An Evening of Insects at the Bugs Cafe

As soon as I read about the Bugs Cafe in Siem Reap, I knew that I had to try it. Touted as an “Insect Tapas and Cocktail Bar,” Bugs Cafe specializes in- you guessed it- insect dishes and delectable mixed drinks. Never one to pass on a culinary adventure, we made it a priority to have dinner there one night.

We started out with one of their signature cocktails, Cambodian Fever, made with rum, sombai ginger chili, papaya juice, mango, lime and cilantro. I love jalapeno margaritas, so I thought I knew what I was in for- but this cocktail was really spicy. It was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the mango and papaya, though I made the mistake of not using my straw and burning my lips on the chili. After going back to the straw, I was much happier.IMG_5600Now, onto the real reason we were there: the bugs. The menu was extensive, and had interesting preparations for grasshoppers, silkworms, bees, ants, crickets, tarantulas and scorpions. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much trouble deciding what to order, mostly because I had never tried anything like this before. We finally decided to share one of the Discovery Platters, which came with 2 Wild Spring Rolls, 1 Insect Skewer, 1 Mediterranean Feuillete with Ants, 1 Tarantula Donut and 1 Cricket & Silkworm Wok.IMG_5603First up was the Tarantula Donut. I liked this one because it looked exactly like a deep-fried tarantula. Taste wise, it was also one of my favorites. If you closed your eyes and didn’t think too much, it tasted like soft shell crab. Rating: 4/5IMG_5604 IMG_5619 IMG_5620Next was the Wild Spring Roll, filled with the usual suspects: cabbage, carrot and ants. Since it was fried to a crisp, the crunch of the ants blended right in. It tasted pretty much like a regular spring roll. Rating: 4/5IMG_5606Third, we dined on Insect Skewers. Here, we had our choice between spiders, giant waterbugs and grasshoppers. Playing it safe, we chose the grasshoppers. I didn’t care for the grasshoppers; I found them to be too crunchy and membraneous. Pieces of exoskeleton kept getting stuck between my teeth. The grilled peppers, onions and tomatoes were tasty, though. Rating: 2/5IMG_5610 IMG_5611 IMG_5612We took a breather from the hardcore stuff to enjoy the Mediterranean Feuillete. This was a puff pastry filled with a surprisingly good pesto and ants (local ants, to be exact, according to the menu). This dish was pretty benign, though I think it could have used a little more pesto. And possibly more ants? I couldn’t really taste them. Rating: 3/5IMG_5616Finally, we shared the Cricket & Silkworm Wok. They had four different flavors to choose from for the wok: Hot, Coconut Curry, Green and Mediterranean. They all sounded pretty good, and we went with Mediterranean (olive oil, pesto, parmesan cheese and cashews). This was about when I decided I was finished eating bugs for the night. The crickets, like the grasshoppers, didn’t have a pleasant texture and kept getting stuck in my teeth. The silkworms, by contrast, were soft and juicy. I kind of liked them, until Alex pointed out how the “popped” in your mouth. Again, thinking too much was my downfall and I had to put my fork to rest. The overall flavor was good; maybe I would have liked it better with different bugs. Rating: 2/5IMG_5617I’m happy that we tried out the Bugs Cafe. The menu was fascinating and everything was well-prepared. I discovered, though, that I just don’t like bugs that much. I recommend giving it a try if you’re in Siem Reap- even if the bugs freak you out, they make a killer cocktail.IMG_5599

Siem Reap

We have finally arrived at my favorite part of the trip, Siem Reap. Siem Reap is located in northwestern Cambodia, and is home to Angkor Wat. Although most people have heard of Angkor Wat, this is just one temple that is part of an enormous complex of ancient temples. You could spend weeks exploring all of them, although we found two days to be sufficient to see the main ones.

Before going, I assumed Angkor was going to be similar to Bagan, just a little more touristy. What I wasn’t prepared for was how beautiful the grounds themselves were. There are forests, streams, farmland and everything in between within the complex, which made for beautiful travel between the temples. IMG_5350

IMG_5393We hired a tuktuk to take us around the first day, to some of the outer temples. We decides to save Angkor Wat itself, along with Bayon and its surrounding temples, for the next day.

