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Singapore (Orchard & Missed Opportunities) November 29, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Orchard & Missed Opportunities)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JO

Orchard is Singapore’s version of Ginza.  It is the high end of shopping and a place where people go to be seen.  When someone is looking for high fashion items like the perfect Gucci bag, Orchard seems to be the place to go.  I only spent a few hours in Orchard and I actually arrived a little early.  I arrived in Orchard around 10:30, and most of the shops were still closed.  I ended up wasting a bit of my time just walking around looking for shops that were open.  It is very much like Ginza where things don’t really come alive until 11am, at best.  I went into Orchard not really expecting too much as I don’t normally shop for high end items, but I ended up enjoying the experience.

The main strip, Orchard Road, is where most of the shops are.  There really isn’t much else to it, but there are a few places to visit on either side of the main strip.  I found that if you go off the main strip, you can see a few cheaper shops compared to the luxury of Orchard.  The main strip itself is a plethora of shopping malls and department stores.  The anchor of Orchard has to be Tangs.  It is one of the oldest department stores in Orchard and a major retailer in Singapore.  When they opened, Orchard was little more than a small residential and cemetery area.  Once Tangs built their main shop, things started to change.  It eventually turned into the high end shopping district it is today.  The most common area is an area between Orchard Station and Dhoby Ghaut Station.  It is a short walk between the stations and fairly easy, even on a very hot day.  You can easily walk from mall to mall, department store to department store and only feel the heat a little.  My only surprise was to see the many Japanese department stores.  Unfortunately, some of them were just a pale comparison to their original counterparts in Japan, but there were many of them and the ones that spent money to be upscale were very much like their original counterparts.  Orchard is also well known for its cafes and restaurants.  Like any upscale shopping district, you need to have places for people to rest, relax, and eat.

When visiting Singapore for the F1 Grand Prix, there are many things you can’t do.  You can’t really experience the night life in Singapore.  You spend most of the night at the race itself and after the race you are pretty tired.  The Friday qualifying wasn’t too late but after walking around all day in the circuit, I just didn’t have any energy to keep going.  On Saturday, the qualifying didn’t end till 11pm or so, which made it difficult to go out afterwards.  By Sunday, I was just too tired from going everywhere possible.  There are several places I wish I could have gone if I had more time and more flexibility to travel around Singapore.  The first would be Sentosa Island.  To me, it looks like nothing more than a Singapore version of Disney World.  There are beaches, shopping malls, and other amusement attractions such as Universal Studios Singapore.  It looked like a nice, expensive, place to visit.  If I had more time, I would have spent a day just trying many things on the island.  The other regret I had was not being able to go on a night safari.  In Japan, a lot of Japanese people told me to go on a night safari, but since I was too busy with F1, there was no chance I could have gone on a safari.  It seems interesting but at the same time it wasn’t high enough on my list of things to do in Singapore.

One other regret is not getting out and around Singapore itself.  Singapore is well connected to Malaysia as well as Indonesia.  I wish I had a lot more time to visit one of the resort islands in the area, although travelling to Thailand might be a better idea due to the prices.  Singapore is a wonderful country and it is a place I wish to re-visit in the future.  There are many other places that I would love to visit but if the opportunity does arise, I will be heading to Singapore very quickly.  Unfortunately, a short visit without knowing any locals probably created a tourist bubble around me and influenced my own impressions of Singapore.  I wish I knew people who lived in Singapore to get a better idea as to how life really is, as I learned when I visited Hong Kong and Taiwan in the past.  Hopefully I can revisit soon and get a better understanding of the people and culture that is unique to Singapore.

Singapore (Orchard & Missed Opportunities) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) November 22, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JL

The area on the south side of Marina Bay can easily be summed up as being Raffles Place Station and the Marina Bay Sands complex.  It is a vast area that is still being developed and will continue to change over the next few years.  It is a place where seeing the old traditional look of Singapore is being squeezed out by the new modern complexes.  Most businessmen will be heading to this area more often while most tourists will just pass that area and head straight to the shopping complex and casino in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  It may not be as varied as the Bugis and City Hall area but it is just as important.

