Portraying a kaleidoscope of all things travel related mixed with just the right dosage of history and culture, Travel and Beyond is a travel blog written by travel writing couple Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis.
Just outside our door in sunny Singapore, another day has dawned. It had rained heavily last night where the heavens cackled with thunder and lightning zig zagged across the sky. The spectacle doesn’t bother us much; it’s always been this way though for new comers to the island the sound of the thunder can be quite an unnerving experience. The day that dawned however was warm and tepid and the sun shone gloriously erasing all memories and tell-tale signs of the storm the night before.
We live in Singapore but we are not Singaporeans. Just as the adage when in Rome… we do as the Singaporeans do, which means that we’re always spending time outside. Island life over here doesn’t mean sun bathing and surfing but instead the event calendar is filled with a whole lot of festivals and places to visit all year round.
Joseph and I come from different backgrounds and Singapore holds a special place in our hearts. But unlike our home countries, we have never been bored nor have we ever been stuck at home with nothing to do. Beyond our front door lie many a colourful and interesting experiences in this dot sized island we call home. Read on…
Skydiving with a twist – Doing it Indoors!
We aren’t quite ready to jump out off a plane. Well at least I am but not Joseph. The man has extreme fear of height and sky diving is not something he would not even figure in his dreams. So when iFly Singapore the world’s largest indoor skydiving simulator opened, I was the first to line up to get my skydiving fix. You basically dive into a vertical wind tunnel. At a height of 56.5ft and a width of 16.5ft, this indoor skydiving simulator provides true flight seekers a safe adventure sport pass time. The moment the strong gush of wind hits your entire body and whether you intended to or not, alters your facial expression into a fixed wide grin of a loony Pierrot, you suddenly realise that, that very step into the wind tunnel is pretty much how it would have been if you were to step off an aircraft at 15,000 ft. It’s truly an exhilarating moment every time we try it. It’s one our favourite spots whenever we need an adrenaline fix.
Taking a Bumboat to Ubin Island
Some ten kilometres north east of Singapore, lies the country’s last rural corner. Called Pulau Ubin or Granite Island, this boomerang shaped land mass portrays a nostalgic 1960s feel when modern and public utilities were almost non-existent. There are about a hundred villages that still make the island their home. Depending on wells for water and noisy diesel generators for electricity, life here is simply rural. It’s like time has stopped on its tracks here. We either go cycling or trekking but sometimes we just take the 15 minute bumboat ride to dine on some reasonably priced seafood. It’s a fantastic getaway for city weary souls.
Bawling at the Chingay Parade
Singaporeans love their Chingay parade. They even have a cheer for it. It goes like this “Chingay Chingay, we are one! People, People, we are one! Parade, Parade, we are one! Singapore, Singapore, we are one!” It does sound a bit corny but hey, it’s great fun. So what is Chingay? For a splash of gaiety in elaborate style, the Chingay Parade is a festival that originates from the Chinese tradition, where pugilists, dancers, miniature floats and giant replicas of dragons and lions would parade in the streets to celebrate the Lunar New Year. In Singapore however, the festival is celebrated by also showcasing the various ethnic cultures in the country. You have Chinese, Indian, Malay and even Eurasian communities participating in the procession, celebrating the island’s cultural richness. Don’t be surprised to see your local Embassy officials waiving your country’s flag. The whole atmosphere is a fun riot. By the time we get home late at night we would have lost our voices with all the yelling and shouting we do there.
Wide eyed at the Fire Walking Festival
When we first heard of people walking on fire, we had to go witness it for ourselves .We have always been curious about different faiths and the 170-year old tradition of fire walking is something we just had to see. Over three thousand Hindu devotees take on a 5 kilometre procession that ends at the Sri Mariamman Temple to demonstrate their devotion to Goddess Mariamman as they walk barefoot over hot burning coals. The Fire Walking Festival called “Theemithi” takes place just several days before the Festival of Lights, another major celebration in the Hindu calendar of events. The ritual is taken on mostly by men who observe strict vegetarianism and fasting rituals weeks before. The smouldering white, orange and ash coloured embers are prepared in a fire pit about 2.7 metres in length at the temple. At the end of the fire pit is a pool of cow’s milk which devotees walk into to cool their feet from the scorching heat of glowing cinders. Phew!
Participating in the Ramadan Trails
Singapore is a country of many races and many religions. Islam is one of them. Curious about Ramadan, we visited the Sultan Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan for a great way to learn and understand the religion, culture and the diverse ethnic groups that make up the Muslim Singaporeans today. After fasting 30 days in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar a Muslim refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and other vices of the flesh throughout the day. Fasting ends at sunset each day. The Sultan Mosque welcomes visitors to end the day’s fast with them every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in an event called Ramadan Trails that is usually combined with a tour of the mosque. There is a lot of peace and piety in the proceedings. You generally come back with a lot of understanding about Islam and their practices which is a great eye opener these days. The experience is very enriching.
Deepavali – The festival of Lights.
Celebrated between mid Oct- mid Nov, this big festival among the Hindus in Singapore is another big event in the country. All the Hindu homes are decorated with thousands of oil lamps. Serangoon Road which is called Little India is filled with gaiety and crowds throng the area. The Indian restaurants usher in new dishes and flavours. A street party of Indian food gets underway. Hindu friends invite us over. There is much laughter and celebration in this extremely colourful of Indian festivals which celebrate the victory of good over evil. It’s also a festival that is especially dedicated to the Goddess of Wealth. And as this festival draws to an end Singapore gears up for its next biggie.
Celebrating Christmas in the Tropics
Our favourite time of month… Christmas! As most Singaporeans live in apartments, our homes are not gallantly decorated. Instead the streets come alive in celebrating the birth of Christ! In Singapore, the year-end festivities are taken to an extremely exciting extent that walking down the city’s most loved streets would make any frown turn upside down. Orchard Road, Singapore’s ultimate shopping district turns into a myriad of tiny lights as major malls along the busy thoroughfare get decked out in their Christmas best – a sight truly not to be missed. We may never have a white Christmas but the sheer magnitude of the lighting makes celebrating the joyous occasion in the tropics all that more fun.
Singapore has so many things to do and see that I can’t list everything. And if I do, the content is enough to fill a whole book. The waterparks, the day-night zoo, the aquariums, the amusement parks, the food, the amazing Chinatown or the busy Little India, the many food festivals and films festivals that go on throughout the year, cruising along the Singapore river etc. the list goes on.
So there is always something to do almost every day. Many a time we would have missed an event because of prior commitments to another event. So beyond that front door of ours is a busy life filled with fun and work. Should you like to read more about them, you can drop by our blog Travel and Beyond to get a glimpse of what Singapore is all about.
The brainchild of Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis, Travel and Beyond portrays a kaleidoscope of all things travel related mixed with just the right dosage of history and culture. For more updates follow them on Twitter and Facebook too!