Singapore Bound

We packed up and shipped out of our motel room and headed to the airport at 07:30 this morning. Getting taxis to and from airports is now a well-rehearsed procedure. Bec jumps in and secures the car seat, Lottie amuses Ben whilst this is going on and I load the rest of our stuff into any remaining space. About fifteen minutes later we are generally ready to set off with a bemused driver apologising for having had to start the meter running.

Today we arrived at the airport with ten pieces of luggage. Five were to go in the hold, three were carry on, a buggy that is dropped off at the gate and a car seat which Ben is strapped into. It's a lot of stuff but ten is a nice round number to count up to each time we get on or off any form of transport.

The flight took seven and a half hours. The children were exceptionally well behaved. This was due, in part, to the return of the personal TV screen in the headrest and so Lottie watched telly for a full 450 minutes. She paused only briefly to hail the stewardess for more apple juice.

We arrived to find Singapore overcast but warm. It was thirty degrees when we landed and as we suspected it wasn't long before Lottie was wandering round the place in just her pants. Ben, as usual, was dressed for a nuclear winter.

It's been a peculiar day, not least because we haven't really done anything but travel. Still, all things considered we've had a reasonably relaxing journey.

The real test of course will be tomorrow's wake up time. We turned the clock back two hours as we moved to Singapore time. On current form our wake up call is likely to be quarter to four. Up with the lark I think they call it.

On that basis that's all for now.

July 22, 2005.

Hot And Humid

We had a forty-five minute lie-in against Ben's predicted wake up time. I was trying to convince myself that this was something I should have been grateful for, but it's hard to be grateful about anything when it's half four in the morning.

We sat up in bed, drank milk and tea, and then watched the Cartoon Network until dawn broke. The only way we can get Ben to be quiet before sunrise is to convince him that there's a baby asleep in the next hotel room. 'Shhh... Baby sleeping' has become something of a mantra.

Breakfast was a very splendid affair. Ben has quite taken to the spirit of the orient and is currently transforming himself into Sumo baby. He polished off four plates of pancakes, maple syrup and bacon this morning. He ate the biggest breakfast of any of us. Best of all, because he's only one, his pancakathon was provided at no charge.

We spent the rest of the morning in the hotel pool. We were determined to tire both of them out in the hope that they would have a long nap after lunch. It seemed the best way of getting them adjusted to the local time zone. And so we stayed in the water until our fingers had turned to prunes.

The children slept for two and a half hours and I went out to get my hair cut. The heat and humidity were playing havoc with my bountiful locks.

I chose a particularly insalubrious looking salon in the bowels of the Lucky Mall on Orchard Road. Two sour looking ladies were sat glaring at themselves in the mirror as I stepped inside. 'I'd like a haircut please' I announced in my best John Cleese accent. To my horror one of the ladies started shouting 'You not need haircut, you very greasy scalp, make all your hair fall out'. Admittedly I'm no Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen but this did take me a bit by surprise. It didn't look like the place where I could complain to a customer services representative, so I just sat quietly whilst they got on with the business of cutting my follically challenged scalp.

Once the children had woken up we walked into Chinatown. It was a fantastic place with stuff going on everywhere we looked. I think Lottie had sensory overload and sat very quietly in her buggy as we passed stalls selling all manner of things animal, vegetable, mineral and electronic.

After dinner at Clarke Quay we returned to the hotel and put the children to bed. As we were reading stories there were thunderous roars overhead. The noise was slightly worrying, not least because of its unidentified origin. Lottie in particular seemed keen to identify the source.

Once the children had been despatched I snuck over to the Funan Mall. It’s like a sweetshop for computer nerds. Seven floors of wall-to-wall electronic whizzkiddery. As I was walking to the mall I identified the earlier noise as yet more military aircraft flew overhead. Suddenly the police stopped all the other traffic as forty tanks and other associated camouflage vehicles sped down the highway bedecked by gun toting soldiers.

Great I thought. A military coup. That'll be something to write about this evening.

For a small country Singapore has some gnarly looking fighting apparatus. Nevertheless it's not often that I find myself taller than everybody in an entire army, so there was some comfort in that.

