30 November 2010

Sunshine and (Very Heavy) Showers

Being from the UK talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.  The fact that the weather can change from a pleasant sunny morning to a cold, wet and windy afternoon and that with any extremes of weather the UK experiences everything goes into melt down only goes to make it a popular topic.  As I write one of the main topics of news in the UK is the heavy snow that is currently blanketing large parts of it.  That will be a bit of a contrast for me if it is still like that next week when I am going back for a visit!  Anyway here in Singapore the weather can be equally as interesting (although there is no chance of it snowing here) and the current weather has been no exception. 

There really are no distinct seasons here as we are so close to the equator.  Something I find myself already missing a little and getting into a Christmas mindset has been a real challenge despite the decorations and music everywhere.  Anyone taking a look at the weather widget on my blog could be forgiven for thinking it isn't working as it alters so little but it is and that is an accurate reflection of the weather.  Generally the temperature is high and this is accompanied by high humidity and rain storms. 

At the moment though it is officially classed as monsoon season and we do seem to be getting even more rain!  We are in what is called the north-east monsoon also known as the wet season which apparently continues to early March.  From what I've seen so far it seems that the mornings tend to be bright sunshine and then around lunchtime the heavens open, the thunder and lightening comes and this then seems to hang around for much of the rest of the day.

As well as coming in the afternoon it sometimes either comes or returns for another deluge at just the time you might be heading out for the evening or home from work.  When I arrived here in July Singapore was experiencing the south-west monsoon which is characterised by scattered showers and this fits with my experiences in that if it rained it generally tended to be a short sharp shower that quickly moved on.

I am still fascinated by how when the rain comes the island is engulfed in mist and visibility drops substantially (maybe that's the British weather obsession in me).  This is especially noticeable when you live on the 15th floor of your condo block.  Also being close to the sea on occasion I've been able to witness spectacular lightening out at sea and have almost been able to watch the storms rolling inland.  I think the best storms though are those that have happened at night when it seems to rain even harder than in the day and the flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder are almost constant.  Perhaps because it is quieter I just notice it more .....

At the moment it is a lovely sunny morning and I intend to go out shortly to make the most of it.  I guess though I shall have to get used to this current weather pattern and make sure I take an umbrella with me just in case ......

26 November 2010

My Big Decision

As those who know me personally or have been following my blog will know when I came here in July I originally joined my fiance on a six month career break from my UK job.  This was mainly because him getting the job in Singapore seemed so sudden that at first I couldn't imagine going to live abroad and whether I'd be OK etc. etc. so I guess the chance to take a career break meant I could dip my toe in but return back to the UK if it really didn't work out.

I think originally I imagined that if I couldn't get a job here I'd go back to the UK and that would be fine, but of course life never exactly goes as you plan it too!  I haven't so far succeeded in getting a job and although at times I've become a bit despairing about it I've also realised from chatting to other expats here that I'm far from alone.  However despite that during my time here, and up to the point where theoretically I was returning to the UK in January, I've had the most brilliant time and certainly realised there is so much more to life. 

The time came though when I had to decide that I was going to either cut my losses, quit my job and stay here or else return back to the UK and my job in January.  Yuck the thought of cold, wet, miserable January days was a bit of a depressing one after living here.  So after much debate and discussion I decided to take the plunge and stay here .... so I'm officially without a job for the first time in my working life!

Neither decision was easy to make of course, I miss so much about the UK that going back would have been good but in some ways it felt a bit like a step backwards after taking the plunge and coming here and also that I'd barely given myself a chance to succeed here!  Similarly I wanted to stay here to be with my fiance and continue to grab the opportunities the move here and to this part of the world has presented me with.  Something that even this time last year (and by now my fiance was busy getting himself ready for his move in January) I could not have begun to have imagined.  My life really has changed so much in the last year that if I stop and think about it all I struggle to keep up!

