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High Tea – Top 5


The Rose Veranda, Shangri-La Hotel, 22 Orange Grove Rd, Tel 6213 4486

The influences of British colonialism can still be felt throughout Singapore – whether it’s architecture, street names or through English as the dominant language. But probably the most English of all lingering influences is the quaint notion of high tea. Quaffing Earl Gray while munching on cucumber sandwiches or jam scones has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years – and Singapore’s plethora of high-end hotels have made the most of offering tiers of cakes and other treats to those who want to get dressed up for an afternoon of feeling fabulous.One such place is The Rose Veranda, in the Shangri-La Hotel. It has been an institution for afternoon tea since its inception in 1991. The refurbished lounge offers a refreshing, contemporary look and enhanced dining options, cementing its status as the preferred venue for leisurely afternoons.Look forward to a high tea spread that features international and local delights or a three-tier English afternoon tea set. The Rose Veranda presents a choice of 164 premium tea blends for your pleasure.Afternoon high tea is served in two seatings on weekends and public holidays.

The Landing Point, Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay, Tel 6597 5277

Great views over the water, and they do both sweet and savoury well.

Brassiere Les Saveurs, St Regis Hotel, 29 Tanglin Rd, Tel 6506 6866

Interior fit for a king or queen, with an impressive menu to match.

Tea Lounge, The Regent Hotel, 1 Cuscaden Rd, Tel 6733 8888

Dependable, with plush armchairs to sink into after three-tiered indulgence.

Tiffin Room, Raffles Hotel, Raffles Hotel Lobby, 1 Beach Road, Tel 6412 1816

If you live here, you may look further afield, but for entertaining visitors, can it get any more “Singapore Colonial” than high tea in Raffles’ famous tea room?

This article was originally published in July 2013.

Netball – From Strength to Strength


 

In the past seven years, the amount of girls playing has increased from 60 to 350 (see Note below). All that growth is fantastic for the league, but is a big jump in the workload for new ANZA Netball boss Christine Elliot.

“We needed to change the way things were being run. Two amazing ladies steeped down from running netball for the last five years at the end of our last season.

“We needed to share the load, increase participation in decision making, bring in varying opinions and expertise in the aim to strengthen committee and overall improve the governance of ANZA Netball”.

And the aim? “With these building blocks in place, we think we could grow to overtake Soccer as the most popular ANZA sport in Singapore”.

To do that we would need many more courts but small problems like this are nothing for this talented team of over achievers!

But what is the benefit that you will see on a Saturday morning? The real aim is to see improvement in the way netball coaching is delivered to these budding Silver Ferns or Aussie Diamonds. They have established new roles such as coaching coordinator who will help develop the coaching programme, arrange courses and seminars for coaches and generally standardise the way the coaching is performed across the ANZA group. With the transient nature of Singapore we want our young netballers to develop skills so that they could walk onto any court around the world and do ANZA Netball proud.

They are also developing the position of age group coordinator. This person will be in charge of their age group, picking the teams, arranging the coaches, allocating courts and generally dealing with all queries and problems within their groups. Again sharing the load this person will be in charge of 30 to 70 girls (and their parents) and will be able to support the development of coaches in their age-group, arrange mini-tournaments and perhaps even outside matches when available.

Finally, there is a plan to provide a full representative programme for girls 10 and over so those girls who want to go further with their netball can participate in more games, a higher level of training and hopefully strive to be leaders in ANZA and other school teams that they may be involved in. There has been a pilot programme for rep teams in the past year and the feedback in general has been very positive. Now all that is needed is more volunteers to take it to the next stage and open it up across all the older age groups.

But we have to remember, all this does not happen without a huge amount of time given by many volunteers, and we still need more help. Specifically we are still looking for a treasurer, equipment coordinator, first aid coordinator and secretary. So if you have a couple of hours spare a week and you want to see ANZA Netball continue to grow and improve then we are waiting for your call!

This article was originally published in August 2013. Note: Since the time of publishing the number of girls playing Netball has increased to 442 as at January 2014.

Hot To Trot

Don’t have a mare? There are plenty of equestrian options for horse lovers in Singapore.

Aussies and Kiwis are renowned for their horse-riding prowess. So the good news for equestrians moving to small, tropical Singapore is that you don’t have to put your riding skills out to pasture.

Several centres offer all things horsey, and your steed may well originally be from Down Under, and your instructor as well.

At least five places here offer anything from courses for child beginners, to coaching for experienced riders to even being able to stable your own horse. They are Bukit Timah Equestrian Centre, the Singapore Polo Club, the National Equestrian Centre, Horsecity and Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre. A short drive away in Malaysia there is also Riders’ Lodge at Sedenak, and the Bale Equestrian and Country Club.

The polo club requires you to pay a membership fee but at the others there are courses for the general public.

I have to confess having soft spot (actually, a small hardened scar on my elbow) for Bukit Timah Saddle Club. I was a term member for several years.

