Walking the line

26 Jul

Last week Mister Noodle and I took a couple of stolen hours to walk part of a railway line in Singapore. This may not sound the most exciting/romantic/sane thing to do just before a first wedding anniversary but we had our reasons.

Over the last few months we have followed the build-up to the permanent closure of the Malaysian-operated KTM service and the tracks. June 30 saw the last trains to run on the line before it was shut down, the land handed back to Singapore, and the steel tracks dismantled. It has been very interesting to witness reaction in Singapore to the closure of the line and how people are engaging with plans for the land’s future. There have been parties on the last trains, internet campaigns to see the land protected, and many, many people making the most of the opportunity to walk a previously unexplored area of the city-state.

Luckily for us the one area of track to remain open to the public until the end of the month is the section nearest to our condo, running from the old Bukit Timah Station to the Rail Mall. Since moving to Singapore last August we have become accustomed to lying in bed hearing the old stock rumble past, horns tooting, early in the morning and late at night. My affection for this daily occurrence turned somewhat farcical on the last night the trains operated as, with a hint of whimsical sorrow in my voice, I solemnly noted the passing of the last train…THREE times. There was the last train with passengers, the last train driven by the Sultan of Johor, and the last last train to take the Malaysian railway staff home.

We began our journey at the old Bukit Timah railway station. I feel a strange affection for the abandoned little station. Despite the 30 degree heat, there is something about the place that transports me back to the country station closest to my home in Suffolk. I am reminded of warm spring mornings, waiting for a train as the sun rises, listening to lambs in the field opposite (yes, really) and perishing winter nights, stood in the dark trying to stop Poodle Noodle weeing on everything and everyone in sight.

Mister Noodle and I headed over the bridge, sidestepping a couple having engagement photos taken by the 1871 marker stone (perhaps they were hoping some of the bridge’s longevity would rub off on their union).

     

Even though every sane part of us knew the line had stopped operating weeks ago, both of us did find our sense of sound a little more highly attuned that afternoon – as if there would be the faraway rumblings of a train on the tracks or a set of points creaking into position.

It was fascinating to walk the line and get a different perspective on Singapore. 5pm on a Thursday night and the line was quite busy with other walkers – all of whom gave us gleeful, knowing smiles, as if we were sharing in some secret, slightly prohibited experience. The more we walked, the more I could appreciate the calls for the line to be preserved as a green corridor for pedestrians through the city. There was so much more to take in than on the concrete pavements and motorway flyovers.

202-30 marks the spot: the sleeper directly opposite our condo

As we approached the Rail Mall  we came across a small shrine-like set-up tucked underneath one of the bridges. We have no idea why it was placed there – one of the many stories you can only imagine have travelled up and down the line over the years.

As you can just about make out in the distance of the picture below the tracks have already started to be removed and, with a year-end deadline to have all materials handed back to Malaysia, the opportunities to walk on or photograph the line are rapidly disappearing. So much changes so quickly in the Little Red Dot, I really hope that there will be a permanent preservation of some of the line for people to enjoy on foot as we have done.

More information about the fabulous campaign to preserve the line as a green corridor can be found at: http://www.thegreencorridor.org/

Discolosure: I owe a great deal of my interest in this subject to my close friends Flora and Notabilia. My first outing with them was to photograph Bukit Timah station (they did the photographing whilst I cursed my choice of flip-flop footwear). At the same time, their train trip to Johor Bahru inspired me to do the same with my in-laws. There is nothing like friends who will walk with you along a narrow railway bridge when the line is still operating, or delve through a bug infested abandoned cemetery in the interests of finding out a little bit more about our new home.

Melaka Malacca – A tale of two cities

16 Jul

A few weeks ago Mister Noodle and I thought we would venture out of the Little Red Dot and so joined a group of friends on a road trip to Melaka, Malaysia.

