Eight Incredible Things We Ate in Singapore and Cambodia (and New York)

28 Mar

The last two weeks have involved super fun, almost vacation-like visits to a new dentist for my third round of scaling and root planing procedures. If you don’t know what this is, you are extremely fortunate.

I’ve actually had it done twice before, but my new dentist (and my x-rays) suggested that I had not had it done properly, and there was significant plaque buildup. So back in I went for a couple of two-hour sessions involving lots of numbing shots to the mouth and ultrasonic instruments that make your eardrums buzz for ages afterwards.

All of which is to say, I’m glad I did not get this done before our trip to Singapore, Cambodia and Hong Kong. Because this trip was all about the food and the eating. A lot of eating. So much eating, of so much good food. The memories of all that great food helped me get through the two-hour dentist appointments.

Here’s a list of my favorite things we ate this trip, starting with New York, Singapore and Cambodia (Hong Kong is getting its own post. IT WAS JUST THAT GOOD.)

Birthday at Le Bernardin

Me with the first of SEVERAL birthday desserts this trip. This one at Le Bernardin.

Kingfish caviar at Le Bernardin, New York

We started the super awesome around-the-world birthday extravaganza in New York. We went up to the city the night before our Singapore flight, and lucked out on getting reservations at Le Bernardin. It cost a small fortune, but we had the Chef’s tasting menu. My perennial dining companion XFE pointed out that it was pretty unlikely we’d ever be there again, so why not splash out? (He’s a very good boyfriend).

This place, which in case you didn’t know, has three Michelin stars, is freaking amazing. Like, really, really nice. Far too nice for the likes of me. My voice is too loud, I hunch over my food, I eat and drink too fast, I gush a lot, and I wasn’t even sure what the small stool next to my chair was (to hold your purse, naturally). So, quite naturally, I started our dinner by knocking over my amuse bouche of soup. I swear, XFE can’t take me anywhere nice.

At Le Bernardin, the focus is on fish and there were several simply prepared all-stars, but my favorite was the kingfish caviar–a warm “sashimi” of kingfish, topped with Osetra caviar and a light butter broth. It was luxurious and briny and melted in your mouth. The seared wagyu beef with fresh kimchi was also amazing – fatty and unctuous – and I don’t even like kimchi.

Two sidenotes: my favorite thing about Le Bernardin (next to the purse stool) was that the huge round chairs swiveled out so you didn’t have to scoot your chair away from the table to get up. You merely turned to the side and gently lifted up and out of the seat. Classy. Oh, and we saw Eric Ripert peak his head into the dining room at one point. I was star-struck.

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Singapore: First Impressions

23 Mar

Hey there! I’m back.

Actually, I’ve been back for about a week or so, but between jet lag, and digging out of email/work/laundry, I haven’t even had a minute to start going through my photos and trip notes and coming up with some blog fodder.

But, this morning’s news is reporting on the death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. So I better get my ass in gear and write something about my recent first visit to Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands

Things to know about Singapore: it’s really, really hot.

My travel-buddy/man-panion for life (XFE) and I actually learned a bit about Lee Kuan Yew at the very excellent National Museum of Singapore. We had gone to the museum primarily to escape the pervasive, bone-soaking, spirit-wilting heat and humidity that is Singapore in early March. The museum is in a blended building, half white colonial stucco, half modern cubist wonder surrounded by rolling green hills and landscaped trees. The important thing and main draw for us was the existence of the blasting, government-subsidized air conditioning.

Disappointingly, the majority of the museum and its exhibits were closed for renovations. But, they did have a condensed, Clif Notes version of the museum’s contents in the basement. It was a really great exhibit. The first part was a bit confusing, something about five kings and a boy who fought a giant swordfish and then was killed by the Sultan who feared him. Anyway, a big mix of legends and facts.

