Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We're off...

I'm sitting in our apartment at Great World Apartments (which are pretty good as serviced apartments go) bags packed, repacked and packed again ( there is always something someone forgot whether they packed or where they packed it and when its an all important charger for a DS, a cell phone or an ipod people- naming noone in particular- can become very tense!). Thank god we dont do this every day.

We are all pretty tired after three days of packing and cleaning and racing around turning things off and ending contracts for various things that make up a running household. I haven't been sleeping very well either. I am an awful sleeper when there are a lot of things going on. To top it all off I got the full on flu three days ago, exacerbated I'm sure by all the bleach fumes, and now I have (appologies for any males reading this) my period which as anyone who knows me knows is.... well its just s**t! Anyway there has been a lot of laughing and teasing, because thats how we deal with stress in our house, and a fair bit of coffee and diet coke (and cold and flu) drunk by me because...well because it means I get to sit down for ten minutes.

So now I'm waiting for the all clear, its not wise to disturb J the chief bag packer (only because he can estimate weights of over full suitcases), and we are off to the Qantas lounge (I'm informed it is better than the Singapore Airlines lounge..better mags I think) for a bit of a sit down before we depart the malls and airconditioning of Singaore.

See you on the other side

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Wednesday...

On wednesday M and I decided to go for a ride up Mt Faber and walk back down. When I woke up at was raining heavily but, umbrellas in hand, we decided to head out anyway. By the time we got to Harbourfront the rain had stopped. We made our way through Harbourfront plaza following the sporadic signs. To get to the ticketing office you have to walk through the bottom of the plaza until you get to milling groups of people with luggage, who have just stepped off a ferry from Tioman or Batam, then make a sharp right out a side door. If you look up across the car park you can see Harbourfront Tower Two and little coloured balls on wire disappearing into its side. Generally we have found the signage in Singapore is great if you already know where to go but appauling if you are using them for direction.

We bought a round trip ticket and made our way up to the 15th floor. It was early, a weekday and it had been raining so there was no queue. The cablecar guy looked at our ticket and asked if we were getting off at Mt Faber "yes please" (that was the intention), "not go to Sentosa?" "No, been there done that", "then can go to Sentosa and stay on car and go to Mt Faber." "Ok" I said. We dodged the moving cablecars, went through the barricaded middle bit where the engines moving parts rattled and whirled and popped out the other side where we had to dodge the cars again before slipping into car number 33.
Cablecar guy said again "you stay on car", " yes" I replied, " you not get off Sentosa. You stay on car" he said again. I nodded vigorously, maybe I still had my 'looking confused we'd better not get lost and end up on the third floor again' face from trying to follow the signs in Harbourfront plaza. M and I smiled our best 'we understand Singlish' faces.
And so we headed to Sentosa.
The mainland side is now marred by a huge contruction sight for Universal Studios which is still on track for a soft opening in 2010. It will apparently feature 24 rides and attractions, with 18 of them designed exclusively for Singapore and be made up of different themed lands including Hollywood Boulevard, The Big Apple, The Lost World, Egypt, Waterworld and Superhero City. There is going to be a Casino Resort built on the same site.
We dutifully stayed on the car and rode back through Harbourfront Tower Two to Mt Faber.

Again there were no signs at the Jewel Box, a restaurant near the top of Mt Faber, where the cablecar ride ends, so out came the trusty (but slightly out of date) guide book.
Once we'd worked out which direction up was we began our walk. The views from the 'top' were pretty good for a hill thats only really 100 meters tall. Originally known as Telok Blangah Hill it was renamed after the guy who, in 1845, cut through the thick undergrowth, allowing the road to the top to be built.

The walk down, on wide wooden boardwalks and gravel paths, was very pleasant although the many steps would make it difficult for someone with hip or knee problems and nigh on impossible for a pushchair.

After about 20 minutes we could see the road and it was off to Vivo for a non fat cappuchino for me and a small pinacolada no whip please for M.

Seeing Singapore

Bugis is one of my favourite parts of Singapore. It has everything, good coffee at Sleepy Sams, great food at Alaturk, cheap Malay material and decor knick knacks and some beautiful art and traditional homeware at Melor's Curios. Bugis is also home to Singapores Sultan's Mosque and Istana Kampong Glam which houses the Malay Heritage Centre places I had been meaning to visit since we moved to Singapore.

