The South China Sea Holiday- Hong Kong and Back Home, Day 6

What the fudge I was supposed to schedule this post but it didn’t get published somehow.

Ahh the South China Sea journey is coming to and end!

Onto Day 6… Stared the day late, had dim sum brunch at Tao Heung 稻香. I liked the porridge in particular- smooth and very flavourful. Packed away the char siew and polo bun for our late lunch to eat at the airport. The char siew bun cheated my feelings because 1/3 of it is filled and the remaining is empty.

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We went to the branch at Nathan Road, within walking distance from our hotel.

While waiting for our food I went to the 7-11 just downstairs to buy snacks. This particular outlet happened to be big so lucky me!
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When overseas, of course you grab all the things you don’t see in your own country! Here’s my 7-11 snack haul!
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Got them at a slightly cheaper price. 2 Bourbon snacks cost HKD13.25, while 1 pack usually cost $2 in Singapore. And because HK is also home of Disneyland, there is disney Tsum bourbon.

Bought chewing gum back home as well. The sweet with ice-cream on it contains rum. I forgot the price but it was a steal.

Went back to the hotel to pack up and set off to the airport. Technically there should be a shuttle bus service to the airport, but the staff told us to take a taxi there lol. They kindly helped us flag a cab outside the hotel cos we have a lot of barang.

Total journey from Tai Kok Tsui to HK International Airport is about 30min, fare is 20 SGD.

Last minute shopping at the HK Airport’s Disney Store. The shop was damn crowded.

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Since disney items are more expensive, you gonna exercise your discretion to see which ones are more value for money. I paid HKD 88 for 16 pcs of chocolates, HKD75 for 18pcs of sesame biscuits and HKD95 for strawberry&chocolate biscuits. Some of the boxes are pretty but the quantity of snacks is really little.

The 2 paper clips were some sort of lucky dip. The staff handed me this ipad and asked me to spin the wheel lol.

And I gave a lot of my haul away okay. Dont start making comments like “Kids in Africa could have eaten the earrings”.
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Watched Solomon’s Perjury on the plane. Best movie ever. Was halfway into part 2 when the plane landed (Technically I could finish it but I slept a bit), and now I can’t find the movie anywhere online.

Okay onto the rest of my Day 1 shopping loot:

Haul from Sasa. Sasa is everywhere in HK, and prices are generally cheaper for most items. The Rosette facial cleanser cost HKD48, while I paid SGD23 on qoo10 and waited 2 weeks for it to be shipped from HK -_-

Trying Majolica Majora’s make up bases at the moment and realised that prices are retailing about the same as Watsons in Singapore.
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Didn’t know that students will receive discounts if they shop at Sasa. The cashier was asking me if I am a student, but I told her I am a tourist. Then she said that the discount also applies to foreign students as long as I present my student pass. But too bad I didn’t bring! Who brings their student pass overseas?

Haul from Argyle Centre, Mongkok. It’s the Bugis Street of Hongkong, if I have to make that comparison. Shops popping up here and there selling kpop inspired trends with narrow walkways, and there is this disorganised-environment-but-i-am-still-enjoying-my-shopping kind of feel.

Didn’t buy clothes cos I still have a lot of hand-me-downs so I settled for bling instead. The dangling earrings cost SGD3 (I forgot the shop name) while the studs are buy 2 get 1 free at HKD20 from Natural Island. Necklances also from Natural Island but they weren’t cheap in SGD.
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Also got this huge ass bag with musical notes printed upside down. I brought it to school to fit my entire semester’s worth of notes. It can also be folded from the sides to make it look smaller so that people wont feel annoyed with your huge ass bag blocking their way in the crowded MRT.

1 bag, 2 looks, HKD50 (about 10SGD)
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Last but not least… a review of our hotel. We stayed at Silka West Kowloon Hotel, which is nestled among old looking buildings. It is within walking distance to Mongkok if you walk along Nathan Road instead of confusing yourself by turning about in the small streets.
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The rooms are tiny! The distance from the bed to the washroom is only about 6 feet. The doorway is about the size of 1 and a half opened luggages. But it’s okay, we are in Hong Kong.
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The room also comes equipped with a handset which you can use to serve the net. Plain water is chargeable so be sure not to take. Their buffet breakfast cost about HKD60+ and selection is limited, but the main point of eating breakfast as a tourist in HK is to try their local food.

For some reason the toilet sink is super low, about a child’s height.

Overall I would say that the location and staff service is good. Personally I don’t mind the size of the room because I would be too tired to move about after a day of travelling.

I hate to say this, but that concludes the trip folks. Till next time!

The South China Sea Holiday – Halong Bay, Day 4

Hello world. Blogging this during National Day. Had a super long public holiday over the weekend but didn’t feel like going anywhere but to laze at home. Okay I did go out but not the whole day. Spent my entire Saturday afternoon in the school library printing a semester’s worth of notes. The last thing I ever want to do is to fight tooth and nail with the rest of the students over the printers when school reopens.

Ok onto Day 4 of the South China Sea Holiday!

