• Rain and Queue Mars Navy Open House 2010 Visit

    After reading various tweets on the visit to this year’s Navy Open House, we decided to pop by, since the first day it is opened to the public coincides with my son’s birthday. So on Saturday, we woke up bright and early to prepare for our trip. We prepared sandwiches for our snack and prepared sunblock, since it was recommended. We originally intended to take the MRT to Singapore Expo, but it was raining when we were leaving the house, we drove there instead.

    We got to Singapore Expo at around 8.25am, and there was already a queue for the bus all the way from Hall 1 where the boarding point wass to Hall 2. It seemed that they were prepared for the large crowd coming in as the entire Hall 1 was converted into a huge check in centre with cordons for queues, metal detectors and bag scanners. The entire process took about 10 minutes from queue to boarding the bus.

    The bus ride took about half an hour from Singapore Expo to Changi Naval Base. We proceeded to register for the balloting for the Frigate guided tour and the ship cruise. As it was still drizzling, we popped into the closest aircon to view the exhibits. We queued for the ST simulator exhibit and our boy had fun fiddling around the control panel for the simulator. The ST folks even had a portable printer set up so they could print instant photos for keepsake, which was a nice touch.

    As the aircon in the tent was very cold, we decided to brave the weather and do a guided tour on board one of the vessels available for public viewing. This was where I felt the logistics arrangements and wet weather plan could have been better. While waiting in the queue, the rain started to pour and the wind blew the rain into the tent where the queue was.  From the way they were scrambling to try to keep the rain from coming in, there was no wet weather plan in place. Kudos to the quick reaction of the staff in trying to rearranging the cordon to keep everyone dry. The estimated waiting time sign on each queue was a good indicator as it helped us decide on whether we want to join the queue or not. It was quite accurate as we waited about 30 minutes as indicated on the sign. The guided tour of the Patrol Vessel RSS Independence was nice. We had a chance to try out the cannons and weapons on board, and tour the bunks and the bridge.

    By the time we were done, it was almost noon and it was still raining. Initially, we wanted to try out the duck tour as we did not get the ballot for the cruise, but the waiting time for the duck tour was about 1 hour 30 minutes according to the sign. And the waiting time on most of the other attractions have swelled to at least an hour. So, instead of queuing, we went back to the parade area and watched some performances before calling it a day. The attention span of a 3 year old is that short. Normally excursions lasts half a day before he gets cranky.

    In all, the visit was an eye-opener and I think the organizers did a great job. There is something for everyone in the family. I am definitely for the idea of balloting, as I would rather spend my time watching the performances or viewing the exhibits rather than in a queue waiting. This is especially so if you have kids in tow, and from the looks of it, there were a lot of kids when we were there.

    Personally, I think the balloting system can be enhanced to a central virtual queuing system in which it distributes the opportunity to visit the guided tours and cruises evenly so that everyone actually gets a chance to try out something. Or alternatively have a virtual queuing system for each attraction in which queue numbers are assigned and displayed on LED like the ones found in various customer service centres. This way, visitors are free to tour the nearby areas while waiting for their turn. I understand that queuing is the norm when it comes to theme parks and attractions, but this Open House is a time-limited event where one will not be able to go back on another and try out the other attractions.

  • Someone in SMRT Did Not Get the Memo

    Not having a good week with our world class transport system this week.

    On Monday (24th May 2010), I was on my usual routine to work from my parents’ place in Bukit Panjang. I walked down Cashew Road to Upper Bukit Timah Road to get to my bus stop. Though there is a bus stop along Cashew Road with services that I could do a transfer with, I usually give that a pass. Without reliable arrival information on the two services that ply the route, I could end up waiting for a period that is longer than the walk to my bus stop. I can’t repeat this enough, why are we paying the same fare for SMRT buses when they don’t provide the same suite of services?

    To my dismay, this was the site that greeted me when I got to the bus stop.

    On the notice posted at the bus stop which was dated 18th May 2010, there was no effective closure date. However, the bus stop was cordoned off (Will try to take some photos the next time I pass by the bus stop). I didn’t remember seeing the notice last week. Anyway, I had to trudge another 204m to the next bus stop (according to the notice) during which my bus zoomed by, and I had to wait for the next one.

