ad astra per alia porci

Guinness Foreign Extra
August 21, 2008, 3:16 pm
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: ,

Ahhhhh… finally a beer with punch and depth. It is bitter, with a strong aftertaste and extra punch due to the extra hops. Black in colour, like anything that is good and deep and strong should be.

McCandless’ letter
August 21, 2008, 9:57 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

This moved me greatly. The more I read about him the more I agree with what he has to say and what he stands for. This is potentially life changing. I shall quote his letter to Ron Franz in full here. Read the letter, than read it another time. Take the time to let its contents soak into your brain, and its wisdom diffuse through the vessels in your brain, hardened by the stifling confines of bare rationality and sterile practicality.

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a few quotes from one of my favourite movies
August 19, 2008, 6:06 am
Filed under: diary, the arts | Tags: , ,

I just watched Into the Wild last week. I am yet to find sufficient time to properly pen my thoughts about the movie and its enigmatic main character Christopher McCandless.

Memorable and meaningful quotes punctuate the movie, and I shall precede my ruminations by posting some quotes that I found to be particularly meaningful and thought-provoking.

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rye bread
August 18, 2008, 12:40 am
Filed under: diary, food | Tags: , , ,

I have a grand total of three loaves to savour this coming week: one tomato parmesan, one rye bread made from prepared mix, and one homemade rye bread. The caraway seeds in the mix really imparted an added fragrance and dimension to the bread; I need to find them soon. The rye bread I made myself had a strong sweet smell due to the molasses used.

Going to eat them with apple baked ham, honey-baked ham, Dijon mustard, blackberry jam and honey!

Rye Bread


2 cups rye flour

2 cups boiling water

1/2 cup molasses

5 tbsp butter, in bits

1 tbsp salt

1.5 packet dry yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water

6-6 1/2 cup flour (variable)


1) Mix all ingredients except for flour, yeast and lukewarm water in bowl. Leave to cool.

2) Mix and dissolve yeast in separate bowl with lukewarm water.

3) Add yeast mixture to rye flour mixture when it is cooled.

4) Add flour gradually and mix, until a stiff dough is formed.

5) Knead for 10 minutes.

6) Cover, leave to rise till doubled.

7) Punch down the dough, cover, leave for 30 minutes.

8) Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

9) Grease bread pan, shape dough and place on pan.

10) Bake for 40 minutes.

NLP pointers
August 17, 2008, 2:14 am
Filed under: Lifeskills | Tags: , , , , ,

Personal notes on NLP principles and techniques based on a book on NLP I read…

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Murphy’s Irish Stout
August 14, 2008, 2:43 pm
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: , ,

Bought this off DFS and tried it today. Carbonation is noticeably missing. However the lack of fizz is accompanied by a lack of depth and taste too. I read some reviews on the web and found out that it is supposed to be a lighter, smoother and creamier stout, but I don’t like light stuff. I prefer depth and bitterness, and I don’t mind the gas. All in all a disappointing drink. It came in a litre can too; I threw away a quarter of it. Extra calories with no return in terms of taste.

the temptations of the road

I read Kerouac’s On the Road and Melville’s Moby Dick during my backpacking trips this year. It is no coincidence that I chose these two books specifically to bring along for my trip (books occupy space and adds weight to packs); On the Road is a chronicle of Kerouac’s gallivanting journey across America while Moby Dick is about Ahab’s quest to achieve his personal goal of slaying Moby Dick and exacting revenge for his lost leg. A common vein that went through both books is that of a journey, a quest that is imbued with great personal meaning, which I found particularly appropriate for a backpacking trip. The books provided much intellectual fodder to ponder upon as I roamed the countries and drew parallels and comparisons between what I construe from the books and my own experience.

On the Road does not rank high on my list in terms of artistic merit; it is not the most pretty novel I have read and there are not much literary acrobatics. Granted, Kerouac’s stream of consciousness style stands out but as Truman Capote puts it, it is “typing”, not writing. The most artistic aspect of the book to me is the occasional well-crafted, pretty phrase that punctuates the flowing prose and means so much and nothing at the same time (“It made me think that everything was about to arrive – the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever”, “the bottom of the world is gold and the world is upside down”).

The book is unabashedly a chronicle, with little pretensions of having any deep and profound observations to make about the human condition. It is personal, detailed and painfully mundane at times. Journeys are described, buses are taken and rides are hitchhiked. To a reader who craves a larger theme or significance to the actions of characters in novels like me, the description of mundane mechanistic bits and pieces of traveling minutia bores.

Perhaps the apparent lack of some larger theme is itself the meaning of the novel. Keeping in mind that Sal Paradise and his friends are on road trips, the physical journey is also a spiritual quest for a deeper personal meaning in life. The value is in the journey, not the destination, and the experiences that mould and shape a person while he is on the road. One might not find the ultimate meaning in life at the end of the road trip, but the vain attempt is itself valuable and results in personal growth.

