30 May 2011

Changi Prison Museum

As I mentioned in my previous post we had a public holiday in Singapore recently for Vesak day.  This proved to be an ideal opportunity for us to visit somewhere new and we decided on the Changi Prison Museum.

I was not able to take photos at the museum, but as I expected it proved to be an interesting and moving visit.  The prison was originally constructed in 1936 by the British as a civilian prison.  The prison subsequently became a Prisoner of War camp during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.  It is believed that the name Changi derived from the name of a tall tree prevalent in the area called the chengai but it is a name that is now synonymous with the World War Two camp.

The museum gives an insight to life in the camp and in Singapore at the time from a variety of first hand accounts including letters, photos, personal belongings and a number of paintings and sketches done by the prisoners.  It also details the experiences of those who were transferred out of Singapore as PoW's to go and work in various other labour camps including, amongst others, the Burma railway. 

After the exhibition you walk into a part that looks like a recreation of the chapel built by the Allied PoW's in 1944 during their internment which became a place of solace and comfort to them.  There is also the chance to see replicas of the beautiful religious murals painted by a British PoW, Stanley Warren, during his incarceration.  They were only rediscovered several years after the end of the war at which point a search was undertaken to find the artist responsible for them.  Which, I'm glad to say, they managed to do.  There are replicas too of the Changi quilts on display.  These were quilts embroidered by the women prisoners who were encouraged to add their own personal touches to the part of the quilt they embroidered.  As there was only very limited contact between the male and female parts of the camp these personal touches to the embroidery were especially important.  When the blankets were eventually given to the military hospital at Changi it was a way of the men knowing whether their wives and loved ones were still alive.

Once you have finished in the exhibition there is a chapel where visitors can take time to reflect.  There are candles that can be lit and also many moving notes left by visitors who had relatives incarcerated here or who simply wish to express their sorrow.  Sadly the museum was moved from the actual site of the original PoW camp in 2001 to make way for an expansion to the modern prison but despite that it truly is a place for contemplation and reflection.


Although we do not live that far from Changi village and this far part of the island it is an area we haven't really visited previously.  So after our visit to the museum we thought a visit to the village would be a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.  As the guidebooks say it certainly does have much more of a village feel to it than anywhere else I've been to in Singapore but there wasn't as much there as I'd hoped there might be.  Just a hawker centre, a few other restaurants (which we were too early in the day for I think), a large hotel and a golf course.  I guess this is why it has a village feel and although pleasant I was hoping for a little more. 

We ended up going to Changi ferry terminal where you can get boats to some of the outlying islands (we did not do that - hopefully another time) and from there following the Changi Point Coastal walk for a while.  After our visit to the museum this did seem to make a fitting end to the day as Changi beach was where thousands of Singaporean civilians were executed by the Japanese during the occupation.  Fittingly, as well, the sand that lit candles are placed in to at the chapel in the museum came from this beach to act as a reminder of the cruelties suffered. 

The boats you catch to take you to the outlying islands

25 May 2011

Vesak Day

I'm actually a little late in acknowledging this but last Tuesday (17 May) was Vesak Day which meant a public holiday in Singapore.  More about what I did with my day shortly.

One thing I've noticed since moving to Singapore, particularly where we live but I assume all over the island, is that whenever there is a religious holiday marquees etc. appear almost overnight with temporary stalls and stands etc. for people celebrating to congregate and enjoy the festivities together.  Near where I live is a large expanse of grass and a marquee was quickly erected.  This also happened last year during Ramadan and for the celebrations following the period of fasting (and I assume will happen again this year).  Therefore about a week before a huge marquee was erected, flags put up etc. and I noticed at another similar site nearby a huge Buddha appeared as well.  So regardless of whether you realised beforehand this would ensure you quickly realised something was happening soon.  Although I should add that I did know Vesak day was approaching.

I'll be honest though in that I did not know what Vesak day was in celebration of.  So for those of you who may be as equally unsure as I was in a very brief nutshell Vesak day is traditionally celebrated by Buddhists and is the most significant day in their religious calendar.  It is also sometimes know as Buddha's birthday but the day actually celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.  The date for the day can vary but it usually falls within May.

There is a wealth of information regarding this day and its significance for Buddhists which can be read.  If you are interested in finding out more about Vesak day specifically in Singapore I would suggest taking a look at this website as a starting point.

24 May 2011

Jungle Trekking

We recently went jungle trekking (kind of) in Bukit Timah nature reserve.  We've previously been to the MacRitchie Reservoir so, unlike then, when I don't think I really realised what I was letting myself in for I was slightly more prepared for this trip.  I knew I would get very hot so to take plenty of water and that it would probably mean a fair bit of walking.  However it was still a bit of a surprise to be greeted with such a steep initial climb to reach the summit.

I should explain that the nature reserve actually boasts Singapore's highest point, Bukit Timah.  It's only 163m so, alright, is not that high, but when you've got used to living in a relatively flat place and in the heat and humidity here I certainly knew I'd done that climb when we reached the top.

