Luke Who Turned Up For Halloween! (Pt I)

Things are done differently in Japan. Anyone from overseas living here will tell you that. Sometimes it’s for better, sometimes for worse and sometimes just indifferent. The subject of Halloween probably falls into the latter category. This event has been growing and growing over the years and is now a bigger money maker than Valentines Day but ultimately it’s getting further and further away from its original roots….not that it was ever anywhere near them!!

The Japanese are obsessed with all things cute and so the idea of dressing up in the more traditional Halloween costumes is not so appealing which is why this event in Japan is seemingly just about dressing up in any kind of costume with video game and anime characters a popular choice. With that in mind, I did it Japanese style this year and basically just use the occasion as a chance to do some cosplay.

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As a child growing up, one of my heroes was Luke Skywalker. Han Solo may have been  cooler but Luke was always the main man and the real hero of the original trilogy. Having gone out as darker Star Wars characters like Darth Maul and a Jawa the last couple of years I thought it was time to ditch that idea and go in a different direction although I did secretly keep it dark as I was wearing my Adidas Darth Vader trainers underneath!

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Having seen the X-Wing fighter pilot outfit online earlier in the year I thought that could be good as it’s different but still Halloween style! It’s orange!! What more do you want?!! I finally decided to part with the most cash that I’ve ever paid for a costume. Thankfully, my fee for the Halloween parties in Hibarigaoka the week before more than covered the outlay and in some ways even justifies buying it. It’s for work is what I say!!

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In the past I’ve always got changed in a school with a group of friends but this time I had to set off alone from my house to the station and onto the platform at Shinjuku where I met some friends to travel onto Shibuya with. Not a single person on the train was in costume as expected but that was surely about to change once we reached Hachiko right? Wrong!! As we exited the gates there was hardly a sole dressed up but once we’d crossed the famous scramble crossing it all changed as we met all manner of costumed people.

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Despite what my mum might say, Star Wars does have close-ish links to Halloween thanks to the Expanded Universe (EU). Sadly, I didn’t spot too many Star Wars characters this year but there were a couple of Darth Maul’s (maybe it was even the same one!!), C3P0, Padme Amidala and a Jedi.

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Throughout the night I was interviewed by Fuji TV three times (lots of questions about comparisons between Halloween in Japan and back home) and from those 10-15 minutes of footage they decided not to air a single second of it the following night!!

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Many people thought it was Ultraman and a fair few people asked who I was through the night. I ended up just saying “I’m Star Wars!” after a while which seemed to satisfy the Japanese! At the kids party the week before I didn’t even try to explain who or what I was so just settled for saying I was a spaceman!

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Eventually, enough was enough and rather than hanging around for another couple of hours till first train I decided to walk back on foot which took 75 minutes with me arriving back at the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre just after 4am!

“Luke Who Turned Up For Halloween! (Pt II)” will be linked here very soon!

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TF Top 5……Tokyo Bridges In Cinema!

These structures built to span such physical obstacles like water or roads come in many different designs and so often they don’t get the recognition they deserve. When you think about it, hardly ever does a character cross a bridge without something happening  whether it be a deadly battle, a car crashing through the railings, something being dropped or tossed away, a heart to heart discussion or a monster destroying a landmark one.

Bridges have always had a part to play in cinema and they have served well in transporting characters into a new phase of life and Tokyo Fox is on hand to acknowledge the role five Tokyo-based ones (as well as a bonus Saitama one!) have played in films over the years.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is the Tokyo Fox top 5…….Tokyo bridges in cinema!