We booked our shore excursion to Halong Bay at the last minute on Day 3 because most of the tour packages didn’t offer meals due to the short stopover time. The cruise is supposed to land at 7am and depart at 1.30pm. In the end we settled for a ferry around Halong Bay and land tour with lunch priced at 480 HKD. Other excursions include Thien Cung Grotto, Quang Ninh Museum (More of looking at the architecture) and another cultural show. Would love to visit Quang Ninh Museum in the future to see how they curate history.

Anyway we set off at around 7.45 in the morning with the sun already beating strongly. All visitors have to present the Vietnam Immigration Officers a passenger landing card which is issued to you when you embark the ship. Boarded the ferry to tour the rocks.

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Welcome to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam!

Halong Bay (Bay of the Dragon descendants) is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the “New Natural Wonders of the World”. Initially the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun producers wanted to shoot at this location, but the Vietnam authorities refused due to lingering anti-US sentiments and Hollywood movies don’t put Vietnam in good light. At that time of production it was the early 1970s so the Vietnam war has yet to end.  In the end they shot it at Phang Nga Province in Thailand.

Usually only about 10-12 people are allowed on the upper deck but all of us ended up there to take photos.

A lone rock, the sea, mum and I.

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A Vietnamese Hawker Boat. The hawker will pop his head into any ferry passing by and attempt to sell his wares to tourists, mostly fruits. Actually hawkers are banned in this area cos the authorities wanted to make Halong Bay more tourist friendly (and they didn’t want hawkers to harasses tourists) but I would say that it is intriguing to look at how the local folk coexist with tourist-friendly environments.

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The Halong Bay Rocks. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor sent Mother Dragon and family to help Vietnam fend off invaders. The dragons sank the enemy ships by throwing jade to form a defense wall, which then became islands of different shapes after thousands of years. The Mother Dragon and her family stayed behind to help the locals develop the country, so the locals named the area after the dragons. It’s kinda like using legends to claim to legitimacy as descendants of the dragon, similar to how mainland Chinese always call themselves 龙的传人. Not forgetting that Vietnam was part of China since the Han dynasty and both shared a conflicting relationship cos China invaded Vietnam every now and then during the Imperial period. Okay I have gone too far.

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Vietnam is also home to the world’s largest cave that cost USD 3K for a week’s tour. Only 10 tourists are allowed and 25-30 locals have to accompany them. Apparently it is booked till 2017.

Saw Vietnam Ocean Park which is still under construction from the distance. It is quite symbolic since it represents how Vietnam is in the process of opening up to tourists and developing its economy/infrastructure and such. And passed by Bãi Cháy suspension bridge in Vietnam. It’s dark history is that it is also a well-known place for suicides.

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The floating village while we are approaching the shore. People still live there making an honest living (maybe illegal from government perspective lol) fishing and selling their wares to tourists.

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And here is one of the Vietnamese Sailing Junk, without the sails put up. The government actually decreed that all junks have to paint their hulls white as they want to portray a clean image of Halong bay. And just like the Singapore government they also launched clean up programmes of the bay.

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Another side of the shore shows Vincom Centre, with its striking, very clean European architecture. It is a shopping mall and is home to international fashion and culinary brands. Talk about Vietnam entering modernity (as defined by the world) lol. The dingy hawker boats in the foreground offer the very stark contrast.

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Went to the local market for souvenir shopping once the ferry touched the port. The cruise doesn’t exchange for Dong, but fortunately USD, HKD, RMB and Dong are accepted in Vietnam. Just be prepared to headache over the exchange rate conversion. Most of the stuff are typical souvenirs like the Vietnam doll figurine which you get from everyone who visits Vietnam, tons of other knick-knacks and made-in-China looking products.

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The hawkers are really pushy salespeople since the bulk of their customer base are tourists who “will definitely spend money to buy something related to Vietnam back home”. Get ready to bargain and be discerning.

Got an Uncle Ho T-shirt because I have a thing for cult-of-personality souvenirs. I forgot how much I paid for it though.

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Our tour guide’s parents own a shop that distributes premium cashew nuts, which is one of Vietnam’s popular local products. They are come with a shell, and are bigger and crisper than those salty cashew nuts we eat during Chinese New Year. We paid about RMB 32 for a box. Here’s the empty box to show that we finished all the cashews.

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On our way to the hotel for lunch and passing by the streets of Vietnam. They look deserted and the buildings are sparse. It costs a lot to own a car in Vietnam so that’s probably one of the reasons why, and maybe the area we are at has many hotels.

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After that we waited at the lobby for 20mins cos the bus had to ferry other passengers to the “Tender store”, according to the tour guide. At first I couldn’t figure out the word and my parents thought it was “Thunderstorm”, so it was weird cos one part of Halong Bay is experiencing a storm while it was damn hot outside the hotel! Got back to the cruise and then realized he meant “Tender Stop”, which is the Old Ferry Station where Tender Boats are docked -_-lll

En route to the Tender Stop- the more rural, messy part of the Halong Bay area. We took the ferry back to the cruise cos the waters are too shallow for the cruise to dock directly there, and omg the weather was terrible.

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I was too tired to go anywhere else on the cruise so I napped for a few hours while the rest of the family went for tea break and settled bills (with the worst travelling partner making a lot of noise but I missed out the drama). Had dinner at the Mediterranean buffet area.

