Monday, 9 April 2012

A Nice Catch (Prawning, Bishan Park, Singapore)

A friend of mine invited me to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on the beaches, bars, clubs and  restaurants of Sentosa Island. However, Singapore having a wet and humid climate, you better prepare for plan B, since it might start raining at any time.

April is in the so-called inter-monsoon period, and thunderstorms, usually severe, occur in the early morning and afternoon. Due to the humidity, it also feels a lot hotter than it is.

PrawnFishing_EntranceHaiBinAlthough we didn’t check the local weather forecast, we where not surprised by the afternoon thunderstorm. My friends called and asked me if i would agree to switching the planned beach ‘activity’ to pond fishing. Of course I agreed, but little did I know that we were going for prawn fishing. That detail I only learned in the car.

So of we drove to Hai Bin Prawing in Bishan park (image of the entrance above).

Yes, it is Real, I’m not Kidding

PrawnFishing_Rods_GST_4324People living outside Asia might look a bit sceptical now. Really, prawn fishing, and with a rod?

PrawnFishing_BigPrawn_4333Keep in mind however that these prawns are not the very small variety sold in Europe, but are of the big fresh water variety commonly known here as big head prawns (‘Dua Tou Heh’ in Teochew).

The picture on the right should give you a good idea about the size of these little monsters.

How to Get to Hai Bin Prawning

PrawnFishing_EscapedPrawn_4The full address is 603, Sing Ming Avenue, Singapore 575735, but most taxi drivers will find the place if you tell them to drive to “prawn fishing at Bishan park”. A taxi from the city centre should cost you less then SGD 20.

A much cheaper option is to use the MRT and alight at the Bishan MRT station. Bishan MRT Station is on the Circle Line and on the North South line.

Especially during the week-ends, I would recommend using the Circle Line, since the North South line will be packed by eager shoppers.  Then take bus 52 or 54 opposite the station for 4 stops.

How Much Does Fish Prawning Cost?

PrawnFishing_Pricing_4323The current price (April 2011) was

  • SGD 18,- for one hour/rod or
  • SGD 33,- for two hours plus one hour free.

This price includes the bait (chicken liver or heart) and a rod.

PrawnFishing_BeerOtak_4339I would recommend to go for three hours, this seems like a nice period of time to enjoy your friends, have some beers, buy some food such as chicken wings or otak-otak (spicy fish paste wrapped in banana leaf) and put some of the catch on the BBQ (yes, BBQ pits are provided!). The perfect ingredients for a lazy Sunday!

Prawning House Rules

PrawnFishing_Houserules_4329There are some house rules that must be obeyed in order not to scare the prawns, your friends or the other customers. The sign reads as follows (this might scare some grammar Nazis however):

  • Only single hook is allowed
  • Do not attempt to hook the prawns (I thought that was our objective, but I might be misunderstanding this)
  • Do not use nets to catch the prawns
  • Do not use pork or beef as bait
  • Do not throw litter into the prawn pond
  • Kindly produce your receipt upon request by staff
  • Kindly return the things to original positions after use
  • Counter will not supplied any fishing equipment to personal rod
  • Do not eat and smoke on the bridge
  • Do not spit.

Secrets of the Trade

PrawnFishing_Pond1_4325Pssst, do not tell this to anyone else, keep it a secret between us two.

We will be kings and queens of the Prawn Fishers while the common people will drool at our catch of the day which will be sizzling away on our BBQ pits.

With great danger to my life and personal belongings, I managed to get access to the real truth on how to be a success at prawning:

  • Do not put too much bait on the hook
  • Cover the point of the hook, but leave a small amount free (this makes it easier to hook the prawn, once it bites)
  • Change the bait every 10 minutes
  • Point your rod downwards, and let the float, erm, float
  • Observe the float
  • When the float sinks, give the rod a light snap
  • Pull the prawn out of the water, grab it from behind (careful, they do have claws), and unhook.

Conclusion

Prawning is great fun. With 3 rods, we managed to catch about 20 delicious prawns in 3 hours. Good enough to start bragging about, although I have seen claims (but no proofs) that people hooked 40 prawns in one session single-handed.

PrawnFishing_FishSpa_4353Maybe we should start a blog such as the Bragging Board.

