Blogging From All Over The World

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Missing the Final Four

Hey people I have a request - though I'm having a great time in Asia I'm sad to be missing George Mason's historic run to the Final Four. Can someone volunteer to record the Final Four and Championship game for me so I can watch when I get back? Tape, DVD, Tivo, whatever. All you Mason fans should be recording this stuff anyway, right? Speaking of, does anyone have a copy of the Uconn game? If you can record the FF, post a comment here to let me know
Go Patriots!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Uniquely Singapore

Not much new to report in the last week or so... I've settled into a daily routine of wake up, go to work, come home and relax, and go to bed - not much different than the U.S. We've started to repeat some restaurants such as the Chicken Rice place for lunch yesterday. I decided to write this blog entry to highlight some peculiarities of Singapore:

Beer - The most popular beer in Singapore by far is Tiger Beer, the country's own product. Its actually pretty good and can be had for cheap prices compared to everything else. Outside of Tiger, the common imports are Carlsberg, Heineken and, much to my content, Hoegaarden. Here's a tip - if you ever come to Singapore pick up as much beer as you can from the Duty Free shop at the airport, the prices are literally 1/3 the retail prices in the country. I'm gonna go have a Hoegaarden now and complete the rest of this blog...

Singlish - On my very first cab ride in Singapore at 7:00am from the airport, my driver went on a tirade of how, among other things, people in Singapore don't know how to speak English. I didn't quite get what he was talking about until really interacting with people here. "Singlish" is the term used for the Singaporean style of English, where often times sentence order is wrong, words and accents are added, and its generally funny sounding. "Lah" at the end of sentences is the big one, for example:

Satyan: Anji do you want to meet for dinner tonight?
Anji: Okay lah
Satyan: What the hell did you just say?
Anji: Hehe

Don't be surprised if Anji is talking funny by the time she gets back home in a couple weeks.

Durain - also known as the "King of Fruits". This goofy looking spiky fruit is the worst smelling natural fruit on earth. Its the national fruit of Singapore - i guess - and its definitely an "acquired taste". It smells so bad, like a rotten sulfury smell, that its banned on the MRT, buses (see photo), and in cabs. Yet these Singaporeans eat it fresh, in shakes, in cakes, in bread, you name it. We tried a slice of durian cake and it was the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten. I wish someone took a picture of the look on my face after taking a bite!

Food Servings - Not surprising, the serving size for a typical dish/meal in Singapore is, let's say, realistic. This is more about how in the U.S. we gorge ourselves, and the contrast was truly evident when Nima and I ordered in Pizza Hut last night. We ordered the "Family Meal" for 3-4, which included 2 "regular" pizzas (they have small, regular and extra large), 2 loaves of garlic bread, and a 1.5L bottle of Pepsi. Well, the garlic bread loaves were about 6" long each, the Pepsi wasn't even 2L, and the pizzas were about the size of a personal pan pizza you get in the U.S. The picture illustrates the size of the pizza box in relation to my Accenture laptop. Needless to say, there's a reason why Singapore is full of a bunch of skinny short people while the U.S. is the fattest country in the world. Here, its not "Supersize Me", its more like "MINI Me!"

Singapore Sling - This is the "thing to do" if you ever visit Singapore. Go to the Long Bar Raffles Hotel and order yourself a Singapore Sling, the signature drink of the country. Its a pricey $20SGD but you're paying for the ambiance, history, and novelty of drinking at the premier hotel in Singapore where the drink was invented. The drink itself isn't bad at all, especially if you're in the mood for a fruity tropical drink. We had our stop at the Long Bar the night before Meeli and Avana were heading back home.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sentosa Solo

Yes, I'm still in Singapore. Last weekend I was on my own because the girls went to Thailand while Anjali headed off to Tioman with her school friends. I knew I'd be busy Thursday and Friday night since I was up until about 4:00am each night watching the NCAA tournament on the internet. But for Saturday, I wanted to do something worthwhile rather than wasting the day away. Traveling alone without a plan, while not idea, can have its advantages because you don't feel bound to any sort of schedule, and you can follow your impulses and go at your own pace.

On Friday night I researched some viable day trips for Saturday. My list came down to:
  • Geylang - the "red light" district of Singapore where great Durian can be had
  • Batam - an Indonesian island where cheap beer is plentiful
  • Sentosa - the much-developed amusement park-like island off the southern coast of Singapore
I thought Batam would be the place to go because there is a brewery there that serves green algae beer that I wanted to check out. But after reading more about Batam, it sounds like a place that is pretty much for men who are looking for "companionship". I'm okay there, thanks. So I decided to go with the simple, relaxing choice and head to Sentosa.

After checking NCAA scores on Saturday morning - and finding out that GMU knocked off UNC to make the Sweet 16 - I headed to the MRT with my beach backpack ready. Took the MRT down to Harbour Front, then a $3 bus ride to Sentosa. Sentosa is a pristine, almost too perfect, island that has attractions such as Underwater World, cable car rides, and cruises. There are also three beaches, ample volleyball courts, and hiking trails. I decided once I got there that I would spend all day at the beach, just roaming around...

And that's what I did. In addition to laying around for about 4 hours, I played beach volleyball for a little bit with some locals. Siloso beach is full of kids playing sports, swimming, listening to music, or just catching some rays. It was nice to see a beach full of fit young people, as opposed to the old beached whales I've seen at Bali and Langkawi resorts. I also walked around a bit down to the "southern most point of continental Asia", somewhat a gimmick but still something worth checking out if you're in Sentosa.

