Monthly Archives: October 2012

Secondly: Singapore

With Vid off adventuring in India, I was left all by myself to explore Singapore. This is undoubtedly evident by the substandard quality of the pictures and perhaps more notably by the absence of people in all pictures!

I have tried not to form strong opinions about places before visiting them, but I admit that I had some expectations travelling to Singapore from Hong Kong. I (quite ignorantly) was expecting the two cities to be similar, not exactly the same, but similar. They were both former British colonies that people commonly describe as “Asia 101”, eastern-hemisphere cities where westerners can easily adapt and comfortably live. I have heard Hong Kong described several times as “Asia for Dummies”. If this is in fact the case, then Singapore should attract the title “Asia for Complete Idiots”.

While English is certainly present in Hong Kong, the strong influence from mainland China ensures that Cantonese (and now Mandarin) are also equally prevalent. Singapore, lacking the Chinese neighbours, is much more English than Hong Kong. While there is an influence of Mandarin and Malay, English dominates.

I was also surprised at how spread out and relaxed the city was. There were several green spaces and parks and tasteful new developments. I realize that with Hong Kong as a reference point, I will probably be inclined to make this comment about all cities, but Singapore was still a surprise, even with my tilted frame of reference. It’s like Britain realized that they really went overboard on HK and decided to dial things back a couple of notches in Singapore!

Once of my friends in Hong Kong knew a Canadian girl who worked at TD in Singapore. She was extremely nice and showed me several sites and restaurants (hawker markets) in the city. We had authentic satay and roti prata. I even had the opportunity to join up with the Canadian-expat dragon boat team, paddling around the waters of Singapore and gaining some amazing views of the city.

Perhaps the coolest building in Singapore was the Marine Bay Sands hotel (pictured below). The three tower hotel hosts a restaurant, night club and infinity pool on the boat-like structure that connects the pillars on the top. The second picture (below) is taken from the nightclub on the roof of the hotel!

On my last day in the city, I ventured over to Sentosa Island. I’m pretty sure this is what Rob Ford has in mind when he crazily rambles about transforming the Toronto Islands into a world-class tourist attraction. There are several man-made (but nevertheless, amazing) beaches, golf courses, theme parks, casinos and (perhaps most importantly to Mr. Ford’s vision) a monorail!

Overall, I think Singapore would have a slight edge on Hong Kong for livability. However, the relentless heat and monsoon rains (witnessed first-hand after dragon boating) that come with being 1 degree from the equator certainly tip the scales more into balance. Also, while property is slightly cheaper than HK, everything else is definitely not. Costs add up quite quickly when you are paying at least $20 CAD for a meal and a minimum of $10 CAD for a drink at the bar!

Check out the rest of the (admittedly sub-par) pictures on Facebook:
Singapore 2012

A tasty way to spend time while waiting on deliveries in HK

Make a home-made veggie burger!  My apologies if you came looking for exotic food.  There are no deep-fried insects or animals sticks posing as snacks here.  Just sharing with you exciting news (for me anyways) of my very first home-made veggie burger!

 It’s delicious and easy to make.  Here is a link to the recipe online:  http://www.howsweeteats.com/2012/09/smoky-sweet-potato-burgers-with-roasted-garlic-cream-and-avocado/

Made it while waiting at home for a couple of deliveries.  On that note, this is the land of deliveries. Everything is delivered to your door-step.  Even my toilet brush, which I could have easily carried home, was wrapped up neatly and delivered to me today.  Yes, I could have carried it home, but why carry my own things like a fool from a western country when someone else is paid to do it?  Right? Now, if only they delivered milk for free.  At the rate we consume milk…

Now back to my meal – here are a couple of photos of the burger:

Veggie burger

Smoky sweet potato burgers with roasted garlic cream and avocado

One down, nine more to go!  Nom..nom..

Veggie burger

Give it a try if you’re bored at home.   This is a tasty way to spend time while waiting at home on deliveries.

