30 April 2012

Marwell Zoological Park

Moving away from Singapore once more and back to my recent trip to the UK.  As well as a visit to Hever Castle my parents and I also went to Marwell Zoological Park just outside Winchester in Hampshire.  Obviously you can visit the zoo in Singapore (and I'm looking forward to another trip back at some point once the pandas arrive) but this was somewhere I used to get taken to a lot when I was a child, particularly around Christmas time when they have a great Winter Wonderland experience complete with Santa in Marwell Hall in the grounds of the zoo.  Or at least I thought it was great as a child, though I'm sure it still is!  As we had not visited for a number of years my Dad decided to take us back again as I was around to enjoy it too.

The weather was not as kind to us as it had been when we went to Hever Castle but fortunately apart from one downpour late afternoon it remained dry, though very cold.  As a result I think a lot of the animals were hiding up to keep warm as we struggled to see some of them and I struggled to get many photos.  Despite that though we covered most of the zoo and saw the main animals that we hoped to including, rhinos, snow leopards and other leopards, meerkats, zebras, lemurs, giraffes and tigers spending the whole day there in the end, right up until they were closing.  If you have not been and are in the area or ever happen to be passing through it is worth visiting.  The animals have large enclosures, are well cared for and seem very happy in their home in the UK.

25 April 2012

Jakarta - Traffic and a Lively Bar and Restaurant Scene

As I've mentioned before my husband, like many others, does a lot of travelling with his job and has decided to pen the odd piece about some of his most regular or most interesting business travels for me to share here.  Although, as anyone will tell you who travels for work, you don't necessarily get to see a place well under these circumstances he generally doesn't do bad for finding a few varied places to dine and exploring in any free time he does have.  I can't help but feel a little envy at the amount of places he gets to visit.  My own travels for work never ventured out of the UK and were all incredibly dull in comparison.  Fingers crossed perhaps I'll get to a few of these places too one day.  In the meantime though, over to him.

In my quest to see the entire region from the inside of a series of high-rise swanky glass towers, I recently went to Jakarta (again), Indonesia’s busy over-crowded capital (a mere 85 minutes from Singapore on one of SQ’s shiny 777’s, well crappy old treble sevens).  First impressions as you arrive at the airport are not necessarily favourable (the facility would be best described as retro) but all airports are a nightmare, exceptions being Changi, Heathrow T5 (I am an unashamed fan) and perhaps Hong Kong.  As a Brit, American, Aussie or, in fact, anyone not from South East Asia you are required to obtain a Visa on Arrival, easy enough once you have paid the $25 (US) or 250,000 rupiah (other currencies are welcome but you’ll pay more).  Taxis to the city are plentiful, use the Silverbird brand, go to the rank outside the airport, as opposed to the desk after customs.  It is half the price for the same journey for a nice air-conned Mercedes as opposed to a standard cab (costing the same as the Merc) that will be mozzie-infested and unpleasant, with the fare being about 200,000 rupiah to the city / hotel (between $30 and $40 Sing dollars).

Hotel wise, I have stayed at a few, mainly five star business versions.  These include the Kempinski (Indonesia Grand), where the toilet in your room is automated, opens when you walk into the bathroom and flushes when the business has been concluded.  The Four Seasons, view is not quite as good as the Sydney version of this hotel, overlooking the Harbour Bridge, and the restaurant staff are over-attentive.  The Mandarin Oriental (sandwiched between the British and German Embassies), with brilliant rooms.  The Pullman (formerly the Nikko, so has a very Japanese feel, including a Japanese restaurant called Origami, it’s really quite good) and the Fraser Suites (don’t stay here, it is very isolated and breakfast was rubbish).  Favourite has to be the Mandarin Oriental that has a fantastic bar, is in a great location and with fabulous breakfast.
Hotel artwork
View from one of the hotels
For sale in a Jakartan shopping mall

