Singapore Adventure

Thursday, June 30, 2005

by venitha

In the elevator down from the 19th floor, Bin Chin asked me what I thought. "It's way more than we need," I said, and closed my mouth lest something Freudian slip out. I was thinking of naked bodies. And the Virgin Mary.

Viewing this apartment while its owners are in residence is a religious experience. A family of four from , they are Catholic, as is evidenced by the large portrait of Christ in the master bedroom and the two-foot high Virgin Mary statue atop a roof-garden fountain. They are also art lovers, if you'll allow art an enlightened definition: their taste dances sensuously along the edge of a pornographic abyss.

Photographs, statues, and wooden carvings... of breasts, phalluses, and erotic poses. In an abrupt contrast to the two earlier apartments I had seen that day, both empty and pristinely clean, the place was a seething throbbing mass of copulating flesh. I was shocked, stunned, and overwhelmed. So dumbstruck, in fact, that I hardly noticed anything else. The one thing I had noticed was from the car park before I even entered the building: there were an inordinate number of places of worship in the very near vicinity. A Buddhist temple on one side, a Baptist church across the street, and a Singapore church, whatever that is, with a big "Jesus Is Lord" sign, directly in front. Combining Mary, the erotica, and the height of the building, it was a wonder lightning didn't strike.

Thankfully, my stupor had not prevented me from taking pictures. Paging through the photographic evidence of my day revealed the apartment behind Mary's skirts and Adam's er, well, yeah. An enormous penthouse apartment on the 19th floor, a short walk from the MRT. A rooftop garden. An awesome view. Light from two sides. A GREAT kitchen. Did pictures lie?

"You've got to see this place," I told Jim, "more for the decor than for anything else. But I want to see it again, too."

We went back the following evening to see the apartment - and the view - at night. This time I could actually see and appreciate the size, the windows, the layout, the kitchen. It was Jim who was struck dumb.

"Did you notice?" he said, on the elevator ride down. "Even the little boy was in on it. Running around in his underwear! That's what I'm going to do when we live here, too." A nod, a smug smile, and a slow tender kiss on the cheek.

Catholicism is not as catching. It's written in our lease agreement that the Virgin Mary goes.

We move in on 9 July 2005. Click here for Fun and Games.


Fun and Games
by venitha

  • How many pieces of erotic art can you find in our photos?
    Click here for our pictures.

  • How many places of worship can you find in our vicinity?
    Click here for an area map.

  • How should we arrange our furniture if we don't get a television?
    Click here for a floorplan.
    Click here for TV Or Not TV, the blog entry explaining the great television debate.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

by venitha

Highlighted in red, an addition to our lease agreement wrenched my heart: No pets. Oh, do I miss Maggie.

When Jim and I started to talk seriously about Singapore, it didn't take long for the initial excitement to be replaced by concern about the many difficulties involved. What will happen to our house? What about my job? And hardest of all: What will we do with Maggie?

Our first impulse was to take her with us, and we looked into the red tape involved. A fellow HP expat summed up the situation: a brutal flight, a 30-day quarantine, and if you're concerned about putting her through it at her current age, think about how you'll feel putting her through it on the way back... in two years. By the way, have you heard that it's hot here?

It was completely discouraging, and all our fantasies about Singapore were reduced to one inescapable fact: We could not desert Maggie. Adopted from the pound ten years ago, she was our baby, our constant companion, our best friend. "She's only the cutest sweetest most wonderful dog in the whole wide world. It's not a big deal or anything," I frequently told Jim, and we would argue over whether sweetness or cuteness was her defining quality.

Pragmatism soon won out over Jim's emotions. "It's not like we're going to leave her out on the street," he said. "We'll find her a good home." We had, after all, a number of friends who would take her if we needed them to, and we had months to find her an ideal home, with someone who really wanted her.

So it happened that soon after Jim's Singapore job was announced within HP, Jeff, a co-worker, approached him about Maggie. He loves dogs. He has an enormous yard. He has two daughters just the right age to fall desperately in love with Maggie. And he knows older dogs, having recently retired his own cutest-sweetest-most-wonderful-dog-in-the-whole-wide-world, Roger. And Roger, by the way, looked a lot like Maggie. "She must be Roger's sister," Jeff's daughters earnestly told me.

It's such a perfect fit and came about so easily that it was surely meant to be.

But that doesn't mean it's easy. Unpacking adorable Maggie pictures in our air shipment reduced me to tears, and petting a soon-to-be neighbor's dog left me wandering tragically around the block trying to get a grip. Every evening as Jim and I step outside for an after-dinner walk, my thoughts turn to Maggie: She would love this.

But then I think of the quarantine, the stifling humidity, the small apartments with no yards. And I picture her in Colorado, lying on Jeff's deck, defending her new yard from the nearby foxes, riding in Jeff's truck, being petted and petted and petted by Jeff's daughters. I know that she's happy.

But, oh, do I miss her.


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Durian Lessons: Part II
by venitha

Late on a weekday afternoon, Choon Hwee and Jim picked me up, and we started out for , home of the freshest to be had in Singapore. Astoundingly, some others of Jim's co-workers were planning to meet us there. "Voluntarily?" I asked, sure that their reasons had to have more to do with the assured amusement in watching us, the durian virgins, than in eating any of it themselves.

I pumped Choon Hwee for the durian lowdown as he drove. Is there a season? Are there different varieties? Does it keep in the fridge? What can you make with it? When was the last time you ate it? The most surprising info: durian and alcohol is a lethal combination.* So, just to get this straight, we are leaving work early to sit around outside, and alcohol will not be involved. Singapore is so NOT Wisconsin. I've come a long way, baby. And now I'm going to have to eat some durian to prove it.

Sure enough, the streets of Geylang were peppered with durian shops. "This is the first time I've seen it before I smelled it," I said. But it turned out that that was just the car's protection, and now that I think about it, it's surprising that a mere window is sufficient. Out on the sidewalk, the aroma permeated the air. And permeated us, we discovered later, to much revulsion.

At his preferred shop, Choon Hwee set about choosing our victims. Derived from the Malay word for thorny, the durian, from the outside, is just that. Rock hard, dark green, and spiky. The sharper the spikes, the fresher the durian, Choon Hwee told us. These must have been fresh, because the seller handled them with thick gloves. Additional ways to detect freshness include shaking the durian (something inside should thunk, one wonders exactly what) and smelling it, taking a big whiff of the end, like you would a cantalope. Jim and I nervously laughed at Choon Hwee as he put the sniff method to work. Such behavior smacked of taking his life in his hands. Confronted with a durian, putting it to my nose and grandly sniffing was the last thing I would choose to do.

