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26 January 2011

Thaipusam

Last week I had the good fortune to witness a day that will stay with me for a very long time.  I was able to watch the Thaipusam festival here in Singapore.  I really am not in a position to be able to convey exactly how important Thaipusam is to those who take part or fully explain what is involved for those devotees.  I will, however, describe what I saw happen on that day and hope this conveys some of the experience to those who have not seen it for themselves.

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival, celebrated mainly by the Tamil community, which is held annually in honour of the Hindu God Subramaniam (Lord Murugan).  The day is observed as one of prayers and thanksgiving for wishes that have been granted.  The ceremony involves the devotees who are giving thanks carrying either milkpots, wooden kavadis or the spiked kavadis (as in some of the photos here).  The spiked ones are attached to the devotees skin by way of hooks and skewers.  The first picture below also shows a devotee who had hooks attached to him with limes hooked on to them.  The procession begins early in the morning and continues throughout the day into the evening.

I really did not know what to expect from the day but I arrived early and ended up staying until late afternoon.  As the day progressed I had a definite feeling of wanting to witness as much as I could of the events.  The procession in Singapore began at Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple on Serangoon Road in Little India and ended at the Chettiar Hindu temple on Tank Road.  The devotees carrying their kavadis for 4.5 km which is a long way in this heat when you consider what they were carrying, which I do not imagine being light.

As I said not knowing what to expect or indeed exactly how the day panned out I started watching them at the point that they left the temple on Serangoon Road and began their walk.  It soon became apparent though that we, despite not being involved in the festival, were free to walk the length of the route with the devotees if we wanted to.  So I did just that.  Those who are carrying the kavadis are joined by many others taking part who are simply walking the route, or singing, chanting, offering up prayers and I guess encouraging and supporting those carrying the kavadis to keep going.  It did feel initially like I was intruding but as the morning progressed it seemed that those that were taking part welcomed the attention and interest from locals and tourists alike and were happy for photos to be taken and for you to join them.



Along the route there were numerous food and drink points which again I assumed were just for those taking part.  I'm still not sure if they actually were or not but I was kindly given a bowl of delicious rice and something to drink.  It was a very hot day and I was glad of it so I really admire those taking part in the festival.

We eventually arrived at the end of the walk and at the other temple, again I assumed that we would be unable to go any further.  I was wrong though as we were all welcomed into the temple to see the final part of the ceremony and the removal of the kavadis.  Again there were no restrictions on the taking of photos or on where we could go within the temple.  As those who had walked the route arrived to give thanks and offer prayers we, as onlookers, were welcomed in and given the opportunity to witness this wonderful finale. 

It truly was a memorable day.  I never could have imagined I'd spend most of the day there, that we'd be made so welcome and that I'd leave feeling that I had been witness to something very special that day in Singapore.


Leaving the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple


Arrival at the Chettiar Hindu temple having completed the walk

The kavadis had just been removed and there is barely a mark on him!

24 January 2011

Wild Honey

Going for brunch does seem to have become something of a regular event since I moved to Singapore, not that I'm complaining of course!  As I've said several times before Singapore is awash with a whole variety of food options, brunch included and it would be rude not to partake really.

One place I've heard lots about since I've been here and been keen to try out is a place called Wild Honey in the Mandarin Gallery shopping mall on Orchard Road.  We've tried a couple of times before to go but it is always incredibly busy (always a good sign in Singapore) and as you can't book in advance you have to have plenty of time on your side in order to allow for the inevitable hour you'll likely have to wait before getting a call to tell you there is a table ready.  (UPDATE 05/07/13 - just checked their website and you can now make reservations at the Scotts Square branch but not their Mandarin Gallery branch)  I guess it doesn't pay to be starving hungry when you arrive and you probably also may want to be in the mood for a mooch around the shops on Orchard Road whilst you wait!


However on our third attempt we had the time to wait and were fortunate in that we only had to wait forty five minutes to get a table (the shortest amount of time we've ever been quoted).  The place itself serves breakfast items hence it is perfect for a Sunday brunch but of every type you can imagine.  You can have an English style fry up but equally there is a Japanese style breakfast, Italian, California, Swiss, Belgian and so on, you name it and you can probably have a variety of it there!  I sampled the Italian which was a tomato, cheese and spinach omelette and it was very good.

