Dear reader, wishing each of you a healthy, happy, fruitful and prosperous Chinese New Year — one that’s kinder to us, gentler on the world, steadier in these rocky times; 祝大家新春快乐，牛年大吉，牛气冲天，牛转乾坤，平安喜乐，健康万福 ❤️㊗️🐮🌟🧧🧨
Hello fellow foodies, it has been a while ; ) COVID-19 has made certain food adventures impossible for most of last year. But since my impromptu walk to Chinatown after work last week, my foodie soul has reawakened with a fervency that cannot be ignored. In my dreams, I picture myself eating oyster cake.
So my friend KW and I decided to do a food trail in Chinatown. We diligently researched and mapped out all the places we wanted to try with the meticulousness of cartographers — especially the hawker stalls we’ve heard so much about — and in a single day, we covered over ten food places (under $30/pax), explored the largest hawker center in Singapore (with 260 stalls spread across a gigantic complex), traversed several food streets and ate till we surrendered inevitably to the limits of our metabolism.
Here’s how the food adventure unfolded (ft. pictures galore and our best attempt at ratings). >:)
Chinatown Complex Food Centre
168 CMY Satay (60¢/stick)
First dish we tried: a meaty appetizer. I haven’t had satay in ages but I’m a huge meat-lover so it worked for me. Dipped in peanut sauce and interspersed with cucumber and onion slices, the skewered charred pork and chicken were skinny and not greasy at all. I give it a 7.5/10, which might be inflated because I didn’t eat breakfast and deflated because I was waiting for KW to return to the table and the freshly grilled meat chilled in the interim.
Hawker Chan — Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle 香港油鸡饭面 ($3.00)
Ordered this for the hype: this is apparently the world’s CHEAPEST Michelin-starred meal. Hawker Chan, the founder of the stall, is also the first hawker to be awarded a Michelin Star in the world. Now his Soya Sauce Chicken can be found in other countries, as a sleek restaurant chain.
Our verdict? 7/10. Not too oily; better than other soya sauce chicken dishes that KW has tried before. But for non-soya sauce chicken lovers (like me), Hainanese Chicken Rice might be a more satisfying choice.
If you’re looking for a better dining ambience, Hawker Chan has also opened a roadside restaurant right below the Complex, with air-conditioning and higher prices.
Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao 中国拉面小笼包 (65¢/Xiao Long Bao; 50¢/Hong You Chao Shou)
The XLB is WAY better than Din Tai Fung and cheaper too. Each bite is a revelation. If it were bigger I would give it 10/10. The skin is not too thick, the soup not too oily, and the meat incredibly fresh. Because I’m difficult to satisfy, I give this 9/10.
Sichuan-style wontons is also 9/10. Not too spicy with a dash of vinegar, each wonton is wrapped in smooth slippery skin. Quote KW, who ate this for the first time in her life, each bite was “mind-blowing” (she is still reminiscing about it ten hours later).
Old Amoy Chendol ($2)
Generous heaps of red bean, pandan jelly, coconut milk and gula melaka, the chendol was satisfying even for a non-chendol lover. For chendol lovers, I think this would hit all the right notes.
The two of us give it a 7/10 for the wallet-friendly price and the nice hawker who thought we were professional food vloggers because I couldn’t stop filming everything.
Pan Ji Cooked Foods 潘记刹骑马
Sachima freshly handmade every day. What more can a dessert-lover ask for? This is one of the last places in Singapore that still handmakes sachima—frying fluffy strands of batter, binding them together with sugar syrup, and slicing them fresh for the queue of customers.
They sell out so fast that I had to come back three times just to finally bring home a packet. Although my parents found it a bit too sweet, I love how fresh it is. You can taste the human touch. 7.5/10.