    So, on Wednesday (26th May 2010), when I had to make my way to office at around 0910hrs, I saw service number 75 approaching the Cashew Road bus stop, I dashed to the bus stop to board the bus. When the bus was turning into Upper Bukit Timah Road, a lady rang the stop bell and to my surprise and horror, the bus captain actually stopped along the road as the bus bay was cordoned off. I did not alight there since I wasn’t sure if other buses would stop there. The lady alighted and flagged service number 67 (License No: SMB3C) and that bus stopped for her to board. Apparently, the closure of the bus stop was not communicated to SMRT by LTA. It was really dangerous as the bus stop including the bus bay was cordoned off, and the buses actually stopped along the main road for the passengers to alight and board the bus outside the cordon.

    And my misery didn’t end there. When I did my transfer two bus stops later, I boarded service number 961 (License No: TIB763P), which seems to be one of the older buses that I referred to in my previous post. It was a non-aircon bus with windows that can be manually opened refitted with air-conditioning. And the aircon was not working! It was only 9+ in the morning and the bus felt like a hot and stuffy sauna. I really don’t understand how such buses can be allowed on the roads. It didn’t help that the day was especially warm. So there I was, sweating from the start of my journey to the end, even with the aircon vent blowing directly at me.

    I am beginning to doubt the process and checks carried out by the Public Transport Council on the service standards by SMRT. In just the past month, I’ve encountered 3 bus breakdowns around the Bukit Timah and Holland area, irregular bus arrival times and crowded buses. And the report on the SMRT bus service by the PTC was satisfactory? How did they come to that conclusion?

  • A Kid and 3 Quail Eggs

    It is difficult to fathom what goes through the mind of a kid. During dinner, my usually talkative nephew took an oath of silence for the duration of the meal just so he can have 3 extra quail eggs. Mind you, we are talking about a Primary 1 boy whose incessant talking and questioning irritates us to no end and will not stop for more than a minute regardless of how we reprimand and coddle him.

    What was even more surprising was that he even offered one egg to my wife, his 姨姨, who was teasing and goading him to break his silence for the entire duration of the meal. I don’t know whether to attribute his generosity to his innocence, his respect for elders or simply that he was just too full from his dinner.

    Kids, they never cease to amaze us.

  • Nature Causes Morning Peak Hour Chaos

    Sometimes, it’s a matter of being in the right place, at the right time. This morning, because I left my home keys in the office, I had to make a detour to the in-laws to get the spare set of keys. This caused me to be slightly later than normal. This coupled with a glitch on SBS IRIS (Yes, there are glitches on IRIS where bus arrivals occasionally go missing, but it is still better than SMRT who doesn’t even have one) that caused me to miss a bus by mere seconds, I got onto the next bus which was about 5 minutes later.

    During the bus ride, I heard on Class 95 that there was a fallen tree along Jalan Bukit Merah between Lower Delta Road and Kampong Bahru. That was in the route of my bus to work. When approaching Jalan Bukit Merah from Kampong Bahru, there were traffic police diverting traffic onto Tiong Bahru Road via CTE and Kim Tian Road. However, the bus captain of the bus I was on drove straight into Jalan Bukit Merah and was stopped by the traffic police as the road was impassable. Contrary to the traffic report on Class 95, the tree fell on Jalan Bukit Merah towards Queensway, not in the direction towards Kampong Bahru.

    So there I was at the site of the fallen tree. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to snap photos from both sides of the road, as it’s not every day that one would get into situations like this.

    Photos were taken with a Nokia N97 and resized and watermarked using XnView Portable

  • No more eggs at 10am?

    Read this article about MBS conference woes in the Straits Times this morning. Recent news about the Integrated Resorts have been focused on whether they were allowed to open too early, before everything was in place. It is like a software company releasing beta versions of applications and passing them off as public release.

