Monday, April 6, 2009


It feels surreal to be back home.
They say the grass is always greener on the other side. That's how I feel now.
When I'm in Singapore, I yearn for the comfort of family, the companionship of my boyfriend, the reliability of friends. I feel sad to miss important occassions and special events.
But being back here, I can't help but also miss the alone time, the independent living, the first world city!
I know, I'm never contented.
If I could transfer everyone I love to Singapore then that would be ideal!

But I loved my time away and it was perfect to do before I settle down.
See the world from another angle, get out of my comfort zone, meet new people, have new adventures. I think I was able to achieve what I set out to do.

I learned what I am capable of and gained confidence.
I learned that I can do things on my own and make decisions (and make mistakes).
I learned that the world has so much more to offer.
I learned to be okay with walking, shopping, eating alone.
I learned to be less afraid of change.

And hey, at least now, I can be a semi-expert on another country and be the resident expert for tourists.

Now, time to start on a new chapter.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Wikipedia defines a "foodie" as amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. I don't mind being defined as an amateur because that's what I am.

I love the urban life -- trying the best restaurants, going to the hippest bars, and scouring the city for the newest openings.
When I travel, aside from researching on the tourist spots, I always look for the top restaurants as well. Mind you, not the most expensive, but the places that top a local's list. Sometimes, we plan our entire day around these restaurants!
I pride myself in recommending good places and being in the know of good places. I do love old favorites too but I cannot fathom how some people can eat at the same restaurant for weekends striaght in a row (yes there are some families like that).

I scour magazines (Time Out here) and websites to see the newest places or read the reviews. Sometimes I haven't even been to the places but because of incessant readings I can sound like I do.

Don't get me wrong. I am far from being a connosieur. I am not even a food snob. I can eat at the nicest and the not so nice places as long as the food is good.

That's one of the reasons I love it here. There are endless options for restaurants! Becuase of the international community, various cuisines thrive. The ambience are also usually a plus. There's simply not enough days to try the recommended restaurants. Believe me, my sisters and I tried. We even parked some restaurants as "snacks" to maximize the days and stretch out the 3 meals a day.

Singapore has marketed itself as a food country because of the hawker centers and unique dishes. Honestly, I believe it is just partly marketing. Each country has a unique good local dish. But I think it boils down to the endless high-low choices crammed into this small city!
Some of my best picks:
1. Boon Tong Kee at River Valley

Some say the best chicken rice. I am inclined to agree. I used to be satisfied with Chatterbox in Meritus Mandarin but this has value for money and better rice. The sauces - the dark soya and sweet ginger is heaven. The crispy tofu is another plus. The only complaint is the absence of soup!

2. P.S. Cafe at Harding

Some say it's over-rated but for me it's the whole combination of good food and great ambience. Each branch has a different menu. I like the lunches (sandwich and pasta are good) but love the brunch! The portabello mushroom stack is a must. Desserts are good too. My first time to actually like a lemon dessert. The cocktails are great. I love the Harding branch the best because of the glass house effect but the Palais Renaissance is good too for drinks.
3. Brussels Sprouts at Robertson Quay

I love shellfish - oysters, clams, mussles. This belgian resto offers mussels and refillable fries! Plus the beer list is the longest I've seen.

4. No Signboard at Esplanade

Of course crabs are on everyone's must-eat in Singapore list. I wonder why as I come from an island country too. In any case, the spicy crabs here - chili crab dipped in mantou fried bread or white pepper cranb paired with cold beer and lots of rice is a must visit for any tourists.
Other options would be Jumbo and Red House for chili crab ; Long Beach for black pepper crab.

5. Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance

People have raved about the cupcakes here -- I like the banana peanut butter (Elvis), am a super sucker for this combo. The food is superb too! The crab ceasar is really good as well as the sandwiches (foie gras burger). The chicken pot pie is so-so. My friend and I visited on a Thursday night and lo and behold, 20% off because it was Ladies' Night. But only applicable if you're with your girlfriends - i.e. no boys allowed.
6. Majestic Restaurant at Bukit Pasoh

This boutique hotel is known for its quirky interiors. The lobby looks undone with bare walls and each room is designed differently. This restaurant has holes on the ceiling which leads to the hotel pool (meaning you can "see" swimmers as they swim past the holes). Even without the quirky designs, the food is great - modern Chinese. The duck and lamb were really good.
7. Din Tai Fung at Paragon

Dumpling heaven. Love the famous xiao long pao (until now, no one else comes close to the soft skin and flavorful soup). Other favorites are the fried rice with porkchop and warm taro buns.
8. Graze at Rochester Park
The ambience itself is breath-taking. An old colonial house dressed up with tables plus a nice outdoor seating. Drinks are great and the dessert to-die-for (black and white pudding which is really the best chocolate lava I've had).

9. Da Paolo at Rochester Park
I have yet to try the Pizza Bar branch which Time Out claims has the best pizzas. But the Rochester Park branch is not bad itself. The white pizza and pasta are the best Italian I've had here so far.

10. Epicurious at Robertson Quay

I wonder why brunch is not as big in Manila? But here weekend brunches consist of champagne brunch buffets in hotels (getting hammered at lunch after a night of probable drinking already) and restaurants with special menus that they serve only at that time. And brunch doesn't necessarily mean between breakfast and lunch but even way beyond as it lasts all the way til after lunch even. Breakfast food during lunch? Genius! (especially for me who doesn't eat before 12 noon). The brunch here is more comfort simple food but with a twist. The green eggs (scrambled eggs with pesto) and french toast are a must.

11. Waraku at Heeren / Tonkichi at Takashimaya
What I love about Japanese resto's here is that they have these amazing bento boxes with various combinations and unique assortments. Tonkichi is good for its non-greasy tonkatsu and Waraku for the numerous choices . Simple and uncomplicated. I also like Bon Gout for Japanese curry.

12. Flutes at Fort Canning

Pretty resto in a colonial house by Fort Canning Park. Described as resto with Australian cuisine (what is Aussie food??). Love the salad and duck. Go for lunch which has cheaper set menus.

13. Hawker

Of course, what's a Singapore foodie list without a mention of Hawker Centers? I am not picky at all with my hawker places. It's more of the food that I look for which is char kway teow (noodles with cockles and grease), carrot cake (sweet radish cake), fishball soup, laksa, and hong kong style char siew/ roast duck rice/ noodles.
Some of the hawker places I like include Zion Road, Esplanade (great outdoor feel and view), Food Street at Chinatown, and Lau Pa Sat.
I find the food courts also provide good food. Especially like the one at Taka basement and Food republic at Wisma Atria / Vivo City/ Suntec. Clean and with a good assortment.

Of course, I still have so many resto's to cross off my list as compiled from Luxe Guide, Time Out and other magazines. Obviously I won't get to try all and I don't think my wallet can take it!
Jeez, no wonder I really gained pounds here. My mentality is I'll only be here temporarily so just eat and be merry!

*acknowledgement: some pics courtesy of my sister

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Missing Selfishness

As I get ready to wind down my stay here, a colleague asked what I will miss most here. I was a bit taken aback and automatically replied, I guess the whole living here is what I will miss most.

The reply was unclear ("blur" as the Singaporeans would say). But let me explain.

There really is not one thing I will miss the most like a particular restaurant or a specific place. It's the whole lifestyle of independence and exploring that I will miss. Here I can decide when and where I want to go, not dictated by familial responsibilities or other people. I wake up when I want, watch some shows before I get up, decide what to eat on my own. A night out can take me to places I haven't been to or even considered going to. I can have a peaceful meal, then go clubbing, then drinks at a chill place, then wind down with a greasy snack. I can decide when I want to go home (and I have done that, just walked out of a club on my own leaving the people I was with and hailed a cab). On a Sunday, I will just decide to stay home the whole day and vegetate with my laptop or I can spontaneously get the urge to go shopping and wind up in new stores. On a weekday after the office, there might be out of the blue plans to have dinner and drinks. I can decide to go to an exhibit on my own sometimes. Unplanned, spontaneous, carefree.