The seller cracked the durian open with a cleaver and split it into segments. Each segment housed a seed surrounded by a yellow-orange sac, and it is this part that you pull out with your fingers and eat. If you're brave. We were.

It is not good, but we did both eat two pieces. Its best quality is unarguably its texture: like that of the creamiest custard. While its flavor thankfully doesn't come close to that advertised by its smell, it doesn't disappoint. If it's custard, it's been made with rotten eggs and burnt a little bit.

Eating durian with your hands is messy, and it's not exactly finger-lickin' good. After eating our "fill", we proceeded to the sink at the back of the shop to be instructed by Choon Hwee in the appropriate method for cleansing our hands of the odor: washing them with water run over the inner husk of a durian. It worked surprisingly well; we only regretted we hadn't thought to bring a husk home so we could employ the same method for our entire bodies!

On our way out of the shop, a vivid red mound of fresh , looking more like bloody spiders than fruit, caught my eye, and Choon Hwee promptly bought us a bagful. In spite of their "scary hairy cherry" appearance, rambutan are easy to peel and yummy. The fresh rambutans were much tastier than the canned versions we'd earlier enjoyed, though they were a sorry remedy for combatting the durian odor and durian burps that plagued us the rest of the evening.

Will we try durian again? "Not a chance," says Jim. "Well, maybe the durian puff," he allows, thinking of the famous pastry sold at the Marriott Hotel on . "With enough butter and sugar, anything's edible, right?" We'll let you know.


* My subsequent inquiries on the web regarding durian and alcohol turned up lots of anecdotes and a little science, which was mostly hand-waving about yeast. Regardless, trust me when I say that potential death is not the only reason that a durian margarita would have been passed over in favor of the Singapore Sling. Click here to return.

Monday, June 27, 2005

TV Or Not TV
by venitha

Shortly after our arrival in Singapore, Bill, a fellow HP expat, now on his way back to the states, offered us his tv. Sold! Now we just need to figure out how to get it. And where to put it until we get into our own apartment. Or so we thought.

The biggest obstacle turned out to be how to pay for it. When Jim hit up Juliet, our relocation manager at GMAC (even HP Singapore is in on the outsourcing act), for what sort of documentation we should provide to get reiumbursed for this transaction, we were icily informed that this was unacceptable. Only brand new items are eligible for the furnishing allowance.

Well, that decides it then! HP has provided us with an allowance, which we can use to buy certain items of furniture... and a tv. We've laughingly waffled between two options: teak furniture, which is all the rage here, rainforest be damned, and no tv OR two bean bag chairs and the biggest baddest flattest tv money can buy!

Tempting as it is to splash Juliet by cannonballing into a pool of television decadence, the reality is that you can count on one hand the number of times we've turned on the tv here. And most of those times were to watch DVDs, something we could do as easily, though with decidedly less splash, on our "widescreen" laptop.

This is partly because there's nothing on: a spin through the remote here revealed a disappointing difference from the hundred-channels-of-nothing available on cable in the US. Well, rugby is actually really cool, but still. WARNING! The following content may be deemed unsuitable for small children and curmudgeons, as it contains what could be construed as positive statements about Singapore's weather. WARNING! It's also because the evenings, when we might normally watch television, are so pleasant; after hours of taking refuge from the heat by remaining inside with an air conditioner, the cooler night air beckons, and a walk eases the tensions of the day.

The best argument against the tv, though, is the nudge that lacking such an easy escape from Singapore will give us. I don't want to be David Sedaris, whiling away my years in Paris watching movies back to back. I want to walk along the ocean, study Mandarin, take up tai chi, learn to make , see a , ride the ferry to , continue on my quest for an effective hair de-frizzing product... do a hundred things I could never do in Colorado. And write about them here.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Yong Tau Fu
by venitha

I'm feeling a distinct lack of... chopsticks?

One of my first food court meals here was Yong Tau Fu, a Chinese soup. You fill your bowl with selections from its buffet (an amazing variety of greens, cabbages, mushrooms, bean sprouts, peppers, tofus, and seafood balls), they cook it up in a broth, and serve it as a hot soup over noodles. You add your preferred amount of chili sauce and eat it with a big and chopsticks, which are ideal for picking up the large chunks of all the tasty morsels within.

It didn't take me long to start thinking I could make Yong Tau Fu. We've been enjoying lots of salads as we experiment with the vast array of new vegetables available here, and there must be something else to do with them, but what? Our usual sources of protein have been replaced by a bewildering variety of seafood balls and tofus, surely best cooked, but how? Those little hot hot hot Thai peppers are adorable and tempting, but what to do with them? Yong Tau Fu is the perfect solution.

Honing our technique and hunting down ingredients has provided a great deal of entertainment. Jim's favorite find? A flat spicy slightly fried tofu, cut into strips. Mine? The chilies, of course!

I'm looking forward to the the arrival of the big pots in our ocean shipment, and we will have to buy some chopsticks and Chinese spoons of our very own. Yong Tau Fu is a far cry from Campbell's Chicken and Stars; it is decidedly NOT edible with a Western spoon.

How unexpected that I move to hot humid Singapore... and learn to make soup!


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Chinatown Wet Market
by jima

Unable to rally ourselves to be tourists after a long week, we decided to take it easy on Saturday morning. But if we woke up early, we agreed, we'd check out the Chinatown wet market.

So 8am on this overcast Saturday morning found us wandering through the deserted streets of Chinatown in search of the wet market. It somehow felt like State Street in Madison at 8am on a Saturday morning, only cleaner and a somewhat more smelly. We found the right building pretty easily (ya gotta love great maps!) and let the market's sounds and smells lead us half-way around it before spotting the long ramp leading to its open-air basement.

We descended into the subterranean bustle, overcome with wonder at how far the array of stalls reached. Tucked away under a large metropolitan building, it was a farmers' market on steroids. If you can eat it or grow it or catch it, they've got it. Stall after stall crammed with foods of all shapes and sizes. Vegetables, fruits, flowers, spices, dried I-don't-know-what-that-is, fish, tofu, eggs, poultry, frogs(!), all roughly segregated.

And an alarming amount of it still alive. Cages of live frogs and tanks of squirming eels. If you buy something, do they kill it? Clean it? De-bone it? We weren't brave enough to ask.

