Monday, 31 October 2011

Siem Reap Day 2 - Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom

The Monkey King. The Leper King. Monkey Mind. The Monkey Do's and the Monkey Don'ts

sunny30°C

It was a sunny day, but not unbearably hot. It' only 3 to 4 degrees above an almost perfect walking temperature.

national flag of CambodiaOur 1st stop of the day was the much anticipated (for almost a decade) of the UNESCO listed Angkor Wat. The largest temple complex in the world. Like everything else, nothing could be popularised quite the way Hollywood was able to. Angkor Wat is no exception. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) did a much better job in spreading the good words than UNESCO ever could (also, think the Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) does similar promo for the nearby tourist site in Thailand). My mate Lan told me that while she visited in 2002, the tour guide gave her blow by blow account where the film was shot. Much to her frustration, she never watched the movie.
 
Apart from its famous outline of the main temple that appears on the Cambodian national flag, are the various bas-reliefs along the temple walls. The wall depicted 8 different themes/stories/mythologies as described by this website.
 
The best bas-reliefs (and not just my own opinion), at least from the preservation point of view, is the Battle of Lanka. This part shows the scenes of Khmer's version of Hindu Epic Ramayana where the monkey-army battles with the demon king Ravana.
 
Monkeys seem to feature strongly in Asian culture and mythology. Hindu has Hanuman, Chinese has Sun Wukong (孫悟空), and the Japanese has Three Wise Monkeys that are well known in the West. One could easily argue that the Sun Wukong - aka Monkey King - the most interesting, lovable and central character in the Chinese literature classics Journey to the West, would likely be inspired by Hanuman. After all, the story was about a Chinese monk's pilgrimage to India to obtain the Buddhist Scriptures. And when Buddhism continued to spread eastwards to Japan, the monkey character went along for the ride as it had done for the Chinese Classic (only in the opposite direction). Monkey - the central character in Journey to the West - symbolises spiritual progress from our busy, restless lives towards peaceful enlightenment. This is shown by the fact that Sun Wukong in the early part of the story turns the Heavenly Order upside down in Havoc in Heaven where he demanded to be called "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven" (齊天大聖). At the end of the story, he has become an obedient, calm, well adjusted members of the pilgrimage - a team player. In Zen Buddhism, the restless mind is often called Monkey Mind.
 
An eureka moment zapped me as I'm typing this why Journey to the West is THE Chinese classics. This story - or accurately the central character Monkey - captures and resonates with the 3 Chinese cultural System of Thoughts - Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The changing, mercurial nature of the Monkey reflects the Taoist philosophy, the obedient Monkey represents Confucianism, and the spiritual progress implies Buddhism. In fact, while it's a story about Buddhist pilgrimage, the allegory of the story is at its very heart, very Confucian. Play nice, be a team player, don't be a rabble rouser, know your place. This is the central messages of the story. The core of Confucianism.
 
Sorry I digress. I think it's more than Hindu influence that the Monkey lore arose in China. Monkey is 1 of the 12 Chinese zodiac, which predates the Chinese classics by centuries. Even the original Hanuman begs the questions, why monkey? Here's my theory, the monkey is the product of the marriage of 2 things - animism and the widespread of monkeys in Asia. Many temples I had gone to in Asia, I run into these animated creatures. Batu Caves in KL, temples (the names escapes me) in Bali, etc. The question is, which comes 1st? Monkey or the temple? Do Hindus deliberate build temples where many monkeys dwell? Or do the clever simian would come to the temple because they are being fed (and never mind being revered)? Who know? It's of those eternal chicken or the egg question.
 
 Back to the bas-reliefs of the Battle of Lanka in Angkor Wat. The Japanese 3 Wise Monkeys are found in a temple, so they're monk monkeys. That's why they need to follow don'ts. Don't do this, don't do that. The monkeys in this bas-reliefs are warrior monkeys. They don't don't do. They do.
 
The monk monkeys have commandments, the army monkeys have mottos. So instead of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"; they have "bite your leg off, bite your torso off, bite your head off". All these MA-rated action-pack battle scenes are meticulously and lovingly carved on the wall. Yum! Fingers lickin' good!  Do warn the kids not to monkey see, monkey do.
 
