Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Weekend in JB, Malaysia

Thirty (30) minutes  from our house, and we can be in another country, Malaysia.  Isn't that cool?

Technically,  we only need to cross a bridge called Causeway, a 15mins bus-ride,  and pass through the immigration of both countries with our passports, another 15mins, if the queues  are short.... and we're in Malaysia!

Just to give you a perspective of how small  Singapore is,  compared to the country of Malaysia.

Check-out the map below.  The yellow is just the province of Johor, South of peninsular Malaysia.   The tiny gray island, at the bottom is Singapore.   But the economy of Singapore -- is more than double the economies of   Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand altogether.

When you're with an  8yo and a 5yo kids ... how do explain border relations? the concept of nations?  "Mom, you said,  Singapore used to be part of Malaysia.  How did they break away?  Did the island suddenly break-off ?  What happened to the people? animals? Was there a flood?"

My son, It's not like physically breaking-away!  Singapore used to be under Malaysian government -- much like how,  Mindanao is part of the Philippines.  But the Singaporeans, wanted to have a chance to be on their own.   Make their own laws & run their own businesses, so the Malaysian government gave them their Independence.  They can be their own country!  That's why we need to bring passport, even if it's just 15minutes bus ride.

There are buses that ply this route, daily, every 15minutes (starting from 530am until 1am) coming from many areas in Singapore.  Our place is near Kranji MRT Station (so, it's bus 170).  There's a money exchange counter,  no hassle, to get your Malaysian Ringgit (1RM = 13pesos) (1SGD = 2.5 RM).

The bus will take you to this imposing structure called Woodlands Check-point. You have to get all your stuff together, pass through Singapore Immigration, as soon as you get through the Departure procedures, you just go down, and ride the same bus number.

Going-out of Singapore is quite a fairly easy task.  Smile. Stamp. Go. Coming-in to Singapore is another different story.

After a few minutes, we arrived at the Malaysian Immigration.  Picture-taking are, as usual, not allowed.  I was here in JB about 5years ago.  The Malaysian Immigration offices before were really backward & provincial, much like our  NAIA Terminal 1 in Manila.  Dark alleys. Dirty toilets and all.   Now, they've really improved and is almost the same caliber as Singapore's!

JB or Johor Bahru, is a the capital city of Johor, a Southern province of Malaysia.  It's the favorite destination of Singaporeans for cheap food, shopping bargains, cheap nightlife and services.  Our Singaporean friends warn us, Do not expect much, ok?!  My BFF Mitch description is worse --- "JB is, parang Caloocan lang!"

It's an old city.  After Singapore's modern structures and sterile environs,  you will feel a little bit-off.  There are open manholes, dirty facades, old buildings with peeling paints, unregulated vendors.

The guidebook boasts of some historical areas like the Sultan Abu Bakr Mosque and old government buildings.

However, it was my husband's birthday weekend, and he warned me, he will not be in the mood to  walk around hot parks, stuffy museums and old, dank government buildings!!

So, I made sure to book a nice hotel, where we can just chill, after shopping & food-tripping.

My choice was Zon Regency by the Sea.  About 15minutes from the busy city center.  It has its own international pier (complete with customs & immigrations) for those coming-in from the  islands of singapore & indonesia (batam, bintan) via yacht or boats.

If you travel with an entourage like me,  (Hub, 3kids, & my angel Lingling), it is a necessity not a luxury to get a Suite ...  if you want to keep your sanity!

No need to referee between Cartoon Network & ESPN - there are two tv sets.  No need to shout because someone monopolizes the toilet -- there are two CRs.  There's a small dinette,  for Yaya Lingling to organize all the take-out, chips & prepare coffee.  And, when Mommy needs to get away from it all -- the room comes with an exclusive Club Lounge Access.  No kids Allowed!

The hotel has usual gyms, sauna, etc.  But the swimming pool was a let-down! Not so clean water, unattractive landscaping, no beverages served.  If the kids stay only 15mins. in the pool, it just mean, it didn't come up with their expectations.  

While the kids fritter around the hotel, Ted & I checked-out the shops. 

There's a duty free shop, mostly wines, cigarettes & chocolates;  and a  small department store also owned by the Hotel.  No thanks! 

City Square, on one hand,  is the usual haunts of weekenders for shopping.  I was on-the-look-out for a shop called Vinci or VNC.  It's a Malaysian brand of shoe. Very cheap but quite stylish.  (Last time, I was in Kuala Lumpur, I got 5 pairs).  Nag-swapang dahil sobrang mura!!!   Think Charles & Keith, but the price is SM Parisian.  

I learned that Vinci or VNC is under the Padini Concept Stores.  So, they're not only selling shoes, but also apparels, and accessories.   I only got a pair of bejeweled sandals,  some of the new styles are too juvenile, for my taste!

