Traveling around Singapore


Singapore is a great place to stay. Like I heard someone say recently, “Singapore is no longer just a pass-through place“.

But I’m sure if you’re a foreigner staying in Singapore for a while, you must have heard people around you say that, “Hey, Singapore is great! But what’s really great too is how connected Singapore is and how easy it is to go on a getaway somewhere in Asia just for a couple of days!”

I must say I agree with this 🙂

Singapore is one of the world’s most connected city, and is geographically very well situated in Southeast Asia. Think about it… 3 hours from Hong Kong, 2h30mn from Bangkok, 1hour from Bali… Isn’t that the dream? For us westerners in Singapore this truly adds value to our stay, as an open door to discover Asia…

Singapore in SE Asia

From my experience, when planning for a trip, airfare can be quite expensive. People will argue that low cost airlines are really cheap… Tiger Airways, Air Asia, Jet Star, and most recently Scoot.

But I would like to add that “low costs airlines are really cheap” IF you book early!! It happened to me so many times to plan a trip just a few weeks in advance, and tickets we’re really not cheap.

At one point, non-low cost airlines like Cathay Pacific and Silkair can be cheaper!! Here’s a great website that I use to compare flights and make sure I get the best bargain: http://www.skyscanner.com.sg/.

Regarding destinations, there are so many that it’s hard to choose… Here’s a great website to help you decide: www.tripinasia.com. It was recently created by some friends of mine, and it’s really comprehensive and useful! If you like it you can join their growing community of fans on Facebook.

Trip In Asia website

A few of my personal favourites would be:

Malacca for Peranakan delights and jewelry shopping
Bintan for an easy beach vacation
Bali if you have more time, to unravel temples’ secrets, rice fields and volcanoes
Kota Kinabalu for a visit of Orang Utans
Hong Kong for a shopping and Dim Sum treat
Bangkok for nightlife and fun…!!

Also you might want to keep an eye open for local festivals in each destinations, to make sure your trip has the right timing to make it a truly unforgettable experience 🙂

Hope you like my tips!! So now let’s get started on planning your next getaway from Singapore!!

The Arts Science Museum


One thing about Singapore is that you have many many many malls… and fewer opportunities to access world-renowned art exhibitions. I’m not saying that there are no art exhibitions, just that when something worthwhile is out, it’s good to go have a look!

This week-end we decided to go see the expo “The Art of the Brick” at the Arts Science Museum.

The Art of The Brick

It was my first time inside the Arts Science Museum – you know, the flower-shaped building right next to Marina Bay Sands hotel. My first thought was that it’s a bit strange to have to walk through MBS to access the museum (either this or you have to swim across the river!), but maybe that’s just me being an non-Singaporean again 🙂 given that back where I used to live, museums are very rarely associated to hotels or shopping malls…

The Singapore Artscience Museum

I had heard of the “lego expo” through some friends who recommended it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I must admit I was a little put off by the price (15S$), but then again maybe I’m a little spoilt, since I’m used to free entrance to museums back in France…

But once I was inside, it was really quite interesting!! It’s amazing to see how much work the artist, Nathan Sawaya, has put into these pieces… Each art piece is at least a few thousands pieces of lego bricks and a few months of work! And the result is breathtaking!

The thinker - lego version

A blue man lost in his thoughts…

Breaking free

Breaking free… love this piece!!

There were also places in the exhibitions where you could try to build your own lego art masterpiece, which was fun! And it definitely encourages creativity and makes you realize what the artist is doing really takes some sense of perspective and a whole lot of patience… Not to mention knowledge of the human anatomy and body proportions, which it seems Nathan masters perfectly!

What I really liked is that the artist explored a variety of themes, and was really poetic about the way he presented it. I’m not a good art critic but I spent a great afternoon 🙂 Thank you Nathan!

**********

This visit also got me thinking… Why is it that in Singapore visitors like to leave with a picture of themselves? When we entered the expo we were asked to pose in front of a giant blank page holding a giant pencil, so that they could take a picture of us, and sell it to us of course.

I would think these are takeaways aimed at tourists, but it’s actually meant for locals! In the same way, there was an empty seat next to the blue-thinker-man, so that you can take a picture next to him…

Surprising – to me – but also quite fun if you get into the game!! … I guess maybe it’s a cultural thing 🙂 And I must admit sometimes I like to be part of this photo-photo game myself !!