1. Yanagibashi Bridge, Taito-ku: The Grudge (2004) – This green bridge opens up this American re-make of the Japanese horror movie ‘Ju-on‘ (2002) and just a stones throw away is the apartment of Peter who for some reason walks over to his balcony and then rolls over it and plummets to his death below. Now, as that’s in the first minute of the film I don’t really consider it a spoiler!! More details here

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2. Tsukuda-bashi Bridge, Chuo-ku: The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989) – This striking red bridge first appears on the hour mark as the Toxic Avenger is re-united with his long lost Japanese father. Five minutes later and a very silly fight ensues between Toxie and his fathers team of henchmen which continues on back to the bridge in question. More details here

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3. Yasakuni-dori Bridge, Shinjuku-ku: The Wolverine (2013) – Appearing on 19 minutes is  the usual shot of Yasukuni dori in Shinjuku which has featured in so many movies and TV programmes over the years and I guess it’s become the classic shot (alongside Shibuya crossing) of the neon lights of Tokyo really hitting the foreigner visiting these shores.  More details here

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It can be seen more recently in ‘Godzilla‘ (2014) as well as the Steven Seagal classic ‘Into The Sun‘ (2005). More details here

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4. Kachidoki Bridge, Chuo-ku: Godzilla (1954) – In his 15 minutes of terror, the final place to be destroyed by Gojira before returning to the ocean was this bridge (63 mins) which stretches across Sumidagawa River. More details here

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5. Hamarikyu Gardens Bridge, Chuo-ku: Into The Sun (2005) – A reflective Seagal cuts a lonesome figure on one of the gardens bridges amid the cherry blossoms in the films final moments (91 mins). More details here

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Bonus: Tokorozawa Bridge, Tokorozawa: Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2006) – A bridge too far? Certainly not! Every good  Tokyo Fox listings feature needs an extra one and this one is technically not in Tokyo but as it’s just over the border in Saitama it can qualify as the bonus bridge. It features in the films dramatic final chapter on 82 minutes and that’s all I can really say! The match-up photo’s below though do give some hint as to what happens as the film comes to a climax! More details here

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Honorary Mention: Rainbow bridge is of course the most famous and picturesque bridge in Tokyo and is seen in both ‘Kill Bill: Volume I‘ (2003) and ‘Lost In Translation‘ (2003) but rightly or wrongly that one didn’t quite make this list.

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TF Flashback – Bungy Thrillogy Pt II (2002)

In the second of this three part series Tokyo Fox looks back to Sunday 24th March 2002; the day of my triple bungy jump. I was travelling around New Zealand for a few months on the back of a years working holiday in Australia and was in Queenstown on the South Island. Thanks to the journal that I kept at the time it is now possible to recall the events of that day…

“With the first jump off Kawarau Bridge freshly under my belt, I was fairly confident, though still a bit nervous as six of us from that 43 metre jump joined the people who were doing the 134 metre Nevis Highwire jump only. One of those people already on board even had his parents with him to witness his jump in real-time.

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A private mountain access road through a high country sheep station took us on a 4-wheel-drive to our location in the rugged Nevis Canyon. This was our last chance to go to the toilet before we got our harnesses on and walked out to the viewing platform where we got our first proper look at the breathtaking ‘jump pod’ hanging  from 380 metre long cables which span the valley. From this view we couldn’t even see the Nevis river which I was thankful for really.

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We were then split into groups of six to take the cable car shuttle to the pod which was reminiscent of a UFO as it swayed in the breeze across the river. Unfortunately for me, these groups are categorised by weight with the heaviest going first which ultimately meant I would not be doing this bungy jump first! In fact, I was to be the penultimate jumper just to prolong my agony. I was still feeling pretty calm despite seeing the first few heavier people jumping into oblivion.

Finally my time came to get harnessed on to the cable car ready to join the rest of the jumpers , spectators and crew over at the ‘pod’. There was a clunk as we reached the ‘mother ship’ which was a lot larger than I expected with music blaring out of the CD player and a glass bottom to see those going before but I declined to really focus on this.

Eventually, after a long wait it was my turn and I even tried to carry on walking through the safety gate without getting harnessed on. Was I too excited or just keen to get the ‘big one’ out of the way? Once through the gate, I was sat down in a big black comfy chair but it certainly wasn’t a game of ‘Mastermind‘ that followed! Instead, I was strapped up bt my instructor and given a briefing on how and when to release the ripcord. This was not a burden I needed as I thought just to dive off the platform was enough responsibility!