Bukit is the Malay word for hill and Bukit Timah translates as Tin Hill.  The hill has no links to tin (although there was a granite quarry here for many years) but it is suggested it got its name through a misunderstanding.  Its original Malay name was Bukit Temak, meaning 'hill of the Temak trees' due to a tree that grew in large numbers in the area.  However to the untrained Western ear Temak sounded like Timah and the hill was named as such.  There is also a suggestion that Timah is an abbreviation of Fatimah which is a popular girl's name in Malay.

The reserve is the last remaining area of primary rainforest in Singapore. I imagine this was what Singapore used to be like. Albeit without the carefully laid out paths through the jungle.

The reserve houses a vast array of species of plants and is considered a haven, with one naturalist estimating that there are more species in this area than in the whole of North America. This area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve besides it are said to be home to approximately 840 species of flowering plants and 500 species of fauna. There is also plenty of wildlife here, we saw long-tailed macaques, beautiful butterflies and heard many cicadas and other insects in amongst the foliage.  

When we reached the summit I was a little disappointed by how restricted the view is there considering it is the highest point on the island but it still felt an achievement.  We took a fairly straightforward route to the top (there are a number of paths you can follow) which included several rest points which were warmly welcomed.  For those who know the reserve we took the option of not climbing the steps to the top but took them coming back down again instead.  Before then deciding to venture off on to some of the other narrower paths to see more of the jungle.  This certainly meant being aware of where we trod as we negotiated the many tree roots, rocks and steep steps along the paths.  These paths were a lot quieter than the main routes up to the summit and the summit itself so, we hoped, would give us a greater chance of seeing some wildlife.  As we went at a weekend it was very busy and not everyone out walking was being that considerate of others who were perhaps hoping to see the wildlife there or just enjoy the tranquility of the place.  I would definitely suggest venturing off the main tracks if you want to really enjoy the contrast from the bustle of the city.

Although I think we got a bit lost whilst walking around we eventually found our way back to civilisation. By that point I was more than ready for some food and refreshment so welcomed the sight of roads and cars again. It still seemed strange, when we did though, to know that literally just behind us was a rainforest and such a contrast to the the world we had returned back to.

21 May 2011

Cheesy German Sausage in Chinatown

Anyone who has been to Chinatown in Singapore, the UK or any of the other many Chinatown's around the world will know that the majority of people working there, running businesses there will be Chinese in origin.  So it comes as something of a surprise to come across a German sausage stall in the middle of Singapore's Chinatown being run by a Westerner.  I can remember seeing him when my fiance first came here and it has been something, for the novelty factor, that I've wanted to sample ever since.  So last weekend we did just that!

I'm not sure what bought the owner here and how come he ended up in the middle of Chinatown but he clearly does well.  Whether this be idle curiosity or perhaps a wealth of expats craving an authentic taste of home.  If that is the case I can understand that, we have our own little bit of the UK just down the road from where we live in the form of an authentic fish and chip shop run by British expats (UPDATE - January 2016 this branch is now closed, if you want your Brit style fish and chip fix you can head to Balmoral Plaza, Bukit Timah Road).  Read 'Fairys and Proper Fish and Chips' for more about that, coincidentally I also returned to Divine Wine last weekend as well (also mentioned in that post) and witnessed the flying fairy again.

Anyway, I digress, there are a variety of sausages you can try and we went for the sausage with cheese in and yes it was good and definitely, I would think, a rare find here.  What I had not noticed though until looking at the photo above is that the sausage stand has its own website, take a look here.

So if you fancy something a little different for your lunch and you are in the Chinatown area perhaps you should pay him a call!

Update - 20 September 2013  I'd heard a rumour that the sausage stand was no longer in Chinatown.  Having done a little more investigation I can confirm he has not gone completely just moved to a new location nearby.  Take a look at this blog post for details of where he now is for your future sausage fixes!

20 May 2011

Ovens, Hot Water, Sugar Sachets and Cereal Packets

So after my cockroach encounter earlier this week it made me think about any other random experiences I've had since moving here.  The first thing that sprang to mind is actually something that I've only recently been made aware of, that having hot water and an oven in your kitchen is actually a bit of a rarity here!  I know I apologise as I never realised how lucky I was to have both of these amenities.

I was not that involved in the condo hunting when my fiance first moved here.  Mainly because he came in January 2010 and I did not join him until the July.  I came out here when he first moved and we viewed a few but none of those came to anything and I honestly don't remember anything about there being no ovens or hot water in the kitchens of those.  Perhaps we were lucky and had an agent who was well aware of these peculiar requirements from Westerners and so just found properties with these in for our viewing.  With the greatest respect to my fiance he was not aware of that either at the time so I guess we were just very lucky.

I duly arrived in July and thought nothing of it.  In fact at the time of arrival the thing I found a bit weird was having water heaters you had to switch on whenever you knew you might want hot water.  We've currently got one that heats up the water in our en suite and another for the main bathroom and kitchen.  This just seemed strange after being used to timers on heating systems which are normally set to switch on automatically to heat up the water at set times of the day.  However I've more than got used to this now and actually think it makes a lot more sense as you only need to heat the water when you actually want it. 