We started our adventure by just wandering and taking some photos. We found interesting (and often unrecognizable) items in almost every stall. Some highlights:
  • large squid (about two feet long) stacked into mounds of tentacled monsters
  • mud-covered lotus root. I keep seeing this in soups here and recently discovered what it was.
  • charcoal? No, it's an egg, claims the vendor.
  • a very large, pink vegetable that looked like an overgrown radish. It came highly recommended by a little Chinese lady, but I suspect she had a vested interest.

When we finally set down to shopping, we made a few efforts to barter with the vendors, but they were uninterested, likely because of our obvious lack of Chinese ancestry. Regardless, prices were cheap relative to what we've been paying in the supermarkets.

Our purchases included a lot of fresh produce (including enoki mushrooms and mangosteens), some tofu (I'm developing a taste for it, especially a flat fried version that I've never seen in the States), a pound of large shrimp (head on!), and, for a dollar, a bouquet of orchids to liven up our apartment. The biggest bargain was a huge mound of beansprouts for only 20 cents.

I couldn't talk Venitha into the live frogs. This time.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Durian Lessons: Part I
by venitha

It's ugly. It's smelly. It tastes like old socks. .

You can't talk about the food in Singapore for long without getting around to the subject of durian. Having heard of this famous fruit, Jim and I bravely tried it at a hawker centre on our trip here in January. It smelled horrible, tasted even worse, and had appalling staying power, especially given the teeny tiny bit of it that we both ate. For the rest of the day, you just couldn't get the smell out of your nose or the taste out of your mouth.

So far this month, we've managed to avoid the subject, though we've seen plenty of durian out there. Or perhaps I should say that we've smelled plenty. In Jim's words, "First you smell it; then you see it." Its perfume is so pervasive and distinctive that durian are not allowed in hotels and many grocery stores don't carry them. More than once on my shopping excursions, I've suddenly noticed a distinctly unpleasant aroma that just can't be mistaken for anything else. Sure enough, around the corner, a pile of durian. It's amazing.

And even more amazing is the fact that Singaporeans in general have somehow cultivated a taste for it, have been seduced by it, have become obsessed with it. I am left with a burning desire to understand why.

So when Choon Hwee, one of Jim's new co-workers and a self-admitted durian fanatic, offered to take us out to a really good place for fresh durian, we jumped at the chance. Okay, we didn't exactly jump. The truth is that we were terrified at the thought of what a "durian place" would smell like, and we were even more terrified that going to a "durian place" might require that we actually eat some durian. But we felt like we couldn't say no if we ever hoped to understand the durian and the Singaporean people.

After all, we are here for adventure, no?


Thursday, June 23, 2005

by venitha

Every time I see myself in the mirror these days, I do a double take. Can I possibly be THAT pale?

I'd like the blame the lighting: Singaporeans seem to have a penchant for unflattering fluorescent lights, and surely even natural light is a bit different near both the equator and sea-level. But, no, even with my freckles, I look deathly pale in every mirror I see, and, trust me, mirrors are pervasive here, used to add glitz to shopping displays - and to add apparent square footage to small apartments.

Perhaps I've caught some exotic tropical fever? No, I've been vaccinated for everything you can imagine and a few things you can't. Besides, I feel fine, if a bit warm, and any slight temperature I may have is certainly attributable to the heat. Perhaps it's an allergic reaction to the odor of durian?

Enlightenment struck as I stood watching the crowd of fellow passengers awaiting the next MRT train this afternoon: my eyes are adjusting. And relative to everyone else in my sight for the past two weeks, I am pale... paler... palest. The native Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese, Indian, and Malay. The blonde Aussies at our service apartment spend their afternoons sun-bathing by the pool. Even Jim, despite his Scottish heritage, is downright swarthy in comparison to me.

As I shrug and accept my pallor as a part of me that is not going to change, I wonder what other unique qualities I will discover in myself over the next two years, inside as well as out. And which I will be able... or willing... or want... to change.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

by venitha

After my sister Vadrian was an exchange student in Australia, an Aussie friend came to Wisconsin to visit. It was a surprisingly warm early spring day, and as we drove by a bank clock displaying the temperature, Vadrian and I were surprised: "Eighty degrees!" A few seconds later the display changed to Celsius, and Fiona had the same reaction: "Twenty-seven!"

Singapore, like its neighbor Australia, displays the temperature in degrees Centigrade. Of course, the temperature here doesn't vary much, so this is pretty easy to get used to. The temperature scale, that is, not the tragic lack of variation in this endless stifling brutal life-sucking mind-numbing heat. But, it's not just temperature that's measured differently from what I'm used to. How long will it take for me to start thinking in these new terms?

Fortunately, currency is another easy one. It's all still dollars (sometimes called sing) and cents, and the exchange rate (US$1 = S$1.65) just makes everything seem really expensive, which is probably saving us money: $100! That's way too much!

And of course, Singapore has embraced the metric system. Distance to MRT: 300m. Serving size: 15ml. Elevator capacity: 1000kg. I spent several mornings smugly satisfied with the astronomical number of calories I'd burned on the stairmaster. Then I realized the awful truth: the weight that I entered was in kilograms, not pounds. So it thought it was being used by a sumo wrestler. Bummer! And here I was hoping that your body just burns lots more calories at low altitude and that I had discovered the reason that everyone here is so thin!

It's not that they don't eat, because there are plenty of grocery stores. Prices on produce are displayed in dollars per 100g, as in $0.65/100g. That's Singapore dollars, of course. I've made valiant attempts but have at last had to concede that it is impossible for me to perform such conversions in my head without hurting myself. I just buy items and then look at the receipt afterwards.

I expected the difference in date display (22/06/2005 instead of 06/22/2005), but I was surprised that digital clocks all display military time. This is somehow appropriate for this strict and very regimented society, though I haven't noticed anyone actually speaking in military time yet.

Lastly, the award for most annoying different standard goes to (drum roll, please): paper size! It's A4, which is just enough longer than our beloved 8 1/2 x 11 that it doesn't fit in folders, binders, and envelopes. Doesn't fit in my folders, binders, and envelopes, Jim points out. Yeah yeah. It's still annoying.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Fruits of Paradise II
by venitha

Every time we see fruit for sale somewhere, be it at a new grocery store or from a vendor on the street, there seems to be something new that we haven't yet explored. I'm starting to wonder how long this can continue. Here's the latest.

  • Guava. Looks like a large, ugly, lumpy, light green apple, and, like an apple, it's white inside. Surprising, no? Shouldn't it be, well, pink? Apparently that's a different variety. And, thanks to modern science, there is also a seedless variety. Its taste is a cross between an apple and a pear, very dry and light. I liked it; Jim thought it was bland. When we told Bin Chin we had tried one, he insisted that it must always be eaten chopped into chunks and mixed with plum powder. We tracked down some plum powder (contents: plums, sugar, salt), and it was pretty tasty this way, like an uncooked apple crisp without the crisp. It still, however, wasn't pink.

