Handwritten entry

A few years ago, I lived in Vienna for a few very few short weeks. I was still on the no 24hr connectivity kick part of my life and did not possess a smart phone and had a trusty point and shoot digital camera (8mp!) while other tourists were whipping out their iPhones. I used an old fashioned map, got lost a lot of the time and had to plan my itinerary every night using googled and the hope for the best.

I still blogged whenever I got home but I spent many hours on the trains, the cafe, scattered around Vienna. Those long hours waiting in line for cheap tickets to the opera…well, sometimes no one wants to talk to you, ya know? And taking to yourself is probably like buying yourself a ticket to the psych office and I was TOO CLOSE to graduating to risk that! And so I wrote in my little notebook. I’m fairly certain I barely used half the book. I did manage to get a few cool etchings from the various walls around the city though.

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So now I’m heading to Vienna. I’m debating between going all techie and blog exclusively versus bringing a small notebook along….what do you think? And if I do bring a small notebook, I can either bring a lined book or a plain notebook….decisions decisions!

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Mon Inspirations after a devastating weekend

As everyone ought to know by now, Nepal experienced a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that resulted in massive loss of lives. In addition to the lives lost, the destruction was devastating. I have a friend who works for a NGO there and although she is save, I know that she must be struggling deeply now. I hope that as the air clears, we may receive clearer directions on how to help the survivors.

In the meantime, I tried to think hard of what would possibly inspire me this week. After all, its going to be a pretty short week especially with May day coming up. And I came across this lovely story about how teenagers are using a social event, and not just any social event, but prom, which, if you have to admit, in the short life of a teenager, is a pretty big deal, to demonstrate their civic mindedness and their quest for social change. Instead of stressing out about the prom dress or their shoes (which I’m sure they still will stress out over, after all, it IS prom), they are also using the opportunity to set things right by inviting classmates with autism to the prom, or asking their gay friend to be their date to their prom. Sometimes I think teenagers are more progressive and open minded than the adults who are their caregivers and guardians.

Also, Bruce Jenner officially come out as a transgender person this week. For a public person, I cannot imagine that this was an easy process. I’m also very very happy that the medical community has finally decided to make public their support for same-sex marriages.

And speaking of prom, there is an adorable 4 year old youtube dance sensation out there with her own backup dancers. They look as if they are having so much fun that its downright infectious.

And the video of this 102 year old woman who finally gets to see her younger self dancing brought some major tears to my eyes. She’s danced with the greats. Whoever made the video for her deserves a reward for bringing such joy to her life.

As everyone knows, I’m going to be shaving my head in July for the Hair for Hope event to be held at Vivocity on July 25th. Some have questioned my motives behind doing the shave, but I want to show you why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because of little girls like this girl here in this video:

I know that everyone is charmed by how sweet the nurses are, and truly, they really really are very sweet. But this little girl was what captured my heart. She may have cancer, she may or may not make it. But she’s alive now and dammit, she’s going to have fun.

Well, that’s pretty much sums up what inspires me this week. Its a short list, I know. But then again, it is a short week. Have a great (short) week everyone!

Clinique Sonic System

Most of my friends know that I’m pretty cheap. I mean, I’m always looking for the best deals in everything from food to clothes. But on occasion, I have been known to splurge on things that matter like gifts for my loved ones, plane tickets for long haul trips and good comfortable hotel rooms and facial products. I’m also a stickler for things I’ve used before. Hence you rarely find me at one of those yuppie cafes because to me, it’s too much of a risk. You are spending a lot more money for an unknown quality. Yes, Starbucks ain’t cheap, but like McDonalds, it brings with it a certain familiarity and known quality.

I feel the same way about my skin. I don’t wear make up. I have sensitive skin but not one that is overly complicated, well, other than the eczema and urticaria. But so far my face has been relatively spared. The products I use are quite simple: toner, cleanser and moisturizer. I normally stick to either Clarins or Clinique or Elizabeth Arden. One would argue they ARE expensive but these brands have a long history of quality behind them and you don’t want to be messing around too much with your face, know what I mean? That said, I’ve dabbled on occasion with grocery store products, various Korean facial products as well. But as I don’t read Korean, it’s hard for me to decipher the ingredients in the product. As I’ve aged, my friends are moving in to “organic” products or making their own. I applaud their bravery but I simply do not possess that sort of courage. Every time I’ve used a different product from my usual, I will return to either Clarins or Clinique (Elizabeth Arden is a once every year or so treat)….just in case.

