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Published: April 14th 2012
I catch the 5 hour bus from KL to Singapore and I'm in luxury already! Big wide comfy reclining seats, air con that actually works, no music blaring, no karoke... No motorbikes/cucumbers/breastfeeding women in the aisles... I'm on my way back to Singapore and don't I know it! The journey is smooth, crossing borders out of Malaysia and into Singapore is a simple transition of getting off the bus, walking through a huge immigration hall with 127 desks all open waiting to stamp you're passport (Heathrow & Stansted take note!) I breeze through in 5 minutes, am back on the bus and within an hour arrive at Beach Road. I flag a cab to take me to Sentosa Island where my parents are staying, as they're visiting me for a holiday. "Shangri-La Sentosa" I say to the female cabbie... She eyes my dirty great ruck sack once or twice, shrugs and we're on our way.
I'm so excited to see Mum & Dad, it's only been three months but with the added difficulty of not being home for my Nan's funeral, we're long overdue the massive hug we have when I arrive.
The hotel is amazing, beautiful,
everything I expected... And for once I get to stay in a luxury hotel and not have to get up and visit a factory the next day!
It's funny how you can just shift from your normal comfortable life, to peeing in bushes, squat pots, staying in wooden shacks & cold showers without really batting an eyelid, and then instantly switch back to the normality of some serious luxury at the drop of a hat.... Everything except the hot shower that is! To suddenly feel hot water coming out of a tap is so strange and I switch it to cold straight away!
My dad proudly shows me around the hotel, the massive pool, the beach, the 5 restaurants... The place is beautiful and I can tell they're really enjoying themselves.
A few hours later my brother Adrian & sister in law Kyra arrive and once everyone's settled in we have a couple of celebratory cocktails in the "bubble bar" as they have a 2 for 1 offer, except in Singapore they call it 1for1... Which still makes no sense to me but it means 2 for 1 apparently...
Followed by an
amazing dish of Miso grilled Seabass, some very nice wine and a whole load of catching up with each other, I head to bed, slipping between the crisp white sheets (instead of using my cotton liner which I use EVERYWHERE cos I'm scared of getting bed bugs), my head sinking in to the soft fluffy pillow and with the air con as quiet as the wings of a butterfly instead of a fan resembling the noise of two propellers of a wartime fighter jet, I easily drift into the best night's sleep for 3 months.
The next day I'm playing tour guide and just as my Singaporean friend Irene showed me around last time I was here, I set out to show my family the city. We start in China town soaking up the sights & smells and visit the Dragon Tooth Buddha Temple, which even on my second visit in the space of 2 months is still impressive. Even more so to see my mum & dad enjoying it. When you're travelling through Asia, especially Buddhist countries it's easy to get a bit "templed out" unless you're really really into them. Of course they're all beautiful but
they can start to look the same after a while, however to see my mum & dad's faces as their eyes scan the wonderfully ornate ceilings and walls painted in bright reds and golds and thousands of Buddha statues carved throughout - their first visit to a temple of this kind, I can see that they're in awe.
We continue onto Bugis market, grab some lunch and visit my friend Irene's tea shop Woobee. This time I try the caramel milk tea with "pudding" and it's like drinking a creme caramel - delicious!
We then take a wander through the bespoke gift shops & pretty coloured colonial buildings of Ann Siang Road, sip a couple of cocktails before heading to my favourite hawker centre, which I love even more since I found out the name - "Chomp Chomp" !
Chomp Chomp is famously popular among Singaporeans. It's a little drive north of the city, but well worth the taxi fare. The food stalls selling an abundance of fresh fish - calamari, fresh prawns, stingray, another does the most amazing chicken satay, another specialises in yummy carrot cake (which is in fact an omlette type
dish with shell fish mixed in... And suprisingly contains no carrot at all... Or cake for that matter!)
Irene and her husband Khoon Wah join us and we order dozens of dishes and tuck into the tasty fayre, washed down with a big mug of sugar cane juice, my dad opting for his usual Tiger beer which is definitely fast becoming one of his favourite things about Singapore - Tiger beer on draft!