But things really picked up with some great exhibits on the different ethnic groups and immigrants that had come to Singapore when it was a colonial entrepot and trading post. The museum also had a great exhibit on Singapore’s occupation by Japan in World War II, and a brief exhibit on Singapore’s separation from Britain, the city-state’s internal struggle to become independent and self-governed, and it’s brief stint as part of the Federation of Malaysia.

A big player in Singapore was Lee, who was elected as the country’s first Prime Minister in 1959, and served in that capacity until 1990 (He remained a “senior minister” in the Cabinet until 2004, and “minister mentor” till 2011.) Quartz describes Lee’s ruling style best:

Lee led Singapore from a colonial backwater under British control to one of the world’s most thriving financial centers, and he did so with a tight grip on power. He has been criticized for instituting wide-reaching censorship, limiting civil rights, discriminating against gays and migrant workers, and generally maintaining a one-party autocracy for almost half a century.

That’s because Lee engineered one of the world’s most impressive growth stories—one that everyone from American Republicans to Chinese communists have both openly envied. (“Benevolent dictatorship has never looked so good” one columnist wrote of the Singapore in 2012.)

The tiny, resource-poor country’s GDP per capita skyrocketed under Lee to one of the highest in the world, behind just oil-rich Qatar and private banking center Luxembourg, according to the IMF.

We actually got a bit of a glimpse into the general public’s discontent with this one-party autocracy situation. We were in a cab one evening on our way to the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, a Las Vegas-worthy light and music show involving these tree-like structures that soar up to 160 feet.

Gardens by the Bay

Anyway, our cab driver asked us where we were from, and then launched into a grumbling monologue of discontent with his government’s structure. He told us that they’d had the same ruler/ruling party for six decades (Lee’s son is the current Prime Minister), and that wasn’t democracy, and how the people of Singapore have suffered under this dictatorship. He said the rich were getting richer while the poor were getting poorer.

I have to admit: I was shocked and more than a little annoyed. I was in the middle of reading a book about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge — a book about a horrific history in which real humanitarian atrocities were perpetrated by a real political wackjob dictator. Meanwhile, everywhere I looked in Singapore was prosperous and new and shiny and so technologically advanced.

But that cab driver’s rant is not unfamiliar to me. Not at all. You hear it in the U.S. all the time, especially the phrase, “the rich are getting richer while the rest of us get poorer.” I’m sure if I’d dug a little deeper, he would have blamed immigrants, or corporations, or the educational system, or real estate prices, or whatever other boogeyman he was currently facing or competing against.

Perspective is a luxury, I guess. I understand that on a random Tuesday a cab driver in Singapore is not likely to think about how there are people in other parts of the world, say, Cambodia for example, who are just trying to recover from brutal histories and get to somewhere even remotely as economically advanced as Singapore. We all grumble and bemoan our own political systems, and don’t care or think about who our audience is or what perspectives they bring to the table. It’s practically a human trait to complain about other people doing better than we perceive ourselves to be doing.

I don’t know if Lee was a horrible leader. I don’t know if that cab driver in Singapore might have been richer if a new, completely different party was elected every four years. There are certainly some people in the U.S. who would say that no, a new party doesn’t necessarily mean prosperity, or even anything remotely like it. But it does seem to me, an outsider, that Singapore–a small island nation with no natural resources that was practically decimated in World War II–did alright at the end of the day. It’s a good legacy to have.

Singapore night view

(Here’s another really good Quartz article on the rise of Singapore under Lee’s policies.)

The Road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

9 Mar
Cambodian chicken transport.

Cambodian chicken transport. By the way, it was 97 degrees out and this guy is wearing a puffer jacket. 

We took a nice little drive on Saturday here in Cambodia. We hired a driver to take us from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a distance of approximately 145 miles. But I will forever know that trip as “Exciting Game of Five Hour Highway Chicken.”

I’ve never been so glad to be alive.