Angkor Wat, CambodiaMoneky, Battle of Lanka, Angkor Wat

bas-relief, Monkey army, Anglor Wat


















(Click on photos for full size. Better still right-click, open new window)

Angkor Thom is only 1.7km north of Angkor Thom. Close enough to walk, which was what we did. Just like Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is surrounded by a moat. And both sites are connected via causeways. This causeway is more memorable than the Angkor Wat's, franked by large sculptures of devas on the left and asuras on the right.

Bayon, Angkor ThomWe made our 1st stop in Angkor Thom to Bayon. This is a very richly decorated temples that would be described as baroque style of the Khmer architecture.

The wall on the eastern gallery has a mixture of mythology, every life scenes, and history.

On the historical front, this relief on the left depicts a battle marching scene. 2 types of soldiers could be seen. The one marches in the front has buns on their tops, and some have goatee. Anyone who has seen the entombed warriors knows that these are Chinese soldiers. And it is.

The Khmer soldiers who marches in the back have no buns in their hairs, have very long ears, and are clean shaven. (Ancient Chinese didn't cut their hair their whole life. Cutting their hair or any part of their body is a symbol of unfilial disrespect to their parents because these things are endowed from their parents).  It's too small to make out in this photo, I could tell you that the Khmer soldiers are barefoot (the individual toes and digits were exquisitely carved. Click on the photo to look at it in full size) while the Chinese soldiers wear army boots. The uniforms and facial features of the 2 groups are also quite distinct. One Chinese soldier - the closest to the horse - carrying  a gong. It was customary for Chinese troop to bang on gong during battle to spur morale, also used as commands communication tool.

In the watch towers of the Great wall of China, smoke signals were used as communication tool (like American Indian). In the midst of battle, setting up a campfire smell of laid back attitude to life (let's smoke a peace pipe, and become friends). The gong is much more appropriate signalling tool. It sounds more like an urgent Kill! Kill! Kill!

The mounted military general (I assume) would be Chinese, judging from his hair bun, goatee, uniform and facial feature. In short, the carving details are meticulous and very well preserved.

The battle scene shows that the Chinese fought side by side with the Khmer against the neighbouring army of the Kingdom of Champa (in present day central and part of southern Vietnam). In a way, history has not changed much . Vietnam isn't in such a friendly term with PRC today (much worse off in the last 3 decades. A border war sparked off between PRC and Vietnam in 1979), while the most important political figure of modern Cambodia - Norodom Sihanouk - had a close career-long ties with China. In fact, he died in a Beijing hospital in 2012.

Actually there's 1 more Chinese connection to Cambodia. Possibly the most important one. During the Yuan dynasty in year 1296, a Chinese envoy by name, travel bug by game, called Zhou Daguan (周達觀) came to Chenla (真臘), what Cambodia was called by the Chinese then. After returning to China, he wrote a travel guide titled Chenla: The Manners and Customs (真臘風土記). The book - travel blog wasn't available yet - became an instant bestseller in China (don't know for how long), and it was soon forgotten. Some 500 years later, Henri Mohot stumbled upon that book. It was believed by some that it was the reading of that travel guide (French translated version, of course) that he decided to explore Cambodia.

Our driver cum tour guide from the villa (read my previous diary "Siem Reap Day 1") took us to Banteay Srei before the lunch break. This temple is notable for its small size. What it loses in size, it gains in its generous intricate and rich decorations. It's also known among tourists as "Citadel of Women" or "Citadel of Beauty" for its tiny size and delicate charm when compares to its grander cousins like Bayon or Angkor Wat.

It's built using red sandstone, which is something Aussies (at least Sydneysider) know all too well as construction materials. Many of Sydney public buildings were made out of this stuff that gives it the red hue (Sydney sandstone is less red because of its lower iron content). Bricks and laterite also used in the temple. As both of these are red, they masquerade themselves reasonably well.

Banteay Srei, Sieam Reap, doorwayBantey Srei, Siem Reap, window

The walls surrounding the window and doorway are constructed with porous, coarse laterite material while the door and window frames, as well as window posts are made out of much smoother building materials like sandstone. Many of the buildings and sculptures in Sukhoithai and Ayutthaya in Thailand are also constructed with laterite, which seems to be common in Indochina (and hot and wet tropical areas in general). The window posts are so symmetrical and precise that it tempts one to think that these ancient craftsmen may have some kind of rotary tools.