  • Cherry Apple. Very very cute, but, disappointingly, just a really small apple, about the size of a golf ball. The Granny Smith apple in the picture next to it is even on the small side. Funny how you expect it to be REALLY sour, like a crabapple, but it's not.

  • Chikku. A rock-hard brown oval. Our kitchen isn't stocked with a machete, so I figured I'd let it ripen for a while. After a couple of days on the counter produced no change, I put it in the fridge. It's so humid here that leaving anything perishable out for long seems like a very bad idea. After a couple of days in the fridge produced no change, I asked Bin Chin about chikkus, and he informed me that the best way to ripen them was to nest them down in your rice bin. Well, I don't have a rice bin, but this does explain why humidity and cold weren't producing the desired result.

    When we finally ate the chikku, it was pretty disappointing. Sort of like a pear in texture, but cloyingly sweet and with a weird bitter texture that leaves your mouth dry. Neither of us liked it much, though it may be worth trying again in the hopes that I just ruined it with inadequate ripening stimulation. Truly, the best part of it is that its name has Jim endlessly saying "chicka chickahhh" like in that song from the movie The Secret of My Success. If you don't already know what I'm talking about and you like having inane songs from the 80s stuck in your head, click here and listen to a sample of Yello's "Oh Yeah".

  • Pear Apple. Shaped like an apple, but otherwise like a pear. A crispy, sweet, juicy, brown-skinned pear. There are also pear-shaped apples, which we tried back in January and were unimpressed with.

Next up: the dreaded durian! An admitted durian freak who Jim works with is taking us out tomorrow after work to a good place for durian. I'm just scared that he's actually going to expect us to try it!


Monday, June 20, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?
by venitha

They're everywhere you look in Singapore: cellphones. And it doesn't take long for you not only to wish that you had one, too, but also to convince yourself that you need one, too. I don't think it's just subliminal peer pressure. Somehow the big city combined with the mass transit system makes the convenience of a cellphone a necessity.

A refreshing change from cellphone usage in the US is that here in Singapore, cellphones are seen and not heard. Perhaps the coverage is unreliable in elevators and the underground MRT. Perhaps the crowds and noises of the city make it difficult to hear. Perhaps the rate plans encourage it. Whatever the reason, old and young alike tend to prefer text messaging (called SMS, Short Message Service, for short) over talking. It certainly isn't because talking loudly, seemingly to oneself, in public would be considered rude. This is, after all, a country which is in the midst of a several-year-long "courtesy campaign". And it certainly isn't because SMS is a breeze with Chinese characters; just think about it! I'm finding it challenging enough in English.

You must be a legal resident to obtain a cellphone, and then you may have four(!). So once Jim obtained his greencard, Bin Chin took us to SingTel for our assimilation. We were amused by the board displaying the many numbers we could choose from, and Bin Chin informed us that this is big business. People regularly auction off good numbers to the highest bidder, he said, and a quick perusal of the Straits Times want-ads the next day confirmed this. The Chinese are very superstitious, so numbers carry great importance. Also, many people want their different numbers to match in certain ways. Phone numbers are eight digits, land lines starting with 6 and cell lines starting with 8 or 9. How convenient to have the same number for both lines, differing only in the first digit!

We chose numbers one digit apart (8xxx 9264 for me, 8xxx 9265 for Jim) and the free phones (white for me, black for Jim, teeny tiny, and darn cute) that came with our plan and immediately started to play. After a couple minutes of slowly wading through our new cellphones' menus, setting the date and time (Huh? The time? What the heck? This clearly is NOT Kansas, Toto.), programming each other into our address books, and customizing backgrounds and rings, we embarked on our first attempts to SMS. After a frustrating minute, Jim told Bin Chin that we might need lessons. "Not me, la. You need teenager." We laughed. It's great to know that some things are the same the world over.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Creepy Crawly Critters
by jima

In response to one of our earlier posts, my brother-in-law, Vern, did what any guy would: he asked about what sorts of creepy crawly critters we had seen here. Venitha decided that this was a job best left for me, as I have FAR more interest in creepy crawly critters than she does.

The main form of small animal that we've seen (barring children and pets) has been the house gecko. These little lizards are not quite as common as I had originally imagined, but we've seen a few of them. They seem to range in size between 2 to 6 inches long and are greenish/brownish in color. We've most often seen them in the evening or the morning on walls or other vertical surfaces, and thankfully always, so far, outside the house. They move FAST and often pop up in unexpected places. While reading a sign in the botanical gardens yesterday, I almost put my hand on one as it scampered away. Probably scared me more than it scared the gecko.

Now, when Vern asked this question, the geckos were the only creatures along this line that we had seen. But, as fate would have it, immediately after reading his e-mail, we stepped off the elevator and WEAHHH! almost stepped onto a snail! (What we were doing reading e-mail in the elevator, I'll never know!)
He (she - who knows?) was about 3 inches long, and was well out on the marble floor in the lobby we cross on our way to breakfast. Not surprisingly, it was still in the lobby when we came back (snails not being known for their celerity).

That's the extent of what we've seen so far. There are rumors of monkeys in the park across the street, but we haven't actually seen any. And of course, there are surely also lots of other creepy crawly critters lurking out there, but lots of concrete, lots of traffic, and better living through chemistry have kept most of them at bay.

Searching for Goldilocks: Part II
by venitha

I've spent a good deal of time now with our housing guide, Bin Chin. He's a nice guy and very patient with my unerring ability to find the fatal flaw in each new apartment that he shows me. At this point, I've seen at least one apartment in just about every complex in the Novena Station area, where Jim and I have decided we want to live. That's 14 complexes this week alone, and we saw at least 20 in January. I guess I should be thankful that we have so many choices. Click here for a sampling of our apartment photos.

I look at the long list of apartments I've seen and think that maybe, just maybe, I'm being just a wee bit too picky. What exactly is so wrong with these places? Well, primarily the depressing kitchens: small dark hovels completely shut off from the rest of the apartment, not air-conditioned, and frequently without any appliances other than a stovetop and a small refrigerator. If it isn't the kitchen...okay, it's always the kitchen, but it's also occasionally the teeny bedrooms, the lack of natural light, the view into a construction site, the traffic noise, the lame gym/pool facilities, the distance from the MRT, the cockroaches on the stairs up from the basement carpark.