Whereas one would not describe the city as being on the tourist map, it must be noted that food and eating options are excellent.  On my last trip I dined in the Cork & Screw (Jl Kebon Kacang Raya), an up-market type bar with an excellent wine selection.  I visited twice during the trip having a Moroccan Cous Cous dish that was delish, washed down with an indiscriminate international lager originating from Holland and steak and fries, washed down with a glass of Merlot, well actually three glasses, from France.  On the second night I visited the Jakarta branch of Face Bar (Jl Kusuma Atmaja 85).  I have wanted to go to this restaurant since I visited the excellent Bangkok version with my wife (she was a girlfriend back in those days).  The place gives you the choice of Northern Indian or Thai food (there is an additional Japanese option in Bangkok).  My colleagues and I opted for the Thai option (all frequent Bangkok visitors) but decided to have some cheese naan as part of the starter / appetiser with fish cakes and chicken spring rolls.  The main courses selected were a Mussaman curry, black pepper chicken and spicy bbq’d prawns.  All dishes were excellent and accompanied with a couple of Singhas (when in Rome, so to speak).

Also excellent to eat in is Social House, next to the Kempinski Hotel, with a mixture of many styles of food, western, Asian, brunch and dinner.  I have been here many times and often have the Pho Bo (I am well into Vietnamese food now having also travelled there not so long ago) which is excellent.  The restaurant also sells food items from the Harvey Nichols brand as it used to be connected to a branch of that famous UK shop (since closed).

Over the coming months, projects pending, I hope to explore the city more extensively and perhaps find those sightseeing depths hidden in the dense traffic jungle.  Did I mention, the traffic in Jakarta is horrid, easily the worst in Asia, given that there is an extremely limited public transport network, except buses that are so overloaded that the health and safety bods would have a coronary.

23 April 2012

Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal

The latest travelling exhibit showing at the ArtScience museum is, 'Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal', which I was invited to go and see this last weekend.  I admit to not knowing a great deal about Andy Warhol beyond him being a part of the pop art scene and knowing of his iconic Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup tin prints.  So I was looking forward to visiting the exhibit and hopefully expanding my personal knowledge.

© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands

The exhibit features over 260 of his paintings, drawings and sculptures as well as film and video of the artist's work and are on display here on the 25th anniversary of his death.  It encompasses the breadth of his career and personal interests and is the first time such an extensive collection has been exhibited in Singapore.  The exhibit is named after perhaps Andy Warhol's most famous quote (and one of the other things I could confidently say I knew about him beforehand), that everyone will enjoy fifteen minutes of fame. 

As you walk through the tour you take in four key stages of Warhol's life, beginning with the 1940's right up to his final works in the 1980's.  The first section has examples of his early work and the influences on him.  This includes the drawing below (being a cat lover I was instantly drawn to this one) which, I learnt, is an early example of the blotted line technique he developed.  If you look closely, when you visit, you can clearly see gaps in the outline of the cat.

© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

We then came to the artworks I was most familiar with, in a section titled, 'The Factory Years - 1960's'.  Here were those prints of Marilyn Monroe and the numerous Campbell's soup tin prints.  This section also allows you to experience a recreation of the Silver Factory.  This was what Warhol's studio in New York in the 1960's was known as because it was entirely covered in silver foil.  In here you can enjoy some of the films Warhol made as well as play with huge silver helium balloons, a recreation of his piece entitled 'Silver Clouds' from 1966.

© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands

© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands

The 1970's part of the exhibit takes you on to Warhol's interest in the use of Polaroids to photograph celebrities and his commissioned portraits of them.  There are numerous photographs and portraits on display and it is a fascinating glimpse back into the world of celebrity from this time.  You also get to see one of the many time capsules that Warhol began creating at this stage, containing meaningful items from his life.

Finally you enter the 1980's, here were a group of paintings that I was personally really taken with, his Endangered Species series.  A series of prints of some of the world's endangered animals in beautifully bright colours.  This section also includes 'The Last Supper' (see below) which was created at the very end of his life. 