So the job hunt will continue and fingers crossed something will come along but in the meantime I also have our wedding to plan for and of course plenty more of Singapore to discover!

24 November 2010

Mount Faber & a Cable Car Ride to Sentosa

So this weekend we took an afternoon trip to Mount Faber.  That makes it sound like a big mountain which I guess for Singapore it is as they don't have mountains here but in reality it is only really a hillock.  Still it's surprising how you notice any vertical climbs after living here for a while!

Mount Faber was originally named Telok Blangah and was once the seat of Singapore's temenggong or chieftain.  I gather it got its present name in 1845 and was renamed after government engineer, Captain Charles Edward Faber.

We took a taxi up to the top, perhaps we should have walked but the taxi driver just kept going and having not been there before we weren't exactly sure what to expect or where the best place to get out at was.  Besides as I mentioned before walks up steep inclines particularly in this heat and humidity are not what they are cracked up to be!

Once we reached the top we were dropped off near a cafe and what seemed to be a conference and dining centre called the Jewel Box and from here it was a short walk to the viewing point at the top.  Unfortunately it was a typically wet and therefore slightly hazy / cloudy day so the views weren't brilliant and you couldn't see that far.  Perhaps also this is something that should be done sooner as a lot of the views did seem to me at least to be the same views as at other vantage points in the area just from a different angle.  For example the view towards the city of the CBD skyline. 

On the plus side though there were lots of helpful boards pointing out the main points of interest you were looking too and markers on the ground pointing towards key points on the island and the direction of places beyond such as Bangkok, the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and so forth.  There was also a fascinating set of murals illustrating key points in Singapore's history from the point of discovery when legend has it that a Sumatran prince visiting the island of Temasek saw what he thought was a lion which prompted him to name the spot Singapura or Lion City, Sir Stamford Raffles colonisation of Singapore for the British, the Japanese invasion in the Second World War right through to a mural depicting modern day multi-cultural Singapore.

From here we decided to catch a cable car to Sentosa. I've only been on the monorail to Sentosa so I thought it would be fun to get there via another means and would hopefully provide some lovely views.

I was surprised by high up the cable car was but how smooth a ride it was and we were lucky to have a whole car just to the two of us.  So plenty of opportunity to take photos without getting in other people's way.  Again the views were restricted due to the weather but we got some nice views back towards Singapore, across Sentosa, across the port of Singapore and out to sea.  There was also a cruise ship moored in port and we went right over the top of it so had a bird's eye view of all the people on the ship lounging by the pool (which wasn't very big though they did have two pools).

You could easily pick out the merlion at Sentosa but again some of the views were a bit disappointing as where there is building work going on on Sentosa at times you were just riding over what looked like a building site.  Nonetheless though it was a nice alternate way to arrive at Sentosa.

After a wander around Sentosa, which is always a pleasant though always busy spot to while away an afternoon we ended up at the Hard Rock cafe on Sentosa and had a couple of drinks in the bar. This was made all the more fun by the unexpected entertainment provided by the bar staff. They suddenly started dousing this one girl in water, spray cream, and the fruit juice mixers they use for cocktails etc. and she ended up absolutely drenched. Though she did get her revenge on a few of her colleagues as well by giving them a good soaking too. It turned out it was her birthday and this is a little ritual they have for anyone on duty on their birthday! If it were me I think I might try and keep my birthday quiet .....

23 November 2010

Music and Lyrics

You'll probably only really understand this if you are aware of the film with the same title starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.  Apologies therefore if you are not and / or that just isn't your cup of tea!

Anyway since I've been here I've heard both on the radio and in shops a version of the song that Hugh's character writes for the pop star in the film called, 'Way Back into Love'.  The first time I heard it it took me most of the day to work out where I knew the song from and once I did I was a bit bemused as I wasn't aware of it ever being a hit in the UK.  In fact if I hadn't seen the film I don't think I'd know the song at all.

