Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dolphin Adventure on Dolphin Island, Adventure Cove Waterpark

There aren't many things that beat seeing dolphins in the flesh for the first time. After queuing for rides and keeping warm in the torrential rain by hiding in the lazy river at Adventure Cove Waterpark, it was 3.30pm.

It was time to interact with the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.

The staff, who have seen about a gazillion excited guests, were nice and understanding as they ushered us to to put on our wetsuits and rib-cage-crushing life-vests. I exaggerate, but it made me feel like an ancient Roman warrior wearing an armour. I felt buff.

After outlining the dos and don'ts, the trainers split us into groups of 4-5. The dolphins were curious as we walked by, swimming close to the edge of the pool.

Our trainer took great care to introduce us slowly to the dolphin, for her to get used to us and for us to get used to her. She was huge, smooth (apparently they exfoliate every two hours), powerful and gentle.

If I were to name an animal closest to her personality it would be that of a dog. She would be a huge sea dog.

We took turns to interact with her individually, doing tricks, from which we got to witness how dolphins communicate, how they move, how they eat. It was a very personal experience. Brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

Two dolphins powering WK 
The highlight was having a pair of dolphins push you through the water. You get to experience how strong they are. That and their ability to do multiple flips in the air were a treat to watch. Also enjoyed the stories from the trainers about how the dolphins interacted and "felt" about each other, and how they have sexy times for fun.

The only thing that annoyed me was that the photographers weren't very professional. Our trainer had to get his attention. You weren't allowed cameras in there and the prints and digital copies came at an exorbitant price. For that amount of money, I expected way, way better.

When I was making the booking a couple of weeks prior, the number of programmes that I had to choose from literally made my head spin. The one I've written about here is the Dolphin Adventure ($128), which allows you to experience all these, and lasts for about 50 mins.

The package also includes a one-day pass to Adventure Cove Waterpark, which was pretty fun (except for the queues which were still too long IMO).

It was raining like crazy that day, and at times, downright freezing, but the low visibility, and how everything became more slippery made the rides more thrilling. Win-win.

Was a pretty memorable one-time experience hanging out with the cool kids of the sea, and a great way to kick off 2016!

Monday, January 11, 2016

7 Dishes You Must Whack at Shinkei's Ala Carte Buffet

Just like having pre-drinks before you hit the clubs, you've got to have a pre-game ritual when you know you're about to hit the clubs Shinkei Japanese Restaurant for their Ala Carte buffet. Because I was going for lunch, I had to wake up earlier than I would like to and go for a run around Punggol Waterway.

After having clocked the miles and working up an appetite, I burst through the doors, with the knowledge that I was going to eat my weight in raw fish goodness.

(If you're a gym freak and you need to bulk, you may do the same. My alternate plan was to hit Energyone at SAFRA Toa Payoh and after a 5 mins walk, promptly plop my butt down at Shinkei, and order.)

To save you time, stomach space, and stretch your dollar, here's my guide of the 7 items that stood out in the 2 hours I spent stuffing my face.

1. Assorted Sashimi Platter

Sashimi Moriwase
In my professional Japanese buffet-eating opinion, you should just start off with two of these. It's legit power-packed, most worth it on the menu, and by far the most impressive of the what must've been over 20-plus dishes we tried. I lost count.

But this. This is king. This is love. This is Jap food heaven.

2. Sweet Potato Roll

Satsuma Imo Roll
This satisfied my sweet tooth. In contrast to the fresh, smooth, cold, chewy sashimi, this crispy, cracking, warm, sweet sweet potato roll was fun to chomp down on.

3. Zucchini wrapped with Bacon

Zukkini Be-Kon
The bacon was crispy and when you bite into the juicy zucchini, it bursts just like an XLB! The contrast of textures made this super memorable. However, the second time round, it was not as boomz, because the bacon wasn't as cooked and it wasn't as crispy. They've got to work on the consistency a little.

4. Fried Tofu

Agedashi Tofu

5. Roasted Salmon

Shake Abuei Maki
This is A++. Get ten of these and maybe one of each of the rest. Or don't have the rest at all. This was the one that stood out and had us asking for more.

