Tag Archives: Singapore

Singapore’s Arab Street

11 Feb
Directly under the turret of the main mosque

Directly under the turret of the main mosque

My new job won’t have me going to Singapore quite as much as the old one, but I still needed to take a trip there in January to meet the team and some of my key accounts.  It was a whirlwind of a trip (only 3 nights) – I had a long list of people I wanted to see and was also determined to fit in a couple of personal connections if at all possible.

One evening I managed a dinner with a friend and former colleague, going out to Sentosa and sharing a Greek dinner that reminded me of our time in Santorini, but it was the last day at lunch right before my trip to the airport that I managed to see my oldest friend in Singapore.

Ironically, my oldest friend in Singapore has only lived there a year – she used to live in Shanghai and has recently relocated there with her family, but no matter – I wanted to catch up.

Looking at the map, I realized that our office was within walking distance of Singapore’s Arab Street – an area that I had not yet explored during my many visits as it is not strictly located in the downtown area.  We confirmed a time and place to meet and I walked over to meet her.

The arches and domes make me think of Turkey or Mecca

The arches and domes make me think of Turkey or Mecca

Our meeting place was the mosque at the center of the district and so I followed the turret through the streets selling rugs and fabric and other knick knacks.  I was attracted by a display of brass lamps, but pressed on – knowing there was no space in my luggage.

A row of murals lining the streets

A row of murals lining the streets

Closer to the mosque there was a series of murals, delicate images of exploration, roses, and of course, oil – ubiquitous with that part of the world.

Delicate details in the fresco paintings

Delicate details in the fresco paintings

We met and walked a bit to find a place for an Arabic lunch and talked and talked and talked until I had to leave for a conference call and then my flight.

Before I left I snapped this photo of the history of the street.  I would go back – it’s a different take on Singapore and one I enjoyed.  It is interesting to think how the street, named after somewhere in Iraq, was the gathering place for many years for pilgrims from this part of the world to go on their journey to Mecca.

A little history of the area

A little history of the area

The combination of cultures and food in Singapore makes me happy each time I go.  Its balance of Eastern and Middle Eastern and Western make it easy to feel like each day is an adventure.  What part of Singapore attracts you?

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A Singapore food crawl

11 Jul

During my recent trip to Singapore I was able to stay over the weekend and lucked out that one of my colleagues was arranging a food tour for the newcomers to the office.  I readily tagged along on their adventure to sample local specialties.

A word of warning, I did not take any photos – not a one!  I don’t know if it was the jet lag or the heat or I was just tired of whipping out my camera, but I have not one visual for this post.

My colleague is a local who knows his food and so he took about 10 of us to the neighborhood where he grew up on Singapore’s east side.  I had never been out of the central business district, so that in itself was an adventure.  We spent the entire afternoon from 2pm to 8pm sampling.  His word of advice was not to eat breakfast or lunch before we started!

At each restaurant we sampled a different type of food.  The first was luscious pork barbecue and pork belly – the Chinese influence coming through clearly.  It was very good, but it was also the dish I was most familiar with.

The second stop, just across the street and down a block was famous for laksa.  From my point of view there are as many types of laksa as there are cooks.  This laksa was heavy on the coconut milk and a wonderful mix of seafood.  It was meant for sharing because the noodles were precut so that you could eat it with a spoon.  We gobbled down several bowls and started to comment that we were feeling full.

Crossing the same street we then approached a famous chicken rice restaurant.  We stuffed ourselves with perfectly poached chicken and the delicately prepared rice.  In addition there was deep fried tofu cubes with a spicy sauce.  Very, very good and something I would eat again if I ever come across them.

Now, really feeling full, we pushed on to a place with a more Malaysian feel.  They had the sweets out front including pandan candy which was my favorite.  I first had pandan tea in Thailand several years ago and it is a unique flavor that I enjoy.

Inside we sampled the popiah – kind of like a vegetarian sandwich or a wrap.  They also had small fried cups filled with veggies that reminded me of mini taco bowls, just big enough for two or three bites.  All fresh and flavorful and something I had never heard of.

By this point we were all slightly green and decided we needed some liquid refreshment.  Tucking ourselves into a small bar just as it opened we drank beer and solved the world’s problems until people started drifting away.

I was the only one going back to the central city as that was where my hotel was, so my colleagues told me which bus to get on and I rode back along the waterfront, people watching until I saw my stop.

It was a perfect afternoon, a combination of friends and food, trying new things and seeing places beyond the tourist view.  Everything aligned and I feel lucky to have gone on my Singapore food crawl.

Have you tasted local flavor before like this?  Who was your guide?  Where were you?  It felt a little like the Taste of Chicago for those of you who have ever been to that, but more laid back, an everyday event instead of one time a year.

Where would you take someone on a food crawl in your hometown?

31 Days

7 Jul

When I moved to China over five years ago now, I didn’t know if I would be there three weeks or three years.  This year is come November is my sixth year here.

As my time extended, I started to become aware of a rule that hit during your fifth full year – for tax purposes at some point in that year you need to be out of China for 31 consecutive days.  The day you leave and come back don’t count so it’s actually close to 33 or 34 days out of the country depending on who you ask.

