Singapore. Enjoying the feeling of coming back to my own flat, space, bed, stuff, greenery. The plants have been tended to by a guy from PS Petit, and when I pick up the keys down at the cafe, he gives me a cup of coffee on the house and exclaims how wonderful he thinks our home is. Realising that I’m becoming more and more like my mum – before we can relax (we return from Bali on a Bank Holiday), I fly around and open all windows to let in fresh air and let out any staleness with the old air, scrub down all surfaces, wipe down the kitchen, even the fridge, organise things in straight lines and piles in cupboards and cabinets, clean the bathroom, unpack, put on a wash, organise whatever small detail that might have been slightly skewed by having had other people staying, pack away Christmas ornaments carefully, buy a few new plants and chop off old leaves on the old ones… shower. I could do what Marie Kondo does, haha! The flat soon feels like a perfect space to rest one’s mind and let one’s creative juices flow freely, and all of the following week, my friend and I work from home, sitting across from each other at the working table, drinking many pots of green and white tea, a wonderful ambience enhanced by her soft house music playlists on Spotify and sunshine and quiet noises from the street streaming in. Yoga on the balcony in the dark mornings, with rain streaming down the windows, or going for fresh runs along the river. My neighbour popping over for a cup of tea, taking a break from organising the crowdfunding campaign for her new book on Singapore. Eating homemade Bircher muesli and drinking homemade masala chai latte for breakfast. Going out for chirashi don at Chiwaku in Robertson Quay and modern Asian fusion treats at Stateland by Haji Lane. Home spa with Korean oatmeal face-masks. My boyfriend returning from India and joining us for lunch at Bincho and dinner at House of Peranakan Petit – happy my friend and he get to meet each other as we chew our way through the local dishes. Walks along Marina Bay and around the different neighbourhoods to show off the traditional shop houses and the modern skyscrapers. Early to bed with no alcohol. My friend intends to keep January dry, and I find it soothing to follow her example – at least for as long as she’s here, that is.
Dramatic Departure. My friend fell on the slippery floor in the Denpasar airport, early Monday morning, on our journey back to Singapore. Weighed down and inflexible due to her heavy rucksack, she banged her chin into the cold marble floor tiles and got a deep, violent-looking cut. I ran off to find help, while a surgeon, who happened to pass by us the moment it happened, stayed with her as she was lying on the floor sobbing. An hour later, boarding the Singapore-bound plane, we discussed the learnings of this experience:
- Good Humour – it did look rather comical when she fell, helpless, with that big bag on her back, just as it sounded funny when she tried to speak without opening her mouth for the rest of the day, and, as forced as our laughs were, the airport staff found it – morbidly – hilarious that she didn’t see the sign warning about the newly washed floor.
- Patience – when I finally found someone who could take us to the airport emergency room (after having asked about 10 bewildered staff members), it took about five nurses and five official looking guys about 40 minutes to clean the cut, decide that we could wait with going to the hospital until we got to Singapore, patch up the cut and write us a primitive report, in Bahasa.
- There Are Helpful People Everywhere – the surgeon on the floor, the well-meaning if inefficient airport staff, and an elderly Danish dentist couple in the gate, who politely and concerned enquired about my friend’s teeth, gums and jaw.
- Gratitude – it could have been much worse.
- Never Fear Fun – the accident happened when we walked through the airport; not when we went surfing, swimming, snorkelling, scooting.
- The importance of a Good Insurance. From Changi we took a taxi straight to the hospital, where they estimated that she needed two or five stitches – and three consultations.
#2 Brekkie Staple. The Bircher muesli we have for breakfast every day this week is completely free of gluten, dairy, refined sugar or artificial additives. Oats and chia seeds soaked in almond milk and a splash of unfiltered, cold pressed apple juice overnight. The following morning, I mix in freshly grated apple, dried goji berries, chopped up baked almonds and ground cinnamon. Bonus: Best served with birds chirping outside in the sunshine, fresh air streaming in through open windows, steaming coffee on the pot and an intriguing podcast playing.
Headspace. Popular among millennials, the app has just been sitting on my phone for ages without really calling sufficient attention to itself for me to open it. On Wednesday night I toss and turn so terribly in bed for hours, and that’s when I decide to give the app a go. I lie flat on my back and put on the first, shortest meditation exercise. Ten seconds into it (I think?), I’m fast asleep.
