Singapore Adventure

Monday, October 31, 2005

Close Your Eyes
by venitha

We're home from Penang, but I'm having trouble removing my lazy vacationer costume to expose the intrepid blogger underneath. Where, oh where, is my suitably spooky Hallowe'en post? Along with mini Snickers bars, trick-or-treaters, and daylight savings time, it is nowhere to be found. So instead, I give you...


Hallowe'en is not popularly celebrated in Singapore, but if it were, children's makeshift haunted houses fabricated in dark, cobwebbed basements would be significantly different. For one thing, most Singaporean children don't have basements, and for another, a bowl of peeled grapes masquerading as eyeballs would never be considered gross enough to be worthy of sticking your blindfolded friends' hands into: many Singaporeans frequently eat eyeballs.

Thankfully, these belong to fish and not humans, but neither Jim, Jazz, nor I was willing to eat - or touch, for that matter - the eyeballs served up to us in this tasty fishhead curry. I hate haunted houses, so I'm considering it quite an achievement that I had the eyeballs on my plate. How scary is that?


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Disney World
by venitha

We triumphantly emerged from the frigid air conditioning of our 12th and final Malay class to throngs of reporters, flashing bulbs, and microphones thrust in our jubilant faces.

A slickly polished announcer spoke directly into a camera: "Now that Jim and Venitha of Singapore Adventure are Malay class graduates, what are they going to do next?"

We exchanged joyful smiles, then beamed at the enthusiastic crowd. "We're going to Disney World !"

Indeed, to celebrate our recent linguistic achievement, we leave this afternoon for a long weekend in Penang. An island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, Penang is an hour and half northwest of Singapore by air. Known as "The Pearl of the Orient", its attractions include the following:
  • Enchanting beaches. It's tragic that I am so not a beach person. Then again, given my skin tone, not so much.
  • A snake temple. I shall try to be very brave, but I can guarantee that if we come away with pictures of anyone draped in snakes, it will not be me.
  • A train. I've lost count of the number of times that Jim has managed to use this word in everyday conversation. I may have to leave him with the snakes.
  • More fried noodle dishes than you can shake a stick at. The food is supposed to be seriously good. One highlight on my menu: Penang laksa. Sour and spicy? Oh, yes. They might have concocted this dish especially for me.
  • An excellent opportunity to put our Malay into practice. Bagus!
Thoughts for you to ponder in our absence:
  • Why don't they make sunscreen that smells good? Like coconut, vanilla, or mangoes?
  • Will Jim do the with the snakes?
  • Why does the word funicular remind Venitha of Mark Twain?
  • What appropriately ghoulish post will Singapore Adventure feature when it returns, on ? Nope, it's not snakes.
Click here for a map that shows Singapore and Penang, labelled with its capital city, George Town. You can also find our previous travel destinations of Melaka, Bangkok, and Taipei. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mother Nature: Singapore Botanic Gardens
by venitha

From manicured gardens to thriving rainforest, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are extraordinary. My favorites are the gardens featuring ginger [right] and, of course, orchids [below].

If I were a tourist in Singapore, SBG's National Orchid Garden would be at the top of my list of places to visit. If I were a murderer in Singapore, SBG's Rainforest would be at the top of my list of places to dump the body. Trust me; if you are lucky enough to visit SBG's Rainforest, you will be struck by this same thought. The rainforest is filled with plants that could easily - and would happily - devour you.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mother Nature: Intro
by venitha

Indispensible as aircon is, being imprisoned inside shackled to it every day has grown very, very old. Such incarceration leaves me restless, stir-crazy, and depressed; in several ways, I need a breath of fresh air.

Throw open the windows at noon, however, and the fresh air is akin to smoke from a grenade. The daytime heat and humidity, even during the now frequent afternoon rainstorms, permeate and affront. Darkness, fortunately, negotiates a daily cease-fire, and we wave white flags by venturing out under the light of the moon.

In the serene calm of the morning, while the sun is still nefariously plotting its strategy, we run quietly through the peaceful streets surrounding our condo.

After the daily assault, as the sun reluctantly surrenders its clammy grip on the day, we dine alfresco on our rooftop, caressed by a tranquil breeze and thankful for this penthouse luxury.

In the amnesty of the evening's darkness, we undertake reconnaissance missions, exploring the neutral zone of our neighborhood and beyond. We astonish our Singaporean acquaintances with our audacity in walking home from Bugis, from the Esplanade, from Mustafa.

Before succumbing to bedtime, we sway slowly in harmony on our rooftop swing and savor our daily rations: the city skyline and two very overpriced glasses of wine.

On the weekends we're in Singapore, we frequently foolishly offer up an olive branch to Mother Nature by going for a hike. Our concession is to venture out either very early or very late, and still we never fail to return from these expeditions sweaty, tired, hungry, dirty, and frizzy. Always with the frizzy.

There's nothing that makes me feel as defeated by Singapore as its effortless ability to reduce me to this sad, sad state, and I wonder if these outings are worth the price they extort. I examine my plunder, however, stockpiles of pictures and a growing knowledge of the flora and fauna of Singapore, and I know that they are, particularly because I get to share them with you. Please stay tuned.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Go Big Pink?
by venitha

Singapore must have missed the memo regarding Wisconsin's , because it's insisting on a pink theme.

