I wasn't looking forward to the weather in Singapore after three weeks in the UK. I'm a wilter - I don't like humidity, which is why I couldn't cope living in Queensland - except in Winter. The first few days we were here were really humid, with thunderstorms every afternoon. The past couple of days have been much milder and with a breeze that seems to have reduced the humidity greatly.
We were met at the airport by the lovely Sasha, from Pansing, the company that distributes books here for Random House Australia. The ride from the airport on Saturday afternoon apparently took longer than usual as Singapore traffic is at it's worst on the weekends.
Everything is pristine. The gardens in the middle of the freeway are manicured and there is not one spray of graffiti anywhere. We're staying just off Orchard Road. The hotel staff are lovely and Singaporeans are very friendly and extremely polite. There have been some adorable taxi drivers who are incredibly chatty and remind me a lot of the London cabbies.
The hotel is undergoing some renovations to their conference areas and hence it's a little bit noisy in some parts. Ian managed to get us upgraded to a suite - which is fabulous considering we are here for 13 nights.
The first few days are a bit of a blur as I spent most of the time in the room finishing the manuscript. Monday afternoon, manuscript sent, Ian took me to Raffles for a late lunch. It's a beautiful place but looks like it could do with a complete makeover - it's just tired. The restaurant we went to had a great three course lunch deal for $25 which is a bargain here. Food is expensive. Clothes are expensive and I have never seen so many high end shops in all my life. I was explaining to a shopkeeper where Ian is having a suit made (that's the only thing that's still really good value - tailor made suits) that in Sydney we have one Chanel shop, one Prada, one Louis Vuitton etc. Here I've seen at least 7 Chanel, at least the same Prada, if not more, and as for LV - there's apparently one on every corner. Although they always seem fairly thin on customers. Someone must be buying, but it won't be me!
I started work at Avondale Grammar School on Tuesday and really enjoyed spending three days there. The staff are fabulous and the children are lovely - so keen and friendly. The school is in an unusual setting - a place called Phoenix Business Park, which is a temporary location until they can find a bigger campus. There are lots of hoops to jump through for the international schools so they might be there a while yet. The campus is housed partly in an historic government building and although they have quite a lot of classroom space, there is limited outdoor areas. The children manage it all really well. I didn't hear a cross word or see a grumpy child the whole time I was there. It was a joy working with all age groups on writing activities and the children did some great work. I loved a story that the Reception (Kindergarten) wrote together about their class bear, Bernard, going on the night safari at the zoo. The jeep was bumpy and he fell out - into the lion's cage. Suddenly he was surrounded by bats - and he was terrified of course, but they fluttered their bat wings and gently picked Bernard up and placed him back into the jeep. Don't you just love a happy ending.
Friday was a day of interviews. I talked with journalists from Young Parents Magazine - who were interested in perspectives on helping children to become better creative writers and Singapore's Child, who had already done a great review of Clementine Rose in their sister publication Kidzone. I then had two telephone interviews with The Star and The Sun in Malaysia. I had no idea that Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose were in Malaysia too - so that was a lovely surprise. I had a final written interview with another Singapore magazine.
Sasha and Kai from Pansing took me for a deliious Japanese lunch and it was great to talk to the girls about what it's like growing up and living in Singapore. They told me about the price of cars and I nearly fell off my chair. Here you have to pay $90,000 (that's not a mistake) for the right to own a car - like a 10 year registration and then cars have between 100-180% tax on the cost price depending on how much they are. So a $50,000 AU car would cost you about $120,000 plus the $90,000 to have the right to own and drive it. No wonder there's not a lot of traffic. Yet I've also seen more Rolls Royce's and Ferraris than anywhere in the world.
On Friday evening we had the pleasure of meeting some of the local writers at a dinner held by the Singapore SCWBI group. David Seow met us at the hotel and we walked the short distance to Tang's Department store where we were having dinner in the restaurant. David is a talented writer of picture books and he is one of the funniest people we've met in a long time. He has an enviable skill for getting his books into the hands of an amazing array of celebrities and even managed to get his mother to agree to sit in the hot sun for hours so she could give Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge one of David's books on last year's royal tour. He has a great story about giving Celine Dion a book - and then she got pregnant and voila! so did Kate.
We were guests of Kenneth Quek, the assistant director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore. A terrific young man with a great passion for books and writers, he was telling us about the work of the council and the wonderful range of festivals that are now happening in Singapore throughout the year. I am hoping perhaps to come back for next year's festival in May.
We also met Sarah Mounsey and Sumi Chandrasekharan, members of the local group. Sarah has published a picture book called Purple Paw Prints and on Friday her second book was going to print. She is heading home to Queensland on a visit soon and will be having a launch at the Avid Reader - so if you're in Brisbane I know she'd love the support.
Lisa Yee from Los Angeles was also at dinner. She's a fabulous (and very famous) author from the US and was here working with students at Stamford American School for three days. Lisa has written some books for American Girl and when I said that a friend from home had illustrated one of the American Girl books last year I was surprised to learn that Sarah Davis had indeed illustrated one of Lisa's books. It's a small world.
Lisa was regaling us with her funny tale of eating durian, a fruit people seem to like here. Although I am not keen myself after hearing that it was so awful she felt sick and the smell is so pungent that it's against the law to carry it on public transport and most hotels have a blanket ban!
On Saturday we met Cheryle Hun who owns Bookaburra, the specialist bookseller here. Her shop in The Forum is lovely and has a great range of books from all over the world. Bookaburra is very proactive and were holding several events and exhibitions over the weekend. I spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of children and parents at The Forum and Denise, who does all the Bookaburra promotions and PR had organised a fun activity afterwards where the children were able to paint their own little Lavender the pig. There were some colourful creations for sure.
I'm looking forward to working with Cheryle and Denise for the rest of the week visiting schools and will blog about each of them over the coming days.
I have ventured to the shops a few times with some success. In among the high end labels there are some more affordable options including Zara. I know we have an outlet in Sydney but I've tried to get in there twice and it's always so busy. Obviously it's not such a novelty here.
One of my sisters recommended that we had to go to Sunday Brunch at the Hyatt - so we did. What a feast that is. The most extraordinary range of food, beautifully presented and more than you could hope to eat - ever.
Today I caught up on lots of emails and other work but we did spend a few hours down at Marina Bay Sands and particularly in the amazing Gardens By the Bay. Spectacular! The Marina Bay Sands hotel is an architectural triumph and the whole area is incredible. We didn't go to the casino - which from the door looked like an RSL club. If you live in Singapore it costs $100 to go in. If you're from overseas it's free. I guess that's one way to discourage local gambling. You can become a member for $2000 per year.
I'm looking forward to visiting the Australian International School tomorrow and will write about it asap.