Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Red River BBQ, a disappointment

I went with my parents to Red River BBQ on Main Street in League City today. We've enjoyed their food for several years now, often bringing it home when we didn't have time to cook (or just didn't feel like it). Their BBQ sauce is especially good. Today, I tried their burgers for the first time (I always go for the BBQ), and the burger was really outstanding.

But the trip was a disappointment. We had a coupon for a free sandwich, and one of the owners of the place refused to honor it, stating that we didn't meet the terms of the fine print. My dad tried 2-3 times to alter the order to fit in, but somehow it all got rather confusing. I thought it was settled when the owner walked over to our table with a free sandwich, but his attitude was pretty bad. He actually stood there trying to argue with my dad about the fine print on the coupon, instead of just serving with a smile, which is generally the standard I expect at our little local spots like this one. (Competition for good service is pretty stiff around here. Most places do a fair job of it.)

I told my parents that I was surprised at the guys' attitude. My mom related a story, telling my why her office won't cater from Red River anymore. Some time back, the last time they catered from Red River, one of the owners was carrying food in, and he dropped a tray. Everyone saw him stop and pick the food up, put it back on the tray, and bring it in. Having seen it, they were a little sympathetic at first, but that changed when he started serving the food that had dropped. He would not even talk to the person in charge about a discount or replacing the dropped items. She called the restaurant in order to complain, only to be told, "He's one of the owners. No one can override him."

I normally prefer to recommend good spots to eat on my blog. And, before today, I probably would have recommended Red River as one of those spots that my family has always enjoyed, and that I have when I come back to visit. With the guy's attitude today, and the story from my mom's office, I thought it might be worth a short entry to say that Red River is a place I can recommend, but only recommend that you avoid it. (Don't let the smell of the good food deceive you!)

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

It's funny how much our perspectives about things changes by the location in which we find ourselves when speaking.

For instance:

A couple of years ago, some friends were spending Chinese New Year with us at my godparents' home. One of the friends was from the UK, and another from Japan. They were asking my about my hometown near Houston, and whether it is far from Austin, Texas. My reply was, "No, it's very near. It's only about a 4-5 hour drive." We got a bit of a laugh out of that after I realized what I had said. In Singapore, there are many times I'd prefer not to go downtown because of the "long drive" involved. That "long drive" takes about a half hour. But, it is true that I consider the 4-5 hour drive from my hometown to Austin to be "very near."


Or again:

When I was in Hunan, China, we stopped in a city called Zhangjiajie before making our way to the national park of the same name for a climb in the mountains there. We were chatting with our driver who shuttled us from the airport to our hotel, and I asked if Zhanghjiajie is a big city. He said, "No, it's a very small town." And when I asked him about the population, he said, "Oh, there are just over a million or so here." I thought to myself, "Oh, that is small."

I am at home visiting my family now, and I feel that my hometown is growing too fast, becoming too "cityfied." The population is around 60,000. Even when put together with the several small towns that sort of run together in this area, we're still probably talking less than a quarter of a million.


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Friday, October 26, 2007

Incoming Casino

Sentosa is a little island resort off the southern coast of Singapore. It's a pretty place, well developed into a site that tourist and local families all love for a pleasant day's outing. There are beaches, chalets, and so forth that really draw the locals, while tourists seem to be attracted to the wax museum, the big Merlion there, and other similarly touristy sorts of things. The recently opened Street Luge ride has been a big hit with both locals and tourists.

There's a casino coming into Sentosa in the very near future. It is going to be interesting to see how this changes the face of that resort island. I am going to be watching to see how things shape up. For now, I remain curious to see how things will ocme together.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cuisine of India

On Nasa Road 1 in Webster, you can find a great little spot of Indian food. Cuisine of India offers a very nice lunch buffet. It's a little crowded most weekdays, but that's just because the food is so good.

On the buffet, there's an endless supply of naan, with many types of curry and dishes available to go with it. There is also plenty of that wonderfully spiced long grain rice too. I love the spinach dishes, whether the fried one of the creamy spinach dip. There's plenty more available for vegetarians too, including the perfectly spiced chickpeas in curry, an eggplant curry, and several other mixed vegetable dishes.

For the carnivores, you'll find some great tandoori chicken, and the cilantro chicken is pretty good too. There's not much that misses for me at Cuisine of India. It's a great spot to stop for some really good Indian food, and you can even make it your lunch spot when you are on your way to NASA from the freeway.

