Of buses and children in Singapore.

When I first arrived in Singapore, one of my friends had casually advised me to invest in a car. It would come in handy, she said, with a baby. I raised an eyebrow and took the advice with a pinch of salt. After all, we are talking about Singapore – well-known for its large number of taxis, buses and a good MRT network. Now, a year on into our stay in sunny Singapore, I must say that there are one thing a family intend on living here should be aware when it comes to taking the bus.

If you have babies and pre-walkers, you may want to shelf the idea of taking the bus alone with your child unless you’re prepared to lug a baby on one arm, a diaper bag on the other shoulder and somehow negotiate your way into folding your shoulder and carrying it on board. You could attempt to board the bus with your stroller open, but there is a catch. Most of the old buses have steps in the front and exit and the newer ones are not any better – they have placed a bar in the middle of the front door (possibly because old people cannot hold the bar on the side of the door) and their ticketing system doesn’t allow for you to enter via the back.

Before you can say that new buses are disabled-friendly, yes they are but disabled-friendly in this country doesn’t mean stroller-friendly. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to remove Eva (in her car seat) from her stroller, fold up the stroller and all despite the bus being empty, it not being peak travel period and there is plenty of room for the stroller. A number don’t speak English at all so often it’s the case of chicken and duck trying to talk to each other.

And since that’s the case, you can also forget about getting people to help. The same driver who told you to close up your stroller obviously isn’t going to help. Other commuters will remain glued to their seats for fear of losing it if they do something decent for a change. So very sadly, you’re all on your own when you head out. I end up babywearing Eva – when she was younger – or just take a cab and thin out my purse when we were staying at the old place which are quite far away from the MRT.

What doesn’t help in this case are other people who go around championing the belief that stroller on busses are a nuisance and inconvenience. It would be if I was taking the bus during rush hour but most of the time, stay-at-home mums and caregivers don’t take the bus during this period and we’re smart enough to avoid the bus and instead opt for the MRT (there are MRT horror stories as well). Telling these women to take the cab or the car is just ignoring the real matter at heart or at best, is a short-term solution. Not everyone can afford a car (it’s awfully expensive to maintain a car, parking, repairs – probably in the league of motorhome repairs and all here in Singapore) and well, a cab? If only we all have little money plants at home – cab drivers would be rich.

Looking at the background of the people who make these comments and their expectations, one needs to be prepared to be a hermit when you have children or filthy rich here in Singapore. Alternatively, be thick-skinned and willing to sweat it out like myself and Nil. We don’t really care about those bus drivers when the bus is empty and have room for strollers and if we can, we leg it to the MRT instead of taking the bus. Two to three stops isn’t very far – we have done more (20 minutes to city center when we were in Switzerland).

For this, I miss Switzerland. There, old or new buses always have a section dedicated for people with heavy luggage and strollers. There is always someone (not just the driver) who is ever willing to help you lug your stroller up those pesky stairs and down. You can enter from the front or back, it doesn’t matter. No one bats an eyelash and frowns as a mummy on the go in a bus…and no bus driver will ever tell you that it’s better for your baby if they are in your arms (and not in a travel system) when taking a bus.

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Yummy apple & banana muffins

Yummy apple & banana muffin

Bananas and apples come together beautifully in this recipe, much to my surprise. The last time I baked anything with apples, it turned out to be quite dense and hardly yummylicious. I credit it to the apples I used this time – very delish Gala apples which were a lovely deep red.

Because this was for Eva plus a friend’s toddler, I cut back on the sugar, choosing instead of use a two-one part mix of black sugar or molasses sugar with brown sugar. I have not had refined white sugar in a while and I like it. Refined sugar is just, well, too sweet for my tastebuds so what more for my little bub? I also chose to dice one apple instead of grating both to give it a little bit of texture which I know Eva enjoys – it helps her practice her chewing and swallowing skills.

Apple bottoms and banana peels aside, this is definitely a keeper and comes with good reviews – from two toddlers, one mummy (not me) and one hubby…if that’s anything to go by!

Yummy apple & banana muffins
Adapted from Chow Times’ recipe here

1 1/2 cups flour (1/2 cup plain flour + 1 cup cake flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter – melted
3/4 cup brown sugar (1/2 cup black sugar + 1/4 brown sugar)
2 medium-large bananas
2 medium-large apple (Gala, Fuji or Granny Smith – peeled and cored)
1/2 tsp of vanilla + banana essence

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C and prep the fruits by mashing the bananas, roughly chopping one apple and grating the remaining apple into a mixing bowl. Add in the sugar, melted butter, vanilla + banana essence and eggs, and mix well.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder.
  3. Fold in the dry ingredients until just mixed. It’s okay to have some lumps of flour or lumps in the batter. Muffin batter that is too smooth will result in a dense and dry muffin.
  4. Fill paper cups halfway and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. If possible, put a small ovenproof glass of water in together with the pan to keep the muffins moist throughout the baking process.
  5. Serve warm as is or with a sprinkling of icing sugar.
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Back from KL.

