Homemade Latte Hearts

I’ve been playing around with pouring latte art on with my super basic home setup, tweaking several variables.

Bean: A couple lighter roasts from my Driftaway Coffee tasting kit, which I don’t like for pourover, then just some backup beans at home, currently Starbucks Breakfast Blend.

Grind: The “espresso” grind on Bodum Bistro isn’t fine enough for what I need now. There’s not enough pressure to even think about crema, and because I have a super cheapo steam driven espresso machine it doesn’t allow enough steam to build up to attempt microfoam. Thankfully, I have a Hario hand grinder that goes all the way to so-fine-you’ll-make-your-espresso-machine-explode. I know this because I was pretty sure the machine was going to explode last week. Crema is still hard to come by, but I’m managing some, which is better than none.

Steam: The steam wand on my 15 year old Krups Il Primo doesn’t move, so I have to tilt the entire thing to get the angle I need. After that, I have a choice of using the foam attachment or going without. I can’t quite get good foam without, partly because the wand is just a little short for my 20 oz pitcher, and maybe because it’s tiny and doesn’t drive enough volume for a good slurp. I’m managing to get almost-microfoam with the attachment if I plug the air hole on it.

Pitcher: The pointy pour pitcher is definitely the way to go. I’m considering downgrading to a smaller size, though, to compensate for the short steam wand.

So far, I’ve managed to pour two hearts. The first one was tiny and semi-accidental. Today’s was small but not tiny, and totally on purpose. Even better, I finished the pour with the foam just rising over the rim.

One of these days I’ll remember to have my phone handy so I can document it. It’s hard to remember when I haven’t had my coffee yet.

Handstands Are Here Again

My wrists have been feeling pretty good recently, so why not destroy them? I started thinking about learning to do handstands again.

Conveniently, Athletic Playground offered an Intro to Handstands workshop this weekend. In! I’m on a bit of a workshop kick this month.

I’ve tried to learn handstands twice before. I didn’t do a refresher on purpose, because I wanted to come to this workshop with a blank slate. I find it incredibly valuable to be taught a skill by different people.

Our instructor did a great job explaining basic concepts and building on them. But first, she declared that there was no right way to do a handstand. Doing a handstand is like walking or dancing, just upside down. She was going to start us on the straight handstand because it’s the easiest.

We started with some stretches for our core, back, shoulders, and wrists. As part of this, we learned about “Pac-Man”, which is essentially what you imagine doing when you tighten up your core right in the middle, near your diaphragm.

Next, we placed our hands on the floor, fingers spread, shoulder width apart. With our arms completely straight, we played around with putting our weight on our hands and feeling the pressure shift from the heel of the hand to the base knuckles and then to the fingers as we shifted our weight over them. We were tasked with finding the point at which we felt even pressure on the heel and base knuckles.

Next, we put our weight on our hands and got into something of a standing pike. We focused on keeping our weight distributed evenly on our hands, our arms straight, and everything in our shoulders and core strong.

Then, a light one foot push from the pike with a light landing. Same focus.

Then, a light one foot push from the pike with a light landing on the other foot. Same focus.

Then, a light one foot push from the pike with a flutter kick plus landing on the launch foot. Same focus.

I really liked this exercise, because I got to observe and practice the right way to land on land feel softly, by piking extra right before touching the ground.

After push practice, we worked on face-to-wall handstands. Same focus on core, shoulders, and arms. For some of us, this is where our form started to break. For me, it was the usual: my back is too arched.

We split the class in two after this: those who could kick into a back-to-wall handstand and those who couldn’t. I chose the latter group, because I really wanted to make sure I learned all the basics correctly.

We did a face-to-wall variation of the handstand using boxes: one leg straight up, the other on the box, with light hops. This was a great way to feel and adjust our hands and shoulders.

After that, a break for a stretch: hands against the wall, hips hinged 90 degrees. We worked on pulling our chest down toward the floor. Something of a shoulder stretch… into a position you need for a nice straight handstand.

Post-stretch, back-to-wall handstands. Hands planted, arms straight, shoulders strong, a little momentum, and kick up! My kicks are still straight and balanced, thanks to 30×10 and 30×25.

The instructor had a couple good rules for us all to work on in back-to-wall.

