Sunday, October 31, 2010

Walkabout 30/10/2010 deepavali at Little India

The beginning of Little India at Serangoon.Deepavali is one week away.
I have slightly less than 2 hours to burn this afternoon and this time was meaningful spent at the Deepavali fare at Little India.

 Jewel boxes
From Dhoby Ghaut, it was an easy one stop train ride to Little India. 5 minutes later, from exit C of the station, purpose bound, P and I zoomed towards the main thoroughfare - Tekka market and the fare grounds opposite it, in search of excitement.

Elephant good luck charms for Indians
The shopping spirit almost overcame me and I summoned every ounce of self restraint to tear myself away from the trinkets  stores just mere steps from the MRT exit. Muruku sold for the festival reminded me that I have yet to take my tea break for the day.

I checked out the gold at the well patronized gold smith shops and couldn't help but winced at the hefty price of the yellow mineral. At more than SGD 65 per gram, I wonder how many Indian families can afford the gold dowry for their daughters.

More decorative stuff for the home
While I agonized over the price of gold, P recorded Serangoon Road on film. Satisfied, we made our way to Tekka mall, now called the Verge. Whatever it is called now, the mall still operates at half strength with human traffic skirting around the building.

Bells to ward off bad luck ?
Some uninspiring coffee at the Banquet food court later, it is time to check out the fare grounds. Hastings road has been totally transformed into a compact tented market throbbing with music and brimming with merchandise. The transactions of shops from both sides of the lane spilled onto makeshift stalls set up under the tent. Giddying amounts of trinkets, festive lights, ceremonial pots, snacks and incense dazzled before us. I was ready to jive with the drum beats from speakers hanging overhead. In sensory frenzy, I commanded P to take pictures here, here, there and everywhere, worried that this moment of pleasure will soon be washed away by the impending clouds looming beyond the tents.

Peacocks in the air
Tenacity helped me checked out prices of so many merchandise, from lockets, pashima scarves to cookies, a feat when all Indian communities has descended upon this 50 meters of space. I ended up with 4 packs of crispy snacks, 3 more than originally intended, 1 garland of flowers with another garland free ( Indians love me ! ) and some sundry from a provision shop, as we emerged soaked in incense and sweat.

The flower stall where I got my garland
A mini cultural exchange happened at the flower stall as an Indian lady gave me a mini lesson on the types of flowers used for offerings. For that moment, I felt totally Singaporean, sisterhood bounded by a common language and that little space we shared. It was awesome !

All flowers here come from India !
Of course, the trip could have been even more productive if there was more time, but at the rate I was going, I wasn't doing too bad either. The next time I come again, I am going to make sure I have a bigger bag and more cash - any rational Singapore girl would need it!

Friday, October 15, 2010

4/10/2010 Johor Bukit Indah bus-about

I have always thought that it is a lot of hassle taking the public transport into Malaysia . With the recent knowledge that a bus plies the route between Jurong East and Johor via the second link that ends at a shopping mall, the barrier is broken and I thought : why not ?

Afterall, Jurong is a stone's throw from home. And what can be more purposeful than a shopping mall as a destination. Besides , a bus ride will allow me to twiddle my thumbs and enjoy the scenery ( boy, was I wrong ). This is a far cry from the stress of driving to an unknown location on unfamiliar road.

So today, after depositing the Little H safely in school, together with Pat, we turned up at the Jurong East Interchange at 8.45 am for the Big Ride.

Jurong East Interchabge has a Causeway Link booth manned by 2 staff in yellow and blue, who collected our fares of $4 per person prior to getting up the bus. It was a bright yellow beat up bus bearing CW3 bound for Bukit Indah. The frequency is a decent 20 minutes.

CW3 gave a smooth ride down Jurong Town Hall Rd , pass AYE and Tuas checkpoint in about 15 minutes. After clearing immigration at Tuas checkpoint, we hopped up the same bus. A little sprinting is required in order to be on the same bus because any delay at the immigration means we will have to take the next CW3.

We went north via the 2nd link. At Johor immigration, we had to fill up forms, a delay that caused us to miss our bus this time. It was while walking up and down the bus bay that we realized that CW3 didn’t stop at the appointed bus bay located after the customs because of the many tour buses there. In our staid and Singaporean manner, we did not expect the bus to deviate from its prescribed course.

