Wednesday 14 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 7 - Wrapping it up

<p>I must say, our last day in Singapore started off very well. I had an appointment for a massage and facial at the Amarita Spa in our hotel at 10:00am that morning, and it was fabulous!! It was a much smaller spa than any I've been to, but they did have two steam rooms: one Finnish style (dry heat), one Russian style (wet heat); they also had two whirlpools and one "cold pool". There was only one other woman there when I arrived, so I'm guessing more people use the facilities in the afternoon. So it was nice to get some time alone before they called me in for my appointment. The same girl did both the massage and the facial, and she was exceptional at each. It was nice too having one technician too, because you didn't have to move after the message, and just continued to relax. I really liked the way she did the massage--long smooth strokes, using pressure points to work on individual knots rather than poking or pinching or kneading. Very nice. The facial was good too, she gave me a lot of really good tips on how to better take care of my skin, and it really helped to even up the texture of my skin considerably, as well as clear up the acne break-out I'd been battling since the wedding.

So by the time I left the spa I felt incredible. I headed up to the room for a quick shower and met up with Stephen, then we headed out to grab lunch before going to finish up seeing the botanical gardens.

We grabbed lunch at this great mini sushi supermarket thing in the bottom of one of the large shopping centers on Orchard Road. So we grabbed a table and ordered some drinks and dived in. Good sushi. Then we decided something sweet would go down well, before hitting the streets again to go to the Botanical gardens. So they had this white mousse cake with coconut flakes on top and what looked like coconut on the inside. I get it back to the table, take a big bite, and IT WAS ONION! Who in their right mind puts onion in cake? Evidently the chinese do. (do not trust the Chinese; they are malfunctioning)

At that point we jumped street side to grab a bus to head to the Botantical Gardens. We had forgotten our handy guidebook, so we used the street guide in the metro to figure out which bus number we needed. The bus came, we got on, got to the point where the bus *should* have turned to go to the Botanical Gardens, and it DIDN'T. So we hung tight, thinking "ok, maybe it's taking a different route." After a long ride, we finally decided to ask the bus driver, and low and behlod, that bus didn't go to the Gardens anymore. So she dropped us off at the next stop and instructed which bus we needed to get on to get to the Gardens.

So we hop on the next bus, and I grabbed a route schedule. It would have taken us over an hour by bus to get back, but we did recognize one stop that we knew for sure had a metro station, so we got on that one, and took the metro back to the stop where we got to the gardens before, and got on the right bus, making it to the gardens in less than 20 minutes.

This bus dropped us off at a different part of the gardens than previously, so we got to see quite a different section as we made our way back to the orchid garden to finish up where we left off. Unfortunately, the bromeliad garden was closed (Stephen was disappointed), but we got to see the rest of the orchids, which were amazing, but decidedly prettier when it was raining. There was something about the rain that made their colors even more vibrant than in full sun. Perhaps contrast with the grey sky? Who knows. However, as we were discussing this effect, the sky started to cloud over and bits of rain began to fall. Fortunately, it never turned into the downpour of our last visit, but it rained enough to make the gardens even more beautiful. We walked past several new areas in our quest to find a bus stop (our day for adventure, so we avoided hitting any one place twice), and finally found one after exiting hte gardens and walking for a few blocks. The gardens really are a place that one needs to spend several long afternoons over the course of several months to really appreciate--preferrably with a picnic.

So from that bus stop we decided to go back to Little India to pick up a few things we remembered at the last minute. I got the feeling that we were on the verge of some fabulous festival as many of the streets were now lined with vendors and there was a large tent in the center of one square with chairs and podiums set up. We would have loved to sit around and see what was about to happen, but we had dinner reservations at the top of the hotel (Equinox restaurant) so we had to go about our business.

Dinner that night was an intersting mix of fabulous and unnerving. We had been reminded when we made our reservation that there was a dress code, so Stephen donned his suit for the first time and I wore a nice skirt-top combo with a favorite pair of heels. We looked quite the dapper pair and headed to the downstairs bar for a drink before heading up to dinner.

The view from the 70th floor looking out over the harbor and financial distric was really amazing; our waiter, with his obsessive compulsive lurching, was not. At first it was really pretty annoying, and then became comical as the night wore on. I'll spare you all the details, but it was pretty obvious he was new, and had not had a chance to familiarize himself with much of the menu. The dinner itself was really quite tasty, an interesting mix of french and asian cuisine.

Stephen informed me that the menu style was very french, except for the lack of "set" menus. Evidently, most truly French restaurants have several proposed meals that include 1 or 2 choices of appetizer, entre, dessert, cheese and wine for a set price, I guess figuring the chef knows what will taste good together better than the average Joe (dunno, just guessing). We ran into this at a few other places, and really found it to be the best way to make a dinner decision with unknown foods, so maybe the French have something there.

Anyway, Equinox only had one set menu, and it didn't really appeal to either of us, so we ordered a la carte. Stephen ordered Lobster Ravioli, I got braised lamb with this rasberry-burgandy sauce. Really, really yummy. Followed up with a trio of Creme Brulee's: Orange Spice, Chocolate, and Regular. Very, VERY tasty indeed. We stayed for quite while drinking tea and coffee, talking and reflecting over the city. Stephen became quite overjoyed when he found out they had a particular kind of apple-pear liquor that he hadn't had since he was in France. Nice crowning moment to the evening, and to the trip in general.

Unfortunatly the night didn't contain much more (though we were both in the mood for a stroll), since we had to be leaving the hotel at 4:00 the next morning to catch our 6:50 flight. Bleah. So back to the room for a quick nap, and then packed. And thus our trip ended. Quiet, full, contented, well-dressed, and reflective. Amazing city, fascinating country, definitely a place to return to. 

Tuesday 13 January 2004

Honeymoon Day 6 - Little India and Kampong Glam

<p>Today we ventured back into Chinatown to pick up Stephen's new suit, and then headed over to Little India and the Malay sector.