Rule 1 – Don’t kick off the wall. Get one leg perfectly straight, feel it like an extension of your arm. Then use your Pac-Man core to pull your other leg straight in a controlled fashion. No kicking off the wall!

Rule 2 – Squeeze your legs together like you’re trying to hold $1000 bills in place.

Not that it’s as simple as just two rules. I still need to work on tucking my belly in / Pac-Man / hollow body / whatever you want to call it. Really tighten that core!

I’m hesitant to officially start another 30 Days of handstands right now. I’m going to see how my hands and wrists feel in the next few days and maybe get another couple practices in before deciding.

Si vs. Sh vs. SF

International travel is eye opening. This time around my trip got me thinking about commonalities and differences among Singapore, Shanghai, and the US.

Commonalities

People staring into their phones, oblivious to the world around them. It makes me kind a little sad to see it.

Bikeshare. Everywhere. It’s a great idea, but will this industry survive?

Gig economy 1: Hailing a ride on your phone. Also a great idea, but will it survive either?

Gig economy 2: Food delivery, by bike, by scooter, and in the US, by car as well. We used this in Singapore, and I use it all the time at work. Definitely a great idea, but unsure of survival here as well.

Contactless payment.

  • Singapore has NETS (NFC, QR). Happily, the NETS terminals accepted my contactless Visa card.
  • Shanghai has AliPay and WeChat Pay (both two-way QR). I love that it can be deployed without special equipment.
  • We have NFC terminals deployed in many places now. (Thanks Apple Pay! Love, me and Google Pay.) My one upgraded contactless credit card is now my go to and I look forward to the day the rest of my cards get an NFC chip as well.

Differences

Multilingualism.

  • Singapore has four official languages, and most people speak more than one. The term “melting pot” comes to mind here.
  • Shanghai operates completely in Mandarin, but if you listen closely you’ll hear a smattering of other dialects. The ability to speak English is a bonus skill.
  • We operate in English, and if you listen closely you’ll hear languages from around the world. I love languages, and think it’s really cool that we have access to so many of them here, but for some reason the language diversity here feels divisive. I suspect this may be a reflection of how I feel about our country right now.

Public transit. It’s cheap and easy to get anywhere in Singapore and Shanghai by metro and bus. In the San Francisco Bay Area, many things require a car. That, and my 1 stop BART ride from the airport upon returning home cost several times more than any the multistop metro rides I took on my trip.

I’m sounding a bit grass is greener whiny here. Shanghai and Singapore have downsides as well.

Okay, here, some balance:

Weather.

  • Singapore is HOT. Expect anything you’re wearing to get soaked with sweat the moment you walk outside.
  • Shanghai is smoggy. Your lungs will probably hate you if you live there.
  • San Francisco weather is so nice it spoils you. We never get snow, and even when we have a heat wave it’s dry.

San Francisco weather is actually one of the reasons I live here.

Shanghai

After Singapore, we flew to Shanghai on Singapore Airlines. A+++++!! Would fly again! I really enjoyed their thoughtful seat back design. Plus, they had holiday wreaths in the economy cabin.

A few hours later, we were in China, which, if we’re talking about paying for things, is a totally different world from the rest of the world.

Paying for Things

Firstly: Bring cash. If you haven’t already exchanged it, exchange a chunk of it before leaving the airport, because you may have a hard time finding an ATM that works for your international card. We tried 3 or 4 different ATMs in Pudong with no success. Thankfully, the one at our hotel worked. So there’s that. Try ATMs in hotels.

Having said that, cash is not king here. AliPay and WeChat Pay are. They’re super convenient and I wish we did our payments that way here as well. Unfortunately, you’re going to have a hard time getting money into AliPay or WeChat Pay without some help. As of this writing, AliPay funded from a friend or Swapsy “friend” was the only workable option.

Credit cards aren’t a thing at most places, and even where they’re accepted, they have to be UnionPay. If you’re from where I’m from, your cards probably won’t work. Discover cards will supposedly work, but I brilliantly left mine at home when I was packing because its acceptance rate is so low. Totally outsmarted myself there, didn’t I?

Fancier establishments will likely take Visa, but that’s no way to explore China.

I’m hopeful things will soon evolve to be more foreigner / tourist friendly.

Maglev

I tuned into NPR a few months ago and heard NDGT talking about the Maglev at Pudong Airport. I made a mental note: Take the Maglev from the airport!

