Hong Kong by Night

Hong Kong isn’t quite as striking as Singapore at night, but still pretty impressive.  Views of the harbor make up for some of what they’re lacking in Singapore’s lighting finesse.  Not too shabby though, as you’ll see below:

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The one thing I regret was not getting to ride one of these double decker trams

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Literally cooking on the street

Hong Kong has a bunch of markets that thrive at night, so I went to check them out.  First up, the Goldfish Market.

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All sorts of options for decorating your fish tanks

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Some had true aquariums, but most fish were sold this way

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A whole street lined with everything aquatic

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Tiny turtles and tortoises

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There was a thriving food scene there as well, so I did my usual and got in the longest line, and ordered whatever they were having.

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I think these were fish balls and shu mai, which feels a little mean being so close to so many pet fish…

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Next I walked through to the Women’s Market, which while it did have a lot of women’s accessories (i.e. knock-off purses) had a full range of tchotkes for all genders

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Who wants an Old Big Finger?

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A massive chocolate cheese bun.  I promise I didn’t eat it all in one sitting, or even all of it.

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Also oversized…

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In case the Extra-Stretch Scrunchies weren’t good enough

I walked past a place called the Yee Shun Milk Company and the windows were filled with these bowls.  Of course, naturally I was curious so ducked in and bought one.

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Steamed milk with ginger

The milk shop had a sort of diner feel.  There were a lot of choices, with or without egg, chocolate, ginger, and others, each of them could be ordered hot or cold.  I went with the steamed milk with ginger served hot.  It was a texture unlike anything I’ve had before.  Much lighter than a creme brulee or pot de creme, and less gelatinous than flan.  It was really delicious, creamy and light and not too sweet, but sweet enough that the spice of fresh ginger juice was a nice contrast.  They also sold various types of toast and a couple of egg options too.  I’d be curious to learn how to make them at home.  It was like the perfect late night snack before I headed to the MTR to the ferry to the bus to home.

Hong Kong by Day

So I had a lot I wanted to see on Monday, and after relaxing all weekend I was ready to go.  So much to see that I’m going to break it into two posts, so you’re hopefully still awake at the end.  (Side note: I’ve been awake for nearly 24 hours at this point, with a lot more to go, prepping to get back onto New Orleans time, which is 14 hours behind without too much jet lag.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.)  So as you’ve seen in my previous posts, Hong Kong is mountainous.  Partially as a result of that, and partially as a result of the sheer quantity of people constantly in the city there are raised walkways.  They’re a couple floors above ground and connect all sorts of buildings, ferry terminals, MTR stations, etc.  They’re not always the most direct, sometimes you have to go up and over and back down when it would’ve been easier to just walk straight across the street, but they’ve got pretty decent signage so it’s not hard to find your way around.  Also, escalators.  I’ve never taken or even seen so many escalators in my life.  At almost all intersections there’s an up escalator.  I’ve been trying to take the stairs when I can (to burn off some of that delicious Hong Kong style tea with condensed milk) but I’m always the only one going up them.  There might be someone coming down them, but never up.

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To get from the Lantau ferry to the Star Ferry, I had to walk through a mall, surprise!

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Women’s bathroom in the mall, felt like a spaceship

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Hong Kong Observation Wheel, 5 meters smaller than the Singapore Flyer

The Star Ferry has been running since 1888, connecting Hong Kong Island with Kowloon.  It’s as much a tourist destination as a mode of transport, and I could see why.  Plus for 2HKD, it’s the cheapest attraction in town.

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The seats are reversible!!

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Another Star Ferry headed in opposite direction, passing Convention Center

After a beautiful weekend, Monday morning was kinda chilly, especially on the water.  I bought a hot rose tea at this little stall in the ferry terminal.

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Perfume shop in the second mall of the morning

I’m still astounded by all of the expensive shopping in Hong Kong (and Singapore!) The malls are filled with stores like Gucci, Prada, Miu Miu, etc.  But as soon as I walked out of the mall, I turned a corner and ended up in this “temporary market.”

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I thought about getting lunch but wasn’t quite hungry yet, and also, I was kinda intiimdated by the entirely Cantonese menus, and hustle and bustle.  I didn’t know where or how to jump in.

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Chinese New Year is huge, and besides all of the chickens adorning everything, I kept seeing red envelopes for sale.  Chinese people use them to give money for the holiday, and the envelopes themselves are obviously a popular and important item.  They were the only thing this store sold.

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Stairs to Kowloon Park

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Another set of stairs leading to Kowloon Park

While wandering around I found a place with a sign saying they were Michelin rated, and a line.  I was finally feeling a bit peckish and I figured whatever they were selling had to be good.

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Signature pan fried buns with shrimp

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Crispy on the bottom and sift on the top

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Interior view

They were incredible! The texture was just perfect, crispy and soft, all at once.  And the filling was the shrimp and dumpling meat (pork?) but also the most flavorful broth!  It was almost like this little soup inside.  An order was 36HKD, so about $4.75 US.  From there I just wandered and shopped a bit, checking out the neighborhood.

