Fire up your taste buds, there’s a new kid in town

The word supper club conjures up images of an exclusive members only venue in London or America. Somewhere dimly lit, full of stylishly elegant people, smoking cigarettes and sipping cocktails. The actual American definition of supper club is ‘a small, expensive night club.’ However, to many others it refers to a kind of mix between a restaurant and having dinner at a friend’s house – a friend who’s a really good cook. Often at traditional supper clubs there would be entertainment provided too in the form of cabaret or live music.

More recently, supper clubs have undergone a resurgence in popularity and tend to refer to ‘underground restaurants’ that are more intimate than ordinary restaurants and offer diners a cosier, more homely feel, with service that is less Maitre D’ and more ‘you matter.’

Inside The Ottomani

The beautifully decadent interior of The Ottomani.

The Ottomani is one of the latest, and most stylish supper clubs to open here in Singapore and is set in the heart of Tanjong Pagar, one of Singapore’s favourite neighbourhoods known to foodies and trend setters alike.

Hidden in the back of a heritage shop house on Peck Seah Street, the entrance takes you through a neighbourhood establishment where you could be forgiven for wondering if you have come to the wrong place. But, no sooner do you give your name than you are whisked away to one of the most stylish and desirable dining rooms you will ever see.

Low, dark wood tables edged in gold, leather sofas laden with pillows and turkish rugs all offer a dining experience that feels intimate and homely. Golden lights twinkle from the many low-hanging pendants and table lights and the whole room exudes warmth. Standing proudly around the room are huge polished drinks trolleys that are heaving with gleaming glasses, bottles of all variations and all the accoutrements that are needed by the best cocktail makers.

The Ottomani - Türk Kajvesi G&T

A simple G&T takes on a new meaning here.

With no bar as such, the bartenders instead bring the bar to you preparing your drink on the mobile trolley. With a selection of cocktails and fine wines to choose from, this isn’t the easiest choice either – so let the staff at The Ottomani do what they do best and advise you on what to have. Service is where the restaurant comes in to its own. Capturing the experience of days gone by, everything comes with a personal touch.

I was lucky enough to experience this when myself and my guests – who were visiting from the uk – ate there recently. We were served by Thomas, the Slovakian head bar man who was happy to recommend dishes that he thought we should try as well as suggest how much of the food to order – you really could over order very easily.

This is due to Australian Chef Nic Philip’s ever-changing seasonal menu which is full of food you just have to try. The menu comes from a lifetimes of experience in Middle Eastern flavours and ingredients from his childhood family table as well as from his experience at leading London venues such as #26. He has a love of light and fresh cuisine with a passion for spice and this is reflected in dishes such as ‘Mum’s’ Spinach and Cheese Triangles and Burnt Carrots.

The Ottomani - Cabbage Sprouts

Who doesn’t love sprouts?

Spinach and cheese triangles

Just like mum used to make?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire features strongly at The Ottomani – from the oil lanterns that burn around the room to the wood-fired earth pit. In this custom-designed pit, every night before he leaves the restaurant, Chef Nic buries the next night’s menu leaving it to slow roast over night. This gives a depth of flavour that just cannot be replicated in an oven and leads to melt-in-the-mouth dishes made for sharing such as Sticky Pork Belly with a rub of turkish coffee, palm sugar and Szechuan pepper.

The Ottomani waiters and bar tenders

The service is attentive without being intrusive.

The end of the night comes too quickly at The Ottomani but also with a flourish. We ordered a sorbet pudding that was prepared at the table offering a spectacle of dry ice and popcorn popping in front of our eyes. It tasted great too.

Everything we ate tasted amazing and was served beautifully and with care; the service being just the right side of attentive. We were all in awe of the decor and the whole ambience of the restaurant. In fact, I can’t wait to go back.

If you go along, do let them know that 5 Go Mad recommended you.

The Ottomani, 48 Peck Seah Street, Singapore, 079317

+65 9231 9316.

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Kick Back on Koh Samui

 

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

A room with a view indeed

Many years ago, before kids, marriage and responsibility my husband and I – quite adventurously for the time – decided we wanted to go to Thailand. More than that, we wanted to go to an island that was pretty unknown then called Koh Samui. We booked a flight with an airline called Britannia  and as this was the early 90’s and there were no direct flights from the UK , we stopped to refuel in Bahrain. I can picture the arrival in to Koh Samui so well even now – we swooped in on a strip of a runway and walked through a hut with a straw roof to collect our bags from the room they called the baggage area.

The next two weeks were, I remember, absolute bliss. Tropical beaches, lovely hotel, nights spent drinking cocktails on the beach listening to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, sunshine every day and tropical storms that blew away as quickly as they arrived. By the hotel were a few bars and restaurants to wander to every night and we were welcomed by the friendliest, warmest people you can imagine.

We talked about going back for years. We were both convinced the island – having obviously now grown to be tourist hotspot –  couldn’t live up to our possibly rose-tinted memories. If we were going to go back it had to be for something – or somewhere – special.

Enter Samujana…

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

There’s special… and then there’s Samujana

 

Sat atop a hillside on the northeastern coast of Koh Samui and overlooking a picture perfect cove, this resort (and I use this term loosely as it’s nothing like a ‘resort’) is more than special. Each of the 20 or so luxury villas have been designed by award winning architect Gary Fell of Gfab Architects and are very cleverly built amongst the original rock outcrops and indigenous trees of the hillside – and they all have jaw dropping sea views.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

All of the villas offer stunning views of the coral bay

Every villa looked amazing on the website. Infinity pools, private gyms, the talk of comfy slumber areas and extensive living and dining areas. We also loved the sound of ‘the latest in audio and media amenities.’

Ahem, excuse me. This was the undersell of undersells – see excited children later on.

We flew with Asia airlines, our first time with this particular airline and we were pleasantly surprised. Good service, plane was comfortable and as spacious as you’d expect on a short haul economy airline. A special mention though has to go to the safety video. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it – but if there were awards for such things, Air Asia would win for entertainment, comedy and originality!

The airport had changed – there was more than one hut and a ‘street’ of shops and even a proper baggage belt now. But still it was without any of the stress and manic feel of most other airports and it still held the same quaint charm it had all those years ago.

We were met at the airport and led to our bus where the fun started immediately. As we pulled away we were asked if wanted music – of course we did! On went the music and disco lights and up went the volume and all of a sudden – much to the kids delight – we were on a party bus. It was hilarious and surreal at the same time. Shame the villa was only a ten minute journey as the kids were having so much fun.

Coming in to Samujana doesn’t feel anything like driving in to a resort. Villas aren’t packed together fighting for the best view and it’s almost as if you are being given a neck massage as you pull up. Honestly it has, you know, THAT kind of feel.

Villa 22, which if I tell you was originally planned as two villas, will give you an idea of how big it is, was perched just around the first bend.  We were immediately welcomed by our beaming villa host X (yes that was his name – when I asked how to spell that he grinned at me and said “with an X, no more”) who took us on a guided tour of the villa and made us the first of many refreshing lime sodas.

Gym, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

For the gym bunnies

Anyone listening to us as we were shown around would have been intrigued immediately. Lots of sharp intakes of breath (the size of out bathroom), oohs and ahhs (our own treatment room), squeals of delight (a full size pool table AND a tennis table) and Wows! (a private cinema room with thousands of films to choose from). The excitement caused by the state of the art gym and huge infinity pool complete with inflatable turtles was infectious.

Cinema room, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Movie night takes on a whole new meaning here!

Honestly, having seen all six bedrooms and nine bathrooms and then settling ourselves in to just two next to each other, we did say this would be much more suited to an extended family gathering rather than just the four of us on a quick family holiday. We would be literally rattling around. But that was ok, we don’t mind a rattle!

It wasn’t long before the kids were diving in the pool and hubby and I were relaxing on the sun beds smiling smugly at our good fortune to have found somewhere so amazingly stunning. From there things just got better and better and more and more relaxed.

With our own private cook available in the villa breakfast was a feast – of many courses. Granola, cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries as well as a selection of cooked food from omelettes to french toast, we were totally spoilt for choice. After the first morning we realised not to scarf down everything laid out for us on the table as this was just the start. X and our sweet housekeeper/chef would continue to bring out food. Literally we ate like Kings.