    A similar incident happened to me over the Labour Day weekend. Initially, we wanted to have breakfast at Old Town Coffee in Playground @ Big Splash. When we arrived, the place was full and the only table left was alfresco, and in the hot sun. Since, the car park there had a 30 minutes grace period, we decided to go somewhere else. After much deliberation, we decided to try Killiney Cafe at Marina Square. On our way there, we drove past Suntec and a new Old Town Coffee outlet near the Promenade CCL station caught our eye and we decided to try that instead. A decision that we soon came to regret.

    The first impression I had when I first stepped in was that the place was new, even the high chairs from Ikea were white and shiny, definitely not the state they will be in after being in use by toddlers. We signaled to the staff that we wanted to order and were informed by them that we had to fill out the order form found on the table. So, we started filling out the form with our orders, which consisted of two breakfast sets. When we passed our order to the staff, they informed us that the sets were not available on weekends and public holidays. This was stated on the menu and not on the order form. Anyway, we proceed to change our orders. I ordered the Tom Yum Mee Siam and an Iced White Coffee, while my wife ordered a Nasi Lemak Special and a milk tea for herself. We also ordered some kaya toast and 2 half-boiled eggs (Omega eggs, according to the menu) for the boy.

    To our dismay, the manager came back 5 minutes later to inform us that they had no more eggs left for the half-boiled eggs. Mind you, this is at around 10am in the morning at a restaurant supposedly specializing in serving breakfast. The first thing that popped into my mind at that very moment was to rebutt “Can’t you get some at Carrefour (which was just next door)?” There was nothing much we could do except to forgo the eggs.

    The breakfast itself was disappointing. The Tom Yum Mee Siam tasted like instant Tom Yum soup cooked using paste and hot water, with bee hoon, 2 crab sticks, a few slices of fish cake and some strands of vegetables all thrown into a pot and left to simmer. Definitely not worth the $5.50 price tag. The iced coffee was much better. It was nice and fragrant and didn’t taste watered down like some iced coffees tend to taste. However, the serving was small for $2.50 and left me wanting.

    Though I didn’t try the Nasi Lemak Special that my wife ordered, I found it strange that they actually served half a plain hard-boiled egg with nasi lemak. And the egg was so overcooked that the yolk was hard to the extent that it didn’t dissolve when I tried to scoop some of it into my Tom Yum Mee Siam.

    Our ordeal didn’t end there. After we finished the breakfast, I brought the boy out first because he was getting restless. When my wife proceeded to the payment counter, she was informed that they didn’t have any form of electronic payment set up, not even Nets. There was no notice of this at the entrance or at the counter. And the staff didn’t even inform the customers when we first stepped in. Thankfully, we have the habit of carrying a bit of cash and the total cost of the breakfast was not that high. It would have been embarrassing if someone was dining alone and did not carry enough cash to pay for the meal.

    We are definitely not going back to that outlet in the short term until they have sorted out all their logistics.

  • 2 Scoops, A Set and A Milkshake

    I’m loving my leave so far, really feels good being able to go around my business without worrying about the time or meeting deadlines.

    Last week, I was able to try out some new food places around town. They have been around for quite some time, but this is the first time I’m trying them out. I happened to pass by the first while running an errand, the next was a second chance and I made an effort to get to the third.

    Udders @ West Mall

    I was at West Mall last Tuesday to transfer my home phone line back to SingTel fixed line after about a year on Starhub Digital Home. The wife still prefers the tried and tested. Might blog about it in another post.

    The opening hours was supposed be from 11am to 10pm, but I was ‘lucky’ enough to choose the day when they delayed opening by an hour for annual financial year consolidation. So with an hour to burn, I roamed around the mall to do some window-shopping.

    The first thing that caught my eye was the ad on the first floor escalators. Udders was having 10% off single scoops.

    Having read Justin’s post on Little Ice Cream Kafe, I recalled his reference of the Lychee Martini ice-cream from Udders. Being the lychee fanatic that I am, I couldn’t resist checking it out.

    The outlet is situated on the second floor in between the escalators. Though it is in a corner, it has a sign along the walkway that you can’t miss. The table tops at the outlet have hilarious cartoons of cows and udders.

    The staff there were friendly and offered me free tasting of their various flavours prior to purchasing. They even allowed me to take a photo of their price list.

