Tuesday, 26 December 2017

For Whom For What - My Reflections on Christmas

    The guests have departed. The stomachs have been filled. The presents have been opened. My wifey and the little one asleep upstairs. I sit here alone with the soft pitter-patter of raindrops outside the balcony, and the faintest whiff of noble fir, for company. Christmas has come and is almost gone. 
    I think back to the very first Christmas, more than 2000 years ago. I imagine the wise men, the magi, reading the stars and becoming excited enough to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem and later to the backwater town of Bethlehem. The magi, I assume, were heathen gentiles. They were astrologers and very possibly practitioners of the occult. Yet they received the "invitation" to the greatest birthday party ever. If God chose to reveal Himself to these "outsiders", how much more would He be willing to reveal Himself to us, His children. If only we would ask, knock, and receive.
    It is interesting to note that besides the magi who belonged to the upper crust of society, the angels were sent to the simplest of folk as well, the shepherds. Ever noticed the contrast? Upper crust, studying the stars and seeking the king, versus simple folk, not bothered the least bit about politics? Indeed, Jesus came for all, regardless of background, and regardless of spiritual disposition.
    Pictures and story books depict the Christmas story as an event for a select few - Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the magi. This was never meant to be. When the magi entered Jerusalem (capital of the region) asking to see the newborn king, not only was King Herod troubled, all Jerusalem was troubled with him (Mat 2:3). I would imagine the magi bringing with them a large retinue of servants and camels. They were afterall important enough to be granted an audience with the ruler. Then there's the shepherds. After receiving the good news from the angel, they made haste to search out the Babe in the manger. Bethlehem had more than one inn and I suppose, many stables. It was late at night. They must've caused quite a ruckus going from stable to stable. After they've seen Jesus, they couldn't contain their excitement and told everyone about it. Those who heard the news "marvelled" at it (Luk 2:17-18). 
    The whole of Jerusalem and the whole of Bethleham (and all the towns on the way from Jerusalem to Bathlehem) received news of the birth of a baby, who was possibly the long-awaited Messiah. Yet, the Bible records only the presence of the magi (outsiders, gentiles) and the shepherds (simple folk). What happened to every one else? 
    Isn't it the same today? Christmas isn't about Santa, gifts or even love. Sacriledgous as it may sound, Jesus isn't the reason for the season. Jesus came to die for you and I. You and I are the true reason for Christmas. Just like the unrecorded masses who "heard" the glad tidings but chose not to do anything, will you and I simply let Christmas 2017 pass with little to show for except merry-making? What will you do in response to the "good news" of His birth?

Monday, 18 September 2017

AIA Summit Convention 2017 - into the Land of the Rich and Famous

    This year AIA heads to the land of the rich and famous - Hollywood in Los Angeles, US of A. The annual convention is an incentive trip that celebrates the achievement of the top consultants in AIA. I was privileged to be part of this select group. The fully-sponsored trip included airfare and accommodation at the Loews Hollywood Hotel; as well as a hosted tour and a gala dinner. This year is the first time in many years I went without the wifey. Here are the highlights.
View of the famed Hollywood sign from the hotel. It was originally placed there
by a real estate company to advertise property in the area.
    One word of advice to would be travelers to LA; don't rely on the airport shuttle unless you have time to spare. My colleague and I waited almost an hour for our shuttle. What made it worse was that we were the last to be dropped off. A journey that would usually take 45min ended up taking 2hours. Uber shared with a friend or two would cost the same but you'd be travelling in much more comfort.
First dinner with SP Junxiong at the Cheesecake Factory,
compliments of the boss.
    The next day was a hosted tour to Long Beach and the Queen Mary. This legendary ship started life as a luxury liner and later saw action as a troop carrier during the Second World War. It holds the honour of playing a role in every theater of war and yet not losing a single man in combat. The city of Long Beach purchased it when it was decommissioned and it is now a hotel and tourist attraction.
Supposedly haunted corridors of the Queen Mary.
Mexican Food. This year AIA took the easy way out by giving each of us USD40 each for lunch.
The marina at Long Beach.
Dinner that night at Callenders with new friends. We hit it off right away.
Lots of jokes and letting down of hair. Thanks to Kevin and Marissa for introducing Perry and Amber.

     More fun and craziness after dinner at the LACMA Lights. It was 10pm in the night, yet there were still people taking photos (besides us of course). We even witness a proposal.
         The following day was a tour around greater LA sponsored by the district director. Bevely Hills, Santa Monica Beach and Pier, lunch at In-N-Out Burger, Venice Beach and Farmer's Market at the Grove. Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for AIA's gala dinner. Meanwhile I took the chance to wander along the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame. Nothing much here. Nothing to buy. Just a whole stretch of souvenir shops and theaters (not even worth a pic).

Walking the red carpet.
    I finally rounded off the trip with a visit to Universal Studios, courtesy of Junxiong. It confirmed my belief that Paul and crazy rides don't go together.
Butterbeer anyone?

     It was a good chance to take a break and not think about work. However, it would've been much more enjoyable if I had the wifey and the little muchkin with me. Nevertheless, it was a good experience to travel alone (at the airport and plane at least). Thank you AIA. Thank you my faithful clients. Thank you wifey and lil muchkin. And most of all, Thank you Heavenly Father for this blessing.

First Staycation with the Lil Hurricane - Sofitel Sentosa Resort

    Since I won't be taking the wifey and Shiloh along to LA with me, the wifey suggested that we take a staycation instead. It was a chance to spend some time as a family of just the three of us. One of the benefits of working for the Ministry of Education, is to enjoy discounted rates at the Sofitel Sentosa Resort. Thankfully the wifey fitted the bill. Thus Sofitel it was.

Mandatory time in the pool
    It turned out that Sofitel is a sanctuary for wild peacocks. The little one had her introduction to the birds - up close and personal.

    The resort boasts a "chateau" for children as well; the "Chateau Les' Enfant" - better explained as the kid's club. This was where the little one transformed into a hurricane. She was in her element as she tottered to and fro and climbed up and down. Thankfully the walls and floor were padded.

    Sofitel Sentosa Resort was surprisingly extremely child-friendly. We found the staff very accommodating. It is no wonder that the majority of fellow guests here came with their families. Vacationing here feels like a world away from Singapore yet it has all the convenience of being reachable by car. This will certainly remain on our list of to-go places. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Michelin in The Forest

    I was feeling a bit bored about posting on food, but this place takes the cake. By now, most foodies would be familiar with celebrity chef Sam Leong's Michelin-starred Sentosa's restaurant. Named after his wife (according to my wife), The Forest serves contemporary Chinese cuisine with a western twist. The portions are officially for one, but they're just enough for two or three if a few are shared. 

    It's my little foodie's behavior that prompted me to complete this post. The home-made tofu was too hot her but she refused to remove it from her mouth, as would be the natural instinct of any youngster. It had to be good.
    Chinese cuisine, presented western style, starting with the amuse bouche. Despite its Michelin star, the setting was surprisingly relaxed. In no way did I feel pressure to behave uppity eventhough I was just in my berms and loafers.
      The avocado cream was simply delightful. It was superbly light on the palate, nothing like the avocado juice drink we're so used to from Alexandra Village Food Centre. 
    In conclusion, this place does deserve its Michelin star. An excellent choice if you're looking for a relaxed yet refined atmosphere, with excellent food.