I apologize in advance for being a bad blogger and not writing down the names of all the specific temples. I was too happy just soaking up the atmosphere of each to take notes.IMG_5356 IMG_5371 IMG_5373 IMG_5383 IMG_5403 IMG_5413 IMG_5420IMG_5423IMG_5425IMG_5438Okay, so I almost didn’t make it up this one. These stairs were SO steep. Apparently the steepness of the stairs is representative of how difficult it is to achieve enlightenment. If that’s true, I’m likely to be huffing and puffing and nearly falling to my death several times as I try to get on Buddha’s level.

This was the last temple we visited on the first day. Early the next morning, we were up at 4 am to see the sunrise behind Angkor Wat.

It didn’t turn out to be a sunrise so much as a gradual sky lightening, but the masses gathered nevertheless. IMG_5486What was interesting was that although everyone lined up to watch the sunrise (kind of a bucket list thing), hardly anyone actually went inside Angkor Wat itself. We basically had the place to ourselves.

IMG_5512 IMG_5506 IMG_5514 We did manage to find someone to take our picture, though.

The best part of Angkor Wat was leaving it, actually. The early morning sun illuminated it in an absolutely gorgeous way.IMG_5526 IMG_5532After leaving Angkor, we headed to Bayon, another of the more famous temples in the complex. Bayon is famous for its enormous stone-carved faces, and quickly became my favorite temple of the trip.IMG_5541 IMG_5542 IMG_5551 IMG_5544I could have wandered around here for hours, but alas, we had more templin’ to do.IMG_5559      IMG_5538 IMG_5561 IMG_5565 IMG_5568 IMG_5571 IMG_5578 IMG_5574 I know this post has been somewhat an inundation of photos, but I couldn’t stop taking them and I want to share them all! Siem Reap is one of the most magical (ugh, I know) places I’ve ever been. I was happy as a clam walking in, through and around every single one of the temples, because there was something cool around every corner.

Our day of sightseeing made us quite hungry. Hungry enough to eat bugs, in fact. But that, my friends, is a post for another day!

 

Eating My Way Through Vietnam

As you know quite well by now, food is my favorite part of traveling. I find that eating my way through a culture is the best way to experience it, and I found Vietnam’s to be absolutely delicious.

Before beginning our trek through Sapa, we were given breakfast at the hotel from which we departed. I decided to try the chicken pho, a dish that has been recommended to me on countless occasions. I’ve never tried it because it always sounded rather boring to me: a noodle soup with some veggies and meat. Well, I learned that pho is deceptively simple. It was just a noodle soup, but the broth, flavored with green onions and cilantro, was phenomenal. There’s a reason Vietnamese people slurp this stuff down on a daily basis.IMG_5082I knew from the trek in Myanmar that we would be in for some fabulous food on our trek. This was the meal from our homestay the first night:IMG_5115Clockwise from the bottom: spring rolls, chicken with lemongrass, spaghetti squash, pho, crispy fried pork and an omelet.

We were actually not all that hungry, as we had had quite a late lunch. Well, you wouldn’t know it from how we chowed down on this meal. I was on the fast track to becoming a spring roll aficionado at this point in the trip, and these were some of the best I had in Vietnam. It’s a good sign when a dish is filled with a food you loathe (mushrooms) and you gobble it down anyway.

I also really enjoyed the chicken with lemongrass and fried pork. All of it was simply seasoned and prepared, and absolutely wonderful.

One thing I loved about Vietnam was the heavy French influence on its cuisine. It has been one of the few places in Asia that I’ve found with bread and pastries that satisfy my inner Parisian snob. Breakfast the next morning consisted of airy crepes topped with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey.IMG_5129We had the same breakfast the next day, but the bananas were a little different. They were shorter and fatter than regular bananas, and had a different flavor. More banana-y than regular bananas? I don’t know, I’m bad at this. But they were good.IMG_5178I was, once again, shocked by how simple yet delicious lunch was on Day 2 of our trek.IMG_5164When my lunch arrived, I was not too enthused. Some fried noodles topped with sliced omelet? It looked pretty bland. But with a couple dashes of chili sauce, it was perfect. It’s hard to describe, other than to say that all of the flavors went well together.

