Friday, December 5, 2014

Last Days in Singapore

So I do have some good pictures of all this stuff, but the internet is pretty slow in my Melbourne hostel, so I'm not going to try to upload them now. You will just have to use your imagination until I can post full albums on facebook!

My first day back from Taipei, I eventually left the house (traveling = tiring!), and stopped by the Orchard ION mall to pick up new flip flops (are we counting? This is pair number 3…). I got turned around on the way, but ended up in an excellent food court, so I hung around there for a while, ate some pork and rice and gelato (#8) and bought a slice of flourless chocolate cake from an amazing-looking booth called “Awfully Chocolate.” I was also able to find some little presents for friends at home ;)

Anyway, I eventually came back up from my excellent food court interlude, and found where I was actually going with relative ease. Its one of the less well signed areas I’ve seen in Singapore, but only because the name of the underpass to the mall isn’t totally instinctive. I found the Outdoor Life store, which carries Rainbows, which I always refused to buy in college despite living in Southern California where they are a cult, because who needs $65 flip flops, but I was tired of shoes breaking and not fitting, and I basically live in my flip flops, so I sucked it up. And they are super comfortable, I can tell already, particularly the sole material/arch support situation, although because they are not broken in yet they have been giving me truly horrible blisters where the straps go. But I will power through!

After picking up my shoes, I headed to the National Orchid Garden! In first involved a 20-minute powerwalk through the Botanic Gardens from the MRT stop, which was only a bit of a hardship because I was carrying so much crap at this point. But the Botanic Gardens, as I’ve mentioned before, are totally beautiful!

I made it to the National Orchid Garden, which is within the free Botanic Gardens but is a $5 entry fee. It was totally worth it. It is the national flower of Singapore, after all! I am not obsessed with orchids, but I may have taken a solid 200 pictures of orchids. Get ready, facebook :P They have a whole subsection devoted to hybrids named after important people who have visited Singapore!

Eventually I wandered home, ate cheese and crackers and really excellent flourless chocolate cake for dinner, hung around, and went to bed when Cheryl got back from her dance recital!

On Tuesday, Cheryl took the day off work for various reasons, so I mostly hung around the apartment with her while she worked on extremely involved report cards. I did make an errand run in the middle of the day to the post office, and back to Awfully Chocolate to pick up a hazelnut crunch chocolate brownie situation that looked awesome, because how could I not go back to a place like that!?!

Eventually, though, we went out for pedicures in the Clarke Quay mall, which is basically Cheryl’s favorite Singapore activity, because you can get detailed mani/pedis with crazy designs for not that much money. I now have a teapot on one big toe and a clock on the other! Love it. Plus, we met up with her dancer friend Tracy, who is so sweet and fun. Plus, we finally got ginger milk tea! Primary Singapore mission accomplished. Post-salon, we headed across the river to find some dinner, and ended up eating at a totally delicious tapas place. Chorizo and fried cheese and potatoes and mushrooms in cream sauce, yum!!! We got these weird ice cream sandwiches from a stand on the way back, with a slice of ice cream on a slice of bread (#9). Cheryl and Tracy and apparently the whole of Singapore loves these, but I really didn’t. The bread tasted so odd to me, and weird with the ice cream, which was mint chip but way too peppermint-y. I didn’t even finish mine!

Fortunately, there was an ice cream place back across the river that I had wanted to try from my previous visit to Clarke Quay, so I grabbed a scoop of milk tea ice cream (#10), with some encouragement from Cheryl, who wanted me to hit ten ice cream purchases because she likes round numbers.

And on my last day in Singapore, I went to Sentosa Beach! I had a red-eye out to Melbourne that evening, but plenty of time before I had to leave for the airport around 5.

Sentosa Beach is super Singapore. It is an island, which you pay $1 to enter, and on it are waterfront walks, tons of shops and restaurants, an aquarium, a water park, a Universal Studios, a Madame Tussaud’s (?!?), Silosa Beach amusement parks… basically it is a fabulous playground for the rich. However, I did not buy tickets to any of those things; I was perfectly happy with my $1 exploratory walk among them all! I looked at everything, happy to be out in the warm sunshine, and meandered all the way to the ocean on the other side of the island before walking back to the areas closer to the boardwalk (which is how you get to the island from the MRT station). I ate some ice cream for lunch (#11) – which the woman working, who I think owned the shop, made right in front of me by pouring the batter in a stand mixer and pouring liquid nitrogen on it!!!!! It was so cool. It even made it worth the S$10 it cost for one scoop :P Although one scoop was more like two, and it was “hazelnut cheese cracker,” which I guess meant hazelnut ice cream with cheese crackers crumbled into it, which sounded crazy, but it just tasted like really really really good fresh hazelnut ice cream, which I am a sucker for anyway, with a little texture/crunch. So delicious.

