A life-changing slice of toast

22 10 2014

P1040768It is going to be hard to look at the humble kaya loti (kaya toast in local speak) in the same way again. Long a breakfast item for the man-on-the-street, it now finds itself elevated into one of two life-changing Singapore experiences for the visitor – thanks to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015 in which Singapore tops the list of ten countries to visit next year.

To celebrate the Singapore’s elevation to the top of the pile, which in part is due to the fact that Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of full independence next year,  Singapore Tourism Board (STB) / Lonely Planet decided to bring out the best in kaya – the sweet paste sometimes referred to as “coconut egg jam” made from coconut milk, pandan, sugar and eggs, that can be irresistible on a buttered slice of toast, at a hands-on event at 2am Dessert Bar on Tuesday.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast - a kaya toast cocktail.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast – a kaya toast cocktail.

There is nothing not to love about kaya toast, which in many ways, is representative of what Singapore is as a country – the fusion of many influences and one that continues to evolve. Kaya and kaya toast, besides in the many more traditional variations in which one can find it served today, also provides the inspiration for evolving food and beverage creations –  two of which came to light at yesterdays event.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

The first, is the creation of the much celebrated pastry chef, Janice Wong, the creative energy behind 2am. Reputed to have herself blindfolded so as not to allow what she creates be influenced by what she sees, Janice gave an introduction to “Shades of Green” – a dessert in which flavours many who have grown up in Singapore would quite easily identify with are reinterpreted. The dessert, which I got an opportunity to try assembling, discharging a spray of coco-mousse into two unfortunate participants in the process; features a custard of pandan flavoured palm sugar (gula melaka) is combined with gula melaka ice cream, coco-mousse, pistachio sponge and pistachio crumble, and is topped with a kuih bang kit meringue.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green was quickly followed by more shades of green in the form of a kaya-making demo, after which came what to me was the highlight – putting together a kaya-toast cocktail conceived by cocktail bar Bitters and Love. A combination of rum, lemon juice, sugar, honey, peach liqueur, egg white and a dash of kaya, it does put an interesting twist on the lori kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

Putting a new twist both on Singapore and kaya loti, is Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015. Of Singapore, Lonely Planet has this to say: “As one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, Singapore is always celebrating something. But Asia’s smallest state has an extra reason to put on her party hat in 2015 for it’s golden jubilee”. There is indeed much to celebrate in the cultural crossroads that is Singapore. While the city-state’s rapid modernisation, in which it has discarded too much of its fascinating past, has shifted emphasis on the development of mega-attractions and the staging of gala-events; there is that curious mix of age-old traditions and architecture with the ultra-modern that does makes Singapore, where the Lonely Planet says answering the door in one’s underwear is a no-no, a country one just has to visit.

Lonely Planet's Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Lonely Planet’s Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Along with Singapore, the countries in the top ten for 2015 are Namibia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Ireland, Republic of Congo, Serbia, The Philippines, St Lucia and Morocco. Lonely Planet draws recommendations for Best in Travel from hundreds of ideas submitted by Lonely Planet’s staff, authors, and extended family of travellers, bloggers and tweeters. The suggestions are refined by a panel of in-house travel experts based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor. More information on Best of Travel can be found at Lonely Planet’s website.





Magical Landscapes: Spain, north of the plain

11 06 2014

A view from the backseat of a car of the landscape in the plains of the far north of Castile and León. The photograph was taken on a road trip around the north of Spain in late October 2011. The region is where some of the well-trodden pilgrim pathways of El Camino de Santiago  – the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient pilgrimage routes of the Way of St. James, passes through, taking pilgrims on journey that is blessed with some truly magical landscapes as well as places en route that are a joy to discover.

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The pilgrimage, which dates back to 9th century A.D. sees pilgrims walking hundreds of kilometres (some routes do involve distances of as much as a thousand kilometres) along several routes leading to the sacred destination of Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest of Spain, the shortest of which is just over a hundred kilometres to venerate St. James (Santiago in Spanish) the Great – one of the twelve apostles. It is in a crypt in the city’s cathedral, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, that what is believed to be the relics of the saint, is housed.





My Shanghai Story: marketplace Shanghai

28 05 2014

I would probably be the last person to admit this, but hitting the places to shop at was one of several things that I did thoroughly enjoy about my recent visit to Shanghai.

Shanghai's does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy.

