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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Secret to Shanghai

Shanghai is infamous for its breathtaking skyscraper view, IF it is on a good day. 

Almost every list of "things to do in Shanghai" has a visit to The Bund or a must-drink at so-and-so rooftop bars. Reality is, the infamous city view can be the first and the last as your eyelids flutter open and close, if you stay at the Jing An Shangri-La

The hotel’s 508 rooms occupy the top 29 floors of a 60-storey tower that is one of the tallest structures in an area that takes in the western end of Shanghai’s historic Nanjing Road. 
No disparity over views, everyone gets one!

You can bet you have more chances to catch clear skies staying at Shangri-La than catching the aurora in a glass igloo. 

The Shangri-La Jing An boasts more than 200 pieces of art, it's like living in a museum! Unfortunately, i'm not a fan of static art. I can fall asleep standing. However, if you appreciate Chinese art, you'll be ecstatic to know artworks of Masters Zeng Fanzhi and Zhou Chunya are permanent fixtures here. 

If you're shelling out top dollars, expect perfection and you can't find any flaw at newly opened Shangri-La Jing An

My enjoyment is in finding out the hotel's Health Center for guests far more comprehensive than anything i've seen. It doesn't just have a 25 meters pool, but a 24 hour gym with spanking new cardio machines, a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and even a dark corner with comfy sleeping pods in the changing rooms!
Shanghai, whilst a cosmopolitan city, still have grubby streets. Brave yourself, 
Shanghai's public toilet is a preview of an apocalypse. 

I look forward to retreating back to Shangri-La Jing An every evening, get under a rain simulating shower head, soap up in paraben-free toiletries or Bvlgari and glide on heated marble bathroom floors
There is even a TV in the bathroom mirrors!
Brushing 3 mins as recommended by the dentist is easy now!

Retreating to a luxurious abode also means getting your room turned down for the evening! It was a pleasant surprise to find the room playing with Shangri-La signature tunes when i returned. 


Shangri-La Jing An is uniquely Shanghainese in that it is a balance between the new and the traditional. With elegant chandeliers and TV embedded in mirrors, but with rosewood panelling and carpets that resemble paintings of traditional Chinese symbols like auspicious fish and colourful blooms. 
Visually poetic
Nespresso machines and Chinese tea sets are provided in Grand Premier Rooms. 
Taking a Me moment

The breakfast buffet is worth another blog post alone. It's the most extensive spread i've seen, with many interactive stations where chefs whip up salads, smoothies, noodles and omelettes according to your taste. Ice-cream for breakfast anyone? She cheekily said, "its permissible because it's summer" :p
Daily breakfast buffet at Cafe Liang
To have a breakfast with a view, try the Horizon Club where you can harvest your own sweet goodness from the honey comb or taste local dishes with a Shangri-La twist. 
Honey lemon water, honey spread on bread, honey on the rocks

Shangri-La's rendition of famous Shanghai street food, beancurd
While you're at it, be sure to check out the newly opened mediterranean restaurant-bar Calypso that is gaining popularity with well-heeled locals and expats alike. 

The building is quite a Transformer. An airy, two-storey structure, the first floor has floor to ceiling glass panels that can retract. The roof terrace was buzzing with after-work cheer, shades here can also extended for a more intimate setting or retracted for summer breeze. 

We tried their signature pizza and was told bricks were imported to build the stone oven that they have, like those in Italy. So patrons can taste pizzas as authentic as possible. 
The hotel also has many other drool-worthy restaurants set out to appease a wide range of palates. 

In the vicinity of the hotel, you can find the former residences of Mao Zedong, Sun Yet Sun, actress Zhou Xun and more. 

Follow their footsteps, stay in Jing An (Shangri-La). You can't go wrong. 
           

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More Fun Underwater

As i searched for Queensway Swimming Complex, i didn't know what to expect.

Weeks ago, a friend asked if i wanted to join for a session of underwater hockey. I agreed without knowing what it is. That's me, i don't overthink. I don't find out who's going, what's happening, i just do it. 

