Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fisher's Tavern Seafood At Pasir Ris Town Park

I must admit this isn't the first time I discovered a good place to eat because of jogging. You can't blame me, this secret tavern sits in the middle of the Pasir Ris Town Park. What's a restaurant for when you're tired and hungry from running anyway?

Okay, it's not really in a very secluded area and it must not be much of a secret for Pasir Ris folks, as the place is always packed during weekends. I have been passing it by every time I jogged and on one occasion, the opportunity (or excuse) presented itself when it rained. It so happened that the tavern was the nearest shelter. :p

No need to guess where the place got its name. A huge fishing pond is right across Fisher's Tavern and is usually full of anglers also during weekends. There's even a cabin of sorts beside the restaurant where fishing equipment can be rented.

So what about the food? The salted fish fried rice is a winner. And so is the kangkong sambal. There's even a pork viand (sorry, forgot the name) that we've recently discovered, which we also liked. As for the barbecue chicken wings, they must be of some special breed to taste that good.

Since my initial discovery, I have been back to the place quite a number of times with family and friends. They absolutely loved the food. There's an awful lot of other items on the menu that we haven't tried so we're sure to come back soon. The price is easy on your budget so no need to worry about the bill.

Hmm... Maybe looking for good places to eat can serve as additional motivation to jog? Watchathink???

Fisher's Tavern is a mere 5 minutes away from the Paris MRT by foot. Cross the street from the place that sells bicycles beside Burger King. You should be able to see the pond and the restaurant when you get to the other side.

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E!hub At Downtown East

It was definitely good news that E!hub finally opened to the public. A new mall with cinemas was certainly something to rave about for people living in Pasir Ris, as the nearest movie theater had previously been a train ride away. E!hub is just a short walk, about 10 minutes, from the Pasir Ris MRT station.

The cinema is the newest under Cathay's umbrella of cineplexes in Singapore and with the delightful experiences I had with Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay at Handy Road, I went there with high expectations. Watching movies is one of the things I like to do. Especially so during the lazy, rainy days where jogging or biking is out of the question unless I was determined, for some strange reason, to end up in bed with flu.

We took Bus 354 in the Pasir Ris Bus Interchange and got off at the first bus stop. (As an alternative, you can take Bus 358 EAST LOOP. The west loop takes you to the opposite direction.) We went to the fourth story of E!hub mall where the cinemas are located. I was a bit worried about missing the first few minutes of the movie because there was a queue at the counter designated for online bookings. Turns out the lady behind the counter was also entertaining patrons who chose to buy tickets right there and then. As the person in front of me made up his mind on what time to watch the show, I vowed to myself to be there ahead of time during my next movie date.

Everything was great after that. We made it on time and the movie was good. The cinema smelled fresh and clean, the seats were comfortable and there was ample leg room — the things you expect cinemas to get right. The only minor inconvenience I found is that there are no toilets inside the theater and you have to lose five precious minutes of movie time if you really had to go.

At first I was complaining that there weren't too many things to see at this particular mall — not too many shops, not too many restaurants, etc. — until I realized it was simply living up to it's name. As an entertainment complex, the E!hub is a winner. Here are the reasons why:
  • Ferris Wheel - The sight of this 25-m high, candy-coated-like structure definitely gives kids a reason to cry until their parents let them try it out at least once.

  • nEbO City - Located at the 4th level, nEbO City was designed as a place for the youth to hang out with friends. There's Zone X for the arcade game players. There are internet kiosks for those who can't get enough of the cyber world. There also trading posts for young entrepreneurs who wish to showcase and sell stuff.

  • eXplorerkid Indoor Family Park - Located at the 3rd level, this is a themed indoor playground for children under 12.

  • K Box - "K" is for karaoke. Sing you heart out! But make sure to place a reservation ((+65) 6581 3113) so you can attend your own jam-packed concert.

  • Orchid Bowl - Where there's bowling, there's billiards. Buzzzzzzzzzzz! Wrong! At least you can concentrate on practicing your bowling technique and go for breaking Paeng Nepomuceno's World Cup and Guiness records.
If you like sunsets, simply head to the parking area when the time is right.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Singapore Central Business District

These two night shots were taken from the Equinox Restaurant in the 70th floor of the Swissôtel The Stamford, 226 meters above ground.

