We’ve embarked on a long-term dream of mine and that is to have my family with me for a white Christmas in Europe. So Jill, Cathy, Audrey and Violet and myself are on the way. I’m sorry that David, Yuki and their boys can’t be with us. Yuki has just recommenced work after her maternity leave and can’t get any more time off and the boys are too young for this sort of trip. I’ll be too old, and Jill’s mobility will decrease too much if we didn’t do this around now.
We left Melbourne on a Qantas flight to Singapore on Saturday. This is our first stopover on this journey. It waa a pleasant flight, but two hours late and that lateness robbed us of any time to go out to dinner at one of the outdoor eating areas along the nearby Singapore River. We are saying at the Holiday Inn Atrium Hotel. It has 27 floors and is built around an oval atrium that extends from ground floor to the roof. Jill and I have been upgraded to a suite on the 26th floor and it is a good base for us all to gather together.
I like Singapore. It is a vibrant and modern city-state. There are some parts of its British colonial heritage still remaining but it is now one of the world’s financial hubs. A little like Dubai, it looks as though they once held a skyscraper design competition and then built most of the entries. It is a cultural melting pot. Apart from westerners, I see Chinese (who drive the economy), Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia, people from the Philippines, Indians and heaps of different brightly dressed people in head scarves and saris..
What I don’t like about this area is the tropical climate – especially now in the wet season. I find it very oppressive. Every time I leave an air conditioned building I feel that I am overwhelmed by a hot wet blanket of humidity.
Christmas is alive and well in Singapore. The main road in the city, Orchard Road, is beautifully lit with bright lights along its entire length. Unfortunately, we have only seen glimpses of as we have passed by in a taxi. The traffic there is bumper to bumper and the crowds are very dense. In the shopping centres, they are actually playing Christmas carols – not just pop Christmas songs, but proper carols like Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful. I’m amazed at how this seems to a normal part of Christmas celebration in this very multi-cultural country. At home in Melbourne, the politically correct zealots have stopped many religious things on the assumption that non Christians will be offended. It funny that my Muslim neighbour always wishes me a very happy Christmas. I think that the only people who are really offended are the rabid politically correct pedants who are offended by anything, and everything, that is traditional.
We began our first day here with a gentle river boat ride along the Singapore River. It used to be a trickle that emptied out into a bay by the sea but it has now been dammed and is no longer tidal salt water. The fresh water contained in the basin will soon be used as part of Singapore’s water supply. This country has traditionally imported its water from nearby Malaysia but its superb recycling technology will soon enable it to become mostly self sufficient. Much of Singapore’s drinking water now comes from recycled waste water.
In the bay near the mouth of the river, we passed the enormous Marina Bay Sands Hotel and its next door neighbour, the Art and Science Museum which is shaped like a lotus flower. Jill and I stayed at this hotel for our 40th wedding anniversary. It is very opulent and famous for its infinity pool on the rooftop. From a low angle this makes the pool appear was if there is a straight drop over the side to the streets a hundred metres below.
The mouth of the Singapore River was originally the Port of Singapore. The city initially grew around the port so the river mouth became the centre of trade, commerce and finance. At one time, Singapore River was the very lifeblood of the colony. It was the trade artery and the centre of commercial activity. The river still borders places where seamen worked unloading barges. Poles with streamers flying were once used to tie up the barges as the water lapped against the old stone steps and walls. The river is still lined with old warehouses that once stored all the trade goods but these are now vibrant restaurants, bars and night spots.
We spent the afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay. This is part of the nation’s plans to transform this large reclaimed area into a giant garden with the aim of raising the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city.
A central feature are the giant ‘’Supertrees’. These are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens’ landscape. They are between 25 metres and 50 metres tall. Planted with vertical gardens, they perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.
The Supertrees are planted with unique and exotic ferns, vines, orchids and also a vast collection of bromeliads. They are fitted with environmental technologies that mimic the ecological function of real trees – solar cells that harness solar energy that can be used for some of the other functions of the Supertrees, such as lighting, just like how trees photosynthesize; and collection of rainwater for use in irrigation and fountain displays, exactly like how trees absorb rainwater for growth. The Supertrees also serve as air intake and exhaust functions as part of the conservatories’ cooling systems. There is an elevated walkway between two of the larger Supertrees for visitors to enjoy a panoramic aerial view of the Gardens.
At night we caught a taxi to the Newton’s Circus Food Centre, just north of the CBD. This used to be one of the centres where local working people ate out at night. It is now a well defined and structured eating centre – full of locals and tourists alike. Reflecting the multicultural nature of the city, various stalls sell a wide variety of local food – satay, seafood, Indian dishes, noodles and dumplings. We enjoyed satay, dumplings and Indian samosas that were all washed down with a glass of Tiger beer or a glass of sugar cane juice
This morning (Monday) we were all a little more adjusted to Singapore’s time difference from Melbourne and we woke up a little later. The breakfast at this hotel is rather decent so we took our time to enjoy tropical fruit, a mix of hot Western and asian foods along with waffles and pastries. The waffles were the girls favourites this morning.
We caught the hotel shuttle to Orchard Road and explored a little of the area around Somerset MRT station. This gave us a close up look at the Christmas decorations. We found d that they are all based on Disney themes and those in our area where we were were based one the movie ‘Frozen’ This was once Violet’s favourite movie and she knew all the characters along with her favourite princess Arnna
The nearby Emerald Hill district still has some rows of 19th century terrace houses that are very photogenic. They make an interesting contrast with the new glass high rise buildings in the background. These stand on what was once a nutmeg orchard.
We then took the train to the Town Hall Station where we walked past St David’s Cathedral and had a quick look at the National Art Gallery. We had lunch in the cafe there. This gallery is located in the old Town Hall Building and the adjoining old Supreme Court building. This is the heart of the old Colonial area and nearby buildings include the Singapore Cricket Club on the Padang (a large filed reserved for recreation when Singapore was first established).
From there we took a taxi to the National Museum where we spent a good couple of hours exploring the exhibitions that showed Singapore’s history. One off the highlights was the Glass Rotunda that took me along a spiral walkway and past a long audio visual of life in a fantasy forest. Trees are very important to the Singaporeans. They add to the quality of life and there are now four trees for each inhabitant. Every person gets to plant one tree every year.
We found it rather hard to get a taxi back to our hotel as our timing coincided with the change of the taxi driver’s shift time for the day. No one wanted to take a new fare. Eventually Jill and I found one at a street intersection while Cathy and the girls split up on their own to try their luck at a nearby hotel. Taxi’s here just can’t handle five people so we need two cabs to get us around. They are inexpensive (less than half the price of cabs in Melbourne) and are normally plentiful.
Now we are all back at our hotel – rested, showered and ready to catch our transport to there airport for our midnight flight to Paris via London