Hence, given my squeamishness about trying new products when it comes to my face, it should come as no surprise that I’ve waited 10 years before caving into the electronic sonic facial brush phenomenon. On occasion, I’ve used manual hand held loofahs to my face but frankly it’s never been a habit I’ve managed to be consistent with. In fact the usual routine of face washing toning and moisturizing disappeared almost completely during residency as I struggled to balance life with work. I counted it as a victory if I remembered whether or now I had brushed my teeth at least twice a day!

Anyway, I’ve lusted after Clarisonic’s Mia ever since Sephora introduced it way back when. But it was $200 or maybe more when it was first introduced and I didn’t think that I could justify such a purchase especially most times I was struggling to pay rent on time. I figured I had to be more regimental about my facial routine first. I also reasoned that if I was good about my routine, perhaps I might not even need an electronic gadget to keep my face clean. That said, I love my electric toothbrush. I tried one year without it and my dentist ended up threatening to take all my teeth out.

About two months ago, on one of my rare days off, I offered to babysit my sister’s little monkeys so that she could get her haircut in Orchard Road. I figured it would allow me the opportunity to finally enter my favorite department store and walk out with one of the famous Tang bags! I was quite set on the Clarisonic’s Mia brush. I wanted the original as the newer models had differing speeds and seriously, who wants so many buttons on their gadgets anyway? I was quite disappointed when I got there to find out the original was out of stock. I played around with the other models but I wasn’t happy with any of them so I wandered over to the Clinique counter. Their nice clean clinical interface always makes me feel so safe and clean.

Clinique also has their own sonic brush that has been on the market for a two or three years. They’ve won several awards for their efficiency. It was something I had thought of buying but I had my heart set on the Mia because well, I’ve wanted it for 10 years! Nonetheless, the sales girl was very attentive, sweet and polite. Also, the Clinique brush was $100 cheaper than Clarisonic’s newer, more advanced models.

Well, the bargain hunter in me picked up the scent. I tested the feel of the brush on my hand. The length of each cycle was 30sec, which apparently is how long you are supposed to massage your face with your hands. Who knew? I doubt I have the cleanser on my face for more than 10 sec most times. It didn’t feel too rough against my skin and it was weirdly soothing. Plus it had one button! One press and it goes for 30 sec. One speed. Unlike the new Clarisonic sonic brushes which have three different speeds. I’m a simple girl. One button will do, thank you very much. It wasn’t too heavy, perfect for traveling. And one charge lasts for 3 months. The main difference from the Clarisonic system is that only the head of the Clarisonic system vibrates whereas the entire body of Clinique vibrates. I’ve read some reviews who have pooh-poohed over this difference and have stated that the Clinique brush is but a poor imitator. I beg to differ. At least my hands have also gotten a nice massage on top of the cleaning!

Anyway, I’ve been using the brush with The Body Shop tea tree cleanser for the past two months. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a new toy phenomenon but I’ve definitely been more consistent about washing my face. I’ve also been cleaning my neck more. The vibration of the brush under my chin feels really good. I’ve stopped toning as regularly though because my skin is getting drier as I’ve aged and someone told me that toning is too drying for older skin. If I forget decide not to use the brush, I’ll tone before putting the moisturizer on ( ok, like you haven’t skipped a step or two once in a while *no judging!*). And because I’ve been washing so diligently, I’ve also been more consistent with my moisturizer, which is from the Face Shop Clean Face line. Once both the Face Shop and the Body Shop products are completed, I will probably return to Clinique and Clarins for about three months.

