Monday, December 22, 2014

A trip further down south - JPO and JB

Truth be told, I have never been to JB. I have had one foot in to Johor, as far as Tangkak. But other than that, I know nuts about the state further down south.

So, when it was to happen that Mr Yoong and hubby starting planning a visit to JPO and other parts of Johor, I was thrilled. And why shouldn't I....JPO houses Kipling and I was itching to get a Kipling at a good deal. I am such a bag person.

The planning started before I even had my Singapore family holiday so I was very much outside the initial itinerary emails. And then the Yoongs had their family holidays so JB trip was out of our minds for a while. And then the weekend crept up upon us and soon I realised we were 2 days away from the trip.

So, on the fateful morning of 13 December, we made our way to Puchong, petrol station, a jam, Putrajaya and then we were enroute to Johor.

The trip to was alright. It didn't seem that long. Perhaps because we made one pit stop at Tangkak to get allergy drops for Caylee. So it did seem that we were reaching Ayer Keroh and then a short while later, we had reached our 'destination' Tangkak.

We had a little incident of a dog kidnap in Tangkak. The Samsung phone saved the day.
And then we had lunch in the only other famous beef noodles shop there. The beef noddles were so-so. I say that because I love Vietnamese beef noodles and this one was no way close to that. I know I should take it as it is. And as it is, it was pretty good. But....
The little bakery shops in Tangkak were pretty cool though. From a city-girl-who-loves-her-confectionery's perspective where bakeries are mainly air con places, the smell of an open oven emitting baked bread and cookies was lovely.

After lunch it was all the way to JPO. Mrs Yoong let us out when after a turn or 2, we did not find any parking. And then when the whole group was together, like a dog on leash, I was let go.

My initial opinion of JPO was that although they try to make it look (although in such a smaller scale) like the US outlets, the shopping satisfaction is so different. The thing is in US, store prices equates to just about Malaysia equivalent price, and sometimes even cheaper. So, when you get to the Premium Outlets and everything is 50% off, it becomes too good a deal not to get it. But here, I go to Kipling for example and there are only 2 shelves 50% off with thus limited color and style. And then I start converted it to the US equivalent and trying to remember if I were to purchase it in US, will I be able to get it? And the sad thing is, I would. Perhaps even cheaper if I get it from US. The only thing about buying from US is that I will have to wait for someone to bring it back for me. But in the few months to come I have plenty coming. It was an unfortunate fact for me that I was looking forward so much to buying a Kipling in JPO that I felt so dejected.

At any rate, I continued walking. Bought some dresses and clothes for my daughter from Cotton On. At that price I would not even say it was a good deal. But hubby exclaimed 'Cotton On woh'!

I would say the Sacoor shop perhaps had the best deals. At 75% (was it?) off, hubby bought 2 working shirts. And while we were waiting for the long queue to pay, I did buy a Kipling in the end. Just for the joy of paying for it and holding it in my hands. But I love my Kipling at any rate. Pink and beige and typical Kipling look and feel.

We were dead tired and terribly hungry after JPO. Now for the life of me, I don't know anything about the geography of Johor. So when we ended up in Skudai for dinner, I was like ok. I know Skudai town only as a name of a town in Johor, but given we were just in Kulai, how was it that I never felt I left a town to reenter another?

And that is my greatest impression of Johor. That once you reach the southern part, the smaller towns all merge together. So, I don't really know when I left one small town and when I have reached another. It reminded me of the Federal Highway linking KL to PJ and then to other towns. Very different from Kampar to Tapah to Bidor. You definitely know when you leave Kampar and wait patiently for Bidor to arrive.

We had a down-the-memory-lane drive with Mr Yoong and were then taken to the famous Skudai duck rice. It was good. Better than the PJ old town duck and much cleaner, less crowded. After dinner, it was a pit stop to take petrol, buy drinks and junk and etc. No ice cream lest you have to walk alone to the hotel.