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Lunch stall near Jordan St

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Some of their offerings

My original intention had been to go to Victoria Peak, but since the weather was so gray and hazy, I had been headed towards the Hong Kong History museum instead.  Just after lunch though the sun started to burn through so I changed plans again, and headed to the tram station.  When I got there, it seemed like everyone else had been thinking the same thing.  The Peak Tram is a big draw in and of itself, it’s been open since 1888, and was quite the feat of engineering at the time.  The line was long and there was a lot of jostling but I eventually made it on to a tram without having to stab anyone.

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While it still wasn’t totally clear, the view was pretty spectacular.  There’s a building at the top with a rooftop that allows you 360 degree views.

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One of the things I’ve been loving about Hong Kong is the Octopus card.  You buy them in the MTR stations, and it’s similar to a Metrocard, you preload it with money and use it for transportation, but it does much more.  In addition to being able to use it on the bus and MTR and ferries, lots of stores, 7-11, Starbucks, some groceries, pastry shops, etc. all take it.  And not only can you use it all over, but it’s a proximity card, so no need to swipe or insert or sign.  And you can top it up at 7-11s or at MTR stations or link it to a credit card so it auto refills.  Plus, it means I don’t need to deal with change or trying to figure out the tiny unmarked coins in a foreign currency.  Just wave it in front of the reader and go!  Brilliant!!  I wish we had them at home.  I love them so much I thought about making an entire post just about them.  Maybe I’ll write a poem instead. I’ll call it Ode to the Octopus.

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Viewer with Octopus card reader

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It was really windy.  I swear.

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Hong Kong – Lantau Island

I’m feeling totally spoiled.  These are my Hong Kong digs:

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My cozy cave below deck; I’ve been sleeping like a rock

Hong Kong is made up of a number of islands, and I’m staying with my cousin Jack on his boat in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island.  I was expecting Hong Kong to be a crazy and crowded city, but I’ve been surprised by how calm and rural feeling it is on Lantau.

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The places where there are apartments are really densely packed though.  If you look closely you can see that each of these are windows.  The sheer mass is kind of overwhelming.

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My first day I decided to check out Tian Tan aka the Big Buddha, which is on Lantau.  There are no privately owned cars on Lantau, or even private taxis!  So I took the bus to another bus to the MTR station to catch a cable car.  At the MTR station they had a take out sushi stand where you could make up your own box of individually wrapped pieces.

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Of course I had to try some, so made up a little box of the oddest ones I could find.

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My sushi selection, 3HKD each, for a grand total of $2.70 US

There are two ways to get to the buddha, gondola or bus.  I was torn because the bus was much cheaper but decided to spring for the gondola.  I’m so glad I did.  The views were totally breathtaking.

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First view of the Big Buddha

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View from Ngong Ping

The gondola brought me to Ngong Ping, a little town next to the Po Lin Monastery and the buddha.  There were 268 steps leading up to the Buddha, and once you climbed them, bronze statues surrounding his base each representing one of the six perfections required to achieve enlightenment.

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One of the Six Perfections

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Big Buddha

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It was hard to get a decent picture of the Buddha, and even harder to get a good Big Buddha selfie, so just imagine my grinning face way too close to you with Buddha in the background.  The view from the raised platform was really pretty though, and you could look down on the monastery.  After the buddha I decided to explore the area a bit, and headed towards the Wisdom Path.  I figured I can use all the wisdom I can get.

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Wisdom Path

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Po Lin Monastery

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Po Lin Monastery had a building called the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.  Photography was not allowed in the hall, but it was really stunning.  Glowing with lots of gold, but yet somehow so peaceful too.  You can google it for some images, or I like this one here: 10,000 Buddhas.  I spent a long time there, just taking it all in before heading back to the gondola.

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Afterward, I took the MTR and met Jack on Hong Kong island for a drink.  To get to the bar we had to walk through a mall.  Apparently Hong Kong’s mall scene is just as ridiculous as Singapore’s, but this was our view once we got there.

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Victoria Harbour as seen from IFC Tower

 

I found a yoga studio on Lantau and took a hot class the next morning.  Then I spent $20 on liquids at the nearby supermarket .  Pro tip: you shouldn’t shop thirsty in a place where you haven’t mastered the exchange rate yet.

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View while rehydrating

Jack and I took a ferry to Mui Wo, another town on Lantau.img_2279

I was surprised by the lack of bicycles in Singapore, but apparently they’re rather popular in Mui Wo.  Not only did we find this bike parking lot, but four bike shops and a bike repair stall.

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Jack managed to catch me falling off a rock

 

There wasn’t a whole lot to see or do in Mui Wo so we headed back to the marina to have  a drink while we waited for the ferry.

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Jack and cider

Sunday we took a bus to the Stanley market which is on the southern part of Hong Kong Island.  Again I was surprised by how everything is so pretty and green.

