Category Archives: About Singapore

“… To All Singaporeans … A Warm Welcome Home…”

“… to all Singaporeans and residents of Singapore, a warm welcome home… ”  my flight just touched down at Singapore Changi International Airport.  It was 5.50am on 13 December 2008, Singapore time.

It just hit me that I had really left Houston, I was finally home in Singapore.  About 24 hours earlier, I had left Houston.  Was feeling exhausted from packing my apartment for handover and my luggages before I left for the airport, really tired. 

~

My last morning in Houston – I had gone for breakfast at my fav cafe, French Riviera Bakery Cafe for french bread with 2 sunny-side up and a cup of regular coffee, with Sandra.  I realized this shall be the last time we met for a chat for a long time to come, but I believe we will meet again.  On the way there, we passed one of my fav roads in Houston – tree-lined Chimney Rocks between I-10 to Westheimer.  The other being tree-lined Rice Boulevard.

At the entrance to the check-in terminal, my luggages had fallen flat with the cart when I was pushing up the ramp towards the automoatic door – yes, 2 luggages and 3 boxes fell in all directions.  I still managed to laugh, and 2 guys who had just got down from the taxi helped me to pick up the pieces before helping their own luggages.  Ok, that is my last memories of Houston, I managed to laugh at my own boo-boos as I live.

When I got on the flight, I saw a familiar face – I smiled to myself.  He did not see me. …  Hours into my flight after dinner service, and half goggy, I saw the same familiar face coming towards me, smiling.  We had a chat.  And soon, I was served a special privilege – a cappucino with 3 chocolates.  And soon after, I was given additional privileges – bottled water, biscotti, assorted fruits and 2 packets of tortillas chips … I passed a bottle to the Spanish guy seated at the window seat, we were separated by an empty seat between us.  “Do you know him?“, Jorge said to me, he must be surprised by the extras I received as an economy class passenger.  “Yah, he is my uncle!  He is my mum’s youngest brother.”  Yes, my uncle has been working with the same airline for the last 20 years(?), and despite being a frequent traveller on my job in the last couple of years, I have never chanced upon him on the same flight.  On this flight, he was the leading steward serving the business class section.  He had said to me, if he had known I was in Houston, we could have met up the last 2 days he was there.  That was his first trip to Houston with the airline.  But I was happy to see him on the flight.  My uncle wanted to make sure I was comfortable on the flight before he stopped over in Moscow while I continued the flight back to Singapore.  Nice!

5 movies and many songs later … Yes, of the 21.5 hours of actual flight time, and 1.5 hour transit time over in Moscow, I slept only for 2-3 hours.  I wasn’t sure if I was too exhausted to sleep … or I was feeling strange or excited, I was actually going home.  I watched 2 American, 2 Japanese and 1 Korean movies  – my fav was 10 Promises Made to My Dog – heart-touching … about promises made and forgotten as the relationship grew apart, even though this movie was a human-dog relationship.  Despite the random criticism made on the actor (about him being 34 and playing a 19 year old?), on the actress (about the limited emotion expressed by her dried tears at the dog’s deathbed?) etc, I enjoyed the movie – sometimes we should learn to enjoy the plot, and appreciate the meaning behind it all, without tearing the plot and characters apart and judging the flaws from every angle.  Interestingly though, BK was watching the same movie and loved it, on his flight home from Hong Kong to Singapore, he touched down into Singapore a few hours before me.  Oh I also concluded, I am not into Western R&B, more Western pop and sentimental pop as well as select Mandarin R&B and pop, I like some Cantonese songs but I don’t understand the words.

At the arrival hall at Singapore Changi International Airport, I wasn’t sure if BK would be receiving me as he arrived home only a couple of hours earlier.  We planned such that he would be around when I arrived home, I told him I did not want to return to an empty home.  I only realized during the transit in Moscow that my pre-paid SIM card from US did not work outside US.  At the arrival hall, I was surprised to be received by my family – my Dad & Mum, my bro & my sis, and BK of course.  “You had just washed your face?” as BK gave me a hug.  Huh?  No… I perspired profusely the moment I came out into the arrival hall.  It was the high humidity that hit me the first thing.  A big adjustment from snowing Chicago and snowing Houston.

