A day at the President's

We spent this CNY break in Singapore and finally had a chance to visit the Istana. That is where the Singapore President lives and works. Common folks get to visit the grounds only during the open house. These are the vast lush greens in the midst of the city, which we see from rooftops like Marina Bay Sands or while riding up in the Singapore flyer.
The entry is free for locals and residents, while foreigners(including those who are here on work visas or dependent pass) have to pay a dollar as entrance fee. You can read all about Istana here.
I overlooked the fact that many people were looking forward to the open-house just like me. By the time we leisurely finished our holiday brunch and reached Istana, we were greeted by an enormous queue extending all the way to the adjacent shopping mall (Plaza Singapura).

The first sight. 
Now I know why Manu doesn't feel suffocated  in a crowded place.  He hovers above the crowd! 

But the security screenings were impressively fast and we entered the gates in around 20 minutes. The grounds are enormous and well maintained.Kids will love it there with acres to run around and fountains to play with!

Sunbathing - a major activity at Istana

At the president's fountain!

Spot me ? Am I contemplating? Nope! Just trying to count the trees

There were guided tours of the Istana main building for a small fees. Usually, we always get distracted during guided tours because I always come up with significant stories on my own and then there is the camera.  We always lag behind the group and end up irritating either the guide or the group or at least the guards. So this time, we wisely decided not to be guided. We purchased a 2$ ticket to get into the building and drool at the beautiful and expensive stuff gifted by various nations. 

The Istana with the dramatic clouds which appeared suddenly.
Those clouds appeared exactly when I told Manu "Istana grounds are the perfect picnic spot!"

Upon entering the main building, I was disappointed that only one floor was open to public and photography was not allowed. I did not see any national secrets there. Since dignitaries from many nations have visited these rooms, there wasn't any secret to be kept from the outside world. If there were any secret passages, they are hidden well enough(I peeked hard didn't find any). So, I strongly think photography should be allowed.

My recommendation.
It is interesting for a one time visit, especially for families with little ones to entertain. Keep a look out on the schedules in the Istana website, if you are in town during public holidays. 

Lion dance inside shopping malls – Is it good luck ?

As much as I love the Chinese New Celebrations, holidays, sales, open houses and deals, there are annoying aspects to it as well. As part of the CNY celebrations, I witnessed multiple lion dance performances on the HDB estates and other public areas. In general, residents accept the importance of this particular tradition for the Chinese community. But, this time around I couldn’t help but wonder if the celebrations went a bit overboard. Along with other shoppers, I had to suffer through the lion dance performance inside shopping malls like IMM(managed by CapitaMalls Asia) and Vivocity(managed by Mapletree Commercial Trust).

As the loud drum beats and celebrations continued in the enclosed areas, I looked around to understand the crowd response. There were a few curious kids and smart phone (camera) users whose attention was on the performance. Otherwise, for the majority of the people, irrespective of the race, it was plain inconvenience. The retailers who had not engaged the performers were having a tough time interacting with their customers. Meanwhile, a good number of customers were reaching for the exits.

I couldn’t help wondering if the management of these shopping malls had given considerable thought before approving such performance? Were any alternative solutions considered?

After thinking a bit about it, I could come up with two practical proposals for the next year’s round of blessings. Most convenient option is to organize the lion dance at the entrance of the shopping mall, in a common open space. Or if the retailers strictly believe in having their establishment blessed individually, the performance should be arranged outside the operating hours of the mall, so that it would not disturb the general public. Since such performances are planned ahead in schedule, a notice should be put up about the timings and interested people could come and watch the performance, while others could stay away.

I hope the managements would show more sense next time round !


Most intrigued I am

Time and again, I have stumbled upon numberous funny signs and warnings  in the Singapore streets.
But this is one of a kind. No warnings, no explanations - just a door opening to the air in the second floor!
Someone is expected to use that as an entrance as well.

 And it is a 2 way door!


