Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Home again

We arrived back in England yesterday evening - this time on a 777-300. A very nice aircraft. I don't think we'll ever fly on the A380 again. The experience was just too traumatic. Last night and this morning I've received a number of emails from several people who were on the plane when we landed in Azerbaijan. I think the consensus is that we will mount a class action against the airline. As the crew were informed at the outset of the flight that the suspect door was faulty due to the clearly visible seepage of water and horrendous noise, the flight should have turned round before we were over Afghanistan terrain. We luckily had wonderful weather both in Bali and Singapore - quite a contrast to what we came back to - water, water everywhere. Including my boat, as it is pretty obvious that it's half full of water if the angle it's floating at is anything to go by. But I can't do anything about it as the landing stage is completely underwater at present.
So now we can look back to our lovely holiday. And I'll try not to bore you too much with a selection of some of the photographs we took over the last few days.
On Friday we went to the Night Safari at Singapore's zoo. We were transported around the zoo in an open train where the animals were so close (no bars - just moats) that in the moonlight effect they behaved completely naturally as if we weren't there. Too dark for photographs, and of course we couldn't use flash, but as we'd been to the zoo in the daytime I'll show you a few of the pictures we took then.

Children can go on elephant rides too.

One of my favourites was this Komodo Dragon. We didn't see one while in Bali.

When I first went to Singapore in the early sixties I became an Art Director with a company called Papineau Advertising. One of the artists working there at the time was a talented young Malay man called Shamsuddin. He was a very good cartoonist and could draw Jawi (Malay) lettering most beautifully. Sham will be 81 next week. His daughter Dahlia invited us to have tea with him at his home in Marine Vistas on the east of the island. It was great to meet up with him after all these years. We were served with Malay sweetmeats. Here I am with Sham.

On another occasion we were invited by old friends Jayanti and Nira to lunch at the Orchid Club. I've known these two sisters since the sixties too and when I went to live in Hong Kong stayed with them at their flat there for a few months until I was transferred to Bangkok. (Their father, Basil Gulati, was the President of Air India in the region at the time). My young friend took this photograph. (She's always behind the camera, that's why she never appears on my blog).

The Jurong Bird Park in Singapore is home to over 5,000 birds and 400 species. I could spend all day there - there's just so much to see - including the world's largest walk-in aviary. In this aviary is a 30 metre high waterfall - which I'm standing beneath.

As for the birds themselves here's just a small selection of some of my favourites.

Apart from the birds, as you wander around the Bird Park you come across all sorts of little scenes.

And excitingly we snatched a glimpse of this intriguing dragon-like creature moving along in the distance.

To add a bit of culture to this blog, on Sunday we visited Singapore's Asian Civilisation Museum located near Boat Quay and the Sir Stamford Raffles statue. It's where Raffles first set foot on the island. This museum traces the cultural roots of Singapore's diverse population, and is a really comprehensive museum containing many stunning examples of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Indonesian art and statuary. Just a few examples.

In the early evening we were taken for a short drive with Eileen to the south coast of the island. All along the coast, during World War Two, were sited heavily fortified beach defences. These were to defend the island fortress of Singapore from the enemy invaders. Unfortunately for the British forces, and the Singapore population, the Japanese army approached through Malaya from the north. Most of the heavy guns were not able to perform 180 degree turns! This is a photograph of a machine gun post sited to protect the 12 pounder guns on the hill above.

On the way back to Eileen's flat we found our way up to Gillman Barracks - my old home when I was doing my National Service in Singapore in 1956/7. It didn't look as smart then but we did have a breezy view from our high vantage point overlooking the harbour. When some of our Sapper friends went past on their way back to blighty we could see the big banners they waved as they sailed past on the troop ships. Just recently Gillman Barracks has been developed into an art centre. (My bed space was in the top storey fifth opening from the left).

Now to round off our holiday in Singapore we spent a morning at Singapore's newest attraction - The Gardens by the Bay. There we travelled round two Biomes - one called The Flower Dome, and the other The Cloud Forest. Everything there is on a large scale. To start off let's look at one of the thousand year old olive trees.

And up to one of the enormous vertical gardens. (The Gardeners tend the plants while roped up as they clamber amongst the foliage.)

More views inside the domes.

And outside when we strolled around the very extensive gardens themselves.

Then there are the 'Supertrees'. This view shows a couple against a background of the incredible Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its boat shaped roof complete with palm tree gardens in the sky. The Supertrees are artistically lit up at night.

No visit to Singapore is complete (for me, that is) without satay. Here's the plate I had in the gardens complete with a tin mug full of iced Milo.

And to finally end this holiday blog here's a view from the Bay Gardens towards the Singapore Flyer.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

This is my island in the sun

And so it is. Ever since we arrived in Singapore the weather's been perfect - Sunshine and cool breezes. Although we've done a lot of walking the heat hasn't really tired us out. My arthritis is a distant memory (at least until we get back home).
It's so nice staying at the Tanglin Club where most people know my name - almost like coming home. I made a bit of an error when I booked our stay at the club however. Knowing that we would land in England on the 20th I just assumed we'd be leaving the day before, so only booked until the 19th. But in fact we are scheduled to fly out early on the 20th morning. And as the club only has 18 rooms, and needs to be booked many months in advance, there is no way we can stay here on the 19th. Luckily my very good friend Eileen Bygrave, who lives in Singapore has said we can stay with her for that night.
Only six months ago Singapore opened a new attraction near the zoo. It's called 'River Safari' so this morning, together with Eileen, we paid a visit. Part of the trip is on a boat which winds its way along a simulated tropical river. Either side are enclaves populated by such creatures as jaguars and monkeys. There's even a capybara - reminding us of last year's visit of Jack, the capybara who spent the summer wandering around the Thames before returning to his home at Fawley Hill. The main part of the safari was spent wandering around such places as the squirrel monkey forest, the Congo, and most interesting of all - the giant panda forest. There we saw two giant pandas - Kai Kai and Jia Jia. This is Kai Kai

And this is Jia Jia, feeding on her favourite food - juicy bamboo shoots.

Great to able to get so close and to see how well-cared for they are. And nearby are red pandas.

So much to see at the river safari. Most of the major rivers of the world have their own themed areas, from the Mississippi to the Mekong. Here's a few of the big fish swimming along beside us as we make our way from river to river.

And me standing behind a model of a couple of pandas. Shame they're not real.

And being near Chinese New Year Eileen is sitting by a panda in a Chinese New Year garden.

So we leave the Singapore River Safari with a display showing this coming year's animal - the horse.

The best place to see Singapore's most lavish decorations for the Chinese New Year is in Chinatown itself. So the other evening my young friend and I went over to North Bridge Road there to see what they'd made for The Year of the Horse. We were lucky in that the street decorations had only been erected 2 days beforehand. Just imagine the hustle and bustle amongst the excited crowds as we joined them in admiring the displays which stretched for hundreds of yards down the road.

All the little circles at the base of the horses represent old Chinese money and as they measure well over 3 feet in diameter you can appreciate how big the horses are. We had a little walk around Chinatown, mingling with the multitude until we tired of the busy throng. Everywhere, red dominated the colour scheme. Not surprising as red is the luckiest of colours. So before we leave Chinatown I'll show a little of the atmosphere.