The hotel, Le Grandeur....was the most welcoming sight after such a long day. Now, the thing about reaching a hotel late at night is that all you want to do is check in and wash up. Different from when you reach a hotel in the afternoon, then you are eager to check in and then check out the hotel. And maybe also jump into the pool. So, after checking in and getting our extra bed (which we got free thanks to John and the work he is doing), to soften the blow of unable to go swimming, the kids had tub time. And from the room, the night view of the pool looked too welcoming that we did not leave the hotel without jumping into it.

And that was what we did the next morning. After a crowded, fight for food at the breakfast buffet, the kids and I had a swim. The 2 Mr-s and Mrs Yoong relaxed, took pics. I could not resist a dip in the pool. We checked out at the appointed time to check out and then headed to Danga Bay and JB town. But before that, for all the simple pleasures in life, the Yoongs had to do an imaginary just-arriving 'wah' exclaim, just for the sake of it! Hilarious bunch!

Danga Bay. What can I say about this place.  First, it would have been better if we had seen this at night. In the heat of the afternoon and without the magic of lighting, I reckon none of us were all too keen to take any pics. Also the walkway supposedly next to the sea was ruined because there wasn't anymore sea next to it. I blame it on poor planning. We have so much land, yet we choose to reclaim and reclaim. The same sorry state of Malacca. We left after perhaps 30 minutes or less.

Now, JB is another story. As we were entering JB, there were this whole row of heritage administrative buildings. It reminded me of Penang with the historical buildings and canopy like trees facing the sea front. But as I moved along slowly in the car, the feeling of JB benig similar to Penang faded. In fact there is no town that I can even say JB reminds me of. Although why I tried, I don't even know. It was narrow streets in the circle within. And then when you reach the outer loop, it was like broader roads going somewhere else. It was also unique in that the town center was established around such a hilly area. I don't think any other town, apart from Kuching has that many hilly roads in the town proper.

After a short tour, the traffic jams were horrendous, we left JB to have lunch. Convenient and simple, we had McDs on the way back home. After all that swimming, I was so ready for a grease filled lunch. The journey home was too long. Seremban and Sunday ain't a good match. And the alternate route was equally jammed. So at 7:30, we stopped by Kajang and had dinner before heading home.

Was it a good trip? Definitely, except for the leg home. I got to go to JB and it was nicer visiting a new state with Mr Yoong who has memories of the place. I love looking at the past sometimes, imagining how life used to be. And as always Mr and Mrs are always very accommodating. And their kids are the best examples my kids can have. I think half the fun would be lost without their kids. They help ever so much to keep my little ones entertained. Road trips are always good because they give you a chance to get to know someone better. And with the Yoongs, I get some time to myself too - either to be alone to rest or to engage in proper adult conversation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Swimming Update

I woke up with a start at 3.05 am this morning asking myself "What the heck have I done?"

"RM560 a month for my 2 kids swimming lessons! I must be out of my mind!"

And then I did a mental summation of how much I need to spend a month on both my kids activities. And you can guess that I never fell back asleep after that.

So, how is it that I came to this point and will I turn back the clock if I could?

It all started with the fact that Swimcube was to close down. With Uncle Ivan whom Christopher loved to learn with and at RM150 a month, I was pretty devastated.

So anyways, I went again on my search for swimming lessons and boiled it down to either Advanced Aquatics in the Bukit Utama club or Swimin12.

I called Advanced Aquatics and at a member rate, we would need to pay about RM 154 a month a kid. I hear weekend classes are pretty full and you have to be a member before you can enter the club on the weekends. But the weekday classes were from 6-7 pm which to me felt a little late.

So, I tried Swimin12 as well. The first time I messaged EJ, he had already added me as a friend in FB, which kind of makes rejection a little bit harder. But I was also impressed with the character and motivation behind Swimin 12. So, I decided to bring the kiddos for a trial class on the fateful day 11th Dec.