The scar came courtesy of a refined bay mare called Scruples whose buck during a dressage lesson shot me out of the saddle. I landed elbow-first on the end of my whip. It was Scruples’ unscrupulous way of telling me that the whip was unnecessary, thank-you.

The club’s location is eye-popping, being a drive along verdant fields and a post-and-rail-lined grass track once used by racehorses, to the quaint clubhouse and stables, hardly a high-rise can be seen.

Coaching includes blocks of four 45-minute lessons costing $426.60 all up. Parents of pony-mad children will like its “own a pony” programme where you get a dedicated steed for several days during the school holidays.

Nearby in the Turf City area is Horsecity, which has over 150 horses and ponies, many of whom are antipodeans.

If retro rustic is not your thing, the Singapore Polo Club offers a more glamorous side to the horsey scene. While their children have their lessons, mums can adjourn to the paddock-side bar for a gin and tonic, and admire dashing men galloping around on the polo field.

Another notable thing about the club is that it has a covered arena for its lessons so you can trot about in all weather.

Equestrians can also hoof it to the National Equestrian Centre. Its key mission is to groom Singapore riders to be international competitors, but it is open to the general public. It has 51 horses, including some from Australia and which were used in the Youth Olympic Games. Well-known experts from Down Under visit to hold riding clinics, including Brook Dobbin, Clive Reed and Paula Hamood.

Then there’s the Singapore Turf Club Centre, next to the racecourse at Kranji. While known for its co-curricular activities for Singapore children, expats can trot along, too. There are group lessons at $90 each for 45 minutes, beginners’ trail rides at $50 for a 20-minute session, and individual dressage and show jumping tuition.

One resident of the club is Comet, a stocky, dun-coloured pony with heart-melting, dark eyes. He hails from Gisborne, in New Zealand, and looks like a Gisborne-bred mare I once owned in New Zealand, who was what horsey people call a “good doer”, earning the name “Guts”.

Guts has long gone to glory, but with all these riding options now here, I am tempted to dust off the riding helmet and get back in the saddle again…

This article was originally published in August 2013.

SINGAPORE

  • Bukit Timah Riding Club: 51 Fairways Drive. Riding school: ph. 6466-2782; email: ridingschool@btsc.org.sg
  • The Singapore Polo Club: 80 Mt Pleasant Road ; ph the Riding Department, 6854-3980; email: riding@singaporepoloclub.org (Note: there is a long wait-list)
  • Singapore Turf Club Centre: 1 Equestrian Walk (Off Woodlands Avenue 3); ph. 6879 3600; email: ridingschool@btsc.org.sg
  • The National Equestrian Centre: 100 Jalan Mashhor ( off Andrew Road); ph. 9753-8739; email: info@equestrian.sg

ACRES Wildlife Rescue – Guardians of Nature

A three-metre albino python, seven large iguanas and several rare star tortoises are just some of the animals housed at an enclosure in north-western Singapore. But this is no zoo – these animals are all victims of the illegal wildlife trade in Singapore.

These exotic creatures live at ACRES, an association which rescues wild animals which have been smuggled to Singapore from Asia and beyond.

ACRES was created in 2001 by a group of Singaporeans to help animals from ill-treatment and the black market. Its mission is to create a world where animals are treated as sentient beings. Their goal is to have a collaborative and sustainable animal protection movement in Asia.

The team there also rescue wild animals such as snakes from residential areas and educate the wider community about animal welfare.

Education is a very important part of what ACRES does, says Louis Ng, ACRES founder and chief executive. There has been a major change in the attitudes of the younger generations of Singaporeans, who are more and more conscious and concerned about their flora and fauna, says Luis.

As Louis says, “we are their guardians and it is our moral responsibility”.

It’s happening at a government level, too. In July, the minister for law and foreign affairs, Mr K Shanmugam will take feedback from any people in Singapore who are concerned about wildlife welfare to see how they can progress together.

If some people are making efforts, unfortunately smuggling is a reality in Singapore. Even the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which ensures trade does not threaten wildlife species which are in extinction, Singapore is one of the biggest hubs of illegal wildlife trade in Asia.

To spread the word, ACRES relies heavily on social media, mainly Facebook. But they also use face-to-face interaction to make people realise the danger for animals. ACRES doesn’t have a lot of volunteers to help them, and are calling for people in the community to help out.

Anyone can help ACRES by being a volunteer, building enclosures for the animals on weekends, cleaning cages and looking after the animals. People can also help the association by making donations, coming to their events or just talk to people about ACRES and what their jobs consist of.

ACRES’ workers also try to expand the association where it can have a bigger impact. They already work in Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia, and are trying to get established in Indonesia. Nevertheless, their first target is Singapore because other countries in Southeast Asia take Singapore’s lead.

This article was originally published in August 2013.

