Acrylic, 80 x 100
a singapore gal's take on the people, culture, food and motherhood in Switzerland
Acrylic, 80 x 100
Coming from a tropical island with no seasons, I’m always amazed by the bronze, amber and yellow falling autumn leaves, the mysterious swirly fog (well the smog that blows through from Indonesia doesn’t count!), blooming spring flowers and heady lavender scents. The snow capped mountains and wintry landscapes are the most special to me. I can’t help but feel so tiny standing in a vast, white soft field of… Nothing. Everything feels clean, pure and quiet in winter.
Last September my husband decided on a whim to bring my 7 year old son rock climbing even though he has no experience scaling any walls himself. The via Ferrata – diavolo, or ‘the devil’s climb’ in Andermatt in canton Uri is actually a pretty exciting n relatively easy rock face for beginners, as long as you have no fear of heights, have a strong resistance to chilly winds and of course appropriate climbing attire. See my husband’s attire for ‘what not to wear for climbing a rough rock face with a 90% probability of tripping over your own feet and face planting’.
Our friend celebrated her 30th birthday on Saturday and we were treated to a game called Foxtrail, the Swiss version of The Amazing Race, which gave us a good opportunity to discover Bern beyond its famous Zytglogge clock tower, beautiful cobbled streets in the old town and their beloved black bears.
We were divided into 4 groups doing 4 unique trails – 2 groups of 5 girls each, and 2 groups of 5 guys. My group comprised of 3 Singaporeans, 1 Indonesian and 1 Vietnamese, and of course, my little boy in the pram. Did I mention we are all from Zurich and do not speak or understand BERNESE Swiss german? ;)
It was a warm and sunny autumn day and our energy level was at an all time high when we were handed our trail paper with clues and instructions. It quickly dissipated when after 45mins, we were the only team still at the starting point, trying to figure out what we were suppose to do. We have 19 stops to make in 2 hours!!! We will miss the Apero!
It was a slow and bumpy start but we soon got our groove and took a special RKS train out of the city center in search of a church tower that led us deep into the woods. My little boy Nathan, who does a forest playgroup every Thursday, seems to know his way around the trees better than the 5 of us. We found a quaint restaurant tucked deep in the forest overlooking a beautiful river. Chickens, ducks and kids roamed around carefreely around the restaurant/farm. After finding our way out of the forest, this was civilization to us!
We even got to ask a boatman for a clue (feels a little like crossing the River Styx except the boatman was not wearing a dark cloak and you don’t hear the cries of banished souls around us) and he rowed or should I say, held on to a long rope above him that is tied to the other end of the stream and literally ‘pulled’ us to the other side. I think it was only 200 meters away.
E The wily fox then led us through a long tunnel to… the border of Switzerland? We were all pretty amused to see the EU sign at one of our trail points. I didn’t see a tax refund booth close by though.
We didn’t complete our trail but it was still an amazing experience. When we went to the end point for our apero and birthday celebration, it was exhilarating exchanging stories of our different routes. We were all pretty impressed by how organized and fun this experience was.
We will come back again and redo the same trail and hopefully, complete it so we can finally beat the wily fox!
Coming back to Singapore close to her 50th birthday is an extra special experience. We went to the Clifford Pier area to watch a part of the National Day parade rehearsal, and I must say, the government’s really gone all out for this year’s Jubilee celebrations.
I overheard a local complaining, “Wah, this year’s fireworks cost more than half a beeeeeeeee-llllion dollars leh. Wasting so much tax payers’ money!”
From the lush greenery peppered throughout the concrete jungle, the state-of-the-art skyscrapers an architectural visual treat, the kids’ water play areas in many tourist attractions and shopping malls, the myriad of international arts and music bigwigs showcased at our theatres, the powers-at-play has tried to make our island a little more liveable, a little more human, and have a little bit more soul for its 4-5 million residents.
Like what our beloved drag queen Kumar said at his stand-up comedy show I watched last week, Singaporeans need to travel more and live overseas to appreciate and be thankful for what we have. Other countries, emerging and developed, can only dream of having our accomplishments in their much longer lifetimes. Then again, they didn’t have someone like our late Prime Minister/Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away early this year, to blaze the path with his take-no-prisoners attitude.
Highlights of the parade: amazing air and naval military display with the beautiful Singapore Flyer, the Art&Science Museum and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel as our backdrop. When the fireworks start, the backdrop was transformed, with a kaleidescope of jeweled sequins mirrored on the 3 towers of the hotel.
