Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Morton's is still the steakhouse to beat; Plus happy hours now daily!

The Bar within Morton's

Steakhouses - we sure have seen quite a few of them popping up in Singapore in the past couple of years - CUT, Wooloomooloo, Ruth's Chris, plus other restaurants also offering steaks and grills. Oh, it's nice to be spoilt for choice. And some of these places have seriously pushed up the bar for good steak.

Still, where do you go for the best steak in Singapore? Well, I've been trying more than a few places, but reserved my opinion until I took on the granddaddy of steakhouses in Singapore - Morton's at the Mandarin Oriental.

Center cut prime ribeye
And I have to say - I am blown away. Despite hype and high expectations, Morton's still delivered, and more than delighted. It was love at first ribeye bite...

But wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start with the famous MORTini Nights - probably the best happy hours in town! For just S$14.95, you get a full-sized martini and free-flow filet mignon sandwiches! And it's now on every day, 5pm to 7pm! Happy hours just got happier!

This is the Lycheetini. It's pretty strong, for me, anyway - I'm an alcoholic wuss!

The famous Filet Mignon sandwiches
The famous complimentary sandwiches that everyone grabs. I am not a fan of filet mignon, so these were just okay for me. These are nothing, NOTHING(!!) like the steaks you will get inside.

Let's hurry and move on inside...

The kitchen at Morton's
The kitchen at Morton's - they are busy! You'll see them just after the bar (first photo). Morton's use their own special griller that sears the meats at 800-1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Seven to eight minutes is all it takes to broil most cuts. Only the double porterhouse takes 20 minutes.

The famous Onion Loaf!
The famous Onion Loaf! It's huge, it's delicious - we finished it all! Yes, I came with Leroy, and we both love bread, so this was short work.

I love this little pig lamp
I don't know why but I just love this little pig lamp. Must be the aura of contentment.

Lobster Bisque
Lobster Bisque (S$36)
This is very smooth and one of the more delicate-tasting ones around. It's rich without being too overpowering. Personally though, I prefer a bisque that's bolder and sharper (even if it's more rustic).

Baked Five Onion Soup (tasting portion)
Baked Five Onion Soup (S$28) 
This is a half-portion for tasting purposes, but I felt that it was actually just right, as too much will just fill you up prematurely. This potent concoction is crusted with Swiss cheese - addictive and savoury to the last drop.

Prime Ocean Platter (Baked)
Prime Ocean Platter - Baked (S$85 for two pax/S$171 for 3-4 pax/S$255 for 5-6 pax)
Morton's also serves some pretty decent seafood. In this decadent platter, you'll get a sampling of some appetisers: Sea scallops wrapped in Bacon, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Oysters Rockefeller, Jumbo Shrimp Alexander. A good way to try a little bit of everything.

There's also a chilled seafood version with Maine lobster, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Oysters on the Half-Shell, Alaskan King Crab Legs. Oh man, we had difficulty choosing!

A waiter will show you the different cuts
Of course, the Morton's experience is not complete without the steak cuts show-and-tell. A waiter will briefly explain the different selections available. The porterhouse and double porterhouse are both aged beef from Australia (yes, drats to the bone-in US beef ban that's still in place). USDA Prime beef selections include center cut ribeye, center cut filet mignon, signature cut New York strip. They also have boneless prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays.

That's what the lighting is like in Morton's
The very sublime Center Cut Prime Ribeye (16oz or 464g; S$99.50), also pictured upfront. I'm showing you this unedited photo to demonstrate the lighting you get at Morton's. As many of you may know, the ambiance there is wonderfully romantic. But a total nightmare challenge for food photography. So my apologies for photos that look off or grainy.

If not for the Canon 6D which has high ISO capabilities, I'd never be able to take anything (certainly not with my old 400D). The next time I go, I'll be happy to leave the camera at home. Oh who am I kidding? Every meal at Morton's is worth capturing and remembering!

Ribeye cut up
Here's the medium-rare ribeye all sliced up. Every bite of this tender well-marbled meat is a chorus of joy. The perfectly caramelised exterior adds aromatic contrast with the juicy center. The beef is wet-aged about 3-4 weeks (longer than most places) and while it's from grain-fed cattle, you still get a nice balance of beefy flavours along with the fat.

