Christmas Gift Tips

I love Christmas, I love New Years.  I love this time of year when everyone is in a festive mood and everything is just fun fun and fun.  Organizing parties, get-to-gethers, and gift raffles.  This is the time of year when everyone “gives” to everyone else.  It’s when we forget ourselves a little and think about those around us. During this time of year we celebrate family, love and friendships.   Shopping malls are packed with people and everything is packaged in gift sets.  There are always long lines of people in the days running up to Christmas and New Years as last minute shoppers come out to get that special gift. 

Here are a few gift tips on finding the perfect gift for those who need a little inspiration. 

Tip 1:  Think of the person you are going to give the gift to.  What do they like? Do you remember them eyeing something at the store?  Remember, expensive doesn’t always means its going to make that person fall in love with you.  Its the thought that counts and if you find something that really touches them, it’s perfect.  It could be things like a bag they’ve been eyeing or a yoga mat.

Tip 2:  Don’t give perishable items unless its for a dinner party.  The reciever might not have enough time to eat the food or the fridge might be full. 

Tip 3:  When giving to a lady, pay attention to the giftwrap.  She always like beautifully packaged items no matter how small they are.  For guys, I think this is not that much of a big deal.

Tip 4: Remember what you bought last year.  You don’t want to give the same gift every year!

Tip 5: No gift vouchers.  Although efficient, that just spoils the fun of getting a gift for Christmas!  Everyone has a child inside who just loves to open gifts.

Hope this short tip list helps!  Any other suggestions welcomed. 🙂 Merry Christmas everyone!  I wish you all a very happy Christmas and lots of happiness. 🙂  I’ll be writing on and off the coming week as of course it is the festive season and one just has to go out and celebrate a little.  Don’t forget to check back in later though,  I’ll be back in full steam next year 🙂

Surviving Christmas Tip: Plan Your Meals

With all the festivites going on, Christmas and New Years is undoubtedly one of my favorite time of the year.  I get to meet friends, catch up over lovely meals accompanied by weather that is nice and cool in winter. It doesn’t snow in Thailand, but the temperature drops to the mid-twenties (celsius).  It’s lovely and cool.  Perfect.  And as one of my friends put on her facebook status it is the “perfect weather to get fat.”  I think this perfectly describes how we all feel.

A lot of activities during Christmas and New Years undeniably revolve around eating.  We meet, we eat.  We celebrate, we eat.  We travel, we eat. Then we sleep in between those “meets” and “eats.”  Oh how easy it is to pack on those pounds that won’t just go away.  Nevertheless, do not fear them…there is a way to overcome them and one tip is to Plan Your Meals.

I used to never plan my meals.  I’d just eat what I felt like eating each meal and if I had a big party coming up later that evening so what?  It was an added bonus.  It also added weight.  Now, I plan my meals.  It doesn’t mean that I have to bring my own food or count calories, I do it in such a way that I think is more sustainable in the long-term. 

The first step is to check your schedule and be aware of your dining engagements.  Most of the time, parties and get-to-gethers are scheduled beforehand so you know that on those occasions you will be eating.  You probably don’t want to go to party and not eat right? That would be no fun.  So go to those functions and eat.  Portion  control though, don’t overstuff yourself to the point of no return.  There will be other occasions to eat.

Once you know your schedule, plan out your meals.  For example, if I know I am going to have a buffet dinner tomorrow night where there are a zillion delicious foods awaiting me, I will start controlling my portions more closely the day before.  I’d have a light dinner (the night before), light breakfast and light lunch.  I’d cut down on the snacks and save my eating (and calories) for that buffet.

Third, work out.  Yes, if you know you are going to have a day or two of non-stop eating, work out.  Before a buffet, I’d go running the morning before the buffet and I’d make sure I go running again the day after the meal.  This way, I know I won’t pack on pounds.

If you say you have both lunch, afternoon tea and dinner engagements, then my answer to you is to go run in the morning.  Have half of what you would normally during lunch, tea and dinner.  Basically portion control.  You know you will have a full day of eating so don’t stuff yourself since the first meal.  Then just make sure you go run it off the next day and the day after if you can.

I have been doing this since I lost my 15 kgs a year ago and I have to say it works wonders.  My weight has not been a yo-yo and it has remained steady in a 1-2 kg range.  After my recent trip to Singapore where I spent a good time eating,  I feared the weigh scale. I didn’t have one at the hotel so I had no clue how much I weighed, so all I could do was plan my meals and do my runs.  It worked.  I was 0.5 kg heavier when I returned which is normal.  Weight cannot be that steady all the time.

So fear not the Christmas Weight Gain and Plan Your Meals! 🙂  Merry Christmas!

“Home” Is Where The Heart Is

After two weeks roaming around Singapore I have to say I am happy to be home. Although I enjoy going around and exploring new places, trying out new dishes and meeting friends, nothing beats the warmth of being back home surrounded by family and loved ones.  Even if we don’t meet everyday, somehow the thought of being in the same city is reassuring.  It’s warm and I feel fortunate to have such a lovely family.