And we did. I was excited to go for a ride into the future. Take me away, Maglev time machine!

We got on, and, well, it felt like a time machine all right. A time machine from the 1970s.

I felt surprised and not surprised all at the same time.

The train only hit a top speed of 300 km/h. I was disappointed, except when we passed the other train. It was over in a split second. FOOMP!

The Bund

All the visitor guides said to visit the Bund, so I did. I got on the Metro, got off at East Nanjing Road, and started looking at signs, which, from where I was standing, were all in Chinese.

I remembered that the Bund is along the water, and my Mom’s lesson about Chinese words having to do with water having the three water strokes on the side. So I looked for a character that fit the bill and walked in the direction of its arrow. Success!

This is probably a good time to write about the air quality in Shanghai. It’s terrible. That’s not fog in the picture. It’s smog.

Smog or not, I went for a nice long walk along the water. Also, the buildings light up all pretty at night. Animated, too!

Shanghai Tower

All the visitor guides also said to visit the skyscrapers. Aaron and I chose the Shanghai Tower because wowowow it’s the second tallest building in the world!

I mentioned skyscrapers plural. There are 2 supertall and 1 megatall skyscrapers in Shanghai, all next to each other. Looking down at two of the world’s supertalls is not something you get to see every day:

What really gets me about that picture is when you look past the 2 skyscrapers in the foreground and at still-tall yet tiny buildings a couple blocks out. That really drove home just how tall the Shanghai Tower is.

A couple notes if you visit: You need to buy a special ticket at the main ticket window to see the mass damper. If you don’t, you’ll find out once you’re at the top of the building, at which point you’re out of luck. Don’t do what we did. *cry*

Enjoy the elevator ride! You can’t tell because the acceleration and deceleration are so smooth, but you get to ride in the fastest elevator in the world.

Pearl Tower

I visited the Pearl Tower with my aunt and cousin’s son Marcus. The view from the top is pretty good, but it was the overall experience I enjoyed. There’s an observation deck, the space capsule, a glass floor, and outside deck, futuristic displays (about the future, of course), an arcade, a 5D theater, a VR roller coaster, a gift shop, a shopping center…

I’m sure I forgot some things, but you get the idea.

It’s pretty neat to look down through the glass floor, 259 meters off the ground:

Ocean Aquarium

I hadn’t planned to go to the aquarium, but it was next to the Pearl Tower and seemed like a fun thing to do with Marcus. And it was! There’s something wonderful about seeing an aquarium through the eyes of a child. It’s a great reminder of how I want to take in the world.

We saw a lot of divers in various tanks. I think it was poop vacuuming day.

It was pretty neat to watch this hitchhiker glide by:

Tianzifang

Tianzifang is a fun neighborhood of alleys filled with shops and restaurants. Aaron and I wandered and snacked and shopped for refrigerator magnets.

All of a sudden, a kid popped in front of me, looked right at me, and said, “Auntie Vivian!”

It took me a second to figure out what was going on. It was Marcus! My cousin had arrived from Hong Kong and they were out shopping and eating in Tianzifang as well. Randomly running into family is pretty darned awesome.

A couple alleys later we came across this savory soft tofu stand. So fresh and delicious!

Old Town & Yu Garden

Old Town felt like a bigger version of Tianzifang, on steroids, with less variety and charm. It looks pretty cool in pictures but when you’re there it’s just crowded and fabricated. I took a bunch of pictures and realized they all had McDonald’s, Starbucks, or Peppa Pig in them.

Peppa Pig is a thing here. That in itself seemed interesting, and then I looked it up and read about how she almost got banned in China for being a gangsta. Not even kidding.

I went back to Old Town in the evening a few days later with Aaron. It’s definitely more photogenic with the lights on.

Yu Garden is accessible from Old Town. It’s small, crowded, and fabricated as well. Not terrible, not great. Good luck getting a shot of the buildings without power lines or skyscrapers in the background.

Humble Administrator’s Garden

The Humble Administrator’s Garden, on the other hand, is vast and beautiful. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and most certainly deserves this distinction. If you get a chance, go. Wander for a couple hours and take it all in.

If you do decide to go, you may consider hiring a car. I’d totally recommend our driver Felix. Solid English and just the right amount of guiding to get us on our way at each location.