We made our way to Ta Prohm after a Khmer lunch at a local restaurant (we insisted to the tour guide that we only wanted Khmer dishes for lunch). Because Bantay Srei is 37km from Siem Reap, the tour guide arranged to give us a siesta nap after lunch while we were driven back to Siem Reap.

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, CambodiaTa Prohm was built in the similar rich baroque style as Bayon we visited this morning. But the most well known feature, in fact its tourist draw-card, is the many instances of banyan trees devouring buildings. The kind that you see in documentary like Life After People where nature reclaims her dominion over the human creations like architecture in the early stage.

All man-made objects in Siem Reap were devoured by the jungle at different stages of digestion by Mother Earth after they were abandon. Most of this devouring trees had been cleared away (for the benefits of tourists). Some, like Ta Prohm, are more extensive into the digestion process, and so the process of restoration are still on going today. At least, it still not totally merged with the jungle. You wouldn't have the chance to see those.

Another even more important reason for its popularity is, well you've guessed, Tomb Raider. And for this reason, it had been given the showbiz name "Tomb Raider Temple" (remember "James Bond Rock" in Phuket, Thailand?).

As we headed back, we retraced the our route through Angkor Thom, where we stopped for Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King. Why didn't we stop there when we were there this morning? Perhaps because this 2 sites were considered minor by our tour guide, and priority were given to the other sites. And only stopped here on our way back if we still had time.

While it's sandwiched between the end of low season (read high temperature), the and the start of peak season (read mild temperature), the weather could be unsettled as one would expect. We were lucky to have a sunny, yet reasonably mild day. The tourist crowd was small. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm were somewhat busier, but still not getting to shoulder to shoulder density, which according to our tour guide would be the case during Dec, and Jan.

The distance between our villa and Angkor Wat/Angkor Thom isn't far. It would only takes 15 to 20 mins if the road condition was good, now took 35 mins. There was flooding in this area for a few months that coincided with the flood in Bangkok that made headlines (even though the two are unrelated. At least not on the same river system). The flood led to the significant water damage that left many large and deep potholes on the road.

Except for Banteay Srei, most of the temples in Siem Reap are either within walking or cycling distance. This lead to many tourists doing sightseeing on bikes if the weather is fine. According to my tour guide, the weather in Dec and Jan is in the early 20°C. With the very good exchange rate and low labour costs, Siem Reap is a great weekend getaway, especially if you're living nearby.

Giving all these attractive factors, I'm thinking of coming back here some day to look at other temples. According to our tour guide, there're as many as 700 temples in Siem Reap alone!!! We seen less than 10 today (albeit the most well known). I'm not sure if the figures are correct. But then the Angkor period spans from 6th to 16th century. With devoted effort, you could build a hell lot of temples in 10 centuries.

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Siem Reap Day 1 - Sojourn Boutique Villa, Old Market

Cured Travel Bug got Dragged to See World UNESCO site. Villa Dejavu. Travelling the Middle Way. Feet for Fish. Fish for House cat.

semi-overcast 30 °C
                      
Had been wanting to see Angkor Wat for ages. It's even got included in my Bucket List (The phrase "Bucket List" should be said in a loud, booming voice with many echoes. Preferably accompanied by 2 files of trumpeters blaring their horns). Atta had been dragging her feet when it comes to Angkor Wat. In last few years, bugs that I got from my travels had wearing down me of my travel bug. To the point that I'm so low in travel bug count that I need a fresh transfusion just to keep me interested. It's only then that she said, "Let's go to Siem Reap".

She knows my desire for travelling had been buried deep underground like the tombs of 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors (明十三陵) near Beijing. Like the dead emperors, I'm only wished to be visited, not visiting others (and visits to my place is free). What's more, discounting her business trips to Istanbul, Jakarta, Doha and Bangkok this year (of which I didn't go), we already toured Taiwan during Chinese New Year, and joined a 3 weeks Baltic cruise just a few months ago. Boy, I feel tired just recounting it. I opposed to this trip vehemently. Man, she has definitely suffered from a bad case of Severe and Acute Travelling Bug Syndrome (aka SATBS, unrelated to SARS). As she was born in HK (birth place of SARS and one of PRC's 2 SARs), she must have contracted SATBS there from birth. I'm very much cured of this incurable disease.