In the evening I hopped on a bus back to the MRT and stopped by Whatever Cafe for another tasty vegetarian dinner. After that, I strolled down Chinatown, stopped at a street-side restaurant for a pint of Tiger and some people watching, and eventually headed back home where I proceeded to crash for a few hours before tuning in to more middle-of-the-night NCAA hoops.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Singapore Accenture

Some of you think my little trip to Asia is a complete farce in that there's no ADP project in Sri Lanka, and that I'm really on indefinite vacation. I wish. Since the project has been delayed so much, the management at ADP and I worked it out that I began working remotely from Singapore on the project last Thursday so I don't have to burn through all my PTO. So last Thursday and Friday, I went to the Accenture office in downtown Singapore.

Commuting on the MRT during weekday rush hour is similar to any major city. The trains are packed, but Singapore kicks their efficency into high gear as trains come every two minutes and are never delayed.

The Accenture office is on the 30-37th floor of the Raffles City Tower (building on the right in the picture), right in the heart of downtown. The office offers a great view of the country from within their lounge area, much better than the Reston office's view of Tysons Corner. There are also some great perks in the office like free sodas and espresso, and jukebox, pool and foosball table. As with most places in Singapore, the office is spotlessly clean.

So, no more "nice scam" comments people, I really am working!

Mmmmm, Chicken Rice

Last week I finally got a chance to sample the signature Singaporean dish - Hainanese Chicken Rice. Chicken Rice is a dish of, you guessed it, chicken and rice. The chicken is usually steamed or boiled and the rice is simply plain steamed rice. The dish is usually served with a spice/sauce tray full of assorted flavors you may add to your meal.

Nima lives right by one of the best chicken rice stalls in Singapore - Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice - right across from the Novena MRT. Me and the girls (minus Anji) met up with Nima for lunch last Thursday to sample the signature dish. The restaurant was packed with locals but we were fortunate to get a seat right away. The menu - well there is no menu. Its one of those places where you need to know what they have, and for all we knew the only item they serve is chicken rice. They serve the food in one large dish, estimating the amount of food to serve based on the number of diners.

The food, as it turns out, was very good. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the rice was, well, rice. I expected lower quality meat, but it tasted great. Meeli and I discovered that adding hoisin sauce and chili flakes made for a nice punchy Asian flavor. Paired with a glass of fresh lime juice, chicken rice is a great, authentic Singaporean meal. Total price for food and drink? Less than $30SGD for 4 - not bad at all for the best chicken rice in Singapore.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Gift from God

When deciding to head off to Asia for the next 6 month there were a few strong considerations I had to make about what I'd miss. The list included:
  • Family - luckily I'll see them in July in India
  • Friends - That's what the blog is for, to stay in touch with all of you
  • Sac's bachelor party - bigtime disaster, but hope you guys have fun in Montreal
  • Virginia's spring - I love the hot weather here, but I'm gonna miss the seasons
  • Mexican food - outside of Margarita's, I think I'm gonna have to manage without a good ol' fashion Taco Bell Mexican pizza for a while
  • And lastly, The NCAA tournament
This is where the gift from God comes in. I was up till 3:00am last night watching the opening tournament games on March Madness on Demand, and currently I am watching Syracuse-Texas A&M (Go Orange!). This live stream of all the games - for free - is making Satyan very happy. Thank you CBS and NCAA, I am forever grateful. Now, I just need my brackets to stay relatively in tact... Pacific had me scared!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Random Shots of Singapore

Just what the title says - here are a few random photos in Singapore

This is Nima's bus stop, right outside her apartment complex. I got used to taking this almost daily.

This is the MRT - notice how clean and shiny it is? The MRT is the best subway system I've ever been on.

Random street in Singapore

The legendary Orchard Road, on a weekday afternoon

Anjali in Nima's apartment, after a long day of having fun

Monday, March 13, 2006

Langkawi Part II

After the cable car ride we finally did head back to town for dinner. Although we couldn't stay at the Bon Ton, we did want to have dinner there as their creative fusion-style restaurant was highly rated in Langkawi. The Bon Ton is a great place because its more than just a resort, its a place that's welcoming to artists and animals. The ownership maintains an animal sanctuary with over 200 rescued dogs and cats, some of which roam around the hotel grounds. Also, they always embrace artists and musicians who are coming through to relax, recharge, and get ideas. We were lucky to get a tour of the rooms which were amazing - all of the 8 villas are original structures over 100 years old, and have unique characteristic like integrated showers that drain through the floorboards, and antique furniture.

Dinner itself was pretty good too - I had an avacado and cheese salad which satsified my appetite, and the blended fruit juice drinks (pineapple, ginger, lime I believe) were fantastic. It was a late night, and we got held up for an hour because apparently the entire Visa processing system in Malaysia went down so the restaurant had to call to very every credit card. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the time we got home.