Speaking of live and chickens, here’s a list of things we saw during that drive:

  • A tuk tuk stacked with mattresses that said Washington USA” on them (I did not know that Washington was our mattress capital.)
  • A flat bed truck full of stone Buddhas.
  • Two scooters carrying live chickens (they were tied to the scooters handles and a clever chicken-carrying contraption on the back).
  • A Mazda car chopped into a makeshift truck hauling duck cages.
  • Children on bicycles being pulled by children on scooters (they hold on to each other’s shoulders).
  • A truck of sewing machines pulling another truck of sewing machines by rope.
  • Several vans with people sitting in the trunk area with their legs sticking out of the open doors. And one with people balanced on top.
  • Several vans with scooters tied to the back (we think that’s a sort of makeshift tow truck for broken down scooters?)
  • A van hauling some beautiful and very large carved teak beds. Basically, the frames were wider than the van and stuck out on both sides.
  • Carts being pulled by oxen. Yes, oxen.
  • A peddler cart with toys and housegoods. Sort of a portable Walmart.
  • The most number of people we saw on a single scooter: Four.
  • A van filled with clear garbage bags full of red chiles and green beans. (seriously full. To the roof full).
  • A guy in camouflage with an AK 47 strapped to his back. Riding a scooter, of course.

I have a ton more to write about Cambodia and Singapore when I get back.

Cambodia Better Bring It

24 Feb

Ugh. I’ve been slacking on the blogging. I know. The thing is, I had to run all over town to find shorts. In February. In D.C. where the high temps this month have regularly hovered around “freezing your leg hairs off.”

(Also, I’ve had a lot of big deadlines to hit in the past couple of weeks. But let’s just blame the shorts, shall we?)

But we’re leaving this week for our annual Poe Super Birthday Extravaganza Trip to Far Flung Destinations–and this one is going to be a doozy.

This tradition began in 2008, when XFE was in Rome for work right before my birthday. We cashed in some miles and I met him and some of his co-workers over there, and had a merry old time eating lots of pasta, going to lots of museums and drinking lots of wine. And, of course, going to a soccer game (a tradition now whenever we travel to Europe).

The next year, XFE and his co-workers were in Japan, again, right around my birthday. In fact, I spent my actual birthday on the flight coming home. We did not see a soccer game but we did go to the opening day of a sumo wrestling match in Osaka. And ate lots of sushi, including sushi for breakfast after visiting the Tokyo Fish Market.

Tokyo Fish Market

That’s a lot of frozen sushi, which actually sounds quite gross.

Gambate

I don’t know, how do you sumo??

Every year, XFE has outdone himself, planning a bigger and better birthday trip. For my 40th, it was Australia. Two years ago, it was Peru. Last year, South Africa where I stroked a cheetah (YES, a cheetah!) and ate lamb’s brain at one of the world’s best restaurants.

South Africa Safari

Yep, just chilling with an elephant. No biggie.

South Africa cheetah preserve

That’s a cheetah, with my pudgy paw all up on it.

This year, it’s Cambodia (with stopovers in Singapore and Hong Kong). I know, right? I would not argue with anyone who says that I’m spoiled. I would lose that argument every damn time.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say, the Kingdom of Cambodia. That is, apparently, the official name. Pretty bitchin’.

I am beyond excited. But I will say, it’s hella hot and humid in those places right now. So, I needed a couple of pairs of shorts, particularly since we’ll be visiting the very dusty, very hot, Angkor Wat. I want to make sure I have as much exposed pasty-white skin as possible to attract all of the mosquitoes in the area, and keep them away from my beloved trip planner, XFE. Love = sweating + risking yellow fever.

I don’t really know what to expect from this trip. I always like to say that we actually get to take a trip three times: once during all the excitement and anticipation of the planning stage. The second when we’re actually there, soaking it all in. And the third when I get to come back and write about it all. In fact, those amazing birthday trips (along with the non-birthday timed trips we tend to take as well) is what led to the creation of this blog. I wanted to document and remember all the amazing places we’ve been together. Even Peru, where my intestines tried to escape my body repeatedly.

