Food, Glorious Food

A Singapore Photo Diary
(Last in a series)

This city knows how to eat. One wouldn’t go out of options regardless of the budget. In every housing estate or community, in almost every street corner, you will find hawker stalls. Singaporeans take great pride in them and is very much part of the local culture. It is deeply rooted in this country’s history.

You could almost certainly find a selection of Chinese, Malay and Indian fare as these are the major cultures that have shaped this country.

We tried eating at the local hawker area in the community where my friend lives. It has a food court-like setting with an open view of the street and is located in the ground level of one of the buildings of this residential block, which is a typical setting for this type of housing community. Other usual places are street corners, parks, even MRT stations.

I couldn’t help but notice how, even in the city, we don’t seem to be too far away from nature. I’ve noticed there are different types of trees lining the streets and some type of exotic birds finding home in them. There were a few I have seen who patiently waited for diners to finish eating so they could swoop down on the table and snatch some food. They don’t seem to me like the maya variety I often see in the Philippines. The ones here seem to don a different shade of color. It could possibly be the same specie under a different category or a different specie altogether, I’m not sure.

In Chinatown, there’s a lane aptly called Chinatown Food Street. It’s row full of restaurants and food stalls.

Chinatown is also a shopping mecca. Everything from souvenirs to electronics, apparel to jewelry, to all kinds of knick-knacks, you can find. And while you’re at it, you can enjoy Singaporean architecture like their traditional-style shophouses. To keep up with the theme of the place, local hybrid shophouses were also built.

The idea of trying new cuisine excited my taste buds. My mouth started watering. All these onslaught to the senses – the sight, the smell, not to mention the heat, made me feel a little heady. With so many choices, I had a hard time picking.

We ended up with Chinese. Because it’s Chinatown, after all.

That afternoon, we went to Sentosa – one of Singapore’s latest attractions. Well, “fairly” latest, I would say. The city seems to always have something new in the pipeline that the word “latest” tends to have a shorter lifespan here, with newer and newer attractions springing up (at least until recently) in a space of a few months.

I was surprised to see a huge Merlion standing tall in the park. I may not have seen the original one by the bay but this is the next best thing, for sure. I was happy to have found a Merlion, to say the least – and a huge one at that. Later on however, I learned that this Merlion was demolished in September 2019 to make way for a new project. It’s kind of sad learning about the news. Good thing I was able to take a photo of it, as keepsake (of sorts).

Did you know that this Merlion has an observation deck in its mouth? I didn’t.

Mandatory photo with Universal Studios’ iconic globe in the background. Because why not.

Oh, and there’s a beach called Palawan. I don’t feel so far away from the Philippines now πŸ™‚

Given the heat however, this day has proven to be a little unbearable for outdoors, so we decided to cut our trip short and just went back to the VivoCity mall to cool down and prepared to go back to the hotel.

Before going to the hotel though, we decided to buy from the local Indian hawker stall just around the corner near where we were staying. We have been curious, or should I say ‘I’, have been curious to try Indian fare (for a change). I love the “carinderia” feel of the Indian stalls. They don’t scrimp on the servings too.

Some roti-and-chicken curry-with-basmati-rice goodness (and a Spartan feel to boot)

This has been an interesting experience, so far. I was having fun, for sure. But there are also some realizations. One is that everywhere you go (and I don’t mean just here in Singapore but anywhere in the world, I guess), people always seem to long for some Utopian pipe dream. The cab driver I talked to on the way to the airport on my flight back, opened up about certain issues they have with how things are being run in the country. He asked how I find Singapore. My answer was pretty standard: clean, modern, orderly. And then he started complaining about how they do nothing but work. Work, work, work all the time and not really enjoying other pleasures like vacations outside the country. He also mentioned about not enjoying the same level of health care on a par with other developed countries. And surprisingly, problem with the housing system.

Whoa?! For a moment there I felt I was thrown for a loop. Who would have thought, for example, that wealthy Singapore – known for its subsidies under HDB, have issues with housing? C’mon. I don’t have my own house myself, for crying out loud. How are you even complaining?? (just kidding). No, inequity and social inequality are real. I can totally relate. And the gap is only getting ever wider.

