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30 June 2011

Bukit Brown Cemetery

This cemetery has to be the most desolate part of Singapore I've yet to experience.  I honestly never realised anywhere here could be so devoid of people, even when I've visited the areas of jungle on the island there have always been people around and noise but here nothing but nature.  Bukit Brown cemetery has been in the news a lot recently and I know a lot of people have been taking the time to pay it a visit.  Even though visitors may have increased it is so beautifully still, wild and untouched in a way nowhere else in Singapore seems to be.




The reason why Bukit Brown cemetery has become so popular?  The area of land is likely to be redeveloped and as a result I wanted to see it before it was lost forever.  I actually first heard of the cemetery a few months ago.  I'm interested in the paranormal and happened to catch a programme featuring a Singaporean based team of ghost hunters who spent a night here.  Whilst I did not fancy that I was curious as to whether it would be possible to visit.  A disused Chinese cemetery sounded appealing to my interest in history as well as my liking for things a little spooky.  A bit of investigation showed it was possible so it was added to my long 'to do' list for someday.

Suddenly Bukit Brown cemetery was making news as plans were announced to redevelop the area.  There has been much debate as to whether this is the right thing to do or whether the cemetery should be preserved.  Personally I feel it will be a great shame for this place to go the way of many other cemeteries and areas of historical interest on the island and be lost to future generations.  That is one of several things that I do miss about the UK, having ready access to preserved buildings and areas of historical importance.  Singapore has much to offer from a variety of cultures and some of it should be retained.





Before its closure in 1973 it was a public Chinese cemetery established in the early 20th century.  It was also known to the local community by the names Kopi Sua or Coffee Hill.  The cemetery was named after its first owner, George Henry Brown.  He was a ship owner who arrived in Singapore from Calcutta in the 1840s he bought the area of land and originally named it Mount Pleasant.  The land was later owned by the Hokkien Ong clan and subsequently acquired by the municipal authorities in 1919 and the cemetery opened on the 1 January 1922.

I understand that several prominent Singaporeans are buried in the cemetery (not that I specifically identified any of their graves) including various philanthropists and entrepreneurs, many of whom now have areas of Singapore named after them.  It is also claimed that the oldest known grave in Singapore is here, that of a Fang Shan who died in 1833.  Likewise the tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife is said to be the largest in Singapore, possibly being as large as ten small Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.  There is lots more information about the cemetery available on the National Library Singapore website and others if you are interested.





The cemetery is in an area of the island I'm not that familiar with so I have to say special thanks to the taxi driver who took us on the final part of our journey after we arrived at Marymount MRT.  He was not sure exactly where to go either but between us and the ever handy maps app on a mobile phone we arrived.  He was intrigued as to why we would want to visit a cemetery and we explained our reasons.  He was interested but slightly bemused, I don't know whether he will be planning a visit of his own.  Thank you though to him for being so obliging whilst we worked out where we needed to be!



Whether it is preserved or not I'm glad I took the time to visit this place.  I saw and heard wildlife I've not done anywhere else in Singapore before.  There were an abundance of birds and insects calling the cemetery home, a real treat for any nature enthusiast.  I read an article recently that indicated that wild boar live in some of the wilder parts of Singapore.  This surprised me but having been to the cemetery and walked amongst the more overgrown areas of it I definitely saw evidence of a larger animal living there (and it was not a dog) so I wonder if some of the boar have found a home there too.

Other than a jogger and a dog walker making use of the open space the only person we saw was a boy in his late teens who asked to join us on our walk.  We agreed and actually it was great to have him with us as he was able to translate and tell us what some of the graves said.  We chatted about whether Bukit Brown cemetery should be redeveloped and he too was of the opinion that it would be a shame to lose it.



One piece of advice I would offer up to anybody considering a trip would be to cover up and wear lots of bug spray.  I got bitten by mosquitoes, ants and so on more than I think I have anywhere else here, yes even in the jungle parts of the island.  I guess it truly is so wild and overgrown here that it is a perfect place for the bugs to reside.

I don't know the ultimate fate of Bukit Brown cemetery but I will say that to have somewhere you can truly escape and discover your country's past is something very precious.






27 June 2011

Mustafa's

I did something recently that I honestly can't believe it has taken me almost a year to do, I took a trip to Mustafa's.  I'd heard lots about the place and walked past it several times but never ventured in.  My first trip was not on my own (I think I would have been completely overwhelmed if it had been) but with a friend and fellow blogger, Leone.  Huge thanks to her for showing me the Mustafa ropes.

