I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’d like to say first off that the last 2 weeks have been the most eventful time of the last year and the new year. There was the first weekend where everything was exciting, and the second weekend where everything didn’t seem to go right, and finally the third weekend where everything was just right.
The First Weekend Before The Last Week of the Year
A Romantic Christmas Eve
It was my first Christmas ever since I started living in Singapore. I loved how shopping centers and even office buildings tried to outdone each other in putting up the best Christmas decorations. Places often frequented by tourists such as Orchard Road and Raffles Tower in City Hall were lavishly bedecked with Christmas ornaments (I had a collection of photos of these in my previous blog entry). The office even held a Christmas decoration contest. Some of the projects really went all the way in trying to outshine the others. One of them even decorated their cubicles by making it looked like a winter cabin (using wood-patterned wallpapers), complete with a Christmas tree and Frosty the Snowman (made out of cotton, not snow, of course).
Christmas was truly in the air.
The cook and I was earlier thinking of spending the Christmas Eve by staying over in a fancy hotel and have a fancy dinner in said hotel. We finally decided to skip the staying-in-the-fancy-hotel part. So fancy dinner in a fancy restaurant in a fancy hotel it was. We finally chose The Lighthouse, a restaurant located at the top of the Fullerton. When we went down to the restaurant to book a table the manager took us up to the top platform. It had an excellent view of the Esplanade, the Marina Bay Reservoir (where the Merlion was) and The Marina Bay Sands.
On Christmas Eve we went to Fullerton much earlier than the time we booked for our dinner. There was a Christmas carol at the hotel lobby that we would like to see. I brought my dSLR camera to take pictures of the event and also of our dinner. At 7 PM we got out of our taxi and went into the lobby. The caroling was to start at 7:30 so we had half an hour to wait. To kill the time we went out and took a quick stroll around Boat Quay which was nearby the Fullerton. We went back and waited at the lobby when it was almost time. The carol was held at the mezzanine of the grand staircase in the center of the hotel lobby. It was nice, but we were hoping for little children caroling instead of teenagers. Lil’ kids caroling would have made a way cuter scene. But it was still nice.
We finally found ourselves going up to 8th floor of the hotel and from there taking a separate lift going up to the Lighthouse. The manager recognized us and led us to our candle-lit and beautifully ornamented dinner table. Fortunately our table was located next the window looking out to the Marina Bay area. We were then treated to an excellent 6-course dinner and magnificent view of the bay. The Sands even threw up a laser light show from across the bay several times during the course of our meal. It was our first candle-lit Christmas Eve dinner, and we vowed to continue this tradition.
After the dinner concluded we went up to the top platform to enjoy the night view and also to take some pictures. It drizzled lightly during dinner, so when we went up it was slightly wet. We asked one of the waiter to take a picture of us. Once satisfied, we went out of the hotel and into the Quay area for a walk. We stroll around in Boat Quay, continuing up to Clarke Quay. Clarke Quay was packed full of people celebrating the coming of Christmas, or just celebrating for the sake of celebrating. There we bought ourselves two tiny santa hats with blinking lights that we clip on our hair. I’d been wanting to get a small santa hat that I could put on my Grimlock action figure, and was thinking that I probably could use them. I found out later on that I could not, but still they’d make a great souvenir for our niece.
All in all, we enjoyed our Christmas Eve immensely.
A Wicked Christmas Day
We stayed in during most of the morning and went out in the afternoon for a simple lunch. Some colleagues from the office gave me simple Christmas gifts before the Christmas weekend started and at the time I did not have anything to give in return. I was not used to the habit of giving gifts during Christmas so previously I didn’t have anything prepared. We went to a supermarket and I got myself some decent chocolate boxes that I planned to distribute once I went back to the office on Tuesday.
After dropping off our groceries we went out again in the late afternoon. We already had a big plan for the evening: watching a Broadway musical called ‘Wicked’. A friend of ours offered the tickets for almost half the usual price so it was quite a bargain, and we’ve heard a lot of good things about it. The cook doesn’t like musicals in general, but I do enjoy them. Since we didn’t have any other plans for Christmas day, we decided to take the offer.