I also stopped in at the Toast Box for a snack, since ice cream isn’t really exactly a great lunch, and since I was curious about the restaurant, which serves mostly toast and is an apparently extremely popular Singapore chain. I ordered some “traditional whole grain” toast with peanut butter, which was only $2.60, and which was good. Because, well, it tasted like toast with peanut butter on it. Which is good. So, uh, yes. Toast.


I also stopped by a sandwich shop and ordered a sandwich to go, to take with me on the plane that night! And then I went home, packed up, puttered around for a while, said good-bye to Cheryl’s cats, headed to the airport, and left Singapore!

Taipei Day 2

Cheryl and I got another slow start - another late night, more job applications, and more extremely confusing research about what to do meant we didn't leave the hotel until almost one. We were tired, though, and the late start allowed us to gear up for another packed day, so no regrets!

First we headed out to Xinbeitou, the neighborhood north of us known for its hot springs. Once you get to the Beitou stop on the red line (the line our hotel was off, too, although our hotel was an unfortunate 20-minute walk from the MRT stop), you get on the Pink Line, which is a special train that only goes to Xinbeitou. Love it!

the pink line train!

We disembarked and began to wander up the street along the east side of the long, thin park that splits the commercial part of the neighborhood. Everything was super in mostly if not all Chinese, and also we were confused about where the actual hot springs were and if anyone was actually using them, since everyone seemed to just be strolling around quite dry and normal.

We stopped in the 7-11 for soft serve (number 6 for me, if you're counting) (clearly I am counting, anyway :P) and continued all the way up the street.

At the end of the street you can head into the thermal springs area. The smell was distinctly sulfurous! These are not the hot springs you can bathe in, because they are super hot. But they are very cool to look at! And very steamy! We stayed about five minutes, and then we really felt the need to get outta there.


We headed down the street along the other side of the park, not really seeing anything particularly different. But the maps suggested that the hot springs you can bathe in were located in the buildings that appeared to just be restaurants and/or hotels, back on the first side of the park. So we cut across and found a clean and hospitable-looking establishment. We walked in to try to get some hot spring action on!

Definitely no one spoke any English at all. All parties ended up pretty confused! But by pointing at pictures and handing over money (the few English words the lady at the desk understood were "hot springs," "how much," and "ok"), we were able to secure entrance to the hot springs.

We were led up a floor and into a dressing room. The lady opened the door to show us the way from the dressing room into the hot springs tubs, where we were immediately and unexpectedly faced with a full frontal of an old and naked Taiwanese woman. We contained our shocked giggles moderately well - not that either of us has a problem with nudity, it's just so unAmerican and it was so unexpected, it caught us a bit off guard! Plus the whole situation was sort of straight up ridiculous.

Anyway, pretty soon we were seeing more of each other than we previously had, and we headed into the hot springs. The naked Taiwanese woman made sure we knew to shower before we got into the tubs, and showed me how to turn on the faucets, crowding awfully close to me in the corner in the process. Cheryl and I giggled some more, showered quickly - no, I did not expect to ever shower naked with my schoolteacher college friend in front of another woman in the middle of Asia, but, you know, life happens :P - and gradually got into the hot spring tubs, which were too hot to get into all at once but which, once we were in, felt pretty damn great.

We were in (and out of, and in, and out of) the hot springs maybe 30-45 minutes, got out and rinsed off, dried off with the extremely small but weirdly absorbent towels we had been provided, dressed, and decided it was time to head back to the hotel. The hotel is a solid 20 minute walk from the MRT station, and we were very hungry at this point, so we stopped to grab some delicious-looking pastries, which I ate a few bites of at the time and then saved the rest to snack on the for the next 24 hours. (Bread with caramelized onions, a chestnut bun, and a small cheesecake, for the curious. Pretty westernized for Taiwanese food, but delicious.) After a quick stop at the hotel, we followed some directions I had found on Googlemaps ("After 0.2 miles, turn right." On what street, Googlemaps? You don't know? Ok...) to a tea house where we hoped to find ginger tea. (And I navigated expertly, I will have you know.)

