Cakes.

Since my last post in September of 2015, I took a long hiatus from blogging. Ironically, that last post was also my most widely read post. I realised only today that the last post averaged almost 600 views – a huge leap from most of my other posts which would average around 50 views or so. Since that last post, I stopped blogging for a year and a half because I felt discouraged by the state of political events in Singapore, and burnt out from being overly invested in what I thought could be a real and lasting change in Singapore’s political landscape. I felt defeated, not just by the tide of recent events, but also in my personal life as I grieved over the unexpected loss of my father, and started questioning the path that I had taken in my life. But that’s another story…for another day.

Today’s post is going to be on cakes. While I have never mentioned this before, I am and always have been a huge fan of baking. I’ve baked since I was eight years old, prior to even knowing what a ‘cup’ of flour meant. This was in the 1980s in Singapore, where the only measurement standard I was exposed to was the metric standard. It was also before the advent of the internet which would forever put to rest any confusion I had about measurement standards in baking. I remember many failed attempts at chocolate chip cookies, some being too chewy, and some being too floury or salty. They never did look like the picture in the recipe-book I followed. Of course, it was because I never did have a standard set of measuring cups and spoons and would use my mom’s tea-cups and cutlery instead to measure out everything, from flour to sugar and butter. Thankfully, today I have a few sets of trusty measuring cups and spoons.

Since my amateur attempts at baking in the 80s, I have baked hundreds of times for different occasions. These ranged from fundraisers to Birthday parties, to social gatherings and tea-parties, to “just because I’m craving a chocolate chip cookie.” More recently, I have even baked Pineapple Tarts because I felt homesick, and wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year by baking Pineapple Tarts with a fellow Singaporean friend, Dora, who lives in L.A. Dora suggested baking the tarts and I gamely went along with the idea. Surprise, surprise! I never would have imagined myself baking Pineapple Tarts or any kind of local confection that can be easily bought in Singapore, but that’s what happens when you live overseas long enough and don’t have access to the usual goodies. This little baking experiment with Dora will be featured in next weeks post along with a video.

Today’s post is going to be on the German Chocolate Cake. Let it be said that I am not a fan of ugly cakes. This cake is, in my humble opinion, a pretty ugly cake.

 

I have never had any desire to make it and for the life of me, never even knew much about it, except that it looked dull & brown, (strike one)  and had coconut in it (strike two). However, my friend was getting married and I offered to make her a cake for her wedding. She told me she’d love to have a German Chocolate Cake, so I did a little research on the cake and found a good recipe to follow. When I made it and tried the final product, I was surprised by a few things about the cake:

  1. The texture is amazingly soft and fluffy, yet the taste is still rich, decadent and complex.
  2. There is nothing German about the cake. It is a totally American created confection, so named after Samuel German, the English-American creator of the particular type of dark chocolate that was used to bake the cake. German created the chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852, and 105 years later in 1957, a Texan home-maker, Mrs George Clay used this particular chocolate to come up with a recipe for a chocolate cake. Since then the recipe became an american favourite, and sales of the dark chocolate created by Samuel German increased by 73%. Soon after the cake’s name has changed from “German’s Chocolate Cake” to what we now know today as the German Chocolate Cake.
  3. It is possible to make a German Chocolate Cake look decent, if you have the time and patience for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t really! But the next time I make this cake, I will plan to ice and ‘pretty’ it up.

I used this recipe from allrecipes.com after reading quite a few comments and reviews on the different recipes of German Chocolate Cake available. The only thing different I did was to double the ingredients for the filling by 1.5 times and to also toast the pecans and coconut as some of the other reviewers suggested. It turned out great, and my friend and her fiancee loved it, and I I learned how to bake a whole new type of cake in the process!

 

 

Do you want to see Amos Yee convicted?

Those who want to see Amos Yee being sentenced for the ‘crime’ of plainly stating his personal opinion should ask themselves what is the kind of society they’d like to live in. Many Singaporean citizens who reacted to his video expressed much more malice and hate on social media than Amos ever did. He was violently threatened by a PAP grassroots member and physically and publicly hurt by a vengeful citizen, yet none of these individuals are being dealt with nearly as harshly as Amos. Is this just?

Thousands of Singaporean Christians, including myself have signed the petition to free Amos Yee and have stated that they are not offended, so how has he wounded Christian feelings? None of the citizens who reported him to the police for being offensive are willing to take the stand in court and testify against him. Why?

