Tuesday, 20 February 2007

A Gentle Genting Caper

We have just returned from four days away; a quick respite from the heat of Singapore. Our destination of choice was the Genting Highlands which is an hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur or seven hours if you did what we did and went by coach from Singapore itself.

We decided to beat the Chinese New Year crowds and went two days before the festivities commenced. This would give us a fair chance of getting a reasonably room on a non-smoking floor of the rather optimistically named, First World Hotel.

We rose at an ungodly hour to ensure that we got to the Queens Street bus terminal in time for the 6:30 departure. The cab we booked for 5:30 am arrived early and so when we got to the terminal (which was in fact a dilapidated shed with a grimy window) it was not yet 6 a.m. Our plans for buying some breakfast evaporated as nothing was open. Eventually, while I guarded the suitcase, my wife managed to find an open shop in a nearby street.

The luxury coach was a double decker and we passengers were accommodated on the upper level. The bottom level seemed to be largely occupied by a day bed for the driver and our luggage shared the same space. The bus's brochure proudly proclaimed that it had reclining seats. I now know this to be true, as the catch on my seat was faulty resulting in me travelling the entire journey in a reclining position. Not that I was complaining as the early start to the morning made this a most pleasant position to be in.

The roads in Malaysia are excellent and maintained through revenue gathered at toll stations along the way. The landscape is dominated by oil palm plantations which is one of Malaysia's foremost industries.

We had two stops enroute and a meal in Yong Ping where I purchased and attempted to digest probably the worst bau (steamed bun) I have ever tasted. As will all such bus halts, the prices were steep by local standards. The Malaysian Ringgit is about 2.2 to the Singapore dollar.

Having passed through the outskirts of K.L. we climbed rapidly into the Genting Highlands and there looming above us was the multi-hued, Colditz of gambling and theme park gratification, the First World Hotel. Because of the altitude it was almost permanently mantled with cloud which made the entire complex a most surreal apparition (see picture left).

For the first two days we had a relaxing time enjoying the coolness of the air which is a marked contrast to the humidity and heat of Singapore. However on the eve of Chinese New Year the experience changed dramatically with a huge influx of guests, many of whom seemed to be on cheap package tours from China.

The hotel has 6,000 rooms and each one seemed to have an extended family in it. Every second person was a chain smoker and even on our "non-smoking" floor the occupants flagrantly ignored the rules and smoked as and when they wished. None of the staff seemed either able or willing to police the non smoking ban. The great irony was that the lobby was meant to be smoke free but other public places such as the casinos and eateries were not. This meant that non smokers such as ourselves and the staff, were subjected constantly to second hand smoke and our clothes and skin stank on cigarettes by day's end.

It is not a good omen that one of the successful bidders for the Singapore Integrated Resorts - to be built on Sentosa - is the Genting Group who own and operate the Genting Highlands resort. I hope that Singapore government takes a very tough stand and bans smoking from the start, to protect the staff who work there and patrons in general from the insidious danger of passive smoking.

The trend world wide is move to a smoke free environment and in New Zealand smoking is banned in all restaurants and public places such as casinos. Australia is moving in a similar direction and despite the protestations of the gambling industry, revenue barely dipped with the strict introduction of such policies.

Our room in the First World Hotel was small and basic. If we stayed again we would pay more and upgrade to a World Club room which are more spacious and better appointed. No air conditioning was in evidence nor required as the climate was pleasantly cool. We even called for an extra blanket.

The food experience throughout the entire resort was sub standard. Breakfast in the hotel's eight floor restaurant was cattle class chaos. People milling everywhere, self help toasters with elements so poor they required four passes through the machine to get anything resembling toast, 'hot' buffet that contained some dishes that were decidedly chilled, watered down fruit juices and fellow diners without a skerrick of table manners between them!

Food outlets in the resorts were also marginal with the possible exception of Kenny Roger's Chicken and a local variation called Marry Brown. No, this is not a spelling mistake, it is Marry not Mary.

I had only been to Genting once before and that was twenty years ago when there was but one hotel/casino. The theme park and the other hotels are more recent developments with the park itself being a very popular destination for children and are of comparable standard to those in the States.

Chinese New Year entertainment was not that inspired but we did view a traditional Lion dance as well as some singing groups who performed on the public stages.

Lessons to be learned from our holiday?

Firstly don't travel to a Chinese-oriented resort during Chinese New Year as the crowds are indeed madding.

Secondly, pay a bit more and stay in a better class of room. The climate was certainly invigorating - the smoking was not.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Where is this Blog read?

I welcome readers from 30 countries namely:

Singapore, New Zealand, United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, Sweden, Portugal, Japan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Europe, Spain, Mexico, China, Thailand, Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, France, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ireland, Turkey

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Poem - I've been assaulted by food

I've been assaulted by food
from health once decidely rude
all thanks due to pisang
and kueh keuh and like
my stomach's distended
and I'd fall off a bike
I've been assaulted by food

I've been seduced by good food
from morning to night it's the mood
with promise of bau that just won't go away
and a nagging suspicion that one day I'll pay
I've been seduced by good food

I have been poisoned by food
laid low to a bug tough and crude
Was it the curry or chillie or spice?
or coconut left in the sun just a thrice?
to be able to rise from my bed would be nice
I have been poisoned by food

I will rise from my sick bed again
stride forth through the food stalls and then
probably settle for pure juice, yoghurt and fruit
with lashing of chocolate and thick cream to boot
I've been assaulted by food

Monday, 12 February 2007

An Antibiotic Episode

This is a short entry after having been laid low by a bout of acute food poisoning in the middle of last week, contacted in our very own university canteen no less.

