Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Emerald City

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our last full day in Jakarta started slowly with brunch at Koi, the same place we had brunch 3 weeks ago. Friends of Jon and Briton met us there with their infant and we had a very enjoyable time. MA had the French toast with caramelized banana and D had scrambled eggs, hash browns and spinach. It was the biggest meal he had had in a long time.

Back at the house, we had a leisurely day. We napped a bit in the afternoon and then packed for the trip home. Carter helped so the packing only took twice as long as it did when we left WPB. Finally, everything was done. Jon grilled hot dogs and veggies for dinner. The kids went to bed late after watching Blue’s Clues with Grandma and Grandpa until almost 8 pm. We talked with Jon and Briton before heading to bed around 9:30.

Monday, November 2, 2009

We were up really early this morning [4:30!] after a night of intestinal difficulties, so it was already going to be a long day. We saw Jon off to work and Carter off to school before Caiden was even up. Because Kusnadi had to take us to the airport, Caiden and Ati went to school in a taxi which Ati had to hail by walking out to the main street. Caiden was happy about the taxi but suddenly had a little breakdown when we said we were going to America this morning. He wanted to go to the airport with us; he loves flying and hotels. He went sobbing with Ati to the taxi and we loaded our stuff in the minivan [well, Kusnadi loaded the van].

We left the house just after 8 a.m. The drive through Jakarta and to the airport took almost an hour and a half. We still had plenty of time to kill before our 11:40 flight to Singapore. The Singapore Airlines counter was deserted when we arrived and we waltzed through check-in and security. There are several layers of security at the Jakarta airport, each repeating the steps from before. We spent some time at Starbucks where MA had her favorite, passion fruit iced tea, and a chocolate chunk scone. D was still not too anxious to eat, so he chose not to have anything.

Boarding was supposed to start at 10:40, a full hour before departure, so we headed for the gate. When we got there, there were lots of passengers waiting in the hallway but no one actually going down the ramp to the waiting area. We weren’t sure if it was open yet but decided to see. Sure enough, we were the first ones to appear there. Of course, we had to pass our carry-on bags over for another x-ray screening and then found seats for the wait. After we got comfortable, staffers came to ask us to bring our bags back to the screening area so they could hand search them. We don’t know what they were looking for, but they found nothing of interest and we went back to our seats.

The flight actually left pretty much on time. Although the flight to Singapore takes only 80 minutes, Singapore Airlines managed to serve lunch to 300-plus passengers. We had a macaroni & sausage kugel with a jello chiffon dessert. It wasn’t bad and we were hungry.

MA’s wheelchair was waiting in Singapore, of course, and we sped through the airport to collect our bags. Our wheelie wouldn’t let D handle the bags. As he identified the bags on the belt, she hauled then off and onto a trolley. We glided through customs and immigration and emerged into the waiting room to look for Albert Tan, our cabbie. As it turned out, Albert was with another client and had sent someone else to cover for him. The replacement drove like a maniac, weaving in his own lane throughout the ride to the Marriott. At one point, D thought he was going to hit a Jersey wall; later he almost rear-ended a stopped car before slamming on the brakes on the rain-soaked street.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we settled in and took the requisite nap. With the threat of rain, we didn’t want to try Clark Quay, the outdoor dining and entertainment venue, so we marched down Orchard Road to the Paragon shopping plaza and had dinner at a dim sum restaurant – won ton soup [with spinach-filled dumplings] and steamed pork dumplings along with hot tea and cold drinks. It wasn’t exotic but it was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. After settling the bill, we walked across the mall to our favorite Starbucks to try the wi-fi.

Normally, wi-fi service is free at Starbucks, but try as he might, D could not get a connection. Last year, there had been no problem; at first we stole the signal from a nearby mobile phone store, then got the password from the Starbucks’ staff. This year, though, the system had changed. Although free service was available “for tourists,” we discovered that it required a local [i.e., Singapore] telephone number. Several staffers tried to help. One even offered the use of his cell phone number because the needed password was sent via SMS. That didn’t work either. Finally, they called in their “tech expert,” a former employee who gave us his logon and password from the store. Bingo! We had web service. We sent a message to the assorted children and started for “home.”