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So far, the hyper pigmented spot is still on my right cheek. I don’t think it’s gotten any lighter. My pores look the same. I think. I don’t really know. I’ve never been the sort of person who has one of those magnifying mirrors and stare at my pores. And when I was in medical school, I gladly traded my dermatology rotation for a short stint in neurology (boy! Am I regretting that decision now! Especially since everyone comes in with rashes or acne and wants me to fix it! And I do! By writing a referral!)

But my acne breakouts are less severe than before. But I don’t know if it’s because I’m more diligent about the basics of skin care or if it’s because of the brush. Nonetheless, the brush is going with me to Milan and everywhere else because if anything, the built-in timer for washing my face is worth it! Plus I feel like I’m having a mini massage EVERYTIME! Not too bad for a $150 product. As long as it lasts! At least I’m saving on facials…..

In the meantime, if anyone has new recommendations for moisturizers or seems, let me know! After a rest period with Clarins I’ll be open to more ‘experimental’ products!

Island Cafe at Tangs

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CK Tangs is the first Department Store in Singapore. Its flagship store is in Orchard Road and with the little pagoda that stands above the building it occupies, it rules Orchard Road, in as much the same way that Macys rules 7th Avenue in New York and Marshall Fields (even though it has been bought over by Macys) used to rule over Michigan Avenue with its green awnings. Tangs is an institution in Singapore. Some argue that Robinson’s should share the same honor. But Robinson’s was started by a British family and is currently in the hands of other foreign hands. Tangs has always been Singaporean. And its first owner started the store by selling his wares door to door with a metal basket on a bicycle (or something like that). Its a classic rags to riches story and I love it even though I can barely afford any of their stuff most times.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling reckless, I may buy something small, just so that I can carry a Tangs bag out. Sort of the same reason why I bought toothpaste from Bloomingdales. Not because $10 toothpaste cleans my teeth better than a regular $2 toothpaste from RiteAid, but because walking out of there with the Little Brown Bag made me feel just a teensy bit special for well, quite frankly, the whole day. Actually, once I bought a pair of jeans (which I still own) from Bloomingdales. It was a very special treat for myself. I had published a paper and my sabbatical year at the NIH was coming to an end and my heart had been broken for the second time and I wanted, just once, to own an expensive pair of jeans. A buy that doesn’t really make sense since I don’t really wear jeans (Singapore is too hot) but I just wanted to act reckless for once.

Anyway, I had arranged to meet my sister with her children at Tangs. I figured she might want an extra pair of hands to help her with her children. And she mentioned that she hadn’t had a hair cut in almost a year. Having an aunt and grandmother to watch the children is probably the only way she was going to be able to have that haircut. I remembered that she enjoys eating at Tangs. I’ve never actually had a meal there before so I suggested we stop by the Island Cafe for lunch before her pampering hair appointment.

First of all, the prices. If you think about the fact that it has a great view, there’s air conditioning, and we are downtown, the entree prices really aren’t unreasonable. But what made me a little uncomfortable was that the menu items were regular Singapore food items like laksa, Hainanese chicken rice, Hokkien prawn mee, etc. $16 for chicken rice??!! The Singaporean in me nearly fainted from shock. But then again, I suppose an Italian probably won’t be particularly pleased to be paying 16 Euros for a plate of pasta (I think).

But when the food arrives and I have my first taste of the laksa, the grumbling in my brain starts to ease a little. First of all, the laksa came with crawfish (mostly shell, not much meat) and the soup was very very good. Not too spicy. Not too oily. It was just nice and the portions were huge. I tried MamaMonkey’s prawn mee. Again, very good. My sister’s chicken rice wasn’t too bad either (but it still won’t beat Boon Tong Kee!). The waiters were very nice and very patient with us even though we took about 20 mins to settle down and read the menu.

The question, of course, then becomes was the laksa worth $20? I suppose that won’t be an amount that I’ll be willing to part with on a regular basis for a bowl of laksa. But sometimes, when you just want a piece of heaven in Orchard Road and you want to treat yourself, just a little, then yes. Maybe.