Raffles Place Station feels like a misnomer to me.  It is a name of the station in the central business district of Singapore but the Raffles Hotel is not located near this station.  Most of this area is generally pretty boring.  You can head into the core business district and see many tall and architecturally interesting buildings.  It is a beacon of modern architecture, but that is about it.  Unless you are interested in taking photographs of these buildings and some of the art that is spread throughout the area, it won’t be interesting.  In fact, on the weekends, even Saturdays, the entire area is nearly shut down.  There is very little to do as many of the shops were closed, including the shopping malls during the F1 weekend!  The river and bay side is where most tourists will flock.  There is a bridge connecting the Parliament Building to the south side of the river.  Along the river, Boat Quay, there are dozens of small restaurants and bars.  It is a great place to get a meal, but be aware that the people there are very aggressive, especially around lunch time.  It was difficult for me to just walk around without someone trying to coax me to eat at their restaurant.  I couldn’t relax as much as I wanted and make my own choice, but the same time it is a great way to get information on the restaurants.  I learned that most of the restaurants had a happy hour in the afternoon.  In fact, most of Singapore has happy hour specials that last from noon-5pm.  Liquor is usually half priced, around $5 a glass.  From 5-8pm, it is usually 25% off and from 8pm, regularly priced.  The shops on the river are actually wonderful once you sit down.  The prices are reasonable for lunch and they offer outdoor terraces with riverfront views.  I enjoyed a nice Indian lunch while having wonderful views of an art gallery and the Fullerton Hotel.  Most of the restaurants and bars are almost exactly the same, aside from the food they serve, and they do have indoor areas that are air conditioned, but on a beautiful day, I couldn’t resist the riverfront view.

Marina Bay can easily be summed up as the area around the Marina Bay Sands.  The Marina Bay Sands is a huge hotel complex that includes a museum, future convention centre, future botanical garden, hotel, casino, and shopping mall.  It is a place of luxury for one of the most highly recommended hotels in the world.  The main sight for a tourist has to be the observation deck at the top of the hotel.  It is a little expensive but the top of the hotel has a large floor that is shaped like a boat.  Unless you are a guest of the hotel, you are limited to the bow of the ship which provides views of Marina Bay, the most important area.  The observation deck is a little sparse with just an open deck area.  There is a restaurant/bar at the top as well but from what I was told it is a little expensive.  You can enjoy a nice lunch there but that’s about it.  Unfortunately, you cannot go to the pool area or enter the pool.  It is limited to hotel guests only. Thankfully you can see the pool from the observation deck but you cannot get close to it.  The casino in the hotel is nice but very boring.  I found the casino to be very typical.  Bags are not allowed and you must show your passport or you’ll have to pay a high fee to enter.  While I’m not a real gambler, I wanted to try it out again but my experience was not good this time.  You definitely need to go with good friends and have a fun time with it.  I found the rules of the casino to be a bit strange compared to my trip to Las Vegas.  Las Vegas knows how to gamble and I’ll leave it at that.  The mall itself was good.  There are lots of high end shops and many things to see.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have the wallet to make purchases there, you won’t be able to do too much.  There is an indoor “ice” rink that is made out of some sort of plastic.  It wasn’t very popular but a few children did have a great time on the “ice”.  Other than that, the entire area is not very interesting.  The outdoor boardwalk was more interesting.

The last area of interest is the Fullerton Hotel area.  It is nestled across the bay from the Marina Bay Sands and connected to the riverfront.  The Fullerton Hotel itself is a typical old high end looking hotel, but on the other side of the hotel is Merlion Park which has the famous Merlion.  The Merlion is a famous tourist spot that has the mythological lion-mermaid.  Positioned at the edge where a Marina meets the Singapore River, the Merlion continuously spews high pressure water out of its mouth providing cute pictures.  Having lived in Japan for a while, it is somewhat customary for people to open their mouths and take a picture as if they are drinking from the lion’s… spit…  Of course I did that and had a fun time playing around the Merlion itself.  Behind the Merlion is a mini-Merlion.  This one is less than 2 metres tall and made of tile.  It is a very anti-climactic model from the original.  In fact, the original Merlion is not very interesting, to be very honest.  I would rate the mini-Merlion as very disappointing but a good novelty.  There are other restaurants and cafes around the area as well as a connecting bridge to the north side of the bay itself.  While I’ll probably never return to this specific area, I do recommend it to those who visit the area for the first time.

The Raffles Place and Marina Bay areas are an essential area to visit for tourists, although I personally didn’t find it to be that interesting.  It has a lot to see and do and there are great things about the area.  I still prefer the old side of Singapore compared to the modern areas.  I can generally see architecturally interesting buildings in Tokyo relatively easily so seeing new modern buildings is not always interesting for me.  For others, it can be a very fun place to be.  For those who are visiting Singapore for business, it is probably necessary to visit this area and heading to the riverfront after work is a good idea.  You can relax a lot and enjoy the beautiful views.  It’s not the best but it is still a good place to be.

Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Singapore (Bugis & City Hall) November 15, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Bugis & City Hall)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JI

Bugis Station and City Hall Station is the focal point of the area north of Marina Bay.  There are a few other stations in the area but these are the traditional old stations.  They are somewhat more historical than the other regions of Singapore with a wide range of things to see and do.  This ranges from shopping to visiting religious locations to visiting tourist spots.  It is a place that is full of life and a place that can give people a headache if they hate crowds.  For anyone who loves the big city, this is a great place to be.

Bugis Station is where I had my base when I visited Singapore.  I stayed in a hotel that was between Bugis Station and Little India.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or energy to go to Little India.  The area near Bugis Station is very much a shopping destination.  There are several shopping malls and lots of teens and young adults in the area.  I found it to be a hard place to get around due to the sheer number of people walking around.  It is very akin to visiting Shibuya or Shinjuku which made it a place that I enjoyed.  The shopping malls were predominantly for younger people and the middle class.  Many of them are connected to each other.  The malls themselves had a mix of western and eastern shops.  I noticed a lot of American and British brands, probably heavily influenced by Singapore’s past colonial days.  There were also a lot of Japanese style shops, but nowhere near as many as Taipei.  If you head outside of the shopping malls, you can find a few night market style streets where you can pick up all of your tacky souvenirs from Merlion key chains to postcards.  You can venture a little farther and find a bunch of hawkers/food courts where you can get a lot of delicious food.  I found that staying inside the shopping mall food courts to be more relaxing and much cooler as well.  Hawker areas tend to be for locals whereas food courts are where tourists tend to go.  If you head towards City Hall Station and Promenade Station, you will find even more shopping malls but they tend to skew more towards the higher end shoppers, but not extreme luxury.

While shopping is a big thing in the area, it isn’t the only thing to do.  There are many religious sights to see and visit while in the area.  Heading north of Bugis Station will take you to Arab St.  It is an old historical area where you can see the Middle East community.  The focal point of the entire area is the Masjid Sultan Mosque.  It is a grand mosque at one end of the Arab St. area.  It can be difficult to see from the surrounding streets due to the tall buildings in the area but once you are on Arab St. itself it is pretty easy to find.  It is a beautiful mosque with a grand golden orb on top.  The streets around the mosque sell a variety of fabrics and rugs typical of a stereotypical Middle Eastern/Arabic town.  There are also dozens of posh restaurants and cafes in the area selling ethnic food as well.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to eat in these places but they looked delicious and welcoming.

Raffles Place or Raffles Hotel is one of the most historical places and biggest icons of the area.  The Raffles Hotel is one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Singapore.  It has retained its original colonial style.  The walls are painted a beautiful white and the courtyards are impeccably clean.  The palm trees inside the various courtyards bring the feel of a tropical paradise, without the beach.  The entire hotel is magnificent but unfortunately I will probably never have enough money to spend even one night there.  Next to the hotel is the parliament building.  It is an old historical building as well but as far as I could tell, off limits to tourists.  It is an official building that is very picturesque.  While the area around City Hall Station is more historical with the Raffles Hotel; Promenade and Esplanade Stations show the modern side of the area.  Just a short walk from the Raffles Hotel, there are new modern hotels as well as the Esplanade Theatres.  The Esplanade Theatres are two buildings that are part of one theatre complex.  They are iconic and shown in most, if not all travel brochures on Singapore.  They are two dome-like structures that look like a pair of durian or a pair of dragonfly eyes.  From afar, it is a very interesting structure, but up close it loses its flare.  If you have the energy, you can also head out to the Singapore Flyer.  It is a large Ferris wheel that takes roughly 30 minutes to make one trip.  It was designed by a Japanese architect and designed to be a labyrinth.  It is designed to bring you in and keep you in.  It is a typical tourist trap.  Thankfully the Flyer itself has great views of the surrounding area.

Overall, you can spend several days just exploring every street in and around this area.  It is nice to be in the area and there are many hotels making it a very convenient place to be.  You can do pretty much everything on foot provided you can survive the heat.  After living in Tokyo for 6 years now, I find the heat to be bearable.  It isn’t comfortable and you have to seek air conditioning after an hour or so, but it is manageable.

