Saturday, February 25, 2012

Little India

My flight itinerary from Siem Reap to Manila required an overnight stopover in Singapore. I had only enough time to explore one area of the city so I decided to check out Little India because I can still remember a temple we visited several years ago that had hundreds of figures covering its façade and I wanted to see more.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Sri Veeramakaliamman is a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. It's on Serangoon Road, a main thoroughfare lined with shops and a few flower stalls. Bright orange and yellow leis hang from one of the stalls across from the temple.

Worshippers wash their feet first before they enter the temple. Although I did see a couple of men who washed their feet after they came out of the temple. Could it be because they had to walk on bare feet inside the temple?

Here's where you wash your feet

I arrived in Singapore days after the Diwali Festival or the Festival of Lights so many of the streets in Little India still ported festive décorations.

The Orchid Restaurant on Chandler Road is inside this colorful colonial style house. It's intriguing to say the least and deserves closer scrutiny.

Orchid Restaurant

The North East MRT line serves the Little India neighborhood. Search for the purple line on the subway map.  Here's the link:

*  *  *

Images by Charie

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I didn't do my homework

It was late evening when I arrived at Changi Airport in Singapore and all I wanted to do was go to the hotel and rest, rest, rest. I found the taxi line and waited for my turn to hail one. A young woman behind me asked me if I wanted to take the waiting black car on the parking lot and I told her I couldn’t because there were two people ahead of me. She argued with me that those people didn’t want the taxi so if I wasn’t interested, she would take it. That got me going to the waving and liveried driver.

Sanctuary area at Changi Airport

I had earlier asked the tourist information office what it would cost to travel by taxi from the airport to my hotel and they told me that it would be around $20 (Singapore dollars). When we got to the hotel, I checked the meter and it was around $21.00. But to my surprise the driver charged me $34 which is $13 over the metered price. I asked him why and he showed me the chart for the surcharge. I was anticipating a surcharge for arrival after midnight but we were at the hotel at around 11 p.m. Anyway, I paid him and checked in at the hotel. At the reception desk I asked a hotel representative if he knew why there was such a surcharge and he had no idea. So I went to sleep thinking I’d been had.

 Restored Victorian style buildings (Painted Ladies)

The next day at the airport I approached another tourist information agent and inquired about the surcharge. When I mentioned the color of the taxi, she immediately had an answer for me. It turns out that I had hailed a limo rather than a taxi. I rode in a black Chrysler. She further informed me that next time I could consider a white Mercedes as they charged slightly less than the black Chrysler but the cheapest way without riding the subway would be to hire an ordinary taxi.  Like all locals do. Now I know.

To add insult to injury, it costs only $3.00 (SGD) to take the subway to town and there was a subway stop directly below my hotel. Owww!!! 

*  *  *

Images by Charie

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Merienda Time!


How I miss merienda time in the Philippines! For me merienda starts at breakfast with puto from Goldilocks. After lunch I eat a pulvoron or one of those sweets wrapped in colorful cellophane. At 4 p.m. the entire household stops for afternoon break with boiled saba (plantains) or fried bananas dipped in sugar. Sometimes we're lucky to pick our bananas from one of our own trees. 

There's an incredible array of tempting desserts to choose from in the Philippines and I have a few favorites. One is palitaw which is a flat rice cake coated with sesame seeds, sugar and shredded coconut. I usually order this when I'm meeting with friends at Via Mare in Makati.  Here's the link to the recipe for palitaw:

Turon/Fried Banana Rolls

Turon is a deep fried banana roll. It's best eaten fresh off the pan, otherwise the wrap gets soggy and spoils the taste. It's perfect when it's crunchy. If you would like to make turon, here's the link to the recipe:

Bibingka with salted egg and shredded coconut

I consider bibingka a big treat. It's rare to be able to order just a slice of it. Except at Laguna Restaurant (in Iloilo and Cebu) where you can get a personal size bibingka (shown above).  Bibingka is a rice cake traditionally made in a clay pot and is one of the Philippines' Christmas staples. People mill around vendors in the early morning hours after Misa de Gallo just to buy a bibingka. It is soooo delicious! Here's how to prepare one:

Other favorites include kutsinta (brown rice cake) and brazo de mercedes (rolled cake with custard filling). I have merienda blues just writing about this.  

*  *  *

Images by Charie

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Around in Asia

Cinderella went to the ball in a pumpkin coach. Laurence of Arabia rode across the desert in a camel. Mushers and their teams race from Anchorage to Nome with sled dogs. Getting there is surely more than half the fun?

In Siem Reap you have the option to ride an elephant around the Angkor complex for what could be an elevated experience. I also love the orange throw over the back of the elephant for that royal touch!

The procession of tuk tuks above bodes well for independent travelers to Cambodia who wish to move about without the restraining expense of a chauffeur driven limo.

The jeepney was fabricated from used jeeps left by the Americans in the Philippines at the end of World War II.  The most colorful and extravagantly decorated jeepneys ply the roads in Metro Manila. What I like about riding the jeepney is the flexibility of getting off where I please by just asking the driver, "mama, para po dito" (Mister, please stop here).

