Visiting the Changi Chapel and Museum

I didn’t know there was a museum in the eastern side of Singapore which tells the story of what happened when the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese during World War II. I thought the museums were all within the city’s Civic District. It makes sense to have one within Changi.

It’s called the Changi Chapel and Museum. Getting here was interesting. It’s located in a rich neighbourhood with “landed properties” (houses that sit on their own land, compared to majority of Singaporeans which live in condos or HDB flats). It is served by a quiet bus stop. The surrounding area is home to the Singapore Prison Service.

According to the staff I spoke to, the building was renovated after three years. It’s beautiful (by beautiful – how a memorial should be beautiful). The chapel inside is located in a central courtyard. It’s elegant. Surrounded by white walls and some greenery.

I’m not well-versed with these designs and I won’t dive much into the detailing here. But the first half of the open air chapel have these overhangs. To me, they look plentiful and lined up neatly… but crowded into half of the open space. Maybe it’s meant to interpret how this area was once home to prisoners-of-war (POWs) and how they were squeezed into the tightest spaces and exposed to disease.

Finally, the museum itself. It is free for Singaporeans and PRs. It’s $8.00 for non-Singaporeans, even pass holders such as myself. I’m always fine to help pay my part to support a museum.

The museum is split into sections with visitors walking room to room in a clockwise direction. Each section tells the history of the occupying power. First, the British whose troops were already in Singapore since the country was a straits colony. The Empire of Japan invaded in 1942 and Singapore surrendered, which left the British, Australian, and local forces at their mercy. They were interned at Changi. Others were sent to do hard labor by building a “Death Railway” in Thailand-Burma.

Here we are 80 years in the future and looking at the pain of our great-grandparents generation. By ‘our’, it’s because this was a suffering shared across Southeast Asia. The same empire invaded the Philippines. Over there, Americans and Filipinos were captured. Some ended up on the Bataan Death March.

There’s an audio guide that visitors can access using their smartphone. Personally I prefer to read information from the panels on my own pace.

What also caught my attention was a topography map of the area. I live in this side of the city so it was interesting to see where the roads were before the war broke out.

The museum documents how the interned POWs became resourceful. They hid cameras that could document how life was like. They built a workshop to create artificial limbs for POWs who needed life-saving amputations. I was thinking that around the same time, there was fierce fighting in other parts of Asia.

A British bombardier POW painted murals in nearby Changi Camp (the originals are inaccessible to visitors). These are displayed in one of the larger rooms inside.

And what also caught my attention was this:

A sketch… but how did the POW get access to materials to make this? See the next photo.
The artist-POW internee got the materials to create the drawing… from a Japanese guard.

That really hit me.

***

The war, as everyone knows, ended in 1945.

I think it was a fair recalling of the war. It did not read out as propaganda or asked visitors to take sides. Obviously, anyone would feel horrible to see all this suffering. I didn’t feel emboldened to anger. War is horrible, no matter which side.

The Changi Chapel and Museum is located at 1000 Upper Changi Road North. It is far from MRT stations (I think the future Loyang MRT station might be the closest). The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Last admission 5:00pm). Closed on Mondays but open on Public Holidays. They observe safe distancing measures (although it wasn’t crowded when I went). Learn more here.

I want to mention that the museum staff that greeted me was the friendliest. Her name starts with the letter P. ❤ I visited the museum in January 2022 and highly recommend it to those who can make the effort to reach this part of the city.

Quantum of the Seas Pt. 3 – The Last Full Day

What I enjoyed the most from our three-day “cruise to nowhere” was the feeling of actually leaving Singapore. It was looking out at the open sea and seeing nothing but ocean and sky which elevated the experience. Families with young kids will enjoy the amenities. For those into gambling, a casino is there. There are also numerous food options and places to sit and grab a drink. I can say I felt relaxed after the trip.

If you missed it, you can read part 1 and part 2 of my Quantum of the Seas series. We cruised in October 2021. Notably, it was when gatherings in public were limited to two pax only.

I’m sorry it took a while to get to this third and last post. To sum it up, we had a great time onboard Quantum of the Seas. It was my first time to ride a cruise ship. I understand why it can be addicting. You don’t have to think about itineraries (unless there was a port-of-call). It’s all laid out for you. And for the planner in me… I kinda liked that. I don’t need to do anything.

