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We’ve been riding cable cars nearly every weekend lately.

I know it sounds extravagant when I say it like that. But we’re simply making full use of a Faber Licence annual pass we bought recently at a promo price. If we rode the cable cars every week for a year, it comes to around S$3 (around Php 100) each trip, with unlimited rides for four people. It’s non-transferable (they check our photos), but still, that’s just Php 25 per person. Sulit naman (It’s a good deal). It’s a fun weekend activity and my kid is a happy camper.

The Singapore Cable Car Sky Network (there’s only one) is made up of two lines: the Mount Faber Line, which you can take from Harbourfront Tower all the way to Faber Peak and back to Sentosa island (a 30-minute round trip ride); and the Sentosa Line, which makes three stops within the island at Siloso Point, Imbiah Lookout, and near the Sentosa Merlion (a 20-minute ride).

There are ongoing construction works now near Sentosa Line’s Merlion Station, so we usually hop off at Siloso Point Station and take the free beach trams around the island, another activity my kid loves.

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Personally, I prefer the cable car rides itself. The views of Sentosa island from the sky are also hard to beat.

There is Brani Terminal and the Sentosa Boardwalk in the distance, with Hard Rock Hotel Singapore in the foreground and Festive Hotel to the right. The terminal will eventually close and move to the Tuas mega-port in western Singapore at some point, as the government intends to redevelop this area into the Greater Southern Waterfront. The port will be replaced with waterfront promenades and residential / commercial spaces. With the Covid-19 situation now, I’m not sure when this would be.

I like seeing the rows of solar panels atop the Bank of America Merrill Lynch building, visible when you approach Harbourfront Tower on the Mount Faber Line.

This is an aerial view of Adventure Cove Waterpark. It’s strange to see the water slides and Adventure River stripped of water. We can already spot small black stagnant pools in some places, littered with leaves. We see the sharks and dolphins are still there, possibly living their “best” life (as can be had within the confines of their tanks) with no humans to bother them.

The giant wave pool at Adventure Cove looks rather lonely now.

This is Siloso Beach last month, when Singapore celebrated its 55th National Day. The heart-shaped installation was made up of 10,000 red and white flags, each with a heartfelt message.

The AJ Hackett bungy jump tower is always a source of interest to my kid. If someone happens to be on a jump or zipping down the 450m zipline from Mega Adventure Park, we can hear the screaming from the comfort of our cable car.

Finally, there’s what is touted to be the “reigning king of public toilets” across Singapore, found in Faber Peak Singapore (you can hop off at the Mount Faber Station on the cable car line). In this glass-enclosed toilet at The Jewel Box, you can soak in superb views of Mount Faber’s greenery and the cable cars while making yourself comfortable on the couch provided. There’s even a fish tank with real fish inside. Best of all, it’s clean!

For your pooping pleasure

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #13: Jakarta, Indonesia

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

Unlike my other Sunday posts, this Jakarta weekend trip probably wouldn’t be of much interest to the usual tourist. We didn’t drop by the Monas (National Monument), buy batik, or visit any of the city’s museums and parks. It was more of a random stroll down memory lane, possibly an attempt to reconcile rose-coloured childhood memories of a city I loved with its current reality.

Because of my dad’s job, my family moved to Jakarta in the 1990s. My mom, siblings, and I had spent a few summers there prior to the move. To this day, I feel a strong connection to this busy behemoth of a city. It reminded me often of the bustle of Makati / Manila.

View of the Selamat Datang Monument from our hotel room. It was a Car-Free Sunday.

We eventually left Jakarta in the chaos that was 1998 along with a number of other families we knew, in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis (Indonesia was badly hit) and the race riots.

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We lived in the Kelapa Gading neighbourhood in north Jakarta. The Kelapa Gading Plaza was close to our house but often the wares came to us. I remember the tukang sayur who used to go around our residential village with a cart of fresh vegetables every morning. Our family helper, whom we affectionally called Mbak, would call him over and buy a bunch of fresh kangkong for Rp500 (ah, the pre-1997/98 era before the Indonesian rupiah had too many zeroes). Then there was the jamu seller in her kebaya bearing her mysterious herbal concoctions, which Mbak drank near-daily (she never let us try some).

