Singaporean Gems

After an early morning trip to the Singapore Tourist Information Centre, I am delighted to find out that due to today’s national holiday (for Deepavali), the Istana – which is the home of Singapore’s Prime Minister – is open to the public.  For a small fee of SGD$2.00, you can wander around the beautiful, lush gardens and up to the Istana’s porch, with all donations going to support a children’s charity.

The expansive lawns are bright green and perfectly manicured and though the long pathway to the Istana is lined by shady trees, they do little to allay today’s humidity.  Beautiful scents waft across the air every now and again welcoming you to the grounds.

The Istana is a grand white building perched a top a sweeping white staircase, which leads onto a large grassed balcony with views back to the city.  The Singaporean flag proudly flying atop its roof.  Today there are lots of activities on for the people and there are masses of families coming through the gates to spend a few hours in this regal setting.

Back outside the Istana, I am melting, when I come across something else that typically melts – ice cream.  I have seen these ice cream vendors many times before, but have shrugged off the thought of trying ice cream wrapped in bread – I mean, why?  Well today, it’s a case of why not.  I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try the bread yet, but you can also get ice cream sandwiched between a wafer, so I make a compromise.  You can have the wafer, as long as you try an unusual ice cream flavour.  Deal?  Deal.  I scan the list and decide on sweet corn.  Yes, sweet corn.

I take a seat and prepare myself to bite into my sweet corn (eek) ice cream.  Mmmm.  It tastes kind of, well, like sweet corn.  But in an ice cream format and it’s actually not bad.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I like it because it’s not anything you’d normally eat in an ice cream flavour.  My verdict?  Try it.

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Next I grab a taxi to the Katong/Joo Chiat area of Singapore.  Less than $10, will get you to this suburb filled with brightly painted Peranakan shophouses, so charming you can’t believe it.  Also known as Baba-Nyona’s, the Peranakan Chinese were descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the Malay archipelago and British Malaya (which is now Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore) between the 15th and 17th centuries) – Peranakan meaning ‘local born’.

They have a very rich culture which can be seen in the architecture of the shophouses as well as the food and richly beaded traditional costumes.  Unfortunately as I have arrived fairly early in the day (before 2pm) and on a public holiday, hardly anything is open and I am unable to try any of the awesome Peranakan food.  I guess this area will be marked for a return at some point so I can do just that.

Another short taxi ride away is East Coast Lagoon Food Village.  It’s a hawkers restaurant, where you can pretty much get anything.  From seafood to chicken rice.  And from Indian to Chinese.  All at a great price and with a free view of the sea.  Normally at this time of the afternoon, the place would be fairly quiet, as things don’t get busy til the late afternoon/early evening, but being a public holiday there’s loads of people here.  The trick is to look for the stalls with the longer queues as these are generally good, but each stall also has a rating (A, B, C) which grades their cleanliness and food quality.

Unable to make a decision and after doing about four loops of the village, I end up going for some chicken wings which are supposed to be absolutely amazing (they are) and a cup of sugar cane juice.  The juice is not something I would usually drink, but with the heat today, it’s going down better than beer and bounces nicely off the sauce that accompanies the chicken.  East Coast is not just for eating though there are several places along this stretch where you can do just that.  You can also camp in one of the designated areas, or hire a bike to ride along the coast and enjoy the wind in your hair.  Although it’s on the coast, you don’t swim here because as you can see when you look out towards the horizon, there are loads of tankers and well, the water quality would definitely be debateable.  It’s definitely a nice place to hang out and chill though.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to either of these places when they are only a short, cheap (compared to Australia anyway) taxi ride away.  I would definitely come back to both of these places in a heart beat.  I guess everything is so close and easy to get to in Singapore, that perhaps you get a little lazy sometimes and forget to venture out into some of the more local treasures.

On my way back to the hotel for a rest, I pass by Teck Kee Tanglin Pau in Killiney Road, which was closed yesterday.  I have read about this place and know that if you pass it by you will be sorry, so knowing I only had a small lunch at East Coast Park, I have plenty of room to try their Char Siew and Big Chicken Pau.  I bite into them and OMG they are good.  So good.  I’d go as far to say the Char Siew is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve never tried the Big Chicken before but it too is awesome.  This could be a very dangerous place to have around the corner from my hotel.  Oh yum.  Yum, yum, yum.

