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When life gives you airline pillows…

4 Apr

…keep them and make yourself some throw cushions!

Back in December Mister Noodle and I undertook an unexpectedly epic journey to make it home to England to spend Christmas with our families and friends. After a four-day journey from Singapore that took in a street market in Frankfurt and a 2am taxi journey across London we had little to show for our European detour other than a rather sorry lilac blanket and two cushions, snaffled from our Malaysian Airlines flight. The moment we knew that our ‘only ten minutes from Heathrow’ flight was actually heading to Frankfurt, Mister Noodle swung into Ray Mears survival mode and started stuffing pillows, blankets, you name it into our luggage in preparation for sleeping on an airport floor. Thankfully Malaysian Airlines came up trumps with a hotel and the pillows were superfluous to requirements. However, after spending 3 days without our luggage but with our free pillows we became rather attached to the spoils of the MH004 flight (never the sign of a good journey when the flight number is indelibly marked on your brain).

These little pillows have sat, unloved and uncovered in our apartment ever since our return to Singapore in January. However, a sudden spurt of ‘we must make the apartment looked inhabited’ before the exciting arrival of some of our nearest and dearest, means that the pillows lie neglected no longer. With the help of some fabric from Spotlight, a sewing machine from the supermarket, and a blissful Sunday morning spent sewing and listening to the iPod, I now have one-of-a-kind throw cushions. Ta da!

Cushions from Malaysia, bear from Vietnam, fabric from Singapore

The home improvements didn’t stop there. There are another 3 larger cushions including the one below (for which I indulged Mister Noodle’s love of Japanese Anime). I have decided this cushion should become a barometer for my mood. Wistful anime lady – it’s safe to enter the apartment.

Who's that lady?

Godzilla-like monster – stay well clear!

The internationally recognised symbol for Noodle on the rampage.

 Mister Noodle, for reference, today we are on wistful anime lady so it’s safe to come home!

An unexpected brush with art

15 Feb

My last few journeys back from work have been a little fraught. Massive storms seem to find 4.30pm a particularly good time to start raging and have invariably left me sodden and a little shaken. Friday’s episode was so bad that, after dodging lightning with a very flimsy umbrella on an overpass,  I ran in, lunged for my eyemask and buried myself under the covers.*

Anyway, suffice to say I have not found the journey back home very pleasurable for the last few days. As the storms started up again this afternoon I feared I was in for a repeat performance. However, wonder of wonders, the rain cleared by the time I got off the bus and as I sauntered my way home I came across this, oh so carefully placed arrangement on the side of the road:

Isn’t it beautiful? Someone has taken the trouble to tear the leaf into an ‘o’ and arrange the berries and flower and I have absolutely no idea why. The mystery makes it even more appealing and intriguing. I felt as if I had glimpsed behind the wardrobe door into Narnia!

So I skipped on a little more lightheartedly all thanks to an unexpected brush with art. Thank you unknown artist – your work is beautiful and this photo may even make its way onto my wall.

*As a child I hated balloons and had to have indoor fireworks that looked like smouldering dog mess in a biscuit tin. It explains a lot.

Flights of fancy – feathers, fashion and flat pack

2 Feb

…It’s all in a week’s living in Singapore!

Last Monday I took a trip to Jurong Bird Park, situated on the western side of the island. According to the Park’s website it holds over 4,600 birds and is the largest park of its kind in the world. It was certainly a riot of colour, and of noise, when I visited. From beautiful coral pink flamingoes to penguins that were even newer arrivals in Singapore than me, it certainly brightened up an otherwise dreary, drizzly Monday afternoon. The iridescent colouring of some of the birds’ feathers was just exquisite and a great reminder that if you want to find absolute beauty, always go back to nature.

I apologise for the lack of photographs – the weather was not the greatest, I feared my phone camera probably wasn’t up to the job, and I was battling with an umbrella. All in all, not the stuff that National Geographic images are made of! However, I would urge anyone visiting Singapore and looking for more than a whizz along Orchard Road and around the Singapore Flyer, to go. We have Mister Noodle’s parents visiting in a couple of months and we’ll definitely make a return visit. See, so good, you can go twice!

The Bird Park wasn’t my only encounter with feathered visions of beauty in the week. A few days later I took myself along to the Valentino Retrospective: Past/Present/Future at Resorts World Sentosa.

