Spotted this while in Hong Kong!
Living in India, I had forgotten that Christmas was coming up. I knew it was soon but had forgotten how soon, as there is very little indication here of the approaching festival.
Unlike in Europe and I am sure in the U.S, the streets aren’t decorated and most shops don’t display anything Christmassy at all.
Even when I lived in Auckland, the Christmas decorations were pretty sad. To be fair it may have changed now as I haven’t been back for 6 years, but there used to be a few lonely stars strung up in Queen St, (the main shopping street) and there was a large and creepy animatronic Santa on the side of one of the buildings. Creepy because one of his eyelids went up and down in a very slow wink as he beckoned passers-by with an equally slowly bending fore- finger, giving the impression of a dirty old man inviting you to sit on his lap.
Asia does Christmas really well. If you are ever in Hong Kong at this time, for example, you must take a boat trip on the harbour and see the massive skyscrapers lit up with different Christmas scenes; 40 storey Christmas trees, or Santa and his reindeer flying around the building (in light form) Last year one of the malls had even built a mountain complete with a working Ski-lift ferrying half-size model humans up and down it’s slopes.
I used to deliberately take a route home that meant crossing through the Lobby of the old Mandarin Hotel so I would be given a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts by the Hotel doorman.
It was only when I arrived in Singapore last week and left the airport that I realised what time of the year it was. It was the herds of red Reindeer gambolling under the Banyan Trees that gave it away.
The decorations here are fantastic and it doesn’t take long to get over the incongruity of Snowmen, Reindeer and Christmas trees in 32 degrees heat. The main shopping street Orchard Rd looks stunning at night with beautiful lights strung all along it, icicles hanging from the trees and outside every mall beautiful Christmas trees, each one different and many of them 2 or 3 storeys high.
A few months ago I had posted about a Rolls-Royce I had spotted in Hong Kong reminding me of Lady Penelope‘s car in the children’s series Thunderbirds ( read here ). Some of you probably thought I had an over active imagination or had been inhaling the fumes of something hallucinogenic.
Well I spotted this on the web today which proves that I am not completely loopy!
I have been fortunate enough to live in many different countries in the world and I have learnt that deep down we are all the same. No one race or culture is good or bad.
As the Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race”.
Being a white guy I was pretty insulated from racism growing up. My school and college were fairly multi-cultural and kids any way just get on with life. It doesn’t matter where your class mates are from, they are just your mates.
However once I started travelling I encountered racial discrimination more and more. While living in Hong Kong for example I often saw Hong Kong people holding their noses while sitting next to Indians on the bus and even refusing to sit next to anyone from the African continent.
When I returned to New Zealand, a country I thought was open and accepting of all, was shocked to see my (Indian) wife refused service in shops and excluded from conversations because the other person assumed she couldn’t speak English.
Now living in India where my skin color puts me in the minority it is my turn to experience discrimination. I have been excluded from temples (See here), had distant relatives refuse to shake my hand at my wedding, and of course I have lost count of the numerous times I have heard that many of the problems in India are because of the West. To top it all off, yesterday I was told that as I am a Westerner I have no manners, values or culture. This too by a man I caught stealing the neighbor’s water from their storage tank!
To be honest the majority of the people I come into contact with treat me very well, and I have been welcomed and accepted into people’s homes, families and communities.
But it makes my blood boil when small minded people make a judgment about someone based on where they were born and brought up.
Come on guys! Get on with it, stop discriminating and judging. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what you believe in, at the end of the day we are all pink inside, bleed red when we are cut and all have to sit down to take a dump!
There are macarons and there are macarons. I like to think I am becoming a bit of a connoisseur although this is a little big-headed of me as my sole experience of good macarons is when I partook of the delicious items at Laduree in Singapore(which I posted about here) after which I realized that all other macarons paled in comparison. A Macaron snob is probably a more apt description.
A recent trip to Hong Kong gave me the opportunity to indulge my new passion once again as there is a branch of another famous French Patissiere called Pierre Herme.
The shop is in the IFC Mall on HK Island, located very conveniently on the route I took every day from the office back to my hotel. Never being one to resist temptation I popped in on the first day to sample Monsieur Herme’s wares. Purely of course in the interests of culinary science as I wanted to compare with the Laduree macarons I had eaten in Singapore.
It’s a small shop. Smaller than Laduree in Singapore, perhaps reflecting the higher cost of real estate in HK, however there is still plenty of room for the glass display case filled with brightly colored macarons, like Blackbeard’s chest filled with treasure.
