13 September 2012


I had a fight with Nicola. It was a one-sided fight that involved me yelling at my phone every time a text message sounded. I only started yelling when our meeting time became earlier and earlier. Meeting there at 7, 6:30, 6:15, 6…6 at Starbucks instead of 6 on site. Can I just justify my rage by noting that all of these times were AM?

“What is she thinking?” I wondered as I imagined the two of us in an empty park before dawn. We had a plan. Correction: Nicola had a plan to wake up before dawn, leave our houses before dawn and arrive before dawn at Singapore’s newest outdoor attraction, Gardens by the Bay, in order to catch a glimpse of – and potentially meet – Prince William and his wife, Catherine.

On the one hand, I know all too well how Singaporeans are professional queuers. They can stand in line for hours, so getting there early could prove beneficial. However, just how early would we need to get there in order to obtain a prime spot? Was 6 a.m. too early? Would 7 have been better? The royal couple was slated to arrive at 10.

Well, it didn’t matter what I thought because Nicola is, of course, the British pro. She has had many occasions whereby she might catch a glimpse of the royal family, so she did know best.

Begrudgingly, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. I sent Paul, who was flying back from Phuket, Thailand, at the time, an e-mail before I went to bed so that he would know where I was when he awoke in the morning without me beside him.

When he did awake, Nic and I had already been at the park for more than an hour. He told me I was nuts. And, yes, I was, but not nearly as nuts as Nicola.

The girl could not stop squealing from the moment she heard they were coming into town. Fifty text messages within 12 hours!! I don’t know that I have heard her hyperventilate so often in such short time spans. Even my before-dawn cab driver got a kick out of her enthusiasm.

“Bugis Junction, please,” I said as I stepped in.

“O.K. Are you going there for work this early (5:45ish a.m.)?”

“No, sadly.”

“Haha, why ‘sadly’?”

“Well, you see, Prince William and Kate Middleton are in town and my British friend has sucked me into getting up before dawn to meet them this morning at a public event. Before we go, I mandated that we hit the 24-hour Starbucks at Bugis.”

Cue phone, vibrating, ringing and lighting up Nicola’s name.

“Hi, I was just talking about you.” The cab driver chuckled at my quip.

“Oh my God, I’m so excited! We’re going to go to the Gardens and meet Will and Kate today…” ramble, ramble, hyperventilate….ramble, hyperventilate.

I put the phone on speaker twice during our conversation so that my cab driver could hear exactly what I was dealing with. He laughed several times.

After hearing most of my conversation and, of course, everything I was saying, catching all of my sarcasm, I told Nic I was nearly there and that I would see her in a couple of minutes. I hung up the phone and said to him, “She’s not excited at all.”

When he dropped me at Bugis, he laughed one final time and said, “Thank you. This was a very enjoyable ride. Good luck. I hope you get to meet Will and Kate.” “Glad I could start your day off right,” I said and I exited the vehicle.

After a few moments of being trapped inside a dark, empty mall not knowing how to reach the Starbucks seen on the other side of the glass, we figured our way around. Nic was bright eyed and ready to order everything on the menu. Food and drinks in hand, we hopped into another cab to make our way to the Gardens while the sky was still dark.

The cab driver asked if there was an event at our destination because, let's be honest, the place would not technically open for several hours. "Yes," Nic said, smiling wide. "His Royal Highness Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton are going to be at Gardens by the Bay this morning and there is a meet and greet." Yes, she did pull out the formal titles.

Two staff members driving a golf cart and yelling into a hand radio met us as we exited the cab. Nic advised that we were there to meet Will and Kate and asked if anyone else had arrived. “Yes,” one of the men answered. “Your colleagues are here but I am not sure where they went.” Yeah, we didn’t have any colleagues.

The man offered us a ride in his buggy and, before I could blink, Nic said, “Yeeees!” and jumped in. The man put the pedal to the medal as his passenger yelled “WAIT!” because I really did not have time to plant two feet on the ground. All good, though. No injuries.

The advantages of riding in a buggy with staff members were three fold: first, we did not have to walk; second, we were given a little tour of the area that proved to be gorgeous as everything was glowing with lights and, third, they dropped us in a prime location and told us exactly what would be happening once the royals arrived. Their plan turned out to be completely inaccurate, but they did drop us in the absolutely optimal spot.