Important info:

Island Cafe

4/F Tangs Orchard

Tel: 6311 3424

The Choose Beautiful campaign

So Dove has done it again! They created another short film to promote their product by choosing to promote the beauty of women. As this Guardian article has so elegantly articulated, Dove has made an art out of promoting their products by letting women think that they are being empowered by using their products. However, the author seems to disagree with such an ingenious method of promotion. I, however, choose to disagree. I would rather buy a product that is openly promoting the idea of beauty in all women then to support a product that makes women think that they will become ugly or old if they don’t use the product.

Monday Inspiration

Ever since Hilary Clinton announced her presidential bid last Mon, my Facebook feed has been inundated with inspiring stories of women. For example, we all know that Silicon Valley is populated with success stories. But ask anyone on the street who they are and most people would probably name Mark Zukerberg or Bill Gates as their inspiration. Well, surprise surprise! There are women who make it in Silicon Valley too!  Honestly, I don’t know why we are surprised. After all, Ada Lovelace pretty much invented the field of Computer Science in spite of having Lord Byron as a father.

And for those who still think there are some vocations that women cannot do, well she just proved you wrong. As a Blue Angels fighter pilot, she is the best of the best. Gender simply wasn’t even a consideration.

And thank you Jessica Kane who called a spade a spade. Jessica Kane is inspiring (not brave, mind you) because she loves herself for who she is. She is out there enjoying and celebrating her fabulous self. And at the same time, she is applauding those who are truly brave.

Walking down the aisle seems like a pretty simple thing to do, right? I would hazard that the first dance is probably a lot harder. But for this young bride who was paralyzed in a terrible car accident, walking down the aisle was probably impossible. Except, she did the impossible and she performed the first miraculous act in their very young marriage.

Speaking of hard. Know what is hard? Running a marathon. What else is harder? Running in the same marathon that resulted in you being in a wheelchair. But Rebekah Gregory isn’t going to let that stop her. 2 years ago she was injured in the Boston Bombing. But tomorrow. She is going to run in it again. *salute*

And this woman saw a wrong and decided to right it. She saw someone dumpster driving and decided that in her First World country, that wasn’t right. So she decided to right it. I think she has the right idea. Sometimes the idea of trying to change things for the better is so overwhelming because, well, let’s face it. There are so many wrong things in the world, how can one person change it? Well, sometimes one small change is all we need because if there are many small changes, it all adds up to a big change, right? For inspiration, look at these students. They can’t solve the problem of world hunger. Or homelessness everywhere but they are going to try to give the homeless people in their community a decent shot having a roof over their heads. Yay for the power of imagination and determination! And, look at this little girl. She loves her little brother so much even though he has an incurable disease. Well, she’s going to change that! So she’s taking things one step at a time and raised a lot of money to help contribute towards a cure.

Although I always knew that ballet dancers had it rough. But Misty Copeland had it rougher than most. But now she is the principal ballet dancer with the National Ballet. And this woman truly knows the power of education. She knows how difficult it can be for students who are blind, so now she’s going to do something for it!

In the meantime, I’m wondering what I should do about my growing weight and girth (I know, I’m so superficial). I came across this video and think I might give it a try. After all, I made a leather card case by myself, surely that means I’m finally ready to step out of my comfort zone?

Also, apparently the whole world was stumped by a mathematics question that was presented to 14-15 year old Mathematics Olympiads (ie Math geniuses). Although I think that the answer to the question is “both boys should tell Cheryl that playing coy isn’t going to get her any birthday presents”, the Olympiad committee thinks otherwise. Also, good thing I was never foolhardy to try out for the team.

Leather crafts with The General Company @ Tyrwhitt Road

On a whim, I signed up for a leather crafts workshop today. It was a “basic” leather workshop. Before your jaws drop to the floor and hits it really really hard, I would like to announce (quite proudly) that I wasn’t kicked out of the class. Nor did I sustain any injuries during the workshop. Quite a miraculous feat considering that I once almost required stitches simply from making a Styrofoam sailing boat for Science. And EVERY art teacher who has ever taught me have all unanimously agreed that I was much safer in the science stream, in spite of the prospect of me making the smelliest organic compound in Chemistry lab.

