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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Slinging Along in Singapore

Forgot to mention how the bathroom in Kuching had a window between it and the bedroom...with a see-through shutter that didn't close more than what you can see in this picture.  Talk about togetherness....together for 24 hours a day and no privacy even in the toilet!



   We landed in Singapore for our last two nights. I was a bit anxious because some reviews of this hotel that came out after I booked it were less than favorable. We took the MRT—rapid transit from the airport into Chinatown and then walked to our hotel. It actually was a fun adventure to do that, even though the bags loaded one on the other were heavy to pull. We had to change trains twice, but Matthew had it all figured out, so that wasn't difficult. At times it was crowded, but still we made it without incident and only got a little lost finding the hotel by missing the street and walking an extra 2 blocks. In the meantime, we were forced to walk through the shopping stalls that lined the streets—oh, too bad, right?
  Our hotel was in a great location with the desk on the bottom floor, then an elevator that only has 3 floors. The second floor is a restaurant and the third has all the rooms, including the breakfast area. Our room was small as expected, with enough room for a bed, one nightstand, an armoire on the other side, a small desk and a lamp. Oh, and a fancy red velvet chair with gold arms. And red drapes. It was a funny little room, but worked out all right. Since I knew it was going to be tiny, I had packed one cube just for the two nights, so didn't have to get anything else out of my suitcase and kept the rest intact.
   The bathroom was the kicker though. About 6' square with a toilet kitty-corner to the pedestal sink and a shower in the other corner with no walls, just a drain in the floor. It was easiest to shower together since the whole floor flooded and the toilet and sink got wet. We removed the toilet paper from the room so it would stay dry. It was really fine for 2 nights though....
     We spent about 2 minutes in the room, then went out to shop and find food. There's lots of both right outside the door, so we made our way around. After being in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, we've been spoiled by low prices for everything, especially silks, so these prices seemed high to us. That didn't keep me from buying....silk caftans for sleeping! I tried it the first night and was hooked. They're luscious to sleep in, though I can't imagine using my beautiful batik ones for that.
     We ate at a local place where they had air con, since once again, we were overheated. It definitely wasn't as bad as Malaysia, but still humid for us. It was Chinese (no, that's not redundant in Singapore...they are known for their international foods) and had some spring rolls and fried coconut prawns. It was just enough to get us by till the next meal...no, not losing weight on this trip.

  Walked around some more and enjoyed the sites and sounds, got information for the next day, and had a beer in a local place where we met two couples from Colorado enjoying chili crab.
  We rested in the room awhile to regroup and cool off, then went out in the evening and ate our way through the food area just outside our hotel. They had many stalls, so we stared at one place with 2 vegetable dishes, which were just okay. We had pumpkin and sweet potato, but both were fried and we didn't care for them much. But then we went to the pork bun place we'd eaten at during the day—they also had a booth with just dim-sum buns, and those were great. Matthew had siu mei and I had the pork bun, which we shared. This was one of our progressive meals....so next we headed to the German guy for sausage sandwiches. I figured I'd honored my sister with dim sum, which she loved, so now it was time for Dad's favorite—bratwurst. He only had mini ones left, which was perfect for the progressive dinner theme. Then we walked around more and looked at things, and later ended up at a Vietnamese place. I had cafe sua da, which is an iced coffee with evaporated milk, which makes it sweet. I had those all through Vietnam and loved them. We also ordered two different salads—beef with greens and pomelo prawn. We were about done by then....portions weren't huge, so even though it sounds like a lot of food, it was manageable.






    The next day, after Matthew mentioned how Singapore is known for their cuisine, I checked online and found a restaurant owned by Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Nancy Silverton called Pizzeria Mozza. We decided to spend the day taking the hop-on hop-off bus and go there for lunch. We hopped off right around noon, so that was perfect. It turned out to be in a very upscale exclusive mall that was seriously beautiful architecturally. They also had a casino that was on the ground floor where you had to pay $100 just to get in the door! No, I did not.
But we did eat. We had the most fabulous meal...and of course, I have pictures. We paid about $140 for lunch, which was something we rarely do, but Mario is Matthew's food idol—everything he cooks from his book is great, so we really had to try this.
Envelope with silverware and napkin inside

crispy peppery crackers brought in a brown bag at the beginning

raspberry mint drink

gorgonzola cheese and date salad

fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese

I know it's blurry, but I was in food heaven

goat cheese, bacon, and leaks, and chives...


plum butter tart with sweetened mascarpone cream    

sorbetti and gelato....coconut, passion fruit, and espresso


Random photos of the mall and surrounding area:













Have I mentioned how much I love Singapore's architecture?







After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and continued to explore. We had to see the famous Raffles hotel 




where rooms start at $400 a night. Turns out they don't let you in the front door unless you're staying there, but we could walk around and go into the shops and museum. We skipped the latter and didn't do much other than look at the over-priced items. Stayed on the bus and made it back to Chinatown, so it was a pretty full day. Left the hotel around 9:30 and returned after 5.
I love Singapore! We walked around the India area, Chinatown, upscale downtown, almost made it to Arab street, but it rained, and saw much of the city through the bus tour. It has the most magnificent architecture I've seen in one city...huge buildings the likes of which you're never seen.
In the evening, we went to a Chinese restaurant we'd seen earlier because Matthew wanted chili crab. We told them low on the spicy, but it turned out to be too hot for me to get near—even Matthew thought it was very spicy, so I got no crab and settled for rice and beans for dinner.