When we arrived back in Sapa the next day, I made a beeline for my favorite bite of the trip: spring rolls. These were the best ones I had the whole time, and probably will ever have for the rest of my life.IMG_5208I enjoyed them alongside a local beer.

IMG_5206Hanoi had some excellent street food, perhaps none better than the bahn mi donor. This wonderful cultural fusion takes the fluffy bahn mi bread for which Vietnam is so famous, and stuffs it with Turkish donor kebab meat, cabbage, carrots, lettuce and tomato. My pictures of them are terrible, but trust me when I say they were amazing.IMG_5078The final food highlight of Vietnam was in Hanoi, at the Hoa Vien Brauhaus. I had no idea before doing a bit of research, but Hanoi is home to a number of microbreweries. This one is their most popular, and looks exactly like a Czech beer hall.

Alex and I tried both of their beers, one wheat and one stout. We both found the wheat to be a little watery, but the stout was excellent. I love stouts with notes of coffee, so this one was right up my alley.IMG_5242The menu has a mix of Vietnamese and Eastern European items, so it was an interesting mash-up (although I suppose both cuisines use quite a bit of cabbage). We sampled the sausage, fried cheese and shrimp spring rolls.IMG_5244 IMG_5245 IMG_5246The spring rolls were okay, but it was the sausage and fried cheese that stole the show. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been living in Asia too long (I’m usually not a huge fan of sausage), but it tasted really good. The fried cheese is a must-try if you go.

I would go back to Vietnam in a heartbeat, just to keep eating its wonderful food. I’m already scouting out the best Vietnamese restaurants in New York so I can continue to enjoy this wonderful cuisine from home.

Trekking in Sapa

If you had told me a few months ago that I would be completing not one, but two 3-day treks this year, I would have thought you were nuts. Hiking, as I’ve mentioned, is not my favorite activity yet has turned out to be the highlight of some of the trips I’ve taken this year.

After a whirlwind day in chaotic Hanoi, the prospect of spending three days in nature sounded blissful. We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, where we were taken via bus to the bustling market town of Sapa. In addition to being quite charming in and of itself, Sapa serves as a jumping off point for trekking in this region of northern Vietnam.

After rearranging our stuff and enjoying some breakfast, we were off. Our guide was Mu, a 24-year-old who has lived in this region her whole life. She has been leading treks for the past four years. It is worth noting that most of the trekking guides in this area are women, and often serve as the breadwinners for their families.

Unfortunately, our party was not just the three of us and Mu. We were joined by three women, who spent the first part of the day talking to us and helping us over the more treacherous parts and the latter part trying to sell us their wares. We had read about these women on TripAdvisor, and so tried to ignore them as best we could. While I understand that they are trying to earn their living, I found their presence to be a distraction from the quietude of the hike. I was also probably a little annoyed that one of their “helping” hands nearly landed me in a creek.

Nevertheless, nothing could detract from the natural beauty of the Sapa region. We visited just as the harvest season was beginning, which meant the rice terraces were in the process of turning a gorgeous golden hue.IMG_5090IMG_5091IMG_5094IMG_5100IMG_5104We spent our first night in the village of Ta Van, home to the Giay people. Our housing was somewhat of a cross between staying at an inn and in someone’s home. Much like Myanmar, a series of mattresses were set up on the floor and dinner was served to us in the evening (I have a whole post on Vietnamese food, lest you think I’m glossing over what we ate).

This homestay, however, was quite a bit more modern than ours in Myanmar. We had access to a Western toilet and shower, as well as electricity and even wifi! I didn’t even bring a charger for my phone, since I assumed there would be no use for it. The trekking business in Vietnam is certainly more developed than that of Myanmar (as is the country as a whole). I wouldn’t be surprised if Myanmar has similar accommodations in 10 or so years.