We hopped up the next bus 20 min later. CW3 traveled a short stretch of the NS highway and passed a little quaint, busy town. Finally, at 10.15 am, CW3 disgorged us at an invisible bus stop outside Aeon Indah ( Jusco, Tesco,Giant framed by humongous carpark )

We walked a well trodden path and cut across the Jusco car park. The charges are : 1st hr free, subsequent RM1 per entry. This information will be filed away for our future trips.

We surveyed the 3 level mall. It is cavernous and quiet , being Monday. Nevertheless, shops are opened. There are lots of clothing and shoe shops, quite hip and current. Aeon Indah looks half like any mall in Singapore with its familiar tenant mix: SK, Toast Box, Kenny Rogers, Face Shop, Secret Recipe etc.

At a toy shop, I spied a little notebook going for RM7.50. it will be a present for Hopey for not being with the party. The deal was made sweeter with a final discounted price of RM6.

Our tea break was at the Donut n Coffee shop. The price is affordable and place cheerfully set up with yellow chairs and tables. Most importantly, the colorful donuts were all priced at a happy RM 2.30. I had a holeless coconut and mango donut and Pat a choco peanut donut. 2 iced coffee cost another RM 10.

There are many silver ware shops. With gold price at USD1320 per ounce, I am squirreling silver for posterity instead. I bought a silver chain at a shop in level 2 for RM35. This will go well with my new handmade silver pendant. The deal was sealed with 9 future cleaning services at RM1, if I should ever visit.

At Jusco, restraint was needed as we did not drive. I bought 3 packs of A1 curry paste , RM3.40 each. It is cheaper compared to those sold in Giant IMM for 2.40 SGD. Another housewifely idiosyncrasy.

By noon, we have toured each level twice. The only thing that is cheaper is the nail color at Face Shop priced 9.90 RM. It retails at 7.90 SGD back home. October is too early for Christmas shopping spree so I abandon the notion of purchase with much regret.

The initial idea was to eat at the Jap noodles at Restaurant St Level 2 . But we were running late, and make do with lunch at the food court in front of Jusco. I had chicken noodle hot plate 6.15RM, Pat had chicken clay pot rice 5.50 RM. Food is pretty good, staff friendly. My only grouse was the modest portion.

We had chendol from the dessert stall : a regular for RM2.50, durian chendol for RM4. I would not recommend this. The shaved ice, not fine enough , has too little ingredient. The red bean in the regular chendol was undercooked. It is expensive considering the meager amount of ingredients.

I thought our trip today was an anticlimax until our final mall sprint: 3 donuts RM6.90 that comes with a pretty box, Fragrance pork floss 200g RM12, rice crisps with pork floss, Malaysian caramel puff ( xiangbing ) at a modest RM20. The final scoop at Lavender bistro was 3 pieces of fancy bread : choc log bread, chicken charsiew bun, charcoal bun for less than RM7

This seems shallow but a housewife has to do what a housewife has to do.

We walked out of Aeon Indah towards Macdonalds' golden arches where CW3 terminates. We surveyed the length of the strip of shop houses behind Macs looking for CW3 embarkation point. There were no waiting passengers, only a dilapidated kiosk announcing a CW3 assembly point. No drivers were in view. Just as we were wondering, a CW3 rolled in from nowhere. The bus driver was puzzled why I was so anxious. How not to be ? Proper protocol back home was abandoned and rules here are fuzzy. Even answers from bystanders are non specific. I was afraid I would miss the bus again.

That was 1.30 pm.

RM5 (each ) paid, we were the only passengers on board. CW3 loped behind Macs, past Aeon Indah and went a short stretch of NW highway southbound. Now experienced, we cleared Malaysia immigration quickly and hopped up the same bus, all in a cool couple of minutes. It was quite a workout.

CW3 sped through the 2nd Link over the Straits of Johor. Singapore greeted us with her glistening Immigration and customs building. We made it through the automatic passport readers that scanned our passports and thumbs. More x-ray machines and we were off again.

Disoriented, we looked beyond the tour buses at the bus bay and saw our CW3 in the distant. The driver had made through customs and was awaiting his passengers. By now, he had recognized the 2 frenzied jog-a-trot plastic bags passengers and admitted us without asking for tickets.