Quick peek at our day 3 activities

  • We had breakfast at the main dining hall on deck 4.
  • After breakfast, PJ and I got into the jacuzzi at the Solarium. There was a ten-minute limit at the time.
  • Lunch was at Windjammer and I tried the roast beef steak. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Windjammer is the buffet-style food area on one of the upper levels.
  • We enjoyed a bucket of Corona beers at the NorthStar bar in the early afternoon.
  • PJ and I tried the hot dogs from the SeaPlex. We wanted to enjoy it at an open space in the back of the ship but were politely told we couldn’t have a picnic there due to prevailing restrictions on outdoor gatherings (even if we were only two). We brought the hot dogs back to the room.
  • The room! We really just stayed in the room. PJ slept while I read a book on the stateroom balcony.
  • For our last dinner on this trip, we had it at the main dining hall on deck 3.
  • After dinner, we enjoyed the Duo Du Soleil show at the Royal Theatre.
  • Back in the room, I watched Black Panther which I downloaded onto my iPad. And, I started packing.
  • When we woke up the next morning, we were already parked in Singapore.
  • I learned that even if our disembarkation time was assigned from 7:00 AM, you can still grab a quick bite at the Windjammer upstairs. We squeezed in a meal and enjoyed a view of the sunrise.

I’ll leave the rest in pictures.

We had a great time on Quantum of the Seas and would repeat a similar cruise experience in the future. I heard that Spectrum of the Seas will move to Singapore (currently in Hong Kong) in 2022.

Revisiting Joo Chiat Road

Joo Chiat Road is a special place for me. It’s home to Betel Box Backpacker’s Inn, the first of many hostels I stayed at when I started my Singapore adventure ten years ago. Earlier, my friend Greg and I were in the area looking for a café. I couldn’t help but look for the green door of the backpacker’s inn (200 Joo Chiat Rd). To my delight, it’s still there. I don’t know how they stay open during these times.

Ten years later and Joo Chiat appears to have more cafés. The Vietnamese bistros are still there. Bus 33 still plies the area. I used to wait up to 20 minutes for that bus. It takes you to the city… specifically Bugis and Bras Basah, where I’d meet up with my friend Vero. She was studying at NAFA at the time.

Leading into my tenth anniversary in March, I’m going to take you with me as I retrace my first steps. I’ll revisit the first hawkers I went to, the first neighbourhoods I set foot in… and I’ll speak with people who made similar journeys through the years. Today was a reminder that this city wasn’t just a dream, it’s my home. And all of that started on this one-way street.

25 things on my 2022 bucket list

Here’s a list of things I want to do this year:

  1. Revisit Joo Chiat.
  2. Go to Jurong Bird Park.
  3. Ride the Cable Car from Mount Faber.
  4. Go to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve.
  5. Visit Coney Island.
  6. Revisit Pulau Ubin.
  7. Have a staycation at Sentosa.
  8. See Raffles Lighthouse on the other end of the island.
  9. Visit Sembawang Park.
  10. Have a picnic at Marina Barrage.
  11. Learn how to cook a Malay dish.
  12. Enjoy prata in Little India.
  13. Try at least three new restaurants in Chinatown.
  14. Perfect at least three Filipino recipes.
  15. Avoid processed foods.
  16. Take the JLPT N5 by the end of the year.
  17. Publish 20 podcast episodes.
  18. Volunteer for AfA Singapore.
  19. Write, direct, and act in at least one short film.
  20. De-clutter at least half of my things.
  21. Organise my file system and do archiving.
  22. Make no unnecessary purchases this year.
  23. Reduce food wastage.
  24. Go for a health check-up.
  25. Continue my weekly Saturday Uncut videos.

I talk about the rest in this week’s Saturday Uncut. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. 🙂

Song of the year (2021)

At the end of each year I think about which song I liked the most. The past two years were dominated by Korean pop music (SUNMI, Chungha, BTS). Chungha topped my Spotify lists in 2021 with songs like Bicycle, X, and Masquerade. I think it’s because I love listening to upbeat music to get my mind off the stress of these dark times.

I pick a song that I think will remind me of what that particular year felt like.