6. Yuzu Sake

If we had the chance we would've gone back and do this properly. We made the mistake of filling our cups from the soft-drinks station with green tea and peach tea. Skip that. Drink this. Drink only this. Punctuate your entire course with a shot of sake. It's sold separately though and goes for $22 for 250ml bottle.

7. Red Bean Soup with Mochi

Shiratama Zenzai
The best part about any buffet is that your choices are never either or. It's always the best of both worlds. Why have just ice cream when you can get red bean soup with mochi AND top it up with scoops of your favourite ice cream? The lychee flavoured one seemed to go well with this. I'm not sure if choclate chip mint would, but please try and let me know.

The Ala Carte Buffet is $45++ for adults and 2nd diner gets 50% off this January. Check their website for info here.

Thank you Shinkei Japanese Buffet for inviting us for the tasting! We had so much, it was not even funny. Really deserving of the "buffet" in the name, you guys were hospitable and we left, stuffed and satisfied. 

Leaving you with Shinkei's instagram post of us going nuts at their gorgeous creations:

Friday, January 08, 2016

Cosy up to the great outdoors with Nature's Paradise of Lazy-Bone

Making my way down to the see the sea, a 15-min walk from Nature's Paradise
Ten days in Taiwan, four different accommodations, and this emerged the absolute favourite! A view of the sea, up on the hills, a big patio and an outdoor toilet - incredible! I wanted something that was adventurous, outdoors, a bit off-the-beaten-track kind of living and I most certainly found that in Nature's Paradise of Lazy-Bone.

First of all, it isn't easy to get to. It's situated at Chenggong Township and you've got to take a train to Yuli from Taipei, followed by NTD 800 cab ride.

You wouldn't want to get out of the woods after living here
When we arrived, we were in for a bit of a shock - there was no one! The owners were both out! So, please, let them know what time you'll arrive. If they are in town, you can make arrangements for them to drive you up the hill to Nature's Paradise!

Lazy-Bone was one of the few properties they had. The room was spacious, with the window facing the sea. The bed was incredibly comfortable. Sank deep into it, with thick sheets perfect for the winter. That made waking up to witness the sunrise a little tough!

The bed faces a fireplace and a book shelf full of Taiwanese literature.

One of the two stunning highlights of this place was the patio.

Views of the Pacific Ocean on a patio with somewhat peculiar-looking furniture.

We spent a considerable amount of time just chilling out, reading, chatting, enjoying the view and the cool breeze, as well as the whispering of the leaves as the wind took off into the hills. Loved taking a closer look at the small details of the furniture. The owner made most of them himself. They were surprisingly sturdy and comfortable.

It even looks cool at night! Everything else was in total darkness.
The next highlight - the outdoor toilet!

It's cleverly built so that no one can look in. Doing your business in nature is surprisingly enjoyable. One thing that we overlooked was the fact that it was was a bit cold at night, which makes one rather reluctant to whip out your junk to pee, or to take a shower.

And of course, the water from the shower doesn't heat itself.

There were three small furnaces that heated the water supply to our gorgeous outdoor bathroom. David, the owner, would help us light one for the shower after dinner. What about the other two, you ask. They are meant for guests to light should they want to have enough hot water for a bath.

On the second night of our stay we felt adventurous and decided to heat water for a bath. We started off by chopping firewood and unsurprisingly, failed miserably. It was tough. Probably lacked the strength and technique to wield an ax properly. We then moved on to lighting the furnaces with matches, a blow torch, a fan and some wood. This we were better at, no doubt thanks to having some BBQ experience. Then, just as we thought that was it, the output of the tap for the bath was so slow that it took an hour for the water to get to a decent level!

Most people stay there for a night. I would recommend staying there for two, so you get to really experience living in the hills, especially if you're used to city-dwelling. Also there aren't restaurants around. You'll have to rely on the hosts' cooking, which they did for our breakfast and dinner. Bringing your own snacks would be helpful. There was also no reception nor wifi in our room, which was fine by me! The perfect opportunity to curl up with a book or HTHT. (There is, however, wifi in the living room, which served as the lobby for guests.)

Breakfast - we got to grind the coffee beans for it
You can check out the property on Airbnb here. The owners have got more than one house. There's also Nature's Paradise of Happy Heart and Nature's Paradise Spirit Castle, each with its unique characteristics.

If you've never used Airbnb, or even if you have you can try, here's SGD $29 to get you started!