Past Tuas, AYE, we reached Jurong East I/C at 2.30pm. It was a surprising fast 1 hr ride home, with enough time for a cool drink before we collect our car at IMM and bring the loot back home.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

29/9/2010 Wogabout at Bukit Timah, Hume area

The day began early for me today. After sending everyone off to where they are supposed to be, I settled down with the usual morning routines with a flourish. For today, I will be doing a walk-a-jog of my neighbourhood.

I half hoped that the exercise will be aborted by a cloudy turned rainy weather but when things brightened up at 8.30 am, it was a signal that I was to go. Still one never knows, so with $10 in my pocket enough for a short ride home, just in case of inclement weather, I set forth.

8.30 am is the twilight zone of schools starting classes and the ebb of rush hour madness. It lends a pleasant wakeful purposefulness yet relaxed air on the streets. Starting from Bukit Batok St 25, I took off with a brisk walk on the pavement. I took in the cool shade , that will soon be gone in half an hour, provided by the elevated forested area on my right because of the low but climbing sun.

The familiar cries of warblers dominated the morning space, as they extend their territories beyond the Bukit Batok Nature Park. Down at the junction of St 25 and Bukit Batok East Ave 6, I made a right turn towards Old Jurong Road. My limbs has by now overcome the morning lethargy. With quickened steps, I tackled the long shady inclined pedestrian pavement opposite the park along BB East 6, thankful I am not riding a bicycle today. I crossed the road near Autobacs, intending to continue the walk on the cycling path behind and below it . However to do so would mean redoing the inclination to Old Jurong Road and energy conservation was top on my priority. Anyway, past the Shell petrol station, I made a note that petrol price has sustained for quite a couple of days at $1.786 ( 95 octane ).

It is now 10 minutes into the walk, not bad by my standards, since I am normally tardier. Encouraged, I marched forward like an amateur race walker. I estimate that I am now achieving my optimum walking speed of about 5 km/hr. My mind was alert, strides optimum and posture straight. Not a bad start.

The pavement along Old Jurong Road was relatively quiet today and bereft of the usual morning exercise crowd. Whatever. I had the pleasure of the entire pavement all to myself. At Bukit Timah Road, I made a left turn in front of the old fire station.

13 minutes now and another uphill walk. The section is exposed to the morning sun, without the benefit of the shade from the trees at the fringe of the park. I would deem this part as the most unpleasant because of the ongoing mrt construction all the way beyond the Old Ford Factory.

At this moment, walk gave way to jog ( Yeah, run out of an unpleasant situation ). Fully warmed up by the brisk walk, my muscles are now on GO mode. Leaning forward, I fought gravity and passed the bus stop at The Hillside. That is the first milestone -a little mental reward to keep me going.

Pass the Old Ford Factory on my left, I tut-tut at the entrance fees one has to pay to visit. The sun was beating down with a new vigor after a night's rest. A grey Malaysian bound train gave a couple of toots as it speed down the leafy corridor towards Johor, behind the boarding put up for the MRT construction. Now that the train will soon be gone, the hollow whistles of the train seem a lovely sound. I bet those living behind Railmall may think otherwise.

A quick visual assessment of the road works beyond the Bukit Timah and Hume Ave junction and I chose left. Another reason to escape the awful miasma of the generator used by the road pavers at that junction.

A nasty uphill task greeted me at the beginning of Hume but luckily , in this case, what comes up must come down. Straining past Hume park 2 and Symphony Heights, the slope turned into a little plateau, offering respite and shade. Maids walked dogs and office stragglers waited for taxis. The mood was wonderfully relaxed. Now, 25 minutes into the walk-a-jog and I was tempted to slow down and enjoy the morning.

From Parc Palais and Hillview Green, it was all downhill, the only kind I like. For fear of rolling down Hillview Ave, I maintained my strides, reminding myself not to take more than I can handle.

Another left turn into Hillview Ave, I reached the second stretch that I do not particularly like. Here Lam Soon Industrial Bldg and a couple of factories dotted an otherwise bucolic residential estate, bringing with it heavy vehicular traffic. Pavement is shaded by the long shadows of the grey building and this is one kind of shade I do not prefer. I summoned all my will power and residual strength to clear this stretch and was rewarded by space that opens up just before Meralodge and with it welcome light.

