CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN THE TROPIC!

Cherry & peach blossoms in the hot & humid island of Singapore?  Yes, no kidding about it.  It’s happening right now in the Flower Dome, even earlier than Japan and Korea.  What a treat!

This first-ever experimental blossom display – Blossom Beats – is presented by the Gardens by the Bay.

Blossom Beats celebrates the delicate nature of life.  It features a good variety of blossoms including cherry (sakura) and peach.  The overall display was designed in the setting of a Japanese garden, decorated with a Torii (a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found in Japanese Shinto shrines), kimonos and other Japanese-themed decorations.

Torii in the midst of a variety of beautiful blossoms

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IMG_2188IMG_2237Near the entrance of Flower Dome, a Japanese garden with cherry blossoms (behind the bridge).

IMG_2109Bonsai arrangement is another highlight in this two-week (only) display.

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It has been almost 9 years now since I last saw cherry blossoms and it was in South Korea.  Though I have also seen it in Japan, it was certainly a joy to have this opportunity to appreciate these beautiful blossoms again, more so for the first time here in Singapore.  I was actually hoping for another holiday in Japan later this month for a true Hanami experience in the parks but my plan could not materialise due to other commitments.  Save it for next time.

IMG_2183Prunus Accolade – pink flowering cherry

IMG_2186Prunus Yodoenis Yoshido which are white in colour

IMG_2203Peach blossom Prunus “Genpei Shidare” which is characterised by flowers of two colours – red and white

IMG_2133OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrunus Fujishidare which has pendulous branches

IMG_2159Close-up of Prunus Fujishidare

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cherry Shirotae (Prunus Shirotae) – known to flower abundantly. Flowers are white and lightly fragrant

IMG_2178Prunus “Okame”

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Later in that afternoon, we were treated with a beautiful traditional Japanese music performance – Blowing in the Sakura Wind : Sounds from Japan – by two renowned musicians from Japan.

Mother & son pair : Kaho Irie, Koto (Japanese stringed music instrument) Grandmaster and Yosuke Irie, Shaku Hachi (Japanese end-blow flute) artiste from Japan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis performance was a joint collaboration between Japan Creative Centre Singapore and Gardens by the Bay, held in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of The Great East Japan Earthquake (11 March 2011) and also in celebration of SJ50 (50 years of Singapore-Japan diplomatic relationship) in 2016.

I was glad that hubby could finally take a breather from his furious work schedule for many weeks now, and joined me in this special experience in the Gardens by the Bay.  I think our government should do more to enforce work-life balance in private corporations and take action against companies that make their employees work like headless chickens!!

Blossom Beats is surely one unique event not to be missed especially for those who have not seen cherry blossoms before.  I imagine it involved massive efforts from many to make it happen.  Beautiful blossoms aside, a visit to the Flower Dome is educational too, as I always find it.  There is always something new to discover, and new knowledge to bring home too.  All we need is just to pay a little bit more attention to what’s being displayed together with the flowers, like these ones below.

IMG_2129 IMG_2161IMG_2224Should there be future cherry blossom displays planned, I think it will great if the designers could consider creating a better Hanami experience like organising the trees more closely in rows and allowing visitors to walk under the trees.

This time, while the blossoms are beautiful, I find the overall display too cluttered with irrelevant decorations such as the huge artificial rocks and wood-carved monkeys from the past display (Dahlia Dreams) that was held over the Chinese New Year period.  These don’t seem to fit into the theme, and the huge artificial rocks are too overwhelming and distracting.  Perhaps there was not enough time to clear them since Dahlia Dreams had just ended on 8 March and the people had only 3 days to put up this new display.

If time permits, I may make my way down to the Flower Dome again for another round of visit before the display ends on 27 March. 🙂

More photos here

CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRITY CRUISE

It’s the seventh day of Chinese New Year and also Valentine’s Day today.

恭祝大家 猴年 好事连年、如意安康!

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Hubby and I ushered in the Year of the Monkey on board cruise ship Celebrity Millennium.

