Shanghai (12 Girls Band)

•March 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The parent company had planned a full-day training session for its Asean counterparts, so a few hours after a late night company event in Singapore, the design team headed to Shanghai. It was conducted inside the Shanghai showroom, which is perhaps the most impressive by far, given the showroom’s high ceiling with proper displays of the latest models. Davide, the technical specialist, conducted the session with extra emphasis on assisting the Shanghai and Taipei representatives. We were intrigued more by the introduction of the latest proprietary ceiling hood and wine chiller.

Exhausted after the compact training session had ended, everybody headed off to a famous restaurant to try something that somebody had enquired about during lunch earlier. Enough to say that I tried my best not too be a bad guest without compromising on personal food preference; with the sometimes weird dishes being placed non-stop on the lazy susan. The hosts were definitely trying their best to make sure everything was catered to be it lodging, food and entertainment, and we appreciate it very much. The New Beacon Qingzhilv International Hotel was our base throughout the whole trip.

Bar Rouge, at Bund 18, was the final stop for the night and the place definitely lived up to the hype. The freezing weather in Shanghai weren’t being too kind while everybody was out on the open roof terrace overlooking the Huangpu River. Luckily, I had my pack of ‘Double Happiness’ cigarettes for company.

Our return flight was close to midnight the following day, so we had practically the whole day to explore the rest of Shanghai. First stop was the XinTian Di district, a rather hip area made up of boutiques and restaurants. The architecture of the surrounding old buildings were attractive enough for some people to be posing along the lanes for their pictures to be taken. We then took a public bus to Yuyuan, kind of like Shanghai’s Old Town, where many locals gather for the abundance of street food and also to absorb some cultural and historical places of interest. I managed to do a little bit of shopping for souvenirs, including some traditional Chinese tea, at this place.

Soon after, a quick ride on the Shanghai Metro, and we reached The Oriental Pearl Tower. Something that just had to be done, so RMB150 poorer individually and we were at the top of the imposing building. The highlight was of course having vertigo while walking on the glass floor that afforded the view 350 metres below.

The last dinner in Shanghai was to be had along the streets of Ninghai Road, where I finally managed to patronise a truly Halal joint, run by Uyghurs. Long sticks of spicy mutton satay. So long that most people used them as darts to aim into the dustbins resulting in bouquets of satay sticks.

Safe to say Shanghai is not a place I long to return to. Weather was chilly like Tokyo during that time, which I love, but the surround sound of ‘Harkkk Ptuiii’ almost every ten minutes wasn’t to my liking. Hopefully, the suggestions by the many representatives to make it an annual affair would be realised. It would be nice to return to Bangkok after so many years.

Tokyo Blue (Najee)

•December 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Promises kept on the exact date of the anniversary of her surgery. To see real-life Disney characters and play in the snow. And the nearest place that could offer both was Japan. With only slightly more than a week to spare, we spent most of the days within Tokyo, absorbing the stylish and clean environment of the city with visits to Disney attractions. Originally planned for just a day each at Disneyland and Disneysea, we upgraded to the 3-day passport, since Fadelinah and I were totally smitten by the Disney magic, reliving what we could only capture on television back when we were little kids. Ooyah definitely has gotten a headstart.

I decided to just book a room at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku throughout the whole duration, since lugging our bags to change hotel would be too troublesome. The Japan rail and metro stations were already complicated mazes themselves, let alone child-friendly. The trains were always full but thankfully we managed to escape the notorious packed-like-sardines situations. The hotel room booked was spacious enough for the 3 of us, having properly checked beforehand that it wasn’t tagged with the word ‘economy’; reference to less than standard bed dimensions. Luxurious hotel rooms in other countries would equate to Tokyo’s compact ones in terms of rates. We also decided to forego purchasing the Japan Rail Pass in Singapore as it didn’t prove economical given the side trip planned. The Suica Card was a better choice.

