Monday, March 10, 2008

Singapore Day 8

Day 8
(I'm on the internet terminal at the airport, so no pics today.) Liza, Georga and I started out early today. We had several stops to make including going back to Chinatown to pick up my new outfit. Our first stop was Arab Street near Little India. Arab Street is famous for it's fabric shops. All the Indian ladies shop here for material for their gowns and saris. It was AWSOME! I was in heaven! Silk fabric everywhere! I told Liza that at one point I was totally overwhelmed. After buying some fabric, we had lunch at a local restaurant. I had curry prata, and Liza had briayani rice with chicken. I just found that Singapore sells ginger beer. It's like rootbeer, but made with ginger, non-alcoholic. I feel in love with the stuff in Australia and New Zealand, but can't find it in the US. Georga tried it for the first time, and decided she liked it an awful lot too.

After lunch, we did some more shopping and then headed back to Bugis Junction. I wanted to buy a bag that I saw on our previous trip, but left sitting there. Let that be a lesson to me! (Oops... we're boarding... better hurry!) Then our final stop was Chinatown to pick up my outfit. After that we headed home to do a little laundry and pack. I have managed to completely fill both suitcases and even had to open the extension on the bigger one! I knew this was going to happen! We ordered in pizza and watched a movie. Bedtime came none too soon.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Singapore, Day 5, 6 and 7

Day 5
We've been so busy! On Friday, Liza and I went to Bugis Center. It's shopping on steroids! (Imagine that... me shopping again...) Bugis is half open-air market and half shopping stalls. And it's PACKED, all the time. We had lots of fun buying a little of this and that. Mostly we browsed. We took the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to and from Bugis. It was my first time on the train. It was clean and organized and had AIRCON! (Aircon is the nickname for air conditioning.)

Friday night we all went to the Night Safari. This is a zoo at night. It features nocturnal animals and other animals that are more lively in the cooler temperatures of the night. It has a tram that you ride, but you can also walk on paths to the exhibits. We had a really fun time, even though it was still really friggin hot! We got there around 8:30 and left at almost midnight, and were all drenched with sweat! Here is a picture of some fire-eaters. It was really cool!
Day 6
On Saturday, we headed back to Chinatown to have the fitting for the new outfit. It's beautiful and the shoes I bought look perfect with it. The tailor is going to do a couple alterations and I will pick it up on Monday. (Our trip to Bintan got cancelled, so we are not going to go to Indonesia after all.) We shopped a bit more in Chinatown and had lunch at my now favorite dim sum place. After a quick stop at home, we headed to the Overseas Family Center. Georga and Liza are in Girl Scouts and Saturday was World Thinking Day. This is a day when all the Girl Scouts around the world think about their sisters in other countries. It was fun to see all the girls in their costumes representing several different countries. Georga's troop did Japan.
Next we went back into the heart of the city to look around The Esplanade. The Esplanade is the heart of the performing arts for Singapore. Starting this week is a music festival called Mosaic. They have lots of live music performances, some are even free. It just so happened that as we were walking in, a musical group was performing in an atrium-type area. This duo featured 2 guitarists, a father and his ten-ish year old son, Kevin. Kevin was the featured player, and the father accompanied him. Georga was mesmerized by the music, so we stayed and listened to them play for about 1/2 hour. After some pictures at the Esplanade, we went for a ride on the Singapore Flyer. The Singapore Flyer is a huge ferris wheel, bigger than the London Eye. Each pod holds up to 30 people. It moves continuously, really slowly. The whole ride takes about an hour. Here's a picture. Now... you know I'm up to trying just about anything... well, this might take the cake. After dinner, Liza and I had a 30 minute foot treatment with fish. Yep, I said fish. You sit on the side of a pool of water and hang your feet in the pool. These fancy little Turkish fish, about the size of minnows, come up and nibble the dead skin off your feet. How's that for creepy!?! At first, it tickled so bad, I was scaring away the fish. But after a minute or two you get used to it. It actually ended up feeling a bit like little electric shock zaps. And my feet felt great afterwards! Now there's something you don't see every day! I bet I could make a fortune with one of these spas in Las Vegas. The novelty alone is worth the price of admission!

