Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Singapore Sling
by venitha

Kevin, a co-worker of Jim's from HP Ft Collins, was in town last weekend and provided us with an excuse to pony up to the Raffles Hotel Long Bar and to partake at long last of the infamous .

The Long Bar itself is a Singaporean icon. Woven fans stir lazily back and forth. Sunlight peeks through wooden shutters, illuminating dust floating languorously in the air. Small birds flit overhead, and peanut shells litter the floor. I could pleasantly while away several listless afternoons here, communing with the ghosts of such literary greats as Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad.

Unfortunately, order a Singapore Sling, and in a deep long scratch, you draw a screeching needle across the record playing the Long Bar's mood music. As puckeringly saccharine as it is toxically pink, the most common comment after one's first sip has got to be, "That's really sweet." Even my camera, which normally takes stellar pictures, was so dazed by the glow radiating from this concoction that it hardly made out the bowl of peanuts next to it.

Never fear, however, if you wish to experience the Long Bar when you visit us and don't want to risk insulin shock or sudden blindness. Among a bevy of other beverages, the Long Bar also serves beer, in fashionable half yards, or perhaps in the half yard's metric equivalent?

Unfortunately, there's really no avoiding the sticker shock, though; one Singapore Sling goes for a stiff S$18.50.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Home Again, Home Again
by jima

As the cab driver sped like a demon through a crowded expressway toward Bangkok's airport, I looked at Venitha and suavely delivered one of my favorite pickup lines. "Wanna go home with me?"

While this line worked, like it thankfully usually does when I use it on Venitha, it also started an interesting conversation about where, exactly, is home these days. Having now had a week back in Singapore after our trip, I have to admit that our little apartment here is finally starting to qualify for the label. We've got pictures on the walls and our own furniture set up the way we want. We know our way around the neighborhood and have learned all the local bus routes.

More important, however, are the routines that make up our day-to-day lives. From my morning plant-watering circuit while my oatmeal is cooking to the nightly glasses of wine we enjoy while discussing our days and viewing Singapore's fantastic skyline, it is the simple rituals that make us feel grounded... and somewhat at home.

Still, considering how long it took before Colorado seemed like home when we moved there from Wisconsin oh-so-many-years ago, I do wonder if we'll ever truly feel at home here. Quite possibly the temporary nature of this position, whether the rug is pulled out from under us tomorrow or whether we stay the full two years, will keep us from making the transition fully to Singapore being home.

Overall, it's been a good experience for us to have to build new routines after having lived in Colorado for so long. It's good to know that we still can adapt, however slowly, to a new life together; and, as we agreed on the cab ride out of the Singapore airport, it's good to be home.


Go Pack!
by venitha

First I am informed by illegal spam unsolicited e-mail that I have won the UK Lotto, and then, in a Singaporean 7-11, I spot this. Will wonders never cease?

Alas, in what must surely be record time, wonders have ceased. This stylish gentleman and his 60" flat screen tv with satellite American football feed are not destined to become my newest friends here, as he confessed when pressed on the issue that he is not actually a Packer fan but merely likes jerseys. Drat.

While this is indeed a tragedy, as soon as I send a copy of my passport and all my bank account information to the UK Lotto officials, I'll have my enormous jackpot as consolation. I am also thankful that the web has been able to reassure me that Green Bay has not changed its colors; I was starting to think that the football world had gone a bit seow without my vigilant attention.

That strange jersey number, I'm sure, is merely the score of the next Packers-Bears game. That would be Packers 38, Bears 0.

So, now that I'm thinking about it, let's assess just where we are regarding preparations for the upcoming American football season, shall we?

Practice saying Gbaja-Biamila. Check.

Taunt family members with trash talk. Check.

Clear up delinquent gambling debts.

Hey, wait! This must be my dad's list. Or maybe Vern's.


Which of the following facts are more tragic than the fact that this man is not a Packer fan:
  1. People will read this blog post and will believe that I actually won the UK Lotto.
  2. People will read this blog post and will believe that I believe that I actually won the UK Lotto.
  3. I did not win the UK Lotto, although surprisingly, it apparently does exist. Click here.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

by venitha

Here I was all set to ignore the snarky comments about Bexinor, and then I see this:

26 Aug, Fri, 16:32:12 MSN Search: bexinor

in Extreme Tracking's list of referrers to our blog.

These two crack me up, too:

24 Aug, Wed, 06:26:35 MSN Search: What Can I do about a Bad Haircut
24 Aug, Wed, 11:57:01 MSN Search: local singaporean sex stories for free

Several things are obvious. First, eXTReMe Tracking ranks very high on the coolness scale. Click here and see if you can find yourself in the list of Singapore Adventure visitors. Second, strange but interesting people use MSN for their web searches. Lastly, if you don't want me to know you're reading this, you're going to have to be more subtle.

Now back to the Bexinor...

It is a dark and stormy night. Or at least it's as dark as it gets with Bangkok's light pollution. And now that I think about it, it's actually not stormy at all, in spite of the fact that it is the rainy season.

Rail-thin Thai whores beckon lustily from every doorway along lower Sukhumvit. "Hello! Where you going?"

