EXPENSIVE BUT ROTTEN APPLES

I bought some Japanese apples (produce of Aomori Prefecture) from Fairprice Finest in Marine Parade recently.  I remember reading somewhere that Aomori is the largest apple-producing prefecture in Japan and it is said to produce apples of high quality.

However, I was disappointed with what I got.

Jonagold Apples at S$7.90 per pair – one out of two was rotten

Ourin Apples at S$8.90 for 3 – two out of three were rotten

IMG_0576

In fact, this was not the first time.  A couple of months ago, I bought some for a friend, and they were rotten too.  What an embarrassment, wasn’t it?

Of course, I had to go back to Fairprice for a refund.

Such poor quality apples were totally unexpected since they are not cheap, and are sold by a premium supermarket.  I wonder where the problem started from?  The supplier or Fairprice?  Is there no quality check by the supplier before packing and distributing them and then subsequently by Fairprice before selling them?  When the Fairprice staff replenish the stocks every morning, do they not do any inspection?

These are what I have spotted in Fairprice Finest as well.

Organic carrots that were already rotten

IMG_0333

Vegetables that had already turned yellow

Looks like Fairprice Finest is not that fine after all!

Advertisements

BIG WELCOME TO TOKYU HANDS

Tokyu Hands from Japan has opened its first store in Singapore last month!  This is also its first store in southeast Asia.

Tokyu Hands @ Westgate, Jurong East

TokyuHands Singapore

This is one must-go creative live store in Japan for DS and I whenever we spent our holidays in Japan.  We had been to Tokyu Hands in Osaka, Hiroshima, Shinjuku and Sapporo so far.  It is a one-stop store for us to get some interesting or useful stuff (except apparels and food) from Japan, whether for our own use or as souvenirs for friends and relatives.  We always enjoyed spending hours (at least half a day) browsing through every section, checking out the vast range of Japanese inventions and lifestyle products, admiring and be impressed by their brilliant creativity, filling up our shopping baskets and, finally left feeling very happy and satisfied!

So surely we wouldn’t miss checking out Tokyu Hands’ first store in Singapore although it is located at the far western part of Singapore.  Just the MRT journey to Jurong East itself took us about 50 minutes.  It has been a long time, so long that we can’t even remember when was the last time we actually went shopping in Jurong area!  I think at least 10 years?!  But we would do it for Tokyu Hands!

The size of Tokyu Hands @ Westgate (7,500 square feet) is not small to start with, although it is nowhere near the size of the outlets in Japan that we had been to (in Chinese, we say 小巫见大巫).  Understandably, the choices of products here are significantly less too but there are many interesting designed-by-Japan and made-in-Japan products – stationery (a large section), beauty products, travel items, functional household/kitchen products, leather goods, hobby stuffs, etc.   I would say it is a good start for its first store here.  I had wanted to take some photos inside the store to share here but I was told that photo-taking is not permitted in the store, when I tried to seek clearance from a service staff.

We spent about an hour there.  We didn’t end up with a basketful of stuffs like we did in Japan, but was happy to get a few things.

This pair of very light, foldable and washable slippers will become very handy for my future travels

TokyuHands Singapore2

Silver-plated tea caddy spoon which we have not seen it being sold anywhere in Singapore.  So we were happy to have found one!

TokyuHands Singapore03

Jar opener which fits different sizes of jar cap

TokyuHands Singapore 03

Loose powder puffs and mail clipper

TokyuHands Singapore04

I have read that Tokyu Hands will be opening its second outlet in Singapore, in Orchard area.  That will certainly be a great location for me since I do most of my shopping and errands in Orchard area.  I can’t wait for it to open!

“EVENTFUL” JULY

The past two and a half weeks had been been somehow “eventful”.

My mum had fallen ill in the recent months, and she finally agreed to undergo a needed surgery in the middle of July.  It was all very tensed and worrisome for all of us in the family as my mum is already close to 80 years old, has a weak heart and is mildly diabetic.  Hence, there was a certain level of risk as far as the surgery was concerned.

