Swinging through Singapore

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January 18th 2013
Published: January 20th 2013
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I never understood Dorothy from The Wizard of Ozmore than I did on our first day in Singapore… As we drove into town from the airport, my sentiments were rather similar to those she expressed to her dog, Toto, on landing on the other side of the rainbow: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The fact that we thought Kuala Lumpur was shiny and modern makes me laugh now. Singapore is what happens when a city like Kuala Lumpur turns Swiss. It’s not only full of sky scrapers and green tropical parks, it’s clean and tidy… Really really clean and tidy.

Thanks to my Aunt Priscilla, an extraordinary Buddhist monk in Japan with extraordinary friends all over the world, we were greeted at the airport by staff from Kong Meng San Phor See Monastery. They kindly drove us to our hotel, the New Majestic Hotel in Chinatown. After a quick lunch at Café 8th and some much needed napping due to our early morning departure from Penang, we fought a battle or two with our hotel over the extra bed for Mimi. I won’t get into the details (though you are welcome to read all about it in my TripAdvisor review), but we essentially found ourselves having to squeeze the whole family into one King size bed. As lovely as this hotel may be, suffice it to say it is NOT family-friendly. Luckily, our irritation was quickly replaced with chuckles as we recounted the story to the friends we met for dinner. Once again, we enjoyed the company of like-minded nomads. On this occasion, it was a Swiss couple whom we had met in a coffee shop in Laos. As luck would have it, they not only live in Singapore, but Margrit is the regional head of HR for a large Swiss corporation. Arnaud wasted no time in sharing his CV with her and making it very clear that we have no objections to relocating to Southeast Asia.

The next morning we got an early start in order to fit in a full visit to the spectacular Singapore Zoo. We especially wanted to visit the two new Pandas there. In stark contrast to our experience in Saigon, this zoo was absolutely beautiful and impeccably clean and well organized- which is nothing less than what we’ve come to expect of anything here in Singapore. As great as it was to see those adorable Pandas, the Orangutans stole the show. In fact, our close encounter left us so charmed that we may have a new favourite animal competing with the elephants of Chiang Mai.

We then rushed over to the Kong Meng San Phor See Monastery, Singapore’s largest Buddhist temple complex, where we had the honour of being invited for lunch by the head abbot himself, the Venerable Sik Kwang Sheng. I always knew it was a special privilege to be related to a Buddhist monk, but at such times, I am reminded even further how lucky it can make me. (Thank you, Auntie Chisan!) Unfortunately, the abbot himself had to travel unexpectedly, so we did not get to meet him. But we were nevertheless in lovely company with his assistant, Annah and head of security, Richard. The vegetarian lunch at the monastery was as good as we could ever find in the finest of Chinese restaurants, with several dishes containing tofu imitating meat in a way that we could hardly believe was not real meat! We then enjoyed a private tour of the monastery before being accompanied back to the hotel for a much-needed nap.

Just before sunset, we went on a fun 1 hour “Duck” tour of Singapore, which involved 30 minutes of touring around the city while our amphibian vehicle operated as a bus and another 30 minutes on water. Needless to say, the children were completely delighted by the transition from land to water, making this choice of tour well worth the extra cost.

That evening, we invested in a babysitter, in order to allow ourselves a relaxing dinner among adults at the popular PS Café in Dempsey. We met up with more high school classmates of mine- Sean Brecker and Signe & Vanessa Grose, enjoying both a proper catch-up session on the twenty years that had passed since we last saw each other, as well as plenty of interesting insights on expat life in Singapore. And once again, Arnaud and I suffered from a light case of “wannaliveheritis”, actively discussing the pros and cons on our taxi ride home. The only true downside we could come up with is how similar it would feel to living in Geneva… with the one possible exception of snow, that is.

After a short stroll around town, cut even shorter by the ever essential Oprah Winfrey interview of Lance Armstrong (even though we were convinced of his disgrace since years!), we met up with another dear Swiss friend: Ali Miserez, who works here in Singapore as a professor. A quick lunch around the corner from our hotel and before we knew it, we were already on our way back to the airport, entirely convinced that we had barely skimmed the surface of what Singapore has to offer a visiting family. And we never even got round to sipping a Singapore Sling! Obviously, we shall have to return.

Nevertheless, this visit allowed me to finally put an end to a frustrating 10-year streak of transiting annually through Singapore and never having the time to make it beyond the airport! Furthermore, after hearing about Singapore my life long and being the only member of my family NOT to have lived here (my brother was ever born here!), at least I can finally say I’ve seen it… Though I suspect it looks nothing like the Singapore the rest of my family experienced 40 years ago!

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20th January 2013

This is NOT the Singapore I knew in the 70's for sure!
Thanks so much for preparing me for a return visit; I'll try not to gulp over everything I see if I ever get back to Singapore! Glad you could see so much in so little time, including things for the kids and getting together with friends for the grown-ups. It can't be easy to juggle everyone's needs and interests on this 4-month long journey! Bravo for every day you make so rich for each other. See you next Saturday, so looking forward to that!!

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