Saturday, 30 August 2008

Shopping in Singapore

I can remember my last trip when I wandered around the shopping complexes in awe. I had not seen anything like it before. Australia was a little less sophisticated then. Perhaps I am a bit more worldly now, so was not taken aback so much, even though the complexes seem to be larger, and more salubrious than before.

Everything old is new again. There continues to be more building of huge shopping malls, and redevlopment but the place is amazing. Buzzing with activity and plenty to see and do, and plenty of opportunities to part with your money.

People, shops, people shops - so much colour so much activity. There were buskers in the streets, traffic hurtling by, tourists, locals - the whole world seemed to be there.

Along the streets are fashionable cafe's and retaurants, queues for taxi's, jets flying overhead. A real exciting buzz. Could I spend more time there. You bet. Wish I was a millionaire though!!!

Sentosa Island

Chili Crab

One of the resorts on Sentosa

Swaying Palm trees on Sentosa

The air train

Sentosa Island is wonderful - but I did not enjoy my first trip there many years ago, after overindulging in champagne the night prior to my visit!

But my, how it has changed!!! On this occasion we went over via the airtrain from Harbourtown, the huge shopping complex that has grown up on land that was being reclaimed when we were there before. As well there is massive construction underway on the Island, so that perhaps next time I visit, it will have another huge shopping complex and hotel on the island.

It may be a year before the massive complex will be finshed - but it will be huge. I digress.

The air train takes one over to the island to the terminal on the far side. The journey is spectacular - apart from seeing the massive construction site, there are beautiful gardens, and parks, and hotels on the island.

The terminal is where buses, mini trains etc pull in, and here are several cafe's and shops in the vicinity too. The best idea is to get onto one of the mini trains and enjoy a tour of the island with commentary. There are two mini trains here, and they slowly wend their way around parts of the island.

There are huge hotel and resort accomodation buildings, restaurants, shops, sporting activities, gardens, etc. It was school holidays for the Singaporeans so many young people from Singapore and Vietnam were enjoying special activities and games.

The beaches with swaying palm trees looked fantastic, and you could imagine being on some other tropic island well away from civilisation - not on a man made beach a short distance from the commercial hub of Singapore!

We enjoyedtwo tours on the mini train, and quite a bit of walking. We also found a group of restaurants overlooking the beach and enjoyed a wonderful meal there. Chili Crab - one of Singapore's delicacies was enjoyed there!

I made a decision - next time I stay in Singapore, it will be at one of the resorts on the island. The MRT goes to Harbourtown, and the Sentosa train travels from Harbourtown to Sentosa, so should be easy to get around from Sentosa now. I don't recall it was as easy to access previously.

Jahore Bahru

I remember when I was in Singapore before that we did a day tour to Jahore Bahru, so I was keen to see it again. See if it has changed.

As usual the tour group was disorganised and late to pick us up from our hotel. When we arrived at the meeting point, the staff were very rude to us, as if it was our fault that we were late. They demanded we complete the documentation for going into Malaysia, and then gave us only seconds to do it. We later made a complaint about this.

Eventually we were completing the documentation on the bus as it headed to the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia and we did get it completed in time, despite the difficulty of writing in a speeding bus!
The chaotic passage through customs at the border was endured. They have made a much better facility at the border now, but with so many vehicles and people passing through it was a bit of a nightmare.

The tour was almost identical to the one we had been on so many years ago. A visit to the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque is a must. This old Mosque sits on high ground looking back to Singapore. Since my last visit there were more buildings - but less hawkers to deal with!

It is a most beautiful Mosque - we did not go inside, but learned a little about the history of it from our tour guide.

Our next stop was described as a private house. This man welcomed visitors to see how he lived. Quite a different way of life to that of the people in Singapore, despite its short distance away. But private house - no way! He may well live there (which I doubt) but it housed an entertainment area where three young dancers performed for us, and later after we were shown the back yard with some mottley fish tanks where they are growing fish for the market, a door was opened that revealed a showroom - full of jewelry and pewter articles.

Our next stop was a craft market where we were treated to a display of some dyeing crafts, and then a musical performance on Malaysian musical instruments. Then we were lead through the retail section. So many items to choose from here too - but we very disappointing targets for the sales staff, as we were already concerned about overweight luggage.