For those who don't know Mustafa's is really, I guess, a department store set over five floors close to Little India.  I was surprised it is one store as, in my ignorance, I'd assumed it was lots of shops.  It is nice though to be able to wander around, pick things up and then pay when it is convenient for you.  Amazingly too it is open 24 hours everyday but I've been told is best avoided at the weekends as it becomes unbearably busy.

I'd heard how you could find just about anything there and although I'd kind of dismissed that it really is true!  In the time I was there I saw (amongst a load of other things), clothing (men's, women's and children's), fabric and material for sale (for you to buy and then take to your local tailor), food (fresh, frozen, meat and vegetables, including brands from the UK I don't recall seeing anywhere else, more spices then I knew existed and food goods that I honestly don't even know what they were), toiletries, cosmetics (all the well know brands), perfumes, electrical goods, luggage / bags, stationery for home and office, party decorations (paper plates, cups, things for goody bags etc), Christmas and other decorations, Singapore souvenirs (in some cases just a little tacky), candles, kitchen utensils, pots, pans, plates etc, books, magazines, linen, bedding, furniture.  I know I'll have missed out loads of things but after seeing all of this in the space of a morning my mind was swimming.  The only thing they don't have is anywhere to eat inside but with the numerous eating options around that area that isn't really a problem and it's easy to pop out for something to eat and then go back.

Obviously there are department stores in the UK and here in Singapore selling a little of a lot of things but this really was on another level.  I think what makes it a bit awing at first is the sheer amount of items they manage to fit in and therefore the huge selection of things to chose from in every section!  Whilst I can't vouch for everything it seemed that if you are prepared to shop around and hunt in Mustafa's, shopping there as well could definitely save you money. 

If you've never been I would definitely urge you to visit at least once just for the experience.  I'd suggest you go with someone who knows the place, particularly the first time, so you aren't totally overwhelmed.  As it is open 24 hours a day you don't really have an excuse not to, do you?!?

24 June 2011

Hens in the Lion City


Most of you who regularly follow this blog will know I'm getting married in October (only three and a half months to go)!!  In keeping with tradition I decided to have a hen night here in Singapore with several of my friends.  I do plan on having one in the UK too so perhaps I'm being a bit greedy but who can resist an excuse for a night out?

The evening started with cocktails and then a delicious meal at the Indochine on Clarke Quay.  I'd eaten here before in the day but for this occasion I reserved us a table in their upstairs restaurant.  We practically had the place to ourselves and the staff could not have been more attentive.  There are several Indochine restaurants both in Singapore and elsewhere, the one on Clarke Quay is called the Forbidden City and the restaurant The Madame Butterfly.  As you enter the restaurant you are flanked by copies of the terracotta warriors and when you get upstairs you enter a sumptuously Oriental world of beautiful pieces of furniture of the big and imposing kind.  The website describes it as being 'akin to that of an ancient Chinese Emperor’s opulent abode' and it certainly gives the impression of grandeur.  Towards the back of the upstairs is a balcony overlooking the courtyard bar (where we got some fantastic photos) and up here were three people dressed in traditional Chinese opera style costumes.  They looked stunning and we were told we could have our photos taken with them.  Unfortunately though by the time we'd finished eating they'd also finished for the evening so we missed out.  The menu itself gives you both the option to choose Chinese style cuisine and Vietnamese cuisine.  It was hard to make a decision!

After we had eaten we wandered along to The Pump Room also on Clarke Quay.  I'd not actually been here before but it came highly recommended by one of my friends and turned out to be a brilliant choice.  They had, what is a common in a lot of places I've been to, a live band interspersed with a DJ.  The band were really good but, as seems to be fairly common here, were a cover band.  I would love to know of anywhere where local bands play their own music, any suggestions?  However they were, as I said, an absolutely excellent band singing everything including up to the minute covers.  Looking at the website they play every night from Tuesday to Sunday which I had not realised.  Pretty impressive!

Thank you to everyone who was able to make it along for the night, without you all it would have been a bit dull!  It was a fantastic evening and one that left me with very happy memories.

22 June 2011

National Orchid Garden

I finally got to the National Orchid Garden recently.  I've been to the Botanic Gardens several times but never managed to make it into the orchid part, despite various people telling me again and again that I had to go.  Well I'm pleased to say it was worth the wait and I'll be joining those who kept telling me to go in doing the same to anyone else who has not been. 




