Our first stop today was Kranji War Cemetery, about an hour by MRT to the north of the island. Once the MRT comes above ground we are in the suburbs, with high rise apartment blocks one after the other. The MRT is easy to use, clean, comfortable and very cost effective. We never waited more than a minute for a train - just turn up and go.
Why the cemetery? The Navigatrix's great uncle was a professional soldier in The Manchester Regiment. The Regiment was stationed in Singapore at the beginning of the war and was one of the last to leave, heading to set up a communication post. As they departed on HMS Dragonfly they had the misfortune to be bombed and Uncle Albert perished. There is no headstone for Albert but his name is on the wall, along with the 24,000 others who lost their lives at Singapore.
When we arrived at the cemetery there was a bus unloading passengers all wearing matching shirts. "A tour group," grumbled The Navigatrix. "Come on, let's head up to the top before they get there."
A book locked away in a weatherproof box has an A-Z register of names, their rank, enlistment number, regiment, date of death, next of kin and where they were from. Most importantly the book lists the column number where the name is engraved.
We stood by Uncle Albert's name and read the names of others who perished. Name after name after name after name... The Navigatrix had a moment of contemplation.
Then we heard a noise. Down at the entrance, that tour group had assembled as a brass marching band and were marching up the hill to the cenotaph playing 'The Road to Gundagai'. What a delight! We stood and watched them come to the top of the hill and then stand down.
We struck up a conversation. They were the Eastern Australian Brass Band (mainly from Canberra), on tour here and then to Germany and France. It is something they do every year. Hannah the team leader asked what we were doing here and who we were honouring.
Then came the moment that astonished us.
"We are going to do a service," said Hannah. "Would you like us to do it by your Uncle's memorial?"
We all walked back to Uncle Albert's name on the wall and The Navigatrix gave some background on Albert and how his daughter and wife were fortunate to escape to Perth on one of the last boats out. The band played a hymn and the Ode of Remembrance was read. Then there was a haunting version of The Last Post. It is a haunting piece of music in its own right but suddenly this version was personal. Finally the band played another hymn. By this stage the Navigatrix was crying and said she had one of the most emotional connections of her life.
We chatted to the band members before they asked us to join their group photo. Hannah said there is always someone at the memorial sites when they arrive. Inevitably there are Australians and they always turn their own service into something personal for the visitors. We felt truly blessed to be included. What a sliding doors moment: if we had been on a different train; or had walked from the MRT station instead of catching a cab; or any other random event between Fort Canning and Kranji we would have missed it.
We walked back to the MRT station (it was downhill!) and headed to the Botanical Gardens and the Orchid Garden. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage site and horticulturally famous for the introduction and experimentation of the rubber plant. This became a major crop which transformed the region. Apart from being an important living green space for the city, the Garden is internationally recognised for spearheading new techniques in orchid breeding. One should visit not just for the Orchid Garden but also for the other spaces such as the Ginger Garden, the Bamboo Grove and The Rainforest. There is one tree which is over 48 meters high and at least 150 years old! There is no excuse not to visit because the Gardens are open from 5am to midnight every day.
For something different we caught the bus down Orchard Road and back to Boat Quay, which is just down the road from our hotel. The bus driver very kindly let us on even though we were forty cents short of the full fare. Cash is king in Singapore, credit cards are rarely accepted except in large stores. We should have bought a travel card which can be topped up via credit card, much like an Opal card in Sydney.
In the evening we caught the Singapore River Boat tour down the river and out into Marina Bay. It was wonderful to see the city all lit up. We paid the extra money to see the laser and light show from Marina Bay Sands. We have heard some people say the lights are less than impressive - we disagree. Up close they are a spectacular sight, timed with music and also searchlights and laser beams from the top of the hotel. We were on the wrong side to see the projections onto the curtain of spray but we could see the light projections onto the ArtScience Museum and the hotel. This is an event you need to be present and outside to experience. Interestingly, the bay is sealed off from the sea which means it is all fresh water and the largest reservoir in Singapore.
Back home, The Navigator had fried carrot cake from the food court downstairs. It is not what you might think - rather the glutenous noodles and curry sauce look like carrots. It was not Michelin starred food but for $4.00 it is hard to go wrong.