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I then had to give the video camera the thumbs up and the few short moments that followed were the worst but they were over in seconds. I’m of course talking about leaving the chair and waddling on over to the edge where I saw what lay 134 metres beneath…and beyond! I gave a very assured and confident captains salute to the camera above me, took a deep breath. Only a 3…2….1….countdown this time, and like my predecessors, I was straight off diving into free fall for seven or eight quick seconds. Finally, I felt the tug which was a huge relief and then as a I bounced around for a bit I realised I was supposed to release the ripcord. I pulled the cord to the left like I had been told but nothing happened as I began to descend yet again. I anxiously pulled it harder and extreme joy was felt as my feet were released and I was left sitting enjoying the view whilst hanging in the middle of nowhere.

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As with the previous jump, the self satisfaction I felt was indescribable as I again threw my arms about in joyous celebration. After, what seemed like an eternity dangling in the peaceful mid-air I was winched back up to the pod where one of the crew informed me that my dive out was very good. I then got to watch the last jumper dive off without any nerves or tension in me. For the record, it was a Japanese girl who was very, very nervous in a giggling-type way and took a long time to do it after a couple of reservations but thankfully she prevailed.

By this time, I was absolutely starving as we took the cable car back across the valley where we saw the video’s of our jumps and got another certificate. At this point, I felt a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders which had been carried around for weeks in anticipation of doing a bungy jump……or three in this case! I still had the Urban bungy to do at night from the 47 metre ledge but that wasn’t at all in my mind as I had just jumped from New Zealand’s highest bungy site and, back in Queenstown later on, I felt like I was the king of the world!”

You can read ‘TF Flashback – Bungy Thrillogy Pt I (2002)’ here 

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TF Top 5……Lame Halloween Activities For Kids

Following the huge popularity of the top 5……lame Christmas activities feature last December it is time to cash in on the success of that and, true to form, Tokyo Fox has managed to cobble together an equally feeble Halloween edition!

With October 31st drawing ever closer, the teachers among us are probably trying to think of a few spook-tacular games and activities to jazz up our lessons. If you’re in the mood for it all and have that Halloween feeling then these can be fun times but if you’re not into the spirit then it can all be a bit of a drag. Thankfully, help is at hand and here, in no particular order, is the Tokyo Fox top 5……lame Halloween activities for kids!

Disclaimer: This is just for fun and should not to be taken too seriously! 

1. Halloween Words Pelmanism – This card game was made pretty much as a joke to amuse myself but believe it or not this was way more popular than I could ever have imagined. Basically, write some Halloween two-syllable words or two-word phrases on two bits of paper (i.e. Hallo-Ween, Black-Cat, Haunted-House, JackO-Lantern, Vam-Pire etc etc). It might be a good idea to get the students to just match up the two sets first to get them accustomed to the words. Once that’s done and dusted you can play a game of pelmanism with each student continuing to turn over another set of cards when they have got a correct pair. I used orange and black cards to get even more into the Halloween spirit.

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2. Three-Letter Conundrum – Take the flashcard letters A, B, T and get the students to re-arrange them to make the Halloween word! This activity practices (or reinforces) phonics and you could even pad out the activity beforehand by firstly eliciting each letter and any words (whether Halloween-related or otherwise!) beginning with that letter. Of course, more letters could be jumbled up and rearranged to form longer Halloween-related words. Alphamats or magnetic letters can of course be used instead of flashcards.

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3. Halloween Naughts & Crosses – Use the whiteboard and divide it into 9 squares with one lexical item (i.e. Spider, Witch….) either written or drawn in each square. The students then throw a sticky ball at each square with the winner being the one who manages to get three-in-a-row.

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4. Preposition Drawing – This can be done on the whiteboard or in the students’ notebooks (if you want the evidence to remain!) and first you get them to draw some kind of Haunted house though any kind of regular house should suffice! Then you shout out instructions like ‘the witch is by/next to the house’ or ‘the ghost is under the house’ and let the students conjure up their own Halloween creations.

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5. Stick The Tail On The Black Cat – A lame variation on the classic ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey’ party game with the students being blindfolded (or just closing their eyes) and then having to place a black tail in the correct place on the drawing of a black cat which can either be on the whiteboard or a self-created poster on the wall. Affix either magnets or sticky tape to the back and have fun!