My biggest dismay at the time I arrived was that we only had showers in the flat and no bath.  Oh how little I knew, I'd have been very flummoxed with the no oven and no hot water if that had been the case too.  To be honest, although if we stay anywhere that has a bath that is now my standard luxury, I don't miss having a bath whenever I want half as much as I thought I was going to.

Asides from the unappreciated (for so long) luxuries that our flat has to offer there are other things that still amuse me, firstly that you only seem to be able to buy sugar in sachets or cube form.  I don't mean caster sugar, icing sugar etc. but regular sugar that you use for sweetening drinks etc. (yes there are a few of us who still occasionally like a little extra sweetness in our tea or coffee).  The sachets aren't a problem but I'm still amused that you don't seem to be able to buy a bag of sugar here like you can in the UK.  Please tell me if I'm mistaken on this!

Cereal packets are another thing, they are so small here.  I eat cereal most mornings and end up having to buy so much of it due to the size of the boxes which I eat in no time.  I know another expat who has three teenage sons all eating cereals for breakfast who must have to buy boxes and boxes of it every week just to keep them fed.  I appreciate cereal is not a normal breakfast for locals and is probably mainly only eaten by expats, but I've spent many hours searching for a bigger box of something but to no avail.

All of these things I can, of course, live with and in the case of the oven and the water it sounds like I have it pretty good.  It does make me wonder though if there is anything else we've got access to that I take for granted.

19 May 2011

The Scottish Play

I am definitely someone who enjoys going to the theatre and so when a chance to go and see Macbeth (there I've mentioned it - whoops) came along I couldn't resist!  The production was put on by the Singapore Repertory Theatre Company and marketed as Shakespeare in the Park (so a good excuse to bring a picnic) as it is being performed in Fort Canning Park.  I've written about the park, on a more general level, previously and you can read about that here.

The big advantage of going to an open air event here, in comparison to the UK, is that even when the sun goes down it is still wonderfully warm and you don't suddenly wish you'd bought a thicker coat with you.  As long as it doesn't decide to rain .... fortunately for us that was not the case.  There was some distant lightening which coincidentally was when the witches were on stage but this just added to the atmosphere.

The theatre company stuck true to the script but modernised it with up-to-date costumes and props.  I studied Macbeth at school so knew the play but even for those not familiar with it, it is a play that is easy to enjoy and has as much relevance today as it did when it was written.  The cast were a mix of local, American and British actors and were all very good.  I certainly got the impression, from everyone sitting around us, that they were all fully engrossed and enjoying their night out.

As I said like many outdoor events I've been to in the UK this was a good excuse to take a picnic (though we actually bought some food and drink there - we weren't very organised so were glad they had food etc. on sale).  The one thing we did do beforehand was make sure we drenched ourselves in bug spray, as many people were also doing when we arrived, which fortunately seemed to pay off.  We've definitely learnt the hard way previously and been covered in bites. 

Afterwards we actually made a chance discovery of a hotel we did not know even existed, the Fort Canning hotel which not surprisingly is in the park.  The building is big enough and although I've seen it I'm not sure how I never realised it was actually a hotel!  In my defence though I don't recall seeing or reading anything about this hotel but they have a good bar which made a nice location for post theatre drinks. 

A thoroughly entertaining night and if, by any chance, you manage to get to see it before it finishes go go go!

My Life in the Tropics - An Initiation Ten Months Late

There are lots of day to day things that happen to me that I often think I should have written about but never actually do and then the moment's gone so to speak.  I do think I need to get better at doing that and therefore this is my attempt at starting to do so!

So I've been here since last July (with a two and a bit month break earlier this year) and this is the first time and certainly, I hope, a long time before it happens again.  I came across a cockroach in the flat, admittedly a dead one but a cockroach nonetheless that must have been alive when it got in to the flat!  Back in the UK I was, and still am very very frightened of spiders, particularly the big hunting spiders that run at breakneck speed across the living room carpet.  In fact when I lived on my own my biggest fear was discovering one of these and how I'd deal with it without someone else there to eject the thing for me.  So when moving to Singapore first became a reality I did wonder if I'd have to contend with any huge spiders.  Fortunately though the few I've seen have all been tiny and I've been able to cope with them.  Doubtless there are probably some big ones in the jungle areas of the island but frankly as long as they stay there I'm not worried.  Moving here though I've decided I'm not a cockroach fan either.

Before I came here I think my only experiences of cockroaches had been in Spain, Italy etc. when you'd see the odd one marching along the road.  My worst encounter was in a hotel I was staying in with friends in Spain.  As we were going to bed we discovered the cockroaches wanted to come and play and we had three or four come in through the patio doors (we were on the ground floor) and proceed to run around our room.  Needless to say we demanded the hotel find us another place to stay and in the early hours of the morning could be seen dragging our suitcases along the road to our new hotel.  We then spent much of the next day reporting the incident and when I got home I remember giving everything a good shake as I unpacked just in case anything had sneaked into my case.

I had not really thought about cockroaches but I soon realised they were far more visible here than in the UK and that it was a part of life in a hot, humid climate.  I've even seen one running around on the veranda at Raffles hotel so nowhere is completely immune from them.  I think though I perhaps naively assumed we'd be fine as we are on the 15th floor of our condo and stories I've heard have all been from people living in landed properties (houses) where I guess it is far easier for the odd cockroach to slip into the house as well.  This being despite the fact that they can climb and fly (yuck) so nowhere is safe in reality.