After that visit we made our way back to the border, and again lots of queuing, gates, stairs etc before we were safely back into Singapore.

It is a good trip - and I would recommend it, but it has changed little since I was there in 1992.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The meercat

The meercat is from Africa, and I remember seeing several at Adelaide Zoo, and there certainly were quite a few at the Singapore Zoo.

These little fellows who have an inbuilt need to have one of their males "on watch" at all times, still continue this ritual desp;ite being in captivity. I find it fascinating that they continue this behaviour all the time. One of the meercat men will stand on a high spot and look out for predators, just as he would have done in the wilds of Africa.

Every hour the guard changes. Another male will appear and stand near the other guard and they spend a few minute surveying the area, before the first one leaves. Every hour - day in, day out, they continue with this ritual.

Polar Bears at Singapore Zoo

There are two Polar Bears in the special enclosure at the zoo - Sheba, the mother and son Inuka. I was surprised to learn that their skin is actually black - hard to believe when all we see is white fluffy fur!

There favourite food is seal meat, but they also love watermelon. The "audience" watches as the two bears go through their paces. The mother does very little but she does wave, and she does come forward for some food. But the hero of the show is her show off son, Inuka.

The crowd "oohs" and "aahs" as Inuka swims close to the glass window in his search for the food that is thrown from above. One of Inuka's favourite foods is a live fish, and when the fish is thrown he follows the fish and appears to play with it before slapping his big front paw on the fish agains the glass, and soon is chewingon the tasty morsel.

Singapore Zoo


Got to be zebras.

Are they real?

I had been before - and it had not been a good experience, but it was a long time ago. My memory of that time is an overwhelming smell of "hippo poo", in very high humidity. They had little airconditioned pavilions where one could "rest" from the oppressive heat. So I was a little uncomfortable about visiting again.

What a change! The zoo has been updated - not surprising as it was so many years ago that I first visited. The animal enclosures were great - in fact it was hard to find a "cage" which one might have seen in an older type zoo. Moats and walls kept the animals confined safely away from visitors, and for the most par the animals looked happy.

There were little trains that plied their way around the zoo - one could get on and off at designated spots, and as it is a huge zoo, it was great not to have to walk the whole way. (Since MM had knee problems he was particularly happy about the train!)

We didn't manage to see ALL the exhibits, but were impressed with them all.

The Polar Bear exhibition was great - and several times a day there is a Zoo Attendant who leads the two polar bears into an exhibition and story about how they live, and how they feed.

And guess what! Not one whiff of hippo poo!!!

Is this the Millionaires' Club?

The Golden Landmark Hotel is an old hotel - would have been quite grand in its day. We found it more than adequate for our stay there, but next time perhaps will stay on Sentosa Island

Across the road from the Golden Landmark was Raffles Hospital, and across the road fromt the hospital was a strange imposing building, which we could see from our hotel window.

The building had no major advertising signs, in fact it was difficult to find the name of the building. It did look as if it was straight out of Gothic City and one could imagine Superman flying around. At the top of the building were amazing larger than life statures of men, holding what would probably be a pearl. A ball at least.

After looking at this building for a few days we decided to have a closer look. It didn't have a massive retail section, and there were steps up to the beautiful garden entrance to the building. We continued and went in through some double doors - wondering if it was a hotel, or office block. What is it?

Even now we are still not too sure, but suspect there are function rooms, meeting rooms etc along with offices. On the ground floor is a most amazing bar. We entered timidly at first, until one of the staff members welcomed us warmly. What opulence we found! It was amazing. None of our photos do justice to the scene that was before us.

We felt "underdressed" in our jeans and sneakers, and vowed to return, especially as we were told that on some evening there was live music. So we returned a few days later, dressed a bit more befitting the venue and the occasion.