Hong Kong. On Friday, my boyfriend and I fly north to the small island off the coast of China, where he lived for eight years before moving to Singapore two years ago. We’re both super excited about all aspects of the trip – travelling together for the first time (well, besides meeting up in KL for my birthday); getting to experience the city together; me, for the first time; him, by showing me around and seeing my appreciation of it all – the sights, the thick energy, the streets and venues he used to roam, his favourite neighbourhoods, eateries, cafes, bars and hikes, all of his anecdotes, stories and facts, which act as nice companions to my own – good! – impression. As far as travelling is concerned, 2016 was very dominated by cosy trips to (the most touristy parts of) Indonesia with myself and old friends, while I intend to broaden my horizon in 2017 – and this is a good start.
Tim Ho Wan. Delicious dim sum at the end of our train ride from the airport – laughing at each other as we poke at our chicken feet. Apparently there are lots of health benefits to eating them; and from a nose-to-tail-perspective, it’s great that they’re being served. BUT… they really look like little hands doing the peace sign. I take a tiny bite, but then turn my full attention to the delicious, fully appetising dim sum.
Fuel Espresso. One of his favourite coffee places – sleek, dark, business-polished, in the middle of a central mall.
Sheung Wan. After our refuelling session, he takes me by the hand and leads me up through the escalators moving up through buildings and inclining streets, from Central to Soho – we get off by Hollywood Road and meander our way through the hipster quarter, Sheung Wan. Elaborate street art, alluring Cantonese street signage, fascinating mix of facades – steel and glass, cute pastel-coloured tenements, alluring boutique fronts. Mediterranean vibe in the steep, cobbled, terraced side streets full of greenery and hidden wine bars. Immediately you sense the thick energy – the vibe – the feeling of creative life and passion; something you have to carefully look for and actively create yourself in Singapore, but which is completely natural here – like in New York. Elegant, exotic, eclectic blend of shopping experiences dominated by traditional Chinese beliefs and businesses – the historic Western Market, an Edwardian-style mall with array of handicraft shops; the Dried Seafood Street, Wing Lok Street, where we purchase a big bag of dried goji berries; Bonham Strand West, where locals buy abalone, scallops, etc., for soups and tonics; Koh Shing Street, which is Chinese medicine in action; Cat Street, full of quirky antiques; designer household accessories and hip restaurants in shabby colonial chic Gough Street… and so it continues. Right until we reach our Airbnb at the end of a street with leafy basketball courts, a brand newly opened branch of the hippest coffee shop in town, Cupping Room, and the building where my boyfriend used to live. Great little studio flat –Scandinavian furniture, Aesop bathroom products, clean bed linen, nice panorama view of the area.
Drinking in the Street. After freshening up, we go get a glass of wine from one of the little wine bars and sit down close to each other on the cobbled stones of one of the small, steep side streets as dusk turns to dark in the hip neighbourhood.
Tram. Old-fashioned and romantic – we catch the tram to take us through town parallel to the water – fresh air, lights from the harbour, office buildings and restaurants… Not too busy- or polluted-seeming, quite fresh, probably especially because it’s 10-15 degrees colder than in Singapore and much less humid.
Sijie. Sichuan food in Causeway Bay with my boyfriend’s best friends, whom it’s a pleasure to finally meet after having heard a bunch of stories about them. Quite dodgy little place – dark, cluttered, plasticky, busy, resembling a small private living room, run by a family of very successful traditional cooks, the food absolutely scrumptious, very spicy, very well-prepared. Washed down with some Chinese beer.
The Pawn. Onto a cocktail club in the same quite sterile-feeling area, in an airy top-floor bar of a stately marble building, with French windows opening up to grand balconies, dimly lit, vibey music, well-shaken espresso martinis and excellently stirred vodka/sodas, with more of his – expat – friends.
