Banner and Balloons from Mustafa. In the darkness right before dawn I blow up a bag of bright balloons and hang a sparkly birthday banner – purchased in the awful and amazing 24-hour-open mall, Mustafa, in Singapore’s Little India – above the sofa in the suite, gathering our gifts and the balloons on the sofa. When that’s all done and festive-looking, we turn on the light and wake up my dad with a birthday song. So extraordinary all four waking up the same place on a special day like this. From me – a novel from BooksActually and an Aesop-hand lotion, from my mum, a pile of his favourite science and motorsports magazines, from my brother, steak, whiskey and a cigar tonight in KL.
Beach Walk. While my brother’s at the gym, the rest of the family go for a fresh stroll along the beach, collecting shells, taking a dip, gazing across the serene scenery before the last Langkawi breakfast.
Whiskey Sour Hour. Well checked in at ’80s luxurious Mandarin Oriental in KL, my parents and I meet in the extravagant, dimly lit lobby for a few strong whiskey sours to start an evening of celebration.
Steakhouse. My brother has already ordered the Spanish red wine for the table and lined up the whiskey for my dad, when we get to this little pearl in Bukit Bintang. Excellent food, great drink, everyone in a good mood.
Pool Hang Hung Over. Tuesday was meant for sightseeing – a walk in the Botanical Gardens, incl. the bird park, maybe showing my parents the Islamic Arts Museum, maybe having lunch in Jalan Alor, the best place for tasty Malay street food staples such as nasi dagang (fish curry and coconut rice) and hokkien mee (noodles with squid), and giving a glimpse into KL before the skyscrapers and shopping malls, maybe followed by an afternoon spent strolling through the Hibiscus Garden, Little India and Merdeka Square, perhaps checking out the Thean Hou Temple, and I imagined a cocktail hour at the SkyBar of the Traders Hotel… However, I wake up totally hungover. Haven’t felt this poor since sometime in London circa six months ago. Such a waste! Such, such, such a waste! Open my eyes, try to remember whether I had dessert last night or not (sorbet comes to mind after a few minutes!), what we talked about, how we got back to the hotel, why my curtains are open (beautiful view, by the way, from the 22nd floor across KLCC Park), but everything is a bit fuzzy. Drink lots of water. Put on my bikini and the thick, soft hotel robe and slippers, stumble down to the amazing pool, naively thinking that a few laps will cure me. Quite reversely, meeting the water makes me feel seasick. It’s such a beautiful day for sightseeing! What if I lie down for a bit, just a few minutes, by the pool. As I stretch out on a sun lounger, a waiter immediately places a glass of water beside me. My parents go down for breakfast, bring me some toast, go shopping. I go back to bed, now with the curtains closed. It’s a big soft bed in such a comfy room. Not a bad place for a hangover. And by noon I’m well. Shower, meet my parents for the tastiest healthy gourmet bento box in the lobby. Ready to get out now!
Embassy and Polar Bear. We pick up my brother from work (the Danish Embassy), all so proud of him, seated there in his office in suit and tie, and go together to Pavilion, where we find my birthday present from my parents, a beautiful Italian gown for the wedding I’m going to next week in Denmark. it’s quite spectacular – with 3D-effect, the sales lady keeps pointing out, and polar bears and butterflies strewn across the voluminous skirt. Wow! So odd, also, standing there in a clothing shop with my parents and brother. When did we last do that? Years ago, at least! Normally, I associate birthday shopping with cold, crisp days, drinking coffee to stay warm when walking from one small boutique to the next in the cobbled streets of Aarhus or Copenhagen. This year, today, we’re loving the aircon in a big shiny mall in Malaysia.
Pinchos. Straight from the mall to the small tapas restaurant in Bukit Bintang, where my brother and I ate a few weeks ago with our friends as well. Such delicious food in quite a cosy setting.
Cocktail Hour. Later, we’re back in the hotel lobby bar, having drinks (I, a pure pineapple juice!) with a friend of mine, who arrived from Australia.
Happy Birthday. Wednesday is my birthday! The banner from Monday now hangs at our table in the breakfast restaurant, and the staff sing me a birthday song and bring a cake with a candle along with the coffee. So sweet of them! From Melbourne, I get all things me in a neat little fabric bag – a coffee-scented candle, a beautiful, simple blue, green and silver necklace, a piece of fabric with a beautiful orange design and a box of cards with each their untranslatable word tried explained in English, such as the Danish, ‘forelsket’, which is at the top of the box. So lovely! From my parents, three books that I’d wished for. They also brought along a Dannebrog Hoptimist from my aunt and uncle. The food at this hotel is outstanding… First meal of my 30th year is a plate full of freshly made Spanish tortilla, a spicy chicken sausage, crispy salad, smoked salmon, yellow watermelon (!) and papaya sprinkled with lime juice. Yum!
Shopping. After breakfast, my dad seeks out a good spot in which to read the news, my friend goes to the lobby bar to hold meetings with business partners, and my mum and I go shopping for accessories for the dress – shoes, underwear, makeup – in the massive Petronas/KLCC shopping centre.
