Keng Eng Kee Seafood, the Book of Esther, and the Feast of Purim

Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, SingaporeMet the usual gang at Keng Eng Kee Seafood (124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, facebook) for an early birthday dinner. E had successfully booked us a table despite her terrible Chinese, and even managed (accidentally) to pre-order two crabs (having cluelessly said “yes” to something one of the staff had offered over the ‘phone).

Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, SingaporeThe homemade tofu, coffee pork ribs, deep-fried goby fish (laden with lard) were delicious on white rice: Homemade tofu, Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, Singapore Coffee pork ribs, Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, Singapore Deep-fried Goby fish, Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, Singapore

The salted egg prawns were good, but just not as outstanding as the other dishes: Salted egg prawns, Keng Eng Kee Seafood, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, SingaporeThere was a lot of loud cackling with this gang, even more so when we repaired to Salute Coffeeshop for Brothers ciders and draught wheat beer.

Those who were in study groups in Adam Road Presbyterian Centre mentioned that they were going through the Book of Esther.

Esther’s a really short read and, intriguingly, takes place during the reign of the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces. There is no mention of God in the book, but his handiwork is everywhere.

Esther 1 sets the context of the story: the court of an internationally powerful king who, powerful and prosperous as he is, can’t get his wife, Vashti, to do his bidding.

Esther 2 seems to be the usual rags to riches story for Esther, except for the repeated idea that any suggestion that Esther was a Jew(ess) would have jeopardised the whole thing. She keeps silent on the strict advice of Mordecai, her uncle.

In Esther 3, narrative tension escalates dramatically with a plot on the lives of all Jews by Haman the agitated Agagite. “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (Esther 3:13).

There seems little hope that even Esther can do anything about this. But Mordecai now says that this is not the time for silence. Further, “14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Meanwhile, it seems quite certain to Haman and his friends and wife in Esther 5 that Haman’s star is on the up, and he can do to Mordecai whatever he wants.

creating head in wheat beer, Salute Coffee Shop, Bukit Merah

But a great and wonderful reversal takes place. A series of fortunate events or really, the divine hand at work? And again we see the regrettable impotence of the king, who, having first been unable to distinguish his friends from self-interested courtiers, was later unable to undo his own edict. Still the Jews are saved, and we can be certain from whom their rescue issued – the biblical phrase “and the fear of the Jews fell upon” (or variations thereon) is reminiscent of God’s protection of Israel in the Exodus as they passed through various lands belonging to hostile people.

And Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew (how the writer of Esther emphasises this!) institute the Feast of Purim to celebrate the event as “22 as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 8:22).

According to some reports, Christians are the most persecuted people on the earth now. And while Christian Concern and Open Doors quite rightly highlight and agitate for protection of the rights of Christians, the assurance is that there is a God who will be seen, in the great sweep of human history, to have preserved his people for eternity.

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Views from High Places and the “Proofs” of the Existence of God

View from skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeThe view from the skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence was lovely, in the way that views from high places are always said to be.

View from 21st floor of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeAnd from the end of the corridor on the 21st floor, we could see all the way to Jurong Island.

Why do we pay good money to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and its successor skyscrapers in different cities? Why can restaurants on top of Marina Bay Sands or Level 33 in Singapore charge extra for their “stunning views”. Do we pay for the feeling of power, looking down at the human ants on the ground? Or is it the celebration of Babel-like human prowess that wows us?

N, who had been kind enough to send me to the Philosiology blog (specifically, “Surviving a Philosopher Attack” as sufficient warning) before our meet-up, mentioned having to teach proofs for the existence of God, the golden C.O.T.arguments – cosmological, ontological, teleological, next semester.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I usually find arguments of this sort rather tiresome because of what to me are illegitimate presuppositions about, inter alia:

  • the definition/concept of God;
  • valid epistemological bases.

And obviously, these issues are irretrievably linked. Theories about how I can know things would include theories about how I can know God, and v.v. So most philosophers rely wholly on rationalistic epistemological assumptions to narrowly define God and so, to their own satisfaction, manage to come up with proofs for such a “God”.

Also, it’s all unbearably circular:

“Why do you presuppose reason as the ultimate epistemological authority?”

“Because I reason that it must be so.”

BBQ stingray dinner at West Coast Hawker CentreOf course, the same accusation may be levelled against the Christian view:

“How do you know that revelation from God is the ultimate authority about all reality?”

“Because God told me so in his word, the Bible.”

Because of the meta-ness of arguments about ultimate authority, circularity is unavoidable. However, what the Christian view has over the other “proofs for God” is that it is inherently consistent. It does not contradict itself by attempting to prove God by non-theistic means. Additionally, the Christian view sits happily with historical evidence.