Well, the tea house was out of ginger milk tea, but we had a lovely meal of hot matcha milk tea and cold sesame milk tea and noodles and tofu and french fries.



French fries with chopsticks!

Cheryl had found, with much difficulty, online, an ice cream shop with 75 flavors of ice cream, and had determined which MRT station it was near (and very little other navigational information, but we were feeling optimistic and intrepid!), so we caught a cab to said MRT station. We were pretty walked out at this point, especially since I'd been walking in my flats all day due to previously mentioned shoe issues, so taking a cab felt great.

We got dropped off at the MRT station, which was clearly in a Times Square-ish heart of the city, except even brighter and more extensive. And equally crowded! After a bit of cursory shopping-y wandering (so many booths and open storefronts!), we started wandering in earnest, and after I went in and asked a 7-11 clerk by showing her a screenshot of the storefront we were looking for, which she totally recognized, we found the place within about five minutes. It was almost completely abandoned, on a bit of a back street, and staffed by one woman, who would not give us samples and who insisted that we eat the ice creams we ordered in a certain order (basil is heaviest so it has to be eaten last, apparently), but who was also totally friendly and enjoyed practicing her English on us, and told us all about the mayoral election going on in Taipei that weekend! (Also she told us that people with Asperger's can't lie.) Anyway, we ordered chili pepper ice cream and jasmine tea ice cream (she served us the flavors in preordained pairs), and taro ice cream and basil ice cream. (#7) The chili pepper ice cream was good but strange and, as expected, a bit spicy!

video

We finished all of them except the basil ice cream, which was super pesto-y and which we couldn't quite make ourselves like, exactly. Good thing we had insisted, over her objections, on having the taro ice cream with it - we had been afraid of ending on a flavor we didn't like, and we turned out to be justified!

 So much eaten ice cream.
And so much leftover basil ice cream.

It was a very fun experience, all told, and afterwards we wandered around the district until we were tired and footsore and caught another cab back to the hotel.

And that was Day 2 in Taipei! On Day 3, we left for the airport at 5 a.m. and flew back to Singapore, so that concludes Taipei!

I love Taipei!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Taipei Day 1: In which we do SO MANY AWESOME THINGS. In which also, DEAD RATS.

Cheryl and I woke up in Taipei!

We had flown in on Thursday and taken a cab to the Dandy Hotel in the Shilin area, a bit to the north of the major part of downtown Taipei. Cheryl had gotten a deal on the hotel, so it was a bit nicer than her norm and way nicer than mine!

We got a slow start, since we'd gotten in late the day before, and Cheryl had some jobs to apply for, and I still had to look up some of the stuff we wanted to do. We were playing Taipei pretty heavily by ear!

We ended up leaving the hotel around noon and taking the MRT to the stop for Taipei 101, which used to be the tallest building in the world (now it's number 5) (p.s. there is a Council on Tall Buildings and I am still so glad Audra told me about it last year, and it still makes me giggle). We put in our names at Din Tai Fung, a dumpling chain which Cheryl loves in Singapore and which actually started in this neighborhood of Taipei, and then explored the building and the neighborhood a bit until a table opened up. We considered taking the fastest-elevator-in-the-world to the top, and I sort of wish we had, but it was pretty pricey, and we were going to have a great view of the city on our next planned stop, and after all it's not like it's the tallest building in the world anymore (I guess I have to go to Dubai next?).

Taipei 101

Anyway, we ordered a cucumber appetizer (the cucumbers! they are tiny and so crunchy and perfect!), sauteed Taiwanese lettuce, veggie dumplings, pork xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and taro buns. Everything was delicious, and our teacups were kept full!

 Bite a hole and suck out the soup!

