Miss Japan

Yesterday, Japan, with a population of 123,294,513 crowned Karolina Shiino, a 26-year-old Ukrainian model Miss Nippon.

USA, with a population of 339,996,563, is going to see two old farts fighting to be president in the coming presidential elections.


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The Emperor’s Miscalculation

Not smelling like roses.

Yesterday, former Transport Minister S Iswaran faced 27 charges, including allegations of receiving tickets from businessman Ong Beng Seng for shows like Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. While the total value of these alleged favors, amounting to US$298,000, may seem insignificant compared to what kleptocrats running neighboring countries help themselves to, the situation has reignited discussions about ministerial salaries in Singapore.

Singapore’s political leaders are renowned for their high salaries, a practice endorsed by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who believed that generous remuneration could deter corruption by reducing the temptation to accept bribes. However, this approach is not unique to Singapore. Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty implemented a similar strategy, known as yanglian yin, or “silver to cultivate honesty,” over two centuries ago, aiming to maintain the integrity of his officials.

Despite offering significant financial incentives, such as salaries up to 100 times the basic wage, Yongzheng’s initiative ultimately failed to eradicate corruption. His experience underscores a fundamental truth: simply paying officials well is insufficient to ensure integrity. A comprehensive anti-corruption framework, supported by both the bureaucracy and the broader society, is essential.

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The Yamasa by Davidoff


Now, on to cigars. In 1991 when Davidoff stopped having cigars made in Cuba, I turned my back on it. Call me a cigar snob but I consider non-Cubans poor cousins of Cubans. Then in 2016, Davidoff introduced the Yamasa to the market so I gave it a try and have liked it since. To me, the Yamasa (toro size, and toro size only please) is the only Davidoff worth burning my money for.

The Yamasa line incorporates tobacco grown in the Yamasa region of the Dominican Republic. Davidoff’s marketing bullshit claims it took Davidoff master blenders 20 years to “tame” the unforgiving, raw, red soil of the Yamasa region. “The earthiness of the Yamasa region together with the spice and sweetness of the Nicaraguan Estelí and Condega tobaccos and the Dominican Piloto and Mejorado tobaccos will rouse your taste buds like never before,” says Davidoff. I can’t even tame my Bengal cat, so I have no idea what Davidoff means by taming raw red soil. I’ll leave that to the geographers and agriculturists. Maybe vintners like my friend Ernst Voegtle can throw some light on the subject. In any case, I’ll still smoke a Davidoff nowadays, but only the Yamasa toro.

Flavor profile? The cigar has a deep and complex body that slowly reveals itself through an array of beautiful flavors: nuts and spices, coffee, cedar wood, sweet oranges and notes of black pepper. Like pseudo wine enthusiasts who all read the same reviews, and echo the same comments, wannabe cigar aficionados are the same. How many smokers can really taste all that?

I say just stop the pretentious horseshit and enjoy the cigar!

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Din Tai Fung

Truffle Chicken Soup.

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Tom Richard Pipes – Last and First

My last pipe purchase of 2023.

My first pipe purchase of 2024.

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Death of the Year: The Beloved Old Lady Rests

This year, my dad experienced the loss of three sisters, yet there was no drama.

Contrast those deaths with this death:

One Tuesday night in March, the beloved old lady’s MDW (Migrant Domestic Worker, Singapore government’s official term for “foreign maid”) notified her only next-of-kin in Singapore at that time that the beloved old lady was having difficulties breathing.

The beloved old lady’s only next of kin in Singapore at that time – already wired tight and super ultra high-strung even under normal circumstances, and who would bite people’s heads off when on edge, which is 24/7 – arranged for an ambulance to take her to the hospital. The NOK then rushed to the hospital herself. But she was in a state of frenzy, her inability to maintain composure brings her ugly, insufferable side to the fore.

The beloved old lady was hospitalized for two days, oxygen was administered but she continued to gasp for air. Pneumonia was the diagnosis but prognosis was negative. The doctors’ advice was to prepare for the worst and to summon family members to her bedside. The other NOK living in Singapore – someone who had never experienced a personal crisis before, puerile and cretinous, totally bereft of EQ – was vacationing in Europe but immediately arranged to fly back after being informed. A daughter, domiciled in Sydney for about 50 years, after some humming and hawing, finally decided to make plans to fly back. A son who has also been residing in Sydney (for about 40 years) also hightailed back.

Very late on Thursday night the beloved old lady breathed her last. She was 94.

The only NOK in Singapore – and her husband – raced to the hospital, did the necessary paperwork and contacted a funeral director, recommended by a pastor friend. One of the beloved old lady’s grandsons in Singapore was also there to lend a hand. By the time everyone returned to their own homes, it was about 4am Friday morning.

The funeral director was super efficient. The wake was set up at the beloved old lady’s house as soon as Friday afternoon. The vacationing daughter touched down in Singapore that same afternoon. The beloved old lady’s daughter and son from Sydney – and their respective spouses – arrived Saturday evening.

