Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nepal Day 12: Kathmandu Street View

After settling down in our hotel, I set out for a stroll in the city.

At the intersections of some small lanes, which they call 'street', lies their market.  Just like any other wet market, it is messy and a bit dirty.

And there is always some religious structures at the intersection.  People go about their daily chores without forgetting their religion, although the religious structure is very run down, at the brink of being a ruin.

Streets are narrow and dark.  People, local & foreign, rubbing shoulder along the narrow alleys.  Shops and street vendors line the streets.  Rickshaws, taxis, and motorbikes compete with humans for space in such dark narrow alleys.
Near Kathmandu's Durbar Square, finally small alleys turn into bigger streets.  More modern style shops dot both sides of the street.  People were happily shopping.  

You will encounter such buildings from time to time.  The building is elaborate with decorations.  The long bronze deco hanging all the way down from the roof to the 2nd level window seems to signal a living goddess stays here.  The elegant window where the bronze arrow is pointing might be where the living goddess may one day grace the public.  
It seems to me religion has ceded for business in today's Kathmandu.  As you see in the picture above, the 2nd level is still for religious purpose, but the 1st level has been converted into shops.  Anyway, let's take a look at the beautiful bas relief on the bronze window, before they disappear with time.

On one side of this religious building, stands a Ganesh shrine.  

Ganesh is the Hindu god of prosperity and wisdom.  His shrines are almost everywhere in Kathmandu, which shows he is a very popular god among all the Hindu gods.  He can be easily recognize with his elephant head.

On the sides of the Ganesh shrine, statues of life and death stand.

Another common scene you will see in Kathmandu is the Tibetan Buddhist Stupas.  

Whenever you see such stupas, you know there is a Tibetan establishment nearby, maybe it is the Tibetan refugee settlement, or their temples which are called 'Gompa'.  
Western influence has not been fell greatly in this land-locked country.  Globalisation has yet to make its impact.  It is good because they can still retain their old age innocence, it is bad because life in this country is too tough.  What is worse is the pollution.  Kathmandu is always misty, hazy, with gray skies, and heavy fog.  The once splendid buildings are still splendid, except their true beauty lies underneath a thick layer of gray dust. 

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.

Nepal Day 12: Pokhara to Kathmandu

29 Dec 2009

We bid farewell to Pokhara this morning.  At 7.00am, we took a taxi to the 'famous' Tourist Bus Terminal.  In contrast with yesterday's emptiness & quietness, Tourist Bus Terminal was buzzing with life.  Some people were selling freshly baked bread, some selling postcards, posters, etc.  Yesterday's empty car park now was lined up with all different types of tourist buses.

We took the BABA Tourist Bus.  The bus was quite new, and the drivers have a cockpit like the pilots in their airplanes.  The seats are very comfortable.  Btw, the group of Korean students were taking the same bus as we did.  What a coincident!

Some tourist tips here:  There are many different tourist bus operators plying the Pokhara to Kathmandu route.  Based on my own experience and also observation at the Pokhara Tourist Bus Terminal, plus some feedback from other tourists, it seems like BABA offers a good deal.  The other very popular bus operator, which has been mentioned by Lonely Planet, is the Green Line.  However, their bus seems to be a bit old, and small.  Another operator is Skyline, I think.  The seats are just of normal size, and the two Taiwanese tourists we met didn't give good feedback on Skyline.  

The bus ride to Kathmandu was smooth.  One thing bad is that they have no such concept as a 'toilet stop'.  Don't they know people have such needs for a 7-hour long journey?  I couldn't take it, so I went up to ask the driver.  He then just stopped the bus in the middle of nowhere and let me go down to relieve myself at the road side.  I was thinking, so embarrassed, I was the only one and holding up the whole bus load of people.  But when I finished my own business and turned my back, my gosh, one whole group of passengers from  our bus doing the same thing.  I wondered, why didn't anyone else come up to ask the driver to stop for a toilet break but me?  Haiz....