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Repulse Bay (what a strange name for such a pretty place…)

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We had a nice, long, late lunch at a restaurant on the Stanley Promenade.  We took a leisurely wander through the market and plaza and I picked up a couple little souvenirs.  After this relaxing weekend of wining, dining and wandering I’m well rested and ready tackle the craziness of downtown Hong Kong tomorrow.

Last Days in Singapore

I’d enjoyed my kaya toast so much the day before, I went back again on Wednesday for breakfast.  This time I got the “set” with tea and soft boiled eggs.  The tea is “pulled,” poured from a height to aerate it, and mixed with steamed milk, condensed milk and hot water.  Strong and sweet, just the way I like it.

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Across from Toast Box is Bread Talk, another bakery/cafe.  It’s where I got the strange hot dog pastry last week, and I didn’t eat anything there today, but thought it was worth documenting some other odd pastries.

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I’d bought a combination ticket for the zoo parks so made the hour long three bus trek back to the area.  In the women’s bathroom, I saw this:

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I’d had to use a squat toilet earlier in the week and figured maybe a urinal was another slightly torturous Asian bathroom arrangement.  But it was so low to the ground.  I know Asian women aren’t as tall as western women, but they’re not that short!  Then I finally figured it out.  It’s a little urinal for little boys so they can come into the bathroom with their moms!  Brilliant!  They really do think of everything in Singapore!

I decided to start with River Safari and funnily enough, the first exhibit was about the Mississippi River.  Complete with a little camp and all.

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There was also with Mississippi Paddlefish.  Stella!, the restaurant where I’d worked for seven years served paddlefish caviar, but I’d never seen a live fish.  Turns out they swim with their mouths open, using electrical currents!  Totally fascinating to watch, I probably stood there for 3o minutes.  I shared a video on Facebook, and if I can figure out a way to post it here I will.  You can see right down their mouths and out through their gills.  So incredibly awesome.

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Again, it took me more tries than I should admit to get this picture, this time asking strangers to take it for me.  You’d think since everyone has a camera that they’d have some idea how to frame a photograph, some basic sense of composition.  You’d be wrong.

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The River Safari also had two pandas (don’t ask me why the pandas weren’t at the regular zoo) but they were kinda limp and lifeless looking.  Apparently they’re a big draw though, because they had their own panda-themed gift shop and restaurant.  I ordered a red bean panda bao, mostly for the novelty of it.  The other option was chocolate custard filled, so I expected it to be savory.  Wrong again.

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From there I went on an “Amazon” river cruise.  Very different from the actual cruise I did on the Amazon in Peru two years ago.We didn’t see any animals except what we could make out of the giraffe exhibit on shore at the zoo.  I liked the squirrel monkey exhibit though.

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I’d been curious to try these tau sar piah I kept passing, so figured this was my last chance

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Singapore is 13 hours ahead of New York and 14 ahead of New Orleans so I kept joking that I was texting and calling friends and family from the future.  After seeing this thing though, I really think Singapore might be the future.

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I managed to squeeze in one more yoga class before I left, and then took a walk through Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, two areas I hadn’t seen yet.  Both are right on the river, and are obviously high end neighborhoods.  Again, Singapore pulls through with the dramatic lighting.

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While both were lined with bars and restaurants aimed at the tourist and ex-pat set, Robertson Quay was lower-key while Clarke felt more like an entertainment district, with pounding music and a slingshot ride on the riverbank.

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I’d originally planned to get the famous Singaporean chili crab for dinner, but it was both really expensive (~$70) and the only places I saw serving it seemed super touristy and fancier than anywhere I felt comfortable eating in my sweaty yoga clothes.  So I headed back to the tea and coffee stall where I’d gotten my mutton curry the night before.

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They were sold out of mutton, but for another S$4 I got a ginger tea and brown paper mystery meal #2.

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It was also really good, although maybe not quite as perfect as the mutton and rice.  I decided to walk back to the apartment, to see as much as I could on my last night.  I passed a happening stall that was selling laksa.  I’d been wanting to try it and figured it was worth  $5 just to taste it.  I also ordered some “special cheese beancurd.”

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I actually didn’t care for the laksa.  It was spicy and cooked in coconut milk, which normally I love but it had little fishy bits in it (cockles?) and kind of rubbery fried tofu.  I picked at it a bit but didn’t make much of a dent.  The special cheese beancurd however, I am embarrassed to say I finished.  Especially because they had the exact same texture of McDonalds chicken nuggets – rubbery and consistent throughout.  They were even served with sweet and sour sauce.

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I’d meant to get up early and go for a run, come home, shower, and go get lunch before heading to the airport.  Instead, I’d fallen into a blogging rabbit hole the night before and stayed up till 4 AM finishing the Gardens by the Bay post.  So I scrapped everything except the lunch part of the plan.  And even that I had to stick close to home for, in order to make my flight on time.

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“Teochew Fishball Minced Pork Noodle with extra ingredient”

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Agar agar – another thing I’d been seeing and was curious about.  It didn’t really taste like anything though and was much firmer than I like my jello to be.

