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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beef - Wagyu Beef Grade 6 from Astons Specialities and Hock Lam Beef Noodles

Remember the last review I wrote about Hock Lam Street beef kway teoh (click here) where I gave the food a 6/10? Well, after having the take-away bowl of beef noodles below, I've decided to revise my opinion about the food. The bowl of beef noodles was fabulous on its own ie without comparison against the past experience eating the same. Maybe it is a one-off thingy, maybe it was a different chef, or maybe takeaway beef noodles is nicer than beef noodles eaten there (because the noodles were allowed to soak in the gravy for a longer period of time?), I'm not sure. All I know is that being the queen of second chances does pay off once in a blue moon and agreeing to have the beef noodles below is one of those times. :)

However if one is looking for consistency in the standards of beef at not too exhorbitant prices, I would recommend Astons Prime. Astons Specialities at Sembawang isn't too far off the mark either - it is value for money per my earlier review but based on my experiences there, I would only order the wagyu beef there and not the other options like Ribeye etc. The last time I was at Astons Specialities was somewhere back in June just before my SZ/HKG trip. We had the Wagyu Beef Grade 6 which came with 2 sides and was priced most decently at about SGD37 each. The Slog Reviews: 8.5/10. The beef was just the right thickness and cooked so perfectly that each bite of the meat retained its full flavor. All beef lovers should have wagyu beef at least once a month I think.

Happy Chef and Chicken Kiev

My CEB had been craving for chicken kiev for quite some time and although I tried to find some other place in Singapore which sells chicken kiev, the results of my search pointed to just one place - Happy Chef Western Food.

Because I'd been there all of 2 times, my CEB and I made a wrong turn getting there but eventually found the place which is located right along the side road branching off North Bridge Road named "Crawford Lane". The nearest carpark is the one with cashcard parking gantries. Happy Chef is right smack in the middle of the stalls of that coffeeshop and appears to be your rather ordinary Western food stall except for the many newspaper articles about the place pasted on the pillar in front of the stall.

One has to make payment upfront right after ordering from the rather extensive menu with the prices clearly displayed next to a picture of each food item. Cash terms of course. My CEB had the chicken kiev at SGD6.50 which was served quickly enough but had been cut into 3 pieces:

The Slog Reviews: ?/10. The reason for the ? is that I didn't get to have even a bite of the chicken kiev. Now, my CEB claimed it wasn't as good as the ones he had in UK when he studied there BUT he totally forgot to offer me a bite which is quite, unlike him. And he finished all of the kiev rather quickly so I guess it mustn't have been too awful. On a side note, if one wants to buy frozen chicken kiev, one can go to the shop specialising in frozen meat near Cold Storage at Parkway Parade.

I on the other hand, had the battered fish. The Slog Reviews: 6/10. The fish neither tasted fresh (but that doesn't mean it wasn't fresh) nor impressed the taste buds in any way. The chips were also tasteless and hard, much like the veg which was served along with the fish. After reading more about Happy Chef on the net, it seems that the dish to order is the pork ribs so one might want to give the fish a miss and try that instead.

466 Crawford Lane
11am to 10pm daily

Monday, September 27, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010) movie

We decided to take a leisurely drive back to Singapore after leaving Melaka about 3+pm. So instead of taking the North-South Highway, we followed the direction of the signboards that said "Muar" and from "Muar", we followed the signboards that said "Batu Pahat". We reached Batu Pahat Mall's cineplex about 5.45pm and because my CEB had watched almost all the movies showing without yours truly, he agreed to watch the only non-Malay movie he hadn't watched so far "The Owls of Ga'Hoole" although it had started at 5.30pm.

By the time we sat down, we had missed the start of the movie which usually sets the stage of the movie and we hadn't a clue what the movie was about at all but it didn't take along for us to cotton on - bad (the Pure Ones) versus good (the Guardians). The hero of the movie was, as with most movies these days, a young (and yes, don't we all bemoan the loss of our youth) owlet named Soran, who makes the decision to break free from the Pure Ones when he realises that the Pure Ones aren't that pure. His brother, Kludd on the other hand, buys into the Pure Ones' evil plans wholeheartedly.

