Travel times with Starbucks

Christmas, or the end of the year, is my favourite time of the year. The weather has typically been cooler around this period and marked with the dual Christmas and New Year holidays, the festive vibe just reverberates throughout the entire city. It also coincides with the time when most people would be on leave or travel for vacation, so most would be in a relaxed mood, winding down the year and perhaps gearing themselves up for the new year (if we ever can get ourselves to do that).

And as with all enjoyable times, they just pass way too fast and somehow it seems like in the blink of an eye, we are almost at the edge of it. The year will be over in just about 2 days and Christmas has come and gone. Although I had griped to those around me, incessantly (and I really send my heartfelt apologies for the constant whining), about some of my follies and their consequences, I am still thankful for several things that happened this year. We cannot bemoan the quick passage of time because it doesn’t recoup anything, lost time is irrecoverable and that is why we are always told to look forward.

Maybe the year-end also put me in a strong festive mood and in October I took a last minute decision to fly to Bangkok. It was supposed to be a planned trip somewhere else, but plans change when people’s minds change. Then in December, it was again another last minute trip to Hong Kong, which was supposed to something I wanted to do for a friend but ended up otherwise. It was then that I appreciate the spontaneity of one of my friends, someone whom stepped into my life unexpectedly.

So to get on with things proper, this is a Starbucks post after all! I am no ambassador of the coffee chain with the ubiquitous green mermaid logo, heck they don’t need ambassadors when they are almost everywhere, but I do indulge in their Christmas delights all too often, each year without fail. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1027.jpg

Last year we had the Cranberry Orange Loaf in Singapore which I really liked. Unfortunately, it did not make a reappearance this year, yet I was really excited when I saw that something similar was available in Starbucks Hong Kong! So of course I would order it and it was good! I think as compared to what we had locally last year, this felt more ‘bread’ than cake/loaf as it was a little drier and lighter. Only managed to have it once due to the limited stomach space and number of meals. Sigh./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1028.jpg

In Hong Kong, they also had the Gingerbread Latte which is my best-loved Christmas drink after I discovered it last year in Manila and had it pretty often there and even Shanghai. Somehow I don’t know why Singapore doesn’t have this. Had it in a cute short-sized beverage to lessen the guilt, as I ordered a huge cranberry scone that morning. Haha. Was also surprised to see they were selling gingerbread man cookies so I bought one for my friend who was joining me for the trip. 🙂/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1029.jpg

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A couple of weeks after returning from Hong Kong, it was off to Bangkok to celebrate Christmas! It was another impromptu trip but not as last minute as the Hong Kong one. To say that I was celebrating Christmas in Bangkok is a little bit of an exaggeration as we didn’t really do much when we were there; it was more of a trip to chill out and eat, relax and do nothing in particular.

As fans of Starbucks, we won’t fail to check ourselves in once in a while for a cup of coffee and some sweet treats. So at Bangkok’s Starbucks, these were what we found.

There was no Gingerbread Latte here so the focus was more on food. Carrot, walnut and raisin muffin anyone? It’s almost like having a carrot cake sans the cream cheese frosting baked in a muffin cup, nice and moist and at just the right size for a muffin. Aside from that, the muffins here are baked a little different from the ones we typically see in Singapore. There isn’t the ‘muffin top’ that we often see, spilling out of the cup that has somehow caused the term to morph into a derogatory description of people who probably consumed too many muffins and ended up with fats hanging out over the waistbands of their jeans or skirts. And that made us wonder if that was the reason for the names of their muffin; the other one we ordered was a Skinny Banana muffin. Lol. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1032.jpg

And on another day, we had a Chocolate muffin, which surprisingly wasn’t as sweet as I expected. I had always steered away from ordering a similar version in Singapore whether in Starbucks or elsewhere but this perhaps will cause me to give it a try the next time. Notice the lack of that ‘over-hanging’ bit I mentioned before. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/452/2193806/files/2014/12/img_1031.jpgAnd the Cranberry Bliss bar, which is another Christmas item that we didn’t have this year. Actually I cannot recall if we had it last year but I remembered having it in Tokyo some time ago. This year I raised this question to my friends or rather mused rhetorically if the widespread use of dried cranberries in food products is a real Christmas tradition or just by virtue of the fact of it bearing the Christmas-y red colour. Most people felt it would be the latter but who knows right maybe there really is some link between Christmas and dried cranberries just like how log cakes, gingerbread cookies and Christmas stollens are always associated with this festive period?

oh silent night

I was gonna blog about my recent Hong Kong holiday, some of the places that I went to, i.e. coffee places, but I have just been too lazy during this festive season to do any proper posting. Somehow, even though the work week was made shorter by the holidays, I have been feeling even more tired!