The petals that litter our condo yard after an early morning rainstorm...

The dragon fruit given to us by our kind neighbors...

The take-away Jim got us for supper last night...

Stubborn and contrary, however, I am a Badger through and through: my toenails are red. Pedicures are a regular treat here as I wear sandals every day.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

by venitha

If our complete worthlessness this morning this afternoon today is any indication, the party was a smashing success.

We played that game where you stick the name of a different famous person on each person's back and you all have to determine your new identity by asking only yes/no questions. Of note:
  • Our guests hailed from the US, the UK, the Philippines, Canada, India, Germany, Indonesia, and, of course, Singapore so coming up with people of whom everyone knew provided entertainment in itself.
  • We can only play this game on the rooftop. The inside of our apartment has way too many mirrored walls.
  • Rock crushes scissors. Paper covers rock. Scissors cuts paper. Singapore's humidity wilts adhesive labels. Quilting needles pierce Singapore's humidity adhesive labels. Hangover muddles metaphor.
  • Jim's and my American public school education has left us deficient: we were the only ones present who knew of neither Lord Nelson nor .
  • Nine-year-olds no longer know who Pelé is, but they can definitely Bend It Like Beckham.
  • The surprising first question most people asked in uncovering their secret identities: Am I Asian?
  • We've made very nice friends here, and that really helps.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Let's Party Some More!
by jima

Jim's Top Ten Reasons To Party Tonight
  • It's our friend Olli's b-day. So he ditched us to celebrate in Bangkok with Alex, but that doesn't mean we can't have a party in his honor.
  • I've managed to show up for work in Singapore 100 days! Some of them were harder than others.
  • The weather. The "cool rainy season" has started. For those of you not familiar with Singapore's "seasons", this essentially means that it's hot and rainy, but less hot and more rainy than before.
  • It's a day ending in Y. Always my favorite reason for having a party. A special thanks to the delinquent from my youth that taught me this one; he celebrated his birthday every Wednesday.
  • It's Laotian Independence Day! On this day in 1953, the country of Laos gained independence from France. We've got Laos on our travel destination list, but Angkor Wat, in neighboring Cambodia, comes first.
  • Celebrity birthdays: Timothy Leary, Doris Lessing, and the ever-popular, multi-talented Curly from the Three Stooges.
  • It's Anti-police Brutality Day. Celebrated in San Francisco and various other places around the US. Please keep this in mind on your neighborhood patrols, Karen.
  • Imminent completion of our Malay class, which has been quite fun, but also has made Wednesdays and Thursdays quite exhausting.
  • My half-birthday. I turned 38.5 this last Thursday.
  • And, finally, that triumvirate of fall holidays: Hari Raya, Deepavali (or Divali) and Halloween!


Let's Party!
by venitha

Venitha's Top Ten Reasons To Party Tonight
  • It's been over two months since our last party, on National Day, and it's just wrong not to share our awesome rooftop with our friends.
  • It's the 11th anniversary of my favorite brother and his favorite wife. Our rooftop is not Mount Pleasant, but it is currently quite well-stocked with "party favors" because...
  • Karen just taught us how to make meth A party provides a great excuse to splurge on scads of alcohol, which we really need because...
  • Four weekends in a row in Singapore is at least one too many, and ...
  • It's homecoming at Wisconsin! Go Badgers!
  • I have an astounding lead in the family football pool. If my luck continues, I'm going to have to figure out Singapore Pools.
  • The inimitable Jazz is in town, with gifts from home (Thank you, Jazz!) and a penchant for spicy food.
  • Deepali will bring chole. Yummy yummy chole.
  • Malay class graduation!
  • I can run a mile!

Friday, October 21, 2005

We Have The Technology
by venitha

Sentosa Island's vending machines are impressive indeed. Not only can I use my ez-link card, the same card I use for the MRT and the busses, to buy a Coke, but I can also SMS the machine from my handphone and charge a can of Jasmine tea to my Singtel account.
While I've been busy lamenting the fact that every beverage vending machine I've encountered in southeast Asia does not accept paper money - remember, I just gave all my coins to my busker - Singapore leapfrogs my desires and lands smack dab in the 21st century. To infinity, and beyond!


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Maybe You Should Drive
by venitha

We are forever surprising new acquaintances here with the fact that we don't have a car. And we move straight from raised eyebrows to dropped jaws when we confess that we don't even want a car. I'll never convince a single status-obsessed, materialistic, shopping-crazed Singaporean, but there are some truly wonderful benefits to not owning a car in Singapore:

