Sunday, December 30, 2012

A special appreciation for a special person in my life

It's the end of yet another year. In a couple of days, I will be marching into my 5th calendar year in Thailand. Lots have happened over this period, but 2012 has been an exceptionally eventful one, particularly with the birth of Noah changing my life forever.

At this moment, instead of compiling a flashback of the key events that took place in the past 12 months, I would like to use this post to pay a special tribute to the 1 single most important person in my life, my wife Li Li.

Thank you, for giving up everything in Singapore to relocate to Bangkok, even though there are many more uncertainties than certainties.

Thank you, for going through the torturous first trimester and subsequently the nervy delivery to give birth to our dear little son.

Thank you, for becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mum, making Noah your priority, showering him with ceaseless care 24-hours a day.

Thank you, for being the rock that supports me when I do battle outside. Regardless of how heavy I fall, I know I can stand up again because you are holding my hand.

Thank you, for bearing with my tactless comments and remarks. I often say the wrong things at the wrong time, but trust me, I will improve myself to become the best husband and father in the world.



Happy new year Li Li.

I can't promise you limousines and diamond rings, but as long as we continue to stand firm beside each other, every year will be better than the last.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Enjoying Chef Hervé Frerard's touch of French flair in Bangkok: Le Beaulieu Part 2

Update June 2016: Read my review of Cafe Parisien here!

Update October 2015: Le Beaulieu is permanently closed, but fret not, a new brainchild of Chef Herve has popped up as Cafe Parisien, at Glasshouse Sindhorn along Wireless Road. Stay tuned as I will visit soon and write my review here!

Chef Hervé Frerard and me

This is the 2nd time I am reviewing Le Beaulieu (read the first one here). It has not happened before and probably never will again on this space, but it has been a long time since a restaurant can provide (consistently) food so unforgettable that I would like to give it a second thumbs up.

Another reason why I feel it's worth (re)reviewing is because after an AGONIZING wait (well more than half a year I reckon), Le Beaulieu is finally re-open at a highly improved location (Plaza Athenee Tower), just a very short walk away from Ploen Chit BTS Station (cut through Athenee Hotel, the walk will be infinitely more pleasant). Its classy decoration, insane collection of fine wines and the addition of a new Patisserie plus an alfresco-style wine bar has finally given Chef Hervé the class and ambience his food deserves.

Furthermore, having been to Le Beaulieu 4 times in total (twice at the old venue and twice at the new one), thanks to a group of brilliant foodie friends from Hong Kong, this was the first time I had the opportunity to taste what Le Beaulieu had to offer during its more pricey (compared to lunch) dinners.

"Don't worry, I am cooking," were Chef Hervé's last words during his brief but affectionate greeting, and it gave us the final affirmation that it was time to relax and enjoy the night, as we can leave everything else to him and his team. We went for the 7-course set dinner he designed for us, and boy did he deliver.

A gift from the chef to start the dinner off, this was Li Li's starter, the rest of us got a beef tartare on bread, equally delicious.

Our Amuse-Bouche for the night, fresh oysters flown in from France and arrived just that morning. Fresh and tasty, but not as meaty/succulent as the kind bred locally in Thailand
Pressed Foie Gras & Fresh Apricot Jelly, an artery-blocking simply divine starter
Widely accepted as the most unforgettable dish of the night, Slow-Poached Atlantic Cod Fillet,
wild rocket bouillon; chanterelle cake. From my experience, Le Beaulieu's fish dishes have always been astounding, this one's no different.

Saddle of Pyrénées Lamb, Croustillant of Shoulder & his jus - Lamb was cooked to perfect precision, and Li Li completely finished her plate, when she was not a lamb (or pea)-eater. I am sure she is now,  at least at Le Beaulieu.

No one could decide on their dessert, so the restaurant manager Q solved our problem by preparing a tasting platter for us, my favourite is the slow-cooked nectarines on the bottom left of the collage, but every dessert tasted wonderful. Most of us have already identified our favourite desserts and will (hopefully) not have a similar dilemma next time.

All in all, the dinner experience was first-class, with the food absolutely brilliant. Chef Hervé  and Q also checked on us several times to ensure that everything was in order.

Of course, being newly open, blips were expected. The service staff were not perfect. They did not seem know the dishes very well and there were a couple of miscommunications, all of which were subsequently adequately taken care of by the excellent Q, who is fast becoming the heart and soul of the restaurant floor, something that was not present at the previous location.

For those interested in the 'damage' caused by this delicious meal, it was around 150USD/head, inclusive of taxes and some fine French wine. Costly, but not an unreasonable price to pay considering the quality of food served. For something more affordable, you could visit Le Beaulieu during lunch or order less courses from the a la carte menu.

Thank you Chef Hervé again, for the consistently satisfying dishes, Le Beaulieu, for giving us a touch of France in Bangkok, and last but not least my friends (old and new) from Hong Kong who came specially to enjoy the dinner with my family and myself. Till we meet again.

Merry Christmas everyone, have a blast!

stranger in bangkok


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stranger in Bangkok. The Prequel

In the light of the recent release of "The Hobbit", which is actually the prequel to the "Lord of the Rings" franchise (and is going to evolve into a major franchise on its own), it seems like prequels are the new "in" thing for movie-makers to reprise old themes into new moneymaking material (think "X-man", "Wolverine" and "Star Wars" but to name a few). How can I miss the prequel train? I had a life before I became the Stranger in Bangkok as well, so let's call this blogpost "Stranger in Bangkok. The Prequel".

