Wednesday, February 29, 2012

the lion city III: the quest

Dad and I, on the Quest, taking a nice
snapshot with the dragon, since we're both
born in the year of said dragon.

To finish off my recounting of my trip to Singapore, I am going to document "The Quest." Well, I call it a quest. Because my other option would be Pain-in-the-you-know-where-I'm-talking-about. Besides, what adventure is complete without a quest? So of course, our family had a quest.

Enter my dashing but slightly prone to preening brother (love you, big guy!).
Try not to swoon from his wink.

Notice anything about this teenage, socially sensitive young guy?

Ok, I'll spell it out for you. His headphones are pink. Well, not entirely, but noticeably. Let me just state here and now that there is nothing wrong with pink. However, they weren't jiving with Ian's mojo enough. Our aunt gave these headphones to him. I'm not sure where she got them, but I still ponder her reasoning when she purchased pink headphones for my brother. Maybe they were the only color. Maybe they were free. Maybe she didn't think he'd mind. Maybe she remembered that he used to have a shirt that said "real men wear pink." In any scenario, it was sweet of her to remember/know that my brother was in the headphone market because I certainly had no inkling until after touchdown.

 As you can see, he didn't mind enough to disregard them, he just had his sights higher.

By higher, I mean more $$$. He had specific requirements about the headphones he was looking for. They had to cover his whole ear . The band that connected the ear poofs had to be comfortable. He bought an expensive pair here in the States over the summer, then returned them because the band pinched his neck, hence, a cushioned or padded band was essential (I call it a band, but I really have no idea. Just doing the best I can). I would have just sewn earmuffs and flannel over a regular pair, but hey, that's me.

I suppose the broski couldn't find the headphones in China, so he was determined to get them in Singapore. Apparently he had looked it up before, or his friend had gotten them there or something along those lines. So, I, being the fan of shopping and browsing and finding a good bargain, readily agreed to troop along with the family as we went in search of these famed earphones. Headphones. You get the point.

Chinese New Year Decorations all over the place.
One little snag.

It was Chinese New Year.

Allow me to elaborate.

Singapore has a high population of Chinese people. What does this mean? This means that a large percentage of the stores and malls were closed for Chinese New Year. From what I've observed, that's pretty unheard of in the US, particularly for more than one day. But for Chinese New Year, it seemed as though most stores were closed for at least 2 days, and in some of the smaller malls and individually owned stores, up to the whole week!

So what do we do? Naturally, we go to each and every possible location that might be open and might carry the headphones. You'll have to pardon my mild exasperation as this is the part where there was a lot of walking and looking for stall numbers and going up stairs and getting on buses and walking from bus stop to location. It must have been my giddy family reunion fuzzies that were clouding my brain because now I'm wondering why we didn't simply call these places ahead of time? I'll let you think on that one too.

Moving on. It wasn't all exercise (ok, that, I'll admit, was much needed); there was some lolly-gagging and puttering and browsing. Those are the technical terms for eating and stopping in stores I was interested in and sitting.

This gentleman made me laugh. I know it may not have
been very nice, but I was up a floor so I don't think he
heard me. Especially over the music.
Some interesting things happened along the way. The most notable? We saw some pick-up line dancing going down in a mall. Unexpected, to say the least, since I was under the impression that line-dancing was a Southern, hoe-down type activity (cultural stereotype?). I was surprised again when the music started playing. All I can say is, they definitely did not play Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood or Trace Adkins. It was more....ballroom type music. Again, unusual. This was a first for me. I'll let you know if I see it happen again.

FINALLY, after we searched high and low, across the entire city (good thing Singapore's an island, otherwise we'd have been in some doo-doo trouble), through treacherous crowds and perilous mass transit transfers, we found a privately owned (I think) store and Thank You Jesus they had his headphones.

See this photo?

And this one?

Can you spot the difference? I mean, other than the place, and the time of day and what he's wearing and how he's positioned? Ok, I guess these two photos are nothing alike. But notice the headphones.

This is the result of Ian laying down some serious dolla bills and walking away with his much sought after headphones.

He can now sleep in peace. After I take a picture.
And so, our quest came to a happy and well traveled end (I'll leave out the bit about Ian complaining that the earpads were loose and then we had to go back and switch them. Not a word. Quest is over), and Ian and his headphones lived happily ever after up 'til now. As for ever after, well I can't presume to know, it's only been a couple of weeks!

