Family Wedding in Galle, Sri Lanka

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

I thought I had an elaborate year of getting married in 2015, what with our wedding banquet in China, the actual wedding ceremony and a reception. Then my cousin comes along with a registry ceremony, a later ceremony, a reception, and then a full wedding banquet in Galle, Sri Lanka, where his wife is from. Check and mate! 

The wedding banquet is why we went to Sri Lanka in the first place. Myself, K, my father, my brother, two sets of aunts and uncles, my cousin and his wife, another cousin and her boyfriend, an older cousin and his wife, an aunt-in-law, another family friend…I think I’m losing track of everyone! Suffice it to say that we were a large group of Chinese people in Sri Lanka. Ten years ago that would have been a strange sight, but as more and more Chinese tour groups visit Sri Lanka, we were just one of many such groups.

More about the actual Sri Lanka tour in the next blog entry!

We started our stay in Sri Lanka in Galle with a free morning and afternoon to explore Galle Fort – photos of which you can see below. Galle is an absolutely stunning old town and you can see both the Portuguese and Dutch influences in the main buildings of the fort. My cousin’s wife’s surname holds these same Portuguese influences, deriving from the Portuguese surname Alves, or river bed. The history of Galle Fort is etched on every stone and it’s been surprisingly well-preserved – no doubt thanks to the conservation efforts that began not long after the 2004 tsunami which devastated the area.

Outside of the fort, the town is both frenetic and relaxed at the same time – frenetic in the rush of activity around central areas like the bus station where people tried to convince me to step onto buses going to faraway destinations I had no intention of visiting, and relaxed in more residential areas where you can look out of the window and see an overgrown jungle and monkeys in the trees. It’s a strange dichotomy, and one that makes Galle such an interesting place to visit.

The wedding reception was held at the Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Galle with a fantastic view of ocean from the bar and restaurant. The hotel was designed by the legendary Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and the eye-catching winding staircase sculpture depicts an epic battle between the Portuguese and the Sinhalese. Architecturally, the hotel is a stunner – I just wish we’d had the foresight to book a room at the hotel as it would have been a fantastic place to stay.

The reception wasn’t what I had stereotypically imagined – it certainly wasn’t the three-day long celebrations of colour, music, and dancing that I had expected. There wasn’t a Poruva ceremony as per a traditional Sinhalese wedding, and I was told this was because my cousin and his wife had been officially married in Australia and so they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) perform the ceremony in Galle. What they did do instead was the Homecoming ceremony, with candle-lighting, cake-cutting, Sinhalese folk dancers and musicians and most importantly – food. Lots and lots of food!

We had a great time meeting our new extended family who we can now bewilderingly introduce to people as ‘my cousin’s wife’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s brother”, taking lots of photos, eating lots of food, and then tearing it up on the dance floor. I’m only disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to experience the full Sri Lankan wedding ceremonies and festivities…anyone Sinhalese planning on getting married soon and want to send me an invitation?

Travel Tales: Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

When we made the decision to go to Sri Lanka for my cousin’s wedding, it was pretty much a no-brainer that we would stopover in other destinations (Singapore and Malaysia) on the way there and back. Breaking up a long flight with two shorter flights makes sense right? 

Well it did. And then it didn’t. The afternoon before we were due to fly out, Jetstar cancelled our flight to Singapore and calling their customer service centre for a replacement flight gave us two options:

  1. A direct flight to Singapore three days after we were supposed to arrive, at which point we would have to leave for Sri Lanka almost immediately and not have time to enjoy Singapore at all
  2. Flights to Singapore on the day that we were supposed to leave….via a layover in Hong Kong. We essentially doubled back to Singapore after flying to Hong Kong, adding around eight hours to the overall journey.

Jetstar are known as Shitstar for a reason.