Then went to look at the seaview at Deck 12 and 13. We took the illegal route to Deck 13 by using the outdoor staircases, because we couldn’t be bothered to figure out how to access the deck through the lift.

The trail left behind by the ship and the sunset.

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The wind was goddamn strong as well! Was so worried that my phone will get blown away.

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Last activity of the day. Watched a dance cum magic illusion performance. The dancers were great while the illusionist was meh.The tricks were predictable. Didn’t take any photos though.

Day 5 coming soon- back to Hong Kong!

The South China Sea Holiday – San Ya, Day 3

Yet another long week has passed and blogging about this trip is taking forever! Anyway I totally forgot about module bidding until I subconsciously asked my friend if she secured her modules during our catch up. Logged into CORS and found out that it was already the closed bidding round, and I only got allocated 1 out of 3 modules. Fortunately I managed to get the modules. This is what internship does to you.

Speaking of internship, I will be staying on part time with the company. Since I have 3 free days I might as well make use of it. Now let’s hope I won’t go crazy. Okay onto Day 3!

The cruise was supposed to dock at Sanya at 11am so we had some time in the morning to spare before disembarking. Went for this dancercise thing at the swimming pool and the cruise staff asked me and 3 other people to join him at the podium as his backup dancers lol. Luckily the rest of the audience were rather enthusiastic and if I happen to be caught on camera, I will be somewhat famous. Went to treadmill at the gym after that. *End of morning routine*

Here we are at Sanya. It is located in the southern most part of Hainan Island, China, and is recently opening up to tourists.

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Main tourist attractions (and what was offered by the cruise) include this Deer Turning Head Park 鹿回头公园, Yalong Bay , a 108m Guanyin statue. We chose to sign up for the Li and Miao Minority Village tour. Will talk more about it later.

Speaking of Hainan it is well-known for many things- betel, wen chang chicken and especially coconuts which grow everywhere. The weather is tropical all year round and people there enjoy the highest longevity. The beaches are popular as honeymoon destinations and wedding photoshoot locations. There is even a saying that goes “If you love her, bring her to Sanya”. And last but not least there is this super expensive condo that cost 20k yuan per m2.

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The streets of Sanya.

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I remember seeing this kind of vehicle in Suzhou but I forgot the name. Surprisingly it travels quite fast. IMG_1987

Our group consists of Malaysians, PRCs and this ang moh European family residing in Singapore. The tour guide arranged us with the ang moh family at the same table for lunch cos he assumed that Singaporeans are bilingual, but nope, not the older generation. Ate a coconut lunch at this hotel and the food was WEIRD. Maybe it was due to different palate, or maybe food doesn’t go well when fried/marinated/steamed/whatever with all things coconut.

On the way to the Li & Miao minority village, which has been developed by the government into a 4A national tourist attraction. Talk about ethnic tourism. It is located up in the mountains.

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Here’s the entrance. The chinese words read 槟榔谷 (Betel Nut Park). The village is home to many betel nut plantations and some natives still chew it as a habit.

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Took the buggy uphill to watch their cultural performance which showcases the traditions of the Li and Miao group. Tourists have to pay extra for the ride, but the location is rather inaccessible by foot.

Nope this is not someone’s house, but the stage backdrop.

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In my opinion the performance was a tip-of-the-iceberg in introducing the ethnic group. They first showcased their trademark, which is still adopting the primitive way of starting a fire (which somehow evolved into swallowing and spitting it). Others include cloth weaving without the need of any machine, sieving rice, bamboo dancing, and flirting what they look for in a romance. Call me ignorant but I didn’t know they are further divided into 5 sub groups, which have different way of dressing as well. Oh and they made the geese and goats parade around the stage.

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Along the way back to the entrance cos the itinerary was of a rush.

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Random geese on the street! IMG_2073

People still live in these houses according to the tour guide… but how come I see no one?

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Apart from the performance area, everywhere else was strangely deserted except for some vendors selling miniature sized pineapples, red dragonfruit, jumbo, mango and touristy fried food. Maybe it’s because of the area we happen to be in.

Given another chance I would definitely head back here to experience something more daily life like visiting a traditional house and looking at how the minorities do their crafts. Overall the area was made for tourists and of course it doesn’t do justice to the rich heritage of the Li and Miao ethnic groups, but that is the inevitable fate of minority groups should they be earmarked to boost the tourism of the locality.

Then we head to this local product supermarket to experience the last taste of Sanya. Saw many products carrying this brand called Chun Guang 春光, so I guess it should be a popular local brand. Common food items include coconut powder, coconut milk, coconut candy, all things coconut! There’s also pepper and chili and the chili sauce was awesome. Anyway the supermarket is difficult to navigate around, partially because it is swarmed with tourists and they designed the aisles in a manner that you have to see everything before you leave.

Here’s my mum’s loot. If you are feeling adventurous you can mix coffee with coconut powder (Disclaimer: I will not be responsible for any mishap caused).

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Total for this shore excursion cost 540 HKD excluding shopping expenses. I felt it was a bit pricey especially so when the lunch was crappy, but getting to visit the minority village and sightseeing plantations along the way was a one-of-a-kind experience.

okay now back on the cruise. My mum and I chose Western food for dinner at Genting Palace cos the Worst Travelling Partner was reluctant to eat western food.  For the appetizer I had boned chicken wings which flew off the plate cos I was using utensils. Our main course was dory fillet. It doesn’t have the sea/dirt smell and tasted really fresh. Under the fillet is mashed potato and beans, with cheese sauce surrounding it. The portion was just nice as well. The Chinese food that day didn’t taste good, according to my dad.

