Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mother Nature: Ang Mo Kio Town Garden
by venitha

I've been admiring the pretty eastern hill of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden from my MRT commute to work, but the western hill is much larger and nicer and was the perfect place for an umbrella-ed walk one misty Sunday morning.

Large blaze orange flowers slowly filling with raindrops littered the ground, but where had they come from? There were no blossoms in the trees above, and when I stopped to pick up a fallen bloom, I discovered it was attached.

When the rain stopped and the sun came out, we opted for a quick loop around the base of the hill and were rewarded with a bird song park! Finally! I'd read about these before moving to Singapore but had not yet had the pleasure. Songbird enthusiasts bring their pets, raise them high atop a flagpole, and the birds take it from there.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Danshui Fisherman's Wharf: Part II
by venitha

The wharf is, in fact, more of the same, but boasts a marina, which lends it a certain charm and authenticity. We share a mango shake and stroll around the harbor, side-stepping the caricature artists and keeping a safe distance from the strange two-torso-ed man act.

I'm photographing Jim with a picturesque wharf-y backdrop when what must be a squid sign above crowds of customers catches my eye. Closer inspection is warranted, if only for a picture, and our curiosity is richly rewarded. There is not a fry vat to be found, and a generous free sample reveals that today's catch is fresh. And oh-my-God good.

For a mere NT$100 (~US$3), we purchase a paper tray mounded high with squid and settle into a cozy table for two in the back, near the rugged man in high boots hoisting burgeoning crates straight from the boat and the enormous pot bubbling merrily with inky purple water.

We blissfully feast on what is undoubtedly the best squid we have ever had in our lives. Just a touch salty, even without the dish of soy sauce with which it is served, and while it certainly doesn't melt it my mouth, it's not rubbery at all but is instead chewable with a hint of squeakiness reminiscent of only the absolute freshest of Wisconsin cheese curds.

We eat slowly, in awed silence, and far too soon, we're crossing sticks over an empty paper tray and licking our lips for one last taste. One tray is our limit; any more, and we'd be stuffed to the point of sure illness into the bay.

We emerge reluctantly back onto the wharf. I hold tight to Jim's hand, frowning in the knowledge that it's time to face first the bridge, then the ferry, then the MRT, then the bus, then the plane, then the cab, and then another week alone in Singapore.

Fortified with such squid, however, I'll make it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Danshui Fisherman's Wharf: Part I
by venitha

Several free hours between train and plane leave us time to explore Taiwan's . It's a pleasantly overcast November afternoon, and a stroll hand-in-hand along the riverfront, revelling in a cool light breeze and taking in sights both exotic and familiar, could not be more enjoyable. A lovely harpist weaves a soothing musical backdrop, casting a calming net over the crowded walk along the shore.

Families have come to Danshui to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Taipei, and children are sweetly spoiled with precariously tall ice cream cones and pastel puffs of cotton candy bigger than their heads. Danshui subscribes to the "If you deep-fry it and put it on a stick, they will buy it" maxim, but having grown up in Wisconsin, Jim and I are hard to shock or to tempt in this realm. We opt instead to sample the local claim to fame, the iron egg (rubbery, but not inedibly so), and wish the corn-in-a-cup place were open.

We also pass on small fried eggs on a stick (incredibly cute) and on Taiwan's version of the little green worms (not so cute), but there's always room for our usual: fresh fruit. Taiwan's guavas are uncommonly sweet, though vendors have to be vigilantly prevented from drowning my bag of guava slices with sugar, laced, no doubt, with tangy plum powder. Delicious, but unnecessary.

We spy a ticket booth, and Jim makes me smile with his pantomimed purchase from the handsome young attendant, who in turn makes me laugh aloud when he responds to Jim's xie xie (thank you) with You're welcome, in a perfect American accent. A minute later, we are aboard the ferry to the Fisherman's Wharf, which Lonely Planet labels "plainly for tourists," and how exactly that will differ from our previous locale is a question we ponder on the ten-minute high-speed ride downriver.

Will the ubiquitous corn-in-a-cup stand actually be open?
Will the deep-fried-and-served-on-a-stick selection be vastly superior?
Will we finally come across that staple of the American deep-fried scene, the Tom Thumb mini-donut?


Saturday, November 26, 2005

by venitha

Number one on the list of complaints expats have about Singapore: mildew.

