Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Jam on Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE)

Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), Singapore’s 10th expressway opened on the 29th Dec 13. Costing a humongous S4.6 billion to build, MCE is quite an engineering feat as a main section of it runs underground and undersea. MCE provides a link for motorist travelling from east (ECP) to west (AYE) and vice versa, replacing a portion of ECP that runs through the city and frees up valuable land space in the city and the upcoming downtown / marina south area. The first 2 days of opening wasn’t smooth and there are countless news reports and social media rants of confused motorists and jammed road. I took a drive on it on Sunday from home (in Siglap) to church (in Bouna Vista) and back. I would say from east to west was pretty straightforward, with clear signs on when to turn to MCE, but when coming back, there was some confusion and we had to do a super left filter to get to exit leading to the ECP. Some of the possible reasons why I think it wasn't a smooth sailing opening are as follows

Unfamiliarity of the new road.

The MCE introduced several key changes to roads, in particular around the downtown area. The most significant change was that motorist have to use the MCE to get from the east to the west (meaning ECP-MCE-AYE). This change is pretty straightforward and should not cost much issues. The main issues were the conversion of ECP over Sheares Bridge to a main arterial road and the resulting changing of road to get in and out of the downtown area from the expressways. People driving there for the first time would be unfamiliar and may not know which exit and entrance to take.

No significant landmarks.

Most experienced drivers would rely on both road signs and surrounding landmarks to know their current location and to make the necessary anticipation to turn out of the exit nearest to their destination. However, with MCE being largely underground, motorists only had road signs to rely on (underground ‘landmarks’ familiarity would likely come later when motorist drive through it a couple of times more), thus how early the driver can anticipate and filter to the left to exit would depend on how early the driver has seen the road signs. On our drive back home on 29 Dec 13, we saw the first road sign in MCE that says to keep left to turn to ECP (Changi) and with the assumption that the exit is nearby, we immediately tried to filter left from the first lane, only to realise that the exit was still quite a distance away. It didn’t help that as MCE was stated as the replacement for ECP, one’s mind map would assume to just keep driving straight to connect to ECP, without the need to filter left. Also, looking at the current alignment of the road towards the east, the KPE is actually on the left of ECP, thus one would assume while driving on MCE to keep left to KPE and keep right to ECP. Alas, it turn out that MCE was not aligned that way.

 Over reliance of GPS and online navigation sites.

The MCE was designed not as an alternative road but a rather a replacement road. For alternative roads, if you want to get to a destination using a GPS or an online navigation site with the opening of this road, you would still likely reach your designation by using the old (perhaps slower) road. For replacement road, this could not be achieved unless the map data in your GPS or the online navigation site is updated with the new map. As of last check on 30th Dec 13, both popular navigation websites, streetdirectory.com.sg and maps.google.com.sg, have not updated their map database to reflect the opening of MCE (though streetdirectory.com.sg has put MCE as under construction). Thus far, only SLA's onemap. Popular GPS manufacturers (Garmin, TomTom) also did not seem to have any updated maps for download on their sites.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Year in Review 2013: Top Five Significant Life Events

This is the second part in the series of blog posts to document how my life was spent in 2013.

Update on 29 Dec 13: Google, through its Auto-Awesome Photo App feature on my Android phone, did a nice collage for me.

5. Moving To A New Place

We moved into the new place just a week before Chinese New Year, with the renovations just completed on the very day we moved in – When the movers were shifting in all our stuffs on the day of moving in, the toilet bowl in the master bedroom wasn’t even fixed up yet! We were very thankful to our Interior Designer, my good friend Keith from Maternium, who took great effort to make sure that the house was designed and renovated nicely, as well as my previous domestic helper, who spent a considerable time to pack and document the boxes from the old place and subsequently unpack at the new place. Personally, I was very thankful to my wife who took care of the main bulk of coordination for the renovation and shifting.

Its been 10 months since we moved in and we have been enjoying the place every day since then - not only was our place very cosy and designed according to what we had wanted, the facilities within the condo as well as the surrounding amenities were a great blessing to us as well. Some of the decisions made during the renovations that was beneficial were

- Usage of mainly energy saving LED lights and inverter Air-con, though expensive upfront, has reaped its benefits – the average monthly electricity bill is about the same as my previous, smaller house, and a portion of this electricity goes to powering up the electric stove where in my previous house, we used a piped-gas stove.

- Installing of a timer switch for the water heater – especially useful for forgetful me.

- Installing of a digital lock – no more fumbling with keys.

