Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Last Suppers (and Lunches!)

It's hard leaving a place you've been for 3 months, but at a certain point you feel ready, because you know it's inevitable and you've come to terms with that and accepted it. Nonetheless, there will always be things you are bound to miss, like good friends, delicious food like hot doughy Roti Prata with curry, and the deafening sound and earthy smell of tropical thunderstorms.

Goodbye Lunch with the lab at Prata Wala. From left to right: Kumudu, Azhar, Kelly, Julius, Domenico, Ferdinan, and Mohammed

Of course there are some things you probably won't miss, like some people on the train not wearing any deodorant and having really bad body odor, and the thick sticky humid air, and people pushing their way into the train before you've had a chance to get out. But all in all, we've had a really good time here in Singapore, and we're going to miss it!

It's a shame to be leaving right after we've discovered a delectable Italian restaurant nearby. Alex and Heath took us to Valentino's, an amazing family-run Italian restaurant in Bukit Timah. We had some exceptional food: buffalo mozzarella burrata, 3-month cured beef Bresaola, Risotto ai funghi porcini, and pizza with spicy sausage, porcini and tuffle oil. The food is excellent at Valentino's, but if you go there, try to resist the urge to eat too much because it would be a shame if you didn't save room for dessert from Perla's Pastry Boutique. The pastries are all hand made by Perla. We sampled a variety, and they were all delicious. 

Clockwise from upper left hand corner: Chocolate rum raisin cake, creme caramel, hazelnut panna cotta, and tiramisu
A personal sized apple pie. We bought this at the boutique and had it the next day after lunch. 
 Next up for this week: Leaving drinks downtown, then packing and getting ready for our trip to Kyoto and Shanghai! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two Weeks To Go

Only two weeks to go until we leave Singapore. One thing I'll miss is the weather. Although it's hot and humid, at least it's sunny, and I don't have to wear layers like I did in London. The other thing I'll miss is the food. It's cheap, delicious, and relatively healthy as long as you make sure to order a side of vegetables.

The Yuan Ching 5's last drinks together

Our roommates have already left. What used to be the Yuan Ching 5 has now become the Yuan Ching 2. Ritchie, Sophie, and Sif all left within a couple days of each other, which precipitated a lot of drinking and outings in a very short amount of time. It took awhile to detox after that, but I think I'm recovering alright if you don't count getting used to the void that has replaced them in the Yuan Ching Apartment. It's so eerily quiet around here without them.

Sif's leaving drinks: Margaritas at Cha Cha Cha in Holland Village

We didn't feel like staying home in an empty apartment last night, so Julius and I decided to venture out to a new mall that has just opened in Jurong East called JCube, which is only 2 MRT stops away from where we live. We had dinner at a place called Punggol Nasi Padang, which specializes in Malayan Cuisine. The food was pretty good, and we enjoyed Roti Prata, Murtabak with chicken, and a side of veggies for under S$15.

So far I like this mall a lot better than Jurong Point at Boon Lay. Its most impressive feature is the huge ice skating rink. As you come up the escalator on the second floor the rink seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Have you ever seen a hockey game in the middle of a mall? We did last night. The rink is surrounded by shops and restaurants, and one side has stadium seating as well so you can sit down with an ice cream and watch the game.

Julius posing in front of the ice skating rink at JCube

There was also a strange store called Stinky Candy. They have a cold metal surface to work on, which reminded me of Cold Stone ice cream, because they also use the same type of flat metal spatulas. The only difference I could see was that instead of making customized ice cream, they make customized candy. It kind of hurt my teeth to watch them, but it was definitely something I had never seen before, and it seemed to be pretty popular based on the size of the mesmerized crowd that was gathering.

I'll definitely be going back to JCube soon - maybe even tonight!