It is many years since I have have sunk so low so quickly and it reminded me of the other fact of relocating to a new climate and country - the bugs pick out the newcomer and react more virulently on the unsuspecting stomach! This realisation usually happens within the first six months of arrival and I just managed to squeeze my bout in within this timeframe.

At least today my course of antibiotics have been completed (or should that be 'curse' of antibiotics as they too affect the stomach) and I am easing my body back to the realisation that it needs to to eat food.

For my part I have resolved to give the malay food (and chillie in particular) a miss. My second resolution is to write a short ditty on the subject which I shall do when the moods take.

To more edifying matters. We are packing our suitcase in preparation for four days in Genting. This means an early morning start on Thursday as the bus departs at 6:30 am from Singapore and allowing for comfort stops does not reach its destination until about 2pm in the afternoon.

The advertising for Chinese New Year continues unabated, the price of Bak Kwa mentioned in an early blog entry has reached $48 per kilo and poor old "Valentines Day" (which is this week) very much plays second fiddle as a festival in these parts.

As this will be my final posting until after New Year can I wish you Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Friday, 2 February 2007

Springing into New Year

The build up to Chinese New Year is neither quiet nor subtle. One minute it is Christmas and the next the golden doves of peace and glowing baubles have been replaced by red paper pineapples, canned music and assorted prosperity symbols.

Shops are hawking the sweetmeats (my favourite is bak kwa- pictured left) that are a speciality of the season and every hawker centre appears to have a temporary trestle or two with seasonal merchandise and special items such as fruit-bearing mandarin bushes.

Chinese households have live plants in bloom to symbolize rebirth. Flowers are symbols of wealth and elevated career positions. There are a lot of pussy willow and plum blossom brnaches for sale in the markets at the moment. According to some sources plum blossom reliability and perseverance.

Chinese believe that flowers are fundemental to the formation of fruit. Therefore, it is very important to have flowers and floral decorations.

If you want to know more about the Chinese New Year festival I would suggest a visit to Wikipedia

So how are we celebrating the New Year - by escaping from it, that's how!
We have booked a few days up in the Genting Highlands which promises cool airs and the ability to lose money quickly in the local casinos if one feels so inclined.

It is a seven hour coach trip from Singapore to Genting so here's hoping the bus is of the highest quality, especially as we need to board said vehicle at 6:30 in the morning.

I have alluded to the frenzy of buying that accompanies Chinese New Year with the concept of new clothes "inside and out". This includes footwear but as with most things in town, if you know where to look there are bargains to be had.

Ten minutes walk from us is the Queensway Shopping Centre, one of the older malls. Its claim to fame is that it is full of sporting and sportwear shops. You can buy a good pair of branded sandshoes much cheaper than in the main shopping districts and it is the same location where I get my large format prints produced - the upper levels are reserved for print shops.

Today we walked up past Anchorpoint to Queensway and bought two lightweight windbreakers at less than $25 a piece. These are for our forthcoming sorte to the Genting Highlands. The night airs there range from 13 to 17 degrees and we of course have become acclimatised to much higher tempertaures in recent months.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Queens Gallery

Celebrating Chinese New Year at the House of Windsor!

Friday, 26 January 2007

Coy About Carp

Yes I know, it's a terrible pun!

Koi Carp are very popular in Chinese and Japanese cultures infact the word "koi" actually means "carp". So the name "koi carp" is in fact "carp carp", which is carping on a bit.

On a walk around our new condominium we came across the "Koi Carp Pool" referred in the apartment's promotional literature.

The fish in question are quite beautiful as they swim lazely in the direction of the currents produced by the pond's aeration system.

Being a cold water fish they prefer a deep pool and we seem to have a predominance of the Kohaku variety which has a white body with red patterns.

An adult Koi grows to about a metre in length and ours are probably three quarters of that length and must be very valuable.

The Japanese have become fantical breeders of Koi and have named many colour variations. They are symbols of prosperity in Japanese culture, so judging from the stocking ratio of our pool I should be a wealthy man in the very near future, unless of course I have to share my good fortune with the other 721 residents of the apartment complex.

Not that I am tempted to breed Koi myself, as investing in a Cyprinus carpio is similar to investing in a marriage - the average lifespan of koi can reach over 50 years, with the longest lifespans over 100 years.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

First Night and Bonus Offers

First night in the new "condo" and the body is aching from the unaccustomed physical exertion.

Fortuitously there is a gym in our Queens complex so I think it’s about time I got back to an exercise regime.

The last time I ventured into such a place the exercise machines were far less complex than they are now. Modern machines have so many dials, gauges and knobs that a pilot's license is needed before setting foot on a treadmill or exercycle.

The other disturbing thing about modern gym equipment is the plethora of health signage and lights that appear when one's body fat index reaches critical mass. Signs that your blood pressure could explode like an over-ripe durian (if you overdo it) are everywhere and none too comforting.

The view of Singapore in the evening is very pleasant, with the commercial and HDB building twinkling in the distance.

The new shower has been tested and found to be satisfactory while the computerised washing machine has automatically weighed the washing, suggested the amount of soap powder to be used and started of its own accord.

Singapore has some wonderful electronics and appliances available for purchase, many of which are models that have yet to reach the Antipodes. The competition is fierce and so sales are often sweetened with "offers".
For example our purchase of a 32 inch Samsung LCD television resulted in a bonus home theatre system plus vouchers worth several hundred dollars to spend at the local Robinsons department store.

I suspect we will literally be dining out on free supermarket vouchers for the next month.