Our itinerary of visits to the various districts in Tokyo were cut short, partly due to the extended Disney visits and also the fact that Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and Ginza started to look the same after a while. Although Fadelinah got herself a Burberry Blue Label, shopping is not exactly the top draw in Tokyo. Ooyah got basically all the Disney stuff she wanted and for myself, a few T-shirts as always. No wonder the Japanese go crazy when they find themselves inside our shopping centres. A cashless society these Japanese are not, judging by the frequent cash rather than credit cards exchanged over the counters. I made the mistake of changing only $2000 worth of Yen before departure to cover our daily expenditures but found us running out of cash two thirds through our trip. The ATMs inside the 7-Elevens are lifesavers in this instance.

Food-wise, a tricky affair too as they really love their swines, I don’t know what made me think they only like fish. Equipped only with the words ‘arigato’ and ‘sumimasen’ in my Japanese vocabulary, conversing was difficult but technology came to the rescue yet again in the form of written translations through an iPhone app. All I had to do was typed in English and flash the interpreted version to the locals. There are Turkish and Indian cafes around and essentials like a portable cooker and utensils that we brought along also proved handy, not forgetting the ‘halal’ food packed into our luggage prior to arrival.

We went to the typical tourist spots, at least as far as our legs could carry us, to places like the observatories at  Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to have a panoramic view of the city, the Meiji Jingu shrine buildings at Yoyogi Park, the loyal Hachiko statue and had our lattes in Starbucks overlooking the famous crossing to watch the scene from the ‘Lost in Translation’ movie unfold.

Disneyland and Disneysea were unforgettable, especially the rides and parades; the latter worth waiting for compared to the queues for rides that could last more than an hour for the popular ones. While Ooyah was more than thrilled hugging and posing with the many Disney characters on site, Fadelinah was almost brought to tears by the ‘It’s A Small World’ boat ride, so engaging that it was. Whereas for me, never did I imagine the Big Band Beat led by Mickey Mouse to bring the house down with big band and swing tunes. They even did my favorite ‘Sing Sing Sing’. Between both resorts, Disneysea wins hands down, as agreed by many who went to both. Disneyland gave us enchanting parades and the fireworks behind the Disney castle scene, which those born in the 70’s would identify as the intro prior to any Disney programmes on television back then. Disneysea, on the other hand, is the only one in the world and lends an entirely different feel to the whole Disney experience. Needless to say, we never did manage to cover all the rides, even if we had spent a week there. We hope to return perhaps during one of the spring seasons.

The final day before departure was reserved for visiting the snowy peaks of Gala Yuzawa, but due to a thunderstorm during that particular morning, the resort was closed and we had to change to the Prince Snow Resort at Karuizawa instead. We took the Nagano-Joetsu route on the Shinkansen. A ride so smooth and fast that I wish we had one in Singapore to destinations in Malaysia and Thailand.

Tokyo was an eye-opener for us. It was amazing to watch the Tokyoites go about their daily routines, so chaotic yet organised at the same time. Stylish people they are that even the few homeless people we saw looked decent compared to their Southern counterparts. Everybody cleaned up after their meals and return the trays back to the counters, something we had to keep reminding ourselves to do every time. I found the quirky sides of Tokyo more amusing; ranging from the trivial to the adult kinds.

This Tokyo trip was the furthest the 3 of us had ventured and God willing, we’ll be on a longer one come next long school holidays. Fadelinah wants a Turkey-Greece combo, whereas I am more than happy with a seat inside the Emirates Stadium.

Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)

•October 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Lady Ooyah has a bad romance …

Bali (Wondermints)

•October 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Not by choice as it was a company retreat and was free … so who cares.

Got off to a great start though when midway through our KLM flight, we spotted someone familiar who turned out to be the one and only Adam Lambert. He was probably in first class and decided to check on some of his entourage in economy, in which we just happened to sit amongst. Didn’t take him long to spot one Papa-razzi zooming in and clicking away on his DSLR and his immediate reaction was to smile and flash the peace sign. Since it was a hassle to scoot over a few seats to get his autograph, we decided to catch him again after alighting. Even with a black cap to hide his wild hairdo and look like the many other Caucasians around, Fadelinah managed to spot him and we got him to pose for a couple of pictures.