Also, I once almost failed Biology because every question required a drawing of either some cells, or a plant or part of a biological specimen (my GCE O level exam involved a slice of unripened banana, which was not recognizable, and which I was not able to draw even though I had memorized a picture of a slice of a banana dissected in the trans-plane) Clearly, Art, and its related cousin, Crafts, and I were not meant for each other. I think my idea of doing crafts is putting stickers on my computer.

A sample of the goods found in The General Company
A sample of the goods found in The General Company

This particular workshop was held by the Leather craftsman (his name is Xie Hui) from Stone For Gold at The General Company, located at Tyrwhitt Road, above what was formerly a hardware store (Cheng Seng Huat hardware store) but which now sells very aromatic coffee. The store itself sells some unique quirky stuff, which I believe is designed by Singaporeans.

Its a pretty small class held in a corner of the store. First, you have to choose your leather. And because I was slightly late (all those small streets were highly confusing!) I didn’t really have many choices but I knew that I wanted to leave with an embossed product so I chose a smooth kind of leather, which I hope would work.

piece of leather
Step one: Choose your leather

After a small introduction to the different types of leather and how they are treated, we were each given a template. The instructor then proceeded to demonstrate what we had to do. Now, another reason why I signed up for the class is because in the workshop description, it says no experience needed. I took it to mean that they meant no skills, artistic or otherwise, was needed. It sounded simple enough, but oi! Are my arms sore from all the force needed to cut through that leather. I may never begrudge how expensive those leather handbags are ever again!! I’m also not very good with round corners and after a couple of tries, Xie Hui ended up just rounding the corners for me *hee*

Step 2: Cut the leather into the shape desired using the template provided
Step 2: Cut the leather into the shape desired using the template provided
Step 3: Punch some holes so that you can stick the ball thingy to hold the whole thing together.
Step 3: Punch some holes so that you can stick the ball thingy to hold the whole thing together.
Step four: Emboss the namecard holder with  if a lot of brute strength. Or ask the instructor very nicely if he can do it for you...
Step four: Emboss the namecard holder with if a lot of brute strength. Or ask the instructor very nicely if he can do it for you…

There is an advanced class which, from the sounds of it, will involve some sewing. And probably more upper extremity muscle strength. I haven’t signed up for it because I have a rather heavy workload next week. But this class has definitely whetted my appetite for more. They also have a shoe-making class which I’m really tempted to signup for….anyway wants to join me?

Viola! The finished product. I hope the Beau likes it.
Viola! The finished product. I hope the Beau likes it.

The French are here!

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A couple of weeks ago, my nephew decided that he wanted to go to the airport to play. That’s not surprising since Changi Airport these days resemble a huge mall/ playground rather than a place where people go to fly away. But I suppose that’s ok since its always been like that. When I was a child, my parents used to take us there so that my sister and I could race up and down the travellators in Terminal 1.

While he was busy playing with the computer stimulation at the viewing gallery in Terminal 3, I spied Poulet and suggested we go there for lunch since his limited palate includes ice cream, and bagette.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it quite empty. Probably because it is located at the far corner on the fourth floor of the airport. Another pleasant surprise was the menu. Poulet is a chain store that sells mainly chicken dishes. Their branch in Bedok mall had a rather limited menu and I was quite disappointed when I was there last time. But I was craving some mushroom soup. Their current menu included the French version of a pizza and MamaMonkey ordered a tuna baguette while my sister ordered herself a tiramisu. I ordered a slow-cooked chicken. I’m sad to report that the chicken was definitely overcooked and a bit dry. Not a good start for a place that specializes in chicken. However, that tuna baguette was good and so were the fries. The pizza looked interesting. PapaMonkey finished the whole thing so I can only assume it was good and my sister seemed to enjoy her tiramisu. But my favourite was the mushroom soup. I love mushroom soup. It reminds me of Chicago because I used to drink it every time I was on call. I might go back to Poulet for the mushroom soup alone. I only hope its not a seasonal menu item because I might get quite cross.

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JACK MONROE: COOK, CAMPAIGNER, GUARDIAN COLUMNIST, MOTHER, AUTHOR, ETC.

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