The public holiday today is to celebrate the Indian Deepavali festival – or the festival of lights.  It’s one of the biggest and brightest of the Indian festivals and lasts a month from mid October to mid November, although the main celebrations tend to last around five days.  Before Deepavali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and then on the night they dress up in their finest clothes, light lamps and candles inside and outside their homes and participate in family prayers.  Traditional sweets (or mithai) are then exchanged between friends and family.

Tonight, all of Little India is lit up and there are masses of people lining the sidewalks.  It’s even madder than usual and trying to find a spot to dine at a restaurant is crazy, but it’s worth it to see the lights and soak up the atmosphere and see yet another side to Singapore’s multicultural little island.

 

Thongs and Wantons

This morning I packed my bags and checked into my second hotel in Singapore, ready to continue with my explorations – first stop – the Singapore Pinacoteque de Paris, a short walk away.

The Pinacoteque has only been open a few months and I was keen to check it out.  However, there was nothing really on in any of the rooms so basically all there was to visit was a small room on jewellery and carvings from different parts of Asia and a small room of paintings.  Most of the paintings weren’t to my taste and the only few that were, you couldn’t photograph in any case.  I wish I had saved myself the entrance fee as it really wasn’t worth it – in fact, for the little that was on display, they shouldn’t even be charging an entrance fee.

It was just as well that the museum was at Fort Canning because it meant I could have a little bit of a look around.  I hadn’t visited Fort Canning properly – the one time I made it here, was for a Motley Crue concert years ago (full face of makeup, humid weather, rock concert – never going to work well).

Fort Canning was known as Bukit Larangan (the Forbidden Hill) before the British arrived in the 19th century.  It was reserved for Malay royalty and banned to the general populace.  Once they had established Singapore as a trading settlement, the British renamed it Government Hill and Stamford Raffles had his home here, with a view to the harbour, which these days you cannot see.

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In the mid 19th century, the fort was built here – it was the first British built fort in Singapore – and the hill was renamed Fort Canning.  The fort consisted of barracks, officers’ quarters, two magazines (containers for holding supplies of gun cartridges) and a hospital.  The fort was demolished in 1907, never having been used.  However the grounds are a lovely place to walk around today.

Next stop was the National Museum just down the road from Fort Canning.  I should note here that there is a new museum shuttle bus that is free and does a route between the Pinacoteque, the National Museum and SAM (the Singapore Art Museum).  All you have to do is grab a sticker from the information/ticket counter at the first museum and you’re in.

It actually surprised me that I had never been here before – did I not realize it existed?  I’m not sure, but although it wasn’t on my list of things to do this time round, I couldn’t not go when I was right nearby.  Plus it’s a rainy day today, so perfect museum weather.

The museum has several different sections each with different exhibitions about the creation and growth of the little red dot known as Singapore.

It was interesting to see pictures and paintings of Singapore back in the early days before all the land reclaimation and glitzy malls.

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One of the parts of Singapore’s history that always fascinates me is that of it’s World War II days, when the island everyone thought was impregnable, was taken over by the Japanese and even renamed – Syonan, meaning “light of the south”.  It is frightening to think how close the war came to my own country and that such brutality (including to many of our own Australian soldiers) was taking place so close to home.

The museum building itself is a graceful old lady – beautiful colonial architecture with a simple, but stunning stained glass domed roof.  The building was originally the Raffles Library and Museum and was built in 1887, making it Singapore’s oldest museums.

The Singapore Art Museum is my favourite museum in Singapore, mainly because of it’s contemporary themes.  There are usually some offbeat but amazing works in here and I love to check it out whenever I can.

One of the most intriguing displays was this one below.  Walking into a small white room with a high ceiling, shimmery, glittery little squares greet you.  Look closer and inside each little pocket is a blood sample.

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There are some great themes that run through the current exhibitions…

…and some just really cool stuff (did you know the thong is considered the national footwear of Singapore?).

I was certainly museum’d out by the end of the day and looking forward to a good dinner.  My new hotel, Lloyd’s Inn is situated in Lloyd’s Road (a more residential area and quieter than being on Orchard Road) which runs off Killiney Road (which intersects with Orchard) and which plays host to a load of little restaurants with different cuisines.  It was difficult to narrow down the selection, but as I’m here for a few nights, I figure I can give a few of them a go.  So tonight I choose to go with The Chicken Rice Express restaurant, where for a ridiculous amount of money I ordered wanton noodle and a nice glass of lime juice, which came to my table very quickly.  Really nice tender meat and nicely flavoured noodles.  I found it hard to eat the wanton’s with the slippery chopsticks, but managed without splashing myself too much.  Yummy!

