Panguni Uthiram

Panguni Uthiram is a Hindu festival that is celebrated in Singapore at the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple at Yishun. It is celebrated during the month of Panguni (March-April) and is held to celebrate the marriage of Rama and Sita. (I am always hesitant to explain the backgrounds of traditions for which i only have a rudimentary knowledge so you can read more about the tradition of Panguni Uthiram here.)

To the outsider the Panguni Uthiram festival shares many similarities to Thaipusam. Devotees carry kavadis and/or milk pots and walk a set route or pilgrimage. Unlike Thaipusam, which begins and ends at different temples, the Paguni Uthiram route begins and ends at the same temple. The procession begins on Canberra Drive, moves along Canberra Lane, then Canberra Link before ending at the temple in Yishun Industrial Park A. As with Thaipusam some devotees choose to prove their faith by piercing themselves and the festival is imbued with the same sense of pride, tradition and joy that I’ve witnessed three times at Thaipusam.

What I found to be different to Thaipusam was that for the short while I was there I was the only outsider. Thaipusam has many spectators, but Panguni Uthiram had very few from outside the Hindu community. Ok, as far as I could see there was just me although a gentleman (who seemed to be an organiser) advised that the best time to see the big kavadis was after 4pm. I arrived about 8am but there was still plenty to see and experience.

I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether to post my photos of the day as I couldn’t ask permission from the participants to take their photos, and I specifically focussed on faces, but I do think the photos show the pride and dignity of the Hindu community. If anyone does recognise themselves or someone they know and they don’t want their photo included please leave a message and I’ll remove it pronto!

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DSC01123DSC01124 DSC01126  DSC01131 DSC01115 DSC01141 DSC01144Panguni Uthirami is held at Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple at 10 Yishun Industrial Park A, Singapore 768772.

Tiong Bahru Bird Corner

I’ve blogged before about bird singing areas when I visited the Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club in Ang Mo Kio, and since then I’ve noticed a couple of other smaller bird singing areas around Singapore.

I’m currently completing a university assignment on Tiong Bahru and was struck by the bird singing corner on the corner of Tiong Bahru Road and Seng Poh Road.

Tiong Bahru (2)What struck me was the EMPTINESS of the corner. Not a bird in sight on any of the times I’ve been down that way.

According to the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail the history of the bird corner goes back to the early 80s when the owner of the coffee shop on the corner noticed the crowds that gathered to hear the birds at the pet shop across the road and  built a structure outside his shop to attract business. It didn’t take long for the bird corner to become a popular spot for both locals and tourists.

Back in the day!

Back in the day!

Sadly, the building that house the coffee shop was ‘redeveloped’ in 2003 and the bird corner was also demolished. Although the owners of the hotel that now stands on the site reopened the bird corner in 2008 the bird owners have never returned, and the bird corner stands empty and forlorn.

Drought

We returned to lovely green Singapore in mid-January and have seen maybe 20 drops of rain since. Lovely green Singapore has turned brown and crunchy. The usually lush ferns that sit in the forks of trees are brown and droopy. The grass crackles when you walk on it.

February was the driest month since 1869.

I really hope it rains soon.

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Emily Hill Park. The top photo was taken on January 29th. The bottom one was taken today (March 7th).

DSCF4384 DSCF4387 DSCF4382All of these photos were taken today (March 7th) at Emily Hill Park and if you click here you can see what the park was like in late-January.

Ponderings

Before moving to Singapore I would have assumed that after 3 years living in a place that things would make sense. That I would innately have some insight and understanding into how the country and its people operated, but I keep getting surprised.

Last week I had to go into the National Library in order to access the Singapore Collection to research a university assignment but, lo and behold, the whole floor of the library that I needed was shut. There’d been some issues with the windows and they needed reinforcing and the whole floor was shut for a month. To me and my sensibilities this just seems illogical and inconvenient when there are (I assume) other alternatives that would have been available that would inconvenience library users less.

This post isn’t to argue about the logic of this particular situation but this incident (and another one which involved an ‘interesting’ interpretation of the Dewey decimal system at another library) made me wonder – can you ever be completely at home in a country that you were not raised in? If you move to a place in adulthood will you ever get to a point where the whole place makes sense?

I’ve made some headway with this. I know that if I book a tradesman or a delivery that there is a better than average chance they will turn up EARLY so I put away 40 years of conditioning of tradies/deliveries turning up LATE and make sure I’m home at least an hour before they say they’ll be here (even then I have returned home to find the air conditioning men sitting on the front step).

But can you ever get to the point where a country and its idiosyncrasies stop surprising you?

Boon Teck Road Water Kiosk

DSCF4362Along Balestier Road on the corner of Boon Teck Road stands a cart hosting a couple of urns – one of clean, fresh drinking water and the other with Su Teh tea (it apparently relieves the effects of heat.

In times past when fresh water was a luxury a few of these kiosks sat around Singapore, but this is the last one remaining. The kiosks have always been maintained by charitable institutions and the one on Boon Teck Road is maintained by the charity Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sin Sia.

DSCF4363The water kiosk is on the corner of Balestier Road and Boon Teck Road in the Balestier/Moulmein area. Both water and tea are free, but BYO cup!

Reference: Balestier; A Heritage Trail, 2011, National Heritage Board.

