When Life gives you Melons, you are Dyslexic

Me 47 years ago.

There is a catchy and rather funny Hokkien song going around with the singer vocalizing what he would do if he had a million bucks. He’s thinks by accomplishing all those things he was unable to do prior to becoming a millionaire, he would be a very happy man.

I refer to this as “conditional happiness” – you attain a status or make an acquisition (purchase an asset of some kind) and then happiness follows.

The fact of the matter is that such happiness is often fleeting and doesn’t last.

Such happiness may not even happen. Eagerly waiting in anticipation of a future “success” (for the babe next door to fall in love with you, for striking TOTO 12-million dollar hong bao draw, for your evil mother-in-law to die, etc) robs you of the here and now.

And even if the much-anticipated event really happens – unlikely as it may be – that burst of euphoria will soon dissipate and you’ll be left asking “Is this it? Is this all there is?”

When I was in high school, I was fascinated by magic tricks and after saving my pocket money I would go to a store to buy some tricks to perform for friends and every time the so-called secrets of the tricks were revealed to me, I always felt let down. “Huh? Is this it? Is this all there is?”

Same feeling here.

Call it buyer’s remorse if you want, but you know what I mean.

It’s like porn; porn addicts tell me after a while, only the most perverted and sickening hardcore types of porn will titillate them.

It’s like cars; the faster a car you drive, the slower it becomes, because you now want a much faster car.

It’s like big screen TVs; the larger the TV the smaller it becomes because you now want a mega size super huge screen.

Okay I’m sure you get my point.

Fair enough, you are entitled to a certain degree of gratification upon reaching a goal but you are going to be very unhappy if you think that every time a goal has been achieved or a target met, you will be happy and that such happiness will last.

Often things feel anticlimactic and a bit of a disappointment.

I turn 63 tomorrow and lately, well-bred reverential younger people decades younger than me have been asking me what the key to my cheerfulness and good humor is.

“Lohcifer, what makes you so happy all the time?”

Me happy all the time?

If only they knew!

People don’t see the pain I feel inside of me.

They have no idea that for me, every day is another day of outward smiles and inward screams.

This is due to incapacitating pain since 2012 due to a bad back, and prior to that due to a herniated cervical (neck) disk.

That neck problem is long over, but the back pain since 2012 persists till today.

1. Don’t look for conditional happiness

Anyway, I am definitely no expert on happiness but not thinking of happiness as a transaction or as something conditional, may be a good start.

If you think of happiness as a cause and effect thing, you are going to end up very unhappy.

You ought to be happy just being.

2. Stop obsessing about your image

Secondly, stop obsessing about how you look.

I feel sad for those people who spend heaps of money trying to project a certain image.

Does my hair look right?

Do I look good in pink?

Do my shoes match my belt?

Do my selfies with celebrities indicate that I am someone who’s up there with the stars, that I’m a member of the glitterati?

Does my handbag look expensive?

Does my “showreel” on social media project the impression I want others to have?

My advice: most people don’t care unless you look so obviously hideous because you’ve neglected basic personal grooming, dandruff is all over your shoulders, you don’t brush your teeth or you don’t shower and every time you walk by, people think a skunk has farted. People have lives to lead and battles to fight. They don’t take time to salivate over the fact that you flew on Singapore Airlines Suite class to/from New York and paid an arm and a leg (at least US$20,000/-) for it. Truth be told, they probably think you are a fucking moron throwing away money like that. Come on, the truly wealthy have private jets. They don’t fly commercial so please don’t try to impress anyone.

In any case, external things can’t fix internal issues.

If you are reasonably well groomed (just the basics will suffice), and you take care of your body, you should be fine. I look around me and I see lots and lots of revolting, repugnant and repulsive fat and morbidly obese men and women who are disgustingly overweight, sauntering around, calves as thick as tree trunks, and panting hard, breathless, and sweating like pigs. Please, please don’t be like them! These people will be plagued with illnesses when they grow older and they will die young. Their children will become orphans.

I see more and more young women walking around with huge panniculus (or “apron bellies”) and it makes me want to carry a bucket with me when I go out. Why? So that I can puke. It’s so fucking disgusting, my nausea meter hits the roof when these horrific species of humans come into my line of sight and I wish they could vanish at the snap of my fingers.

