Saturday, June 23, 2007

In which we travel to another country for dinner

Road Trip! Rolling Stones playing in the background.

One of the best, best things about living in Singapore is being able to travel to another country for a meal.

Today, we drive to Malaysia for an early dinner. S and Z introduce us to what feels like the restaurant at the end of the universe. As soon as we cross the border into Johor and get our passports all duly stamped, (paraphrasing Z) our blood pressures collectively drop a notch or two.

This place is so darn cool!

We're prepared for a 45 minute drive, based on S's email that the seafood place is about half an hour away from the border, which we then inflate for good measure. What we didn't know was S had already added a buffer on her end. So in the end, the mini picnic basket I packed of Kit Kat, Twisties, bottles of water and six CDs collectively between us was erm, testimony to how anal we all are and precisely why we're good friends. Haha!

S, F and I on the boardwalk leading to the restaurant at the end of the universe .

The little seafood restaurant is in Kampung Pendas. It's about 3.45pm when we get there and it's quiet and breezy. A couple of families are finishing up their lunch. We're the only Singapore car there.

Restaurant on stilts, Kg Pendas, Johor, Malaysia

I can't think of a more perfect Saturday hang out place. It's completely away from the maniacal buzz of Singapore, no rushing people, only noise is the sea breeze against the trees and contented people eating (oh and the live karaoke session that started around 530pm. Note to self: this is a mid-afternoon place!).

D, Z, S and F. Thanks to Z, we also had the most sublime chicken rice ball experience in Malacca!

We order like it's the last day on earth:

1. Chilli crab (three crabs between five of us)
2. Steamed siakap (don't know the English name to this)
3. Deep fried baby squid
4. Hot plate tofu
5. Stir fried kai lan
6. Otah


As we eat, we spot a pair of eagles circling in the sky. I think they're white-bellied fish eagles. I can't believe I'm only half an hour's drive away from Singapore.

Happy and full.

What a great way to spend the afternoon. Terima kasih to Z and S for introducing us to this little quiet spot. Even the handbasins had great views.

Malaysia Truly Asia!

My failed attempt at arty shot. But you get the picture lah (oops bad pun).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Flushed bra causes sewer collapse

The bra was recovered from the sewer by engineers

The following is the most emailed story on BBC news today. I love citizen journalism.

A bra and a pair of knickers have been blamed for a flood and road collapse in County Durham.

Northumbrian Water said the underwear was flushed down a toilet and caused a blockage in a sewage pipe in Middleton-St-George, near Darlington.

Heavy rain, together with a build up of grease and fat, caused the pipe to burst and the road above to collapse.

The road will remain closed for days and Northumbrian Water estimates repairs will cost more than £15,000.

The company has now urged residents to think carefully about what they flush away.

'Offending items'

A spokeswoman said: "If the underwear had not been flushed down the toilet, this would not have happened. It was very irresponsible behaviour.

When we dug down to inspect the damage, we found a bra and knickers had snagged itself across the nine-inch diameter of the pipe.

"There was also a heavy build-up of grease and fat, which contributed to the situation. We were forced to repair a 2m section of sewer and a 10m section of road was affected.

"These pipes are not designed to carry bras and knickers."

The spokeswoman said it was impossible to trace the owners of the underwear.

She added: "Unfortunately no-one wants to even touch the offending items. They will remain bagged for a time and then disposed of properly."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Good Life

Ah, the pleasures of a weekend getaway right in the heart of the city.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is a pretty commonplace thing in Singapore. Check yourself into a five-star hotel for the weeekend, spoil yourself silly, cram in a week's worth of relaxation into an overnighter, and voila! you're ready for the onslaught of work on Monday!

D and I have done just that this weekend, courtesy of my fabulous mum who bought us the Feed At Raffles card for our joint birthdays this year. It entitles the holder to a free night's stay at the plush Raffles The Plaza, and an epicurean's paradise of complimentary meals at the many restaurants found within the hotel chain. We love it basically.

So I'm writing this now in our luxurious room which looks exactly like in the picture. Rather amazing. Last night, we watch a most entertaining Singapore Arts Festival offering, called Pluck. A trio of string musicians (violin, viola and cello) who ham it up and play famous classical pieces while undertaking the most ridiculous tasks - like swapping shoes, eating a full afternoon tea replete with scones and tea, and doing a mid-western hoe-down!

Now this trio make comedy seem effortless, but you have to be pretty extraordinarily talented in order to put on the show that these three musicians did. One item they put on, a rendition of Mozart's Turkish March, which gradually got faster and faster, ended off with an amazing feat of pyrotechnics! Set off by the violinist himself! Now I've played the piano since I was six and trying to play the piece sans frills is tough enough, but here the violinist was talking, walking, moving around and fiddling with what must've been a switch to launch a mini gunpowder explosion! Amazing.

Our next foray into the arts will be to catch Ian McKellen in the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of King Lear next month! To hear Gandalf himself (ok Magneto, for those more into X-Men than LOTR) utter the words of the bard will be sweet, sweet heaven. And speaking of sweet heaven, I'm utterly impatient to hear Sir Ian's booming voice resonating in Singapore's Esplanade Theatres. Erk, the moment for me of pure pathos in King Lear is when, in a moment of lucidity, he utters:

O! let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven;
Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!