Celebrity Mellennium docking at Laem Cha Bang (8 Feb, first day of CNY)

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We had been spending most part of our Chinese New Year (CNY) away from home in the last few years (mainly in Japan) and for a change this year, we decided to just have a short trip instead.  We jumped to the opportunity to sail with Celebrity Millennium once again when we learned about this 5-night chartered cruise trip to Ko Samui and Laem Cha Bang (Thailand), departing on 5 February. Both of us like sailing on a big cruise ship (this was our fifth time), out in an open sea and we are so blessed that we have never had any seasick problems even at times when the ship was a little rocky due to rough sea conditions.  For us, a cruise trip is always very relaxed but yet there was never a moment of dullness as what many would think so.  There are many programmes and activities lined up for us each day but it is up to us to pick our choices.   We love chilling out at Al Bacio (a cafe on board) over a cup of coffee and a book, or sitting in the balcony of our room looking at the sea and listening to the sound of the waves. In fact, just less than four months ago, we sailed on the same ship for 8 nights in Japan and Busan, South Korea.  It was something very memorable and enjoyable.

On board Celebrity Millennium, the mood of CNY celebration was vibrant.  The ship was decorated for the occasion and the climax was on the eve of CNY. There was a Chinese menu for re-union dinner with Pen Cai (盆菜) specially prepared by a chef and his team of assistants from a Hong Kong restaurant.  In normal time, only western food, buffet and fusion food are served.  Abalone Yusheng was available too at additional costs.  There were also God of Fortune, countdown party etc.   We even had fire-crackers!  I mean the electronic ones! 😀

Abalone Yusheng

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Little surprises found in our room on the eve of CNY

Pen Cai

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This dish was actually served in a pumpkin and each serving was for a minimum of four people.  Since there were just two of us, we were served this mini portion in a bowl instead and it was in addition to the western meal we opted for.  The Pen Cai was really good!

God of Fortune who is actually the chief engineer of the cruise.  He was accompanied by the Hotel Director.

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God of Fortune made his first appearance at 7:30pm to distribute Hong Baos (red packets with money in them, a CNY tradition) to young children and we also had the opportunity to take photo with him.  He made his second appearance at the Grand Foyer where we had the party, just before midnight for the countdown.  By the way, the God of Fortune is a handsome Caucasian man! 🙂

Another surprise for the night!

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This ice-carving of a Monkey holding a peach was unveiled right after we ushered in the Year of the Monkey, by the captain of the cruise.  It was just so attractive that many rushed to take a photo with it.  Some even touched it as if they would receive some good luck by doing so, just like many did so with the God of Fortune!

Video of CNY Countdown Party (7 Feb)

So we really had a great time that night and it is definitely another precious travel memory to be cherished for the rest of our lives.  It has been so many years since we last actually had so much fun celebrating CNY!

The cruise trip would had been perfect if not for the adverse weather/sea condition at Ko Samui that prevented all of us who had signed up for shore excursion to proceed with our plans that day.  Hubby and I were all excited about exploring Ko Samui as it was our first time there but it was not meant to be 😦  While we appreciate that our safety was of utmost concern of the captain, the compensation (US$50 per room) was almost next to nothing and it came too late (after I had done my shopping on board and settled my bills at the front desk!).  So we decided to use it to try out luck on roulette at the casino.  No luck though! 😀

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Back in Singapore since the third day of CNY, we are getting into the mood of CNY celebration after a few years’ of break.  Today, I was all happy and excited to see lion and dragon dances, one of CNY rituals, at the places that I went to.  That’s a bonus for being home in this time of the year!  I like lion dances a lot since young and I remember my parents had paid for the troupe to perform at our home then.

Video of Lion and Dragon Dances seen on 14 Feb

MID AUTUMN FESTIVAL AT THE GARDENS

After visiting the Flower Dome for the Celebration of Chrysanthemums floral display, I decided to stay on for the lantern sets display in the Gardens by the Bay since I was already there.  If I don’t remember wrongly, the lanterns event held in celebration of the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节), started in 2013 at Gardens by the Bay but I had not been to the past two events.

With my mask on, I sat on a bench in one corner of the gardens and waited patiently for the lantern lights to come on at 7pm.  But they didn’t, not even 15 minutes past 7pm.  It was only after I approached a staff that I realised that the lanterns event that evening was the first day, and Minister Khaw Boon Wan was on his way to the Gardens by the Bay to grace the opening of the event at 7:30pm.  So I decided to wait for another short while and luckily I did or I would have to miss the event again due to the bad haze condition in the days that followed.