The sidewalks outside the rent-by-the-hour rooms are busy with hawkers serving blow-your-socks-off tôm yam soup and to-die-for green chicken curry. Signs in red-lit windows offer Thai massage... and more.

A tall, dark, and handsome farang argues with his moody sidekick on a street corner as they cross sticks over the last remaining piece of pineapple in their little plastic bag.

"But you scarfed all the spicy food," he points out truthfully.

She mops her copious tears and her sweaty forehead with a beautiful batik-patterned Thai handkerchief and laughs melodramatically, "Wah ha ha ha!" Stretching her arms wide as she flags down a túk-túk, she spins in a circle, adamantly declares "This space is mine!" and disappears in a puff of diesel smoke.

A pretty prostitute pirouettes across the street, leaping in a graceful jetée through the sidekick's claimed space to slide up like an angel - or is she a devil? - at our hero's side. "Hey, big Buddha."

But the farang is looking past her, at a nearby pharmacy's flickering neon lights. A white face mask would make a good peace-offering, he thinks.

"The pharmacy's closed," the whore helpfully informs him, following his gaze. "Buddhist holiday today." But he is too suave to fall for the infamous Bangkok gem scam.

"I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine," he says and edges sweatily past her, whistling One Night In Bangkok hotly down her neck.

A boldly lettered sign propped up in a pile of mangoes seductively catches his eye.

Before-During-After 3-D Set Meal: Viagra-Condom-Bexinor

He hands the wiry man behind the counter a 100 baht note. "Kháwp khun," he stutters out in mangled Thai.

I toss and turn on the lumpy mattress at the Viengtai Hotel like the princess and the pea. Daybreak reveals, however, that I'm simply her highness' luckless older poor relation, destined to remain forever bruised and undiscovered.

"I had the weirdest dream," I say to the empty space beside me on the bed, then scoot over to see if Jim's side is any more civilized.

Nope, no better, so with a sigh, I get up and rifle through our suitcase. At least this place has a Western toilet, I think. Not that I'll ever get to use it.

"The crème de la crème of the chess world in a show with everything but Yuuuuul Brynner," I tell Jim through the bathroom door. "You should probably take some Bexinor."


Friday, August 26, 2005

by venitha

Sprawled out in exhaustion at the end of our first day in Bangkok, I feel a bit pummelled, and I don't just mean from the wrestling match of my Thai massage. Blackened with pollution, seething with heat, and teeming with crowds, Bangkok has performed a non-stop assault of its own.

We wander through the backpacker's haven of Khao San Road, and my eyes sting, assailed by grit that I think I can actually see in the air. I understand why the man on the baht notes - is he the king? the prime minister? and where is his cool hat? - wears glasses.

We venture further to Th Ratchadamnoen Klang, along an onslaught of morning traffic, and the ubiquitous bright white face masks become less a curiousity and more something to add to our shopping list. I'd almost like one as a souvenir, but we never run across them on our brief Bangkok shopping excursions. Perhaps they're sold in the inner section at Chatuchak weekend market, where, according to Luxe, madness lies alongside bacon-stripe underpants and dead squirrels. We stick to the market's perimeter, purchasing a wind chime, silk orchids, and two ice-cold soy milks when the heat and the crowds and the agressive materialism sap our spirits.

People push forcefully past me in the narrow aisles of the market, breathe hotly down my neck from the step immediately behind me on the lift, press invasively against me in the crowded sky train. I want to stand arms stretched wide, turn in a circle, and declare with foot-stamping adamance, This is my space. I have to fight the urge to shove people away, even Jim, who leans close just to hear me over the clamor banging around us.

Thundering diesel buses, honking scooters, and assertive taxi and túk-túk drivers - Hello! Where you going? - unite in an auditory barrage. We're stunned during a walk through shady Romaneenart Park, a lovely green oasis in the cement gray city, to be assaulted by frantic music blaring from a loudspeaker. There's just no escape from the city's cacophonous voice.

Up bright and early our last morning to climb the majestic Golden Mount in relative cool, we pause to watch a troop of soldiers on the street. They line up neatly, unfurl a colorful Thai flag, and from a speaker, the Thai national anthem begins. All around us, the action stops; each person stands still and straight, arms at his sides, in a respectful salute to his country. The sudden calm in the storm allows me to exhale a breath I've been holding for four days, and when I inhale the air seems almost clean. The flag reaches the top of the pole and the anthem comes to an end.
The assault begins anew.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

It's All About The Food
by venitha

Ostentatious . Mystical Wat Pho. Pulsating Thai massage. Bustling . Mesmerizing lákhon dancing. And of course, one cannot forget the . The list of Bangkok attractions goes on and on...

But for me, it's all about the food.

I've learned my lesson with Asian desserts, so we won't even go there, and thankfully, in Bangkok, there's no need to. My sweet tooth is sated, entertained, dazzled by the natural. Thai Honey anything bursts with flavor, making all the other fruits look like sparklers beneath a Thai sky filled with golden fireworks.