Here was the view when we woke up the next day:IMG_5125IMG_5128We were back on the trail the next morning, ready for another day of hiking. Day 2’s terrain was much like Day 1’s, with the exception of an awesome bamboo forest through which we trekked (no pictures of the bamboo, I’m afraid, as I was too busy trying not to fall).IMG_5131IMG_5136IMG_5150If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, Tara looks an awful lot like a Boy Scout in that picture,” you’d be wrong. I look like a farmer in that picture. The old bandana-on-the-back-of-the-neck trick is one learned I learned from grandfather’s field attire, and has prevented many a sunburnt neck whilst hiking.

The pathway down to the Ban Ho, where we stayed the second night, was a tricky one. We lucked out in that it didn’t rain a drop during our whole trek, which was fortunate because I couldn’t imagine how slippery it would have been if the trails had been wet. The picture below is of the main path; once again, I didn’t get a picture of the tricky part because I was having trouble just walking. IMG_5165IMG_5169We made it to our homestay quite early, around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. This one wasn’t quite as modern as the first, so we didn’t have anything except ourselves and each other to entertain us (and a single English guidebook to Vietnam, which was about 20 years old). A couple from England arrived shortly after we did, and we made friends with them over a couple of local beers and dinner that night.IMG_5170The last day of our trek was short and sweet. Wanting to spend some time in Sapa town upon returning, we had asked Mu if we could leave for our hike early the next day. Proving that time is ever fluid in Southeast Asia, we walked out around 9 or 10 the next day. (You would think, by the way, that this is something I would be used to by now but I find that my mind still races constantly to New York time.)

This last bit of the trek turned out to be more of a nature walk to a waterfall about 30 minutes away. We hung out there for a bit before traveling back to our homestay to retrieve our bags and catch the taxi back to Sapa.IMG_5180IMG_5190I highly recommend trekking through the Sapa region if you get the chance. Although we trekked only about half the distance of what we did in Myanmar, I found the terrain of Sapa to be much more difficult to hike. Since you begin in Sapa town, at the top of the mountain, and hike down into the valley, there are more than a few treacherous downhill stretches (I’m also terrible at hiking downhill, so there’s that). The scenery, however, is not to be missed. Aim to go late September- early October, when the rainy season is mostly finished and the rice paddies have changed color.

Hanoi

The Internet is back and I’m ready to tell you all about my latest Southeast Asian adventure!

Our trip began in Hanoi, where we met Alex’s mom. We had one day of sightseeing in Hanoi before getting on the overnight train to Sapa, which is where we would begin our three-day trek through northern Vietnam.

Hanoi is, in a word, crazy. It is hands-down the busiest, loudest, most chaotic city I’ve ever visited. We actually received instructions from our hotel on how to safely cross the street, though this was merely a formality because the truth is that there is no safe way to cross the street. Crosswalks, when they do exist, are largely ignored and traffic lights are a mere suggestion. This is to say nothing of traffic circles, which are simply wide open spaces with no lanes, rules or regulations.

IMG_5058Alex brazenly strolled out into traffic with no trouble, while Ronni and I had a few more reservations. Slowly, though, you become accustomed to the chaos and realize that you will get nowhere unless you do walk out into traffic. Oddly enough, it was safer to step out in front of larger vehicles, like trucks, because they were more likely to stop for you. Motorbikes were scarily unpredictable.

IMG_5072After leaving the heart of the Old Quarter, we made our way to Hoan Kiem Lake, where we sauntered along the water and enjoyed the lack of motor vehicles.

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IMG_5056From there, we headed to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. It was interesting to learn how Vietnamese women have traditionally held the power in choosing a husband (or at least, their families did) and that the groom moves into the bride’s household after marriage.

IMG_5063The rest of the day was spent walking, walking and walking some more. It was a great way to see the city, but we were utterly exhausted by the end of the day. The combination of getting up early for our flight, wandering all day and being surrounded by people and noise did us in. Before we knew it, though, it was time to get on the overnight train and begin our trek the following day.

I would recommend Hanoi for a quick visit, maybe one or two days. Any more than that would personally be too much for me, but I also tend to get overwhelmed in busy places like that. I much preferred Sapa, but that is a post for another day!