The decor of the place is lovely too, with modern art on the walls, and retro style chairs with funky patterned coverings on them.  In the picture above you can see the retro style radio (which I loved), magazines for you to browse over whilst you munch and yes the champagne was ours too.  Well got to spoil yourself occasionally haven't you and when is it not a good time to drink champagne?!?!  Oh and by the way they have a radio station playing a great mix of music whilst you dine.  I've since discovered if you visit the Wild Honey website that you can listen to, what I assume is the same station that they are playing in the restaurant.

A thoroughly cool place with a great menu and hopefully somewhere we'll get to again, even with the wait!

23 January 2011

Light Up Festival - Chinese New Year


I've been busy this week doing a few things and have fallen behind so have to return to last weekend firstly and the Light Up festival in Chinatown.  Just as Christmas decorations were everywhere this time last month there are now decorations, food items for the sale in shops etc. everywhere for Chinese New Year. The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on the 3 February 2011 and at that point we will leave the year of the tiger and enter the year of the rabbit. I know that Chinese New Year is one of the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and this is very evident here with rabbit and traditional decorations everywhere and a series of events specially for the Chinese New Year period being held.   

I won't be here for actual Chinese New Year as I'll be back in the UK so I was keen to try and experience some of the build up before I return and the Light Up festival seemed the perfect opportunity to do this.  The Light Up festival marks the start of the celebrations and was as the name suggests a celebration of the lights and decorations put up in Chinatown.



As you can see from the pictures Chinatown was very busy (though I gather it gets busier) and full of locals and tourists browsing through the stalls that as well as selling their usual souvenirs are also selling all manner of Chinese New Year decorations.  Unsurprisingly lots of people were also enjoying some food whilst there (as we did) and all the cafes and restaurants were just as busy and bustling.



On one of the main roads through Chinatown a stage had been put up and a variety of acts were performing there to entertain the crowds.  I'll be honest that some of them were not really to my taste and I even wondered whether it was worth staying, particularly as I wasn't exactly sure what the evening involved.  However I'm glad we did as I got to see a lovely production of a tale called the Legend of the Nian Monster performed by some local school children.  Having investigated this story a bit more since I understand this is a very important tale behind the beginnings of Chinese New Year celebrations and was therefore a very appropriate choice for this evening.
                                                                                                              

The culmination of the evening was by far the best part for me though (I'm glad we did hang on to see it) when traditional lion dancers came on the stage and firecrackers and fireworks were set off.  They were incredibly loud, I had no idea just how loud and far more so than just fireworks alone.  As we enjoyed them we were showered in red (an obvious choice being a lucky and important colour) confetti, though it did get everywhere - I was still finding it in the flat for several days afterwards.  I'm glad though that I hung around to see the whole evening.

17 January 2011

Singapore Flyer

We finally managed to get on the Singapore Flyer as our previous attempt had been thwarted by bad weather.  Though as it happens we picked our window at just the right time as it had rained beforehand and started again shortly afterwards so we were very lucky.  The Flyer is Singapore's version of the London Eye.  Singapore's version is actually the largest observation wheel in the world and reaches a height of 165 metres.  You can also enjoy cocktails and fine dining on the Flyer (if you book these) but we just stuck to the regular ride!  The Flyer is in the Marina Bay area of Singapore and looks across the Straits of Singapore out to sea, across the Eastern part of Singapore towards Changi airport and our home and over towards the city and the Central Business District (CBD).
   






Just as on the London Eye there was a commentary to listen to as you rode.  However the difference here being that a lot of what we were told focused on explaining the importance of feng shui and how the principles of this were used to build much of modern Singapore.  Even down to the direction that the Singapore Flyer rotates.  From our vantage point we were able to spot a number of buildings built on this basis and the reasons behind certain features on the buildings and the importance of these were explained.  I found that very interesting and it is definitely something I'd like to find out more about. 

As well as the feng shui of the buildings and design of Singapore and the places of interest that were pointed out, the commentary also recounted the story of how Singapore came to get its name.  I have mentioned this before but this is the tale of the Sumatran prince who landed on the island of Temasek and believed he had seen a lion there so deemed the spot should be called Singapura which means lion city.  We even learnt that the design of the $1 coin is based on the principles of feng shui as well, the octagon shape within the coin being a sign of good feng shui.