Thanks to the team of very professional and experienced experts (the surgeon, cardiologist and anaesthetist), all had gone very well with the surgery. We are all very glad that my mum had been discharged from the hospital after about 10 days, and she is on her road to recovery although she is still weak physically.  We are also encouraged to see that there has been no complaint of pain or discomfort from my mum after the surgery.  She has been brave and maintaining a strong spirit.  I pray that my mum will enjoy many more healthy years ahead and be able to fulfill her wish of seeing my niece (my mum’s precious grand daughter) get married.  🙂

In September 2008, I wrote about going green with a new glass kettle.  That kettle has really served me well since then but very sadly, for whatever unknown reason, it cracked one morning.  DS thought he heard a strange sound that morning, but little did he expect that to have come from the cracking of our precious kettle.

See that long crack line at the bottom?  😦

Cracked Kettle

I thought I could easily get a replacement from Bodum in Takashimaya where I bought the first one but I found out that this product has been discontinued from the market.  Oh, what a sad news!  Is there no demand for such a nice product?  Not wanting to give up, I then wrote in to Bodum’s distributor in Singapore with the hope that they could help source it elsewhere for me but to no avail.   So I had to settle with this second best option after shopping around at Takashimaya’s Kitchen department – a 1.2L, semi-glass electric kettle from Hario, a Japanese brand.  It is pretty efficient – takes about  2 minutes only to boil 0.5L of water but if I could have the choice, I would still prefer my old Bodum glass kettle. 😦

Electric Kettle

Then came another incident which I had to part with a few tens of dollars last week!  I accidentally dropped the water tank of my Sharp Healsio oven when I was trying to insert it into the oven one evening as I prepared to grill fish for dinner!  Alas, how careless!  Fortunately, I was able to get a replacement fast enough (within 2-3 days) from Sharp’s authorised part centre!  Phew….

Water Tank

It is almost end of July now.  Whilst I find the hot weather a little unbearable at times, I am glad that the yearly haze (from Indonesia) which normally hits Singapore around this time of the year has not arrived yet!  So, that’s one little good news for the month! 🙂

HOLIDAY IN SICHUAN, CHINA

I wrote this post some time ago and but didn’t get to complete it until today!

I went on a 10-day tour of Sichuan, China covering places like Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟), Huanglong (黄龙), Mt. Emei (峨眉山), Yibin (宜宾), Leshan (乐山) and Chengdu (成都) last September.  The highlight was a day spent in Jiuzhaigou, a nature reserve and national park famous for its multilevel waterfalls and colourful lakes.  It has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

(Map taken from a website but can’t remember which one now)

map_sichuan

Ruins from the May 2018 Wenchuan earthquake (汶川大地震) can still be seen along the way from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou

Sichuan01

JIUZHAIGOU

Mirror Lake (镜海), at altitude 2,390m.  Known for its crystal-clear water that gives a beautiful mirror-image.

Sichuan02

Pearl Shoal Waterfall (珍珠滩瀑布)

Sichuan03

This waterfall is located at 2,433m above sea level, and has a height of 21m and a width of 270m

Sichuan04

Five-colour Lake (五花海), also known as Peacock Lake, at altitude 2,472m.  Known as a wonder in Jiuzhaigou (九寨一绝)

Sichuan05

Colourful Pool (五彩池) – look at the long stretch of visitors!

Sichuan07

Colourful Pool is located at 2,995m above sea level

Sichuan06

Jiuzhaigou Tibetan/Qiang Minority Performance (九寨沟藏羌歌舞晚会).  Very huge stage, and colourful costumes typical of the Tibetans and Qiang people.

Sichuan08

If I have to give a short summary on this tour, I would describe it as “An interesting yet very tiring experience”.

I had been on holidays in China a few times but this was my first time touring China on a packaged tour.  My uncle and aunty were travelling with me (so they took care of me).  I always prefer a free-and-easy holiday as that gives me the freedom to decide what to do, see and eat.  It also allows me the luxury of spending as much time as I wish in places that I like, such as spending days just visiting museums while in UK/Europe.

On the other hand, I must agree that a packaged tour has its merits.  It can save me a lot of time researching online and reading up information in order to plan my itinerary, as well as to make the necessary bookings.  I get to visit many more places (but under tight schedules) and learn more about their local history, cultures and traditions from the Chinese tour guide.  Cost wise, undoubtedly, it is lower too.

Guest-Welcoming Pond (迎宾池) at Huanglong, at 3,230m above sea level.  Huanglong is a scenic spot known for its colourful pools formed by calcite deposits (photo below).  It covers a large area of 1,830 square km and an altitude ranging between 1,700m and 5,588m.