Thai honey pineapples are glittering topaz explosions. Nestled in the white-hot ice of hawkers' carts, they gleam from every street corner. Half a pineapple costs about a quarter, and the floor show, several quick whacks with the blunt end of a machete which break the tasty treat into convenient bitesize pieces, is included for free. Thai honey mangoes glow, too, from hawkers' carts, and are served up both atop sticky rice and in frothy mango shakes. They trace tantalizing fingers of flavor as they melt in my mouth; no other mango can possibly hope to compare. Even the Thai honey tomatoes, brilliant bitesize ruby roman candles, convince me beyond a doubt that tomatoes are indeed a fruit.

My favorite Thai dish is , a green papaya salad, and we order it or its marvelous cousin, the wing bean salad, with each and every meal. Sweet and sour, light and tangy, it dances across my palette on light pink toe shoes, pirouettes across my tongue, then leaps in a graceful jeté!

In spite of a tragic lack of ocean breezes, Bangkok is near the coast, the Gulf of Thailand, and seafood abounds. We savor steamed fish atop a bed of luscious Thai vegetables accompanied with a zesty lime chili sauce that gets both our attention and the fish's. We compose haikus in praise of Julie, whose most excellent Chinese catfish has left us adept at the culinary art of eating whole fish.

Thai hot? Yes! Thai hot! Jim's a good sport regarding my tendencies toward arson and begs for mercy only near the end of our trip, when even my digestion is being challenged by the onslaught of flames. We met only two dishes Jim wouldn't eat: soup and an appropriately named hot and spicy squid salad. Wah-ha-ha-ha, I laugh evilly. All the more for me! I weep copiously, enjoy having Bangkok's pollution blown out of my head, and start looking around for a mango shake or some soy milk to combat the fingers of fire left licking my lips.

The best dish of the trip, we both agree, was the green chicken curry served in high style at the Oriental Hotel's Sala Rim Naam in an evening of lavish cuisine and classical Thai dancing. A perfect pas de deux, subtle yet explosive, graceful yet powerful, and, yes, I mean the curry. Devastatingly, it is not something we can go back for, on this trip or on any other, but like the elk at the Irwin Lodge, it will live on and grow ever more delectable in remembrance.

Mmmmm... mouthwatering memories. No doubt about it. Bangkok? It's all about the food.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

But, Of Course!
by venitha

I promise more on Bangkok tomorrow, so keep singing that song. If you don't know what song I'm talking about, be very thankful and instead sing Happy Birthday to me.

In the meantime, though, just look at these men, eight of them, slaving furiously away under the noon-time Singapore sun. What can possibly warrant such diligence and industry?

Three-dimensional conveyor-belt sushi?


A new chicken rice place to put nearby Wee Nam Kee to shame?


Another maternity shop or children's music school to balance out the offerings at United Square?


A Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory? Hey, it's my birthday; I can dream.


Aha! Caffeine! But, of course! I should have known.

This is along my five-minute walk from home to the MRT, but, tragically, no drinking allowed on the train.

venitha aka The Birthday Girl

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Harper's On
by venitha

  • Advertised price of flight from Singapore to Bangkok: S$18
  • Actual price of flight, per person, inclusive of taxes: S$116
  • Length of flight: 2 hours, 20 minutes
  • Currency lowdown: 100 baht ~ S$5 ~ US$3
  • Time difference from Singapore: -1 hour
  • High temp in Bangkok on departure day: 33°C
  • High temp in Singapore on departure day: 32°C
  • Amount of time that it rained: 2 1/2 hours
  • Number of times we were told it was rainy season: 2
  • Only Thai word we know besides (temple) upon departure: farang (foreigner)
  • Only new Thai we learn in Bangkok: kháwp khun (thank you)
  • Rank of Big Buddha and Hello! Where you going? among phrases most frequently addressed to us by Thai people: 2 and 1
  • Number of big (that would be bigger than us) Buddhas we saw: 9
  • Number of wats listed on our Bangkok tourist map: 87
  • Number of wats your normal person (that would be me and Jim) cares to visit on one trip to Bangkok: 3

  • Number of times those jokester Thai people told us that the place we were going was closed: 3
  • Number of times it actually was: 1
  • Time spent per person in Thai wrestling, er, : 1 hour
  • Price for this pummeling, per person: 300 baht
  • Number of taxis, sky train rides, and water taxi/ferry rides enjoyed per person: 13, 3, and 5
  • Modes of available transportation which we forsook: rental car, bus, and túk-túk
  • Number of afternoon naps: Jim: 3; Venitha: 2
  • Number of cameras and pictures taken: 2 and 197
  • Number of pictures-of-food and pictures-of-food-that-was-still-alive-and-kicking taken: 86 and 4

  • Number of dishes maxing out the Jim-and-Venitha-spicy-o-meter (Jim stops, Venitha cries): 2
  • Spiciest dish: soup
  • Yuckiest food: candied lotus root
  • Number of (spicy green papaya) salads consumed: 6
  • Number of alcoholic beverages enjoyed per person at very welcome un-Singaporean prices: 6
  • Happiest purchase: 10 baht mango shake from a street hawker just down the block from our hotel
  • Number of pineapples from hawkers consumed: 11
  • Number of Bexinor pills taken: 3
  • Number of used: 2
  • Worst of Bangkok: Jim: the way the con artists and hucksters make you suspicious of even a person nice enough to offer directions to an ugly American tourist in perfect English; Venitha: poor air quality
  • Best of Bangkok: Jim: the architecture; Venitha: the food
  • Number of ziploc bags of currency currently residing in our safe: 7
  • Next foreign destination: . Jim will travel here for work the first week in September. On this adventure, Jazz will be playing the role of Jim's moody sidekick who scarfs all the spicy food; the usual player will be busy auditioning for a new role: that of a working stiff.


