The Trials and Tribulations of Planning

Two or three weeks ago I stuck my head out of my textbooks long enough to realise that recess week was fast approaching and I had yet to form a plan of which country I was going to intrepidly explore.  After a few minutes of trying to wrap my head around the fact that my recess week is before most of my cohorts return to studying and that in their first week back I would be taking two of my midterms, I actually started planning.  Like anyone nowadays, my first (and only) port of call was the internet.  The internet is an amazing resource for anyone who so much as dreams of travelling as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.  It is also the bane of all holiday planners as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.

You see, it’s all very well and good saying “I’ll go to such and such a place” but then you bring up BBC news and decide that perhaps that particular location can wait a while or you pick a country but are then bombarded with choices as to where in that country you should go.  In the end, I narrowed my list of seven countries down to two by touring TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Pinterest.  My methods of elimination also included a quick check of Gov.uk for any travel warnings; Travel Health Pro for vaccination advice; and a slew of websites to try and interpret what visas were need for where.

All in all, there was a moment where I was tempted to can the entire venture and just relax on a beach in some tourist trap for a week.  However, I persevered and chose a location in each of country to spend the week.  I’m not sure they are any less tourist trappy but I like to pretend they are.  After the hard part of making a decision.  I only had to work out how to get there; what I needed for visas; where I was going to stay; and what I was actually going to do.  Fortunately for the modern traveller this is made easy with the help of websites like Skyscanner, HostelWorld and the multitude of travel bloggers who have gone before.

So without further ado, the winners of this semester’s recess week holiday awards are…

…Siem Reap in Cambodia:

Siem Reap

I am particularly looking forward to the temples of Angkor Wat, though the Night Market and Landmine Museum have also caught my eye.

And…

…Hanoi in Vietnam:

Hanoi

As well as seeing the thriving Old Quarter here, I am hoping to cram in a day trip to the famous Halong Bay.

With only seven kilos of luggage, my laptop will be staying here in Singapore so posting may be varied but at the very least I hope to put a few photo heavy posts up.  Fingers crossed and happy travelling.

The Singapore Grand Prix

While I’ve only ever viewed it to see the crashes with mild interest, my father is a big fan of the Grand Prix.  When I was initially considering studying mechanical engineering at university, it was something of a joke between us that I should go on to work for Red Bull or Mercedes so that he could get free tickets to the pits at all the big races.  While this will never happen, not least because I decided to study physics, I did take great pleasure in watch the Singapore Grand Prix live.  As well as making my father supremely jealous, I enjoyed the smug feeling of petty revenge for all the years of my childhood when every other movie seemed to be accompanied by the words “I’ve been there”.  In fact, it was probably these very words and a healthy dose of imagination that have fuelled my wanderlust over the years.

My Final Location
My final location

But I digress.  While I had no intention of paying the extortionate fees for a ticket (S$198 or £110 for a one-day zone 4 walkabout) I was determined to find somewhere to get enough jealousy inducing footage.  Unfortunately for me, over the past few years the organisers have become extremely proficient at blocking off all the good viewing spots that don’t require a ticket.  This meant that come Sunday I spent the first half an hour trying out a number of different spots before I found a nice spot just before turn 7.  This location hunt included; two different stairwells, one overcrowded and the other pleasantly perfumed with an underlining aroma of urine; getting stuck in a third stairwell and having to shake the door until two police officers helped me escape; trying every door and shop in the hopes of finding a room with a view; eventually giving up and asking a security guard for the best location to watch from, which turned out to be the first location I’d tried (greatly improved now it had stopped raining).

Despite this, I really enjoyed the evening, particularly the opportunity it offered for me to share something with my father even though we are on separate sides of the world.  This is one of the many ways in which technology is fantastic at bringing the world together because while I was sending off jealousy inducing sound bites of the cars going past, he was keeping me updated on the happenings around the rest of the track.  6780 miles apart and we were able to watch the same race together.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even convert to the F1.

And now the grand reveal of Just Under a Minute’s Worth of Blurry and Shaky F1 Footage Complete With Poor Sound Quality!

Ballet Under the Stars

I can still remember the first (and only) ballet I ever attended.  I must have been five or six at the time and the memory is perhaps one of my oldest.  It was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and despite a little confusion as to why there was no speaking, a small seed was planted within me that day.  Like lots of young girls, I participated in a number of different dance clubs before my interest waned and that seed was lost.