Each person constructs his or her own concept of what is valuable and important in life, and it is not up to Kerouac to decide what is important for each person, hence the lack of a didactic quality in On the Road. This fits with the postmodern and existential concept of Man, where the individual is isolated and personal meaning is a construct which grants meaning to otherwise empty lives.

The more I read the book the more I believe that life itself is one long road trip. We move onwards and we meet and part all the time, never looking back. We might revisit places and people but the passage of time makes them different each time we see them again.

Being constantly on the move does not mean that we lose our inherent need to connect and have relationships. Sal’s friendship with Dean Moriarty is the consistent thread that binds Sal’s otherwise haphazard journey around America together; it is the only constant in a book where everyone is moving, meeting and parting. While fate draws people in different directions we try to preserve and maintain old connections and establish new connections with others.

I personally long for a larger meaning in life, and I believe that Sal and Moriarty were seeking something bigger in their travels too. I have a need to fit my actions to something with a larger significance; a life lived well is one lived with purpose and goals. Embarking on a road trip to unfamiliar lands is an attempt to discover a purpose in life previously hidden in the white noise and grind of normal routine.

If Sal indeed does not find his purpose, Ahab in Moby Dick has always known his purpose, which he pursues mono-maniacally to his own self-destruction. I felt a strong contrast between Ahab’s obsessive pursuit even at the cost of his own demise and my peripatetic and aimless wandering around the streets of the countries I visited as I flipped the pages of the book. I don’t know which one is better: the attainment of a goal or the journey? Perhaps there is really no better option since everything is personal. However I am usually wary of relativistic claims.

The unknowable machinations of fate and man’s smallness in the face of the infinite cosmos stands in opposition to the attaining of individual goals. We fight the world and carve a path to what we want. The sea in Moby Dick is a metaphor for the wild, natural world and how it remains essentially uncontrollable by man. We remain at the mercy of movements larger than us, and Ahab’s eventual death at the hands of the sea is a grim reminder of how the pursuit of purpose can be cruelly stopped by the random workings of fate. This concept of man’s helplessness is also the stuff of tragedy, and Dionysian philosophy. Maybe Kerouac is right; we should value the journey and abandon hopes of finding or achieving individual purposes. Perhaps, like Ahab and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, the nobility of man shines not from the attainment of a goal but the struggle and effort invested in its pursuit.

Central to the concept of a journey is the idea of escape. Sal’s attraction to Dean, a carefree wild man, is partly due to his innate desire to break from the rigid confines of ordinary life, society and authority. Ishmael confesses that every once in a while when he gets bored with life on land he goes out to sea as a seaman. I travel to experience something new, to leave what I have grown to be used to at home and find something new.

Escapism is an intricate concept and there is a fine line between escaping from something and escaping to something. We travel to leave emotional baggage behind, and we travel also to find something new to bring back. I guess all journeys involve both forms of escape, and it is the mixture between the two that matters. There is a push and pull for every journey.

I wonder if a journey motivated almost entirely by the need to escape from home and present life is a healthy and desirable one. On the other hand is a journey where there is no need to escape from what is happening at home a real journey at all?

Looking back I struggle to formulate what exactly I am escaping from in my travel and what I seek to find. I guess it is a very complex mixture of things. The need to ponder upon possible directions to take regarding my relationship with a particular girl. The need to escape the dreariness of Singapore. The need to see something in my life (I am hopelessly undertraveled). The need to make up for lost time. The need to be with a few old friends. The need to meet new people. The need to test myself on the road. The need to build confidence.

The travel bug has bitten me. I am irrevocably going down the road of endless uncomfortable, even masochistic backpacking journeys, living off street food and bunking in crap accommodation. The will to death? Maybe. Self destruction or seeking absolution? Christopher McCandleness sought the latter, probably.

The isolation from society is also appealing to me. I understand what McCandleness wanted to escape from: the stifling confines of social expectations, the emptiness of social class, the superficiality of social graces and polite human interactions. Note that all of these stem from society, where humans interact. Sometimes I feel that I am selling myself to people who don’t really care, and the smiles I get are just throw-away hypocritical attempts to remind you that you exist in their hearts but actually you only occupy the back end of their minds. When you say thank you you don’t really mean it; when you ask how are you you take any response. A retreat to nature, or a new environment where nobody knows who you are is a retreat from the crap we get in normal social existence.

We live in a modern age where things come to us rapidly and easily, which skews our minds and make us, as Nick Caraway puts it, “careless people”. We use and throw, we have lost touch with what is real and the value of effort. McCandleness rejected his privileged upbringing for precisely this reason. It is artificial, and meaningless to get something for nothing. Absurd even. Retreating to the wilderness and the dangers of the road exposes us to the reality of nature, the normal way of things. Survival is hard, painstaking and good things only come with effort. It is this element of honest living that I crave so much.