Click here for a map that shows Singapore, Bangkok, and Shanghai. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fruits of Paradise IV
by venitha

We recently spent a very pleasant evening with Gretchen, my sister-in-law's sister, who is welcome to visit us anytime she likes since she brought me Celestial Seasonings tea. Yay! We enjoyed the view and the sunset from our rooftop, munching fresh rambutans and guavas as an appetizer to a posh Indonesian dinner on the river. Jim and I were glad to be reminded of how exotic the local fruits seemed to us only a few weeks ago; we are no longer tourists here! Gretchen and her friends liked the rambutan but were ho-hum on the guava.

Here are our lastest exploits:
  • Chikku. Fresh fruit is a popular snack, and food counters sell many varieties on a stick. We both liked this chikku, perfectly ripe and much better than the one we tried last month. Sweet in an earthy way, like an apricot, but without the hint of bitterness, it melted in my mouth. Now if I can just figure out how to get the ones in the store to ripen as tastily.

  • Tamarind soda. Fruity sodas replace the endless cola varieties available in the US. Now I know if you have only seen pictures of tamarind and not the real thing, you would expect this drink to be the equivalent of - I'm just gonna say it - a smashed turd milkshake. Happily, however, our tamarind soda was just like a cherry soda, only, of course, tamarind flavored. The first sip was quite tentative thanks to the smashed turd milkshake image, but Jim said it could easily grown on him.

    We were tempted by a similar soda labelled soursop on one side, but we treated it like a hot potato when we saw the other side, labelled durian belenda. We are very clear on the fact that anything involving durian is not something we want to eat. Later, our Malay dictionary revealed that durian belenda is actually just Malay for soursop. I'm now a bit suspicious of soursop in general, but I'll keep an eye out for this soda in the future. Jim will try it. He'll eat anything. Hey, Mikey!

  • Jack fruit. We've been anxious to try this ever since we saw trees bearing it on a trek around MacRitchie Resevoir. Its similarities to durian in appearance and delivery make you think twice, and this reluctance is unfortunately justified. Nowhere near as vile as durian, it still smells a bit, well, off. Kind of crunchy, kind of rubbery, kind of bland, kind of suspiciously musky. I ate one piece and had an It's fine, but I don't want any more. Ever. reaction. Jim stopped after one bite saying that it had the distinct feel of something that would stick with you, though it wasn't odious. High praise, indeed.
We leave for Bangkok this afternoon, so perhaps the next installment along these lines will be Edible Insects of Paradise. Well, actually, there are things Jim won't eat, so probably not, but please stay tuned anyway.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

MRT Station Antics
by venitha

Popular ways to pass the time while waiting for the MRT, all witnessed by me this morning at Dhoby Ghaut:
  • Primp in the reflective doors and walls. I admit that this is what I usually do, but I am not alone.
  • Battle being driven into a homicidal rage by that freakin' annoying National Day song video blaring incessantly from the monitors.
  • Disparage the video, the song, its singers, and its dancers with your friends.
  • Enthusiastically pick your nose and ears. The brazen zeal with which many Singaporeans embrace this sort of grooming in public always makes me shake my head and laugh.
  • Spit. Obviously, Singaporean bathroom facilities leave something to be desired.
  • Share tunes. I never noticed this in the US, but then I wasn't hanging out at the teen hot-spots either. It's fairly common for two people to listen to a single ipod, each using just one of the earbuds.
  • SMS, especially to your friend who is sitting right next to you. Then laugh uproariously.
  • Cuddle with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Where oh where is the young Singaporean couple to go?
  • Stop immediately at the bottom of the lift and gaze with indecision back and forth across the platform. Hmmm...Jurong East? or Marina Bay? Decisions decisions. Pay no attention whatsoever to the poor lift passengers struggling to get around you.
  • Elbow your way through the other waiting passengers so you can stand immediately in front of the train door and be directly in the path of anyone who might want to get off the train. Stand impatiently with your arms folded and stare intently at the crack in the door, telepathically willing it to open in spite of the fact that the train is not yet there.
  • Lean against the wall and ponder the meaning of life.
  • Sleep.
  • Patrol for abandoned packages. Okay, I've never actually seen this one, but it's what we all should be doing, isn't it?
  • Read, especially that free newspaper that that guy is always handing out. I love that guy.
  • Surreptitiously snitch bits of food from a plastic sack. No eating is allowed on the MRT, and given the usual Singaporean strict adherence to all rules, this always makes me want to gasp, point, and shout Desgraciado! I doubt many people here speak Spanish, but they'd get the idea. At any rate, the new anti-terrorism patrols of the MRT are bound to put a stop to this criminal behavior chop chop kali pok.
  • Stare in boredom at the posted MRT maps and fare policies.
  • Stare in fascination at ang moh as she takes a picture.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

It's A Date
by venitha

After feasting Saturday evening on a very spicy Yong Tau Fu and congratulating ourselves on our ever-improving chopsticks skills, we head to Little India for a postprandial stroll and a feast of the visual variety. If we don't get lost or otherwise distracted, we'll conveniently end up at Mustafa; I've got a dimmer switch, oddly enough, that I need to return.

