To hurt, to break: the heart beats on

Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place.
Just for the time being.
So she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck.
And that seemed to fix things … at first.

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The above passage is from The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The picture book, which looks into how to make sense of death and loss, is now available in iTunes to buy and download as apps. The version is read by actress Helena Bonham Carter.

In the story, the girl, after losing her father. decided to protect her heart from hurting by putting it in a bottle around her neck. Of course, the problem with safeguarding her heart was that the girl no longer resembled her old exuberant, full-off-curiosity self. No more thinking about the stars or “the wonders of the sea,” she feels no pain, but also no happiness.

(Read previous post: “Ice Kachang Puppy Love”)

"She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…" (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

“She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea.
She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

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Tasting love: “Ice Kacang Puppy Love”

When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona — the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes Kuih for dessert.

Traditional "Kuih" (image credit: Hotel Armada/kuali.com)

Traditional “Kuih” (image credit: Hotel Armada/kuali.com)

The word Kuih(粿)came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version incorporates local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. Coconut milk adds an exotic sweetness and pandan leaves, a herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.

From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.

Another must-try is Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the green color comes from pandan paste) in coconut milk and palm sugar.

But all in all, my ultimate favorite dessert is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice (Ais) Red Bean (Kachang) in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia, the dish comprises of shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.

My fondness for the dessert derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》).

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What are shades of grey, when you have 50+1 shades of black

Portraits of Flemish painter Anthony van Dyke (1599-1641) are typically dark, a technique typical of the period using a semi-dark background to highlight the subject.

The mastery of van Dyke’s use of black (various shades of it), white and gray is most alluringly presented in the portrait of Frans Synders. Set against a billowing black drapery and enveloped in a rich cascade of black – black doublet lined with a wired, lace trim collar, black cloak – Synders’ elegantly aristocratic face and hands are further accentuated. There is something grand and mysterious with his stare, and, oh, those beautiful fingers…

One should never gape at a painting with less-than-just-admiration thoughts, especially standing in the Frick Collection‘s handsome West Gallery. But you have to admit, he is devastatingly handsome. In fact, Synders (in addition to being wealthy) is a Flemish painter of animals, still live and, often violent hunting scenes. How’s that for having a darker side, Christian Grey?

Van Dyke, “Frans Snyders” circa 1620/oil on canvas (image credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

If you have not yet been to the Frick Collection in the Upper East Side, you should take advantage of its Sunday “by donation” program. Compared to other art museums, the Frick Collection, being the former residence of Pittsburgh industrialist/collector Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and a museum, offers an interesting viewing experience. Painting and sculpture aside, the Gilded Age mansion, including ceiling, vase, lamp, furniture, etc., the entirety is art.

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Best of Penang Street Food Fest, Mee Mee Mee

Malaysia’s richness, whether it’s food, dialect or culture, derives from the intermingle of different ethnic groups, predominantly the Malay, Chinese and Indians. In Penang, where Chinese immigrants dominate,  food is further enriched by the marriage of Chinese and Malaysian cultures (known s babas and nyonas), literally and metaphorically.

Best of Penang street food (image credit: misstamchiak.com)

To get a glimpse of the awesomeness of one (Chinese) plus one (Malay) is more than two, just go through the list of noodle dishes the city has to offer:  Continue reading

“What’s in a name” — Oh boy, don’t you know?

Ask what’s in a name, and I’d say plenty.

When introducing myself, I’m either “It’s Sherry like the alcohol,” or “It’s Sherry, like the Frank Valli and the Four Seasons song.” The former usually gets a delayed I-get-it chuckle, and the latter works wonderfully with the slightly more senior folks.

And Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, advises writers to “pay attention to names.”

Names can be fun. Take popular characters in fiction, such as Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane. Or savor Strawberry Bonbons, Glacier Mints, Pear Drops, Lemon Drops, Sherbet Suckers and Liquorice Bootlaces in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, well-crafted names enliven the imagination.

The best literary name of all, is perhaps Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita:

What’s in a name? Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (image credit: www.belelu.com)

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First sip of Penang: OldTown White, OldTown Nan Yang

As of Monday, 9:00pm, New York weather read:

Temperature: 12°C (54°F)
Precipitation: 36%
Humidity: 95%
Wind 12mph

I felt the humidity without consulting the weather app, for one, my hair was damp and frizzy. But I relished the wetness as it reminded me of my one-month Southeast Asia trip, starting with Malaysia (Chinese New Year in Penang, Malaysia).

Arrival, Kuala Lumpur

January 31, 2011: Kuala Lumpur

The photo on the left was taken when I landed in Kuala Lumpur, after a 5+ hour flight from Seoul. From here I would take a connecting flight to Penang. Groggy, tired yet exhilarated (I am here), I stepped into the humid dawn. It was 5:17am and drizzling. The air smelled pregnant, full of water. My pores gulped the wet air. I hate to be overly dramatic, but at that moment, I thought, “Ah, rejuvenation. I am once again in a humid country where 10 years down the line, Forever young, I will be forever young…” (“Forever Young” video link).

I was, after all, born in Taiwan and a firm believer that staying hydrated is the ultimate youth serum.

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The 9-digit dance, and Petit Billy

Because this is life, and in life, shit happens, I am typing with nine and not ten fingers.

You see, I cut myself on the index finger while making dinner Easter Sunday. Not trying to be graphic here, but I bled profusely. It took a full 20+ minute of hard pressing for the bleeding to subside to an on-and-off ooze, and were it not for my level-headed roommate, who not only bandaged my wound but also assured me that I would not die, I don’t know what I would have done. The unfortunate accident resulted in my paying a visit to the ER, and, unintentionally, getting Good Monday off after all. Continue reading

It takes not working to fully appreciate, say Easter and Chinese New Year

What’s in a holiday if it does not come with vacation days? Not much, in my opinion.

(image credit: thecapecodmom.com)

In that regard, Easter is very much like the Chinese New Year. In the sense that both holidays have ceased to be significant once the perks — chocolate eggs and money-filled red envelops, respectively, stopped. But this year, getting Good Friday off (for the first time ever!) has propelled me to acknowledge Easter as a legitimate, celebratory-worthy holiday.

Which, brings me back to Chinese New Year.  Continue reading