Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Malacca 2011 - The Christ Church

The Christ Church was built by the Dutch in the 18th Century. Painted in coral red, it is one of the most prominent buildings in the heart of Malacca old town. The church is surrounded by other buildings built by the Dutch - including the Stadthuys which was the official Dutch government residence. The buildings were originally covered in exposed brickwork. When the walls started to leak, the buildings were plastered and painted over. The colour has changed over the years from white to salmon red to the present coral red.

On any given day, you will find lots of colourful trishaws lined up in front of the church offering their service to take tourists around town. If you are rushed for time, a trishaw is actually one of the best ways of moving around the old town, especially in the narrow alleys.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Malacca 2011 - World Heritage City

The last time I went to Malacca must have been more then 10 years ago. Malacca is around 150 km from Kuala Lumpur, and I drove down with the mrs in a borrowed car. The highway is very good and we were there in no time, and spent a really nice day there. The way back however was a different story. It started to rain cats and dogs, and the visibility was probably only a few meters. Imagine driving on a highway and you can't see the cars in front of you or behind you. We were going at a snail's pace. What made it worse was the 10 car pile up that we came across along the way ! Thankfully we managed to get back to KL without incident.

Earlier this year I was in Malacca to attend a conference, and took the opportunity to revisit the historical city. Malacca and Georgetown in Penang have been jointly listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2008 - and about time too. Malacca was founded by Raja Iskandar of the Temasik Empire (ancient Singapore) in 1396. It fell into the hands of the Portuguese in 1511, and was taken over by the Dutch in 1641. The Dutch ruled Malacca for more then a century, and in 1795 it was given to the British to prevent it from falling into the hands of the French during the Napeoleonic Wars. This rich and colourful history has made Malacca what it is today - an intriguing place to visit.

As you move around the city, you can see remnants of all the different conquering powers over the years. In many ways it reminded me of Macao which has a similar Portuguese influence. Another fascinating aspect of Malacca is the Nonya and Baba (Peranakan) - the result of intermariage between Chinese immigrants and the locals. They assimilated local Malay language and custom into their culture, creating an interesting and colourful fusion of cultures. Today the most visible remnant of this culture is in the architecture of the Peranakan shophouses and the beautiful antique furniture.

The World Heritage status is proudly displayed.

Old buildings in Malacca.

The Malacca River which runs through the old city.

Though the government has put in a lot of efforts to make Malacca a greater attraction to tourists - thier heavy hand can sometimes do more harm then good. Hopefully the World Heritage Status would encourage them to be lighter and more considered in their approach.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Awfully Chocolate

It is always good to know when someone has the courage to chase their dreams and succeeded. Awfully Chocolate is one of these stories. The founder Lyn Lee was a lawyer before she decided to give up her profession and start a shop specializing in chocolate cakes in 1998 as chocolate was and still is her passion. In the beginning almost everyone said it was doomed to fail. Now 13 years later she has shops in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Hopefully she will open in Malaysia soon, as her chocolate is simply fantastic !

True to her philosophy of only doing what you love, the Singapore shop only sells a few items – a few types of chocolate cakes, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate truffles. Chocolate lovers should try the Dark Chocolate Truffles which are SGD 13.00 per 100g. They are some of the best you can get anywhere.

Awfully Chocolate now has 8 stores around Singapore. We visited the one at Raffles City.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Orchard Central

Orchard Central is one of the latest additions on Orchard Road. Due to its narrow site, it must have been quite a challenge for the designers. I think they have done quite a creditable job. To me it is one of the more interesting shopping centres in Singapore. The rest tend to be very generic.

With a narrow site, it was not possible to introduce a large internal atrium like in most shopping malls. Instead they relied on the gap between the new development and the adjacent building to provide a vertical atrium going to almost the uppermost floor of the building. To maximize the space, they had to go high - as much as 12 storeys - which is a great challenge for any shopping centre. The floors are divided into different thematic zones each with a different visual design.

One of the main reasons I visited Orchard Central was to check out the AFC (Asian Food Channel) Shop. Sadly it was quite small and there weren't much merchandise beside the TV show tie-ins like DVDs and cookbooks.

According to most locals, Orchard Central had not done as well as the developers had hoped. Shoppers generally prefer convenience and do not like going up stairs or using lifts to access the shops. Hopefully things will change as I still think it is one of the more innovative developments in Singapore and deserve to be more successful then it is now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Desserts at Canele

Canele is a chain of cafes under the Les Amis F&B Group in Singapore. They now have 4 outlets throughout the island - Robertson Walk, Shaw Centre, Paragon Orchard Road and Raffles City. They started out specializing in cakes and desserts, but now have a full-fledged menu offering the usual cafe food. Helmed by Executive Pastry Chef Pang Kok Keong, they serve some of the best cakes and desserts in Singapore.

We visited the outlet in Raffles City, and had to wait more then an hour for a table. Though the basement food hall at Raffles City is huge, it was jam-packed with people. We got there around 7:00 p.m. and the desserts were almost sold out. Luckily we were smart enough to reserve what we wanted, or would have been disappointed by the time we were seated. Still I didn't get to taste their macaroons as they were completely sold out ! Their passion fruit macaroons are simply out of this world !

This was what we had. Chloe - a mousse cake with a chocolate shell.

St Marc - a layered gateaux with caramelized topping.


We also had a Nougatine sweet crepe - served with Nutella, caramel, nougatine ice cream and vanilla creme chantilly. If you have a sweet tooth - this is heaven !

Seafood pasta - the food here definitely play second fiddle to the desserts.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Emerald Hill

Emerald Hill is a conservation area right in the heart of Orchard Road. It was formerly home to the many wealthy Peranakan families in Singapore. Today, it is a residential enclave for the very rich, as even the smallest houses here would cost millions. Many of the houses here are in the Colonial Chinese Baroque Style which is common also in Penang and Malacca. The frontage is usually quite narrow, but the plots are quite long and deep - usually with courtyards and light wells in the centre to provide light and ventilation. With a good renovation, these homes can be outstanding in design and comfort. And who can argue with the location, right next to the most prime shopping centres in the City.

The houses here are some of the best examples of Colonial residential architecture.

Some of the houses nearer to Orchard Road have been converted to pubs and cafes.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Singapore Flyer

After the huge success of the London Eye which was the first large city scale ferris wheel in the World, many other cities have copied the idea with mixed results. The Singapore flyer was added in 2008, and is one of the largest in the World at the moment. So far it hasn’t really reached its desired potential. During our visit, there were very few visitors and many of the passenger “capsules” were empty. We were able to have one capsule all to ourselves which was a blast !

The design of the Ferris Wheel is an engineering marvel. All the capsules are attached to the main wheel with gears which rotate to keep the capsule completely level as the wheel turns. Without the gears the passengers would be upside down as the capsule reach the top ! The movement is so smooth that it is hardly noticeable. You can only sense the movement by looking at the surroundings. As you move higher up, you get great views of Marina Bay and the buildings in the CBD.

It takes a lot of engineering hardware to keep everything in place.

View from the top.

The Singapore Flyer experience costs around SGD 30 for adults and SGD 20 for children below 12 years old. The ride lasts for about half an hour - not exactly the cheapest ride in town ! Big spenders can also book the capsules for a private dinner with the Singapore skyline as the backdrop. For a cheaper option there is a very nice food court at the base of the complex worth checking out.