Christmas in Singapore (19-27 December 2000)

Tuesday 19 December 2000.

We left home at 6.15, due to the early arrival of our taxi. A quick ride to the airport, and an almost instant checkin - I suppose we were around 40 minutes early.

They'd not been able to find us a bulkhead seat, but had found us 2 seats together where the aircraft narrowed. Baggage straight in and off for something to eat. Terminal 2 is a bit sparse on eating places, but we still managed to get a nice sausage bap (well a sausage one for Estelle and a bacon one for Steve!) and a coffee/tea. After buying some magazines, we found somewhere to sit - coincidentally near where our flight was due to board. This turned out to be some 40 minutes late, so we ended up taking off about an hour late The flight was about an hour and half to Zurich - where as usual, we couldn't get off the plane, but saw some snow covered hills on the way down. We had a turkey croissant sandwich on the way. Pretty ordinary. Since we were sitting in a two seat row, we had both the aisle and window seat, which we swapped, whenever we went to the loo. It provided enough legroom for both of us to be relatively comfortable - certainly compared to our NZ trip. From Zurich, we had a direct flight to Singapore. We had a lunch chucked at us, which was basically a fancy pork chop and we then had time to spend watching videos or reading. The film selection was very ordinary so we both read instead - I watched the odd bits of movies and shorts, though.

The cabin lights were later dimmed, as we flew into the night - obviously, an eastbound flight means you are flying into later in the day...

Both of us managed some fitful sleep, mine interspersed with odd batches of playing Nintendo. A couple of seat swaps and we were being offered breakfast. We both had chicken noodle (Chinese breakfast?) and enjoyed it very much. We filled in our immigration cards and started our descent into Singapore. As on our previous landing, one of the most impressive sights is still the staggering number of ships passing by. We landed very softly at Changi - so softly, the pilot was given a round of applause - and were able to look back at a pretty uneventful trip, save only a little clear air turbulence.

After the usual slow departure from the aircraft (why does everyone stand up immediately?) we were on our way to immigration and baggage claim - interesting seeing shorthaul destinations like Bali.... nice smooth running walkways took us to immigration, where we were swiftly processed. It was interesting to walk down to the immigration counters which we'd looked down on - exhausted - when we flew to NZ some 15 months earlier. Efficient baggage claim with free trolleys - and surprise, surprise no Brits ignoring the no smoking signs [perhaps they'd twigged this would be a BAD idea]. Out through customs and towards the taxis - we ended up with the shuttle instead - a shared minibus which was S$7 to the hotel about 3 - so very reasonable.

As we walked out of the terminal, the heat hit us like a wall. If you described it to someone they'd say, "You're having a laugh!". Estelle visibly wilted, and I could see her thinking that she'd made a mistake. The minibus was aircon, however, and as we drove into the city we had ample opportunity to examine and admire why Singapore is called the garden city. Everywhere, even the central reservations on the motorway/dual carriageways is planted with vigorous shrubs. The whole place looks like a park - despite the immense number of high rise buildings. Far more than *any* British city - much more like Manhattan.

We arrived at our all glass tiny little hotel - only 27 stories high and were pleased to find our room already ready for us - though a little concerned to learn that they thought we were only staying for 3 nights. That sorted out we went up in the Glass lift to our room on the 18th floor. The hotel is built round an enormous, 27 floor atrium - and once out of the lift, it felt hot. Our porter showed us in and showed us how to put on the power and aircon, whilst we admired the view. Roof top tennis courts anyone?

We put the kettle on and checked the bed was hard enough (it was) and decided we needed a bath. We were both delighted to clean off the travelling grime, and I put on shorts and T-shirt while Estelle donned a sundress. We had put our flash new P20 suncream on and then took our hats and set off. We looked at the Singapore guide map, and thought Clarke Quay looked in walking distance - and that would take us by the river. Out into the heat of the atrium we went. Down into the pleasantly cool lobby.

Outside. Wow. We'd thought it was warm at the airport. Not so. The temperature must have been 32 - around 90. And about the same humidity - it reminded me of the Philippines, and I think Estelle thought she'd walked into Hell. Still, it was interesting so we set off walking towards the river. The streets are very clean, and most drivers appear to obey the traffic lights, which is just as well, considering how wide the roads are. We got fairly easily down to where the slow brown Singapore river was, it had a nice brick path beside it, with almost no-one walking on it (mad dogs and Englishmen, perhaps?).

We slowly walked along beside it (and crossed a bridge to get us towards Clarke Quay). The bright sun and the humidity were very tiring. We found an underpass (which had an illuminated moving sign, welcoming visitors to it) and crossed towards the Quay. The quay is made up of old warehouses which have been renovated to form eating places and bars. We wandered around looking at all these and decided it was time for a sit down in the cool and a nice cold beer or two. Few places were actually open, as the place does not come alive until dark. Our cold tiger beers went down well but they cost about $S 5 each. We walked on along satay alley, this looked a very interesting place to come to eat...

Time to wonder back, in the overwhelming heat. We strolled slowly along the other side of the quay and just had to stop at a place which made its own beer, as we were already too hot. This place was quite busy but Steve enjoyed the Singapore IPA, Estelle enjoyed her wheat beer less. The waiters were quite keen to serve food but the menu looked pretty ordinary. Then we found our first hawker stall; it looked like a market hall full of little stalls selling all sorts of Chinese and Malaysian dishes. This was particularly appealing since it was nice and cool. Quick decisions were made, Steve had Chinese chicken noodles and Estelle had barbecue pork and rice, we were also talked into having some pak choi. A very nice meal and cheap, about $S12. Slowly back to the hotel for a soak in a cold bath and a much-needed kip.

Satay Alley

We woke about 7pm and decided satay alley was the place to eat. We left and walked the same route in the dark, a bit cooler now, only about 75 degrees and a slight breeze form time o time. Stopped for a beer in the Coco Carob sitting outside watching students coming off the boat trips and drinking cocktails out of pineapples, some were wearing thick white socks scrunched round their ankles - local fashion?