Zhujiajiao Water Town

You probably also want a car to visit Zhujiajiao. (You can do it on the same day as Suzhou.) It’s a network of alleys and canals, complete with touristy boat ride.

There’s definitely a touristy main drag, but there are also smaller shops run by locals, for locals. There was an entire store of pickled things, which I have not done justice with words. An internet search turns up “century-old pickle emporium”, which comes a little closer, but really, you just have to go visit this place yourself.

The other thing you need to experience here is the scent of stinky tofu wafting down the alley. It’s super potent, and you can’t get away. I loved this.

Longhua Temple

There are a few temples you can visit in Shanghai. We chose the Longhua Temple because it has the tallest pagoda, but when we got there we pretty much looked at the pagoda and shrugged. The true experience came behind the temple gates. I was surprised to find myself in a fully operational temple with hall after elaborate hall of deities. This was far more extensive than the temples in Singapore and Taiwan, and far less touristy than the temples in Bangkok.

I have only this picture of the front gate to show for my visit, because I felt it would be disrespectful to take pictures once inside.

Marriage Market

Even more of a surprise than the temple? Coming across the Shanghai Marriage Market.

We had no idea this was even a thing. Sunday afternoon, we decided to check out People’s Park. It had a nice exercise area, tables with groups gathered around mahjong and card games, a kid’s play area with construction equipment. We were following signs to the waterfall when we spotted a huge crowd to the right. We were curious, so we walked over.

We saw walkway after walkway lined with umbrellas along the sides. Each umbrella had a sheet of paper fastened to it. The paper had stats of some sort. Age, height, weight, and sex, along with some additional information. Missing persons?

The stats were all for 20 and 30 something year olds. Ohh… these were personals ads! The Marriage Market is where parents go to find a match for their children.

I snapped only a couple hasty photos of unattended umbrellas. It felt wrong to document parents and the ads for the world to see.

Propaganda Poster Art Centre

In a total change of pace, there’s a guy who collects Chinese propaganda posters and displays them in a museum of sorts in the basement of an apartment building. To get there, you walk about 20 minutes from the Metro to a residential neighborhood, scratch your head at where the heck you’re supposed to go, walk into an apartment complex past the guard booth, and turn around to find said guard handing you a piece of paper with directions. You follow the directions to the correct building, then walk down some narrow stairs to the basement.

And then… propaganda posters! There were a lot of expected themes: the US imperialists are bad, the Soviets are our brothers, the Tibetan people welcome us, Mao is teh bestest. What I didn’t expect were posters in support of the Vietnam War protests, and the black civil rights movement in the US.

This poster reminded me of my Dad and his stories of his super patriotic childhood:

I didn’t take this picture, but this is my favorite of all the posters on display. (Thanks internet.) Something about how science is hard, but we must do it.

Starbucks Roastery

As of this writing, the Starbucks Roastery in Shanghai is the largest in the world, and it is freaking amazing. Just… go. Go and marvel at the ceiling and walls and merchandise, then spend forever watching the giant machines roast and cool and transport and degas and package. Then go watch them brew said coffee 5 different ways. Then go upstairs and do it all over again. I don’t care if you don’t like coffee, or don’t like Starbucks. Just check this place out.

Food

Food here is cheap, fresh, and tasty. Procuring said food without speaking Mandarin can be an adventure.

I had my first adventure on day 1, when I ordered noodles for lunch. I fat finger pointed at whatever was next to the intestine noodle soup, and got intestine noodle soup. It was delicious! Best fat finger ordering ever.

Also on day 1, I had noodle soup for dinner with Aaron. I pointed precisely at beef tendon noodle soup, but didn’t realize the type of soup I had ordered had numbing spice in it. Um, why does my mouth feel weird?

Later in the week, we had potato noodles in Zhujiajiao. I got mine with large intestine on purpose.

Just like in Singapore, pork floss is popular here. (I like to call it pork sung, or pork fluff.) We came across a place with spicy pork floss egg waffles and decided we had to try it.

Me: *points at spicy pork floss on menu*
Employee: *asks me something in Mandarin*
Me: *looks confused and shrugs*
Employee: *points at 3 sub-choices on menu*
Me: *randomly points at one*
Employee: *looks worried says something to coworker about* … hao la!
Coworker: *shrugs*
Employee: … hao la!!
Employee: *to boss looking lady* … hao la!
Boss looking lady: *says something unintelligible*
Me, realizing “hao la” means really spicy: Oh! Bu yao hao la! (Do not want!)
Me: *makes gesture for small*
Employee: *looks relieved*

Our mildly spicy pork floss was delicious.