I really couldn't work out what was going on and started to think that if there was unrest on the streets then I should scurry back to the hotel and lock myself inside the minibar.

I approached a soldier who was busy directing a row of tanks. He looked too busy to be disturbed really, but on this basis I thought he'd give me a reasonably concise answer. And so moments before I was squashed by several pairs of caterpillar tracks I was told it was a practice for the National Day parade in a couple of weeks. Phew, just for show then. In that case point your weapons at the floor why don't you?

Anyway, more hot and humid antics tomorrow.

July 23, 2005.

Allez Lance

It was another early start; the day began at just after five when, as usual we ended up serving warm milk in the warm glow of the Cartoon Network.

After breakfast we jumped in the pool. It was full of similarly timezone confused children and their dazed parents. We have now taken most of the air out of Lottie's armbands: they seem now only to serve as a talisman rather than offering any form of buoyancy. Despite the floaties being as flat as a pancake, if we take them off her lungs fill with water.

A little later we took a short ride in a bumboat up to the harbour. It's not that they only take bums you understand, it's what they're really called. And regular readers will be pleased to know that Lottie held on to her breakfast.

After lunch I stayed with the children during their lunchtime sleep whilst Bec took the underground railway, the MRT, over to the Raffles hotel. On the way she popped a piece of chewing gum into her mouth. This was potentially more dangerous than her previous law breaking antics involving the penknife on the aeroplane. Chewing gum is outlawed in Singapore with masticators facing fines of thousands of dollars. Luckily she dispensed with the gum before the cops caught up with her.

On her return, Bec was still walking in a straight line, so I was pretty sure she'd not spent the afternoon in the Long Bar quaffing Singapore Slings.

We roused the children from their nap and headed back out on the MRT to Orchard Road. This is possibly the cleanest public transport system I've ever used. It looks like it was opened just an hour ago. No rubbish, no graffiti, no stench.

Imagine my surprise therefore when I discovered a single piece of gum stuck to the underside of my seat.

We trawled up and down Orchard Road admiring the curious mix of things on sale. I can think of few places in the world where you can buy a real Prada handbag just metres from where you can buy a live frog. Admittedly the frogs aren't alive for long after you buy them but they do fill a gap between lunch and dinner.

Ben was quite taken by the whole notion of the amphibian tank in the café and spent the rest of the afternoon practising his new phrase 'eating frogs'.

The family consensus was that no-one was hungry for frogs and so we raced back to the hotel for what was billed as 'High Tea'. We had a notion that this would be a very colonial affair with iced buns, cucumber sandwiches all washed down with Darjeeling and ginger beer.

We arrived back at the hotel as a sweaty ensemble just as they were clearing tea away. Nevertheless, we successfully negotiated a place at the table.

Imagine my horror, therefore, when High Tea turned out to be an oriental fish fest. Fishy treats as far as the eye could see. Lottie and I spent our time picking marine life out of the noodles whilst the others scoffed the lot.

In the evening I took a taxi back to the Lucky Plaza to try and negotiate a deal on an iPod. Singapore doesn't seem to be quite the bargain basement I remember from my last visit seven years ago. Either that or I've lost my touch at haggling. And so I left empty handed.

At the end of the day we lay in bed watching the final day of the Tour de France. We had to watch it with the sound muted in order not to wake the children. It wasn't the best ever televisual experience.

Allez Lance. What a guy.

July 24, 2005.

Little India

You'll not be surprised to learn that Ben woke at five again this morning. The little guy has created his very own timezone, and on planet Ben it's never too early to get up and party. As ever we drank milk and watched cartoons.

The Cartoon Network. What's that all about? In my day it was all cat chases mouse, mouse outwits cat, repeat to fade and that was all folks. It was a basic formula but it worked. Now all the cartoons are too cool for kids to understand but too fast for adults to follow. I blame Hong Kong Phooey. That was the beginning of the end.

After breakfast we rode the MRT out to Little India. This place is fantastic. It's like being on the subcontinent; bikes with milk crate panniers, second hand fax machines piled up for sale, flea-bitten dogs lying in the road. All of this played out against the olfactory backdrop of incense and drains.

