August in China: The Leshan Buddha

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

And now to the main attraction! The Leshan Buddha is probably the biggest in the world (particularly since the Taleban blasted the Bamyan Buddhas to smithereens in 2001), built to quiet the turbulent waters at the foot of Lingyun Shan. The descent from the head to the foot of the Buddha is rather vertiginous, have a look at the winding staircase all the way down.

CIMG2873

Upclose, the Buddha is huge and almost impossible to capture in one frame of my point and shoot compact camera.

CIMG2874

Shot from below, the true majesty and sheer largeness is something to behold.

CIMG2870

Just for a sense of proportion, here’s a quick shot of the many ants posing under his toe.

CIMG2868

August in China: Buddhas Everywhere Part Deux

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Before I let you readers get to the main attraction of the Leshan Buddha himself, I must let you have a look at the other curiosities in the main complex. There were some side temples with great columns of smoke rising from incense sticks.

CIMG2879

In front were large old fashioned cauldrons filled with rather impressive flames for devotees to light their incense sticks.

CIMG2895

And I spied in a quiet corner this intricately carved dragon-shaped hammer used to sound a gong to call monks to prayer.

CIMG2883

In yet another one of the many side halls of the complex, I found a hall of bodhisattvas and luohan (fellas about to achieve enlightenment).

CIMG2887

There were a gazillion of them set out in four perpendicular arms of the hall. Each one was different and some of them had very amusing expressions and stances.

CIMG2886

This fella I christened the not-me-he-did-it Luohan.

CIMG2889

He’s of course the I’m-always-the-unlucky-fall-guy Luohan.

CIMG2888

Goes without saying, this is the I-pick-up-girls-oh-helloooo-there Luohan.

CIMG2885

Last, not least the ugh-I’ve-seen-so-many-luohans-I’ve-got-a-splitting-headache Luohan.

CIMG2890

Humour me, it was a long day!

August in China: Buddhas Everywhere Part Un

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One popular day trip out of Chengdu led me out to Leshan to ogle the Big Buddha. I was dismayed when told at the main entrance that only taopiao (literally: set tickets) were sold there, meaning that the only way to gain entry to see the Leshan Buddha was to also buy the set of tickets that led to some Buddha complex with the most Buddha statues in the county or some sort. It was only at the end of the day when I left by a side entrance that I realised that tickets only to Leshan were sold at a minor side gate. Yet another buyer beware warning.

I figured that I’d gone this far so I might as well pay the extra and wander through the amusement park anyway. There was a huge sleeping Buddha likeness carved into a hill face…

CIMG2845

… a series of sitting Buddhas carved into a hill face…

CIMG2846

… and lots of little Buddhas carved into niches behind a hill face!

CIMG2852

I quite enjoyed this bodhisattva with the infinite arms, it was just too bad the bare bulb lighting was so unflattering.

CIMG2866

However, I wasn’t too impressed with the deliberately neglected and moss-ridden figures outside.

CIMG2856

This one of the Laughing Buddha wasn’t too grotesque, just that it was too bad his belly was too far up to rub for good luck.

CIMG2858

After a rather ho-hum whiz past the rest of the statues came a very steep flight of stairs…

CIMG2859

… that rather surprisingly came with its own Health & Safety warning! The sign basically advises all those with acrophobia, high blood pressure, heart problems, the old, young and weak to take the other gentler route for the sake of life and safety. Rather impressive for China, I felt.

CIMG2860

The steep set of stairs of course led up to the entrance to Leshan, but enroute I stopped several times to admire the lovers’ locks lining the railing. It’s typical of Chinese custom for lovers to place a lock on the railing and throw away the key to symbolise their everlasting love. Judging from the numerous locks there, Chinese people can be very sentimental.

CIMG2863

Easy Apple Cake

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I was tired of bringing my usual cupcakes to a gathering, so I flipped through my cookbooks and came up with this variation on a Danish apple cake. I have no idea why it’s Danish, but after I’m through with the modifications, this is pretty much my special creation. It’s very moist and reheats very well in an oven toaster.

dscf4258

Serve it as is or with some cream poured over. Yummy.

dscf4261

Ingredients:
100 g butter
100 g sugar
125 g ground almonds
3 drops almond extract
2 eggs
100 g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
125 ml milk
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp crushed meringue, or sugar

Method:

  1. Grease and line a 20 cm spring-form tin and preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the ground almond and almond extract, followed by the eggs.
  3. Fold in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate and ground spice, then gently fold in the milk. You should get a smooth, thick paste.
  4. Pour into the tin and scatter the apple slices on top. Press the apple slices gently into the cake mixture.
  5. Dust with the meringue powder or sugar and bake for 45 minutes until the apple slices are slightly brown at the edges and the cake is just about firm.
  6. Serve warm.