Blog statistics for 2012


As this is the last day of the year, WordPress has provided a statistics report for the year 2012! In short:

27,000 views this year…

15,000 visitors approximately…

82 comments overall…

41 visitors per day on average…

34 posts so far…

25 blog followers…

… and most importantly ONE BIG THANK YOU to all my readers and supporters !!

Let’s keep up the good work 🙂

If you want to learn more about this blog’s statistics : Click here to see the complete report. I especially like the “where did your visitors come from” part… Check it out it’s fun!!

Christmas season in Singapore


Season‘s greetings to all !! 

For non-Singaporeans spending the Christmas season in Singapore this year, we’re probably thinking the same thing… It’s really interesting to have a hot Christmas!! I don’t know about you but usually in my home country Christmas comes together with cold temperature, snow… and a hot chocolate by the chimney 🙂

This is not my first Christmas in Singapore… At first I was a little put off, like probably other fellow expatriates living here. It’s just so different from our usual Christmas atmosphere! But Singapore always has something different to offer. What I like most about being in Singapore around Christmas and New Year’s Eve is:

– the Christmas decorations around town make you feel like it’s Christmas (even though inside you might be dying of heat!). Sometimes I feel lightings are too colourful and shiny, but it’s a good start to help you get in the mood 🙂

– Business partners will most likely deliver hampers or small gifts to your office! That’s part of the small things that make me happy!

– But most of all, you still feel like you’re on holiday in summer 🙂 !! Don’t you just love waking up to a warm weather and having a cooling drink by the beach next to neighbouring coconut trees?

**********

Speaking of Christmas decorations… did you know that each year there is an implicit “competition” for the tallest Christmas tree in Singapore? Especially between Singapore attractions and hotels, but also including shopping malls… Check out these ones for example!

Xmas tree @Ngee Ann City

Ngee Ann City

Xmas tree @Shangri La lobby

Shangri La Hotel lobby

I even heard last year that Singapore Flyer claimed they had the tallest Christmas tree in Singapore… even though their Christmas tree is not a tree!! So which Christmas tree is your favourite this year? 🙂

new year images

And as the end of the year approaches, here’s wishing you a wonderful new year of 2013 !!

Playing Mahjong


One of my favourite activities when I am in Singapore is to play mahjong… with relatives and friends there who know how to play and enjoy it too 🙂

Careful though, I am not referring to the Mahjong game you can play on your computers where the aim is to match pairs… I am talking about the 4-player game which you have probably less heard of.

Mahjong is a chinese game where you use tiles to build combinations (three of a kind or sequencing numbers), gain more points thanks to the “winds” and “dragons” tiles… and overall win (or loose) money. (as you may know, Chinese people love to gamble, and I must admit it is more fun when there is something at stake!) It is a little like rummy, if you’ve played this game before.

One of my best hands so far !! 2 flowers and all of a same kind

It is originally a game from continental China, called Ma Jiang (麻将)but it was later exported to other countries when the Chinese community moved to other countries. “Mahjong” is the name for the Hong-Kongese version, which is the most played in Singapore. So there are no longer “fixed” rules of mahjong, since every region or community has its specific rules and way of counting points. Also, different versions of mahjong exist in other Asian countries, like Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The funny thing about mahjong is that sometimes Asian people you meet do not know how to play (especially in the younger generation), whereas tourists or foreigners (like me 🙂 ) sometimes know the rules! I wonder if that’s because it’s an easy item to bring back to your home country and share with your foreign friends…

However if you have the chance to visit elderly people in Singapore, you will probably see them play mahjong. It is said to be a great game to keep your mind alert… and boy! Are they fast when they play!! I wish someday I’ll be able to compete with them!!

Another of my winning hands… with jokers!

Overall, mahjong is really fun and a great way to get closer to the Chinese culture if you are not very knowledgeable about it and wish to learn more. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know how to speak Chinese, just read a few characters which you can find on the internet.

Also, there is a growing trend of mahjong competitions in foreign countries, so why not join a club and start practicing?

I even thought about starting a Mahjong club in my school a few years back… it’s a pity I didn’t have enough time to carry this project out, I’m sure it would have been a great hit! Especially since more and more Chinese students are studying in foreign countries like France, it would have been quite easy to find knowledgeable players 🙂

Make a joke with Bakkwa


Have you ever heard the term “Bakkwa” (or bagua) ? It’s a very local term in SouthEast Asia, and in particular in Singapore…

Bakkwa is a Hokkien term for barbecued meat. It is usually pork meat, but has been declined into beef, mutton and chicken versions too. It’s basically sliced barbecued meat, which looks a little like beef jerky. Mmmmmmm yummy !!

