Lining up in a mall doesn’t make sense

I’m all for social distancing, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was of having people line up outside of stores inside of the mall.

The food court at Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall on 9/5/2020

I had to make a run out to Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, NJ this weekend. I had to drop off a return at the Amazon Books store in the mall. It was something I ordered online but that just didn’t work out quite how I wanted it to and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone: drop off the return and then drive 5 minutes over to IKEA and pick up a few things I’ve been looking to get since pre-COVID.

I figured there would be people in the mall, especially on a holiday weekend, but the crowds were massive. It was so packed in the common areas that I often had to walk slowly behind people or veer wide around large groups. There were often bottlenecks caused by lines of people trying to get into stores next to kiosks. It was often shoulder to shoulder. Keeping people in lines outside of stores was actually increasing instances of close contact.

I’d never been inside that mall before. It’s almost ridiculously big. I don’t really like shopping in person anymore but I’m interested in going back, hopefully when it’s not as crowded. I guess it’s because of how empty the city has been recently, but I actually started to get agitated by the crowds. It became uncomfortable and I had to get out of there.

I never made it into the IKEA either. Earlier on this year when IKEA first opened up again, I remember reading about long, long lines of people waiting to get into IKEA stores. Months later, they’re still a thing. There must have been 250+ people waiting to get into IKEA and the store was scheduled to close an hour and 20 minutes later. Half of the people there waiting weren’t even going to make it in the door, so I just kept driving and went on home.

I keep wondering when things are going to get back to normal. Will it be right after the election? Will it be next year sometime? Never?

And does it really matter anymore? I’d like to go back to the museums, but I’m not going to give myself the headache of trying to prepurchase tickets at tourist rates for specified time-slots. Other than that and the lines at IKEA, my day-to-day hasn’t really changed that much. Though, thinking about it, it would be nice to sit down at a restaurant again too.

Public Toilets in Malls in the Philippines

Today while at Megamall in Manila, I had reason to visit one of the public toilets.  It took me a while, because the restroom was crowded, but I finally managed to secure a stall.  When I walked in, there was piss all over the floor, no toilet seat, and no toilet paper.  I wasn’t expecting that, but when I saw it I remembered that it’s always that way.  I first visited Manila in 2008 and noted that the public toilets never seem to have paper or even toilet seats available. 

It seems like such a basic commodity to have in public restrooms that I always take for granted that some will be available.  Back in 2008, I asked my wife why there aren’t any toilet seats or paper and she said it’s probably because if it were there, people would steal it.  That makes sense and she’s from the Philippines so her guess is better than mine.

So, if you’re going out, even to a seemingly high end shopping center, be sure to bring your own stock of toilet paper.  It wouldn’t hurt to bring antibacterial wet hand wipes either.  Or, if you’re really in need of comfort, there is one other solution, which, thankfully, fit perfectly into our plans for our evening out.

On the 5th (or 4th?) floor of Megamall there are quite a few massage / pedicure / manicure / etc. type parlors.  You can treat yourself, or your spouse, to one of these services and then partake of their pleasant smelling, well appointed restrooms, like the one pictured below.  I don’t remember the name of the place but it’s pretty nice and my wife says she got good service there, so we’ll be going back for massages soon.  More on that later!

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Tapa King in Singapore

Tapa King Banner

Tapa King is a restaurant that serves a popular Filipino dish called tapsilog.  The restaurant is very popular in the Philippines and has finally opened branches here in Singapore at Lau Pa Sat (same place as where the only Wendy’s in Singapore is) and one at Century Square in Tampines.  There may be other branches but those are the only two I’m aware of.

Anyhow, my wife found out about it because of a person handing out flyers by the Tampines MRT station.  She was a little disappointed at first but then realized she should check the food court.  It wouldn’t make sense for them to hand out flyers there otherwise.  Sure enough, Century Square had a Tapa King outlet:

Tapa King Menu

She was so excited she couldn’t wait to share the experience with me, and I mean that literally.  She went there for lunch and then told me in great detail about how good it was.  Tapa King’s reputation is well known to Filipinos and many of them were lined up, along with curious locals, to get a taste of this great Filipino dish.

Line at Tapa King

She didn’t want me to miss out on the experience so she sent me a copy of the menu so I could choose something for her to bring home with her:

Tapa King:

Tender beef strips marinated in a savory sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Queen

Tender beef strips marinated in a spicy sweetish sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Prince

Tender beef strips marinated in sweetish sauce cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic fried rice.

Tapa Joe

Tender beef strips cut in small pieces marinated in herbs and spices cooked over a griddle, served with fried egg, chopped tomato and garlic.

They all sounded pretty good, but I went ahead and asked for the Tapa King.  The tapa dishes are their specialty so we didn’t bother with the other dishes.  My wife says the Spicy Tuyo is good, but it’s dried fish and she figured I wouldn’t like that.  Crispy Liempo is a piece of pork, if you’re wondering.