When I got to the airport, I considered checking my carry on but didn’t because  I was almost at the weight limit.  When I got to security, they looked at my ticket and pulled me aside. Turns out at Tigerair they weigh your carry ons as well.  It ended up costing me another s$50.  So much for going with a low cost airline to save a few bucks.  But just when I was lamenting the fact that my last memory of Singapore would such a frustrating one, I went to the bathroom.  I walked into the first empty stall, and found this:

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A baby seat so mom can use the bathroom without juggling a child at the same time

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AND a child-sized toilet seat option so the kid can use the toilet without falling in

And if that wasn’t enough, each of the gates had a set of foot massage machines.  And they were FREE!  Thanks for the glimpse into the crystal ball, Singapore, I’m excited for the future!

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Aaah!

 

Doing All of the Things

I’d been taking my time, spreading things out, going to yoga classes, just kinda generally taking it easy on the sightseeing thing.  But Monday I realized I only had two days left in the country, and hadn’t really made a dent in my to see list. So Tuesday I put my tourist hat on and knocked out a bunch of things.  But you can’t be a super-tourist on an empty stomach, so first, breakfast: popiah, a sort of unfried spring roll, and more carrot cake.

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Popiah ingredients

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Finished product

And then a while later I got stuck in the pouring rain, so ducked into a Toast Box for some kaya toast, the classic Singaporean snack.  Kaya is an egg and coconut jam often with honey in it, and usually served on toast with butter.  It was delicious and I bought some to bring home.

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Kaya toast and peanut butter toast

When the rain let up, I retraced my steps from the night before and headed back to Garden by the Bay.  From the exterior, it’s not nearly as impressive during the day.

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Singapore Flyer, Silver Garden, and Flower Dome

But inside, the buildings were pretty impressive.  There are two conservatories: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.  They’re not inexpensive to visit, S$28 to see both, but sounded interesting.  I went into the Flower Dome first.  It’s exactly what it sounds like, a dome filled with flowers.  There are sections representing all different climates/countries, a California garden, an Australian garden, an olive grove, etc.  My favorites were the succulent garden and baobabs.

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Succulent Garden & Baobabs in the Flower Dome

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The Cloud Forest is a 115 ft tall mountain showcasing the different climates that occur at different heights in cloud forests.  Your first view upon entering is of the world’s largest indoor waterfall, and then you take an elevator up to the top of the mountain, working your way back down.

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Cloud Garden

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All of the installations were pretty straightforward, with details about the plants.  One exhibit was a little bit surprising though, and didn’t have a placard.

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Lego pitcher plants…?

I was really glad I had my rain coat with me.  It really did feel like you were in a cloud – misty and chilly.  By the time I left I felt like everything I was carrying was wet.

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I walked back through the Marina Bay Sands, and to the mall for some tea.

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I swear I didn’t eat anything else!

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The mall had a canal and a gondola, just like Vegas!

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I love eggs, they’re one of my favorite things.  One of my best friend and I have a running joke about how everything is better if you put an egg on it, so I was excited to find this egg-themed cafe while exploring.

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The rain had passed and the sun was occasionally peeking through so I figured it was worth going on the Singapore Flyer, the world’s tallest observation wheel.  It stands almost 550 feet tall and offers incredible views of the city.

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Also, perhaps as a result of the questionable weather I had a capsule entirely to myself…  I know I’ve talked about how traveling solo can be lonely at times, but the hardest part is getting a decent picture of yourself.  I considered purchasing a selfie stick, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  But being left alone in a capsule where no one can see you, with a great backdrop?  The perfect opportunity to try out my selfie skills!  Apparently they leave a bit to be desired.  After realizing no one wants to see that much of my pores, not even me, I switched to using the timer on my camera…

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Oops! 

That took too a bit of practice.  I don’t want to tell you how many I ended up taking trying to get a good one.  Each of the capsules has a security camera.  I can only hope no one was watching mine!  I’ll spare you the rest of the mishaps, but finally got a decent one.

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I stopped at a coffee and tea stall that looked popular, ordered a cup of tea and chose blindly among the food available.  There was no menu and they were all wrapped in brown paper so I just picked one.

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I had hoped to get back to the apartment before heading to my appointment at the zoo, but ran out of time.  So I took my brown paper mystery meal and headed to the subway.

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Hillside was my stop but wished I could’ve checked out Cashew and Beauty World

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Brown paper mystery meal

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The big reveal – some sort of mutton curry.  I know it doesn’t look like much but it was surprisingly delicious!  

The zoo is made up of four parks: the zoo itself, the River Safari, the Bird Park and the Night Safari.  A number of people had recommended the Night Safari so I went to check it out.

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The first thing I saw was a cute show in the amphitheater, where you could really see the animals well.  Then I hopped on the tram for the tour.  I tried taking pictures but between the low light and the movement of the tram, they were all blurry.  So you’ll just have to use your imagination to picture what elephants, lions, tigers and hyenas look like in the dark.  Hint: pretty much the same as they do during the day.  After the tram I walked the couple of loops which allow you to get closer to the animals.  It was kinda calming.