It sounds bad but I can just simply be selfish.
Which when I go back, won't be the case as I am surrounded my family, friends, obligations, responsibilities (here there are responsibilities too of course but they only directly affect me like cleaning my room or paying my bills).

So a year of selfishness here to discover a new place and myself. It sounds selfish. But I've learned to be comfortable with myself and know what I'm capable of. How to deal with different people, opened up my world, went out of my cocoon. Sometimes being selfish ain't that bad.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Walking on the Wrong Side of the Street

Who knew that something as simple as growing up in a left-hand / right-drive could affect a person so much?

I grew up in the Philippines which follows the Amercian way. Drivers sit at the left side of the vehicle and passengers at the left side.
Moving here in Singapore, it is the opposite following the UK system, with drivers on the right side of the vehicle instead.
Okay sounds easy enough since anyway I don't drive, I just ride.

But this simple difference permeates unconsciously to other aspects. When I walk for instance, I automatically move to the right side of the sidewalk. But here, unintentionally, they walk on the left side such that it is literally a direct collision for me and people walking on the opposite direction. In the Philippines, everyone walks on the right side so that the incoming person who is also on the right is on the opposite side - ie. no collision course.

If ever there is a direct hit, I would automatically move further to the right. However, the person opposite me, weaned in the Singaporean way, would move to the left so that facing each other, it is not reversed and instead we end up going into the same direction! So automatically, we both move to the other direction still ending up blocking each other. This has happened to me countless times! And it is quite unnerving.

Another effect is turning around a corner. With the way, I am used to, I would turn close to the corner if I am turning to the right and would walk further from the corner if I am heading towards the left. However, for the locals, it is the opposite such that they would turn close to the corner if they turn to the left. So this means once again, direct hit!

Crossing the street, I would look at the painted arrows to see where a car was coming from because unintentionally I would always look to the left first. I know, I can just as easily move my head in one direction then the next but I always feel so stupid to look at the wrong side of the road.

It is quite unnerving to have these stupid little mistakes. And I always feel like an imposter whenever it is not automatic to me because it so obviously points out that I am not a local.

Who knew something as simple as where the side of the road that one drives in would affect so many little things too?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Uniquely Singapore

For tourists, there really is nothing much to do or see in Singapore. It's not a country with a very interesting history, with breath-taking landmarks or world-renowned icons. It's not even a top international cosmopolitan city with a thriving urban scene.

But as with everything, Singapore has managed to market itself so effectively and efficiently that tourists come in droves. There is not one day that passes that I don't see a tourist. Or they could be (like me), a foreigner but working here (I heard 25% of the population are foreigners). Whatever the case, the city-state has established "tourist spots" to fill a traveller's days. And really, I am super impressed with the Visitor's Center by Orchard. It's a tourist's dream! Rows and rows of brochures (perfect for a brochure hogger like me who loves to constantly "review" places I'm going to)!

Here are my top picks for tourist spots to visit:

1. The National Museum

I don't really care for the permanent exhibit which tells the story of Singapore history in food, fashion, etc. But I like the pristine white colonial look of the building, the swinging chandeliers and the cavernous entrance hall inside plus the bar outside. To watch for are travelling exhibits which come pretty regularly and change every 2 or 3 months. The Greek Collection of the Louvre was there last year as well as Voom portraits (basically short portrait videos that look like paintings) by Robert Wilson of famous celebs including a drenched Brad Pitt in his boxers! I also liked the Doubleness photo exhibit of Chang Chien-Chi, especially the touching photos from a mental insitution in Taiwan where patients were chained to each other. There's also a Christian Lacroix exhibit coming up. I wish Manila had a museum like this. It's feels so cultured and pretentious to say in Manila, Oh I'm just going to the museum but here it really is quite normal.

the brad pitt robert wilson portrait (you're welcome girls)

To watch for also is the Singapore Art Museum, just a road away and its sister museum SAM, both for travelling exhibits.

