Thursday, 21 January 2010

our local Kopi Tiam

A kopitiam or kopi tiam is a traditional breakfast and coffee shop found in Malaysia and Singapore in Southeast Asia. The word is a portmanteau of the Malay word for coffee (as borrowed and altered from the Portuguese) and the Hokkien dialect word for shop.

Menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and kaya, plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink which is extremely popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia.

Kopi tiams in Singapore are commonly found in almost all residential areas as well as some industrial and business districts in the country, numbering about 2,000 in total. Although most are an aggregate of small stalls or shops, some may be more reminiscent of food courts, although each stall has similar appearance and the same style of signage.

Here in Bukit Batok there are many Kopi tiam's, some maybe a five or ten minute walk while others may just be across the road like the one below. This one is part of the Bukit Batok Community Centre and is called the Bukit Batok Eating House.

 "Coffee shop talk" is a phrase used to describe gossip because it is often a familiar sight at kopi tiams where a group of workers or senior citizens would linger over cups of coffee and exchange news and comments on various topics including national politics, office politics, TV dramas, and food.

It is probably a two minute walk for us to have a kopi that costs us 80 cents ...... and it is delicious. But not only that the community itself is friendly and welcoming. We are starting to know 'the locals' and they are of course starting to know us. I have taken a few friends there to have a coffee during the week and many of our house sitters enjoy going there to also be part of the 'local scene'.

In the above image - on the left - you can see John with Peck, a Singaporean lady that lives close by and often brings over some tasty local foods for us to try. She also spends time with us and explains what the different meals are.

but it truly is a nice local area that we are becoming very familiar with, where we can read the papers, have a coffee or two and chat with some friends.

In a typical kopi tiam, the drinks stall is usually run by the owner who sells coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other beverages as well as breakfast items like kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and snacks. The other stalls are leased by the owner to independent stallholders who prepare a variety of food dishes, often featuring the cuisine of Singapore. Traditional dishes from different ethnicities are usually available at kopitiams so that people from different ethnic backgrounds and having different dietary habits could dine in a common place and even at a common table.

Kopitiam is also the name of a food court chain in Singapore.

Some common food sold in Kopi tiam are Char Kway Tiao,that is noodle mix with eggs and cockles. Hokkien Mee is a type of noodle serve with prawns,squids and egg. Nasi Lemak is a dish which comes with a thin slice of egg,a small fish and ikan bilis(anchorvives).

Here is John having noodles for breakfast,
total cost of his breakfast including the coffee was a whopping $3.20!

and the local men do like to spend some quiet time here reading the papers !

if you have not been to your local Kopi tiam lately,
go over tomorrow for a coffee and be pleasantly surprised.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Drawing kolam is considered auspicious ......

The women folk getting ready to make the Kolam designs ......

When it comes to making kolam in Pongal, the drawing art deserves special mention. During the festive occasion, people indulge in making the aesthetic art of kolam at their veranda. Rice flour is used to make different patterns of kolam for Pongal. It is a popular belief that the bright red color, which is used to border the kolam, wards off evil spirits. Not only the women, but also the rest of the family members get engrossed with the task of making beautiful kolam designs, for the festival. Apart from the households, kolam is also made outside shops and offices, on the festive occasion of Pongal.


Pongal, the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, is celebrated with fun and fervor. It is the time, when farmer thank Mother Nature for blessing them with a bountiful harvest. During the festive season, people ensure that their home and premises are kept spick and span. They would get up early in the morning, offer prayers to their favorite deity and make a beautiful kolam (rangoli) at their entranceway. Kolam is an art of drawing images and geometrical shapes on floor, by synchronizing with dots. Drawing kolam is considered auspicious. In fact, no verandah of a Tamil household is left without kolam. Making both simple and intricate designs of kolam on Pongal is a tradition followed since long.






Although the designs may vary, the basic idea of kolam remains the same - to draw beautiful designs on the floor, using dry colors of rice flour. The tradition of making kolams on Pongal is not new to the Tamil people. Its history can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization in 2500 BC, when people used to make elaborate designs of kolam are made using white and other color powders and rice flour. According to the legends, Gopis used to make rangoli to lessen their pain for not having Lord Krishna with them. Since a long time, kolam has been made in ceremonious occasions in Tamil Nadu.

and the above Kolams were at the Pongal Festival we attended yesterday - Sunday January 17 2010 - in Singapore.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

the overflowing of rice .........

