Guinness Draught in a Bottle

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@sangsara: Guinness Draught in a bottle is science at its most amazing. I’m gonna be drinking this all the time. pic.twitter.com/cBCy2ICeei

A couple of days ago, a new bottled version of Guinness Draught was launched locally. My friend and colleague Bert (@bertnert), probably the biggest Guinness fan I know, got me in the door to try a few of them out. As the embedded tweet should show, it’s pretty close to the experience of drinking a ‘surger’ or ‘widget’ can of the stout. Unlike drinking from a pint glass, you don’t get a foamy head but the creaminess is there and quite satisfactory.

There was also a Guinness World Record attempt going on that night, to see how far a full bottle could be slid down a narrow bar counter. The previous record was 10 meters, and the record was broken, and then broken again by the four plucked-from-Facebook contestants. I think it now stands at around 12.5 meters.

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Uber in Singapore

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The popular U.S. limousine service, Uber, has begun a local trial with a small fleet of cars, and I called one tonight after a late one at the office.

For those unfamiliar with the service, it’s like booking a taxi through ComfortDelGro’s iPhone app, but without the frustration and depressing emptiness their thoughtless UX design induces. Uber’s cars are all top-end Mercedes Benz sedans, and cannot be flagged down on the street (limos, not cabs).

Since Uber also relies on an iPhone/Android booking app, the main differences compared to local taxis from SMRT & Comfort are cost, luxury, and payment method. Uber cars cost more: base charges start at S$7 and trips are a minimum S$12. Making up for this in some way is the fact that fares are consistent throughout the day and night, and include all charges such as our local Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme.

Being willing to pay more means getting a car when you want one, at least that’s the promise once operations are in full swing. If money’s no object, that’s the end of waiting 30 minutes on the line for a taxi. One of the nicest touches of the whole experience is how you just get out of the cab when you arrive at your destination — the fare is charged directly to your credit card and you instantly get a receipt via email. Your driver rates you on a 5-star scale, and you rate them too.

My car arrived within 10 minutes, and it was a great ride. No hiccups or hassle. At the end of a long day, a comfortable seat makes all the difference. The last thing you want (#firstworldproblems alert) is a torn and messed up leather seat, a balled up tissue in the door handle, touching your fingers, etc. I can’t justify paying Uber’s prices in every instance that I’d normally take a taxi, but god do I ever want to!

Uber iPhone app

The booking flow and interaction design in the iPhone app really puts the local competition to shame, and speaks to the premium service that it strives to be. Marking your pickup location on the map is as easy as using Google Maps or picking a location from a list in Foursquare. The moment your car is confirmed, a photo of your driver along with his name and car license number/model are displayed onscreen. On the map above, a little black car approaches your destination.

It’s a pleasure to see a transport alternative that breaks through the calcified monopoly of our local cab operators, where the same pool of cars has to service street pickups, taxi ranks, and phone/internet bookings. Because of the financial incentives that bookings provide, it’s often hard to get a cab at a queue or off the street. Booking has become something of a norm here, and the system feels broken. A solution that allows people to pay more to be served first isn’t a great one, but it could ease a little pressure and be a very profitable and popular short-term solution.

Get $10-20 free credit with my referral link: http://uber.com/invite/ubersangsara
or use promo code “ubersangsara” if you’d like to try them out.


Edit: if you thought I was exaggerating about the torn seats, here’s the regular taxicab I had the next morning, faintly smelling of piss to boot.

Windowsill (Pies) in the Woods

We’ve been fans of Windowsill for awhile, although I’ve only eaten their pies on two occasions before this. They had a tiny outlet in Pandan Valley before, which we didn’t have a chance to visit before they closed down.

Since then, they’ve been operating a delivery business which we recently had a chance to use when an American friend was missing traditional dessert pies (like pumpkin) on Thanksgiving.

This new place is called Windowsill in the Woods, probably because it’s outside of town in Lavender (78 Horne Road), and has a wood cabin theme going on. The pies are still fantastic, but we didn’t have a chance to try the coffee because they were having electrical issues, and the interiors could do with some acoustic dampening. It looked like they were still sorting some stuff out, but in all, a nice enough place for a quiet Sunday.