Minister Khaw and his entourage making their way in for the opening ceremony

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After witnessing the very simple ceremony to light up the lantern sets by Minister Khaw, I had to rush through the lantern sets (spread out in various locations in the gardens), and even give a few of them a miss because I didn’t want my hubby to wait for me too long for dinner.

Birds Singing in Harmony – at the main entrance of the Gardens by the Bay

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Arches of Floral & Insects

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This year, there is a total of 17 lantern sets compromising of some 300 handmade lanterns.

Otters and Koi Fish

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Year of the Goat – In conjunction of Singapore’s 50th birthday, these specially designed goat lanterns were hand-painted by the public, in the form of a competition

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I found the goat lanterns too cluttered up, thus making it a bit difficult to appreciate the painting on them.

Lively-looking Giraffes and Zebras

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The 12 Chinese Zodiac.  Can you recognise them all? 

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At the Supertree Grove area, there were also food street, cultural performances, games such as solving lantern riddles (猜燈謎) and huge vertical Chinese chess game, but I didn’t have the time to check them out.

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Lions, Tigers & Jaguars

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Garden Rhapsody @ Supertree Grove (25 September)

Racial Harmony (Indian & Malay)

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More animal lanterns along the way to Dragonfly Lake

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Arches of Sea Animals on Dragonfly Bridge.  It was quite crowded on the bridge as visitors continued to flood in.

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Majestic Sea Palace on one side of Dragonfly Lake

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2 of the 3 Dragon Boats on the other side of Dragongfly Lake

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I missed out the Elephants, Dinosaurs, Tree of Life and Racial Harmony (Chinese) lantern sets.

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Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable evening going around “hunting” for the lanterns.

The lantern event at the Gardens by the Bay was spectacular.  I was impressed with the designs and the quality of the lanterns.  I  can only imagine that it was a very massive task and costly too, to put up such a public event.  Perhaps if would be even better if the event could run for a longer duration like 2-3 weeks or even a month so that more people (both locals and tourists) get to enjoy the lovely lanterns.  I think 10 days are a little too short. 🙂

A GETAI EXPERIENCE AT MACPHERSON

It’s this time of the year again – Ghost Festival (中元节) and Getai (歌台).

In one of my previous postings, I have written that I had very little exposure on Getai, and had only watched one or two very briefly in my neighbourhood, in the past.  The recent Getai Challenge (歌台星力量) programme on TV did somehow arouse my slight interest in Getai, and so I thought I should try to go catch one or two this Ghost Festival.

I know there are many Getais taking place island-wide during the Ghost Festival, but I wasn’t sure where to get all the relevant information to decide where to go to until I heard about the 4-night Getai by LEX(S) Entertainment and Productions (丽星娱乐制作) at 韭菜芭城隍庙中元会 (in Macpherson) on radio, on Wednesday (26 Aug) morning.  So, hubby and I found our way there that night.

Arriving there before 8pm (about an hour after the programme started), we could still spot quite many empty seats here and there although the attendance was high.  I noticed that those empty seats were choped (a Singlish word meaning reserved) with something like newspapers put on them.  It took us a while to finally manage to find two seats separated apart with a couple in between us.  I tried to negotiate with the wife to shift one seat to the right/left so that my hubby could sit together with me.  She refused, citing the reason that her view would be blocked by the person in front.  I knew that was a crap because the seat in front was empty!  On my left, there was an old lady sitting on two chairs!  I also tried to request her to let me have one seat but she said her friend was coming.   The truth was, I have overheard her telling someone that her friend was not coming anymore and the seat actually remained empty through out!  So that was one not-so-nice experience.  Why did these aunties behave so selfishly?

That night, the Getai was hosted by Hao Hao (皓皓) , Li Pei Fen (李佩芬)and Zheng Ying Ying (郑盈盈).  There were quite a number of singers, each sang about 2-3 songs, either in Cantonese, Hokkien or Mandarin.  Except Hao Hao and MediaCorp artist Chen Tian Wen (陈天文), we were not familiar with the rest of the singers and their singing.  Never mind about that though, since we were there to get an experience with a real outdoor Getai.

