Singapore Adventure

Friday, September 30, 2005

Yang Ming Shan
by venitha

Ask anyone in Singapore for recommendations of what to see and do at any nearby tourist destination, and they invariably point you toward shopping, eating, and night markets, which offer a double whammy by combining shopping and eating. So when Sze Yii, a co-worker, mentioned a national park near Taipei, my interest was piqued. And when I spotted Taiwan's mountains from first the airplane, then my cab, then my hotel window, our plans for Saturday were set.

Taiwan's is just a short MRT and bus ride outside Taipei. Thanks to our trusty Lonely Planet guide, our experience on Singapore's MRT, and this sign, which I still can't believe we decoded, we negotiated all with ease, and before we knew it we had arrived in heaven.

The weather was gloriously cool, and we had left the crowds of the bustling city behind. Lushly shaded paths meandered through dense forest. A hilltop clearing offered sweeping majestic views of the city. Tranquil waterfalls and gurgling brooks played a soothing background music to the Ni Hao's we exchanged with our fellow hikers. Delicate pink heart-shaped flowers bowed their blossoms in honor of my I Heart Taipei theme.

The most notable difference from hiking in my beloved Colorado mountains was Taiwan's We don't need no stinking switchbacks attitude. Stone staircases led straight up and straight down and straight up and straight down. An unexpected difference, you have to admit, from mountains called the Rockies.

Back at work in Singapore three days later, my calves were still sore, but I smiled widely as I thanked Sze Yii. My aching muscles have recovered, Taiwan has many national parks, and best of all, we will be back.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Go Ask Alice
by jima

Some mornings really make you wonder if you fell down the rabbit hole sleepwalking during the night.

As much as I rave about the mass transit system here, there are times when it's not really practical to take the bus, like, for example, when you are carrying a large suitcase that one of your co-workers wants to borrow. That was my situation a recent sunny morning as I flagged down a cab on busy Thomson Rd.

Most people, when they see a stranger pull out a book and start reading, would figure that the reader really isn't looking for discussion. But the March Hare who was my driver was not most people. The emergence of my book, Fear of Flying, prompted him to strike up the conversation with that most predictable of starting questions.

"Where you from?" Without waiting for a response, he continued on, prompted, I realized slowly, pre-caffeine, by my suitcase. "You flying back today?"

From this rather pedestrian start, the conversation veered straight through the looking glass.

"You got kids?"

"Er, no, I don't."

"You know that there was a study, done in your country about 20 years ago, proved that the best time to make a baby is 5-7 pm."

"Really? I hadn't heard that. Do you have kids?" I replied, with more than a hint of desperation as I put my book away, accepting that Erica Jong was going to have to wait until the Mad Hatter had his say.

"Two kids."

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? Politeness got the best of temptation, and I resorted to the old standby, "How old?"

"32 and, um, 28. But, you gotta get with your wife between 5 and 7."

Damn, I thought to myself, back to the tea party.

"That the time when the sperm is the, you know, strongest. And the egg is most, accepting. You wife, she should be home, take a rest in the afternoon, then have dinner about 4:30 and then lock yourself in the room at 5pm. You do that every night. You have lots of kids."

Fortunately at this point he got distracted because he had to tell me about the new bridge we were driving over and how much time it was saving us.

When we returned after our brief bridge diversion, he had shifted gears to a different, less biological, aspect of parenting: education.

"Now, seven months, that's when you have to start reading to your wife's belly. That determine the future for the child. You want a doctor? You get a biology book and you read a chapter to it every night. You want a stock broker, you read those finance books every night."

"Hmmm..." I said aloud, meaning And what do you get if you read your fetus ? A hookah-smoking caterpillar?

After a few more recommendations for excellent books to read to the soon-to-be-born, we thankfully arrived at work, and I quickly paid my fare.

Climbing out of the cab, I caught his Cheshire cat grin in the rear-view mirror as he offered one last piece of advice. "Get home early tonight!"

Many thanks to for laughs and inspiration!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I Heart Taipei: Part II
by venitha

The hotel doorman offers me his hand, and I alight from my taxi, smiling in amusement at my worldly poise as I toss a Xiexie with careless grace over my shoulder. Flushed with the excitement of my new love affair, with Taipei, not with my cabbie, I emerge into the glitzy and intimidating entry of the Grand Hyatt with the ease and confidence of one who belongs.

Like a fairy godmother's wand, my blissful comfort in this city magically transforms my t-shirt and khaki shorts, my toenails, purple from a month-old pedicure, my sensibly flat sandals. This new attitude is confidently attired in sleek skin-tight black from plunging neckline to arched instep, sports red red fingernails, and saunters seductively in high high heels with very very pointed toes.

If Jim is cast as Prince Charming, he is already here, settled cozily into our posh weekend aerie, and as I survey the Hyatt's stately ballroom-sized lobby, I marvel at my balance on these four-inch stiletto heels and ponder his whereabouts. In the room raiding the mini-bar? Watching for me from the lobby bar? Are you sensing a theme? I've typecast him, sure, but Jim knows this part and plays it well. He is, after all, my Prince Charming.

I locate the check-in desk among the counters lining the length of the lobby, and standing suavely at it with his back to me, in a blue shirt I bought for him myself, Jim's tall lean frame catches my eye and gives my bold stride a happy destination.

