Chinese New Year, and Continuity and Discontinuity in Biblical Theology

Chinese New Year passed with the usual surfeit of steamboats and lo heis and barbecues and restaurant feasts and CNY tidbits.

homemade pineapple tarts with melty crusts and Anzac biccies with bak-kwaWas glad to get back to merely nibbling on a colleague’s homemade pineapple tarts and some Anzac biccies (because of Australia Day) studded with bak-kwa, instead of being pressed, on pain of seeming discourteous, to sample a plenitude of snack jars as we visited friends over the holidays.

Double-treat Tuesday -

Ecstatic too to be back to smoothie bowls for breakfast and to be cracking on with the second volume of “Justification and Variegated Nomism“. Nom nom.

The lecturers at the Cornhill Training Course used to be adamant that every single passage of the OT should point to Christ, citing Luke 24:27. I thought this an unwieldy sledgehammer that resulted in all sorts of dodgy exegesis. Yet, I also thought that the insistence of some folk at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate on holding tightly the tension of the biblical narrative (and so being very hesitant in going to Christ), while dealing quite well with an OT passage’s position on the salvation-historical timeline, did not adequately take into account our position on that same timeline.

How then to read, teach, and preach the OT now? Could some part of the answer depend on one’s conclusion on the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments?

  • What should we, who live on the other side of the cross/resurrection/ascension, make of the Old Testament ?
  • Which laws should we follow and which ones should we ditch?
  • What about infant baptism (as continuity from saved-as-a-household x circumcision)(see eg. pg 3 of Themelios April 2016)? What about keeping the Sabbath (on Saturdays)?
  • What is the biblical warrant for any of that?

 This didn’t make it as one of my Heresies of the Month back in London. But since it will be a lifelong task to comprehensively consider the continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, let’s get this party started.

dragonfruit smoothie bowl with Korean strawberries and Chilean blueberries

 I do not think the usual tripartite division of the law into moral, civil, ceremonial laws works well:

  • they are not biblical categories – no Bible writer thought in those categories
  • therefore, they impose an alien framework on the text

The first port of call, perhaps, would be a careful reading of how NT writers treat the OT.

D.A. Carson, in “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and the New” (p393, Justification and Variegated Nomism), concludes that for Paul, this is a “both-and”. That is,

“Paul thinks of the gospel he preaches a simultaneously something that has been predicted in times past, with those predictions now fulfilled, and something that has been hidden in times past, and now revealed.

…there is no evidence that Paul himself was aware of any tension between these two stances…the two stances…genuinely lock together…

…Paul assess the significance of Israel and the Sinai covenant within the larger biblical narrative…the law’s most important function is to bring Israel, across time, to Christ…

…the Old Testament, rightly read in its salvation-historical structure, led to Christ…

…the law is upheld precisely in that to which it points…”

Yet, Carson is insistent that we need to see too “how radically Christocentric Paul’s reading of the Old Testament really is…”

Andy Naselli’s done a good summary here.

cast-iron shashuka - tomatoes, chickpeas, bayleaves, cabanossi, eggsa quick shashuka lunch straight from the hot cast-iron pan

Right. So are there any general principles that one can draw on what continues and what doesn’t, and can this be applied to any OT text faithfully?

Akan datang.

Chinese Lunar New Year Reunion Steamboat Dinner

Controlled by the Illusion of Control

Amidst the noise of a hipster gastropark and a hipster HDB cafe, straining my club-deafened ears, I was grateful for life-chats with dear friends.

At Timbre+ (it calls itself a gastropark), before a tenuously-pitched band came on,
Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporeover a trendy beef rendang bowl with onsen egg, salted egg fried chicken, and a bottle each of Brewdog‘s Dead Pony Club and Archipelago Brewery‘s Singapore Blonde Ale,

beef rendang, onsen egg, Brewdog's Dead Pony Club, Archipelago's Singapore Blonde Ale. Timbre+, one-north, Singapore
Timbre+, one-north, Singaporea brother spoke honestly about his difficult childhood, his resulting need to please male figures of authority and the inevitable fall when these men (some even church leaders) manipulated him to their own selfish power-hungry ends. Succumbing to disappointment, he now tried to find satisfaction in work, pounding away at his laptop at all hours of the day and all days of the week, glorying in the exceptional quality of his reports and presentations. It gave him some semblance of control over his own life.

