Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

Month: March 2016

St. Patrick’s Day in Singapore 2016

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It’s that time of year again where everyone takes the time out to wish me a St. Patrick’s Day as if it’s a highly religious occasion and St. Patrick is my one and only ruling god. As religious days go, it’s pretty good. People expect you to drink at some point and listen to Irish music. I’ll take that over kneeling on cold church pews listening to how I’m going to burn in hell any day of the week.

I don’t go crazy on St. Patrick’s Day. I leave that to other nationalities *cough*. But I do like to have a few Guinnesses. This year I took a wander over to The Drunken Poet on Orchard Road as they were advertising $12 pints of Guinness. Which is great quality for Singapore. The last time I was in The Drunken Poet it was a Canadian Burger joint. That’s how Singapore rolls yo.

My paranoia and suspicion wasn’t called for. I figured they would be giving us cans of Guinness or “not quite” pints. But no! They were full pints and they weren’t that bad. The first one had the perfect head and consistency but the two I had after, the heads were thin like a beer head. I don’t think bartenders are told that the head of a Guinness needs to be thicker and with a convex dome on top. Just 4 years of being a barman in Ireland talking here *cough*.

So that was St. Patrick’s Day for real but on Saturday and Sunday 19th/20th there was a St. Patrick’s Day festival down in Boat Quay that we decided to wander down on the Sunday to see their parade which was to start at 2:30pm. It didn’t and we waited as long as we could and gathered with the bagpipers and Irish population of Singapore just milling around the statue of Stamford Raffles.

We were beginning to fry inside so we had to leave and wander over to the actual festival area in search for a Guinness. Molly Malone’s had pints for $14 and The Penny Black (not an Irish bar) had them for $12.50. They wont be those prices again for a long time.

The festival itself started filling out after the parade and the three stages had three different types of live music. It seemed well organized and was well attended. And we were well hot and exhausted after a few black ones in the blazing sun so we trotted off home. Until next year…

Bite Size Review: Da Paolo BistroBar

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Happened to book a table before the recent Bon Iver concert in to Da Paolo BistroBar in Rochester Park as it’s a short walk to Star Theatre in The Star Vista.

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Click for larger. Prices.

Certainly not the cheapest plates on offer. $34 for a burger?! It must be awesome. Time to put my money where my mouth is. Literally.

As I finished up eating my dinner, I was underwhelmed by it all I have to say. I had a better $10 burger at the recent Craft Beer Festival furnished by Brewerkz. And that was lying on a hot plate for me for god knows how long. It wasn’t the amount of beer I had beforehand I swear.
Da Paolo’s burger was just..bland. There was too much flat notes in the taste; ham, caramelised onions, and brie just melded into one monotonous taste. It definitely needs a sharp or acidic bite to it. Ditch the caramelised onions and put some red onions in there or something. I don’t know, I’m not a chef yo.
The fries were also of the frozen-out-of-the-bag variety (I’m an expert on knowing this, trust me). For $34 I was expecting a flailing potato to be dragged out and peeled alive before my eyes.

I guess I wouldn’t be kicking them around so bad if it wasn’t for the price and it is Wagyu so there’s your costs up there to import all that in. I would argue, though, don’t hide the quality Wagyu beef by surrounding it in the equivalent of a beige woolly sweater.

6/10 Sad Cows.

Craft Singapore Beer Festival 2016

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“Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
― Oscar Wilde

Growing up in Ireland the induction in to enjoying a lifetime of the occasional tipple revolved around 2 litre bottles of cider in an overgrown ditch. Or two. It involved the outdoors and older siblings wrangling up some elixir from the local town. Memories of wet damp grass, the harshness of an overhead street light, and the boisterousness of boys learning to handle their liquor.

I can’t say that I drink as much as I thought I would do back in those days but I do enjoy exploring different beers when it’s offered up on a platter. So I grabbed some $90 tickets (worth the price? read on!) to the Craft Beer Singapore festival down at Marina Bay on Saturday March 5th.

The setup was small but well laid out with beer tents plying their wares around the perimeter and an Oktoberfest-type bench setup in the middle and a live music stage at the front. There was a small tent of benches and tables at the back where we set up so that the music didn’t deafen us. The band played loud and they played your standard Asian bar classics from such luminaries as Guns N Roses, Bon Jovi, etc. bloody etc. As the night went on the throngs of ex-pats dug/drank deep and found their dancing boots and the dance floor was your stereotypical blur of pale white skin and limbs flailing all over the place.

