31 October 2011

Asian Koel

Ever since I first moved to Singapore I've been intrigued by this noisy bird who you can hear right across the island.  Its call was nothing like any bird in the UK though it looked a bit like a crow or rook as it appeared to be a fairly large black bird.  I knew it wasn't one of those though and in the end I had to find out what it was.  This was sometime ago but after carrying out all sorts of Internet and YouTube searches I eventually came across footage of these very birds and finally found out what they were - Asian Koels.

On my first morning back in Singapore I was woken up at about 5.30am by these birds and that was one of the first of several little things over the intervening few days that confirmed I was back.  Without fail I'll hear these birds most mornings and evenings and also intermittently throughout the day.  The noise of  loud construction and the tropical storms amongst many other things appear to be triggers for them to start making their distinctive cry.

Although the cry is not conventionally pretty and at times as they keep calling they do sound as if they are becoming louder and more agitated there is something special about the noise also.  As I said there is no bird in the UK who cries like this so to me it is quintessentially part of being in Singapore and in Asia, as I've also heard them on trips to Thailand and Hong Kong.  Yes, at times, they do make a lot of noise and if you look at the YouTube clips a lot of people are moaning about the noise they make, but I love it.  Take a listen for yourself.

I recently came across this poem by Rudyard Kipling which mentions the Koel.  Though set in India I thought I'd share it with you too.

In Springtime - Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936)

My garden blazes brightly with the rose-bush and the peach,
And the koil sings above it, in the siris by the well,
From the creeper-covered trellis comes the squirrel's chattering speech,
And the blue jay screams and flutters where the cheery sat-bhai dwell.
But the rose has lost its fragrance, and the koil's note is strange;
I am sick of endless sunshine, sick of blossom-burdened bough.
Give me back the leafless woodlands where the winds of Springtime range --
Give me back one day in England, for it's Spring in England now!

Through the pines the gusts are booming, o'er the brown fields blowing chill,
From the furrow of the ploughshare streams the frangrance of the loam,
And the hawk nests on the cliffside and the jackdaw in the hill,
And my heart is back in England 'mid the sights and sounds of Home.
But the garland of the sacrifice this wealth of rose and peach is,
Ah! koil, little koil, singing on the siris bough,
In my ears the knell of exile your ceaseless bell like speech is --
Can you tell me aught of England or of Spring in England now?

27 October 2011

Halloween's Coming

I may not have been back in Singapore a week yet, but despite being here last Halloween and seeing decorations etc. then, this year Singapore really does seem to be embracing it wholeheartedly.  Decorations are appearing everywhere, Halloween related items are available to buy in the shops and special events at venues are being advertised everywhere I turn.

In the UK I would say that Halloween is not that big a deal or a huge event that is celebrated.  As a child I only went Trick-or-Treating once and that was only because it was the school holidays, I was staying with my cousins and as they were going I was allowed to as well.  Even then we were only allowed to go on the road where they lived and I suspect only to the houses of people my cousins family knew.  Everyone gave us sweets so there was no chance to play a trick, though I don't know what we would actually have done if the need had arisen.  I somehow doubt it would have been much, if anything at all, for fear of the consequences.  The TV channels do usually show the odd horror/spooky film or programme in honour of the day.  Personally I like that as I've always been a fan of that genre and of watching programmes where I might get a bit spooked, but they do not usually broadcast lots of programmes with a Halloween theme. 

My one real memory of a Halloween special programme on TV was a spoof documentary (which many people thought was real at the time) of a family being terrorised in their home by a poltergeist.  The 'documentary' was called Ghostwatch and was hosted by a fairly serious TV presenter/interviewer in the UK.  It was presented as being a live programme and included supposed live footage in the house of phenomena occurring and culminated with things going very awry in the TV studio.  I expect if I watched it now it would probably be laughable but at the time, and given, when it was broadcast, I was only just fourteen, I was pretty spooked by it.  You can read a bit more around the controversy this programme caused here and if that does not put you off there is plenty of YouTube footage available if you want to see a bit of the programme for yourself.

