We spent a few nights in Singapore, on our arrival in New Zealand, and before heading north to Malaysia. We will be coming back to Singapore later in our trip, when we'll add a bit more!
Sunday, February 08, 2004
Flying to Asia
Handy travel hint: Getting through airports is made a lot easier when you've got a child in a wheelchair. Those people that push you around the airport know every single way to jump a queue and get you settled in a lounge quickly. Much better than one of the swanky Gold cards!
After 7 months on the road, since July 16th last year, we're finally leaving the luxury of the 'developed world'. We deliberately chose to visit "easy" countries first Canada, the USA, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand were all fairly easy to travel around, and we were on familiar ground. By now, the pattern of backpacking has settled down, and we're all used to the style of travel that results from there being four of us rather than just two, like last time we did this. But when we wake up tomorrow the girls will wake up in Singapore, and pretty soon afterwards we'll hopefully be heading up the isthmus to Malaysia and Thailand. Although they're not as difficult to travel around as India or China, we will be off the beaten track for a while, getting away from the resorts on the west coast. And the heat and humidity will be worse than we've experienced for a prolonged period elsewhere, so we're all waiting slightly nervously to see how it goes. And then we can tell you!
Monday, February 09, 2004
Out on the cityTuesday, February 10, 2004
With Emily's leg still in plaster, we had to think carefully before rushing out onto the streets of Singapore. If we knew she'd be in plaster for much longer, we'd buy a buggy for her, but as we hope it will be off this week, it means that for the moment we're carrying her everywhere. Although she weighs less than my rucksack, she's a lot more awkward to carry, and my rucksack doesn't fidget at all.
So we ended up seeing Singapore from the windows of a round-the-city sightseeing tram, and Emily and Charlotte slept right through the first circuit (the five hour time difference to New Zealand has confused them we arrived at the hotel last night at the equivalent of 3am, but it was only 10pm in Singapore).
For lunch we hit one of the massive food courts that are all over the place in Singapore. Basically, its an area of tables surrounded by small stalls selling all kinds of meals and drinks. You can choose between Chinese, Thai, Indian, Malay and everything in-between, and drinks from tea and coffee, to soft-drinks, soya-bean drinks and fruit juices chock full of wheatgrass. Emily has become a fussier eater in the last few months, and so she picked at all of the different meals and decided she didn't like any of them. But Charlotte tucked into some Malaysian noodles, followed by some Chinese stir-fry, and then a Malay desert. According to Charlotte the best bit was apparently using the chopsticks!
Later on, we had dinner of Chicken/Rice, a Singaporean speciality, at a small restaurant two doors down from Raffles Hotel (Dinner at Raffles = S$100/£30. Dinner at Yet Con = S$5/£2.70). We'd eaten there on our first day in Singapore ten years ago, and things hadn't changed a bit as the restaurant has been there since 1940 without changing a bit, why should that surprise us? The staff didn't speak a word of English, but we got by. It's actually unusual to find Singaporeans who don't speak good English its generally the older Chinese residents who have only speak Cantonese. After a short walk, we finished the day by watching the evening show at the SunCity fountain ("The World's Largest Fountain, certified by the Guinness Book of Records" who cares but it's cooling to sit around the base!).
Last week Emily got her leg put into plaster. Today, we went to the Singapore General Hospital to see if it could come off. We had to be checked for SARS before we could even get into the building (ID check, temperature check), and once inside the doctors took enormous care to ensure that everything was okay first they took an x-ray with the plaster on, then she saw an orthopaedic specialist who said it looked okay, and then the plaster was taken off, and the leg x-rayed again to be really, really sure. Through all of this, Emily just took it easy she just lay on the bed, and let them get on with it, or allowed us to carry her around the different departments. This photo was taken 10 seconds after the plaster came off she paused long enough to gaze at the nurses working on her leg with scissors. I'm not sure I'd have managed to stay composed myself! Finally a supporting bandage was put onto the leg, to help reduce the swelling further, and then her shoe went back on for the first time in a week. So all's well that ends well.
Emily was also hugely relieved that she didn't get any new medicine, because she was quite put off by the Chinese Medicine Shops we passed in the day. This photo shows a typical street side display dried sea horse, sea cucumber and squid laid out so that you can choose the best specimen. I dont dismiss Chinese Medicine, because in China something's working very effectively to keep a billion Chinese alive to some very, very old ages, but I wouldn't fancy grinding up a sea horse and drinking it myself. Probably the worse bit is the smell of these shops as you can imagine, dried sea food has a unique smell it is difficult to lose from your nostrils. Anyway, the worst that Emily will get this week is a spoonful of Calpol at night!