For those that are not into prawning, the food court nearby is really good, and other relaxing activities can be enjoyed nearby.

See you there next week!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Hop on a bus, Gus (Singapore - Johor Bahru)

Johor Bahru (more commonly known as JB) is the state capital of Johor and, from Singapore, is the gateway to neighbouring Malaysia when travelling by car or bus. It is a very popular destination amongst Singaporeans because most prices there - but not all, buyer beware - are about half of those in Singapore.
For foreigners in Singapore the attraction is that you can go travel to JB in less than an hour and be back in no time. This might come in handy if you were enjoying Singapore that much that you find yourself in desperate need to extend your tourist visa. Since Singapore is very well organised, you could just have asked for an extension on line but why not enjoy the hospitality and good food in Malaysia?
Another reason for an Ang-Moh to travel to JB is that it is far more easier there to find proper clothes that fit the average size of European or American men and women. Indeed, one of the surprises of my stay in Singapore is that it is challenging to find ‘XXL’ clothes, in many stores only  clothes from size ‘XXXS’ to size ‘L’ are sold. Thanks to the healthy Asian food in Singapore I’m now down to ‘XL’ sized clothes, but even if ‘XL’-size clothes are more commonly available, they might be too short for your height. Yes, there are big differences between Asian, American and European cloth sizes!
But back to the topic of this post: how to travel to JB on a budget? By far the cheapest option is to go by bus, but there is a bewildering number of choices, and the many sites where they calculate the cheapest fares really don’t make the choice easier. After hours of reading, you’ll find out that those sites
  • don’t use the current prices;
  • are uncertain over the total price when you combine a trip on the Singapore MRT and the bus; and
  • are often connected to one of the bus companies.
Don’t waste your time, the maximal amount you can possibly save is about 2 SGD, but the time you would spend is lost forever. Why not make a quick choice by following my guidelines and have more time to enjoy the delicious food in Malaysia?

Keep your cool!

Malaysian-CW-Bus-at-Kranji-From Singapore one can travel by public transport to Johor with a Malaysian bus company or a Singaporean company. The Malaysian companies are slightly cheaper, but the busses do not have air-conditioning, while the Singaporean busses do.
Since the climate of Singapore is really, really hot and humid all year through, it might be wiser to go by Singaporean transport if you cannot stand the heat, especially if you start your bus trip from the central district of Singapore which takes about an hour.
In case you choose a bus just for the 10 minutes trip between Kranji MRT (picture above) and the JB checkpoint, this is not really important. 

Time is Money?

Malaysian buses are only allowed to have one stop in Singapore, not counting the checkpoints. The reverse is also true: Singapore bus companies are only allowed to have one stop in Malaysia. 
Conclusion: if you travel from Singapore and are in a hurry, it is better to travel by a Malaysian bus to the checkpoint: they will not stop in Singapore but will travel directly to the checkpoint. And vice versa, if you travel from Malaysia to Singapore, it is faster to go by Singaporean bus to the checkpoint. In total, you might save about half an hour from and to JB.
Note that if you switch bus after the checkpoint, you need to pay again. But don’t worry: this will be cost you less than SGD 2.  Save time or money, the choice is yours!

Combine bus with MRT

Kranji-MRT-bus-stopA slightly faster way to travel to JB is to combine MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) and bus: as a tourist or foreigner this is quite easy to combine: one can pay with the EZ-Link card on both Singaporean bus and MRT.
The EZ-link card can be bought (and topped up) at the ticket-office of all MRT stations and is also available from lots of other places, such as the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores. 
The best option is to proceed to the Kranji MRT station and follow the signs to bus stop 1. Both Malaysian bus operators as well as Singaporean bus operators stop there to pick up passengers. In the picture above you see the queue for the Singapore bus (bus 170), while the Malaysian bus (CW1) is picking up passengers. Tickets for the Malaysian bus can be bought where the bus halts.
Note: the Kranji MRT station is on the red-coloured North-South line, but I advise you to take the green  East-West line first when travelling from the Central District. Alight at the Jurong East interchange, just cross the platform and take the MRT to Kranji MRT. A trip on the East-West line to Jurong East will take less than half an hour, and on most occasions, you’ll be able to sit.
Especially on week-ends and public holidays the North-South line will be very crowded with people going on a shopping trip in one of the 22 mega-malls of Orchard Road.  