I have to admit that in terms of view and what you can actually see I do think the London Eye is in a better vantage point where it is and has a lot more to offer in terms of historical interest.  However you don't get a view of the sea from the London Eye so both have their own uniqueness.  The emphasis on the feng shui also added to this, definitely a pleasant way to spend an afternoon if you don't have a fear of heights!

14 January 2011

I've Been Busy

Nothing like it I guess, especially as I've been busy because I was asked to contribute a piece about my experiences of moving to Singapore for another blog.  I was very excited about the prospect of doing this and the finished result, a piece called A Brit Abroad in Singapore can be viewed at the following site.

The site is written by Kate Turner a travel writer who has written for both Rough Guides and The Travel Belles and who was herself an expat in Spain before returning to the UK.  As well as my post there are a number of other guest posts from expats all over the world charting their experiences etc. and she writes here about the sights, sounds and food she encounters as she goes on her own travels.  I'd definitely recommend a look at her site.

12 January 2011

Lazy Afternoon in East Coast Park


Last week I had one of those days where I just needed to get out for a while.  I feel bad saying that as I don't have much to complain about but I just needed a change of scenery.  We live just a very short walk from the East Coast park, somewhere I've written about previously but my last visit was at the weekend.  A time when it is full of people enjoying the open space, the BBQ pits and the opportunity to cycle, roller skate or walk.  Whilst there is plenty of space for all I'd never been on a week day so decided to take a stroll up there for some fresh air and to see what the park was like then. 

The East Coast park was built on land reclaimed from the sea and is just one of the numerous green spaces in Singapore.  To get there I have to walk through an underpass underneath a motorway and although it's well lit and there are security cameras around I'm not sure I'd want to walk it late at night on my own.  It also feels as if you are literally walking on to the motorway!  However it is well worth it because as soon as you come up the other side and pass the few cafes and restaurants you are in the park and would hardly know you were so close to a major road. 

What a difference going on a weekday makes too, there was hardly anybody about, the BBQ pits were empty just a couple of runners, cyclists, dog walkers and a hand full of others enjoying the walk.  I had the place to myself almost and I realised how much I've been missing out on by not going back and exploring on a weekday sooner.  The weather was not completely on my side but that did not matter, with hardly anyone around there were plenty of shelter points to pop into as and when I needed to.  In fact this only made it better as there was a wonderfully fresh breeze from the sea as I walked, a very welcome relief in Singapore!

I have no excuse for not going back sooner as it is on my doorstep (in fact you can see the sea and ships from our condo) and is totally free so is a great way to spend an afternoon if I have the time.  Now I've seen it in a new light I'll definitely be returning when I need to escape for a while. 

07 January 2011

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011

So much has happened to me in a year.  Those who regularly view my blog will know that this time last year I was coming to Singapore for a two week trip with my fiance (boyfriend as he then was) who was starting a new job here.  Whilst here I did all the touristy things that anyone when asked what they associate with Singapore would do, you know a Singapore Sling in Raffles hotel etc. etc. (more of all of that soon).  I can well remember also sitting besides the hotel pool considering the pros and cons of quitting my job to join him or waiting a bit longer before I took what then seemed such a massive step and a huge life change. 

The move here was out of the blue for me, it wasn't something we talked about doing for months or even years on end beforehand.  My fiance just had two phone calls and was offered the job, I was blown away.  In hindsight I should have guessed it might happen at some point as before I knew him he had lived and worked in Melbourne but I guess I just never thought about it until I had no choice but to.

In the end I decided to stay in our UK flat until the end of the lease (June) and apply for a career break from my job so I had something to go back to just in case.  This felt like a half way step for me and safer then going all out and moving over here on a permanent basis.  If that decision had stayed as it was then I'd be heading back to the UK about now to return back to work!  Anyway it didn't as life never goes exactly as you think it will and once I got here I realised going back wasn't really an option and decided to take the step of quitting my job to stay.  My fiance being here was the main reason, we'd been at opposite sides of the world for six months and the thought of leaving him again was just horrible.  Funnily enough it was only when I got here that I realised how hard it must have been for him at first totally on his own here and exactly how much I had missed him during those six months.  We also got engaged soon after I arrived which made me feel it was even more important that we should try to stay together rather than me disappearing again.  I'd also started to feel settled here, having met some lovely people and felt I'd started to make a few friends of my own rather than just relying on those that my fiance had already met.