Anyway, let’s see if I can get in a last burst of energy before 2013 runs out on us! This has been quite a quick year that just went by like that, and before I even knew it, we are now left with only 2 days of the year. Christmas has come and gone too, and I can almost already feel the difference that will be so evident the moment January comes, a fresh beginning that I know I should look forward to rather than dwell on December that has gone by. There will always be a next December, but it means too that another year would have passed…

This year’s Christmas eve was spent peacefully and quietly with two of my good friends who invited me over to their place for a Christmas dinner! Maybe I am past that age of wanting to be out about jostling with crowds and other party-goers, well I think I was past that years ago, but recently I just kind of feel that my circle is getting smaller and smaller and people just drift further and further away.

So it was a really nice dinner that I had on Christmas eve! For starters we had vegetable soup that was packed with lots of ingredients and super yummy.

20131229-212821.jpgThis is my main, which comprised an egg, baked salmon coated with some crumbly thingy that my friend told me was by Jamie Oliver. Well, actually I’m not really sure or it could be a recipe from him, but anyways I really love the fish and the batter that it was coated in, without any additional seasoning.

20131229-212827.jpgThe fish that came out of the oven was still moist and it left me inspired to pick up cooking for future times when I get my own place with a kitchen! And because my friend knew how I can get overly concerned about healthy-eating (albeit selectively haha), she also cooked quinoa for us! I saw on her instagram that she cooked this for dinner recently and was gushing over how delicious it looked so she suggested that she’d prepare this for the Christmas dinner! :DThe quinoa was cooked in chicken stock so it tasted very good!

I’d wanted to buy a log cake for the occasion since it was Christmas and I’m so into this season but there wasn’t any suitable-sized log cake for just the 3 of us which I thought we might be able to finish. So I brought along a blueberry-flavoured apple strudel that I got from Isetan and also this cake from BreadTalk.

20131229-212832.jpgThere were no pictures of the apple strudel because we just cut it up and gobbled it up fairly quickly. This slice of cake from BreadTalk had hazelnut notes in it and it wasn’t too sweet; overall I think it is ok but it wasn’t fantastic because it had a slight “plastic-ky” taste to it. At least that was what I felt. We were pretty stuffed by then so I guess it was good that I didn’t bring along a cake that was too big!

It was a really great evening spent talking non-stop and also touring my friend’s home, because the last time I visited was years ago! I enjoyed myself a lot even though it was just a small gathering, a quiet evening that we spent together away from the boisterous partying crowds thronging F&B establishments and also parts of town. Thank you for the delicious dinner and for having me over! 🙂

i’m home

It has been a week since I last posted something. In the past week, I have spent most of it in Hong Kong on a short vacation.

What was originally planned as a week-long vacation turned out to be a 4-odd day trip instead due to some issues at the office. Nevertheless, it was quite a whirlwind rush on Monday, when I zipped off from the office back home to finish up the packing before heading to the airport for the late evening flight. I don’t think I have ever taken such a late flight to Hong Kong before, but since I had the luxury of free accommodation courtesy of my friend who is now working there, it was ok to reach there late at night and not waste a night’s hotel accommodation if I were to be paying for my stay. The customs clearance at the HKIA at close to midnight was a breeze, a total contrast with the snaking queues.

The ride on the Airport Express was efficient as usual, and as I struggled against dozing off amidst the lulling humming of the train, it wasn’t long before I reached my destination, hopped into a cab and got to my friend’s apartment within a short time.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday seemed to just fleet by so quickly even though I don’t think I have done much. Such is the bliss of a free-and-easy vacation where there is no fixed itinerary, and each day I just wake up thinking of where I should head for my caffeine fix. I wished I had more time to explore the neighbourhood that my friend was staying at, and also beyond, because there are so many nice little cafes and eateries, and so many nooks and corners in the Soho area that remained to be discovered. It was a major plus that the weather was excellent those few days, cool with sunshine on some days but generally dry.

As I stayed with my friend and found all opportunities to chat with her, it seemed like there was so much to talk about although I think my tendency to get easily antagonised and defensive could be further tempered downed. Over the last couple of months, I found that talking to people helps open up new perspectives, whether or not I actually manage to get myself to change to a better me. My cousin whom I met in Shanghai last month, and this friend whom I stayed with in Hong Kong, they both provided some bursts of positive thinking that I could certainly take a cue from. It was a pity I didn’t get to catch up much with another friend who also lives and works there, even though we met up for a couple of dinners, but the setting wasn’t too conducive for any heart-to-heart talks.

Saturday came and it was time to head home. Much as I was reluctant to head home, reality is still undeniable.

