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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Son Also Rises: Part 4

This post is a continuation from HERE.

By now, I have reached the end of the book. It turns out that the author makes a convincing case for genetics being by far the larger determinant of socio-economic status. This is not surprising because at least 3 out of the 4 Elements of Ethos (mentioned in Part 4) can only be activated if there is sufficient IQ in the family. IQ is mostly genetically determined (though a good education can increase IQ to some extent).

The correlation between family socio-economic status hundreds of years ago and today is a whopping 0.9 in some countries and 0.8 in others. Gregory Clark believes that it is determined by your genes.

When Singapore was a new country of immigrants, people who arrived on our shores all had nothing, no matter what their socio-economic status back in the countries they had fled. As such, you had the rags to riches stories. In America, there are also many rags to riches stories. These can be explained by the new immigrants (such as Andrew Grove) finding their own true level in American society.

Gregory Clark believes that there is little you can do about social mobility. If a society is stable and at peace, people will settle into their various levels as determined by their ancestry (like a mixture of oil, vinegar and sand).

I don't like to believe this and I have learnt that research can be quite tentative in its conclusions. After all, we grew up believing that eating fat and salt was bad for health but it turns out that the real culprit is carbs. In fact, fat satiates and prevents us from over eating carbs. If you take less than 3g of salt a day, you actually increase your chances of a heart attack.

So, I shall refuse to believe it.

Nonetheless, IF Gregory Clark is right, then how should we approach social engineering?

Assortative Mating
People tend to marry those who have equal socio-economic status. However, in a society like Singapore's, this does not always happen. People marry up or marry down. Given that Mothers are the main caregivers of children, it makes sense for low status males to marry up in order to give their progeny the best chance to reach a high status in life. The child who inherits both the Mother's IQ and benefits from the Mother's ethos conditioning will go up in the world. I think that this often happens with foreign brides. Singaporean men who cannot find Singaporean girls resort to foreign brides. These girls may not be the elite in their own country, but they would be of relatively higher status in their own country than these Singaporean men are here. Their kids will do well in school and life.

A young lady did in-depth interviews with 6 mother-child pairs whose families earned less than $950 but whose children score at the top of their cohorts. I wonder if all 6 mothers foreign brides. I do know that a couple are. It is telling however, that in the entire database of the ST Pocket Money Fund, there were only these 6 children who scored at the top in school... and there are foreign-born mothers therein, even though foreign brides are NOT a large proportion of our poorer population.

Reduce Social Inequality
You cannot do anything about how people settle into layers relative to each other. Gregory Clark actually thinks that the millions poured into levelling the playing field for school going kids from disadvantaged homes is somewhat futile in the long run. Even worse, is the policy of giving them monetary handouts. These kids settle back into their own layer of society no matter the money and resources that went into helping them.

Instead, it is better to reduce social inequality so that the gap between levels is small enough such that the differences between the highest level and the lowest does not engender envy.

Oh well... for what it is worth, I am done with this series of musings. Read but believe nothing. There is no rigour in this and it is written for fun as a sort of exteriorised interior monologue.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Son Also Rises: Part 3

This post is a continuation from HERE.

I would like to believe (since I have no research proof) that families' enduring positions at higher socio-economic levels are handed down via the Family Ethos.

Different families have different types of ethos. Such ethos are handed down tacitly and not explicitly. You live your ethos and your children absorb it.

Elements of Ethos 1: Expectations and IQ
Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) won second place in a history contest and she brought her family to the awards ceremony. Somebody else had won the prize for best all round student... and it wasn't Amy Chua. Amy Chua's father considered in a disgrace. Given that Amy Chua was the direct descendant of the Emperor's Royal Astrologer, Chua Wu Neng (who must surely have come at the top of the Imperial Examinations to get to that exalted position), this expectation that family members mustn't just do well, they must be the best of their cohort, must have been handed down through the generations.

Additionally, families hand down their genetic IQ. Studies of adopted children show that children's educational attainment and adult income is better predicted by the educational attainment and adult income of the BIOLOGICAL parents. Not adoptive.

