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Singapore

I try to always go somewhere new, and this trip to Hong Kong presented an opportunity to visit Singapore. I heard many people rave about it, and had to go there for myself. After a mishap where the airline assigned the same seat to different people, my mom and I each got 3 seats at the back of the plane to ourselves and for the first time, I got to lie down horizontally with my legs stretched out to sleep!

This is probably the most iconic area in Singapore – Marina Bay. Starting with the Merlion, we toured around the bay. I didn’t actually understand what a Merlion was until I saw the actual statue.

The placement of all the buildings and the water was so perfect for photos!! This area is a must-go.

There’s even a spot for an outdoor band to play.

And an outdoor street food market.

I ate my very first stingray. Another one off the list.

Another must-go destination in Singapore – The Supertrees! There is a whole grove of them and they constantly change colours. They’re powered by solar energy and capture rainwater for reuse.

In Chinatown, there is a famous Michelin 1-star place located in Chinatown called Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. The lineup almost went out the door and it was next to impossible to find a seat.

The chicken was not dry at all, but rather juicy with all the flavours of the soy sauce, and every bite was tender.

The chili crab is also worth trying if you’re willing to splurge.

In Maxwell Centre, Tian Tian is the best place to go for Hainanese Chicken Rice. If this place existed where I live, I’d go there all the time.

There’s also Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. They serve a ribs cooked in a flavoured soup. The ribs are super tender and fall easily off the bone, and the soup is a complex soup with lots of strong spices (kind of savoury and peppery). The shop even sells their own flavouring powder so people can make the soup at home!

Chinatown is pretty much a place where tourists go and most of the street vendors are catering purely to tourists. But the food here, on the other hand, is terrific.

The Buddhist temple there looks incredible. Unlike the temples in Hong Kong, photography is allowed and look way cooler.

Next destination was Little India. It was amazing at how all of a sudden, the streets were no longer filled with Chinese Singaporeans, but rather Indian Singaporeans. Many shops sold fabric for saris, and jewelry.

This was my first time visiting a Hindu temple.

There’s also an Arab Quarter. It’s incredible how in one city there are so many visible ethnicities.

Sentosa is another great place to visit. It’s the home of many resorts, Universal Studios Singapore, and the aquarium. It’s also the most southern point of continental Asia! I always thought the Vancouver aquarium was pretty amazing, but the one in Singapore is SO much better.

This was the most impressive aquarium display I had ever seen. The picture doesn’t capture how absolutely massive this room was. The window itself has a thickness of 70cm!!

Singapore also has a world class zoo – except this one is open at night, just to show off nocturnal animals.

Gordon Ramsay recommends 328 Katong, for Singapore’s famous Laksa. The soup is slightly spicy and contains chili, coconut milk, and evaporated milk. THe fillings contain noodles, shrimp and mushrooms among other things. The other two dishes are Nasi Lemak, which is a rice dish with dried anchovies and a spicy sauce, while the other is Otah, which is a fish cake with spices inside (these two items were probably the only dishes I didn’t like).

Pretty much all the restaurants and places I went came from recommendations from friends who either grew up in Singapore or lived there. Thanks to them, I got a bit of a local’s perspective on the most awesome places to go!

Photo album: here

Macau

Because of my trip to Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to visit Macau (perfect for a day trip). I met up with a friend of mine whom I met while studying at UBC, and she took the time to show me around. Language wasn’t an issue since people in Macau speak Cantonese like in Hong Kong and shops will accept Hong Kong Dollars too!

I had always known that Macau used to be a Portuguese colony, and I was impressed to see how much Portuguese architecture remained, considering that a lot of British architecture in Hong Kong no longer remains.

This is probably the most well known landmark in Macau.

Near the church is a hill that used to be an old Portuguese defense fortification. It’s now the Museum of Macau and offers a view of the surrounding area.

This is A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟) in Macau. In Cantonese, the pronunciation of the characters “媽閣” sounds like Macau, and it is believed to be the origin of the city’s name. Story goes that after the Portuguese sailors landed near the temple, they asked the natives what the name of the place was, and they were told “媽閣”.

The Mandarin’s House is a great example of a wealthy family’s residence during the late 19th century and early 20th century in China.

Food-wise, there is the Macanese pork chop bun that I mentioned in this post. On the left at plastic gloves so that people’s hands don’t get dirty. What an idea!

Next up is the deep fried bacalhau (Portuguese for cod). It’s a mixture of mashed up cod and potatoes with other seasonings all deep fried together.

Everywhere in the touristy parts of Macau, people keep trying to sell their almond cookies.

