My great-uncle (my grandmother’s brother) was turning 90 on 11th December and there was going to be a big family celebration in Singapore. My mum had wanted to attend but because my sister was arriving in Dubai at the same time she decided not to go. I told her I’d go instead. I knew my grandmother would be there and several cousins and aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen in a while. My parents thought it was a good idea and I booked my flights.
I got to Singapore on the 11th morning. My flight landed at 7am and I was out of immigration about 15 minutes later. I think most people on the flight were in transit and there were very few people waiting for their bags at the carousel. In spite of that the luggage took forever to come out! I eventually got my bag at 8am and went straight to my great-uncle’s flat where my grandmother was also staying.
My grandmother, her brother and a few others were already awake and having tea so I joined them for a while and we all had to get ready. Every room in the flat was full – they have four bedrooms – and there were suitcases everywhere.
There was a puja at the Sri Sivan Temple that morning followed by lunch. We were at the temple by 10.30am and the priest began the Abhishek puja – a ritual performed for the Shiva lingam. It wasn’t a very long puja and we sat down to lunch at noon. Lunch was south Indian food – dosas, idlis and other delicacies – served on large leaves.
We went home after lunch and I needed to nap for a while. I’d barely slept on the flight and was fading fast. I slept for a few hours but had a conference call at 6pm with the UK. The call was fine but halfway through there was a tropical storm – thunder and lightning – which interfered with the wifi at home so we couldn’t continue with the conversation!
On Tuesday night there was a family dinner at home. There were about 25 to 30 of us – I met relatives I hadn’t seen in a couple of years – from Singapore, Dallas, London, Jakarta, Dubai – and it was nice to catch up! The food was mostly Lebanese – everyone kept apologising to me for that but I really didn’t mind! Dinner was over by 11pm and I was in bed by midnight. I slept (on and off) for about 12 hours.
I walked around Orchard Road on Wednesday afternoon – I went to Centrepoint and Robinsons, looking at clothes. I tried on a few things but they were either too big or too small, nothing was just right…
I got home at 4.30 and went straight for coffee with my grandmother and a couple of cousins. We went to PS Cafe in Harding Road. It’s a lovely area which used to be the British army barracks but has now been converted into shops and restaurants. There’s even a Jones the Grocer there! We sat outdoors and had coffee and shared the biggest slab of chocolate cake I’ve ever seen!
That night one of my uncles took us to the American Club for dinner. It was supposed to be a boys’ night out for them but in the end we all went, except the ‘boys’ went to a separate restaurant from the ‘girls’. We went to the Eagles’ Nest on the ground floor. While we were waiting for our table we saw a tray of potato skins go past and decided we had to order them when we sat down. We started with that – and I ordered the roast chicken for my main course.
The food was average – I’m not sure I’d eat there again. The best thing we had was the New York cheesecake.
After dinner one of my cousins and I decided to go out for some drinks. We walked down Orchard Road looking for somewhere that wasn’t too sleazy and eventually ended up at Crossroads Cafe. I had two glasses of white wine, she had chamomile tea. It wasn’t a late night – I was home a little after midnight and got into bed.
And I lay in bed.
I just couldn’t sleep. I eventually fell asleep after 6am and was woken up 4 hours later.
Three of my cousins and I decided we’d go out for lunch that day. We went to the food court at ION Orchard, one of the malls on Orchard Road. We went to the food court so that we could all have what we wanted and share our food. All I really wanted was char siu pau! We ordered Hainan chicken rice, an oyster omelette, smoked duck, and various dim sum. We browsed in the shops afterwards and were home by 5pm.
There was another big family dinner at home that evening and I decided that if I was going to get some sleep I’d have to drink red wine instead of white. I slept so well that night.
On Friday morning I wandered around Orchard Road again and went home for lunch. Later that afternoon one of my cousins and I decided to get our hair done for the party that night. We went to Far East Plaza as she had an appointment at a salon there. Unfortunately they were too busy to do my hair but the entire mall seemed to be hair salons so I had no trouble getting a blowdry!
When I got home I decided to iron my pink dress for the dinner that night.
And I burnt it.
It was one of my favourite dresses – I’d bought it earlier this year in London and had worn it three times in the last 6 months – each time in a different country! Thankfully I had taken a couple of other dresses with me as I thought we’d be going out a lot more than we did. I ended up wearing a black dress instead.
We got to the St Regis Hotel a little before 8pm. The champagne reception started at 7pm but we were a bit late – there was a lot going on at home which is explained below. I helped myself to a glass of chilled Dom Perignon and talked to some friends and cousins until we were told to sit at our tables.
Once we were all seated, the speeches began. There were only two speeches – one was my great-uncle’s (read by one of his daughters) and the other was his son’s. I’d heard versions of both of them over the few days I’d been in Singapore and I thought they were both excellent.
The dinner buffet was open after the speeches and by 10.30pm almost everyone had left! Apparently that’s what happens in Singapore? About 10 family members were left, drinking champagne and wine, and then two cousins and I decided to go to the BLU Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel where they were staying. The bar was closed when we got there but because my cousins were staying there, they let us order some drinks. I got home at around 2am.
In the few days I was in Singapore her health deteriorated. On Friday her breathing was very laboured and her children thought it would be best if she were in hospital where she could receive the care she needed. They agreed that she should be admitted to hospital while we were at dinner and not to tell my great-uncle until the dinner that evening was over and he was on his way home. She wouldn’t have been able to attend the dinner anyway.
On Saturday I went to see her in hospital on my way to the airport. She seemed better but looked so annoyed at being in hospital. And even more annoyed that she had to have physiotherapy. She just glared at everyone around her. I kissed her forehead when I left, wondering if I would see her again. She passed away peacefully the next day. I’m thankful I got to see her and I’m thankful she was surrounded by her husband, all her children, and most of her grandchildren. She will be greatly missed.