Sunday, July 28, 2013

7/22/13-7/28/13: Singapore Week 3

What can I say?  Singapore - you've completely won me over!

Let me give you a rundown on what I spent the week doing when I wasn't in the show first...

I took it easy for most of the week - as I am going to be a super-tourist during my time off for the next 2 weeks, but I did still continue to explore along with the sleeping and watching seasons 2-5 of Sex and the City...

Firstly, I made it out to the Gardens By The Bay in Marina Bay.  Well, the indoor gardens... GBTB is a  fairly new installation by the Marina Bay Sands.  They have 2 huge biodomes - one with a recreated Cloud Forest and a Flower Dome that houses plants from all over the world.  There are also several Supertrees that they've built in the outdoor gardens that apparently irrigate the entire outdoor garden area - which is huge and has sections for fauna and flora from all over Asia.  First, we checked out the Cloud Forest, who's center is a large mountain with a roaring waterfall.  The inside was incredibly - absolutely breathtaking.  There were so many different types of plant life that I've never see before.  And it was cool to walk through huge floating cloud formations that surround the mountain as you worked your way down.  Next was the Flower Dome - which had no waterfall but also really impressed me.  There were so many interesting plants - it was like walking into a world created by Tim Burton - but everything was REAL.  I highly recommend stopping in here if you make it to Singapore - it  really was a dazzling experience.  If it had been cooler - we would have strolled through the outside gardens as well, but as it was...I sweat my butt off just getting to the indoor gardens (lol).

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One night after the show, we wound up at the Newton Hawker stalls with our local girls.  A group of us had gone on their own last week and since they had no locals to look out for them - were majorly scammed.  They payed about $480 for probably what should have been $250 or so... But I felt confident with our girls - and wasn't disappointed.  For a mere $26 per person, we had Chili Crab (way better than the one I had before even), Tiger Prawns, Cereal Prawns, Oyster Omelets, Fried Rice, Fried Noodles, Bone marrow, drinks and even some Durian (not me of course) for desert. Was probably the best meal I had the whole time I was here.

Last night we played our last show here in Singapore at the Festive Grand.  This truly was an epic experience.  I cannot even hint at how amazing the audiences response to us was - especially on Twitter and Facebook.  The ones who came out to see us after the shows were overwhelming as well - Some were there 2 or 3 times!  Last night we had a fan make cookies shaped like all the ancestors and the family - unbelievable!! 

Our time here is one I will never forget - not only was it our longest sit down of the entire run but I've experienced things here that I never could of at home and met people so sweet and appreciative and helpful and just all around pleasant to be around.  This truly was the way to start off our time here in Asia.  Thank you everyone who's made our journey here such a great one!

I'm writing this as I wait for my plane to Bangkok, Thailand at Changi Airport - which can only mean one thing... VACATION!!! Thats right!  I'm off to Thailand for a week and a half before re-joining the company in Hong Kong so we can all travel into China proper together for our next set of shows.  Wish me luck - and I'll keep you posted on my Thai adventures :)

Monday, July 22, 2013

7/15/2013-7/21/2013: Singapore Week 2

This has been an outstanding week - I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to be here and experiencing all these wonderful new things!

First of all - show wise things continue to go very well.  I think I keep waiting for the preverbal 'other shoe to drop' because we were so worried about the comedy not transferring as well from America to Asia - but every audience seems to love it.  Which makes me incredibly happy.  Every time I get to go out after the show to the autograph and photo taking area that the Festive Grand has set up for us, I am literally blown away by the responses we get from the audience members who come through the line.  Its so thrilling to know that you are really affecting people - around the world!  And the Online response has been overwhelming too - One of the favorite parts of my day is now logging onto Twitter to see who's chatting about the show - and joining in on the conversations with them. (BTW if you don't follow me on the Twitter --- @shaunpuffyrice ).

As a tourist - I've been working overtime.  I want to make sure that since we're here for the whole month, I can walk away from Singapore knowing that I didn't leave any stones unturned.  I want to see it all - and I'm pretty far along on that journey after this week...a lot of it is due to this wonderful little phone app that TripAdvisor puts out - that gives you a ton of self guided walking tours and maps that show you where the public transportation and restaurants and shopping and attractions and everything you need to know about the place you are in.  AND it works offline - so if you are in another country and can't use you're 3G or wifi - it will still access your GPS and correctly guide you where you need to go. I love it and highly recommend it to anyone exploring a new area!!