There are various coach options for making the journey from Singapore to Melaka, all of which are relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately trying to coordinate our party of six to find a suitable time to travel after work on a Friday night was not so easy so we opted for hiring a car. I shall use the term ‘we’ fairly loosely when referring to all automobile matters on this trip. I don’t drive, I hate driving, I know little about cars (Father-in-law please forgive me!) so all these arrangements were left in the very capable hands of our friends. A good tip when embarking on road trips: take some teachers with you. Mister Noodle’s colleagues could be relied upon to bring copious snacks for the journeys and numerous pens to enable us to all fill in our immigration forms.

Eschewing all matters car-related, the Noodles were in charge of accommodation. Top of our wish list was rooms at The Majestic – a very beautiful, colonial era hotel where we could imagine ourselves sipping cocktails in the library bar and taking the hotel up on all the offers of walking tours of the town provided free each day. Unfortunately, the hotel was packed to its beautiful, colonial rafters that weekend (as were most of the hotels in Melaka). Just as we feared we would be camping out in our SUV, Mister Noodle happened across a house rental on TripAdvisor. In fact, it was the only Melaka house rental on TripAdvisor. And boy, what a house. When we arrived the very accommodating owners gave us a tour of the vast residence including how to disable the panic alarms in all bedrooms which also set off a dividing barrier that separated the stairs. Don’t get the impression the area we were staying in was very dangerous – I think they had just gone to town on mod cons.

So what to do in Melaka?  The town has a very rich cultural past with a history that meshes together many different cultures and influences, including Peranakan, Dutch, Portuguese and British. We felt the best way to explore all these aspects of Melaka would be through eating, people watching and shopping  (not much different to anywhere else Mister Noodle and I go).

 Our top tips

Hereen House – we had a lovely lunch at this boutique hotel/restaurant although we did leave feeling a bit guilty. Not only had the owners kindly served us lunch beyond their usual afternoon closing time (to which we had been oblivious), the lady owner also made valiant attempts to engage us in conversation that largely went ignored.  We were all so busy woolfing down her delectable food that we probably weren’t the most worthy of conversational companions. According to one guidebook the owners are very willing to show you round the hotel and point out the various colonial/historical influences on the architecture. Maybe do this when you are not starving hungry.

Jonker Street – First stop on our tour of the Jonker Street night market was to witness a man famed for being able to break a coconut shell with his finger. All I can say is, “When in Melaka….”. However, what we did not realise as we avidly watched digital coconut destruction was that whilst the stalls on Jonker Street would be open at night, the many interesting junk/antique shops lining the road and surrounding area would not. This meant we had to make a hurried recce before leaving on the Sunday morning which did not afford us the time we would have liked. Also, as an auctioneer’s daughter, I have to say I approached many of the ‘antique’ shops with a little trepidation. I always feel as if I have a certain Yorkshireman sitting on my shoulder whenever I look at anything purporting to be antique (thank goodness he is not that heavy) and worry that I will buy a dud. However, I think the best attitude to take in such situations is to think that if you love something then buy it, but don’t assume you are getting an incredible bargain that you will be able to proudly present on the Antiques Roadshow in years to come. Oh, and visit during the daytime, obviously.

Trishaws a go-go

I envy Mister Noodle getting this snap. I love it.

Melaka is famed for the vibrant trishaw taxis plying their trade in the town centre and, whilst we did not have time to get a ride on one, taking in the sights and sounds (many have their own inbuilt light and sound show) was fascinating. I was particularly drawn to the one below that inexplicably featured a massive papier-mache scorpion on its roof with two Barbie dolls held in its pincers. I like to think of it as the Lady Gaga of trishaws.

Trishaw driver's contribution to the feminist discourse?

Little Momma

On Saturday night we ventured along to the riverside to enjoy some drinks and a bit of food. Thanks to more teacher-based forward thinking and a downloaded list of restaurants we headed towards Little Momma. A small, family run restaurant, the warmth, welcome and good food made for a very enjoyable evening. I was also taken by the family’s very ancient dog that wandered about with no teeth and a wonky hip. But that’s just me and probably goes some way to explaining why I don’t write reviews on TripAdvisor – noone wants to know about the wonky hipped dog (more’s the pity).