Whilst I lived with my parents we never had Trick-or-Treaters come calling (probably because finding their front door is quite a challenge), but even when I went to University and then subsequently lived in London I don't recall ever getting a caller.  The most I think I have ever seen are a few young children dressed up going from house to house with their Mum or Dad supervising and when I was in London especially a few revellers dressed up and going to a Halloween themed night out. 

For me therefore to see so many eateries, bars and shops decked out is actually quite fun and a bit of a novelty.  I imagine that perhaps the efforts here to some would still seem a bit tame in comparison to what they are used to?  Do let me know.  I'm also interested to know whether celebrating Halloween here is a fairly recent thing or if it has been celebrated for many years and, indeed, if it more popular now than it initially was?  Regardless though I'm enjoying going out somewhere and finding a maze of cobwebs, a zombie or a load of pumpkins and skulls looking back at me.

Even the Post Bar at the Fullerton Hotel is getting into the Halloween spirit

Whilst Halloween may not be a huge event in the UK I do associate it with cooler and usually cold Autumnal weather so I still have not got completely used to it being celebrated in 30 degree heat.  In fact with my love of all things a little spooky it seems right to me that if all the ghosts and ghouls are going to come out that night that the weather should be suitably wild to match with howling gales whistling around houses.  This feeling though, of the wrong sort of weather for events is not just confined to Halloween and is something I plan to come back to again in due course.

I shall and am enjoying the Halloween build up here and perhaps I'll watch some spooky films or programmes on DVD to celebrate in my own way in Singapore.

24 October 2011

Wedded Bliss

So after months of preparation and pretty much thinking of very little else our wedding day finally arrived on the 15 October.  Although people warned me I still can't quite believe that it is now over a week ago since we actually got married and that the day and our honeymoon were all over so fast.

We were so lucky to be blessed with the most amazing weather for mid October in the UK.  By all accounts the weather took a more normal Autumn turn the Monday afterwards.  We had a warm, sunny and dry October day though and for the time of year I could not have wished for anything better.

The day was absolutely perfect and has left us both with many happy memories and funny things to laugh about and share again and again.

As I did promise to share a photo from the day as well here it is.

I also thought I'd share with you a link to my friend Lynne's blog who was a guest at the evening reception.  Those of you who regularly view my blog may recall that she kindly made our wedding invitations for us and she has shared a little piece on her blog about our day.  Thanks Lynne for coming along, it was so lovely to see you again and, of course, thank you for making the beautiful invitations! 

A day that will stay in my memory for a long time and certainly as one of the happiest days of my life.

12 October 2011

Jurong Bird Park

One of the last things we did before my stepsons returned home to the UK was to take them to the Jurong Bird Park.  This was somewhere that I'd wanted to visit and had heard good things about.  Equally though I'd also heard of people not enjoying the experience due to some of the birds being kept in caged enclosures and therefore unable to fly freely.  As a consequence I was not sure what to expect, that said though I personally had a very enjoyable day.  For all the enclosed birds there were also plenty out in the open or if they were in enclosures they were ones that we were able to walk through and enjoy the birds at close range.  My only wish was that there had been places in the enclosed bird cages with clear viewing points rather than only being able to look through the cage wires.  More so that there were better photo opportunities for people (like me) with only regular cameras. 

The bird park has an array of different habitat sections including Penguin Coast, Flamingo Lake, Parrot Paradise, Pelican Cove, Dinosaur Descendants with ostriches, emus and so on, hornbills and toucans and a bird of prey section.  Circumnavigating the whole park is a monorail (or panorail as the park calls it) with several getting on and off points at various parts of the park.  As you take the ride there is a recorded commentary about the birds being viewed, and as much of the ride is above the exhibits you can enjoy the birds from a different vantage point other than just at ground level.

My own personal favourites, apart from the penguins which I could happily watch for hours, were the African Waterfall Aviary, the waterfall can be seen in the photo below and the Lory Loft.  A photo of a slightly blurred Lory in the loft can be seen below the photo of the waterfall. 