I'll leave you with a video tour of Nature's Paradise of Lazy-Bone, which also has a bit of our cycling adventures (the owners were kind enough to lend us bicycles) where we checked out the nearby sights in Taitung.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

My 10 "Life-Changing" Moments of 2015

A lot went down in 2015. I changed my address, I changed my job, I changed the people I spent time with. I redefined myself through my thoughts and what I did with my time. It almost seemed that I had a completely different life than before.

It was scary but I relished the opportunity to work with a fresh slate.

So here are my 10 "Life-Changing" Moments of 2015:

ONE: Moving to Punggol

My new room in Punggol!
This was a huge step after being wishy-washy and having difficulty committing financially because of my uni tuition fee loan. I started renting a room in Jan. I'm finally living on my own! It took some getting used to, looking after household things and getting necessities for myself (like washing detergent which I never had to worry about). My parents were concerned and have still not given up persuading me to move back with them. Admittedly, life would be a whole lot easier not having to pay rent. But the whole journey toward independence and newly-earned privacy is worth it. There's just no turning back.

TWO: Writing for Kronenbourg Celebrates Craft

After my blogpost about moving out went viral, Sugarquoted, a content-creation outfit, picked me up and I secured my first writing assignment - the Kronenbourg Celebrates Craft facebook series. I've had the chance to interview quite a few cool people, from a leather craftsman to a mixologist.

Fahim - giving the best cuts at Hounds of the Baskervilles 
Morgan - producing custom-made furniture, Roger & Sons 
I learned a lot about craftsmanship, about picking up an art, about perfectionism. It was inspiring! On my end, I was given a chance to hone my interview and writing skills. Thinking of compiling and publishing this series of interviews in the near future.

Also write two articles for about ice cream establishment 320 Below and terrarium-making Mini-Nature.

THREE: Hosting the Hot Soup Challenge

I've been hosting internal events for my company at my last job for the longest time, whether they were townhall meetings or gatherings. I've also emceed weddings for the longest time and it was only this year that I actually had the chance to do it as a sideline, and I'm hoping it grows into something more.

Hot Soup Challenge was my first, and most exciting event. Organised by Asian Geographic magazine, it was a competition for secondary school students to pit their smarts against each other. It was memorable not only because I got to interact with the staff behind the magazine and learn from them, MP Baey Yam Keng was also in attendance and I got to ask him a couple of questions about his job so that the students could learn what an MP does!

It also resulted in this epic selfie.
I also hosted Copthorne King's Hotel's Dinner and Dance, followed by Xin Wang's tenth anniversary event where they launched a special menu and had a tasting for digital media partners.

The only time I can't eat food when it's in front of me is when I'm the emcee 

FOUR: InCider

Let me get this off my chest: InCider is no more. Started it with two colleagues, and failed. It was promising and definitely a cool idea, delivering choice ciders and beers to your doorstep for your house parties.

I was in charge of the social media strategy and in the beginning we drummed up quite a bit of publicity and had a good following. I was quite proud of what we had achieved.

Delivering the Brothers promo pack
There was a solid promo campaign for our Brothers pack, followed by a great partnership with Fassler which saw them stock our stuff. We helped during their outlet's opening weekend, publicising and getting customers to visit their shop and trying drinks while they were there.

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, our operations came to a halt just as we were about to work with a major establishment for a countdown party. I was hoping that the event would take us to the next level and it was my contact that got us the gig. My ego took a beating. I apologised to my friend. I'm not sure what more I could have done. I was disappointed and guess, not ready for a business.

Photoshoot for InCider publicity
I didn't get paid for my work, but neither did I lose any money. I just felt that everything could have been better handled. There's some angst on my end but you win some, you lose some.

FIVE: Exploring Singapore

Mucking around at Macritchie Reservoir
With a bit more time on my hands this year, I decided that it would be a shame to travel overseas without knowing what there was to discover in your own backyard so I went to as many of our parks and nature reserves as I could.

The Punggol Tree, that is no more :( 
Along the Green Corridor 
Linkway between St John's Island and Lazarus Island
Was surprised by a lot of the stuff that I found. Never knew that we had so many places hidden away from view, some relatively tough to get to like Sungei Buloh, Upper Peirce Reservoir and Lazarus Island; while others like the River Safari, Green Corridor and the Tree-Top Walk, were, literally, a walk in the park!

