One of the things I think my mother should be proudest of in her job of raising her personal three-person circus is the good manners she’s managed to instill in us. I’m not talking about not being brutally sarcastic and having sharp-as-a-whip tongues because we all seem to possess these qualities too (hey, we can’t help it if we have zero tolerance for idiots) but I’m referring to being really decent human beings. We never go to parties empty-handed, we never treat anyone like they’re beneath us (unless provoked, of course), we never fail to use our Ps and Qs, and most of all, we’re unfailingly polite, courteous and gracious.


Mum may not have done such a good job on teaching us how to pose for photographs…

It’s a mix of being raised by a teacher (and a discipline teacher at that!) and a traditionalist Chinese woman. When dining with elder Chinese people, we would actually address each and every elder person at the table to invite them to eat before us in a chorus of, “Uncle, eat! Auntie, eat! Mum, eat! Dad, eat!” spoken in Chinese, of course. It’s about serving elders before you regardless if it’s a piece of chicken or the refilling of a teacup. We ensure everyone has had a first serving before reaching for seconds. We never ever take a last piece of a dish unless we’ve been “invited” to do so. I’m sure if you’re Asian, you know exactly the kind of delicate dance of manners that is involved when dining out with relatives and your elders despite the uproarious noise levels that may deceive one into thinking that everything is majorly casual. If you’ve ever watched Joy Luck Club and thought, “Geez, that’s an exaggeration!”, I’m here to tell you that it’s all true.

Circa 1992

I address my siblings as Eldest Brother and Second Brother in Chinese. I’ve never grown up calling them by their names despite us having really silly pet names for each other. There have been many crude Chinese words and impolitically correct terms used to address each other fondly, which are unfortunately way too rude to be publicised, along with names like Bird, Dope, Loser, etc.

Recent family portrait, sans me and second brother’s fiancee on his 30th

Despite all of that silliness, my mum still gets compliments from her friends about how well-behaved we are. I think that’s just a major part of being a human being, though. All of my friends are equally as polite and beautifully behaved and I so adore them for it. We may have really inappropriate humour and conversations, but they’ve never exhibited behaviour that was less than.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up so accustomed with manners being such a prominent part of everyday life that I’m seriously rattled by people who epitomise bad manners. I usually make leeways for personal life matters and subsequent apologies but continuous bad behaviour and lack of courtesy and grace really gets my blood boiling. In my opinion, you can be the wealthiest man on earth but if you’re a rude prick, you’re worth diddly-squat. Just like how money can’t buy style, money certainly can’t buy class and manners either.

My friends tell me I spoil them by gifting them with free meals and sweets but I honestly don’t mind because they’re such lovely people. They rigorously stroke my ego by gracing me with their gratitude and praise — probably explains why I had trouble fitting into most of the hats in David Jones last weekend! In all honesty, my friends are so great at being really casual about everything and repaying me in kind, and I don’t mean in the monetary sense, that I don’t think much at all about my feeding them. The generosity definitely flows both ways, as it should with all great friendships.

Meatball sandwich

Meatball Sandwich

On Friday and Saturday night, I fed two of my best friends separately just because we were camping in my apartment. Miss S came by to hang with me on Friday night for a good girly catchup and a sleepover, and I was making this anyway so we had it for dinner. The following night, Miss J also stayed the night after spending the night with me studying.

Both girly chitchatting and studying were definitely physically exhausting so it was good to be so filled up after! The recipe was from the Gourmet Traveler Annual Cookbook, which is quite possibly one of my favourite things right now. It is just an inexhaustible source of recipes that all sound so delicious and easy that I want to cook from it for a few months. It’s currently so heavily tabbed that I’m not quite sure of what to make of my usual trusty colour-coded system.

Day Two

It looked a lot prettier on the second day, although it was equally as delicious on both days. I adored the tomato sauce that I made from scratch. It was ridiculous how delicious it was!

On the third day, with the tiny bit of leftovers I had left, I boiled up some pasta and topped it with the tomato sauce and meatballs. I so enjoy versatile meals and leftovers.

Meatball Sandwich with Homemade Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet Traveler Annual Cookbook 2010
Serves 6

For meatballs:
200g soft white bread, crust removed, quartered
500g minced pork
1 cup mint, firmly packed, finely chopped
1 tomato, seeds removed, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Soak bread in 200ml cold water until just soft, squeeze out excess water, then finely tear into a large bowl.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and mix well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight.

3. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on lined trays. Refrigerate until required.

For tomato sauce:
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 can of chopped tomatoes (no salt added)
60ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaf
1/2 cinnamon quill
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
60ml tomato passata
2-3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp butter (or more cos that never hurts!)

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add onion and garlic and saute until tender. Add bay leaf, cinnamon, basil, fresh and canned tomatoes; then reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally.

2. Add passata, butter and red wine vinegar, season to taste and simmer for flavours to develop. Remove from heat and keep warm.

To assemble:
60ml olive oil
6 crusty rolls (I used parmesan flavoured baguettes), halved lengthways
Comte cheese or other good melting cheese, grated
Choice of salad of greens or potato chips (heated up) to serve

1. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half the meatballs and turn occasionally until cooked through, about 4-6 minutes. Wipe pan clean and repeat with remaining oil and meatballs.

2. Preheat oven/grill to medium-high. Place base of bread rolls on a tray, divide meatballs among rolls, top with tomato sauce followed by grated Comte (amount is up to your discretion) and grill until cheese melts. Sandwich with top of rolls and serve with greens or potato chips.

As for my two amazing friends, I have to say that their friendship; their roles as sounding boards and my voices of reason, as well as the endless laughs we shared are repayment enough for all my efforts.

My amazing Miss J and Miss S

Disclaimer: I appear to be about 5’0 in this photo but trust that I’m actually 5’5 and I just have really tall friends!


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