We meander slowly up Race Course Road, enjoying both the irony and a section of Little India that's new to us. We check out the restaurants, many vegetarian Indian buffets served on enormous banana leaves, and perfect the art of people-watching.

In this part of the city, most people are Indian and oh, so beautiful. Women dress in vivid and flowing saris and are adorned with bright gold jewelry and messy vermillion . Men form tight rows at an outdoor temple, bodies pressed together as they bow side-by-side in their evening prayers. Voices rise above the frantic music emanating from shops as friends shout to each other in , which sounds exactly like it looks. Sprinkled atop the exotic sights and sounds are reminders that it's a small world after all: children playing on sidewalks, couples walking arm-in-arm, teen-agers loitering on street corners.

At Mustafa's entrance, a guard seals my dimmer in a bag but allows me to keep my backpack, special treatment for my obvious expat status: any Indian woman would be required to check her bag. Ten minutes, two lifts, and three queues later, we've found a man who will help us, but he's unhappy that it's been so long, just under three weeks. Normally, he confides with gravity, items must be returned within three days. He'll make an exception for me, the stupid ang moh, but I must spend the exchange voucher tonight. He disappears into the rabble of customers to obtain his manager's signature.

While I await my new friend's return, Jim heads up three floors, past the electronics, the appliances, the sporting goods, the shoes, the gold jewelry, the sari material, and everywhere, the mobs of shoppers. If we have to spend $20, we could use oatmeal and drano. An ominous combination, but still, it's what we need.

Twenty minutes later, voucher in hand, I have abandoned hope of finding drano and am putting oatmeal into a basket of my own when horror strikes. I've forgotten my cellphone. While Jim and I can of course each find our way separately back home, this feels disastrous, as if we're on the verge of losing each other forever in this strange and foreign land. There are so many people it seems ridiculous to hope that I'll find Jim, but then again, everyone else is Indian, so it's not like he doesn't stand out. Shall I ask the men digging through the fresh mangoes if they've seen an ang moh?

I wander aisle after aisle, looking nervously for Jim amidst the throngs of shoppers, until with near-melodramatic relief, I spot him across an array of brightly sari-ed women. Jim, I say loudly. Jim! Our eyes meet and lock, and he smiles at me. We slowly edge toward each other round the saris, the stack of matar paneer boxes, the shelf of canned chole.

When we meet, Jim triumphantly shows me his bottle of drano and asks, Where'd you find the oatmeal?


Monday, August 15, 2005

by venitha

So, apparently, one is not supposed to run the aircon for a solid month without ever turning it off. Who knew?

I am trapped at home amidst a flurry of activity today. Now I know you were thinking that my life in Singapore is all glamour and excitement, day after day of non-stop shopping and dessert taste-testing. Well, I can only hope that I get back to that tomorrow, for today has been truly mundane. Workmen are here for the following:
  • to do the monthly service of the aircon units and to sternly lecture me. This requires a surprising amount of water. In addition, a machine that sounds like a vacuum cleaner must be used for a long time in the kitchen with the door closed. I don't think there's an aircon unit in there, but I also didn't realize there was a door. Lastly, one of the guys must climb out a window to a plant balcony and spend a good deal of time out there; I didn't think there was anything aircon-related there either. Curiouser and curiouser.
  • to repair the leak in the master bedroom. This requires very smelly goo, an annoying amount of banging, an inordinate amount of time, many apologies for it taking an inordinate amount of time, some singing?, and a frantic phone call from me to Jim during which I am a complete bitch regarding the fact that I can't find the key to the upstairs balcony and have in fact never personally seen or used said key and yet the door is locked. Thankfully, finding a copy of the key calmed me down enough that I did not throw myself off the balcony once I had access to it, and my antics did not scare the workmen away. It remains to be seen whether or not Jim will come home from work.
  • to examine my new sofa, which has a strangely pinched seam and with which I am therefore not fully satisfied. This requires a great deal of poking and prodding, then stepping back, hands on hips, and staring. Next, converse rapidly in Mandarin with your colleagues. Yes, plural; three examiners are required. Repeat. Take turns. Now all together. Do-si-do.

Very few of the men who've been in and out of my apartment today speak any English, so I've had the opportunity to use some of my Malay - terima kasih - and all of my Mandarin - xie xie. No, wait; I also know the Mandarin for pineapple. I'll have to fit this into my parting conversation with the leak guys, who are still here, going on six hours now.

Brilliant as such witty repartée makes me feel, I'm also feeling alarmingly like a housewife: I have been addressed as madam several times too many. At this rate, I'm going to be glad to return to work in just three short weeks.


This is the view down from the balcony. Were I to throw myself off, I might get lucky enough to land in the pool, but it's the kiddie pool, and remember that we're on the 19th floor.

As I take this picture, I am standing directly above the leak. Were I to take a leak, the guy below me plastering the ceiling would be quite pissed. Heh.

