19 April 2008

Solving Rebus Puzzles Makes Mee Hungry

A rebus puzzle essentially consists of little pictures, often made with letters and words, which cryptically represent a word, phrase, or saying. It has nothing to do with mee rebus, a favourite local hawker fare.

Many years ago, a colleague would make us solve rebus puzzles without fail during Christmas celebration each year in the office. Maybe she thought that we had not been thinking hard enough at work so she took great delight in giving our brains a good workout even during a time of good cheer. You guessed it right - solving such puzzles didn't give me a lot of good cheer. Perhaps it did help work up my appetite a little as I was always thinking of the mee rebus they had prepared for the Christmas makan.

So to whet your appetite for the weekend meals that you will be having, below are some rebus puzzles for you to wreck your brains over. The answers will be given in the comments here on Wednesday. Alright, a little clue to help you get that perfect score - puzzle no. 7 is something I thought out myself and is topical. The rest of the puzzles are quite easy and you should have no problem solving them. Have fun!

12 April 2008

How I Won From All The Mahjong Kakis

In case you are wondering about the meaning of the word kakis in the title of this blog, someone who plays mahjong is known locally as a mahjong kaki. Kakis is simply the plural of kaki. It is a Malay word that means "leg" or "foot". Frankly, I do not see any connection between "mahjong" and "leg" apart from the fact that a mahjong table has 4 legs and you need 4 people to play the game.

My late mum loved to play mahjong. She played with like-minded neighbours in a spacious common area next to the staircase on the 4th storey of our SIT flat. This was in the 1960s. I loved to sit beside her to watch the game. There was another reason why I loved to sit beside her. (Read on to find out why.)

As a result, like what Kenny Rogers sings in the song The Gambler, I "got to know when to hold them" (the mahjong tiles, that is) and when to throw them away. In other words, I grew up being quite good at the game but being quite bad as well, if you consider playing mahjong as a vice.

Each pok (session) of game would last one or two hours on the average. Every player started with $2.90 in chips. If the player lost all the chips, he/she would have to fork out $3.00 in cash to settle the account. Why the extra 10 cents? The answer is that the "missing" 10 cents went into what Chun See mentioned in Peter's mahjong post as "chow soi" (imposing tax).

(Don't you ever scoff at the seemingly small amount of mahjong money at stake. $3.00 may seem very little money nowadays as it may not even buy a bowl of noodles in a food court. To put it in perspective, the monthly rent of our smaller than 500 square-feet SIT flat was just $24. It was what my dad could just afford with his monthly salary of about $150 which had to feed a family of 7 people.)

The mahjong game usually lasted from morning till late at night. On weekends, it would even be "thong siew" i.e. played throughout the night till the next day, which meant that the players went without sleep for 48 hours or more at a stretch. If that happened, several dollars of "tax" could be collected for that mahjong session.

So what happened to the "taxes" collected this way? The funds were used in 2 ways:

1. Every year, during 中元节 (Zhongyuan Jie or Ghost Festival) on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, a portion of the money would be used to buy offerings and food for the spirits. After the festival was over, the food items would be apportioned to all the regular mahjong kakis.

2. Every one or two hours during the mahjong game, I got a chance to earn some pocket money. It worked like this:

The players would give me 30 cents to buy coffee for them - 10 cents was officially declared as my reward while a kettle of black coffee with sugar from the coffeeshop downstairs cost 20 cents. The coffee was enough to fill 5 small enamelled tin cups. Sometimes, I even got to drink the fifth cup.
Even as a young kid, I knew how to maximise profits. I added 3 tablespoonfuls of sugar from my mum's sugar jar and bought only 10 cents of black coffee (without sugar) from the coffeeshop. This way, I earned 20 cents with every kettle of coffee that I bought. Over time, I saved up quite a tidy sum. And that was how I beat all the mahjong kakis and ended up as the ultimate winner.

06 April 2008

Did You Lose Money Recently?

No, I am not talking about losing money in a casino, the share and property markets or even a bad business deal.

You see, I was at the food court in basement 1 of the Toa Payoh HDB Hub last Friday at about 6.30 pm. For those of you who do not know the existence of this food court, I am sorry but where have you been ah? You are certainly losing (not money but) out on one of the best rojak stalls in Singapore.

(This photo is taken from Tingwo's article on Toa Payoh food hunt)

The stall is called Soon Heng Rojak and it dishes up the wet version of rojak. For the benefit of my foreign friends, there 2 kinds of rojak sold in Singapore:

One is the dry type. It usually has yu char kuay (curlers made from flour and deep-fried till golden brown), tau pok (deep-fried beancurd) and dried cuttlefish. The ingredients are grilled, preferably on an open charcoal fire for that added "burnt" fragrance. However, nowadays an electric grill is often used instead. The ingredients are then cut up with a pair of scissors and then topped with some hae ko (dark, thick prawn paste) and crushed peanuts. The dish is best served hot and crispy.

The other type of rojak is the wet type. For those who have not seen it before, the preparation of this dish is quite interesting to watch. It has many ingredients - mang guang (turnip), tau geh (bean sprout), tau pok, cucumber, pineapple and soaked cuttlefish. The seller has a large clay bowl. He first puts in all the flavourings - sugar, sour plum sauce, hae ko and chilli paste, if preferred. He would mix them all up using a wooden scoop. Then holding a big piece of vegetable in one hand, he would deftly slice it into little pieces. The vegetable slices would all "fly magically" into the earthen bowl. When all the ingredients have been cut up this way, he would then mix them up well using the scoop again. Finally, he would scoop everything up from the bowl and serve it to you or wrap it up if you prefer ta pao (takeaway).

This rojak stall is so good that it has an electronic queueing system, not unlike the one used by HDB just upstairs for flat applicants. It is a necessary investment because queueing time is often half-hour or longer. Not only that, there is a second stall of the same name in the same food court! Now tell me, how often does that happen in Singapore?

Oops, I think I have digressed too much. When I talk about rojak, my ideas also tend to become rojak (all mixed up). What was this article originally about? Oh yes, it was about losing money.

Okay here come the toppings. While I was eating, I noticed some money lying on the floor by the next table where an elderly man was having his dinner. No one else seemed to have noticed the money even after I have finished my meal. Then I walked over, picked up the money and asked the elderly man, "Did you drop some money?" Old man Oh man, he was even more honest than I - his reply was a very firm "no".

So if you are the one who lost the money around the date, time and venue specified above, I would gladly return it to you. However, the condition is that you must describe the money as accurately as possible - the amount, the denomination, how it was packaged, etc. From your description, I will be able to tell if you are the genuine owner. (Hello, this is not a contest hor.)

And if you don't read my blog, then I am sorry to say that you are a real loser (of the money, that is). If there is no claimant after 3 months, I will donate the money to a charity (not NKF, Teen Challenge or Ren Ci).