Monday, September 26, 2011

25 Sep 2011 - The Eastern Restaurant

As part of the "Eat-at-a-yet-to-visit-place" campaign, they visited The Eastern Restaurant. He had chanced upon some blogs that wrote about it.

Being located in Centrepoint sounded convenient, but they had a bit of trouble finding it in the mall. He frequented the fast food restaurants in the mall, but never knew the existence of The Eastern Restaurant. It was way back in the mall, with other restaurants like Ichiban Boshi and Lerk Thai.

The menu, immediately implying a basket of steamed pork dumplings....

Starter of spiced beef shank, $6.50++. Cold and nicely seasoned to prepare you for the feast.

Basket of four pork dumplings (xiao long bao) served on a piece of cabbage, $4++. Upon lifting the cover, the smell of cabbage wafted out. Some may like it, some may not. Nevertheless, it was an interesting way to serve the pork dumplings, other than in bases of cloth or tin.

Plate of three pan-fried pork dumpings (guo tie) for $3.80++. Liked it that the skin did not have the doughy smell, had a bit of broth within the dumplings too, tasty.

Stewed beef brisket noodles, $8.80++.
Noodles were hand-pulled, but he isn't sure if that contributed to the nice springy texture of the noodles. He had ordered 1 serving to share, and had to get the waitress' help to cut the noodles. That's because the noodles were really long, possibly the whole bundle was just a single strand of noodle.
Beef brisket looked dry, but they were deceived. It was actually tender and full of flavor.
Soup was touted to have collagen added, good for the skin. Liked the fact that it was not salty, providing reassurance to finish up the soup.

Special Furong Egg, $10.80++. This is scrambled egg white with crab meat. Not too sure if the brown shreds sprinkled on top were crab meat or conpoy, but they were crispy and tasty. In it were also bits of processed crabsticks and peas. What do you do with the raw egg yolk in the middle?

Add black vinegar and pepper, then beat up the mixture. They enjoyed this smooth and savoury dish. By the way, this portion is probably right for 4 persons, unless you really like eggs.

Serving of 5 dumplings in chilli oil, $6++. Reminded him of May 2010 in Taiwan's Shihlin Market, and he would later place orders of an additional 2 servings. The skin was moist and smooth, and the mixture of fried garlic, chilli oil and vinegar together titillated the senses.

Basket of three steamed custard buns for $4.50++. Tasted good enough, right mix of sweetness and saltiness, but the custard was not as full as expected. Still enjoyed this anyhow.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

24 Sep 2011 - Canele and Best Fries Forever

Supposed to go shopping for his new wallet, since she was not agreeable with those he had found online.

Started the outing with a trip to Canele, she had been nagging that she hadn't tried the macarons yet. It was their first time there, by the way.

Got seated pretty quickly. Didn't expect the menu to be thick, it had more to offer than just sweets.

Monogram on the menu.

He had thought they were there for sweets, but she ended up getting tempted by other pictures in the menu. Here goes.

Carbonara for her, $17++. Topped with poached egg as seen in the picture.

His pick of Crab Duo - $18++. Went aglio olio over tomato (marinara?) sauce, chilli crab was probably on his mind. Lots of delicious crab meat, with a bit of "skeletal" remains. Not too sure if it was the doing of the crab, but the aglio olio was too soupy to his liking.

Then came the "mains"...$2.34++ each. Just the second time he's had macaron, he enjoyed how the light airy shells melted into a sweet sensation in the mouth. Had wanted to buy the promotional box of 16 earlier, but that had already been sold out.

Paid the bill of $59.87 and headed off. Took this picture from the outside of Canele, and this aisle would bring them to more food. At this point of time, she also saw 2 girls holding a large cup of something...

Walked on and tried the Chocolate Oreo Crunch at Chewy Junior, and he was ready to purchase some... but she vetoed.

A little bit further down and she finally spotted what the 2 girls were holding, fries from Best Fries Forever. Looked good and also had some customers queuing, so they got themselves a large cup of the Wild Wild West variant ($5). That's topped with chilli beef sauce (probably just flavouring, no meat had) and cheese. Not too bad, but he'll probably go for some other fast food next time.

Monday, September 19, 2011

18 September 2011 - Old Malaya Cafe at 313@Somerset

After all his nagging on finances, she wanted to go somewhere fresh yet affordable for dinner. Combed the malls from Orchard MRT and settled for The Old Malaya Cafe at basement 3 of 313@Somerset.

The place boasts of various famous Malaysian dishes, and they ordered chicken rice, prawn noodles and sago gula melaka, all for $14.