Sichuan09

Marvellous Flying Waterfall (流辉飞瀑) at 3,245m above sea level.  What a marvellous name but a small waterfall.  Only managed to cover these two spots within Huanglong due to the rain and also time limitation.  After taking us to tea and gemstone shops the whole morning, we were given only 2 hours in this large area! Visitors can actually reach the top by cable car but we were not given this option at all.  What a pity! I think it would be great to take a cable car up and then leisurely enjoy the scenic spots along the way as we descend by foot.

Sichuan10

In this Sichuan trip, we had a large group of 46 people (in two buses) and many of them were senior citizens of 60 years old and above.  They are nice and friendly people, and very punctual too.  Punctuality is important on a group tour!  One 77-year-old granny was actually making her maiden overseas trip in her life!  Kudos to this old granny because the journey was not an easy one.  Beside long time spent on the bus on most days, some of the roads were winding and there was also a lot of walking involved, including climbing of steps etc. I found it particularly heart-warming and to some extent, I was envious that many of these tour members were actually groups of relatives or friends travelling together, and not for the first time.  This was my first time travelling with my uncle and aunty and the only family trip I have ever had in my life was a cruise trip in 2010. It is also good to see that after working hard all their lives to raise their families, these uncles and aunties can now enjoy some travels with their partners and loved ones.  They are still physically fit, and some with buying power too!  In Singapore, we still have many old people who have to struggle hard to earn a living and cope with the ever rising cost of living.

Took time to appreciate the nature while others were busy shopping for honey products.  Said to be a bee farm but not a single bee was spotted! 😀

Sichuan11

Many sparrows though!

Sichuan12

Sichuan13

An old lady trying to sell fresh walnuts when our coach stopped at the expressway waiting for the gate of the tunnel to open at 2pm (Chinese government’s way of controlling traffic flow).  Tough and dangerous job for her!

Sichuan15

This seller even provided a very good service to crack the walnuts for his customers.  Competition!

Sichuan16

This building in the shape of a bamboo shoot is the Chinese Bamboo Art City in Qingshen (青神中国竹艺城).  Arrived there at about 530pm and had to rush through the guided tour at the centre without time to appreciate the beautiful bamboo artworks by the master.

Sichuan14

At the foot of Mt Emei (峨眉山).  Mt Emei is 3,099m high and it is another UNESCO World Heritage site. This was one challenging journey for the old folks.  It took us an hour to get here from the hotel.  We were then transferred to an old and dirty van, ascend through the narrow and winding path up to mid mountain.

Sichuan17

Then, about 40 mins of climbing up these steep and narrow steps to reach the cable car station for the last leg of our journey to reach the Golden Peak.  See how crowded it was.  The poor weather did not seem to dampen the spirit of these visitors.

Sichuan18

The “reward” at the summit of Mt Emei – the giant 10-face Buddha statue but…..

Sichuan19(photo from Wikipedia website)

…luck was not on our side due to the drizzles and the peak was shrouded by thick fog!  There was no chance to even catch a glimpse of the scenery surrounding Mt Emei.

Sichuan20

According to our tour guide, we have travelled some 3,000km across Sichuan, starting from and ending in Chengdu.  Beside much time spent travelling on the bus, we also had to change hotel frequently – 6 hotels in 9 nights.  This was my first time going on such a long holiday without DS.  So the unpacking and packing in every hotel, all by myself was stressful.  There were days that all our luggage had to be ready outside the hotel rooms by as early as 645am, to be picked up by the potters.  I actually left some stuffs (like toiletries, cable plug) behind in two occasions.  Fortunately, there was always an inspection of all guest rooms by the hotel staff before the group left.  This was to make sure that we did not leave anything behind and of course, did not take away anything that belongs to the hotel!  Having an experienced, organised and helpful tour leader made a difference.  My tour leader was a middle-aged man who has led tour groups to Jiuzhaigou for over 30 times.

Southern Sichuan Bamboo Forest Walk (蜀南竹海的翡翠长廊)

Sichuan21

Bamboo rafting on Haizhonghai Lake (海中海竹筏).  My first rafting experience!