Arriving and then stripping to my bikini, groups of swimmers in caps, snorkels and gloves were milling around the pool. 

They look friendly. 

We were introduced to the world of underwater hockey. Started in 1950s by the British, they wanted something to play in winter. It got introduced to Singapore in 2004 by the Stirling Underwater Hockey Club and today, a small group of members practice every Tue and Fri evenings. 

We were handed masks, snorkel, a stick and a glove defaced with toothpaste (extra protection for the hand). We started by learning the basic skills that'll help with playing the game. I had to crunch my abs in one swift move in order to get to the bottom of the pool bed and stay. Swimming at the bottom of the pool bed, we practiced pushing the puck forward, defending it by curling our bodies around it and putting our legs in a cycling motion.
I've never swam underwater with a snorkel, i had a fear that i'll drink water through that tube, but i busted the "myth"! We held breaths as we dived down with the snorkel, but blew our pipes like a whale as we surfaced. 

We lined up for a beginner's game. Like soccer, there were similar roles like forward, defender etc. To score, make the puck travel into the opponent's goal post, underwater. 

The horn sounded, we all dived in. Players with good skill could flatten their bodies on the pool floor while beginners had their ass pointing up underwater. Underwater hockey relies heavily on team work. Unless one individual possess the ability to hold his breath and hold his court, he is able to score independently. And i saw it happen.

It was exhilarating  I felt my lungs fill with air, my legs kicking faster than it has ever before, just to touch the puck for a mere second before an opponent snatched it from me. I waited above, head submerged watching the game, waiting for my moment to dive in to help a breathless team mate. My lungs started to hurt alittle, unsure if its because i'm pushing it too hard or from all that excitement. 

The path to goal was clear, the puck was in my hand, my ego was screaming "show off what a newbie can doooo!" But alarm bells were ringing in my head, "I NEED AIR!" I abandoned my puck, i didn't want "Died from Underwater Hockey" on my tombstone. 
I managed to touch the puck for 1 SECOND 
Taking some minutes to just watch the game from above, it was quite a sight. Swarms of people in tiny speedos and condom caps all ducking at the same time to reach the puck. If in this lifetime i don't get to see a large school of fish swimming in one direction, this sight could represent. 

I didn't expect myself to like underwater hockey, but i did. The thrill, the adrenaline, the physical demand is addictive.

You can try it out every Tues evenings at Queensway Complex. Tues are for beginners while Fri evenings are for players. Find more information at http://suhc.wordpress.com

                         

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Makeover Expert

I once went out with a dentist and he begged to fix my teeth.

There i was, sitting across the dinner table, thinking i look damn fine, wondering why he's fidgeting. After some minutes, he held my hands, stared me in the eye and said "you're so beautiful but there's this one flaw. Your front tooth is not aligned. " I shrug and said "you can fix it if its for free". He rubbed his hands in glee.  

Probably the most expensive gift i've got from any first date, an aesthetic tooth fixture was what i got. I like practical presents. 

My recent visit to i.Dental gave me a revelation. How the entire oral and nasal passage plays a huge part in defining beauty. Other than the obvious of straight teeth making one look better, how one breathes will define your jawline. 

Beauty is a straight line from nose to lip to chin. Seen the "beauty test" that went viral lately? Netizens have been using their fingers in an L fashion to see how they measure up.
Well, that's not a myth i found out at i.Dental. 

We used a ruler to check for a straight line from nose to lip to chin. Mine is straight with a -1mm difference, close to perfection. The lower chin to lip should be a subtle S curve and supermodels are at an angle of 90 degrees. So am I.

By now, my dentist have me over the moon. Never would i have expected flattery that makes my heart skip a beat would be FROM MY DENTIST! 

Dr Cheng also explained how do "horse faces" come about. He said sinus that is genetic could create a person who breathes through the mouth. As a result, his/her gum over time descends resulting in an unpleasant look.
This, however, can be corrected with dentistry, if at a very young age when bone structures are malleable. Dr Cheng told me how he changed a son's look drastically from his father, because of the hereditary sinus!