© 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Marina Bay Sands

After you leave the Warhol exhibit you can also view in a separate gallery how his work has influenced South East Asian artists.  I would recommend you take a look at this as there are some wonderful pieces done in a Warhol style but with a uniquely Asian slant.  For example, a take on the famous Campbell soup can prints using local household brands of luncheon meat and tinned lychee's.

The exhibition also allows visitors to get some hands on experience too with silkscreen printing workshops (a technique used by Andy Warhol) being run every Saturday and Sunday, 2pm - 3pm.  As part of my visit I had the chance to have a go at this too.  Apart from a few arts and crafts I haven't done anything like this for longer than I care to think about (certainly I was at school) but it was great fun and I was very pleased with the end result.  If you fancy trying your hand at this the workshops are run in the Main Galleries (Level B2) and it is open to all-access pass and 'Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal' ticket holders only.  Registration for this commences half an hour before the session starts at the workshop venue.  In addition to this there are also a wealth of fun things for children (and adults) to interact with in the exhibit and to take away with them at the end.  Including the chance to make your own Warhol style glasses and make a time capsule box to keep your own meaningful items in.

Having a go at the silkscreen printing workshop
The finished pieces

As I said at the start, I hoped to leave with a bit more of an understanding about Warhol and his work and I left feeling I knew more about him than when I had arrived.  Whether you are an aficionado of Warhol's or a casual observer, such as me, I think you'll enjoy your visit and the chance to get up close to some of these iconic art works.

'Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal' is on now until 12 August 2012 at the ArtScience museum.

Ticketing details are as follows:

Price for admission to Andy Warhol and ArtScience exhibition only:

Non-Singapore resident:  Adult $15
                                    Senior (65 years old and above) $14
                                    Child (2 - 12 years old) $9

Singapore resident:         Adult $13
                                    Senior (65 years old and above) $12
                                    Child (2 - 12 years old) $8

Price for all ticket access:

Non-Singapore resident:  Adult $28
                                    Senior (65 years old and above) $27
                                    Child (2 - 12 years old) $16

Singapore resident:         Adult $24
                                    Senior (65 years old and above) $23
                                    Child (2 - 12 years old) $14

Prices are inclusive of museum admission, 7% GST and booking fee.

Tickets can be purchased on the ArtScience Museum website, www.marinabaysands.com/ArtScienceMuseum and all Marina Bay Sands box offices.

Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents, and holders of Employment Pass, Work Permit, or Dependent's Pass must show valid proof of identity (ID) upon purchase, subject to one admission ticket per ID.

Opening Hours:

10am to 10pm daily, including weekends and public holidays.  Last entry into the ArtScience museum is at 9pm.

This blog resulted from an invitation and represents the thoughts and opinions of the writer. All information on this blog is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy or timeliness and the writer will not be liable for any losses, injuries or damages from the display or use of this information. All text and photos on this blog are the original works of the writer unless stated otherwise.

Thanks to Marina Bay for the kind invitation to view this exhibit.

20 April 2012

Hever Castle

As I mentioned previously I've just been back in the UK for a couple of weeks, my husband joining me for the last week of this trip which we enjoyed with my stepsons (more soon on where we visited).  Prior to this though I stayed with my parents in Kent catching up with family and friends.  My Mum has retired and my Dad took some time off work whilst I was back and we decided to do a few things together as a family.  One of these being a visit to Hever Castle, not too far from my parents home.

The decision as to what we did was largely mine and although I've been there many times before I wanted to do something I could not do in Singapore.  Seeing as I've always loved history and I do miss the castles and historic houses that are in abundance in the UK this seemed like the perfect place.  We visited on Good Friday and the weather was perfect, in fact it was the best day of the holiday weekend with the weather being much cooler and wetter by the time it got to Easter Bank Holiday Monday.