The Ten Courts of Hell

Have you heard about Haw Par Villa?

It’s the stuff of nightmares.  Quite literally.  Many a Singaporean parent scared their children into being good by bringing them to this theme park whilst growing up and I can see why.

If you haven’t heard about Haw Par, chances are that you would know about tiger balm.  Well the same people who bought you tiger balm were responsible for this garishly coloured, elaborately sculpted theme park, built to scare the bejesus out of you.  Opened in 1937 to the Singaporean public, Haw Par Villa was the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw who wanted to build the park for his brother Aw Boon Par (hence the name Haw Par). The brothers were known as the “Tiger Balm Kings of Rangoon” when they moved their business to Singapore in 1926, and, believing one should contribute to society, this park, costing over $1M to build was just one way in which they did so.  The park was packed with visitors each weekend and every holiday.

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Free to enter, it’s located at it’s own MRT stop making it incredibly easy to get to and making me wonder why I hadn’t made it here sooner.  There are many sculptures depicting Chinese legends of ethics and morality, but the centrepiece would have to be the Ten Courts of Hell.

I was scared before I even got to the Ten Courts of Hell thanks to this delightful masterpiece!

So this is how it goes…settle in.

Upon your death you will reach the Ten Courts of Hell where you will be ushered inside by Horse Face and Ox Head (their actual names).  At the first court, your past deeds will be reviewed.  If you were virtuous – straight to heaven.  Guilty?  Well, here’s where the fun begins.  You star into the Mirror of Retribution where all your past misdeeds will be revealed.  Atonement is then carried out at the following nine courts.

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Final judgement is passed upon reaching the tenth court of hell where a cup of magic tea in the Pavillion of Forgetfulness will help you forget about your past life.  Then you get on the Wheel of Reincarnation where it will be decided how you return in the next life – either as nobility, a common man, a quadruped, fowl, fish or insect.

There was more to see, but the colours were starting to hurt my eyes and I was scared that I was hanging dangerously close to being punished at the third gate of hell for being ungrateful).  So I jumped back on the train and headed for the much quieter, more restrained Chinese & Japanese Gardens.  The gardens, although further out, also have their own stop on the MRT.

Unfortunately a lot of the buildings were closed for renovations, but what I could see was beautiful.  I can see why many Singaporeans pack a picnic and head here for a catch up on the weekends.

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Although I’ve been to Resorts World at Sentosa several times, I had never managed to make it to the Maritime Experiential Museum.  Now there is also the SEA aquarium on the same site and the museum has become integrated, which means you need to buy a ticket to the SEA aquarium even if you don’t want to SEE the aquarium.  Which I didn’t.  Anyway, the museum tells the story of trade through Asia back in the day including the types of goods that were traded and where they came from which was quite interesting.  There is also a typhoon theatre, for an extra SGD$2, where you go on a journey into a typhoon.  Cute.

For those that haven’t been to Resorts World, there’s all sorts of stuff to see and do here, including Universal Studios and the Candylicious chocolate store.  I didn’t need to go in, but I did.  And that’s when I found them.  The bakeable Kit Kats.  Yes, you bake them in the oven.  I had heard about these and assumed I wouldn’t get the chance to try them until I went back to Japan (Japan is THE land of Kit Kats – there’s even a Kit Kat megastore, check it out), but here they were.  Packets of little sweet potato Kit Kats that you can put in the oven.  I can’t wait to get these babies home.  Remind me to tell you what they were like.

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So a very successful day all round, knocking over three of my long awaited must do’s and finding the bakeable Kit Kats.  Ah, time for a relaxing drink.

Second Homecoming

I’m packing my bags for the last part of my trip when I get a message.  It’s from my ten year old niece Lola.  I tell her I’m about to go to the airport.  “I’ll miss you”, she said.  “But I’ve already been gone for about ten days Lols”.  “Oh, I didn’t know” she texts.  “You need a calendar of when I’m away”, I joke.  “I think I do need a calendar” she writes.  You know you’ve done a fair bit of travelling when people in your family don’t know whether you are at home or not anymore!

And this year has been a bit different, with my feet barely touching the ground before I’m off somewhere else.  I’m calling it my gap year, albeit about twenty years too late.  It’s the year I’ve learnt the most and one that has opened my eyes about travelling, changing the way I do things and what I feel makes a holiday.  One big happy learning experience.

