Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sunflowers Flower

I grew a big patch of sunflowers and I was very proud. But I as disappointed I didn't grow a big flower. In Singapore, I grew some. My friend B commented that she didn't have go to Japan to see Sunflowers. She only had to look out of her kitchen window to my garden.

Now in Auckland, a stroll in the suburban will show you 10 inch wide sunflowers.

Sunflowers in Aotea Square, Auckland Town Hall.

I placed my hand to show how big the flowers were.

Dumb Cane, dieffenbachia.

In South East Asia, we have a plant called Dumb Cane, dieffenbachia. The Chinese call it WAN NIEN CHING, translated to ten thousand years green. This is an auspicious plant as it's name refers, it is for ever green, and never dies. Business like to grow them in their office. Some are just green, others green with white spots, and others are pale green.

I used the grow them in Singapore. They are easy to grow, and I present this to friends who are new to tropical plants. Dumb canes are so hardy that they simply would not die. The sap makes one very itchy, and parents warn children not to put them in their mouth, the mouth will glue together and they become dumb. The cells of the Dieffenbachia plant contain needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals called raphides. If a leaf is chewed, these crystals can cause a temporary burning sensation and erythema.

Once I was chatting away with my girl friend B while we were tidying our plants. She pulled of the semi dead leaves of her Dumb cane, and in no time, she was scratching away. I cut a leaf of my aloe vera, and it was a soothing balm for her.

This is a fake plant. I didn't want a child come to my house as I know it is a poisonous plant. Poisoning can occur if you eat the leaves, stalk, or root of this plant.

  • Burning in mouth or throat
  • Damage to cornea of the eye
  • Diarrhea
  • Eye pain
  • Hoarse voice
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling and blistering in the mouth or tongue
Blistering and swelling in the mouth may be severe enough to prevent normal speaking and swallowing

Oleander: Poisonous plant

At the corner of my garden, is a huge Oleander bush. I sing the Chinese song, "Lu Bian De Ye Hua bu yaw Cai." Road side wild flowers do not pluck. This is a grown plant, not wild, and looks is deceiving. The whole oleander plant is poisonous right down to the nectar. It is said that even the smoke from burning the plant is toxic .

These Nerium Oleander look so beautiful, yet they are so deadly. All parts of this plant is highly toxic.
There is a folk story where a good but not very beautiful woman who was bullied by her husband. She tolerated his abuses until he became unfaithful and planned to divorce her. She made kebabs for husband. She used Oleander stems to skewer the bits of meat before barbecuing the kebabs. The unsuspecting man ate the kebabs and died straight away.
The moral of the story is do not abuse the person who loves you, even nature will not approve your actions.

There were cases of oleander poisoning in California when people unknowingly cut branches to use when cooking hot dogs over a bon fire. The drove the sap out into the meat. POW!

Suicide tree (Cerbera odollam)

. Suicide Tree (Cerbera odollam)


Cerbera odollam suicide tree, grown in public areas in Singapore. when I first arrived oin Singapore, I thought they were mangos. They told me that they were not, but is a poisonous fruit. I was appalled why the council would plant these poisonous plants. Why plant poisonous plants in a public area is beyond me.

 After living there for 16 years, I found out that people are not allowed to pick council HDB, and they didn't want to plant edible fruits. By planting this poisonous fruit, people would not steal the fruit.

 Quite a silly policy. Won't want to imagine if kids pick up and fruit and ate it.

Suicide tree (Cerbera odollam)
Suicide tree (Cerbera odollam) Photo: Noppharat
With a name like that it is little surprise that this tree is probably responsible for most deaths than any other plant. In the Indian state of Kerala alone it is thought to be responsible for around 50 deaths a year. Despite being called the suicide tree the toxins work equally well for murder and the flavour is easily hidden in a bowl of spicy food.
It is in Madagascar where Cerbera claimed most victims. Referred to as ‘ordeal poison’ it was used in the process of ‘trial by ordeal’. Basically, if you survived you were innocent, if you died you were, well, dead… It is estimated that around 3,000 people a year died in these trials, many willingly submitting themselves to the process believing it infallible. Trial by poison was finally abolished in 1861 by King Radama II.
It is the seed inside the fruit of this plant that is highly poisonous. It contains the powerful alkaloid, cerberin, which is similar to digoxin in foxgloves. These both work by disrupting the heart’s rhythm often with fatal results.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Glutinous rice Zhung.

My kind of Guang Ning Cantonese, we eat our Zhung on all auspicious celebration. My Ah Kung tells us, got food to eat, and clothes to wear. I make my version of his Zhung.

split skinned mung beans, Chinese Chestnuts, little Chinese mushroom. ( If you prefer a vegetarian Glutinous rice.

No soya sauce pork, browned by caramelized sugar.

This is a lazy modern day person's concoction of Zhung Zhi. The Cantonese call it NOI MAI GAI. I use pork in mine, so it is called NOI MAI FAN or glutinous rice.

To make my caramelized pork, I had to email my sister Margaret.
Heat up the wok until hot and then you put in the sugar until it melts and turned brown. Depending on the degree of browness you want, then you add in the pork . Ýou have to be very vigilant, otherwise you end up getting charcoal.