Here are my previous picks for “song of the year”:

  • 2020 – 3-way tie: Play (Chungha), Stay Tonight (Chungha), and On (BTS)
  • 2019 – LALALAY – SUNMI
  • 2018 – All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA
  • 2017 – Flame – Tinashe
  • 2016 – The Life – Fifth Harmony
  • 2015 – Talking Body – Tove Lo

TBH there is no clear personal frontrunner for a “song of the year” in 2021. I liked Billie Eilish’ “Happier Than Ever” because it starts off slow and endearing… before lightning and thunder. That would be a favourite this year. But I don’t think I was that “angry” in 2021. (That’s good news.) Also on my playlist would be Olivia Rodrigo. I loved “good 4 u” and “traitor”. I think she’s someone to watch at the Grammys. Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only millennial listening to all this Gen Z music.

Keeping with my blog tradition, I have to make a choice! This year’s song is not entirely in English. It’s not Korean too. The lyrics are about a love that needed to come to an end. The melody is perfect – it’s like you’re boarding a train and heading off to a faraway place. Since the lyrics are in both Japanese and English, I think it goes well with this past year. I started learning Japanese.

My song for 2021 is Utada Hikaru’s “One Last Kiss“, a song for the last Evangelion movie:

“I love you more than you’ll ever know” – one of her English lyrics.

And the translation of the last part of the song:

No one really knows what’s been consuming my mind the past few years. I don’t talk about it at all on my other social platforms. I can say that I feel better now. But the thoughts that took over my mind in December 2017 scare me sometimes. I think about multiverses. Maybe this, maybe that. But that’s something for Doctor Strange. This is the one timeline we get to work with. So let’s get to work. 🙂

Quantum of the Seas Pt. 2 – The First Full Day

And the Oscar for Best Moment of this Past Year goes to… sliding the door open to this view:

While PJ was asleep, I quietly opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony of our stateroom. The morning sun was right there. What even is that? Morning sun? I’m not a morning person. Whatever it was, it was glorious. It was glorious enough to inspire me to start writing a book. Or to finish reading a book that’s taking me months to read. A view of an open ocean is like the cure to our generation’s Zoom fatigue.

If you missed the first part of my Quantum of the Seas series, you can start here.

Think about it. The entire year, most of us are glued to our Microsoft Outlook at home. We even eat most of our meals at home. Entertainment? It’s streamed on our laptops, devices, and television screens at home. The view outside my apartment in Pasir Ris is the adjacent condo. Of neighbours’ clothes drying under Singapore’s equatorial sun. That’s not even a view. That’s like a Black Mirror episode.

I’m lucky I got to finish reading at least two chapters of Atomic Habits before breakfast.

***

Our first breakfast was at Windjammer, which is a buffet-style meal area that is included for guests. You also have an option to do a proper sit down restaurant with a 3 or 4-course menu… but I thought buffets would be better for breakfast.

After breakfast, due to prevailing restrictions at the time (October 2020), I could only meet up with my friend Naomi at the Solarium. PJ and I parted ways so he can enjoy the swimming pool area.

Let’s face it, Naomi and I both brought books to read in the comfort of an air-conditioned Solarium. But we were also enjoying a conversation and sipping on our drinks – being occasionally reminded by staff to put our mask back on after taking sips. It was that strict!

***

After lunch at Windjammer and resting in the cabin, it was already late afternoon and I wanted to squeeze in a jog on the top deck. I noticed that the ship was “heading back” to Singapore. If you looked out to sea, you can see the Singapore skyline in the distance. Plus, loads of tankers and cargo ships.

I managed to squeeze in two loops. It was also my mistake to use Strava to track my run on the deck. The ship was moving… duh. I rushed back to the room to shower and change into comfortable clothes. Our next activity was the NorthStar Capsule.

That’s the NorthStar capsule!

NorthStar experience booked at 5:30pm

We booked the NorthStar Capsule the night before. You need to spend an additional $20 each to access the 8-minute ride. I thought this was a must-do onboard the ship.

Tip! Book the NightStar ride at sunset for optimal views. I think it’s also worth getting this while the ship is still docked in Singapore on the first night.

I understood that we were supposed to be on the capsule at the same time with another group. But the other duo had arrived late. PJ and I luckily had the capsule to ourselves + the crew member assigned.