Day 7
BEACH DAY! We loaded up our bags with bathing suits, sunscreen and towels and headed to Siloto Beach on Sentosa Island. We decided to bite the bullet and rent a cabana for the day. The cabana was part of a restaurant called Cafe del Mar and featured food, a private pool, music, security and openings to the beach. You could open or close the sides to the cabana which turned out to be very helpful as it rained a couple of times throughout the day. And remember what I said about the rain here... it doesn't fool around! We had a lovely relaxing day of swimming and playing in the sand. At the pool bar, I had my first official Singapore Sling! Yea! It was sweet and fruity. I might have to try making these at home. View from our cabana:

Toward the end of the day, we visited the southern most point of the Asian continent. Here is a picture of me there.

This evening I witnessed a funeral taking place in Liza's neighborhood. The family hangs banners on the walls of the open area downstairs. The banners have pictures and memories on them. The members of the deceased person's immediate family all wear white shirts. Members of various family lines wear different colored armbands so as to identify which line they are from. The deceased person is laid in the coffin in this area. A feast is held for all the family members. Now as I'm typing, we can hear the various songs, chants and drums. After this part of the ceremony is over, the deceased with be cremated. The family will burn paper versions of earthly things to send them to heaven. In Chinatown we saw a whole shop that sold only paper versions of earthly things to burn for this ceremony. Family members will also do this periodically throughout the year. They burn paper shirts, paper jewelry, paper BMW cars, paper cash, paper... you name it. Cool, huh?

Tomorrow is my last full day in Singapore. We have a couple more places to visit, but I really feel like I have had a pretty immersing trip here. That being said, I miss home. See you all soon.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Singapore, Day 4

Liza and I started out our day with a bit of shopping at Vivo City shopping mall. This mall is just like we have in the US. And it just so happens that we stopped in this cute little shoe store and picked up a pair of shoes that will match my new tailor-made outfit. And I might have also bought a really pretty pair of gold strappy wedges. Who's to say?

Next we set off for Sentosa Island again. Today, we took a tram to one end of the island and went to Underwater World. It's an aquarium. Their specialty are the crab exhibits and underwater tunnels. The underwater tunnels are really cool, because they have a moving walkway through them. You just hop on and it carries you through the tunnels. There is a stationery walkway along side it so you can hop off at any time. Liza timed it so we were there during the shark feeding. That was neat and creepy at the same time. Below is a video of the sharks. I hope you can open it. Be sure to watch the whole thing.

Next we went to Dolphin Lagoon. Singapore's big claim-to-fame are pink dolphins. Well, I just had to see me some of those! It's pretty much your typical dolphin show that you'd see at the zoo. The dolphins are pink and grey mottled, but their tummies are all pink. The show was cute, if a bit cheesy. The weird part was that instead of bleachers or a grand stand, we were all sitting on white plastic patio chairs under foldable tents. There were 4-5 rows of chairs about 5 feet from the water along one whole side of the lagoon. Here's a picture of one of the dolphins mid-jump. I hope you can see the pink. I bought a post card at the gift shop that shows it better for my scrapbook!

Liza and I headed back to the house in late afternoon, because Dimiter had a couple meetings he needed to attend. We had some much needed rest! We played Monopoly Jr. with Georga and watched Ratatouille. After the movie we walked over to Sun Centre, the local area of restaurants and bars. We ordered fried rice for Georga and chili crab for us. Chili crab is the signature dish for Singapore. It starts with a live crab, and ends with a huge bowl of crab and sauce. They cut up the crab and crack the claws. The pieces are served smothered in chili gravy. You get sweet rolls too for dipping in the gravy. Essentially you have sauce up to your elbows by the end of the meal. And it was SO GOOD! The chili sauce is more sweet than hot. I don't know what kind of crab it was, but it was big and good! The restaurants here have sinks along the wall for washing your hands after dinner. Genius! Here is a picture of Liza holding up the top shell of the crab at the end of our meal. I hope you can tell that the shell is approximately the size of a small dinner plate.