Straight to the alley, but immediately accosted by the owners of each stall plying for business, they were very keen. We managed to walk all the way through and were able to decide what we wanted to eat. We stopped at the last stall and ordered chicken satay, beef satay, shrimp satay plus Singapore noodles and mixed veg.

A jug of beer was most welcome by then costing about $S20 though. Within minutes, the food arrived, about 50 sticks in total! Litt5le bowls of satay sauce were provided and then we began to eat. All the satay sticks were delicious, the shrimps were about 4 inches long. Noodles were very hot and spicy and the mixed veg was excellent, and quite garlicky. It felt quite strange sitting outside in the dark, warm air eating dinner whilst Christmas carols were being played! Completely full, we set off back to the hotel; it was still very warm and heavy so we had to sit by the river for a while on the way back. We admired all the Christmas lights on the hotels and hanging in the trees on the way back and listened to some odd bird singing in the trees outside the hotel. Time for another bath! Steve napped for a while before his. Estelle made a quick phonecall home and then we fell to sleep.

Thursday 21 December 2000.

Amazing how the time change takes you...

We had left on the morning of the 19th, and spent a day in Singapore, and here it was - 2 days later. We'd both slept, if somewhat disturbed, but only truly woke about quarter to ten.

Estelle had commented how fast it got light - in about 15 minutes to full light at 6.45.

After a quick shower we had breakfast on the 4th floor melting pot cafe. - Cereal, juice, eggs, bacon, chicken sausage, hash brown, French toast and so on - oh, and fresh pineapple, watermelon and melon. Back to the room, brushup and lets go!

We decided to have a look at the much-vaunted orchard Road shopping (but first got the concierge to book us on to the night safari tour). The doorman told us we didn't need a taxi - if we waited 5 minutes, there was an aircon bus leaving from the back for Orchard road. We went out the back to the traditional blast of heat. After a couple of minutes Estelle went in as she started to wilt.

Orchard Road

When the bus arrived it took us quickly (and coolly) through the busy streets to Orchard Road. Very brash, tall buildings, loads of street decorations. Throughout the day, Estelle and I were to be amused at Xmas carols and decorations in 90 degree temperatures.

The first centre we went to, Paragon, was a "posh shop" 3 or 4 Swiss watch retailers - Prada handbags, general couture: not our sort of place. Estelle admired the shoppers, and wondered where all the money came from (probably from all over the Far East, it had to be said).

We walked out into the heat again to go towards Centrepoint center... Estelle flagging in the heat and we went in for a rest - Steve looking at cd/dvd/vcd kit and discs. We got to Centrepoint and were desperately in need of a drink. We fund our way to the 5th floor food court - where you were given a "Table Occupied" sign and two little slips of card - which wee to make charges on (They carried a warning that to lose the card carried a penalty of 2 days washing up or $100). We initially only wanted a drink, so we got 2 cokes and sat for a bit. The interesting sights and smells got too much for Steve to bear, so he snuck off and bought a bowl of laksa soup. Excellent - and only 4 dollars! (OK, S$4.50) After Estelle had been grudgingly allowed to taste a little of it, she went to buy something herself - Thai chicken and cashew nuts with rice - very passable and only about S$5.50.

Invigorated by this, we went and paid and had a walk round the stores - Steve finding some interesting electrics - though a bit pricey. We found a large interesting bookshop which we spent 40 minutes or so browsing in - and Steve bought a book - he'd not seen such a plethora of business/marketing and IT books in one place before (it reminded him he wanted to learn PHP...) We looked at textiles, Xmas decs and more shops - leaving there, we crossed the road to a "Speciality Centre" mostly a department store - nothing too exciting found there. We then walked on to the Orchard Point shopping Centre, where we decide to have a browse about.

We went up the most amazing curved escalator (really just one circle - so it curved up and down) and looked at more Christmas decs, and books) Steve spotted a video/audio shop next door but before going there we decided on another drink. We both had a Starbucks iced mocha. Very nice it was too. Time moved on, so we went to look at a present for Steve - yes, that's what it was about. A very convincing salesman talked us in to a model change - with all sorts of discounts - and then talked us into a jewellery shop - which segued into Estelle's Xmas pressy. Every store we saw was very festively decorated for Christmas, with trees, lights and decorations hanging from every possible corner, and Christmas carols were played constantly.

After queuing for some 20 minutes, we got a cab back to the hotel, which we welcomed with much relief -back into the cool room, where Estelle had a 5 minute bath, before Steve ejected her for an urgent visit. Following his bath they had a bit of a relax and read. We were a bit surprised to get a phone call at 5.30 reminding us to be downstairs at 6.00 for our Night safari. Very punctually, a guide arrived and we got on a coach which took us round the city, to the tourist centre at SunTec city, past the parliament, cricket club, courts and so on. We went down Orchard road and were greatly amused to see a huge snowman outside one of the stores and crowds of people standing as a snow machine wafted flakes of imitation snow over them. They all looked delighted, but then I suppose that they have never seen snow before, only on Christmas cards. We then paid for our tour and boarded another bus for our tour... but it was a dinner tour... we hadn't booked for dinner. So, much to our disappointment (not) we had to find somewhere to eat on Clarke Quay - Satay Club anyone? We nipped into the Hawker Centre to use the facilities and had a basic 20 chicken 10 mutton skewers with noodles and a beer (S$22 for the food - S$10 for the beer. Ouch).

Back to the coach and an interesting 20-mile drive to the zoo/safari through the darkening night. Lots of very pro Singapore chat from the guide - how far sighted Lee Kwan Yeu was when chucked out of Malay federation. How they decided to urbanise and high rise the South but we must leave some real jungle for the children - all schools visit the zoo twice yearly (and now must also visit the night safari.)

Singapore Night Safari

We got to the safari (average 2k visitors per night) and our tickets were collected for us - on to the tram - an open sided electric vehicle (Jurassic Park style!) which took us through the animals. All of them seemed to be loose and wandering freely (some *big* ditches and the odd fence keeping the bigger cats and predators at a safe distance.) You could clearly see, hear and *smell* the animals. I have a guidebook with some pics in (no flash photos allowed).