Inside the NorthStar on Quantum of the Seas

The view was perfect! We got the sunset. We got an exclusive capsule. We got the view as the ship was making a U-turn so you can see the ship’s wake in the water. Definitely worth the extra $20!

Back downstairs we enjoyed a round of drinks at the accompanying NorthStar bar where we met a Filipino crew mate. He was super friendly (as are all the crew members we encountered on Quantum of the Seas).

View from NorthStar Bar, one of my favourite bars on the ship

PJ and I took a tour of some other areas inside the ship. This included the main street on deck 4 as well as spotting the robotic arms at the Bionic bar on deck 5.

Soon enough it was already dinner time. For dinner on our first full day, we headed to the sit-down “MyDining” on deck 4. Again, Filipino staff members would actually serve you an extra plate.

We didn’t make any pre-bookings for entertainment that night. Instead we wanted to rest in our stateroom. I watched Black Panther which I had downloaded onto my device through the Disney+ app.

Also, our two other companions made a new friend.

The state rooms have assigned crew staff who look after your stay there. You can give additional gratuity to them towards the end of the trip.

My favourite thing about this day was waking up to that view of the open ocean. I think that’s the “money shot” or the “this is what I paid for” moment. It wasn’t about the numerous amenities and food on the ship. It was the feeling of escape. The pandemic has confined many of us to our homes and local communities. There is a big world out there that we’re unable to enjoy in the way that we did before the pandemic. A glimpse of the open sea meant everything. I’ll book a similar cruise again if I can experience it over and over.

More in part 3. 🙂

5 things I want for Christmas

One week until Christmas! In past years, I’d be buying gifts and putting them underneath the Christmas tree. This year is different. I wanted to forego the effort of entering crowded shopping malls during a pandemic. I’ve kept the holiday season as simple as possible (perhaps the simplest in years).

How? I didn’t buy much for anyone or even for myself. Apart from the traditional exchange gift here at home (four items) and the gifts I helped pay for with my brother… this year is quiet. It’s not that I lost the Christmas cheer. I’m grateful and I enjoy watching videos of Christmas shopping at Harrods. But really… I can’t afford any of that today.

I can talk about a wish list though. Here are the top 5 things I want for Christmas:

  • Macbook Pro 16″ – the latest one and with better specs – to replace my current 2013 edition laptop
  • Apple Watch strap – neutral color – an alternative to my rainbow strap
  • Wireless charger for the iPhone 12 – it’s fun, that way
  • $$$ for new clothes – we’ll be back in the office more in 2022
  • A staycation – preferably the Ritz Carlton or somewhere lush – and to switch off, a digital detox

What do you want for Christmas?

Quantum of the Seas Pt 1. – The First Night

The only cruise I’ve experienced was something called the Loboc River Cruise in Bohol. It would last only an hour. It was a chill cruise: a bamboo raft on a river.

As you already know, cruise lines are adapting to this pandemic by creating these “cruise to nowhere” packages. They sail out of port and then return to the same port after a few days. My flatmates and I wanted to experience Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas which is currently assigned to Singapore this year.

What we signed up for? A three-night ‘cruise to nowhere’ out of Singapore, in a junior stateroom with balcony.

Getting the PCR test

We sailed in mid-October this year. Prevailing restrictions at the time meant that we needed to get a negative test result from a PCR test first. This needed to be done within 48 hours of departure.

We registered for our PCR tests to be done (for free, included in the cruise package) with Fullerton Health at Raffles City. The entire process took less than five minutes when we arrived. I think they’ve removed the PCR test for cruises after October. It might just be a pre-boarding antigen rapid test (ART). We got the results via email within 24 hours.

Boarding for the cruise at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre

The departure time of Quantum of the Seas was 8:00 PM. Our assigned slot to begin the boarding procedures was at 4:30 PM. We arrived by taxi an hour early to see if we could get in earlier. It was useless since we were directed into the 4:30pm queue.

Tip! If you have bulky luggage, you can drop it off at the luggage counter and they will bring it straight to your stateroom.

Apart from getting a negative PCR test result within 48 hours of boarding the cruise, we also needed to complete an additional antigen rapid test (ART) prior to boarding on the day itself. We were led into a testing area with a view of the ship.