~

The first thing we did when I got home – changed and went for a local breakfast – plain fried bee hoon (akarice vermicelli) with fried chicken wing and fried egg, and a local kopi (aka coffee with condensed milk).  Next thing was to wait for my appointment with a chef while BK went for his music lesson.  Then back home for a nap before dinner at my parents’ cum bro’s place.  Wow all my family were there for dinner – mum cooked curry chicken while my bro bought a variety of local food.  Not sure if it was the travel and jet-lagged, was feeling bloated and sluggish.

Sunday noon.  I had woken up after a good sleep.  Meeting Dad for brunch with BK.  It was our routine before I left for Houston.  Oh, brunch for Dad was at 1pm ;p  … 

BK will be leaving for Beijing late night.  I will be home alone… and kept busy.

(to post pix later … firstly, can’t remember where I put my camera cable… secondly, I need to sleep, woke up to say bye to BK before he left for airport to go Beijing, and going back to sleep soon for The Appt tmr!)

Celebrate Birthday Away from Home

On Saturday morning, I suddenly recalled it was David’s birthday as the familiar date popped out from the laptop calendar I was looking at.  Garren and I decided to celebrate for him that evening.

Garren, David and I are fellow Singaporeans ~ no matter that David was from Ipoh, Malaysia but now his family lives in Singapore.  David has been in States for last 4 years, having completed his University education at Michigan State last year, and now working in Houston.  Garren just arrived into Houston end June this year, on a 6 month stint with a corporate company in the Energy sector.  Both of them met virtually via Overseas Singaporean forum.  Garren found me through my blog and linked me with David and a couple others from Singapore.  It is so amazing that we formed a trusting friendship quickly away from home, while we may never know each other back home.  I had met both of them for the first time post Ike.

When I first came to Houston, I had not thought of meeting anyone from home.  I did not make any effort to find people, except to locate Cafe Singapore for Singapore National Day.  I prepped myself that since I am only here for 20 weeks or slightly more, I would focus only on school and anything pastry.  Even now, very much so.  They knew that I don’t go out on weekdays as I reserve my energy only for school.  So that I have no form of excuse, whatsoever.  Most of the time during weekdays, I am comfortable spending time reading, surfing, writing, dreaming and napping.  It is so unreal, a luxury.  On weekends, I enjoy reading and drinking coffee at a bakery cafe … these are the times my mind will be working most actively ~ ideating.  Sunday is very much my recovery day – wake up late and do whatever I wish. 

We did not decide on a place to go – Garren picked me about 7 and we were on our way to pick David from his apartment along beltway 8.  Garren suggested Nonya Grill at Sugarland as he recalled David loved the food there the last time a group of Singaporeans met there 2 weeks ago.  I did not join then as I was hibernating… ha.  The drive to Sugarland felt like a short one, though it looked further on the map.  Nonya Grill serves Malaysia and Singapore cuisine, the dishes from the 2 neighbouring countries are pretty close but vary in taste.  Nonya means Peranakan or Straits Chinese ~ forming a unique and colourful culture of its own from inter-racial marriages of the past.

The food at Nonya Grill was yummy indeed.  Very flavourful.  My fav were Oyster Egg Omelette and Hot Plate Tou-fu.  I love egg in all forms, it adds a sweet flavour to the food, as well as a thickened consistency.  Eating out with these 2 guys means no vegetable dishes.  The business was brisk at the restaurant, the servers were mostly from Malaysia, I think.  During our dinner, we were entertained by an African-American who sang Chinese pop songs, he was just helping out as a resident singer for the time-being, he told us he can sing about 50 Chinese songs… and he sounded pretty good indeed.  We had a hearty celebration dinner with close-to-home-hawker-fare indeed.  On the way out, we met Keetha at another table, with her husband Brett and 3 other Singaporean friends and another friend.  It was my first time meeting her.  Garren was introduced to Keetha by Linda and George, the Singaporean couple I had met 3 weekends ago at the Hawker Fare organised by Malaysian Singapore Association.  In fact, we found out that Linda and George were supposed to be at Nonya Grill last night if George had not fallen ill.  Keetha pointed to another table, a big group of all ladies – she said they were a Singaporean party too.  There is a sizable community of Malaysians and Singaporeans in Houston, most are energy industry related, I believe.

