Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Singapore’ Category

Happy Constitution Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2011

May 17 in Norway

We are in May already, and today is an important day both in Singapore and in Norway. Singapore and many other Asian countries are celebrating Vesak Day, a Buddhist holiday sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”.  In Norway they are celebrating their national day or Constitution Day, and pretty much the entire nation dress up for a gigantic party in every city and town in the country. Many Norwegians prefer to wear the national costume, the “bunad”, and outfit based on traditional folk garments from the 18th and 19th centuries.

I don’t get to celebrate Vesak Day and the Norwegian Constitution Day this year because I am working in Australia. After finishing in Canberra I traveled to Sydney where I have spent the last 7 days, and today I will jump on a plane up to Brisbane for 10 days before I can head home to Asia. I am starting to get tired of living in a suitcase, but I guess the alternative – being stuck in one place for months and months – is not very appealing to me.

Anyway, I hope all my fellow Singaporeans and Norwegians enjoy the holiday! 🙂

Posted in Asia, Europe, Miscellaneous, Norway, Singapore | Leave a Comment »

A Great Weekend

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 4, 2010

I left India late on Friday night and arrived back in Singapore early on Saturday morning. The very first thing I did was to SMS my English friend Paul who happened to be in Singapore for the weekend. We met up around lunch time and pretty much spent the entire day doing sightseeing, walking around in the city and talking.

Sentosa Island

Paul used to be one of my colleagues and best friends in the UK, and although we did spend a few hours together in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago we still had so much to talk about. Having him around made me realize how much I miss my old team mates in the UK. The funny thing about being alone for a long time is that you tend to get used to it after a while, but when you suddenly have company again you understand how lonely you have been.

On Sunday we went out to Sentosa Island, which is a theme-park-like recreation island just south of the Singapore city centre. The island is connected to the main island (yes, Singapore is an island) via a bridge, and it take only about 15 minutes by taxi to reach the island from my home. Popular attractions include the Carlsberg Sky Tower, Butterfly Park, Insect Kingdom and Underwater World in addition to two golf courses and the new Universal Studios Singapore. I am not exactly a beach babe, and I get bored when I try to sunbathe, but the island is quite beautiful and we took some nice photos on the beach.

Paul and I spent most of the day on Sentosa before we headed back to the city for dinner in the afternoon. We both had work to prepare for the coming week, so we separated around 8:30 PM to spend the rest of the evening in front of a computer. Monday morning I had to fly to Melbourne and Paul headed back to the UK in the evening. I have no idea when we will meet again, but I hope it doesn’t take 3.5 years like the last time.

Well, I am back in Melbourne for a few days, and the weather here is freezing cold. However, this time I was clever enough to bring a warm winter jacket and a couple of woolen sweaters, so I am prepared. I am here only to Thursday night, but I am meeting up with a friend tomorrow after work. Apart from that this week is mainly filled with loads of work.

Posted in Asia, Miscellaneous, Singapore | Leave a Comment »

Christmas in Singapore

Posted by Monica Johansen on December 24, 2009

It is Christmas Eve here in Singapore, and the long weekend has just started. Unfortunately, the weather is not much to cheer about – so far it has been raining all day – but at least I am looking forward to a few quiet days with no work hanging over me.

Raffles Hotel in Christmas decoration

When I grew up I used to hate Christmas. My father – who was an alcoholic – was always drunk and aggressive, and my mother – completely psyched down by my father’s alcohol abuse and the stress of raising the kids more or less alone and keeping up the appearance – was yelling at us for every little thing we did or didn’t do. We kids tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, and to us Christmas was mostly about watching the Disney Christmas cartoons on TV. I used to hate presents, because my parents gave me girly toys that I didn’t really know what to do with, and I always ended up playing with my brother’s toys and helping him building his Lego helicopters and electric race cars.

As I grew older I started to work as a security guard on the weekends and holidays to finance my studies, and I always preferred to work at Christmas, just to have an excuse to avoid the celebration. While the other guys at work were desperately trying to swap shifts to be home at Christmas, I would happily work double and triple shifts just to stay away. After all, sitting in frozen car in minus 15 degrees Celsius with a macho male colleague talking about guy stuff was much nicer than being home with a broken family.