I don’t agree with what Amos says about Jesus Christ, in fact I believe that Jesus Christ is rather the opposite of LKY. Unlike LKY, Jesus Christ sought out and deliberately spent time with the ‘sinners’ and outcasts, the rejects of society. He also said the first will be last and the last will be the first. From what I gather, LKY basically said that the first will be paid obscene amounts of money, and the last shall not even be worthy of getting a minimum wage. (I am paraphrasing this of course, it’s part of his legacy that Singapore is now the most expensive city in the world and yet still does not have a minimum wage, while the Prime Minister and his ministerial entourage are drawing salaries amounting to millions of tax dollars )

But Amos is entitled to having his opinion and stating it plainly, just as I am entitled to navigating away from the video he posted if I am offended by it. I may not like the manner in which Amos stated his opinion, but I must say I admire his courage, integrity and his willingness to stand on his convictions. He was as vulgar and jarring as he was precisely because he wanted the video to go viral. He wanted us to think about about the issues he was raising.

Like the little boy who called out the emperor’s nakedness, Amos has been the only one who has dared to state what he sees plainly and publicly, without mincing his words. That is what freedom of expression is. You may not like or agree with what other people say, but that doesn’t mean that they should be fettered and thrown into jail like Amos has been. In many other democracies, most people wouldn’t be too bothered by the likes of Amos’s video, and those offended would either 1) ignore it and move on 2) engage and state their own opinions. They wouldn’t be calling out for his blood and running to the authorities to arrest him for speaking his mind. In Singapore it seems, one can be arrested for bluntly expressing one’s opinion, especially if one’s opinion runs counter to prevailing sentiment.

If we are to live in a just and free society where there is openness and accountability, we must consider why numerous other people who have made public threats against Amos and his family aren’t being similarly curtailed for their hurtful and violent statements and actions.

At the tender age of 16 years old, Amos is making us think. That’s much more than can be said of our leadership which has shackled mainstream media and silenced public dissent for years. Unlike Amos, our leadership thrives on our ignorance, apathy, and fear.

In my opinion, as much as we dislike being called idiots, we should be thanking Amos for having the guts shout the painful truth from the rooftops and not, like the intelligensia, dress it up with sophisticated froufrou, which is usually lost on most of us anyways.

Why are we Singaporeans so angry, vindictive and petty? Because we are a very unhappy lot. And why are we so unhappy? Because we subscribe to the values advocated by our leaders, and so many others in the world, that our worth depends on our income, achievements and good behavior. We try so hard to toe the lines, obeying these rules to earn a false sense of self-worth, when in fact our value is intrinsic. It is hardly surprising then, that we get outraged when a seemingly obnoxious little teenager thumbs his nose at these self-imposed rules and pronounces us stupid for subscribing to them. We angry Singaporeans have been looking for the first person to crucify, and Amos has kindly offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb.

Thankfully, Amos’s lawyers have made a water-tight case for Amos’s innocence, based on clear and simple logic. They have also backed it up with sound evidence, whereas the AGC’s retort is even worse than what you’d expect out of a primary school debate. The AGC has no witnesses or convincing evidence to prove Amos has broken the law. Anyone who has respect for truth and justice will know that if Amos gets convicted, it signals a social-malaise so deep that it corrupts our our political and judicial system, and indeed our very own minds and hearts if we allow it to.

What does ‘freedom’ mean to you?

If you have read Calvin Cheng’s article titled “The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew and the Myth of Trade-offs” it is likely that you reacted in one of these two ways. Either you probably felt validated by this article as you bought into the clever suggestion that security can be conveniently redefined as freedom as the author suggested. Or like me, you shook your head and sighed deeply, disappointed by yet another prejudiced and facile article amidst the plethora of mind-numbing articles that are popping up like poisonous mushrooms in the wake of LKY’s death.

I am glad to say that there was a third response, and that response was to write an article that exposes the very elementary mistakes that Calvin Cheng’s makes in his article. Donald Low bothered to engage and write an article clarifying the important distinction between security and freedom and how that relates to Singapore’s needs today. As Low elucidates in his article, security and the delivery of high quality public goods are not contingent on the presence or the absence of a participatory democracy, but rather a strong and competent state. Neither can security or or the presence of high-quality public goods in Singapore be logically redefined as ‘freedom’ even in the Singaporean context. Following this article, Calvin Cheng rebutted by saying

“Mr. Low states that that I conflate security with freedom; I have done no such thing. I am in fact arguing that security is a precondition to real freedom.

Take a very real life example. You could tell me that I am free to go wherever I want in a crime-infested area of say New York or London, because there are no laws or physical impediments to prevent me from going. However, because my personal safety may be threatened if I do go, that ‘freedom’ is a hollow one. It’s not real freedom. Conversely, if there is law and order, I am truly free to go wherever I want.” (taken from a comment on Low’s article)

I feel very bothered by Calvin Cheng’s response because it smacks of intellectual dishonesty. First of all, unlike Low, he never once stated that security is a precondition for the exercise of freedom. Cheng merely argued that Singapore has it’s own version of ‘freedom’ because it has clean air, public safety, and so on and so forth. Sounds very much to me that he is saying high-quality public goods + security = ‘freedom’ (in Singaporean context).

