Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fleetingly First Class on Cathay Pacifc

One of the perks of work is to be able to travel on business class on those frequent trips to Singapore, Tokyo and other places around Asia.  
I am always thankful that I can spend the three and a half hour plane ride in more comfortable seats and a quieter atmosphere.  
This last trip to Singapore, I decided to try a different route from my usual Manila - Singapore non stop flight via PAL.  
Much as I love our national flag carrier for patriotic reasons, however the older and smaller planes they use for their Singapore route leaves a lot to be desired.
So, I decided to take a slightly longer journey and fly to Singapore via Hong Kong, on Cathay Pacific.  Plane rides mean "quiet" time for me so in this case, the longer the flight, the more "alone" time I would enjoy.

The Manila - HK - Singapore leg was pleasant and uneventful -- Cathay Pacific's business class was definitely better than PAL's.  However, when I checked in for my flight home, I was amazed to see that for the shorter HK - Manila leg, the airline had upgraded me from business class to first!
Now I would see and experience for myself, just how different the other side of the curtain was.

There were only 8 places in first class -- while I already appreciate and enjoy the roominess and comfort of the seats and leg room in business class, first class, I discovered is truly something else!

They're not called seats in first -- they're suites!  The perfect term for this spacious and private cubicle that I would call my own -- at least for the next 90 minutes!

The seat itself is at least 50% wider than business class.  Each suite has its own storage - a mini closet which takes the place of the overhead bin.

If there are two of you traveling in first class -- you don't have to miss each other's company.  While each suite is just good for one, there is a small seat right across you, where you can have company sit while they visit!  These seats though are not to be used during take off and landing.

A small vase with fresh orchids adds a pretty touch.  The HK - Manila leg is a mere hop and a skip but a light meal is offered during this late afternoon flight.

The Filipina flight attendant takes very good care of me.  As she serves the first course, a plate of fresh fruits, she thoughtfully includes a personal, handwritten message wishing me a pleasant flight.

It's a light meal and not really dinner but a bit more than a snack.  The choice includes this delightfully vegetarian friendly pasta -- with chanterelle mushrooms, spinach and a spicy roasted red pepper sauce.

I don't usually eat dessert during a flight but I had to have the full first class experience!  This mixed berry tartlet with fresh red currants was slightly sweet and slightly tart and just right after the heat of the pasta dish.

After the meal, there was barely enough time to put my feet up and relax -- my short first class experience would soon end!

These are the lights of Makati -- feels so good to be home after being away for four days.  The first class upgrade was a wonderful surprise -- thank you Cathay Pacific!  I'm sure I will be boarding one of your flights again soon!

Out of the Way at Changi Village Hotel

I always manage to have a bit of "me" time when I am in Singapore for work.  It's usually a hurried, two hour shopping spree, a late night hawker center pig out or an early breakfast at a favorite kopi place.  But this last trip the conference I attended was set far away from the city -- a S$35 taxi ride away!

Changi Village Hotel is located east of the city. It's a ten minute ride from the airport, a few steps away from the ferry terminal that can whisk you away to the outlying islands and is also within the vicinity of Changi Air Base,  the old British military headquarters and the military hospital.
The scenery is much more lush and tree lined - it seems like you're back in pre war Singapore!
Still, it's out of the way and a 30 to 40 minute ride if you seek the commercial pleasures of Orchard Road!

The top of the hotel features a roof deck infinity pool that overlooks more trees and a view of the sea. Who says the Marina Bay Sands had the first roof top infinity pool in Singapore?  This may be just 10 stories above the ground but it's still a nice place to spend a sunny afternoon in.

Since the hotel is so close to the airport, you can sit in the pool and watch the planes fly in.   I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the A380 but had no such luck!

The hotel may have been far from  buzzy and busy Orchard Road but it had a surprise going for it -- at least for me.  The whole stretch of the street that the hotel was in contained rows and rows of buildings that housed restaurants and 24 hour kopi places -- a treasure trove of foodie delights to discover!
The blue awnings over the tables and chairs that you see belong to the Old Airfield Restaurant, that includes a good number of food stalls.