Monday I decided to go back to Chinatown on my own and really explore the more cultural side of it - as I'd seen the street stalls and shops last time I was there.  Happily - there were 2 walking tours that I combined from my handy app.  I set out early, so I could be done about mid day when the heat would be at its worst and headed out to the Chinese Heritage Center.  It was very interesting - and not only gave you a lot of information about at what life was like to live in Chinatown back when it first was established, but set up half the museum as a replica of what the building it was housed in would have actually looked like.  The ground floor was set up like a tailor's shop but the top two were jam packed with tiny cubicles that barley fit 2 or 3 bunk style beds where whole FAMILIES would live. There were 6-7 cubes per floor and one communal kitchen that they all would share.  It must have been nearly unbearable.  And yet, people found ways to be happy and live their lives and raise their children - truly eye opening in the gadget filled chaotic world of possessions we live in today.

Next, I popped into a series of temples scattered throughout the neighborhood.  Right down the street from the Center is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, dating back to 1827, called Sri Mariamman Temple.  You can spot it from almost the end of the block because of the ornate statues of many of the major Hindu gods and goddesses portrayed on the roof.  I had never been in a Hindu temple before (or seen one from the outside for that matter) and was immediately struck with how beautiful it was.  The temple was FILLED with statues dedicated to the Hindu gods (apparently there are 1000s) - and all of them very lifelike in a cartoonish sort of way.  But there is no question to the quality of the artwork itself - an interesting find.  A little further down the way is the Thian Hock Keng Temple, a Hokkien temple from 1842 that was built entirely without the use of nails - and dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.  This one was just as beautiful but much simpler than the Hindu one.  All of the architecture was stunning though.  I was struck right away by the fact that most of the temple was open out in the open air - with only the sacred prayer hall fully covered - and the continual use of incense.  When you looked into the massive incense burners - the amount of ash in there was incredible!  The last temple I visited was Buddhist and smack dab right in the center of the hubbub of Chinatown, known as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple because it has a famous crystalized Buddha tooth (a sacred relic) on display.  Of the 3 I visited - this was my favorite and IMO the most stunning to see.  I was 4 stories high and had an Orchid Garden on the roof.  Each floor housed something different to see - from the hall of 1000 Buddhas on the ground floor to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas on the roof.  Everything inside was ornate and almost 'too beautiful'.  It literally took my breath away.  I was there in the early afternoon and just as I was leaving, they began a prayer service - led by a monk who was leading the group chanting that all of the followers were joining in on.  It truly was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to walk through these 3 places.  I always feel like an 'intruder' when I go into someone else's sacred places like this - even though they encourage it - so I'd like to thank them from letting me have that experience.

That night, I joined a group of us that were headed out to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo.  They have a few walking trails open and a tram that gives you a tour of the the zoo and lets you see the animals out and about in the evening - sadly for me that meant that most of them were sleeping or 'hiding in the shadows' (as our tourguide kept saying).  Apparently the others of us who went through had a more interactive animal experience - but as someone who grew up next to Busch Gardens in Florida - and has done 'night zoo' events - and hands on safari events with was a trip I could have skipped out on personally.  They did have a pretty cool show that involved Fire Dancers/Eaters that I enjoyed - and they perform at the entranceway to the zoo - so technically you don't even have to buy a ticket to see them (lol) But hey - if you end up in Singapore - give it a shot - maybe its just not my cup of tea (and I don't drink maybe it is my cup of tea...I digress).

Tuesday I took it a little easier and headed over to Orchard Road - which is the swanky shopping area of town.  There are 5 or 6 huge malls over there, filled with designer stores and brands that I definitely can't afford.  But it was cool to walk around in the A/C for a bit and see what Singapore was wearing.  Another thing I noticed was that even if I had the dough - the average size at most of the stores was... XXS.  I've rarely seen an XS in the states - and certainly not an XXS.  I think the largest that most stores carried was a L (which in the states would have been a medium at best).  So that was a kick to the ego - in rebellion I decided to buy something and found a very hip looking hat in a little boutique store.  It was made by a Singapore designer - so I'm supporting local - plus, its something I could only get here...which is pretty cool.