I mean, often when the media touches on these topics, it’s in a matter-of-factly (if not trivial) manner, usually in the context of economic health. Hearing it first-hand though from a local, gives the issue a face, laying bare the cost of progress in front of my eyes – a flipside to the coin not a lot of people know about. Ultimately, one has to question whether or not it’s worth the trade-offs. Only time will tell.

Not to take lightly of his predicament, I asked if he told the government his grievances. ‘Maybe there’s an amicable solution’, I said. Funny thing is that I couldn’t remember what his answer was now.

Speaking of funny, this guy (who is probably in his, I don’t know 50’s?) loves 80’s music and was fanboy-ing about Whitney Houston (yeah, you heard that right). He’s curious about the type of music the younger generation is listening to nowadays. I said: ‘I think it’s EDM. You know, DJs and stuff?’ (like I know, right?)

Thinking of my own personal grievances, my parting words to him were: “Well, other places are far worse, you know?”, thinking it might give him some consolation. I’m not very sure of that now, in hindsight.

Whew! Some story, huh? Anyways, prior to this I met up with a friend for dinner – a former colleague who is now based in SG. She introduced me to this famous hawker place called Newton Food Centre where some of the scenes in the movie Crazy, Rich Asians were shot.

We started off with some local beer, of course.

I tried Southeast Asian fare this time – Malay/Indo, and I loved it! I think because it’s closer to my Filipino palate, that’s why.

It’s an explosion of flavors – spicy, sweet, tangy. We had barbecued chicken wings, satay with peanut sauce, kangkong (I think it was, or maybe some other vegetable, I’m not sure), and oh, the stingray… it’s a revelation. Some sugarcane juice (which is big here) for refreshment.

And there it is. The final part to my Singapore adventure series. I couldn’t believe it took almost a year to finish (my goodness). Now I can delete some of the photos from my phone which has been clamoring for some space.

Here are the previous posts in this series you might find interesting:

Summit 2019 – Singapore
Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs
Singapore, Day 3 – Icons of the Little Red Dot

I don’t really travel much so this has been a welcome break from my usual routine. It was made even better, of course, by spending it with old friends. I am now feeling excited for Summit 2020.

Singapore, Day 3 – Icons of the Little Red Dot

3rd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 – Singapore

Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

We went to the Bugis area in the morning to do more shopping and to buy some souvenirs. We also went to the Mustafa Centre located near Little India. This is a good place to buy large packs of chocolates that are not usually found back home, in the Philippines.

Late afternoon we went to the Marina Bay area. A local “uncle” was peddling Wall’s ice cream at the Esplanade Park. Given the hot weather, we didn’t think twice buying. Average maximum temperatures in Singapore (usually within the first two quarters of the year) range from 30-31 degrees Celsius*. This day was no exception. We thought it a good idea to cool down with some ice cream sandwich.

*This trip was about seven-or-so months ago as of this writing. Hence, the reference to the usually hotter weather months.

We made our way over to the other side of the Anderson Bridge, passing by the refurbished Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall (on the right side) on the way up and with the view of the Esplanade to the left from the bridge itself.

Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall
View of the Esplanade from the Anderson Bridge

At the end of the bridge is Singapore‘s first Starbucks Give-back store and its 100th.

At the Fullerton Road facing the direction of the Central Business District, stood before me one of Singapore‘s most famous and iconic landmarks, The Fullerton (in the foreground). A one time post office building, hospital, administrative office, etc., it was refurbished to be a hotel and opened officially as such in 2001. I remember there were proposals before to do the same for the Manila Post Office. It’s not a far-fetched idea if you ask me.

We were really just stone’s throw away from the Marina Bay from where we were standing. ‘Just a few moments now’, I thought to myself, ‘and I will see the Merlion’.

Alas! The iconic mythical creature was nowhere to be found. Apparently, at the time, it was being renovated. I took a selfie but it doesn’t feel complete without it. Now I have an excuse to go back πŸ˜‚.

