Ad for “Wang Segera” or Instant Cash. Too Good to be True.

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A small slip of paper, about 90mm tall by 230mm wide (1/3 of an A4) impressed with striking title, Wang Segera (in Malay language for Instant Money) was posted on a pillar outside a shop (in fact, it was posted all over the town). Lots of similar enterprising advertisements have appeared on this pillar. But what caught my attention was a scribble by a not-so-sure pedestrian regarding the offer.

This ad was taken down on Saturday 24 March, after a week on display.

DSC_0155_WangSegera

This respondent wrote, “Do you believe [in this ad]?” In very casual English this respondent gave reasons that this advertiser:

  1. has “No registration” (meaning it’s not a bona fide business registered with the relevant authorities)
  2. has “No office” (there is no physical business address)
  3. is “No[t] safe” (quite literally, there would be no safe guarantee should anyone take a loan)

This entreprising loan giver unashamedly emblazoned his Whatsapp contact number too.

In his persuasive introduction, the advertiser asked if “kita kesuntukan wang pada masa ketika ani (you are in need of cash now)?. He advised,  “jangan tah dijual emas biskita” (don’t sell your gold), for “Insyallah kami akan menolong biskita” (by the grace of God, we can help you).

How hard up could anyone be? I just hope nobody gets “fried” thinking he/she could obtain easy money. Especially when this “lender” offers loan with no charges and no interest payable. Something is fishy. If it’s too good to be true, you know it isn’t.

The bottom-line is, if you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. If you are in business, don’t borrow if you can’t pay up in the shortest time possible. Simple as that. There is no such a thing as instant cash.

Let us not bankrupt our todays by paying interest on the regrets of yesterday and by borrowing in advance the troubles of tomorrow.~ Ralph W. Sockman

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Just my two cents for this blog. .

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Banaba – The Folkloric Medicinal Tree

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Chef shares a folklore medicine Filipinos use for curing diabetes and other ailments.

CAVEAT EMPTOR:
This is NOT a medical journal and not a prescription. If you have a medical condition, consult your physician for advice and proper prescription.

Banaba tree and florescence of lavender blooms

One mid-afternoon last December, a chef passed me by in town. We exchanged greetings and struck up a conversation. On asking where he was heading to, he remarked to gather some leaves to make tea. Make tea? Curiosity got the better of me, and my interest was stoked.

Here, he said, rather unceremoniously, people plant this ornamental tree for shade. True to his words I’ve always adored this beautiful “parking lot” and “roadside” tree and its colourful blooms.

An ornamental parking lot tree?

A Unscientific Taxonomy
The tree this chef referred to is the banaba tree (sp. Lagerstroemia speciosa). It is also known as Queen’s Crape-myrtle, Giant Crape-myrtle, or Pride of India. The genus is found growing from China, to Southeast Asia, to India. Banaba tree belongs to the Lythraceae family. The tree can grow to over 20 m.

In early spring (late February through March) the tree bursts into a colourful florescence of mauve-lilac to lavender coloured blooms. The flowering period is long, and the flowers adorn the trees for weeks. If you like this colour, it’s a visual delight to behold.

Florescence of beautiful lavender blooms

Folkloric Medicinal Uses
Filipino folklore medicine claims that the banaba is used for treating

The active ingredient is corosolic acid found in the extract from banaba leaves. Corosolic acid, a triterpenoid, helps to regulate blood sugar by stimulating glucose uptake. The acid’s insulin-like regulatory effect is therefore claimed to be effective for mitigating diabetes mellitus and obesity. (Source: http://www.smart-publications.com/articles/lose-weight-and-prevent-diabetes-naturally-with-banaba-extract)

Japanese laboratory research on overweight rats fed with banaba extract confirms the insulin effect of corosolic acid help to regulate weight loss and reduce body fat. (Murakami C, et al 1993, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin)

The mature leaves, fruits, flowers as well as bark are used for its herbal healing qualities. The banaba leaves are harvested, dried and used for making tea. The banaba tea is diuretic, so one needs to be adequately hydrated due to frequent urination.

Cluster of Fruits of banaba tree (sp. Lagerstroemia speciosa)

My Experience
The Chef said he was gathering leaves to make tea. A few weeks after his introduction, I gathered some leaves and after drying it for 2 weeks, I made tea.

