The special walk

I was proposed to about fourteen days ago, on a bridge above a canopy of trees, in Singapore, in the rain, while on a day hike. It was apt since we both love the outdoors, greenery, hiking and it was one of our first hikes together in Singapore. Since then, we’ve gone on longer hikes in New Zealand, Canada and Norway, in the rain, under the sun and in the snow. We’ve made many good memories while on those hikes that’s for sure.

There are so many memories and thoughts that I’m struggling to put this in a blog article read by people who do not know us and hence, the lack of context. For us, getting engaged is a milestone in our lives after five years of living together, but it does not change many other things. Commitment is above any law and it is what holds people accountable to something. However, that said, I grew up in a more conservative culture whereby couples who live together should be legally married and there is still a slight stigma for women who live together with a partner, without getting married or an indication of that happening in the near future. So this was definitely good news for my parents too. They did find out about this earlier than me…when M asked them for permission and blessing before the proposal.

Tradition aside, it is also a goal for many women – to have their very special day, being a princess (although sometimes, we probably do not stop being princesses…). Thanks to all those TV influences – both Western and Eastern, what we are brought up with and societal mindset. Many women see that [getting attached or married] as a part of their value or self-worth.

Coming back to simpler and happier thoughts, hiking and our journey so far which cumulated to the day of being proposed to. It was definitely a special moment which seems more important than signing any legal document. The first few hikes we had as a couple in Singapore and later brought us on many other adventures.

The adventures we had together were great experiences which brought us closer as partners. Multi-day hikes are a great way to bond for sure, when you are ‘bonded’ together for that number of days and nights…

There are so many memories and stories to tell around each hike, adventure and experience we’ve had together. Although we’ve had some bad ones too, just like any other couples, I think it takes work from both parties to work out any issues.

Some things I’ve learn so far after being in a good and healthy relationship. We may not be perfect at doing this yet but a relationship is a learning journey.

  • Do not leave issues as they are. Work them out and find a middle ground if there is and then move on.
  • As partners, we need to lift each other up. From simple things like sharing domestic chores to something more emotional and mental.
  • Listening to each other. Really listen. This is so important for any form of relationship – friends, colleagues, family…yet so tough. Many people listen ‘shallowly’ and jump right off to what they want to say. I’m more aware of this now, but still room for improvement.
  • If there are deal breakers in the relationship, learn to say no and break away as early as possible. Life is too short for staying unhappy for too long.
  • Learn to discover and travel solo first before travelling with your partner. Find that space, peace and happiness within yourself as you should not rely solely on someone else to make you happy.
  • Mutual respect, honesty and trust form the basis of a healthy relationship.

We are so alike in so many ways that it is easy for me to be my weird self. I don’t think there could have been another answer to the proposal other than, yes.

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Sailing in Singapore

Sailing can be pretty fun. We took a four-day course over two weekends at Changi Sailing Club. It was a good course and I recommend it.

The first day required us to pass a swimming test in the swimming pool. Next, we had theory class in an open-air classroom. After lunch, we had a few hands-on practice using a structure which simulates movement of the boat. That was kind of fun. Another fun part was learning how to get up the boat after capsizing. That was done right off the jetty. We took turns to do a half capsize, with the sail just floating on top of the water surface, and a full capsize. To simulate a full capsize, we had to lay on top of the sail until the entire sail goes under. It’s tough enough to right a sailboat after a half capsize and this is very useful considering that capsizing is actually quite common in windy conditions.

  • After you fall into the water, swim around the boat to where the centreboard sticks out. Watch out for the ropes as they can be a hazard.
  • Pull the centreboard out and put your weight on it. The difficult part for me here was getting on top of the centreboard while you are floating around in the ocean, neck deep in water.

We got to rig up our own boats as part of the course. This requires regular practice… It’s been a while since our course and I’ve forgotten how to rig up the boat. We collect our Picos from the boat parking bay and drag them to the open space for washing down the boats and rigging them up. Dragging the boats around is not easy. They are heavy!

Next, we collect our mast, boom, ropes, mainsheet, rudder, centreboard and wind direction indicator. We get good guidance from the instructor on how to rig it up the first time.