Folks also go to JB for the services like salon, massage, reflexology etc. etc. Those are expensive in Singapore.  But I noticed, that the price are now almost the same.  It seems that the Malaysians are already aware of their captured market, that's why they've already jack-up the prices.  Boo!!  I only had my nails done.  As for my hair, I don't trust anyone touching them yet.  

Holiday Plaza, is like Greenhills, smaller scale.   Knock-offs, Pirated Movies are virtually non-existent in Singapore.  People go to JB, to cater to these "needs."    But we wouldn't dare buy and bring them home.  We bought linens, bedsheets.  I didn't take lots of pictures.  So busy, looking around. 

 But these fancy cellphone cases and accessories, are adorable, aren't they?

Food is not only a delight in Malaysia, but also cheap!  I really like the fusion of Chinese-Malaysian cooking.  We usually have the hotel's lunch buffet, as soon as we check-in.   

Dinner is at a nearby hawker's food stall, no fuss. no frills but oh sooo yummy!  We had the steamed groupa, salted egg crab,  claypot tofu,  stir-fried vegies at walang kamatayang chicken.

My kids are gluttons when it comes to crabs...

Desserts were donuts bought from a local store, trying to imitate Krispy Kreme.

JB, Malaysia is not exactly a tourist or a shopper's haven.  But definitely, your money will go a long way.  I feel like everything is 50% off, every time I do my conversions.   

It's a nice learning experience seeing how two countries so near, yet so different when it comes to economies, & environment.   I heard they're planning to build a direct MRT access to both countries next year. Hopefully,  the cash coming-in from Sg to JB will improve it's economy, as well.  But bottom line, how the Malaysian government handle it's resources in JB,  will spell the difference.

'till next adventure!


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

F1 Race ruckus

Ever had one of those experiences, when you're so "atat" excited for an event, and then, the day fell short of your expectations?

This is exactly what I recently experienced with the Singapore Grand Prix (SGP).

I've been bugging my husband that we watch the Formula One Race.  I want to see the flashy, shiny race cars. I want to see the good-looking drivers up-close.  I want to feel the rush of adrenalin in the pits, in the grandstands. I want to check-out the much-publicized concerts.

Tickets are not cheap.  The most expensive ones are the Hospitality Suites (unpublished rates, I think around 4000SGD (around 140K Php). By the name itself, it's a suite where you are probably fed caviar, 5 Star or Michelin Star menus with extensive wine selection,  while you enjoy all the action in air-conditioned, fully-carpeted room, with upholstered seats & a view to die-for.

The cheapest tickets are 168 SGD (5K+ Php)   for the Walk-about.  As the name says, you just walk-about. No seats, no snacks, no free little fans souvenirs.  It's not bad, really.  You're there for the action, not the food or the soft seating.

Ted, just like Jennifer Aniston's new movie, "I Don't know how She Does It."  He was able to secure / bribe someone / steal an ID that will allow us to get inside the venue without spending a single cent.

The lousy photos here were taken by either me or ted.  The nice ones were taken by a former schoolmate and now professional photographer Roland "Ron" Amores.  We didn't watch the race together, I just learned about theirs in FB so i just asked for some photos.  Thank you so much, Nino!!

Nino Roland Amores with pretty fiancee Kristy Lovell Pacuribot

So, on with my stories ---

The Singapore Gran Prix is the only night-race in the world.  Understandably, they want to turn Night into Day.  The tracks are flooded with glaring florescent lights.  The circuit is real pedestrian / motorists streets.   They close-off the streets several days prior to the race,  to install the lights, concrete barricades, steel cages, humongous LED screens & high- tech speakers (commentaries of British-accent Sportscasters are heard throughout the venue).

The F1 Race is a 3night event.  A ticket already covers for 3 nights.  1st night is Practice Sessions.  2nd night is Elimination and 3rd night -  The Championship.   

Prior to the race month, Singapore is already abuzz with the upcoming events.  Almost all hotels are booked, restaurants have their F1 specialties, F1 merchandises are all over town.  The shirts, caps, bags, with various F1 Team logos are sold at horrendous prizes. Sorry ka, Dew. Walang pirated dito. Lahat original. Ang mahal sobra. 

This is the 4th year of F1 races in Singapore, and it's a huge money-making machine.  Government is spending 100Million SGD, to earn 50 Million SGD in the 3day event!  

(Don't you admire governments that spend money to make money? Not unlike the government of my beloved country, whose only way to make money is by taxing the middle class employees).

Now, let's talk a little bit about THE CARS.  You probably have seen replicas somewhere, they are usually displayed  during F1 season at the airport and malls. But nothing beat the real thing --- it's a beautiful piece of engineering marvel... throbbing with heat, energy and speed.  The sounds on the venues are ear-splitting.  The noise is like 100 sets of Chainsaws, slowly coming-in to your line of sight.  Earplugs are part of the survival kits.