Miss Panniculus stepped on the weighing scale and it said “I need your weight, not your phone number.”

No, I am not fat shaming anyone but seriously how can a morbidly obese landwhale be deemed to be attractive?

It may sound callous of me to say it but those who say “I don’t have body image issues” are only deceiving themselves. If you are fatter than an elephant, and your weight is the combined weight of an elephant plus a rhino, how can you not have body image issues unless your brain is also malfunctioning?

Fatness is ugly. Fat people are an eyesore. The morbidly obese should be hidden from view.

If your BMI exceeds your IQ, please seek medical help!

3. Live life on your own terms

Thirdly, don’t live a life that others expect you to live.

You are your own person, follow your heart.

The Japanese folks from Okinawa believe in a concept called “Ikigai.” See Venn diagram below:

Basically, it constitutes four main aspects:

  1. What you are good at
  2. What you love to do
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can be paid for

In areas of overlap, for example “do what you love and do what you are good at” you will have passion.

If you do what you love and what the world needs, then you have a mission.

In most situations, it is a simple case of doing what the world needs and getting paid for, it is a vocation.

You do what you are good at and get paid for it, it is a profession.

When you can find something that meets all four aspects, you would have found your Ikigai, your reason for being.

You will never die of hunger. You will never be a destitute. You will never be a hobo.

Academic qualifications equal “insurance” of sorts, but being able to monetize your passion or even hobby will ensure you will never have to rely on handouts for the rest of your life. As long as you make enough to sustain yourself, you are already a rich person. You are a rich person if you know how to live within your means and be contented with what you have. Others will always have more than you, envy is the ulcer of the soul. Don’t give yourself ulcers!

4. Your work is your legacy

Fourthly, every time you have done a piece of work, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Have I done my best?
  2. Could I have done better?
  3. How could I have done better?

Your work is your legacy. Your “deliverables” are about you. Mow the lawn like a retard and it says something about you. Produce a PowerPoint presentation that looks like crap and it says something about you. Write a paper full of typos and misspellings and bad grammar and it says something about you. Similarly, mess up your room to look like a pig sty and it says something about you. Pee and shit all over the toilet like a drunken moron and it says something about you. (It never ceases to amaze me how few people know how to use the toilet properly.)

Get it?

Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life.

5. Touch lives

And fifth, are you touching lives in a positive way?

Are you a freeloading parasitic rectum worm (like a lot of clergyman or that priest I met in Greece) or are you a person who touches the lives of the people around you in a positive, uplifting and edifying manner? Do you give or do you just take, take and take like you are such a self-obsessed entitled princeling? Is there a friend needing a favor, a text message, an encouragement, a little gift or some companionship? Is there a little money you can spare to alleviate the financial burdens of someone? Is there a neighbor who could do with a smile from you?

What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? – George Eliot

“What makes you so happy most of the time?”

It also depends on how you define happiness.

Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

The quality of the questions we ask determines the quality of the results we get.

To me, a life free from ill health is happiness. A life with caring, filial, respectful, polite and grateful children, children who understand the meaning of “priority” is happiness. A life with a supporting and understanding spouse is happiness. A life free from needless angst and irritating scumbags is happiness. A life lived in a manner that make others happy is happiness.

Many parents want their children to become winners: number one in school, top-earning doctors and architects, etc but when I was growing up, almost on a daily basis, my parents would ask me what I did to help others. As a result, I grew up actively looking for opportunities to be helpful, and acting upon them. When my own kids were young, I was gratified to see them wanting to do stuff for their friends; even during our family vacations, my kids would look for souvenirs to buy for their classmates. My mum referred to this as cultivating “moral excellence.”

6. Travel alone if possible

Sixth, if at all possible travel alone.

It forces independence upon you.

Plus it opens up a world of adventure to you.

