Saturday, August 05, 2017

Not such a slow durian season

As was the case last year, our visit to Penang was timed to coincide with what we hoped would be the peak of the durian season.  Unfortunately, as related my previous post, the lack of rainfall had caused a late and small durian harvest. This had prevented us from feasting on Orh Chi or "Black Thorn" durians when we visited Nibong Tebal.  Does this mean however that we were totally deprived of durians?  The answer, fortunately, is no.

It was a slow start.  We found a roadside stall on our way back from Nibong Tebal which sold "kampong" durian and a small selection of other durian varieties, which we brought back to my uncle's place for a light snack. The "kampong" durian is really from one of those wild roadside durian trees which people then pick up to sell.   They were not the creamiest nor richest in flavour.  But nonetheless we dug in enthusiastically and within minutes the durians were all gone amongst our large group.

We also had the chance to savour other yummy goodies as well, including the fermented rice snack called tapeh.  It's not easy to get in Singapore (unless you go to the Katong Antique House on East Coast Road which sometimes sells this on a Sunday morning) and is also not that common in Malaysia these days.  But of course my relatives know where to find it in Penang.  I have to say it is an acquired taste, but since my Father has been buying it off and on for years, we have somehow acquired it.  (My sister remembers him feeding it to her as a little girl!).

I also did not mention earlier that the other motivation behind our trip to Balik Pulau was of course to eat durians!  The hills behind the town apparently provide a conducive environment and geography for durians - the right amount of sunshine, drainage, etc.  Here, we could forget all about the late and small harvest.  The durian trees grow in the wild on either side of the road, as it wound through the hills.  My aunts kept telling me that there were durians all around but obviously you need to develop an eye since I only saw the very obvious ones where they were clearly visible against the sky behind.

The durian plantations on the hill typically have their own little stalls on the roadside where customers can sit and eat.  This is what we did last year.  This year, we ended up in the Bao Shang Wang durian plantation stall because my uncle's cousin's Friend owns it. We drove down this really steep road to get to the sheltered terrace where we would eat our durians.  Wow!  It was the first time I've ever eaten durians with such a gorgeous view in front of me!

View from Bao Sheng
Khun Po durian
What was truly very different, however, was the clientele.   Here, in the hills on the other side of Penang, a long car journey from the nearest town, was a bunch of skinny, tanned, Ang Moh Lang dressed like hippies!  Helping sort and clean durians, eating the durians, helping clear away the durian skins and seeds!   Apparently the Bao Sheng durian folk also do some homestay and somehow these chaps found out about it and come to stay.  It was a strange, somewhat surreal experience as I would never have expected to see so many non-Asians so far away from the main tourist spots and eating durians to boot!  It certainly bust the stereotype of the Ang Moh who can't abide the sight nor smell of durian.

Besides human beings, there were a number of dogs wandering around the place.  One or two were the "house dogs"; collared, sleek, plump. Others were strays; skinny, dirty.  Somehow they seemed fairly tame too.

So what did we eat?  We ate (in order of ascending sweetness) : D604; Xiao Hong (a rather orangey colour rather than red); and Khun Po (named after the gentleman who first cultivated it).  The folks who didn't eat durian (yes there were some in our party) were given watermelon and bananas.  We washed down everything with tea.

More durian sampling
And that was not all.  Apparently my uncle's cousin went somewhat overboard and arranged for us to visit a second plantation.  Ummm.... instead we got him to deliver the durians back to my uncle's place and he took them to our family home in Georgetown.  Where we ate them the next day!  Washed down with Chinese tea, to cleanse and refresh the palate, to better savour the next different durian variety.  Alongside, for the non-durian eaters were chiku, pomelo, and other tropical fruits.  Plus another unusual Penang kueh-kueh called "Ee yah kueh".   

So small harvest aside, we still managed to have a most satisfying durian holiday.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Other Side of Penang

Early this month, my extended family went back again to Penang for our annual visit.  This year, we had our largest group yet - my Dad, my uncle and two aunties, and five of us from the next generation (including two spouses)!  We met up with my Dad's Penang cousins, and went for our normal, extended foodie experience.