We got to Chinatown a little after 10am, and not a whole lot was open. It took us a good while to find the tailor shop again, as the numbering system is not as intuitive as it first appears. But we found it after not too long of looking, and Stephen tried on his suit. You know, it's amazing how a well fitted item of clothing can make a person look quite stunning. Stephen is usually quite attractive, but this suit, well, suits him perfectly! He was very pleased, after of course giving it his typically deep inspection, and asking more questions than I thought possible about its construction.

While Stephen was changing back into his street clothes, the shopkeeper turned to me and mentioned that he had a friend whose jewelry store "down the street" was having a sale. Would I like to go? Wanting to be polite, and more than a little curious I said ok, and asked for the address, to which the shopkeeper responded "I get it for you, I call my friend." Ok, sure. So, Stephen comes back out and the shopkeeper is talking a mile a minute, in both English and Mandarin, and the next thing I know a taxi pulls up to the shop door. Turns out the shopkeeper called a taxi to take us to the jewelry shop of his friend. This is where things start to get odd. The taxi driver turned out also to be the cousin of the jewelry store owner. He chats with us a bit, asking us where we're from, how we like Singapore, etc, etc. (He did sneer a bit when he found out I studied Economics and International Relations, and quickly turning the subject back to Stephen's job. Grrrr.) All the while he's driving. Now, Chinatown is not that big, and we were quickly out of it and headed downtown. . .and he keeps driving. . .and driving. Finally, after many worried looks pass between Stephen and I, he pulls up in front of a very rich looking building, which said in very prominent and snooty letters: The Singapore Gem Trading Exchange. Great. He escorts us through the security guards, and into a showroom manned by more hostesses and sales personnel than customers by a ratio of 30:1. Even better. So Stephen and I attempt to wander through the various cases (all of which housed beautiful gems in terribly gaudy settings that were way overpriced), trying to figure out how long was polite to stay and yet not be expected to purchase anything. Fortunately we made it out with our wallets and credit lines intact and no jewelry. Friend down the street, my hiney!!

The upside of all of this is that we were just two blocks from our hotel, and were able to drop off the suit before heading back out to Little India and Kampong Glam.

Now this was quite the experience. Definitely the poorer section of town financially, it was rich in sounds and smells of the Middle East. Also fabulous was the fact that the shopkeepers were pretty hands off, offering initial assistance , but otherwise stood back unless summoned or to explain some eccentricity or culture peculiarity; unlike in Chinatown, where you are constantly harassed in multiple languages to "come inside, have a see, best (insert good here) in Singapore, we make you good deal." Very nice change indeed. Also, I am convinced that Indian women have the best end of the fashion world. Not are the fabrics beautiful, sporting the best embroidery man is capable of, but they're comfortable! Long tunics with loose fitting pants and a scarf/shawl (forgive me Lynn, I don't know all the correct terms). Yup, that culture definitely gave their women the better end of the bargain there, and I'm jealous, as well as half tempted to buy one, just for the sheer beauty of the clothing.

After much wandering about the shops, we came to the largest mosque in Singapore, the Sultan's Mosque. We were allowed to go inside (fortunately I had bought a pretty scarf, and had it with me), and wander all but the prayer halls, for good reason. There were a few people around, but otherwise we were free to explore. I wish I had more information about all the symbolic placement of the various arches, pillars, and other architectural and ceremonial elements to better appreciate the space though. But it was very interesting, especially to quietly watch the prayers of the faithful there. Different traditions are astounding, and, at least in this temple, the humility before God was very evident in the postures and expressions of those praying.

Back onto the street, we wandered about some more, taking a fabulous curry lunch in a little shop in Historic Little India. It was served on a large leaf, with lots of pappadam (sp?) and ginger drink. MMMMMM good stuff. Though we haven't been able to find the fabulous mint chutney since the zoo. I may have to track down a recipe.

From there we walked over to the area of Temples, and to do so passed through the closest thing to slums we have yet found in Singapore. The buildings had definitely seen better days, and a few tattered beggars were on the other side of the street. The interesting thing was, that this area was also under the most intensive construction we had yet seen. The book I read on the plane coming over here (From the Third World to the First by Lee Kuan Yew, Christmas present from my in-laws--Thank You!!) mentioned that the government subsidised modernization of many old (pre-independence) apartment blocks, and so I can only assume that what was going on. It was interesting, because just across the street, was completely modern apartments. Fascinating.

Moving on, we came to the temple area where four Buddhist and two Hindu temples sat, more or less, next to each other. Both Hindu temples had prayer services going on, so those could only be viewed from the outside, and were stunning. More layered statues in a pyramid shape, with walls adorned by more colorful statues. Listening to the chants of the worshippers was a beautiful experience, and made the entire complex come alive with the sounds. The waves of heat made many of the figurines shimmer and almost dance with the rhythm of the voices inside.

Further on, we came to the Buddhist temples, which we were allowed to enter. Only two of them we really understood much as they had some limited information available in English, but all were fascinating to behold, and displayed an interesting mix of the various ethnic symbolism of the area.

The largest was established by a Thai monk in the 1920s, and features an enormous Buddha statue, some 50 feet tall and several hundred tons, as well as several relics including a piece of bark believed to come from the tree under which Siddhartha gained enlightenment and a replica of the Buddha's foot print set in mother of pearl. The entrance was guarded by a four headed statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, the creator, meant to guard the temple from all four corners. There was also a statue of Ganesh (elephant-man god of fortune) in one corner that was associated with the early life of Siddhartha. Fascinating symbolism that. By far the most interesting part of the temple was the series of murals around the base of the large statue depicting the life of Siddhartha/Buddha and his path to enlightenment.