Was in the Klang Valley for two weekends in a row and (re)discovered a few things:

…Indian food for dinners and me just do not agree.
…M’sian pharmacies are stocked to the brim with vitamin-c serums and supplements (why don’t people just eat tons of fruit?).
…road signs are confusing and there are plenty of highways for you to get lost in.
…you can get really nice clothes at affordable prices at hypermarkets.
…the ring sling definitely is a must for short-haul flights.
…Eva can’t go anywhere without her Ba Ba (sheep soft toy).
…food is good but don’t ask to look in the kitchens or food prep area. You may not want to eat there again.
…there are plenty of bus stops but not a lot of buses. Hm.
…driving means putting up with the possibility of a getting a heart attack or stroke. M’sian drivers are just impossible!
…it can be hot and wet at the same time. Bah.

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Chilled strawberry cheesecake

No pictures here folks. My colleagues finished the entire cake plus I was a bit shy about taking pictures of a cake that I was serving up as a trial! Plus the office furniture don’t make good showpieces in pictures.

The recipe used for this cheesecake is an adaptation from one of my older chilled cheesecake recipes here. While it went down well with some of my colleagues, I found it wanting in several ways. Make no mistake, the recipe is a keeper but like with all first-time recipes, it needs a bit of fine tuning.

For starters, it felt a little too creamy and rich for my liking so definitely will replace either the cream cheese or cream with low-fat version. For this recipe, I used regular cream cheese and pure cream which has 45% fat. Definitely overkill there. The strawberries were not very sweet and while some find that to be just nice, I prefer my fruits to be a little bit more ripe but that is not going to happen any time soon here in Asia so for now, I’ll just have to make do with semi-ripe strawberries and a hint of honey to sweeten things a little.

I was rather tempted to add a dash of alcohol in the form of rum or a strawberry liquor but because I didn’t have any in the pantry, I left that out. For my next try, some booze might add more flavour to it. Then there is the base. I always have problems with the base especially when I’m churning out the filling for one huge cake but am using a smaller pan. This time the base was too thick so thinner crust is a must for the second try.

Well, at least someone tiny at home loves it. Yup, Eva is definitely a foodie and it went down well with her. She didn’t have a lot of the stuff tho because of the sugar and fat content – about two tablespoons max for her dessert. I reckon if I left it to her to decide, she wouldn’t stop eating it! More like a hungry manic than a foodie, if you ask me.

Chilled strawberry cheesecake

250 g digestive biscuits (actually you can use 200 g of biscuits and 50 g of cornflakes)
140 g butter (salted or otherwise)
500 g cream cheese (cubed first before mixing)
300 ml whipped cream or cream (low fat cream preferred)
7 medium-large strawberries (pureed or finely diced)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 water
1 tablespoon gelatin (unflavoured)

Method

  1. Finely crushed biscuits, add melted butter and press into a 8 inch pan (or any pan of your choice).
  2. Refrigerate until base becomes hard.
  3. Beat cream cheese, strawberry puree and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the batter looks smooth and creamy.
  4. Beat whipped cream until soft peaks form.
  5. Fold in cream until it’s well mixed.
  6. Add gelatin to the water (make sure that the water is boiled) and stir until it dissolves. Leave aside to cool. This can be done while you are busy making the cream cheese mix.
  7. Spoon in the gelatin and mix well.
  8. Pour into the pan and refrigerate for at least six hours. Overnight is best.
  9. When serving, use anything you wish as a garnish.
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I’m thoroughly annoyed.

I’ve been spinning up one of the most yummylicious fibers dyed by a favourite fiber artist for the past few days only to screw up big time now that I’m done.

Things were going well as I was winding them onto the Niddy Noddy but after the first 50 meters or so, the singles started to fall apart and no amount of splicing was helping. I could pop it back in for a spin but I don’t know if that would help as it could very well be the entire bobbin of yarn that is affected.

The singles are way underspun – much more than I had anticipated. I was hoping that the tension I spun them in would be enough but it appears not. At first I thought it was a ratio problem since the new sliding flyer has an additional ratio built in but after checking, it turned out to be the same as the original flyer.