And that is the end of day 4! See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Singapore, Day 3

Liza and I started the day off with a trip to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and National Orchid Gardens. YEA! It was so pretty! The orchid is the national flower for Singapore. And, if you want to be more specific, the Vanda Joaqium is the particular color/variety of orchid that is the national flower. The Botanic Gardens featured a Ginger Garden and several lotus gardens. We spent most of our time looking at the orchids, so missed the Evolution Garden. In the orchid garden they have one whole VIP section with hybrid orchids named in honor or memory of famous people. For example, we saw the Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Laura Bush and In Memoria of Princess Diana. Those orchids named for living VIPs, have a fancy ceremony where the new hybrid is unveiled and the VIP signs the official register. It was cool!
Actually, who am I kidding, it was hot... Really, REALLY hot. Liza and I just melted our whole visit to the gardens. Not only was it hot, but it was 100% humid! This is not the country for you if you don't like the feel of trickling sweat. We are SO lucky that it has been a bit overcast and rainy most days. If not, the heat would do us in before our feet got tired. Yesterday morning, we had some sun, and the recent rains made it stifling! But it clouded over and rained off and on for the rest of the afternoon, cooling it off again.

We had lunch at the National University Hospital, because Liza had a Dr. check-up for a knee procedure she had last fall. They have food stalls at the hospital. Food courts here are called Hawker Centers. Most people here eat at Hawker Centers because the food is cheap and generally really good. I had Bee Hoon, a seafood and noodle stir fry dish. However, it was so spicy, that I could barely eat it. Liza tried it too, and admitted that it was too spicy. That made me feel better, because I didn't want to be a "white rice" American. After Liza's appointment we stopped at a bakery stand. I ordered a waffle with chocolate. Imagine a fresh-made waffle, like the ones they use for ice cream cones and bowls in the US. That's what this is like. It's thin, and once they take it off the iron, they smear margarine, peanut butter, fruit paste or chocolate on it, fold it in half and serve it to you in a flat paper bag. It's hot and gooey and SO good!

After a brief stop at home to freshen up and unload our bags. Liza and I went to the Holland Center Shopping mall. Liza likes to shop there because several vendors specialize in clothes for women above size 14. This is the first time since arriving here that Liza has really gotten the chance to do clothes shopping. Usually she has Georga and/or Dimiter in tow, and they aren't as patient to wait while trying stuff on. I "made her" try on anything that even remotely caught her eye. She ended up buying several lovely linen blouses and light-weight tunics. One really popular style here is a tunic or dress, capri leggings and really cute flats. Well, we got some tunics and will be looking for leggings tomorrow.

We stopped by the grocery for some salad ingredients before heading home. Liza said that they don't eat salads here like they do in the US. I was really hungry for a big veggie salad, so that's what we made for dinner. Dimiter cooked up some prata to go with it. It was a good dinner! Geroga is feeling better, but not a 100%. After dinner (she had crackers), we spent the rest of the evening setting up her Webkinz pony. I brought it from the US as a gift for Georga. They don't have Webkinz here, so Georga didn't really know what to make of it until we got it going on the computer. I fear that I have made a junky out of both her and her mother! I helped her get everything set up and showed her a couple games. Bedtime rolled around way to early. I promised her that we would play more tomorrow.

Today wasn't one with too many pictures besides the Botanic Gardens, so I'll leave you with some more pictures from there.
Love to everyone. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Singapore, Day 2

This morning was back to the convention center area downtown. Our tour passes were for two days, so we wanted to get to as many things as possible that were included in the price. We started out on the heritage tour again, but got off at the DHL balloon. This is a gigantic helium balloon that is tethered to the ground with a large metal basket. It's like a hot air balloon that goes up some 150 meters in the air. You can get a great panoramic view of the city this way. That being said... it was slightly overcast and windy today. The view was beautiful, if a bit muted, and Liza spent the whole time sitting on the floor of the basket. I thought it was really cool; she's glad it's over! Here's a picture of me with the skyline and the balloon.