INFO

ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre (AWRC) 91 Jalan Lekar Singapore 698917

info@acres.org.sg

Selecting A School

It is a truth, not always acknowledged, that all schools, for-profit or otherwise, are in the business of selling. And the language of the sales pitch is almost identical: on offer is a holistic experience that moulds the whole child with an emphasis on 21st Century Learning, where the focus is not simply on academics (although of course these are important) but on service, outdoor education and a values-based education. Whole paragraphs of one school’s promotional material can be lifted verbatim from one website into another and no one would know the difference. The first task, therefore, of any parent choosing a school is to look through the glossy image that the school projects and see the actuality. How, then?

The most important consideration is whether the school fits your child’s academic and social needs. The school admissions staff may know the school, but you know your child, and what’s right for one family may not be right for the next. Don’t be too persuaded by what ‘everyone else’ is doing.

Having said that, word of mouth is one of the most important indicators. What are the parents and the students, saying? How enthusiastic are they about the programme on offer and, crucially, the teachers who are delivering it? Are they happy that the ‘promise of the pitch’ is reflected in the reality of the experience? The answers to these questions will begin to crystallize your impressions of the school.

Visiting a school is essential but be aware that those giving the tour are people who believe in the product. Try to visit the school during break time. The informal chatter of students will reveal their engagement in the day-today process of learning. See beyond the facilities. Students do not remember state of the art buildings and shiny technologies. They remember their teachers, they remember their lessons. So ask hard questions, particularly about staff. For example, ask about staff turnover, ask about how regularly they are appraised and what the school policy is on professional development.

Insist on evidence that the school does what it says it does. Ask about the things that are important to you and your child. Such evidence is not simply a matter of results or what universities students get into. Look for the value-added experience. Find out how many activities take place each week, how many representative sports teams there are, how many students take instrumental music classes. And don’t stop there. Find out how many opportunities there are to connect with the local community, if there are student-led empowerment projects, how many student hours are spent oversees. These, above all, are the crucial and meaningful indicators of the holistic education that every parent wants for their child.

By ensuring you examine what’s important to your family before you start the process, you will be in a position to make the best-informed decision you can about which school is the best for your child.

Jonathan Carter

Director of Admissions

UWCSEA

Photo courtesy of UWCSEA

In Pursuit of the Outdoors

In the past decades there has been a growing movement toward Outdoor Education for both schools and businesses as we seek to develop character in our young people and cohesion within our teams. Adventure programmes have become popular with schools and are now a regular feature for most students at some point within their school year.

An aim of modern education is to develop the whole child and many schools opt for a “holistic” approach to fulfill this goal. For most schools, our motives for developing outdoor education programmes are not to instill camping, climbing, biking or kayaking skills, as interesting as they may be. The reality is that the vast majority of our young people are unlikely to need these specific abilities and competencies later in life. What we are aiming it is a much more loftily goal. By creating experiences in the outdoors we are striving toward developing a set of personal skills and qualities that are highly sought after in schools, universities, and the modern workplace. Resilience, self-management, and collaboration have become the hallmarks of adventure programmes around the world and are in demand now more than ever.

Outdoor experiences can ignite a passion within young people to challenge themselves, they can increase their resilience through trials that demand they maintain, recover, or improve their physical or emotional state and support resilient states of others around them. These can be times of self-discovery, self-expression, and satisfaction that are accelerating their personal and social development.

The educationalist, Kurt Hahn, thought that “expeditions can greatly contribute towards building strength of character. Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim tells us that it is necessary for a youth to experience events which ‘reveal the inner worth of the man; the edge of his temper; the fibre of his stuff; the quality of his resistance; the secret truth of his pretenses, not only to himself but others.’”

It is within these challenges that we develop our character and personal qualities. The wilderness has been dominated through centuries of struggle, danger and discomfort. Arguably, it has now been conquered and the struggles of the past no longer exist. We seem now to miss the opportunities for growth that these struggles provided. We recognize the skills and qualities that individuals and teams developed through those trials and that are now no longer available in our confortable everyday lives.

We do not have the opportunity in our modern age to struggle within our environment. Our modern conveniences have made every attempt to mitigate the unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable natural elements. We struggle when our ever-narrowing comfort zones are threatened with being too hot, too cold, too humid, or too dry. We see qualities emerge in students when they are in a different environments and faced with different stresses, well outside our typical everyday routines.

There is a special sense that one gets when remote and isolated in the outdoors. It is a sense of scale that provides a contrasting perspective from our daily confinement, surrounded by walls and tight spaces, and connected electronically to everything at all times. The experience in the outdoors is one of space and connectedness to nature. It is unfortunately an experience that is disappearing for most of our young people and is now usually accessed through programmes in Outdoor Education.

About the author

James Dalziel is the Head of UWCSEA’s East Campus. Prior to moving to UWCSEA, James was the Deputy Head at the Canadian International School in Singapore and a special programmes coordinator with the Durham Board of Education in Ontario, Canada.