I approach unseen. My savvy sophistication slips, and I teeter precariously as I suddenly struggle to remember my line. Ever the perfect dance partner, Jim comes to my rescue by turning around and smiling widely. He welcomes me into his arms in an intimate embrace, and I nestle my head into its customary spot between his shoulder and his chest. A perfect fit.

My equilibrium restored, my line returns, too.

I love it here.


Monday, September 26, 2005

I Heart Taipei: Part I
by venitha

As the place that Jim travels most frequently for work, Taipei has received a not insignificant amount of our scrutiny as a potential future home. Lulled into a sense of security by the Asia Lite that is Singapore, could we end up not back in Colorado in June 2007 but instead in Shanghai? Bangalore? Taipei?

Unseen by me, Taipei has been ruled out by Jim, so it is with low expectations that I set off for my sixth Asian country, Taiwan. And it is with mystified amazement that I greet the unfamiliar familiar feeling that Taipei arouses in me: that of being... home?

Perhaps it's the neighborly rural landscape I view from the plane. Out my window, I spot first abundant farmland and rambling country roads, then power-generating windmills rotating slowly along the dark sands and crashing waves of the coastline.

Perhaps it's that I arrive alone and independent. I confidently negotiate through immigration and customs, collect my suitcase, then find the taxi stand with the ease and assured calm of a native who's been here a million times before.

Perhaps it's the pleasant temperature. Nearly five hours from Singapore by plane, Taipei is significantly to the north and deliciously less tropical. A light breeze caresses me in the taxi line outside Chiang Kai-Shek Airport, and for the first time in nearly four months, I am truly comfortable outdoors.

Perhaps it's the view from the cab. Lush greenery surrounds the highway, which winds through the undulating terrain on which the city is built. In the distance, mountains - mountains! - loom, blue and majestic. As darkness descends, the twinkling lights of homes sprinkle the rolling hills of the city.

Perhaps it's as simple as the fact that in Taipei, just like at home in the US, they drive on the right.

Whatever the cause, by the time I arrive at our hotel, I am more comfortable, more at ease, and happier than I've been in months. I don't understand it, but I love this city, and somehow in coming to Taipei, I've come home.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dirty White Slut
by jima

Things we learned to read today...
  • Taipei, as in Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, which I am right next door to as I type this.

  • Cisingshan, as in Mt. Cising, where we hiked today. The trident-shaped character is shan, meaning mountain.

Things Vision Group learned to read... too late...
  • Dirty white slut, as pictured on the cover of a free Taipei map on the t-shirt of pop-singer Vivian. The map was withdrawn recently after someone who could actually read it saw it. Still, we've got a copy in our hot little hands. Think we can get enough for it on ebay to pay our bar bill at the Grand Hyatt? Yeah, me neither.


Friday, September 23, 2005

My Hero
by venitha

"My hero!" I exalted, and the small, wiry Chinese man smiled and laughed, a response to my enthusiasm which is not always a given here in Singapore. The natives are also frequently confused by my admittedly subtle humor and dry sarcasm; quite often I am taken way too seriously. I don't take it personally. Not only have my mother and my blog readers inured me to such behavior, but letters to the editor of the Straits Times reveal that it's a national pastime.

At any rate, my ardent admiration and appreciation couldn't be more genuine and heartfelt. Mr. Nien's heroic feat? He broke into our safe. With a small wire. In just 46 minutes. Jim timed him.

The relaxed calm of last weekend melted away faster than an ice bar on Orchard Rd (pictured is an ice bar at Winter Park, a far more sensible location for such an advertising scheme) Monday morning when Jim tried to open our safe to extract Taiwanese currency and, here's the kicker, his passport. I awoke to a long sequence of bleeping then swearing then bleeping then swearing. You just know that something is very wrong in Singapore if these two things do not align.

The yellow pages list an extraordinary number of locksmiths, most of whom I had the pleasure of talking with on Monday, both pleasure and talking being slight exaggerations. Communicating over the phone here is difficult, and I am frequently hung up on. This, too, I don't take personally; I actually appreciate the mercy it shows after I've said, "I'm sorry. Could you please repeat that?" so many times that the conversation has lost all momentum. Having been raised next door to Minnesota nice, I am apparently incapable of hanging up on someone myself.

My amateur eye insists that there is a way to break into the safe that will not destroy it. One locksmith after another, however, guarantees me that he can get it open, then under cross-examination reveals that he simply means he owns a drill. Bizarrely, more than once I am told, "There is no magic, madam."

While I agree both about the tragic lack of magic and the fact that a drill could indeed open the safe, visions of Wile E. Coyote strapping Acme explosives to it or, my inclination, dropping it from the rooftop, make me thank these gentlemen and move on to the next advertisement in the phone book. At long last, I arrive at my hero, Mr. Nien, a man who understands that a woman old enough to be called madam may want neither magic nor macho but merely deft fingers.

If you live in Singapore and should ever find yourself woefully in need of safecracking, please give this talented man your business. We are all in big trouble if he cannot make an honest living as a locksmith and must resort to a life of crime. And it's probably not wise to encourage the Wile E. Coyotes of Singapore too much either.

Jim left for Taiwan bright and early Wednesday morning, passport and Taiwanese dollars in hand, and I leave this morning to join him for the weekend. Thank you, Mr. Nien. My hero!


