Monday, October 23, 2006

Vote your fave photo!

Thinking of taking part in a photo competition organised by International Programs, and submitting one under the theme of 'Animals and Natural Landscapes'. Supposed to show what the rest of the world is like... Anyway, I've decided to submit one of my underwater shots, which usually just languish in my folders on my hard drive (the offer of prize money helps, hehe). Narrowed down to these few, so help me choose which one to send in!

1. Close-up of an embedded oyster in a Porites colony under the Dayang jetty

2. Fish hiding within Acropora colony. Lembeh night dive.

3. Lembeh nudibranch

4. Sipadan Hypselodoris?

5. Sipadan Chromodoris

6. And one laying eggs! Sipadan

7. Sipadan- a curious turtle

8. Lembeh- Anemone shrimp

9. Sipadan

10. Sipadan's full of fish

11. Sipadan- a white-tip shark comes from the deep

12. Sipadan- Lionfish in full glory

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Whale sharks in Singapore?

Read on Wild Singapore that the two front contenders for the Sentosa Integrated Resort (thereafter known as the IR, in the fondly cherished S'porean tradition of making acronyms out of everything...) have unleashed plans for mega aquaria in the IR, complete with living breathing whale sharks!

Now I like whale sharks as much as any other person, and I admit that I visited the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium to see the whale sharks there, but I have two thoughts about this:

1. Why another mega aquarium on Sentosa? Isn't the SENTOSA Underwater World already there?? Would there be enough critical mass to support TWO aquarium facilities on one puny 1/3-manmade island? Isn't there a real reef outside?

2. Okay, it seems my thoughts are splintering into many mini-thoughts, but still, to get back to the topic- Why whale sharks? I know the Okinawa facility seems to finally have success in keeping them alive and well, but it probably wasn't easy to get there, and they've had failures (i.e. deaths, sickness, injuries) along the way. No matter how big the tank was (and it was plenty huge), I felt a little sad for the 3 whale sharks (plus all the manta rays, eagle rays, sharks, etc) swimming in circles around the tank, with no destination to go to. These animals migrate huge distances over the course of their lives, how can you ever build a tank that's big enough?

I know this brings back 'the role of zoos' question- preservation of the animals in the wild vs the conservation value of educating the public through close contact with said animals. However, is this the only way? And most importantly, is this the best way of doing things?

If you wanna speak up to someone other than the newspapers about this issue, here are the contacts:

Genting International
Corrinne Ling
Tel: + 60 3 2333 6073

Weber Shandwick
Ivan Tan
Tel: +65 6825 8027
Mobile: +65 9635 9765

Kerzner International (Singapore)
Hill & Knowlton (SEA) Pte Ltd
Amy Kong DID: (65) 6390 3376 HP: (65) 9452 7626

Julie Ong DID: (65) 6823 3541 HP: (65) 9734 0122

Government Feedback Channel
REACH website (YES! This is an ACRONYM!!! I've gotta find it what it means though!)

Aikido demo at Cape Fear Community College

I was invited to participate in the aikido demonstration during the Cape Fear CC Health Fair, which also featured exhibitors from various NGOs in Wilmington. We were right in between the Police and Fire Dept desks in the cafeteria, so we had a sizeable lunchtime crowd.

Having fun before the demo starts

We had short sessions every hour from 10am-2pm. It was a pretty free and easy demo, there wasn't much space, so we took turns in pairs to show a few techniques each.

Deborah Sensei

Keith Sensei

During lunch, we offered members of the public to try out a few simple self-defense techniques, such as nikkyo, or breaking free from a wrist hold.

That's Matt letting someone from the floor practise nikkyo. He's usually the uke of choice 'cos he's pretty pliable!

And finally, a video on tanto (dagger) defense techniques by Keith Sensei:

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Banana bread & vegetable stew

Oh wow! Harris Teeter had overripe bananas on sale again, perfect for making banana bread with! I actually got the recipe off the side of the banana bag, and it's not too bad.

At least it turned out much better than my first attempt, which resulted in a loaf with an undercooked centre. This one may have a cracked top but it's cooked all the way through!

Pops right out of the pan!

Lots and lots of walnuts- a must have!

So cream 1/2 cup of butter with 3/4 cup sugar, beat in 2 eggs, and fold in 2 cups of flour (I used all purpose), 1 tsp baking soda, and pinch of salt. Mash 3 large bananas (riper the better), and fold into mixture with 1 tsp vanilla essence and 1/2 cup walnuts. Pour into greased loaf tin, bake in a preheated oven at 350 degF for about one hour. Cool in pan for 10min before taking out the bread. Keeps well if you freeze it!

For dinner, I made a simple vegetable stew, with potatoes, carrots, chickpeas, onions, whole cremini mushrooms, cauliflower and canned stewed tomatoes. Added a bit of flour and sour cream to thicken the chicken stock, and sprinkled shredded cheese over the piping hot stew before serving with bread and romaine lettuce. For an ugly looking dish, it was pretty tasty!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Campus tour part II

One of the entrances to UNCW

The pond right in the centre of campus. It's pretty, but I think it breeds mosquitoes!