Singapore (Bugis & City Hall) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Japanese Football aka Soccer (Tokyo Verdy VS FC Tokyo) November 8, 2011

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Tokyo Verdy VS FC Tokyo)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-KQ

It has been quite a busy year for me and I almost couldn’t make it to a football match this year.  On a bit of a whim, I finally found a date, October 30, 2011 where a friend and I could make it to a football game.  For those who have read my previous posts on football, this will not be too different.  I went out to my perennial football game out in Chofu, western Tokyo.  This time I attended what is called the “Tokyo Derby”.  The Tokyo Derby has several meanings.  There are three major definitions for Tokyo Derby.  The first is a horse race that is run in Tokyo in June.  The second is a match between the Yomiuri Giants and the Yakult Swallows.  These are the two major baseball teams in Tokyo with their own respective stadiums.  Whenever they play each other, it is part of the Tokyo Derby.  The baseball derby is not as famous as the teams meet many times over the season so it doesn’t receive much press.  The third and recently the rarest is a match between FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy.  Both are football teams representing Tokyo and both play in the same stadium, Ajinomoto Stadium.  The last time there was a Tokyo Derby for football was 3 years ago in 2008*.  That was the last time both clubs were in the same league.  This year, FC Tokyo was relegated into the J2 league which gave both teams a chance to play each other twice.

Note:  There are two derbies in 2011 and the game I attended was the second derby of the year.  Prior to that, it had been 3 years since the last Tokyo Derby.

FC Tokyo is currently the more popular club in Tokyo.  They have more fans and you can see their merchandise throughout Tokyo.  Tokyo Verdy is like a neglected adopted child, please pardon the simile.  In fact, Tokyo Verdy is more prestigious of the two clubs having more championships to their name.  The biggest problem was that the club lost a lot of their fans when the owners decided to move the team to the current location.  At the end of the 90s, the club itself had been suffering.  They were in a very competitive situation.  Originally located in Kawasaki, and called Verdy Kawasaki at that time, the team had to fight with another team from Kawasaki as well as two teams from Yokohama.  Kawasaki is located between Tokyo and Yokohama but for most people, Kawasaki is considered a suburb of Yokohama rather than Tokyo.  The club made a bold decision to move to Tokyo but the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Their move was at a time when FC Tokyo was starting to attract more money and fans and FC Tokyo had just been promoted to the J1 league the previous year.  In fact, FC Tokyo has always had more fans since Tokyo Verdy moved into Ajinomoto Stadium.  For a few years both teams were in the top league, J1.  In 2005, Tokyo Verdy was relegated to J2 and they have languished as a midlevel team in J2 ever since.  They did get promoted in 2008 for just one year before being relegated back to J2 the following year.  Unfortunately, I doubt that Tokyo Verdy can return to J1 anytime soon but who knows.

As for FC Tokyo, last year was a terrible season for them.  They had struggled and were relegated by a 2 point margin.  At the beginning of the 2011 season in J2, they didn’t do so well but they recovered.  At the start of the year I thought I would punish FC Tokyo by not attending a game.  I thought they needed some “tough love” but towards the end of the season they were dominating the J2 league table with only 5 games remaining.  They are nearly guaranteed to be promoted back to J1.  With this in mind and the fact that it could be the last Tokyo Derby in a while, I decided that now was the time to head to a game.  I pretty much decided just a few days before the game itself and picked up my tickets at the venue.  I have been to Ajinomoto Stadium three times now and this would be my fourth.  I figured that I knew everything there was to know about going to a game at Ajinomoto Stadium, but I was wrong.

The details of the stadium and my experience is very similar to my previous posts about going to Ajinomoto Stadium.  One of the first new things that I experienced was purchasing tickets.  I had both pre-purchased tickets and purchased tickets at the venue.  I thought that arriving an hour early would be more than enough for me to get tickets and a seat.  We had started by standing in line at the box office but learned that they set up a special tent for home team fans.  The lower bowl of the stadium was mostly reserved for the home team, FC Tokyo in the game, and there was no need to reserve seats.  It was all free seating.  I never knew that a small side tent was set up for quick sales of unreserved seating tickets and saved myself a good 20 minutes.  Upon entering the stadium grounds, everything was typical.  Souvenir shops and expensive food and beer could be found everywhere.  We kept getting side tracked with various souvenir shops but we eventually made it to the main area.  I had hoped to sit near the centre line as we were a bit late, but we had to keep going.  The area behind the main goal was reserved for the “visiting” fans but since FC Tokyo had the “home” advantage, Tokyo Verdy was limited to one small section.  In fact, there were so many FC Tokyo fans that they had to keep opening up sections until there was just half a section to separate the fans.  It was the first time I had seen that happen and it was nice to see that they would open up sections when necessary.  Unlike the previous games, FC Tokyo had a good turn out and the attendance for the game ended up being just under 36,000, a very healthy attendance for a 50,000 capacity stadium.