Cajun Ribeye Steak
Cajun Ribeye Steak (16oz or 464g; S$102)
Also very popular is the ribeye marinated with Morton's special Cajun spices for 60 hours. This steak tends to be a bit more charred because of the spice mix on the outside. The spices certainly lent a more complex flavour experience, but ultimately we both preferred the unadulterated flavours of the regular ribeye.

Jumbo Idaho Baked Potato
Jumbo Idaho Baked Potato (S$24)
Oh the many ways to enjoy potatoes - they are all here at Morton's. Baked, mashed, Lyonnaise, hashed brown, steak frites, and even in a bacon & onion macaroni and cheese.

Other side dishes (S$22) include jumbo asparagus (steamed or grilled), creamed spinach, brussels sprouts, onion rings with Thai cream sauce, and sauteed button mushrooms.

Morton's also has an excellent sommelier who can deftly recommend wine pairings for your meal. Of course, you can also pick spirits, beers and cocktails if you prefer.

Speaking of their staff, the service here is lovely. Warm, welcoming and not pretentious. More importantly, they know their stuff.

Dessert tray showing you choice for the night
This is the dessert tray showing you choices for the night. Will you pick the double chocolate mousse, seasonal berries with sabayon sauce, creme brulee, or souffle for two?

Keylime pie
Key Lime Pie (S$23)
We chose something a bit different and were rewarded with a gorgeously rich yet tangy treat. It's intense, but not too sour. I normally do not like sour desserts, but this was pretty good.

Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake
Morton's Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake (S$30)
Of course, you can't walk away without trying their most famous and possibly most decadent dessert. Oh scrumptious chocolate. Yes, the molten centre sort of flowed when we cut into it, but not a lot. So don't wait too long to cut into it!

Morton's at The Mandarin Oriental

Morton's has 63 outlets in the United States, but only six internationally - Mexico City, Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai.

They've made their name providing epic portions of good food with excellent service, and I hope they continue to do so. It truly is an enjoyable dining experience. Right now, the restaurant still sports the 1920s vibe with dark woods and subdued lighting, but there is talk of the place adopting a more contemporary design next year (with the change in direction by Landry's, Inc acquisition of the chain).

So if you like the classic look, go while you still can. I'll certainly be back for more ribeye.

Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Fourth storey, 5 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039797
Tel: +65 63393740

Open daily

Monday to Saturday 5pm to 11pm
Sunday 5pm to 10pm

Dining room
Monday to Saturday 5.30pm to 11pm
Sunday 5pm to 10pm

Many thanks to Morton's for the invitation, and to GHC Asia for hosting the memorable dinner.

Photos taken with the Canon 6D kindly loaned by Canon Singapore.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sunday Roast at Saint Pierre (Quayside Isle)

Saint Pierre at Quayside Isle is quite a departure from its old premises. I like it. It's got that breezy, contemporary vibe and feels more casual and accessible. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows not only let in lots of natural sunlight, but also lend you fabulous views of the marina at Sentosa Cove.

Perrier Jouët champagne
This was a brunch we had some time ago. The Sunday roast (S$88++) is quite a notch above your run-of-mill Sunday brunches. It doesn't overwhelm you, but presents you with beautifully curated dishes that satisfy and even surprise the tastebuds.

Saint Pierre starters
The all-you-can-eat starters alone are amazing.

The selection may change. Right now it's these items:
- hickory smoked wood salmon, fennel, orange and pink peppercorn
- spanish bellota ham shaving, zucchini, momotaro tomato and olive oil dressing
- grilled asparagus, japanese cucumber, chickpea, yoghurt, lemon and basil
- quinoa, avocado, black olive, wild herbs and french shallot "cuisse de poulet"
- roasted chicken, baby gem, sun dried tomato, capers, radish and egg mimosa
- classic nicoise, tuna, edamame, ratte potato, cherry tomato and roasted pepper

Gorgeous salads
They do incredible salads (not surprising, given that chef-owner Emmanuel Stroobant is vegetarian).

Vegetarian lasagne that kicks ass
I don't think this is on the menu, but do ask and see if they have the Vegetarian Lasagne. It is one of the best lasagne dishes I have ever had, and it doesn't even have meat in it. Incredible!

