Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This is life 6: Hangzhou Experience

A trip to Westlake is almost like a pilgrimage for all travellers to Hangzhou.

This view must have inspired many poets but behind this tranquil scene are sounds of dance music where the many locals dance or do their morning exercise by the lake. Doing exercise by scenic Westlake is entirely refreshing, but such loud sounds for travellers are not exactly welcoming nor inspiring.

Talking about ''Garden City'' Singapore, Hangzhou does post a great challenger to this uniquely Singapore title. Especially when more attractive coloured flowers grow much better in temperate regions. And over the changing seasons, the colours of these gardens change as well. Singapore's gardens are just total stagnant. Unfortunately, in this late May, the cherry and peach blossom season is long over. Otherwise, this trip will be even more stimulating.

In 1988, August the 8th, a typhoon swept across Hangzhou and uprooted 90% of the trees. Hangzhou's authorities, with their surge in their economy, are able to go to great lengths to protect the greens and flowers of the cities; the trees are securely tied during the typhoon season to preserve them.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

This is life 5: City of Yiwu


Passing by the Thousand Island Lake or Qiandao Hu; famous for fast and furious waves that drag struggling people with it. Just as China's urban development try to swallow every available land.

It was a 1.5 hour ride to a nearby city of Yiwu. This city is famous for the massive loads of manufactured daily goods. From chopping boards, to candles and to stationary. It seems that at least 10% of the stuff that can be found in the house, originates from this city, allowing this city to prosper; there are loads of BMWs on the roads. This city has also been gaining much public attention recently including an article featuring Yiwu in the local newspaper as well.

Along the way, there are huge advertisement signboards, all ready to change your perception of taste, style and what is good. If one does not have any impression or any positive impression of China products, this is the journey that can completely change one's mind. It is everywhere and there is no escape.

The arrival in Yiwu shows that it is like most Chinese cities, layered with traffic and bicycles. However, there laid really large amount of factories and shops along the streets instead of offices.

Seriously, the goods here are real cheap. For example, a decorative candle can cost only one-tenth of what can be found in Singapore. However, most store owners only sell in wholesale volume. So unless one is here to do business, buying stuff is not quite possible. There are many traders, including locals, Caucasians and Arabians exchanging name cards and doing business here. Suddenly, there was this sense of nostalgia of multi-cultural Singapore.

Locals of Yiwu are said to be fierce, rude and aggressive. There was a fierce argument over the prices between two trading partners and that the owner finally decide not to sell anything. Yet, there was this hearty side where locals engage in an afternoon game of chess or cards.

One of these factory is probably manufacturing the next year's supply of socks for the whole of Singapore. It is said that one in every eight pair of socks that exist in this world, comes from this city. Imagine the might of this city, the might of this country.

Friday, May 26, 2006

This is life 4: First day in Hangzhou

20th May 2006
It is a reflex, almost an instinct. Everyone knows they have arrived in China when they see this welcome sign.

A total transformation of sights and sounds. Most people, that look locals, seem to have a microphone attached at their throats. One may be able to hear their loud voices from several metres away, and not understand anything. It comes in all directions, with surround system of cacophonic dissonants.

The wait for the bus ride to Hangzhou was a little less than tortourous. Coffee and snacks at the Pudong airport was priced dearly, more than the likes of dear Changi. The waiting room for the bus was non air-conditioned. Even though the late spring temperatures were still cooler than in Singapore, but without air-conditioned, it becomes unbearable and too stuffy for Singaporeans while they play mainland Chinese popular music videos.

Trip of 2.5 hours to Hangzhou cost a RM100 (S$20), which costs similar for a 5 hours trip from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. Although it was expensive, this bus ride comes with a Chinese acrobatic performance from the bus driver.

This bus driver who wore dirty white gloves, has his MP3 player stuffed in his ear for the whole journey. He was seen counting money while driving. In the middle of the journey, the driver took liberal breaks of eating gum, drinking, smoking, spitting out of the window, and all these while faithfully driving down the highway at above 90km per hour. It seems ironic that in this communist country, drivers use their horns liberally as they steer their way though the traffic. To a Singaporean, this is an exciting performance of multi-tasking while handling the steering wheel. One is able to have the rough idea how efficient these Chinese are.

The city of Hangzhou, of poetic history and rumoured beauty, welcomes with a streetful of bicycles and loads of vehicles. It seems impossible, but the drivers can be safely be described as reckless and no accident occured. They changed their lanes when they see that their vehicles can fit in. Bicycles stopped in the middle of the road, just to allow the bus to pass.