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fruits of Paradise V
by venitha

Well, obviously I'm going to have to get more creative, or more brave, or both, because these latest fruits are just not all that exotic. Never fear, however, for Jim and I are up to this challenge and will tear ourselves away from the blended beverage poolside workout program under the shadow of Taipei 101 long enough to hunt down a new contestant or two. For now, however, here are our latest exploits:

  • Hami Melon. A sticker indicates that it's from China, and it looks like a watermelon from the outside. Jim and I both, however, lost the bet regarding its inside color. Jim: red. Venitha: yellow. Hami: melon.

    Viewed from within, it's a stretched out cantaloupe, even down to the center seeds that you scoop out with a spoon; apparently I should have cut it lengthwise instead of straight across. It tastes like a cantaloupe but has a delicate and pleasing pear-like texture which yields a satisfying crunch. I can't help but note that the Hami melon would go quite well with an equally crisp Chardonnay. Maybe next time.

  • Pluot. A cross between a plum and an apricot - no kidding! It's got a perky, sweet flavor, and the textures of the two fruits blend wonderfully, the apricot adding just the right firmness to the plum, yet abandoning that sticky hairy residue that leaves you rubbing your tongue against the top of your mouth in that icky I want to spit it out but there's nothing to spit out way. I'd pair the pluot with a smoky red Shiraz.

  • Dragonfruit. Unfortunately, this one used up all its coolness on its appearance and its name. The edible part is very kiwi-like in texture and appearance, and its flavor is lucid, yes, but almost Episcopalian in its predictability. If you're now heading to google as soon as you memorize the spelling of Episcopalian, click here first.

    Perhaps alcohol would help? Doesn't it always? Let's stack up the dragonfruit and admire them from afar while we open one of those nice bottles of Montepulciano that Jazz just gave me. Hearty, earthy, robust, full of gusto... if only these words described not just Montepulciano and Jazz, but dragonfruit as well.

  • Pommelo. Monstrous green grapefruit with whitish pulp that compares unfavorably to grapefruit in that it's neither as juicy nor as flavorful. The most interesting thing about pommelos is how popular they are, along with mooncakes, at the Mid-Autumn Festival. At our condo's recent party, we paired pommelo with a cloyingly sweet dessert wine (not recommended) and participated in a pommelo peeling contest (recommended if you would actually like to eat some pommelo).

  • Mystery fruit. We promise to clink piña coladas in honor of whomever can identify this one. Clues in addition to the photos: 1) a street vendor was selling it in Bangkok and 2) we liked it, so it's unlikely that it's related to durian.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On Your Marks
by venitha

After a delicious Indian dinner at Mumtaz Mahal, I said my good-byes to the boys at the taxi stand. They're headed to the Lantern Safari at the Chinese Garden, but I've got plans to hit this attraction with some other friends while Jim is in Taipei.

So now I'm on my own, just steps from . I am stuffed to the brim with garlic naan and spicy mutton vindaloo, I don't have to work tomorrow, and it's a beautiful night. What would you do?

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I write that 99.99% of Singaporean women would shop. Heck, 99.99% of Singaporean men may well shop. But I am sooooo not Singaporean, and I don't just mean because of my red hair, blue eyes, and freckles. I turn away from Orchard, look up at the nearly full moon, and - Hey! Is that Venus? - start a leisurely walk home in the relative cool of the night air, cursing light pollution but exalting in a city of more than 4 million where a woman can safely walk alone at night.

My route takes me slowly away from crowded glitzy shopping centers, past posh gated condos, alongside the maze of covered orange walkways near Newton MRT. I climb the endless steps of a pedestrian bridge brimming with fuschia bougainvillea and look down upon diners savoring the chili stingray under Newton Hawker Centre's fluorescent lights. I pass beneath the traffic backed up on Bukit Timah Rd, cross through a dark and deserted park, and enter the peaceful and traffic-free neighborhood leading up to my Singapore home.

I am surprised to discover that I'm not alone in this, the quietest part of my walk, but I'm pleased to note that I'm not the only woman enjoying the wonderful opportunity that Singapore provides to take back the night. Lone female joggers lope softly along the canal, through the park, up the street. They set slow, steady paces and are drenched in sweat, even in this, the most pleasant part of the day.

I watch them first joyously, then jealously. I turn and follow them achingly with my eyes until, one by one, they disappear into the gloom. In my mind, I'm running, too, catching up to this one, no, that one. I want to follow them, see where they go, start a running conversation, make a new friend. I'm suddenly furious with my body's limitations, though minutes later, as I greet the guard at my condo with my simple Malay - Selamat malam, Dawood - I am melancholy. And alone in the lift to the 19th floor, I give in to tears of frustration, stress, yearning, and sadness.

Today, however, I am a new woman, one who has had it with feeling sorry for herself and is ready to set some goals. So here you have it: I will run a 5k by the one-year anniversary, 27/2/06, of my TPF. Do not send me Horrors! What are you thinking! e-mail, because that voice is not allowed here anymore. A 5K, not a marathon; five months from now, not tomorrow. This falls well within the advice of the trusted medical professionals who pieced me back together and then mentored me as I hobbled along the torturous path of building a leg out of little more than a metal plate and 5 screws.

Best of all, this goal has two side benefits. First, it gives me something to concentrate on during the low period that will undoubtedly follow our family's visit for the holidays. Also, it gives me a fun reason to want to stay in Singapore. Yes, I sweat buckets here, but, wow, do I breathe easy. The altitude of the highest point of Singapore, Bukit Timah, is 163m. Ft Collins, Colorado? 4984 ft (>1500m).


