Another Insanus!

Yup, it gets crazier – the Insanus range of Ser Jacopo. How in the world do they drill a drafthole along a continuous curve? Really off-the-wall.

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Another Anthony Harris Pipe

Anthony Harris is a talented woodturner who has applied his skills to making some extraordinary pipes that smoke so great! Read about him here.

I already own two of his pipes and acquired another one at the annual show of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club recently.

He’s making a similar one in meerschaum for me.

The large chamber cools the smoke and takes the sting out of bitey blends. Cleaning the pipe is as simple as emptying the smaller bowl – it smokes clean like a meerschaum – and wiping out the chamber with a napkin.

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Clowning Glory

Maurizio Fraternale was at our pipe show in Singapore last October and it was nice meeting him at the annual show of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club earlier this month. We chatted a bit and I bought an Insanus pipe from him.

Ser Jacopo produces good pipes and their Insanus range is the company’s more whimsical offerings.

Click here.

And here’s the one I bought in Chicago; a great pipe for clowning around:

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Marquette – Yooper Country

The Northern Lights over Lake Superior on August 4th 2010 in Marquette.

Some weeks ago, I flew from Singapore to Hong Kong, Kong Kong to Narita, Narita to Chicago and then from Chicago to Marquette, Michigan, to visit a dear friend, a world-renowned pipe maker, whose masterpieces command four-figure prices.

I spent a week in Marquette.

Marquette street scene.

Marquette, sometimes referred to as a “university town” – the University of Northern Michigan is there – has been listed among the 10 best places to retire in the US by CBS MoneyWatch.

It has also been identified as number seven of the 20 Best Places to Live by Outdoor Life Magazine

When I was there I came across a souvenir store selling products from Finland.

Then I realized that the lovely place (population about 20,000) has strong Finnish and Scandinavian roots due to the influx of Europeans who flocked to work in its iron mines and lumber industry in the past.

A bit of geography lesson here: Two major peninsulas make up the state of Michigan. They are connected together by the Mackinac Bridge

Marquette is a city in the Upper Peninsula.

Residents in the Upper Peninsula are frequently called Yoopers (derived from “UP-ers”) and have a strong regional identity and lingo unique to the area. Other than the large numbers of Finnish immigrants, the French, Canadian, Swedish and even Cornish and Italian immigrants also descended onto the Upper Peninsula in the past in search of a better life.

The European influence worked its way into many aspects of UP culture, and one of the most interesting is pasties, a Cornish tradition. A pasty is more than just a meat pie. I know. I ate two for dinner (called “supper” one evening.) One of these savory turnovers – spiced with salt and pepper and stuffed with beef, potatoes, onions (and sometimes rutabaga or carrots; which vegetables are included is hotly debated) – is filling enough for two meals. (And I ate two!) How did they taste? Well, a bit like eating two giant Old Chang Kee curry puffs, minus the curry flavor.

Ang moh curry puff?

Here, let me share some of my observations about Yoopers and what I’ve gathered from doing some basic research (translation: a wee bit of plagiarizing) online:

Yoopers can withstand real intense winters. Winter there can be an eight-month season. In fact, I’m sure Yoopers can easily survive the next Ice Age! The hottest it ever gets is like 20+ degrees Celsius.

This is the meaning of “winter.”

So, Yoopers find all sorts of ways to wait out the weather.

From warming up in traditional Finnish saunas – pronounced “SAO-nah” there, and not “SAW-nah” –  to making up new rules for bad-weather driving, Yoopers find creative solutions to get through the cold winter.

Actually, Yoopers don’t just withstand winter, they grown to relish it.

Ice fishing, skiing, skating, snowmobiling, sled dog racing, snowshoeing, outhouse racing – most Yoopers are active adventurers all year long.

In fact, Marquette and the entire Upper Peninsula is an outdoor adventurer’s dreamland. The crystal clear lakes, rocky beaches, mountains, rushing rivers, picturesque waterfalls, hiking trails, and parks beckon the nature lover.

