28 March 2012

Indian Muslim Heritage Centre

Living in Singapore has given me (amongst many things) the opportunity to learn and discover a lot about cultures that I largely (and could be argued still do) knew very limited details about before moving here.  I particularly enjoy exploring and learning about the history and heritage of this island from its earliest inhabitants.  Last year the Indian Muslim Heritage Centre opened and I decided then that I would like to visit it at some stage.  For various reasons though it just remained somewhere to go but I finally managed to get there recently.

The centre is located in Telok Ayer Street in Chinatown.  The street was named after the Telok Ayer Bay and originally (prior to land reclamation) was a coastal road by the bay.  Telok Ayer Street subsequently became one of the main commercial and residential roads which continued up to the nineteenth century.  As a consequence many temples and mosques were built on the road as grateful Chinese and Muslim immigrants to Singapore showed their gratitude for a safe passage and arrival.

The heritage centre is housed in a beautiful building called the Nagore Dargah.  The building was built between 1828 and 1830 and was designated as a national monument in 1974, one of several buildings on this road to fall into this category.  It was originally known as the Shahul Hamid Durgha and the shrine was dedicated to Shahul Hamid a south Indian holy man.  The building had been shut for several years prior to the heritage centre opening in it last year.

It now houses an interesting exhibition looking at the history of Singapore's Indian Muslim community including their culture, heritage, beliefs and their contribution to Singapore.  The displays include information about the Telok Ayer Street area, how the Indian Muslims arrived in Singapore, the trades they engaged in and information about their lives here through the use of photographs and artifacts.  The centre also has a small cafe where visitors can buy and learn about traditional Indian Muslim food and drink, though on the day I visited only drinks were available.  Lastly you can find out more about the Nagore Dargah and the holy man Shahul Hamid.

You really don't need more than part of a morning or afternoon to visit but it is worth taking a look if you are in the area with some time to spare.  Admission is free and the staff were incredibly warm, welcoming and keen to share their heritage with me.  

22 March 2012

Chocolate Heaven

Some what unintentionally I seem to have been writing lately about various recent food finds that have given me a little taste of home.  Firstly when we discovered that we could actually get pork pies in Singapore and now UK Cadbury's chocolate too!  All thanks to Singapore Actually's blog for sharing this particular good news with her readers and making my day in the process.

Soon after I arrived here I quickly discovered that the Cadbury's you can buy in most shops in Singapore is not produced in the UK (I think it is Australia but apologies if I'm wrong) and has a distinctly different taste as a result.  I know it is a case of what you are used to from childhood etc. and I'm sure if I'd be raised on what is generally available here I'd be fine with it, but as I wasn't my first taste was a bit of a disappointment!  As a result I never even bothered to pick up Cadbury's chocolate anymore, just tending to go for the occasional treat of chocolate imported from other parts of Europe.  Yes it usually isn't that cheap an option but at least it tasted exactly as I expected it to.  As for my Cadbury's fix I just made do with getting that when I was in the UK and usually made sure I brought a few bars back with me to treat myself with occasionally.

Promising start with the Olympics competition which I'd seen on bars in the UK too

However as soon as I learnt that Mustafa's did in fact stock UK Cadbury's chocolate I had to go see and, of course, buy some for myself.  Sure enough I found a whole display cabinet full of the chocolate there, I felt like a child in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory for a brief moment I was so excited.  Despite all the outward appearances of them being from the UK and therefore genuine I admit to still being a little hesitant and left wondering if I'd be disappointed with my purchase, but having since conducted a full taste test I can confirm they are indeed the real thing!

With the UK postal address and the UK website address it certainly looked the real deal

I honestly don't know if Mustafa's stock the UK version all the time or if it is just now and again but if you are craving some (at least for now) this is the place you can get it.  Some of the best before dates are a bit tight so you might want to have a rummage for the ones with a longer life, but frankly are you really going to be hanging on to it for that long and I'm not bothered when it tastes this good!

15 March 2012

Prelude @ The Boathouse

Once again my husband has taken the reins, so to speak, and written a little piece for me to share with you.  Over to him ....

During our time in Singapore, and given the usually far from inclement weather, we have on occasion partaken in one or two beverages on one of the many rooftop bars in the Lion City. Therefore when searching for a venue for a Saturday evening beer recently I gravitated towards another open air experience. The plan was to have a couple of sundowners and then go for something to eat at a Japanese restaurant that Laura has dined in before, it’s called Kinki (near Customs House) in the Marina Bay area, so I selected Prelude, at the Fullerton Hotel’s Boathouse.