Check here for a map to Cuisine of India

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Texas Renaissance Festival

At the Texas Renaissance Festival, you can seemingly take a step back in time. In October and November each year, there's a small patch of land between Magnolia and Plantersville, about a 45 minute drive north of Houston, that goes back in time, and brings guests back too. There's jousting, theater experiences, sword fighting, all manner of ruffians, courtiers, lords, ladies, and perhaps some faces you might recognize.

It's been going on for more than 30 years, each weekend during those two months. In recent years, they've also opened on 1-2 weekdays during that season just for school kids. A visit there during the week for kids is really a great idea for schools and other educational groups. The crew who puts on the Renaissance Festival is very professional. They do a great job with the kids, as well as entertaining a slightly more raucous crowd on the weekends. It's a tradition for many in the area, as well as guests who travel from all over the country to participate in the grand event.

If you've never attended a festival like this, you really don't know what you're missing. It's a great opportunity to step back in time and not just witness life in another era, but to actually be a part of it.

If you'd like more info, just visit the website. You'll find a blog there for your browsing as well.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Japan Airlines

On my way to the US from Singapore, I took Japan Airlines for one leg of the journey. It was the first time I had taken this airline, and I was impressed by the service.

Of course, that should not have been a surprise. The Japanese have such a reputation for attention to detail and for pleasing the customer. When sitting on Japan Airlines, it sure highlights these attributes. The snacks and drinks, the meals, the little towels brought between meals for cleaning up and all — it was all done very nicely. The attention to detail sure pays off in that it makes the journey a little more comfortable for passengers.

The most important thing to note, though, was the polite service of the crew. They were all very helpful and courteous. It was probably the best crew I've ever encountered... and I've spent an awful lot of time on planes!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Neighbour Update

He's finally gone and done it. I still don't have pictures, as I wasn't there when these alleged events happened. In fact, I only heard it through the grapevine, but my neighbourhood grapevine is generally quite reliable.

Here's the story. They say the new guy in the neighbourhood made his way, at last, from the parking lot to the nearby shops, about a half minute walk from my flat. When he reached the shops, the spotlight was immediately turned on him, with breakfast-eaters, early-morning-shoppers, and others all rather amused by this foreign presence.

Apparently the attention went to his head.

He went into a furniture shop, and began pulling cushions off of some of the sofas and chairs for sale there. He flung them into the grassy area between shop and sidewalk, and generally made havoc of of the shop's contents.

Not surprisingly, the fellow was finally rounded up by the authorities after this display.

I tell ya... the nerve of some, er... people.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Where to Stay in Madrid

Imagine heading out to your dream Mediterranean vacation spot: Madrid. The scenic mountain views, the perfect weather, the exotic food, music, and atmosphere... it all just sounds so enticing. For me, it makes me want to pack my bags and go now.

Before heading to Spain, there's a great resource for locating Madrid hotels. At Hotel Club, you'll find all sorts of useful information, including the best deals on hotels in Madrid. There is also a forum where you can get more user insights about places to stay in Madrid, helping you to find the best information to make the best choices about where to stay before you leave.

Hotel Club carries all the best hotel news for hotels around the world. Before you set out on your next adventure, stop in and check out the latest news and tips there.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Pulau Redang

I've talked before about some of the amazing beach holidays I've gotten to go on over the years. One of the best spots visited was Pulau Redang, where the waters teem with exotic sea life for the diver or snorkeler to enjoy.

When I went to Redang, it was still very much a new development. A friend of mine had been there some years before, and it was really untouched at that time. But even with the development going on when I visited, the beaches remained pristine, with the clearest waters I've ever seen. The views of the sea life were unbeatable. The two fish swimming under the coral in this photo were about 8 feet below me, and yet the view of them was as perfect as if they were near enough touch.

One of the highlights of snorkeling at Redang is swimming with the baby sharks. They swim very near the shore, and at times you will see a swarm of them near the coral. They are beautiful to watch.

It is perfectly safe to swim with the baby sharks. They are about a meter long, and still too young to do harm. One must, however, watch for the needle fish that swim nearer the surface. While they won't bite, it is not unheard of for snorkelers or swimmers to be accidentally speared by their long needle-point beaks.

