Categories
indonesia outside singapore singapore

In Search for Kopitiam Aroma

As you may have known from this blog, I spent a fairly amount of time in Singapore, and its culture has a special place in my heart. One of the many things I miss is the Singapore kopi (coffee) and kopitiam (coffee shop).

In Singapore (and Malaysia), kopi is actually not a plain coffee. It is coffee with condensed milk. When I moved back to Indonesia, I tried to satisfy the need for nostalgia with Nescafe instant coffee and local condensed milk. As time goes by, I realized that it was not the same. Then I used real ground coffee, making the taste richer and more original.

However, things changed again when I bought Singapore-brand Cafe 21 instant coffee. I tasted something different that I could not find in a local ground coffee. After posting that finding on Facebook, my Singaporean friend Don opened my mind that such taste actually comes from the margarine that was used to roast the coffee. So I began searching for more, the “nanyang” coffee.

I tried the supposedly real Nanyang ground coffee, which in most cases come in bags, like the tea bags. Ah Huat Kopi O is one example. However, it somehow does not taste and smell the same. It’s just plain bland. The reason is still a mystery for me until now.

In this last occasion, I bought the Toast Box ground coffee “powder”, which does not come in bags. There is a slight nanyang aroma when I made the coffee using V60 coffee filter, but it was still far from perfect. The surprise came when I left the residue for about an hour. Just when I was about to throw the leftover away, I smell that unique aroma of the kopitiam! Therefore, my conclusion so far is: the kopitiam aroma actually comes not from freshly brewed coffee, but from the leftover coffee.

So this “Screw the French Press, we’ve got the socks” poster at most Ya Kun Kaya Toast stalls now makes very sense for me. The socks keep the leftover from the first brew, to the next, and the next, and so on!

Disclaimer: this conclusion does not come from a scientific study, nor it is peer reviewed.

Categories
article indonesia outside singapore

Ping? Pong!

This post is just to let you know that I am still alive. I have been occupied with a lot of activities for my startup project with my friend Budi; and other small stuffs (relocation, catechism, etc…). Unfortunately that means lower priority to maintain this blog.

And as wise men say, a picture worth a thousand words. And turned out it takes much lesser effort than writing, too ūüôā So here are 7000 words of decorations in my new house, that are gifts from friends and relatives.

A book called On a Street in Singapore, gift from my badminton friends Abhineet, Albert Quah, Albert Tjipto & his girlfriend, and Heldi

Notebook with messages and greeting cards from my ITB friends in Gemalto, along with other gifts.

A unique wall clock, gift from other ITB friends, who were with me since I moved to Singapore.

Singlish candies from my former landlord Christine, Pineaple cake from Budi, and a nice Paul Allen memoir from my brother Daniel

Swan doll made of unused cement paper from my aunt Meme, along with some decorations I bought myself.

A cross to help me feel safe. A gift from my aunt Veronica more than 5 years ago, but I still keep it until now.

Finally, a celebration to start using my new workshop! With help of my girlfriend and her family. Thanks Budi for taking the picture.

 

It’s hard not to miss Singapore after that four years, but the gifts helped me to remember the good (and bad) times there. I feel very grateful to have friends and relatives that gave those gifts!

And as you may notice that I’ve changed the blog title. I still hope that I can write frequently again in the future.

Categories
malaysia outside singapore places

Malacca Trip

It will take sometime until I can post a nice article, if any. The quality of mobile internet connection is Indonesia is not as good as in Singapore, and I am practically a nomad for a few moment now. I really want to tell some interesting stories about my adaptation to the new life, but let’s see. For the moment, I have a story about my trip to Malacca, just days before I left Singapore for good. Here it is.

My landlord gave me a very nice suggestion to spend sometime around Singapore before I left it for good. Therefore, Malacca it was. Malacca is a 4-hour journey from Singapore, depending on the traffic and immigration. As it is a small town and I didn’t have too much time to spend, I only spent a night there along with my friend Handy.

We departed from a bus terminal in Bugis, about 8 AM in the morning; thanks to my Malaccan colleague Jia Hwang who bought the ticket for me. The bus was quite nice, and we were lucky to sit in the back. About 1 hour before we reached our destination, the bus’ air conditioner system seemed had overheated, spilling fresh water every now and then in the middle seat area. On the bright side, it made people laugh of the silliness.

Chicken Rice BallWe reached the “Malaka Sentral” terminal about noon, but we had to take a cab to the main tourist area, about 15 minutes journey for MYR 20. We alighted near the end of Jonker Street and quickly queued up for the chicken rice ball restaurant there. It seemed quite famous among tourists, but after all it was just a chicken rice with the rice rolled into few balls.

We continued by walking along the Jonker Street (a.k.a. Jalan Hang Jebat, Chinatown), which was very interesting. Walking along that street felt like going back in time. All buildings were decorated in a Chinese 50’s era style. Being a tourist attraction street, it was quite amazing to see some unpopular buildings like a newspaper office or a mortuary over there.

