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!

Kamakura (Part II): Zen Temples, Tempura and Trolleys

Kamakura, Japan has an astounding abundance of lovely sites. We passed so many shrines that it was difficult to stop taking photos and admiring the beauty. There were certainly too many details for one blog post so here is part II…

There are five major shrines in Kamakura, Kencho-ji  was the first and grandest of the city’s zen temples.

Detail of the dragon on the temple ceiling

The beautiful gold decorations on the doors particularly fascinated me.

Meticulous landscaping contributed to the peaceful atmosphere.

Kencho-ji is home to gnarled cypress trees that arose from seeds brought from China by the founding priest 700 years ago.  It is amazing to think these trees were planted before Columbus set sail for America.

No matter how beautiful, man cannot feast his eyes on temples alone, so we found a lovely restaurant. We sat on tatami mats which the children thought was a fun treat.  Aidan loved the tempura and Sydney adored the noodles.

For dessert we tried a local Dorayaki and ice cream treat.

The kids liked the ice cream but were not so convinced that bean-jam tastes as good as chocolate sauce.

Aidan loves Japan and trains are a big part of his fascination. A ride on the trolley was one of his favorite parts of the day trip.

This thrill was only surpassed by the trolley toy we found which runs on  a puzzle track of Kamakura including the famous “Big Buddha”.  Now we have more than just memories to take away with us.  What more could you want in a single day trip?

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….

Hoi An: Ancient City of Lanterns and Moonbeams

Hoi An, Vietnam, is a city known for its beautiful lanterns and at night the shops and streets glow with a multitude of colors.

Lantern Frames

The village, designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, is a superb example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries.   The port was important to many foreign lands.  This structure known as the “Japanese Bridge” was built in the 16th-17th century.

Forty years after the bridge’s completion the Japanese merchants were ordered home and Japan isolated itself for centuries from the rest of the world.  They left a beautiful bridge containing interesting statues at either end which represent the structure being started in the year of the dog and completed in the year of the monkey.

Hoi An is also famous for its tailors.  I loved the colorful shops.

There were also wonderfully preserved temples and museums

The market was fantastic.  I have been to many in different countries but for some reason I found this one more fascinating than most.  It seemed so alive and like a place from a different time.

The produce was extremely diverse.  Here Aidan poses with a durian, also known as the “king of fruits.” It has a distinct aroma described by some as similar to rotting flesh.  Apparently it is an acquired taste.  I love how Aidan tries his best to smile.

It started to rain while we were in the market.  The vendors attempted to cover their wares.

We chose to seek shelter at one of Hoi An’s amazing  restaurants  Mango Mango which has views of the Japanese bridge.  The owner trained in Texas so it is known as Vietnamese food with a Tex/Mex slant.

Aidan was so exhausted he fell asleep in Sydney’s stroller.  This left his sister free to eat all the food she wanted including her choice of desert – Mango and Chocolate ice cream.  She still asks for that flavor when posed with an ice cream choice.

This is what an ice cream "Happy Dance" looks like.

Hoi An was a magical place to spend the evening. The full moon capped off the night perfectly and added a little more magic.