However a spanner was thrown into the works when the restaurant was fully booked (as it has been on every occasion I have attempted to go) but we went to the bar anyway. The Boathouse is situated across the road from the Fullerton Hotel, at the end of the Anderson Bridge (it would be a great place to watch F1 cars from, but I guess it would be very corporate on race night). Prelude, is on the roof of the building (only three floors up) and there is a restaurant on the second floor. The range of drinks was excellent with good promotions up until 8pm (a pint for the price of a half). I had a pint of Erdinger with Laura plumping (not for the first time and probably not the last) for a Delboy-esque cocktail. The views across the Marina bay and to the CBD area are spectacular, particularly as the sun is setting. The bar was pretty quiet when we arrived (at about 6:30pm) but quickly filled up as time advanced but was never rowdy.

Whilst in the bar and tweeting photos of the view a friend (and fellow blogger) mentioned that they had a similar view and we realised they were in the Lantern Bar, Fullerton Bay Hotel, so we popped over to that roof top bar for a quick hello.  This bar was much more hectic than Prelude and we ended up stood by the bar. Mojitos were ordered prior to going for a bite to eat on Club Street (Spizza, where the dishes have girl’s names). 

Other great rooftop bars have been featured in other bar posts, check them out, part one, part two, part three and part four.

12 March 2012

i Light Marina Bay 2012

From now until the 1 April 2012 you can catch some stunningly beautiful art installations each and every night in the Marina Bay area.  The second i Light Marina Bay, Asia's first and only sustainable light art festival has just taken up residency, officially opening last Friday night.  I was lucky enough to get a preview of some of the pieces earlier last week before the official opening, but having also now seen them over the weekend too they are well worth taking the time out to look at and enjoy if you are in the area.

The theme for this year's display is 'Light Meets Asia' and features more than thirty innovative and environmentally sustainable light art installations, with a strong focus on works from Asia.  Visitors can also enjoy a whole host of interactive fringe events and activities as well, including weekend night carnivals and various performances, free movie screenings, a photography competition and photography workshops as well as free guided tours of the installations on weekends by student volunteers from Temasek Polytechnic.  For more information about all the installations and all of the activities taking place take a look at the i Light Marina Bay 2012 website.

In keeping with the theme of environmental sustainability the festival's curatorial team have worked closely with all the artists involved to ensure the use of recyclable materials and in adopting energy-efficient lighting technologies in their art installations, as well as also working with their festival partners to manage resources and minimise waste.  Alongside this the festival is also being supported by stakeholders in the Marina Bay area through the, 'switch off, turn up' campaign.  This encourages properties to be more energy efficient by turning off non-essential lighting and turning up air-conditioning temperatures.  Take a look here for a list of those properties committed to the 'switch off, turn up' campaign.

The following are some photos of just a few of the installations that have particularly caught my eye so far.  Personally I was particularly drawn to these pieces for the vibrancy of the colours and the way lighting has been used to create the desired effects.  However all the pieces I've seen have been beautiful creations to be admired.

After Light (2012) - Storybox, New Zealand
Key Frames (2011) - Groupe LAPS, France

Parmenides l (2011) - Dev Harlan, USA

I was fascinated by this installation (above) and the way in which the colours and design altered in an almost hypnotic fashion as I stood mesmerised by it.  Similarly the art projection on to the outside of the ArtScience Museum (below) was beautiful.  Representing the natural world in its journey through a single day it is worth watching from the helix bridge (though it can be viewed from several vantage points around the Marina Bay area) here you can enjoy an uninterrupted view and the music that accompanies this piece.

Garden of Light (2012) - Hexogon Solution, Singapore

This installation (below) had all of us captivated and saw many trying to stand in just the right place so that the laser beams of light were projected on to us.  Entitled The Gate this drew me in and really made me want to enter in (if I had been able to) to see what lay waiting on the other side.

The Gate (2007) - Li Hui, China

Bibigloo (2011) - BIBI, France

I was drawn to both these installations for the colour use in them.  The Bibigloo piece (above) because the vibrancy of the red really stood out against the darkness and similarly for the colours used in the Coral Garden piece (below) as well.  The Bibigloo installation is actually made from 250 polyethylene jerry cans and is a contemporary replacement for the conventional ice igloo, with the artist highlighting global warming and the decline in polar ice caps through it.  Coral Garden was inspired by coral reefs, bringing attention on the negative impact of human practices on reefs, and I personally think is a beautiful and inspiring piece.  I loved the differing colours and the fact that the installation was constructed entirely from transparent cocktail stirrers!