Too many for an exhaustive list - but the fishing cats, hyenas, lions and jackals were all impressive - and when we walked for 45 minutes after the tram ride, the wolves, dhole (Deccan Red Dogs) and tigers were again worth the entry fee. (Reminded Steve of the Jungle Book, of course). We also liked the cerval cats and the golden cats - and a joint favourite, the flying foxes - enormous bats which have very dog like faces - 2 had a disagreement - and scuttled round the roof of the enclosure. It was a very interesting walk but very warm and humid, Estelle had to use the mini fan to try to cool down. This made us quite weary.

Back to the hotel. Despite being exhausted, Steve started the diary, while Estelle bathed - a swap and while Steve showered Estelle diaried. Nearly up to date. Sleep.

Friday 22 December 2000

Estelle awoke to horrendous lightning and thunder at 5am on Friday 22. Steve didn't. He slept through till the alarm at 8am. Estelle was most unimpressed when after a cuddle Steve suggested going back o sleep. After he made a coffee, Estelle had a pout till he got on with the diary for an hour while she slept. At 9.20 she awoke refreshed - though the rain continued. Down for brekkie, Estelle being very good with fresh fruit and croissant - while Steve had cereal, pancakes, bacon, eggs and syrup - oh, and fresh fruit. Back to the room - swift change of itinerary - shall we go to the museum (in the rain?)

Singapore Museum

Yes. So, outside to the front of the hotel and ask the taxi driver - "Which Singapore Museum?" came the question. "The national museum of Singapore" we answered. On the way to the museum, the driver clucked, and asked if we fancied walking part of the way. Our interest in this waned when we discovered we'd have to walk up the Fort canning hill. He dropped us outside the museum, where we paid for a visit and film show. With a few minutes till the next performance at 11.30 we went and looked at the dioramas of Singapore through the ages - learning quite a bit of new stuff and watching to see how the Japanese tourists took the representations of Japanese atrocities during the occupation. We didn't get to see, because their group kept slowing - possibly 'cos they knew we were watching.

After seeing this, we looked at the story of Colonel Farquar, who accompanied raffles, and actually had more to do with the establishment of the colony. (He was later dismissed by Raffles - and we were unaware that Stamford raffles only visited Singapore 3 times over 4 years... quite an impression he made.

We looked at the 3 D film next - which was quite impressive - 3D representation of WW2 aircraft dog fighting, Japanese soldiers shooting, and riots explosions... Bit heavy on the political messages though...

We had a walk through the 700 years of Singapore exhibition, which showed the conflicts of the various sultanates and the later arrival of the English...

We looked at a propaganda exhibition (what went on in the pacific war) and then a secret society [triad] type exhibition. We visited the perankan display - which basically showed how prosperous Malay/Eurasian families had a fusion culture - beautiful red/gold and black/gold furniture with beautiful ornate displays of mother of pearl inlay (often wedding furniture). Pride of place often given to crystal epergnes (glass displays for flowers from... Stourbridge. Very cultured literate in several languages. Then off for a quick look at a show of nature drawings, the Haw Par Jade exhibition, loads of beautiful coloured jade... and then out drink, loo and walk off into the heat. The rain, which had been lashing down all morning had subsided. We walked down the road to a hawker centre, where we each had a spicy laksa soup - and Estelle bumped into a lady from the plane. Small city?

We stopped at the museum shop which had some very interesting items on display. Estelle bought a golden dragon of Singapore for Michelle and a carved box for Steve. Steve bought pressies too.

We walked on and went to the Raffles City shopping centre - which was a bit dull after some of the others - and not so well cooled. We had the world's most expensive cup of tea (a mug of hot water and a tea bag) and a milkshake at the Westin Plaza.

It was fun watching the lightning crash down around us and listening to the thunder. Yes, it rained again. We eventually got them to take some money, but only by me wandering about with the bill and correct change in my hand.

We saw a fascinating indoor fountain - a large marble pool, with a black central disc in it. The central disc had six holes in it which spurted water at various rates and times - quite high too. While that went on, there were wave and tide effects next to the disc in the pool. It made quite a noise as dollops of water landed.

We then left and queued 20 minutes for a taxi back to the hotel. It was too hot to walk back and the risk of rain was a bit much. After a tidy up at the hotel, we went for a couple of drinks in the hotel bar, where we were serenaded as "that lovely couple" by the Filipino 4 piece band. We noticed the 2 Filipinas went for several drinks with the party of Japanese businessmen...

Chilli Crab at the Seafood Centre

Then, off in a taxi to the UDMC seafood centre on the East Coast Parkway. Longish taxi ride about S$10 - but an enormous carpark for the 15 restaurants. We had Crayfish, chilli crab (hot) baked fish and greens (and 2 jugs of beer) Very nice (if a bit messy). After the meal, we went for a walk along the prom and beach, lots of picnic tables, and we were both tickled by a sign that said "Beware of falling coconuts." Then a quick taxi back to the hotel, bath and bed.

Saturday 23 Dec 2000

Another very wet and overcast morning. Down for breakfast about 9.30. Estelle had fruit and toast and jam, Steve had fruit, toast and jam and cheese omelette. Decided that we would stick to our plans and go to Sentosa regardless of weather. Set off in taxi for Mt Faber, about a 15-minute ride. Steve queued for tickets whilst Estelle bought pressies and an umbrella, which was invaluable during the day!

Sentosa Island and Fort Siloso

Steve had bought tickets for a glass-bottomed cable car, which meant slightly longer in the queue. Unfortunately, we were 2 out of 6 people in the car so it was very squashed and hot and stuffy, as there did not appear to be any aircon. Estelle had sat backwards so Steve joined her but would have preferred to sit front facing. The glass bottom was not that useful as it was covered by everyone's feet but still the view was quite impressive The central tower was 250ft high and the view over the harbour was quite clear showing the many ships. Going over the island was like going over a jungle, so many trees, palms, green everywhere. We landed on Sentosa and stopped for iced cappuccino which was very refreshing.