James has taught in a variety of educational settings including special needs classrooms and outdoor education programmes with Outward Bound. He has Masters and Doctoral degrees in Education from the University of Western Australia with a focus on the leadership and management of change within international schools.

Photo courtesy of UWCSEA

Back on the Health Wagon

Michele Fernyhough has found a fast way to lose weight and feel great.

In early 2013, she decided to do a seven-day fast – a regime which bans all solid foods, which is one of the most effective forms of detoxifying the body. The 46-year-old, who is originally from Adelaide, wanted to do a fast to make a positive impact on her general health and well-being. “I had some general health issues and couldn’t get to the bottom of them. A fast would be a great idea to give it a re-boot.”

So she and some other like-minded people did a seven-day, liquid-only fast, which gives the digestive system a break from its daily routine from processing solids. The women would meet at Balanced Living every morning for a medical check-up, yoga, fruit and vegetable juices and more. “It was pretty much the same thing every day. Meet in the morning for a medical check-up and to have blood pressure taken, and to check for any health issues.” Then they’d drink some fresh vegetable juices ten they’d do a yoga session. Sometimes they’d meditate.

As time goes on, the body changes. According to Balanced Living, after thirty-six hours without food intake, the body automatically switches over from the digestive mode to the detoxification mode, a condition that most people have never experienced in their entire lives.

Digestion “takes a lot of work for the body,” says Michele. The liver is the main beneficiary. “The liver and kidneys get to work better when they’re not having to process all the food. The liver gets a chance to be cleansed.”

She could drink bulky shakes, to pick up toxins on the way through, drink vegetable broths and juices, drink coconut water and take supplements. The most important ingredient, though, was water. “That’s the most essential part of the whole thing. The more you drink, the fewer headaches you get.” Even though she could drink juices, didn’t the hunger become all-encompassing? “It’s really weird. I felt hungry in my mind but I’m not sure I felt it in my body.”

Michele realises how much her routine used to depend on meals. “Normally, my day is programmed around meals – preparing, eating and cleaning up. When I’m not in that cycle, it’s not getting filled up and emptied, when you’re the fast you’ve got lots of fluid going in but no bulk, in a way.”

It’s changed her in more ways than one. First, her dermatitis cleared up completely. “In seven days, my skin has completely cleared.”

She lost five kilograms in three weeks, first in the two-week preparation diet, cutting out all the stimulants like coffee, alcohol, processed foods, and then the week of the fast.

Her outlook on eating has also changed. “Coming off of it I’ve not got into eating again. I’ve got out of the habit of having a big meal. I’m full quicker. As well, “I found I’m enjoying simpler food now – salads I really like them on their own now, before it was something on side.”

It’s encouraged her to look after herself more. “I feel more focused now on taking care of my body and being kind to my body.”

While fasting can be an effective detox and a way to lose weight, well, fast, it may not be for everyone. Expat Kitchen managing director Annette Lang has some tips on eating for those who can’t give up solids. “Singapore offers a wonderful opportunity to feast on a wide range of authentic Asian cuisine at a very reasonable price. But alas our trusty food court and hawker centre food are filled with fat and sugar traps.” She finds an upswing in the number of people wanting to get fit and healthy in the New Year.

“There is always a huge prompt (especially in the months of January to March) to improve your food intake, fitness level and health after the festive season. Its natural we all feel guilty and want to shake off the excess plum pudding we put on. It’s hard to stay on a good food path and be motivated during this period.”

For those who start out with good intentions but slip back to old habits, Annette says, don’t be too hard on yourself. “It’s okay to fall off the fitness regime or have binge occasionally. Just pick yourself up and start again like it’s the New Year again. What usually motivates me is reminding myself about how great I feel after I do a workout.”

To keep a healthy evening diet, Annette can’t stress enough how important it is to do a weekly menu plan. “Always set out what evenings are going be your ‘out nights’ and what evenings are going to be ‘eat in, healthy nights’. Just be sure that the ‘stay home nights’ outweigh way the ‘going out nights’ and you should be okay.”

Eating’s only part of it, though. A good diet should be accompanied by an exercise plan, but people can fall of that wagon, too.

Julianne Walker, founder of Ready!Set!Go!, helps her clients get fitter and healthier through the company’s fitness programmes. She says people have to have realistic expectations of what they can achieve to avoid being disheartened or injured. “Some people are so enthusiastic and wanting to get fit that they do not prepare appropriately. They set unrealistic goals which are not sustainable and possibly start out with too much too soon.”

Those who used to be fit then take time off from fitness must understand they can’t resume their fitness regime where they left off, especially if the climate they trained in previously was very different to Singapore’s. “It’s best for them to take smaller steps to get back to where they left off, rather than one huge leap, Julianne says.

This article was originally published in March 2013.

INFO

Having a Baby in Singapore

More and more expats in Singapore means more and more babies born here.