However, it isn't enough to have the IQ. It is also necessary to evolve in a family where you are required to reach the pinnacle position. Of course, if you didn't inherit that level of IQ, such family expectations would send you to the loony house. However, if you did inherit that level of IQ and people expected less than that of you, then you wouldn't be first among equals either.

Somewhere in Petunia's lineage (on the side of my Grandma), there were Qing Court officials. The fact that I am overjoyed with my kids being somewhere in the top 10% of their cohorts probably means that these ancestors were somewhat petty Qing Court officials? Either our IQ not quite at the top, or our expectations fall short.

Probably both.

Elements of Ethos 2: Perfectionism and Rigour
Grandma sold tofu for a living and Grandpa was a trishaw puller. However, Grandma's Eldest Son became at one time, Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and in that same generation, another branch on Grandma's side of the family, achieved great enough wealth and kept it till today to be considered one of the 10 richest families in Singapore.

Grandma sold tofu for a living and Grandpa was a trishaw puller.

One of the earliest lessons I learnt at Grandma's knee was that no matter how poor one was, one had to live in dignified surroundings. The furnishings of the home could be poor, but as long as it was clean and aesthetic, one could live in dignity.

At Grandma's house, the floors were mopped every day. You made sure you cooked just enough food to feed everyone and NO MORE. Never have leftovers because those attracted cockroaches and interfered thus with the cleanliness of your home. One cannot live with dignity in a dirty and messy home. Grandma slept on a hard porcelain pillow. When she woke up, her bun was still in place. That was a never ending source of amazement for me. It was almost as if Grandma was trying to maintain what she could of a lifestyle that she had known and lost. She could not afford the trappings of wealth but she could live in pleasing and aesthetic surroundings.

I would imagine that she brought this perfectionism into her tofu making, so much so that her tofu sold well and she could eventually afford (after Grandpa died of over exertion at the trishaw) to set her Eldest Son up with a bicycle shop.

These habits have come through my mom to me. Our HDB flat had vinyl floors but they were mopped daily. Though we had only a few pieces of cheap furniture, their colours and styles matched. There was no clutter in my home. I couldn't afford the trappings of wealth, but I insisted on pleasing and aesthetic surroundings.

Perfectionism extends into my work. If I mark work, I must mark properly (putting in sometimes up to 1 hour into 1 composition) or else, I prefer not to mark. I also insist that the children give me quality work.

Parents appreciate how strict I am with their children's quality of work because you can lose plenty of marks in exams for sloppiness. However, few parents have perfectionism hard coded into their DNA. Some parents even have sloppiness hard coded into their DNA. Such parents don't think sloppiness is a big deal at all. Their homes are messy and they don't see sloppiness as a cardinal sin. It ain't good, they reckon, but it ain't that bad. Me, I DO see sloppiness as a cardinal sin.

I am not saying that it is all good. Grandma was such a perfectionist that my older cousins had their hair pulled if their bedsheets had a crease during the day.  It meant that they had been lazy and had gone and laid down in the middle of the day. It was tough love. Her expectations were high and those of her descendants who did not inherit her steel nor her IQ, did actually end up in depression and one cousin was even admitted to the loony house.

The thing with having such a Grandma is that when things get tough, the memory of her keeps me going. I keep telling myself that Grandma had it much worse and she prospered. Hence, what kind of Grand Daughter would I be if I crumbled into pieces at the first sign of something daunting and difficult? It really is thanks to Grandma that I did not blink twice at teaching Chinese to my son, even though I was and still am illiterate in Chinese. It really is thanks to Grandma that I hunkered down to analyse school exams, school syllabus even though I had not the slightest clue what the PSLE required. I did not go hire tuition and hope for the best. One does not merely hope. One must ensure.

Perhaps Grandma had in her mind to encourage and motivate her, another ancestor?

Elements of Ethos 3: Quick To Change In View Of The End In Mind
For this, one needs some level of IQ and the guts to do things differently even though everyone else you know does it the conventional way. Petunia ain't Mensa but I ain't dumb either. I ain't in the same league of Sim Ann or Amy Chua, but I ain't dumb.