Coral Garden (2012) - Olivia d'Aboville, Philippines/France

There are some truly amazing and interesting pieces on display to enjoy and immerse yourself in.  They are all worth exploring and are guaranteed to have you fascinated and leave you curious.  These photos are only a few of the installations currently on display though, go and see and decide for yourself which is your favourite.

i Light Marina Bay 2012 is on now until 1 April 2012, daily 7.30pm to 11.00pm, Marina Bay Waterfront and admission is free.

You can also download the accompanying iPhone application from iTunes.  Search for i Light Marina Bay.

To note: In the event of bad weather, outdoor events and activities may be cancelled, but light art installations will still be on.  Check with staff at the Info Kiosk for latest updates or call +65 6290 5702.

Thank you to Marina Bay and the Urban Redevelopment Authority for the opportunity to preview these artworks.

08 March 2012

Carnival of Drums - Beating as ONE

This weekend why not get yourselves involved in something special and a little bit different for charity at Marina Bay and have loads of fun in the process.

Carnival of Drums is taking place this Sunday, 11 March 2012 from 5pm at The Promontory@Marina Bay.  You, your family and friends can all be involved, both in learning all about various ethnic drums through introductory workshops and then being part of a massive drum circle playing together as ONE.  

The event is in aid of Students Care Service's which supports less privileged children and youth in Singapore.  They are looking to get 2000 drummers involved on Sunday so they need your support.  All are welcome and absolutely no previous experience is required.

Tickets for this event are available at www.gatecrash.com.sg or the Gatecrash hotline, 6100 2005, Singpost outlets and S.A.M kiosks and are just $10.00 or $32.00 for a group package of four tickets.

You can also find out more information about this on the Carnival of Drums Facebook page.

This event is being held in conjunction with i Light Marina Bay 2012 Asia's first and only sustainable light art festival which opens this Friday, 9 March 2012.  So why not take some time out as well whilst you are there to view the light installations on display around the Marina Bay area.

What are you waiting for?

07 March 2012

Pork Pies

UPDATE: This restaurant is now closed.

Like most people living in another country there are times when I crave a taste of home.  Luckily, for all the delicious local food on offer there are also plenty of Western alternatives to satisfy me and even a few Waitrose (a UK supermarket chain) products in some of the supermarkets and small food courts in some of the Marks and Spencers stores.  Though these do generally have to be occasional treats as they are not usually the cheapest options available.  I've also recently learnt that UK Cadbury's chocolate is available at Mustafa's thanks to Singapore Actually, so I'll have to pay them a visit soon I think.  More often than not though anything we are really craving (which we can't get here or else something close to it) can be brought back with us after a trip back to the UK.

One thing though that we've really missed and not been able to find anywhere were pork pies.  For anyone reading this who is not familiar with pork pies and wants to know a little bit more check out Wikipedia here.  It has therefore become a regular thing to try and make sure at least one pie is consumed on a trip home to make up, in some way, for not been able to find them here.  However all that changed last Friday when we struck gold right here in Singapore.

Our Friday night had taken us to the Club Street area of Chinatown.  The restaurant we'd hoped to go to was full and, of course, we had not made a reservation so we were left wandering around looking for an alternative.  We then stumbled across a place called Emporium (just opposite The Screening Room), a bar/restaurant we must have walked past many times but never taken much notice of before.  Initially we were more drawn to the fact there were tables free there, but the food menu advertised itself as being British pub food and looked appealing so we sat down.  Only then on closer inspection of the menu did we make our pork pie discovery which of course meant we had to order one to try.

I was a little concerned that it might be a version on the theme of a pork pie rather than what we were hoping it would be (this has happened with other food at times) but my concern was groundless.  The pork pie (a Melton Mowbray according to the menu) looked exactly as I expected, arrived with a side of pickled onions and tasted divine.  I could have happily eaten another but feared it would ruin my main course.  We had it as a starter to our meal (it was listed there) something I don't think I've done before if I'm honest, usually having it as a snack or with a ploughman's type lunch.  It certainly wasn't the cheapest pie I've ever had either at $10 a go but somethings just have to be ignored now and again for the chance to enjoy a treat from home.

On looking at their website since I've also discovered they even serve black pudding in their breakfasts.  I'm not a huge fan but my husband loves it and I also know a few other expats here who enjoy it too.  I've no idea how authentic it is but this seems like good enough reason to return there again before long so my husband can sample it for himself.

05 March 2012

Indian Food in Little India

Given the length of time I've lived in Singapore I made a somewhat surprising realisation recently, that I've never eaten Indian food in the Little India area (other than a quick snack one lunchtime in a place near Mustafas).  Of course I've eaten plenty of Indian food elsewhere on the island and yes been to Little India countless times and eaten there too.  It always seems to be random food though like tapas and never anything I could say fits with the culture identity of that part of Singapore.

