Shenkeng Old Street – a gem on the outskirts of Taipei

A short bus ride from the Taipei Zoo Station lies Shenkeng Old Street – an old street famous for its stinky tofu (a local delicacy that you either love or hate — it’s the latter for me). I’ve always wanted to visit this place but its location makes it pretty inaccessible – it’s not within walking distance from the nearest train station (unlike Shilin Night Market, or even Danshui Old Street) so you’ve got to take a bus. However, since I happened to be on an adventurous mode and near the Taipei Zoo Station, I decided to give it a shot.

Shenkeng Old Street

I was originally skeptical about the place because an online site described the old street as a short one. However, this is what I really like about it. Nestled in an old district with car repair shops nearby, this street is a gem. Once a bustling port between the tea plantations in the Wenshan and New Taipei City areas and Yilan, this place slowly saw less footfall when trains to Yilan took over.

Shops selling old-school toys and snacks are aplenty along Shenkeng Old Street

The red brick shophouses that line the old street exude a retro vibe but are very well maintained. From local delicacies to old-school toys, this old street is filled with shops with a blast to the past. My friend and I had fun reminiscing our childhood snacks and toys in these shops.

Delicious glutinous rice (NTD40)

While there were many eateries along the old street, I was more inclined to eating street food and the glutinous rice (油飯) caught my eye. The NTD40 (~SGD$2) bowl of rice came piping hot with a drizzle of sweet sauce all over it. It was delicious – the rice was soft and you could taste every grain of it (it wasn’t like conventional sticky rice!). There were sufficient ingredients – dried shrimp and meat included! I would go back for another bowl of this glutinous rice because it was savoury, light in taste and yet filling.

Unique drain covers along the streets of Shenkeng


On a weekday afternoon, there was a small crowd as a local tourists (namely the elderly) were bussed to the old street for an afternoon. It was encouraging to see this place bustling with many elderly enjoying a nice afternoon walk and shopping spree. Though the crowd is nothing like the past, due to the fall in tourism during this period, I’m glad to still have had a chance to experience this old street. May Shenkeng Old Street continue to retain its charm.

Just a quick list of some great shows!

Circuit breaker, Phase 1, and finally Phase 2. Singapore has evolved so much the past couple of months, and something I’m glad that I had throughout these few months is Netflix. 

Netflix has been really amazing, and here are some shows that I’d highly recommend to anyone who’s looking for exciting shows to watch. 

The Blacklist – A highly-sought after criminal unveils different criminals as he works closely with the FBI. Each episode has a pretty thrilling storyline, with an underlying suspense on his relationship with one of the FBI staff. This series that begun in 2013 just completed its seventh season, with the eighth slated to come in 2020.

I’d give it a solid 9/10 for its plot.

Fast and Furious 6, 7 and 8 – While the fast and furious series always has got to do with the crew capturing people or items while in their fast cars, each series highlights the significance of family, friends and relationships – which makes this series especially heart-warming at times.

I’d give it a 7.5/10 for its thrill and storyline, but the storyline is pretty much predictable so…

21 – Set in MIT, a student who needs $300,000 is tempted by his lecturer to join a team that spends their weekends at Vegas on.. taking chances. The story talks about how the humble student took the chance, made big bucks, lost two of his great friends due to his greed and how all the money got stolen from him. The plot really has many highs and lows, which makes it interesting, and at the same time, you could feel the emotions of the main character as you watched along.

I’d give it a 8/10 as it was an unusual story yet fun (most gambling-related movies are usually on adults, not so much on students!)

So here’s a quick brief on some of the hits I’ve found on Netflix this COVID-19 season. 

Hope everyone’s staying safe and well!

One of those EUREKA moments!

Continuing from my previous post where I introduced Amazin’ Graze’s nut mixes, here’s another article on a similarly amazing Southeast Asian snack brand – Eureka!

If you’re a fan of popcorn, you’ve definitely heard of Garrett’s Popcorn from the US where each popped corn is amazingly tasty, fresh and delish. However, the brand Eureka may not be familiar to some but the localized taste of it is something that attracts.

This Malaysian snack company, Eureka snacks, prides itself in its distinct flavours that appeal to Southeast Asians. Each popcorn is lightly coated with the seasoning of choice and here are just but some of the flavours I’ve tasted myself and a quick summary of it.

