Archive for October 2008
I was pleasantly surprised by Singapore. Expecting the worst from Jeremy Tan, I imagined a population of pushy arrogant twits making one’s life miserable. The fact is, I didn’t interact with locals a ton, but my impression was that Singapore is a very clean, green city where very few rules are broken, if any. Heritage preservation is very strong, so a great deal of colonial architecture still exists. Buildings are all freshly painted by law every year or few years, and there are electronic panels everywhere telling you when buses will come, how long it takes to drive places, and how much parking is waiting for you. It’s not a cheap place, but not an expensive one either; I’d say things cost a bit less than they do back home, and that street is really quite affordable. It lacks the enjoyable chaos and boisterousness of surrounding Malaysia, but it smells equally of durian.
My goals for my 24 hours in Singapore mostly revolved around food, and I achieved most of them. On the way into town I quizzed the taxi driver about hawker centres for good street food. The taxi dropped us at Kristi’s cousin Laurie’s apartment next to the Gallery Hotel on the Singapore River. Laurie looks great given her recent battle with cancer, and her lovely kid Jack Jack (aged 3.5) is full of beans and was delighted to have company. Laurie was worn out from a round of tests, so Kristi and struck out on our own in search of sights and dinner.
It was hot and sultry and Kristi felt a bit miserable from the heat, but we did have an interesting walk from Laurie’s house across the river and into Chinatown, which has some great old architecture, but to me lacked a bit of vibrancy and seemed more oriented towards tourism and expat drinking. It is very well preserved, and there are good interpretive signs everywhere, which I appreciated. Great colours on the old buildings too. There was a lot of tacky stuff for sale, though, and lots of offers of new suits and cameras.
Our intention was to eat Nonya food at a restaurant called Blue Ginger, but when we arrived there, it wasn’t open yet and we were hungry, so we decided to head to a food court we had passed by on the walk there (and which both the taxi driver and Laurie had recommended). Once we arrived, however, it was hard to make a decision on what to eat. Fortunately there was a vegetarian place cooking up the standards for Kristi (she had mee goreng), and I ordered some bee hoon and a side of roti with dipping sauce. Tasty stuff, and pretty cheap ($3 for my noodles). I washed it down with fresh lime juice. I convinced Kristi that we needed dessert, and the idea of shaved ice enticed her. I found a place that served colourful shaved ice treats and ordered up some ABC which arrived the size of the Matterhorn and more colourful than a pride parade. It was very soothing, even if it didn’t compare to the stuff I had in Kuching.
Back at home we flopped into bed quite early and had a fairly decent sleep although there was a very impressive thunder and rain storm at about 4am. We heard poor Jack Jack crying and asking for his mom.
Laurie produced a great breakfast this morning: home-baked muffins, longan, juice, yogurt and tea. The three of us ventured out to Arab street on the bus. I was very impressed by the electronic information panel at the bus stop telling you exactly when the next bus from each route would arrive. Arab street was interesting: narrow arcades – like in Kuching – lined with textile stores selling material in every possible colour. The buildings themselves were vibrantly painted with very attractive shuttered windows.
We walked over to Little India which felt very much like being in India to me, partly because of the smells and the bollywood music, but also because of the heat and the fact that the Indians in Singapore are not mostly Sikh as in Vancouver, but more South Indian and likely from all over India.
I had my heart set on a south Indian lunch eating off a banana leaf so we hiked until we found the Banana Leaf Apollo on Race Course Road, a substantial and boisterous place with a huge menu of delicious-looking fare. Kristi and I each ordered the vegetarian meal which came with six curries, rice, curd and rassam. It was scrumptious and spicy. I washed mine down with milk tea and lime juice. The price for the meal was pretty good, too – $6 Singapore dollars, or five dollars Canadian.
We took a taxi back to Laurie’s and relaxed the rest of the afternoon away, swimming for a couple of hours in their outdoor pool with the very energetic and water-loving Jack Jack. At around 5:00 we said goodbye and took a taxi out to the airport. Everything went smoothly and our Valuair flight landed in Denpasar at just after 9:30. Customs was buggered up by a computer glitch, so they had to hand-write all of our visas, which took some time. A 20-minute taxi ride (on roads chaotic in comparison with Singapore) delivered us to our guest house in Sanur, the Swastika Bungalows. The two-storey concrete bungalows are spacious and clean; not full of character on the inside, but the courtyard areas are lovely, full of lovely flowering trees and cool shade.
