Rainy Singapore


The weather in Singapore can be sunny and hot one moment and incredibly rainy the next. It was sunny when I first started this blog post. Now I can hear the rumbling thunder outside.

I love a good rainstorm. These rainy few months at the end of the year are as close to fall or winter seasons as we're going to get in Singapore. Don't forget your umbrellas.

Top photo: the Straits of Singapore; bottom photo: looking towards Bedok.

The Good Beer Company at Chinatown Complex


Finally, someone realized that there are people in Singapore who would actually like to drink beer other than Tiger or Carlsberg served over ice with their hawker food.If you are one of these people, then you might want to check out The Good Beer Company at Chinatown Complex. Head to hawker stall #2-58, where you can pick from a fridge full of different types of beer or have whatever's on tap. We were surprised to see Sam Adams in stock (it's a popular beer in the US, from Boston). For those who would rather have something different than hawker food to accompany their tasty beverages, there's always Erich's Wuersterland, the Austrian sausage stand just a stone's throw away from Chinatown Complex. Cheers to good beer!

Changi Chapel and Museum


I finally got a chance to visit the Changi Chapel and Museum recently. If you haven't been, I recommend it (admission is free). The museum gives insight to the lives of people in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation from February of 1942 to September of 1945. For those three and a half years, people interned by the Japanese lived terrible and fearful lives. 
People lived in camps and men and women were kept separate. Food was rationed because of its scarcity. Families received ration cards, but often the food given was insufficient and of poor quality. As a result, malnutrition was widespread. People learned to make-do with what they had. Similar to the Victory Gardens of World War II in the United States, people in Singapore at the time grew whatever they could to feed themselves. Tapioca and sweet potatoes became dietary staples, often being served for every meal. Those living in Singapore at the time lived in total fear of the Japanese military. On the walls of the museum, you can see photos of emaciated men who were used by the Japanese for labor. People had to bow whenever Japanese soldiers would pass them by; those who didn't would be beaten or taken away, often never to be seen again. Thousands of people living in Singapore of all ethnicities were killed by the Japanese during this time. The stories told in the museum are shocking and painful to learn about, but they are an important part of Singapore's past. Changi Museum's website has a database of internees which is accessible to the public. If you want to learn more about the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, check this link out. 

Hong Kong Skyline at Night


We took the train over to Kowloon to wander around and do some shopping. Before boarding the Star Ferry to get back to our hotel, I took some photos* of the Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui. I didn't have my tripod and it wasn't a very clear night so this was the best I could do.

Hong Kong's skyline is absolutely stunning; all the skyscrapers' glimmering lights shine down on Victoria Harbour. The buildings are all incredibly tall, especially the International Financial Centre (IFC) building in the top photo. The IFC building is the 8th tallest in the world. Connected to this building is the IFC Mall, a big shopping center with lots of great shops including city'super, the best grocery store we've ever been to.

The building with the triangular shaped design in the second photo is the Bank of China Tower, which is a bit controversial because it is the only building in Hong Kong that was designed without consulting feng shui masters first. The triangular shape of the building is said to be bad feng shui because of its sharp edges. I heard somewhere that it is thought to resemble a praying mantis, which is also an inauspicious design feature.

Maybe when I go back I'll remember to bring a tripod.

*If you click on the photos on this blog now, they will open in Lightbox so you can see them better. 

Ruins of St. Paul's, Macau


All that remains of the Cathedral of St. Paul is one wall, now called the Ruins of St. Paul's (or Ruínas de São Paulo in Portuguese). The carvings on the remaining facade were done by Japanese Christians living in exile in Macau and local artisans under the direction of an Italian Jesuit priest.

The cathedral, built in 1580 on a hill, was burned not once, but twice. The building underwent reconstruction in 1602 after the second fire. Construction was finished in 1637 and at the time, the Cathedral of St. Paul was the largest Catholic church in all of Asia. But as the old saying goes, third time's a charm. In 1835, a typhoon hit Macau and yet another fire destroyed the cathedral. Sadly, the church was never rebuilt.

The ruins, including the crypts, were excavated in 1990 and 1995. The facade was reinforced with concrete and steel to make it safe while still retaining the original appearance. You can climb up a flight of stairs behind the facade and enjoy the view out of the three windows in the remaining wall. 

The ruins are really beautiful and my photos don't quite capture the massive size of the remaining wall. It must have been a commanding sight to see such a big church at the top of the hill. 

Some souvenirs on the Rua de São Paulo

Walking up the Rua de São Paulo to get to the ruins. It was a bit crowded.

Day Trippin': Macau


Macau was the first (and last) Portuguese colony in Asia up until 1999, when it was formally handed over to China. As a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, Macau is pretty autonomous under the "one party, two systems" principle. Hong Kong is also governed under this principle; these two SARs have capitalist economies in an otherwise socialist country. Because of Macau's special governing system, it's the only place in China where gambling is allowed.

There's a lot more to see in Macau besides the casinos, though. The Portuguese were in Macau for four and a half centuries before China took over and they definitely left a mark. The old buildings, churches, and narrow cobbled streets have an old world charm that makes you forget you're smack in the middle of Asia.

Often, the old is situated right next to something new, like an enormous flat-screen tv mounted on a building across from the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul, or a beautiful little cobble-stoned alleyway with a McDonald's in it. It makes for an interesting mix of things to see and do.

Many street and building signs are in both Portuguese and Chinese; I could read the ones in Portuguese. We had lunch at a Macanese restaurant where I eavesdropped on conversations in Portuguese, too.