(Almost) Back in Action

So it’s been a little while since I’ve posted, huh? After some problems at security issues, a two-week trip and coming home to no Internet, I’m (almost) ready to get back to blogging! I still don’t have Internet, but have been working on some posts about my recent trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong. I’m also preparing to leave Malaysia in about three weeks, and will have some thoughts on that as well.

Anyway, if I still have any readers left (hi, Mom!), please bear with me for a few more days and I promise to have some good stuff up soon. Talk to you soon!

English Camp: Chopped Champions

This past weekend, Alex hosted a day camp at his school for some of his Form 1 (ages 12-13) students. The theme of the camp was Chopped Champions, so we taught the kids how to make homemade pizza and chocolate chip cookies. Due to time constraints, we had to cut the appetizer round (spinach dip).

We lost some kids and chaperones to a last minute date change, so it was a little hectic. Luckily, we had the assistance of another Fulbright teacher, Jess, who was hugely helpful and most importantly, appreciated the fine art of pizza/cookie making.

Here are a few pictures from the day:

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These girls asked me a ton of questions, including my favorite food. I tried explaining what a taco is, though I don’t think I did a very good job. Their favorites are Indian food, pizza and chicken chop. Chicken chop is Malaysia’s idea of Western food: a piece of chicken topped with a spicy black pepper sauce. You’ll find it on every single menu at any “Western” restaurant here.

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There was a good mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian students, which made for a linguistically interesting day. I thought teaching kids who spoke Korean in class was tough, but explaining recipes over three different languages (Bahasa Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) was an experience. Many of the kids had great English, though, and could read and understand the recipes with no trouble.

Another thing that struck me was how helpful all of the kids were in cleaning up. No one complained about having to wash dishes, and they returned the stations to exactly how they looked before they started cooking. A few of the kids even stayed an hour after camp ended to finish the dishes, sweep and put everything away. I was very impressed!

We ended the day with a treasure hunt around the school, which ended back in the kitchen with a prize of chocolate chip cookies. Overall, it was a fun day and the kids had a blast learning to make Western food. Next time, though, there will be veggies!

Weekend in Review: Ramadan Open House

This past weekend, Alex and I were invited to an end-of-Ramadan open house by one of his students. I thought these open house parties only happened in the two days following the end of Ramadan (Hari Raya). Malaysian time is quite flexible though, so I wasn’t too surprised to learn that they were still going on two weeks after Ramadan ended.

There were about 25 or 30 people at the house when we arrived around 4:00 on Saturday. Most of them were other students, though there were a couple of family members, too. The girl whose house it was, Wara, greeted us and introduced us to her mother. Her mom didn’t speak much English but was extremely friendly and welcomed us into her home.

We sat down in the living room, and were immediately handed steaming cups of tea. I’m slowly getting used to drinking hot tea in 90ºF weather, though I’m usually sweating profusely by the end of my cup. Saturday was no exception, especially because I was wearing jeans (going into a Malay household, I wanted to be slightly more covered up than usual).

Next came the food. This is a bowl of chicken noodle soup, emphasis on the noodles, that was quite delicious:IMG_4927Next we enjoyed(?) some fresh fruit and veggies with anchovy(?) paste:IMG_4926I’m still deciding on that one. After we had something to eat, it was time to take pictures. Many, many pictures. The kids were using something called a “selfie stick,” which is essentially a long pole on which you attach your phone at the end and take selfies. It was bizarre but allowed for enormous group selfies, so there’s that.

I managed to snag a couple pictures on my phone as well. That’s our hostess, sitting to my left.IMG_4928IMG_4932And with aching jaws from smiling so much, we said our thank yous and goodbyes. On our way out, we were presented with these:IMG_4934Hari Raya gifts from Wara’s mother, each with a couple ringgit inside. I’m not sure if everyone who stops by gets one, or if they’re only for the kids, but it was a very kind gesture.

It was great to meet some more of Alex’s students, and even better that they think “freelancer from New York” means “glamorous reporter from New York City.” We’ll be meeting up with the girls for dinner soon, so hopefully they’ll finally grant me an interview for the Rambler!

