mardi, juin 27, 2006

Do you believe in Ghosts?

My hubby freaks out whenever I start on my ramblings about ghosts. He is too Cartesian for his own good and is no fun for that. Instead of drinking lots, smoking pot and getting all stoned and stupid with his friends in a soirée, he would have done better doing what smart and interesting people do in Singapore - take turns telling ghost stories.

I miss the good clean fun we kids knew how to have back where I came from. Camp nights in school halls or public chalets often end up with a group of us sitting in a circle and exchanging ghost stories. They sometimes sent shivers up our spines and made us ultra-sensitive to our surroundings, but these stories helped boost our story-telling abilities, friendships and most important of all, helped perpetuate our beliefs and lores. Hours waiting for mom's hair to set at the hairdresser's also came to pass when everybody started exchanging such stories :-).

The stories could be first-hand accounts, or second-hand ones ("my mother once...") or beyond ("my mother said that someone told her..."). But nobody cared as long as they were good :-).

I started thinking about ghosts when my Colombian girlfriend took me aside yesterday to tell me that she had felt a presence in her house the night before. She was sleeping in her bed (her hubby was in another room) when she suddenly felt a cold hand creeping up her arm to her back and then pushing her head down really hard on her pillow. She awoke with a start but could neither move nor scream. It took quite a bit of struggling before she could finally call out to her hubby. He came rushing by, but of course they couldn't find anything.

I told her that I was surprised that as a fervent Catholic, she hadn't thought of inviting a priest to bless her flat before she moved in. Where I came from, whether you are Taoist, Buddhist or Christian, you usually prefer to have your dwelling blessed before you live in it. To different degrees, I think we all believe that we co-exist with the supernatural, only that usually we wouldn't be able to see them. You have to be born either with the "3rd Eye" or be a little unlucky to see spirits.

The one and only spirit that I have seen with my own eyes was in the 1st flat that I lived in with my family. I was a little girl then and slept with my parents on the same bed. I still remember the moment vividly. I was sleeping and felt a sudden presence near me. I opened my eyes and saw a big woman standing arms folded on the bed right over me. She was big and strong, but at the same time I could see through her to the windows behind...I had a moment of acute fear, but just turned over and went back to sleep.

Mom said that the block of flats where we lived in anyway was not very "clean". A nurse living a few doors along the corridor spent her evenings summoning spirits on her ouija board. Sometimes apparently the spirits she summoned refused to go away. I remember walking past some flats (usually dark with beams of red light) and feeling horrified because they contained altars filled to the bream with all kinds of Gods and Deities. Eerie...

Back to the idea that we co-exist with the supernatural, as a general rule as such, most if not all dwellings are haunted. But there should normally be no manifestations of any kind as spirits are said to fear humans 70% more than we fear them. So you usually have to be down on your luck to be able to see them; Or if the spirit wants you badly to see it; Or if you are a young child (you have a higher chance of seeing them); Or if you are born with the 3rd Eye.

Mom told me that when my grandmother died when she was still a teenager, they moved out of the flat and another family moved in. Later on, former neighbours told her that no Chinese or Christian family could stay in their former flat as it was badly haunted by my grandmother. Only an Indian Hindu family managed to stay in the flat finally without incident. Sets you thinking about how your religious beliefs could perhaps influence your interactions with the supernatural world.

She also told me how once a friend of my aunt's visited another friend's house and was puzzled when the hostess kept excusing herself (to nobody) when she was walking up or down the stairs. She later found out that the lady had the 3rd Eye (meaning she could see what we couldn't see all the time) and was aware that "another family" stayed in the house and decided that the polite thing to do was to co-exist peacefully with them.

My favourite remains the story of how a couple bought a new flat in Bukit Bartok (on land reclaimed from a cemetary) and would occasionally visit it when it was being renovated. One evening, they were in the lift of their block and 2 men rushed in just as the door was closing. Those men got off at the 5th story while the couple continued to the 9th. When they opened the door to their flat, they got the shock of their lives to find those 2 same men sitting in their living room! The wife fainted on the spot, the husband ran away. Malay neighbours later confirmed that they had seen the same men wandering in the block, but they were not afraid of them (which is why many keepers of cemetaries in Singapore are Malay).

Another story closer to us : Apparently patients of my dad's occasionally mentioned that they saw a little boy walking in and out of the only room in his clinic. But dad has never seen the boy himself :-).

One last story to close this post with. My paternal grandmother died in 1978 or thereabouts. The wake was held in my 3rd Uncle's terraced house. The coffin containing the body was displayed in the middle of the living room, with her picture in front of it. Visitors coming to pay their respects and the family staying to accompany the wake hung out in the front of the house just outside the living room.

I still remember the night it happened. I was sleeping on a mattress with a few other family members in the front of the house when we heard my grandmother's 2 dogs (locked up in a storeroom at the back of the house) howling and wailing. It was followed by crying, the sounds of grandma crying. It came from the area next to the coffin, where my 8th uncle (her youngest son and the only bachelor left at that time) sat sleeping on an armchair. Except that he was no longer sleeping, but was crying. We surrounded him and then he started talking (he looked like he was really suffering) - except that grandma's voice came out of his mouth :

"I want to see my sister." (5th grand-aunt came forward)

"You must all promise to take care of her...and see to it that Yau (the 8th Uncle) gets married..."