The Slog Reviews: 7/10. We didn't watch this movie in 3D (which after readings some reviews, is a far better watch than in 2D) and while we enjoyed it moderately, we felt that there was nothing novel or impressive about the movie - the plot or storyline. Both of us agreed that the movie reminded us of the epic "Lord of the Rings" movie even though the characters are of course, vastly different. I guess it is because of some of the scenes - the owls donning on battle gear aka the trolls, Kludd falling back into the flames aka golum It was also difficult to identify with Soren or any of the other characters too and although the owl-warrior-poet "Twilight" got some laughs from the audience, the humor was slapstick and far from witty. I am not sure about children's capacity for violence these days and although the fighting scenes were not gory, I'm not sure if I'll like my child watching talons being sharpened to a vicious shine, owls using their claws to tear at each other and brother turning on brother etc...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Effective Communication

At our company's cocktail event last week, we had a workshop on effective communication. It was one of the better workshops that I've attended and so I thought I'll write it down the tips I'd jotted down.

Toolbox for making great connections
1) Eye Contact
2) Body Language
3) Words (Finding things in common)
4) Intonation/Enounciation
5) Style (Delivery - informal/informal)
6) First impresions (Looks, Status, Dressing, Voice, Handshake, Smile, Manners, Presentation of oneself)

What makes a great communicator great
1) Clarity (Organised Thoughts)
2) Good Tone
3) Ability to articulate
4) Knowledge of what he is talking about
5) Able to keep the listener's attention
6) Able to obtain respect and rapport
7) Engaging
8) Good listener
9) Empathy (put yourself in the other person's shoes and imagine how they feel)

Dangers of not communicating well
Confusion, conflict, reduced productvity (wastage), ruined relationship, affects your reputation/image, affects your company's image

Door openers (Non-webal, verbal)
Smile, Nodding, Look concerned (approprirately), Looking interested, handshake, turn and face the speaker
Say "Right", "Really", "That's interesting"

Active listening
An active listener will:
1) show genuine facial expressions
2) use good eye contact and body language
3) occasionally show understanding
4) provide regular verbal feedback
5) ask questions requiring more detail
6) ask a balance of open and closed questions
7) show patience and empathy
8) acknowlege the enthusiasm in the speaker's message
9) reflect back and think before replying
10) keep an open mind
11) listen to understand instead of listening to agree/disagree

In short, active listening = empathetic listening
1) Encourages the speaker to speak
2) Confirms understanding
3) Show that you are interested
4) Reduces possibility of misunderstanding
5) Encourages speaker to develop the message and his/her feelings
6) Shows care and understanding rather than you are demanding and controlling

How to paraphrase
"So what you are teling me is..."
"Am I right to say...."
"In other words...."
"What I am hearing you say is that...."
"So basically you feel that..."
"I see. You that that...."

Other tips
1) Slow down (speech)
2) Keep language simple
3) Enunciate (use whole mouth)
4) Emphasize for meaning
5) Check for understanding
6) Have a clear goal
7) Be courteous even if stressed
8) Listen effectively
9) Encourage positive thinking
10) Treat the listener how THEY (and not you) wish to be treated

Monday, September 20, 2010

Banking in Malaysia

I am aware of the CLOB incident where many fellow Sporeans lost their hard-earned monies. I don't believe for a moment that my monies will be safe in Malaysia, esp when I don't have a Msian citizen as a joint account holder (that option which was once open to me, no longer is).

However, after an evaluation of the pros and cons, as well as weighing the likelihood of losing everything, I decided to open a bank account with one of their most (if not, the most) established banks starting with the letter M. Actually, I was a bit more ambitious than that and decided to open an account with another of their banks starting with the letter R.

I checked the websites most carefully on the requirements before going down to the branch and prepared the necessary - passport, NRIC and even, my utilities bill. The lady at the counter that day told me I could not open a savings account but only a current account which had a charge of RM5 a month. Only after I'd asked if there were any other options which weren't quite so expensive did she offer the alternative of an account (current) with a charge of RM10 every 6 months. However, she required RM1000 for that account and thankfully I had that amount. However, my CEB had some doubts and the long-short was that we agreed to check out other options available such as R bank before commiting. We even went to another branch of M bank to ask about opening the account there but was told that "system is down - come back another day".

So last weekend, after a couple of emails from R bank informing me I could not open any account whatsoever with them, I went back to M bank and there was a different lady at the counter. She informed me that I was only eligible to open the account with a RM5 monthly charge. It was only when I firmly insisted that the lady the week before had processed the forms half way for me for the other account that she finally conceded that I could open this other type of account. BUT BUT, she wanted to make it tough - not only did she want my NRIC, Passport, copy of my utilities bill, the RM 1000 and also evidence of where I worked, something which wasn't required before. Anyway, to get the account open, rather than argue with her, I gave her my namecard which apparently was good enough.