Daniella Jenson was 56 hours into labour when she was asked once more if she needed a caesarean section. “I was thinking, I’m not getting a c-section, that’s another $4000. I was like, 4k or another little bit of pain? That’s a few more holidays in Thailand, push on.”

The 27-year-old was having her first child, Daniel. She is telling this tale at a table full of expat mums at Café 211in Holland Village – the group get together to chat about all things to do with motherhood in Singapore. The cost of having a child here, which Daniella was referring to, is just one of the many aspects of having a baby in Singapore which differ from our respective home countries.

For the mums at the table, the planning started long before birth.

Michelle Rose, mum of 10-week-old Hugo, started by researching hospitals, costs, pregnancy groups and more. “I looked at doctors, obstetricians, ones that were pro natural birth,” she says. Some mothers go to lengths to find the right obstetrician, even interviewing potential candidates, but none of the ladies at the table had gone to those lengths.

Once mothers have their OB/GYN sorted, it’s off to get a pushchair, clothes, bathing supplies and all the other things that a new baby will need. All at the table agreed Singapore is an expensive place to buy that gear. Many went back home to buy baby supplies – the supplies sometimes costing less than half of the same products in Singapore.

As the due date draws closer, the bill starts to grow. Unlike in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the women at the table couldn’t get public healthcare for their birth.

“It’s not cheap to take out health insurance,” says Amber, who is here with baby Olive. The other thing to be conscious of, is there’s a waiting period,” says Michelle.

Almost all private insurers have a waiting period, ranging from about 10 months to 24 months, which mum has to wait out before she’s covered. For the mums at the table, the costs ranged between $6500 to $13,000. But for those who have complications and don’t qualify for insurance, the costs can balloon. A friend of Daniella’s had a baby born at 31 weeks and ended up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), costing $230,000.

Mum-to-be Nikki Booth was already pregnant before her husband’s company moved them here “so we just had to go with the flow”. She is hoping there won’t be any complications with her baby’s birth in March.

Caesarean sections cost more than natural births, too – part of the reason why Daniella was reluctant to take that option.

One thing all mothers agree on is the quality of care at the hospital. Amber says” “The care you get in the hospital is amazing. I kept calling it the hotel.”

Nikki went to Thompson’s Medical Centre, and was given a tour by a marketing officer. “They take you through the hospital show you the birthing suites, ward rooms and the nursery. They’re really nice rooms but for me, I’m not too concerned about having an LCD TV or anything like that.”

Dr Mahesh Choolani, an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who has been practising in Singapore since 1993, says the type of obstetrics practised here in Singapore is very British-based and very similar to that in the UK. “It’s very much world class. It’s certainly very affordable healthcare system for the quality of the care delivered to the clients.” He says more and more expats are having babies here. In general, about three quarters of births are natural births, and natural births are common amongst expats. One important thing Dr Choolani says, is it’s important that decisions are made involving everyone in the room: mum, dad and doctor. “It’s a matter of managing expectations, it’s there to minimise risk it there to make things safe for mum and baby.”

Once mum, dad and baby are safely back at home, there are some cultural aspects of being in Singapore to consider. One is the period of confinement, a cultural practice of some in the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities in Singapore. Ranging between 30 and 44 days, the period is typically one of rest, where the mother stays inside at home. Depending on one’s culture, there are different practices around what the mum can and can’t do, but these range from daily massages, special foods and drinks, bathing with special salts, avoiding washing the hair and more. None of the mums had heard of it before they moved to Singapore, and none went down the traditional confinement path. One thing they did notice was the reaction to them being out and about with a newborn. “If you get on the MRT – the looks from the locals!” says Michelle. Daniella says she got lots of comments, such as “why are you out”.

Another  cultural aspect of childbirth all the mums made use of was the postnatal wraps and massages which are common in Singapore and are supposed to help with the figure. “It was great. They give you a full-body massage for an hour and wrap you from your ribcage to your hips. It’s like an old-school corset,” says Michelle. “That’s one thing I’m glad I had done,” says Daniella. Dr Choolani says, “what I found interesting is while it’s not a medical event, a lot of local and expat mums partake and quite like it. Maybe it’s about pampering.”

Being in Singapore and away from the wider network of family can make things tough for new parents, but many of the mums had family come to stay. I didn’t want anyone for the first eight weeks. I got different advice coming from all sides,” says Daniella. But Sonja Hewitt, 35, didn’t have any family come to help her with daughter Cordelia. “I quite enjoyed that quite time. I’d get into a routine, says the Londoner.

It can be hard not having the family be an every-day part of baby growing up. “I feel sad that my family’s not around getting to see him grow up. Skype’s a Godsend but it’s not the same,” says Michelle. “That’s hard, he’s not got any family over here but we do the best we can,” says Daniella. “That’s why I joined a lot of groups – to give him a good range of friends.”

They agree the social support is second-to-none, with many coffee mornings and chances to get together for a chat. “I think I would be quite lonely back home,” says Sonja.