It took me just 1 month in Little Boy's P5 year to figure out that if Little Boy completed all the homework the school assigned, his brain would be so tired that he would learn nothing. On some days, he was so tired that he slept at 8pm and woke himself up at 4am to finish his HW. I asked myself whether the important goal was HW done or learning achieved.

Once I had decided that the important end was learning achieved (and NOT HW completed), I had no problems forcing my son to skip HW that was a waste of time. In the end, he did perhaps 20% of his school HW (in P5), played from 7pm every night, played Sunday and half of Saturday... and still ended P6 2nd in class. It was clear to me that a tired child learns nothing and all this play helped him learn.

Since then, I have given this advice to every parent. Sadly, for some parents, the-die-die-must-also-complete HW is hard coded into their DNA. In the entire P5 year, their kids learnt nothing only to pay the price in P6.

Every time the social environment changes, change adept families are fast to grasp the rules for success and to recraft their attitudes to get the results they want.

Elements of Ethos 4: Figure Things Out
Smelly Boy has to do some Persuasive Writing. This means that he needs to write a speech aimed at enthusing and motivating his listeners to action of some sort. Persuasive Writing is one of myriad different style of writing that I thought schools don't teach. I am thrilled to bits that his school does. For PSLE, one only needs to learn narrative writing.

It has been a long time (3 years since Smelly Boy has asked me for help with schoolwork).

This is how I taught him. I asked him to google "Persuasive Writing" and read up first, before coming back to me. Then, I passed him Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Then, I asked him to brief me on the features of MLK's speech which matched with what he had read about Persuasive Writing. He told me plenty and missed out one feature that I thought was important. So, I pointed it out.

In 3 hours, I explicitly taught him one thing only. Everything else, I made him figure out and teach me. I don't know why but figuring it out is something I always knew was expected of me. In turn, I expect it of my children. Some kids are really smart but they come from families that do not expect them to figure out novel situations. The mindset is that there must be a teacher to tell you explicitly what to do.

The kids have the IQ, but their mindset prevents them from figuring things out for themselves. In situations of great social instability and with every change of political regime, the world as we know it, comes to an end. In China, descendants of intellectuals and wealthy landowners who were lucky enough to escape death, figured out faster than others what it took to succeed under the new Communist regime. As such, many descendants of previous Qing Dynasty court officials have now made it into the communist Central Government (and their kids go to Cambridge + Oxford). These families expect their progeny to be top in country. Their kids have the IQ to figure out how. They make it happen.

The fact that no one in my extended family has ever gone to Cambridge nor Oxford probably means that we expect and can only do so much? Not more?

Maybe I should try my luck and set higher expectations for my grandchildren, on the off chance that their IQ can make it but we have set our expectations too low. Kekekekeke! I might even ask for the genealogy of potential children-in-law. Hopefully, we can find one that descended from Chua Wu Neng too. Shall be on active lookout for young Chuas of marriageable age.

This post is musings. Please don't take it as gospel truth. They're just mental ramblings in black and white, done for the fun of it. Read, but believe nothing I write in this post.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Son Also Rises: Part 2

This post is a continuation from HERE.

What Does The Research Mean For You and I?
What is the implication for you and I? Well, if you track back your genealogy and see that your forebears for the past 5 generations were ALL of low socio-economic status, then it really doesn't matter how much tuition you give your child. The said child may make it somewhat up the socio-economic levels, but eventually, the status will still be lost as another generation takes over from your next. If, however you track back your ancestry and find that one of your ancestors was Chua Wu Neng, the royal astronomer to the Emperor Shen Zong, then well, you get progeny like Tiger Sophia and Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld despite doing everything American psychologists tell you NOT to do.

Some people  may decide that it is no point trying to improve social mobility after all. Why not just go with nature and define a caste system or allow the inevitable caste system to slowly take shape? Within each caste, people would practise endogamy (i.e., marry only people within their own caste) and each caste would then have its own role in society, and each caste would need to fulfil its obligations to the other castes.

Japanese society used to be structured thus. Indian society is still caste based at present.

If We Knew WHY Elite Families Stay Elite, Could We Perhaps Use That Knowledge To Help The Deserving Poor?
As a matter of intellectual exploration, what if we theorise WHY elite families can stay elite through 600 years and despite concerted attempts throughout history and in every culture, to periodically divest the elites of their wealth and status?