We did not get very good winds during the duration of our course and even had to be towed back to shore on one of the days like boat ducklings.

We’ve been back sailing a few more times at Constantwind before we stopped and considered ourselves a little too rusty to go out again without additional classes…

Lunar New Year!

For Chinese who observe some traditions of Lunar New Year, you get a second chance to kickstart your resolutions!
Usually it includes getting fit and losing weight especially after all that feasting. Not forgetting that at this point we are still working off the calories from Christmas and New Year!

Some things which come to mind during Chinese New Year….

Food
My immediate family is seen as less traditional.Visiting is kept to a minimal and we’ve gone through the same Chinese New Year routine for the last two decades. Chinese New Year for us is about sitting around and waiting for everyone to turn up before moving out to my dad’s grand aunt’s place. By that time, we are all exhausted from sitting around and exercising our willpower from not finishing the pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit and chocolates etc. That’s when I get motivated to go run around the field, start playing tennis again, cycling and hiking. Good news is that we have a long weekend for Chinese New Year this year and we intend to do either one of those activities during the long weekend.

Red packets
There is a tradition of giving hong baos, or red packets, which I wished can be changed. The red packets with some token of cash is usually given to relatives younger than you are, who isn’t married yet. So, my partner and I are not married but we’ve been living together for close to five years. That counts for being de facto in some countries. However, not in the Chinese tradition. They need us to be legally registered and also families need to be updated and informed. Last year, we received red packets from my cousins and that was awkward for us since we’re both above 35 years old and usually the practice of giving red packets stop at the twenties for many – given that that’s usually the average age one gets married.

New clothes 
It’s Chinese New Year day 1 today and we don at least one new item which symbolises starting afresh for the new year. Often, people wear red for the first day which symbolises good luck. Or they wear the colour of their year. This is usually found in chinese horoscopes.

Chinese horoscopes 
There’s this big book of horoscopes which we read to past time on day 1. It can be amusing and entertaining. We read about our own animal signs for what may happen during the year….and can be fun when we start comparing notes. But we forget about it almost immediately. As what my mom once described it, they’re ‘horror-scopes’, and to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Where can you go hiking in Singapore?

Singapore with a total land area of 687 sq km and highest point at Bukit Timah of 166m, has a pretty decent trail with some climbing… of stairs.

This walk takes you through stairs, mud and more mud, rocks and a stretch of paved road. Living in Singapore and wishing that not everything is boarded up or paved, try this for a off-the-beaten track hike. This is one of our usual routes for a weekend hike.

You will need about 3 hours to 3.5 hours to complete. Or even less. The last time I went, it was 13.5KM within 2 hr and 45 minutes with two bathroom breaks. I would rate this as an easy hike overall. But do bring plenty of water and hydrate well as the weather is hot and humid in Singapore. I finished a 3-litre bag of water during the hike.

Take a cab or drive to Dairy Farm Carpark A, if you wish to explore Wallace Trail or just head straight to Carpark B. The Dairy Farm Summit Loop is just right up the track. There’ll be a sign with ‘Dairy Farm Summit Loop’ pointing towards some stairs.

I went on a Saturday afternoon at about 1:30pm and there was hardly anyone on this route at Dairy Farm. I saw a couple, a couple of other runners and then I was at Bukit Timah Summit. Before that, you’ll come across stairs…. and more stairs…

You will get to a North View Hut, without much of a view, sans napping man, midway. You will continue on the route.

The route will be flat for a while before coming to another flight of stairs which will take you to the path leading to Bukit Timah Summit.

If you are heading towards Macritchie Reservoir, take the other side down, on the right of the Summit Hut and not the same you came up from. Follow the path down towards the Visitor Centre and I urge you to use the bathrooms on the left before starting out on the trail to Macritchie. You won’t see another bathroom for at least the next 5 to 6km.

Now, onto Macritchie. Go straight until you see a grassy path lined with some logs and a map. Follow the muddy path into the greens.

You’ll see this and seeing the two small bridges here among the trees and the sound of water always make me think how beautiful this small little spot is.