- Removing of the master bathroom bathtub and relocating the shower (with a rain-shower) in its place – the extra space was useful

- Getting the electrician to pull a hidden network cable from the router at 2nd floor to the TV console at 1st floor – my media player, smart Blu-ray player and Xbox 360 are all connected to the network at high speeds.

- Installing of exhaust fans in the bathroom, as well as running an exhaust pipe with an exhaust fan from the kitchen hood to outside – no longer having to deal with steam up bathrooms and smoky kitchens.

Not all was smooth sailing though, we had a bout of termites attack in one of the rooms in July which rendered it unusable for a month and we had to engage a pest control to take care of the problem as well as to change out the entire build-in wardrobe, wooden skirting and door frame.

The details of our house hunting journey and the subsequent purchase of our current house can be found in this blog post.

The magnificent looking Ppool
Harrod's 2nd Birthday celebration at the new place, surronded by many neighbor Jie Jie
The source of the termite infestation - the termite nest found underneath an old wardrobe we
initially didn't want to change
All decked up for Christmas!

4. Dad Diagnosed With Cancer

What happened as a small case of blood in stool turned out to be a nightmare for the family as the doctors discovered a lump in my dad’s colon during a precautionary post incident scope check. The lab test later confirmed the lump to be cancerous and my dad had to undergo a surgery to cut out the cancerous segment and then reattached the colon. The huge blessing in disguise was that the cancer was diagnosed in a very early stage and had not spread further. Alas, things took a turn for the worst a few months after the surgery when Dad complained of severe abdominal pain one day and had to be sent to the accident and emergency department. The subsequent MRI scans revealed an enlarged intestine and the doctors had to perform an emergency surgery to find the root cause of the enlargement as well as to treat it. It was later learned during the surgery that the cause of the enlargement was that the openikng of reattached colon had closed up to be a very small (about 5mm) during the healing process and as such, he was unable to dispel the waste, resulting in it being accumulated at his large intestine. The surgery resulted in him having to have a stoma attached, with the eventual plan to have one to two more surgeries to fix up the problem. The stoma had been an inconvenience to him, with him having to clean it up about 3 times a day and a weekly hospital visit to change the stoma pouch. However, the great relief was that it would only be temporal and he would not have to live with it once the surgeries are done to fix up the intestine and colon. The other great relief was that he seemed to be recovering very well and able to live and eat normally, other than the inconvenience caused by the stoma.

Dad at Hannah's recent 1st month celebrations, visibly thinner but
looking much healthier than a few months ago

3. Birth Of Baby Hannah

One of the reasons for moving to a bigger place was that we wanted to have a second kid and a bigger place and extra room was definitely needed. Having a second kid, specifically, a girl was one of the three wishes I had wish for during the annual Thanksgiving Sunday church service where Pastor Prince would ask each of us to come with 3 wishes that we want fulfilled for the year and we would pray corporately for it to be fulfilled. Unlike the first kid, the pregnancy wasn’t deliberately planned and “acted” on. My wife wasn’t even aware that she was pregnant as she didn’t display any symptoms of pregnancy until a visit to the GP for a bout of flu when she was told that she was pregnant. On the subsequent visit to her Gynae, she was told that the foetus was very weak with a low chance of survival, and was asked for her decision whether to proceed with the pregnancy – if she choose to proceed, the Gynae would try her best to stabilise the foetus but could not provide a guarantee that it would be successful. My wife choose to proceed with the pregnancy, leaving the foetus to the hands of God and the Gynae. What followed on was a full month of going to the clinic every day, with each visit lasting half a day and her being put on a drip. During the second last visit, both her hands were so bruised from all the poking that the nurse had difficulty finding a vein to poke, thus, to play safe, the nurse decided to leave the drip needle attached so that it could be reused the next day.

During the initial visits to the Gynae, she predicted that the baby would be a boy. We knew that she had been fairly accurate in her predictions based on her experience and we were slightly disappointed. Nevertheless, we were still excited for the new addition to the family. Few months down the road when we were able to more clearly determine the sex of the baby, she told us that her prediction was inaccurate and we would be expecting a baby girl, we were overjoyed.

During the final stages of the pregnancy, we had another scare when the Gynae told us that the baby was very active in the womb and there may be a chance of umbilical cord entanglement. She suggested for the baby to be taken out as soon as she reaches full term (36 weeks). Earlier, we had made the decision to go for elective caesarean as the Gynae has said that natural delivery would be difficult and dangerous as the baby’s head was quite big. Although we had initially wanted to have her come out sometime in the mid of November 13, so that she would not have to spend the first few years of her birthday mugging over her exams, we decided to go ahead with her advice to deliver the baby on 1st November 13.