Monday, September 19, 2005

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate IV
by venitha

  • One thing I love about living in Singapore is...
    ...the unbounded enthusiasm that everyone has for food. Thanks to having spent an extraordinary amount of time chatting up complete strangers on ski lifts, I'm fairly adept at creating conversation out of nowhere, but the endless parade of new people here is thoroughly exhausting to an introvert like me.

    Happily, I have merely to mention that I like spicy food or that I bravely tried durian, and suddenly everyone's talking, with the bonus that I glean forkfulls of valuable dining information, like the die-die-must-try place for sambal sotong (chili squid, pictured) and the names of some great Indonesian dishes I just have to check out.

  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore is...
    The low quality. I'm frequently dismayed by how cheaply things are made, from the clothing to the pens at work to the book bindings. Perhaps I've found the answer to the burning question of how Singaporeans can shop so much when their homes are so small: everything wears out quickly, they throw it away, and go shop for something new. Fairly alarming, I gotta say.

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    ... okay, it's got nothing to do with Singapore, but mmmmm.... chocolate. Jazz, my hero, brought me this, and in spite of a valiant attempt to savor it, consuming it slowly, letting it melt deliciously in my mouth, closing my eyes and making yummy ahhhh mmmmm oooohhh noises, I devoured the entire thing in about two minutes.

    Thankfully, Jazz gave me eight of these, and I've exhibited far more restraint with the rest of them, doling them out to myself piece by piece and even, hard as it is to believe, sharing with Jim.

  • A new thing I bought recently is...
    ...airline tickets to ! Yeah, yeah, I know Taipei is not the hottest most exciting tourist destination, but Jim will be there for over a week for work, and I'm jumping at the chance to join him for the weekend. Besides, Taipei does have its attractions, including the world's tallest building, , and the world's finest collection of Chinese art, at the National Palace Museum.

    Atop the list of attractions for me, just under, of course, the pleasure of my beloved's company, is the swank hotel, courtesy of HP. We didn't exactly enjoy the Singapore Shangri-la appropriately during our hell week stay in January, and this will be a nice chance to make up for that. Blended beverages poolside, anyone?

  • Something I recently discovered is...
    ...that not all Chinese Singaporeans read, or even fluently speak, or any other Chinese language. To my astonishment, this was revealed when I asked a neighbor at our condo's mid-autumn festival party to read what it said on a mooncake.

    Many mooncakes are conveniently labelled with their flavor and their egg content, valuable information, as there are durian-flavored mooncakes (be very afraid), and the eggs, well, trust me that you want to avoid those, too. It took a surprising amount of hunting among our very nice and well-educated neighbors to find a reader/translator.

    My reaction to this enlightenment was the following unworthy thought, which I thankfully did not voice aloud: So English is your preferred language of communication, and you speak it like this? I mean, clearly you don't even know the proper definition of autumn! Battling racism that I didn't even know I had is a whack-a-mole game these days.

  • Singlish o' the day:
    Is it? or to spell it phonetically, Izzit?

    This is tagged onto the end of any question: You like popiah, izzit?

    Or it's in response to any statement I might make:
    V: I won't be here Thursday afternoon.
    Singlish-speaker: Izzit?

    I haven't yet figured out what it means in this context.

    Perhaps the person did not hear me: What?
    Perhaps the person does not believe me: Really?
    Perhaps the person would like me to elaborate: Oh?
    Perhaps the person is just making a mindless comment: Hmmm...

    Regardless, I find it surprisingly annoying; I can only hope that I uncover its meaning before I have to hurt someone.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Moving The Goalposts
by venitha

In auspicious and suspicious collusion, this, our 100th blog post, is aligning with today, our 100th day in Singapore! Adding to the festive and mysterious atmosphere is the full moon, which is officially tomorrow at 10am, but is close enough to make me cock an eyebrow and start looking around for shelter from the lightning that is undoubtedly about to strike.

As I sit blinking foolishingly at the stacks of boxes and strange artwork stored in our bomb shelter, it slowly dawns on me that this reactive, this overreactive, way I'm living my life these days has got to stop. I've taken not worrying about things I can't control, primarily how long we'll be here, to an unhealthy extreme. I'm making my life about reacting to life - and cowering on the sidelines while I wait for life - instead of boldly calling my own plays to fashion the life I want.

I mean, here was this big bright yellow goalpost, towering above a yard-line clearly labelled 100, and it's taken the brilliant light of the full moon for me to see it and to give myself just reward for kicking a very wobbly almost-short last-second field goal just barely over and inside the corner of its uprights. Oh no... It looks short... Hold your breath... C'mon wind... Score!

Surviving our first 100 days in Singapore is worthy of celebration, and we'll spike a victory football beneath the radiance of the full moon on a night hike tonight at Pulau Ubin. Perhaps we'll even howl a bit. Well, we'll probably keep the howls down to a low and private roar between ourselves so as not to alarm our fellow trekkers.

Once our howls die down, the cheering fans depart, and we glibly tell that annoying reporter that we're headed to Disneyland Hong Kong, however, it's time to get down to the sober and serious business of moving the goalpost.

And that is my job.

Moving The Goalposts, a Billy Bragg song, also provides an appropriate, if less inspirational, comment on my friend Karen's latest brilliant blog post.

