Into Africa: The Giraffe Centre

The highlight of Nairobi for us was the Giraffe Centre, also in the Karen area. It’s supposed to be a sanctuary of sorts for giraffes and also an education centre on conservation. Our visit coincided with a school visit by these super cute little kids.

IMG_2306

The kiddos queued patiently for the platform to clear so that they could all go up at the same time and get up close with the giraffe.

IMG_4095

See how tall the giraffes are! The platform is just under a storey high so they can approach easily for feeding.

IMG_2364

There were three giraffe at the centre, hardly a large menagerie…

IMG_4107

… but just one gregarious giraffe was enough to keep us fascinated. Here he is peering down at us.

IMG_2387

There was a guide giving out the food pellets to the giraffe, and anyone who wants to feed it. The more timid simply stand as close as they dare while watching the giraffe’s 12 inch blue tongue reach out for the goodies.

IMG_2361

This first fella was rather greedy and happy to get really close. It covered my hand with loads of slobber, so I figured I didn’t want to do the corny tourist thing of kissing the giraffe. How d’you do that? Simple. Just place a pellet between your lips and wait for it to come and get it!

IMG_2319

It’s really quick at grabbing the food pellets. Here’s a short vid of me checking if DC got the photo. I didn’t know he was filming. -_-

DC and I are still arguing over who took this photo. It’s one of our favourites of the trip. I like how the greedy friendly one is sticking out its tongue while the shyer one is nonchalantly pretending not to look.

IMG_2330

The shy one did come over in a bit, but was much harder to coax over for food. It took ages before coming over and did not at all like being stroked.

IMG_2390

It was a wonderful experience being so close to these gentle creatures. They were so gentle that DC took one step further than simply being slobbered upon, and put his hand inside the giraffe’s mouth for more salivary goodness. Who knows what made him do that. It was the closest we ever got to giraffes on this trip and we left more thrilled than had we taken a trip to the zoo.

IMG_4097

Giraffe Centre
Langata Rd Nairobi 00509
Kenya

A Whirlwind Work Trip: Sightseeing Milan’s Duomo and Other Escapades

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

As it happened, we had a weekend off and spent a glorious summer Saturday enjoying Milan. First was a revisit of the Duomo I last saw 10 years ago. Then, it was grey and swathed in scaffolding. Now, it’d been restored to a beautiful white and tan.

IMG_1828

The hotel was just round the corner and I was too lazy stand far enough back to get a good shot of the Duomo in all its glory. You’ll just have to imagine what it looked like with the sun starting to shine hotly down its spires.

IMG_1827

The inside, while pretty awe-inspiring in its sense of space, was pretty grey like the last time I saw it.

IMG_1832

Nonetheless, the rose window was a beautiful sight to behold…

IMG_1835

… as were the many minor side nooks…

IMG_1829

… and the beautiful stained glass.

IMG_1837

I stood for ages admiring the rich colours of the religious scenes.

IMG_1839

But the roof of the Duomo beckoned too. I paid a few euro to get some exercise climbing up the stairs. It was lovely to see the skyline with all the old buildings, not a skyscraper in sight.

IMG_1843

On the roof, there were delicate carvings on the flying buttresses repeating themselves over and over again.

IMG_1844

And more of them framed the brands of the shops down below.

IMG_1847

It was time to answer the call of commercial Milan and go shopping! And right next to the Duomo stood Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, apparently the world’s first shopping centre.

IMG_1851

It was beautiful inside, with a lovely glass ceiling and big shopfronts, rather unlike modern shopping malls.

IMG_1852

Then the photos stop because I started shopping. I walked the entire Quadrilatero, those few streets housing the biggest fashion brands in the world. It happened to be the first day of the sale and outside the major brands like Gucci, Prada and Miu Miu, long lines formed just to go in. I had to take a break after a while and ended up in Cafe Cova eating the most expensive wild strawberry tart I’ve ever had. To be fair, it was rather big, but paying something like €20 for a piece of confectionery made me blanch.  At least it was really yummy before the bill came!