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Slava’s Snowshow, Singapore

Snow storm, Slava's Snow Show.
Snowstorm finale, Instagrammed from my iPhone

My girlfriend and I attended last night’s performance of the award-winning Slava’s Snowshow (now on till the 9th of September, at the Marina Bay Sands theaters), which isn’t easily described because it has clowns, but isn’t really for kids; its narrative has no binding logic, but it says a lot without words; there’s snow, as promised, but really it’s about dreams, playacting, physical comedy, scenes of profound Godot-esque surrealism (as you’d expect from Russian clowns) , departures, alienation, and (I got the sense of this) having fun by being lost.

The Times of London called it “a theatre classic of the 20th century”, and its creator, Slava Polunin, was formerly of the Cirque du Soleil where he served as a clown-in-chief of sorts.

I don’t want to spoil it too much, but as long as you’re sitting in the stalls, you can’t escape being immersed in its key scenes. The performers regularly break the fourth wall (does this apply to the stage?), multiple objects and effects break free from the front and rush to the back of the hall, creating for adults a sense of wonderment that evokes memories of childhood play.

Even at around 80 minutes, it’s all over a little too quickly. I wish I’d paid a little more attention to the details, and the use of music (which was excellent, and the hall handled acoustics well). It’s something I can definitely see myself going for again someday, somewhere else in the world.

There’s about a week and a half to go, and tickets are still available. Try the link below for the Marina Bay Sands’ website.

Event info

Photo credit: Marina Bay Sands

On the Loss of Go Go Curry in Singapore, and Monster Curry

Happier times: this might have been my last Grand Slam, at Millenia Walk

Go Go Curry was one of my favorite things IN THE WORLD.

For the uninitiated, a primer: a casual dining restaurant serving Japanese curry rice of the Kanazawa variety — which has no surviving example in Singapore now that the gorilla mascot-fronted Go Go (“Go” being the number 5 in Japanese, 55 being the jersey number of a Japanese baseball player with which the franchise owner is obsessed) has left the country.

There were three outlets in Singapore, with the brand brought in and (mis)managed by the En Dining group in 2009, I believe. Some elements of the experience were lost in the journey over (the original low-rent diner aesthetic, with food served on metal plates, somehow translated to porcelain in a FOOD COURT setting here, to say nothing of the missing red pickled vegetables) and it was clearly underpromoted — I’ve told my sad story of curry withdrawal to many who returned blank stares, “What curry?”, and then, “Oh that sounds like the kind of thing I would have liked, too bad.” We often say Singapore is a small place, one easy to tire of, but things in the middle of town can still elude notice.

Every time I’m in Japan, I find myself eating at least two precious mealtimes’ worth of the stuff, just because. I was grateful for the Singapore branches, only the second country outside Japan to have any, but it’s naturally best in its native land.

Native habitat: the Go Go Curry branch in Shinjuku

And so, finally, after a couple of years of disappointing sales despite my best efforts (I sometimes clogged my arteries there more than once a week), it just disappeared. I haven’t a clue if the contract just expired, if it was given up, or taken back. Tears were cried on the inside. I blamed myself for not soliciting a job with En Dining’s marketing department when the thought once occurred to me; the conceited idea being that maybe I could have helped prevent this. I daydreamed about making it big so I could one day buy the franchise rights back and do it right by myself. I railed on Twitter, I had a public breakdown on Facebook, and then I renounced this awful life and shook its grasp on me, wandering into the mountainous hinterland of my gastronomic impulses. Over time, in between the valleys of fading memory and hopeful promise of one day meeting its rich, dark, peppery flavor again, I finally found peace. And now I am ready to address its would-be successor.

Of all the colors in the world: the Monster Curry identity is too close for comfort.

Monster Curry. From the first moment one sets eyes on its circular yellow & red logo, featuring a cartoon dragon face where the gorilla’s face should be, there is the overwhelming sense of deja vu, and treachery.

