There are places that you find yourself going back to over and over again. It’s a place – or places – that lift the icy sheet of melancholy or that heavy shroud of grief from the shoulders. One friend finds solace at either her favorite nail place or hair salon. Another friend retreats to her room, curling up to sleep or to read a book. Some escape into the tranquil ambience of spas for healing massages while others head to their favorite bar or lounge for a glass of their preferred poison.
Lately, I’ve been hit with nostalgia for some my favorite watering holes in Singapore, which I’ll be leaving for a while for a sojourn where I’m looking forward to finding new places. Through the years I’ve been residing in Singapore, most my choice nooks are either private sanctuaries or closely associated with friends.
The walk-up apartment on Stevens Close was the ceilidh for parties in the past, which saw friends and acquaintances let their hair down. Surrendering to wine, hors d’oeuvres and fairly intelligent conversation, they forgot momentarily problems that plagued them. But news of the apartment and the other units going up for en-bloc sale put an end to such gatherings and prompted the decision to move to another flat. My present domicile – but not for long – has a nice garden and steps to sit and shoot the breeze. Facing the presidential palace, the sun streaming through the thick foliage of the palace was a sight to behold in the mornings. The kitchen was a place of warmth, laughter and filled bellies when a former flat mate-friend whipped up dishes for dinner (too bad she couldn’t remember how she managed to prepare the dish we christened “Spur-of-the-Moment-Chicken” one fine evening). It was also the place a past love dazzled me with his banana fritters (our recipes were similar except his had egg added to the batter).
Nooch at Wheelock Place was a constant meeting place with friends around and outside of Singapore. Located on the second floor, it was a perfect location to people-watch from above especially when you got a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Its menu was a big help in settling the issue of varying palates – Thai, Indonesia and Japanese. Sadly, Nooch has long closed its doors to diners. Fortunately, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is still operational. At one point, it was my breakfast place especially the branch at Holland Village – it was always a tossup between the Eggs Benedict and toast with jam or butter.
Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts, the international buffet restaurant, was another venue for numerous get-togethers. Without fail, there was always an exchange of plans on strategic eating between friends and kin. My plan had always been to go to the stations serving food that I wouldn’t normally prepare such as the rotisserie, seafood and Japanese. The dessert and salad stations were constantly on the list – there’s always a new couscous salad to try and skipping the famed Bread & Butter pudding is absolutely sacrilegious.
Axis Bar & Lounge at The Mandarin Oriental, Singapore was perfect for after-work or weekend chill out session. Pierre Eugene was the singer for that period my friends and I were frequenting the lounge. His rendition of songs by Nat King Cole lifted one’s spirit and stoked the fire of buoyancy while nibbling on tapas.
Ultimate relaxation was blissfully mine in my appropriated private haven, The Oriental Spa, where the therapists were mostly Filipinos with backgrounds on physiotherapy and so every knotted muscle were properly attended to with long, strong strokes. Private haven number two is the library – Bukit Merah and the main library on Bras Basah Road. There is a quiet reading corner at Bukit Merah where people actually sit down and read, unlike the library in Yishun where reading was impossible. The library, much to my chagrin, transformed into a community center cum day care where babies were bawling, children running around and secondary students chattering loudly away. Central library is much too cold for me to slide into one of the little chairs, which are, more often than not, occupied so the foyer is a great spot of reading. Hans Café, which is just at the entrance to the National Library, is a great alternative particularly the al fresco section where the neatly arranged tables allow for quiet reading (translation: You won’t hear the conversation or idle chatter from the other table).
Venturing away from Singapore, Johor Bahru (JB) has become a favorite nook notwithstanding the heat and the long queue at immigration. My usual route was taking the train to Kranji and boarding the “yellow buses” to get to the other side for the occasional weekend jaunts. But after discovering the Singapore-JB taxi service – an open secret unknown to me revealed by a friend – it’s a smooth ride to JB right through immigration and after. Located on Queen Street, travelers have a choice of sharing the cab with three other people or taking the cab on their own to JB. Share-a-cab rate is S$10 per person and S$40 for only the passenger and cab driver. Conversely, at Pasar Bakti Kotaraya II terminal, fee is RM15 person and RM60 for the entire cab for the ride back to Singapore.
Hanging out with a friend of mine, we caught Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince the last time I was there at the Pelangi Leisure Mall. The cinema was filled to the rafters including wailing toddlers who, incidentally, weren’t the cause of our dissatisfaction. After waiting for more than a year to view the sixth installment of the series, we both felt it was a letdown with the unnecessary scenes (e.g. Harry flirting with the waitress at the subway diner and the burning down of the Weasley residence) and the missing
“memories” to help Harry solve the mystery and, not to forget, the crucial funeral of Dumbledore, which, in our minds, galvanized the resolve of the Hogswart community to band together against the malevolent Lord Voldemort. We managed to ease our disappointment with scoops of Baskin-Robbins at Tebrau City Shopping Center the following day.
It’ll be some time before I go back to my favorite nooks and I look forward to that. In the meantime, I’m on a quest for new watering holes.