The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Singapore

Moms-a-plenty, Back to Phnom Penh, Giving Thanks, then Hokkien Mee

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I have a bellyful of Hokkien prawn mee, which means that I am in Singapore Changi airport and have successfully located the staff canteen. Contrary to false rumours and suppositions, it has not closed for renovation or moved to Terminal Three. The old access point has been closed, however, and you now have to enter down a stairwell near the Burger King in Terminal in a ruse carefully concocted to keep joe average traveller out of the place. I, however, infiltrated and enjoyed one of the finest food courts in this city, dining on the mee, iced coffee, black rice pudding with coconut milk and lime juice, all for about $8 SGD. Now I sit and wait about four hours for my flight to leave for Hong Kong.

The rest of my time in Kampong Speu yesterday went very well with the exception that I was incredibly tired. A dog barked all night right next to the guesthouse in the most loud, obnoxious and random way. Earplugs didn’t help – it sounded like it and some of its friends were right in the room with me. So, I spent the rest of the time out in the countryside with a foggy and dopey head. It didn’t help that I slept through my alarm, waking at 7:01, one minute after I was supposed to meet everyone. I was packed and downstairs by 7:10, and Vaesna, the driver and I went for a quick breakfast of grilled pork on rice, and coffee, close by.

There was already a crowd of women and their children waiting at the clinic when we arrived (the three team members were already there and setting up). More continued to arrive as well. There was probably about 30-40 women there, many with young kids and a few babies, which is a testament to their interest in birth control. After registering, they all piled into a room and Pen Sopheak, one of the midwives, gave a presentation on different methods of birth control. The next step was one-on-one consultations; the three team members set up in offices and discussed with the women their history and which method they were most interested in. They followed with a quick physical examination (plus an internal one if the woman was requested an IUD) and a pregnancy check, then provision of the birth control. The options were pills, implants (active for three years), IUD, injections or condoms. The three team members are qualified to provide each one on the spot. I documented the initial consultations, plus the insertion of implants into one woman’s arm, which is not a simple procedure and requires local anaesthetic. PSI is also very interested in showing how sterile their practices are, so I documented the sterilization and equipment handling for an IUD insertion (the woman was behind a screen, but I had a clear view of the team member and the medical equipment). There was a sterilizer provided by UNICEF in place in the clinic, a large cannister like a pressure cooker that sat on top of a portable propane stove.

The conditions in the clinic were basic. There was no electricity while we were working there, and an assistant had to hold a flashlight during the IUD insertion. Nor was there hot running water, although there was an over-abundance of running water at one point out of a bathroom that flowed through one of the offices where the team was working. Although all possible precautions were taken, they were challenging conditions to work under although probably no different than what the team is used to.

It was a lively place, too, as a result of all the children around. Women were helping each other out with the babies; one I saw breastfeeding the child of another woman who was in with the team. It did the trick. One very chubby girl was inconsolable without her mother until she saw my camera and decided that playing with the strap was the best thing ever. A few other toddlers found me interesting and distracting as well. The mothers themselves ranged in age from about 20 to probably 40. Some had one child, others had three or four. One woman was crying during her consultation: she had four children and had very recently found out that she was pregnant again. Medical abortions are available, however, and Vaesna was able to provide her with some counselling (and possibly even a bit of money to help her out).

We were there until about 1:30, then drove back to the city. The first part of the drive went by quickly, but once we were past the airport things were painfully slow working our way through Phnom Penh mid-day traffic, which like Hanoi, works on the principle of critical mass. Once enough cars and scooters and tuk tuks and bikes build up, they then start making their way through an intersection until the cross-traffic does the same. Car and trucks take precedence and will force motorbikes and lesser vehicles around them, and driving in the on-coming lane is perfectly acceptable, both in the city and on the highway. It all works because nothing goes very fast, although I am sure that there are accidents.

I was dropped off at the hotel and desperately needed a nap. I tried for a bit, but decided that I had too much to do before dinner, so I headed out on a moto. First I want to Baskets of Cambodia up on Street 86. A couple of years ago, Kristi bought a great tatami-sided handbag made by this Cambodian cooperative (she found the bad in Agassiz of all places). They have a shop in Phnom Penh, so I suggested to her that I could stop by and pick her up something. The shop was more part of a house than anything, and it was run by two young folks who didn’t speak English, but were friendly and happy that I had made the trip. I bought three bags of different sizes, all stylish to my eyes, for the incredible price of $17 total.

Next stop was the Storya mall for a bit of computer software, then back to the hotel where I had enough time to drop my bags, change and head out for dinner at Sharkys with Vinh and Sue (Sharkys had a very different vibe this early in the evening). The owner of Sharkys is a great expat cook, and he put on an amazing spread for American Thanksgiving with everything you can imagine: turkey (deep fried), scalloped potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauces, biscuits, corn, pumpkin pie, apple cobbler, and much more. Everything was absolutely amazing and was just what I needed. We had a good time, but I was dopey from the lack of sleep, plus I needed to get back and pack, so I headed out at 8:30 and was in bed around 10am, with my now-stuffed bags ready to go.

I was up at 5:30 and Pee/P/Pi the tuk tuk guy was waiting for me out front at 6:00 for the smooth drive to the airport. Check-in and emigration were quick, and the one-and-a-half hour flight easy. Before long I’ll be back in Hong Kong and dad should be meeting me at the airport. I will see if he’s any different looking as a newly-minted grandad.

Written by sockeyed

November 28, 2008 at 21:00


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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.

Written by sockeyed

October 31, 2008 at 01:00

Posted in Travel

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A Food Wish List

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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
  • otlam
  • tamahoon
  • 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.

Written by sockeyed

October 30, 2008 at 00:30

Posted in Travel

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