Try consulting a dentist's opinion before deciding on any kind of invasive surgery that aesthetic clinics or plastic surgery offers. My mum brought me to a dentist at 13 for braces to make me beautiful :)
Me with braces
However, i was a bad kid. I didn't know/listen to wear my retainers religiously, thus my otherwise straight teeth have moved. But there's a second chance! With INVISALIGN

What is i.Dental Invisalign and how does it work?

  • i.Dental Invisalign is a new approach to having straighter teeth, utilizing a custom-made series of aligners created exclusively for any individual.
  • Wearing these aligners will gradually and gently shift your teeth into the desired place (approx. 0.25mm per month), based on the exact movements your dentist or orthodontist plans out for you.
  • You just change into a new set of aligners approximately every two weeks, until the end of your treatment period (ranging from 6 months to 24 months)

What is the Invisalign process like?

    1. Consultation with the Dr Cheng Eng Wah, an Invisalign specialist.  Taking a series of x-rays, photographs and mould.
    2. A detailed analysis of facial and teeth structure and if INVISALIGN is necessary. You'll enjoy this candid and comfortable conversation with Dr Cheng as he informs you of "the definition" of beauty without being pushy.
    3. Getting my teeth throughly cleaned and a more precise mould is made.
    4. Option to review 3D imaging and treatment plan.
    5. Collect Invisaligners!
    As the Invisalign journey may be a life/ image changing one, i needed to choose the most qualified and experienced dentist in the practice. Someone who completed the most number of cases in a year compared to this peers would be a safe bet. 

    I found that Dr Cheng Eng Wah from i.Dental Surgeons won the Best Individual award for 2013 and Invisalign Platinium Elite Award for the last 5 years.  His just launched his new clinic on Robinsons Road dedicated to Invisalign treatments only.  
    i.Dental's staff were hospitable and service oriented. They were so polite, gentle and accommodating that I never enjoyed a visit to the dentist better. 

    How much does Invisalign cost?

    A down payment of $800 will be collected when brackets are first placed. An additional $1500 will be collected from Invisalign patient when first aligners are issued. The remaining amount can be paid via installment on a monthly basis. Credit card 0% installment is available too. Initial consultation fee is $20 to $60 depending on duration of consultation. Should you decide to proceed, an assessment of your teeth that includes consultation, taking X-rays, photos and study model cost $220 excluding GST. 
    Find i.Dental on Facebook or make an appointment at 6323 2813 or 168 Robinson Road,#09-13, Capital Tower. 

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    Ways to Shave Money in a Day

    1000 hrs: Took a shower. Shampoo ran out. Refilled the bottle with water, shake vigorously (the bottle, not my body). Voila, there’s shampoo for my hair again! This will last another 5 washes.
    Savings: $5
                                     
    1100 hrs: Spent $1.30 on the MRT to get to the city. No taxis, unless desperate.

    1200 hrs: Skipped breakfast. Went to the supermarket for free food samples. I tried sausages, pizzas, chocolates, and fish fingers.
    Savings: $3

    1300 hrs: Now I need a drink. Headed to Macdonald’s where they usually refill your water bottle for free. I do this overseas too. Mineral bottle overseas can be quite expensive, and it will save the environment too with less plastic.
    Savings: $2
                                
    1500 hrs: Watched a movie using my bank card for discounts. Use OCBC at Shaw Theaters, DBS or AMEX at Cathay Cinemas. 
    Savings: $1.50

    1700 hrs: After being out for the whole day, it is time to freshen up myself. Walked into a departmental store and spritz myself with my favourite perfume. The salesgirl approaches, i told her i need to test out how long lasting the perfume is, so i can’t buy now. On the way out, i pass by some skincare counters, I go around asking for product samples. These sachets are good for travelling.
    Savings: $80
    1800 hrs: Need to go to a wedding dinner. I want professional make-up done. I go to Sephora in Orchard. I enquire about the make-up products and lament to the salesgirl I don’t know how to do the smokey eye look, so I can’t buy her product. She then tells me she can show me how. I climb up onto her chair and allow her to experiment expertly on my face. After getting my make-up done, I politely tell her I’m not so sure if the smokey eyes suit me so I will put off buying her products.
    Savings: $60

    2000 hrs: Wedding Dinner. Look like a queen even when really pauper. I’m just really good at stretching my dollar.

