Pulau Ubin Stories

Stories, old and new, about Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Kampung Gourmet,: by Tabitha Wang. Today, 02 Feb 2007.

Why chase western food fads when we have snob appeal at our doorstep?

I WAS so amazed to find unripe jackfruit at Tekka Market the other day
that I called a friend to tell her. A fellow foodie, I thought she would
be ecstatic. Instead, she offered a bored response: "So what? They're not
artichoke hearts."

Artichoke hearts? This was better than artichoke hearts - and possibly
rarer. Granted, in the bad old days, unripe jackfruit was the poor man's
vegetable but now that orchards are scarce in HDBland, it is a delicacy
you have to root out in obscure market stalls. Artichoke hearts you can
find in almost any supermarket now.

When I was a kid, my baby- sitter was a Malay makcik. She also cooked for
us so my palate was trained from young to appreciate simple kampung food.

Unripe jackfruit curry was one; the others included stir-fried sweet
potato leaves and winged beans, petai (stink bean) sambal and young fern
shoots in coconut milk. All simple produce she could get for free from her
kampung compound but tasting so fresh and delicious.

She wasn't the only one influencing my tastebuds. Both my grandmothers
were nonyas and no one's more finicky about her food than Peranakan
matriach - even more so, I dare-say, than Anthony Bourdain.

Only the best would do. No factory-made palm sugar for them, only those
made in bamboo.

Belachan (shrimp paste) had to come from Penang because only the
Penangites used fine enough shrimp. You couldn't fool my grandmas - one
sniff and they could tell the difference.

Even food preparation was down to a fine art. Spices had to be pounded to
different consistencies depending on whether they were for stir fries or
for curries. Buah keluak, that brown nut so beloved in nonya cooking, had
to be soaked for three days before it could be used.

Having grown up under such strong influences, I've always been as exacting
in my kitchen and when I go out for meals. I never thought of myself as
being a gourmet, just a little nonya girl with kampung tastes.

My friends would often laugh at me when I went into ecstasy on finding the
perfect tamarind paste or a rare dish of jungle herb salad. Once, I found
a stall that served delicious unripe jackfruit curry and went back every
day for a week to get my fix. The last few days, I went on my own as no
one wanted to have curry that many times.

So, it's funny to see the same friends putting on airs these days about
getting expensive gourmet food. "Oh, I've been using only free-range eggs
since Jamie Oliver recommended them on TV," one told me. Another said:
"You must try organic food. It has the most amazing flavour."

These are not new discoveries. What are free-range eggs but kampung eggs?
And kampung folk have been eating organic food (fertilised by free-range
chickens) since before Jamie Oliver appeared on TV. Since before TV was
even invented.

And the same people who poked fun at my "nonya tastes" are now snobbishly
telling me I have to "educate my palate" to enjoy truffles and foie gras.
I don't need to - truffles have the same earthy flavour that you find in
mushrooms harvested from the jungles behind kampungs while foie gras has
the same texture of well-made otak otak.

My palate knows them well.

It's sad that these "gourmets" hooked on Western food fads can't see the
rich heritage they already have.

Last weekend, I went for a cookery course held in a 200-year-old kampung
house on Pulau Ubin. We harvested herbs from the garden to make nasi
kerabu, a traditional dish that is harder to find now than coq au vin
because of the rarity of the ingredients. None of the herbs used could be
farmed - we were lucky because the house was so old that they still grew
in the garden like weeds.

My class had 18 people, of which only six were Singaporeans. The rest were
foreigners who obviously appreciated Singapore's fare more than the locals
do. Where were the rest of the Singaporean self-styled gourmets?

My bet would be at a $300 cooking class conducted by a foreign chef on how
to use imported free-range chicken and herbs harvested from Umbria
instead of Ubin.

Tabitha Wang is no food snob but still takes a plane to Penang for her

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ubin Boy Season 2

ubin boy

Remember the Kids Central production, Ubin Boy?

Well the series is back for its new season. See more of Ubin on TV through the series that is starting tomorrow, 10 December 2006, Sunday, 9.30am on Kids Central.
"It’s the holidays again, and Steven is looking forward to his visit to Pulau Ubin.

But there is a slight hiccup. Ah Ma has to care for a sickly old friend in the city, and she doesn’t trust her mischievous grandsons, Steven and Ah Boy, on their own on Ubin. Perhaps the two boys can stay with Mr and Mrs Teo on the mainland.