A memorial service was held Monday evening and funeral was Tuesday morning. The pastor of the Teochew-speaking church the beloved old lady worshipped at, conducted the memorial and funeral-cremation service. His sermon at the memorial service, delivered in pure Teochew – referred to as “Chaozhou” in Mandarin/Putonghua – was a brilliant masterpiece, though a tad too long, made doubly longer due to the necessity of having it interpreted into English. (Most of the younger generation in the family didn’t understand a word of the Teochew dialect.) But like most things in Singapore, everything went like clockwork – ash collection was completed in the afternoon of the day of the funeral itself and the urn containing the beloved old lady’s ashes was placed in a niche in church that same evening.

All sons-in-law spoke at the memorial service, including the eldest one, the one with a perpetual scowl. The beloved old lady’s only son, age 69, also spoke and so did the son’s only daughter (born in Sydney) who had also flown in. The beloved old lady’s daughters were either too distraught or tongue-tied to utter anything.

A grandson from la-la land, in his 40s, complete with unkempt long hair that alternated between greasy obedience and random flight, constantly grinning like a spastic, a rather gormless moron, who turned up on Sunday, had decided to make it his mission to be the clown of the entire event, showing disrespect by cracking jokes about the beloved old lady and making funny faces at everyone. Sigh, everyone wants to be a comedian these days. What a nutcase!

Everyone wore white at the funeral, matching the white flowers, the white casket and the white Freecia Maserati hearse; it was a visually beautiful send-off.

Now the time has come for the living to divide the spoils. What the beloved old lady left behind was not insubstantial, including the house she was living in, estimated to be worth several millions. Of the tears shed in the last couple of days, observers commented that lots were probably of the crocodile sort.

The two children in Sydney have been away for a combined total of close to a hundred years, returning to visit only annually or biennially, or enroute to and from their vacations, using Singapore as a transit point. They did very very little to provide for the beloved old lady when she was alive, not to mention not spending a single day – yes, not one single day – to care for her when she was unwell in her sunset years.

The beloved old lady’s will, revealing the existence of several properties, sent the avaricious into a tailspin. Imagine going nuts over a mere five million bucks! Pocket change, really.

The child who was the first to move to Sydney (about 50 years ago) was the one who was most anxious to know the details of the beloved old lady’s will. This child’s gloves are off. Entre nous, we are talking about an immature 72-year-old adult with zero interpersonal competencies, whose middle name is Belligerence.

The plot thickens.

It’s still thickening.

My blood still runs cold thinking of this toxic sourpuss.

It strains credulity to claim that she had ever any love at all for her mother or siblings.

But it is what it is.

Rich people’s problems.

Amazing what money can do to people!

Meanwhile, the beloved old lady rests, oblivious to the stench of greed slowly wafting into, and contaminating the atmosphere, rendering it rather odoriferous.

…God knows your hearts… – Luke 16:15

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Merry Christmas!

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Roia, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Roia, the newly-opened French fine-dining restaurant is housed in the former residence of colonial-era assistant director of the Botanical Gardens. (The Gardens is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

Roia is helmed by a 33-year-old chef who is the recipient of the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Merite Agricole.

The menu delves into classic French culinary techniques, weaving a narrative rooted in a distinct sense of location. Emphasizing the botanical richness of the Botanic Gardens, the chef – who has worked all over the world – selectively gathers essential herbs and flowers to create a gastronomic experience that reflects the unique surroundings.

Some notable dishes:

Australian Avocado, Green Apple, Mango Sorbet

Hokkaido Scallop, Yoghurt, Finger Lime

Confit Egg Yolk, Girolle, Mushroom Velouté (A generous amount of Périgord truffle was shaved onto the dish before serving)

My favorite dish: Maison Burgaud Challandais Duck, Kinjiso Spinach, Orange Jus

Charentais Melon, Sweet Basil Vinaigrette

Sea Salt Caramel, Jaggery Tart
Strawberry Pate de Fruit

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A Constant Ache

I woke up to the familiar aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air, mingling with the comforting scent of toast browning in the oven. It was an aroma that always reminded me of home, of warmth, and of love. The enticing smells drew me out of bed, urging me to make my way to the kitchen.

As I entered the room, my heart skipped a beat. I found an array of spreads meticulously laid out before me. Butter, jam, and the dark and savory spread of Vegemite.

Memories flooded my mind, reminding me of lazy mornings spent with you, sharing laughter and stories over a leisurely breakfast.

I couldn’t help but smile, relishing in the warmth that these simple gestures brought to my heart.

Lost in reverie, I approached the window, my gaze drawn to the breathtaking sight outside. The Opera House stood gracefully, overlooking the shimmering expanse of blue waters. The morning sun painted the scene with gentle hues, casting a magical glow over the surroundings. It was a picture-perfect moment, a snapshot of a cherished memory.

I turned my gaze, and there you were, seated across from me, your radiant smile illuminating the room. You held your coffee cup with both hands, as you always did, your presence exuding warmth and tenderness. A feeling of utter bliss and contentment washed over me, as if all was right with the world. In that ephemeral moment, I knew it was going to be a great day, just like the ones we had shared in the past. Indeed, it had been a great life, filled with happiness and love.