Driving through the streets of Hanoi on the way to the airport, I snap away on my camera, eager to record everything about Hanoi.  Memories to treasure, stories to tell, cultures to explain, food to rave about.  I love travelling.

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It’s no secret that Singapore is like my second home so that of course is where I’m heading next.  I figure that each time I visit there’s a niggling list of things that I want to see and do, that I just never seem to get around to, so my next five days is about just that – crossing of some of those ‘must do’ items before the thought of it drives me crazy.

I’ve even split my time between two hotels to make sure I have no excuses, so first up, I’m at the Bay Hotel across the road from the massive white shopping complex known as Vivocity.  Vivocity is not just a shopping centre though, it’s the gateway to Sentosa and an MRT/bus station, not to mention home to hundreds of shops and loads of restaurants.

A few hours wandering around shopping and some dinner is all I’m up for tonight, but tomorrow – I start crossing things off that list.

Goodbye to the Best Friends a Girl Could Have

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It’s time to go back to reality this morning, and it’s a different goodbye because I’m not boarding the plane with my gorgeous girlfriends.  Rather I will wait for my later flight, back home to the other side of Australia.  It’s been a fabulous couple of days and I’m so glad we had Singapore.  The perfect place for our time together.

Malay Today

All the pampering and relaxation of the last couple of days must be starting to pay off, because we can’t for the life of us decide what to do today.  As it turns out we decided it wasn’t going to be much, and what could suit that requirement better than anything else?  Sitting on the sightseeing bus.

It’s actually something I’ve not done before in Singapore – apart from the special bus that drives you around to see the Christmas lights at the end of the year.  And it’s kind of nice.  It gives a different perspective on Singapore, seeing things from a different height.  There’s more scope to appreciate the amazing architecture and I even spotted things I must have walked past a million times and not noticed before.

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There are, as always roadworks going on – more additions to Singapore’s wonderful MRT system.  This time the roads around Little India are being dug up like there’s no tomorrow, and I wonder how far away it will be before the new route is completed?

When we arrive at Kampong Glam, otherwise known as the Malay Quarter, we jump off the bus to explore.  Although I have been here a couple of times before, I have not yet ventured inside the Malay Heritage Centre.  The beautiful wooden floorboards are a welcome relief to bare feet and as we pad through the rooms of what was the former Istana (royal residence) of the Sultanate of Singapore-Johor, we get to learn all about Singapore’s Malay heritage.

Built in 1819, the Istana now houses an array of historical artefacts which detail the many stories of the Malays.  From every day household items to musical history, this is another example of Singapore’s wonderful museum odes to its cultural background.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – museums are something that Singapore does incredibly well.

The museum is situated next to Sultan Mosque and to enter you pay your ticket entrance fee at the small pavilion next door to the Istana.  Visitors are then required to remove their shoes and leave them in the shelving outside.

One of the other incredible things we found today was something that had alluded me on previous visits to Singapore – the Civilian War Memorial.  The padang (the Malay word for ‘field) is a stretch of green located on the left bank of the Singapore River.  It was a popular place for people to meet and relax and had been a place of social gathers before the times of colonisation.  When the Japanese occupied Singapore during WWII, it was also the place where the Japanese hearded together the European population before marching them off to Changi Prison.

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The memorial was completed in 1967 on the site of the Padang in remembrance of those civilians killed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.  The design was selected in an open competition and was won by one of Singapore’s most renowned architects – Leong Swee Lim.  The four posts, sometimes referred to as the giant chopsticks locally, symbolise the four main cultures of Singapore:  Chinese, Eurasian, Indian and Malay.  The remains of unknown victims are buried beneath the memorial.

Let Me Eat Cake!

A good night’s rest and we awaken to Saturday or – Sentosa Day!

Sentosa is home to one of the best day spa’s I’ve ever visited.  Formerly Spa Botanica, it has recently been taken over and renamed So Spa.  The spa is surrounded by tropical foliage and roaming peacocks and one of the best things about it is the mud pool.  There’s nothing quite like lathering yourself up in thick, rich mud, baking yourself in the sun and then rinsing it all off to reveal your tingling new skin.  Nobody is quite sure why mud is so good for your skin, but some believe it’s to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of the mud and it’s good enough that some dermatologists recommend it to their patients as a complementary therapy.

