CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN THE TROPIC!

Cherry & peach blossoms in the hot & humid island of Singapore?  Yes, no kidding about it.  It’s happening right now in the Flower Dome, even earlier than Japan and Korea.  What a treat!

This first-ever experimental blossom display – Blossom Beats – is presented by the Gardens by the Bay.

Blossom Beats celebrates the delicate nature of life.  It features a good variety of blossoms including cherry (sakura) and peach.  The overall display was designed in the setting of a Japanese garden, decorated with a Torii (a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found in Japanese Shinto shrines), kimonos and other Japanese-themed decorations.

Torii in the midst of a variety of beautiful blossoms

IMG_2155IMG_2205 (1)IMG_2135IMG_2141IMG_2235Not all had blossomed yet at the time of my visit last Sunday (13 Mar)

IMG_2188IMG_2237Near the entrance of Flower Dome, a Japanese garden with cherry blossoms (behind the bridge).

IMG_2109Bonsai arrangement is another highlight in this two-week (only) display.

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It has been almost 9 years now since I last saw cherry blossoms and it was in South Korea.  Though I have also seen it in Japan, it was certainly a joy to have this opportunity to appreciate these beautiful blossoms again, more so for the first time here in Singapore.  I was actually hoping for another holiday in Japan later this month for a true Hanami experience in the parks but my plan could not materialise due to other commitments.  Save it for next time.

IMG_2183Prunus Accolade – pink flowering cherry

IMG_2186Prunus Yodoenis Yoshido which are white in colour

IMG_2203Peach blossom Prunus “Genpei Shidare” which is characterised by flowers of two colours – red and white

IMG_2133OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrunus Fujishidare which has pendulous branches

IMG_2159Close-up of Prunus Fujishidare

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cherry Shirotae (Prunus Shirotae) – known to flower abundantly. Flowers are white and lightly fragrant

IMG_2178Prunus “Okame”

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Later in that afternoon, we were treated with a beautiful traditional Japanese music performance – Blowing in the Sakura Wind : Sounds from Japan – by two renowned musicians from Japan.

Mother & son pair : Kaho Irie, Koto (Japanese stringed music instrument) Grandmaster and Yosuke Irie, Shaku Hachi (Japanese end-blow flute) artiste from Japan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis performance was a joint collaboration between Japan Creative Centre Singapore and Gardens by the Bay, held in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of The Great East Japan Earthquake (11 March 2011) and also in celebration of SJ50 (50 years of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relationship) in 2016.

I was glad that hubby could finally take a breather from his furious work schedule for many weeks now, and joined me in this special experience in the Gardens by the Bay.  I think our government should do more to enforce work-life balance in private corporations and take action against companies that make their employees work like headless chickens!!

Blossom Beats is surely one unique event not to be missed especially for those who have not seen cherry blossoms before.  I imagine it involved massive efforts from many to make it happen.  Beautiful blossoms aside, a visit to the Flower Dome is educational too, as I always find it.  There is always something new to discover, and new knowledge to bring home too.  All we need is just to pay a little bit more attention to what’s being displayed together with the flowers, like these ones below.

IMG_2129 IMG_2161IMG_2224Should there be future cherry blossom displays planned, I think it will great if the designers could consider creating a better Hanami experience like organising the trees more closely in rows and allowing visitors to walk under the trees.

This time, while the blossoms are beautiful, I find the overall display too cluttered with irrelevant decorations such as the huge artificial rocks and wood-carved monkeys from the past display (Dahlia Dreams) that was held over the Chinese New Year period.  These don’t seem to fit into the theme, and the huge artificial rocks are too overwhelming and distracting.  Perhaps there was not enough time to clear them since Dahlia Dreams had just ended on 8 March and the people had only 3 days to put up this new display.

If time permits, I may make my way down to the Flower Dome again for another round of visit before the display ends on 27 March. 🙂

More photos here

MACDONALD’S SG50 HELLO KITTY

So, Hello Kitty has arrived to join in the celebration for Singapore’s 50th Birthday!