30 minutes into the run now. Beyond the Petals, I savored the last bit of peripheral greens of the nature park. Jog slowed down to a walk at the junction of Bukit Batok East Ave 4. From here, I turned right and joined the many joggers to retreat to the coffee shops behind the Bukit Batok Police Station.

It seems that I have accomplished the same distance with similar timings as when I usually set off with a jog. Still, 30 minutes into this junction from the start is a very satisfactory timing for me. All in all, the walkajog had been invigorating after all the unpleasant bits are overcome.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

18/9/2010 Of pavements along Victoria and Bencoolen Street

If there is something new I see today on the road I have walked countless times, it is the pavement.

For today, I have tried to be thankful for the weather and the shady trees, mercifully planted in an otherwise concrete jungle in downtown Singapore.

4.15 pm. We debated whether to take the train from church to the downtown national library or walk, what with the weather. A train change is needed ? Forget it, I'll walk. Mind over matter, ignore the afternoon heat and maybe a little walk to just a little down the corner of Victoria St can even be a good thing.

SMU, an oasis of calm at the end of frantic Orchard Road
With 6 paperbacks in my totebag meant to be returned to the library and a backpack, we set off with a spring in our feet. The heat has yet to sizzled my overly big enthusiasm to human size.

The exposed and sun-drenched pavement along Stamford Rd soon turn shady as we make a dash to the relative cool of Bras Basah Rd. Starting from opposite Rendezvous hotel, optimism turned high. The pavement was shaded by the big outstretched arms of Angsanas lined Bras Basah Rd.

Smu students of the School of Economics were mugging on the spacious ground level. Wafts of soya fragrance from the nearby Mr Bean outlet greeted us . The walkabout has barely started but I was already craving for a cup of cold soy drink.

The pavement looks textured with shale of different shades of grey. It separated us from the snarl of the Esplanade bound traffic. Its safety extends to the pedestrian retreat of the SMU.
The uni reminds me of Imperial College in busy London, but I think SMU looks nicer !

I dawdled over an entire block of Shuimei plants, fragrant from fresh blooms, along Bras Basah. Has this stretch of the pavement always smelt so good ?
Nparks contribution to Singapore's downtown is enjoyed and appreciated.

Beyond SMU school of information systems, the shade opens into the light. That shades of shale grey were washed out in the sunlight. At our right, a generous water feature cooled down the light space by several degrees, even without a real fountain. Framing the water feature is an artificial turf that comes with sand and all. I would never have known had it not been for its ultra greenness and the pinch test.

SAM - Singapore Art Museum at the old  St Joseph's Institute
Singapore Art Museum, or as the abbreviation loving authorities calls it SAM, is abuzz with 2 upcoming exhibitions. A couple of shiny modern animal sculpture were placed at the driveway of SAM, not exactly to my likiing. They remind me of gargoyles.

Opposite NTUC trade union house, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd emerges to provide those in the CBD spiritual respite. Chjimes down the junction has succumbed to commercialism, however. Its carcass with her original intention of spiritual refuge is the only evidence of its early work in downtown Singapore.
The entertainment jaunt's previous life was a church

Cathedral among lush greens in town
From the junction of Queen St and Bras Basah Rd, I see Swissotel arising from the canopy of trees . Beneath it, the rectory of the Cathedral stood. It looks like the secular and spiritual has somehow morphed from the profusion of green leaves.

SMU's admin block has fat shiny pillars
Finally, we turn left to Victoria St, using the pavement beside SMU admin block. Our destination, the National Library, is within our sight. The pavement was in the light, shaded by the massive building of SMU. In fact, its sidewalk bordered by huge metal pillars was dank, uninviting and dark. Victoria St at the right of the pavement was alive, blitzed by cars rushing about their business. 5 feet of safety on slates of grey, straddles between light and darkness.
Sparrows at the median strip fighting over turf

Outside Victoria hotel, beyond its pavement, a little sandy patch broke the green monotony that separates the pavement and the road. About 15 sparrows fought over a sandbath spa. It was a peculiar sight seeing the little creatures shooing each other off and wiggle in the sand.