IMG_1858

Lombok: The Beach

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

We finally got round to seeing the beach, going southeast to a different set of Gili islands from the usual Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan. These Gilis were called Gili Nanggu and Gili Sudak. We drove about 2 hours down, following the winding road till we found the beach at Sekotong and rented a boat for the day. The boatmen took us in turn to each island, stopping first at the smallest one, a mere splodge of sand fringing the coast.

IMG_3458

It was a beautiful splodge of proper white sand, albeit rather coarse. This was a far cry from the brown beaches of Senggigi – I didn’t even bother writing about that. We circled the island, found a nice spot and enjoyed the water for a bit.

IMG_2084

Then it was off to the next island, Gili Sudak, where we took a walk along the beach, thinking it wasn’t such a big islet. By the time we got round to the edge of the island, we realised that it might be bigger than we thought. For a moment, we wondered whether we’d starve by the time we got back to the little cafe for lunch.

IMG_3462

But it wasn’t too bad. After crossing round to the back of the island, there wasn’t a great deal more to go and we again sat and enjoyed the beach. The waves were a little too strong for us to venture into the sea, so we saved that for the next island. We headed to our cafe for a simple lunch of nasi goreng and vegetable soup made with a chicken stock cube.

IMG_3463

Then it was more lying around on Gili Nanggu. We wanted to go snorkelling, but the conditions weren’t good enough. Close to the beach, the waves churned up too much sand and further away, the waves seemed a little too aggressive.

IMG_3460

We ventured into the island and found a little turtle conservation area. There was lots of little pools of  turtles of different ages. I think this little fella is a green turtle. We gawked for a while and then gave a little donation at the centre.

IMG_3470

Then we lounged under some casuarina trees for a nap and headed back to Lombok.

IMG_3474

Our final meal in Lombok was this fantastic sop buntut, also known as oxtail soup. Again, Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended this place. It was sop buntut as I’ve never known before. The place was someone’s front sitting room converted into an eating house. It appeared that there was only one dish served here. Everyone had generous portions of tender oxtail in a thick, almost stew-like broth. They’d obviously spent ages gently cooking the oxtail as the soup was immensely flavourful and unctuous with collagen. The flavour was so intense that the were lime wedges provided to cut through the richness. I also liked the very spicy chilli sauce accompaniment – alternating mouthfuls of soup, chilli-spiced oxtail and plain rice was enough variety that I didn’t even think of having other dishes for our meal. They were very generous with the oxtail as well: plenty of soft meat that couldn’t help but be flavourful, and almost melted tendon. I think I’d return to Lombok just for this amazing dish. It was definitely the best sop buntut I’ve had.

IMG_3488

And with that marvellous meal, we ended our relaxing trip to Lombok. I think I enjoyed the eating far more than any other activity there!

Quick Eats: Ayer Rajah Food Centre

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC was told to try out Hasan Rabit’s nasi briyani and we realised that it was at Ayer Rajah Food Centre. We took the excuse of visiting a friend in the area to try it out. It was too bad that Hasan Rabit itself was closed but the place was chock full of Malay stalls, worthy contenders to fill our stomachs that night.

Two dishes stood out. One was the ayam penyet from the amusingly named Boombastic Penyet stall (#29). The chicken was well fried so that it was very crispy. DC even managed to chew up some boney bits, it was crispy enough. I liked the rice, done chicken rice style. It was made with plenty of chicken broth and was tasty enough to eat on its own, yet wasn’t overly oily like how the Chinese style chicken rice can be. Last, but definitely not least, the chilli sauce was rich, tomatoey and incredibly spicy, just the way it should be!

IMG_3137

DC ordered another dish that’s not very common. He ordered not the mutton soup but the mutton tongue soup from A. Rashid Khan (#59). The tongue had a great texture, firm and slightly chewy, going extremely well with the highly spiced and peppery soup. Excellent stuff.