Bake It Yourself - Walnut raisin bread

Baking is the latest craze ongoing in the family. Even with the little boy on tow, Milu (Manu's sister) managed to go for baking course and now she is baking incredibly wonderful cakes! It was a great motivation for me. 
I had always wanted to bake my own bread. I had scoured a lot of recipe books in search of an easy and interesting recipe. But, all f them had listed bread making as a very complicated process. So, I had not pursued it through, until last week when she showed me this beautiful and impressive cake she baked. Finally, my motivation levels shot up high and conquered my laziness. I read more about baking and got a basic understanding of the concepts like proofing, kneading and most importantly, the role of yeast. I always thought it was just another ingredient like baking powder and could add it to the dough. I was surprised to learn that even the dried yeast is a live organism, just waiting to be 'activated'. Luke warm water and sugar acts as the feed and brings it to action!
And over this weekend, I finally baked my own two loaves :-) 
Good news! I have adapted the recipe to make it as easy as I could. The process as such is not complicated, it just needs a lot of resting(rising) time in between. So, I just went on with my weekend chores simultaneously.
  • 375g bread flour
  • 125g wholemeal flour
  • 2 tsps fine salt
  • 330 ml water (I used a pet bottle for the measure)
  • 75 g walnuts, chopped
  • 150 g raisins (Manu wants me to add more next time)
  • 2 tsps dried yeast (itz marked Ragi instant yeast in my bottle)
  • 2 tsps sugar

How To:
1. In a small cup, take 100 ml of the water and add 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix the yeast to it, stir and leave for 5 minutes.
2. In a big  bowl, combine the flours and the salt.
3. When the yeast mixture turns frothy, make a well in a center of the flour bowl, and pour in the yeast mixture.
4. Using a spatula, draw enough of the flour into the yeast mixture to form a thick paste.
5. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, then leave to ‘sponge’ and risen. (About 20 minutes)
6. Pour in a bit more than half of the remaining water into the well and mix in the flour. Then stir in as much of the rest of the water as needed to form a firm, moist dough.
7. Turn the firm dough out onto a work surface. Knead, with the base of your palms, until smooth and rubbery. (I had to do this for around 7 minutes.) 
8. At the end of the kneading process, add the walnuts and raisins and mix well.
9. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise until doubled in size – around 45 minutes.
10. Take the dough out of the bowl, poke holes and punch the air out of the dough and divide it into 2 loaves.
11. Shape the dough into your desired shape.
12. Place the shaped dough on a baking sheet and cover with the damp tea towel.
13. Preheat the oven to 190 degree Celsius.
14. Proof – or let the loaves rest and rise – until doubled in size. This takes about 30 minutes.
15. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until baked. One test of 'done-ness' is a hollow-sound when tapping the loaf underneath. 
16. Wait for a bit for  the loaf cools down, take pictures if you are interested, round up the members of the house :)
17. Feel mightily proud, slice, share and enjoy the warm steaming bread !


Do not Mix Danger !

When I miss Japan very much, I usually visit the japanese shops here. The new mall at Buonavista has many japanese stores. The best japanese store to visit is Daiso(100¥ store). In Singapore,we have many outlets of this chain.

The store carries many innovative products ranging from banana cases, japanese inspired cutlery, hello-kitty shaped gloves and washing machine tub cleaners are just the starters. Each item in the store costs 2 SGD.

Usually a walk around this store cheers me up. This is the find of the day ;)

The Limpiador hongos fungus cleaner into which we should not mix danger!


My beautiful neighbourhood

Even though I am a big fan of the cityscape and other vibrant parts of Singapore, I have to admit this - Lower Peirce reservoir is the most beautiful and serene place in this island. I know that writing more about this tiny reservoir park would make it famous and people would come to visit and it might eventually spoil the beauty of the place. But, it feels almost criminal not to share this place. This place gives a very different view of Singapore - no HDBs, no skyscrapers and not even cranes.

We have visited this park on numerous occassions – rainy evenings, sunset hours and mornings runs. This place never fails to impress us! We have developed the habit of visiting this park when we have free evenings, just to watch the sunset colors. Don’t be mistaken. It is not possible to see the actual sunset from here. The still waters here, which capture the sunset colors brings magic to this place!

A twilight moment at Lower Peirce [Photo by Manu]

Each frame showing the gradual change in colors from sunset through twilight to nightfall was incredibly beautiful! It was so awesome that even I was silent for the hour and Manu started asking me if I was all right.

The park is quite small, with a few trails. A total of just about 2-3 kilometers inside the park. But, we have seen a lot of monkeys and sometimes wild boars(Yes!) in these grounds.

The reservoir and the track around it

The red track shows the whole trails and the outer perimeters of the park, which we scouted. Foodies, this is a neighborhood which you should not miss! Those green blobs in the map are especially for you.

The prata shop – Casuarina is right at the end of the trails. This is a great stop to replenish all the calories you lost with the walking and wow-ing. If you are coming to watch the sunset, explore out to the cozily tucked in Awfully chocolate and IceCream chefs just within 10 minutes walk.