Double-Check Everything

Departure-Hall---Singapore-The bus will take you to the Singaporean checkpoint (picture of the entrance on the left, do not take pictures after that point, it is forbidden) at the Causeway first.
You must alight the bus, take all your belongings and pass the Singaporean checkpoint. You did bring your passport, didn’t you?
This might be extremely bewildering for foreigners at first. But don’t panic, just follow the flow of passengers.
Waiting-for-bus-170After the passport check, which should not take more than a few minutes unless you are travelling on Chinese New Year or a public holiday, take the stairs down, and proceed to the bus-stop (picture of the queue on the right), where you will take a bus with the same number (Malaysian or Singaporean) to proceed your voyage. Note: this is not the same bus that brought you there, just one servicing the same line. Just find the correct queue.
This bus will take you to the new Malaysian checkpoint (Sultan Iskander CIQ complex), where once again, you will have to take all your belongings ,leave the bus, and proceed to the passport check. After that, you have the choice to travel further by bus, take a taxi, or just follow the signs and start spending some money in the City Square Mall.

Ok, show me the bus stops

See above if you want to travel by MRT and bus.
In case you want to take the bus (public transport) from the Central District, proceed to the Queen Street terminal (near Bugis MRT station).
Take bus 170 (Singapore SMRT) and pay cash or by EZ-Link card. Or take bus CW2 (Malaysian operator) and pay cash.  Every 10 minutes or so there is a new bus. The trip will cost less then SGD 2,-!
Another option is to go by Express bus or Coach. These cost however more and maybe I’ll write about my experiences with them in a future blog post. 

Brag about the money saved

After your trip, you deserve to relax with a cold beer to balance all that spicy food you ate in JB. There is probably no better place to do this in Singapore than in the Public House.
Singaporeans like a good deal, and whatever you did good, they will tell you that you could have done better. Don’t go into details but just explain them (whether you really did it or not):
  • That you spend hours on-line to check for the best deals;
  • That you paid in Malaysian Ringgits to take the bus from Malaysia (this is indeed ‘cheaper’, maybe saves you a half a Singapore dollar or so);
  • That you would have loved to take the cheaper Malaysian bus in Singapore, but the weather was too hot and you really needed air-co.
They will admire your knowledge and expect to pay them some beers from all the money you saved that day. One beer in Singapore will cost you much more than the trip to JB. But hey, that’s life! Enjoy it!

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Forbidden City - Nine Dragon Wall

nine_dragons_screen_forbidden_city

I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing on the 14th of November 2011. The above picture displays the marvellous Nine Dragon Wall (九龙壁 - Jiǔ Lóng Bì). It was build in 1773 during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796). The screen was apparently built to provide privacy by blocking the view through the Gate of Imperial Supremacy into the Palace of Tranquil Longevity. Such walls also denied access to evil spirits, which must travel in straight lines.

There are two other nine-dragon screens in China: one in Beijing in Beihai Park (which is very special because it has nine dragons on the front and back) and the oldest one in Datong.

nine_dragons_screen_touristThe image was created by stitching 6 different images together. This wall is indeed huge (20.4 meters long and 3.5 meters high), look at the picture to the right to compare a fragment of the wall with one of the many tourists pretending not to notice me and standing in my way while I was attempting to take the 6 pictures.

Nine beautifully coloured dragons play with a pearl. The number nine is considered a good number in China because it sounds the same as the word for ‘long-lasting’. The dragon often symbolizes the Emperor.

The face of the wall has 270 pieces of coloured glaze. 270 is both a multiple of 9×5. In China the number five is also considered auspicious: it is associated with the five elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, and Metal) and connected with the emperor.

I read about this too late to check the legend, but apparently there is a piece of wood at the bottom of the third dragon from the left. According to legend a workman carelessly broke a tile just before the inspection by Emperor Qianlong and replaced it with a wooden part. Indeed, if the work was not finished on time, all craftsmen would be executed. Fortunately, the emperor did not discover it.

Here are some details of all nine dragons:

dragon1dragon2dragon3

dragon4dragon5dragon6

dragon7dragon8dragon9

The Nine Dragon screen alone was well worth the kilometres of walk trough the Forbidden City!