When she got home I eagerly opened the box, ready to dig in:

Tapa King Meal

Tapa King Meal

When I took the first bite, I knew I’d found a new favorite dish.  I literally found myself scraping the container to get the last few bits of garlic rice and wished I’d had a second helping available.  I’m excited to try the other versions the next time I’m in Tampines.

If you’re interested in trying some Filipino cuisine in Singapore, then I highly recommend Tapa King.  You definitely won’t be disappointed!

The Med at Orchard Central, Almost Ready For Business

At the beginning of November my wife and I went to Orchard Road to look at the Christmas decorations.  While we were there we walked through Orchard Central.  A lot of the good decorations are inside the malls after all!  While we were exploring, we noticed that the very bottom level of Orchard Central was still closed off.  It was still under construction.  The decor looked fascinating though, so I took some pictures. (Scroll to the bottom of that post to see them).

Well, it turns out that as of this past weekend (at least) it’s open for people to go down and look around.  There’s still nothing open down there, but it was neat to see what they’ve already done with the place.  In keeping with the rest of the mall’s appearance, the decor and style that’s gone into the basement level is impressive.
The whole floor will be called “The Med” and it’s going to be a Mediterranean style eating area.  So, I’m assuming there’ll be a lot of Italian food.  I’m hoping it won’t be that bland though.  I’m hoping they’ll be bold and have restaurants serving Greek, Egyptian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes, among others.  Just going by the way looks, I have a feeling the prices will be a bit steep.  Let’s hope it’s worth it!  I’m looking forward to trying the restaurants out once they’re open.
Speaking of the class of people the area will cater to, I laughed when I saw the sign down there showing the concept picture of the finished area.  It was packed with Caucasian people.  Do they think no locals will eat or shop there?  Is it only to cater to tourists?  Here’s an image of the part of the sign I’m talking about:
And a few photos of the area:
Even the bathrooms are well-appointed.
These last three photos are of a mural painted on the wall directly across from the escalators.  It’ll be the first thing you see when you enter the level, assuming you don’t use the stairs that go directly to it from street level.  I was really impressed with it.  The colors are very vivid and attractive.  It’s not a sticker or a poster either.  It was actually painted on.
Hopefully in about a month or so the restaurants will open their doors to customers, but for now it’s still worth it just to go down and have a look at the level of work and attention to detail that’s been put into creating a Mediterranean atmosphere in subterranean Singapore.

Ion Mall

When Ion Mall first opened downtown I took a look through it.  Well, it wasn’t exactly when it opened, but it was close.  Maybe a week later.  I came in from the ground level and went up a few floors and poked around a bit, but I wasn’t that impressed.  Most of the stores are high end like Giorgio Armani, and other crap that I don’t care to know the name of.  In other words, it was sterile and just like almost every other mall on Orchard Road.  I didn’t stay long on that trip either.  Besides my lack of interest in what was available, most of the stores were still closed.  They opened the mall to shoppers long before the place was full.

The one thing I did see that interested me while I was walking around was a dragon dance for a store opening.  After I stood around and watched that for a while, I got bored and left.  I was hungry and didn’t see a food court so I was in a bit of a hurry to get to Tampines.  I had a craving for beef pepper rice!

Yesterday (Friday night) I had the chance to go back through Ion, and I was actually a bit impressed.  The place is a lot bigger than I expected and the food court was impressive!

I guess the most impressive thing about the mall is its size.  The first time I went there I was in a bit of hurry and gave the place the brush off after a cursory walk through.  I think part of the problem is that I entered the place from the ground level.  I had no idea just what was lurking below!

This time around my wife and I were coming from Shaw Center so we used the tunnels underground to get into Ion.  We almost got lost but then we saw a sign pointing towards “Jewelry Street” for Ion.  I think that was the name.  We followed it and sure enough it was lined with jewelry stores.  It passed around the turn-styles for the MRT and brought us into Ion Mall itself… on the 4th basement I believe.

Ion is huge underground.  I didn’t even realize we were in a basement at first.  We kept walking and walking and we kept going up more and more escalators and then I realized I saw doors and we were on the ground level.  It was a bit disorienting at first.  By the time we got to the ground floor we’d seen so much that we were ready to leave.

My initial assessment about what type of stores the place has didn’t change.  It’s mostly high end stuff that’s nice to look at, but isn’t really worth buying.  Not in my opinion anyway.  Not to mention that most of what we saw seemed to be overpriced.  I imagine part of that huge gap in prices was due to the rent the stores are paying for those locations but we saw a skin care product that costs 19 USD being sold for 68 SGD.  It would be cheaper to have two of them bought for us in the US and shipped to us than it would be to buy one in Singapore.  Crazy!  So, Ion is nice to spend time in for sightseeing purposes, but I don’t think I’ll do any real shopping there any time soon.

