Off The Beaten Track #8: Pillboxes

When I was planning this Off The Beaten Track post I only had one old pillbox (or bunker, if you prefer) in mind but it seems there are still a few more around so I extended my???

A pillbox is a concrete bunker or guard-house, and usually has small holes from which to keep watch and aim a machine gun from. Under the British command in the lead up to the Second World War a string of pillboxes and other military fortresses were built predominately along the coast of Singapore, and also throughout Malaya. They were spaced about 500 metres apart so the coast must have been dotted with them, however only a few still stand.

The Pasir Panjang Pillbox is located at the corner  of Pasir Panjang Road and Science Park Road. There’s an information plaque out front but the pillbox is locked so you can’t go inside. It sits on a corner and in a city that’s not exactly devoted to old things I think it’s great that this one has been left standing.

Pasir Panjang Pillbox (4)

Pasir Panjang Pillbox

Pasir Panjang Pillbox (2)

Pasir Panjang Pillbox

Labrador Park, which I posted about a few weeks back, also has a Pillbox.

Labrador Pillbox (1)

Labrador Park Pillbox

Labrador Pillbox (3)

Inside Labrador Park Pillbox (photo taken through the machine gun hole)

The pillbox on Sime Road is the first pillbox I heard of, and for me it’s the most interesting as you can actually go inside and also because it sits in the jungle so you have a better idea of how the pillboxes would have looked at the time they were used. If you don’t have a car the Sime Road pillbox is going to be a bit tricky to get to as it’s located on the road that leads to Singapore Island Country Club and buses don’t run there. If you’re driving don’t be put off by the “Private Road” signs as you can drive down to where the pillbox is and park in Sime Hill Road, just on the left before the pillbox.

I’ve visited this pillbox twice but the first time I called past the area hadn’t been cleared for some time and didn’t dare walk through the vegetation to have a look inside. Happily, on my second visit it had just been cleared so I was able to walk around the back and look in.

Sime Pillbox (1)

Sime Road Pillbox

Sime Pillbox (3)

Sime Road is in the centre of Singapore, and as far as I am aware this is the only pillbox still standing that wasn’t located along the coastline of Singapore. As you can read in the above photo the pillbox was near to the British headquarters during WW2.

Sime Pillbox (6)

Inside Sime Road Pillbox

Sime Pillbox (13)

Inscription on the outside of the Pillbox.

There’s a couple of other pillboxes on Sentosa Island but these have been “Sentosa-ised” and are painted rather garishly. To me the other three pillboxes are more respectful to their history.

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Cheap Flights, Cheap Flights!

The airlines like to tease me. They know I’m an ardent traveller*  and they also seem to know when I’m feeling homesick and so kindly send me emails with their latest temptations to distract me.

“Cheap flights! Cheap flights!” they proclaim, and within the blink of the eye I am standing in the kitchen flicking through the calendar and praying that the dates of the cheap flights match up with both school holidays and the husband’s work schedule. If by some miraculous aligning of the stars the dates, the school holidays, and the husband’s work schedule synchronise then I fire off a quick email to the husband to double-check that he will indeed be free to take a few days off work and we can take advantage of the “Cheap flights! Cheap flights!” ( I’m really not seeking permission from the husband but checking whether I need to book him a ticket or not.)

This time last week we had nothing planned beyond our trip back to Australia over the Christmas/New Year period, but on Thursday an email arrived with the exciting announcement that a budget airline was starting direct flights from Singapore to The Maldives and they were offering $133 one-way flights. Cheap flights! Cheap flights! The Maldives are now not the once-in-a-lifetime trip I thought they were.

And then on Monday temptation popped into my inbox again yelling “cheap flights! cheap flights!”. This time with a different budget airline and with the return leg FREE (except for the pesky taxes)! Calendar, school holidays, airline dates, email. BINGO! The stars aligned and the airline seemed to have miraculously have forgotten to blackout Vesak Day next year and as Vesak Day falls on a Tuesday and my kids attend an Australian school they have a 4 day long weekend and there is nothing us Aussies love more than a long weekend.

Ho Chi Minh City, here we come!

Cheap flights! Cheap flights!

Except, is there such a thing as a real, honest-to-goodness cheap flight? Does anyone ever book a flight for the exact amount it was advertised in the temptation emails?