Everything in the club was amazing. Over the top. Dramatic and beautiful flower arrangements. Luxury furniture. At one end of the huge room was a refrigerated wine storage that went high up to the ceiling. How does one get the bottles from the top rack? Or any of the other racks? A fairy goes up on a trapeze! No kidding.
One of the staff - dressed as a fairy complete with wings worked behind the bar, and also in the coffee lounge/cafe at the other end of the seating area.
Above this coffee lounge was a huge stage area - and it was here that the band played and the sultry singer entertained the clients. The whole place was decorated in a most opulent manner - the walls and ceilings all sported wonderul decorations - art work, gilt edges. It was hard to take in. Hard to take photos that would do justice to it.
On the floor above were restaurants - each overlooking the bar below.
We had a few drinks - and enjoyed it. Amazing. (Later when we were back in Australia we told some friends about this place, and it appears that the daughter of one had been to the Millionaires Club and was able to tell us a bit more about it. Apparently organisations treat their staff to conferences here. )

Merlion Park

One of the very popular tourist places in Singapore is the Merlion Park. This statue was created in 1972, and since then has been the "face" of Singapore.

When I first visited Singapore 20+ years ago, we did not go close to the Merlion, but were shown the Merlion from the bumboat on which we toured the bay. At that time the area was very much in the early stages of development as much of the area was being reclaimed and the land was being prepared to build the new financial district of the city.

So it was a dramatic difference to what we saw then.

One of the stops when we did our full day city tour, was the Merlion Park, now on the edge of an amazing Marina Bay. On one side of the bay is the new open air performance stadium, which would be a spectacular venue for major concerts and events.

The area immediately around the Merlion was all high rise buildings - the new financial district is spectacular.
There are two Merlions in the park, and our bus stopped at the end of the new bridge, and the main one was being refurbished as we visited.
Still it was good to see and relive the story of the Merlion and the creation of Singapore, the city.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Changing Singapore

Marina Bay in Singapore

The last time I had been in Singapore - other than a brief stop at the airport en route - was in 1992, when my daughter and I spent about 10 days there. Much I had remembered, but it certainly seemed a lot greener than before, and oh, how it had grown.

The trip from the airport to our hotel was most interesting. Places that I had not seen before, but I do remember that it was dark at the time of both journeys along that road before.

Our first major outing was the day tour of Singapore - something I like doing when I "hit" a new place. The bus was rather fun (despite being late and keeping us waiting!), but it took us past some of the significant places like the Singapore Botanical Gardens, Thian Hock Keng Temple, the Merlion Park, a jewelry shop, up to Mount Faber which provided breathtaking views across Marina Bay to Sentosa Island, and a great view of the high rise buildings of the city centre.

We had plenty of time to get out of the bus and stretch our legs and have a close up look at some of the sights.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Leaving Shanghai

After a week touring Shanghai it was time to depart and head for Singapore. It was an early morning start - a Sunday morning too - and the roads were quiet as we left our apartment by taxi and headed out to the new airport.

When I arrived in Shanghai I had been aghast at the sight of the airport - not knowing that it was about to be closed as the new one was almost ready for business. What a difference! The new airport was astounding with modern shops and facilities.

It is reported that when the Shanghai government decided some 20 years ago to create the new Pudong Shanghai International Airport and the Pudong business precinct, across the Huangpu River from old Shanghai that a million farmers were displaced. Where once there were farms and small villages is now modern high rise buildings including the new financial district of Shanghai, rows and rows of apartments, and of course the airport. Also from Shanghai city to the Airport is the elevated track for the MAGLEV, the high speed "train".

The modern Airport is a welcome sight after the one that I had seen on my arrival - and with huge walls of glass giving visitors a view right over the tarmac, and beyond where some small farms still exist, and out to the China Sea where many boats ply their trade in and out of Shanghai Port.

We quickly checked in, and had time for some breakfast before our flight was loaded for the journey to Singapore.

A good trip - as is our experience with Singapore Airlines, and after a few hours we landed safely at Singapore and quickly found a taxi to take us to our hotel. The Golden Landmark Hotel - just a little out of the main city area of Singapore - is opposite Raffles Hospital, and not far from a MRT station, which we made use of later in our time in Singapore.

After bookingin we went for a short walk around the hotel - and found we were adjacent to Arab Street, which feataured many small shops selling silk and other fabrics, (mostly described as Italian silk - but it was silk manufactured in China, but dyed in Italy - which we were told was the best quality and the best colours and designs.) As well there were rug shops, and small eateries.

A huge mosque was beside the hotel, and there were several major events on during out time there, so many people came from India, and Pakistan to take part in the religous festivities.