In the end curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate further ..... and yes it seems that although it was never released as a CD single it was a hit in several Asian countries including Singapore where it reached number 5 in their version of the Top 40!!!

So I was kind of relieved to know I wasn't going mad but what I don't know is whether the version I keep hearing is Hugh Grant singing or someone else ...... any ideas?!?

18 November 2010

Japanese Food - Not as Scary as I Thought!

Again this is probably one of those things I shouldn't be admitting here but before yesterday I'm not sure I'd ever really eaten Japanese food.  Now I've had vegetarian sushi but I think most people (myself included) would argue that isn't really sushi .....

Those who know me or have been reading my blog will know I'm not the biggest seafood fan and yes I'll admit as a result I've avoided Japanese food on the assumption that it is basically very fish focused.  Yesterday was a public holiday here in Singapore so my fiance and I decided to go out for lunch.  Our first plan was to have a brunch style lunch but our choices on Orchard Road were both busy (mental note to make reservations next time).  Clearly everyone had the same idea and although at any other time we could have reserved and come back in an hour or so my fiance was heading off to Bangkok later in the afternoon for work so we really needed to eat there and then.  It was then he suggested Japanese and a restaurant he reckoned I'd be OK with.

I was a little hesitant but by that point I was also getting hungry and compared to everywhere else it was relatively empty so I agreed.  I'm delighted to say though that I was pleasantly surprised.  We went to a place called Kamado at 313 @ Somerset on Orchard Road which describes itself as a Japanese wood fire restaurant and this meant plenty of other options asides from fish.  In case you want to know I had Shogayaki rice with chicken, there did seem to be more rice than chicken but the fun part about having this dish was that it came in a bamboo steamer with a pretty powerful flame underneath it to keep your food warm which then heats your rice and keeps it warm.

I really can't say if this is great Japanese food as I don't have much (if anything) to compare it to.  I suspect it probably isn't high end but I enjoyed my dish and for a Japanese food newbie who is less than enamoured with seafood this was probably as good a place as any to experience it.

17 November 2010

We're Going to the Zoo!

I finally got to do something I've pretty much wanted to do since my first visit here in January at the weekend ..... go to the zoo.  I wasn't disappointed either.

I'd heard lots about the zoo from other expats and how it is worth a visit and having now been I'd add my voice to that statement.  As you'd expect and hope the animals are in fantastic enclosures which allow them the space they need to exercise and behave in a natural way.  The whole zoo though is fantastically laid out and certainly makes full use of the natural flora and fauna available here.

I was a bit worried that the heat of the day might have meant that the animals would hide up but I didn't need to. The enclosures have lots of viewing points that mean you should be able to see the animals without too much difficultly. As you can hopefully also see from my photos the zoo has really cleverly designed the enclosures to ensure yours and the animals safety but also to allow you to see the animals and get great photos without any railings etc. spoiling the views. Even when it rained (and it really rained the day we went) the animals could still be seen and the weather didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the day at all.

The zoo has all the animals you'd expect to see including various monkeys, elephants, tigers, lions, rhinos, reptiles, giraffes, zebras, penguins the list is endless! Be prepared to spend the day there.

I'd definitely recommend a visit and I still have the night safari to do (another Singapore must do) and at least one further visit is in order as next year the zoo will be getting two giant pandas!

12 November 2010

Thai Train to Bangkok - Noodles, Rice and the Inevitable Delays!

So our Thai train journey from Hua Hin to Bangkok certainly didn't appear complicated before we started.  The trains ran directly to Bangkok and we figured it would be a nice way to see some of the Thai countryside and towns along the way, especially as when we arrived on Thursday it had been dark so we hadn't seen much from the taxi.

We arrived at the station in plenty of time to catch the 4pm train which was due to arrive in Bangkok at about 7.45pm.  When we arrived though the ticket office was closed and there was no visible means of buying a ticket from a self service booth or something else.  Fortunately we had plenty of time and a short while after the office reopened and the tickets were brought.