Lunch could be ordered from X too with a wide and varied menu to choose from. The chef can prepare a barbecue or a feast, whatever you want, you could have. We chose to eat out most nights and again X was on hand to recommend restaurants and arrange transport to the local town of Chaweng, or wherever it was we wanted to go. He even took us himself in his own car when he could.

We spent the week in total zen like relaxation. Reading, snoozing and playing in the pool with the kids when they weren’t playing table tennis or watching another movie in the cinema. Music is fed through speakers throughout the villa and you can choose to hook up your own music or listen to what is there. X had a penchant for soft reggae it seemed as often we’d have that playing – which seemed to suit the laid back mood perfectly.

Skimming stones, Koh Samui

The ideal beach for a spot of skimming stones

Samujana Villas, private beach, Koh Samui

Samujana’s private beach

All of the staff we encountered whilst there could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. From the guys watering the grounds to the security men at the gate. We took a walk down to the private beach one day – carrying a bag prepared for us by X with water and towels in – and spent an enjoyable hour or so skimming stones and swinging on the tree swing that’s hung there. The beach wouldn’t win any awards for beauty as it’s very rocky and the sand is more shingle, but it’s not a bad place to while away some time.

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Ssh! Don’t tell Nanna.

We were surprised to see X on our walk back who had kindly come along to carry the bag back and offered us a lift on the back of his moped. Now, don’t tell Nanna, but both children were delighted to jump on the back one at a time and be whizzed (carefully and considerately!) up the short hill to the villa. He even came back and offered hubby and I a lift. We declined as figured we needed the exercise.

If you’re feeling energetic there is a tennis court and Samujana also offer a number of different experiences should you wish to indulge yourself. These include chartering a luxury 43ft catamaran, diving and snorkelling and cooking classes or yoga. Last year saw the launch of  Samujana’s Wellbeing experience which offers bespoke wellness and fitness services working with some of the top therapists and experts on the island. A great idea if you want to kickstart a healthy regime or re-boot your body.

We did neither I’m sorry to say. We just relaxed and made the most of it. We explored the island a bit too as wanted to see how much it had changed. And there’s no denying it has. Chaweng is now a town teaming with restaurants, bars, massage parlours, tattoo studios, boutiques and nail bars, to name but a few. Tourists are aplenty and the atmosphere is a mix of hippy student backpackers and family holiday. But go a little deeper and you and still find the charm of old Koh Samui. Simple villages with a couple of places to eat and locals going about their daily business.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Lots of space to spread out and relax.

We had the most wonderful week at Samujana and will look forward to going back one day. Next time though we’ll take a few people to enjoy the stunning villa with us. In fact, we both said what a fabulous place it would be for a celebration like a ‘big’ birthday, family reunion or a wedding. With a dining table that seated 12 comfortably, huge comfortable sofas aplenty, six bedrooms and nine bathrooms it easily has the room. Even if you have little ones -as long as you were cautious with the stairs and the pool – it would be great as there was plenty of grass area to play on and of course, being Samujana they could even offer a nanny service to help you relax a little more.

Obviously with this kind of luxury comes a larger than life price tag. But if you were sharing the cost with one or even two other families it really is worth every penny (in fact, it’s worth it for a special treat regardless).

Thanks for having us Samujana, it was truly something special.

Shells on beach, Koh Samui

Even the shells on the beach were picture perfect

 

This song will always say “Koh Samui” to me.

 

 

Taking the shock out of shopping in Singapore

Shopping for clothes in Singapore

Don’t give up, you’ll find clothes in Singapore

There’s no getting away from it, Asian women are beautifully packaged. Alabaster skin, tiny waists, perfectly proportioned legs, all makes for a lovely petite bundle. So it should come as no surprise that the shops here in Singapore are geared up for these dainty lovelies. This can make shopping for your average sized, non-asian, expat lady, a little difficult.

You’ve heard the stories of women who have left stores shamefaced after being told they are ‘too big’ for anything in the store. Maybe you yourself have been turned away from that lovely boutique with a ‘no, cannot!’ echoing in your ears?

What’s too big you may ask? Think anything above a UK size 4!

I’m painting a dark picture I know — it’s not all bad. The staff aren’t necessarily being rude or obnoxious. They tend to be, how do I say this? Honest?  There’s no beating around the bush, they tell it like it is. Not to upset you or be mean, just to save time. I actually find it quite refreshing and prefer it to the fawning “oh that looks gorgeous” from a clearly deranged shop assistant in the UK as you stare at yourself in a banana yellow shapeless shift dress. As long as it’s not that time of the month, or year, I can put up with a bit of frankness

Clothes too small

Sometimes clothes shopping in Singapore can be tough!

I’ve had my moments here for sure. I remember one time whilst shopping for a dress in a department store I’d picked up quite a few that had caught my eye — always a good start. A sales assistant came up to me and asked if I’d like to try them on.  As she showed me to the changing room she deftly removed a number of my choices with a:

“No lah, not for your size.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “It’s my size on the label.”

“No ma’am. For Asian women yes. Not you.”

She blatantly looked me up and down as she said it. I felt like I’d been scanned. With that she wafted off.

But, I had to get a dress so I had no choice but to soldier on. As I was squeezing my butt in to one of the two dresses I was left with, the assistant arrived with quite a few similar dresses for me to try, explaining that these were all ‘my size.’

It turns out she was spot on. The couple I’d chosen were all wrong — tight across the chest, arms too short, so not my size. But the selection she’d made were much better. I came home with two.

Shoppes at Marina Bay sands

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – take your credit card!

So, ladies, don’t be disheartened. Take advice from the sales staff (if you can get past the initial fear of being ‘too large, lah!’)  Get to know the stores that stock your size.  Find the malls that are aimed at the expat – Tanglin Mall and Cluny Court are two of the most popular. There are also quite a few big chains here – H&M, Esprit, Marks & Spencer, Zara – that stock your average expat sizes. Also you have to front it out and ask for larger sizes as often they do but they are not out on display.

If all else fails, order from the cool, air-conditioned, comfort of your own home. Asos, Boohoo, Next, Macy’s, Saks, Zalora, to name but a few, all deliver to Singapore. Some of them even offer free delivery. Just be sure to measure yourself and check sizing first as returns can be a pain.

Happy Shopping!

If you have bosoms, and need a new bra, God help you. Really, that’s a whole other issue…

Esprit clothes shop

Esprit stock a good selection of sizes

PLEASE LADIES WE ALL NEED YOUR HELP

Let’s make a list of places that stock a great selection of sizes. I’ll start:

Tangs in Orchard

Esprit all over the island

Most of the clothes shops in Tanglin Mall.

The perfect getaway?

Idyllic beach anyone?

Idyllic paradise beach anyone?

When I was looking to take my little sis somewhere special for her (ahem, sorry about this sis) 40th birthday while she was here visiting with her family I ran through all the usual ideas. Swanky restaurants, weekends on Bintan, spas breaks, staycay at MBS and so on. But, being the selfish person I am, I figured why not make it something I’d enjoy too – in fact something both of our families would enjoy. I’d heard about this special island just off Malaysia and started doing some digging. A couple of days later and we were booked. I didn’t tell sis, or her family. It was all going to be a big surprise. And what a surprise it was for us all.

Fun on the boat over

Fun on the boat over

Batu Batu is a private resort set on the previously uninhabited island of Pulau Tengah – meaning middle island – just 16km off the coast of Malaysia. A quick drive through the Johor border and over to Mersing and then it’s a quick 20 minute boat trip on the resorts own speedboat. Simples!

The resort is a relatively new venture having opened its jetty just four years ago in 2012. Built with sustainability in mind all of the buildings on the resort were constructed by local carpenters using traditional techniques and a huge emphasis is placed on preservation of not only the island, but its wildlife, flora and fauna.