There is no recommended dosage. From literature, it is suggested that one cup (by volume) of dried leaves be boiled in one cup of water. Let steep and drink up to 6 times daily

This is NOT a prescription. If you have a medical condition, please visit your regular G.P.

My concoction is 3 teaspoons of ground banaba leaves and steeped as tea in 3 cups of boiled water, producing a light but dark coloured tea. This brew is distinctively bitter.

I’ve been consuming this tea for the past few weeks, though not religiously.

I believe there has been some positive results. I notice some weight loss (this could also be due to drinking less sweetened beverage). However, I can’t tell about my diabetic risk since I haven’t gone to the doctor for my bi-annual check. For b.p. control, my home reader suggests a slight improvement (again this result cannot be independently verified).

Whether or not my health has improved due to the tea, I’m glad to have found new knowledge about this tree. All thanks to the Hainanese Chicken Rice chef, I can now admire this tree and consume it. Next, I should plant a few of this tree in my garden!

Mauve-lilac-lavender florescence of Banaba tree

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References

  1. Lose Weight and Prevent Diabetes Naturally with Banaba Extract, http://www.smart-publications.com/articles/lose-weight-and-prevent-diabetes-naturally-with-banaba-extract
  2. Banaba Uses, Health Benefits, Side Effects, http://www.medicalhealthguide.com/articles/banaba.htm
  3. Murakami C, et al 1993, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin
  4. Banaba for Diabetic control, Weight Loss Consequence and other benefits, http://banabaherb.com/

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Aboreous Proboscis Monkeys of Sungai Damuan

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Proboscis Monkeys (Nasalis Larvatus) are endemic to Brunei (and Borneo) as lions are to Africa. There is no sub-species for this family of monkey and the Borneo proboscis monkeys have been listed as endangered species under 2000 IUCN Red List.

The Proboscis Monkey

In Brunei, the proboscis monkeys are given local names “Burak” or “Bekantan”.

The Safari
Tuesday, March 6th. 2012
This outing was planned more than a year ago. Commitment to work and other photographic events interrupted this excursion. Until, my guide, friend, student and business associate agreed to take me to a particular riverine mangrove forest along the Damuan River. It was his second last day in Brunei, before leaving this Abode of Peace for good to resettle in Penang, Malaysia. Rudy Gerard Chong direct messaged me on Facebook. Early the next morning, we met by the misty bank of Brunei River to catch a boat. Not any boat, but one reserved by Rudy specially for me. Rudy and the skipper had been business associates for years, having taken scores and scores of tourists on such a tour. But to day, this one was for me. I felt really honoured. Rudy did it just for me.

Rudy and our "Superman" Boatman

Habitat, Behaviour and Diet
Just as Orang Utans are uniquely found across the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago, the proboscis monkeys inhabit Borneo. The long-nosed monkeys I saw are found living along riverine mangrove swamps. They live in small groups, and I was told by the boatman, these creatures are territorial. When in search for food, the group would swim across the river. The animals feed mainly on leaves, fruit and flowers. On this trip, I was privileged to capture one eating the bark of a mangrove tree.

Chewing bark of a mangrove tree

The small group of 7 monkeys I encountered had an alpha male. For this species, it is the male with the distinctive long nose, hence the proboscis monkey name. The nose on the female is not as large. On the juvenile monkey, its nose is short and upturned.

Family regrouping after a dive into the undergrowth

In this group, the alpha male would climb to the highest limb in the trees to make sure his “harlem” was safe before he descend and move on with those under his charge.

Please do leave some comments on the bottom of this page. TQ.

Capturing Images
It was not easy shooting from a wobbly boat in the river. I stood at the starboard ledge of a rocking sampan (local wooden boat), handholding the Sigma 50-500mm lens (monickered as Bigma) mounted to my trusty Nikon D3. Both heavy gear, tipping over 3 kg. In my camera bag was my other lens, the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 EX but this was of no use as the monkeys were too far to be within reach for this second lens. So it stayed cushioned and dry, cocooned in my trusty Lowepro camera bag.

The images I’m happy to share with you were mostly captured at the extreme end of the Bigma. [All images straight out of camera, unedited except for downsizing for web display]

Click on any image below to view the gallery

This river safari was my first attempt at immortalizing images of Brunei’s unique proboscis monkeys. I would certainly make a few more attempts to capture stock quality photos.