Clark Quay can be distinguished by the bright yellow lights near the center and the red, arched sign Riverside Point that connects the triangular pattern of roofs to form a symmetry. A few hotels are also recognizable: Peninsula at the front and Novotel and Somerset at the back.

Here, the five-star Fullerton Hotel, identifiable by the glowing, huge white pillars, stands out at the left while the Riverside Quay at the right is made evident by the long trail of bright lights that follow the contour of the river.

The Parkview Square in Bugis is a favorite by many. The building's cladding of brown and black granite, bronze, lacquer and glass, plus several gargoyles found along the building's exteriors make some refer to it as the Gotham building.

With the skyscrapers found in the Tanjong Pagar district, it's not easy to imagine its origin as a fishing village. In Malay, tanjong pagar means cape of stakes.

This is along Robinson's Road, a few meters from the Tanjong Pagar MRT station.

The building on the left is the 254-meter Capital Tower, which is among the tallest in Singapore. I learned from a visit to Singapore's URA Centre along Maxwell Rd., no more than 30 meters away from this area, that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore permits buildings to be constructed only up to a maximum height of 280 meters due to aviation reasons.

Here's a closer look at the Capital Tower:

At the middle of the picture below is the CPF Building, the headquarters of the Central Provident Fund board. The CPF is a compulsory comprehensive social security savings plan for Singaporeans.

The structure on the right is DBS Building Tower 1, marked by the bank's red logo at the top-left part of the building. DBS Bank is the largest bank in Southeast Asia.

One MRT station away from Tanjong Pagar is Raffles, named after Singapore's founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles.

The wide open space just outside the Raffles MRT station, surrounded by tall buildings that cast a friendly shade, make a perfect place for people to sit down and relax. The video showing on the huge screen is just an added bonus. Some people prefer to read books or newspapers while some just while their time away chatting with colleagues or friends.

I remember during my second visit to Singapore that we designated this area to be our meeting point before we proceeded to have dinner somewhere. We had Singapore Chili Crab at the Riverside Quay, a mere 3-minute walk away from here. Truly memorable!

Below are some other skyscrapers that caught my attention. I shall revisit this post when I have more info.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Annalakshmi -- Eat What You Want, Give As You Feel

It was more than five months ago when I told myself I wasn’t going back to Amoy St. That time, my friend, Mr. Chippy, took me to another hawker center. With the choices that Lau Pa Sat had to offer, the additional distance we had to walk and the limited time allowed for lunch breaks, I had valid reasons not to go visit that place again.

All that changed today, of course.

"Kaha kathe he!?", I asked Gaurav, practicing a few Hindi words I've learned. Where are we going to eat!?

All I got from him was a soft punch on the chest and his usual, affable smile. I took that to mean "Ahh.. you're learning well."

"I'll make it easier for you. I don't want to eat at Subway today!", I said to him. We had been constantly going there for about three weeks now.

"Yeah, and let's not go to Lau Pa Sat!"

I was expecting to hear a suggestion but his response gave me a bit of relief, knowing that we didn't have to go to Lau Pa Sat, another popular hawker center where we had shared more meals than we can keep track of since he came here to Singapore from India. I myself had been going there with other colleagues since I took on a project in this area last November.

I didn't know where to go but I let my instincts guide me, and lead the way. So, in the heat of high noon but under the shade of Singapore’s buildings, we strayed from our usual route and veered away from Lau Pa Sat. Soon, we found ourselves in Amoy St.

I didn't want to eat anything heavy and I was looking for a place where it was kind of neutral for the two of us: Gaurav is a vegetarian while I couldn't stay away from meat for too long. When I saw Annalakshmi's huge signboard -- the font looked Indian to me -- over their wooden entrance doors, I thought having Indian food for lunch today wasn't a bad idea. Also, I was sure they served something my acha dost could eat. As we got closer to the doors, a small sign decided I was going to be a vegetarian this lunchtime.