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The bat enclosure was my favorite.  The bats were allowed to fly free overhead.  Although I didn’t actually get to see any fly, just having them hanging so nearby was cool.  One of them walked along the mesh ceiling of the enclosure, directly overhead.  (Do you call it walking when it’s upside down?)  It really did look like a vampire, lurching and spreading and closing its wings, eventually settling into one spot, wings wrapped tight.

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While all the animals at the Night Safari are nocturnal, I am not.  It was such a long day that by the time I stumbled into the apartment, sometime after 1 AM, I felt like a zombie.  Luckily my plans for the next day weren’t too ambitious.

The one that’s not all about food

Ok, so I swear there’s stuff in here that’s not edible, but first…

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The many varieties of durian, you can literally smell this place from a block away

I stopped into the Mustafa Centre on my way to yoga the other day.  It’s another shopping spot, this one in Little India, people had recommended I check out and I’d walked by a couple of times but I hadn’t made it in.  I figured it’d be like all of the many other malls.  Wrong.  It’s crazy, the only really chaotic place I’ve seen in the city.  I don’t even quite know how to describe it, it’s as if a Super Walmart and a flea market had an Asian baby?  I know the world literally is completely overused, but I believe this place might literally sell everything.  Electronics, household goods, toiletries, clothing, anything you can think of.  And the full spectrum of quality of each, from cheap costume jewelry to expensive watches.  Add in narrow aisles, it being a tourist attraction as well as a functioning store for locals, and that all of them have shopping carts and it was totally overwhelming.  I apologize that there aren’t a lot of pictures but I didn’t have a lot of time and it was making me anxious.  They did have an entire counter full of flashlights, which as you already know, are my favorite!  (And if you didn’t already know, I’m still accepting Christmas and birthday presents.)

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Chair socks. That’s right.  Chair socks.

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Fresh squeezed orange juice vending machine

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One of the many many malls

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Taro milk tea, my favorite

So that evening, I met someone else who I’d connected with on Bumble.  We’d been talking for a couple of days, and his profile said “Gentleman. Gamma male.  Conversationalist. Bookworm.”  If even one of those things were actually true he’d be worlds ahead of the first guy.  We met at the beautiful and high-end Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling.  On each table there was a bag of roasted peanuts, and there were shells all over the floor.  It’s tradition but I had a really hard time tossing mine on the ground.  In New Orleans I wouldn’t have thought twice but here in Singapore everything is so clean it seemed sacrilegious.  Even when I went for a run there was a man with a broom sweeping leaves off the boardwalk!  In the middle of the forest!

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Singapore Sling, it tasted a lot like a hurricane

My date was great, and a good sport for meeting me at such a touristy place.  Especially when the bill came and the drinks were $36 each.  Had I known that, I would’ve eaten more peanuts!  He’s Indian, grew up in the South, near Chennai.  Not only does he speak a bunch of languages but he has traveled and lived all over the world.  Turns out he even lived in New Orleans for six months!  We hit it off, talking about all sorts of things: yoga, travel, politics, music, food, more travel.  After our drinks we walked to a South Indian restaurant he loves for dinner.  He ordered the rocket dosai for me, which looks how it sounds:

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Rocket dosai with chutneys 

From there we walked to Garden by the Bay.  This city is incredibly efficient and modern, it’s amazing in all sorts of ways but if there’s one thing they really nail, it’s dramatic lighting.  Even regular buildings in the city are highlighted beautifully and Garden by the Bay is meant to be artistic, so it’s really breathtaking.  Also, their special Christmas installation had just finished, but hadn’t been broken down yet so some the structures were still up, but not lit.  It gave the place a bit of a ghostly feel.  And I want to apologize in advance, there are a lot of similar pictures.  I always try to edit down as much as I can, I don’t want anyone to get bored but I had a really hard time with this post.  I really love these pictures.  I had so much fun taking them and some of them don’t even look real but I swear I didn’t do anything to them.  I don’t have Photoshop and wouldn’t know how to use it if I did. I’m certainly open to any feedback you have about them though, so I can pare down to a more reasonable number.

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At first we couldn’t figure out why all these people were laying on benches, it seemed like an odd place to nap but then Christmas music started playing and a light show started, with the trees blinking and throbbing to the music.  It was really fun and the big finale was to my favorite Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

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The Gardens are free to wander around.  Besides the Supertrees there are sculptures and actual gardens and koi ponds and a river.  Plus one of the oddest vending machines I’ve ever seen:

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From Frozen to Hot in Minutes

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Between the Garden by the Bay and the rest of the city is the Marina Bay Sands, perhaps the city’s most striking building.  It’s a casino and hotel with 2,500 rooms.  It’s made up of three 55 story towers with a “SkyPark” top connecting them.  The SkyPark has restaurants, clubs, an observation deck and a nearly 500 foot long infinity pool that sits 600 feet above the ground.

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We walked through the hotel and stayed on the raised walkway, which brought us to the marina.  There were some incredible views of the hotel, the water, the city skyline and the mall (surprise!)