As far as I am aware this is the first large-scale exhibition to be held at the resort and it was a great way to kick things off. The exhibition documents the work of Valentino Garavani (‘Valentino’ to just about everyone in the world) and current Creative Directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. Some of the more recent collections included beautifully constructed cocktail dresses, as above, with intricate feather trim, and even, in one case a most beguiling mini-bustle.

 Looking around the 100 piece collection I was reminded of how I used to sit in front of The House of Elliot on a Friday and the Clothes Show on a Sunday frantically drawing my own creations. Unfortunately the world of couture has yet to come knocking for the ‘House of Noodle’. However I have never shaken that budding eight year old fashion designer’s quickening of the heart, dizzy headed feeling when enjoying fashion and it all came flooding back as I toured the Valentino exhibition. My personal favourites were the 1960s pieces, including this beautiful lace dress commissioned for Jackie Kennedy’s wedding to Aristotle Onassis.  

(The image above is courtesy of a Brides Magazine feature on iconic weddings. Not quite sure if the SJP Sex and the City one is really that iconic but hey-ho!).

So from birds of paradise, via Jackie Kennedy and couture creations, we get to Saturday and…flat pack. On moving to Singapore an inordinate amount of an expat’s time seems to be spent in Ikea purchasing all the things that, in a fit of light-hearted abandon and panic packing, got given away. For nothing. Earlier in the week I had treated Mister Noodle to a rather lengthy one-woman rant about why I would never, ever be buying another wooden rolling pin in my life and by the weekend I was back in Ikea repurchasing more of the stuff we had foolishly scattered to the winds six months ago. Deciding to make this a solo mission (the number of miserable looking couples I encountered there justified this decision) I found myself grappling with two standing lamps, a selection of storage boxes, picture frames, folding chairs and other assorted, bizarrely named pieces of Swedish homeware. I don’t know whether it was the joy of a trip to Ikea sans marital argument or the giddy aroma of rock bottom priced hotdogs, but I felt the need to document what, in my humble opinion, I believe to be supreme trolley packing:

30-odd years (or 30 odd years) of experiencing how my dad can speedily pack furniture into a van* have finally borne fruit!

So, there we have it – my week in pictures. No photographs of the 4,000 birds at the Bird Park but we do have one of an Ikea trolley. David Bailey eat your heart out…and a happy Chinese New Year to everyone else!

Jurong Bird Park, 2 Jurong Hill Singapore 628925
open 8.30am to 6.00pm daily. Admission $18 adult, $12 children.

Valentino retrospective: Past/Present/Future,Resorts World Sentosa. Open until 13th February *plus* opening hours extended from 11am to 11pm 4th February to 13th February. Admission $12 (with various concessions).

*I should clarify that my father is in the auction business, and not a burglar.

Viewing the world in 22 minutes

19 Jan

Two very different experiences I had in Singapore last week have left me ruminating on the same topic: the way my life has altered in oh so many technological ways since moving out here.

Twitter Flitter

Obviously there have been great physical changes that you would naturally associate with a move from rural Suffolk to a tropical metropolis but I think it is the way I conduct my life, in terms of technology, that has altered the most. On a normal day here, before even getting out of bed, I will have read UK newspaper articles via Twitter, checked up on friends and family via Facebook and email, listened to the previous night’s BBC Radio 4 podcast of The Archers and scoured a number of blogs from around the world. As I prepare dinner I can listen to more radio stations online via wireless headphones whilst following a recipe on my phone. In the past five months I have met and made friends via social networking, ordered presents on my phone for delivery to the UK whilst sitting in a Singapore Starbucks… the list is endless. It is all convenient, fantastic and (with the exception of Facebook and email) fairly new to me. However, as I said, two very different experiences last week led me to think a little bit more about the role these particular technological advances should play in my life.

Finding space for ‘my humble study’

On Wednesday I took myself off to the Asian Civilisation Museum. I love the Singapore museums, in much the same way that their Facebook profile picture below demonstrates! One of the first visits we made on arrival to Singapore was to the National Museum and I fell in love with the design and feel of the place, in particular the cleverly laid out spice room which beautifully catalogues all the range of herbs and spices used in Singaporean cooking via Pantone colour-coded kilner jars. It has to be seen to be appreciated!