Na-excite. Na-disappoint. Nag selfie. (beh)

If it’s any consolation though, just behind where the Merlion once stood gloriously, is its small replica. This will do for now.

Across the bay is one of Singapore‘s latest attractions – the Marina Bay Sands.

We made our way to the direction of the Esplanade which was easily distinguished by its durian shape. Durian is that famous Southeast Asian fruit with a hard, spiky shell and with a strong odor and taste that could easily put anyone on the fence whether to like it or not. People can have opinions about it just as strongly as the fruit’s characteristics are, it seems.

Entrance to the Esplanade

Philippines represent! The Philippine Madrigal Singers were scheduled to have a concert here.

What do you make of this art installation below? It’s called Insignificant Meaningful.

Thai artist Torlarp Larpjaroensook utilized everyday, ordinary objects symbolic of the different Asian cultures, reminding us of the syncretic nature of our societies – lunch boxes, thermos flasks, vases, plates and bowls made from materials like ceramic, enamel and wood. These found objects from daily life are charged with meaning as they tell the past, present and future stories of those who owned and used them. Viewed as a single ensemble, it becomes a timeless metaphor for human migration.

I found this LED magnetic frame in one of the stores inside the Esplanade. It glows in the dark! Which reminds me, we just watched the Avengers movie the night before at the Tampines mall. I would have bought this if I were a true, blue Avengers/Marvel junkie.

We went to Bugis afterwards to meet up with a friend, do more shopping and have dinner.

It’s always a nice thing catching up with old friends, having good conversations and sharing laughter with each other, especially over good food.

As if we haven’t been indulging ourselves enough, we even had to go to the InterContinental to have some coffee and tea (hmmm πŸ€” … somebody’s taking the ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ water, huh? πŸ’¦ Maybe a tad too much? πŸ˜…)

The Lobby Lounge of the InterContinental Singapore

Some night cap it was. A day well spent meeting the icons of the city and catching up with old friends. Happy times, indeed! πŸ˜πŸ’―πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬

My 7,107 | Apulit Island, Palawan

Welcome to Paradise
(Last in a series)

Previously in this series:

Keeping Paradise – Saving the country’s last frontier

It rained heavily in Lio during our tree-planting activity. Although it stopped when we started making our way to the town of Taytay, it seemed like the gloomy weather tried to catch up with us in Apulit. It was overcast when we arrived. Dark clouds loomed over the horizon.

We were greeted with refreshments and what seemed like some local song and dance by the staff. The feeling of isolation was palpable – away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Noticeable too was the lush greenery.

The buffet table was all set and ready. And since we were behind schedule, we had our lunch late.

We headed to our assigned cottages afterwards. They are quite unique and interesting in their design, I must say. It fuses contemporary with the local, using thatched roofs, for example, and other native materials and design, as fixture and ornamentation.

Another interesting thing is that these cottages are literally standing above water. They are built on stilts and are connected to land by bridge way. It’s an ingenious way of adding character to the place, don’t you think? It would have been just another cottage if not so designed.

In some cottages, like the one we had the opportunity to stay at, called loft water cottage, the living room area opens to an amazing view of the sea with easy access to the water via the stairs linked to the veranda. These cottages are an attraction unto itself.

Loft water cottage

After we’ve rested a bit and freshened up, we gathered at the conference area to attend a briefing on the environment. It was held in this huge cabana-like structure or hut, in the photo below. This is along the beach near the clubhouse.

It can’t be stressed hard enough how important education and awareness are in dealing with the challenges of climate change. Of course, this has to be coupled with concrete actions. I give props to everyone involved in this endeavor. I would say overall, sustainability and environmental protection are front and center in this resort group’s business culture and is an integral part of its DNA. This is a step towards the right direction and something other businesses should emulate. It’s a plus in my book so, good job!