Dinner was held at the pleasing coffee house only a walking distance from the hotel. It features an array of Western and Chinese cuisines, with their specialty, coffee. The waitresses were polite and helpful although the dishes could take less time to appear. It was quiet and relaxing restaurant, indeed an oasis, away from the hustle of the city outside.

The walk after the dinner, around the city and around the famed Westlake at night appeared to be challenging. Of maneuvering across drivers that quite ignore the pedestrains and traffic signals. But the locals seem to be at ease at their great attempt of crossing the busy roads.
With the cool of the late spring, walking around crowded Westlake seemed like walking in the air-conditioned indoors of Singapore. This included sounds from a live stage band. However, along the sides of Westlake, no one can missed the loud branded names. The stuff in this shop were said to be so expensive, that as long as they are able to sell just one jacket, they have made enough money for the day. Right besides these glamourous shops and luxurious hotels, there were people, children and the aged, begging on the streets. So how poetic is this modern Westlake? seems to be the question for the day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

This is life 3: Prelude to Great China great trip

China, or the ''middle kingdom''', as they call themselves, is a pilgrimage journey for all Singaporeans. Because money is the unofficial religion that most people seem to believe in wholeheartedly; what better place to visit than the country with great economy that continues to expand? This means that this ''pseudo religion'', is like a statue gobbling itself while growing at enormous rate. And no pilgrims is going to forget Shanghai.

Singapore has embraced China, and everything China in the most vulgar form. (It is interesting to note that some people in this world think that Singapore is part of China.) It is a fact or becoming a fact that almost everyone is this world, and all Singaporeans, wears a pair of socks, the food they put into their mouth, originated from some places in China. Even the human itself somehow originates from China.

The claim that ''Mandarin is cool'' (so is China), is everywhere in Singapore. From buses advertisements, to television programmes to newspapers, the cool notion of Singaporeans will have to change. The journey to China, is a pilgrimage for Singaporeans, because Singapore aims to become a hip, lively global city. So this cool journey to China is supposed to be cool as well, because this is where even the language the people speak, is so cool.

However, China is afterall a communist country. So how does one behaves in a communist environment? It is really not a cool thing to learn from alternative media, not the mainstream media of Singapore, that China is probably harvesting organs from living people. In other words, this journey is likely to be dangerous because one might end up being harvested. Perhaps money can do all the guidance.

It is hard to imagine how good or great this journey will be. But with great China, this pilgrimage journey will also be great (and cool).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gastroliterary 40: Lamb Specialty

Lamb Specialty restaurant is located at the money mountain of Genting. Previously, Coffee Terrace and The Olive was introduced and now Lamb Specialty restaurant has been added to the list.

This place does not only serves good lamb dishes but also other hearty Chinese dishes like orange flavoured fried chicken, fried vegetables that uses fresh ingredients. Prices are reasonable at about RM20 per person considering that they bring in the central Asian cuisine theme for some unique tasting.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Gastroliterary 39: French Creperie

Creperie, a restuarant which introduces Brittany treasures to Thomson. Brittany, France is famous for their food, and crepes is the main attraction over here.Crepes's cost range from $3.50 to $11, depending on choice of accompaning toppings, which can be considered quite costly for a dessert. The crepes that are made from wheat flour, are being made fresh by a French chef. This aroma can spread through this tiny shop that sits less than 20 people.

The taste in quite refreshing, especially when one has not eaten a real crepe before. The assumption that this place serves real crepes is probably a valid one and in Singapore, it is really hard to find one the serves the real thing. There are many combination of toppings and the one with the goat's cheese is quite a match. Goat's cheese eaten plain is thick, heavy and pungent, but along with the crepe, it is wonderful.

Other than French food, one most interesting experience is that one can probably experience French snob here. There are many signs telling customers how to behave. There is this reminder that customers are to switch their cellphones to silent mode, and at the kitchen counter, it tells the customer that this is not an ordering counter, and on the menu, they advise customers that they should order their desserts only after the main course and that having different combinations of toppings would incur additional costs. On one's way to the the toilet, there is a newspaper article about how customers should also help so that Singapore's service standard can be improved. And no customers are allowed to take any photographs unless they seek permission to do so. Lastly, there is a policy such that the minimum charge per head in this cafe is $10. So if one is here to enjoy the food or French snob, the charge is a minimum of $10. Ironically, with so much signs that gave this place a snobbish image, they do provide personalized service such as advising customers how they should approach the food and the people serving there do seem quite polite.

