Monday, January 31, 2011

My Singapore Weekend

I love vacations. Who doesn't? But lately it seems like mine always start in the middle of the night. Here's Allan loading luggage into a taxi a few minutes before 6 am.
Allan and I spent last weekend in Singapore, as he was on his way to Diego Garcia, an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. You could Google it, but Allan will be posting his adventures pretty soon.
It was a full travel day. Allan bought my ticket and requested, but didn't get, that flight for himself. His ticket was purchased by the DOD. So we met up at the Singapore airport. On the drive to the hotel, we saw this structure.
When I first saw it, I thought there was an iguana on top. Well, considering... tropical Asian harbor city, pointy front, so iguana.

Well, the architecture in this part of the world is certainly interesting. Did you see my Hong Kong blog?

The next day, I got a view from another angle and voila - it's a ship.

I've been told that this is a hotel and that the 'ship' on top is where the pool is located.

Singapore is tropical, (85 miles north of the equator) and very inter- national. You can see that before you leave the airport. There are four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil (an Indian dialect). It's also very clean. You get fined for chewing gum, littering, smoking, and a host of other infractions. AND... the immigration form has this printed statement:


Since we arrived late in the day, we took a walk to look for food. Word is Singapore is great for 2 things - shopping and eating. I happen to have a very cordial relationship with Asian cuisine, and our first meal was Thai food. I ordered a cellophane noodle salad, which was hot - temperature hot and spicy hot. We had several other plates and didn't leave any evidence as to their contents.

Returning to the hotel, we stopped at the open air stage (above) to listen to Greek music.

We got a late start Saturday, because vacation or not, I am not a morning person. We walked toward Chinatown, started to get our bearings and I got hungry. Allan likes to plan everything, as in: "let's check out this area and then go over there and maybe we'll see a place for lunch". Yeah, like that will work. When I'm hungry, we eat.

After a quick stop for fish 'n' chips, we ended up in the Arabic section, which turned out well. I wished that I had a prom to attend, because I saw incredible beaded fabrics that would have made a great dress. I couldn't resist altogether, so I bought one of the plainest pieces I could find and I intend to make a sundress. There were great shops for rugs, and we found one we wanted. There was some haggling and we left with our purchase folded and packaged.

Allan saw a sign for scents and aromatherapy items, and insisted we stop. The walls of the shop were lined with bottles. You had only to describe the scent you wanted, floral, spicy, musky, earthy, and a bottle was chosen for you to try. Then you custom mix your fragrance. My nose overdosed, so I took unmixed scents, one mildly floral and one spiced.

Our shopping ended earlier that I liked. We walked for hours and had the rug to schlep back to the hotel, as well as the fabric and perfumes. I asked about shipping the rug home, but the guy at the shop convinced me I could carry it, which I did, all the way to Yokosuka.

The airports here supply luggage carts without a fee, so it wasn't a problem until I reached base. Once at base I had to get it to the train station, then home.

After some down time, we went to Raffles Hotel with the purpose of having a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, where it was created in 1915. You learn all kinds of stuff right here.

The bar was filled with people who didn't mind the price of 25 Singapore dollars (about US$20) for a overly sweet concoction that was created specifically for ladies. No self-respecting 1920s male would have been caught having this feminine drink. It did not appear to be an issue in 2011.

It rained all day Sunday, so we stuck to the indoor malls, rather than the boutique stores. And look who's also famous in Singapore. We also passed Body Shop, Starbuck's, and a few familiar fast food spots. McDonald's is everywhere but what it's doing in Singapore is anyone's guess.

I had to take this photo. You're expecting moyel jokes, even this spelling. No, I leave it to you - say what you will.

There's a Japanese restaurant in Lakeland called Shin-getsu. That could mean big breasts or proctologist for all you know. Nah... it means new moon.

Here's Singapore's version of the 'food court'. Sunday, I chose Japanese for lunch. Allan said it was odd to buy Japanese food in Singapore, since we live in Japan. Not so much. We eat Chinese, Korean and Indian food routinely in Japan, so why not eat Japanese food here?

It was decorated with wallpaper that looked like leather bound classic novels in some British Lord's private library. You can see it along the top of the wall below.

Otherwise, it was Asian fast food. Everything looked good. We stopped here another time for some dim sum which you could buy on small plates, one or two pieces. It was close to the hotel, and we wanted something light.

If you care to, you can dine on stingray.

It's not all raw fish and rice here. We didn't try the stingray, maybe another time, but probably not.

Signs are commonly printed in English and Chinese, depending on the area of town. This sign is more interesting because of it's content rather than it's language. We didn't hear harmonica music. That would have been interesting.

Chinatown is the same everywhere. Red is the color of the torii, the gate leading to a Shinto Shrine, and I think the entrance to every Chinatown on the planet is decorated with a red gate.

When we got to this Chinese pharmacy, the owner was an enthusiastic salesman and very proud of his shop. I was contemplating buying the insomnia cure, but Allan moved on to a fruit stand, and I didn't want to lose him.