Nima and I had a 4:00 flight out of Langkawi on Sunday, while the others had a later flight stopping through Kuala Lampur. We decided to spend Sunday morning enjoying the beach, and then head out to get a true Malaysian experience for lunch. Not much to report about the beach except it was nice and relaxing, and the water was warm too. Basically we all dozed off for a couple hours after breakfast. For lunch I found a place recommended online called Fatimah Restaurant, in the central part of the island, which is known to literally attract locals by the busload for lunch. We didn't really know what to expect but it was a nice ride through the countryside. After a half hour we found the place and cautiously strolled into the open-air eating area jammed with lunchers. Nothing was written in English, but the scene was basically like a huge potluck with over 30 dishes spread across a few tables, and people going everywhere. We could identify a few things like rice (duh!), pineapple curry, fish, grilled chicken, and some vegetables. Truth be told, all of us were a little apprehensive about eating the food, but we all took a stab anyway. In fact, the hearts of palm curry was fantastic, and the barbeque chicken was quite tasty too. The fish, not as appetizing. Also, payment for the meal was by estimation, as the cashier looked at each plate and based on what was on it, threw out a price. My plate full of rice, curries and fish came out to a whopping 5 RM, or about $1.25 USD. Nima's was a steal at 3 RM - less than a dollar. All in all, it was a great experience and over time I'll be less concerned about picking up a wierd disease at these kinds of places.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel to close things out, and have one last beer and a bit of substancial food before leaving. Nima and I then took the car back to the airport and returned it to the owner (its nothing like renting a car in the US. It was an all cash transaction with little record of anything, and he was cool with the condition upon return). I spent the last of my Malaysian ringets on chocolate in the duty free shop before heading back home after yet another great weekend.

Langkawi and the Ladies (Part I)

I did something I never really expected to do in my life this past weekend. It wasn't that I went to visit Langkawi, Malaysia - a place I never knew existed until about 2 weeks ago when Nima mentioned it to me. The shocking part is that the trip consisted of 3 chicks and myself - clearly potential for some interesting times. YIKES! In addition to Nima, her friends Avana "Dagger" Desai and Meeli "Langawi"Patel came into town at the end of last week and are here in Singapore until the 20th. All joking aside, the girls are a lot of fun and I was looking forward to a fun, entertaining trip. Not to mention pictures of me looking like a big lurch among some girls.

The trip was fairly short notice for me, since I was supposed to be long gone to Sri Lanka by now. Still, I was able to get a booking at a reasonable price, and so I hopped along for the ride. We left Friday evening after Nima finished work, and arrived in Langkawi after a quick 1.5 hour flight.

The first dagger of the trip was the fact that we couldn't get a booking at our top 2 hotel choices. We wanted to stay at the Bon Ton Resort, a place Nima read about and fell in love with. Unfortunately they only had one night available. There was another resort we tried (I forgot which one exactly), so plan C was the Langkawi Village Resort. Even there, we could only get "standard" rooms which were indeed very very ordinary. We managed though, keeping in mind that the point of the trip was to avoid spending much time in the hotel. Friday night, though was low-key as we grabbed a bite, booked a boat tour for Sunday, and headed to bed.

Saturday morning started just like last weekend - at the breakfast buffet. It wasn't as good as Melia Bali, but it was solid for a free breakfast. After filling up we headed off to an island hopping tour. Langkawi is an archipelago (I've been itching to use that word!) of over 90 islands, and a common tour is a motorboat ride through the waters, stopping at 3 main points: a freshwater lake among the islands, an eagle's cove - the name of the island means "Red Eagle" - where feedings take place, and a white sandy beach island to relax. We took the entire morning to hit all these points in an enjoyable and efficient manner. I liked the freshwater lake as it was tucked away inbetween the mountains with gorgeous views (the view in the pic is of the "sleeping pregnant woman", if you can figure it out). The beach was also one of the best I've ever been to, though it was loaded with other boat tourists. The eagle feeding was cool too because they got really close. By the way, the reason there are dozens of eagle pictures on the Smugmug site is because we all love the "rapid-fire" setting on the Canon SD cameras. Definitely spend some time checking out the Smugmug site to really see how nice the boat tour was, and how goofy me and the girls are.

One of the strangest things I've seen in Asia was at the freshwater lake. Some guy couldn't quite figure out how to use the live vest in its traditional sense. Instead, he got a bit creative. Nima faked taking a picture of me so she could get a picture of what I'm talking about. KAPOW!!!

After the boat tour we headed back to the hotel to figure out the rest of the day, and so that Meeli and I could throw down a couple Tiger beers we got from Duty Free - like you needed to know that. We made what turned out to be the most clutch decision of alltime though - we rented a car for the rest of the weekend. Nima bravely volunteered to be our driver - on the LEFT side of the road mind you - so that we could really explore for the rest of Saturday and Sunday morning. It was awesome, and we were especially impressed by Nima's quick learning and sweet driving skills.

Once we got the car we headed north, Nima driving, me shotgun, and the girls in the back. Destination: The Datai, the best hotel in Langkawi known for its pristine beach. Its even listed in 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Our experience, however, was less than glowing. We got there around 3:30 for a late lunch, but they were quite pretentious and reluctant to allow non-guests to even enter the premise. The receptionist acted as if he was doing us a favor by letting us in for lunch, and after supposedly calling the restaurant and asking them to squeeze us in, he allowed us to go ahead. The resort itself was nice, I can't argue there, but it was also full of American and European tourists and a fake-friendly stuffy staff. Basically, the place could have been in Malaysia, Hawaii, Florida, or St. Thomas and you wouldn't have known the difference. Anyway, we had a decent lunch in a completely empty restaurant - though it was western fare the tuna sandwich was very good - and then we snuck down to the beach even though technically it was for guests only. The beach was nice, but the island beach we saw in the morning was 10x better. We crashed for a couple hours at the beach and then headed back for dinner...or so we thought.