Much to the children's delight we found a playground. Lottie and Ben lasted about five minutes before the heat and humidity left them both in a sweaty heap on the rubberised floor. We strapped them into their respective buggies and wandered through the streets with our glowing progeny.

We browsed market stalls and visited temples. It had such an authentic feel that it was hard to remember that we were in Singapore rather than Bangalore.

We ate lunch at a Southern Indian restaurant. We have a family rule which is never to eat a curry within twenty-four hours of boarding an aircraft. It's held us in good stead in the past and so we didn't feel entirely comfortable being so close to the threshold of our next flight. Still, we dispatched a handsome meal and about six hundred poppadoms, most of which remain in the creases of Ben's pushchair.

After lunch we continued our browsing of ethnic curios. In a moment of bohemian parenting we had Lottie adorned with a henna tattoo. Oh my giddy aunt. Still it doesn't look like anything a box of Brillo pads and a tube of Ajax won't sort out.

After we'd defaced our daughter we walked over to Raffle's Hotel where we took tea and cake. It seems to have gone downhill since our last visit. This time we had to share our table with a tattooed youth and a hooligan. Oh how times have changed.

We returned to our hotel where we had planned to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pool. Unfortunately, by this stage it had begun to bucket down and so the pool was closed for fear of an electrical storm. I struggled to communicate the logic of the pool closure to my offspring and a minor revolution ensued.

To ease their disappointment we filled the bath and sploshed water everywhere. It was almost as much fun as the pool without the threat of electrocution.

Tomorrow is our last day in Singapore and it will likely be a long one. Stay tuned for our last Asian instalment.

July 25, 2005.

Au Revoir Singapore

I guess it's all relative, but this morning the children slept in. Incredibly they stayed asleep until just after six o'clock. We were really pleased about this, as we had another eighteen hours of entertaining them before we were due to fly out of Singapore.

We did the usual stuff, milk, cartoons, breakfast, reluctant teeth cleaning and then headed back into town. It's almost always humid in Singapore, but the rain of the last few days showed no sign of letting up and so the conditions were extra steamy. But not in a Mills and Boon way.

Indeed the atmosphere was sufficiently damp to warrant catching a taxi up to the Ngee Ann Mall. Go on, say it, Ngee. Ngee, Ngee, Ngee. Enough already.

Taxis in Singapore are very cheap, but better still, they are all air-conditioned. Ben in particular likes the whole taxi thing; he learnt to hail taxis in New York, and has spent much of the last twelve weeks shouting 'tax-eee'. So you can imagine his delight when his relentless hailing actually comes good.

Despite our relatively late start, we still arrived at the Mall about half an hour before it opened. And so we spent time drinking tea in the only place that was open, which happened to be MacDonald's. We then spent the rest of the morning explaining to our crestfallen children the algorithm behind the dispensation of a happy meal toy.

And once the shops did open, it really began to feel as if we were preparing to return to our old lives. The family shopping trip that included, amongst other things, a tortuous visit to a shoe shop, really drove this home.

In the afternoon we returned to the hotel. We swam in the pool, had a nap, packed up our bags, and generally waited around. No matter how long the holiday, it seems the last day always involves some element of loitering. I even nipped out to the Funan Mall to drool over gadgets; but despite my best efforts, I wasn't shopping, I was just loitering. I just couldn't help it.

At six o'clock we dragged our luggage out of the hotel and took a taxi to the airport. Even the drive out to the airport seemed to take longer than it should. The day was starting to drag, and we still had another six hours before we boarded the plane and sedated the kids.

The airport was full of itchy-eyed children and their parents, most of who were mid-way through some horrendous twenty-four hour hell in the air extravaganza. This gives licence for under-tens to organise a junior rave, and their parents, most of whom are slumped in a corner somewhere, licence not to do anything about it.

Our offspring were only too delighted to join the party, which was being held at well intentioned, but much too small play area. And following the general consensus, we slumped in a corner for some laissez-faire parenting too.

And so at almost midnight we retrieved our children from the all-nighter and climbed onto the plane that was to be our home for the next fourteen hours.

July 26, 2005.