Chicken rice dish with rice in the form of rolled balls. $5

Chicken to accompany the rice balls. You may opt for chicken thigh at no extra cost.

Tempted by the 5 large plump prawns on the menu, he ordered the large portion of prawn noodles for $6.50. It came with no prawns visible, for reasons you may find later on. Soup was tasty, but some of the accompanying pork slices were dry and hard. Leftovers for the day, since it was already late dinner?

And digging further, he found some pieces of mangled prawns. It felt that the prawns were hidden because they were not presentable.

Another mangled prawn... didn't feel too happy eating this bowl of noodles.

He got a slice of egg in this $6.50 dish.

Sago Gula Melaka for $2.50. Salty coconut milk on the left, and sweet syrup for contrast on the right.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

17 September 2011 - Kiseki, again...

Miss Glutton wanted to have sashimi after browsing the fancy stores for a couple of hours. The most convenient place that came to mind was Kiseki. This is getting boring already...

Saw this guy on their way to the food hunt.

Trying out a new way of presenting the images, especially when many of them are out of focus. Something's wrong with him nowadays. Maybe it's the stress.

Assorted sashimi and the crabs

Yakimono, agemono and other cooked stuff. Don't remember having oysters of any sort in Kiseki before...

Mash of dessert, also the first time he's had so much dessert at one go.

Featuring her pictures too...

Assorted sashimi...

"Whole" crab, after seeing it in halves so many times.

"Whole" crayfish, didn't enjoy this as much as the prawns. Meat tasted plain.

Sauteed scallops

The item in between lady's finger and cocktail sausages was tasty and fragrant. Reminded him of sate lilit in Bali, fish paste slapped onto a stick of lemon grass and grilled.

A more "wholesome" yakimono picture of quail egg sticks

Desserts attack

Marshmallows in pudding?

Another plateful of dessert she polished off.

3 scoops of ice cream, nice. So much for being weight-conscious.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pictorial proof for Far East Travels

Gave Far East Travels a call around 5pm on 16 September 2011, Friday. Hyder answered, Joyce was not around, and Valerie was in a meeting. Hyder assured him that a note would be left for Valerie to inform her to call back. It's already 8.45pm as he's typing this, but he hasn't received any call yet. Alright, perhaps it's a Friday, shan't be too harsh on her.

Probed Hyder a little and he confirmed that Joyce was a director at Far East Travels (as found on the internet), while Valerie was an accounts executive.

To make things more efficient and investigation easier for Far East Travels, he would continue to provide all the proof he can get his hands on. Images are from several cameras for different perspectives, to lessen the bias of this post. More to come soon as required. What a cooperative victim, huh? He's getting a little tired from all these though.

The cameras that were separated from the rest are Canon IXUS60 and Nikon D7000. There are currently 2 others in here, a Canon EOS 600D and a Panasonic DMC-FX10 which made it across Batam on schedule.

To retrieve EXIF data for verification of the photograph's time-stamp:
1. Save the images from the blog post to file.
2. Right click on the image and select "Properties".
3. Click on the "Summary" tab.
4. Click on the "Advanced >>" button. Skip this step if you're already there.

See this updated post for the sequence of events

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Updates on dispute resolution with Far East Travels

17 January 2012
Checked their Facebook for updates, and it turned out that they had it disabled. Have they finally known shame?

Just a few days earlier, from updates from the other victims, it appeared that the rogue agency Far East Travels had also owed months of payment to various hotels, forcing the operators not to acknowledge anymore of such "FET vouchers". Disgraceful or not, judge for yourselves.

This is the screenshot of the copied reply from a Batam hotel.

Bali and Phuket travellers too! People have paid for the tour packages and look what Far East Travels had done. Dishonorable. This was taken from the "fan page"

18 December 2011
One of the staff accused him of "playing the game of tennis and throwing words onto each other". Well, all he did was ask some questions to verify some facts, which did not get any answers. Their template answer nowadays was to get down to the agency in person.

1. Who to look for? This is important, because when they passes the ball around the other time, it was either "not in the loop" or "no executive powers".

2. What information do they lack, such that he needs to be there in person? The required details have been sent through email, and if nobody had bothered to process, coupled with point #1, wouldn't he be set for a wasted trip?

It does seem like the dedicated CRM recently set-up is not having much effect, whether intended or not. As for Joyce, wondering if she's busy with her other jobs, or if she's just turned a blind eye. She's a senior litigator after all, huh.

13 December 2011
It would seem like Joyce had totally gone into ignore mode. So has the staff of the travel agency. Since they were not replying to the emails, he decided that he would join in the other complainants on their Facebook "Recommendations" column. What irony.