I swear I read that somewhere, most likely Culture Shock: Singapore, months ago, well in advance of moving here. I remember warily eyeing my comfy leather La-Z-Boy recliners, fearful for their well-being. Jim claims he remembers this, too (the mildewed list, not my contemplative and squinty furniture appraisal); but perhaps he's just being his normal agreeable self (Yes, dear), tiptoeing with practiced and hard-learned care around my stubborn and I-insist-accurate memory.

I'm more frustrated with my inability to find the infamous list (I desperately would like to know what else is on it), than I am with the reality of the dreaded ultimate complaint itself, mildew. What else do I have the comfort of company, hordes and hordes of expats pale, frizzy, and sweaty just like me, in complaining about, for surely it isn't possible that there is an item on the list that I have not bitterly lamented, nay, shaken a fist at in fury?

Our furniture is faring well, protected by the dehumidifying effect of the esteemed air-con; our shoes, on the other hand, we've apparently thrown to the wolves. (And, as I should have expected, they have gone to the dogs.) In a when-in-Rome nod to Singaporean habits, we've shelved our frequently-worn shoes outside the front door, protected from rain, but little else.

In another nod to Singaporean habits, perhaps I'll toss these sandals down the trash chute and go shopping for some new ones today.

Can you tell that I'm midway through a book by Kate Atkinson, master of the parenthetical? Lest you think Agilent has forced me off the Perl-y Verilog path onto the darkly overgrown ancient road of LISP. If you understand these last two sentences (without resorting to Google) and you are not married to me, well, that's just frightening.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fruits of Paradise VI
by venitha

As I uploaded these pictures, Jim looked at the title of this post and expressed astonishment. Can Singapore's heat have cooked my brain to the point where I've forgotten my ? Six months ago I wouldn't have believed there were so many fruits I'd never tasted, let alone such a large number I'd never even heard of.

  • Snake Fruit. Undoubtedly the most appropriately named fruit ever, snake fruit easily sheds its skin to reveal flesh-colored teardrop-shaped segments with large dark brown pits. It tastes strangely like... apple, though more earthy and musky. The crispness and crunch are surprisingly satisfying.

  • Dates. Yeah, sure, everyone's had dates, but in these quantities? Well, maybe Fonzie. But for those of us without black leather jackets and personal harems, the number of dates at the Hari Raya celebrations in Geylang Serai is downright overwhelming. Jim and I sampled some on a Friday night date of our own, but neither of us liked them well enough to do a taste test of the dozens of available varieties.
    We both, however, liked the undried winter dates, though maybe that had something to do with the suggestion in their glorious and wonderful name. Ah, winter. Like tiny apples, but with a pit, winter dates have a very happy munchy texture and just a hint of, well, date flavor.

  • Gooseberries. Cape gooseberries caught my eye at our local Cold Storage because they look just like tomatillos, only orange instead of green. Jazz has kindly been my salsa mule, nestling jars of spicy goodness amongst the socks in his suitcase; but now that ski season is underway in Colorado, his visits are likely to fall off a bit. If I were to make my own salsa, fresh tomatillos would rock! Cape gooseberries have many delicious qualities; they're tart, tangy, acidic, and sweet. Unfortunately, they wouldn't, in the opinion of a connoisseur, make good salsa.
    I liked them on their own well enough, however, to buy just plain old apparently not-from-the-cape gooseberries when I espied them at Mustafa. These should have been labelled with a huge sign: DO NOT EAT BEFORE RIPE. Unripe gooseberries are the only fruit so far that I spit out. And that includes durian. Nasty.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Giving Thanks
by venitha

Ashwin, my adorable 27-year-old co-worker, returned from his recent trip home to with completely expected but nonetheless very exciting news: he is engaged.

"Engaged to be engaged," he clarifies, and Raghu, across the aisle, rolls his eyes and tells me the wedding is in June. Raghu would like to be in Ashwin's place, and soon enough, he will be. He leaves for his own match-making trip home to India in just over two weeks.

Ashwin's stunning unstoppable smile confirms that the date's been set, and when pressed, he produces photos of, and the lowdown on, his intended, along with treats from home. She is, of course, both beautiful and educated. Of more surprise to me is that the treats are yummy. I have learned through painful experience that free snacks at work are to be given a wide berth. The Indian guys laugh at my wariness; they avoid the dried pork laden Chinese treats, too.

"It's cashews and condensed milk," Ashwin reassures me kindly, "and the top is silver. Real silver. They come in gold, too."

Now begins the fun of getting acquainted long-distance, for Ashwin and his intended did not know each other before his recent trip. They're sending e-mail, talking on the phone, chatting through instant messaging.