Off to the Images of Singapore. This was an incredibly impressive and informative showcase with dioramas depicting life through the ages in Singapore, lots more info this time on the pre war period and little concentration on the politics. The Festivals of Singapore again was made up of dioramas depicting all the different cultures that are Singapore and detailing some of the many festivals. It was very good.

Then we went on the monorail which is free and goes round the island via 7 stops. We went to stop 7 via the Merlion an enormous stone statue of a lion headed mermaid, Singapore is "the city of the lion" as this was allegedly seen by the first settlers (it was in fact a tiger). We passed the beach resorts and the posh Beaufort Hotel.

At our stop we went down to find the Sentosa Food Centre, again another collection of food outlets selling all sorts of mouth-watering goodies. Steve opted for chicken noodles and chilled coconut milk out of the coconut and Estelle had chicken rice and sugar cane juice. Feeling refreshed we went back to the monorail towards Fort Siloso. Originally built in 1878, it was to form the basis of defence for Singapore and was actively used during WWII. Lots of tunnels to go through where the soldiers used to live and again dioramas to explain life as a soldier in the early days and during the war. Lots of battery guns to look at and history re-enacted. By the way, on the way to the top we got caught in another tropical rainstorm, despite the use of the umbrella, we were soaked through, but at least it cooled us down a bit, for a while anyway. Back on the monorail to the cable car station, in heavy rain again. This time we managed to get a car to ourselves but we were advised to sit back to back to balance the weigh a bit. At least Steve got the front view this time which pleased him. We got off at the World Trade Centre and then had to wait about 15 mins or so for a taxi. Estelle was getting worried about the time as we were expected at the Novotel for 5.15, of course it was all Steve's fault, as he would not leave Fort Siloso when reminded of the time!

We arrived back at the Concorde with 10 minutes to be ready at the Novotel. A very quick change out of wet clothes and an attempt at combing hair; we raced off to the Novotel and arrived dead on 5.15. Relief, but now very warm and sweaty through having to rush!

We need not have bothered. After waiting several minutes to see the tour operator, she advised us that there was a problem and we had to make our own way to the Clifford Quay, but that we would get our taxi fare refunded. Off we went. On arrival, we were disappointed to find that we were not going out on the large very ornate Chinese junk but on a smaller plain junk.

Junk trip

We left at 6pm - drinking our complimentary "Singapore Sling", though the barman at Raffles would end it all if he made one like that - but it was pouring so they had to pull the side sheets down. We managed to sit at the front and set off through the harbour. It was very impressive to chug past all the ships in the harbour. Singapore is the busiest port in the world and there are always a minimum of 800 ships moored in the various port areas. We saw tankers, cableships, container ships, tugs, water taxis and bumboats (a water taxi carries crew, a bumboat cargo, if you were interested.) We were regaled with an at times incomprehensible commentary through feedback, and had sights pointed out to us. One of the things that struck us was the amount of land reclaimed - it seems as if the government sort of went "hmm, need some more leisure area. Reclaim a bit of land for fishing and seafood restaurants. Oh, and stick a beach on it". The only place that struck a parallel for us was Milton Keynes - with its 25-year development plan - including leisure, housing and business. Steve went on to the front and top decks - the rain belting down harder. Estelle came for a little walk on the front deck, but the rain was really quite unpleasant. The boats looked impressive, as we threaded out way through them, and the skyscrapers loomed out of the distant rain and mist. Steve fetched a couple of cans of beer to the front for us, not that we needed to cool down, terribly. The sea developed quite a chop as we went out to the islands, past a pair of islands - joined into one by reclamation, and another said to have been founded when a turtle turned itself into an island to save some drowning seafarers. In the space between 2 islands, we were invited to dine.

We lined up and got dished out noodles, rice, roast beef (?), pancake rolls, satay, fried fish and chicken - all very pleasant, w e had seconds, then had some fruit - including starfruit. After Estelle had started eating, we were moved to the back of the boat - as it was raining too heavily to stay at the front.

Estelle went to a horrid below deck toilet, and the boat headed back. We went through some quite choppy waves, and watched the Singapore lights get closer. Very nice too. After a wee bit more chat about how busy Singapore was as a container port, we got back to Clifford Pier. A longish wait for a taxi, and back to the hotel. We bought postcards, some milk for tea, another brolly, and a shopping bag for Estelle. back to the room and Estelle diaried while Steve wrote PC's and had a bath. Steve then finished up diary while Estelle bathed - then bed ready for an early start.

However, our sleep was disturbed (!) when a fire alarm went off and was then cancelled - the aircon went really fast and a repeated voice announcement told us not to panic. Not helpful, really.

Sunday 24 December - Christmas Eve 2000!

We rose early, to a set alarm clock at 7.30. We had a cup of coffee/tea - with real milk yet, then down for an early breakfast (early for us anyway.) We both had juice and fresh fruit, and Steve had toast, then pancakes bacon and egg. He followed that with a healthy toast and scrambled egg. Estelle had corned beef hash, hash browns and baked beans (with raw toast).

We had a brief chat with an older American guy from California, he liked Singapore and was interested to hear Steve had been to the States; he recommended Estelle should visit the Grand Canyon - after a stop in Las Vegas. Not Steve's choice...

His rather pretty, much younger Thai "wife" appeared rather too grand to talk to us - and indeed seemed too grand to talk to him, as Estelle noticed her kicking the man's artificial legs to one side. His legs, talk of his heart op, and the bucket of pills didn't make him look a good risk. We wondered what she saw in the wealthy old American...

After breakfast, we went to get our cards sorted for posting by the concierge, and asked if we could delay checkout till later on Wednesday. The assistant manager, dubbed Miss Snooty, was most unhelpful. "12.00 latest checkout, " she said helpfully. Since our flight leaves at 11.40pm, we were most gratified...

Still, we successfully confirmed our flight to UK by phone, and have been invited to checkin by phone on Christmas Day. How odd.