Sticky Candy being made on the spot

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kota Kinabalu

Snorkeling Spot on Sapi Island

My brother Wesley, Julius, and I just got back from Kota Kinabulu, Malaysia. My uncle and his family were going to be there vacationing for a week and they invited us to come out and spend a few days with them. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as it was easy for us to hop on a direct flight with Air Asia and meet up for a mini family vacation.  

The downtown area of KK, mostly just a concrete jungle, doesn't have much to offer. With its outdated shopping malls that most people reach by car, pedestrians are at a gross disadvantage and they have their work cut out for them when getting from point A to point B due to the lack of a consistent system of sidewalks. Sidewalks often end abruptly without any warning, leaving one to improvise a new route through a mall at the last minute.

My uncle and cousins on the boat to go scuba diving

Although the city of KK is lacking in architectural beauty, it makes up for it with the natural beauty of the surrounding islands, which are protected as part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. We took a boat to Sapi Island, and the water was a clear aquarmarine, brimming with colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. We spent one whole day lazing around on the island, snorkeling, eating, and socializing with my uncle Thad, his wife Bin, and the twins, Hannah and Julien.

Coral on the ocean floor and tropical fish. Notice the evil little black one with the yellow tail...

The water was delightfully warm and calm, which was perfect for viewing the magnitude of tropical fish. After we'd been snorkeling around for awhile, Julius swam over to me shouting, "A fish bit me!" I examined the wound, which was nothing but a tiny red spot. The fish hadn't even broken the skin and there was no blood. I was thinking how strange it was that a tiny fish would bite someone, and that maybe Julius had been imagining it when out of the corner of my eye I saw a little black fish with a yellow tail swim up to me in attack mode and before I could react, I heard myself yelping in surprise as I felt a sting on my leg.

That little bastard! I swam away from that area as fast as I could as if I were escaping from a rabid shark.

I told Julius that a fish had bitten me too, and he was right, it did sting! We decided we'd been in the water long enough, and that ended our snorkeling adventures in Kota Kinabalu for the day. The rest of the day was spent gawking at the 20 or so Monitor Lizards we saw (we even saw one pooping!), and playing frisbee with my cousins Hannah and Julien once they had returned from their "Scuba-Doo" adventures. 

One of about 20 monitor lizards on Sapi Island

The weather took a turn for the worse as we boarded the boat to head back to KK. The city loomed ahead of us, partially hidden beneath ominous black clouds. Lighting forked from the clouds directly over the harbor, our destination, and thunder cracked. It was about to get really wet. I hugged my Longchamp bag close to my body, wondering how water-resistant the material really was. I guess I was about to find out.

As you could probably guess, we were completely soaked by the time we reached the harbor, but it was exhilarating. Lighting was flashing all around us as we made our way as quickly as we could toward the Hyatt Regency. We improvised a route through a mall where our little group of sopping wet westerners managed to attract an excessive amount of attention from the locals. The reason they were all staring was not because our flip flops went "squeak squeak" with every step. The reason they were all staring was because my cousin Hannah was wearing her bathing suit and a t-shirt, but no pants. In a Muslim country where at least half of the women keep their heads covered, this was certainly not an everyday sight at the local mall. Laughing uncontrollably, we navigated the mall as quickly as we could before angering too many locals, or worse: catching a cold from the overzealous air conditioning. We eventually made it back to the hotel, and I was happy to discover that the contents of my bag were miraculously still dry.

The next day we gorged ourselves at the breakfast buffet at our hotel, and then spent the better part of the day frolicking around in the pool. For some strange reason, Wesley didn't want to join in our antics, so we decided to gang up on him.

Pool antics: Human Tower
We had to work hard to get Wesley into the pool, but he never really stood much of a chance. Fortunately my uncle had removed Wesley's iPad from his grasp beforehand, noticing that he ironically had been reading Aristotle's dissertation on Ethics only moments before we attacked him. All the negative energy from that stressful situation was eradicated however thanks to the poolside foot massage he ordered.