Henry Ford once said the Upper Peninsula is “one of the prettiest places on earth.”

The outdoor recreation opportunities available to Yoopers are truly top notch indeed.

Yoopers are also hardcore hunters, in fact, the first day of deer-hunting season is considered a holiday and schools have the day off.

Yoopers are also very much into fishing; lake trout, whitefish, salmon and brown trout are abundantly available.

The wonderful town of Copper Harbor is only three hours away from Marquette. Great local beer, good ambiance, and respectable food (fish from local waters) can be found there.

Copper Harbor is also the gateway to Isle Royale, one of the nation’s most remote and least visited national parks complete with wolves, moose, and rare orchids, according to a good friend who has biked there.

Anyway, not only are Yoopers well prepared for long winters, they keep in good spirits about it. In fact, they’re good-natured about most things. I have not met a single person who was unfriendly throughout my stay there.

However, like people everywhere, stereotypes abound.

But the stereotypes about Yoopers aren’t all true.

Yooper stereotypes revolve around not-too-bright hicks who love to hunt and drink and not much else. In fact, the peninsula is full of culture. In Marquette, you could spend a day shopping at stores big and small, picking up groceries at owner-managed stores or at big chains like Walmart – I bought two pounds of minced bison for making into patties that my friend grilled – super delicious! – checking out galleries, getting a vegan meal, bar-hopping between several microbreweries, going to a show at a lakefront theater and ending with a walk along the water. Not exactly backwoods.

Bison patties on the grill.

It’s a place I could retire to. Marquette is also CNN/Money Magazine’s 2011 best place to retire in the United States.

My friend’s house in Marquette.

The hotel I stayed in. But my friend’s house is cosier.

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Pipe Making – From Ground to Mouth

Never in my wildest dreams did I thought I would be able to make my own pipes; but I did, after learning from masters when I went to Michigan and Chicago.

What made me do it?

I believe that the best way to appreciate something is to understand it. You can enjoy being driven in a Rolls Royce more if you know how it has been put together and why it’s so special. Otherwise, it’s just an expensive hearse-like heavy vehicle used to drive overweight tycoons around.

The finished products – I made the sandblasted one first (foreground), then the smooth one. Bear in mind that these are very amateurish attempts.

Briar burl wood is the wood that comes from tumor-like outgrouths that develop between roots and trunks of white heath small trees which grow in the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (Algeria, Greece, Italy and Spain), it grows generally in rocky or sandy soil on hillsides. It must be dug from the ground.

Briar blocks ready for use.

And now to turn this into a tobacco pipe.

Infinite patience is required. But the masters who were so willing to teach had much greater patience than me – I was not a good student at all.

Almost there after copious amount of time spent shaping, and sandpapering.



Drying after a coat of shellac.

Now, to work on the mouthpiece.

My first pipe!

Pretty much the same process went into the making of my second pipe, except for sandblasting and shellac application.

Look at that bird’s eye grain!

Heartfelt thanks and eternal gratitude to master pipe makers Lee von Erck, Jeff Gracik and Ernie Markle – geniuses all and all so willing to teach and share.

Their behavior and attitude contrast greatly with some of the pipe makers from mainland China whom I’ve met. Many of these Chinese pipe makers think that just because their pipes are being sold by they are now world-class maestros. Well, I have news for you, Ah Tiong!’s highest profits are from tobacco and the handiwork of new pipe makers are often listed simply because Sykes Wilford needs to show that just about all the pipes being made in the world are available on his site. Also, it’s now almost a must to get caught with China fever, with even some Hollywood movies intentionally including stuff that are Chinese such as locales and the inclusion of Chinese actors and actresses, or entire segments in a movie filmed and screened just in China. Well, the Chinese market is simply too large to ignore, with lots of wealthy Chinese with dubious sources of cash buying up just about anything and everything that are expensive – from wines to cigars to watches and yes, pipes. But just because your pipes are being sold on doesn’t really mean much. Just look at what’s being sold on the site – you’ll find lots of crap there along with the masterpieces.

