Although I was to fly out mid-morning, I still decided to attempt to fit in one more item from my to-do list, or more precisely my to-eat list: kaya toast. Kaya toast is toast with a jam made from coconut and eggs. I'd heard that the chain Ya Kun Kaya Toast serves a good version and that they have an airport location.
I caught the train to the airport, trammed from terminal two to terminal one, checked in, and began hunting for the kaya toast outlet. I quickly learned the outlet was back in terminal two, but made the mistake of walking there rather than taking the airport tram. Then, in terminal two, it wasn't listed on any maps or directories of restaurants in the terminal. I resorted to searching everywhere. I wanted my toast. I wasn't going to give up until I had to board my plane. I found it forty minutes after I started my quest, at the last possible place to search in terminal two.
To learn what I thought about my toast, read the comments on the pictures I took this day.
The flight home, transferring again through Hong Kong, was unremarkable. It was a tougher journey than going to Singapore because I stayed awake most of the flight and had to entertain myself. Luckily, the selection of shows that I could watch on the screen in front of my seat was passable. The only lesson I learned from this flight was that I think I'd prefer an aisle seat on extremely long flights because then I can get up and walk around whenever I feel like it.
By the end of trip, I wasn't tired of Singaporean food in the least. Rather, there were some dishes I hadn't got to try. I began looking for those in the bay area. I also hunted for other dishes I tried to learn where I could eat them again.
Although I was to fly out mid-morning, I still decided to attempt to fit in one more item from my to-do list, or more precisely my to-eat list: kaya toast. Kaya toast is toast with a jam made from coconut and eggs. I'd heard that the chain Ya Kun Kaya Toast serves a good version and that they have an airport location.
Posted by mark at Sunday, May 31, 2009
I spent the day finishing up sights. I'd seen all the major neighborhoods of Singapore, yet had left a small unexplored hole in downtown near the entrance to the Singapore River. This day I filled in that hole. I spent the morning exploring the south side of the hole/river then met my friend for lunch. On the way back from lunch/dessert, he drove us by the Geylang neighborhood, another old part of town. I then spent much of the afternoon in a museum, finishing exploring the sights on the north side of the river before and after. Finally, I met my friend and and his family for dinner.
These pictures complete document the day's activities. You'll also note I ended up with multiple pictures of myself this day. Shocking!
The museum I spent some of the afternoon is was the Asian Civilisations Museum. Regarded as one of Singapore's top museums, it mostly covers the history and culture of the civilizations in Southeast Asian, but also has exhibits on South Asia, West Asia/Islam, and China. A wide variety of artifacts. I'd describe the museum as decent.
Later, after dinner, my friend took me to Holland Village, a hip part of town near a university and where many expats live. On the way, we drove through Dempsey Hill, a complex of old military barracks that in the last two years have been converted into restaurants, boutiques, etc.
Posted by mark at Saturday, May 30, 2009
Aside from one (cool) gallery, I spent most of the day finishing my walking tour of Chinatown. These pictures provide details about the day's smaller sights in Chinatown; the bigger sights are discussed here.
The morning began with a trip to the Urban Redevelopment Authority's building and its two galleries: the Singapore City Gallery and the gallery displaying Singapore's 2008 (Draft) Master Plan. Between the two of them, this is the museum-like sight I found myself most thinking about and remembering from my time in Singapore, perhaps because they combine my interests in architecture, design, and maps with a twist of policy.
These galleries contain incredible models of the city of Singapore and the country. The two models of city show every building in its correct shape and size. You have to see the pictures to truly appreciate this fact. I like that I visited the gallery near the end of my trip to Singapore because it allowed me to identify many sights and put everywhere I'd seen in perspective.
The city gallery also has nice exhibits on the history of Singapore and on how the city and even particular neighborhoods developed. In addition, it describes some of the city's architectural features, including the designs of shophouses and bungalows.
The master plan section of the gallery hypes the plan that describes in detail the improvements the country plans to make to each district. I appreciated this rare glimpse into how a country / city plans its evolution, answering questions about how to make a place livable, how much space to keep for nature, how to conserve historical features while allowing growth, etc. The redevelopment authority describes how decisions are made and calls for feedback on the plans. The most interesting single statistic I learned from these exhibits is that most of the populace live in government housing.
I then spent a good hour exploring parts of Chinatown I didn't see the previous day.
For lunch, I was finally near the respected Hong Lim hawker centre when most shops were open. (Recall that I previously tried to visit late at night but found mostly everything closed.) Well, the second time was not the charm. The famous laksa place I wanted to try in this hawker centre was closed for vacation :(. Instead, I went for my second choice, a well known purveyor of a different dish.
After lunch, I explored Chinatown further. I spent some time in Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, a large Chinese department store. It didn't allow pictures. :( The building, formerly a hotel, is an airy space, and even includes a nice koi pond. I browsed a display of wooden, carved teapots ranging in price from tens of dollars to ten thousand dollars. I saw pretty, decorative clay pieces as well as stunning glass figures. One of the six (?) floors was devoted for food. Surprisingly, there's relatively little clothing for sale here.
I also spent thirty minutes in the Chinatown Heritage Centre. It's a small museum in an old shophouse that evokes, through quotes, the plight of immigrants (opium, gambling, crime). At first I thought it definitely wasn't worth the price of admission, but then I found the adjacent building (another shophouse), with rooms modeled after how people used to live. After that, I felt less strongly about the museum being overpriced, though still stand by the sentiment.
The Chinatown Complex was my last major stop in Chinatown before I had to get ready for dinner. The complex, really a market and food court / hawker centre, is gigantic. There are over 200 food stalls. I know because they're numbered. I was looking for a particular one and even had its number, but it wasn't where it was supposed to be. Sometimes they move. Ah well.
In the evening, I finally met up with an old college friend of mine who lives in Singapore. (We didn't meet earlier because he was traveling for business.) His family invited me, along with a few of his other old friends (in this case, from high school), over for dinner. They're friendly people, all in the same line of work (finance). I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures of the people or the food at dinner, but I do remember one really good eggplant dish.
After dinner, his wife stayed behind to watch their baby, and the rest of us walked to nearby Clark Quay for drinks at China One, one of the many hip bar-lounges in the area. It wasn't quite my scene. The music from the live band was too loud, and the chips came from a bag and the salsa from a jar. I had a Tiger Beer, a good pilsner that's sold everywhere in Singapore.
Posted by mark at Friday, May 29, 2009
I took extensive pictures this day. Thus, this blog entry is correspondingly short.
Tired from my trip to Melaka, I slept in. When I arose, I grabbed a simple breakfast at my hotel and ventured out to explore Chinatown. I toured about half of Chinatown (including the impressive, richly decorated Thian Hock Keng Temple), then grabbed an extensive lunch in a food court. Oddly, though I wrote in my notes over lunch that Singapore's heat tends to make me less hungry, I seem to have eaten a lot. After lunch, I headed out to commune with nature. (Did you notice my entire trip thus far had been urban?)
I'd planned to go to the zoo after exploring some of Chinatown. However, I left one hour later than I hoped, and it was taking me longer than I expected to get there. While en route, I decided that I couldn't give the zoo the time it deserved before it would close for the night and instead backtracked via subway and bus to the National Orchid Garden. I alighted late from my bus and had to hike back one stop in the heat. Phew!
The Orchid Garden was very pleasant, perhaps perfect for what it was. The VIP section of the garden included orchids named after people. As you can tell from the pictures, some were pretty; some were not. In the end, however, I decided I'm not a great fan of orchids.
With dusk approaching, I explored the surrounding Singapore Botanic Gardens. Though I only saw a fraction of the botanical gardens, I wholeheartedly approve of their design and aesthetic. I saw waterfalls, lakes, the ginger garden, the bonsai pavilion, and the cactus garden (which I really liked).
As night fell, I made my way back to the bus stop. A bus, subway, and bus ride later, I made it to the location of my evening activity: the Night Safari. It's located near the zoo. Given my afternoon experience, I had a revised estimate of how long it would take to get there from the gardens, but it took even one hour longer than my guess.
The Night Safari is an opportunity to tour a zoo filled with nocturnal animals under gentle red lights that allow some visibility but don't disrupt the lives of these creatures. I thought it was neat, but I'm not especially endorsing it. Nevertheless, it really is one of those places you have to go to; the pictures don't do it justice. In between touring the safari, partly on foot and partly via tram, I stopped by the resort for dinner and caught part of a Bornean tribal performance. The dart gun component bored me, and I had trouble seeing due to the crowds, so I left and thus missed the fire tricks. Instead, I ate. Maybe what I missed was good, maybe not.
After touring the safari, I caught the last train back to the city... with three minutes to spare.
Posted by mark at Thursday, May 28, 2009
I took these pictures this day.
In the morning, I wandered by a couple temples and churches on the way to Kampung Morten, a part of Melaka with some traditional Malay houses. It's a pleasant place on the river.
I then found the Architecture Museum was open--my guidebook said it was supposed to be closed on Mondays--and explored it. It's a little museum with a good number of models of different Malaysian house designs, along with pictures of numerous historic or famous buildings. It's almost too bad the museum covers all of Malaysia and thus I never saw most of the building styles of the buildings it highlights: Malay versions of Chinese, Indian, Thai, and various indigenous people's designs.