The area around Kampong Glam has some wonderful street names.
There is Bali Lane, Muscat street, Baghdad street, Sultan Gate and Haji lane. I love the ironic juxtaposition of these signs.

The terracotta paving on Bassorah street leads to one of Singapores most important mosques, Sultans Mosque, named after Sultan Hussain. This masjid (arabic for mosque which is an english word) was erected in 1924 using donations from the Muslim community as a replacement for the original masjid which was built in 1826. It can hold 5000 faithful during prayers, men on the ground floor and women on the shrouded mezzanine. Architecturally it is a mixture of classical Persian, Moorish and Turkish design in a design called Saracenic style. At the base of its huge golden dome are hundreds of glass bottles stacked four or five rows deep.
M and I borrowed long buttoned gowns and took a stroll around the perimeter of the huge red prayer carpet.

The green tiles are etched with quranic verse 'enjoin in prayer will be rewarded' and the minbar or pulpit is said to be the finest in Singapore. The carpet itself was donated by a Saudi Arabian prince and bears his emblem. There are a number of clocks in the masjid so proper prayer times can be observed, you can just see one above Ms head.

Next we went to Istana Kampong Glam or Istana Kampong Gelam, or Gelam Palace(named after the Gelam tree in its compound), the former Malay palace. The original house, which was a more traditional wooden design (they think) was built by the same Sultan Hussain in 1819 and had a much bigger compound than it does now. The Sultan's son commissioned the palace, as it stands now, in 1836 and it was completed in 1843. In 1896 there was a succession dispute after Sultan Ali's (Hussain's son)death and the compound was handed to the crown and later to the state of Singapore after its independence.

After paying 4 SD each we wandered around the two storied museum which although small has artifacts including some very old qurans, interactive computer displays and a very cool reconstruction of a traditional wooden house the areas people would have lived in and a living room in an HDB (Housing Development Board) flat as most people in Singapore live today. The difference was quite striking but all things considered in this climate I think I would rather live in a wooden house on stilts (with a vege garden, a few chickens and possibly a pig or a cow) than a hot, charmless concrete bunker.
We weren't allowed to take any pictures inside the museum but in the stairwell I couldn't resist the wonderful huge windows.
Both these places are worth while shoudl you find yhourself in Bugis as is stopping for a snack at one of the many eatries on Bassorah or Kandahar street.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The things we put up with.

Students at Starbucks.

Internet access is expensive in Cambodia. We have free access through our cable box here in Singapore until the end of the year (although there are rumours it will be extended) and there are hundreds of places on this little island that you can get free wireless access (although on weekends you will have to fight for a seat and probably kill for a powerpoint). In NZ free access is also available through some internet providers or you can get fixed cost highspeed plans (40 times faster than dial up) for about 60 NZD.

It was relatively expensive in Samoa (the first time we’d had to pay per Mb) only dial up and old and crumbling phone lines meant it was farcically slow ( I had 2.4Mbs one day-connection but nothing opened) and unreliable. To add to that when someone in our neighbourhood complained to the local phone company about their dodgy phone line our phone would invariably get cut off completely or we would inherit said defective line as the easiest fix was to simply swap the lines over. This would buy them time as it usually took a while before the new person with the old dodgy line found out and made a complaint of their own. Can’t blame them really at 2 tala an hour (about 1 NZD) I wouldn’t be in a hurry to work either. This trick was working for them until it happened one day while I was happily surfing on a good line and got cut off. I unplugged the internet from the phone line and plugged the phone back dial tone. Picking up my cell I walked out onto the driveway (no cellphone connection inside our house) and while I was on hold spotted a Samoatel van parked up by the fence and a big burly Samoan hunched over the bundle of phone wires. I asked him what number he was ‘fixing’, ‘not your number’ he said. ‘You’ve just cut mine off’ I said, ‘Not fixing your number’ he said, ‘You’ve just cut it off put it back on’ I said, ‘Not your number’ he said. I tried another tack, ‘See this phone?’I said ‘Im ringing Samoatel to complain that my phone has just been disconnected ’and I turned back down the driveway. Before I hit the bottom he was gone. We got connected again the next day after I did indeed call his boss but it happened every few weeks regardless.