I did spend the holiday with a boyfriend and his family one year in my mid twenties, but unfortunately his mother hated me and it wasn’t a very nice experience for any of us. Although we stayed together for a few years, I always made up excuses to stay away at Christmas, and mostly my excuses were related to work, as usual. Luckily, my manager supported my scam and told my ex that I had to work since he was short of staff. I think he was relieved to have someone on his team who actually wanted to work, so he was more than happy to support me.

Christmas in Orchard Road

Fortunately, life changes, and things that once were bad can turn into something good. For instance, one of my best friends in Norway used to invite me to his family for Christmas the last couple of years I lived there, and the year I lived in Sydney I was invited to spend the holiday with one of my English colleagues who was visiting for Christmas and New Year. Last year I had a wonderful Christmas in Western Australian with a friend from Sydney and his amazing family, and it was a great holiday to remember. I guess I have been blessed with a huge bunch of kind and generous friends around the world, and although I am restless and adventurous I must admit that I miss my friends every day.

This year I have already used up all my annual leave (there is simply too much to see and do in this region, so it is difficult to save up leave to the end of the year), and I am spending Christmas alone in Singapore. Although I miss having great company, spending the holiday in Southeast Asia is actually not too bad, and the things I like about it are the following:

  • There is no snow and ice, and I can spend the entire day outdoors without freezing my fingers and toes off.
  • Shops are open pretty much all the time, and if I am bored I can always head out to the zoo or the beach to take some photos.
  • The majority of the population is non-Christian, and hence, I won’t feel completely lost even if I am not celebrating.

Singapore's main shopping street, Orchard Road

The year 2009 has been rather eventful and interesting, and I have been visiting many new places in Asia, some of them places that I have wanted to see for many years. Of the highlights I can mention things like visiting the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia, climbing Mount Kinabalu and seeing the orangutans in Borneo, cuddling with tarsiers in the Philippines, riding elephants in the gorgeous mountains of Laos and paddling down Mekong River in Vietnam.

Life can sometimes be tough, and especially when you are all alone and working in strange places, facing new cultures and dealing with language barriers around the world. However, most of the time life becomes what ever you make of it, and if you are courageous and not afraid of taking chances life has amazing things to offer. I don’t know if we are reincarnated after we die, but just in case we only live once I have decided to live my life to the maximum. This year was definitely a great year for me, and hopefully next year will be just as fantastic, or maybe even better.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Or as we say in this part of the world: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru!

Posted in Asia, Miscellaneous, Singapore | 6 Comments »

Why I love flying

Posted by Monica Johansen on June 28, 2009

After less than 40 hours in Singapore I am back at Changi Airport, and this time I am going to the Philippines for 10 days. I always come into the airport early, and not only because I want to avoid the queues, but also because I actually enjoy hanging out at the airport and watch people who are on their way to holidays or going home after a good time away. It is almost as the entire airport is filled with anticipation and excitement, and for some reason I just love the atmosphere.

People often ask me if I get tired of traveling. So far the answer has been no, but then again, I don’t travel as much as the most hard core business travelers such as for instance my manager. I find my life to have a good balance between being home and being away, because I am never away long enough to get home sick, and mostly I am not in the office so many subsequent days that I get restless. And while I always enjoy getting on a new plane, it is also good to come back to Singapore and my nice apartment and comfortable bed.

The best part of traveling is definitely the flying itself. I always request a window seat, and I simply love looking down at the world from the air. In addition, the flying time is a time when I can rest and be disconnected from the rest of the world for a little while. No phones, no emails, just my MP3 player, a video player showing new movies every month and smiling flight attendants bringing food and drinks. I relax when I am flying because I can legitimately have time for myself and stop working for a little while, and even though the seats in the planes are not always the most comfortable I still lower my shoulders and enjoy the time in the air.

Of course, being on the road can be tiring, but there is something exciting about going somewhere, just like a promise of a new beginning or opportunities that you would otherwise have missed. I love changes, and going to a different place every now and then is enough to keep my otherwise rather bored brain in activity.