On this trip, my wish finally came true. On Monday, mum told me that dad would be sending me to the airport, and I suspected that she’d nagged him to do it since it wasn’t too late and it was the usual time when he’d be home anyhow. And I received a text from dad while in Hong Kong that he’d pick me up from the airport! I was really giddy with happiness and probably wore a silly grin on my face as I read his text. I got annoyed when the flight landed and had to wait a fairly long time before the parking bay was cleared for us, and then the luggage seemingly took ages to appear. Perhaps I was just too anxious not to let dad wait, but well, wishes do come true and this December, one of my long-time wishes came true.

It’s Monday tomorrow. 10 more days to Christmas, 16 more days to 2014. It already feels like a new beginning.

And yes I still stick by what I said before, friends come and go, nobody stays forever although sometimes maybe they do hop back on this never-ending journey of life.

from dusk till dawn.. shanghai edition

I have never been to Shanghai for vacation. Since the first time I visited until the most recent trip that I returned from last Friday, it has always been for work. In all, I have been there four times, coincidentally the first three times all happening in March and the last trip in November. I’m thankful that I did not have to deal with the extreme weather conditions that could happen to Shanghai, whether it is the harsh winter or the biting summer days. Even as I just heard a news report about some pollution that affected Shanghai yesterday or today, as much as I worry for the people whom I know living there, I am glad that I am now back home in Singapore. Sure, most big Chinese cities are always having a problem of pollution, and even as I was there for the 2 weeks I could already tell that the skyline was never really crystal clear, but yet I was blessed with fairly great weather for the fortnight I was there, only having a day of cold, rainy weather with strong winds that could easily wreck an umbrella.

At this time of the year, the sun sets pretty early. I got in on a Monday late afternoon, and as the taxi took me along the expressway towards the bustling city, the fading lights of the sun that was creeping slowly beyond the horizon cast an ephemeral beauty that somehow evokes a feeling of poignant solitude.

20131202-134249.jpgSome cab rides that I have took over the last two years, shuttling between airports and hotels, have been hour-long journeys or more, some of which I have enjoyed to a certain extent despite the suffocating smell of stale tobacco that reeks in the interior of the car. These scenes that flash past as the vehicle cruises along the freeways always make for such a great moment of reflection and deliberation about anything or everything. It doesn’t even need any prompting of any sort because thoughts just conjure themselves up in my mind that is never wont to rest. I think I will miss this part as well, a part of travelling that I am unwilling to bid adieu to. But as with all things in life, there always comes a point when we have to say farewell and let go. It is only when we learn to let go of things that we can start to embrace new things and experiences and grow.

I tried to take the time to enjoy my two weeks, even as I was struggling to put in effort to revise for my exam in the nights after returning from the office. It was never a problem to rouse myself early each morning to hit the gym before heading for a good hearty breakfast just before going to the office, but to really focus on revision in the nights proved a challenge, in the ambient lighting of the hotel room, coupled with the general fatigue of the day brought on by work or just being awake for long hours, I could not manage beyond an hour of studying.

The weekend was great, and I had some time to really have a good chat with my cousin, someone I recalled being a baby just recently but who has now grown into a fine, young man, and time just went by so quickly that I wished I could stretch it out more. Still, I’m thankful that we met up and caught up. It always feel so good to talk to someone for real after engaging in mindless banter with people whom we can’t really speak freely with.

20131202-134254.jpgTwo weeks, or 12 days just went by. It’s now December, the final month of the year, yet it is also the time for new beginnings. This beautiful sight of the sun that is starting to brighten up the world, emblazoning the once pitch black sky with a spectrum of rainbow colours from violet all the way to red, greeted me as I tried to stay warm in the frosty temperatures of the wintry morning onwards to the airport.

It is always intriguing what brings people together in this world, but it is also interesting how they eventually can grow apart. I suppose in a similar way, whether it is with people or with things in our lives, we always must know when we should let go and do so with grace. Hanging on to something that is no longer there is meaningless because it just breeds more unhappiness with the forced attempts to make things work.

Let’s head towards a happier future, towards a more positive life and towards a better self.

Christmas at Starbucks v.03

And so, I’m finally done with the business trips for this year! November has been so hectic with the 2 trips and also because of the numerous and not to mention, intensive, Japanese classes that I have to attend on a back-to-back basis due to the absence from Singapore. Anyway, I am just glad that they are behind now, and whatever time I have left until Christmas arrives, I just want to let myself bask in the spirit of the festive season and enjoy myself.

I obviously haven’t had enough of the Christmas stuff at Starbucks because of being away, but I did manage to have the amazing Gingerbread Latte overseas, and now back here I think I will only either stick to my usual beverage of choice or take the Peppermint Mocha.

After the Cranberry Orange slice that I had prior to leaving for Manila at the beginning of last month, which was super packed with awesomeness that made me think that it would be the only item I’d want to order the next time I step into Starbucks for a cake of sorts, I had to convince myself to venture a little further and try something else. Locally, besides the cranberry orange, there was also the Toffee Coffee slice, and I’m also a sucker for such loaf/slice cakes. Maybe anything-cake/loaf/butter/sinful piques my taste buds and arrests my brain into coveting it. Haha. So here it goes!