The Geographer Cafe

We enjoyed a lazy Sunday brunch at the Cafe on the corner of Jonker Street, listening to some of the Rat Pack’s finest and taking in our surroundings. Appropriately enough, given the area it is in, the Cafe has the feeling of being an old, established part of Melaka but in fact is only just ten years old. It is the sort of place I could imagine myself in the 1940s, sipping on a cocktail with the perfectly manicured red nails that all women of that era seemed to have. Instead it was nasi lemak and a fresh pineapple juice – not quite so glamorous but very welcome. The Cafe features live jazz on weekend evenings and is a place we would definitely return to.

Not on our list…

So, why a tale of two cities? Well, I have just gone through all the things that we were hoping to find in Melaka, that you will read about in various other travelogues, and for which we were not disappointed. What follows probably won’t make it into the Luxe guide to Melaka but is the true representation of about 30% of our weekend, and is best summed up with these photos:

Nothing says intrepid travel adventures like KFC

Friday night became a calamity of driving round Melaka’s suburbs trying to find somewhere to eat, stopping in a Tesco and finding a two-headed pineapple and a range of Shandy called ‘Anglia’ and ending up at KFC. Saturday morning was spent again driving around the very same suburbs looking for a garage to repair the flat tyre that had mysteriously appeared over night.

Unlikely to feature in Tripadvisor's top 10 things to experience in Melaka

One final thing that is also unlikely to make it into the guidebooks: judging by half of Mister Noodle’s photos Melaka is also a good place for observing middle-aged men going about their business. We have pictures of men on bikes, pictures of men who look suspiciously like Malaysian versions of Johnny Hallyday, pictures of men smoking and playing board games,  and finally pictures of men talking to cockatoos:

Somehow I don’t think I have married Suffolk’s answer to The Sartorialist. However, as I am responsible for taking a photo of a KFC sign reflected in a car window and previously snapping trolleys in Ikea we are probably well suited. Who knows, maybe one day National Geographic will bid for our combined photo library…

Show me the money – or the cauliflower sheep

2 Jun

A recent trip to the supermarket in Singapore introduced me to these, um, delightful creatures.

The carrot and stick approach to financial security

I would have loved to have been in on the design meeting for this range of goods. I imagine it went something like this:

“Right, we need to revolutionise the money-box. The best way to do this will be to sell them along with potted plants, next to the escalator. What else?”

“I’m thinking fruit.”

“Yes! And farm-yard animals.”

“Exactly. Fruit-shaped, farmyard animal shaped money boxes. We’ll make our fortune”.

And lo, the cauliflower sheep* money-box is born.

However, I don’t think I would have wanted to be in on the meeting that came up with this one – as spotted in our hotel’s gift shop in Borneo. Yes, it is a durian. The king of fruit. I’ll leave the rest up to your own contemplation….

*The exact species rendered in vegetable form is a bone of contention in our household at present. Mister Noodle is convinced it is a pig. A cauliflower pig?!! Don’t be ridiculous man.

No rest for the Noodle: Orangutans, families and German philosophers

1 Jun

Whizz, whizz, whizz and the last couple of months have flown by in a blur of all sorts of things other than writing blog posts. I have attempted to sit down and write this update post several times to no avail. There is just so much to include that I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to risk inducing a bout of narcolepsy in anyone reading it. So here’s a little taster of what has been going on in the House of Noodle…

House of Noodle, boutique hotel, opens for business

We knew April was going to be a busy month for family and visitors – ok, probably not as busy as it was for the Middleton/Windsor households, but still hectic by Noodle standards. Mister Noodle’s parents flew in from London, his brother popped over from China and one of his oldest school friends and their girlfriend came via Hong Kong. Having five visitors, all new to Singapore, and all with us at the same time has been a great way of looking at our adopted home afresh and also means that the House of Noodle now has an abundant supply of towels, bedding and champagne glasses (bookings always welcome). So, five visitors, two weeks and the little red dot to explore. What to do….

Checking in at Chinatown

Explore Singapore!