To which they finally replied:
We do not have any intentions of ignoring you. We have however refunded your ferry tickets accordingly. As for the compensations you are looking at, i suggest you take it up formally in your forum and we will respond accordingly. You do realize that we have given you the option to choose the extra perks on the additional massage which you have turned down and it is unfortunate.
Yeah, right! No intention of ignoring, when there were zero replies despite weekly emails over 3 months. Joyce promised to look into the matter, but has gone missing in action. A customer relationship team was set up, but it was like sending emails to nowhere.

Additional perks? They must be kidding. Imagine paying for something that turned out different from agreed.

Far East Travel & Lifestyle Pte Ltd, are you trying to stretch his patience, so that he may eventually drop the case against you? Rogue tactics of delay and ignore, how "professional".

10 November 2011
Sent Joyce an email with regards to the phone charges incurred. He incurred around $4 while his friend chalked up $14. A check on their facebook wall showed that everything had been cleaned out, but hey, other disgruntled customers started posting on the "recommendations" section. It looked like more people are complaining about calls not being picked up and mail not being replied to.

12 October 2011
Received the cheque with 3 signatures. Attached was a note, saying that it had been mistakenly signed by the wrong person, and that had been counter signed by the signatory. It also said to call if there's a problem with the cheque. Murphy, O Murphy, must things always go so "smoothly"? Never mind, he'll just bank it in and see if it goes through.

08 October 2011
Got a call from 674322** at 10.33pm, and they were wondering who'd call at that hour. The caller sounded a little flustered, sounded like Joyce but without the usual poise. She mentioned that she needed to verify his name and address again, even though it had been requested for the other time. Apparently, the caller was issuing it only at that moment. It would appear that the cheque had missed 2 promised deadlines.

He was told to settle for the refund of the ferry tickets first, compensation for miscellaneous items will have to wait. Oh well... let's pray that the cheque with the correct recipient and amount stated gets sent to the correct address.

07 October 2011
Called for the past few days but nobody picked up the telephone. Logged into Facebook to check out their wall, and guess what, loads of freshly victimized people.

Far East Travel wall post


28 September 2011
Called again today but Joyce was not in the office. Valerie did not have information on the status, but promised to leave Joyce a message. Joyce called back around 8pm, and said that she hasn't issued the cheque for the refund of ferry tickets yet. She requested for more time, either end of this week or next week (this was the promised week). Supporting statement was that she works elsewhere and is not always in the travel agency. Requested that first cut would be the refund, and some more time for the other issues. As always, Joyce was very polite and he agreed. Poor Joyce, having to pick up the pieces for her staff.

19 September 2011

Called Joyce today to get status of the inquiry, to check out what was lacking and also to see if a time-frame had been define for resolution. Before he rants on, he wants to highlight that Joyce had been polite throughout the conversation.

Joyce assured him that she'll be able to issue a cheque to reimburse his ferry tickets by next week. Weird thing was, they didn't call him up to ask for details, but waited for his call instead. So infuriating. As of now, no replies to any emails yet. No apologies either.

Additionally, it seemed like Joyce did not give much thought to compensation for the events her agency had caused him to miss. When queried, she said that it was difficult for her to come up with something, since there was no clear-cut value tied to the events (massage and seafood) missed out. He implied that it was a problem that they should be resolving and pressed for a cut-off date for resolution. To which, she suggested that he call her after receipt of the cheque. Had to contain his rage when it sounded like she wanted to push the responsibility of solving the problem. Took a few deep breaths before asking if he was supposed to be working for it, when it should be their responsibility to be updating him. She then agreed that she would call him after "crystallizing" some ideas.

So disappointed.

15 September 2011

Gotta document this down, paid for the trip, got issued with the confirmation slips, but did not get all the services promised. Apologies that this deviates from the usual foodie stuff.

The Boss
Someone known as VR Sooria replied to the emails sent on 10 Sep 2011, asking Far East Travels staff to take responsibility for the mess. After googling that name, it seemed that VR Sooria was the boss, and Far East Travels was only one of his many companies. He felt reassured that such an organization would not let its reputation dredge in mud.

Showing the proof
On 12 September 2011, Monday, he wrote a summary of the inconveniences that occurred, and sent it together with a scan of the ferry tickets and receipt to Far East Travels. Following a conversation on the telephone with Valerie in the afternoon, she requested for the reservation number, with which she confirmed that his details were not captured in the system. Valerie then proceeded to speculate that perhaps he did not provide his details.

