St Johns Island

I recently discovered that you can visit two of Singapores islands via a local ferry service that runs out of Marina South Pier. It’s a fairly limited service on weekdays with just two ferries a day so you need to be prepared to spend the day there. We caught the 10am ferry over giving us loads of time to explore before catching the next (and last) ferry back at 14:45. The boat then takes you on to Kusu Island (which I will do a separate post on) for an hours stop on route back to Singapore mainland.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this island but thankfully I came prepared with food and water for the day as there was nowhere to buy any. I think I was expecting something a little more rough and ready (I even wore trainers) but what we found was some concrete paths and lots of picnic benches and rain shelters. I should have known really, this is still Singapore after all! There is a nice little beach and the water was surprisingly clear considering how churned up and dirty it looks down off East Coast Park on the mainland.
In the 1870s this island was used as a quarantine camp for Chinese migrants with cholera. They were housed in a building here which in the 1930s became the worlds biggest quarantine camp. As well as screening Asian immigrants they also screened Malay pilgrims returning from mecca before allowing them into Singapore. Later in the 1950s Singapore closed its doors to large scale immigration and instead the colonial government used it as a holding place for political detainees and secret society ring leaders awaiting deportation. At one time it was even used as a treatment center for opium addicts. 
Finally in 1975 it was developed into what it is today, a little leisure haven off Singapore’s coast. It is also home to the Tropical Marine Science Institute and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s Marine Aquaculture Centre. The old camp buildings are still there, surrounded by barbed wire and can be booked by groups as accommodation. There was even a tennis court surrounded by barbed wire. Part of me wondered why they didn’t take it down but perhaps they are preserving it how is was and respecting the colourful past of this little island.
After a little exploring we soon found the island was small and it made sense to take a seat on one of the many picnic benches and have an early lunch. After some lunch and chatting I started to look at google maps only to realise that St. John is connected to two other islands, Lazarus and Seringat, via a man made walkway. So off we went for more exploring only to be stopped in our tracks but a monsoon thunderstorm which had us running for shelter. Unfortunately, the storm wouldn’t shift and the rain battered down for 2 hours only stopping just before our 14:45 ferry arrived. A shame, but from what I could see these two connected island weren’t so different from the one we were already on.
Below is the view of Singapore from the water, another different perspective. I’m so used to arriving by plane this was a weird concept.

Changi Museum, The City Gallery and The Istana

Recently I have been exploring some of Singapore sights and enjoying the diversity of this lovely city state. It’s amazing to realise that even after more than a year living here there are still so many things to do and see.
The Changi Museum tells you about the horrors of the Japanese occupation during WWII. We took the self guided audio tour which was really interesting and the little chapel outside was a nice place to stop and contemplate.
I could feel there was a sense of disappointment that the British did not do more to stand up for Singapore. Many Singaporeans felt the British did very little fight against the Japanese. This is perhaps one of the reasons that the anti-colonial movement started. Certainly Mr Lee Kuan Yew, after experiencing the harsh rule of the Japanese, felt that only Singaporeans could truly defend and protect their own country. He went on to ensure that the local people also had a vested interest in protecting Singapore.  
The Singapore City Gallery is also a fascinating place. Managed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), it showcases how Singapore has developed as well as its ability to plan. You can see how things have changed over the years and even take a look at models of the island and the central business district (CBD). These models include the existing buildings, parks and public transport but also future buildings and developments.  
Architectural ideas are showcased as cardboard models and the URA even shares it’s long term concept plan, looking forward around 50 years. This is not a definite plan but more a dicussion of possibilities. This gallery makes you understand that nothing in Singapore happens by accident, instead it is planned many, many years in advance by a forward thinking government.
Last weekend we were lucky enough to visit The Istana and its generous grounds and gardens on one of its open days, which happen only five times a year. This British colonial building was constructed between 1867 and 1869 primarily by Indian convicts. It wasn’t until 1959, when Singapore obtained self government, that the building was handed to the Singapore government and renamed to Istana, meaning Palace in Malay. It is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Singapore although the majority of Singapore presidents choose not to live there.
We went on a guided tour of the building which we really enjoyed even though only the ground floor was open to the public. It’s hard to believe this large piece of land, in a prime location on Orchard road, is still undeveloped and even has a 9 hole golf course. It must be a fantastic place for Singapore officials to show their international guests just how beautiful a place Singapore it. From the top of the hill near the palace the view down to the CBD is almost surreal through the trees.  
All three of these well worth the visit and there are still many other spots to explore!