    2300 hrs: Beauty Sleep.

    This post is inspired by Dollar Shave Club, a fun new razor subscription service that loves to Shave Time and Shave Money.

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    An Exotic Trip to Morocco: 10 Things to Do

    "The more you learn, the less you fear."
    We set off to Morocco with trepidation. After all, it had a terrorist bomb in 2011, friends gave advice like "trust no one", "bring diarrhea pills", and "don't go out at night".

    We booked transport from our raid and lucky we did or we wouldn't have found the hotel. There isn't any signboard and Raid Lapis was hidden in one of those holes in the wall! As our black van squeezed into the alleyway, dark characters hung around the streets aimlessly, leaning against the wall, their eyes peering into the van. I gripped my bag, despite being safe inside the van. Our adventure begins....

    When we pushed open the doors of Raid Lapis Lazuli in Marrakech, we gasped. It was silent, with the sound of water trickling, the interior bathed in a blue glow. Decorated with Arabian lamps and richly coloured and patterned rugs likely from local cooperatives, i felt like i am Jasmine in Aladdin.

    Raid Lapis has only 9 rooms, so it was a very intimate stay. It looked so luxurious, with its royal interior design, but only costs less than SGD 70 a night.
    Without a sharp eye, you would totally miss the entrance to this hideout!

    To sum up this exotic trip, here're my takeaways:

    1) Enjoy the Sun
    You need to enjoy the sun, otherwise it would be miserable complaining about the heat all the time. I thought for a conservative, arabian country, i should cover up. It isn't necessary in Marrakech as it is mostly tourists. The locals are used to seeing skin on the tourists so you wouldn't feel uncomfortable. However, it is good to be culturally sensitive and not wear clothes that reveals deep cleavages, butt cheeks or cracks. A hat and constant application of sunblock will be needed.

    Drained from the heat
    2) Get Lost in Medina
    Don't expect to find your way back the first time round, especially if your hotel is embedded in the Medina. Thus, make your way back a good 2 hours before sun sets so you can be confident and not afraid. It was a little nerve wrecking for us when dark fell and we were still walking in circles. Everyone wanted to "help" us but we were warned by our raid on arrival "not to trust anyone".

    Otherwise, the Medina is an exciting place to spend afternoons just winding in and out of the alleys, checking out nooks and crannies. It is chaotic and can get unpleasant if you let the incessant touts get to your nerves. Keep calm and avoid eye contact. 
    With an open mind, you'll discover many odd items for sale!
    Loose teeth and dentures for sale!
    Keep spare change in your pockets as every thing you photograph, if attached to a human, the human'll hound you for payment. Best is to press 1 EUR into their outstretched hand and quickly scurry away if you snapped a picture. This guy with the monkey was quickly approaching me like a debt collector.
    The touts will try to wrangle up to 20 Euros from you for a picture, so indeed it is wise to only keep small change in your pocket. So you could pull out your pockets and shrug "that's all i have, man". We got away with plenty of pictures in our camera with the SAME expression (because we froze in fear) for 10 Euros, which in our opinion was abit too much but ooookay (shrugs).
    Snake Photobomb.
    Once you get accustomed to everyone in the Medina extorting money from you, you will actually enjoy the Medina. The ugliest characters are at the Snake Charmers Square where they can incessantly bug you. However, when sun sets on the square, elaborate food stalls set up shop and evening games and performances happen.
    Stand around for tea and date cake
    Move away from the square, you find souks selling to locals and tourists all sorts of local produce as well as Arabic fashion items and souvenirs.
    Move even further away, you'll find the koran school for some culture immerse. Get lost and you'll see the local life.
    Koran school.
     
