Our Singapore AirBNB (#travel, #Singapore, #lifestyle)

Our Singapore AirBNB was in a newly developed apartment tower between Shenton and Anson in the CBD. This place is so new that one of the eatery tenants on the sidewalk floor hasn’t finished moving in and opened for business yet.

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This is the front door. It uses a metallic key to enter which routinely gets stuck in the lock either because of the humidity or the design. You rotate it several times and then just push the door inward, there is no separate mechanism for clasping the door open or shut. You use a keycard to access the elevator and common space doors in the building.

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The living room and dining table from the front door, kitchen on the left.

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Wide shot of the kitchen. Two burners. The hood over the burners turns on when you pull it out which is kind of cool. Notice the gloss finish cupboards without handles, Ikea-design style. NK dishwasher. There is a washing machine beneath the microwave which also has a dryer function. This was the first time we cooked in our AirBNB this trip, we had a lot of leftover Korean from the night before as we ordered too much not realizing how big the portions were (MMM, spicy pork and glass noodles!)

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The kitchen on the right, front door area to the left, bedroom on right hidden from view, taken from the sofa in the living room.

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Bedroom from the bathroom. Door to living room on right. Bit of a mess, were really milking the “living out of a suitcase” ethic. The bedroom has a dedicated wall mounted A/C unit. The bathroom stays a bit warm. The living room and kitchen each have wall mounted A/C.

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A shot of the living room/dining room from the bedroom, bathroom to the right off camera.

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Toilet with two button flush, sink on the right. The sink had water handles that were basically vertical rectangles, I’ve never seem anything like that before but they worked okay. Large shallow basin sink.

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Shower area. It has a built in tiled seat. The door closes fully and almost seems to have a magnetic strip embedded to keep it shut. The shower floor is depressed from the bathroom floor and the water doesn’t seep up and out the door. Instead of a grill drain there is a tile with slots around it to the left of the shower head where water drains which is elegant looking. Oddly, the shower has retractable blinds from which the window makes you visible to both people poolside and the office workers across the way.

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Another view of the shower apparatus. Notice there is a “waterfall” shower head in the ceiling as well, very cool!

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We didn’t go down to the pool as we didn’t bring our swim gear but this is the shot from the 6th floor elevator area. I’d probably spend a lot of time here given the heat, if I lived here.

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This is a shot of the building from Enggor and Anson. The tree lined area is the pool. This seems to be the fashion nowadays for buildings like this, a covered parking structure below with a pool above and the resident tower rises beside it.

We were about two blocks from the Tangor Pagar stop on the East-West line, which was very convenient.

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We were also about four blocks from this neat eatery neighborhood nearby.

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Our Hong Kong AirBnB (@AirBnB, #travel, #HK, #Asia)

Our AirBNB was in Sai Yin Pung on Hong Kong Island, on Po Tuck Street near the top of Hill Road. You could follow Hill Road down to the Queen’s Road which runs much of the way around the Kowloon facing districts and makes Central accessible by walk. Our closest metro stop was HKU (Hong Kong University) at the bottom of Hill Road.

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This is the entrance door. You saw the building itself in a previous post. The interior hallway and stairway don’t give an air of luxury, the building is likely several decades old and has had several units remodeled with modern styling, appliances and finishes, like ours.

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This is a shot looking toward the front door from the closest corner of the kitchen, through the living room. Bathroom is on the right behind the wall. Those are our bath towels drying on a rack below the A/C.

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Here is the kitchen essentially turning around in the same spot as the previous picture and looking in. You can see a tiny clothes washer in the corner on the right under the table. No dryer, no dishwasher. The cabinetry is all new, modern and quite nice.

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Another angle of the kitchen to show the depth. Bedroom is on the right out of frame.

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A wide angle shot of the kitchen counter top. We used the kitchen sink to brush our teeth because the bathroom was so small and there was no place to store a toothbrush that we could see.

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This is the bathroom. See the small sink? Full toilet with one flush setting. Large stand up shower with full sliding glass lanes on the left behind the door, including a detachable showerhead. Good water pressure. To get hot water you flip a power switch on the wall outside the door. This seems to be common in both HK and Singapore– turning on a power rocker switch in the wall to use various appliances.