Of course, there are many plusses, too, even though some are a bit strange: amazing pools, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, vast built-in wardrobes, bomb shelters (no kidding), maids' quarters, private elevators opening into the apartment, fingerprint-controlled access, enormous built-in drying racks, tile floors, mirrored walls, great views, balconies, rooftop gardens.

After my first day out this week, we narrowed down our priorities into the following:
  • Location location location. Above all, we've got to be close to an MRT station.
  • A highrise, the higher the floor, the better. This is one fun difference from our life in Colorado. We'll NEVER live on the 19th floor of anything there.
  • Light from several sides. Lots of these apartments have windows facing only one direction, and that direction frequently looks out into a construction site or is completely shadowed by the highrise next door or another tower in the same complex. It's depressing.
  • Large usable kitchen that feels like part of the apartment. I'm dreaming, I know.
  • A complex with fewer units. Larger complexes have up to four towers, and sort of have the feel of the dorms we lived in in Madison. While this means the facilities are really nice, they're also really crowded.


by venitha

One of the coolest things about Singapore is its train system, the MRT. It's fast, it's easy, it's clean, it's well-organized, it's air-conditioned. A true marvel of modern technology. As we proved on our trip here in January, any tourist can figure it out and can even purchase an MRT card, which stores a balance, instead of messing around with single fare tickets. The card looks just like a credit card and, conveniently, is also used by the buses.

In spite of knowing what a minor accomplishment it was, I was downright elated last week the first few times I used the MRT by myself. Hey! Look at me! I'm doing it! All alone! Of course, I was the only one impressed; no one else even noticed my glee. In a city as cosmopolitan as Singapore, I don't stand out as someone new or as someone who doesn't belong.

While the majority of the population is Chinese, there are plenty of Caucasians in Singapore, and now I am now just one of them, sashaying through the MRT turnstiles with ease, tapping my card without taking it out of my bag, no longer bothering to express amazement at the instant digital readout that tells my fare (only 83 cents!) and the balance remaining on my card. Okay, Jim is still inordinately taken with the digital readout, but, well, that's Jim.

Now I just need to figure out my new cellphone so I can spend the entire MRT ride sending text messages (called SMS-ing in Singapore-ese); then I'll REALLY be indistinguishable from the natives on the MRT.


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate
by jima

Welcome to a new and hopefully regular feature of our blog! It's a short interview about our lives here in Singapore. The questions were inspired by a conversation we had while exploring the botanic gardens this morning. I get to take the first turn, so here goes!
  • One thing I love about living in Singapore is...
    the maps! Since all of the public transportation is done through one of two companies (which we think are both run by the government), all of the maps match! This means that if you look at the bus guide on-line, it will show a small section around the bus stop that matches (down to the colors) the map you have in the big map book. Also, the bus stop numbers will match on all maps AND will be marked on the bus stop itself! This really makes it easy!

  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore is...
    the heat. There. I said it. I know you were all thinking it. Yeah. It's hot here. It's really hot and humid. It's generally in the 90-100 F range with 90% humidity. Just when I think we're starting to get used to it, I walk out of the grocery store (or the office...) and get hit with the heat again. It will take more "getting used to".

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    Popiah. It's a chinese spring roll, made with a very thin flour wrap that has a paste of garlic, chilis, and sweet soy sauce. The roll is filled with vegetables (bean sprouts, roasted garlic, ginger, and stewed turnips and carrots) and is cut into a number of pieces (ours had six). It was a bit spicy, had a little crunch, and was really quite tasty. For $1.50 Sing (about a buck US), it was a bargain!

  • A new thing I bought recently is...
    A wireless router so we can both use the internet at the same time! I got the same one we have in FtCollins, only this one was cheaper!

  • Something I recently discovered is...
    that many of the Indian food stalls in hawker centers and food courts name their foods with Malay words. Turns out that the Malays, many of whom are Muslim, look for places that are halal (Muslim version of kosher). Most of the Indian places are not actually certified halal, but meet most, if not all of the requirements. Many of them are vegetarian, or at least have lots of vegetarian dishes. Therefore the Malays tend to eat at Indian places frequently. Because of that, you end up with dishes like Nasi Biryani. Nasi is the Malay word for rice and Biryani is an Indian dish (I think it's the set of spices used to flavor the rice, but I'm not sure - just sure I like it!)

  • Singlish o' the day:
    blur - meaning confused. Usage: "I'm totally blur after staring at my computer all day".


Friday, June 17, 2005

Fraser Place: Mamma Mia!
by venitha

Until our ocean shipment arrives in Singapore (it was packed 5/22 but as of 6/17, it still hasn't left the US), we're going to be living in Fraser Place, a service apartment. If we were planning to stay a year or less, HP would put us up here for the entire time. While this place certainly has its advantages, after a week here, we're happy that we'll be moving out relatively soon.