Yet, he knew it was folly. He just wanted it all to become better, just to snap out of it. But he wished people would stop asking him to read the Bible. When a colleague invited him to a retreat that promised an easy encounter with the Spirit that would free him from this habit, he was keen to go.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, SingaporeAt Sin Lee Foods (facebook), at the foot of a block of HDB flats along Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, a sister shared how her regular episodes of binge-eating* too gave her some satisfaction of control over her life. She’d grown up in a loving family and did not understand how she started to compulsively overeat. It shamed her to be found doing so, but she knew herself that the reluctance to change was too great. There was a comfort in being in control.

How lovely it would have been to be able to magick away their addictions. But that’s not how it works in this life.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

There are some quick (and not very thought-through) thoughts:

1. Illusion of control

Work, the praise of humans, binge-eating, any addiction – anyone can tell, even with a casual glance, that none of these things even remotely suggests that a person is in control. In fact, the converse is true – they are being controlled by their compulsions.

2. Motive for change

Since both friends are Christian, I’ve wondered about the efficacy of them seeing non-Christian psychologists, mainly because there is a fundamental disjunct in worldview. As Christians, we live our lives under God. Therefore:

  • we would not want to change to prove anything to ourselves (no “Oh look, I am finally really in control of myself.”);
  • we would not want to change to prove anything to other people;
  • we should not even want to change to prove anything to God! It is precisely because we are such wretched people that God sent his Son to die for our sins.
  • rather we should want to change because we have already been freed from slavery to sin and brought into a relationship with God. Why continue to wallow in the mud and eat rotten peels when a hot bath has been prepared and a feast after?

3. Method of change

We do not need a fresh experience of the Spirit to change. When we trusted in Christ, God gave us the Spirit – He broke our inability to do anything good, He dwells in us, and conforms our lives to Christ’s. Therefore, what we really need is a constant reminder of God’s truth:

  • God is the only God, so we are not god – we can’t be in control of everything (or, ultimately, anything);
  • God is a perfectly good God, so we will not be able to find satisfaction in anyone/anything else. fact.;
  • God is an unimaginably powerful God, so He is the only one who can change us deep down inside where self-help and positive-thinking fluff can never reach;
  • yet, in a beautiful both-and way, a sovereign God works through human will, human skill (reading God’s word), and human reliance on Him (expressed in prayer) to effect this change.

Sin Lee Foods, 4 Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, Singapore

*she tried to describe what binge-eating was. And later, I found Emma Scrivener’s posts here and here to be very helpful.

Killiney Curry Chicken, the Shadow of Joseph Schooling, and Hebrews 1:1-4

Peter O'Brien's Commentary on Hebrews, prata, curry chicken at Killiney Kopitiam, SingaporeI’d just settled down to a late breakfast of lemak curry chicken and crispy prata at Killiney Kopitiam, when the honking and shouting began.

Joseph Schooling's victory parade bus passing Killiney, SingaporeJoseph Schooling’s victory parade bus was just trundling past the Singtel building at Killiney, and the waiting drivers were saluting him with their horns, as people along the road waved flags and hailed him.

A small swell of pride – ah, our first Olympic gold medallist!

Unfortunately, it was difficult to be well and truly star-struck when working on Hebrews 1:1-4:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,

whom he appointed the heir of all things,

through whom also he created the world.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4, ESVUK)

Somewhat fresh from a summer of working on an overview of Psalms (oh how a tiny swing on the Hermeneutical Spiral gives hope to fallen brains!), these four familiar verses totally blew my mind (again)!

flat white at The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore

Jesus – God’s full and final revelation.

Like most Christians, I’d readily assent to this without stopping to consider the biblical evidence for this and on the strength of that, the necessity of my acting on such belief.