You can't tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

You can’t tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

But because of the fluctuating nature of freelancing, I haven’t really gotten to take that first part of the trip. A lot of the planning has been carried out by XFE. He’s the one who found a spa for us to go get massages our first day in Siem Reap. He’s the one who found and arranged a fun-sounding food tour in Hong Kong called the Won-Ton-A-Thon.

We’ve actually put off a lot of the planning specifics, figuring we’ll use our 20-hour flight on this ridiculousness (YASSS to miles travel!) to figure out more details. Between stuffing our gobs with caviar and bossing our butler around, of course.

How on earth can they be gazing into each other’s eyes when there’s so many other things to see on this airplane??

Then I realized — when I was working in an office and not very happy with my work environment, I would spend a lot of my free time daydreaming and researching our upcoming trips. Now that I’m my own boss, I seem to be a bit more focused and productive. Hence, no daydreaming and a lack of blog posts, as well.

Which makes this trip kind of exciting. I haven’t ruminated it to death. I’ll be seeing everything with fresh eyes. Sure, we might miss some neighborhood or hot restaurant that we would have known about if I’d just spent more time on TripAdvisor, but I’m looking forward to just being blown away by the strangeness and the newness and the overall foreignness.

I haven’t even really thought out my packing list. Which is why, while the rest of the greater Washington D.C. area was out chipping ice off their sidewalks on Sunday, I was running around a mall trying to find sweltering-weather appropriate gear.

Why didn’t I pack some anti-malarial pills? (nice shorts, btw)

And, while I’m typing this, I’m supposed to be packing. XFE has been packed since Saturday.

Guess I better get to it.

The Inherent Romance of a Hypothetical Near-Death Experience

18 Feb

(photo via 1000 Awesome Things)

I know I declared romance to be all but dead just last week, but I wanted to share a recent text exchange between myself and my spousal equivalent, XFE. I think it perfectly highlights how love (and concern for your partner’s welfare) can continue to bloom despite distance, bad dining choices, and self-inflicted injuries.

Sure, it’s not the passionate stuff we used to send each other 10 or so years ago, but just knowing I can inadvertently scare the bejesus out of XFE on a moment’s notice is it’s own kind of small thrill.

Let me set the scene: XFE was hundreds of miles away on a mid-week work trip in a town with limited dining options. I have made dinner for myself at home, courtesy of Blue Apron.

This fairly typical, totally normal text exchange illustrates a couple of things:

  • Fried sage is a lovely and tasty garnish, but deceptively dangerous.
  • I am prone to choking (true.)
  • XFE is a very tolerant boyfriend who is used to high drama and hyperbole.
  • Cats are horrible EMTs; ergo:
  • I will probably die at home alone from a freak choking incident only to be found by XFE days later with a cat nibbling on my toe. (My biggest fear).

XFE: Took the crew to Ruby Tuesday for dinner tonight.

Me: Nice. Did you get fries?

XFE: No, I am having a salad, fish tacos and ice t

Me: If you come home and I’m dead, it’s because I have a piece of fried sage lodged in my throat. On the left hand side. Just scratching and stuck.

Me: Thanks, Blue Apron.

XFE: Try some water.

XFE: R u going to be ok?

Me: It’s just annoying. I’m not coughing or choking or anything.

XFE: Well, the “I’m dead” might have indicated it could have been more serious.

Me: Sorry. It was really annoying.

XFE: Glad ur ok

Me: I think I’m gonna make it. Call off the 911. Petunia finally showed up to seek her dinner, so I feel like I’m in good hands.

XFE: Glad to hear HR has u covered.

Me: You know it. Whew.

Me: Also, I burned my thumb. Knew I shoulda ordered pizza.

XFE: Sorry to hear. R u ok?

Me: Yes, it was actually really good. Now I’m watching a documentary with Toons. Bye.

Friday Links: Anti-Valentine’s Edition

13 Feb

A love story for the ages.

To quote some crazy dude in Japan’s Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To: “The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again.”

I really couldn’t have said it better myself. Although, I do confess a certain fondness for chocolate capitalists.