Determined to put this right at some stage the opportunity arose recently when we ended up in the Little India area wandering around and again exploring this part of the city.  We'd done a reasonable amount of walking and with lunch time approaching began to feel the need for some food and something to drink.  Wandering around the streets of Little India with the myriad of shophouses with businesses selling fruit, vegetables, DVD's, CD's and a whole host of other items we also came across the Lagnaa restaurant on Upper Dickson Road.  It was reasonably busy, the menu looked good so we thought we would give it a go.

The restaurant is itself in one of the shophouses along that road with seating both indoors and outside under the five foot way (where we chose to sit).  I've since discovered there is also an upstairs area where you can sit on the floor to dine, perhaps something to try on another visit.  What immediately hit me as well was the graffiti dotted around the walls of the five foot way area of the restaurant, all past memories of satisfied customers detailing what they had eaten.  Graffiti is such a rare sight in Singapore though that when I see it I probably notice it more than I ever would do in the UK.

As soon as we were seated and the waitress brought us the menus she proceeded to make some recommendations about dishes we might like to try.  Asking us if we were alright with hot food and so forth and advising what were the hotter dishes.  When she took our order she again confirmed whether we'd be alright with the heat and with one dish, where we could choose the heat, suggesting what we might want to choose and how many dishes we should order.  She also told us a bit about the cooking methods that were used.  Those who know Singapore will be aware that good service is not always easy to find and so her attentiveness, knowledge of the menu and general helpfulness made a really refreshing change.

I did not actually get any photos of our meal (we were too busy enjoying it) but we ended up with perfect dish choices comprising of mutton and chicken curries, rice and roti pratas and we had absolutely the right amount for both of us.  It was delicious too and I would certainly return.  Of course, 'when in Rome', so to speak and my husband indulged in an Indian brand beer to go with his meal whilst I had a mango lassi.  Something I'd never tried until we moved to Singapore but will now often have it if I see it on a menu.

Finally I've managed to dine on Indian food in the Little India area and this was well worth the wait.  Where else would you recommend I try?

02 March 2012

Best Laid Plans ..... All's Well That Ends Well

I was meant to be in Sri Lanka this week but at the eleventh hour the trip was cancelled.  My husband, like lots of people, travels a lot for work and for a while he had known he was due to be in Sri Lanka at the start of March.  When we fly back and forth to the UK we generally fly Emirates, mainly because they are cheaper than the other airlines and also because they stop in Dubai which breaks the travelling up.  Initially this stopover seemed an inconvenience but actually the journey of roughly seven hours and then another seven where you can get off the plane at that half way point and properly stretch your legs etc. makes a huge difference.  That said though flying directly has a lot of advantages too.  Us using Emirates also played a part in determining our honeymoon destination after we were married and we had a lovely week in Dubai.  It made a change to see the place rather than just the airport each time.

Some of the flights from Dubai to Singapore make an additional stopover in Colombo, which when you are flying back is sometimes a pain (though thankfully we don't have to get off the plane) as all you really want to do by that stage is get home to Singapore!  However when my husband found out he would be travelling to Colombo for work he realised that if his company chose Emirates they'd be saving money compared to the other airlines they were considering.  They heeded this advice and duly booked him on one of the Emirates flights that was stopping over in Colombo.

I've travelled with my husband to Bangkok a couple of times when he has been there for work but obviously with the amount he travels I couldn't go all the time to every place, as much as I'd love too.  With his flight being with Emirates though and us both collecting airmiles with them he hit upon the idea of seeing if I could get on the same flight with the miles and if he could alter his flight back, so that we had the weekend there too, us having a bit of an impromptu break.  He managed to do it and only a couple of weeks back I suddenly found myself heading to Sri Lanka, cue much excitement from me, lots of Internet browsing etc. to find out a bit more about this place I'd never even thought about taking a break in.  However as I said at the eleventh hour (literally the Friday before we were meant to be going the next Tuesday) my husband's clients cancelled and the trip was off as suddenly as it had been on.  So our 'best laid plans' really were put to an abrupt halt.

With my husband being here this week though (amazingly they did not send him elsewhere) we've managed to organise a few things that have been on the 'to do' list instead.  Firstly we needed to buy a new fridge/freezer.  When we moved into our new place there was no fridge/freezer, this wasn't a problem as we had our own.  This was incredibly useful both in London and our previous flat here when we had visitors staying, were entertaining, having parties or just as another fridge for keeping drinks cold.  Unfortunately though, and of course when we really needed it, the seal on the door got damaged during the move and although items were cool the fridge obviously wasn't working correctly and there was nothing for it but to replace it.