A tukang sayur. Source: Detik Food

My favourite mobile vendor was the chicken-shaped truck that sometimes toured our streets selling ayam goreng kalasan (deep-fried kampung chicken served in oil-soaked boxes, sprinkled with crispy bits of batter called kremes). Give me kremes over KFC chicken any day.

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Anyway, back to our trip. We weren’t in Jakarta long enough to eat at all the places where I wanted to eat, so we just settled for a trip to our old food haunts in Kelapa Gading and near our hotel, as well as a clandestine visit to our previous primary school in Ancol (it involved some wheedling on our friends’ part to get the security guard to let us have a walk around the school grounds late on a weekday evening).

Jakarta now has Chowking! I remember when Jollibee first opened here

The cinema facade of Kelapa Gading Mall (it wasn’t a plaza anymore) hadn’t changed much. I hazily recall looking up from our car at the movie poster for ‘Speed’, which was hand-painted then. Keanu barely looked like himself.

Me, still zipping by

Inside the mall, we made a beeline for Bakmi Gajah Mada, an old favourite. We had ice cold Sosro teh botol (which now came in cartons instead of glass bottles), bowls of bakmi bakso (Indonesian noodles with beef balls) and crispy pangsit goreng (fried wonton).

I introduced the Hub to A Fung’s vermicelli noodles (graced with more beef balls and a huge block of tofu with meaty goodness nestled inside).

For novelty, the Hub and I tried the infamous kopi luwak. The menu helpfully explained it thus: “The luwak (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) denizen of the coffee (kopi) plantations of Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, eats only the ripest coffee cherries. Unable to digest the coffee beans, the luwak graciously deposits them on the jungle floor where they are eagerly collected by the locals. The stomach acids and enzymatic action involved in this unique fermentation process produces the beans for the world’s rarest coffee beverage.” What exactly was going on through the minds of those kopi luwak pioneers? (In case you’re interested, it tasted like normal Arabica coffee. No 💩 taste whatsoever.)

Here is a food court spread from Sate Khas Senayan, with bowls of sop buntut (oxtail soup) topped with emping crackers, satay mix (meat skewers), ayam goreng kremes (fried chicken with the crunchy bits), and a rice meal doused with spicy peanut sauce. God I missed Jakarta.

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Now that I think about it, maybe most of my rose-coloured memories were all about Indonesian food. Consider our pasalubong haul.

Indomie is life

Think critically dear readers,

Hawker Culture

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of hawker centres to daily life here in Singapore.

One of my ex-colleagues once told me that throughout her childhood she had never seen her parents cook. They bought dǎbāo (打包, takeaway) all the time. “I turned out all right!” she declared.

Eating out every day sounds expensive, but honestly when it comes to hawker centres it makes sense. You can have good eats for very reasonable prices. The variety is great. There’s even a sense of community in the air. Back when we used to live in one of Singapore’s heartland neighbourhoods, we often saw groups of old uncles hanging out at the hawker centre tables chatting over their morning kopi and kaya toast – especially for hawkers located near HDBs. (HDBs refer to public housing managed by the Singaporean Housing and Development Board or HDB. It’s where almost 80% of Singaporeans live. I’ll blog about these gems in the future.)

Laundry drying racks jut out from HDB blocks

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What’s a “hawker centre” anyway? These are open-air food courts made up of many stalls selling affordable cooked food. Most are conveniently located near HDB estates and near wet markets.

The construction of hawker centres in the 1970s-80s was part of a government programme to legalise street hawkers and ensure food preparation was up to standard. Nowadays the National Environment Agency, as a government regulator, ensures hawker food is prepared in hygienic and safe conditions.

Doing the Lord’s work, even on weekends

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If you’ve seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians (2018), there’s a good montage at the start featuring Newton Food Centre where Henry Golding orders plate after plate of hawker food in English, Mandarin, and Malay: satay (meat skewers), roti prata (Indian-influenced flatbread), fried carrot cake (a misleading name — it’s made of radish cubes), hot bowls of spicy laksa (noodle soup in curry coconut milk) and fishball noodle soup, shaved ice desserts, and of course, cold mugs of beer (Tiger, I hope).

“Each of these hawker stalls sells pretty much one dish. They’ve been perfecting it for generations” (Source)

Pro-tip #1: while it’s cool how the movie introduced Singapore’s hawker culture to a global audience, trust the locals – there are better satays to be found elsewhere besides Newton.