Secondly, why on earth would you or I decide to walk down a crime-infested part of NYC or London? It just doesn’t make logical sense, it’s the same in Singapore, would you under normal circumstances, decide to walk alone in the dark alleyways of Geylang at 3am in the morning? (I’m not talking about the parts of Geylang where you go to for supper, but the parts where prostitutes and pimps ply their trade) I have been to London and NYC, multiple times and felt safe everywhere I went. I remember taking the underground from the JFK airport to the Time Square station at 12am at night and walking then walking across Times Square to my friend’s apartment around the corner, lugging my suitcase on rollers. I felt completely safe as the streets were brightly lit and still busy with the bustle of city life even at that late hour. I got to my friend’s apartment unmolested at 1.15 am or so, and never thought twice about it.

Thirdly, I really do not understand why Calvin Cheng compares walking around in Singapore to walking around a crime-infested area of New York or London. It’s not even a fair comparison because the crime infested parts of Singapore reside mainly in government and politics, which is why we definitely need greater political accountability. This requires greater political participation, especially in opposition parties, however, for the same reasons that most of us would avoid walking down a crime-infested street of New York city, most of us who are concerned with self-preservation would avoid getting into opposition politics.

Just think about this, almost two million USD a year goes to the Prime Minister, to govern tiny little Singapore, while the leader of the free world, Barack Obama gets less than a quarter of that, to overlook a country 13420 times larger than Singapore and deal not just with national issues, but with many issues concerning international security on a daily basis. Tell me, is the high pay that ministers in Singapore get not simply a form of legalized corruption? Did we as citizens have a significant say/power in deciding how much our ministers should get? Do we, as Singaporeans, get to decide which laws are implemented and which are abolished? It is really crazy that an entry level minister in Singapore is getting paid almost twice as much as Obama, especially in Singapore which is supposedly ‘meritocratic’ and ‘corruption free.’ People, this is not representative of a meritocracy or a country with a corruption free government, but rather an oligarchy. The biggest ‘gang’ we have in Singapore now is the PAP. But that’s slowly changing.

I live in Crenshaw/Baldwin Hills Los Angeles. A place that is notorious for criminal activity and rival gangs in L.A. Yes, I would never venture to walk around in this neighborhood at night at 3am or leave the door to my apartment open. In the same way, I would not risk doing the same in Singapore, even in my ‘safe’ Sunset Way neighborhood back in Singapore, just because…commonsense. In the same way, I do not feel that my freedom is curtailed because of the relatively high-crime occurrences in my L.A neighborhood; as long as I take the right precautions, like not walking around the neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, and locking my apartment doors, for example, I feel safe. My husband’s car got broken into once and his sub-woofer got stolen, but that is because there was a malfunction in the locking system which left the trunk unlocked. (We didn’t realize this until the subwoofer got stolen, otherwise we would have locked the trunk manually) Other than that, in the two years that we have lived here, we have not had any run-ins with crime. Sure, Crenshaw/Baldwin Hills is definitely less safe than Clementi, or most parts of Singapore, or many other parts of LA like Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, but for all of my regular needs and creature comforts, it is completely adequate: I go grocery-shopping at the local supermarket and run/walk alone in a green space a couple of blocks away from where I live. The irony is that living here actually affords me more freedom and greater spending flexibility on an otherwise tight-budget.

There is an over-supply of public tennis courts here that are available for use throughout the day that I would frequent more often if I had a regular tennis partner. Most people in the ‘hood’ do not play tennis. Tennis courts are not as accessible in Singapore, unless you live in a private estate with tennis courts or are a member of a sports club. In some ways, I would say that the quality of my life in this high-crime neighborhood is higher than it could ever be in Singapore, with the current income we have. There is no way that we would be able to enjoy the luxury of a 800 square-foot 1 bedroom apartment in a gated community in Singapore for a mere rent of $900USD monthly. Also, on a relatively tight budget, both my husband and I each have our own individual cars that have already been paid in full, to be used completely at our discretion, something that could never happen in Singapore on our current income. (we would have trouble surviving in Singapore on our current income) A Singaporean friend of mine decided that he would never in his lifetime invest in buying a car in Singapore because with the same money spent on maintaining a car and paying for COE over 20 years, he could send his daughter to study in the States when she became old enough. I did the math and then realized that if ever moved back to Singapore, I would never buy car there, because it would just be a bad investment, unless of course I were rolling in money. This all comes down to what we define as freedom, to Cheng, freedom = security + high-quality public goods. To me, freedom means something else altogether.

Once again, do take the time to read Donald Low’s article and share it. In doing so, you will be taking an important step in raising the standard of political maturity and discourse in Singapore.