I jumped up and down screaming "No more for this year!" (I should have also dropped onto the floor and kicked like a kid in tantrums for a good measure, but I feared that I hurt my hip performing this childish act. A damaged hip is really bad for travelling, and future tantrums if I so wich to perform this ritual again). I said to her with my Bruce Lee's (1940 - 1973) trademarked finger pointing pose, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!" while imitating the voice of Bill Bixby (1934 - 1993), who played "The Incredible Hulk" (1978 - 1982). Between my busy acts of celebrity impressions and limited Stanislavski's method acting, I heard that we should take advantage of the Frequent Flyers Miles before it lapsed in November. The Krisflyer points were only enough to cover us to fly to Cambodia (or is it Kampuchea?). I may not multitask very well. But I heard her between my Oscar winning impromptu performance. And finally, to win me completely over, she said the 2 little magic words, "3 days". It's only for 3 days. She made the gesture that saying both 'ok' and '3'. So I replied with the same gesture (in my mind, my gesture to her involved 2 fingers. 'V' sign for victory. What were you thinking? Get your head out of the gutter. Would ya?).

On the plane, she dropped the bomb on me (nobody on the plane got hurt but me) that we didn't really have to use the points after all. It didn't expire. Somehow. Uhmmm...."after all", "somehow". Interesting choice of words. when it comes to this matter, she's so creative. Never mind, it's only for 3 days. I told meself, I can handle 3 days. Finger cross. Touch wood. Pray to god (I'm agnostic. But desperate times call for desperate measure. I would convert to any god who can do me a solid). I chanted to myself, "3 more days" like voters chanted "4 more years" in election campaign but without the enthusiasm. I chanted repeatedly amid the loud drones of jet engines. I hope one of the gods can hear me. I guess they can. I hope they can. Be positive, they can! Hullaleyah!!! Call me Lucky!

Sojourn Villa, Siem Reap, CambodiaWe stayed in Sojourn Villa for the 3-day trip. This reminds me of Villa Sungei in Bali we visited about 4 years ago. Everything. If you followed my hyperlinks to these 2 villas and look at the photos, you'll know what I mean. The overall vibes of the 2 places has so much similarities in its tropical idyllic charms - the tropical flora, featured strongly in frangipini and palms, swimming pool, and the surrounding bungalows (or villas), right down to the cats. More about the cats later. Not to mention the Buddhist-Hindu religious decors dotted around the Villas. Both of these villas nestled in their local villages, instead of the town centre. Even the typical Hindu morning food offering that left outside our porch is the same.

Speaking of this Bali Hindu's tradition, this reminds me of something quite interesting - you may find it dead boring - between Bali, Indonesia and India. The single most touristy iconic image of India is Taj Mahal. It's a UNESCO heritage site. It's a Islamic architecture, a mosque, in a predominant Hindu country. While the single most touristy iconic image of Indonesia is Borobudur. It's a UNESCO heritage site. It's a Hindu architecture, a temple, in a predominant Muslim country. Many Hindu images of Bali too make into covers of Indonesia travel brochures. And not just tourist brochures, but many other product/service brochures. Did you find it interesting or dead boring? You don't care! I see.

Ok, back to Siem Reap. The similarities between the 2 villas are more than just on the surface - i.e. scenery, decor, and architecture. They also provide similar services.

You have 3 ways to do sightseeing. You can join a packaged tour and give yourself minimum hassles, and minimum flexibility. You go where the tour group goes, you get up when they tell you to, etc. On the other hand, you can go for the DIY option where you have maximum hassles, and maximum flexibility. Or you can go the middle way. This is where the villas concept comes in. This is where they shine. The villa provides you with a driver for a whole day, and suggests some itineraries for the typical sights. You can either follow their suggestion to the letters, or design your own itineraries, just tell your driver to take you there. The most likely scenario would be what we had done - we took up some of their suggestions (which is usually a good suggestion anyway), but we also have some specific things we like to do that's not been suggested. The time is of course flexible. They even provide us lunch.