Singin’ In The Rain

This hugely successful West End musical kicked up a storm here in Singapore last night, quite literally! For what is Singin’ In the Rain without the rain? Clearly this thought was shared by the production team, who put a lot of work into the creation of a special set that would allow 12,000 liters of water to flood the stage and create an authentic performance, rain and all.
This travelling set collects the water after each downpour and passes it through three filtering systems to make it suitable to be used again. The water falling as rain from the 18 nozzles above the stage is heated to prevent it shocking the cast as they get soaked to the skin. The special composite stage, designed not to rot, is also flooded from below creating a huge puddle for the cast to splash around in. The first three rows of the theater were considered the splash zone and ponchos were distributed. This created an audience comedy moment when the thunder and lightning special effects gave those in the splash zone the cue to don their ponchos. Sat in row four, all I could do was laugh as they frantically rustled their way in before the onset of splashing began. 
This production is full of dancing, music and laughter. It follows the story of Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont as they make their transition from silent movies to the next generation of talking films. Lina’s is the character that makes us laugh, with her crazy high pitched voice that nobody wants to hear and her terrible acting skills, which come to light when all of a sudden she has a microphone to deal with. We might almost feel sorry for her, with a movie career which is failing in the face of this new technology. Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown even go behind her back to dub in voice over from up and coming actress Kathy Selden. However, Lina proves herself to be a bit of a villain when she tricks Kathy into remaining as her voice over and not letting her take the credit. The trio of Don, Cosmo and Kathy works really well on stage, as they work together to save one of the first talking movies. Cosmo adds a lot of comedy to the show and I felt he was a really likable character.
This show promises to leave a smile of your face and it certainly delivers. There is also a good chance you will be humming along to one of its catchy songs under that smile. A true classical musical, performed in style and with a lot of humour. 

Sun Yat Sen in Singapore

I first heard about the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial hall when I joined the Friends of the Museums. At first I simply became aware it was somewhere I could visit for free as part of my membership but I had no idea who Sun Yat Sen was. The same could be said for this afternoon when I turned up at the Memorial Hall for their 2pm guided tour. It was about 20 minutes into the tour before I realised that this was the man responsible for bringing down the last Chinese dynasty and founding the Republic of China. He also became the first Provisional President of China.
The villa which holds this Sun Yat Sen collection is absolutely stunning. It was purchased by a supporter of the Chinese Nationalist Movement in 1905 and gifted to Sun Yat Sen in 1906 to use as a base for the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance. It became an essential headquarters for the Southeast Asian operations of this Alliance and many uprisings were planned during Sun Yat Sen’s visits. After the 1911 Revolution it became the headquarter of the Chinese National Party.
Once again Singapore surprises me, I had no idea such an important event in China’s history was being supported and facilitated from a little place like Singapore. Of course there was support from the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance elsewhere in the world, but clearly Singapore was an important Southeast Asian base. It’s also thought that Sun Yat Sen saw how life was under the British rule, less corruption and more freedom than in China at that time, both in Singapore and also in Hong Kong where he studied as a Doctor.
One thing that really struck me during this tour was when the guide explained that a large part of the finance behind the Revolution movement came from rubber plantations and the sudden need for rubber to manufacture tyres for vehicles. This reminded me of the small town in Scotland where I attended secondary school; on entering the town a sign proudly announces it is the birthplace of the inventor of the pneumatic tyre. How strange to think that an inventor from a small Scottish town could have had an impact on funding the Chinese Revolution. Perhaps it’s a rather indirect link but it made me think all the same.
Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall is part of the Balestier Road Heritage Trail. Right next door is a beautiful Burmese Buddhist Temple which uses LED lights to literally make the Buddha radiant. 