  1. Original Sea Salt: The best in my opinion – one popcorn gives you both the sweet and salty taste and each of the flavours do not overpower each other. This is the kind of popcorn that’ll get you coming back for more.)
  2. Caramel: Not as rich as Garrett’s, and there’s just a light coating over each popcorn. However, I like it as it is not too sweet and leaves a refreshing taste.
  3. Cheese: Salty cheese powder but has a hint of sweetness to it. Not every popcorn is equally coated but is addictive nonetheless. A mix of Eureka’s cheese and caramel popcorn will give you a very mild and light flavour as compared to Garrett’s Chicago mix
  4. Seaweed: If you’re a fan of seaweed, this may appeal to you. The seaweed powder taste is similar to that of a lighter version of McDonald’s seaweed shaker fries powder but with an additional hint of sweetness.
  5. Sour Cream and Onion: I know people who absolutely love it and those that gets mixed feelings while eating it. I fall into the latter category as sour cream and onion should be for potato chips, not popcorn! My sibling really loves this flavour though – it’s the only flavour I buy for her when I’m at a store.
  6. Wasabi: In my latest purchase, I decided to buy the can version (smaller one) of this flavour and I was.. less than satisfied by it. The wasabi taste is similar to the wasabi nuts flavoured powdered wasabi but the mix of it with popcorn just screams strange. If you really like wasabi, however, do give it a try!

Eureka popcorn is getting more popular, with a shop set up in Singapore’s Jewel as well. However, if you’re crossing the causeway anytime to Malaysia, do buy it in Malaysia as it is almost a third the price there (due to currency conversion).

Southeast Asian snack companies are really coming up, and if you’re visiting Southeast Asia, I strongly recommend picking a few flavours to bring back as gifts. The localized flavours are something that you probably will not get back home!

Exploring IconSiam

On a recent trip to Bangkok, my family and I decided to visit a new, highly-raved mall – IconSiam. IconSiam had its grand opening in November 2018 and has since attracted a vast number of tourists and locals alike. Being the largest mall in Bangkok, it boasts more than just shops but has many attractions within the mall itself.

The ground level hosts a cultural experience where I couldn’t help but be amazed at. One of the most known attractions in Bangkok is the floating market and this level had a floating market re-created to allow tourists to experience it.  The level was sectioned into various parts of Thailand, where each section showcased the unique crafts and food of the area.

To allow yourself to truly be able to ‘taste’ Thailand, common tables and chairs were also available where we were able to buy food from the different areas and have a feast. For such a grand mall like IconSiam, I was surprised that prices were kept pretty affordable (case in point – skewers were sold at 120 baht for 10).

Walking through the various stalls, we found ourselves near a staircase and it was only then where we realized that there was a mezzanine to the ground level. From the mezzanine, we were able to look across the entire area, and it truly felt like a cultural night market – a very cozy and pleasing one to be in.

Once we were done exploring the cultural area, we explored the rest of the building where we saw many flagship stores (including the first Apple store in Thailand) and a Porshe car showroom. Many famous restaurant chains (including Laem Chaeron and MK Live) are situated at the top floors of the mall. A waterfall, smaller but similar to the waterfall at Singapore Changi Airport’s Jewel, can also be found there.

For those looking for a new place to explore in Bangkok, this is definitely the ‘in’ thing for this season! The whole area is picturesque and definitely insta-worthy.

More information on how to get there can be found here.

Goodbye, chicken rice ball

Good Year chicken rice ball banner
Photo from Good Year Local Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball Facebook page.

A trip to Toa Payoh to buy one of our favourite chicken rice turned out to be a sad occasion. The stall has closed. The owners have retired. We were 29 days late. Good Year Local Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball is no more.

Good Year close post.jpgI was devastated because it had been a part of my growing up years. It’s a deja vu feeling that I had when I learnt of the similar fate of a jiu her end chye stall off Syed Alwi Road and the lor mee stall in Toa Payoh years ago.

I never realised how blessed I was to be staying near Allenby Road where the original chicken rice ball stall was located in a big coffee shop.

Chicken rice can be found in many places in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, even in various parts of Australia. However, Good Year Local Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball is unique in that the chicken rice is shaped into a ball.

The rice ball used to be bigger when I was younger. While two is enough for the average person, I remember gobbling down seven at one sitting in my teenage days. Of course, my appetite was much better then with many calories burnt off quickly playing sports.