That is a long time to be away from home.

And that is what I have been doing for the last month.

To make things even longer, I had a business trip to Beijing at the front end, so my time away from home has extended even longer.  I can’t wait to get back!

In the last month I have been in four countries, many cities, have been on around 10 flights and racked up thousands of frequent flier miles.  And I am still not home.

I have vacation stories and work stories.  I went on a food crawl in Singapore – tasting the local hawker dishes for an entire afternoon.   I rode the world’s fastest elevator in Taipei 101, the second tallest building in the world.  I ate my fill of avocados in Washington DC and sat at the Lincoln monument as the sun began to set.  I learned the secret to entering the back door at our Taipei office and met people in Singapore that I have never seen face to face.

I also have not gone to a yoga class, written a blog post, cooked a full meal or seen my Chinese colleagues, though I am working and have been on more conference calls than I would care to admit.  My husband went with me for part of the vacation time, but I haven’t seen him either for coming up on four weeks.

It is discombobulating to be in so many different places but also invigorating.  I remember last year in the fall when I didn’t travel for about three months how antsy I got.  Hopefully this trip will cure me of my traveling bug, at least for a while.

And I know that every five years I get to do it again.  Not bad.

I am back blogging now, but may be a little sporadic until I make it back to China.  The fluidity of my schedule can be tough to predict as well as uploading photos when I am not    home.  Let’s see how it goes.

What is the longest you’ve been away from home?  Why were you away?  If you could take 31 days to travel, where would you go?

Defrosting in Singapore

31 Jan

Aside from the jeans incident just as I was leaving Singapore, the rest of my trip was absolutely great.  Even though I was in back-to-back meetings with dinners and lunches and conference calls squeezed in, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.

Because it has been so cold in Shanghai, one of the most enjoyable parts of this visit was the warmth.  As I packed I pulled out clothes that I haven’t worn in  four months, trying on sleeveless tops and dresses and searching out my summer shoes.  It took me much longer to pack than it should have since I moved in September – but the anticipation of the warmth made it a great part of the trip.

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

When I have to travel to Singapore in the summer going from hot to hot it doesn’t have the same impact, but this time of year when I land in Changi Airport it’s like a warm hug embracing me.

The second factor that makes Singapore enticing is the food.  Because it is such a mix of cultures I can find anything.  This trip the food was especially diverse.  I had the national dish of Singapore – chicken and rice at a local hawker stand, enjoyed Japanese yakitori while watching the light show in front of Marina Bay Sands and had Italian at a restaurant called “No Menu” with wild boar ravioli and excellent proscuitto and melon.

Another key is my colleagues.  Because I have been meeting and working with many of the team for a long time now, even though we’re talking about very technical projects, the breaks and meals are filled with personal stories and gossip on folks we know and what is going on.  That is the ideal type of business meeting – familiar enough that there is no need to prove myself, instead incredibly productive days that blend into drinks and dinner (and then emails at the hotel until the wee hours of the morning).

In addition to colleagues, I have good friends from Shanghai who just moved to Singapore a couple of weeks ago and was able to meet up for brunch with them before I headed back to the airport.  That personal touch made this trip even more special.

The final pleasure point is the airport itself – I checked in early this time and after purchasing my chocolate quota for the next several months at duty free I wandered.  This time instead of looking at the koi ponds or wandering through the butterfly garden, I got a massage.  My neck was stiff and the masseuse worked through my tight muscles readying me for the plane ride back.  I still had a few minutes before boarding and so had a laksa (seafood spicy noodles with coconut broth) for $4 SGD and relaxed some more.

I arrived back in Shanghai to weather slightly above zero degrees with my head full of puffy clouds and good food.  I need to remember that warmth until things thaw out a bit here.  What a gift to defrost in Singapore in mid- January!

Where have you escaped to in the winter?  My January blahs are firmly behind me as I have Singapore behind me and our upcoming Chinese New Year trip in front of me.  Just need to get through another two weeks!

Be careful next time

29 Jan

Going through security at the airport can be a frustrating experience, even in Asia.  The US still takes the cake for the most obtrusive, but even the Philippines has the umbrella rule (click here for that story) and other islands weigh you before you check in.  Recently in Singapore I also had an interesting experience.

In Singapore, you go through customs first, but don’t go through security until you enter your boarding gate.  I like the system, for the most part as it is more efficient in terms of getting people trapped in the boarding area which means flights board in a timely manner.

This time after I pulled out my computer, iPad, phone and laid each thing on the belt I took half a step the wrong way and bumped into a pole next to the metal detector.  My pants caught on the very sharp edge which was at thigh level and it ripped a pretty large hole in my jeans.

My jeans after the fact - be careful next time!

My jeans after the fact – be careful next time!

I expected an apology or at least some type of excuse, but instead the screener said “You should be careful next time.”  I don’t see how this was my fault and the comment really bothered me.  Why in the world would any airport put a razor sharp pole at thigh level?  If it was a little kid it could be eye level which would have been very dangerous.