We found a taxi outside the hotel, who professed willingness to take us to Bukit Timah Nature reserve. Fair drive, about 12 clicks out. He said he might be round there at 13.30, which was our target departure time

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

The place is not overdeveloped (no big souvenir tat shop, nor a food court. We bought some water, picked up a map and began to walk uphill.

Steep uphill. Wow. 1 in 3, 1 in 4 maybe - very testing normally, but in a tropical rainforest, 28-30 degrees? Nearly unbearable. But there were loads, and loads, and loads of long tailed macaque monkeys. Easily 40- 50 passed us in small groups and singles. We weren't pestered by them, unlike some other places - because in Singapore? A S$10,000 fine if you feed them. The road continued to go up, but slightly less steeply. We had stopped once or twice, allegedly to look at trees, but mostly for a rest, but we welcomed the sight of a little hut with seats in. We sat there and fanned ourselves, and drank water, and Estelle said, "Ooh, have a luck - I think something's bitten me". She was wrong. The little monster was still making a meal of her. Steve got it, and it squished with a satisfactory splurge of Estelle's blood. We then decided to walk on. The sound of cicadas, familiar from Spain, is much louder in the rain forest. You could hear the noise growing as we climbed, until you actually had to speak up over it. There was a plethora of vines, lianas, and other creepers, some apparently twizzled aimlessly in the sky - although we later found that was because their supporting tree had tied. Steve's favourite name was the strangler fig. Many of the trees had buttress roots and were arrow straight - and tall. Apparently, surveys done have shown there are more varieties of trees in one hectare of the Nature Reserve than in all of North America. Striking.

We plodded steadily on through the humid jungle, surrounded by the smell of the forest, a sort of damp decay (like old mildewed towels - or the last few mouldy potatoes in the bag. Well, not quite like that, but that's the closest we can come up with. But it was so hot...

We kept going with another couple of rests, and we got to the top of the hill [amazingly marred by two police radio masts - on top of their highest hill!] We were amused by the large picnic - a couple of youngish men, together with their national Service rucksacks, had brought a party of kids up. The picnics were brown waxed paper envelopes folded over BBQ pork, veg, and rice, with a little placcy bag of sauce. Not tuna salad sarnies at all!

After getting our 2nd (or 3rd) wind we started back down, and decided to follow the Jungle Falls path. This was very spooky, Estelle said, and quite muddy and steep in parts. The path was actually much longer than we thought, but we saw lots of interesting trees. The cacophony of noise from the insects just increased, sounding as if there was a contingent or two of electric drill in the nearby clearings. We had a huge descent down some rough steps - and came to the grandly titled falls. Not large at all - more like a drainpipe. We then had a steep climb back to the road, and found we'd actually done the longest set walk in the park. Hmm. A rapid descent was easier than the climb, but still very hard on our legs. When we got down to the bottom, another 2 bottles of water were soon consumed.

As our taxi driver didn't turn up (not that he had promised to) we walked towards the road. Steve tried to hail a full taxi - but the driver spotted us and raised his hand in what seemed to be acknowledgement. While we waited to see if it was, we looked at the sight of monkeys, eating fruit by the building works. The taxi came back and accepted the fare to the Concorde. How nice it was to sit in the cool comfort of that air- conditioned taxi!!!! He was another very chatty driver who talked about the way of life in Singapore and told us about the laws. He explained that people sweeping streets with a CWO (Community Work Order) label on them were doing time for crime, this seemed like a good idea to us.

Back at the hotel and top priority, showers all round. Steve went first and had a lengthy cool shower followed by Estelle who also had to wash her hair. Cups of coffee and a 30- minute break to recuperate from the experience of the day. Estelle said she was glad she had had the experience but did not want to do it again in a hurry.

Time then to think about food. Off to the food court down the road where Steve had chicken rice which seemed a bit bland and Estelle had spicy shredded chicken which was very hot indeed. It started raining on the way and poured down whilst we were in the food court. As it had stopped raining when we left, we decided to go a walk along the Singapore River which was really brown and quite smelly today. When we arrived back at the hotel, Estelle needed a little nap whilst Steve read. Then Estelle started to do hair and get ready to go out whilst Steve wrote diary. A quick role reversal which brought us to 6pm when it was time to leave again.

We have an 8pm appointment with some spicy Peranakan food at the Blue Ginger, but as it is on Orchard Road we are going to look at the shops for a mini disc for Steve to try his Christmas present tomorrow. We also thought it would be nice to see the lights and snow since it is Christmas Eve. We got a taxi down to Orchard Road but thought we might have to walk back later if it was too busy. Busy?? We have never seen anything like it, it was absolutely heaving, there were literally thousands of people on the road - well it is one of the busiest shopping areas in the world.

The temperature did not seem too bad but it was difficult trying to work our way through the crowds. There were people everywhere, many literally queuing to get into the shops, crowds waiting for taxis and crowds waiting for buses, we knew then that we would have to cope with the walk back. Whilst walking about, we noticed a rather nice looking luggage shop, where once again we were swiftly and efficiently sold 2 bags - "Special price for Christmas!" we were told. Steve said we were going for a meal. No problem. They'd deliver. In for a penny, in for a pound, and out came a credit card. We moved on, and we found the HMV store easily and eventually, Estelle spotted the MDs. Steve made his choice and Estelle quickly purchased so that she could get out of the noisy store - into the crowds and the heat. Time for a quick visit to Starbucks for a frozen cafe mocha, to cool down and then on to the Heeren Shopping plaza to find the Blue Ginger. We wondered round each floor for a while just watching the crowds and walking through the strange little malls. It was just so busy, noisy and not so cool.

Up to the Blue Ginger where we were seated quickly. The menu looked completely alien to us but Steve soon managed to choose a couple of dishes. A spicy beef one, a sort of steamed chicken with garlic and sweet potato. The waiter also suggested the shrimps in chillies. Very soon the food appeared and we were given a helping of rice too. All were quite tasty, especially the beef and the sweet potato. The meal was washed down with a tiger and a glass of calamansi juice. Time for dessert. We decided to try the local fruit, the durian, we had been told that this had a dreadful smell but tasted good. The waitress helpfully suggested that she serve the durian in a separate bowl to the sago and red bean dish. It arrived. It looked like a red brown puree and it smelled awful. Steve gingerly had a little taste followed by Estelle. Steve was not sure about it, Estelle said it was awful and the sago dish was no better. She tried a couple more tastes which confirmed her original opinion, Steve fared rather better but still did not really like it. At least we can say that we tried it.