2. Night Safari

Okay, you have to admire them. They really thought this through. A zoo is quite normal, every country has it but a zoo at night??? Whoa! Okay so it's packaged as a "safari" but in reality, the animals don't roam wild. There are cleverly-hidden fences but the feel is of a safari with the tram ride and/or walking around on your own. Because it's dark, there's also that heightened element of possible "danger". I like the bat walk where fruit bats roam free in a greenhouse as visitors walk past. They're harmless but bats are just creepy. It's the whole Dracula myth. There's also a lot of set-up photo areas plus easy to get a cab even if it's a bit further out.

3. The Quays (or simply places by the river)

I don't really advice going on a boat cruise of the Singapore river as there are no interesting sights by the riverside. Instead, better to park yourself by a restaurant in one of the quays to view the river.

Clarke Quay is the king of the quay. For nightlife, this is the no-brainer place to go to, rows and rows of resto's, bars, clubs, coffee shops. Every weekend it is packed with wandering people. But the place itself is nice with an illusion of open air but there's actually a high awning covering the whole compound with ever changing lights. I think this area was an old converted shipping warehouse.

Boat Quay is more like the cheesy loud drunk uncle. It's also by the river and across from the iconic Fullerton. But the resto's are more traditional (seafood, Chinese) and they are quite aggressive in hawking their wares. It's nice to sit in by the river but that's the only ambience these places have. By the side streets are also some smaller bars.

Robertson Quay is the queen. This is my favorite. More sedate, nicer establishments, but still with an assortment of resto's and bars. It's a nicer part of the river across from some low-rise condominiums (my dream place to live in).

my dream place to live in here in Singapore

4. Orchard Road

Of course, how can you not visit Singapore without stopping by Orchard Road? I know some people who actually prefer to shop in the Marina Bay area which houses around 4 malls inter-connected by tunnels. But I still prefer Orchard because it has all the retail formats (okay I sounded too much like a marketing exec there). There's a department store (my favorite is Takashimaya for the gift floor and Tang's for clothes), malls with the usual high-street and luxury brands (I like Wisma Atria basement for the former and Ngee Ann City for the latter), more low-end gritty no frills mall (Lucky Plaza), and malls that have smaller independent local shops (The Hereen for Japanese-inspired and Far East Plaza for trendy items). It is not though a street with boutiques right on the road as it is in Europe. Singapore like the rest of Asia, is a mall country. I like walking at the wide pedestrian road dotted with trees but I try to avoid the weekend where it is clogged with people.

5. Vivo City/ Sentosa

Let's get this out of the way. Sentosa is not on my list at all. But I know a lot of visitors come here with the reclaimed island on their list. My 2 cents? It's manufactured and fake but again, giving credit where it is due, it is ingenious! A beach just minutes away, never mind if it is man-made and the sand is apparently from Indonesia. There's various beach bars, a spa, hotels, golf club, and high-end restaurants. It's like a mini city on its own. A lot of attractions are also scattered about. I've been to the butterfly park / insect kingdom (just so-so) and Songs of the Sea show (ugh). I heard the luge ride is good. Vivo City which has a train that is connected to Sentosa is much more interesting actually! At least for the shoppers. It's the biggest mall here in Singapore and has pretty much all the brands housed under one roof.

6. Raffles/ City Hall area (Marina Bay)

city hall lighted up during F1 September '08

Raffles is the CBD while City Hall has the malls and Esplanade. Interesting sights here? Chijmes which is an old convent school converted to a F&B area, The Fullerton which is the old post office converted to a hotel, Merlion (even though it's really nothing more than a big statue of a lion mermaid but still, it is the recognizable icon of Singapore), the Singapore Flyer (similar to the London eye, basically a gigantic ferris wheel that takes 20+ minutes to go around but as per my sister, nothing to see), Esplanade (the performance hall with a "durian"-designed roof which houses a mini-mall plus good selection of resto's and hawker stalls - try to go to the rooftop which has a great view), Raffles Hotel (iconic hotel where the Singapore sling was born and you feel you were transported back to the early 1900's but the swarm of tourists is distracting), Suntec City (which has the claim of fame of having the world's largest fountain but I suggest skipping that and just doing some shopping), City Hall itself which is has a nice colonial frontage, St Andrew's church (the outside is nice also). Walking around is better to get a feel of the city center.