The musical was held in Marina Bay Sands’ Grand Theater. We dropped by Suntec on our way there. The cook and I picked up some new clothes, and I wore my new shirt directly as it looked way better and more presentable than the one I was wearing. You see, I was sorely underdressed for the occasion and didn’t realize it, unlike the cook who (belatedly) reprimanded me for wearing something so casual. Most people would dress to kill for such event, and I was dressing like I was going to the local hawker market. Well, it gave me an excuse to add 2 shirts and one casual pants to my clothing repertoire and I was pretty happy with the purchase. The cook was also happy with her purchase, though unlike me she was already quite presentable for the occasion.
We had an early dinner at Parco Marina Bay, at the Ma Maison. We avoided having dinner at the food court in Marina Bay Sands as the place was atrociously packed most of the time with impolite Chinese tourists (we had a bad experience here once when we were about to watch Lion King). The food wasn’t great either. Other restaurants in The Sands would also be similarly packed. So we’d rather have dinner somewhere else.
We met up with our friends later on at the Sands. We went to the theater after getting ourselves some drinks and snacks for the show. We were lucky enough as our seats were actually very close to the stage. We then settled ourselves in for the night’s performance.
Wicked is a Broadway musical based on a book that centers on the character of the Wicked Witch of the West from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It describes how in the beginning the witch, whose name was Elphaba, was actually a misunderstood person and an outcast. I liked the fact that the book author chose the Wicked Witch character, played around with it, expand it and created a full story about her. I always found the Wicked Witch character to be too one-dimensional in the original movie. It was a good thing someone expanded the character further, and the end result was highly entertaining.
The cook, who doesn’t like musicals, was not at all impressed with ‘Lion King’ back then. Even I thought that ‘Lion King’ musical was a bit flat, relying too much on costumes and props for the ‘wow’ effect. However, she had a totally opposite opinion regarding ‘Wicked’. The musical was excellent, filled with well-acted performances, great humor (you just gotta see the show’s interpretation of Dorothy’s character), great looking stage gimmicks, and a killer soundtrack. The cook and I especially loved Glinda’s character (the good witch). Why? One word: blonde.
I was totally blown away with the fact that these actors and actresses sang their performances live. No lip syncing. And there was no false tone, no missing beat. Everything was pitch perfect.
If you like musical, or any kinds of live performances, you owe it to yourself to go and see ‘Wicked’.
A Visit to the USS on Monday
In late November we booked a ticket to go to Universal Studios on December 26. So, the day after Christmas we headed towards VivoCity and crossed over to Sentosa, where theme park is located. As we went in and found ourselves in a sea of tourists we realized that going there one day after Christmas was a huge, terrible mistake. The waiting line for most of the attraction can take up to 2 hours, and we managed to only ride the Mummy and saw the Shrek 4D show. Even I didn’t get to try the newly unveiled Transformers: The Ride attraction.
The only consolation we had was the fact that we managed to photobomb some Indonesian tourists there. It was the cook’s idea. She would like to find a group of giggly, clueless Indonesian girls whose photo was about to be taken. She would jump in front of the camera as the photographer click the shutter button. We managed to find one such group, and successfully photobombed them. I got the whole incident in my iPhone photo album.
Oh, just a little tip: if you’re going to Sentosa via VivoCity, you would probably be thinking about going there by the monorail. If you don’t mind walking and would like to save SGD2 per person, I advise you to take the ‘walkway’ instead. There is now a walkway connecting VivoCity and Sentosa. The walk takes only 10 – 15 minutes, and you only need to pay the entrance fee of SGD1 per person (instead of SGD3 if you go by monorail). There are platforms and lookouts on the walkway with a view of the city, the sea, and the island of Sentosa so if you like taking your time you can spend it there taking photos and enjoying the nice view.
We went out of the Studios early and spend a little time in Holland Village eating Haagen Dazs ice cream and buying a bit of groceries before finally heading back home.
There was one funny thing that we noted when we were in the local supermarket in the Village. The employees there had started pulling down the Christmas decorations immediately and replacing them with Chinese New Year (CNY) decorations. And it was only one day after Christmas. But CNY was approaching fast. It was only a bit less than a month before CNY arrived.
