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The melting pot that is Singapore

by Thir.st | 21 July 2017, 6:53 PM

“Is it Masterchef today?”

Nadzirah’s eyes sparkled with excitement. It’s a quiet Saturday morning but there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. Everyone’s come armed with pots and groceries.

It’s an unlikely bunch we have in the kitchen today: Ze Qiang, an engineering student, together with exhibition designer Nadzirah and graphic designer Veneetha.

Their challenge for the day: To teach each other how to make a signature dessert from their own culture.

“I HOPE THIS WILL MAKE MY KAMPUNG PROUD”

Nadzirah starts the ball rolling by explaining her dish for the day – ondeh-ondeh. This well-loved dish only requires a few simple, common ingredients.

The trio splits the work between them efficiently. Nadzirah instructs Ze Qiang to cut the gula melaka – the ingredient crucial to the dish – into little cubes, along with the pandan leaves into very precise 4cm strips. After all, precision is key to Nadzirah’s interior design background.

“Pandan leaves are there to add flavour and for the coconut to last longer. That’s what my mum told me,” Nadzirah says confidently as she puts the grated coconut into the steamer and begins on the dough.

“Why do you use glutinous rice flour?” Ze Qiang asks.

“Err … actually I don’t know, ask my mum.” Nadzirah answers with a little laugh. This is far from the only time their mums are mentioned throughout the day, as the source of the recipes and tips.

“I hope this will make my kampung proud!”

A TRADITIONAL DISH WITH A MODERN TWIST

“I’ve actually never made gulab jamun myself before.”

Veneetha looks sheepishly at Ze Qiang and Nadzirah. Out of the snacks her Indian family makes on Deepavali, gulab jamun is the easiest to make. And it is also her personal favourite.

“It’s is a milk-solid-based ball that is deep fried and soaked in syrup. Many people think that it originated from India. But we kind of stole it from the Persians.”

Everyone laughs. The dry ingredients are poured into the mixing bowl. By now, the trio has clearly warmed up to each other in the kitchen.

“Before I saw the recipe, I didn’t know that it was mainly milk powder. I always thought that it was made of something luxurious.”

Ze Qiang asks Veneetha about the origin behind the name of the dish.

Gulab refers to rose water in Persian, so they used to use rose water-infused syrup. Jamun refers to an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.”

“Food does bring people together!”

They split the load of forming evenly-shaped balls from the dough. No one’s made this before, so the trio decides to experiment frying just one ball first.

Nothing happens.

“I guess it is a little too calm,” Ze Qiang says, laughing. Then they realise that the stove hasn’t been switched on and everyone breaks into laughter.

“When I told my mum I was going to add honey to the syrup, she was a little doubtful. I think it’s a modern take to this dish,” Veneetha explains as she starts on the syrup. The traditional recipe uses cane sugar.

The frying continues and the sweet fragrance of milk fills the air. Nadzirah shares about her experience buying gulab jamun from a stall at Little India.

“The uncle just put that one ball and the syrup into a teh peng bag, I was just carrying it around like that!” She recalls the overwhelming sweetness from that time, but is excited to try it again today with Veneetha’s modern spin on the recipe.

For the rest of us, it is our first time ever hearing of this dessert.

AN INHERITED FAMILY RECIPE

It’s almost lunchtime as they move swiftly through the preparation of the ingredients for the final fish. Nadzirah attempts at chopping the yam into chunks. Looking at the amount of strength she is using, Ze Qiang steps in to take over.

Orh nee is served at almost any Chinese restaurant. It is usually paired with gingko nuts and pumpkin. But this recipe is passed down … It’s like a family recipe,” he says.

“My mother was quite insistent that I made this.”

They practise pronouncing the name of the dish while waiting for the yam to be ready. Veneetha and Nadzirah repeat the words after Ze Qiang slowly a few times. Singaporeans know it as orh nee, meaning yam paste in Teochew.

The sliced shallots are lowered into the hot oil. Everyone is mesmerised by the fragrance and sizzling sound of the shallots being fried. Ze Qiang motions for the girls to try the perfectly fried shallots. Everyone’s eyes widen upon tasting the shallots and Nadzirah goes back in for more.

“This will go so well with mee soto. Or briyani!”

HARMONY IN DIVERSITY

It is finally time to taste the three dishes after a hectic morning.

As they taste the dishes before them, their eyes light up in delight. Smiles appear on their faces.

“I would never have thought of having shallots in my dessert,” Veneetha casually comments.

Nadzirah is also pleasantly surprised that the gulab jamun turned out to be less sweet than she expected. Veneetha guesses that it’s due to the honey substituting the cane sugar, as well as a shorter soaking time. Traditionally, the balls are soaked in the syrup overnight.

“Well, I like it better this way!”