The next day later we encountered sticky rice balls with salted egg and pork floss filling. It sounded weird so we tried it. That was also delicious.

Xiaolongbao. People kept asking if we were going to have xiaolongbao in Shanghai. Yes, of course we did! Aaron loves xiaolongbao, so we made sure to try it in its city of origin. We even stood in a giant line for it.

It was all right. But then, I don’t actually like xiaolongbao that much compared to other kinds of dumplings.

What I loved were the fried dumplings. They’re filled with soup as well, but they’re also doughy on top, crispy on the bottom. There’s a place called Yang’s Dumplings across the street from the picture above that sells them. I could eat them every day, they’re so good.

Speaking of doughy and crispy, I was quite fond of all the green onion pancake stands on the street. You can get a warm crispy perfectly salty green onion pancake for 5 yuan. That’s less than a dollar. It’s oddly satisfying to watch them make it.

Those stands also sell fried cake things with shredded turnip inside. It was actually hard to choose which to get because I liked them both so much.

Also sold from stands: skewers of all sorts. There are to go skewer shops and sit down skewer stands both on the street and at food courts. Here’s Aaron with a cup of 20 skewers for 10 yuan:

On Tuesday, I had Shanghainese food with my aunt. My Dad had asked me to eat his favorite dish for him, Shanghai style “smoked” fish. My aunt did even better and we also ordered Shanghai style tofu, jellyfish, plus a couple other dishes. Shanghainese cuisine is pretty sweet. I loved it.

I discovered midweek that McDonald’s serves congee for breakfast. I love congee for breakfast, and I’m on a quest to try a local item at McDonald’s everywhere I go. It was exactly what you’d expect from a McDonald’s breakfast: not gourmet but gets the job done. Bonus: We had a taro pie for dessert. Deep fried, like they should be, like they used to be in the US, and like they still are outside of the US.

Aaron continued his boba consumption from Singapore. Brown sugar boba is popular right now (I hope it’ll spread to the Bay Area soon) and we ordered that a few times. Thanks to the language issue, we accidentally got a default hot boba the first night. It was actually quite enjoyable because it was cold out, and we purposely chose that for the rest of the week. As Mom would say, warm drinks are better for your stomach; they don’t shock your system like ice does. Along those lines, the water dispenser at the airport has two options: hot and warm.

There was an exception to the warm boba, in the form of Hey Tea boba ice cream. Hey Tea is all the rage right now, and it took us 3 attempts over the course of several days to try this dessert. It was decent, but I’m not sure what the hype is all about.

Finally, haw is a common flavor here. It’s a flavor I grew up with in Haw Flakes, and I was happy to have it again in juice form.

General

My first couple days in Shanghai were kind of stressful. Not being able to understand a language everyone expects you to understand based on how you look felt really uncomfortable. Eventually I got over it, and I was actually able to understand some things based on a rudimentary grasp of certain characters and sounds.

English translations for things range from bad to ridiculous and unintelligible. In Shanghai of all places you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to find someone for a one-time sign translation, but really, I think they just don’t care.

Along those same lines, I decided after a few days in Shanghai that China is a perfect example of how you can do things at 70% quality, but push nonstop at 110%, and progress in leaps and bounds.

My aunt put it pretty well when she said, “The hardware (technology) here is good. The software (people) needs to catch up.” Spoken like a Hong Konger!

Speaking of Hong Kongers, apparently they like to come to Shanghai on vacation. As Christmas weekend started, I all of a sudden started hearing a lot more Cantonese. One vacationing family even helped us translate the Chinese-only menu at the xiaolongbao place.

Back to hardware. Scooters are everywhere. They ride on the streets, they ride on the sidewalks. They’re also 100% electric. Even the rattiest scooter on the street is electric.

Actual software: Don’t trust Google Maps here. It gave me walking directions for a vehicle-only tunnel under the river. I walked a LOT of steps that day.

People software: It’s crowded here, and jostling is accepted practice. It didn’t bother me while I was in Shanghai, but the moment we landed at SFO, the lady behind me who tried to push her way off the plane got a death glare.