Check in, check out
As you spot Batu Batu in the distance, honestly there is something that happens to you. A sigh escapes your body that is barely discernible. As the boat glides in to the jetty and you climb the rustic wooden steps a lightness seems to take over. The expanse of sea and sand is breathtaking and if traveling with children, hold on to them tightly, as you may find they can’t resisit the urge to throw themselves off the jetty right there in to the ridiculously clear waters is almost overwhelming. There’s plenty of time for that later on.
We were met by a friendly young man called Nicholas (we were all – grown men included already falling for his french accent, laid back swagger and stories of sharks in the water) who led us along the jetty towards ‘reception.’ As we passed wooden Kampung style villas nestled amongst the rocks and spied steps that led down to white, sandy beaches – the island has eight such beaches for you explore –  it was clear this wasn’t your typical resort at all.

Even the loos had a picture perfect view

We were shown to the restaurant area – having passed the office, reception and shop without actually realising it – and encouraged to relax on huge wooden chairs, given refreshing drinks and handed cold flannels to cool us down. As we took in our surroundings the smiles on everyone’s faces grew, the knots in our shoulders loosened and the shoes on our feet were kicked off.

 

Eating at Batu Batu
A spacious open sided pavillion with views across the sea whichever way you turn, the restaurant and bar area is not a bad place to sit and while away some time. As we had arrived on the early boat we knew our room wouldn’t be ready and took the offer of lunch while it was prepared.

At Batu Batu all meals are included in the ‘board basis’ which you pay for when booking. This includes a buffet breakfast, two course lunch (main and dessert) and three course dinner (starter, main and dessert). The menu changes daily and whilst we were there there was a choice of 4 or 5 dishes each day ranging from fresh local seafood to traditional Malaysian dishes. Children are well catered for with their own menu, or they can opt to have a smaller version of the grown ups food if they like. Our young people were mixed in their tastes and the staff were always happy to accommodate (“fries with that, of course,” “less spciy randang, no problem”)

The adults were more than happy with the food too with portion sizes keeping us full between meals. If we did get a little peckish though there was always fruit and home made cake available.

Villa amore
Even though there are just 22 villas on the whole resort – I swear I spotted no more than half a dozen, which is testament to the design and layout of Batu Batu. With a choice of beach, ocean, poolside or jungle villas it’s best to choose dependent on your needs and preferences. We opted for beach villas which, as promised, were sat directly on the island’s ‘Sunrise beach’ and are ideal if you have a few beachcombers in your group.

The jungle villas are set back from the coast and offer a bit more privacy being nestled in the jungle. But to get to them there are a good few steps to climb; not good for those who are not as agile on their feet. The ocean villas offered stunning views out across the sea and are set in to the rocks. Again a few steps to climb –  though not as many. The two poolside villas are better suited to larger families as they have two bedrooms (all the others are one bedroom with or without children’s annexe) and are directly behind the resorts only pool.

Our villa on the beach

Our villa was simple and yet stunning. With a huge four poster bed taking centre stage offering views out to the beach and ocean. A separate and equally massive bathroom led off the main room and held double sinks, wardrobes, a dressing area, shower and toilet. A large bathtub sat regally in front of the almost floor length windows inviting you to take a soak and watch the sun go down. Interestingly, the windows – that can make you feel slightly, shall we say, exposed at a time you may prefer some privacy – are cleverly designed so that they offer a feeling of being outside without those on the outside seeing in. We know, we tested it out.

To the other side of the main room was a small, but perfectly formed ‘annex’ – a room with just bunk beds in to accommodate children. We found it comfortably accommodated our 10 year old and surprisingly our 17 year old. Our 15 year old opted for the daybed in the main room. This layout worked fine for us for the few days we were there. Anyway, who wants to stay in the room when you’ve got the beach on your doorstep?

All of the rooms had everything you’d need for a comfortable stay including wi-fi (though this was hit and miss; something I liked as it meant phones were switched off), dvd player, iPod speakers, tea and coffee making facilities, mini bar etc.  There were some simple but really helpful touches too like the plastic box in which to store your snacks away from any mini critters and gorgeous smelling, environmentally friendly toiletries.

Beachside bliss
A balcony complete with daybed led you out to the star of the show, the beach. Most of the time we were there it felt like our own private beach and many an hour was spent snoozing on the sunbeds listening to the sound of the sea or watching the kids look for shells. Every now and you may spot someone having a wander past but very rarely was our peace interrupted. Again this is testament to the way the resort has been designed.

Sigh!

Sigh!

The pool – an infinity pool – on the other hand was a slightly different story. This was where a lot of the kids hung out and despite our protestations we did spend some time there. As with any resort pool, children can be a bit noisy (not ours of course!) so if I were returning sans kids I’d definitely give the pool area a miss, which is pretty easy to do considering the choice of beaches to relax on. It wouldn’t be hard to find yourself a quiet spot away from noisy youngsters. But honestly, this was only occasionally, we had the pool to ourselves on occasion too.

Diving Divas

Listening carefully

The girls listening carefully

If sitting on a beach relaxing isn’t your thing one of the other attractions of Batu Batu is the fact that it is surrounded by stunning coral reefs and clear blue waters that beg you to dive in to explore. Last year saw the opening of the resorts dive centre – with all profits generated from it going straight back in to environmental projects on and around the island.

With various PADI programmes open to anyone over 8 years old (and who meet the medical requirements) this is not a bad place to start your diving hobby. As the two youngest members of our group discovered.

Still listening

Still listening

Two, patient, fun and confident instructors took the two girls off, kitted them out in full wetsuit and diving gear and before we knew it they were fully fledged Bubblemakers and could be spotted as little black dots heading down to the ocean floor.  Us mums were a little pale faced and needed a cocktail or two, but this was an experience that the kids were absolutely raving about afterwards (and ever since) and both were keen to go back for more. For those who didn’t dive there is the option of snorkeling and this kept many of our group occupied as they were gone for hours exploring around the islands reef. Even if you didn’t want to dive you could let off some steam by hiring out kayaks or trekking through the interior of the island. You really can be as active as you like.

Somewhere down there are our baby girls!

Somewhere down there are our brave baby girls!

Added extras

The resort also offers a spa where you can be pampered with massages, facials, pedicures and so on. We had to try it out – for research purposes obviously – and can verify it’s worth a visit or two. There’s also a kids club where the littlies can spend some time away from mum and dad. Ours didn’t use it as they were having too much fun on the beach and in the pool, but should think it’d come in handy for some.

Tremendous Turtles

IMG_3817For me – and in fact, the whole group – though, the true highlight of our time on Batu Batu came in the form of eggs and what came out of them. The ethos of the Lasalvy’s ever since they began building the resort was to ‘tread lightly’ so the turtles that come to nest on their island have been in the forefront of their mind from the beginning. Turtle Watch Camp on ‘Long Beach’ is a program they run to help protect, conserve and educate visitors about and is something they are rightly proud of. Before the camp was set up many of the eggs laid on this and the surrounding islands were subject to illegal poaching (the eggs are a delicacy in some parts of Asia)  and the Dugong and Green turtles had become endangered – the Hawksbill turtle critically so.

The turtle hatchery

The turtle hatchery

Now, through monitoring nests, a controlled hatchery and spreading the word to its visitors, the conservation team at Batu Batu are really making a difference. The turtles continue to nest and the Camp help keep their eggs safe until they hatch, then they gently help them on their way. If you are lucky – as we were – you’ll get to see the tiny baby turtles released; a truly magical experience. (see turtle camp blog post for more on this)

 

Sunsets and cocktails
As well as Turtle Watch Camp, Long Beach is home to the beach bar. Just as any good beach bar should it had a decent cocktail list and plenty of cold beers as well as juices and smoothies and was the perfect place to sit and watch the sun go down.

Don't miss cocktails on the beach.

Don’t miss cocktails on the beach.

It’s fair to say that once the sun goes down there isn’t that much going on at Batu Batu. The restaurant finishes serving around 9pm and most people have headed back to their villa by 10pm. So not the place to go if you like late nights.

Our time on Batu Batu can be summed up by something the usually stressed hubby said. “This is the first place I’ve been to and felt myself relax on the first day.” The fact he didn’t seem to mind too much that the wifi didn’t work too well was also a good indicator that we’d found somewhere worth visiting.

For more information visit the website at www.batubatu.com.my

Bye, bye beautiful Batu Batu

Bye, bye beautiful Batu Batu

 

 

Travelling with kids

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Have kids, will travel.