Traveling companions are encumbrances. A friend’s sister (who is married and has a daughter) has the habit of going on vacation all by herself. I used to think rather negatively of this notion until I started noticing many friends “unfriended” each other after a trip together. I know of two women who became sworn enemies because during a trip, both wanted to buy the same antique they both coveted. When you travel alone, you are your own person: you don’t have to pander to the needs or whims and fancies of your traveling companions. You don’t have to put up with narcissistic behavior like somebody snapping up some good buys (and not asking if you want any) and then walking around with a smug look, or having to sleep with some hideous monster who snores and farts and burps louder than a locomotive, or look with astonishment at some kleptomaniac room mate who goes on a rampage and ransacks the hotel room for stuff to cart home: Nespresso pods, little pieces of soap, tiny bottles of shampoo, disposable slippers, shower caps, laundry bags, etc are stowed away before you can use them! Being alone means not having to put up with vapid and insidious individuals who even before the plane has taken off, shaft headphones into their ears for movies (as though movies are only available on board planes) and totally shutting off all communications with you. (These people lack social intelligence as they don’t realize that such egregious behavior is a not-so-subtle way of telling someone to fuck off, actually.)

7. Be grounded spiritually

Seventh, seek to be grounded spiritually.

I take great comfort and seek solace from – for want of a better word – religion. I hate the word “religion” but I can’t think of another word, so that will do, for now.

No, it is not a crutch, it is not opiate. I am not mentally feeble. I am not an intellectual lightweight. I am not a weakling.

I have a really wonderful wife, three very fantastic children and two super lovable grandkids, and a great son-in-law who’s in IT but does better steaks than Peter Luger, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse and Morton’s combined, but circumstances – and certain people – in my life force me onto my knees.

It’s important to have spiritual grounding.

By that I don’t necessarily mean going to church every Sunday, or visiting the temple, or praying five times a day facing a certain direction.

I’m talking more about your personal relationship with your maker.

I refer to mine as the Great Geometrician of the Universe.

My belief in the Great Geometrician of the Universe sustains me, keeps me going, comforts my soul, gives me peace of mind, helps me deal with pain, buffers me from life’s shocks, disappointments and heartaches as well as the curve balls life hurls at me once every so often.

Most people don’t know this about me, but I was a devout churchgoer since my teens, a protestant. Once upon a time, I cited chapter and verse as the basis of whatever idea I was presenting. I spouted more scripture than the Pope himself. I memorized entire books of the Bible (I bet even the Bishop can’t do that!) I even studied theology and divinity and Biblical languages. And though I am not an ordained minister here, I used to be a frequent preacher at churches including the church in which I am still a member of. However, an incident a couple of years back (basically I was accused of being disrespectful of the reigning pastor because he thought I took a dig at him when I was preaching and the entire brown-nosing sycophantic church government came down hard on me) with the result that I was so disgusted I turned my back against organized religion, although I did not bother to resign my membership. In walking out of the church, I turned my back in one fell swoop against all its spiritually-questionable leaders, most of whom feel so entitled to the perks and benefits of being men and women of the cloth and are glory-seeking and money-grabbing, materialistic, carnal and immoral political animals who instead of shepherding their flocks and being role models leading exemplary lives, end up stumbling others in the end.

But between me and the Great Geometrician of the Universe, no problem, although I am now more drawn to stoicism and have recently just completed formal studies on it. But those still attracted to the church, the following old proverb is good advice:

Protect yourself from the hinder part of a mule,
The front part of a woman, from the side part of a wagon,
And from all sides of the priesthood.

Life is never trouble-free, if you want omelettes, you’ve gotta break some eggs; if you want to collect money long owed to you, you’ve gotta break some legs. And if you get lemons, so what? Go make some lemonade. If you get melons, it’s probably just dyslexia, and nobody dies from dyslexia.

I know, because I’ve transpose numbers since I could read.

And I’ve lasted this long. I’m more than okay so far, back pain notwithstanding. And tomorrow I turn 63.

It’s the great beginning of yet another new and glorious season of my blessed life!

What a wonderful time to be alive!

There’s nothing like the vim and vigor accompanying a great birthday!

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Lee Kuan Yew on Getting the Best out of Life

The human being needs a challenge, and my advice to every person in Singapore and elsewhere: Keep yourself interested, have a challenge.

If you’re not interested in the world and the world is not interested in you, the biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli, that’s real torture.