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Shower head detail.

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Finally, the bedroom. It had its own A/C unit mounted through the window. The bed was a full size Queen. I think it was some kind of tempurpedic or memory foam style. I’d never slept on one before but I really liked it, firm but still soft enough you can fall asleep easily. Like in Taipei and here in Singapore, there were no sheets, just a duvet. I don’t know if this is standard bedding in this part of the world or just easier for the host/cleaning crew to keep clean but I really liked it once again.

The Asia AirBNB host profile (@AirBnB, #travel, #people)

Here’s a quick observation that may or may not be generalizable.

All three of our AirBNB hosts have been women. One appears to be somewhat artistic or design oriented (based on her clothing and reading materials on her shelves) but the other two appear to be masters-level students or graduates with professional careers in finance or banking.

All three, obviously, speak English and have fairly well traveled, “international” attitudes about culture and values by looking at various objects and keep sakes in their apartments. They all have TVs with satellite type cable service. They all have very modern, Ikea-like living spaces (could be selection bias on our part though).

The last two hosts have had copies of novels from the “50 shades” series on their bookshelves, along with serious business and philosophical matter likely for school.

They’re all been young, likely early to mid 30s.

By way of comparison, in South America we stayed at a hostel run by a business, a hostel run by a middle-aged couple, a BNB run by a middle aged couple, an apartment run by a late middle aged man and an apartment owned by a young man whose family are the investors. I believe the last two in Argentina were AirBNB and we mightve made the rest of the arrangements directly via the enterprises’ websites.

And we are going to stay at a young man’s AirBNB here in Singapore but found out last minute that his building owner wouldn’t renew his permission letter letting him run the AirBNB legally.

Coffee is good in HK (#travel, #HK, #Asia, #food)

There is no real coffee culture here (only seen Starbucks so far) but the latte I just had with breakfast at Open Door cafe was excellent! As was my big English-style breakfast (the Brits know how to do breakfast).

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Hipsterism is a global phenomenon and it ensures good eats everywhere you go.

Here is our building in HK:

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And here is something curious about the money. The HKD is pegged to the dollar at about 7.75. There is no central bank, only a “currency board”, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The small notes appear to be issued by the HKMA, but the larger notes are in fact privately issued bank notes. The bank notes are convertible, on demand, into HKD. Why is this even an option?

I assume, like the “convertibility” of Federal Reserve Notes into US dollars, that this is a terminological vestigial organ. But still, it is curious to see privately issued bank notes in this day and age.

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Our Taipei AirBnB (#travel, #lodging, @AirBnB, #Taiwan)

This is less a review and more of a “walkthrough” to show you how we were living the last few days. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good shot of the building from the street nor what the lobby looked like (both are understated). Also, I didn’t do a good job of gathering economic data on the property from the owner, but I am pretty sure I can get her to cough that up if I emailed her later which I might do.

We stayed in a district called Da’an. See the link here and look for the park, you can find it quickly (Da’an District https://goo.gl/maps/8VkRbYqL5g62). Specifically we were off the Da’an Park. Da’an means “great peace”. The parks in Taipei were often constructed by the Japanese, it was they who introduced park culture to Taiwan during their occupation, a culture they in turn received from Western nations they were trying to emulate after the “opening” of Japan. The park was formerly a farming community. It is considered an upscale, hip neighborhood and was one of two we were told of by tour guides, the other being XinYi.

It is a very large area. You can walk on foot about twenty minutes in any compass direction from where we stayed and still be in Da’an, with various degrees of fanciness from pretty understated, well to do middle class vibes to pretty glitzy and glamorous. Apparently this neighborhood has had this reputation since the occupation when it was the place many professors and other educated professionals of the Japanese regime chose to reside.

The park is referred to as Taipei’s Central Park, not because it is as big or has that kind of significance to the city, but because it is quite large relative to city blocks, other parks and it is fairly centrally located and historical.

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This is the view out our window on the 8th floor (very lucky in Chinese culture!!)  looking westish.

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The view of the park, it takes about 15 minutes to walk the length of the park and their is an MRT station at the opposite end from us.