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Helix Bridge & Bum Boats

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New Year’s Day

Seeing everyones posts made me think about the fact that I haven’t done too much reflecting on 2016 or 2017.  There’s been so much change in 2016 that I think I was too busy feeling it to have a lot of perspective.  So I spent the first day of the year just alone in my own head, catching up on some yoga reading and some writing, and trying to set some goals for the upcoming year.  I put my bathing suit on and laid on the roof deck with my journal, my book, my laptop and my phone and it was just what I needed.  Eventually I ventured out for lunch at Whampoa, the local “wet market” and hawker center.

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Durian

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I want to make sure I’m getting to try the best things so today I instituted a new system.  I figured the locals know best so just started following the crowd.  I got on the longest line and ate whatever they were selling.  For lunch it was the “Best Lu Mian in Town.”  It cost S$3, which is about $2 US.  I have no idea what Lu Mian is, but it was delicious.

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Also, everyone in front of me was putting all the condiments on their dish, so I did that too, not knowing what any of them were besides the chilis.  I figured the green stuff seemed safe but I thought the red paste might be lethal but when in Rome…

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Condiment options – I tried them all and didn’t even cry! Turns out the clear-ish stuff is raw garlic.

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Best Lu Mian in town

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The other longest line.  Putting it on my to do list.

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Dollar Store Bins

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Red Kueh, it’s meant to look like a turtle shell ~$2 US

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Peanut Kueh Interior

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Balestier Road

After lunch I did some more reading and then walked the hour downtown to a yoga class, which just happened to be near the Maxwell Food Market.  I got dinner there again, this time trying the best known Singaporean dish, Hainanese chicken rice.  I ordered the “set” which came with clear soup and bok choy.  I also added a black soy soaked egg because eggs make everything better.

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When I got back to the apartment, Estela had bought banana fritters, and claimed these were the best in the city, because unlike most the pastry didn’t get soggy.  She was right, they were incredible.  Flaky, crunchy, sweet, with a not-too-sweet banana in the center.   I promise tomorrow’s will have something cultural, or at least something that’s not about food.  😉

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Rolling Luggage

 

This is an unusual trip for me in a few ways.  I usually take longer trips, two weeks is more of a vacation than a “trip,” at least in my head.  And not only is it shorter, but I usually just  book my flights, pack my backpack and wing it, staying in hostels and cheap hotels and moving on when I feel like I’ve been in a place long enough, seen what I wanted to see.  To have a set itinerary and places to stay (and real luggage!) is strange for me.  I’m definitely not complaining, the apartment where I’m staying in Singapore is about 300x times nicer than anywhere I would normally stay.  And I’m really excited to visit my cousin Jack in Hong Kong, but it’s still odd.  Plus, not staying at hostels meals it’s much harder to meet people.  After spending three days solo, without any one to really talk to, I woke up yesterday feeling kinda lonely.  I go through this every trip, although I choose to travel solo, and I love it, I still get a wave of loneliness at some point in each trip. I can picture where I was sitting last year in Chiang Mai when I called my cousin about it, or the internet cafe in Varanasi where years ago I sobbed to my mom.  Since it’s 2016 and I’m single I figured, why not use a dating app?  I’d seen people who posted they were just looking to make friends and I’d been dabbling a bit anyway so gave it a shot.  One of the guys I matched with on Bumble said he was spending the day at the Botanic Gardens and invited me to join him.  It’d been on my list of things to do anyway, and I figured it was public enough that if he tried to kidnap me, someone would hear me scream (kidding mom!) so I went.  He’s an American currently stationed in Singapore with the Navy.  First we checked out the orchid garden, which was pretty awesome.  Orchids are the national flower of Singapore, it’s even on their flag. img_1781img_1782img_1790img_1791img_1794img_2833img_2835

After the orchid garden we wandered a bit more.  Mr. Bumble was nice enough, but sort of weirdly argumentative.  He had to debate almost everything I said, picking on my choice to use a camera instead of just my iPhone, disagreeing about which direction to walk, whether or not wild monkeys lived in the park, even my height!  All the while unintentionally calling the orchids orchards.  You all know I can be pretty opinionated, but I usually save it for at least the second date.  I’m sure he thought it was charming banter and that his repeatedly poking me was flirty, but he just wasn’t my speed.  I asked him to take a picture of me in front of the gates, and when I checked later, there was a selfie of him sticking out his tongue as lagniappe.  That’s what happens when you go out with strangers you met on the internet.  I posted the picture here, but thought maybe that was a bit too mean and deleted it.  I did get this picture out of it though:

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Humidity hair

Leaving the park was this big Elizabeth-blue building.  Apparently it’s Interpol’s office.img_2842

I know I mentioned the shopping in my last post, but wanted to show a bit more.  Here in Tang’s, a department store, the food counters are mixed right in with the clothing shopping, you don’t even have to leave to go to a food court.

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Bon bon or blouse?  Why choose?  You can have both!

