Monday, February 25, 2008

The Lion City, Part Two

Warning: the contents of this post may cause fits in people with quiet tastes. I've built up an immunity to the garishness over the years, but you, dear reader, may only be able to handle these pictures for a few seconds at a time.

Let's ease into it gently, shall we?

An artist from China painting a picture in real time. The style reminded me of those propaganda posters from the 70s.

Lion make glory for illustrious leader!

This is ba gua: marinated, roasted, flattened meat. Juicier than jerky, it's one of my favourite foods, but I can't find any of the good stuff in Perth. So I settle for gorging myself whenever I visit Singapore.

Oh sweet, juicy, meaty goodness! If I had to order my last meal on Earth, this would be it.

Chinatown is full of places where you can buy lucky decorations.

It was a little ... disquieting to see so many anthropomorphic mice in the same place at the same time.

Caution: eye-searing begins here.

This is the inside of a little shop that was selling good luck charms and decorations for Chinese New Year.


And here's another one.

Eyes ... starting to ... water.

These little figurines of lion dancers are great! (Note more rats/mice in the background.)

But not as awesome as these ones. Flick a switch and you've got your own tiny dancer! Whee!

You'll often see the word for luck, fu, turned upside down.

This is because the sentence, fu dao le, "luck turned upside down", is a pun. It sounds like, "luck has arrived".

A large proportion of the Singaporean population is Buddhist, and many offerings are made to old gods, new gods, and ancestral spirits for health, prosperity (gold), and good fortune (gold, please).

Some offerings are made of paper or incense, and burned in these metal containers.

You'll see a lot of these outside people's houses and flats during Chinese New Year and Hungry Ghost Month.

Other popular offerings are sweets and cakes, so that the deities who report back to Heaven have sweet tongues and only good news to report. ("I think we should send them some ... gold.")

I like to eat these too. They're quite yummy. Basically they're brown sugar cakes that have been steamed. These cakes aren't auspicious unless they've "opened up" fully in the cooking process. Because then they're smiling up at Buddha. Of course.

Fresh and silk flowers are bought by the armload for worshippers to put in front of altars.

This bouquet of flowers looked as big as the guy who was carrying them!

Gourds (a symbol of longevity) and bright pumpkins (more gold) with cheerful red stickers on them are also offered up.

As are these oddly shaped fruit.

Why does this fruit remind me of deformed jelly babies? Urgh. Oh yes, and they're gold.

Ornamental pineapples are grown en masse for this holiday. Pineapples are called ong lai in dialect, which sounds like "the king comes". Also, they have a royal crown, see?

Auspicious looks and auspicious words for an auspicious occasion.

The fruit on the right is a pomelo; they're like giant grapefruit but without the tartness. Very refreshing!

This is the year of the Rat, so, naturally, lucky (gold) effigies of rats, big and small, were everywhere. Actually, most of these rats look like mice, perhaps because they're cuter and a have better PR than rats?

Good grief these were shiny. But they only cost a dollar each!

How cute are we? Buy us, buu-uuy uuuusss ...

The first giant rat I saw.

These giant statues are such a hoot. I can't wait for the year of the Cow.

And imagine what the statues for the year of the Snake and the year of the Dog will look like!

May I recommend a good orthodontist? (Also, I think he's sitting in a giant pineapple-half.)

Everything is marketed towards bringing you prosperity (gold), although I'm sure some products were a little tongue-in-cheek.

I think McDonald's had a "prosperity burger" as well, with special "prosperity sauce". But I didn't think to take a picture of it at the time. Also, the "prosperity sauce" looked a little suss.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lion City, Part One

Right, on with the travel posts.

Actually, hang on, let me just give myself a little pat on the back for actually getting some posting done.

Aah ... good work, Angie!

You know, for someone who has been promising to blog about Japan (February 2006), and started a few posts about North America (August 2007) but then stopped halfway, I think the chronicles of this South East Asian trip are a marathon accomplishment.

In comparison. Hee.

So ... on to Singapore.

This was one of the views from the plane as we descended into Changi airport, which, I assure you, is well-worth a visit by itself.

I felt like James Bond conducting aerial reconnaissance when I took this picture.

And this is the view from the flat that we stayed in:

Singapore suburbia.

That afternoon, we had a look around the shops on Orchard Road, and ended up browsing in a large Japanese department store/supermarket called Isetan. I was feeling a little fatigued, so I bought some ...