IMG_3142

We’re returning soon to try out more stalls.

Ayer Rajah Food Centre
503 West Coast Drive

Quick Eats: Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC and I thought we’d do something a bit healthier and go for the HSBC treetop walk at Macritchie Reservoir. Before that we of course had to stop somewhere for sustenance. The Sembawang Hills hawker centre nearby did the trick. I did a very unwise thing and queued for the famous “inventor” fish soup where the owner had lots of little contraptions for serving his customers better. There was a curved dispenser so that we help ourselves to spoons hygienically and a coin sorter that helped him with his change. Needless to say, the queue was horribly long and DC said he’d go for the salted duck noodles instead. I persevered and got my fish soup with instant noodles (everyone else seemed to be ordering that too) and added some fish roe to it.

My verdict? It wasn’t worth the queue. While the fish was decent, there wasn’t a great deal of flavour and the noodles were a bit too soft for my taste. I could have done better cooking it myself at home.

IMG_2103

DC was prescient enough to take this shot before he started. By the time I got back to the table with my fish noodles, most of the duck and noodles were gone! Still, I managed to wrangle some over from him. Oh my, the duck was very good! The salt had cured the duck somewhat and intensified the flavour of the duck, also giving it a firm, smooth texture. And the noodles! I’m not normally a fan of yellow noodles (sek mee) but this version was still very much firm to the bite. DC had to restrain me from buying my own set of duck noodles after the disappointing fish ones.

IMG_2101

Next time we go to Macritchie I know what I’m having!

Fresh Fish Soup
#01-36

Ah Ee Traditional Hokkien Salted Duck
#01-28
590 Upper Thomson Road
Sembawang Hill Food Centre

Favourites at Changi Village

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

One of my favourite hawker centres is the one at Changi Village. There’s just so much variety and plain good food there. The only problem is that the ventilation is bad and some stalls are either sold out or worse – closed – if you arrive too late. The beef noodles are a case in point. Arrive too late and they’re likely to be sold out of the dry version. The soup rendition is pretty decent, but oh how the dry one beats it hands down! The gooey starchy brown sauce is flecked with bits of finely shredded beef, showing how much good stuff goes into the stew. Order it “mixed” so under the dark velvety sauce you’ll get lots of melt-in-the-mouth tendon, chewy tripe, tender braised beef and fresh beef slices. Squeeze over the lime, toss in the chilli sauce, mix and eat with the pickled onion-chinchalok accompaniment. All together, it makes for a lovely bowl of bliss.

DSCF6026

Just a few stalls along the row is another firm favourite. Guang Xing is hardly open when I’m there in the evenings, so make sure you have it for lunch. Once when DC and I weret there for Sunday brunch, I spied it just opening and immediately jumped at the chance for my favourite fried noodles with fish head. Even though the stall had only just opened, the wait was still at least 30 minutes long. Even though we spoiled our appetites during the wait with inferior nasi lemak and other assorted snacks, we managed to wallop the whole $10 plate of noodles. (In case you’re wondering, yes we are greedy but no $10 is really the minimum order.) We saw other tables of 3 or 4 going for the samd $10 plate so you can imagine how good it is. This dish has flavourful chunks of juicy and slightly cartilageous fish head  as well as thick beehoon fried in plenty of onion, garlic and ginger as well as spring onions, caixin and bitter gourd and finished off with some black bean. There’s plenty of wok hei and intense flavours. Accompanying it with the special sambal brings it to a whole new level. Notwithstanding having to spit out bits of snapper bone, gristle and scale, this stuff is my holy grail of fish head beehoon.

DSCF5894

Changi Village Beef Kway Teow Mee
#01-19 Changi Village Hawker Centre

Guang Xing Original Taste Fish Head Mee Hoon
#01-16 Changi Village Hawker Centre

August in China: Panda Signs

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

There were lots of fantastic bilingual signs in China. Even though a lot of them were grammatically correct, some, like the one below, couldn’t quite translate the poetry in the Chinese language. Here we have a polite sign telling people to get the hell off the grass. I like how the Mandarin version includes a rhyme.