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The cruise staff put up a show called Decades, featuring classic song performances like Footloose and Shanghai Bund 上海滩. My mum was falling asleep until towards the end where 3 guys posed as females wearing sexy clothes and did funny stuff such as hugging a male audience and propping their legs on the audience seat. The crew have really good singing voices and it was a smart move to put the crazy item as the last.

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4th day coming soon to Halong Bay!

The South China Sea Holiday- HK & On the Sea, Day 2

Hi world, I am back with my 2nd installment. It has been a tiring week trying to adjust back to the rhythm of life. I didn’t expect my post-vacation syndrome to hit me so badly. Was completely a zombie on Monday. Recovered gradually after that, but whenever a plane flies past our office building, I felt the wanderlust.

Anyway let’s cut the chase and here’s what happened on Day 2.

After breakfast we took the Silka West Hotel shuttle bus service to Ocean Terminal to board Superstar Virgo. Our HK relatives accompanied us all the way to the cruise centre and even assisted us with the check in. The bus driver zipped through the streets at crazy speed cos he had to make certain stops before reaching the terminal within the stipulated time as printed on the shuttle bus schedule. Nevertheless I managed to get some shots of the HK street scene with much difficulty.

All different sorts of businesses clustered together under rustic buildings.

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Condominium in HK

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Ocean Terminal is located at Tsim Sha Tsui, and it is connected to Harbour City Complex. The area is another vibrant and busy shopping district with branded outlets littered everywhere. We had some time to walk around before boarding but honestly I wasn’t interested in the shops because… they are just everywhere.

The check-in for the cruise was one hell of a chaotic. The terminal is located in one corner of Harbour City, instead of being one building by itself. Expect lots of swerving and zigzagging while making your way towards the terminal, made worse by the crowds.

We were told by the staff that we could not bring water on board, so we had to dispose it at the nearby dustbin. Just as we were about to get back into the queue, we got intercepted by this troop of China tourists who are boarding the cruise as a tour group. There were over 200 of them if I am not wrong. Fortunately the staff allowed us to rejoin the queue after cutting off part of the tour group, and luckily the China people were understanding enough. Just then, we saw this Punjab family at the boarding area and they were drinking from their bottles. What the…

Here’s the full view photo of Superstar Virgo, shot a few days later. I didn’t get any discount even though my horoscope is Virgo. Grrr.

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Having boarded Royal Caribbean before, I wasn’t expecting a lot from Superstar Virgo in terms of its facilities and dining because you pay for what you get. The people on board also created altogether another experience as well. Majority were Asians, with Mainland Chinese being the most. But since fate brought us together onto a ship then I guess we share some affinity with each other or something.

Had the mandatory fire drill exercise and then we had our super late lunch/tea break. There was already a crowd of Chinese waiting outside the Mediterranean Buffet (the dining area only opens at certain periods) omg.

Some auspicious coin sculpture at the Piazza. My mum took this photo while we were queuing up to book shore excursions at the Tour Desk. The Tour Desk, Reception and Piazza are all located on the same deck. .

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The programme guide which lists the performances and activities on board for the day. There are also mahjong tables and tiles for rental for the mahjong addicts. Luckily my dad had no kaki with him.

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There are 2 options for free-of-charge dinner, namely at Mediterranean Buffet and Genting Restaurant. We settled our dinner at Genting, which gives passengers the choice of either Western or Chinese. The dining area is also divided up depending on which arrangement you choose so you just head to your table number given to you outside the restaurant.

We chose Chinese food (cos the Worst Travelling Partner refused to try Western food) and only the chicken broth soup was memorable. Dishes are served quickly, but no way there would be waiters assigned to your table who will shout “time for yummy yummy” or ask if you want bread while holding a bread basket (Wow it has been more than a year and I still can remember them!).

For the fitness junkie, there are yoga classes on board. And they are held at the Galaxy of Stars, which is actually a bar. *Inserts Okay Face meme*. The sea was rough that day which made the ship rocky (you can even feel it while walking), so fortunately there weren’t any crazy balancing poses.

And finally (I guess most people are bored now so I am ending soon) here’s our stateroom. My aunt chose the cheapest room so here’s what we got. The interior designer probably got a mural of the sea painted to compensate for the lack of a proper seaview.

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Of course I took the upper bunk. No way my parents could have climbed up the ladder. Luckily I didn’t fall off the bed while sleeping. In fact I had a good night’s sleep cos of the wave movement and we were pretty tired from yesterday’s walking and today’s adjustment to yet another environment.

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Yeah that’s it for Day 2. I apologise for the lack of photos because the day has been overwhelming and I wasn’t in the mood to snap photos because I had to first familiarise myself with everything foreign before helping the old folks.

Part 3 coming soon~

My Virgin Pulau Ubin Experience

Made my first Pulau Ubin trip of my life today. If not for our project, I have no incentive to go there. Since I probably wont be going there unless I have no choice, let me document my experience here!