Next we hopped the bus and headed to Chinatown. We browsed some shop, then stopped at a restaurant for dim sum for lunch. For those who don't know, dim sum is a type of Chinese cuisine that is technically served "along side Chinese tea." It's ordered ala carte, singly or on a plate of 2-3, much like ordering sushi or tapas. Most dim sum is steamed or fried. This was hands-down the best dim sum I have ever had. It was so fresh with interesting flavors and served with a side of sweet chili sauce. My favorite was called prawn and banana dragon's beard. It was a filling of small prawns and banana wrapped in super fine rice noodles and fried. It was about the size of a small dinner roll when served. AND SO GOOD! Other favorites were prawn and mushroom steamed dumpling, rice bun with lotus paste filling, rice wrapper with scallops and fried spring roll. The tea was a jasmine green tea and smelled and tasted wonderful.

We next started off to the Chinese Heritage Centre. We didn't get there right away, because we got sidetracked at a tailor's shop. I spotted a beautiful silk brocade robe that was calling my name. Once you get sucked into a tailor's shop... it's nearly impossible to leave. So about an hour and a half, and a chunk of cash later, we were out to there... whew! I'm having the robe fitted and the sleeves shortened. I also ordered an outfit that is going to be gorgeous. I fell in love with this beautiful silk and cashmere fabric. It looks like it's marbled in pinks, teals, and tans. Did I mention it's gorgeous? So I decided to have a blouse made. Well you can't have a beautiful silk and cashmere top without some matching silk pants in cream! So anyway, I will go back on Saturday to pick it up or have modifications made if necessary. I hope it turns out as gorgeous as it is in my mind. Here's a picture of me getting measured and of the fabric and style I picked out. The outfit will be like the teal one in the picture with 3/4 sleeves instead of sleeveless.

Browsing in Chinatown was really fun. We shopped from some souvenirs and little things, then stopped at a Hindu temple. The Hindu religion has hundreds of gods. The temple had brightly colored statues of all of them. They line the roof and are situated in nooks all over the temple grounds. Its really fascinating, and nothing like I have ever seen before. There was no charge to go in, but you had to pay $3 if you wanted to take pictures.... we didn't take any pictures. You also cannot wear shoes in the temple, so you leave them by the entrance door. (Picture of Liza outside the temple; note the piles of shoes.)

So we finally made it to the Chinese Heritage Centre at about 5:30pm. It tells the story of the first Chinese settlers to the island. The main builders of Singapore were a group of women called Samsui, whose families sent them there to make their fortune. They were the builders and cultural leaders of the island for many years and generations. We also learned about the clans of Singapore. Imagine the clans of Ireland or Italy, and you will get an idea. The distinction of the clans were recognized and celebrated with parades and parties well into the 1950's and 1960's, though not as important in today's society. We also saw replicas of early housing and shops. It's easy to understand why the government was so adamant about taking over housing in Singapore. Liza and Dimiter's housing community is luxurious and gorgeous compared to earlier options.

After the museum, we dropped off our packages and picked up Dimiter and Georga at the apartment. We were heading to Sentosa Island for the "Songs of the Sea" show and to look at some of the other attractions there. Sentosa is the resort island of Singapore. It is also the southern most tip of the Asian continent. But we had a bit of a mishap on the way to Sentosa. About 2 blocks from the tram station, Little Miss Georga wasn't feeling well and threw up in the taxi. Now... I'm not a mom, and it was all I could do to control my own gag reflex or hurl myself out the taxi door. Dimiter paid the taxi driver a large sum to get his cab cleaned, and we got Georga cleaned up in the bathroom. Georga insisted she was better, and we continued. Well... long story short... she wasn't better, and we continued to have a sick kid for the next couple hours. She's staying home from school on Wednesday. I sure hope she's better tomorrow. (Pictures are from "The Songs of the Sea" and a water feature on Sentosa Island.)
That's all for today. Bye for now.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Singapore, Day One

After picking me up at the airport, we went back to Liza, Dimiter and Georga's apartment. The housing over here is VERY different than anything I have ever experienced. Eighty-five percent of Singapore's residents live in Government controlled housing. Liza's housing community is approximately 15 buildings, 10 floors tall, with a total of around 500 units per building. She lives in an area called Clementi located on the western side of the island. It's considered the suburbs. Note it only took us 30 minutes in the taxi from the airport (Eastern most part of Singapore) to Clementi (Western edge). Here is a picture out of Liza's window of the building next to them:

If you look real close you can see laundry hanging on bamboo poles outside the windows. No one has clothes dryers here. This is how you dry you clothes... this includes undies, socks and bras. It's a culture lesson just looking out the window!