Good Year Local Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball moved out of Allenby Road to a standalone shop a few doors down along Jalan Besar. I remembered the joy of discovering that it was still around. And I wasn’t the only one thrilled because every time we went there on Sunday, the place was filled.

Soon, the shop became two — one along Foch Road and the other in Block 111 Toa Payoh. The Foch Road outlet seemed less crowded so we made it our go-to place for our fix. No crowd translates to guaranteed seats and faster service.

However, Good Year Local Hainanese Chicken Rice Ball consolidated to its Toa Payoh outlet in recent years but we weren’t complaining. After all, we still get to eat this whenever we want (OK, except when they close on Fridays).

I must say that though the chicken rice balls became smaller in latter years, the taste remained the same. The chicken also seemed to taste better as the years went by. My family could never get enough of it — whether there was just two, three or four of us, we would order a whole chicken.

With its demise, a part of me has disappeared into history. A precious and memorable part of my growing up years. Not just mine but my wife and children’s.

Malacca has chicken rice balls too but they are not the same. Theirs are much smaller, like fish balls. The taste is nice but different from what I’m accustomed to.

Oh well, lesson learnt. I will start patronising stalls that I grew up with more frequently, lest they disappear too.

 

 

Hai Di Lao: Sizzling hotpot experience

HDL outside
No queue? Don’t be fooled.

Dinner at 海底捞 (Hai Di Lao) was on our must-do list while in Shanghai. And we wasted no time because that was where we headed immediately after we checked in to our hotel.

After a check with the concierge on the nearest outlet, we were on our way to the Nanjing East Road restaurant.

For the uninitiated, like me before this dinner, Hai Di Lao is a famous hotpot chain in China and has outlets in Singapore too. I was told that it’s expensive in Singapore but more affordable in China.

We knew there would be a queue and may need to wait for an hour or more but we decided to see if somehow, we could get in faster.

HDL waiting area
The waiting area is filled with snacks, drinks and games.

True to prediction, there was a long wait for a table though those waiting were not visible outside the restaurant. There’s a holding room with seats, snacks and drinks for those waiting for tables. And Hai Di Lao even provides Internet access, board games, and shoe polishing and manicure services. Impressive!

The staff offered us a private room for a fee for our large group. As all of us were hungry, we took up the offer — turned out that it was the only room available at that time — and strode right in.

HDL snacks
A snack platter to get us started.

Inside the private room was a table that can comfortably fit 10 persons. A platter of snacks was in the centre — a welcome sight for our hungry troops.

HDL spread
Just some of the meats that we ordered.

We placed our orders and service was surprisingly fast. A large hotpot was set up with our preferred soups — herbal and spicy szechuan — and the dishes came quickly.

A condiments station in the main dining area housed a ton of ingredients to create our own sauces, as well as pomeloes and greens. My combination ended up tasting like satay sauce which went really well with the meats.

The meats and seafood were fresh. The soups were tasty though surprisingly, my preference is the herbal soup. I generally don’t like herbal soup but this tasted more like chicken soup, which is one of my favourites.

As if the food wasn’t enough, there was entertainment in the form of a dancing noodle maker, who stretched the dough till it became strings of noodles.

Our order was more than enough for us and we finished off our meal with a platter of very fresh fruits — it’s orange season and the water melon and longans were fresh and juicy too.

When we settled our bill, we discovered that we had ordered enough to have our room booking fee waived. That’s the real icing to the cake.

I highly recommend Hai Di Lao for the food and experience. If your group is big enough, go for a room if one is available. It’s worth the time and you get privacy as well.

 

The SXFI Amp: Creative’s 2nd coming?

By Edward Lim

Spending three days manning a booth in an IT show can take a toll on the body and mind. What more a constant repetitive blasting of sound from a booth just across the aisle. The vendor was an up and coming Singapore company called Creative Technology. The product was the Sound Blaster. Continue reading The SXFI Amp: Creative’s 2nd coming?

Click and book airport run

Grab logoLiving near the airport has its pros and cons. While a trip to and from the airport is a  breeze, taking a taxi back from the airport is an entirely different experience.

Whenever I tell the driver my destination after boarding, the response often is stony black face or worst yet, sarcasm on a couple of occassions.

The reason is because they feel that they are not getting enough mileage for their long wait at the airport. They would prefer to pick up someone heading to the city or the outermost corners of the island. Looks like even the airport surcharge is not enough for them.