On the way back Nima mentioned she heard from Erin that the cable car tour was worth checking out. According to the way-off-scale tourist map, we were close to the cable cars. So we navigated to the attraction and made it just in time, at 6:30. Basically the cable car tour is a huge gondola up to the top of a mountain with observation points. The interesting thing about Langkawi is that while accommodations and food might be relatively expensive for Malaysia, the tourist attractions aren't. The morning boat tour was only 45 RM (about $14USD), and the cable car was 15RM, less than $5. It was the best $5 I've ever spent. Not only were there views magnificent from the platform, there was a treetop walk too that was really neat. On top of it all, we happened to time it perfectly to catch the sunset. The ride up and down are a bit nerve-racking, and Avana was acting like a donkey in the gondola, freaking Nima out. Its a must see if you're in Langkawi. The pictures do the talking here. Again, check out the SmugMug pictures to get the full story.

Part II of Langkawi is coming soon, stay tuned...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Last Week in Review

Phew...that Bali entry was a dagger. I'm still way behind on my blog entries because it took me forever to write about Bali. I'm going to catch up by writing about the week of 3/6-3/10 all in one post.

  • I was hoping to get confirmation about the ICTA project by 3/6, but yet again no word. Basically the hold up is lawyers approving the contract. As of now, 3/20 is the new start date, but I am starting work remotely on 3/15. I have to put in full 8 hour days from Singapore if I want to get paid.
  • Anji had been talking quite a bit about Bugis, the open market shopping typical of what you'd picture in Thailand and other Asian countries. I met up with her Tuesday afternoon to check out Bugis, and as it turns out I really liked the place. The area used to be ridden with prostitutes but now its a thriving scene of shopping and social hangouts, particularly filled with college-aged kids. I even did my first bit of shopping, and picked up a cool shirt for $15SGD.
  • The food tour resumed this week in Singapore. We revisitied Margarita's on Tuesday night because it was Nima's friend Erika's birthday. The food was again tasty, and yes Greg they did accept Mastercard.
  • One of my to-do's was check out Little India, so on Wednesday we had dinner at Khansama Tandoori Restaurant. The food was delicious, as I shared the Malai Kofta and Butter Paneer with Anjali. I didn't try Nima's chicken dish. However, as often occurs with oily, heavy north Indian food, it ran right through me afterwards and I paid the price that night and the next morning. Still, the food tasted great.
  • As an older brother I've been delighted to be treating Anji to lunch and dinner whenever we go out (except that first time when she lost credit card roulette!). However, she promised to treat me to lunch one day at Netwon Hawker Centre since its right next to her apartment. We went for lunch, but unfortunately the place was just opening so there wasn't much activity at all. I got a nice cup of fresh pineapple juice, but for some reason none of the food looked appetizing at all. I wasn't in an adventureous mood to try the chilli crab, fried carrot cake, or fish head curry, so we passed all together.
  • On Thursday night the three of us went down to Clarke Quay and had dinner at a popular restaurant called Coriander Leaf. The restaurant is super-gourmet, as they host cooking classes and sell high-quality ingredients right at the restaurant. The theme of the restaurant is Asian Fusion, and they had a nice mix of Indian, Japanese, and south Asian influences in their dishes. My Frontier Chicken dish, chicken pieces stir fried with coriander seeds and chili flakes served with naan and yogurt was excellent. Nima had a tasty lobster/seafood curry as well. One thing I noticed is that every single patron for dinner than night was a tourist/visitor, which is reflective of the Clarke and Boat Quay areas of Singapore. Still, that part of town is a must see if you're in Singapore.
  • Late Thursday night, Nima's friend Meeli arrived from the U.S. and Friday morning Avana came into town. The two of them are visiting Nima for the next 10 days, and in those days trips to Langkawi, Malaysia and Thailand are planned (I was included for Langkawi, which will be a future blog post).
  • On Friday while Nima was at work, I took the girls out for a mini tour of Singapore, hitting the big spots like the Merlion, Esplanade, and Raffles Hotel. We also met up with Nima for lunch and finally had the signature dish of Singapore - Chicken Rice. I had low expectations for this simple staple-food dish, but it honestly blew my expectations away. It was great to also move away from the fancy restaurant and eat with the locals during a packed lunch hour, at a place that doesn't have a menu, just chicken rice and drinks.
  • On Friday evening, me and the girls headed out to our weekend in Langkawi, which will be the next blog post...

Note: Lots of pictures were taken all week, but they're spread across everyone else's cameras. I'll update the blog when I get those pics. My Canon S410 is officially dead because of the memory card error bug. I need to figure something out for taking pictures in Sri Lanka, argh!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beautiful Bali

Go to Bali. Period. You'll thank me later. Seriously, if you ever have the chance to go to Bali for a honeymoon, vacation, just stopping through, whatever, you must go. It really is paradise on earth.