We dropped by Hong Kong Market along Bellaire, my first time there.  I do not miss any Asian food or ingredients as I could get the basic stuff easily at H.E.B., Kroger, or Central Market, and I don’t really need to visit an Asian supermarket in particular, so I seldom visit Bellaire.  But I was zooming in on a bunch of leaves, and I read that these can only be found at Hong Kong Market.  Mission accomplished.

Next we let David choose the next destination since it was his birthday.  I suggested a place to drink, David was quick to direct us to The British Pub for a beer … I really meant a cafe to drink coffee, hee.  It was a cool evening to sit outside, not chilly.  There was a live band.  We were entertained by a post-wedding party, the group has a couple of pretty strong vocals.  The groom offered us 4 large pieces of his wedding cake … much appreciated but we were too full to eat, I tasted – the cake was soaked with syrup which made the cake moist.

What was interesting ~ for the first time, I knew non-alcoholic beer exists.  I had asked for something non-alcoholic, and the server went “which non-alcoholic beer …?” … Huh?  Non-alcoholic beer!!??  It is okay, just choose one for me.  It wouldn’t have made any difference to my taste bud.  I was served O’Doul’s, the label read “Now richer and smoother”, manufactured in Missouri, St Louis … contains 0.5% alcohol.  Anyway, the beer tasted like water with some gas in it, the verdict of a non-alcohol drinker.

As we sat chatting, we decided to meet a year from now, 25 October 2009, and most likely we would all be back in Singapore … to review our dreams we spoke about and to celebrate a friendship we forged in Houston … and of course to celebrate David’s next birthday.  Shortly after me, Garren will be returning to Singapore by end of Dec and David by January next year when his visa expires.

As we made our way back, David was happy and was singing his lung out.  I am happy he is so happy … that we made it a point to celebrate his birthday away from home.  I was reviewing a video clip I took of his singing, it was hilarious and cheerful. 

Last evening I found out – David is 24, a cycle younger than me.  Many happy returns.

The Flavour of Home and Asia … All in A Day

Today I am going to be good and stay put in my apartment.  I am exhausted –

This morning BK woke me up at 8am, I had 5 missed calls.  I heard the rings but refused to answer coz I needed my uninterrupted sleep, then I thought I had better answer since it is so continuous in case it was a call from my family.  When I realised it was nothing urgent, I got really grumpy coz I really needed the sleep.  On the other end of the line, I heard some familiar voices, he was with my friends celebrating Claude’s and Miang’s birthdays at Waraku in Singapore, he had nearly forgotten about it himself and forgot to update me they were meeting up.  Claude was my schoolmate since we were 10 till 16, Miang was my classmate since we were 13-16 and also my ex-colleague at Serono … 3 of us were also part of the First Aid, Footdrill and Nursing competition squad of 5 with Katherine and Liane since secondary school … the few of us shared a close friendship for a long time since.  We make it a point since our 20s to meet up for everyone’s birthday and other important occasions.  BK asked me if I wanted a skype webcam call, … my gosh, I just woke up!!! ;( I freshened up a little and returned the call via skypeout, we spoke briefly as the call was a little truncated.

I have a couple of things to do today, stock up on necessities, do my laundry and do my homework.

Lastly, I was out for a whole day of food and more food yesterday, today I am really exhausted.  I would usually last the day better reading and nua-ing (ie. do-ing nothing, Chinese dialect colloquial) than out for a full day.