To make up for their disappointment, I often give them a generous tip.

Thankfully, such trips happen only once or twice a year when the entire family goes on holiday together. Otherwise, one of us will do the airport run.

Salvation at hand
In recent years, this is no longer an issue. It’s not because the taxi drivers have somehow realised the folly of their ways but because of the rise of ride-hailing services.

The advent of Uber and Grab means that we can just click and book a car easily. In under 10 minutes, a car will arrive and the driver often helps with loading the luggage — something that taxi drivers don’t usually do because they claimed to be afraid of hurting themselves.

The ride is pleasant, the driver relaxed and me, the passenger, stress-free on the way home.

Of course, during peak periods, the wait can be a little longer. There again, does it really matter? The taxi queue would also be equally long.

Consolidation
By next week, Uber will no longer exist in Southeast Asia. Grab is taking over of Uber to become the region’s biggest player. In the run up, regular customers have already started to feel the pinch.

There seems to be fewer discount codes and promotions, leading to more costly rides. In reality, this is a better reflection of actual prices. Otherwise, the ride-hailing service providers will continue to bleed and remain unprofitable. If that happens, once their funding runs out, so will the services and customers will suffer.

The buzz is that other players are looking at filling the void created by the merger. The highly popular GoJek in Indonesia has been reported to be thinking of setting up shop in Singapore. Singapore-based carpooling app Ryde has expanded to private-hire car service.

Change in commuting
Overall, Grab and the likes have made a difference in the way I commute. Instead of heading to the taxi stand when I arrive at my destination airport, I will just whip up the Grab or Uber, or even Lyft, app in my smartphone and book my ride.

The only challenge is communication in non-English speaking countries. When I was in Bangkok last week, the Grab driver and I were lost in translation. We were messaging each other at the airport but somehow, when he said that he had arrived, he was nowhere to be found near me. Turned out that he was in the departure area while we were waiting at the arrival area.

The lesson learnt is to be near someone who understands English and speaks the local language when waiting for a ride.

Another experience is that Uber can be cheaper than taxi in California. A taxi trip from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose comes with a 50-percent markup so that the driver can return to San Francisco. There’s no such markup with a Uber ride so it’s a straight upfront 50 percent savings.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed Grab and Uber services so far. Long may they live.

Clicked too fast

GuitarEver had one of those purchases that you regretted immediately after clicking “Buy”? Sadly, I had one of those moments when I let me guard down last month.

It was a lazy morning when I was scrolling through Facebook and an ad popped up on a pocket guitar. As a guitar fan, I’m enthralled by guitars that are great for travelling — it can be a chore lugging around a full-sized guitar at times.

At just half its usual price, the US$35 deal looked too good to miss.

Here was a guitar that I can easily bring around with me — on the road, in my luggage or even in my backpack.

Small and light, it comes with steel strings too — ticking all the right boxes.

After clicking “Buy”, my mind suddenly lit up. “Wait. Is it really playable? Why didn’t I check the reviews?”

Guitar fine printMy worst fear was confirmed when I went back to the site and read the comments. Without going into full details, let’s just say that people had quite a bit to say about the product.

A look at the product’s description (left) made me regret my quick buying decision.

“It is mainly finger practice & will not produce any sound.”

How stupid could I be? Why was I so impulsive? Why didn’t I read the comments and description carefully?

Anyway, the product took much longer than expected to arrive. I had to send a chaser and was told that the product wasn’t shipped earlier because it was a busy period.

The package arrived two days ago and it looks and sadly, functions as described.

Lessons learnt:

  1. Don’t buy on impulse.
  2. If a deal sounds too good, read the description and comments.
  3. Check with other sites for pricing — I found out that I overpaid for this even though it’s claimed to be a good deal.

Do share if you have a similar experience.

 

Why 101 Reasons?

GiftsIt’s been a long time coming and we’ve finally gotten down to doing this. But, the final push factor was when we were looking for a pair of shoes.

Only after an extensive search — trawling the company’s website plus lots more — did we find out that that range is no longer in production. This may sound surprising as the Internet is supposed to be a goldmine of information of anything under the sun. But it’s a true experience that has prompted me to take this step. There could be someone else facing the same challenge as us — and spending as much time to boot.

The 101 Reasons blog is intended to share our experience on our journey in buying things — why we buy them (we always seem to have 101 reasons) and our experience in using them.

Happy reading!