I hope for a prosperous and long relationship between Ian his headphones (I'm dubbing them Sir Cost-a-lot). May they listen and play music for years to come (Sir Cost-a-lot's got a ways to go to make good on his per use value, you know what I'm saying?).

No, I tease. It was good to spend time with family.

As I bring my Singapore Saga to a close, how about a toast? With a non-alcoholic beverage, Ian! Here's to the Quest and Sir Cost-a-lot's induction into Ian's toy collection. I mean... tool? gear?... we'll just go with Ian's family. Cheers!

How about you? Any stories of a long-winded nature to procure a much desired item? Or a short-winded story? Lots of pictures of an unsuspecting broski? All are welcome!

Up next: India!
(have patience, grasshopper)

PS. You can read about how this all started here. Part I is here, and Part II here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

the lion city II: the flowers

And now we come to the real jewels of Singapore. I've already chronicled my lengthy journey to Singapore, and all the mouthwatering food that I partook of, but now we get to the really good stuff.

Singapore is a tropical country (it's located a smidge above the equator), and its climate tends to bring out the most beautiful and enchanting treasures of all. I'm speaking of course, of my family (cue "awww").

We traipsed all over Singapore, and it was great to see my family laugh and ride buses and subways and eat food.

I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures of some of my favorite people. For those of you who thought this post was actually about flowers, never fear, I'll sprinkle some of those in as well. If you have walked a mile with me, then you know I have always loved taking pictures of the flora and fauna that I happen to find myself surrounded by.

We'll start this party off with a real looker, shall we?

My mommy. She makes me happy!

The Ian. He's usually walking a couple steps behind us, so I really had to be patient to end up behind him! (I love you, little man!)

Who doesn't like a good head rub? Dad does!

She has a great laugh. I like capturing laughter.
I just love vibrant colors.
We love nap time. An ancient and venerable tradition. Brought to you on the metro.

Sentosa's Flower Festival:

I convinced my family to go with me to Sentosa's flower festival so I could play with my camera.  The following are from this outing. It was already later in the day, so lighting wasn't ideal, but I think the pictures turned out ok. At this point, Ian didn't want to have any part of it, so he sat in a KFC and read a book or played a game. All this to say, he isn't in the flower shots.

There was a dragon built from pink flowers at the entrance. I didn't take a picture. Sorry, it seemed a little too oxymoronic for me, if only for its lack of fierce-ness. I just wanted to mention it. In case you were interested. It made me a little wary of what other flower creations they had in store. But they didn't disappoint, don't worry.

Allow me to open with some pretty yellow

My aunt. She doesn't like to smile with her teeth because she's self conscious, but I think she beats those flowers any day.
Mom. She's laughing because I asked her to squat, and she's not sure if she can get back up. I knew you could do it Mom!

This was in the "Lover's Lane" section of the festival. There was a heart pattern in front of the swing, but this looked better.
I got a tooth smile! Guess I surprised her enough with the hug that she let a real one out. Don't mind my whiteness. I know I throw off color in most photos.


I was trying to get some bokeh, but it wasn't dark enough outside yet, so I just kind of made my parents lean out awkwardly. Oh well. It's still cute.

Finally got me some bokeh!

To show our appreciation, Singapore (I'm super mature. Though in fairness, Dad played along!)!
Orchids are the national flower of Singapore.
Ian Pian. With his sulky, emo, teenager look. Rocking the muscle shirt, to maximize the impact of those guns.
Clearly, it was delicious. What'd I tell you? Food. Is. Awesome.

This is my big sister skeptical, patronizing look. How's it doing?

Oh, I just couldn't resist. This is when he is most agreeable. Since he's on the other side of the world, I think I'm safe. I'll at least have a 24 hr head start if I have to run for my life. But I don't think I will because I don't know that this blog makes a bleep on his teenage radar. Sigh.
We're all about making new friends.

Especially Ian. Very friendly.
We had a little surprise partay for my mom since her birthday was right after they got back to China and of course I wanted to get in on the festivities. And throw in another surprise. Why not?


And on that note, I will bring this post to an end. I hope you enjoyed a little peek into my family and our adventures. I'm planning on one more post in Singapore, so stay tuned, and thanks for being patient!

