mercredi, août 31, 2011

Singapore Zoological Gardens August 2011

Out of Mandai

I can still see myself as a very little girl wearing a panda T-shirt with my name on it visiting the Singapore Zoological Gardens. As my mother's first and only child at that time, she must have felt obliged to bring me to the zoo at least once - something of a hassle in those days when you realise how far away Mandai is.

Even nowadays it wasn't exactly an easy place to reach. My favourite route would be via Ang Mo Kio, taking a direct bus from the terminus, passing by the Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium. You may remember that I do not live in Singapore, have not been since September 1995.

Fruit bat kept exposing himself to me

In my absence from the homeland I have lost my paternal aunt and the family has had the remains of my grandparents and other late family members moved to the same place. The whole family therefore sits in Block B in a quiet, green environment rendered only a little less peaceful occasionally by the SSAF when they practise their shooting in the surrounding forests. I personally would find it a little nerve-wrecking walking around in a forest so near where thousands of Singapore's dead were housed. Especially when we were in the middle of the 7th lunar month (aka Hungry Ghosts' Festival) when we visited.

What are you looking at?

Beautiful chameleon

So whenever we go to the Zoo (which usually takes place each time we're back) I would try to stop along the way and pay my respects to our beloved dead. I still have not decided if I would like to rest in Singapore or remain with my husband and children the day I pass on, it's just not an easy decision to make. Actually, that's not true. I want to become a diamond, a true family heirloom. Just not sure if I want to be round brilliant cut or cushion...


Anyway, I digress as usual. So as the indulgent, loving mother that I am, I brought my kids to the Singapore Zoo which turned out to be wonderful as usual, though I wouldn't recommend the boat ride, there being nothing to see along the way and it being a little slow-moving. I totally love the Orang Utans, white Tigers, even the snakes. The baboon enclosure was really impressive, I spent a good 10 minutes watching a grown male masturbating in front of us. Though I also noticed electric wires in the trees where the Orang Utans were which explained how they managed to keep them up there - "free". Somehow I found that a little disturbing.

Tea time for the orang utans

Still, compared to most other zoos I've visited, the Singapore one is way ahead in organisation, landscaping and humane treatment of its animals. Until someone checks the psychological health of those animals, of course. I would go crazy if I had to turn around in the same space day in and out, see those human visitors and not be able to eat them, for example.

Lion's den

White tigers having a swim

mardi, août 30, 2011

Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore

This year you wouldn't see me blogging about Gardaland since we're now thousands of kms away from Italy. I haven't had the courage to visit Chinese theme parks due to the squeeze factor. But Universal Studios Singapore on Sentosa Island came to the rescue and plugged the theme park void for the year.

OK, it's a small one. And best not to visit on weekends and Singapore school holidays. We heeded our own advice and went in the week. Had a great day there and despite turning up after lunch managed to finish almost all the rides. Except for one ride there were no queues and the 2 shows (one with the Shrek Donkey and the other the stunt show Waterworld) we caught were interesting and funny.

Waterworld live stunt show - lots of sound, action, water and smoke

I was actually quite impressed with the park. It was clean, well-maintained and easy to navigate in. The souvenirs were as usual cut-throat pricey (had to really put my foot down with Hub - or the kids would have left with nothing. Cheapskate!) and we didn't try the restaurants, but we've enjoyed the rides especially the Human and Cylon Battlestar Galactica roller coasters. If you turn up in slippers (like I did), not to worry. Just remove them when it's your turn on the ride, you'll love being thrown around barefooted.

Jurassic Park!

There was this indoor roller coaster in the Egyptian zone and it was quite good, the guy sitting next to Hub actually whimpered during the ride. We saw that he covered his face when we went to the photo booth to check out shots taken during the ride! The ride took place in the dark - really cool.

The part where the Human and Cylon roller coasters crossed paths

We also loved the 4D Shrek show. Basically there were rides for all ages though of course if you had a 3-year old who needed to buy a ticket but couldn't do most rides because he was under 1.2m (been there so could empathise), it could feel like a rip off. Baby Boy could do almost everything now except the Galactica roller coasters, hopefully in another year or 2 he'll make it. Then you could also have a kid taller than yourself who's too scared to do anything. There are all sorts of children in this world.

In fact the Teenager would rather spend his time in the Hershey store if you let him. All he could think of were Reese's peanut butter cups.

Visiting Universal Studios was therefore a nice way to spend a day. The next time we'll get a chalet at Sentosa and visit the rest of the island as well. Though tiny, things are always changing there - beauty of our country and its ability to renew constantly.

Minang Cove Resort, Tioman Island, Malaysia

Minang Cove Resort, Tioman Island

To tell the truth I've never thought it really value for money most resort-style holidays in Malaysia. Nature is kind to the country but probably not as kind as she is to Thailand or Indonesia, and you usually get more for your cash in the latter 2.