Dinner During Ramadan

We are in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan, a Muslim observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar each year. During this time, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Not only do they refrain from eating or drinking, but also purge themselves of negative thoughts. This year Ramadan began on June 28th, and goes until July 28th. Ramadan ends with Hari Raya, a two day celebration in which everyone opens their homes to friends and family and chows down on everything in sight. Or at least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

Some of Alex’s students invited us to dinner this past Thursday, so I got a little peak into how Ramadan is observed. (If you’re wondering why we were having dinner on a Thursday, it’s because that is the start of the weekend here in Puteri Wangsa. The sultan of Johor, who is a real person, decided a Friday/Saturday weekend really fit in better with his personal prayer schedule and so changed the weekend in our state.)

We arrived at the restaurant around 6:30, and waited about 20 minutes before anyone showed up. This is not all that surprising, since Malaysians tend to be quite elastic when it comes to punctuality. Slowly, his students began to trickle in. About 12 ended up coming, all of them boys around the age of 15 or 16. They all shook Alex’s hand, but most did not shake mine. Muslim men, as a rule, don’t touch unmarried women- though I think this was more a case of shyness than anything else.

Some were less shy than others, though, and this was the first question they asked: “Why aren’t you married?” I wasn’t too surprised, though, as Alex’s kids frequently demand the same of him. In Malaysia, particularly with Muslims, it is assumed that if you’re in your early 20s and are seeing someone seriously, you are married. This has been made abundantly clear because even when I tell people that Alex and I are not married, they still refer to him as my husband. In any event, I explained that people wait longer to get married in the US and that 24 is a relatively young age for marriage. They laughed in my face and all but told me that my biological clock was ticking.

Then they asked me what I do for a living, and what it is that I write. They found my explanations for this to be much more satisfactory.

When 7:17 rolled around, the boys said a quick prayer. I must note that while I was impressed that they prayed even without any adults around to enforce it, they were giggling a fair bit throughout. It reminded me of my brother trying to make me laugh while saying Grace at the dinner table when we were younger- I suppose some behaviors of teenage boys are universal.

Once the prayer was said and the sun had officially set, the boys began passing around a water bottle. I still cannot believe that these kids go all day without drinking anything, with temperatures here exceeding 90 degrees by 10:00 am. Since our food hadn’t arrived, a few of them ran across the street to buy snacks at 7-11. They munched on prawn chips and mini Oreos while they waited.

Finally, our food arrived and we all dug in. The plates ranged from fried rice with chicken to “fried rice USA” (rice with an egg on top) to octopus over rice. Naturally, all vegetables remained everyone’s plates when the meal was finished, because 15-year-old boys do not eat vegetables (though I guess octopus is not out of the question).

We chatted, and the boys invited Alex to play soccer with them that night at 11:00 pm. “If you have a date, though, it’s okay and you do not need to come,” they said. We begged off, given that we’re usually asleep by 11. During Ramadan, nighttime is just about the only time anyone can play sports or do anything physical. Playing soccer in 90 degree weather when you can’t eat or drink is a recipe for disaster (which is why all of Alex’s co-curricular activities are suspended during Ramadan).

I had a fun time hanging out with them, and observing some Ramadan traditions first hand. Alex reported back to me today that news has spread that I’m a writer and some of the girls would like to be interviewed for my blog. The material writes itself!

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A Quick Trip to Singapore

A couple of Alex’s friends spent the night with us in Puteri Wangsa this past weekend. Having exhausted all of the cultural activities in our booming little metropolis, we decided to take a quick trip across the border to Singapore.

Singapore is an extraordinarily well-developed city-state-country-island-nation-I-never-know-what-to-call-it, located south of Malaysia. After gaining independence from Britain, Malaysia and Singapore merged into one country in 1963. Political disagreement and racial tensions led to a split in 1965. Singapore hit the ground running, becoming extremely wealthy, while its neighbor to the north/east remains a developing nation.

While Singapore is a beautiful, clean, modern city that is a welcome breath of fresh air from Malaysia, it doesn’t really excite me too much. Singapore boasts an impressive number of ethnic enclaves, from Tamil Indians to Scandinavians, but feels devoid of its own unique culture and personality. Perhaps I’m judging Singapore too harshly, as it is a young nation, but it feels somewhat sterile to me.