The family house
This year, however, we did things a little differently.  i.e., not just the Penang hawker food binge.  For the first time, we went to "the mainland".  For the uninitiated, the State of Penang is not just one island (Pulau Pinang) but extends also to a small region on the mainland, historically known as "Province Wellesley" in the days of the British and now called Seberang Perai.

It turned out to be quite an interesting drive.  We took the new second link to the mainland - an impressive causeway which is much longer than the first link, and with much less traffic too.  It's always nice to get a feel of the place, driving through the country and seeing what there is to see - not just the normal palm oil plantations but also factories, reminding me that Penang is one of Malaysia's manufacturing hubs.

We had a clear mission for our visit to the mainland.  First, to see if we could visit the family home of my great grandmother (father's mother's mother) in the little town of Nibong Tebal.  At the same time, to eat durians - the elusive "Orh Chih" or "Black Thorn", which apparently was first grown in Nibong Tebal and where therefore the best of this variety is found.  Lastly, we were going to eat yummy seafood in one of the well known seafood restaurants in the area.

Well, at least we managed one out of three!  This year's durian season is a little late.  There was not enough rain and so the harvest is also small.  So there was no "Black Thorn" available.  As for the family home, it turns out that it is hidden behind a row of shophouses.  Access is through a gap in the shophouses but it has now been blocked by one of those shuttered grilles across the entrance.  As we had not called ahead or attempted to contact the residents earlier, we could only peek at it from between the grilles.  Fortunately, the house looked quite well preserved (at least from the outside).

So we were left with lunch.  Fortunately this did not let us down.  Law Cheang Kee is well known for its excellent seafood and as we were early (due to the lack of durian and lack of access to the house), had no problem getting a table.  The restaurant filled up whilst we were there and people were waiting.  This is really a small town so the patrons must have driven from the surrounding areas to get here on their lunch hour.  Our pomfret was beautifully fresh, steamed to perfection and the other seafood dishes were really tasty and flavourful.  Everything was well cooked and I have to say that it was worth the lengthy drive.

Removing the peanut skins
Neither did we walk away empty-handed.  Nibong Tebal is well known, it appears, for its traditional Teochew biscuit shop Chop Chuan Guan, where biscuits are still made by hand every day.     It is like a factory, with a row of biscuit makers sitting in a row in the main shop.  In the shop next door, a girl was removing the peanut skins from the roasted peanuts.  It was quite fascinating, watching her skilfully and efficiently toss the peanuts on a large flat basket, till the skins separated from the peanuts.

The shop is famous for its unique and rare "duck neck" biscuit, or "ark-am"!  This biscuit has a crunchy peanut core, with a soft outer layer, and covered with a layer of peanuts.  It is rolled up into a thin roll and cut into long pieces, hence the name.  Certainly, no ducks were harmed in the making of this biscuit :-)  It is really quite yummy so I can understand the brisk business - visitors were coming in whilst we were looking around it, just to get a package of their favourite tau sar piah or ark-am.   Which is what I did, too.  I should have bought another packet!  Ah well, hopefully there will be a next time.

The next day, we went to Balik Pulau.  Balik Pulau literally means "back of the island" or "go back to the island".  It's literally on the opposite side of the island from Georgetown and there's a totally different, laid back atmosphere here.  But things are changing, as new developments are encroaching on this little town.  There's even an international school, the "Prince of Wales Island International School" which boards students whose families are presumably working in the region.

"Laksa cham"
We came here to eat the famed Balik Pulau laksa at Kim Seng Kopitiam.  But I have to admit that I did not eat the traditional laksa.  Instead, I had Penang Assam Laksa mixed with the lemak curry laksa (which we get in Singapore).  Here, they call it "laksa cham" and you can ask for it in stalls which sell both laksa varieties.  I really like the way the lemak gravy is livened up by the tangy assam gravy.

I was expecting to eat in one of those small street stalls but it was in a rather modern coffee shop.  We went for another bowl at a nearby hawker centre, where we also drank ampala and ate pasembur (the Indian rojak of Penang).  It was similar to our Singapore hawker centres.  Not so "balik" after all!

Overall, I enjoyed our visits to Nibong Tebal and Balik Pulau.  It took us to a very different side of Penang, outside Georgetown and away from the beaches where the tourists congregate.  A sense of what Singapore used to be like, and indeed what the bigger cities in Malaysia used to be like.  Hopefully, even as Penang continues to grow and develop, these little towns will continue to retain some of their charm and unique little gems like Law Cheang Kee and Chop Chuan Guan.  Looking forward to going back to Nibong Tebal for more food treats and of course, to see my great-grandmother's home in all its glory...