The Portuguese egg tart AKA the pastel de nata, is another famous food in Macau. It’s got a soft and crunchy outside and a sweet egg custard on the inside.

Not sure if this is a Portuguese or Macanese thing, but we were served super fresh shrimp that were cooked with super high temperatures over hot pebbles. The server showed us the shrimp to start and they were alive and kicking.

Then they turned into this.

I can’t say no to roasted pork.

While we were there, it just to happened to be the annual Macau Food Festival. Perfect for the seafood lovers out there.

Many people come to Macau for its casinos. It’s like the Las Vegas of Asia. Each of them set up grand, extravagant displays for their customers – like this giant fish tank at the MGM.

The Venetian is also in Macau and it’s quite similar in design to the one in Las Vegas. They even have the people singing for you on the rowboat too.

As is the Parisian with their mini Eiffel Tower and Versailles-like interiors.

At the Wynn Palace (I think), there’s a Ferris wheel made of real flowers. There’s even a free gondola ride to take customers into the casino!

I was lucky that I had a friend take me around Macau that day, otherwise I definitely wouldn’t have been able to visit so many places!

Photo album: here

Hong Kong food post

When people think about Hong Kong food, they often think of the Americanised Chinese food like sweet and sour pork. Some people might think fried rice, chow mein, or Dim Sum. In reality, Hong Kong food is a fusion of many cuisines with an Hong Kong twist. In this post, I will try to introduce as much Hong Kong food as I can!

Breakfast

Hong Kong breakfast is what I crave, and a lot of it is simple enough to make at home without too much effort with the exception of Dim Sum.

These are all Dim Sum dishes, typically cooked by steaming. On the bottom left, there is Shaomai, which is a dumpling containing pork and shrimp. This particular variety is what is most well known in English speaking countries, and actually has its roots in Inner Mongolia. Clockwise (ignoring the half eaten dish) is steamed ribs in black bean sauce. Top right is either a Chiu Chow dumpling or a chive dumpling, but they are both similar in that they both contain vegetables, fungus, and sometimes pork. Bottom right is a shrimp dumpling. Bottom middle is a steamed meatball. It contains beef and water chestnut and other seasonings and is served with Worcestershire sauce.

Another classic in Dim Sum – this are steamed rice rolls. The white part is made of a wide strip of rice noodle usually with filling from shrimp, pork, or beef, and the sauce on top is soy sauce.

The sight of chicken feet as something edible frequently scares foreigners. Rather than just calling it chicken feet, it’s commonly known as Phoenix Claw. It’s prepared via a complicated process of frying, braising, simmering, and steaming – one of the most difficult Dim Sum dishes to make.

The top left is the usual eggs, ham, and bread (in this case garlic bread).  The middle is Satay Beef Noodles.  Satay refers to cooking meat with a spicy, sweet, peanut sauce that originated from Indonesia.  The noodles in the picture are just rice noodles, but it doesn’t have to be.  The top right drink is Hong Kong style milk tea.  It’s similar to the British style of black tea with milk and sugar except that the Hong Kong variant uses condensed or evaporated milk – I would drink this over coffee any day of the week.

This is a pineapple bun with a slab of butter inside it (the bun is served warm so the butter slowly melts inside of it). The bun doesn’t actually contain pineapple, but it the crunchy top can sometimes resemble a pineapple. The bun itself tastes like a regular bun, but the top adds a slight sweet flavour, and of course there’s the flavour of melted butter.

The bowl of noodles is just regular instant ramen noodles (typically Nissin 出前一丁 noodles) in the restaurant’s own soup with a deboned chicken drumstick. This dish is often served with fried eggs and Spam instead of chicken.  The drink to the right is Horlicks, a malted milk drink. It’s often associated as a kid’s drink, but still enjoyed by adults.

The dish on the left is macaroni in chicken broth with ham slices. I ate this a lot growing up and for some strange reason a lot of non-Asian people I’ve explained this dish to think it’s gross. The dish on the right is the typical egg, sausage, and toast, and the drink up top is milk tea.

Congee is a popular breakfast dish and it’s common to add all sorts of different ingredients like fish, chicken, pork, Chinese doughnut, etc. The one above is congee with Chinese doughnut, fish balls, beef balls, and peanuts. Another popular one has lean pork and century egg.

Lunch/dinner

Food is cheap enough in Hong Kong such that people are okay with buying food everyday rather than cooking at home!

