Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Singapore Sights: Part 2

On Monday, we hit Universal Studios. Since we're more of a Disney family (Can you tell?), we've never taken the kids to Universal Studios in the USA, so they had nothing to compare it to.

Requisite family photo at amusement park entrance

The rides were a 50/50 split between those for young kids and older patrons. Andrew had roller coaster duty while I took the younger two around. The Battlestar Galactica ride had dueling roller coasters, Human vs. Cyclon, with intertwining tracks. At Jurassic Park, I told Brad about the idea of cloning dinosaurs from DNA extracted from mosquitos frozen in amber. He asked, "Does anything bad happen?"

The Waterworld Stunt Extravaganza was a welcome chance to rest our feet and sit down.

Shrek's restroom facilities in Far Far Away were top-notch.

 Disney may have Cinderella's castle, but Universal has Lord Farquaad's Castle of Duloc.

As we left Universal Studios, we came across both a gigantic Hershey store and some tasty friends.

For dinner, we went to Jumbo Seafood with a view of the river for Singapore's signature dish, Chilli Crab. We didn't have reservations but promised the restaurant we would only be there 90 minutes, so they showed us a table and then draped gigantic bibs the size of aprons around our necks.

Tasty and messy
The chilli crab had a scrumptious tomato-based sauce flavored with chilli peppers. It was thick and savory with hints of sweetness, garlic, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Beaten eggs are added at the end of the cooking time to create the type of egg ribbons you see in egg drop soup. I ordered a side of deep-fried buns called Man-Tou to sop up the delicious gravy.

Afterwards, we strolled around a bit and looked across the river at Clarke Quay (pronounced "key") which is the nightclub/entertainment section of town.

When he was a youngster, I used to call him "Clarkie".

The hotel left a Monopoly board game with the new Electronic Banking in our room, and the kids were dying to play. Even though it was already getting late, we played for an hour because, after all, this is a vacation.

The next day, we flew back home to Penang. While waiting for our flight, we had lunch at Texas Chicken.

Does the sign remind you of another fried chicken chain?

Texas Chicken is owned by the same company, but I suppose it wanted a less religious name for their international market. How well Mosque Chicken would go over deep in the heart of Texas? It was comforting to have a little taste of home, especially biscuits with honey butter, before we headed back to Penang.

Singapore Sights: Part 1

I first visited Singapore in 1997 when my dad was working there as an expat. It was my first trip to Asia, and everything seemed so exotic and different. When the kids' school had a mid-semester break last month, I couldn't wait to take them there and show them around. After living in Malaysia for a few months, my first thought upon arriving in Singapore was how much it reminded me of America. I guess it's all relative.

The Republic of Singapore is an itty-bitty city-state at the tip of the Malay peninsula. Like Penang, it was controlled by the British as part of the Straits Settlements for over a century. After gaining independence from the British, it was briefly part of Malaysia before breaking off in 1965. What a difference a few decades has made! Singapore is like the over-achieving sibling to Malaysia. They share the same heritage, but Singapore has clearly pushed itself to succeed.

Whereas Penang has a laid-back island charm, it's also a bit on the rustic side. Singapore is a glittering, big, modern city. All the signs are in English, and it's a model of efficiency. If Disney were to design a country, they would have ended up with Singapore. The mass transit system, both the subways and the buses, were easy to use and clean. After all, this is a country where chewing gum is illegal and a person can be fined for not flushing a public toilet. (I'm totally in support for that second one.)

At the airport - Good to know

Our first stop in Singapore was the amazing Science Centre Singapore where we met up with some school friends from Austin who moved here last summer. Brad and his buddy spent their last few months in America plotting to get together in Asia. I honestly think that having a friend who was also moving overseas immensely helped Brad make the transition.

This hands-on museum is huge and world-class. I really liked the Fire Tornado.

3pm performance right next to the Snack Bar,
perfect for luring in hungry patrons

Afterwards, we went back to our friends' house for dinner. Once again, it struck me how different the expat experience is between the two countries. When I asked the now stay-at-home mom what she was doing with her spare time, she replied that she's working her way through the Joy of Cooking. I was flabbergasted since it seems that I have a really hard time in Penang finding "normal" ingredients I need. She said that in Singapore, you can get almost anything as long as you don't care how much you pay. Also, they were Trick-or-Treating in a BIG way (about 1000 visitors expected to pass by their house), whereas I was still trying to figure out how to put together a little something for our Halloween in Penang.

We hit the Night Safari after dinner. This is the one thing that I loved the most from my last visit, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Singapore. Unlike the zoo visit in Taiping, I did not fall asleep on this tram ride. Seeing the nocturnal animals striding around was interesting, and the guide's informative and hilarious commentary kept the kids enthralled.