For both the plebeians and the elites, it appears to be a Sisyphean task. The elites attain wealth and status only to have it all taken away when the plebeians consider it unfair. They have to start again with nothing. The plebeians are given wealth and status only to whittle both away across generations.  Across the time frame of multiple generations and hundreds of years, the elite get back their elite positions and the poor drop back into poverty.

What if we knew enough of this phenomenon to teach the lower socio-economic levels some things practised by elite families across generations?

Would that help?

Further questions that come to mind are... IF all poor families learnt the tricks of elite families, then what would society on the whole look like? Would that be an ideal society?

The closest thing I can think of is how LKY taught us to be Singaporeans. The values that LKY held dear to his heart must have come through to him via his family. It is these values that he taught Singaporeans - discipline, work ethic, integrity, a drive to better one's lot in life. Some Singaporeans learnt better than others (or perhaps these were Singaporeans whose families were similar in some ways to LKY's? LKY raised up the potential of Singaporeans by teaching us what his family taught him?


In the next post, I shall venture further to theorise HOW families might ensure that they stay elite through hundreds of years and through turmoil.

Gee... these meandering posts  full of questions without answers are such fun to write. I am not sure they are fun to read however.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Son Also Rises: Part 1

I am reading this book (by a Princeton researcher of social mobility) at present - Click HERE. Its contents blow my mind and disturb me. So, I feel compelled to blog about it as a way of exorcising my own demons of cognitive dissonance. The book basically says the same thing as this article HERE (about Italian research into social mobility).

Florence, Italy
Researchers compared tax data from 1427 and compared it to tax data collected in 2011 and found that families who were wealthy in 1427 were also wealthy in 2011. In between 1427 to 2011, Florence passed from Medici rule towards republican rule. The city was then conquered by Rome. After that, it was conquered by Napoleon. After that, Mussolini came into power, allowing a Nazi occupation of Italy. Then, Italy burst into economic growth known as the "miracle economic italiano".

Every time a conqueror takes over, there is social upheaval. Despite multiple shake-ups and social turbulence where rich people's wealth were taken away and given to others, 600 years later, the families that were wealthy in 1427 tended strongly to also be wealthy in 2011.

Researchers compared the data on (1) those who passed the Qing dynasty imperial examinations and (2) those who are currently found in the modern elites in China today. They found that families prominent in the Qing dynasty are today high Nationalist officials (2.24 times over represented), prominent professors of elite universities (1.88 times over represented), chairs of company boards (1.62 times over represented) and central government officials (1.46 times over represented).

3 of these prominent families are surnamed Gu, Shen and Qian. Anecdotally, we have the infamous Gu Kailai, who was politically powerful before she was convicted of murder. We also have Sim Ann (who really should not be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gu Kailai because she is NOT evil) whose surname in Chinese is pronounced "Shen".

The descendants of families who were wealthy and powerful hundreds of years ago are still part of societies' elites (no matter in China nor in Singapore today). This is so DESPITE the fact that between 1905 and today, China went through social upheavals of incredible ferocity and brutality. Between 1946-1953, 43% of the farmland was taken away from the wealthy and redistributed to the poor. 800,000 landowners were executed. Next, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, relatives of former landlords and prominent entrepreneurs were sent by the hundreds of thousands to the countryside for hard labour, so that they could be poor too. The total death toll of such privileged people has been estimated as 10 million. 10 million people who were elite or had ties to the elite were killed.

Yet, despite concerted attempts to dispossess the wealthy and put poor people on top, political, business and intellectual elites today in China, are still comprised of a preponderance of individuals who come from the same families already prominent, when China was under Imperial rule.

United States of America
Researchers found that white people with French surnames were over-represented in the low socio-economic stratum. Conversely, people with Japanese family heritage were over-represented in the high socio-economic stratum.

It turned out that due to a quirk of history, the French people who moved down from Quebec to North America went there to work as low cost labour in factories. Conversely, the Japanese who migrated to the United States of America did so at a time when Japan was poor and the elites were the only ones who could leave for better pastures.

