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Date Night in Chinatown

squidSo, tonight we decided to venture out and go to Chinatown in search of some nice pillows and other house decoratives.  In order to get there, we had to take one straight bus which took us about 45 minutes (even though Chinatown is really only about 15 minutes from where we live).  We got there and many of the little shops that I had intended to go visit were closed, so what does one do when in Singapore and there’s nothing else to do?? You got it!! You EAT!!!

We went to this delicious restaurant… From the outside, it didn’t look like much and probably if it was in the states, I would have thought it was serving some cucarachas, but when we got inside, it was super cute and the food was scrumptious! We ate squid with pepper (looked weird but tasted good).. looked similar the one posted.  We also ate some delicious green vegetables that were soaked in garlic and we had some seafood fried rice.  All in all, it was a good place and we will definitely repeat and take more pictures so that you guys can see what it looks like.

buddha temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

outside buddha temple

Outside of Buddha Temple–look closely you can see a man with incense in his hands praying

chinese men game

Chinese men playing game in the park

inside buddha temple

Inside of temple

Here are some pictures of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is one of the signature temples in Chinatown.  There’s also a picture of some Chinese men playing a game (they get together at this park and play a game on the weekends)–looks just like the Cuban viejos playing dominoes in El Parque Domino in Miami, so in a strange way, it always reminds me of home.

A Rip Off Here a Rip Off There—The Not So Sunny Side of Singapore

So today’s entry might sound a bit negative compared to all my other entries, but I believe in showing all sides of things—the good and the bad. So, here goes. Our experience, so far, with Singapore has been mixed. We have met many nice people and had some good food. By the same token, we have met some very not so nice people and had some pretty not so good food. The biggest difficulty, I think primarily for me being that I’m American, is that I have realized how spoiled America has me or rather how efficient and fair the U.S. is, when it comes to consumerism. Coming from the United States to a place like Singapore can be tough. Singapore presents with being the consumer nation that the U.S. is when looking from the outside in. So, when you arrive here, there are shops galore and it seems that the only thing that people do is shop. Feels and looks just like home! There are big malls, the stores are open until late every night, they sell a variety of items, and they advertise tons of sales everywhere. But, that’s where the similarities end. Once you begin shopping, you notice the differences, such as: return policies being much stricter than in the U.S., false advertising, and prices being negotiable or flexible depending on who you are. I’ll give you a few examples:

1) The other day I went to a place to do my eyebrows. They had a “special” and the lady told me that I could go get a pedicure at their partner nail salon with this “special” but that I had to pay in advance and then I could go there at any time and redeem my pedicure. I went ahead and purchased the package, since I’m always quick to buy a bargain when it comes to beauty. So yesterday, I went ahead to the nail place to redeem my “special” pedicure. I walked in, told the lady at the front desk that I had prepaid for my pedicure. She then recommended to me that I pay an extra $5 for a foot dip. An extra $5? I asked her what this was for and reminded her that I had already paid for my pedicure. She then informed me that it was to ensure that the bacteria was washed away from the bin that she was going to use and for my feet and that it is more hygienic this way. Oh well, in that case, then definitely charge me the extra $5! She then looked at my paid receipt and proceeded to tell the nail technician that I had paid for a Classic pedicure. I sat there as the lady did my nails and I enjoyed watching their TV for about an hour(since we still don’t have a tv and I’ve realized how much I miss TV). The pedicure was nice. The color came out good, she took her time, and I felt relaxed. Little did I know, my relaxation was quickly going to become major frustration! I got up ready to leave (in my naïve little head I had already paid, so all I had to do was give her the stupid $5 for the hygiene thingy—which, by the way, I still don’t understand what it was for). Anyways, she told me I could not leave yet and got on the phone and was talking to someone (I suspected the lady from the eyebrow place) for about 10 minutes in a language that I don’t understand. She then got off the phone and told me that I owed an extra $14 on top of the money I had already paid and on top of the $5. “For what?” I asked. In very broken English, she proceeded to tell me that I had only paid for an Express pedicure and she gave me the Classic pedicure. I went ahead and showed her the little receipt I had from the eyebrow lady that clearly said “Classic” pedicure and paid. Well, this lady was not budging. I got into a back and forth with her, got tired, and finally gave her the $14 because I was too tired of fighting with someone whom I could not understand and whom could not understand me. Then, as I walked out, Tariq saw the frustration in my face and came to my rescue. He insisted that we go back to the eyebrow place and continue to fight for our rights! So that’s what we did. We asked for a manager and after much fighting, we were finally informed that their employee had incorrectly written Classic on my receipt when, in fact, I had only paid for the Express. Well, Tariq (being the stubborn business man that he is) started to tell them that this was not my fault but rather their employee’s fault and that if they did not reimburse me for the extra $14, that he would be contacting the credit card company to reverse all of the charges. Well, this seemed to do the trick, as they reimbursed me for the $14 and apologized for all of the confusion. But, seriously it became a whole different approach once a man became involved.