We went down some of the well-trodden tourist routes, like the night safari, Singapore Slings at Raffles, taking in the waterfront area at night.We also tried some things that were new to us Noodles as well as to the rest of our party. Our cycling trip to Pulau Ubin, the small island off Singapore, was one particular highlight. We cycled, we wildlife spotted, we laughed – and I brought all my previously acquired Brownie/Famous Five experience to the fore by remembering to pack a picnic…well, some cheese rolls and biscuits at least.

Boat to Pulau Ubin - state of the art health & safety signage

And beyond…

We also got to venture further afield…

Inspired by posts from the wonderful Notabilia and Flora we decided to take a trip on the old Malaysian train line from Tanjong Pagar station to Johor Bahru, across the causeway. It is an experience that is very time limited as the line, in its present form, will close in the summer.  My father-in-law loves anything with a whiff of diesel and the glimpse of an engine and getting the opportunity to nose around the abandoned trains at the old Johor Bahru station was quite an experience.

We also made a five-day visit to Sarawak, Borneo with Mister Noodle’s parents. I will post separately about this shortly as it was a quite incredible adventure – jungle trekking, river dolphin spotting, orangutan watching and blowpipe firing – and all only an hour’s flight from Singapore. I used to live an hour away from London, but never met anyone like this…

Or saw views like this…

Sunset, Damai Beach, Sarawak

And then there were none

Barely was there enough time to take in the eerie quiet or do the washing after all our visitors had left and Mister Noodle and I were packing our spotted handkerchiefs to head off on separate adventures – Mister Noodle on a trip to Tioman on the Malaysian east coast and me to England.

All I have heard from Mister Noodle about Tioman was that “It was fantastic. The snorkelling is out of this world. We must go back”. So, when we do, I will write a bit more.

As for me and England, I spent a wonderful, whistle-stop week catching up with some of my nearest and dearest and inhaling great lungfuls of cool air. The last few weeks in Singapore have been stifling for a Suffolk girl so I relished the chance to wear jeans and not feel like I was going to collapse in a heap like a melted ice cream. Suffolk in spring is really quite beautiful…

Darling buds of May

So there we have it. A busy two months that have been full of fun, laughter, family and friends. And as for the German philosopher – here’s a bit of Goethe for a rainy Wednesday afternoon: ‘There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings’. I came across this quote earlier in the week and it summed up a lot of what the last few weeks have been about and how important our families have been in all that we have done since moving out here. Both sets of parents have been wonderfully behind us with our move to Singapore and it has been great to be able to share some of it with Mister Noodle’s family. At the same time, spending time with them here, and then with my own side of the family back in England, is a reminder of how very important our roots are, wherever our wings may take us.

So, on that pondering note I shall sign off. As I think Mister Noodle’s father would agree, it has been a busy time…

Taking in the sights

Poodle Noodle reacts to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud

24 May

Ever one to keep abreast of international developments, Poodle Noodle is taking preventative measures of his own against the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

"I want to be alone"

If I didn’t know him better I would be flattered to think it was a reaction to my departure from Suffolk last Friday. Given he takes no notice of me whatsoever on Skype, I doubt this to be the case.

The picture is also a good representation of how I feel about blogging at the moment. Not because I don’t have anything to write about, to the contrary – the last month has been so packed full of visits from family, new adventures and trips away that I don’t know where to start. Maybe just a couple more days with my head under the blanket…

Poodle Noodle on a mission

12 Apr

Whilst I was enjoying travels in Malaysia at the weekend, it appears that Poodle Noodle fancied a bit of a change of scene too. Saturday afternoon seems to have been spent soaking up the Suffolk sunshine whilst trying to dig his way to Singapore.

Having prepared the ground start digging

Although he ran out of energy before he had successfully tunneled his way here I have been reliably informed that the hole he did manage to dig is big enough for someone to fall in. Ah, the ever-helpful westie! I shall be seeing him in a month’s time (not because he will have successfully completed his great escape tunnel, but because I am UK-bound for a week) and may have to have a few words about how to constructively use his time. Blogging, maybe?

