Singapore Pride

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!”

For all its quirks, idiosyncracies and ever-present whiners (we are a nation of complainers), I am really proud of how beautiful and modern our young country is.

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.

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Waxing lyrical about an all-inclusive

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)

1.  Value-for-money

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. 

  2. Access to good (not great) facilities and entertainment

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.  

  3. Family-friendly

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… 

    
    
   
  
  

Confessions of a Virgin ‘all-inclusive’ tourist

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!  

    
   
   

 All-inclusive hotels generally refer to hotels that provide all meals and some form of entertainment and sporting activities for kids and adults. 

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.

   
   

Mummy do-over

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….

Big brother holding Nathan for the very first time

Big brother holding Nathan for the very first time

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Nathan’s first hike in Hassliberg

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Lisbon – an oxymoron of sorts…

LIsbon city

Lisbon city

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)

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IMG_5428I 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.

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Bairro Alto (Old town) and tram line
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Coastal town of Cascais

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Oceanarium

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the most famous and popular cafe for egg tarts

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Unsung heroes

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face to face with a life-size hero

There’s a new superhero in town and he is white and furry, has a cute button nose and he sure looks uber-cool in his aquamarine dive suit and matching sailor hat.

Armed with his trusty compass, you can always count on Captain Barnacles and his fellow Octonaut compatriots to rescue and protect all sea creatures in the deep blue.

This is one cartoon superhero I have no worries about my boys emulating. Not only does Timmy learn about appreciating nature and helping others in trouble from the show, he and I have also learnt alot about sea turtles, electric torpedo rays, anemones, sea cucumbers, sperm whales (this is the only time he’s allowed to say the word ‘sperm’) and colossal squids with giant ‘testicles’. My son has trouble pronouncing ‘tentacles’.

Did you know there is an actual fish with a hawaiian name – Humuhumunukunukuapua’a?

Timmy and I did an ocean scene for our art & craft project recently. He had fun painting a wooden shipwreck, sticking colorful pipe-cleaners into modelling clay so they look like psychedelic seaweed, spreading colorful pebbles and glitter glue to make our beautiful seabed, and crushing pink transparent wrapping paper into jellyfish form.

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 I’ve been thinking about the myriad cartoons and TV personalities children nowadays are exposed to, especially since my son is at the age to start exploring concepts of good and evil, superheroes vs villians, what is considered cool or uncool, and what superpowers to have – typical issues adults consider on a daily basis.

It’s really sad that there is only a pitiful number of worthy superheroes that kids can look up to and aspire to be. I’m so sick of seeing every other 5 year old boy wear Batman or Superman T-shirts, don Spiderman masks for every costume/birthday party we’ve been to, consider it ‘creative play’ when they attempt to jump off chairs in restaurants, scale the narrow walls in elevators, growl at old people like they are evil monsters or try to throw wet rolls of toilet paper onto the ceiling to see if they’ll stick like ‘spider webs’.

For now, I think I can still live with Timmy saying ‘testicles’ instead of ‘tentacles’. It is by far a lesser evil than him asking me for a Justin Bieber haircut.

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Flashback 2012

Belated Happy New Year everyone!

I was looking through my blog archive to see if I’ve made any resolutions for 2012; pity I’ve only found a tongue-in-cheek post about generic resolutions people tend to make.

I do however recall making a secret to-do list last year consisting of one major ‘to-do’ item – have a baby.

Well, in a blink of an eye, a wiggle of my toes, a hard shove of placenta, amniotic fluids and a 2.9kg baby out from ‘down-under’, 2012 has finally come to a close with a big fat ‘Tick’ against my very, very short list.

I feel blest that the whole family has been in good health, we’ve done our fair share of travelling, and Timmy is enjoying more experiences like a typical Swiss kid – learning how to play soccer, going for his weekly ‘moms & kids’ gymnastics (Muki-turnen is what it is called in Switzerland), where mums spend the first half hour moving heavy equipment in the school gymnasium to set up military-like obstacle courses for the children; and learning to ski. We are truly planting firmer roots here and getting a greater sense of home after living in Switzerland for 4 years.

Highlights of 2012:

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First hike of the year in Engelberg and the snow hasn’t quite melted yet

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Easter in Stockholm

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Easter Sunday brunch in Stockholm

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May: Hiking in Cinque terra, Italy

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Gourmet seafood platter in Cinque Terra

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Timmy’s first soccer camp

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Timmy in gymnastics

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June: Copenhagen amusement park – Tivoli

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2 pregnant women in Copenhagen

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May: Coastal town of Dubrovnik in Croatia

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Europa Park in the Black Forest region in Germany

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Enjoying summer at Schaffhausen – Rheinfalls with friends

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Timmy turns 4

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Oct: Nathan James is born

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Nov: Halloween

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Dec: Christmas Market in Munich, Germany

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Dec: Christmas Market in front of the monastery in Einseideln

Christmas in Andermatt

Christmas in Andermatt

Dec: Christmas and New Year in Andermatt

Dec: Christmas and New Year in Andermatt

Love, Joy & Peace on earth...

Love, Joy & Peace on earth…