One more similarity. Both of these villas are run by Aussies. I don't know if these concepts are invented by the Aussies or not, but these concepts can only work if the labour cost of the country is quite low. Since the driver they provide are for the whole day, and the villa is located in a local village, thus away from anywhere a touristy. Your own personal driver becomes very convenient, almost essential. I couldn't imagine I can afford this kind of chauffeuring service even in country like Thailand. And so it didn't come as a surprise that Siem Reap has something similar to Bali. We took up this package. The damage of this package is $200 USD per night for us. Of course, price is subjected to changes. Would imagine this costs more in peak season.

By the way, peak season is in December when the weather here is quite mild and pleasant. The weather in the months of June to August are insufferably hot and humid, as we were told by the tour guide. In the start of November, we've arrived just at the very beginning of the Peak Season. It's sandwiched between perfect and miserable weather. We hoped for the best. Actually, this time isn't so bad as the tourist numbers are quite low. In Peak Season, you get the good weather, but also the crowds.

I did enjoy my previous 2 trips to Bali, so I imagine, I would also enjoy this trip with this similar setup.

Angkor Wat at dusk, Siem ReapIt was about 2:45PM when we arrived at the villa. The immediate itinerary that they suggested was a sunset picnic outside - not a sightseeing tour of - Angkor Wat. We get the sightseeing tour tomorrow.
After unpacking and down a honey tasting welcome drink, we made our way to the picnic around at 5:15PM. We turned the corner around the moat and from our car windows we saw Angkor Wat in the distant bathed in the warm golden glow of the sunset. Temples in Angkor face West, which in Hindu religion meaning death. When a Chinese says somebody is going to the Western Sky (="xi tian"=西天[1]), it means someone is going to meet the Maker.

Monk at the causeway of Angkor Wat, Sien Reap, Cambodia
Monk at the causeway of Angkor Wat

I was quite anxious to take the photo of Angkor Wat in the magic hours. As we parked our car, and walked to the moat side where we stayed for picnic, the cloud made their way to blanket out the sun just in time. Not a minute too late. Any keen photographer knows the difference of any scene between sunset and cloudy condition is like heaven and earth (ok, rainbow and mud). The sun never returned. The lazy bugger knocked off for the day while we were there. Better luck next time, if there's a next time.

Old Market, Siem Reap, CambodiaAfter the picnic, we were driven to the Old Market in the town centre and bought a guide book for $4, which we bargained down from $6 USD. We weren't trying to save 2 bucks. We simply respect the tradition. When in Rome you wear a revealing tunic, but when in Siem Reap, you haggle until the cows (or bucks) come home.

I only did some light research on the net (by light, I mean on a laptop), and never bought a guidebook for this trip (only 3 days, why bother?). So we thought we brought "The Treasures of Angkor Wat", published by White Star (I imagine it would cost about 30 AUD/SGD in Australia/Singapore). The guidebook is 2 years old (is brand new condition and still in shrink wrap). It didn't really matter. This isn't one of those guidebook that's big on facts and figures, and low on photos like "Lonely Planets". This one is all about gorgeous glossy photos and some maps. It's like postcards on the cheap. Perfect as a souvenir, and so doesn't matter if it's published this year or 5 years ago.

The town centre is dotted with quite a few street stalls with signs of Dr. Fish around. They're essentially businesses based on Doctor Fish. Their business consists of an aquarium with fishes that eat your feet. I didn't see too many pedi-daredevils. But it wasn't the Peak Season. Also, this fishy pedicure is one of those new fashion like Kindle ebook reader, it isn't quite caught on yet.

Doctor Fish stand, Sieam Reap, CambodiaWhen we returned, the sun had set, and on my way to back to our rooms/bungalow, I nearly stepped on a frog. They're so small and cute (no bigger than my thumb), and so they could be very easily stepped on and got squashed if you don't look where you're walking. They come out during, before or after a rain. Like most Aussies, they love wetness and outdoor.