Most people agree that travelling with kids is hard.

Actually, most people except me.

I don’t find it hard travelling with kids per se. Yes, there are things you have to consider that you don’t when going it alone or with other grown ups. But, it always puzzles me when people use this as an excuse not to travel – especially abroad. Even when ours were young babies I never felt we shouldn’t get on that plane. In fact, I maintain that travelling with certain grown ups is WAY harder (ahem Mr 5gomad)!

Before you all start yelling at me, yes there’s a lot to think about. When you have toddlers, I agree, it is not the easiest thing to sit an airport for hours, confine them in a chair for even more hours and insist they keep the noise level to minimum. But honestly, it’s not unachievable. My motto is – what’s the worst that can happen? So they scream for 10 hours solid and you have a nervous breakdown. One cocktail around the pool and a few hours in a kids club later you’ll soon forget the toruture.

I remember a nanny friend of mine saying once that it’s not really much different to spending a day indoors in front of the TV on one of those ‘not in the mood’ days or when under the weather. Also, let’s face it, how many children would object to being given permission to spend hours watching cool films or playing games?

So, with that in mind here are my tips for travelling with children – young or old. Bear in mind, these are from personal experience, I haven’t googled this list and I’m sure there are plenty more practical ones like take loads of games, etc. But it’s not my style to copy and paste.

Before you go

Get them used to the idea of travelling. Show them where you’re going, let them get excited about what you are going to see, do and where you are staying. This is often overlooked as we forget that unless it’s Disney Land really, kids aren’t that interested in the sound of visiting Ang Kor Wat or relaxing in the Maldives. So show them stuff that you know they’ll be interested in – for my three it’s a decent looking pool and a nice hotel with maybe a local show thrown in and they’re sold.

As soon as their little legs can walk they can carry a bag. Even if all it holds is a comfy/baggy/soft toy type thing. Yes, you’ll curse the number of bags you have and you’ll curse me for suggesting this, but bear with me. When you’ve run out of room for the extras you’ve acquired along the way (mini knife and fork anyone?) and have a handy bag to put them in, you’ll be grateful. Also, when those little legs become the big strapping legs of a 18 year old you’ll be thankful for that extra bag carrier let me tell you.

Also, if it’s a special bag that always goes on holiday with you it’s a way of letting them know what’s coming up. Great if you have kids with special needs as it’s a way to help them feel more comfortable with the whole travelling issue.

Talking of special needs. If you have a child that has any kind of SN then don’t be backwards in coming forwards. Even with my Son who is now 15 I still board when the ‘those travelling with young children’ announcement is made (if I feel he has had enough). I don’t care if everyone tutts or sniffs around me. I explain our situation politely to the land crew and they are more often than not happy to accommodate.

Depending how far in advance you have booked the trip, if you can, avoid going to the cinema or watching newly released films in the run up to the holiday. That way you won’t get on the flight and hear cries of ‘Oh, I’ve seen that’. Having said that, what kid doesn’t like to watch the same film more than once?

Short haul flights

Load up the iPad with a couple of films, a couple of episodes of their favourite TV show and some games that they haven’t played before. Make it clear that the iPad cannot come out before the ‘magic light’ goes off overhead (the seatbelt sign) – maybe even say that the pilot him or herself has asked for this.

Take some snacks – this is a no brainer, but one I’ve often got caught out on as I’ve assume the children’s meal will be appealing enough. No! Nuts, bread rolls, easy to eat fruit (no peel to fiddle with), crackers and so on are all easy to carry, don’t need to be kept cool and travel ok. Obviously some countries restrict what you take in so watch out for that.

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This is what we hope for.

Don’t worry about everyone else around you. Oh yes, you will have seen the raised eyebrows and despairing looks of the guy behind/in front as you cajole little Johnny in to his seat whilst trying to strap tiny Johnny to your lap. So what? He should just think himself lucky he hasn’t got to do anything but listen to them – and maybe put up with some thrown food or a kick in the back every now and then. Don’t assume that your fellow passengers are berating you for having the audacity to bring children on a flight. Most of the time you’ll see sympathetic nods, grateful sighs and knowing smiles. Also, don’t assume it’s the people not travelling with kids who are the worst. I was once on a flight when another mum turned round and told me to tell my son to be quiet – she was travelling with her older daughter. I was shocked, how dare she break the code of motherhood? I asked him to be quiet whilst passing him a tambourine. That’s Karma that is.

Take along an extra pillow/soft toy/head prop if you can. The more comfortable you can make yourself and the kids, the better. You could also get one of those foot pillows if you can find one, I’ve never used them but they look pretty cool.

Make deals before you leave (if able to understand this). If they want to watch 5 films, they have to have a nap in between each one.You might get lucky and one of those naps will turn in to a longer sleep. If not, let them watch another film and they can make up for it whilst you’re sitting round the pool tomorrow. If they want to play some game for an hour, they have to sit still whilst you eat your (awful but always seem to eat it anyway) meal. Whatever works for you. Find your currency with them and barter!

Long haul

All of the above and then some! 

Face the fact that they will moan a bit. Or even a lot. Once you get your head around this it really is a matter of getting on with it. I moan on a plane, my husband moans on a plane. Why shouldn’t the kids? Just keep distracting them with another film, game, promise of ice cream when you get there. Honestly, lower your expectations 50% and you’ll be good to go.

Let them wander up and down at some point if they want to. Try to avoid the time when most people are sleeping, but don’t feel you have to pin them down the whole time. Unless, of course, you’ve got one of those children who charge up and down like a train – then strap them in and don’t let them move! (I’m kidding) Take them to the area near the emergency exits (resist all urges to open the door, no matter how bad it’s been up until then! Think of the cocktails woman, stop!) There you can let them see out the window without clambering over anyone. Maybe play eye spy? If you happen to be over an ocean it’ll be short game.

Wear comfy clothes. I know this sounds obvious but really, wear something you can lay in, be laid on in, that isn’t tight or irritating in any way. Something that when you have to stretch to the overhead locker for the millionth time you’re not self conscious of showing a part of you not normally on view.

Carry headache tablets. Just do.

If your child suffers from that hideous ear issue when flying there are a few ways to help this – all have varying results depending on the child. The usual sucking on a bottle (mine ALWAYS seemed to finish the whole thing just before we actually got up), sucking sweets, chewing on a teether. But I’ve also heard wearing ear plugs helps too. Google it – there’ll be other ideas out there. Try them and see what works for your child.

If you have a pukey child carry wipes and forage for all the sick bags you can before you take off. In my recent experience the cabin crew take a bit longer nowadays to come to the aid of a travel sick child and also cannot touch you or them. So they will throw lots of paper at you and then rather handily ask you to fill out a form in between catching puke. So just be prepared. Oh, and secret tip, the blanket they give you catches A LOT of sick if necessary!

One final piece of advice – start early. If you are a couple who like to travel why not travel with your kids? We started fairly easily with short haul flights to France from the UK and before we knew it we were heading to Oz with two young boys. Maybe it wasn’t a stroll in the park but whatever the flight was like I can’t remember so it couldn’t have been too bad. What I do remember – as do the boys – is seeing an amazing country and having a fantastic holiday though.

In my humble opinion, travel is the best gift we can give our children in terms of experiences. Without getting on with it, here’s just some of the things we would have missed…

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Scuba diving with your cousin.

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Searching for India Jones.

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Idyllic deserted beach anyone?

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Absolutely worth the flight.

 

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Hammocks and lazy days.

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Stunning sunflower fields of France.

Money aside, why wouldn’t you want your kids to see and experience all of this?

Do you have any tips for parents? Please share them in comments below. If you’ve got a funny story about travelling with kids, even better!

Special Delivery

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Singapore is one of the most popular shopping destinations in the world. Fact. But ask any expat where they get a good majority of their shopping from and it’ll probably be on-line. Obviously we’re not talking food shopping so much but clothes, shoes, household stuff, sports gear, gadgets etc.

Maybe it’s something from home we’re after (think fave footy teams new kit) or just to save some cash (as import taxes can really make a difference to prices), online shopping is big here. If any of the big US or European department stores are offering free delivery to Singapore it’s shared all over expat social media quicker than you can say BOGOF.