The game itself was somewhat surprising.  I was commenting on the game with my friend and we both agree, FC Tokyo didn’t deserve a win that day.  They had played with several of their top players being rested and they didn’t seem to be able to control the ball properly.  In fact, Tokyo Verdy was the dominate team and very hungry for a win against their rival.  The game wasn’t as interesting but thankfully by the end of the first half FC Tokyo scored a goal in extra time.  In the second half both teams seemed to pick up their game a bit.  The game had lots of spirited playing at points followed by a lull.  Tokyo Verdy kept applying pressure on FC Tokyo.  They had a corner and FC Tokyo had scored an own goal.  It was really depressing but somewhat expected from a strong Tokyo Verdy.  The game continued with a few opportunities on both sides and ultimately, the game ended in a 1-1 tie.

It was the first time that I had watched a J2 game and I am happy to say that the quality of the game was pretty similar to J1.  It doesn’t matter if the team is in J1 or J2, as many of the teams in Japan are of similar quality.  The bottom half of J1 and top half of J2 can easily fight with each other.  In fact, Kashiwa Reysol was promoted to J1 this year after being relegated to J2 for a year and they are currently at the top of the leaderboard.  It seems impossible to think of a J2 team becoming J1 league champions in their first year back but anything is possible when teams are of similar calibre in both leagues.  With ticket prices being the same for FC Tokyo, be it J1 or J2, I would say that the prices are worth it regardless of which league the team plays in.

Japanese Football aka Soccer (Tokyo Verdy VS FC Tokyo) is part of a series of posts talking about the football games that I have attended.  To read more about these games and football in Japan, please follow the links below:

Information:

J-league (Division 1) (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._League_Division_1

Tokyo Verdy (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Verdy

Tokyo Verdy (Official Site):  http://www.verdy.co.jp/

FC Tokyo (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.C._Tokyo

FC Tokyo (Official Site) (Japanese):  http://www.fctokyo.co.jp/index.html

FC Tokyo (Official Site) (English):  http://www.fctokyo.co.jp/english/index.phtml

Related Posts:

Japanese Football (Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo) (2009):  http://wp.me/piUxk-jk

Japanese Football (Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo) (2008):  http://wp.me/piUxk-3Q

Mollie Makes November 1, 2011

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Mollie Makes” complete with a photo of the published photo.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-KF

Mollie Makes is a magazine from the United Kingdom that focuses on handmade crafts.

Mollie Makes launched in the UK on May 12 priced at £4.99.

It is available in WHSmiths and Sainsbury’s and other leading supermarkets nation wide. It is also on sale in good independent newsagents and craft shops and cafes.

From June 9 MollieMakes will be available in the US, Australia and the rest of Europe.

I was recently surprised to learn that Mollie Makes was interested in one of my photos from this blog.  In 2009, I had written about Nippori, a small station in Northern Tokyo.  Nippori is a relatively unknown station to most tourists.  It is famous for many reasons, but the largest claim to fame is the fact that it is a stop on the Keisei Skyliner as people head to and from Narita Airport.  While this is the main claim to fame, it is also known for the Yanaka district, an old cemetery with many historically important people that have been laid to rest, and Fabric Town.  Mollie Makes, being a crafts magazine, was primarily interested in my post regarding Fabric Town.  It is still a very dynamic place where you can purchase various fabrics for your own crafts.  I was extremely flattered that they were interested in one of my photos for their publication.  It isn’t a great photo, in my opinion, but it does do the job of showcasing the district.  Please take a look at their website, and blog and also check out their current issue (issue 7, page 83) that features one of my photos on newsstands in the UK, Europe, and the US.

Note:  Unfortunately I don’t have permission to run the article nor do I have a picture of their cover.  The cover is a close up of a woman wearing a yellow sweater holding a cup of “chai” tea with an orange tea cozy around the cup.  It’s a real simple cover.

Links:

Original post on Nippori:  https://drutang.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/tokyo-nippori/

Mollie Makes:  http://www.molliemakes.com/about-us-2/

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