That's my department- Dobo Hall! Where my mailbox is, and where I teach lab sessions.

The road towards Dobo Hall

Pretty roses outside Dobo Hall

I got a free bike on loan from the campus Christian group, through the Office of International Programs. Cool scheme huh? So I can use it as long as I remain a student of UNCW. Well, since it's a free bike, I can't be choosy, and it is quite a retro style- single gear, and the thing I need to get used to the most- NO HAND BRAKES! The first time I rode off, I was clutching the handles while going downslope and wondering....HOW THE #%$%@ AM I SUPPOSED TO STOP???! Finally figured out that I need to pedal backwards to get it to brake.... Definitely no long distance bike trips for me, but it's good enough to go to school with!

Free Ice-cream! And Fireworks!

The campus entertainment group organised a free ice-cream social and fireworks display at the UNCW gazebo field today! Got there just before the sun was setting, and sure enough, there was an ice-cream table all set up for business already.

My ice-cream bowl! Strawberry and vanilla, with sugar-free chocolate sauce
(you wonder what is the point of that right?)

I soon found out that fall is perhaps not the best time of the year for a big bowl of ice-cream outdoors, in the evenings, in an open area with no wind barriers... It was COLD! The kind of cold that made me wish I had the Ohm fleece pullover on hand, hehe. This was my ice-cream bowl 20min later...

See? It didn't even melt!

Luckily, the organisers also provided hot chocolate with marshmallows, so I could at least warm my frigid hands. This will be the last time I venture outdoors at night in sandals and berms! Thankfully, before I froze up completely, the fireworks came on:

After the display, biked over to Kenan Auditorium to attend a concert by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, featuring Luciana Souza as a vocalist. No, it wasn't free also, but only US$6 for students, which is a pretty good deal! They played one of my fave musical genres tonight, Latin guitar; so bossa nova, and folk songs, gypsy tunes... and Luciana Souza has such a beautiful voice, like warm butter poured on honey. Thoroughly enjoyable. It was a good night.

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's bakin' in here!

Hey, I almost forgot all the great things you can do with an oven, aside from inefficiently toasting bread. First up, is a Spanish tortilla, kinda like a baked potato omelette. The great thing about it, is that you can customise it by adding whatever vegetables are in season!

First, pan fry the sliced potatoes and onions with garlic till browned and fragrant. Set that aside and then pre-heat the oven to 300 deg F. In another bowl, beat eggs, season with salt and pepper (I added crushed red pepper for more kick, you can use fresh sliced chili too), and mix in peas, peppers and whatever else you like. Place the potato and onion mixture in a well-greased baking dish. Make sure it's really greased up! I spent 3 days scrubbing my dish out afterwards! I layered sliced mushrooms on top before pouring the egg mixture over. Bake for 40min, sprinkle shredded cheese on top, and bake for 5min or until cheese melts. Serve warm with a tangy salad on the side!

And dessert! Walmart was selling a bag of apples of US$2, which is half the price ordinarily. I didn't expect myself to eat a whole bag before it starts rotting, so I made an apple crumble for sweet cravings at night! In fact, I baked it at 11pm!

This is one of my fave baked apple desserts 'cos it's so simple! Rub some butter into flour, mix with brown sugar and cinnamon, press the mixture into a dish of cubed apples and bake. It's incredibly good when served hot with vanilla ice-cream. Works better with tart apples (I used Golden Delicious), the red ones are too sweet. Any other apple ideas?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Aikido! Aikido! Aikido!

I never knew just how much I've missed aikido till my first class in 2 months this week. Visited two dojos in Wilmington, since I don't have labs to teach, and no classes on Monday and Tuesday (it's Fall break!). Skip Russ sensei at the first dojo, Shinbu-Kai Aikido, said I had this big grin on my face the whole time I was training, which I didn't even realise. How embarassing.... Went on Monday and Tuesday, and even had a short session of Iaido after class on Tuesday! I gotta bring my bokken from home now.... The class is pretty small, and so I got lots of one-on-one, and one-on-two training, was so stiff when I woke up the next morning, but aching in a good way! I was even happy to have the usual familiar swellings and bruises on my forearms- long time no see, haha! (I usually get them from nages who use their forearm to block my shomen or yokomen-uchi).

Tonight, I biked over to the Aikido of the Garden Spring Wind dojo, instructed by Keith and Deborah McDuffie senseis, which is just up the street from my apartment! Russ sensei asked me to check it out since it was much nearer to UNCW. Arrrggghhhh....I lived here for more than 2 months and I didn't even know it was there...Grrrr... We had lesson from 8.15-11pm! Very enthusiastic bunch, and I helped to uke some of the folks who are grading in a couple of weeks. Both styles are pretty similar to what I've been practising in Singapore (no surprise, they both had the same sensei and branched off after he passed on), very flowy, not too sharp and angular, emphasis on centre, breathing and unity with your partner. So I didn't have too much of a culture shock. Just...most of the terms are different! I kinda just looked at what each pair was doing to catch on.