Pro-tip #2: keep your eyes peeled for the nod to the chope-ing tissue at 0:22. When at a hawker centre (or any food court in Singapore for that matter), do not sit at tables where there are tissue packets. This means that spot has been chope-d, i.e. reserved. Doesn’t sound fair? It is what it is. #RespectTheTissue

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The Hub and I love hawker food. Before coming to Singapore, we were already familiar with a few local dishes: the glutinous goodness of chicken rice and the sinfully rich char kway teow, for instance. When we lived in the UK, we paid frequent visits to London’s Chinatown to sample New Fook Lam Moon’s bak kut teh (the soup more herbal than peppery) or Rasa Sayang’s chicken rice. We later learned that Rasa Sayang’s version of char kway teow is more Penang than Singaporean, with the Singaporean version somewhat sweeter.

Queues at Tian Tian Chicken Rice, which the late Anthony Bourdain once praised as delicious even on its own

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With so many choices, how do you know which stall serves the best food? The length of the queues of course!

Alternatively, you can check out food reviews online. When the Hub and I first arrived here, we relied heavily on a food blog called “ieat•ishoot•ipost” written by a family doctor named Dr. Leslie Tay, who’s also an avid foodie and photographer. His blog’s tagline is “never waste your calories on yucky food.” (He also uses his platform to teach his patients on what kinds of food to avoid if they have certain medical conditions, which I think is a smart way to merge your work and your passion project).

A Tian Tian chicken rice feast, with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice

I like that his blog is organized into dishes: from Assam Fish all the way to Zi Char. It makes it easy to search for places when cravings take over. While there are one or two recommendations which didn’t please, I think this is simply a matter of taste, and overall Dr. Tay’s recommendations were an excellent starter guide for non-locals like us to navigate Singapore’s rich hawker culture.

You may already know how fond I am of bak chor mee (the thought of the chili and vinegar in al dente noodles already makes my mouth water). But our best discovery from Dr. Tay’s blog was the gloriously messy Hainanese Curry Rice.

“Umami bomb” is the best way to describe it — the best Hainanese Curry Rice is a flavourful explosion of curry sauce, fried porkchop, stewed cabbage, and braised pork, and it has found a permanent spot on our personal comfort-food list.

Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice. Source: Pinterest

Hainanese Curry Rice is not Instagram-friendly, that’s for sure. It may never snap up a Michelin Bib Gourmand. If I recommend it to one of my ang moh friends he / she might demur.

But you seriously won’t know what you’re missing. Super shiok.

Think critically dear readers,

Featured image by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #12: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

When I first saw the moss-covered temple stones at Siem Reap in Cambodia, I was reminded of the mobile video game Temple Run released back in the early 2010s. Temple Run was a running game with no end, at least until you made an ill-timed swipe or the crazy monkeys caught up with you. The monkeys at Siem Reap are duelling kings however, pink and still in the ancient stone.

We arrived at our hotel in the afternoon. We wasted no time in hiring a tuktuk to take us to Angkor Wat, the “temple city,” the largest religious monument in the world. We read that the outer walls and moat surrounding this medieval temple complex symbolised the edge of the world and the cosmic ocean, respectively. Unusually for Khmer temples, the Angkor Wat faced the setting sun, a symbol of death.

Outside Angkor Wat

The causeway leading to the temple was lined with vendors selling pirated English guidebooks for as cheap as a dollar. There were too many tourists with impractical shoes. Some of them spat on the ancient stone.

Angkor Wat looked time-worn and understandably so, having been built in the 12th century. Wooden steps were constructed over the original steps — not only to preserve it but because the older ones were too steep. The sensual apsaras lined the walls in an assortment of poses, jewellery, and headgear. I had a strong urge to see for certain what it looked like in its original glory.

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The rest of the architecture at Angkor had its own pull: take Banteay Srei To Baphuon for instance, with its salmon-coloured stones and incredibly detailed reliefs.

Banteay Srei To Baphuon

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Then there was the surreal Ta Prohm, which was deliberately restored in a way that cut as little of the surrounding jungle as possible.

The majestic tree roots at Ta Prohm

Parts of Angelina Jolie’s film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were filmed here.