Keong Saik Bakery
KW had the Two-face Burnt Cheesecake ($8.50), which is creamy cheese atop matcha cheese. Oozing, rich, crustless, dense. Each bite is a guilty pleasure. She rates her first bite as 8/10 but detracts a mark overall because it got too heavy for the palate towards the end. Kind of overpriced for a cake that she couldn’t finish.
I ordered the Matcha Burnt Cheese Cruffin ($6.50) which was a 9/10. I had this with ice-cream and tea from Apiary and could only heave a happy sigh. The bittersweet matcha syrup gushed over the flaky crust and creamy center like lava. Each bite was indulgent.
Possibly the best ice-cream place in Singapore. With flavors like Blue Milk, Ferrero Rocher, and Baileys & Brownies, there is no shortage of creative options. I went for Blue Milk (milk based ice cream infused with blue pea flowers and seasoned with a pinch of Himalayan pink salt) and a pot of Yuzu Pear Blossom tea while KW went for Sicilian Pistachio in a cone. We unanimously award 9/10 for both flavors. I loved the milkiness and the floral undertones, which mixed perfectly with the cruffin from Keong Saik Bakery. The hot tea in a dainty pot diluted any cloying sensation.
Maxwell Food Centre
Tong Xin Ju Special Shanghai Tim Sum ($4 for 8 pieces)
I DECLARE THIS THE BEST DUMPLING PLACE IN SINGAPORE. Best dumpling of my life, aside from my dad’s. No dumpling beats my father’s but this one comes close. This was the last stop of our day and we swore that we could only eat 8 dumplings. Then, immediately after splitting the first plate, we couldn’t resist ordering the steamed version.
I would go out on a limb and say that the steamed dumplings were even better than the fried ones. They are ultimate comfort food on a rainy day, a sunny day, and all the days in between. The San Xian filling with well-marinated meat and chives were addictive. Made fresh daily, the dumplings deserve 9/10 for the fried, 10/10 for the steamed.
What a pitch-perfect ending to a tummy-filled, 10,000-step day. There are few other places in Singapore where you can get such a concentration of handcrafted, intergenerational recipes within a ten-minute radius. Chinatown, beyond its temples and tourist-favorite Food Street, has many age-old surprises waiting for you. Try before they disappear!
Hawker centers are one of the places where daily dedication to taste and economical prices coalesce. Where else can I find food this cheap that tastes better than most restaurants around the world? The adventure continues.
This is the 100th post on the blog and the first post of 2021.Here’s the full Chronicle.Thank you for being here, thank you for allowing my stories to enter your life : )
I love walking. The best way to experience a city is, partly, to be a flâneur: passionate wanderer, aimless saunterer, happy stroller. Grid-like Manhattan with its broad avenues, paved Gion streets lined with machiya and shrines, Beijing hutongs, the sloping city of Chongqing and the steep cobblestone steps of Jiufen, dingy Kamagasaki and raucous Dotonbori, Cairo with its reckless drivers and friendly locals, railway tracks in Hanoi, tea fields and rice terraces in Bali, Charles River at night and Massachusetts Ave in the day on H-mart runs…
And there’s my island home, Singapore. A Friday evening walk on a whim takes me to unseen corners and colors. How often do you feel like a tourist in your own country?
At 5:36pm, I leave the Treasury building at High Street, where the Prime Minister’s Office is located. The Supreme Court is right across the road with its UFO-shaped dome; the Parliament House sits at a diagonal angle; the National Gallery readily beckons, blue cupola in the distance.
Down North Bridge Road I go—steel and glass skyscrapers bearing familiar bank logos tower on Singapore River’s faraway bank—and over the white boxy Elgin Bridge (named after Lord James Bruce Elgin who was the Governor-General of India), which strides atop one of my family’s favorite riverwalk restaurants, JUMBO Seafood.
Past Doctor TJ Eckleberg’s eyes, for the new ages.
Past the infamous Hong Lim Park with its Speaker’s Corner (the only venue in the country where public protests are allowed), a meadow of peace that idles in the bustle of the commercial district. Strangely empty though the sidewalks are strewn with white-collars, it’s a green oasis in a concrete jungle.