People hardware? Statues here are very nationalistic. Also, they have captions that speak of “significant contributions” and “great accomplishments”. Yup, our current president talks like a propaganda statue.

People: In many countries, lower wage jobs are filled by foreign workers. I didn’t see this in China. Instead of importing workers from across the border, I think they just import workers from poorer parts of the country.

Random

We didn’t see a lot of dogs in Shanghai, but Aaron made the following observation from the few that we saw: Chinese dogs wear sweaters. White people dogs are naked.

I have no idea how a Chinese card catalog works.

When we were walking around in Suzhou, pairs of nervous young adults would attempt to talk to Aaron, fail, and giggle about it with each other. He had been warned by his coworkers about scams, so he ignored them. After a while, I decided there couldn’t be THAT many pairs of incompetent scam artists, and slowed down enough for a couple girls to build up the courage to approach.

“Hi, we are from Suzhou Early Childhood Education College.” It turns out they needed to interview a foreigner for a homework assignment.

Aaron didn’t want to do it, but I was curious, so I did their homework for him. He still had to take a picture with them, though, for proof.

Do they look super nervous in this photo? Because they are.

Photo album here.

Latte Art Class

Inspired by a friend’s Facebook post a couple weeks ago, I popped online and signed up for a latte art class.

Class was this morning. It was an enlightening hour of all the things I’m not doing at home, and why my latte hearts come out looking like other anatomical parts.

Things I’m not doing at home:

Grinding just the right grind and pulling my shot with just the right amount of pressure directly into a cup for just the right crema.

Steaming the milk just the right way for microfoam, and nothing but microfoam. This requires just the right amount of steam powered swirl, plus just the right amount of air introduced, to just the right temperature. At home I introduce too much air and steam for too long. (I like my milk really hot.) This results in clumpy foam instead of smooth microfoam, which should have the appearance of wet paint.

Steaming the milk in a pitcher that lets me pour precisely. For some reason I own a pitcher with a fully round edge.

Some of these I’m not going to fix. I’m not filling my kitchen with a fancy $700 grinder and $2000 espresso machine.

I can, however, try swapping out my pitcher for $10. I can also play with brew methods for better crema.

Before I forget, here’s how to pour a latte art heart:
– cup angle starts at 45 degrees
– swirl the milk just before pouring in case the foam has separated too much
– initial pour is from a few inches up, straight down and into the coffee
– pour onto foam spots to push them down
– bring the milk closer to the surface to change the entry angle and float the foam
– gradually straighten out the cup angle and push the pour closer to center
– raise the pour again and push to the far edge of the cup to pull the heart from top to bottom

And here’s my attempt from today’s class. It has a uh, major developmental defect.

Aaron came to the class as well. He poured a balloon, followed by a fat phoenix, which he calls a turkey butt.

I’m thinking of starting an Instagram series of whimsical latte art creatures. Kind of like Imperfect Produce, for milky espresso drinks gone sideways.

Singapore!

I’ve been wanting to visit Singapore for a few years now, since I first read about Supertrees. I wanted to see them in person, and to Eat All The Things.

Lucky me, Aaron’s team has an office there. I tacked on a week of vacation to his week of work.

Aaron picked me up at the airport. He made me the best sign evars. <3

And now, a recap of All The Things.

Supertrees

Supertrees! What the heck are they, and why am I so excited about them? They’re giant, they generate electricity, and they’re vents for their super awesome greenhouse neighbors. Also, they’re covered with plants and you can walk from tree to tree 160 feet in the air.

We visited them twice, once during the day and again at night. They totally lived up to the hype.

Cloud Forest & Flower Dome

Like the Supertrees, the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are part of the Gardens by the Bay. They’re two separate greenhouses with totally different growing environments. It’s fairly frigid inside considering how hot it is outside, but amazingly the buildings in conjunction with the Supertrees are carbon neutral. I have no idea how they do that. Magic.

Also, wowowow this Cloud Forest waterfall:

Botanic Gardens

I don’t care if you don’t care about plants. You have to see the Botanic Gardens. It’s one giant public park and something like 20 completely different types of gardens, all meticulously maintained, almost all free to the public. You can learn there, stroll there, paint there, do tai chi there, take wedding photos there. Just go there!

