Chinese New Year in Singapore

I have always been extremely thankful to be born in Singapore: A home that is not only known as one of the safest country in the world, but also a multi-racial, religious and harmonious community. Our forefathers came from all over the world and within a short span of 45 years, we have evolved from a rural fishing village to today’s cosmopolitan city of magnificent sky-scrapers and happening nightlife!

Alright, enough of the self-praise. Since Chinese New Year (CNY) is coming up (14th-28th February 2010), let me tell you more about the cultural aspects of Singapore. The rich mix of cultures in Singapore means there is always a cultural event to celebrate, all through the year. These festivals usually centre on race, religion, age-old myths and traditions. Oh, did you notice the array of abbreviations Singaporeans use? That’s part of the Singapore culture as well! ERP, CPF, MOE, NTUC…you’ll learn more as we go along!

Chinatown

The hub of all activity during CNY is of course, Chinatown. Sense the preparation excitement in the air as enterprising merchants line Terengganu Street and Pagoda Street (Nearest MRT Station: Chinatown Station) with their colourful stalls!

Get your traditional CNY goodies such as Love Letters (thin, crispy cracker emblazoned with auspicious symbols, rolled into a hollow tube), Pineapple Tarts, Kuih Bang Kit (milky cookie that melts in your mouth, made from tapioca flour and coconut milk) and many more! The free sampling of goodies there can fill you up for a meal! Yummy. Or buy some pussy willow, red-paper decorations or baskets of mandarin oranges for good luck. If you’re married and want to join in an age-old tradition, get some Hong Bao (small red envelopes) to give to those who are single. Don’t forget to slip in some dollar notes in the Hong Bao before you give it away!

River Hong Bao Carnival (5 Minutes Walk from City Hall Station)

One of the most awaited carnivals in Singapore, the River Hong Bao Carnival is a huge and lively fair, featuring a mind-boggling variety of food, traditional arts and folklore from ancient China. You will find the entire fairground decorated with floats of mythical creatures, legendary heroes, Chinese gods, pagodas and cherry blossoms.

Visiting performers and artisans, flown in from selected provinces in China, will perform nightly cultural performances ranging from acrobatics to Chinese calligraphy. You can even have your palm read, or get a special Chinese zodiac reading of your birth sign! You should visit this place if you want to learn and experience the CNY customs.

Chingay Parade (Nearest MRT: CityHall Station)

Started in 1973 as a procession to mark the CNY festivities, this annual parade is now the grandest street and floats parade in Asia, showcasing the rich, vibrant multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan cultures of Singapore as well as hundreds of renowned performers from all over the world.

The term ‘Chingay’ originated from Southeast Asia, and is a phonetic equivalent of the Chinese words “妆艺” (which means “a decorated display of culture and traditional skills). Today, the parade has evolved into a massive multi-cultural and international event with live telecast on local television every year. For 2010, it will be taking place at our very own F1 Racing Pit on 19th and 20th February. Tickets can be purchased from www.sistic.com.sg. Chingay is truly an all-out, multi-national party you must not miss!

Transport-wise, I would say that it is relatively easy to find your way around Singapore. Not that we are a mere “little red dot”, but it is because we have got a comprehensive and accessible transport system in place. A good way to avoid the festive jams is to take the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, also known as our subway or train services), which will bring you swiftly to heart of Chinatown and City Hall.

It is just the beginning of February, but I can already sense how exciting this month will be! Got to go, I’m off to get new wardrobe additions for the Chinese New Year, and I can’t wait to experience the festive crowd at Chinatown tonight!

Food Paradise

Author : Kelly-Ann, Singapore

I think I can safely call myself a foodie; someone who is discerning enough to tell a ribeye from a sirloin.

Food gives me comfort and for some strange reason, I feel uberly excited as the clock tick closer and closer to the next meal time.

Singapore is just the place for a foodie like me. The great nationality diversity here means the many different cuisines available for our taste buds. Walk into any hawker centre or kopitiam (literally: a coffee shop – one without air conditioning – that sells food and drinks), and you’ll be spoilt for choice. The majority of races in Singapore make up the kinds of dishes you’ll find there: Chinese, Malay, Indian and simple Western dishes.