    Their flavours are classified into 3 ranges, Classic, Premium and Connoisseur. The prices varies according to range.

    In all, I tasted 4 flavours,

    • Bailey’s & Burbon (Premium) – Nice creamy flavour, can’t taste the burbon though
    • Earl Grey (Classic) – Rich taste of Earl Grey
    • Vanilla Beanz (Classic) – Classic taste of Vanilla
    • Strawberry Fields (Classic) – Full of strawberry bits and pits

    After tasting, I settled for a Classic and Connoisseur combo of Strawberry Fields and Lychee Martini. It is a good combination if you like fruit flavoured ice-cream. The two flavours of lychee and strawberry blended well together.

    The Lychee Martini was palatable with a nice refreshing lychee flavour. However, I was unable to taste the alcohol that Justin mentioned (probably due to my occasional swigs of vodka). d8

    The Strawberry Fields, on the other hand, was heavenly. I could taste the bits of strawberries with every spoonful. If you look closely, you can actually see the strawberry pits in the ice cream. Definitely a must try if you love strawberry ice-cream.

    They have other outlets in Bukit Timah and Novena. Do check out their website.

    Kaffe & Toast @ SGH

    I mentioned in my post last week that I would try out the otah bun from Kaffe & Toast the next time I visited my dad at SGH.

    So on Wednesday, I had the otah bun set for lunch. The set came with an otah bun, 2 half-boiled eggs and a hot drink. I had the coffee with my set.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for otah with bread. I usually pair the small 40 cents otah and with Gardenia sliced bread. This is the first time I tried bread with mackerel otah (the bigger $1.50 type with fish chunks), and I wonder why I never thought of this combination before. The bun that came with the otah was nice and fluffy and it complemented the spicy and firm texture of the otah very well.

    The eggs that came with the set were cooked just right, which should be expected of any respectable kaya toast and eggs makan place. The coffee, though fragrant, lacked the caffeine punch that coffee junkies, like me, require.

    The otah bun set is a refreshing change to the kaya toast breakfast set which is commonly found in various breakfast places and coffee shops. I would recommend it to anyone who has a soft spot for otah.

    Once Upon a Milkshake @ Tanjong Pagar

    Ever since reading tweets about the milkshakes from DK and posts by myfoodsirens and claudswu, I have been looking for a chance to try out the milkshakes at Once Upon a Milkshake.

    On my way back from SGH, I decided to pick up the ASUS UL30A I got for recontracting with Starhub. The collection outlet was in China Square Central on Cross Street, which was not too far off from Maxwell. It was a warm and sunny day, a day which made slurping down a cool milkshake all the more tempting. So, armed with Nokia Maps on my trustyN97, I decided to hoof it to Maxwell Chambers to try out the milkshakes.

    When I got there at around 4pm, what greeted me was a quiet little outlet with white tables and wooden chairs that seats about 20-30 people max. And because it was late in the afternoon, there were only a couple of customers around. It would have been a nice place to sit down and chill out, if I wasn’t in such a rush to get back and pick my boy from childcare.

    The milkshakes have very unique names.  There are 10 flavours to choose from.  The flavours are,

    1. agent strawberry – Strawberry
    2. chocolate truffle castle – Chocolate
    3. nutty peanut butler – Peanut Butter
    4. spooky mocha – Mocha
    5. pirate queen peach – Peach
    6. sir cookies & cream – Cookies and Cream
    7. vainilla pot – Vanilla
    8. grumbling raisins – Rum and Raisins
    9. cerious maple – Maple
    10. litchi otokonoko – Lychee

    Ordered a regular chocolate truffle castle. Have been craving for a chocolate milkshake for ages. It didn’t disappoint. The milkshake was very chocolaty with lotsa chewy chocolate bits and it was topped off with chocolate chips. Delish!

    I am already planning what to have on my next trip here. Eying the litchi otokonoko and grumbling raisins. Two of my other favourite ice-cream flavours. Can’t wait!