Tioman airport

Having said that, an island like Tioman (32km off Pahang in Peninsular Malaysia) is one of the prettiest (think Bali Hai) and nearest to Singapore and with Hub working his arse off nowadays it wasn't really an option to spend hours travelling to some paradise destination. Berjaya Air operates a short daily flight (tiny propeller plane, a little wobbly) to Tioman from Singapore's budget airport terminal and once there you are not far from most of the hotels/chalets in the Nature Reserve.

Main jetty

We chose to stay in the Minang Cove Resort after reading good reviews about it in Trip Advisor. It's a good 30 minutes away from the airport by boat (southern tip) and the transfer was smooth if a bit costly - 100 RM per adult whether you were solo or 10 to travel. Sea was a little choppy when we were there so do consider taking a tablet if you are prone to seasickness like I am.

View greeting us when we arrived was lovely. A beachfront resort and a range of mountains just behind. We didn't know then that just weeks before a female French tourist was murdered and buried in some cave on the island, but I digress.

Our beachfront villa was on the extreme left

The sea was beautiful and the water rather clear, but the beach at the resort was tiny and littered with stuff (e.g. dead coral) that could hurt the feet. Small crabs inhabit the rocks in the surroundings and Baby Boy had the misfortune of stepping on one accidentally and being pinched on the big toe by said crab. Luckily it was tiny.

We've arrived!

We were offered a cocktail by the English owner (he runs it with his Malaysian wife and stepdaughter) and then shown to our 3-bedroom beachfront villa. It was clean, air-conditioned and had a beautiful view of the sea. But the sound of the waves was quite loud and you either sleep very well as a result - or not.

Mum (thru Escada sunglasses) watching the world go by in front of the restaurant

There wasn't much to do at Minang Cove unless you snorkel (lots of fish and coral reefs) or scuba dive or enjoy walking for hours without end in the forest (dense, sparsely-populated, contains a number of protected species of mammals, also the soft-shelled turtle; we saw the black giant squirrel!). Mum doesn't do any of the above and spent her time checking out the resort staff, the other clients and watching everyone going about their business. You could pay extra to go on boat trips or return to the airport and play golf at the Berjaya Resort. Or read, read and read like I did. I borrowed a few books from our wonderful NLS (National Library Singapore) and the resort also had a small free library.

Hub and kids getting ready to snorkel


The kids spent their time playing on the beach, climbing rocks or snorkelling in the sea. Hub dived a few mornings. The highlight of the evening was usually fish feeding (mainly involved dumping the day's rubbish into the sea) as you get to see sharks. We walked to the nearest village (about 45 minutes one way, walk another 45 minutes and you'll get to a waterfall) which was quite dead since most of the able males have gone to the mainland leaving only the old and the young behind. Bought cold drinks from the 2nd wife of some village elder who told me that it hadn't rained for a long time on the island. My Malay is rusty after not having spoken it for 30 years, but I usually get by if you give me some time to sort through my mental language library. I usually get mixed up with the last language I've learnt (in this case Italian). You can see that the refuse pipes from the WCs in the kampung's houses lead to the beach. Personally I wouldn't swim in the water in the village.

Welcome to Twin Peaks Village

Of course it rained that night. And rained for the next few days. Very unusual for the season, we were told. But not that unusual if you consider our record. Rain follows us wherever we go.

Breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner were included in the price. All pretty decent affairs unless you do not like eggs or bananas. There was only one item for afternoon tea and it usually had to do with bananas - a problem if you hate bananas like Baby Boy (ironic since he was born in the year of the monkey). But I love bananas especially if they were fried whole (goreng pisang) or mashed and then fried (jemput jemput pisang). So I stuffed myself while my already thin boy starved.

Dinner could be a BBQ (e.g. satay - quite tasty) or small buffet (e.g. nasi lemak, beef rendang...). Food was good if they stuck to cooking Malaysian, but once they tried their hand at Chinese or Thai the results were often so-so. My complaint would be about lunch - starting from 28RM for a plate of oily nasi goreng! Seriously it was a rip off and even a luxury hotel on the mainland wouldn't charge that much for a plate of fried rice. But there weren't other options around, not sure I would eat in the sleepy village anyway. Ditto for drinks, prices were European, though free water was supplied all day long at the bar.

If you are looking for a quiet getaway near Singapore this is the place. They even have a tiny spa manned by 2 Thai girls and though the massages were pricey they were good. I particularly loved the tree-top sensation.

5 days were more than enough for us at Minang Cove Resort. Couldn't wait to get back to my prawn noodle soups.

Minang Cove Resort

Berjaya Air

lundi, août 29, 2011

Gold Class Reunion

Golden gift from and for Gold Class

I do not know if it has happened to you, but when I blew the 35 candles on my birthday cake (not that anybody remembered to get me one) a few years ago, I started feeling nostalgic about a long lost younger me. Many men would start to go to the gym, dye their hair and start an extra-marital relationship, but I found myself more interested than ever in Google.

I paced round my living room trying to remember the names of some of my classmates - from elementary to secondary to high school. Not to forget University and post. The problem is that back in Singapore where I came from, most of us were born with a set of names - that would be translated into mandarin back at school and which wouldn't be used again after we leave school. And in my case, the last time I was in elementary school was 27 years ago, the last time I was in secondary school 23 years ago and so on.