Continue on the path. I wonder about the history of this place. I see some fragments of tiles which look like they came from a house along the way. Some random stairs in the woods. I imagine some stories of an old kampong and a huge house when I walk through the woods. 

Some interesting bridges along the way…

Follow the sign towards MacRitchie Reservoir here and watch out for cyclists along this path.

Follow the pink marker to MacRitchie.

This is after you’ve crossed the road from where you would have emerged. Continue through this trail.

Head up… 

…and left.

This part of the trail can be rather muddy. So do be prepared to get some mud on your shoes and legs. You’ll get on Nangka trail and then onto Durian Loop. I’m presuming that this place used to be where some durian trees were found in Singapore?

I like going across these bridges…

Nicely paved steps here.

We’ve tried both paths here. You can skip the Durian Loop path on the right of the picture here and head towards the left. There are more muddy spots down the path on the right.

This is showcase my trusty Salomons. Still slippery on some muddy rocks, but grips well on most other terrains and light! Unfortunately, they won’t be good for my hike in Canada later this year. They don’t provide sufficient support for the soles and the ankles for longer hikes with a heavy backpack.

9km more to Macritchie Park. You’ll come to a road soon after this. Head left when you emerge and follow the road until you get to a trail among some construction.

You will come to a road. Walk uphill and follow the road for about 2km, I think. You’ll pass the Rifle Range Camp along the way and then another entrance/exit to a trail which is part of Macritchie. I saw these pheasants of sorts along the way.

Follow the yellow dirt road! 

Not far now! However, at this point, I do usually feel like it’s so near yet so far… 0_0

There are lots of monkeys along the way, next to the road mostly. I didn’t get any photos of them but I did get a photo of this millipede hurrying a long the path towards TreeTop…

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You may head up TreeTop or just follow the signs to Macritchie Reservoir Park, either through the Golf Link or the other way. If you continue to TreeTop, there’s a bathroom there you may use before continuing towards either TreeTop or towards Macritchie Park.

Depending on which route you end up taking at Macritchie, the hike is between 13.5KM and 16.6KM, to Macritchie Park’s main carpark.

Have fun and don’t forget to hydrate! Bring a waterproof bag for your electronics and valuables in case it rains. We were caught in the rain a few times on our hike. It can be fun to wade through the mini floods at Macritchie, but do keep your electronics and phones in a waterproof bag.

Feel like you need a break? Take a hike.

No, not in the context of ‘f*** off and leave’. You might feel like telling someone that but perhaps it is time for you to take it literally – plan a hike and make it longer than 3 days.

It sounds ironic that you should take a hike when you need a break doesn’t it? A hike with a road trip can help us work better.

You’ll be surprised how going back to nature and basics can give you perspective and also make you more resourceful. Take the opportunity to plan this with your partner. However, just a cautionary note that it may make or break the relationship if you do not understand each other enough or have not done a trip like that before. Always a first.

Hiking takes your mind off other things at first when you are planning. If you get a sense of purpose doing meaningful things, this can be such a good ritual. The things we learn from taking a hike  (which also includes a road trip), can teach us a lot about how we can approach work and life.

Planning for that hike requires research. It gives your mind a different kind of focus and also gives you something to look forward to. Until you sink ankle deep in mud during your hike and have to walk around the next few days with wet and caked hiking boots. Think about the time when you were planning for your vacation. Weren’t you excited?

Throw in the element of challenge. This is how a hike can affect you mentally. You feel mentally and physically stronger after, perhaps not immediately after the hike for the latter. A hike can make you feel like you have achieved something. Carrying your own pack, cooking your own food over a small gas stove, pacing your day and planning when you stop and how long you’ll need to get to the next campsite or where to pitch the tent, where to get water and how to filter your water, where to set up your shower and how to shower without anyone catching you naked or almost naked, sometimes even battling the cold and sandflies…

Hiking requires a ton of discipline. Walking a certain distance each day, meal planning and keeping to it, waking up at a certain time to get in the right amount of distance before the next campsite or ground and continuing even when you are tired requires that discipline and grit. These attributes can be applied to life and work.