Hotpot is probably my favourite. Take a broth (beef, chicken, fish, spicy, or whatever) and just cook whatever you want inside it. Traditionally, the entire table all share one giant pot and everyone cooks their food inside it, but in recent times, having one small hotpot per person is becoming more popular.

These two dishes are classics in Hong Kong “Cha Chaan Teng” (茶餐廳) establishments. The one on the left is Baked Portuguese Chicken Rice. It’s not actually Portuguese and has its origins in Macau (just a ferry ride away from Hong Kong!), which was a Portuguese colony at the time. It’s essentially chicken and potatoes on top of fried rice in a creamy sauce with spices (e.g. turmeric, cumin, etc.), coconut milk, and chicken broth. The one on the right is Baked Pork Chop Rice. It’s baked in the same way as the previous one, but it’s fried pork chop and tomatoes on rice with a slightly sweet, cheesy, tomato sauce – one of my favourites. The drink is a lemon tea, which in this case it’s black tea with lemon slices and sugar.

The dish on the left is a roasted goose. It has the consistency of chicken, but has all dark meat and a more intense flavour than chicken. The dish on the right is poached chicken and roast pork belly on rice. Poached chicken might sound strange to some people, but it is actually quite flavourful if the brine is made well and the chicken is of high quality. The poached chicken is typically eaten with a sauce made of minced green onion, ginger, and oil. Roast pork belly is special mainly because of its thick crusty skin.

This is poached chicken and barbecue pork on rice. The poached chicken is the same as before and the barbecue pork is the same that is available in North America.

This is Claypot Rice. It’s essentially rice, meat, and soy sauce among other things all steamed together, but it doesn’t count unless there are crusty bits of rice on the side of the bowl formed from the steaming.

This is Wonton Noodles. The Wonton is the dumpling with shrimp and vegetables (one could argue that the above isn’t an actual wonton due to the shape of the dumpling, but let’s not get into technicalities), the noodles themselves are egg noodles cooked al dente, and the soup is usually derived from fish. The soup itself has flavour, but not so much so that it doesn’t overpower everything else.

These are also typical noodle dishes. The one of the left is beef brisket in a beef soup and the other is fish balls and fish tofu in a fish soup.

This is wonton noodles with beef balls. Good for a quick meal.

Some might tell you that the dirtier the place looks, the tastier it is.

Snacks

These are the street food style snacks. Huge ones that I’m missing here are bubble waffles and egg tarts unfortunately!

The bun on the right is the Pork Chop Bun, originally from Macau. It’s essentially a pork chop sandwiched in a Brazilian style bun (so-called piggy bun).

This looks like a dessert, but it’s actually served at some Cha Chaan Tengs. The white one is steamed milk pudding and the yellow one is steamed egg custard. It’s essentially milk or eggs with sweet flavouring (e.g. sugar, vanilla extract, etc.) that is steamed. It’s almost like a Hong Kong style crème brûlée.

This toast with butter and condensed milk. Very simple, but also very delicious.

These are fish balls. A lot of times they are made from processed fish, but can be made from fresh fish as well. Generally they are served a curry sauce, but they are also available in other types of sauces for people who can’t handle the spice.

The bowl of soup on the left is Imitation Shark Fin Soup. This has no actual shark fin in it, and instead the shark fin is replaced by clear rice noodles, since actual shark fin can sometimes have a similar consistency to it (to be honest, actual shark fin is rather tasteless). The key ingredients in the soup itself is chicken stock, chicken, various types of fungus, and dried scallops, and soy sauce. The dish on the right is Shaomai. Not to be confused with the kind at Dim Sum – this is the street food version, which is made of similar ingredients as the fish balls above.

Photo album: here

Hong Kong

In contrast to my first visit to Hong Kong since I left as a child, I made a personal travel goal to actually do touristy things in addition to famispy stuff. I ate so much good food, but that will go in a separate post.

Last time I visited, the hot and humid summer made it quite unbearable to do anything outside and I spent most of my time in air conditioned malls. But this time I went in November, where one could just go outside comfortably in summer clothes. Good visibility this time around allowed me to take photos like this:

Touristy places

For touristy things, people visit the Big Buddha – pretty much Asia’s equivalent of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

Visiting the Big Buddha requires taking a 30-minute gondola ride up a mountain. The entire area also contains a collection of temples and animals wandering about.

Visitors can even see Buddhist scriptures inscribed onto large wooden posts.

In the nearby fishing village of Tai O, people sell all sorts of parts from dried seafood like swim bladders, stomachs, starfish, and the like for people to make soup with. Notice the giant dried shark center left.