Sichuan22

Yibin (宜宾), located at the junction of Min (岷江) and Yangzi (扬子江) rivers

Sichuan23

View from Landmark Square (地标广场), where the Yangzi River is formed at Yibin by the confluence of Min River (岷江) and Jinsha River (金沙江).  Yangzi River is the longest river in Asia, and the third longest in the world

Sichuan24

This design in the shape of a dragon shows the cities along the Yangzi River, their history, geographical locations and distance from Yibin.  Yibin is the first city of the Yangzi River

Sichuan30

Leshan Giant Buddha (乐山大佛), the world’s largest stone-carved buddha statue that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, the same year as Mt Emei.

Sichuan25

Sichuan opera and face-changing show (变脸) at Jinjiang Theatre(锦江剧院), Chengdu

Sichuan26

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地)

Sichuan27

Sichuan28

Little baby pandas

Sichuan29

I can’t comment much about the food during the trip since I was on a different menu from the group.  My uncle and aunty are full-time vegetarians, so I decided to join them in their vegetarian meals except for the first and the last meals.  We had lots of vegetables, tofu, and eggs.  I don’t think I have ever eaten this much of vegetables in a duration of 10 days!  But that seemed like a good option. I actually lost close to two kilos by the time I returned.  😀  Here are a few dishes that I have eaten for the first time.

This black-fungus-look-alike food is bamboo flowers.  A very simple stir-fried dish but I liked it.

Bamboo Flower

These are bamboo eggs (竹蛋)!  Soft and look like straw mushrooms.

Bamboo Eggs

Our last meal in the tour – Ma-la steamboat (麻辣火锅) at Huang Cheng Lao Ma (皇城老妈) which is said to be a high-end ma-la steamboat restaurant in Chengdu.  This is a non-vegetarian meal.  I didn’t eat much because the soup was way too spicy and oily.  I wonder how Sichuan people could appreciate such oily soup!

Mala Steamboat

Toilet facility and its hygiene standard was my toughest “challenge” in the entire trip.  From my very first trip to China (Shenzhen in 1996), to the subsequent ones (Shanghai in 2005, Beijing in 2006, Shanghai & Zhang Jia Jie in 2010 and Xiamen in 2011), this has always been an issue for me.  Close to two decades have passed but some of their toilet facilities (especially those outside the cities) are still far from good.  The toilets are without doors, and in the form of a drain without flushing system (based on description from my fellow tour members) and mind you, they are even chargeable at RMB1 per entry in some places! Most of the toilets are still the squating type.  I had to give most of the toilet stops (except a couple along the expressways) a miss.  In order to be able to hold my bladder for the whole day, I had to avoid drinking water during the days.  That was really bad!  And to make up for it, I always gulped in the two bottles of water supplied by the hotel in the short few of hours before bedtime!  Perhaps due to insufficient water intake, and also the lack of good sleep, I actually fell sick after I got home.  😦

One thing that I did not enjoy about the trip was the shopping stops which I found a waste of time.  We were brought to tea house, bee farm, bamboo art and bamboo product centres, medical hall, silk shop, gemstone, jade and pearl shops.  That many!  Worse still, time spent on some of these shops were quite long.  I wished they had given us more time on the tourist attractions instead.  Sales staff in those shops were pushy too, so one needs to be very firm in order not to fall into their sweet, persuasive sales pitch.

At the start of the tour, we were asked by the Chinese tour guide to buy two boxes of these (红景天) drinks each, and it costs RMB100 (about S$20) per box.  We were told to consume two bottles each time, 3 times a day to prevent altitude sickness.  My uncle, aunty and I have experience travelling to high altitude, so we decided to just make do with four boxes for the 3 of us.  But I wonder if we actually needed these!

Sichuan

So, these are some of the memories of my first packaged tour in China.

I always think that China is a great holiday destination.  The country is huge and there are so much to explore be it scenery (nature), history, arts and culture, or even shopping.  However, I am not looking at another holiday there in the near future.  For now, I would still prefer to save up my money for holidays in Europe and other developed countries in Asia Pacific.  Hopefully the next time I go to China, I will get to see some positive transformations like good toilet facilities and standards and more cultured social behaviours like less spitting around, proper queuing etc.

SEASON OF MOON CAKES (2)

Just as I thought I should, and would eat only one box of moon cakes this year, oops, see what I have got here – two more boxes of moon cakes at home now!  These moon cakes arrived totally unexpected but thanks to Robinsons and the vendors at DS’ office (there were over 10 boxes to distribute)!