As skyscrapers peter out, the new recedes, usurped by the past. A single traffic junction demarcates two different eras of architecture. Behind me: tall public housing blocks, office buildings and a WeWork storefront. Opposite: rows of multi-hued shophouses. Strings of cartoon zodiac lanterns hang over the drone of traffic, for miles and miles. Each zodiac animal is a pufferfish-like emoji. Beside me, an old couple pauses to capture photos. Festivity of the Lunar New Year dots the blue skies.
I cross. The junction, fittingly, is called Cross Street. From now on it’s solidly Chinatown. A swirl of cultures in a melting pot.
The ambling continues past the pastel green minarets of Masjid Jamae, one of Singapore’s oldest mosques.
Past the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. Its ornate five-tiered gopuram on Pagoda Street is lined with figurines: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer. I spot Sepoy soldiers in their khaki uniforms, harkening back to the time of the British Raj.
At the Chinatown Food Street, I buy pineapple tarts from Kele—traditional sunflower shaped ones and cheese-flavored pineapple balls. Conan is also there, buying durians. Hee.
Past the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, South Bridge Road opens up into a four-lane boulevard. Ahead, the 50-storey Pinnacle@Duxton, the world’s tallest public residential buildings, stand erect like dominoes.
To my left is a nondescript open-air complex, whose plain beige walls belie its true status: pure food heaven because it’s Maxwell Food Center—the mecca of hawker centers. All thoughts of no-dinner diet are promptly forgotten. Tian Tian Chicken Rice is worth breaking my intermittent fasting for. So are the fried sanxian dumplings, washed down with lime juice. The entire meal costs only $9, all effortlessly paid by scanning QR codes. I’m about to buy Fuzhou oyster cakes to bring home but the uncle tells me that everything is sold out for the day. And it’s only 7pm.
Belly full, I weave through the void decks of an old HDB and emerge onto another street of Art Deco-style and colonial-era shophouses. Two rights, one left, past boutique hotels, hip bistros and artisanal bars, and I’m at my final destination. Basque burnt cheesecakes to go at Keong Saik Bakery. A gem in a modern village full of old-world charm.
For the first time since the pandemic began, I clock 10,000 steps in a day. Right before I enter the mouth of the MRT station, I spot the brutalist mustard-yellow and green People’s Park Complex, windows blazing in the darkness. I think back to the time when I was thrown off its premises and forced to return under the cover of the night to report on its lift breakdowns (People’s Park Complex residents plagued by hour-long waits for lifts, The Straits Times). I grin.
It marks the first time I’ve managed to draft so long and so complete a novel manuscript, currently at 101,000 words. It’s uneven at parts, needing some serious editing in 2021, and has a few potholes here and there. But the road has been paved from beginning to end!!! The goal is to smoothen and varnish it with sustained rounds of revision in the months ahead.
It (probably—though I don’t keep count) marks the most books I’ve read in a year. Never have I had so much time just to read, think, and write (strip everything else away and only these three pillars are left in life’s ground structure).
It marks plans dashed—spring break in Israel, summer in D.C., senior year on campus—and in the chaos of scattered itineraries and occasionally splintering faith, I found a haven of peace, a reason strong enough to withstand all that derailed, and a purpose that anchored me in these weird times. What I thought would frustrate ended up freeing me. As the space of my physical world constricted to the size of the household, creatively it grew to contain multitudes: the worlds in the pages I read, the worlds growing under my pen, the worlds I dreamed feverishly about. Instead of claustrophobia, I strangely felt more liberated and less burdened than I have in a long while. Distractions were axed, choices were made for me by the external state of affairs, and all I had left before me was a desk, a laptop, and an open, blank calendar for my mind to inscribe upon.