So I spent hours and then days, finally weeks, months and even years (with breaks in between, of course) looking for say, Liu Binbin on Google. Zero success. When I started becoming more active on Facebook, I couldn't find her either. It was frustrating because I could still see binbin in my mind, her sweet little face when we were 9, her older face when we bumped into each other on the public bus as we made our way to our different high schools years later. Then one morning last year, I woke up and remembered that her English name was C. And in the same flash I also remembered the way her surname was spelt. Typed "C..L..BB" on FB and bingo, first face to turn up on the networking site was her. She still looks the same.

Over the next few months I would find a number of my former classmates more or less in this manner. My old pal RW I found on FB through his brother, Uni pals were a little easier to find as some of us would have remained in contact with each other and through this friend and that we often get the ones we've lost. Then I realised that I wasn't the only one getting nostalgic about my old friends, a few of them have gotten into discussion threads on FB to look for the others and that was how I managed to find a couple of my primary schoolmates!

Seafood dinner group

But the most amazing thing that has happened to me in the last few months was Gold Class (GC). I wouldn't go into the details, but suffice to say that out of the blue I found myself reconnected with more than 2 dozen of my former Secondary schoolmates and we have somehow found time to catch up first online and then in person...and it was just so wonderful to find them again after all these years, to know that every one is doing so well, that nobody has aged, that girls you didn't like when you were 15 turned out to be so cool and interesting 23 years down the road, that that little girl in you still exists somehow and likes occasionally to pop out and do a little dance.

Late-night prata group (2 of them would have been on radio and/or TV before :-))

There were also many inspiring stories among us, so many things we have learnt from one another, so many new perspectives we have gained - and a certain solidarity that was born out of having spent at least 2-4 years (some of them were together since elementary school) together such a long time ago, maybe also because we came from a Christian school. Now, I'm not a Christian, but at this moment I am ready to Praise the Lord for my GC friends, may You keep them safe and happy...Amen.

Cupcake deco group (my very "old" friend A attended my wedding in France though)

On my last trip home I had a really tight schedule but managed to meet a number of my newfound old friends as a group - for prata late one night, for a morning cupcake decorating session, for a seafood dinner...I want to put this down, remember it, savour it.

Pip Pip GC!

Penang Revisited

Up in the hills in Penang

I had visions of satay fish and the dodol when Hub mentioned that he would be going to Penang on a short business trip. While the island is not exactly the best place to procure said delicacies, Penang is still Malaysia and there will always a possibility of getting one's hands on them...

I therefore bought an air ticket on Silkair (frankly for the cost I could have imported a few boxes of the good stuff) and tagged along with Hub, taking the opportunity to visit dear Brother C and family when Hub was slaving away in endless meetings.

Some of you may remember his girl JM who used to be in the same school as the Babies in Modena. We visited them 2 summers ago when we were last back in Asia and they stuffed us to the brim with famous Penang food. My bathroom scale doth remember and protest so I made sure that I gave them no chances to feed me this time round - but of course it was quite futile, they managed to sneak in a "tiny"meal here and there whenever we met.

G Hotel lobby

Hub had a room at the G Hotel just next to the famous Gurney Plaza. Room was sea-view, spacious and very comfortable and the buffet breakfast was copious though not particularly delicious. There was only one particular Penang hawker dish that I wanted to indulge in on this trip and it was their Prawn Noodle Soup - usually so very rich and delicious. In fact, most of the time even in Singapore I couldn't have enough of this cholesterol laden soup.

Our room

G Hotel's lovely pool

Though the mall was just next door, I didn't do much shopping as most of my 2 days there was spent with the Cs. Evenings were for Hub and his colleagues, including the Italian GM of the Malaysian outfit who has a young and beautiful wife fully decked-out in diamonds. 2 days after this dinner I am pleased to mention that I finally got my bling earrings as a 10th wedding anniversary gift though hopefully I'd not need to wait another 10 years for the bling bracelet.

View of the sea from our hotel room

It was nice catching up with them as the couple is often very happening when it comes to the latest household gadget, so I've been introduced to a cooking robot of some sort. Really cool - and it works!

JM's school

Don't you think that she has lost weight?

I also visited JM's current school one afternoon. It's a very good school with a small student-teacher ratio housed in an old building that is falling apart in places. JM has been topping her class in many subjects which is a feat considering that she did most of her earlier schooling in Italy under a different school system and with no Chinese or Malay.

One of the classrooms

Floor tiles at entrance of the school

The next time I visit Penang I should visit a museum. Those lovely floor tiles in JM's school sent me dreaming of heritage buildings and colonial times and should one forget, Penang is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Meanwhile, for the record, Singapore equalised with Malaysia (1-1) on our last evening in Penang and therefore made it into the next round of the World Cup Pre-qualifiers. I was the only person who shouted with joy as we walked past the outdoor plasma of some pub. Hub said I was mad to do that when we were the only non-Malaysians in the lion tiger's den.