(Am fairly persuaded that there is a chiasm in Hebrews 1:1-4*, so that the passage is topped and tailed by methods of divine revelation in the past – the prophets (ie. most if not all of God’s revelation in the Old Testament) and the angels (the belief was that Moses got his official copy from angels – Acts 7:38-39, Galatians 3:19).

*friends will know that I’m well skeptical of “sandwiches”, especially when in the company of those adamant that they are as thick on biblical ground as Rattata in Pokemon Go.)

Our God isn’t one made up by deists – who creates the universe, then goes to the pub and leaves it to run itself in a closed system. The God of the Bible is fully engaged with his creation since he made the world, and has taken the initiative to reveal himself to humankind (mostly through one people, the Israelites) – he did this

at many times and in many ways…by the prophets…

In each archaeological layer of human history, as recorded in the Bible, God has spoken about himself and what he is doing in the world, in varied and fragmented ways. This revelation was progressive (but was not a progression “from the less true to the more true, from the less worthy to the more worthy, or from the less mature to the more mature” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews)).

The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore

Final Revelation

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things,

Jesus, however, was/is God’s final revelation. There has been/will be no more new revelation from God.

This is because Jesus came to bring human history to a close, to bring this world to an end. It didn’t happen all at once, as might be obvious. But the eschatological last days began when Jesus was born as a human, and they will end when he finally and fully comes into his inheritance of the whole universe.

This is the utterly universally victorious divine king Psalm 2 has been looking forward to!

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.

And it was Jesus’ death on the cross that led him into this inheritance:

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Jesus’ offering of the sacrifice of his own life on the cross cleansed us from our sins. That high priestly act was forever effective (unlike the Jewish priests who have to keep offering sacrifices), so Jesus sat down.

He didn’t just sit anywhere, by on the right hand of God the King – showing that God approved and honoured him. The king that Psalm 110 had also been looking forward to – who will execute judgement on all the world (Psalm 110:1,5).

There is no further revelation to be had – God has said what he was going to do in the world, the Old Testament has been looking forward to the coming of Jesus, and now in 2016 Jesus has come and gone. And he has left word that he will definitely come again, to judge all the nations in relation to whether they’d acknowledged him as king; to wrap up human history. These are the last days.

Hand brew bar. The Coffee Academics, Scotts Square, Singapore
Full Revelation

 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

 In case any one was still thinking that Jesus being God’s official, approved, totally final wasn’t enough…the writer of Hebrews positively hyperventilates that Jesus wasn’t/isn’t just some model servant – he was/is exactly as divine as God. There was/is no one superior to him. He created the entire universe. And notice that the “laws” of physics/chemistry/biology seem to keep working? Oh, that’s because Jesus is maintaining the universe.

Therefore, says Hebrews 2:1, as if it wasn’t already, like, duh!

we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

Yet, how skeptics assume that only the brain-washed to think that way!

And how Christians assume that it is by strict practices (Quiet Time, accountability groups, regular church attendance, etc) under their own steam that they manage not to fall away! Hardly, in and of themselves. It is only by meditating on the revelation of Christ that we are hard-put to leave him for any (necessarily lesser) thing.


(flat white from The Coffee Academics, Scott Square, Singapore – a well-balanced classic cup.)

Consider the Platonic Form of the Oyster

With apologies to M.F.K. Fisher.

We were sat at Greenwood Fish Market, on oyster promotion Tuesday, discussing platonic forms so loudly that several tables snapped round to look…as if one of us had said a cuss word in polite company.

It started with NC being rather put out that the “Frenchmen” with their little box of Michelin stars could tell us what good Singapore hawker food should taste like. This led to my suggestion that it wasn’t their nationality that was the issue, but their possible lack of cognisance of, say, the Form of Char Kway Teow.

There must be a Form of Char Kway Teow – an agreed essence, aspatial and atemporal; a perfect Idea of what a Char Kway Teow is. At the lowest common denominator, it is what we expect when we go to a CKT stall; the opposite of what we spit out, together with a few choice Hokkien words, crying through oily lips,”You call this char kway teow?!”

Good CKT, then, is CKT that tends towards this Form of CKT. How else can you call something “good” (as opposed to “The Good” which is a whole other discussion) if there is no ideal form that it more closely resembles than other offerings?