The first photo I took in Singapore during my visit in January 2010

Yes there are times when I miss home and my family and friends back there and the UK will always be my true home.  With my fiance out all day at work during the week I sometimes yearn to just be able to pop and see my Mum or catch up with someone and have a good gossip.  When I feel like that though I just remind myself of the wonderful opportunities I've had in the past six months, how my life has changed beyond my imagination and the things I've done and places I've been that I never could have imagined doing.  Similarly I remind myself of all the places I'm yet to see in this part of the world which I hope I get the opportunity to do.  Failing that I'll take myself off somewhere new or even just for a browse around the shops just to remind myself how fortunate I am.

So as a new year begins I have a lot to keep me very busy, for one continuing to discover Singapore and hopefully other places too and secondly a lot of planning and organising for my wedding in October.  This year I'll be dividing my time between the UK and Singapore, but I hope you'll stick with me as I have plenty of ideas of things to write about and I'll try not to turn into a wedding bore on here either!  Although it will be lovely to be back in the UK I know as well that I'll be missing Singapore, my fiance, my friends and the place that for now is my home.

05 January 2011

Fish Spa

Apologies firstly to anyone who doesn't like seeing feet - you may want to look away now!  For those still reading though I ended up having a fish spa by accident but it is something I've wanted to do so although not planned I'm glad I've now done it.  We were meant to be going on the Singapore Flyer but a thunderstorm put pay to that as they had to temporarily close it until the storm had passed.  Not knowing how long this would take we decided to find something else to fill the time and that was when we came across the spa in the same venue as the Flyer.  Yes my fiance did it too, not sure he ever imagined he'd be having a fish spa but he was more than game!

Until I moved here I don't think I was even really aware of this, or lets say it isn't as common in the UK but as soon as I arrived I realised fish spas were everywhere in Singapore and I knew I wanted to experience it at some point.  This was only further enhanced by speaking with people who had done it as it just sounded more and more like a fun thing to do.


When we arrived we had to hose down our feet and legs with I assume a mild sanitiser that doesn't affect the fish before taking the plunge so to speak.  We paid for a thirty minute session and firstly put our feet in a pool with fairly small fish.  At this point I could barely feel anything apart from a slightly ticklish feeling particularly around my toes and underneath my feet.  The fish they use are Garra Rufa or Doctor Fish and the procedure removes dead skin (the fish nibble it off) and is regarded as being good for the circulation and very relaxing amongst other things.

I was almost a tiny bit disappointed that I couldn't feel more at that stage.  However we were then moved to a second pool with bigger fish in and yes you could really notice the difference.  I could feel the fish nibbling at my feet and it was even more ticklish than the first pool had been. 

I can assure anyone thinking of doing it that it doesn't hurt it just feels a bit strange and very ticklish.  I'd definitely do it again though as I felt very relaxed afterwards and my feet felt really smooth too.  I've just got to maintain the good work of the fish now!

04 January 2011

Melbourne - Vineyards, Wine, Native Wildlife & the City

Besides going to watch the cricket, spending Christmas in Melbourne and although only there a few days (including Christmas Day) meant there was still time to do a few things.  In fact as I'd never been to Australia before it was essential that we did more than eat, drink and be merry and go and watch the cricket!

I had been warned that the weather in Melbourne was very changeable (something along the lines of four seasons in one day) and I was not disappointed.  We had blazing sunshine, pouring rain and days that reminded me of a UK summer.  Although the sun was very intense and you definitely needed sun cream and a hat (something I don't normally wear but even I conceded at the cricket).  It was lovely to be in a much drier heat and one that didn't leave you in a sweaty mess after walking 100 yards down the road.  The coolness of the evenings was refreshing too,   when the sun went down it got noticeably cooler (like the UK does) and yes at times I was cold but in a pleasant way.  Again a refreshing change from here when even at night the temperature fluctuation is so small you don't notice much, if any, difference.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were lovely with our hosts and included what I figured an Australian Christmas might involve, a BBQ.  In fact we had lots of BBQ's whilst there but our host did very good ones (how could I say anything else being he is an Australian) and that combined with delicious salads ensured I ate well.

