Monday, January 30, 2012

Saying Goodbye: Part 2

Our Saturday was full of good food and even better friends. Saying goodbye to our life in London and getting ready for a new adventure in Singapore has not been easy, and it was really nice to see our friends and celebrate this change together.

To start off, we went to Koya for lunch to say goodbye to Isao, who was also leaving London, and Peter, who has lived in Soho since the 1960s and is our upstairs neighbor.

Peter is the best neighbor we've ever had, and by far the most fascinating. One day we were telling him about a restaurant we'd just been to around the corner from us in Soho. "Peter, we went to Amalfi for the first time last week." He responded, "Oh I went there for the first time in 1965." He's a Londoner through and through, but he also considers himself a Berliner as he was born there and goes back to Berlin every year.

From left to right: Isao, Julius, Peter, and Kelly at Koya 
I had Niku Udon (Beef Udon) as usual, and was not disappointed. This soup really warms the soul on a cold London day.

Niku Udon (Beef Udon)
We're off to see the wizard! Udon makes you fly.

Peter, Kelly and Julius prancing down Frith Street in Soho, London
Julius and I had been planning to have a farewell party for about a month, but because I was so busy preparing for the move, I left booking the venue until the last minute. Bad idea if you want to find a decent venue in Soho. Everything was already completely booked up by the time I got around to calling up Waxy O'Connor's and Barrio Central. I was strangely calm about it all somehow. I think I had left it to the last minute because part of me really wanted to have our last party at our place. So that's just what we did, and it was off the hook! People brought their own drinks and we ordered Papa John's pizza.


We ate, we drank, we lifted Alejandro in the air... It's a tradition.


Oh, and we danced of course!


Thank you everyone for making our farewell party really special!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saying Goodbye: Part 1


Yesterday was my last lunch with the girls. We had California-style burritos at Tortilla in Hammersmith. The burritos there are actually pretty good. Unfortunately we were missing Marianne, but I'm hoping she'll come visit me in Singapore!

From left to right: Anna, Renata, Rebecca, and Kelly 

Today was my last yoga class with Aina at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden. I've been going twice a week since the summer. Come to think of it, that's not very long, but Aina's classes are so intense they really kick your butt into shape quickly! You start noticing the difference in your body right away. It feels as if I've been going to her classes for years! I could go on about yoga, but this video perfectly sums up everything I want to say:


Now that leaves me with the challenge of finding yoga classes in Singapore that are up to scratch. I am very picky, as I've been extremely spoilt with amazing yoga teachers since I started doing yoga four years ago, first with Juris in Orange County, California, and now Aina in London... can it get any better than that!?! I doubt it!

The other thing I did today was purchase travel insurance with Virgin Money. I am so relieved I got this taken care of (and not a moment too soon!) because now I have the peace of mind that if Julius or I have to see a doctor in Singapore or Bali or somewhere for whatever reason, we won't have to pay a dime!

We got the Backpacker Red policy for £182.07 (for both of us including excess waiver) for four months of coverage anywhere in the world excluding the USA and Canada. The maximum for medical is £5 million for each of us per claim.The excess waiver was £20, but it was completely worth it. Without the excess waiver, we would have had to pay £150 out of pocket for each medical claim before Virgin paid anything. So if I wanted to go to the doctor for a check-up and it was say £50, I would have had to pay for it. Then if I had to go to the doctor again one month later and it cost £50, I would have had to pay for that as well. So for £20 we got this waived for both Julius and me. I booked this policy over the phone and because I was unsure about taking it at first, they enticed me a 5% discount, which saved us almost £10. So folks, if you ever get travel insurance with Virgin, don't forget to ask them about the 5% discount.

Tonight we're having a leaving dinner with our work colleagues from Imperial, and tomorrow is our going away party at our place, so stay tuned for Saying Goodbye: Part 2!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Angkor Wat in Cambodia

One week to go! I've just purchased a guide to aid me in my Southeast Asia studies called Southeast Asia on a Shoestring by Lonely Planet. It comes highly recommended by friends Sonia and Felix in San Sebastian, Spain.