The city was still alive with pedestrians shopping, eating and socializing. Added to the mix of people was a street display of Christmas lights running the length of Orchard Road and the intersecting arteries. The intersection in front of the hotel, one of the city’s major hubs was also decorated with reindeer and lights. Many of the stores have their decorations up already, too. We are going to try to get photos tomorrow night.

We watched CNN for a bit before turning off the lights around 9:30. It’s not home, but we are that much closer to our own bed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We stayed in bed until 9 o’clock! How decadent! How wonderful! By the time we were both showered and conscious, it was 11 o’clock, so breakfast was sort of out of the question. Naturally, we went to Starbucks but didn’t bother dragging the laptop because we didn’t plan on returning to the hotel after muffins and drinks. Instead, we picked up a taxi in front of Lucky Plaza [between the hotel and Paragon] and asked the driver to take us to Singapore Gems. We had learned about this jewelry store from Mary Molina, our dinner companion on the Grand Med. MA had e-mailed her for the particulars because she had raved about for the place one night. So off we went, not. The driver had no idea where it was despite our providing the address; he could not find it in the Singapore street guide either. However, MA had saved all of the information Mary had given her including the telephone number. D suggested to the driver that he use his mobile to call the store which he did. Then we were on our way.

It turned out that this was no hole-in-the-wall jewelry secret. When we eventually pulled in, there were 2 tours buses already in the driveway. Helloooo, Holland America. When we reached the second floor sales area, we asked for “Miss Fun,” Mary Molina’s sales assistant. The greeter/manager was impressed that we asked for a salesperson by name and assumed we had been there before. Miss Fun had no idea who Mary was, but she played along. She and MA spent a lot of time picking over pendants for MA’s necklace and finally found one that everyone liked. Sale completed, Miss Fun walked us outside and hailed a taxi for us; “Next time you are in Singapore,” she said, “call me and I will pick you up.” It must have been a bigger sale than we thought. Maybe we should have bargained more.

We returned to the Marriott to stow our purchase and went back out into the heat and humidity – we’re talking low 90s for both heat and humidity. It’s like Cambodia all over again. We had decided to visit the Botanical Garden, a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel. The Botanical Garden is so big that the suggested time to walk it all is 4 hours. We were interested in the Orchid Garden, a separate section within the complex. We started with a 10 – 15 minute walk through the park. Despite the oppressive weather, it was a pleasant walk. We came to the Orchid Square which fronted the garden as well as the Ginger Plaza. We ate lunch at Halia which is known for incorporating ginger into many of its recipes. MA had a Tandoori chicken sandwich which she said had hints of ginger accompanied by the Halia special tea, also replete with ginger. D’s minute steak sandwich had no ginger but was delicious nonetheless; he had an iced mocha to drink. We shared French fries but ate only half of them.

The orchids were magnificent. We spent almost an hour wandering through the display. We recognize some of the orchid types – we have vandas and phalanopses growing in our one tree in West Palm. We saw vandas so tall that they had been staked in the ground to keep them from falling over. There were banks of orchids of every color and style not to mention the large display of bromileads; it was like being home. Throughout our walk we also found fountains and benches, quiet places for tired travelers. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. On the other hand, we were relieved to find the air conditioning turned on “high” when we got in a taxi for the ride home.

It was 4 o’clock when we got back to the room. D called Albert, the phantom taxi driver. Albert had already made plans for the evening which took the pressure off canceling our evening’s plans. And then we took our nap. D got up around 6 to get a shooter glass from Hard Rock for Uncle Tim. He got disoriented in the underpass by the hotel and spent an hour finding the Hard Rock and purchasing the glass. He arrived back at the room soaked through for the second time today and took a shower to cool off. It was almost 7:30 and we didn’t want a big dinner, so we went to the lobby lounge and got a tower of nachos, quesadilla and pastry. Only one of the three pastries was worth eating but the Tex-Mex was pretty good. MA had a mojito to keep the theme going and D had his usual diet Coke.