We then checked in at our hotel, Baba House, located not far from the Jonker Street. Exactly as described in a Lonely Planet book, the lobby decoration was very interesting and classic, but the rooms were quite bland. However, it’s not bad at all for a MYR 145 per night rate.

Outside the Jonker Street, the town was influenced by Portuguese culture. There were classic buildings like churches and fort remains. The well-known Stadyhus is the central of the surrounding buildings: Christ Church, Windmill, etc… We climbed up the hill a bit to see the St. Paul Church. Plenty of tombstones were planted there, remembering the names of several Portuguese lived in the past. Just nearby, there were some Malay Sultanate museums and the Cheng Ho museum.

An uncle selling fried potato at Jonker Street
An uncle selling fried potato at Jonker Street

The sun was almost set when we went back to Jonker Street. Interestingly, that street was closed for vehicles and transformed into a night market, similar to those in Lau Pa Sat. We rested a while in our hotel, and out again, this time to the infamous satay celup restaurant, Capitol Satay, about 15 minutes walking from the Jonker Street. We were a bit late, so we had to queue for more than an hour for a seat. On the same street with the Capitol, there were 2 more satay celup restaurant with almost no visitors. They were selling alternative value propositions, like “Why pay 90 cents in Capitol, while our satay is 60 cents only” or “We have 40 years experience!”.

The queue was paid off when we started to dine there. The menu was simple: you pick several uncooked meats or vegetables in wooden sticks, then you cook it yourself in a bowl of peanut sauce. However, it was somehow very interesting and quite delicious, too. While we were eating, we heard all staffs were talking in Javanese. It turned out that the owner of the stall was from Java and had become a Malaysian resident.

After dinner, we headed to the Maritime Museum, not far from Jonker Street. Unfortunately it only opens during the day, so we only spent the time outside, taking pictures of the massive ship that acts as the museum.

Goodbye!
Goodbye!

On the next day, we spent morning time by walking to the Fort Santiago, which is well known for photo taking spot. It is the remains of a fort that was built also by the Portuguese. The place was nice but not exceptional, perhaps because we had seen St. Paul Church the day before.

Before going back to the hotel I stopped by a shop selling cendol. The interesting thing about this chendol is the cup. It was made of thick paper, and equipped with the handle; also made with paper. The patented paper handle was made strong enough to hold a full cup of the drink.

For lunch, my friend Handy had the infamous peranakan laksa, while I chose the safer side by ordering a normal noodle (I had bad experiences with spicy food).

It was then time to go home. We had to go back to Malaka Sentral to take the bus back to Singapore. We would like to try the public bus there, but it was too crowded hence too risky for my weak knee. We then decided to just take another cab anyway. Few minutes before 2 PM, we were already in the bus heading for Singapore; ending our short journey to Malaka.

Categories
events indonesia outside singapore personal

2 Hours of Graduation, 8 Days of Fun / Part 2 – Road Trippin’

This is part two of the story. You can read the first part here.

Pekalongan Station

After spending quality time in Singapore, It was time to go back to Indonesia. I went to Bandung with my girlfriend using an AirAsia flight. Still having euphoria from the celebration, I spent a bit more of money by booking the hot seat at the front row. I felt lucky as the one seat beside me was empty, so I had some extra room. Until a guy from the back seat came in and took the seat. Fortunately, he agreed to move back after I convinced him that the seat is for hot seat passengers only. When the plane landed at Bandung, I realized one more benefit from the hot seat purchase, which is a faster waiting time at the immigration checks. There were only 2 officers on duty, hence arriving later at the gate contributed significant amount of waiting time.

I spent two nights in Bandung, and at the third day was the time for another trip to Pekalongan. It is a small town in Central Java, where my parents once lived their childhood. It is well known as Batik producer, but as I found out it’s also a heaven for seafood lover, thanks to its proximity to the ocean and low living cost. When I was younger, my dad used to take me there by car. We usually spent 1 to 3 days on the road. Not the whole day of course, but we tended to stop and stay overnight in the towns we passed by to enjoy them. This time, the ritual didn’t seem to be feasible anymore and the best option was to take a train!

About 7.30 in the morning, both of us boarded the train to Pekalongan. Unlike the years before, the Bandung-Pekalongan train this time took a much longer route by catching up the rail from Jakarta on the northern side. This means huge maintenance cost saving for the company, and longer journey time for the passengers (but on the brighter side, more scenery to see!). We arrived in Pekalongan about 2 PM, having only about five minutes to alight as the train was scheduled to go again to Semarang

After meeting the rest of the Singapore team (my parents, brother and his girlfriend), I freshened up by taking the legendary Es Teler at Jalan Dr. Cipto, followed by another desert es duren (durian syrup with ice). At late afternoon, we spent some time at the beach. It was not as clean as Sentosa beach, but at least there were not so much tankers there. In the evening, we went to a restaurant near the beach to have a big seafood dinner. For less than S$ 10 per person, we had grilled fishes, whole squids (more than just the rings), salad, and kangkungs (water spinach).