Grass Power!

Mmm, full of chlorophyll. Now I have the strength of a thousand cows!

Now, these strawberries were air-flown from Japan, and yes, that is the correct price: SGD$23.90 a punnet (or AUD$18.44, or USD$16.95, going by the currency converter in my iGoogle page).

The most beautiful strawberries I have ever seen.

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but these strawberries looked just ... perfect. They were glossy and shiny and just the right shades of red and green, almost like the "ideal" fruit pictures you see in magazines. The kind of strawberries you would get in heaven. If you had been very, very good. Not a single spot, not a single tear in the leaves. It was almost unnatural. The Japanese are extremely proud of their export quality fruit, and with good reason.

Here are some rockmelons, also air-flown from Japan, and can you make out the price on that bottom right one?

These rockmelons would probably be cheaper if you bought their weight in silver.

Yep, breathe deeply now. That rockmelon costs SGD$69.00 (or AUD$53.22 or USD$48.93)!

Every single line in the rind pattern was the same diameter. Every space was harmonious, every melon was an piece of contemporary art. The Japanese farmers who raised them probably measured each gap in between the lines and threw out any which exceeded the ideal spacing by 1cm.

On to the pharmaceutical section ...

This year Valentine's Day fell just seven days after the beginning of Chinese New Year, so shops were busy promoting specials for that as well.


In my mind's eye, I can picture this scene in a candle-lit restaurant. The man brings out a beautifully wrapped box and says:

"Honey, I think you could really use some amino collagen for Valentine's Day
Where are you going? Honey?"

A few minutes later, this immediately caught my eye:

Owie. Ow, ow, ow. Poor burning-throat-man! Sponge it on! Quickly! QUICKLY!

I think this is a treatment for sore throats, but I'm too lazy to do a proper translation. I just love how simple and direct the packaging is. Eye-catching, vivid. Awesome.

Which segues nicely into an interest of mine that I like to indulge while travelling: local iconography.

This sign in the MRT (subway/light rail) stations is quite popular with tourists, and often pops up on the Net.

(Caution: slightly long tangent follows.

Personally, I love durians. I think they have a lovely, fruity, delicious smell, and I get quite offended when people refer to them in unflattering terms. Even if you don't like the smell of durian, there's no need to be rude about it, especially when talking about it to someone who likes to eat it.

I mean, in Europe I was served some cheese that made me want to shout, "Bring out your dead!", but I politely held my peace and didn't tactlessly tell the natives what I really thought. Until now.

I think there must be a gene in humans that makes durians either smell delicious or rank, like the gene that controls the ability to roll your tongue.)

Speaking of MRT stations, I really like the tiles in the Chinatown station, which have Chinese poetry on them.

Rhyming couplets. If someone knows what these say, please leave a comment--I would be ever so grateful.

This is another sign that caught my eye:

With so many people living in high-rises, there have been incidences of objects falling from people's apartments and causing serious, or even fatal, damage to pedestrians below.

And now, some shots that I felt a little weird about taking, but I couldn't resist.

This cartoonist has a very distinctive style and is quite well-known in Singapore and Malaysia. I wish I could remember his name. It's a great way of dealing with a touchy subject.

I think I should blow this section up and put it in certain public toilets. Also, in MFC's loo when he has parties, or, more to the point, when his housemate has parties. I love the large red targets. They made me chortle.

I promise, this is the last toilet shot. It was difficult, taking this one, because the cleaner kept coming in and out. The things I do to get interesting material for this blog. Geez.

Great idea, huh?

In many large shopping centres, you'll find machines like these:

S.A.M. machines run by Singapore post.

Let's have a look at the menu:

Wow, it's like a virtual post office: you can pay bills and fines (LOL), top up smart cards, shop, buy event tickets, and of course, purchase postage labels. And it's available 24-7. There's even a weighing tray that weighs your letter or parcel and then creates a little postage label for you to stick on after you've paid.

These would be great in Perth, saving time, money and aggravation, but yobbos would probably vandalise them within the week. Sigh.

But not everything's flashy and automated, you know. I mean, I had a drink from a real coconut in Chinatown.

Cooling and delicious!

And in the suburbs, every morning, this gentleman cycles through the apartment jungle, chanting, "Oo dien si ki poh zua hong si bo?!" ("Any TVs, newspapers, fans?") while tooting his little bicycle horn. (I say "little", but that darn thing has the power of a foghorn. It broke into my dreams and woke me up every morning without fail. He starts before the crack of dawn, but thankfully takes a break on weekends--well, in the suburb where I was staying, anyway.)