When we arrived there, I was bombarded with a parking fee of RM5 since it was drizzling and we parked at the club parking lot. OK....not good. Then when we arrived at PJ Palm Sports, I saw no sign of EJ and had to search for him. When we made contact and he went out to meet the coaches, they were sleeping and resting. OK....hmmm....

Then I was surprised when one by one all the coaches got ready and jumped into the pool. We are talking 1 main coach and 4 sub coaches. All of them stretched up and jumped into the pool. I was cautious if they could manage my 2 kiddos since none of them had as yet made contact with my 2 kids. But I was pleasantly surprised.

So Coach Ram, hubby told me he from Philippines later, called the kids over and had them repeat their names again. And then they were led to wear flippers and sit by the pool.

In that one hour, I loved what I saw.
There were time when my daughter cried when they asked her to do something she was afraid to do. But they  managed to help her conquer her fear and she stopped crying instantly. And I could see her listening to their instructions carefully and following what they told her to do.
I was so glad I could have cried.
For a girl who 6 months ago cried the entire 45 minutes in her first trial lesson.
And then adamantly refused swimming lessons for the next 5 months after that.
But who then after 2 times in the pool - Avani and YWCA - now knows she better learn if she wants to keep up with kor kor.
This same girl doggie paddled 1 m all on her own from the coach to the wall.
My heart was doing cheers for her all the while I was sitting down trying to keep my composure.

As for Christopher, he has already conquered his fear of water but I saw him jump into the deep end of the pool, also following their instructions. They were teaching him to dive in the water on the 1st lesson itself. And I reckon they will be able to help him slow down in his strokes and take the lap more leisurely.

The kids were made to do laps and laps of the pool and I could hear Christopher complaining. But he can't stand in this pool and thus had no choice but to push on. He did it in the end!!! I was so proud of him.

So, all this led up to the fact that 1 hour later, I was signing on the dotted line committing myself to RM560 a month.

It will be worth every ringgit in the end. I am sure of it.
I shall put aside every negative thought or comment.
They will have a happy learning experience.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gardens by the Bay Singapore and Bugis Street

Day 3 of our trip to Singapore, I chose to visit the Gardens by the Bay. It was between this or the zoo. But given that we already had one day of sun, I preferred this as it was indoors.

Breakfast on Day 3 was in some street my bro in law lead us to. I was paying no attention so I have no idea where it was. Only that it was somewhere near Orchard Road, walking distance from YWCA.

Deciding to go to Gardens by the Bay, we could take our time since it was indoors and we need not really bother about reaching there in the morning to avoid too much afternoon sun. Or if there would be enough time to cover everything. The expected time required, minus lunch will be about 2 hours. We spent about 5 hours there, taking 1 hour for lunch to rest our feet.

Several words come to mind when I think of the Cloud Forest - COLD. High.


By the time we entered the Observatory, it was about 11 so it was quite humid outside. As soon as we entered, a wave of COLD air hit us. It didn't help that our first sight was this 30 m (I think) waterfall too. It was quite spectacular. Then it was flowers and plants and a steady walk up to the top - HIGH - of the mountain. And then down again on the other side. Thinking about it now, it was very well planned so much so you walked around without feeling lost or that you were walking in circles. There was never a moment where you were not surprised with the sight before you. There was no lack of beauty at every turn. Even the kids were enthralled by their surroundings. Seriously not bad at all since we are only talking plants and flowers here - and a 4 and 7 year old kid who knows nuts about plants. There was never a time they complained they wanted to go back to the hotel or that they were bored being in that place.

Finishing the first observatory, we broke for lunch only to return to the 2nd observatory after lunch.

Flower Dome was Magical. Calm. Beautiful.

It was snap snap snap as soon as we entered. Almost every flower was perfect without blemish. There were areas which were covered in green, you felt like an elf in a forest. There were benches strategically located everywhere which really all you wanted to do was sit and just be one with nature. I half wanted to keep shushing my 4 and 7 year old who were laughing and singing away. There was an oldies song playing which was very calming and 2 out of tune voices singing Let it Go was really quite a nuisance. My mum kept walking away the minute the kids came towards her. I don't blame her at all. The few moments they ran off to walk with their aunty and uncle and I got to sit alone under a tree, I felt so much calm. I was seriously contented and happy to sit there the whole day.

