Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Number 3

I started my third blog, Mumbai Coffee House, today.

I have often felt constrained by the fact that my current blogs are about food and travel. Doesn't give one the scope to write on life beyond food and travel. I heard there is such a thing.

Coincidentally I started it on a day when I complete ten years at Mumbai. If that doesn't fill one up with experiences, then nothing would.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Making love out of nothing at all: Singapore 2004, 2008

I thought I’ll follow up my post on KL with Singapore. The same person who had asked about KL had put up a query on what to do over a day at Singapore too.

I really admire and envy Singapore. Their vision is fantastic. In a way they are the Vegas of the Far East. They have made this amazing city out of nothing. They are very clear, London has the eye? Make a bigger one. It snows in Christmas? Make artificial snow here. Australia has a Coral Reef? They have Sentosa. And so the story continues.

In India we have the British colonial buildings at South Mumbai and Kolkata’s Dalhousie, a historical monument in every second road of Delhi, a Chinatown (Tangra) at Calcutta, a pub crawler’s trail at Bangalore…yet these guys at Singapore go to town and make tourist attractions out of their Chinatowns, Little Indias and colonial hotels and cricket clubs. Hats off to them. We have our swamps such as the Tolly Nullah at Kolkata, the Mithi River at Mumbai, the Yamuna at Delhi and yet these guys at Singapore make hot party spots out of their river dumps at Clark Quay and relaxed riverside cafĂ© joints at Boat Quay. We have a rich history going back to the Stone Age and a freedom struggle which has thrown up leaders the world admire. Yet these guys have built lovely museums – places where you feel like going even if the ‘history’ is at times younger than one’s age.

I have made two work trips to Singapore so far. And can think of enough things to do. And I have not even been to the famous amusement island of Sentosa!

Well first things first. Singapore in my opinion is truly the food capital of the world. You get all cuisines and at all prices. The people speak English so it’s not that difficult to get what one wants even if one has food restrictions (vegetarians rejoice). And for those who don’t beef, pork, fowl, venison, quail… you will get it all there.

A visit to the food courts or hawker centres is a must. These are the most economical places to eat. You have myriad stalls – Chinese, Thai, Philipino, sandwiches, Indian (dosas, mughlai). You place your order and then eat at the plastic tables in the centre. You will find these all over the city but Lau Pa Sat and East Coast are some of the nice one’s to go to.

For something more exciting and glitzy, go to Clark Quay, the river front, especially at night. This is the food Ibiza with laser lights, modern steel and chrome restaurants, belly dancers and even Bollywood lighting up the night. The food spread here is even broader with German, Italian, Mongolian, Indian, Persian, Tibetian and what have you.

Boat Quay, the other river front, is slightly more relaxed and frumpy compared to Clark Quay. They have quite a few pubs too based on the pubs of English. Plus nice river front sea food joints.

A visit to the Night Safari is worth it. Coming so close to animals, though in a typically antiseptic environment, is quite cool. Going to a zoo is one thing but seeing the creatures of the night lose, separated by a glass pane from you, is quite cool. They had a nice live show also. You can walk the trail or go on a little train inside the safari. It’s an hour’s bus ride from the city centre. You get food there too though its slightly more expensive than the city.

Singapore has its share of glitzy malls and of course the famous shopping street of Orchard City. Shopping is expensive here but walking down these streets and the malls can be a nice experience especially if you are into window shopping. The variety is still more than what you get in India. And they often have sales going on.

The trick is to go the famous Mustafa Shopping Centre at Little India if you are on the lookout for a good deal. This place is open 24X7 and is crowded as a Virar local or a Kolkata private bus. It used to be very popular for buying cheap branded stuff. Frankly not that a big deal if you live at Mumbai now with Alfa, Circuit City, My Dollar Store and the Gujarati food imported food shops. Still it’s worth a visit for the sheer range. Quite a Singapore icon.

The Chinatown is interesting – Chinese temples, houses, trishaws. I went there in the morning so was in and out in half an hour. I reckon that it makes more sense to go at night when the food courts and the road side trinket shops open.

A walk down the City centre, Raffles Square, is nice for its manicured roads and interplay of colonial buildings and modern towers. It looks almost like a lego set or a doll house as do most of the tourist portions of Singapore. Very unreal. At least if you live in India.

Little India, Chinatown, Arab Quarter, Raffles Square... the way Singapore celebrates and packages its multi ethnicity is reallly admirable.

