New route round the block

After a three-week break from running (house move, end-of-term, mild dose of chest-bashing Mycoplasma), I laced up my trainers early this morning and set out on my new route. I say ‘running’, but I must admit I’m not much of a runner these days. Jogger. Hobbler.

I’m an early morning girl, preferring to get out there before the sun turns my lungs to liquid, and so I’m often doing my routes in that bit of dark before dawn. Singapore is essentially a safe town but you do hear of the odd incident, so I like a few people dotted about here and there, and I plot my routes carefully and accordingly. My new route looked good on paper – four right angles round the block, roughly 3.5k, through areas that looked quiet and green but still populated.

Having lived in the leafy Holland Road area for three years I wanted a run that took me under a few trees, but before you hit any greenery around here you have to first navigate the weird bit of land just before Orchard. It’s a funny old area – like the outskirts of any major city, the road loops along placidly for a good few miles before suddenly getting excitable just before the action of the city centre. Our nearest strip of main road has a line of odd buildings that look like they ought to be on the outskirts of a city, perhaps just approaching the main train station, or something equally noteable. There’s nothing wrong with the buildings, they’re innocuous, but when someone says ‘Singapore’ you usually have glitter or jungle in mind, not pink faux Tudor.

No matter. Once I’d turned away from the odd bit of main road I was in embassy land, and my route took me limping past vast houses set back from the road and swish condos with shiny gates – if you know Norf London then I might just say ‘Bishops Ave’ and leave it at that. In theory I had thought this would be a good road to go down, being semi-populated; in fact it was dark and deserted, and absolutely no one would have heard me being bundled into a car and captured, as they were all sleeping in the back of their 20-bedroom cluster apartments, with Fort Knox locks between me and them. So I turned down a side lane that I knew would lead me back a bit sooner and found myself galloping weakly along a leafy track that reminded me so much of Sevenoaks I immediately started constructing a letter in my head to my Aunty who lives there, before a passing car (YAY, people!) reminded me to keep my mind on the road.

After that it was back down to the Tudors for a wobbly sprint along a nice flat stretch before a last painful pant up the path to home. Just shy of three-and-a-half of your best kilometres, and a nice little notch on my Nike app for the month of June.

One nice thing was that I ended up skirting the Botanic Gardens, which made me think of Dad, who adores the place. So Dr P if you’re reading this hurry up and come back again, there’s lots more to show you. Promise not to make you run.

Young at heart

Does anyone know what I’m talking about when I mention the “Herald of Free Enterprise”? It was a ferry, and it capsized in the 1980s, killing a lot of people. Shortly after the event I found Mum standing in the kitchen sobbing as she listened to a news report. ‘It’s the children,’ was all she could manage to say.

It was the same when my uncle died suddenly, a decade later.  Dad told me and I went to find Mum and comfort her. Again I found her in the kitchen crying (she was career-driven but also domestic, so perhaps the kitchen was her comfort spot or maybe it just kept her busy). Again all she said was: ‘It’s the children…’ (meaning my three youngish cousins).

One of my ex partners exists, he used to tell me, because his father was one of the first reporters (or THE first one, depending on reports) on the scene after the Aberfan Disaster of the 1960s. I’m not putting any links up here, if you’re not aware of all these awful sad stories then all you really need to know is the keyword: children. There is something about a disaster on a major scale that involves any young loss of life, or affects children in some way – especially when those young lives can be easily relatable to your own – that makes the event just so much sadder for adults (any adult, you don’t have to have a child yourself). The weight is palpable.

On Friday, several climbers on Mount Kinabalu died after an earthquake. The event hit hard one of our Singapore primary schools, which lost several 12-year-olds in the disaster, plus a guide and many others. Parents pass things on, and this week I am channeling Mum, as news reports make my eyes prickle and my heart heavy.