My Thoughts
It seems that people find their own levels in society no matter whether they go to a new world or stay in their own. It seems that people find their own levels in society no matter whether there are social upheavals or not. Human societies seem to have the same properties as a mixture of oil, water and sand.

If all this research is to be believed, then it really does not matter what we do to increase social mobility, right? Isn't this depressing? The researchers do not go into the possible REASONS why the family heritage is so strong.

In my next blogpost, I will advance my own ideas. Of course, I am just doing this as a matter of conjecture. I don't think this line of research is sufficiently explored to venture any definitive conclusions.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Home Made Thosai

The last time I ate thosai, I had diarrhoea for 5 days. I haven't dared to eat thosai since then. The traditional recipe is made of millet and rice flour but in the kopi tiams, thosai and roti prata are grilled on the same pan. The microscopic bits of gluten left on the pan get onto the thosai and then a celiac who eats it, gets sick.

I REALLY love thosai. Out of necessity, I had to learn to make it at home. This recipe makes 2 thosai. I was a bit unsure if it would turn out well so I made a very small quantity.

Soak 2 tablespoons of urad dhal (black millet without the husk) + 2 tablespoons of COOKED Jasmine white rice in one bowl for 8 hours. In a separate bowl, soak 3 tablespoons of rice flour + 1 table spoon of glutinous rice flour for 8 hours. Use filtered water without chlorine. I actually use kefir water to help the fermentation along.

After 8 hours, blend the millet + cooked rice mixture into a smooth paste. I used the handheld blender from Bosch because my quantities are so small. Leave to ferment overnight. Since fermentation is required, please do not use chlorinated tap water. You can use high quality mineral water (not the cheap stuff, which is usually a neighbouring country's tap water). 

The next morning, oil a crêpe pan. Add water to your fermented millet + rice blend to get a liquid consistency. Spread on the pan. You may want to watch some Youtube videos to see how they spread the mixture onto the pan. Remember to use a very low fire. This has to be cooked low and slow.

Flip it over and cook a little more.

Serve on a cheese board with the accompaniments. I have mushroom masala and butter chicken in the picture. Thosai is South Indian and the 2 masalas are North Indian. I hope no one is going to bash me for pairing what should not be paired together. I now need to figure out how to make coconut chutney to get a more authentic experience.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Power Behind the Throne OR On It?

I once had the occasion to hear from the mouth of a then mid-rank civil servant that his/her ambition was to reach Permanent Secretary. The said person gloated, "Ministers come and go, it is the Permanent Secretaries that run the country."

In those days, I thought little of it, though I was somewhat put off by the gloating and self-congratulatory way those words were said.

Today though, these casual words from a casual conversation take on a whole new meaning. If this is the attitude of mid-rank civil servants  on the way up, then it is tantamount to junior eunuchs saying that it is better to be a powerful eunuch than to be a puppet Emperor (aka puppet Minister).

Your Followers Stretch Beyond Eunuchs
This bothers me because people owe allegiance to the Emperor and have hopes that the Emperor will lead them. If the Emperor listens ONLY to the eunuchs then what happens to the rest of the populace waiting for the Emperor's leadership? Do not our views, our lives, our realities and our pain count?

Let us suppose that each Minister is an Emperor of sorts. If the Minister has the type of Boss Aura that Khaw Boon Wan has, things will improve for the people. From what I hear, Khaw Boon Wan would personally talk to nurses and healthcare technicians before he made up his own mind what policy direction to take. Similarly, I hear that he did the same in MND when he was putting the HDB  house in order. He listened not ONLY to his civil servants. He also listened to the lowest of the low in HDB and Singaporeans. Then, he set a direction for everyone.

The story also goes that he is now doing the same in MoT. Khaw Boon Wan would spring unannounced and talk to transport people at every level so that no one in the middle and senior management levels could feed him incomplete or massaged information. Not for Khaw Boon Wan the staged appearances where dirt is swept under the carpet. When Khaw Boon Wan appeared, he made sure he did so in such a way that if there was dirt, he would see it.

How not to love a leader like that?

This is reminiscent of Qian Long Emperor's (rumoured) habit of disguising himself as a commoner to personally hear from and observe his multi-ethnic populace.The Emperor leads the populace and not ONLY his civil servants.