Very well, forwarded her the past email exchanges for passengers details and the confirmation vouchers issued by Natasha as proof. It was then that Valerie acknowledged that it was no fault of his and said she would check with the IT department.

However, in the emails was a conversation with another staff named Hyder, who said that he had to do a manual re-submission as the automated system did not capture any passenger details (they did receive payment, though). The requested details were duly submitted and Hyder acknowledged receipt. What stumped him was how confirmation receipt could be issued when a transaction was incomplete? Was something wrong with the process?

On 13 September 2011, Tuesday, he called up Far East Travels to check on progress. Valerie said she needed to search for his file and promised to call him back. When she didn't, he called back instead. He tried to be cordial despite her nonchalant attitude, but when she started to raise her voice, he exploded. The questions she asked made him feel that she did not even bother to read his emails at all. No replies to any of the emails sent (except from VR Sooria to his staff), maybe the relevant staff did not read it, that's why! So insulting.

OK, perhaps she was the sales staff, and not part of after-sales support.

Upon returning home, he plopped down on his computer chair and started writing another email to Far East Travels. Pointed out the unfortunate chain of events and re-emphasized that everything happened because Far East Travels collected his money, issued him the receipt and confirmation slips for the ferry and lodging, when the ferry was not actually booked! Requested for someone proper to be assigned to look into the matter, and that that someone should give due respect in reading the carefully detailed email.

Had to fork out an additional $96 for the ferry service, incur mobile roaming charges, miss out on seafood and massage that came with the package, how not to feel aggrieved? Unapologetic, no interest to resolve the issue, no reassurance. This was booked 1 month ahead too!

After a day of hiatus
On 15 September, Thursday, he got a call from Joyce after VR Sooria designated her to look into the issue in his email. She reassured him that they were looking into the matter. He missed out on asking her about the current status and time-frame as he was in the midst of something.

Far East Travels, 14 people on his end are looking at how you're going to resolve this issue. There could be more out there. A search on Google brought up some cached Facebook pages.

Keywords: vr sooria hyder

And here's the compiled screenshot. In the current page, all comments have been removed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

10 to 11 Sep 2011 - 2D1N Batam get-together with ex classmates by Far East Travels

This would be his first time setting foot on Batam, and he had been looking forward to this trip booked with Far East Travels. He thought this would be a good break after having endured some difficult weeks. And this turned out to be one extra-eventful weekend getaway.

Note: Time stated are all in GMT +08:00, Singapore time. Batam time is GMT +07:00, an hour behind.

Day 1 - 10 Sep 2011

Ferry ticketing issues (~8.30am)
Arrived at the Wave Master counter at Singapore Cruise Centre at about 8.20am and met up with the rest of the group. When they tried to get the boarding passes, they were the only 2 out of the group of 14 to be rejected. Why? The Wave Master counter personnel told them that their records did not exist at all, despite them producing the confirmation slips and vouchers. With no boarding passes, he could only fume and see the group off. He was advised to contact Far East Travels, which apparently were not open on weekends, thanks to Android and mobile data services.

He tried calling Far East Travels between ~8.30am and ~10am to no avail, duh. With that in mind, he decided to buy 2 ferry ticks for 1pm departure to salvage his trip. The Wave Master counter was unable to verify if the return leg of the ferry service had been booked, and that helped him decide to buy return tickets for $48/pax over one-way tickets of $42/pax. Just in case Far East Travels' actions left him stranded for the second time.

Bought at 10.52am, 10 September 2011.

Omission from tour group name list
Shortly after he bought the tickets for an uncalled-for-damage of $96, one of his mates called him from Batam. The local tour guide did not have both their names on the tour! Double whammy. It felt like he spent money to make himself miserable. Told himself to calm down, to update Far East Travels at of the situation, and to wait for his friends to verify the hotel booking.

Departure (1pm)
EXIF 12:29pm, 10 September 2011
Waiting to board at the holding area... 12.29pm as shown on the clock.

EXIF 12:35pm, 10 September 2011
The cable cars in the background are proof that this was taken at Singapore Cruise Centre.

Finally boarded the 1pm Wave Master 3 and got ready to depart for their trip, half the day would have been wasted. He found an available seat between 2 old men, who would keep talking throughout the ride, keeping him awake. It had also started to rain very heavily...

Arrival at Harbour Bay Batam (~2pm)
The snaking queues at immigrations were quickly dispatched by just 3 officers. Hungry after being left high and dry, (well, maybe with a few splashes of the rain), they headed to Harbour Bay Mall to look for lunch. Called his friend to check on status but was diverted to the machine several times, so he dropped the friend a text message instead.