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The intersection of HePing and Xinsheng (the “heavens road” because there are worship sites for 7 different religions on this one block beside the park, including Islam and Mormonism). There is a pedestrian overpass but most people wait and cross at the light.

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This is the Queen bed beside the window. Not terribly plush but also not uncomfortable, I slept well and found the duvet worked well with the A/C running despite the humid clime.

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This area is right to the left of the bed and is separated from it by a small cubbyhole wall. The table has an electric burner pull out. I enjoyed using the reading light as I worked through some of the books I brought.

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This A/C unit is right above the window. Remote controlled, worked well enough, we never kept the temperature below 23C which was comfortable.

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Looking toward the front door from the bed area. Mini fridge kept our bottled water cold (tap water is safe to brush teeth and shower with but is not potable otherwise). Bathroom sliding door is up on the right where the light is emanating from. Far right of the picture is a series of closets.

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Cubby wall, bed area, from beside the bathroom.

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Bathroom shot. The look and finish of the place is likely IKEA, which actually felt quite stylish and upscale despite IKEA having a reputation of kind of imitation luxury. Maybe it was not IKEA, but I saw some IKEA products and had that anchored in my mind. The tub is definitely small from a Western size scale, I’d likely have to curl up my legs to sit in the tub. But the showerhead, which is detachable, had a holder high enough up on the wall that I could shower without stopping. Water pressure was VERY strong and basically was hard to calibrate between fire hose and off.

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Bathroom water heater, it is one of those instant hot water heaters so you really didn’t have to wait for the water to heat up and it was always capable of being hotter than you ever needed it to be.

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Toilet. The flusher is on top. I think the blue button is full flush and wider white button is half flush. At least that’s how I used it. Use your imagination here why you’d do one or the other. And these tissues are ubiquitous. Maybe they use a special type for the toilet but you’re basically wiping with Kleenex, and at restaurants instead of paper towel or napkins you get tissues there too.

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Detail of the sink, and medicine cabinet mirror. There was a hair dryer, which I used to style my hair. It worked just as well as one in the US, and Taiwan uses the same adapter as the US so all our chargers worked in the walls.

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This is interesting. This is on the wall of the bathroom. You have a circulation fan for when you’re in the can, and I never used breeze but I imagine it’s like a dehumidifier to not suffocate in the shower in the summer? Forgot to test it. Then you have a heat for staying warm and a dry so your towels don’t mildew. You can set the system on a timer so it will dry while you’re away and then turn off without running all day. We used that a lot because things don’t dry on their own otherwise. A really nice feature.

I don’t know how common these amenities are for most Taiwanese but I’d imagine many have the basics but not all of it. The relatives we stayed with when we first arrived did not appear to have A/C nor comfortable restrooms and bedding, but they were also older (although I understood their neighborhood was middle class). However, even assuming that this studio we rented was atypical, I think it demonstrates that a  comfortable, modern lifestyle is indeed possible in Taipei.

In Taipei (#travel, #Asia, #Taiwan)

Our first full day in Taiwan yesterday. After settling in at our AirBNB in the Da’an Park area, we headed to the Yongchun stop to meet with Quincy, our tour guide for the following 3 hrs on the Taipei Eats tour.

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The subway (MRT) here in Taipei is interesting to me having ridden on many metro systems around the world. It is much cleaner than many (Paris, London and of course NYC) but not quite as clean as Tokyo’s whose floors seem like reasonable places to test the 5-second rule for dropped food. No one eats or drinks on the subway and I didn’t see anyone transporting bikes or other dirty things from outside which is common in NYC. No vagrants, graffiti or other undesirable activity. And yet I haven’t seen a cleaning crew so far, and like the wider world above there are no trash cans available in the stations. So how does it stay so clean?

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The routes are easy to use and are based off of terminus points rather than compass directions. If you can figure out where you are, where you need to go and what’s at the end of the stops line in that direction you can find your way. Trains arrive and depart every few minutes.

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It’s a much safer system than others I’ve used, too. Every station we went to had one of these kinds of security wall systems. There is no simple access to the tracks and when the train arrives the doors line up with the wall doors and you can safely get on or off. Notice also the queuing lines on the ground, set to the side of the doors. People getting off the train have ample room to maneuver before those on the platform shuffle on board. And none of the handles and bars inside the train feel greasy, sticky or dirty. I still wash my hands when I reach my destination but it certainly feels cleaner.