I think the most important thing in aging is you got to understand yourself.

And the knowledge now is all there. When I was growing up, the knowledge wasn’t there.

I had to get the knowledge from friends, from doctors.

As you grow, you reach 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and then, thereafter, you are on a gradual slope down physically.

Mentally, you carry on and on and on until I don’t know what age, but mathematicians will tell you that they know their best output is when they’re in their 20s and 30s when your mental energy is powerful and you haven’t lost many neurons. That’s what they tell me.

So, as you acquire more knowledge, you then craft a program for yourself to maximize what you have. It’s just common sense.

But I think the most important single lesson I learnt in life was that if you isolate yourself, you’re done for.

The human being is a social animal – he needs stimuli, he needs to meet people, to catch up with the world.

It is the stimuli; it is the constant interaction with people across the world that keeps me aware and alive to what’s going on and what we can do to adjust to this different world.

In other words, you must have an interest in life.

If you believe that at 55, you’re retiring, you’re going to read books, play golf and drink wine, then I think you’re done for.

So statistically they will show you that all the people who retire and lead sedentary lives, the pensioners die off very quickly.

So, we now have a social problem with medical sciences, new procedures, new drugs, many more people are going to live long lives.

If the mindset is that when I reach retirement age 62, I’m old, I can’t work anymore, I don’t have to work, I just sit back, now is the time I’ll enjoy life, I think you’re making the biggest mistake of your life.

After one month, or after two months, even if you go traveling with nothing to do, with no purpose in life, you will just degrade, you’ll go to seed.

The human being needs a challenge, and my advice to every person in Singapore and elsewhere: Keep yourself interested, have a challenge.

If you’re not interested in the world and the world is not interested in you, the biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli, that’s real torture.

So when I read that people believe, Singaporeans say: “Oh, 62 I’m retiring.” I say to them: “You really want to die quickly?”

If you want to see sunrise tomorrow or sunset, you must have a reason, you must have the stimuli to keep going.

Have a purpose driven life and finish well, my friends.

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Chinese People Speaking English must be Singaporeans!

Came across this the other day; no idea who wrote it, but I think it’s brilliant; here’s my edited version:

Questioner: You look Chinese.
Singaporean: I am a Singaporean.

Q: But you look Chinese.
S: I am a Singaporean Chinese.

Q: So, do you speak Chinese?
S: Yes, but not fluent.

Q: But you are a Chinese.
S: I am a Singaporean Chinese, not Chinese from China.

Q: So, you are not a Chinese?
S: I am not Chinese from China.

Q: But your great grandfather is from China?
S: Yes, but I was born in Singapore, so I am a Singaporean Chinese.

Q: So, your great grandfather speaks Chinese?
S: He speaks dialect.

Q: Do you speak dialect?
S: No, I don’t.

Q: Why not?
S: Because for over 30 years, our country had a Speak Mandarin campaign that was so successful that the new generation practically don’t really know how to speak dialect anymore.

Q: So, you should speak very fluent Mandarin since the campaign was so successful?
S: No. That campaign was effective before, but not anymore.

Q: Why?
S: Because most people speak English nowadays. We have a Speak Good English Movement.

Q: So, English is your National Language?
S: No!

Q: So, what is the National Language of Singapore then?
S: Malay.

Q: What?!
S: Yes, Malay!

Q: Do you speak Malay?
S: No.

Q: Why not?
S: Because I am not Malay.

Q: Then why is your National Language Malay?
S: That’s another long history lesson.

Q: So, your National Language is Malay and nobody speaks it?
S: The Malays speak Malay. That’s their mother tongue.

Q: So, your mother tongue is Chinese?
S: Yes.

Q: But you can’t speak it fluently?
S: Yes.

Q: Do the Malays and Indians speak their mother tongues fluently?
S: More fluent than the Chinese speaking Chinese, I think.

Q: Why?
S: Because that’s their mother tongues lah!

Q: Then why can’t the Chinese speak Chinese?
S: Because English is spoken everywhere and is the main language of instruction in our schools.

Q: I last heard that Singapore has a bilingual policy.
S: Yes, we have; we do learn mother tongue in school.

Q: But you cannot speak Chinese fluently.
S: Yes.