We love taro :)

Also it had become clear by this time that Taiwan, like Flushing and unlike Singapore, has a population that doesn't actually speak that much English. A few people who are specifically in tourism - like the airport staff and hotel staff - are basically fluent, but most of the other people we interacted with had only a few words of English (although they were significantly more functional words than my few words of Mandarin: Cheryl reminded me how to say yes and no, I can say hello and thank you, I can ask for your phone number [but not understand the numbers], and I can tell you I like Chinese food. In a terrible accent. Thanks, one year of Chinese at the community college when I was 17). So the communication was pretty disjointed! But we managed :) I also saw a lot of what Cheryl had told me happened to her in China: Because she looks Chinese, people not only try to speak to her in Chinese (which is understandable), but they don't believe her when she says she speaks only English. And apparently it was better here in Taipei, which is a fairly multicultural/modern/international city, than in China, where people just flat out could not be convinced that she could not understand them. Regardless, it means that I had to be the one to go alone into the 7-11s to ask for directions, since the clerks were happy to at least try to communicate with me in a language I could understand - very kind and friendly of them, actually! People are nice.

Anyway, after we ate our buns, we went back to where we had noticed a station for U-bike, the Taipei bike-share program. After some complicated credit-card-number entries into the rental kiosk, we had bikes! First half hour free! We had planned to take the MRT to Elephant Mountain, our next stop just about a mile or so away, but this was way better!

U-bike! :)
Actually, it appears to be about to charge my credit card US$63.
Which, since we returned them properly prior to a half hour,
would be some crazy-ass shit,
which I would report to my credit card company.
But we'll see in a couple days :P

We got a bit turned around once we got to our destination, but found the bike station to drop our bikes at... and then got turned around again trying to follow the signs to the hiking trail up Elephant Mountain. Actually, we ended up trying to hike up some stairs that turned out to be private property, based on the lady yelling at us in Chinese until we turned around. I still don't think we were being that dumb, either - the signs definitely pointed that way! And then disappeared for good! We didn't see any more signs even after a nice gentleman volunteer (who lived in Bloomington, Indiana for eight years and was totally excited that we were from California, because he has also been to the Bay Area!) in the psychiatric hospital showed us the way. (We learned from him that Taipei is better than Bloomington, but that there is a lot of pressure on the young people in Taipei and they end up in the psychiatric hospital. Great sell there, dude :p)

Well, there we were at the base of Elephant Mountain, so we hiked up the trail, which was mostly stairs and totally exhausting (although nothing compares to hiking the Incline in Colorado at like 8,000 feet!). Also, my flip flops, which I had bought a week before to replace my year-old flip flops that had gotten too thin to count as shoes anymore, were breaking; the right toe strap was stretching out and the shoe was flopping around. So I took off the shoes within a few steps of the hike and did the rest barefoot! Good thing it was pretty clean and not too rocky or really any kind of proper mountain trail.

We were sweaty and sore at the top, but the views were so worth it! The whole of Taipei lay out before us. I got an even better view from the top of a big rock! From there, you can really see how fucking tall Taipei 101 is, too. Ridiculous.

What.
How are you so much taller than everything.

We sat and enjoyed the view and each other's company and the gentle breeze (although on the whole, Taipei weather was perfect, let me tell you. About 7 degrees cooler than Singapore, hovering around 80 during the afternoon and dropping to about 70 at night. And Singapore had felt positively balmy after Bali!), but eventually we headed back down. Much easier and quicker than going up!


At this point, we were getting hungry again, and it was about 4:00, so the night markets Taipei is so famous for were going to start opening up in about an hour. We took the MRT to the stop that apparently would dump us near the Raohe Night Market. (Directions to places - if you can even find place suggestions at all - in Taipei = super hard to find. I mean, directions do not seem to exist. It is possible that they exist but only in Chinese, of course. About 80% of the Taipei info on the internet is in Chinese, which makes research super difficult. During this whole weekend, I found places using a combination of consistently incorrect bloggers, super-vague half-Mandarin Googlemaps walking directions, advice from the hotel clerks, and guesses/getting straight up lost.) Almost immediately we passed a super cute cafe/pastry shop (have I mentioned that I love Chinese pastries?), where Cheryl ordered a strange but apparently delicious creamy lemonade type situation, and I got some kind of coffee shake situation that was also delicious. Although we saw too late that they had ginger milk tea, which we both totally wanted, and then proceeded to hunt for and not find for the entire remainder of the weekend. Whoops. Also I got an eclair-ish pastry and some pull-apart buns. Yum.