    The barber

    Roadside "glue"
    A word of caution: Just as we stepped out of the Koran school, a local greeted us and told us there is a 1 day festival that is going on right now at a short distance away. He asked us to check out the Berbers selling their ware at this festival. It is only once a year that they make their way down to the city. We showed interest and this man suddenly called out to another man who was passing by pushing his bicycle and said, "You're in luck! He's on his way to his work and he'll pass by the festival, he can lead you there!" Then he spoke in some other language to the bicycle man and we began to follow. We kept our distance from the bicycle man, all the time discussing behind his back if this feels right. The bicycle man who was supposedly on his way to work was very cautious that he doesn't lose us. That's when we felt it didn't look right and we made an attempt to ditch him. He actually came chasing after us, persuading us it is worthwhile to go check this "festival" out.

    We later asked other tourists along the way if there was a festival in that direction they came from, they said no, but a tannery is in the vicinity. We later counter-checked with our hotel, there is no such "festival" and usually the tactic of these tanneries is that they lure tourists there and they coerce you into buying some expensive fabric before allowing you to leave.

    3) Eat Couscous
    Because we were advised not to take salads (because of the unclean water that might give diarrhea), the only way to get some vegetables is couscous. It is the staple of Moroccan cuisine, you'll find it everywhere.

    4) Try Tanjia
    Only in Marrakech, Tanjia is meat stewed in a clay jar like the picture below.  Don't mix it up with the other popular favourite Tanjine.
    Balancing a cow's head

    The meat is super tender and all that gravy from the meat (and nothing else) is so flavorful! The Tanjine can be easily found in all restaurants, perhaps catering to the tourists. Leaving the Tanjia to be found at the local food stalls. We did the cautious tourist thing, which is to stay off street food but we gave in one evening. After analyzing the surroundings, the people at this make-shift stall and got convinced by the friendly tout.
    We picked Stall 20 at the Snake Charmers Square and it was a delightful meal! At a 1/3 of what we usually pay at restaurants. We waited jittery for a stomach upset but nothing happened! Relieved and wishing we had ate more at street stalls to save money.

    5) Eat Tanjine and Drink Tea
    This, is the Tanjine. A typical Moroccan dish. It tastes quite like the Tanjia. Both are equally good. Having tried Tanjine all over Marrakech, i must say our Riad Lapis Lazuli serves the BEST tanjine! You don't have to be a hotel guest to dine there, but reservations are necessary as they are made to order.
    Chicken tanjine with prunes for a sweet tender flavour
    For an authentic experience, you have to drink tea. All.The.Time.

    Moroccan tea, with mint and 3 sugar cubes (they don't understand "make it less sweet please") is the recipe to the infamous after-meal drink. Tradition has it that, the man of the house serves the guests tea as a code to non-verbally signify how important this guest is. The higher he pours from the kettle, the more foam it creates in the cup. The more foam there is, the more important this guest is.

    6) Visit a Hammam
    Want to know what it feels like being sandpapered? Not to be missed for an authentic experience. Read my very descriptive review and get a hammam address here.

    7) Travel with a Berber
    We took a 3 day 2 night package from Marrakech to Fes through the Sahara with Morocco Excursions and that truly completed the experience. Initially, we found 350 euros each for the excursion (accommodation, transport and selected meals are included) was pretty hefty. Furthermore, i was a little miffed that the meals (all but one in the desert camp) were medicore, with extra small charges here and there (attraction entrance not included), and sneaky visits to spots we feel obliged to tip (the aegan oil cooperative, well dwellers). However, reasoning the distance traveled while we slept in peace while Omar drove for hours straight, the amazing insights he could give us as a local guide and the convenience and flexibility of having our private vehicle and tour, every cent was worth it. Besides, after seeing the area, i was happy to be able to contribute to their livelihood with the minimal tips we gave. The extra charges were unavoidable and it wasn't like the agency and Omar were trying to rip us off.