The Sunday roast now features roasted prime US beef tenderloin with veal jus reduction
They used to have a choice of mains, but now it's fixed - roasted prime US beef tenderloin with fresh herbs and veal jus reduction. It's served with baked autumn vegetables, gratin dauphinois, potato vallon with chives, green beans and hazelnuts.

Amazing quinoa salad with bacon
This quinoa salad was also the bomb. Vegetarians can ask to omit the bacon-like ham shavings, but those really make the whole dish come alive.

I see that they have changed desserts from a small buffet selection to a choice of three classic favourites:
- crepes suzette with vanilla ice cream
- bread and butter pudding with maple syrup
- apple pie with lemon zest and double cream

You can enjoy the brunch with wines (available at up to 30% off retail prices).

Saint Pierre also has a separate weekend brunch with a la carte dishes, and a brunch set (S$38++) with juice of the day, main course, homemade breads and coffee/tea.

Sentosa Cove is a lovely place to escape to, and it always feels like a mini vacation. It's perfect when not too crowded. I like the way Saint Pierre's offerings focus on lots of fresh salads. There aren't heavy creams, dressing and sauces. It's a wonderful meditation on hearty yet healthy food.

31 Ocean Way
#01-15 Quayside Isle
Singapore 098375
Tel: +65 64380887

Thanks to Emmanuel and Edina Stroobant, and team for the invitation.

Photos taken with the Canon 6D kindly loaned by Canon Singapore.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My New Fitness Role Model - Melissa Sarah Wee!

Last night at dinner, my friend showed me her niece. My eyes bugged out and my jaw dropped so low I couldn't put it back. This is Melissa Sarah Wee. Photo from her Facebook fan page (go and like it!)

Holy cow, people, that is almost zero % body fat on that torso! She's got an 8-pack that would put most guys to shame!

Nah, HERE - this is MY eight-pack (haha lol@P90X!). OK, I have a giant one-pack. Man, I have slacked a bit in my workouts because of the recycled (and reinforced!) flu/cough/whatnot bugs the kids have been happily carting home from school. But I need to get back some momentum. God, do I need that.

Melissa has a great blog at where she talks about her fitness and diet experiences. She's quite funny too. Follow her on Instagram (she has 28K followers!).

I'm very curious about her cyclical ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting.

By the way, she's not a bodybuilder. She's a teacher. Yes. Whoa, the kids must really toe the line when she's in session!

Melissa joins The Rock as my fitness role model. Every time I feel lazy or can't push myself, I just have to look at pics like this...and be totally ashamed.

I'm not training to be like these guys. I just like being inspired by their extreme determination.

And seriously, women...some of you fear working out or lifting weights will make you look like this. Puh lease. It takes phenomenal effort, knowhow and discipline to get anywhere remotely NEAR this.

OK, next to working out is clean eating...that's gonna be hard with Christmas round the corner. But it's easier to say "No" when there's a bigger "YES!" inside.

Happy balancing food with fitness, y'all!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Entertainer App: Loads of Buy One Get One Free Deals in Dining, Wellness, Entertainment and Travel! See My Experience At The Disgruntled Chef

Guys, you have to check out this app if you love to dine out, entertain, travel or indulge in spa/fitness services. The Entertainer is loaded with "buy one, get one free" deals that could help you save a bundle on those costs. Well, okay, in my case, it's tempting me to spend more, cos the deals are just too good. And there are hundreds of them!

There's a book version too, that's how they began. But the app is free (with option to unlock more vouchers).

To be very honest, when I first heard about The Entertainer, I was a little skeptical. It just sounded too good to be true, and the marketing cynic in me was sure there had to be some caveats here and there. Only when I actually got a copy of the book (thanks, Edmund!), did I realise the deals were real, and pretty straightforward - everything is buy one, get one free - valid 7 days a week with virtually no restrictions. And it features well-known brands in the range of merchants, so that makes it even more attractive.

The Entertainer Singapore edition
Look at how thick the book is! Vouchers galore! And all of them 1-for-1 deals! Yes, the book costs S$95, but carries over S$70,000 worth of vouchers. If you dine out with a group of eight and pay only for four, you can easily already make back more than what you paid for the book.