The next morning, we made our way to the Jurong Bird Park. The kids were immediately drawn to the penguin house, primarily because it was air-conditioned. After wrestling them out into the heat and humidity, we walked over to the 9-story-high Lorikeet Aviary. For a few dollars, you could buy a cup of liquid food and feed the birds yourself. Maria figures that the family fed almost 40 birds while we were strolling up and down the stairs and elevated walkways.

Polly does NOT want a cracker. She's on a liquid diet.

Next up was Sentosa Island where we rode the luge and chairlift. This is another must-do when visiting Singapore. When he first saw it, Brad exclaimed, "It's like Mario Kart!" Maria must have agreed because she was quite displeased that I wouldn't let her guide the luge up on the side walls of the track.

The upper portion of the track was much wider and without a lane divider.

As darkness fell, we left the island with the Merlion guiding the way. Half-fish, half-lion, the Merlion is one of the symbols of Singapore.

We ended the day at Food Republic. To bring up the Disney comparison once again, if Singapore had its own pavillion in EPCOT, Food Republic would be what the Imagineers would design. Based on the old-fashioned street food hawker centers that are all over Malaysia, this food court elevated it to new heights. I could still get a variety of Indian, Straits Chinese and Malay foods at the different stalls, but everything was so much cleaner and more sanitary than what I'm accustomed to in Penang. Plus, it was beautifully decorated.

Notice the handwash station in the bottom right corner.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Universal Studios and more good eats

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Scream!!

I scream,
You scream,
We all scream
          Ais Krim

Did you know that you can speak Malay? "Ais Krim" is the Malay word for "ice cream." Both phrases are pronounced exactly the same way.

Penang is the land of perpetual summer. Every day feels like a hot, humid July morning in Houston. Cooling off with a scoop of ice cream always seems like a good idea.

Anyways, store bought ice cream is — how shall I put it? — really, really bad here in Malaysia. Sure, you can go out for Baskin Robbins and Haagen Dazs, but most of the stuff at the grocery store is simply awful or ridiculously expensive. A pint of Haagen Dazs costs about US$10. With my family of five, we would demolish that in one sitting.

Affordable but yucky

For a while, I kept trying different brands, figuring that one of them had to be decent. The flavors always seem off unless I go with something purposely artificial like Cotton Candy ice cream. The mouthfeel is usually waxy and greasy. (Those two words never seem to pop up in ice cream ads.) When I looked at the ingredients, almost all of them have some sort of fat such as palm oil as a primary ingredient. You know, because lactating cows are great sources of palm oil.

The worst offender has to be Cremo from Thailand. I scooped it into a bowl and left it out on my 86F balcony.
Freshly scooped

Unchanged after 12 minutes in the heat. How is that possible?

4 hours later - Solids sitting in a yellowish puddle. Ewwwww!

That's a little scary if you ask me. I guess that's what happens when Water is the first ingredient on the list.

Luckily, someone clued me in to the horrible situation before I moved over here, and I made sure to include an ice cream maker in my sea shipment. This person also claimed that bringing homemade ice cream to parties would increase my social standing, but none of it has made it out of the apartment so far. As soon as my shipment arrived, I got it cranking.

First up was the custard-based Vanilla Ice Cream by Alton Brown utilizing the vanilla beans I had scored during my visit to the Tropical Spice Garden. Half-and-half is non-existent here, so I had to figure out a good sub for it (equal portions partly skimmed milk and heavy whipping cream, if you're interested). After I found pasteurized eggs, I started going through my Ben & Jerry's recipes. The lack of unsweetened chocolate on the island sent me perusing the internet for a good Chocolate Ice Cream recipe that called for unsweetened cocoa powder which is readily available.

Fast forward to last week, when I found myself with an hour to kill before picking up the kids from school. I remembered that I had brought along a tin of Godiva Chocolatier Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix from the Starbucks at Barnes and Noble when I moved. (If this had existed when Ma Ingalls left the Big Woods for the prairie, she would have made room for it in the wagon.) Wouldn't that make best Chocolate Ice Cream EVER??? This is what happens when I get bored. Some people dedicate themselves to Occupying Wall Street. I spend my time obsessing about ice cream.

Godiva Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
(Ais Krim Coklat Hitam Godiva)

⅔ cup Godiva Chocolatier Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix*
⅓ cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks, beaten
2⅔ cups heavy whipping cream**
 ⅓ cup semisweet chocolate chips (I recommend Guittard)

In a large bowl, stir together cocoa mix and sugar. Add cream a little at a time while whisking. Add in beaten egg yolks and whisk until everything is well combined.

Pour into frozen ice cream maker canister and follow manufacturer's directions.

While mixture is churning, chop chocolate chips into smaller pieces. When ice cream is finished churning, transfer it into storage container and mix in the chopped chocolate chips. Allow ice cream to harden in the freezer.

* If you're one of those rare people who don't have a tin of Godiva Cocoa Mix handy, use ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa and increase the sugar to ⅔ cup total.