This entire process took about an hour. The testing area was organised and there were plenty of testing booths. They can test up to ten at a time I think? They also give out some water. The signages had the instructions and ushers were around to assist passengers.

This was also my first time inside the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. It looked exactly the way it would like in a pandemic… empty. The terminal hall is massive. It reminds me of Changi Airport. I imagine how lively it would be during peak travel season.

After clearing immigration to exit Singapore, it was time to board the ship. Finally!

You could imagine how excited I was to finally set foot outside of Singapore for the first time. Although the ship will follow Singapore’s time and regulations (like groups of max two people), it finally felt like a holiday of sorts. I’m holding my passport, my “hand carry” backpack, and I’m being greeting by many friendly faces of Royal Caribbean. Many of which are Filipino too!

As soon as we got onboard, the first thing we needed to do was complete a briefing by the crew. We headed to our assigned briefing station and it only took two minutes to be informed about some basic information about our trip and our on-boarding process.

So cool to be on a cruise ship! I noticed people were starting to stream into the ship as well. I wanted to check out the room so we headed upstairs to the ninth level.

Getting our junior stateroom with balcony

Finally, our room! We didn’t bid for any upgrades. I’m really happy with it! I think this is one of the standard rooms (with balcony). While stepping into it, I couldn’t help but think about the SMDC one-bedroom flat I recently invested in. *Cries in Filipino* It’s alright. Cute!

No really, the room was absolutely fine. I was already excited to go out and explore the ship while it was still docked in Singapore. The bathroom was small but functional and very clean. We were also provided with a modest pandemic hygiene kit in the form of two masks and the cutest Purell sachets.

Wasting no time, we headed out to grab some of the free pizza at Sorrento’s. Yes, free pizza! You can pop by a place called Sorrento’s on deck 4 and be served as much pizza as you can safely consume. It’s also connected to Cafe Promenade which serves coffee, tea, and light snacks.

Here’s a view of deck 4:

I think the happiest feeling was having that unli-pizza just available for you. The pizza wasn’t even lousy. It’s a New York-style pizza, with thin crust, just how I like it. They also serve some sides like salad and cheese. PJ was happy with his pizzas and even took a second plate.

We could either go back to the room and relax after what felt like a day of packing our luggage, queueing, and getting tested. Or we can go up to the roof deck to enjoy the sunset with a city view.

Which would you pick?

Mine was the roof deck at sunset:

We also walked around to see what else they had like the NorthStar observation capsule, jogging paths, and swimming pools.

I loved the view and the ambiance that we ended up staying until after the sun had set. We found ourselves at NorthStar Bar where we ordered some drinks and took in the view.

I read that one of the best things to do onboard the first day is to start booking your activities using the Royal Caribbean app. We started making reservations for live shows. But I liked “doing nothing” actually. I loved being on the roof deck and looking out at the views.

The first meal of our voyage would be the dinner on the first night. All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are included in our cruise package. For the first day, it would only the dinner service.

You can choose to have dinner at several of the complimentary locations across the ship. For our first night, we ended up at MyTime dining which is the main dining hall. We were led to an alternate seating area since the main area was full already.

Here’s the view from the deck 3 dining area:

It was more formal in this area so good thing we were wearing pants. I also opted to wear long sleeves here. For a less formal meal, passengers can head over to WindJammer on one of the higher floors. They serve buffet style meals there.

At the MyTime dining area, they provide a menu and you can choose options for your course.

It didn’t help that the staff was Filipino. When they learned we were Filipino, they made recommendations for us to try other menu items. They also shared what their favorites were. This included sampling two types of desserts:

After dinner, we headed over to the Royal Theatre at the aft (back) of the ship on deck 4 to catch the Sequins and Feathers show. The colourful show was opened by the cruise director. The venue requires pre-booking and the seating was arranged with social distancing in mind.

Before heading back to the room, we ran into our two other flatmates who suggested we check out a live band performing at the Music Hall. This was a great way to cap our first night.

The band that was playing comprised of Filipino singers and musicians. They performed plenty of pop hits and I really liked their version of Bruno Mars “Leave The Door Open”.

Guess what we did before going to bed?

Grab more pizza from Sorrento’s and take them back to the room!

Stay tuned for my post about the next day! 😀