Q: Why?
S: Because our country’s working language is mainly English, there is not much places to use the Chinese language, perhaps only with our grandparents and when we buy things in the market.

Q: Then how is that bilingual?
S: Search me.

Q: So, you are a Singaporean Chinese who can’t speak your National Language, and cannot speak your mother tongue fluently and can only communicate in English with a strange accent.
S: What’s wrong with my accent?

Q: I don’t know, it is just weird.
S: Does it sound British or American?

Q: Neither, I thought you should sound British since you have been colonized before.
S: No, that was long long time ago, dude, though some of those scumbags still refuse to leave.

Q: How come you try to sound American?
S: Maybe because I watch a lot of Hollywood movies?

Q: Your English still sounds weird.
S: Oh, we call it Singlish.

Q: So, what are you really?
S: I am a Singaporean lah!

Q: What the fuck!

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A Pipe by Reiner Thilo Bindschädel

When I visited Berlin, Cologne and Munich last month, I picked up a number of collectible pipes, one of which is this one by Reiner Thilo Bindschädel.

Reiner is a German master carpenter who makes pipes.

He is one of the best freehand artists that Germany has to offer.

His pipes are made out of the finest Plateau-Briarwood from Tuscany, Calabria and Corsica and all mouthpieces are entirely handcrafted and made out of Ebonite (Vulcanite), Acrylic (Lucite) and Cumberland.

Reiner does not use any cement, lute or putty, so tiny sandpits will occasionally remain on his pipes.

Pipes like those made by Reiner and other master pipe makers are available for sale and for viewing at DrMikePipes.

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Avoid Catching People “Screwing Up”

When I was a kid, about the only time I had with my father was at dinner and because in the day he worked and I was in school, dinner times were the primary times he could do his “fathering” and it always meant unleashing his rebukes and criticism at me. “You did this wrong; this is how you should do it and this is how it ought to be done the next time.” It came to a point where I hated meal times. It was my wise mother – God bless her soul – who told my father “Do not make every encounter you have with your son an unpleasant one, it will alienate him from you.”

I suspect it is human nature for us to relish at catching red-handed, someone screwing up, someone doing something wrongly. Our savior complex kicks in and we can’t wait to show our superiority by correcting the person.

If every encounter you have with a person is him or her correcting you, do you think that’s nice?

I know a henpecked man whose wife never fails to point out all his “mistakes.”

He could be making a coffee in the kitchen and his wife would walk in and tells him he is doing it wrongly.

Imagine, a grown man who has made coffee all his life and he is being told he has been doing it wrongly all along.

He could be folding a shirt and his wife, when she sees him doing that, will chastise him and points out that he is fucking it up big time.

If you go around correcting people, you will soon be the most hated person in the universe.

You don’t build up people that way. You are actually tearing the person down. That’s not the way to be a supporting spouse.

Phrase it differently, if you have to open your mouth. For a change, try saying, “Come, let me help you, I used to struggle with this but I have found that this way works more efficiently, let me do it for you.”

Any moron can talk, only the wise will show and prove that action speaks louder than words.

In the case of a life-and-death situation, say, in a hospital emergency room, you can change the method a bit by using the right tone and saying what you need to say sotto voce. Never reprimand-teach in a manner as to cause embarrassment to the person.

People of a particular generation were abrupt, harsh and dictatorial.

The parents of today provide more positive strokes to their kids.

Previous generations of people using the methods their parents used on them and applying it to the people of today will fail miserably.

So you have to be open to feedback and must be teachable and be willing to learn.

There is even a wonderful “biological happiness factor” that is a personal reward for catching people doing something right. Research shows that the person who receives positive feedback will experience a sense of euphoria. Similarly, studies show that the person offering uplifting messages feels just as good in the giving. An unexpected side effect is that bystanders who are just witnesses to these “acts of kindness” feel great being around these positive exchanges.

I have seen how someone relates to his staff and it made me cringe because words that were spoken were harsh and demeaning.

On the other hand, I have seen a fantastic people manager showing his staff the correct way to go about a procedure, a process that was executed with sensitivity and respect. Not only did the recipient of the instruction felt good, I too felt elated and gratified.

