The 'Mee Siam Mai Hum' Mystery

Sunday, 27 March 2011


During one of his speeches a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister said, 'Mee siam mai hum.' He was relating how he would order the noodle dish, mee siam, without cockles.

The PM was perhaps making an attempt to connect with commoners who eat humble stuff, like me. But the speech set tongues wagging, to put it mildly, because mee siam doesn't have cockles, ever.

The harsher critiques thought the PM's little boo-boo showed how disconnected he was with everyday life. But I think there could be another explanation for his culinary faux pas. What he actually wanted to say was mee siam without tamarind, or mee siam mai assam. How do I know that? Take a look at his grandmother's mee siam recipe, extracted from Mrs Lee's Cookbook (Mrs Lee being said grandmother):

Run your eye through the list of ingredients for the gravy. See? There's no assam in Grandma's recipe.


So, confronted with the commoners' version that always comes with assam, the PM would say mee siam mai assam. But that fateful day, no thanks to a slip of the tongue, he said mai hum instead.

That might be one mystery solved, but I'm still scratching my head. Every single mee siam I've ever eaten is slightly tangy with assam. When I have a craving for mee siam, it's the spicy sourness that I long for. Why on earth would anyone make mee siam without assam?

Steamed Garlic Prawns (蒜泥蝦)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Prawns make me happy.

Nope, it's not because I'm a glutton, which I am. Nor is it because I love prawns, which I do.

It's because prawns are chock-a-block full of vitamin B12, iron, tryptophan, vitamin D, protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which are all essential for keeping depression at bay.

OCBC, Delight Me!

Saturday, 9 January 2010



The above message is OCBC's response to my email of 6 January, sent by Ms Daisy Er. Since the assuring message is from the Head of Customer Assurance, I'm sure I'm assured assuringly . . . but . . . I'm not sure what I'm assuringly assured of. Sure? Sure! Why not sure? Well, what's the most important part of the email? That Mr Lee isn't poorer by $1.25? Nope. Of course, I'm very relieved I haven't reduced his monthly budget for groceries by the cost of a small pack of sugar but there's something more important. The CEO read my email? Nope. Although that's very nice because he's a very important man. Can't see the most important part of the short message comprising six sentences? Heheh, it's in the middle: ". . . we have identified opportunities when we can delight our customers in their course of banking with us" (emphasis mine). Bloody hell! I don't know what these opportunities are! Why doesn't OCBC tell me what they are after identifying them? They should be listed on OCBC's web site! Then I wouldn't have to crack my little brain, inferring from a TV commercial that the bank gives surprise birthday cakes.

I love the word 'delight'. It's so suggestive, isn't it? Maybe OCBC should change its slogan to "OCBC deee . . . lights you!' (in a sexy, husky voice). Or their branch employees should greet customers with 'OCBC deee . . . lights you!' (in a sexy, husky voice, with eyes half closed). "Delight' . . . conjures up . . . visions of . . . . This is where I'm unsure despite assurance from the Head of Customer Assurance. A keychain? A pen? Oooh, more surprises! I like! I must give OCBC lots of 'opportunities' to 'deee . . . light' me. I will visit them every week. Good thing they're opened late and opened everyday. I've been OCBC's customer for donkey's years and I've never been 'deee . . . lighted'. My birthday last Sunday doesn't count, ok, because I didn't like the cake. I appreciated it but I didn't like it, if you see the difference. Daisy has conveniently and completely side stepped the issue on how the birthday commercial should be interpreted but who cares! My next birthday is 356 days away. There are other 'opportunities'. OCBC, deee . . . light me!

Related links:
Click here for links to media reports.
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbcs-birthday-cake.html
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbc-part-2.html

Check these out:
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket
Prawn Tom
Yum Soup
Claypot Fish Head Kou Shui Ji
(口水鸡)
Cold Spinach
with Bonito Flakes
.

Don't Ask OCBC for Cakes!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010



Many thanks to those who wish me a happy birthday. Thanks as well to those who support the previous post. As for those who say kudos to the staff at OCBC, I agree with you. The staff reacted well enough, I think. Two of the ladies seemed quite amused. The third one just seemed disinterested after performing her banking duties. I think the gentleman also saw the funny side of the incident. Our conversation basically revolved around whether there was a sufficient basis for the ad to be reenacted. As I said, if he had insisted I had a super cute daughter with me to get a cake, he would have won.

I don't know if the OCBC gentleman paid for the cake out of his own pocket but I've asked David Conner and Andrew Lee, respectively OCBC's group CEO and Senior EVP of Global Consumer Financial Services, to make sure he's reimbursed.



I'd like to point out that I didn't insist on getting a cake from OCBC, technically, at any point in time. I asked if I could get a cake. I was told no, I couldn't. Which was fine. I then asked why I couldn't get a cake. I was told it was because the commercial was just a commercial. Which was also fine. I then asked why OCBC had a commercial about giving away birthday cakes when it didn't have any birthday cakes to give away. If the staff had given me an acceptable explanation, I'd have walked away. Or if they hadn't given me an acceptable explanation (nor a cake), I would then ask OCBC's senior management for one. But I couldn't complain to the CEO without giving the frontline staff a chance to show whether OCBC really gave their customers birthday cakes, right?