  • I never have to drive. Maniac drivers, bumper to bumper traffic, traffic circles, flyovers, driving on the left, one-way streets, streets that change name every block, roads that in no way resemble an orderly grid... I don't have to deal with any of it from behind the wheel. Excellent!
  • I never have to park. Parking can't be easy or cheap in this crowded city, and skipping it altogether has the added bonus of saving me from having to figure out Singapore's mysterious and complicated parking punchcard system.
  • I never have to go back for the car. I take the MRT here. I walk over there. I grab a bus to that other place. And then flag a cab home. This entirely changes how I run errands. Now if only I had a boy to follow me and carry my packages. Oh, Jim!
  • It's cheap! No car payments, no gas, no washes, no oil changes, no tires, no maintenance, no insurance. The MRT and the buses are amazingly inexpensive, with most rides costing under US$1. Even cabs are a steal compared to any US city; a typical 15-minute ride costs US$5 to $10.
  • It's nearly impossible to get lost. Just flag down a cab!
  • Taximen make entertaining conversation. Maniac drivers and the gahmen are ever-popular topics, but Michael Fay - more than ten years later, Singaporeans are still talking about this guy - and Harley Davidson are next on the list once they determine I'm from the US.
  • I have more time to read. Reading's an excellent way to pass the time on the MRT and on the bus. Now if I could just get the cabbie to shut up about Michael Faye and leave me in peace.
  • I don't have to give a rip about the changing ERP amounts and times. Singapore has a brilliant scheme in place for reducing traffic flow in frequently congested areas at peak times: charge a fee. And none of this ridiculous stopping at tolls, either; a sensor automatically deducts the fee from a permit card in your car. Changes in the amounts and the times they're imposed always draw hot debate in the local papers, but I've been able to ignore it all and to spend my newspaper time reading depressing articles about natural disasters, bird flu, and dengue fever. Hmmm... How about those Packers? Oh, wait. Hmmm... About that proposed ERP change...
  • I have a built-in designated driver. Now if only alcohol were affordable. Good thing I'm saving so much money by not owning a car, eh?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ice Cream You Scream
by venitha

Pints of Ben and Jerry's are available at Cold Storage if you're willing to part with a limb or two to pay for them. I have a pretty good idea of what life would be like if I parted with a leg, so I've so far foregone this option. At any rate, I'd much rather blow the mad money in my grocery budget on alcohol; I am, after all, from Wisconsin. Go Badgers!

Thankfully, there are other, and much cheaper, ice cream options. There are guys all over the place selling frozen treats for just $1 from carts attached to motorcycles. It's not Ben and Jerry's, but, well, it is still ice cream, and how bad can ice cream be?
We did not find out the answer to that burning question since neither one of us was willing to waste a dollar of hard-earned ice cream money on the durian flavor. I don't think I even want whatever flavor is stashed next to the durian ice cream. We also passed on the sweet corn and yam flavors; I might try red bean if I didn't have to pay for it. We wisely opted for mango, and it was tasty.

The guy cuts a slab off the block with a machete and wraps it in a colorful and slightly sweet slice of bread. At first glance, the shape and the delivery are both suspiciously strange, but it's actually quite ingenious. The ice cream is frozen really really solid. Even the muscle-bound scooper-of-the-month at my Ft Collins Ben and Jerry's might be challenged to form scoops from it; cutting it with the machete takes a significant amount of effort. The bread conveniently absorbs the ice cream if you eat it slowly enough that the ice cream starts to melt. Despite Singapore's sweltering afternoon heat, I can't say this was a problem for us.

It boggles my mind just what magic is in the cart that keeps the ice cream so cold. Monitor lizards running furiously on treadmills? A to Alaska? If only! Or perhaps someone has figured out how to convert durian odor to energy. Now there's a million-dollar idea.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sam I Am
by venitha

Five minutes into a layover at Los Angeles International Airport, shortly after we moved to Colorado, I turned to Jim and said, "We live in a diversity wasteland." In the last five minutes, we'd probably seen more different ethnicities than we'll see in our entire lives in Colorado.

At the time, I missed Madison, its trees and lakes, its bars, and its ethnically diverse engineering campus. So it's no surprise, really, that I found and fell in love with Colorado's own innate beauty, its mountains, learned to make my very own very killer margarita, and somehow befriended women whose racial backgrounds span the globe.

In moving to Singapore, which is ethnically primarily Chinese, Malay, and Indian, I expected to welcome regular reminders of some of these friends, and I do. Dumplings and roast duck remind me of Julie (Chinese). Beautiful Sreedevi (Indian - Tamil), whom I now sit next to at work, reminds me of beautiful Manisha (Indian - Gujarati), whom I used to sit next to at work. Deepali's (Indian - Marathi) delicious chole reminds me of Ami (Indian - Gujarati).

Friday night, however, I was surprised upon my first timid sip of Chinese mutton soup to think I'd tasted this soup before. While Jim soliloquized about how you just don't expect green soup to taste good, Sam I Am, I paged in confusion through the cookbook of my mind in search of green. Ambrosia? No. Pesto? No. And then I had it!

"Peas, Jim. It doesn't contain peas. That's why it tastes good."

Another spoonful - it is good, and if I don't start eating, there won't be any left for me - and I'm sorting through spices, rifling through mental pages sticky with fresh garlic and ginger, encrusted with cracked black pepper. But no, no, and, yet again, no. I chew on a tender juicy chunk of mutton, and... Aha! Fataneh! From Iran?!? What are you doing here? This is Singapore!

The color, the spices, the flavor, the texture, even the mutton: all the same as a soup Fae calls sabzi. Amusingly, the one notable difference is that Fae's version contains kidney beans. For once here in Singapore, I actually expect something to contain beans, and it doesn't!