An Indian lady dressed in saree guided us in and showed us where we could sit. There were already two people seated in the table for six. It wasn't unusual to share your table with other diners in Singapore. There was a queue in the food counter and there were no signs of any waiter. We knew what he had to do.

There were metal plates and small metal cups near the food counter. The metal trays reminded me of my high school days. I took three cups and put them on my plate, just like the people ahead of me did. Not pretending to know better, I asked Gaurav to help me choose my food. When it came to food, we had one thing in common -- we don't like it very spicy.

I guess I would have done as well without his assistance. He managed to choose a spicy dish, something he also got for himself, that I filled one of my tin cups to the brim. I felt proud for finishing everything I took but Gaurav was wiser not to touch the spicy dish after that first stinging spoonful. He wasn't wise enough to know what the dish was called though. Hmm... no wonder...

The drinks were in pitchers of the same metallic form. Drinking cups of a similar make were also available on the same table. The orange drink was cold enough and had a bit of powdery taste in it but it was nevertheless refreshing.

Apart from that SDWAUN (spicy dish with an unknown name), the meal was good and filling. Being a good follower, I added more rice to what I already had when I saw Gaurav took more servings. I almost regretted that decision. Apart from rice, we had roti, papad, dal and sambar. I consider dal as my new favorite, with Annalakshmi's tasty version. Even my Indian companion was impressed.

I almost forgot to pay but I realized this before I managed to get out. Gaurav was already in the payment counter, speaking to the cashier with that familiar smile and the cordial wagging of the head. It turns out there was no fixed price for dining in Annalakshmi. This wasn't our first time to encounter this, having bought food from a stall that practiced the same Eat what you want, Give as you feel concept in Lau Pa Sat. I also remember Kula mentioning a similar shop (a term he used very frequently) in Little India. Still, it wasn't easy to decide how much to give. Before it got more awkward, Gaurav took $15 from his wallet and paid uncle for both of us. The good fellow refused to take my share of the payment.

In the office, as I was asking Gaurav if there was a Hindi term for free food, he told me that the Eat what you want, Give as you feel concept reminded him of the gurudwara in India. The gurudwara or gurdwara are temples in India were pilgrims can stay overnight at no cost. Good food was also provided free of charge. Absolutely no discrimination based on religion is made. Dwara is Sanksirt for house or door while guru means teacher, so gurudwara can be translated as house of the guru.

Annalakshmi is located in 104 Amoy Street near Far East Square and is a short walk from the Raffles MRT station.

There is a park just opposite this restaurant where the pictures of the monuments of Indian milk traders and Chinese taking part of a procession were taken.

You can visit Annalakshmi's web site here. They also have a profound explanation for their unique concept on this page. A little caution though, my Firefox crashed on the two occasions I tried to visit the site; I had to use Internet Explorer instead.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Changi Aiport Terminal 3

Sunday. Coming from church, we decided to have lunch at Terminal 3 (T3) of the Changi Airport. We didn’t have much time to go around Singapore’s newest terminal when we arrived from our flight last April so we thought it was a good idea to visit the place. We took the MRT and got to our destination before I could finish a chapter of the book I was reading (a great novel by the way, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts).

It seemed there weren't too many people traveling today. Maybe that's because tomorrow is Vesak Day (Birth of the Buddha), a public holiday here in Singapore.

This shouldn't be a surprise to people who've been here or at least heard about this country but the MRT station was sparkling clean.

The escalators, at least for me, appeared to be very inviting. We went one floor up to basement 2, where the Kopi food court is located. We were feeling a little bit adventurous with what we wanted to eat and we also knew for a fact that food here was a little easier on your budget compared to the other fancier restaurants here in T3.

It was difficult to resist going near the fountain, where we could see excited kids playing with the squirting water. At one time one of the boys gave me quite a scare, I thought he was going to fall into the pool of water.

Starved, we didn't waste any more time and headed off to the food court. Perhaps inspired by the Thailand shirt I was wearing, we chose the only stall that served food from the country formerly known as Siam. We ordered green chicken curry and of course, tom yum talay, the mixed sea food version of the world-famous Thai dish. The watermelon juice did a good job complimenting our meal.

