they are not foodies and they hardly venture out of their neighbourhood.

There were many reviews mentioning long lines at the restaurant, and so we preempted that by arriving early, at 5.45pm. It is along a narrow street that is reminiscent of Chinatown, and there is even a shop selling pork right across it, with pig carcasses hanging right in front of the doorway.

The restaurant was filling up fast then, and we were lucky to get one of the available tables quickly. The eatery is actually quite large; the fact that it is quickly occupied for dinner is an indication of its fame. There was a mix of both locals and tourists, and the setting is typical of one of those “Zhi Char” eateries AKA “Dai-Pai Dong” (food outlet that provides stir fried dishes) in Singapore. But the place is clean though.

My husband looked through the extensive menu, and was pleasantly surprised to discover a vegetable dish that he hasn’t seen in Singapore: the kachang botol or winged bean (四角豆).

I haven’t seen anything like this before. The beans are fried with sambal sauce (chili paste made with shrimp paste and is indigenous to the southeast Asian cuisine) and prawn. When I tried it, it was love at first bite! The combination of the crunchy beans with the spicy and savoury flavour is amazing and even addictive! Why can’t we get this in Singapore?

For buddy, we ordered a non-spicy potato leaves dish, which is done well but nothing special compared to what we usually get. In fact it pales in comparison to the kachang botol.

Naturally we have to order the signature dish, which is raved in all reviews: double roasted pork with Chili padi. This is diced pork belly fried with the small spicy Chili for extra kick, and it certainly lives up to its reputation for its tastiness. Even Buddy gave it a thumbs up.

We ordered the pork trotter with vinegar as well (a dish that is commonly given to nursing mothers but also popular with those not having that responsibility), a water cress soup, and the Assam Tumis with black pomfret.

My husband reminisced, as he had the pork trotter, that it reminded him so much of what his mom used to make. For me, I’m not a fan of it and so didn’t bother to try. Even after I had Buddy, I would politely decline it. I know it does look scary to those unfamiliar with the dish: a mess of dark brown stuff in some dark thick sauce. But there are many Chinese who love it, like my husband.

The Assam curry is fabulous; the various flavours of spicy, tart, savoury and sweetness are blended perfectly. But I have a beef with the pomfret fish, which doesn’t seem to soak up the curry flavour into its flesh, and I find it a little bland. This dish can be served with sting ray instead of fish, which my husband thinks will absorb the flavour better. Too bad my father in law doesn’t like sting ray.

All in all, we enjoyed the food tremendously, and it was a good start to the food trip. Some tourists said the prices at Tek Sen are not cheap compared to hawker food. (Like our dinner came up to about S$70 in total.) But that is like comparing apple to orange. To us, it is cheap for restaurant eat because this was the price for 4 adults and a kid, and we had a fish dish as well. It would have cost well over S$100 if we had something similar in Singapore.

This is it for the first day; more to come!

Last minute cheongsams for VD and CNY!

Valentine’s Day is just round the corner, followed closely by the Chinese New Year. If you haven’t gotten your dresses yet, you should consider a cheongsam especially for VD. Since this is my last post on cheongsams before the festivities begin, I like to feature dresses from retailers whom I haven’t been showcasing lately as well a couple of new ones.

I can’t believe I forgot about Miz Apparels until recently. I have been too engrossed with the choices available in department stores. So I made a trip to the One Raffles Place outlet to see what are available. Just like previous collections, MA does the Mother-Daughter set very well. The dresses go for less than S$200 and the top is retailed at S$99.

On Friday, I went to the pop-up store of The Girl’s Kaksh where I finally got to check out the designs. Actually, I had encountered the dresses some years back when Audrey started selling her cheongsams. I was intrigued by the eclectic prints, but I didn’t get anything then. Subsequently the brand came up in my radar again, and I started followed it on FB. That was how I found out Audrey was holding a 2-day pop up store at International Plaza.

I had previously requested to showcase the dresses on my blog, but was declined politely. Finally this time, Audrey acceded. So here we have a piece with cat print and to add a whimsical touch, Audrey designed a fish along the side slit.

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If you like the interesting designs from TGK, and every piece is unique, do contact Audrey for an appointment to check out these whimsy cheongsams. Most of the dresses are slightly more than S$200, and they run a little larger than usual . If you want a custom made piece, it will be at least S$250 depending on fabrics.

A new brand I like to introduce here is Qiqing Qipao. I chanced upon this label on FB a few days ago, and was intrigued by the cheongsam designs. Many available in the market usually come in bright floral prints with embroidered buttons; but for those from Qiqing, they have a clean cut and contemporary look. These are very suited for the professionals.

I approached the designer, Josephine Ho, to ask if I could feature some of the dresses on my blog and she was very accommodating and even sent over pictures for me.

The dress  below with simple print and a V-shaped back, is known fittingly as “Backview”, and retailed at S$288.

The range below, Linear Twist, is retailed for S$329. Check out the scalloped collar.

Qiqing offers tops as well, like these which are inspired by the Vietnamese ao yai. They go for S$179, and if you want it with floral prints (available for the CNY occasion), it is S$219.

Josephine has a showroom at 780 Upper Serangoon Road. If you are interested to go for a fitting, do contact her for an appointment.

