Friday, 2 September 2011

Stranger than Life

There are no short cuts in life! And it took me more than 50 years to realize this brutal truth.

Growing up in modest surrounds, and taught to respect and adhere to Chinese traditions and conservative values, I could hardly wait to ditch the old, and embrace the liberal Western lifestyles I saw in movies and on TV.

A pair of drawings by Steve for my 24th birthday
Starting from my first paycheck, I was hell-bent on spending every hard-earned dollar I made on the things I lusted for. This acquisitive streak kicked into high gear when I became a fashion buyer, and, later, a fashion journalist.

Back then, in the 80s and 90s, travel, communication, and IT, had made the world a smaller place; economies in Asia boomed and everyone seemed to be indulging their dreams. For me as well, it was a high-flying period of life, literally. I flew to fashion shows in the fashion capitals of the world, interviewed the movers and shakers of the industry, and bought designer stuff at obscene discounts. My wardrobe was like a mini high-end boutique, with labels most people would find hard pronouncing -- Versace, Mugler, Castelbajac, Miyake – and designs so complicated I myself had problems putting the clothes on! Did I wear them all? No, I was always happy with just T-shirt and jeans.
And they matter most!

Setting up my first home was exciting too. I couldn’t wait to replace the old hand-me-downs from my parents and relatives with brand-new Minotti sofa, Mackintosh chairs, Edra cabinet, B&B Italia dining sets, and B&O sound systems. Yes…big names mattered to me; but were they comfortable? Some but who cares?!
And, like many an English-educated Asian, I hankered for western food though I was surrounded by Chinese cuisines. I would go on gastronomic trips to Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, and learned to cook a mean full-course French or Italian dinner. But when it came to local cuisine, I could manage only a handful of dishes. Yet, when I was depressed, sick, or really hungry, it would always be fish-ball noodles or nasi lemak I longed for…

These days, nothing beats being with someone I care for, wearing my most comfortable bermudas and T-shirt, munching away in some hot, humid hawker centre -- as long as I’m eating my comfort food.

Comfort food like the dish below, which brings back the innocence of simpler days. I remember the Chinese New Years of my childhood, when neighbors and friends would give each other live chickens as the festival drew close. Yes, chickens then were prized “expensive” gifts to be given away, and each household would usually receive quite a number. Being too plentiful to finish in one go, the birds would be kept in a huge basket, their numbers dwindling as the weeks passed. While they lasted, the chickens would become my pets; and boy, was it exciting whenever I spotted a freshly laid egg in the morning!

With eggs that fresh, not much else was needed. And this is a “Muji” dish I often enjoyed, where each ingredient is a staple of the kitchen.

Eggy Rice

Egg                        1
Soy sauce           1 tsp
Oil                         1 tbsp, preferably lard
Rice                      3 cups

Dried onion       1 tsp
Lard crispy         1 tsp
Pepper                a dash

1.    Break the egg into a rice bowl; pour soy sauce and oil on it.
2.    Scoop piping hot rice over the egg and mix thoroughly. The heat from the rice would cook the egg within minutes.
3.    Sprinkle fried spring onion, lard crispy, and pepper, and serve immediately.