The mobile app (for iOS, Android and Blackberry devices) that they launched last month is even better. The free trial version itself is pre-loaded with some offers (rotated monthly) that you can use immediately, and you can find more in the full app (at just S$57, you get the same offers at 40 per cent less than the physical book).

How the Entertainer App Works from The Entertainer on Vimeo.

The app makes sense for something like this. It is even easier for you to search and redeem your offers. And you don't have to lug the book around, wonderful and hearty as it feels.

Here's the app on the App Store. Just do a search for "The Entertainer" and you'll see it.

The Singaporean edition currently offers vouchers from more than 250 merchants. Currently, these offers listed are valid until 30 November 2013, so download it quickly if you want to try it. I think there will be different offers in December.

These deals also include ‘buy one room night, get one free’ hotel offers in 125 hotels located throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean.

So you get ‘buy one get one free’ main menu items from the likes of The Disgruntled Chef, Hummerstons, Bedrock Bar and Grill, Pelican Bar and Grill, b@Rochester, Buyan, Yantra, Brunetti, Coq & Balls, Hard Rock Café, Esmirada and Marriott Wan Hao Chinese restaurant; or enjoy two complimentary tapas when ordering two tapas from Bodega Y Tapas. Alternatively, enjoy a ‘buy one get one free’ Xtend Barre class at Upside Motion, or, for the thrill seekers, they can receive a ‘buy one get one free’ GX-5 Extreme Swing Ride at G-Max Reverse Bungy.

All you have to do is present the app at the payment stage, key in your PIN code and get the restaurant to key in theirs. Then the cost of your second main course (the one of same or lower value) will be off the bill.

I tried it out the app today at the Disgruntled Chef. It was so easy. And the staff were well-briefed on the procedures. 

Vegetable Chips tossed with garam masala, and served with hummus dip
Vegetable Chips tossed with garam masala, and served with hummus dip ($8)
I took the kids with me today, as a school holiday treat. Chips are always a good starter to keep them settled in and busy. But these were a bit overdone, I think. Should have gone for the fish skin chips instead.

Crayfish Macaroni and Cheese
Crayfish Macaroni and Cheese, gratinated with cheddar and cream sauce (S$16)
From the small plates section, a pasta dish that not only went down well with the kids, but the adults too. I really liked this comforting rendition, with conveniently deshelled crayfish.

From the mains (aka the big plates), we had...

Miso Roasted Cod
Miso Roasted Cod, served with sauteed mushrooms and baby spinach (S$38)
This is one of their signature dishes. Tender fish slathered with a sweetly savoury miso paste. Everything right down to the spinach and mushrooms scored a yum from the kids!

Smoked chargrilled ribeye
Smoked Chargrilled Ribeye, US Choice 500g (365-days corn fed) beef served with port wine sauce (S$98)
My kids don't usually fancy meat. But they relished this with the sauce. I was pretty surprised. It's a really large portion, so the restaurant was kind enough to let me pack home half the dish.

Crackling suckling pig
Crackling Suckling Pig, with honey and clove sauce (S$68)
I could not resist adding on the order of suckling pig, which I had heard was good. It takes 45 minutes preparation time upon order. Well, it is not bad, but it doesn't help that I've been recently spoiled by Catalunya's version which comes piping hot and dramatically chopped with a plate right in front of you. More on that later. Mmmh.

The Entertainer app even has a Savings section which will tell you the amount you saved on your meal. If you have more than two mains, then the one with the lowest value will be deducted from the bill.

26b Dempsey Road
Singapore 247693
Tel: +65 6476 5305
Opening hours:
Tues to Thurs: 12 noon to 2:30pm; 6pm to 10:30pm
Fri to Sat: 12 noon to 2:30pm; 6pm to 11:30pm
Sun: 12 noon to 4:30pm; 6pm to 10:30pm

Food photos taken with the Canon 5DMkIII kindly on loan from the Canon Singapore folks

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Okinawa's Secrets of Longevity (Part 2) - What Keeps Them Going?

If you could live past a hundred, what would you want to be able to do?

