We’d been excitedly counting down the days until our long weekend away in Singapore where we would be staying with Mark (Naomi’s Dad) and Silvia over the bank holiday Easter weekend. It’d been a slog of week, despite knowing we’d have Friday off as a holiday. Naomi was left a broken woman on the Thursday afternoon after her teaching assistant failed to turn up, resulting in a riot. Her normally placid and lovely grade 2’s turned against her, taking advantage of the 50:1 ratio, overthrowing any authority she thought she had. Even after sending one monstrous child to the back of the room for consistently climbing on his desk, the lesson deteriorated further and all games were suspended until further notice with the points system subsequently wiped clean from the board (much to the children’s horror), meaning absolutely no sweets or stickers. Dun dun duuun. So our Singapore jaunt couldn’t have come at a better time (even if our flight was delayed by 40 minutes…)
But we made it to Singapore in one piece at 1am, a tad haggard, disheveled, slightly emaciated (Lawrence is skin and bones), tired, and weary from work and travelling. We hopped in a taxi and cruised through the deserted streets towards River Valley House where Naomi’s Dad awaited their arrival, also a little bleary eyed. We decided to catch up properly in the morning, our priorities being tumbling straight into bed. I don’t think we realised how deprived we’d been of a luxurious mattress and sheets until the moment our bodies touched down on that marshmallow cloud of delight. We slept like babies.
In the morning, after a leisurely start, we helped ourselves to cereal. Oh how we’ve missed you cereal. Granola and oats and chopped fruit and milk all in one mountainous bowl before us! It was such a simple pleasure. We felt like little children on the night of Christmas Eve anticipating the excitement of what was in store for the rest of the weekend. That, and opening our package of Kindles, which had been delivered to Singapore (we can finally read again!). The horrors of Thursday already felt like a bad dream.
Our first day in Singapore also happened to Mark’s birthday, in addition to an Easter public holiday, meaning we all had the day off to celebrate together. We left the house around midday and walked down to Orchard, a 2.2km long boulevard in the retail and entertainment hub of the city. We’re told that Singapore is a major hot spot for shopaholics and the city is overrun with an endless stream of shopping malls that bleed into one another via an underground public transport network; the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). We burrowed our way through the crowds and into one of the main bookshops where a handful of Lonely Planet books were purchased by all. We bought the Taiwan edition, and have eagerly been planning a 10-day trip, scheduled for the end of May, marking the beginning of our post-teaching adventures.
By this point, the ominous black clouds had released a torrent of rain and thunder. Luckily, it was easy to keep dry in the safety of the air-conditioned plazas and with the aid of the underground public transport system (bringing back distant memories of our old friend, the London Underground). We grabbed a bite to eat in one of the cafes before taking a taxi to Fort Canning, a small hill in the southeast of the city. It’s the highest elevated point in Singapore within walking distance to the city’s Civic District, with a complex history. We were hoping to learn all about this history as we planned on taking a tour of the underground bunkers, but the rain was far too violent to be outside for even 5 minutes. Our cab driver could barely see through the front window as we swerved blindly to the National Museum of Singapore, our back up plan. It turned out to be a very unexpected pleasant surprise as we spent hours mooching through the wonderfully laid out exhibitions detailing Singapore’s intricate history. It was a good introduction to the city, as neither of us knew much about the country’s past and politics. We took a whirlwind tour through its colonization, read up about the main man Stamford Raffles, gasped in horror at its tumultuous relationship with Japan during the Second World War, and ended at Singapore’s independence from Malaysia and the UK. Singapore has come a long way since it was colonized back in 1819, now standing as the most ‘technology ready nation’, with the ‘best investment potential’, ranked highly in regards to education, healthcare, life expectancy and quality of life, with 4 official languages (almost all Singaporeans are bilingual), also praised for its reputation as a ‘city in a garden’ boasting beautiful architecture and green spaces. We were liking this place more and more.
After soaking in all of this fascinating history, the City in a Garden was busy soaking up the torrents of rain that had eventually subsided. The rain held off for long enough to have a wander through Fort Canning Park. It felt good to have removed ourselves from the congested and polluted city of Saigon and breath in some fresh air while walking through the lush grassy pathways of Fort Canning. It was also a novelty to actually be able to walk from A to B on pavements (we miss pavements) without turning your head 360 degrees in the fear you might be clipped by a speeding motorbike. Singapore has a great public transport system and the ability to walk the streets (and their extremely high car taxing policy) meant vehicles on the road were sparse and motorbikes were nonexistent. It felt remarkably peaceful for a city of over 5 million people.