The beach at Pekalongan

In the morning next day, we went for another culinary trip: a soto tauco (traditional spicy soup) at a small alley near the Es Teler restaurant. In the afternoon, we had another famous food from Kombor’s restaurant: chilli crab. Not really similar to the chilli crabs in Singapore, their crabs have less meat but better sauce. We tried to burn our fat afterwards at a local franchise of the Time Zone arcade center. After one hour of games, we started to get bored and went back home. Turned out that my aunt just bought a carrom discs for the table that she had had for a long time. Hence we started to spent another hour playing the game (even without precisely understanding the rules). Evening was another chance to taste various local foods in Pekalongan. We started by having swikees (frogs) cooked in various ways for dinner, followed grilled toast (yes, it was really grilled using charcoals!). As for the “dessert”, we had martabak. It was sold by a guy named Ibrahim, who we thought first came from middle east for his figure. Turned out that his father came from India.

I’ve been talking too much about food, haven’t I? Anyway, unfortunately on the third day we had to go back to our hometowns. My girlfriend went back to Bandung while I went to Jakarta along with my family. It was another train trip, but this time much faster. It only took about 4 hours of journey. In Jakarta, me and my brother spent some time to watch a live soccer game by our old friends. Finally, I took a flight back to Singapore in the evening. It felt so fast, though in the end the story worth two posts of blog.

Categories
indonesia outside singapore personal places

Jakarta & Bandung Trip 2011

Me & Monas
Me & Monas

After finishing my last semester in NUS, it was time for a long break! This time, I visited Jakarta and Bandung for about 9 days. A luxury I couldn’t get during the semester term.

First stop was Jakarta. I took a flight in the morning from Singapore, and arrived around noon. After landed, I searched for my dad who picked me up at the airport. While I was looking for him, I saw many adolescent girls looking very excited waiting for something. Out of curiosity, I asked one of them what’s happening. She answered “Super Junior is coming!” with a look that says something like “Oh my God! You really don’t know what’s happening? Are you from outer space?”. I only saw the car they rode from distance amid the hysterical fans, but didn’t see the Super Junior members. I didn’t know them beforehand, anyway.

During the 4 days in Jakarta, I didn’t really go to interesting places. I spent most of them for quality time with family and¬†by cleaning up my stuff that I left untouched while in Singapore. One of the task was to dispose a very old 486 desktop computer (from the year 1994). It turned out to be a difficult task, even my friend who works on a project that accept old computers for donation¬†thinks that the specification was too low. I also tried to help my dad to remove a tree stump that lies at our front yard. The root has grown so deep it threatened to spoil the the water pipe under the soil. It was a task that looked easy but turned out to be very difficult. The root was thick and had forked into many smaller ones, making it difficult to pull out. In the end, we gave up and decided to try buying a kerosene to kill it slowly instead.

On Tuesday, I went to Bandung to meet my girlfriend, but it became some kind of breaking my diet plan in a culinary trip. Most of them involved having local meals that only found in warungs and home made cooking. On one occasion we had dinner at a modern cafe located next to a mosque, making the ambiance a bit awkward during prayer times. After almost four years (when I left Bandung), this city has been getting more cramped than before.

Almost every time I went to Bandung, I spent some time to watch movie in the cinema. During this time, there was some disagreement between the government and the movie distributor, making the blockbuster movies unavailable everywhere in Indonesia (well, except at the pirated DVD stores). It was quite a pity, but on the bright side it filtered out the mainstream movies that sell by their visual effects, and leaving the good movies that focuses on the story. In the end, Source Code and Scream 4 was quite satisfying to me.

I also spent some time to visit the university where I studied for my undergraduate. There were new buildings, making me and my girlfriend lost for a few moment before finding out the department we were looking for. It was very nice to see the professors that taught me and some¬†former colleagues (I was working part time for 2 years in the university). Things haven’t changed much but I regret that I already forgot the names of some of them. The most nostalgic part is, well, the food. After having traditional fried chicken for dinner, we went for a second round at a nearby soup stall.

On the last day, I took a train back to Jakarta, to catch up the flight in the evening. I arrived around 10.30 but had to wait about one and a half hour for my parents and brother to come. They were taking another train from Pekalongan. While waiting, I went to the nearby tourist attraction: the national monument, a.k.a. Monas. It is interesting, because while I was born and raised in Jakarta, that was only the second time I went to Monas for at least 15 years. The first time was during the elementary school study tour. I was taking several pictures for this blog when a local seller came to me and tried to¬†speak in English with me. I replied in English, too, until he asked me where I come from and I answered “Jakarta”. He looked a bit surprised, this crazy Jakartans still want to go to Monas?

About one hour later, my parent came. We then had a quick lunch, followed by rest at home. And in the evening, I flew back to Singapore. End of trip, was surely a pleasant break

Categories
indonesia outside singapore travel

The Amazing Races

It just happened that when I landed in Jakarta, Justin Bieber was about to land, too.
Justin Bieber Fans at Soekarno Hatta

There are two ways to react to disturbances in your travel. One is to curse, of course. The other one is to enjoy it as a challenge, as the people in the Amazing Race game. This easter, I went for a short trip to Indonesia and had an opportunity to appreciate that fact. For this trip, I took a flight from Singapore to Jakarta, continued with a intercity (mini)bus to Bandung, spent one night there, another intercity bus to Jakarta, spent another night, and back to Singapore.