Our tummies fully satisfied, we proceeded one level higher and started our exploration of T3.

The red, rotating windmill-like, thingamajig with a revolving and slightly retractable robotic arm that also resembled a giant electric fan, caught my eye and lured us to come near it. "It's an art thing, I suppose, made from parts of a dilapidated airplane. With an X-ray camera beneath the nozzle that peered into people's clothings and belongings, looking for concealed weapons.", was my reply when asked what it could possibly be. Of course I was only making this up; I had no clue what the thing was or is or what other practical purpose it served expect for aesthetics.

It was impossible not to notice the roof, a neat piece of unique architecture that allows soft natural light into the building. I’ve learned that the reflector panels automatically adjust during different times of the day to allow the optimal amount of light to enter.

Maybe it was the mood for Thai, but we couldn't resist buying stuff from Thann, a store that sells aromatherapy spa products and natural cosmetics. The courteous salesman patiently answered the hundred and one questions we had about their products; another reason for us to buy. The shop beside it (I forgot the name), was equally tempting, with the uniquely designed shirts they offer. Good thing we were able to resist. But I'm sure we'll buy stuff from them soon anyway. ;)

There's a reason why there's a part in T3 that's called the Viewing Mall:

There are other incentives to visit the T3 aside from the shops, even if you're not (yet) flying out of the country -- bars such as Harry's and Brewerkz can also be found in T3.

Finally, we took time to admire the refreshing view of the sunken garden located near the MRT exits before heading home.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Singapore Sling

The Singapore Sling is a cocktail, which was originally invented for the Raffles Hotel here in Singapore between 1910 and 1915.

I was finally able to try this famous concoction during my 14th month of stay here. This version of the cocktail, named Sling On Skis, is served by the THB Singapore Sling bar in Clark Quay. It costs $17; 10% service charge and 7% GST apply.

That hot and humid Friday night, the Singapore Sling was definitely refreshing.

The bar at #01-05 Block 3B serves other drinks aside from the Singapore Sling such as beer, whiskey and gin. Mocktails are also served for non-alchoholic drinkers; interestingly enough, one such mocktail is named Virgin Singapore Sling.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Gap In The Map

A road we had travelled
The view we had marveled
The ink has long faded
Just as my soul, jaded
But the road is there
With the love I still bear

Your grip was strong
But your spirit weak
The path was steep
And the ravines deep
The fog was thick
No guide, no sign
No lighted wick
As your hand held mine

A journey worth making
Risk worth taking
That adventure together
On the way to forever
But your fear was stronger
I left no sooner
There’s a gap in the map
A void in my heart

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Singapore's Best Ramen, Men-Tei Ramen

It started with Pi (a.k.a. 3.141592654) who asked if I wanted to have lunch somewhere else other than the hawker centers we have gone accustomed to. I already had an answer before she asked and she already had a place in mind before asking. So we marched towards Robinson Road past the DBS towers and the Afro-Asia building. Along the way she warned me that the cost of the food would be higher than the usual hawker center budget but she also assured me that it was well worth it.

There were about five people ahead of the queue when we got there. There was a marker to show people where to line up and to make sure they didn't get in the way of passersby. It turns out people start queuing as early as 12:00 so it would be wise to either be there for an early lunch at 11:30 a.m. or have a heavy breakfast and be there by 1 p.m. At a few minutes before one o'clock, our timing was just right.

That day on my first try at the noodle hut, I had the Miso. My initial taste of the rich and creamy soup was enough to convince me that my $13 was well spent. I made sure that my next spoonfuls stayed in my mouth long enough for my tongue to savor the wonderful flavor before swallowing. The noodle was another delightful experience; it must be the potent combination of the unique taste and the right texture. Surely, the posters citing the preparations their food underwent were not just for show.

How could I not trust Pi's judgment when it comes to food after that? Not only was her choice a good respite from the all too familiar taste we had enough of, it was such a wonderful treat to the palate as well. And for those who like bonuses: the bottomless green tea and the good service provided by the staff ensure you find the whole dining experience enjoyable.