Click here to return.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Malay Class
by venitha

Our first Malay class was a blast. An entertaining and energetic teacher, amusing and apropos words, and best of all, no other expats. Jim and I want both to learn some of the local languages and to befriend some of the natives, so we left our initial lesson with big smiles and high hopes. Bagus!

It was with a stifled wince five minutes into class #2, then, that I greeted another Caucasian couple as they thundered in. Did the other students, all Asian, do the same? And, worse, had they cringed the first time they saw me?

I am quiet and unobtrusive in general, a marked contrast to our newest classmates. Roseanne, as I have dubbed this new woman, in honor of another American who makes me wince, is large and loud, brash and bold, the epitomy of how Americans are perceived abroad. She asks boisterous questions and sucks up all the oxygen in the room, leaving the rest of us gasping for breath like the fish at the wet market. We've all been busy coloring daintily within the lines, but Roseanne hogs all the crayons and carelessly breaks them as she scribbles wildly taking notes.

Generally criticized for their classroom passivity, Singaporean students are silent, seeming unwilling participants in their own education. By nature shy, this is how I prefer to learn, too, though I realize I have no hope of blending into Singapore's background, even if I remain mute. And, anyway, I do have my questions. Is there no verb to be? Does Malay for I like cat imply, as in English, that you like to eat cat? Does white hair mean gray hair or blonde?

Roseanne elbows her way into my questions, explaining them to Sham, our guru, who has difficulty understanding my English, but can easily comprehend hers. Like the ancient Chinese durian hawker outside Cold Storage twanging through his sales pitch, her voice is harsh, composed of pointed shards and sharp angles. It grates on my nerves, leaving me yearning for a cold compress, a darkened room, and Yanni playing softly in the background.

For although Roseanne is clearly American, Singlish and a Singaporean word pronounciation have mingled with her speech, giving birth to an unattractive and frightening mutant. Is this how I will sound after two years here? I want to be understood, but still, it's an appalling thought.

My little sister, Vadrian, returned to the US from a year of study in nearby Australia sporting a gorgeous tan, her blonde locks bobbed into an adorable short hairdo, and speaking with a classy Aussie accent. Me, I've won the sunburn/even more freckles when you would not have thought it possible/hatchet job combo... and I'm going to sound like that?

Tak bagus! Not bagus at all.

Notes and disclaimers:
  • My humor and sarcasm are frequently lost on the various different ethnicities reading this blog, and I refuse to insert lots of smiling emoticons.
  • Jim thinks that even with smiling, blinking, and giggling emoticons, this blog entry is too mean to post. I agree with him in theory, but in practice, I love the images I've evoked, particularly the treasured memory of my beloved sister's arrival home after a year of my missing her dreadfully, too much to resist.
  • It was Dorothy Parker who said Art is a form of catharsis. She wrote much meaner things than I could ever hope to.
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker is one of the many books I shipped to Singapore from Colorado. I would never dream of leaving Dorothy anywhere.
  • Bagus is Malay for Wunderbar! Formidable! Estupendo! Magnifico!
  • Malay does have the verb to be, but it frequently dropped from simple sentences in conversation.
  • I like cat, literally translated to Malay, does not imply feline consumption, regardless of my suspicions about the local cats' missing tails.
  • White hair means gray, both in Malay and in Singapore in general, so my lovely mother-in-law Marilyn will fit right in here.
  • Ang moh, a common Singaporean term referring to Caucasians, translates literally from Hokkien as red hair, so you might think that my mother will fit right in here as well. But, well, erm, I don't think ang moh is um... let's just say that in spite of its attractive color, they're not admiring my hair or anything else when they call me this.
  • The haircut is starting to grow out, and the fellow expat we met outside Raffles Hotel Friday night because he recognized us from pictures on this blog did not say, Wow, Venitha, that is a bad haircut. Thanks, Mark.
  • I love Vadrian dearly and have worked through the childhood jealousies that led me to break a plate over her head. Sorry, Vad!
  • Writing so cruelly about a woman I don't even know surely will result in her ultimately becoming my bestest bestest friend here, and I'll end up deleting this blog entry, so read up!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

No Way Out
by jima

No, it's not the Kevin Costner movie; it's our day trip to Johor Bahru, Singapore's Malaysian neighbor, just north across the causeway. We need an escape from our day-to-day lives in Singapore, so we're heading to JB with the plan to check out its single noteworthy tourist attraction, the Royal Abu Bakar Museum. What could be simpler?

The guide book described how to cross the border using the city bus lines. How could we go wrong? Walking to the museum looked simple; walking back to the border crossing, a breeze. How could we miss?

We have the bus system down, so everything went perfectly right up until we left the border checkpoint in Malaysia, thinking we needed to re-board the bus to go to the station we wanted. As we stepped off the escalator, we were assaulted by taxi drivers, offering us rides and informing us that there was no bus. "Hah!" we said to ourselves knowingly, "they're just lying to us so we take a cab! Oldest trick in the book." Well, maybe not. We walked a bit further and saw not only no bus, but no place where a bus would even fit. They had all vanished while we stood in the lines in immigration.

After a bit of reconnoitering, we discovered where we were not only on our map, but we were also less than a block from the place we'd picked for lunch. No harm done. Just a bit of confusion.