CIMG2929

I saw this sign at the entrance of the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre and wonder why people need to make use of the free sewing kits. Horrors! Do so many suffer maulings from the pandas?

CIMG3026

And the last classic in the giant panda exhibit is hardly serious and scientific but it’s so whimsical I love it!

CIMG3025

August in China: Red Pandas

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Even though there aren’t in the same family as giant pandas, red pandas are thought to be the closest relatives to giant pandas. There were also red pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre. The place had one enclosure dedicated to red pandas.

CIMG3015

Even though they look somewhat like raccoons, I think they’re still incredibly cute, albeit not quite on the same cuteness scale as the giant pandas.

CIMG3019

At least they were (very) slightly more energetic than their giant cousins!

CIMG3016

August in China: Giant Panda Mania

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Chengdu is probably most famous for its giant pandas. The furry black-and-white mascot is plastered all over the tourist shops it’s surprising that people don’t get sick of them. One evening, Mr Bunglez and I dropped into a youth hostel to book a  half-day panda tour for ¥80. They gave us each a plush panda key chain which is so big I don’t know what to do with it!

CIMG2820

To round off the evening, Mr Bunglez insisted on taking me to a panda shop, obviously selling all things panda. I couldn’t resist taking the enamoured panda fan-girl shot outside its window display. After gawking at panda apparel, panda shoulder bags, panda plushes and other room accessories, I settled for a stack of panda postcards. After some persuasion from Mr Bunglez (for cheaper than an equivalent stack of postcards, I get 52 different panda pictures), I also got a deck of panda poker cards.

CIMG2821

We were picked up far too early the next morning and snoozed all the way to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where I took more cheesy photos.

CIMG3027

It was a short walk into what was really a small zoo specialising in pandas.  I’d not seen pandas before this, only the ones on San Diego Zoo’s panda cam, so I’m not very embarrassed to say that I went completely gaga over my first sighting. It’s almost funny that I was so pleased by the sight of this lazy fella nosing away at some bamboo, musing over its plans for the day: to eat, poop or sleep some more. After snapping this picture, we stared at it for a while and then realised with great dismay that it was really going to sit there for the whole day.

CIMG2950

Moving rapidly on, we found some slightly more energetic pandas posing cutely in the trees. (This shot is taken with zoom using my crappy old camera so pardon the graininess.)

CIMG2938

After a while, we realised that pandas are a very lazy bunch and do nothing but lie around. What a life!

CIMG2942

Soon our guide took us round to the juvenile panda enclosure where the one-year-old teenagers romped. Here, they were slightly more energetic, though you can hardly tell the difference from the photos!

CIMG2947

Still, they are far cuter than the adults. As we avidly watched the pandas, Mr Bunglez couldn’t help but get slightly annoyed as I kept exclaiming sotto voce “Pandaaa! Pandaaa! Paaan! Daaa!” over and over again.

CIMG2981

The most fun bit was watching the keeper come out into the enclosure. These young fellas were really attached to him and gamboled around him, wanting to play. It was quite amusing when he wanted to leave the enclosure as he had to leg it to the exit faster than the teenage pandas and get to the door before them.

CIMG2969

After the keeper left, the young ones seemed a bit sad.

CIMG2972

Soon, they recovered their high spirits and went on with their panda play. One of them got so carried away playing with a car tire he clumsily fell down the steep side of the enclosure into the ditch below. Dazedly, he looked around, then continued pawing at the tire for a while before crawling back up the slope to the main enclosure.

CIMG2977

After this enclosure, we went on to see the infant incubation centre where tiny newborns were showcased. No photos allowed here so as not to disturb them. They were rather ugly anyway, the hairless and helpless pink creatures. They definitely weren’t as cute as the grownups! It’s only much later that the characteristic black bands appear on the skin, after which the white fur turns black at the right spots.

[Next up: Red pandas]