The Deodorant Revolution

Let me start by saying that I realize that Asia has a lot of things figured out. There are several aspects of society where Asia is clearly a world leader, drawing envy from its western neighbours…ping-pong, public transit, badminton. One of these areas is clearly not underarm hygiene.

While there is deodorant available in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia, it comes in very small containers (see picture) and does not offer a high-level of odour protection. It is puzzling to me how news of such a simple invention has somehow not crossed the Pacific during the last several decades. News spreads so rapidly now (everyone here has huge smartphones)….so why the delaying in the spread of information about adequate underarm products.

So then I started thinking, maybe larger deodorant with additional odour protection is not needed here. The people are smaller and North America does have a history of developing products that are well in excess of what is needed by the average consumer (think supersized fast-food combos). This seemed like a perfectly plausible explanation: There is no large deodorant in Asian because there is no need for it by the average Asian citizen.

And I was quite happy with this explanation, until I rode a bus in Hong Kong! I would venture to guess that approximately 20 – 30 % of the dense smog that hangs over most of Hong Kong on an average summer day is in fact a Linus-like haze, fueled by the millions of Asians with inadequate underarm odour protection.

It doesn’t add up. Asia clearly needs a Deodorant Revolution. In the meantime, I live here nervously, wondering if my supply of rare North American deodorant will last until my next trip back.

First up: The Philippines

After arriving in Hong Kong, we suddenly found out that there was a four-day long weekend at the end of September for the Chinese mid-autumn festival. This led to some last minute scrambling to find a cheap last-minute vacation destination. The winning location, the Philippines, not Manila as you might expect, Angeles City, a small town about 2 hours north of Manila in Central Luzon.

We were only in Angeles City to sleep on Friday night before taking a bus to Baguio City. As you can see from Google Maps, this is only a 164km travel that should take just over 2 hours. In reality, it takes close to 5 hours on a very windy, sometimes narrow mountainous road. We spent the afternoon touring around Baguio, which is by nobody’s definition a tourist hotspot. We were the only two foreigners in the whole city (or at least that we saw) as we went to the central park, the local market and explored around. We had dinner at the strangest (rustic, woodsy/village – themed restaurant) vegetarian restaurant. We are now struggling to describe the very cool décor in words and unfortunately it was too dark for pictures. After, we stopped off at a local bar playing live music (including a few country songs – we heard live music at three different places in the Philippines and two of them had country music!) where Vid picked up a 20 year-old guy in front of me. While this was a little awkward, it was nothing compared to later that night when she got an in-room Thai massage on the bed with the female-masseuse on top of her, while I had no other option but to lie next to her (watching sports on TV)!

The next morning we took another bus further north to Sagada (Northern Luzon), where we explored some extremely awesome caves. The first 100m of steep decent was a little rough (sharp, slippery, bat-poop/mud covered rocks). After that, we got to take off our shoes and descend for the last 50m on smooth rocks that were covered by running water and waterfalls. The calcium covered limestone rock was eroded in many places by the falling water, leading to some amazing rock formations.

We also saw several rice terraces in Sagada and Banaue (home of a UNESCO world heritage site), with many of the pictures taken from our jeepney as we travelled across the mountainous country-side. In some places there were falling rocks that had completely covered a full lane of the road. In other places there was only one lane to start with and in others there was barely anything you would call a road!

After a marathon overnight bus ride back to Manila, we spend our last couple hours touring around Manila. The US, Canada, Australia and the UK had all issued travel advisories for the city a couple of days earlier (specifically Pasay city where the bus terminal was). We survived without incident.

The strong American influence was evident almost everywhere in the country, from the TV stations and music to the acceptance of American currency. Our point of entry in and out of the Philippines was Clark Airport, a former US military base.

The return back to Hong Kong felt a little weird as it was the first vacation we had been on where we didn’t return “home” afterwards. That being said, we are definitely still looking forward to many more “weekend vacations”. Next up…Singapore!

Check out the rest of our photos on Facebook: Philippines 2012