We reached the hotel around 4 and the kids were screaming for pool time. Darn their energy level! But I obliged although they were willing to get out after 40 min since YWCA does not have a kid's pool. The adult pool shallow end was 1.2m, just above the boy's head, so he still jumped in and was brave enough when he got tired to stand and then kick himself up again. I was impressed with his guts given he did nearly drown in Langkawi just a few months back. He has progressed much since, in at least he is no longer afraid to jump into a deep pool. The girl had guts too attempting to jump but making sure I was standing arms length away from her.

We had dinner in Orchard road - one of the malls, one of the food court. And then did some grocery shopping before calling it a day.

The last day in Singapore was my real shopping day. We went to Bugis Street and I bought a couple of totally girly stuff there - all pinky in that way girly I mean. Bought a Little Twin Star passport holder for only SGD 5.98 which I had no qualms handing over to the immigration officer. He must be expecting it to be my little girl's passport only to discover that it is mine. Also bought a Miss Piggy Disney shirt which was orange in color and cost SGD 10. Oh! I am such a child at heart still. Pink and purple cute stuff still gives me the thrill!

Seriously, have you seen Little Twin Star or Strawberry Shortcakes? They are but the loveliest, cutest print on any merchandise!

Universal Studio Singapore

So, we woke up bright and early on Thursday morning, 27th November 2014.

Today was the highlight of our trip. The thing we have been looking forward to since inception of the idea. I had already pre-booked the USS tickets using the Mastercard USS promotion, thus costing the adults SGD63 per ticket.

We went to Vivo.
Had our breakfast off half-boiled eggs, bread and coffee.
Kids bought orange juice.

Then we made our way to Level 3 of Vivo City to buy the tickets for the monorail.
First stop into Sentosa Island, we alighted and followed the signs to USS.

MY OH MY!!! The rotating globe that greeted us at the turn of the corner was such a welcoming sight. I could feel my excitement heightening. And given Christmas was coming, there were some Christmas deco around as well. What a treat !!!

Then we saw the line...
Not the line for the tickets mind you.
The line(S) to GO IN TO USS.
Good thing we only had to wait a few minutes before the gates to FUN opened up.
Then map in hand, we zoomed towards New York! New York!

Reading several posts before hand, I knew we had to get to the Transformer ride ASAP! So, that was where I and the kids ran to. But not before we got side tracked by the Sesame Street Spaghetti Chaser. My daughter held my hand so tight through out the ride but she was beaming from ear to ear. I was so pleased to see her barely containing her excitement.

After that we made a bee line for Transformer. Oh my my!!! That was the highlight of USS, I tell you. It was soooo fun! Like soooo fun. I was having so much fun I forgot to check on my daughter until after the ride. She looked half thrilled, half shocked. My son who was on my right was within my line of vision and he had a blast of a time. Well, Transformer is really his thing after all.

After Transformer, my sis and bro in law lagged behind. I then remembered my sis has motion sickness so the Transformer ride was not too good for her. We split up after that and they went on their own to do their own rides.

I had also read that for the Lost World rides, you will need to wear a raincoat. I brought mine and also for the kids. But my mum who wanted to go on the ride as well didn't. You will get wet on this ride especially your pants. But it was so much fun. Partly coz it's not in a black space, you can see what you will be going through but that doesn't make the fall any less scary.

There were a few rides we didn't get to go on since by 3+ it was getting cloudy and most of the outdoor rides were closed. So, by 4.30 we decided to make it back to the hotel. Just in case it really rained.

USS does indeed cater to all the needs of a tourist. Even while lining up, there were water coolers and large fans to circulate the air. Queue time was not hard to bear, the most being 40 minutes. They had several food courts serving decent food. Cost for the food was not exorbitant - without conversion. Not like Genting where even McD is more expensive.