    He endearingly calls us Mohammad and Fatimah, enthralled us with many local culture stories like arranged marriages, proposals and the likes.
    With Omar our guide and the epic winding roads.
    Camel crossing.
    Camels are used in marriage proposals and can be the deal breaker. Thus Omar needs to save up for camels before he can propose to his girlfriend of 3 years. Each camel is worth 1500 euros, compared to a goat at 100 euros. When Omar's sister got married, the family received 5 camels. 1 camel can feed a family for slightly more than a month. Camels are akin to the Chinese's abalone, bird's nest and all that expensive stuff.
    Ignorant me didn't know Atlas actually exist. I always thought it was the fancy name of my Geography textbook. The picture above is me and yours truly. 
                                
    Fossils for sale
    We make many pit stops throughout the High Atlas mountains for photo taking and visiting UNESCO site Ait Benhaddou Kasbah. 

    8) Encounter a Desert Trader
    The Berber Kasbah, used by many international film makers, was also one of the more important fortress strongholds on the old Salt Road where caravans brought slaves, gold, ivory, salt and silk from Saharan countries to Marrakech and beyond.

    We had the luck to meet one of the traders! 
                               
    He graciously invited us into his musty shop, filled with all sorts of trinklets. We knelt down on a rug as he enthralled us with stories of his travels. 
    The Southern Cross
    Want to know how to find your way in the desert? This is a typical Berber jewelry that doubles up as a compass in the desert!
    An ancient compass
    Ancient jewelry
    Not looking very expensive to me, not shiny nor glittery but it is supposedly valuable. Used as dowry for brides. 
    His shop has hundreds of trinkets, that he was expecting us to fancy at least one. Unfortunately, while they were all super interesting with stories that surely will be dinner time conversation, they were either too big, not my style or contains designs that look suspiciously religious. Not to say, they aren't exactly cheap either. We didn't have much cash with us (waiting to get an ATM), so it was very difficult to make an offer. He was desperate to make a sale, to the extent of asking us to search our bags for anything to trade! Medicine or chilli even!

    It was like history come alive, with an encounter with one of the desert traders. 

    9) Live in the Game of Thrones
    Because our tour with Morocco Excursions is private, we could customize the itinerary and made a request to stop by the Atlas Studio where films like Hills Have Eyes, Cleopetra, Asterix and more have been made.

    It's the Hollywood of Africa as it is a cheaper destination for film making. Its like a ghost town, but all the better for photography! I love film sets because they look SO real despite all of it is styrofoam and empty shells. 
    A film set for a BBC documentary set in ancient times
    10) Ride a Camel, Eat a Camel & Sleep in the Desert
    You can't go to the Sahara without getting a desert  experience. Initially, i was a little disappointed that we weren't trekking half of the journey towards Fes on a camel. I was glad the tour agency knew better and got us a 1 hour camel trek to the desert camp where we stayed a night before returning the same way.
    Riding a camel in the Sahara for an hour was just right. We were fortunate the sun wasn't scorching but the sky was overcast that day. It wasn't too comfortable for males, but it was ok for me. I wasn't quite used initially to see sand dunes as "scenery",  i wished there were colours to make a postcard picture. However i soon got used to this atypical beauty and became humbled by Creation, how incredible it is to live.
    Dinner at the desert camp was surprisingly DELISH! For a camp that is in the middle of the Sahara, with no proper supply of water or fire, the Berbers certainly cooked up a feast that was SO SATISFYING.
    Fellow tourists as companions for the night
    It was a pretty rough and tough experience, with no showers but with passable toilets (stinking, no less) and sink. Most of us woke up in the same clothes we went to sleep in. The "room" we slept in were heavily cladded with rugs that makes it wind and sound proof. It was pretty difficult to fall asleep because it was musty and stuffy. When i eventually did, it was time to wake up to catch the sunrise. Hardly an accommodation to get sexy, but a memorable experience to do at least once.

    The Berbers made up for the tough sleeping conditions with lively music with local instruments and cajoling us to sing-along after dinner.

    Finally, before leaving Morocco, i had to try camel meat. It wasn't too expensive, i was expecting it to be after hearing it as a prized asset. It tastes like beef, but humptier. Ordered it as tanjine so it was super tender.
    Morocco, for anyone with a sense of adventure.




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