These crowds gathered in time for our arrival. Hundreds thronged the footpath opposite our hotel in keen expectation of celebrities. The normally sleepy streets of Changi Village were choked by traffic jams. Poised, we stepped out of our shuttle bus from the airport. And realised no one was taking the slightest interest in us. They were transfixed by their smart phones and seemed as oblivious of each other as they were of us. Pokémon GO had discovered Changi.
Welcome to a Chris and Geoff travel epistle. It’s a while since we sent one. Expect a few more in the next couple of months. We know we are pretty hopeless when it comes to social media. Be assured we do love you all and hope these occasional steam-driven postings give you a taste of what we are up to.
Birdwatchers have a good deal in common with Pokémon GO followers. We share that all-absorbing obsession for the next find that might pop up anywhere, anytime, the rarer the better. Birders often go around in groups with binoculars clutched and cameras dangling, scanning trees, also unaware of the amused glances of others.
On our first morning in Singapore, we woke up to Oriental Pied Hornbills in the trees outside the hotel window. You decide which is more bizarre or amazing, this dinosaur of the skies or this Charmander spotted by a local Pokémon enthusiast.
While we can certainly recommend Changi for its birdlife and Pokémon inhabitants, neither were the main reason for our visit. Our sister-in-law, Jeannine, came with us. Her father was a prisoner of war at Changi and Kranji prisons in World War 2. Jeannin was born about a year after he finally came home. The extended family clubbed together to make this visit possible for her as she approaches her seventieth birthday.
The heavens opened while Jeannine was in the chapel at the Changi Museum.
So we visited the Changi Museum, the Kranji War Memorial, the National Museum of Singapore and other places that held echoes for Jeannine. She is working on a book based on the letters between her parents over those three-and-a-half years of captivity and anxiety and it helped her to get a sense of place.
The heavens opened again at the Kranji War Memorial. Jeannine found there the grave of a good friend of her father. He was killed in a road accident a matter of days before the Japanese occupied Singapore.
We also found time to enjoy the glittering wonderland of Singapore's tourist attractions. The Gardens by the Bay are as much engineering marvels as they are botanic collections. The Night Safari gives a taste of the excitement of discovery, albeit by tourist trams wafting the hoards of tourists through a rainforest cleverly segmented into discreet enclosures. The aquariums of the River Cruise are of a scale and design that allow viewing of otters from several levels, underwater to riverbank. Manatee (underwater elephant-like creatures) were equally absorbing.
These 'sky trees' lit up as we ate curry for dinner at the Gardens by the Bay. We were still getting our minds around the huge transplanted boab trees and stalagmites and an enormous range of other wonders gathered from around the globe.
Jeannine is a keen naturalist, so we were all in our element the day we took a 'bum boat' for a fifteen-minute ride to Palau Ubin, a small island off the coast of Changi. The binoculars got a good work out and Butterfly Hill lived up to expectations. Being a nature reserve and so pretty untouched by the modernisation of the rest of Singapore, Palau Ubin also gave us a taste of the unairconditioned jungle that must have surrounded the Changi of the 1940s.
The five days we spent In Singapore was the first leg of a much longer trip sandwiched in between a club AGM and the church féte. Geoff in particular has revelled in organising our eighty-day adventure. There are only a few practical wrinkles to iron out en route. One is stubborn. We have travel SIMs in our phones which are now working well except that we can send text messages to everyone but not each other. Advice welcome! Talking of keeping in touch, email or Skype is best if you feel inspired.
Just before midnight last Friday, Jeannine flew off to Sydney and we went in the opposite direction to Amsterdam. We are now in Haarlem with our good friends Rosmarie and Rinze Marten and revelling in our first domestic weekend of washing clothes, sleeping off jet lag and yet again organising our luggage.
This is a little how we felt after arriving in Haarlem. This Giant Panda was at the River Cruise and was the first one Geoff and Jeannine had ever met.
Tips for daily life in Singapore ....