Wednesday Mark and I went out to explore Little India and Kampong Glam (the Arabian area).  We started off at the Sri Srinivasa Permual Hindu Temple - which was much more modest than the one I visited in China town.  In fact, all of the 5 places of worship that we saw here in Little India were.  There were services going on in most of them while we were there, so I didn't feel right taking a lot of photos - but just kind of took in the sights (though I did snap a few - as you can see...).  Right around the corner was the Leong San Buddhist Temple - which was right next to the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - which was right next to a sort of Japanese looking Temple.  So much diversity right there in Little India - literally steps from one another.  I found the most interesting one to be theSakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - inside there was a GIANT statue of the Buddha which, though not that day, was covered in 1000 blinking lights.  They were doing some renovations on the temple, but it was still open so we stepped in to take a peek.  A little further down the way, we came across the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple - dedicated to the goddess Kali (wife of Shiva).  In the Hindu religion, Kali is known as one of the more vengeful goddess - usually depicted with a necklace of skulls.  Her temple was different from any of the other other Hindu ones we've seen - there were electric neon lights everywhere - and her statute was terrifying. She is shown with a horrifying look on her face and a woman dangling by her intestines which have gotten caught in Kali's teeth.  She is standing on another dead guy and holding a baby in one of her (many) arms.  We saw that and thought it was time to go...

After our temple hopping, we walked down the main drag of Little India, which is very similar to Chinatown - but without the chaotic craziness of the street stalls.  We made our way to the Mustafa Center - which is something like a giant department store; they sell electronics, dvds, video games, shoes, clothes, toys, appliances, you name it.  And its all very cheap - and (apparently) its one of the only places in the country to find larger sizes that Americans might fit into.  Shoe sizes ran kind of small - and were all British sizes (I'm not sure what a size 41 means in American - but it doesn't fit me...)  It was cool to see how they were on display too - not in posh little boxes but crammed in to little nooks - as many that would fit without damaging them.  Farther down the block was the Tekka Center - which was a wet market and hawker center on the ground floor - and a women's clothes center on the top.  I always find it interesting to see all the meat and fish on display and being butchered right there as people request it.  Is it the most sanitary - absolutely not - but knowing that most of the local restaurants probably get their ingredients that kind of just overlook that.  Chicken feet anyone?

Next we walked over to the Kampong Glam area - and took in some of the store along Arab St and Haji Lane - lots of (flying) carpet stores and a really cool place that customizes scents for you and turns them into colognes, perfumes, candles, bath salts and lotions - using the ph makeup of your skin.  Also a ton of cool restaurants and designer boutiques. The highlight of the area was the Masjid Sultan Mosque.  It looked like the Taj Mahal siting there at the end of the bazaar.  Inside wasn't anything like I thought it'd be.  Completely open and simple - just a carpet place for them to pray - with a sensible sign telling the women to go upstairs where they could stand along the sides of the building to pray out of the way of the men on the ground floor.

Thursday ended up being a big Foodie Day - Blair, Nolan and I (along with a new friend, Blake, from Universal Studios Singapore) went out to the Singapore Favorite Foods Tent down by Marina Bay.  As part of the food festival, they had 40 stalls set up with the 'best of the best' of the local favorites all there for you to enjoy.  We tried chili crab and prats and oyster omelets and carrot cake (not what you think...) and bbq stingray - all really good.  That night - our locals took a bunch of us out to the Muslim area for their Ramadan street fair.  If you are unaware of Ramadan - its sort of the Muslim New Year - they fast all until sundown for a month and fest in the evenings - so there was lots of food to try.  A lot of it was Fair foods - like things you'd find at a state fair.  Amazing burgers, fish curry puffs, baked meats, fish chips (weird but good) - and my favorite - Apam Balik.  Its sort of a thick crepe with cream corn, peanuts and sugar inside - soooo good!

Finally - Sunday night, a group of us went out to Club Mansion for their 'alternative night'.  The theme was Boot Camp (lol) - so we donned our best war gear and headed out.  Now drinks in Singapore are OUTRAGEOUSly priced - there's a huge tax on alcohol to
discourage its use.  I'm talking S$16 for a I drank water - but had a good time.  There was A/C and lots of flashy people to look at.  It was a late but fun night - a good way to end the week.

Monday, July 15, 2013

7/1/13-7/14/13: San Francisco Layoff/Singapore Week 1

Its been a while since I wrote in here.  But I've been LIVING!

So let me back up for you...