Prequel eh? But please, don't wind the clock so far back, I can't remember what happened 30 yrs ago!

From 2004-2008, I was working for a company based in Singapore, doing international sales and marketing (and basically everything else) for their new product line, and as a result traveled to every country you can think of on the globe to set up a new distributor network. It was an absolutely brutal working environment, long hours, a management who never fail to become the cause of your nightmares, incessant travelling on a shoestring budget, barely-acceptable salary etc. It is probably one of the most demanding jobs a fresh graduate could ask for. However, thinking back, aside of the last few months when I suffered the customary deliberate mental torture by the management before finally leaving the company, I have nothing to complain about during those 4 years of hard work.

The tough times were really unforgettable, but not necessarily in an unpleasant way. The mental grilling by the management with no lack of the vulgar-est vulgarities (in assorted languages involving everyone's parents, no less), the setting up and tearing down of exhibition booths which involved products weighing hundreds of kilograms (while dressed in suits manning the booths during the exhibitions), the living in 2* establishments and asking clients to pick me up at the 5* hotels nearby, the sleepless jet-lagged nights overseas clearing emails after a full day of meetings, the frequent stays in the manufacturing facility making sure the customized orders were made properly etc. etc. etc....

But hey, there's always the glamorous side of things. Being 1 of the only 3 or 4 colleagues who hit the road consistently, I was one of the 'faces' of the company. The one who was at every exhibition, every international dealer meeting and every end-user seminar, in any country/province/town/village. I convinced professors our products were the best, I made an entire auditorium of Argentinians laugh and clap during my animated training seminar and even went to South Africa to close a branch office down when I knew almost nothing about running a company, not to say close one down.

In addition to that, though I mostly stayed in budget accommodation and spent 90% of my awake time abroad either on the road, at the airport or at my customer's office, I can say that I have left my footprints on more places that I would ever imagine to have been able to by the time I was 28.

Please be warned that there are many photos coming up that were taken when I was a skinny boy in a suit,  and now I am a fat Daddy running around in T-shirt and flip-flops. How times change (for the better)!

I almost froze to death in Chicago

I fell in love with Greece, leading to it becoming my honeymoon destination

I grilled my own Argentinian steak in Buenos Aires. I still cannot forget the aroma of slow-roasted Argentinian beef

I viewed the majestic Pyramids and the Sphynx 

I dined under an old French tree 

I strutted my stuff in India

I attended a wedding in Iran!!

I drank, and drank, and drank, and drank Soju in Korea and realised for the first time I look very Korean
Then got tricked to eat live octopus (see video below) which I did not swallow.



I visited an oil refinery in Mexico

I took a picture with the Disneyland castle in Munich

I was in New Orleans shortly after the Hurricane catastrophe

I partied in Peru

I touched baby lions in South Africa

I sang to trained hundreds of locals in Vietnam, and this is what I usually do when I travel

I went to many more places, but I shall not bore you with more poorly self-taken pictures during my lonely adventures, bar this final one which might have paved the way for the next chapter in my life: Becoming the Stranger in Bangkok.

I made yearly business trips to Thailand!

Everything happens for a reason, and God's plans can never be anticipated, neither can they be pushed away when they pan out in front of you.

If not for the torturous years in my ex-company, I would not mature from a raw fresh graduate into a confident, focused and street-wise young man in the space of 4 years. I could have earned a lot more money in another company, but experience cannot be bought.

If not for my annual trips to Thailand and enjoying every minute of it, I would not jump at the opportunity to work in Bangkok once it presented itself.

Here's my prequel, a special part of my life presented to you on this space, an unforgettable, immensely gratifying yet very challenging few years that has never before been mentioned in detail on this blog. Hope you now understand me more because of it.

If you are still wondering why I so bravely took up the challenge of relocating to Bangkok, you might have found a large part of the answer here.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pat Daddy's back a few more times ok?

Here's my belated response to Winston Tay(The Blogfather of Singapore)'s post on What are Fathers Good for? He has another very powerful post on the increasingly unfair social perception of us fathers these days, which is what I had wanted to blog about for a long while now, but can't find the right words or approach to tackle this sensitive issue. I guess he has made it easy for me to write a response to his article and not rack my brains to write one on my own, so thank you Mr Blogfather!

Take nothing away from mothers. I am more than willing to shy away from the spotlight and let them have all the credit. Just take a look at cute little Noah, it was Li Li who went through the 9 long months of pregnancy (which involved an unbelievably torturous first trimester and an equally draining C-section at the end), and till now, almost 10 months of 24-hour care to get him to where he is now. In terms of direct contribution to Noah's well-being, I guess I can't hold a candle, but at the end of the day, I feel that there are more and more daddies (like me, hopefully), who are overturning previous stereotypes and doing our best to contribute to the family.

The non-stereotype Dad?


Personally, I have had numerous conversations with people marveling at the good job my wife has done taking care of Noah without any relatives to support her in Bangkok, which naturally leaves me brimming with pride. However, too many of these correspondences have included lines like, "What do you know? You only go out to work and go back home in the evening to play with the child while your wife has done all the hard work." or "You need to help your wife more, she is busy and completely occupied the moment Noah wakes up."

Erh, hello, do you think I don't know or do you think I am a "stereotype Dad", who washes his hands off anything associated with my son and has never changed a diaper or done a household chore in my life? I cry with my son when he has constipation ok?