Many Chinese pipe makers obviously think the world of themselves, despite the fact that nothing they make is original or unique but are all copies, mainly of pipes made by Danish pipe makers. One or two are genuinely talented and deserve to be well compensated for the care they put into what they create, even though they are still copies of Danish styles. Others are just retards with an overestimation of their own worth. Just look at the prices of the pipes these deluded jokers make. Do they deserve to command such high prices? I bet even the Chinese collectors don’t buy the pipes made by their own countrymen. I for one will pay several thousands of hard-earned cash to a pipe maker I deem truly deserving and I have done so in the past. I know what I’m talking about – you should see my pipe collection! A few of the most expensive pipes I own cost well over several tens of thousands of US dollars. In any case, price doesn’t always have anything to do with the value of a product.  I’m sure we all know of idiots in our lives who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Yup, you can wear a 5000-dollar tuxedo and sit in a 500-dollar box seat at the Bolshoi and fall asleep with your mouth opening and drooling like a moron. You can sit at the very last row of the cheapest ticket section with your oxygen mask and a catheter sticking out of your dick and still have a great time with a telescope in your hands. Pipe makers who overestimate their so-called talent and creativity don’t impress me. Worse, I actually met a couple who exhibited an attitude that says “I am the greatest pipe maker in the world.” Oh really? No shit! These asswipes make me sick to the bone.

I don’t care if you are from China or Russia or Denmark or wherever. Also, it means zilch to me if you are the descendant of a legendary pipe maker. So what if your great grandfather was famous for making nice pipes? Fuck you! Unless your work supersedes your famed ancestor’s, to me, you are just a wannabe hanging on to his coattails and you should get a real job for a change. In my opinion, pipe makers like you and those who behave like pricks are just like boors who trot out what little know-how they possess like pet pigs on diamond studded leashes.

They should know their place.

Don’t expect a collector with 5000 of the world’s most exquisite pipes to kowtow to you.

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Two Must-Go Restaurants in New York City

The social media explosion has resulted in people presenting their lives as “showreels.” Everyone can be someone now. Pathetic losers post pictures (99.9% Photoshopped to death) of selfies and wefies and boast about the exotic – to them, that is – places they visit, (my garbage dump may be their Waldorf Astoria, but so what, whatever floats your boat, mate), the Michelin-star meals they stuff their faces with – it’s all champagne and caviar, lobster and foie gras, glamor, glamor, glamor (translation: plastic, plastic, plastic.) How real is this? Do people live like that? Come on, even the Kardashians menstruate! (Not sure about that sick fuck stepfather of theirs, Bruce the retard, now known as Caitlyn after a sex change operation – “gender reassignment surgery” my big, fat, hairy Asian ass!) I resist bragging, but if you think about it seriously, who really wants to know about my slipped disc, my pain – excruciating pain that I suffer from, 24 hours a day, seven very long days a week – the deep disappointment I feel about certain people and organizations, the age spots on my face, my aching right shoulder, the calluses on my feet, my disillusionment with life, my anger, deep-rooted and unresolved, my rage, my anguish, my angst, my despondency and dispiritedness, my disinterestedness, my shattered dreams, my dashed expectations, my broken heart, my tortured soul and my melancholy?

(Met an old friend the other day and we reminisced about how time has passed us by. We are both 61 this year. When I asked if I look like a wizened old man, he said, “No, you look more or less the same, just a lot sadder.” Well, try smiling and acting cheerful when pain binds you 24×7.)

So, I make lemonade out of lemons, I try. Believe me, I try. And when the stars above shine on me once in a while, I too have a mini showreel or two to crow about, heh, heh.

Did I just say “crow”?

Yes I did. Which leads me to another bird – one of the subjects of today – Peking Duck.

Click on photos on this post to enlarge.

Air is pumped into the duck to stretch the skin, boiling water is then repeatedly poured over it. Next the duck is dried and rubbed with maltose before being roasted.