And then we tried to find the Raohe Night Market! Here is the other thing - everything starts out super well signed near the MRT stations, and then the signs disappear halfway to where you're going. So we were definitely on the right track, and then we were definitely lost, and then we got some directions from some slightly confused 7-11 employees. And then my flip flop really broke, so we went into a grocery store and bought me a pair of bright red and white child-size indoor shoes, which did not exactly fit, but, you know, whatever. Shoes!




Shoes!
They don't exactly fit,
and they are very,
um,
loud.
But they are not broken!

And then we were given some conflicting directions by a nice woman right outside the grocery store, and turned left as she instructed, and turned out to be on kind of a sketchy not-very-commercial street in the twilight, and then as we were walking, I sort of stepped on/tripped over something, and Cheryl gasped, and I turned to look at what it was, and it was THE BIGGEST DEAD RAT EVER, AND I ALSO SAW ANOTHER DEAD RAT LIKE TWO FEET FROM ME, AND it was completely traumatic and we sort of ran away to a brighter intersection, and I may have been hyperventilating, and it may have been basically the worst thing ever, and I am still traumatized OH GOD. Also it reminded us of the time that Cheryl was locked in her classroom with all her students in China while the janitor chased and killed a rat with a broom and then picked it up by the tail to remove it from the building.

And then we looked at where we were and it was totally the Raohe Night Market! Woo!

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha oh god Taiwan.


Anyway, we headed into the night market, and it was totally fantastic. Not too too crowded (the Shilin Night Market is apparently the most popular, and everyone on line is like, "you have to go to the Shilin market! Although [some other] market is actually better." Lolol.) There were tons of shops along the sides of the street, mostly with purses and shoes and lingerie, and tons of food stands along the center of the street, selling all kinds of food I completely did not recognize at all. We bought and ate lots of different things. Some I liked and some I didn't like that much, but all of them were really fun to try because all of them were completely different than anything I had ever eaten!

Also, my wonderful purse that Ruthy gave me that I've carried basically every day for the last three years was finally dying for good, and I'd been keeping my eye out for a new purse, but I am picky, because it has to be beautiful and it has to have a shoulder strap and it has to have adequate compartments. Well, I found one here! For the equivalent of like ten bucks. Yay new purse! :)

 Goodbye, old purse!
You served me well!

Hello, beautiful new purse!

We weren't quite exhausted yet - and it was only about 8:30, so we went to a 24 hour bookstore! It had a cafe, and I drank some chocolate and Cheryl ate some waffles, and then we explored the bookstore, which except for its 24 hour nature wasn't that much to write home about, but was still pretty cool!

And then we went home and I showered in the super exciting shower and examined my blisters from the child-size shoes, and then we went to bed! And clearly that was a crazy long day, and I will save the next day for the next post!

But just a heads up, I FREAKING LOVE TAIPEI. Taipei might be my favorite place I have been. In the opposite way that Alaska is my favorite place I have been. Taipei and Alaska are my favorite places I have been!

Taipei to-do list.
We did many things, just on Day 1!

gratuitous picture of Alaska

In which I eat two cupcakes, a macaron, and my fifth helping of ice cream since I left the States a week prior...

My last day in Singapore before we flew to Taiwan, I went out to explore the Marina Bay Sands mall, not because I was particularly interested in another mall, but because it had a tea house I was excited about: TWG Tea. It was a very fancy place (sort of like everything in Singapore :p), and I enjoyed sitting for solo tea. I ordered a pot of Ace of Hearts tea, a blend of red and black teas that in the menu was described as smooth and a bit floral. It was definitely smooth; not really floral; but I really enjoyed it, and it grew on me with each cup. I also ordered a vanilla bourbon tea macaron, which was a beautiful blue and had a nice subtle flavor, not too sweet, but which was a bit crushed already when it was served, which I think is disappointing and careless for such an expensive restaurant, and was actually a bit undercooked. I still enjoyed it, it was just a little squashed/smushy! And I ordered a scoop of Singapore breakfast tea ice cream, which was totally original, packed with spices and green and black tea flavors, and deliciously intriguing. (Aside from sitting in the sun, reading, and baking, and hanging out with friends) there is nothing I like more than taking tea!