Across the Street was the Leong San See temple built about a decade earlier than the previously mentioned one, that is about half Buddhist, half Hindu. It is dedicated mutually to the Hindu goddess of mercy and compassion as well as the "Sakyamuni" or "Laughing" Buddha. Unlike all of the other temples, this one did not ask its visitors to remove their footwear, and allowed us to wander all parts of the temple pretty much unhindered, except for asking us to explore it in a clockwise motion so as to properly respect the energies of the space. This temple was much more ornate than the previous one, with the ceiling made of exquisitely carved & gilded rafters, featuring an entire room of gilded ancestral tablets over a central altar. It was set one room inside of another, which, presumably, aided in the meditation of the worshippers as they moved through their prayer cycles from the entrance near the penitential kneelers, to the shrine of the patron goddess, to the ancestral room through another mini shrine to another manifestation of the patron goddess, and through a second minor shrine area to a lesser manifestation of the Buddha, back to the main room only in front of the final Buddha, and before exiting, the shrine to the patron gods of the city. I really enjoy all the symbolism of the various buildings, and am very glad that these two temples had detailed cards to help out the unschooled better appreciate the rich surroundings.

Back out onto the street, we made our way back to the hotel, to change, and head out to Orchard Road for a bit of shopping and dinner. We took dinner in a more upscale version of the hawker center, and got some seafood noodle soup, which Stephen really enjoyed but I was not all that fond of. I've found that I enjoy the Indian and Malaysian foods much better than their Chinese counterparts. The flavors suit my stomach better and are much less likely to contain bits of anchovies. Bleah.

So, after some more wandering about, back to the hotel to plan out our final day in Singapore--Wednesday.

Honeymoon - Day 5 - Bird Park and Oriental Gardens

Since Sunday wasn't a very "productive" day, we decided to make Monday a big day by visiting the Jurong Bird Park and the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.

Unlike getting to the zoo, we got to the bird park with no problem and were inside the gates by 11:30. It is built on pretty much the same principle as the zoo, only with more cages since birds are substantially more mobile than most other animals, but usually even the "cages" were large enclosed areas several tens or hundreds of feet tall. They also had trained falconers on hand to help exercise the large birds of prey, of which they had numerous species, ranging from the smallest kites and miniature hawks to bald eagles. But still, many birds were allowed mostly free range of the park including most of the pelicans, ducks, flamingos, herons, and storks. The flamingo pond was home to some 1000 birds! A huge stink, but really interesting to see a flock that large interact.

They also had this amazing Waterfall area housing the largest man-made waterfall, cascading some 100 feet high, with the net probably another 50-100 feet above that. It housed numerous birds, mostly tropicals. There was construction being done on the upper pathways, so we could only go so high among the trees, but it was enough to get a lovely view, and see quite a few birds.

Looping back around, we had lunch overlooking the flamingo pond (inside looking through glass to keep our appetite from the smell), and then took in the rest of the park.

They had a miniature Rain forest set up to emulate the environment of East Asian rain forests, where, again lots of birds roamed/flew free. You had to be pretty careful here, as these birds were substantially more land based than in the waterfall area, and were prone to darting out of the bushes behind or in front of you, and then squawking loudly if you got too close (dumb birds). One of the crowned pigeons evidently found Stephen on the offensive side, as it came up and bit him on the foot as he was standing there watching me take pictures of other birds in the wooded area. The next thing I knew he yelled and was doing a dance that was him halfway trying not to kick the offending bird and yet keep a safe distance. So we made a bee-line for the exit, as two of them now chased us. Fortunately our legs were longer, and they didn't try to fly so we made it out in one piece. Unfortunately, this experience has not done much to cure his habit of booting pigeons, and had this particular variety not been labelled endangered and there been many cameras around, that one would have gotten kicked as well. Stupid bird.

Moving on we came to a huge hummingbird exhibit (including their own enclosed large tentish thing), pelicans, toucans and horn bills. I didn't realize the latter two got so big!! Even with cages some 25-30 feet wide and 60-70 tall, they didn't have enough room to fly more than a few seconds worth. When they flapped their wings, it sounded like a helicopter getting started up. They had wingspans easily 6-8 feet wide. Beautiful birds, and the only ones that it really pained me to see caged up as all the others (including the largest of the birds of prey) got plenty of room to exercise at least once a day.

The last two exhibits were probably my favorites of all though: the parrots and the owls! The parrots were in a completely open area, and were awaiting their own netted tent to fly around in. As it was, they were free to roam the park during the day (for the most part), and then were caged at night. Very lively birds, it was fun to watch them play, and see all the normal items they turned into toys. In many ways, parrots seem to be the monkeys of the birds: highly intelligent and playful.

The owl exhibit was really neat, as it was almost completely dark, except for a very dim light in the color range that particular species of owl could not see. They had 10-12 different species of owl, including a Siberian variety more adapted to seeing and hunting during the day, since the Siberian summers experience almost 24 hours of light for several weeks on end. Beautiful, beautiful birds. They had other nocturnal birds as well, but they weren't nearly as impressive as the owls.

Then, still having a good bit of energy left (and daylight) in us (must have been the good sleep of the night before), we headed to the Oriental Gardens. Just a short walk from the metro, they had a sign announcing that the Japanese section of the gardens was under renovations, and thus closed. Stephen was pretty disappointed, but the Chinese gardens turned out to be plenty to explore on their own. First we came to the 7 story pagoda, that from afar looked decorated with many colored lanterns; however, when we got close they turned out to be umbrellas!! The whole park was decorated in colored lanterns and umbrellas and various paper figurines to celebrate the Chinese New Year. So, a very good time for us to visit!!

We also found an extremely large bonsai garden, and got to watch one of the bonsai masters at work trimming some of the trees. Fascinating!! The large trees out front were over 250 years old, and many inside the garden of various sizes were aged near or older than 100 years. It's amazing to look at those works of art, and realize that it has taken numerous generations of masters to achieve the present state of beauty. Awe inspiring to say the least. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the Bonsai I had already filled up two picture cards and was on the third (yes, that's nearly 400 pictures in one day), so not many pictures of the gardens could be taken, but I have a feeling

Stephen is planning on going back while I'm at the spa on Wednesday morning.

So after exhausting our picture capacity, and staying right up until their closing time, we wandered through the rest of the gardens enjoying the festive decorations and holiday spirit. Then we hopped back on the MRT, and headed to Newton Circus for dinner.