My Mum, Dad, Ade & Kyra all love the food and the busy atmosphere of Chomp Chomp as do I - it's a true Singaporean experience! Tourists don't often make it here, and you won't find it in any guide books, but having a local
in the know, my friend Irene to introduce me to places like this is a real treat.
A lot of travellers I've met along the way have said they haven't thought much to Singapore, saying it lacks soul or culture with all it's shiny new buildings, pristine roads, smooth running underground rail network etc -but this is part
of the Singapore culture - yes everything's shiny and new but it's also designed
and well thought
out, the roads and public transport aren't chaotic - they run on time! - which can only be a good thing! And the food - eating is a major part of Singaporean culture. Hawker centres are everywhere and generally so cheap that it's very rare for Singaporeans to cook themselves at home... Ever. My friend Irene often eats out 7 nights a week - and why not when you have places like Chomp Chomp down the road? This is Singapore culture right here at it's best and my second time in the city, I'm starting to really love this place. I appreciate your average backpacker will travel through here fairly quickly, using it solely as a transport hub, finding it all excessively expensive to stay, eat or indeed do anything, but I'm lucky to have Irene here to show me just what this place is really about and even better to share it with my family.
Before I know it the big 30 has arrived! And it's not nearly as bad as what I'd been dreading. I didn't wake up with a vast amount of wrinkles (in fact it's amazing what good 3 months of no work and
the great outdoors can do to you're skin!) I don't have saggy boobs (they're too small for that) and not ignoring but embracing the fact that I have no house, no husband, no kids, no JOB... All the things a responsible 30 year old woman should perhaps have by this age, I'm happier than I've ever been. I'm 3 months in to the biggest dream I've ever had, having the time of my life, and I get to spend this milestone birthday with the people that matter most to me. (Though despearately missing a few special friends!)
So it didn't really matter what we did on my special day, I was happy... Except that one always wants to do something
a bit special... And I had a couple of things in mind... First off I'd spotted this MASSIVE zip wire that went right over the tree tops, over the beach & sea and landed on a little island.. It looked scary as f**k but I wanted to do it! It didn't take me 2 minutes to persuade Ade & Kyra to join me so after breakfast we hike the 30 minutes up the hill only to realise that
it's "closed for maintenance"... Oh well. Nevermind. A bit disappointed after psyching ourselves up, we return to mum & dad on the beach who announce they have a surprise for us, so off we walk up the beach, again for about 30 minutes until we arrive at the "Wave Rider"... One of those big machines that constantly spouts out water like a big rip curl and people take it in turns to ride the wave until they get knocked off, dragged through the water as if in a giant washing machine until they're deposited in a heap in the corner, ready to go again.
I'm a little apprehensive to say the least, not being the most confident of people in water and having a bit of phobia of waves big & small, but it does look like good fun so we go to the desk to register & pay. Problem. They need ID for insurance purposes and we didn't bring our passports. Bless my mum for asking if she could vouch for us "because we are their parents", I had to remind her that I am 30 and it was identification they needed not proof of age, that
really wouldn't make a difference!
It wasn't such a long walk back, but due to timings of sessions etc we decide to come back again tomorrow. Nevermind.
We head for some lunch instead and in the middle of tucking into my seafood salad, a waiter arrives at the table, carelessly puts down a small slice of ciabatta bread with a birthday candle stuck in the middle and walks off... WTF is that?!?! We all burst out laughing. Of course my mum had requested them to put a birthday candle in my salad but they'd forgotten, so obviously brought it afterwards. The damn thing wasn't even lit! Nevermind.
We go back to the hotel to chill out and relax for a while so I decide to treat myself to a birthday pedicure. I go to the spa on site and read through their treatment menu... "Sorry no pedicure madam". The pretty Malay girl says "we only have massage or facial".... And a Thai massage here by the way is £75 in contrast to a Thai massage in Thailand being £3, so no massage for me and no birthday pedicure. Nevermind.