Then about four years ago, I came across an article about ballet dancers which explained the work and pain that goes into breaking in a pair of pointe shoes only to have to replace them a few weeks later.  I read it with mild interest but GCSEs were beckoning and besides shuddering at the thought of people willingly wearing pointe shoes I continued life as normal, unaware of that little seed beginning to unfurl.  In that peculiar manner that things always appear in groups I came across several articles and videos about ballet and dance after my exams.  The seed began to bloom.  Reading about the physical demands and watching the grace with which herculean moves were performed I developed a deep-seated sense of respect for all dancers, ballet dancers most of all, with their unending grace and prowess.

Since this enlightenment I had not had the opportunity to attend a live ballet.  Instead, I have subsisted on snippets in films and video performances.  That is until now.  When I saw a post asking if anyone wanted to attend Ballet Under the Stars I put my name down before I had even read the details.  I was going.  I was going even if I had to sell a kidney.  I didn’t, but I would have.

Ballet Under the Stars runs for two weekends and is pretty self-explanatory.  It is a series of three ballet acts performed at night on the lawn of Fort Canning by the Singapore Dance Theatre.  Each weekend had a different line up.  The first weekend was a set of contemporary pieces and the second a classical trio of weddings.  It was to these weddings that we went.  Coppélia Act III, Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty, and Kitri’s Wedding from Don Quixote to be exact.

Armed with several layers of bug spray but absent a comfortable rug to sit on, we settled down for what has quite possibly been my favourite night since arriving in Singapore.  While it was a shame not to see an entire ballet unwind from start to finish, the immense skill of the dancers and enthusiasm of the crowd completely made up for it.  Not only this, but my friend and I spent the interlude plotting the procurement of some of the stunning dresses and costumes that glittered oh so beautifully under the stage lights.

Some of the solo dances were absolutely amazing, with the dancers flowing across the stage in sync with the music or performing pirouette after pirouette after pirouette.  I held my breath as gravity neglected to pull flying forms to the ground and dancers were held aloft.  The sheer skill, not only to hold a pose but to hold a pose where arms and legs align in graceful curves and make it look utterly effortless is breath-taking.  To transform a jump into an elegant artform, perfectly in time with a clash of cymbals or trumpet call is what gives me such a sense of respect for dancers and why I can’t wait to watch another ballet.

Photo from here.

The Esplanade Theatre

Something I recently discovered is that the Esplanade Theatre has a wide range of performances and events that are either free or extremely cheap, especially with a student discount. For instance, I attended a concert of Shostakovich, Bartók and Tchaikovsky by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for a grand total of S$10.50 which is roughly £6. I think this is particularly wonderful because it means that anyone can take time out of a hectic life to stop and listen. It means that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy world class performers on a semi-regular basis without worrying about the cost.

The concert I went to was conducted by Andrew Litton who has gained an amazingly long list of achievements throughout his musical career. At the end of the show I was none the wiser as to how conductors conduct. However, from watching Litton I am of the opinion that conducting batons should be renamed conducting wands due to the magic they wind in effortlessly bringing together so many instruments. Of course, it is not just the baton doing all the work, Litton infused all his passion into the performance. He conducted not just with his arms, but with his whole body; crescendos were emphasised with jumps and a grand spread of the arms, while the softer bars were whispered of by delicate hands and a lighter tread.

On the topic of moving with the music, it was interesting to compare the differences between the musicians. For instance, while at one end of the spectrum some of the violinists moved their entire body with the music, torso leaning and foot tapping, others remained motionless save for the drawing of bow over strings. Another observation was the different yet similar rest poses of each musician. I imagine there is a rough guideline on how to sit and hold one’s instrument when not playing but each performer infuses a little of themselves into the pose; here a calm assuredness, there a laid-back ease, the smile that passes between two of the double basses signals a strong friendship. Despite these differences, when the time comes bows move in perfect unison and flutes sing out together.

20170908_193440

I was particularly impressed by the pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in his performance of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.1. He radiated and played with such an energy and liveliness that I was unsurprised to read about his successes, including three Gramophone Awards. Once again, I was struck by just how amazing it is for the Esplanade to sell such reasonably priced tickets.