The Grueling New Year’s Eve
Life’s just, in my opinion. It doles out fairness in its many forms. And in my case for that last week of the year it was almost black and white. After an exciting and eventful weekend, I had to deal with one of the most grueling New Year’s Eve of my life.
In the last week of the year I had to finish a lot of deadlines, all of them non-negotiable. Staring from the 27th I never went home earlier than 7:30 PM, and on Thursday the 29th I didn’t go home at all until the next Friday morning. Even then a lot of issues still crept up. A good friend who happened to be visiting Singapore made fun of me for having to work during the last week of the year. I was thankful that I managed to hang out with him for at least one evening during that last week of the year.
My friend was in town from December 27 until January 5. On the evening of the 28th of December I managed to leave work rather early and took him around Esplanade and Promenade. It rained when we reached the Merlion. We stopped for awhile to take pictures. The rain continued but we decided to press on, umbrellas in hands. We had dinner in what I consider to be the best bakkut teh place in Singapore (for those of you who don’t know what bakkut is, it’s basically pork ribs served in spiced-up clear soup). The name of the place was Song Fa. It was just across the road from the Central in Clarke Quay. I highly recommend this place for those who like bakkut. My friend liked it a lot. According to him the meat and the soup tasted a lot better than the one he once had back in Jakarta, which he found a bit too herb-y. After dinner we went out touring the Chinatown area, and in the end found ourselves back where we began near City Hall MRT station. I was glad that I managed to spend some time off from work that week, amidst all the chaos of the deadlines.
Due to some issues in the program I was working on, I had no choice but to go in to the office on Dec 31. I worked from 10 AM till 10 PM that day. Most people would probably be out there preparing to celebrate the end of the year and the coming of the new. I was stuck at the office, together with a colleague, clearing up issues so that the deadlines were met. I went home tired, unable to celebrate anything else other than the fact that finally all the deadlines and the issues were cleared. The whole experience of that New Year’s Eve was the exact opposite of the previous weekend.
But it was all for the good as in the end, as all the issues were finally laid to rest. I was rewarded with a very quiet and uneventful first week of the year with almost no issues at all in the office.
The First Week of the New Year Was Alright
First Day of the Year
After a tiring New Year’s Eve I finally found some peace during the weekend and the week after it. The cook, my best friend, and I went out to have lunch on January 1st. Initially we wanted to have some dim sum at Chinatown, but the restaurant was too crowded so we went to Central at Clarke Quay instead and had lunch at Ma Maison. We spent most of the afternoon on foot, walking here and there. From Clarke Quay we went off to Liang Seah street in Bugis to enjoy some dessert. FYI, the dessert here in Liang Seah is excellent. If you happen to find yourself in Bugis Junction and would like to enjoy some tasty Chinese dessert, I couldn’t recommend a better place than this.
Our next destination was Arab Street. We took him there since I know that he was more interested in out-of-the-usual places and he hasn’t been there before. We didn’t spend too much time there as the cook and I had to go back to refresh ourselves and get ready for dinner. The cook had earlier booked a place at Casa Verde for dinner. It was an Italian restaurant located inside The Botanical Garden. We were to have dinner there that night: the cook, my best friend, the cook’s best friend, and I.
They hadn’t pulled down the Christmas decoration in Botanical Garden. There were Christmas trees lining most of the paths found in the Garden. The Garden’s administrator actually put up a competition for people/organization to decorate trees found inside the Garden with Christmas lightings and ornaments. The trees were of many kinds, not only pines (usually used as Christmas tree). It was a smart move: this way they didn’t have to spend too much money on decorations. They kept the Christmas atmosphere intact here even though other places had started replacing the Christmas decorations with CNY decorations. Understandable, since most of the patrons and visitors to the Garden were Ang Mo (caucasian) and they don’t celebrate CNY much.
During dinner, the cook’s best friend offered free Universal Studios tickets. I took it without hesitation. I vowed during my visit to the Studios on December 26th that I’d be back for my vengeance. And fate had provided me with one such (free) opportunity. What was even better was that they would close the place down to general visitors starting from 6:30 PM on the day of the event. After that, the place was booked exclusively for members of the cook’s best friend’s company (and their friends/families). This would mean waiting time for each attraction would be considerably shorter.