Friday, September 16, 2005

by venitha

One of the downsides to living at the Pasadena is its fitness center. Of course, there is a great pool, and I should be thrown into it for whining, but the workout room itself provides only weights, a treadmill, and a bike. In spite of my fanatical dedication to physical therapy, it's going to be a while before I can use a treadmill. And because of my fanatical dedication to physical therapy, it's going to be a while before I want to use a bike. I'm loathe to add up the number of hours I spent earlier this year reading about Singapore and pedalling to nowhere on my very own stationary bike, now gathering dust in the basement of our house in Colorado.

Exercise is going to have to be a part of life here, though, in order for my knee to recover normal functions. I want to be able to run to catch the bus. I want to be able to squat down over toilets. And, unrelated to my knee, I want to continue traipsing around Singapore in less than modest attire.

In an unfortunately unrepeated burst of resourcefulness - Where is that woman? You know, that resourceful, decisive, capable woman? I really liked her, dammit - I tracked down a drop-dead gorgeous dealer of used exercise equipment and purchased a Precor crossramp of my very own. Perhaps she ran off with him? I sure wish she'd come back. At any rate, I figure I'll sell my latest toy back to this Malay Adonis when we leave. I saved his number in my little black book, er, phone.

Now daily I can sweat buckets, and I do mean buckets, in the privacy of my apartment, beneath a ceiling fan set on high and an air conditioner set on powerful. I fantasize about I study my Malay notes. I listen to Bangkok Tattoo on my Muvo, made by a Singaporean company, Creative, don'tcha know. I watch the sun rise majestically above the distant skyscrapers.

Mostly, I am mesmerized by traffic on the CTE below. 7:00 am comes and goes, and the red and white lights slowly flicker off. Revealed below me is the coolest Hot Wheels set imaginable, and the Matchbox cars are definitely not Made In America. Brightly-colored taxis make up at least half of my fleet. Lorries, their back-ends crammed to capacity, in pax, speed laborers to worksites. Motorcycles weave foolishly and fearlessly in and out of the traffic. There is a notable lack of semis, and a notable wealth of buses.

The road suddenly darkens and windshield wipers start to sweep. Is that my sweat or has it started to rain?


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Working Life
by jima

As Venitha starts up her new/old job, I've been thinking about my work environment here in Singapore and the differences from life a la Dilbert in the US. Of note:

  • Low cube walls. Rows of cubicles are separated by half-height walls, leaving you with no privacy, as you can see over them even while sitting down. I really like the ability to check quickly whether or not a co-worker is at his or her desk, and since I usually work with headphones on, I'm not bothered by the higher noise level. People tend to speak more softly in this environment, though some of my co-workers have a propensity to do conference calls at their desks on speakerphone.

  • No good coffee. Nescafé machines produce several varieties of brownish liquid, but it would be remarkably generous to call this coffee. The upside is that I've given up my daily coffee and replaced it with the less addictive hot Milo. Venitha says they have this same machine at her work, but there are enough ants in its vicinity that she's steered clear; read Fast Food Nation, anyone?

  • Languages. My workgroup of fourteen is our own little version of the UN. Represented are India, Indonesia, the US, China, Malaysia, and, of course, Singapore. While all of my co-workers speak excellent English, the speed and grace with which they shift from one language to another humbles me daily. Multiple languages are always flowing around me, and it's not unusual for me to hear, all at once, Lu Wei and Gu Yun conversing in Mandarin, Chuan Wai speaking English on a phone conference, and Don chatting in Indonesian with his wife on the phone. I'm happy now to be adding to the language cacophony by practicing my horrible, broken German on my friend Olli, a German who just joined us from Ft Collins.

  • Cool carpeting. I suspect HP in Singapore is different from many companies here in that it even has carpeting, but these are your standard commercial carpet squares that are popular in the US. So how did they get the purple blotches to run not quite parallel to the white blotches? Something is just wrong with this hallway. Maybe not enough coffee.

  • Treats. Just like in the US, the office here has a sporadic supply of treats that show up. Unlike in the US, though, these are generally things I've never seen before, so I always have to take my chances and try them. The biggest winner so far was a cake from , a fluffy angel food cake with tube-like holes in it. Yummy! At the other extreme was some gelatinous green stuff. I haven't yet had to spit anything out, but I dislike the treats as often as I like them.

  • Break room. Break rooms on each floor provide small kitchens, booths with tables, a couch and TV, and, in ours, a dart board and foosball table. All are used quite frequently!

All in all, I've found the office environment to be just similar enough to lull me into complacency, and I'm as settled in and at home here now as I was in Ft Collins.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

God Bless Jeff
by venitha

Is this about the sweetest thing you've ever seen or what?

For certain, there is nothing anyone could have given me that I could treasure more... or that could make me cry more.

Quite frequently, the only thing preventing me from tearfully rushing home to Colorado on the next plane and giving Maggie a hug that's been building for more than three months is knowing what capable and loving hands we've left her in.

God bless Jeff and Sarah. And God bless Maggie, too.

Okay, that is the sweetest thing I've ever seen. Dang, I miss that little dog.


Monday, September 12, 2005

by venitha

Late Saturday afternoon, we huddled beneath umbrellas and splashed through puddles past a surprising number of rent-by-the-hour hotels. In Singapore? Who knew? These, however, were not our destination, and neither was the Fatty Weng Restaurant, though its name and its seemingly appropriate neighbor provided Jim with as many bad jokes as the hotels did. With relief, I was rescued from both the rain and Jim's adolescent sense of humor by our arrival at our destination: the Singapore Badminton Hall and the semi-finals of the Cheers Asian Satellite Badminton Championships.