Another book "Falling Leaves"

In my quest to further understand the Chinese I've read a few books - and this one "Falling Leaves" answered a few more questions for me. This book written by Adeline Yen Mah, and published by Penguin was an excellent read, and once again, I found it interesting to read about places that I had become more familiar with, from my visit to China.

How difficult a life did Adeline have? The book is described as being about her life, as an unwanted daughter. When her own mother died, and her father remarried, she suffered so much at the hands of her step mother. Indeed it seems the whole family turned against her.

That in the end she was a successful career woman is extra ordinary, and a great tribute to her amazing strength.

One of the special features of the book, that I enjoyed was the explanation of Chinese sayings. For example, she explained the success of her father who was known in business circules as "'the miracle boy' who had the power of dian tie cheng jin (converting iron into gold)."

Certainly it was a very good read, and I couldn't put it down. Again more of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is helping me understand the Chinese.

"Falling Leaves" The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter" by Adeline Yen Mah.

Some books I've been reading.

I remember the first few weeks that I was in China I felt quite isolated - there was little that I could read. As an avid reader of magazines, newspapers and books I found there was nothing much in English for me to read.

The second time I went to Hangzhou that I was introduced to the Foreign Language Bookstore - and later in Shanghai I found a big bookshop there that had many books in English. How exciting. Each time I would buy another book.

The last few weeks of term I spent most of my time working on exam papers etc, so did little reading and was pleased to get to Shanghai and then Singapore to add to my collection of books.

I have decided to read a few books to help me understand more about the Chinese culture, and have read some great ones, which I will report on.

I'm not really good at "book reviews" as such - but here goes. Not in any particular order.

One book that I really enjoyed was a Memoir "The Thorn of Lion City" by Lucy Lum.

Lucy was born in Singapore in 1933, and this is the story of her extra ordinary life with a dictatorial grandmother, and the invasion of the Japanese during World War II.

I couldn't put the book down - it was a great read, and gave me a little more insight into Chinese culture, and the horrific life that people endured during the occupation by the Japanese. It was especially interesting for me, as I recognised some of the street names and places that Lucy wrote about.

What an excellent book! I recommend it.

"The Thorn of Lion City" by Lucy Lum. Published by Harper Perennial.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Leaving Shanghai

We left Shanghai on a Sunday morning - leaving the New Harbour Service Apartments very early in the morning by taxi to get to the airport. I was thrilled to see the new airport - as when I had arrived in Shanghai nearly five months earlier we landed at the old (almost derelict) airport.

The new airport was quite a sight - with vast windows overlooking the runway with some small farms on the other side. As well one could see a variety of watercraft in the sea beyond - making their way into or out of Shanghai.

I love Shanghai - though not the pollution that seemed to hang in the air like a dirty wet blanket during our time there - but happy to move on to our next destination.

We fly Singapore Airlines (recently voted the best airline in the world!), and were soon booked in, and ready for our visit to Singapore.

Accommodation in Shanghai

There are many hotels and holiday apartments to choose from in Shanghai - but as it is huge city, if you are planning to visit, you need to determine the location of where you want to stay. MM initially booked us into a hotel (it was good price) but it was near one of the airports - quite a distance from the centre of Shanghai. On reflection we were concerned about the cost of frequent taxi rides to get to the places we wanted to.

So we studied the maps again. Cost was an issue - our budget was mid range - and as we were staying for over a week, we wanted something of reasonable price.

In the end we booked in at New Harbour Service Apartments, 88 Yongshou Road, Shanghai. It was possible to walk from our accomodation to Nanjing Road. It was a good walk and we did it once, but as MM had knee problems we chose to taxi most of the time. (There is lots of roadworks which made the taxi rides longer and more expensive but it really was very economical).

On the days we booked tours our tour bus picked us up and returned us, so there was no problem there.

It was a stroke of genius (???) that we booked accomoation that featured Gerbera flowers - as we had been Gerbera growers. There were Gerberas in the foyer, in the restaurant, and on the menu, brochures etc.

Our apartment was great. We had two bedrooms - one we used for our luggage only, and the rest of the apartment was well appointed. I've actually mentioned this earlier.