Chunky bead necklaces I keep seeing around town which I like, even though they remind me of the macaroni necklaces we made in kindergarten.img_2845

If you read my posts from Thailand you know I can’t resist anything coconut, and was excited to find a coconut smoothie here in Singapore.

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My new motto

Speaking of, on my way home I stopped to buy some water and some tea, but found this instead and got distracted:

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White Fungi Drink “No added preservatives, artificial flavor or coloring.  Not from concentrate. Contains natural sediment.”

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In case you missed it.

Weirdly it tasted like sugar water, again.  Slightly earthier than the bird’s nest drink, but not much different, and definitely not very mushroom-y.

I’m in yoga teacher training at home and have been practicing a lot recently and loving it. I’d been searching for a yoga studio here in Singapore to continue my practice while I travel.  Either the classes were absurdly expensive AND seemed rather basic or they didn’t allow drop-ins or short term memberships.  Mr. Debate-a-lot is definitely not my Mr. Right but he did have a good tip for a yoga studio so it wasn’t a total wash.  I took a “hot power” class which was really good even though it was only an hour.  It felt good just to be back on my mat.  Afterwards I hung out with Estela, my friend’s helper.  We went to get some dinner before heading out to to see the fireworks.  We went to the hawker market nearby, and when I asked her what she was ordering, she said she was getting something from the Thai stand, so I did as well.

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Thai Papaya salad with fish sauce and peanuts, one of my favorites

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Estela’s minced pork dish

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Honey chicken with fried garlic slices

We met Estela’s cousin and started the trek downtown to the fireworks.  When we got there we walked for what felt like miles, all of the sidewalks were cordoned off and the police were controlling everything very precisely.  We had to walk in circles to get where we were trying to go, and although it was really crowded, people were really calm, never pushy or loud.

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I know it’s a terrible picture but it’s a holographic car, I couldn’t resist

The architecture in Singapore is really stunning, even more so at night.  I’m looking forward to exploring it more in the next few days. Finally we found a spot to watch from and waited.

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Marina Bay Sands

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Supertree and Cloud Forest

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I’m glad I went but the fireworks themselves were actually kind of disappointing.  After the first few went off the cloud of smoke was so thick and so unmoving that you couldn’t really see the rest of them.  I don’t know if it was because of the heat or humidity or what.  I’ve never seen that happen before.  Looking forward to taking some time to reflect on the past year and my hopes and goals for the coming one.  Best wishes for lots of love, health, happiness and luck in 2017.  Happy New Year y’all!

Lazy Day

After being trapped in transit for so long, and having my first day planned by accidentally scheduling a cooking class, I needed a day to get out and stretch my legs.  At my host’s suggestion I headed to MacRitchie Park and Reservoir.  Running in New York made me feel like I was in such good shape, I did 5 and 7 mile runs without any trouble.  Running in Singapore made me feel totally different, my pace went from 9 minutes a mile to almost 11.  To be fair it was 85 degrees, New Orleans muggy, hilly, and there was traffic on my way to and from the park.  I managed to struggle through 5 or 6 miles anyway, and the view made it totally worth it:

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img_2785After my run I decided to take advantage of the sunshine, which seems to be a rarity in Singapore and head to Sentosa.  I was thirsty after my run and had seen an interesting drink in the vending machine at the end of my block. I grabbed one on my way to the bus stop and ventured a tentative sip. Surprisingly, it was good.  Apparently bird’s nest tastes a lot like coconut water, mild, sweet, totally inoffensive.

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According to the ingredient list it contains “genuine birds nest”

A bus and a subway later, I realized I was starving so checked out one of the many bread places in the mall where I had to transfer from the subway to the Sentosa monorail.  I can’t get over how many malls there are here, or how maze-like they all are.  They’re like casinos: no maps, no clocks, no natural light and full of escalators, ramps and underpasses so you never have to leave.  I skipped the shopping and just grabbed a snack.img_2788

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I didn’t realize it but Sentosa is really built up.  I was just excited to go lay on a beach and read in the sun, but it seems that most people go for the rides.  Imagine Disney had a beach, that’s what Sentosa is like. Indoor skydiving and other activities, and all of the restaurants are sort of themed.

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I made it through the crowd and to the beaches, which were remarkably un-crowded given the fact that I’d had to stand in line for almost 30 minutes to just to buy the $4 monorail ticket.  The beaches there are really beautiful but odd.  If you looked past the white sand and the clear water there were tons of huge container ships and cranes just offshore.img_2796

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img_2800img_1780I spent the day happily reading Sweetbitter and feeling nostalgic about working in the restaurant.  Then out of nowhere, it started to pour.  You’d think that people were made of sugar the way they ran for shelter at the first rain drops.  They’d all just been swimming but somehow water from the sky is different?  It was bizarre to watch.

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I was disappointed to lose the sun but happily absorbed in my book so hid under an overhang and just kept reading, overlooking the deserted beach.