I visited the Maritime Museum next. Spread over a ship and two buildings, it was mostly about maritime trade (with some mention of Portuguese mismanagement), colonial rulers, naval protection of Malaysia, and marine life. These topics were portrayed through dioramas, paintings, and model ships; the last went well with the previous museum's models. One building was the Royal Malaysian Navy Museum, containing uniforms, plaques, insignias, a naval helicopter, another tour-able ship, big ship-mounted weapons, a radar station, and various military knickknacks (bands, instruments, etc.).
I went to lunch, then entered Stadthuys for its Museums of History & Ethnography. The ethnography museum included pottery, weapons, kitchenware, furniture, musical instruments, many dioramas, parts of houses, and lots of information about the complicated twelve-day Peranakan wedding ceremony. The museum was much better than (and certainly larger than) the Malay museum in Singapore.
The history museum portrayed the story of Melaka as told through 66 paintings accompanied by text and some more models. As with the Maritime Museum, the paintings were unattributed. I really liked this exhibit--I found the history interesting and the paintings evocative--and would likely buy the book if they make it into one. I took a picture of one of the paintings and the related text so you can get a flavor of what the exhibit was like.
I stopped by the Gallery of Cheng Ho.
The Museum of Literature was closed for repairs.
I walked through the Governor's Museum. Originally a dutch mansion, it was used as the governor's house for many years. The guard there wanted to talk, and we ended up talking politics, mostly Obama. The guard thought that a "black man shouldn't be number one" but was good as "number two." He cited Colin Powell as an example. He supported his argument by pointing out how few black men are in leadership roles. I countered, saying that one doesn't see black men in leadership roles because of lack of practice; they're not given the opportunity to take big leadership roles because they're not allowed to take small leadership roles. I also argued that white men can screw up governing, citing the bad management of Melaka by various occupying powers over the years. (Melaka had been governed by locals before being conquered by the Portuguese, conquered again by the Dutch, traded to the British, occupied by the Japanese, and finally sometime received independence. During most of those years, the city didn't experience any growth.) The guard said that situation was different: leadership due to occupation versus leadership appointed by the people.
Next I visited the Democratic Museum. The museum covers the history of the government of Malaysia and its organizing principles. I was surprised to see references to Islam, praise Allah; most democracies don't wear their religion so much on their sleeve. I guess this is a good time to remark that everything I read about in Melaka closes early on Friday afternoon for weekly prayers.
Finally, it was time for me to find my ride back to Singapore. First I cut through an ordinary shopping mall to get to a hotel where a guidebook said some luxury buses leave from. I should've read the fine print in my guidebook that listed the time and explained they only leave once a day. I was too late. Instead, I tried to a get a taxi to take me to the train station, but the driver looked at the train schedule and insisted he wouldn't be able to make it in time. Rather, he suggested bringing me to the central bus terminal, as buses leave from there to Singapore all the time. I agreed, and he was right. I arranged one of the sooner, cheaper buses, which was to leave in an hour. While waiting, I wandered the bus terminal's fairly shoddy mall.
The bus stopped at a restaurant on the way to Singapore. I thought about buying something, then realized I'd already converted all my Malaysian ringgits to Singapore dollars.
Once in Singapore, I began a long (too long!) search for food. I tried to go to a particular hawker centre. I'm not sure if I found it. (Whatever I found was certainly closed; whether it was the hawker centre, I'm not positive.) Eventually, I made it to a hawker centre I previously visited and knew was open late. I ate. After dinner I was so lazy/tired, I took a taxi five blocks to my hotel. Although the fare was S$3.20, the total was almost double that due to surcharges and fees. Watch out!
Perhaps because I checked in so late, the hotel upgraded me to an executive room. The only difference between this room and the one I had the last time I stayed in this hotel was the view, but, in the process of upgrading, they also upgraded me to executive privileges (e.g., free internet, breakfast). :) They didn't have to do that.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I decided to take a two-day break from Singapore to travel to Malaysia. I eventually settled on Melaka because it was reachable by bus (i.e., didn't require a plane), was small enough so that two days would be about right to comfortably see the city, and was alleged to have a lot of history and old-world charm. (It's true.) After all, it's hosted most major colonial powers over the years. That said, it's still undergoing renovation; in the historic, mainly-Chinese district, for instance, some buildings have been restored while others (on the same blocks) remain in disrepair.
In retrospect, my main memory of Melaka is its museums. It has an astounding number of them. (Count how many I visited over these two days, plus how many I skipped.) I say with confidence that Melaka must have more museums per capita than anywhere in the world.
Some other observations about Melaka:
- The town definitely feels foreign, but not in the offensive grab-tourists'-money style of India.
- Because so many streets are one-way, I didn't have confirmation what side of the road people drove on until near the end of my second day in town (though I'd guessed earlier based on where the steering wheel was located).
- Pineapple tarts were everywhere. They're the town's specialty. Surprisingly, I didn't end up trying any.
- Malaysia may have the same problems with trademarks as India: I saw three Restoran Famosa Chicken Rice Balls, two on the same block. They didn't look related.
I awoke early to catch my 8:00am bus to Melaka/Malacca. I didn't know what to expect from the bus or from Malaysia. Would it be like bus travel in India? Nope: riding the luxury tour bus, Grassland Express, was like riding in a fancy bus in any country. And, as I soon learned, the highway we took in Malaysia is better maintained than highways in the bay area.
Nevertheless, it was bit traumatic when I got off the bus in a foreign country and didn't know where to go because I didn't know where I was. The other passengers quickly disappeared. I didn't have any local currency. Happily, I didn't feel abandoned for long; I spotted a church, located it on my map, and walked to the center of town, withdrawing some money on the way.
In the center of town, I got my bearings, took a ton of pictures, and headed to lunch. (Yes, it was lunchtime: the bus ride took about four hours.) Lunch, by the way, was 4 ringgits, about one-third the price of hawker stands in Singapore (S$4).
From lunch, I headed to the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, located in a restored high-ceilinged house where a millionaire used to live and three nearby townhouses holding his extended family. The grandchildren own the house and manage the museum. The museum is basically the house; a tour comes with the price of admission. The house is elaborately but tastefully decorated. (Sorry, photography was prohibited.) There's gold-leaf-plated hard wood, Italian marble, carved chairs, an English planter chair, a Dutch cabinet, lanterns, embroidered silk scrolls, a Venitian mirror, English dinnerware, Victorian silver. The tour guide was good at putting objects in context with Chinese and modern Peranakan traditions.
The house was made with no nails. There's also an interior courtyard, called an air well, with a fountain lined with Portuguese tiles, that's used for ventilation and for collecting water for washing.
Also, the house has a gate at the top of stairs that gets locked at night. Besides preventing robbery, it insures (under threat of being locked out) the kids and husband don't return too late at night. There's also a peep hole from the second floor to see who's knocking at the first-floor door.
The guide mentioned a common Malaysian expression that I thought was worth noting:
If you aren't married, no matter how old you are, you're not an adult because you don't know your responsibilities.
After the house tour, I explored some of the countless temples in the Chinese district, then wandered to Bukit St Paul and explored its vicinity. There, I skipped the stamp museum because I was sure Singapore's would have to be better. I did browse the Independence Museum but found Lonely Planet's description spot-on: there's too much text (hundred of poster-sized sheets of info) and very few objects (half a dozen or maybe a dozen display cases). I then walked by but skipped some other museums (e.g., Malaysia museum, Islam museum, Customs museum, Educators museum, and a couple that didn't have their name translated into English).
Throughout the day, I stopped by hotels. I'd already done research on which hotels were decent and in the price range I was willing to pay, so I simply stuck my head in hotels as I passed them to see how they looked, check for vacancies, and find out the current rate. This hotel hunting was easy because I left most of my stuff in Singapore (a smart idea, if I do say so myself); all I had to do was carry around a small overnight bag all day. I ended up in Hotel Mimosa (yes, it turns out to have a web page), for which I paid RM118, about a third to a sixth of what I was paying in Singapore. Admittedly, I'd only call it passable; it certainly wasn't as nice as the places I stayed in Singapore.
After dropping my stuff off at my chosen hotel, I walked at dusk/night to another hotel, a fancier one with four (!) restaurants.
Note to self: I also missed the Cheng Ho Museum, a museum in honor of a Chinese admiral, and Medan Portugis, the center of Portuguese life in Melaka (not close to downtown).
Posted by mark at Tuesday, May 26, 2009
These pictures describe the day's sightseeing much more than this entry does.
The day began with an exploration of Little India, then a break for lunch at the Tekka Temporary Market. You wouldn't believe how many butchers, fishmongers, and produce vendors and even clothing retailers are there. After lunch, I spent more time exploring Little India and its religious buildings. Given how Indian Little India feels, it a bit funny to see scattered Chinese characters around.
I also stuck my head in Albert Center, which looked like another good market. Though not hungry, I was pleased to spot a number of rojak booths; this was another dish on my should-eat list for Singapore, but most of the places famous for it weren't downtown. I was worried because I hadn't been seeing many rojak booths anywhere.
While in Little India, I was also pleased to see regional Indian/Pakistani restaurants that one doesn't normally find in the states (e.g., Gujarati and Kashmiri).
I walked to Kampong Glam (the Arab Quarter). The quarter is small, perhaps five blocks and five blocks, and it's clear many Chinese and other non-muslim/non-malay restaurants and markets are encroaching. I stopped by the quarter's famous mosque, then proceeded onto the Malay Heritage Centre. There, I came across a festival of the type I often attend in the bay area. I learned later that it was sponsored as part of the Singapore Food Festival.