Jim and I toasted our shared Tiger beer to this small, small world. We clinked our mugs in honor of Fae (Iranian) and the sabzi she cooked for us a lifetime ago, then in honor of Brian (American) and his recommendation of both soup and hawker stall, and one last time in honor of the hawker (Indian) and his marvelous soup, of which we ordered a second bowl.


Monday, October 17, 2005

by jima

We're so busy whining about the negative changes that moving to Singapore brought into our lives that we frequently overlook the positive changes, one of the best of which is our new Friday night out.

As in Ft Collins, by Friday we are collapse-in-a-heap exhausted. But since we're now here in the big city with easy access to lots of cool things to do, we really feel lame if we just stay in and do nothing but watch Coupling on DVD, IM each other from across our apartment, or surf the web. Instead, we've taken to meeting out on Friday evenings on my way home from work and doing... something. Sometimes it's a museum exhibition. Once it was a storytelling. Frequently it's a walk through whatever section of the city is lit up with lights for an ethnic celebration. Often it's a hunt for a new food we heard about and the hole-in-the-wall stall serving it up in delicious style. Always it's something new that we haven't done before, and always it's something we could not do in Ft Collins.

Occasionally, our destination has been a new exhibit at the Arts House in the CBD, which has featured some tremendous, and some tremendously weird, works of art over the months. From stunning photographs of Burmese monks in a snowstorm to some rather odd Chinese poster art depicting Jesus in various Chinese cultural settings. Hundred foot-tall Jesus peering over tourists on the Great Wall, anyone?

Breezy and overcast, this Friday demanded we enjoy the evening outdoors, so my lovely wife met me at the HarbourFront MRT station, and we walked up, over, around, though, across, and in Mt. Faber, taking in amazing views of the shipping, the city, and Sentosa Island. A bit confusing to get to the other side of, Mt. Faber, but once safely back along the wide city streets, we were conveniently close to a hawker stall dishing Brian's highly recommended mutton soup. The beer was cold, the soup was yummy, the hawker was friendly. Another wonderful Friday evening well spent.

We gave way to our end-of-the-week exhaustion and took the MRT home instead of walking, thankful that we didn't have to over who had to drive. Friday nights out are a positive change I want to continue, not only while we're here, but also once we're back in Colorado. Then it'll be interesting to see how much we miss all the city activities; I already know we're really going to miss the MRT.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

by venitha

Wheeling dashingly on a zippy pair of Heelys into the tween-aged gap in our lives is our newest friend in Singapore, 9-year-old Sebastian.

Ways in which Sebastian is the same as most American 9-year-old boys:
Ways in which Sebastian is different from most American 9-year-old boys:
  • He plays badminton.
  • He has never seen snow.
  • He calls me and Jim Auntie and Uncle.
Jim and I have a few things in common with Sebastian's parents, Benny and Helen, too. We all live in the Pasadena, Bennie is an engineer, and they've been expats, spending a year in a small town in England, where they quickly depleted the rice stocks of every store. The depletion part is actually not something that we have in common, though Jim and I did make a valiant attempt in Bangkok to eat all the pineapples.

Our most important common trait, however, is that we all five love spicy food, and Jim and I were lucky enough to be treated to both their delightful company and a deliciously fiery dinner at a Malaysian/Indonesian restaurant last weekend:
  • Sambal sotong. That's spicy calamari in America. And this version is even more delectable than the deep-fried variety common in the US.
  • Beef rendang. An exquisite beef curry. Oh, yeah. Divinely tender and a slow sultry burn. This is my favorite of our dishes.
  • Chicken McNuggets a la Singapore. I don't remember the official name of this dish, but it's chicken, still on the bone, and deep-fried. Bone-in is the norm here and is hard for an American to get used to. Even now that I know to expect bones, I'm at a loss for the proper dining etiquette. I guess I should be thankful we're not expected to eat this with chopsticks.
  • Sambal spinach? I don't remember the technical name for this dish either, and I now fear that we need to photograph not only all of our food, but also the menu. Combine this uncouth behavior with our poor dining etiquette, and it's a good thing we've got such sparkling personalities, or no one would ever dine out with us again.
    Savory spinach cooked to feverish perfection in zesty chili. Given the amount of this that Sebastian ate, I'd say that such preparation is an excellent way to get children to eat their veggies. But would it help broccoli? Sebastian is quite certain that, unfortunately, it would not.

  • Otak-otak. An ambrosial fish concoction grilled in banana leaves. This could have been spicier, so I was thankful for the...
  • Chili. We all used lots of it. Flaming, blazing, blistering, sizzling chili. They had to bring us seconds.

Jim and I can only hope that we didn't embarrass our new friends so terribly by photographing all of our food that we won't get to enjoy both their delightful company and lots more deliciously fiery food in the future.

We promise Sebastian that we'll eat all the broccoli.


Friday, October 14, 2005

All Things Goreng
by venitha

Despite the bafflement with which most Singaporeans greet the knowledge that Jim and I are taking a Malay class, our studies continue to provide both amusement and very worthwhile information.

Of note in the amusement category:
  • We have learned verbs one would never learn in Malay 101 at a US school: to cane and to queue
  • Exotic-sounding names like Jalan Besar, Paya Lebar, and Taman Negara translate into such creative descriptions as Big Road, Wide Swamp, and Country Park.
  • We have acquired fun new insults terms of endearment for each other: hodoh bodoh (ugly stupid) and kepala kelapa (coconut head).

