Dim Sum for Brunch at the Dragon Palace Restaurant

Dim sum, in case you’re not familiar with it, refers to a Cantonese type of food consisting of steamed and deep fried dishes prepared in small portions and served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is also well known for the unique way it is served in restaurants, where the ready-to-eat dishes are carted around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders while seated at their tables. V and I haven’t had dim sum since we moved to Perth in January, so imagine our delight and anticipation when we were told this particular Chinese restaurant in Northbridge served delicious dim sum, so good that customers queue and come back for more despite the lousy service! That, if nothing else, sounds like any authentic mid-budget Chinese restaurant in Singapore! We immediately made plans to go try the food, and went yesterday with my cousin’s family. It was the perfect arrangement. Enjoyable dim sum meal is all about variety, and V and I ourselves wouldn’t be able to order enough.

We heard the place gets really busy over the weekend, so we arrived there before 11 am for brunch/early lunch. We got seated immediately, but soon after the place really started filling up!

me and cous at Dragon Palace

V at Dragon Palace

dim sum at Dragon Palace

I regretted not taking more pictures of the food, but in my defense, I was too busy eating! Not all of the dishes were worthy of mention here, but I would say the chicken feet (so juicy and tasty), the prawn spring rolls (filled generously with big fresh prawns), and the char siew pau (a classic must-try) deserve another visit! A friend recommended the durian pastry, and we bought some to take home, but we weren’t that impressed. Oh, I also need to mention that the service was indeed poor. Half of the staff couldn’t speak proper English nor follow up on our orders! Having lived in Singapore for 10 years without speaking Chinese, that is something I’ve gotten used to. Is that a good or a bad thing, you reckon?

Ci Lenny and Dave at Dragon Palace

the bar at Dragon Palace

flowers at the entrance

me after lunch

At the end of the day, having dim sum always gives me the warm fuzzies. I associate it with quality family time, because we didn’t have dim sum often and when we did, it was always an intimate family occasion. I should remember to have it with my sisters when I’m back in Singapore!

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George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates

This article and photo appear on the New York Times, July 31, 2013.

It’s long past graduation season, but we recently learned that George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, and George was kind enough to send it our way and allow us to reprint it here. The speech touches on some of the moments in his life and larger themes (in his life and work) that George spoke about in the profile we ran back in January — the need for kindness and all the things working against our actually achieving it, the risk in focusing too much on “success,” the trouble with swimming in a river full of monkey feces.

George Saunders

The entire speech, graduation season or not, is well worth reading, and is included below.

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still.  It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well,everything.

One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can….

And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.

Flora in Perth

When it comes to friendship, I’m sincere and loyal to a fault, but I’m really bad at keeping in touch. That’s why the friends I keep are the kind who, after months or years of absence, can connect with me like no time had passed at all. Last week Flora was in Perth for work, and even though we hadn’t talked for half a year, she’s still the same sweet and kind girl I remember. It was her first trip to Perth, but she only had one weekend day to spend here before she had to fly to Brisbane, so V and I took her to Kings Park in the morning, Jamie’s Italian for lunch, Fremantle in the afternoon, San Churros for their signature churros and hot chocolate drinks, Cottesloe beach at sunset, South Perth to see the cityscape and lights from the other side of the river, and Victoria Park for dinner. The weather wasn’t in its best behavior that Saturday, but Flora had a good glimpse of what Perth had to offer, we had a great time, and caught each other up on what had been happening in our lives. The next time I see her will be when I’m back in Singapore at the end of August, but I’m sure it will not make a difference.

me and Flora at Kings Park

short walk at Kings Park

Flora

deciding what to order at Jamie's

in front of City Farmers

at Fremantle

at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour

exploring Fremantle

overlooking the beach

windy beach

Fremantle Round House

great spot for a wedding photo

at San Churros

On the Piano

When I was little, my mom enrolled me into a course at a local music school. I spent years of my life growing up playing the organ, but (stupidly) stopped sometime in high school because I hated having to spend my Saturdays taking lessons and practising. The whole experience instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for music though, and one night last week as I was listening to the incredibly talented Joe Hisaishi play the theme song of Spirited Away on the piano, I couldn’t help but felt a sense of longing. V took me to a music store over the weekend and just like that, I got myself a Yamaha P35 digital piano. My fingers are stiff and my sight-playing skill has deteriorated after years of unuse, but with a little bit of practice, I think I can find my zone again. Thanks for making me do it, Mom.

on the piano

Perth Zoo

Considering that Perth Zoo is located very close to the city, it’s baffling that V and I didn’t get to take the ferry and go there until recently, and that was only because V wanted to give the new Canon EOS 6D a workout. Despite enjoying our walk around the zoo, we learned that animals are quite tricky to photograph, as one cannot ask them to pose, and this being the middle of winter, they were lazier than usual to get out of their cozy hiding places. V managed to get some nice shots, nevertheless, and I realized that no matter how good the zoo is, I am not an animal person at heart and after 3 continuous hours of looking at these confined creatures in the cold, windy Perth day, I couldn’t wait to go home to our warm apartment.

zoo animals 1

zoo animals 2

zoo animals 3

zoo animals 4

my outfit for the zoo

waiting for the ferry

Petite Cupcakes bib dress / Big W red beanie / Sportsgirl coat / ASOS patterned tights / Ecco boots / Sembonia leather bag

Ci Lenny’s Birthday

Ci Lenny's birthday cake

prepping the birthday cake

blowing the candle

cutting the cake

As we get older, I think birthday celebrations tend to get simpler. Last week, my sister in law turned 32, and we celebrated it by having dinner together at their house and eating Corica’s blackforest cake for dessert. It was a really nice end of the day. My cousin moved to Perth almost 2 years ago, so one of the great things about coming here has been the chance to reconnect with his family. It’s taken us a while, but little Dave is not afraid of us anymore!

Jamie’s Italian

It’s been a few months after Jamie’s Italian opened in Perth, and V and I finally got to try their food. We’ve already been there a few times before, but after being told matter-of-factly by the reception of the prospect of waiting for 2 hours before getting seats in the restaurant, we just went “Pfftt… No food is that good.”

That Saturday morning, though, we arrived at the restaurant ten minutes before it opened. There was already a long queue (I thought only Singaporeans love to queue on the weekends!), but thankfully they opened at 11 sharp and the restaurant was big enough to accommodate about 100 guests, so the queue disappeared very quickly and yay, we found ourselves seated! Inside the restaurant! On a table with two chairs! With a view of the kitchen! They gave us menus and everything!

queue outside Jamie's Italian on a Saturday morning

There were also some tables outside, for those of us who like our food with the elements. I choose eating indoors over al fresco almost every time because I think food tastes better in a cozy, well-decorated, climate-controlled environment.

tables outside

setting the table outside

The restaurant has a casual, industrial setting. V pointed out that it was a bit noisy in a good way. People seem to be chatting merrily and enjoying themselves.

inside the restaurant

assorted bread, amazingly good

We were given assorted breads while we waited for our foods. They were really good and I almost asked for seconds! Thankfully our foods then started arriving.

sardine bruschetta

We ordered sardine bruschetta for appetizers. This was a miss for us. They were very fishy.

the mains

We were very happy with our mains though. I ordered rabbit pasta, while V ordered the special dish of the day, the suckling pig! Both were delicious, but I made a mental note of ordering a half portion of the pasta next time because I got so full after a plate we didn’t have any space left for desserts. Which was a pity. The server advertised the chocolate brownies like they were slices of heaven. There will be a next time, I’m telling you.