We left the restaurant and wandered briefly round the centre before s hitting the street. Outside it was just as busy, and hotter and more humid. We tried to make our way up the road. Steve was able to locate Estelle in the crowds due to blonde hair and Estelle was able to keep an easy eye on Steve, as he was much taller than everyone else and the only bald man. The lights were very pretty, shimmering and sparkling all the way down the road. Baubles hung from trees, Christmas trees were everywhere, people were wearing red Santa hats and singing carols. Everyone seemed to be having fun. Estelle had to make another urgent visit to the loo in a food court whilst Steve waited on the front. The loo was round the back, 5 in the queue and it was by the hot air fans from the kitchen so she was wafted with hot air whilst desperately waiting. On then to Clemenceau Rd which was a bit quieter but it really was too warm and humid by then to be walking, unfortunately, no taxi in sight.

Finally into Havelock Road and the Concorde appeared in front of us. It had taken us about 90 minutes to walk back, we were very hot, very sweaty and very tired. Steve went straight in the bath. When he came out, Estelle showed him the big red-hot patches on her legs, then she went straight into the cool bath but said that her legs really hurt and stung. Steve held cold cans on them from the fridge to cool them down. Estelle spent a restless night with sore legs, poorly tum and aching knees, oh and she started with a cold too.

Christmas Day 2000.

Steve woke early, and watched the sky lighten while Estelle slept. It must have been almost the only sleep she'd had, with a dreadful night of pain in her legs, cramp in her tummy, and sniffs and sneezes. We lay quietly for a bit, and then opened pressies. We made appropriate noises of admiration (Estelle's pen and Steve's mini socks and mobile phone holder attracting much pleasure.) At 9.30 we decided we had to go down for breakfast. Everyone must have had a late night [carolling/singing had certainly gone on till late in the bar downstairs] as the breakfast room was crowded.

Steve had a nice omelette, corn beef hash and toast to follow his fresh fruit. Estelle had coffee, juice and a croissant. After breakfast, we went to look at the pool, for future reference, and also went up to the top floor to look. Wow. 27 floors is really high. Back to the room to rest and relax. Estelle had a yen for a Christmas day paper, and we needed tissues and milk - so s offered to go and find where to get a paper. He asked the concierge who smiled and said "Mr Ellwood, I just speak to your wife, some luggage delivered for you." Yep, last nights purchase had been delivered. With a paper from him, and some bits from the shop, Steve returned to the room. Bits of admiring later, and then it was time to get ready. We both had a little ironing to do, and then we poshed up. Estelle in her gold and posh frock, and Steve in his whites, blazer and tie. Straight into a taxi.

Christmas Dinner - Raffles Hotel

"Raffles hotel, please." What a kick to say that! When we arrived, a turbaned doorman helped us out, ungloved a hand to shake hands. "Merry Christmas, sir/madam".

The besuited Chinese maitre'd was politely greeting people at the door, and directing them round the hotel to the buffet.

"Good afternoon. We have reservations for the Grill?" He smiled, "Certainly, sir, madam - through here and to the right" We were invited in. The place is amazing. Tall ceilings, teak balustrades, white pillars. As we were early, we made our way back out to the Long bar, through the arcades, shops, and courtyards to the upper floor. A room in deep shade with wooden shutters, shielded by deep white balconies welcomed us. We took seats at a table beneath an automated punkah fan. The Malay manger greeted us, "Merry Christmas, sir, madam. A drink? Beer, Singapore Sling?" We went for a Sling each. We sat there, feeling ultra cool, eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor, admiring the cheeky sparrows who flew in and out to forage in the shells. Two more slings each, and it was time to go down for lunch.

We arrived at the Grill, noting the gift shop for future reference. We said who we were, and were surprised to note that we were the first people in the book for that sitting.

We were seated in a corner table, where we had a clear view out onto the terrace and the tropical trees. The waitress, who had placed our napkins on our knees, asked if we would like a glass of champagne to start our meal. We said sure, and were stunned to see the Dom Perignon being brought to our table; we were shown the bottle, which was, of course, vintage. We were poured a glass each - and tasted it. Steve had never really understood what "biscuity" meant as a taste - he does now.

The waiter checked what we wished for as main course - E had chapon, and s had sea bass.

The sommelier brought the wine list. Steve said he would have paid just to take the wine list. Many wines on this were over 100, quite a lot over 1,000. Steve's favourite was an 1897 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac - at some 7,000 a bottle. We had a much humbler Chardonnay from New Zealand, but still very fine - flinty and oaky.

After a few minutes, we were simultaneously served our starters, crab and smoked salmon, with caviar. The flavour was not possible to describe. The caviar almost melts in your mouth.

This was followed by mushroom soup - Which was called a cappuccino - and truly looked like this. It had black truffle in it, which heightened the flavour.

Our mains arrived - Steve said his fish was beautifully cooked and flavoured perfectly. Estelle's chapon was moist, tender and gorgeous. Steve had braised fennel, and e had glazed pumpkin.

The wine waiter kept delicately topping our glasses up from the silver wine cooler which was full of ice, and covered with a linen napkin.

We watched the monsoon rains falling outside the terrace - so heavily it darkened the sky, while we finished our main course.

Our dessert was served simultaneously - gingerbread ice cream on a ginger biscuit covering rhubarb and strawberry compote, and a dark chocolate wafer.

We had fresh coffee - which was very rounded and well flavoured. Estelle noticed that we hadn't had petit fours - so we asked for those and had more coffee. The home made chocolates tasted beautiful - but oh, so rich.

We noticed that whenever you left the table, waiters opened the doors unobtrusively for you, and when you walked back to the table your chair was silently pulled back for you. We had never seen such smooth service. Ever.