I explored the small museum within the centre. It took only thirty minutes. My guidebook has an interesting story about how the museum came to be:
There's a bit of irony here. The museum is housed in the Istana Kampong Gelam, the former royal palace that housed the descendants of the original sultan that oversaw Singapore. In 1819, Sultan Hussein signed away his rights over the island in exchange for the land at Kampong Gelam plus an annual stipend for his family. After the Sultan's death, the family fortunes began to dwindle and disputes broke out among his descendants. In the late 1890s, they went to court, where it was decided that because no one in the family had the rights as the successor to the sultanate, the land should be reverted to the state. The family was allowed to remain in the house, but because they didn't own the property they lost the authority to improve the buildings. Over the years the compound fell into a very sad state of dilapidation. Eventually, Sultan Hussein's family was given the boot by the government to make way for this museum heralding the value of the Malay, and the Sultan's, cultural contribution to Singapore. Hmm.
After the centre, I explored the Arab Quarter further, returned to Little India to visit another temple, and then had dinner.
For dinner, I headed to Banana Leaf Apollo. It's famous for one of the (many) must-try dishes I had on my list: fish head curry. Quite an experience! (See the pictures.)
Posted by mark at Monday, May 25, 2009
The day began with me lugging my bag on a long, mostly indoor trek to yet another new hotel. (I couldn't remain in the old one at a reasonable rate.)
After dropping my bag off, I grabbed a backpack and camera and ventured out for my first full day of exploration. And full it was--I did a lot. I also took a good number of pictures this day.
I began by exploring downtown / the colonial core. Among other places, I visited the four-star Raffles Hotel. It turned out to be more a shopping complex with countless high-end stores nestled in courtyards and plazas around the hotel than a hotel itself. Although I didn't get to see the supposedly splendid restored interior rooms, I did get to visit the attached little museum of historic memorabilia about the hotel, which includes items such as one-hundred-year-old travel guides.
After some exploration, I had lunch to dodge the rain, and split the rest of the afternoon between additional sightseeing outdoor and viewing museums indoors (to avoid the heat and the occasional rain). Perhaps this is a good time to mention that in the morning, whenever I left a building, my glasses fogged up, a clear example of Singapore's heat and humidity.
My first museum was the Singapore Art Museum. The museum, which frequently rotates exhibits, had displays in a variety of formats: photographs, paintings, calligraphy (sometimes on scrolls), sculpture, and ink (again sometimes on scrolls). I liked their modern art section and liked even more their special exhibit, Post-Doi Moi, on Vietnamese modern and contemporary art (i.e., post-1990). It occupied half the museum. (I couldn't find a description of the exhibit on the museum's web site, so I linked to a very good description I found elsewhere, putting the exhibit in the context of Asian art, modern art, and Vietnamese politics.) My reaction to the special exhibit really surprised me: I felt the pieces were generally very good and showed a sentiment, a liveliness, a creativity, a lack of irony, and a visual appeal that I rarely see all at once in Western modern art. As photography was prohibited in the museum, I wrote down the names of pieces I especially liked in hopes I could look them up online later to find more details and a picture of them. After much difficult web searching, I present:
- The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains by Xu Beihong. A large ink and color painting: picture, one essay about the work, another essay.
- The Dictator by Le Quang Ha. A scary ink drawing: picture, article in Vietnamese containing the picture, English translation.
- Missed Connections by Rich Streitmatter-Tran. I believe I liked this short video because of the way the museum described it.
- Traditional Family. This may have been by Streitmatter; I'm not sure. Regardless, whatever it was, I also liked it because of the description by the museum telling the viewer what to get out of it.
- Living Fossils by Vuong Van Thao. The artist makes and encases models of Hanoi's old buildings in resin. Novel work, neat architecture, and a strong statement (scroll down for the "artist statement"). Also, here's an article on this series of work.
- Human Making Love to Sovanmachha by Chin Sothy.
- Song of the World by Abdul Wahab bin Hj Jaafar. From the name, this clearly isn't the Vietnamese exhibit. But if I'm reading my notes correctly, it's something I liked.
- Golden Monks (23 Monks) by Min Wae Aung. In the Burmese section of the museum. A line of yellow-robed monks walking across a desert.
After more downtown, I entered the Peranakan Museum. Peranakan is the mixed ethnicity that resulted from the merging of the Malay and the Chinese; men are called babas and women are called nonyas. The museum shows Reranakan history and culture, especially through weddings, upbringing, religion, clothing, and pottery. I appreciated that the museum has good descriptions of everything. There was also a neat special exhibit, "Junk To Jewels," in which Peranakan families displayed family heirlooms. Some items were brought to life through the quotes on plaques, as families explained how and why the item is important to them.
A more substantial museum, the National Museum of Singapore, followed. I began by taking an audio tour through its largest exhibit, the History Gallery. The exhibit has two paths: the events path, which takes a historian's perspective, and the personal path, which takes the perspective of an average person on the street. I tried both paths at times, getting an interesting counterpoint between views of the same events. There was, however, way too much info and I found that I didn't have enough patience. Nevertheless, I should mention the gallery was very well done, with many objects, pictures, and more. (For instance, I learned that William Pickering, an early governor of Singapore, quelled riots with bagpipes.) The audio tour was entertaining as well, with lines such as, "hey, you found the number on the floor. great!" I couldn't tell if it was sarcastic or self-mocking or something else. Also, I was impressed that audio-tour device automatically triggered the movie displays in the gallery.
The museum also had five other galleries on photography, Indians, food, film/theather, and fashion. The food section included delicious details; you can see by the number of pictures I took how excited I was. The film/theater section also covered Chinese opera and puppetry. One exhibit was high-tech--I don't recall which one--with lots of videos and touch screens and ambient sound.
As dusk fell, I explored Fort Canning Park. It's a moderately-sized park on a hill with a bunch of history. I like the fact that it has plaques/explanation of its history scattered around. The spice garden has even more plaques explaining spices and herbs and describing their uses and cultural context. Most of the content in the general plaques were names and dates: boring stuff.
As I the left the park, I happened across the Singapore Philatelic (stamp) Museum, which, due to the Singapore-wide night festival, happened to be open and free. I'd previously decided to skip it, though I took this fortuitous encounter as a sign I should enter. The museum includes exhibits on rare stamps, designing & printing stamps, famous stamp designers, and famous collectors. It has all stamps issued by Singapore over the years, providing a neat glimpse at how the country's sophistication and themes have changed. It also has stamps that were issued from when Singapore was a colony until its independent statehood a hundred years later. And, of course, there are many international stamps on display.
Oddly, the museum also had an (out-of-place) special exhibit on Vietnam where I learned about water puppetry, saw many pretty Vietnamese postcards, and saw Chinese stamps before, during, and after the communist and cultural revolutions.
For dinner, I first headed to Hong Lim food Complex but discovered it was too late at night and all the eateries on my recommended list were already closed. Instead, I detoured to a local chain, Jumbo Seafood, that's said to make a good examples of Singapore's national dish: chili crab. As is often the case, the details are in the pictures.
Posted by mark at Sunday, May 24, 2009
Although the conference officially ended the day before, I stayed to attend a workshop. Thus, my day was pretty filled. These pictures show the little that I did this day.
After the workshop ended, I promptly left to check into my new hotel. Because I refused to be moved into a room with two single beds, the hotel upgraded me to a better room on the 28th floor! Even before I got upgraded, I could tell this hotel was nicer than my last one.
My hotel room felt like a command center with a, well, commanding view of the city. A panel by the bed controlled all the lights and air flow throughout room. In addition, the way the screen and heavy curtain on the wide panoramic window rose and fell, controlled using a remote, made it seem like a military complex. Down, and we're in lock down. Up, and it's like Star Trek putting something on the large viewscreen.
As I learned when it started raining sporadically while I hunted for dinner, the presence of many malls downtown means it's easy to get around in the rain--just jump in a mall and walk its length until it connects to another. While walking these modern malls, I decided they felt a bit too clean. Also, Singapore has lots of elevated walkways downtown for crossing roads, meaning you don't have to wait at lights.
Posted by mark at Saturday, May 23, 2009
These pictures accompany this narrative.
After grabbing a quick breakfast at my hotel, I ventured outside. It was pouring so I, lacking an umbrella, did the extravagant thing and took a taxi the two blocks to the conference hotel.
After the morning's sessions, I headed out for lunch, returning to the Tiong Bahru Food Centre which I'd visited for dinner a few days before. I discovered the mall's first floor is a fresh produce, meat, and fish market. I wandered around, looking at funky fruits and vegetables. Most of meat stands were already closed when I arrived at 1pm.
I planned to ditch the conference after the afternoon panels to head off to explore Orchard Road. However, I ran into my coworkers, who I had felt bad ditching for lunch and who I wanted to hang out with more, and walked with them to the (upscale) Great World City mall. When we returned to the conference venue, I headed out to Orchard Road. (Yes, I invited my coworkers, but they all had other things to do, including catching planes.)
Orchard Road is Singapore's shopping street. It's long and packed with hotels and glitzy and not-so-glitzy malls. I began my tour of Orchard Road on the end with the presidential palace (which we weren't allowed to approach). The pictures document some of the sights. At least judging by Orchard Road--which is admittedly one of Singapore's newer neighborhoods--, the historical places I visited were unimpressive/hard to notice, at least compared to the density and quality of sights in India.
I didn't go shopping during my walk along Orchard Road. I didn't think shopping in these modern malls would feel distinctive to Singapore.
After exploring the major part of Orchard Road, as I didn't know any places I wanted to eat in the area (does the modernity kill the places for good, cheap, unusual food?), I hiked to the Zion Food Centre. I got lost on the way, but it was no big deal. After dinner, I stopped in the nearby Great World City mall (again) for dessert and then walked home.