** Do you want to make this ice cream less awesome artery-clogging rich? Use ⅔ cup whole milk and only 2 cups heaving whipping cream.

Mom's-in-a-Good-Mood suggestion: Bake chocolate chip cookies and make an ice cream sandwich with this concoction. Heaven!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Picture Walk through George Town

Some mornings, I like to explore George Town which was named after King George III. You remember him, don't you? Thirteen years after American colonists ticked off both their king and the East India Company by dumping tea into Boston Harbor, some Brits landed on Penang Island and said, "Come on over here!!" Hey, you win some. You lose some.

Like most old cities, the streets are narrow and tightly lined with buildings. There's a mix of residences, shops, eateries and businesses. Walking down the covered sidewalks, I'll pass a busy restaurant, then a closed shop, then a family home where everyone is sitting around the TV just a few feet inside the open front door.  At times, it's quiet, and I feel like I'm alone in the world. Other times, my ears are assaulted by the cacophony of honking horns and puttering scooters.

Love Lane is one of Penang's oldest streets. Prosperous families settled here in the early 1800s.

I have no idea what this place is, but I liked the entrance.

Located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are lots of Western tourists wandering around along with me. Some are brave enough to ride the trishaws. Personally, I prefer walking since I can quickly jump out of the way when a car or scooter zooms by, mere inches away from me.

Built in the 1860s, the Cathedral of the Assumption is a World Heritage Church and was the seat of the Bishop of Penang from 1955-2003.

Some of the buildings are old and in need of a little TLC, but I love the bright colors and trim.

Others, like this relatively new block built in 1927, have been recently renovated.

If you visit Penang and want a quieter place than my home,
this is a wonderful boutique hotel called Coffee Atelier.

A few families have a rare, free-standing house.

They should have had the decency to cover their satellite dish in cloisonne.

This is one of the more modest Chinese clan association buildings in Penang. The rest deserve their own post (but I need to visit them first).

I was breakfasting across the street when the cafe proprietress
exclaimed, "Come out and look at the sky!"
I know I have more meandering to do in the future. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What's Halloween?

Halloween is the first major American holiday that we've spent overseas. While it's not unheard of in Malaysia, I can definitely attest that it's not the major, major event that it is in America. There was a smallish display at the grocery store stocked with super expensive imported candy ($22 for 55 fun-size pieces) and an assortment of devil's pitchforks, witch hats and fairy wings. Not a single licensed character costume was in sight. No Disney princesses, no superheroes, nada.

I had hoped that we could jump into some other expat's established Halloween celebration, but I heard a lot of "Well, we tried something last year and it didn't really work out." If you think about it, trick-or-treating involves a community. For Thanksgiving or Christmas, we can host a celebration and invite people over. But for Halloween, you have to convince others to open their doors to you.

Luckily for me, my friend who's also a newcomer to Penang decided to organize something. We found ourselves having to actually explain Halloween. One Australian friend asked, "What exactly do you do? What do you hand out? What do the kids wear?" When you have to lay out all the details (kiddos in costumes hyped up on free candy), it sounds a little crazy. Thank goodness a few other families decided to join us in our night of madness.

How many kids can you cram in an elevator?

A friend told me that she used to go Guising on Halloween as a kid growing up in Scotland. There, a simple "Trick or Treat!" would not do. Kids had to sing a song, tell a joke, or say a poem to earn their candy. I kind of like that tradition.

Since running to Costume City or Target was not an option, we made our own costumes. I haven't figured out where a craft or fabric store is, so we had to use whatever materials we could scavenge from around the house. What's the best way to handle this? I delegated it all to my dear hubby. ("Hey Andy, I'm going shopping. Oh, and by the way, do you mind making the kids' costumes while I'm gone?" And then I quickly slipped out the door.) He did a great job. Maria's costume was kluged together from a Tae Kwon Do jacket and paper pockets attached with safety pins. Brad offered up his prescription glasses for her to wear.

Dr. Fennel from Pokemon Black and White

Brad had wings made of cardboard from our many shipping boxes. He spent the entire evening making sure he didn't poke some little kid in the eye.

Pokemon Latios and a Poke Trainer

Clark had the easiest costume of them all.

Cowboy Tex

When you live in a high-rise condo tower, trick-or-treating takes some logistical planning, especially if you have a security card that only accesses your floor. I jokingly suggested they should walk up all 32 flights of stairs. Instead, we crammed 25 kids plus a few parents into the 2 elevators and went around as one big group. The kids were at my door for all of 3 minutes, and I was done with handing out treats for the evening. After visiting the 8 or so condos that handed out candy, we all gathered to have a Halloween dinner together. For once, my kids don't have the hordes of candy that comes from visiting 20+ houses, but they still had a ton of fun.

This post is part of Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
Web Analytics