To celebrate Emily's newfound mobility, we walked around the city for a while, and then took a boat trip along the Singapore river. The state government still seem to regard 'old' as 'bad', and although they have done some fantastic building restoration, the most frequent sight is an area of ground cleared of old buildings to make way for new ones. Since our last visit, they built this fantastic new theatre behind the girls, the shape, glass and spikes designed to look like a durian fruit. Its strange to see a 80m tall durian on the street, especially as the fruit is so smelly that it is banned from being carried on public transport in Singapore. There are lots of other restrictive laws and regulations in Singapore, all of which are designed to make the city a better place to live. For example, chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, and it is also against the law to leave a public toilet unflushed after use!
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
A typical day around Singapore
A few times people, before we left England, people asked me "When you're travelling, what do you do all day?" I guess its difficult to believe that you can spend a year travelling around the world without getting bored, or spending all day on the beach. I'll use today as an example of how a day can go in a flash!
We went out to Jurong Bird Park today, but first that meant getting up, wandering down the street to a Chinese cafι for breakfast, and then down to the City Hall MRT (underground) station. It was about ten when we got there. We arrived at the station nearest the bird park at 10 to 11, and then waited until 11:20 to get our bus there (it was too far to walk from the underground to the entrance). That got us there about 20 to 12. The rest of the day was spent in the bird park, seeing all the different aviaries, and watching the bird shows (have you ever seen a macaw paint with a brush?), and drying the girls clothes after they played in the fountains at the water park. After a great time at the bird park, finally we left at 4 o'clock, and got back to our hotel at 5:30. Then, while the girls had a little play time, I went out to get coach tickets for our trip to Malaysia tomorrow that took an hour because I had to walk a mile to the Golden Mile Complex to the agents. Then at 6:30 we rushed out to the Raffles City shopping centre, because there was a troupe of Chinese acrobats putting on a free show in the concourse at 7.00.
By this time the girls had walked miles, so they were delighted to sit down and watch the show for half an hour (have you ever seen a ballerina stand on the head of a standing man, and do a slow pirouette?). The acrobatics were amazing, and both girls loved the show. Then we went for dinner (chicken rice, rojak and wanton soup) and finally I got a haircut, while Sarah got some snacks for on the coach. Finally we got back to the hotel at 9:30, got the girls sorted and asleep by 10:30, and then checked our email and wrote a couple. Just before bed we packed all our rucksacks for an early start tomorrow, and then finally crashed out at midnight. There's a typical day!
Travelling with a fussy eater
Over the last few months, Emily has become a more fussy eater. This means that she describes herself as "full" whenever the food in front of her doesn't appeal, and then declares that she is "hungry" pretty soon afterwards. Typically that means she is "full" when she's half-way through a bowl of rice, and then "hungry" when we walk near an ice cream shop! And in Asia, she's also decided that there are lots of foods she doesn't like, and very few she does.
So at the moment we're in a battle of wills to try and break this down. What we're not sure about is whether the things she won't eat (like noodles) are because she doesn't like them, or because she wants something 'nicer'. Breakfast is the most difficult here - in Singapore the local breakfast speciality is either rice porridge (you couldn't even persuade me to want that at 8am in the morning!) or Kaya toast - which is toast with a coconut jam spread onto it. However, we have found that we can get French toast, which everybody likes. So breakfast has been solved as long as we can always get French toast.
Now to solve the rest of the day!
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Crossing the border to Malaysia
Up at 6:30, then into a taxi to the express bus for Melaka, across the border in Malaysia. After some of the dodgey transport we'd experienced in Asia in our previous travels, this was a delight! Although it was a full size coach, there were only 3 seats across and 10 rows, so each seat was massive, and lay back miles. It was just like business class on a plane (except much, much cheaper). We had to get out at the Singapore/Malaysia border, for the immigration and customs checks, but other than that we just lay back in the seats and relaxed. By the time we arrived in Melaka, 5 hours later, we'd all caught up with a bit of sleep, and noticeably cooled off.
Then the local transport option took over we walked a few hundred yards to the local bus station, and sat and waited on the Number 17 bus for the driver to appear. Half an hour later, as we were beginning to wonder if it could get any hotter in the bus, he hopped in and we were off without any warning. We drove all around town (chaotic because 'the Tour de Langkawi' cycle race was also in town) and then finally arrived at the end of the street where our hostel is. By this time the girls were hot and bothered, and had both fallen asleep in the heat. So we made ourselves really popular waking them up, handing them their rucksacks and setting off down the road. (Perhaps with hindsight, the £1 taxi option would have been better than the 15p bus option, but these are the things you only learn with hindsight). Anyway, the Travellers Lodge hostel turned up trumps an air-conditioned triple room with en-suite for £9 (the most expensive they had, but the only one left) and it is quite the cleanest hostel we've seen anywhere in the world. So far then, great marks for Asian family accommodation.