King Lear should be compulsory viewing/reading as we all progress into an ageing, greying world methinks. Anyway, shan't wax lyrical anymore. I have an hour before I'm due to check out of this little shard of decadent reality, and head back into the frenetic energy of the typical Singaporean weekend. Adieu for now.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

O Singapore - Ten Things I Hate (and Love) About You

View from our flat circa National Day 2006 (arty shot courtesy of E, D's step-sis who was visiting at the time)

I received my IRAS tax bill yesterday. And I arranged to have it paid in interest-free installments today. Not that the bill was huge mind you, but just a shock to the system when you've been used to the trusty Kiwi Pay-As-You-Earn routine.

So as I signed-off on the invoice, which by the way cheekily read "Thank you for your contribution towards nation building," I thought it was high-time I did the Camel List on what I love and loathe about this tiny island state I call home.

Laundry drying Singapore-style (photo courtesy of E)

Why I love Singapore...

1. Because even though the tax rate is around 5% here (compared to a whopping base rate of 19.5% in New Zealand), the public infrastructure is pretty superb. Great roads, clean water, decent schools, an accessible health care system, efficient and reliable public transport network, and one of the safest urban environments in which to live. So yes, I pay my taxes gladly.

2. Convenience is our middle name - you are never ten steps away from food and groceries, you can buy a TV on Christmas day, and use your bus and train card to buy a Happy Meal at McDonalds.

3. There is a genuine attempt at building social cohesion - from the racial quotas in our public housing policies (to avoid ethnic ghetthoism), to high-kitsch but (I think) well-meaning national campaigns to build national identity and culture. You can't say Singapore doesn't try. And this is where I plug what I do for a living - there are many good people in good organisations chugging away quietly doing good well in and for the community. A pretty un-heralded group of people sandwiched between an increasingly well-paid public service, and the always alluring bright lights and bling of the private sector (very challenging considering this is Singapore, MNC HQ of Asia). Yep, take a bow you fellow creatures who for whatever reason, have chosen to work in the non-profit sector. Ours is an existentialist path fraught with doubt, but I believe (or hope, anyway!) one that will ultimately bring reward and satisfaction. Don't think anyone on their death bed wishes they earned more, but will wish they had made a difference.

4. It's hard to feel out of place (ok, maybe if you are a single lesbian mum then perhaps you may feel a tad marginalised here). Other than that, this really is a melting pot.

5. The food - enough said! Pretty much the main reason why D and I moved back! Oh and of course, there's family and friends... but the food!

Overloaded on the street where we live (photo courtesy of E)

My loathe list...

1. Stinky buses

2. Incredibly irritating people who do not move to the back of said stinky buses and create a bottleneck for those wanting to get on to stinky bus. Oh and these people have clones who hang around the MRT train doors as well.

3. A national tendency to "sweat the small stuff" and become unnecessarily stressed or upset by the minutiae of life (and work!)

4. The permanent obsession with 80s music - Singapore is officially stuck in a time-warp. Our radio stations regularly play Tommy Page, Belinda Carlisle, New Kids on the Block, and the 90s band that sounded so 80s, Michael Learns to Rock. But in the right mood, that's exactly what I love about it though.

5. Our other obsession with trying to be at once unique (failed tourism campaign) and yet benchmark ourselves against Important International Icons. Example, Orchard Rd is self-compared to the Champs Elysees in Paris. Ermm. The apparent buildling of a world-class theme park on Sentosa a few years ago. If anyone has been to Volcano Land, you understand my pain! And don't get me started on Merli, our resident puker (literally!) of a national icon...

But you know, ultimately, this is home and for better or for worse, where I was born. And no, I haven't succumbed to Mad Camel Disease, but I am going to state categorically that I am happy paying my taxes and contributing to the nation building of this crazy place that has often inspired irrational stirrings of longing in me.

O Singapore O Singapore, O island I adore...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Out out, vile fat!

Railway line to Malaysia, view from Henderson Rd

8.30am, SMS to Dean: "We are embarking on our great walk now! See you in an hour! Adieu vile fats!"

Still on Henderson Rd

8.46am, SMS from Dean to us: "Ah! Vile and foul fats begone! Into the depths of fats hell it be cast! Ah! See you!"

Tanglin Rd, home of ill-fated UNSW

We turn into Tanglin Rd, where ill-fated UNSWAsia Campus was temporariliy housed. Can't believe they still have their banner asking for enrolment applications for Mar & Aug 2007! The campus is eerily quiet.

Black and white house, Tanglin Rd

We pass by many embassies on Tanglin Rd. Brunei, China, British, American, Australian. We daren't take any photos in case they accuse us of spying and detain us without question. So we take a nice photo of a sprawling colonial "black & white" house.

9.26am, SMS from Dean to us: Ah tis lovely to have arrived at the gates of Botania. The last drops of dew makes good its release into the air and sparkle unde the shining Morning Eye in the Sky. Tis lovely indeed!

9.31am, SMS to Dean: We round the corner lah. Haha! Then we can be ladies! And partake of toast and tea!

D & D strike a pose outside the imposing gates of the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Yay! We arrive. D stops his stopwatch and we find it takes us almost exactly an hour (give and take a few seconds) to walk from home to the Gardens.

Zen lotus, Botanic Gardens

By this time we're starving so after a short jaunt around the pond, we go to Cafe Beviamo for our usual healthy and hearty weekend brunch.

Dean has lost 5kg since joining the gym last month. He is my inspiration right now! While he goes spinning and kickboxing, I go to Pump and Bhangarobics (at Planet Fitness which is SOOO fun!). And all this time, D continues his rigorous training schedule for the end-of-year StanChart Singapore Marathon. Today's walk is quite literally, just a walk in the park for him!