Flowers, food and footweariness

Time zones can be a bane of the traveller, especially when you have a four year old who doesn’t go back to sleep once he awakes.

After staying up late to post photos and recharge everything I had had only four hours of sleep when Alex awoke at 4.30am Singapore time. That’s a late 7.30am in Sydney.

By the end of the very long day I was barely able to do the zombie shuffle.

Kind of like its economic powerhouse history this area of the world starts late and finishes late. B resolutely slept UN an extra couple of hours, but then hurried us to go out.

We were all hungry, so the first order of the day was to find food. Opposite us is an area known as Little India, or in the case of Arab Street, Little Iran (though Iranians apparently prefer to remind people they are Persians, not Arabs).

The shophouses, all still shuttered, sold carpets, textiles, but no food. Turning off we walked past a mosque and more culinary prospects were revealed.

Breakfast was roti prata and roti telur (roti with egg) at the well known Zam Zam, an Indian muslim store. The roti is a soft Indian style flat bread, spun and cooked on a big hot plate. We accompanied it with drinks of Milo ais, iced Milo with sweetened condensed milk. Alex fell asleep partway through the meal, but only after eating some of his roti. You tear pieces off and dip them into the small bowls of dahl and curry.

When we woke him up he demanded to go to a water playground better than the “Big Bucket Playground” (his name for the Sydney Aquatic Centre). Singapore has a number of swimming pool based water playgrounds, but we had only packed Alex’s swimwear for the day, so we decided to take him to a shopping centre wet playground instead. Better to get this over with before he nags us all day.

I picked NEX in Serangoon from a list of playgrounds I found online (portable internet is so good!). B was delighted to discover that is was a local shopping centre, not one of those focused on high end brands like you would find along Orchard Road.

There was a Bengawan Solo selling my beloved kuih lapis spekkoek, a spiced layer cake. B looked for Korean dramas at a DVD store.

They playground was still closed when we made it to the rooftop. Surrounding it were tutoring schools for a variety of ages and specialities. Singaporeans are obsessed with education, though I suspect that it is more about competition than the joy of learning.

When the playground finally opened, at 11am, Alex had a wonderful time. He raced here and there through water sprays, fountains, under buckets of water. It was an hour before we could extract him and continue on our explorations for the day.

Next stop was lunch at the Old Airport Road food centre, supposedly one of Singapore’s best. And Alex fell asleep again, leaving me to do the purchasing. Otah-otah is a spicy fish paste grilled in banana leaf. Then some famous rojak, a fruit and yutiao salad with a savoury-sweet-spicy brown sauce. Prior to ordering the rojak I had a bit of the spicy otah. The heat hit me while waiting for the order and I suddenly began hiccuping.

The bright pink bandung warung drink, rosewater, ice and condensed milk was quickly slurped up to counter the spice heat. Fortunately, when Alex woke up I still had some non-spicy crab otah available, which he quite enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the satay stalls were not open, as I had a real hunger for some.

After lunch we walked back down to the Mountbatten MRT station and caught a wonderfully cool train to Promenade to shop at Suntec City. Except Suntec was undergoing a huge renovation and I couldn’t find the shops I was after.

With Alex thirsty for a smoothie we continued on to Marina Bay at the mouth of the Singapore River. The World Youth Games was held here in 2010 and there were statues and a maze garden, along with a floating football field platform over the river.

There were great views of the city from the twisty Helix Bridge, a pedestrian pathway across the river that is beautifully lit at night. On the other side of the river is the ArtScience Museum, a lotus shaped building surrounded by place lotus pools, and the Marina Bay Sands complex, Singapore’s second best known hotel now after Rafflles. The three towers are topped by a swimming pool and lookout area, the silver base reminding me of a zeppelin.

We brought ourselves fruit juice and some snacks from the upmarket food court down the bottom of the attached shopping centre, had a look at some Crocs (now please explain to me the purpose of a high heeled Croc?), but most of the stores were of the highly upmarket nature.

Finally it was time to see the real destination of the day, the Gardens by the Bay. This very recent complex has two glass dome conservatories and the otherworldly Supertrees, metal tree shaped towers with vertical gardens on their flanks. I had viewed them in wonder last year and now I wanted to share them with the other two.

The tickets to the conservatories are expensive for non-locals. As soon as we stepped inside the Flower Dome all Alex wanted to do was play with the automatic doors. He has so little interest in the biological and every interest in the mechanical. When I told him that the doors were only one way he wanted to go straight to the exit to find their counterparts there.

To distract him I gave him our little red camera and told him to take photos of anything he liked. There is one plant he wanted to know about and that’s the cactus. He’d seen them prick a character on one of his favourite cartoons. So he ran around with a huge smile on his face (and our own) shouting:

“Say cheese cactus!”

“Say cheese sign!”

The Flower Dome would be lovely for a quiet stroll (not possible with Alex) and there were lots of fascinating plants, many with decent descriptions.

Hairy cactus – attracts bats!
Baobab trees

Eating an ice cream?

Interactive touchscreens

After the Flower Dome was the even more impressive Cloud Forest. Now this did have something to interest Alex. A huge waterfall cascaded down the artificial mountain in the centre of the dome. Flanking the hill were vertical gardens, epiphytes and ferns. Alex was even more excited when we had to catch an elevator to the top of the hollow hill. The carnivorous pitcher plants in a pond at the top also caught his interest for a while.

Walkways wound their way vertiginously around the hill, passing over the gardens below. Outside, the sun was setting and the light through the glass canopy was incredible.

Down the bottom of the hill was a huge movie presentation about the world’s climate gaining 5 degree centigrade. Alex said he felt scared, and though I don’t think it was the content, it was appropriate considering that this is the future he has to look forward to if things continue as they are.

We arrived at the Supertree Grove just in time to see the sound and light show. The lighting effects truly transported us to another planet. It was something out of a Star Wars scene.

Alex and B took a lift up to the high walkway connecting a couple of the trees. I had done it last time, so just waved to them from below. It’s a great view.

Both Alex and I were exhausted and it was long past dinner time. He could barely stay awake, but we needed food, so after three changes of train we arrived at Maxwell Food Centre. Unfortunately most stalls were now closed, but one of my favourites, Marina South, was still open. I ordered their fried prawn Hokkien noodles, so smooth and flavoursome with their belachan based sambal sauce. By now Alex had fallen asleep. I had to wake him up, protesting, in order to get him to eat dinner.

He liked the noodles and prawns! B had ordered kway teow from the same shop, and popiah, a sort of salad roll. But we knew that we’d have to return to eat more.

After a very, very long day it was time to make our way back to the hotel. Alex was now recharged and teasing us. He’d walked almost a much as the two of us adults, more if you consider how much running that he’d done at the playground. Quite an incredible performance for a four year old.

When we arrived back there were chocolates and a fruit bowl awaiting. And you know which Mr Little Healthy Boy went for? Not the chocolates.

Panasonic Photos
Sony NEX Photos

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