Shanghai’s does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy …

Shanghai does have some wonderful places to satisfy that urge to spend that Yuan in. And like me, if parting with the wad of currency notes isn’t as therapeutic as it might be for one of my blogger friends who was on the trip who did seek to fill that excess volume she did ensure she had in her choice of luggage; there are several destinations in the busy city’s retail scene that are worth a look at just for the opportunity they present to discover the Shanghai that lies behind the glossy veneer that the now ultramodern metropolis seems to want to wear.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

… that goes beyond the glossy veneer of the modern metropolis that it does seem to want to wear (photograph is of the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road).

The bold excitement that the bright lights of Nanjing Road offers is a good place as any to start with for the would be shopper. While the experience provided by many of the shops along the famous street is perhaps replicated in many other Chinese cities, a stroll down Nanjing Road does provide the feel of what the Chinese idiom 人山人海 (literally mountains of people, sea of people) seems to well describe.

The more modern experience of Nanjing Road.

The modern experience of Nanjing Road and the sea of people.

There is also that huge and rather interesting food hall on Nanjing Road to wander into, the Shanghai First Foodmall (photographs). With its four floors of nothing but food ranging from snacks, traditional dried foods, and some quite exotic looking foodstuff, it certainly is worth a peek into.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

The bazaars, such as the one by Yu Garden (photographs), are for me also worth wandering through, not so much for the shopping experience, but more for the life provided by the crowds of out-of-town folk who descend on it, as it is for the colour and sometimes bizarre sights that they do tend to provide.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Two places that did thoroughly fascinate me, within a stone’s throw of each other and in the heart of the city not far from Yu Garden, were the Dongtai Road Antiques Market and the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market. It is in the rough-and-tumble of places such as these that I often find myself in on the road, seeking to discover a feel for a place beyond its main tourist sights, although admittedly, the two, especially the antiques market, does seem to wear a somewhat touristy face.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Dongtai Road Antiques Market (photographs), which sadly would not be around the next time I visit Shanghai – it will, I am told, be a victim of urbanisation and will make way for the next phase of the Xintiandi (新天地) development in July this year, is probably where you might find more junk and souvenirs rather than antiques. A walk by the market’s two streets centered on the crossroads of Dongtai and Liuhekou Road and lined with makeshift stalls with shops in the back, takes one past piles of old and mostly unserviceable goods such as tattered pieces of luggage, cameras, music instruments, sporting goods, implements in all shapes and sizes, dolls with western features, Mao and Soviet era memorabilia, along with replicas of terracotta warriors, tee-shirts, and other souvenir items.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market - it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market – it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

It is across Xizhang South Road, which runs perpendicular to Liuhekou Road, that one is greeted not so much by the melody of birds, but by a cacophony of crickets. The huge fighting crickets, kept in baskets of woven rattan or plastic mesh, and also in clear containers of plastic, is one of several fascinating offerings of the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (photographs).

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

The market, possibly one of the last such markets in the city, also offers a range of other items as its mouthful of a name does suggest and strolling through its narrow passageways that takes one well  away from the Shanghai that never seems to slow down.

Birds on sale.

Birds on sale.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page.

Previous My Shanghai Story posts:


Photographs

Dongtai Road Antiques Market

 

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Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market

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Nanjing Road and the Shanghai First Foodmall

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Bazaars near Yu Yuan

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The view out the window

26 05 2014

One reason to sit by the window on an aeroplane is the visual treat you do sometimes get from the air …

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(photographs taken on a flight into Bangkok)





My Shanghai Story: contrasting escapes from the tempests in teapots and more

11 05 2014

One of the fabulous things about Shanghai is that there is a great abundance of places not just to chill-out in, but also find the escape that does appear to elusive amongst the crowds and frenzy of its rather busy streets. Ranging from the many modern cafes and bars that are in keeping with the sophistication of contemporary Shanghai, bars that offer the best views in the city, to teahouses that offer a feel of the more traditional side of Shanghai, there are a great variety of places that offer a contrast in the experience of chilling-out in the city.

What the two full days of the Shanghai Adventure did provide was a chance to have a feel for some of the variety of experiences,  starting with the traditional and which also included an experience of the ‘high-life’ that the modern side of Shanghai does have to offer …


The Traditional

Set in a pavilion that in being surrounded by water to which one must negotiate a path of right angles on a bridge with nine corners is the Huxinting (湖心亭) Teahouse. Well protected from the unidirectionally inclined demons of the old world, it is where one does find an escape from the demons that now plague the new world.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

In its interior, bathed in the earthy hues of its wooden walls, screens and furnishing, one finds a side of Shanghai that does seem forgotten in the city’s relentless march towards modernity.

The calm of its wooden interior.