About 3 hours into the journey, we stopped at a 'resort' for lunch, which was included in the bus fare (btw, the bus fare was US$18.00).  Lunch was buffet, the food was just so-so, just for the purpose of filling up the empty stomach.

At around 2pm, we already entered Kathmandu, but the traffic condition in the city is terrible.  Jams everywhere, and it was nothing but chaos. 

We were constantly greeted by such rubbish dumps.  It reminds me of some rural areas in China some 3 decades ago.  Today's Kathmandu, looks very much like a small Chinese town some 30 years ago.  Nepal will have to work harder to catch up with the rest of the world.  
3pm, we reached our final destination.  We thought we would stop at a bus terminal or something, but hell no.  We just stopped at the road side.  The drivers didn't tell us we had reached.  Luckily one Nepali passenger alerted me, so I asked the driver.  The rest of the foreign passengers were still sitting there, not knowing what is happening.  I had to be the self-declared tour guide to tell them that we had come to the end of our bus journey, and everybody please get down.  

One salient feature of Kathmandu is most of the streets have no names.  I didn't know where I was, other than somewhere near the backpacker's heaven - Thamel.  After many askings, we got our way to Hotel Center Point (北京饭店).  It is a hotel catering to Chinese visitors.  You see, I used the word 'visitors', instead of tourists.  There are some Chinese tourists, but later I noticed most people staying there were more business oriented.  

The cost for a standard double room with attached bath is US$30.00.  Almost double the cost than Hotel Blue Heaven.  The location is not bad, in the center of Thamel.  The room is spacious, stairs are  spacious, and there is a lift in the hotel, except very few people use it.  Nobody wants to get stranded in the lift during Kathmandu's frequent power outages.  

There is also a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor, managed I think by some Chinese-speaking Nepalis.  The food there was ok, but not of exceptional quality. 

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zhen Zhen Porridge @ Maxwell Food Centre

During my last visit to Maxwell Food Center, I noticed there was a long queue at Zhen Zhen Porridge (真真粥品).  Today, when I went to Maxwell Food Center again, I decided I must give it a try at Zhen Zhen.

The queue was still as long as I saw it last time.  The stall displays two awards, one from Chanel U's U Viewers' Pick Award (优选美食王), the other one is from Makan Sutra. 

I started to queue up at 12.50pm, with an empty stomach.  It needed lots of determination, man.  The butterflies in my stomach were flying all around, making loud protests.  More than half an hour later, at 13.24pm, I finally got my hand on the much awaited fish porridge.
Ok, overly excited with my porridge.  Let's take a look first.  Does it look good to you?  Next, we will assess the porridge using the 3 criteria of good food: 1. Look; 2. Smell; 3. Taste.
1. Look

The look is ordinary, nothing exceptional.  If you ask me, I must tell you the only thing exceptional in terms of look is there are some traces of charcoal on the edge of the bowl.  It is kind of disgusting, I must say.

2. Smell

I couldn't smell anything other than spring onion.  

3. Taste

Well, for us Cantonese, when we eat porridge, we will NEVER stir the porridge upside down, inside out.  We only scoop using a spoon from the top, and then go down layer by layer.  That's the way Cantonese eat porridge.  However, in Singapore, the first thing people do when they receive their porridge, is to stir the porridge inside out, upside down.  Crazy!  If you do that in a Cantonese context, you may be considered to have no table manner.  I simply couldn't understand why Singaporeans do that, until today.  

You see, the porridge is plain without any taste.  Then they add ginger, spring onions, fried onions & sesame oil.  You HAVE TO mix them, otherwise, your porridge is going to be tasteless!  Well, after mixing all these with the porridge, I still found my fish porridge tasteless.  

There are two points worth praising of Zhen Zhen Porridge.  One is the fish is just nice.  The timing is almost perfect.  The freshness & tenderness of the fish are well retained.  This is something I must sing high praise for them.

