Singapore Adventure

Friday, January 14, 2005

How long will it take....
by venitha

The whole time we were in Singapore, Jim and I kept saying "I wonder how long it will take us to ...," and I thought I'd record some of those. Hopefully we'll read through this list at some later date and be able to feel a sense of accomplisment.

So, how long will it take us to…

…get completely used to using chopsticks? I kept setting them down while I was eating and then I’d have to think and spend time readjusting them when I picked them back up. Of course, many places have forks and spoons (big scoop spoons for noodle-bowl-type dishes), but knives and, inexplicably, napkins are very rare.

…understand Singlish (Singaporean English) with ease? Yes, everyone speaks English, but, well, people can be quite difficult to understand, which really makes me wonder what Jim and I sound like to them. Timo, a friend of a friend who has lived in Singapore for three years now, explained to us three major differences between the English that we speak and the English that most Singaporeans speak: 1) No plurals. Three spring roll. Twenty minute. 2) No articles and few prepositions. I am engineer. I live Yishun. 3) No verb tenses. We shop tomorrow. In addition, there’s also thing sing-song-y (no pun intended) quality to the way they speak that I suspect will start to affect the way that we speak in no time at all. I'm very susceptible to picking up accents and even the speech mannerisms of people I spend a lot of time with, so this could be pretty entertaining.

…adjust to the humid climate? Not that this is necessarily totally possible, but many people, including native Coloradoans, told us that it was very cold in Singapore last week, and we did indeed see many people wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets (along with lots of women quite scantily-clad, and they can’t ALL have been prostitutes). This is somewhat alarming given that it seemed pretty darn hot and humid to us. We laughed that both of us, each time we came back to our hotel room, immediately started taking off our clothes! I kept thinking that it had to have been a climate like Singapore's that inspired muumuus.

…get used to walking so much? Obviously, in an urban environment, we’re going to be walking a lot more than we’re currently used to, and we both had pretty sore feet and near shin splints from traipsing all over the city this past week. Everyone wears sandals, most of which look uncomfortable to wear, let alone to walk in for miles.

…get used to the metric system and Singapore Dollars (called ‘sing’). Kg’s to pounds, km’s to miles, S$'s to US $'s. Trying to determine relative prices at the grocery store (1.79 S$ for 100g) was a bit much for our jet-lagged minds. Fun to think that we’ll get used to these new standards of measurement and stop converting everything in our minds.



Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The coolest fishtank in the world (jima)
by jima

Before dinner with my manager the other night (at the Nude Restaurant!) we stopped in a bar for a beer, and what a bar. It was very dark, with odd black-light-ish lighting, making it look very much like a disco, and very little like a nice place to have a beer (Tetley’s Bitters, for those of you keeping score – quite nice). But as we adjusted to the light, we sat down in a couch facing what has to be one of the coolest fishtanks in the world. It was probably 40 feet long, 10 feet high, and 3 feet think, BUT it was bent in a semicircle, so that things came in and out of view both directly and through their reflections. And, to top it all off, the things that were dis- and re-appearing were 3’ long sharks! There were also a couple of pilot fish riding in the wake of their shark. Very much a scene out of some futuristic movie.

The dinner that night was quite good. Very eclectic mixing of dishes; Venitha and I split a Korean fond du dish. We had the pleasure of having doug’s teenage daughters to give us their prespective on Singapore life now that they’ve been here a few month.

All-in-all a quite enjoyable evening. I only hope that we were not so tired that we turned into boring dinner guests. (supposedly the really boring ones get fed to the sharks!)



Dad (jima)
by jima

As many of you already know, my father passed away on the 2nd of January, 2005; one day before his 77th birthday. Venitha and I found out about this shortly after we got to the hotel in Singapore the first night. It was tempting to get right back on a plane and go home at that point, but thanks to the encouragement of my family and the support of each other, we decided to do the work we had come to do as best as we could and come home at the scheduled time (today, Saturday, January 08).

I don’t want to make this too maudlin, but I feel that the description of our trip would be incomplete without mentioning this difficult aspect of it. It was a stressful week, which helped in a lot of ways, as it kept us focused on the task at hand. Nights were very difficult, as the jet lag kept waking us up at 4AM with no hopes of returning to sleep.

I have really appreciated the support of my family during this time. They did a great job of taking care of things, of making sure I knew things were getting taken care of, and of taking care of us as best they could through the emails and phone calls.

It was a successful week, but I am glad to be heading home to start the grieving process with my family.



What were they thinking??? (jima)
by jima

At Marc’s request (please note that you can post responses to our missives here as well!), here are my thoughts on why we’re taking this leap.