Best things about our service apartment:
  • Location. Right on the riverwalk at Robertson Quay; just a short walk from Ft Canning Park and two MRT stations. Living here has validated our desire to live an easy walking distance from the MRT. It rocks.
  • Free shuttle to work for Jim. I haven't yet used the free shuttle to and from shopping districts (for the missus).
  • Free breakfast. Lots of variety, including some kinda scary Japanese foods (Jim has been very brave) and, strangely, sandwich fixings. Our regular choice has become a muesli of cereal and lots of different dried fruits (at least we think - hope - it's fruit) topped with yogurt and fresh bananas.
  • Daily maid service. I could get a little too used to this.
  • Awesome pool and fitness center. While the weather here results in regular urges to jump in fully clothed, we have so far only been in the pool up to our knees.
  • The swanky tropical resort feel. It feels like we're living at Sandals, minus the beach and, tragically, minus the ubiquitous blended beverages, though the Beach Bar on the corner by the riverfront does its best to compensate for both. Seriously, we're hard-pressed to come up with a destination for a weekend getaway in the next few weeks. We don't have the energy to be real tourists anyway, so someplace generically relaxing has its appeal. But how would a beach resort be any different from here?
  • Pizza smell in the lobby. Really good pizza smell. Oh, man, let's go get some pizza. The Italian restaurant next door is brilliant in its marketing.
  • All the Aussie accents. Lots of the other guests here are Australian and have that sexy accent that says "I'm smart" like the British accent but replaces snootiness with a dash of the rogue. It's also gloriously much easier for us to understand than Singlish (Singaporean English).
  • Easy walking distance to two (count 'em TWO) grocery stores. Cold Storage, one of the main grocery chains in Singapore, and Meidi-ya, a Japanese grocery chain. We wandered hungrily into Meidi-ya at 7pm the other night and discovered them marking down all their sushi - bonus!
Not the best things about our service apartment:
(Some of these are not specific to this place but are attributes of Singapore housing in general that we'll have to get used to.)
  • The washer/dryer combo unit takes 4 hours to run a single load, and that's just the wash.
  • Light switches have 'off' in the 'up' position and are outside of the room. I hope this is the same in our ultimate apartment; by the time we're used to it, we'll be moving out.
  • Gotta remember to turn the water heater on in advance of needing hot water. At least the water is already starting out pretty warm; room temperature averages about 80.
  • The world's heaviest chair. It's small, but it packs a punch! It's the chair to the bedroom vanity, which is of course the chair here that we move the most. You have to use two hands to move it, and you must pick it up - it's way too heavy to slide on the carpet. I can't imagine what it's made of. Jim keeps listing off heavy metals as suspects: plutonium? deuterium? durian? Oh wait.
  • The world's smallest kitchen garbage can. It's teeny, but a cool design. The garbage can itself is attached to the cabinet door under the sink, and its lid is attached to the wall inside the cabinet. Open the cabinet door, and the garbage can slides out from under its lid. Close the cabinet door, and the garbage can slides back under the lid.
  • No wireless internet. I'm surprised how much I miss this, especially in this small place.
  • European-style bedding (meaning no top sheet, just a comforter with its own sheet-like cover). So it's really hot, but you can't just cover yourself with a sheet.
  • Nothing is blue! Dusty maroon, beige, and mustard. There is a distinct lack of my favorite color scheme in this place, and I'm feeling it. This could have entertaining consequences once we finally get into our own place and start furniture shopping. And just when I'd vowed to give another color a try here in Singapore, too. Sorry, Jim!
  • Chatty plumbing. Any time you run water in any way, it is the subject of much loud discussion between the sink, the toilet, the shower, and the washing machine, all in some gurgly language that I don't understand. And it doesn't sound like they like me.
  • Abba-esque floorshow in the courtyard. I'm frightened to think what it must be doing to our brains to fall asleep to this four nights a week. Will we now think of this place every time we hear "Mamma Mia"? Quite the contrast to the wonderful memories of the snowy pre-ski mornings at Steamboat that "Dancing Queen" evokes.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fruits of Paradise
by venitha

Perhaps the easiest difference to live with in Singapore is the food, and the most fun aspect of that so far is the fruit. We've found two supermarkets that are just a short walk from our apartment, and so far we're being brave about picking up produce items that look, well, weird. And then, of course, we get the fun of trying to figure out how you peel the thing and what parts you eat. So far the big winner is the Thai Golden Honey Mango.
  • Mango. We've both enjoyed these in the US, but here they're VERY juicy and there are endless varieties, kind of like apples in the US. The Thai Golden Honey Mango is by far our favorite so far. Now if we can just figure out how to eat it without wearing so much of it. I'm not kidding about the VERY juicy part.

  • Amanatsu. Looks like an orange but tastes more like a grapefruit. And, like a grapefruit, it was much better if you peeled the segments and just ate the pulp. Peeling changed the flavor from bitter to tangy.

  • Mangosteen. Tasty, but more trouble than it's worth and the slimy texture is a bit off-putting. Like a small orange with a thick bright pink rind with an eggplant-colored coating. The rind is really bitter (yes, I tried it, not knowing what to eat, and I was nice enough not to encourage Jim to make the same mistake). The edible segments inside are white and slimy. The overall edible part is WAY smaller than the waste you generate in peeling it.

  • Persimmon. Who even knew this was a fruit? I thought it was just an orange variety of tomato. Yeah, yeah, tomatoes are fruits, but not like this. Persimmons are surprisingly sweet. We'll definitely get some more of these and will have to try the dried persimmons (with some kind of powdery white stuff on them) that we saw in foodstalls in Chinatown yesterday.

  • Rambutan. Jim keeps calling it a hairy cherry, and it is indeed pretty scary looking. We haven't braved buying a fresh one yet, as I strongly suspect it's going to have that annoying 'peeling it requires more energy than eating it gives you' quality. Fortunately, however, they sell cans of rambutans stuffed with pineapples. Yummy! The fruit is white and is shaped like really large olives.

  • Mandarin orange. Lots of varieties of these, all fresh, and pretty much what you'd expect. We tried the Thai Honey variety, figuring that anything with a name similar to our favorite mango had to be good.

  • Banana. Okay, they probably aren't all truly bananas, but that's what they look like, just different sizes, both really big and really small. We tried a really big one, and it was pretty awful. Kind of bitter and a weird dry moldy texture.

  • Papaya. Surprisingly bland given how cool it looks (a big cylinder with a star-shaped section of big black seeds through the middle).

Next on our list: guava.


Searching for Goldilocks: Part I
by venitha

While Jim has been slaving away at his new office all week, I've been busy trying to find us a place to live. Bin, my guide in this monumental task, tells me that there are 18000 empty apartments in Singapore, and I'm starting to wonder just how many of them I'll have to see before I find, well, Goldilocks.

We're currently living in a service apartment, which is nice: great location, free breakfast, free shuttles to work and to shopping districts, awesome pool and fitness center, daily maid service. But, it's also small and ridiculously expensive (close to $4000/month). If we were planning a shorter stay, HP would put us up here for the entire time. But since we'll be here longer than a year, it's more cost-effective for HP to rent us a normal apartment, to buy us furniture, and to ship a lot of our belongings from the US. Overall, this is what we want, as it'll give us a much more realistic view of life here. In the short-term, it means a lot of work.

So, bring on the housing people. Jim and I were tortured the first day of our prelim trip here in January with an entire day of apartment-hunting. And I do mean tortured. At midnight, we arrived in Singapore; at 2am, just as we were settling into bed at our hotel, John called to tell us that Jim's father had died; at 9am, we were picked up by the housing people for an entire day of being dragged through ten different apartments spread throughout the city; at 4pm, they were surprised when we proposed postponing our scheduled 5pm meeting with the relocation company to go over Jim's contract. I wonder now if it wasn't some sort of supreme endurance test designed to weed out the weak expat who wouldn't stick it out here. Darned effective, I'd say!

At any rate, all of the searching in January (we went out two other afternoons in addition to that first day) was for naught. HP wasn't willing to rent us a place so far in advance of our ultimate arrival (then scheduled for mid-April). And while we thought that we had at least decided on the apartment complex we wanted, Bin now tells me that there is nothing available there (my independent inquiries have revealed that this is not necessarily true). Regardless, Bin says, even if there were something available, HP would never agree to the lease restrictions the place imposes. At this point I have to exercise extreme restraint not to do many things: scream, bludgeon, spontaneously combust...