After tea, and some spontaneous lingerie shopping (whoops) (never spending money again) (but they had the color bra I have been looking for for a decade!!!!!!), I headed to Haji Lane, with is a really cute commercial street in an Arabic neighborhood. I didn't have much time before I was supposed to go meet Cheryl at school, so I did a fairly efficient walk up and down the block in the rain, stopped into a little shop for a cupcake and cappuccino, and headed back out. In a massive downpour, I might add :p

 Haji Lane!
I didn't get a picture that conveys just how cute it is, sadly.

cappuccino and banana/pecan cupcake

After I hung around the Stamford American International School for a couple hours, helping Cheryl finish up some grading (work for her; novelty for me), we grabbed a quick bite of Indian food near Clarke Quay, adjacent to the studio where she was late for dance rehearsal. The meal was delicious, vegetarian, and super cheap - perfect!

And then I went home and hung around until Cheryl got home, hung out with her a bit, and went to bed - ready to fly to Taiwan in the morning!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bali Day 3, and then back to Singapore! Also, lots of ice cream.

Our third day in Bali was beach day! I had insisted on a beach day, because I love the beach and also I got no beach all summer and in fact almost no sun all summer. Alaska remains possibly the most amazing place I've ever been and I am so glad I spent five months there, but the weather was definitely the worst part.

Anyway, in the morning we got up and put on bathing suits and sunscreen (which I was super slapdash about, as we will see later) and went to the beach! And walked along the wonderful warm water for about half a mile and then walked back, and rented lounge chairs and lounged, and I helped Cheryl grade a bunch of papers.

Bali!
Beach!
Everything good!

We had to check out of the hotel by 11, so it was only a couple hours before we had to head back. But we checked out, left our stuff with management, and then went and got lunch at a beachfront restaurant. This involved delicious alcoholic drinks, lots of water (you have to order your water in Bali because the tap water is nonpotable), and gado gado for me.

Gado gado
and
some fancy drink with Bailey's and other delicious shit

We did a little shopping after lunch - Cheryl was looking for some clothing items for a costume for her upcoming dance show. It was meltingly hot (Singapore feels positively balmy after Bali!), so I grabbed an iced coffee and gelato. Then we picked up our stuff from the hotel (they lock the door at 5 and we were flying out that night) and took it with us back to the beach, where we remained, becoming utterly sandy (or at least I did :p), until we ate a leisurely fried rice dinner nearby and then were picked up by Gede's driver friend and taken to the airport to fly back to Singapore. I also realized around this point that I had burned/tanned in totally bizarre patterns, including in one spot on one thigh, in a diagonal line across my chest, and with narrow pale strips along my stomach and down my back, because despite applying sunscreen three times that day I was clearly super mediocre with each application. I was definitely coated in sunscreen, sand, sweat, salt, and dust all the way home. But so happy! :D

Happy sandy Bali beach Sho!
Whoops :p

...and it turns out I had a lot less to say in this post than I realized! I guess I should post about the two days I've spent in Singapore since then, then, too.

Well, yesterday - my first day back after Bali - I was tired and had shit to get done, so I took a day in. I did laundry, retyped an old transcription because half of it had gone missing (boo), booked a hostel and a rental car for Honolulu, answered emails, chilled out. Didn't leave Cheryl's place until I left to meet her for dinner around a quarter to five. We went to one of her favorite restaurants, which was delicious (peppered pastrami/cheddar/mushroom burger on house-made walnut bun, yummmmmmm) and also pretty inexpensive for Singapore, and then to a classy ice cream joint, where we shared a sundae (chocolate hazelnut ice cream, peanut butter ice cream with real peanut butter chunks, Bailey's-and-bourbon ice cream, Bailey's syrup, caramel sauce, chocolate balls, oreo chunks, whipped cream, and a waffle-cone straw!). And then we went home!

YAAAAAAAASSSSSS

And today I went to the Gardens by the Bay. This place is super awesome and extensive, with lots of different garden spaces. You have to buy a ticket to get into the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome, but it is totally worth it because those spaces are educational and beautiful. I took about eight million pictures in the Flower Dome, which is a dry cooled space and features gardens based around the five global temperate zones (California [yay!], South Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia, and I forget the other one but I'll find out when I look at my pictures to post them on facebook). Also there is a Christmas village in the center. Singapore loves Christmas. In sort of a weird way. I think I have mentioned this before. I also really enjoyed walking through the Cloud Forest Dome, which is a moist cooled space. It not only includes cloud forest foliage, but also a crystal cave and also a basement level where you watch an excellent five minute movie about global warming and see educational panels on what the Gardens by the Bay have going on in terms of sustainability (it is super extensive, btw).

picture number one of eight million

California garden!
Apparently usually there are poppies,
but I didn't see any today.
Wrong "season"?