I certainly have never achieved this holy grail of airline bookings but my friend, K, is a master cheap flight booker. K manages to dodge and weave the seat allocation fees (by not choosing a seat), the credit card fees (by using direct bank deposit), baggage fees (by only taking carry-on luggage) and charity donations (by donating elsewhere, not via an airline booking form!).

Sadly, I am an over-packer so we always have checked baggage, although if the 4 of us are travelling we do save a little bit by not purchasing baggage allowances for all of us. I’m also not a fan of lugging around 10kgs of carry-on luggage and then trying to force it into the overloaded luggage compartments.

I haven’t seen an option for charity donations on any of the airline’s in Asia but I have noticed that they sneakily select all the options and unless you manually change them you’ll be up for a huge amount. Look out for that when you’re booking your “Cheap flights! Cheap flights!”

I don’t think I’ve every posted a YouTube clip on my blog before but this one is too good and too relevant to not share. Many thanks to Twitchy for first sharing this hilarious aria with me.

* for the record, I consider myself a tourist, not a traveller.

Homesick

I am very tired.

I suspect a lot of expats in Singapore are saying that at the moment, especially those of us with children at the schools with academic years that end just before Christmas.

The closer it gets to our flight back to Australia, the more tired I become. I am short-tempered about things in Singapore that usually only mildly irritate me and I’m almost severing my tongue when the girls are in the car when I’m driving. “Indicators! Indicators would be good here! Pick a lane. Any lane! Just pick one!” Feel free to insert curse words of your choosing after every second word.

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I had thought that the supermarket and I had finally come to grips with each other. I had fooled myself into thinking that I had the system worked out, but now doing most of the grocery shopping at Fairprice Finest, nipping over to Foodie Market Place or The Butcher for quality meat, and then heading to Cold Storage (or Jason’s if I’m feeling rich) for the imported stuff the other places don’t carry just seems tooooo hard.

I want to go to the one supermarket and buy everything I need all at the same time.

Who knew that this would now seem like a luxury to me?

I don’t want a veritable United Nations of fruit and vegetables in my shopping basket. I don’t want fruit and vegetables that have frequent flyers miles. I want to eat a nectarine that only recently left the tree it grew on. I want to choose between kipfler, russet and all the other sort of potatoes I’ve forgotten about, as opposed to being limited to the one sort of potato on sale here.

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It’s not just food. I need to see a sky with no high-rises. I yearn for the sound of lawn mowers. If I close my eyes I can smell rain on freshly cut grass. I can taste the salty sea air as I imagine walking along the beach near our beach house.

Homesick.

Clearly 11 months is too long without topping up my Familiarity Tank.

NB: I am fine, just yearning for the familiar and needed to vent.

World Colours: November – Turquoise

Ahhh….turquoise! The challenge is to not post only photos of water……

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry, I couldn’t find any photos with turquoise in them that didn’t contain water, so these two from The Maldives will have to do! And one of the photos is of me! In my swimmers/bathers/cossie/swimsuit!

The Questions

As you move through life the questions people ask you change. When you’re little it’s “What do you want to do when you grow up?” before moving on to “Have you got a boyfriend?”.* When you finally have a boyfriend it’s “when are you going to get married?” and then there’s all the questions about babies, then second babies and on and on it goes.

Expat life is the same. Pre-move it’s “Why are you going? How long will you be gone?”. Once you’ve relocated the questions change again to “Where are you from? What does your husband do? How long have you been here? Is this your first assignment? How long is the contract?”

We are at the 2.5 year mark of a 3 year contract, and  the questions are starting to change to “Are you going home? Where are you going next?” The one thing I know for certain is that expat contracts are barely worth the paper they are printed on. My two best expat friends (BEFs) both left before their contracts expired. Things change. People change. Life changes. But as we are 5/6’s of the way through the contract people are starting to ask what our plans are, and our minds have also turned to the “what next?” conundrum.

In short, we are not done with our big expat adventure. We are hoping to stay in Singapore beyond the 3 year mark and then will see what the world (or the company) comes up with.

 

* For the record I loathe this question. Never, ever ask it of anyone.

House Guests

There’s a few certainties when you move to another country. It’ll be stressful, you’ll cry, it will be amazing, you’ll laugh, and you’ll get house guests.