But Steven and Ah Boy convince Ah Ma, Mr and Mrs Teo that they can be trusted to be on their own. Mr and Mrs Teo are initially hesitant, but they finally relent when Ah Ma says that she will be back on the island in a couple of days.

Back on Pulau Ubin, Steven and Ah Boy, having gained total freedom from adult supervision, forget their earlier promises to behave themselves. On their first night, they gorge on mangoes and rambutans for dinner, and resolve to stay awake the whole night by telling each other ghost stories. In no time, they are too spooked to sleep and need company to visit the toilet."
Read more of the synopsis on Kids Central's website.

Related Reads:
  • UBIN BOY returns 10 Dec Sun 9.30am, Kids Central Website
  • "Ubin Boy" on Kids Central, Pulau Ubin Stories, 21 January 2006

  • Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Launch of the Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub

    On the morning of 28 October 2006, Saturday, a large crowd was sighted on Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Many of whom were the who's who in the nature scene in Singapore, along with a myriad of participants coming for NSS' Fun with Nature program that was held concurrent with the launch.

    On the boat ride across the Straits of Johor, I had the honor of being in the same boat as Dr Chua Ee Kiam, author of the book, Pulau Ubin - Ours to Treasure.

    Other than celebrating the launch of a long awaited infrastructure dedicated to the volunteers who had worked hard on the island for almost a decade, it was also a excellent opportunity for volunteers from different organizations to get to know each other and catch up with the latest news. There were members from Nature Society Singapore, Green Volunteer Network, NPark's Ubin Volunteers, RMBR Toddycats, NIE Green Club and Wildfilm crew to mention a few. For the young'uns like myself, it's excellent opportunity to meet the seasoned old guards.

    (L-R) Dr Chua with Pak Ali; Dr Chua and the Wildfilm Gang (Chay Hoon, Ron and Ria)

    In addition to the volunteer hub opening, the event also coincide with the launch of the HSBC Care-For-Nature stamp series whose latest theme was inspired by NSS' Fun with Nature series with Vilma at the helm of the program. The RMBR Toddycats! were all excited of course as one of the animals featured on the stamp series is a civet cat, or more affectionately known to us as a Toddycat.

    A glimpse of the stamp series with a civet cat on one of the stamps!

    To officiate the launch of the volunteer hub, 3 final tiles were added to the mosaic collage on the outer wall of the building. There I was thinking previously why it was left empty but now we know the reason! The collage was made up with photos contributed by staff and volunteers on the island with the mascot of the island, the Pied Hornbill featuring prominently over the outline of the island. The photos highlights the spectrum of activities that volunteers conduct on the island, from the early days of chek jawa to even the International Coastal Cleanup (ICCS) that happens every year on the island. We even spotted many youthful photos of familiar faces taken years ago! See if you can spot them when you visit the volunteer hub.

    The completed mural featuring ICCS!

    The new volunteer hub comes complete with a lounge for the volunteers (below left) and even a computer with broadband access for the use by ubin volunteers! The world has met Ubin through the internet for a long time but this is probably the first time Ubin met broadband Internet! Other than previous dial-up modems accessible to the NParks staff on the island, this is quite an interesting addition to the island. Unfortunately it's only available to staff and volunteers. If only IDA will next consider introducing free wifi to Ubin!

    (L-R) Enjoying the volunteer lounge; broadband on ubin!

    There is also a library with books and resources on Ubin and its ecosystems. This is part of the resource room. Not to forget, the NParks staff will also have their offices housed at this volunteer hub. At the end of the day, volunteers and staff gathered together to celebrate the joyous occasion with a few bubblies.

    (L-R)Kenneth checking out the books; Hitting the bubblies!

    But the day was not over yet! Concurrent to the launch of the hub and stamp series, Vilma and her team from NSS Education Division was working hard under the sun, having fun with nature with a big group of kids! The morning saw a big group of them gathered in front of the site of the future "Project Green House Ubin", a new eco-center by the Green Volunteer Network. Otherwise affectionately nicknamed "Grant's House" by this Monkey.

    Registration and the crowd for NSS' Fun with Nature

    There were activities for the kids within the hub with storytelling and videos. But of course Fun with Nature can never be kept indoors! There were lots of activities for them in different stations over at the Jelutong Campsite, otherwise known as the Butterfly Hill.

