A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
We’re on the MRT to East Coast Park to sample some of the best seafood Singapore can offer with Nani’s school friends. I like the MRT particularly the touch screen ticket machine where all you have to do is poke a spot on the map you want to go, slip some money in and bingo, out pops a swipe card for a few bucks. The trains seem pretty efficient although to the utter horror of Singaporeans a train broke down recently stranding passengers in the dark tunnel and grid locking peak hour. Not an issue in Australia, just get off, go find a bus or phone a friend. Singaporean’s want blood though. Heads must roll and at a minimum the CEO should be fired and made homeless. A comforting female voice recording drifts through our carriage encouraging me to report any suspicious people or activities and to by all means feel free to press the little red button next to the sliding doors. I eye the red button and hope that I don’t look too suspicious.
I do have a confession to make though, now that i have this nasty chest cold from the kids, i did cough up something that looked like durian and spat it in the bin. Am I in trouble? By the way you aren’t allowed to bring any flammables, weapons or durian on the train. $500 fine.
East coast park on reclaimed land is where Nani learned to ride a bicycle. These can be hired cheaply and the pathways along the beach with the sea breeze made it tolerable. I don’t think many people own bikes – for a start there’s nowhere to store them and anyone who thinks “this would be a great city to bike around” probably hasn’t had the pleasure of being drenched in sweat two minutes into their ride. Although Cambodians use them extensively they ride slowly and don’t wear suits to work.
Jumbo Seafood serves up a mean chilli mud crab arguably one of Singapore’s most famous dish. I’m not sure I’ve had it before but I loved it, although someday I’d like to try a less sweet one. This was complimented by bamboo clams, stir fried baby squid (crunchy), crumbed whole prawns (you eat the head and all), sesame seed crusted squid and mee goreng. Our waitresses name is Bell Song. I try and motion to everyone when she is standing at our table to look at her name badge but no one seems to notice. When she leaves I point out “did everyone see her name? It’s Bell Song – get it? Bell – Song??” Everyone is blank. Ken explains gently that they pronounce this surname “Soong”. As a teacher he can understand why I might read it the way I did. A former company I worked for had our regional head office in Singapore with a receptionist called Dawn Poo. I suppose this isn’t funny either.
Singapore will be no doubt be a welcome and dramatic contrast with East Malaysia. Unique in that Singaporeans have managed to turn shopping and eating out into a national sport – I know because I’m married to one, and the son of another. If there were an Olympic event that involved a marathon of shopping and eating, a Singaporean would be atop the dais proudly lifting his gold medal as Majulah Singapura played. On days off, Singaporeans seem to plan their days around where they will eat and shop. When the food arrives, it is mandatory to photograph it for some reason. The mantra played out is “eat til you drop, then shop shop shop”. Everything else is incidental.
So my wife will be disappearing down some dingy hawker lanes periodically (approximately four times daily) and in between those times, shopping in massive malls. In Singapore, you can experience all the excesses of western consumerism and affluenza happily minus the chewing gum, spittle and graffiti. Unfortunately, being an Aussie and a country one to boot, I can’t stand it. Actually I lie. I can stand about an hour of it, then I go ‘troppo’ as we say down under.
The kids will only slow her down (she tends to move at lightning speed with the meal breaks also serving as a pit stop) as she attempts to cover as much retail floorspace in as little time possible, so they get sick of being dragged from shop to boutique to department store in about a half hour. All this means, the kids and I will be finding other more sedentary and enjoyable pursuits, hopefully away from the main tourist beat, where we can just enjoy Singapore and each other.
Here’s what we’re thinking of doing:
I haven’t heard of anyone who has visited Little India and said they didn’t enjoy it or didn’t recommend it to others. Travelers note that if they didn’t know they were in Singapore, they would think they were actually in India. Think amazing colors, people, food smells, buildings, shops and temples.
Although touristy, I think I’ll make a concession as the kids would absolutely love the Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo. We’ll probably buy a 2 or 3 park hopper pass which will allow us to see these attractions for a small discount.
Stories are powerful and Australia has a shared history with Singapore given that many of our troops were stationed there under British command during WWII. Sadly the British believed the Japanese would only attack from the sea and had all their defences directed seaward. Instead the enemy cleverly commandeered bicycles and rode down from the north. Singapore capitulated in a short few weeks and 15,000 of our lads were imprisoned in Changi prison where stories of survival in Japanese internment are now legendary. I’m looking forward to our children discovering some of the story of our joint history at Changi Museum. Lest we forget.
Sentosa Island would be great (maybe), but we’ll probably shy away because of how much everything costs there including food and I’ll probably be sick of seeing tourists and being shuttled from one queue to another by that stage. I hate theme parks too, and while Universal Studios is located there, the whole of Sentosa Island seems to be one giant theme park (to someone who lives on an island 90 times bigger than Singapore with 10 times less people)
Early immigrants from Canton and Fujian provinces in China settled where Chinatown is today. It will be nice to just wander around here in the old part of town and maybe visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre, check out the old temples and shops.
The Singapore Flyer is a great way to see the city. It’s the equivalent of the London Eye only taller. There’s also a rainforest discovery centre there, which may be a bit passe after Borneo, but we’ll see. The ticket also includes entry into the Journey of Dreams which is a multimedia and interactive experience around the history, culture, architecture and aspirations of Singapore and the building of the flyer.
Sands at Marina Bay, puts on a Water and Light Spectacular a 13 minute show to a 140 piece symphony orchestra soundtrack. It’s free and apparently it’s really good (possibly even spectacular). Since I’m avoiding Sentosa, this is a little concession to keep Nani happy since she has fond memories of Sentosa’s light show. Show times are 8 and 9.30PM with an extra 11PM thrown in on the weekend. Wandering the Singapore river would be nice visiting Boat Quay, and Clarke Quay seeing the historical buildings, bridges and even doing a cheap river cruise.
As far as nature goes, Singaporeans have actually done a pretty good job of keeping the city green, despite their desperate need for more land and the effort they go to reclaim it from the sea. For just getting outdoors and experiencing nature their national parks look great. If we want to just chill out, we could visit Mount Faber, one of the oldest of the parks which connects to Sentosa via cable car. If we do end up at Mount Faber, I’d love to walk over Singapore’s highest pedestrian walkway Henderson Waves an amazing wave form bridge. At the end of gardening hub Hort Park a Canopy Walk through secondary rainforest connecting to Kent Ridge park looks beautiful. It’s 300 metres long and ends up at Reflections of Bukit Chandu which is a museum covering the history of Opium Hill and the battalion of the Malay Regiment in the Pasir Panjang Area 1400 of whom bravely took on 13,000 Japanese soldiers during WWII.
Finally, the most historic and oldest areas of Singapore is only a stones throw from the infamous Orchard Road in Fort Canning Park where ancient relics dating back to the 14th century have been unearthed and the Fort Gate, remnant of the fortress built in the 1860s, is a reminder of Singapore’s colonial past.
We’ll probably travel mostly on the MRT and by foot since the Singapore train network is one of the best in the world. Trains are a novelty for our kids, so just buying a top-up rail pass and getting on and off at random places will be fun. The MRT website is pretty cool, since you can select a particular station and see what attractions are around it.
So aside from these distractions, we’ll be catching up with plenty of friends and family and celebrating Christmas Day on this beautiful, clean, hi-tech but somewhat green island-city, also known as the cash register of Asia.