Rose-Tinted Goggles (Singapore Day 1)

Thursday, May 26 2022 (Day 1)

I’m actually writing this on the morning of Day 4, May 29 2022, and the reason for this is that after all the travel shenanigans I had coming in to SIngapore, I woke up on the morning of the 26th to find that my laptop, an old Microsoft Surface Pro (2017/5th Gen) no longer worked. It turned on fine, but always rebooted into a CRITICAL PROCESS DIED blue screen of death before Windows finishes loading. Safe mode doesn’t work, and I can’t use any of the other options — including reaching a command prompt to try sfc /scannow and things like that — because it claims there’s no administrator account on the laptop. Although my regular login account should have been one. It’s also protected with Bitlocker, though I do have the recovery key for that.

Either way proper solutions to this have to be attempted when I am not on vacation, so I put that aside for now and tried to figure out what to do. I quickly realized that my Steam Deck itself had an OS on it and its Desktop Mode could probably be repurposed for my blogging needs, and although I had never formally used Linux-based OS’s outside of class before, I’m familiar enough with command prompt usage and/or Googling up how to do things, and this one isn’t much different from Windows in terms of UI anyway.

So I took some time to set up the hardware and software I needed for this. The main tool I got was a Bluetooth travel keyboard, which I now like quite a bit, the Logitech K380. I also tried picking up a 3-port hub, so that I could both charge as well as attach my USB mouse and/or phone at the same time, but I was missing some cables for it (specifically, my hub uses a U micro-B port for incoming power and I have nothing to go into that. But I downloaded two things on my Pixel 5 phone to help with that — first is an app called Warpinator, which i also installed on the Deck. This allows me to transfer files back and forth between the phone and the Deck, which is important because I needed to organize my photos for each blog post. I also downloaded an app called Bluetooth Keyboard & Mouse which has been a godsend — the keyboard didn’t meet my needs even before I bought the Logitech one, but the mouse part of this is heavenly and allows me to finger- or thumb-control the cursor on screen with fairly high precision and even has a side thing for scrolling. And it’s free, or at least the mouse part of it is, and only needs to be installed on the phone, not the Deck. It also works in the regular Steam Deck mode, outside of Desktop mode, as long as Bluetooth is enabled, which seriously helped for a couple of the games that still required a mouse as the on-screen keyboard sucks and there’s no good way to use a regular mouse sometimes, like on a cramped plane or airport. Thumb-control phone to the rescue!

On the Deck, I used Firefox to access my blog, but I needed a few other things, particularly a tool to strip away only certain metadata (GPS) on certain picture files that I fed it. In the end, I installed digikam for this, which has a Geolocation editor that does the trick. The preinstalled image viewer that came with my SteamOS build, ida, also was broken and could not launch at all, so I replaced it with what apparently was used in later builds, Gwenview. I needed a bulk rename tool for my images too, and KRename works great for my needs. I also needed to Remote Desktop using the Windows RDP client into my home machine, so I used Itopia Remote Desktop Client for that, which has a few odd quirks but does get the job done. And finally, my keyboard defaulted to the F-keys inverted so they did their shortcut tasks instead of acting as a Function key unless I held down the Fn key while doing this. This was annoying, and while there was software to change this default behaviour, it only exists for Windows and Mac, and I was on Linux. So I tried the “Automatized” solution from here and it worked like a charm!

My last outstanding issue is how to transfer video files off of my camera, to either my external hard drive or my Steam Deck itself, but I haven’t actually shot any videos this trip yet anyway so I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Or else I just won’t bother shooting too many videos, if any at all. It seems to be missing other minor Windows-standard things like a program to play MP3 files with, but I can survive without that for now as well.

On to actual trip stuff! For this first day, I started my morning by properly meeting and greeting my host and his wife. I hadn’t paid him yet, and did so here using an app called Wise. He asked why I was late yesterday, and I said that it was an immigration issue to do with being a former citizen, as I had been born here, and I guess things hadn’t been renounced properly. Also, my 24 hour flight turned into a 39 hour one and so the customs form was incorrect and my luggage made it here on a different flight. They were sympathetic about that and said that they had relatives.or friends that had ran into immigration issues and such too and that that sounded terrible. I did appreciate that my enlistment officer rep did seem to contact them to let them know, identifying as a friend without providing them much detail, as she had promised. They asked who she was and i said that she was a friend I’d be meeting in a few days.

They also apologized for not being able to meet one of the things that had been listed on the booking page — the free morning local breakfast option. The reason for this is that it was too complicated — they had several different families and groups staying in the house and they themselves were leaving for Malaysia to attend a couple weddings and for a brief holiday the next day, so they wouldn’t be able to oversee all that. He did show me around the house and told me I could help myself to tea or coffee though — I don’t drink coffee, but they have a lot of weird tea packets here, so i have brewed a cup or two every day so far after I get home at night or in the early morning after i wake up.