Glutinous rice is also called sweet or sticky rice. It is used in this recipe as you need the rice to stick together. In Thai restaurant, you often get a pudding of sweet rice and mango cubes and coconut milk.

Instead of wrapping the rice individual with bamboo leaves, I make it like a pie. Soak the rice for at least 4 hours.

In a casserole dish, line a layer or soaked glutinous rice, put the pork, and vegetarian mixture in the middle, cover with rice, and you should have the filling enclosed in the rice.

Steam in a wok for one hour.

Alternatively you can cook in the microwave for 15 minutes. Add boiling water into the casserole dish.


In fact, the Zhung my family are not tetrahedral shaped, they are like a six inch pillow. Zhung takes about 3 hours to steam. I am making the simplified version. The Purists would shake their heads especially when I do the mircowave version.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Revisiting Foodsale Charity

 Korean Sweet Potato noodles

Chinese green pea  aka Tang Hoon Noodles.

When I was living in Singapore as a faculty wife, a few like minded friends started a charity for the Deaf in Kenya. For 4 times a year, we have a big cook out, and invite other faculty wives to come and buy our food.

I did a lot of marketing and public relations for this. One day, two Korean friends came and donated their beef noodles. I was busy and didn't price the food, and it was mistakenly priced as the cheap Chinese Tanghoon. which was about a fifth of the Korean noodles. The noodles were quickly snapped up. I apologized to my two Korean friends.

I saw this made in China Korean Noodles, and I remember my two friends.

Cassia fistula or Golden shower tree.

Cassia fistula or Golden shower tree. This is a flowering tree of my youth.

When I was five, we moved down from a small town to Sibu. We lived in the Government quarters off Race Course Road. In the section across the road, there was this big tree. When it bloomed, it had big flowing sprays of yellow flowers. When the wind blew, the petals will drop to the ground. Sometimes, a whole spray will fall. This is why it is called a Golden Shower tree.

In Sarawak, the tropical weather meant an afternoon shower everyday. People did their laundry everyday and we didn't have driers or washing machines.

My sweet memories of this tree was my sister Margaret and I would jump across the creek when the wind blew so we could retrieve those sprays. We played brides using them as wedding bouquets. My mum would scream at us to help her bring the washing in before the rains came. We didn't listen, playing was more important to us.

I took this photo when I revisited Singapore last July. When I saw the tree in full bloom, I was so happy.

if I remember from when I was a kid, the pod is black, 1 and 1/2 inch diameter, 18 inches to 2 feet, lots of black smelly seeds. the pod itself is very hard

Monday, January 26, 2015


Once, a friend went to mexico and came back with some habernero chillis, and he gave me one to try and plant. My friends and I had fun trying it.
Few days ago, I watch a UK TV, where the diners took and ate chillis. Silly people.

Mulberry berries

Neem trees and my stories.

 It was a little pencil sized twig. Now it is still a small sapling compared to the big tree.
 The ground was rock solid. it kept falling. I probed it up. When I leave, the neighbour took care of it. When it fell after a thunderstorm. They took care of Aunty Ann's tree. Now they had gone, the tree is strong enough to stand up. You can see how big the branch that had grown horizronal.
 Didn't get the exact apartment, the extreme right, you see a little bit where the hornbill came.
 Tags, the leaves are the neem leaves.
The lounge part of the apartment. Many people from all over the world had come to my house. Dad love coming. NTU used to me Nanyang University, Nan Da, built by the money raised by the Chinese people of Singapore, Malaya and Sarawak. Dan and Grandpa were actively fund raisers.
Here we did Tai Chi.

Many years ago,  I was interested in plants. This story is incredible to many and it does sound like fiction. I have two neem trees, a legacy I left behind in Nanyang Technological University. Today, I watched on Aljazeera how in India they extract the Neem oil for their plants.

Most week day mornings, I meet with fellow ex-patriot wives at this very spot, a car park of our Nanyang View Apartments. While we HOO SEE HOO SEE, we also talk. Important issues  like a natural mosquito repellent, as we were were plant enthusiastic people.

The plant NEEM came up, and I googled. I came to the site of the world renown professor in India. I emailed him, and he said he had just been to Singapore, and thanked my ladies for our interest.

He referred me to the person in charged in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and he had a bundle of cuttings for me.  He just happened to be in the office next to my friend, a fellow faculty wife.

That evening, I got my precious bundle of 10. I gave some to my friends, one took it to Malacca and it grew.

My two grew, and I "planted" them illegally. Every now and then, NTU management team send workers to chop of the "illegally" planted trees. My trees survived because the Malay cutters know it is good UBAT/ medicine.

I went back last year, I saw tags, apparently, during the Youth Olympics, they had a land clearing exercie and clear ed the bush. The workers again saved my little trees. They are tagged and no one is allowed to chop them down.

Besides the trees, I show you the apartments where I spent 16 years of my adult life with dirt in my finger nails, an unlikely professor's wife.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Making pork jerky/bak Quah aka bak kwa

Thinking of Lunar New Year Celebrations and meeting old friends makes me nostalgic. I decided to make some pork jerky/BAK KUAH.