Packaging for moon cakes are getting more and more sophisticated these days and the beauty is they can be re-used for other purposes. 🙂

More Moon Cakes

Both boxes of moon cakes are of traditional white lotus paste with single egg yoke.  The red box is from Hua Ting Chinese Restaurant of  Orchard Hotel, compliment with any purchase of S$350 and above in a single receipt at Robinsons.  What a nice gesture to reward its customers and of course, I like this pleasant surprise!  🙂

The other box is from Wah Lok Restaurant of Carlton Hotel.

I like the moon cakes from Wah Lok better – good quality and comparable to those that I bought from Li Bai, if not better.  The ones from Hua Ting taste pretty good too but I find the lotus paste (with macadamia nuts) a little dry, and the skin, thick.

Hua Ting’s moon cakes.

Hua Ting Moon Cakes

 It looks like I could not change my destiny.  DS said that I was just fated to eat more moon cakes!  I like DS’ sense of humour but one thing I know, we will need to work harder in the gym to shed off the extra calories! 😀

Previous entry – SEASON OF MOON CAKES

SEASON OF MOON CAKES

A few weeks ago, I told DS, “Let’s not have moon cakes this year”, simply for the reason to avoid extra calories intake in our diet.  Moon cakes are known to be very sweet (mostly) and high in calories too.

This Photo was taken from AIA’s Facebook Posting

Moon Cake Calories

I grew up in a Taoist family that’s quite traditional when it comes to Chinese festivals.  No one festival would pass without the ceremony of praying to ancestors, and a feast with my family and relatives.  Perhaps for this reason, I have grown to love some of the food specific to Chinese festivals like rice dumplings on Duanwu Festival (also known as Dumpling Festival), moon cakes on Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as Mooncake Festival), and Tang Yuan (sweet glutinuous rice balls) on Chinese Winter Solstice Festival, to name a few.

Although I have not been home for any of these Chinese festivals for 20 over years now and I have also foregone the Taoist practices after I became a Christian, my liking for such festival foods remains.  In fact, DS & I have records eating 5-6 boxes of moon cakes in a few Mid-Autumn festivals in the past!  Totally sinful, isn’t it?  But, that’s history now.  We need to be moderate with (or at times, even refrain from) some the foods which I now consider unhealthy.  That’s only the right thing to do, isn’t it?  After all, we are responsible for our own body.

But, my determination has totally failed me this time.  With so much online information about moon cakes, it was just too hard to resist the “temptation”.  I know, I know.  I am being weak!

My pick this year – from Li Bai of Sheraton Towers Singapore.

White lotus paste with single yoke

Moon Cakes1

White lotus paste with olive seeds

Moon Cakes2

What do I look for in a moon cake?

1) One that is of a traditional flavour (there is too wide a variety of moon cakes in the market now)

2) The “skin” has to be thin

3) The white lotus paste has to be smooth and moist (not oily)

4) The salted egg yokes are not hard

5) Ideally, not too sweet.

These moon cakes from Li Bai seemed to fit the bill when I went tasting a large variety of moon cakes being sold at Takashimaya Square.  I actually felt that it was not easy to decide on one based on tasting just a very tiny piece offered by the sellers, but it would be embarrassing to ask for more pieces.  Anyway, I am glad with my choice, especially for the fact that this will be the one and only precious box that I am getting this year. 🙂

I am going to spend Mid-Autumn Festival up in an altitude above 3,000m, somewhere in China.

Enjoy your Mid Autumn Festival! 🙂

MASKS OVERLOAD!

A variety of masks – that’s how much I am stocking up in addition to some N95 which I already have!  I know I am being “kiasu”. 😀

I ordered them online. They are for different purposes – some for bad haze days (N95), some for moisturising of nose and throat in low humidity, for example when on flight or during winter when overseas, and some for flu.

Masks

Except the N95 masks,  I have tried out the rest during my winter holiday in Hokkaido early this year, and happy with them.  Since I have not seen any of these masks being sold in Singapore, so it is worth getting them all the way from Japan, even with some shipping costs.

These N95  masks (photo below) are individually-wrapped and flattened, so they are easy to keep, and very convenient to bring out.  I wonder why suppliers here do not bring in better choices of N95 masks like this type.  In fact, they are even cheaper at about S$1.50 per piece inclusive of delivery cost!   Thanks to online shopping!

Masks2

These masks will certainly be very useful when I travel again (soon), and when (unfortunately) bad haze days return again.  But I really hope that the bad haze days like those we had just experienced in June will be gone forever!