Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Camping....Singapore Style

Singapore is well known as a modern, metropolitan city. The images of Singapore are always ones of a fast paced urban life: city skylines, huge shopping malls, bustling chinatown, modern expressways. The life most people live in this city is the fast paced city life. Very similar to New York or Hong Kong, it's a concrete jungle. Of course, like most world class cities, space has been set aside for people to spend some time away from the traffic and subways.

The Singapore national parks system consists of a number of parks spread all over the island. Some of these park include lakes and wooded areas for hiking. Others are just a nice piece of green space with paths, bbq pits and picnic tables for people to have a Saturday cookout. Like most things in Singapore, the parks are very well managed and kept very clean. There is even an online reservation system for things like gardening classes, the bbq pits and tent camping.

I'd heard that people do go camping in the parks, so I brought the idea up with Jack. Sembawang park is right on the northern coast of Singapore, only about 15 minutes from our house. Jack couldn't wait to give it a try.

I went online a got us a camping permit that night. Jack and I did a short recon trip a few nights before and were happy with the way the park looked. We decide we'd set up right on the beach hoping to get a bit of a breeze. We'd bought a new tent over the summer to use on our annual Cub Scout trip and this would be our first chance to try it out.

Around 3pm on Sunday (Monday was a holiday), Jack and I arrived at the park and began setting up. There were a few other tents already scattered around the park. At the the small restaurant on the top of the hill, it looked like they were getting ready for a small wedding as well. Otherwise, everyone else was there to enjoy the beach (even through the water was filthy), go for a walk or just enjoy the park on a Sunday afternoon.

Our Tent

Even Camping, you have to bring the DS.

By 4pm, the tent and the rest of our stuff was all set up, but Jack and I were toast. It was about 90 degrees, sunny and not a breath of wind. At that point, we didn't care how clean the water was in the straight between Singapore and Malaysia...we just walked straight in. Ahhhhh. It felt so good to cool off.

After about 5 minutes in the water, we climbed out and started working through all of the stuff we had brought to keep us busy. We played Frisbee and soccer. We also spent a bunch of time going through Jack's Wolf Scout book. We made sure we'd checked off all of the things he'd accomplished either last year or over the summer. We also picked a few things Jack hadn't tried yet to complete. The best was definitely the treasure map. Jack hid a "treasure" (actually a stick) and then made a map so that I could follow it back to the treasure. It's funny how "60 steps toward the water" can mean two entirely different things when walked by a 7 year old or his 6'4" father.

Around 6:30, we made our way to our grill and started getting ready to cook dinner. We'd brought some charcoal and hotdogs that I started to set up. While getting ready to light the coals, I noticed that it was a lot more crowded now than it was a few hours ago. Tents were popping up left and right and there were huge groups of people all over the place.

Right after we lit the coals, a kid about 20 years old sat down next to us with a folded up tent on the picnic table we were using. I said hello and asked how he was. He said he was just waiting for his friends and did we mind if he just sat here to wait.

"No problem," I said. "When are your friends arriving?"

"Some time after 10:00," he said.

I looked at my watch. 6:40. Alright. Whatever.

"Excuse me," he says about 5 minutes later.


"Do you know how to put up a tent?"

You've got to be kidding me. "Yeah," I say. "Do you need a hand?"

"I don't know how to put up a tent," he says. "Can you help me set mine up?"

"Well, right now I'm tending a 2 foot tall burning tower of charcoal and a 7 year old in a crowded park, but maybe in a little bit, ok?"

"Thanks," he says. He then proceeds to sit next to us and stare into space while Jack and I finish getting our dinner ready.

After the coals had burned down a bit, I told Jack to stay put and walked about 40 yards away (where I could still see Jack) with this guy and his tent. After about 5 minutes, his tent was up and Jack and I were grilling hotdogs.

From this point, the park just continued to get more and more crowded. By the time it was dark, half a dozen college age kids has set themselves up about 5 feet away on one side of us and a huge Chinese family had set themselves up on the other side.

By 11 pm, things hadn't even started to slow down. Jack and I had been sitting outside the tent trying to keep cool but moved inside when the old Chinese lady next to us wouldn't stop staring at me. She's walk over to about 5 feet away from me and just stare. At first it was a bit weird, but then it just became funny. Jack and I would just giggle about it until we'd finally had enough and moved into the tent.

The little old lady in the blue dress thought I was cute.

Fortunately, Jack was able to fall asleep shortly after 11. I wasn't as lucky and ended up listening to college kids shout back and forth in Mandarin until about 3am when I finally dozed off. When the sun woke us up at 6:45, our neighbors had made it though the whole night without sleep and were starting to pack up to leave.

After a breakfast of Pop-tarts, Jack and I started cleaning up our stuff around 8:00. By 9:00 the tent was in the car and we turned on the air conditioning. After a night trying to sleep in the humid night air (this is true...I could actually see the humidity in the air in the glow of the lights at night) the blast of cold air in the car felt wonderful.

Overall, it was a learning experience for Jack and I. Next time, we'll go in February when it's a bit less humid. We'll also pick a shady spot for our tent in the back of the park away from the busy beach area.