Energy stores replenished, we commenced our trek to the museum. We knew we were heading in the right direction - following the coastline makes this pretty easy even for me, the anti-Magellan - and shortly came upon a large decorative gate leading into beautifully manicured grounds. We felt some trepidation, though, at the distinct lack of any kind of sign indicating that tourists were actually welcome. And the uniformed guards carrying rifles didn't look all that friendly.

Lacking other good options and in dire need of a restroom, we bravely ventured forth. Thankfully, the first guard we addressed was friendlier than he looked, and he assured us that this was, indeed, the museum. "No problem.", we said to ourselves. "We must just wandered in the wrong gate. that's why there were no signs."

But several hours, a crystal furniture set, and an gaur-leg ashtray later, as we attempted to leave the museum, we discovered that we had not come in through the back gate. No, we had entered, as near as we can tell, through the only gate. We asked a guide for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We saw the Japanese temple on the grounds. We asked a ticket-taker for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We sat in the shade of the gazebo amid the flower garden. We asked other tourists for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We saw the "royal zoo". Venitha walked down a sunny path beside the emus yelling "Let me out!" We decided to take our chances and jump the monsoon gutter to escape.

After escaping the museum, we spent the afternoon walking along the waterfront in search of the great seafood for which JB is known. This sounds immensely more pleasant than it was. It was hot and sunny. The waterfront in this part of JB runs along a very busy road. It did provide a nice view, though, described by the guidebook as "the industrial backside of Singapore". Charming.

As the afternoon waned, we made our way back to the border crossing. Up the same busy street, through the same tunnel, up the same escalator, thinking to ourselves, "Yeah! We're finally escaping back to Singapore."

Well, maybe not. Turns out you have to dodge traffic for about a kilometer in the opposite direction along a very busy we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-sidewalks street, then cross the very busy we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-crosswalks-either six lanes of traffic to get to the part of the checkpoint that would actually let you out of Malaysia. Think we should have just taken a cab? Maybe flagged down Kevin Costner as he cruised by in his limo?

Say what you will about Singapore, and Lord knows, we have, they do understand the concept of exits. We're happy to make regular use of them, but nothing makes us happier to be here than arriving back after a trip away.


Friday, August 12, 2005

When Will The Madness End?!?
by venitha

Our guests on National Day treated us to marvelous desserts. Timo, a German, made a scrumptious crème caramel for which we all now happily have the recipe. Russell, a Brit, brought a luscious chocolate cake, though he joked that May, his Singaporean wife, had wanted to get the cake with fish floss. Fish floss hasn't yet contaminated my dessert options, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time. I've typically seen it piled on a loaf of bread or adding a little crunch to a salad, neither of which is offensive enough to incur a tirade beyond What is that? You've got to be kidding.

The following, on the other hand, is rant-worthy. I mean, just look at what passes for dessert in this country. Seriously.

And trust me, each of those three toppings tastes exactly like it looks. Ewww. Jim thinks the squiggly neon green worms are jellied wheat grass juice. The beans are not significantly different from refried beans in both texture and the fact that they are not sweet. I don't have a clue about the black jell-o cubes, but believe me when I say that Bill Cosby wouldn't dream of associating himself with this stuff.

Lest you think the toppings are the only crime against the sweet tooth committed by this travesty, please know that it is listed on the menu board as iced chendol w/durian. I had the good sense, of course, to insist that the dreaded durian be withheld, and I therefore hoped that I had rescued the concoction from true heinousness. But, alas, it was not to be.

People here actually eat this stuff. With pleasure! When will the madness end?!?


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Spreading the Word
by venitha

With amusement, our fellow expats have warned us to expect plummeting movie standards. Desperation for a glimpse of home and a familiar accent will make even Bewitched seem Oscar-worthy. Or at least worthy of several hours out of a sweltering Singaporean Saturday afternoon. But movies just aren't my speed, and the only one we've seen here to date, while phenomenal by any standard, was hardly a happy departure from reality.

No, my escape is, was, and always will be books.

So it came as a very unpleasant surprise that the library here, organized in some unrecognizable manner, could reduce me to wanting the run the aisles shouting "Help! Help!" just like Fort Collins' thoroughly detested and thankfully short-lived Builder's Square store. Laughter upon spotting this poster saved me from such behavior at the Toa Payoh library. That darn mocking bird. Let's kill him, shall we?

Thankfully, I shipped enough of my own books, amassed through years of poring contentedly through used book sales, that I'm not at the mercy of the Singaporean library system's incoherent order. And while reading my books provides both a pleasant escape from the reality of Singapore and a useful distraction on the bus and the MRT, the real enjoyment I'm getting from them has nothing to do with reading. It's what I'm doing with my books after I read them that I love: I'm spreading the word, so to speak, leaving each book I finish somewhere different and unexpected.

Lance Armstrong now pedals the shelves of the Orchard library. Pam Houston's cowboys now romance visitors to Turi Beach. Dennis Lehane now thrills Melaka. I swapped Katherine Dunn for a Thai phrase book at a used book store. I think I got the better deal.