While we also now know important vocabulary words such as phlegm [not pictured] thanks to a fellow student whom our entire class was relieved to learn is a nurse with Malay patients, the most practical of our newfound knowledge are the Malay words for food. We can now easily track down two favorites: sambal sotong (spicy squid) and kari ayam (curry chicken). We can choose confidently between mee (noodles) and nasi (rice). We even have an explanation for the beans lurking beneath the colorful snowcone of the iced kachang [pictured]: kachang means bean.

In the US, health-conscious, if obese, consumers supposedly gave KFC a reason to change its name. In Singapore, both slender waists and fried food are proudly flaunted; there is mee goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice), even pisang goreng (fried bananas), and plenty of slim diners eating it all.

My body unfortunately doesn't work that way, so I'm employing my Malay knowledge to track down more healthy options. I pass on most things goreng and have even regretfully moved sedap (delicious) nasi lemak to my only-on-special-occasions menu, along with Wisconsin's and frozen custard. Rice cooked in coconut milk, nasi lemak translates into English as fat rice. Dang!

If only they would change its name...


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Nickel and Dimed
by venitha

This gentleman regularly serenades me and my fellow commuters as we cross through the tunnel leading to Novena MRT station. He has no fear, infectious enthusiasm, and, perhaps most importantly, excellent location selection, as the tunnel's incredible acoustics lead me to believe that even I could belt out show tunes and sound just like . Either he's getting better, or, more likely, my standards for street entertainment have plummeted here in Singapore, where talent is decidedly not a requirement for singing for one's supper.

If supper money is his goal, Singapore aids him in his endeavor. First, food, especially eating out, is very cheap here. I regularly pay only S$2 for lunch at the hawker centres around work. Second, Singapore has a $1 coin (about US$0.60), so he's probably getting more cash than you think. After all, isn't this what you do with buskers? Empty your pockets of all that bothersome change? It's what I do with my busker.

My pretty purple $2 bills, Singapore's smallest paper currency, remain in my wallet, but the coins, from the dollars on down, regularly disappear into my busker's bag, including the uncommon 1¢, made somewhat scarce by the fact that many places round off your bill so they don't have to use them. They're tiny, and, I was interested to learn, they aren't called pennies.

The words nickel and dime are also not used, and I haven't asked anyone about the phrase. The behavior, , is rampant. I could rant about this all afternoon, so rather than risk needing to start a new blog dedicated to this topic alone, I'll limit myself to this single example: filthy public restrooms that one must pay 10¢ to use.

Then again, perhaps this only annoys me because I just gave all my change to my busker.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spontaneous Combustion
by venitha

Do they in Thailand?, we laughingly wondered, as we fought the urge to strip naked just inside the door of Bangkok's MBK center and to lie on its gloriously cool tile floor, as if to make steaming snow angels. Ah, air-conditioned goodness.

Avoiding the outdoors in the hottest part of the day is definitely recommended if you wish not to be reduced to a quivering puddle of molten jell-o. Beyond that, my strong advice is to wear as little as modesty allows. Fortunately for me, all I have to overcome is the hurdle of a conservative midwestern upbringing. I don't also have the brick wall of religious dictates to lean wearily and sweatily against.

A significant minority of Singaporean women wear Muslim headdresses and yards of body-obsuring clothing. A bus ride through the Arab section of the city can easily leave me feeling considerably underdressed in just a tank top and shorts. Until, that is, I spot yet another teen-age girl flaunting a . I promise you, I am going to take a picture of this one of these days because you just can't believe it until you see it.

Tops on my list of must-be-seen-to-be-believed, however, is the woman wearing a full in the bright hot sun of the afternoon. She is completely covered from head to toe, with just a narrow slit for her eyes, in black fabric, which looks like velvet? Or maybe felt? I have witnessed this numerous times now, but I'm always left gaping in stunned disbelief, waiting for the woman to pass out, to melt, to spontaneously combust.

I am neither Muslim nor a teenager, so I thankfully don't have to choose between these two attires, but if I did, I'd go for the butt crack. And I'd be devoutly thankful for sunscreen.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Get Some Hot Soup In Ya, Sonny
by venitha

Hot soups are served everywhere in Singapore: spicy tôm yam and peppery hot and sour. Seafood steamboats simmer atop an open flame, and sides of steaming broth accompany the ubiquitous chicken rice. To me, hot soup's popularity here is baffling. In this climate, shouldn't we all be enjoying chilled gazpacho and cool creamy vichyssoise?

I know from our travels here that Singapore comes by this penchant honestly. Hot soup is part of Asian cuisine everywhere, so it isn't like Singapore went, "Oh, man, is it hot. Let's invent soup." Though oddly, when pressed about its popularity, the locals do claim it helps them handle the torrid weather.

"Who knew it was possible to make soup so hot?" I complained to Jim as I scalded the roof of my mouth yet again. Patience may be a virtue, but it is not one of mine. Like the tootsie roll owl, I may never learn how many seconds - no, minutes - of blowing on a steaming spoonful of soup is required before pain-free consumption.