Some people say I got a cake from OCBC's employees, not OCBC, and that I shouldn't have tormented the staff when my target was the corporation. I'm sorry, this argument cuts no ice with me. The incident was during OCBC's business hours, the staff were wearing OCBC's uniforms, serving OCBC's customers on OCBC's banking premises. They were representing OCBC whether they like it or not. It's a tough job working in a banking hall but hey, whose job is easy, eh? Other than the President of Singapore? Sure, the frontline staff aren't responsible for the ad. They don't make as much as David Conner. But they know they're getting paid for being the conduit between customers and the bank, which they're a part of. Should they perform only mechanical tasks because they make only $x per month? Any unexpected incidents not listed in the training manual is none of their business? Come on! If they do that, they're no better than machines. And if they're no better than machines, they should be replaced by machines. And bank tellers have been, to some extent. The next wave of workers to be replaced will be those cashiers who mechanically scan, pack and collect the money. Cold Storage Great World City has a lane for those who prefer to scan, pack and swipe a bank card themselves. Such facilities are already quite common in the US.

I think it's a bit over dramatic to say I 'tormented' or 'maimed' (emotionally, I presume) the staff at OCBC, or spoilt their day or weekend. As for those who use the word 'misery', oh please! Misery is when you have a terminal illness. Misery is when your country's at war. Misery is when there's no rice in the house. Misery is when your dog's run over by a car. Misery is when you're homeless in a -10°C winter. A crazy customer making a crazy request? That's a nice distraction from the tedium of being a bank teller. Or a slight irritant at worst. Nevertheless, if I really caused anyone at OCBC any distress, in any minor or major way, I apologise, unreservedly and sincerely. And I suggest they get out of the service industry. If they can't handle crazy customers, they shouldn't handle customers for a living. Or they would have to face many more crazy ones, and cause themselves much 'misery'.

I've enjoyed reading the comments, even those that are are downright rude. I'm perverse, I know. (Hey! No one's used that word on me yet!) There's a diversity of views, which is not a bad thing. But there's one thing we all agree on: the cake's bloody awful!

Ok, over to you, guys. Fire away.

Related links:
Click here for media reports.
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbcs-birthday-cake.html
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbc-delight-me.html

Check these out:
Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket
Ginger
Milk Custard
(薑汁撞奶)
Gingerbread Men Cream Scones Pear and Snow
Fungus Sweet Soup
(银耳雪梨糖水)
.

Prying a Cake from OCBC's Cold, Hard Fingers

Monday, 4 January 2010

Photobucket

Yesterday, I went to OCBC Bank, the one at Marine Parade, and asked for a birthday cake. According to the bank's advertisement, their customers get a cake on their birthday, complete with burning candles and a birthday song. And yes, it was my birthday yesterday. If you haven't already seen the TV ad, here it is:


(17 January 2010 – Commercial is now in Chinese because the English version has been deleted from Youtube. English subtitles added on 21 January 2010.)

There were five ladies wo-manning the counter at OCBC. The one who got the short straw was xx Ming. Young, quite cute and quite sweet. Unfortunately, she was wearing a red and white polo shirt with four different coloured buttons, in thick polyester. Hmm, OCBC probably paid a lot of money for some consultant to come up with the hideous design. I gave xx Ming my IC – that's identity card to those not familiar with the Big Brother state – which has my DOB on the front. She went about quietly processing my cash deposit. Was she alerting her colleagues it was my birthday with a secret 'birthday button' underneath the counter? The one beside the panic button for bank robbers? Please don't press the wrong button! I was sure someone was lighting the candles on my cake as I waited, and all the staff were getting ready to shout, 'SURPRISE!' Something like this:
Photobucket
xx Ming looked up and asked me if I wanted to update my address. 'No, thank you.' I had deliberately given OCBC a non-existent address because it's the only way to stop the bank from sending me bits of paper every month. I can't opt out of hard copy statements but if they're returned to the bank three months in a row, they're suspended. A roundabout way to outwit the system and the tree murderers who run it.

After making sure I didn't want my address updated, xx Ming handed me my receipt and IC. I glanced to the left . . . . No one jumped out with a cake topped with burning candles. I glanced to the right . . . . No one started singing 'Happy Birthday to yooou . . . !' xx Ming gave me a weak smile and a is-there-anything-else look. 'Er, it's my birthday today. Do I get a birthday cake?' Since the subtle way wasn't working, I had to be explicit about my real purpose for visiting the bank. xx Ming blinked, then blinked again. She turned to her colleague on her right and said, 'It's her birthday. She wants a birthday cake.' Then, she turned to her colleague on her left and said, 'It's her birthday. She wants a birthday cake.' The three ladies smiled and looked at one another, probably thinking I was joking. And probably hoping their smiles would make me go away. Wrong! 'OCBC has an ad that says customers get birthday cakes. You know the ad?' 'But it's just an advertisement,' xx Ming said. 'Yes, it's an ad, which I take very seriously.' 'But it's just an advertisement . . . .'