These ladies appear on the subway platform and on the cars. I don't really remember what the message was. Maybe it was "Hey, we're ladies, let us have the seat". People will give up a seat to an elderly or handicapped person, but men do not feel obliged to offer their seat to a lady or let her have a seat that is vacated. Whomever is closest (and fastest) get the seat.

We ended our trip heading in different directions. Allan has temporary duty, so I'll have 11 days alone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Talk about powder!!!

0450 - and yes, it's dark - that's no time to start a vacation! We took a cab from our house at 4:50 in the morning on Friday, January 14th for a 4-day MLK weekend to Niseko, Japan. If you're looking for good powder skiing, this is the place. We spent 8 hrs. on public transportation and hit the slopes at 1:30 pm. It was COLD, about 5 degrees fahrenheit.

Our hotel (above) was ski in / ski out. Better than that, when you ski in (tired and cold) the 'Ski Valet' meets you at the door and takes your skis and poles to storage, then exchange ski boots for apres-ski boots and you're on your way. NTS - (Not too shabby). Starting late the first day, we didn't hit much powder. But there were powder patches just off the groomed trails. I like to veer into it for a short ride, then get back to the groomed.

Though we got a late start, we had enough skiing for the first day. The lifts stay open later in Japan than U.S. resorts, and night skiing was available. To avoid yet more public transportation, we found a buffet in the hotel for dinner.

Since breakfast was part of our package, we enjoyed a leisurely meal and were back on the slopes by 8:30 the second day. We traveled a little and tried a different set of slopes that led to Hirafu, another resort village. Now we had powder, and we skied together the whole time. I did better after getting my ski legs under me the first day. Try using muscles you last used a year ago.

Every day we had our chocolate break and our lunch break to relieve our fatigue and frozen fingers. Let me say again - 5 degrees!

Saturday night we met up with 5 other Yokosukans at a hotel bar/cafe. We had burgers, pizza, tapas and since it was a bar, beer and sake (Allan's fave) and other libations. The room had a great view of an ongoing blizzard. I don't know what else you call heavy snow blowing sideways. I was knee deep in powder Sunday.

Allan hit the onsen (natural hot springs) every night. Hotels in Japan are built around onsens, and this one had both indoor and outdoors onsen areas. Robes and slippers are supplied, so every time you got on the elevator, there was some guy in a robe headed to the onsen. In Japan, onsen attire is... well - nothing, nada, nude, nekked! Me - I took a hot soak in my room.

Allan took a few shots of me coming down the trail. I fell more this year than last, but I blame the powder.

The ski trails are marked green (easy), red (intermediate) and black (OMG!!). Intermediate trails are blue in the states, so if you wear yellow googles (like I do), it's a little tricky to distinguish between green and blue. Am I the only person who thinks so? Surely not. But it makes sense that the Japanese have a better system. Don't get snippy, it just does.

No language problem here. Everything is written in Japanese and English, but it was amusing that announcements were made with an Australian accent. Americans were outnumbered 4 to 1 by Aussies, some vaca- tioning, some working at the resort. We spoke with lots of them on lifts and in restaurants.

Speaking of our friends from Yokosuka... Last year on our ski trip to Zao Onsen, we met Kevin and Ramon, who became Allan's poker buds. I think they're stalking us, because here they are again. Erica, Kevin's wife (above in red) made it this time. They found a little ramen place for lunch. Hot soup with noodles is soooo good when you're a Floridian in sub-freezing temperatures. Just why was I there? I keep asking myself.

Taking a short break at the top of the last run before lunch, I spotted some snowboarding lunatic coming directly at my beloved husband. Eek! I thought he was going to hurt Allan, and I would have to take him down. It turned out to be this snowboarding lunatic, Ramon Perez.

Our last night in Niseko, we did the town, dinner at Abu Cha, where we ate seafood appetizers and 'hot pot', beef & veg, salmon and veg, spicy chicken and veg that were cooked by us, at the table. Why do we cook our own food in restaurants? It's surely a puzzle. But you couldn't argue with the results. Yum!

This photo is lunch at the ramen restaurant.

Ramon and Allan wanted to hit an 'ice bar' after dinner. A sauna bar would have been my choice, but as that was not an option, three of us headed for the ice bar. As advertised, it was an ice structure with a bar made from frozen water, complete with luge (a small crevice used to pour alcohol directly from bottle into the waiting mouth of a willing patron). People stopped by with the kiddies to drink from glasses also made of frozen water.

Allan was in charge of the camera and it was elsewhere, so you'll have to imagine us there.

Allan skied for two hours on Monday morning. He went to the top of the mountain on a tow rope, looking for 'Niseko's best powder'. Snow was dropping hard and the visibility made it difficult and dangerous, so he stopped a bit earlier than planned, but spent the time in the hot springs. Four days goes so fast when it's vacation time, but you know you had fun if you don't want it to end.