Newton Circus is what is known has a "hawker" center, or a large open air food court with dozens upon dozens of vendors selling everything from the scarily familiar to the completely alien--all for really good prices. They are fantastic ways to sample the local cuisine without spending a fortune Since the day had been a hot, sticky one, even by Singapore standards (I will never complain about the humidity in Houston again), I opted for an Indian vegetarian dish that was part omelet, part fritter, and with lots of vegetables, foreign and familiar, served with this amazingly tasty spicy orange soupy sauce. Hit the spot! Stephen ordered beef satay and chomped his way through two portions. We both had two large glasses of lime juice topped off with kiwi and papaya for dessert. Now that's what I call a stellar meal, and all for less than S$30 I think hawker centers are going to be the staple of our dining from now on. Too good to pass up.

Sunday 11 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 4 - Botanical Gardens

Today we got a little bit of a lazy start after our full day today, and decided to take it easy and only hit the botantical gardens. We got there around noon and I figured out some more settings on my camera that made taking pictures with the overcast sky without a flash much easier. (yay for good cameras).

The botanical gardens are really amazing, with a swan pond and simulated rain forest as well as various subsets of gardens scattered throughout including a garden expressly dedicated to members of the ginger family. So we wandered for several hours and just got inside the orchid gardens when it started to sprinkle. So we broke out the umbrella (just had the small one with us) and continued on. Unfortunately, we only got through a little less than half the garden when the sky let loose with buckets full of rain, that inhibited our progress substantially as we only brought the one umbrellas with us and a backpack. So we took cover under a little pavillion thinking we would wait it out, but after a substantial amount of time it was obvious it was not going to quit anytime soon. So we packed it up after a snack, and walked leisurely through part of the gardens to get back to the bus stop, sharing the umbrella. Back at the hotel we dried off a bit, changed and hopped over to Nooch Noodle Bar for dinner. Very tasty indeed!! I had a Thai noodle concotion rich in garlic and ginger with duck meat and rice noodles, and Stephen had beef udon. Good stuff. Then some window shopping and back to the room for some down time, as we realized that we were both pretty tired and wanting a quiet evening alone. Something we haven't had for at least a month.

So not a whole lot here, tomorrow we plan to pick up the pace from today.

Honeymoon - Day 3 - The Zoo

Getting to the zoo was a bit of a challenge. The guidebook listed a couple of different was to get there, so using a detailed map we picked the one that looked the easiest, but when we got to that bus terminal there was a sign posted that said the bus we needed only ran on Sundays and public holidays. As this was a Saturday, we had to go to the next terminal, about a 10-12 minute metro ride away. Alas, we got there, got on the right bus, and were off to the zoo!!

At the zoo, we met these two really nice guys who had two extra free passes they got at school, and upon hearing that it was our honeymoon let us have them as a kind of a wedding present which was very very nice of them. I would have liked to have gotten to know these two guys a little bit better, but they went their own way after we got through the gates.

A few words about the zoo: there are very few cages as such, instead they rely on "natural" barriers, such as moats (with water and without), tree and brush lines, etc to keep the various animals in their little areas, and many are allowed

completely free reign of the park (some monkeys, most birds, some reptiles, etc). Also, usually, more than one type of animal exists in each area, giving it more of a biosphere feel. This concept does two things: 1) lets you get very close to the animals, but still stay safe; 2) Keeps the animals happier--even the big cats looked content. I absolutely fell in love with this zoo. Fabulous, fabulous place.

At this point, Stephen and I picked up a map of the zoo, and decided to pay the small fee (less than 2 USD) to ride the trolley, thinking it would give us some useful information on the zoo's inhabitants and allow us to see all of the exhibits. Not only did the trolley move too quickly for picture taking, but the information that it pro ported to provide was scanty to say the least; much more useful for getting around the zoo, rather than really seeing it. So we hopped off at the next stop, and footed it, which turned out to work really well.

I don't know that I can remember all of the animals that we saw, because this zoo is amazingly huge, but they had quite a few species that you don't typically see in American zoos (in my experience). The zoo "specializes" in primates, so they had three large areas dedicated to them: one specifically for Orangutans (no I didn't get to have breakfast with them), one for Baboons, and one large area that probably had 7-8 different species each in their own little sub-section. The Organutans were probably my favorite. There was this one in particular that had gotten a hold of a burlap sack and was throughly amused with it. Great thing to watch!! There were several baby orangutans as well, and although you could tell the animals were used to humans from a far, the mothers of the little ones got pretty anxious at one point and bundled them off to a secluded area. Another great thing about this zoo--the animals can "escape" if they get overwhelmed or scared. No wonder most of the animals seem healthier here than in almost any other zoo I've been to.

There was also this little area that was more enclosed (but still pretty big) that was called "The Fragile Forest" that simulated the edge of a rainforest. Inside they had lots of birds and a ton of butterflies!! Easily hundreds of them--enchanting really--like walking into a fairy tale. After breaking free of the trance of the butterflies, I noticed in the upper corner of the area there were these large fuzzy creatures that turned out to be giant bats!! These bats were easily the size of small house cats. But very tame, and mostly holding still as it was their feeding time. There were also several sloths and two tree kangaroos!! The tree kangaroos were quite cute, and just like regular kangas, except with long claws for climbing.

After seeing many more animals, we came to the center of the zoo that had some eateries, so we decided to stop for lunch. The nice thing is that unlike most zoos, the food was not over priced, and wow was it tasty!! They had this tandoori chef (Indian) that was amazing- he cooked everything to order (with a bit of pre-prep admittedly) and it was beyond good. Stephen and I split an order of chicken tikka (came with a cucumber type salad and mint chutney- mmmmm mint chutney), garlic nan, and vegetable curry. Stephen even went back for seconds!! (for those of you who know his typical appetite, know this is quite a statement) Even two days later he's commenting on how good it was.

