Singapore Mini-Break

Hello! I hope this finds you well. Me, life at the moment consists of surviving the day with two little ones, ideally in intensive air con, then falling asleep at 8pm. If I am lucky I might even get a midday nap in, or simply fall asleep on the couch while the children play. Mother of the year! Actually we have had a lot of playdates and events recently too as the school (and work for many) year comes to a close. Friends are jetting home on holidays while we bunker down for the summer, stock our freezer with ice cream and popsicles and play the baby waiting game.

One fun thing we did do recently was get away to Singapore for the weekend. My cousin and his wife had recently moved there with their little girl, and as we were both expecting new babies we wanted to visit before the babies arrived (which theirs did 3 weeks early the day after we left! Hi Pip and handsome Seb! xx).

I hadn’t been to Singapore since I was a teenager and didn’t really remember it well. As it is the other central expat hub in Asia I had expected it to be similar to Hong Kong, but in fact I found it really different! It was certainly a lot cleaner and better functioning, and I can imagine a much more practical place to live with kids. Of course it is unbearably hot just like here but without the seasons, and there is less of the awesome HK-Chinese culture that we love about Hong Kong. Both cities seem to have so much to offer, but aren’t too similar.

We loved what we saw of Singapore! We were lucky enough to stay in my cousin’s beautiful condo complete with a tropical oasis-style pool, and this was right near the centre of town so everything was easy to get to. Taxis are extremely cheap and they used Uber to get us around, which was so quick and easy and much more pleasant than being flung around in the back of a HK red taxi (Aiyah!). I would definitely recommend using Uber if you travel to Singapore.

A few of the amazing things we did in Singapore include:

  • Taking a car to Faber Peak and riding the Cable Car to Sentosa. This is a lovely way to see Singapore from above and once you arrive at Sentosa there is LOADS to do. We took a cab to Tanjong Beach Club, which was awesome. The kids (and adults) can swim in the pool or relax on one of the many sun loungers, and drinks and lunch can be ordered while you’re there. The menu is fairly extensive with lots of delicious healthy options for the whole family. I could see myself lounging here on a kid free afternoon with a few cocktails and a good book too!13435792_817073461726073_1239919382_n13454114_817073635059389_2026417294_n13435993_817073498392736_5978355_n
  • Dinner at a Hawker Centre. Singapore is famous for its hawker centres, which are basically just food courts but with really good quality Asian food for insanely cheap prices. Think $2.50 for a plate of steamed buns or rice noodles. We went a bit overboard and sampled quite a few cuisines, my favourite being the delicious mixed Satay and of course my trusty rolled rice noodles, which I’ve become addicted to since living in China. YUM! 13413901_817073575059395_1744768945_n13444440_817073548392731_2038846119_n13453664_817073581726061_1483396289_n
  • Dinner at Lucha Loco in Duxton Hill. Delicious Mexican share plates with a buzzing outdoor atmosphere, the only downside was that I was unable to sample the margaritas!
  • Singapore Zoo! This was a highlight for me because I love zoos and that is one thing we are really missing here in Hong Kong. Yes, there is the free “zoo” with birds and monkeys and the government playground you can find anywhere. But there’s nothing like what we had in Sydney, and the kids and I would often spend an afternoon at the zoo before we moved. Singapore’s zoo is even better in that it’s completely flat and easy to manage with a pram. The way the zoo is set out makes it easy to get up close to the animals, and there’s a dedicated kids area that we didn’t get time for but would definitely check out next time. You can also affordably pay for access to the little train that takes you around the zoo if you are worried about tired little ones (or adults!). Another great thing about this zoo is that you can hire tandem carts to pull around for older children, which is a big bonus as they do get exhausted with all the walking (and the heat – HK Disneyland take note). 13453929_817073605059392_554966090_n

J sadly had to leave halfway through the weekend to head to a conference in Germany, which meant I was flying home solo with the kids but it was totally fine. Our kids are very seasoned flyers by now and Singapore airport is AWESOME! There is so much to do there, even though we just hung out at the (huge, fun) kids play area.