Posted by mark at Friday, May 22, 2009
After another busy day of talks, we were bussed to Sentosa island for a fancy beach-side banquet dinner. Sentosa is a big resort island that, aside from this event, I didn't see because its attractions (e.g., resort stuff, amusement park) didn't interest me much.
I took these pictures during the day and at Sentosa.
As for the fancy buffet, aside from one good piece of steak, the hotel buffet meals at the conference venue were better. Also, although the beach setting was nice, I was more uncomfortable in terms of temperature and humidity there at night than walking around Singapore proper. I guess it's being so close to the water.
Posted by mark at Thursday, May 21, 2009
On this first full day of the conference proper, I was busy listening to talks. Thus, I don't have much worth mentioning. I had two meals in the conference venue and a third with some coworkers at a restaurant in Little India. Although we took the taxi there, we walked back. I took a few pictures of day's meals and sights. (Sorry, I didn't take pictures of dinner itself or of Little India, and only took a couple during the walk back; it just didn't feel right. I took pictures of many of these sights later.)
Posted by mark at Wednesday, May 20, 2009
On my first full day in Singapore, I attended a tutorial at the conference, where I learned one shouldn't attend tutorials in areas one already knows. (While I knew I knew much of the material covered, the description made me think there was more there. Although there was a little more there, it wasn't what I expected and generally not worth the time of sitting through the material I already knew.)
Aside from the conference, I ate breakfast at a buffet at my hotel, lunch at a buffet at the conference venue, and, to continue getting more true tastes of Singapore, dinner at a nearby hawker center. Breakfast, however, did provide a hint of the variety of people who visit Singapore; the buffet included not only traditional continental breakfast items (e.g., danish and french pastries) but also Japanese rice, glutinous rice, congee, and miso soup. I took pictures of all this. Incidentally, I woke at 7am, which wasn't bad for switching nine time zones.
I got to the food centre for dinner by taking a bus, realizing after the fact that it didn't go down the street I wanted, getting off, and hiking, eventually finding my way back. I was almost misled by a shopping mall with the same name as the food centre, but when I couldn't find any of the particular stores I expected to find, I realized it was too upscale and not the right place. The hawker centre I wanted wasn't much farther along.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I had a pleasant overnight flight on Cathay Pacific from San Francisco to Hong Kong: decent seats, decent service, decent food (three choices for dinner, two choices for breakfast, listed on a menu in both English and Chinese). The flight's length didn't bother me.
I took some pictures en route.
Because of my direction of travel, I witnessed no sunrises or sunsets from the plane. It was dark all the way to Hong Kong. As we descended into Hong Kong, the sky turned the pale gray that hints of the forthcoming dawn. The sun rose as I went through security in HK, so I got to see Hong Kong in the distance in early morning light.
On my short flight from Hong Kong to Singapore, they fed me once again.
Singapore's airport, Changi, is a marvel other airports should emulate. It has free internet and even free computer kiosks. The shops, I'm told, have price caps that disallow them from charging anything above the going retail rate one can find elsewhere in Singapore. I'm also told the government's tourism bureau provides free tours of the city for people with long single-day layovers. But best of all, the visitor's booth provides only government-printed brochures on a variety of topics, and they're all very well done. Maps for walking tours in interesting neighborhoods. A large booklet introducing Singaporean cuisine and particular dishes and where to find good examples of them. General booklets on the island on places to eat, things to see, activities to do, and more. Unlike travel elsewhere, I didn't have to sort through brochures produced by random businesses or attractions touting their possibly tourist-trap destinations, all filled with additional advertisements for whoever else payed the brochure-designing company the most.
I caught the subway to the station closest to my hotel, then took a taxi the rest of the way. (I didn't want to get lost wandering with my luggage in the heat after such a long plane flight.)
Once settled, I ventured out for dinner, taking these pictures of my excursion. I found my way to Orchard Road, Singapore's main shopping street and its countless five story shopping malls. (Yes, there are so many I lost count.) I'd return to explore the area another day; I was mainly looking for food. Eventually, I found a dingy food court filed with locals and ate there.
I returned to my hotel and was in bed by nine or ten p.m., a reasonable time for having changed so many time zones.
Posted by mark at Monday, May 18, 2009
I visited Singapore from July 19, 2008, through August 1, 2008. Although I was nominally there for a conference, which took up most of my first week, the rest of the time was purely for exploring the city/country.
Aside from the heat, I liked Singapore. But the heat is a big caveat. After two nights in Singapore, I wrote in my notes: "hot, but not the kind of hot that makes you want to sit in the shade and sip a cool drink; rather, the hot that makes you want to escape. muggy." Later, I got slightly more used to it, though the general sentiment of preferring escape rather than shade and liquids still hold. Although the first week I was there was generally overcast, the second week was sunny, causing me to write in my notes: "now I see the point of sun umbrellas. Hats are too warm." My biggest issue with the heat and humidity was that I had to consciously walk slower, otherwise I'd sweat, and the sweat wouldn't evaporate. I kept forgetting to slow down. It was a hard habit to start.
[Somehow I lost my copy of the last half of this paragraph and the beginning of the next one. I've reconstructed it as best as I could from memory.]
One of my guidebooks described Singapore as Asia 101. I think that's accurate. It's a melting pot of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian. Indeed, I say melting pot in the strictest sense: interesting things have evolved as these cultures and people have mixed. Sure, Singapore feels a bit foreign, with temples in a variety of Asian styles, unusual Asian dishes, and languages other than English commonly spoken, but it's a fully-developed country that's very friendly to visitors. Most people speak English, at least in some form. (Mandarin is the language heard most often.) All signs are in English. The city is clean, cleaner than most American cities. The tap water is safe to drink. The bathrooms certainly meet Western levels of cleanliness. The public transportation system is easy-to-use and efficient. People obey traffic laws and there's no honking downtown. There are many modern skyscrapers and snazzy shopping malls (nice places to retreat to in the heat). Indeed, given all the above, especially because language isn't much of a hurdle, the city is easy to navigate.
There are two caveats to this Singapore-is-Asia-101 claim. One, Singapore lacks history whereas most other Asian nations have it: very little in Singapore dates to more than two centuries ago. Two, being white in Singapore doesn't attract attention. This is a sharp contrast with my experience in India. With the exception of popular tourist attractions, there were very few white people in sight. (By the way, most tourists were Chinese.) Nevertheless, I seemed only to attract attention--tourist destination or not--at the same times I attract attention in the states: when I do something strange like photograph my food or a road sign.
Singapore, as a major Asian financial center, is devoted to capitalism. Everything within the country reflects the philosophy that if you put the right incentives in front of people, everything will work out. For example, parts of the city use congestion pricing (it costs money to enter/exit) that change dynamically. Taxis, in addition to changing congestion costs, charge more during rush hour and during the wee hours of the morning. The public transit system charges more if you use a card, not a reusable token, and more if you ride a bus with air conditioning versus one without.
These fees are enforced and processed electronically, making the transportation network easy to use. Electronic subway cards are mostly refundable. (Why don't American cities use refundable cards?) As another example of the smoothness of this system, as I learned when traveling with a local friend of mine, parking fees are enforced by card. One buys a booklet of cards and, when one wants to park, one simply punches out holes corresponding to the day and time. Each card is worth an hour of parking. No more trying to figure out strange parking meters.
I did run into minor difficulties finding my way around. One, although shopping malls and tourist sights were well covered on most maps, hawker centres / food courts were not (too low class?). Most maps have only a couple, and even then they're sometimes out of date as centres often get temporarily moved as part of a capital improvement plan. I'm glad I carried five maps with me--sometimes only one had the location of the hawker centre I was looking for, despite all maps covering that area. Of course, if you don't care as much as I about where you eat, this isn't an issue.
Two, the two times I needed to use a bus (as opposed to the subway) over my two-week trip, I found it hard to determine the appropriate route. I didn't find a good map that contained all the bus routes.
My strongest memory of Singapore is the food. Singapore, as a major metropolitan hub, attracted people from a number of Chinese provinces, in addition to Malaysians, Indonesians, and Indians. As they mixed, these groups' cuisines combined to produce a veritable smorgasbord of novel dishes. Singapore is obsessed with food. As evidence, consider that not only does the government produce a lengthy guide describing the highlights of Singaporean cuisine, but also that many people make their living by directing people where to find the best rendition of particular dishes. The Makansutra is hands-down the most authoritative and comprehensive of these guidebooks. (I didn't buy it, but I printed out many of their recommendations from the web.) Though hard to use at times because they assume a local's knowledge of Singapore and where particular food courts and roads are located, I generally used it to guide my selections, helping me choose which food court to visit and which of the dozens upon dozens of stalls therein to get food from. In addition to going out and trying things, the guide people also run competitions and have even set up a new food court where they invite a selection of chefs they like.
Many Singaporean specialties are traditionally street food, produced by one person who specializes in only that dish. Singapore took the enlightened approach decades ago to round up all the street vendors, put them in food courts that they call hawker centres, and give them regular health inspections. This is great! Not only could I find a huge variety of street food in one place, I could have faith that it's clean and safe to eat. In addition, putting all the vendors in one place ensures that competition keeps the quality high.
(And, though I enjoyed food centres, I also liked walking on Singapore's many restaurant-lined promenades along the river.)