Team work. You definitely play as team with your partner. In life and also while hiking. Sharing and splitting up what we carry in our bags, dividing tasks during the trip and lending a helping hand when that bloody branch suddenly appeared in your view when it is too late and you see yourself doing splat to the ground in slowmo.

Setting up camp is usually a task we rush through since we try to hike as much as possible in a short time frame since we have to get back on schedule and catch a flight home. Once we get to the campsite or grounds, the aim is to setup and cook before it gets dark. At the same time, we also shower and that takes time in setting up our little shower bag, getting food cooked and then finishing that before it is too dark. In the Canadian Rockies, we had to ensure that ALL food items are locked in the anti-bear lockers after we were done. You don’t want unexpected visitors in the night to your tent.

Showering in the wilderness in New Zealand during early September was a real pain. One, it was still cold but not cold enough for sandflies. We get attacked whenever we are stop moving or when there’s exposed skin. You and your partner will stand guard during this really vulnerable moment when you take turns to shower and watch for other hikers and also swap sandflies away. After the shower, we hop around shivering while trying to get on all our clothes, all at the same time, bottoms and tops together. Frankly, I doubt this is a sight which would turn any hikers on at all. I doubt I’ve ever showered so quickly with soap before. It was camp soap on and off in 60 seconds and literally shivering through the whole process and then hopping into the thermal pants or trying to push both legs, which are still a bit damp, in the same time, while cursing why they won’t just slip on quick enough. In NZ, there was the extra check for sandflies under the pants and top.

Team work is so important on these trips. This is also where partners learn more about each other. Eg. Driving and navigating. I am usually designated navigator as I’m better at reading maps and directions then with non-stop driving.

At the end of the trip, you will stink and will just wish to teleport to a nice Airbnb house for a shower.

Once you are cleaned and had some comfort food, you will appreciate what you have experienced as something that you have accomplished together a team. You will feel tired but mentally stronger and that is something helps with everything in life. Resilience, discipline and team work. Sometimes, getting out of our comfort zones can bring out something good.

Hidden gem: Strawberry Jam sponge cake

I was craving for some old fashioned bakery’s bread loaf today and I stumbled onto something else. They are hidden in the basement of Katong Shopping Centre (the orange and blue building on the corner of Haig Road and East Coast Road), #B1-93, Dona Manis. Manis is malay for ‘Sweet’ and boy will you find lots of sweet cakes here.

It is a small shop with a place where they bake and prepare the cakes. There isn’t a wide selection of buns but has lots of banana pies. They don’t sell the loaf of bread which I was looking for unfortunately.

I picked out a couple of items randomly – a butter bun for SGD1.30 and a box of strawberry jam sponge cake for SGD3. It is a small box of sponge cake and this may not be enough for a company of 2. One can easily gobble the four mini slices in there in one seating. They are easily melt-in-your-mouth. Each slice is about the length of a finger and can almost be described as ‘a finger of sponge cake’ instead of a slice. They aren’t too sweet and it has a lovely texture which would be a slippery gastronomic slope into weight gain if you aren’t careful with the quantity.

There has been raving reviews of the signature banana pie but since I’m not a big fan of bananas, I decided against the extra calories. I feel I made a good choice with the sponge cake. I decided on that as I noticed the lady boss making them on the spot and while preparing them, she was also putting some away into her mouth. So, do try the strawberry sponge cake when you visit and if sweets are your thing, try their signature banana pie and some of the buns.

The butter bun was a surprise, not in a bad way. I had expected that to be plain with buttery flavours. I got home, bit into it and a chunk of sugary butter oozed out. If you like Chin Mei Chin’s kaya butter toasts, this may be up your alley too. Well, apparently it is also the cat’s ‘lick of bun’. One of the cats sidled up next to me when I was eating it and while I was taking a picture of it, she could not stop putting her nose and mouth on it. It was a little hilarious but given this wouldn’t be healthy for the cat, sad to say, she didn’t have any except a couple of licks on the surface.

Glorious sponge cake!
Glorious sponge cake!