As they eat, laughter fills the air, along with nods of approval, relieved faces and satisfied tummies. Which is your favourite, we ask the three.

Eyes dart left and right. They say it’s hard to pick a favourite because they’re all so differently unique: The savoury yam paste, chewy ondeh-ondeh and not-so-sweet gulab jamun.

We realise that that’s the trademark of Singapore – where vibrant and diverse cultures live together in harmony.

As Ze Qiang puts it, the diversity we have is what makes Singapore unique.

“Having diversity in races adds colour to our country. For example, the different kinds of food that each race brings gives us a variety of food which allows us to experience the different flavours we would not have known otherwise. This includes the traditions and cultures too.”

Nadzirah agrees that it is important for Singaporeans to make the effort to get to know different races and understand the different cultures.

“Getting to know different races, understanding different cultures just add colours to your life. Colours are very important to me. I don’t like to lead a dull life.

“I’ve learnt that there are so many other desserts out there that we have yet to try. If we just stick to what we know, our own culture, we tend to miss out on a lot.”

RESPECTING ROOTS

The trio also acknowledged how blessed we are to live in a country where there’s an intrinsic respect for each other’s roots, and where we have a culture of openness in asking and learning.

Ze Qiang believes that being conscious and respectful towards each other’s beliefs and culture is also key to maintaining racial harmony in such a diverse society. Everyone has a part to play in this.

“I think generally Singapore is quite harmonious. However, there can be some unintentional segregation that happens naturally if we are not careful. Like how people tend to stick to their own kind. We are also bound to have conflicts over different beliefs and cultures,” he says.

“But if everyone takes the effort to understand and reach out to the other races, everyone can live in harmony.”

“Having diversity in races adds colour to our country.”

Veneetha adds that the openness to working together is key.

“Before coming into this, I thought the other recipes were going to be complicated and probably something that I will never be able to do on my own. But with some help and guidance from my friends, the recipes that were shared turned out to be surprisingly simple and I will definitely make them again.”

She also felt that finding a common interest also helps to bridge the gaps between people and their differences.

“This simple experience made me more knowledgable about the other cultures in Singapore and I think everyone should make an effort like this. Food does bring people together!”

Nadzirah recalls that as part of the preparation process prior to this shoot, everyone brought brand new utensils and crockery to ensure that halal standards are respected and adhered to.

While this made things logistically more complicated and troublesome, everyone chipped in without complaints.

“Thank you for complying to the halal standards, I really appreciate it,” she tells the other two.

Singapore: We may be made up of different ingredients and cultures, but we’re still good and sweet together.

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Don’t follow your heart

by | 19 February 2018, 11:17 AM

Don’t follow your heart.

Sure, most hearts do a fine job of pumping blood to keep us alive. But while it sustains life – it doesn’t lead us well at all. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

I’m sure you’ve felt the fickle nature of your own heart before. Right when we think we finally know what our heart wants – we’ve changed our minds by the next moment.

Our minds rationalise and soothe our easy hearts that it’s OK to run away from things we hate or fear. So we escape, and strive to find fulfilment in all manner of things.

Consider what’s frequently right at your fingertips: Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube – porn. These are so easily the well-worn holes which an escapist crawls into willingly.

But some holes are pits.

“I just wanted to disappear. Specifically, I wanted to disappear to an isolated and desolate place that reflected how I felt inside.” said Holly Baxter, who spent five weeks along the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia to escape social media.

Has your heart ever felt like escaping? You may even have thought of doing something like Baxter. I suppose that’s one way of being in touch with ourselves – by being somewhere which encompasses our inner turmoil.

 

Here’s the point: What really needs to be changed is what’s happening on the inside.

If we’re restless and constantly on the run, it more than likely reflects an absence of peace within. And sure, life can be difficult – but life is difficult.

The real question is: What do you have in this difficult life that’s unshakeable (Psalm 62:6)? My gentle words are that you find it, because a day will come when what your whole life stands upon is tested.

There is just one thing in this world worth pursuing. It is Jesus Christ – only Jesus satisfies!

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

We were made to walk with God, we who are so prone to walk away. I want to tell you with all my being – shout it from the rooftops – that He is enough. We have all we’ll ever need in God.

We cannot go wrong by desiring Him, so let us choose and love Him.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by | 15 February 2018, 3:37 PM

As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.

The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.

“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”

“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’

“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.

It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.

Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.

“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”

(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)

Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.

And He did.

“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every work, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”

Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”

And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.

“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”

Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.

“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.

“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Porn and the things I’d rather love

by JH Kwek | 12 February 2018, 9:16 PM

It has been said that there are two types of men: Those who watch porn, and liars.

The truth is I belong to both categories.