So with full tummies and rehydrated we continued through the rest of the zoo. The zoo doesn't have a very large water exhibit, in fact it's the smallest setting with the fewest animals: dozen penguins, four sea lions, two manatees and various pelicans and other birds of that type. Being in a very humid and tropical climate, I can see how it would be difficult to maintain healthy animals that typically like cold wet weather.

Else where there were Pygmy Hippos (with a newborn), regular Kangaroos (I was surprised at how small they were), Baboons, Elephants (newest addition) and surrounding the largest Primate area there was this moat. Beside the moat there was a sign that said: "Please do not feed the fish. Bites can cause serious injury." So, Stephen scoffed a bit, doing his little rant thing, and then we noticed a zoo guy with a large bucket of fish and a stick coming up to the edge of the water. We thought maybe he was going to feed the monkeys, until he stuck a fish on the end of the stick, held it over the water and this huge splash occurred that coincided with the disappearance of the fish. Turns out the moat is populated with 6 Giant Arapaimas that average 1.8 meters long (~6 feet), and about as big around as a decent sized tree (bigger around than most trees in NW Oklahoma). They are the largest fresh water fish in the world, typically found in the amazon river. They're also beautiful fish, with red streaks around the edges of their scales. Ugly faces though, but one is allowed to be less than pretty when you can devour most other species in a single bite. Now we know why they don't need fences in the primate complex, though I wonder how many monkeys they lost to the giant fish.

After wondering through the rest of the zoo, and getting most of the exhibits it was nearly 4:30, and we decided to head back to town to change for dinner. We had originally planned to visit an orchid farm on the way back, but decided instead to focus on the botanical gardens the next day, that had a huge orchid area. So we passed on the orchids in the near time.

We took a different bus back to the metro (different station too, but no worries), and this bus took us through the residential sections of Singapore, which were very interesting. There were obvious differences in housing, but it all seemed to be mixed together and none of the complexes seemed to be truly slum-like. They also had banners advertising all kinds of classes: English comprehension, Children's Robotics, etc. We also passed a *huge* library to rival in size most small universities. Very nice.

At the bus stop was a kind of shopping bazaar, and we got a soy-milk peanut honey snack, that was interesting. Still not sure if I liked it, but it hit the spot for the time being.

We decided to hit Boat Quay for dinner and drinks, supposedly a hot night spot right on the bay. It didn't take long after our arrival to find a tasty restaurant for the famed local Black Pepper crab. The wait staff, while very attentive (I thought it was a bit of over-kill with the hovering and obsessive filling of our glasses after two sips, but Stephen found fabulous) didn't speak English as well as they could have, and I must have misunderstood something, because the next thing I knew the maitre-d was holding a live crab next to my ear! So after a bit of shock and stammering I got through to him that that particular specimen would be just fine for my dinner. I think he wanted me to touch the blasted thing, but the squirming mass of legs and unchecked claws were a bit of a hinderance. No groping of my pre-cooked dinner, thank you. Low-class probably, but hey, at least I have all my digits intact, though it probably should have been a clue that my social graces may not quite have been up to the task at hand.

When they served the fabulous concoction of legs, spices and meat, they also brought out a nut cracker too small to fit around most of the part needing cracking, chopsticks, a linen napkin and something resembling a cross between an escargot fork and a crowbar. It didn't take long for me to kindly request a fork and knife and ponder how I was going to get at the tastiness inside the shell without getting it all over the table cloth and my blouse. Stephen and I both commented that we had never before eaten crab at an establishment that did not also provide bibs. Yeah, this was going to be an experience. Soooooo, with a marked lack of grace and a bit of good ole American brashness I dived into the crab, which was possibly the best thing I had eaten in months. Just the right balance of spice and sweetness, my mouth still waters at the thought of it, though I'm sure the maitre-d still cringes at the sight of me with fingers, fork, cracker and escargot-fork-thing attacking his chef's culinary masterpiece. It got so bad that they eventually brought me a finger bowl, which was greatly appreciated, but none of the crab ended up on the tablecloth or my blouse!! (I consider that a great accomplishment, thank you) And I got as much of the meat out of the sucker as I could find--and it was worth all the work.

After tipping them well, and expressing our thanks we walked down the rest of Boat Quay (pronounced like "key") being accosted by various people wanting us to dine, dance or drink at the various clubs, bars and restaurants. We eventually landed at a little coffee shop for dessert and coffee/tea. Very tasty, though I'm sure they made the cheesecake with soy rather than real milk products. Not the first time we've come across this either. Singaporians have a heavy dose of soy in their diets that's for sure. After eating and drinking and people-watching, we decided to take the short walk back to our hotel rather than the metro, and enjoy the lovely night.

The walk was pleasantly uneventful, as only it could be in Singapore at 11:30 at night, with only the sounds of traffic and construction breaking the night silence. It still amazes me how utterly clean even the gutters are here.

So arriving back at our hotel, we hit the sack to get ready for another fun filled day. 

Friday 9 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 2 - Chinatown

After another fabulous breakfast, we headed into Chinatown where we spent the majority of our day. We made a quick stop by a diving shop we saw while on the boat tour, but they weren't open yet (it was around 11:30am). Shops here keep the strangest hours--most don't open until 10:00 or 11:00am and are open well into the night, usually midnight. This is definitely a schedule that I could get used to!! So after looking around, and not finding another one, we jumped back into the Subway, and got off in Chinatown. Chinese New Year is in two weeks so the whole area was decked out, and lots of street vendors were set up offering great bargains to get people ready for the upcoming holiday. We got quite a few souvenirs taken care of this way.