PhotobucketWhen it was clear I was dead serious about getting a cake, one of the teller ladies got up to consult her supervisor. Of course, such an important person wasn't sitting at the counter. He was hidden from customers' view by a door with a high-tech digital lock. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . ' Have other customers asked for birthday cakes before?' 'No, you're the first one!' Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . 'A "Happy Birthday" would be nice, you know?' All I got was a blank look, and 'But it's just an advertisement.' xx Ming was starting to sound like a broken record ipod. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . 'Er, I have a birthday dinner to go to. I hope I can get the cake quickly?' 'I can't guarantee that.' 'You can't guarantee I would get a cake, or you can't guarantee I would get a cake quickly?' 'Both.' 'Then why do you advertise that you give customers birthday cakes?' 'But it's just an advertisement.' Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . I was thinking no one was ever going to say 'Happy Birthday' but the lady on the right finally did. She got off her butt, walked over and wished me 'Happy Birthday'. It took her, like, 10 minutes but hey, it was better than nothing. Did Miss Cutey xx Ming who was sitting right in front of me join in and wish me 'Happy Birthday'. Hell, no! Maybe she wasn't in a good mood 'cause she was working on a Sunday? Well, I wasn't feeling jubilant either, unlike Mrs Tan, the one in the TV ad, who got a birthday cake without asking:
PhotobucketPhotobucket
After an eternity, the bank teller lady who went off to consult her supervisor emerged from the internal bowels of the bank. 'We don't have any cake . . . . It's just an advertisement . . . .' 'If you don't give customers birthday cakes, why do you advertise that you do?' She went back to her supervisor. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . After another eternity, she came back, this time with a bright yellow shopping bag. Would I like the shopping bag instead? 'That's not a cake,' I said. NO CAKE! NO CANDLE! NO GOOD! She disappeared behind the door again.

After yet another eternity, the supervisor, xx Keong, joined me on my side of the counter. Would I like to discuss the matter with him in a separate room? 'Why? Is there a birthday cake with a candle in the room? No? Then we can discuss here. Your advertisement says customers get birthday cakes, so I'm here to collect my birthday cake.' 'Yes, but in the advertisement, the bank surprises the customer, not the other way round! You're not supposed to surprise us!' Heheh, he had a point there. 'If there's any sincerity in the advertisement, you wouldn't be surprised,' I retorted. 'The point in the ad is that the bank gives the customer a surprise. If I give you a cake now, you wouldn't be surprised,' he returned. I almost burst out laughing. 'If you give me a cake now, I promise I'll be very surprised.' For the next few minutes, he tried to wriggle his way out of giving me a cake. 'It's just an advertisement blah blah blah. . . .' I can't remember everything he said but there wasn't anything that convinced me I should leave without a cake. After all, the ad didn't have conditions like 'while stocks last' or 'offer expires whenever'. I thought I had to lie down on the floor and kick my legs in the air. Boy, that would be fun, wouldn't it? But before I could do that, he caved in and said, 'Ok, I don't have a cake now but I can go and buy you a cake.' Of course, when he said 'I', he meant one of his female underlings. It took another eternity for a bank teller to get the cake from a bakery round the corner.

PhotobucketIn total, it took me five eternities to get the miserable three-inch cake from OCBC. It was topped with a heap of artificial cream, the kind that doesn't melt in Singapore's tropical heat and I never eat. Frankly, my homemade cakes are way better. (Click here for recipes.) The plastic tree and plastic Hello Kitty? Tacky tacky tacky! Not to mention the danger of a child choking on them, especially when the 'leaves' can be detached from the 'trunk'!

Getting OCBC to cough up the cake was like prying something from a dead man's cold, hard fingers. Or squeezing blood from a stone. But advertisements are so often deliberately misleading, I couldn't resist the temptation to show an advertiser that misleading ads can sometimes backfire. A taste of its own medicine, perhaps? I allowed myself to be misled into thinking that OCBC was giving customers birthday cakes. And you can do the same, too. I asked xx Keong if I could tell all my friends that they can get birthday cakes from OCBC. He said it might not be a cake but it would be 'something' if it's their customer's birthday. Well, if you're not happy with that 'something', just insist that it was a cake in the TV ad. And you can do your part for consumer rights any day of the week, except public holidays. OCBC branches are everywhere and 18 of them (click here for a list) are opened 11am-7pm, including Saturdays and Sundays.

Related links:
Click here for links to media reports.
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbc-part-2.html
http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2010/01/ocbc-delight-me.html

Check these out:
Not LKY's
Babi Pongteh
Pandan Chiffon Cake
As Good As
Bengawan Solo's
Mrs Wee Kim Wee's
Very Famous
Mee Siam
My Mother's
XO Cognac
Chicken Wings