Furthermore, most hawkers allow you to select the size of the dish you want. I wish cafes and restaurants in the states allowed you to do so. Finally, best of all, whereas Singapore as a whole is an expensive city, food at hawker centres is cheap! Meals would top out at US$5. Many of mine were $3 dinner plus $2 dessert. Restaurants, meanwhile, are not cheap compared with the U.S.
Also, I liked that the food centres' drink stands juice the fresh fruit right in front you. You can't ask for better.
But how was the food? I liked pretty much everything I tried. Except at the conference, pretty much every dish I bought was a local specialty, and I'd selected the place to buy it because that place supposedly had one of the top renditions of the dish in the country. Nevertheless, despite being in Singapore for roughly two weeks and without ever repeating a dish, I'm still left with a sizable list of acclaimed dishes I never got a chance to try. For my future reference, these include, in some order of distinctiveness/preference: laksa (and katong laksa), hokkien prawn mee (while in Singapore, I only tried the soup version, not the fried version), pepper crab (I only tried chilli crab, not pepper crab), popiah, bak kut teh, nonya kueh, mee siam, mee goreng, mee rebus, and yong tau foo. I also missed trying roti john and roti murtabak (though I have eaten roti canai/roti parata countless times before), and missed trying nasi goreng (though again I've had a few renditions of nasi lemak before).
I do, however, have one complaint. About two-thirds of the way through the trip, I wrote in my notes: "what do Singaporeans have against vegetables? Main dishes are solely meat with rice or noodles. Drinks and desserts are fruits." In retrospect, I'm not sure how true this observation is--I think it's a consequence of ordering for only one--and whether it's that big a deal. Nevertheless, it must've bothered me at some point, so I feel I should mention it.
Incidentally, it turned out the Singapore Food Festival slightly overlapped my trip. Most of the cooking classes were completed before I arrived, and I didn't go out of my way for the general eating events, partially because I could already find such a wide selection of good food at any neighborhood hawker centre. (Technically, one day I unintentionally ran into a street festival that was sponsored by the food festival.) Nevertheless, I was pleased the festival exists, and impressed that they gave tourists free coupons to use to try certain specialties at selected food stands.
Returning to the city's costs, I'll mention my sleeping accommodations, as I don't think I'll bother mentioning them again in future posts. To get a decent hotel, depending on the day of the week I paid between $110 and $220 (U.S.) dollars. All three places I stayed were good. I stayed in:
- Grand Plaza Park Hotel - nights of July 25 (S$150), 26 (S$150), 28 (S$260), 29 (S$260), July 30 (S$198), 31 (S$160).
- Copthorne King's - nights of July 19, 29, 21, 22, 23 (S$250 then S$290 or so).
- Pan Pacific - night of July 24 (S$300?).
I don't know where to put this, so I'll drop in this paragraph right here: At times, I got hints of the government's power. I learned eight percent of the population lives in government-provided housing. I noticed the government generally prohibits other random groups from producing tourist maps, instead preferring to design their own maps and guidebooks. (Incidentally, these are uniformly high quality.) Third, another example of limiting speech: public speech is generally prohibited except at a particular spot in a kind of grungy park. A person can speak there if he or she registers beforehand. As a final example, in a newspaper one day I saw a "notice of exhumation of graves," with an accompanying list of the names which were legible on tombstones. If a body isn't claimed before or during exhumation, the government will cremate it. It'll be held with a plaque in a crematorium for three years waiting for claimant, then disposed of. The reason I mention this as an example of government power is because I've never heard of the United States government digging up graves and, even if they did, I doubt they'd manage to do it in such a matter of fact way--this is the way it is--and not run into protests or lawsuits.
Incidentally, in the middle of the trip, I took a two-day trip to Melaka (a town in Malaysia). I'll discuss my impressions of it on the blog post for the first day of that excursion. Before my trip to Singapore, I read about Singapore attractions and figured I'd want to / need to spend time elsewhere so as not to run out of sights and get bored. I considered many places: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and even Taiwan and Hong Kong. I ended up deciding on Malaysia mainly because it was so convenient and, after getting the feel for how much there was to see in Singapore, was only willing to spare two days for travel elsewhere.
For my future reference: Even though I probably spent ten days more or less in Singapore, there are places I didn't get around to visiting:
- Singapore Flyer (the world's largest ferris wheel). I have some pictures of it because it's visible from many places in Singapore.
- Sentosa. I visited this beach-resort island for a conference banquet, but never bothered returning to see its amusement park, aquarium, butterfly park, or even its famous beaches and resorts.
- Jurong Bird Park.
- Singapore Zoo.
- Singapore Botanic Gardens. Although I got to see some of its biggest attractions when I visited on the 29th, there are more parts to explore.
- Katong district/Joo Chiat Road. The next district on my list to visit, and the only district that I didn't go to for which the government provides walking tour booklets. Also, the nearby East Coast Park is supposedly a pleasant beach-front park.
Posted by mark at Sunday, May 17, 2009
I had Saturday morning to do with what I pleased. After thinking about what activity to choose--there were a number of museums and other sights I contemplated squeezing into the morning--, I decided instead to begin with a walking tour of the Gold Coast, Chicago's ritziest residential neighborhood. I generally followed the route in my Frommer's guidebook, walking this path (as recorded by my cell phone's GPS).
As I began walking, I remembered why people call Chicago the windy city. The wind removed any heat my body generated. I wouldn't describe the temperature as brisk, nor would I choose the word chilly. It was simply cold. And it got colder near the lake. I now understand why weatherpeople comment on the temperature by the lake. Meanwhile, as I walked, freezing, dressed in the warmest clothes I brought on the trip--clothes that usually served me well in Boston's winters--, I'm being overtaken by nutcases out jogging.
My walking tour is documented by these pictures.
On the way back from my tour, I tried to stop by a small gallery, the City Gallery, but it was inexplicably closed. Then I met Di Yin for lunch. We went to Frontera Grill, a Mexican restaurant known for authentic food, and that's run by the guy who wrote a Mexican cookbook that I've cooked many recipes from. It was interesting and fairly decent, a reaction I elaborate on in my picture captions. Di Yin, in a comment that can be taken in multiple ways, said the chef "does interesting, creative things with Goya" (referring to the canned goods company). Also, I liked the feel of the restaurant. Di Yin's pictures from this day include one of the decor. (In fact, it's the first picture in the day's set--the picture I linked to above.)
After lunch, we tried to visit the Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, but it turned out to be closed for the season. Instead, we found our way to a large, fancy gourmet market, Fox & Obel. Di Yin's pictures document aspects of the market.
Of course, we had a plane to catch. We picked up our luggage from our hotel and headed to the airport. The first rain of this trip began as we left the hotel toward the subway in order to leave town. By the time we made it to the airport, we could see it pouring outside the subway windows. Luckily, our planes left before the storm turned into a thunderstorm and the snow predicted in the evening. We each had our own dinners from items we picked up over the course of the trip: in my case, Indian leftovers, the mochi dish I made with Di Yin's mom that we brought from New York to Chicago, the Indian dessert, and a pretzel I picked up at the gourmet market.
Posted by mark at Friday, May 15, 2009
Di Yin was presenting at the conference, so I had the day to myself. I took the opportunity and rented a car to drive out to the northwest suburbs to visit my grandmother. (Chicago's public transit system in the suburbs, like most cities, is pretty bad.) I got to spend a good six or so hours with her. We talked (her more than me, naturally). I did a few tasks around her condo. We had lunch at Hackney's in Wheeling, where I had a traditional reuben (mmmmmm), some industrial/standardized fries, and a tiny bowl of coleslaw. Given that it was (pleasant) family time, I don't have anything to say.
I took only two pictures this day.
Di Yin and I had dinner of leftovers in our room (Indian food, the mochi stir-fry we brought from New York), along with fruit we picked up at an Indian market the day before, as well as wine we picked up two days before from Trader Joe's. The wine, a Barefoot Winery Zinfandel, paired surprisingly well with the blood oranges from the market.
Posted by mark at Thursday, May 14, 2009
Thursday was mostly devoted to exploring the Art Institute of Chicago, but we also manage to discover a pretty cool Indian neighborhood. In the morning, we walked down the magnificent mile (Michigan Avenue) and through Millennium Park, taking pictures all the way. I took many pictures, especially of the art institute, and Di Yin also took many as well, including of our food, but practically none of the institute. When you see a picture of Di Yin meeting someone for lunch, you've finished her pictures for this day.
After a morning of sightseeing, we had a tasty lunch at Russian Tea Time restaurant. I'd certainly be happy to return.
We allocated the afternoon for the Art Institute of Chicago. It's a first-rate museum with an extensive collection. I must've spent at least four hours there and that was barely enough. Although I did get to see everything, I had to hurry near the end more than I would've liked. (Well, actually I consciously skipped the children's section--a shame, as I was told later it had some displays worthy of adult visitors.)
The institute's wide-ranging collections contain exhibits from all over the planet and from a variety of time periods. And it's not just paintings; exhibits also include ancient artifacts, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, furniture, and functional art, as examples. As I walked through the Indian galleries, I recognized the stuff in a display and realized they were items (mostly weapons) native to Rajasthan that I'd seen in museums there.
Of course, the bulk of the museum was devoted to European art. In terms of impressionism, it had at least a couple of paintings from every major artist (e.g., van Gogh, Gaugain, Seurat, Manet, Corot, Renoir, Pisarro). It even had a room full of Monets.
In the newer American galleries, I found surrealists and modernists, and many O'Keeffes. In the older one, I was happy to find Cole and Bierstadt, and, in the process, discovered Sanford Robinson Gifford and learned in general that I like an offshoot of the Hudson River school called luminism.