So I'm back to square one this week, but I'm taking comfort in the advantages I now have in comparison to our January slog:
  • No jetag! Woo hoo!
  • I know to wear slip-on shoes. You're expected to remove your shoes at the entrance of each apartment and wander around barefoot, so this is key.
  • I know what to expect. The pathetic excuses for kitchens in Singapore apartments was such a shock in January that it was hard to get beyond. Not that I'm beyond it now, either. It's really depressing.
  • I'm armed with a good map. We had no orientation at all in January: Where are these apartments? Where is HP? Where is Agilent? Where is the closest MRT station? It was only after we commandeered our housing guide's detailed city map (we are both in LOVE with our very own copy of the Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory) that we realized that a number of the apartments that we had seen were right next door to each other. This isn't as stupid as it sounds, though I admit our jetlag and shock may have been a factor. Walking next door is one thing; driving next door here can take half an hour as you wade through heavy traffic, one-way streets, no-right-turns, traffic lights, mobs of pedestrians. Is it any wonder we don't want a car?
  • No Jim. Oh, wait, that's a disadvantage. Bummer! Actually, Jim is hoping to get some time off work so he can join me in this afternoon's scheduled adventure. Yeah!


Monday, June 13, 2005

Shop Til You Drop
by venitha

Singapore is called a shopper's paradise, but in general I think they mean a window-shopper's paradise, fun to look and to wander and to make aimless purchases. Shopping as a way to pass the time in air-conditioned comfort. Shopping centers are filled with small specialty shops: watches in this one, sunglasses in that one, trips to Royal Brunei in the one over there. And don't even get me started on the vast flea market that is Chinatown. We would never be able to get my mother out of there.

I don't particularly care for that sort of shopping, though I admit that the air-conditioned comfort part has growing appeal these days. No, forget the window-shopping; I'm on a mission. I have a short list of unrelated items that I need, and where, oh where, is Target?

Thankfully, I am not the first American to have this problem in Singapore. Amol, a fellow expat and friend of Jim's from work, solved it for me by raving to Jim about Mustaffa, a shopping center in Little India that has everything. EVERYTHING. And, yes, this is MEN, talking about SHOPPING. Before I even knew I had this problem.

So Sunday morning, Jim and I took a cab to Mustaffa and quickly discovered that Amol doesn't lie. Super Wal-mart with a much larger selection and much narrower aisles. Our first purchases:

* Foot powder. Humidity + sandals + lots of walking. You do the math.
* Hankerchiefs. Sweaty sweaty sweaty. I think I am about to embark on two years of wearing no make-up, because, really, what's the point? I am apparently alone in this thought, however, if the endless rows of cosmetics at Mustaffa are any indication.
* Washcloths. Bath towels and hand towels are both provided in our temporary digs, but no washcloths, in spite of the fact that I specifically asked the maid for them (she nodded and smiled). Do people just use the hand towels as washcloths since getting clean here is a such a monumental task? Or does it have something to do with religious practices and not being "kosher" to share washcloths? Enquiring minds want to know.

My main task this morning was to find a transformer. After a quick survey of the shopping centers within walking distance of our apartment turned up no electronics stores, I took the MRT back to Mustaffa, which of course had exactly what I was looking for.

My impulse buy along with the transformer: Tiger Balm, a Chinese herbal remedy. I picked up the package just from curiousity, having heard of the company, famous for its philanthropy in Singapore. I bought it because the usage guidelines made me laugh out loud: "Fast and effective relief for headaches, stuffy nose, insect bites, itchiness, muscular aches and pains, sprains and flatulence. Apply Tiger Balm gently on the affected area." This stuff smells a good deal like Ben-Gay. I wouldn't think that applying it anywhere that would affect a cure for flatulence would be wise, but I'll let you know how it goes. =)


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Harpers On Departure Day
by venitha

Number of hours it takes to travel from Ft Collins to Singapore, door to door: 30
Number of flights segments for this trip: 3
Number of frequent flier miles earned (one-way, per person): 9419
Number of frequent flier miles spent upgrading to business class (one-way, per person): 30000
Number of bags we packed for the flight: 8
Number of bags with wheels: 4
Weight of heaviest bag: 59.5 lbs
Insured replacement value of our combined air and ocean shipments: US$47000
Number of good-bye phone calls received on our last day in the US: 5
Number of hours of sleep we enjoyed the night before our departure: 3
Number of hours of sleep we enjoyed the night after our arrival: 3
June 8 Ft Collins departure time: 5:35am
June 8 Ft Collins sunrise: 5:29am
June 8 Singapore sunrise: 6:57am
Number of layoffs the June 8 Coloradoan newspaper proposed for Venitha's group at Agilent: hundreds
Monthly rent at our temporary housing: S$6500 (~US$3900)
Titanium pieces in Venitha's leg: 1 plate, 5 screws
Number of times this metal was detected by airport security: 0 of 4
Number of days our Singapore departure was delayed because of Venitha's broken knee: 56
Number of Singapore-related books Venitha has read in the last three months: 24
Number of trips to Asia that Jim has made so far in 2005: 5
Number of new gray hairs on Jim's head so far in 2005: lots

The Carnage of Chili Crab
by venitha

If Singapore has a national food, it's Chili Crab, and given my love for spicy food, I've been anxious to try it. So, Jim asked one of the locals that he works with for a recommendation, and last night we dined at Jumbo Seafood.

Like durian, Chili Crab is perhaps best enjoyed with someone in the know who can demonstrate just what in the world you're supposed to do with it. A plate of it in front of you is a pretty overwhelming prospect. As with lobster in the US, you're given various implements to crack the beast open and dig out the meat, but the whole thing is swimming in a thick chili goo (kind of a thick red cross between egg drop soup and hot and sour soup - very tasty), so it's a pretty messy proposition. I'm fairly lucky that I didn't end up shooting pieces of it across the restaurant. Thankfully, they provided lots of napkins and a finger bowl (at least that's how I used it) and, astonishingly, I didn't end up wearing any of it, although the mess I left on the white linen tablecloth was downright embarrassing. I'm sure I provided a great deal of entertainment for the waitstaff, who kept whisking away my plates of remnants and bringing me clean napkins.