During the meal, we had listened to a large choir singing carols in the hall. It was splendid. We took the menus as souvenirs, and slowly made our way out.

We ambled to the gift shop to buy some more tokens to remember Raffles. (Steve bought a hat - and most surprisingly, we bough some fridge magnets...).

We walked slowly back through the courtyard savouring the ambience - and feeling we looked very cool - all dressed in our finery - Steve wearing his blazer in the 90-degree heat.

We took a last photo of the front of Raffles, and got into our taxi back to the Concorde. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the hotel - Estelle wasn't so clever later on - but Steve had some kway teo noodles from Room Service. We watched a couple of old movies and then slept well.

Boxing Day 2000.

We woke briefly around 6.30-7.30, being assured we felt OK, we promptly went back to sleep. We had to get up around 9.30 for breakfast - Estelle feeling strong enough for some toast - while Steve had juice, tea, toast scrambled eggs, bacon and corned beef hash...

We went back to the room to tidy up, as we'd decided we were going to visit the Singapore Zoo. Steve wrote some diary, while Estelle did preliminary packing. We got our stuff sorted, and went down, with Estelle determined we'd have it out with Miss Snooty about checkout time.

We had a chat with the concierge Hamid Safari, about what tours we could do tomorrow, and he identified a city tour for us. So, we booked on that, and headed to sort out reception. The assistant manager on duty, without demur offered to let us keep the room till 14.00, and suggested when we came back in the afternoon, we could shower at the pool area. What a refreshing change - what a nice man!

We got a taxi easily, and soon were on our way to the zoo. We chatted with the young Chinese driver, and learnt some of the other side of Singapore - from the youth side eyes. Very interesting, although he seemed to have a rather rose coloured view of the situation in the UK.

Singapore Zoo

The zoo looked really busy, and there were 4 enormous queues for tickets. Steve queued, while Estelle sheltered from the sun (and shopped for a drink - which Steve drank in the queue) After some 40 minutes, we had tickets, and with more drinks, and cunningly sold prawn crackers we set off into the zoo.

The key things that we liked were the pygmy hippos which we watched entranced for ages - as they almost danced round in their glass fronted enclosure - they were so graceful in the water. We also were very impressed with the King Cheetah - which is differently marked to an ordinary cheetah. Obviously, we went to see the tigers - who were lying down, looking disdainful at the visitors, many of whom were calling to them. We saw orang utangs and a couple of their babies - and were amused by one orang walking round covered by a sack - which another one pinched off him. We watched a polar bear swimming - which was impressive, but rather sad, as he seemed to be doing it by rote. Singapore is still too hot for polar bears... pool or not.

We walked through the reptile walk, which was very brave for Estelle, but she does like the big lizards. Both of us were a bit shaken to i) see how large a King Cobra was and ii) find that Singapore was in its range. The Komodo dragons that we walked what seemed like miles to see were only young - not as big as we thought - but Estelle got to see the orange gila monsters! Gibbons, chimps simiangs - and even loris and lemur. Very big on their primates. They also had loads of crocodilians - crocs, alligators and a ghavial. There was an enormous Nile croc - who looked very menacing. Most of them lay with their mouths open to cool themselves down. Flying foxes we saw within a foot or two through their glass - squabbling over fruit.

The zoo enclosures were really very clever, walls and ditches, so the animals looked free - even the big cats, which is very unusual.

The zoo is, however, a bit commercial for liberal Western tastes with sealion shows, elephant and orang shows (have breakfast with an orang) photo ops with chimps and baby orang utangs, and elephant rides. Normally, people are discouraged form having photos with animals, so it's a bit surprising when a zoo does it.

The zoo park is liberally filled with aircon shelters, which we had several occasions to use, as the sun beat down.

We finished in the zoo after about three and a half hours, and taxied back to the hotel. We were still hot and thirsty, so we had a couple of beers in the hotel bar, and looked at their bar food menu - not as god as the room service menu, so Estelle took her last beer, and we went back to the room. Steve had Hokkien Mee - 2 sorts of noodles with chicken and prawn (and chilli paste) and Estelle had Risotto with Chinese duck. Both very good. Steve felt sleepy, so we had a kip until about 6.40. Estelle pointed out that if we wanted to swim in daylight, we'd better go and do it now.

We went down to the 6th floor pool area, and after a little fuss getting tower and locker keys, we were able to swim. We both thought it splendid to be swimming in an outdoor, rooftop unheated pool on Boxing Day - we swam till it went completely dark, watching the sky go purple, and starts come out. The looming dark tower of the hotel seemed to hang above us as we swam. We like the pool with the flowering azaleas, and palm trees, and birds flying around. If we'd had time, we could have had a swim to cool down on other days - but we have been quite busy...

We got out of the pool about 7.45 and went back to the room. We'd decided to eat in the hotel that night, as the Cantonese steamboat special had caught our eye on the first day. The attentive staff were keen to help, but Steve was a bit shaken when he discovered the price of the lobster was per 100g - and the lobster would weigh about 1.3kg. Still only in Singapore on holiday once...

We ordered lobster, abalone, beef sirloin, Chinese spinach, enoki mushrooms and egg noodles - the recommended 6 items for 2 people. Estelle was a bit surprised when the live lobster was brought out to say hello, some minutes later - after we'd eaten our flash boiled sirloin, out came the lobster. We were asked if we'd like some raw, Estelle bravely saying yes. We ate raw lobster with light soy and wasabi (green incandescent horseradish). Actually we both liked it - a lot. The waitress kept coming over to cook little bits and pieces for us in the steamboat (filled with really hot sczechuan soup) and we ate till about 10 - neither of us having space for pudding. We wandered around in the shopping arcade while waiting for our tea to go down - and where amused by the travel agents window - run of the mill Malaya, Indonesia, Korea - Australia and NZ (including some places we'd been to!) and then the exotic destinations, France, Britain and so on. And so to bed.

Dec 27th 2000

Last day. !