There’s not much more to say about the heaven that is this day spa, but it’s just as well we have relaxed up today because we are heading out for dinner tonight at Kudeta.  Perched atop Marina Bay Sands with incredible views of the city by day and by night (but especially by night), this awesome restaurant presents you with a menu designed to share with friends, accompanied by gorgeous cocktails.  The food as always is amazing and it’s great to try some food that doesn’t normally appear on the menu at home.  But especially great is dessert.  I’m halfway through my first one when the waiter belatedly brings out the birthday cake that the girls had pre-organised.  But hey, who am I to turn away dessert.

The Best Place in the World for a Girl’s Holiday

So, off to Singapore we head again – Jo, Erin and I.  We meet at the airport, me grumpy and tired after a long day at work, a longer flight than I’m used to for a trip to Singapore and a never-ending queue at immigration, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  The girls have arrived before me and all grumpiness is left behind when I see their smiles and we head out into the warm Singapore after-midnight air.

A different hotel will play host to us this time as we wanted to be nice and close to shopping and dining and on as good a budget as we could get in Singapore.  And with those guidelines in place, we find ourselves at the Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway, conveniently located at the back of the 313 Somerset shopping mall.  There isn’t much time for exploring given the time of night (or should I say morning), but there’ll be plenty of time for that tomorrow – I mean later today.

Priorities are an important thing, and we made sure we were on top of ours by spending our first day in Singapore (after a couple hours sleep of course) at the OPI Salon at The Forum.  I love this shop and visit every time I’m in town because they do such a thorough job and I always feel so refreshed when I walk out the door.  So for the next few hours we sit and have our hands a feet buffed, filed, dipped in wax, lotioned up and painted to perfection.  The hardest thing about this morning, is choosing what nail polish colour to pick!

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Relaxation is hungry work though, which means that next up on the list, its dumpling time!

Small pieces of dough, boiled, steamed or fried to perfection hiding an array of fillings such as vegetables, mutton, prawns and chicken – these little parcels are heaven on a plate and usually appear on our Singapore itinerary somewhere.  History tells us that the story of the dumpling began when a man nicknamed “the Medical Saint”, better known as Zhang Zhongjing, returned to his hometown during winter to find the villagers suffering from frostbite.  He wrapped mutton and medicinal herbs in dough skin and fed them to the sick in the hope of curing the frostbite.  The dumplings were considered a way of warming the skin and promoting blood flow.  But they were also incredibly tasty!

Today we are loading up on them at the world famous Din Tai Fung.  Started by Bingyi Yang in Taiwan, DTF was originally a shop that sold oil.  When tinned oil went on sale in 1972, his sales plummeted and searching for a new direction, Bingyi and his wife started making dumplings.  This new direction paid off and the dumpling store became a word of mouth success story.  DTF is Michelin star rated and ranked one of the world’s Top 10 Best Restaurants by the New York Times.  The word dumplings also includes har gow, siew mai, cha siu bao, lo mai gai, crystal dumplings and wontons.

Of course the best way to eat off dumplings is to shop and being on Orchard Road there is not shortage of places to do that!  From Sephora to Zara, Mango to Royce and my favourites – Charles and Keith and Kinokuniya.  Kinokinuya has the most incredible range of books as I’ve mentioned before, but Charles and Keith is incredible.  Charles and Keith is a Singapore shoe company founded by brothers – you guessed it – Charles and Keith (Wong) and there’s hardly a mall in Singapore where you won’t find one of their stores.  The first store was located in the Amara Shopping Centre in Tanjong Pagar in 1996 and today you can find them throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia and the Middle East.  They stock some incredible shoes, or as Erin once called them “art for your feet”.  And the most incredible thing about them is the price.  I have to pop into at least two stores on each visit.

Despite plans for a big night, after a few glasses of sparkling wine and with our 2am arrival and long day of pampering starting to hit hard, we end up deciding on a nice dinner at Chijmes.  Pronounced “chimes”, this history building complex began life as Caldwell House in 1840, having been built for Magistrate Clerk, H C Caldwell.  From 1852 through to 1892, Father Jean-Marie Beurel bought the parcels of land surrounding Caldwell House and created a Convent, Orphanage, Charitable Institution, Chapel, primary and secondary schools and a boarding house.  The boarding house was close din 1963 due to dwindling demand created by the changing times.  The primary and secondary schools were demolished to make way for the MRT headquarters, but the remaining buildings were given back to the government in 1989, before being renamed Chijmes in 1990.  For the next six years, Chijmes underwent extensive renovation works to convert it into a major commercial complex.  Further works to turn the space into a ‘unique lifestyle venue’ commenced in 2011 and were only recently completed.