The tricycle is what I call the transport of burden. Not only can it hold 8 passengers (two in the cab, 2 behind the driver, 3 standing in the back and one half sitting above the right tire), it can also carry all the cargo you see above and more. The tricycle is also the cheapest way to get around but it's not advisable to hail one right after you had your hair done. Oh, and if only the motor wasn't so loud!

I've always hesitated to ride a rickshaw because I feel sorry for the driver who is literally carrying his passengers and the rickshaw on his back! He must be hurting at the end of the day. But the driver above  whom I spotted in Asakusa shows no sign of fatigue. He's quite a runner.

There must be more unique ways to get around. Like the calesa which you'll find in the Philippines. C'mon! Get out of that car and try something new and different. An elephant perhaps?

*  *  *

Images by Charie

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

How do I love thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Kindness of a Stranger

Vanna was my tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap. Some days he was also my guide.  I met him at the hotel where I was staying which employs him to stand by and be available for the hotel’s guests for a minimum wage. He speaks some English. I thought we understood each other well. He drove me all over Siem Reap and all the way to the port at Chong Kneas. There had been heavy flooding in the villages and rice paddies near Tonlé Sap Lake and the roads were washed out in many places. Our tuk tuk was jumping up and down as it crossed potholes along the way. At one point we got stuck in the red mud. Vanna had to wade in the mud to free the tuk tuk. On our way back to town it rained heavily. The driver’s seat is up front and it has no overhead cover so Vanna was drenched but for the raincoat he had thoughtfully bought from one of the stalls at the foot of Phnom Krohm.

Vanna and his tuk tuk

One day I asked him to come and pick me up before dawn so I could see the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were on our way to the temple by 5 a.m. I was surprised at how cool it was considering day temperatures hovering at around 98°F. I was worried about my three-day pass which had expired the day before when Vanna took me for a climb up to Phnom Krohm. I wasn’t planning to enter Angkor Wat. I only wanted to sit outside by the first causeway to watch the sunrise. But everyone going to the Angkor complex must pass through the ticket office where they check the validity of the visitors’ passes. Vanna explained to the inspector, on my behalf, what I was planning to do. The inspector called his supervisor to consult with him about my expired pass. Vanna had to explain again to the supervisor that I wasn’t entering the temple grounds. After much deliberation, I was allowed to go to Angkor Wat, thanks to Vanna’s negotiating skills. Vanna waited patiently for me until the sun was high in the horizon and I was happy with the photos I took.

Vanna asked the monks at Phnom Krom if we
could take their photo with the neighborhood kids
(I was too shy to join the group though they asked me to)

The following day we went farther afield with my tour guide, Mr. Singh, to Banteay Srei. I had brought with me some water and soda for us to drink while sightseeing. This is really a must as it is so hot and humid in Siem Reap in late October. To my surprise, Vanna had brought not only water and assorted beverages; he had also thoughtfully brought a cooler to keep our drinks cold. I couldn’t thank him enough. On our way he pointed out to me where his family lived. We had talked about his wife and son while climbing up the hill to Phnom Krohm. It was a nice gesture on his part to show me where they lived. Then we stopped at a roadside stall near his house to buy gasoline, more drinks and ice. He paid for everything with his own money.

Roadside food stall and gasoline station
(the gasoline is inside the plastic Pepsi bottles)

On my last day I asked Vanna to pick me up early so we could do some sightseeing before dropping me off at the airport. He had a couple of really terrific ideas about what I should see. Our first stop was Wat Thmey. It was here where I saw all the skulls that were picked up from the killing fields around Siem Reap, victims of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. Then we went to the “Queen’s Temple”, as Vanna called this place. It was out of the tourist loop and not mentioned in my guidebook. I love the idea that this site was dedicated to a woman.  As such, it is unique among all the other temples in Siem Reap.

Queen's Temple grounds

Vanna had previously told me that he wanted to give me a present for giving him a job during my stay in Siem Reap. I told him it wasn’t necessary, that I appreciated all he did to make my stay memorable and special. I also had a small piece of luggage and didn’t think I had space for his gift. And I was worried that I would be stopped at Customs for my unusual souvenir.  Vanna insisted that I take the gift with me. He took my backpack and found space for it there. His gift, a drum, was made by his brother with his help. He told me not to worry if Customs took it away from me as long as I accepted it from him. Here’s the beautiful drum he gave me.

Vanna's gift to me

The drum has a snakeskin pad. The wood is beautifully polished. And personally crafted by Vanna's family. What a lovely gift! I had no problems getting through Customs. Thank goodness.

I have beautiful memories of Siem Reap. The people were friendly and candid. They would come up to me and make conversation and before I knew it, they were telling me the story of their life, their plans, their dreams. I’d like to go back to Siem Reap again, if only to see Vanna once more.

“One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are.” — Edith Wharton

*  *  *

Images by Charie