After a shower, we headed into the city. Liza and I bought two-day passes for tours in Singapore. Our first adventure of the day was on a duckboat on the Singapore River and around the city. Here's a picture of the Merlion and us on the boat.

Next we went on the Heritage Tour on a cute double-decker bus. We stopped at the Asian Civilisation Museum. The restaurant at the museum is Indo Chine, a popular and hip restaurant with Asian fusion cuisine. Liza had a curry noodle dish and I had an Asian salad of cabbage, noodles, onion, carrots and a fried spring roll cut on top. It had a sweet chili sauce that did wonders for my sinus congestion! We browsed the museum and stopped for a fun picture in the children's area. This is a picture of me as a Chinese princess.

As we were checking out the gift shop in the museum, it started raining. When it rains in Singapore, it doesn't fool around! We called a taxi (we had planned to do some walking around... WRONG) and headed back to the convention center area where we caught another heritage tour bus. This time we rode it to the end of the route, China Town. We got off at The Peoples Center in China Town. Here we found a travel agent offering a travel package to Bintan, Indonesia. We are going there on Sunday and Monday. The Peoples Center is essentially a mall with hundreds of shops and stalls. There are probably 50 travel agencies there too. Since Singapore is so small, residents travel to surrounding countries for vacation or a long weekend. We plan to explore more of China Town tomorrow.

We met Dimiter and Georga for dinner at Clarke Quay (pronounced Key). It is an area of shops, restaurants and bars along the river. We dined at The Pump Room, then took a 1/2 hour cruise on a traditional wooden boat. After the boat ride, we walked along the river and saw more of Clarke Quay. We caught a taxi and headed home. I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow!

(Picture of skyline and Boat Quay from the boat cruise.)

More tomorrow. Bye for now.

Flight to Singapore

Well, I'm here! My flight to Newark was a bit delayed out of Indianapolis, but that turned out being for the best. When I got to Newark, I had to claim my luggage because I needed to recheck it through Singapore Airlines. I made it to the international terminal (which was CRAZY!!!) by about 6pm. HOWEVER... Singapore Airlines ticket counters don't open until 7:30pm sharp, no exceptions. SO there I was, two huge suitcases, a carry-on and a tote, with nothing to do for an hour and a half... I'm starving, and I need to go to the bathroom. Perfect! But, they finally opened and I was the 2nd person in line to check in.

The flight to Singapore was relatively uneventful. Mild turbulence, but not bad. I didn't sleep well, but dozed off and on the whole trip. Highlights of the flight... Singapore Airlines ROCKS inflight entertainment! Tons of movies, TV shows, video games, and music. The seats were really cool too. They recline to about 45 degrees, there is a footrest that folds out (think Barko-lounger), the TV control pops out like a remote control, the tray table is in the arm and the TV screen tilts and is the size of the whole seat in front of you. It was very luxurious, compared to what we have in the US.

The food was good. I had the opportunity to choose vegetarian meals. Also, in the back of the cabin they set up a snack bar. So, everytime I got up to move around, I could go get a cup of tea or water, fruit or other snacks. That was nice. My neighbor on the flight was Gilbert, a Singapore native. He and I chatted throughout the flight and he gave me some tips on things to see. We had a really good tail wind for most of the flight. I actually arrived in Singapore a whole hour early! Immigration was a breeze. Gilbert was nice enough to wait with me until Liza showed up. She was really shocked that we so early. We were in the taxi on our way to her apartment before 6:45am, the time that I was originally schedule to arrive!

So get out you map if you want to see the route we took to fly across the world. (They showed us a map of the flight and the route we took in the air.) We started in Newark and went north/northeast along the coast of N. America. Next we crossed the Atlantic toward Ireland then over London, Vienna, across the Caspian Sea to a route north of Baghdad, Kabul, SE to Delhi, across the Bay of Bengal to Phuket, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, then finally Singapore.

Bye for now.