For some reason, the Christmas lights were not lit when D went to take pix, so we are hoping they are lit tomorrow, our last night in Singapore. Back in the room, we watched So You Think You Can Dance tryouts from last season before turning off the lights at 10:15.
Only one more day in the Emerald City.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today was Guest Appreciation Day at Marriott worldwide and customers were offered free muffins and juice from 7:30 until 9 o’clock. We made it to the lobby by 8:30 and were promptly and courteously handed bakery bags, each with a fresh muffin, and a choice of orange or apple juice. We ended up with a chocolate chip and a raisin almond muffin. MA wasn’t thrilled with the raisins, but D’s chocolate chocolate chip muffin was yummy.

We had decided to take the Singapore Airlines HOHO bus today. With our boarding passes, we got a 50 per cent price reduction and the right to ride all day. First, though, we went to Starbucks to check e-mail and Facebook. This was our first attempt to sign in since we had help the other day, so we were concerned that we might have problems, but the system and our borrowed password worked flawlessly. The pity was that there was nothing worth reading after all we went through. Still, we’ll make a note of the log-in and password on the off chance we are in Singapore again. Considering that the Marriott charges over S$50 for unlimited service for 24 hours [over $40US], it’s worth the walk to Paragon to use the wi-fi and get a coffee.

Our plan was to ride a complete circuit of the HOHO and then stay on for 2 repeat stops and alight at Little India. We planned to look around and get lunch. We picked up the bus almost at the Marriott’s front door and were lucky enough to be standing in right where the bus stopped. As a result, we were among the first passengers to board at our stop, a good thing since the bus was crowded. MA led the way to the back of the bus and was able to find two seats. Most of the others who had been in the ragged queue were not so lucky.

The crowd waxed and waned as we meandered around and through Singapore. We were disappointed that this bus did not offer earphones and a running commentary of the route; we had expected this based on experiences in Barcelona and Cadiz last spring. There were announcements made over a public address system, but they were hard to hear and generally named hotels and shopping venues near the bus stops. Nonetheless, we were able to identify a surprising number of places we had seen last year including the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest Ferris wheel; Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar, home of the Singapore sling; the marina and, of course, Orchard Road. We also retraced yesterday’s trip with a stop at the Botanical Garden.

We were fortunate that we went to the Garden yesterday because today it was raining hard when we pulled up to the stop. Eager tourists still got off to see the beauty of the park, but we fear that they were drenched by the time they finished their visit. The heavy rain forced us to change our plans – we were not eager to wander through Little India in a downpour – so we went back to the hotel with the idea of exploring the underground and the adjacent shopping plazas for somewhere to get a light lunch. D took the camera and laptop to the room and returned to find MA looking wan. Cancel lunch. MA went for a nap in the hope that her cold would abate and D went to the lobby in search of free wi-fi. The wi-fi was just as expensive in the lobby, but he stayed to write today’s journal entry.

The weather finally cleared before we went out for supper, and the temperature dropped, so the evening was almost comfortable. Because we hadn’t eaten much breakfast, and had had no lunch, we got a taxi and headed to Clarke Quay arriving just before 6:00 p.m.; we practically opened the place up. Clarke Quay is the restaurant, bar and entertainment venue for the young and the hip. We’re no longer young but we have hips, so we were fine. We ate at Clarke Quay several times last year and, after wandering through the complex, decided to return to a tapas restaurant we had enjoyed then. Our table overlooked the Singapore River and we watched tour boats of tourists travel back and forth. We especially remembered the roasted red pepper with soft cheese that we had eaten last year. To that, we added cheese croquettes which sounded better than they were; they were like any other fried cheese and were served with an aioli which actually detracted from the flavor of the cheese. We also shared an order of garlic bread and a pitcher of sangria. Woo hoo!