In Singapore, people snack on it during the day, and even queue up for it during Chinese New Year. You can find some either in established shops (one of the most famous shops is Bee Cheng Hiang) or sometimes in hawker centers.

The last time I went to Singapore I saw Bakkwa on sale at People’s Park Complex hawker center in Chinatown, on the ground floor. If I remember correctly it was labeled Kim Hua Guan, which is another reliable brand for Bakkwa (but there are many other brands too!). It’s actually nicer to buy some in a hawker center because you can watch the cook barbecue the meat for you. Plus, you can be sure it’s super fresh 🙂

**********

Personnally, I simply love Bakkwa. But what I love most is making jokes with it to my non-Singaporean friends !! Try this one out for fun:

Step 1: Buy packs of Bakkwa from Singapore, pack them individually and fit them in your suitcase. Make sure there is no ingredients description on the package.

Step 2: Give them out between your friends when you come back from Singapore and say it’s a Singaporean delicacy. Serve some on a plate for them to try. Cut it into pieces so that the meat is not recognisable.

Step 3: Tell them it’s DOG MEAT … and watch their reactions !! I can guarantee you, you are in for a good laugh !! 😀 See how many of your friends agree to actually taste it and bring back some home.

Do let me know if you try it out 🙂

Dialects and Teo Chew food


Singapore is a real melting pot… And there are four official languages : English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. So most important signs are translated in all 4 languages!! Don’t you just love it when announcements in the MRT are translated into all 4 languages? I know I do 🙂

To these four, you might want to add Singlish, even though it’s not a real language…

However, if you do go to a local food court or hawker center, you might be surprised to hear languages which are none of the 5 above… They are dialects!! In the streets of Singapore you might hear people talking Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese…

Most dialects would be Chinese dialects, as most of Singapore’s population is of Chinese origins. Here is a video to give you a glimpse of what the Hainanese dialect sounds like for example …

*****************************

But in Singapore dialects are more than just languages. They are a culture of their own. Which explains why some restaurants specialise in Teo Chew cuisine for instance.

In Teo Chew restaurants in Singapore, you will find very “simple” food, in the sense that ingredients are usually served without too much sauce covering it so you can really enjoy all the flavours. Teo Chew food also includes a lot of seafood (steamed fish, oyster omelet, cold crab…) and their Yam dessert is super good too !!

One of the Teo Chew restaurants I would recommend in Singapore is SWA Garden Restaurant on MacPherson Road. It’s small, local and cosy, and not too expensive either 🙂

Why we love Singapore


Here are no less than 18 reasons out of the top of my mind why one could love Singapore so much 🙂 I tried not to sound too biased, but it’s actually difficult when you appreciate the place…

1. It’s never cold! You can wear light clothes and stop worrying about a coat or scarf.

2. The food is excellent everywhere. And the variety is extremely large.

3. Food stalls are opened all night !! You can have a bowl of noodle soup or roti prata at anytime of the day or night!!

4. And it’s cheap!! Snack on a Pau or Curry Puff for less than 2 S$.

5. It’s super safe. Cabs will never cheat you. You will never be scared on the streets, even alone at night.

6. Singapore is extremely clean. No dog poo, gum or litter on the streets!

7. Singapore is beautiful at night. Take the time to look at the skyline and lights around the Esplanade.

8. There is always something new to do! Try a new restaurant, check out the recently-opened mall you haven’t had the chance to see yet, or jump into a cab and explore less known areas of Singapore (like MacRitchie Reservoir, Pulau Ubin, East Coast Park…).

9. Bargains !! Instead of walking up and down Orchard Road wondering why things are so expensive, go to Chinatown or Bugis for bargains.

10. Transportation is super convenient. No strikes. No delays. The MRT network is rapidly expanding (the circle line is now complete!) and the bus system is very well designed. You can get around Singapore for a very cheap fare.

11. Cultural events in Singapore happen quite often. As an Asian hub, it has become a preferred location for artists or exhibitions going on a worldwide tour. Check out concert programs on the Esplanade for example, or the MOSAIC Music Festival. Coming up soon in Singapore, no less than Lady Gaga and John Butler Trio!!

12. Singapore attracts people from all around the world. It’s a great place to meet people from all walks of life, both local and foreigners, and gather feedback from various work and personal experiences.

13. Singapore is a wonderful starting point to start exploring South-East Asia. Jump onto a Tiger Airways or Jet Star plane and organise a cheap and short get-away in a neighbouring country.

14. According to The Economist, Singapore is the best place to do business in the world. Which means great growth and networking opportunities!!