"Well, soup is hotter here."

I gasped. By jove, he's right!

A quick search on the web reveals that the boiling point of water at sea level is about 10°F higher in Singapore than in Colorado. Alas, the same does not hold true for the freezing point of water, so there go my hopes of Singapore's transformation into a winter wonderland the next time it hits its record low: 66°F.

But some hot soup might then hit the spot.


Monday, October 10, 2005

by venitha

To someone who lives for the Sunday crosswords...

To someone who would gladly spring out of bed at dawn on summer Sundays to rush over with Maggie to the nearby gas station and harass the poor flunkie behind the counter if the paper was a minute late...

To someone who would forgo first lift on idyllic winter Sundays at Winter Park if she hadn't yet finished the crossword... Well, not on powder days, of course; I do have priorities.

To someone who would ominously warn friends they were taking their lives in their hands by even glancing at her Sunday puzzle in progress...

This is just sad.

Not that I expected to open my Sunday Straits Times to the nirvana of both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times Sunday crosswords like I do with the Denver Post, this quality being the Post's primary positive attribute, but still.

I surprised even myself by thinking that I was willing to forgo my beloved American crosswords while I'm here in Singapore. I was actually looking forward to having them replaced by whatever new and exciting mental challenges regularly entertain the natives. Hey, maybe I'd even finally learn to do those British crosswords that Harpers publishes. Alas, tragically, no bliss.

So this week I subscribed to the New York Times on-line crossword puzzle service and have made a happy pilgrimage back to my contented Sunday mornings. God bless Will Shortz for the puzzles and Al Gore for the internet.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

by venitha

At work this past week, for the first time, I ran into people I know from the US, Americans, from Ft Collins and Corvallis. Not friends, but co-workers, acquaintances who address me by name, and whose own names skip lightly off my tongue after I dredge them up through the murky alphabet soup of Chinese and Indian names currently sloshing cacophonously in my mind. Fong Ling, Sze Yii, Yoong Han. Raghu, Sreedevi, Ashwin.

I am shocked at what a treat this is.

Dan's pale complexion and fair hair are a feast for my sore eyes. He makes eye contact when he talks to me.

James' accent that I don't have to fight to understand and our slow, casual conversation are music to my ears. He comes nowhere close to saying izzit.

Steve's friendly face and sunny smile provide refreshment to my spirits. We chat comfortably, enthusiastically, naturally.

I had no idea I was so hungry for this, but I could eat them.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate V
by jima

  • One thing I love about living in Singapore is...
    ...the ease with which we can get downtown. We were lucky enough to attend two events last weekend at the Esplanade, Singapore's phenomenal theater complex along the river front. From our apartment, it takes about 30 minutes door to theater if we take the MRT; and, as we discovered after staying out Friday night past the time when the MRT turns into a durian pumpkin, it takes only about 45 minutes to walk. This is less time than it would take us to drive home from Denver after seeing a show there, and no one here extorts parking fees from us!
  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore is...
    ...the inexplicable way they "roll up the sidewalks" early. As we discovered on Friday night, the MRT shuts down around midnight. Yep, a major metropolitan area with lots of great bars, clubs, and restaurants shuts down its mass transit at midnight on weekends.

    Saturday night, we left for home early enough to catch the MRT, and for a treat, we alit at Orchard Road, arguably the glitziest, hottest, most happenin' part of the city. We headed straight to Tangs for a gelato. Denied! It was already closed. The shopping centers near our home were also dark, including our local McDonald's where we might have resorted to an ice cream cone. At long last, we settled on our only remaining option: Starbucks.

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    ...murtabak. OK, so I have actually had this before, but this was the first time I stayed and watched how they make the paper-thin dough that gets fried with the meaty filling. It was completely mesmerizing to watch the vendor spin the dough and slap it out so quickly and beautifully.
  • A new thing I bought recently is...
    ...nothing! I've been quite un-Singaporean in my spending habits of late. I hope there's no fine for this.

  • Something I recently discovered is...
    ...that there are actually some touristy things to do in Hsinchu, Taiwan. My hotel was an easy walk from the eastern gate to the ancient city. While it was not the Roman Colosseum, it was far better than the nothing that the locals I work with have told me there is to see in Hsinchu.

  • Singlish o' the day:
    Kopi-O. Your two main breakfast food groups: coffee and sugar. The verbal shortcuts for various Kopi (coffee) and Teh (tea) drinks are mind-boggling at first, bearing quite a similarity to the half-caff sweet skim double whopper latte venti with a lid lingo that Starbucks regulars know and love. A word to the wise: Kopi by itself does not mean black coffee; it means coffee with lots of cream and lots of sugar. Yummy! Black coffee is Kopi-O-Kosong, kosong meaning empty in Malay.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Shotgun Wedding
by venitha

We are in grave danger, I both fear and hope, of calling it quits on Singapore. We each regularly have days we're fully ready to give up, and if we ever align in this desperate desire, I honestly think that'll be it. A similar cosmic coincidence is the reason we own a condo in Winter Park. We can spend years trading the roles of Rational and Emotional, but one day we wake up both cast as Emotional, et voilà! We now own the vacation home of our dreams. Or, as the case may be shortly, we now have plane tickets back to our life in a place where we can actually vacation at said vacation home.

