Monday, 12 June 2017

Pulau Ubin

29 April 2017
Fancying another day trip, we caught the bus to Changi ferry terminal and waited around for a "bum boat" to become available to take us to Pulau Ubin. Why bum?!
Anyway. Before long, several other people had gathered awaiting a ferry and we were shown along the pier to one of the boats. 

It was definitely a more rustic experience than some ferries I've been on, with a bustling captain who I'm pretty sure had poor vision due to age. But as the journey was very short, cost us only $3, and we seemed to be in no danger of sinking, I wasn't particularly worried. 

Upon disembarking, we quickly found the main street and decided that it was well and truly time for me to learn how to ride a bike! For a reasonable rate we secured such a contraption and moved further down the road so we could have a quiet area in which to practice. Much to my surprise, I picked it up fairly easily, and in no time at all I was pedalling around with a big grin on my face. I did need to build up momentum before I took off each time (using my left leg to kick off mightily), and was rather wobbly, but by god! I was on a bike! Without training wheels! We returned to the bike rental shop so that Yannick could join me in wholesome two-wheeled fun. 

No taxis for us, thanks! We are cyclists now. 

Utilising my newfound skill, we cycled along to Bukit Puaka, where we ditched our bikes and trekked up the slope. The cicadas here were going mental and the clamour was a bit overpowering. From the top, we could see a couple of different quarries that had been filled in with water to make lakes, and a vast expanse of forest stretching out to the sea. It definitely felt more like we were in the jungle than other walks we've undertaken in Singapore (such as in MacRitchie Nature Reserve), which have felt more maintained and cultivated. 

Gathering our bikes again (aka our new best friends) we zipped along the paths towards the east side of the island. Along the way, we saw many little houses and sheds. One had a sign out front offering free yoga! What a place. Next door, someone had painted an Oriental Pied Hornbill onto their wall. We weren't able to see this type of bird on our trip, though we did have a close encounter with a small green snake!

A small village on the east side of the island is called Chek Jawa, and we took a quick peek at the visitor centre (which is housed in an old colonial era-cottage). Through the cottage, you can access a jetty from which you can see mainland Sinapore not far in the distance. 

Next we took a nice stroll along the coastal boardwalk and had our photo taken. Yannick had a chilled can of 100 Plus to sip on, as handily there were several vending machines dotted around the island for parched and overheated daytrippers. 

The coastal boardwalk turned into the wetlands boardwalk, which was surrounded by mangroves and funny mangrove trees. Here we spotted a monitor lizard and after a few minutes he decided to go for a swim!

A point of interest was the Muslim cemetary, which I could find no information about. It was signposted, so clearly some part of the island's history, but details elude me. 

Around the bikepark (carpark for bikes) we saw a couple of wild boars who were rooting around in the underbrush. It was a shock when we saw the first one, as we weren't aware Pulau Ubin was home to wild boar!

Some cheeky monkeys had also invaded the bikepark by the time we had returned from the boardwalk, and were flinging around some plastic bags and empty crisp packets they had found and leaping from bikes to trees and back. This guy, who casually sat atop a toppled bike, scratched his side as he peered around searching for more opportunities for mischief. 

On the way back to the dock, we rode along the Sensory Trail. Though I have no idea why it was named that, there was a lovely lotus pond, and it was good practice to ride along a gravel path. 

I'll leave you with a photo that depicts pure joy. Oh, to be a kid again, even if just for a few minutes. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

March 2017 (The Long and Short of It)

In March we were starting to feel properly settled in Singapore. As well as continuing to go on Monday morning botanic gardens walks with my International Ladies' Group, I also went on a trip to the Musical Box Museum. 
All the artefacts were donated by a single collector - an eccentric Japanese man. We were shown a couple dozen musical boxes from a range of time periods. The older ones looked strangely like records with holes in, and had to be hand-cranked. 

Some of the boxes were enormous! This one was built for use on a cruise ship and was coin-operated. Another of even larger size had been placed in a hotel lobby. When I got home and showed Yannick pictures of my museum visit, he thought that the tour guide was a mannequin. I assure you he was real! 

Standing all together, we posed for a group photo with the mannequin-like guide. Interestingly, the museum is located inside an old school that was attached to the Thian Hock Keng temple, so not only is there a showcase of history inside the museum but all around it!

Having been on the lookout for a new dress for some weeks, I finally found the perfect specimen and decided to buy it though it was a bit pricier than I would have hoped. I wore it one evening when we tried a new restaurant: Pizzeria L'Operetta. Yannick had put in many hours of research into which pizzeria was the best in Singapore, and this one came out as a likely contender for number one. The marinara was pretty damn good, though not as tasty and traditional as a real Neopolitan pizza, or even a night at Pizza Pilgrims in London. However, we enjoyed having a bit of a change from the Singaporean food we'd been eating day in and day out, and with a red wine on the side it made for an excellent night out. 