The giant banyan trees continue to simultaneously hug and crush the temple buildings, as they have for hundreds of years. In time, nature will finish its work and the temple too will fade.

A stegosaurus carved in the stone at Ta Prohm, or something else? It’s still a mystery

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Personally, I found The Bayon, also in Angkor Thom, the most enigmatic. The temple had a curious pull on me.

Our approach to The Bayon
The Bayon

The pyramid shaped temple mountain rises on three levels and features more than 200 stone faces, all with smiles as mysterious as the Mona Lisa’s.

The reliefs at the Bayon featured not only apsaras but also daily life — cockfights, festival celebrations, market scenes, meals being cooked. To me, this imbued the dreamlike temples with a sense of normalcy. In another time, ordinary people just like me lived here.

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The Baphuon was once one of the grandest of Angkor’s temples, built in the 11th century, but parts of it have long since collapsed. There is a giant reclining Buddha inside. Since the temple was dedicated to Hinduism the Buddha was probably added centuries later.

The Baphuon

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We had time to visit Neak Pean, a temple in the middle of what I call the Dead Marshes (it looked so much like how I imagined Tolkien’s Dead Marshes would look!). The temple’s pools were meant to cure diseases.

Neak Pean

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The “City of God Kings” remained on my mind well after our trip. I tried to search online for images of how Angkor’s ancient temples might have looked like in their heyday. Google did not disappoint. Scholars produced colourful overlays that show you the old and the new side by side, some even recreated the kingdom on video. The Smithsonian digitally reconstructed Angkor Wat, brightly coloured and gilded with shiny gold, a far cry from its present state.

More recently, laser scans revealed an intricate network of cities hidden beneath Angkor, suggesting a rich everyday life led by those who peopled it.

Source: The Conversation

The last lines of a poem came to mind as I reflected on Angkor (though it may be more appropriate for one of my previous posts):

And how one can imagine oneself among them

I do not know;

It was all so unimaginably different

And all so long ago.

The Gloomy Academic, Louis MacNiece

Think critically dear readers,

Liebster Award Pt. 2

Salamat Mr. A from A Barbarian in Gentlemen’s Clothing and Mikki from Mikki Bihon for the back-to-back nominations! Coming up with answers for these things is fun, but isn’t easy. 😅 If you’re looking for good, honest blogs to read, I’ve just named two. You’re welcome.

If you’re interested, here’s the earlier Liebster Award post I wrote sticking to the rules. Because I went through all the motions mere days ago, this time around I’ll just answer the new questions.

All in good fun!

Questions from Mr. A:

  1. Age, Height, and Weight? Old enough to remember what life was like without the internet, tall enough to reach the top shelf, and heavy enough to break bones.
  2. Have you ever borrowed a small amount of money and forgot to return it? No. a) I don’t really feel comfortable borrowing money so b) in the rare cases I do, I make it a point to return it as soon as I can.
  3. What is your most controversial opinion and why do you believe them? I don’t like being preggers. I love the end product though.
  4. Wearing a suit without a tie, yay or nay? Tell me why? Totally yay. Exhibit A.
  5. What blue-collar trade do you think is underappreciated? Why should people pay more attention to it? Construction workers and farmers. These are the people who’ll survive a zombie apocalypse.
  6. Why should every man be strong? Referring to the full spectrum of strength — physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — these are ideals for everyone, not just a particular gender. For fathers in particular and to paraphrase John Mayer, be strong for your kids. You’re modelling behaviour.
  7. Mind sharing cheap stay-at-home date ideas? A homemade sous vide steak (finished off with a sear on both sides in a hot skillet), a good bottle of wine, and Netflix is good enough for us.
  8. What hobbies would you suggest for men? Read. Smart is the new sexy.
  9. What outfit (or lingerie) does your significant other find insatiable? Birthday suits always work. For him, pwede na rin sa akin yung uniform nina Michael V sa Yabang o Panget, hahaha.
  10. Tell us about you, why should people follow you and read what you have to say? What do you think sets you apart from the rest? Hmm, I think everyone has a really good story to tell if we only take the time to listen. My approach to blogging has always been to write with a person in mind and treat the post as I would a conversation with a friend. Of course, the lens with which I view the world is as a Filipina OFW mom. If that interests you, my blog’s door is open and you’re welcome to stay if you like.
  11. Tell me what you think about me, what is your impression of me and my work? Like a neat glass of whiskey. 😊 If you can, do read about Mr. A’s ongoing fundraiser to save his mom’s house here.