In the grand tradition of not going to bed angry, Sunday night before lights out we lay in bed gazing at the city skyline and thinking hard to come up with lists of things that we like, or at least don't hate, about Singapore, which on bad days we're coming to view as the loathsome bride forced on us in a . I'm not sure how to take the fact that at the end of a bleak and particularly shitty day, the first, and for a long time the only, item on my list, a list of positives, mind you, is the weather, which in actuality I only like in a relative sense: it isn't as miserable as it was this past summer.

Jim, ever the optimist, the jerk, comes up with his list quite quickly, though he opts for the obvious, putting far less tortured and sullen thought into it than I do. His list:
  • the view: the amazing skyline we are looking bitterly at
  • our bed: the fabulous Tempurpedic mattress that we bought after I broke my knee and the painful threat of bedsores found its way through the narcotic haze
  • me in the bed: Hey now! We haven't made up yet! True, we're mad at Singapore and not each other, but still!
One thing to be very thankful for here is the maturity of our relationship, as clearly evidenced by Jim's comment when he read my last paragraph: "That's jerkwad, thank you very much." I'm also quite thankful for Jim's sense of humor, of course. But I digress. In spite of how it ultimately worked out, Colorado was not my first choice for a destination when Jim and I left college and Wisconsin, and the resulting bitterness and resentment took me years to overcome.

Here in Singapore, however, even though we regularly hate each other and ourselves, we never blame each other for this situation, and this is evidence of some serious strides we have made in the last 15 years. If Singapore is the bride, then HP is the white trash hick holding the shotgun at the wedding. We each, both independently and together, made the decision to come here. If it was a mistake, it was one we made together, and we can undo it together, too.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Vocabulary Lessons
by venitha

Kiasu, siao, kaypoh, ang moh... I expected to be flummoxed and entertained by the Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay, etc., contributions to Singlish. What I didn't expect was the number of perfectly standard English terms that I'd need to learn.

  • Zebra crossing. This term makes you start to wonder just what animals live in the rainforest and the mangrove swamps, but it means the striped crosswalks at which Singaporean drivers will slam on their brakes to allow pedestrians to cross the street. Beware being lulled into complacency by this behavior, however, for such courtesy does not extend to the drivers in Bangkok, who, in their defense, probably just can't see either pedestrians or the zebra crossing through the polluted air.

  • Petrol kiosk. Sounds so cool that I almost wish I had a car so I had an excuse to visit one regularly. Then again, considering the latest petrol prices, not so much. Sorry, but it's beyond my mental capabilities to figure out the current price of petrol for comparison with the extortion going on these days in the US; Sing dollars per litre, and then there's some percentage discount that, well, um, let's just take the MRT. I'll even buy.

  • Lift. Yep, it's an elevator, and I've also heard the term used for escalators, which are far more common here. The moving walkway at the airport is called a travellator.

  • Green fingers. Instead of a green thumb, which, alas, I also don't have. A few weeks ago, I bought a bunch of houseplants, thinking it an act sure to get us sent home in no time flat. Not only are we still here, but in spite of my best efforts, I have yet to kill a single plant with my not-green fingers.

  • Capsicum. A bell pepper by any other name would taste as sweet, but I can't imagine where else it would cost as little as it does in Singapore.

  • Lorry. Yeah, it's a truck, but nothing like those Ram tough trucks in the US. Note to all you Singaporean entrepreneurs out there: I'm much more interested in a ride in the back of one of these than in a , especially if you throw in the requisite number of handsome Malay construction workers.

  • Queue. We probably need this term here just because we spend so much time doing it. And so much time bitching about kiasu aunties not doing it appropriately.

  • Hump. Otherwise known as a speed bump. I haven't actually heard this used in conversation, but it cracked me up to see it painted like a command on the road.
  • Cum. Regardless of whether or not this word has the meaning in Singapore that scares Americans away from using it in polite conversation - I don't know and I'm not about to ask - Singaporeans use it quite properly as a preposition meaning together with, as in bar cum restaurant, handphone cum camera, massage parlor cum whorehouse.

  • Can/Cannot. Far more common here than yes and no. Even in our Malay class, we learned can and cannot well before we learned yes and no.

  • Off/on. These words are verbs! Who knew? On the light. Off the fan. Poor unnecessary turn.
Okay, class, listen up! Your homework is to use the above words together in a short paragraph. Turn in your assignment as a comment on this blog post. Extra credit if you use them all!


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mango Goodness
by venitha

Taipei is famous for its street food. The itinerary a co-worker gave me from her recent vacation there listed among the attractions Oyster Noodles, Big Sausage, and Super Big Chicken Cutlet. Sze Yii specifically translated these, written in Chinese characters, as highlights not to be missed.

Perhaps because we managed to resist such temptation, our Taipei food was good, but not rave-worthy. Sorting through our photos from that weekend, this was the one that made us go Mmmm....

Shared in the basement food court of Taipei 101 after we surveyed the city at night from the 89th floor, this mango dessert was absolutely delicious. Creamy sweet mango syrup drizzled over succulent fresh mango morsels. Topped off with a generous scoop of luscious tart mango gelato and served atop a frosty bed of smooth shaved ice.