What I was impressed with was the food court.  We were in the mood for some kopi, so I kept an eye out for signs to the food court.  When we found it, we were pleasantly surprised with how classy the place looks given that it’s just a food court.  That’s something I’ve noticed about Singapore though.  They really do food courts right here when it comes to setting a nice atmosphere.  My favorites are the Food Republic at Vivocity, which looks like a street out of a stereotypical back alley ‘Chinatown’ and the Food Republic at the SunTec Convention Center, which looks like a library.  Very cool!  This one had it’s own unique charm though and, as you can see in the photo above, is called the Food Opera.  (Geek moment: The first thing I thought of is the Opera web browser when I saw this sign).

Here are some photos of the place:

I wasn’t really expecting to see deer heads mounted on walls anywhere in Singapore, let alone in a posh mall’s food court.  Hey, thanks!  It reminded me of home.

The food was displayed quite nicely in the stalls.  I love the whole hanging piglet.  That really adds a nice touch!

The seating area is nice.  There are the standard tables and long bench type seats.  The chandeliers were fun!

Scattered around the seating area were various statues of animals.  Kids were playing with them and I saw a few other people posing to have photos taken with them, or taking photos of the statues alone.  Kinda lame when you think about it, but on the other hand I don’t recall ever seeing anything like this in the US.  Not at a food court anyway.

Me playing with the goat.

While we were there we only had kopi.  I had mine iced and my wife took hers hot.  It was pretty good.  It wasn’t too strong or too mild.  We’d already eaten or I’d have tried some of the food there.  I think we’ll go back just for that.  I didn’t see her but while I was in line to get the drinks my wife spotted a lady pushing a cart around selling food items.  She said the lady had chicken feet.

It reminded me of some Chinese restaurants I’d been to in New York City’s Chinatown where a server will come around with a cart and you take what you want from it.  I don’t recall if there was a menu to order from but if you just take from the carts you pay by how many plates you have when you leave.  I can’t remember the name of the place but it was under a bridge I think.  That was about 18 years ago.  Heck, it might not even be there anymore.

In the end, I wasn’t overly impressed with the mall itself, but I’m always happy when I find another set of eating establishments to feast at.

Posted via email from Bradley’s Posterous

Kopi Alley (at Downtown East)

One of the best things about Singapore, to me anyway, has been the food.  Also, as a coffee lover, it didn’t take me long to try the Kopi that you can find at most every hawker center in Singapore.  There are people that hate it, but somehow I got addicted to the stuff and love to have it after dinner whenever possible.  I won’t go into the details of how it’s prepared, because I honestly don’t know them, but it’s well worth trying if you ever get the chance.

There are plenty of places you can go to get Kopi.  Like I said, you can get it from hawker centers, but there are also fancier looking restaurants set up in malls that sell Kopi.  Some of them call it coffee, like the place on the bottom level of White Sands in Pasir Ris (Kayakun Toast I think?), but it’s still the same, and it’s still good.

Here are some photos of Kopi Alley at Downtown East:

I really like the design theme they went with for Kopi Alley, and I was a bit surprised, considering what they sell.  It looks nicer than a lot of so-called fine dining restaurants I’ve been in.  By the way, the total cost for the items in the last 3 photos was only 5.30 SGD.  That’s not too bad at all, and it was overkill.  We went there after dinner and we wound up not finishing that chocolate spread toast, so we could’ve done without it.  It was a bit too sweet too, but… what did I expect, ordering chocolate spread toast?

Shopping in Singapore

One of the things you might often here myself or my wife saying as we walk along the aisles in a store or supermarket is “It costs how much?!” One of the hardest things for me to get used to is the difference in the value of the currency. So, costs initially seem high to me on first glance. Often, after I take the time to pull out my phone and check the conversion rate, it’s not as bad as I had thought. Sometimes it’s still priced higher than what I’m used to, but you also have to consider import fees. On top of that, there’s a 7% GST (goods and services tax).

Sometimes though, I just can’t figure out where the difference in cost is going. Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of merchants overcharging because they can. It’s as if anything that even hints of luxury here, whether it be a pair of Asics (225 SGD?) or a pair of jeans (120 SGD?), gets a hefty price tag put on it.

One way to get around this is to keep an eye out for sales. This is also one way I’ve determined that ‘normal’ prices are often too high. The sales will often price items at 50% or more below the normal price. Now, you know that even if there is a sale, the company still wants to make a profit, and if they can make a profit at 50 – 60% off, then the ‘normal’ price is a bit steep. That’s fine. That’s just how it is here. It just teaches you something, and that’s to keep an eye on flyers and make sure you know when there’s going to be a sale on an item you’ve had your eye on.

So, when you’re walking around in Singapore, don’t go nuts when you see the prices. Remember the conversion rates, remember the import fees, and remember to wait for the sales.

Despite knowing all that, sometimes I’m still shocked, like when I saw these cereal prices:

And it’s not just the Cheerios. Have a look at some of the other items along the shelves in this photo:

As much as I love them, I’m not going to pay over 10 bucks for a box of plain Cheerios. I mean, they weren’t even Honey Nut Cheerios. Don’t these go for about 3.50 or 4 dollars a box in the US? I decided to be reasonable and I got the 5 dollar box of Capt’n Crunch instead. That’s a decent price, and the stuff is good!