I did have a previous roach experience on one of our balconies (so perhaps I should not have been so naive), however that one made its own escape (thank goodness) whilst I just observed from indoors.  Now we've had an indoor invader and my reaction has been like I am after a spider encounter.  Everywhere I go in the flat I'm looking just in case ..... and it will take me a few days to stop doing that I'm sure.  I guess the fact we've gone all this time with nothing and, unless he hasn't told me, my fiance had nothing in the six months he was here before I came means this is a fairly rare occurrence.  I'd still be interested to hear what others do though to discourage things such as that from coming inside.  I've picked up a few tips along the way but I'm always interested to hear more.

18 May 2011

Cinco de Mayo

No I haven't suddenly moved to Mexico and not mentioned it but this post is connected to that event celebrated on the 5 May each year.  I actually was not even aware of this occasion until a last minute open invite by a fellow blogger saw us join her and her husband at one of the bars along Boat Quay to enjoy the fun.

Having now done a bit of background reading on this festival I gather it is a celebration to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on the 5 May 1862.  Sounds like a good enough reason to have a party to me.

The bar we went to is called the Prince of Wales which serves, what I'm told though I haven't tried it, good, reasonably priced Mexican food.  Obviously therefore a Mexican celebration was a good reason for them to hold a special night at their bar.  It was a fun evening with a band, live music and singing and the bar had also organised a pinata.  In case you don't know a pinata is a brightly coloured decorated container which is full of sweets and other treats.  It is usually hung up for people to hit it with a stick to attempt to break the pinata and get the sweets out.

The scramble for sweets and goodies

For those not familiar with the layout of Boat Quay, the bars and restaurants along this stretch are housed in the old shophouse style buildings.  There is a pedestrianised walkway between the bars etc. and on the opposite side each bar and restaurant has more seating stretching towards the river which then provides a nice view.  Hopefully the photo below will give you an idea of what I mean even if you cannot see the river or view in this one.

So the pinata was strung between the bar on the one side and the additional seating on the opposite, a number of willing volunteers were selected to be blindfolded, spun around and then left to see if they could hit it.  Eventually after several people had had a go the pinata was broken and there was then a mad scramble to pick up the sweets, money off vouchers for the bar etc. as you can see in the photo above.  What was totally unplanned turned out to be an unexpectedly fun night out, isn't that often the way though?

16 May 2011

Mint Museum of Toys

I've see signs for this museum on countless occasions and finally made a visit recently.  It's on a road directly behind Raffles hotel called Seah Street practically opposite the 'tradesman' entrance of the hotel.  From the outside it looks a fairly small place but there is a bar and mini eatery at the front which definitely looked like it might be worth a visit once I'd been in the museum.

Anyway back to the museum!  It's set over five levels with a variety of toys from Asia, the UK, USA and much of Europe.  There are toys dating from the mid 19th century onwards including some very rare items.  The estimated value of some of the toys made me wish I'd hung on to a few more of my own ... just in case!  I certainly saw some items I'd forgotten about from own childhood.

Although there were lots of what I guess you'd term generic toys, i.e. both boys and girls would play with them.  There did not seem to be much in the way of traditionally little girl toys, with a lot more emphasis on little boys toys with lots of cars, action heroes etc. That said though as you can see they had an extensive Betty Boop collection! As well as toys they also had classic posters such as the photos above and below of classic children's films and a collection of The Monkees and Beatles memorabilia.

Perhaps one of the most moving part of the exhibition was a collection of wooden dolls made by young girls in Shanghai.  The girls (and boys) were refugees helped by a mission called the Door of Hope Group which was established in 1901 by a group of European women.  The refugees had often been kidnapped or sold by their families and forced into prostitution.  There were a couple of photos of the girls who would have made these very lifelike dolls and it was heartbreaking to see how young they were.

We did not spend more than a couple of hours in the museum and I doubt I'd rush to go back again but it is worth a visit for a trip down memory lane if nothing else, as there is bound to be something you'll remember. As I mentioned before there was a cafe / restaurant attached to the museum called the Mr Punch which served good food and made a pleasant end to the morning. Although the museum is down a small side street there is plenty of activity so lots to watch whilst you dine. They did not seem in any hurry for us to leave once we had eaten and I'm sure would have happily served us with more drinks had we wanted them.

14 May 2011

Ameen Makan House

We were recently invited along by friends to eat at a place called Ameen Makan House.  The eatery is actually on the West of the island (an area we aren't so familiar with) and is on the corner of Clementi Road and Pasir Panjang Road next to the very famous (so I'm told) Cheese Prata Shop.

Ameen Makan House serves a variety of food, Indian, Thai and Western dishes and came highly recommended as serving great Indian and for being very cheap.  The curry was delicious, the portions very generous and yes as we were told, it was cheap with the total bill for six of us coming to about $72 or approximately £36!  Believe me we certainly did not skimp on the food we ordered either.  I gather this is the case because it is close to the National University of Singapore and a lot of the students go there (and other places in the area I assume) to eat.  I guess just like in the UK, students love a good deal and a cheap night out!