Pongal is the most auspicious festival among Tamils worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa, USA, Canada and Singapore. Pongal festival comes on Tamil calendar’s first day of auspicious 'Thai' month. The Tamil meaning of Pongal is “boiling over or spill over.” Pongal festival’s date is fixed for every year because it is derived from solar calendar.

On the second day of Pongal, the puja or act of ceremonial worship is performed when rice is boiled in milk outdoors in a earthenware pot and is then symbolically offered to the sun-god along with other oblations. In accordance with the appointed ritual a turmeric plant is tied around the pot in which the rice will be boiled.

here this man is keeping the fire burning....

and the Minister - Mr Lim Boon Heng - gives it one last stir ....


The families usually gather outside their home and cook 'pongal' in clay pots. When the rice overflows from the pot the people shout 'Pongal O Pongal' and pay tribute to the Sun. The overflowing of rice symbolizes a prosperous farming season.

and we are given some rice to share in the prosperity for the coming year!


on the fourth and final day ......

Thiruvalluvar Day / Kanum Pongal

Thiruvalluvar Day Kanum Pogal
Thiruvalluvar Day / Kanum Pogal
The fourth day of the three-day Pongal celebrations is called Kaanum Pongal. In few places this day is also known as Karinaal or Thiruvalluvar Day. It is dedicated to the sun god, Surya and has its roots in ancient Brahminical tradition. Since Pongal is a rural, agrarian based festival that celebrates the harvests, the sun is a vital part of the proceedings. This is because the Sun is the symbol of life on Earth. Without the Sun, crops cannot sprout and grow. Without the Sun, harvests will not be plentiful.

Surya Puja
On Kaanum Pongal, elaborate powdered chalk designs of the sun god, Surya are drawn. As soon as the auspicious month of Thai is underway, Surya is worshiped. Sheaves of sugarcane dot the prayer area. Freshly cooked food including the typical sweet dish 'Sarkarai pongal' is first offered to Surya. Sugarcane that is offered is symbolic for sweetness and happiness in life. Sugarcane stalks and coconut- both auspicious symbols of plenty- are also offered to the Gods in propitiation of a plentiful harvest in the forthcoming year

Customs & Rituals
This day is very similar to Rakhsa Bandhan and Bhai Dhuj in that it is predominantly a festival where women offer prayers for the wellbeing of their brothers. The women perform this ritual before bathing in the morning. All the women, young and old, of the house, assemble in the courtyard. The rice is placed in the centre of the leaf, while the women ask that the house and family of their brothers should prosper. Arati is performed for the brothers with turmeric water, limestone and rice, and this water is sprinkled on the kolam in front of the house.

On this day, people travel to see other family members and the younger members of the family pay homage to the elders, and the elders thank them by giving token money. Another thing many do is leave food out on banana leaves for birds to take. Many South Indian people take the first bit of rice cooked in any given day and set it outside for the crows to take, so this is not necessarily a habit only for Pongal. Some also go to temple to worship and thank god for all good things that are bestowed on them.

DAY ONE is here

DAY TWO is here

DAY THREE is here

The website where I have gathered all of the above information IS HERE.

Today - Sunday January 17 2010 - we went to the Bukit Batok Pongal Festival. We were invited by the Community Centre and were 'special guests'. We felt very honored to be part of this amazing event and my next blog posting will describe it in greater detail along with some - hopefully - amazing photos.


Saturday, 16 January 2010

and on the third day .....

Mattu Pongal

Mattu Pongal
Mattu Pongal
The third day of Pongal is dedicated to cattle and is called Mattu Pongal. People offer prayers to the bulls, cows and other farm animals. Cows and bulls have always held a special place in India. Cows give nourishing milk while bulls and oxen help plough the fields. Thus, Maatu Pongal is a day when cattle are given a well deserved day of rest and are given pride of place. Therefore the farmers honor their cattle friends by celebrating it as a day of thanks-giving to them.

On this day, Lord Ganesh and Goddess Parvati are worshiped and Pongal is offered to them in the 'puja'. According to a legend, once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil massage and bath every day and to eat once a month. Inadvertently, Basava announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month. This mistake enraged Shiva who then cursed Basava, banishing him to live on the earth forever. He would have to plough the fields and help people produce more food. Thus the association of this day with cattle.

Puja Process
The cattle are washed, their horns are painted and covered with shining metal caps. Multi-colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands are tied around their necks. They are fed with Pongal and taken to the village centres. Devotees pay their respect to cows by bending down, like praying in temple, and touching their feet and foreheads, followed by an aarthi (showing fire to the object of praise) and offering the cattle prasadam (food offering, in this case, Pongal).