Banana Leaf. After that bountiful spree, I go to Bangsar to meet an old colleague from London for lunch at Devi’s Corner. It’s been four years since we last saw each other, and he now works as an editor for a travel magazine here in KL. Funny how things develop! The place is Indian and amazing – we have the biggest, tastiest meal of various small, colourful dishes dotting a big green banana leaf. Yum! Embarrassing detail – by the time I get to the restaurant after a 30-40 minutes taxi ride, I realise I must have forgotten my wallet at the hotel and have to ask my ex-colleague to pay for the ride, and my lunch; and he kindly gets me an Uber back to the hotel. Says it’s a birthday present! If only getting older meant that I’d get less and less absent-minded.
Petronas Towers. One bit of sightseeing – late afternoon, my friend and the whole family meet to go to the observation deck of the twin towers that were the tallest buildings on earth back when they were built in 1998. What’s most remarkable about the view from the top, I find, is the mountain ranges surrounding the city to the north and east. And that a huge cemetery is taking up a considerable lump of valuable land here in the centre. Well, also the impressive amount of construction work going on everywhere; so many skyscrapers being built! And the traffic jams; all the unmoving cars lining the blocks.
Fuego. When we’re seated for dinner at the Peruvian restaurant that I loved the last time I went up here, my brother gives me his present – a beautiful light brown leather bracelet with a simple gold figure eight at the centre. So beautiful! We say ’skål’ in delicious cocktails and tuck into the spicy guacamole and plantain crisps while the sun sets over the Petronas Towers.
Pool Side Champagne. Later, my friend and I see the reflections of the towers in the glass wall of the similarly massive Grand Hyatt Hotel as we drink champagne by the hotel pool until about midnight.
Love. Checking my phone as I go to bed, I see the loveliest text messages, social media messages, emails and video greetings from California, New York, London, Copenhagen and Singapore. So much love – very heart-warming.
More Love. The love continues the next day when back in Singapore I receive beautiful birthday flowers, sweet handwritten cards sent from London and California and cheerful phone calls. The strangeness of how old I’m turning is emphasised by how childishly pleased I am with all of the lovely attention, haha.
Spontaneous Grand Botanical Tour. As time’s running out of this holiday, I want my parents to see as many more lovely aspects of Singapore as possible. After dropping off our bags at the hotel in Tiong Bahru, we go for a spectacular and utterly decadent-in-a-green-and-healthy-sense 4-course lunch of local treats at the beautiful glass-walled restaurant set in the huge, lush garden of the Open Farm Community. Sunny, green, fresh, neat, delicious. Serving the creatively arranged dishes, the Indian chef passionately lets us in on how each dish was created, tearing off leaves and twigs of the bunch of greenery in a vase on our table, making us smell them, and after the meal, he gives us an hour-long tour of the garden – enthusiastically laughing lovingly at every wonder we meet – everything from special Asian, particularly Indian, herbs, spices, fruits and plants to the lemons and limes they’re trying to grow as well. When we leave, my pockets are full of chillies, peanuts straight from the ground, lychees and edible flowers as well as little leaves of basil, lemongrass and something I don’t quite remember the name of.
TB. That afternoon, my parents relax at the hotel while I take a small sunny walk around Tiong Bahru, feeling that I’m back, home, get a coffee from the bakery, and eventually go back home to pack for a week in Europe. So strange drawing out jeans and jumpers from the back of my wardrobe! And coats! Can’t help but feel a bit excited as well. I do love autumn.
PS Martin Road. In the evening, my friend and I go for dinner at PS in Robertson Quay. I like this one – I like all of them! – with its glass walls, beautiful mirrors, wine on tap as well as the signature massive bunches of flowers. Crispy Thai noodle salad. Malbec.
40 Hands. Friday starts at 40 Hands.
Pilates. And continues with a much needed Pilates class.
Bintan Massage. And continues with a surprise: my friend who works around the corner and I have a freshly squeezed juice in the sun on the Marina Boulevard – she gives me a sweet birthday card with a gift certificate for a massage on the beach in Bintan in a few weeks.
Surpriiiise. And another surprise later in the office: one girl in my team pretends to want a 1:1 with me, and as we enter the meeting room, the rest of the girls are gathered there, screaming ‘surpriiiiise’, and breaking into a birthday song as they hand me an overwhelmingly sweet card, vegan cupcakes with a candle in one, and a bunch of carnations (my favourite flower) from Tiong Bahru Market. Oh gosh!
Open Door Policy. Share an Uber with my friend from Asia Square, and meet my parents for a final Singapore dinner – for now! – at the gluten/dairy free restaurant in Yong Siak Street. Very lovely evening of evaluating this extraordinary holiday.
About Time. Around midnight, my parents and I board the plane to Copenhagen. I watch About Time, my favourite rom-com, set in London, while drinking two glasses of red wine. Most important lesson, which I like to think I do follow: living every day as if I had deliberately come back to live this particular day again.