Hever Castle is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn the Queen consort and second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I.  The Gatehouse and curtain walls are the oldest, dating back to 1270.  Within the castle walls is a Tudor manor house which was added by the Boleyn family.  Much later in the castle's history it was eventually purchased by William Waldorf Astor in 1903.  The very same Astor who began the construction of the Waldorf hotel in New York in 1890.  His cousin later began construction of the Astoria hotel next door and the two hotels eventually joined together to become the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

William Waldorf Astor is credited with making a great many improvements to Hever castle during his time living there.  This included building a 'Tudor village' (to accommodate family and guests) and the developing of the gardens and creation of a lake.  Astor had a large collection of Italian sculpture and much of that can be seen in the Italian style garden.  The castle remained in the Astor family until 1983 and many photos of the family can be seen in one of the rooms that the tour of the castle takes you through.

Visitors are unable to take photos inside the castle but the tour takes you through such rooms as the Long Gallery, dining rooms, the library, what was Anne Boleyn's bedroom and the family rooms of the Astors.  There are many Tudor portraits on display including ones of Henry VIII, his six wives, his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, his brother Prince Arthur (who was the heir to the throne but died suddenly making Henry the heir) and of Henry VIII's children amongst many others.  There is also a collection of armoury and various instruments of execution and torture, looking at those certainly makes you wince.  Outside in the gardens, if you want to get totally lost, there is a maze which Astor added in 1906.

I couldn't tell you for certain how many times I've been to Hever castle over the years but visiting it and other places like it around the UK is something that I've always enjoyed doing.  Certainly not being in a position to go as much as I used to, I think made the day even more enjoyable.  I'm not sure if, until moving to Singapore, I really appreciated how lucky I was to have access to places such as this as it is very easy to take it all for granted.  I love a lot of things about Singapore but there will always be things about the UK that I appreciate all the more now for my time living here.

09 April 2012

Cost of Living - How Different is it Really?

I was recently contacted by a reader considering a move to Singapore who wanted to know a little more about the day to day cost of living.  If anyone has asked me this question before my gut reaction has been to say that Singapore is not a cheap place to live, particularly in comparison to a lot of other countries in South East Asia.  I'd also automatically say that prices in Singapore were, in my opinion, higher than in the UK. 

As I've been back in the UK for a couple of weeks, and with this post in mind, it has been the perfect opportunity for me to make more of a comparison between the cost of living in the two countries.  My first thought was to compare the cost of a well known item available in both, and I selected a cup of coffee to make this initial comparison.  The cost of a grande latte in Starbucks in Singapore is $6, that's approximately £3 in the UK.  Having checked in a UK branch the same latte currently costs £2.50 so approximately $5.  Therefore on the face of it, the price is only marginally different, though it is still fractionally cheaper in the UK. 

This trend of prices being closer than I appreciated applies to more than just a cup of coffee though.  When it comes to purchasing toiletries and cosmetics I had always believed that these items were more expensive in Singapore.  Having now compared prices I was surprised to realise in some cases they were actually much closer to each other.  For example, a set of four replacement blades for a lady razor in the UK costs around £8 (approximately $16).  When I was browsing in Singapore just before I came back to the UK I found the same brand for about $15.  At the time I decided to wait until I got back to the UK before I purchased them but I actually did not make any saving by doing this as I assumed, at the time, that I would do.

In contrast though some of the hair products I regularly use are considerably cheaper (and with a better selection) in the UK.  I have naturally curly hair but when I lived in the UK tended to always straighten it.  Though I've embraced my curls since moving to Singapore and finding that no matter what I do the climate ensures my hair curls again pretty quickly, when I do want to straighten it I use various products to protect my hair from the heat.  What I buy in Singapore (the only thing I've found close to what I use to get) I have to pay $18 (£9) for and the only place I've ever found this product or anything similar to it is in Watsons.  Whilst these types of products can also be expensive in the UK, I found one of my old favourites for just under £6 ($12) whilst I was back, needless to say I've stocked up on that.