It’s funny when you look back on years past.  There was a time when I would want to go away for weeks on end and not miss a thing.  Life was fun and I was young.  Now, I can feel the years creeping up on me ever so quietly and I find myself saying “I miss home. I miss my family.”

“Home” for me has always been a funny thing.  I remember being asked on countless occasions what I considered “home” since I moved country every couple of years.  I wasn’t really “Thai” becaused I hardly lived there and I was hardly a citizen of any other country.  I had grown up in Switzerland, Belgium, Poland and the US.  I was a traveling citizen of Earth.  Where was my home?

And so my definition of “home” has always been a simple one and one that I still hold dear.  For me, home has always been where my heart is.  Home is where my family lives.  Home is where all whom I treasure and love reside.  Everything else is just exernality.  It’s the family that makes any place “home.”  It’s not the house nor the country, nor the belongings.  Nothing materialistic.   “Home” is where my heart is. 

What do you consider your home? What is your definition? Please feel free to share 🙂

Bak Kut Teh at Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha

I feel like I haven’t been to Singapore if I haven’t had Bak Kut Teh. What is it? It’s pork rib soup. What I love about it is that the soup has lots of pepper and as a meal it is not too heavy. We have this dish also in the southern provinces of Thailand and in Malaysia but I have yet to try the ones there. I think there will be slight variations. There are lots of places to have Bak Kut Teh in Singapore, but my newest discovery is called “Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha.” It’s a long name. Don’t ask me what it means..

On my previous visits I’d go to the one on Rangoon road, but this trip I wasn’t able to so you can imagine my delight when a good friend told me that there was one not far from the hotel I was staying at. We walked there and it was a mere 5 minutes walk away from the hotel and is located at the base of Tangong Pagar Complex. Mind you, this is not the same as Tangong Pagar Plaza! This one is located on Keppel Road and is open from early morning to late night. They are closed for a few hours in the afternoon though (I think from 3pm to 6pm)

During lunch time, I am told that it is extremely crowded and you have to sometimes wait to be seated. I went at 1pm when the crowd had all gone and it was lovely. No queues, no waits, the food came very quickly. You can choose to have the traditional pork rib soup with either lean or non-lean ribs (of course I had lean) or you could have it with pork belly, fish and a variety of other things. They all use the same soup. I had the traditional one and it was just delicious. The soup was peppery just the perfect amount and having it with rice and the patong go (fried pastry) gave it added crunchiness. We also ordered vegetables which were also good.

Hmm…now I wish I had time to go again. Soup is always good for the soul. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy. (It does to me anyways) Have a good one!

Singapore’s Hawker Foods

Like in every country, food comes in many ways and forms.  There are always the “elegant” and high end restaurants which just give you an experience to remember and then there’s the “local” kind of foods that most people eat on a day to day basis.  If you come to Singapore and want something “local”  you should try the food at the hawker centres.  These are food that the average Singaporean would eat and is not just for tourists.  During lunch times, these hawker centres are filled with working professionals.

Here are some of the hawker centres I’ve been to whilst exploring Singapore this trip:

1) Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre:  This place is open 24 hours and has a long history dating from the 1800’s as well a uniquely octagonol shape that is quite beautiful.  It was formerly known as the “Telok Ayer Market” and dates from the times of Sir Raffles, the founding father of Singapore.   There are roughly 80-100 stalls selling food ranging from fish ball soup, congee, xiao lan pao, yong tau fou, chicken rice, indian food, thai food, pork belly soup to korean and even japanese food.  There are so many stalls to choose from.  To be safe, I always eat at the ones with the long queue (which mean that it’s tasty :))  Make sure you also visit the adjoining street that has been dubbed “satay street.”  On this road, there are l0 stalls selling Satay for you to try.   If you come in the evenings, there is even a live band singing songs for you to listen!   I particular like this place more than others because the high ceilings make the place a lot cooler than others during the hot midday sun.  Oh, they have a website:

2) Amoy Food Centre:  This place is two stories high and has a range of good food too.  I am told that there are good fish balls on the second floor but I have yet to try it. 🙂 It gets a bit hot at this place but after eating here, there is anice adjoining park which makes the walk a bit more interesting.  There is also a buddhist temple just right next to the centre.

3) Maxwell Food Centre:  I go to this food center at the corner of Maxwell road and South Bridge especially for the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken rice which I wrote about in an earlier post.  However, there are a lot of other stalls and those sitting next to me had some food that looked very tempting, but after a plate of chicken and rice, I could eat no more.  If you are a big fan of it, you can even order for them to pack the chicken in boxes which are convenient for travel. 🙂

Food at these hawker centres are quite inexpensive.  You could eat for a mere S$3 (fish noodles or other stuff like congee..etc..)  Food I tried all tasted good but to be safe look for the long queues 🙂  Oh, if you go during lunch and want to reserve a table  (so that you can go look for food and come back)  bring along a pack of tissues and put it on the table.  I discovered this was how Singaporeans reserve their seats….(no, they weren’t left there for you to use.)

Have a good meal!

Fitness fashion: Did you know?