Another point is the portion of fish.  If you order a bowl of fish porridge in a food court, you may get 4-5 slices of fish, that's all.  Here, they gave me quite a big portion, much more than the 4-5 slices.  But, I suspect many young Singaporeans may not like it, as their fish has bones.  I had to painstakingly pick out all the bones, which kind of made my porridge eating experience more like fighting a war with fish bones :P

Zhen Zhen is Stall #54 at Maxwell Food Center.  I have given you my opinion, try it for your own opinions.   

Stock Trading Through DBS iBanking

During today's half day DBS Vickers stock seminar, I got to know more details about the new stock trading facility available to DBS Vickers account holders.

It is called 'cash upfront transaction'.  What it means is that when you buy shares through DBS ibanking (which is linked to your DBS Vickers online trading account), you will pay for the shares plus the relevant fees upfront by cash, instead of clearing your payments in T+x days.  Your trading limit will be the amount of cash in your DBS Vickers online account.  Ok, it does sound a bit complicated.  What is the benefit then?  You can have a lower commission.  Instead of the normal 0.25% or S$25 minimum, you pay 0.18% or S$18.00 minimum.  For a small retail investor like me, this means a 28% reduction in fees, which is quite significant.

The procedure to use this facility is:

1. Login to your DBS ibanking.  There is a 'Trading Service' on the side bar.
2. Click on 'Trading Service'.  First, you need to link your DBS account to your DBS Vickers online account.
3. Under 'Trading Service', you top-up your DBS Vickers online account so that you will have funds for your share purchases.

The site is undergoing scheduled maintenance today, so I can't really try it out.  I will do it tomorrow.  Another point that I have not figured out is the selling part.  Can I sell my shares there too and enjoy a lower fee?  Mmmh.... I need to find out.

You can read the follow-up post here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nepal Day 11: Pokhara Street View

Pokhara's lake shore area is mainly catering to tourists.  The area is purposely kept very clean, the roads are more proper.  Part of the reason may be also the royal palace is located in that area too.  However, once you go out of the major tourist area, then it is another story.  The roads are more dusty, the buildings are more run down. 

In the morning, we went to look for the Tourist Bus Terminal, which Abi said it was 10 minutes walk from our guest house.  Wow,  Abi walks a lot faster than me.  His 10 minutes turn out to be many more minutes.  Along the way, I had to ask quite a number of people for directions.  Luckily, Nepalis are in general very kind.  They are happy to direct me to the right direction. 

At one time, I was a bit lost at a traffic junction.  A van driver behind us asked us whether we were looking for a taxi.  When I told him that we were looking for the Tourist Bus Terminal, he smiled to tell us it was just 200 meters away and pointed us to the direction. 

So as I walked to the tourist bus terminal, I also captured some random street views.  I sincerely hope that I am capturing part of the history of Nepal, and when I return the next time, Pokhara have changed for the better.

I thought the Tourist Bus Terminal should be some building with a big car park for all that tourist buses.  To the contrary, there is hardly anything at the tourist bus terminal, not even a sign in English saying hey, this is the tourist bus terminal, man.  Nothing but a dusty empty land.

Do you see that piece vacant land there beside the 3-story building?  That's where the tourist bus terminal is.  I doubted my judgment at first, until I asked someone there to confirm it was indeed the tourist bus terminal.  It is rudimentary, but functional.  The bus terminal is only crowded and full of life in the morning, before 7.30am.  7.30am seems to be the time that ALL the tourist buses will leave.  After that, the bus terminal returns to its emptiness and quietness.

There is hardly any modern building in town, let alone Singapore type of shopping centres.  People there in general still seem to be very poor.  I don't quite understand.  Nepalis are in general hard working.  And they have been ushering in western tourists since the 1970s.  After so many years of tourism development, why is this country still so poor?  However, WJ, my friend who just paid a visit to Tibet last May, told me that Nepal is in many aspects better than many parts of Tibet, in terms of tourist facilities, and hospitality.  Sanitation facilities such as toilet is rudimentary in Nepal, but it is still one class better than Tibet. 

In that case, more so Nepal should be a bit more rich than they are now.  I sincerely wish Nepali people having a better life in the not too far future.  They deserve a better life for their hard work. 

