Orchard Parksuites: Our Home in Singapore

“Massachusetts!”

This is the answer Sydney gives when people ask her where she is from and the response perplexed me.  I found it surprising she remembered her home in the United States.  However, one day when we were driving back from a trip,  she saw our apartment building and she screamed out “Massachusetts!  Aidan would say he lived in Massachusetts and in two-year-old Sydney’s world this was where she slept – an apartment complex in the middle of a skyscraper filled Asian island nation.

Orchard Parksuites is the building in the foreground with a green roof.

To the rest of us our home is known as Orchard Parksuites.  It is a service apartment which means it is part apartment/part hotel.   We have a kitchen with maid service 6 days a week!  Not a bad life, huh?   Our maid is Yuan Yuan.  She also would moonlight as a babysitter for the children many Saturday nights.  The kids were very excited on the nights she would come.

The apartment also served breakfast weekday mornings.   Here is where food is served buffet style.  Tater tots and chicken nuggets are the kinds favorites.

The nationalities of the people who stay at Orchard Parksuites is amazing diverse.  We have become friends with families from New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Australia.  Many families stay for a short time as they settle into more permanent homes in Singapore.  A few like us are here for several months just long enough to see many come and go.

One family that we have gotten particularly close comes from Manhattan.  They arrived two weeks after us and will leave in about 6 weeks.  The two girls Elle (age 4) and Seraphina (age 9 months) have become good friends with Aidan and Sydney.  Elle is prone to car sickness in taxis.  Here is a photo of Aidan trying to distract her from her nausea.

Sydney my perpetual mother hen loves to feed her family and at breakfast she loves to help care for baby Seraphina.

In addition to the Western residents there are also many Middle Eastern families.  Our relocation expert explained devout Muslims prefer to stay in service apartments to prepare their own food so they do not eat pork or other taboo items.  The first week after we arrived two women in burqas with only their eyes barely showing got into an elevator with the children and me.  Aidan looked them over and asked “What is up with those people?” Now he sees women in such dress and doesn’t even notice.  I still must admit I still find the mix of cultures impressive.  Recently I noticed a Buddhist monk eating breakfast in his orange robe sitting at a table next to a Middle Eastern family where the women were in burqas.  Talk about melting pots!

My favorite feature of Orchard Parksuites is the pool.  Most afternoons we will go down and see which kids are around.  It is a great way for the kids to get off some extra energy after a hot day in Singapore.

The most intimidating and fear inducing aspect of Orchard Parksuites is the ‘death drop’ open plan.  Right outside our door the floor drops 22 stories to a shallow fountain.  There is a railing but it still makes me nervous every time the kids approach the edge.

We have really enjoyed our stay here at Orchard Parksuites.  Aidan today mentioned he feels sad that when we got home we would not have the nice view.  I told him we have nice things to see at home, but secretly I agree it is different.  Check this out…there is a lot we will miss.

Literally Lost in Haute Couture

Our apartment in Singapore lies just off of Orchard Road which a major hub of entertainment and shopping.  Before we arrived, Andy described the street as being similar to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue with not one, but twenty Water Tower Place Malls.

View of Ngee Ann City and Paragon malls from my bedroom

While that somewhat gave me an image of what to expect, I was not ready for how over the top the opulence is here.  If you walk a 100 yards between Ion and Ngee Ann City, two malls which lie directly across the street from me as I write,  you will pass two Louis Vuitton stores. If that is not enough a third lies around the corner.  Amazingly, the malls are packed and people have bags. In fact, they have lots of them.  If there is a recession somewhere, someone forgot to tell Singapore.

Ion

Several of the malls connect underground with tunnels lined with dozens of stores.  There are enormous food courts called hawker centers in the lower or uppermost levels of the malls.   Initially it all is overwhelming and blends into a fluorescent haze of store displays, “Sale” signs and food smells.

Inside Ion – This is on my way to the Grocery Store.

Our first week Andy told me meet him after work in front of L’Occitaine, a French store that sells very expensive soaps and toiletries.  We had past it a day earlier, how hard could it be to find again?   I found a L’Occitaine store across the street.  It looked like the wrong one.  I asked the sales woman if there was another store nearby she said there were three more!  After dragging the children and stroller to the next place only to find he was not there.  We gave up and came back home.  Ugh!!!

Wheelock Place

Orchard Road, like the rest of Singapore, is full of surprises and contrasts.  Across the street from the Forum,  generally children’s stores and education centers like Aidan’s Lego school, lies Orchard Towers.  This mall has many clubs and bars, but is most notorious for a brothel the locals have dubbed ‘Four Floors of Whores’.  So much for the country’s  squeaky clean image.