This is not to say that Christians ignore reason or empirical evidence (as the use of historical veracity shows), but they do not trust reason as the final arbiter of truth. Why would human reasoning be flawed? Because it refuses to acknowledge God, from whom all wisdom comes, because he alone as Creator and, well, God, defines all things:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1)

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1)

(On a only very slightly related note, it was interesting to note that tycoon Stephen Riady of the eponymous building-in-Utown fame is widely reported to be a devout evangelical Christian.)

Creativity and New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate

New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate

New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial EstateAn industrial estate is an unlikely venue for good food. But it’s been a pleasure eating at New Ubin Seafood Restaurant (facebook), with its mismatched plastic chairs and fairy lights and Christmas-Chinese New Year decorations, since returning to Singapore.

New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial EstateAn impressive number of the items on the menu were a hit with everyone:

sous vide egg with chargrilled foie gras. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estatesous vide egg with truffle salt (?) and chargrilled foie gras – umami and textural excellence,

mee goreng. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate“Old Punggol-style” mee goreng – al dente and moist with good wok hei that might bring back memories of those seafood shacks next to the sea,

Hong Kong Kai Lan. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial EstateHong Kong kai lan – done two ways,

U.S. beef steak with fried onions, wedges, fried rice. Medium-rare. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate U.S. beef steak, with fried onions and wedges, medium-rare. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial EstateU.S. Black Angus beef steak, with fried onions and wedges, done medium-rare, accompanied by rice fried with beef drippings. Simple, yet delicious,

chilli crab. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate butter garlic crab. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estatethe chilli and garlic-baked Sri Lankan crabs were alright but we didn’t come for those,

bamboo clams, New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estatebamboo clams,

sambal chinchalok prawns with petai. New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estatewhat a star: sambal chinchalok prawns with petai – so delicately-balanced between spicy and sour. E enthused about how well they went with the fried rice.

A delight to be back in Singapore with these people, groaning at R’s bad (good?) puns, celebrating the lovely M’s birthday, and to have a such great time exchanging stories about travels and coming to know Jesus that the time flew past and we were presented with the bill, which in Singapore resto terms meant they were closing up.

We’d also been chatting to one of the waiters about how his boss came up with the recipes for the dishes we liked.

“Oh you see, if you see Mr. Pang in the office sitting there, he’s not doing nothing you know. He’s thinking, [here, he put his fingers to his temple to mime thinking] coming up with new dishes.”

Not the sort of creativity you can taught in school…well, if even the assumption that creativity (however defined) can be taught is valid. Underlying presumption is that every person has innate creativity.

This brings to mind the sarcasm of Adrian Furnham in Managing People in a Downturn:

There is a general, evidence-free and quite preposterous assumption that everyone is creative, and that all teachers need to do is somehow encourage it.

Thus we have:

  • The arson school – which helps you set fire to your creativity.
  • The constipation school – which unblocks and enables you to express your innate creativity.
  • The liberation school – which sets you free from the shackles that imprison you.
  • The discovery school – which helps you find your inner creative being.
  • The Blue Peter School – which enhances creativity through fun and games with toilet rolls and washing up liquid bottles.

Creativity, like all other human attributes, is normally distributed: a few extremely creative people ad a roughly equal number, sadly, possessing little or none. Most lie in the middle of the continuum. Yes, you can teach creativity tricks and processes, but you won’t achieve much without talent…or motivation.

But perhaps Mr. Furnham is too pessimistic; perhaps it all depends on your definition of creativity, and the field in which you are being measured for such an aptitude.

New Ubin Seafood, Sin Ming Industrial Estate

Eating Healthy on a Budget in Singapore

Daily meals have been a bit of a challenge since coming to Singapore. Much food in hawker centres and food courts seems either bland, or too strong-tasting and oily. Would someone who is annoyingly picky, yet on a tight budget like me, be able to survive?

There is no point complaining about the cost of living in Singapore etc. I am excited to attempt eating delicious healthy* meals on S$4-S$5 a day, or about S$150 a month by (i) tweaking my basket of goods; and (ii) shopping around for the best deals, or eating whatever is on discount.

(*in light of all the nutritional theories and dietary trends out there, I’ll simply assume the lowest common denominator – that “healthy” means unprocessed vegetables and fresh meat where possible and a low-percentage of refined sugars)

Don’t know if it will work, but here are some options that I’ll try! Shall update as I go along.

Vegetables

Photograph Zenxin Organic Vegetables by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Zenxin Organics‘ prices seem mostly reasonable (except for, eg, those baby carrots which were an indulgence!) and their products are readily available in Cold Storages around the country.

Zenxin Vegetables on special offer at Cold StorageEven better when you find two packages taped together on special offer – two for the price of one.