I thirst for the challenge of the road. Backpacking is a test of who you are so that you know more about who you actually are. As John Krakauer notes perceptively, the roadtrip is a rite of passage for many, a test from which one emerges as a new, better person.

Even though the new school term has just started, I am already planning my next wandering trip. I don’t know where the road will take me next, but I am eager for it.

a fruitful holiday
August 9, 2008, 10:19 am
Filed under: diary


I love NUS school breaks. They are three months long and give students ample time to experience what they really want to and do something outside the rigid and suffocating confines of academic education.

Although three months might seem like a very long time, it passed in a jiffy. I think this might be because I spent about a whole month overseas on holiday.

So what have I done this holiday? Listing what I have done would be a fun way to document this little bit of personal history.

  1. Traveled to 4 countries – Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong – and experienced the people and cultures there
  2. Worked 3 jobs – packer, conference room assistant and security guard
  3. Learned how to prepare full meals and several dishes – linguine with garlic oil, homemade mayonnaise, carbonara, roasted chicken, tom yam soup, chicken soup, scrambled eggs with cream, portobello mushrooms and bacon breakfast, Caesar salad
  4. Learned how to bake several breads – Swedish rye bread, white bread, wholemeal bread and sourdough bread
  5. Obtained a 24 point silver award for my annual IPPT (no more IPPT bugging my ass for another year at least!)
  6. Took enough driving lessons to prepare me for my driving test this September
  7. Read a few choice books that I have been aching to pick up for a long time – including Moby Dick and On the Road
  8. Reinforced my wardrobe with several purchases – including one A.P.C. jeans, one tailored suit, 6 tailored casual shirts and several tailored shorts
  9. Discovered the pleasures of port!

Rum, pirate’s pleasure
August 9, 2008, 9:02 am
Filed under: alcohol, Uncategorized | Tags:

The joys of rum!

I tried rum three different ways today: rum with belgian dark chocolate Haagen Daaz ice cream, rum with port and rum with coke. All were EXCELLENT. I think it is largely because rum is primarily sweet-based, so it blended well with all the other things. I guess it is only human to like sweet-tasting things so rum is a easy hard liquer to dig. The weapon: Mount Gay Eclipse.

Rum with port was an exhilarating experience (note: not intense!). The strength of the rum came first before the tannic and nutty aftertaste of port finished the drink. It was pretty damn alcoholic so I only had quarter a wine glass of it.

The ice cream combined really well with the rum. Since the ice cream was made of dark chocolate, it was sweet with a mild bitter aftertaste. The rum accentuated the bitterness and its alcohol content made the dessert a lot richer by giving it that slight bit of class and head.

I think I will grow to love rum. MUAHAHAHAHA burp

W. & J. Graham’s Aged Tawny Port 10 Years
August 9, 2008, 9:01 am
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: , , ,

This is my first ever bottle of port, my first love on this life’s adventure into wine. Excellent excellent excellent, and it comes in at 92/100 points, the first ever truly solid wine I have drunk.

Port’s popularity has been dimming over the years, and I just can’t see why this is so. Port has body, probably even more than some reds, and it is sweet, which makes it instantly accessible to those who don’t like the bitterness of reds and whites. The snobs who prefer wines with body and aromas will also find port appealing because the body is tremendous.

The aroma is thicker than conventional reds because of the added brandy. This port tastes of vanilla and coconut with hint of nuts when freshly opened. I served this two weeks later to my friends and the wine has obviously soured and oxidated a bit more; A commented that it tasted like plums and I concur.

My experience of 10 year old port is probably enhanced by the fact that my experience of wine has been confined largely to wines that are not aged more than 10 years. I do need to get my hands on a red that is significantly older (and pricier, sad to say) than those I have drank so far before I can say that port is generally better tasting than normal reds.

S said that cheap port exists and can be obtained at about 20 SGD. I went to Cold Storage and the cheapest I can find is 40 SGD port. I need to find a source for cheap port because I envision myself drinking a lot in the future.

An excellent resource on port:

Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose
August 9, 2008, 8:53 am
Filed under: alcohol | Tags: , ,

Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Rose

Tasted like piss. I will never get it again, and this mars my opinion of anything from Jacob’s Creek. I am swearing off bottle-fermented wine, at least for now if not for the long term. Airplane wines taste like piss too; the one I had on Cathay Pacific was bad. Oak is best.

wholemeal bread
August 9, 2008, 7:04 am
Filed under: diary, food | Tags: , , ,

This turned out very well. The bread is soft yet dense, and packed with flavour from the butter and wholemeal grains. I have two loafs that I am going to eat with tomatoes, Virginia ham and blackberry spread, washed down with orange juice or soya bean milk depending on my mood. The dough is significantly wetter than that of white bread: wholemeal flour needs more water.

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