We had dinner afterwards. As a matter of fact, besides the activities and the picture-perfect surroundings, food in this article has its fair share of the spotlight, maybe even more πŸ˜‹

It was an exhausting day for me since I haven’t slept the night before and was only able to grab some snooze for about an hour during the flight. So, I never planned to do any other (social) activity after dinner and decided to just go back to the room, rest a bit, watch cable and sleep. The sleeping part however, didn’t work quite well as expected. I got preoccupied with curating photos and updating posts on social media. Urgh! (I know, right?) It’s antithesis of the very reason/s people go to (and in great lengths, I might add) such secluded places – to relax, to unwind, to get away from it all. Well, not this night, I didn’t. And I only had myself to blame, of course.

The morning after was breakfast. I always look forward to breakfasts in these occasions because I anticipate bacon to be served. And, bacon there was. Nice!

I would say that this day was the highlight of our trip, the second day. We went to an island called Isla Blanca which has one of the best views of active coral reef systems. In fact, they say El Nido and surrounding areas have the best dive spots, bar none.

We didn’t do professional diving but rather snorkeling. Unfortunately, the camera I’m using does not have the capability of taking underwater shots, so I borrowed some from a colleague of mine, Rose. Below are some of the clips of what she took. The first one was in the waters off the main island of Apulit while the second one, by the looks of it, was probably around Isla Blanca.

I couldn’t have passed this experience up since I haven’t done snorkeling over deep water before, with lively coral reef systems underneath. I thought to myself: “I need to make this work”. This despite my fear of deep water. Fastened tightly to a trusty lifesaver and with the help of a swim buddy, I was able to make it. This is definitely a feat considering the fact that I don’t know how to swim πŸ˜±πŸ’¦. Yeah (shocking). Textbook ‘swimming’, I mean.

Oh, well. Another check box ticked off my bucket list, woot!

It was a fun and memorable experience. We didn’t want to leave just yet but we had to go back to the resort for lunch.

The elevated maruya was a hit! It’s a Filipino dessert made of banana slices dipped in batter and then deep-fried. This one was made extra special with caramel sauce on top dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

There were lots of activities for everyone. In fact, there wasn’t enough time for any one person to experience everything in half a day so the group split and went wherever which way they wanted. For the sports enthusiasts, there’s rock climbing, rappelling, kayaking, paddle boarding; for nature lovers, there’s another snorkeling activity on a different island (or lagoon, I think it was); to those who just want to chill, there’s the infinity pool or the beach.

There’s also a bar where one can get some booze while playing billiards. I was supposed to go rock climbing but there’s a long line waiting so we just went kayaking instead, me and my other colleague. We lounged at the pool afterwards.

The whole group was scheduled to go on a sunset cruise later in the day but it got cancelled due to weather. I just took a picture of the sunset from the veranda although the light was diffused by the clouds. Stylized by Google, the photo was made pretty using AI.

Dinner was special that night. We had it at the beach under moonlight.

…and with all the works

We were supposed to float lanterns on the water but the tide was low at the time which meant sharp rocks at the bottom were exposed to the surface. This did not make for a conducive environment for such activity, so we skipped that part and just proceeded with the videoke sessions. My goodness, there were some crazy talents out there.

In the morning it dawned on me – this is last day in paradise. I would have wished to stay longer. I thought to myself, “I will miss these awesome views”.

Some of my colleagues went cliff diving. Me?… Dang! I was here for breakfast πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‚.

There’s only limited time between check-out and before the arrival of our boat, so we were surprised to have been served still a, what they say is “mini” but really a not-so-‘mini’, lunch πŸ˜….

Thank you El Nido Resorts for the excellent and wonderful service! I was never so full in these two-or-so days of my life πŸ˜…πŸ‘

The boats finally arrived so we scurried to the port.

A few moments out, I looked back again and was treated to this view.

Isn’t she a beauty?

One can only appreciate what nature has given us. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to take care of and be good stewards of this gift.

Keeping Paradise

Saving the country’s last frontier
(1st in a series)

This isn’t my first time to Palawan but I still get excited every time. Who wouldn’t? It’s a special place.

This time around it’s Apulit, which, according to our guide means castaway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one if it means waking up to this view every day.