The three emcees for the night (left to right) : Hao Hao, Zheng Ying Ying and Li Pei Fen.  Emceeing aside, they also changed a few sets of costumes during the night. 

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Performance by singers such as Fu Qing Ling (符庆铃)、Lin Shi Ling (林诗玲), Zhong Ping & Zhong Jin Ling (钟平 & 钟金玲) and Huang Hao Feng (黄浩峰)

Fu Qing Ling (符庆铃)

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Lin Shi Ling (林诗玲)

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Zhong Ping & Zhong Jin Ling (钟平 & 钟金玲)

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Huang Hao Feng (黄浩峰)

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I can’t comment much about the performances that night since I am not familiar with the singers.  I felt that the mood  only got a little better when Chen Tian Wen made his appearance with two songs, including “Unbelievable” that shot him to fame recently.

Chen Tian Wen in his Elvis Presley’s outfit

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It finally reached the climax when Hao Hao took over the stage with 3 songs, including two renditions that he performed at the Getai Challenge.  Undoubtedly, he was the best that night.  He is definitely a Getai darling, and has won a very distinctive, loud applause for his performance.  We enjoyed his segment the best.

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Throughout the night, I observed that the audience, made up of largely senior citizens, were very inconsiderate.  They talked a lot and that was very annoying.  So, that was another not-so-nice encounter for the night.   It made me wonder if these people were actually there to enjoy the Getai or to talk.  If they wanted to talk or to catch up with friends, surely there is a better place than at the Getai!

We left after Hao Hao’s performance.  At least, he made us feel that our time spent that night was not so wasted.

On the following night, we actually went back to the same Getai for its final night there.  Some Taiwanese Hokkien singers were performing.  I didn’t know that Taiwanese singers come to perform at our Getai too, until I read about it recently.  So, I was keen to see how different their performance was.  The whole place was overly packed with people, so packed that many were standing, shoulder to shoulder very tightly.  I later read on newspaper that some 7,000 people were there that night!  There were a lot of pushing and rough actions among the standing crowds, as people tried to make their way out or get further in to have a better view.  I felt like a roly-poly toy being pushed around!  Why couldn’t the people behave in a more civilised manner?  It would have been better if the Getai organiser had a crowd control system (there was none at all) like having helpers to usher the crowds, designate proper space for standing audience, provide clear walking paths with barricades and provide a separate area slightly further away from the audience for the hawkers who were selling drinks and food.

The second night was definitely one terribly uncomfortable experience for us and we left after just two songs.

A TASTE OF SINGAPORE NIGHT FESTIVAL 2015

The Singapore Night Festival 2015 kicked off last Friday (21 August).  This annual Festival is now in its eighth year, but I had never been to any of them in the past!    There are many activities and events (whether ticketed or not) in Singapore that interest me, but many a time, the thought of the extreme crowds especially in non-ticketed events, puts me off.  For ticketed events like concerts, musical and orchestra performances, they are getting more expensive and I have to be more selective these days in order not to burn my pocket!

I finally went to Singapore Night Festival last Friday night, for the first time in my life. I had decided that I should at least for once, get an experience of this festival, or I wouldn’t know if I have been missing something interesting in life!  And If I enjoyed it, then I could consider going again.

Browsing through the programme booklet which I was given on my way to the National Museum of Singapore, I was impressed with the packed line-up of events for the two weekends, but I knew I could only sample a few in that short three and a half hours that I planned to spend.  By the way, one thing that impressed me that night was the manpower whom I believe were volunteers, that were stationed in various locations to guide and assist the visitors with directions, information etc.  Most of them were young people, and the few that I spoke with were all very friendly and helpful.

My first stop was the National Museum of Singapore where The Anooki Celebrate Singapore would be shown on its facade.  I was there about 15 minutes before the first display at 730pm.  It was already packed with crowds but still comfortable enough for me.  I enjoyed the Anooki’s display so much that I actually stayed back to watch it again twice instead of moving on to catch the Alchemy at the front lawn of Singapore Art Museum at 8pm, as I originally planned.

The Anooki Celebrate Singapore was designed by David Passegand & Moetu Batlle from France.