Cloud Forest Dome waterfall!
You also go behind it on several of the levels!
Mist is everywhere!

Anyway, I also spent a bunch of time in the gift store, had a lovely solo lunch (penne with mushroom cream sauce - all the food there is super Western - and a nice mocha), wandered around the free outdoor gardens (various Singapore heritage gardens, including Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Colonial gardens, which makes sense since those are the four major populations of Singapore and the four official languages are Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English; and nature-focused gardens [ha, that sounds like a tautology] including a tree garden, and I forget the others :p), and then went to meet Cheryl at school. I got to see her classroom, mark some assignments for her, and meet one of her coworkers (who was AWESOME and I totally want to be her friend) and a couple of her kids.

The we went and grabbed dinner at a mini hawker market in a mall at the Serangoon MRT station (have I mentioned that Singapore is like the king of indoor subway-connected malls? It's like Montreal to the max. As far as I can tell, Singapore = upscale malls + nature preserves/gardens. At least the tourist/expat areas!) - Cheryl got this neat thing that I forget what it's called but it's basically a sort of pancake with cheese in it, and also an avocado drink that I tried and sort of liked but was sort of taste-buddedly confused by, and I got fish ball noodle soup, which was bland but fine, and then we got ice cream (hm. do I have a pattern here? do I plan my vacations around dessert? have I perhaps bought ice cream or gelato at least four times or possibly five if I'm forgetting one in the week I've been abroad? am I planning to go to a tea/gelato/macaron cafe tomorrow? no comment...) and then we bought cupcakes for later and then we went home and here I am!

Maybe tomorrow I'll post all my pictures, now that I'm caught up on the glob! :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bali Day 2

The next morning, Gede picked us up at our villa in Ubud. We knew the outline of a few things we wanted to see - a temple, a waterfall - but no real details, so we were relying on Gede to figure out where we might like to go. He did not disappoint! That guy knows the whole darn island so well, and it's crazy impressive.

I probably should have written down the names of the places we went, but I didn't, so, you know, too bad. We went to a pretty tourist-y but really lovely temple first. The temples are basically outdoors, which I didn't realize, and also it doesn't matter what you wear on top but you do have to wear a sari on the bottom so your legs are covered.


We explored a bit, and then headed on to the next stop! Gede knew of another temple, with no other tourists and some really cool stone carvings that he could tell us about, so we went there. This one was even more beautiful, and the stone carvings were of people doing everyday things in ancient Bali. A friendly dog appointed him/herself as our guide, and trotted ahead of us everywhere we went.

Third, Gede took us to this gorgeous waterfall, more or less on our way towards Seminyak where we would spend night number 3. There are many steep steps down to the area at the base of the falls, and you can pick your way over mud, stones, ledges, and streamlets, right up to the crashing pool! Waterfalls are Cheryl's favorite thing - I think for her they're like the ocean is for me - so she was even happier than I was!



Fourth, we stopped at Gede's friend's uncle's silver shop, since it was on the way and we thought we might enjoy looking around/find some presents for people. We didn't end up buying anything, but we did enjoy looking around! I just don't like silver very much. It looks sort of flat and boring to me, although I like silvery-grey metals.

Fifth - and it was only about noon! talk about efficiency! - we stopped for lunch near Seminyak. Gede knew of a great restaurant on the beach, and in fact our lunch and the quiet ambiance and the stunning ocean view made it hard to leave when we were done!

 Gado gado: Healthier than anything I'd eaten yet on this trip,
and so freaking delicous.
Might become my default order.

Yummy snapper "chowder" in Balinese sauce.
Definitely some curry in there,
not sure what else.

There just is nothing I like more than sitting on the beach.
But just wait until Seminyak.
It gets even better.