You can reach Redang easily from Kuala Terenganu. I've made the drive from Singapore several times (about a 10 hour drive), and left my car at the jetty from which boats to Pulau Redang leave. Other options include flying to KT, and catching a bus from there to the jetty. It's just less than an hour's journey from KT to the departure point to Pulau Redang.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Hot Springs, Arkansas

My grandfather grew up in Arkansas, and much of my extended family members still live in a little Arkansas town (population 300 -- 299 of which are my relatives). I spent many of my holiday periods during my growing up days in Arkansas, the best memory of such a trip being the time I was there just with my grandparents not very long before my grandmother got too sick for such traveling. Having my grandparents all to myself for once was wonderful, and it is a memory that I am very happy to have. The farm lands on which my relatives live were the perfect setting for that holiday, and the time we spent driving in the Ozarks was like heaven to the 10-year-old me.

The Hot Springs area is one of those spots in Arkansas where you'll find some stunning scenery. This website has some great information for the area, including these helpful listings:

Hot Springs, Arkansas Best Restaurants
Top Attractions in the Hot Springs Area
Free Things to do in Hot Springs

The retaurant guide is very useful, with all of the listings being considered top dining spots by locals in the area. None of the listings are paid listings or reviews, so it is an especially useful site.

I like that the website there helps you get around the Hot Springs area as if you've lived there for a long time, instead of feeling your way along and falling into every tourist trap set to ensnare you.

If you get to visit the area, I hope you leave it with memories as pleasant as those I hold of the place.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Life on the Streets

Tonight I went with my godchildren's family for dinner. On the way to the coffee shop where we were eating, we happened upon a very interesting event going on underneath one of the benches alongside the sidewalk.

Huddled underneath the bench was a cat and her two kittens, still very, very young. As we stopped to take pictures of the nursing babies, we noted that they were younger than we might have first realized. In fact, if you note, you will see blood patches on the pavement in the photo. It seems these little guys were born a half hour or less before we saw them.

The mother cat was, of course, quite protective, so we were careful to keep a respectful distance. The pictures are, as a result, a little bit blurred, but you can still get the idea what the little fellows looked like. It was a lot of fun for all of us to see them. I wish I could say that the kids were especially excited, but my enthusiasm might just have topped theirs.

After dinner, we walked back past the feline family as they continued to huddle in their little safe haven. They were contentedly resting after the big event. I am afraid my flash woke them, so perhaps I owe them an apology.

But then, I suppose life on the streets is rough like that.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Tiananmen Square Cleanup Efforts

I saw this article and couldn't help thinking back on my time in Tiananmen Square (and lots of other parts of China where I've been that were much dirtier). It's nice to see the efforts going on to get the place sparkling clean.

However, there is something a little troubling about the tone of the article, isn't there? I was talking with a friend from China some time back. She had just come home from a holiday, and was commenting that the signs at tourist sites often offer a very different set of instructions in Chinese than in English. The English sign might have a little polite reminder ("No littering please," or perhaps some cuter, more creative version), but the Chinese version will be more direct, and specific. ("Don't litter, don't spit..." with a long list of "don'ts" following). I asked her if she found this insulting. She said not so much -- more that she feels sad that tourist sites (both inside and outside China) feel the need for htis sort of sign, and a little embarrassed that this is the general view.

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The Blue Moon Cafe

The Blue Moon Cafe is a quiet little spot inside of Stamford House, off of Hill Street, in Singapore. It is very conveniently located, within a couple of minutes' walking distance from City Hall MRT Station. And the style of the place is pretty cool too. It's just the sort of spot I like to settle down for a quiet afternoon, with a good cup of tea, and a good book at hand.

I like the food at the Blue Moon pretty well, and really enjoy some of the selections of tea. But, for me, the highlight there is the bookshelf. It's a bookcrossing shelf, so readers can leave old books there for others to take, or can pick up new (ok, used) books -- Free! I recently picked up a great find there, John Costello's Science Fiction Films, and have been enjoying it very much.

The Blue Moon serves as something of a headquarters for Bookcrossers in Singapore. The local bookcrossing bunch meets up there once a month. I've not actually been able to make it to a meeting yet (it seems I am always traveling), but I have left some books at The Blue Moon, and have picked some up too.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Singapore Food in Houston

I was reading a story a friend of mine told about looking for Singapore cuisine in the Houston area. I know the feeling... I always go through a little bit of withdrawal when I am "home" visiting my parents.

I am going to be making that trip very soon, and so have started getting ready -- hoping to find a spot that I can bring my friend to, and that the two of us can really enjoy some food from Singapore, even as we are so far away from home. I've found this list, which seems to be one of the most promising. I've made note of the restaurants listed there so that we can give them a try. I'll have an update soon. I hope we find a good spot to report on.

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