Ancient, failing/ed phone lines were annoying and frustrating, especially when the internet was our only means of communication with our deaf son at school in New Zealand, but they weren’t as much of an imposition as no water during rainy season. We lived in a house owned by ‘the company’ J worked for, an Australian company, so they should have known better considering Australias water woes. It didn’t have rain water tanks, something vital in Samoa because during the rainy season the mains water gets turned off as the rickety pipes can't cope with the extra deluge. So we spent about 4 weeks without running water in the house. At the beginning ‘showering’ under the spouting at the secluded side of the house was like camping but the washing was not a joke. I quickly developed an appreciation of Samoans in the villages who still wash and was very glad I had only to cart water from strategic spots under crumbling guttering to the laundry tub or, when I’d forgotten to replace a bucket or it had been knocked over by the river that raced down our driveway, from the pool!! I hear they have finally installed those tanks.

Singapore’s little annoyances pale in comparison really. The only thing that really gets my goat is coffee shops crowded with students surfing and studying for hours on end with barely a drink in sight oh and the inevitable smells that get silently expelled when using the otherwise pretty amazing public transport system......please people hold it in until you reach a less confined space!!

Oh and by the way I would move back to Samoa in a heartbeat.....anything can be placated with an hour or two on an unspoilt white sand beach with feet steeping in water so clear you can see the coral and fish from metres away.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Watching a storm roll in

Now you see it..........

Now you dont!

I am going to miss living on the 19th floor. We have the most amazing view down towards Orchard road and beyond towards the Quays. We can see a long way towards the east and the west coast as well as up towards Bishan and Serangoon. On sunday afternoons we see people training their dogs in a school field opposite, sunday mornings see cars arrive for church and later the wet kitchen fill with parisioners in white preparing sunday lunch. Every weekday morning I see an elderly Chinese lady in traditional garb slowly pedal her bike towards Thomson road dodging school kids and their overloaded bags. Car horns toot and buses grunt as the kids are dropped off in two sessions and every now and again we catch a flag raising ceremony complete with the music of the national anthem (although no one seems to sing unlike the Kiwis who at least fake it or the Samoans who belt it out so loud you could probably hear it from here) and break times are filled with squeals and yelling.
We frequently watch clouds blow in, dump their contents, throw a few lightning bolts and then blow themselves right back out again. We have seen great fingers of energy stretch across the sky and others race down to connect with one or two of the highrise monoliths in front of us. Some have been so close that we have been able to see the green and blue hue as the target is zapped. Sadly although I have tried I havent been able to catch one of film yet, I am just not fast enough!
If we come back to Singapore we will probably come back to our condo and the view will be similar, unlike many a view on the en-bloc mad 'little red dot', we are very unlikely to be built out.
note: en-bloc means 'all together' and refers to a condominiums/apartment blocks individual owners agreeing to their condominium or apartment block being sold to a developer for redevelopment. This has been almost epidemic in Singapore in the last few years causing major disruption not just for ousted expat leasees but also for their neighbours as a redevelopment means dust and noise for those in the vicinity.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Playing tourist before we go

J and M on the bum boat

J and B in our lift

Both B and J leave today in different directions. J goes first to Phnom Penh then B leaves to go back to Wellington and the cold. While B was here for his two week semester break we thought we'd try and squeeze in some touristy things before we leave for Cambodia. Ironically since J has now officially finished at his previous employer we are now on tourist visas instead of our employment/dependent passes for a month. It turns out two weeks isnt a very long time to fit in sightseeing when you are having medicals, immunisation jabs, a cultural briefing and meetings with prospective moving companies so we didnt manage to fit in as much as we had hoped.

We did manage to get in some shopping (we were being tourists remember) including buying ourselves a new coffee machine and replenishing the towel supply although we ended up buying king size sheets online from New Zealand as the Asian king size is a lot smaller than our kiwi matresses. Everyone got some new duds. B discovered how great he looks in pink, M yeilded to his artistic self and bought some coloured skinny jeans and J and I bought linen (a bitch to iron but oh so cool to wear).