So, after surviving 4 out of 7 days in an all-inclusive hotel, my conscience got the better of me. Perhaps I’ve been too quick to pass judgment. There must be merit to such hotels if they keep getting fully booked, get raved about on trip advisor and have a minimum of 8.0 rating on major hotel booking sites. (I am trying to justify my lapse of sound decision-making to my husband here)
You get easy access to food and alcohol from 8am to 11.30pm everyday. The variety is great and the bartenders are generous with the liquor. For a place as touristy as Ibiza, eating out can be a pretty costly affair.
Quantity does not = quality though. I think the chefs at the restaurant tried their best, but when the majority of customers prefer white foods and unhealthy carbs, it’s not surprising to see french fries, pasta and pizza a staple at mealtimes. We hired a car and drove out most days so we ended up paying more for car hire and petrol.
Most beaches in the popular towns are filled with sun lovers and deck beds and umbrellas might be difficult to get. You also pay at least €8 for a deck bed and another €8 for shade. Our hotel has a nice swimming pool, a separate water slide park and a nice private beach for hotel customers only.
There are also arcade games in our lobby but sadly, half of them are usually out of order. Have I already mentioned bingo night and kids’ disco? Day time activities include Aqua Zumba, football matches, darts and kids activities in a kids club for 4-10 year olds. For people who enjoy sharing their precious holiday time with hordes of strangers playing relay games, an all-inclusive will definitely satiate their dystopian appetite for ‘adventure’. You get a certificate at the end of the day for active participation too.
I must admit that an all-inclusive must be kids’ paradise. They get to eat chicken nuggets, french fries n ice cream everyday, swim and play with other kids. Then again, I see many families get so comfortable sitting by the pool all day long, they do not venture beyond the wet bar to explore what this beautiful island has to offer. It might be abit of an inconvenience driving through heavy traffic and being out til late at night with kids. Our kids whined a bit but overall, I was glad we were able to spend some quality time, just the four of us, away from other screaming kids and from the free-flow wet bar. Kids this young actually do not need that much stimulation. Give them a small body of water to wade in, a beach ball to throw or buy a cheap local souvenir and they’ll happy as a lark.
Even after stating some positives of such hotels, I still don’t think it’s something we will do in the future. At least we’ve tried and know for sure we are never, ever going to be included in an all-inclusive hotel’s niche market.
No love lost there.
I don’t see us doing cruise ships in our old age either. (famous last words)
Our brand of family fun…
Welcome to Ibiza! We had pretty high expectations before flying here that Alan n I will be eating in gourmet restaurants, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and well-known DJs whilst pumping our fists in the air to catchy techno beats. Oh, with our 2 kids passed out somewhere of course.
Imagine my culture shock when we stepped onto the huge terrace at our hotel after we checked in. Instead of heart-thumping bass beats, we walked into a Bingo fest! Apparently this is a nightly event!!! The m.c translated all the numbers in Spanish, English n German. That pretty much summed up the demographics of the people that usually do an all-inclusive hotel stay, at least at our hotel. I think the whole of Essex and Liverpool are here and quite a huge number of Germans. You can tell from the number of sun deck chairs reserved at 8.00am with towels when all swim facilities only open at… 11a.m. Did I mention all-you-can-eat buffet and free flow BOOZE? ‘Nuff said!
The hotel’s water theme park and arcade games were a hit with the kids, especially with arcade games that actually work. We enjoyed relaxing under the sun (yes we found 3 unreserved sun deck chairs!!!), going down challenging water slides and the lovely buffet spread at the restaurant. We also loved hanging out by the pool, though there’s not much eye candy to look at.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the service staff seem like they really really enjoy their work! Be it making 8 complicated cocktails for 1 person, standing behind the big piping hot pan of paella, or clearing tables efficiently, the Spanish locals do so with a sincere smile that I felt deeply.
It’s only day 1 of our stay in an all-inclusive and we are soooooo ready to strip off our bright colored hotel wristbands, hire a rental car and head to the other parts of the island and the town. Hopefully in the next few days the island of Ibiza and our hotel experience can win us over. Maybe, just maybe, I might even learn how to play Bingo.
Happy new year to one and all!
Okay, this is not another blog post on regrets for goals unfulfilled or hopeful ramblings about new ones for the brand new year. Instead, I just want to share how blessed I am for the privilege to be a mummy for a second time.