But Parmenides. For we come to the Form of things by observation and experience; yet the things we experience are constantly changing.

What then of the Form of the Oyster?

And what to make of our little minerally Irish Oceans, and those sweet musky Barron Points?

oyster Tuesday, Greenwood Fish Market, Singapore

What of the briny sweet fresh les perles du bassin No. 2 at L’Oyster Bar in Arcachon?

L'Oyster Bar, Arcachon, France
L'Oyster Bar, Arcachon, France
L'Oyster Bar, Arcachon, France

Ah, and those tasty bivalves (“they don’t turn milky here in the summer”) eaten with thinly slice baguette laid with good French butter and Lou Gascoun pâté?
L'Oyster Bar, Arcachon, France

Or slurped up at La Cabane de l’Aiguillon accompanied by a crisp white wine, sitting in the setting summer sunshine with the salty sea-breeze in your hair?

La Cabane de l'Aiguillon, Arcachon
La Cabane de l'Aiguillon, Arcachon

I’ve been working on an overview of Psalms this summer. And with the Psalms, there is no trouble considering the Form of the King. He is clearly described in Psalm 2, absolutely sovereign, incomparably divine:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.  (Psalm 2, ESVUK)

This is the King you are looking for as you progress through the books of the Psalms, and indeed as you cross through the rest of the Old Testament prophets and arrive in the Gospels.

CreatureS Cafe and the Book of Revelation

Laksa, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore

Noon on a Saturday after a crazy work week, my empty stomach and I were in search of a good feed, physically and otherwise.

CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore

CreatureS Cafe (facebook) on Desker Road (red light at night, but not when it’s bright) looked promising. Ensconced in a corner, I made fair progress through a big tasty bowl of laksa, a slice of durian cake, and the Book of Revelation.

Durian cake, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore
It’s a bit of a tall order describing the Platonic ideal of a bowl of laksa or a slice of durian cake to one with no experience of such matters – “rice vermicelli in spicy coconut gravy” and “pungent fruit in sponge cake” just doesn’t quite capture the lip-smacking lemak lusciousness of the stuff.

In the same way, John seems to be almost hitting the limits of human language with the apocalyptic genre in which he wrote Revelation. But while someone in Outer Mongolia isn’t really going to need to know the taste of Singaporean delicacies, Revelation is applicable to every one alive today and every one who will be born and will live in the future – Mongolian herders, American rednecks, Zimbabwean farmers, Thai hawkers, English chefs, Australian CEOs, the first person on Mars…

Working on the Book of Revelation

In blockbuster movie terms, it is the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. Uncontrollable natural disasters? Got them all. Monsters and beasts? Far more terrifying and powerful than anything ever shown. Something that concerns not just one nation but the whole planet and all of humanity? Yup.

Worse, all this is wrought by the most powerful person in the universe – God. No hope of a deus ex machina turning up and saving people at the end, because God (being really God) decides exactly what happens, and it, well, happens.

Here, in full-colour and Dolby surround sound, we are shown the last days of this universe, and then the end of the world.

If this had been the ravings of a mad man, or a product of the fertile mind of some Left Behind-inspired writers, it would be all somewhat amusing. But it is the message from the God of the universe, told to Jesus, mediated through an angel, and given to John (Revelation 1) for everyone who has lived since the first century.

CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, SingaporeSo now in current reality, as we go about eating and drinking and working and getting married etc, Jesus isn’t just sitting far off in heaven; he knows exactly what is happening in the churches, his churches. This is a warning to those churches who have been deceived and have wandered from the truth, and a comfort to those suffering because they hold on to the truth (Revelation 2-3).

We’ve also just had Romans 1:18- Romans 3 at Sunday sermons for the last month. God’s judgement on the world isn’t the temperamental whim of a capricious deity, but the completely just sentence of a righteous judge who must, because he is just, punish those who commit the ultimate evil – refusing to worship God as God, and in fact, suppressing the truth about him.