My first challenge started when I landed in Jakarta. It was to arrive in Bandung as fast as possible to, you know, meet my girlfriend. After¬†touchdown at around¬†10.30 in the morning, I rushed to find the earliest bus that depart to Bandung. Unfortunately the first bus was already full and the next departure would be two hours later. I then decided to take a “premium” bus, in which each passenger will be delivered to their final destination, instead of the bus terminal. That day was a public holiday adjacent to normal weekend,¬†therefore as predicted the traffic was awful. Even worse, I was unlucky to be the last person to be delivered, after wandering around Bandung and the suburbs. In total, I spent 5 hours on the road! I admit that I failed on my first challenge. Anyhow I was lucky that my girlfriend was understanding enough for my lateness.

The second challenge was when I was about to leave Bandung. My plan was to take another intercity bus bound for Jakarta at 3PM, expecting to arrive Jakarta 3 hours later, so I could catch the Easter eve mass at 7PM. I reserved a cab by phone for 2PM; 1 hour before is more than enough, I thought; which proven to be wrong. I started to worry when the cab company called 20 minutes before 2, saying that they haven’t found a free cab for me. At 2 sharp, they called again, informing the same news. Therefore, I went for plan B: take¬†the infamous¬†Bandung public transport angkot. I had to take the angkot to train station, and transfer to either another angkot or¬†flag a cab there. Quite¬†a pessimistic idea, but there was still hope. Another unfortunate event, after few kilometers the angkot did what is known as ngetem: the driver stopped and wait for another passenger to get in, with the hope of getting more money from more passengers. Based on my 4 years experience in Bandung as a student, this ngetem ceremony could take at least 15 minutes, while¬†the time¬†was already 2.20. I then alight and tried to flag a cab passing by, with no luck. Most drivers were reluctant as the bus terminal is located¬†at a heavy traffic area. I spent about 10 minutes trying to flag a cab with no luck. Finally, it’s time for plan C…

While looking for a cab, I spotted a Damri bus stop, while the bus was there waiting for passengers. To be honest, though I’m a regular angkot user, I have never taken a Damri bus in Bandung before. What¬†caught my attention¬†was the sign on the bus front window, saying that the next stop is Pasteur, which is very close to the bus terminal I was heading to. The driver was not there yet, so I confirmed with a lady who sat at the front seat. She said it’s possible to alight at the terminal, but I had to tell the driver beforehand. After 15 minutes of waiting,¬†the bus¬†finally started to move. It was obvious that I will miss the 3PM intercity bus, but I still¬†had hope for the next one at 4PM. When I told my girlfriend about my decision to take Damri bus, her response was a suprise and a simple and clear “awas copet” (watch out for thieves). Given the bus condition, it seemed¬†very prone to criminal activities, after all. Thank God¬†all my valuables including my self were save.¬†The official price for¬†one trip is¬†IDR 5,000 (SGD 1), and you’re entitled to a receipt as a proof of payment. As instructed by the lady, I told the driver to stop at the intercity bus terminal. I really looked like “a new guy in town”, so the driver joked me that the price to stop at the terminal is 50,000 (in a half-serious tone). I joked him back with a question “could you¬†remove one zero for me?” with a smile. I didn’t want to assume anything about him, but finally I gave him only IDR 5,000, the official price (I didn’t get a receipt after all). Well Mr. Driver, if you read this post, I did it for your own good.

I was late for the 3PM bus, and the 4PM bus is full. The best option I could take was to put myself into the 4PM waiting list. It was very anxious, as my name was not called even as late as 5 minutes after 4. Luckily some¬†passenger didn’t¬†show up¬†at the terminal, and the seat was given up to me. I arrived 3 hours later at the Jakarta terminal, and I rushed to take a cab to get to the church. As the distance to the church was not too far, the driver asked to pay a fixed price instead of using¬†the distance meter. I accepted it, but really regret it later. It’s not that the price was too expensive, but somehow I indirectly helped the driver to corrupt his employer money.

The rest of the journey was not very eventful, though. It was more of spending quality time with my family, and resting my body after the adventurous trip to Bandung.

Categories
indonesia outside singapore places travel

Batam Island, Indonesia

BatamThis Christmas holiday, I spent one night in Batam for transit to Jakarta. Reason? Just for adventure. There is actually not much tourist attraction in Batam, as told by my friend. One spot that may stand out would be Nongsapura, an upscale resorts area Northeast of Batam. Staying there will cost me at least S$200 per night, so I decided to stay at a cheaper area instead, but take a peek of Nongsapura by getting a ferry to the Nongsapura terminal instead of the usual Batam Center terminal.