Deaf and Cute

Here are  few beautiful shots of the world-famous cars, taken by Pinoy Photographer Extraordinaire, Ron Amores.  Only a professional photographer with a great camera can capture these moments.  The cars run at 360 KM per hour!  

(If you cannot grasp the speed, city driving in Manila, for novice drivers like me, I get scared past 100KM per hour.)

Imagine bees.  As a bee, buzzes in your face,  you don't see the whole form/ body of the insect.  One only sees a quick blackish image with silvery linings.  That's the view on the race track during the Formula One Race. It's a series of inscrutable and undiscernable images, your eyes cannot keep up.  

The cars are suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper duuuuuuuuuper mega fast....
Why in the world people pay to watch this event?  It's all noise and blur!
So that's why, the cars are distinctly painted with striking colors.... so we can identify them in the blur.
A blur of Red & yellow,  a hint of red bull logo...was that after, Mercedes or Vodaphone?
Nothing's happening....Shouldn't there be a crash or something? 

Here's Michael Schumacher's ride of the Shell Ferrari Team.  This red hot beauty, with an equally hot driver is perhaps the most identifiable of all the Teams, mainly because of it's past successes, and Shell has milked its sponsorship with media mileage for all it's worth.  Unfortunately, it has dismal performance this year.  It crashed during the 29th lap as he overtakes Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber Team.  Michael Schumacher was unhurt, but dire predictions about his career is obvious.

There are many kinds of circuit car racing. If you've seen the cartoon movie, Cars.  That race is called Daytona.    F1 is the world's fastest-circuit racing because of high cornering speed (bilis ng liko) and the large amount of aerodynamics force generated. It's like flying.  They're designed low-hung to prevent air-resistance and put them on the road.  I read somewhere that, F1 cars run on Jet Fuel.  

Just imagine the tremendous energy -- they call it High-octane power.  As soon as the car is started, it must in a few seconds, accelerate,  to expend the energy. Otherwise, it might blow up. 

(Ok,  Dew.  Quit pretending to be highly-intellectual about this.  Guys, go to wikipedia if you want a more credible resource.)

Malaysia and India have their own Formula One races.  (Why, Oh Why? Philippines still doesn't have this? Aren't they just 3rd world country like us?  Or has Malaysia and India overtaken us?)  I'm begging the question.

Team Petronas

Air Asia Team

The FIA Officials ride.  They check the tracks safety, and they go rush over if there's an incident during the race, along with a tow truck, if necessary.

Team Lotus Renault

F1 Drivers and their team of Constructors are holders of the world's Super Licenses, the highest class of driving certification issued by the Federacion Internationale de l'automobile (FIA). 

I'd like to see them drive thru Metro Manila's traffic jam, or share the road with our Bus Drivers, who are high-on shabu in the wee hours of the morning :)

The Winning Race Car & Driver,  Sebastian Vettel of  Red Bull

Aside from the race itself, there are also other interesting stuff to do during the event.  There is an F1 village where concerts are staged, merchandises, food, drinks, are available.  There are bars that offer live telecasts of the event. 

Many bought the tickets.. catch a glimpse of the tracks and cars, then just proceed to the bars within the village to watch from Big Screens.  Makes sense!  I did the same :)  In the TVs, One's view is wholistic... the whole circuit,  from the pits, to the driver's seat, stadiums, intelligent commentaries of the sportscasters, and lesser noise.  If you're just in the stands... it's just BLUR.

Entrance to the F1 Village
Girls inviting you to watch the
 race in the bars instead


The major performers in different venues are Shakira, Linkin Park, Rick Astley, Shaggy, Boy George and Charice.  Unfortunately, we caught only Charice and Boy George.

The aging Boy George who has 3 layers of Eyeshadows.  Hmp!
He didn't even sing Karma Chameleon. He only sang his unknown songs.

Charice's vocal power is no doubt exceptional But she needs to improve her packaging.  She can't seem to get the audience going.  There's a lot of dead-air where she gets lost on what to say.  And she's wearing too casual clothes, that's more apt for rehearsals. Her bra strap was dropping.  She doesn't look like she prepared for the event.  :(  Sad. Maybe because her portion is just the afternoon, when people are just coming-in. It's not the Intermission between laps.  Well, regardless, she should have gave it total performance.

Sorry to end on a negative note.  Well, as I've said, I was expecting more on the F1 event but maybe my expectations were too high.  If it were a closed circuit, especially made for the race, not this type, where the circuit is motorists & pedestrian streets,  the experience would have been better.  

Should you come to Singapore and watch the F1 race?  Yes, for the Experience!  But after one race, watch it at the comfort confines of your Big Screens at home or in the Bars, preferable with a brew on hand.

Till next adventure!