This time I am staying in the Philippines over the weekend, so I have brought my camera with me, and I am hoping to get some nice photos. If I get some good ones I promise to post them here.

Posted in Asia, Singapore, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to the Jungle

Posted by Monica Johansen on June 24, 2009

Yes, I know. I haven’t been very active on my blog lately. The reason is that I have been working too much (as usual), and when I have been thinking about writing something I have always prioritized writing some customer documentation or scopes of work. In other words, life has been hectic lately.

Raffles Long Bar

Raffles Long Bar

Anyway, I have had a few really enjoyable days during the last couple of weeks. First of all, one of my previous work mates from Sydney brought his lovely wife and cute daughter to Southeast Asia for a holiday, and I had the pleasure of spending Sunday June 14 and Saturday June 20 with them before they headed back to Australia. They are originally from Sri Lanka, but they have lived in Australia most of their lives and to me they are more Aussies than Asians. It was nice being a tourist guide in Singapore, and at the same time spending time with a lovely family. By the way, they completely fell in love with my favorite coffee franchise, The Coffee Connoisseur (TCC), and they started talking about opening a cafe in Sydney. I don’t drink coffee, but their hot chocolate is quite good, and their yoghurt smoothies are awesome. 

Wednesday June 17 I also had the great pleasure of having dinner and drinks with another former work mate from Australia who was in Singapore on a business trip. Mark is English, in fact from Liverpool, but he moved to Sydney about 3 years ago. We worked together on a project the last time I was in Sydney, and it was a very nice work experience. Naturally, I had to take him to Raffles Long Bar for a Singapore Sling, and although he didn’t like the fact that the drink is pink and originally meant to be a woman’s drink, he ended up having three of them. Since I don’t drink alcohol I had a couple of Virgin Slings instead. They look almost the same, and I am sure they also taste just as good as the alcoholic version. However, what amused me the most that evening was the fact that I was sitting in the bar at Raffles Hotel, my all time favorite hotel and the most colonial building I can think of, with a true English gentleman dressed in khaki linen. It was almost as if we were back in the 1930ies.

Now I am back on the road, and I am spending this week in busy Jakarta. It is great to be traveling again, although I always get frustrated with the delays, queues, and crowds that are typical for airports. For instance, getting through the Visa on Arrival queue in Jakarta this time was a nightmare, and at some point I was wondering of they all had gone for a break and just left us in the queue. While I was standing there I also noticed the huge red sign that welcomes you on arrival. It says “Welcome to Jakarta. Death penalty for drug trafficking.”. What a way to welcome visitors to your country! I must admit that sometimes I find Asian countries to be very strange…

Indonesian Harbor

Indonesian Harbor

Well, this week is somewhat different from most of my other traveling weeks since I have had company in the evenings for a change. My very good looking Irish gentleman friend, Jason, who previously lived in Singapore but now lives in Jakarta, invited me for dinner and drinks. On Monday night, just after I arrived, we went out to one of the bars near by my hotel, and on Tuesday we had a fantastic dinner at a very popular restaurant called Blowfish. Jason is a frequent guest at Blowfish, and all the staff members know him, including the smiling Mexican chef. When the chef heard that Jason was there he came out for a quick chat and he personally took our order. We asked him to recommend something, and while he already knows what Jason likes he asked me if there was anything I didn’t like before he disappeared back into the kitchen. After a short while the waiters came out with some lovely little sushi and sashimi dishes, and everything tasted lovely.

Tonight I have been meeting up with two colleagues for dinner, a sales engineer who is based out of my office in Singapore, and our new sales representative for Indonesia who is actually based out of Malaysia. Although we have communicated quite a bit on email, I have never met him before, so it was an interesting evening. The sales engineer knows Jakarta like his own back yard, and he took us to a very nice outdoor restaurant that I can’t remember the name of and that I would probably never find back to again. And even if I should figure out where it is I wouldn’t really want to walk around here alone. Unfortunately, Jakarta is not the safest place in the world, and I try to keep that in the back of my mind when I stumble around in this city on my own.

As a friend of mine, who is an ex-marine from the British Military, once said to me, “be careful, it is a jungle out there…”.

Posted in Asia, Indonesia, Singapore, Travel | Leave a Comment »