Transport is slightly more troublesome since it is an island. From Tanah Merah MRT, take bus number 2 for god-knows-how-many stops to Changi bus terminal, and then proceed to the ferry terminal to take a ferry. 1 trip costs $2.50, and since you obviously have to go back to “mainland” (unless you stay there or something), you have to pay another $2.50 for the return trip as well. The ferry will only depart when there are 12 passengers on board to maximise capacity. No need for sea sickness pill because the waters are nothing as compared to some other seas and the trip only takes about 10 minutes.

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Bye Singapore! Oh wait Pulau Ubin is part of Singapore!

It depends where you want to head to upon reaching.The eateries and a nearby temple are concentrated with the bicycle rental shops located near the entrance so they are within walking distance. As our place identified for the project is the “unknown side of Pulau Ubin” (Shh I wont reveal what project topic and the module in case there are thieves around), we had to rent bicycles. According to the rental shop owner, it will take about 1 hour by foot it we were to walk there.

If you are a first timer intending to venture out to secluded areas of the island, it is advisable to ask the local inhabitants for directions unless your mate has very good instinct. I mean, the locals there are frequently interrogated with questions related to directions and all. Anyway bicycle rental is $8 for the whole day for the shop we approached. Didnt go around other shops enquiring for rates because we were more concerned with the distance above everything else.

I havent rode a bike for years so I wasnt mentally prepared having to cycle again searching for an obscure place. Couldnt get used initially especially with all the bumps in the road and many other cyclists in the way, but riding was easier after getting the momentum. Which is why cycling is a life skill because it is not easily forgotten once you learn it.

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Okay I confess I was freaked out by the downhill slopes and I iron-gripped the handles the whole time. Dared not to look at the ground either. It is even scarier when a random van/police car appears in front of you travelling in the opposite direction. Better pray damn hard that something bad doesnt happen.

The site wasnt very obvious to public eye and it is very easy to miss. It wasnt reflected on official signboards as well. We ended up in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Even tourists asked us for cycling directions when we dont even know where we are! This area supposedly belongs to the biking park but the trail wasnt very well demarcated at the gravel lanes.

Anyway I am starting to wonder if the gravel paths were part of the obstacle course or something. Oh there were uphills and downhills in this section too. Never biked so hard in my life before.

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We made it to the area after retracing where we came from, which luckily we did instead of venturing further into the gravel paths. Okay we couldnt comprehend the map given to us by the bicycle rental owner as well so we partly trusted our instinct.

Stopped for coconut at someone’s home on the way back. Yes, someone’s house! It is a rare sight to see houses while cycling. An elderly couple live there and opened up their living room for customers to rest and drink while they carried on with their chores.If you want to know some personal stories, they are also the best people to ask as well.

Their house has this mural ourside with the words “Oh Yeh Oh Yeh Oh Yeh Hey!” (Yeh is the phonetic of 椰/coconut) and this painting of a glass of drink with Kelapa written next to it. Quite amusing. Anyway, 1 coconut cost $4.

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Our bicycles parked at the parking lot. I didnt attach any photo here, but island dogs are aplenty here. There are already 2 of them hanging outside the house and 1 dog will randomly appear on the track at various points.  They are big but nope they arent fierce. Dogs arent fierce creatures to start with anyway. Oh and there are also monkeys to see if you are lucky.

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German girl shrine, but with a local name. According to the uncle many people pray to her for all sorts of things from 4D to wanting a baby. There are even overseas devotees who come here specially for requests.

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On the way back. The return journey took much shorter because we were all familiar with the path. Shorter is also good because we were all tired anyway.

Last photo destination. Where else can you get to see quarries?

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Yeah that sums up our trip. While typing this I am still surprised with how I managed to conquer that crazy bicycle course given the pathetic amount of times I go cycling. Give us an A for effort even if we screwed up the project please!

Suzhou and Shanghai Part 2: Shopping

And so I was wondering how I should organise this post because we spent a considerable amount of time during our field trip shopping. Anyway, here are the shopping areas we went if you are interested to check out, and some advice which may not necessarily work for eveyone.

Be warned: Extremely long, grandmother story post and unintentional advertising.

And I gave away most of my haul.

Bargaining 

1. Bargaining is key for non-price tagged items

You have to cut at least half the price of what the vendors offer. They are reluctant to sell their wares at low prices because they think they barely earn enough to get by, but customer is always right.

2. Do a mental calculation of how much the item will be worth in your home currency

So that you can decide whether it is more worth it to get it in China or back home, unless you don’t see the item at all in your home country.

3. Use the “Walk away” method and be firm in your stance.

Should they stubbornly refuse to sell the product at the price you want, walk away and pretend you are heading to another shop. They will then shout at you to come back and ask you to quote your desired price. Less money is better than no money.

4. Don’t feel guilty for denying the livelihood of the vendor.

He might be a tycoon in disguise. Who knows?

5. Be prepared to get yelled at in Chinese, or get black-faced by the vendor.

Oh well that can’t be helped. But whatever. You got the deal.

6. Never ever push your luck bargaining for a price tag item, or in a wholesale shop where items cost 10RMB storewide.

The shop staff will think you are nuts.