It was my turn to bring a friend there a few days after that. The Tonkotsu was also remarkable -- different taste, same delight. Since then, I have been to Men-Tei Ramen several times and the Miso and the Tonkotsu remain my favorites.

And yes, after having tried several other Ramen houses, I make the bold statement that Men-Tei Ramen serves the best in town.

Located at 61 Robinson Road (see map below), Men-Tei Ramen is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Mondays through Fridays. Here's their website:

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Trip To Kuala Lumpur (Part I)

From Singapore, By Bus

The Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road, Kallang is the place to buy bus tickets for the 5-6 hour trip to Malaysia. The ground floor of the high-rise commercial and residential building houses several tourists and ticketing agencies. If you take the time to go from one ticketing agency to another, you’d find out that the prices are more or less the same.

As of April 2008, bus and coach tickets range from 30-40 SGD, with the $40 affording the luxuries of a larger leg room, a seat that can be adjusted almost to 180° and a TV monitor that allows you to either play games or watch movies. Of course we chose the most luxurious one, taking the trip was part of Angie’s celebration in passing the Architecture board exam after all. There were six rows of seats excluding the driver’s: three passengers per row, two on the driver’s side and one on the left. My TV monitor wasn’t working, which wasn’t unfortunate because I preferred to doze the night off anyway.

As luck would have it –again, because this was neither the first time nor the second– we got the furthest seats from the driver. With the high barrier in front that houses the monitor, you’d almost feel like you were in a private room. Except for one thing, that is. Behind the flowery curtain that dangles innocently from the ceiling lies the driver’s companion’s own private world. This time around, I was expecting to hear intermittent snores coming from behind for the duration of the trip but I was to be happily disappointed.

About 30 minutes after departure, the seats automatically rise to their upright position – undoubtedly the driver’s doing – signaling our arrival at the Woodlands Checkpoint of the Singapore Immigration. The driver makes a cryptic announcement but the word passport unmistakably stands out and when the bus comes to a full stop, everyone gets off the vehicle with their most important piece of document, at least for the time being.

The exit at the Singapore Immigration is usually uneventful and takes only a few minutes, depending on the number of people heading off to Malaysia. At the time of our exit, at about 1 a.m., there were only about forty travelers and so were back in the comfort of our seats in less than 10 minutes.

The bus crosses the Johor-Singapore Causeway, over a kilometer long, where the Malaysian checkpoint lies just on the other side. Again, with the driver’s obscure message as cue, the passengers leave the bus, this time with all their belongings in tow in case entry to Malaysia becomes an issue. Needless to say, the bus will not wait indefinitely for all passengers to come back.

Pudaraya To Petronas Twin Towers, By Train

The bus made two stops in the course of our trip. I awoke on both occasions but I was fast asleep even before the vehicle started moving again.

We arrived in Pudaraya, Kuala Lumpur at about 5:30 a.m., almost 5 hours after the bus left Beach Road. People were everywhere: along the pavements, in 24-hour food stalls, by the stairs leading to the lobby of the once tallest building in Malaysia, the Menara Maybank, and even in the nearest McDonald’s where a number of people were taking a nap. Everyone appeared to be waiting for someone or something – for a bus to come or for the sun to come out.

As for us, we spent a few minutes in McDonald’s to have breakfast and to take the chance to chat for a while. Afterwards, we climbed the stairs to the Menara Maybank and then lay down on the marble benches near the ATMs to rest. When the guard came and asked us to leave, we decided to take a stroll on the nearby surroundings.

Except for the obvious Islamic architecture of a few buildings, the place almost looks like Manila: dingy, perennially wet sidewalks; side streets with the unmistakable smell of urine; ubiquitous street food vendors offering local treats. Several hotels, hostels, inns, pension houses and all those places that mean you can stop there for the night are found all around. We found out much later in the day that Petaling Street, the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur, was also just about a hundred meters away from the terminal.