Even if you go just to walk around and have lunch, a day trip to Macau is worth doing. You don't need a visa and HK dollars are accepted everywhere (the exchange rate with the Macau pataca is about 1:1). Here are a few more photos of our trip to Macau.

Macau: Las Vegas of the East


We had no real agenda when we showed up in Hong Kong a few weekends ago, other than wanting to eat some egg tarts (okay, that was all me). We decided to check out Macau for a day since it's only about an hour away from Hong Kong by ferry. We walked to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, bought two tickets, and a short while later we were on a ferry to Macau.
The ferry we rode over to Macau

Macau is sometimes called the Las Vegas of the East, and a few years ago it surpassed Vegas as the number one gambling market in the world. Although there are casinos, hotels, and outrageously expensive shops, Macau is no Vegas. I'd say it's closer to Reno, but with better casinos, way more expensive shops, no bums and much cleaner streets.

A photo of me, taken before some guy told Jeff to stop taking photos. 

The Wynn Macau has pretty much the same interior decor as the one in Las Vegas. Something was missing from the casino, though (besides drunk people and bachelor parties on a rampage): scantily-clad cocktail waitresses.

If you sit and gamble in a Vegas casino for even a few minutes, a cocktail waitress will come by and offer you a drink. In Macau (and Singapore's casinos, too), alcohol is not allowed while gambling. While gambling in the US is a form of entertainment for most, it feels really serious in Asia. 
We didn't hang out at the casinos for long, but luckily there are other things to do in Macau. I've got a few other Macau posts coming up...

A few photos and thoughts from Hong Kong.


On the Airport Express train to Central

There is actually a long escalator, called the Midlevels Escalator, which cuts through Central taking people up into the hills. Really convenient and it takes you through some pretty lively spots. 

This way to ascend the mountain.

Hong Kong has the only double decker tram system in the world. They're teeny--look how small they are next to that bus.
Coming back to Singapore after a few days in Hong Kong was like watching a TV show in black and white after watching a film in full color. Sorry Singapore, but it's true. Hong Kong has grit and character I forgot a city could have. We fell in love with this place in a way unlike any other we've traveled to.

Getting around Hong Kong was remarkably easy. The public transportation was easy to use (and similar to Singapore's), and there is an escalator running through a few neighborhoods in case you don't want to climb up the stairs. Still, walking around is the best way to really explore the different neighborhoods. While exploring on our first night, we found a bottle shop in SoHo that sold Jeff's favorite beer and my favorite wine. It was almost like a welcome sign for us.

I had always heard that Hong Kong was known as a shopping destination, and although I did a bit of shopping I'm sure there is much more that I missed. The local designers and brands are impressive; we found an entire mall of local stores with stuff I only wish I could find in Singapore. People have such great style there, too.

We enjoyed our trip to Hong Kong so much that we've already booked a trip to go back.

Tai Cheong Bakery Egg Tarts, Hong Kong


While in Hong Kong last weekend, we had egg tarts from the famous Tai Cheong Bakery on Lyndhurst Terrace. For HK$5/SGD1, you can get yourself a delicious egg tart fresh from the oven. These palm-sized pastries have a light, crumbly crust filled with a creamy egg custard and taste best eaten warm. In fact, there are often several people standing around outside the bakery eating their egg tarts before walking away (we were some of those people). The egg tart seems like a traditionally Western pastry; some people say it became popular in Asia because of the British influence in the area, while others say it is an evolution of the Portuguese egg tart. Whatever the case may be, the egg tarts are now a part of Hong Kong cuisine and you can find them in several bakeries and eating establishments. Tai Cheong Bakery's recipe for egg tarts has been posted online on CNNgo, however one food blogger tried the recipe and was disappointed, noting that the recipe for the egg custard might have a typo in it. I'm tempted to try tweaking the recipe and making egg tarts for myself.

Lucky Beer


Something we like doing when traveling to a new place is to browse a local grocery store. It's fun to see the different products on the shelves in other countries (and to see the same ones, too).

We also like to stock up on snacks for our day trips and in case we get hungry in our hotel room. 

While in Hong Kong this past weekend, Jeff and I popped into a local market and picked up a few things, including a 6-pack of Lucky Beer, which we'd never seen before.

It was the Buddha-shaped bottle caught our eye. The beer inside is a crisp lager made in China of local ingredients. 

Beer and wine seem to be cheaper in Hong Kong than in Singapore, and although we were only there a few days, the selection is much more impressive too.

Something else we noticed at the grocery store that we haven't seen since we left California: tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Beer Appreciation Evening at Timbre


Jeff, John, Leone and me at Timbre
Last week, Jeff and I attended the Beer Appreciation Evening* at Timbre @ Substation, organized by Expat Living and sponsored by SingTel. Colin Paige, brewmaster for Archipelago Brewery, talked a little bit about the beer making process and Archipelago's craft brews. Then we sampled their beers which were paired with different dishes. My favorite Archipelago beer is the Irish Ale. Jeff's is their Smoked IPA (but it's only available at Smokey's BBQ). 

I learned to look for "flavor hooks" in a beer when pairing it up with food. For example, the citrus in a Belgian wit would go nicely with the lemongrass in Thai green curry. Archipelago's honey American ale goes well with honey glazed chicken.

Beer tastes great on its own, but when paired with the right dish it tastes even better. For more tips on food and beer pairing, go here.

Thanks to the folks at Goodstuph for inviting us to this event.

*All evenings involving beer should be Beer Appreciation Evenings. Life is too short to drink crappy beer.
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