When you go to the gym or fitness to workout there is a certain sense of  fashion at each one.  In some places in Bangkok, the norm is just an old t-shirt with a pair of shorts, anything goes.  In other gyms (which may cater to the more young and ‘hip’ professionals) the norm might include form fitting tops and matching bottoms especially designed for sports.  Those were the main differences I had observed in Bangkok.  In Singapore though, there is a much more colourful sense of style in fitness clothes.

The mix of clients who come to the M-hotel in Singapore is diverse and multi-cultural.  Singapore is diverse and multi-cultural.  Everywhere I go I see a mix of expatriates from the western world, indians, chinese, and people from other countries.  However, I never expected that this cultural diversity would be apparent in the gym.

I never knew before how muslim females dressed when they went to the gym to exercise.  The thought just never crossed my mind.  I  knew that swimming required swimming suits that covered up the body, but I did not realize that the same would apply to those running on the treadmill.  For the first time, I saw how it was done.  A muslim lady worked out covered from head to toe. Her head was covered with a headscarf and she wore long sleeves and long pants. That was her gym outfit.

Then another thing I never thought about was Indians working out.  Now I’m not sure if perhaps the Indian lady I saw was on holiday and without gym clothes, but she dressed in a beautiful sari complete with a shawl while running on the treadmill. Of course she wore the pants version of the sari.  Forgive me, but I know not what they are called… It was beautiful and certainly added olour to the gym.  She had her shawl tied up beautifully while she ran..I am amazed.

Then there were the super-fit athletes.  I spotted a man in full running outfit getting ready to go out for a run. Around his waist he had one of those professional looking belts with small water bottles and a place for energy food.  I guess he must be a marathon runner… Then there was another lady who was so lean and in such beautiful form-fitting clothes you could tell she was fit.  I wonder when I can get that body, if ever.

What do you wear to work-out?  do you have any other interesting fitness outfits to share? 🙂

Singapore’s Clarke Quay: Life through time

This trip I’ve been to Clarke Quay already three times and everytime it gives me a different vibe. It’s strange this area by the Singapore River but I like it and am at the same time impressed by it.

The first time I went there this trip was on a group tour to take the “Bumboat.”  I’ve been to Singapore so many times but never took the bumboat and so I decided to join it this trip.  I enjoy being the tourist no matter how “touristy” it is and I especially enjoy anything to do with water and rivers.  It’s so calming and relaxing.  We get there at around 9.30am and Clarke Quay resembles a deserted town.  All the shops and restaurants are shut and not a single soul is to be seen.  It’s quiet.  This part of Singapore has not yet awakened.  Only after nearing the crossing roads do we spot a few people.  They are runners out for their morning jog. Healthy people.

It’s quite educational this trip.  I learn that this beautiful area where the shops are painted in different colours and there are outdoor seatings by the singapore river was once the “Stinking sewer” of Singapore.  After the advent of large containers, the bumboats that used to bring goods back and forth to Singapore were abandoned as were the trading houses and warehouses along this river.  People disregarded the river and everything you shouldn’t throw into the river was thrown there.  It stank and it was polluted.  Then in 1977 the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was said to utter the words “Clean it up.”   It took ten years for the government to clean out this stinking sewer and today its waters are quite clean and it has become a popular place for all to hang out in the evenings.   It gets crazily crowded.

What amazes me though is that this area is also part of the Singapore reservoir and that the long term goal is to make the water drinkable. Imagine that.  Even the bumboats are now operated by batteries so that they don’t pollute the water.

And so in the morning, I am riding down the singapore river in a bumboat with the breeze in my hair. I pass by Clarke Quay, Boat Quay, the Merlion and then out to Marina Bay.  I see a beautiful view of the Marina Bay Sands and hundreds of white balls filled with New Year Wishes of Singaporeans.  It’s relaxing and a great overview to the main sites along the waterway in Singapore. 

I return later that Saturday evening to meet wonderful friends who take me out to enjoy the famous pepper and chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.  It’s mouthwatering and I eat more than I should.  Food in Singapore is always good and even better when you are with good friends.  We walk around after dinner and the hoards of people are overwhelming.  There are people everywhere,  I hear a couple languages being spoken.  There is a brazillian bar that lures guests with some brazilian dancing.  Guys stop dead in their tracks to watch blocking the passageway.  I wonder if the gimmick works and people actually go in to order food. 
Then  there’s a bar that resembles a clinic. Guests sit in wheelchairs and drink out of hanging blood bags.  It’s a bit too much for me.  At almost midnight, Clarke Quay is still humming full of life on a Saturday evening.

My third visit to Clarke Quay was Sunday evening just before the sunset.  It was not crowded, the shops were open and it was just  lovely to walk along the Quay with my cousin.  I love having relaxing strolls.  If only Alex was here it would be great.  I go have dinner at the Hot Stones restaurant which allows you to cook your own steak on literally hot stones.  Its fun.  The steak stays juicy and delicious.   I make a mental note to buy myself a stone for cooking at home one day…..

There is a certain charm to Clarke Quay.   It’s a mixture of history with modern day life.   Who would imagine 100 years ago that these trading houses and warehouses would one day be converted into restaurants and bars?