Monday, 31 October 2016

Hong Kong

What a memorable, eye-opening and wonderful few days in Hong Kong.

I was in Kowloon, Hong Kong from Wednesday through until Sunday helping with a international school sports tour. 70 of our young sportsmen and women versed Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong in what would be the third annual tournament of its kind.

It was such an emotional couple of days with countless triumphs, a few defeats, laughter and tears. My highlights were the basketball and netball finals - who knew a school sports game could be so gripping!? I was on the edge of my seat until our teams claimed victory in the last few minutes, resulting in a deafening roar from the rest of the students supporting.

My other highlight was during the prize giving, just as Hong Kong was announced as the overall winner. Instead of acting disappointed or groaning as most teenagers (and lets face it, most adults) would have done in not winning the gold, our teams immediately stood up to give Hong Kong a standing ovation. Completely gracious in defeat.

I think back to how I behaved aged 11-14 and I cannot even begin to compare to how these kids are. The camaraderie, sportsmanship and friendships that developed over the few days were clear to see and the students have all returned to Singapore standing that little bit taller. I was blown away by how respectful each student was throughout the trip and well they conducted themselves. It was incredible to be part of the tour and I feel so proud to work for a school who's students are such well-rounded and mature individuals.  

Before the kids arrived a colleague and I had one free evening and the best part of a day to enjoy and explore Hong Kong. We caught a boat from Kowloon to the Island where we ate the most delicious dinner at the Caprice Bar in the Four Seasons Hotel. We chose 'a little bit of everything' cheese platter along with a selection of tasting wines and port.

Once our bellies were full we headed over to the Mid-Levels. The Mid-Levels is a 3km walkway/escalator system running up the side of Victoria Peak. Apparently the escalators travel downwards in the mornings to take commuters to work, and then up in the evenings to take them back again. All along the walkway are cool bars and restaurants with people spilling out of the open doors on to the street. As it's Halloween at the moment, everywhere was decked out with pumpkins, cobwebs and bats. The whole experience of Hong Kong was a far cry from Singapore. Hong Kong felt grittier, more authentic and had heaps of history and character.

The following day we pushed our hangovers to the backs of our minds and trekked for two and a half hours along the Dragon's Back Trail. The views were out of this world - with grassy mountains, the endless ocean and then the juxtaposition of skyscrapers in the distance. The sun warmed our skin and para-gliders floated around above us. It felt so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Mid-Levels or the fresh food market we'd visited the day before.

Dragon's Back Trail

Dragon's Back Trail

We ended our trek at Big Wave Bay and cooled off in the sea before heading back reality - AKA, 70 tired but excited students who had just arrived at the hotel.

Big Wave Bay

I've come back to work this week completely exhausted, but with a new lease of life. I learnt such a lot in the short time I was in Hong Kong and I'm going to remember those few days forever.

Monday, 24 October 2016

I think all I really do is work and eat...

AustCham really do put on some awesome events. I've mentioned their epic wine and cheese night in a previous post; well last week I went to one of their other networking events and had a blast. Made some great contacts and I'm already looking forward to their next event... they're doing another wine and cheese night in March. I'm there with bells on!

Work's been crazy again this week so I've been trying to counter the long days by being more active: Swimming in our pool for the first time in ages, tried out a couple of boot camp sessions (which made me ache for days), and of course the usual dragon boating on Saturdays. I'm getting so much better at dragon boating now, they even put me at the front as pacer this week - I'm chuffed to have found something I'm good at and really enjoy doing. 

At the weekend Phil treated me to a slap up meal at an Italian place called Zafferano which is on level 43 of the Ocean Financial Centre. I had a huge octopus tentacle which was delish. We also had a lip-smackingly-good dinner after dragon boating this week. We were craving cheese (I mean, when are we not..) and a mate recommended we try Wine Connection's cheese bar on Robertson quay. Ah.. it's amazing. We had a huge slab of raclette, potatoes, bread, salad, pickles and a huge plate of cold meats.

Wine Connection

I'm off to Hong Kong for work tomorrow, and Phil has just left for Melbourne where he'll be working for the next three weeks. I'm sure I've have lots to update on in my next post!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Let's paint the stress away

Work seems to have taken over. 12 hour days, and I'm even dreaming about it at night. Not ideal. 

Phil and I are finding that as we are always so busy, there is never any time to catch up with friends and family back home, watch a movie or read a book. Don't get me wrong, I love Singapore and the lifestyle, but I do miss being able to sit back, switch off and relax sometimes. 

We've just about managed to keep it low-key this weekend: Dinner and drinks with some girls from work on Friday, painting on Saturday, swimming and shopping today. 