She told me to wait for the girl at the next counter to process the forms and sat there we did. For a full one hour. Now, the girl was doing nothing, attending to no one else but her colleagues who came over to slouch in the chairs opposite and joke with her. At the end of one hour, when the other lady asked her if she was done, she just said "System problem". The other lady took over and immediately used the same computer which had a "system problem" to complete the processing in all of the next 15mins. When I groused about to my CEB, he said that if this country was as efficient as ours, we would be in serious trouble and therefore if I insisted on banking here in Msia, I would have to put up with stuff like this. Fine.

So, after the processing was completed, the lady gave my a Visa Debit card and a paper card which stated just my name and my account number. Except that it stated Savings Account instead of Current Account above my account number. When I questioned her, she said it didn't matter. And when I asked her for a copy of the forms which I'd signed on for the account opening, she said that these were not available to customers. I even asked her for a pamplet on this current account which states the rates/charges/interest and she told me the bank had none to give as all the information is on the website. Great. Just great.

And so to top it all off, when I "login-ed" to internet banking this morning, I found that RM8 had been deducted as bankard annual fees payment. I called the head office in KL to check and they told me it was because I'd applied for unlimited withdrawals. I told them I most definitely hadn't and they told me to call the JB branch. I asked if there was a possibility of reversal of the charge and she said I should just accept the fees paid for this one year. Fantastic Eh.

It gets even better - when I asked her if payment of petrol using the visa debit cards = withdrawals, she said no. She asked if anyone told me that there would be a deduction of RM 200 each time I used the card for petrol withdrawal which would subsequently be credited back to the account after 5 days and the correct amount charged then. I said no. Well, apparently it is something that wasn't mentioned to me despite me telling the lady at the branch my primary purpose of opening the freaking account.

Msia banking boleh indeed.

Road trip to Melaka coming up

I have a road trip to Muar and Melaka with my CEB coming up. And I shouldn't be stressed about it given that I've driven there quite recently .

However, Celina's untimely tragic demise has struck deep in my heart, the fear of driving the way I do. That, together with the not too pleasant feedback from my passengers on my driving habits, has shaken all the bravado and confidence in my own skills right out of me. And it isn't funny the least, to be questioning, to be doubting my abilities.

I have had my licence for 12 years. I had 2 accidents in the first 3 years when I used my mum's car about 3 times a week for school. The first was when I reversed into a lorry (totally my fault) and the second was when I was at the base of a slope and the car in front slid down and crashed into me (totally his fault). After that, I started work and didn't drive often till Jan 2008 when I bought my own car and drove to work and back every day. In the almost 3 years I've been driving daily and on weekends, I've had only one accident. And it wasn't even when I was speeding at all - in fact my speed was less than 40km/hr then.

So, I've driven 6 hours straight on two-lane "highways" (where there is the risk of cows wandering across the roads), on pitch black winding roads with sharp hairpin bends, at 180/km in a toyota tin can vios which max speed is 200km/hr. And now, I can't even make myself do this road trip to Melaka without breaking into cold sweat at the thought of what might happen if the tin can hits a loose stone, flips and crashes.

I never used to care too much about dying - not that I didn't know all about how random and sudden death/injury can be, given the year I spent doing almost nothing but runners (PI work). It just never used to matter the past 3 years since I was running from the demons and saw nothing but the bleakness of the future. Hopelessness and emptiness within does have a way of doing that to a person - we take risks we wouldn't otherwise take and embrace recklessness with a wild heedless abandon. So, the only thing I really feared was being crippled.

However, when I found myself declining the option of skydiving while in Cairns earlier this month because I was afraid I would die (the likelihood of being crippled is minimal compared to death when plunging down) engaging in such an activity, and when I found myself thinking twice about laying my life down willingly for certain people in my life which I had all along been prepared to do the past 3 years, and when I am now terrified of driving the way I used to drive, fast and reckless in my tin can vios, I realised something inside of me had changed unconsciously without my knowledge or will.

Maybe it is just age mellowing me, or maybe it is because I am learning to be responsible to this man who calls me "my love" whom I trust wholeheartedly when he tells me that he has given me his heart and asks me with such sweet heartbreaking sincerity to take care of this gift.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Candle in the wind

The song "Candle in the Wind" (which I hadn't heard or thought of in ages) sprang to mind when I first heard the news of Celina's death from a mutual friend today asking me if I wanted to go to the wake today. I was in Cairns, Australia which is probably why I missed the news (it was in the papers).