As economically advanced as Singapore is (with the third highest GDP in the world, taking into account its size relative to other nations), it still holds some archaic social values. The most recent example of this can be seen in the country’s purging of certain childrens’ books, an action which Singapore’s information minister (a position that, to me, raises an immediate red flag) Yaacob Ibrahim helpfully explains: “The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families, but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about.” Translation: We need to shelter our kids from the gays! While I don’t think that Mr. Ibrahim is necessarily correct is his assumption that these views represent those of most Singaporeans (given the outrage about this decision), I do think it’s troubling that the government’s official policy on this subject is so backwards. Singapore is so successful in so many other ways, I suppose I expected more from it. Anyway, allow me to step down from my “I’m-not-angry-I’m-just-disappointed” soapbox and tell you a little bit about my weekend.

We only live about 40 minutes from the border, and it costs 1RM to take a bus there. Unfortunately, the convoluted system they’ve created to cross the border means that it takes closer to 2.5-3 hours to get there. We take a taxi to the bus station–>Malaysian checkpoint, where your passport is stamped by Malaysian Immigrations–>Bus from there to the Singapore checkpoint, where you’re stamped into Singapore–>Bus from there to the closest metro stop, where you can finally begin your journey in Singapore. It seems like it could be streamlined to be faster and more convenient, especially given the volume of people who cross between Malaysia and Singapore each day. The traffic on the Causeway, which links to the two countries, doesn’t help the situation.

In any event, we arrived without incident. I had only been to Singapore one other time, to visit their amazing zoo. This time, I was most looking forward to enjoying some delicious food, because that is the best reason I can think of to visit Singapore. On this side of the world, it’s the closest you can get to an NYC-style smorgasbord of different cuisines.

For lunch, we headed to Orchard Road to hit up the food court of one of its many shopping malls. There I had my first burger in quite some time.

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We actually do have a decent burger place (transplanted from Singapore, actually) not too far from us but the route to get there is incredibly confusing and the near relationship-ending fights that erupt when we’re lost and hangry make it more trouble than it’s worth most of the time. This burger (from Charlie & Co) was decent, but it didn’t bowl me over. Perhaps it’s the hefty American in me talking, but for the steep price I expected something a little more substantial.

This food court was huuuuge and had several enticing dessert options. However, once I spotted Twelve Cupcakes, I knew exactly how I was going to cap off lunch.

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As you can see, there were myriad options. I spent roughly ten minutes debating between Nutella, Salted Caramel, PB Chocolate and the specialty cupcake of the day, Mudslide. Ultimately I went with the Mudslide, which was a chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing and ganache and mini marshmallows drizzled in fudge. Be still, my beating heart. It was freaking amazing and I almost went back for another. However, in an exercise of extraordinary self control, I refrained.

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After lunch, we headed over to Little India to check into our hostel. The subways in Singapore, by the way, are spotless.

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Which makes sense, because…

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…the fine for eating and drinking is enormous. Clearly, not all members of our party got the memo.

After a quick nap, we set out to explore our surrounding area. If I had to describe Little India in one word, it would be colorful.

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Tamil Indians make up 5% of Singapore’s population, so it stands to reason that they occupy a sizable chunk of real estate.

After our walk, we wanted cap off our day in Singapore with a great, not-too-expensive dinner. Our search led us to Muchachos, a burrito joint in Chinatown. Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines, and I will accept it under most conditions (i.e. authentic Mexican is great, but you can melt cheese on pretty much anything and I will eat it). That said, passable Mexican food is difficult to find in Asia. I was pleasantly surprised by Muchachos. Apparently the owner had spent some time in San Francisco and knew a thing or two about Mission burritos.

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No complaints on size here. This thing was massive! And the fresh, creamy guac made me incredibly happy.

After dinner, we wandered around a bit more before the threat of thunderstorms chased us back to our hostel for the night.

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I enjoyed the day (especially the food!) but I’m not in any rush to go again. I would like to check out the Botanic Gardens, and possibly do the night safari at the zoo. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve seen what I wanted of Singapore. However, I wouldn’t turn down another one of those cupcakes…