The new fridge/freezer (complete with magnets)

In the UK you'll often find that when your new fridge/freezer is delivered you can arrange for the old one to be taken away by the delivery men and disposed of correctly.  Or else some councils will collect them and dispose of them for you, depending on where you live, or you can take them to a council tip for appropriate disposal.  We obviously didn't know if we could do the same here though or if it was solely our responsibility to take the fridge/freezer to the appropriate place for its disposal.  After making enquiries on both Twitter and Facebook we established that most shops will arrange to take away your old one - phew!  We'd initially not given much thought as to where we'd buy a new one from, just assuming it would be from one of the major high street electrical retailers.  It was then that a local friend pointed us in the direction of a firm called Parisilk which have a handful of stores across the island and she suggested might be a little bit cheaper.  Luckily for us they have a store at Katong Village so last weekend we wandered up there to have a look.  As soon as we got there we noticed there was a sale on and it didn't take us long to find something at a good price which suited us perfectly.  Even better though when we enquired about delivery and collection costs we were informed there was no additional charge!  On the day of delivery they arrived early took out our old fridge/freezer without fuss and installed the new one and we now have a wonderfully cold fridge/freezer again.  Drinks really do taste better chilled, butter is better firm and cheese is better when it does not seem just a little sweaty!

Our other major change (well minor really but it's been a long time coming) was to improve the TV channel selections we have here.  As I've said before I didn't move out with my husband when he first arrived in Singapore so all the decisions on that type of thing were up to him.  When it came to a TV package he went with Starhub because Mio was not actually available at that point in our area so there was no choice (though I should add it has been available in our area for sometime since).  My husband enjoys watching sport but unfortunately all the sport he was interested in was only shown on Mio, so the only way initially we were (or more him than me) able to watch cricket, football (Liverpool in particular), the Grand Prix etc. was by going to one of the many pubs showing the sport and we've just continued to do that ever since.  Not that that is any great hardship or hard to do, the Premier League is big here both with expats and locals and various clubs have official supporter pubs dotted all over the island and pubs/bars will show most matches and a lot of other sporting fixtures as well.  Once taxi drivers know we are from the UK it is pretty standard to then be asked what football team we support and much debate on teams, management etc. will then follow.  With the football though and the time difference between here and the UK, the thought of going to a pub at 11pm or later at night was sometimes not all that appealing both for him (as good as the atmosphere may be and as much as he loves his team) or me when I go.  Likewise if they are playing late on a Sunday or during the week it really isn't practical to be watching it in a pub somewhere when you have to be up for work the next morning.

Our array of viewing options

For sometime now we've talked about improving our Starhub selection, as we only tended to watch one or two of the channels regularly, and also getting a Mio box for the sport.  So we have the option to watch it at home, or he can and I can be doing something else.  In addition also getting rid of the cricket channels my husband subscribed to originally and has been paying extra for.  Mainly because they only show England matches if they are playing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc. and in the two years we've been here I believe this has only happened a couple of times so it really is a waste of money for us.

I know a lot of expats who have VPN and various other ways of accessing TV from their home country in Singapore, indeed Crystal recently wrote about how she gets her fix of American TV here.  Despite my wish to get better channel selections we've never bothered to invest or do any of that (perhaps we should).  This is really because I've never been that bothered about missing shows in the UK (and my husband definitely isn't).  I do at times crave that familiarity (mostly when it is an annual TV event in the UK) but normally I'm just happy to watch what I can here, indulge when I'm back in the UK, invest in box sets back in the UK to bring back and keep up to speed on things via my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  That said, now we finally have a couple more channels on our Starhub selection and with the addition of Mio, that show programmes I used to watch in the UK I am very happy about it.

Sorting out Starhub was our first job of the week and then getting a Mio box was the second.  It could not have been more simple, Starhub just involved a phone call and an appointment was made with Mio and the box was fitted in no time at all.  When we made enquiries about getting a Mio box when we were in our old flat we were advised we needed a letter of consent from our Landlord for any additional work that might be required.  We arranged to get this this time but weren't actually asked to provide it, just something to keep in mind though if you want to do the same.  The only slight hiccup on the day of instalation was that they needed to get into the mains cupboard in the corridor outside our condo and no one had the key.  Anyway this was eventually sorted and we now have all the football action etc. that my husband could ever want, plus some extra channels showing a mix of UK and American programmes that I know and enjoy.  So 'all's well that ends well' but I do wonder if we'll ever leave the condo again???
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