The point of this post is to encourage would be travellers to look at a map (so easy now with Google) and just see where the accomodation is. I know it is not easy if you do not know the city - and I guess you can be prepared to move if it is not suitable.

The New Harbour Service Apartments was well appointed and I'd recommend it. The restaurant was good for breakfast - but probably not the best if you wanted a good evening meal. The food was good, and well priced - but they seemed to not have all that was on the menu.

They had a good Gym (which I of course avoided) but a wonderful heated indoor swimming pool.

We found the staff very helpful - and highly rate the service of the doorman. Always a taxi was found for us very quickly.

As an added bonus, there was a small supermarket opposite the Apartments - just a walk across the road - so we were able to buy snacks, beer and wine at supermarket prices, which was a bonus. We did not use the kitchen at all!

To find out more and book click here.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Zhouzhuang Water Village

One of the famous bridges

In the "gondola"


The narrow canal

Old buildings - showing their age.

Not far from Suzhou is Zhouzhuang - a very old water village. This was also part of our tour on this day to Suzhou, and the silk factory.

What a wonderful place - I do hope you enjoy the photographs. We walked along the pathway with the canals on one side and shops on the left hand side. There was so much to see and it was just so fascinating. I wish I could remember everything that was explained by our tour guide.

It certainly was an old town - which was easy to see from the buildings. On the canals were small boats, each with an enthusiastic boatman or boatwoman. We were treated to a tour of the town in one of these boats and we were told that if we handed our boatman/woman some money they would sing for us. It was rather fun.

So many tourists did so, so it was quite a musical event. The boats took us for a short tour around the village, which was most interesting and picturesque.

The Silk Factory - Suzhou

Mul Entrance to the restaurant at the Silk factory

Silk gown in Silk Museum

In the silk museum

In the silk factory

Cocoons on racks in the silk factory

Display of "silkworms"

Mulberry Leaves at the silk factory.

The tour to Suzhou was a long day - 10 hours to be exact. One of the highlights was visiting the silk factory there. Our first stop at the silk factory was the restaurant for a wonderful Chinese banquet lunch. It was rather odd that several of our group were vegetarians and they were ushered to another part of the restaurant and we non-vegetarians sat together.

After lunch we visited the factory itself. Just before the entrance was a stand of mulberry trees. The preferred food of silk worms.

Mulberry trees are fairly common here in Queensland - I don't know the history of these trees, but I do know that anyone who grows silk worms at home always knows where to find the precious leaves for their worms. One I remember is on the banks of the Brisbane River at Bulimba - I have not kept silk worms here, but feasted on the mulberry!

The display was awesome. Every detail of the growth of the silk worm was on display, and we were able to walk through the factory to see how the treasured silk thread is harvested from the cocoon. In one museum were wonderful silk clothes - some ancient garments with wonderful embroidery.

One awesome display was how they make silk quilts - and I hope I can upload the short movie for this site. It was amazing.

There was much to see. At the end of the tour through the factory, we wandered through the retail section which was amazing. It was similar to a huge department store with so many products manufactored from silk. The first area was where silk quilts, sheets, etc were on full display and there were some very beautiful products on display.

I wandered around - wishing I had more room in my suitcase and more money in my wallet!!!

I hope that one day I can return to the Silk Factory - although I am sure there are some closer to Shaoxing.

Photos from Suzhou

There are several famous gardens in Suzhou - we visited The Lingering Garden.

Touring Shanghai

One of the most important things to do when visiting a new city is to do a Day Tour. I've written earlier about our Day Tour of Shanghai which took us around the city to places like the Shanghai Museum, The Bund, Old Shanghai, Xintiandi, Nanjing St, the Pearl Markets, etc. It was a great day and we met a couple from New Zealand on their way to the UK.

That is one of the bonuses of this sort of tour - meeting other travellers.

What I like about such a tour is that one gets one's bearings. You can choose where to return to as there is only a short time at each venue.

Some of the places I had been to before, but learning more about them with a tour guide is most helpful.

There are many tour companies to choose from - and there is not much difference between the companies I suspect.

We were very happy with our tour company and tour guides - although on a couple of times they were late to pick us up. However, I think the traffice had a lot to do with it.

A city of some 21 million, with lots of road works does make for challenges for the tour companies.