The African Waterfall Aviary is marketed as being the world's largest walk-in aviary with a thirty metre high waterfall and over a thousand free-flying native African birds.  I'm sure we saw nowhere near that amount of birds whilst we were in there but the waterfall was certainly very impressive.

The Lory Loft allows you to walk amongst (and feed) these incredibly tame brightly coloured birds.  You actually walk amongst the treetops on a raised platform and the birds seem to have no fear of the humans wandering around.  One even catching me in the face with its wing as it flew past, or perhaps it was in fact getting its revenge??

The park puts on a number of shows with the birds and we did catch the 'Birds n Buddies' show.  This was definitely aimed at children with a number of staff dressed up as birds but we saw as well an array of birds including pelicans, vultures and macaws, a lot of fun.  There are also several other shows but we did not manage to see any of those.

As I said, despite the mixed reviews of the park that I'd seen previously I enjoyed our day out and would go back again if the opportunity arose.

Jurong Bird Park is open daily from 8.30am to 6pm.

2 Jurong Hill
Singapore 628925

Tel: (65) 6265 0022

08 October 2011

I'm Getting Married in the Morning (Well in One Week's Time)

I thought perhaps I ought to excuse myself in advance if there is a slight lack of posts in the next couple of weeks.  For those who know me you'll already know this, but just in case you don't yes the time has finally come and I'm getting married next Saturday, 15 October.  I really can't believe how close it is now!

If you read my blog regularly you'll know I've mentioned this a handful of times over the last few months though I've tried not to bore readers too much with it all.  Anyway despite me not being mad about putting photos of myself on my blog, I think there is only one in an actual post, (see if you can find it)!  As I've had so many people ask me to put a few here I will bow to blog reader and Twitter pressure and share a couple of photos here with you all in due course.

In the meantime though I thought I'd share with you a bit about the location for our wedding, even though it is not in Singapore.  I have some lovely photos of the village I'm getting married in but unfortunately as I'm in the UK at present and these are on my laptop in Singapore I cannot access them.

So here is a link to Wikipedia with information about the village.  I love how it says that Loose is pronounced to rhyme with booze.  This is correct and many a joke has been made in the past as a result of the spelling and how it looks like it should be pronounced about the Loose Women's Institute and many more.

Here are some images I found on the Internet for the village just to give you a little flavour.  I'm probably biased, as this was where I grew up, but I do think it is a beautiful little Kent village and I'm so glad we are able to get married there.  My parents got married in this church as well so it was always my first choice.  I am officially one very excited blogger at the moment!

Loose stream where, fingers crossed for good weather, we'll be able to get some photos after the service.

All Saints church, where we will be married

The village sign

06 October 2011

Night Safari

It seems like a long time ago that we visited Singapore zoo for the first time and, of course, we took my stepsons there whilst they were staying with us as well.  We had not visited the night safari though and decided we would save this for when they came.  When we took the boys we didn't do both in the same day and I'm very glad about that.  I've heard of visitors doing the zoo and the safari in one day but I do wonder how they managed it.  Especially in the heat and (probably more so) the humidity of Singapore.

We got there a bit before it opened and decided to have our tea at one of the restaurants close to the entrance.  The food was nothing spectacular but good enough and what you would expect to get in such a venue.  Whilst we were eating we were treated to a Thumbuakar performance (see the photo above).  The show consisted of tribal style dancing, acrobatics and fire eating tricks, the performance was a very exciting show.  We were sat so close that we could feel the heat from the flames at times.  The best part of the show though was when they got a member of the audience on to the stage.  They managed to convince him he was to be involved in the show (even getting him to take his top off to prepare).  They then made him shut his eyes and convince him he'd be putting the flames out himself.  Of course he didn't and was left there looking a bit silly as they performed around him.  However all credit to him for being willing to get involved, I'm not sure I'd have been so happy to.  I've since tried to find out a little more about this group but frustratingly I have not been able to.  Even the Night safari website does not tell you much about the performers.