The first order of business is to choose a gift box, all different sizes and designs, the boxes themselves being quite collectible. One then gets down to the serious task of deciding what to fill the box with.
There are 17 different flavors plus there are often special flavors which are not on the regular menu. When I was there they had 4- 5 yoghurt filled macarons to choose from.
This makes it very difficult for a glutton like me, because I have to try all 17 flavors to decide which ones I like but by the time I have tried all 17 I have forgotten my preferences and have to start all over again. Terrible but sometimes one has to make these sacrifices!
In the end I settled for a small selection and took them back to my room for a little feast.
The macarons are truly a delight to the taste buds. Crispy on the outside with just the right amount of gooiness on the inside and each flavor distinctly different.
Some of the flavor descriptions are fantastic. How about “Pure Origin Peruvian Dark Chocolate, Morropan Province, Village of Asprobo”, or “Pistachio, Ceylon Cinnamon & Morello Cherry”? “White Truffle & Roasted Piedmont Hazelnut Slivers”? Or the Boss’s favorite” Mandarin Orange Olive Oil & Cucumber Water”. One even sounds like an aftershave: “Vanilla, Old Gold Agricultural Rum & Cedar Wood”. I wasn’t sure whether to eat it or rub it all over my face!
I loved the South American dark chocolate varieties (dark chocolate being another one of my numerous vices) but my overall favorite has to be the “Infiniment Café Au Café Vert Et Au Café Bourbon Pointu De La Reunion” or Green Coffee and Refined Bourbon Coffee from Reunion for the linguistically inept like me.
The big question is whose are better? Laduree’s or Pierre Herme’s? I honestly can’t say. Both are delicious and the flavors so varied it is hard to compare. Both places, the macarons are so moreish it is really difficult to restrain oneself from gorging on them. Also to be fair I had a little too much gap between visiting Laduree and visiting Pierre Herme so it is difficult to have an accurate flavor comparison. There is only one solution. I am back in Singapore at the end of the month so it looks like I will have to pay a repeat visit to Laduree to refresh my taste memories.
Remember I am doing this all for you my readers!
The Boss and I were in Pondicherry last weekend. Pondicherry is a part of India which was once ruled by the French. It still retains a lot of Gallic influences and it is not uncommon to hear French spoken on the streets.
We were there to attend a wedding. A wedding with a Mexican Bride and an Indian Groom in a resort owned by an Indian adopted by a French couple and now residing in France. The Bride and Groom met in the U.S. and now reside in Bangalore.
People had come from all over the world. 90 people had traveled over 20 hours by train from the cyclone hit state of Orissa to be with the Groom, many still without power in their homes.
The couple’s meditation teacher traveled 24 hours by train to lead a meditation and blessing on the morning of the wedding.
The first guest I met was a Spaniard whose nickname is Kiwi, given to him after spending 6 years in New Zealand. He has now lived in India for 11 years and speaks Tamil!
I met a French speaking Mexican from Montreal. Mexicans from Australia, from the United States. A Greek from New York. A Dane and his Mexican wife, ……… they met in Hungary.
I met a girl from Estonia. The first Estonian I have ever met. She had come with her Mexican boyfriend whom she met in Cambodia.
I met a delightful Mother and daughter from Guatemala. The daughter was born in Kenya.
A Colombian couple, she from Chicago, he from London. A French girl ( who is also English – see comments below) living in Mexico City.
And then there is us. A Kiwi married to an Indian after meeting in Hong Kong and who now live in India. A Kiwi who was born in Cyprus, to a mother from New Zealand, whose own parents were from England and Scotland. To an English father who was born in Bangalore and whose own father was English and mother was Anglo-Indian from Kerala.
It is fitting that the wedding took place in Pondicherry the spiritual home of Mirra Alfassa, a French lady born to a Turkish father and Egyptian mother and who made India her home. Known as The Mother, she established the nearby township of Auroville, the city of human unity, in 1964 and it is now home to over 43 different nationalities.
To quote The Mother:
“Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
On a smaller scale this wedding did the same.
A lot of new friendships were born during the celebrations. Friendships which will lead to new and wonderful experiences.
As the bride said to me after the wedding: “the circle expands”
On a recent flight to Singapore while waiting for the inflight entertainment to start, I was leafing through the inflight mag looking at the pretty pictures.
Suddenly a picture of some brightly colored macarons caught my eye.
Now Tommy doesn’t get along well with gluten which limits the range of sweets he can gorge himself on. However macarons are on the allowed list so the photo piqued my interest and I felt Tommy awakening in his lair.