Any surprise parties or funny pictures to share?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the lion city I: priorities

Mr. Merlion.
The Lion City is, for those of you who are unaware, a moniker for Singapore. Why? you might ask? Are there many lions roaming the city? Is it shaped like a lion? Do people walk around with lion-mane-esque hair? To these excellent and inquisitve questions, the answer is no. At least, I've yet to see a lion walking down the street (I know you were really concerned for my wellbeing--be at peace).

To the best of my knowledge (I admit haven't done any Wikipedia-ing or Googling), the title "Lion City" comes from Singapore's national animal. Kind of like how the bald eagle and America are besties?  Singapore's bestie is a mythical animal called a Merlion. It has the head of a lion and the body of a fish/merperson hence, Merlion. I can't say I know how this creature came into being, but that would be a wonderful little weekend/work procrastination project for you, no?

So, after my arduous and lengthy experience of actually getting to Singapore (read about it here), I was finally back in this wonderfully tropic, beautifully green city once again. My family was waiting for me at the arrivals hall and after I took a detour to the bathroom to shed a couple layers, change my shoes and officially mark my arrival (hey, when a girl's got to go, she's got to go), we headed to the taxi stand.

We hopped into a taxi and cruised our way back to my aunt's apartment. My aunt lives alone now that my grandmother has passed away, but that's the place we always stay when we go to Singapore. It's a wonderfully familiar little two bedroom where I have memories of inspecting the marble tile patterns when I slept on the floor instead of my mattress because the tile was cooler than my mattress. Using the blue ceramic squatty potty before it was updated to a sit-down toilet. Watching my grandma use a wooden washboard for laundry and playing in the laundry water we swept around to clean the floors because everything was tiled. My mom or grandma giving me a shower with a bucket of water and a ladle.

All this to say, I've seen changes happen in the area, but it was still home (Sorry, the reminiscing went a little further back than I intended!). So, to maximize the impact of the surprise, I went up to the apartment by myself. Now, a lot of homes in Singapore have a normal door, and then a metal or aluminum frame door that can be kept closed while the solid door is left open to encourage air circulation. When I got to the door, my aunt was perfectly seated to see me. She was sitting at the square mahjong table (it's a family gathering tradition, and relatives usually play for hours, rotating players every now and then) facing the door.

My little cousin. Basically the definition
of cute. Sorry for the lack of pictures.
Again, celebrating, not clicking :)
She was shocked, saying things like "What are you doing here? How come you're here? What is this?" After much laughing and hugging, we moved in my luggage and called my cousin to come pick us up. A couple of my cousins and their families were having hotpot dinner at my cousin's house.

I sat on a bench by the curb and when my cousin and her husband pulled up, I could see the confusion. My cousin gets out of the car and asks "is that Michelle?" Why yes, yes it is. I had a great time surprising my family. My cousins said things like, "The best new year present," and other surprised yet pleased exclamations. I'm glad they were happy to see me and we were able to pull off the surprise despite my delays.

Then, the food fest began. I love food. I love Singaporean food. I love the fusion of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and other southeast Asian flavors. I love the food that comes at a low cost from the hawker centers but leaves a high and satisfying impression. I love the abundance of fresh fruit. Guava. Mango. Mangosteen. Rambutan. And yes, Durian (don't hate, just leave me to enjoy).

Brace yourself for a deluge of drool-worthy images. Warning. Images may cause inordinate drooling and stomach growling. I recommend moving your keyboard and other electronic devices out of harms way. Oh, and don't lick your screen. It won't work. And that's not healthy.

Also, if I don't include the name of the food below the picture, that probably means I don't know its proper name. I just know it's mm mm good. I'll do my best to translate Chinese names. But I don't run a restaurant nor am I perfect, so you'll just have go with my flow on this one.

Breakfast. Noodles and Fishballs in a bag. Red Chili added at will.
I know it doesn't look like much, but I HAD to include it because it's one of my favorites. Lao Shu Mian (Literally, mouse-tail noodles) and fish balls. I haven't seen these noodles any where else and they have the perfect consistency!
And she gave me cake. She, being my mother. Cake being... A layered pound type cake. But not as dry. Or heavy.

The following images are some of my favorite dim sum dishes.
Zong-zi. Sorry I don't know what it's called in English. It was yummy in my tummy.

Feng-zhua. aka... Chicken feet. Yes I did. Yes I love. If you're still reading, I know we're true friends.
Luo-bo-gao. Basically... Radish paste cake? It doesn't sound quite so attractive translated, but trust me. Drool. Look Mom didn't even wait for the camera before she dug in. Actually, it was a team effort to polish off the first square :D
Chang-fen. Broad Rice noodles? They had Chinese bbq pork inside. Seriously. Watch where that drool lands.