I wish I could have thought of a comeback at the time, instead I repacked my bag and entered into the gate holding area.  Recently there was a study globally that said Singaporeans ranked very low on the global happiness index.  The behavior I experienced confirmed that and was something that I would have expected more in mainland China than in Singapore.

Luckily the jeans I was wearing were pretty old, so at least it wasn’t new clothes, but it still bothers me.  What would you have said if it happened to you?

Butterflies at the airport

8 Apr

In my post on business travel summarizing the success I had in Singapore, I may have said that my project was “almost done.”  For better or worse, those words came back to me when last week my company requested that I return to Singapore – yet again – to try to finish it.

The trip was even shorter than the last one and even more jam packed, but I still took the time each night to have a walk and look at the brilliant sunsets over the Singapore skyline.  I tried a different hawker’s market, found a roast chicken restaurant that served the chicken with mashed potatoes and green peas (I don’t know the last time I had a green pea) and even managed some yoga in my hotel room one evening.

I’ve been through Singapore’s Changi airport a dozen times in the last several years, but when I got to the airport, my departure gate was in an area that I had never been to before.  As I was looking for the restroom prior to my flight, I stumbled across a sign that read Butterfly Garden.  Pushing open the double doors and then through the chains protecting the door, I pulled my roller bag into a butterfly paradise.  They were everywhere – on the bushes, on trees, even on a little girl who was standing entranced by the bushes at the front.

Butterflies everywhere - even on her head!

There was one large butterfly who was attracted by my bright blue purse.  As I was trying to pull my camera out it flew directly to my purse and wouldn’t move.  I wasn’t sure what to do – it was sitting on the zipper.  I have never touched a butterfly before – so I gently shook my purse until he flew away and then I pulled out my camera.

Beautiful flowers - and more butterflies.

Bright colors, warm air – a tropical feeling engulfed me as I stood there for a few minutes, then hurried to my gate, much better for the experience. Singapore’s airport has won awards and even locals will come there sometimes for recreation and shopping and food.  They also have koi ponds (which I have seen before), lots of seating with speakers built in, huge desk areas to charge your laptop, free internet browsing and of course, lots of shopping – I normally buy peanut butter M&Ms.

Happy Easter to you!  The butterflies (with a touch of chocolate) seemed to be the perfect post for today.  Any favorite airport stories or Easter stories or Easter airport stories?  Best wishes as spring rolls us forward.

Success in Singapore

27 Mar

Last week I wrote about my business trip to Singapore and my trepidation/dread of the five hour trip.  I am now happy to report that it was a resounding success – both from a work as well as personal satisfaction standpoint.  All of the positives that I was hoping would happen pretty much came true which I think was partly due to the reframing that I did last week.

Some of my favorite moments on this trip were:

1) Enjoying the warmth of Singapore’s tropical weather and wearing some new clothes I had bought at Christmas time that I hadn’t yet had a chance to wear

2) Finding out that my hotel (on Erskine Road) was in the middle of a wonderful cluster of brightly painted houses with bars and restaurants.  In addition, on my 10 minute walk to the office I went by a Buddhist temple, a hindu temple and a mosque.  It was practically a Singapore commercial in four blocks. I even saw a bride and groom taking photos on my walk back in the evening.

3) The food – I did make it to the hawker’s market and had Indian cuisine, along with a lime soda – but I also had over the course of the week, a chicken sandwich with avocado (which is remarkably difficult to find in Shanghai), a middle-eastern sampler platter with umlimited fresh pita bread, tangine with chicken and green olives, fresh sushi that was picture perfect and a tasting menu on the top of Marina Bay Sands that was over the top – from fresh raw tuna to foie gras and a delicate desert with about 20 different components.

4) Catching up with colleagues and other acquaintances – one evening as I alluded to above, I met a former client at Marina Bay Sands, which is actually most famous for having a huge casino.  We didn’t go to the casino, but instead headed to the roof for first drinks and then dinner.  The view from the top – which looks like a giant boat, puts Singapore in perspective – and you can even look down on the famous Singapore Flyer, the big ferris wheel.

5) Having an empty seat next to me on the flight home – my flight back was delayed, but I was lucky enough to have a window seat with no one sitting beside me.  Also – because it was delayed I was able to find a chili crab magnet at one of the shops in the airport to add to my magnet collection.

My work project, while not quite done – also went as well as possible, considering the circumstances.  If I wanted to complain, I am sure I have enough for another post, but I’m trying to stay positive.  Business trips never result in enough sleep, the food is always too rich, my exercise routine gets off center, and the person next to, in front of or behind me on the plane will be sick.  This is a given.  To enjoy this trip I needed to accept those aspects and focus on the rest of it.  At least this time, I did succeed.

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As it was a work trip, the only camera I had was my blackberry camera, which explains the quality of the pictures above.  I was trying though to capture enough of an essence that if you ever have to go to Singapore for work, that you too can have a good trip.

Any favorite work trips out there?  One other that was a favorite was two years ago I had a conference that I needed to attend in Sydney, Australia.  I added two days of my own free time – one at the beginning and one at the end and managed to cram so much into those days that I still think of it fondly.

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