We managed to also catch the Waterworld movie which was really quite spectacular. Not a low cost budget, not worth your while scene. But something I can go Wow! to.

USS is actually not very big. We could actually cover the whole USS and would have managed all the rides if not for the cloudy weather. But in a way the clouds made the whole experience easier to bear since there was no hot sun.

There are many merchandise to buy depending on which gift shop you patronize in USS. LIke the one near Madagascar will have Madagascar USS related items. I bought a T for SGD 24 but poor hubby couldn't find any T that was reasonable enough to buy. Kids didn't whine at all for any gift. Caylee had simple fun playing bubbles by Sesame Street.

At the end of USS, all I can say was the boy had cramps, the girl was dead tired she could actually sleep while standing. Boy and I had dinner in the hotel that night due to his leg cramps. Girl and family went to Lau Pat Sat. Strange that I didn't mind at all the fact that I had dinner in the hotel. I cherished the time I could sit with my son alone to talk and eat. And after that we went up to the room and we sat in bed together and watched TV.

My lesson before I went to Singapore to be content in every moment seems not so hard to do at all. And learning to be content in the moment really makes the moment utter bliss. Life gets so much easier when you clear the expectations, dismiss the disappointments and be just OK with where you are and what you are doing now.

I loved USS and the memories I built with my kids there. From holding their hands and running the streets towards Transformer. From jumping high and catching bubbles with Caylee. From sitting down and massaging their feet. Even from the selfies we took of backgrounds that thrill us! Such is what I look for, to create holiday memories that the kids will be able to remember and then smile.

Singapore 2014 - Day 1

This will be a bitter sweet memory for me.

The holiday part being sweet, the loss of the boss of the holiday the bitter.
Maybe the reason why I never researched so much into this trip.
Every time I thought about it, it brought me back to the day.
The evening I sat with my dad and planned the itinerary and the cost.
The last evening I sat with him and chatted and joked.
He passed on the next morning.

So, even while I was holidaying in Singapore, I had daddy at the back of my mind.
How it would have been different if he was there.

Well, if he was there, my bro in law and sister might not have been.
And then I would have been the one to lead the holiday.
As it is, since my bro in law and sister came along, I took a back seat.

Like all holidays, I normally want to make the best of every minute I am there.
So, when it was planned that the first day we were to arrive would be spent catching up with relatives, I was a bit disappointed. I wanted very much to go to Orchard Street and spend my first evening shopping.

But alas, God did make it easier for me to stay put in the hotel.
It rained.

My uncles from Singapore picked the 7 of us up in 2 cars and we made our way to YWCA. We paid about SGD 200+ for a family room consisting of a king bed and a single bed. The room was spacious with wooden flooring, and the bathroom was just alright.

It was close to 4 by the time we checked in. And given we only had a heavy breakfast, we went to the YWCA cafeteria for a meal. Costing an average of SGD12 per plate, the food was good. Reminding me of YMCA Penang, in a sense people actually go there for regular meals. It continued to rain till way pass 6 pm. So, we didn't get to do much on the first evening. At night it was hubby's side of the family to have a reunion. Met up with Uncle Thomas and Aunty Helen for dinner. By this time, you can imagine all expectations of Day 1 I had already pushed aside. So, I was able to enjoy the moments of catching up with family. And given Uncle Thomas and Aunty Helen were so comfortable with my kids, it made the dinner time and after that very relaxing. We had Japanese in Vivo City for dinner and we went around Vivo checking out the ticketing counter for Sentosa and also the breakfast place for tomorrow.

Aunty Helen took us for a drive along Orchard road after dinner and then I was dying to go back to the hotel by 10. I was in desperate need for a warm bath and sleep. It was going to be an exciting day tomorrow.

My kids surprised me by acting very well with all the relatives. And Caylee even thanked Aunty Helen for driving us around without any prompting from me. I was one happy mummy at the end of Day 1. These kids....they do have their moments.