Aromatics

In recent years, I’ve found Chinese garlic to have a peculiar ditch-water taste and have had to either go without or stock up when garlic from other countries were on the cheap (a relative term, sadly).

Photograph CondiFrance red garlic from Spain by parentheticalpilgrim on 500pxCold Storage has discounts on older garlic and onions, so scored these CondiFrance garlic bulbs from Spain. Still perfectly servicable.

Meat

Photograph Wagyu beef chuck by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Cold Storage has had pretty good deals on wagyu beef chucks. This MB4-5 was S$2.99/100g and a delight to eat (or to allow to melt in our mouths). The Australian Wagyu Association says:

Wagyu is high in monounsaturated fats and with the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats of 2:1. Wagyu beef also contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – Omega 6 per gram than any other foodstuff – 30 per cent more than other beef breeds. CLA is a fatty acid with potent anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory agent.

Wagyu meat on special offer from Cold StorageThe Japanese wagyu was on offer for a slightly pricier S$3.99/100g.

Wholesale meat suppliers to check out:

Fish/Seafood

Photograph Norwegian Salmon, Song Fish, Star Vista, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Song Fish (19 Fishery Port Road, also at Chinatown Point and Star Vista) has a good stock of frozen fish and seafood. Sea bass, salmon, cod, mussels, several sorts of scallop, prawns, stingray, octopus tentacles, lobster, crayfish, prepared seafood, and even tubs of lobster bisque and clam chowder.

Photograph Salmon bones, Song Fish, Star Vista, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px Photograph Pan-fried salmon bones, organic spinach, red rice by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

I made off with a S$3 bag of “salmon bones” – still loads of flesh on and very good pan-fried with just a bit of soya sauce. Enough for 3-4 meals.

Other wholesalers:

Fassler (46 Woodlands Terrace, and also Tiong Bahru Estate) – salmon, tuna, seafood

Cheese

Photograph discounted supermarket cheese, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Comte cheese discounted at Cold StorageFor cheese not of the processed cheddar variety (eg. gruyere, comte), check out the expiring stuff at Cold Storage and Jasons.

Wholesale cheese suppliers:

QB Food

Herbs and Sauces

QB Food

Baking Supplies

Photograph Valrhona 55% pellets, from Sun Lik Trading, Seah Street by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Sun Lik Trading (33 Seah Street) has a good stock of Valrhona chocolate in various forms. It’s not cheap for chocolate but a reasonable price for quality. One or two of these discs are good as something sweet for finishing off a meal.

Ligueil butter, Phoon Huat, Singapore
Petit Normand, Phoon Huat, SingaporeThe Phoon Huat branch below Buona Vista MRT carries an eclectic range of SPAR Supermarket products (aka. where you got your cheap food when skiing on a student budget in Switzerland) and cheap(er) French butter.

Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little India
Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little India
Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little IndiaMustafa in Little India has a good range of Bob’s Red Mill products. Stone Ground Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (S$3.00), Organic High Fiber Pancake & Waffle Whole Grain Mix (S$3.50).

United Baking Supplies

Others

Other wholesalers, for reference:

Seafood in Stockholm

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam -> Copenhagen -> Stockholm

Photograph Lisa Elmqvist, Östermalms Saluhalls, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Fish and seafood everywhere at Lisa Elmqvist (Östermalms Saluhalls), but not a bite to eat, because I’d managed to hit lunch hour there.

Photograph Inlagd Sill, Lisa Elmqvist, Östermalms Saluhalls, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Ingald sill (pickled herring) beautifully presented like a flower garden encased in aspic.

With my time in Stockholm running out, hopped over to another food hall, Hötorgshallen, for lunch instead.
Photograph Kajsas Fisk, Hötorgshallen, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Across from where some Japanese were taking photos of bitty items on huge white crockery, was a long queue full of Swedish pensioners and shoppers at Kajsas Fisk. As I stood deciphering the blackboard menu, an older Chinese Swede nodded at me to join the line where a man was ladling out full bowls of steaming fish/seafood soup and topping them with generous scoops of sour cream.

Photograph Kajsas Fisk, Hötorgshallen, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Photograph Kajsas Fisk, Hötorgshallen, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
The heady wholesome smell set my stomach rumbling. I didn’t need to be told twice. This soup was good – hearty, full-flavoured, firm-textured; tasting of happy hot days by the sea rather than slimey seafood about to go off. As foil for the rich soup, knäckebröd, bread, butter, and sliced lettuce were free for the taking from a sideboard.

Photograph Kajsas Fisk, Hötorgshallen, Stockholm, Sweden by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
I sat elbow-to-elbow with other customers inhaling the stuff, and did not look up until the last drop. Amazed at the gift of taste.