As the sun descended, it was time to scrub up and head to one of the many rooftop bars in Singapore. Mark and Silvia has selected 1-Altitude, the highest alfresco bar in the world. It stands at 282 meters above sea level with spectacular 360 degree views of the city. We then headed to Lolla, a Mediterranean tapas restaurant on Club Street in China Town. It was a great choice from the birthday boy as we devoured a feast of lamb chops, leek gratin, pork meatloaf, grilled avocados, cured sardines, a tomato salad and lots of red wine. There was still just enough room for lemon curd donuts and chocolate fondant cake. But the night wasn’t over; we plodded over to Oxwell & Co for some more rooftop cocktails! This three-story shop house felt very British-pub-esq, complete with a red phone box. The herbs grown on their roof garden were enjoyed in a variety of gin cocktails we sampled as a nightcap before bed.
Saturday morning began in much the same way as we gobbled down a bowlful of cereal (how we were still hungry after last night was a mystery). But this time breakfast came with the additional bonus of hot cross buns and a variety of croissants that Silvia had bought from the bakery. It was Easter after all. Despite rain being forecast again, we remained optimistic and marched our way to the Southern Ridges Trail, a 9km stroll across Singapore. The trail consists of four parks stretching across the Western half of Singapore, with impressive bridges linking each one together, allowing pedestrians to cross busy highways. Several parts of the trail were suspended high over jungle foliage offering great views of the city. There was a quite surreal contrast between Singapore’s ultra modern buildings and the archaic greenery that entangles the trail. About 15 minutes into the walk, we were struck with another ferocious storm. We were midway across one of the suspended bridges, completely exposed and without shelter, when fat drops of rain began to thrash down followed by a rumbling of thunder. We’d brought two umbrellas with us and huddled close together telling ourselves that the rain would soon pass and it was just a shower. No one was convinced. When the umbrellas became so saturated that the rain began to drip through them, we decided to plough on with nothing to lose. A mere 2 minutes into our mad dash for shelter we discovered a cozy awning protecting a handful of other walkers from the rain. The rain did eventually stop, allowing us to continue onward with our walk.
Lawrence was on the lookout for a fancy snorkel so we popped into one of the many shopping centers once again to make the necessary purchase that afternoon. As a reward for all our efforts we made a pit stop at a coffee shop in the area. The coffee shop was buzzing due to a record sale taking place in the courtyard. After a quick peruse through the vinyls, we headed back to River Valley House to get ready ready for another night of fine wining and dining.
We enjoyed another mouthwatering dinner at Wakanui Grill on the bank of the river in the Boat Quay area of the city. We all opted for New Zealand beefsteak that was cooked using traditional Japanese charcoal grilling methods. It was melt in the mouth. We walked off the meal along Clarke Quay, further upstream from the restaurant and on to Marina Bay Sands. We ended up at Ce La Vie sky bar, situated atop the iconic ‘surfboard’. Even though it wasn’t quite at high as 1-Altitude, the views from the top seemed even more spectacular. Rooftop bars are also a great way to get your bearings in a new city, so it was all in the name of research when you think about it…
On our final full day in Singapore, we attempted to rise earlier to avoid any rain, starting our Sunday with a dip in the pool, mainly to try out Lawrence’s new snorkel. But we didn’t want to take many chances today after being caught out on the Southern Ridges Trail, so we played it safe and strolled to the Asian Civilization Museum. We had a really interesting one-hour guided tour of the exhibitions by Kate, an Australian who had lived in Singapore for 40+ years. We focused on the extensive collection of ceramics, porcelain and Buddhist sculptures. We’d timed our museum visit well, as we heard the rain hammering outside as we moved through each room, with the clouds parting just in time for lunch on the riverside.
Post lunch, we managed to wander the streets of Singapore’s Civic District, bathed in sunshine, appreciating the architecture, memorials, buildings and parks of historic interest.
A Sunday roast was on the agenda for our final dinner together, so we had to head back to whack a juicy lamb leg in the oven. Champagne was popped, glasses clinked, dinner was gobbled down and a selection of Easter eggs were revealed as a final treat, as if we hadn’t been spoilt enough. It was worrying how accustomed we were becoming to this gluttonous lifestyle, but it would be back to reality tomorrow so we made the most of it while we could.
Our final morning was spent just the two of us, as Naomi’s Dad was back at work and Silvia was out exploring their new home with a walking group. The four of us met up for a quick lunch together before it was time to hop on the MRT to the airport. It certainly felt as though Mark and Silvia had reversed any ailments we’d been suffering with a wave of a wand and we returned to HCMC replenished and like new. It was clear they had intended to fatten us up and fatten us up they did. We’d gained a few pounds thanks to the chocolate, high protein diet and glasses of red wine we’d indulged on. This didn’t make getting up at 6am the next day to teach any easier. However such a luxurious weekend made us feel like we almost deserved a grueling week of hard work and lesson planning in the beating heat. Resuming life in Saigon felt a little like returning to a world of black and white when we were living in a land of HD TV. But it only took a delicious 70p meal (not quite NZ/Japanese style steaks) to remind us why we’re here and why we love it so much. It may be messy and chaotic and covered in a haze of smog, but you can’t deny its character and value for money.
Thank you again, Mark and Silvia for treating us like princesses (even though it was your birthday, not ours!). We can’t wait to come back.