Also nearby is a free water kiosk on the corner of Boon Teck Road. This goes back to the days when clean drinking water was a luxury and it was offered as an act of charity for poor laborers. This last remaining kiosk still offers both water and tea for free and is maintained by a local charity. 

Gunung Agung, Bali

Our hike up Gunung Agung started from Pura Besakih just before 11pm. Once our guide had prayed at the temple we donned our head torches and started up the track, it was up, up, up from the word go. We had two vertical kilometers to climb in total and we stopped for a brief rest after 300m and had a chat with our guide.
He had been doing this hike on average twice a week for the last 24 years, so we had every faith we weren’t going to get lost in the dark! After this first rest the gradient got a little more taxing and the soil was loose under foot. We had to use tree roots and vines to pull ourselves up slippery or steep sections. We had been told the last section near the top was the steepest so I was silently concerned that what we were on was already steep. In some areas there was nothing to hold onto so we struggled up with our walking pole for support whilst trying not to slip backwards.
We continued to stop every time we ascended 300m and we soon got into the routine of only thinking about getting to the next rest stop, silently trudging in the dark. We found out our guide had learnt English through guiding English speaking tourists rather than at school, this was impressive since his English was pretty good. It seemed he had learnt the names of the highest mountains all over the world, what a great idea for a mountain guide. He talked to us about Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Mt Cook and even the volcano in Iceland that caused all the plane disruption when it decided to erupt, Eyjafjallajökull. He ever knew how to pronounce that one, mind you how would we know if he got it wrong! He was a fountain of knowledge about all the Indonesian mountains and reeled off facts and statistics.  
Around 500m from the top we had a longer rest and he lit a fire to keep us warm, this was a first for us, a fire halfway up a mountain. He then produced a flask and made us tea and coffee, what a treat! At some of our stops he would light incense in improvised holders made from leaves and decorated with flowers. These were offerings to the mountain which the locals believe is the home of their Gods. 

There was even a small temple around 400m from the top. He would say a prayer at these shrines and offerings. The tea and coffee break was a precursor to the steep section and he explained the gradient would increase further to around 75 degrees for approximately 300 vertical meters. Well we had come this far, onwards and upwards we trudged in the dark. As it turns out this section was steep but it was also rocky. So unlike the terrain we have scrambled up so far which was loose and slippery we felt quite at home on the rocky steep section. Nonetheless it was tough, by this time we had exceeded 2600m in height and the effects of altitude were making themselves known. My heart was working hard and my breathing became more labored. We were all ready for our last and final stop after this section, in need of a few minutes of sitting down. 
Although less steep the final 100m or so to the summit was still slow going as altitude set the pace. I’m not sure how much we noticed though as we were being enticed by the glow of sunrise behind our mighty peak. 
The clouds were below us it was simply breath taking. We couldn’t see the full vista until we reached the true summit, timed perfectly by our guide just 5 minutes before the sun broke over the horizon. 
He straight away lit his incense offering to the mountain then retreated to let us enjoy the natural spectacle. We had the summit to ourselves and it was stunning, there was not a breath of wind and as the sun appeared over the horizon it warmed the air. Agung has a second, more accessible lower peak, and we could make out two figures in the outline of the sunrise, like little ants in the distance.

 Behind this immediate peak is the looming shape of Gunung Rinjani, over the water in Lombok.
We then decided it was time for breakfast and our guide came to join us, explaining that back at 2100m he didn’t think we were going to make it in time to see the sunrise but he had kept quiet until then. We enjoyed breakfast from our perch on top of the world.
Then the inevitable could no longer be avoided, the long, long, long walk back down the mountain. This was definitely the hardest part of the day, we soon reached the point of having been awake for more than 24 hours and the steep gradient played havoc with our tired legs. I think we all slipped at one stage or another and there were certainly areas where sliding down crab like on all fours was the best possible solution. 
Daylight now illuminated the island of Bali and we could also see some distant peaks of Java like the Ijen crater that I climbed with Reshma in May. 
We could also see the temple from where we had started our trek and it was a long way down. 
This trek took us 14 hours in total and when we reached the car for the drive back to the hotel all 3 of us feel asleep utterly exhausted by our expedition, and being awake for around 32 hours.