Nima and I spent last Thursday night through Sunday in the tropical island of Bali, one of the 7000 Indonesian islands. It was the second time to Bali for her, after a week-long trip with cousin Tejal a couple years back. They went a few months after the 2002 terrorist bombing, but did not feel any effects of the bombing except for minimal crowds and friendly locals welcoming and eager for tourists. In October 2005, another terrorist attack struck Bali, and again the island's tourist economy slowed down considerably.

Being in Bali 5 months later, I did not feel unsafe at any moment, and many security measures have been taken such as vehicle search checkpoints and a significant presence of security guards. In speaking with taxi drivers, hoteliers, shopkeepers and tour guides, the happy, peaceful people of Bali certainly welcome tourists with open arms, and I encourage all my friends and family to experience the wonderful little island.

For this blog entry, I'm going to try the chronological-account approach. Frankly, the photos along the way, available on my Smugmug site, really tell the story.

Thursday March 2, 4:45pm: Nima cut out of work early to get home and hop on a Singapore Airlines flight to Denpasar, Bali.

Thursday March 2, 5:15pm: Arrive at Changi international airport, 2:15 hours before our flight. Changi is probably the best airport in the world with such ameninites as free internet, ample lounge areas with TV, free movie theater, numerous restaurants, cheap booze at the duty free shop, and a beautiful orchid garden in the middle of the airport.

Thursday March 2, 7:30pm: Depart for Denpasar, Bali. Nima and I began watching Goodnight and Goodluck, only to have the last five minutes cut off because the flight ended. Dagger! I hope we nailed those commie bastards...

Thursday March 2, 9:30pm: Arrive in Denpasar international airport. Visas and customs were a piece of cake, so after a few minutes we made it outside to the warm weather and into a cab.

Thursday March 2, 10:00pm: Arrive at our hotel in Nusa Dua, Melia Bali Villas & Spa Resort. Nusa Dua is known for its high-end hotels. Melia Bali doesn't dissapoint, as its a first class resort with nice rooms, pleasant staff, perfectly manicured lawns and gardens, and great decor. The place reminded me very much of the Club Mahindra Resort we stayed at in Goa last year. Our room did have a slight musty smell because of the constant humidity, but that's to be expected. We got a great price at $70USD night, which included the daily breakfast buffet...

Friday, March 3, 6:30am: This is not a typo, but Nima woke up at 6:30am on Friday morning. Why? Because of the ridiculous breakfast spread. Fruits, eggs, fresh juices, variety of breads and pastries, pancakes, even Asian breakfast noodles! Nima swore the best breakfast she ever had was at the hotel she stayed in Bali last time, and this one topped it. Waking up at 6:30 to fuel up for our big day of touring Bali was a genius move.

Friday, March 3, 9:00am: After showering and dressing, we met our driver for the day in the hotel lobby. We hired a driver to take us around the island, through Sanur, up to the rice fields of Ubud, through to check out the handicrafts in Mas, over to see the the Tanah Lot temple, down through the surfer town of Kuta, and then back to the hotel. We arranged the driver through the hotel and paid $50 for it, which in real dollars is still a deal but in Bali could be had for half that if we bothered to bargain. For the full day tour, though, we wanted to go with something somewhat reputable rather than a guy off the street.

Friday, March 3, 11:00am: We spent quite a bit of the early part of the day trying to get some shopping out of the way. I was shopping for gifts for my family, and failed miserable on Friday. I'm sorry mom and Ami, I am horrible at visualizing what goes well in the house. Don't worry though, by the end of the trip Nima helped me get something. Hope you like it! Nima, on the other hand, had a vision that she wanted to get some statues for her eventual home. The driver took us to a few "galerias" which are really traps that earn the drivers commission. In one of the stores, Nima saw a pair Javanese wood statues, a man and woman praying, with which she fell in love. The shopkeeper quoted her 3,500,000 rupiah ($1 USD = 9200 Rp, so 3.5M is about $400USD). Nima drove him down to 3,000,000 but he wouldn't go any lower. Nima really wanted the statues but that was a lot of money to pay, so she decided to walk away, all bummed out. We walk around a little more and check out a few more shops, and wouldn't you know it, we found very similar statues in a small roadside shop run by two women with their young daughters running around in the shop (see picture). Their opening price for the statues was 750,000 Rp, one fourth of the best price the other guy offered. Nima got it down to 500,000 and was ecstatic to get her statues, and the shopkeeper was quite delighted to make her first sale of the day a big one. Just goes to show how much variance there is in the prices and the room left for bargaining in Bali. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the statues but when hopefully one day they'll be displayed in the home.

Friday, March 3, 11:53am: We made it up to Ubud where the popular rice fields of Bali can be seen. I was impressed by the way the Balinese were able to cultivate the hilly, mountainy land effectively to grow rice. The drive up to Ubud is also pleasant as you get a glimpse at the Bali countryside. We stopped briefly at a few points to take pictures.

Friday, March 3, 12:55pm: In need of some fuel we stopped at Gyathri Restaurant somewhere near Ubud. We had typical Indonesian dish, Nasi Goreng. It was quite good, especially with a Bintang to go along with it.

Friday, March 3, 3:06pm: Our next stop was Tanah Lot, a famous Balinese Hindu temple built on the ocean. We actually stopped at another temple (see photo) along the way to take the obligatory touristy pictures. The most amusing part of the stop was seeing a group of six giggly Japanese girls all dressed the same, taking all sorts of pictures and making funny noises. Nima characterized them as "living Anime" because they did seem cartoonish, and the new nickname for overzealous Japanese tourists - Kapow! - was born. Anyhow, Tanah Lot was cool though the tourist traps of "holy water" and the "holy snake" were annoying. Still, it was a nice sight.

