Domo Arigato Mr Roboto

10 Things I Like About You Pt 1: Applications

If you just joined us half-way, refer to this post to start from the beginning 🙂

It’s the first thing that we think of when we’re trying to start something new. YouTube, Google, and TripAdvisor whatever it may be… Also (cue shameless plug) because I’m working to do social media stuffs for a startup that helps travelers socially source their itineraries and have looked up all the competing apps (the app is pretty cool but I’ll share that later).

2 quick parameters:

First, I must shout out to Apple. A quick scan of any app list will show that them sprinting past the Google Play store. However, since this is my blog, we will play by Android rules.

Second, there are apps that do everything from fold your socks to calculate, to the millisecond, what you can do in-between transits. This list will focus on how to rediscover Singapore. Asia is a tough nut to crack. Most apps are geared towards our Western counterparts so this is my Asia friendly list.

 

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  1. Triposo

This one is one of my favourites. Probably because the backstory is pretty cool. Founded by a pair of Dutch brothers, Douwe and Richard Osinga and their friend, Jon Tirsen, the app was born out of their love for travel. Their entire team is part of the effort, travelling the world (with nothing but Triposo and cash) and adding their experiences to the application.

The app is pretty comprehensive. The home page for each country gives you a breakdown of the typical stuff that you’re looking for as a traveller: sightseeing, nightlife, tours, etc. The highlights for me were the locally sourced mini guides (I was a cheapo and didn’t pay for premium) and if you’re a tourist, their practicalities section is invaluable! Discovered the lovely Singapore Pub Crawl here 🙂

 “We are wanderers and adventurers and we believe the best way to build a travel guide is to spend as much time as possible traveling to strange lands and discovering new places.” –Triposo.com

 

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O, Astoria!

In the light of Lonely Planet’s recent pick for #1 destination to travel within the US, I shall talk about how much I loved Queens – specifically Astoria, home to the Ranch – when I lived in New York.

photo courtesy of New York Times

photo courtesy of New York Times

Let the hipsters in Brooklyn condescend Queens and let Manhattanites act like the civilization ends with the Queensboro Bridge and you need to commute with donkeys after. I’m a proud former Astorian.

Yes, Brooklyn may have the hippest, coolest places, can it compare to the niceness of Queens people? And the commute… The places you can actually afford now in Brooklyn are so far that it’s really difficult for people who work in the city. Don’t even get me started on the L or the G train… I love the N train! Commute is so convenient to the city if you live on the N line that you start planning your social life based on whether or not where you’re going is close to N,Q line. Both Central Park and Prospect Park are on the N or Q line, I worked in Midtown, and Herald Sq Stop was 20 min. away, Union Sq, East Village, Soho, Chinatown… And it’s on the major transfer hubs, so if you do need to transfer, it’s not difficult.

When I lived at the Ranch, it was at the last stop (Ditmars) of the N/Q trains, so if and when I fall asleep on the train, kind strangers would gently wake me up so I wouldn’t find myself going back and forth and finally at a strange & bad neighborhood (I’m not saying it didn’t happen anyway at 4 AM one night, but it happened much less than any other places).

30th Ave after Greece's win of a game in the FIFA '14

30th Ave after Greece’s win of a game in the FIFA ’14

Astoria has the nicest, friendliest people. There is this shared feeling of ‘I know I live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s hard for other people to understand’. The local bodegas, laundromat people, coffee shops, waiters and bartenders are always so friendly and give you some slack if you are short on money by dimes or nickles.

And Astoria Park? Just pretty!

Don’t even get me started on the food! Ah, the food. So so delicious. I may be partial to the food because I’m Turkish, and it’s a Greek neighborhood, which is basically the same food (sorry Turks and Greeks, we gotta just admit we eat the same stuff and get on with our lives without caring who came up with what).

Not just the Greek food, almost everything is more delicious there. So here are some of my humble recommendations if you go to Astoria (and you should).

 

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10 things I like about you…

20141003_185257Being home and waiting for a visa means there’s not much to do. Not working for 3 months also means not exactly a fortune in spending money. My first thought when I came back was to find a job and just plug away at work. The only thing is that it’s hard to find too many people excited to train you for time unknown. Can’t really blame them. So what does a broke stuck adventurer do? You got it, potter around my own backyard.

For years, people have always asked me why I didn’t want to go home to Singapore. I never really had an answer for why not. Yet, other than family and friends, there was no magnetically compelling reason to either. So now seemed like a good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about. Inspired by Neil Humphreys, (Singapore’s equivalent of Bill Bryson) I wanted to see what I could discover about this revamped Singapore. And because I like lists, I made one of all the tools I used to figure out what the 10 things I like the most about home.

 In no particular order:

  1. Applications (I have an Android so we know that everything crosses over)
  2. Meeting strangers
  3. Old Skool
  4. The Number 11 Bus (ie: on foot)
  5. Geocaching
  6. Asking locals

For the sake of not sounding like a windbag, I’ll post them in installments so stay tuned for the breakdown 🙂

Apartment Hunting Blues

Anyone who has ever lived in New York City at least once suffers the ailment called the apartment hunting – unless you are extremely lucky, or you are the offspring of a president or a king (or you are a president or a king), so maybe I should just change my ailment name to ‘apartment hunting on a budget’ (but of course, anyone who ever lived in New York –or any big city, I suppose– also  knows that ‘on a budget’ is a reaaally relative term. You can live like royals in other places with just your NY rent money. But, I digress). It’s not just the passive-aggresive roommate bullshit or the claustrophobic room sizes, it’s the actual apartment hunting process that’s the pain. After all, there is such a thing called the perfect apartment with the perfect situation (if you lower your expectations, of course) but nobody hands it to you. Actually, more often than not, you can’t even find it. Because there are a handful of perfect apartments and a buttload of apartment hunters. So even if you do find it, the competition is so fierce that the chances are you’re not gonna get it unless you move super fast and have everything ready at hand. So like most New Yorkers, I had my fair share of apartment hunting stories. It actually took me a long and windy road to get to the Ranch. So here’s my tale.