Copenhagen. Landing in a beautiful crisp, cold and sunny sunrise. Breathing in fresh air! Wearing a coat! Being dropped off on Højbro Plads by my parents. Walking the empty loved cobbled streets. Picking up freshly baked rye bread from Lagkagehuset. Knocking on one of my best friend’s door in the Latin Quarter. I don’t know if it’s my favourite favourite city – maybe it is – it’s just really, really home. It’s so small, neat, light, cute, cosy, easy. I know it so well and have so many memories from every single street. Meeting her newborn daughter for the first time beyond FaceTime. To think that you can love someone at first sight! Or before this first sight. Someone who doesn’t even speak! She now occupies the room that used to be my place to crash most times I came over from London. Two years ago exactly we were both bridesmaids at our friend’s wedding in Montauk, and stayed at an Airbnb together out there – then went into New York City to spend four beautiful fall days. Her boyfriend joined us – she’d just met him a few months previously. Now they have a beautifully designed two-story flat with a roof top terrace here in the centre of Copenhagen, a summer house in North Zealand and a daughter. I last saw her for her baby shower the week before I moved to Singapore, when I found the idea of motherhood and maternity leave so strange; now it seems so natural and happy. The little girl smiles and (sort of) laughs when I pick her up and hug and kiss her. Give her a small wooden panda from Strangelets in Singapore. And they give me a beautiful silver ring, a sweet card – and there are birthday flags on the table! We have a delicious breakfast with all my favourites, and coffee. Take the baby to the rooftop terrace where the sun is shining from a clear, blue sky, and the greenery is still.. green. Take her for a beautiful walk around the cute little streets, down across the canal to the parliament building to look at the majestic horses, through the secret garden behind the university library (not so secret as in the old days when I went here to write my master’s thesis; it’s now full of little boys staring down on their smartphones, playing Pokemon Go), and finally hugging each other goodbye by the waterfront, where I cross the bridge to Islands Brygge.
Cross Country Drive. Here on the other side of the harbour, I knock on another close friend’s door – give her and her boyfriend a big hug, hang my polar bear dress in their walk-in closet (their flat is another heavenly showroom of immaculate minimalistic Danish design), and drive with them across Zealand and Funen to Jutland, where they drop me off at my parents’ home.
Juelsminde. The shells we collected on the beach in Langkawi are on display in a clear glass bowl on the white kitchen counter. The livingroom door is open, letting in the sound of the waves and the smell of the salt water from the sea down below the balcony. Eating my mum’s homemade chestnut bread for lunch, with a salad of fried eggs on lightly sautéed tomatoes and spinach. Going for a run along the country road, past the summer houses, down on the marina for my usual loop around the jetties, back along the two beaches to the house for a shower and comfort. And my favourite wine, Ribera del Duero, from my Spanish friend’s hometown, Burgos. It’s #4408 out of 4408 bottles made. FaceTiming with friends in California and Copenhagen. My mum’s divine autumn dinner – baked cod with lemon, cabbage, beet root, apples, sweet potato. Falling asleep at 8. To the sound of waves.
Reflections. Excited to be here – but even more excited that I have a base in Singapore. So happy about that. That that’s how I define myself now. And there’s my new friends, and work, and the APAC travel prospects.
Juelsminde Morning Bliss. Waking up at 4. Waking up again at 7. Completely rested. Sound of waves. Pilates on a pale purple mat from Casall on the floor in my room overlooking the sea through panorama windows leading out to the balcony. Morning radio – funny how today the timing is correct – when they mention the time I don’t have to add 6 hours. My mum’s preparing breakfast as I train – white temple tea, organic oats with chia seeds, fresh Danish autumn pears and Clara Friis apples, organic orange juice, almond milk. Coffee. Newspapers. My dad retreating to the sofa to watch F1 from KL. My mum showing me treasures from their village in Spain, Albir – olives, olive oil in beautiful bottles, small ceramic jars – and from their town in Germany, Erfurt – new blue cushions and more ceramic jars. I go for a run, and pick up freshly smoked salmon and fish cakes from the marina fish shop.
Grannies. Joining us for lunch (the fish plus fried scallops and boiled green peas blended with mint and lemon juice) are my grandparents. Happy reunion. The usual birthday present – skin tonic, day cream and cleaning pads from Danish skin guru, Ole Henriksen. Granny as well-dressed and well-smelling as always. Full of exciting stories to tell (she’s always got a lot ‘on heart’, i.e. to say, as we say in Danish) and eager to listen to our stories from the tropics. When we say goodbye we promise each other to chat frequently on Skype (she’s been afraid of disturbing me because of the time difference – I promise her, I’ll only pick up if it’s convenient). We won’t see each other in real life until next summer.
Ahh. Beach walk, rain, parents, sun, blue skies, seagulls screaming, kayaks and yachts coming past us, rays of sun reflecting stars in the waves, saving a washed-up purple starfish from drying out on the beach by carefully throwing it back into the waves, beautiful, peaceful, serene, calm, balm for the soul. When we come back in, I go out to the balcony to read one of my birthday gift books until the sun sets and it gets too cold to be out. Falling asleep very shortly after tucking into the baked pumpkin that my dad peeled and my mum baked along with chicken filets. Tomato salad on the side.