It’s also a very musical system. Entering and exiting the turnstiles results in musical chimes. When trains are arriving in the station, a gentle red light flashes as cheerful, almost classical sounding music begins playing to hearken it’s arrival. It makes riding very much a civilized event contrary to a system, again like the NYC MTA, where trains coming and going can often split your ear drums with loud clatter and screeching, not to mention split your body if you’re so unlucky as to get knocked onto the tracks.

Another delightful innovation is the numbering of all exits of the station. Instead of trying to figure out if you want the West or east southbound corner of Fifth Avenue, you just figure out what number exit is closest to your destination and go there. We found it was really easy to find our tour groups because they always gave a numbered exit at the stop at which to meet them.

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Our food tour began at an outdoor market where we sampled the flavors, sights and smells of local produce, meats and fish. Most of the food available in Taiwan is sourced from the island, which is interesting given how relatively small the island is in relation to its total population, how large the urban areas are and how much of the total surface area of the island is covered by steep, wooded mountains. It’s also mostly conventionally grown. That means it’s safer than food sourced from the Mainland (though there is some of that as well) but there isn’t much of a popular “organics” labeling and eating movement from what I learned.

Most foodstuffs were served in small plastic or wax paper bags, but there are no municipal trash cans to throw the waste in. Recently a mayor (or maybe it was the president of Taiwan?) decided that people should carry their own trash bags with them and to dispose of their waste, so Quincy helpfully walked with a plastic trash bag for the duration of the tour to ensure we had a place to stow the wrappings we accumulated.

At the outset of the tour, Quincy advised us that we’d be eating a lot and it was okay to not finish our portions as we went. We were thankful for that suggestion because it was somewhat overwhelming to keep consuming so much food, especially with the ambient heat and sun as we walked.

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These signs can be seen throughout Taipei and we learned on our walking tour that they signify the location of a “beetle nut” stand. These little nuts wrapped in a leaf and coated with calcium hydroxide are chewed for their stimulant effect by cab drivers and other blue collar workers who need a little extra pep in their step through out the day. They come in small boxes about 1.5x the size of a cigarette pack and apparently are hand filled at the local beetle nut shops. I tried one and decided I didn’t need to try another. True fiends can be spotted by their orange stained teeth.

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We ate so many things on the tour in the space of 3 hrs, I tried to write them down but I couldn’t keep up with it all: Taipei “burger” (shredded pork, cilantro,  peanut powder inside a steamed bun), baked street market vendor onion pancake, stinky tofu (raw and fried with a fermented plum juice chaser), baked and steamed soup dumplings from Kao Chi (a Din Tai Fung competitor), pineapple cake, egg custard pie, Japanese cold noodles in peanut sauce with Chinese style egg drop Miso soup with meatball, shredded pork and soft peanut rice bowl with house fermented veggies and finally, lychee and plum and pineapple flavored shaved ice. I enjoyed just about all of it, except maybe the stinky tofu (never going to be my thing despite the health benefits), but on a hot day after stuffing our faces for three hours straight with a lot of bread and noodles, something about that light, cool, naturally sweet flavor of the fruity shaved ice tasted like accomplishment.

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A few more notes about food in Taipei so far. First, as seen above, dogs can often be found in restaurants and usually belong to the proprietors. They leave the patrons alone (unless they want to play with them) and no one seems to be bothered by the potential interplay of dog hygiene and human food. Second, food is, for the most part, extremely cheap in Taiwan. Three to five dollars (USD) for a meal is not unusual, and sometimes it’s far less. For someone who has become used to the idea that $10-12 is “reasonable” for lunch for one of a decent quality, I find myself doing a double take when getting the bill. Finally, expensive restaurant buildouts and branding efforts (inside and outside the establishment) seem to be unusual in Taipei. Many restaurants can be missed simply because they’re so plain looking from the outside, and inside they’re often nothing more than a 2-300sqft plain room in the floor of a large building with a few food prep tables and equipment set up and seating for 20 people or so. Menus are simple and the savings appear to be largely passed on to the patrons.