Actually, we are both fairly excited to be going home. We have done, seen and eaten so much in such a short space of time. And we still have another tour to do this afternoon. We slept until quite late - 8.50 getting out of bed. Must have been a long day yesterday - and down for breakfast. Fresh fruit, followed by croissant for Estelle and omelette for Steve - the little omelette man seeing Steve and starting one immediately. He was sorry we were going and said to come back next year. Not without a lottery win, I think. Back to the room and Estelle packed while Steve diaried.

We're going out shopping this morning. Sigh. Steve wants to buy more books, and we may get lunch out.

We went out, getting a taxi easily, and the driver took us down to Border books easily. Big bookshop. Very big. Enough to keep both Steve & Estelle occupied for a bit. After we'd made our purchases, Steve eventually being persuaded he didn't need 3 paperbacks, we went out into the blazing sun to get some more cash. While in the mall over the road, Steve asked one shopkeeper if he had a microphone for his MD player - he didn't. When we'd got cash again, Steve asked in another place - and bought a mike for cash - and it was only through Estelle's presence that we didn't buy a new digital videocam - though Steve thinks that even she was secretly impressed with it. Still, time was pressing on ad it was about 12.30. What about lunch?

We found another nearby foodcourt, where s had beef kway teow noodles - and soup for S$6, while Estelle had chicken with ginger & spring onions for S$9. Taxi hailed in the middle of the road - and straight back to the hotel. Final loo, clean teeth and check over - then down to reception to check out - the little doorman coming up to get our bags. We paid the bill, the only surprise being how cheap the IDD calls were and put our bags in store.

We waited about 10 minutes then off on our city tour. (Well minibus to go and pay for the tour). The tour took us round Little India (interesting buildings, but we have similar types of shops in Rusholme, so we didn't ooh and ah as much as the rest of the party.), we had a bit of a history chat, much of which we knew already, but were really impressed by the guides chat about education, housing and taxes. While in little India, we walked through one of the food courts - nearly all Indian food, unsurprisingly.

The population is split about 77% Chinese, 15% Malay, 7% Indian. Tax starts around S$20k for 2+2 family and is then at 20% - in addition, they have 20% stoppage for "compulsory saving" for old age, medical, and investment - which lets them buy house/flat.

A typical 3 bed flat goes for S$150k - you need 20% deposit and then can buy over 30 years at 2.6% interest... Apparently this means you end up paying S$600 a month. Avg. salary is S$20k. The poor can live in rented property - which the state subs to S$35 a month. But they have to work for it - say, cleaning in a food court for S$600 a month.

We also went to Chinatown - more shophouses, more hard sell. We saw the biggest Hindu temple - where they do firewalking - built before Little India started - so once a year 3k Hindu families arrive to support the firewalkers (which the Chinese shops support) Chinese New Year? The temple puts up a good wishes banner.

Two of the party were late back. They were left. Strict. Then we went to the river. Out of the bus again in the heat and brilliant sunshine to look at the Cavanagh Bridge and the Fullerton Building which used to be the main post office. It has now been renovated and looked very splendid next to the bridge. Some stone figures of Chinese children could be seen by the side of the building each pushing the other into the river. The plaque said that the statue was presented on 28 12. 00 - Tomorrow? We saw the statue of Raffles in front of another old building which has been restored and is now being used as a concert hall.

Next stop was the jewellery factory. We were expecting a tour of the factory to watch them making jewellery. We were greeted at the door and then escorted to a glorified shop/showcase. We had been advised to haggle to knock the price down if we were interested in any items. None of the chains were as beautiful as the one Steve bought Estelle for Christmas. We looked at all the jade, ruby and emerald pieces. There were a few sapphire and diamond items but all seemed too expensive. Back to the bus and on to our final stop, the botanical gardens. We were allowed 30 minutes here to walk round the beautifully laid out gardens. There were lots of amazing arrangements of plants, mostly different kinds of orchids and jasmine. The air plants were wonderful hanging from an arch on pieces of cotton. It was amusing to see that they are building a cool house - in cool countries there are hot houses to house tropical plants, in Singapore they need a cool house to house non tropical plants for show! We saw a red squirrel scrambling up a tree and a lizard clambering over some plants. After a quick admire of the bromeliads, and an odd fountain shaped like a palm tree, it was back to the entrance to meet. Fortunately, we were all there - so no one had to be left. We diffidently enquired if we could be let off near Clarke Quay, as we intended to go to Satay club again - no problem, the New Otani was close by. We drove off in a different minibus, still unable, even after a week, to comprehend the vast amount of green around Singapore.

We were dropped off at the end of the Satay club road, and decided what we wanted to have. 10 chicken satay, 10 mutton and some noodles. Of course, Steve had to order some mutarbak - a rolled nan bread with meat and veg in it. Steve had a refreshing lemon drink, and Estelle an awful grape based one.

We enjoyed our meal, and watched with interest as they moved they tables under awnings as the rain threatened - again, since we'd been out all day and would have liked it to rain - it didn't. When we finished our meal we had a quick walk in the arcade and then onto the quay. We thought we'd like a bumboat trip on the Singapore River - and were promised a maximum 10-minute wait. In fact, it was 2. We got onto the boat from its bow - very wobbly. We then buzzed out onto the river, going under the bridges, and listening to a canned commentary. We saw the buildings and bridges that we'd seen on the afternoon city tour - and went to the river mouth and saw - sigh - the Merlion. On the way back we saw the Raffles landing point and his celebratory statue.

It was odd to look at boat quay - completely full of bars and restaurants - and reflect that it was once full of godowns, bumboats and trade goods.

Speaking of which -Singapore's top revenue earners - no not tourism- i) manufacturing ii) trading iii) finance/banking and iv) then tourism.

We got back to the quay, and then got a taxi back to the hotel. We grabbed the change bag - and got up to the pool for our shower. Very refreshing - and a very good idea. Then taxi to the airport. Easy checkin, then a bit of diary, souvenir shopping, duty free (another electrical gadget for Steve) some bottles of water. Now what? A beer or two while waiting for the gate to open - and that's where we're going now.

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