Why eat the complimentary hotel breakfast when you can eat here?  I woke up early each day and snuck out of the hotel to hobnob with the locals and eat an honest to goodness Singaporean breakfast!
Mizzy Corner served a mean nasi lemak, my favorite dish!

Whole day meetings are so boring!  I kept myself from nodding off with a tall hot glass of kopi  -- check out the condensed milk at the bottom of the glass!

Lunch break and I am back outside -- again escaping from the hotel lunch buffet. A bit further down from the old Airfield Restaurant, I find the Dynamic Dining House.  With a name like that, who could resist?

This counter showcased a whole lot of indian dishes.  It's turo turo style at Dynamic Dining, pick and choose! So inexpensive too  -- rice and 4 viands costs only S$3.50!

I ask for the vegetarian selection and I get a tray overflowing with coconut chutney, a huge crisp papadum on top of my rice, fried curried carrot sticks, sauteed bean sprouts and ampalaya or bitter melon with chili.
The fork and spoon may be mismatched but the flavors blend so wonderfully together!

Dynamic Dining is full during the lunch time rush hour.  But since you choose and pick your own dishes, there is no down time at all!

I wasn't quite so alone during this lunch break.  An army of sleek black cats kept me company while I ate.

See you next time, cat -- lunch is over.  I wish I could sit and stare into space like you.
But, time to get back to work!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Enlightened Eating at Lavender Food Square, Singapore

A trip to Singapore must always come with eating old favorites in new places -- preferably in undiscovered hawker centers.  In the Lion City last week for a business trip, my first call was to friends who knew my propensity for cheap, good local food.

Lavender Food Square is a popular hawker center that I had not visited yet.  It is very conveniently located in the city and is on Jalan Besar road and is near the Farrer Park MRT stop.

The place was pretty full when we arrived at dinnertime.  Lots of people coming from work, stopping off for a bite to eat before going home. My friend said that the wanton mee from one of the stalls was the best ever in Singapore but the long lines put him off from having it that night.

Lavender Food Square is not as large as Newton Circus or Lau Pa Sat Food Center but the stalls seemed to be a bit more differentiated and interesting.  Eminent Frog Porridge at the very entrance was intriguing, to say the least.
I remember eating frog when I was very young, my father would cook it in soup, tinola style or stewed as in adobo -- what can I say, it tasted just like chicken!

Even if I were not vegetarian, I would not try turtle soup for any reason in the world.  Even my baser foodie self balked at the thought of  killing any of these gentle creatures for food.

This Fish Noodle stall according to my friends is a popular and well known favorite.  It used to be in another location but has since relocated to this hawker center.

 These handmade fish cakes were highly recommended.  They are best eaten, thinly sliced, with an order of fish ball noodles.

Here is what we ordered -- dry fish ball noodles with fish cakes. The fish balls and fish cake came floating in broth and the egg noodles were served separately, with an overly generous dose of chili paste. Egg noodles with just chives and chili paste are deliciously vegetarian!
I also ordered my other vegetarian favorite - "white" carrot cake, without the prawns of course.

My hot and spicy noodles were complemented by a tall cold bottle of Tiger Beer.  Which I had to finish, since both of my Singaporean friends were not beer drinkers.

Yong tau foo -- made with all kinds of fried and boiled soy products like  tofu skins, tofu pockets and yes, chili stuffed with tofu rounded out all the vegetarian goodness. Singapore is really a very vegetarian friendly place!

Time to leave Lavender Food Square!  The tables outside were still full -- with regulars catching up for a late snack or dinner.

We didn't realize until we walked back to the car that we were parked very near a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, right around the corner from the hawker center.  Pictures of the Dalai Lama were on the walls and there were quite a number of people listening to a monk's lecture.

Incense urns lined the sidewalk and passers by would buy incense sticks, light them and turn towards the temple to say their prayers.

This huge Tibetan prayer wheel was on one side of the temple.  My buddhist friend encouraged me to spin it and say the mantra to myself -- to bring benevolence and blessings.  
As I spun the wheel,  I felt  I had already been blessed -- to have enjoyed an evening of conviviality and friendship, once again, in Singapore.