Surfing for a few recipes, I set out to make some. The result wasn't bad. G liked it, but then, she had left Singapore for too long, so anything would be good for her.

Honesty, it was ok for the first experiment. Next time, G said she will make with me. I should stick to the recipes and not concoct my own.

Friday, January 23, 2015

flowers North Borneo Orchid original, Macro

In the 1960s, my dad and mum started growing orchids. Their passion were exhibited in their hours they spent. Four plants were especially nostalgic to me. The first was the famous North Borneo white moth orchid, which I had mistaken the hybrid to be it until a Sabah friend showed his.

Florensius Basol  sent me a macro of this beautiful flower.

Thank you Florensius, my 8 siblings enjoy the memories your orchid gave to us.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Save the world: Yum, Tapioca from plant to plate, a poly styrene substitute

Manihot esculenta, with common names cassava (/kəˈsɑːvə/), Brazilian arrowroot, ... Like other roots and tubers, both bitter and sweet varieties of cassava ...

It must be properly prepared before consumption. Improper preparation of cassava can leave enough residual cyanide to cause acute cyanide intoxication and goiters, and may even cause ataxia or partial paralysis.[8]  wiki 

chart: Courtesy Lim Kok Keong
 I am keen in zero waste, and my first encounter with using a plant based raw material was the potato plates and cutlery. My friend Ngarimu brought them in one of the Waitangi day festivals.

I am also interested in the tapioca plant where I heard could killed if planted upside down, for my research for my pending book. So glad that recently I made the friendship of James Chew and Lim Kok Keong who have scientific knowledge to debunk the myth of this upside down tapioca.

In the process of asking Kok Keong about this myth, I found I came to the right person, he has the technical expertise of making containers for food from tapioca. 

I am also very proud my home town Sibu and adopted home town Sarikei. They had banned the use of poly-styrene. Some people in Sibu actually bring their own containers to buy takeaway food. The council actually goes to spot check and make sure food vendors do not use poly-styrene. What is an extra 20 sens to pay to save the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lantana and my friend Grace.

The name is Lantana. originally from Mexico. In Malaysia and Singapore, the common name is Bunga Tahi Ayam or in Cantonese, KAI SEE FA, both meaning Chicken Shit Flower.

I remember this with fond memories of my flatmate of two years, G. from Penang.

One summer, her parents and sister came to visit her. The sister went to pluck this pretty flower outside the garden to put as a centre piece on the dining table. We were have a big feast cooked by Grace's mum.

Then she said," CHOW! CHOW!" meaning smelly. She had to take a shower becuse she felt smelly all over. Even then, she still felt smelly.

As for the bunch of flowers, needless to say, it was thrown as far as we possibly could.

And the food, we waited for the bad smell to dissipate before we ate them.

When I was living on the campus of Nanyang University, I was the secertary od the gardening club and had a online gardening journal. I wrote about why people would want to plant this KAI SEE FA. There was a bush in NTU.

In Australia, Lantana is a obnoxious weed, and there is a lot of studies devoted to this plant.

Monday, January 19, 2015

moth plant Araujia sericifera. wild choko leaves

North Borneo Orchid: Hybrids

 My Dad's favourite flower. It gives me warm fuzzy feeling every time I see this flower. Dad used to grow this from little saplings from North Borneo. They didn't bloom as frequently as the hybrids grown these days. The beauty of this plant is the waiting is paid off. The blooms remain beautiful for three months on the plant.

These flowers are grown in the Winter gardens, green house at the Auckland Domain.

The leaves are longish oval. I think I was so engrossed with the beauty of the flower I didn't think of photographing the whole plant.

The spray of flowers shoot up about 18 inches. So the background leaves are most likely to be from another plant.

My Sister Margaret reminds us siblings of how carefully Mom and Dad use a toothbrush and soapy water and carefully removing the aphids. Seeing them together doing it on one plant now warms our heart. It was truly a symbol of their love for each other.

Mom and Dad were not child hood sweet hearts. They did not even know each other when they married. They had met only once and were chaperoned. It was during World War 2. Their parents had to get them married, so Mom won't be taken by the Japanese to be their sex slave, and Dad to be conscripted to their army.

On the day of my oldest sister Rose's wedding, he cut it and I wrote to her children and their spouses today. This was the beautiful orchids that Grand Pa cut to make your mum's wedding bouquet. Grandma said she was surprised that he did it. His heart probably hurt as he cut it. It even hurt her heart though she wasn't so attached to it.

The last time I was in Australia, I saw a small pot, and bought it for my brother Charles.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Original North Borneo Orchid.

Florensius Basol's original North Borneo Orchid. Like the one my dad grew in the 60s.

Kohlrabi (German turnip)

Kohlrabi (German turnip or turnip cabbage) (Brassica oleracea Gongylodes group) is an annual vegetable, and is a low, stout cultivar of cabbage. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw as well as cooked.

I bought this to try it out. Sadly, I didn't like it, the skin was very thick and tough.