He had also shown me my bedroom and bathroom the night before, and its worth noting that my bathroom is en-suite, but also shared — there’s two bedrooms here on the second level, which might also be the only two lockable rooms from the outside in the entire house, and thus good for guests. Anyway, those two rooms also share a bathroom/toilet that’s nested between the two rooms, with two doors that lead between just those two rooms and nowhere else. Both of those doors, like the bedroom outer doors, are also lockable from both the inside and the outside. Therefore, the protocol was that if you wanted to use the room, you’d lock the bathroom door leading to the other person’s room from your side, so they couldn’t open it, and then do whatever you had to do. And then once you were done, you’d unlock the other person’s door, retreat to your room, close the door, and lock your bathroom door from your end. It’s really interesting and works quite well.

Lastly, he said that the house had 14 rooms or something, hosted multiple families/people, mostly from Malaysia or elsewhere in the region, and that they hosted a (Malay) reading club in the evenings once a week on Fridays, and to please use the side door if I came back while it was active. The entire house was well-furnished and quite cozy and I like it quite a bit, with parts of the house that felt very rich and other parts that felt very rural/simple. I’ll take more pics at some point. I also met the head live-in caretaker, Kim, who was super friendly.

As far as I knew at the time, this first day was kind of a buffer day.. I was going to see the CMPB the next day, on Friday, and I was still recovering from the trip over here, so I didn’t want to go too crazy. I would find out later on in the evening that the Friday appointment got moved to Monday, and then find out on Saturday that it had gotten moved again to Wednesday, though.

One of my first goals was to pick up a 3-day unlimited train and bus pass, which cost $20-30 or so depending on how you did it. My place was located between Eunos and Kembangan stations on the east line, with Eunos to our west and Kembangan to our east, and I walked to the latter one, which was slightly nearer. However, when I reached the train station, I found out from the ticket office that I could only buy them from specific stations (Bugis, Changi, Ang Mo Kio, a few more) which had larger ticket offices and were basically the tourist attraction stations. I also found out that my Android phone with Google Pay enabled worked for tapping myself in just fine though, so that was what I used instead. After a few days of tapping, I actually think its comparable or slightly cheaper than the tourist cards even though I tap in and out 3-4 times a day.

The stations looked very different to me, with protective platform gates and such that were not there when I left 25 years ago. i took the train to Kallang MRT Station, a station and neighbourhood that had held very fond memories for me,.

And found that, as I had surmised from Google Maps examination, most of what I had known to exist was now long gone. This exit was well-known to me:

It’s the north-facing exit that used to lead to the McDonalds that we spent so much of our after-school time at. There was a diagonal path past the bicycles here that was now gone:

And a straight concrete path more or less where this temporal one is now:

The tree we used to sit under, at the base of a wide concrete court, is now fenced off:

I couldn’t tell for sure which one it was or if it even were these trees (maybe they got replaced), but if it is them it would have bee the one on the right.

The court itself is gone, there’s a playground roughly in the vicinity now:

But that’s not exactly where the courtyard was anyway. The residential building that was there was now gone too so that threw everything a bit off. I walked over to where the Kallang McDonalds I loved so much would have been:

But there was just a struggling convenience store there now. I’m sure it’s being turned into some other kid’s childhood memory though.

I also took a walk to the nearby river, something I barely ever did even though we were here almost daily back in Secondary 1-2 in 1997-1998,

There are otters? Really? Anyway, here are some miscellaneous pictures from my walk around here, which really drove home how long ago I had left and how much had changed.

Lunch

Lunch was from a Food Court named Food Haven, and specifically a store within the food court named Chef’s Kampong Chicken.

I ordered the Combo A — Kampong Chicken + Braised Beancurd + Yazha + Soup, for $5.50.

Yazha (亚扎) is apparently Acar, or pickled mixed vegetables. The chicken and rice were really good, and it basically tasted like Hainanese Chicken Rice, so it was probably prepared the same way. The Kampong in the name means Village, and apparently refers to the chickens being free-range chickens.

After I was done I walked around the area a little bit more before heading back to the train station.

My next stop was Tampines MRT station, near the eastern end of the East/West line — my last home in Singapore was here, but I wasn’t going to visit that area today. Instead, I knew there were three malls here next to each other, and I needed a keyboard and hub to turn my Steam Deck into a potential blogging machine. it was only four stops away from Kembangan (Kallang was also four stops away in the other direction from Kembangan) so it would be easy to get home after.