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So there you have it! Just about any usual activity can be slightly adjusted to make it seem Halloween-y! I seem to recall doing the likes of ‘What time is it Mrs Witch?’ and ‘Is there a/an (object) in the pumpkin?’ years ago. If you’ve got a selection of Halloween flashcards, like below, then there’s a whole host of games available for you to have an enjoyable time with your students!

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You can see the ‘TF Top 5……Lame Christmas Activities For Kids’ here

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A Spook-tacular Halloween (2014)

As an adult, the years fly by these days but for kids 365 days is a very long time and the Halloween party for them remains a very popular event. Hopefully, during that gap the majority of the annual attendees forgot all about the games and activities of previous years as this year I didn’t bring anything too original to the table!

For the first session, Lai-Keun and I decided to co-teach the 15 Playgroup and Kindergarten level kids of which five of them belonged to my regular Tuesday class. As well as all the standard Halloween flashcard based activities (hide and reveal, Yes/No stations, race & find etc) we also did some reinforcement of colours via some vaguely related Halloween activity where the kids collected the necessary colour strips of paper and posted them through the mouth of a giant cardboard pumpkin face.

Yet again Lai-Keun came up with another top idea for the craft activity; making a giant hanging spider. The first part simply involved colouring one side of a paper plate with a black marker pen. They were then given some eyes (complete with double-sided sticky tape) to add. I handed out each student eight strips of paper (representing the legs!) each and they then folded and stapled them on to the plate before adding a piece of string to the centre of the plate. All sound so simple eh! Thankfully the school manager, receptionist and a load of parents were on hand to assist with the more tricky parts but overall this probably took a bit longer than expected not that it really mattered!

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As ever there was not much time to do everything in our arsenal but I did manage to incorporate something into the break which caught the attention of many. The break time is usually 10-15 minutes of having a drink (with someone inevitably spilling one every single time!) and some cheap snacks but this time I looped a Halloween video on my iPad called ‘Spooky‘ (watch it here) over and over again which reinforced some of the vocabulary they’d learned so far that morning. It was intended just as background music but quite a few were intrigued by it.

The break came much later than ever and after that there was only time for the regular finale to any party which is ‘Hit the piñata’ and this time I was in charge of holding up the giant star full of candy which they take it in turns to bash it with the baseball bat a couple of times. These hits are nowhere near strong enough to destroy the piñata, which is kind of the objective, so after everyone has had a go the piñata is emptied of its contents for the kids to collect as many as they can get their hands on!

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The afternoon group consisted of the Lower and Higher Elementary students but with a whopping 24 students in attendance we had no choice but to separate them into two groups. Lai-Keun had mostly higher level and I had the lower ones which consisted mainly of boys. I did feel a bit sorry for the two girls in the class that they were surrounded by so many guys but in the other class there was just one boy with all those girls!

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A constant stream of late-comers meant that it took a while for this lesson to get going. Knowing that Lai-Keun needed the broomsticks and pumpkins later on I started off with a double dose of sweeping action; broomstick penalty kicks followed by a more competitive round of broomstick football. Of course I ran through the flashcard lexical items and practiced that in much the same manner as earlier on albeit with the addition of a chain drill and a three-team race and circle/erase activity which for the main part worked well.

The kids’ chopstick talents were then utilised via a feed the pumpkin game and I then thankfully managed to squeeze in a game of Halloween ten-pin bowling. Having worked my way through litres and litres of water in the run up to this party I was determined to make sure we did a round of this simple fun activity. As ever, each 2 litre bottle had a Halloween-related picture attached to it and then a heavy pumpkin was thrown down at pace smashing them out of the way. Only one kid managed to get a strike though!

The craft activity followed on after that and yet again took longer than expected. Some parents were already in the school whilst this activity was taking part and we hadn’t even had the break yet alone climaxed with hit the piñata! The idea here was for the kids to make their own spider web and thankfully the school manager Junko and receptionist Yasuko were on hand to assist and help me out with this one.