A crappy start to the holiday was thankfully improved with each day we spent in Singapore. While we all suffered in the humidity (my family are not summer people), it was good that we were able to start acclimatising to the humidity of South-East Asia in the relative comfort of Singapore and its air-conditioned malls – we certainly wouldn’t be able to retreat to air-conditioned comfort quite as easily during our stay in Sri Lanka! 

That’s not to say that we didn’t venture out of the malls of Orchard Road, because we certainly did. We spent one day in the Gardens by the Bay, the futuristic vast nature park that they’ve somehow managed to squeeze into densely-populated Singapore. We went on the Singapore Flyer which I’d never been on before, and managed to time our visit so that we had an entire pod to ourselves, sandwiching in nicely between two overcrowded pods full of Chinese tour groups.

The highlights though, were when we just spent time wandering around different parts of Singapore, sampling local fare at different markets. Having only visited Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little India and Tiong Bahru, I feel as though we’ve only scratched the surface of what those Singaporean districts can offer us…let alone, what the rest of Singapore has to offer! What about areas like Kampong Glam, Katong, Geylang…and I’ve never even been to Sentosa Island!

I guess we’re lucky that Singapore is so (comparatively) close to Australia, and that it would make for a great stopover to wherever we may chose to go on our next trip. Over the course of a couple of years worth of two or three day stays in Singapore, we may finally get to see, and eat, more around the country. Singapore…I’ll always be back.

Eating in Singapore, December 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

Most travellers who have visited Singapore will cringe when I say this, but one of Dad’s favourite places to eat during our stay was the Food Opera food centre in the ION Orchard mall. I know, it’s not a legitimate hawker centre and you won’t walk out smelling like satay or prawn mee. But importantly, you do walk out feeling cool and refreshed after enjoying a meal in air-conditioned comfort, and that feeling is worth a million dollars in the overwhelming heat and humidity of Singapore.

We visited Food Opera a number of times during our visit, and never ate the same thing once. From chicken rice to bak kuh teh, yong tau foo to beef noodles, there’s enough variety at Food Opera to ensure that you can try something new with every meal. And while prices are slightly higher than what you would find in most outdoor hawker centres, you get your money’s worth in hygiene and comfort. The food isn’t bad either, and consistently reminded Dad of the kind of food he used to eat in the sixties in Hong Kong – truly traditional Cantonese cooking, without fancy modern embellishments. 

We did eat in outdoor hawker centres of course. We had Satay by the Bay after a stroll through the Gardens by the Bay, and cooled off with 2-for-1 weekday cendol from the same hawker centre. We made our way to Little India where we had murtabak and biryani. Kaya toast and roti breakfasts at random kopitiams along the road were not uncommon. 

The Chinatown markets were a hit as well, where we tried popiah, kueh pie tee, and what was literally THE freshest and most delicious wife cake I’ve ever had in my whole life- and I’ve eaten my fair share of wife cake! Shout out to Mini Toast House in Chinatown Markets (Shop #02-105) for their awesome wife cake. The other highlight of Chinatown was of course, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. The meals themselves may be simple, but the execution is brilliant – well worth a visit.

We’re lucky enough to also have the opportunity to catch up with family and friends in Singapore…expats / locals who can take us to fantastic places for dinner like No Signboard Seafood for amazing Singaporean chilli crab, salted egg yolk prawns, and chilli and garlic pippies, before finishing off the meal with some durian from a roadside stall. Or who can take us for delicious steamed buns (bao in Chinese, or strangely, pao in Singaporean) at Tiong Bahru markets before finishing off with matcha and almond croissants from the fancy pants hipster Tiong Bahru bakery.

In the few days we had in Singapore, I can honestly say that we never once had a bad meal. We didn’t plan ahead and book for fancy places, we really just stumbled across places and ate where we saw locals congregating. Our main goal was to always try something new at each meal, so that we could introduce my dad and brother to new dishes and flavours – and I think we succeeded in that as my dad absolutely loved Singapore’s food (though not the humidity!).

Singapore really is a foodie’s paradise, and I just know that the next time we go back, we’ll have just as good a time as we did this time.