There is no ferry going to Nongsapura that departs from the usual departure point Harbourfront. Instead, I had to go to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, which I stupidly mistaken with the Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Assuming that I would go to the latter, I took a train to Pasir Ris station, and planned to continue my journey using a bus. Luckily, when I was there I had difficulties finding the correct bus stop, hence I took a cab instead. The driver knew that ferries to Batam only departs from Tanah Merah, not Changi Point Ferry Terminal. If I really took a bus, it would be too late for me.

The trip to Batam’s Nongsapura takes about an hour, including boarding and leaving the ship. Nongsa terminal is located inside a small gulf, and upon reaching it, I saw two different views on each side. On my left side, there were upscale resorts, just what I was looking forward to see here. However, on my right side was a poor rural area, where people bathing in sea water, not for fun but because it’s much cheaper for them to do so. The terminal itself is pretty well decorated in with a tropical island theme. However, there were only one immigration officer to serve us, so it took sometime to clear the queue. On this trip, I stayed on a budget hotel, namely the SkyView hotel. It is located quite far from the terminal, so the only reasonable way to get there is by cab. The terminal itself is pretty remote, and the nearby resorts usually have their own shuttle bus to pick up tourists. Therefore I was left with the only option to take a cab for a whopping price of IDR 100.000.

I reached the hotel about 5.30 PM, and as it was Christmas Eve, I started to walk around to look for a church to attend the Christmas Eve mass. The hotel receptionist recommended me a Batak-themed church, about 500 metres from the hotel. So I walked there and asked the schedule to the lady that stay there. However, she recommended me to go to another church instead, for the mass will be held using a traditional language that I will not understand. She recommended a church in Nagoya called “Immanuel”, which is not within walking distance from the hotel. Hence I took a taxi there, with another expensive price of IDR 30.000.

Close to the church was a shopping mall “Nagoya Hill”, so I went there after the mass was ended. I took a pizza for dinner, and paid a visit to a bookstore. One magazine about tourism in Batam attracted me, as one article featured in the front page was about “budget hotels in Batam”. There was no price tag, so I just took it and proceeded to the cashier to pay. To my biggest surprise, the magazine costed IDR 50.000. I would have no problem to pay for a good magazine, but the value did not seem to worth for that magazine (for comparison, FHM Singapore costs SGD 6 or IDR 42.000). Hence I cancelled my purchase for the magazine. My trip back to hotel was also surprising: another IDR 50.000 for a cab ride back. Fixed price.

The next day, I spent the morning jogging around the hotel area. It was not so nice as there were thrashes and some of them were burned causing me to inhale the smoke. After taking a shower, I went for the second time to Nagoya, but since I was not in a hurry, this time I asked the receptionist for a public transport to go there. She recommended an angkot (minibus) with her estimate price of IDR 6.000. I believe she just gave me a worst case number, since I really looked like a tourist. Turned out the driver only charged me IDR 3.000 for a one way trip. Different with angkots in Bandung, these angkots in Batam has a sliding door at the passenger deck that should be closed during the trip. When I was about to help a lady to close the door when she boarded the minibus, she said “no need, it will close automatically”, and reaffirmed by the driver. And she was right, when the minibus started to descend, gravity helped the door to close automatically. Clever!

Just as told by my friend, there was not much to see in Batam, and that includes Nagoya. Probably one that could be interesting is the Pasar (market) Nagoya area.¬†At one street, there were many people selling various kind of¬†kripik (crackers) and asinan (fruits drenched in vinegar). Another street has series of Singapore style hawker centres, while some of them serves only Chinese vegetarian food. I had my brunch on one of the non-vegetarian hawker center, and turned out they also sell tea and coffee in Singapore term: teh for tea with milk or teh-o for tea without milk. There was also a building named “Batam Lucky Plaza” which sells mostly mobile phones and jewelleries. As I walked around, many people calling me “friend” to offer a cab or an ojek (motorcycle-cab). After about an hour, I returned back to my hotel to pack my things, as I would¬†fly to Jakarta at 13.40 PM.

Conclusion

Ferries from Singapore operates daily with a ticket price of around SGD 30, destined to Nongsapura and Batam Center (among other terminals, too), but the latter is recommended. Staying in SkyView hotel costs a mere IDR 160.000 per night for a standard room, but a superior room for IDR 180.000 seems to be a better bargain, with bigger room and 21″ TV (standard one is 14″).¬†I would recommend to take public transport whenever possible, as cabs are very very expensive (however in the evening, it’s probably¬†better to pay more rather to risk your safety). From the SkyView, it takes about 15 minutes to the city center Nagoya. There were also hotels at Nagoya, but they are generally more expensive.

Categories
article outside singapore personal travel

Travel Marathon Recap

That five weeks has been very interesting to me. I’ve flown four different return trips (two were company paid), to five cities in four countries, using five different airlines. At some point I felt like George Clooney in Up in the Air movie. Two of my journeys were recorded in my blog, but I don’t feel like writing the other two, hence let me just do some recaps and point several interesting things here.