It’s a beautiful space – stunning buildings filled with restaurants and bars with swathes of green grass – a calming atmosphere hidden within the walls of the complex.  You’d almost be forgiven for not going inside to explore the hidden gem.  But once you do, you’ll keep coming back.

Garden State

Right.  Now after all the walking I’ve done over the last few weeks, including over those horrid cobblestones, which had no therapeutic effect at all, it’s time to treat the feet.  And the hands might as well get some attention while we’re at it.  So I took the opportunity a few days back and email the ever wonderful staff of OPI Forum in Singapore and booked us in for ‘the best day ever’.

I try to get an appointment at OPI whenever I’m in Singapore, because, apart from their fabulously named wonderful rainbow of colours, they always do a great job and their attention to detail is something to be seen.  As such, our feet and hands were transformed from haggard and tired, to fresh, revived and divine.  Nothing beats the feeling of having a fresh start for your skin.

After that, there’s even time for a quick bit of shopping along Orchard Road, before we head back to the hotel to collect Dad for some lunch at Clarke Quay, before we head out for the evening.

Dad loves gardens and gardening, so where better to head than Marina Bay to check out what’s new – in particular the Gardens by the Bay.  We arrive in time to watch the first light show, which starts at 7.45pm. I’ve talked about the Gardens by the Bay Light Show on my last two trips, and believe me when I say, I don’t ever want to come back here again, in the nicest possible way.  Not that it isn’t absolutely amazing, but c’mon – three times in a row! Enough already. I’m not even going to take a single photo.  Promise.

However, you can never blog enough about dinner at Kudeta and that’s where we are heading next – the best view in town I reckon.  And it just so happens to be Kudeta’s 4th birthday.  The food was great as usual, but the dessert really took the cake.  Dad was silly enough to say no to dessert, so he didn’t get to share a single mouthful of ours, but Mum and I shared the Goma Cake (miso white chocolate, macha ganache, apricot jelly, black sesame seed powder and sesame crisps) and the Lassi Meringue and Strawberry Prosecco (black pepper meringue, coconut sorbet, pistachio pastry cream and pistachio coconut malto).  You just need to get yourself here and order these delights for yourself so you know what I’m talking about.

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After dinner I watched an incredible show on how the new National Stadium was built.  It covered all facets of the construction from how they selected the type of grass, to planning of the stadium’s acoustics and sound system.  It has one of the world’s largest closing rooves and incorporates furniture built from pieces of the old National Stadium.  I imagine it would be quite something to behold and would relish the chance to have a look at it next time.  But for those with tv coverage, you might be able to see it on the 2014 Asian Games, which will be held in the stadium.

In Search of a Happy Ending

As the plane comes to land in Singapore, it occurs to me that I probably should have booked a room at the transit hotel.  The last few weeks have been exhausting (for reasons I’ll explain another time), and I am so tired and sore that all I can think of is a nice bed for an hour or two, especially seeing as I’m only 5 hours into my travels and am still yet to make it to Munich.

I make my way to the Ambassador, but there are no rooms.  I am devastated at the loss of a hot shower and a snooze in an actual bed, which felt so close.  Instead I make my way to My Foot Reflexology, in the hope that I can at least get some relief for my aching back.  I ask her what they have in the way of a back massage, and she recommends the 45 minute shiatsu massage.  I don’t know what that involves, but she has me at ‘you can lie down’, and that’s it, I’m hooked.

She selects one of her masseuses, a young gentleman who appears to be mute.  They lead me to a room and I lie down on the bed, fully clothed and waiting for the relief to begin.  I could immediately feel that the stress of the last few weeks had taken their toll on my body, every muscle screaming as the masseuse pressed and pummelled and kneaded.  Turns out shiatsu is not the kind of massage you want when you want to relax.  I was aching in spots I wasn’t even aware of, probably due to the fact he was poking, producing and rubbing me in spots I didn’t even know could be massaged.

The masseuse was grunting away as he used every ounce of his strength to unknot the mess my muscles had got into and the force was making the massage bed shake and squeak.  At times he was sitting over me, in rather awkward positions and I found myself wondering whether there would be a happy ending to this massage (mind out of the gutter) or whether I would be ending up looking like a bruised, mottled mess tomorrow.

But finally the 45 minutes was up, and after a cup of tea, I unsteadily left for the safety of a lounge chair where I stopped for a while to try and regain my composure and lose the foggy head that the massage had given me before boarding my flight to Munich.

So we’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but next time, think I’ll remember to get a room.