Reading further I discovered that the famous French Patisserie, Laduree had opened up in Singapore and was not far from the hotel where I would be staying. Gently arousing the Boss from her slumber with a quick elbow to the ribs, I told her of the grand plan formulating in my
Sure enough after settling into the hotel room we headed down Orchard Rd to Ngee Ann City to sample some French sweetness.
The shop is a delight to the eyes with it’s chandeliers and pale green interior lined with gift boxes and macaron towers. Taking pride of place in the center is the glass case filled with multicolored macarons.
Not knowing where to start we asked the helpful staff for advice. They are not cheap at SGD$3.80 each so financial propriety won over gluttony and we chose four different flavors based on their recommendations.
Macarons packed and paid for we walked out the door and after only a few steps unable to resist temptation any longer we decided to eat one. 30 secs later the bag was empty and we were back in the shop being greeted again by the knowing grins of the shop assistants!
Throwing financial caution to the winds we bought another selection of flavors and this time vowed not to eat them before returning to the hotel room, which was an exercise in extreme willpower as they are mouth-wateringly delicious.
The dark chocolate and the salted caramel were my particular favorites, although I have to say it is hard to pick one flavor over another as they are all very good. Tommy was just grateful for some sugar.
So if you find yourself in Orchard Rd in Singapore pop into Laduree in Ngee Ann City. Your taste buds will thank me.
By the way, I am off to Hong Kong this week and I hear another “Master of Macarons” (just made that up but it sounds like a French Superhero) has opened in the IFC Mall on HK Island. It is called Pierre Herme and another blogger reckons it is better than Laduree. Never one to believe something without testing it for myself I intend to pay Monsieur Herme a visit. Watch this space!
Takashimaya S.C., Ngee Ann City, #02-09 – Singapore
Tel: + 65 6884 7361
No I’m not a Gigolo, but that is not to say that I won’t consider any reasonable offers! (Just don’t tell The Boss!)
On my last trip to HK I indulged in a bit of what people in the travel hacking business call mattress running/hopping. Not as exciting as you would first think but it certainly has it’s rewards.
I am a member of the loyalty program for IHG Hotels Group which includes hotels from the Holiday Inn Express up to the Intercontinental. The Boss and I recently had two free nights in the Intercontinental Bangkok paid for by loyalty points (mentioned here) so I was keen to replenish my account.
Knowing I had at least 4 nights in HK I logged on to the IHG website and looked through their promotional offers.
Normally a stay earns points at the rate of 10 points per USD$1 spent so it takes a bit of spending to get enough points for a free stay in a decent hotel. Traveling for work, I was only given a budget for a cheaper hotel so staying at the Holiday Inn Express for the equivalent of USD$173 per night would only get me around 7000 points. A free night at an Intercontinental starts from 35,000 points so 7000 points is not going to go very far. Another tricky condition that can catch you out is that whether you stay one night or 3 at the same hotel it is considered as 1 stay.
When looking through all the promotional offers I found that there were bonuses available for 3 stays. There are two Holiday Inn Express’ on HK Island so the devious side of my brain kicked in and I booked the first night in one, the second and third nights in another, returning to the first hotel for the final night. Luckily having lived in HK I know the two locations well and HK public transport being excellent knew that transferring between the two locations would be simple.
I also found that there were a number of other bonus point offers I could qualify for so I registered for them all, gleefully anticipating the points haul I would accumulate, but in fact getting a bigger kick out of manipulating the system.
So the second day in HK I checked out of the hotel, jumped in a taxi and was at the 2nd hotel within 15 minutes. Left my bags with the concierge, spent the day in the office and returned in the evening to check in, repeating the process again on the 4th day, returning to the first hotel. the staff welcoming me back with a smile and thanking me for staying with them again.
Two weeks later the points arrived in my account.
The final total?
Enough for 1 free night in the Intercontinental Bangkok with some left over. IHG also have the Points Breaks promotion every couple of months where Hotels around the world are offered for only 5000 points per night. Sometimes there are gems like the Intercontinental Fiji or the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake.
So for a minor inconvenience of changing rooms every couple of days I now have enough points for 8 free nights in fancy hotel. And the best thing is it didn’t cost me a cent personally!
Here my memory has played tricks on me. I spotted this Rolls Royce while in Hong Kong. Rumored to belong to Billionaire Tycoon Stanley Ho, it immediately made me think back to the Thunderbirds series I used to love as a kid, in particular Lady Penelope‘s Rolls Royce “FAB-1“.
However when I googled her car for this post I realised that my memory is not so reliable (something the Boss points out quite often). Apart from the fact it is pink, FAB-1 bears no resemblance to the car above!