Not Fair
It really is not fair for a Minister (say... hypothetically... of Education) to view ONLY the people who see him and meet with him in MOE as deserving of his support and understanding. Every single parent and child comes under the Minister of Education's leadership. The entire country's parents and children are the Minister's troops and deserve his support and understanding.

Don't neglect us. Don't ignore our realities nor our views. We are yours as much as the civil servants are yours. It is ok if you don't do exactly as our hearts desire because a Minister must have his own mind and his own strength of conviction. People do respect words spoken from the heart (aimed at making lives better) even if they may not agree with the views expressed. However, be fair. Care for us too (not just the civil servants) and we will follow you wholeheartedly. We are your people too.

Ministers' Us vs Them mindset should be replaced with the Us mindset.

Besides, people only overthrow puppet Emperors who listen ONLY to their closest advisers. People had no problems getting rid of Emperor Puyi (who was completely controlled by 1 or 2 eunuchs). Emperor Qian Long stayed in power till he died. A Minister that allows his decisions and views to be manipulated by only a fraction of the community (or worse, 1 or 2 persons) under his leadership fails to build a power base strong enough to stay in power. This, I do believe, was Lui Tuck Yew's mistake.  He saw his troops as ONLY MoT when in reality, his troops included SMRT and SBS Transit and the commuters.

He would have had a few million more troops if he had seen it that way.

No Political Accountability
The thing is, the civil servants are one level removed from the electorate. They do not walk the ground the way politicians do. They do not know us as you do. They do not have political accountability. If things go wrong the civil servants do not get voted out. Indeed, their attitude says it with every nonchalance, "Ministers come and go. We, the civil servants call the shots." That is neither fair to the voters nor the Minister himself.

As a voter, I do NOT want the faceless and nameless civil servants to call the shots on matters that affect my life. I want the men and women I know and trust and voted in, to call the shots.

When LKY took power,  he made clear to the then civil service that his own mind was his own. Singaporeans are not dumb. We know the mettle of the men we put in power. We can tell a puppet Minister from a real one.

Singaporean Know the Puppet Ministers From The Real
Singaporeans are not stupid. Every single whatsapp I received about Heng Swee Keat's recent stroke added to the collective wail of dismay at the news. Heng Swee Keat is much loved and much respected. It was not only LHL who was stumped wondering, "What will I do without this man?" This was on the minds of many a voter too.  What will we do without Heng Swee Keat? Worse still, Tharman Shanmugaratnam is now the Finance Minister? What if he overworks himself too!?

Heng Swee Keat had his own mind.

When I attended the Singapore Conversation with him, he gently remonstrated with the participants who all wanted Singapore to top rankings in everything from being kindest nation to most entrepreneurial. Heng Swee Keat noted that in any competitive endeavour, there is only one winner and he was looking for a future where everyone wins. People laughed at this because he said it as a joke. In that single moment, he earned my respect. He spoke the truth from the heart of his beliefs even though the whole room thought in a whole different direction. His truth also showed me that his heart was in the right place.

Get well soon Heng Swee Keat. We still need you. Not just the Cabinet. Singaporeans need you.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Chinese VS Christian 11th Century Ceramics

This is a new ceramic piece from  Franz (see HERE and HERE). They have an outlet at Takashimaya but the prices are very high there. They are much cheaper in Taiwan. I would say the pieces are comparable in quality to Lladrò (see HERE) though the styling is very different.

When you observe the dubious fashion sense of the PRC tourists bedecked in gaudy laces and impossibly high heels at Bali beaches, you would be lead to believe that this is a culture with absolutely no eye for beauty. They'll wear anything that has a French brand on it and match pieces together with unparalleled vulgarity.

Then you learn that the Japanese kimono is Tang dynasty fashion preserved through the ages. Then you learn that the highly codified rituals of Japanese culture descended from those of the Tang dynasty court... and you wonder, "What the hell happened to the PRC people?" How have they managed to regress from a culture of refinement to one of absolute boorishness?