None of the mums have any regrets about having a baby in Singapore. Says Sonja: “After having a baby in Singapore I wouldn’t have one anywhere else.” Amber agrees. “It’s fantastic. You can be a stay-at-home mum and afford to do that.”

This article was originally published in January 2013.

Tea By Train in the hills of Sri Lanka

Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it is now known, has been regarded as a top tea producer ever since the plant was introduced by the British in colonial days past. Kieran Nash booked a third-class train ticket and ventured from the coast to the hill country of central Sri Lanka, sampling the finest leaves the country had to offer.

This journey starts on the east coast, in a small beachside town called Arugam Bay. As always, I’m accompanied by my girlfriend Jacqui, and from the roadside, we hail a black-and-green tuk-tuk which putters its way from the coast to the main bus depot in Monaragala, about an a hour and a half away. The slow journey flies past, as the driver recounts his stories of the brutal civil war which ripped Sri Lanka apart for almost three decades. Ending in just 2009, it killed thousands and closed the east coast to all but the most intrepid travellers. Our driver had family and friends who died in the fighting, which was between the Sri Lankan military and the separatist Tamil Tigers. Today, the shadows of the war remain – machine-gun toting soldiers are everywhere.

We roll up to the hot, dusty bus depot and, after much confusion, manage to board the correct bus. The crusty old Leyland is loaded, and as we thread higher and higher into the hills, the road narrows to a treacherous black ribbon. It then starts to drizzle, the slippery road driving my heart into my mouth at every tight turn. A few hours of this white-knuckle ride and the bus spews us onto the roadside at Ella – not much more than a few shops, a narrow road, and some of the most breathtaking views in central Sri Lanka.

It’s raining lightly, more of a heavy fog than anything, and the verdant slopes that surround us disappear into the mist. Taking shelter in a roadside cafe, a madman approaches. He could be anything from 40 to 90 years old, and he staggers toward us, leaning heavily on his cane, a tangled white shock of hair draping his lined face. Through a smashed-up mouth of blackened teeth, he offers to show us a nice place to stay. He seems trustworthy enough, and we turn off the road and up a slippery clay track into the bush to Ravina’s place – a small, hand-built homestay perched on the side of the hill. It’s amazingly tranquil and we spend a leisurely afternoon amid the mountains and monkeys drinking tea that would put the finest hotels to shame.

That evening, Ravina cooks us a gigantic curry dinner and tries to marry Jacqui off to her eldest son. The next morning, we’re up at sunrise walk to the summit of Little Adam’s Peak, the most accessible of Ella’s many walking tracks. Among them are Adam’s Peak (2243m) and Ella Rock (1350m). It’s an easy climb through verdant tea plantations as the breathtaking scale of the mountainous wilderness unfurls below. We reach the summit and are blown around by the hearty winds, then make the descent for breakfast.

On the way back down, we pass tea ladies on their way to work, who were more than happy to pose for a picture for a fee, which supplements their meagre incomes.

After a sambal breakfast, we bid farewell to Ravina and arrived at the 1950s-era train station for the next leg of the trip. They were fresh out of first-class tickets, so we do the sensible thing and travel in third. Clambering into the rust-coloured machine, we squeeze into the only available spot, which of course is next to the toilet. It’s also next to the doorway and so while the lav provides an olfactory assault, the open doorway is a visual feast.

Over the next three hours, the hills roll on forever: vivid green tea bushes punctuated by the pinks and reds of the tea pickers. Inside the cabin, we’re ogled by slack-jawed children as cheery men sell piping-hot roasted peanuts in squares of old graph paper. The blue ink of math homework shows through from the other side. Standing up for three hours gets tiresome, and when the train trundles to a halt at Nuwara Eliya I’m pleased.

Cruising through the city, past clipped hedges and cricket matches, it’s apparent that the city’s heritage is unmistakably British. This place screams colonialism. And nothing says colonial like the Grand Hotel, a mock Tudor mansion plonked in the middle of grounds of manicured lawns, fountains and rose gardens. As we arrive, bar staff on the front lawn mix drinks in time to the Macarena pulling us back to, if not the present, then the very recent past. But we’re not here to sip cocktails, we’re here to drink some of the finest tea in the world. So, we summon a tuk-tuk driver, who promptly drives us up the nearest hill he can find and looks on as we wander aimlessly through the shrubs.

After clearing up some confusion, he eventually takes us to Pedro Estate, a plantation established in 1885 which produces what it calls the “Champagne of Sri Lanka tea”. Guests are welcome to wind their way through the steep, slopes of the plantation, the vivid green tea bushes offset with larger, silver-trunked rubber trees. Then we make our way past a motley crew of solid women with large cane baskets filled with the deep green tips, and into the old mustard-coloured factory, led by guide Sangitha.