No threats of durian. No red beans. No unidentifiable jellied globs and worms. Just icy sweet melt-in-your-mouth mango goodness. Mmmm....


Monday, October 03, 2005

by venitha

emergency all-hands meeting @ 4pm

From his office in Taipei, Jim IM's me at work in Yishun. Blasé an attitude as I try to maintain regarding HP's stranglehold on my life these days, excitement like this obviously grabs my attention and leaves me wanting to shout Uncle.

Dedicated employee that I am, however, I manage to put the impending announcement out of my mind until 4, when I get some hot chocolate - it is downright cold at work - and then return to my desk to sit and to sip and to wait.

4:05. I look at the picture of Maggie on my short cube wall. Undoubtedly, this isn't healthy, but I can't resist such a reminder of her cute sweetness. Or is it her sweet cuteness? Believe it or not, Jim and I have actually discussed and argued about whether sweetness or cuteness is her most defining quality. I can't remember now which side I was on, but I'm certain I was right.

4:07. Next to Maggie is a recent shot of Jake, my youngest nephew, who has surely gained 20, no 30, pounds since I saw him last. You think I'm kidding, but this adorable eight-month-old is clearly the reincarnation of Reggie White and will therefore someday achieve the seemingly impossible feat of turning my father into a Packer fan. How old, and how big, will Jake be when I see him next?

4:11. In my head resonates this overpowering thought: Please let them send us home. It's completely emotional, but, oh, how I yearn to be rescued! And just in time to make my heavenly annual October pilgrimage to the Z-- Spa, my beloved little sister's home in Milwaukee. Now featuring Jake! From there, I could head back to Colorado and hole up with Maggie in our condo in Winter Park, licking four months of wounds and making snow angels for the entire ski season.

4:13. My rational side, and I do have one, tells me I'm through the hard stuff here: moving, setting up a home, stifling the irritation at two months, and conquering the depression at three. I've survived the first month (!) of work and its accompanying stress of not knowing anyone, not knowing what I'm doing, not knowing why I'm here. I've adjusted to the weather. Well, I'll probably never really adjust to the weather, but still. And, ultimately, there is the inescapable fact that going home now would be nearly as hard as coming here in the first place, not least of all because it would likely mean that Jim, along with a good number of people I care about in Ft Collins, no longer has a job.

4:15. I look at Maggie's sweet face - today I'm vociferously on the side of sweet over cute - and Jake's devilish grin, and I can't help it. Please, God, let them send us home.

A flash on my computer screen catches my eye; Jim's back on-line.

meeting's over

I hold my breath while the window tells me he is typing. Jim hits enter from across the South China Sea, and my fate is sealed.

false alarm


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hasenfeffer Incorporated
by venitha

I know I've seen Powerbars in Asia, but I can't remember where, and, anyway, where would the fun be in that? For last Saturday's hike in Taiwan, we left ourselves at the mercy of vending machines and visitors' centre canteens.

You know how food somehow tastes better in the mountains? Well, better was insufficient improvement for this, labelled High Class Dried Beancurd. I shudder to think what it would taste like when you're not in the mountains; in spite of the fact that it was the only food left in Jim's pack when we returned, tired and hungry, to the city, we opted to leave that a mystery.

High Class Glace Fruit, on the other hand, was pretty tasty. Just be careful not to crack a tooth on the rock hard pit; I live in great fear, potentially unfounded, but please God, let's not find out, of having to make an emergency visit to an Asian dentist. These dried plums were sweet, and we both enjoyed them. Some time ago, we tried a sour version, which I liked, but Jim labelled heinous.

These are fairly typical Asian snacks: char siew pau (pork bun) and rice dumplings. In Singapore, you usually see rice dumplings wrapped in green banana leaves; my guess is that these are wrapped in bamboo leaves. Regardless, you don't eat the leaves, just the rice and other goodies within. Rumor has it that the string tied around the pyramid-shaped package somehow indicates just what those goodies might be, but we haven't yet figured out where to send our used strings to get our secret decoder ring.

A cow and bubbles? I couldn't resist the images this conjured of Laverne and Shirley schlemeel-ing and schlemazel-ing their way up the stone staircases of Mt. Cising, but it was pretty much just whitish sprite. Of note: Jim knows an alarming amount of the Laverne and Shirley theme song, which contains, interestingly enough, the line There is nothing we won't try; if you would like to share my pain, click here.

In spite of my wheedling, Jim flat-out refused to consider the peanut soup in a can. He gets veto power on these things because, especially if the food is not so good, I have a few bites, and then I make him finish it. One musn't waste food, you know; there are starving children in, er, um... At any rate, if you can trust the picture on the can, the peanut soup is actual peanuts, without the shell, in a creamy-looking broth. It's sold in a soda-sized can that you can peel the whole top off of. We did see some of our fellow hikers eating it, and they weren't making faces anywhere near those we made when we tried the dried beancurd.

We made up for our lame daytime snacks by going to Din Tai Fung, recommended to us as "the good dumpling place," for supper and eating enough dumplings to feed 's army. While these were clearly missing that essential ingredient, the love, that goes into the fantastic dumplings that we are lucky enough to be treated to by our friend Julie in Colorado, they were a perfect end to a perfect day.