But, when you do order online and are hit with the delivery costs from say, the UK or States, it can make an everyday purchase suddenly seem a luxury.

Then what? Can you live without your favourite brand? Will you just make do with a not so perfect fit? Should you just bite the bullet and pay the extra $ it’ll cost you here? Can you persuade the kids to support a local team instead?

Woman shops online

Never fear. No one has to defect to the dark side, or spend more cash than necessary thanks to a new way of ordering that I have recently had the good fortune to try out.

PacMe is a company based in the US who are here to help. They can take delivery of your packages, unpack them, get rid of all the excess packaging (and we know how much that is don’t we?) and then forward them to you in Singapore all in one parcel.

Genius! One of those ideas that make you slap your forehead and wonder how you didn’t know about it before.

It can cut your delivery costs by A LOT – especially if you are clever and get all the free delivery options that most online sites offer to US. Whilst many items can be delivered here in Singapore, the delivery charges are often not worth it. For example, for ages I’d been after a spiraliser (I know, I’m so rock and roll) but the cost of delivery was more than the actual gadget itself. But, to get it delivered to US is free.

iStock_000031935720XSmallThe service is also ideal for all those awkward things you want to buy that never seem to ship to Singapore at all, like pool toys. Or those items that are just more readily available with more choice on-line when you have them delivered to the States.

With PacMe it seems that the more you order – and therefore the heavier your final parcel – the better value it gets. This isn’t the place to go if you are just ordering a small gift. This is where you head when you’re planning to buy a number of things – at Christmas for example.

So, when the lovely people at PacMe asked me to try out this new way of ordering I of course had to have a go.

Firstly you sign up for an account – which, would usually cost around US$40 – BUT NOT FOR YOU LUCKY LOT. See promotional code at the end of this blog for promo code to get free account!

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You’re welcome!

 
So, you sign up for your FREE account and are then given your own ‘shipping address’ which is in Oregon, US (which is a tax-free state). You then order whatever you want/need/fancy – as much or as little as you like (although the more you order, the better the savings) – and enter your new Oregon address as the delivery address. Then it’s a matter of waiting for things to start arriving.

Once they do, PacMe will let you know what has arrived via email and you can check yourself through your account. They will even send pictures of your items so you can check what you’ve got. They unpack the items, remove excess labels, any unnecessary packaging and so on. You can choose if you want them to send the package on to you straight away, or hold on to it until you’ve got a few packages to send. Once you are ready to receive your parcel/s they will give you an estimated cost of delivery (rates are cheaper than usual delivery costs) and it wings its way to you.

It really is as simple as that.

When I tried it out I found the whole experience to be very straight forward. Any questions I had the customer service team answered very quickly via email. Even going back and re-taking a picture when I wasn’t sure the right thing had been sent. I happened to be away for a week after all my goods had arrived at my US delivery address, which was no problem, they simply kept hold of them for me. When I got back I let them know I was ready for them to send it.

When my package arrived to me I was really happy with the way things had been packaged – it always frustrates me when I get packages that are full of excess paper, plastic and materials that are not really protecting them.

My parcel was packed up just the way my mum would do it. squashing things that can’t break (t-shirts) in to protect things that are a bit more delicate (the spiraliser) and keeping things in place with heavier items (books).

When I looked at the cost of how much it would have cost me to have them all shipped here I saved myself a small fortune.

Santa Carrying Shopping Bags --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

All in all I’d say this was the ideal answer to something like shopping for Christmas gifts. You can go online, do all your ordering over a few days, have it sent to Oregon and then get it all delivered in one parcel to you here. As I’ve mentioned already – the PacMe guys will hold on to your packages for up to 90 days, so there’s no rush to place the whole order all in one go.

They even let you know how much space, weight has been saved. In my case I ordered 7 separate things from Amazon which in total weighed 10kg. When I received the order – in one box with no excess packaging at all – the final billable weight was just 4kg! Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that more than half the weight equals more than half the delivery costs. Well worth it.

T9494-P0001-CON-1The company is also very clear about the fact that this isn’t the thing to use if you’re just ordering a couple of things. For instance, a 2.3kg package going to Singapore costs about $55 for the 3-5 day service (which is outrageous for a single pair of shoes or a few shirts!), whereas a 23kg package costs a little less than $160. So again, better for a big spree you’re planning.

 
Give it a go, if you’re a smart shopper and order from websites that offer free delivery to the states you could save yourself a tidy sum. Especially as the lovely PacMe people have offered all Five Go Mad In readers a free account. Simply log on to www.pacme.com sign up and enter the promo code:

‘5gomadin’

Happy Shopping!

Hit the road

Driving in Singapore. Madness or a necessity?

Wide, well maintained roads and traffic that – although busy – is more often than not flowing, means driving in Singapore is a breeze right? Errr, no not necessarily. With major roads all given anagrams for names, very few roundabouts and a, shall we say, interesting take on road rules, driving can be a bit of a headache. Which is why I thought you might like a few handy hints to help you along the way.

IMG_4446Happy Motoring!

Around and about
In Singapore we drive on the left side, just as any sane, normal person would want to.  (Oh, I’m kidding, I know you Aussies and Americans hate the left but hey, what can I do?!) The roads are wide and generally well maintained. However, they do get busy. What’s strange though, is even when there’s a traffic jam, things very rarely come to a complete  stop. Cars do undertake and overtake (although I’m pretty sure this is NOT in the rule book) so make sure you check both sides before pulling over.

There are not many roundabouts in Singapore, instead, we make U-turns at designated points. It is clearly* marked where you can make a U-turn. If you’re not sure, just look out for the screeching brakes as someone decides they want to go back from whence they came. Sorry, I must also have a little word about roundabouts. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say the ‘use’ of roundabouts in Singapore is a little sketchy. I guess as there are so few – I’d say less than 10 on the whole island – it’s fair enough that a lot of people don’t know what the hell to do when they approach one. So, be warned. When you find yourself at a roundabout be prepared for anything. Don’t make any silly assumptions like the person on the inside is going round to the next exit, or that the person joining the roundabout will give way to those already on it. No, don’t be daft.1024px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Information_Sign_-_U-Turn_Lane.svg

* ‘clearly’ if you’re looking for the blue U sign that is.

It is well worth reading the highway code before you start driving as there are a number of rules and regulations that differ to say, Britain. Especially regarding white lines, yellow lines, red lines. There are a lot of lines.

IMG_4525In fact, if you’re driving in Singapore and are going to be here for more than 12 months, you do – according to most people* – need a Singapore driving licence. You can convert your existing driving licence and this should be done within a year of being here. This involves taking the basic theory test. For more information see www.ecitizen.gov.sg.

*This proves to be a contentious issue amongst expats. But, my take on it is, if you’re driving in another country other than the one you took your test in, get yourself sorted.

To buy or to let?
The Government, in a bid to lower the number of cars on the road, have put in place a number of measures to manage car ownership. These include high taxes, a Certificate of Entitlement and high registration fees. All of which can make owning a car pretty expensive. More information can be found at www.ita.gov.sg.

The majority of expats in Singapore lease a car and there are a plethora of companies that can offer you everything from a sports car to a mini bus. Look out for a reputable leasing company and be careful of paying too much up front. Keep records of what you pay and make sure you know if insurance is included. Also check if you can travel across to Malaysia in the car if that’s something that is on your agenda (it only takes a few hours to get there and is a popular jaunt for expats).

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A typical road gantry

Box of tricks
Every car is fitted with a little device in the front window. This is called an IU device (an In Vehicle unit) and it will be your best friend. It will get you in and out of car parks and around the roads of Singapore. Across some of the roads are gantries which will charge you automatically as you drive under them. The charge is deducted from your IU device automatically. However, it does need a ‘cash card’ in it and this needs ‘topping up’ regularly.