Longevity has always been sought after, but it's only meaningful if you can still be active and illness-free. Okinawa has captured international attention as one of the places with disability-free life expectancy. They have 47 centenarians per 100,000 population, of whom 84 per cent are women.

Here with me is one of the centenarians, whom I visited on my special trip exploring longevity traits in Okinawa. She can still get up from her wheelchair, and her hand movements are still fluid with grace.

It also helps that there is a reverence for the elderly that has helped them in terms of social standing and support. On this trip specially tailored by the Okinawa Tourist Service (see part 1 here), we went to many places of interest involving the elderly and their lifestyle, and we got to listen to talks by longevity and gerontology experts.

Ogimi Village and Emi no Mise

Healthy, organic slow food.

The way grandma used to make.

Their traditional diet is healthy, with plenty of vegetables, tubers, soy products and seaweed. They eat very little meat (mostly pork) and some fish. Many of the "obaa" ("grandma"-like term of endearment for elderly ladies) still work their gardens and pluck the harvest for their family meals.

Food really matters because the Okinawans who moved overseas (to Brazil, for example) and adopted diets rich in red meats, saw their life expectancy plummet 17 years, all within one generation.

And at one particular restaurant, Emi no Mise, you can sample some of the food that has kept them healthy. Emi means smile, and it's also part of the shop owner's name Emiko Kinjo. She is such a lovely lady with a bright sunny smile, true to her name.

Ms Emiko Kinjo (centre) introducing one of the elderly villagers in Ogimi Village
Here she is (centre, with headcap) introducing one of the elderly chaps from Ogimi village.

Ogimi Village is in the north of Okinawa's main island, which has many active centenarians. Six of Ogimi's 3,500 residents are 100 years old or older — that's almost 171 centenarians per 100,000. It looks like even Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan has taken a trip there to check out the village and the secrets it holds.

This 90+ year old man still rides a motorcycle!
This guy is in his 90s but still gets around on a motorcycle!

Some of the elderly folks in Okinawa, all in their 80s and 90s
We also met other elderly folks from the village. They are in their 80s and 90s. Still young, according to local tradition. In the village, there is a stone carving with an old saying - "At 70 you are still a child, at 80 a young man or woman. And if at 90 someone from Heaven invites you over, tell him: 'Just go away, and come back when I am 100.' "

That is so awesome.

Ms Emiko Kinjo showing us "goya" or bittergourd, which is very predominant in their diet
Emiko gave us a demo on how to cook a simple meal that any goya champuru - a mixed stirfry with bittergourd and egg. Here she is showing us the goya or bittergourd, which is very predominant in their diet.

I hated bittergourd as a kid, but have started liking it recently, especially after my first trip to Okinawa.

The Okinawan way of stirfrying bittergourd is quite similar to the Chinese, but they don't use garlic. Otherwise, it's really very flexible - you can add most any ingredients you like. Here is an approximate recipe, which I wrote for Yahoo Makanation:

You can sample some of Okinawa's healthy cuisine (no doubt prettified) at Emi no Mise
Here is the lovely longevity lunch bento that we had. Each compartment features ingredients grown right in the garden behind the restaurant. They have an English menu.

Places like Emi no Mise are even more important now than before, as Western diets and influences have crept in and affected their longevity records. The younger generation espousing fast food and greasy meat-laden fare will probably not see the same life expectancy.

Address: 61 Aza Oganeku, Ogimi Village
Tel: +81 980 44-3220
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Closed: Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Credit cards: not accepted
Reservations are required

Kariyushi Longevity University

Life-long learning.

This is another cornerstone of longevity, and ties in with their sense of purpose. A reason for living, something that gets them up every morning.

In Okinawa, there is no such word as retirement. Most feel the official retirement age of 60 years is too early, so it's common to see the elderly continue in age-friendly workplaces, self-employed trade or opening a new family business with their retirement bonus. They just want to continue doing something. Something useful.

But some may choose a different path or pick up something new.

One facility in Okinawa helps them get the relevant training. At the Kariyushi Longevity University, you have to be 60 before you can qualify as a student. They study culture, lifestyle, health and other subjects.