This is the second time that I've lost a peer to a car accident. The first was my sec school peer who was the front seat passenger (the driver survived) in a car wreck in Arizona about 5 years ago. But the feelings of shock, grief and loss this time is the same. There is no getting used to/numbed abt losing people through car accidents, no matter how many times that happens or how many times you read/hear about it. When I was in practice and doing personal injury work on a daily basis, I never got used to the senselessness of lifes lost or ruined through car accidents.

Celina was my law school peer. If I had to use just 1 word to describe my impression/memory of her, it would be "vibrant". She was so attractive and full of life. I remember that when I chanced upon an old article of her in a local magazine (sept 09 issue), I was impressed by her choice to leave practice to pursue her dream in Australia to study to be a vet. I also recalled the last time I saw her - at GV Marina with her bf, looking radiant and happy as always. I've read that the Lord calls home early those closest to his heart, and that is why the brightest and best of us often return to the Lord's home sooner. This couldn't be any more true for Celina.

May she rest in peace and may the Lord give those who mourn her comfort. :(

ETA: Going to the wake tonight with the rest of my law school pals was a most sobering experience. The last hymm sung was "You are Mine" and at the end (Come and follow me,I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.) most of our eyes were filled with tears.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CIMB credit card and Nijyumaru

I received my CIMB credit card in the mail sometime when I was in Cairns (along with the new Standchart Platinum Mastercard AND a Standchart Preferred World Mastercard which I most certainly didn't even apply for - but I'm not complaining because of the vouchers that came with the cards, and the 25000 free stdchart pts for the Preferred card which I can redeem S$100 worth of Tangs vouchers with).

Anyway, the CIMB credit card came with a book on all the benefits/privileges attached to the card. There was a seperate section on discounts at restaurants in JB and I've decided that we should try out the different restaurants listed there. If my food companion, my CEB, had the final say in this matter (where we eat), I'll be eating and writing about the same places over&over again, like at his favourite Japanese restaurant in JB, Nijyumaru. I like the place very much too, don't get me wrong (see my first review of the place here (this entry has the address of both outlets)). However, variety is the spice of life, and all the more so when it comes to food :D

So, since CEB specifically requested that I blog about how good the food is here, esp the "red-wine beef cubes" which he claims is even better than the horrendously expensive double rib eye premium steak in Saigon which we had on my birthday (another post for that),I've decided to take the photos from our most recent dining experience at Nijyumaru (4 Sept 2010) and write about the experience.

My CEB loves tuna sashimi (not salmon) and it was no surprise that he ordered this:

Given the speed he finished the contents of the bowl (which wasn't too large), I guessed it must have been pretty good. To confirm, I asked him specifically how the food was and he said "Good".

I had my favourite Jap noodles - cha soba. The Slog Reviews: 8/10. I would say this dish is excellent value for money at just RM11. That's lesser than the cost of a cha soba packed lunch at the supermarket near my work place! This dish even came with a raw egg (which I wasn't too sure what to do with and left untouched). The only grouse I have is that there was a tad too little tea to soak the noodles in.

I also ordered 2 grilled scallops to go with the cha soba. The Slog Reviews: 5.5/10. I wouldn't recommend this dish at all. At RM[cant remember need to check the receipt], it wasn't worth the money because firstly, it was badly cooked and the meat stuck to the flesh and secondly, it was badly cooked (I just have to say that again hah) and the meat tasted gritty and sandy.

And of course, we ordered my CEB's favourite red wine beef. The Slog Reviews: 8/10. The beef is certainly well-marinated and tasty, and no, you can't go too far wrong ordering this dish (RM21) but I guess my CEB and I have quite different views when it comes to this dish. I found the beef too mushy to my liking, it lacks the texture of the beef at Aston Prime where one's teeth can literally sink in slowly to the meat.

Oh, and one thing about Nijyumaru, they always ask if one has made reservations, even if the party is small (like 2-3 pp). I've never made reservations and never had to wait for a table but then again, I've always made sure to go to the restaurant either slightly later (8+) or earlier (6+) instead of dinner time. However the fact that they ask (for reservations) is telling and those with a bigger party should make reservations.