It’s a very heartwarming experience to see people supporting people.

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Souvenir Pit Stop

The plaque says: “In memory of the tank confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie from October 27, 1961 and in gratitude to the Berlin representative of the US President John F Kennedy, Lt General Lucius D Clay, for his determined action in defending Berlin’s freedom.”

The name Charlie reminds me of a scumbag I know and the coincidence that one of the most abhorred Cold War sites was the American-controlled crossing point in Berlin called Checkpoint Charlie is not lost on me. Here US troops and their East German counterparts surveilled each other – eyeball to eyeball, toenail to toenail – for decades, supported by tanks and all kinds of firepower.

Well, all that is history now. The original guardhouse is long gone, removed along with a nearby East German watchtower. The guardhouse now sits on display at the Allied Museum in Berlin. However, I do not know what happened to the East German watchtower.

A replica of the guardhouse remains.

There are also lots of souvenir shops nearby selling escape memorabilia and bits and pieces of the Berlin Wall. (Cheapskate Charlie would have approved.) There’s also a museum nearby and of course, like most museums everywhere, it ultimately leads to a gift shop.

Home in Singapore, Checkpoint Charlie tchotchkes – fridge magnet, a mug and a tiny fragment of the wall – laid out on the February 5th international edition of The New York Times.

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Tear Down This Wall!

This is where the world’s best dosa can be found.

Bangalore’s best dosa – buttery-soft, warm, slightly spongy and delicious – is served at a small and very crowded nondescript-looking eatery deceptively called Hotel Mylari. It is no hotel however; eateries there just like to refer to themselves as “hotels.”

Food-wise: great-tasting dosa (each piece cooked to order); service-wise:  flawless attention to details, a level of service that can rival the service that I received at the Oberoi, which I stayed at again in December. (The Oberoi is a real hotel.)

Fluffy, aromatic, soft and oh so tasty!

There was even a hairdresser nearby.

But I had to forgo the idea of an Aryuvedic head massage because I was suffering from postprandial somnolence, otherwise known as “food coma.”

Thankfully, I was able to recover and adjourned to the Leela Palace for a Cohiba Genios Maduro.

There was no “wall” between service staff and customers. Ditto all the other places I visited in India. Whether at street food stalls or at fancier eateries like the award-winning The Bengaluru Oota Company restaurant run by the super chatty Divya Prabhakar – such a sweet lady – there was no barrier between establishments and customers. Do check out this fabulous restaurant if you go to Bangalore.

The Bengaluru Oota Company serves Gowda and Mangalorean cuisines of Karnataka. The menu of the day is determined by what the chef finds in the market that morning.

Vishal Shetty and Divya Prabhakar, owners of The Bengaluru Oota Company.

A selection of super-tasty and flavorful dishes at The Bengaluru Oota Company.

Flower crab curry.

Fried lady fish, also known as “kane” fish.

And at the Oberoi, every staff member I encountered spoke perfect English. What more, they were human. They could actually carry out real conversations with you, unlike many robots, er, I mean, service staff in Singapore. Waiters would ask if the spice level of the curry I ordered was suitable for my tastebuds, if I’ve had a good day, etc.

I experienced service par excellence as well during my recent whirlwind trip to Germany end of last month.

I ate at several German gastronomic institutions. In Berlin, at the Lutter & Wegner restaurant  (founded in 1811) where, wanting to steer away from sausages and schnitzels, I opted for potato soup (oh no, there were sausages in there!) and lamb. The lamb chops were done just right; they were thick, meaty and succulent, with just the right amount of fat and tasted heavenly.

A very generous serving of potato soup.

Succulent pieces of lamb chops.

In Berlin, I also ate at the 150-year-old Borchardt, a Michelin Plate restaurant, where everyone who is anyone goes to eat and to see and be seen. Actors, politicians, the Who’s Who of Berlin and elsewhere flock there.

George Clooney, Natalie Portman, Barack Obama, etc have all been there.