Standing on the last square of 2020 and gazing back, I’m grateful. I’m lucky to be in Singapore, where community cases number mostly zero on most days, things are opening up (Phase 3!), vaccines will be provided to all for free, and the death rate is low. I’m blessed with a stable, loving, and supportive home and “a room of one’s own.” My life is animated with stories and colored by characters who knock at midnight, in visits of imagination. I’m lucky that writing has found and rescued me. It became my lifeboat, an open door when all windows were closed, and showed me an existential purpose—melodramatic as it sounds, call it destiny.
To my parents, who I have spent most of 2020 with, thank you for respecting my dreams, giving me full autonomy with all your faith, and creating so much happiness in my life. Thank you for illuminating my moments of weakness, motivating me when I lose my way, and loving me in the best way possible. I love you more than words can say, Mommy and Daddy.
To God, thank you for teaching me the most crucial lessons in the gentlest of ways, for forgiving all the times I’ve disappointed you, for showing me a purpose that electrifies and makes me want to wake up every day, for all the opportunities to do you proud. When I see one set of footprints in the sand, I know You are carrying me.
Who knows what 2021 holds? Uncertainty is the only thing that’s certain. I don’t know when I’ll be back on Harvard campus, what will happen to my manuscript, where I’ll be next summer. But 2020 has fortified the bits of me that used to doubt incessantly, cushioned my blind optimism, and taught me that the only way to make things happen and reach seemingly big, impossible goals is to start small and persist every day.
I’m ready, 2021. Let me hurtle into you, like the bullet leaves the barrel.
A Quick Round of Favorites
(Note: some of the places/things mentioned were released before 2020. My only criteria is that 2020 was the year I first discovered them.)
Favorite Movie:Parasite Honorable Mention: Little Women
Feels like I watched Parasite ages ago but it was actually back in February before the world went off the rails. I remember the four of us in a packed AMC theater beside Boston Commons, all leaving the cinema amazed by the sheer artistry and incision we had just witnessed on screen—a brilliant story seamlessly stitched in a perfect choreography of acting, writing, and directing.
Sadly, I’ve watched very few movies this year. If you have must-watch recommendations, send them my way!!! : )
Favorite Album: Evermore, Taylor Swift Honorable Mention: Folklore, Taylor Swift (Read my review of the album here.)
Both are tributes to fantasy in a time when brutal reality demands our attention. Honestly, it’s a close call between E and F. Evermore wins in my heart because of a few standout tracks: “marjorie” (the Youtube lyric video features footage of Taylor’s opera-singing grandmother), “tolerate it” (I know I keep saying this but the lyrics in this bridge is her best one yet), “gold rush,” and “long story short.”
Fictional songwriting blends good storytelling with ear-catching composition. Who can do both the autobiographical AND the fictional better than Taylor? No one. My fictional favorites are the infidelity-driven crime anthem “no body, no crime” and the unlikely love story between two con artists in “cowboy like me.”
More wistful and adventurous and less sad, Evermore has chiseled away the parts of 2020 that we wish we could forget and carved out what can last.
Favorite Song: 《刻在你心底的名字》卢广仲
Wishing each of you a happy, healthy, and fruitful 2021! See you next year ❤️
Not only have I tried no new products in my four months of stay-home hermit life till August, but my 8 and 10-step morning and night skincare routines (which I once thought would persist till the end of days) have also tapered off: I now do 0 steps in the morning and 4 steps at night. 😵
YET, even without my extensive product routine, my skin condition has remained surprisingly stable with some noticeable improvements on good days (when I’m not eating junk food or staying up late 🧟♀️).
I have found certain little habits in daily life—I dub them SKINCARE LIFE HACKS—indispensable for my skin condition. As basic as they are, if you can integrate them into your lifestyle, these life hacks are cheaper, healthier (no chemicals!), and more sustainable and effortless than a 10-step routine. (Though maybe the real trick is to find the best of both worlds.)