Following this, and the completion of our meal, we entered the safari and immediately got in the queue to board the trams which take you around the majority of the exhibits.  I have to be honest in that it was a bit of a mad scrum, although the queueing system was effective.  I suspect this was because we entered not long after the safari opened (7.30pm) so perhaps you may be better to hang on and let the initial rush subside.

The tram takes you around the safari with a recorded commentary telling you a bit about the animals you are seeing.  Sadly I was not able to get any good photos as it was just too dark for my camera and my fiance's.  Obviously, to avoid distressing the animals, flash photography is not allowed, so after a few attempts I gave up and just concentrated on enjoying the ride and what I was looking at.  I really did not appreciate how big the safari was and in turn how big the land that the zoo and safari cover altogether was until we went here.  I was also surprised by the number of exhibits on show including some animals that you don't see in the zoo itself.  Amongst many some of my personal favourites included the Malayan tiger, striped hyenas, lions, leopards, hippos, Asian elephants, Malayan tapir, fishing cats (can you tell I'm a cat, both large and small, lover), rhinos, giraffes and zebras and a whole lot of others too.

Once you've finished the tram ride there are then set routes that you can walk around to see both the animals not on the tram route and also get a little closer to some of those that are.  Of course, unlike the zoo, you have to stick to the set routes as there is very little unnecessary lighting and there is always the risk of you wandering somewhere you should not.  By doing the walking parts too you also get to go in to the bat enclosures and a cave section displaying animals and insects that like dwelling in caves.

One of the nicest parts of our walk was when we got to the giraffes and were able to look out across the Upper Seletar Reservoir, as the zoo and safari back on to this.  The Upper Seletar Reservoir was formed in 1986.  It was previously known as the Seletar Reservoir before the completion of the Lower Seletar Reservoir which was formed by damming up the mouth of the Seletar river.  By night it is stunningly peaceful even from inside the night safari and the noise of the people visiting all around you.  Standing near the shoreline with hardly any light other than from the moon it was a moment to reflect and enjoy the tranquility before moving on again.

As well as the shows at the entrance to the safari there is also an amphitheatre showing a 'Creatures of the Night Show' on Fridays, Saturdays and the eve of Public Holidays.  We did not catch this show so I'm afraid I do not know how good or not this is.

I'm not sure I'd rush to go back to the safari but I enjoyed my night.  I was surprised by how long we were actually in there for, partly as I said because it was bigger than I realised.  Definitely one to visit but perhaps not on the same day you do the zoo.

The night safari is open daily from 7.30pm - 12.00am

Restaurants and gift shops are open from 6pm

80 Mandai Lake Road
Singapore 729826

Tel: (65) 6269 3411

01 October 2011

Lau Pa Sat

This is one of those places I'd passed many times but never really taken a lot of notice of.  My friend then suggested that we go for lunch at a hawker centre which was said to be the oldest one in Singapore and as a result I found myself at Lau Pa Sat.

Having since done a little research, I've found out that Lau Pa Sat (which means Old Market in Hokkien) was Singapore's first wet market with origins dating back to the time of Sir Stamford Raffles.  It was eventually converted into the Lau Pa Sat festival market having originally been known as the Telok Ayer Market.  The market was gazetted as a national monument in 1973.  In 1986 it was completely dismantled due to damage caused by nearby tunnelling for MRT line construction, each piece was carefully labelled and restored and the rebuilding of the market was completed in 1989.

We visited during the week over the lunch time period and as you'd expect the market was heaving with workers out to get their lunch.  There were queues at many of the stalls and not a lot of spare tables (particularly for three of us to sit together).  As is the case whenever I visit a hawker centre / food court I wandered around in slight awe trying to decide what I wanted to eat from all the options available to me.  How do you decide what to have generally, I'm always overwhelmed by the amount of choice, does it ever get any less so?  In the end we all settled on Indian food and I enjoyed a rather good chili chicken curry and rice.  We had to queue to get served at the stall we chose as well, always a good sign in Singapore.   

As we were leaving I noticed a Thunder tea rice stall which happens to be a favourite dish of mine.  This and the fact there is an awful lot of other food there waiting for me to try will ensure I visit Lau Pa Sat again before long I'm sure.
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