To be honest, there are more than a few things that I am not good at, and here are a some of them:

  1. I always forget to turn off the lights after I use the toilet, no matter how frequently I remind myself and others to do so.
  2. I don't do a good chinese stirfry of green leafy vegetables, neither can I ever master the technique of preventing fine vermicelli from sticking to the bottom of the pan when I char bee hoon.
  3. I fall asleep too early and wake up too late.
  4. I procrastinate too much. A promise of a clean toilet tomorrow would probably end up dirty for the next week.
  5. My shirts stay relatively crumpled even after I iron them.
  6. I can clean up the house, but some corners and hard-to-reach areas will surely be left out accidentally.
  7. I get irritated when the music is turned on but I can hardly hear it, and even more disturbed when a good song is interrupted halfway.
  8. I come back home from work completely mentally fatigued a wee bit too often.

Fortunately, I redeem myself with a few positive traits:
  1. Aside of clipping nails and (due to my obvious physical constraints) breastfeeding, I do everything associated with Noah Yii. You name it, I do it.
  2. I cook relatively well. In addition to that, I love cooking, which results in me happily cooking for the adults at home 80% if the time, frequently 3 meals a day, regardless of whether I get to eat the meals myself or not.
  3. I am the Yii family's social butterfly. I plan and execute most of the family's social networking and family leisure activities.
  4. My favourite TV programmes are either travel, music, comedy, food or sports-related. There is absolutely no way to be healthier than that.
  5. I have a pretty decent singing voice, which means "London Bridge is Falling Down", "Mary had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" will be accurately taught to Noah, who will hopefully sing them properly in the future.
  6. I do all the "marketing" at home, aka buy groceries and everything else. I return home so many times with hands fully hung with heavy plastic bags that the aunties camping at my lobby now call me "Phor Baan" (Father House), whatever that means.

Last but definitely not least, I am a loving husband and dedicated father. They are the sole reason why I still push myself to work harder everyday.

I understand that no matter how much we do, we will never be able to replace the mother's importance in the family, neither are we eager to steal their limelight, but perhaps, just perhaps, we deserve a few more pats on our backs than most people think we do.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Noah has taught me what real perfection is all about

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

Having been a Christian since childhood, I have read/heard about the above bible verse numerous times, without actually understanding what it meant. I know that every child is a gift from God, carefully crafted by His amazing hands according to His own image, so every child has to be good right? 

Before becoming a father, I could not really grasp this concept. I did not have a younger sibling, so had no experience with babies. The children I knew were either around the same age as me or were my brother's friends (much older), and by the time I remembered anything, we were squabbling, fighting and talking bad about each other already (haha!), so it was impossible for me to believe that every child deserves to go to Heaven. In fact I could have secretly wished some of them went the other way instead *snigger*!

However, age and fatherhood has completely changed my perception of this verse. Perfection is, to me, no longer equivalent to getting full marks in exams or earning a certain gazillion dollars a month. It's more about the heart and soul of the person than how well he reacts to this superficial world where we are measured by invisible scales created by what we know as 'society'.


Noah sporting his flawless complexion

External perfection is temporary, but everyone, especially ladies (and more and more so, men like myself) are obsessed with looking young and beautiful for as long as possible. I only have to turn and look at Noah playing with his toy on the bed to understand the ultimate aim of the glut of costly cosmetic and skincare products/procedures in the market. 

Babies have flawless skin, shimmering bright eyes, fresh breath all day and look vibrant the moment they wake up in the morning. Most of us are actually trying our best to look like one all over again without even realizing it!

More importantly, babies are completely pure and blemish-free on the inside. They are born with nothing. They do not possess graduation certificates, careers, material belongings, fame nor fortune. They cry for food/when in distress, sleep when tired, laugh when happy, enjoys feeling loved and want absolutely nothing more. Maybe this is the definition of perfection, the kind of perfection that God would love to welcome into his dwelling up there, the kind of perfection that I can only understand after holding a tiny baby in my arms.


Happy and satisfied Noah

"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)

Indeed, this world is full of negative influences, especially with the rapid advancement of social media and ease of access to the internet. Our children are like blank white pieces of paper that will inevitably be written on incessantly throughout their lives. Sometimes, I feel that we are all born perfect, only to degrade at different rates (mentally and of course physically) until we finally die. 

As parents, we have been blessed with the privilege to make a positive impact to our children's lives, to steer them in the right path as they embark on their adventures, and to become their dock of support when they need rest. 

Our children's initial perfection will not last, but let's maximize this privilege we have and bring them up to become blessings and joy to everyone around them.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is screen-exposure good for your baby? The Stranger in Bangkok gives his take.

Does anyone ever think of what goes on in babies' minds when they look at images on screens, be it movie screens, TV screens, computer screens, iPad screens or smartphone (which are amazingly getting too big for my huge palms to hold properly) screens?

This is actually a topic that has been (and is still being) fiercely debated and there are many schools of thought, including an increasing number of parents who apply the drastic measure of eliminating televisions completely from their homes (bravo! *clap clap, I would never be able to let go of watching my favourite Spurs play every weekend), some parents/guardians allowing babies to be glued to the screen for hours so that they have time to themselves, and some who are in between, limiting their children to "educational" programs and smartphone apps.