After a repose, we dined at the Villa's restaurant. Just like the restaurant in Villa Sungei in Bali, the restaurant in this villa is also a alfresco dining. That is, it has ceiling, but no walls. Because it's open, the house cat - or should I say Cat of the House - came to dine with us with no RSVP. We certainly didn't mind this uninvited guest because it was such a pretty cute pussy. We fed it with our 3 course square meal.

Yep, you've guessed it, this unofficial itinerary is also identical to that of Villa Sungei. We fed their cat as an after dinner activity. Now you know what I meant when I said that the similarities of the 2 villas are right down to the house cat.

The 1 difference between these 2 villas is the bathroom. In Villa Sungei, the bathroom is what I would call an alfresco shower. Alfresco shower isn't as good a concept as alfresco dining. In fact, the 2 enclosures are reversed. In alfresco restaurant, there's ceiling, but no walls. In alfresco shower, there're walls, but no ceiling. So how are we going to have a shower when it's raining? Also, in the morning, we found all kinda of dead leaves and creepy crawlies took over our washing basins. The bathroom in Sojourn Villa is good. It's totally enclosed as bathroom is supposed to. Private. It has several very large windows so that you can get that feeling of being outside (if that's your thing), but without the downside of actually being outside. Just draw the blind if you don't like to feel connected to the outdoor when you doing your private things. Leave the blind up if you're way too proud of your body. No problemo.

No, I don't believe they're operated by the same Aussie.

Yes, I'm reasonably proud of my body. But I close the blinds anyway. I don't want anyone goes blind after seeing me naked.

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[1]   西天 = "Western Sky" is translated into English as "Western Paradise". Time again and again, they interpret rather than translate. Another example, 中国="Zhong gou" was interpreted as "Middle Kingdom", once again the term should be translated as "Middle Country". This interpretation annoyed me to no end. I guess the English speakers aren't dumb to interpret meaning from literal translation. So smart-alecky translator has to become interpreter.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Shittingly Good Cup of Birthday Coffee

Another check for my bucket list. Vietnamese Drip Coffee. Maid in Singapore. Feast for your Eyes. And other wacky themed Food Fares.

sunny 29 °C

Ada said she would take me for a cup of cat-poop coffee (貓屎咖啡) for my birth day this year. You've guessed it, this is what HK locals' slang for Civet coffee, aka Kopi Luwak (This name sounds like local coffee because both Indonesian an Malaysian language use the word 'kopi' for coffee).

I heard about this coffee in a documentary on TV in Sydney some 6 or 7 years ago, but never actually thought about sampling it. So where did Ada got the idea from? A few weeks ago, while we had Vietnamese coffee at Trung Nguyen Coffee in Liang Court, Dan told us that he had a cup of Civet coffee in North Sydney. I was a little bit surprise because Dan has only lived in Sydney for about 2 years while I lived there for more than 30, and what's more, I was a keener coffee drinker than he is. Yet I had never heard about the coffee shop. Maybe they just opened in the last 2 years while we were out of the country. Maybe I'm just out of touch. Nah, I couldn't even convinced myself of that.

Actually the reason she suggested it was because when I was asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said, half jokingly, I wanted to cross out an item on my bucket list. My list is a typical boring list that contains mostly of places to stare at, foods to chow down, drinks to suck, people to annoy make peace with, movies to pirate watch, books to steal read. Well, forget about the last item. I heard rumours that books are on its way out. Well, on Feb 16 this year, Borders Group - the 2nd largest bookshop in USA - filed for Chapter 11, and closed the book, so to speak. That's no rumours.

Borders Bookstore, Singapore
Bye bye now
I've been to this shop a number of times, but only to drink coffee. Like I said, this worm now find books hard to swallow because of my bad eyesight.

Besides, meself and my hands are tired of reading books with a magnifying glass (but I do like the idea of looking like an old fashioned snoop - Sherlock Holm et al. Very cool). Let me change it to audio books to listen (not that my hearing are much better than my vision, but turn on the volume is a snappy job). Nah...forgetting about all forms of books, may they be paper, audio, Kindle or virtual reality (still waiting) or read by Miss Jackie Collins (if I can afford it). My book worm days are over. Here comes my blog WORM (Write Once, Read Many) days. I'll just watch movies that based on those books. I'm still waiting for Hollywood to make "A Man in Full" by Tom Wolf as the dust on the book thickens (so to speak).