Menu, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, SingaporeIn Revelation, we’re taken first through 6 seals – “normal” disasters of war and civil unrest, famine, breakdown of civilisation, then more cosmic destruction (Revelation 6), before the 7th seal opens into 6 trumpets – the escalation of terrible judgement on the earth (Revelation 8:2-9:21), until the 7th trumpet heralds the 7 bowls of final judgement (Revelation 11:15-18, Revelation 15-18) when Satan and all who side with him are utterly cast into an eternity of absolute horror.

Through all this, people are given time to repent and acknowledge God as God. But instead they curse him.

The interludes (Revelation 7, Revelation 10 – 11:14, Revelation 14) assure us though that those who keep holding on to the truth that God is God during the last days will not be subject to God’s judgement in this way (but they will certainly suffer persecution and hardship from, and be killed by, those who disdain God). They endure and conquer not by their own strength, as if there were something great about them, but by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of Jesus.

To them, an entirely peaceful and intimate relationship with God awaits for eternity (Revelation 21 – 22:5). People sometimes pooh-pooh this as harps on clouds forever, but this shows a lack of imagination. They forget that not only is this when everything will at last be right in the world and in our very beings, this is also a wondrous future with the best person ever, who loves us far more than anyone could ever do.

Dinner at The Clifford Pier, Fullerton Bay Hotel.

The Clifford Pier, Fullerton Bay HotelWhen a couple of bankers book a table at The Clifford Pier at Fullerton Bay Hotel (well within sniffing distance of Lau Pat Sat) to give our American visitors a taste of the local cuisine, one must feel that we can be quite optimistic about the state of the economy after all.

The restaurant was named for the creature it once was – a crowded busy point of arrival and departure for seafarers and cargo from all over the world. Now whitewashed so that it would have been barely recognisable to a coolie, with the air-conditioning put in, and populated by couches so springy you kept sinking into them as you struggled to gain enough height to shovel a morsel into your mouth, it considers itself a “heritage chic destination”.

keropok appetisers. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierThe evening began with bowls containing three varieties of keropok, all slightly warm, properly shatter-able. A favourable wind was blowing, we thought.

uni cold noodles. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierNext up, the uni glass noodles (S$28). The uni wasn’t as much the star as the umami bomb of salted egg yolk, truffle (shavings helped along by some oil I suspect), salmon roe.

wagyu beef satay. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierThe next two dishes contained wagyu beef. Was wagyu really necessary, we wondered, thinking of the satay street outside Lau Pat Sat where the beef satay was skewered with chunks of fat to baste the meat while over the charcoal. But seeing that that ship had already sailed, the wagyu beef satay (S$28) considered on its own terms was reportedly tender and flavourful. There were just two skewers though, hardly enough for a growing man (sideways or otherwise).

wagyu beef rendang. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierThe meat in the wagyu beef rendang (S$29) would have been described with that hackneyed phrase “fork tender”, and was equally well-marinated and well-powered.

crab roll. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierThe crab bun, unfortunately, wasn’t anything to write to your landlubber girlfriend about.

rickshaw noodles and laksa, satay, kong bak bao, kueh pie ti. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford PierRickshaw noodles (topped with soft-boiled egg), laksa, satay, kong bak bao, kueh pie tee.

We were deep in conversation at this point so have nothing to report here, except the content of discussion.

Now, per Ephesians 3:17b-19, this is the trajectory of life the Christian should expect:

you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

And this is demonstrated in the way one acts towards the rest of Christ’s body and indeed towards Christ (by, inter alia, not coveting – which is idolatry); walking in a manner worthy of the calling with to which all Christians have been called (see Ephesians 4-5).

dessert: banana fritters and profiteroles. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford Pierdessert: banana fritters and profiteroles

Attendant to this end is God’s gift of the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to teach this knowledge, and the Spirit to strengthen such knowledge and obedience.

And so it became quickly apparent how the lack of proper bible teaching even in churches advertised as being concerned with Word ministry led to insular, legalistic lives keen to follow rules of godliness set out by the newest Christian book fad or in reaction to the most recent Christian outrage; rather than the steadiness of mature manhood.