7. Chinatown

Fittingly, being Chinese, my family visited Chinatown when we travelled here. But what I like here are the look of the old shophouses. There is also a Muslim Mosque, Buddhist temple and Hindi temple in the area. So you get 3 nice touristy shots immediately! I like the Food street at night and also stop by the Scarlet and Majestic moden boutique hotels. This is a nice area to just walk around in but no shopping as the shops are mostly kitschy China imports and cliche touristy items. The red dot design museum is here too. Interesting design concepts are shown, too bad that for some, the actual product is not shown.

8. Nature-inspired stop

Singapore has a lot of nature parks. I think one of the best and non-athletic friendly would be the Botanic Gardens. There's the Orchid area and big central area where people can picnic and catch a free concert. There's also jogging trails and rainforest track. It has a very lazy Sunday leisure relaxed feel to it.

Mt Faber is another popular option. There is a F & B center at the peak and houses the cable cars going to Sentosa (funnily, there is an option to have a "romantic" meal at the cable car and they serve your different courses every time you reach the landing and then you just go again on the ride). Go here for the view of Singapore (no need for the Flyer!). And for athletes, there is also a running trail. Skip the mural but go to Faber point for a 360-degree view (plus another Merlion statue).

the view from Mt. Faber

Sungei Buloh is more rustic and not very well-known. You really have to walk to go around the park choosing from 3 different trails. But also it feels more authentic as it is a genuine wetland/ mangrove area. Animals roam free (mostly lizards) and a lot of birds congregate by the water. Perfect for photo enthusiasts.

Fort Canning is another option and is right beside the National Museum. I saw that there's even an escalator to go up to the park from the main road.
I heard Bukit Timah is good too, one of only two rainforests housed within a city (the other one is in Brazil). But I have yet to visit. Should go there before I leave, mental note.

9. Jurong Birdpark

I was pleasantly suprised by Jurong Birdpark. I am not a big bird lover. I don't understand the allure of bird watching at all (sitting in silence and stalking flying creatures to catch a glimpse and identify what it was). But the park has a lot of interesting birds aside from the usual - penguins (which I adore!), flamingoes (the spot by the pond is so nice), pelicans, eagles. There's a feeding area where hundreds (?) of birds fly freely about. Of course, you have to buy a pack of bird food so they actually go to you. The man-made waterfall is a bit cheesy. It's advertised as the tallest man-made waterfall in the world but really, so what? Over-all though I liked the lay-out and theme of the park.
I haven't been to the Singapore Zoo but I heard a lot of the animals are the same as the ones you would see in the Night Safari (except for the Polar Bear which I'm interested to see).

So combine all of this with shopping, eating and the nightlife and Singapore is looking like a pretty good place to visit. It doesn't have the old charm of Vietnam or the grit of Bangkok or spectacular nature of the Philippines but there's also a very low level of risk for tourists.

Oh and speaking of travel, Singapore Airlines is also the best airline I have ever ridden in. Good service, lots of movies to choose from, clean planes and according to my guy friends, attractive stewardesses). The Changi airport is also amazing with numerous shops, free wifi and even (so random) an indoor garden with coloring tables.

I should be a uniquely Singapore spokesperson!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Holidays

It's great to be a Filipino living in Singapore because I get to celebrate back to back long holidays. As a Fil-Chi, the Christmas holidays are sacred to me. I usually take 2 weeks time off starting from 23rd all the way to after New Year's. I've been doing this for the past 5 years I've been working corporate.