Tourists often visit The Peak as well. On a clear day, visitors can see all the way across the harbour into Kowloon (the northern part of Hong Kong). I took the light bus directly up to the top thinking I boarded the bus that would take passengers to the tram station that would go up the mountain. Without realizing I already arrived at The Peak, I walked further up the mountain just to walk back down. The views from up there didn’t compare to the actual touristy part of The Peak.

Old school culture

Since my grandparents lived in Hong Kong before they passed away, I will always visit them at the cemetery. In Chinese culture, people often burn fake money or other things as offerings for the deceased family member in the afterlife. Depending on who is selling the offerings, they will often ask questions about one’s family history so that they can write the information on the offerings for burning such that it will go to the right people in the afterlife.

Such cultural things may seem old fashioned for such a modern city like Hong Kong, but Hong Kong still to this day retains a mixture of the old and the new.

People still continue to place immense importance on worshipping mythological dieties and figures. Because Buddishm, Taoism, and Confucianism all have had great influence in Asia for thousands of years, many temples contain elements from all of these religions.

Europe has lots of churches, but Asia has temples.

From big city life to quiet gardens.

Day to day life

The MTR serves as the mass transit system in Hong Kong. In Vancouver, attendants will tell you not to board a packed train, but in Hong Kong, it’s normal to try to get yourself in the full train.

Shopping malls in Hong Kong don’t just consist of shops, but rather show extravagance.

From shopping malls to street markets

Live chickens anyone? In North America, some people raise chickens for their eggs, but in Hong Kong people, many buy live chickens to eat – but over time more and more people now prefer buying their chickens at the supermarket.

Visitors can feel the on-the-go culture in Hong Kong. People speedwalk everywhere, and they fill the streets. Some visitors, especially those from places with less people, like to take a moment to people watch.

Splurging

The tallest bar in the world, situated on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre, the Ozone Bar provides a view of Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong Island. A drink up there costs at least $30 USD – pretty much paying for the view.

Museums on the road less travelled

For those interested in Hong Kong’s history in the context of finance, The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has a small museum for this, near the top of the International Finance Centre.

Those interested in trains can visit the Hong Kong Railway Museum in Tai Po. It talks about the history of rail travel within Hong Kong and lets visitors see the inside of old trains that used to run in the city.

Photo album here

Stockholm

Last, but not least, Stockholm.

Stockholm used to be just an island, and since Stockholm has expanded outside of the island, the island portion has become the old town, known as Gamla Stan.

Some buildings in the old town have fake windows, because glass was expensive back then (3rd floor middle window).

There’s a random piece of Viking runestone on the corner of a building. And it’s protected by a cannon barrel on the street corner…

The Scandanavian countries really like their royal guards…

H&M sells home products in Sweden! I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

At our hostel, we met some awesome people and went on a bike tour with some of them, guided by a local Swedish fellow. He took us to the top of a hill overlooking the river and Gamla Stan.

Welcome to Earth!!

Our guide showed us this cool snack. It’s herring with cucumber and onions on flatbread.

This is an indoor bike tunnel going under a bridge!!

This was part of the common area at our hostel. They did a good job with that antique look and they even made us take our shoes off when inside.

At the Stockholm Royal Armoury, they showed off a bunch of carriages. Since we are nerdy engineers, we spent a while analyzing how its suspensions worked.

I heard Swedish meatballs are famous.

The Vasa Museum was probably the most incredible attraction. The Vasa was a Swedish warship that sank on its maiden voyage. It was supposed to be a symbol of Swedish military might at the time, but it sank because it was too top-heavy due to the many cannons it had on board and not enough width to counter the tipping of the ship from its weight. It was later discovered that the ship was very well preserved and now it is on display.

What is more Swedish than going to Ikea and eating meatballs? There is a free shuttle that goes to Ikea too!

The best part of the trip was meeting a bunch of cool people in our hostel room! We had a room of 8 and every single person was fun to hang out with as opposed to normally I don’t get to talk to everybody. This time, the 8 of us got to chill in the room having beers and stuff. One of them was from Kentucky who was currently living in Alabama – of course all the America jokes were directed at her. Another was from Australia who had just finished his contract with the ANZAC navy after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq – he was quite open in talking about his experiences and I learned a ton from him! I also learned a nice trick to cooking pasta from one of the Italians: always salt the water before cooking the pasta! He even said that people thought he was crazy when they saw him salting the water. I also got some good hookups in Shanghai from our Chinese roommate – awesome when I decide to go there! It was amazing how well we all clicked and definitely an unforgettable experience in my travels.

That’s it for Stockholm!

Photo album: Stockholm

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