While we were there we actually ran into some people we know through Heike’s gymnastics class who were also heading back to HK after a long weekend. While chatting they told me they travel to Singapore a few times a year because the kids love it that much – they stay at the Shangri La at Sentosa and do the theme parks (I seriously can’t wait to do this!) and often extend the stay for a week if one of them is there for work. It really is a kids paradise, much more so than Hong Kong. A friend of ours is always there for work so his wife and I have already started planning our next trip.

We flew with Cathay and leaving on their 8am flight meant we arrived on Friday in time for lunch, and left on their lunch time flight a few days later. While it is one of the longer flights within Asia (3.5 hours) it’s very easy and transit to and from Singapore airport is fast and efficient.

Highly recommended as a long weekend from Hong Kong or a transit destination from Aus for a few days – we can’t wait to go back!

Z

 

Shopping Trip to Shenzhen

When we moved to Stanley a few months back J’s work colleagues asked him if his wife was a Tai Tai. A Tai Tai is basically a Cantonese term for a woman who doesn’t work and spends her days at lunches and the gym while the helper does the work around the house. So while Tai Tai is basically my dream job description, he defended my honour and said that I was “a very hands on Tai Tai”!! Thanks babe! Jokes aside I think it’s hard to be a true Tai Tai when you have kids under 5, but imagine once they’re all at school it would be quite the appealing lifestyle, if slightly mind numbing at times…

Despite being a “hands on Tai Tai” (LOL) I do get to enjoy lots of luxuries here that I never got to enjoy at home. I get my nails done semi-regularly, I can always get to the supermarket child free if I need to, we have regular date nights and I get loads of one on one time with my kids. I also occasionally get to catch up with girlfriends alone in the middle of the day. I know, it’s pretty crazy!

Recently at a dinner with friends we were told about a guy who organises day-trip shopping tours to Shenzhen, which is just over the border in China. For those who don’t know, Shenzhen is a fairly new Chinese city (it became a “Special Economic Zone” in 1980) that has grown from a town of 30,000 to a city of over 10 million in 30 years. Nuts! China boggles the mind sometimes. Because of its proximity to Hong Kong, loads of locals commute there for work or vice versa, and we are often meeting people who are from SZ or  have to commute there regularly (even J often has to go there for functions).

A trip to Shenzhen is sort of a rite of passage for anyone new to Hong Kong and despite it being a fairly easy train ride away, I’d always put it in the “too hard” basket. But once we had this contact, it seemed pretty doable – a nice air conditioned drive, my first trip into China, a guide of sorts who would show us around and even carry our shopping bags! So we booked in a date and got organised.

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Franki, our (mostly) trusty tour guide!

By the time the actual trip rolled around I honestly didn’t need anything and couldn’t think what I would possibly buy, but I was still excited for the day out with friends and the experience. You hear loads of stories about SZ – the awful toilet situation, the dangerous characters, the forceful sales people – so I was keen to see it for myself.

We met at my friend’s place in the Mid Levels and were picked up a 9am. There were four of us in the van so we had plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the journey. Our guide, Franki, had brought the forms we needed to fill in to cross the border so we quickly filled in those and then started chatting away. We told Franki we were interested in bags, sunglasses etc. but also all loved homewares and interiors, so he agreed he would take us to the main mall (Lo Wu) before driving across town to a big homewares centre.

It only took us about 45 minutes to reach the border, and when we got there it was easy to find the counter where we would apply for our Shenzhen Visa. All Hong Kong residents are entitled to a 5 day visa to Shenzhen only (so no other parts of China) that you can apply for on the spot. We worried about how long it would take but it was all done in around half an hour. Then we were off for our day of shopping!