That completed, we embarked on our first venture into Bali, assisted by a tour guide engaged by the company, as we made our way to The Bali Khama, our stay for the next 2 nights. Situated in Tanjung Benoa and away from the touristy areas, it was a nice boutique resort albeit missing better nightlife and shops. Dinner by the beach an hour upon arrival and the Denpasar Moon made its appearance. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Food in Bali is not something to be craving about. Right down from the breakfast we had at the resort to those we had at a few restaurants. We ate with much trepidation since unlike other parts of Indonesia, halal food is not the norm and signboards advertising the popular Babi Guling along the roads didn’t make it any better. Perhaps there are good eateries to have Halal food in Bali but we just didn’t happen to be near one during our trip.

Tanah Lot was in our itinerary for the second day, apart from a couple of visits to some tourist traps. I definitely like this particular place as it offered loads of photographic opportunities. Too bad we didn’t have time to wait out at the place till sunset. We did manage to buy a couple of souvenirs, including some wooden carvings for the house in Horizon Hills. A quick dinner at La Scala in the evening and our second day was done.

We decided to forego more sight-seeings on the final day and just enjoy the facilities in the resort, including a Balinese massage, till it was time for departure in the evening. While a few of us tried out para-sailing, Ooyah was in her element on the beach and in the pool. I really think she enjoyed herself the most out of this trip, having been doted upon by Chea and the rest.

I don’t think we’ll be going back to Bali anytime soon. The Muslim-friendly Lombok and nearby Gili Trawangan islands are my target for our next Indonesian trip.

Road To The Crater (Half Film)

•June 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This would be one trip that we’ll remember for a long time. Not necessarily for all the right reasons.

Among the many parts of Indonesia, the one that I’ve always wanted to go to is Bandung, apart from the Lombok region. Maybe it’s the many comments I’ve heard from Indonesians about it being their favourite place. It didn’t make sense how much different Bandung could be from dirty Jakarta given their 2-hour separation by the Cipularang Toll Road, but it had to be done due to the rave reviews.

So on 16th June, we boarded the first Jetstar flight out to Jakarta, followed by a few hours road trip to Bandung. Our driver throughout the trip was Iwan, who happens to be the husband of our new helper, Siti. Our first helper, Leonilyn, had been ‘repatriated’ the very week her bond finished. That’s a whole post by itself, if I ever bother to write about it.

Our first itinerary for the trip, a stopover at Puncak before heading to Bandung, had to be scrapped since it was raining cats and dogs upon our arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. The occasional landslides that occur at Puncak during heavy rain didn’t justify the risk. Needless to say, what was supposed to be a 2-hour road trip stretched to 4 hours due to the weather and traffic. What a way to start a holiday.

Things turned for the better as the rain stopped upon us reaching the outskirts of Bandung and we were awed by the serene beauty of the natural landscapes, engulfed by mist and as expected, due to the higher altitude, the outside temperature dropped to our delight. Bandung also contain some very beautiful and grand Art Deco buildings and residences; none of the nondescript Singapore ones.

We checked into Aston Bandung Hotel & Residence, before heading out to one of hundreds of factory outlets that are scattered within the town area. Dinner at Riung Sari proved to be one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time, none of that pseudo Indonesian fare from the likes of Garuda and Tambuah Mas.

Tangkuban Perahu, an active volcano reeking of sulphur, was the highlight of the trip. It’s also the venue where the Legend of Sangkuriang took place. One can still see the poisonous gases emitting from a corner of the crater. As with most tourist spots, we were constantly being followed by a group of peddlers under the guise of guides who kept repeating the same old facts. It last erupted in 1983. I got it!

Ooyah had her own fun at Tangkuban Parahu, as she kept riding different ponies that cost only 2,000 Rupiah per ride. On our way down the volcano, we stopped by Restoran Padang Sederhana and a strawberry farm to pick our own strawberries. Another fun activity for our little girl. That’s her flashing her ‘L’ sign … as in ‘Loving It’ … not ‘Loser’ …

By this time, we were going into full swing shopping at the numerous factory outlets before dinner at Karamba Sundanese Bistro, another fine eatery where the rest of the family had their first taste of Iga Bakar, grilled beef ribs that put Tony Roma’s to shame. I last ate it in Yogyakarta and just had to have another go in Bandung.