Although my pictures generally document what I liked in the museum, I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures of the exhibit that impressed me the most: the exhibit of portrait photographs by Yousuf Karsh. Karsh's photographs are striking. They're crisp black-and-white noir-esque prints of famous people, with the focus on the person's face. You really feel their presence. He photographed many people from a variety of different public roles, including Queen Elizabeth, Eisenhower, Churchill, H. G. Wells, Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Martin Luther King Jr., Bogart (complete with smoke wisping out of a cigarette), Clark Gable, Robert Frost, Einstein, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Norman Rockwell, Walt Disney, Edward R. Murrow, Vonnegut, Muhammad Ali. You can tell Karsh is an excellent portraitist because both politicians and well-respected other artists--people with taste--asked him to take their pictures. From this exhibit alone, I could name twice as many people as I did that Karsh photographed and you'd still recognize the names. The uniformly high level of quality is extraordinary.
For dinner, we followed up on a tip that there are some good Indian restaurants on Devon Avenue near Western Avenue. As we planned our route, which involved a train then a bus, we realized how far from downtown this neighborhood is. Nevertheless, we followed through, arriving at our destination something like 45 minutes later. It was worth the trip. The area is the biggest Indian neighborhood I've seen in North America. We spotted lots of Indian clothing stores and assorted restaurants. We looked around one of the markets, by far the biggest Indian grocery store I've ever run into. I bought dessert (for later) from a sweet shop. And, after a bit of online and on-foot research, we decided to eat at Sabri Nihari. It was quite good.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, May 13, 2009
As Di Yin had to give a talk at a conference in Chicago, I decide to tag along to see her, explore more of Chicago, and visit my grandmother. We were in Chicago from Wednesday, March 25, 2009, through Saturday, March 28, 2009.
This trip was the first time I'd spent significant amounts of time in downtown Chicago (i.e., more than a day) and lacked a car. Chicago's atmosphere--the street layout, the design of the skyscrapers, the architecture of the fancy buildings, the way people moved, the way people dressed, the transit system, the selection of stores--made it really feel like New York.
We arrived early Wednesday evening, took the subway to downtown, and checked into our hotel. We stayed in a nicer placer than I'd have chosen for myself--the joy of traveling on someone else's dime (in this case, some funding agency's). Indeed, this place was so nice they had a pillow menu. After dinner, we ordered some. I recall liking the buckwheat because it had a filling like that in a beanbag. It made a comforting white noise when I put my head on it. In contrast, I never could get used to memory foam, whether in pillows or mattresses. Also, the hotel supposedly had a rooftop bar with a pretty view that, sadly, we never got a chance to see.
Speaking of the niceness of the hotel reminded me, here's a link to the pictures I took this day and here's the first picture in the set Di Yin took over the trip. She took some pictures of the hotel room. (I did not.) Her set of pictures from this day ends when you see a picture with a caption that begins "the next morning." I generally left picture taking up to her this trip, so in the following entries I'll be linking to both of our sets of pictures but my set mostly only includes pictures of things I encountered when on my own. Please don't peek at the pictures before I discuss them / link to them.
After dropping our stuff in the hotel room and eating a tiny snack, we headed out to dinner. I wanted to make sure I had the true Chicago experience, and one thing that meant was real Chicago pizza at a place recognized for doing it well. Di Yin, though not much of a fan of Chicago pizza, was willing to go along, and off to Pizzeria Due we went.
The pizza we had was "meh." (For my future reference, on my 4-point scale, the joint gets a rating of 2.) If this is Chicago-style pizza, I prefer the slight Californian variant (cornmeal crust) done by a restaurant in San Francisco.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I visited New York City on a less-than-48-hour trip that began Monday, March 25, 2009. I was there to see Di Yin and her parents before flying to Chicago with her. I don't really have much to say about this trip. I didn't do any tourist things; in fact, I remained entirely within Queens. I did have three good meals.
Tuesday began with an early lunch at Nan Shiang Dumpling House in Flushing. Di Yin's mom chose a particular time for our lunch because she knew one street was scheduled for street cleaning, meaning if we arrived near the end of that time, we'd be able to find parking. I thought this was ingenious. It worked. Apparently she wasn't the only one with this idea: check out this picture of a bunch of other people parked on the same street waiting by their cars for the street cleaning time to be over and, no longer at risk for ticketing, they could walk away and go about their business. (Note: that link leads to the three pictures I took on this trip, the other two being pictures of the Nan Shiang's menu.)
Nan Shiang is a Shanghainese dumpling restaurant that was on my destination list from my last visit to Flushing. In fact, I remembered looking in and noticing that every table was occupied. It was similarly packed this visit. For the first half of the meal, I thought the restaurant was sizable--until I realized the existence of a mirror running the length of one wall made me think it was twice the size it actually is.
We had a traditional brunch, a good meal consisting of:
- a Chinese donut, not as oily as most. For some reason, we found soy sauce made it better. Who would've guessed?
- soy milk.
- red bean puffs.
- xiao long bao (soup-and-meat-filled dumplings) (of course). These were the soupiest XLB I've ever had. Given the clientele, I think these will be my mental model of what authentic XLB should be. Incidentally, they worked best when one bit the top off, letting out some steam, and poured a few drops of vinegar onto the pork inside.
Tuesday evening, Di Yin's family, I, and her aunt and uncle ventured to the East Restaurant output in Elmhurst (Queens) for an insane buffet. When I say insane, I mean it: the offerings included hot pot, sushi, tons of Chinese stir-fry dishes, soups, peking duck, a robata grill, Korean stuff, American stuff (mostly salads and desserts), jello, and more. I borrowed Di Yin's camera and took pictures of about half the selections before someone asked me to stop. I ate a ton. Her family did as well. It's nice to fit in.
Here are the pictures from Di Yin's camera from dinner, taken by both of us. They continue until you see a caption that mentions Chicago. (Don't peek at the Chicago entries; I'll post about them soon enough.)
Wednesday's main event was Di Yin's mom fulfilling a promise she made to me through Di Yin: she taught me how to make a particular cabbage, mushroom, pork, and mochi stir-fry dish. I'd previously eaten this dish when Di Yin brought a container across the country with her on one trip. The dish feels homey. Supposedly a standard household Shanghainese dish, it conveys to me the same comforting emotional experience as mac-n-cheese. I wanted to learn how to make it, couldn't find a good recipe online, and Di Yin's mom said she'd teach me.
Well, she did, and it came out well. We had it for lunch along with sweetened steamed sweet potatoes and won tons. We also packaged some leftovers to bring with us to Chicago. :) The recipe seems simple enough. I'd never attempted this dish before, though I had tried cooking with mochi (glutinous rice flour cakes) in the past to poor results. I now believe the problems came from using poor-quality mochi, not in how I treated it.
Soon after lunch on Wednesday, we left for the airport, where it turned out we had tons of time before our plane departed.
Posted by mark at Monday, May 11, 2009
On Sunday, April 19, 2009, I drove to Vacaville, a town two-thirds of the way to Sacramento, for the Medieval Fantasy Festival. It turned out to be a cross between a street festival and a Renaissance Faire.
I took an assortment of pictures of the festival and the town. They provide more details about the festival than this post.
The festival was held in downtown Vacaville, an area which felt a bit like Solano Avenue in Berkeley: nice stores, a reasonable walking area, but not as dense as most town's downtowns. It even has plaques denoting historic places and buildings. During the festival, for breaks, I stuck my head in a games shop, browsed an art gallery and voted on its festival-themed art (they were running a contest), and strolled through a nearby park. While walking around, I noticed the crowd was very white. This may be the audience of the festival, but I think it's more likely the demographics of this part of California.
On the Renaissance-Faire aspect of the festival, there were stands selling appropriate art and figures (e.g., garishly painted dragons; I wanted to take a picture of these but didn't get a chance), costumes, real weapons (e.g., swords and daggers), and wooden swords and shields for kids. One person gave lessons on how to make chain mail. I planned to return to that stand later, but ended up feeling too low on energy. There was also a ratapult contest where costumed rat puppets were thrown by catapults--they had two--to see how far they could travel. Finally, the costumes and the performers (see the pictures) fell into the Renaissance vein.
On the street-fair aspect of the festival, there were the usual random vendors for jewelry (there were lots of these), soap, inexpensive art, temporary tattoos, colored tupperware, and even produce-by-mail (CSA). The food vendors were mostly the traditional street-fair variety: sausages, lumpia, kettle corn, funnel cakes, lemonade, etc.
I arrived around noon and left before mid-afternoon because I had seen everything and didn't want to hang out longer--the toasty, sunny heat drained my energy. (Vacaville is an inland town and therefore warmer than the bay area, which itself was unusually warm this weekend.)
Posted by mark at Saturday, May 09, 2009
* Ghost of Bradley Present (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). About the history of the non-existent Bradley Effect.
* The Mobilization Equation (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). An interesting, though not surprising, segment summarizing the effectiveness of different get-out-the-vote tactics (and in particular their cost per vote). I hadn't realized that whether someone voted is public record. For details about one of the more personal (and slightly disturbing) interventions, read Your Neighbors Could Find Out, So You'd Better Vote (Washington Post).
* Comments on Comments (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). An interesting, accurate, yet biased screed against the widespread allowing of comments on new stories and the like. Includes a discussion with Ira Glass about the period when This American Life hosted comments on its web site. The add-on stories aren't bad: Hellhounds On My Trail and Aren't We There Yet?. A few weeks later, On The Media read letters responding to the original story. I often read comments because some are insightful, but usually find too many are stupid and I end up feeling afterwards like I wasted my time. Other times, the comments provide a useful critique, such as the comments on the first segment linked here. (In that case, the comments discuss what makes forums constructive.) Yet, there are so many comments it requires a lot of patience to read them all.