But in the blink of an eye, you vanished, replaced by an empty chair. The smells of coffee and toast faded away, leaving only the bitter taste of loss in my mouth. I felt my heart sink, and a wave of grief washed over me.

I stood there for a long time, staring at the empty chair. I could still see you there, your smile, your eyes, your aura. But it was all just a memory. You were gone, and I would never see you again.

I turned away from the window and walked back to the kitchen. I picked up the coffee cup and took a sip. It was cold and bitter, just like the taste of loss in my heart.

I sat down at the table and stared at the spreads. I didn’t feel like eating. I just wanted to go back to that moment, when we were together, happy and in love. But I knew that was impossible.

So, I sat there, alone with my memories, and I cried.

The smell of coffee and toast still lingered in the air, but it no longer brought me comfort. It only reminded me of what I had lost.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I knew that I would never forget you.

The person who had brought so much joy and light into my life was no longer there. It had been decades since you were taken away, yet the pain of your absence remained as fresh and poignant as if it were yesterday.

How many times must I relive this dream, this bittersweet fantasy that taunts me with the ephemeral taste of happiness? Each time, as the morning sun filters through the window, I find myself transported back to that beloved breakfast table. I reach out, hoping to touch your hand, to feel your presence once again. But it’s all in vain.

As the years pass, the longing within me grows stronger. I yearn for your laughter, your gentle touch, and the sound of your voice. The memories of our shared moments are like fragile threads, woven into the fabric of my being, keeping you alive in my heart. But sometimes, it feels like an unbearable weight, a constant ache that refuses to fade. Life has moved on, the world has continued to spin, and yet my love for you persists, unwavering and unyielding. It is a love that transcends time and space, defying the boundaries of mortality.

In the quiet moments of the night, when darkness envelops me like a heavy shroud, I find myself searching for traces of you. I seek solace in the memories we shared, clinging to them as if they were tangible, desperately trying to keep your spirit alive within me. But the emptiness that accompanies the realization of your absence is a haunting reminder of the void in my life.

I search for solace in the everyday rituals, hoping to find traces of you in the simplest of things. The aroma of coffee grounds, the warmth of a freshly toasted slice of bread, they all serve as fleeting reminders of a time when our lives were intertwined. Yet, they also serve as painful reminders of what I have lost, of the void that remains.

Time has a peculiar way of both healing and tormenting, and I find myself caught in its relentless grip. The years have transformed me, leaving behind the physical markers of age and the imprints of sorrow etched upon my soul. My body is always tired and my heart is always heavy. Deep within me, my longing for you remains unchanged, an unwavering ache that refuses to dissipate.

I wonder if you can hear the echoes of my silent yearning, if the universe holds onto our unfulfilled dreams and unspoken words. In the depths of my heart, I still hold onto the hope that one day, the universe will conspire to reunite us, to grant me a single moment in which I can gaze into your eyes and find solace.

Yes, I long for the day when our souls shall reunite, when the ethereal threads that bind us shall intertwine once again. Until then, I hold onto the fragments of our past, cherishing them like precious treasures. They are the remnants of a life that was, a life filled with love that transcended the boundaries of this earthly realm.

But until that day arrives, I continue to wake up to the smell of coffee brewing, of toast in the oven. It’s the smell of our safe haven, of our sanctuary, of love, and of a life I once knew. And in those quiet moments, as I sit at the table, alone yet surrounded by memories, I close my eyes and imagine that you are there, seated across from me, holding your coffee cup with both hands, smiling sweetly. And for a fleeting second, I find respite in the depths of my longing.

My beloved, let the stars bear witness to the depth of my love for you. Across a thousand worlds and ten thousand lifetimes, I shall tirelessly seek your presence, for you are the missing piece of my soul. This is my sacred vow, a promise etched in the tapestry of our destinies, that I will never rest until I hold you in my arms once more. With all the passion in my heart, I pledge this to you, my eternal love.

This profound commitment shall forever burn within me, an unbreakable vow that binds my heart to yours.

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Fukushima Water, OK?

In August, Japan initiated the gradual release of over a million tons of treated radioactive water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean.

It is expected to take decades to release all of the water at the plant, which was devastated in 2011 by a tsunami generated by the powerful Tohoku earthquake. Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the facility, and the International Atomic Energy Agency both claim the radiation to be released will be of such low concentrations that it will have a negligible radiological impact on people and the environment.

That may turn out to be true, if everything goes according to Tepco’s plans, consistently and without major mishap, for at least the next 30 years. Only time will tell.

The thing is, the Japanese government and Tepco made the decision to release the water after a process that has been neither fully transparent nor adequately inclusive of important stakeholders, both in Japan and abroad. This plants the seeds for what could be decades of mistrust and contention.

China immediately banned seafood from Japan, more a political move than anything else. This from a country that’s poisoning its own people with lethal milk powder, fake rice made from plastic and fake eggs.

I have good feelings about Japan. I hope this doesn’t change my mind about the country. I hope this doesn’t give me another heartache.

Read this.

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