In my humblest of opinions, the best Peking Duck outside of Asia can be found at the Peking Duck House, at Mott Street. When I tell people that I eat Peking Duck in the US, they go like “Huh?” And that’s because they haven’t tried the Peking Duck at Peking Duck House. Unlike what is done in Asia, where the skin is eaten, then the meat; here, in New York City Chinatown, the chef slices the duck with skin attached and it’s always a wonderful taste sensation in the mouth to bite into crispy duck skin and fragrant duck meat wrapped in thin pancakes! Each bite bursts with flavor! My friend and I, just the two of us, ate one whole duck the other day. It was a lot of duck for two and as you can guess, we waddled out of that restaurant like, well, two fat ducks, of course!

Another place I always make it a point to visit whenever I am in New York City is Peter Luger Steakhouse. The picture below shows two of my favorite starters – shrimp cocktail and extra thick sizzling bacon. Yes bacon as appetizer! What decadence indeed! For many years, it was reserved exclusively for the waitstaff. A huge slab of cured pork belly was kept in the kitchen at all times; staff would slice off a hunk and toss it under the broiler. It was an easy thing to throw on bread during their lunch break.

The bacon then caught customers’ attention and became an off-menu sensation. Diners would notice the waiters munching at it and said, “We want that too.” Soon, it became a regular item on the menu and has been for over 20 years now.

Jumbo shrimps and a thick slice of sizzling bacon.

The shrimps I had that night I visited were as always fresh and crunchy. In Asia we tend to refer to tiny little prawns as shrimps but it’s the reverse in the US, it seems. These are not tiny little prawns, but huge jumbo ones! And of course, their heavenly steak is a must. It is after all, a steakhouse! It traces its history back to 1887. The menu is simple: just tell the waiter if you want a steak (USDA Prime Porterhouse dry-aged inhouse) for two persons, or three, or four, etc. It is always done right and the restaurant has a Michelin Star. Be sure to have a drink first at the German beerhouse-style bar – the dry humor of the elderly barmen working there is legendary and drink portions are extremely generous.

Steak for two.

Wolfgang Zwiener, who worked at Peter Luger for 40 years has opened his own steakhouse at Clarke Quay, Singapore, called Wolfgang’s Steakhouse – not to be confused with Wolfgang Puck’s Cut at Marina Bay Sands. Prices at both restaurants are expensive as hell, but make no mistake, while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, there is only one Peter Luger! Nothing else comes close!

It’s one of those restaurants you must dine at before you die.

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All Nippon Airways – Food Onboard

If you still think that “airline food” is an oxymoron, try flying ANA, Japan’s five-star airline. About three weeks ago, I flew from Tokyo to Chicago, and absolutely enjoyed what was served. (I chose the Japanese meal.)

Note: Description first, then picture follows; click to enlarge:

First, Amuse Bouche:
Cheese stick mixed spice flavor
Marinated shrimp and cucumber with basil sauce
Duck terrine orange flavor
Campari with soda

I opted for the Japanese Cuisine – Washoku – prepared by Masayoshi Nishikawa, a 2-star Michelin chef:

Zensai (A selection of morsels)
Mackerel sushi Flounder and vegetable rolled with kombu kelp
Dried green laver fishcake and shrimp fishcake on skewer
Field mustard rolled with smoked salmon
Dressed new potato, smoked duck and spring onion

Kobachi (Tasty tidbits)
Common orient clam and yuba bean curd tofu with green bean sauce

Kobachi (Tasty tidbits)
Octopus and bamboo shoot with sansho leaf miso
Then the main course – Shusai
Grilled sea bream with soy-based sweet vinegar sauce
Steamed rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles
The rice was Yumepirika rice from Ginzan, Nikicho, Hokkaido (produced by the Ginzan rice study group)
Next, was a selection of desserts by Pierre Hermé, named the world’s best pastry chief in 2016, or an ANA original dessert of lemon and mango mousse tart or cheese and fruits, which I asked for:It was a long flight, and seven varieties of light dishes could be had at any time; so a couple of hours before I landed, I asked for Japanese cuisine – Washoku – again:

Kobachi (Tasty tidbits)
Dressed shredded kombu kelp and vegetables

Shusai (Main course)
Grilled Spanish mackerel
Steamed rice with dried young sardines
Japanese soup and Japanese pickles
Throughout the flight, one type of champagne, two types of white wines, two types of red wines, two types of sakes and two types of shochus were available. In addition, there was a special selection of seven ANA’s Special Wines.