High up holidays

Ever feel like you’re writing your own eulogy? Like the events you’re describing would make a hilarious anecdote to be told over a glass of very good value Prosecco in the charming back room of some restaurant full of friends and family all wearing floral ‘celebration’ colours? Here’s a good one for my personal anecdote collection – how about the time I went to the front desk of a hotel and asked the evening staff if they had ever felt the earth move. I meant actually move, as in the room swaying, door moving in time with the room, all that. ‘No madam,’ they said, ‘would you like us to come up to the room and see if it’s still going on?’

No one laughed at the time – and the time was last Saturday night, just before we left the hotel to find food in the middle of Hong Kong’s built-up, vertiginous, jam-packed Central district. I wasn’t trying to be funny. A note on the coffee table warned us of heavy construction work in the street alongside us. A Twitter sweep for ‘Hong Kong earthquake’ found evidence of one just off the coast of Japan at roughly the same time – but that was too far away from us and no one was panicking, so we left the receptionists looking pale, and went out for dinner (following a slightly embarrassed Mr PC into the lift) and later that night – back up on the 21st floor of our tall stick of a hotel – I knocked back a swig of SM’s cough mixture to make sure I slept through whatever might manifest during the night. Nothing, happily.

A friend described Hong Kong as ‘Asian New York’, and it was. Battered cabs, narrow streets, stop signs, tram lines, signs promising: ‘Jewellery’, ‘Massage’, ‘Dim Sum’, hot rain and clouds on the mountains and fruit stalls everywhere, pencil thin alleys with tiny cats chasing tiny balls of wool, small handbag dogs, chicken’s feet and durian and construction, construction, construction – enough to put hammered-down Singapore to shame. At night out come the lights and then it’s the same but lit up, wet streets flashing more neon ideas for how to spend your time: Lady Toys! Picture Framer! Meat!

Maybe not New York, maybe Blade Runner, with a constant tinny wailing thrumming from invisible speakers everywhere. If Singapore is Asia Lite, Hong Kong is a step up for us expats who want to sample a taste of the Orient but with handy social subtitles. With Hong Kong you get a bigger slap of flavour and a smack of real-life that I’ve not explored in smooth Sing (through my own fault, hands up). ‘It’s got London pavements,’ observed Mr PC – meaning dirty, wobbly, uneven, hilly, tilted slabs with rivers of black grime running alongside in the rain and gutters full of the debris from the shops belonging to all those signs. The pavements were nostalgic to me, they felt comfy, and I liked our three-day spin around the town, but my leg muscles notsomuch.

The hotel actually was moving on Saturday night, I’m sure of it, but it might have been down to its skinny structure – everything in HK is tall, tall tall. In Singapore hills are a thing of the past, the city being mainly made up of slight inclines with a majestic ‘bukit’ here and there. I could revisit HK for the ambiance – I really, really liked it a lot – but I’d need therapy to get over my vertigo first. A weekend in the Pearl Of The Orient has set me back several months in terms of the fear of heights that I had been happily getting under control: I couldn’t get on an escalator in a shopping mall today, whereas last week I might have managed it. Heights are a huge factor of Hong Kong that no one tells you about, it is a town built on a series of mountain sides with steps for streets and buildings lined up like one of those domino-topple challenges. So if you’re a bit phobic you might want to steer clear of:

• The no 6 bus to Stanley: stick to the lower deck, don’t look, and hold on tight.
Funicular up the Peak: up and down, eek! Don’t look.
Scenic walk around Peak: hug the left hand hedges and don’t look.
• Top part of the Escalator: gradual inclines give way to sharp dramatic drops: don’t look.
• Escalator between floors 2 and 3 of Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum: take the lift.

I loved it, though, and I’ll be back again with some valium, a list of all the things we didn’t do, and a super-strong pair of shades to block the drop.



EDIT: Here’s another hilarious anecdote. How about the time I left my portion of a school trip on Level 4 of the Cloud Dome because it was too high up? Left them in a measured, calm fashion, yes; and they’re Y5s so not tiny; and they seemed OK with that, but – well – left them, yes. Today, in fact. No one laughed then, either.