Airlines
The first airline I took was ValuAir. Compared to few years back, they had rearranged the seats so that the cabin could contain more seats. Unfortunately that also meant lesser space for my legs. On the bright side, the seats were new and clean. The next flight was Air Asia, but there was nothing special about it. As usual we were served by prettier flight attendants and was subject to flight delay due to unavailability of the airplane.

Air France was the first non budget airline I took after several years. Generally they had a good service and delicious meals, especially on their long flight (my flight was from Singapore to Paris). The shorter flight (Paris to Napoli) used smaller planes with only snacks provided but same hospitality.

On my Beijing trip, the company provided me Air China, which was surprisingly unsatisfying. With larger cabin size compared to budget airlines, they provided only two restrooms for economy class. As you can imagine, I had to queue for few minutes before I could answer my nature call. And as you can read in my other post, there was an incident during my flight back to Singapore, where the engine stopped just before we taxied to the runway.

For my last trip to Indonesia, I tried to use the Indonesia’s national airline Garuda Indonesia. Whilst the online booking process was harder compared to other airlines, I was truly impressed by the revamped on board services they had given. Costing only +/- SGD 250 for round trip to Jakarta, the plane was equipped with brand new seats and in flight entertainments (though the flight was only 1.5 hours long). Free local newspapers were also provided before we boarded the plane. Unfortunately the last flight back to Singapore was plagued by almost two hour of delay.

Effect on Weight
Just few weeks before my first travel, I bought a digital weight scale with the interest of tracking and trying to reduce my weight. With help of Excel, I managed to plot a chart of my daily weight. Though until now the weight reduction program has not been fruitful yet (partly blame to the travels), but when combined with my travels the chart has become more interesting. A copy of the chart is shown here, with real values blurred for privacy reasons ūüôā however, I can tell you that the distance between the lowest and highest point is 3 kg.

The straight lines determines the oversea travels, since I don’t have access to my scale. On my first trip to Indonesia, it did not affect much on the weight. What was contrary to my initial assumption was my Napoli trip turned out reduced my weight significantly, though I ate a lot of pasta and pizzas there, and sometimes double dinner in the plane due to time zone shift. The Beijing trip gave more body fat to me, since there were more beers and fatty and oily foods (you know, Chinese food..). I also gained weight on my last trip to Indonesia, especially due to the fact that this was my final trip during this year summer break.

One conclusion I can take from the statistic is, your body may well use your calories reserve during long flights and jetlags. Therefore when you want to reduce weight, try to spend more time on planes ūüôā

English Grammar
Finally, if you think that the English grammar in my blog posts is awful, well, you’re not alone. My friend Paulus who noticed the same thought that I should revisit basic theory of English by reading some English grammar books for high school students. Kindly enough, he gave these books during my latest visit to Jakarta. Therefore you can expect my grammar improves on the next posts (will be a challenge for me..) Thanks Paul!

If you think that nothing is wrong with my grammar, well, you’re not alone too. I think that my grammar is still at acceptable level ūüôā

Categories
asia china outside singapore places

Be Amazed in Beijing!

Journey to Beijing

It was Sunday afternoon at home, when I watched the Singapore Open 2010 final. Indonesia’s Sony Dwi Kuncoro played against Thailand’s Boonsak. It was a tough match for both, but in the end Sony won the game and took the championship. As an Indonesian I am proud of him winning the game.

But never thought of meeting him in person.

Early morning next day, I went to the airport to take a flight to Beijing. The company I work for has a program for selected newcomers of less than 3 years. The 130 of us were invited into a team-building-like program in Beijing, namely “Be Amazed in Beijing!”. I met my Indonesian colleague Hermanto at the airport, who was also attending the same program. We then went to the immigration gate, but just when we were about to go through it, I saw the most unexpected person: Sony Dwi Kuncoro himself! Building up courage, we approached him to congratulate and ask for some pictures. First impression was he is a shy yet very nice person. Well, I was already amazed even in Singapore!

Afterwards, we had a light breakfast and boarded the plane with another friend Hafidh and Olga. We took off at 9.30 AM sharp. The flight was a bit boring, especially because we didn’t sit at the same row. Around 3.30 PM, we landed in Beijing, and took a taxi to the hotel. Apparently taxi drivers in Beijing do not speak English well, and we had difficulty to talk with the driver at first. Lucky I brought a city map with a pointer to the hotel location, so we managed to tell him the destination.

Around 7 PM, we came down to the hotel open space to have dinner in standing party style. It was also a chance to know each other. It was interesting to meet different people from different departments from around the world; but even more interesting when I tried the meals provided. There was one food that tasted like cockles, and I ate them without reading the label. Only afterward I read the label, and found out that they were in fact snails! However it tasted good; and when I told this to a French guy, he said “Oh, we have that in France: escargot!”.