* The New Hacker and Click to Agree (both from WNYC's On The Media via NPR). Together, these two segments provide interesting coverage on how people treat online terms of service agreements, their legal effect, and some examples of unusual ones.
* Using Everyday Language To Teach Science May Help Students Learn, Study Finds (Stanford Report). I think I always taught like this. Now I have a reason, and will try to consciously do so more.
Food & Health:
* Brain's reaction to yummy food may predict weight (Associated Press). Why I'll probably not get fat: the people who tend to take more pleasure in food than those who do not have a lower likelihood of becoming overweight.
* Exercise in a Pill? (NPR's Science Friday). A cool new development. I wonder if the increased endurance the pill gives you is actually good for your health, or if endurance is only good for your health when brought about by regular exercise.
Posted by mark at Thursday, May 07, 2009
On Saturday, April 18, 2009, after exploring the fine arts festival, I drove farther south to Palo Alto for the Kusamura Bonsai Club show. Mentally, I considered this a replacement for the Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival which I'd been to for the last three years but didn't make it to this year. It always has a bonsai show.
I took these pictures of plants that particularly struck me. It turns out pictures of every tree are online at the club's website. It was a fun little exhibit to explore. There were a number of club members wandering around, so I chatted with some of them and learned more about bonsai. I also overheard some interesting explanations, one of which is in a picture caption. By the way, the club sold a wide selection of bonsai plants out back, but, given my previous failed attempt at raising a bonsai, I decided not to buy one.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, May 05, 2009
On Saturday, April 18, 2009, with festivals beginning to pop up all over the place again, I decided to throw myself into the spirit of the season by attending two. After a morning trip to the farmers market for breakfast and cooking supplies and a later trip at 1pm to eat lunch there (and especially eat the pizza made by a guy who has a wood-fired pizza oven in his trailer), I drove to Menlo Park for its Sidewalk Fine Arts Festival. As I parked, I was surprised to observe the festival didn't take over the street. Rather, the art booths were erected compactly on the sidewalk.
The art in this festival ranged over a variety of mediums and techniques from paintings (cubist, impressionist, etc., and even paintings for kids), photography, sculptures (metal, glass, and clay), glasswork, and pottery to embroidery, clothing, purses, jewelry (including some pretty fused glass necklaces and earrings), and even hand-made women's shoes. Despite the diversity, I found myself getting bored about halfway through. Maybe it's simply because some booths looked familiar (I guess from my past visits to other art fairs).
I didn't feel comfortable taking photographs of the artwork.
Some artists were cool enough that I think I should call them out individually:
- Silvio Silvestri's impressionist paintings. He paints many subjects.
- Delia Bradford's impressionist paintings. She paints mainly landscapes.
- Surachai Promsuntisit's watercolor paintings. They're whimsical, dreamy, and, like most pieces in the fair, expensive. (I noticed one cost $2.5k.)
- Adam Stone's surreal paintings such as a monkey in tennis shoes smoking a cigarette in a hotel room, with a bottle of alcohol on the nearby table.
- Gabriele Bungardt's paintings of pets: large, detailed, and emotive.
- Denis Minamora's super-realistic paintings. A photographer turned painter, he paints from photographs using watercolor, pen, pencil, and pastels to achieve images that are almost photographs, but unnervingly not. Like the other artists I'm mentioning here, please feel free to look at the gallery images linked from his home page (or, in this case, the what's new page) to get an sense of his work.
- Terry Steinke's etching. His landscapes look like black-and-white photographs.
- Jeffrey Murray's super-saturated photographs.
- tropical Hawaiian oil paintings.
- Mediterranean photography.
- art made by mounting fabrics on paper.
- batik pieces, often with Jewish religious themes.
- silk paintings. The colors were basic, bright, and youthful.
- face jugs (a type of clay pot).
- Club Presley's carvings. They take wooden golf clubs and carve and paint them to look like ducks and dolphins.
- acid-etched copper, the acids giving it unusual colors and tints.
- funky, person-sized metal sculpture. By funky, I mean, for instance, that one is of a cowboy riding a rocket.
- copper figures of animals (turtles, fish, lizards, dragonflies, seahorses).
- bas relief animals.
- art made by layering painted metal on painted metal on canvas: e.g., a cutout of a person over a cutout of a building over the canvas. It feels like another form of a collage.
- scepters made of glass with a globe on top.
- miniature colored glass vases, a mere two inches tall.
- stunning glass bowls.
- swirled colored marbles.
- more awesome glass pieces, including glass pumpkins.
A friend of mine, B, referred me to Peter Callesen's paper constructions, knowing his constructions feel like the kind of novel, unique artwork that I often report spotting at festivals. (That's why I feel it's appropriate to mention him here even though I didn't see his work at a festival.) Peter Callesen's constructions, often three-dimensional, are made simply by cutting out parts of paper and folding it. I think the skeletons such as this one are particularly amazing. It's only when I saw the full-sized stairs and ladders (in the large scale papercut installations section of his website) that I realized the artist could make anything out of paper.
Incidentally, while walking through Menlo Park, I discovered Penzeys Spices. They have a wide selection, selling for instance a variety of different types of cinnamon, saffron, and curry powder, along with numerous other spices and house-made spice mixes. Fancy.
Posted by mark at Monday, May 04, 2009
For Monday's activities, I'd planned to do things from my list that were outside the city.
These pictures track most of the day's activities, though this blog entry has more details.
First, I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was disappointing, especially compared to the previous day's botanical gardens. It wasn't just that the center had an entrance fee and the gardens did not. It wasn't that the center took less time (under an hour) to explore. It was that the wildflower center just wasn't cool. Maybe it was the wrong time of year (though lots of flowers were in bloom) or maybe I'm not much of a fan of wildflowers. I liked the scattered sculptures more than the wildflowers themselves. I do, however, applaud the wildflower center's enlightenment: it provided a walking tour via podcast or cell phone. However, the tour didn't tell me where to walk next--I had to infer it from the descriptions and names of the tracks. Also, the last few tracks of the podcast were inexplicably in Spanish.
Incidentally, I enjoyed the center's special artist exhibit of Shou Ping, an artist who paints paper with watercolors, folds the paper into flowers, and layers them in a frame, creating pieces of art with depth.
After the center, my next destination was Lockhart, the barbecue capital of central Texas. As I left the center, it started pouring. My drive to Lockhart was longer than expected and, in fact, scary. Due to the rain, I drove 20 mph under the speed limit and fought intermittent hydroplaning the whole way.
Lockhart has three famous barbecue joints, all of which have existed for over half a century. These no-frills joints--most only recently added side dishes to their menus--and their cooking technique of smoking meat rubbed with a dry spice mix arose as Southern African-American culture met the culture of the German immigrants to this area. The meat menus are about half brisket and ribs in various cuts, a pork chop, and about half sausages of various types. I stuck my head in each of the three joints to get the feel of the places. They all have walls decorated with history. They all have huge barbecue pits. They generally serve meat on butcher paper. Everything else is secondary and still reflect cheap market prices. For instance, Smitty's sold $2 beers.
First up was Smitty's, where I had delicious brisket and good ribs. As I ate the brisket, I wondered whether I really loved barbecue or if this was really that good. It'd been a while since I had barbecue of any type and even longer since I had a dry-rub no-sauce style, so I wasn't sure if my calibration was plausible.
Next, I looked in on Black's but didn't stay long. I didn't plan to buy anything there, but the layout required me to walk down a narrow path past a buffet line of sides to get to the meat counter. It made looking without ordering awkward. I didn't see anything like the atmosphere/flavor of Smitty's meat-grill back room, but maybe I didn't approach deeply enough.
Finally, I went to Kreuz. It's a huge setup, with a dining hall at least five times bigger than Smitty's and many more barbecue pits. The brisket here, though good, wasn't in the same league as the one I had at Smitty's. This reminded me what normal barbecue tastes like, and it confirmed that my delight with the first brisket was legitimate. It was extraordinary. As always, the picture captions have more details.
As for Lockhart itself, it's small. The downtown extends a block or two in each direction from the central courthouse. From driving around, I spotted three churches in this small vicinity.
I had a list of ideas of possible activities to do in this vicinity south of Austin. From this list, I selected those that were reasonable given the weather.
This required another dangerous drive, this time to the town of San Marcos. Its layout is surprisingly similar to Lockhart's: there's a central courthouse (which even looks alike) with the town radiating a few blocks in each direction. San Marcos is, though, a little denser and large than Lockhart.
My goal in San Marcos was to see The Wittliff Collection, a gallery of southwest and Mexican photography and writing, located in Texas State University at San Marcos's Alkek Library. After driving in many circles (actually jagged, overlapping polygons) and getting directions a few different ways, I eventually got to the campus's visitor parking lot. I knew the gallery space was under renovation and had been moved elsewhere in the library building. I didn't realize that only a fraction of the small collection would be on display. I saw seven black-and-white artistic photographs and selection of props and photographs from the movie Lonesome Dove. Thoroughly unexciting. Nevertheless, I got to look out the library's seventh floor windows into the rain. And I saw the campus, an unusual mix of an ordinary functional campus / residential buildings surrounded by densely-packed single-family houses.
Next up was a not-as-dangerous drive to Gruene, not because the rain was any less fierce but because the route was on an interstate--a smoother road with fewer places for water to collect.