    Makes 8-10 slices.

    Self-Saucing Pineapple and Passionfruit Crumble

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    I had this for a very decadent breakfast and I need to tell you how gorgeous it is. I love crumble, I like passionfruit and I adore custard. The problem with crumble and custard is that the custard is an extra fiddly step and is also incredibly fattening. For the record, I am a crumble Nazi and it’s against the law to eat crumble with ice cream. Unless it’s an incredibly hot day and you’re in Singapore. Sigh.

    Nigella gave me some inspiration with her self-saucing gooseberry crumble recipe. I had passionfruit and pineapple, and everything just clicked into place. The gula melaka was a logical sweetener to keep to the tropical theme.

    Why crumble for breakfast? Mum used to make apricot crumble for breakfast on weekends when we lived in Germany. It is such a comforting childhood memory. Also, a friend of mine claimed that passionfruit taken at night makes for a poor night’s sleep, so I make sure I only take passionfruit in the morning. It’s a silly superstitution I know, but humour me here.

    dscf4247

    Ingredients:
    120 g butter, frozen
    200 g plain flour, frozen
    3 tbsp sugar

    1 passionfruit
    ¼ small pineapple, chunked
    2 tsp gula melaka
    1 egg yolk
    4 tbsp cream

    dscf4254

    Method:

    1. Remove the butter and flour from the freezer. Cut the butter into slices, then bits and using your fingers, rub it into the flour. You should get lumps of various sizes.
    2. Stir in the sugar and set aside. It’s worthwhile to make a larger batch of crumble topping to freeze for later. Then you can have crumble on demand.
    3. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
    4. Stir the gula melaka into the passionfruit pulp and pineapple chunks until dissolved, then place into a shallow ovenproof bowl.
    5. Beat the egg yolk and cream together till combined, then stir into fruit mixture.
    6. Spoon the crumble over the mixture. Make sure it’s a very generous layer.
    7. Put in the oven for 25 minutes. Make sure you have something inside to catch the spills, it’s likely to bubble over.
    8. When it’s browned on top and bubbling below, take out carefully and allow to cool for 10 minutes before almost burning your mouth trying to get at the tart, sweet, fragrant, gorgeous goodness.

    Serves 2-3, depending on how much you want to share.

    MOF@Suntec

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    I went to Suntec to meet up with some friends for lunch. Shinta suggested MOF, so Japanese it was.

    I was quite disappointed that a lot of items on the menu were unavailable. Just my luck, but the most delicious stuff were the ones they didn’t have. Shelving my plans for negitoro, I had Maguro Sashimi Juu ($10.80) instead. Look at how pretty the serving is. Too bad the taste didn’t match its looks. I’m used to fresher stuff from Sun and Isetan supermarket, so this one was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t stale, but the tuna tasted a bit flat and the salmon roe was slightly flabby. The little balls of delicious fish oil should be bursty and firm. It was a pity, this dish could have been so much better.

    dscf4241

    I liked the dessert there. We ordered a Mango Mixed Imo ($6.80) and changed the soft-serve ice cream to green tea red bean ice cream for an extra $1.50. The ice cream was excellent, it was silky and smooth with just enough green tea kick and bits of red bean to chew on. The deep-fried sweet potato and yam were both good, a bit like a more sophisticated (and more expensive!) goreng pisang. The batter was nice and crisp and the tubers were softly grainy, a good combination with the ice cream. I think the two measly strips of mango didn’t go very well with the rest of the dessert though.

    dscf4246

    MOF My Izakaya
    3 Temasek Boulevard
    #B1-40 Suntec City Mall
    Tel: 6338 5523

    Greenwood Oysters Galore

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    Hypodermically wanted to eat cheap oysters so we went. By the time the gang assembled at Greenwood Fish Market, they’d been cleaned out of their $1 oysters. No biggie because they offered us the ginormous Baron Point ones at $3 each. Thus our group of seven cleaned out their $3 oysters too.

    They came piled high on the plates. Since we’re all on Facebook, we had a field day alternately taking pictures and cam-whoring. Pride of place of course were the two massive platters of massive oysters.

    DSCF4436

    DSCF4447

    Just so you can get a handle on how big these suckers were, here’s a picture. J-thing said they were as big as a yeti’s paw. (Like he’s seen one before.)

    DSCF4452

    Of my three oysters, one was absolutely sublime. It had a clean seafood flavour with the characteristic metallic oyster tang. It slid down my throat like a dream and my only regret was that I was on a budget and I couldn’t have a glass of muscadet to go with it. Nonetheless, there were a few priceless seconds where only discreet slurping was heard at our normally too-loud table. Of course it all ended when we reduced the oysters to this.