I’ll start simple, and give you a low-down of what to expect if you’re on a low budget. Nothing fancy, yet.

There is almost always a kopitiam within a few blocks away from wherever you are, in Singapore. If you’re in a suburban neighbourhood centre (affectionately known as ‘Central’ here), there will be a market, a large complex that sells fresh meats, produce, food and drinks. If you’re in a suburban mall, or a shopping centre in the city, you will definitely be able to locate a food court – which has air conditioning and cleaners who help to clear your trays.

These places are the most affordable ways to dine and are usually open until late.

Almost always, you’ll find the below dishes in some or all of these places.

Chinese

1.Hainanese Chicken Rice: Steamed chicken with soya and sesame gravy. Served with chicken-flavoured rice. If you dare the spice factor, ask for a side dip of chilli, ginger paste and dark sauce.

2.Roasted Duck Rice: Roasted duck served with white rice. Ask for a side dip of plum sauce and chilli paste.

3.Sliced fish soup vermicelli:

4.Bak Chor Mee (Minced Pork Noodle): Thin yellow noodle doused in a mixture of minced pork, mushrooms and dark soya-based gravy. Served with a side bowl of meatball soup.

5.Wanton Mee (Pork dumpling Noodle): Usually eaten dry. Thin yellow noodle with soya-based gravy and topped with roasted pork and wanton (pork dumplings)

6.Seafood/Beef Hor Fun (Stir-fried flat broad rice noodle): Stir-fried hor fun with a starchy gravy with your choice of meat/seafood. Must be eaten with pickled green chilli for extra kick!

7.Char Kway Teow (Stir-fried flat broad rice noodle in dark sauce): A dry version of the hor fun, this dish is usually done with dark sweet soya sauce, and lots of crispy and fragrant pork lard, tossed with bean sprouts, fish cake and raw clams. Ask for no clams if you’re not used to its raw taste.

8.Fried Carrot Cake: Broken pieces of steamed carrot and starch cake, stir fried with sweet dark sauce and held together with egg. Ask for a non-black version if you’re not used to having a sweet and savoury mix of tastes.

9.Fried Oyster Omelette: Fresh oysters loosely fried with a starchy egg mixture which turns into a yummy chewy paste when done.

10.Popiah: A rice paper-thin roll of stewed turnips, shredded vegetables and Chinese sausage.

11.‘Michael Jackson’ drink: Officially known as “Michael Jackson”, this is a beverage made by mixing white soya bean milk with black grass jelly drink.

Malay

1.Laksa: A coconut milk-infused curry noodle dish. Topped with sliced fish cake, bean sprouts and raw clams.

2.Mee Siam: A tamarind-based soupy vermicelli dish. Topped with hard-boiled egg.

3.Mee Rubus: Another coconut-milk infused dish that has a strong peanut taste. Served with yellow noodles, shredded chicken and bean sprouts.

4.Nasi Lemak: Everyone’s favourite. Coconut white rice, topped with an omelette, fried fish, fried anchovies and peanut mix, cucumber slices and a dollop of sambal chilli (savoury chilli paste)

5.Mee Soto: Yellow noodles soaked in a chicken-based soup. Served with hard-boiled egg and shredded chicken.

6.Mee Goreng: Stir-fried yellow noodles in spicy paste. Some stalls use instant noodles to make this dish, good for those who cannot appreciate the taste of yellow noodles.

7.Rojak: A mixture of sliced cucumbers, apples, pineapples, raw mango, deep fried dough fritters tossed in a thick peanut-y shrimp sauce.

8.Bandung: A sweet beverage made with rose syrup and sweetened condensed milk.

Indian

1.Roti prata: A pancake bread made of lard, egg, flour and water. Usually eaten with curry. A variety of stuffings available like onion, cheese, eggs, and more.

2.Indian Rojak: An assortment of potatoes, eggs, bean curd (tofu), and prawns fried in batter, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce

3.Fish head curry: A spicy dish, usually eaten with rice or bread. Fish head cooked in a thick curry gravy with chopped vegetables like lady’s fingers, onions, tomatos and brinjals (eggplants)

4.Nasi Biryani: A set of rice-based foods made with lots of spices, basmati rice, and meat, fish, eggs or vegetables.