Thanks to all who responded here and on other social forums. Sincerely appreciate all your comments:

By David Cheok (www.davidcheok.com & @davidcheok)

By Jan Shim (@janshim and shimworld.wordpress.com/)

By DavidCheok on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/davidcheok)

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Patisserie Coin De Rue (2011) — A Review

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It was over lunch at Pondok Sari Wangi in Gadong with restaurateur Riduan (@pondoksariwangi), Eric (@mrbakersbakeshop) and Jayden (@jaydensia) on 25 October 2011 that I got inspired to dig for foodie movies from Japan. Riduan suggested Eric to expand his galore of exquisite pastries, drawing inspiration from Japan.

Pondok Sari Wangi is a Premier restaurant serving authentic Indonesian culinary delicacies. It has been in business for over 20 years. To date, there are 7 outlets in and around Bandar Seri Begawan.

Of course, there are tonnes of pictures and information on the web, but movies made about patisseries and boulangeries are rare. Until I chance upon the 2011 film, Patisserie Coin De Rue, a title in French meaning The Corner Pastry Shop. Except for a few expressions in French and English, the lingua-franca is Japanese.

Patisserie Coin De Rue Poster http://bit.ly/vZdrJm

This movie makes men look like jerks. I won’t be apologetic for my language here. First there’s this shadowy master patissier, Tomura (Yosuke Eguchi) who gave up making sweet cakes 8 years ago. Second jerk is the star’s boyfriend who, after coming to Tokyo from Kyushu, stood her up for another girl. Now we all have seen this, heard that and it’s all happening again. The third, and I’ll put it mildly is the Corner Pastry Shop co-owner, Julian – the French cake maker – who doesn’t have any key roles except for the fact he is French and he co-owns the patisserie. What a waste of talent for a side-kick that wouldn’t do ban-zai kicks and chops.

The story begins with Natsume (Yu Aoi), a country girl from Kagoshima, Kyushu who has come to Tokyo to look for her boyfriend. No, to chase her missing boyfriend, only ending up making French pastries instead. Her boyfriend has come to Tokyo to work at this corner pastry shop. To her dismay she finds out he has quit and not told anyone where else he is going. On leaving the patisserie, she notices a vacancy sign in the front of the shop. She enquires but owner Yuriko (Keiko Toda) rejects her in situ. Not to be wrestled a second blow having come this far to Tokyo, she begs and her determination wins.

Movie Poster showing Tomura and Natsume. Image Source: http://bit.ly/vZdrJm

Yuriko’s French husband, Julian (Nathan Berg) appears in the film several times. His role is more for window dressing, a mannequin, than to lend credence to the Frenchness of the movie title. Neither does his role impart any baking skills, except greeting some customers, sweeping the yard, setting some tables. This movie could easily have been made without him. His presence could be due to Japanese obsession to glamourise western and French cuisines; expenses be damned.

Patisserie Coin De Rue won The Best East Meets West Cinema Award at the 2011 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Three Cheers!!!

Like quite many other Nippon foodie movies featuring heroines who find their raison d’etre in the kitchen, the heroines in this movie are Yuriko, Natsume and the shop’s skilful pastry chef, Mariko (Noriko Eguchi).

So, where are the men? Useless bums and losers, that’s who they are portrayed to be. The once famous, no, the lengendary Tomura dropped out of industry 8 years ago. Julian the “mannequin” and Natsume’s boyfriend….er, what’s his name again? Indeed the men are insalubriously subterfuged to oblivion and waste.

Natsume's attention to detail Image source: http://bit.ly/s7eXIy

Natsume apprentices hard. While she receives moral support and encouragement from a senior lady patron (Mariko Kaga), the skilful chef Mariko is her dark-horse nemesis. And the regular patron, Tomura himself drives her up the wall with his cold and withdrawn characterisation. Between Natsume and Mariko, envy and jealousy rear their ugly tails. Do we need more? The plot is so readable, it’s like a set menu. Men are jerks – weak and lost. Women are the longsuffering heroines, and when there is more than one of them, there’s grudge and malice between them.

Yuriko chiding Natsume. Image source: http://bit.ly/vNXoV6

As the menu-like plot would have it, this story evolves around a familiar moral:  to live life to the fullest while not losing sight of one’s goals. Life, indeed, goes on.  The broken-hearted and rejected Natsume is transformed from zero-to-hero. The old heroine Yuriko fades and Natsume’s adversary Mariko dissipates too. One day, Yuriko falls from the stairs, breaks her arm and decides to close her pastry shop (what??). Mariko got sold out to a rival offer and regrets it. And the man with a dark mysterious past? Tomura’s grief and tortured soul gets a replay and he is able to breathe new rigour into his life to reclaim the legendary pastry king status. Finally, Natsume leaves Tokyo, symbolically descending to the valley, to become a professional pastry chef.