(not quite) jazz singer. Saturday night dinner at The Clifford Pier

Fair wind and following seas, we might have said as we parted. But perhaps we would not have gone far wrong with this reminder:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)


Farewell Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Road, Singapore

A photo essay.

If your parents are as old school as mine, you would have grown up on ox-tail stew Wednesdays and have borscht (with a big dollop of sour cream of course) running through your veins.

You would have gone to Shashlik Restaurant (Level 6 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Road) properly dressed, wearing covered footwear, and have been on your best behaviour under the watchful eyes of stern Hainanese waiters who served both cabinet ministers and little children with impeccable manners, disdaining the garish fawning that now passes for “good service”.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

There was a sizeable queue waiting to have their last meal at this retro institution, with its somewhat tired decor.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

We didn’t really need the menu:
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After giving a waitress our order, we settled in for the long wait, smiling as the sole remaining old waiter made his rounds, as serious as ever:

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

To start, borscht soup with soft warm bread (on the side plate with a proper butter knife):
borscht soup, Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

complimentary bread roll. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or a tray of escargot:
escargot. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Then on to the main course: beef shashlik, optimally medium-rare, brought to the table in skewers, on a serving trolley, and set a-sizzle on hot plates:
beef shashlik. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or chicken a la kiev:
chicken a la kiev (imperial), Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

And to end, the famous baked alaska:
baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy, and cream, and served with vanilla ice-cream:
cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy and cream . Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a peach melba with vanilla ice-cream:
peach melba. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After paying for the meal, I tried to express how sad it was to bid farewell to another tangible reminder of childhood. But “goodbye” was all I could croak to the old cashier. By then, she had already turned to process the next bill.

Life, she seemed to say, goes on.
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

business card. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Nasi Ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village

nasi ambeng, Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Villagebonding; uniting

fellowship; friendship

redemption; adoption

Nasi ambeng, the celebratory dish of weddings and religious festivals; an occasion for sharing and bonding and talking about our week and the week ahead while shovelling in beef rendang, sambal sotong, sambal goreng, paru (cow lungs), begedil, ikan sambal bali, urap kencur, telur belado, ikan kering, ayam kalio with loads of nasi (rice). And chendol – with proper gula melaka.

Comfort food.

Ambeng Cafe by Ummi Abdullah (facebook, 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village)

“Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About Having the Vote?”

Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang, 13 Circular Road, SingaporeLunch at Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang (13 Circular Road) and we were talking politics loudly enough that neighbouring tables, who were discussing swaps and bonds when we sat down, had started to listen in.

Somewhere along the line I mentioned that I’d been reading Humphrey Hawksley‘s Democracy Kills: what’s so good about having the vote?

Rather than a tightly-woven argument with stats, Hawksley had chosen a more emotive approach with stacks of personal narratives. As one might surmise from its title, the leitmotif of book, as we travel from Africa to the Middle East and the Islamic world, to South Asia, to Latin America, to South East Asia, to Europe, is skepticism about the benefits of democracy.

We read about West-imposed elections in Africa ending with catastrophic consequences when would-be dictators took advantage of the weakness of fledgling political institutions to sweep into power.

We are brought to the Middle East where the relevance of elections is questioned in a society where power is commonly shared according to birthright and candidates are manifestations of societal (tribal) faultlines. And we are shown how wrong Condoleezza Rice is in alleging that dictatorships caused terror, so democracy would end it. Violence erupted whenever a Western power came along to overthrow a dictator, leaving a vacuum of power for various factions to fight over.


tauhu telor, Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang, 13 Circular Road, SingaporeDemocracy is not the panacea that the West (mostly, America) touts it is. Hawksley repeatedly suggests that American involvement in various countries is a fig leaf – it is about protecting U.S. interests and installing leaders they think will be friendly to them, rather than the welfare of the locals. Hence, the inconsistency in their labelling the democratically-elected Hamas as terrorists. Hawksley then contrasts the poverty and instability of suddenly-manufactured democracies with the prosperity and stability of monarch-ruled Dubai or authoritarian Singapore.