Here’s a digestif I had after the meal:

Friends who flew on economy class told me that the meals they were served, though, not as fancy as what I enjoyed, were also rather good.

I gallivanted in Chicago, Michigan and New York, and then flew from New York to Tokyo; and it was on ANA again.

As always, Amuse Bouche:
Marinated mushrooms in sherry vinegar
Chickpea tartelette
Crab meat and zucchini with mango
A glass of Kir
Next, Japanese Cuisine, Washoku:

Zensai (A selection of morsels)
Soy sauce-cured firefly squid
Dressed heart clam and bamboo shoot with sansho leaf miso
Broccolini rolled with prosciutto
Simmered sweet potato in lemon sauce

Kobachi (Tasty tidbits)
Simmered short-necked clam and pak choy in soy-based sauce

Otsukuri (A selection of sashimi)
Seared tuna Seared kombu kelp-cured sea bream
The main course – Shusai – this time was simmered mackerel in soy-based ginger sauce accompanied by steamed rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles; the Yamagata Masamune Junmai Ginjo Omachi sake I chose to accompany the meal was outstanding! I had fruits and cheese after the meal:
The flight was about 14 hours, and again, a huge selection of light meals could be had; though the famous Ippudo ramen was available, I opted for udon soup:
And just before landing, I had another Japanese meal:

Kobachi (Tasty tidbits)
Simmered chicken ball in soy-based sauce

Shusai (Main course)
Saikyo miso-grilled goldstriped amberjack
Simmered vegetables in soy-based sauce Steamed rice
Miso soup and Japanese pickles
What great food! At the expense of my waistline!

Not that I minded!

Each dish was perfectly executed – the hot dishes were hot and the cold dishes were cold at the right temperature. The almost obsessive trait of the Japanese to focus on aesthetics applies to food too and each item offered was visually very pretty and appealing. Above all, they were tasty!

And that’s the main thing!

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Barely Alive

By the end of today, poor Inuka could be dead.

Inuka, the 27-year-old polar bear at our zoo is ailing and may be put down.

Today is supposed to be D-Day.

Inuka would be in his 70’s in human years, and I can’t help but draw parallels between Inuka’s life and that of human beings.

The rush to see Inuka one last time before he is gone forever is only human, but have we thought of visiting when he was hale and hearty? I for one have always told myself “He’s there and I can always visit one day.” Similarly, have we made efforts in our busy lives to spend enough time with our elderly relatives and aging parents or do we rush to make the obligatory visits only on special days like their birthdays, that is, if we remember at all? There are also too many stories of children rushing back from the four corners of the world to their parents’ death beds when they had not really bothered to visit when their parents were healthy or when they lived nearby.

Even under the best of circumstances, Inuka is a sorry sight to behold although he has outlived other polar bears in the wild by over a decade. His white fur is coated with green algae. He has ear infections and dental problems. His arthritis cannot support his 500kg weight. He has ulcerations on the pads of his paws and infection between his toes. In addition, he suffers from urinary tract infection and has urine burns due to his incontinence. Though his enclosure was built at the cost of S$8 million and is about the size of 2½ basketball courts and includes a large pool, waterfall and an ice cave, his enclosure is far from what a natural environment would be for a polar bear whose habitat is, well, in the polar regions. Inuka was born in captivity and is the sole inhabitant of that enclosure. He has never tasted freedom a single day of his life. Truth be told, he was just another pathetic exhibit at the zoo for visitors to ogle at.