Natsume testing pastry Image source: http://bit.ly/tB4Jhe

The movie, Patissierie Coin de Rue, by Yoshihiro Fukagawa, is not a blockbuster. The moral values are good, albeit obvious and predictable to the viewer. The plot is weak and immature. However, the unifying ingredient which energizes the movie is Yu Aoi’s acting as Natsume. Her cheerful voice, her determined spirit, and that beam of sunshine exuding from her strong willed character make this movie palatable. That said, I recommend this movie as “Watchable”.

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RELATED POSTS:

1. The Kings of Pastry (2008) Movie Review

2. 2 good movies:  Kings of Pastry (2008) and Patisserie Coin de Rue (2011)

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The Kings of Pastry (2008) Movie Review

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I watched The Kings of Pastry on DVD early November 2011. Work took me away from writing a review about it, until I watched it again last night.

It is a documentary showing 16 harried patisseirs competiting for the distinctive MOF collar which distinguishes them as masters of the culinary art of pastry making. The Kings of Pastry is a 2008 documentary by Chris Hegedus and his wife, D.A. Pennebaker. This was the first time an MOF final was filmed, documenting a Chicago’s patissier, Jacquy Pfeiffer’s participation in this august competition. Jacquy is a co-founder of Chicago’s prestigious French Pastry School.

Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer works on his sugar sculpture. Source: http://on.fb.me/tREmof

MOF stands for Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, translated The Best Craftsmen of France. The film is a riveting story about 16 finalist chefs vying for the coveted blue-white-and-red collar. The MOF pastissier honour is more than a century old. This illustrious title honours great craftsmanship, giving credence to the hard-work, skills and professionalism of artisans and their on-going pursuit of excellence.

During the 3-day finals, viewers could experience the same gruesome “madness” the harried finalists felt. The endless train of mixing, baking, piping, and sculpting manifested the chefs’ masterful craftsmanship executed to the exacting demands and microscopic scrutiny of the judges, who themselves are MOFs.

Chef Philippe Rigollot attaches blown-sugar flowers to a sugar sculpture Source: http://on.fb.me/uMTDA1

The high energy epitomized every chef’s desire to push to the edge, to emerge a bigger and better talented professional patissier.

The wedding theme was chosen for this year’s finals. A list of items was given to the chefs, from which pure artistry and world-class creativity poured. The patissiers created from scratch, in situ, a magnificent array of colourful desserts, delightful jams, sweet tea pastries, delicate cream puffs, tiered wedding cakes and fragile sugar sculptures. One other item, pre-made off-site, was the ornate bijou, a delicate sugar sculpture. The finals was a thrilling, race against the clock.

Cream puffs Source: http://on.fb.me/ttgcBU

At the nail-biting closing stage, each chef must then hand-carry his fragile creations from the kitchen through a series of rooms and levels, to the exhibition area. This movement was a deliberate exercise on form following function; to test balance and the strength of the pastry and especially that of the sugar sculptures. Only five qualified to wear the tri-striped collar. Chef Jacque Pfeiffer broke his sugar sculpture, didn’t have time to improvise and didn’t go home with the coveted collar. To view the MOF final display, click here: http://on.fb.me/rMcwOy

Wedding Sculpture_Courtesy of Sundaravelu Arunachalam Source:http://on.fb.me/rN18aR

But, it is during the thrilling, edge of the seat finale of this MOF competition that one feels the commonness of us being human. Unlike the reality TV programmes such as TopChef, Hell’s Kitchen and the like, viewers watching this documentary are warmed by the supportive and sympathetic relationships between the contestants and the judges, them and their mentor/coaches, them and their supporters and family members. Viewers should also come off feeling inspired by the creative geniuses of these 16 patissiers. They are as passionate and consummate as they are tenacious and tastefully imaginative in their creative pastry making skills. MOF patissier is a tribute to the Kings of Pastry. Excellence bar none.

RELATED POSTS:
1. 2 good movies: Kings of Pastry (2009) and Patisserie Coin de Rue (2011) blogged on 13 November 2011.

2. Patisserie Coin De Rue (2011) Movie Review blogged 20 Dec 2011

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