Struggling to both understand Sangitha and make our way through the factory at the same time, we do our best to understand how tea is made. The old building is filled with long drying racks, where the leaves are dried and withered to create a more complex mix of chemicals in the tea. It then opens to a large hangar-like room, which smells of freshly cut grass. It’s here the leaves are rolled, fermented and cut. A conveyor belt takes the tea up to the grading room, where it is sorted into big, medium, fine or super fine. The size of the tea leaf contributes toward the taste and colour – the larger the bits of leaf, the lighter the tea. Large-leaf tea is called Pekoe, medium-sized is called Broken Orange Pekoe, fine leaves are BOPF (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings) and are dark, and used for English breakfast tea. The really fine tea dust goes into teabags.

I was told long ago that teabag tea is made from the sweepings from the floor? “No, no, that’s not teabag tea!” cries Sangitha. There are no different varieties of tea plant, she says. “The tea plant is the same all over the world. The elevation is different otherwise it’s the same tea.” After sipping on more tea, it’s time to head back to the Grand for a absolutely massive buffet dinner in a huge dining room bereft of any patrons, save for some Saudi tourists in full burkas.

The next morning, we bid farewell to the quaint colonial town, and opt to take a taxi to Colombo. The six-hour drive costs $160. The driver, Raja, complains the whole way about the corruption in government. He’s not happy that he can be pulled over and threatened that he will lose his license – and his livelihood – by a corrupt cop that he has to bribe.

After a six-hour lecture in government malpractice, we depart the cab and Galle Face Hotel, another colonial throwback perched right on the beach. Hundreds of multi-coloured kites wait for the sky to turn black with rain, and as the rain pours, we relax over a drink. I’ll have mine with a dash of milk, please.

This article was originally published in May 2013.

HOW TO GET THERE

It’s a four-hour flight from Singapore to Colombo. From there, it’s a six-hour cab drive to Nuwara Eliya. Ella is a three-hour train ride from Nuwara Eliya.

WHERE TO STAY

In Ella, Ravina’s is the place to go – she may even marry you off. Ask locals around town where it is. In Nuwara Eliya, live it up at the Grand Hotel. www.tangerinehotels.com/thegrandhotel

Japan – Skiing in Myoko Kogen

Some Japanese ski towns are so overrun they’re called ‘Kuta Beach on Ice’. Kieran Nash steers clear, and heads to unspoilt Myoko Kogen for some uninterrupted runs.

It’s below freezing outside, but I’m sweating.

Rushing past well-dressed Tokyo commuters, I run to the platform of the Aoyama-Itchome subway station. On cue, trains going in opposite directions screech to a halt, and streams of suit-clad salary men burst from the doors.

Which way to go? I haven’t had enough time to get acquainted with Tokyo’s tangled subway network. I pick a train and stumble into the carriage just as the doors whoosh to a close. I look at the map. It’s the wrong train and it’s carrying me further from my destination. I now have 20 minutes to catch the Nagano bullet train, which will carry me from the mad metropolis of Tokyo to the isolated, snowy meadows of Myoko Kogen, a ski field about 220km northwest.

30 minutes later, I’m running through the gate to where the bullet trains depart. My increasingly angry girlfriend Jacqui follows closely. The 20kg packs we’re both carrying aren’t helping the mood, or the mobility. The train’s long gone, so that’s a 7500 yen (S$100) ticket down the drain. Or so we think – the next train arrives and we can use our old tickets.

Urban jungle gives way to rural residential in a 260km/h blur, and two hours later we’re in Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics. There’s no time to waste, and five minutes later we’re on another train, which winds its way north at an easier pace, threading upwards through the snow-draped mountains which look as they’ve been blasted with freshly-mixed meringue.

The small town of Myoko is a ten-minute drive from the resort of Akakura Kanko, which is our final destination. The van stops at a gathering of small, four-storey hotels opposite a gondola, and we haul our packs to the reception area of Hotel MOC.

We’re greeted by Sachiko Mochizuki, the lady of the house, and her small dog Tokyo. Her English is impeccable, and we’re handed the keys to our room, a hybrid Japanese/Western creation, which is about four times larger than our not tiny Tokyo hotel room, with heater blasting and four cushions placed on a rattan-clothed floor, on which stands a low table in traditional Japanese style.

The bathroom houses a magic toilet, which greets me with a cheerful, expectant beep each time I duck inside, raising the lid in an inviting gesture. But there’s no time to admire the strange Japanese technology. The sun is out and there’s snow on the mountain. It’s time to sample some powder.