Next, we have Mama & Misse, another brand which I haven’t been featuring for quite some time. M&M’s cheongsams are unique as well, but they are mostly in the traditional cut and go for more than S$300. For those with UOB credit cards, there is a 10% discount during this CNY period.

And how could I not include Blum in this post. It turns out I was wrong to think that the label is not launching many cheongsams this time. It’s just that they are launching it a little later than most other brands. Expect to pay in the range of S$350 for the dresses.

Finally, we have Hana where you can get a cheongsam that makes you look like a million dollar, at a price of more than S$1,600. With such elaborate embroidery, I must say it is worth it. I mean, seriously, look at this dress!

With so many different designs available, shoppers are really spoilt for choice. So do check out and get yourself a cheongsam and shine during this VD or Chinese New Year!

Check out the cheongsams from Monica Quen (updated)

(Note. Monica Quen has kindly provided me with photo shoot of the dresses for a better view, and so I have replaced a couple of those I took and included a few more.)

I was in Penang last week, and I took the opportunity to visit Monica Quen boutique to see the cheongsams for myself. I first heard of her from a colleague who wore her dresses during CNY last year. She told me she bought them from the shop at the Eastern & Oriental hotel in Penang. I then went online to do some research, and found out Monica is a Malaysian fashion designer who focuses on oriental wear. Her stores are available in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

I don’t have any plan to visit KL, and was wondering when I would even go to Penang, even though my husband has relatives there. It turns out we made the visit before this CNY.

There are 3 boutiques in Penang. To maximize my time spent, I contacted Monica to ask which shop would have the full collection, and she suggested I visit the one at Straits Quay (Add: Lot No. 3A-G-29, Block A, G Floor, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjong Tokong, 10470 Penang, Malaysia). This is an upmarket mall by the Marina with apartments above shopping center.

When I communicated with Monica, I took the chance to introduce my blog to her and to request for permission to take photos. She very kindly obliged, and even suggested I visit the shop on the Friday when the designer would be present. Unfortunately, I would leave Penang by then and had to miss this opportunity.

The boutique is situated next to the mall entrance, which is a pretty good spot. It is fairly large and spacious, and tastefully furnished with an oriental interior, befitting of the clothes it sells.

Now, let’s check out the clothes; and I only focused on cheongsam dresses and tops. We have here a cheongsam muumuu in silk for those who prefer something comfy.

Personally I feel that a cheongsam should be fitting, though originally it was a loose dress. But never casual! Always proper! So I am not in favor that cheongsam should go casual. So we have a couple of dresses here that adhere to my view of how it should look like: a couple of pink dresses in jacquard woven cotton blend with elastane (MYR229.90) and a pretty turquoise one in stretchy cotton with geometric print (MYR169.90).

Next, we have a series of cheongsams in light fabric: the first one is a loose fit dress with blue chinoiserie print in chiffon (MYR269.90); while the other two are figure-hugging dresses (called the “netting” range by the boutique). I understand the latters are very popular because they adhere to any body shapes. They are going for MYR229.90.

For a formal look, there is an embroidered organza lace cheongsam in lavender at MYR499.90.

Finally, for the cheongsam tops, you can pick from different fabrics, such as this below in blue embroidered thick cotton-linen (MYR299.90) as well as a red one in a light polyester blend (MYR129.90).

So, what do I think of the cheongsams? To be honest, if I want to compare with Clothier or even Peter Kor, the workmanship is not as fine though it is acceptable. However when I take into account their prices, I must say they definitely give the Singapore brands a run for their money.

At the current exchange rate of MYR1 to about USD0.257 and SGD0.338, I’m sure you realize even the most expensive embroidered dress is below S$200. This make the cheongsams really value for money. If you are making a trip to Penang or Kuala Lumpur, do check out the stores.

(More photos below)

The CNY cheongsam launches continue

The Happy Cheongsam has launched its 2018 collection after a long hiatus. In fact, it has been a year since we last saw its designs, which was for 2017 CNY. When I checked in with Ming a few months ago on the radio silence, she told me she was preparing for the new year designs.

So, here we are, some pictures of the collection you can expect from THC. To be honest, I thought last year’s dresses were prettier.

There is a familiar look this time – a design that appeared in the first collection, the peacock dress below. It also comes in black, the color that was launched previously.

For the young ladies who prefer something comfy, you can opt for the cheongsam top and shorts set. I thought it might be a little too casual. But it seems that the younger Singaporeans have a tendency to dress down.

Finally a Mother-Daughter set. Again, the mama cheongsam reminds me of the Thai silk pleated dress from the first collection as well.

Another retailer, which has launched a new collection, is Sissae, and it’s aptly named as “Opulence”!there is a focus on embroidery and brocade silk fabric. The designs are more suited for formal occasions or as special wear.

When I was at Robinson Raffles City Mall to look at Peter Kor’s collection, I took the chance to check out the other designs. The departmental store has been offering more cheongsam selections over the last 2 years, which I presume to mean that there is increased demand for the dress during CNY. Here are some of what you can expect at a cheaper price range.

Over at Parkway Parade, I spotted a pretty batik cheongsam from Utopia Apparels. I like the juxtaposition of the different prints, and I think it would make for a fun casual piece!