Wha? You haven't got a list like this? Congrat! You haven't spent too much time dwelling on the spectre of death. Don't worry, you will warm up to the idea one day, or I should say many sleepless nights.

Different men have their unique approaches to dealing with mid-life crisis - some hook up with young girls half their age; some get onto a Harley (for the first time); some get spanking new toupees or treat themselves with (or get treated by) Ashley & Martin; some go for cattle drives. Me? I just want to try something that combine my love for cat and coffee - 2 birds with 1 stone. Each to his own. Just don't pooh-pooh it before you try it.

I dropped this cat poo coffee into my list since I watched the documentary. I smiled when I watched "The Bucket List" (2007). When Carter, played by Morgan Freeman, heard the story about how Kopi Luwak is produced, he laughed so hard that he crosses off "laugh till I cry" from his bucket list (odd that Carter has that as an item. On the 1 hand, I must have countless laugh-till-I-cry moments in my younger days. Countless. On the other hand, I find it quite a tall order that someone his age - late 50s, early 60s - can laugh till he cries). You can imagine that how funny is that scene would be to me (even though the Kopi Luwak explanation wasn't as funny to me as it's to Carter). No I didn't cry when I laughed at that scene as I heard it several times before (quite a tall order at my age, may be it's just me).

When I asked Ada if she knows a coffee shop that sells it (we only here in Singapore for 2 years). She said, "no idea". Since this coffee is produced in the islands of Indonesia, I would have no doubt that the (affluent) neighbouring countries like Australia, and Singapore would have coffee shops that sell these exorbitantly priced drop of brew. In a mere minutes of googling, we pinned down Blue Mountain Coffee on Level 3 of 131 @ Sommerset.

The Kopi Luwak costs 26.9 SGD (about 30 bucks after adding service charge and tax). Excluding Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the Kopi Luwak is free of charge with an order of entrée and pasta. And we ordered a (spicy) seafood pasta (of your choice, we picked penne), and for entrée, a rosemary chicken. Actually both are not bad, and they came to a total of 28 SGD (including and cheaper than a cup of Kopi Luwak).

The Kopi Luwak is stronger and more fragrant than your average coffee beans, and left a nice bitter after taste. Not too crappy shabby. Truth be told, I would prefer my regular cappuccino than kopi Luwak even if money is no object. Like I said before, I have cheap taste, except for vino (probably because I'm not a drinker). Still, you should try it once, if you haven't. If anything, you can tell your grand kids - if you're so lucky - that their granny drunk coffee that came out of a cat's ass (of course, you need to keep the story PG rated, and make it educational). They should get a kick out of the story and you get a kick out of their laughter. Win-win. I'm not so lucky, so I just tell it to my virtual kids like you.

With that weekdays promotion, I wouldn't mind returning to this Blue Mountain Coffee, not just for its food, it also has quite a number of 'exotic' coffee on their menus ranging from Brazilian, Kenyan, Java to Ethiopian. These coffees are more reasonably priced.

If you're a keen coffee drinker and while you're in Singapore, you can also check out Trung Nguyen coffee at Liang Court Shopping Centre (right next to Clark Quay - a Singaporean tourist spot). I go there whenever I have an itch to walk down the memory lane. When I arrived Sydney some 30 odd years ago, having grew up on Vietnamese coffee beans, I found the Sydney coffee quite sour. After some 30 years of drinking those stuff, I now find the Vietnamese coffee quite bitter. But I enjoy that whole dripping nostalgia that I grew up with. And that coffee shop is usually quiet for a nice quiet cuppa.