It’s a common refrain you’ll hear from me, but the place looks so different now, though I never had strong memories of the Tampines station anyway, just its surrounding area (which has morphed into something nearly unrecognizable). I visited all three malls in the immediate area, starting with Tampines Mall:

There used to be a food court on the top level of the mall that sold heavenly Hainanese Chicken Rice, but that food court is now gone. There’s a Kopitiam food area there now though (not to be mixed up with the lowercase kopitiam, which is the generic term for a coffeeshop, such as where I had lunch this day — this uppercase one is a food court company). The stalls looked interesting but I didn’t try them since lunch was still very much visible in the rear view window.

I then stepped outside and bought a drink from a random shop facing the outside (and thus the heat) rather than the air-conditioned interior of the malls:

This drink was Red Cane Leaf, from a store called Fun Toast @ Century Square, and it was slightly sweet and quite cooling, but a rather bad buy, since it had so much ice in it to pad its size that there wasn’t enough actual drink to be worth $3 compared to what one could get in Singapore on average for that price.

After this, I went into Century Square, the second mall.

There used to be a card shop here where I’d buy my L5R card packs from, but they’re long gone. It used to be located right at the top of the 3rd floor escalator, I think. A second-hand book store that I seem to remember being in here somewhere was also nowhere to be found.

Finally, I headed over to the last mall in the area, Tampines One. This one opened its doors in 2009, so it was not here when I was last in the country.

I then wandered around the outside of the malls. There was a bus interchange area that I did remember well, and I even found the bus lineup for the bus we used to take from here to get home (292):

There was still a row of outdoor shops lining the side of the path to the interchange like in the past, but the shops themselves had long changed. There wa a Bengawan Solo here that was long gone, and a nearby KFC too. If anything, the remaining shops were even more indie/mom-and-pop’s than before.

I headed home to try out my new keyboard and USB hub. Some pictures of a stroll home from Kembangan and a diversion around the neighbourhood follow. I also saw a stray cat and caught a picture of it:

In the evening, I went out again for a walk. This time, I walked in the other direction, as I wanted to learn the land route to Eunos MRT Station as well. This would end up being the route that I used more often, just by virtue of it being the western station, and so being one stop closer than Kembangan to most of the stops in the MRT system, since we were in the southeast side of the system. I also passed a wet market (closed) and a food court (open) on the right, which I really appreciated seeing. Very nostalgic sort of feeling even though I hadn’t been to this specific location before.

My target this evening was Tanjong Pagar, where I had heard from some news sites that there might have been a third week of a pasar malam, or night market, going on near a plaza there. There wasn’t, though, but I still walked around and got some lovely architecture and aesthetic photos that I enjoyed.

I found my way into a nearby mall called 100 AM mall and walked around that for a bit. There was a Japanese groceries and snacks store in there called Don Don Donki that spanned two floors, and I had seen a branch of this store back in Tampines One as well, but it wasn’t until now that I realized that i knew the store from a jingle that played in an anime that I had watched. I even heard the same theme song (Miracle Shopping) playing over the store loudspeakers. I went in and eventually bought a couple vanilla wafers just for the collectible cards.

The wafers themselves were quite okay. The store was overwhelming though. So much stuff.

Dinner

I walked around the neighbourhood a bit more as I headed for a nearby food court, secretly trailing behind some Caucasian tourists who were marvelling at how many bars and shops there were in the Tanjong Pagar/Chinatown area. One of them they tried to enter was Boys Only, but they were a group of 2 guys and 1 girl, so they moved on. They eventually ended up at the same food court as me, I think, which was Maxwell Food Centre.

It was late at night and many of the stalls were closed, but some stalls tended to either open and close later than others, or specifically opened at night to serve the vampires of Singapore, and I picked one that looked interesting and had a bit of a queue, since queues meant it must be popular and good (or the only stall open this late at night, but still!). I ordered their recommended dish, Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee, from the store named No.1 Maxwell, since its store number was #01-01. This was the same dish (and my favourite dish) that I had ordered the first night here. This one was MUCH better! It still had a couple slightly bland bits in the middle where the noodles felt bland and it felt like the lack of taste was being covered up by the bak eu phok in the dish, but I did enjoy the meal. I ordered a large bowl for $8, and then a sugar cane juice drink from a lady two stalls over who ran a stall named Xiao Mei Café. This one was not good, and felt rather tasteless to me, but was still refreshing. The entire meal cost $10, $8 for the noodles (large size) and $2 for the drink.

I had my dinner at the table directly in front of an extremely famous stall in the food centre, and throughout Singapore itself, called Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. It was closed, of course, but I hadn’t even realized that this was the food court that housed this stall, much less that I was sitting in front of it, until I had started eating and paused to look up between mouthfuls.

After this, I headed home for the night, wandering and taking pictures as I went. Among other things, there were a couple stray cats hanging around the Eunos wet market and food court that I had taken pictures of earlier in the day.

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