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Click on the years below to see my ‘Spook-tacular Halloween’ blog entry for each one

2008     2009     2010     2011     2012     2013

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A Weekend On Batam Island (Indonesia)

No sooner had my eldest sister Ruth and her husband announced that they were going to be moving to an island in Indonesia just 20km off the coast of Singapore and I had my heart set on visiting them and stepping onto two countries which I’d yet to visit. Just over a year ago they and their three children left Mebourne in Australia behind for a new life on Batam Island and the main point of this trip was to pop over to spend the weekend with them following a day and a half in Singapore.

There’s a one hour time difference between Singapore and Indonesia so after a 60 minute ferry ride I arrived at the same time I left that afternoon! On my arrival I must have been a bit over-excited as I nearly exited without picking my bag off the scanning machine thing! Luckily, I realised just in the nick of time and could pop back through and get it and then, to my surprise, I was met not only by Ruth but all her kids too who for some reason were very excited to see their uncle!

Following a quick tour of the house we headed up the road on their estate to the Sunrise Bar which I’ve got to say is a place they’re very lucky to have. The two older kids just walked in, sat themselves up at the bar, ordered a soft drink, grabbed the remote control, watched TV and kept themselves amused for pretty much the whole night! Meanwhile, Ruth and I caught up with each other as an endless stream of the foreign resident community seemed to drop by at some point which made for a really nice atmosphere. The Bintang beers just kept on coming and I have no idea what time Ruth took the kids back home! My night continued with my brother-in-law to what seemed quite a late time but in reality was probably only about 10pm……if not earlier!!

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My Saturday’s are usually spent mucking around with, erm I mean teaching kids, but I gave that up for the day to come to Batam to spend my day with kids! Having been a pretty bad Uncle regarding birthday presents I thought I had better arrive with some goodies to hand out. Sadly the whoopee cushion (a success the last time I saw them in Australia in 2012) failed to last beyond a minute before it broke but the stickers, jigsaws and balloons went down far better than I ever really expected. Another gift was a mini chess set and my nephew Eifion was spared no mercy as I gave him a masterclass in having his ass whooped! He would later get his revenge on the wii!

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My niece Anesta does ballet lessons on Saturday mornings in Sukajadi so I went along with Ruth to see some of her class which was a unique experience for me who has never really seen any ballet. The rain was absolutely lashing down during this time so our driving tour of the area (golf courses, decaying buildings, a deserted shopping arcade and a man selling chickens!) was a bit of a washout!

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A bit later in the day, the six of us went for lunch at Montego Resort in Nongsa where a golf buggy cart transports you from the car park and reception to the restaurant. Even as an adult riding on one of these is still fun! Having had pizza the night before I thought I better take this opportunity to sample some actual Indonesian food in the form of nasi goreng which I hadn’t eaten since I went to Ayung Teras in Shibuya last year. Now, I’m known as the naughty uncle who once gave Eifion some cola (I didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to have it!) so was in a bit of a predicament when I saw Pepsi Blue on the drinks menu. Needless to say I ignored any proper responsibility and, with two of the kids curious about its taste, I had to relent and give them a rare treat!

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Of course this (part of the) trip was never gonna be anything more than just hanging out with the family doing everyday things. That included just playing with the kids in the play area which included giant cuddly bears, table football, a slide, a ball pool and all other kinds of things.

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Due to the crazy traffic on the roads of Batam we were out at about 7am the next day as we went on a quick tour of the island to give me an idea of its layout and whereabouts in the scheme of things. Later on, we went out to JCo Donuts at nearby Kepri Mall for some donuts and a trip to Carrefour Supermarket! It doesn’t get any more exciting than that on Batam I’m afraid but as a one-off it was all good stuff for me. En-route to the donut place Eifion said in the car that he didn’t want any donuts and that they were bad for you and so on. Ten minutes later he had had three of them!!

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I was given a quick tour of the estate by my brother-in-law which was fun, not so much because of what I saw (lots of un-finished houses!) but due to riding on the back of the vespa.

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Last time I saw Anesta in Melbourne she was very wary of me and I never really got too close to her. The youngest Sioned was like that this time herself but Anesta was quite the opposite and we bonded way beyond what I thought we would.