Friday, March 3, approx 6:00pm: We cut our day of touring short, deciding to pass through the beach town of Kuta to arrange for a tour of Mt. Batur on Saturday morning, and trying to catch the sunset on the beach (no luck as it was quite cloudy). I had to stop by the ATM to get some cash, and I definitely saved my receipt as my withdrawal of 1,200,000 Rp and balance of 28,000,000 Rp made me feel rich. We were planning on checking out Ulu Watu, another temple on the water, but were simply exhausted. Instead we headed back to the hotel, freshened up, and had a surprisingly good asian-style dinner at the hotel restaurant. We turned in very early Friday night, as Saturday was to start at 2:00am...

Saturday, March 4, 1:45am: Disaster. Most of the time when you're up at 1:45am on a Saturday morning its because you're out from Friday night. Nima and I woke up this early to get ready for a 2 hour ride to Mount Batur, a volcano mountain in the northern part of Bali that offers a 2 hour hike, 800 meters up the mountain in order to catch a beautiful sunrise. Nima did this hike with Tejal the last time she was in Bali, and sold me on it with their pictures and her descripion from last time. The only downside to this journey was missing the hotel breakfast buffet that morning.

Saturday, March 4, 4:00am: We arrive the base of Mt. Batur right on schedule. I immediately realized that this hike at 4:00am, when its pitch dark, was the best opportunity ever for me to utilize my hiker's headlamp - and my dumb ass forgot to pack it for Bali so it was sitting at home in Singapore. Luckily our tour guide - Ketat - had some extra flashlights. Our hiking party included a Belgian girl backpacking through Asia and an elderly German woman who incessantly spoke about all the hiking and walking she's done in her life. The two were entertaining, especially when the Belgian went on an F-bomb tirade after learning the German paid 250,000 Rp for the trip, we paid about 325,000 each, and she paid a whopping 450,000. Anyhow, the hike was great, challenging yet rewarding with great views and a sense of accomplishment. I'll let the photos do most of the talking. I would recommend that anyone who does this hike wear tennis shoes, as I stubbed my toe often in the Tevas. It was the first time I hiked up volcanic rock, so that was cool. We actually made it to the sunrise viewpoint just after 5:00am, and spent about an hour up there taking in the beauty, socializing with the other hikers (a family of 5 from California, the tour guides, and the cook who made banana sandwiches for us). We were hoping to hike over to the hot springs, however it was too foggy to get there so we had to turn back. On the way down we caught many beautiful shots of the mountains and Lake Batur.

Saturday, March 4, 8:13am: We made it down to the bottom of the mountain and waited for our driver to come pick us up and take us back to the hotel. Nima and I were both exhausted and tired, so we agreed to go back for some beach time. The ride back was a little scary as our driver must have had another customer or something. He was never afraid to pass a scooter or car in front of us, demonstrating to me that driving in Bali is not for the faint of heart. We finally got back to the hotel just before 11:00am and headed to the beach for the afternoon. We decided to spend a few hours on the beach, after which Nima arranged for a special treat for us.

Saturday, March 4, 3:00pm: Nima booked a full spa treatment for the both of us, 3 hours in total including a full body massage, exfoliating scrub, and facial. Absolutely amazing. Guys, if you refuse to do such treatments because they're "gay", you're missing out because of your insecurity. I was so relaxed during the massage and scrub that I fell asleep and had no idea what went on for about half an hour. All I know is that I felt very refreshed and for $90 USD, I would do this sort of treatment every week!

Saturday, March 4, 6:33pm: After a very relaxing afternoon, we decided to head out for some dinner. I flat out refuse to be one of those people who stay in the resort and eat western food all the time, so we decided to take a walk through Nusa Dua and find a place to eat. We stumbled upon the Sogo Mall close by, a brand new shopping complex clearly geared towards the western tourists, full of high end shops. All along the way, you could see how the lack of tourism due to the bombings has crippled Bali. Right as we got outside the resort's compound there were several drivers waiting to provide services, and they were willing to bargain down to just over their break-even point. At the mall, the shops were full of store clerks with very few customers. The empty restaurants were inviting anyone who walked by to look at the menus.
It was truly a sad sight, especially knowing how wondeful and friendly Bali is, and how the people of the island depend on the tourism industry.

We decided to eat at an Asian fusion restaurant called Paon (Balinese for "kitchen"). We were both in the mood for seafood so we decided to share the seafood platter special. We learned from the waitress that the restaurant had opened just before Christmas and that business has been slow. That night, we were the second guests (we were there early) but as dinner went on the crowd swelled a bit. The food itself was quite good, particularly the grilled snapper and lobster tails. The steamed crab was dissapointing as it was the smallest crab I've ever seen served, but from what I've gathered I'll get my fix in Sri Lanka anyway. Overall, the huge seafood meal with appetizers, desserts and drinks came in under $40USD for the both of us. The same meal would have cost well over $100 back at home. After dinner we headed home and immediately passed out after another packed day.

Sunday, March 5, 7:30am: Our last day in Bali began like the first full one - up early for breakfast. Among the great spread was a selection of local fruits, and the rambutan was my favorite of the bunch.