Some links to help spread the love:

Book Clubbing: Author Takes Celebrity Diets for a Spin

11 Feb
Gwyneth surrounded by, but not reading, books.

Gwyneth surrounded by, but not reading, books.

I haven’t done too many book reviews on the blog, but I assure you, I do read. And not just US Weekly and Life and Style either. Why, I’ve even been known to pick up a Vanity Fair at the airport once in a while.

I kid. I actually read a lot. I used to get in a good 45 minutes of reading every morning during my approximately seven-mile commute to work on the metro. You read that right: 45 minutes to go 7.2 miles. So, yeah. Lot’s of reading time.

But for the most part, I don’t really review them on the blog. Way back when, I did review this tome of excellence by Gaga’s ex. And a recent book suggested by former running partner Amy definitely falls into the same genre/category of silly and celebrity-focused enough to be reviewed on ThePoeLog. (That is indeed a genre. You can see it on the New York Times Best Sellers List right under “Paperback Graphic Books,” which sounds scintillating but in actuality is like, comic books.)

The book — “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” is an in-depth exploration on how to map social behaviors. I’m kidding. That’s a different book. With the same title, but by a group of like, professors of anthropology.

No, no, no. The book I read is by a very attractive New York writer who is celebrity-and-diet obsessed. But in a good way.

Over the course of a year, author Rebecca Harrington tried 14 celebrity diets, ranging from Cameron Diaz to Sophia Loren (talk about two different body types).

The results are kinda meh.

First off, let me say, I am not at all a diet person. Never been on one. I’m not really much for denying myself. I know that drinking wine and eating delicious buttery bread every night is probably not a recipe for weight loss. Oh well.

And, I don’t look at celebrities and models and think I should look like them. I’ve never been susceptible to that type of societal pressure for some reason. There’s them and then there’s us. I have a pretty good idea of the effort and deprivation that goes into looking like that, and I’m just not interested. So maybe I’m not the ideal audience for a book like this.

I will say, this is an easy read. Takes about an hour and a half, start to finish, max. The chapters are very, very short. In fact, I got the feeling that I was essentially reading a series of blog posts, not an actual book. It cost me $5.99 for the Kindle edition, and I still think I probably spent too much.

The concept is pretty cute and Harrington is funny, but she’s a bit repetitive. She often mentions that working out like a celebrity is HARD. I feel like this is maybe not news?

Harrington is also far too brief. She starts a diet and then it’s just over. You have no idea from the outset how long she’s going to stick with any particular diet and she combines the days, so it’s just a blur. Like I said, short chapters. Maybe because she was weak from hunger and couldn’t type any longer.

There are a couple of takeaways —

  1. Being a celebrity sucks. And it always has, even if you were Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, or even Karl Lagerfield (and can I just say how refreshing it was to read about at least ONE guy who admits to having to diet to stay thin?)
  2. It takes a lot of work to be Hollywood thin. You basically have to deny/starve yourself. Which sucks when you’re rich and famous and have access to all of the wonderful food of the world.
  3. My favorite diet was Sophia Loren’s because basically it was just all about portion control (but not portion control like Victoria Beckham. Poor Harrington tried her “five hands” diet, which basically means you eat a lot of protein but all of it around the size of your palm. So five handfuls of food a day. Yikes.) But yeah. A cup of pasta, not a whole pot. Makes sense to me.
  4. Gwyneth Paltrow can, apparently, cook. Even though it’s all healthy and macrobiotic or whatever, Harrington really seemed to like Paltrow’s recipes the best.
  5. Worst (at least from the sounds of it) might be a tie, in my opinion: Beyonce’s Master Cleanse or Greta Garbo’s celery loaf. Since Harrington couldn’t even get past the smell of the cooked celery loaf to taste it (and who could blame her), we’ll never know the dietary effectiveness, but it does sound vile.
  6. Don’t take book recommendations from former running partner Amy. Actually, it does make for good blog fodder.

shirt

Now that’s a diet I can get behind: pork.

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