The restaurant actually puts up a notice advising diners not to take photos of other diners. Being an obedient law-abiding and subservient Singaporean, I decided to just keep my camera away. By the way, I had turbot for dinner. Served on a bed of beetroot relish, it was, as expected, very fresh and tasted divine! A guilt-free meal after those heavy lamb chops the evening before. I finished off the dinner with an extremely decadent serving of Crème Brûlée, though.

There was no restriction on camera use in the very luxurious high-end food hall of the iconic KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) departmental store, Berlin’s answer to GUM of Moscow and Harrods of London, where I sampled some caviar and devoured a lobster for lunch one day. The lobster was simply boiled, so it was cold, just like the way most restaurants serve seafood at buffets – shrimps on ice, anyone? – but accompanied by a glass of champagne, it was a light, if somewhat indulgent lunch.

Unlike in Asia, this wasn’t alive and swimming in the tank before I ate it, but it was fresh, nevertheless.

At Hanse Stube (also a Michelin Plate restaurant) at The Excelsior Ernst Hotel in Cologne, having been gifted with tins of Iranian caviar before and having enjoyed some excellent caviar when I was in Russia, I couldn’t resist ordering some again – this time Prunier St James. For main course, I had stewed German wild boar. The wild boar tasted so rich and delicious. It was not tough or gamey at all. The goodness of the meal was further enhanced by the accompanying sauce or gravy, which must have taken the chef hours to prepare; it was so exquisite! Service, as always, was extraordinary! Indeed, great food with superlative service is always a winning combination!

Caviar again!

One of the most memorable dishes this trip – German wild boar.

And in Munich, a visit to the historical, century-old Gaststätte Grossmarkthalle restaurant is a must – I have eaten brunch there every time I visited Munich. It serves the finest Bavarian Weisswurst in town. These are white sausages made of minced veal and pork back bacon and which you must skin before consuming them. Because they are made fresh every morning, tradition dictates that they must be eaten before noon. With apologies to my dear German friends, I have to say that German food is German food and nobody really gushes at German cuisine which is why I try eating less of what would be considered typical German dishes every time I go to Germany but service in each of these establishments – including at the food hall in KaDeWe – was unimpeachable, flawless and near perfect. Perhaps this was due to the fact that wait staff are mainly men and women of some age and maturity, not like many of those wet-behind-the-ears kids and unsophisticated young adults we have in Singapore.

Indeed, it’s so different here in Singapore. For a start, there are no caviar and lobsters at food courts, but seriously, as an example of how rotten the F&B scene can be here in Singapore, I recently dine again at the Michelin-starred Labyrinth and though I spent top dollars for a supposedly very innovative (but honestly very mediocre meal – what on earth were the Michelin star judges thinking?!) the sour taste in my mouth was caused by the maître d’ (a snooty Indian douche bag in a suit) who had absolutely no business at all to be in the F&B industry. The retarded wannabe diva doesn’t seem to realize that it is us customers who pay his salary. He just pranced around like a castrated eunuch with a smirk on his face and almost spoilt a surprise I had arranged for my dining companions.

Compare that with service personnel in India and Germany or even cabin crew of airlines like Qatar Airways – unlike cabin crew of many airlines here in Asia, including Singapore Airlines, whose clearly deranged fans are known to have sent death threats to those who criticize it – Google to find out more about a recent incident  – these men and women in the service industry possess a service mindset. Talking about airlines, Qatar cabin crew members were authentic, not robotic and are able to converse with passengers in an intelligent manner. Try that with the cabin crew of Singapore Airlines!

Emirates though, was a disappointment. This time I flew Emirates back from Germany and the business class cabin was over-staffed by lots of pretty bimbos strutting around but who were absolutely clueless. On one sector, they even forgot my appetizer and not once did they go around offering drinks or asking if anyone needed more coffee or tea or port with their cheese. Emirates’ saving grace is the free limo service they provide for their business class passengers. Emirates? Never again! I will never exchange shitty service for free transportation to the airports.

The East German authorities called the Berlin Wall the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall or “anti-fascist protective barrier.” In other words, they were eager to convey that it wasn’t meant to keep the East Germans in but rather to keep those land-grabbing “fascists” in the West out.

Many service staff in Singapore seem to have the same mental attitude, that our business is a major interruption to their lives, that customers are fascists out to make their lives difficult. Some of these morons behave as if they want to keep you out of their establishments.