My revenge, I shall has it.
By the by, if you are interested in having a decent Italian food, you could do much much worse than Casa Verde. The location is right in the middle of the Garden, so you could enjoy some fresh, green scenery as you are having your meal. They’re no slouch in the food department either: their pastas are very good, and they make the best pizzas in Singapore. Yes, the best. I kid you not. As an added bonus, if you’re a dog lover you’d love this place as a lot of the patrons usually bring their pet dogs along.
Second Day of the Year
My best friend and I went for a photohunting session on the second day of the year. The theme was landscape. Aside from a new macro lens, he had managed to secure for me a number filters that were essential for landscape photography. These filters are called neutral density filters. They help tone down the light coming from the sky so that the highlights of the photos (especially from the sky) won’t get blown up. I decided to try these out, and I thought that Labrador Park would be a good place to start. I’d never been to the place before that day, so I had no idea what I was getting into.
The place turned out to be not too spectacular. But at least I managed to warm up on how to use filters and how to set them up. The ones I got were pretty cheap. I wasn’t keen on spending a lot of money on high quality filters. I wanted to try it out first and see if I liked taking landscapes using filters. The set up wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. As long as you have a tripod and a cable release, taking landscape photos should be a walk in the park.
We walked around the beach side at the Park for a bit before deciding that we should find a better location. We went ahead to Keppel Bay, a location nearby that neither of us had ever been to. It turned out that it was a haven for Singapore’s extremely rich personalities. There were yachts parked at the bay in front of the residential areas. Fancy cars dotted the parking lot. The apartments around there were fancy and had a high-end look to them. The whole place stank of money. As we were admiring the location we saw two yachts sailing away, their occupants either sunbathing at the bow or having a quiet late lunch at the stern.
After spending some time there we decided to go to the Helix at the Esplanade. I consulted my smartphone and it gave me a bus number that would take us directly to the spot. We didn’t get off exactly at the Helix. Instead we got off at Marina Bay Sands first to get some refreshment. The day had been hot and dry and we were nearing dehydration.
We arrived at the Helix at around 5 in the evening. We scouted the area and after finding our spot we set up our tripods and cameras. There were other photohunters as well, and one of them was also using filter glasses. We chatted a bit, and I found out that he was using Lee filters, the best brand there is when it comes to filters. These cost quite a fortune.
It was nearing 7:30 PM when we decided to call it a day. I was quite happy with the results. So much so that I decided that I would like to one day invest in better-quality filters like Lee Filters. For the moment, I was quite happy with the one I had.
We went back to my place. The cook had prepared us dinner. My friend went back to his lodging and that concludes the second day of the year.
The Rest of the First Week of the Year
No issues plague my office hours in the first week of the year. Thank goodness for that. Everything was calm and quiet. I managed to take a day off on Wednesday. I was supposed to take it in mid December, but thanks to all the stuff that needed to get done it kept getting postponed. I finally got my Xbox fixed during this week. Our niece, her parents and my mom-in-law paid us a visit during the weekend. We were very delighted that they came by.
On Saturday I went to Universal along with the cook’s best friend (the cook decided that she’d rather spend her time with her niece and family, but she okay’d me to go). I had my revenge. Rode the new Transformers: the Ride attraction twice. Battlestar Galactica, also twice (each for the human and the cylon version). The Mummy was also fun. For those of you who are thinking of going to Singapore and planning to go to the Studios, I can’t recommend Transformers: the Ride enough. It is fun, and the effects are just ‘wow’. If you like roller coasters, you have to try Battlestar Galactica. Try both version (human and Cylon). But in my personal opinion, the Cylon version is way better. If you have the time, wait until around 9:30 in the evening when the Studios start their nightly fireworks show. It’s a pretty good show.
I hoped that you, dear reader, also had a blast during your last week of the year and during the first week of the new year as well. Let us all hope that the new year will bring better things for all of us. 2011 had been kind for me. I hope 2012 will at least be as kind, or even kinder. To all of us.
Here’s to the new year.