Monday, February 17, 2014

China's Golden Week: The first leg (Singapore)

The first week of October brings "Golden Week" also known as National Holiday in China.  The last two years we have spent the holiday in-country, but this year we decided to venture to new lands, but we almost didn't make it, and as it always seems to be the case, it was the mom's fault.  Oops.

We made plans for our October holiday trip many months ago in June.  Flights booked, hotel reservations made and promises of fun given to the girls.  Ten days before we supposed to fly out, and during Mid-Autumn festival (another Chinese holiday when everything is shut down) I started printing out our reservations and information.  I had everything organized and on a whim I googled "visa requirements for Singapore".  I thought we didn't need visas, but it's always good to check, right?!  Well, I didn't realize that for most SE Asia countries, it is necessary to have 6 months validity remaining on a passport.  Jamie-fine, the girls-fine, me-not-so-fine.  I had 5 1/2 months left on my passport.  Adult U.S. passports are good for 10 years, so the issue doesn't come up very often, but it became a real problem for me.  I spent the next 4 days fretting and literally sick to my stomach because we would might have to cancel the trip all together, loose a good chunk of money and miss what is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see friends. 

I made an appointment for the US Consulate in Shanghai (which does not have an expedited passport service like you can get in the US) to plead my case.  When I left that Monday, EBean told me not to cry like a baby (sheesh even my 5 year-old knows my M.O.).  I didn't cry like a baby, but I did get teary and after speaking with 3 different people and asking for mercy and a whole lot of grace, I had a new passport with 7 months validity.  Once I knew I could re-enter China with my Chinese Visa in my "old passport" and travel with the "new passport", I started to relax and get really excited about our Golden Week vacation.

LBean is the one that insisted that we go to Singapore.  She has a classmate from Singapore and has been interested in the island since kindergarten.  As we started researching the country and exactly where it was located on a map, we realized that it was "close" to our friends in Indonesia, well at least closer than we had ever been to their home before.  After a few Facebook messages with them, we decided we really wanted to see them and their home and our trip to Singapore grew into a 2-week holiday with a side trip to Central Java.

Now, I feel that I must offer and apology to a girl that I met in college.  When I was in university, I signed up to help an international student learn more about the US and give her a chance to practice her English.  I cannot remember her name, but I do remember that she was from Singapore.  At the time I know that I couldn't have located her home country on a map if my life depended on it and for that I am sorry.  Wherever you are, please know that I did my best to boost your local economy, I now can point it out on a map and I am so sorry that taking you to Steak 'N Shake was the best I could come up with.

The week before we flew out, Jamie was in Beijing for a week-long training.  He returned Saturday night at 1 am, took a brief nap, and we were up at 4:30 am to head to the airport.  So sorry about that, Jamie.  The girls measure the initial success of a trip based on the amount of jet-lag, so they were very excited to know that Singapore and China are on the same time-zone (all of China is on one time zone).  Jamie and I were excited because the flight is "only" 5 hours long.  It's all about perspective my friend.  It takes 12-14 hours to fly from Shanghai to Chicago, so this trip was a piece of cake.  The first time we took LBean to Florida it was a three hour flight and I was freaking out.  How would I keep a baby entertained for the whole flight?  Now we have three and we travel four times as long.  If we can do it, you can too!

The flight went well and we arrived safely at our first hotel, the Marina Bay Sands.  This hotel is a feat of engineering?  A feat of magnitude?  A feat of something anyway.  Our initial interest in this hotel was sparked during our first year in China when we watched a documentary on its construction.  The hotel has three towers that are connected at the top with what looks like a boat.  The top level holds the club lounge, the infinity pool, and some restaurants.  There is also a casino, subway stop, shopping mall and museum attached to it.  We were most excited about the pool and the view.

With 5 people in our family, we are getting harder to cram into a hotel room, especially in Asia.  Why oh why do my girls insist on growing and therefor take up more room?  We opted for a slightly larger room.  After looking around the room, Jamie and I agreed that it was indeed larger than our first home.  I'm not sure if that means our first house was really small (yes, yes it was) or that the room was just that big (yes to that too).  The views were fantastic.

Checking into the hotel, all smiles! 
A view from the top. 
Looking out of the hotel.
One night I spent some time walking around the mall
and I decided to get a foot massage.  I couldn't resist putting
my feet in the fish spa.

Our first full day in Singapore LBean was very keen to visit the museum.  Her grade is studying Egypt right now and their was an entire exhibit on mummies.  I'm hoping this will help make up for the fact that she'll be missing a week of school (wink, wink).  The museum did a really great job and for three different age levels they had activity bags with 4 different stops in the exhibit.  It really helped our girls stop and look at the exhibit and spend more time absorbing the information.  EBean's activities focused on the animals the Egyptians worshipped and that are found in hieroglyphics.  LBean's activities spent time explaining the different gods.  There were puzzles, memory games, guessing games and other things to engage the girls.

It wasn't all smiles for us.
Dressed up like Egyptian Falcons.
Just hanging out in the infinity pool.  A little intimidating
at first, but very fun.
That afternoon we spent more time at the pool before heading out to dinner with a work colleague of Jamie's.  Maureen is from Singapore, but now lives in Shanghai.  She took us to one of her favorite spots along the coast and treated us to some great seafood.

I think these were bamboo clams.
EBean loved this meal!  She was a very adventurous eater.
LBean said "thumbs down" to the bamboo clams. 
LBean said the chicken was "so-so".
We had just enough time the next morning to check out the indoor gardens across the street from our hotel before flying out to Indonesia. 

On our way to the indoor gardens. 

Admiring the waterfall in the first garden dome.

Pretty girl, pretty flower.
The sky walk through the gardens.
Looking out at our hotel.

Beautiful flowers.

Stay tuned for part two of our Golden Week adventure!

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