Where clothes are concerned, if I'm shopping in Singapore I generally gravitate towards shops you can also find in the UK.  Mainly because I know I'll be able to find items that I know will fit me.  Many of them also have the UK price on them though and the Singapore price will often work out to be a little more expensive.  I have to be honest that usually it is only a few dollars more but all these extra dollars here and there can make a big difference.  For example, in Singapore a top could cost approximately $75 (about £37.50), it is perfectly possible to find equivalent items in the UK for this amount or more, but the difference is I could also probably find something just as good but cheaper or on some sort of an offer.

The thing we all buy the most of though is food and this is where I can see the biggest differences, largely I presume because most food products are imported into Singapore.  There are several supermarket chains, just as in the UK, in Singapore with Cold Storage and Marketplace probably having the biggest range of goods aimed towards the expat market.  They consequently generally seem a few dollars more expensive than the likes of FairPrice and Shop n Save are.  For the majority of day to day items I find both FairPrice and Shop n Save are both perfectly adequate with only occasional items unavailable or limited and I probably shop at them the most. 

When I began to look at prices though it was clear just how much they differ.  For example, we get through a lot of milk and I usually buy a two litre container, even in the cheaper supermarkets I normally pay around the $5 mark (approximately £2.50).  In comparison the same size container in the UK (even in more expensive retailers) is only around £1.50 (around $3).  Meat similarly is something we've found to be more expensive in Singapore.  For example, in the UK I can buy a whole chicken from just over £2 ($4) upwards, depending on how big you want it.  In comparison in Singapore even the cheapest I've seen has been around $8 or £4 and they go up in price from there.  In addition they usually come with the head and feet attached, the first time that we brought one and found that out it was a bit of a shock!  Likewise we've managed to find some reasonably nice sausages in Singapore, but at a price, about $9 (£4.50).  In the UK a pack of sausages can be brought for around £3 ($6) or less. 

Vegetables are no cheaper, for one leek we recently ended up paying $5 (£2.50), in the UK I can get one for about 80p ($1.60).  We have occasionally brought vegetables from some of the individually owned stores and have got some bargains as a result, but we don't really do that enough in all honesty and only when we've been passing and needed something specific.   I do know of (though I've not used him) the chicken man that several expat friends use.  I gather he is cheaper and also removes any parts of the chicken that some westerners, at least, just don't expect to find and you'll get (whether you want them or not) in the supermarket.  Likewise I've also heard that QB Foods and Giant are good for cheaper meat etc., now I've really started to think about this as a result of writing this post I do need to investigate them further to decide for myself. 

Eating out can again be a variable thing cost wise in Singapore.  I think everyone knows you can eat cheaply and well at the hawker centres, though in some of the more touristy locations I feel that at times I've paid more than perhaps I have in the hawker centre nearest our condo.  Away from hawker centres in a mid-range eatery my husband and I recently paid $47.00 (approximately £23.50) for a couple of starters, main dishes and rice (enough for two people).  The drinks were paid for separately.  On a recent night out with a friend in the UK we both enjoyed a main course and a glass of wine each for approximately £30 (about $60), therefore on the face of it the meal out seems more expensive in the UK.  The Singapore price I've quoted though did not include the drinks (which we'd already brought before deciding to eat), add on the cost of them, where you can easily pay up to $15 (£7.50) for a beer in some places and our meal out with two or more drinks in Singapore soon seems more expensive than something similar is in the UK.

Alcohol generally is a lot more expensive in Singapore than it is in the UK, whether that be buying a bottle of wine to enjoy at home or on a night out.  In the UK it is possible to buy bottles of wine for £5 or less (approximately $10).  Of course wine can be a lot more expensive than that too in the UK but anyone who enjoys wine etc. in Singapore will tell you that you'd be unlikely to find a bottle that cheap there.  Indeed around $30 upwards for a bottle is a fairly common price to pay, the equivalent of around £15 in the UK.  I have seen cheaper wines for sale but not very often.  As I said drinking out is also an expensive past time in Singapore with, as I mentioned, a pint of beer potentially costing around $15 (£7.50).  A night out in Singapore is rarely a cheap option.  By comparison, the other evening I brought two drinks for £6.60 (just over $12), which was a real delight.