I am a believer of play, by that, I mean real play (not video games!) - babies touching real things, interacting with real humans, being able to experiment, imagine and finally discover for themselves how things work. That said, I am not about to start another debate on this over-discussed topic, as every conscientious couple would definitely have worked out a mutually-acceptable way to bring up their kids, including the amount of screen exposure their children will have.

Noah has been away from me for more than 2 weeks now, and there's another good 2 weeks before he returns to Bangkok. The only way he sees me now is via our frequent Skype chats, which means viewing me through a computer screen. As happy as I am to see how he looks like real-time, it does get quite disheartening when he doesn't smile at me, or doesn't respond to me calling out his name, or looks more interested in a piece of paper than to look at the screen (me).

Assuming he can recognize me, what is he thinking looking at me on the screen?

Hello Noah, do you miss Daddy, Daddy misses you a lot you know?

Why is Daddy on the screen, and not here beside me to hug and hold me?

Has Daddy become part of the 夜市人生 that I watch with great-grandma every weekend?

Is Daddy talking to me, or is this like a cartoon playing on TV, that I do not need to respond to?

Is Daddy calling me now, or is this pre-recorded?

What the h*** is going on? Can you just let me play with my toy?

Noah is just a baby. I don't expect him to understand how much I miss him, or that the person onscreen is his Daddy speaking to him real-time, but if he cannot learn much or obtain comfort looking at his loving Daddy talking to him from the screen, I have my huge reservations over the effectiveness of the so-called 'educational' TV programs and smartphone apps.

I also know that no matter how often we "meet" in this manner or how engaging I try to become during our "chats", it will NEVER  be better than 1 minute of holding him in my arms and giving him a big smooch on his cheek.

I can't wait till that day comes again.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's ruthless rant on Thailand's Annual Vegetarian Festival

It's been a while since I blogged about interesting happenings in Thailand (which is supposed to be the heart and soul of this blog) especially after I got my hands full with little Noah in the house. I do not know whether this post will step on some toes, but after a quite memorable week (food-wise) in Bangkok since I came back from Singapore, I shall give my ignorant rant on Thailand's annual Vegetarian Festival, aka Tesagan Kin Je.

Food stalls selling vegetarian food will attract attention using these triangular yellow flags
Thailand has given me no shortage of food surprises from the day I set foot, mostly pleasant, but others a little peculiar. While I marvel at the locals' brilliant art of layering every other dish skilfully with at least 4 different tastes (usually sweet, sour, salty and spicy), some habits still take some getting used to, like how pizzas are drenched with ketchup before eating with rice (Thais can eat anything with rice, 3 meals a day), the unforgiving stench of Plaa Raa (a potent fermented fish sauce) which many beautiful ladies surprisingly adore, labeling of perfectly-crafted Chinese dishes as absolutely tasteless, and the saturation of nicely-seasoned savoury soup with additional spoonfulS of sugar to name a few. This Vegetarian Festival is unforgettable as well, not for many right reasons I am afraid, but again, this is only my opinion.

Tesagan Kin Je is a festival with deeply religious origins (not elaborated here as it's not the point of this post), taking place annually from the 1st to 9th days on the 9th month of the Lunar Calendar.  Aside of many staunch Buddhists applying grievous hurt to their own bodies by piercing ridiculous sharp objects through unimaginable parts of their faces, it also involves eating vegetarian food (no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products and even aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic and chives), which I believe is supposed to cleanse the minds and souls of practitioners.

However, having scrutinized and tasted the food available for the past week, I beg to differ. On the surface, the spread of Vegetarian Food on display under the many little yellow flags seems incredible given the cooks' limitations, with variety ranging from Vegan Kway Chup (pork innard soup), Vegan Fish Maw Soup (complete with mock salted egg with a glowingly artificial orange yolk), Vegan (Mock) Meat, Vegan Khao Soi (chicken/beef curry noodle soup from Northern Thailand) and a huge range of deep-fried Vegan items etc..... you get the idea, but how on earth are you supposed to achieve an elite level of cleansing and health by stuffing yourself with mock non-vegan (many exceedingly oily) stuff?

Mock meat (or whatever) is either made from gluten or soy beans, which is then of course highly processed in factories and artificially seasoned to achieve certain tastes and texture. Can you even try to compare the nutritional value of this highly processed food with say, a piece of raw chicken you buy from the market, which is made of nothing other than chicken (with possibly a cocktail of antibiotics and growth hormones nevertheless, but you could go free-range/organic)?

In my view, real vegetarian food should be a enjoyment of real fresh vegetables, fruit and lightly processed foods like tofu. I have greatly increased my vegetable intake over the years and do not completely rule out becoming some sort of a vegetarian myself in time to come, more so now that there's someone in my house appearing to genuinely enjoy healthy vegan cuisine when served.

That's how you enjoy REAL vegetarian food

It's not that there were no places for me to satisfy my perverted carnivorous cravings during the past week, but it sure did not help when my favourite Kway Chup and Khao Gaeng (equivalent to economic rice in Singapore) stalls served up comparatively-uninspiring and unhealthy vegetarian versions of their usual fare. Let's just say that I am glad the festival is finally over.