  • Photo Post: Nursery Excursion Part 2

    Before we started, we did not have the exact addresses or names of the places we intended to visit.  I tried searching on Google Maps, but searching the word ‘nursery’ yielded more childcare centres than plant nurseries, and searching the word ‘florist’ gave me a list of flower shops.  In the end, we used the age-old method of trial and error based on memory and chanced upon the places we visited on Sunday.

    The second nursery we visited was Bedok Garden & Landscape by Far East Flora along Bedok South Road.

    Photos were taken with a Sony T90 and resized and watermarked using XnView Portable

  • Finally Circle Line Phase 1 and 2 Opens

    When I moved into my place in the Old Airport Road area  in 2002, one of the highlights was having a Circle Line MRT station nearby which goes directly into the city by 2008, and being able to transfer to the existing MRT and NEL lines at various interchanges.

    However, the Nicoll Highway tunnel collapse in 2004 delayed the opening of both Phase 1 and 2 to 2010 beyond the 2009 opening of Phase 3. On Saturday, 17 April 2010, Phase 1 and 2 of the Circle Line officially started operations from 6am.

    We were excited to try out the new station and trains on the first day since it was practically in our backyard. So, we decided to have a family dinner at Tung Lok Seafood in Orchard Central.

    We left home at around 7pm and started walking to the Mountbatten MRT station which was around 500m away. We took the city bound train to Dhoby Ghaut interchange to transfer to the North-South line. It was fairly crowded when we boarded, but most of the passengers alighted at the next station, Stadium, as 2 concerts were being held there that night. The ride through 6 stations to Dhoby Ghaut took about 20 minutes.

    Surprisingly, the transfer to the North-South line was a breeze, it was much closer than the walk between the North-South line and North-East line at the same interchange. The transfer consisted of a ride up the escalator to the transfer deck, a short walk of about 10-20 meters to the escalator to the existing North-South line and the ride down the  escalator.

    We took the north-bound train and alighted at the Somerset station. In all, the transit from home to Somerset, including walking to the station, waiting for the trains and the transfer at Dhoby Ghaut took slightly more than 30 minutes. In comparison, taking a bus would have taken around 45 minutes. Driving was not an option as traffic into the city is nightmarish on a Saturday evening.

    Dinner was uneventful.  It was neither fantastic nor was it terrible. Typical chinese cuisine from Tung Lok. We adjourned to the roof garden to take in the night view.  The view of the lights in Orchard Road and the horizon was nice.
    The trip back home in the opposite direction also took about 30 minutes. In all, the new alternative route that the Circle Line provides into the city is definitely appreciated, especially with public transport being more crowded and owning a car being more expensive.

  • Parking @ SGH

    Friday was the first time in the week that I actually drove to SGH to visit my dad with my mum. Now I understand why my dad said that parking was a nightmare and insisted on taking public transport on the day of admission.

    We arrived at SGH around 11.45am, just before visiting hours which starts at 12 noon. We entered via College Road with the intention of parking at Car Park G which was close to Block 5 where my dad was warded. To our dismay, the car park full indicator at the entrance was on. We drove on and rounded the main building only to find queues at the entrance of  Car Parks C and E.

    We then tried our luck at Car Park B which was a coupon parking car park. We drove around the car park and found cars waiting at every corner for available lots. We gave up trying to get a lot there and decided to go back to Car Park G and queue at the entrance.

    While driving out of Car Park B, I saw a sign pointing to a car park at HPB, and it was not full. We drove in to take a look. To our delight, we found a basement carpark with lots of available parking space. We parked at a lot near the lift and proceeded to visit my dad. During the visit, a friend of my parents who was working at SGH dropped by to see how he was doing. It turns out that she also didn’t know about the car park at HPB, which was just opposite of her office building.

    So on the way back to the car, I decided to take some photos and blog about this ‘undiscovered’ secret. Though it might be a distance away from the main SGH building, I would prefer parking there because it is a basement carpark (great for not getting wet when it is raining), and since it is just beside the walkway to the MRT, it is sheltered all the way to the main building (no umbrellas needed). The most important point for an impatient person like me is that I do not need to queue or waste time waiting for a lot.

    Oh, and did I mention that it is cheaper than the other SGH parking on week days?  Its 51 cents for every half hour, just 1 cent more than URA coupon parking.