Sunday, March 5, 7:30am: We headed out after breakfast to check out the Ulu Watu temple on the cliff. There are many pictures on my Smugmug site of the temple and the beautiful ocean crashing down below. One of the best things about Ulu Watu is that its one of the few temples that has remained a place for prayer, rather than simply a tourist attraction. Nima mentioned how last time she was in Bali more of the temples were strictly for religious use and those wishing to visit had to abide to the rules (such as proper attire, no photography, etc), but I can see how they've loosened the rules to attract tourism. Still, at Ulu Watu they require all visitors to dress appropriately (see pictures of me looking all goofy in a doti). Also, there are monkey all over the grounds of the temple, and apparently are very vicious to the point where you must remove all jewelry and eyeglasses, otherwise they'll get snatched. I picked the wrong day to skip contact lenses, so I had to walk around without my glasses on and only put them on when Nima gave me the green light. I managed to see the temple on the cliff and the beautiful ocean views. After the temple, we headed back to Nusa Dua for some lunch before heading off to the airport.

Sunday March 5, 2:44pm: Back in Nusa Dua, we spent some time perusing the street shops for gifts to bring home from Bali. I finally got some things for my sister and mother, hopefully they like them! As we were walking we came across Ulan Seafood restaurant, a place I had read about on the internet as a great place to get authentic Balinese seafood, so we decided to go there. They even had a wall of photos of distinguished statesmen and celebrities who've visited. I ordered the Ulan special, a grilled snapper with rice and veggies. Nima opted for the shrimp. My food was delicious, especially due to the native spices used on the grilled fish. I must say that I found it difficult to eat fish that's not a fillet, as you have to be careful about bones. But still the restaurant was indeed very good.

Once we finished lunch we collected everything from the hotel, jumped in a cab, and headed to the airport, en route to Singapore - wrapping up a great weekend in Bali.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


First off, thanks to everyone reading and commenting on the blog, if I know people are actually reading what I write, its worthwhile. I'm posting a quick update here on what's been going on over here and what's going on with the blog:
  • I'm way backed up on blog entries. Last week in Singapore was basically a food tour, and I have about 3 more restaurants to write up. I ate like a king last week!
  • Nima and I just returned from a weekend in Bali. I'm not even going to begin to talk about how great Bali is in this posting, but look out for a post or two about the trip
  • Though it might seem otherwise, I really am going to Sri Lanka to work. The latest on that front is that next Monday, March 13th. I have some prep work to do this week from Singapore and I have a conference call later this week with the ADP team leads. I'll let you all know when things firm up.
  • As I mentioned before I'll be working with a non-profit called ICTA in Colombo. This article I found yesterday highlights a little about what ICTA does and who they are.
I'll be posting again soon...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Kayaking Across the Street

Now, for a break from all the food reviews...

Last week Anji and I headed back to the MacRitchie Reserve for a picnic and a casual kayak ride through the reserve. One of my favorite things about Singapore is the abundance of cheap, fresh, delicious tropical fruit readily available. We had an entire Victoria pineapple along with sandwiches for lunch.

Kayaking through the reserve was a nice way to cool off a bit in the hot Singapore sun. There was a nice view of Nima's apartment across the street. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing afternoon spent before heading off to Bali for the weekend.

Pizza and a View

As I mentioned in the previous entry, this blog so far has basically been a food review in Singapore. On Wednesday, we had yet another good meal at the New Asia Bar.

Before getting to dinner, my sister and I spent some time taking in Singapore culture at the Asian Civilisation Museum. Anji had been wanting to check it out so we planned on meeting up there after her classes were over and before dinner. I thought two hours would be more than enough to learn about Asian culture in a Singapore museum, but as it turned out the museum was filled with lots of interesting information and exhibits. We ended up running out of time and I had to hurry through the India and south Asia exhibits, which was a shame.

Anji and I headed over to the Swissotel and went up top to the 70th floor to New Asia Bar. She and Nima had already been up there once for dinner, and both highly recommended the pizza so that's what we were there for. Oh, and the view of Singapore was quite nice as well.

Athough there was a sign indicating that shorts and sandals are not allowed (and neither of the girls gave me a heads up about that!) the bar was pretty relaxed and casual, especially for being among ritzy restaurants in a 5-star hotel. There were plenty of tourists up there, and it was still early, so nobody gave me beef about the shorts.

Once Nima joined us, we got a decent seat right by the window and ordered a couple pizzas. The waitress did botch our order as we originally asked for a veggie and margherita pizza but she forgot to put the veggie order in, but after the margherita came out it was so good we just asked for another one of those. Also, from 3-9 they have a solid 50% off happy hour, so we got a fruity martini and a frozen margarita-type drink. The drinks were okay, nothing to write home about, but the pizza was fantastic. Nice thin crust and a little bite to the pizza seasonings. The price was right too, at $14SGD per pizza, two pizzas were more than enough to feed 3 hungry Americans craving pizza. Considering the location and view, the New Asia Bar is a great value and a top recommendation of mine.

New Asia Bar - Swissotel in Raffles Plaza

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Whatever, Dude

Note: This blog is quickly turning into a blog about food in Singapore. Not that I have a problem with it; I've been eating some very tasty food here, and staying indoors at restaurants is a great way to beat the heat.