Top up machines are easy to find

To do this is easy — once you know how and where. You can do it at most ATM machines — just pop your bank card in and follow the instructions. A lot of shopping centres have ‘Top Up machines’ usually situated by the walkway to car parks or outside lifts. They can be pretty hard to spot at first, but once you’ve noticed them you’ll see they are all over the place. For your info, they look like this:

You can also top up at 7/11 stores and some petrol stations. Always make sure you’ve got at least $20 on your card as it can be easy to go through it in a day, especially if you’re parking in the CBD (Central Business District). However, once you know where you’re going you’ll find the money on it lasts longer.

If you go in to a car park without a barrier, or want to park in a road (check you can first), it’s likely you’ll need ‘coupons‘ to park. These coupons can be bought at 7/11 stores and a number of garages and cost 50c or $1 each and are bought in books of ten or so. Check the colour of the parking bays and read the back of the coupon book to see how many coupons you should display for the time you’ll be there. Pop out the little round tags for time and date and you’re good to go. It is always worth keeping a book of them in the glove compartment.

Filling up
When the car needs petrol you will find a number of petrol stations to choose from. Some offer a discount to certain bank users, most offer you a loyalty card. The loyalty cards are worth getting as they give them away free (you have to register online usually) and you are then given at least 10% off your petrol. For nothing! Some people have a preference as to what ‘brand’ of petrol station they use, but there’s no big difference that I can see.

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Uncle will fill your car up for you. Say thank you!

When you drive in to a petrol station you will see people by the pumps ready to help. Their job is to fill your tank for you. Tell them what type of petrol you want and how much and that’s it, all you have to do is pay. Tip them if you feel you want to. Maybe buy a bottle of cold water as well if it’s a really hot day to give them on your way out as a thank you? Or just a couple of dollars is appreciated. But it is NOT compulsory or expected.

Get lost!
Get a good SatNav. In my experience and the experience of many others I’ve met, the roads can be a little confusing for the first six months (ahem, six years) or so and you will get lost – a lot! The roads do not run on a grid system like New York and err, Milton Keynes (yes, ok, it’s not quite New York, but you know what I mean). There are a lot of one way streets and motorways that cross through major roads. So, to save your sanity, invest in an up to date SatNav. Oh, but also, don’t assume the SatNav is right or will take you where you want it to. Like I say, the roads here confuse everyone – even the clever little guy who sits inside your SatNav.

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Watch out for motorbikes

Motorbikes. They are popular mode of transport in Singapore – with the cost of cars the way they are, it’s not surprise. Just be very aware of them when driving on the roads as they do pass on both sides. Often in a kind of double fly-by I find. Check your blind spot – then check again – before moving into a new lane.

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…And Evel Knievel wannabee’s

And finally, if you’re having a bad morning and you need a pick me up just turn on the traffic news. Seriously, it’s like a mix between a game show question, tongue twister and someone speaking in tongues.

“Traffic is slow on the AYE, PIE, KPE and CTE with a vehicle breakdown on the outside of the TPE which is also affecting traffic on the PIE/ECP to Changi.”

Seriously – wth?

 

Jigger & Pony

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As one of the older kids on the block Jigger & Pony is the go-to place for those in the know. Since it’s opening a few years ago, this warm and welcoming bar has proved to be a venue that has firmly ensconced itself in the popular cocktail bar scene for those looking for a classic cocktail.

If it’s a classic Martini you are after then J&P should be high on your list.

Located in the oh so trendy Amoy Street, Jigger & Pony is one of those bars you could easily walk past. Not in the achingly trendy no real door way of some of the bars in Singapore, but in an unassuming, not bigging ourselves up way.

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We visited on a Saturday evening after dinner and the place was packed. Even so, we got a spot at the large bar and made ourselves as comfy as you can on bar stools. We were immediately greeted by the bar staff – who were all busy mixing up drinks – and a waiter handed us a menu to take a look at. The choice is wide but not so vast that you can’t choose. All of your favourites are on there including Gin Fizz and Martinis, as well as some more unusual offerings like a French 75 (gin, lemon and sparkling wine).

They have an extensive whiskey menu, featuring various Japanese, Scotch and Bourbons, to name but a few. In fact, the list of other spirits, wines, beers is pretty extensive too.

The selection of bottles behind the bar really is a sight to behold. My husband and I did our best to decipher some of the labels, suffice to say they have some very special home blends. Although we were tempted by the Punch Bowls that were on the menu – serving 15-20 people no less! – we settled for one cocktail each. Hubby chose a classic Gin Fizz and I went for an Airmail, which claimed to be the ‘fastest way to your happy place.’

IMG_3233The drinks arrived and although not quite as quirky as some of the cocktails we’ve had, it made a pleasant change to see drinks served up in a simple and elegant way. They also tasted great! The Airmail pretty much lived up to its claim too 😉

If you do decide to pay a visit to J&P do also pay a visit to the IMG_3228bathroom. In the ladies at least you will find the walls papered with pages from The Savoy Cocktail Book. With recipes for all the old classics right there it makes a mundane task that little bit more interesting. Huge bonus points for cuteness and quirkiness here.

Overall we really liked the vibe at Jigger & Pony and will definitely head back there. In fact, we found out they have happy hour between 6-8 with cocktails at just $14. Add to that the happy hour snacks that include a Bikini Sandwich and Beef Skewers, we could be back there sooner than we thought.

Oh, and interesting fact of the day – why the name? It’s all explained rather handily in the menu…

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I do love a random fact.

Jigger and Pony
101 Amoy Street
069921
(+65) 9621 1074
www.jiggerandpony.com

More Things You Might Like To Know…

The response to my first “Things you might like to know” was so overwhelming I promised you part two.

Well, here it is. Please let me know what you think.

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The most beautiful city at night

So just over 13 months since we moved to Singapore and I think it’s safe to say we’ve all settled in.  Dog included. No longer is the supermarket run quite so daunting. I don’t always have to switch the satnav on whenever I leave the house.

There are so many little things that have helped me that it’s difficult to know where to start. So, in no particular order here’s a run down of more things you might like to know if you’re living in Singapore…

Sweating
This is the one we all want to talk about – but don’t – right?

Let’s get it out there once and for all.
Living in Singapore you will sweat LIKE A PIG.
Sorry, there’s no other way to say it.

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Is anyone else hot?

With an average temperature of 81 degrees (I’m still old school with the weather guy) it’s pretty hot. Add on the fact that we also have 80% humidity, you end up with a situation that is frankly similar to a sauna. So at some point you’ve got to get over the sweat issue.
Let’s clear up some questions/concerns straight away:

  • You will sweat in places you didn’t think you could. Down your back, legs, neck, behind your ears, backs of knees,  head, eyes… you get the picture.
  • Yes, sometimes you will leave that ‘little triangle’ on a chair as you get up. Don’t worry, it will evaporate faster than you can say, “I haven’t wet myself, honest.” Just walk away with your head held high, no one will notice – and if they do, they’re only looking because they want to be sure they’re not the only ones this happens to.
  • It rarely smells. Don’t think you’ll be surrounded by people who stink – or that you need to spray deodorant every two minutes. Sweat doesn’t smell straight away, it’s all about the reaction with the bacteria on your skin. If you’ve had a shower, you’ll be fine for a while. So don’t panic.

There’s not much you can do about it bar have surgery to remove your sweat glands – and even then you’ll probably still drip from the humidity. But there are some things you can do to help.

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    A girls best friend

    Take a fan out with you. My dear friend Toni always carried an elegant fan in her bag and gave me this advice early on. She suggested buying a few – a smaller one for evening bags, large one for when you’re off out for the day etc. They cost a few dollars from the stalls at China Town market and will become your best friend. Don’t bother with the little battery operated ones as you do look a bit daft wafting those around. Much more elegant to daintily fan yourself with a pretty fan. (I’m still working on the dainty and elegant!)