The beers! Not too bad. Not too bad. With the $90 admission you got $50 worth of tokens to spend. Most beers were going at a very reasonable for Singapore $8-$10 with food going for $10-$12. Prices were good. Hopefully they don’t change that up next year. There was a mix of Asian, Australian, and American breweries on show but, sadly, the setup didn’t really give the punter a chance to sample beers first before purchase. No little samples. We like samples. So with 3 of us we ended up going for deals that gave us 4 beers for $20 and 3 beers for $18 and kept us handcuffed to one type of beer. Which is fine I guess but I like to spread my beer wings from time to time.

Beers.

Norton Lager from Holgate Brewhouse, Australia – sweet tones throughout. 7/10
Summer Wheat from Alchemy Brewery, Singapore  (just opened Jan 2016) – Wheaty, oaty, smooth taste 7/10
Great White Beer from Lost Coast Brewery, USA – perfume-y and light 7.5/10
Archipelago Blonde Ale from Archipelago Brewery, Singapore 7/10

So beer wise I would have loved to have tried more and nothing stood out as really excellent. I hope it will happen again next year and it stays the same size and price structure but, again, sampling the beer is a big deal for beer festivals and the organisers need to strongly consider this.

Death Cab For Cutie – Live in Singapore!

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This could have been the third time I would get to see Death Cab For Cutie but back when I lived in Germany I had to miss out taking a couple of trains down to Cologne to catch them. I was sick or something. Probably.

But I did catch them the last time they were in Singapore. 2012 at Fort Canning Park. You know you have been living in a country for a while when a band has time to tour the country again while you’re there. Scary.

Since 2012 they have released Kintsugi which has a number of stand-out tracks. Which I think sums up my relationship with DC. They don’t really have an album that I love from start to finish. Which is great for seeing them live as they play the best tracks from most of their album back catalog.

Just a quick word on the venue. The Hard Rock Coliseum on Sentosa is a pretty nice venue; outside but covered. It’s just a bit annoying to get to and I always feel I need to rush for a taxi off the island pretty sharpish after an encore. This was my fourth time there after seeing Tenacious D, Flaming Lips, and Alt-J there. They never seem to open the doors on time and for Alt-J I ended up missing the first song. But this time, I wandered in at 7:45 for an 8pm start and made my way to the second row. Result! I thought. Nobody mentioned anything about a support band and out rolled Take Two, a local Singaporean band, to croon out half a dozen songs. To be fair, I was never going to love anyone I wasn’t expecting but I do have one of their songs in my head this morning, much to my chagrin. They are pretty cheesy and do a lot of “oooh, ehh, oooohhhhhhh” songs. On to the main performers please.

Death Cab for Cutie Setlist The Coliseum at Hard Rock Hotel, Singapore, Singapore 2016, 2015 World Tour

The gig itself by DC was very enjoyable. Again, like Bon Iver, they are a musically tight act sprinkling their set with a range of songs from their various albums. Starting off with the lamenting No Room in Frame and delving happily in to Crooked Teeth was the start of a washing machine setlist of melody, tempo, indie, and pop rock. Ben Gibbard is a charismatic blur on stage totally involved and energised. I’m happy to say he sweats like a mere mortal in 90% humidity too.

Highlights throughout the night were crowd favourite Black Sun, a pulsating New Year, melancholic What Sarah Said, and a heart thumping bass driving I Will Possess Your Heart.

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The near two hour set list went by quite quickly with the Singaporean crowd reacting warmly to each song. They wrapped up the night (and with me making my way to the back for a quick taxi getaway) with a three song encore that consisted of some of Death Cab’s most melodic and contemplative songs; Passenger Seat and Transatlanticism. I actually remember listening to Transatlanticism at 40,000 feet over the Atlantic. A song better titled there is not.

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All in all, a great gig by a consummately professional group.


Why do people ruin quiet songs by singing along at concerts..? Sigh…

Disclaimer: I realise I’m becoming one of those people who record stuff at concerts. I realise that with great sadness. I have some rules. I hold the phone in front of my face and not up and in front of everyone else. I break it out at most to capture two songs (for Bon Iver I captured just one). I do believe in living in the moment and enjoying what’s in front of me but I also want to have content for my blog. And I try to do that without being an inconsiderate jerk like many around me.
While I’m at it why do people come to a concert to just stand around the back and talk non-stop? So bizarre…

 

Return to Hong Kong

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Hong Kong: land of my late twenties and early thirties and my welcome mat in to Asia.

Three years were spent working and living in Hong Kong from 2008 until 2011 and the living was amazing. The work? Not so much.

I remember getting my first Airport Express from the airport on to Hong Kong island and being immediately enthralled with the tall and thin, old and new apartment and business buildings along Kowloon. I never grew tired of just…looking.

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To walk the streets of Hong Kong is to experience true city living. Cramped, busy, smelly, rushed, compressed, bombarded, and delighted. I often walked for the sake of walking and I often marvelled that I was actually living there. It was surreal that the green fields of my rural past were replaced by urban grey blocks and Cantonese neon splashes.