~  “Hawker Fare” At Bear Creek Park 

I was amazed at the activities at the park, I was also amazed there is such a nice park pretty close to where I live off 290/beltway 8.  Garren gave me a ride, he had earlier emailed a few of us from Singapore about the Hawker Fare 2008 organised by Malaysian Singaporean Association of Houston (MSAH).  I have only met Garren and David before and he would introduce me to other Singaporeans he got to know when he came to Houston since June.  During the drive into the park, there was a stretch of open air zoo – I think this is the first time I have seen a real Bison Bull or American Buffalo, the first image I had was from the children’s ABC music VCD which depicted B for Bison (gosh, I learnt B for boy).  Yesterday’s weather was perfect to bask in the sun, it was cool too.  It was atmospheric – there was a game of soccer on- going, family picnics, cycling, group activities in the pavilions etc.  I read that the park is about 31 sq km.  I did not see, but I read that “The park includes nearly three-dozen soccer fields. There are also scenic hiking and biking trails, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, picnic facilities and several pavilions that can be reserved. A Golf World annex offers three courses.” … also “There is a 2 mile paved jogging trail, lots of shaded picnic tables and grills along with the animals for the kids to see. The other side of the park has shelters and lots of trees…”.  We were to find Paviilion 6, from a distance we saw a huge pavilion with lots of people, that must be it. 

I was introduced to some Singaporeans and we decided to buy a few dishes to share.  We can’t really differentiate between Singaporeans or Malaysians – some are Malaysians who took up Singapore PR when their family came to Singapore to work in earlier years or they had come to Singapore to study, like BK.  Some have taken on citizenship of other countries but have families in Singapore.  Most of the Singaporeans I met in Houston are working in the energy sector.  According to Garren, Spore is the hub for oil and gas in Asia Pacific, #3 behind Houston then Dubai.

 ~  About Hawker Fare from Home

Food in Singapore is tasty, at least to me.  Sometimes the variation in Malaysia tastes better coz of stronger taste.  Singapore food is not particularly healthy but can be depending on the choice of food.  Most of us love fatty food like Char Kway Teow or fried rice noodle, Laksa or some sort of light coconut curry white noodles, Chai Tau Kway or fried savory radish cake – I love the black sauce type … Nasi Lemak which is Malay for coconut rice and some side dishes.  Once Izumi, my Japanese friend, visited me in Singapore and we went for hawker fare, she got sick from the oily food and needed to be put on drip, it was so drama … our diet was too different from the simple, low oil diet she was used to.  Dishes with lard are now replaced with vegetable oil, one can request for more veg etc.   So when I heard there is gonna be a Hawker Fare, I was tempted but was also skeptical since I don’t miss Singapore food that simply don’t taste like it.  I was more interested to meet up with fellow Singaporeans.

"Char Kway Teow" man John Lim & LindaThe food variety was pretty good at the Hawker Fare.  According to John Lim, vice-president for MSAH, who was the guy cooking the Char Kway Teow and wearing a black apron printed “Danger Men Cooking“, other than a store that was operated by Banana Leaf Restaurant, the other stores were home cooks.  Some of them at the association tested the recipes before the actual day, including the Char Kway Teow we had.

Satay.  Meat skewers with peanut sauce.  This may be the Malaysian variation, the peanut sauce I had back home is a fine paste with no chunky peanut.  The dish is usually served with ketuput (rice in pandan leaves), cucumber pieces and onions (apparently to counter the carcinogenic properties of BBQ).  Chicken satays were sold out by half past 12.  Back home, I also like the lamb and beef satay, not so much the pork satay.  No all satays taste the same, I only buy satays from one particular store at Ang Mo Kio.

~  You look familiar?

You look familiar…” …  In my mind, I was thinking, yah, I have a common face 😉 “You were from SJC ?” …   Err, yes.  “You were a prefect?” … Err, yes.  My goodness, someone knows me from the crowd.  SJC = St Joseph’s Convent, the secondary or middle/high school I attended 20 years ago.  She is Lilian, the younger sis of my ex-classmate Vivian, and 2 years my junior in school.  “You lost weight? … you were from canoeing right?” … I clarified I only lost weight when I came to Houston, never really lost my muscle mass from canoeing days though I have shrunk indeed, I am the same height as she last knew me in secondary school ;[  Lilian is now in her 36 weeks of pregnancy and may deliver any time.  “Vivian will be here in 2 week’s time…”  Wow fancy meeting an ex-classmate in Houston, when we didn’t even bump into each other in Singapore.  So Singapore is not that small after all ;p  But it is a small world.