Off The Beaten Track #9: Bidadari Memorial Garden

When we first started geo-caching our very first geo-cache was in the fork of a tree in the middle of a vast open field. It was criss-crossed with footpaths and had lots of big established shady trees and I didn’t for one second stop to wonder about how unusual it was that there was so much empty land in a country where empty land just doesn’t happen!

It turns out that the geo-cache was in the land once occupied by Bidadari cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1907 and when it closed for burials in 1972 over 147000 Christians, Muslims and Hindus were buried there. In 1996 the site was targeted for housing development and the exhumation of graves took place between 2002 and 2007. The development of Bidadari Estate should start in the next twelve months.

DSC01003The original gates of Bidadari Cemetery and 21 headstones were moved onto a new patch of land behind Mount Vernon Sanctuary, but will be moved to a new location once the housing on the old cemetery grounds is completed.

We’ve been having a bit of a drought in Singapore with no decent rain for at least 6 weeks, so the garden was not as lush and green as it would normally be but it was still a lovely, peaceful place. The gates are very impressive and the grounds are extremely well maintained with lots of information boards from the Singapore Heritage Board detailing the history of Bidadari.

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Singapore Heritage Board information board.

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The tombstone of Koona Vayloo Pillay.

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Muslim grave markers.

DSC00987 DSC00998 DSC01002Bidadari Memorial Garden is currently located on Mount Vernon Road. The gates are open daily and entry is free.

* information taken from The National Heritage Board website.

Re-entry

I am very old school when it comes to keeping track of stuff, so on Saturday I got down our wall calendar and updated it with the husband’s travel commitments. I highlight the days he’ll be away in yellow and this is how March looks -

1912482_10152225578626552_1099812592_n22 days of solo parenting joy!

Anybody who has ever solo parented knows how hard it is. I always get lots of sympathy from people but the bit that isn’t talked about, or understood unless you’ve experienced it first-hand, is the re-entry period after the traveling spouse returns home.

If it’s only a few days separation it feels like a bit of a holiday. The girls and I eat easy meals and they may stay up a bit later as I know that the OH will be home soon and help me to get things back on track. However, for longer separations I am more careful and organised. Things can’t afford to get too far off track as I don’t have anyone to help me right them. Dinner is eaten at an earlier time as we don’t have to wait for the OH to get home before we eat. As a solo parent it’s me who sets the timetable and makes the rules.

And that’s the problem upon re-entry!

After an extended time running the show single-handedly I get accustomed to how things get done – which is MY way. I don’t have to consult with anyone on anything. What I say GOES. So, when the husband returns home from a long trip there is a period of readjustment for me. All of the little irritants that I ignore most of the time get right under my skin, just like they did when we first shacked up together all those years (decades) ago!

It’s not just me, but the Missies also take some time to adjust when their dad returns home. I’m sure he gets sick of being told “that’s not how Mum does it” and that the readjustment is a challenge for all of us.

April could be a bit tense in this house……

Parks: Mount Emily Park

DSCF4313Mount Emily Park is tucked away at the top of a hill between the Istana, Bugis and Little India. I found myself here as I was hunting for a geo-cache, but it’s probably not a park that a person would stumble upon ordinarily.

The park is small but with lots of mature shady trees, walking paths, a few killer flights of stairs and a small children’s playground at the top. On the day I visited the only people around were a couple of young women making use of the stairs for some stair sprints and a group of preschoolers doing their morning exercise. It’s definitely a park mainly used by locals and it did strike me that it would be an ideal place for clandestine meetings. Not that I conduct clandestine meetings, mind.

DSCF4319  DSCF4318 DSCF4315DSCF4317 DSCF4316  Mount Emily Park is bordered by the Istana, Upper Wilkie Road and Mount Emily Road.

On Friendships

When we first moved to Singapore one of my biggest concerns was whether my daughters would settle in. We were lucky, they adjusted easily to their new school and made friends without too much trouble.

The Big Missy (who is now 11) was placed in a class with a group of 12 lovely girls (there were boys, too, but they are irrelevant to girls under a certain age!). She quickly buddied up with a lovely friend and they’ve been close ever since. And then the other day she uttered the phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of expat parents -

“Mum, J’s leaving. She’s moving back home.”

I moved to console her, imagining that she would be upset at losing her close friend, but she’d already come to terms with the news and had made plans to walk to the local park (on her own for the first time, but that’s a whole different blog post!) to meet up with a new friend. She also befriended a new student yesterday.

That’s the thing about expat kids – they’re resilient. They have to be.

Most people in Singapore arrive on a two or three year contract, and given we are approaching the end of our initial three years many people who were here when we arrived have gone elsewhere – sometimes back to where they come from and sometimes to a new country for a new adventure. I’ve had my two closest friends leave and of the lovely group of 12 girls in the Big Missy’s third grade class only THREE are left. I remember my own school days and if a student left or a new one arrived it was a massive event, as it happened so rarely. In a school where about a third of the population turns over every year a leaving or an arrival barely rates a mention. The girl who left is remembered fondly, but not sadly, and new kids are quickly absorbed into the fluid friendship groups.

As the Big Missy knows full well, in expat land you can’t afford to be complacent with friendships. Your best friend today may be living in San Francisco this time next week and unless you’ve cast your friendship net wide you could possibly find yourself suddenly with no friends in your expat country.

As a friend advised me during my first weeks in Singapore “You always have to be on the lookout for new friends as an expat!”