I really love the green open spaces in Singapore, there are still plenty despite what you may think.  The Botanic Gardens allow you to escape from the heart of the city and now I've discovered the orchid gardens this is an extension of that, allowing you to immerse yourself in beautiful orchids.  The day I visited was a typically blisteringly hot one in Singapore but both the Botanic gardens and the orchid garden allow you the chance to shelter amongst the plants and escape that, at least for a little while.

The Botanic Gardens are free to get into but there is an entry fee of $5 for adults to the National Orchid Garden. It is well worth the cost and make sure to take your camera along too. There are even areas marked as good photo spots with places to sit and pose surrounded by the beautiful flowers.




The National Orchid Garden was opened in 1995.  It is one of the world's largest collection of orchids with over a thousand species and two thousand hybrids. The national flower of Singapore is a hybrid orchid (the Vanda Miss Joaquim). This was discovered in 1893 by Agnes Joaquim in her garden here in Singapore, so having an orchid garden seems fitting.  Equally given the tropical climate a garden full of orchids fits perfectly and they certainly flourish in it.

There is a lot of information in the garden (specifically in Burkhill Hall, a colonial bungalow in the garden) about the process involved in growing and cultivating the orchids.  This can take several years which I found amazing, you certainly need to have a lot of patience to grow orchids!  The Botanic gardens began a breeding programme in 1928 and became incredibly successful at it, leading to Singapore becoming one of the world's top centres for commercial orchid growing.



There are several displays in the gardens including an orchidarium and a mist house. There is also a Cool House which is a building similar to a greenhouse and is meant to be representative of the slightly cooler tropical highland forests.  I have to be honest going in there was bliss as the temperature was a lot more pleasant.  This building houses the orchids that are only found in those regions plus some carnivorous plants such as venus fly traps, quite a contrast from the delicate orchids I'd just been looking at.

The Orchid garden and Botanic gardens are both great for small wildlife spotting with lizards, birds and squirrels running around.  You can get refreshments both inside the Orchid Garden as well as several options in the main Botanic gardens as well.  Of course you could instead take your own picnic to the gardens.  Truly an escape in the heart of the city.



20 June 2011

Novus

UPDATE - 4 August 2013 I've recently learnt that Novus is now closed, however there are other dining options at the museum.  Please let me know if you visit any of them and what they are like.

There are some amazing dining opportunities to be had in Singapore.  Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to one of those, Novus, to sample their Summer Truffles Creations menu created by Austrian resident chef, Stephan Zoisl. 

Novus, as the website states, is housed within the recently refurbished portals of Singapore's National Museum on Stamford Road.  The restaurant setting is refined and totally in fitting with its surroundings.  The ambiance is discreet and relaxing and it is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion, entertain business associates or just simply for no reason other than as a special treat. The restaurant only seats forty eight in order to preserve this unique ambiance and to ensure that every dish can be served to the highest quality possible.

Asides from the restaurant Novus has a bar area serving a range of drinks including some deliciously refreshing cocktails.  The bar is as intimate as the dining area and is the perfect way to begin your dining experience at Novus.  There is also a separate area of the restaurant available for private hire as well as a cafe open during the day.


The summer truffle creations menu I sampled runs from now until the end of August 2011.  It was a delight with every dish perfectly presented and full of flavours.  The Novus website describes the dining experience here as 'sensorial' and it most definitely was.  The look of every dish as it arrived at the table alongside the care and attention to detail each was given was tantalising to the taste buds and all my senses.  Once tasted they truly were wonderful and absolutely as good as they looked. 

It has been almost impossible for me to select any dish above all others that I enjoyed the most.  They were all stunning.  If I was really pushed though and as I have a bit of a sweet tooth, I'd probably select the desserts and in particular the Summer Feelings dessert as that really was refreshing to the palate.  Regardless though the service was impeccable with the dishes flowing constantly and our every need looked after by Chef Stephan Zoisl and his team.

Beef Carpaccio

The chef, Stephan Zoisl was born in Austria.  He began his career by helping in his parents family run restaurant before working his way up in a variety of restaurants in Vienna, Switzerland and Portugal, including two-Michelin-starred restaurants.  Having previously worked in Singapore he then returned to Europe on a eight month sabbatical which included a month at The Fat Duck in the UK, before returning to Novus and creating these stunning dishes.

Heirloom Tomato and Prawn Tempura

Novus is definitely a restaurant to visit and a dining experience not to be forgotten.  I don't think you'll be disappointed by any aspect of it, the Summer Truffle Creations dishes are absolutely exquisite and served in perfect surroundings.