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After a spot of light lunch at home we settled in for the Japanese F1 Grand Prix and once that had concluded we went to the swimming pool next within the Sunrise Bar complex. The return journey was one of my highlights as four of us (with bags and bodyboards) piled on to the vespa to ride home. Nothing compared to the numbers of locals who ride together on board these vehicles carrying all manner of things!

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As always, it was an early start on the final morning as we took the kids to school before I had to say a sad farewell. We took a slight detour on the way so that we could get some shots of us in front of the Hollywood-style ‘Welcome to Batam’ sign!

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As I headed back to Singapore on the ferry for another day there I felt very satisfied to have spent such a nice weekend with the family doing the simple things in life and thankfully it won’t be too long before we meet again albeit in a different location and setting.

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Singapore 2014 Pt III: Day Three

After a wonderful whirlwind weekend trip to Batam Island in Indonesia it felt a little strange to be back amid the skyscrapers and modernity of  Singapore. I was quite surprised to see Jamie Oliver had a restaurant in the HarbourFront area but it was never in my mind to eat there as I had other plans!

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No better way to start the day than with some mixed pig’s organ porridge for breakfast! Along with a lime juice that was consumed at Tiong Bahru market and it was actually very nice. Yet again I wasn’t completely full though so thought I would try something else. Carrot cake may be the name given to a delicious sweet cake in the west but in this part of the world it is actually radish cake stir-fried with eggs and other seasonings which is then steamed and then pan-fried. Oh and there aren’t even any carrots in it! Chai tao kway is the local name and there are two types; black (uses sweet sauce and the egg is mixed in) or white (without sweet soy sauce and fried on top of a beaten egg to form a crust) with the latter being the one I had and it was rather tasty.

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City Hall MRT station was next and St Andrew’s Cathedral provided a quick stop before I found myself outside Raffles Hotel. Now, unlike most people I had no intention or interest in going inside this famous hotel but as I was passing by I was a little intrigued to poke my head in to see what it was all about. Well, what do you know but one thing led to another and somehow I ended up having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar! The red cocktail, which no Singaporean’s actually drink, was actually quite nice and it certainly helped me offload some of my remaining dollars!

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Just up the road from Raffles was Chin Chin Eating House which I wanted to visit for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it featured on ‘The Layover‘ (S01E01) on the Travel Channel and secondly the name has a rude meaning in Japanese and a photo of the exterior was a must for me! I wanted to try chicken rice at this popular place but it sadly wasn’t as simple as at the hawker centres. The place is geared towards groups of people sharing the food so, as a lone diner, I was left with no choice (if I wanted to sample it at all!) but to order half a chicken for myself! Naturally I couldn’t finish it all (and didn’t really want to as I needed to save room for some evening dishes) as it was my third meal back in Singapore but it was still good to try it and I managed to polish off about half of it.

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Feeling rather full, I thought it best to walk it off so I continued heading north via Bugis, Arab Street (including the Sultan Mosque) and the Thieves Market. Although I didn’t buy anything I did enjoy the latter, named as in the past it was the place to buy stolen goods, which is basically just a flea market selling all kinds of bric-a-brac.

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Having eventually located my hotel for the night I had some much needed rest before taking a stroll round the Little India area where I passed the very colourful and bustling Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple before settling down for some Indian grub.

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I eventually found a popular outdoor stall selling some back-to-basics banana-leaf style food so I stopped there for chicken biriyani eaten with the hand (not the left one though!) and then I found the Tekka Centre which I wish I had started at as it was packed full of stalls selling all kinds of Indian fare. I sampled a few little things before calling it a night. I would return for breakfast the following morning for one last culinary experience on a trip which had been pretty much been dominated by mouthwatering food.

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On the afternoon of the day I arrived in Singapore I soon realised I wasn’t going to bother with the likes of Orchard Road, the Botanic gardens, Night Safari, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and so on. I’m sure I’ll get round to seeing them next time when I arrive with my wife in tow though given her passion for such culinary delights it may be difficult to tear ourselves away from the Hawker Centres!

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