I’m currently en route to Singapore on a Jetstar flight. The food trolley is wafting very pleasant smells my way, but instead of buying a meal, I made a list of food that I want to eat on this trip:
- nasi lemak
- hokkien mee
- teh tarik
- roti chennai
- banana leaf curry dinner
- nonya food
- mango sticky rice
- cafe lao
I’m sure that the list will expand as I think about it a while. I think that my belly is already expanding.
Not much to write about regarding this morning. We packed up and left the apartment at 8:00 and rode the A31 bus to the airport. As usual, there was a long and circuitous hike to our gate, but like many things in Hong Kong, passport control and customs were very fast and efficient; so much different from back home.
We should be touching down in Singapore a bit before 3:00, a couple of hours from now.
A lousy start to the day: Kristi realized that she’d lost her wallet the night before, probably on the mini bus (as she’d used it to get on). It likely just fell out of her bag, or she missed the pocket when trying to put it away. In the wallet was ID, credit card, bank card and cash. A phone call or two and everyone was looking for it. Calls were made to the mini bus company, and we walked to the police station to file a report. Later in the day, we even rode the same bus with the same driver and asked him about it. No luck.
Nonetheless, we still made the best of what was left of the day. Just before noon we took the number 80 mini bus up the mountain to Chun Lung, Kei’s village. Not long after we arrived, his parents showed up and we had a great meal in their restaurant in the village. It was mostly dim sum, but also sai yeung choi, or watercress, grown right there in Chun Lung. Communication wasn’t easy as my Cantonese is terrible, but we still enjoyed ourselves. Uncle (Kau Fu – Kei’s father) even drove us to the top of Dai Mo Shan, the peak above the village, for a great view down. It was a nice opportunity for Kristi to see that part of Hong Kong. As expected, she really liked the quiet rural character of the village.
Kau Fu drove us back down into town on his way to pick up his granddaughter Ga Lam from school. We took the MTR into Tsim Sha Tsui for a quick walk around Kowloon Park, then we met Ah Wah at her office and she introduced us to her work for the local government promoting local horticulture – garden and vegetable-growing projects.
With some time to kill before dinner, Kristi and I wandered through Mong Kok at dusk. I had be hoping to show her that level of urban pedestrian life – seas of people on streets closed to traffic. We wandered through the ticky-tacky wares for sale in the Ladies Market while we were in the area.
We joined the rush-hour throngs on the KCR train and rolled to Tai Po, hopped a taxi and were at Baht-Baht and Ah-Leung’s for an absolutely delicious home-cooked dinner preceded by a series of goofy Wii computer games with Wah’s kids, Jun Jun and King King. Of course they trounced us soundly although I was particularly good at one dynamite-related game. The meal was fantastic. Dishes included greens cooked with fermented fish, piles of mushrooms, savoury egg custard, steamed garoupa fish, green beans and mountains of fresh shrimp. Of course, Baht Baht poured me a glass of brandy at the end of the meal. Wah’s husband Ah Gong arrived at the end and drove us home to Tsuen Wan. Jun Jun came along for the ride as he loves cars.
We slept pretty well although I didn’t manage to figure out the air conditioning so it was a bit sticky. We were out of bed and showering before 8:00, and made our way to the Discovery Park mall for breakfast at Delifrance, which also seems to be a tradition for my trips to Hong Kong. Eggs, sausage, baguette, cappuccino and orange juice got me going for the day.
Near the mall we jumped on the 234X bus which isn’t the fast way to Tsim Sha Tsui, but does offer the most stuff to see. Kristi was again stunned by the scale of development here, had tons of questions about how people use public open space and what they do there, and made some comparisons to her time in Cuba. At the end of the line, we walked to the Star Ferry pier and paid $2.70 (about $0.30 CAD) to ride the lower deck across to Central. The ferries are still well used, mostly by locals although tourists can’t resist the views and charm of the old tubs. The ride seems to be getting shorter every year; I think that it actually is due to reclamation of the harbour.
On Hong Kong side, my first stop was the Canadian Consulate, right in the heart of Central. My problem is that my passport is almost full, and I’m worried that the three one-page visas that I’ll need on this trip might not fit. Then what? There was nothing that they could do for me on short notice, however, so they gave me some post-it notes for me to write “do not stamp – visa only” and put them on my precious blank pages. I may have my parents mail my UK passport to Bangkok though, just to be safe.
We poked around Sheung Wan for a while. We rode the mid-levels escalator up the hill so Kristi could have the experience of a low-flying bird’s-eye view of that part of Hong Kong, walked down again, and poked our heads in the Man Wo temple, which is pretty prototypical for temples in these parts, full of coils of smouldering incense and godly statues.