Gruene is a historic town perhaps four blocks long. Most buildings are what appeared to be century-old homes converted into shops, often selling antiques. I picked up a booklet map of Gruene subtitled "Resisting Change Since 1872."
As I drove north from Gruene to the airport, the rain began to clear. Then I hit a traffic jam. I thought I'd planned enough time to get to the airport, so I wasn't worried. I looked at the distance to go, calculated that I'd still be fine going at 15 miles per hour, taking double the time it should take. Ten minutes later I did some math and realized I was averaging 5 miles per hour. Then I began worrying. I contemplated contingency plans.
At some point the traffic cleared. I sped to the airport, returned the car, checked in, went through security, and made it the gate thirty minutes before my scheduled departure time, which turned out to be an hour before the actual departure time. I'm glad Austin's airport is small and not busy: it took me only five minutes from entering the car return lane until I was standing at the gate.
Incidentally, while I waited in the airport, I noticed it has no national chains, only local chains and local shops. I also noticed a stage for the airport's regular live music performances. Though I didn't get to hear any, I feel this is a good observation on which to close my Austin trip report.
Posted by mark at Saturday, May 02, 2009
Sunday was a busy day.
These pictures represent mostly everything I did this day, even if they lack the details.
I started early. At 9:00am, I started following the Fodor guidebook's walking/driving tour of the University of Texas at Austin. Here's the path I took, as recorded by my cell phone's GPS. (The long line in the northwest is when I began driving for lunch and forgot to turn off recording.) The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum appeared early on the tour. It's about his life, his politics, and the times in which he lived. As I wasn't interested in it, I hadn't planned to visit it on this trip to Austin, but now I was at the building and entrance was free, so how could I resist?
The museum has a few neat sections. I liked the exhibit on gifts to the president from other countries: e.g., a Diego Riviera painting from Mexico, ceremonial swords from Morocco. I enjoyed looking at the items before reading the plaques and trying to guess what country gave them to the United States. What countries do you think gave an ivory tusk, an ornamental painted wooden mask, and a seat (for rulers) carried on poles? It's interesting to think about the criteria countries use in selecting their gifts. I imagine the person in charge of the country wants it to simultaneously reflect his personality, show that he knows what the president likes, reflect his country's culture and history, make a statement about how we wants his country viewed in the future, and do it all in a non-stereotypical and non-offensive way (e.g., don't make it reflect a history of slavery). It's not an easy decision.
I also enjoyed the joke-telling, animatronic, life-sized, realistic President Johnson. I had read guide books that made a big deal about the animatronic Johnson and I kind of sneered: oh gee, a mechanical animated figure, how exciting. But it was the highlight of the museum, making me glad I stopped by, and here's why: it re-told Johnson's jokes, and he's a funny guy. The emphasis in the guide books should've been on the humor value, not the fact that the jokes were told by an animatronic figure. I still remember the joke about hearing versus drinking.
Finally, I enjoyed the neat section profiling Lady Bird Johnson, and the section with large, pretty, luminous transparency photographs of the interior of the White House.
I spent thirty minutes, if that, at the museum.
I explored a bit more of U. T. Austin, mostly on foot, observed that the central part of the college felt like a campus, and then bailed to head to Fonda San Miguel, where I had a reservation for brunch. It was a short drive which, though through central Austin, felt suburban. Oaks were everywhere.
Fonda San Miguel served excellent, authentic Mexican food. The waiter explained how most dishes they serve are regional. For instance, the ceviche comes from somewhere on the west side of Mexico, the cochinita pibil comes from the Yucatan, the mole comes from central Mexico, the carne comes from northern Mexico (cattle country). I spent two-and-a-quarter hours at the restaurant, eventually trying 95% of the buffet, and there was only one dish that truly missed the mark. I could really taste the quality of the ingredients, especially the meats but also the freshness of the fruit as well. The service was similarly good. For instance, I was constantly supplied with hot tortillas (both flour and corn) and if I didn't use them for a while and they cooled, the waiter replaced them. When I left, I could barely walk.
After brunch, I returned to UT Austin to finish my tour of the campus and vicinity, walking this path. (Sorry, my cell phone GPS wasn't working, so I recorded this one manually on a web application.) While there, I picked up a map of sculptures on campus--possibly useful for Game clues. Near the end of my tour, I stopped by the Harry Ransom Center, a small exhibit hall. In addition to two special exhibits, it had on display a rare, full, first-edition Gutenberg bible (I saw another one recently in NYC), and the first photograph, which was printed on metal and so worn or damaged that I found it basically impossible to see. Luckily the signs nearby explained what it actually looked like.
One special exhibit traces the history and popularity of the Rubáiyát series of verses by Omar Khayyám. As I hadn't heard of these poems previously, the exhibit found it difficult to capture my attention. I learned the verses became popular after being translated into English by an amateur translator named FitzGerald. Borges wrote about the translation: "From the lucky conjunction of a Persian astronomer who ventures into poetry and an English eccentric who explored Spanish and Oriental texts without understanding them entirely emerges an extraordinary poet who resembles neither of them." The poems became very popular at the end of the nineteenth century, and were re-translated, re-printed, and parodied many times. The part of the exhibit I liked the most was a chart showing where and when various versions of the poems were published. It provided a neat visualization of how the poems spread around the world. I think it would fun to analyze the spread of other things (books, whatever).
The other exhibit was on the photographer Fritz Henle. Versatile, he photographs everything, including people and scenery, all reasonably well, though not necessarily great. He's especially good at composing shots of people against backgrounds.
I then walked to Texas State History Museum. It's a pretty good history museum, with lots of artifacts, documents, models, and pictures, and covering the period from the original Indian inhabitants of the land to the present day. I spent two hours there.
First, I explored an Ellis-Island-like special exhibit about immigration, which occurred predominately through the town of Galveston. Judging by the immigration maps, it served as a gateway to the midwest. I learned how railroads and businesses encouraged immigration by providing discounted railroad fares in exchange for living/building somewhere. I read interesting transcripts of interviews between immigration officials and immigrants. Lots of jews were rejected because the officials claimed their poor physique meant they were likely to become public charges.
I also watched a sound & effect show, Texas Spirit, about spirit/character. When I say sound & effect show, I mean that, for example, when the film talked about plagues of grasshoppers everywhere, "even in your hair," I felt a puff of air into my hair. Some audience members gasped or screamed. One point the film makes about Texas character is if someone says something can't be done, go ahead and do it. I now understand George Bush better.
The museum itself focused on the colonization of Texas and the many wars which involved Texas in the 1800s (the war for independence, war with the indians, war with mexico, the civil war). I saw the "come and take it" flag, one of the most verbally direct flags produced in recent times (longer history). I learned the location of the capital changed many times--6 times in 1836 alone--as Texas tried to survive its war for independence. The capital also switched locations a couple of times in the next decade as politicians fought over whether it should be Austin or Houston.
The museum didn't have much after 1876, the time of the most recent Texas constitution, or at least not much mention again of politics. It did cover ranching, segregation, movies, the Texas centennial, and products of the land (oil and agriculture).
After the museum, on the way to my next destination, I decided to detour and drive around the opulent historic Bremond Block. It's a bunch of nice houses mostly built in the later half of the nineteenth century by members of one family. I wouldn't have minded strolling the area if I had time to spare.
Also on the way to my next destination, I discovered that Barton Springs Road west of Lamar Boulevard has many good-looking restaurants with patios and stages, one after another.
My next destination was the Zilker Botanical Garden and especially its Japanese Garden. All the gardens are pleasant and lush. The Japanese one, filled with rocks, streams, bamboo groves, bridges, and a coi pond, is so photogenic that many couples were there getting pictures taken of them (likely to display at their wedding). I was a little nervous about time I had before the garden closed and wished I could've wandered the paths more slowly, perhaps while listening to an ipod. Still, worries aside, I got to see everything. Nevertheless, I did miss out on one thing: if I weren't in a hurry, this would've been a great place to take a self-portrait. As it is, I have no pictures of myself in Austin.
As I left the garden, I noticed the surrounding park, Zilker Metropolitan Park was a big park--at 351 acres, certainly too big to walk (and it's not designed for walking)--complete with all the standard facilities. Also, by taking a wrong turn, I discovered that some people have nice single-family homes practically next to the park.
In rapid-fire fashion, I swung by Mount Bonnell Park, the highest point in Austin, and Pennybacker Bridge / 360 bridge (on loop 360 highway). The latter, though famous for being a bridge where none of its support structures touch the water, I found pretty unexciting. It looks like a standard, simple, small bridge.
For dinner I headed to Casino El Camino, allegedly one of the best burger joints in Austin. The joint is a bar first, restaurant second. It's dark. There's loud rock music. Everyone gets IDed at the door. There are pool tables upstairs. One orders food through a window in the back. I sat in the patio out further back, the place where the "cleaner" crowd hung out; the grungier, harder-drinking crowd sat inside by the bar.
As for the food, the burger turned out to be a perfectly average, decent burger. (I would've preferred In-n-Out or, best yet, Chez Maman in San Francisco.) Especially given its quality, I was surprised and a bit disturbed by how easily I put away this supposedly three-quarters-of-a-pound burger. Admittedly, it had been nine hours since I had brunch, but brunch was enormously large.
And thus concluded my second full (thirteen to fourteen hour) day of exploring Austin. I was worried about the predicted thunderstorms, but none came. In fact, the weather was the same as the previous day.
Posted by mark at Friday, May 01, 2009