But if you have a thing for cosplay, especially the Japanese type, while you're shopping for IT & electronics in Funan, you might want to rest for feet (but keep your eyes busy) in Cawaii Koohii Maid Café. The waitresses who serve you are dressed in maid costumes - the type that could commonly be found in the streets of Harajuku, Tokyo during weekends, or in Japanese Manga. It looks as if it's a Japanese franchise, but in fact a Singapore concept theme café, and is totally maid in Singapore. Singapore (and HK) is into Japanese youth culture of cosplay, anime and manga (HK has a thriving comic industry. I grew up on them in Saigon. Sat on the sidewalks of Saigon (former Ho-Chi-Minh City), reading their comics from the street stalls. It's much cheaper to read them there. Or left me with more money to read more). This cultural interests can be seen by the annual Toy, Game and Comic and similar conventions that are held here in Singapore. Café with this sort of theme is naturally grown out of this Japanese adoring sub-culture. For the fans of Japanese anime/manga/cosplay, I guess this café is a mecca for the Singaporean pilgrimage.

They serve UCC coffee - a Japanese coffee brand. Their canned coffee could be found in Daiso - a $2 Japanese shop in Singapore - in Vivo City. Although their taste is ok, but it's typically too weak for me, having grown up in Vietnam, and Sydney, Australia with the strong cuppa that made by Southern Europeans, Singapore's coffee is typically too weak for me. So do ask for a double shot if you're partial for strong drop. But if UCC coffee isn't your cup of tea, the Japanese manga maids who serve you might provide you with some nice eye candies and more to your tastes. If red and pink aren't your favourite colour, then this whole café is an eyesore. Singaporean gals - Singaporean in general - are a reserved bunch. The waitresses who work here are more open than those in your average Singaporean cafes.

What is the deal with cafes like Starbucks asking for your name when ordering coffee? I'm only there for coffee, not making friends. I usually give them 'Jesus' as my name. It usually gives them pause. Unless I'm in a Mexican Starbucks, in that case, when 'Jesus' is called, many people may think their coffee order is ready. To avoid confusion, they need to say "you're Jesus 3" when there're 2 Jesuses ordered coffees before you. Not an uncommon occurrence. So you end up with something like, "3 lattes for Jesus 1", "1 cappuccino for Jesus 2" being called in Mexican Starbucks's.

So what is it that the Mexicans like to name their kids 'Jesus' (and call their babies "Babies Jesus") while the English speakers would only use the names of Jesus disciples? This gives me pause. Perhaps because the English speakers use 'Jesus' as a swear word. For example, when somebody says to you, "Jesus! you're so sacrilegious!", it doesn't mean your name is 'Jesus'. Say if your name is 'Peter', then they SHOULD say something like, "Jesus! Peter! you're so sacrilegious!" to avoid confusion. If your name is 'Jesus', it's not hard to see how confusing things can get. You may have to say, "Jesus Jesus! you're so sacrilegious!" to clear things up.

Another example, when somebody in a coffee shop yells out, "Jesus, this coffee tastes like shit!", you wouldn't want to think somebody is talking you when they curse. It could be quite unnerving, especially when you didn't make the coffee.

Don't the Mexicans curse 'Jesus'? I don't know. One thing I do know, IF they curse, it sounds more like "Herr Shoes". Bless you! Gesundheit!

Speaking of theme café, you can check out the hospital themed restaurant "The Clinic" in Clark Quay.
I've never been there. When my brother James and Mary visited me, I suggested to go to this restaurant, but they think it's ridiculous (not in so many words). I can't blame them, I too, am too old to get excited about novelties.

Singapore - Ok Asia - seems to attract all kinda fun, and wacky themed cafes ,and restaurants:
Hospital theme, http://theclinic.sg
Rainforest theme, http://www.rainforestcafe.com
Mao theme, http://www.poole-associates.com/house_of_mao1.htm
Blindness theme, http://www.savh.org.sg/ql_ditd.php
There used to be a ghost theme restaurant, but had since closed down. Maybe diners are scared shitless to return to eat. The rainforest theme doesn't seem too wacky.
Maybe I visit one of these in my next birthday...not! Actually I don't mind Hunan food that they serve in the Mao theme restaurant (Hunan is Mao's birth place), if they're as good as other Human restaurant I tried before.

As for the visually impaired restaurant, I'll give it a pass, I don't wish shoving food accidentally into my nose. Especially when I'm hungry, this is a slow way to fill my stomach.

Ok, just in case you think I'm 70 years old, I'd like to clear up that I'm under 50. I just feel like 150.
Happy 150th birthday to me!!!

Ah yes. This post is written under the influence of caffeine.

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