Questions from Mikki:

  1. If you can blog about something that no one can ever read, what would it be? Probably my bout with new mom blues.
  2. What would have been your job if not for your current one? I play this game with myself all the time. 😁 Recently, I’ve daydreamed about being a sociologist or a librarian.
  3. Seeing how the pandemic has affected everyone in the world, would you consider migrating to another country? I’m staying put. But if I had to leave, maybe NZ. Jacinda Ardern has been so impressive throughout this ongoing crisis.
  4. What do you think would have kept you preoccupied if there was no coronavirus? Work. Haha. Vacation planning, hopefully.
  5. What skills would you love to learn? How to fry calamari a perfect, crispy golden brown.
  6. If you can forget someone in your life, who would it be and why? Maybe the Hub, so I get to relive the thrill of knowing him afresh à la 50 First Dates. Binabasa n’ya ‘to so charot lang haha. Hi boo ❤️
  7. If you can change one person today, who would it be and why? Certain Filipino leaders come to mind. The reasons are self-explanatory.
  8. If you die now, would you like to have another shot to live? Yes, absolutely. If so, would you like to continue living as yourself, or live as a new person? If I get to retain all my current memories, as myself would be great. Parang About Time, one of my favourite rom-coms.
  9. What is your idea of afterlife? A huge library with the world’s knowledge to immerse myself in, endless time to spend with loved ones, and zero responsibilities.
  10. If you can talk to anyone in the past, who would it be and what would you tell them? Both sets of grandparents, who passed away relatively early in my life. I never really got to know them. I want to listen to their stories in their own voice.
  11. Name a song that best fits your life so far. Vienna, by Billy Joel.

Enjoy,

Featured image by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Liebster Award

Thanks to Sheila from my ink impressions who tagged me for this!

Here are the rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  • Name 11 fun facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers.
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions.

My answers to the questions given to me:

  1. Would you rather want the ability to communicate with plants or animals? Plants. The oldest tree in the world is over 4,700 years old. Think of the stories it has.
  2. How do you start your day? With a cup of coffee.
  3. What is your favourite scent? Coffee again! Or my kid’s hair.
  4. What is a piece of furniture you would like to make? Maybe a nice chair. Because chairs can be fckn awesome.
  5. What are you most likely to be famous for? Let it be said that I tried.
  6. What movie title best describes your life? True Grit. Chos! Baka Young Adult.
  7. Explain the story behind one of your scars or tattoos. I have a longish faded scar on one leg. I got it by falling, in the most dramatic fashion, down a flight of stairs.
  8. What’s the most interesting place you have ever been to? Too many, each place has its magic.
  9. What is something you learned last week? I learned about foxing, and how humidity contributes to it. That made me sad. (In Singapore, you can’t escape the humidity.) Also, the sudden loss of someone so young always hits deep even if you don’t know him from Adam.
  10. What is the most memorable gift you’ve ever received? A scrapbook for my birthday from my then-boyfriend, now the Hub.
  11. Do you have a favourite post? Please share it. I wrote about our neighbourhood library.

11 “fun” facts about me:

  • I can wiggle my ears.
  • I’m a fan of Wes Anderson, Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan films. (Hands up who’s watching Tenet this weekend?)
  • I love listening to music a lot too. I sometimes pretend my life has a soundtrack.
  • My favourite Pinoy dish is lengua estofado, favourite Singaporean dish is bak chor mee.
  • I named my kid after one of my favourite video game characters.
  • I like horror. A lot. But I scare easily. 😅
  • My longest celebrity crush is Keanu Reeves. Ever since seeing him in Paula Abdul’s music video for “Rush, Rush.” Ayayay.
  • My top three most re-watched movies are: When Harry Met Sally, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and Pride & Prejudice (2005 version).
  • I like a lot of authors, but Haruki Murakami, Jeanette Winterson, and Roald Dahl are old favourites.
  • I once “stole” a book from a school library.
  • I’ve been mugged only once in my life — and it was in London (not the Philippines!).