City God Temple

Not only it is a temple, it also possesses tourist shops, Shanghai local product stores,  international eateries (Starbucks and McDonalds), local food stores and links to other shopping centres. Navigating around the complex can be tedious as it is a maze of passageways and entrances  to new places.  Most products are fixed price, but you can take advantage of those placed outside the shop with no price tag. The tourist shops tend to repeat as you walk around the area.

(photo credit chinatouronline, because I didn’t take photos of the temple!!!)

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There are department stores with entrances that camouflage with the row of shops. The McDonalds located at Basement 1 is actually part of a shopping centre which I don’t know the name. There is a shop at basement 1 that sells quirky stuff like wallets with world currency designs. No price tag so you can bargain, but the owner is a tough nut to crack.

Got the mirror below for 25 RMB after much haggling. I really love it! (Dancer problems)

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Imitated Goods

China is well-known for imitated goods. So the tour guide bought us here to the 4 storey tall Han City in Shanghai to get counterfeit products which resemble their branded doppelgängers.

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Han City has a variety of “branded” merhandise such as bags ( esp Cath Kidston- they are everywhere!), shoes (New Balance, Converse, Toms), children clothes (Juicy couture, abercrombie) here. Others include tourist souvenirs, hello kitty toys, scarves, optical and gadget shops.

There are no price tags attached so it is time to put your bargaining skills to the test. Usually the owner will quote you a high price so be sure not to let them take advantage of you.

The shops tend to repeat after a while and sell the same things. The 4th floor is less vibrant as the bottom floors as their business might have been competed away. Come to think of it, it doesn’t make sense to repeat shops unless they are all part of the same company assuming different shop names. Conspiracy!

So here’s what I got: Hello Kitty wallet with an acyclic mirror, a Mao t-shirt and some of the chinese-saying pouches (you will see them later).

 

Han city shanghai

Only 3 shops sold Hello Kitty Wallets. 1st one was a wallet shop but I didn’t like the designs. 2nd one sold mixed wares and I initially wanted to get the wallet from there, but it looked rather bulky. Ended up at the 3rd one and got this. Out of all designs I felt this was the most compact, “won’t get dirty easily” and “number of card pockets is just nice”.

It wasnt cheap in SGD though. When I checked Singapore TaoBao for wallet prices I saw in Han City, most of them were around $16, including the bulky wallet I wanted to get. I got the current wallet at nearly double the price. But since I didn’t see this design on Singapore TaoBao, I guess it is better not to know its market retail price.

Ping Jiang Road 

It is a straight path of shops located in Suzhou old town. The old and quaint facade houses many quirky shops and themed cafes attracting hipster fans. Opposite the shops lies the suzhou canal. It is pretty scenic to shop along here with the mix of old and new elements. Be prepared though, to be confronted with scooters and bicycles coming from both directions of the road.

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Items at the quirky shops are relatively cheap (Okay that depends on the kind of good, but referring in general) since Suzhou is not as metropolitan as Shanghai. There are shops selling postcards at 2 RMB each (That is SGD $0.40!) and customers can write on them and mail them out in the shop (You will also see that in Tianzifang). Eateries sell mostly fried food, and don’t miss out the potted plant ice cream.

suzhou old district

Street Vendors 

They are aplenty in Suzhou, selling goods from fat juicy grapes to chinese hulu flutes, machine sewn chinese scenery drawings and chinese fans. It is alright to buy from them, just that you have to bargain especially when they quote you a price which you find ridiculous.

Specialized Souvenir shops 

Got those below at Shanghai Jin Mao Observational tower, M50 creative industry and Shanghai Museum. They are marked at tourist price but in SGD they are relatively cheap and provide an alternative souvenir choice.

M50 is a free to roam space built with studios where aspiring artists display their works. Their works are re-designed and sold as various sorts of merchandise, including a miniature reproduced version of their artwork. I like the photos shot by Jin Xuanmin because they are a honest depiction of rural life, and it is refreshing to see his retouches of the otherwise “boring” scenes of daily life.

Shanghai museum souvenir shop sells merchandise designed after their artifacts on display in their galleries. There are also a range of books available, from chinese paintings to phrasebooks.

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Supermarkets 

Suzhou supermarkets (industrial park area) are generally hypermarts selling local products. However, a lot of them require you to be a member by spending a minimum amount of money before you can start shopping there (eg SAM club). Shopped at Ou Shang instead. I did see imports like durians and international brands, but most goods are mostly China based. Also, they do not provide plastic bags in name of the environment.

The Hello kitty chocolate costs 12.50 RMB. Steal.

oushang supermarket suzhou

 

On the other hand Shanghai supermarkets import more international brands and prices are relatively more expensive. Saw the same hello kitty chocolate in this supermarket near Xin Tian Di, retailing about 20 RMB. Still cheap in SGD, but Suzhou hypermarts have better deals.

Tian Zi Fang

A fusion of quirky shops, art studios, themed cafes, fashion botiques and narrow passageways. Prices depend on the kind of product sold, so just exercise your judgement to determine if they are within your budget.

It is challenging to navigate around because one alley leads to another new place. The art studios are located in the inner part of the area . I can’t describe exactly where because it is complicated for a tourist. You get the idea. Since the lanes and shopfronts are very narrow, expect much shoving with other shoppers.