  • Avoid wearing anything not made of a natural fabric. I can’t stress this enough. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that. Thinking that viscose top that is so lovely and floaty at home will be fine when you’re out. It won’t, it will stick to you and make you feel much sweatier. Anything with a nylon lining should be packed away for trips home. It will be like going out in a sweater. Do not do it.
    Cotton, linen, silk – all the usual favourites. They won’t stop you sweating, but they’ll help you keep it under control.
  • Avoid colours that will show the sweat more – light blues, grey, certain light browns, the kind of colours that can turn a shade darker in water. They will give away any signs of perspiration long before you notice. Men have it easier here as they can wear a cotton t-shirt under their work shirt, ideal for soaking up wet patches.
  • Plan to stay out of the sun for as much as possible. Most, if not all, shops, cafes, hospitals, etc. will be air-conditioned so it’s quite easy to keep cool. If you’re going about your day to day business you’ll usually be able to take advantage of some air con most of the time. If you’re out enjoying some of the fabulous walks and sights that Singapore has to offer, then you’ve just got to suck it up. Take plenty of water with you and become friends with your sweat. Oh, and pop a flannel or two in your bag – great for mopping up.
  • But really – literally, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s just part of living here.
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Release your inner Monica

Hair
Really, I don’t know where to start. I guess I’m just going to start with a suggestion. Go find the episode of Friends when Monica goes to Barbados.

Watch it.
Laugh.
Then resign yourself to being Monica.

Seriously, it’s not quite that bad (for some people). But it can be a battle. Much like the sweat, it’s part of living in the tropics. You may well straighten it, blast it with anti humidity spray and only run from the house to a cab. But, by the time you reach your destination it will start the frizzing game. By the end of the day or evening you will look like you just got out of a hot tub. But hey, so will most other people so it’s ok.

Those that don’t look like that? Well, they fall in to a few categories:

  • Keratin treatment – a “wonder” treatment that gets mixed reviews. It’s an anti-frizz straightening treatment that costs quite a lot of money but lasts a good few months. Get a recommendation of where to go from someone before you decide. In my experience, it is pretty amazing and works like magic – I’ve tried it a couple of times and was pretty impressed.
  • Olaplex treatment – this is supposed to deal with the root of the problem and repair damaged hair. I have also tried this as it’s meant to be great for coloured hair (gasp, that’s not your natural colour I hear you cry!) To be honest, I never saw the fab results it promises but I do know people who’s hair looks amazing from it.
  • They have naturally straight, glossy, perfect hair.  So a little bit of frizz just gives it a lovely natural wave. We don’t talk to those people. 😉
  • They have a wig on.

There are other treatments around too. If you see someone who you think has fabulous hair – ask them. Who wouldn’t want to be told they looked great?

Should I talk about the hair falling out now? You know right?

Going Out
If you’re thinking of heading to a concert or a show whilst you’re here. Go for it! Singapore has some great venues and there’s almost always enough tickets to go round. If there isn’t, keep your eye on the expat sites as there are often people who, for whatever reasons can no longer go, so will need to sell theirs. But, just to say, the experience is slightly different here.

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Yes, that’s right, we’re part of the show…

Singaporeans tend to be more reserved than you may be used to. So, whilst you may don your platform heels, dig out the white jump suit and slap on the 70’s wig to go along to the Abba tribute night (you know who you are hidden behind the disguises), the rest of the audience might not. That’s not to say you won’t have fun – in fact, you might well become part of other people’s evening entertainment. No one will mind, you just have to front it out and enjoy yourself.

Concerts can be tricky, depending on who you’re seeing. The sports stadium is huge but from my experience when a concert is sold out, this doesn’t actually mean there will be a full stadium. Not sure why? Maybe it’s an overcrowding concern (or fear of it?), but generally the big venues aren’t quite as crowded as you’d expect. If the artist you’re going to see is any good, they’ll have you on your feet and you’ll have  blast, if they’re a bit reserved, expect to be sitting down nodding along. Oh, and they will usually start and finish on time. Check if there’s a s support act, if not, don’t stroll in an hour after opening and expect to see much.

Packages
Oh my God, shops here LOVE a ‘package’

A ‘package’ is basically a way to pay for a service – such as nails, waxing, etc – up front. You pay for an agreed number of treatments up front and get a discount or something extra in return. They are basically buying your loyalty.

It used to really get on my nerves that every time I had my nails done (cos that’s all I do all day dahling, that and have free flow lunches right?!) I would have to listen to a huge sales spiel about a free manicure if I buy blah, blah. They’re good too. Next time listen out for the pitch. They start out asking if you’re here on holiday. When you proudly reply, “no, I live here” you will see them literally beam – Ah, an expat!  You see, they know you’re probably not too sure of things and know you’ll be around for a while. Or long enough to come back one more time at least.

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Beauty packages – a good deal?

It’s entirely up to you if you decide to opt for a package or not. Some of them are worth while, offering really good discounts and, of course, you become a regular customer – and so feel more comfortable. But, some people have found the service changes once you’ve bought a package and others are left out of pocket when the company ceases to exist. If it’s a service you know you’ll use a lot you could save yourself a small fortune though so it’s worth considering. Some things to ask before you buy are:

  • Can you transfer the package to someone else – meaning if you have to leave before you’ve used up all your package you can give, or sell it, to someone else to use.
  • Can you share the package with other people. For example, if your mum comes to visit, can you both go to get your nails done within the package.
  • How long has the shop/company been around for and do they offer any assurances if they have to shut down?
  • What exactly is included – be careful of those that are vague. Your six manicures may only include a certain type of polish or, as I found, may only be the ‘deluxe’ version which takes so long to do you never actually have time for it.

Fogging
You may have heard the rumble first, or caught site of a very strange guy wearing what looks like chemical warfare clothing. Or, like me, you may have been driving down the road and seen a thick cloud of smoke rising up from the grounds of a condo you are passing. Don’t, like me, panic and assume there’s a huge fire and you ought to call the fire brigade.

It’s just fogging.

Fogging is used by most landlords to control the number of pests (mainly mosquitos) in and around your home. It happens regularly here and it’s something you soon become accustomed to. If you’re in a condo you should be given fair warning of when it’ll happen as you do have to shut all doors and windows. Some people suggest taping up air vents and rubbish chute openings too as those critters are on a death sentence and will try to escape wherever they can.

I’m never quite sure how assured I am by the “not dangerous ma’am” comments when I see a guy all kitted up with face mask and overalls. But the pest control companies all give the same assurances that the fogging is safe (and by ‘safe’ that means not toxic to us). And let’s face it, we live in a country that has a prevalence of dengue fever (a highly infectious disease spread by a certain breed of mosquito) as well as other mosquito borne diseases. So better safe than sorry eh? Just stay indoors whilst the fogging is going on and you’ll be ok.

Acronyms
Why oh why???

What is it with Singapore and shortening every bloody word, phrase, name there is? Jeez it’s confusing. But, don’t worry. I found this handy wicki guide that helps. Just be prepared to keep re-referring.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Singapore_abbreviations

For now. Ladies and gentleman I give you the motorways. Apparently, once you know the full names you will know where you’re going – or where to head for.
Err… the jury is out on that one!

• AYEAyer Rajah Expressway
• BKEBukit Timah Expressway
• CTECentral Expressway
• ECPEast Coast Parkway
• KJEKranji Expressway
• KPEKallang-Paya Lebar Expressway
• MCEMarina Coastal Expressway
• NSENorth-South Expressway
• PIEPan Island Expressway
• SLESeletar Expressway
• TPETampines Expressway

Cabs
One of the many things you will learn to love about Singapore are the cabs. I talked about them in the first part, but let me expand. They are cheap – back home in the UK the equivalent journey would cost three times as much. They are plentiful; even if it doesn’t always seem that way. There are generally lovely Uncles (and the occasional Auntie) driving them, some of whom will share their stories and wisdom with you, and some may even give you a pack of tissues too (which, by now you obviously know is the currency of hawker centres).

So, to clear up the taxi business. It’s all about the signs on top.

  • If it’s free and ready for a job, it’ll be lit up green and say ‘taxi’.
  • If it’s been booked it’ll be red and either say ‘hired’ ‘busy’ or ‘on call’.
  • If the signs says ‘shift change’ this means the driver is finishing for the day.

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Now, many expats rant and rave about a cab that wouldn’t take them (me included) because it was not ‘on their way.’ But once I learnt why I stopped the moaning.

These guys are signing off and are on the way home. Why should they turn around and take you where you want to go if it means adding another 20 minutes to their already long day?  Sometimes the light on top will tell you where they are heading which is always handy (if you know where it is you’re going of course) If it’s not going your way – don’t flag it down. Move on and find a cab that has a green light.