The slam book format is fun, but it was a struggle to get to 11 (not to mention folks might already have answered stuff like this before). So, no pressure, answer the following questions only if you feel like it. 😊

11 questions for you:

  1. What are the top three movies that you like to re-watch?
  2. If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  3. If you can speak to any person in the world (living or deceased), who would he/she be?
  4. If you could choose one movie director to “direct” your life, who would that director be?
  5. Are you a cat or dog person?
  6. What makes you happy?
  7. What do you wish more people understood?
  8. Name your #1 pet peeve?
  9. What’s your favourite movie to quote?
  10. If you had a superpower what would it be?
  11. Do you have a favourite post? Please share it.

Enjoy,

Featured image by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Life in Miniature

I originally wrote this post back in June.

I had never heard of book nooks until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a subreddit dedicated to them. It’s a shelf insert for bookshelves, a little world sandwiched between your books. Book nooks combined two of my favourite things: books and miniatures. So, I instantly fell in love.

I wanted one! However, I had neither the time nor the creative muscle to make one of my own, so I was elated to find June (she’s on Instagram and Etsy). She’s a veterinarian by day and a book nook maker in her spare time. It’s amazing how much detail goes into each of her pieces. She makes each of the little books in her little libraries by hand, wraps teeny packages with bits of string, sews tiny cushions and upholsters doll-sized couches — you get the idea.

Her book nooks have themes: Harry Potter (very popular), vintage libraries, coffee shops, even an incredible Peter Pan-inspired nook (I spotted a small hook on the bedside table!).

Off to Neverland (Source: June’s Book Nooks)

I eventually landed on this particular book nook, which is one of the more topical ones in her portfolio. As soon as I saw it back in May, I knew “Main Street 2020” was special. My book nook arrived around a month after I ordered it, in bubble wrap and packing peanuts, all the way from Ohio. Notwithstanding the theme, I still can’t believe how gorgeously detailed it is. Can you guess what it’s about?

There are miniature hand sanitisers, face masks, and toilet paper (limit 1!) in the window display…

“Flatten the curve” signs and tiny newspapers announcing closures and lockdowns…

Cheap flights anyone…?

Even the road in front of the shop is marked out with little “X’s” for safe distancing.

It’s still grim out there. But with all the stress and the strangeness these past months have brought upon everyone, there is a small sense of comfort that this experience is universal.

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #11: Dinner in Beijing, China

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

I plan to write a full post on my trip to Beijing in the future. This is just about an interesting dinner we had the evening of our first day.

I was on work training in Shanghai for six weeks. My colleagues and I thought it would be a cool idea to take an overnight train up to Beijing for a weekend. None of us had been to China before, so we were planning day trips left and right: Suzhou, Hangzhou, Xi’an.

We arrived in Beijing late in the day. After settling in at our hotel, we wanted to get some dinner. Being in Beijing, all of us naturally thought to look for a place that served good Peking duck. We ended up in a random restaurant called Tiānfǔ Shíbā Xiāng. (Think it was 天府十八香, which I suppose could be loosely translated to Heavenly Province 18 Spices? I’m not too sure.)

The servings were huge, good value for money, and surprisingly tasty. We had the Peking duck we wanted; it was carved skillfully tableside. You have to place the duck –including slices of crispy, juicy skin — in thin Mandarin pancakes, add hoisin sauce, cucumber sticks, fresh scallions and voila! A delicious bite-sized duck wrap. Apart from that, we ordered pork dumplings, diced chicken, plates of spicy tofu, and two kinds of rice (egg fried rice and soy sauce rice). It really was quite a lot of excellent food.

Food aside, one of the more memorable things about the meal was some inadvertently funny translations of dish names on the menu.

To be fair, this was around ten years ago. Google Translate didn’t exist and some poor employee at the restaurant probably had to dig out a physical dictionary and translate all these somehow.

Now that I also have the benefit of knowing a little bit of Chinese, I can figure out some of the characters myself… KIDDING! Of course I used an app (shout-out to Pleco). Also, sorry about the quality of the photos. By this time, I hadn’t saved up for a decent camera yet.

So, let’s begin:

1. Rabbit Leg Singular Taste. The script is stylised so I can’t make the last character out. I only understand 兔 (tù, rabbit). Can anyone tell me what the rest means?