House guests are a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful to catch up with family and friends, but when you’ve been away from family and friends the intensity can be over-whelming. We are between house-guests at the moment and it prompted me to think of a list of tips for house-guests:

  • do not confuse your friends’ house with a hotel. Make your beds, keep your stuff tidy and offer to help with meals and dishes. You may well be refused but it’s the offering that’s the important bit. Do not claim you are on holiday and exempt from dishes.*
  • bring wine. And ibuprofen. And Cheezels. And the Aussie weekend paper supplements.
  • stay no longer than 5 nights.
  • head out and do stuff on your own and don’t expect your hosts to be tour guides. Personally, I hand guests a stack of maps and brochures, a basic mobile phone with credit and public transport cards. I’m happy to meet up later for a meal or a drink but if I have to visit the Bird Park one more time I may lose my mind!
  • breakfast is “help yourself – you know where the kitchen is!”
  • taking the dirty sheets off your bed and placing them in the dirty clothes basket is appreciated. The guests who already had them spinning in the washing machine before they left scored extra house guest points!
  • have a definite departure date to preserve your hosts’ sanity.
  • offering to mind my kids so hub and I can go out is greatly appreciated.

Any other tips?

*true story

Unusual Singapore Things #14

If you’re walking on the footpath (not in a busy area) it is not the done thing to acknowledge people who pass you in the opposite direction. No “Hi”, nodding, smiling or eye contact. Just pretend there’s no-one there.

Coming from a country where it is pretty much compulsory to at least nod at a person walking in the opposite direction I still can’t get used to this.

Singapore Bucket List #3: HDB Tour

I booked in to do a tour of HDB flats with ANZA last year but something happened (can’t remember what!) so I didn’t end up going.  When they advertised the tour this year I jumped at the chance to take a peek at how the vast majority of Singaporeans live.

Winding stair case, Toa Payoh.

Winding stair case, Toa Payoh.

HDB stands for Housing Development Board, and HDB deals with all of the public housing in Singapore. I could bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that over 80% of Singaporeans live in a HDB flat so it does not carry the same stigma as public housing in most other developed countries.  Here’s a few key facts that I remember:

  • there’s a $40,000 subsidy for first-time buyers.
  • if you’re single you are going to have to wait until you’re 35 to purchase a HDB flat.
  • there is a balance of ethnicities in every HDB area. If a person of Chinese descent wants to buy your flat but the Chinese quota is already full in your area you’ll have to find a “minority” buyer.
  • you can’t sell a HDB flat until you’ve owned it for 5 years.
  • originally the flats had no lifts, or lifts that only stopped at every 3rd floor.
  • after WW2 Singapore was labelled by the British as having some of the worst slums in the world and this prompted them to build public housing.
  • there’s a HDB museum inside the HDB Hub building at Toa Payoh.
  1. An old style HDB building framed bby two towers of the Pinnacles at Duxton.

    An old style HDB building framed bby two towers of the Pinnacles at Duxton.

The tour guide was one of Singapore’s best and she is very knowledgeable, however I really would have liked to see inside a real HDB.  logistics and privacy to do this would be tricky but it would have made the tour more meaningful.  Whilst we did visit the show flats at the HDB Hub I would suggest that they look very different to the way real flats do, just the way show homes in Australia look very different to real houses!

The tour finished up at Pinnacles at Duxton, the award-winning colossal HDB.  The view from the sky garden is excellent and much cheaper than the other sky garden at Marina Bay Sands!

Two Year Anniversary!

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

Two years ago today we were off and away. We had brains in our head and shoes on our feet, and arriving in a country where we knew barely anyone we could steer ourselves any direction we chose!

It’s been two years since we became expats.

Two years since we moved lock, stock and barrel (well, apart from a very old dog and a 20 foot storage container) to Singapore.

Fortunately the second year has been smoother than the first.  The peaks are still high but the valleys haven’t been as low as during the second 6 months we were here. That 6 months was hard, as the novelty of living in a new place gave way to frustration and all the other classic culture shock symptoms.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

I did un-Slump myself (though it’s not easily done) and the past year has been richer and more rewarding.  We’ve travelled a lot, we’ve focussed on our little family and we’re stronger as a result.

It appears the two-year mark prompts the point where people back home ask “So, when are you moving home?”.  Maybe it’s only expats who really understand our answer: we don’t know.  A 3 year contract doesn’t mean much.  It could change tomorrow, next month, next year. We could be here for a few more years or we could wind up somewhere else in the world.

Only time will tell!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!

Many thanks to Dr Seuss for his wise words.