The calm provided by its wooden interior.

The teahouse, now a veritable Shanghai institution, has been an occupant of the 16th century Ming Dynasty wooden pavilion for most of the time since it first occupied it in the mid 1800s. Despite the teahouse today being more of a destination for out-of-towners, it is over a pot of tea sitting by the window at one of its marble topped tables, that one does find that slice of a charming old world from which one can also observe the demons of the new that lie, at what does seem to be an arms length away, just across the crooked bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

A pot of tea starts off at around 60 yuan, and if you either have a preference for a caffeine free beverage or take joy in the sight of a dried flower coming seemingly alive whilst being infused in a clear glass teapot, flower teas are an option. Tea is also served with several bite-sized snacks, which include small tea-eggs made with quails’ eggs. And if you do decide to have a pot of tea, do keep a look out for a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, having tea – not in a manner she would be accustomed to, in the teahouse.

Pots of flower tea.

Pots of flower tea.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

The interior.

The interior.

The early 'crowd'.

The early ‘crowd’.

The upper floor.

The upper floor.

A 'window seat'.

A ‘window seat’.

An employee of the teahouse.

An employee of the teahouse.

Serving tea.

A member of the teahouse’s staff serving tea.


The French Connection

An area of Shanghai that does have a huge appeal for me is  the former French Concession, with its wonderful works of architecture, its history and the atmosphere one does now find in and around many of its tree-lined streets. The French Concession does also have an abundance of establishments to dine in, as well as to chill-out in, from the cafes of Ferguson Lane, to several other street-side cafes and bistros, some set in gorgeous works of architecture dating from the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Reflections on a cafe. The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its 'coffee culture'.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its ‘coffee culture’.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

A street side view.

A street side view.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro, Mardi Gras, that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.


High Points

One of the must-dos in and around the area of Shanghai’s Bund has to be to elevate oneself to the roof tops of one of the high points, to take-in some of the best views one can possibly get of old and new Shanghai on both sides of the Huangpu. Perched on the roof (levels 32 and 33) of the Hyatt on the Bund’s West Tower, the Vue Bar, for a 100 yuan cover charge, provides just that – the best views not just from the glass protected interiors, but also an open wind swept terrace on level 33 at which you can literally chill in a very inviting whirlpool and feel quite literally, on top of the world,

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Wine racks are part of the bar's decor.

Wine racks are part of the bar’s decor.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

And a view of the Bund.

And a view of the Bund.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

On top of the Hyatt and on top of the world.

Chilling-out on top of the Hyatt, and feeling on top of the world.


 

 





My Shanghai Story: the arrival of Spring

8 05 2014

The arrival of Spring, Spring Airlines that is, did spring me a pleasant surprise. That came in the form of an to, quite literally as it did turn out, soak Shanghai up over a weekend, the weekend that coincided with the launch of the Shanghai based Low Cost Carrier’s Shanghai to Singapore route.

The iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai - a pleasant Spring surprise that did await me.

A survivor from the treaty port era of Shanghai, the iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai – a Spring surprise that awaited me in Shanghai.

The launch of the route, coupled with the no-frills carrier’s attractive fares (overall, Spring’s fares are said to be some 30% below their competitors), does make Shanghai, just five hours away, a rather appealing destination for that short break away from Singapore.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

Spring, which was founded in 2005 and operates a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft – one of the world’s youngest fleets, sells its tickets directly through their website and mobile apps. Flying over 50 routes, which are mostly domestic, it does have offer several international destinations in Japan, with the latest offering being Singapore.

A high-five to Spring.

A high-five to Spring.

More than any other city in China, Shanghai has a fascinating mix of the vestiges of what was a rather colourful past together with the emblems of its current renaissance driven by its position as the financial centre of a booming land of opportunity. Within easy reach of several other popular culturally rich destinations such as Suzhou and Hangzhou and several water towns, Shanghai does seem to have it all for the traveller, whether on a short break or on a lengthier trip. A big plus is the excellent public transport network does make travelling to many of its attractions quite a breeze. In its shops, cafés, and eateries, ranging from the trendy to the traditional, as well as its bazaars and markets, it does have an appeal for many especially so from Singapore.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

I had two full days at my disposal. While that didn’t quite give me enough time to fully appreciate what the city and its environs did have to offer, the Shanghai I did see, even on what did turn out to be a rain soaked weekend, did have a huge appeal to both the photographer and the traveller in me.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

The rain did bring an air of freshness and joy to the streets of Shanghai, offering an alternative perspective of Shanghai and its many sights from the umbrella painted pedestrian malls, vendors touting umbrellas at Metro station exits, to reflections of Shanghai’s famous lights colouring its nighttime streets.  The rain did not as well dampen any of what Shanghai is to me all about, a city rich in contrasts and with it contradictions in its mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, and in a heritage that tells us of the meeting of east and west, a meeting that has as much to do with the clash of civilisations as it has about the embrace the civilisations did also find themselves locked into.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square  along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional Suzhou style Chinese garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the days of the Ming Dynasty.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé record company.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé (later EMI) record company.