    DSCF4455

    Now for the bit on the downsides.

    1. Service was abysmally slow. We were a loud boisterous group and it took ages before we managed to catch someone’s attention to make our order. Even though we kept flagging down the servers, they weren’t allowed to take orders and were too harried/distracted to get a manager over to take our orders. It had to get down to this: J-thing called the restaurant on his mobile phone to get someone to come over!
    2. Two of my oysters were a bit… ripe. So was one of Cheshirefeline’s. He paused dramatically mid-oyster and very drily said “Uuuhhhh… I think I just had what my oyster last ate before it died…” I had the runs the next day. Yup, you got it right. The one who indiscriminately eats Southeast Asian street food had the runs from eating $3 oysters at Greenwood. Perhaps I didn’t have any alcohol to kill the oyster cooties, but this really shouldn’t happen.
    3. Nowhere on the menu did it say that everyone at the table had to order a main dish to enjoy the $3 oysters. Some of us health freaks only wanted (expensive, mind you) salad and others wanted to share. It’s fair enough if the restaurant was upfront about it, but we only knew when we tried to order. Luckily we were a bunch of yaw gwees and the restaurant |”closed one eye” to let us order one less main. Uh, yeah, fine. Whatever.

    Anyhow, Tristella and I shared the fish and chips. It was decent, but not particularly memorable. Good chips, OK fish and too sweet salad dressing. Meh.

    DSCF4466

    Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro
    34 Greenwood Ave Singapore 289236
    Tel: 6467 4950

    August in China: The Oddest Signs

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    It must just be my slightly twisted sense of humour but Chengdu turned up all these great signs with improbable messages.

    Mr Bunglez and I booked a panda tour at a hostel. It must have been the fatigue but I was so tickled that this sign wasn’t labelled “Laundry Self-Service” instead.

    CIMG2819

    I also thought it was fantastic that dirty buses weren’t allowed out of the station. How cool is that?

    CIMG2840

    The sign above the driver literally translates as “please do not talk idly with the driver.” Poor fella, no small talk.

    CIMG2911

    August in China: Food in Chengdu

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    The first pit stop for food was at Mr Bunglez favourite noodle place opposite his building. It has a rather impressive steamer at the front of the shop selling bao and other steamed goodies to supplement the noodles.

    CIMG2836

    The star of this little place surely had to be the noodles. There were three types: the regular thin lamian type, the flat type like meepok or fettucine, and the large flat sheets like ravioli sheets or mee hoon kway. They were served according to weight, so you could order one, two or three jin of the good stuff. For us two Singaporeans embracing the low-carb craze, we opted for one jin servings. I worked my way through the various flavours and on several occasions out-ate Mr Bunglez by ordering seconds. I did, however, concur with him that the best variation was the lajiang mian (hot sauce noodle) with minced pork and the best chilli sauce ever. It was complexly savoury, with slow burn chilli and the almost menthol kick of huajiao (Szechuan peppercorns). This stuff was so addictive I ate a portion practically every day there.

    CIMG2838

    Not all Sichuan food is spicy, case in point being the tomato-egg noodles at this famous joint further away from the town centre. Here, it’s a simple affair of noodles in a tomato broth topped with a fried egg. There’s something about the combination of sweet-savoury tomato and oily fried egg that really hits the spot after a night of clubbing.

    CIMG2833

    Of course there’s also the street food. Here’s me with a stick of barbecued tofu coated with chilli powder and msg. It probably pickled half my insides and made me lose a handful of hair with the amount of sodium on it, but what’s street food if not satisfying and unhealthy?

    CIMG2807

    And of course Mr Bunglez took me to an upmarket place for authentic Sichuan food. Oh my, mapo tofu and shuizhu yu are such revelations done the right way! Authentic mapo tofu is done without minced meat and has liberal lashings of chilli powder and huajiao. I don’t know how they do it, but the depth of flavour and contrast with the soft smooth tofu was simply awesome.

    Shuizhu yu (literally: water-cooked fish) is a complete misnomer. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous-sounding name. Fish slices come in a vat of boiling chilli oil. It’s so covered with dried chillis and huajiao that it’s hard to spot the fish under it all. Again, the combination of chilli oil and numbing huajiao practically anaesthesized my tongue, but you know what they say about painkillers and addiction!