If you live in Singapore or are on here on a vacation, do visit the Lower Peirce on a beautiful afternoon. The view is so awesome that you will come back to this post to thank me :-)

How to get here : 

If you are not driving, the easiest access is through bus.
Board any of these bus services - 132, 163, 165, 166, 167, 855 or 980 which ply along the Upper Thomson Rd. Get down at 53099 (BusStopID) or the one in opposite direction 53091. You would be able to see the board pointing to the reservoir entry.
Nearest MRT stations are Ang Mo Kio (NS Line) and Marymount (Circle Line). You would need to further transit to any of the above listed buses. From AMK interchange, you can board 132, 165, 166 and 169 to alight at BusStop 53091. From Marymount MRT, you need to walk 5-7 minutes to get to the bustop Opposite Shunfu estate - 53021 to board 132, 163, 165, 166, 167, 855 or 980.


The Maggi Story

There was a time when I led less complicated life, had very few ambitions and was even described by some as "that innocent girl". Well, those were the days when I used to have longish curly hair, never used lipstick, didn't know about the existence of black-pepper udon and thought alcohol was bad ;)
Yes, that is Me ;)

Back then, Manu once asked me about my requirements to migrate to a new country. My only demands were easy access to beaches, surplus supply of mangoes and Maggi noodles.
When I was in Japan, when my colleagues or managers came on business-trip, my dearest friend Smitha used to send me loads of maggi noodles, because that was something which made me extremely happy :)
There are many more stories about Me and Maggi ...  

Why am I writing this now? I am just waiting while my digestive fluids win over the noodles. So, I decided I might as well write about it. I came across the original Maggi noodles in a local department store here. 

The original Maggi flavour, which was the fave for all 90's kids :)

And naturally I ate a lot of it till I felt extremely contended.
Now, I can't go to bed until I semi-digest it and the bloatedness subsides. Maybe I should go for that pending walk.


As published in Straits Times

I know all of you, who are connected with me/Manu in Facebook have read the letter and the reply, even if you don't live in Singapore and this news does not matter to you. You all read that particular artice in the newspaper because I wrote it. Yes, it matters to me :-)
I am writing this post to thank you guys for being happy for me & also for me to read this in future and rememeber how excited I was about this.
You can imagine my happiest face you have ever seen. Add a bouce to my steps and that's how I looked like, when I saw my name printed in tiny blocks in the bottom left hand corner in an article in the national newspaper. :-) Manu brought the copy of the newspaper. I will take a picture and upload it here sometime.
Meanwhile, sharing the online edition

I was reading today's newspaper, and was pleasantly surprised when I came across this reply from Land Transport Authority

I do realize that LTA has replied with just a reassurance and not a complete plan. But, I am glad that they are planning to address the issue. I will do further follow ups as well.


Changing Tones

One of my fave topic to write these days are trains and the commute experience.

I do welcome the latest change in the MRT* announcements. Unlike the recent 'Mandarin announcement' trials, I hope this won't be prematurely terminated. A mellower request has replaced the age old stricter ones reminding of the 'offence'. "Help keep our stations and trains clean. Please do not eat or drink in stations or on trains" do sound better than "No eating or drinking is allowed in stations or the trains."
As the saying goes, Singapore is a 'fine' country. Imposing heavy fines for littering, smoking, eating/drinking in trains and buses are just the beginners. Being a PAP policy supporter (most of the time), I have been questioned many a times about the my take on the government decision to stick to ridiculously heavy fines. One reasonable explanation, I could come up with was - From a nation's perspective, a sense of belonging, patriotism and the culture of a population does impact the general crowd behavior. Without this fine system, few decades back, how would the government have ensured the discipline and cleanliness of a newly formed multi-racial, distressed nation with ever increasing immigrants ?

The recent change might be indicating a softening in attitude towards the public. Is the LTA trying to test if we are discplined enough? If this was a move to improve commuter experience, I don't think it helps. It is yet another string of annoyingly repeating, loud announcements.

When would the long distance commuters like me allowed peaceful sleep, without interventions from the MRT lady voice? I look forward to the time when the announcements fade away from existence, or atleast would be delivered at less frequent intervals!