I understand they do takeaways and deliver, but I think only in the immediate area and unfortunately we live too far away.  It was definitely crowded and cosy in there with all the people eating but as I've learnt in Singapore that is a sign of a good place to eat!

11 May 2011

Singapore Art Science Museum - Shipwrecks and Van Gogh

The Singapore Art Science Museum is possibly one of the most individual looking buildings on the Singapore skyline.

It's the white building in the foreground that looks like a lotus flower

The museum houses a variety of touring exhibitions as well as a permanent exhibition looking at creativity in the fields of art and science.  We paid a visit as we'd seen adverts for an exhibition called, 'Shipwrecked Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds' which took our fancy.  Before we went I had not appreciated that the entry fee meant you could then go into all parts of the museum, but it seems whatever is on display when you go you can view if you want to.

This specific exhibition was about the maritime silk route between the Middle East and China which passed Singapore on its way.  Specifically though it was about a 9th century Arab dhow boat that had sunk near the coast of Indonesia's Belitung island and was only discovered in 1998.  The boat had been full of precious cargo (including ceramics, gold and silver items) which were fantastically preserved and really looked as if they'd only recently been made.  Some of the objects would look perfectly fine in your modern home and the intricate designs really were beautiful.  The exhibition also gave some general information about this particular trade route, with insights into the lives of the crew and the importance of the Singapore Straits for trade at this time.

After we looked at this, and simply because our ticket included admission to it, we took a look at Van Gogh Alive - the exhibition.  I'm so glad we did though because it was so good.  This was not an exhibition of the actual original paintings by Van Gogh but rather a display of his art projected on to walls and the floor and accompanied by pieces of classical music.  The paintings are far bigger than in real life (and in most cases cover the whole wall) and you simply walk in amongst them absorbing them.  As you walk amongst them the paintings change in keeping with the music and other than a few seats for you to simply sit and watch the art show, if you wish, there is nothing in the room to distract you but his paintings.

In a small room off the main exhibition hall there are copies of a few of his most famous works together with a brief description of what the painting conveys, his inspiration for it and so on.  The main part though is the art work display in the next rooms.  It is hard to convey here how much walking through these paintings as if I were a part of them totally amazed me, but I lost track of time here whilst appreciating the art and the music.  I actually enjoyed this part more, even though we had not set out to view it and I was not aware it was on display until we got there.

The Shipwrecked exhibition is on until 31 July 2011 and the Van Gogh until the 6 November 2011 and I would completely recommend you take a visit if you can.

10 May 2011

Going to the Polls

Not only has the UK been voting this past week, Singapore has also with its General Election held on Saturday 7 May, the first one in five years.  Only Singaporeans could vote so obviously we were not able to but it has been interesting to observe the build up to this.  I'm certainly not going to attempt here to comment on the politics as I do not feel I'm qualified to do so and my blog is not really the appropriate forum for that but I did not think I could totally ignore this event either.

The People's Action Party (PAP) was formed in 1954 when Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Lee Kwan Yew and others joined forces with the aim of bringing full independence to Singapore.  There is lots of information from various sources that can be read about this period of Singapore's history and if you are interested I recommend you take a look in your own time.  I don't feel it appropriate to attempt to do that here, other than to say that in 1959 the PAP under Lee Kwan Yew won the election and have remained the ruling party since then.

The build up to the election was similar to the UK, it included the usual rallies with the PAP and opposing candidates taking part, there was lots of getting out and about meeting the electorate, campaign posters up and manifesto flyer's distributed.  This election was the first one where PAP have actually experienced serious competition from the opposition but the outcome resulted in them winning 81 of 87 of the elected seats in the Parliament of Singapore and receiving 60.4% of the total votes cast.

The main differences I noticed between the campaigning done in the UK compared to here was that no campaigning was allowed on the proceeding day before the election.  Rather than attempts to convince those last few undecided this was deemed as a time for reflection before voting.  It is compulsory to vote if you are eligible to do so and fines are issued to those who do not.  Once the election date was confirmed an additional public holiday was given in recognition of this (I'm not sure if this is normal procedure I assume so however), though for most this just means an extra day in lieu attached to their usual holiday entitlement.  Doubtless there may well have been other differences that I missed but it definitely made for an interesting few weeks of observation.

08 May 2011

Chill Out Bars in the Lion City - Part 2

Once again my fiance has been writing for my blog and is sharing his thoughts on other good bars in the Lion City.  If you like what you read follow him on Twitter, @AskSirStamford

So it seems that the first instalment of the Chill Out Bars has been a success in terms of the number of hits on this excellent blog. Are we all party animals that enjoy nothing more than a few beverages in Singapore’s watering holes?

Anyway, I thought I would write a second edition so that we can try some different places. So here goes.

 Again in no order of preference: -

Boomerang, Robertson Quay

Ooesters, Far East Square

Harry's at Chijmes

The Post Bar, Fullerton Hotel

Dallas on Boat Quay

I understand that some may not agree with my choices here or before, if that is the case please please suggest your own top five.