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And a closer look, before I start my thesis on the Toffee Coffee slice.20131202-105827.jpg

Although it’s called “Toffee Coffee”, I don’t know what it means because maybe it has some toffee taste but coffee, I am still trying to remember if there was anything vaguely coffee in it. As compared to the cranberry orange, this has a slightly sweeter taste due to the toffee perhaps, which felt a little caramel-y to me, that was drizzled on the top of it (where the nuts are laid in place of the dried cranberries in the other version). Somehow, it made the slice feel a tad oily for some reason, as you can see from the second picture with the remnants of what appears like oil but I don’t really know. Besides this, generally I kind of enjoyed this because of the abundance of nuts, on it and in it! You can see from the picture as well that the inside of the slice is packed with walnut bits, perfect for a nutty freak like me, as I chomped happily on the slice with my coffee (while cramming no less). Oh, other than the niggling thought of the “oiliness”, the rest of the slice itself wasn’t sweet like I had expected of something named toffee coffee.

I can’t decide which I’d prefer, but definitely for something different and with a tinge of zest, I’d definitely recommend the Cranberry Orange, but this is probably more conventional with regards to Christmas? I haven’t had the chance (and courage) to order the Christmas cakes or muffins (yes yes I am still obsessed with the guilt associated with sinfulness of these sugar-laden stuff), but I had a bad experience with a supposed Christmas cake that I ordered when I was in Shanghai. I know it will be different in different countries since they have different suppliers of cakes anyhow, but it’s just wasteful and I need someone to share them calories with too! :p

This Monday feels a little different, and for once I think I am not feeling the Monday blues. 🙂

cold but sunny

The climate here in Shanghai now reminds me of some of those trips that I made to Tokyo in recent years during winter time, when the sun is out in its blazing glory with sunshine that is so glaring that you have to squint your eyes whenever you’re facing where the sun comes from, but yet the air and the entire atmosphere is so cold that the moment you exit the warmth and cosiness of a building and its heated environment, your whole being wakes up from being arrested by that jolt of shiver that runs down your spine. It is a nice feeling actually, despite that I don’t take to the cold well at all. I am averse to extremities in temperatures, either hot or cold, and although I prefer cold to hot, my body doesn’t adjust too well to it. The skin on my hands are so dry and wrinkly like a dried-up prune, even with the copious slathering of hand cream and lotions throughout the day. I have been pretty religious about applying body lotion so for now I think the rest of the body is ok, it’s just the hands that are constantly exposed to the harsh, dry climate since I don’t wear gloves and it is virtually impossible to even if I had wanted to because I need to work, sans gloves. 20131128-083300.jpg

But cold and sunny is definitely better than cold and rainy/drizzly/gloomy. At least when I step outside I don’t feel like the climate is making me depressed. Whether it is for work or play, I’m sure most people prefer sunny days, because it just makes us feel better. Rain is good, only when I’m indoors and sipping on a cup of hot cocoa, wrapped up in a thick, fuzzy blanket with nice music piped in in the background.

This is the kind of weather that goes perfectly well with Christmas actually, the cold (and the sun that I like), but I am looking forward to going home as well. Today is the final day of work here, and this has been a fairly good trip. Maybe psychologically I already feel good about it, especially it being the year-end and this being the last trip, and for the whole of the 10 or so days that I have been in Shanghai thus far, only Sunday was a downer because it rained pretty much the whole day and it was cold, windy and gloomy. The other days were fine, with bouts of sunshine and cloudiness, but usually mornings are bright and cheery.

Happy Thursday everyone! It’s Friday tomorrow!

missing in action

Wow, now I know how unimaginative I am when it comes to naming my posts. As I created this post with “Missing in action”, I realised this is the third post with this title. Haha.

Anyway, as I harped on the fact that November is a hectic month, I wasn’t kidding. Sometime in the second week of the month, I travelled to Manila for a business trip for a week, left and came back home on a Friday night, had a whirlwind of a weekend that basically had me stuck in the classrooms of the language school I attend for Japanese classes, then on early Monday morning, I went off to the airport again for a 2-week business trip to Shanghai.

By the time this assignment is done and I fly home next week, November would have effectively just flashed past. And I am still not done by then, because when I get back next week, I have more classes to attend on Saturday, and then it will be December. Where did all this time go to?

I am not complaining about being kept busy, but I just wanted to rant about missing the festive mood of Christmas back home. It isn’t that there is really that much of a difference in Singapore but maybe where I am at, it also is not overflowing with yuletide mirth.

Oh well, at least I still have some bandwidth to soak in Christmas spirit in December. 🙂

For today, I am thankful that it is Friday and I am looking forward to the weekend!