Although a lot of the prices between the UK and Singapore are not actually that dissimilar I still feel that generally Singapore is more expensive (particularly for groceries) and that it is harder to shop cheaply.  It seems to me that items can be found at a more competitive rate in the UK and that it is easier to find the same item at a different price in different shops.  This therefore gives you the chance to shop around and get a good price or a price that you can afford or want to pay for an item.  For example, our sofa in our condo has become a little tatty and to prolong its life just a little longer I decided to get a throw for it.  I shopped around in Singapore but could not find anything for the price I wanted to pay, no more than £10 ($20) ideally.  On my trip back to the UK I managed to buy exactly what I wanted for less than £4 ($8) in the typical type of cheaper shop that is common in the UK that sells all manner of household items, cleaning products, toiletries etc. that are similar, or in some cases, the same as the higher end products available in other shops. 

Another recent example of this I found was whilst browsing on Twitter.  A UK expat in Singapore commented that a large Easter egg was on sale there for $22.95 (approximately £11.50).  Whilst you can, if you want, pay that much for Easter eggs in the UK you do not have to.  The major UK supermarket chains have all had offers leading up to Easter, i.e. three eggs for the price of two, or three eggs for £5 (approximately $10) etc.  These eggs will be of a good quality and a well known brand, see here for a hint as to the likely one and when you have several to buy they are perfect, especially when you consider they'll have probably been eaten by the end of Easter day.  As another person then commented in response to this, in the UK there is high competition between similar retailers and as a result you can shop around and better prices can potentially be found. 

Something else I've found out since being back in the UK this time, is that if you shop at one major supermarket chain here your receipt will give you a price comparison of what you would have spent if you'd shopped at one of their major competitors.  If you have spent more then what you would have at this competitor they'll give you a money off voucher for the equivalent amount to use on your next shop.  This is time limited and of course they hope to encourage you to go back to them rather than another chain but this also helps to maintain healthy competition and hopefully better prices for goods.  I guess for me this is where the real difference between the two lies and why I feel in some ways Singapore to be more expensive - the lack of obvious and easy to get to alternative options and generally alternative prices for the same thing unless you are prepared to really hunt for it.

Whilst I know that cheaper items can be found in Singapore, for convenience sakes, i.e. not having to travel around to lots of different areas to shop, it does not always seem as easy to shop for those bargains, offers etc.  I also admit though that I haven't always made a point of looking for the cheapest options for everything we buy either.  One of the only places I know of that does have almost everything you might be looking for under one roof is Mustafa's.  Here you can get household items and products, food, toiletries etc. all in one hit but I'm not sure the prices are that different from anywhere else that I frequent.   

Writing this post has certainly made me think more about where I go to shop (particularly for food) and whether, if I'm prepared to shop around more, I can make some better savings than I have previously.  Up until now for some things I have found myself waiting until my next trip back to the UK to stock up rather than spend the extra money in Singapore.  Although as I now know too, with some of the things, there isn't actually the difference I thought there was in price and that perhaps I haven't always shopped as smartly as I could in the past either.  Regardless though Singapore can be an expensive place to live.  I don't know how the cost of living or these prices compare for expats living here from other countries and it would be interesting to hear.  Likewise if anyone knows of any other places where bargains can be had that I obviously don't know about I'd love to know about them to.

02 April 2012


As anyone living in Singapore will know the weather patterns do not vary that greatly through the course of the year.  There is a wetter and a drier season as the different monsoons roll in, but largely the weather is pretty consistent.  That said though Singapore does experience some pretty fantastic storms and even now I enjoy watching them just as much as when I first arrived.

One thing that has struck me recently though is how rarely I seem to see rainbows in Singapore, even with there being the regular rain showers and storms.  Perhaps I'm just not looking in the right places at the right times but I've only seen a handful in the time I've been here.  Whether or not this really is the case or I'm just imagining it, here are a couple of the photos I have taken.  They really are beautiful wherever you see them.

Rainbow over Dempsey

Rainbow over Katong
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