"Only two-and-a-half hours," he tells me when I ask about the time difference.

Two-and-a-half? Where does she live, Papua New Guinea? No, of course she lives in India, where, I am informed, this is the standard time difference. Furthermore, there is also a off by a quarter of an hour. Good grief! How can a country playing so fast and loose with the time practice something so sensible as arranged marriages?

Of interest to me is that I'm far more accepting of and nonplussed by Indian marriage customs than are my ethnically-Chinese co-workers. Yoong Han quizzes Ashwin as much as I do, and it's clear from his questions (How much of the girl can you see in the early exchanged pictures? Raghu: "What, man, you want nudie photos?") that Yoong Han wants luuuuuv, complete with hearts and flowers, swelling violin music, and passionate embraces and has already erected a towering pedestal for his glass-slippered ballgown-clad princess to scale. But then he calls himself "fundamentally unmarriageable," drawing quotes around the words with his fingers in the air in such a cutesy little bunny foo foo way that I'm left wondering, well... Anyway.

With sympathy for his lamented girlfriend-less status, I tell Yoong Han that luuuuuv doesn't last a lifetime and that he should look deeper and marry a true friend, someone who sees his imperfections and loves him anyway. He looks at me as if I had just told him that Santa Claus does not exist, but Ashwin nods in sage agreement and flashes me his beautiful wide grin. He's going to make his lovely fiancée an excellent husband. I hope she knows how lucky she is and is thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.

Just like I am. I love you, Jim. Happy Thanksgiving.

If you now need some humor to cleanse yourself of excessive sappiness, click here for some Thanksgiving fun. Thanks, Val, for sending me this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mother Nature: Bukit Timah
by venitha

At 164m, Bukit Timah is Singapore's highest point. The view from the top is obscured by trees, but there are plenty of other highlights: macaques scamper along the entrance road, and Hindhede quarry, drowning at the stunning rate of 3m per year, lies tranquil amidst the crowds of hikers.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ohhhh, Yes
by venitha

Up until Sunday night, I'd been disparaging Chinese food as the most boring and least appealing of Asia's phenomenal cuisines. With delightful friends like the slow seductive burn of Peranakan beef rendang, the tangy zesty zip of Thai som tam, and the hearty intense heat of Indian curry, why even invite the bland greasy pork of Chinese dumplings to my party? And then I ate this.

Ohhhh, yes. Called xiao long bao and served up Shanghai-style at a local Din Tai Fung restaurant, these bitesize morsels of savory goodness literally explode in your mouth. Their English nickname, soup dumplings, is spot on, for the stuffing is a divine pork soup, which showers your tastebuds in a most surprising and scrumptious sensation. Wow!

The mini-nuclear reactor version topped with a shrimp is irresistibly cute but pays a heavy price for its marvelous and amusingly appropriate look by being, crushingly, impossible to pop into your mouth. Believe me, I tried. And Jim almost succeeded.

Din Tai Fung just moved to the top of my list of restaurants to take visitors to, particularly those who are wimps, er, I mean, who don't appreciate spicy cuisine as much as I do. Conveniently, exactly a month from now, we'll be enjoying the first supper together with our visiting family, including my favorite wimp, 11-year-old Matthew. Ohhhh, yes.


Monday, November 21, 2005

by venitha

Outside the windows on our right, the Pacific Ocean glitters beneath the rising sun; to our left tower verdant mountains, their tops lost in feathery clouds.

It isn't long, however, before the train, whisking us efficiently back to reality after two days in the paradise of Taiwan's Taroko Gorge, replaces these breathtaking views with less spectacular panoramas of farmland and meager villages. These new sights, however, captivate us, and we stare mesmerized out our window at rural Taiwan flying by.

Pristine white storks wade majestically through muddy rice paddies. Fisherman wearing conical hats stand thigh-deep in sedate streams. We laugh to spot a scarecrow wearing this same cone-shaped hat, and we debate the legitimacy of the word scarecrow here.

Small patches of palm trees stand at stark attention, and strangely, on a small rise at the edge of a scanty community, a mass of small shrines, hundreds of them, all different. A shrine store? They must come from somewhere. Or a very sacred place? A sacred place, I decide when I spot a worshipper. I can almost catch a whiff of smoky incense from her joss sticks.

Do you smell that?

It wasn't me.

No, I mean...