2. Squirrels GuiYu (松鼠桂鱼). I initially thought this was referring to squirrels of the nut-eating kind. Now, even a Chinese language newbie like me knows 鱼 (yú) means fish. This dish is actually called Squirrel Mandarin Fish, a very popular dish because the fish lacks bones. It belongs to Huaiyang cuisine, from China’s Jiangsu province. The dish is called “squirrel dish” because the way it’s presented resembles a squirrel’s tail. I wouldn’t mind having this the next time I get the chance.

3. Poached [various] animal offal (毛血旺). Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of dishes with offal ingredients (in fact, my all-time favourite dish is lengua estofado). But I generally prefer a bit more specificity when it comes to knowing what went in my soup. 😅 In Pleco, the name for the dish actually translates to “duck’s blood and beef tripe in spicy soup,” which kind of reminds me of Pinoy dinuguan (a delicious Filipino stew made from pork and pig’s blood).

4. Monolithic beef has generated a lot of income (铁板牛柳). I would like to think they meant this was a bestseller. 😂 The name of the dish translates to sizzling beef fillet served on a hot iron plate.

5. Bullfrog burning (小炒牛蛙). No, they don’t serve the dish burnt. This just translates to wok stir-fried bullfrog. And don’t knock frog meat until you’ve tasted it! Frog is a relatively common ingredient in Singapore, especially in congee. It tastes just like chicken (really!).

6. Shaozi soil egg (绍子土鸡蛋). No soil here! I think “绍子” may be referring to Shaanxi cuisine, which generally means dishes that are seasoned with many spices and condiments, including Sichuan peppers; while “土鸡蛋” literally translates to “soil eggs” but actually means free-range eggs, or eggs laid by home-kept chickens.

7. Chinese style hoecake (玉米饼). My friend’s favourite. I guess they should have just translated this as “corn cakes!”. And finally…

8. One for the world (一品天下?). This one had — and still has — me stumped. I think I can guess what the main ingredient is though!

My main takeaways from this menu are 1) tourists have it so much easier these days — clarity can be had with the tap of an app, 2) it’s easy to get things lost in translation, and 3) it pays to be a little adventurous.

If I could go back, I’d definitely order myself a sizzling plate of monolithic beef.

Think critically dear readers,

A Quiet Weekend

To give you some context: in 2019, 68.3 million passengers from all over the world went through Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Terminal 4 (or T4) is Changi’s newest baby, opened recently in October 2017. T4 has the capacity to handle 16 million passengers a year. It was previously the Budget Terminal, though after its reopening was anything but – T4 is the first airport I used that had self-service check-in, fully automated bag drops (the weighing scale was exact and unforgiving towards excess luggage), and a free entertainment corner equipped with an Xbox Kinect and pinball arcade machines. T4 also has a gorgeous interior styled to look like shophouses.

Source: Business Traveller

On the other hand, Terminal 2 (or T2) is ten times as old as T4 but as late as January this year it was looking to expand and increase capacity. Yes, January 2020 B.C. (before corona), which seems ages ago.

Both terminals have now been shuttered — in T2’s case, for 18 months, in T4’s case, indefinitely — driven by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Passenger volumes have declined by as much as 99% compared to last year, which isn’t surprising. Recently it’s picked up a little bit, but hardly back to B.C. levels.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we had a sudden hankering to visit the airport even though we had nowhere to go.

Manong GrabCar

Normally we liked lingering at Changi after sending relatives off, or dropping by on random weekends. Riding the Skytrains between the airport terminals is free and my kid always enjoyed the view — huge planes, assorted airport vehicles on the tarmac.

I know the airport might seem like an odd place to hang out. But here in Singapore it’s exactly what the government wants you to do.

Exhibit A: Jewel Changi, with its massive menu of shopping & dining options, its impressive indoor waterfall a.k.a. the Rain Vortex, the Canopy Park, and of course, Singapore’s flagship A&W outlet. (The queues at A&W when it first opened at Jewel were crazy, but to be fair it was making a comeback after a 16-year absence. By the way, does anybody remember the A&W branch at Greenbelt Makati back in the ’90s?)

Mask up!

Surprisingly, the link bridge to T2 remained open. We also caught a glimpse of the terminal itself. I expected it to be empty of course, but it was still strange to see it as quiet as a library.

Then, we headed back home on a train that was just as silent (at least until the change at Tanah Merah station).

Think critically dear readers,