This is decidedly not your backyard lawn variety of . Birdies are smashed with amazing force and shoot like bullets across the net to be intercepted and deflected in the blink of an eye, Wonder Woman-style, on the other side. Long volleys are played out with such shocking speed and skill that they're almost hard to follow, until an unexpectedly sudden and disconcerting shift in tempo leaves the birdie drifting in a slow short dink that just barely crosses the net or in a high arcing slow motion lob that out of nowhere loses its lackluster momentum and plunges like a rock to the court. Such jarring speed shifts leave me feeling like I'm trapped in the Matrix; I almost expect the angle of our viewpoint to shift and the players to start performing super-human flips and jumps.

In spite of its air conditioning, the badminton hall is easily the warmest public building we've been in in Singapore, and the athletes practically swim in sweat. They regularly mop their faces with their hands and flick fingers full of moisture beyond the boundaries of the court. Breaks are taken to allow them to sponge their faces, necks, hair, arms with towels: demure hand towels for the glowing ladies, enormous over-sized bath towels for the oozing men. Line judges double as court moppers, rushing out during frequent breaks to swab fat splatters of precipitation from the floor.

Mesmerizing as the badminton is, it doesn't keep us from noticing that we are the only Caucasians in attendance and from feeling conspicuously uncomfortable for the first time in quite a while as the complete and utter minority we are. An international sports event is an odd and unexpected place for such a reminder; there are players, coaches, and undoubtedly fans from many different countries. As the name of the competition suggests, however, all these countries are Asian, and just because I can now easily identify them all on a map does not mean that I fit in. Thankfully, however, there are at least two ways in which I am just one of the crowd: I have a passion for sport and a happy enthusiasm in cheering on Singapore.

Other athletic events that are definitely in our future while in Singapore: ping pong and rugby. Anything else we should add to this list? Snow City notwithstanding, I imagine the odds of a short track speed skating competition coming to Singapore are abysmally slim.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

One Week Down
by venitha

One atop another, the stresses of this past week have stacked up into a child's tower of brightly colored wooden blocks, teetering precariously: a new job, a terrible cold, raging insomnia, and plans every night of the week that left me with no time at home other than frustrating hours spent tossing and turning in bed. My wobbly psyche has not, or at least not yet, been sent scattering across the floor by Godzilla in the form of a hot and humid Singaporean afternoon: I spent exactly no time holed up in a bathroom stall sobbing hysterically and feeling sorry for myself. No small accomplishment, let me tell you.

More cheerful successes I can boast of include mastering my commute to work and wading through close to 10000 e-mail messages, of which only about twenty were worthwhile. Somehow the word must have gotten out that I won the UK Lotto because I'm now getting lots of mail with suggestions for how to spend my hard-earned jackpot. And thanks to all of you who sent wonderful, chatty, supportive e-mail to my work address where I couldn't get it for the last three months. While I could undoubtedly have used these kind thoughts when they were originally sent, there is no time I could have used them more than this past week.

Easily the best part of work so far was something completely unexpected: the commute. I kiss Jim good-bye and sashay down to the MRT, where a wonderful man hands me a free newspaper, which I read on the 19-minute ride to Yishun. Just outside the train station, I join the crowd being herded onto the free Agilent bus, resist the tempation to moo, as Sinaporeans share neither my rural Wisconsin upbringing nor my sense of humor, and within minutes I am at my desk, rummaging for a packet of hot chocolate - Yeah! to air-conditioned goodness - and lamenting the fact that yet another pair of my shoes squeaks on the lab's tile floor. Carpeting is apparently anathema in Singapore, though I suppose I should be thankful that we're allowed to wear our shoes inside.

All this for S$1.31, not including the hot chocolate. That's less than US$1, which may even make it cheaper than my 5-minute Colorado commute, given current gas prices. Perhaps I'll spend my savings on squeak-free shoes.

A good goal for next week, I've decided, is to master at least one new name each day. This is harder than it sounds. Chinese names go right in and out of my head, everyone's hair is exactly the same color, and even with name badges, it's difficult to discern which of the names I am to employ. The last two of the three? The first one of the two? Some seemingly unrelated nickname? And then there is the woman with just one name. Perhaps she's a Singaporean pop-star in her spare time, and I'm just ignorant because I don't have a tv.

Is Cher (not her real name - must protect the innocent from my hordes of readers) famous? Do I own squeak-free shoes? Will making animal sounds on the MRT get me arrested? Will I survive week number two? Stay tuned.


Friday, September 09, 2005

by venitha

On a glorious summer Friday afternoon, I called Jim from my Agilent office in Colorado. "Can you hear that?"

"What?" He's at his HP office, in the building right next door.

"Shhhh. Just be quiet and listen. I think it's getting louder."


"I've been hearing it off and on all afternoon, but I just finally figured out what it is."


"Margaritas! From the Rio! They're calling to us!"

Thankfully, the attraction of the Rio's phenomenal margaritas doesn't reach all the way across the globe, so I haven't had to send any of Jim's kind-hearted co-workers headed to Asia down to the Rio first to surreptiously pour a melted margarita into a travel flask. Yes, that would be frozen, with salt, thank you very much.