    (L-R) Gathering in what the monkey thinks is the multimedia room at the hub; Fun under the sun in little canopied stations at Butterfly Hill overlooking the sea

    Related Reads:
  • More photos on my flickr set
  • Ubin Volunteer Hub, Pulau Ubin Stories, 24 Oct 2006
  • "Pulau Ubin Has Oldest CC With Oldest Chairman" By Jimmy Yap, Straits Times, 15 February 1995
  • " Volunteer Hub Sneak Preview", Pulau Ubin Stories, 27 Oct 2006
  • " Opening of Pulau Ubin Volunteer Hub will boost nature conservation", By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia, 28 October 2006

  • Saturday, October 28, 2006

    Opening of Pulau Ubin Volunteer Hub will boost nature conservation

    By Julia Ng, Channel NewsAsia
    Posted: 28 October 2006 1922 hrs

    Nature conservation and outreach efforts on Pulau Ubin got a boost on Saturday with the opening of the $250,000 Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub.

    The one-stop centre for Pulau Ubin was set up in recognition of the dedication and efforts of the volunteers.

    It is jointly set up by the National Parks Board and The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

    HSBC contributed S$800,000 to the Pulau Ubin Conservation Fund last year and S$250,000 of the sum went to setting up the Volunteer Hub.

    The rest of the donation will be used for nature conservation, outreach and research initiatives on Pulau Ubin.

    Pulau Ubin welcomes some 300,000 visitors a year and many got to enjoy guided walks and events - thanks to a dedicated group of 200 volunteers and others like the Nature Society, the Green Volunteers Network, and Pedal Ubin.

    In the last six years, the number of volunteers on Pulau Ubin has grown nine fold.

    With the Hub, volunteers can now tap into the resource centre, which is stocked with reference and multimedia materials on conservation research.

    It also has a lounge and seminar rooms for volunteers to gather for training and networking.

    The HSBC Care-For-Nature Stamp Series was also launched on Saturday by Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu.

    The series features the native wildlife of Singapore like the Common Palm Civet, the Common Flying Dragon, the Black-spotted Sticky Frog, and the Common Tiger Butterfly. - CNA/ch

    Related Reads:
  • Volunteer Hub Sneak Preview, Pulau Ubin Stories, 27 Oct 2006
  • Ubin Volunteer Hub, Pulau Ubin Stories, 24 Oct 2006
  • "Pulau Ubin Has Oldest CC With Oldest Chairman" By Jimmy Yap, Straits Times, 15 February 1995

  • Friday, October 27, 2006

    Volunteer Hub Sneak Preview

    Went to deliever the panels for the permanent exhibition in the Ubin volunteer hub today and got a sneak peek at the new hub.

    The wall of the old community center is now down and the building has a new coat of cheery paint with a new roof. Manicured gardens with bougainvilleas decorate the lawn while back of the hub overlooks the sea. We can now spot the building from the jetty. I even saw butterflies frolicking at the lawn.

    One of the exciting features of the hub is a mosaic tile map of Ubin made up of photographs contributed by volunteers and featuring people and places on Ubin. Toddycats are definitely represented with a picture of the civet cat right in the middle of the map!

    The launch of the volunteer hub also coincides with the launch of a stamp series entitled Fun with Nature, inspired by the namesake program conducted by NSS for kids, with NSS' Vilma at the helm of course. We had a gathering of familiar faces today on the island with Angie (NSS) bumping to me on the bumboat (pun intended) and then encountering Choon Beng (Nparks), Andrew and Vilma (NSS) on the jetty with promise of Grant (GVN) waiting for us at the hub. It's all fun and bustle as we set up our exhibition.

    Can't wait to see the guests learning more about volunteers and work on the island. In fact the guest of honor's presence on the island tomorrow must have resulted in the presence of army rovers on the island! We were surprised but speculations were that they were barged over from the nearby Pulau Tekong.

    Military vehicles spotted on the island!

    There will also be a children's program concurrently happening with the launch while Toddycats' Pedal Ubin will be having a leisure ride for members and guides with an interview on wheels happening for new members.

    My Ubin Friday ended with me sharing about Pedal Ubin and Pulau Ubin Stories at an event with the NUS community. In addition, a chinese newspaper article about Ubin by a journalist from Malaysia was sent to me and will be posted on here soon!

    The place to meet - Meeting Point 1!

    Definitely looking for another Ubin day tomorrow.

    Related Reads:
  • More photos on my flickr set
  • Ubin Volunteer Hub, Pulau Ubin Stories, 24 Oct 2006
  • "Pulau Ubin Has Oldest CC With Oldest Chairman" By Jimmy Yap, Straits Times, 15 February 1995