    CIMG2914

    Finally, there’s the mala huoguo (spicy numbing hot pot) which most people would translate as steamboat. I grew up eating steamboat Cantonese style in which the thinly sliced morsels were cooked in light broth made with chicken and pork bones. Here in Chengdu, mala huoguo is more a pot of chilli oil with a small ladleful of broth in it rather than broth with a bit of oil on it. This way, the raw morsels are pretty much boiled in chilli oil. After boiling each slice of meat in the numbing hot chilli oil (of course there are huajiao inside, this is Sichuan food!), I dipped it into my bowl of xiangyou (fragrant oil), a concoction of sesame oil, chopped coriander and a good dose of rich black vinegar. Of course, the wimpier you are the more vinegar you add. At first the morsels aren’t spicy at all, since the xiangyou washes off most of the spice. As I ate, I found the food getting spicier and spicier. The xiangyou was obviously soaking up the chilli and huajiao. Shortly, I felt the familiar addictive anaesthesized sensation on my tongue. Then I started sweating and soon after, I was gasping and pleading for peanut milk to soothe the spice. Needless to say, it was a fantastic meal. Sorry no pictures this time. I was too distracted to take pictures of the food!

    August in China: Doing the Conventional Tourist Thing in Chengdu

    Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

    At Chongqing train station, I jumped straight into the local experience with a rather harrowing argument in shrill foreign-accented Mandarin with queue-jumping locals. Dismayed to find the ticket hall packed to the brim at 7am, I grimly joined a queue and hoped I’d catch either the 7.30 or 8 am train. Following the queue into the bowels of the hall, I soon missed the 7.30 and got increasingly anxious. Luckily I was nearing the ticket booth but unluckily, there were way too many people hanging around either asking to cut the queue or outright butting in. When someone approached me to jump queue, I finally lost my temper and yelled that everyone here queues from the end of the queue and that no one has the right to jump queue. If he wanted to cut queue he’d have to ask the person behind me. The stress got to me and somehow my Mandarin got more fluent than normal when I lost it. I shouted that their drive for a civil society in time for the Olympics wasn’t working. The rumbling in the crowd suddenly turned into a hush and as if by magic, the path opened up for me and all the queue jumpers let me through to buy tickets. By then it was 7.45 am and the ticket seller asked if I was sure I could make it. I nodded gratefully, grabbed the tickets and ran out the ticket hall to catch my train, thankful that Chongqing people were nice enough not to lynch this crazy foreign shrew.

    In Chengdu, the inimitable Mr Bunglez met me at the train station. It was great to see a familiar face after all that winging it on my own. To my Chongqing train station story, he said that he was surprised I arrived alive. After dumping my stuff at his pad he whisked me off to do the touristy thing. I was surprised to find it a nice change to let someone else decide what to do and where to go even though it was to the overexposed places.

    First stop was Jingli, an “ancient” street, where Mr Bunglez whinged about all the bloody tourists who insisted on taking a picture with them  hanging on to the door knockers at the main doors. He cringed when not only did I insist on taking the cheesy picture, I also did it with what I thought was the jaunty foot kick. OK sure, it is teh failz and looks really stupid but I guess that’s the point.

    CIMG2799

    Even though it’s heavily restored and reminds me of an old lady with far too much cakey makeup, Jingli has a certain charm to it. Mind you, Jingli was a rather elegant overly madeup old matriarch. I liked the delicate styling of the overly lacquered wooden facades.

    CIMG2800

    There were also the pretty stylings of the walls and doorways. All very atmospheric. We explored the little stalls selling things from chuanshao (barbecued meat on sticks) to handicrafts to cute souvenirs like tiny plush pandas with magnetic paws.

    CIMG2801

    After dinner, we went to Tianfu Square to check out the Mao statue. I’m ashamed to confess that I chickened out of Mr Bunglez dare to take a picture in the same Mao pose. I figured that I was fortunate enough not to get lynched at the train station already, there really wasn’t any point pushing my luck further.

    CIMG2825

    At night, there’s nothing better to do than to people watch at one of the many pubs in Chengdu. Mr Bunglez knew the staff at one of the coolest places in Jingli, which is how I got this amazing set of drinks for free. Check out the fantastic sparkler accessory! We were too busy oohing and aahing over it the first time we forgot to take pictures and cheekily asked the staff to get us another sparkler. Everyone in the bar must’ve thought it was my birthday!

    CIMG2917

    In every Chinese pub, the de rigueur game is dice. I can’t quite remember how the game went but I kept losing to Mr Bunglez obvious experience and finesse, which meant that I ended up losing my coordination so much that he banned me from making fancy dice shakes. We’d lost way too many dice to the dance floor this way.

    CIMG2919

    And finally after a long day of having fun, the best thing to do is to check into a 24-hour massage/leisure centre. We got there at 1 am and there were still plenty of people milling around in coordinated pyjamas. Some of them were playing ping-pong in them, while others in the same garb were played pool while chain smoking. It was all highly amusing. We ended the day with a great foot massage and watched Kungfu Panda on DVD at the same time. What a way to spend the day!

    CIMG2834