My favorite garden walk was through the rainforest, which is actually a preserved parcel of land, because Singapore is, well, practically on the equator.

Not a specific garden, just a really nice lily pad pond:

Because 20 free gardens in a national park is not enough…

East Coast Park

The entire southeastern coast of Singapore is one long park. You can BBQ, camp, take your kids to the playground. You can rent bikes and ride for miles, or take your kid over to the Road Safety Community Park to learn the rules of the road on their little bikes. Don’t like bikes? There’s also a skate park and a cable-driven wakeboarding lagoon. They continuously making improvements, because the government wants to create outdoor spaces for family and friends to gather.

The View from the Sands

Everyone says to go to the observation deck at the top of the Sands.

They know what they’re talking about. If you go to Singapore, go to the top of the Sands. It’s an amazing view, and will give you a great idea of where many of the sites you visit are relative to each other.

Yes, it was a great view, but my biggest surprise? The number of vessels in the Singapore Strait. It’s like this as far as the eye can see.

The Merlion!

No visit to Singapore is complete without meeting the Merlion. Why? Because why not?? Does your country have a mythical water spewing mascot of the sea?

I didn’t think so.

National Museum

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did. The museum lays out the history of Singapore, and it’s super fascinating. My big takeaway, though, was how far the country has come in its short history as a nation. Its infrastructure, financial standing, and society are a model for other nations. I am truly impressed.

MRT

I’m generally happy with public transit in most big cities outside of the US. Singapore is no exception. It’s convenient, clean, and doesn’t allow durians. The thing that really impressed me, however, were the public service ads and videos. They’re all focused on encouraging people to be good members of society. There’s the ad that teaches people how to help blind persons. (Don’t grab their arm, offer them yours.) The ad that says, “My grandmother has dementia but I still love her.” The video about an emergency situation and how people stay calm and help each other.

I also liked the video about what to do if someone molests you on the train. Call for help! Bystanders detain the offender! Drag him off for caning and jail time! This “outrage of modesty” will not be tolerated.

The Noms

Kaya toast. You have to get this for breakfast at least once, because how can you not like bread and butter and coconut jam? Also, it comes as part of a common Singaporean breakfast: kaya toast plus kopi (local style super strong coffee poured with flair, plus condensed milk) and a couple runny eggs with dark soy sauce. We went to a couple local chains for this. I loved Ya Kun for the toast, and Toast Box for the soy sauce.

Teh tarik. The tea version of kopi. I already have an afternoon English milk tea habit, so naturally I loved this as well.

Durian. I didn’t eat fresh durian, but many things here are available in durian flavor. I enjoyed some pungent durian ice cream on day one, then a durian cream puff for breakfast a few days later. I might not normally choose this flavor, but it was deliciously appropriate given where I was. Aaron was grossed out.

Hainanese chicken rice. This is something you can get in the US without too much trouble, but everyone said to eat this in Singapore so Aaron got it. It was good to try it in its transplanted native environment. Plus, I’ll never say no to rice cooked in chicken fat.

Noodles, noodles, noodles. Everyone here eats noodles. We did too. I’m pretty sure you could eat noodles every meal for a week and not have the same thing twice. They’re delicious, glorious, and cheap! And yes, we had laksa.

Black pepper crab. It was either this or chili crab. We had this at the Newton Food Centre (yes the one in Crazy Rich Asians) from Alliance Seafood. It was good and I’m glad I had it. That’s about all I can say about it, because I don’t go gaga over seafood like a lot of people.

Here’s Aaron getting his noodle on at Newton Centre like a Crazy Rich Asian:

Drinks such as tiger nut milk in my coffee, soursop juice (someone told me to try soursop, and juice stands are everywhere), and Milo Dinosaur (it’s basically an iced Milo with Milo powder on top). We also had a lot of boba. I’ve decided my absolute most favoritest boba drink evars is R&B’s Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cheese Brûlée. It’s probably a good thing I can’t get this at home.

Ice kacang, a shaved ice mountain dessert. Cousin of halo halo.

Kueh pie tee and popiah. They’re little snack sized dishes with similar ingredients. Sweet, salty, nutty, yum!

Salted egg everything, especially chips. The most trendy brand right now is Irvins. It’s not just potato chips, you can get salted egg cassava chips, fish skin chips, and, my random airport off-brand favorite, seaweed chips.