Two sets ordered – one for myself and the other is my younger sister’s.

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Beside 6 Value Meal vouchers worth a total of S$30 and 6 SG50 Hello Kitty plushies, the collector’s set also comes with one limited edition Singapore landscape booklet, 6 standees for the plushies, 6 Hello Kitty cards and a SG50 Flyer.

The 6 plushies – Samsui Woman, Trishaw Uncle, Durian Lover, Orchid Lover, SG Parade and MacDonald’s Crew

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It’s nice that MacDonald’s has included 6 paper standees this time for the plushies but I am not folding them up until I am ready with the space to display them.

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From MacDonald’s website

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Surely fans of Hello Kitty (especially Singaporean fans) will not want to miss this set that commemorates Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.  I was actually surprised when my younger sister expressed her desire to get a set too.  I never thought that she would be interested.  Perhaps this goes to say how little I know my younger sister!  In fact, she also bought the set offered by SingPost earlier this year but I decided to give that a miss.  When hubby read about this collector’s set that was going to hit Singapore, he actually told me that the plushies look cute.  Woohoo, looks like he has fallen in love with Hello Kitty too!  We have visited Puroland Japan (indoor theme park of Sanrio characters with Hello Kitty as the star character) twice, in two consecutive years.  Believe it or not, it was hubby’s idea to re-visit.  Of course, I was more than happy to say yes!

Back to the order.  I was ordering them from Ipoh while holidaying there, on the first day when the online sales started at 11am but met with some difficulties.  I thought MacDonald’s would have improved their online system after the hiccups last year.

Already sold out at the start of the sales?

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So, it actually took me a while to finally be able to get through the transaction.   Phew…..

Time to go to MacDonald’s with my vouchers! 🙂

HOME-MADE SHIOZAKE (SALTED SALMON FILLETS)

Shiozake (salted salmon) and saba shioyaki (grilled salted mackerel) are dishes that hubby and I always enjoy when we travel in Japan, especially during our last trip earlier this year.  We had a lot of them.  They are commonly served in breakfast, be it a traditional Japanese breakfast or a buffet breakfast.

A traditional Japanese breakfast with shiozake at Daiichi Takimoto-kan in Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido (2013)

Japanese Breakfast

Buffet breakfast with shiozake, saba shioyaki and other side dishes at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku (2015)

Buffet Breakfast

On return from our long 19-day holiday in Japan earlier this year, I decided to try to make my very own version of shiozake but my first attempt was not successful.  It was not tasty, and I couldn’t get that firm flesh texture effect like those we had in Japan.  Obviously my method was wrong.  I shall not elaborate more here, to save my embarrassment. 😀

Not wanting to give up, I decided to search around the internet for a recipe.  I also don’t like the idea of buying the ready-salted ones from the supermarket.

Thanks to this recipe from Just One Cookbook (by Namiko Chen) with its very clear step by step instructions (please click on the link above for the details, if you are interested).  I finally succeeded in having my home-cooked salted salmon this week! 🙂  They tasted just like what we had in the hotels in Japan.  The flesh has a firm texture and the skin was crispy.

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The preparation is easy.  All you need are (diagonally sliced) salmon fillets, Japanese cooking rice wine and salt.  That simple.  Since I happened to have some lemon zest,  I sprinkled a little on the fillets but that actually didn’t make any difference to the taste.  So I will do away with it next time.

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Salted salmon neatly stacked in two layers, separated with kitchen paper towels; in an air-tight container and kept in the chiller

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After 3 days.  I used a baking tray instead of a parchment-lined baking sheet (as per instruction) to bake them,  for slightly over 20 minutes at 200 degree Celsius.

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Together with a bowl of porridge, and a plate of stir-fried vegetables, they made a hearty meal for hubby and I.  Our requirement for a meal is that simple. 🙂

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I am just so glad that I know how to prepare shiozake in the correct way now. I can now have it at home anytime when I have the craving, and without having to wait until my next holiday in Japan. 🙂

HELLO KITTY TURNS 40!

Hello Kitty turns 40 today!