Boomerang is a chilled out bar, cum restaurant at the far end of Robertson Quay (the quieter, more relaxed of the three Singapore Quays) with excellent river views and ‘modern Australian’ tucker (when I lived in Aus I always wondered what ‘modern Aussie’ food was, Western food with Asian influence / fusion). Anyway the place is split into a restaurant area for serious sit down eating, chatting and relaxing into the day with a sumptuous brunch and bar area with high tables and stools (the full menu is also offered in this area). I must state that I have only been here in the daytime for lunch / brunch (scrambled egg with smoked salmon, yum) but the vibe is chilaxed. It can get busy during Australian sporting fixtures, such as Aussie rules or rugby union matches (where tables will be reserved near the TV and an England shirt is not appropriate) but that’s OK. They also serve a great beer in Pure Blonde (low carb beer, it’s good for you, honest).

UPDATE - Boomerang lovers will be excited to know that there is now a branch at Boat Quay as well.


Ooesters is a Belgian bar in Far East Square, just off the Central Business District (CBD) that serves a vast array of beers from the second greatest beer producing nation on the planet (obviously I class England as number one for such fine brews as London Pride, Hobgoblin etc) including Leffe, Kwak (it is truly horrid but comes in a funny glass that needs a special stand). Additionally the bar serves the usual Belgian fare of mussels, steaks, chips with mayo etc. The food itself is pretty good, last time I went I shared a half kilo of mussels with friends (the sauce they were served in makes a good soup once the mussels are finished) and steak frites with pepper sauce. A friend had beef casserole with chips that looked grand. The bar itself has wooden panelling and seems to be very oldie worldy, which is kind of comforting, although one can sit outside and people watch.

Harry’s at Chijmes is one of many many Harry’s Bars (are they taking over the island, there seems to be a new one popping up every five minutes everywhere) and is also home of the Liverpool Supporters Club in Singapore (called, rather appropriately East of Anfield) and therefore shows most premier league matches. A special atmosphere is saved for games involving the once mighty Reds where fans clad in red (or other replica shirts) sing, chant, cheer and despair depending on how the game is going (members also get a discount card for drinks and food, valid any time and in any Harry’s, making a Tiger pint cost $11 as opposed to $15 normally). There is Liverpool memorabilia on the walls (signed shirts, quotes from God (Bill Shankly), programmes etc) and a pool table. Food in the bar is average, but okay (burgers, nachos, chicken wings etc). If a football based bar is not your thing there are plenty of other bars and eateries within the convent complex (my favourite is the pizzeria on the garden level, for great food and a lovely location). Come on you Reds.

UPDATE April 2015 - having recently been to the revamped Chijmes whilst Harry's is still there it looks like the supporters club may have moved elsewhere.  However I've no idea where, can anybody help?

The Post Bar is the main bar at the ultra-posh Fullerton Hotel and is named due to the fact that the Fullerton Building was at one time Singapore’s General Post Office (amongst other things, it was also a gentleman’s club, like the Reform Club in London, i.e. not seedy). Anyway, back to the bar, it is on the ground floor, dimly light with soft tone lighting and has a good old British post box in the entrance foyer and serves a full range of beverages, include awesome (what an American word) cocktails. I am told that the Singapore Sling is the best in town (made fresh, unlike at that other institution, Raffles, where it is pre-mixed). Personally, I usually go for a glass of Cloudy Bay (in fact the barman generally starts pouring before I ask, not sure that is a good thing). I have not eaten at the bar, except the beer snacks of nuts, wasabi peas etc. Best time to go is in the early evening when it is not too busy, although the music is often a tad too Ibiza-like.

Dallas on Boat Quay is a narrow bar at the UOB Plaza end of the quay (therefore far too handy for a lunchtime or after work beer) that serves a great range of food for the hungry banker (a word of warning if you order the Chicken Parma, you need to be starving, it is massive). The bar gets quite busy of an evening (except this week, it was raining and the bar was dead) with a loud after work crowd that spills out on to the pavement from the bar and the terrace area. As for drinks, these are the standard available from anywhere, wines, beers (Stella and San Miguel on tap) and spirits, there is also a cocktail menu.

If you missed part 1 of Top 5 Chill Out Bars in the Lion City you can read it here.

06 May 2011

Singapore Art Museum

Last week I visited the Singapore Art Museum.  Before I went I actually had no idea what type of art was on display there but I was curious to take a look.

I am not an art aficionado but I do enjoy wandering around galleries.  The art on display here was all by local artists from Singapore, the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and so on.  It was in the main, I guess, what I would describe as modern art.  Though I admit I am not an art expect so apologies if I'm incorrect in my assessment.

The museum is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution, a Catholic boys' school that was relocated in 1987. It is a beautiful building of the kind (along with shophouses) that I so admire in Singapore.

The art on display portrayed a variety of themes and certainly some presented a challenging perspective on past events in South East Asia and the artists' own lives, some of it pretty graphic in nature.  Some of the art was interactive allowing you to become involved in the piece.  One particular piece was a series of old fashioned school desks with scenes from protests in Thailand scratched into them.  As you looked at the piece you could sit at the desks and take rubbings of the art with the paper and pencils provided.  There were also some beautiful pieces, one that struck me was a series of spoons (the type that are commonly used in Asia) with a series of pictures painted on them telling a story.  I thought this was lovely.  There were also a series of watercolours portraying past village scenes painted by a Singaporean artist that were very impressive.