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10 things I’ve learned in Paris

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1. What “Sortie” means. It means “Exit”. If you don’t know that, you will literally not be able to leave places. Seriously, is it so difficult to write – even in little fonts – “exit” under “sortie”?

2. If you’re looking for kind responses from the natives, initiate the interaction with a smile and a “bonjour/bonsoir”. The French are more likely to be friendly when they see that you at least make an effort (almost).

3. You can have a picnic anywhere. Literally. You don’t have to necessarily go to a park; if you have wine and cheese with you, basically anywhere is fine to just sit down and hang out. And Paris has some beautiful outdoor areas.

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La Saine (top left), Jardin des Plantes (top right), Jardin du Luxembourg (bottom left), Jardin des Tuileries (bottom right)

4. If there is ever a place where the weather is at its most unreliable, that place is Paris. Man, I thought New York weather was weird. At least it was somewhat consistent with the seasons. In Paris, there are no specific seasons. In 20 days that I’ve stayed there, I think I’ve lived through all the seasons. Sometimes on the same day! The day may start out shiny and warm, but it may end with a monsoon. So do yourself a favor and do not part with your umbrella.

5. Speaking of umbrellas, being a former New Yorker and a native Istanbullu, I was used to just buying one if it happens to start raining. It would be cheap and EVERYWHERE. So I thought the case would be the same in Paris. Aaand it’s not. They don’t sell it everywhere and it’s expensive. And the ones they sell on the newstands are huge! Once it stops raining, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. So bring your own, and don’t leave home without it.

6. It’s not OK to lose yourself in the city and wander around if you don’t know the area. I was trying to find Moulin Rouge, and I think that was the most scared I felt during my trip to Paris. After I found the famous landmark, I didn’t even stop to take pictures. I thought “ok, that’s done” and jumped at the nearest Metro. I might be slightly exaggerating, but there was a guy following me and he was creepy as hell!

7. While getting lost in an unknown neighbourhood (or a neighbourhood with a reputation) is scary, Paris actually is pretty cool if you just sightsee by walking around and getting lost (in the better neighbourhoods and with a map… don’t find yourself in the bad part of town). You can find the cutest streets. And it’s a flat city – no hills or anything – so it’s easy on the feet (except for Butte Montmartre. Oh, those stairs!).

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8. I skipped to go up the Eiffel, and I would do it again. Not worth those line and the ticket price, in my opinion. The views from the tops of Notre Dame and Sacre Ceour are gorgeous and apparently the view from the new building Tour Montparnasse is the best view in town. At least, you can see the Eiffel Tower from all the others, which is pretty much it in the Paris skyline.

9. Food is pretty expensive, so if you’re on a budget like me, try not to eat every meal at a restaurant. I bought bread & cheese from Carrefour (super cheap & super delicious) so I made sandwiches on the go for either breakfast or lunch to consume at the numerous parks & gardens. If I was particularly lazy, croissant from the bakeries and sandwiches from Monoprix would do the trick. So when I wanted to splurge, I would have money for it, and I would just do it for dinner or something. And if you really want decent food on the cheap side, go to Quartier Latin near Saint Michel. Dozens of restaurants with prix-fixe lunch menus. You can get an entree, a main course and a dessert for like 10 Euros.

10. It’s just pretty. Just go, even if you don’t like anything French, go see Paris at least once.

Hawkers = Home

Many say the best way to get perspective on a country is through its taxi drivers. They are the all seeing eyes and ears of any nation. Though I’ve had my fair share of colourful cabbies (there was one who sang Waltzing Matilda and waxed lyrical about British colonisation throughout our half an hour journey), this post is not about them. This one’s about the humble hawker centre.

If you’ve never been to Singapore, hawker centres are a little piece of foodie heaven. Whatever your poison, be it seafood, pasta, chicken wings or noodles, they’ve got it! These are not quaint little restaurants with romantic ambiance. These places are laid out in a noisy, oily, rambunctious circle of little stores. Think of a grubbier high school canteen with better food and a slimmer chance of people chucking food at you (no promises). They even have the Antony Bourdain seal of approval.

nom, nom, nom!

nom, nom, nom! photo courtesy of the straits times

Now hawker centres are no easy undertaking. A simple visit could result in you waddling away, stuffed to the gills with your body weight in edibles. So here’s a simple instructional to make sure you come out of your first experience with your BMI intact.

  1. There is strength in numbers.
so much food, so little time

so much food, so little time

This is definitely a time where the more the merrier. Hawker centres are a great place to eat family style where everyone gets to pick whatever catches their fancy. The more people you bring, the more options you have. A budget of $10-$12SGD per person should more than feed a group of 4 or more (if you get seafood, it could be a little more). Great time to make a couple of new friends at the hostel and take them over.

 

  1. The fanciest places doesn’t mean the best food

Yup, this is one those instances that make social media invaluable. The best hawker centres are not the ones that are the poshest or the ones that are raved about in guidebooks. Not that they are all wrong. Places like Newton Circus, Makkansutra at the Esplanade and Lau Pa Sat have good food; they’re just not very good on your wallet. It may seem like all food is the same but there are subtle differences and there are some places that are just better than. So ask the locals at your hostel or hotel or be a child of the 21st Century and just Google it!

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