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From Sentosa I headed back to Chinatown to get dinner.  I’d been debating between trying some “carrot cake” or the Huanese chicken rice that Singapore is known for but the chicken rice stall that had been recommended was closed so I didn’t have to choose.img_2828

Carrot cake comes in two types, black, and white.  White is the regular, black is the regular plus a sweet molasses soy sauce.  I’d had too much sun and not enough food to make a decision so I ordered both.  As I mentioned earlier, carrot cake doesn’t have any carrot in it, nor is it a cake.  It’s made of egg and radish cake (which is steamed) and garlic, onion, etc. all mixed up together in a wok.  They tasted omelette-esque, especially the white. While both delicious, I particularly liked the black.  It has that savory-sweet combination I love so much.  Excited to eat more of it while I’m here.

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Black and white carrot cake

For dessert I resisted all of the soybean curd puddings and just had more mangosteens

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Mmmm… Mangosteen

 

 

First day in Singapore

It’s impossible to believe my trip to Thailand was a year ago already, and yet it feels like a lifetime as well.  While both the world at large and my personal world have changed so much this year, my love of travel and food have remained constant.  So here’s the first day of my newest adventure: a week in Singapore and a week in Hong Kong.

 

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It took two flights to get to here, one 12 1/2 hour flight from NY to Doha, Qatar and another 7 1/2 hour flight from Doha to Singapore.  By the time I got off the plane, I was totally completely disoriented.  I’d stayed up the entire night before to get adjusted but ended up sleeping in bits and pieces on the plane, rather than in a block like I’d hoped.  That plus the changes in time zone left me totally confused.  It’s really strange to arrive a day and a half after you left, when you’ve only been traveling for 24 hours.  Luckily, I’m staying at a beautiful penthouse apartment, so that definitely softened the blow.  Thanks again Paul & Michelle!!

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The beautiful bathroom where I took a much needed shower

I booked a cooking class, but unfortunately my bad time change mathmeant that I signed up for a cooking class my first morning, not my second.  I was dreading the alarm this morning.

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I’m looking remarkably awake, considering (if I do say so myself)

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Dessert first: coconut milk, mung bean powder, pandan and corn pudding

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Weaving these little pandan baskets as molds for the pudding might’ve been my favorite part

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Ingredients for the char kway teow (which is kinda similar to pad thai)

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Lemongrass, candle nut, galangal, chili, garlic and shallot which we pounded into paste for the peanut sauce

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The finished products: chicken satay with homemade peanut sauce, char kway teow and corn hoon kueh

The peanut sauce was much different than the one I’ve always gotten at Vietnamese restaurants.  Instead of tasting like sweet peanut butter (which I love!) it was thinner and much more spicy and balanced.  I spent the rest of the day just wandering around, first in Chinatown:

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Temple in Chinatown

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Array of chopsticks

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Bamboo fans

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Fans and paper cut outs

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Lots of chickens, for good luck?

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Chinese sausage

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Many flavors of peanut

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Chinatown

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Reproduction of the 8×8 room the average Chinese family lived in in Singapore

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Bakkwa, or barbecued meat.  To me it tastes a lot like the boneless spare ribs you get from Chinese restaurants, salty and sweet, fatty and delicious.

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Dried seafood, I didn’t taste this.  Wait till I get smell-o-vision on this blog!

I was passing a place, Mei Heong Yuen desserts that had a big line, and some interesting looking treats, so I stopped.  Due to a lucky miscommunication, I ended up with two desserts.

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Peanut “paste” more like a warm sweet peanut soup, the consistency of as-yet-uncooled pudding, or ice cream base

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Almond and sesame snow ice, the New Orleans snowball’s much more delicate and less-sweet Singaporean cousin

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More lucky chickens

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Fish cake stuffed foods

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They had everything you could think of stuffed with fish cakes, including eggplant

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Mangosteen, one of my favorites!

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Pommelo, wrapped for the new year?

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Food court in Chinatown

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“Carrot Cake” is actually a savory radish dish.  The translation of radish is “white carrot”but white is a color of mourning, and considered unlucky so it got shortened.

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Char Kway Teow stand in Chinatown food court

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This was the only stall with a line, I was too full to eat anything else but will try to get back there and see if it lives up to the hype

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Red is considered lucky so many stands were full of red items for the new year

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Red on red on

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red…

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Will have to go back and try this another day too

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Egg and coconut tart from famous bakery Tong Heng.  It tasted just like my mom’s coconut custard pie but in a flaky pastry crust.

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Glutinous rice cakes to celebrate the New Year. Wrapped in pandan leaves and steamed for over 12 hours.  They had them in all different sizes.

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I didn’t get to try one, but they’re fancy mochi, a Japanese treat

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The architecture in Singapore is really modern and a few buildings like this one, incorporated trees or plants

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Lots of really fancy shopping malls

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Follow your dreams

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St. Andrews Cathedral. I loved how much space it has, this vast swatch of green in the middle of the city, a little bit of calm right next to a bustling public transportation stop

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And how it nestled in among more modern architecture

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Raffles Mall

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Somehow the architecture reminds me of Vienna…?

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Singapore also has a large Indian population, in addition to the Chinese

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I just love the juxtaposition of the old building and the giant modern mall