When Hannah was born, she was weighing about 2.6kg, much smaller than Harrod when he was born (3.1Kg) and her weight puts her at the 10th percentile of the national average. Fast forward one month and she has been drinking so well (and thanks to the good quality milk of the mother) that her weight has ballooned to about 5kg, which puts her at the 75th percentile of the national average.

Hannah at one day old - XS size of Harrod Low
Gor Gor and Mei Mei sharing a dream
Hannah at 1.5 months old. The brand of milk is good.

2. Brother Got Engaged

Between the two of us, my brother has always been labelled by family members as the rebellious one while I was the obedient one*. I didn’t really expect him to want to settle down at this stage and had expected him to stay single (but attached) for a while, thus it I was pleasantly surprised when he told me that he was planning for a surprise proposal to his girlfriend. The proposal was a success as his girlfriend (now fiancée) had initially thought that they were preparing the place for another friend for his proposal, I understand that they even had a fake proposal video prepared to make the whole set up more convincing.

*Sidenote: Though my brother is the rebellious one, I must say that he is much more family oriented than me – he has all the contacts of the aunties, uncles and cousins and he will always call the aunties and uncles to catch up with them and inform them if he is going overseas, something that I never bother to do.

Harrod on a special mission as the wing ring man!
On one knee! (Photo credit: Kaka)

1. One Year As A Civilian Employee

September 13 marks the first year of working as a civilian, after spending more than 13 years as a Military Officer. It was a very hard decision then whether or not to leave my comfort zone to venture into the unknown – firstly, I would be leaving a job that I was very comfortable in and secondly, I would be leaving a group of very close colleagues, many whom I have forge close relationships with and whom I could call upon in times of need, and thirdly, there would likely be a loss of income. I would say the main catalyst then was the amount of time I need to commit to the job, which means having to sacrifice time with my family. With Harrod growing up and the sudden demise of my mum a year ago, I came to realise then that I wanted to spend more time with the family. One year down the road and I have not come to the conclusion if the decision made then was correct, I do occasionally miss the times that I spend in the Army, whether managing a project or exercise and the sense of satisfaction and achievement when it came to fruition, or spending time with colleagues over a meal, coordinating unit activities or ‘gossiping’ and ‘bitching’ about everything. Two things I am sure of was firstly, I now do have more time to spend with the family, which I truly cherish. Secondly, a lot of things in life depends on the choices we made, when a choice or decision is made, do not regret it, stand by the choice and move on. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Year In Review 2013: Top Five Restaurants Tried For The First Time

My wife and I are "foodnatics" and we are always game to hunt down new food places to try out. 2013 continues to be a year where we visited a few new places to try out the food. However, our selection was kinda restricted due to my wife's pregnancy. Nevertheless, we still did quite a fair bit of food hunting, getting our sources via blogs, magazines and TV programs. Most of the new restaurants we tried are "hits", with the occasional few misses here and there, thus it was quite hard to select the top 5 from the list. I decided to narrow down the criteria so that the recommended restaurant would be one of those that we had tried for the first time in 2013 and it turn out to be a hit.

5. Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe

This was one of the surprise find for this year. On the first visit, I ordered their papaya noodle soup and the standard was so-so only.  The 2nd visit was after my wife's post-natal gynae appointment at Ang Mo Kio. She was kinda sick of the home cooked confinement food and wanted to eat something else for her break, Xin Wang was the nearest restaurant that we could find. I ordered the Luncheon Meat and Fried Egg Noodle Soup and she ordered the French Toast and it turned out to be a very delicious meal!

French Toast - The french toast came piping hot and they had slapped a piece of butter on it to let it slowly melt into the bread. While it was crispy outside, the inside was quite soft, going very well together with the melted butter. If you have ordered the French Toast in Hong Kong, you would have found out that most of them give you condensed milk as an accompanying dip, unfortunately, the restaurant does not come automatically with it, but they are more than willing to give you a small saucer of it if you asked.

French Toast - Crispy Outside, soft Inside
Luncheon Meat and Fried Egg Soup Noodles - I thought that this was gonna be an ordinary bowl of noodles until I tried the soup. The soup was very succulent and had a sense of unami in it, not like those usual egg noodle soup that taste like it was made with chicken powder and MSG. The luncheon meat, fried eggs and noodle are normal but the soup itself makes it a worthwhile order.