👉 DRINK WATER — water is the real fairy potion (not SKII) 💧💧💧
TBH, my skin was not that great back in JC. I used to barely drink water—one cup in the morning and probably at most a small water bottle’s worth throughout the rest of the day.
To solve the problem, I have made drinking water the essential start to my day. Before I allow myself to eat anything in the morning, I drink four cups of warm water, ~800ml. For lunch, I drink another cup around 30 minutes before the meal.
I am a warm water addict. I never drink plain water cold, not even at restaurants!!! (American restaurants, weirdly, automatically serve iced water even in the depths of water.) Not only does warm water in the morning help flush out toxins and cleanse the digestive system, studies have shown that it helps with weight loss and combats premature aging.
Now, on average, I drink at least 2000ml of water per day. I’ve kept it up over the past two years. Healthy hydration starts inside out!
👉 GLOW FROM WITHIN — what you eat > what you put on your face 🍽️
Eating healthy once in a while doesn’t help, so I try to make healthy foods part of my routine.
Integral staples of my daily intake include (I do NOT put them on my skin though some do):
Lemon 🍋: Part of my biggest motivation to visit the dining hall at Harvard was to restock tiny lemon slices HAHA. I add a slice of lemon to my water bottle each day. At night, when it’s no longer that sour, I eat the lemon. Vitamin C helps with whitening and clarifying. [Read: benefits of eating lemon.]
Honey 🍯: Probably the closest thing to the Greek gods’ ambrosia. I usually add honey to my first cup of warm water. Both honey and lemon have antioxidant properties that combat aging & wrinkles.
Fruits 🍌 and vegetables 🥦: Do I need to say more? I generally make sure I eat three fruits per day.
👉 STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACE! 🙀
How apt for COVID-19 times, no??
Even outside of the pandemic context, I don’t touch my face without having cleansed my hands. The bacteria on our fingers can easily cause irritation and inflammation. Curb the urge to touch your pimples!
For objects that come into contact with your face, make sure they stay clean. I use wet wipes on my glasses and phone daily to keep bacteria at bay and oil from clogging pores. Pillow sheets, which can collect sebum and skin residue, should also be changed frequently. (I change mine once or twice a week.)
👉 DO-IT-YOURSELF FACIAL MASSAGE 💆🏻
But…When your hands are clean, MASSAGE AWAY~
At night, after cleansing and showering, I use my thoroughly cleaned hands to apply products to my face.
While applying these creams, a daily DIY massage can keep your face young and supple, firming facial muscles and boosting blood circulation.
To keep it short and simple, I apply each product with a massage:
Tapping the forehead. Press between brows and slide up and over the forehead.
Firming with serum. Push skin from chin to cheeks in vertical upward strokes. Prevent saggy cheeks and deep smile lines.
👀 Contouring the eye. Lightly sweep under the eyes and stroke up. This promotes collagen production and allows the eye cream to penetrate. Say no to crow’s feet!
Jaw lifting with moisturizer. Use your palms to slide up-and-out from mouth to ear. This reduces jawline puffiness and also creates a lifting effect. End with five sweeping motions down the neck.
👉 GOOD OL’ FASHIONED FACIAL STEAMING ♨️
Caveat: does NOT work for all skin types. Be careful if you have sensitive skin.
I used to be skeptical about the method because the whole opening-up-your-pores rhetoric sounded like pseudoscience. My mom, however, swears by this practice. For a woman in her fifties, her skin condition (sun spots but no wrinkles) convinced me to try it out.
Every morning, I boil water and pour it into a big bowl. At a safe distance, I put my face over the bowl for around 3-5 minutes and wash my face with tap water immediately after. Some people use facial steamers; others add ingredients to their steams (herbs, oils, etc.).
While initial effects may be subtle, after a few months my face now looks firmer, younger, and more hydrated than ever (even without copious amounts of serum and cream). My pores have also shrunk. If you’ve ever been to the sauna and onsen, you know how good this feels. ❤️🔥