The voices that beckon to us here in Singapore are more coherent, thanks to their only downside: tequila is in no way involved. And they compensate for this shortcoming by sending smoke signals from my second favorite food group: chili.

Oh, yum. The popiah at Sim Lim Square.

Popiah, pronounced POPE--uh, is a kind of Asian burrito. The shell is a thin rice flour pancake coated with Hoisin sauce... or maybe plum sauce? Is there a difference between those two things? I have no idea, but regardless, it's just the right combination of sweet and tangy.

Next add garlic and chili for just the right amount of spice. For me, that means lots of chili. The auntie behind the stainless steel counter always looks at me dubiously when I also ask for a side of chili, but nodding enthusiastically, I insist. Love that chili.

Then pile on minced peanuts for just the right crunch, crumbled hard-boiled eggs for just the right texture, and some cooked-up vegetable goo made of turnips? jicama? bean sprouts? carrots? bamboo shoots? Well, I don't know what all is in it, but it is just the right flavor, and it melts in my mouth. Amusingly, it looks not unlike those tasty onions that you scoop out of the vat of beer that you boiled your brats in if you've been properly schooled in Wisconsin bratwurst cooking etiquette.

Roll it all up in a neat little package, slice it into convenient bitesize pieces, and hand it over to the salivating ang moh.

Mmm mmmm, delicious. And at S$1.50 a pop, popiah has easily got the Rio's margaritas beat. But wait. Did you hear that? I gotta go. I think I can just make out a smoke signal in the distance!


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Just Once More
by venitha

It takes the mere thought of working for my mind to fling its doors wide open and roll out the red carpet as an irresistible invitation to insomnia.

Come right in and make yourself at home. We've been expecting you. May I pour you a drink?

Insomnia settles comfortably in, with a weight that indicates its brought the luggage for a long long stay. It scavenges in a big and dusty travel trunk for its chain mail coat and throws it heavily across my shoulders. Rustly folds press coldly on my chest, and chain links spiral in thick black snaking tentacles down my arms to shackle my wrists.

My breathing short and rasping, I toss and turn restlessly in such confinement.

On the fan. Off the fan. On the fan.

Get up and go to the bathroom for what must be the zillionth time in... what was it? Ten minutes? Or two hours?

In rare collusion with my body, my mind frantically races, searching hopelessly for solutions to the unresolvable problems of this life, this world, and my never-ending dissatisfaction... disillusion... disgust... with it all. 3:00 in the morning of the third night of no sleep, and my mind still stubbornly sifts through the wreckage of the same old discarded solutions to the same old tired problems, pieces and a puzzle that somehow just do not fit.

How many times must I try to fit this square peg into that round hole? Just once more. Always, just once more.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Hi Ho, Hi Ho
by venitha

In honor of Labor Day in the US, I'm focusing on the positive aspects of my starting work tomorrow.

  • Routine. Fun as my free form life of late has been, it'll be good to get back into a normal routine and out of the limbo of the last six months. So I'll wave a fond farewell to the lazy days of sleeping til noon, of ascending the ladder of Yahoo! Games Sheepshead, and of whiling away hours at the spa being slimmed, tanned, and polished. Tragically, aside from the occasional pedicure, I have actually done none of these things. Instead, my accomplishments for the last six months are the following: learning to walk, moving across the world, writing more blog posts than I care to count. Not too shabby.

  • The scoop on Agilent. Ch-ch-ch-changes have abounded in the time I've been away. S'bout time to check in and see what they're calling the company these days, what business they're actually in, and who still works there.

  • They know me there. A quick visit to Agilent Singapore in January revealed that I know a good third of the Singaporean engineers in the lab here thanks to extended stints that many of them have done in Colorado. Seeing a lot of familiar faces will surely give my mental state a boost. Even better, though, these guys know the me of a year ago, two years ago, five years ago... You know, that person I've been missing lately.

  • The chance to make friends. The few friends I've made here so far are all other expats, and they're great! But I would really love to befriend a real living breathing Singaporean, someone who can explain the appeal of the eggs in mooncakes and help me exorcise from my mind the stereotype of Asian women.

  • The chance to see what working here is like. Yes, Jim brings home tales, but there's nothing like first-hand experience, especially if I'm to get good stories to blog about. Plus, then when I finally do muster the gumption to quit once and for all, it won't be like I didn't give working here a try.

  • Air-conditioned goodness. Our apartment is air-conditioned, of course, but not to the hyper extent that public Singaporean buildings are, and spending significant amounts of time in arctic temperatures is bound to help my attitude about the heat. Jim's advice for my first day of work: Take a sweater.

  • Money money money. I'm fairly surprised how unimportant this aspect of working is to me now, especially given that I was convinced before we moved to Singapore that this whole experience was going to drive us into the poorhouse. The last three months have reassured me that it's possible to live frugally here, Jim's transportation allowance goes a long way, and there are many cool vacation destinations that are easy on the budget.

    So, assuming that Agilent, or whatever they're calling it these days, is still solvent, what shall I spend my first paycheck on?
    1. Booze.
    2. A maid.
    3. Airline tickets to _____.
    4. New Orleans disaster relief.
    5. Tickets to Quidam for Mark so we don't have to give up funny taxi stories while he does time in Changi Prison.

    Your suggestions are welcome.