On the back cover it reads: "For 35 years Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring has been the backpacker's bible. Discover Cambodia's ancient temples, Thailand's island paradises and the best pho in Vietnam. We help you stay longer and spend less." Although the amount of money I have won't dictate how long I will stay, I am keen to get as much value for my money as possible, so that's one aspect of the book that definitely jives with me. I plan to provide you with a review of this book as we go along. 

Some of the book's content has already attracted my attention, such as Cambodia's Angkor Wat. These temples are not only visually stunning, but have been in virtually continuous use since they were built in the 1100s. According to my guidebook, Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world. It also says that wild monkeys hang out near the temples, but you shouldn't get too close because they can scratch or bite you. 

The closest city to Angkor Wat is Siem Reap. JetStar has a direct flight from Singapore to Siem Reap for around £160 or $245 with a flying time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. I must say I thought the airfare would be a bit cheaper, but with other airlines the price was about double that. I haven't even looked at lodging yet. So much for Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. Nevertheless, Angkor Wat is a must see, so it's definitely going on the to do list!  

The temples of Angkor in Cambodia

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jetstar - the Ryanair of Asia

I've just discovered Jetstar, which is a low-cost airline -- the  Ryanair of Asia, as it were. These are the destinations they offer from Singapore:


I'd love to go to Australia and New Zealand, but 8 and 10 hour flights respectively don't seem feasible for a quick weekend away. We'll be going to China for two weeks in May to visit my uncle, so that's definitely to come. Osaka, Japan is 6 hours away, which is borderline a bit too distant, but that's a trip I may need to make in order to satiate my desire for authentic Udon noodle soup, as I am now officially addicted thanks to Koya here in Soho.

Koya in Frith Street, Soho. My favorite restaurant in London.

My current plan is to look into the other destinations in more detail, because I'm embarrassed to admit that I know virtually nothing about most of the places on that list. Thanks to everyone's comments and suggestions, we're definitely going to consider Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, The Philippines, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. However, it's hard to make such a weighty decision without doing a bit more research first, as this is a decision which will affect the course of this blog and the content (pictures and stories) I will be posting here to entertain you good people. Please stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weekend Getaways

There are 13 weekends from 1 February to 30 April. We want to spend the first weekend in Singapore exploring. The third weekend I'm planning to go to a swing dancing camp called SeaJam. Our last weekend we'll be busy packing, saying bye, etc. So that gives us 10 weekends that are perfect for romantic getaways and surf trips to nearby islands such as Bali & Lombok.

A rice terrace in Bali.
For Christmas Julius' parents gave us an all-expenses paid trip to Bali. Our friend Vito, who spent four months in Singapore whilst doing his MBA, said Lombok is not to be missed. So those two places are definitely on our list.


Natural scenery in Lombok.

So Dear Readers, we need your help choosing our other 8 destinations for weekend getaways! Any suggestions of places you've been, or places you've been dying to go?


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ring in the Year of the Dragon

According to google maps, it would take 8 days to get to Singapore if we drove from London.
We're going to arrive at the tail end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. This year Chinese New Year falls on 23 January, and 2012 is the year of the Dragon. Any dragons out there?? I'm a rat. The rat's motto is "I rule." This is a motto that definitely resonates with me.

My student Queena recently told me the quick version of the Chinese zodiac story. There was a great race between all the animals and they had to cross a river. Ox was the strongest and fastest, so Rat made a pact with him that if he carried Rat across the river on his back, he'd let Ox finish first. However, Rat was very shrewd and Ox was naive, so he lied and jumped off Ox's back at the last second to clench the victory.

According to yoursingapore.com it looks like we're going to miss most of the festivities, except for The Chingay Parade, which is on 3 February from 6-11pm.

