Published: Verve Magazine, March 2012
Illustration by Farzana Cooper
Singapore – the destination everyone’s been to. Repeatedly. With children in tow. Here’s a diary of an eventful trip to baby-friendly Singapore with an eight-month-old – where things turn out not quite as they were meant to be
Day 1: Mumbai baggage
It’s a packer’s nightmare. You start by making a list. Until you realise that you could go on adding to-dos, but you may still forget something. And then you start hyperventilating. You take a really deep, shaky breath and realise – ‘Oh big deal – it’s Singapore. They have everything.’ As an intrepid traveller, I’ve battled my roots to attempt to travel light. No longer is it about, ‘What if I need this very pair of understated Anne Klein pumps over the glitzy Nine West ones?’ I am now confronted with packing for an eight-month-old infant. Her suitcase is nearly as big as I am. I’ve called ahead and asked our hotel to organise sterilisers, bottle warmers, baby cot, baby bathtub and stroller…but even so, as a friend once shrugged and said, “You want to travel with a baby, you can forget about travelling light.” And I’ve only taken one pair of shoes – the one on my feet.
Day 1: Flights and bassinet seats
The flight is uneventful, relatively speaking. My darling child dutifully falls asleep in my arms, soon after take-off, I gently put her into the bassinet in front of me. I’m just about to loosen my stiff limbs and try to settle in for a nap, when there is a slight rumble and the harried air hostess requests me firmly, ignoring my appalled expression, to remove the child from the bassinet due to anticipated air turbulence. Baby sets off a heart-wrenching wail at being disturbed from her deep sleep. I shush and rock her back to sleep over the next 45 minutes and hold her in my arms for the hours until we reach, setting off cramps in muscles I didn’t know existed. That’s the eventful part.
Day 2: Singapore and strollers
Landing in Singapore, I smile in the early morning light, dreaming of organic baby food, chic baby-friendly restaurants and malls with comfortable baby-changing stations. I already know that the city is organised around strollers – making it a piece of cake to walk around the wide pavements. Except…when your hotel accesses the main walkway through an underpass. So, I need to lug Baby and stroller down a flight of stairs, walk, and then up another flight of stairs to reach the pedestrian street. Oh no! How many times would I have to do this every day? I spy the biggest Zara on Oxford and a Starbucks right next to it. I can already see many happy hours spent between the two. Both are accessible via a flight of stairs. I’m not really into this lugging-the-stroller-up-to-shop-and-sip thing. I turn away with a sinking heart.
Day 3: The Great Singapore Sale and diapers
Of course, I have unwittingly chosen an optimum time of the year to pop into the city – at the end of the Great Shopping Festival – which means that all the malls are sickeningly busy and crowded, and waiting for the elevator to traverse floors means waiting forever. So Baby is now getting accustomed to travelling at an incline. The stroller is angled onto the escalator, with a bemused toddler strapped in.
I make a beeline for the nearest store to buy all the required baby things. From grocery store to medical store to convenience chain, each shrugs and points to the next one. I find myself amazed. My part of Orchard Street is completely sold out on Pampers’ diapers in Baby’s size. Apparently, every child in Singapore is a size medium. Good Lord, help me find diapers.
Day 4: Jurong Bird Park and lorries
At Jurong Bird Park, Baby discovers the lorries. Startlingly awake from her afternoon nap (as we sweat up and down the park route driving the stroller and a sleeping Baby), she is thrilled to see them squawking away, flying in and perching on our hands and eating off our palms. She laughs and claps her hands at the sheer number of them, gurgles at the happy swish of colours.
Day 5: High chairs and changing stations
If there’s anything that Singapore should get full marks for, it’s the fact that any and every restaurant, even the tiniest coffee shop, will have a high chair. It makes it seem that children are wanted and are meant to be assimilated into the culture and not to be left home, like in India. While shopping for Baby on the fifth floor of Paragon, we take a break at the café nearby. It is also possibly the only one in Singapore without a high chair. A tad ironic, seeing that it is located in the children’s section of the mall!
After a run on the toy train at the play area, I walk smugly to the fancy diaper-changing station. I know this is going to be easy. What I haven’t accounted for is that Baby isn’t taking very well to being placed flat on a cold hard surface for her least favourite moment of the day. She sets off a massive howl that scares the daylights out of the ladies around. I don’t dare imagine what is running through their minds. I move away from the sophisticated station and prop myself onto a sofa and try to change her on my lap. There goes convenience. Not pleased at being huddled about, Baby doesn’t stop shrieking until she’s sitting up. I manage to pacify her with Olivia the Owl – her new best friend procured from the toy store nearby.
Day 6: Tiffany’s lullabies and the many colours of Sephora
I’ve worked out a great schedule based on where I want to shop and eat, so that Baby gets her sleep and meals bang on time. But as I cut through Takashimaya, right outside the understated bling of Tiffany’s, Baby suddenly wants to get out of her stroller and into my arms to sleep. I can’t sing lullabies to her in front of Tiffany’s with a straight face! Finding a quiet niche, I settle her in and tuck her into the stroller. As I quickly make my way to my target, Sephora, she’s up and awake dazzled by the colours and jarred by the music in the store. How will I ever shop here?
Day 6: Dancing rainbows at Clarke Quay
We set off for a quick evening meal at the lively waterside. Baby is quite well behaved, checking out the happenings. How perfect it all is! I excitedly prop open the newly acquired, organic, European baby porridge. I see to my horror that the food won’t mix, it’s coagulating and poor Baby is valiantly trying to chew with distaste. I distract her with the dancing colour water fountains in quiet desperation.
Day 6: Designer indecisions
No one goes shopping in Singapore without returning with a few prized designer goods. Some, like the Verve stylists, pre-decide what they have their eyes set on. For me, it would be impulse buys. My indecision leads me to make the walk back and forth between Prada and Miu Miu – which means Baby comes along for the ride. If only she could help me choose…but she seems content to sit back and listen to the muted music in the stores and eye the expressionless Japanese lady buying six pairs of shoes. A people-watcher, already.
Day 7: Night-time margaritas
Taking a taxi to grab dinner at Margaritas is totally worth it. Great Mexican food and ambience and enough wall paintings to keep Baby busy while I wolf down that enchilada, washing it back with the restaurant’s signature drink. From express dim sum lunches to fine-dining Thai, Baby has settled well into high-chair eating, but doesn’t quite master the patience bit, wreaking sweet havoc with the silverware and table mats. A shoe falls off, a spoon goes tinkling down, a fork spears the tiles, paper napkins find themselves arranged at floor level and a mischievous grin keeps you from tearing your hair out.
And then you take a sneak peak around – other children are equally busy self-entertaining themselves, and the only glances in our direction are indulgent ones. That’s what makes Singapore baby-friendly. Not the availability of baby food and diapers (or not), but the fact that they get it – what it means to be a parent who wants to eat a nice meal out and doesn’t want to leave Baby behind. And for those who do, most hotels in the city offer baby sitters.