Jallikattu- A Bull Festival
A festival called Jallikattu is held in Madurai, Tiruchirapalli and Tanjavur on this day. Bundles of money are tied to the horns of ferocious bulls which the villagers try to retrieve. Everyone joins in the community meal, at which the food is made of the freshly harvested grain. This day is named and celebrated as Tamizhar Tirunal in a fitting manner throughout Tamil Nadu.

Tomorrow (Sunday January 17) we have tickets to the festival and I believe that we are to witness the above events as mentioned for day three. My camera will be with me to record whatever we get to see and experience ..... all of which I will share !!

Day three or Maatu Pongal is a day when cattle are given a well deserved day of rest and are given pride of place. Therefore the farmers honor their cattle friends by celebrating it as a day of thanks-giving to them.


today is the second day of the Pongal Festival.....

 Surya Pongal

The second day of Pongal is known as 'Surya Pongal' and is dedicated to the Sun God. It is the day on which the celebration actually begins and is also the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day the granaries are full, the sun shines brightly, trees are in full bloom, bird-songs resound in the air and hearts overflow with happiness that get translated into colorful and joyous celebrations.

Puja Preparation
Women wake early on this day to create elaborate 'kolam' on the grounds in front of their doorway or home. Kolam is created with colored rice flour placed on the ground carefully by using one's hand. The women take several hours to finish the kolum. On this day the new rice is collected and cooked in pots until they over flow. It is this overflowing which means Pongal. This overflowing of rice is a joyous occasion, and the children and adults as well will shout out 'Pongal-o-Pongal!'

Surya Pongal Puja Process
The Sun God is offered boiled milk and jaggery. A plank is placed on the ground, a large image of the Sun God is sketched on it and Kolam designs are drawn around it. In the centre of the plank is drawn a large figure of the Sun God with his effulgent rays. The "Puja" of the Sun God starts after the auspicious moment of the birth of the new month Thai. Prayers are rendered to the Sun God to seek his benedictions.

The Sun God is given pride of place during Pongal. In the villages, people gather in the courtyard and prepare the Pongal in the open. The pot in which the Pongal is cooked is decorated with flowers, sugarcane pieces, turmeric plant etc. The first offering is made to the Sun.

Surya Pongal Delicacies
The rice is cooked and prepared as a dish called Pongal, which is rice with dhal and sugar. This Pongal variety is called venpongal, ven meaning white. Another variety is also prepared with dhal and jaggery (sweet), called chakra pongal, chakrai meaning sweet. To accompany the venpongal, people eat brinjal (eggplant) sambar (stew), vadai, idli and spicy accompaniments.

Sweets, puddings, cooked rice or 'Sarkarai Pongal' are prepared on this day. On all the three days of Bhogi, Pongal and Maattu Pongal, women adorn the entrance of their houses with colorful kolams. Large patterns, decorated with colorful flowers and powders are drawn, crowding the entire street.

Friday, 15 January 2010

today is the first day of the Pongal Festival.....

 Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India and on Sunday we have tickets to go and see the Pongal Festival here in Singapore... ... In the meantime here is a little about it:

Due to the large number of Tamils residing in the various countries of South East Asia, Pongal is extremely popular festival in these places. Indonesia has about 2,000 to 10,000 Tamils, where as Singapore has about 200,000 Tamils who constitute the third main cultural group. Malaysia has a 1,060,000 Tamil population and Myanmar (Burma) had a Tamil population of 200,000 at one time, but since the end of the Second World War the number has been reduced. Cambodia has 1,000 Tamils, China 5,000 and Thailand 10,000.

 Pongal is a four-days-long harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of harvest festival. Pongal, one of the most important popular Hindu festivals of the year. This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning "to boil" and is held in the month of Thai (January-February) during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested.

Mid-January is an important time in the Tamil calendar. The harvest festival, Pongal, falls typically on the 14th or the 15th of January and is the quintessential 'Tamil Festival'. Pongal is a harvest festival, a traditional occasion for giving thanks to nature, for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. Tamilians say 'Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum', and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai that begins on Pongal day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community - the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.

The FIRST DAY of the festival:

Bogi festival or Bhogi is the first day of Pongal and is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, "the God of Clouds and Rains". Lord Indra is worshiped for the abundance of harvest, thereby bringing plenty and prosperity to the land. Thus, this day is also known as Indran. On Bhogi all people clean out their homes from top to bottom, and collect all unwanted goods. This day is meant for domestic activities and of being together with the family members.