Exploring Beijing

The following days were mostly occupied with workshops and interactions with top management; but there were other interesting things as well. On one day, we had to play a game on exploring the city of Beijing, Amazing Race style. Our team were given the initial clue, then left in the middle of Hutongs area. There were some challenges, one of which was to find the “Silver Bridge”. Fortunately we had several Beijing colleagues with us, hence finding the bridge is particularly easy. The next task was to have one of us writing Chinese calligraphy on the street. Our Caucasian friend tried it, and surprisingly we had a full score!

After we finished the challenges there, we moved to another spot, the Forbidden City. We went there by public bus, again with the help of our local Beijing colleague. We entered the north gate, where one of us was asked to play a Chinese yo-yo. One of our French friend again surprisingly played it well, and our team got another perfect score. Then we were asked to go through the Forbidden City, all the way to the South gate. Though it was quite a distance (almost 1km), we didn’t feel tired as we were amazed by the architecture of the buildings inside.

We then took the subway to go to the next stop, Temple of Heaven. At this spot, we were asked to wear Chinese traditional costumes and perform some attractions, in front of passing by tourists. Even when we started to wear the costume, tourists had already taking pictures of us. More tourists came when we were performing the macarena dance. In the end, it was a shameful yet interesting experience. After exploring the Temple of Heaven, we moved to the last spot: the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a. Bird’s Nest.

At the Bird’s Nest, unfortunately there was not enough time to play the game, so we were just taking few pictures at the outskirt of the stadium. Then we went back to the hotel.

Silk Market and Return to Singapore

Fast forward to the last day. There were no more programs to follow, and my flight would be at 3.30 PM. In the morning I and Hafidh decided to go to Silk Market, which is about 10 km from the hotel. Unfortunately we didn’t really understand the distance at that time, and we just stupidly tried to go there by walking. Only after we have passed the Chaoyang park, we realized that we could not make it on time to the market. Hence we took a taxi and arrived at the market around 10, meaning we only have an hour to shop before we have to go back to hotel for check out.

Silk Market is a traditional market, where we need to bargain with the seller to get the best price. I remember my boss told me the day before, that I should start bargain at tenth of the asked price. It was hard to swallow at first the fact that they would really raise the price up to 10 times. But in fact they did! When I asked the price for a t-shirt, the seller offered the price of RMB 185 (SGD 37) each! We tried to bargain and even threat to leave without buying, and finally he (and us) gave up with RMB 90 for 3 t-shirts. We then went to a supermarket to buy some packed foods to bring back to Singapore. There we also met an Indonesian couple who were in Beijing for holiday. After some chat, we proceeded to the cashier to pay the foods.

It was 11 already, meaning it’s time to go back to hotel to checkout at 12 noon. This time we used the subway to get to the nearest station from the hotel, followed by a taxi ride for the rest of the journey. Getting a taxi part was not so easy, since it was too close to the hotel already and most drivers were reluctant to take us for such a short distance. Fortunately we found one who were willing to take us, and we managed to check out on time.

About 1.30 PM, we arrived at the airport, but alas, the flight was delayed by an hour and half. On the other side it was blessing in disguise, since I could have more time for lunch and sightseeing inside the airport. When Hafidh and I were about to pass through the immigration check, there was a sudden commotion building up. Many girls suddenly screamed with camera in their hand, all rushing into a guy who turned out to be a Chinese celebrity. This guy was heading through the immigration as well, hence making us more difficult to pass through, considering the crowds there. Oh, and he’s not that handsome anyway.

When we finally boarded the plane at 4.30, all passengers were seated, then something scary happened. Before the plane started taxiing, the engine suddenly stopped and the electricity went off, including the air conditioner. And it happened twice. I have seen this problem many times with cars, but this was the first time I saw it happened to a plane. Few minutes before take off.

We finally took off at 6 PM, and luckily nothing bad happened during the take off and our flight to Singapore. And that was the end of this adventure.

More pictures from Beijing at this link.

Categories
europe france italy outside singapore places

Napoli and Paris-Charles de Gaulle

Prelude
Working in a multinational company means you occasionally have to (or, have a chance to) go overseas for business trip. And this time my chance is go to Napoli (Italy) for a two-day workshop. As my schedule was too tight, I decided to not extend my stay there for holiday. Instead, to make use the free time around the meeting to visit interesting places. It is interesting because you have very limited time to visit places and you have to trade off between the “interest-level” and distance required to go there (i.e. time).

Enough the blah blah, so there I was in Changi airport, few hours to midnight. It was very crowded in the AirFrance check-in counter, though it was still 2 hours before take off. Passengers were required to use the self check in kiosks and there were only one airline representative to help ignorant people like me to use the machine, creating long queue of people. After the check in, I only had few minutes for snack before boarding the plane.

This was the first time I took long flight (12+ hours), and I got a very important lesson, that you should try to request seat in the aisle, especially if it is an overnight flight. The reason is, you will need to go for restroom or just a short walk every now and then. If you sit in the window side, you need to wake two passengers beside you everytime you want to get out.

We approached Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport in the morning when the sun has just risen, and from the window I could see the scenery is very beautiful. The land was filled with lots of farms, making it look like a seamless green area. Unfortunately I could not find the infamous Eiffel tower. After landed, I had about 3 hours to take the connecting flight to Napoli. The flight to Napoli was worse, mainly due to two monsters seating behind me. Well, there were two kids, screaming and kicking my seat and the person next to me. Thank God it’s not 12 hours!