Also, don’t be offended if you are in a cab line and someone at the back steps forward and jumps in the next cab that pulls up. Before you lynch them, check the sign – if it’s red then they’ve pre-booked it. It’s their cab. Done deal.

Which leads me to my last point on cabs. GET AN APP! There are many cab apps to choose from and they all work well. I’ll list some at the end of the article, but input your details and you can be the one jumping straight to the front of the line. Some of them you can link to your bank card so that you don’t need to have cash on you. Handy when booking for errant kids and hubbies!

Quirky sights
As you move around the island you’ll become familiar with some of the quirky sights that make Singapore so unique. Here are some of my favourites to look out for.

  • The poles that stick out of HDB windows. Washing lines! Nope, no idea how the washing stays on either but I would love to find out. I’d also love to know how many pairs of knickers are lost per year, how many odd socks are swept up every morning any how many cursing helpers have to run down 30 floors to retrieve washing that has fallen.
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    Be respectful and interested

    Temples, temples, temples. You literally can find a temple round every corner in Singapore. If, like me, you’re a keen photographer it’s a dream and a curse. You can waste many an hour photographing some of the most beautiful buildings. From my experience so far most temples are welcoming to guests who are respectful. If you are not sure if you should take your shoes off, go in with shorts on  or take photographs – ask! Some places have a small poster up outside to give guidelines. Or, like me, you could join one of the tours that show you around places like Little India. The lovely Pooja (Tekka Tours), who ran the tour was very helpful in explaining how to behave and it was quite eye-opening.

  • Phones – everywhere. People talking, watching, listening, cradling them. It’s the nations obsession. And don’t even get me started on selfies. Love or hate them you can not avoid them lah!
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    Always something new to see

    Graffiti – this isn’t so much something you can see. But something you can’t. Unlike most cities, the side streets and old buildings are not littered with scrawlings referring to someone’s football team preference. It’s only when you see some – and this will always be organised “allowed” graffiti – that you realise the lack of it. There are some spectacular examples around so keep a look out.

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    Friendly locals

    The people! If you open yourself up you’ll be surprised what you learn.
    This couple was delightful when we stopped at their shop to buy drinks after a hot day photographing around Little India. They happily told us about their local food business and posed for snaps.  Just last week I was eating at a hawker centre and a guy busy eating his rice dish (with his fingers – totally normal here) got chatting to me and my family.  He told us what he was eating, and offered to share it. Not wanting to be rude – and despite all my British reservations – I tucked in. It was delicious! I now know that you can get huge pots of sauce to add to your dish at that particular hawker stall. Yum!

Public holidays
There are a lot of public holidays in Singapore. Yay! Nothing to complain about there at all. If you’re planning on going away, plan well in advance as they get booked up. For a list of public holidays coming up look at the MOM website.

http://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/public-holidays

There are also lots of cultural festivals that happen and you may not even realise it. For example, right now, (August) is the Chinese Ghost Month. You may have noticed the smell of burning quite a lot. This is the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper to please the unknown ghost. Local Chinese will also pay respect to their own deceased ancestors by honouring them with food and burning incense.

Always be respectful of local festivals. Ask questions if you want to learn more and keep an eye on information at community centres for more details.

Making Friends
Once you’ve got over the shock of moving here you’ll start to feel like you might want to get out and about. Really, there are so many ways to meet people here you should find something to suit you. From courses to learn Mahjong and quilting, to groups that meet to walk the green corridor or run up Fort Canning steps a dozen or so times. Not to mention the hundreds of coffee morning, brunch and lunch meet ups. Oh, and of course the ladies nights (see here for more on that). Then there are groups for specific people such as those who have children with special needs, or business women, stay at home mums, empty nesters. The list goes on and on.

facebook-login-sign-inI’ve listed a selection of Facebook groups and the main website at the end of this. Choose which ones you think suit you and press that join button. You’ll be amazed at what you end up doing. If you’re not sure, just head to Facebook or a search engine and have a look. This is by no means an exhaustive group. Please feel free to add your favourites to the comments box at the end of this.

Finally,
Enjoy it! I have met one too many people here who have said they’d wish they had joined in more, gone to see more of what Singapore has to offer, visited some of the many beautiful islands and countries that are so close. Do it! You never know how long you’ll be here and the fun will be over.

Cab Apps
Grab Taxi: http://grabtaxi.com/singapore/
Uber: https://www.uber.com/cities/singapore

Little India Tours 

Expat Facebook Groups
For all expat women
More for expat women
And more still
If you have teenage children
To meet for coffee
If you’re new here
Casual meet ups
For those who like travel
To buy or sell stuff 
Business women
More business women
If you are an empty nester
Interested in photography

Websites
For meet up groups

Bitters & Love

image3This place was one of the first cocktail bars I visited here in Singapore. My husband and I were looking for somewhere to go where we could chat, have a few drinks and just spend some time together. We hit the jackpot straight away. Since then the bar has actually moved venues, but it still has the same relaxed vibe.

Bitters & Love is run by a guy called Ernest. He came over to us that first evening and introduced himself. Now here’s a guy who loves his job. He was so enthusiastic about the drinks he was serving, the venue, the food, the staff and his customers that we ended up chatting for quite a while. He told us how he’d started the bar himself and wanted to provide a space where people could have a good time and feel at home. It was then he introduced my husband to Geranium gin – apparently its the stuff of dreams. As someone who doesn’t drink gin I couldn’t tell you, but suffice to say it’s now one of hubby’s favourite drinks.

As for the cocktails, the bar staff – who will make you feel welcome immediately – will ask what kind of drink you like, what base, mixer etc. But they don’t need specifics as its the detail they’re good at.

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The perfect alternative to my beloved tea.

I requested something with white rum or vodka base, fruity but not too sweet. I admit to being a bit sceptical at first as wasn’t sure I’d get a drink I’d actually be able to drink, let alone like. But I needn’t have worried. What I got was a little slice of heaven. I don’t know how they knew about me and my tea thing but really, could it have been more ‘me’? It tasted amazing with just the right amount of rum along with something that gave it a kick. The passion fruit gave it a nice fruity edge with enough sharpness to not make it sickly. Yum!

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Bread and jam with your cocktail – why not?

The next one I chose from their cocktail menu. They call it breakfast in a glass – a little jar full of Singapore. For me, it was a little too sweet but hey, that’s Kaya jam for you, but I loved the presentation. The rest of the evening was spent trying some other flavours whilst hubby tucked in to more of the gin. Overall we had a fab night and agreed we’d go back again soon.

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Look out for the subtle sign!

A few weeks later some girlfriends and I were meeting for cocktails and I suggested we try out the ‘new’ Bitters & Love (having heard it had moved home). It’s a bit hidden away and hard to spot – as all the best bars in Singapore are – and it did feel a bit like we were stepping in to a building site. But I quite liked the lack of pretension and the quirky scribble on the doorway letting you know you were in the right place.

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We were ‘quackers’ about this one (sorry!)

Once inside, Fiona, one of the lovely bar staff (who was quick to apologise for the lack of ‘real door’) showed us to our table. Luckily we’d booked ahead as it does get pretty busy. We all ordered different drinks and again the service was helpful, quick and friendly. The drinks we got were completely different to each other. This one was a particular favourite. Despite it’s ‘rock’ name (Tuscan Trident) it was a bit of a cutie – and tasted amazing.

We all loved the atmosphere of the bar and could have happily spent the night there. The only negative for us was that we were sat right under a speaker and couldn’t hear each other properly. However, as soon as we mentioned this to Fiona she turned it down a touch for us.

The food at B&L is worth a try too. With cubes of beef, potatoes ‘chips’ and other yummy favourites on the menu, it’s comfort food at its best.

Overall, as a bar goes, B&L is up there with one of the most comfortable, entertaining (the staff can really throw those bottles around) and friendly joints in Singapore. Add to the mix the amazing cocktails they serve, it’s well worth a visit in my opinion.

If you go along, tell them Five Go Mad says hi!

Bitters & Love
118 Telok Ayer Street
Tel:6438 1836
https://www.facebook.com/BittersandLove?fref=ts