I am not saying that all PRC people are boorish. A lot are though. I was peaceably reading a panel at the National Palace Museum, Taipei when a group of PRC tourists elbowed me out of the way. It was quite scary so I started using my elbows to get out of the scrum. I wasn't gentle. Gee! I am boorish too!

Anyway, I had seen an exhibition of Christian ceramic art from the 11th century in Spain. The write-ups extolled the beauty of the wares. The Husband and I looked each other askance. We did not find them beautiful. In contrast, the 11th century ceramics on display at the National Palace Museum were well executed and stunningly beautiful in their simplicity.

Christian ceramic tile art from the 10th to 12th century.

White Chinese ceramic from the 10th to 12th century. The Chinese were Coco Chanel (less is more and simplicity is hardest to execute well) even before Coco Chanel was born,

Black Chinese ceramic from the 10th to 12th century. I think the artisans respected their medium. They used the natural qualities of the material and the process to create beauty. In contrast, Christian ceramic ware shows that the artisans tried to force their mind creations upon the material and process.

Celadon with crackle glaze. Even the beauty of crackle glaze is a result of a natural process of the clay and glaze expanding at different rates.

Clean and simple lines. Very modern concept, no? Less is more?

The other parts of the exhibition were equally stunning. The nephrite Jade pieces from the Neolithic  (i.e., caveman) period and the more recent jadeite Jade pieces were absolutely breathtaking. Did you know that the mythical qualities of Jade come from having been used in the Neolithic period as common everyday tools? Axes, knives and meat scrapers. The stone was so hard and durable that these tools saved people from death in many calamities. Over time, people came to associate it with spiritual protection. Real jade (that has been untreated) is a very hard stone.

I was also mesmerised by the bronze mirrors. The fronts were burnished into a golden sheen and the backs were decorated with art. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the jade pieces and the bronze mirrors because I had (by then) been told that photo taking was not allowed. 

Thankfully, I could get to keep the photos I had already taken.

Cheap Eats in Taipei

Lamb hotpot in a hole in the wall that seats only 8.

Glutinous rice and fermented vegetables next to a traffic light. The glutinous rice was steaming hot!

Fascinating place where I paid SGD$4.50 for a full meal. You self serve from the variety of salad dishes.

This was my pick of salads.

Addiction Aquatic Development

This market is very atas. It has all the gourmet stuff from the world over. They have live oysters that they shuck right in front of you.

Live seafood in submerged baskets.

Huge tanks.

From tank to table. Very fresh sashimi.

Barbecued beef short ribs.

Barbecued scallops fresh from the tanks.

Barbecued live prawns.

Barbecued Alaskan King Crab legs. These were frozen. NOT recommended.

Sights and Sounds of a Taipei Wet Market

You can get yourself a manicure!

Right in the middle of the chaotic mess was a temple resplendent in its glory, looking strangely opulent amongst the smell of raw pork and raucous cries from the hawkers.

People write their wishes on a slab of pine and hang it up on the pillar.

Herbal teas that come along with an erudite lecture (by the hawker) on each of the properties.

See the toddler standing in the scooter? This is a common sight.

Fermented vegetables (opposite the raw pork).

Home made medicinal balms.

Cooked meats.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Family Is Strength

It already spoke very ill of us when we pried and dug with archaeological fervour for every discernible and non-discernible crack and breakdown in the relationships between brother, sister, sister-in-law and cousins of the Lee family.

For a good 2 weeks or so, the press and even the world's press were nothing better than gossipmongers popcorning away at an entertaining soap opera, except that this soap opera was real and brought real pain to real people.

It is now positively EVIL that someone impersonated Lee Wei Ling to sign a petition in support of  Chee Soon Juan. This is a true personal attack aimed at breaking down decades of loving relationships within a family. No one has the right to do that.

If that is not gutter politics, then what is?

Is it not enough that LKY's kids had to share their Dad with 5 million other people?  Are people looking forward to the disintegration of the family too?

It was hard for LHL to reject Singaporeans' insistence on hero-worshipping LKY because LHL represents the people. Fella is caught between his duty as a son and his duty as Head of State. The only thing he can do is COMPROMISE, and we all know that in a compromise, everyone wins (but everyone also loses). This loss is salient to LWL who approaches life without compromise. One must strive to be 100% faithful... 100% good... 100% pure in intentions.