I can't really remember the rest, but this lasted quite a few minutes and I remember my aunt (her only daughter) and a few other uncles telling her that she should go in peace as she was causing much suffering to her youngest son by possessing his body. So she left and the uncle in question slumped down in fatigue, not knowing what had happened to him just a few minutes before. It was quite a sight.

As I was growing up, I went to a Methodist school, I became more and more secular, I studied and lived/live in the enlightened West. I should not believe that ghosts exist, nor want to. But my instinct, my upbringing, my few experiences and especially the synthesis of the education that I have received in the East and in the West, told me that I must not be quick to reject the unknown, the unexplainable. There is so very much we do not know about our own world, so much that Science alone is incapable of explaining today, that I prefer to keep an open mind about certain things.

I try not to live by superstition, but I will always remember fondly the many stories of ghosts, pontianaks and other spirits that I have grown up with. And going by them makes me all the more aware of and humbled by the enormity and impossibility of all-encompassing knowledge, and makes me less likely to mock peoples and cultures who live by what I do not believe in. It is true that I am oft hurt by my hubby's mockery, incredulity and air of superiority when I mentioned ghosts. He doesn't know what he was missing. But I do and that's what matters :-).

lundi, juin 19, 2006

Rôti de Canard de Barbarie aux Miel et aux Épices, Salade de Boeuf à la Citronelle : East meets West

I was in Singapore for 3 weeks. Coming back to Europe is a little depressing as usual, knowing that I would be away for at least another year from my family and friends and of course, my favourite foods.

While I was there, I noticed how Fusion Cooking seemed to be getting bigger in the country. What better place indeed than Singapore (where East meets West) to experiment with putting together Eastern and Western cooking techniques and ingredients ? As it is, Singapore food is mostly a mélange of S.E Asian cuisines (e.g. Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, Straits Chinese, Thai...) and add on our British Colonial legacy (English tea and what naught), you see that we are used to and highly enjoy experimenting with different foods.

And in the last few decades, an increasing number of Singaporeans have studied, worked and lived overseas, large numbers in Australia, the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada etc. We have acquired a taste for certain Western foods and are more than happy to incorporate them into our daily eating. And eating is almost a religion in Singapore. No laughing matter.

I told myself thus that once I've gone through my repertoire of traditional Asian and Western European fare, I should start working on mixing techniques and ingredients from both and see what I can come up with. I am also quite interested in African cuisine (both Arab and Black) and am wondering quite a bit about how to make vegetarian dishes more interesting. It is a pity Hubby and myself we are so fat and so in need of a big diet. We should really just be eating soups and salads for the next few months.

Anyway, I was back Monday and was already entertaining on Sunday. It was a beautiful day and we ate out on the terrace. Hubby made a Lebanese Hoummous Dip and a Greek Red Pepper Dip. I prepared the Sangria, the Lemongrass Beef Salad, the Roast Duck with Honey and Spices, the Thai Pineapple Rice and Pommes de Terres à la Sarladaise.

The Salad was a mix of Vietnamese lemongrass marinade on French-grilled Beef and Western salad. I basically prepared a salad using salad leaves, cucumber, red onions, salt, pepper, lots of olive oil and lime juice and a touch of Balsamic vinegar. Then I heat up a very hot grill and grilled an Entrecôte steak on it with the usual salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. The cuisson is rare when I took it off the grill and started to slice it. Then I marinated the beef slices in a marinade made of vegetable oil, fresh lemongrass, shallots, garlic, red chilli, light soya sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, lime zest, galanga and a touch of rice wine all mixed or pounded into a paste. Just before serving, place the marinated beef slices on top of the salad and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves. (Optional : bean or rice vermicelli)

We saw a 3kg Canard de Barbarie from France in the supermarket on Saturday and decided on the spot to go for it. To save time, I have decided to cook it the French way and not the Chinese (too much work) but using a Chinese marinade.

First of all, heat up the oven to 180ºC. Clean the duck and stuff it with some spring onions, bashed garlic, 2 star anises and a cinnamon stick. Rub salt, pepper, paprika, a bit of ground cloves and ground cinnamon on the duck. In a bowl, prepare a marinade using a generous amount of sherry, some honey, light soya sauce, sesame oil, wine vinegar, Hoisin or Plum sauce, chilli powder and ground ginger, pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Mix well. Brush the duck with the marinade, leaving enough to continue brushing the duck with from time to time in the course of the next 2 hours (20 minutes of cooking time for every 500g of duck).

Before serving, brush the roasted duck with one last layer of the marinade, let it cool for a few minutes and then carve it.

Whatever is left of the duck (meat, wings, bones, carcass...) can be used to make a soup the next day. I made one using cloves-studded onion, cinnamon stick, star anis, bashed garlic, fresh ginger, sugar, dark soya sauce, sherry, chicken stock, coriander leaves and lime juice.

I have taken a few pictures of some of the food I've eaten in Singapore and will put them up in another post. I've also attended a Thai cooking class when I was there and have improved my knowledge of how to make a few simple dishes. And this Summer we'll be holidaying in Florence, am looking forward to learning more about Italian cooking. Vive la bouffe!

lundi, juin 05, 2006

A song I've learnt in school

I would be true
For there are those who trust me

I would be pure
For there are those who care

I would be strong
For there is much to suffer

I would be brave
For there is much to dare

I would be brave
For there is much to dare.