All the houses from the richest to the humblest are thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed. Homes are cleaned and decorated with "Kolam" - floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day.

A special puja is performed on the first day of Pongal before the cutting of paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their ploughs and sickles with sandalwood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.

The Bonfire
Another ritual observed on this day is Bhogi Mantalu, when useless household articles are thrown into a fire made of wood and cow-dung cakes. Girls dance around the bonfire, singing songs in praise of the gods, the spring and the harvest. The significance of the bonfire, in which is burnt the agricultural wastes and firewood is to keep warm during the last lap of winter.

In Andhra Pradesh this day is celebrated by girls burning their old clothes and wearing the new ones after an oil massage and bath. Then follows Pongal Panai, a ritual in which new earthenware pots are painted and decorated with turmeric, flowers and mango leaves.
Day two is here.

Day three is here.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


 Batam Island is a popular tropical holiday destination in South East Asia. Of all holiday types, arguably the most appealing are the tropical island holidays. They conjure up images of warm weather, sunshine, sandy beaches, coconut palms and friendly people.


Known Batam history and culture goes back a long time, as early Chinese settled in Batam and some of it’s neighboring islands as early as 231 A.D, due to it’s location along the East-West shipping trade routes. Batam and the surrounding region has been ruled by several different leaders, beginning with the Malacca Kingdom from the 13th century and later, in 1824 the Dutch and the English split the area and ruled it until it came under the power of the Riau Lingga Kingdom.

During the Second World War Batam was occupied by the Japanese, hence the name for Batam’s main city is Nagoya. Several other names of regions in Batam reflect the occupation of the Japanese, such as Muka Kuning (meaning “Yellow Faces”) which was named by locals at the time.

In the 1970s, Batam underwent a major transformation from a largely forested and unpopulated island into a major harbor and industrial zone, when it was set up by the Indonesian government as a trade free zone. The population quickly grew from a few thousand in the 1960s, into hundreds of thousands today. Located close to Singapore and having a much cheaper labour force, several Singaporean companies have established factories in Batam.

Batam is mainly known for its free trade zone area as part of the Sijori Growth Triangle, and being located approx 20 km (12.5 miles) south of Singapore, it attracts a lot of foreign investment The 715 km² (160 miles²) island had a population of approx 915,000 in December 2008, most of whom are Indonesian (85%) and Chinese (14%). The official language on the island is Indonesian, but due to the sizeable Chinese population, several Chinese dialects are spoken.

Now international standard hotels, as well as numerous budget hotels cater to the expanding demand for accommodation created by tourism. Where virgin jungle once stood are now whole new towns, mosques, churches, temples and supermarkets, as well as reservoirs with enough water to supply the growing population, an airport, a telecommunication system, well equipped industrial parks, and the beginnings of a large new urban center.

While all this change has taken place, Batam has retained pockets of rural charm, peaceful spots with quiet beaches. Fishing villages supply delicious fresh seafood to visitors. White sand beaches are fringed with palms and kampung life carries on almost undisturbed.

The People

The native people of Batam are Malay origin, but with the rapid growth and development of the area, various ethnic groups from all over Indonesia have come here in search for jobs and a better life. Traditionally, most of the people live in coastal villages, while the "Orang Laut" (sea people) continues to live on boathouses and generally fish for a living. Some of their catches are sold to Singapore. 'Bahasa Indonesia' is the language used to communicate among the multi-ethnic population here, while many now also understand English, which is commonly used in business communication.


Even if Batam is multi-ethnic it is still the Malayan culture and Islam, which forms the root of the local culture. Both daily life and the ceremonies have religious and mythical elements, expressed in dance, music and other forms of art. Some of the most popular traditional dances are Jogi Dance, unique for Batam, Zapin Dance, which reflects strong Arabic influence, Persembahan Dance, to welcome honored guests and Ronggeng Dance, where the guests can be invited to come up and join the dance and song.The Mak Yong drama is a dance and song performance, which tells the story about a country named "Riuh", commonly believed to be the origin of Riau province name. 