Surely, it is quite a milestone for Hello Kitty to still remain so popular and strong after 40 years.  This speaks of how successful this cute character/icon (not a cat, though!) has attracted the hearts of many (young and old) worldwide!

I would have love to take part in the Hello Kitty Run Singapore held in Sentosa island this morning but it looks like I have made the right decision not to, after my big disappointment with the registration.  The weather was not good this morning (rather unfortunate for the 17,000 participants) and it also seems that the event was not well organised, based on many negative comments I have come across on the Hello Kitty Run Singapore page on Facebook.  I was also considering a day trip to Sanrio Hello Kitty Town in Johor but after reading that they were attempting a record largest gathering of Hello Kitty fans, I gave up the idea.  I am just too afraid of the crowds.

So I am glad to have saved up S$140 for not participating in the run with DS.  Instead, I have used about S$50 (after some discounts) to buy two 40th Anniversary items (below) from the Sanrio store in Takashimaya recently, and keeping the balance to buy more Hello Kitty souvenirs in my next holiday trip in Japan next February. 🙂

Love this reusable stickers set that records the 40 years’ of Hello Kitty journey, and I intend to frame it up!HelloKitty40-01

Stainless steel water tumbler

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This morning, I kicked off my day with a big treat for my two Hello Kittys.  No, they didn’t get a big birthday cake, neither did they get their favourite red tea or pancakes.

Hello Kitty’s first experience with Singapore local food, laksa!  😀 😀

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Of course, this was just for play-play only!  It was actually my sinful breakfast.

Earlier this year, when touring Japan again with DS, I was glad to have finally visited Puroland, the Hello Kitty indoor amusement park located in Tama, after quite a number of trips to Tokyo.  That was a timely visit given that it is Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary this year. We were so impressed with the interior which has been designed like a fairyland, and there was not a single moment of dullness throughout our time spent there.  There were very entertaining shows and parade to catch, rides to take, and also photo opportunity with Hello Kitty.  If you are a fan of Hello Kitty, or have little young kids, I would highly recommend this as a not-to-be-missed destination when you are in Tokyo.   In fact, DS and I would consider going again in future.

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Puroland

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Slideshow of photos taken in Puroland (February 2014)

Arigatou Everyone – Hello Kitty 40th Anniversary Parade (February 2014)

And of course, to me, a trip to Japan is not complete without bringing home some Hello Kitty souvenirs.  This last trip I bought even more than previous trips. Perhaps, it was the 40th Anniversary mood!

Love this tie with the subtle print of Hello Kitty’s face.  DS has won it on two special occasions – our niece’s wedding and also an award ceremony event in his company – but no one has taken notice of the details! 🙂

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Crystal ball with light and music,  from Tokyo SkytreeHKSouvenirs2

From Puroland, Gift Gate @ Shinjuku and Tokyu HandsHKsouvenirs3

DVDs from PurolandHKSouvenirs4

A 40th Anniversary watch

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Oh dear, I wonder if I would ever stop loving Hello Kitty?!

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

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

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Jar opener which fits different sizes of jar cap

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Loose powder puffs and mail clipper

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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!

SEA URCHIN STEAMED BUNS

This is a sea urchin steamed bun (or ウニ饅, Uni-man in Japanese).  DS and I chanced upon this while visiting Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo last month.

Uni Bun

How could we not check it out, right? 🙂

The inner yellowish filling has a texture like a soft fish cake, and is made from a mixture of kneaded sea urchin, dried sea urchin, fish and chicken cartilage (according to the signboard – see next photo below).  The outer layer is made of flour and bamboo charcoal powder, thus black in colour.  It costs JPY300 (about S$3.75) each.

So, what was the verdict?  Yes, I  liked it although it didn’t give me a wow effect.  I think it is quite special but some may find it a little bit fishy.  It was like eating a hot (as in temperature hot) bun with soft fish cake in it. The bun is soft too.  The taste was just right for me (some Japanese food can be very salty).  DS was not impressed by it though.