Really enjoyed being in nature, exploring, walking and taking photos, so I guess that laid the foundation and solidified the "get closer to nature" theme for 2015.

SIX: Zhui Lu Gu Dao - Taroko Gorge

Ten days in Taiwan didn't feel excessive. In fact, we discovered that there was so much more that we'd left undiscovered that we've probably got to go back to erm, discover them.

The start of the trail is gated - you've got to register to get in
Not so easy
The highlight was Taroko Gorge and this trail, with a long, challenging steep climb up followed by a narrow path at the face of a cliff with a 500m drop. It wasn't that dangerous but it was pretty unnerving. I've managed to keep my footing but have since fallen harder in love with the great outdoors.

SEVEN: Races - Urbanathlon, YOLO Run, Standard Chartered Marathon

Over the years, I've become more selective of which runs I attend, having done ten a year at my peak. I think I've mellowed in my er, older age. Urbanathlon was in March, the first of the year and one that I have been taking part every year because not only do you have to be able to run, you've got to be able to take on the obstacles. It's a total body work out and a real test of endurance and fitness. Loved that.

YOLO turned out to be gimmicky, with its #runshirtless theme they banged on about, but fun because it rained just as we were about to reach Gardens by the Bay and poured even heavier on our way back to the starting point. Drenched!

SC Marathon was one that I didn't expect to do. Took part in an Adidas instagram competition and won a pair of tickets for the 10km run so we said okay, let's do it, despite not having trained much because of the persistent haze. We ran all the way and I was proud to have done so.

EIGHT: SAFRA Awesome Instagrapher

Like I've said before, this was probably the biggest birthday present ever -  a chance to try all the activities that SAFRA has to offer and take over their Instagram for a month.

I could still remember seeing the ad on facebook and signing up for it when I was working out at SAFRA Toa Payoh, and some time later, getting a call from the agency running the campaign to inform me that I had been selected. Unreal! It's that feeling that if you told anyone, you'd be rudely awakened from the dream and it wouldn't be real!

October became a hectic month, with me trying everything every couple of days, capturing photos, rushing back, selecting them, captioning them and submitting them. It was a crazy, crazy time. More work and commitment than most people imagined but it was insanely satisfying. (It was also satisfying seeing my friends win movie vouchers weekly from the giveaway too!)

Sometimes I get to chill
What I enjoyed most was being active, working out every part of my body and brain, from testing my flexibility at Yoga, my coordination at Zumba, my aim at the air rifle range, overcoming my fear of heights while abseiling to holding my liquor better at Beerfest. Most of all, SAFRA let me share these great moments and form incredible memories with my friends. It was one of the biggest projects that I took on this year and it was a hell lot of fun.


Would do it all over again.

NINE: Jolin - Play

It was 2007 when I saw her being lowered by a pair of rings into the stadium and it was pandemonium. I didn't know then that it'd be 8 years till I saw her live again, and there I was standing in the front row, witnessing her performance on a 360-degree round stage.

One thing that struck me as she sang songs from as far back as 1999, was how she has matured as an artiste, how she was still a perfectionist and how she has continued to work incredibly hard to put on a show of this magnitude. Here's someone I grew up with and it made me reflect on my own journey and where I wanted to be in the future.

TEN: Zoukout

Who's down for partying till the sun comes up? Me!! It's my fourth or fifth one already and even though there were no Hardwells, a competent lineup of Nervo, Axwell ^ Ingrosso and Armin pumped music into the cool drizzling air all night long. It was great basking in that atmosphere of people feeling and being free, enjoying themselves, singing, expressing themselves, bodies bouncing in pure pleasure. A joy to watch, and a joy to be a part of.

With the BFF
When the sun started peaking out from behind the clouds and a small part of the sky starting lighting up... euphoria! It was amazing and I loved it.

That's how I want to remember 2015. Like a party with endless energy ending with a huge bang, fireworks and all, then breaking into a new dawn.

Gonna take the first week of 2016 to plan what I want to achieve... not really resolutions, but to find themes that I'd like to learn/explore with my time. With so much happening, and things that are definitely out of one's control, I've discovered that I cannot control the specifics, but I can definitely devote my energy and thoughts to areas that I want more of.

To 2016.