We are really thankful to have such an easy first child -a baby who doesn’t really need much of a routine and can sleep literally anytime, anywhere. Timothy (son no.1) has always been a great travel companion, seldom fell ill and, apart from being somewhat accident-prone, hardly gave us any cause for worry or heartache. (maybe the heartache comes when he becomes a teenager)
I can’t say we’ve discovered the magic formula for child-rearing, but i suspect the stars were nicely aligned at his point of conception. har har…
And with a bountiful measure of prayers and dependence on God, we’ve somehow manage to meander through the first toddler years with little stress and much joy and laughter.
After having an easy 4 years with Timmy, it took awhile to get used to sleepless nights, the stress of breastfeeding, relentless baby wailing and smelly nappies again. Little Nathan is now 14 months old and I can still vividly remember the worry and pain we went through with his serious bout of jaundice when he was born, and his eczema that covered his little body with dry scabs. It was only when he turned 1 that I decided to get a blood test done on him and discovered he has an allergy to cow’s milk and egg white. Yikes!
But there is still so much more to be thankful for.
Having no. 2 made me realise that our hearts do grow bigger to accommodate more people for you to love. Much more than you think you were capable of loving. Both kids are such a bundle of joy and it is so beautiful to see the 2 of them expressing their affection for each other in such a natural, intuitive manner. Whenever Timmy comes home from kindergarten, he would run to Nathan first and give him a shoulder scrunching hug and say Oh Nana, I love you so much cos you are sooooo cute! And Nathan follows his older brother around like a crazy Justin bieber fan. (most of the time, he just wants to play with whatever toy Timmy is currently obsessed with)
Here are some snapshots of the boys who taught me so much about life and love, and there is still so much I am learning from them….
This is the first time I’ve visited Portugal, and I must say, I am pleasantly surprised by how interesting the capital is, although I still can’t decide if I like it or love it.
Like the coastal towns of their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese cuisine consists of mainly seafood – but simply boiled and served cold, so you really get to enjoy the pure sweetness of our crustacean friends. It is not unusual for tables at restaurants to be covered with wet tissues, plastic hammer and board, crab crackers and lobster forks. (for an amateur seafood eater, I would highly recommend having a few pieces of first-aid plasters close by, or a
useful helpful husband who can peel prawns and crack open crab and lobster shells for you).
Is this a good time to confess that when we visited the Oceanarium on our last day, my stomach was growling so much when I saw all the lovely sea creatures swimming infront of us, all I could think of is yummy delicious seafood! (especially stingray grilled with sambal chilli and fish curry)
I absolutely love Portugese architecture. The pretty cracked blue and white tiles that cover the walls of several old buildings remind me of the Peranakan shophouses in some parts of Singapore and Malacca in Malaysia, where many Portugese traders came to build their colonial settlements in the 1800s. I would love to live in a building that is painted fuschia pink or a happy egg yolk yellow.
Lisbon seems like a city of many contradictions. The historical district is a complex and compact maze of winding streets that goes up and down at every turn. It is definitely not a pram, wheelchair or high-heel-friendly city. We would have loved to take a ride on one of their iconic trams, which seem to be only about 5 metres long, but we know it’s impossible to squeeze a pram through the narrow entrance.
There are plenty of wide open spaces, especially along the marina area where you can enjoy long quiet walks, and the major tourist attractions are spread across the city. The many space-age looking museums and massive sculptures showcasing Portugal’s colorful history as a illustrious leader in sea trade are a sharp contrast to the skeletal frames of old clock towers, dilapidated warehouses and office buildings left in shambles, which must have been a bustling enclave of people coming in and out a long time ago.
For a global city which has 3 million residents (Lisbon is the 11th most populous city in the European Union),
it is also awfully quiet.
I’ve just returned from visiting Singapore and appreciate being able to walk around town without being jostled around. The streets are never packed with people or cars, even on a weekend. Our Portugese friend told us most residents hardly stay in the city on weekends, preferring to visit the many coastal towns nearby where they can lay on the sandy beaches all day long.
I was hoping that everywhere I go – left, right and centre, I would bump into the likes of Ronaldo Cristiano. He’s probably in the U.S shooting another Armani underwear ad. Portugese men tend to have a lot of facial hair and are generally quite short. It’s alot more likely to spot the likes of Hugo Almeidas. In general, the locals are a warm, easygoing and helpful bunch of people.