Orchard Towers

Orchard does seem the most lively at night.  I am still trying to overcome the shock of seeing so many children out past ten.  I love this photo Andy took of row after row of taxis perfectly lined up near Orchard Road on a Saturday night around midnight.  Red on the roof means the taxi is occupied.

The second day after we arrived, I smelled the distinctive and pleasing aroma of buttery caramel corn.  Many visitors to Chicago are familiar with Garrett’s where the lines to get the popcorn treats are always long and the smells inviting.  I looked up and sure enough there was the sign.  Perhaps Singapore’s “Miracle Mile” is an apt description after all – just like Michigan Avenue only on whooping doses of steroids!

Sunday in Kampang Glam: Singapore’s Muslim Soul

Arabs were some of the first traders to Singapore.  They brought their Islamic religion and converted many indigenous Malays.  Many settled in the Kampang Glam area which remains a Muslim enclave in Singapore.  Friends spoke highly of the shops and restaurants.    We had not yet been there so we set off on Sunday to explore another unique section of the island.

We started at the aptly named Arab Street.  Muslim influence is predominant in the area and reflected in the shops   Shops owners displayed beautiful fabrics and carpets and the merchants proudly displayed their wares.

There was also the occasional man-made rug.  Aidan tried desperately to convince us that this one should end up in his room.  Too bad it would be very difficult to ship 😉

Sultan Mosque is the premier mosque in Singapore and a very prominent landmark. It has a long history that stretches back to 1824.

We had read in a guide-book that the mosque was only open to the public in the afternoon.  There were many people entering and prayer services were in session.  We were standing out front observing from a distance.  Soon a docent invited us to come inside.  The worshipers were exceptionally welcoming and informative about their religion.  Photography was also permitted which is fantastic so I can share some images of the activity we witness and especially the beauty of the women in their headscarves.

After our visit to the mosque we strolled down Bussorah Street and found a place to eat some Middle Eastern food.

Every weekend we try to expose the children to new ethnic foods.  This day was falafel and humus. We also let they chose an item.  Sydney wanted the “balloon” bread she saw pictured in the menu.  I must say she chose wonderfully.

One of the best aspects about living in Singapore is the ease of experiencing different cultures and exposing the children to the breadth of what the world offers.  The people in the Kampong Glam and especially the mosque were so kind and welcoming.  Tomorrow we leave for Indonesia, which will be the first predominantly Muslim country Aidan and Sydney have traveled.  This past Sunday was a great introduction to what may lie ahead.

Singapore’s Asian Civilization Museum: Handicrafts, Heirlooms and Hookahs

Happy Labor Day!

May 1 is a national Singapore holiday.  This meant for Andy he did not have to physically go to the office but because few other counties acknowledge this day his email account was still flooded by work from the States and London.   Oh well!  Such is the life of an expat.   We did, however, take advantage of some free time to visit the Asian Civilizations Museum.

Singapore today is a melting pot of nations and has been an important worldwide trading port for generations.  This museum represents various cultures of Asia and contains a remarkable diversity of wonderful treasures.  The galleries are generally separated by geographical areas and the displays are lovely.

This is from the southeast Asia area.

Beautiful Stone Carving from India

Currently they have a special exhibit of artifacts recovered from a 9th century AD Chinese shipwreck discovered as recently as 1998 in the Java Sea.

Detail of a Flask from the Tang Shipwreck

There is also a special display of fabrics from India from the 1400s to 1900s.  The intricacy of the details is stunning.

There were many interactive screens.  This one had the jewelry displayed in a case with a black background but would illuminate where the pieces belonged on a statue when you pushed a button.

In the Indonesian cultural display a video of a traditional dancer played behind the instruments.

Several areas, specifically designated for children,  provided educational opportunities about different cultural centers around Asia.  The displays included costumes, books and play objects.  The kids really enjoyed these and the photo opportunities were priceless.  Here Aidan and Sydney dress the part of patrons in a traditional Chinese Tea House.

In “India”, Aidan took the role of a maharaja very seriously. Sydney acted as his guard.

Drums boomed in the Nomadic Middle Eastern tent.

Sydney looked like trouble was brewing behind the drapes.

Aha! They found the hookah pipe!  The children came up with the pose spontaneously which simultaneously amused and frightened Andy and me.    We can only hope that they never look this way in college 🙂

We were all impressed with the museum.   The collections fantastic and the kids loved being part of the journey.   It was a wonderful reminder of some places we have been, will travel to or hope to explore some day all under one roof.   Now if we can only keep them off the hookah….