Despite all I have shared above, I have to reassure everyone that the Vegetarian Festival is not all that bad. This post could be just an unreasonable complain letter from a lonely family-deprived man sore at being also deprived of his meat. Aside of Loy Krathong, Songkran and the King's Birthday, this could be the most unique festival happening every year in the Land of Smiles, and I recommend you to come experience it for yourself, particularly if you are a vegan.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok feels lonely on the eve of Chulalongkorn Day

It's been exactly a week since I've been back to Bangkok. And man.... have I felt lonely. Tomorrow is Chulalongkorn Day and Bangkok is half-empty, as many Thais who work in Bangkok have taken Monday off to complete their mega-weekend. I might be the only living thing in Thailand wishing it to be a working day tomorrow. Sitting alone on my gigantic bed on an eve-of-public-holiday after a mentally-torturing day at work simply reminds me of how I miss my babies - Li Li and Noah.

你们在哪里?

On one hand, I am happy they can finally be back in Singapore after Noah's long-drawn passport saga, to spend quality time with Noah's maternal relatives and be hugged and loved by them, but on the other hand, I would die to have them right beside me now, with Li Li perhaps nudging me to read Noah his bedtime story and Noah prowling on me giggling over nothing.

I used to spend nearly 50% of my time travelling around the world, leaving footprints on all continents multiple times. I wore my best suit, training doctors in hospitals and attending countless international trade fairs, this month in Buenos Aires, the next in Abu Dhabi. Before I could re-adjust to Singapore's timezone when I eventually got back, I would be urgently deployed to South Africa to apologise for the company over a project-gone-wrong. It took me four years before I realized that enough was enough, that I wasn't looking forward to messing up with my body clock anymore, that I needed to settle down and spend quantity time (quality time is a myth created by busy people) with myself and my loved ones.

Running a company in Thailand has fortunately, allowed me to settle down in one country (though it's a big one and I am required to make short trips domestically once in a while) and spend ample time with my family, and I have never been happier. They are the reason I work so hard, and the reason I can look forward to going home at the end of a tough day. Life can all of a sudden, become so stable, simple and satisfying.

Noah is nearly 9 months old now. He's growing FAST. In a short space of time, he has learnt to accept solids, then sit on the baby chair to eat properly. He has learnt to spin on his tummy, then drag himself forwards, then now learn to pull himself unaided onto a standing position. I cannot imagine how much more he would have grown over this month that I will not be with him. It really bothers me that I cannot be there every step of the way, experiencing all his firsts.

What if Noah comes back with teeth?

What if Noah comes back with a full head of black hair?

What if Noah comes back already knowing how to speak his first meaningful words?

What if Noah has already forgotten about me?

Noah happily accepting my feeding.

It's ok man, even if it takes me 200 kisses, 400 hugs, 600 cuddles, countless changes of your soiled diaper and endless feeding of your favourite pumpkin mash, Daddy will win your heart back.

I did it before, I will do it again.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Survival tips in a foreign land part 4: 入乡随俗 aka "When in Rome, do as Romans do"

7 months down the road, I have finally gotten down to completing my first real attempt at putting together a series to "advise" others based on my personal experiences. Looking back at my 3 earlier posts, I have to say that I am pretty pleased with what I have to offer, and I do hope that this final instalment will not disappoint.

Before I get on with it, it might be a good idea for everyone, especially new readers, to review my 3 previous  survival tips, all of which are extremely important:

Tip 1: Building a social circle

Tip 2: Family

Tip 3: The 2 Capital Ps - Patience and Perserverance

Everything happens for a reason. I had almost forgotten about writing this post, but in the past month, Amy Cheong's rant on a Malay wedding on her Facebook page and the consequences she suffered reminded me of this unfinished series and gave me the conviction that I HAVE TO complete it. Amy Cheong was an Australian (born in Malaysia) working in Singapore, very much like my current situation in Thailand. Her rant was, in my opinion, not exactly racist, but extremely rude and disrespectful to the natives in her adopted nation, which ultimately caused her swift downfall. I seriously do not consider her a racist, as she might have done that to any event or anyone on a bad day, but I would say that she got what she rightfully deserved, as we all have to bear the consequences of our own actions.

This brings me to the final and MOST IMPORTANT survival tip, called 入乡随俗 in Chinese and "When in Rome, do as Romans do" in English, though the Chinese version brings out the essence more accurately. Tips 1 to 3, as vital as they are, would mean nothing if you are not prepared to "Do as Romans do".



  • RESPECT:

    I do not mean that you have to smoke if most locals smoke or become an inefficient worker if the working environment is generally relaxed. The more important aspect of this is RESPECT, respecting the people, culture/s, food, customs, habits of the locals etc. Always remember that you are the odd one out, not them, if anything, they should be the ones expecting you to behave like them.

    This is no longer your home-ground  you cannot always win. If you cannot get your head around some of the locals' behaviors or habits, try harder, or maybe find another place to work/live in, because they are not going to change for you. Please do not resort to ranting on your FB page, you know what will happen next.

    Try to understand the history and culture of the people to know why they do certain things. I had to take the public bus with my colleague to understand why she had to leave office on the dot everyday. By talking to them, I also knew what I could and could not do/say to locals, as the locals do have their traditions and preferences.

  • CARE ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING AT YOUR DOORSTEP

    It's ok to follow world news and keep in touch with what's happening in your home country, but ultimately, Obama or Romney becoming the next US President would not be more important than what's happening right outside your doorstep.

    By caring about the news and happenings in the country you live in, no matter how strange it might seem, you will start to feel a sense of involvement and belonging. Celebrate National Day with the locals, avoid the riot locations, be updated on what new rules are regulations are being put into place. It will definitely make your stay a more fruitful one.