For a kid who grew up camping in the woods in Hew Hampshire, this was a new experience. This was a lot more like camping on the Boston Common than the Kancamagus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Matt watches Martha Stewart?

Well, not normally. But today, I'll make an exception.

Click here
to see the Tremblays teaching Martha a thing or two about cooking.

(I would have loved to see Martha eating tots and drinking a beer.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Mind of a Second Grader - Volume 1

Been a while since I posted one of these. Jack has been producing some gems though.

Last night, Jack was putting a tooth under his pillow for the tooth fairy.

Melissa: Where do you think the tooth fairy lives?

Jack: Oh, he probably hangs out with Santa.

Melissa: Really?

Jack: Yeah. The Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, they're always going out for drinks together.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Summer of Fun (part 2)

From Great Wolf Lodge, we moved on the the longest stay of our trip, Sag Harbor, NY. My brother Joe and his wife Liza moved there from Manhattan a few years ago and opened a burger joint called Bay Burger.

The best part of staying here was that my entire family was all together for the first time in a few years. My other brother, Mike, had just moved in with Joe after quitting his job of 9 years and moving out of our hometown for the first time. He's now enjoying his new job working at "The Burg'" My parents had also timed their vacation for the same week and were staying at Joe and Liza's too. It was one crowded house of Tremblays.

This being my first vacation in a long time, one of the highlights of my stay in Sag Harbor was watching how hard my brothers and sister-in-law were working at the restaraunt everyday while I had nothing to do. For example. While Joe and Mike were at work, this is what I was up to:

We combined a lot of lounging by the pool with lounging on the couch and eating free food at Bay Burger.

One of the fun things we were all able to do as a family is have a great picnic dinner on the beach. Once a week, hundreds of people make there way to one of the beaches in Sag Harbor to "celebrate" the sunset with drums and dancing. It was an interesting and fun crowd of people at the beach that night. (The highlight for the "foodie" Tremblays was a sighting of Eric Ripert.)

While we were staying in Sag Harbor, we decided to make an overnight trip to NYC to behave like tourists and visit Melissa's old friend Sharon. The highlight of that trip was definitely our time on Broadway. We had already got ourselves tickets for the whole family to see the Blue Man Group. We also purchased tickets to see Mary Poppins while we were there.

If you've never seen it, the Blue Man Group is an interesting show. It's hard to describe. The simplest description is that it's music mixed with performance art. Sounds kind of weird, but it's a very cool show. Jack loved it.

While I wasn't too excited to go see the Mary Poppins musical, I have to say that I enjoyed it very much. Last year, Jack's music class had spent a lot of time singing songs from Mary Poppins, so he had already seen the movie and knew a few of the songs. The most impressive aspect of this show was definitely the sets. Huge, beautiful sets that included entire rooms dropping in from above and scenery rising out of the floor. The show ended with Mary flying out over the crowd as she left the family behind.

Our trip to New York, both NYC and Sag Harbor, was definitely the highlight of our summer.

After New York, we took the ferry from Long Island and then drove to Massachusetts to visit with old Matt's old friends.

We were very thankful to be able to stay in the condo of an old family friend who was out of town for the summer. It was a nice little two bedroom condo not too far from where I grew up. My parents stayed there with us for a few days before they had to go back to the Bahamas.

Our time in Mass. was essentially spent taking it easy. We spent a lot of our time with my friend Jeff and his family. He and his wife Leah invited us to their place for a great diner on our first night there. They also held their annual cook-out while were were in town and we got to see all of our old friends for an afternoon. The Spiderman bounce-house and the never ending game of wiffleball were the most popular events of the afternoon with the kids.

It was a great weekend seeing very old friends that we rarely get to see. We're already looking forward to planning our get together for next summer (Disneyworld anyone?).

After Mass., we jumped back into the truck and made our way to Jack's uncle Andy's house in Virginia. Melissa sisters had decided to make a trip (from Chicago and Austin) so that we could all see each other in VA. They each brought their two kids and we had a 2 day baby cousin convention. It was great to have all of the cousins together. We took advantage of it by getting pictures taken of all the kids. Imagine organizing 6 kids from age 1 to 6 for at least one good photo!

The next day it was back to Grandma Chris' house to pack up for the long flight back to Singapore. Packing all of those suitcases took the better part of an entire day to get done. We looked like we were bringing all of our earthly possessions with us on the plane. 6 large suitcases, 3 small carry-on suitcases and 3 carry-on bags. It was so much stuff, we had to have an 8-person van drive the three of us from the Singapore airport to our apartment.

Now that we've been back in Singapore for a few weeks, we've settled back into our regular routine. Jack is loving his new 2nd grade class and his teacher, Ms. Cuthbert. Melissa jumped right back into her scrapbooking groups and PTA jobs. I've been working a lot (as usual) but I'm also taking a scuba diving course. Next weekend, I go to Malaysia for the "open water diver" certification.

All in all, a great summer. We were sad when it ended but excited to get "back home" to Singapore.