Next up ride a ride on the tall skinny pokey old trams that roll along the island. Like on our bus ride earlier in the day, we sat upstairs at the very front. Such a great way to see the city. Pulling up next to or behind other trams provided great views of commuters in their natural habit. Down below you can watch pedestrians scurrying across the road between trams, and delivery bikes somehow squeezing next to or between them.
We rode into Wan Chai, bar and expat central. It has been hottish (near 30) and sticky, so we wanted some respite from the heat. We found this in a coffee shop modelled on west coast coffee shops back home. I enjoyed an iced vanilla latte and Kristi sipped an iced mango thingy and dropped a bit from the heat and jetlag.
Just after 1:00 we met her cousin Jodi and boyfriend Pablo, both architects and working in Hong Kong. We haven’t seen Jodi since last Xmas in Penticton. They chose a tasty Chinese vegetarian place on Hennessey Road and we had taro-nest veggies, noodles and fake gluten meat. Like many folks around, they are suffering from a lack of work options because of the struggling global economy. Work is pretty secure for them here, but there are few options in terms of other places to move to. Canada, US and Europe seems to be out of the question for them.
They had to get back to the grindstone right after lunch, so we said our good-byes and strolled through the Wan Chai street market, then jumped on the MTR for the short ride under the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui where we dropped in on Rehman in his shop (Noon Tailors) near Mody Road. It was great to see Rehman, as always. We caught up for a bit and made plans for lunch tomorrow.
Heading back to Tsuen Wan, we stopped at the Golden Shopping Centre, the computer mall crammed with tiny shops selling all things computer-related. I picked up a neoprene laptop case, a memory card reader and a plastic case for my cell phone. I may have spent $20. Kristi got a few bits and bobs too.
Back at Kin-yi’s we put our feet up for a short while before taking the mini bus to Tsuen Wan MTR station where we met Kei. With him we walked the Hong Kong way – through malls, walkways and overpasses – to a Hakka restaurant in the middle of town where we joined Baht Baht and Ah Leung, and were soon joined by Kin-yi, Ah Man, Ah Moon, Jeremy Lai and Ping. Jeremy Lai has grown up amazingly in the last year and now has a low voice and a fuzzy lip. Funny to think back at when Anthony and I came to Hong Kong in 1997 and he was just a baby. The meal was tasty and they made a special effort to order vegetarian things for Kristi. I began to feel a bit dopey, but fortunately the meal wasn’t a long one. A mini bus ride and we were back at Kin-yi’s place and getting into bed.
Vancouver was in the throes of fall when we left. I don’t recall a fall with colours quite like this, and such dramatic light, with late-day low-angle sunlight illuminating the trees against dark grey clouds. The sun was cracking through the clouds the afternoon we left. We went for a short walk around the neighbourhood and down to Commercial Drive to get some fresh air between cleaning the house and driving to the airport. The air was lovely and crisp.
Dad came over a bit after noon and drove us out. Actually, I drove at his request. We checked in instantly and wandered the airport, both ground side and air side, to pass time before we left (and to avoid sitting down). The flight on Cathay left at 3:15 or so, and was pretty much uneventful, which is a good thing for a flight to be. I ordered Indian vegetarian food which seemed to be the wise choice against Kristi’s ordinary vegetarian meals. The flight was 14 hours, which is plenty long enough to get a sore butt. I watched some movies, read, listened to music. I discovered that listening to BBC lectures on my iPod (“In Our Time”) was a great way to fall asleep (something about English professors), although Kristi managed to sleep more than I did.
The plane touched down in Hong Kong at around 8:30 and we flew through emigration and before long were on the A31 bus into Tsuen Wan. Even though it was dark, Kristi was already gawking at the scale and density of the buildings here. We hopped off the bus at th end of the line at Discovery Park and walked the few hundred metres to Kin-yi’s apartment. The apartment always feels like a home away from home, and is exciting because it means the start of a new trip into Asia.
On Saturday, I’ll be heading to SE Asia for five weeks. After stopovers in Hong Kong and Singapore, I’ll be spending two weeks in Bali and Lombok with Kristi. After that, she’ll return home and I’ll be doing some shooting for PSI in Bangkok, Vientiane and Phnom Penh, and possibly with some other NGOs. I’ll also be visiting friends in Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang en route.
This is a shot of the gear that I’ll be taking with me. Click through to my flickr page to get more details.
I’ll also have a Canon G9 along as well, but it will be in Kristi’s hands most of the time.