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Published: September 22nd 2013
A trip to see family members is not a typical holiday in my book; trying to get around to see everyone is just about as stressful and filled with logistical difficulties as everyday life. I had that at the back of my mind when going to Singapore to see where my brother and his family live, but was also mindful of the fact that Singapore is about the same size as greater London, and apart for my brother, I don’t actually know anyone else. This could be the relaxing holiday that we had been craving for the last few months since home renovations and furniture shopping have taken precedence over just about every other facet of life outside of work.
Having not been to Singapore for a very long time I remembered very little about what to expect from it. My lasting memories from visiting as a child are that the south-east Asian air has a very distinct feel, that despite being half Chinese I don’t blend in, and that it is always easy to escape the heat as you can just duck into a stategically located shopping mall.
I’m happy to report that some of my memories remained
correct; the amazing feel of the thick air when you step off the plane and shopping malls seem to be so frequent you could probably walk from/to most places whilst window shopping; however whilst I don’t look any more like a local Singaporean than I did as a child, it is such a melting pot of people from around the world blending in is easier (although having not seen the sun for 6 months - my pasty complexion may have given the game away).
I think it is strange the way that some cities manage to engage you immediately, invite you to scratch below the surface and see what makes it tick. I really think that Singapore is a great example of this. On the outside it has the reputation of being a place where you’ll get whipped for chewing gum, or that it is so sickly sterile and clean that you could never live there. I feel the reality is that Singapore is an entirely multi-cultural city, enabling it to be basically anything you want it to be (just with some peculiar quirks and laws). If you only want to see the sterile tourist areas and the stupifyingly
clean central district you could, but at the same time if you wanted to make your way to a hawker or wet market and eat street food of unknown origin or do just about anything else I’m sure you could, as we did, find it available in Singapore.
My brother and his young family moved to Singapore mid-way through 2012 and ever since then we’ve been keen to get out there. We could never quite find the right time to make it happen so in the end we just had to bite the bullet and book flights. We managed to pick a pretty bad week as I had just found a new job and should have been doing a proper handover, Lara’s leave had just about run out and my brother had a work trip scheduled to China the week we were there! Never mind we thought, let’s not let logistics
get in the way of a good time…
We did manage to get one thing right, we turned for my niece’s first birthday – but we missed the party by a couple of hours and she was fast asleep by the time we arrived! So
having missed it we headed out for a quick meal with Dave and Em before resting our jetlagged bodies. And what do you have when you first arrive in Singapore? German of course! Lara managed to find, a beer and mango juice at the “German beer bar”, which was actually surprisingly nice. The four of us chatted and generally caught up on recent events before we all got too tired to speak and had to head home for bed.
The next day was St Patricks day; when Dave suggested we head off to see the parade we thought it was quite strange, not being familiar with the fact that Singapore embraces any holiday or party with gusto! Singapore's booming pharmaceutical industry has also taken much of the slack left from Ireland’s economic and manufacturing downturn meaning that a lot of Irish people from the pharmaceutical industry are now based in Singapore. We turned up to a heaving Boat Quay
and immediately started on the Guinness to get in the spirit. We kicked on, met some “locals” (only one of which was from Singapore, but spoke with an American accent) and watched the lights of the city come on. Boat
Quay is a great place, nestled under towering buildings, the old colonial terraces now house bars and restaurants that were overflowing with people. This isn’t the sterile part of Singapore then...
Having had our fill of Guinness we insisted on getting some Singapore chili crab, my brother chucked us in a cab and we ended up having some of the most amazing crab I’ve ever tasted. The only question was whether or not it was better than the black pepper crab, something we are still debating.
With only half a day left until my brother departed for China, we thought we should try and do something family oriented, the Millennium Wheel
Singapore Flyer. Perfect weather and no queue, and Max doing his best not to be lulled into his afternoon nap as he had been very keen to go on the ferris wheel! It was a really good way to get our bearings as the Flyer is quite central and has great views, allowing our “local guides” to point out points of interest. Underneath the Flyer is probably the most touristy Hawker Market in Singapore but they still managed to serve a great Char Kway Teow for S$3
(about £1.50). Unfortunately at this point Dave had to leave us for a business trip, but we carried on… (We’re such troopers!)