Two other girls, university students on exchange programs from the U.K. and Canada, had arrived at 5:30.

According to the two Brits, if we were in England, people would have camped out all night. We, however, gazed around at the 0 people in sight.

Yes, that is the moon.

By 7, the place looked like this:

Yeah, still just the four of us at 7 a.m.
By 8, like this:

Yeah, we probably could have arrived at 8.
By 9 a fair amount of people showed and I stopped taking non-crowd photos. By 9 the sun had also arrived and we started the process of uncontrollable sweating. It just happened. There was no way to avoid it.

The excitement grew with the crowds. A group of British school children gathered next to us and started singing “God Save the Queen” and chanting, “Will, you’re bril’ (short for brilliant); Kate, you’re great!” Nicola had been announcing the wait time remaining every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. “Only 15 more minutes and then they’ll be here!” she said, smiling from ear to ear, jumping a little and waving her arms. That was my cue to switch from flip flops into mega heels, to sport a cropped jacket to cover my previously bare shoulders and to put on some lipstick.

Nic had briefed me on proper “meeting royals” attire. I needed a dress and heels: something simple, yet classy and something that would hide sweat. Job done.

As the hands on the clock moved farther passed 10, the crowd became more restless. Instead of chanting, “Will, you’re bril’; Kate, you’re great,” they began chanting, “Where are you, Will? Where are you, Kate?” “Come on!” one child yelled. “They’re late,” he squealed, the disappointment in his tone evident.

Some time around 10:30, the press ran in, carrying cameras of all kinds, so the crowd had another sense of false excitement. Closer to 11, the line of trams came around and the crowd started screaming. Finally, the royals had arrived. And where did they stop? Right in front of us, of course!

I was amazed as Prince William and Kate immediately stepped out of the tram and made their way to the awaiting crowd. As if in a movie, Kate made eye contact with Nicola and me and walked straight up to Nic, who had a small bouquet of purple orchids for the Duchess.

We all had a short conversation as Nic greeted the Duchess and presented the bouquet. “Oh, thank you,” Catherine said. “That’s very kind of you.” She made her way to me, smiled, chatted and shook hands, and then she made her way down the line.

The Duchess, carrying the orchids Nicola bought her
Kate, bending down to speak with a little girl from Wales, who also presented Kate with a small bouquet

The Prince started his way further to our left so we did not get to meet him, but he did appear very kind. He spoke to nearly everyone he approached.

We stood outside for more than five hours, watched the sun rise over the trees and had some fun with a couple university girls in the process. Then, within 10 minutes of seeing the royal couple, we began to make our way to the park’s exit. 

About half way, I realized we had gone the wrong way, but we did see the main road ahead so we just kept walking. Then, it happened. Nicola saw the flash of a police motorcycle approaching from behind. “Oh God,” she said. “Please don’t tell me they are coming this way.”

I looked back. “No, not yet. There will be a lot more police when they actually leave.” Less than a minute later, Nic checked over her shoulder. “Oh noooo!” she said, nervously. “They really are coming! What do we do? We need to stop.”

“What?!” I interrupted. “We can’t stop! We have to keep walking.”

“No, we can’t. We have to stop. They’re going to think we are sad walking by the side of the road.”

“But if we stand here, they will think we are stalking them.”

“Oh God, what do we do? Here.” She handed me the mini Singapore flag she was holding because, obviously, I did not deserve to hold the British flag.

The cars were seconds away from approaching and a bridge awaited us, so I knew we had to end the argument. “Fine,” I said. “We can stand here. But don’t wave the flag!”

So, we stopped, acted very nonchalant and turned just to see the cars passing by. Two young women, strolling the street on their own, down the secret exit that only the royal entourage was allowed to exit. Yes, we were accidental stalkers. We were hurried out to the main road as the security guards began closing the gates in front of us. 

Though we did start our day earlier than any I have ever started while living here, it was a great experience. I don't think we would have scored a better location if we had waited until after dawn to arrive. And, by standing outside for 6.5 hours, waiting to see the royal couple, I may have earned a spot as an honorary Brit.

1 comment:

MsXpat SG said...

Awesome coverage! I would have loved to meet the royal couple. Wish I knew you guys then cause I would have been right there with you, ha!