I loved the moments when the cymbalist and triangle player began to gear up for their parts and couldn’t help but wait for the crash of cymbals or chime of the triangle. It sounds mildly ridiculous, but because their instruments are used so rarely, there is something incredibly fulfilling about watching them get to play. Finally, it was perhaps a little unfair on my part, but I found great amusement in watching the trumpeters gradually turn bright, fire engine red in Tchaikovsky’s trumpet calls.

I enjoyed the concert greatly and look forward to attending other events at the Esplanade in the future.

Introspection

Sometimes life’s experiences don’t feel all that significant.  At times like this, rather than writing off experiences and considering a week wasted, I try to change my mindset and view little events as just as worthy.  Take, for instance this weekend.  In Singapore it is a bank holiday weekend and when I found out, I had all these grandiose plans of sweeping out of my final lecture on Thursday, boarding a plane to some undefined, but undeniably fabulous location before returning Sunday evening, sun-kissed and somehow enlightened from three days abroad.

In reality, my weekend has been nothing like this.  Rather than spending the preceding week sighing over glamorous photos of sandy shores or rugged rainforest, I spent it holed up in my room trying to make a video that explained quantum mechanics in relatively simple terms for part of my coursework.  This task made harder by the fact that I am increasingly certain I have absolutely no clue when it comes to quantum mechanics.

By the time I had submitted the video, the weekend was upon me and I had no plans.  At this point it was all too easy for my brain to start down the paths of if only I’d… and everyone else is going somewhere, am I not making the most of this amazing opportunity that has been handed to me?

Upon some introspection, the answer to this last was… perhaps.  Not necessarily the answer I wanted to find, but the answer nonetheless.  Despite this, there were a few things I reminded myself before I began to feel all gloomy.  First, not everyone was going away even if the exchangers’ Facebook page made it seem like they were.  Secondly, a lot of people are only here for one semester so are trying to fit in as much as possible, and finally, I’m studying physics and while I may only need a pass, I care about doing well.  Armed with these three things in mind, I looked over the week at the things I had done, rather than at the things I hadn’t.

cold brew

For starters, I worked out how to cold brew coffee so I can keep a bottle in the fridge for my morning caffeine fix.  I’ve also discovered that I don’t particularly like cold coffee, but that if I microwave it, it becomes drinkable.  Sadly, this is more than can be said for a lot of the coffee I’ve tried in Singapore (shout out to Platypus Food Bar for being next to all my lectures and selling a marvelous black coffee).

I’ve been charity shop shopping and accidentally haggled over the price of a pair of shoes when I misheard the price.  Talking of good ol’ retail therapy, I went to Orchard Road and experienced the mild terror of going into a mall that contains hundreds of boutique sized shops in a labyrinthine layout.  Fortunately, I learnt how to say no to friendly sales assistants and not feel guilt tripped into buying clothes several years ago after spending a hefty portion of my pocket money on a lovely scarf and black roll neck in one of Guernsey’s many boutiques.  Two items I admittedly still love, but at the time wished I’d shown a little more restraint when purchasing.

20170804_220712.jpgSample the nightlife can be ticked off the list as well.  Clubbing is not something I go out of my way to do but sometimes it’s nice to feel a beat thrumming in your bones.  My experience of it in Singapore places it firmly on the same level in my mind as my experience of it back home.  I still don’t recognize half the songs and some people still need gentle persuasion when it comes to the look but don’t touch rule.  That or an education on no means (expletive of choice) off NOT I enjoy you, a total stranger, trying to grab and grind from behind.  However, I refuse to judge all people based on a select few’s behaviour and some people were genuinely kind, helping me with my gentle persuasion before I was too heavily tempted to use less gentle means, which is probably a good thing given the strict laws in Singapore.

On a more positive note, I signed up for Lindy Hop dance classes, which promises to be exciting, especially given my growing love of swing music.  Armed with a single class we headed down to the boardwalk at Marina Bay and joined a Lindy Hop social called Swing the Night Away that was open to anyone.  It was a huge amount of fun and I’m already looking forward to next time I can dance with a backdrop of fluorescent skyscrapers reflected in darkened waters.

So all in all, I have done a lot and still have plenty of time to travel beyond Singapore.  Therefore, I will continue to take the world day by day, without worrying about if I am doing “enough”.  Or at least I’ll try to, practice makes perfect after all.