I enjoyed training at both places, and if I had the moolah, would probably join both dojos, ha! Well, since I had to choose one, decided to go with the nearer dojo, would save a lot on petrol (Shinbu-Kai is a 20min drive away), and Russ sensei said if I ever wanted to drop in, I could do so anytime, which is really nice! Also at GSW dojo, if you pay two months, can train for 3 months, which is really really good news for me. The regular aikido classes are Mon and Thu 8.15-10pm, with Iaido on Wed and Sat. But they usually do some aikido after Iaido, so I could always pop in then as well.

So GREAT! I've finally found a dojo!! Hurrah!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New shoes!

Got an international students' dinner to attend this month, hosted by the UNCW Chancellor, so thought I'll pop by Independence Mall to get a pair of shoes during the Columbus Day sales. How? How? Are they nice? Got them for US$10.69!

It's all thanks to Jani's blog that I kept seeing BOOTS, BOOTS and BOOTS everywhere!! Argh... They're really impractical in S'pore due to the hot and humid weather, but just perfect for cold seasons like the coming fall and winter!! I was super tempted to get this pair of really cute mid-calf beige Airwalk boots with faux fur cuffs for US$30! They were so snug and comfy!! And did I mention cute?? Siiiggghhh..... But I guess strappy heels do go with more items of clothing than a pair of boots... Sobs...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Riverfest 2006

Found out today that I'm really, truly, absolutely, HORRIBLE at parallel parking!! After 10min of futile reversing, moving forward, and sweating buckets, I got the car straight but sticking one foot out onto the road on the left... I finally gave up and went to look for a parallel slot that was either the first or last in the row so I could just ease in.

Why am I subjecting myself to this? Well, today was the Riverfest at downtown Wilmington, and since the fireworks were at 9pm, I couldn't take the public bus, as the last bus home leaves at 8.30pm. The parking decks are free before 9pm, but charge a flat rate of $5 after that. The roadside lots are free after 6.30pm, but...they were all parallel slots, plus today is Saturday!! Arrrggghhhh...why do I put myself through such stress?

Anyway, there were lots of stalls out and about today, and no American fair is complete without an American snack stand right?

There were quite a few performances too, including this gospel stage, which featured various church groups from around the county. Pretty energetic performances! The evening's group had hip-hop style gospel music and even acrobatics.

Saw a lot of people eating that, so got myself a plate of funnel cake with icing sugar ($4). It's basically fried dough dusted with lots of sugar!!

Looks pretty innocent but it is damn filling.... I suppose the serving size was meant to be shared...was so full after eating it I couldn't stomach dinner. Damn. Should have gone for the fried shrimp basket with fries. :)

There was also a beer garden under a carpark, and a pretty good live band too. Watched more performances, and flotilla of boats dressed up as pirate ships, complete with pirates, gunshots and cannon sounds (!), before the fireworks finally came on. Enjoy!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mushroom alfredo

Decided to make a simple meal today, 'cos I got a great offer on a multi-grain loaf at Walmart, and it's been so long since I've had good bread. Found a loaf that was near it's sell-by date, sliced it up, and it's sitting in the freezer now.

I wanted something creamy to dip the bread in, and I don't have a blender to make creamy soups with, so I went for a alfredo dip instead.

So Jani, here's the recipe :)

Stir-fry minced garlic, sliced onions and mushrooms, adding a bit of water to soften. Add alfredo sauce, lots of black pepper and dried parsley flakes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir till well mixed. Serve with lots of crusty bread and lettuce!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Phelgm central...

Apparently, due to the change in weather between summer and fall, the residents of dear Wilmington are stricken by a spate of coughs, colds and sinus infections.... including me....

It started with a niggling sore throat on Saturday, had an uncomfortable night's sleep, woke up on Sunday morning and BAM! I had the full works- stuffed sinuses, runny nose, chest congestion so bad I could hardly breathe, and a cough like a smoker with emphysema. Several hot cups of Chinese tea, honey water, fruits and a bowl of chicken soup later, things appear to be on the mend, thankfully. I had to miss the Graduate Students' Association's social event downtown on Sunday evening, and they had free appetizers! Waaaahhhh.....

I just hope things clear before my Population Ecology exam tomorrow...

America- Home of the drive-thru

Only had a cheque to deposit today so I decided to try out my bank's drive-thru teller! Yeah! You read that right! I started having an inkling of just how entrenched cars are in US culture when I realised my bank's only ATM was a drive-up ATM machine! I had to queue in between 2 cars to use it the first time round. And they have 4 drive-thru lanes for customers to carry out banking without leaving the comfort of their cars!

So all I did was- wind down the car window, stop at the teller's window (of course, I remembered to put the car in parking mode, haha), put my cheque and deposit slip in the metal box extending out of the bank window, receive my receipt, engage drive mode and drive off home! It felt rather surreal, like I was ordering at Mac's or something, but I was out and back at home in 20min! Will definitely be using again...