Unfortunately the weekend had to end, and Nima and Anji had to go back to work and school on Monday. I took Monday morning as a time to sleep in, now that my body's recovered and fully adjusted, and catch up on emails. Originally, I was supposed to have left for Sri Lanka by Sunday night, but my project was yet again delayed.

Speaking of Sri Lanka, the main government and rebel LTTE group had a successful round of peace talks earlier in the week, and scheduled another meeting later on in April. Hopefully, these agreements will bring more stability to the north and east regions of the country.

Anyhow, I spent much of Monday catching up on personal affairs and surfing the net, posting blogs and catching up with friends and family. I went our to run some errands, and decided to surprise Anjali and Nima and cook some eggplant Parmesan since neither has had home cooking anytime recently. I went to Cold Storage, the local supermarket, and bought most the ingredients for what was going to be a nice dinner - that is until Nima nixed it. See, Singapore, like many tropical climate areas, is a home to many bugs and pests, and it takes diligent (or militant in Nima's case) cleanliness to keep them away. Nima was concerned that my cooking style (a little sloppy in the kitchen) combined with an already untidy kitchen - Janny her housekeeper has been on vacation - would result in an invitation for the bugs to party at her apartment. So we postponed the home cooked meal to another time. Instead, we looked for a new restaurant that neither Anji nor Nima had been to, and ended up choosing the Whatever Cafe near Chinatown.

Nima and I met up at her place and took the MRT to Outram, and after cutting through a park and a back alley, found the restaurant. Whatever is home to not only the cafe, but also a yoga studio and bookstore. The theme of the place is very spiritual/new age/hippie/etc. The cafe is purely vegetarian, and there are lots of tasty-looking options. Anjali ordered the fettuccini with mushroom and tomato sauce, which was satisfying and homely. Nima ordered a bleu cheese salad with vinaigrette dressing - a dish somewhat difficult to find because in Asia cheese is not very common and quite expensive. I ordered the veggie burger but they were out of that item, so I had a cheese, pesto and onion jam sandwich. To be honest, it turned out far better than I expected. The onion jam was particularly tasty, and it gave me an idea of how to use an apple & vidalia onion relish I purchased from Harry & David which I haven't used. The only disappointing part of my dinner was the organic ginger ale that I ordered, because I assumed it was fresh-made but in fact it was canned, imported from California (and it was pricey at $5SGD). The value was okay, as dinner with beverages ran a total of approximately $30USD for the three of us, however we all agreed it was well worth the price to get a taste of more traditional organic vegetarian fare.

Hiking up an Appetite

On Sunday the three of us set out on two quests: hiking up the 5km trail to the top of the MacRitchie Reserve Treetop Walk, and then finding some good mexican food for dinner.

The MacRitchie Reserve is a water resivour that has been crafted into a park with kayaking and other water sports, several trails for trekking, and a unique tree top walk at the top of the highest trail. The tree top walk is a long, narrow bridge above the trees which provides great views of the forest below. The hike itself was a good 5km each way, though not too strenous as the trail was well-defined the whole way, similar to the main parts of the Shenandoah National Park trails (sorry no pictures from the hike). The best thing about MacRitchie is that its literally across the street from Nima's apartment complex, so while I'm here I plan on heading out there for a quick kayak trip or stroll through the forest.

After the hike, Nima, Anji and I were dead set on finding some good Mexican food for dinner. Before I got here, they had horrible luck with the couple places they tried, and all the ex-pats we've bumped into have lamented about the lack of good mexican in Singapore. Nima got a recommendation for Margarita's, so we decided to check it out. After taking a detour to Holland Village because Google failed me on directions, we found the restaurant on the other side of town.

We walked in right as the restaurant opened for dinner (its common for restaurants to close for the afternoon and re-open at 6:00) and were seated immediately. The decor of the restaurant was warm and contained authentic-looking art and decorations. The chips and salsa were very good, as Nima and Anji confirmed upon first bite. None of us were in the mood to drink so we all got virgin drinks. My pina colada was okay, but Nima's strawberry iced tea was fantastic. For starters, we ordered their house queso dip with chips. It was served in a bowl as melted cheese (you could tell it was real cheese, not processed) with diced onions, tomatoes, and jalepenos on top. Looked kind of funny, but after I mixed it up it looked like queso dip. I liked it very much, though it could have been served a little warmer.

For dinner Anji and Nima each ordered "The Kitchen Sink" burrito, a superstuffed burrito with everything. I had a vegetarian chimichanga. While trying to figure out what was in the burrito, an earlier discussion about refried beans came up between the three of us. Nima contends that refried beans are made of kidney beans, while Anjali and I are certain that refried beans are definitely pinto. I'm not sure where Nima gets her refried beans, but kidney beans makes no sense. If you can weigh in on this discussion, post a comment so Nima is corrected.

By the time the food came out the restaurant was filling up, mostly with Americans who, like us, were probably fiending for Mexican. After the first bite, each of us chimed in with a resounding "mmmmmmmmm" of approval. It was interesting to note that they throw broccoli into their vegetarian dishes, something I haven't seen in Mexican food before. Luckily, I love broccoli so I was A-OK with it. Anji and Nima agreed it was by far the best Mexican food they've had, and I definitely enjoyed it.

If you're in Singapore, definitely check out Margarita's if you're looking for some tasty Mexican food.


Clementi - 108 Faber Drive

East Coast - 404 East Coast Road