Feather Boa. Part camp lounge bar, part sassy bordello, this tiny former antiques boutique with the Rokoko-style furniture and artworks left delectably en situ has a discreet, speakeayish entrance, and serves as a perfect spot for a last drink before heading home – it’s packed tightly by dreamily drunk hip people of all ages. The last place he wants to show me for today, smiling as he recognises the remarkable/eccentric female manager who serves as the bouncer. I sink into a cute old sofa, as he orders the signature drink, a strawberry margarita dusted in cocoa, for himself and an espresso martini for me, both exquisitely crafted and artfully served.
Morning Glory. Saturday morning – oh, gosh, it’s wonderful, to get out of bed, and drink too much coffee, and take too many pictures, and love so much! I have my best accessories with me – a black Americano from the Cupping Room in one hand, an Indian American in the other hand, my SLR camera over the shoulder, and prescription sun glasses cutting through the haze I usually walk around in.
Victoria Peak. All cities should have a (beautifully named) downtown mountain offering lush greenery, a wild jungle vibe, sweeping panoramic views, fresh air – a great morning hike to the top to get the blood and creative juices flowing.
Mana. Glorious, healthy comfort food in rustic, leafy surroundings in the centre of Central. Scrumpy wholegrain wraps and green kicking cold-pressed juices serving as hungover breakfast/lunch after our hike. Bliss!
Ginseng tea. Picked up from a colourful street stall.
Steep streets. Looking at Halloween costumes and rooster decorations – Chinese New Year is coming up; it’s the year of the rooster; my boyfriend’s year; and they are everywhere – we buy a small orange one for the balcony.
Man Mo Temple. Tourist voyeurs observing the beautiful spiritual practices.
Barista Jam. He used to sit here for hours, he explains, writing, thinking, watching people, while drinking their great freshly ground reliable coffee. Kudos to all of those Australian coffee entrepreneurs;)
Star Ferry. Old school ferry taking us across the harbour. Painted in agreeable white and green pastels. Cutting slowly through the gentle waves. Offering great views of the skyline and the mountain backdrops.
Kowloon. The name of the area rings a bell – most likely a name of a Chinese grill in Copenhagen? Boardwalk, sunny, sitting on the railings for minutes and minutes, hugging, gazing across the water and the skyline, smiling, soaking up the warm sun. Clean, minimalist lines of the beige-coloured Cultural Center, swanky Peninsula Hotel lobby, the maze of randomness ruling in Chungking Mansion, where he used to volunteer as an English teacher to refuges each Saturday (he also tells a fascinating story of a photograph course and exhibition he arranged for the refuges), following a random couple for some streets around the neighbourhood, TST, which, judging by the signage, colour scheme and general design, seems to be stuck in the 1980s, which is just great. A cheap hour-long foot massage, where we lie next to each other but don’t speak at all – it’s like a meditative bubble.
208. Pre-dinner drinks on the leafy terrace, admiring the blue and white Portuguese tiles on the walls featuring Chinese images, the abundance of lush plants, the pretty garnish on the cocktails.
Chachawan. Outstanding Thai place – umami food, great service, colourful decor, modern, clean, fresh vibe.
Duddell’s. Romantic roof top bar for post-dinner drinks.
Upper House. Stunningly designed hotel – we meet his friends for cocktails at the panorama bar.
Sleep In. For the first time ever, we sleep till about 11.
Cupping Room. The whole works – smashed avocado, poached eggs, house-smoked salmon, spinach, on sourdough bread. Winter Bloom roast – filter coffee for me; cappuccino for him.
Sheung Wan Shopping. A musical toy for the child we’re visiting. A bird-shaped silver ring for me. Sneakers for both.
Tong Fuk. Sunday afternoon – train to Lantau, where a driver picks us up at the station and takes us to the small beach off the jungle. Colour scheme of an issue of Kinfolk or Cereal – soothing shades of light grey, light brown, pale blue, dusty green, off-white, golden – the sand, the rocks, the ocean to one side and the jungle to the other, the low-hanging clouds, the sun above. We climb the rocks, walk along the beach, hug, kiss, do some sun salutations, lie down to breathe in the salty air, meditate. Walk up through the small village of Tong Fuk to his friend’s beautiful multi-storey house, where we’re greeted by her and her husband and their cute baby – chilled white wine and lovely dinner on the roof terrace while chatting excitedly about various creative projects and watching the sun set above the ocean. Ahh.