EXIF 2:13pm, 10 September 2011
Cute slippers at some shop after clearing immigrations at Harbour Bay Terminal, Batam.

EXIF 2:20pm, 10 September 2011
On the overhead bridge that links Harbour Bay Terminal and Harbour Bay Mall. Note the buildings and construction works.

Change of luck?
The hungry people were in Godiva Bistro, almost placing their orders when he received an incoming call. The tour bus was in the vicinity, and the tour guide (Rocky) had agreed to allow them onboard, despite their names not being on his list. That would deprive the tour guide of his seats though.

EXIF 2:45pm, 10 September 2011
A picture of the BFC restaurant facade from inside Godiva Bistro.

EXIF 2:48pm, 10 September 2011
Waited around Harbour Bay Mall's plaza for the re-group. Random picture of the ceiling deco that also captured Liebe Luxury's signage.

EXIF 2:52pm, 10 September 2011
Not able to have their late lunch, so they decided to get some donuts from J Co to eat on the go.

In a while, they would re-group with the rest, and it was a relieve to hear that the hotel booking was valid. Rocky also confirmed that there were no return leg ferry tickets for them, really lucky that he had bought return tickets at Wave Master, Singapore Cruise Centre. Far East Travels... grrr!

Land tour
By this time, they had already missed out on their seafood feast and massage. The next destinations would be visits to the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya temple, factory outlets and Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall.

EXIF 1:16pm, 10 September 2011
One of his friends enjoying her massage while he was enduring the nauseous ferry ride through rainy weather and choppy seas. Proof that he had missed out on the massage services.

EXIF 2:07pm, 10 September 2011
Friends having the seafood lunch. He was probably still queuing to clear immigrations while they were happily eating. Proof that he had missed the seafood event.

EXIF 2:08pm, 10 September 2011
Although blurry, she looks like she's mocking him for all the good luck he was enjoying. That's the same lady in the massage picture.

At the temple, he paid his respects to the various Buddhas and Lord Guan, for peace, health and of course, better luck.

Smiling Buddha

Stand in awe of the God of War

Then they went to the local produce shop for food tasting and shopping. The preserved fruits tasted really good, and so were the crackers. She had a good time scooting around the shop and picking at the samples. They ended up getting drawn first blood here for some crackers.

The third destination was Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall and he had his A&W there at ~5pm. It was unlike what he had in his childhood, what's root beer float without the glass mug? No Coney Dog so he got the 2-piece chicken meal. Chicken parts were disappointingly small...spent slightly more than 100,000rp over here for both of them. Imagine if they had accepted the "replacement" massage, they would have gone hungry for the whole day.

Root beer float in paper cup, sigh

Mozza burger for her

Waffle sundae for her too

Stocked up on mineral water, snacks and beer from the supermarket before heading for the next destination - Kampung Ole Ole and factory outlet. Souvenirs at the former and discounted branded stuff at the latter. Bought nothing there though...

Hotel check-in
It was almost dusk (doesn't look like it) when they reached the hotel. Check-in at the hotel was a speedy affair. Got up to room 716, took a hot shower to freshen up before lazing in bed while waiting to meet up for dinner.

Stairway to the hotel entrance

Ayam Penyet
~12,500rp for this set. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. And the nice and fiery chilli accompaniment completed the dinner at ~9pm.

Day 2 - 11 Sep 2011

Breakfast at hotel
Woke up at around 8am to wash up and went for breakfast at around 8.40am.

Mie Ayam - noticed a few flies hovering around the accompaniments. You could choose the ingredients before pouring in the soup.

Omelette and the fruit juices

Fried rice with fish and chicken. Fish meat was very succulent, but a bit too salty.

Ayam bubur (chicken porridge), probably everyone's comfort food because the pot got empty before breakfast had ended.

Fried bihun with fish and chicken

French toast, omelette and chicken franks

Batam City Square

(Can't remember the name of the restaurant)
Bihun Siram 27,000rp

My Kitty Cafe....some theme cafe that seemed to serve kids' food

Fried mushrooms from pushcart stall in the mall for 10,000rp.

Not forgetting that he had several cups of delicious chocolate avocado smoothie for between 7,000rp and 10,000rp. Too bad he had forgotten to take any pictures of the drinks. They call it alpukat over there.

Banquet Harbourfront Centre

Back in Singapore around 7pm and 11 hungry stomachs agreed to settle dinner together. Some of them recommended the western food stall.

He had a generous serving of chicken cutlet, $6.20.

Beef steak with mushroom sauce for her, $8.

And topped it off with some donuts.

Dispute resolution
In progress with Far East Travels