More photos (including food shots) on my Penang album on Flickr.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Fatima at Ss Peter & Paul


For some reason, it's a positive avalanche of church posts recently!  Purely coincidental :-)

13th May 2017 is the 100th Anniversary of the first apparition of our Lady at Fatima, to three shepherd children.  Pope Francis is marking the event by canonising two of the three children, Jacinta and Francisco (they passed away, victims of the Spanish Flu of 1918).  The third child, Lucia, passed away only in 2005 and is still undergoing the sainthood process.  This website has more on the apparitions at Fatima.

Churches in Singapore are celebrating this event, whether through screening movies, or holding special masses.  St Peter and Paul held a candlelit procession after their evening mass on 6 May.

I just happened to be visiting St Peter & Paul, and so was able to view the procession.  One of the oldest parishes in Singapore, it serves largely the Chinese community and many, including those who have moved out of the area, still return to the church regularly for mass, and there's a vibrant community here.  (It was a 96-year old lady, daughter of the former Sacristan of the church, who put the Crown on Our Lady's statue before the procession).  What's impressive is that besides the Mandarin mass every Sunday, there's even a Cantonese Mass!  The Carmelites are now administering the parish on behalf of the Diocese.  I wonder who the Cantonese-speaking priest is!  The church underwent a massive restoration programme last year and it is so lovely to see it restored to its splendour.

At the back of the church, facing Waterloo St

The Altar

The candlelight procession itself took place after the Saturday evening mass.  The congregation processed out of the church behind the statue of Our Lady, and said the rosary as they walked around the church and back in again.  It was a joyful event, with the little children walking in front of the statue, throwing flowers into the air (and on / at the bystanders).

Leaving the church

And back again

By the Altar

More photos here on my Flickr page.

Indeed, it was an evening well spent.  Following my visit to the Cathedral and also after the Holy Family 80th Anniversary celebrations, it is indeed a walk through the history and heritage of the Catholic church here in Singapore.  It is up to us, living stones indeed, to take this into the years ahead.





Sunday, April 16, 2017

From Stones to Living Stones - Holy Family 80th Anniversary

Holy Family 80th Anniversary Book

Late last year, my parish celebrated the 80th Anniversary of the Church of the Holy Family.  Holy Family has featured a few times on this blog, like these posts on Easter celebration (with hot cross bun recipe!) and the Peranakan mass on CNY.  So how can I omit mention of this most special occasion?

The parish celebrated with a few events, including a fun fair and our 80th Anniversary Mass held on the Feast of the Holy Family, 30 Dec 2016.  It was a joyful Mass, with the Archbishop con-celebrating with eight other priests including our three parish priests (really nice photo here).  The other five priests had connections to our parish too - our former parish priests or assistant priests, and a young priest who was a parishioner here before being called to the priesthood.

The Parish also released our 80th Anniversary book at the Anniversary Mass.  Entitled "From Stones to Living Stones", it is a story of our Parish.  Of course, this is my excuse as to why I am only putting up a post on the 80th Anniversary in 2017, when the Anniversary was in 2016!  How am I supposed, after all, to write a post on the book in 2016 when I only receive it on the evening of 30 December.

But as I said, this book marks the origins of our Parish - when the worshippers went for mass in a small little hut set up by the La Salle brothers.  But as our Catholic community (one of the oldest in Singapore) grew, the need for a proper church building was felt and a charitable landowner donated the tract of land along East Coast Road.  Here, the first church building was erected, and has been rebuilt twice since to accomodate an ever-increasing congregation. Apparently, the Parish had to shift our masses to a cinema hall whilst the old church building was being replaced for the first time!  Of course, I was fully aware that masses had to be held in St Patrick's School whilst the current beautiful church building was being built.  I well remember those days of going for mass in St Pat's large school hall and not having kneelers for a few years - really toughened up those knees :-)

It was also a real pleasure to hear the "voices" of Holy Family in the book - contributions from past priests, including Fr Michael Arro and Fr Rene Nicolas (who served in Holy Family in 1957!).  It was good to see a little profile on Fr Alfred Chan, a true Baba of Singapore, and Holy Family's longest serving parish priest. No one has said the Peranakan mass quite like him since. Each parish group had its contribution - all the choirs, the lectors, wardens, Eucharistic Ministers, RCIA etc etc.  Individual parishioners told their tales too.  I saw many familiar names and faces in the book.  Indeed, we are the "living stones" of our little Parish.

