Memories

How does a cup of HK$68 milk tea taste? (iStock)

Song dynasty emperor's brewing secrets in a cup of HK milk tea

As far as a passion for tea goes, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai meets his match in a tea shop owner in Sham Tseng. The tea connoisseur is an alchemist almost as he varies the ingredients and brewing methods to concoct the most memorable teas.
A sketch of the photo of Tai Tong Hoi Kee Restaurant by the writer.

Large steamed meat buns: A flavourful memory of old Singapore

Former journalist Lim Jen Erh remembers the delicious da rou bao or large steamed meat buns he used to scarf down as a kid. They don’t make them like they used to, but the memory of its luscious taste is intact, triggered instantly by old photographs of bustling teahouses of old Singapore.
A family waits for their food to be served at a restaurant in Keelung, Taiwan, 23 May 2022. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Taiwanese art historian: The five elements of cooking in the olden days

Being his mother’s good helper in the kitchen for many years, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun got to experience cooking with firewood, charcoal and of course the everyday natural gas. He is convinced that a different fire and stove begets a different flavour in food. Taiwan today is fortunate to have access to fire at the flick of a switch but this could all change. Lucky thing for Chiang, some firewood is all he needs to make his favourite scorched rice snack.
A vendor wears a protective mask while working at a food stall at a market in Taipei, Taiwan, on 21 May 2021. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

Life and life lessons in the old markets of Taiwan

Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun remembers his trips to the market as a child which taught him more than he could ever learn in schools about life and humanity. From the back lanes of 44 Kan Site, a shopping street that used to house exactly 44 shops, he would peek into courtyards and encounter the kindness of shop owners; from the varied stalls of Dalong Market, he learnt about the sanctity of life of all living beings, human or animal.
A general view of a village in Pu'er, Yunnan province, China, 12 May 2022. (Xinhua)

Can’t bear to part: A cultural historian in Yunnan's Pu’er

In Pu’er, Yunnan, if you get the chance to meet the Lahu, Wa, Yi, Hani or the Dai people, you’d be blessed, as cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was, with their down-to-earth hospitality. Their ties to the land and their traditions are captured beautifully in Can’t Bear to Part, a folk song that every Pu’er native knows.
A playground in a zoo with an admission fee of 10 RMB per child.

A Singaporean in China: Don't take free playgrounds for granted

Former journalist Jessie Tan shares her observations as a mother in China as she looks at the outdoor spaces where Chinese children can play, learn and grow. While the options are plenty, the costs to entertain children cannot be avoided, posing a challenge to lower-income families.
People tour the Autumn Moon on a Quiet Lake (平湖秋月), known as one of the “ten scenes of West Lake”, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 2 May 2022. (CNS)

Cultural historian: Fish as large as submarines in Hangzhou?

On a walk in the deserted Lingfeng Temple near Yuquan Botanical Garden in Hangzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai muses that peace and quiet is a blessing but a kiss of death for small teahouses trying to make a living. Also, memories of days gone by may be blurry over time. Either that or things have really changed, and one must face the sad reality that the good old days can never be brought back.
A couple takes their wedding photographs on West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, 13 December 2021. (CNS)

My longing for the elusive fish of spring

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai was looking forward to sampling seasonal dishes during his recent visit to Hangzhou. Alas, not all restaurants are well prepared enough to serve up every seasonal dish a diner desires. Better luck next time.
An illustration and text by the writer. (Lim Jen Erh)

My secret manuals of life

Former journalist Lim Jen Erh describes his habit of carrying a notebook with him and filling them with his thoughts and doodles. For him, this process is as rigorous and rewarding as writing “secret manuals” of life. Rather than finding secret formulas to live by, he composes them for himself, leaving a trail of clues to look back and ruminate on as life goes on.