One place we stopped while looking at some things, invited us in, and offered Stephen an amazing deal to custom make a suit for him. We had already discussed that he desperately needed a new one, and were planning on getting one back in the States. This guy offered him a Marino Italian Wool Suit, hand tailored to his measurements, plus a silk shirt (also custom made) and tie all for the price of a very good suit in the US (though of much better quality than anything we could afford there). So we jumped on the deal, and it will be ready on Tuesday. Huzzah!! Now all he needs is a new pair of black shoes, and he will be set to go. The best part about the deal is that, this tailor will keep Stephen's measurements for life, and all we have to do to order another is email or call him, and he will ship it to the US for no extra charge! Whoo hoo!! So, if you're ever in Singapore, and want a good suit for an exceptional deal, stop by Master Hand Tailor Shop in Chinatown on Temple road, shop number 21. Evidently this guy also makes suits for Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, so his craftmanship is quite good. I'm thinking that after I get my first job that pays over 50k, we'll have to come back here, and have him make one for me. *big grin*

Then we wandered town Temple Street, and came to the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, Sri Mariamman. Built in 1826, the facade features over 70 Hindu deities in full color! It was a huge complex with many different alcoves and statuaries. They allowed us to take some photography in designated areas, and so I got some really amazing shots of the ceilings and various of the decorated facades!

Next we stopped off at People's Park Complex for a extra tasty lunch in the food court. I got Chicken, mushrooms and noodles in a brownish sauce that was obviously fish based, and Stephen got this crazy seafood soup concoction that looked tame enough, but evidently packed enough chili peppers to clear out his sinuses for the rest of this life. Interesting to say the least, and pretty tasty to boot, though it left me wanting something a bit more familiar (or at least recognizable) to munch on, so we stopped at several vendors to try some of the festive foods available: Thai Coconut (they chopped the top off of and stuck a straw in to drink), Sugar Cane juice, and various types of candied fruits and herbs (ginger, GREEN papaya, tangerines, dates, etc).

Then wandering around we came into "historic" Chinatown, and came across a series of Buddhist temples, the largest of which was Thian Hock Keng, dedicated to the Goddess of the Moon and Sea, as well as a Female Buddhisatva (forgive my spelling). This particular Buddha's focus was on compassion. Fascinating, and amazing craftmanship.

Next door was a Mosque under repairs, but not much further down the street we came to the oldest Mosque in Singapore, Al Abrar. They were having lessons inside, so visitors were prohibited unfortunately. Still quite impressive. It's really interesting how these major religious buildings are set on street level with facades that almost blend into the surrounding area, whole area something of a mystical feel. So paying attention to where you are going is a major plus.

Then we wandered through this beautiful park, coming across several minor temples to various Buddas or Hindu deities, some of which were no more than a statue in a wooden box, others were the size of a standard shop with a little place for people to kneel off the street. Again, lent the whole area a pious atmosphere, and indeed this area of the city was substantially quieter than that filled with vendors and New Year's preparations. The park especially was a nice repose for our tired feet, and presented some nice opportunities for contrast with the surrounding apartment blocks, skyscrapers, and tree lined lanes.

Then we braved the vendor streets once again to head back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool to refresh tired muscles, a warm shower, and then off to dinner and more walking in the Sun Tech City shopping plaza, the LARGEST mall in a country where shopping is *the* national past time. This turned out to be our craziest adventure yet. 

First of all, we walked nearly two miles to get to the mall, ALL of which was underground, one endless string of shops and eateries. So we get there, and Stephen picks the Sushi place that is on the other side of where we are; so, we walk another mile, get there, and it is the weirdest experience of our lives. First of all, they had this conveyor belt that moved plates of sushi through the restaraunt and past all of the tables--the catch? You're not allowed to actually eat it. Then we noticed these computer moniters that said "order here", but you weren't actually supposed to use them. They brought us paper menus instead, that listed California Rolls as "Premium" sushi. So we ordered Bento boxes: Chicken Katsu Don for me, and a mixed sushi box for Stephen, both of which came with miso soup. We get them, and my box had fried chicken, fried tofu, and rice that had crushed up anchovies on it. The miso soup was even reconstituted. Yeah, definitively not tasty. Stephen's seemed a bit better, but he didn't recognize most of it, which was probably what made it appetizing. As discovered earlier in the day, it is amazing what you are willing to eat if you don't know what it is. Yes indeed, the ole "close your eyes and try it trick" from childhood came in handy. So, we finish with "dinner" and walk the 4 miles back to the hotel. The good part of this whole thing is that we discovered a book shop and got the bus and detailed city map that we need to plan tomorrow's adventure, which hopefully will be a little easier on the taste buds. It did end well however, as we ordered dessert from Room Service. :) Cherry pie with ice cream. The best thing I've had all day.

Where might the next destination be, you ask? Tomorrow's agenda includes the Zoo and the Orchid Gardens. They're a bit out of the center, but only by around 30 minutes (bus and metro, so we'll get to use our nifty cards on the bus). Now, I'm going to pay some more attention to the dessert that just arrived and my darling husband. Ciao!

Thursday 8 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 1 - Historic Singapore

To no one's surprise, Stephen was up a dawn and cracking to go; fortunately, he let me sleep until 8:30am while he made coffee and puttered about the room trying to make just enough noise to wake me, but not enough to make it quite obvious that's what he wanted to do. It was really kind of cute. *grin* The hotel gave us complimentary breakfast tickets, that we redeemed--mm good stuff. A really nice assortment of breakfast foods from a variety of cultures. There was this Thai oatmeal stuff that looked pretty tasty, but I decided that red peppers would probably not be the best thing on my stomach that morning, but maybe for tomorrow. *wink wink*.

Then we headed to out to see the city!! We really could not have asked for a prettier first day. A few rain clouds threatened late in the morning, but cleared off with little other than blocking the sun for a few hours and adding to the already oppressive humidity (didn't believe that it could get worse than Houston--welcome to the tropics!). But we braved it, venturing into the vast shopping centers that dominate underneath the city when we needed a break from the heat or when an entrance looked particularly appealing.

We spent most of the day in "old" Singapore and the area right around the hotel. The first thing we did was head across the street to the WWII monument, which is an obelisk made of four free standing pillars joined at the top, with an urn thing in the center surrounded by fountains. Really quite pretty, a fitting testament to the plight of all of East Asia during WWII. 