*sigh*

I’ve shelved the bobbin and Niddy Noddy aside to take some time out and ruminate on my next course of action. That and the fact that I need to get busy working on reviews for cheap auto insurance quotes. In the meantime, I’ve started on a new spinning WIP but my heart somehow isn’t in it. My mind is still lingering on that bobbin full of awfully underspun singles. Gah. If I can’t salvage this, it would be a darn waste of some really awesomely soft merino-alpaca-silk fiber.

Grrrr!

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New flyer goodness!

Spinning up some Ambrosia on my new flyer!

After what seemed like ages, I finally got my hands on the new sliding hook flyer for my spinning wheel. I bought it from Mandie over at Ewe Give Me The Knits (she’s a certified Ashford dealer) in Australia since there aren’t any dealers here in Singapore.

I was very excited to get it – Nil can tell you just how excited I was – and immediately broke it out of its box and “installed” it onto my wheel. Before you could say “sales jobs“, I was spinning up some very yummy fiber from JulieSpins (courtesy of a destash by one of the Ravelry gals). The pic above doesn’t do the resulting yarn much justice!

This will probably end up as a single ply laceweight yarn – I’m really hoping to go back to knitting and designing some shawls so it’ll serve as my shawl yarn stock. But hey, I can only dream as when it comes to my knitting, things aren’t quite so certain. *sobs*

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So what happened?

We have started staying at the new place on Sunday and I must say, after the initial horror of horrors, I was finally relieved to be rid of all those slimy real estate agents and an equally slimy house.

As the title suggests, what exactly happened?

While we were aware that the house was rather old, we were not prepared for the sight that greeted us when we stepped into the house the first time after receipt of the keys. For starters, the previous owner’s tenant was still on the premises, busy packing and moving away his things. Technically, he was trespassing and no one informed us of his presence, not even the seller, her agent or my agent. Nil hid his surprise and displeasure quite well. I, on the other hand, wanted to see what else he would do after he was done packing and removing his things.

Apparently nothing.

He took the last of his bags, the remaining key that was given to him, say goodbye and left. I was in shock. Thinking about it now still makes me do a double take. Urm, hello, but since when was it okay to have the previous tenant allowed to walk away into the yonder with my house key? I did ask him for the key but he insisted that he had to give it back to the previous owner. And speaking of the previous owner, she was conveniently missing from the place – something I find strange. I mean it’s only proper courtesy to be there to ensure that your previous tenant clears up the place and so forth before they give you back the keys. Definitely no thank you cards for them!

I suppose his definition of clearing the place meant just removing his bags because the entire apartment was littered with rubbish. There were pots of dead plants sitting at the balcony and the area was covered with dirt as well as lord knows what else. There were pieces of broken glass in the partition area as well as rubbish on the floor, old chairs and other items. The bathroom and second toilet was not washed and smelled of day-old urine. There was stuff growing on the ceiling of one bathroom too! There was rubbish next to the sink, the bathtub and well, the toilet seats were obviously different from the toilet bowl. Both rooms had rubbish and unwanted items in the drawers, on the floor. One of the airconditioning units was broken and most of the lights were out of commission not to mention one of the heaters. The kitchen…omigod, the kitchen was the worse! If I had a photo, I wouldn’t even dare put it up for fear of people recoiling away in disgust.

The kitchen floor was covered with specks of I-don’t-know-what-and-don’t-care-to-find-out. The countertops, cabinet doors and shelves were sticky and grimy. There were dark specks of gunk on the shelves and the cooker hob and hood was a mess. It was so bad until the first thing I could think of was changing it. Just so you can imagine how bad it is, let me share that the original colour of the hob and hood is white but what I saw was basically brown-black. When the contractor removed the old one to install the replacement hob, he asked if I need a scraper to remove all that gunk underneath. As it turns out, it was a good idea to get the two replaced as they were old…about 15 years old.

Gosh.

And I’m not done.

The yard, gah…rubbish, stains, dust, dirt…my cleaner took eight freaking hours to clean the place and even then, she told me that she couldn’t get everything done up to her standards. It was just too dirty, especially the kitchen. She was so sure that the cleaners the agent hired did absolutely nothing because the place was filty and was nice enough to warn me that in order for certain areas like the kitchen to be really clean, I’d have to wipe the surfaces with strong detergent for at least another three times before it’d look brand new or at least seem to look brand new. The floor alone took me three to four rounds before my feet stopped looking grey or black after walking around. I was surprised to see that I had white tiles for the master bedroom balcony as previously it was just grey.

And I was told that this is common in Singapore and M’sia. WHAT? We later found out that a handover was conducted the day before the day was complete but obviously I or Nil wasn’t told of the event or the outcome. What utter nonsense.