We learnt a really hard lesson early on…except by the time we learnt it, it was no longer early. Our driver took us first into his recommended shops for glasses, which was great although let’s face it, maybe he gets a cut of whatever they make when he takes us in? I bought a pair of *cough* “Tom Ford” sunnies and another friend bought a few extremely good quality “Ray Bans” for her husband and friends. The pricing isn’t crazy cheap, you’ll still pay around $300HK ($45AUD) for a good pair of fakes – but when the originals are $200-400 it’s a bargain. You absolutely can’t tell they’re fake – J thinks they probably all come from the same factory. So it is worthwhile if you’re into that thing.

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For glasses

ANYWAY we were all keen to look at bags and shoes so we got taken to another of the “recommended” shops to look at those. Like all the shops, all they have on display (for legal reasons) are Mulberry and Michael Kors (no idea why they get away with just these two?), but these guys had tens of catalogues full of EVERYTHING else you could imagine. Celine, Chloe, LV, Chanel, Prada. Gucci, Fendi, Valentino, Tods, even Yeezy. And then we all got kind of crazy. We wanted to see it all!

Of course, it took them about twenty minutes to go and “fetch” each individual thing we wanted to see. And whenever we asked about price, they would say “later, later”. Meanwhile we all got attached to certain items, got a bit excited, had a few more bags and shoes than we really needed or wanted. And then they hit us with the price.

The initial prices were insane. They were asking one friend for $3900HK (almost $800AUD) for a fake Chloe bag. And sure, the original costs about five times that, but none of us were willing to pay that for a copy. We managed to talk them down (of course!) but the final prices still didn’t sit right with us…we were counting out the money, about to hand it over, when we just looked at each other and silently decided, no. This was crazy. We were leaving.

Then came quite a scary experience of having the main owner of the shop follow us out yelling at us and quite forcefully grabbing my friend on the arm. It was amazing how persistent he was! He followed us everywhere for about ten minutes as we tried madly to navigate our way out and up the lifts to another shop that had been recommended to us by a friend, who is also a tour guide. We thankfully made it away without too much drama but were all pretty shaken up and exhausted after having spent two hours getting carried away in the one shop.

Anyway, once we found the next shop we had realised our mistake and fine tuned approach. We didn’t want to see a single product until we had been given a price. And typically, the shop owner responded well to this and the prices we were quoted were much lower than the first shop! Oh well, a lesson learned. This would be my main recommendation for anyone heading there themselves – don’t let them muck you around on price! And have an idea in your mind of what you are willing to pay, then don’t budge from that. If they don’t budge either, it’s maybe not meant to be.

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For bags

I ended up getting a “Louis Vuitton” bag I have wanted for ages (just the typical oversize carry bag) as well as a really very gorgeous “Celine” bag with a long strap that I have since examined in the Celine store and determined is a fairly excellent copy! It still cost me about $1200HK but I think was very worth it. I left very happy although my friend was very disappointed she missed out on the Chloe she’d fallen in love with in the first shop. Such an annoying experience!

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Some of my purchase #madeinchina

Instead of braving the food hall (which is apparently quite good) for lunch we walked the short distance from the mall to the Shangri-La, where we’d made plans to meet up with our driver. This was a great plan that was put forward by a member of our group who’d been before – delicious food in a comfortable setting, and proper toilets. A definite win for the heavily pregnant among us! We actually had a terrible customer service experience there but let’s be honest, that’s Hong Kong/China for you.

From there we were picked up and headed over to the homewares centre. It was scorching hot and we were all already pretty exhausted by this point, but it was nice having the opportunity to see a bit more of the city with the car. We only had about an hour to explore the shops once we got there (curse our first two-hour disaster shop) and while there were loads of lovely shops most of them fulfilled fairly specific needs. There were some great rug shops but I didn’t find them to be any better value than what I’ve seen in Hong Kong, and there were a lot of awesome lighting shops but then, how often do you need lighting? We didn’t buy anything but had fun browsing!

All in all we had an awesome day and I would happily go back again – I’d love to take my Mum there for the day using the driver, just for the experience and the “China” trip. Highly recommended for any locals and any tourists visiting Hong Kong on a slightly longer trip.

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Obligatory selfie stick shot on the way home – tired but happy!

Z x