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I have been back a number of times for work and I try to get a semblance of the feeling I got back then by just wandering the streets and just being in the moment. I was a Kong Kong Island resident so my walks were around the Causeway Bay, Tin Hau, and Wan Chai areas. Areas rich in everyday living meshed around Ferrari dealerships and Swarovski jewellery stores.

On my recent visit back, I walked down my old street, Jardine’s Bazaar, to see how much has changed and to see if I could see any of the old faces behind the counters at Circle-K or 7-11 peddling their ridiculously cheap (and very welcome) TsingTao beers. I even pondered going up to see if our old security guards were still working their endless shifts. I didn’t, I don’t think I could have handled it if they didn’t remember me.

I always try to dissect why I always feel so melancholic about travelling back to Hong Kong. It dawned on me that it was mostly memories of a younger me where I could easily play football every Sunday at 11am in low thirties-baking sun conditions. Where I was still chasing academia at Hong Kong University and when my hair was blacker than it’s aging tincture it has now.

Hong Kong was the frame for a very fruitful part of my life and it will always remain so. Going back will always be bittersweet but exciting all the same.

Note: I documented the airports and a bit of the in-flight experience in this here Youtube video, which kept me sane throughout and is something I will do with my trips from now on:

Rochor Centre – Death of a Salesman

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To visit Rochor Centre in early 2016 is to visit a mortally wounded kaleidoscope. The end is nigh for the buildings, tenants, and businesses and everyone knows it. It oozes inevitability and sadness. The four beautifully and happily coloured apartment blocks hide sadness and anger at the impending closure and demolition of one of Singapore’s landmark public housing complexes.

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Sitting alongside the viper’s nest that is Sim Lim Square (I personally love it), Rochor Centre stands out like a massive paint colour sample sheet. On the first couple of floors you have the strangest array of shops you may ever see side by side. Haemorrhoids acting up? No problem. Need a hinge for the bathroom closet? No problem? Need a traditional Chinese burial urn? I know a place.
That is, until all the stores started closing and relocating en masse.

You see, in Singapore, for progress and change to happen then bad things probably need to happen in the process…of things. Rochor Centre stands slap bang in the middle of the proposed North-South Expressway and this road isn’t going to divert around so Rochor Centre will be demolished, its people relocated, and all that will remain are the memories in the minds and photographs of the people who have lived and visited there. Residents will be relocated to a new complex near Kallang MRT station with these stipulations:

from http://www.lta.gov.sg/data/apps/news/press/2011/NSE%20Annex%20B.pdf

(a) Compensation for the existing flats based on prevailing market value;
(b) Assured allocation of new flats at the designated site if eligible;
(c) Purchase of new flats at subsidised prices frozen as at the date of gazette;
(d) Additional 20% price discount (up to $15,000 for singles and $30,000 for joint singles and families), if eligible, for the purchase of the new flats;
(e) Option to sell the existing flat with relocation benefits in the open market to eligible buyers;
(f) Option to apply for a flat elsewhere with relocation benefits;
(g) Exemption from the payment of resale levy for the existing subsidised flats;
(h) Incumbent flat owners who are first time Singapore Citizen/Singapore Permanent Resident households are exempted from paying the $10,000 premium on top of the purchase price of the new flat;
(i) Concessionary housing loan for the new flats for eligible flat owners, subject to credit assessment; and
(j) A comprehensive financial package to ease the cash flow for purchase of the new flats.

So all in all, apart from the gut wrenching removal from your ancestral home, not a bad deal. Yes.

Walking around Rochor Centre the mood is serene yet morose. Pigeons have long since claimed their territories around the buildings and will, one would assume, be also put out by the demolition of their expansive coop. Dolefully I pondered that Rochor Centre should probably close on the principal on having a thousand pigeons who have free reign to do what pigeons feel like doing around the buildings.

The people I walked by had an aura of acceptance and tiredness. The elderly man playing his Chinese flute in one of the void areas added to the air of melancholy.

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Rochor Center has many areas that have a surreal feeling mainly due to unexpected spaces and angles of buildings around you. The vibrant colours of the buildings add to this.

I spent a few hours wandering around the buildings and going up to the top floors to see how people lived there while looking over to the other buildings. It truly is a unique experience to observe life in a Singapore HDB through the many windows. Alfred Hitchcock would have a field day here. As you enter a new corridor on each floor it’s always interesting to see how the corridors have been transformed into personal gardens; it’s a common theme in Singapore HDBs.

So after a while I left Rochor Centre with a heavy heart but with a sense of grudging acceptance that that’s just the way Singapore will evolve; progress beats historicity.

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As always, click pics for larger. Yo.

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