Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Singapore Trip: The Food

The apartment where we stayed was also, conveniently, walking distance to lots of great hawker stands.  Singapore is known for its hawker centers (street food stands moved inside for cleanliness purposes), which serve up a mix of different foods from different cultures, plus some dishes native to Singapore itself.  People in Singapore are obsessed with food and everybody has strong opinions about the best place to their favorite dish.  

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, where the people like to wear striped shirts, apparently.

We hit up one of the most well-known hawker centers, the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, where we tried out, among other things, the famous Tian Tian Chicken Rice, a super simple but fragrant and delicious dish, the in-high-demand porridge at Zhen Zhen porridge (the line was about 45 minutes long for this breakfast treat of rice porridge, eggs, and a zillion different toppings), and amazing fresh-squeezed fresh fruit juices (Tim had sugarcane and dragonfruit, I had apple/carrot/ginger).
Tian Tian chicken rice with chili sauce and porky fried noodles.
Lots and lots of chickens hanging in the window.
Mmmm... porridge.
We also hit up a nearby 24-hour Muslim food court right by the apartment for some crispy, chewy roti and silky, rich curry (goat and chicken... mmmm).

 The following day we treated ourselves to a Singaporean dish, fish head curry, at Muthu's in Little India.  Served alongside some other other Indian favorites (paneer and peas, spicy goat, naan) on banana leaf plates.  So good...
Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads.
Digging in; eating off banana leaf plates.
Finally, we took a mini-road trip to the East Coast Seafood Centre, right on the water in view of hundreds of ships heading to and from Singapore's massive port.  
Hundreds of boats floating out behind Mr. Ben and Mr. Ben's wife.
Tim, pretending to be a crab.
We ordered the chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.  

Singaporean chilli crab is quite easily the messiest dish I've ever eaten: quartered jumbo crabs floating in a chilli-laden tomato and egg sauce that you eat using an ineffectual combination of lobster crackers, chopsticks, tiny seafood forks and your hands to pull out the tender crab, then sop up the sauce with tiny steamed and/or fried buns. 

Bibs required.
 It makes Maryland-style crabs look neat and dainty.

Singapore Trip: The Sights

As you may have seen, Tim and I headed to Singapore for Christmas weekend, along with Erin and Ben.  Singapore is great... a sharp contrast to Jakarta in many ways (clean and efficient public transportation, potable water and street food you don't have to worry about, wide sidewalks, relatively little traffic, lots of rules willingly followed by most inhabitants).  A little bit like Epcot in its modernity and cleanliness (says Ben... I've never been to Epcot, but Singapore was so pristine that it I can see how it can be compared to an international theme park).  Singapore is also a crazy melting pot of cultures (various Chinese ethnicities, Malaysia, India, British), which adds to the Epcot-ness of the place.
Nothing says vertigo like swinging in a giant gazebo 31 stories high. 
View of the busy port of Singapore.
 Tim and Ben's friend, Nimesh, was generous enough to let us crash at his centrally-located apartment since he was away for the holidays. Nimesh's place was great... sweet outside lounge area on the 31st floor with great city views (above), hot tubs (see Tim's "Most Interesting Man in the World" photo here), and these bizarre hanging gazebos (also above). 

We were able to walk to Chinatown, which is full of historic shophouses (the inspiration behind the eponymous Shophouse restaurant [aka Asian Chipotle], DC folks) and an interesting Chinatown heritage museum that recreates the setting in which migrants who settled in Singapore used to live and work.  
Colorful carvings.
 We also stepped into Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple, which has the most amazing and colorful statues and carvings throughout.

We also took a quick jaunt down Orchard Road, which is shopping mall central, but also has massive Christmas light displays running throughout.  

Finally, we wandered around Clarke and Boat Quays along the Singapore River... grabbed a drink here and there, checked out some giant tanks of crabs and lobster.

 On Christmas Eve, we headed to Arab Street to listen to jazz, smoke a Christmas hookah, eat some virtual hazelnuts by the non-existant fire (long story), and take some goofy photos, all while sitting next to a family who brought their baby.  To a hookah bar.  A word of warning: next time you get a hookah, do not let them convince you that "double apple" tobacco is the way to go.  The extra apple just ruins it.

On our last day, before eating chilli crab, we wandered around the Marina Bay area to check out some of the crazy architecture... double helix bridges, museums shaped like giant mitts, boats on casinos, durian-shaped structures.

 Finally, in a post-chilli crab stupor, we walked around East Coast Park a bit and then stumbled upon the Ski360 cable skiing park.  Cable skiing is essentially water skiing/wake boarding where you're dragged around by an automated, raised cord rather than a motorboat.  Ben and Tim decided they would give it a try, with differing levels of success.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas from Singapore!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a trip to Singapore!

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a jaunt through Chinatown!

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... hawker stall food!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... public transportation!

 On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... pretty city views!

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...  shoe vending machines!

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... rooftop hot tubs!

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... fish head curry!

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Christmas Eve hookah!

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... mashed potato dispenser!

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... chilli crab and beer!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... cable skiing park!

More photos and details coming soon.... Merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Observations and Oddities

Just a few observations and oddities from Jakarta:

1. There are a lot of nannies in Jakarta.  A lot.  How can I tell?  They all wear uniforms.... namely pastel pajamas (pink, blue, violet...).  They sell them at the grocery store!  It's really weird.  They love uniforms here.  And nannies. Sometimes each kid has his or her own!

2. Walking places is hard here.  Sidewalks are few and far between, so most times you end up walking in the street, dodging cars, belching bajajs and motorbikes.  In the odd chance that you do end up walking on a block with a sidewalk, then it's not likely to be the most solid or safe thing you've ever walked on.  Things that may happen on these sidewalks:
Watch your step!
You may trip on an upturned brick.  You may fall 5 feet down into the open sewer to your left. You may trip over an ill-placed tree.  Or there just may be a bunch of dudes sitting/squatting on the sidewalk.  It gets really bad walking home at night, as there are no overhead lights, and the headlights on the cars are kinda blinding. 

3.  The zoning can be a little odd here. Within a one block radius, there can be huge skyscrapers housing high end malls (think Gucci, Louis Vitton, etc.) right next to a shack with hanging laundry and grazing farm animals out front.  I couldn't get it all in one shot, but the two photos below were taken from the same spot...
As a sidenote, I think the person on the back of that bike is texting. 

4. Manual labor is alive and well here.  In the U.S., we tend to lean towards using machines rather than manual labor, but here in Jakarta they have people doing those jobs.  For example, there is a driving range not too far from our house, on the way to the mall/grocery store.  It's one of those three level jobbies with the giant net around it, right smack in the middle of the city, which is a little strange.  But what really gets me is that this driving range has a bunch of dudes running around collecting the golf balls while wearing what essentially amounts to a motorcycle helmet and one of those sumo wrestling costumes (like the ones people rent for frat parties in the U.S.).
I didn't catch one of the guys working in the sumo suit, but if you click on the photo to zoom in, you can see the empty suits hanging in the cage on the green.