This country is governed by a wise and popular king, who one day to his surprise and embarrassment is told that his princess have given birth to an animal called "Siput Gondang" (the gondang snail). Upset by this event he orders the newborn to be expelled to the jungle. A couple of years later he is told that the snail has begun to grow, and he asks for the snail to be brought to the Royal Palace where the shell is broken. To his surprise and joy he can see a beautiful princess appear from the broken shell, and he names her Putri Siput Gondang (Princess Siput Gondang), celebrations are then held for seven days and seven nights. But also other cultures contribute to the Batam community, and in the Padepokan Seni Art Center in Sekupang we can see arts and crafts from all over Indonesia, as well as various kinds of performances, which are staged every day for the visitors and tourists. Another art center in Sekupang is Desa Seni Indonesian Art Village, its main objective is to "maintain, conserve and develop the Indonesian culture", and also to manage the Cultural Institute where qualified instructors conduct various shows and courses

Do’s and Don’ts

When visiting Indonesia, visitors should observe local customs and practices. Some common courtesies and customs are as follows:

Although handshakes are generally acceptable for both men and women, some Muslim ladies may acknowledge introductions to gentlemen by merely nodding and smiling. A handshake should only be initiated by ladies. The traditional greeting or salam resembles a handshake with both hands but without the grasp. The man offers both hands, lightly touches his friends outstretched hands, and then brings his hands to his chest to mean, "I greet you from my heart". The visitor should reciprocate the salam.

It is polite to call before visiting a home.
Shoes must always be removed when entering a home.
Drinks are generally offered to guests. It is polite to accept.

When receiving and giving things, including money, always use the right hand, however inconvenient it can be at times. Use only the right hand to eat food.

When eating with fingers, clean them in the water bowl provided for the purpose.
Wait until everyone has finished eating before you go to wash your hands.
If using a spoon and fork leave them backside up as a sign you have had enough.

Shoes must be removed when entering places of worship such as mosques and temples. Some mosques provide robes and scarves for female visitors.

Taking photographs at places of worship is usually permitted but always ask permission beforehand.

Toasting is not a common practice in Indonesia
The country's large Muslim population does not drink alcohol.

Don’t touch heads of males, females and even children, as it is considered offensive in the country

Placing the hands on the hips, even casually, is a sign of arrogance or anger.
The whole of the right hand is used for gestures to another person.

It is rude to place one's feet in such a way that the soles are facing another person.
Don't point at things with your feet.
Take off your shoes when visiting some one's home.

If you visit someone's house, you may be asked if you have already eaten. "Sudah Makan?" The polite answer is "Sudah" (Already).
But if a meal is spontaneously provided, it is impolite to refuse.
When leaving, it is polite to thank the wife, even if she has spent all evening in the kitchen.
And if a single woman is at home, one is expected to politely turn down an invitation to come in.
Avoid visiting Moslem homes during prayer times.

Men touching men and women touching women is commonplace and completely acceptable, but touching between the sexes is rarely done in public.

Don't throw things to anyone. It is more polite to hand it over, even if it means moving.

"Dress up" when visiting Government Offices. Use shoes, long trousers and shirt with collar. Short sleeves are ok. Women should not show their shoulders.

On the beach, nudity is not in line with religious beliefs. Western style swimsuits are considered outrageous. Please be modest. Use shorts when swimming. Women are better off using a t-shirt. 

It has been difficult to locate information on the history of Batam ... until this morning when I came across the website titled Batam-Island-Info.Com 

All of the above information on this blog was copied from that website.

Friday, 1 January 2010

another monkey tale .......

we have the odd tale or two to tell about the monkeys at Nongsa Village, one being about the pineapple! But this time our tale is about a monkey seen on our morning walk via Nongsa Point Marina and back to the village .....

We noticed one of the villa's at the Marina had washing hanging on the balcony - on clothes hangers - and a monkey was on the balcony pulling the clothes off and trying them on!

YES ...... I would not believe it myself had we not seen it.

This wee little monkey tried to dress himself in these clothes but became very frustrated and just threw them over the balcony and then pulled another off the hanger and tried again.  He tried to pull a swimsuit over his head - and this is the one morning I did not have my camera with me.

He gave up once all the clothes were down and of he went .... but we now wonder what the guests in the villa must have thought when they eventually got up and found their clothes thrown over the balcony!!

But yesterday on our walk I made sure I had the camera and the following images were taken in Nongsa Village of the monkeys running around on the roof of the villa in front of us. If you look carefully you can actually see one of the babies being carried.

Seen here in this first image - the little patch of 'orange':

here they are running all over the roof and jumping from the roof to the tree!

We do not leave food out on the table or benches, but they are becoming very clever at opening plastic containers. Which they did earlier in the week...... opened up the coffee bean container and the container of dried noodles ... all over the kitchen floor.

If you are not careful, they can also get into the bathroom and take the shampoo or soap. Am sure they have a fully set up little hideaway somewhere in the jungle - complete with all these lovely soaps, shampoo's, conditioners and maybe a hair brush or two!!!