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nepal Day 11: Fewa Lake & Devi Falls

Pokhara is famous for its lake and the lake side area, so how can I miss the lake?

That's how Fewa Lake looks like.  It is a small lake at the foot of the Himalaya mountains.  The softness of water gives the tough mountains a romantic look.  It also makes people to slow down and relax at her side.

There is a small island with a Varahi Temple near the palace area.  The only way to get to the island is by boat.  Right opposite the island, there is a place where you can rent your boat.  You can rent the boat only, and do the rowing yourself; or you can hire a boat and a boat man.  Not really cheap.  The price is anything from Rs300 onwards. 

Another attraction in Pokhara is Devi Falls.  There are many variations of its name, but they are all referring to the same thing.  When you first heard of Devi Falls, what would come to your mind?  A water fall?  That was what I thought.  We took a taxi to go there, which is in the southern part of Pokhara, and outside of the main tourist lake shore area.  The taxi ride was only about 10 minutes.  The taxi driver asked us whether we wanted to hire him for one way only or for return as well.  One is Rs250, and return is Rs400, and he would wait for us for around 30 minutes or so.  I thought, hell, only 30 minutes for us to enjoy a water fall?

When we got to Devi Falls, we got a HUGE surprise!  It is NOT a typical water fall.  Only when I read my Lonely Planet guide book line by line carefully did I realize Devi Falls actually is overflow water Fewa Lake, and it drops down suddenly into a hole in the ground. 

Holy shit, this is Devi Falls.  And we came at the wrong time of the year some more.  There was hardly any water in it.  According to the sign board in the Devi Falls area (btw, you have to pay Rs20 to visit Devi Falls), the best time of the year is between July & Sept.  Hello, we were there in December, hardly any water, dry season, no rain, no snow, so no water fall either.  Even if there is plenty of water, I doubt we can see a nice fall, other than a big stream.  

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.

STI Plunges - For a Second Day

STI started the day well today, up by almost 20 points, then early gains were pared down around lunch, and then some ziz sawing in the most of the afternoon.  Then suddenly an hour before the closing, it went down by 34 points!  This is not a very good sign.  It means the market is weak.

Together with yesterday's 71 points plunge, STI is down by more than 100 points in 2 days, and it has come down from its high of 2900+ to 2706.  Looking at the STI chart, it is not very good.  The next support only comes in around 2600 points.  Another 100 points plunge is possible.  The support after 2600 is around 2500.

I probably will pick up something at around 2600, if there is any sign of a rebound.

Well, the way down to 2600 might not be a straight line.

This is the time to test your trader/investor psychology, whether you can indeed carry out your war plans accordingly, no matter you make a profit or loss. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nepal Day 11: Pokhara Street Festival

To usher in the western new year of 2010, Pokhara had their annual street festival at the lakeshore area. 


The road was closed for the parade and outdoor dining.  Everywhere you could feel the sense of happiness and the mood of festival.

Some scattering groups first came out for the parade in the afternoon.

Take note of the lackluster stone wall in the two pictures above, that was the Royal Palace in Pokhara.  

As the sun was about to set, some VIP came to the lake shore area.

Too bad, I don't know who was the VIP, what was the VIP.  I supposed it was the one with the white 'hada'.  Watched too much news on terrorists attacks and suicide bombers in the Indian subcontinent, so I had better stay far far away from the VIP.

After the VIP passed, it came the more colorful and bigger parade groups. 


Ok, enough of their street festival, how can we miss out something that you can only see in Nepal. 

 Too small?  You can't see what is there?  Here is an enlargement.

And it is not unusual to see man and man holding hands in the streets here in Nepal, however, there is quite a fundamental difference in its meaning in Nepal and in places such as San Francisco.

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Resorts World Sentosa

Four hotels in Singapore's upcoming casino resort had opened their doors to their first batch of customers at Resorts World Sentosa.  Out of curiosity, I went there to take a look.  

