Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chinatown, etc.

There is absolutely no tipping in Singapore, except maybe to round up to the next dollar when taking a taxi. It makes it easier to pay, but it feels so wrong to me.

Men in Singapore must serve in the military for 2 years when they turn 18. So, they don't begin university until they are 20 or 21. For the next 10 years, every year they have to go for yearly service, which can last from 1-14 days. They find out when they must report at least 6 months in advance so they can arrange for it with their jobs. The government pays their companies for their time. Women don't have to do any of this, but they can join the military and serve as officers if they so choose. I wonder if this means that women begin university 2 years before men do.

I'm not really minding living out of a hotel room. It's kind of nice having a maid! Although the price I pay is that every day I move the comfy chair by the desk (where the ethernet cable is) and every day the maid moves it back.

The malls are jam packed on Friday and Saturday nights. Good thing I decided to eat dinner early last night. The wait to get in to the sushi place was only about 15 minutes at 6pm. I was seated at the sushi counter, which is partly why going out for sushi alone is not at all awkward. The sushi chefs kept smiling at me and making small talk. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear them very well so I just smiled and nodded a lot. God knows what I agreed to.

I have been trying various iced desserts, of course. It seems that when I see a flavored soft serve listed on a menu, it's not the soft serve itself that is flavored, but rather a syrup that is poured over a vanilla one. I have had the sesame one and a hojiki (I think that's what it was) one, which was a Japanese tea. Both were really good. I might get the soft serve in a cup in the future, though, because I wind up having to lick off all the syrup.

I finally saw some black people today: fellow tourists in Chinatown. Chinatown was not as exciting as I remember it being on my last trip here with my former company. I think maybe the reason I went to Chinatown so often on that trip is because that office was right on the border of Chinatown.

I will have to go back to Chinatown near the end of my stay, however, to go to Dr. Fish Spa. I don't want the fish to eat off my pedicure, but I definitely want to give them a tasty meal of my dead feet skin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Another post about food -- surprise, surprise!

Now I think I understand why there are grocery stores in the malls. People don't do much cooking here so they probably don't need to buy a lot of food at a time. And why should they since there are good restaurants all over the place, especially in the malls?

Alcohol is pretty expensive because of the taxes, presumably. I bought a bottle of Australian Pinot Noir for $25 US dollars and it tastes like crap.

There's a bubble tea shop right across from the office. How ingenious is this? You can ask for the tea to be 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% sweet. They also offer small or large pearls.

The Singaporean preference is to drink black tea with sweetened condensed milk. It is surprisingly tasty. The office goes through so much of the stuff that they just leave it out on the counter. The kitchen at the office also has stocked cans of oolong tea which is nice and strong and not sweet. Some of the other offerings, like chrysanthamum tea, I have not yet tried.

The ladies' bathroom at the office contains one stall that is a hole in the floor. I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eating way too much

First impressions of Singapore:

Despite the heat and humidity, many locals are wearing jackets and tights. I'm not sure if it's an attempt to keep the sun off or if they are impervious to the heat.

There are Japanese products at the drug store advertising their skin whitening properties, including a cleanser (cleans off pigment?) and a 45 SPF face lotion (that not only protects but also whitens?).

On Kevin Utter's recommendation, I tried the chicken rice, which is indeed truly delicious. A hunk of ginger was hiding inside the rice.

While sitting in the Suntec mall, I saw a little girl with a bob and then another, longer layer of hair underneath. It was basically a rat tail, the width of her neck. Another kid, barely old enough to walk, was in flip flops. She flopped several times. Malls are EVERYWHERE. They stay open late, there are nice restaurants inside them and they are huge.

Two malls I've been in have a Carrefour inside. This surprised me at first, but today at work I found out that people don't cook much here, so I suppose they just pick up odds and ends at the grocery stores while out window shopping at the mall.

Unfortunately, the Carrefour I went into yesterday reeked of dourian. I really do not understand how people can eat a fruit that smells so horrible.

When I checked in, I found out that the breakfast buffet was included in my room rate. It is a combo of western and eastern. I had: fresh fruit, European style yogurt, pork bun, chicken bun, hash brown, bacon, cheese, whole grain bread, roasted tomatoes, mini veggie spring roll. I was so excited that I was going to have this selection for breakfast every day. And then I came back to my room this evening to a letter stating the hotel regretfully informs me that my room rate does not include the breakfast buffet. So sad. Probably for the best, though. I did find a small fruit bowl in my room this evening as well. I guess I will be having an apple for breakfast tomorrow, not a full spread. Sigh...

I should really not complain. The food has been delicious and plentiful. And I can see why people don't cook much. There are good and cheap options everywhere I turn. A colleague took me for dim sum at lunch today. There is dim sum within a short walking distance from the office! That pretty much made my day.

I took myself out for a sushi dinner tonight. I think the norm here might be to fill out a slip of paper selecting what pieces of sushi one wants. I do not understand why that's not the norm at home. I often make a list of what we want and then read it to the waitress. At our regular sushi place, I get teased for writing it down. Are people expected to remember??

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Beijing airport is lovely

(That's a lie.)

In fact, it's a rather confusing airport. But it's much less confusing to me now that I have spent 8 hours there. It's probably a good thing I did have 8 hours to sort out my new connection (after missing the original one) since figuring that out was more than slightly complicated.

1. Could not go through customs because did not have visa.
2. By the time got special dispensation to go through customs, bags were no longer on carousel. Baggage office by carousel had no info. Sent us to find Continental desk.
3. Air China desk said we would maybe, maybe not get on the 11:30 pm flight to Singapore, but to come back at 10pm to see. It was then 4pm.
4. "What do we do if we have to wait until tomorrow?" we asked. "You can sleep on the benches if you don't have any money to get a hotel room," the Air China employee said. How generous. However, it was not the money issue, but the visa issue. We could not leave the airport.
5. Finally located baggage at Oversize Baggage Dropoff counter.
6. Sought out Continental office to find out if there were any other flights we could take. Finding the office was perhaps the trickiest of all since it was located behind a door marked EXIT.
7. Were told that we could actually leave the airport and stay in a hotel if need be, as long as we were going to be in China for less than 24 hours. Much relieved.

In the end, we got on the flight and I'm here in Singapore and the sun just came up and my room is on the 19th floor. My view includes two churches.

I don't know how I would have stayed awake in Beijing if it weren't for my new friend, a 64-year-old man from Easton, PA, who was also trying to get to Singapore.

My room includes not only the Gideon Bible but also The Teaching of Buddha. Thankfully I'm nosy because I just found the hair dryer in the desk drawer.

The Beijing airport has numerous stations for filling water bottles. Many employees had water bottles or bottles of tea.

The green tea I got on the Air China flight was amazing.

My seatmate on the plane poured his fruit cup into the coffee cup that came with his tray and drank it like fruit soup.

After 36 hours of traveling, my hair looks as good as it does on most days. However, the customs folk in China still asked me to take off my glasses and smile while they squinted at me. Finally, the one agent said, "It's her."

My hotel room is quite spacious. There is a fridge and a kettle and even a scale. But there are no shelves in the bathroom.

I may get a pedicure today. I really don't like getting my toenails clipped, but I will just clip them in advance and request they not do it. My feet look frightful, so it must be done.