It’s actually a back-to-back weekend getaway for me. Fresh from our Liwliwa escapade the week before, this seemed to be the icing on top of the cake.

Part of the El Nido Resorts group, Apulit is just one of the other resorts in the area being maintained by the Ayala‘s – one of the Philippines‘ richest and most influential families. The others being Pangulasian, Lagen and Miniloc. It’s formerly known as Club Noah Isabelle, a little trivia I learned from Monique, the company’s environment representative while on a chit-chat with her on our boat ride to the town of Taytay on the way back.

The latest resort the Ayala’s are developing is Lio. It even has its own airport – an effort to make the resorts more accessible to the people by creating a vital corridor linking the properties. Our first breakfast in Palawan is in Lio, at Casa Kalaw.

With the development however, is the focus on sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, the very first time I was in El Nido was probably about 5 or 6 years back, in Pangulasian, and the resort was already on it doing the sustainability thing. However, because of the seeming apathy from governments and big businesses about the worsening climate crisis, this mantra has gotten louder and has become a more pressing issue now more than ever.

It only makes sense that stakeholders ensure a healthy and vibrant ecosystem, and that any development have the least or zero impact to the environment. With pristine, paradise-like environment as its main draw, one can say that the industry’s survival hinges on nature itself. It is, therefore, to the best interest of everyone – businesses, tourists, local communitiesto take care of the environment. It’s a huge challenge, for sure, but I admire the effort to really commit to the advocacy.

Climate change is a hot topic nowadays and yet, still, maybe not hot enough to make huge strides on a policy level. It is up to ordinary people and especially those who have money and influence to spearhead these movements. Everyone can do something in his or her own little way but especially if there is a concerted effort from all sectors can we only make a deep and lasting impact.

Hence, I applaud the effort being done to engage everyone in this. Part of our activity is to plant trees in certain areas of the mountain where we also hiked to the top of and where there’s a newly-built viewing deck.

I love the fact that this tree-planting activity is not just ‘planting for planting’s sake’ but that there is a lot of research that went into as well. It considers the types of plants or trees to be planted which are basically those that are endemic to the area. This activity would have been a defeated purpose if otherwise. In fact, I probably would have opted out had it been any different.

It was a quick breakfast in Lio as we had to prepare for the long drive to the dock in Taytay, our jump off point to Apulit.

We were learning a lot from our guide. Taytay is an old town, he says. It even has an old Spanish fort built near the docks, it being Queen Isabelle‘s favorite pit stop back in the day in her visits to this area en route to Puerto Princesa. The fort was built through forced labor (polo y servicio) by Filipinos.

We also passed by cliffs where, according to our guide, eggs from a certain specie of bird are harvested to make nido soup. Have not tasted one myself but I assume it’s good. Probably expensive because of its rarity and the difficulty of sourcing the main ingredient.

Upon arrival, we had some small snacks and refreshments. This, while waiting for the boat ride.

So, are you ready to see paradise? Details in the next article coming soon.

Inspiration Meets Fun at Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

2nd of 2 parts

I maybe wrong but depending on who you talk to or which online reference you are checking, liwliwa in Ilocano could mean delight, inspiration or recreational fun. Ilocano refers to both the dialect and the people of this particular region where Zambales province is located.

Whatever the case, any of those adjectives mentioned at the outset would perfectly fit Liwliwa. It is all of that.

If you think yesterday’s spectacle of the sunset is bomb enough, think again. I, myself, did not expect this view. I mean, look at this.

A part of me is saying, β€˜don’t spread the word just yet’, fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind. But part of me is also saying, β€˜how could you not share such beauty?’ Urgh! I’m torn.

One has to be in awe and deep appreciation knowing this beauty in front of us is a product of a tragic event from decades ago. This part of the country was almost erased from the map by a powerful volcanic eruption of a mountain called Pinatubo who laid dormant for hundreds of years, the effects of which were felt worldwide and for years later.

Global temperature dropped and a more-than-the-usual clear glow of sunsets and sunrises were observed in different places. So powerful, in fact, it wiped out two of America’s largest bases this side of the Pacific (the Subic Naval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Pampanga), prompting their eventual turnover to the Philippine government.