2) That same night, we went to look for a TV. Buying a TV here has been a true mission! It takes us about an hour to get to the stores to look for the TV, by the time we wait for the bus, take the bus, and walk to wherever it is we are walking to. Anyhow, after our 1 hour journey, we finally get to the store and search for the TV. You would think that TVs are cheaper here… after all, we are in Asia (isn’t that where Samsung and Toshiba are from??) but WRONG! TVs are so expensive here and there is no such thing as Costco! So, we finally find one that is affordable and tell the sales guy that we want that one. “Oh no” he says, “Can’t give you that one, but I have this LED one, if you’d like, much better!”. To which we replied, “no thank you, we don’t need LED, we just need a cheap TV”. He then says “No stock no stock” At this point, we have no idea what is going on.. so we ask him “but can we order this one?” He then tells us in a louder voice “no stock no stock on that one, no advice why you don’t buy LED! Its better!” (but mind you the one he is trying to sell us is about triple the price of the other one and this guy has not made any attempts to check his so-called stock, as he hasn’t looked into a computer or asked anyone..he’s just standing there yelling at us to buy the LED). We, again, now even more frustrated tell him we don’t want your LED, we want this price! We then ask him can we take the display one and again he replies “No cannot sell”. All the while, there was no smile, no “sorry sir”, no “let me check a second” from this guy.  So, we left, empty handed and extremely frustrated, as they have this great TV on display for a good price that supposedly, does not exist and if it does, it cannot be bought! Tariq reminds me that this is called “bait and switch” to which I reply, “no this is false advertisement and this is illegal in my country!” Take me home!

Ahhh!! Run for Your Life!! There’s a Wolf on a Leash!!

The wolf taking in the reservoir

The wolf taking in the reservoir

One thing we’ve noticed in the past week is that there are not a lot of big dogs in our neighborhood.  We have probably seen only one other big dog and it’s a golden retriever.  Every time we take Lobo out, it’s an adventure.  I have never seen anything like it.  I’m not sure if it’s because wolves are not typical to this part of Asia so it’s like seeing an alligator in California, but people freak out every time we bring Lobo out.   Kids cry, people run, ladies hide behind their husbands, old people point, small children make comments to their parents like “Oh my GOD, they have a wolf!!”

For the past week, I have been trying to capture at least their faces on camera, so that we could document their horror, but it’s been hard to snap a photo while holding the fierce animal! All the while this ferocious wolf that I have on a leash is more terrified of them than they are of him. As they yell, point, and run, Lobo cowers, tucks his tail between his legs and hides behind either me or Tariq.  Hopefully, the more the wolf makes his rounds around the neighborhood, the less noticeable he’ll be.  Until then, Tariq and I have full protection from any dangerous people in the streets.

Singapore’s Famous Chilli Crab and Pepper Crab

Lent started about a week ago, so I’ve been really trying to stay focused on continuing my Lenten practices even while I’m abroad.  During Lent, most people abstain from eating any sort of meat on Fridays.  I thought this was a Latino Lenten practice, but when talking to Tom, he informed me that this is typical where he is from too.  So, this Friday we decided that, since we all had to eat something other than meat, we might as well eat some local Chili crab.