Tree pruning watching is quite addictive
We aborted the plan to cross over to Bras Basah complex. The pavement outside the complex as cordoned off as workers were trimming back the branches of Angsanas from a crane. It rained braches and caught the rapt attention of 2 elderly pedestrians. The fixated old men remained in the same pose for a long time, anticipated every movement of the chain saw.
St Joseph - one of the oldest in Singapore

At St Joseph Church,we made a little jog across Victoria St to the library. NLB nestled among tall fish tail palms. Fringed by granite cobbled perimeter , the gravel path driveway broke the tedium of the tarmac road and uplifted the tired feel of the Bras Basah area.

There was an open and free software exhibition at ground level on NLB. Crowds spilling to the eating area at Hans café dashed my hope for a nice cuppa.

First thing first, I offloaded the library books into the book drop. The book drop was not fast enough for me, which couldn't cope with my eager feeding of the books. SNLB staff had to 'coach' me to take it easy.

National library in Singapore

At NLB, I even managed to borrow a Ruth Rendell book and another award winning fiction for further reading pleasure in the weekend. What a fruitful trip!

Now 5.15pm, we walked towards Bugis junction. TCC sidewalk café was dismissed as a coffee break option. It's too hot and doesn't make my money work hard enough for the little expensive cup of coffee.

A building dotted with huge baubles, Iluma, broke the sleek skyline and throw into disarray the clean lines of neighbouring hotel and shopping mall.
Iluma, another shopping center.
 Art installations in Iluma
We crossed Victoria St using the Iluma escalator, thankful for a knee relief moment. Iluma's immense volume and space is clearly felt. It's a far cry from the congested and 'compressed' space over at Bugis junction. At iluma, we felt that we were the oldest denizens there. Even the food served are catered to the young. Hard pressed for time, I did not get to ride the longest escalator. Well, next time, maybe.

Eat here when you have no choice
At the corner of Iluma at Queen Street and Cheng Yan Place, I spied a food court painted vermilion red. Now is the time for that cuppa or never. Unfortunately, my happiness ground to a halt at the first sip of my afternoon's refreshment. The iced coffee was sour and kaya toast sub-standard. In fact, I was hard pressed to locate the kaya and butter or pin point exactly how may pieces of bread I was served. I am very sure the stall will never get a franchise from Ya Kun or even spawn subsidiary branches.

Crossing Queen St , we trooped along Bencoolen Link that straddles the busy back alley of market place. The day here has hardly begun. Wholesale fruit dealers were unloading crates of fruits. In the office, I spied an entire wall improvised as notice board, pinned with sheets and sheets of invoices, letters and important looking documents. Nothing sophisticated here, but many families have built their business empires this way.

Nearby, the HDB architecture and design of scalloped eves and knobbed pillars gracing corridors blend with the nearby temple theme. I will never say HDB design is boring again.

The grimy back alley gave way to a pedestrian mall around the temple grounds. We were reminded of Mid Autumn Festival by a cacophony of sounds shouting urgent cries of sales. A bustling market place was filled with the loud sale of pomelo of all shapes and sizes from Malaysia to Thailand. Judging from the throng of the shopping crowd, I wondered since when Mid Autumn has become so big in Singapore. Or was I too cloistered up in my small little world ?

Things for the everyday man
5.30pm. Stepping off Bencoolen Link, we made our way to Burlington Square and make our first shopping stop at Shine Korea Supermarket. As time was tight, my browsing became very focused and purposeful. I bought 3 packs of seaweed, assorted flavors for snacking tonight. I even had the time to teach a woman down the queue how to use the bulgogi sauce. Another moment to fee like a pro. This shopping was very empowering indeed.

5.45pm. Our next stop, Phoon huat. We have to meet up H at 6pm, so shopping was fast and furious. I delegated P to look for some of my baking needs and bought Gaofen for making snow skin mooncake. Lotus paste and red bean paste are too expensive , now being moon cake season, so I gave them a miss. A plastic mold can be had for $3.90 and that is the last thing I can forego to make snow skin moon cake.
A cigar break for chef - tsk!

We walk past Strand hotel, now 5.55pm. A couple of interesting pavements caught my eyes and I demanded P to take photos. Its narrowness could only allow 1 pedestrian at a time. A lot of give and take was necessary to negotiate the path with oncoming human traffic. That's life in general too.