Anyway after this nightmare, I told myself that no one should go through such misery. A place shouldn’t be handed over in such a condition even though the law offers no provision or protection (something should be done about this formally tho). When it was time for me to hand over the rented place, my parents suggested that I just do a coursery sweep of the place and end it there (no cleaning, no washing, no nothing). I said no. I wasn’t to let someone else experience what I went through especially considering the fact that his wife had just given birth a week before. It’s just not right.

So I cleared out the place, wiped down all the surfaces, vacuumed and mop the floor and did the best I could…even washed his cushion covers and table cloth. I was happy that the owner had no complaints about it when we did the handover together. We walked through everything, I told him what I left behind, what I did, where things are. This is how a handover should – not him arriving to see me cleaning or moving my stuff, or to a dirty house.

To anyone who is buying/selling/renting/leasing out a place, please please please make sure that this doesn’t happen to you or worse, that you don’t do this to someone else. It may be the norm but there is a saying, “If people eat shit, are you going to join them as well?”

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All about dishwashers

Dishwashers are not really popular here in Asia. Most of us still like to wash our plates, cups, forks and spoons together with pots and what-nots by hand. When I was first introduced to the idea of a dishwasher – popular in Europe – I wasn’t exactly sold on the idea, probably more from habit and ignorance. We didn’t have space for one in Switzerland so poor Nil was left with doing the dishes. Then when we moved to Singapore and eventually, bought a place of our own, he wanted to get a dishwasher – it was a matter of life and death, no way around it. Never mind that we don’t really have allocated space for it unless we remove some countertops, a sink and maybe even a door together with its non-Baldwin door hardware.

After doing a little research, we settled for a dishwasher (I can hear him going “FINALLY!”) and here is are some of the things I discovered as a newbie to the whole dishwasher-user community.

Energy
While both machine and human utilizes energy to wash dishes, a dishwasher will need to heat up water. So if you’re handwashing your dishes with regular water, you will definitely cut back on some energy consumption. However, if you’re heating up water and using that plus handwashing, you’d probably draw even with a dishwasher.

Verdict: Tips slightly in favour of handwashing.

Water
If you haven’t pre-rinsed your dishes, your dishwasher – on a full load – can help you cut back up to 35% of water. Trouble with handwashing is that we don’t leave a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and wash everything in one go. The more often you handwash dishes, the more water you flush down the sink.

This of course is assuming that you don’t do a pre-rinse of your dishes (you shouldn’t anyway) and a dishwasher should run just once a day. Otherwise there is no point in getting a dishwasher in the first place. Newer design dishwashers also consider one factor – the use of hot water. A dishwasher will only heat the amount of water needed as compared to a household water heater where heat will be lost during transit from the storage unit to the outlet (your tap). The standard size dishwasher (24 inches, I think) can hold up to eight place settings (8 sets of dinner plates, side plates, pairs of forks and spoons, glasses, etc) but the newer ones are designed to hold more – so you end up using less water per item without compromising on the cleanliness.

Verdict: Tips slightly in favour of the dishwasher.

Time
We all know it takes time to wash a sinkload of dishes, glasses, pots, pans and what-nots. This coupled with the fact that a lot of us use breakable items and at times, expensive dishware. The dishwasher has always been labour saving – you load it, you power it and that’s it. When it’s done, you open it and store your items.

Verdict: Tips in favour of the dishwasher.

Environmental impact
Today, there are plenty of eco-friendly, phosphate/bleach/whatever-free soaps around so if you’re just looking at soaps, it’s a draw between the two. The dishwasher here loses out simply because the process of manufacturing, selling and distributing contributes to your carbon footprint. A typical dishwasher contains both metal and plastic parts and is, well, something most of us can live without.

Verdict: Tips in favour of the handwashing.

At the end of the day, if you handwash your dishes several times a day, a dishwasher, especially those that score well on an Energy Star label, will help you save on the water. Consider getting one IF you do small loads with more water (larger loads and moderation of water use makes handwashing more efficient).

You’ll need to be sure to use a dishwasher in the right way first – no point getting a super great dishwasher that scores high on the Energy Star label but you use it poorly or get the steps all wrong. Do the following:

  • No pre-rinsing. Scrape off excess food (you can waste up to 95 liters of water by pre-rinsing). Your dishes should and would be just as clean.
  • Make sure your dishwasher has a good or excellent energy rating. These are at least 50% more efficient and that helps you cut back on water and electricity consumption.
  • Only run a full dishwasher – not half, not quarter.
  • If you can, skip the heat- and air-dry function for your dishes. This can cut your dishwasher’s energy use by 50%.
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