Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bak Kua

I've always liked bak kua. Bak kua is basically a type of meat jerky usually eaten during the Chinese New Year.

It is very expensive for Malaysians or Singaporeans. For the price it is sold, it's presumably expensive by London's standard as well. That is why bak kua is a "presentable and posh" gift in house visits during CNY. It's not so much about people giving you meat, it's the price of the gift!

A kilogramme of bak kua is £14.50. But that's what we pay in KL. In London, that's sold at £50/kg. That's approximately 12 slices of bak kua, 13 if I could chat up the cashier. That's like paying more than £4 for a slice of ham! That's why I think it's still expensive by London's standard.

And it's not worth "smuggling" bak kua into the country as foreign meat products are banned from entering.

I'll be celebrating CNY in London this year. But CNY without bak kua is like Christmas without mince pies. So enough is enough. I decided to make my own bak kua this weekend.

With the wonders of the internet, I found plenty of bak kua recipes. One was Lily's recipe. The recipe was simple and ingredients easily available. With so many recipes available on the internet, it's just a matter of time someone perfected one to give Bee Cheng Hiang or Kiew Brothers' a run for their money. After all, bak kua as I realised, was neither too difficult nor expensive to make on our own. At the end of this article, you'd realise how much it cost me to make bak kua here.

Fiona came to help. We took 2 days to prepare and cook. One day to marinate and the other to bake and grill.

Marinated pork mince

Engineers work around constraints. In the absence of a rolling pin, we used a glass.

Meat over a baking tray to 3mm thickness

Baked meat cut in squares for grilling

The finished product

The result was surprisingly good - in appearance and taste. It was better than we expected, considering it was our first time. In fact, the appearance was so convincing when we served it to Amy, who came to visit, she couldn't believe we made them from scratch.

We got 9 slices of bak kua with 500g of pork mince. Total cost: £4.

Now I'm quite confident of an affordable supply of bak kua well into CNY. Orders, anyone?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time Value of Money

Today the UK's Office for National Statistics announced that the annual inflation rate is at 2.9%. Our office has frozen pay for two consecutive terms now. Based on the time value of money and the inflation rate, we're effectively taking a pay cut of 2.9% now.

If we started earning £100 a year ago, this is equivalent to earning £97.10 today. But if a product was bought at £100 a year ago, the same product would cost £102.90 today. Simple maths. What does this mean? That we have to pay more for less, or having less to buy. Either way, this is not good for the economy.

What is anyway? In this time of recession, I guess we can only count our blessings that we are still gainfully employed. The time value of money is meaningless without an income.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Meeting the Deputy PM - Part 2

In the afternoon I received several emails from friends saying that they saw me on TV. They informed me of the news channels that I appeared on with the Deputy PM. Also in the video was Noris and Eskandar.

The following are extracts of three news footage from TV3 and NTV7 channels dated today.

Buletin Utama, TV3

Mandarin 7, NTV7

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Meeting the Deputy PM

With the Deputy Prime Minister

Today after work I went to the Malaysian High Commission to meet the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Noris and Eskandar were also there with me. The meeting was attended by over a hundred Malaysian professionals and students in and around London. Some came from as far as Plymouth and Oxford.

Before the meeting, I knew very little of our DPM because he was the new man who's taken up the portfolio only recently, some time in April 2009. I was not particularly interested in politics at the time because of petty political bickering that were happening in the country.

Tan Sri took on the questions thrown at him by the floor with tact. The questions touched on race-based politics, national key result areas like the state of our public transportation, education and tackling of crime; and the general state of our economy.

Speech by Tan Sri

He acknowledged that we still have lots to improve and there are challenges ahead. He was very honest about it. One particular subject which particularly drew my attention was on brain drain. He dismissed that as a serious problem at the moment. "We haven't reached a critical level yet," he said. He pointed out that we were still fortunate to have "brains to export" at the moment. However, he quickly added that the government was also working hard on a "brain gain" programme.

When I shook the hands of Tan Sri, he asked where I was studying. I said, "Cambridge but I've graduated." Then he asked, "Ah Cambridge...dah habis pulak. Bila nak balik ni? " (Ah you've finished. When are you planning to return?). Feeling a little odd with the question, I quipped, "Soon Tan Sri. But let's take a photo of us in London before I go back to Malaysia." He smiled and obliged for the shot.

Also at the meeting was Datuk Saifuddin, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Dr Rosman, Director of the Malaysian Student Department for UK and EIRE.

Datuk Saifuddin (3rd from left) and Dr Rosman (4th from left)

All in all, it was a good evening and meet up with other Malaysians.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Snow in the UK

The winter deluge that gripped the country has become a palaver. Turn on the news, the radio or eavesdrop a conversation and you will hear people talking about it. The heavy snow in the UK is unprecedented in the living memory of many people. It is said to be the worst in 50 years. Even the older people will stop saying "we used to have a lot of snow before the climate changed". Because it is unprecedented, no amount of salt and grit that we currently have is going to be enough to cope with this type of event. Still, the blame game by the media has not stopped. Local councils, Highways Agency, Transport Ministry and the Prime Minister are all getting a lot of flak from the public for something that is beyond their control.

One of Trafalgar Square's frozen fountains

Yes, it's climate change, not global warming. The language has changed. Even gas-guzzlers are getting back their respect. They used to be seen as "lepers" by environmentalists. The media are now calling them 4x4s as they continue to make news of how they've become heroes of the day - lifting stranded vehicles off snow-covered roads, rescuing stranded hikers off the mountains, rushing pregnant women to hospitals and delivering medical supplies and food to villages cut off by the snow.

In London, we're not as worse off as compared to those in other parts of the country. Our lives are only disrupted by the public transportation systems. But those in Scotland and the highlands have to live with cut off access to the basics like medicine, food and power. Poor things.

As for me, the snow has certainly altered the way I did things for the week. For a start, I did not cycle and run the entire week. Only simple workouts in the gym. I've also bought a heater to supplement the heater in my room. It's going to cost a bomb on the bill soon. But what is money if you're dead right? On that note, the snow has also made me think about how those innocent white fluffy stuff can be dangerous and fatal to many; and how I've taken basic things for granted, like the warmth from the heater and easy access to food as some parts of the country are still deprived of these as we speak.
Outside the house

The morning after the first heavy snow fall, I nearly slipped and fell in front of my own doorstep as I stepped onto the "white carpet". It was then I realised my working shoes weren't made for this type of condition. The sub-zero temperatures relatively made my fridge the heater. But this also means that the snow on the roads will stay for some time, i.e more slippery roads and risk of falling.
Snow covered walkways at the Southbank

Wellington boots to prevent slips and falls?

The weather is forecast to remain like this until the end of the month as the North Pole and Siberia send more snow and chill over. But the weather forecast in the UK is only accurate for 24 hours. So I do hope this is the last of Siberia for now.
View of Regent's Park from the office

Jubilee Gardens and the London Eye

Yesterday was alpine conditions. It was clear, sunny and cold. Great for photography. Most of the gardens and fields are still covered in snow. At the moment, the daytime temperature has inched a little. It's 1 deg C now. This means the ice will have a chance to thaw in daytime. Without new snow falling, things should get better. We'll see.