The entrance is rather nondescript and blends in with the surrounding shopfronts by the road. Read here for a more comprehensive guide. Shops also repeat after a while if they sell the same product, such as Shanghai lady vanishing cream and teahouse.

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Teahouse sells a variety of fruit and chinese tea LEAVES. I love their packaging as it is compact and pretty! Have been drinking the Anji white tea and it is quite fragrant. Check out their taobao shop here (have to find a way to make them ship to Singapore). Standard ones are 25 RMB, but if you buy their pre-packaged ones (i,e. those in boxes), expect to pay for the box too.

quirky shops shanghai tianzifang

Wholesale Markets outside Shanghai Oriental Bund Hotel 

There is a stretch of wholesale shops within a walking distance from our hotel, and located near City God temple. Items range from children toys to souvenirs and accessories. Most shops price their items at a flat rate of 10 RMB unless otherwise stated, so you have to exercise discretion to see if they are worth your money. No bargaining, but seriously prices couldnt go lower anyway.

In fact, you will see chinese scenery embroidery and fans from Suzhou in these wholesale shops. Since they now have a price tag, make the best bargain from the Suzhou street vendors.

They close rather early around 6-7pm since the sun sets early in China. Closing also depends on weather I guess.

Got the canvas bag for 10 RMB. Seriously that was a steal. Somemore the quality looked decent.

wholesale market shanghai

Tourist shops 

Most of them (located at City God temple and wholesale market street) sell typical china memorabilia like fridge magnets, key chains etc. Prices depend whether there is a price tag or not. If you are the kind who goes for conventional souvenirs then this is the place for you.

“You see them everywhere” products 

This section is difficult to write because many items are seen everywhere and I was trying not to repeat what I wrote earlier. Anyway, most come at a fixed price because they are from the same company, while others are bought wholesale and sold at a higher price quoted by the vendor. So here are some of the commonly seen items from Shanghai.

Expect to see many panda retail stores selling panda themed items because pandas are icons of China. They cost relatively higher than most souvenirs because of marketing and branding etc.

The pic below is Shanghai Sisters vanishing cream. It is a very old house brand, Shanghai exclusive and supposed to be moisturizing and nourishing. Tried it but couldn’t feel anything magical (I am a sucker for beauty products). They are sold at 1 for 20RMB and 3 for 50 RMB , flavours are jasmine, rose and evening flower. If you visit their full-fledged stores in Tianzifang, there are more product variations available.

the you see them everywhere products

Got these pouches from wholesale market and Han City, but they are seen in most tourist shops. They are sold at 5 RMB each at the wholesale street, and for Han City it was 1 for 25RMB but I bargained until 5 RMB. Most of the designs poke fun of chinese society or reflect someone’s personality.

Playing cards of different themes are also available in quirky and tourist shops. Most tourist shops sell designs like AV stars. I got the china history one from a quirky shop in suzhou. Each playing card has a portrait of the emperor/empress (because chinese history is just damn long that there are more than 54 rulers) and brief background about them. A history buff item, I would say.

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Yup that’s all for the shopping post! For an avid shopper I had fun writing this, and I kept spelling “souvenir” wrongly each time I typed the word. Thanks auto correct!

 

Suzhou and Shanghai Part 1: Accommodation and Food

I’d thought of starting off with a light (but long) post about the China trip about what most people might be concerned about-accommodation/travel and food. Here are my 2 cents worth about these aspects and some advice, hopefully of help to anyone.

Accommodation

Suzhou: Stayed in the 4 star Suzhou Jin Ling Guan Yuan Hotel.

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Location: Quite isolated with almost nil amenities of walking distance, but I guess that’s just the way it is. Buildings in the new Suzhou area are sparsely located since urban spaces are systematically planned. At night, the streets are so empty that it looks like a ghost town.

Rooms: Really spacious since the hotel has the whole piece of land to itself. Depending on your room location, you might end up turning bends and tunnels to find it. Also, you might be facing part of a yard instead of some other scenery.

Service: Staff are efficient and polite. The doorman even puts his hand on the taxi door just in case you bump your head while boarding/alighting from the taxi.

Food: The room key contains breakfast coupons that last you throughout your stay. Breakfast is an international buffet, quite a spread ranging from duck blood soup to bacon.

Wifi: Depends on room location and device strength connectivity. You can borrow a router from the counter if you want a faster internet speed.

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Overall the atmosphere and surroundings are good for a restful night since it is away from a busy location. You will need to call a taxi to get to the nearest shopping mall, which the hotel can it for you. From experience some taxi drivers have never heard of this hotel as it is relatively new, so be prepared to memorise some landmarks and road names to direct them here.

Shanghai: Stayed in Shanghai Xingyu Oriental Bund hotel

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Location: Located right smack in a busy street of old shopping centres and a construction side. It is pretty convenient to get to tourist places like Shanghai Bund and City God temple since they are within walking distance. At night expect to hear the symphony of traffic and honking, as well as the Shanghai Customs House clock tower chiming “The East is Red” every hour.