After our trip to the cricket on Boxing Day our time was our own.  My fiance used to live in Melbourne so he had already formulated some ideas of what we might do and I was more than happy to go along with those.  So first we went to some of the vineyards in the Yarra Valley area.  There are numerous vineyards in this area and as we drove through the countryside and the vineyards I was reminded how lovely it is to see fields with animals in and countryside.  This is something I miss about living in Singapore, although there are areas of jungle and plenty of green spaces in Singapore I really miss seeing fields of sheep, cows or horses and wide open areas of farmland.
We visited both the Domaine Chandon and Coldstream Hills wineries and of course got to taste some of the products.  The Domaine Chandon visit included the option of a free tour round giving us the chance to find out the process used to make the sparkling wine and then (as shown in my picture above) the chance to have a glass after all that concentration proved too great a temptation to resist!

In the afternoon we went to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to native Australian wildlife.  Although I've seen kangaroos in zoos in the UK and here in Singapore it was great to see some in their homeland.  I also got to see platypuses (which were much smaller than I imagined), dingoes, bats, koalas, snakes, lizards and a sleeping wombat.  I really hoped I might get to see a Tasmanian Devil but they are nocturnal and unfortunately even though the sanctuary has cameras in their den none of them were asleep within range of them.  That said I was especially pleased I got to see some kangaroos and koalas and the other animals I did see.

Our hosts actually live on I suppose what you might describe as a bat flight route and every evening at dusk and just after numerous bats fly over their house.  Whilst at the sanctuary I saw some Flying Foxes (bats) and I understand that these are the bats that fly over their house each evening.  They were certainly the biggest bats I've ever seen in the wild and as they flew over head they were big enough that you could hear their wings




Dingoes, Koalas & Flinders Street Station
as they flapped them.



 




On our last full day in Melbourne we started the day with a trip to St Kilda.  This is a beautiful spot right by the sea including a pier (another thing I haven't seen for a long time) and ideal, I would imagine, for spending a relaxing Sunday morning or any free time.  There were lots of boats around and people taking part in various water based activities so it is obviously a popular place with the locals.

We stopped for brunch in a cafe in what were the St Kilda Baths, very nice but way to much for me to finish.  After this we caught a tram up to the city centre area and walked along the Yarra River in an area known as the Southbank.  Here there are a multitude of bars, restaurants and shops and as we sat in one bar it definitely seemed to be the place to people watch.  Our walk around the city centre took in several of the bridges crossing the river including one detailing the places where all the immigrants to Australia had come from and the main reasons for their immigration.  As well as this my tour took in Federation Square, Collins Street, further views of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Flinders Street station area.  My fiance also made time to take me to see the suburbs and places where he had lived whilst residing in Melbourne though I think he wanted to have a look again for old times sake too.


Although we only had a couple of free days on our Christmas trip to Melbourne we seemed to fit a lot in.  For me having never been there before and not knowing much about the place I feel I saw a lot, but there is definitely scope for a return visit I think!

03 January 2011

Boxing Day Ashes and the Barmy Army

I was incredibly lucky to be able to spend Christmas in Melbourne which was very exciting as I'd never been to Australia before.  As I kept telling my hosts and fiance my only reference points before my trip were Neighbours and Home and Away so to please excuse me if I asked stupid questions!

Well more of the rest of my trip shortly though needless to say I had a fantastic time.  However I wanted to share my Boxing Day experience of a trip to the Ashes test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (or MCG as I'm reliably informed it is called).

I am not a cricket fan really, nor can I claim to understand it much beyond the basic concept and the scoring and being able to recognise if a team hasn't scored many runs (and therefore not done particularly well) in relation to the number of people out.  My previous experiences of cricket only being that my Grandfather enjoyed it as did my friend's Gran.  I can recall several school summer holidays at hers when all my friend and I wanted to do was escape the tedium of endless days of nothing but cricket on TV.  So I wasn't sure what to expect from my day at the cricket beforehand, however it turned out to be a really great day.




I'm sure my enjoyment was helped no end by the fact that England played exceptionally well and I along with all the other England supporters I'm sure left the ground very proud of their achievements.  In addition to this our seats were right besides the Barmy Army so there was a brilliant atmosphere throughout the day, especially as the beer flowed and the result got better and better.  Our seating was slightly ironic given that our tickets had been purchased months before by our Australian friend, poor thing there were four English people with him all having a brilliant time.  I'm sure he'd have rather been sitting anywhere but next to the Barmy Army but he took it all in good spirits!

For my first experience of a cricket match it was a good one and yes I may even be persuaded to take more of an interest in it as a sport in the future.  I definitely hope if I ever go again that England play as well as they did on Boxing Day.
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