Getting to the Twin Towers from Pudaraya is simple enough via train. Of course, in terms of speed, nothing beats taking a cab. Unfortunately, just like in some other Asian countries, foreigners are easily taken advantage of -- the taxi drivers insist on a fixed price and refuse to use their meter. This makes you appreciate Singapore, where taxi drivers almost always charge by the meter. (The 8-seater Maxi Cab would sometimes insist on a fixed charge especially during peak hours in tourist spots). In fairness, albeit in a misconstrued notion thereof, the Malaysian cab drivers do the same thing to locals.

The Plaza Rakyat train station in Pudaraya is just behind the bus terminal and a 3-minute easily walk takes you there. In our case, the steady stream of students in uniform striding along the walkway served as our trail.

Getting to the KLCC station, where the Petronas Towers are located, first entails getting to the green line of the Integrated Transit Network of KL. This is accomplished by getting off at Masjid Jamek, a mere one station away from Plaza Rakyat (Pudaraya) and crossing the street to take another 3-minute walk to the ticket counter of the green line.

You can turn this minor inconvenience to your advantage, like we did, by taking pictures of the Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur that was built on the first Malay burial ground in the city. KLCC is now just 3 stations away and the twin towers is a short walk from there.

Skybridge, Petronas Twin Towers

During our first visit, we had to ask one of the guards for quick directions on how and where to queue for access to the skybridge. On our second time around, we knew exactly where to go. The ticketing counter is located at the concourse level of the Petronas Towers. It’s hard to miss especially during the weekends because people start queuing up as early as 7 a.m. Twice we thought we were early but then there were always people ahead of us by the time we got to the booth.

At about 8 a.m., a staff went around to ensure that the queue was how they wanted it to be, asking only one person per group to stay while the rest waited somewhere else. We were informed that each individual can get up to five (5) tickets, free to choose the time of visit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 15-minute intervals, as long as the slot is not yet filled up. The tickets are free but only the first 1,300 people can be accommodated for the day.

At 8:30 a.m. when the ticket counter opened, as many as two hundred fifty were already lined up. Also by this time, another staff member goes around asking each person what country they’re from and how many tickets they need; he writes these two bits of information on a coupon, which he gives to each group representative for later use.

Once at the counter, the person issuing the ticket asks for the coupon and further inquires what viewing time is preferred. On both visits, I’ve only asked for the earliest available slot. We were lucky enough to be included in the 9 a.m. slot the first time and 9:30 a.m. during the second. Viewers are reminded that they need to be in the ticketing counter 15 minutes before their chosen timeslot.

While waiting, you can stay in the exit room and engage in some fun-filled activities such as solving mind-boggling puzzles, watching a short movie on how the towers were built, learning from a video how the building is made lightning-safe, and taking a look at the surrounding view of the Petronas Towers through a telescope. It took me some time to solve one particular puzzle. I was in the middle of working on the next one when the infallible signal was given that it was time to see what we’ve came there for.

At precisely 15 minutes before each viewing slot, an announcement is made through the public address system that the next set of viewers can now enter. Upon entry, we were handed 3D glasses and escorted to a small viewing room to watch a 5-minute primer about the Petronas towers and the company behind the magnificent structures (PETRONAS: Petrolian Nasional Berhad).

After viewing the short video clip, we were guided to a counter where all our baggage and personal items were scanned by the security. Food, drinks and other items were asked to be left behind and stored in the safety of their lockers. I had to leave my Swiss Army knife and was given a tag that I used to claim it back afterwards.

Child and adult, men and women, black, white, yellow and brown, we were taken to the 41st level, where the skybridge is accessible, via a high speed double-decker elevator that soared at about one story per second. The guide proceeded to give a 1-minute spiel about the twin towers, mentioning that Tower 1 was built by the South Korean multinational Samsung Engineering & Construction and Tower 2 by Hazama Corporation of Japan and that the skybridge was actually a 2-story bridge but the upper story is not made accessible to the general public. As we listened to some other quick facts about the twin towers, the visitors from the previous slot make their way out.

Finally, we were given about 10 minutes to take pictures and enjoy the spectacular view 170 meters above the ground, from the skybridge of the tallest twin towers in the world!

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