We left Portland and flew out to San Francisco for 2 days while waiting for our flight overseas.  I'd never been to San Francisco before - well, we flew into SF airport and drove out to another city on a previous tour, but I've never REALY seen the city.  Of course, we were there during the BART (their subway workers) strike - so it made getting around a bit challenging but not impossible.  A few of us decided to go down to Fisherman's Wharf and branch out from there to see the city as best we could in the little time we had.  We started out taking in the Wharf, where you can see Alcatraz, and had a bowl of clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at the Boudin Sourdough Bread factory.  Then we jumped on a Hop On-Hop Off Tour bus that took us all over town.  Sadly, the Golden Gate Bridge was fogged out by the time we got there so you couldn't see it at all.  We did get to see the worlds most crooked street, Golden Gate Park and some interesting areas of the city that we wouldn't have normally seen on our own.  Then we walked over to Ghirardelli Square for an out-of-this-world chocolate brownie sunday.

Next day we got up and headed over to the airport.  Our trip was broken up into two sections: SFO to Hong Kong (14 hours) and then Hong Kong to Singapore (4 hours) - and because of time zones... We left on the 3rd - skipped the 4th and arrived at Midnight (Singapore time) on the 5th.  Kinda of hard to wrap your head around. I'm not sure how it worked - but I do know that I am 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time exactly.  The trip was uneventful (thank goodness) - just long.  I tried not to sleep much since I wanted to make sure I got on a sleeping schedule that was right with my new time zone right away - so I read alot - watched movies - etc... Once we landed in Singapore, we boarded a chartered bus that took us out to Sentosa Island - which is where we are staying and performing while we're here.  Its all sort of a blur in my mind. We checked in and went right to bed.

Sentosa Island is NICE - lets just say that half the island is inhabited by the local millionaires - while the  other half is basically one big family international vacation destination run by Resorts World with many attractions such as the Festive Grand theatre (where we are performing), Universal Studios Singapore, several beaches, a water park, an aquarium, a luge, a casino, many celebrity restaurants, a huge mall called Vivo City and tons of other quirky little fun things - and about 10 different luxury hotels.  The hotel we are staying at is right across from a giant statue/lookout point called the Merlion - which is the national symbol of Singapore.  Its basically a half Lion/half Fish creature that symbolizes Singapore's power on land and sea as a port city.  The hotel is great - and offers a (free to us) breakfast each morning that is to die for.  They offer American fare (hash browns, pancakes, etc), Asian dim sum and other local selections, a European meat and cheese spread as well as a huge array of baked goods, fruits and juices.  Great way to start the day - and it means you really only need to eat out one meal a that's been a saving grace.  Its also located within a 12 minute walk to the theatre and a 5 minute walk to an island tram that takes you to the mall (Vivo City) where you can catch the MRT (their subway system).

We were lucky enough to not have much to do show-wise for about 4 days - so that gave us plenty of time to acclimate to the area and explore a bit.  There was some press to be done - a lot actually...but it was split up very well among the 'Family' with a couple things that the involved the whole cast.  I spent one whole day with Keleen (our Morticia) going to different radio and newspaper interviews at the Mediacorp complex.  It seems like the media here is all housed in one large government facility broken up into a large TV building that holds all the local TV stations, a large Radio building that holds all the local radio stations and a Print building that holds all the local newspapers and magazines - so that made it easy to get to all of the press, since it was all right there in the same basic vicinity.  All the radio personalities we spoke with were great - and so much fun to work with.  We also did a small 20 minute cabaret version of the show at a local indi music outdoor cafe - which was a lot of fun.  Some of the other cast members were asked to do some TV appearances on local news stations and even on a variety show.  MAC Makeup also had a few of us doing makeup demonstrations down on Orchard Road (where they have all the fancy smanchy stores/malls).  And from what I've seen - its done some real good - as our shows are actually selling pretty well for such a large house with such a long run.

When we were finally called into work - we did a small tech run of the show with the local crew - then two 'preview' performances before our 'official' opening on Thursday night.  I hadn't realized what a big deal this show was - especially the opening- here in Singapore.  But it was BIG.  Many of the local celebrities attended the show opening night - including Ming Bridges, who is an Asian chart rising singer from Singapore.  After the opening we went out to take pictures with the VIPs who came to see the show - and it was like I had just won the Tony back home.  There were celebs posing with us - and huge crowds outside the velvet ropes snapping photos of us taking pictures with them.  It was a wonderful, hot, blurry moment.  Followed by a great opening night party thrown by our producers - who were in town for the event.