Nonetheless, we thought it was probably time to finish making our way to Seminyak and check into our hotel there. Umadasa proved to be spacious, attractive, very modern, and best of all air conditioned. And the staff was super friendly and sweet. We chilled in the hotel for a while, since we were overheated and tired, then made an ATM stop, did a little shopping, and had dinner at a restaurant that also had excellent gelato, which I did not try to resist ;)

And then we went home to our air conditioned room, showered, and went to bed! Next up: The beach :) :) :) :) :)

Bali Day 1

Bali! I went to Bali! It was hot and humid and sweaty and dirty and so amazing!

Cheryl and I landed in the Denapasar airport around 8 pm and made it outside in about an hour fifteen (Indonesian customs, unsurprisingly, is way slower than Singapore customs). Cheryl's been to Bali four or five times now, and she always hires the same driver - there's no real public transit, so it's most efficient and fairly affordable to just hire a driver while you're there if you're going to multiple places around the island. Gede, who seems like a super nice guy, picked us up at the airport and drove us to our villa (another thing about Bali - villas/hotels are nearly as affordable as hostels) in Ubud, where we would stay two nights.

Ubud is about an hour north of Denpasar and is inland. The streets are very narrow and being in a vehicle is a bit scary, actually! Motorbikes are even more common than cars, so the traffic is pretty complicated and dense. We were pretty tired and had already eaten dinner on the plane, so we were relieved to check into the villa, scope out our room (bamboo walls, tile floor, nice large bathroom although the shower had no curtain!), and pretty much pass out.

The next day we got up early, because we were being picked up for an all-day eco-cycling tour. The van to pick us up arrived at 7:45. Cheryl and I climbed in and then rode along as the other seven people on the tour were also picked up. After about an hour, the van climbed a treacherous mountain road to a beautiful restaurant for breakfast, with an incredible view of Mt. Batur - an active volcano - and environs. Breakfast - and this turned out to be common in Bali - was flat pancakes that came in banana or chocolate, fresh fruit (which I skipped), and fried rice. And jasmine tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We got to eat outside in the sun, overlooking the volcanic valley!


The next stop - still in the van - was a small plantation, primarily growing coffee, although they also cultivate cacao, spices, and teas. We got a short educational tour, followed by an extensive coffee and tea tasting, which was so freaking cool. Cheryl loves the lemongrass tea and the ginger tea, and I love the super smooth-yet-robust regular coffee and the perfectly balanced ginseng coffee and coconut coffee. I also tried luwak coffee, which has been eaten and shat out by a mammal called a palm civet (related to a mongoose). It was discovered by indigenous farmers during Dutch occupation; they weren't allowed to drink the coffee they grew and picked, but noticed that after the civets ate coffee beans they pooped them out undigested. Now it's suuuuuuuper expensive. I also found it to be almost undrinkable, personally: It was very strong and a bit sour and really not my cup of (ha) tea. It was fun to try, though - even though the other people on the tour heckled me a bit for drinking poop!


After the plantation tour, we got on the bikes at last! The bike tour is virtually all downhill, so it didn't exactly give us the exercise we had hoped for, but it meant it was just very fun the whole time! We stopped on the way down to see a few cultural sites: A Balinese home compound, an elementary school, a park. I loved learning details about how people live in another place than I do, although at the same time I was a little uncomfortable taking pictures of someone's home, even though they clearly had an arrangement with the tour company. I want to learn, but I don't want to be creepy or exploitative. So I just made sure I wasn't taking pictures of people who were just living their normal lives - only pictures of the places we were being explicitly taught about.

The tour and ride overall revealed some incredible views of forest, foliage, and cultivated rice paddies. It's not my very favorite scenery - I like size, which is why Alaska remains the most amazing place I've ever been and why I am a sucker for the ocean and why I really want to go see the Sahara - but it is really, deeply beautiful.

At the end of the tour we had a nice lunch and then got dropped off back at the villa around 3. Cheryl and I took about an hour to rest and cool off before heading onto the streets of Ubud to do a little shopping. We perused the hundreds of shops on the main streets for a couple hours, grabbing a scoop of ice cream midway, ate delicious noodles for dinner, and then went home to bed!

And now this post is pretty long, so I'll save day 2 (Ubud and Seminyak) and day 3 (the beach in Seminyak!) for future posts! Also, there is suddenly a cat on my stomach blocking my view of the computer screen. Good thing I'm not doing anything too interesting today - I need a bit of time to relax and catch up on some chores - so I won't get too far behind, here!