  • LANGUAGE:

    English is supposed to be the Universal language, but sadly it is not as widely used as we hope it would be. For example, in Thailand, I can reasonably assume that more than 90% of the entire population of 70 million cannot speak English properly. Thai characters, originating from Sanskrit, consist of 44 consonants and up to 28 vowel forms, not forgetting 5 tones, meaning it is infinitely more difficult to master than English, a language I spent half my life learning and can't say to be very good at.

    Although I admit I could have spent more effort learning how to read and write Thai, at least I can now speak quite a good bit of basic Thai (I am starting to learn reading too) and usually don't have major problems getting simple ideas across with the locals. If you are content with staying in your luxurious serviced apartment watching cable TV, you will always be dependent on others to do things for you and will never be able to solve you own problems.

  • LEISURE:

    You are no longer a tourist. You can't possibly go to the places filled to the brim with foreigners every weekend though you are one. Try to go to spots locals frequent to see and experience the local way of enjoyment. It could be a walk in the park, grilling seafood by the beach or even fishing by the river. Life will never be the same again.


So I have finally come to end of my series. I hope in some way or another, my input would have helped you. Remember, I am a 31 year-old Malaysian who has spent 28 years in Singapore and another 3 in Thailand, in addition to leaving footprints on every continent multiple times, you do the Math. There might not be many other people floating around the globe at my age who can say they are more qualified than me to give a lecture on this topic.

My final sentence to close this off would be to absolutely respect and appreciate what the country you live in has given you, because only when this happens will its people respect you back.

If Eddie can do it, so can you.

Noah Yii's Guide to making your foreign-born child a Malaysian citizen

This is Noah Yii taking over Daddy's blog again. Yeah I know, I am in Singapore with all my folks while poor Daddy is working hard alone in Bangkok. I miss him lots, but let's not go too deep into sentimental issues now, because this is Noah's personal guide to becoming a Malaysian citizen when born outside Malaysia.

Daddy spent 2 long months battling for my citizenship and travel documents. Without going into any tiring details, it will be useful to note that he literally acted as the coordinator between the HQ in Putrajaya (Kuala Lumpur) and the Malaysian High Commission in Bangkok before finally succeeding. He does not want anyone else to go through what he did, so here are some important pointers if any of you happen to deliver a baby outside Malaysia and are patriotic enough to make him/her Malaysian:

  1. If you got married outside Malaysia, please go to the Malaysia High Commission there to apply for the Malaysian marriage certificate, preferably right after marriage, because things get more complicated if you make the application after your baby is born.
  2. Be sure to obtain an official English translation of your baby's local birth certificate and get it endorsed by the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  3. Check if the Malaysian High Commission in the country has the ability to make the actual passport for your baby, if not you MUST proceed to apply for a document Borang W (Malaysian birth certificate for citizens born outside Malaysia) WITHIN SIX MONTHS after the birth of your child. This is absolutely crucial because if you miss the deadline, it will be an almost impossible task for you to make him/her a Malaysian in the future.
  4. At the same time, you should also apply for an Emergency Document which will allow your child to travel back to Malaysia once to apply for the actual passport. The Emergency Document has a validity of 3 months, so you can only apply for it when you have a concrete plan to visit Malaysia. Don't worry, it only takes 3 working days to process.
  5. The most important advice of all. FOLLOW UP! Do it until the passport in in your hands!
Emergency Document, erhemmmm, this was when I was a few days old and down with jaundice

On a side note, I simply do not understand why passport photos cannot look better. I guess all of you know by now, I am EXTREMELY photogenic.


See what I mean? This was simply a snapshot at a restaurant

However, I end up with horrific pictures on both my travel documents. What's with the boring blue background, serious look, exposed ears and hair not covering the eyes? My hair don't cover my eyes nor ears anyway.

Who can recognize me from this picture?? I am ruined!

I propose that all babies unite to start a movement which will allow us to use our favourite pictures as our passport photos. Since we grow so fast and passports last for years, the overworked Uncles and Aunties at the various customs checkpoints would not be able to recognise us from the baby pictures soon. Wouldn't it be better if the pictures can reflect not our full features (which change at lightning speed), but our actual style and personalities.

Here, I would like to show off my version of the perfect passport.

See? That's the real me!

The customs officers are miserable enough looking at thousands of serious adults daily, it's up to us babies to brighten their day with these cheerful pictures and a bright smile at the counter. If we make their day, I am sure everyone's experience at the airport will be a better one!

PS. The NEW Malaysian Passport photograph now requires the background to be white!

PPS. The above information and advice is accurate up till March 2015, Noah Yii will not be responsible for inaccuracy if there are any changes in the procedure in the future.




Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Stranger in Bangkok's microscopic diamond and cheesy wedding proposal

The aim of this post is to put an issue deep inside me to bed. I have been trying to close this chapter in my heart over the last couple of years but it has never failed to haunt me once in a while and I realized I just cannot forget it without doing something like this.

For the personnel involved, if you eventually get to read this, I am sorry if I appear petty. Looking back, I managed to sit through our entire conversation and paid for everyone's drink before leaving. That, to me at least, is gracious enough, because on another day, things could have gotten ugly, very ugly indeed.