 Anyway, back to the Asian Civilisation Museum, where a copy of the following poem, My Humble Study by Liu Yuxi, caught my eye:

In my humble study I am
the most virtuous…
I strum my plain old zither,
read Buddhist sutra,
No music to grate my ears,
No office papers to tire my mind
and my soul.

 

The importance of making space for quiet, considered reflection resonated with me. I can keep checking my phone a million times a day, jumping from one subject to another at the speed of light without much reflection, or I can begin to become a bit more disciplined. Just taking time to walk round a museum, surrounded by the wonderful, physical permanence of artefacts centuries old, was a good first step.

Achieving balance

Then on Saturday I went to an event which was, in some ways, a million miles away from the idea of creating the ‘humble study’ : Art Stage Singapore. Having been to the inaugural Affordable Art Fair last November, I was keen to visit another debut international art event to see what artists, works and dealers it would attract. The name check of international artists was impressive: Picasso to Murakami, Banksy to Ai WeiWei. Local artists were also well represented and my fellow blogger, Notabilia, has written a very interesting piece regarding Remaking Art in the Everyday, and the representation of Singaporean artists at Art Stage Singapore.

I was attracted to visiting the show on the Saturday in the hope that I would catch photographer David LaChapelle’s talk in the afternoon. Along with a good few hundred other people I got to hear the photographer talk about his career and the experiences he has had along the way – the good and the bad. In talking about the need for balance in life, LaChapelle referenced the news slogan of WINS, a New York radio station: ‘You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world’. LaChapelle questioned our capacity for really taking in the world in just 22 minutes. How much do we actually absorb? With the advent of Twitter, a whole lot of the world can be boiled down into 140 characters and I would question how much of it I am taking in at the moment. Whilst I can’t take off for a Hawaiian farm retreat in the way that Mr LaChapelle does, I can start to find a bit more balance I think.

So, what have I done with all these philosophical musings? Set up my own study with zither and turned off the radio? No, not yet. I did pay a visit to an abandoned Malaysian cemetery in the Kampong Glam area of Singapore with blogging friends Notabilia and Flora – and I suppose you can’t get much quieter or more reflective than that!

Miles of tiles – the Singapore Eclectic

16 Dec

With Mister Noodle battling the man-flu last weekend, I took myself off on a solo jaunt to a little shopping area close to Singapore’s Chinatown. Originally I set off in search of BooksActually, a treasure trove of books, stationery and trinkets located on Club Street. After only 5 minutes in the shop I could see that I could seriously put a dent in my purse. Books Actually is one of the those places you go in search of gifts and end up seeing as many things that you would like to buy for yourself.

In an attempt to exercise some book-buying self-control, I prized myself away and went on a little wander. Only a few yards from BooksActually I happened upon Amoy Street and some very beautiful, tiled shophouses…

 

This style of shophouse is apparently called ‘Singapore Eclectic’ and more information can be found on the very informative Heritage Trails website.

The pastel painted buildings with their matching tiles are incredibly beautiful but I also like the way the bar below has taken on board the traditional style of its neighbours but with a rather quirky, modern feel and lots of little skulls.

I think this one appealed because I have serious scarf envy at the moment, having seen several women in Singapore wearing the Alexander McQueen skull scarf. What I wasn’t expecting, when I took myself off on a Saturday afternoon bookshop excursion was to come back with tile envy as well!

I will definitely return to the Club Street / Amoy Street area in the new year, with Mister Noodle in tow, as alongside the shops there were lots of rather fine looking restaurants and bars that need to be explored. So much for any thoughts of a new year diet!

Shopping with Uncle Ho (and why I’ll never own an ao dai)

10 Dec

Reproduction propaganda posters bought on Dhong Khoi road

Mister Noodle and I both like shopping and faced with a new urban place to explore we both tend to hit the shops. Saigon was no exception so, eschewing all the other information you can find in much better written blogs and guidebooks, here is a quick rundown of where we went and what we bought…ardent consumerists that we are.

What we got

Like a bad parent I am going to talk about my favourite first – Mr Pham-Van-Tu. This beautiful, handmade bear was discovered in Nagu, a little shop tucked away in the arcade of the Hotel Continental. He is made of silver and ivory striped silk, has fully functioning joints and was throwing himself at customers for a mere 20USD.