I surrendured James Clavell to the arms of Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, and the like, perfuming the shelves of the hub at our service apartment. I hope he can forgive me. I wrested Paul Theroux from their embrace and brought him with me here, to the Pasadena. I hope he can forgive me as well.

And I can only wonder where my travels will take him.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Asio
by venitha

The rising sun shoots a prison guard's spotlight at us as we're rifling like criminals through our safe. Amid the passports and paperwork are small ziploc bags of cash: US dollars, Singaporean dollars, Japanese yen, Taiwanese dollars, Indonesian rupiah, and Malaysian ringgit. We're in search of ringgit, not because it's got the best Asian currency name, which you have to admit it does, but because we're breaking out of Singapore for the day, heading across the border to Johor Bahru, aka JB.

We'll need ringgits for 1) a murtabak at Cafe Medina and 2) as many pirated DVDs as we can carry. Filled with ground mutton, onions, and herbs - do I detect a hint of mint? - and abetted by a savory curry, the murtabak hits the spot. We resist, however, the temptation of the DVDs, and not because of respect for copyright law. Seriously, I'm am shopped out.

Our trusty Lonely Planet guide (thanks, Casey and Karen!) instructs us that we also need US$7 each for the entrance fee to the museum. No kidding, US dollars required in Malaysia. Lest you start maligning our neighbor to the north (and east), let me inform you that graft is also alive in well in Indonesia. Our neighbor to the south (and west and east) swindles us out of US$10 as we pass through immigration, requiring this fee for, umm, well, bribes. They've got us surrounded, so we may as well just hand over the cash.

These blackmailers clearly have no esthetic sense. The Asian bills are beautiful; US notes pale to their sickly shade of green in comparison. Vivid colors, various sizes, hilarious denominations ($10 Singaporean = 50000 rupiah), cool sparkly stuff, vellum-like windows, and pictures of guys in funny hats. I even spent a ringgit note that was made of some newfangled plastic-y stuff that wouldn't tear; its state was evidence, however, that it would melt. Then again, if this is the ringgit's best trick, perhaps it's a clue to the reason for this shakedown for US dollars. Melting is, I have to admit, a somewhat less exciting feature than exploding.

Despite the extortion regularly tapping our US currency reserves, it's clear that the foreign bills are going to accummulate. We haven't strewn it all out on the bed and rolled around in it like bank robbers giddy from a successful heist - yet - but I don't need the chore of sorting it all out to wonder: what's the point? The Euro has proved the concept and value of a united currency. Isn't it about time for - I hope I won't be caned for suggesting it - the Asio?

Let's please just agree, though, to keep the beautiful colors and the various sizes and, most importantly, the guys in the funny hats. We can negotiate about melting and exploding. Perhaps this pretty new US$20 will help you see it my way...

In addition to our very own built-in safe, we also have our very own built-in bomb shelter. While this is just the sort of attractive modern feature that I took note of as I tromped through endless Singaporean apartments in search of Goldilocks, I'm perfectly fine with going our full two years here and having no purpose for the bomb shelter whatsoever. Other than storing all the weird artwork that the owners left behind, for which it is indeed quite handy. And it's a great relief to know that these items will be protected against the myriad attacks that our 19th-floor bomb shelter is undoubtedly able to withstand.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

National Day
by venitha

Today is Singapore's 40th birthday, so in a tribute to National Day...
What We Love About Singapore

Venitha's Top Five
  • The public transportation. The MRT, the buses, and the taxis, all easy, clean, cheap, and efficient. It rocks.
  • The skyline. There is no nicer end to a Singapore day than a glass of wine and the panoramic view from our rooftop garden.

  • The orchids. Beautiful, stately, elegant. And I'm awed that any living thing can maintain such qualities in this heat.

  • The fruits. Mangoes and guavas and chikkus and rambutan and longans and tamarinds and persimmons and... endless varieties, fresh and delicious and inexpensive.
  • The ease of life. In spite of all my whining, Singapore provides a soft landing in this part of the world. Nothing makes us appreciate clean, safe, efficient, and English-speaking Singapore more than venturing just beyond its borders. It is truly Asia Lite.

Jim's Top Five
  • The restaurants. Every ethnic cuisine you can imagine, tasty and affordable. We could dine at a different place every night of our tenure here, and we'd still only have nibbled a few grains from the rice bowl.
  • The languages. It's a constant source of amazement (and frequent bewilderment), the mad rush of different languages swirling around us. Two friends shouting their goodbyes across the street; was that Tamil? Or Kanada? or Hindi? The checkout girls in the market holding a side conversation in Malay. And all this in Chinatown beneath signs in Chinese!
  • The clean air. Compared to many Asian cities, Singapore has very little pollution. The streets are clean. The cars are all relatively new and thus relatively non-polluting. There is no swarm of mopeds with filthy 2-cycle engines fouling the air. Wonderful!
  • The cool breeze during and after a rainstorm. Like the joyous celebration of the first warm spring day in Madison, it's a gasp of relief.
  • The people. From the ethnically-diverse group co-workers who regularly introduce me to fun new foods for lunch... to the friends in the large expat community who help us stay sane... to the nice Singaporeans who befriended us after our first Malay language class. Even the cab drivers frequently give us a great ride filled with advice on where to eat, what to visit, or things to avoid!

Venitha and Jim