The other type available was the Uni-man Kiwami (ウニ饅。極み), meaning “the ultimate sea urchin bun” in Japanese, that looked very inviting. This bun was the grand-prize winner in the 14th Gourmet and Dining Style Show (a trade event held twice a year, in Spring and Autumn, in Japan) last autumn.

The Uni-man Kiwami is an “open” bun with two layers of sea-urchin – steamed paste and sauce at the bottom and fresh sea-urchin as topping. DS and I began to appreciate eating fresh sea urchins after we have tasted some really good ones in Hokkaido last year.  I would love to try this out too but at the price of JPY840 (about S$10.50) each, I thought that would be too expensive for a try.  Furthermore, our stomachs were still feeling full from our delicious sushi lunch.  With fresh sea urchin on it, it would be necessary to eat it there and then.

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These buns are a specialty that is relatively new in Tsukiji Fish Market and started selling only in December 2013, if I am not wrong.

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So, would you be interested to try these buns out when you are in Tokyo?

Note : If you have not tasted raw sea urchins before, beware that they may have an urine (or rather ammonia) smell/taste if they are not fresh enough.  So I think it is a smell/taste not easily accepted by many.  DS and I have eaten raw sea urchins in Singapore, even in an expensive Japanese restaurant, but none is anywhere near the ones we had eaten in Sapporo – fresh, soft and incredibly sweet!  🙂

Chirashizushi  (vinegared rice topped with mixture of fresh seafood including sea urchins) from a sushi restaurant near Nijo Market in Sapporo.  Quite a generous portion of sea urchins in the middle of the toppings.

Chirashizushi

Loved this fresh sea urchins so much that we ordered a second plate!

Fresh Sea Urchins

HAPPY YEAR OF THE HORSE

迟来的祝福。。。。

祝愿大家马年行好运!

龙马精神、安康年,

骏马奔腾、如意年,

马到功成、丰收年。

Year of the Horse

I had gone into almost 5 months of “hibernation” and have not written any new entry since last September!  A few things since last September kept me rather occupied, from holidays in China & Bangkok in Sep/Oct 2013, the visit of a good old friend from Malaysia and a minor home renovation in Dec 2013, the traditional family re-union in Malaysia before mid January, to DS undergoing a minor surgery in mid January.  Thank God that DS has recovered well and fast, and we were able to proceed with our travel plan just before Chinese New Year (CNY).  Imagine my stress and worry, given my “worrywart” nature!

For the third time now, we have chosen to spend Chinese New Year holiday in a foreign land.  This time, we have picked my favourite country, Japan again.  This was our fourth holiday in Japan, and my ninth trip there (including past business trips), but still, I never seem to have enough of it!  I already have in mind which part of Japan to explore the next time we go again, although as a matter of fact we have just been back a few days ago!

On the first day of CNY, we had a very lovely day at Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan.  Beside some sightseeing, we spent the afternoon strolling down the main street of Chinatown, and be soaked in the great CNY atmosphere which I have not felt for many years.  Though it was business as usual for all the shops, the street was packed with people (mostly local tourists), mostly attracted to the lion dance performances which started around 330pm.  There were three troupes, mainly made up of young people, that went around the shops to “cai qing” (采青).  There were even fire crackers that further heightened up the mood.  It is too bad that fire crackers have been banned in Singapore since 1972!

Yesterday was DS’ first day at work after our 12-day CNY trip, and see what he has come home with from his company’s lucky draw! 😀  We had decided that we need a handy humidifier during  holiday trips in winter after experiencing extreme dryness in Hokkaido last year.  We happily bought one last December but it turned out that it was an aroma diffuser!  So, this Osim Ultrasonic  Humidifier will surely be put to good use in our future trips!

UMist

Haha, it will be great if we would also have some luck with the Hong Bao Toto draw today.  Then I will be laughing my way to Japan again, for Cherry Blossom.  😀 😀 😀

Anyway, Happy Yuan Xiao Jie  & Sweet Valentine’s Day!

Yusheng

祝大家有个快乐的元宵节和甜蜜的情人节!