 

~  Next Stop, Panera Bread

Linda, George, Garren and I decided to go for coffee.  We chose Panera bread over Starbucks.  I don’t fancy Starbucks after the various cafes I have been to in Houston, I have not been to a Panera bread outlet to sample their menu.   Linda and George are now Canadian citizens, they left Singapore in 2000.  Now home for them is in Pearland, with their pet Scottie.  Interesting, Linda is now teaching Maths at Regan High School at Heights area along 14th Str.  Time passed quickly, by the time we knew it , it was already 7 … we decided to adjourn for dinner together.  

~  Next Stop, Dinner at House of Bowls @ Bellaire

~ A Yummilicious Dinner @ House of Bowls with Linda & George, David & Garren, and me.

~ A yummilicious dinner@ House of Bowls with Linda & George, David & Garren, and me.

Dinner at House of Bowls was the best Asian dinner I have had in Houston.  Not that I have tried many.  Eating out at Asian places, or even eating out, wasn’t in my original schedule at all, especially at outlets that served dishes that looked like food from home but I have to make do in taste.  The dishes here must be cooked by a Hong Konger, I think, the taste was stronger and more flavourful.  We ordered the following dishes – 1.  Prawn with spring onions, with rice; 2.  Stir-fried Hor Fun (flat noodles) with sotong (squids); 3.  Rice Cake, Korean style (but tasted more HK style) – I like this dish; 4.  Beef Ramen, Japanese style ( yummy beef slices, but soup base a tad too peppery); 5.  Cantonese Chicken Porridge.

~ Last Stop, Cafe 101 

A Taiwanese dessert place – I like Bubble Milk Tea with pearls or what may be known as tapioca pearls.  We have this drink in Singapore, but usually such outlet doesn’t open late like in Houston, here it opens till past midnight.

Enough activities to last a long while.

~ Oops, My Supper @ My Apartment …

It was past 12.  I wasn’t hungry but I decided to munch on the bagels I bought from Panera Bread.  Finished not one, but two bagels – one chocolate, one cranberry.  Nice.  I sure ate a lot for last 12 hours.

~ Cranberry Bagel and Chocolate Bagel from Panera Bread

~ Cranberry Bagel and Chocolate Bagel from Panera Bread

First Ever F1 Night Race Just Completed in Singapore

Over the weekend, the first ever F1 Night Race happened in Singapore.  The F1 fever was on for the past year, with hotel prices at rocket high.  I wasn’t there to witness the event.  I heard and read about them.  BK told me it was a sold out, and Dad, ever patriotic to Singapore events, was down at the site to watch and support.  Apparently walk about tickets cost S$38 (approc US$27), and “black market” price was at S$100 (US$71).  Dad asked me if I updated anyone in Houston about the F1 race … err, no, I didn’t remember it was on last weekend.  Anyhow, Fernando Alonso won, and Lewis Hamilton was 3rd!

I got updated from reading Jinmei’s blog, she is my cousin-in-law.  Her entry was simple, to the point and offered important snippets of the race happening, that was all I needed to know actually.  I was just reminded Vincent, my cousin, is a race car fan.  Her entry is as attached:

 http://tweetytwee.blogspot.com/2008/09/formula-1-first-night-race-in-singapore.html

The first F1 race held in Singapore was deemed one of the toughest race for F1, the following report tells why.  Top of the list:  the hot and humid climate?  Bumpy ride?  Space constraints? …  And the verdict by the reporter – “Singapore would certainly be certainly one of the toughest circuits for drivers and cars also, with the climate, duration, bumps, walls, kerbs and lots of braking. For what I see, not much should be changed, as these challenges are what these twenty of the best drivers in the world are paid for.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/63270-singapore-the-toughest-race-in-f1

The F1 race was just many of the events and happenings in Singapore for years to come.  It is real happening.  Coming events include Youth Olympics in 2010, and Singapore’s first ever casinos at not one but two IRs (Integrated Resorts), which will offer tens of thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry.  Yeah, we are small, but determined, willing and definitely not boring.