Foie Gras Parfait Treated Like A Salad

Crisp Duck Confit
Black Angus Beef Meets Summer Truffle
Duck Tea
Summer Truffle Ravioli
Snow Cod and Zucchini Flower

Ocean Trout and Summer Truffle

Organic Chicken and Truffle

Triple Cooked French Fries

Summer Feelings
mangosteen, berries and citrus fruits surrounded by chocolate crumbles, elderflower granite sphere, wild strawberry espuma and cassis ice cream
Snowball and White Peach Sorbet
Verrine of Nectarine, Green Tea and Sauternes
Valrhona Chocolate Test
38% mousse, 55% souffle, 66% creme anglaise, 72% truffle, 85% sorbet

Novus Restaurant, Bar, Cafe and Courtyard
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road #01-02
Singapore 178897

Opening hours: Monday - Saturday
Lunch from 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner from 6.30pm - 10.30pm
Bar from 5.00pm to 12 midnight (Monday - Thursday), 5.00pm to 1.00am (Friday and Saturday)

Tel: (65) 6336 8770

Dress code: Smart, elegant

Other details: Complimentary parking coupons provided for restaurant diners; major credit cards accepted; smoking tables available.


17 June 2011

Beerfest Asia 2011


I was lucky enough last night to be able to go along with a group of friends to Beerfest Asia right here in Singapore.  Beerfest is being held at the Marina Promenade on the Grand Prix F1 tracks in the shadow of the Singapore Flyer. 

Most importantly - Beerfest Asia is  only on this weekend until Sunday, so if you are still thinking about going make sure you get your tickets ASAP!

It's a great night out with over 300 beers from around the world to try.  This also includes a range of ciders as well.  Even for those of you who aren't big beer drinkers (I count myself in that category) there are drinks I think you'll enjoy.  I found a particularly pleasant lychee beer, it really tasted of lychee's and not at all like a traditional beer flavour.  Take a look at my photo below so you know what to look for if that takes your fancy!  Regardless though the atmosphere and backdrop to the event is great. 

Now in its third year this event is definitely becoming a Singapore must do.


Asides from the beer drinking there are a wealth of live acts including a variety of tribute bands and comedians to keep you entertained and plenty of food to keep your stomach lined ready for more drinking.  A night of eating, drinking and live entertainment, what more could you want?

Thank you for a fabulous evening SingtelGOODSTUPH and everyone who was at Beerfest last night. 

Take a look at Beerfest Asia's official website and get your tickets NOW for the weekend!



16 June 2011

URA - Singapore City Gallery

This place was something of a chance find having read about it on another Singapore blog.  It was also a last minute decision to go, based on the place I intended to go to being closed until next June for refurbishment.

The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) - Singapore City Gallery is housed in the office block of this authority in the Ground level of the building.  I have to admit this is one of the things I love about being in Singapore, just being able to wander in to an office block and find a shopping mall or an exhibition and at the same time be mingling with the office workers off to get their lunch.  You could never do the same back in the UK unless you had a specific reason for going in the building.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is Singapore's land use planning authority, planning both long term strategies and more local level detailed plans for future land use.  As Singapore is so small it is seen as crucial to plan in this way to ensure Singapore's continued growth and they are tasked with finding innovative ways of achieving this.  The Singapore City Gallery therefore is basically the plans for Singapore's development captured in various architectural models and audiovisual exhibits.  If you want to know the plans for development in your area this is the place to go and find out.  Asides from that though it is also kind of fun spotting where you live on the models and other key landmarks here.

There were also a number of architectural models of other building projects around the world including a lot from London and even one from Ashford, Kent not far from where I hail from!  I never imagined I'd find a model of that building here in Singapore.  I could not resist taking some photos of them, can you recognise the buildings?

Heathrow Terminal 5

McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, Ashford, Kent
Houses of Parliament
Canary Wharf
The Gherkin and surrounding buildings
Trafalgar Square
Millennium Dome

I did, of course, take some photos of the Singapore architecture models and these can be seen below.
View towards the Central Business District with the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands in the foreground

The area of Singapore that we live in.  The purple area around the Paya Lebar MRT station has been earmarked for redevelopment.  At the moment this is mainly large expanses of grass.

View looking down on the Central Business District

View looking across the island from the Central Business District

View looking east across the island from Changi Airport.
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