Our new friend Bill told us that his wife Megan was coming to visit him from Chicago, and we all met up for drinks on Boat Quay one evening. The next day I had lunch with her at a place she recommended called Real Food. What a place! Serving Western food with plenty of vegan options, it was also a nice change to my typical meals (stir fries galore!) and I returned multiple times. 

The lentil burger was delicious, as was the rosemary hash brown and chickpea patties. Yannick's favourite is the vegan French toast, and I simply can't pick a favourite! I still need to sample much more of the menu, after all. 
After a brief weekend trip to Penang, our usual scheduling could continue. We had such a lovely time meeting up with Jarold, but alas Yannick had to return to work and me to faffing about. 

Katie, my good friend from London, visited for a couple of days in March and I made sure to take her to all the best places. One such being the Fortune Centre, where we lunched at Hotcakes. It was here that I tried nasi lemak, a Malaysian specialty. We followed up our spicy rice dishes with big slices of cake, selecting speculoos and vanilla blueberry. Lazat! ("Tasty" in Malay.)

For my birthday, Yannick and I went to a screening of Beauty and the Beast, as like any 90's child I had watched Disney movies nonstop and wanted a dose of nostalgia. I'll admit that my favourite character Gaston was slightly disappointing, but overall I greatly enjoyed the film. 

A coupe of times when the weather was clement, I took the free Wilby shuttle to the pool with my gym buddy Melanie. We swam and chatted and worked on our tans. Though it would have been nice to have a pool right downstairs, I infinitely preferred living centrally and having no pool rather than living out of the way and having easy access to one. 

Having already scoped out the supermarkets near Bugis, I continued to hunt out good deals in March. I never grew tired of this view from the Suntec City overbridge! Though Suntec lacked a Jollibean (tragic to be forced further afield for soy milk), I decided that it was the best mall in terms of location, store selection, and cheapness and range of its supermarket. 

As mentioned previously, stir fries were a near everyday staple for my lunch, but I often played around with different ingredients and meals as well. Vietnamese rice paper rolls were unbelievably cheap, so I would make spring rolls with bright fresh veggies and dipping sauce. 

Italian- and Mexican-themed meals were also commonplace. I managed to find hella cheap cherry tomatoes, and so invented a sauce utilising halved cherry tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, lime juice, oregano and pepper served over pasta or red kidney beans. It's so zesty that Yannick requested it multiple times per week. Quesadillas and burrito bowls were eaten on the regular also, though I did have a bad experience when cooking black beans from dried for the first time: food poisoning! It was completely my own fault, and the effects were quite mild, but I won't be making the mistake of undercooking beans again anytime soon. The meal, however, was delicious! Black rice, cabbage, purple sweet potato, black beans and homemade salsa make for a hearty and colourful meal, just make sure not to poison yourself! 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Penang, part II: Aim High, for the Gods are Tall

Penang, Malaysia (Palau Pinang, Malaysia)
5 March 2017
Our next day in Penang began with finishing off the half watermelon of the day before and meeting up with Jarold while he ate his dim sum breakfast. Catching an Uber ride to the base of the Kek Lok Si Temple, we took a less travelled way up. 
Though not "the main way", there were still several souvenir shops doted along the zigzagging staircase, as well as piles of gravel and other construction materials near labourers sipping drinks. 

The pathway had many offshoots which led to shops and houses, and this one featured a sleepy cat!

Once at the top, we entered the temple and found it to be huge and amazing. It was so colourful, with innumerable yellow and red lanterns, and brightly painted railings and roof tiles. 

We had managed to climb rather high, and I give the sprawling views out over Georgetown top marks. 

The setting of the temple among the lush mountains made for a relaxing visit. 

For a small fee I was able to buy a wish! I selected "coming and going safely" because of our travels. All the wishes get strung up on sticks, and Jarold used a long tool to secure his right at the top because the gods are tall. It was interesting to see what wishes were available, aside from the typical "academic prowess" and "financial success". One that stood out was "constant happiness", which frankly sounds exhausting. There were special wish ribbons for children, which were designed with Disney princesses all over them. Some gems from these were "listen to my father" and "hurry up", though I feel like the parents would wish for these things more than the children themselves. 

After taking a cable car to the top we saw another wishing tree, this one with a special ribbon available for double the price: "pray for lucky blessings by auspicious dragon". Wow. That is definitely worth the extra dough. 

Still under construction, we walked up to a giant statue of the Lady Buddha, who was Jarold's Buddha of choice to pray to. 