In short, this was a book well worth reading, well worth keeping.  Many thanks to those who worked on it, and the many contributors to it.

Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd

Good Shepherd Cathedral
On Sunday 19 Feb, I was at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for the Social Mission Day celebration, to mark the Re-dedication of the Cathedral.  The Cathedral had been closed for about three years, as it was undergoing a massive renovation and restoration programme.  It was re-dedicated on 14 Feb 2017, the 120th Anniversary of its Consecration (the original church was completed in 1847).  Over the following 12 days, Catholics in Singapore celebrated the dedication with a series of events ending with the closing mass on 26 Feb 2017.

Social Mission Day was the day when all the Church's social mission organisations (mine included) shared their work with the Catholic Community.  It is a platform for raising awareness and outreach to the Community (aka getting volunteers).  Of course (let's not kid ourselves) most people were there for the Food Fair.  There were also souvenirs on sale - the bricks from the old pillar which collapsed, a praying lamb (it IS the Good Shepherd Cathedral after all) and commemorative books (I got one, a lovely hardback book with chapters written by ST journalists).

I was there primarily to man the booth but I went for mass first.  The church was packed and I had to stand throughout but it was worth it.  The Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ sings at the 10.30am mass, and it was truly uplifting and inspiring to hear their voices lifted up in song throughout the mass.  Mgsr Philip Heng's sermon at mass can be found here. After mass, he also made a short presentation telling the congregation about the gardens and facilities of the newly reopened Cathedral and invited us to pay them a visit.

Homeless Mission
Which, of course, is what I did.   I managed to spend some time walking around the gardens of the Cathedral.  In particular, I really liked the Garden of the Resurrection - which featured the statue of the Homeless Jesus.  This is a replica of a statue by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schwartz.  Christ, covered almost completely by a blanket, is lying on a park bench.  Only his exposed feet, market by the nails of the cross, reveal his identity.  One with the homeless, one with the poor, he reminds us that "so long as you do it for the least of my brethren, you do it for me".

Within the Cathedral itself, I was moved by the little memorial to St Laurent Imbert who was said to be the first MEP priest who said mass here.  He was subsequently martyred in Korea, during a time of persecution, giving himself up so that the young congregation of believers could be spared.  Fr Imbert wrote to his fellow priests, reminding them of Christ's words that he is the Good Shepherd who gives up his life for his flock.  And it is in reference to that letter, that the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was named.
Old coins and trading markers found in the time capsule
Beside the Cathedral is a new building containing a small Heritage Centre.  Here, you can see the original foundation stone of the building, and a time capsule containing items put there when the foundation stone was laid.

I read a little more about the history of the Cathedral (from the commemorative book I had purchased) when I got back.  It was a compelling, fascinating story of how the Church first set up in Singapore and how the French priests from the Mission Estrangers de Paris (MEP) contributed to building the Catholic community here.  In particular, I read about Fr Jean-Marie Beurel who not only raised funds for and built the Cathedral, but also brought in the La Salle brothers and IJ sisters to start up Catholic Schools in Singapore.  Of course, the first IJ convent was set up directly opposite the Cathedral (and SJI nearby).  So, my family including myself are indebted to him for our education.  Through reading the book I was better able to appreciate why the Cathedral is truly the "Mother Church" of all the Catholic Churches in Singapore.  And why the Cathedral also sees it as its mission to celebrate the rich heritage of the Catholic Church in Singapore.  From this Church sprung all the parishes in Singapore, now over 30 in number.  It brought in the teaching orders into Singapore, and helped provide nurses to the "Sepoy Lines"  Hospital, and later set up Mount Alvernia Hospital.  If so much can spring from the efforts and faith of just a few pioneers, imagine what all of us can do!

The banners representing all the Parishes in Singapore
For more photos, check out my Flickr page.

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