Singapore should build a wall like the Berlin Wall – the photo below shows fragments of the original now on display at the Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernaurstrasse – and round up all derelict service personnel, led by that retard from Labyrinth to slowly use their bare hands to tear the wall down. Just bare hands, no tools allowed. This will be an excellent experiential learning experience. It will cause some bruises and some fingernails will break but such an extreme exercise may finally help to drum the message into the heads of service personnel that they should break down and not build walls between them and their fee-paying customers. It will help them remember that customers make paydays possible.

Parts of the Wall now on display at Bernaurstrasse, Berlin.

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Oral What? It’s Kougan, Stupid!

The Japanese may talk about “umami” but “kougan” is what we Chinese focus more on.

Mouth feel (“kougan” in Chinese) or more scientifically – oral haptics – is the reason why an entire adjective has been invented among the Chinese-speaking.

I’m talking about the alphabet “Q” – the Chinese often talk about how Q something is.

What is Q?

It is from the Hokkien word that describes something as bouncy and somewhat crunchy. A beef ball’s texture must be Q to be nice, those little balls (made from tapioca flour) in bubble teas must be Q enough to be nice.

Sometimes a particular food may not be tasty in and of itself, but pairing it with other ingredients would make them ultra delicious. The fins of sting rays and sharks are basically devoid of flavor and are bland, but sting ray meat with parts of the fin attached when cooked with the right sambal is super delicious! The resulting texture and taste of shark fin when stewed with the right soup stock, convert these appendages into coveted dishes. An entire shark head steamed is an abundant source of tasty jelly-like and gelatinous collagen. Shark meat, used mostly as fish for fish and chips, when done well, is extremely satisfying. (Those retards who claim that sharks are finned and then discarded are bullshitting. Scour elsewhere on this blog for posts about this topic.)

While the Japanese would usually – as a shortcut – use monosodium glutamate to flavor anything – including “health” drinks like the weirdly-named “Pocari Sweat” (yes, they named a drink that way! A drink called “Sweat” how nice!), we Chinese (at least in my household) refer to monosodium glutamate as “hair remover” and ban it from our kitchens. The point is if you can’t bring out the taste of food by brilliant cooking, please don’t take shortcuts and use allergy-causing chemical-loaded flavor enhancers. Any blind person can do that. Plus, you don’t arrange some uncooked pieces of fish on a fancy plate to make it look nice and call it “cuisine.” All blind people can do that too.

So, the flowers of leeks when fried with fallopian tubes of pigs become a very delicious dish, very Q and full of mouth feel. Not just very Q, but very super QQ!

Westerners think that the Chinese eat everything because we used to be poor. While that may be true a long time ago, nowadays it’s really all about mouth feel and our quest for unique taste sensations. Hong Kong superstars like Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung and Carina Lau surely aren’t poor but they would stand in line to buy duck tongue when they visit Taiwan. Taiwanese stars like Brigitte Lin and Lin Chi-ling too stand in line with their fellow-Taiwanese as well as with Asian tourists from all over to buy duck tongue – none of these people are poor. Trust me, the Taiwanese know how to do duck tongue well.

In any case, the nose to tail concept is not exactly new even among westerners.

So the next time you see me order pig rectums or fried beef aortas or gnaw on chicken feet or goose web or snack on duck gizzards, or savor sea cucumbers, or slurp on fish maw soup, or relish bull penises, or crunch on pork rinds or bits of chicken cartilage, or munch on pig palates, or suck fish eyes, or sink my teeth into lamb kidneys, or chew on pig trotters, please don’t think of me as a barbarian. Just remember that it’s all about mouth feel, the hunt for new taste sensation and the gratification offered by rare, unusual food.

It has nothing to do with my being poor, though I am poor indeed.

And don’t worry, I don’t eat wildlife of any kind – no civets cats or bats from Wuhan, or anywhere else!

Come get me, Andy Lau!

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Beautiful Pipe by Jerry Zenn

Jerry Zenn is a pipe carver extraordinaire from Taiwan; his pipes are available at DrMikePipes. Here’s a pipe he just made for me:

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I’m Off Again!

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