We didn’t leave until 8 o’clock, just as Clarke Quay was beginning to come alive. Night had fallen and the low lights of the bars had come on as business picked up. We had no trouble getting a taxi home. Our driver decided to avoid the ERP toll road and took a roundabout path [that ended up costing just as much, we think]. Rather than spend additional time fighting his way around the major intersection that is our temporary home, he dropped us off at the new Ion Orchard shopping mall across the road leaving us to find our way through the mall and the underground crossover. Ion Orchard makes Paragon look like Wal-Mart. It is the high end of the high end mixed with the more mundane in the basement levels. We took escalators to the basement and followed signs to the MRT station and then to the Marriott. A piece of cake compared to D’s adventure just the day before. D went back outside to take pictures of the Christmas decorations because they had reminded us of Mexico City’s decorations forty years ago. We watched a Monk rerun and went to bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Once again, we face The Day That Would Not End. We were up at 8 o’clock this morning for the start of the 40-hour day. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 10:30 with the elusive Albert Tan driving us to Changi airport. We anticipated arriving at the airport at 11 for a 1:10 flight to Taipei and eastward throughout the ensuing day and a half.

Albert was early getting to the hotel, so he gave us a little tour of Singapore’s neighborhoods, both the expensive and the government-subsidized. We talked about the economy, assisted-living, health care and many other topics common to all people in this age of globalization. It was an interesting half hour and we regretted even more that we had not made connections with him sooner. At Changi, D made sure to get his card in case we are in Singapore again.

And now the adventure began. We remembered that last year we were directed to a special check-in area because we were flying in the front of the plane. D recognized the area as we were looking for the regular EVA line and made a bee line for it. Sure enough, we were in the right place. The special check-in area includes seated check-in and someone else to drag the bags onto the scales [which weren’t even checked]. The clerk was able to check our luggage through to PBI, so we won’t have to drag it all to the hotel in Newark and then re-check it [for a fee] with Continental on Friday. Once all of that was done and airline lounge passes issued, we waited for MA’s wheelchair to arrive. The clerk even got us Cokes while we waited.

The wheelie arrived and got us through immigration/passport control without mishap. From there we went to the VAT refund desk where D presented paperwork for MA’s new jewelry. Once the paperwork was in order and stamped, he put one copy in a pre-addressed envelope and sent by mail to the company which will refund the 7% tax directly to our credit card. We made our way to the combined business/First Class lounge to await boarding; we assumed we had about an hour and a half until the wheelie returned. The 12:20 boarding time came and went and we started to get a wee bit nervous. The lounge staff assured us that we had not been forgotten but that the inbound plane was late, so there was no reason to go to the gate too early.

Eventually, even the wheelie got into the spirit of fear, so we went down to the gate. Even though it was now 1 o’clock, there was no airplane at the gate. We were told that there had been an unspecified mechanical problem and that we could return to the business class lounge or go to the cafeteria [with a voucher] to await further word. We were encouraged to return to the lounge which we did. The food options weren’t good [and the local cuisine smelled a little] but we were able to find chips and snack mix along with sodas.

The lounge staff informed us that the plane had been rescheduled to depart at 3:15 [maybe] with an ETA of 7:40 p.m. This did not strike us as good news since our flight to Newark is supposed to take off at 7:00. We were assured that EVA ground staff would meet us and explain what was going to be done to get us home. We are presuming that we will have to overnight in Taipei and take Friday’s flight to Newark if there is one. In that case, EVA will have to put us up in Newark as well as rebooking us into PBI; we will ask them to send us first class. There is also the possibility that some other airline flies from Taipei to New York/Newark and we will be rebooked with them, with the same perks, of course. At this point, it is 2:30, just 45 minutes until our alleged departure.

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