Earlier this week we went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens after dark. How many other countries in the world can you safely do that? There are gardens in New Zealand that are open at christmas time with strings of lights drapped through trees and mirror balls lighting pathways but the gardens here are open until midnight every night and while there is lighting on the pathways it is still pretty dark. We entered from the Glen Eagles entrance and walked towards Bukit Timah Rd. There were plenty of double backs and short excursions down pathways we thought were going in the right direction and a somewhat grumpy teenager threatening to bail if we didnt figure out where we were going. We finally made it out the other end dispite a general lack of signage and maps that kept changing and caught a taxi home tired but not too hot.

Yesterday we went on a bum boat ride on the river. This is definately a must do even if its just for the disneylike commentary. A roundtrip from The Fullerton (not the coolest place to wait in retrospect) down to Clarke Quay then back up the other side to the Merlion Park and back took half an hour. It was a different view of familiar onshore spots in cool, breezy and ecofriendly (the boats have just changed from diesel to electric) transport. It was the coolest way to see the famous Merlion which is usually a sweaty walk from the nearest MRT station.
I think B has enjoyed his holiday. He has been talking about working during the Christmas holidays, which is fair enough a boy can only live for so long without an income of his own, but it does mean we see even less of him. I am hoping a free ticket means he comes for Christmas week at least!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Leaping again

We are again on the cusp of a leap into the unknown except this time we will be linked to a different mothership, after 16 years J has decided he would like to try working for a different employer. So you could say we’ve leapt twice. We are about to go from the relative comfort of Singapore to Cambodia comfort levels as yet unknown. This will be our third leap (unless you count the leap into parenthood, the leap into marriage and the leap into home ownership all of which were also giant leaps) so we are feeling a bit more like we know what we are doing. This time around we actually got a ‘look see’ for a couple of days so at least we have a picture of where we will be living, what Js work looks like and M even got to see his new school in action for half an hour or so. We have not had the privilege of a ‘look see’ before and for me the jury’s still out on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. In this case the biggest benefit was being able to visit both international schools on school days. M is a pretty easy going lad, not afraid of change and able to make friends easily with anyone so he would have probably been happy at either school but the second school we saw was so obviously ‘him’ there was excitement. So he is enrolled at International School Phnom Penh (ISPP).
We also got to see the ‘office’ which looks just like any one of ‘The Company’s’ offices in Australia, New Zealand or Singapore. They are (and there are a few of them) air conditioned, clean and polished, quiet oasis’s off various dirty, hot, noisy and crowded streets in Phnom Penh.
We also got to see where we will be living thanks to a very accommodating colleague and his family. This should make packing easier as we have a mental size of rooms and idea of furniture provided...yay!! It was nice to see that it too is a peaceful oasis away from the bustle of life on the capital’s streets. The plan is (and I say this because in our experience plans don’t always go the way they have been planned even when we do have all the control so when we don’t have any control it is better to not assume or count on certain things like accommodation) to live in one of the houses at the Northbridge estate, a 58 hectare property that includes a pool and the Northbridge school, apartments and houses.
Meanwhile back in Singapore we have had our medicals and most of our shots. Being Singapore this is taken very seriously and performed mechanically in a genial but very business like manner. We were poked and prodded and xrayed, had eyes and ears tested, vials of blood taken and a couple of immunisations. That was a week ago. This week we went back for the results and more shots. Poor M has had to have the most jabs. We are a family of incredibly healthy individuals, very rarely is any one of us sick even with colds or flu. We often eat street food while travelling and we have still to succumb to a dodgy tum. I like to think the boys had such a good start being breastfed for 12 months and 3 years respectively and I suspect genetics also has a lot to do with it as both J and I come from disgustingly healthy stock. M is the only one of us who has had anything during our travels. In Samoa he contracted Dengue, 4 days of a 40 plus temperature and a few days of laying about then he was up again and wanting to go back to school. This does however mean he has a higher chance of catching the rather more serious hemorrhagic dengue...hhhmmm
So now its onto the packing. We’ve been told by the moving company they think it will take 3 days. Three days!!!!?? Then I guess you have to remember this is Singapore and the packers will probably not start work until 10am and will of course break for an hour or so for lunch and then probably want to finish at 4pm.