Then we headed down the street, past the Singapore Sporting Club (including several cricket fields--now there's a game I really don't understand), to the Anglican Church, which was built in the 1850s and to this day is not air-conditioned. I could not imagine how stifling it must be when full with the already overbearing humidity. It was really pretty on the inside though, and set on some beautiful grounds, that, for whatever reason, were being used partially for downtown parking.

After that we wondered by the Supreme Court and old City Hall, neither of which we were allowed to enter as court was being held in the former, and they were in the middle of a business function in the latter. Neat from the outside though. It's really neat to see the neoclassical facades punctuated by palm trees and giant ferns. A bit of cognitive dissonance, but provides an interesting insight into the mindset that must have built this place.

Past these buildings we came to the landing site of Sir William Raffles, who first opened Singapore up to World Trade, establishing it as the basis of the economy to be resurrected in the 20th century, leading to it's grand economic "miracle". Behind the statue, you can see some of the taller towers of the financial district.

From here, we walked around the main river banks, checking out the sculptures gracing the outside of the Asian Civilizations Museum and the various bridges.

We didn't go into any of the museums today, preferring to enjoy the beautiful weather, and saving those for a rainy day, literally.

In light of the beautiful weather, we decided to take a boat tour of the Singapore River to learn a bit more about the various bridges and buildings along the banks. It was a bit disappointing in this regard, but we got some spectacular pictures from the water, and got to give our feet a rest and sit in the shade.

The bumboat (seriously, that's what they call it!) let us off across the river and we made our way through the Ft. Canning Gardens. It had a little walk way that every so often had signs explaining much of the pre-colonial history of Singapore, as well as pointing out some of the more significant vegetation. The trees here are really amazing, and appear to all coexist with various types of ferns and vines that over the outside of them. It kind of makes them look like something out of a science fiction novel.

About half-way through the park, we stopped at a little shopping center and had lunch at Don's Noodle shop. I had ramen with vegetables and prawns and Stephen had Udon, stealing some of my shrimp if I didn't keep a close eye on him. hehehe. His dexterity with chopsticks allowed him to steal more than a few. After that, we stopped at another little shopping center to pick up some personal items before going back to the hotel to download the pictures and allow me to change shoes. The combination of humidity and a goodly amount of walking meant my feet were pretty swollen, but a brief rest and a more comfortable pair of shoes got us back out on the trail (so to speak), and we caught the MRT (subway) back over to the Canning Gardens to finish the tour there (with freshly cleaned memory cards).

The MRT system here is really swank. Instead of buying tokens or the flimsy paper tickets with magnetic strips (that tear easily or get jammed in the machines), they issue credit card like things, that you merely hold up to the sensor at the subway gates and they let you pass. It doesn't charge you until you exit the system (again by waving the card in front of the sensor). They're also supposed to work the exact same way on the bus system, but we've yet to try that out.

Back to the Ft. Canning gardens, fed and rested, we toured through an old cemetary. In the 1970s they went through and cleared out all of the grave stones, and set them into the walls surrounding the area. They left a few up in one little corner, but the vast majority now form the wall. A really cool idea to say the least, though I imagine that family members of those "transplanted" may not be too thrilled with the idea.

From there, we toured through the spice gardens, most of which were not in flower, but those that were, were quite stunning. I also learned a good bit about the various plants that I eat regularly, but never knew how they grew. For instance, vanilla grows on a vine! So that was pretty cool.

The spice gardens turned onto a working archeological dig site, where most of the knowledge of "Pre-Raffles" Singapore comes from. So we toured through there, learning a good bit about the culture as it was before the arrival of the british. Evidently, they were not the first ones to realize it's potential as a trading post, and spent most of the 1300s, 1400s, and 1500s bouncing from one Asian empire to the next. Not really conducive to trade, I wouldn't think, but it seemed to be enough to keep the area going economically.

At this point it became obvious that we needed more picture space, and just happened to come upon the largest Tech mall in the world. So, naturally, we went in, and found a really good deal on another picture card, and enjoyed looking through some technology that is either unavailable or horrendously expensive in the states, but readily available here. Guess it really does help to be located so close to all the major electronics manufacturers.

Thirsty again, and just around the corner from the historic Raffles Hotel, we stopped in to have a drink and a snack; I could not resist having a Singapore Sling (despite the fact it contains gin *bleah*), and it was surprisingly good. Stephen, being responsible, had lime juice. We shared a platter of satay (Indian/Malay version of shish-kebobs), and being a bit tired, hopped back to our hotel for a nap and a shower (the humidity had taken its toll) before popping over to Chijmes for dinner.

Chijmes is an old nunnery, converted to a shopping mall and set of eateries. We didn't get to go into any of the shops or the old church, as they were closed by the time we got there; but it's on the agenda for tomorrow!!

We had a fabulous dinner at one of the little eateries (Breeze Garden), and Stephen discovered that yes, some people do even put hot chilies in ice cream. My desert was substantially less hot, but just as exotic: Sweet Basil Ice Cream (like green tea ice cream only not as tannin laden, really quite good). Stephen had Salmon for his main course, and I had duck. Mine was fabulous, though the vegetable selection was obviously constructed for looks and not for eating. I resisted the urge to take a picture of it, and picked around the edges as best I could (the center pieces were literally glued in place with cheese--could not get it apart to save my life).

By this point we were both pretty tired, despite the nap, so back to the hotel we went to rest up before hitting the town again tomorrow. Until then!! 

Wednesday 7 January 2004

Honeymoon - Getting There

Stephen worked, and got off work late, so we didn't end up actually leaving Austin for Dallas until nearly 5:30. This is where living on the North side actually came in handy, as we almost completely missed rush hour traffic and were headed North at a decent clip.