The train station was lovely and very old fashioned in appearance, no electronic displays here just a large board in the ticket office area with the destinations and times of the trains painted on it.  Across from the platform that we were on was an old steam engine which I assume used to pull the trains before they became diesel engines. Another thing I noticed was that there was no overhead or underground crossing to the other platforms as you'd usually get in the UK, no you could just simple walk across the tracks at designated spots. The locals happily just stood in the middle of the tracks moving out the way as a train approached.

The trains are now all diesel (or at least all the ones I saw were) and if you want a cigarette you just go and stand at the end of the carriage on the steps that lead up into the train.  The doors didn't appear to be closed so as trains were approaching and people were getting off they'd more or less jumped off before the train even stopped.  Shortly before one of the trains arrived a woman appeared with a large tray stacked high with bowls of noodles.  Then as the train pulled in her and some others walked up and down the platform selling the bowls of noodles through the open windows to passengers on the train. 

Anyway back to our train journey ..... 4pm came and no train appeared we eventually found out it had been delayed but there didn't seem to be any indication as to when it was due so we waited and we waited and eventually the train appeared over two hours late!!!  Of course by this point it was almost dark so our plan to see some of the Thai scenery on the way up to Bangkok went out of the window but at least the train had arrived.

This picture shows the inside of our carriage fortunately we did have air conditioning!  Shortly after leaving one of the members of train staff came to take food orders for noodles.  We didn't have any but this turned out to be similar to my experience at Hua Hin only I assume in this case they phoned ahead with the order and then when we arrived at that station the noodles were dispatched to those who had ordered them by the train staff.  At another station the people selling actually got on the train and walked up and down the carriages selling all sorts of food none of which I could identify from a quick glance as they passed.

Sitting adjacent to us for the whole journey was an elderly Thai lady who kept me more than entertained throughout.  She declined the noodles that were being sold and it quickly became apparent why as she had come prepared for the journey.  First to appear from her bag were some noodles in a banana leaf which she proceeded to polish off.  Later in the journey she got out a hard boiled egg, a bag of plain rice and a bag with a sauce of some kind in it.  She then broke the egg up into the rice, poured the sauce on and mixed it in with the rice to eat.  In between eating she had her shoes off for much of the journey and was constantly picking at and playing with her feet and when not doing that was sitting cross legged on the seat playing with her mobile and taking calls.  I was grateful for her as all I could see from the window was the odd built up area, small bonfires on the sides of roads besides small dwellings and numerous stray dogs wandering around these areas.

When we finally arrived in Bangkok, although the train had only been two hours late when it reached us by the end of the journey it was three hours late!  So after stepping over the many homeless people who use the station as a shelter at night we got a taxi straight to our hotel.

My time in Bangkok was fairly relaxed and at least this time I did manage to go out on my own without getting lost which I was pretty pleased about.  At one point I took myself to a park nearby and armed with a good book sat there for a while reading and despite sitting in the shade it didn't take long for me to get very warm.

I've since discovered that this song by Noel Coward was written about Bangkok and thinking back to me sitting in the park at midday this seems very apt .....

'In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run, but mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.'

Hua Hin

Last weekend meant a nice long one for all Singaporeans (and those living here) as it was a public holiday.  So we took the chance to enjoy a short break in Thailand at the beach resort of Hua Hin. 

Hua Hin is approximately a three hour drive from Bangkok and it really seemed to take forever even though the taxi driver we had drove like a mad man but once we arrived it was definitely worth it.  As soon as we entered the resort we could see that the place was full of restaurants and bars and from the number of families wandering around was a popular place to come.  It is clearly also very popular with Westerners and has a variety of restaurants to suit all tastes as a result.  It still felt like a world away from the relative ease of Singapore but less so than the craziness of Bangkok on my last trip there.