A very cultured bear indeed

He seems to be quite at home in Singapore and has even been catching up on the works of the Hotel Continental’s other famous resident, Graham Greene. Mr Pham’s name derives from a little side character in The Quiet American who ‘never…dressed carelessly, [or] said the wrong word.’ Just the sort of name for such a well turned out, respectable little bear.

 No introduction required for our next purchase (or prizes for guessing who chose it)…  

Our very own Uncle Ho courtesy of Saigon Kitsch

I have to say that up against the striped splendour of my bear, Uncle Ho is looking a little lacklustre. However, I have been informed that a style makeover is in the offing with Mister Noodle planning some prop art decoupage. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes! Along with Dogma, Saigon Kitsch is part of a funky two storey shophouse located on Nguyen Van Thu. Both levels are filled with quirky gifts, posters and clothing that have more than a hint of 1960s Vietnam about them.

Zen Monkey, Tara & Kys Gallery

Saigon is also a good bet for interesting art work – the authenticity and originality of some of it has to be taken with more than a little pinch of salt but I figure that if you like it, those sorts of things really don’t matter. Vietnam has very strict laws governing the export of antiques from the country so the chances are that if propaganda posters are your thing, you’ll be bringing back repro ones anyway. As well as the posters above, we also brought back a couple of prints from Tara & Kys Gallery situated at 101 Dong Khoi Street. The shop is worth a visit for its architecture alone. Going up the wooden staircase to the first floor showroom you have a real sense of what the shophouses would have once been like. If houses could speak, I am sure that this one would have more than a few stories to tell.     

What we would have liked to have got were dong, time and a western woman’s proportions no object…

1. Mai Lam military jacket. Mister Noodle would have plumped for one of the beautifully embroidered military jackets at Mai Lam’s at the Hotel Continental. Frustratingly I couldn’t get hold of an image to put on the blog but believe me they are exquisite, which probably explains the 1,200USD price tag. Mai Lam’s is also an interesting place to go just for a bit of window shopping – the garments are draped and hung across old-school wooden furniture and set against a very evocative backdrop of chandeliers and scooters.

2. A bit of bespoke. Saigon is famed for its tailors who can run up a suit in less than 24 hours. We didn’t get our act together this time to put their sewing skills to the test but it’s definitely on our list for our next visit. Since getting back to Singapore I have been given a good tip for a tailors near to the Sheraton Hotel so we’ll make sure we get suited and booted when we are next in town.

3. Oh dear, ao dai. Finally, the ao dai…

I fear that the closest I will ever get to owning an ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, is the one depicted in the print we bought, above. There are many, many elegant women sporting gorgeous silk ao dai in Saigon and I know that I would do nothing for the outfit’s image were I to don one. My Suffolk-girl proportions are just not designed for the slim fitting dress/trouser combination and will have to be consigned, forever, to the list of items I would love to wear but just don’t suit me. Depressingly, with age, this list seems to be increasing and currently includes: converse trainers, cropped trousers, boyfriend fit jeans, hats of any description, and red dresses*.

With the exception of the absent ao dai, we gave Saigon a pretty good run for its money, and have some souvenirs I know we will treasure…along with at least one I hope won’t ever see the light of day outside this apartment. Eager to dispense with the dong at the airport, Mister Noodle purchased a replica Vietnamese army hat. Does it suit him and will he ever use it? Let’s just say it probably belongs on the same list as my ao dai.

*That last one has been off the list ever since the age of seven when my mum told me I looked like a skinned rabbit in a Tammy Girl dress. In hindsight, considering the weird, clingy mohair material, I guess see she was probably right.

More beautiful than a post-it note…

30 Nov

With less than a week to go until the deadline for posting to and from the UK and Far East for Christmas here’s a little reminder drawn from the days before internet and email task lists.

I discovered this clip last Christmas via the British Film Institute’s website and I don’t know if I can put into words just how much I love it. The animation was created for the English General Post Office in 1951 by German animator, Lotte Reiniger. It is an absolutely exquisite piece of animation for something so mundane – final posting dates for Christmas.  I hope you will enjoy watching it as much as I have…and don’t forget to post those parcels!

For 2010 UK Christmas postal deadlines go to: http://www2.royalmail.com/greetings