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Here’s a full video of the 7+-minute display. In this display, the Anooki (Anook and Nooki), world’s smallest yet very energetic Inuits, are seen running amok across the facade of the National Museum in a very entertaining spirit.  Do watch to the end for their special birthday tribute to Singapore

The other two light displays within the compound of the National Museum are :

Le Desir Et La Menace by Cedric Le Borgne (France).  It is a collection of three bird wire sculptures perched on the branches of the National Museum’s banyan tree.

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Drawn in Light by Ralf Westerhof of The Netherlands.  It is a 12m-wide installation made entirely of metal wires hand-bent into the form of a typical Amsterdam-style canal building, rotating continuously above the ground.

The Festival areas were filled with buzz – big crowds, bands and other performances, festival village etc. etc.  So there was not a moment of dullness at all.

A Volkswagen Beetle to be won at the Festival Village!  Many people were seen writing messages on the Beetle as part of the the festival activities.

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Dining under the “stars” at the Festival Village

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A stage in Festival Village – staff were busy getting ready for the next performance

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Caricature artists at work

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Crossing over to Singapore Art Museum, I was keen to catch Act 2 of the Alchemy at 930pm since I missed the first act but I had to give up in less than 10 minutes into the show.  It was super crowded, warm and stuffy despite it being held outdoor.  I was getting uncomfortable.  Apart from the occasional fire props, I could hardly see the performers from where I was!  Given the expected crowds, and it being an outdoor event which presumably would have no constraint on the height of the stage, I wonder why the organiser of this performance did not raise the stage higher up for the audience (especially those at the back) to enjoy the performance better.

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So, I decided that I should not waste my time staying on for the performance but I was having quite a bit of difficulty to get out due to the congestion.  It took more than 10 minutes for me to finally move out of the crowds! If I had to name one thing that I didn’t like about the Festival,  it would definitely be the extreme crowds within the very limited space!  Perhaps it will be better in terms of space, if the future Night Festivals would be held in the new art museum scheduled to open later this year.  The organiser can then make use of the huge open space in Padang (opposite the new art museum) for the various activities.

Fortunately, a few little pleasant surprises here and there as I proceeded to the Armenian Church for its Hanami light display.  That somehow compensated the unpleasant and disappointing experience that I had at the Alchemy performance.

Caught Spark! by World Beaters Music (UK) marching from the Armenian Street on my way

Wow, what a huge crowd at the junction of Armenia Street and Stamford Road waiting to cross the road!  Armenian Street was packed with people too!

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There was a Peranakan variety show earlier on (8-9pm) at Armenian Street but a rock band was performing when I walked past at about 10pm.  The band was so loud that even a young girl was frightened by it!  Oh dear…

I only made a very brief stop at the Peranakan Museum which, not surprising at all, was also swarmed with people.  The museum was opened till 2am, with free admission.

The statue of Queen Victoria at the ground floor lobby of the Peranakan Museum. 

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Peranakan Museum

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Moving on from the Peranakan museum, I felt as though I had entered into a different world for the night, and a little discovery tour too, as I had never been to this part of Singapore at all in all my life.  It was all quiet – a few vehicles intermittently, and there were hardly any souls walking on the street.  What a stark difference and I enjoyed that quietness of the night.

Graffiti on the walls by the side of the Armenian Street, before the Canning Rise junction.  My first time seeing graffiti on a street in Singapore!

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Oops, I actually caught two men smoking at the car park behind these walls.  Is that allowed?

Singapore Philatelic Museum which opened till 12 midnight in conjunction with Singapore Night Festival.  Now I know where the Singapore Philatelic Museum is!

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Freemason’s Hall

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Meditations on Love and Beauty @ Armenian Church which has 180 years of history.  Armenian Church is a national monument of Singapore and again, this was my first visit.  I was interested to see the interior of this building but it was not opened.  😦

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Hanami light display by Cie Mastoc Production (France), in the compound of The Armenian Church.  The light installation was inspired by hanami, Japanese tradition of celebrating the transient beauty of cherry blossoms each spring

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Wandering characters that popped up behind visitors and shared a whispered poem or a word on love

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The Memorial Garden to the Armenians (in the church compound).  A guided tour was on when I was there.