His voice can carry up to the 25th floor too. Seriously.

My mother calls them "gunny sack men". They will give you 50 cents or a dollar for a stack of newspapers, and will also collect your old appliances and sell them to second-hand shops.

People still go to Chinese medicine shops, and watch their herbs and dried insects and goodness knows what else being measured in the old-fashioned way.

You can't see his scales because my mother chose that time to take her wallet out (thanks, Mum!), but they are the old-fashioned type, two brass saucers suspended from a rod by a chain; one saucer holds the weights, the other holds the herbs.

In some suburbs, I didn't even see any Caucasians--unusual in a city like Singapore, which has so many expatriates and tourists. It was nice to blend in for a change. Until the locals heard me talk. Then the jig was up.

Next post: how Singapore gears up for Chinese New Year!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another beginning, and twice the fun

Update (27/02/2008): Dagnabbit! Sorry, guys, the site is in beta, so it'll be up and down, and they might be changing the address too. I'll change the link below when it's working again.

It is with great pleasure that I announce my blogging debut for Perth's Community Newspaper Group (CNG).

I'll still be here at Blogger, especially when the occasion demands tens of lurid photographs (you haven't seen my Singapore pre-Chinese New Year special yet!), or I need to tell you That Thing MFC Said, or show you more pictures of the world's most evil rabbit, but I will also be posting regularly (this should make you very happy, Kathry), for the CNG.

Here's to new beginnings! I hope you can all take this journey with me and don't mind having a little more an9ie in your day.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A drive across the border

Tonight, two rare occurrences (for this holiday) have converged: we don't have anyone to visit, and I have reliable Internet access. The result: two posts in one day. Whee!

Pictures from the 31st of January and the 1st of February, 2008.

On the last day of January, we went across the border and visited a town in East Malaysia for some shopping.

But first, a brief stop to fill up the car with petrol. My cousin's husband, who is from the UK, says that he feels like weeping when he sees how cheap fuel is here. I feel a little teary myself when we go past this petrol station.

Premium unleaded is under AUD$0.50 a litre. Sigh.

The drive is filled with contrasting images.

Should I stay ...

... or should I go?

We visited a Chinese medicine/herbalist/health food shop in a shopping centre, where I picked up some very reasonably priced Japanese green tea, and my parents bought some essence of chicken.

Chicken essence is a popular, dark, salty drink sold in glass jars that is very popular in South East Asia. I think it tastes awful but it is believed to have almost miraculous properties, especially around exam time. That's when parents force it down their children's throats so that they can concentrate better on their studies. I think one jar is equivalent to one chicken. Or something. Beurgh. I'd rather eat the chicken. In fact, isn't fish better for the brain? Why not just give us some Omega-3 capsules?

A sample of what we saw on the shelves.

The following two items are a common sight in Chinese medicine shops.

Sharks' fins for soup.

And yes, I do believe that those are bits of Bambi's bits. This is the first time I've seen these, actually.

This cafe has a slightly amusing name.

Well, I thought it was funny.

We brought back some of my favourite kuih (sweet snacks) to munch on.

Left: kuih sapit. Right: kuih jala. Both have a sweet, nutty taste and crunchy texture. The one on the left is a little more milky in taste.

This is called ham chim peng in Cantonese (I think). It's like a savoury doughnut. The darker bits in the spiral are five spice powder and some salt. My mother sliced it in half before she realised that I wanted to take a photo of it.


We accompanied my aunt to a furniture store that had, amongst other things, these ridiculously rather ornate shelves.

I firmly believe that Grecian columns belong outdoors but I may be in the minority here. And the shelf on the left looks like it came from Narnia. But not in a good way.

I can't put my finger on it, but this table makes me want to do pelvic floor exercises.

And finally, a little treat.

Shredded dried squid cooked with sugar and salt is a tasty snack, but what grabbed my interest was the writing on the packet.

On the top right it says, "Come from the Japanese and the deep sea squid", which is an Engrish gem in itself, but on the top left is where the true genius lies.

"Have it, you'll have the world give you endless pleasure."

... which is, of course, what I wish for all my readers.

Gong xi fa cai, xin nian kuai le! Happy Chinese New Year!