The third day was when something weird happened. By the time we reached Pos Indonesia to post a parcel containing gifts for Siti’s daughter, I was already reeling and vomitted whatever it was that was causing my diarrhoea earlier in the morning. The smell inside Pasar Baru, our next stop, only made it worst and I decided to just try and sleep it off, even staying back in the van while the rest tucked into Ayam Goreng Suharti. Felt better after a while before visiting the local zoo which was quite pathetic and more visits to factory outlets, including Paris Van Java, the latest shopping centre in Bandung. We ended the night at Braga City Walk, the shopping arcade right below our hotel, where a few of us had some local fares.

1 …

2 …

3 …

The number of victims added to the Bandung-diarrhoea saga prior to our road trip back to Jakarta. Ayah was the one worse off, vomitting a few times en route to the airport, hardly able to walk and had to be transported in a wheelchair. So much so that the airline staff in Jakarta kept asking repeatedly what illness he was under and whether he’s fit to travel. Some white lies muttered just so we could get through as we didn’t want to be held back in Jakarta. Even the bigger Lufthansa plane back to Singapore failed to lift our spirits.

On hindsight, Fadelinah, Ayah and Ibu think it’s the ‘es chendol’ from the night before, whereas in my case, I can only guess it’s the ice cubes in my cold drinks or the curse from that one and only peddler/guide I didn’t buy from after he tailed us throughout Tangkuban Parahu.

Thank God Ooyah doesn’t like ‘es chendol’.

Water From The Wells Of Home (Johnny Cash)

•April 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

When you basically have just the typical Wednesday per week and the first Sunday off for every month, being able to escape work even for just 3 days is a luxury. This year just happens to have a few public holidays fall close to the first Sundays and in typical fashion, I slot my annual leaves in between to make the minimum 3 days. While planning for the trip to Japan this year, the shorter trips to different parts of Malaysia suffice to keep me sane from the drudgery working environment.

It’s been more than 4 years since our trip to Port Dickson with Jarrod and Geetha. We stayed at Ancasa Allsuites that time and thoroughy enjoyed our trip despite the absence of shopping centres and night entertainments. Since the rest of the family have yet to set foot at the place, I scoured the internet for an accommodation worthy of us spending our money there. Let’s face it, a popular beach destination it may be for the residents of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore alike, the water there does not exactly scream ‘dream resort’ and seems perennially at low tide and covered with little creepy sea creatures. I definitely remember it being a haven for flies, that appear the moment you’re trying to have a meal at any of the eateries.

The only reason we opted for Port Dickson instead of heading to Malacca or Kuala Lumpur which were safer bets was The Legend International Water Homes, only a few months old and the latest under The Legend Group chain of hotels and resorts. The main difference between this hotel and the popular The Avillion is the fact that the former is the only one to offer a private pool within the room itself, actually I think the only one in Malaysia to offer such a facility. Irregardless whether one stays at the stilted villa above the ocean or one in the main tower, every room comes with its own pool. So what’s the big deal? For one, there’re no prying eyes watching your every move like when you’re using the hotel’s outdoor pool and availability even in the dead of the night. Blame it on the villa we stayed in Phuket for pampering us to such extent.

Needless to say, most of our time was spent within the compounds of the Sky Pool Grand Villa, as there wasn’t much to see within Port Dickson itself. Even when we did go out, it was merely to check out the various food vendors along the main road and those inside the night market. Good food that’s scarce has been worsened further after our experience at Nasreen Songkhla Seafood. This place served us great food 4 years back but not only has service nose dived, the quality of the food as well. The place was packed with more than 30 cars parked around it and people standing around waiting for available tables. Were they, like us, ex-patrons from years ago looking forward to taste the same or merely people better known to have sub-standard taste buds or like what Malays would call ‘Tekak Ular’. The black pepper crabs that we ordered had gone bad and the ‘blur-like-sotong’ waiters have definitely ruled us out from ever going back there again.

Here’s hoping that better eateries appear in Port Dickson soon as we do intend to return … just simply to relax and do nothing much at all.

Pots And Shots (Potshot)

•March 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Camwhoring on the day off …