I have to be honest and say that not all of the art was to my own personal taste.  I'm sure though I'm not alone in finding some pieces more appealing than others in the museum.

05 May 2011

Singapore Sling Boutique

UPDATE - This bar is now closed.

I noticed this place in Clarke Quay a while ago and I felt I just had to have a look.  I've also taken to buying pre mixed Singapore Slings from the supermarket which are manufactured by the boutique so my curiosity was aroused.

Inside it is actually a small bar which, as you've probably guessed, serves nothing but Singapore Slings, the traditional, alternately flavoured ones and non-alcoholic versions.  It was after reading an article, which rated their mocktails as some of the best on the island, that finally convinced me we had to go.  The mocktails are good, by the way, and are made to look exactly the same colour as the alcoholic version of the Sling.

There is not much to see in the boutique, other than a TV screen playing a DVD giving a bit of history about the Sling and how it was invented.  The decor though is totally devoted to the Sling as you can see in my pictures below.  Even the light fittings are made out of tiny Singapore Sling mix bottles like the small ones in the bottom picture, they look really effective as well.  The merlions are used to hold your glass of Sling as in the picture above.  So far this has to be the tackiest way I've seen a Sling be served.

You won't be spending hours here, one drink at most, but if you want an alternative fun way to enjoy a Sling besides a trip to Raffles this might just be for you!

04 May 2011

Royal Wedding in Singapore

Unless you've been hiding under a stone in the remotest spot on earth I don't think it can have escaped your attention that last Friday was a very special day in the lives of Prince William and Kate Middleton - their wedding day! 

Now as someone who is also getting married this year I was interested to see what Kate's dress would be like, what hymns they chose (actually they picked two the same as we have) and so on.  I am also a Royal fan and make no secret of that and think the UK would be a lot worse without them.  I adore watching all the pomp and ceremony of grand occasions such as this and being so far from home this was even more important to me.  I certainly think the Brits do a good job at it and not just when the world's eyes are on them as they were last Friday.  In many other events they do it just as well, changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the service of Remembrance each November, the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London, trooping the colour, the Proms season and in particular the last night and many many more throughout the year.  For this reason I was very keen to be able to witness Friday's wedding.

I can't say Singapore was awash with bunting but fortunately for those who wanted to watch it, it was shown at several pubs and bars as well as the British Club and the Cricket Club and it was also available on TV here too.  So I was tuned into the TV for much of Friday afternoon watching all the build up.

How did we spend the time when the wedding was actually on?  Well I baked the cakes in the photo (which for me was a big achievement as I do not remember the last time I baked) and we headed to friends for a Royal Wedding watch and a party afterwards.

Fortunately for us with the time difference the wedding was on in the late afternoon / early evening here so was a good excuse to crack open the bubbly and toast the happy couple.  After the wedding we then enjoyed the rest of the evening with delicious curry and meeting some new people.  Including a couple of fellow bloggers who, despite never having met them I instantly recognised and felt like I knew them already.  Despite a shower mid afternoon the weather perked up and we enjoyed it all in typical Singaporean temperatures too.

It was a lovely day, the bride looked radiant and I loved hers and her sister's dresses.  It was a day to be proud to be British and I certainly was.  All that is left is for me to wish William and Kate (or the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) a long and very happy marriage!


Last week I was invited along to a Japanese restaurant called Kinki at Collyer Quay to try some of their dishes.  My first thoughts were, I've not eaten much Japanese food and I don't really know much about what goes with what and secondly they eat a lot of seafood and I'm not a huge seafood fan.  The offer though was too tempting not to go along.  I reminded myself how much seafood I've tried since I've been in Singapore and how I've actually enjoyed it and that perhaps I've really been missing out. 

I need not have worried about going to Kinki though, the food may be Japanese in influence but it has a range of creative dishes and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by all the ones I had.  The restaurant itself is very modern in its look and feel with a funky hip-urban decor to it.  One of the first things that hits you when you arrive is a mural on the floor designed by Chris Garver who appeared in Miami Ink (photo below).  The restaurant is also set in a fabulous location with spectacular views across to the Marina Bay Sands, waterfront and surrounding area. 

I was lucky enough to try a variety of the dishes available on the menu which match the decor in being fun, creative and accessible.  The menu uses ingredients and cooking techniques which compliment Japanese cuisine but with a modern twist to them.  The restaurant also imports rare and seasonal ingredients from Japan to ensure top quality food is served.  I was able to try the following dishes;

Momotaro Tomato

This was a delicious starter which is described as featuring a Japanese tomato known for its sweetness and is served with a ginger dressing.  Personally I think this dish is absolutely perfect for the hot humid climate of Singapore as the contrast of the two ingredients makes this very refreshing.

Foie Gras and Scallop Sushi

This dish was one I was a little hesitant about before I tried it but my concerns were groundless.  It was delicious, beautifully prepared and I'd definitely eat it again without hesitation.