We did on our own go back to Nanjing Road, Old China Town, Xintiandi and the Bund. More confidant because of our early tour.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Day Tour to Suzhou

On one of the tours from Shanghai we went to Suzhou, an ancient water city. It was a very long day but well worth the visit. The ancient city of Suzhou had lots to see, and our tour guide was very helpful with the information of this part of China. These old water cities are amazing - and as Australia has such a short history (well, we have no cities much over 200 years!), I am always fascinated by these old cities and villages that go back some thousands of years.

In Suzhou we visited the remnants of an old village and an old wall that once upon a time a long time ago, surrounded a village and kept the enemy out. It was all very beautiful. In the walk to the area there were several traders selling all sorts of old items - trying to entice the tourists to spend more money. There were some items decorated with people in different sex positions, and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book was on sale too.
There are several famous gardens in Suzhou and we went to one which was very beatufiul. As well there were beautiful young girls playing their instruments in various pavillions around the gardens. Everything so beautiful.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Shanghai and the Purr!

When we were in Shanghai we went on several tours. Our first tour was of the city – a full day tour which took us around the amazing Shanghai. I always like to do this sort of tour early on a visit to a different place. It is far more interesting than trying to find everything by oneself, and with a good tour guide, there is much more extra information.

I had been to Shanghai before – a short two day visit with two of my fellow teachers from the college and we walked for miles. Somehow I think I might have preferred to do a tour, even though I enjoyed most of the long walk we did that weekend!

Naturally on the day tour we went to places that I’d not seen before. One that was most fascinating was Old China Town, which we could actually see from the window of our apartment. But seeing it close up was amazing. The old Chinese architecture - and the wonderful gardens inside.

Much of the area is retail – and you could have an amazing day of retail therapy here. Our tour guide whisked us through the complex giving us little time to part with our money but it was well worth seeing, and we did go back again later to experience some of this retail heaven.

Inside Old China Town is a wonderful garden – with an amazing history. How well the Chinese planned these gardens, and how wonderful it is to have a tour guide explain things. Our tour guide was very good, but one part of her spiel confused us. She pointed out some of the amazing stone carvings that were on the walls of this ancient garden, and spoke of the “Purr in the mouth of the dragon.” The English teacher in me came out and I asked for more information. I did not understand.

I asked her how to spell the word “purr”. She said “P E A R” - then we understood. She meant ‘PEARL’ as Pearls are grown around Shanghai. It was so funny as we explained it to her, and had her practice the correct pronunciation. PEARL. Each time afterwards that she had to say the word she looked at MM and myself and carefully spoke the word emphasising the “L” .

It was a full on day. As well as old China Town and the gardens, we visited Pearl City where they tried to sell us wonderful pearl jewelry, we saw the Bund, details of our tour are here. though we did not visit the Silk Factory in Shanghai. Details of a tour are

In Old China Town we visit the Jade Buddha Temple, and enjoyed a simple tea ceremony in the Tea House. It was very interesting and there was efforts to get us to purchase tea which had therapeutic benefits. We resistedWe had lunch with our fellow vistors in a huge Chinese restaurant. The food was good and the company great. We met two travellers from New Zealand – Wanda and Adam – who were on their way to the UK and Canada. We met up with them again a few days later on another tour.

Int he afternoon we visited the Shanghai Museum - how amazing. We could spend hours and hours there, but being on a tour we had limited timeIt was an amazing day – and exhausting. But it gave us good insight into Shanghai.


Here it is Monday August 4th and I am up very early. My husband is in hospital - hopefully sleeping but perhaps not as he is to be operated on this morning. Two knee replacements. I don't envy him. It sounds very scary.

Today I have so many things to do, but one is to update my blogs. I've been neglectful, but I have my new computer going now - thanks to my favourite son-in-law! Complete with Vista! So far so good. Actually I am impressed with it. Hopefully I will not have any of the challenges that others have had with it. It looks pretty impressive to me.

So, today I must do many things include prepare for a talk I am giving tomorrow. In part about my career but very much about my China adventure. I'll have to select some photos today to show, and finish off writing my speech. And maybe visit MM in hospital at some stage. I think he will not be keen for visitors today though. We will see.

Mondayitis? This is the name of the Chamber of Commerce Monday networking coffee morning. I think I will go this morning.