To get there by public transport, you can take bus or train to Harbour Front station.  Then take Resorts World Sentosa's shuttle bus at the bus stop outside Vivo City's level 1, lobby N.  When I was there today at around 1pm, there were not many people there, the queue was quite short.  The bus ride is free, but you have to pay the S$2.00 entrance fee to Sentosa Island.

People alighting from the shuttle bus.  Not crowded at all.

Even the car park area is also decorated with lights.  The car park is quite big, with lots of pillars.  I reckon the car park is also the building's foundation, and the pillars are necessary to support the weight.  Sometimes you see strange car park routes, with sudden narrowing of the route.  This car park is even more complex than JB's new CIQ.

Once you enter into the building, you will see the casino in no time.  It does not look like a big casino, but hey, who cares, no way I am going to fork out S$100.00 admission to go in there to lose money. 

A European style dome connects the casino to the escalator leading to the hotels and the shopping area.  Fanciful design.

The escalator also has lighting and special effects.  It gives visitors a dreamy feel.  You feel like living in a virtual world, which is true anyway.

Then this the entrance from the hotels to the casino.  I don't know what is the meaning of an elephant on high heels, carrying a metal pyramid.  Is this another one of those Feng Shui decos to make visitors lose money?  Mmmmh.... Must consult the master first.

The shops along the hotel shopping belt are mostly high class stuff.  If you were a small little poor engineer like me, bet your 1 month's salary is not going to get you many stuff as you would have expected.  Shops are still mostly not ready for business yet, still doing lots of interior stuff.  The few shops already open for business include the world famous Victoria Secret.  Ladies should be happy, they don't have to go all the way to the US to get their underwear anymore.

For the four hotels that are already open for business, there is still lots of work in progress to tidy up the lose ends and final polishing work.  Really don't think it is a good time to stay there at the moment.

Fancy chandeliers at one of the buildings, can't really remember which one.  They are modern yet still retains the old elegance.  Not bad.

I didn't get to go to the Universal Studio theme park, it is still not open to the public yet.  So that's it, my first impression of our first Integrated Resort.  :P

The design concept of Resorts World Sentosa is quite similar to South Korea's Walker Hill.  What is good about Resorts World Sentosa is that at least it still has a Universal Studio theme park for the family.  It is more fun than Walker Hill.  Hopefully it can do better than Walker Hill.

Nepal Day 11: Pokhara - Part I: Restaurants & Guest Houses

28 Dec 2009

In Pokhara, we stayed in a guest house called RARAA.  It is again tucked into one side street, and not very prominent.  The building is new, and the room was reasonably furnished with attached bathroom.  The interior is modern and to western style.  They also have access to the roof top.  Perfect place to sit there, idling while enjoying the warm sunshine.  It is also a perfect place to hang your laundry :D

There are about 3 Chinese restaurants in Pokhara, namely Lakeside Garden Restaurant, Orchid Restaurant, & Chinatown Restaurant.  Orchid and Chinatown are owed by a father and son operation, the owners are said to be Indonesian Chinese.  I didn't meet the owners so I can confirm.  The food in Orchid is more of South-East Asia style, that's for sure. 

Lakeside Garden Restaurant is one big landmark in Pokhara.  It is a big white building at the end of the lake shore. You will never miss it.  The owner is from Inner Mongolia, China.  He has been in Nepal for 3 years.  The food there is not bad, quite to our liking.  The owner said he is very good in mutton dishes, as he is from the grand grass land of Inner Mongolia.  The owner is a Christian, so he detests Hindu's, as well as other religions.  Talks like a typical die-hard Christian. 

The waiter there serving us was a young Nepali   He spent some time working in Singapore too.  Haha... Can't believe it, you meet your own folks everywhere :P

A guest house in Pokhara that has been highly recommended by some Chinese travelers is Blue Heaven.  It is at the very far end of the other end of the Fewa Lakeshore area.  I didn't expect it would be this far away.  However, its location is right next to Fewa lake, you can have good view if your room is facing the lake.  From the outside, it looks very decent and nice.

You can find a complete list of blog entries about my Nepal trip here.