My struggle with pornography began when I was 11. I was surfing the web when I stumbled onto some highly sexualised anime clips. Ever since then, this thorn, this drug, this corruption has been with me.

I’ve tried my whole life to break free, only for each attempt to end in failure. I got really good at lying about it though. Even when I confessed this sin to my cell members, I managed to phrase it in a way that made me look like the victim – like I was really trying my best and somehow that was enough.

It was like there was no real consequence to remaining in my addiction, as long as I cried and looked like I didn’t like it.

But I did.

I loved it: Every lustful moment in the toilet, every fantasy fired up by sensual Instagram posts, every filthy thought – I revelled in all of it. I knew the sinfulness of my addiction, but I didn’t really believe it. I was deluded, a man who thought nothing of eternity and only of the momentary high that came each night I gave in to my lust.

The struggle against pornography is often portrayed as a noble war, as if we’re righteous creatures born into a broken world, battling the forces of lust that seek to ruin us.

But we are not righteous creatures. We are dead creatures (Ephesians 2:1). We don’t just sin – we love to sin. We delight in it. We take pleasure in it. By ourselves we are so far from righteousness.

When God shook me out of my stupor, I finally saw how great my sin was – but I also had my eyes opened to the vastness of His grace.

The struggle against pornography is not a mere struggle to stop loving porn: It is a struggle to love Christ – and love Him more than anything else. So my problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

How then can a dead man love Christ? He can when he is brought to life.

My problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

And that was exactly what God did for me. In the quiet moment of a ministry retreat’s worship session, I read Ephesians 2 and became utterly convicted of my sin and sinful nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

There and then, I repented, and asked God to bring me back to life.

And He did. He called me back to life.

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As the words of Ephesians 2 filled my mind, He began to convict my heart of my very real state of sin, that I was indeed dead in my trespasses and sins, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, just like the rest of mankind.

But the same Spirit who convicted me of my sin also revealed to me so mercifully and lovingly that God, because of the great love with which He had for me, was calling me out of death in my sin to a redeemed life with Jesus Christ. It is by grace I have been saved.

There are so many of us – men and women – who struggle with an addiction to pornography. I still struggle with it. Porn is undeniably pleasurable. Speaking from experience, it is one of the strongest and most addictive pleasures I’ve ever come across.

But I can also speak from experience, that the cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch. How blind I was! And how blind I still can be!

God gifted us priceless pleasure and fullest joy in His Son – yet we reject Him for worthless things. Father, forgive us!

A dead man can only love Christ when he is brought to life.

The cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch.

You may seek love in pornography, relationships or achievements – after all, we were designed to receive love. But there is a better way.

It is the love that God gives to us. It’s the same love that caused Him to send His only Son into the world, so that we who were doomed to die might live through Him. All this while we did not yet love Him. Our Father loved us, and sent his Son to pay our debts (1 John 4).

I pray that God brings you back to life and opens your eyes, that His Son is no longer just words on a page to you, but the very real and tangible pleasure that surpasses all other pleasures.

A heart full of Christ has neither need nor want of porn. Help us to want and need you God – bring us back to life!

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Tired of facing the usual questions at CNY?

by | 12 February 2018, 2:57 PM

You’ve always loved Chinese New Year (CNY). Meeting family and friends, stuffing your face with calories, receiving hongbao – what’s not to like?

Yet the older you got, the less excited you became for the season. Somewhere along the way you traded the enthusiasm for apprehension.

Well, you’re looking forward to the hongbao and the food … It’s the conversations you’re obliged to have that you dread.

  • How’s your job?
  • Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?
  • When are you getting married?
  • When are you having kids?

It’s the questions, man. Every year they ask the same questions and every year you give the same answers. It’s old.

So maybe that’s one reason you dread CNY, because of the exhausting questions that add or subtract value –assigning identities – to who you are based on your answers about your job, wife or life.

But you know, there really is only one question worth asking at the end of all these other questions.

Who am I?

You are more than your job, more than your relationship status, more than your bank account, more than what you’ve achieved or what you’ve not, more than how you look or how you dress. Dear friend, you are more than your successes and your failures, more than your reputation – more than an “ENFP” or an “ISTJ” or any combination of letters or numbers someone or something assigned to you.

Why? Because of who God says you really are.

Don’t laugh. You are intrinsically valuable – even if you’ve spent your whole life believing you’re not. This is what God says: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by Him (Psalm 139).

You were designed with intricate thoughts that outnumber the sand grains by the sea, woven tirelessly together. You were made a masterpiece in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)!

You were made fit to walk with angels on streets of gold (Revelation 21:21). If you are a child of the Most High God, then you are an heir to the King (Romans 8:16-17).

There is so much more to life than just going through the motions, dying and being buried in the earth. Snap out of the stupor and realise there’s more to it all than just daily putting in eight hours of work and showing up on Sundays.