For years we’ve discussed the possibility of living abroad. Our journeys to other countries have always been enjoyable, but always left us with the desire to spend more time in one area. This inevitably leads to the discussion of staying someplace overseas for an extended period, finding out how the locals live (at least to some approximation) and exploring new lifestyles. This assignment really provides that opportunity. As Venitha mentioned in a previous post, neither of us would have picked Singapore if we had a choice in the matter, but, once it was presented as an option and we explored it, Singapore does seem a perfect location to live in SE asia with fewer difficulties than other places.

We had thought about doing something like this in Tokyo a few years ago, and also remotely considered an overseas assignment in Taiwan last year (I wouldn’t have done that one, even if it had been available). Neither of us had been to Singapore when this opportunity arose, but in talking to friends and colleagues (some of whom had spent a significant amount of time there) they assured us that S’pore would be easier to live in that Tokyo or Taiwan. Armored by their assurances and a mess of teeth gnashing, we decided to take the leap.

As to some more personal reasons for wanting to do this, there are several. One is simply the adventure of it. I’ve always enjoyed travel (at least to some extent) and this is just an extension of that. This also gives us a unique opportunity to “test drive” a different lifestyle. I’ve never really lived in a city before (Madison probably doesn’t count), and with this deal, we get to go live in a large, metropolitan area for a couple of years while still keeping a safe home back in Colorado.

Finally, for me, this trip is an expression of who I want to be. I want to be the type of person who takes advantages of opportunities like this when they are presented. I know that there are costs involved in taking action like this, but I also know that there are costs in not taking action. Taking this position makes me feel more directed and decisive than I have for quite a while. This is a good thing.

Hope this makes it a bit clearer...



Saturday, January 08, 2005

narita (venitha)
by jima

We're currently at Narita, Tokyo's airport, trying to stay awake long enough to get on our next flight (to Seattle), but not TOO awake, so we won't be able to sleep. I imagine that over the next two years Jim will get good at managing the right drug concoction (sleeping pills, caffeine, alcohol, sleep) to minimize jetlag. It occurred to me this morning, though, that I won't be making this trip (from Singapore to the US) again for quite some time. While that's both sad and exciting in emotional ways, it's only a good thing physically. Sleep deprivation does not enhance my normal cheery disposition. =) The fact that through this last week of extraordinary stress and very little sleep, Jim and I haven't had to kill each other has reassured me that we'll manage to survive the next two years.

Most surprising thing about Singapore: how lush and green it is! A very welcome difference from the front range of Colorado this time of year. Even the major expressway interchanges, the equivalent of which in Denver are nothing but concrete as far as you can see, have trees and shrubs and flowers surrounding them, the trees frequently forming a canopy over multiple
lanes of traffic - absolutely beautiful. I'm looking forward to visiting the botanic gardens here, and I can picture us keeping a sprig of orchids on our kitchen table.

Coolest thing about Singapore: the public transportation. Taxis everywhere and sooo easy, with drivers speaking English, though we have yet to master how to tell them where we want to go, so they keep correcting us. The MRT (subway train system) clean, safe, technologically impressive, and a 5-minute walk from where we'll live. We did not brave the busses yet, but native Singaporeans have raved about them to us, and they certainly seem to run everywhere and very frequently. Jim and I are both, bizarrely, very excited about not having a car.

Most disappointing thing about Singapore: the kitchens! I think I'm still in shock over how inutile they are. The vast majority of apartments have "Chinese" kitchens. Everyone is expected to have a live-in maid to do the cooking, so the kitchen is part of her quarters (hovel, truly - it's shocking to think that many women live like this) and, to be fair, is in general larger than the rest of her quarters combined. I found it surprisingly depressing. Asian women are generally petite, but not THAT petite. Regardless, we won't have a maid and instead intend to use the kitchen ourselves. Almost all of the kitches we saw were very very small (maybe 30 square feet - we took pictures of everything, and you couldn't get far enough away from the kitchen to take a picture of it), dark, completely shut off from the rest of the apartment, not airconditioned, containing no appliances other than a refrigerator and a stovetop, and with maybe three feet of counter space (for someone much shorter than me!). Of the probably twenty apartments we looked at this week, we will likely end up in one of the two that had kitchens that didn't make me want to cry. Seriously.

Time to go. I'll need to come up with a good sign-off for these things. Luckily I have plenty of time to contemplate that on our next flight (10 hours!).


homeward bound
by jima

We're currently on our way home after a quite long and difficult week. We're in the Narita airport business lounge waiting for our flight to Seattle, taking advantage of the free wireless internet. We've taken advantage of the cool beer machine (just set the glass in it and it pours for you -complete with tilting the glass appropriately!)

We're both pretty well wiped out after the week of seeing WAY to many apartments to keep straight. Most of which had kitchens that made Venitha want to cry. (Quote from Venitha who is sitting next to me: "They would make you want to cry, too.")

The food was excellent, except that we made the mistake of trying out a durian at one of the hawker stands. I'll let Venitha describe her reaction to it, but I just have to wonder, who decided that this is food?

I'll sign off and let Venitha get her say....