15. Settling in Singapore is easy. You can get your Employment Pass in no time, do most of the necessary paperwork online, set up a phone line in your home in 30mn, get a credit card and open a bank account in less than an hour… Isn’t that the dream?

16. Singapore streets are green. Even on the busiest streets in town, there will always be well-cut trees and vegetation on the side. Helps you cope with the stress of crowds 🙂

17. Singapore’s air is not so polluted. Compared to other major cities in Asia, the air is quite clean, probably because its tall skyscrapers are not too close from one another, which helps the wind circulate.

18. Last but not least… It’s a wonderful blend of old and new… Old shophouses and colonial buildings VS sparkling new malls and modern skyscrapers. Take your pick !!

****************

How about you, why do you love Singapore ? 🙂

See Singapore Pass


Did you ever wish to visit the whole of Singapore in just a few days, but didn’t really feel like spending too much on it? Here’s a perfect deal for you! The See Singapore Attractions Pass.

It’s a card which gives you free and unlimited access to attractions and discounts in famous AND off the beaten track places of Singapore. There are different packages available so you can pick the one which best suits your needs. Go check out their cool website to choose the best option for you.

And together with the card, you will be given a paper brochure with details of the offers you are entitled to. You can enter for free to museums, visit famous parks, take part to fun and interesting activities and even get discounts at participating restaurants and outlets!!

Among the various activities available on the pass, here are two personal favourites:

The Original Singapore Walks are a great way to discover more about Singapore’s history and less known anecdotes. You might think that walking in Singapore is very tiresome because of the heat, but it’s actually quite pleasant. But most of all, the tour guides are very knowledgeable and willing to share their passion on Singapore’s history.

– The National Orchid Garden is really worth it. It is located inside the Botanical Gardens and allows you to discover a large number of different orchids. I had no idea there were so many different types of orchid before I went there!! Did you know that most of them are actually hybrid varieties crossed by men? Click here for more information on Singapore’s gardens.

The best thing about the See Singapore Pass is that no matter which activity you decide to go for, you can be sure it will be a success. The pass provides you with free access to quality tours and museums, as well as interesting activities (a trail up in the tree, a flight in the air, or even a slide down a snowy path!!)…

It’s ideal if you want to cover most interesting places in Singapore in just a few days, and really perfect if you have relatives visiting you in Singapore too. Definitely my favourite sightseeing pass in Singapore!

CNY 2012 in Singapore


Chinese New Year (CNY) is coming up! Although it is officially on Monday 23rd Jan this year, celebrations in Singapore begin before hand. So why not take advantage of this week-end to see as much as you can?

CNY 2012 in Singapore will include :
– streets light up in Chinatown
– lanterns and light shows along Marina Bay Reservoir
– the Sentosa flower event to celebrate the upcoming Spring
– the Chingay Parade on Feb 3rd where there will be dragon shows
– music, theatre and play performances all around time
– and of course many shopping bargains and commercial events…

You can start planning your outings here.

But for those of us who are not familiar with CNY, what is this celebration really about? Chinese New Year – also called the Spring Festival (春节— pronounced chun jie) – celebrates the end of one year (ie the Rabbit year) and the beginning of a new year (ie the Dragon year).

It is a tradition for Chinese people to gather with their families at this time of the year, enjoy good food and spend time together. In mainland China, people are usually allowed a full week of holiday, which is enough time for them to travel back home.

Homes are decorated with red paper cuttings, families thoroughly clean their houses to get rid of bad spirits and welcome good ones for the new year… and also, the elderly usually give out a little money in red envelopes to the younger members of the family. We call them 红包 (pronounced hong bao).

As this is a time of the year for peace, sharing love and gathering with your loved ones, I would like to sincerely wish you a very happy Chinese new year !!

恭喜发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai
Prosperous new year (literally : Wishing you a lot of money) 

新年快乐
Xin Nian Kuai Le
Happy New year !!

If you want to make a joke to your friends, you can tell them : 恭喜发财,红包拿来 !(pronounced : gong xi fa cai – hong bao na lai), which means “Happy New Year! Give me the red envelope!”.

English Translation:

In every avenue and street
From the mouth of everyone
The first sentence when we meet
is congratulations
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

The winter has come to an end
That’s really good news
The warm breeze of the spring
will wake up the earth
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

The heavy snow has melted
The plums are about to blossom
The endless dark night is over
We hear the crowing of a rooster
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

After so much difficulty
with so much discipline
So many hearts are looking forward
To the news of spring
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you