5.Teh Tarik: Everyone’s favourite frothy tea! Literally known as “pulled tea”, its name is derived from the pouring process of “pulling” the drink during preparation. It is made from black tea and sweetened condensed milk.

Room rant, in a good way

Author : Bee – Malaysia

Having to live away from home is really not easy. Luckily, being Malaysian, Singapore is just next door, which means that the culture, food types and style of living is quite similar.

Personally, I prefer living off-campus over on-campus accommodation options. I like having my own space and also experience living amongst Singaporeans. So, I found myself a room not too far away from NTU in Jurong West; which is less than 5 bus stops away from Nanyang Business School (where classes are held). It is also only 3 bus stops away from the nearest MRT station (Pioneer station) and the heartland malls. (One of them, Jurong Point, is actually Singapore’s largest heartland mall which is like a self-sustainable mini city on its own!)

Most Singaporeans (about 80%) live in government-built apartments known as HDB (Housing Development Board) flats. These flats average 100 sqm (1076 sq ft) and usually have 3 bed rooms. The master bedroom has a connecting bathroom/toilet, while occupants of the other two common rooms will need to utilize the common bathroom usually located next to the kitchen.

These types of public housing are affordable ways for Singaporeans and residents to live comfortably without having to pay exorbitant prices for condominiums or landed properties and their utilities. Although one may argue they get to luxuriate in facilities like swimming pools and tennis courts, I will point that just opposite to where I stay, is a huge sports complex (Jurong West Sports Complex) – a 4-storey building that has an Olympic-sized pool, a fun-themed pool (it’s huge!) with slides, tubes and fountains and lazy rivers, and badminton/squash courts, kickboxing, yoga, pilate and dance classes, a running track, a football field, and more!

Multiple common lifts on every level of the HDB flats also means more convenience and the maintenance of the flats (Cleaners come to sweep and mop the common areas) on a daily basis also provides a clean and hygienic state to live in. I like that when I have rubbish to throw, I can simply chuck it down a rubbish chute, which has an opening in every flat. The collection point is cleared every day, making it again, very hygienic.

Money-wise, I think I am paying a fair fee for rental of my room (I settled for a furnished common room with a family of 4). My monthly rent of S$500 includes electricity, water and wireless internet broadband). I’m so thankful the family I live with also hired a domestic helper, so the house is always spick and span.

At meal times, I simply take a lift downstairs and walk 3 minutes to a hawker centre (food court style) to eat. They’re mostly opened till the late hours of the night, providing satisfaction for my post-study hunger pangs! When I crave something more up-market, Jurong Point which has more than 40 restaurants and cafes, is just 1 MRT station away!

Canteen B

Author : Sisca L, Indonesian

Canteen B coincidentally is the canteen housed in the Nanyang Business School, so we call it Canteen ‘B’usiness.

Like any food courts, we have a good variety of food selection at Canteen B; Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western, Vegetarian, Fruits and juices, local desserts, pastries and my favourite, Mr. Bean (a soya bean-based drink stall).

The prices here are largely cheaper than what you will have to fork out at external food courts or cafes. A cup of Mr. Bean soya bean drink costs $1 here (as compared to the $1.60 charged outside).

When the canteen gets too crowded during lunch hour, I will take away food and eat it in my favourite enclave, the MBA lounge (a cozy lounge complete with flat screen TV and a bar, only for MBA students!). Here’s a tip if you’re not local, when you ask for take away, the word to say is “Ta Pao” (It means “pack” in Chinese).

Right now, my favourite dish is “Mexican Chicken Chop” from the Western food stall which also makes burgers and simple pastas. It is a chicken fillet fried to a crispy gold and topped with brown gravy and molten cheese. I love eating it with a side dish of butter rice and coleslaw. Mmm!

Orchard Road – a shopaholic’s haven!

