Since I blogged last, our dear Ohio State buckeyes made history as the very first college football playoff – and therefore undisputed 😉 – national champions! Riding on the hopes of our third string quarterback and the man with the most admired abs in the country, we watched live from Korea as the underdogs brought it home!
It goes without saying that I failed in documenting this momentous occasion the day it happened, but that does not reflect my actual level of excitement and pride for our hometown. OH-IO!
Now, back to it…
Our second adventure in our busy fall of travel had us heading to Singapore and Malaysia for a business training for J-Mar. In a first for us, we took separate flights, with J-Mar traveling through Seoul and me taking a more budget option on Vietnam Airlines connecting through Ho Chi Minh City, but still getting there within an hour of each other. I’m hoping these maps are helping put Asia into perspective so you can check out where we have traveled.
We arrived a few days before J-Mar’s training started so we could check out the famous Formula 1 night race in the city (separate post on that to come). We were lucky enough to get hooked up with some generous accommodation for the first couple of nights. My awesome coworker Susan connected me with her friend Heather who is an expat in Singapore, living in a really nice apartment with her family. They graciously let us stay with them and provided all kinds of helpful tips to exploring the city. We would not have had the same experience without them! Big thank you to both Susan and Heather for helping us out.
Some of the things we ended up doing and seeing during our few days in Singapore included a lot of the travel-guide highlights, and I’ll tell you a bit about some of them below.
We sweltered in the heat, as typical for Singapore, on our visit to the Botanic Gardens. The founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, was apparently a major naturalist (plants and animals). This is evident in his efforts to cultivate plant and vegetation research in Singapore as well as his recognition as the “Father of the London Zoo”. The modern Botanic Gardens in Singapore were established a bit later than Raffles’ time, around 1859. Even without his leadership, the gardens quickly proved important to the development of the region, hosting innovative research that led to rubber cultivation. This development catapulted Singapore and Malaysia to the top spot in world rubber production. Fun facts, right?
Anyhow, the gardens today serve mostly as an escape from urban sprawl and a beautiful tourist attraction. Certainly worth a look around this nearly 200-acre park, but I wouldn’t recommend a long walk (or getting your wedding photos taken) near high noon. That looked completely uncomfortable. Poor groom was just pouring sweat in that suit of his. For those of us who could enjoy the scenery, the palm trees and plant life were pretty in the afternoon sun.
The fun thing about J-Mar being on business meant that I could explore on my own during the day. One of the things I decided to do was take a cooking class to learn about Malaysian and Singaporean food. I spent my day with Food Playground, in an old house in historic Chinatown, which was pretty neat.
For the first time, most of the people in my group were there as individuals, so it was fun getting to know an eccentric group of people. One woman was a nanny for a family who paid for her to take the class to learn to make new types of food. Apparently this concept is pretty common – the instructors said they get lots of nannies in their courses. Singapore is home to many wealthy residents. Another was a chef at a hotel (I want to say in India), expanding his skills to bring more international cuisine to their customers. Most others were tourists as well, but it was fun with a very different group dynamic than I’ve ever been a part of before.
We made a new-to-me dish called laksa, which is a coconut-milk and curry noodle soup. This turned out to be quite delicious and in our further travels I have tasted similar enjoyable dishes. We also made fried spring rolls (everyone loves those!) and dessert was kueh dadar, which is coconut pancake/crepe combination, dyed green from the “juice” of pandan leaves.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the class, other than the food, was that the company is passionate about providing employment opportunities for women. Specifically, they aim to employ stay-at-home moms so these women can have the freedom to care for children but also support their families. Pretty cool.
Speaking of food, we made sure to snag some chili crab while we were in town. Singapore is famous for it, and though we didn’t eat at a 5-star place, the food was pretty good at Jumbo Crab. I have to say it didn’t totally live up to it’s name, so may next time we’ll do a bit more research. Just a note, if you do head there, I’d recommend making a reservation during dinner hours as it’s hard to get a table around then. The experience is fun though, I’ve certainly never been this messy eating food before. At least since my teen years. 😉
Though a lot of our spare time was spent exploring the fun parts of the city, we also had some non-corporate business to attend to. Just prior to our trip to Vietnam, I realized I was running out of space for stamps in my passport. And by that I mean I wasn’t going to be able to come back from our trip to Singapore and Malaysia nor go to China if I didn’t find a way to take care of this conundrum. One option for adding pages to your passport while living abroad is to find the nearest US Embassy and either physically take your passport in or mail it (i.e. it’s out of your possession). The US Embassy in Korea is all the way in Seoul and it wouldn’t be the easiest thing for me to take a day trip up there just for this. Especially when it’s just as easy to make an appointment at the Embassy in Singapore, which can provide the same service.
Image from diplomacy.state.gov
As with most travel, it’s usually easiest if you do some planning ahead of time to know what to expect and not have to make arrangements when you arrive. This is particularly true when making amendments to documents that prove your identity and citizenship, and even more so while traveling abroad with said documents. That being said, the US Embassy websites are very easy to navigate and the rules and process for making amendments to your passport are clear, descriptive and readily available.
All we had to do to prepare for our appointment was to fill out paperwork (a two page form, quick and easy), make the appointment and figure out how to get to the Embassy on time. Early, if you can manage it, as security is taken very seriously. We lucked out and had a less than 10 minute walk from our accommodation to the Embassy, with a Starbucks on the way, so we just got our butts out of bed, picked up a coffee and headed over. We were one of the first in line to go through security, where they take your cell phone and x-ray all your belongings. We were ushered into a waiting room that strangely reminded me of a doctor’s office where we waited for the office to open.
We chatted with a few other tourists and business travelers and one guy we met was trying to fly out the next day but needed more passport pages before he could leave. Remember, planning ahead will make your life easier on this one. Once our number was called, we had a two-minute chat with a lady at the window who looked over our forms and passports, gave us an invoice and let us know we could come back the next day for pick up. The whole thing was smooth and super easy. We maybe spent a half hour there, and following the same process the next day, I walked out with two much-thicker passports, ready to take on more of the world!
P.S. I took a photo of J-Mar in front of the Embassy before realizing a sign on the lawn said no photos, and now, for the life of me I can’t find the image among our photos from the trip. Suspicious? I don’t know! Either way, I hope you enjoyed the stock photo above of this wonderfully exciting government building.