Singapore has a few signature dishes.  One of these signature dishes is called Chili crab.  They basically get an entire crab, throw it in a pot, and serve it in some red tomato like, chili sauce.  It’s a large dish and can be shared by several people.  They also bring you these delicious biscuits to dunk in the chili sauce when you’re done eating the crab.  Despite its name, Chili crab is not very spicy but so delicious!  We ordered one Chili crab and one pepper crab, which is similar, except for the crab is blackened with pepper.  They brought us some bibs and a crab cracker thingy and we dug in! Here’s a picture of us prior getting our hands dirty! Oh and that’s Tom and Maryanne in the picture!

Lobo is Home!

Little reservoir where we will be taking Lobo for walks

Little reservoir where we will be taking Lobo for walks

This morning they delivered Lobo at 10:30 AM.  He has been lying around most of the day.  I’m not sure if he’s confused or tired but this afternoon we will be taking him across the street to the reservoir for a nice long walk. It’s nice to have him home, although his hair has already taken over the apartment!

A Monkey Visits a Wolf

The monkey on the railing of the stairs.

The monkey on the railing of the stairs.

IMG-20130225-00006Cool thing happened today at the quarantine…. As we were approaching the gate of the quarantine we saw something moving around in the stairs nearby.  As we got a bit closer, we noticed that it was a monkey!! A little capuchin monkey sitting there on the steps eating a coconut! So cool! I sat there and watched him for a bit and took some pictures.  I wonder if he comes to taunt the dogs!

No Americans Allowed

One of our difficulties so far is that we don’t have an employment pass yet.  This is impacting our ability to open up a bank account, get internet, and even buy a TV in some places.  Today we decided jump the gun and go to a few banks to find out what is needed from our end, in order to open up a bank account.  We figured that we would plan ahead and at least get all the stuff we needed ready, so that when the employment pass finally comes in, we are ready to go.  Well, we went to HSBC first, as it’s one of the biggest banks out here.  They told Tariq what documents he needed, in order to open up a bank account and then asked if we were American citizens.  When I told them that I was an American citizen, they told me that they would be unable to provide me with a bank account there.  What?!! Yep, apparently they do not allow American citizens at HSBC in Singapore.  So, we left HSBC, moved on to Citibank, whom told us that my being an American was not a problem and that they would be more than happy to open a bank account for us.  Guess we will go with Citibank then.

Lobo brings us new friends

Today when we went to visit Lobo at the quarantine, we ran into the guy from yesterday whose dog passed away in the transport.  He was there with his wife and Tariq and I spent about 45 minutes talking to them and getting to know them.  The guy, whose name is Tom, is from Wisconsin and his wife, Maryanne is from Vancouver.  They moved to Singapore from North Dakota about a month ago.  Anyhow, they invited us out to a wine and cheese place with them.  Tariq and I decided to go along, as we have no friends here and thought that we need to start making some. We had a wonderful time comparing Singapore to the US and exchanging stories about our transitions here.  They were also able to provide us with a lot of good advice about places to go, things to do, things like grocery delivery, pet sitters, etc.  We exchanged contact info at the end of the night and Tariq and I were happy to meet another couple from the US whom we can hang out with now and then.  Thanks to our visiting Lobo!

A Sad Story about a Dog’s Travel

Today I went to visit Lobo, as I do every day and will be doing every day until he is home, and I met a guy whose dog is also at the quarantine.  We started talking and exchanging tidbits about our journey here and the dogs’ journeys.  He then went on to tell me that he was here because his wife was transferred with her job.  He told me that they had used the same petrelocation company that we used and that one of their dogs didn’t make it.  He told me that it was his wife’s dog and described him as a small cuddly cocker spaniel.  Apparently, he made it to the first stop, which was Amsterdam and once he arrived there, he was already having a hard time.  I will spare the details, as the story is sad enough already.  Anyhow, they rushed him to the vet in Amsterdam, but the little guy didn’t make it. I was left so torn up with this story because the whole process of transporting a dog to the other side of the world is so anxiety provoking and stressful.  This story reminded me of the real possibility that Lobo could have also not made it.  Even though, they are just dogs, there’s a level of responsibility that we feel towards them, as their owners.  The thought of putting Lobo through all of this and he not making it makes me realize how horribly guilty I would have felt had our story not had a happy ending.  Now, I just fear having to do the whole thing all over again when we go back to the US.  No bueno.