Do we ensure that our elderly has a healthy social network? Let’s not imprison them mentally. Studies have shown that loneliness can be crippling. The golden years are losing their luster for a rising number of the elderly here, with more taking their lives in the later phase of life. According to SOS, older adults aged 50 and above accounted for 46% of suicides in 2016, with 197 deaths – a 19% increase from 166 in 2015.

Sure, let’s celebrate Inuka’s life but, a special day dedicated to the beloved bear, and postcards and other memorabilia, as someone has suggested, could only bring back memories. And memories will fade eventually. How much better it would have been if Inuka – like our parents and elderly relatives – are not just a background memory in our minds?

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Global Search My Big, Fat, Hairy Ass!

Old and new – same same but different.

When a client asks for consultants with experience working on engagements in the same industry, I often deliberately send in a team without the relevant industry experience.

I don’t want anyone with preconceived ideas to help the client.

In any industry, well trained consultants who understand processes, would be able to assist.

Work is not difficult to understand.

Work comes into an organization, is done, and the output is sent forth to the next step.

Once we understand the details of how that work is done, we can analyze it, and improve on it – control the parts, and you control the whole.

When IBM was in dire straits, a top honcho from a biscuit company was appointed as CEO in 1983 to fix it.

Recently SMRT appointed a retired army general as CEO. The board claimed that the appointment was the result of a global search.

The new CEO has zero experience in the transport industry, zero experience working in the private sector and zero experience at board level of any company let alone a S$1b company.

One may argue that he could be another Lou Gerstner who once turned an ailing IBM around.

But that argument cannot hold water.


Because, in the case of SMRT, it has already been tried.

This new CEO is simply replacing another retired general whose tenure in SMRT is probably one plagued with the most troubles ever.

Global search my big, fat, hairy ass!

It’s sad when certain people think that the entire nation is full of idiots who can’t see through things, that we are a nation of morons who will swallow any dog turd fed to us.

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Out of Stock Again?

Out of stock again!

When McClelland Tobacco Company decided to close shop – citing a totally farfetched reason that only retards will believe – pipe smokers rushed to buy up all available inventory.

When they heard that Dunhill pipe tobacco will no longer be produced, pipe smokers went into a buying frenzy.

Of course, there are also the opportunistic ones who buy up a whole lot to hoard, hoping to sell later at higher prices.

Just like those who cash in on people’s appetite for rarely-released tobacco like Penzance and the now “extinct” original Balkan Sobraine.

Some fuckers are selling these for hundreds of dollars a tin.

But willing buyer, willing seller, right?

There’s a sucker born every minute.

The best way to get rich is to create a product, release it in small batches and make “Out of stock” your default signage.

Then use a lot of publicity, even reviews by (possibly) fake reviewers, to say how great the product is.

Irvins salted egg snacks are masters of this technique; and copycat Golden Duck is following suit. Picture above shows a Golden Duck stall in the Jurong area.

Less is more?

Scarcity makes people crave.

But not always.

Last week I walked away from a sushi place at International Plaza terribly disappointed.

I’ve been a regular customer since it opened five years ago.

Recently it closed for a month for renovation.

On re-opening day I was there with another regular. This guest of mine is not just another foodie crazy about Japanese food. He is a connoisseur of all things pertaining to Japan, someone who visits Japan several times a year and who has been to all eight geographical regions of Japan. This friend and I have spent tens of thousands of dollars at that restaurant since it opened – we often take clients there and host big dinner parties there. One reason is that the chef is able to converse in Chinese and our clients from China appreciate the banter with the chef in their own language.

Last week, we noticed that the sashimi pieces have been sliced to half their original thickness, while prices remain the same.

There is a standard that sushi chefs must adhere to as far as the thickness of sashimi slices are concerned.

In Japan, pulling such as fast one will immediately lead to a restaurant’s closure.

In fact, another diner actually left a scathing review online over the same issue.

When brought to the chef’s attention, he became defensive.

Less is not more here.

But what to do? Lots of morons who will never admit to their faults, will never apologize for their wrongs and will blame everyone else but themselves if things fuck up.

Resistance to constructive feedback will be their downfall.

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