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.

Little India: A Food Lovers Nirvana

Little India as the name suggests is the bustling center of SIngapore’s large Indian community.

Saturday afternoon we decided to have lunch at the Spice Junction which is known for their southern Indian food.   One house specialty, Meen Pollichathu,  is white fish marinated with spices; wrapped in banana leaves and broiled on an iron griddle.   It was wonderful.

Little India is well known for its markets.  The streets are lined with carts selling fragrant flower garlands.  The aroma is so sweet and unique it brought back wonderful memories of the time I spent in India in 2001.

The Tekka Market has such quality and diversity I have read even Michelin starred chefs collect ingredients for meals in virtually any type of cuisine.

The seafood variety is wonderful both fresh and dried.

A multitude of small dried fish.

Aidan however did not think the smell in the fish area of the market was as pleasurable as the ones by the flowers.

This is as much of a smile we could get out of him near the "smelly fish"

I have to give a special shout out  to the fruit stall where I met my new love, the Mangosteen.  I actually tried it on a tour of the market with Sharm our relocation liaison the first day I was in Singapore.  I am so obsessed with the taste of this sweet purple fruit that I actually looked up the calorie count to make sure this is really heathy and not some secret weapon sent to destroy the fitness goals of unsuspecting westerns.  Fortunately they are in fact “good for me” so I continue to indulge.

Here is the first meal I make in Singapore.  It was a Wagyu Beef Stir Fry.  The veggies and fruits are from the Tekka Market.  You can see there is a mangosteen on the plate.

Tonight’s dinner, which was leftovers with the kids, must have been extra special because I ate two :).

The Dragon Roars

A Dragon has roared into Singapore. Its fiery breath has spread red and gold beautifully throughout the streets of Singapore.  Chinese New Year which is the most important traditional Chinese holiday began on January 23rd and does not finish until February 9th.  This marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon which is considered to be very auspicious.  Good things seem to be about to happen everywhere.

A Flower Dragon on Orchard Road

This post has been intimidating to write.  Chinese New Year is such a beautiful and intricate celebration that I feel I can never do it justice.  I will try to communicate a small portion of the beauty we have seen throughout the streets and in lobbies of hotels and builds everywhere.

Two Enormous Dragons With Mandarin Orange Tree at the Sands Hotel and Casino

Dragons like the one above often have balls in their mouths.  This may represent the sun, moon, egg or pearl and is considered very lucky.  The orange also has a prominence in Chinese New Year celebrations and they are given as gifts and eaten at dinners.

Chinatown is of course particularly beautiful.

Temple Wall Decoration

Chinese New Year is a spring celebration and there are many plum tree blossoms and pussy willows.

The markets are filled with red tassels that are to be hung over the door to bring good fortune and hongbao (red envelopes) filled with money that are given out during celebrations.

Beautiful Dragon Puppets

As a proud mother,  I need to include one photo of two other “dragons” that roared into Singapore one month ago now.

We are truly enjoying our Asian adventure.

Finger Foods in Singapore

This morning we had a tour with our “relocation expert” Sharm.  Sharm is ethnically Indian but her family has been in Singapore for three generations.  She is very proud of her country and very helpful as we try to navigate our way around a new culture.  Today Sharm wanted to show us sites that were particularly fun for children, so we all piled into a van and were off to explore the island.  Our first stop was Pasir Ris Park.  It was a lovely series of playgrounds right on the beach on the eastern side of the islands.  Aidan of course buried himself in the sand and became filthy at the first stop.

Then we drove a bit more alone the island to the East Coast Park.  This is a lovely place where families will come on weekends to enjoy the ocean.

All the touring made us hungry so Sharm suggested some “finger foods”.  We drove to the “Little Malay” part of town and stopped at a small restaurant called Kim Choo Kueh Chang.  First we tried some Peranakan food delicacies.  Peranakan is the description of the culture of people who are ethnically Chinese immigrants who have mixed with the  Malay culture since the 16th century.  Essentially it is “local” Singaporean food.  Singapore like the US is a blend of ethnicities so it is very difficult to define local.

The first food we tried was Otah.  This is made from a Mackerel fish paste marinated with chili, lemongrass and othe spices then wrapped in coconut leaves and grilled over a charcoal flame.  You take the toothpicks out of the packet, pop off the top and eat out the the middle.  It was very much like eating a tamale.  A little spicy and very good.

Sydney demonstrates eating Otah.

The second food we tried was Bak Chung.  This is a pyramidal shaped steamed sticky rice dumpling wrapped in leaves and boiled.  The one we sampled was filled with minced pork however they can mushrooms, coriander seeds, mung beans  and even melons.  These were more in the family of dim sum.  The sticky rice was gelatinous and a little sweet.  The pork was a bit spicy which was a nice contrast.

Bak Chung on display

We enjoyed our sample of local “finger foods”.  Aidan liked it so much he congratulated the shopkeeper on a job well done.