Playing with the petrolheads (a weekend at the Malaysian F1)

11 Apr Petronas Towers, KL

Since moving to Singapore I have discovered quite a few things about myself that I didn’t know: I actually like avocados, contrary to popular belief I won’t go into complete meltdown being away from home (though it is hard), and most surprisingly of all I quite like Formula 1 racing. Admittedly, my introduction to F1 was at the uber-cool, visually stunning Singapore Night Race in 2010. If you can’t get excited watching very fast, very expensive cars race against a glittering city skyline backdrop at night then it probably isn’t a sport for you. Singapore was so much more than the race alone – converting the roads that are at the heart of the city into a super-slick race track means the whole country gets bitten with a bit of F1 fever. Even the cake shops get in on the action…

Croissant to go

So, when friends suggested to Mister Noodle and me that we travel with them to Kuala Lumpur this weekend for the Malaysian Grand Prix we jumped at the chance. Living in Singapore we are incredibly spoilt for travel – so many destinations are only a short flight away and at just under an hour Kuala Lumpur is the closest. We flew out Friday night and were back home by 11pm again on Sunday.

Unlike Singapore, the Malaysian Grand Prix takes place at a dedicated track – Sepang International Circuit – just outside the city. As first time visitors we opted to stay at an out-of-town hotel, situated between the track and the airport. In hindsight we probably should have just plumped for a city hotel as the nightlife of Putrajaya was a little limited (with the exception of the mass karaoke session being conducted in Chinese right below our hotel restaurant on the Friday night) and the hotel a little, um, odd.  By the end of the weekend it felt a bit like staying in the middle of a resort designed by a group of Disney artists, tasked with conveying the theme of Aladdin  by using a visual game of consequences – no one seemed to know what the other had designed until it was all built. However, as we were travelling with the same friends who got to experience our weird CNY break with us, we felt things were looking up: we had moved on from surroundings whose only distinguishing feature was a burnt-out warehouse to a backdrop that was more industrial estate chic (lots of pruned trees surrounded by concrete). We did, however, get the opportunity to sample a bit of KL during the day on Saturday taking in, amongst other sites, the iconic Petronas Towers.

Petronas Towers, KL

So, to the race itself. We got 3 day passes and went to both the qualifiers and the race. We opted for hillside ‘seats’ which basically involved staking your claim to a bit of grass on the hillside by the track and not moving. By the Sunday race, after 2 days in 30 odd degree heat, and a few Saturday night tipples, it also afforded the luxury of being able to lay down. Albeit this involved lying down on the flattened cardboard boxes our friends ingeniously snaffled from a local supermarket. As we arrived at the track on Sunday, so did a great contingent from Lotus, each driving an Elise, with the odd Aston Martin thrown in for good measure. Inevitably our arrival, documented below, cut slightly less of a dash and did not demand the road being blocked by the police in quite the same way:

Make way, 'Team Cardboard' have arrived

In many respects Sepang didn’t have the glamour quota of Singapore and there were a few things that left a little to be desired – the on site food, facilities and general organisation (there was a complete lack of queues – something so hard for a Brit to deal with at any public event). Still, we had a great time. Sepang was much more about the racing and having enjoyed this experience, albeit in a different way to the Singapore Grand Prix, I think I may be slightly more than just a fair-weather F1 fan. I am already getting excited at the prospect of Singapore in September and to demonstrate why, I turn to the wonderful BBC who put together this spine-tingling promo for the 2010 qualifiers:

Hopefully by September my F1 knowledge will have increased enough that I feel confident writing a post about the actual race. At present my knowledge extends to knowing who won yesterday (Vettel), that one Brit was happy (Button) and one was…um…not (Hamilton), and that everyone was hoping for a bit of rain as the going gets really tough at Sepang when it is slippery.

PS: One other thing I discovered about myself whilst in Malaysia – opting for the Sunday morning lie-in isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. According to my friend I missed the opportunity of seeing the entire Toro Rosso team (comprising 40 young Italian men), who were staying at our hotel, getting ready to leave for the track on Sunday morning. Hey ho, some you win, some you snooze!