Kirishima Shuzhou Japanese Restaurant

I was clearing out my office drawers this morning and I found the receipt for this restaurant which I'd kept for the purpose of blogging. But of course, per the previous entry, I haven't done so and now not just my memory of this experience, but the receipt as well is blurred, very blurred.

Anyway, I'd been told repeatedly that this is THE restaurant that Japanese in JB go to for a meal. So if one is looking for a place in Johor Bahru which has jap food that taste very similar to that found in Japan, Kirishima and not Nijyumaru, is the place to go. So one weekday evening in late June, because of the hour (8pm), we decided to forgo the usual grocery shopping and just have dinner (and pump petrol of course) in JB. Parking at Crystal Crown Hotel which is where the restaurant is located cost RM3. Here's a pic of the entrance of the restaurant on the second floor of the hotel (accessible through the lobby).

The menu which was rather impressive looking (despite the words "Japanese casual style dining) had a wide range of items for us to choose from. As we were pretty hungry, we ordered the sets. I ordered the Soba Takikomi which cost RM38 and this is just 2/3 of the set. The rest of the set (consisting of chawan mushi etc) can be seen in the last pic.

My CEB on the hand, who eats sashimi unlike The Slog, ordered the xxxx (receipt has blurred) Gozen which cost RM48. We were absolutely floored by the size of the set when it was served!

We also shared a Agedashi Dofu (RM 12) and if my memory serves me rightly, this dish was the only one which wasn't too our liking. Not that it wasn't good, but it tastes rather different from the agedashi tofus that we have at Jap restaurants here.

The bill for the food alone (see pic below) was RM98 but with the govt tax of 5% and svc charge of 10%, the total amt payable was RM112.70 altogether. That's why we end up going into Msia so often - it's impossible to get this amt and quality of food at a restaurant in a hotel for less than SGD 50 in Singapore!

Here are the restaurant's details:
Open from 12.00-2.30pm / 6.00-10.30pm throughout the year.
Address: 117, Jalan Tebrau, 80250 Johor Bahru, Johor. (Crystal Crown Hotel)
Tel: 07-276 2838

Serendipity - (An explanation for the lack of entries from end June 2010)

A reader of this blog put it to me over lunch recently that as a blog writer, I have the responsibility of explaining the startling lack of entries in this blog to readers (if any). I know I did offer an explanation of sorts once before, (here to be exact) but not an apology and a proper explanation.

So please accept my sincere apologies for the lack of blogging/inconsistent blogging the past 10 weeks. The reasons (and they aren't excuses) are as follows:

1. I have been swarmed with work;

2. I have had to write so many grammatically correct and coherent pieces of advice a day that to write some more in this blog after a long day at work becomes impossible;

3. I have been travelling almost every weekend since early July (In July, I was in HongKong/Shenzhen for the first weekend and for the third and last weekends, I was at Desaru and JB respectively. In August, I was in Siem Reap for the first weekend, fishing in Nenasi the second weekend and in Ho Chi Minh for my birthday on the third weekend. The last weekend of August, I attended a friend's wedding at Amara Sanctuary Hotel and the first weekend of September, I was in JB again. We are now into the third week of September and the second weekend (just 2 days ago) was spent in Australia (Cairns to be precise);

4. I am the sort of person who needs a time-out from stuff (and I tire of stuff pretty quickly if I have been doing a little too much of it); and

5. Something (most time-consuming AND totally unexpected) happened the first weekend of July. A picture is worth a thousand words so I'll let the pic below speak for itself:

My CEB and I didn't plan or expect this but more than 2 months later, we are still all very good so please do wish us the best :)

The Expendables (2010)

With a title like that, and a star-studded cast of action veterans from the 1980s to 1920s, it is no wonder that this movie opened at No 1 in the box offices of USA, UK and even China.

Now, this is strictly a guys movie IMHO. I grew up with Sly (short for Sylvester Stallone) who was my Dad's action hero of all times, and I adored Arnie (short for Arnold Schwarzenegger) ever since watching Terminator. Jason Statham is wicked (love his acting in Crank) and all Chinese know Jet Li of course. However, it took my learned colleague's explanation of how unique the fight scenes in this movie are (because of how the action veterans are paired up) before I could appreciate the movie, or rather, the purpose of the star-studded cast.

The Slog Reviews: 7/10. The plot is rather thin (you can read a review by clicking here) and all the "good guys" survive. Girly girls should give this movie a miss but guy guys would love this movie (esp the older guy guys)