The next couple of days we got to spend some decent time with our nephew Max, and the lovely and newly 1 year old Madeline, generally getting a sample of what life is like in Singapore, and, which seems to involve a lot of water. We went to Sentosa Island where we went to play in a pirate water park, then we went for a lovely Lunch at Tanjong Beach Club, which was followed by more swimming. Dave and Em’s Condo complex also has a pool which we took advantage of in our down time, and in turn the sun took advantage of our sun starved skin. We turned up back in the UK with the best tan for the beginning of Spring, unfortunately it looked fake because it was snowing when we got back.
In between soccer and swimming lessions, and other bits and pieces we managed to get out to see some hawker markets on Gihm Moh Road which we close to Dave and Em's condo, we grabbed a delicious and cheap lunch and
Lara and Dave
celebrating St Patrick's Day
bought a selection of fruits, some of which we had never tasted before. The fruit vendor who turned out to be an old welding supervisor on oil rigs talked to me for a while about welding (I worked on a refinery in a previous life) but that quickly moved on to everything that was wrong with Britain. Obviously some Singaporeans have quite different views to welfare to those of their former rulers. And perhaps it works for them, in all our wanderings (granted it was only a week) I don’t remember seeing much in the way of poverty.
Em took us out to a great place called Holland Village, which like Boat Key is brimming with restaurants and bars it also has a great Hawker market where S$3 meals where the norm, I don’t think we would ever cook if we moved to Singapore, it’s surely more expensive to do it yourself! We had a great night chatting, bar/restaurant hopping.
Seeing as we were only a few miles from Indonesia and we really wanted to lie on a beach (plus I'd never been before) there before the temptation was far too great. We booked a hotel on Bintan
island and got a morning ferry out. It’s such an easy trip and as it’s a resort island transfers were taken care of so finding our hotel was not a problem. We kicked back and relaxed, walked along the beach, snorkelled and generally did what we felt like for two days which was great. For two people that holiday quite a lot, we sure do feel like we need another one quite quickly!
After two days we headed back to Singapore to coincide with my brothers return. When my brother and I are together there is always some degree of gadget setup/buying/chat going on (mostly all 3 at once) so not having had any chance to get this in we set off to a Mall which was basically one large electronics store. We only came back with a new phone, so Lara and Em should count themselves lucky!
We also managed to squeeze in a trip to Orchard road - the shopping district, The obligatory visit Raffles for a Singapore sling and some peanuts as well as a very quick trip to little India.
For our last night in Singapore Dave and Em had planned quite a
special night (as can be seen in the photos), we went to the top of the Marina Bay Sands for cocktails followed by dinner in the top of the 'Super Tree' in Gardens by the Bay. The evening light show wasn’t on due to Earth Hour, but I think this just made it feel a little but more special. The trees are normally lit up like something out of Avatar, but with the lights out they are arguably more interesting. More rooftop (treetop?) cocktails followed by dinner (where I managed to do 1 ½ laps of a circular room looking for the loo) and a few more drinks rounded out a great night and a short stay in Singapore.
The morning of our flight back I learned quite an important lesson. I don’t know if that was something Dave and Em wanted to teach us, but they did anyway: Don’t, ever, have a hangover with young children. Even with the 4 of us we still struggled with the festivities of the night before still weighing us down. As always with family it was so sad to say our goodbyes, I really hate leaving my nieces and nephews as such
a large percentage of their lifetime passes before we get to see them again. But we had to go, a new job and springtime in London awaited.
Thinking about our trip afterwards and the peek into the lives of expats in Singapore made me think that it is an entirely viable option as an interim stop between life in London and life Australia, but that is, for now quite a long way off....who knows what lies around the corner?
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