With the birth of this new enterprise, in the same three places where Go Go Curry once stood, The En Dining company has engineered itself a stand-in to the throne. The large serving options are intact, and some new twists added. Inspired by the more successful CoCo Ichibanya chain, 5 levels of spiciness are now offered. In addition to the handful of fried meat options from before, some new menu items, including NATTO CURRY (abandon hope, all ye who dine here!). The porcelain plates have reached comically-large proportions: I swear the one I just ate off was larger than a 12″ pizza.

And yet somehow, the same staff who once cooked pork katsus under the Go Go banner now do a worse job in their Monster uniforms. Something’s not right, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the curry.

Heart disease by any other name: the Mountain Monster Curry comes satisfyingly close to the decadence of Go Go’s Grand Slam/Major Curry.

It’s thinner, and doesn’t taste anywhere as moreish. I don’t think it qualifies as Kanazawa style. This situation is helped a little by the proprietary new hot sauce they add according to your scale-of-1-to-5 spice wishes. I don’t want to give it too much credit, but the hot sauce is the best thing Monster Curry has to offer. If you don’t get at least one dollop of it (that’s my personal limit), you may as well not eat here.

There’s a spiel I’ve seen written up on a couple of food blogs around the net (must have gotten the same press release), about the lengths En’s head chef went to in the creation of this ‘ultimate Japanese curry’. The stuff is purportedly cooked for two whole days before being given another day to collect itself in silence before being served. He needn’t have bothered! It’s flat and devoid of character without the hot sauce. I’ll bet that’s made in a blender in under 5 minutes.

I’ve been back to eat the stuff several times now, not nearly as frequently as before, but close. It’s all I’ve got for now, anyway.

In all fairness, would I have willingly traded Go Go Curry in for this? Of course not. But the list of things I wouldn’t pick over having Go Go in Singapore is long: The Whopper, Colonel Sanders’ original recipe chicken, Frappucinos, steady employment, the love of my parents…

I’ll end with an excerpt from my smartphone diary:

My $19 “Monster Egg Curry” large enough for two (pfft!) has arrived. The cheese is off to one side instead of being placed on the hot curry to melt. Why are they getting this wrong now? It’s as if being privy to the methods of a leader in Japanese curry as an official franchisee for over 3 years has taught them nothing. What.

The intriguing Jawbone UP, which we can’t have in Singapore

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Site: http://www.jawbone.com/up

I’m not the first or fifth person to come to mind when a friend talks about fitness gadgetry; the only time I came close to being a buyer was with last year’s iPod nano. I used the pedometer once. Then with the 3DS and StreetPass, I tracked my walking for maybe a week before forgetting about it.

The beauty of Jawbone’s UP bracelet, which I’ve been waiting for most of this year, is that you can’t really forget it. It stays wrapped around your wrist, through showers and workouts, sleep and meals, continually recording your movements and interpreting them as steps, calories, games of tennis, and fitful tosses and turns in the night. Every now and then, you plug it into your iPhone, and an app throws you beautiful infographics and logs your activity, even comparing it to friends’ if you so choose. Competition changes everything, but so does have a visual feedback loop that makes you think about your behavior, and optimizing it.

And it’s just $99.

I’m sure in 9 months we’ll have an UP+ with Bluetooth 4.0 low-power technology that will work with the iPhone 4S, so everything can be wireless, but that doesn’t change the fact that I want one of these NOW. And because this is a Jawbone product, I can’t. It’s only available in the US for now, and they won’t ship it overseas.

This reminds me of the circus that getting a Jambox speaker last Christmas was, which ended with my girlfriend arranging a chain of favors through friends that I’m sorry to have inconvenienced. Jawbone distribution in Singapore is the pits. The Jambox, currently USD$180 in the US, hit the local market late and costs SGD$328, or USD$256. The Icon and Era headsets aren’t far off. It’s criminal bullshit.

They claim it’ll roll out internationally by the end of the year, but I’m not holding my breath. If any kind Stateside soul I follow on Twitter wants to help send me one, I’ll pay by Paypal!