Buta Sushi

This is pork belly served sushi style which was absolutely delicious.  It was so tender that as soon as I picked it up with my chopsticks it fell apart but again was beautifully prepared. Marvellous!

Pomegranate Miso Black Cod

This is considered one of Kinki's signature dishes and in keeping with the restaurant's theme has been given a twist on the traditional household dish.  The cod is served in a special pomegranate and honey miso to give an extra tanginess to the dish in contrast to the cod.  Again this was one I was a little hesitant about, although cod is a fish I'll happily eat, but as with the other dishes it was perfect and melted in my mouth.  Definitely one to try.

Jidori Chicken Teriyaki (from the set lunch menu)

This was a delicious dish of chicken with rice and included with it a side salad, miso soup and a mochi ball.  This dish alone would be more than enough to satisfy you if you were looking for somewhere to lunch.  I'd never tried mochi ball's before which is a sweet with a marshmallow like texture, covered in sesame seeds and with a peanut flavour sauce inside it.  It was very tasty though and was a pleasant end to the meal.

I also sampled the following cocktails;

Geisha Sake-Rita

This was a twist on the traditional Margarita cocktail incorporating yuzu sake into the mix alongside tequila, orange liqueur, passion fruit syrup and orange juice.  Demonstrating again the modern twist the restaurant is aiming for with the inclusion of Japanese sake as well.

Ume Mojito

The mojito contained rum, umeshu, sugarcane juice, lime, mint and raw sugar and was excellent.  The restaurant has a fully stocked bar as well as an extensive cocktail list.  If you like your cocktails I'd definitely recommend you give the restaurant's a try.  Kinki also has a range of sakes for food pairing or to sample alone.

Japan Quake Relief

Moving away from the food, last week Kinki also launched a range of limited edition merchandise in support of the relief effort at a special event held last Friday (29 April 2011) evening.  You can though still purchase from the restaurant specially designed items such as badges (small: S$3 large: S$5), bag hangers S$10 and t-shirts S$25.  The merchandise bears pictures of the restaurant's mascot, sumo turned chef Kinki and other limited edition designs (as below).  All items are printed with the 'Support Japan' logo and are available at the restaurant whilst stocks last with proceeds going to the Singapore Red Cross Society. 

So go there try the food and support the quake relief at the same time!

Bag Hangers

I cannot fault the dishes I was served and the decor and ambiance of the restaurant really made this a great place to dine.  I personally think this is definitely a restaurant to come to whether you are an aficionado of Japanese cuisine or, like me, not sure but looking to try something new.  Come take a look and try for yourselves!

70 Collyer Quay #02-02, Customs House, 049323, SINGAPORE

Tel: (65) 6533 3471 Fax: (65) 6533 3473 Email: enquiry@kinki.com.sg  http://www.kinki.com.sg/

Opening Hours: Lunch weekday 12pm to 2.30pm, Dinner weekday and Sat 6pm to 10.30pm
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Other details: Valet parking available, attached bar, major credit cards accepted.

Images courtesy of www.foodnews.com.sg

02 May 2011

Hong Kong - Taking a Trip on the Tram

Well we did eventually anyway.  We'd hoped to get up to the peak all weekend, we finally got good weather on the Sunday and decided to venture up there.  Although we left fairly early in the morning, I'd been warned queues for the tram can be horrendous and sure enough there was already an hour and a half wait to get on.  Our initial thoughts were not to bother but after a bit of debate we decided we'd see if we could a taxi up to the top instead.  This we managed without any difficulty and we were soon making our way up.

The peak is Hong Kong island's highest point and I have to say you wouldn't want to walk it or bike it, though we saw several people doing just that on our way up.  As we travelled up we passed countless condo blocks and residential areas.  It clearly is the place to live in Hong Kong and has been apparently since the British arrived in the 19th century.  Surprise surprise as well when we reached the top the main viewing areas were housed within a shopping mall.  The views were well worth the trip up and gave me a real feel for Hong Kong's size with its towering skyscrapers stretching out as far as I could see on both sides of the harbour.

Once you are at the top of the peak and have admired the views from the various viewing points there are walks you can follow to see more and refreshment stops and shops to browse through right at the top.  We did follow one of the paths for a short way and came across the pagoda and viewing point in my photo below known as the Lions Pavilion, built by the Lions Club of Hong Kong.  Here you could get lovely views framed by the pagoda, although it was a very popular point with tourists.  In comparison everywhere else on that route at least, was relatively quiet making for a very pleasant walk.

As we did not take the tram to reach the top of the peak we thought we'd see if we could at least get it back down.  Luckily the queue to go down was very short and in no time at all we'd purchased our ticket and were waiting on the platform.  Unfortunately you are going backwards down so it is not so easy to see the views, I assume.  However you can still see how steep the climb is as the condo blocks we passed looked at such a strange angle to the one we were travelling at in the tram.  Perhaps from this point of view it is better to be facing the wrong way as I imagine it being rather like a fairground roller coaster ride coming down.

After a lovely weekend all too soon it was time to return back to Singapore.  I really enjoyed my visit and the contrast of Hong Kong with Singapore.  I really hope to be able to return again someday to see everything else we didn't this time.

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