Jacqui and I cross the road, scale a small hill, and we’re at the gondola. But first, we have to hire some gear. It’s a five-minute traipse to Myoko Snowsports, where we rent our gear. Melbourne photographer Matt Hull, who is here in Myoko Kogen for his fourth season, fills us in. The 31-year-old says Myoko Kogen is far removed from the “Kuta Beach on Ice” which Niseko – the famous ski town on the northern island of Hokkaido is rumoured to be. “Myoko is still somewhat of a hidden gem in Japan, although we are seeing more and more western guests coming through our doors we seems to be attracting the right type of people, guests who are here for a cultural experience as well as a ski holiday. Myoko is not known for its nightlife and has limited establishments to cater for the party-going traveller.” It’s all well and good that it offers a more authentic experience than the resorts further north, but people who come here care about one thing only – deep powder. Just how much is there? “During the peak season (from the end of December through to late February) we get a lot of storm cycles, with a typical cycle dumping down a lot of snow in one night, anywhere from 40 cm up to 120cm and then the storm breaking for a sunny day afterwards.

“Powder-wise, during peak times it’s as light as they come. It’s not unusual to have a bow wave of snow around your waist when riding down one of the designated ungroomed runs, so face masks are a must!”

We’ll see that for ourselves soon enough.

Shelling out 2000 yen (S$25) for an afternoon’s riding, we board the gondola and smoothly careen up the mountain. This side is split between two sides – Akakura Kanko and Akakura Onsen.

The sun is in its final death throes of the day by the time we reach the top, and the view from the top is gasp-inducingly beautiful. A peach hue coats the meringue snow, and the usually monochrome treeline of the opposite mountain is cast in a golden glow. And the snow? It’s deep, and there’s plenty of it. The runs are wide, fast, and even though it’s the afternoon, there are still pockets of untouched powder to smash into dust. There’s not a rock or a patch of ice to be seen. Crowds are non-existent. Even though it’s peak season, it’s not uncommon to look about and not see  a soul.

As the sun sets, we weave our way through the wide meadows and easy tree runs, and we eventually arrive back at the hotel.

Those accustomed to winter sports will understand the need for a shower after a few hours on the slopes, and we are no different. There’s only one problem – our room doesn’t have a shower. That leaves only the onsen, which presents a few cultural difficulties of its own.

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, and Myoko Kogen has an abundance. These springs are piped directly to most the inns in the town, and Hotel MOC is no exception.

Unfortunately (depending on your modesty levels), Japanese custom dictates that anyone who enters an onsen must do so without a scrap of clothing. People with tattoos aren’t allowed, because traditionally the only Japanese with tattoos were members of the Yakuza organised crime gangs. Times are very slowly changing, and some onsens will let in foreigners who have ink. I don my yukata bathrobe, and descend to the basement. Opening the door to the men’s onsen, I step inside a small changing room and get in the nude. A sliding door opens to the room which houses the bath. Here’s a disclaimer: I’m not a big team sports guy, so getting butt naked with a bunch of strangers isn’t the most natural thing in the world for me. Added to the apprehension are a couple of tattoos on my person. I don’t know whether I’ll be run out of the place if I try my luck, but what choice do I have?

The door opens in a billow of steam. A couple of Japanese guys and some Swiss tourists are drinking warm Asahis and chatting away. Conversation stops as I sit down at the small shower and scrub the sweat off. Are they offended by my tattoos? I have no idea. They don’t tell me to leave, however, and I ease myself into the scorching bathwater. I feel like a lobster, but try to mask it with my best impression of serene relaxation.

I stay in there as long as I can physically handle – about 15 minutes – and when I get out for a cold shower, the room starts to fade to black.

Luckily I pull myself together enough to rinse off and get back into my yukata before floating back up to the room on a hazy cloud of pure tranquility. It’s as if I have been flattened by a giant rolling pin.

Over the next five days, Jacqui and I settle into something of a routine. Wake early for breakfast. Up the gondola and chairlifts, down to the foot of the mountain. Repeat. Lunch. More snow. Hotel. Onsen. Dinner (usually consisting of giant bowls of udon noodles). Bed.

The day before we’re due to leave, Jacqui and I arrive at the gondola half an hour early and there’s already a line. It’s been snowing hard all night, the bloated flakes coating everything in sight in a layer about two feet deep.

We’re in the third gondola up, behind a group of middle-aged Japanese skiers who have time-travelled straight from the 80’s. Their excitement is infectious. Going as high as we can, we emerge. I have been eyeing up a certain black run all week – a steep, wide run flanked by trees but carved into large moguls, which are hell on any snowboarder. Today, though, the moguls are buried deep, and I’m the first on this particular run. Floating both on and through the incredibly light powder, at each turn a wave of snow explodes into smoke, turning my black jacket white. The famed Japanese powder surely lives up to the cliché of “it has to be seen to be believed.”

By the time the trail has run its course, I’m sweating. It’s freezing outside, but I’m no longer in any rush at all.

This article was originally published in May 2013.

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Tokyo, and catch the Nagano Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano. From there, it’s a 40 minute train to Myoko Kogen. Once in Myoko Kogen, get a taxi or hotel transfer to the resort.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel MOC is a great, family-run hotel about one minute’s walk from the gondola. The $75 per person fee is quite reasonable for Japan, and it includes breakfast. www.hotelmoc.com