We arrived on the Thursday evening so checked in and immediately went for a wander around ending up in a bar for a couple of drinks.  I've been to many places in Europe where locals will approach tourists in bars and restaurants trying to sell things but I don't think I've ever been approached so much as we were that evening.  If I'd bought every thing on offer there would have been no money left for the rest of the trip!  Needless to say I didn't buy anything but politely declining their wares certainly kept us busy.  Even on our first night and although Hua Hin seemed to be a fairly chilled out place it still managed in its own way to live up to the assumptions people can have about Thailand and the type of entertainment available as well .....

The weekend itself was spent relaxing by the pool, walking on the beach, exploring the town and reading some good books.  I don't usually do that and generally like to be doing things when I go to new places but for once this seemed the right thing to do.  Our hotel was right on the beach and it was lovely waking up each morning to the sound of the sea.  Of course the other main theme of the weekend was also trying some of the delicious Thai food and some crazy cocktails!  The hotel we stayed in had a roof top bar (clearly a South East Asia must have but I guess with weather as consistently good as it is here you can do that) although it wasn't as high as some I've been too in Singapore it still gave lovely views over the town.  It really was a lovely relaxing break and definitely somewhere I'd like to return to given the chance.  As we took a taxi from the airport to the resort on Thursday evening when it was time to return to Bangkok on Sunday (as my fiance had to be there for work on Monday) we decided to take a train from Hua Hin to Bangkok.  It looked and indeed was simple enough as the trains were direct but the journey itself presented a whole new adventure .......


03 November 2010

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

The weekend brought with it a trip to the MacRitchie Reservoir. 

Well the weekend actually started on Friday evening with drinks at an amazing rooftop bar.  The bar is called 1-Altitude and is on the top of the OUB Building in Raffles Place in the heart of the Central Business District.  The views were fantastic and I'd certainly recommend a visit to the bar simply for that though it is a nice place with a very chilled out ambiance.  From the top of the building you can look out across the marina and see all the cargo ships out in the sea and back into the city with all the buildings alight far below you - fantastic!

As it was approaching Halloween the bar staff were appropriately dressed as zombies, ghouls and so on and the bar was decorated too.  Being from the UK though Halloween in the warm does seem a bit strange but Singaporeans seem to have embraced it completely as everywhere I've been lately has been getting into the 'spirit' of the occasion. 

However back to our trip to the reservoir.  The reservoir is an opportunity to experience at first hand what I imagine Singapore would have been like before it became the developed landscape we know today.  I can officially say that it is the closest to a jungle that I've ever been too.

The reservoir seemed huge as did the surrounding tropical forest.  There are a number of paths you can follow and although many of them have wooden boardwalks to walk on (as you can see in the picture above) several also do rely on you being able to negotiate your way around tree roots and stones etc. and are much more natural in appearance.

We actually followed a set walk which in total was 12km, we completed 7km of it as there was a convenient point at which you could shorten your walk. I have to be honest though by that point 7km in the heat and humidity seemed like a very long way and I was more than ready to call it a day. However a return visit to walk around the other part is definitely in order.

Our walk also included a walk amongst the tree tops, this was actually a walk across a free standing 25 metre high, 250 metre long suspension bridge.  The views were fantastic although the bridge did move a fair bit so I wasn't totally sorry to reach the other side of the bridge.  The photo below shows our tree top view.  Some what ironically just after we reached the other side we encountered one of Singapore's famous downpours.  We were able to shelter until it eased up but it seemed meant to be as we were after all in a tropical forest.

The forest also has an abundance of wildlife and we were fortunate enough to see a family of macaque monkeys. They let us get relatively close to them to get some lovely photos. We also saw some lizards and lots of butterflies. There must also have been a fair share of mosquitoes etc. as my legs had been bitten a few times by the time we got home. I gather there are also monitor lizards there but we didn't see any of those. However I've seen plenty in Bangkok and here in Singapore as well so I wasn't too bothered.

Overall though I had a really lovely day and it is definitely somewhere I'd like to return to.  If only to finish the other part of the walk!

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