A very French cafe in a small area. Experience French food and culture here, except for the scenic streetwalks while dining al fresco in France. Be prepared that one's haughtiness, even if one is an elite, will have take on a secondary role in this place.
Food: 7.5
Service: 7
Ambience: 7
Overall: 7

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gastroliterary 38: Korean experience at Auntie Kim's

A Korean restaurant in Thomson Road brings Korean food close to the heartlanders. And of course, this is perhaps one of the better ways to fulfil one's Koreanophile's desires, where such craze is diffusing into the Singapore society.

Friendly service starts at the door. The Korean atmosphere is quickly set in; the waiters and waitresses are dressed very presentably, with the waitresses in in seemingly Korean dresses, and some even look Korean.

Service: 8
It is quite a comfortable place to be in except that the leg's space is cramped like a ride on an economy carrier because of the barbeque station in the middle of every table.

Ambience: 7.5

Three sets were being ordered, inclusive of six side dishes served and kimchi being one of the side dish. No one can ever forget kimchi, which is the quickest thing to come to mind when one mentions Korean food. It is interesting to note that the restaurants claims that their kimchi is homemade. Most of these side dishes were cold vegetables which prepares the stomach for the hot sizzling food of spicy kimchi soup ($14.50), fried Korean pancake ($16) and chicken in hot plate ($14.50). The kimchi soup was spicy, flavour was full and appetite-inducing, while the chicken was marinated well, although it would be healthier if there was less sinful fats. The pancake was rather unique because it somehow resembles the localised fried oyster but minus the thick grease and replace the oysters with prawns and squid.

Food: 7.5

Unfortunately, in this restaurant, Korean tea comes at $0.50 and rice at $1.

Overall, one does not have to be a Koreanophile to enjoy food from this place. Prices are not overpriced at all, in fact quite reasonable, other than the fact that they charge extra for tea and rice. One can expect to have a good Korean experience with a budget of less than $20. Do expect crowds even on a weekday's night. A last bit of information to be aware of is that, customers are sent off in such a way that the restaurant's workers cannot wait for the same customers to be back again. So it is likely that anyone who patronise this restuarant for the first time, they are going to get hooked. It is very unlike the Tomoe, which is just beside likeable Auntie Kim's.

Overall: 8

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gastroliterary 37: Fusion Chinese at Taste Paradise

Taste Paradise is a newly opened restaurant in Chinatown. Opened in March, this restaurant situated in Chinatown, is considered to be quite a swanky place and not the stigmatized traditional.

Food: 9
The main chef is a Hongkonger who has created many fusion dishes. The food was totally a melting pot of cuisines. It is mainly Chinese with French and Japanese influences. Cod fish comes in a small portion for each customer. It was topped with fish eggs and Japanese-styled sauce with a hefty price tag of $12 per person. The deer meat might appear innocent but the taste was really exceptional. The most interesting dish was probably the fried eggplant with pork floss. With the odd sounding combination, it was surprising to find that pork floss complimented with eggplant, can be such a perfect match. The sharksfin dish, comes in a heavy Japanese hotpot and with matching fried popiah as a wonderful combination. This might caused much environmental damage, but also much damage to the economy because one such pot cost $48. Other great dishes include vermicilli with shimmered crab and even braised vegetables. ''Heavenly dew'' as it is named, consisting of mango puree and pomelo.

Service: 9
The service here was simply great. Because the waitresses were polite and quite professional. Tea pouring was so frequent that cups were mostly filled to the brim. If customers were to try to fill their cups on their own, the waitress will be quick to take over the serving instead. Furthermore, they put in much effort in recommending the dishes that turned out well and their opinions about the dishes are likely to be trustworthy.

Ambience: 8.5
For ambience, this place can be considered to be of modernistic Chinese style. One problem with this place, is perhaps the seats which were not too comfortable unless one is sitting in the most upright position. The designer toilets are more than a place for answering the call of nature, instead it is answering with style.

Overall: 8.5
For such good quality restaurant, sensibly, it has got to be expensive, at about $50 per person. Unless it for on very special occasions, it is not likely that another visit will occur again. For creative and outstanding fusion cuisine, start saving up.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Supermarket Spree 8: Chinese Loquat

Unique loquat from exotic China.

It is really surprising to find that the local NTUC sells these fruits of 8 at around $6 while China's local stalls sell them cheaply in big boxes. Indeed being exotic comes with a price even if it comes from ''China''. It is said that these fruits absorb the essence of spring. Other than being juicy, it just contains many seeds; not very unique actually.

Site Meter