"The Chingay Parade first began in Singapore when firecrackers were subsequently banned during Chinese New Year. In order to keep up the celebrative spirits, the Chinese organised a simple procession where they played music and cheered. The tradition has carried on since then, so much so that today’s Chingay Parade comprises cultural groups from other races and parts of the world. This is a parade that truly embodies the local community spirit of Singapore." (From yoursingapore.com)

This year will be the first ever water parade in its history. They're going to somehow incorporate water into various segments of the parade, but it says there will also be a LED dragon display. I hope it won't short-circuit with all the water flying around. This sounds like a recipe for a health and safety disaster, and would NEVER be allowed in England. We can't even plug in a hairdryer in the bathroom in this country.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Crime and Punishment in Singapore

Julius received his visa by email yesterday. He didn't even have to go to the embassy! He just has to print it out and put it in his passport. Apparently Singapore works on the "honor system" when it comes to entry visas. Maybe this works because everyone's too afraid of doing something wrong as the punishment is so severe. The crime rate in Singapore is one of the lowest in the world, but they also have a very high incarceration rate.

There are quite a few fairly harmless activities that are considered crimes in Singapore (from wikipedia):
  • chewing gum (it's expensive to remove from the sidewalks)
  • spitting (many men from other neighboring countries spit in public, and I think it's a disgusting habit, so I couldn't be happier about this)
  • jaywalking (this reminds me of Irvine, CA)
  • failing to flush the toilet after use (This sounds too crazy to be true)
Punishment may take the form of caning and a jail sentence, or an outrageously high fine. Caning is generally reserved only for men under 50 years of age. They also use capital punishment in the form of hanging for offenses such as murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Here's an example of a sign found in the mass rapid transit system (MRT), which is the metro of Singapore:


I especially like the "No durians" bit, and anyone who's smelled a durian would know why. Quick side note: Durian is a type of fruit that to many Westerners smells of old stinky cheese or dirty gym socks. For Singaporeans and Malaysians, it's considered "fragrant" and is extremely popular.



Friday, January 13, 2012

Our Accommodation in Singapore

I get to Imperial this morning, and Alejandro says to me, "I hear you've started a blog about Singapore."

Wow. Word really travels fast! Then he asks, "So what are you going to do in Singapore?"

"My blog," I say.

He chuckles. "Maybe you could make some more Kelly's Cookies."

"I would, but there's no stove or oven in our apartment in Singapore."

It's true! Dear readers, have you ever heard of such a stupidity? No stove or oven in an apartment! I only managed to uncover this hidden information by digging through the FAQs under "Services and Utilities - Is Cooking Allowed?" on the Scholars Residence website.

Maybe I should explain that the Professor at NTU, Nanyang Technological University who invited Julius to work out there has kindly arranged housing for us, which makes our lives soo much easier. I've heard horror stories about finding accommodation in Singapore. There's apparently quite a bit of discrimination against non Singaporeans, and housing is even more expensive than in London. For example, I found an ad for an apartment which said "sorry Indian".

The apartment we've already got lined up in Singapore is in the Jurong area, and is only 7km or 15 minutes driving distance from where Julius will be working. It's also relatively cheap at S$1750/month including utilities. We get a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom, but we have to share the apartment with 2 other people we've never met.

I must say that I'm not looking forward to sharing an apartment with other people, as I feel like I've "been there, done that." As Julius and I have had our own awesome 1 bed flat in Soho for the past year, it's going to be hard going back to sharing. The added bonus of not having cooking facilities makes this prospect even more exciting. At least we'll have an excuse to eat out every day, which I've heard from numerous sources is common practice in Singapore.

So dear readers, you can expect lots of forthcoming food photography from Singapore and other far flung territories in the months to come! I just hope my stomach can handle it...


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Ready

Julius and I are going to Singapore for 3 months. He'll be working. I'll be sightseeing and taking it all in then regurgitating it in this blog for you lovely people. We're counting down until our flight leaves on 31 Jan. Only 20 days to go!

Our flat in Soho is almost empty. Our bags are packed. There's a bunch of random crap we still need to get rid of, but apart from that we're nearly there! Other annoying things I still have to take care of include: cancelling BT (£30 disconnection fee? WTF!?), westminster council tax (pretty simple, just mail in a signed leaving form), 3 mobile, EDF gas and electricity, Thames water... is there anything I'm forgetting? There always is...

We went to the steam room at Ethos last night and Julius said, "This is what Singapore's going to be like." I hope he was exaggerating. We're going from London in the peak of winter (0°C) to Singapore in the peak of summer (30°C) in the space of a day. Talk about culture shock.