The oft-quoted dictum of Winston Churchill (from his speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947):

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…

has just as often been forgotten. But, in any case, says Hawksley, it’s not enough just to observe this fact. More needs to be done:

  • educate the electorate: create a generation of people who can think calmly and critically, and reason well – something greatly hampered by sanctions on books
  • allow time for electoral candidates to make themselves known to the locals and not just be handpicked by eg. the Americans in Iraq, mentor them so they understand what the democratic system entails and know how not to be a bad loser
  • ensure proper planning for the future – it’s not just enough to plot to get rid of a dictator without a plan for how to run the country thereafter

a diet of yoghurt and muesli and political theory for breakfastWell, said AH, other than the absolute perfect rule of Christ over all (see, eg. Ephesians 1), perhaps the best form of government is the benevolent dictator. I suppose that’s just as feasible in this fallen world as a completely unselfish community-centred rational electorate.

Showing the Londoners Around Singapore in One Long Day

Two batches of Londoners descended in Singapore over the last month. It was so great to see them, but it made me incredibly homesick for Old Blighty.

Where to bring foreign visitors in Singapore? How to give them a sense of what Singapore is like outside of the constructed tourist attractions?

Singapore as Financial Hub

We started from the Central Business District – the shiny skyscrapers full of hardworking office bees that made Singapore a “financial hub”.

Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton
Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton

Singapore as Tourist Hub

Then a visit to the amazing loos in Fullerton Bay Hotel or Fullerton Hotel to freshen up (a highlight of their trip said two of them), before sipping matcha lattes (“we don’t get this in London”) at Starbucks, One Fullerton, and catching up (and charging phones).

Then on to the necessary cheesy photos with the Merlion and the ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay Sands:

Tour of Singapore: cheesy photo pitstop with ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Merlion

Singapore as Juxtaposition Between Old and New

After, a stroll contrasting the colonial buildings and new modernist ones, munching ice-cream sandwiches from the S$1.20 ice-cream uncle: the Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre, the Old Parliament House and current Parliament House, the Old Supreme Court and current UFO Supreme Court (a trip to the top allows a good view of the city – but no photography allowed in the building), a peek into the unopened National Gallery.

Singapore as Multi-Racial and Multi-Religious Society (and “Foodie Hub”)

Then a rest stop at St. Andrew’s Cathedral with the sun coming through its lovely stained glass, throwing colours all over the pews:

Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: stained glass colours, St. Andrew's Cathedral
Tour of Singapore: St. Andrew's CathedralThen to Maxwell Market for delicious chicken rice and other “hawker delights” like char kway teow and chai tow koey, and refreshing ABC (apple, beetroot, carrot) and carrot-orange juices, before popping over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple:

Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

We’d wanted to check out Lepark at Pearl Bank Centre as an example of how old buildings were being repurposed by young indie folk. Alas, they were closed that day:
Tour of Singapore: Pearl Bank Centre

Ah, some nasi padang washed down with bandung and teh tarik and milo dinosaur at Kampong Glam, off Arab Street

Tour of Singapore: teh tarik at the sarabat stall in Kampong Glam
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

before being kitted out with appropriate wear for the Sultan Mosque:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore
The visitors loved how friendly everyone in the temple and mosque was – how they didn’t have to worry about appropriate wear beforehand, and how willing to answer their endless questions. “Can we take photos here?” they’d nervously asked the docent at the mosque. “Only if you post on facebook!” came the cheeky answer.

A gander down self-consciously hipster Haji Lane, then we stopped off at Raffles Hotel for another freshening up (without a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar this time):
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

Before heading to Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands to watch the sun set and the lights about town come on:
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore

Tour of Singapore: view from Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands

Across the bay for some satay and tourist touting on the street next to Lau Pat Sat:
Tour of Singapore: satay stick trophies next to Lau Pat Sat

Thence to Little India (a little too late for the Hindu temples, sadly), for gawking in amazement at the flower garland makers, some (erm, North) Indian on banana leaves:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - box of mints
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - after-dinner mints

A spin around the amazing Mustafa which had almost everything anyone was looking for, then to Geylang for pek at the red-light district and a dessert of the king of fruits – durian! and its friend the jackfruit:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore - Geylang jackfruit