I really like LWL because she so strongly echoes LKY. It is this purist attitude to life and mission that inspires trust.

At the end of the day, that big hoo-ha was simply a tussle between Singaporeans and the Lee family over who are the true children of LKY, and who has the right to own and celebrate his memory (with poor LHL caught in the middle). It is as simple as that and it really is a pity because LKY gave his whole life to us and here we all are, actively seeking to destroy the unity of his family.

Is this any way for Singapreans o repay LKY?

If I were LHL, I would not compromise (see... this is why I like LWL). Singaporeans are so ungrateful and spiteful and gossippopcorny that it just isn't worth sacrificing my family unity for. The unity of my family is not to be damaged. If need be, I would stand in court against the government that I lead to defend my father's last wishes because Singaporeans are not worth the price of family unity.

Singaporeans don't have to be so anxious to claim LKY's memory. Let another PM (after LHL) erect a statue to LKY. Just don't put LHL in a spot. This is worse than being caught between a wife and a mother! Genghis Khan died and was buried in an unmarked tomb in the steppes of Mongolia. His spirit banner is also gone. Yet, there are statues of Genghis Khan everywhere in Mongolia and an entire building to commemorate him hundreds of years later.

There is nothing the Lee family can do to stop Singaporeans from claiming LKY's memory. There are 5 million of us and 9 of them. Duh! Just leave this family to honour their word to LKY and when they pass, we can claim our LKY and commemorate him however we like.

Leave this family its strength.

Mother's Day 2016

I finally have the ideal pair of oven mitts (bought from NTUC Finest at Thomson Plaza). The traditional cloth mitts get scorched when they touch the sides of the oven (especially if it is pizza or artisanal bread which require very high oven settings). The pure vinyl mitts are even worse. They don't insulate properly and so my fingers get burnt.

This pair is cloth on the inside and vinyl on the outside. This allows me to pick up stuff straight from inside boiling water or the hot steamer. It is ever so pretty too with flowers and leaves etched in relief.  I love them. Best kitchen buy this year after the cast iron grill pan bought earlier to give our meats that taste of the barbecue without having to light a charcoal fire. Along with the gloves, I got a pair of vinyl tongs to use on the cast iron grill pan.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

My Holy Grail of French Desserts

French desserts are really something. In the French supermarkets, the dessert aisle is a mile long (and there are sometimes 2 of them) to fit in the mind boggling variety of dessert types. See HERE. Somehow, French desserts have never taken off in Singapore. Certainly, our Peranakan desserts and tropical fruits offer stiff competition.

To me though, there is nothing quite as exciting as the dessert aisle of any French supermarket. It has always been a source of frustration to me that one cannot buy these yummy desserts off the shelves in even our most well curated Singaporean supermarkets.

From all that mind boggling variety French desserts, my Holy Grail has been the Mousse Au Chocolat. When we holidayed in Spain last December, we ate up 1 pack of 6 chocolate mousses every day because they were available in every supermarket.

My love affair with the Chocolate Mousse goes back a long time. I had a crush on chocolate mousse way before I had any crush on a boy. It happened in a large and spacious farmhouse on a bright winter Sunday during a 3 hour long lunch. I was made to sit at the table for 3 hours because well brought up children were not allowed to leave the table until everyone had finished eating. So, I stuffed myself silly with the chocolate mousse.

The intense contrast between the boredom of adult conversation and the creamy rich-yet-airy paradox of the chocolate mousse must have seared a pleasure brain map into my brain circuits because till today, I will always go to the dairy section at Cold Storage or NTUC Finest to see if maybe... perhaps... they would have brought in chocolate mousse.

It is no matter now because I have finally succeeded at making it the way it should taste (without using raw egg). The original, authentic chocolate mousse recipe contains raw egg. It was a challenge to find a recipe that tasted authentic sans egg. The recipe is HERE. It is decadent and rather laborious but it will do to satisfy this family's cravings.

My next project is... Gluten Free Croissant. I have a first experiment proofing in the fridge and am keeping toes and fingers all crossed.