It was served with steamed rice, a small bowl of peanuts, and a small bowl of spicy sauce. Overall, it was delicious, but the seeming bloody mess that I left was less than appetizing, and it was so much work to get even a small amount of the crab meat that we were left thinking that perhaps this is how Singaporeans stay so slender. I'll have it again, but only with someone knowledgeable to demonstrate appropriate chili crab technique.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Pre-Dawn Fort
by jima

We were up relatively early this morning (about 5am) due to jetlag. So we decided that getting out for a walk before it heated up for the day was a good idea. Our temporary apartment is about 1 block away from Fort Canning (NOT fort caning!) which is a park built around the colonial British fort (and probably the royal palace before that). Sunrise here is consistently about 6am, so our walk started in the dark.

As you can image, any park in this part of the world quickly get overgrown with lots of plants, trees, and all things green. The start of the walk was a bit intimidating (imagine walking into what. For us coloradoans seems like a jungle in the dark with no one around), it was very pretty. Some of the views back into the riverfront area were just fantastic.

But the best part, was the sound of the birds in the park as they woke up! All sorts of odd screeches and calls. Some of them sounded like they could have been monkeys (although I don't believe there are any in the park).

The walk was definitely a good way to get us up and moving in the morning. Unfortunately we did not think to take the camera. A mistake we will not make again!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Read any good books lately?
by venitha

One of my happiest days while I was laid up waiting for my knee to heal was when I discovered that I could read while I was riding my recumbent stationary bike. I was frustrated with my inability to prepare for Singapore, and this opened up a whole new world. Thanks to the excellent Colorado library system (which I'm going to sorely miss in Singapore), I read novels and short stories by Singaporean authors, political essays about Singapore, novels by American authors that are set in Singapore, and memoirs by expats and world travelers.

I finally made an Amazon list of what I read. I wished desperately that I could find such a list when I first started trying to find books to read about Singapore.

The three main authors missing from my list (all three are mentioned again and again in anything I found regarding literature about Southeast Asia) are V.S. Naipaul, W. Somerset Maugham, and Graham Greene. So I guess I've still got some biking to do. Hopefully the library here in Singapore will stock some of these, though I suspect Naipaul may be a bit controversial for the censors' tastes, so maybe I'll have an excuse to explore how Amazon delivery to Singapore works.


Welcome... home????
by venitha

We are FINALLY here, both collapsed into bed in our temporary apartment, and both wide awake. It's 2am here, but noon in CO.

The trip through Changi airport was surprisingly smooth; a benefit of flying business class is that both you and your luggage get off the plane fast. My knee did just fine; it's very stiff now, but so is my good leg after 30 hours of travel. I'm almost disappointed that I never got stopped in security for all the metal in my tibia; don't you feel safer?

We swept through immigrations, and no one even looked twice at us through customs, making me wish I'd brought an entire suitcase of chewing gum and R-rated DVDs. We were met just outside of customs by a driver holding up a "Fraser Place: Anderson" card - aren't we special! - and after a bit of a challenge fitting all eight pieces of our luggage into the car, we were off to Fraser Place. The drive from the airport into the downtown area (about half an hour) is gorgeous even in the dark, making me wonder how long it'll be before I make that trip in the daylight and really get to see it.

Our one-bedroom apartment is on the ninth floor and very nice. Dining area, computer desk, living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and even a small deck, occupied, Jim said, by a small house gecko. I didn't look, as I was too busy eating all the junk food in our welcome basket (potato chips, butter cookies, yogurt granola bars) and flipping through all the tv channels (lots of nothing, just like in the US, but a few new sports: maybe cricket and/or rugby?, and lots of Kanji subtitles). Now that I think of it, I hope that "welcome basket" wasn't actually a Singaporean-style mini-bar. Singaporea-style as in not containing alcohol.

It is also VERY cold here (in the apt, not outside). The thermostats (three of them in this little apartment) were all set to just above 15 degrees C. I'm too addled to figure out what that is in Fahrenheit, but it's darn cold. We turned then all off, so we're sure to wake up drenched in sweat about 20 minutes after we finally fall asleep.

The info packet we received upon check-in contained schedules for free shuttles to work for Jim and free shuttles to shopping areas for me. I guess it's clear what my main activity is expected to be for the next month! There was also info about the local spa facilities and the many different therapeutic massages we can get; we just might have a new plan for tomorrow. Tension? I don't feel any tension...

We're both now drugged for sleep (thank God for the pharmaceutical industry), but wide awake. I'm sure all the sugar we just consumed will also help a lot. Good night from Singapore!


Thursday, June 09, 2005

My Little Good-byes (Venitha)
by jima

(A margarita as big as your head at Cafe Iguana will be rewarded to anyone who knows where this title comes from. Must be redeemed in Singapore.)

Ever since we moved to Colorado 14 years ago now, I've hated the way that visits to family back in Wisconsin became mass movements of my entire family from one location to another, my siblings and I degenerating into 12-year-olds by the end of the second day back in the herd. Preferring one-on-one time, I've worked hard in recent years to ensure that such trips allow as much individual time with everyone as possible; as a result, visits have become much more enjoyable, and I've managed to remain close to my siblings in spite of the distances separating us.

So in spite of the recommendations from experienced expats to have one, or a few, large going-away parties to say many good-byes at once, Jim and I opted for numerous small get-togethers, more intimate and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, this resulted in a long drawn out period of good-byes, which has been very wearing emotionally. Every day for the last two weeks before our Singapore departure, I said good-bye to yet another friend or family member. Hugs, smiles, good wishes, and lots of tears. And, of course, we saved the best (really, worst) for last: Maggie (our dog) and Marilyn (Jim's mom). It's a relief now to be on our way so we can reverse our focus from what we're leaving behind to what we're looking toward.

It all seems a bit overly dramatic, of course. We're only planning to be gone for two years, and it could potentially be much shorter than that. We're planning to return to Colorado and to resume our lives there just where we're now leaving off. But it's naive to think that we won't change through this experience - and even more so to think that our friends and families won't change while we're gone. Who will have moved away? Who will have more children? What events will we miss in the lives of our beloved nieces and nephews? Who will have gotten married?...divorced? Who will have died?

Life goes on, for all of us, and if nothing else, that makes all of the heart-wrenching good-byes of the last two weeks worth it.


Saturday, June 04, 2005

by jima

Well, we finally went and did it. We sold our car, which means that we currently own no vehicles. One of things we are looking forward to is being able to use public transportation in Singapore. We do realize that trading owning a vehicle for mass transit is really trading one set of annoyances for another, but it does feel somewhat liberating to know that I won't need to drive. Of course, this last week without our car has also made us realize how much our society is based on vehicle ownership and how inconvenient it is not to own one. This is probably a good lesson for us as well.