I wish for this place to have good management and care so as not to go the way of Boracay – the now poster child for anything that could go wrong to a perfect island by overcrowding and lack of strong, effective regulation.

It was almost lunch time so we went back to the resort to prepare for check-out, the Kapitan’s Liwa.

I wouldn’t let this article pass without having to mention one of our newfound friends – this cute labrador called Whiskey.

Being part of the owners’ family, he is a mainstay at the resort. He does a good job entertaining guests πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸ’―πŸΆ

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…

After check-out we transferred to Riverside Liwa again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodle fight! πŸ˜€

There’s nothing more fulfilling and satisfying to me than using my own bare hands for eating, especially if served with Filipino food. Oh, delicious. We had ginataang sitaw at kalabasa, pinaupong manok and lumpiang shanghai.

So, are you drooling yet? πŸ˜€

It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) πŸ˜πŸ‘

Afterwards, we were toured around the premises.

The owners planted coconuts and other types of plants which provide different kinds of practical uses – as source of food, shade, even aesthetics. This tree stump, for example, as simple as it looks, add interesting character to the place especially with mushrooms growing around its trunk.

You can paddleboard your way to the beach via the river

I love how this place is so in touch with nature. There is never a more pressing time for us to go sustainable given the climate crisis we are facing. It is my fervent hope that places like this remain for future generations to enjoy.

My 7,107 | Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

1st of 2 parts

Everybody knows how unpredictable the weather can be – one moment it’s all bright and sunny, and then rainy and gloomy the next. All the weather forecasts I checked online painted a not-so-good weather condition for the weekend which did not bode well for our planned getaway to the beach.

Our friends from the Netherlands couldn’t wait to experience the tropics – the sun, the beach and, well, everything in between. You can understand how relieved we were that this trip went on smoothly, let alone materialize at all, the bad weather forecast notwithstanding. The conditions were surprisingly cooperative. We did encounter some challenges but nothing we weren’t able to overcome nor anything that could have dampened our spirits.

We made sure it was a fun experience.

We arrived at the Riverside Liwa. One need not guess why it’s called that, yes? For obvious reason. A river runs through the property. It couldn’t be more straightforward. We even had to cross a bridge made of bamboo to reach the other side.

If there’s anything these inventive signposts below tell us, is that the owner(s) of this property are passionate about one thing, for sure – surfing.

It felt like entering some chill, peaceful village – the kind of atmosphere often associated with surfer/hippie culture. One would notice how indigenous and natural elements were incorporated in the design of the accommodations, giving it a traditional Filipino vibe. These huts you see with thatched roofs are called bahay kubo in the vernacular. Aren’t they nice to look at? These huts do a good job sheltering people from the tropical heat.

Noticeably too, are the people’s love for pets. All around you will see cats, dogs….

… and goats! πŸ˜€

You just find them everywhere here.

Another noticeable part of the landscape are the trees. Pine-like trees called agoho or agoo are abundant here. Not sure if these were planted here on purpose or have grown naturally after the place was covered by volcanic ash brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo decades ago, some time in the early 90’s. This beach in fact did not exist back then. It was naturally created by the enormous volume of ash dumped by the volcano, as well as sediments washed by the river from upstream.

We arrived in time for lunch. We decided to eat at Tadhana, which means destiny. Food was good. The fruit shakes especially, were a hit. You can even play sungka while waiting for your food to be served. Sungka is a traditional Filipino tabletop game.

The Philippines’ unofficial national dish, adobo can be cooked in many different ways. As many as there are different dialects spoken in the entire archipelago, it seems.
Got myself a strawberry banana shake. Refreshingly good.

Off to the beach we headed afterwards. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. We went around late noon so that the sun’s heat wouldn’t be too harsh. We weren’t minding how time flies, so I guess we were having fun, yes? πŸ˜€

Nature though, has a way of ending the day quite nicely for us. We were treated to a spectacular view of the sunset, as if bidding us farewell till the next day.

What an awesome sight!