At the Kariyushi Longevity University, students study culture, lifestyle and health topics. They also train to be useful to society (childcare and handicapped care)
When we visited, we saw some of the training sessions. This group is learning how to care for the handicapped. Some learn to do childcare. It's all about contributing back to society, and feeling useful.

Guess what? These people also start with morning exercises! This instructor in peach shirt sure surprised us with a lot of flexible moves that even some of us had difficulty with!

Okinawa has a Longevity University within this social activities centre
The Longevity University is housed in a social services complex. I was very impressed. For a population of 1.4 million, they had some very swell facilities. This building is quite new, less than 10 years old.

Both Singapore and Okinawan societies follow the Confucian reverence for the elderly, but it seems more entrenched there, so elderly can continue to work in an environment of respect.

They have also a slower pace of life and this probably helps ease the pressure on the elderly to perform.

In Singapore, some bosses just think of older workers as less desirable, being slower and needing higher salaries.When we view them as mere cogs, we lose out on their wealth of life experience.

It would be ideal if the elderly in Singapore can also choose the kind of work that fits and interests them most. Training in a university like this would be priceless.

You have to be 60 to qualify for the Kariyushi Longevity University in Okinawa!

There are some really nice classrooms and labs. Some I particularly liked this instructor with the beret. She is so cool. She's clearly well into her years, but hasn't stopped teaching. And she's helping others on their path. It's not surprising that expanding your mind and being purposefully engaged can keep you going in life.

The Okinawans have set a marvellous example in lifelong learning, and formalised it in this university (there's a waiting list to get in too, by the way).

In Singapore, older workers can tap on resources like NTUC’s new e2i campus to continue lifelong learning and upgrade their skills.

As one NTUC leader put it, “What you see is not age, what you see is capability.

I am truly all for this: Lifelong learning. Don't ever stop.

Churayuntanza Nursing Home and Utopia

Cheerful living facilities.

Now, most nursing homes make me think of depressed places filled with people who are just waiting for their end, arduously passing time with blank stares and faraway thoughts. I never want to be in one.

But I was surprised at what I saw in Okinawa.

With the old folks at Churayuntanza Nursing Home, Okinawa (iPhone 4S photo)

There was a vibrant energy and unusual cheer. Much of it imparted by the very dedicated staff, but also from the elderly folks who joined us in singing and dancing (those who could).

What is amazing about the nursing homes is the cheerful spirit they embody
The centre director of Chura-yutanza nursing home, and the Head, Gerontology Programme at SIM University.

Churayuntanza Nursing Home welcomes the UniSIM gerontology students (iPhone 4S photo)
They gave us such a warm welcome too.

We also visited another place called Utopia.

Utopia has a day care centre which offers programs for mobile elderly
This is actually a hospital with daycare programs for the mobile elderly.

Utopia in Okinawa has really nice facilities for the elderly
Their rooms are really nice too! Almost like self-contained apartment rooms.

I love how music and vibrant dance is so much a part of the Okinawan culture
I really like how music and dance is such a big part of their culture.

Oh yes, the elderly never stop dancing in Okinawa
Even the elderly love to join in. Watching them just fills your spirit with joy.

So many people lose their joie de vivre halfway through life, or persist in a depressive state, sulking at life for being tough - plainly indulging in unhappiness. Not here. Who has time for toxic negativity? Even a long life is too short for that.

Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum

Psychological Resilience.

It isn't a Pollyanna attitude or lack of tribulations that make Okinawans enjoy longer lives. The Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum is one of the many reminders of what the islanders have suffered in times of war.

The Himeyuri Peace Memorial reinforces the importance of peace, even as memories of war atrocities fade with the older generation
The Battle of Okinawa was particularly savage, claiming the lives of 200,000 Okinawans. Among these, were more than 200 girls aged 15 to 19, and some teachers from top girl schools. They were mobilised as nurse assistants, and were known as the Himeyuri (Princess Lily) Student Corps.

Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum honours the 200+ students and teachers who were mobilised as nurses in the Battle of Okinawa; of whom 227 died
The girls with no prior training were forced to work in army field hospitals hidden in caves without Red Cross protection. There were shells flying overhead the dark, dank and putrid network of caves in which they worked.