I have to tell you about the painting. One of our friends had recommended this little interior design studio called Copper Design who open their doors for people to come along and 'Art Jam'. It's a cool little place with beautiful art, interesting lamps and lots of copper furnishings. Along one side; easels, canvas, paint and brushes had been set up for us when we arrived. We were given a cup of tea, various photos/art books for inspiration and then set to it for 3 hours of painting whatever we wanted.

Art Jam

I'm not thrilled with my painting, but hey, it was such a relaxing thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. It costs just $35 and I'll definitely be back next time I need a zen-weekend.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Gili Islands - 3 days in paradise

A couple of Phil's friends have been over in South East Asia so Phil and I made the most of them being this side of the world and had a little holiday ourselves.

They flew into Singapore first, so we did what I've been looking for an excuse to do in months and took them to Club 55 to devour plate after plate of cheese and chocolate. Club 55 is so reasonably priced at $48++ for all-you-can-eat. This time was even better than the last as they had a huge wheel of raclette bubbling away onto little individuals portions of fried potato croquettes, pickles and salad. Food heaven.

Club 55

Club 55
Club 55

Not that anyone would need another reason to go there, but the view at Club 55 is also pretty special. It's on the 55th floor (if you hadn't already guessed) of Marina Bay Sands Hotel and I love seeing the expression on people's faces when they see the bay from a height for the first time.

After one night in Singapore, Phil's pals flew off to Bali whilst Phil and I counted down the days until the weekend when we were to head over to the Gili Islands to meet them. We were up at 3am Saturday morning to catch our flight to Bali where we then caught a taxi and a boat over to our first stop - Gili Air.

Advice for anyone travelling from Singapore to the Gili Islands: Don't do it this way as it's a right faff. Instead fly from Bali to Lombok then hop on a quick boat to the Gilis. We arrived a bit stressed and tired after around 10 hours of travelling, but any bad feeling melted away instantly the minute we arrived on the island.

Gili Air

The first thing I noticed was that there are no motorised vehicles anywhere. Instead of cars and motorbikes, everyone gets around by walking, horse and cart or bicycle which meant the whole island was quiet and peaceful. The other thing I noticed was that as there aren't really any street names. Instead the island is filled with colourful painted signs nailed to poles at the side of the streets directing visitors to the nearest villa, bar or beach.

I was expecting the Gilis to feel a bit like Bali, but it's different kettle of fish altogether.

Life is shortDelight in the little thingsLive simply, dream big

Life is like riding a bicycle

We stayed at a place called H2O Yoga which was a lovely, idyllic little air bnb full hammocks and very fit looking yogis! Unfortunately we ran out of time to do any yoga or meditation practices, but I'd recommend H20 Yoga to anyone staying on Gili Air - yogi or not.

We spent the first afternoon on the beach and in various bars; finishing the evening with a delicious rendang curry (me) and nasi goreng (Phil) and an early night before a day of diving on Sunday.

Beach bar on Gili Air

Beach bar on Gili Air

The Gilis have got to be THE best diving I have done. We saw black and white tipped reef sharks, hawksbill and sea turtles, rays, trigger fish, unicorn fish, parrot fish and about a hundred other types. The visibility was about 20 metres and it felt incredible.

We were on such a high after diving (and the espresso martinis we had afterwards) that we then spent the rest of the evening dancing and singing along to a band called Old Town who were playing in one of the restaurants. Old Town are one of the best live bands I have ever seen or heard (sounds like an overstatement, but I'm not kidding)! I don't remember how many drinks were drunk, but I do remember feeling zero embarrassment when dancing barefoot in the sand in front of a restaurant full of people for hours on end.

Old Town
Old Town

We met the guys on Gili T the following morning - just a 30 minute, $4 boat ride away. Gili T has a slightly different vibe; a younger crowd, a little busier, and a few more loud bars and souvenir shops. Someone summed the three islands up perfectly: Gili Meno is perfect for honeymooners, Gili T is perfect for young backpackers, and Gili Air is a perfect combination of the two.

Gili T

We spent the day snorkelling in the crystal clear waters and spotted another huge sea turtle just 20m out from the shore.

Gili T

We rented bikes and cycled the whole circumference of the island, stopping on the west beach to watch the sun set and take a few obligatory swing photos...

Gili T sunset
Sunset swinging

We didn't meet the couple that own the air bnb we stayed in on Gili T, but it was so beautiful and their bio has inspired Phil and I. The owners are an Austro/Italian couple who upped sticks and left Europe, and moved to the Gilis to start their air bnb - Rumah Cahaya.

It just shows; when the 9-5 job (or more likely, 8-6 job) and city life ever gets too much, there's always an option to leave it all behind to lead a relaxed life on a little island in paradise.