We finally got to Dallas and met up with some friends for a late dinner at Sushi Ikara--good stuff! It's located in a shopping complex on the corner of Legacy and Coit Streets in Plano. They pretty much only offered rolls, but a really good selection of them that would please almost anyone. We got a variety of rolls, both fresh and cooked, and I actually enjoyed most of them, including the two new ones: the New York roll (crab on top, cucumber, radish, and avacado rolled inside) and the Dragon roll (eel and avacado on top of the traditional California Roll). Then we headed over to the Bed and Breakfast (Country Place: getting a little lost along the way, but nothing we couldn't recover from, though stopping for a map eventually got us back on track. So we ended up not arriving to the B&B until nearly 11, at which point we went straight to bed, since we had to be up around 4:00 the next morning to be at the airport by 6:00.

06-07 January--Really Long Day, not sure where one ended and the other began.

Needless to say, 4:00am came too soon, but we drug ourselves out of bed, showered, and headed to the main room of the B&B where a delightful breakfast of

fruit, tea, and homemade bread. Just the right thing that early. Chatting with the innkeeper a bit, we learned that he was the mayor of the small suburb and a little bit of history of the inn and the surrounding area. Like much of Dallas, the residents are attempting to stem the tide of housing developments moving outwards from the city. Anyway, he was a very nice man, and we appreciated it very much that he got up to chat with us and do breakfast.

Then we headed off to the airport. It took us about 45 minutes to get there, but once there the only real line we had to wait in was to get to the ticket counter. If we had been travelling domestically we would have been able to check in electronically--even with baggage. Needless to say, Stephen was chomping at the bit to try it out, and he may just fly United the next time we go anywhere just so he can. Silly boy. The woman doing the checking in was very nice, but misspelled my name on my boarding passes. This never came back to haunt me thank goodness, but every time I had to go through security, I could see the TSA agent debating with him/herself whether to let it slide or not. Fortunately, s/he always allowed me through. *whew* We were supposed to have a direct flight from Dallas to Hong Kong, and I'm not sure what happened to that, but when I printed the updated itenerary on Monday, it showed a San Francisco leg that wasn't on our original booking. Strange. Aside from that and a 1 hour delay, our flight to San Francisco was pretty uneventful; though, during our gate change, we somehow missed the shuttle to take us to the international terminal and had to repass Security. Not a big deal, just extra hassle.

The flight to Hong Kong was really freaking LONG. Now the hop across the Atlantic isn't exactly short either, at 8-9 hours, but 14 hours on a plane--a packed plane seems like a lifetime. This flight was 3 full hours longer in the air than that it took to get to St. Petersburg. And since we had window seats, getting up to walk around was something of a chore, so we slept most of the way. Stephen and I had also forgotten to bring snacks with us on the flight, which meant that we were dependant on their meal schedule, which was not NEARLY often enough for me, though it did include two full meals and a decent snack (ramen cup, apple, and a cookie). Contrary to what my beloved husband may say, I did not drink the plane out of hot tea (though it was good tea. Brewed fresh, and not from bags). I had only had ONE CUP before they had to go make more, and a little one at that. *looks indignant*. I am thinking, however, that we may need to look into upgrading to business class for the return trip or getting seats in the exit row. Poor Stephen had really sore knees once we got to Hong Kong, and could barely sleep though he looked exhausted.

Once we did get to Hong Kong, fortunately we had about an hour to walk around, which was realy nice for our circulation and for Stephen's aching limbs. Granted by this point we had been awake for over 24 hours with just a bit of sleep, but the thought of sitting for another hour before climbing into another aircraft was less than enjoyable. The Hong Kong airport was really nice though, with a cool jointed metal curved ceiling and very comfy chairs. Flying into Singapore at night was really spectacular though, and I wish that I could have gotten some good shots, but the double paned windows on the plane didn't allow for that. Otherwise, the flight to Singapore was equally as uneventful as the other two, but with substantially more sleep. We did get in well after midnight and it was nearly 1am by the time we passed through passport control (where they scanned our foreheads--very odd), collected our baggage and found a taxi to the hotel. We arrived at the Swissotel: The Stamford around 2am, and since Stephen didn't reconfirm the room before we arrived they didn't have a single room available, just a double, but they could get us into a Single room the next day. So we took that, and more or less immediately crashed. The rooms are VERY nice, and the beds quite comfortable. The rooms also have a SPECTACULAR view of the city. 

Note the lack of rain clouds. *happy dance* Next entry: Our first day

Tuesday 6 January 2004

Off to Singapore

The on season runs from November through January, so there will be lots and LOTS of rain for us, but it shouldn’t impede our fun much. We’ll just take it as it comes, and make sure to take an umbrella.

Here’s what our ten day forecast looks like:

Jan 5: Variably cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Low 76F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.

Jan 6: Variable clouds with scattered thunderstorms. High 87F. Winds NNE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 60%.

Jan 6 night: Scattered thunderstorms. Low 76F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.

Jan 7: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 8: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 9: scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 10: A few thunderstorms possible. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 11: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 12: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms. Highs in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 13: A few thunderstorms possible. Highs in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

Jan 14: A few thunderstorms possible. Highs in the mid 80s and lows in the mid 70s.

So we fly out tomorrow and arrive into Singapore at 11:57pm. Then our adventures in Singapore begin on Thursday, but as we all know, the process of getting there is often an adventure in and of itself.

Currently our to-see list in Singapore includes:

*Bird Park
*Chinese Opera
*Botanical Garden
*Parliament Complex
*Orchid Garden
*War Memorials
*Clark Quay
*Fort Canning Park
*Boat Quay
*Japanese and Chinese Gardens
*Various temples, churches, mosques
*Little India
*Chinatown (tea house!)
*Zoo (and night tour)
*Singapore History Museum
*Asian Civilizations Museum

Now I seriously doubt this will be the only things we will see, but it is definitely a place to start. We have a really awesome guide book (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Singapore ISBN: 0-7894-9722-0, if anyone is interested) that takes us area by area, so we'll start with that and see how much we can get done. There's no daily itenerary as such, but should be plenty full anyway.

Stephen’s dad also gave us a great list of places to eat as well, as we all know the best thing about traveling to new and exotic places is the food!!

So off we go on our first married adventure—monsoons and all. See you in Singapore!!