Wesley getting a poolside foot massage

Having worked up quite an appetite, we went to a restaurant called Little Italy where we gorged ourselves yet again with delicious salad, pizza, and pasta, and Hannah outdid us all when she ordered a triple scoop ice cream sundae consisting of vanilla, strawberry, and another scoop of vanilla. You go girl! 

Hannah triumphantly holding her ice cream sundae

Back at the hotel, everybody collapsed in a semi-permanent state of "food coma". The situation worsened when we started watching the movie The Artist in bed. Don't get me wrong, The Artist is a phenomenal movie, but probably not the best choice to watch in bed when you're already having trouble keeping your eyes open. Feeling refreshed after my hour and a half nap, we had one last dinner before everyone said "Bye bye" to each other. Til we meet again in Shanghai!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh Brother Where Art Thou? In Singapore!

My brother Wesley is in town visiting for 10 days. He only arrived last Friday, but he's already seen and done so much. Allow me to re-cap the highlights:

Wesley meets the Merlion
His first night in Singapore, Wesley experienced an Earth-shaking thunder and lightning storm, to which I cried, "I think the building just exploded!!!" Fortunately this didn't seem to phase Wesley.

We went to Lau Pa Sat for lunch on Saturday. Wesley was introduced to chicken rice and carrot cake, and washed it down with some lime juice.

After lunch we walked along the bayfront under the scorching sun, and he met the famous Merlion, Singapore's symbol of tourism. 

Then he treated Julius and me to a mind-blowing dessert sesh at The Fullerton Hotel. We shared a lemon tart, a piece of cheesecake, and a chocolate eclair, and all three were some of the best I've ever tasted. Well done Fullerton Hotel. 

After the dessert pit-stop we cruised over to the casino at the Marina Bay Sands where we lost a whole three dollars playing the Sex and the City slot machine, and I got reprimanded for photograph taking. We were disappointed to have found no free food; on the other hand, we did manage to get free soft drinks, tea, and coffee. Remember to bring your passport if you're going to the casino, as they won't let you in without it.  

Interesting fact: Singaporeans and Permanent Residents have to pay S$100 to get in, whereas foreigners do not. This is to discourage gambling among Singaporeans and PRs. Despite these efforts, the place seemed to be chock full of Singaporeans, so I don't think the plan is working. The government is making a killing though!

The Singapore Flyer
It was the Singapore Flyer's fourth anniversary, so we got 4 tickets for S$60, which was half off the normal price. It was a good deal and we enjoyed the "flight", but we wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been for the discount. 

After the flyer we went to Glutton's Bay for a dinner consisting of beef satay sticks, green beans drowned in garlic, and fried chicken. Simply delicious. 

It was only 8pm on Saturday night, and we had plans to go to Sophie's friend Manisha's apartment. There we enjoyed good company and we drank Gentleman Jack and Alizé until midnight. End result of all the drinking: Manisha's mom dressing Sophie and me up in traditional Indian wear.

We spent Sunday in Johor, Malaysia visiting friends Che Fai, Eileen, and their new baby Ivan. It was only about an hour bus ride from Boon Lay to Bukit Indah in Malaysia, including getting out of the bus twice to go through the Singapore and then the Malaysian border controls. 

In total we must have had five or six meals that day. We think Che Fai was endeavoring to fatten us up like Hansel and Gretel before taking us to his gingerbread house in the rain forest, where he could keep us captive before eating us for supper. He did end up taking us to a beautiful waterfall in the rain forest, but we fortunately made it out alive. We almost lost Wesley though when he slipped on some moss and bounced off a rock before regaining his balance and narrowing avoiding falling into the river. That happened right before the picture below was taken.

Che Fai and Eileen should win the World's Best Hosts award. We had an amazing day and ate so much great food. Thanks guys!!

Julius, Che Fai, Kelly, and Wesley and Old Town White Coffee in Johor, Malaysia