There’s a more abundant life for you just waiting to be lived.

If you want this better life, God is waiting to give it to you. If you seek Him first, I promise you that He will show you the better way. But it’s a risk. I won’t hoodwink you: You must throw away the life you had before, to gain one worth keeping.

This isn’t a religion thing. This is about new life. It’s not about systems of reading the Bible, going to church, tithing, attending cell groups and praying regularly. Man, it’s about being reborn!

If you’re sick of this life, then chew on this: Maybe you’re not yet living the one you were made for.

This year, when you’re bombarded by all the usual questions – be the answer.

Be a light which reflects Jesus. Let whatever you think, say and do show God’s goodness. Pray and ask God to make it so that when your friends and relatives see you, they see Jesus.

It’s a hard prayer to make. And if you do make it, don’t be surprised at the challenges that soon come your way. They are the opportunities you were waiting for.

It doesn’t matter what others say about you. Tongues may wag … But well, tongues will always wag no matter what you do. Be the change you want to see in your family. Dare to be different from the expectations that society places on you. 

You’re probably sick of questions but I’ll leave you with a final one: How are you going to be different this year?

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

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What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?

by | 9 February 2018, 6:05 PM

Happy Chinese New Year! … Or is it?

Speaking to a number of people recently, I’ve realised that the festivities can be a difficult time for some. Not all’s well at family reunions, it increasingly appears to be.

Are you one of them? Are the relationships in your family breaking down faster than traditions can keep them together?

Maybe you once held out hope as a child, that things would get better in the family. Maybe you’ve tried, over the years, to get everyone together – but you no longer see a point to it when you’re the only one trying.

Maybe the relationships in your family are breaking down. Maybe you’re not even sure if there’s going to be a reunion dinner this year.

But what I do know is that it’s easy to feel like everyone else is having an amazing time when you’re scrolling through Instagram. It’s important to have perspective: We’re looking at the highlight reel of other people’s lives on social media.

Think about the things not present on Instagram: Strained relationships, family deaths, generational tensions, divorces, bitterness … The list goes on.

But I’m not interested in staying stuck in self-pity – we don’t have time for that. I want to think about how we can respond, if in reality, our family isn’t that perfect, shiny and colour-coordinated dream we see on-screen.

Love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too.

British-Ethiopian poet, Lemn Sissay, was fostered from birth and abandoned at the age of 12. By 18, he had lived in four children’s homes. He illustrates the importance of family using the game of squash:

“Family are like the walls in a game of squash. You hit the ball and it comes back at strange angles and you try to get it again … It develops your muscles in strange places, because you have to stretch sometimes to get the ball back in to continue the game.”

You have to stretch sometimes. The stretch is the place where love is learnt. We begin young with the easier stuff: We shared our favourite biscuit with dad, or gave our favourite toy to our sister.

But love gets harder as we grow up – which only means our love needs growing up too!

It’s harder when love requires more from us, like when we’re faced with an aunt whom we just don’t want to tahan any longer. It’s hard when family culture seems impossible to change. It’s hard when money gets involved or when “face” gets in the way.

But when it’s hard that’s precisely when we need to persevere.

It’s not easy to be the first one in the family to say a loving word in response to toxicity or sarcasm. Unity is not easy. It’s not easy to put aside our pride and ask for forgiveness. And it’s not easy to choose to love when others don’t care.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need. Sissay also says this:

“And that all that would happen throughout my life is that my muscles would waste away beneath me because I’m not using the muscles that develop in the game of family … Family is defined by how it deals with difficult issues. It is strengthened by how it resolves them and weakened when it tries to ignore them.”

So don’t be discouraged if your family is facing difficult issues. Consider what real love is to your family members. Be the one who would love them.

Why should you do it? 1 John 4:19. “We love because he first loved us.” Jesus Christ loved us to the point that He would die for us – all while we were still sinners. God’s love takes the initiative. Jesus did – so we must do the same.

If we give up on family, we never develop the “muscles” that we need.

We may not have gotten the love we needed from our family. We may even have even been disappointed by the very people who were supposed to be our best bets – but we always have a Father in Heaven who loves us perfectly.

“And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)

Being filled with our Father’s perfect love for us enables us to love those around us. If your family is challenging, then let it challenge you. That’s where the growth is at.

I pray you’ll have faith to see that your best days are ahead of you. I pray you’ll have hope in God to do what you cannot on your own, and I pray that you will love someone enough to step out of your comfort zone.


Screenshots were taken from our Chinese New Year initiative, “One More Rice Bowl“.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Article list

The melting pot that is Singapore

Don’t follow your heart

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

Porn and the things I’d rather love

Tired of facing the usual questions at CNY?

What if my family makes for an unhappy CNY?