The T'ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century that is touted as the  cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft.

The T’ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century. The orphanage is touted as the cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft – an example of the embrace of the civilisations.

The contrasts and contradictions that gives Shanghai its soul is indeed very much in evidence all around. It is in Shanghai that one can take as much pleasure from sipping tea in a traditional teahouse with centuries of history behind it, as in chilling out over a slice of cheesecake and a cup of espresso in one of the many hip cafés that line the streets of what is today a very Bohemian part of Shanghai in the former French Concession.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession and its modern cafes.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession with its modern cafés is one of the places to be seen.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The contrasts one will find does certainly not end in the places to chill-out at. From hairdressers, to eateries and places to shop at, sometimes just a few doors away from each other, to Shanghai’s public spaces; the collisions of time, cultures, and even ideologies, seemingly at odds with each other are very much in evidence. All of this does provide Shanghai with a rather unique flavour and one that for me is the Shanghai Story that the city did tell and it is this story I hope will come out in the posts on My Shanghai Adventure that will follow.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

In contrast with shopping in less trendy settings at the Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Shopping in the rough: Dongtai Road Antiques Market, which is full of atmosphere. Sadly, I am told the market will make way for redevelopment very soon.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

In contrast, the the brightly lit Nanjing Road, provides a more sophisticated shopping experience.

Shanghai is a city that is comfortable with its many contrasts and contradictions.

Shanghai is a city that does seem at ease with its many contrasts and contradictions.


About Spring Airlines Shanghai to Singapore Route

Spring Airlines is China’s first and only low-cost airline, which was founded in 2005 by Spring Travel and has become a dominant player in the domestic travel market in China. Currently Spring Airlines offers flights on the Shanghai (Pudong Airport) to Singapore route three times a week. Each ticket comes with 15 kg baggage allowance (inclusive of cabin baggage). Do also look out for some of the really good travel deals Spring does also offer from time-to-time including a current offer for flights from Singapore (for travel up to 31 May 2014) that includes two nights free accommodation in a five-star hotel in Shanghai (more information including terms and conditions can be found on the Spring Airlines website).

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Spring Airlines has a huge online presence (in fact their website and mobile apps account for all of their ticket bookings), and besides their website, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and can also be contacted through Skype (id: springairlines001).

A view inside Spring's A320 passenger cabin.

A view inside Spring’s A320 passenger cabin (click to enlarge).


 





We did once enjoy getting hit by a ball

28 03 2014

This photograph, which was taken at a school yard during my wanderings to Kathmandu in Nepal in April 2011, takes me back to my own days in primary school some four decades ago, when children looked forward to the opportunities for physical activity and outdoor play that presented itself during recess time as well as before and after school hours. It didn’t matter then that we would be sweaty, our uniforms often bearing the marks left by balls or through falling during play. It was pure fun and a perfect way to interact.

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Many of the games we played in the expansive fields involved a good run around. Games such as “catching”, football, rounders were popular, as was the game that the photograph does remind me of, “hentam bola“, or as we did pronounce it, “hantam bola“.

Translated from Malay as “hit with (or by) a ball”, although grammatically not quite correct, the game involved a player, singled out as one who “pasang” – who initially would have drawn the short straw through a selection process that might have involved mini-games of chance (a common one used was “oh-bey-som“, similar to rock, paper, scissors).

Played in an open field, the objective of “hentam bola” for the “pasang” was to chase the other players (who would be trying to give the “pasang” a run around), and attempt to hit another player by throwing a ball with as much strength as one could muster. A successful hit would mean that the player hit would be the next to throw the ball. The ball we used was a small compressed air filled rubber ball, which could sometimes do some damage, not just to the players, but to glass panes in windows and doors.

It is sad that the outdoors feature less in children’s play in Singapore these days, not just due to the gadget age, but also with open space at a premium – many schools have sacrificed parts of their great outdoors for the greater indoors in the form of sports halls and the opportunity for such outdoor play does seem to be greatly reduced.








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