Singapore’s World Famous Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice holds the title as Singapore’s “national dish.”  If not officially declared it is certainly the most popular food with tourists and my two-year old daughter.   Last year, CNN even ranked it as number 45 on its list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.

I have ordered Chicken Rice several times at the food markets.  The chicken either roasted or braised is served with rice, chili sauce, ginger paste, soy sauce and a bowl of broth.  I have never been completely certain how to mix the ingredients together.   My mom is visiting from Chicago so with the guidance of Ruqxana from Cookery Magic we attempted to unravel the secrets of Chicken Rice.

For a tender chicken Ruqxana stressed the importance of using a fresh bird that simmers but never boils in a homemade broth.  The chicken is stuffed with aromatics, rubbed with salt and chinese wine then stirred in the broth by its feet for ten minutes. We brought the liquid to a quick boil and removed from the heat to simmer for a few ten minute cycles until done.

My mom demonstrates the proper technique for stirring a chicken by its feet 🙂

While the chicken cooked, we prepared several sauces.  The ginger dipping sauce is a lovely mixture of ginger, garlic, chicken stock, lime juice, sugar and salt.  The chili mixture had similar ingredients but with the addition of two types of red chilies.  We added extra small spicy ones to take it up a notch.

The rice was stir-fried before steaming in a garlic infused oil.  Some chicken fat was also rendered and added to the mix.  After the chicken was completely cooked we submerged it in an ice-cold bath.

The bird did not look very happy about its predicament.  However, there was a much happier creature nearby, a cat kept batting at my feet for attention as I chopped.  She had recently decided to have her kittens near the cooking school.  Smart kitty indeed!

After the soup was prepared from the broth and garnished with cilantro, chinese cabbage and spring onions, we enjoyed the product of our labor.  It was a wonderful afternoon I am hoping to recreate this dish when I return home in a few months.

If you want to try it yourself there is a recipe on Saveur magazine’s website which approximates what we made today or you can hop on a plane and book a lovely afternoon at Cookery Magic.

The Dragon and the Lion

Chinese New Year finished over two weeks ago but memories of elaborate celebrations still linger.  During the holiday we saw some agile traditional dancers sporting fantastic costumes. Andy took some beautiful photos that I would like to share.

The first performance we saw was a dragon dance in front of the Forum Shopping mall on Orchard Road.  In this dance, a team of people carried the representation of a colorful beast on poles.  The men moved in a fluid, undulating manner to the beat of drums.  The dragon was constantly pursuing a ball which may represent the chase for wealth or wisdom.

The dragon was given a gift of oranges and a flurry of confetti was released at the completion of the animals run.

After the dragon finished, it was the lion’s turn to run.  The Lion Dance has been part of Chinese culture for over a thousand years.  This tradition is preformed with a pair of dancers in one costume.  The men inside are trained acrobats who replicate the motions of a single animal.

Children look on at a celebration in our apartment lobby

Sometimes one performer will stand on top of another.  The ceremony starts when the dancers try to reach some  hanging lettuce which has a “hongbao” (red envelope) filled with money to bring forth prosperity and good fortune in the next year.

The 'Lions' are holding these elaborate signs.

At our apartment lobby two creatures were accompanied by a ‘big headed buddha’ who herded them around the spectators.

The lions eat oranges and candies and shower the gifts back at the spectators.  The children loved getting treats from the lions mouths.

We all very much enjoyed our close encounters with these fantastic elaborate creatures.

So Much For a Five Year Old’s Logic

Aside

The above picture is from an earlier post “Hiking Singapore Style”  of a snake Aidan found while hiking in the MacRitchie Reservoir.  He was proudly holding the creature and stated it must not be poisonous because it did not bite him.  Well thanks to his grandmother’s research it turned out he was wrong.  Grandma Diana contacted the Nature Society of Singapore and they identified the serpent as a Twin-barred Tree Snake which is in fact venomous. Fortunately its bite is only harmful to small rodents.  Let hope our talk about not picking up unidentified critters made an impression!  Here is a copy of the information they sent from the ecologyasia website.

Twin-Barred Tree Snake

This beautifully patterned snake is rarely seen. It is easily identified by the reddish upper body colour and the black-edged white bars. The flanks are light brown speckled with white, and the ventral surface yellow-white.

As with the Paradise Tree Snake, this species is able to glide considerable distances by inverting its ventral surface and launching itself from the tree tops.

It is a mildly venomous back-fanged species, with a quiet temperament. The species ranges from southern Thailand to Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, Riau and Java.


The Twin-barred tree snake is strikingly patterned – the above specimens are from Singapore’s central forests.
Family : COLUBRIDAE
Species : Chrysopelea pelias 
Maximum Size : 75 cm