Author : Kelly-Ann – Singapore

I remember being an impressionable teenager sauntering down Orchard Road, decked out in oversized t-shirts, baggy high-waisted Valentino jeans and a friendship band proudly hanging from my wrist. We only hung out at a few malls then; Wisma Atria, Scotts Shopping Centre, Far East Plaza, Plaza Singapura. They were enough as long as we had a place to sit in a group and sip our slurpees.

Today, 2 decades later, the same stretch of Orchard Road is Singapore’s pride and it’s tourists’ joy. Littered with a myriad shopping malls, hotels, cafes, pubs and eateries, it puts high street to shame. I remember returning from Australia after 3 years away from Singapore, and was I lost! Lost in a sea of new vibrance I’ve never seen before, on our little island.

Restaurants serving authentic cuisines from all over the world, fashion boutiques peddling obscure brands, high fashion houses, spas, pubs, clubs, street baskers and countless hotel chains are presented to you on a single street. Like it takes 30 days to finish admiring every art piece in The Lourve, it took me months to even remember where each mall was.

But it’s simple; just remember where the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station is, and the 3 stations that serve the entire stretch of Orchard Road [namely: Orchard, Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut] ensures you wouldn’t have to struggle with shopping fatigue from one end, to another. Also, don’t forget to pack light when you’re out and about in Orchard Road, because the number of shopping bags you’ll have to lug back home after a spree, is akin to carrying free weights in a gym! Oh, that means you’ll need to dress light too, because, Singapore is summer all year round (of course, except for the monsoon season).

Here are some malls I frequent, and if you’re a shopaholic like me, you’ve come to the right place!

1.Far East Plaza – for young adults’ fashion, good hair stylists, eyelash extensions, waxes, cheap shoes!!! Go to the 5th floor for very good local food.

2.Wisma Atria – a mid-priced mall, selling fashion brands like FCUK, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, and houses the Japanese departmental store, Isetan. Must eat at Singapore’s first premium food court – Food Republic. Must-try: Stir-fried Hokkien Mee (noodles) with lots of chilli on the side. YUM!

3.Ngee Ann City – the biggest mall in Asia. This place has everything under the sun, houses Japanese departmental store, Takashimaya. I get my Aesop and Sephora fixes at Ngee Ann City.

4.ION Orchard – for the rich and well-heeled. The Ls and the Vs and all that jazz. It has an underground link that leads you to Wheelock Place (where bookstore, Borders is).

5.Paragon – I go to Fitness First gym here, and ironically stuff my face afterwards, at PS café. Order: Banana-Mango Crumble with vanilla icre cream. DELISH!

6.313 @ Somerset – What can I say? A Forever 21 shop so big, I took an entire afternoon shopping in it! Music giant HMV is also here. And my favourite buffet place Marche is BACK! Yay!!!

7.Orchard Central – Ok, the design of this place is commendable. Each floor has a theme! For the sweet-toothers, you MUST try the Japanese fruit pies at Fruit Paradise. I think even my eyes were salivating looking at the colourful displays. And yes, it tastes as good as it looks!

8.KPO – I was there for the launch of Kronenbourg 1664 (who thought France could make such good beer!?!) launch, and fell in love with this place. It’s a 2-storey post-office that has been converted into a pub/café. So, yes, please order a Kronenbourg 1664 if you love your beer light and fruity like me!

9.Bed Rock @ Pan Pacific Suites (at the back of 313 @ Somerset) – This quietly confident looking serviced apartment has a secret! Sitting at the rear end of the building, is Singapore’s best steak house in town! I wasn’t doing my wallet any favours when I ordered the most expensive Wagyu steak they had on the menu. But if you’re a like-minded carnivore, you will not regret this cozy and intimate establishment.

10.Plaza Singapura – ‘Plaza Sing’, as it’s affectionately known, or PS, is a place for families. I’m usually there to catch a movie at the Golden Village theatres, after a good snack of Aussie gelato and waffles at Gelare. Carefour is a giant hypermart that is good enough for any shopping need! Oh, if you’re into arts and crafts, you’ll have to go to Spotlight (another Australian brand) on Level 5, to buy materials or to attend a craft class!

Nanyang Technological University

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