Today we got ready to head home. We're always happy to return to our foggy town and our kitties. I have many more pictures, so will organize them and start adding them by category later. You know many many many will be FOOD!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In a Town Called Cat!

Hmm, my computer decided to put the random photos at the beginning instead of the end, so read first, then come back to them (just kidding...).  Enjoy!



Matthew and I are still in Kuching for our last night, heading for Singapore tomorrow for 2 nights.  I'm ready to come home and hoping our hotel isn't a repeat of Kota Bharu (booked both through agoda.com).  I'm tired from being overheated everytime we step outside, and it's making me cranky.  Plus, let's face it, it's not that easy to spend 24 hours a day everyday with someone for almost 3 weeks.  Well, it isn't easy for me.  I will probably hide in my bat cave when we get home for at least a week.  No, Mom, that didn't mean I wouldn't be coming over to see you as soon as I'm awake and ready on Thurs.
  So to catch up, I'm going to add pictures and write captions under them.  
 Kuching is a lovely town in Borneo, which most people know from head-hunting days.



LimeTree Hotel in Kuching...SO much nicer than  the Habib with a personalized hello from the staff and a small welcoming fruit basket in the room.  And it's a huge room besides.  





Anything beats that last view, but this was nice because of the thunder shower..we had a good view of it.
 







Love this--it's just one of many cat statues on their streets.  They've really embraced their name.



 Our first night we wanted to go to the. Dyak, which is a restaurant we'd read about owned by indigenous people, originally called the Dayak. We asked the hotel to make a reservation and call for a taxi, which turned out to be a blue one, which is more expensive for 7 pm to get to our 7:30 time. About 3 or 4 pm, the skies clouded over and we heard what sounded like a gunshot nearby. Then we heard another...and when it started to pour, we realized it was thunder. It boomed and rolled and was continuous, along with driving rain. We were in our room relaxing after visiting the textile museum and other shops in the morning, then returning to the air con hotel to regroup and go out again for lunch. It's hard to explain how the heat and humidity wear you down.
There's a dental convention in town and we ran into some men from our hotel at a restaurant at lunch. They're from KL and complained about the heat! I wish I'd gotten a picture of these 6-8 men—they were having so much fun skipping out on lectures to party together. Some were Malaysians, some were Indian, and one was Chinese. One of the Indian men, who is not a dentist, but says he just comes along for the fun, teased the his friend constantly, calling him the “Chinaman.” I commented to the group that we would NEVER say that and they agreed laughingly that he's a racist—but it really was all in fun. Before we left the restaurant, as they were all calling goodbye to us, I turned and asked them for a favor—I asked they not let their friend talk about us after we were gone. I got a good laugh from them and the next day, we were invited to party with them...which we declined.
As I was explaining, we were back in our room when the storm began, so we had a good view of it in a safe place. Matthew was sure it would stop after a short time, but it continued and continued, and by 5:30, we were getting worried about a power outage and also getting out to eat. We went to the desk and asked about both and they said they have their own generator (we hadn't checked out where the stairs ever were until then—didn't want to get stuck in an elevator), and getting to the restaurant would be no problem because it rains there all the time.
Well, this turned out to be a storm like no other in many years. We didn't know that, so took the taxi at 7. We ended up a a HUGE jam and didn't move much for about 40 min. We asked the driver how much longer we'd be, and he said it could take an hour. He had no idea what was causing the problem, but it wasn't a normal night. And the restaurant was about 30 min away with traffic figured in. By 7:40, we told him to take a side-street and return us to the hotel, which he did in about 3 minutes. We ended up eating a pretty dissatisfying meal in the hotel.  
 
We found out they had had flooding, which was what screwed up traffic, so made it to the Dyak the next night...even though it was raining.

The waiters are all Dyak themselves and ours had long hair, tattoos (they all have them since it's part of their culture), and piercings on his face.  We told him he'd fit right in in San Francisco!

Artifacts on the wall and explanations and the family story/history written out on our placemats, which he brought after we were seated.  

Known for the rice wine, tuak.  We tried all 3--one is called the female and one the male, and I did prefer the female.  The other darkest one is a dessert wine.  They say this is a secret family recipe handed down to one person each generation.  Notice the tablecloth...Dyak symbols.


Chicken cooked in Bamboo and the grilled 3 layered pork 

brown rice which is the first non-white we've seen.


a relish made with dried anchovies and greens and spicy things.  Matthew loved this.  Me...not as much.  But I did feel I was getting my fiber for the day!

Sweet potato greens.

Second time today our silverware came to the table in boiled water...



This wasn't just vanilla ice cream...it had tuak poured over it and some sticky rice in the center.





Today we took a tour, which turned out to be the two of us with one driver/guide and  visited a longhouse which showed how one indigenous group lived, though they have now moved their village down to a flatter area near the river since the Iban stopped hunting heads.  They built their longhouses up on a hill to protect them from enemies.  We also went to the Semenggoh Reserve where they have about 36 orangutans in the wild.  When fruit isn't plentiful, they provide food for them two times a day and allow visitors to stand off from the area but in view of them being fed. 



Longhouse flooring along the outside walkway made of bamboo.  Tricky to walk on.


Nope, not a suspension bridge--because YOU know how I feel about them.


That little skinny thing is the ladder.  Thankfully, we weren't invited upstairs.

This lady is beading and making a woman's hat.  They sell them, but they're also getting ready for their annual huge rice festival which is June 1-3.

We leave here tomorrow at 7:30 for the airport.  Let's keep a good thought--no hitches on AirAsia.  We've enjoyed our stay here, though less heat would have made it nicer.   I'll leave you with some random photos