  • Half-time. Yes, indeed, I deserve to be caned for all this angst over working just half-time. I've been wanting to work part-time since my first day ever as a salaried employee, and now I'm finally getting to! Woo hoo! Twenty hours just seems like a lot compared to, well, zero.

  • Brain cell detection. Let's just say that moving to a foreign country is rife with experiences that leave you wondering just how stupid you can be and still maintain life support. Combine this with the facts that I did lose several weeks of my life to a narcotic-induced haze earlier this year and that if it's possible to melt one's brain, I have accomplished this on several sunny Singaporean afternoons.

  • The benefit to mankind. This was Jim's brother John's contribution to this list that I am making while Jim is IM-ing. It made me laugh so hard that it definitely belongs on the list, and I will certainly keep it in mind tomorrow afternoon as I try to stay awake while reading through stacks of documentation. Seriously, there is something to be said for being a contributing member of society. Or at least to feeling like one.

Crikey! You're still reading? Get back to work!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I Double Dog Dare Ya
by venitha

In case you have the impression that we ate everything in sight in Bangkok, I thought I'd post some photos of a few things we resisted.

Quail eggs.

Rest assured that this is not chocolate pudding. If you know what it is, please do let me know.

Hog legs.

Chicken feet.


Fried silk worms. Rumor has it that they are just a crunchy snack like potato chips, so I thought I'd be game to try at least one until I saw them up close. No can do. Jim claimed he was still willing, but I didn't double dog dare him.



Friday, September 02, 2005

by venitha

Our recent trip to Bangkok marked the first time I've been in an airport since we moved to Singapore. In particular, it marked the first time I've been in the airport that delivered me here, retracing the last steps of the fateful journey that's left me here on this little island. As an aside, Changi Airport has got to be the nicest airport in the world, thanks in no small part to its stunningly fabulous restrooms. Seriously, all the other public restrooms in this country should be bowing their toilet seats and chanting "We're not worthy."

As we perused the airline signs in search of Thai Air Asia, temptation whispered in my ear. It would be so easy to ditch Jim in that pristinely clean, immaculately stocked, flatteringly lit, and spacious restroom, to abscond with my passport to the United counter, and to be home in 24 hours.

Was Jim also tempted by this desire to run away, even from me, on his first trip out of Singapore? And, enquiring minds want to know: was he also thoroughly awestruck by Changi Airport's restrooms?

Our frequent mantra here is that we are in this together. But tempers flare in the heat of the afternoon, and we take out our frustrations on each other. Okay, who am I kidding? It's my temper, and it doesn't just flare, it erupts in fiery orange sprays of molten fury. In spite of my strenuous, as I'm sure you can imagine, efforts to find Jim's temper, he doesn't appear to have one, which is a quality that I highly recommend you add right at the top of your list of requirements for the job of lifetime companion if you are a little black cloud like myself.

When darkness descends, however, its cooler temperatures calm my emotions. We enjoy a glass of wine and gaze out at the city lights from our rooftop, and I apologize contritely for my bad behavior. Jim gently reminds me that we're on the same team. It's the two of us against, in Jim's words, all those fuckers out there. This, especially coming from Jim, makes me laugh even to think about now, so let's just put that wonderful ability on our list of requirements for Mr. Right, too, shall we?

When I think of running away, though, it's not just Singapore and this stifling heat that I want to escape. It also myself here. This new person who can't seem to make the simplest decisions. Who is always frizzy and hot and irritable. Who can let entire days go by and have nothing to show for the time. Whose sweaty fingers frequently lose their grip on her composure, her patience, and her temper.

If you leave me, can I come, too? I love this line, packed up safely in a treasure chest in my mind alongside glorious memories of a sunny California summer several lifetimes ago. I could never have predicted then that it would come to be so apt to this life, here in Singapore in the summer of 2005. Thankfully, the other quote I stowed laughingly away that summer, He's not Mr. Right, just Mr. Right Now, is far less apropro.

Nope, we are in this together. Thanks for putting up with me, Jim.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

by venitha

Across the aisle of the MRT, the woman with sandy blonde hair nervously meets my eyes as she sinks into a seat and pulls her shopping bags onto her lap. She smiles, and I smile back. Her sunburned husband standing next to her struggles to keep his balance as the train starts to move.

Tourists bravely voyaging out on the MRT? Maybe.

Newly-arrived expats still in that giddy delighted Whee! Look at me on the MRT! phase? Maybe.

An intrepid Nancy Drew I am not, yet there is still one thing I know for certain. If this woman lives here in Singapore, she hasn't lived here as long as I have. How do I know this? She looked at me, and she smiled, acknowledging that we are united here... as outsiders.

Jim and I have pondered how long this will last, this racist-feeling desire to connect with anyone who does not look Asian. We know it must wear off because far more often than not, our gazes and ready smiles land unnoticed at their pale destinations.

I hardly expect, though, that our eventual graduation from this Caucasian comradery will launch us, shy and smiling debutantes, into Singaporean society. I fear instead that it may leave us abandoned and alone, treading water in some expat no-man's limbo sea, where we connect with no one and don't care or even notice.

I'm thrown a life preserver, however, by the fact that several times now I've exchanged glances and smiles with real actual living breathing Singaporeans. And, too, it's not as if relinquishing my smiling neophyte status doesn't have its perks: unlike the sunburned man, I know to wear loads of sunscreen every day, and I can also keep my balance on the MRT.