Being back in Singapore after the long vacation home is a bit disorienting. Good thing Chinese New Year was coming up! 2009's CNY holidays were a bit earlier and it meant two days off of official holidays (Jan 26 and 27 which were a Monday and Tuesday respectively). They actually celebrate CNY more here with more people taking long leaves (some for the whole week) and suppliers giving mandarin oranges and special gifts.

Since I was able to convince my boyfriend to visit me over the long weekend, I decided to join in on the festivities (partly at least) by making a visit to Chinatown. It's quite ironic as in the Philippines, I have neever (nor I think I will) visit Chinatown during the CNY holiday. Come to think about it, I'm not even sure I have been there at all!

Here in Singapore, the hustle and bustle in Chinatown a year before the eve of CNY felt like Hongkong. Gone was the normal Singapore efficiency and quietness. The streets were overrun with vendors shouting their wares. People were milling about haphazardly. There was a big stage erected where local performers were singing. A giant inflatable Ox with a large mandarin orange tree wherein angpao hanging from the branches were at the center of the main street.

food street

yummy warm peanut soup with peanut dumplings

I have never really "felt" fully Chinese (even though my parents are both Chinese, I live in the Philippines and admittedly is more influenced by American trends). But I am happy that in a way, I get to experience and understand, even partly, some of these traditions. Admittedly, I feel embarrassed sometimes because the Chinese have a reputation for not being very open and accpeting of other cultures (especially with Filipinos) but I also feel proud whenever people comment how hardworking the Chinese are. I am Chinese but I say my nationality is Filipino. But if asked I also would never consider myself a true Filipino.
I'd like to think I am a citizen of the world instead.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another Festival

As I've said before, Singapore is a land of festivals and events and exhibits. Some are inane, some are creative. The good thing is there's always something new to visit.

January opened with the M1 Fringe Festival. Some of these festivals I don't even understand anymore what it's about. According to the website, it's basically an "explosion of works from Singapore and around the world on a central theme". This year, the theme is Family. In short, it's exhibits, plays, dances, and interactive events around the city that revolve around the chosen theme.

I chose to visit 2 exhibits (the free ones!).

The first was a photo exhibit by Philip Toledano. It was a poignant and very touching set of photos wherein he documented his days with his father who was slowly losing his short-term memory. This was following the death of his mother. And it was painful to read how everyday the father would forget that his wife had died. The son would then have to tell his father everyday about the death and have to relive the pain every single time with his father. Eventually, Philip decided to just say that his mom had went away on a trip. Is ignorance bliss?
But then a statement later on goes to say that sometimes, his dad would be sigh and that's when Philip knows that his dad knows about his mom. When we love someone, there is always a hole when they are away.
It was the movie Memento brought to life wherein the dad would leave lists and notes and questions all around. There are the small things he forgets he has done already so he repeats himself like go to the bathroom or eat eggs but the big things like ambition and pride over his son stays on. It is these things that define who we are after all.

The second was the strangest "museum" I have visited. Called the Museum of Broken Relationships, it is a travelling exhibit revolving around the concept of failed relationships. Basically anyone can donate items from past relationships to the museum together with a story or anecdote about it or the actual relationship. On display were various objects like stuffed toys (ugh! the bane of every relationship), figurines, underwear, love letters, hair dye, keys, shirts, handcuffs, and other crazy items. It goes to show how everyday material things can actually mean so much more. It was interesting to read some of the stories and the emotions ranging from hatred to regret to just nonchalance. According to the website, the museum hopes to create a place for "secure memory". We all, no matter where, how and when we live all share in a common human experience. Anyone who has had a failed relationship can relate!

the product of a "love-hate" relationship which ended in the apartment (and a mannequin) getting trashed

a product of a failed long distance relationship - postcard from NY during the aftermath of 9/11.. like the statement

of course, what is a failed relationship without an unused condom representing months of no intimacy thus no chance to use it

this is super dramatic! a vessel for teardrops!! the guy intended to send it to the girl who broke his heart. ugh, i would be so grossed out. but i love the words he put "relationship with a wonderful (but sneaky) woman"