*MRT - Mass Rapid Transit


Carrot cake

In my kitchen, baking has been ongoing for a while now, from the time when my brother handed me down his convection oven. Usually, I get stunned with all wonderful recipes from Milu because she loves baking from scratch. So, I just rely on Ms.Betty crocker for my cookies and cakes.
My friend Yun Ping baked a cake for us a few months back. It was so delicious and soft. When me and Manu determinedly finished a significant portion of the cake, she mentioned that it is really very easy to prepare and shared the recipe with us . 


  • 1 cup. flour
  • 1 cup. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cup. grated carrots
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup. canola oil
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
The Magic steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit or 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Mix together flour, sugar, soda, salt, cinnamon, carrots and walnuts. Set aside.
  3. Beat the eggs until frothy.Then slowly add in the oil. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend, just until everything comes together. Then add the pineapple and mix for just a few seconds.
  4. Bake 20-23 minutes and then test with a toothpick for doneness. Let the cake cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the rack and let cool for about 1 hour.

The ingredient I love the most in this recipe is cinnamon powder. So, even when the cake is warm, it doesn't have an egg smell. :) Brilliant idea!
I skipped the crushed pineapple, and also made the with a little less sugar. I did not do the frosting as well. On a couple of rush days, we packed few slices for breakfast. It goes well with black tea.

I do not have a picture of the full cake. It smelled so good that we started eating it as soon as it was done. Have to say, tastes the best when its warm!

Last wednesday, when I invited my friends over for dinner, but the cooking-gas ran out, we finished the cake while waiting for alternate cooking arrangements. So, I guess it was good :)
Oh, there is a frosting part for the cake, which I did not make. 

Cream Cheese Frosting:4 oz. cream cheese2 Tablespoon. butter1 cup powdered sugar1/4 tsp. lemon extract1/2 tsp. vanilla1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts for garnish

Cream the cream cheese and butter together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and cream for another minute. Add the lemon extract, vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat for 1 minute, scrape down the bowl and beat for another 2 minutes, until frosting is fluffy.
To assemble: Frost cake with cream cheese frosting and top with chopped nuts.


Fear OR detecting danger - How to distinguish ?

I hail from India, where chaos, uncertainty and unpredictability rules. I love the way how rules, things and people are flexible back in India.
Or should I say, I used to love the way..?

Having lived in India for major part of my life, I had grown to protect myself from many issues a female faces in the society. But, living in Japan and Singapore for a major part of my adult life has subdued that fear considerably. In Japan, I used to ride a bicycle from work, around 1.00 Am, alone, along the same route every night, and never feared that somebody would attack me. I am not bothered if I to be alone in most parts of Singapore after nightfall also. So, I was under the illusion that I have become much fearless.

Something which happened today morning is making me question my stands on the fear in the public.

I usually take bus and train to work. Today, I was delayed on the roads due to the heavy traffic. I reached the train station after peak hours. There were considerably less people in the train. As I stepped into the car, first thing I noticed was 3 unattended luggage on the floor (Yes, even before spotting empty seats). One backpack and 2 bags from department stores which clearly weren't new purchase. I was very uncomfortable seeing the unattended baggage. Honestly, I was scared that the bag contained explosives.

For those who do not know, 'be-vigilant' videos and announcements are continuously broadcast in Singapore public transport systems to be cautious of terrorist attacks.

                                    One of the most common warnings
[ Not long ago, we used to mock the concept and videos so much that for one Halloween I asked manu to dress-up as the SMRT terrorist guy - He just needed a duffel bag, check shirt and cap pulled low! ]

I could see that most of the passengers were equally unsettled. After a while, when I couldn't bear the anxiety any more, I stood up and asked whom does the baggage belong to. Nobody knew for sure and they started asking each other as well. After few moments, a guy came forward and owned up. I requested him to man his bags as it makes people uncomfortable. I could visibly see the difference in the crowd. People started to relax and started concentrating on their own activities, after that. Some even thanked me for putting them out of their worry.

The moment I reached office, I went to the vending machine to buy hot chocolate with extra sugar, just to feel safe and comforted. That is when the impact of the situation hit me! I felt threatened by a guy who had put his few bags at a convenient place where he could keep an eye on them. (Only he can explain the logic behind putting them so far away from himself.) The very thing which I used to make fun of - the overcautious nature of Japanese and Singaporean society has finally caught up with me.

I can’t stop questioning my current level of trust upon the society and strangers. Should I be redrawing my limits, with a higher tolerance level ?

On a related note, my fear could be all because I watched Zero Dark Thirty, last night.