After 3 hours, we landed at Napoli, and I took a cab to the hotel. The driver could not speak English, but he is very friendly and tried his best to promote interesting places in Napoli. At some point, we passed San Paolo stadium, and he kept yelling “Maradona! Maradona!” while his finger pointing to the stadium. I asked him “Maradona? Argentina!”, and he replied “No, Maradona: Argentina. This: Maradona!”. Turned out later he was trying to explain that this stadium is being proposed to be renamed after the football star Diego Maradona, who played in Napoli before.

Anyway, only after 5 minutes on the road, I have noticed Napoli has the craziest driving style I have ever seen. The driver can easily turn his head back to talk with the passenger when the car is running at 100km/h. In highway they overtake rudely without giving signs. And in the city it is packed with cars and honk easily here and there (more or less similar as in Jakarta). No wonder many F1 drivers come from Italy.

Upon reaching the hotel, I immediately took a bath and get out again to look for two most important items: GSM prepaid card, and a pizza for lunch. Quoting one travel book: the best place to eat pizza is at the town that founded it. So there I was, exactly at the town where pizza was born! I found one pizzeria and ordered one pizza and a sparkling water. Sparkling water is new for me as an Asian; it is similar to soda water, but the gas is naturally available right from the source. Back to pizza, the bread is very thin and sticky, and the top contains more tomato and cheese than we usually found in Asia. The taste: perfetto!

I walked around the hotel afterwards, and found many interesting buildings and statues (you can find them at the pictures link). Napoli is a coastal town, but also has many hills on the other side. Closest to the hotel is Castel dell’Ovo (which unfortunately I did not go inside due to limited time), and from there too you can see the mount Vesuvius. I couldn’t find a GSM card, but I then found a supermarket! I always prefer supermarket to buy food to bring back and share with my friends. Not only they are cheaper than the one in tourist spots, but also in supermarket, you get what the local people eat, not the ones specialized for tourists.

At the night, we had dinner with the some of the workshop participants, next to Castel dell’Ovo. We found out that I had taken the same plane from Paris earlier with two of them. When they asked “where did you sit, Pascal?”, I couldn’t remember the seat number, so I tried to answer with a place of interest, “did you notice the noisy kids at the middle of the plane? I sat in front of them!”. Turned out they sat only 1-2 rows from me.

For the next day, we had the meeting full day. But in the night, again we had dinner together. This time we went into a hidden pizzeria inside an alley at the downtown, thanks to our friend who stays in Napoli. Upon reaching there, we had to be in waiting list, since the place was full. We more or less waited for about 45 minutes! However, the waiting was paid, since the food was very delicious, even better than the 1st pizzeria I came to. What we had for dinner were mostly different variations of pizza. We also had some croquettes for snack (if you are Indonesian, it similar to our “kroket“, but this croquette is filled with mozzarella cheese). During some chat the next day, my friend told me that we had to wait only 45 minutes because our Napolian friend is a regular customer there. Without him, we might need to wait twice as long!

And for the day after (2nd day of workshop), only 3 of us had dinner together, since the rest have already flew back to their hometown. We went to a nearby pizzeria, but ordered spaghetti this time; and closed with a gelato ice cream. On our way back, we noticed an orchestra doing their concert in an open space, and it was nice.

On the last day I spent about an hour and half for morning walk around to take pictures for the last time, since my flight back will be at early afternoon. During the walk I passed some big dogs with the height of my waist, some are untied. At one time, there was this dog I passed by, and we were less than 1 meter apart. Then she suddenly bark at me. For a second I was stunned, but luckily she stopped barking when I just try to walk away and ignore her. Around 10 AM I checked out and went to the airport.

The flight back to Paris was smooth, but this time I had to wait 8 hours in Charles de Gaulle before the next connecting flight to Singapore. And the bad thing is, I could not leave the airport to have a short visit to the city. Fortunately the terminal for international flight is comfortable enough for transit, with internet cafes and free PS3 terminals to play. In fact, most part of this story was written there while I wait for the connecting flight.

The internet cafe costs ‚ā¨5 per hour, and the only way to get a user id is through the automatic vending machine. In this case, I made one fatal mistake by inserting ‚ā¨50 notes into the machine to get one hour access. Turned out (and I should have known earlier) that it returned the ‚ā¨45 change with coins! In the end, I got additional 23 coins to take with me through the plane, to Singapore, and I don’t know when I am going to use up these coins later.

Around almost midnight, I boarded the plane and flew back to Singapore! I sat next to a Bulgarian guy who comes to Singapore for another 7 month trip with a ship from Singapore. He is a ver
y nice guy, but I would say also bold. He speaks only little English, having difficulties to fill in the immigration card, but dare to travel half of the world. Sign to have more travel? ūüėõ

You can find the pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/pascalalfadian/NaplesTrip