Rooms: Much narrower, but that’s understandable since the surroundings are occupied by buildings. Spatial organisation is weird too. The sofa in the hotel room is within 1 arm distance from the bed if you are staying in a double room, and the mirrors are placed right behind the bed. Bed too hard and pillow too soft. You can get a view of the financial district apart from that out-of-place building (as seen in the photo)

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Service: Staff not that proficient in English and lift is rather slow. Strangely enough the lobby and breakfast area is located on the 8th floor, and to exit the hotel you have to go to the 1st floor. I mean, most hotels have their lobby and exit on the same floor, right?!

Food: Moderate selection of breakfast. There is a dessert section available, and check out their translation of the dish:

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Wifi: Pretty bad in rooms (hotel even ran out of routers), but able to get some reception if you stand outside your room door. The connection is best at the end of the corridor near the last room, which can be identified the tables and chairs placed there for users.

Overall the hotel’s convenient location beats every other thing else it offers. It will be suitable for adventurers who are keen to explore every nook and cranny of the area and be comforted that “home” is within walking distance. Just be careful that the lane leading back to the hotel is quite quiet at night since the shops close early (but further out it is noise pollution).

Food:

The Chinese place great emphasis on food and table manners. Even business deals are made over a meal in restaurants. Honestly, I felt that the food is quite 重口味 (lots of seasoning, oil etc.) as compared to Singapore food.

Restaurant food highlights: Nearly all restaurants we ate at served sweet sour pork for lunch and dinner, so I am going to avoid it whenever I eat chap chye peng for the rest of the year.

And introducing… THE SQUIRREL MANDARIN FISH!

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It is a popular delicacy in Suzhou and originated from there. The flesh of the fish is spiked out, and arranged in a manner resembling squirrel fur. It is then fried and dripped with sweet and sour sauce.

Restaurants in Suzhou serve nearly the same food everytime we dined, while those in Shanghai offer more variety. When we saw fried egg and xiao long bao during our first dinner in Shanghai, everyone was… exhilarated. Just to note, we did not have anymore fried egg during the rest of our restaurant meals in Shanghai.

Beer, gassy soft drinks and chinese tea are served in every restaurant. Also, be prepared to use chopsticks for meals. Restaurant staff will only give you a fork if you look distinctively non-Chinese.

beer served in restaurants

Fast Food: Just for experience, we tried KFC (at Shanghai Pudong Airport), Mcdonalds (City God Temple) and Burger King (Pudong Airport again). Surprisingly they are less oily than Chinese food in general. For KFC, the chicken looks uncooked.

KFC at airport. chicken looks uncooked'

Fast food staff generally give out tomato sauce, and only give chili if you ask for it. Menu is mostly in Chinese, which surprised me because I thought the airport would have bilingual versions since it is an international place. If you are adventurous enough, you can try out their “localised fast food” such as rice with the chicken thigh (Mcdonalds), or their mushroom egg soup.

Street Food/Food Court: The amount of oil leftover from a packet of noodles is enough to fry an egg!

City God temple in Shanghai has a selection of street food such as smelly tofu, takoyaki, and 灌汤包 (a pau with soup filling). It also has a multi storey food court serving Chinese dishes of different provinces, where you can choose and make payment at the counter. However as all portions comes in minimum 3 pax, it is better to dine as a group. The temple area is also famous for xiao long bao, which saw a really long queue. Didnt try it, but classmates said it wasnt that fantastic.

guan tang bao, cheng huang temple

 

Had fried rice in a food court in Suzhou Hua Ren Wan Jia shopping mall (They call it neighbourhood centre). You need to become a food court member to buy food, even if you are a tourist. Basically pay a deposit of 10 RMB for the card, then top up with any amount you want. At the end of the day return the card to the counter if you dont need it anymore to get back the balance and deposit. The counter lady will shout out your order instead of a “collect when you see your number on the LED screen” system. Anyway, the food court also displays models of the dishes so that you can see the food in real life just in case you cant read the chinese menu.

egg fried rice, hua ren wan jia food court

Supermarket Food: Expect to see food like these. (More supermarket elaboration in the shopping post)

Oreo in 734314 flavours e.g. banana, peach cum grape.

lays, different flavours

Lays in lime and cucumber flavour. Also saw a braised pork flavour but didnt capture it. But you get the idea.

oreo, different flavours

Other food: Tried the red velvet cake at Simply Bake Cafe in New world. Wasnt as velvety as those I had in Singapore, and that piece of jelly on top tasted like war heads. Not sure if this is representative of Red Velvet in China, but it was still an experience trying the same kind of food overseas.

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Potted ice cream from Suzhou old town. Basic flavours such as chocolate, mango etc are available, then a layer of choco powder will be sprinkled over the ice cream. Just a typical ice cream, but I loved the concept.

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST: WATER! You gotta remember this even if you thought what I wrote above is crap. It is best to buy bottled water in China as the tap water is not suitable for drinking. I didn’t use the room kettle to boil water just in case it is not rinsed cleanly (from my Royal Caribbean experience). So far I didn’t have any body reactions from drinking iced soft drinks in fast food restaurants, but if you want to play safe/ have a sensitive stomach, it is better to avoid iced drinks.

And so that’s it from me about the food and accommodation aspect from the trip. Initially I wanted to lump shopping together with this post but realised that it will be so long that I decided to make shopping another post of its own.