Taking a different way down, our eyes were assailed by cluttered flashy souvenir stalls offering many different trinkets. At the base of the hill, Jarold introduced us to Muar Chee: Malaysian sticky rice balls coated in sugar, peanuts and sesame seeds. Quite delicious, and they were also very cheap from the roadside vendor. Inside a gift shop, Yannick found a packet of coconut dodol (a sweet made from coconut milk, sugar and rice flour) that he had taken a strong liking to on our last trip to Malasia, so he bought a packet. This was in spite of Jarold claiming that it wasn't true dodol unless it was durian flavour! No thank you. In the same store I found some delicious looking dried mango, so procured a packet for later nibbling. 
Suddenly one of Jarold's friends Jake turned up and drove us to what was apparently the best Char Koay Teow place in town - a little stall in a hawker centre that had been run by the same lady for forty years. 

While there, I had fruit for lunch and was able to try something new: ciku! This soft little fruit tastes exactly like brown sugar. I also discovered that carrot juice in Malaysia automatically comes with added milk, so I swapped my strange concoction for Yannick's (thankfully dairy-free) apple juice. 

From there we were driven to Then Kong Thnuah Temple, where it began to rain. Pink umbrella in hand, Jarold led the way up the steps and into the grand entrance. Jake stayed behind, as his mum forbade his from visiting the temple of the sky god as it was "too big a god", who he likened to a CEO god. 

Though not as high in elevation as Kek Lok Si, the views from this temple were also stunning. 

Inside, much insense was burned and many shoes were removed. 

Our next stop was to Bats' Cave Temple, which had an actual bat cave! With bats! They were surprisingly tolerant of all the commotion that the worshippers were producing; one lady who was just out of our line of sight was somehow making sounds like she was dropping a plank of wood at height repeatedly. Perhaps she was, thought I've never seen that method of prayer before. 

Pineapple shaped candles were very popular here, and when I pointed out how affordable they were to Jarold, he went off to have a look. That's the last I saw him. 
We searched high and low, until we finally found him outside playing with a cat. He always finds cats wherever he goes and I suspect that he's a superhero in disguise (his superpower being super cat radar). 
With space still in their bellies, Yannick and the others shared a laksa and some fried radish cubes with spicy sauce while I ate yet more fruit in the form of pineapple and mango. 

Then Jake kindly dropped us off at the botanic gardens, where we encountered a few packs of monkeys. Some looked like sad old men slumped on the edge of the footpath waiting for a bus that would never arrive. On our last trip to Malaysia we had visited Batu Caves, where the monkeys are very aggressive and will steal anything they can get their pesky hands on. Here, they largely minded their own business and groomed each other. 
We were lucky in that the day was cloudy, so we didn't overheat too much while walking around, and searched for a rumoured secret lotus garden. Though we weren't sure if we had found it or not (no lotus were blooming, but it may have been the wrong season), we enjoyed sharing the packet of dried mango while looking out over a scenic pond where a cute turtle peered at us. 

Inside the Bromeliad house, I found a pineapple plant! Oh, how I would love to own a pineapple plant. We also saw a hummingbird. 

From a roadside stall, Jarold purchased an icecream sandwich as a snack, which turned out to be a literal chunk of ice cream stuck into a bread roll (and the ice cream was sweetcorn flavoured). It's a different sort of place, is Malaysia. As he was munching away, a nearby monkey spotted the treat and made a run at him! Instinctually, Jarold crammed the sandwich into his mouth and the monkey turned away dejectedly. Once he had swallowed, Jarold declared "I came from Batu Caves, bitch!" 
Then we began the walk back to downtown. Along the way we saw a huge woodlouse, which Jarold poked experimentally. It tucked itself up into a ball and slowly rolled down the sloped footpath. Soon afterwards we smelled fire and saw that there was some sort of blessing ceremony going on for a car, utilising burning coconuts and petals scattered over the windshield. 
Before we had to leave for the airport, Jarold insisted on one more dish for Yannick to try, which was a duck soup from a very popular stall. For dessert they found a cendol vendor and sat on tiny plastic stools while eating. Our time in Georgetown quickly drawing to a close, we said our farewells to Jarold and caught an Uber to the airport. Apparently it's traditional to bring back specialty Penang biscuits to your coworkers after a holiday, so Yannick went around trying the free samples in the airport store to find the best flavours. He accidentally tried a durian one, but felt better after a massage we got in coin-operated chairs. I found it exceedingly weird, but Yannick said that he would do it again in the future. Biscuits in hand, we caught our flight back to Singapore. 

Today's post was almost called: Monkey Dreams of Sandwich