Momentary interlude from food.

Here are my mother and I enjoying ourselves during food coma. This is my explanation for the faces.

We were doing Rock, Paper, Scissors sequences. Don't fall off your chair.

Back to ze food! 

Fresh Guava! With Suan-mei-fen (sour plum powder) Really gives it extra umph.

My mom and I have a similar palate, so it's not unusual to find us munching on one delicacy or another. Even if it's outside a subway station. (Note. Eating aforementioned guava) We also had durian pancakes but I failed to get a picture. Basically, a thin cake with durian in the middle. Be still my flowing drool (yes, just humor me)!

Yu-sheng. This is a dish that's only available in Singapore at Chinese New Years. It has shredded vegetables, crackers, raw salmon, pomelo, honey, lime juice and probably one or two other ingredients I don't know about. 
The food and ingredients are symbolic for prosperity and long life and other well wishing sentiments for Chinese New Year. Once the ingredients are all piled on, the group gets together and tosses it, saying well wishes for the new year! Delicious and fun! My broski even got in on it. The tossing. Not the eating. We all know he avoids green edible things. Unless it's mint ice cream.

Porridge. Perhaps plain to the eye, but this is definitely a comfort food in my book.
To throw in a beverage: Homemade Barley Water. Homemade as in made by the hawkers. Mildly Sweet. Very Yum.
Char Siew. Drool worthy. Barbeque pork
LAKSA. A coconutty curry with fish cake, bean sprouts, tofu and noodles. Usually with prawns or shrimp but since I'm wary of shellfish, I forgo that ingredient. Seriously, one of my favorite foods. Excuse my while I go wipe my own drool.
This is a sweet bread. A little heavier, but sooo good. I don't actually know what it's called. My mom just knows
I love it and so she gets it for me. So short story.  I've loved eating this since I was a wee little tyke. However, this bread is actually used as an offering/gift to ancestors or traditional Chinese deities. I'm not sure how my family figured out that I liked this bread seeing as it was used for religious purposes, but I guess since I was impishly cute (?) they overlooked what might have been a sacriligous offense to their beliefs? Sorry. No offense intended. It's just sooo good! If it makes any difference, I didn't eat ones that had already been offered. I think.
Mee Siam. Not as spicy as it looks. Rice noodles, sprouts, fried dough, egg. I'll wait while your mouth waters.
Soup+Nutritional Goodness. This came from a stall where you could pick your ingredients and they would cook it in a broth for you. That orange-green-white thing is a pepper with fish paste in it.
Dou-suan. Slightly sweet. Let's just say I tried to make it once and it looked nothing like this. Sad. So I went for the real thing while I could.
He-fen. Friends with my taste buds and tummy.
Peanut Mo-chi. Sweet, chewy satisfaction with a little crunch. Don't be jealous.
Last Family Meal at my Eldest Uncle's home. There were mushrooms, tofu with meat, noodles, meat and that tan/yellow pattie on the top right side of my plate is fish with spices wrapped in a palm leaf to cook. So. Good. And it definitely had a kick to it. 

Beverage 2! Malacca Tea. Technically, Malacca is in Malaysia, but I got this at the airport on my way to India. It was like milk tea, but that dark stuff at the bottom had this Longyan type flavor to it. I'm not sure if that's even right. I can taste it in my head and I'm sure I've tasted that flavor before, but alas I have no name for it. Whatever it was, it was good. Oh, and you have to mix it all together. FYI.
Well, that concludes the food portion of this saga. I was pretty sure that was what you were really interested in, anyway, so I didn't want to make you wait any longer! The Singapore saga is not over, however, because I haven't talked about anything other than food and come on, did you really think I was that much of a glutton? That was a rhetorical question.

I know I began this post a little wordy, but I definitely finished with an abundance of illustration. Hopefully you weren't bored! Sorry if some of the pictures seem a little blurry. The lighting wasn't ideal and everything smelled so good I didn't always take the time to adjust. It took great self control to even wait to eat it! There were a couple longsuffering looks from my family members as I made them wait while I took pictures of their food too. All for the sake of this post.

Until next time... which of these looked good to you? Are we still friends even though I eat chicken feet? Any favorite foods you'd like to share about? I'd love to hear!