Bakkwa. People call it jerky but it’s not really. It’s moist and sweet like Asian jerky, but cooked. And delicious.

Nouri. This is a restaurant, not a food. We went here for my birthday dinner, and I loved it. The food was top notch, but just as importantly, the people, vibe, philosophy, and experience were amazing. We got there right as they opened, and it was wonderful to interact with the crew before things got busy. But even after it got busy, folks still took the time to say goodbye as we left, including the chef.

I was without my travel notebook because I didn’t want to come off as a weird reviewer, so our server Chew brought me pen and paper to take notes. We’re Facebook friends now. Because yes.

General

I find Singapore to be thoughtfully planned and designed. From what I’ve seen, it’s a modern financial center that not only takes care of its people, but encourages its people to take care of each other. We could use more of that here.

The multiculturalism in Singapore is like in no other place I’ve been to. The seamless mix of languages and ethnicities is a thing of beauty. You can walk down the street and hear 4 different languages in the span of a minute. I actually started to sound weird to myself speaking English after a while.

Random

The toilet bowl fountain at the Sands. Mesmerizing.

The mall attached to the toiled bowl fountain, a.k.a The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, feels like Vegas. Aaron pointed out that it IS the Sands, and in addition to the hotel and shoppes there’s also a casino.

Not like Vegas: The Mustafa Centre. It’s often referred to as a mall, but it’s not. It’s mall sized, but it’s like one ginormous department, gift, grocery, electronics, medical supply, jewelry, entertainment, global products, everything store. It’s also open 24 hours and insanely busy nonstop. It’s not like anything I’ve ever visited and all I can say is you have to go there to experience it yourself.

Non-fancy restaurants don’t provide napkins. You have to bring your own. I developed a deep appreciation for the menthol wet wipes from 7-Eleven. So fresh and so clean clean!

Something not generally associated with fresh and clean: squat toilets. They’re a thing here! Most restrooms have a mix of seated and squat stalls. I did not expect this when I stepped off my plane and into the restroom. What’s the first thing I did in Singapore? I used a squat toilet.

Dry eye problems with contact lenses? Not a problem when you’re someplace super humid like Singapore!

The problem is your clothes, which pretty much get drenched when you step into the sun. It may look like a city, but you’re actually in a tropical rainforest.

Electric scooters and monowheels are very popular modes of transport. This makes tons of sense because even though the city is super walkable, it’s super hot, so if you have to commute outside, lazy wheels are the way to go.

You can play Punch Buggy Supercar to pass the time when waiting for the bus. Punch Buggy Aventador!

Japanese restaurants and stores are all over the place here. Don don don, donnnki… Don don, donki…

Photo album here.

Gâteau à la Broche

Watched this video and realized my French comprehension is still better than my Spanish. I’m not sure whether to be happy about my French, or sad about my Spanish.

Also, this looks delicious and I want to try it.

Of Course It’s White

There’s a new V4 I’m working on.

It’s white.

That is all.

Update 2018-12-26 @ 9:15 PM

I left for vacation the next morning, flew back yesterday, and solved it this morning.

Sideways dyno with right hand and foot barn door landing, check!

Update 2018-12-30 @ 12:56 PM

This morning I watched as a middle school aged phenom playfully swung her way up this problem, employing moves neither I nor anyone I’ve watched ever thought to do. It was a beautiful sight, and a wonderful lesson in creativity and technique. There’s so much to learn, in the best possible way.

It’s All In The Hips

The last time I went bouldering, I struggled on a steep (overhanging) V3. Despite having climbed this problem before, I couldn’t get my hand up to a hold and hang on, and I couldn’t figure out why.

At home, I’m slowly making my way through a book on climbing technique. I’m currently reading a chapter on movement initiation, center of mass, arching your back, and leading with your hips.

All of a sudden, everything clicked. I had trouble reaching that hold and hanging on because my hips were pulling me down.

Revisited the problem this morning. Initiated with the hips. Easy peasy.

It’s all in the hips. I’ve learned this lesson over and over again: shooting a hockey puck, riding a manual (the few times I’ve managed one), playing taiko, rotating freestyle, and now on the climbing wall.

I want to start playing tennis again, now that I have a better understanding of body movement and power generation. I’m super curious about doing something I learned naturally as a kid with my new analyze everything mindset.