To cut the story short, I am, till today, still sour over being labelled as "cheesy" for how I proposed to my wife. And that, by a complete stranger, who then told me my 0.62 carat diamond was minute as she had never seen anyone proposing with less than a 1 carat diamond (which planet are u living in?). I wasn't even the one who wanted to share the details!

Anyway, to make things clear, I am not writing this post to step on anyone's toes or to get back at any individual. Everyone has their freedom of speech, and I absolutely respect that. I am just writing this post to invite comments from both men and women reading this, to do a final debate over this issue before forgetting it once and for all.

As a man, to finally decide to commit my heart and soul to a woman and invite her into my life forever required immense courage and conviction. I took pride in the way I conducted it, and to be mocked because of it was and still is a horrible blow.

I bought my diamond in South Africa, one of the major sources of this glistening unbreakable carbon allotrope. I went to the jeweler who served my client well when he proposed and had a long chat with him before deciding exactly what the band would be like and how to rock would be set. During my first check of the ring, I even voiced my displeasure over their work and demanded the ring to be re-made before settling on the final product. As unimpressive as it might look or as small as it might seem, I can cross my heart and say that it was a proposal ring that came from an exotic location and fully customized from start to finish personally for the love of my life.

My proposal was an even more intricately-planned event. It was supposed to take place during our first ever Europe trip (to the Netherlands, Belgium and UK). As it was a free and easy trip, I carefully planned almost every part of the journey to ensure it would be an unforgettable one, plotting the exact venue to propose and drawing out contingency plans in case something cropped up to block the first attempt.

Beautiful flowers pictured at the Keukenhof
And so the proposal happened successfully (Thank God!) at the Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, only open for 2 months a year. It was a nerve-jangling moment for me, and I am sure I made it a sweet memory for Li Li as well. Whatever the case, even if it rained that day, my proposal would still have happened along a picturesque river in Brugge, along the Thames River in London, or even at a nice little cafe in Singapore if all else failed during the trip. Point is, any well-planned proposal will most definitely be a beautiful one, even if it's only true in the eyes of the couple involved.

All the guys reading this, I invite your comments as I want to know your views on this post of mine, especially those who have proposed before, negative comments are welcome too, just knock some sense into me if my diamond was really too small. Ladies, equally, I need your views as well, as I need to know whether I have really short-changed my wife or have I done actually done an adequate job.

Happy Yii family
The only thing I know now is that my microscopic diamond and cheesy proposal has given me the most beautiful wife and the most precious baby in my life.

What a good deal.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The complain cry, fake cry, hungry cry, real cry and Daddy's cry

Fatherhood has so far been an amazing journey in my life.

Noah's smile has completely overwhelmed me and it's incredible how this little (ok, not too little) boy can devour my heart in such a short space of time. Maybe because we have no help here in Thailand, aside of b-feeding, I can proudly say that I am absolutely involved in every aspect of taking care of Noah (aside of cutting fingernails, because I am too scared to do it), and I wouldn't want it any other way.

As a result, Noah and I have fostered a deep bond (at least I think so), so deep that he has technically considered me to be his potty, the safe and sound mountain to lean on when he needs to poo. He will usually stick on me and look me seriously in the eye while he's getting rid of waste. I am not proud of being viewed as a toilet, but hopefully he has already the belief that Daddy will always be his pillar of support whatever happens.

Last week, this poo-poo thing became more complicated, because he failed to do it for a few days though he tried as usual, and it became a little worrying. When I was changing his nappy on Sunday morning, he started squeezing and I finally got to see the hardened stubborn stools which have gotten too big for him to excrete easily. Noah **cried in anguish as he pushed with dear life, successfuly getting rid of only a bit of it.


(**Through the last few months, Li Li and I have concluded that Noah has a few types of cries:

  1. The 'complain' cry, which happens most often when he doesn't want to sleep, complaining until he finally falls asleep or breaks into a real cry (with tears and all).
  2. The 'fake' cry,  the whining when he does not want to be left alone or placed somewhere he does not feel like being in, like on the playmat or exersaucer. These usually do not involve any tears, and can be rectified immediately by carrying/accompanying him.
  3. The hungry cry, the cry that doesn't stop no matter what we do to appease him, but immediately stops when food is given.
  4. The real cry, when in pain or shock, the kind that absolutely breaks my heart.)


A couple of hours later, while I was playing with him, he suddenly let out a shriek of distress, I knew for sure that he was trying again. This was the real cry, the wail that sent tremors through my skin right into my heart, the cry that causes tears to spurt out of his tiny eyes like in comic books, the scream that breaks my soul into a million pieces.

I held him closely in my arms to support him and when he screamed again, I caved in. This was a momentous  instant in my life, I cried together with my son. I couldn't help myself, the tears just came and I wept as ferociously as Noah did. He looked at me a few times with his teary eyes while I was crying and consoling him at the same time and he must be thinking, " Hey what are you doing Daddy! You are supposed to encourage me, not distract me with your loud sobs, I am trying to concentrate here."

Li Li came in and got a shock, I still don't really what she felt when she saw father and son weeping together in the room. She took over Noah and left me to recompose myself.

Looking back, it really seems lame, to cry like a baby over my son's constipation? But when I thought about that moment again, I can still feel my heart wrenching as my son suffered pain and discomfort.

Thank you Li Li, for making this collage which sums up my relationship with Noah

So this is what being a parent is all about.

It's not about saying "It's ok" when it's not ok.

It's about laughing with him when it's ok, and crying with him when it's not.