Luncheon Meat and Fried Egg Soup Noodles - Must try the soup!

4. Crystal Jade Jiang Nan

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan is a casual dining restaurant located at Vivocity, directly opposite JPot, serving food originating from Shanghai, Nanjing, with some of the dishes given a slight creative twist. The few dishes that I recommend would be Multi-Flavoured Xiao Long Bao, Hot and Sour Soup with Bean Curd, La Mian with Spicy Chicken and Preserved Egg and the highlight 不是炒饭 (Not Fried Rice).

Hong Kong Ice Milk Tea put in an innovative jug to keep it cold.

Hot and Sour Soup in Beancurd - The right amount of spiciness and sourness with the
beancurd adding an extra texture to the taste.

Multi-flavored Xiao Long Bao - Not the first restaurant in Singapore to feature something like
this (Paradise Taste as a similar dish), but it was delicious with each Xiao Long Bao having its
own distinct taste. The flavors are: Original, Foie Gras, Cheese, Spicy Beef, Vegetable & Dried Beancurd
Black Truffle, Shrimp and Spicy Chicken.

Spicy chicken and century egg noodles - A weird combination to put spicy chicken with century egg
and further eating it with noodles, but it turned out to be a hit.

不是炒饭 (Not fried rice) - This dish may look like fried rice, but in actual fact its not, the "grains"
you see are actually chopped up beansprouts. Google 不是炒饭 to find out more about how this dish originate.

3. Sin Po Po

The name of the restaurant caught my attention when I saw it on Channel 8's Snack Attack III - I realized later that the owners had named it after a sleazy KTV joint that used to be situated along Tanjong Katong Road, near to where I was studying (TK Tech). The highlights of this restaurant is the old skool deserts and food that many of the older middle age generation should be familiar with. I have not tried the main staples there but have dropped by for desserts after dinner, so would update again once I have a chance to visit it again.

Old school furniture and biscuits tins at the entrance

Gula Melaka Jelly - smooth and very distinct Gula Melaka taste

Ais Ball (Ice Ball) - Authentic and flavor full, the ice was firmed and did not break easily,
much better than the onebeing sold at Singapore Flyer.

2. Akanoya Robatayaki

This restaurant very well deserves a blog review by itself but I have been procrastinating since my visit there. This should be the only restaurant in Singapore that serves only Robatayaki, which means "fireside cooking" - the concept of this is that the restaurant would lay all the uncooked ingredients in front of you to choose, once you select an ingredient (meant, seafood, vegetables, tidbits), the chef would then proceed to barbecue it over a hot-charcoal stove (or in some cases steam it) right in front of you and then dish it up to you. Do note that the restaurant has no menu and price list so be mindful of what you have ordered in case you get shocked by the bill at the end of the meal.

How can you not be tempted to over order when presented with this view!
This is how the chef serves up the food after it is cooked.

Wagyu Beef
Pork Belly
Grilled Japanese Tilapia, lightly salted, every part is edible

Grilled snow crab leg

Grilled Japanese green chili

Additional order of Grilled cuttlefish, after we saw the next door 'expert diners' had it and it looked enticing

Additional order of Grilled rice ball, after we saw the next door 'expert diners' ordering it.

1. Han Restaurant

To be strictly fair, this should not be inside the list as we had actually tried the restaurant's previous incarnation at Si Bon at Amara Sanctuary, but I decided to make an exception and include it since its considered a restaurant we had visited for this year and the dining concept has slightly changed. The full review can be found here. We went to visit it a second time for my wife's birthday and the meal she had wanted before her delivery (interestingly, we visited also visited Si Bon just before she give birth to the first kid). Since the last visit, the restaurant has made some minor tweaks to the menu. It used to serve a sushi and 10 stick kushikatsu course, as well as a sashimi and 10 stick kushikatsu course, but it has since changed to become a single sushi, sashimi and 7 stick kushikatsu course. The 10 or 15 sticks kushikatsu  remains on the menu though.

Close up picture of the hood from the second visit

Fresh sashimi as part of the new sushi, sashimi and 7 stick kushikatsu course
Angel prawns are the main stay of the kushikatsu menu

Ohmi Beef are also part of the main stays

Same goes for foie gras

Fresh sushi as part of the new sushi, sashimi and 7 stick kushikatsu course

Clam soup as part of of the new sushi, sashimi and 7 stick kushikatsu course