The shows have been going very well this first week - different - but well.  These audiences definitely find different jokes funny - and others not so funny at all.  They are also, on the whole, a quieter audience throughout - which is their culture.  Its taken some getting used to, for sure - and its a tiny bit frustrating since (I've found) that a lot of my jokes are VERY AMERICAN SPECIFIC.  So they are followed by obligatory cricket noises - but thats ok.  We're bringing them authentic American Musical Theatre - complete with Charlie Sheen and american football jokes.  We've also found out that they don't find the character of Grandma so funny here - as the cultures here generally tend to revere the elderly and not make jokes about them peeing themselves.  So at least I'm not alone. THE SHOW - though, seems to be going over very well  - and for that I'm very excited.  The audiences are incredibly appreciative and always excited to meet with us afterwards (we have a rotating cast meet and greet schedule).  And our social media fans are off the hook.  A few of the cast have really taken to chatting with and getting to know our Facebook and Twitter fans - and they are loving it as much as we are.  Its very exciting!

Outside of the show, I've done a ton of exploring.  And am LOVING Singapore!

My first day out - all I really did was walk around Vivo City - which is this HUGE mall that has everything you can think of: clothing stores, electronic stores, massage parlors, restaurants, spas, a movie theatre, a grocery store, pharmacies...everything.  It was a great culture shock just to walk around the grocery store - I think I strolled the aisles for a good hour just browsing.  Eventually I ended up buying some instant noodles to keep in the room and some juices and things.  One day a cast mate and I went back and got massages from this tiny little woman who jumped up on the table, straddled my back and beat the crap out of it with her elbows - which was painful at the time but GREAT a day later.
 I also thought that I would try a local delicacy that I've been hearing/reading about called a Durian.  It is known in SouthEast Asia, which is the only place is grows, as the King Of Fruits.  From what I read - it was supposed to smell awful (akin to rotting fruit) but taste unbelievable (one book said it was like almond custard).  So I bought one at the grocery store - and convinced Bryan, Dan and Keleen to try it with me...Lets just say...we all almost vomited right there at the table.  The smell was bad - and the tasted was worse - not to mention the TEXTURE.  It was sort of like biting into a rotting almond/onion flavored slug.  NEVER AGAIN will durian pass my lips.  But hey - I gave it a go...

I also spent some time exploring the rest of Resorts World - walking around the Casino area, checking out the shoppes and hotels, walking out by the beaches - in fact I took a bridge to the Southern most part of continental Asia!  We caught a really cool nightly show on the waterfront that involved some dancing electronic cranes that fell in love and turned into real birds - well real birds on an LCD screen - but it was still pretty cool.

When I finally made it off the island...Mark, Julio and I jumped on the subway and headed out to the Singapore Flyer - the largest/tallest Ferris Wheel in the world (just beats the one in London) to get some great views of Singapore from above.  We also checked out the Marina Bay Sands Hotel - which is this  monster of a building - well, 3 technically.  Its built in 3 tiers and connected at the top by a gigantic infinity pool.  Mark had a friend from NYC who lives here now that worked over in the Shoppes at the Sands - so we stopped in to get out of the heat and say 'Hi'.

During our big cabaret press events, we discovered that we were smack dab in the heart of the colonial section of town so...Mark, Blair, Amanda, Chloe and I walked over the the historic Raffles Hotel and had a Singapore Sling at their Long Bar.  This is significant because...ITS THE BAR WHERE THEY CREATED THE SINGAPORE SLING - which happens to be one of my favorite drinks ever...been drinking them in the states since I was 21.  I was introduced to it by a work friend who's son had served over here in the military and in turn, introduced her to it.  So it was kinda cool to be where it was invented.

One day Galloway, Amanda, Aaron and I went down to Chinatown to do some shopping and pursue the outdoor markets.  It was pretty neat - lots of different things everywhere from knickknacks to tailors to Chinese herbal medicines and teas to open air fruit and spice stalls - as well as butchers and live poultry stands.  Very crowded and very cool all at the same time.  And I picked up some really cool mementos for me and some presents for others.  Not to mention the foot massage that Amanda I got from this reflexology place that we were walking by...

Well - week one down -- there is still Sooooooo much of Singapore to explore - and I can't wait to share my adventures with you!