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This sums up my interesting, first exploration of the Singapore Night Festival.  I was glad that I had done so although I was all tired at the end, after all the walking and standing.

It would be impossible to cover many of the programmes within the short duration of this Festival.  Perhaps it would be a good idea to make the Singapore Night Festival a month-long event in every August.  Hopefully, it will be less crowded when the programmes are more spread out over a longer duration.

SHARE A COKE

Come, Share A Coke with Qing!

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The “Share A Coke” Campaign debuted in Australia in the summer of 2011/12.  It has arrived in Singapore for the first time, and now making its rounds on the island, in celebration of SG50 (Singapore’s 50th Birthday on 9 August 2015), as I understood from one of the staff at the Coca-Cola Roadshow.  Oops, SG50 again?  I think we are getting SG50-overload these few months!  Anyway…..

I can’t remember when was the last time I had a glass/can of Coke or any other gassy drinks.  Gassy drinks are just not my cup of tea.  However, I find this personalised can of Coke too hard to resist.  It requires a minimum spend of S$10 on Coco-Cola trademark products in order to get it.  Not that much, I think.

So I parted S$13+ from my wallet, and brought home 6 cans each of Coke, Coke Light and Coke Zero.

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Surely, it is unlikely that hubby and I are going to consume them all.  Before I bought them, I happily thought that it would be a good idea to give them away to people like the cleaners of my block or children from low-income families.  After all, Share A Coke is about spreading happiness.  But alas, a surprise when I opened up the packs!  The cans have words such as You’re The Best, BFF, Chio, I Love You, I Miss You, Dude, Hubby & Wifey printed on them!  Most of these expressions are just not appropriate for the people I have in mind. 😦

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I have taken time to speak with the staff at the roadshow to find out what the campaign is all about, how to preserve my personalised can without opening it etc., but I missed taking notice of the small prints at the bottom of the pack or I would have made a clarification first.  It says “This pack contains a mix of limited edition can designs.  So words said to be terms commonly used or classic expressions in Singapore, have been printed on these cans to make them a limited edition.

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I have decided that I should keep a few cans for our own consumption but how can I best make use of the rest?  I am still thinking about this.  18 cans will be too much to consume, and 12 of them are expiring by the end of this year.

ANOTHER NEW YEAR

This morning, hubby and I went for our first exercise for the year.  At last, after not being able to do so for many months due to hubby’s very hectic work schedule.  With the project now implemented, I am praying and hoping that year 2015 will be a better year for him in terms of work-life balance and his health.

The weather this morning was lovely.  Cool and windy.  It was so good to be back exercising in our Lao Di Fang (老地方, Chinese words meaning our regular place).  I hope we will be able to do it regularly this year as part of our efforts to live well and stay fit.  We are all responsible for our own health and exercise is one way to achieving it.

On the eve of new year, we had a late home-cooked dinner since hubby didn’t get home from work until past 10pm.  Our meal was a little special this time though simple.

New Year’s Eve dinner at home.

Salad in ponzu (sauce made from soy sauce and citrus juice) and olive oil

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Cold green-tea soba, for the first time

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In Japanese tradition, people eat soba, called toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦) on the eve of New Year to let go of the hardship of the year or to ward off evil spirits, and also to wish for long-life.

Simmered daikon (radish) with chicken wing, also my first attempt

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The recipe is from Cook Japanese with Tamako again.  We really liked it.

We then topped it off with a small glass of plum wine (梅酒) and a small piece of cheese cake each from Snaffles to complete our simple yet satisfying meal to end the year 2014.

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2015 is a special year for Singapore as the country celebrates its 50 years of independence.

Taken on 30 Dec, 2014, this is a beautiful 2-minute montage of sketches and graphics on the milestones of Singapore, on the facade of the iconic Fullerton Hotel. This projection was created to commemorate Singapore’s 50th year of independence in 2015.

Whatever the celebrations there may be, I just hope that 2015 will be a year of good health & great joy with less heart-breaking tragedies and catastrophes around the world.  To those who have lost their loved ones in the QZ8501 tragedy on 28 December 2014, may they overcome their pain and grief, and move on with their lives.

May you have a blessed 2015.