It's funny but
I've spent the last 3 months just winging it, every day, waking up in one place, not really knowing what I'm gonna do or where I may end up by the evening and it's been great, but the minute I try and plan a few simple things to do on my birthday (though clearly didn't plan very well and just assumed
and we all know what that did) I end up disappointed. Still, we have the evening to look forward to! I don my self designed Jack Wills sequin dress, a pair of heels (which my mum has brought for me and will be taking them straight back to the UK!) and we head into the city, up to the SkyPark - a bar at the top of the Marina Bay sands hotel with the most amazing view of Singapore. My dad is a bit nervous, as is my brother who're both scared of heights (as am I, but maybe I've had more practice!) but after a while he's ok and we all enjoy our champagne & cocktails overlooking the magnificent skyline.
Later we meet Irene & Khoon Wah for dinner, I eventually get my real birthday cake
complete with lit candle and after a few more drinks around Clarke Quay, dancing with my mum to one of the many live bands, we eventually roll in around 2:30am... One of the latest nights I've had for a while and it's with my parents! I AM getting old! 😉
The next morning, the storm clouds have moved in which means no "Wave Rider" so me and my brother decide to play ping pong in the rain... I've not played since we were about 12 on our annual visits to Brittany each year, of which I have fond memories, except he used to beat me everytime... But today I whooped ass! Didn't lose one game! Yus! We round off the afternoon by messing about in the pool, violently splashing eachother, just like we used to do as kids, making a lot more noise than the kids in the pool but having lots of fun. Sadly it's time for Ade & Kyra to go now as they head onto Borneo for their Orangutan experience. It's been a short 3 days but so nice to see them!
That evening I let my mum and dad have a night
alone and I head to Irene's for the night... After another yummy dinner out, we swing by her friend Janice on the way to the icecream parlour, who I met last time I was here and who'd got utterly wasted! This time she's sober but still as crazy as ever! "Lovely" is her favourite word of the English language and she repeats it to me regularly at any given opportunity "Your dress is lovely"... "Isn't it lovely"... Etc etc. She says she had a personal shopper in Topshop when she was in London and it's all she said apparently...
Anyway, we go for icecream, salted caramel being my absolute favourite and after chatting a while, both Janice & Khoon Wah decide I look like Drew Barrymore... I'll just add here that I really don't think I do, but I LOVE her and if that's what they think then that's what they think, and hey I'm not gonna argue!... So on the way home, driving past my favouritely named Karaoke bar - "Talk Cock, Sing Song" (on a par with my favouritely named takeway - "Fat Bird", clothes shop "Wanko" & Jewellery shop "Fook Hing Jewellers) when we drop
Janice off she invites us to look around her lovely family home.. It's late and I don't want to wake her family but she thinks nothing of it and walks up the stairs shouting "Mum!! My friend from London is here!! Come and meet Drew Barrymore, she's an actress!"... Oh god how embarrassing! But her mum is great, tells me how much she loves London, as does Janice (it's a shopping thing!) and after gassing for nearly an hour I leave with Irene & KW, but not before promising them they have a place to stay should they ever visit again. (I'm not sure where that place might be yet, but nevertheless I thought I should make the gesture)
Only 2 more days left with mum and dad, we do a bit more sightseeing, visit the beautiful Botanical gardens, have afternoon tea at Raffles and other things that basically revolve around eating & drinking. Our last day is spent having a leisurely cycle around the island before lazing in the sun one last time, my dad attempting his "power bake" theory of 10 minutes laying in the midday sun with no cream on, then sitting in the shade
for the rest of the afternoon... Though I'm still not sure!
Finally and far too quickly, the morning comes for them to leave for the airport. It's 6am, dark, thundering & pouring with rain as I wave them off from the hotel after an emotional goodbye. It's been so nice to see them, this last week has been amazing. A real treat to have all this luxury and spend quality holiday time with my family - something we've not done for years. I'm sad to see them go and my mum saying "I don't want it to end" before we went to bed on the last night, though it reminded me of myself on the last day of one of our many holidays in France when I was young, also confirms to me what an amazing time they've both had too.
I go back upstairs, make the most of the last few hours of luxury before my 11am check out & sink into the crisp white sheets and soft fluffy pillows one last time.
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