Singapore has lovely unobstructed pavements, a feature one usually take for granted.
As the saying goes : walk on  a path and create a road.

The pace of walking Bencoolen St slowed as we encountered so many traffic junctions towards SMU and YMCA. It seemed to take more time to clear them than walking from whole of Victoria St.
ERP beyond our destination - electronic charging for use of roads is a bane especially when this section is not heavily utilised.

6.10 pm and it is back to church. Another interesting walkabout for the weekend but all I can remember are the sparrows and their little wriggling bottoms on the sand spa.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chinatown on 11th Sept 2010

It's another Saturday bursting to the brim with activities in church for Little H. In order to show our support for the good work that she is doing, first as a pianist and then as a violist in 2 different sessions, we had lunch in the corner coffee shop opposite SMU before all of us set off for our little busy schedules.

12.45 pm, we hopped up the NE train bound for Harbourfront. 2 stops down, the colors, sounds and smells of People's Park side of Chinatown MRT station greeted and excited me to no end. This part of the trip is always the climax to me. How I wish to bask in the buzz, stuff myself with all the snacks starting from the ice-cream stall to the fish balls, bug all the money changers with queries and enjoy the energetic efforts of street hawkers selling innovative products that solves all kinds of problems.

Walking down towards the old police station at EutongSen Road, we made our way towards Chinatown Food Center via the overhead bridge. The entire Chinatown is gearing up to celebrate mooncake festival . Fortunately, rationality prevailed and I stopped myself from buying the lanterns.

At level 1 of Chinatown food center, we darted among clothing stores punctuated with shoe shops towards the square where old folks hang out and hang up their birds. We were hard pressed to see these regular visitors though because it was a scorching 34 C.

Suppressing the impulse to hop over to LiangChen to squirrel some tarts and pies, we join the throng of tourists and headed towards the heritage center on our left. A burgeoning camera toting tourist crowd and us fought for what little shade there was on the pedestrian only walkway lined with kitschy tourist memorabilia. Scores of pashima scarves abound in the shops and after fingering so many $10 pashima with suspicion, I decided to forego such a bargain.

At DeRenXin medical hall facing North Bridge Road, we saw the traffic police closing the entire road in preparation for the evening's Mooncake Festival Road Show. In response to the shop keeper's live narration of the action unfolding before us, I bought a pack of XiaGuCao. This will make a 'cooling drink' to take away the heat in our near wilted bodies.

At this stage, the sun was strangling the very breathe out of us. We trooped over to Chinatown Point for ice cream at Swensons. At 3.30pm, refreshed and sufficiently chilled by the aircon, we crossed the road over to OG. By now, rehearsal for the night is in full steam.

Using the connecting pedestrian bridge linking OG to People's Park Center, we encountered a different kind of frenzy. Shoppers looked for clothing, travel and shoe bargains from the top level to the ground floor. I saw a black super-lite back pack selling at $ 160 which sent my head spinning. What audacity ! The boss expecting a bargaining session was disappointed. I scoot.

Back to Chinatown MRT over at People's Park, I did my first purchase of the day. The standalone cake shop under the overhead bridge was selling all the things I love. I caved in and netted a bag of cakes, bread, buns.

Skirting around People's Park and its myriad of hawker stalls, we made our way towards Chin Swee Road via upper Cross Street, taking in the smells of the many medical halls along the way.

We cross the junction at Chin Swee and Clemenceau Road and walked pass Robertson Quay towards UE Square. Its aircon and washroom facilties was a merciful close to the end of a very hot afternoon. On level 2 , we ogled at the little violin cases lying around Wolfgang Music School.

Past the traffic junction at Liang Court along Clemenceau, banners of a free sculpture exhibition at Teochew Building beckoned us. We were 1 week too early for the free show. Not in single soul was around.

The final couple of hundred meters with Singapore Shopping Center at our right was a non event. This is the quietest part of our Saturday walkabout. Beyond Parkmall junction, we sought shelter in the aircon comfort of the Dhoby Ghaut underground mall.

The church, our destination greeted us at the other end of the mrt cum mall. Now partially shaded by the shade of Angsana trees, the roof portion of the main sanctuary glistened with the leftover gold of a late afternoon sun.

5.15 pm had never felt so wonderful before.