The tragic thing is, on 18 June 1945, the defenseless girls were ordered out of the caves, but forbidden to surrender. They were helpless against the onslaught of the American bombardment. With no protective shelter or rations of food and water, most of the young girls perished. Others committed suicide with Japanese-supplied grenades held close to their chest.

Listening to a war survivor recount heart-rending memories, at the Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum (Iphone 4S photo)
We had the great privilege of listening to an actual survivor (now aged 88) relate the harrowing experiences she endured as a teenage school girl in the caves filled with the wounded and dying - no clean water, barely any food, no sleep, no fresh air, the ever present danger of bombs and mortar shells, and even abuses flung at them from the anguished Japanese soldiers they were trying to treat (Okinawans were looked down upon by mainland Japanese).

You can read more about it here.

Her account was so emotional and heart-wrenching. Even today she fights back tears and her voice chokes as she recounts the horrors in detail. But you know what she said when we asked her what she thinks of Americans? "Americans...are still human beings."

The ability to endure suffering of this level, and yet forgive with a mature outlook, requires unspeakable strength. But only when you do so, can you re-embrace life and let joy back in.

Extreme suffering and high casualties from the students alone in the Battle of Okinawa

The Peace Museum exhibits photographs of the many victims, their personal effects, panels explaining the circumstances under which they died, a life-size diorama of the Himeyuri cave, and testimonies from 90 survivors. All of this exposing the insane atrocities of war, and appealing for peace.

671-1, Ihara, Itoman-City, Okinawa Prefecture, 901-0344 (Here's how to get there)
Tel: +81 98 997-2100
Open daily from 9am to 5pm (last visit 4.30pm).

Prefectural Karate Museum


The other thing Okinawans do is keep active. Karate began in Okinawa.

Okinawa Prefectural Karate Museum
Karate and martial arts fans should definitely visit the Okinawa Prefectural Karate Museum. It's housed in this bright yellow building.

The Prefectural Karate Museum contains photographs of karate masters, weapons displays, and a treasure trove of knowledge in its curator, Hokama
The founder and museum director (foreground, in red shirt) is Tetsuhiro Hokama, who is also an expert in Okinawan history and longevity. He has some 22 books under his belt too.

The second floor is the museum, and the first floor is a dojo
Hokama sensei has amassed quite a collection of historical items relating to karate. It's practically bursting at the seams on the second floor. I was surprised to see Indian items and pictures, but learned that karate has some origins from Indian martial arts.

Lots of interesting little exhibits at the Prefectural Karate Museum in Okinawa
There are photographs of karate masters, weapons, and amazing knick-knacks. For a small fee, you are able to look at the collection, and there is an additional fee for taking photographs/videos.

Katana - a Japanese sword
A katana - Japanese sword. The Japanese are amazing swordsmiths.

One of the disciples showing us the moves at Okinawa Prefectural Karate Museum
We were entreated to demos by the disciples and masters.

There's even a move in karate for relieving jet lag
There are all kinds of moves, even for relieving jet lag - using the knee in between the shoulder blades somehow. Hmm, I wonder who I can experiment on to see if it works...

But as you know, there are a lot of misconceptions about karate. There is a deep connection with spiritual development and meditation. Karate also massages the acupressure points in the feet. The harnessing of ki is very important. Hokama sensei even mentions herbs, horse riding, acupuncture, aromatherapy and swimming. He can really tell you many, many intriguing things. Count my mind blown.

By the way, the oldest disciple he ever had started at age 74. You're never too old to learn something new!

The Okinawa Prefectural Karate Museum 
147-2 Uehara , Nishihara, Okinawa, Japan
Tel: +81 98 945-6148
Open Tuesdays and Fridays (please call ahead if visiting on other days)

Butterflies love the garden at Emi no Mise too
This trip has been extremely enlightening and soulful at the same time. I hope that the traits that help Okinawa extend their life in meaningful ways will continue to stay, and also benefit anyone who want to learn from them.

Many thanks to Dennis Tortona from the Okinawa Tourist Service for making this trip possible. If you are keen on including such special interest aspects in a tour, please feel free to contact them for assistance. Call +81 98-859-8887 or email

Photos taken with the Canon 6D kindly loaned to me by Canon Singapore, except where indicated (mouse over the photos to see which are taken using the iPhone).
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