The squad

We capped the night off with booze, card games (any kind of game we could think of, actually), some silliness and then more … at one point beside a bonfire by the river.

All in all, it was fun. The long drive was worth it. We all retired to bed feeling beat ready to be recharged for the next day 😊

Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

2nd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 – Singapore

Well, what can I say? My first IKEA ever!

While PH is still in eager anticipation of its very first IKEA store, Singapore already has two to date. I say, β€œWhat’s up with that Philippines ?? ”

If anything, I can only describe it as humongous.

The one we visited was the store in Tampines. We took the shuttle and arrived in time for brunch, or thereabouts.

There’s already a long line at the counter when we arrived and the huge dining area is already packed with hungry souls. It isn’t this much people we traveled with at the shuttle service coming here so I guess the others came in earlier from other hop-on points, or have used other mode(s) of transport.

I’m loving the idea of a multi-layered tray cart

A friend suggested that I try the Swedish meatballs and one of the cakes, so I did. I got myself a chocolate cake with crunchy caramel.

Now, what I like about Swedish food (if this is in fact representative of authentic Swedish food), which I am trying for the first time, by the way, is that it’s more on the healthier side. It noticeably uses minimal sodium and sugar. The ingredients too are probably mostly organic, if not all.

It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it’s not as seasoned as much as we are used to with our own dishes. Filipino food, as we all know, is BIG on flavor. Like it’s all savory, sweet (or both) in our world, right?

This focus on providing healthy alternatives is actually a good thing. With the increasing number of cases of degenerative, lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cancer, we do well to be more mindful of the food we eat. We ought to go easy on sodium, sugar, rice and all other bad carbs, and add more of the different veggies instead.

This flat lay though. Hands down.

After that filling and satisfying meal, we are now ready to explore this giant of a maze where it seems like anything and everything you would ever need for an ideal home could be found – from linens, to decor, to furnitures, to all sorts of knick-knacks, you name it. You literally need to follow the arrows on the floor so as not to get lost.

The thing that strikes me the most is the fact that customers are actually encouraged to try the couch and the bed to check how comfortable it is to their liking. Something that’s very different from what we are used to in the Philippines where you would often see signs that say “Thank you for not sitting” or not lying on the bed, or something to that effect.

As a matter of fact, I found myself some nice spot in some (er, not-so-discreet) corner where I had to doze off. I couldn’t help it. For that brief moment, I was the epitome of the saying “masandal, tulog”.

You should cut me some slack, guys. I have very punishing work schedule.

If it’s any consolation, I’m not alone in this. As you can see here, R too has found herself some cozy spot for some snooze.

And this here is the difference (quite literally) between sitting-pretty (left) and sleeping-pretty (right). πŸ˜€

If anything, I guess you can call this a testament to IKEA‘s high-quality and comfort, right? Because really, “you’ll doze off in no time”.

Haha! Did you see what I did there? Some segue, huh? And no, I did not just pull-off some tagline πŸ˜€

We were feeling pretty beat that day, we hadn’t really made anything out of our itinerary for after. So we just prepared to go back to the hotel. We decided to have some snack first on the way (albeit a bit heavy) and a few more shopping.

The mall we passed by adjacent to the train station has a food court with purveyors selling laksa. Toast Box (where we decided to eat), used to have a branch in Manila at Robinsons Place, but it was short-lived. It didn’t quite took off after its launch. The menu might have needed some tweaking, I surmise.

But this laksa right here? It’s good. Nothing bad to say.

We went back to the hotel afterwards.

By the way, I think our choice of hotel couldn’t be more perfect. We recommend it to anyone whose budget is somewhere in the mid-range. Hotel 81 Premier Star is what it is, of the Hotel 81 chain.

The hotel’s lobby

The rooms are clean and has this minimalist Japanese zen vibe. It’s pretty much stripped down to just the basic necessities (to bring down cost and maximize space), but not sacrificing aesthetics, functionality and comfort. It’s still complete with everything you would practically need but without the frills.

If Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms aren’t a dead giveaway enough to its vibe, I don’t know what.