Would I specifically plan a holiday to Singapore? No I wouldn’t. It’s not the cheapest of Far Eastern destinations. Nor does it really have any exotica. Bangkok scores on both (is the Thai tourism board listening). But Singapore is definitely a place where I wouldn’t find it difficult to spend a few days without getting bored.

Traveller's Notes

- The Singapore public transport, especially the subway, is pretty good. You can go to most places such as Chinatown and Little India from the city centre using this
- They have night clubs called K TV or karaoke bars. I think they are pick up joints too. Now who will tell Mr Patil that our dance bars could have been tourist attractions

- Singapore has double decker buses, Duck tours, which are nice ways of getting acclimatized with the city. The actual ‘Duck tour’ is an amphibian vehicle which goes into the river

Friday, January 9, 2009

Kela? KL, Malaysia 2006

Someone had posted a query on facebook recently – “what can I do if I have six hours at KL?”

I must admit that I was a bit stumped by this question despite our trip to Malaysia couple of years back. I went there for a conference. Kainaz joined me after that and we spent a few days at KL followed by Langkawi in 2006.

The truth is that Kl’s left a blank spot in my mind. I think the KLCC Petronas Towers at KL sum it up – steel, chrome, modern, impressive but robotic.

KL isn’t a bad city. Don’t get me wrong. It is clean, has manicured roads, sparkling malls, it has a variety of restaurants and night clubs. The people are friendly and helpful and speak English

I guess we were a bit spoilt by our trip to Bangkok last year.

Bangkok had Sukhomvit which was very lively and full of character. KL’s Golden Triangle was quite empty by 9 PM. Bangkok had the majestic Royal Palace and the Buddha temples for sightseeing. KL’s sightseeing trip consisted of a national ‘museum’ which had stuff from 1960 or so, Merdeka square – a garden at the end of the day - and batik factories. And the guides were quite perfunctory compared to those at Thailand. Bangkok had lovely street shopping which one could do at Sukhumvit, the Sum Lum night market and the Chatuchaak weekend market. The shopping at KL was largely at malls. The prices were more expensive than India for the same stuff. Bangkok had Cabbages and Condoms and lovely street food. KL had food courts in malls which shut by 9 and the odd food court. Bangkok had Pat Pong. KL was famous for famous night clubs such as Zousk (?) but apparently that’s open only on certain days of the week. You can go to places such as Ayuthaya, Floating Market, River Kwai from Bangkok. You can only go to Genting if you like gambling or amusement parks or to the comparatively drab ‘historical city’ of Malacca from KL.

I don’t want to make this a KL versus Bangkok thing but the point I am trying to make is that going to KL could be like staying in a five star hotel assuming money’s not an issue. The experience is picture perfect but sterile. It is a place to go to if one wants a break. But it didn’t strike me as a place to go to collect memories.

A bit like the word ‘kela’ in Hindi or ‘kola’ in Bengali, this means banana, and is kid’s slang for 'very ordinary'.

Would love to know if you have a different take on KL

Traveller’s notes:

- avoid going during Ramzan, everything shuts early

- public transport such as the subway does not cover the entire city. So stay close to the Golden Triangle as the city is quiet dead for tourists outside this. We stayed in a hotel which was slightly away to save 10 USD per day. Ended up spending much more on cabs. The Tamil expat cabbies or notorious for not following the meter. So look for Chinese cabbies
- The malls have more variety than in India but everything is more expensive than here. Thailand is cheaper
- Liquor is duty free at Langkawi, so cheaper to buy booze there
- Everyone seemed to have seen Shahrukh Khan during the shooting of Don

Disclaimer - this article is not sponsored by the Thai ministry of tourism. The writer is open to offers of Bahts from the same though

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stop press: Knife in print

The story so far.

I love to write. Never got about to doing much about it. Then I discovered blogging. Started my food blog and loved every minute of it.

A few months later I wanted to start a travel blog. To write about another passion of mine.

This is when someone who works in a Mumbai daily got in touch with me. She said that she read my food blog and whether I was interested in writing a piece combining food and travel. And, it had to be a ‘funny’ piece.

I jumped into it and wrote a piece. In fact I first posted it here on faraway diaries.

And about 3,4 months later it was finally printed In The Mumbai Mirror yesterday. Coincidentally, just after we moved into a new apartment.

I know it’s a small step. But I must confess that I am very excited.
Disclaimer: the pun in the heading in the newspaper article isn't mine
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