Saturday, January 24, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
If the news networks will have it, they want us to believe that we all are celebrating the installation of our new president.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Tequila is a popular drink at pubs, either on its own (straight) or mixed (Tequila Sunrise, anyone?). It is made of agava, a cactus-like plant that looks like aloe vera, and is produced mainly in a region in Mexico called Tequila.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
All this while, Mr Toh has been driving me. I can now drive Mr Toh.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
|China inspects melamine tableware|
China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the top quality regulator, told Xinhua on Tuesday it was organizing tests of melamine tableware, following reports that some products contained poisonous ingredients.
"The administration has always put great stress on food and tableware product safety. We are keeping a close eye on this issue and conducting product safety testing," it said.
There have been media reports in the past week that some melamine tableware sold in domestic supermarkets and wholesale markets had ingredients that were poisonous when heated.
(Xinhua News Agency December 31, 2008)
Melamine is actually a common plastics raw material that can be made into familiar tableware, like bowls, cups, plates or utensils. It is cheap and durable so melamine products are popular in Asia. Many children's tableware are made from melamine.
This common manufacturing material is now dubiously linked to milk after it was used as an additive for milk formula in China. As the Chinese government and other health and safety agencies around the world widened their search, they found that melamine has contaminated a broad range of food products. It looks like anyone could have been exposed to melamine poisoning.
Last week, Xinhua, China's official news agency, announced that even tableware (the rightful use of melamine) might have some problems.
The pink spoon on the left was manufactured in Thailand and bought at Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Singapore. The green spoon on the right was produced in China and bought from a Carrefour store in Beijing. Both were used equally regularly for the past 6 months and have been washed in the dishwasher.
I've noticed that the Chinese spoon cracked a while ago but last week, the distinct split appeared. You can imagine how shocked and appalled I am.
This incident is making me think very hard about products manufactured in China. I have been warned by local Chinese about making purchases from mom-and-pop shops thus we've always shopped, whether for food or daily necessities like shampoos or utensils, at major supermarkets like Carrefour or Wal-Mart.
Now even foreign-owned supermarkets can't be trusted? I don't think the fault lies with the retailers. The manufacturers need to take responsibility for what they put in, or leave out.
Back to milk.
During a recent conversation with my aunt, she said: "Wah, lucky you didn't let the children drink milk from China."
It wasn't about luck. When we lived in Beijing, we would regularly bring cartons of milk formula for the children from Singapore. Firstly, my dad works at a wholesaler for a certain brand of milk formula so we got them cheaper. Secondly, most expats (at least the Singaporean and Malaysian ones) suspect there is something wrong with Chinese milk, although no one could say exactly what. Well, now we know.
When I first went to Beijing, I would try fresh milk from the local brands like Sanyuan or Mengniu. A Singapore friend chose Sanyuan because the carton said its milk was used for the Great People's Banquet. Another tried Mengniu since the source was cows that lived on the Mongolian pastures. (Sanyuan, by the way, was about the only major brand that was not implicated.)
I didn't like either because I thought they smelled odd and I found that the milk turned sour 3 days after the carton was opened. The problem could lie with the transportation or storage process and not necessarily with the milk. For me as the consumer, I chose not to buy the Chinese brands and settled for UHT milk from France.
My children liked cheese sticks from Yili because they came in cute cartoon characters. Even then, I'll buy a pack once every fortnight. To spread the risk, I'd thought.
Don't forget that I was a chemist and I view hygiene and food science seriously.
My decision was further justified when I watched a documentary about the plight of milk farmers produced by a Beijing TV station. In the second half of 2007, prices of agricultural produce were skyrocketing. The programme documented a farmer who lived on the outskirts of Beijing struggling to earn a living with his cows.
His 2 miserable cows lived in a dirty shed and had hardly enough to eat. The farmer milked the cows by hand and milk cans were driven from his farm to the milk collection centre on an animal-driven barrow. I say animal because I can't recall if he had a horse or one of the cows was used. All these was done without sterilisation or refrigeration.
At the milk collection centre, the so-called middlemen would weigh the milk and pay the farmer accordingly. It is likely at this stage that melamine is added to prop up the protein (nitrogen) readings before they are sold to milk companies.
The farmer wanted to give up because the price of feeds were rising beyond what he could fetch for the milk.
Although the documentary aimed to show how high feed prices were adversely affecting the livelihood of farmers, I realised that the milk industry in China was actually segregated and the quality of the milk can't be good if the animals weren't eating well enough. At least from what I see on TV, cows in the West or Australasia lived on large farms and they are milked by a network of machines where the milk is collected at centralised venues.
When the news broke, many Chinese reacted vigorously. On the internet, many Chinese directed their anger at the milk companies and the middlemen. They blamed the milk companies for setting unrealistically high standards which led the middlemen to "dope" the milk.
A comment I saw on sina.com summed up my emotions.
This means: "Europe's cows live in better conditions than China's farmers. How can it be possible for the quality of Chinese milk be the same as those from Europe?"
Despite reports that many Chinese are snapping up luxury goods and eating more sharks' fins, the ordinary Chinese is still actually struggling to make a living. My heart goes out to these ordinary people I meet every day in Beijing.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Happy New Year!