PS. He's officially not constipated anymore, in case anyone of you is still worried.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Stranger in Greece Finale: The Greek Food Post

My Stranger in Greece series was suspended for a year because of many distractions, but after being reminded of my delightful honeymoon in Greece by various travel-related TV shows, I have been inspired to finally close the series with this long blogpost about Greek food.

A must on all Greek dining tables, olive oil and red wine vinegar
Let me make some disclaimers regarding my views on Greek food. I don't like Greek food, it is certainly not one of my favourite cuisines, and even though I have been there twice, spending a total of more than 2 weeks there so far, I can't say that I know the cuisine well. Everything I share here are just my own views about Greek food, and to remind myself of the good food I had there, and hopefully will give you some inspiration when you visit in the future.

During my first visit to Athens (it was a business trip), I loved everything about Greece, except for the food. I remember the yucky Greek Salad, with RAW onion, RAW GREEN bell pepper (!!!) and a big block of almost tasteless Feta cheese on top. It was a torture finishing a bowl of it. The Greek restaurants were not very good makers of Italian food too, as the pasta was almost always overcooked and pizza soggy. Of course, the fried cheese with lemon which tasted like my puke did not help. The best food I had that time was the ice cream, which I believe is not exactly a Greek specialty.

Yes, that's you, Mr Feta-which-looks-like-Tofu
Determined not to face the same problem during my honeymoon, I did an extensive online research before we departed for Athens. The result was an unforgettable trip to Greece and a refreshing new interpretation on Greek food. If you are from Greece, I would like to clarify again that my post is not an accurate portrayal of true spirit of Greek food, but more of a show of the aspects of Greek cuisine an Asian like me truly appreciates:

1. Wine, wine and more wine!

Greek wine is not the most famous internationally, I understand why, but it is an absolute essential to have their food with some local wine, as most parts of Greece have their own winery, especially on the beautiful Greek Islands. 

Most restaurants have barrels like these to serve their table wine
Because of the dry climate, the grapevines on the Greek Islands usually look small and shrivelled, as are the grapes, thus they have a high concentration of sugar within the fruit, which results in many wines tasting very sweet. Many red wines are very clear and lack body as well, but the whites we have tried were generally excellent, so please indulge yourselves with white wine when you are there ok? With wine costing as little as bottled water, the choice of beverage is obvious.

If you are dining in front of such a backdrop, how could you skip the wine?

Bread, wine and Fanta
However, for some reason, if you are really NOT into wine, something that I highly recommend would be the Fanta in Greece. I drank so much of it until my wife called me "Fantaboy". It tastes distinctly different from the deep orange versions we get here in Southeast Asia. It's lightly coloured and tastes extremely orange-y, not to sweet as well, perfect!


2. A total respect for seasonal produce

While at Athens, our hotel was not in the touristy old town, so we had a chance to visit a local market and a supermarket to see what the locals were buying and eating. It really did not feel too safe wandering outside the tourist area and the people were not very nice to Asians, but we did manage to get a feel of what we wanted.

Beautiful aubergines with white streaks. It's unfortunate the rare white ones were not in season
Olives from a specialty store
Would be a dream if I could find fresh cheap tomatoes like these in Singapore or  Thailand. The species we grow are really quite bland. Great peaches available too!

Cherries, strawberries, apricots were in season too, absolutely fantastic
I have always told people that the first step to making a great dish is to obtain the best ingredients. If I had affordable fresh produce like what I had shown you above, I would be the happiest cook in the world. If you have the sweetest aubergine or the freshest fish, you don't have to do much to make your diners happy.

A tail of supremely fresh grilled wild seabass served with grilled summer vegetables, served with just some salt, olive oil and lemon, simply divine (Santorini)


Simple fried battered aubergines, one of the best dishes of our entire trip, we just added salt and pepper! (Mykonos)
Chicken Souvlaki, simple grilled chicken skewers (Santorini)
The Greeks' total respect to seasonal produce really impressed me, and it's proof again that simple is the best.

3. Hearty hearty comfort food

Who doesn't like a pot of rich stew on a cold winter night? In fact, I love hearty comfort food on hot summer afternoons too. This kind of food is what Greeks are fantastic at making, and what I adore. We did not order a single plate of Greek salad during our trip, and I don't think we will if we are ever going back again because there are just so many richer and more delicious choices for us!

Baked stuffed tomato. Unspectacular, but it will do for me (Athens)

Greek slow-baked lamb with cheese and summer vege, if this doesn't warm your tummy, nothing will (Santorini)
Probably Li Li's favourite, baked stuffed aubergine (a version of Moussaka?) Comfort food at its best (Santorini)
Grilled chicken with lemon baked potatoes (Athens)
The dish above was part of our very first and very last meals during our honeymoon. Even though the chicken was a little over-done, till today, I still dream of those soft fragrant and slightly sour potatoes. I tried to cook it a few times, but tasty as they were, they fell well short of the ones I had in Athens.

So this is the Stranger in Greece's version of delicious Greek food. You will realise that I did not have any salads/desserts in my introduction, as we really tried very few of them during our trip.

If you are going to Greece and are really interested to try what I have shown above, do drop a message as I think I still have all the names of the various restaurants we visited and would gladly share them with you.

Meanwhile, this should be the very end of my Stranger in Greece series. Hopefully, I will travel extensively in another country to start another similar series on my blog soon. Before that happens, do enjoy my life story in Thailand!
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