Lulled into calm by the train's rhythm, our fellow passengers sleep or read the Sunday paper. A distinct lack of the English language left us news free at the Hua Lien train station, and our early morning purchases were limited to the necessities: milk tea and Mr. Brown coffee. Superbly caffeinated, Mr. Brown and I do not sleep. Instead, we write postcards and read our Lonely Planet's brief Taiwan history. Our tour guide yesterday astonished us with her account of the 50-year-long Japanese rule of Taiwan, and we are ashamed of our arrogant lack of knowledge.

I look out the window in contemplation of yet more infuriating US foreign policy and am rewarded by an ornate Buddhist temple entrance adorning an otherwise abandoned landscape. Then our train plunges into the blackness of a tunnel, to emerge just minutes later into a setting decidedly suburban.

Tiny backyard garden plots bulge with crops of lettuce, cabbage, and other vegetables I cannot name, in spite of a childhood rich with 4-H membership and chop suey consumption. The woman across the aisle pulls a persimmon from her bag, while her companion checks her handphone messages.

Without notice, all green is gone, and we are indisputably in Taipei. My window is darkened by the shade of buildings taller than I can crane my neck to see above. Laundry hangs in windows and from balconies, and the eerie, deserted clothing ushers a hollow feeling into my heart, an ache into the pit of my stomach. Emptiness and silence envelop us. I lean back and sigh, and Jim takes my hand.

I don't want to go back to Singapore. Jim doesn't want to go back to Hsinchu. Yet every clack of the train's wheels, every rhythmic rock and sway, brings us just a little bit closer.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

by venitha

We're learning so many new foods, flowers, and foreign words that the alphabet soup in my mind frequently refuses to form a coherent spoonful of letters, and I'm annoyed to realize that I've forgotten something I recently learned. Cripes! Just how old am I, anyway?

One lovely flower that I've enjoyed all over southeast Asia and that I gratefully learned in Penang is the hibiscus, and my terrific husband quickly came up with a brilliant way to fix it forever it in my mind: The hibiscus has a proboscis.

This is so completely and so happily something that Jim's dad would have said that I gave Jim a bear hug worthy of the wonderful man himself. Hibiscus. At least there's one tropical bloom I'll now never forget.


Friday, November 18, 2005

For Your Dining Pleasure
by venitha

Penang provided several serendipitous opportunities for us to devise corollaries to the Jeff Tobin rule of hawker dining, which is, simply, to get in the longest line. Following this rule invariably rewards your patience with downright delicious food that is delectably worth the wait.

Our scrumptious new guidelines:
  • If you're lucky enough to be dining with a native, let him order for you. Our first Penang laksa was much spicier and contained much more of the "good" stuff than our second, and I have no doubt that this is thanks to the fact that Mr. Lee, our friendly new acquaintance from Kuala Lumpur with whom we were dining, ordered for us. Malaysians, like Singaporeans, steadfastly refuse to believe me when I say I want it spicy spicy spicy. Thais, on the other hand, take me powerfully seriously, and I love them for it. Note to self: Plan another trip to Thailand.

  • If your taxi driver, who does not strike you as a serial killer, offers to take you to his favorite Indian place, which conveniently happens to be a very cheap dive of a restaurant mere blocks from your hotel packed with happy Indian customers, take him up on it. Our first new guideline is also useful here, though beware that the odds are good that you'll end up with far far far more food than any person should eat for a single meal. Note to self: Add another happy new guideline: Never finish all the food served to you at an Indian restaurant, regardless of how incredibly mouth-watering and fiery it is.

  • Never walk by a hole-in-the-wall eatery with hordes of natives clamoring for its specialty without joining in, unless, of course, you have just eaten so much Indian food that you can hardly move let alone fight your way through a crowd of hungry Muslims nearing the end of . Fortunately for us, this was a different day. Jim, as he put it, "risked life, limb, and wallet" to get us a murtabak. The place was seriously mobbed, and the murtabak was seriously yummy.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

by venitha

Should you need a pick-me-up after reading my depressing blog post below, check this out. It worked for me. Thanks, Mark.


by venitha

For the past week, I've been unsuccessful at quieting the dismal voice in my head. It despairingly repeats a cheerless mantra: I hate it here.

Jim's absence, Maggie's cancer, and my acceptance of the disheartening fact that I will in all likelihood never see her again have combined to bring me very low. As desperate as I am to rush home and scoop Maggie up, to shower her gray cheeks with kisses, to scritch her adorable flopped-over ears, and to bury my face in her soft red coat, crying all over her for several days is unlikely to help, either me or her. Worse, I sincerely doubt I'd have the strength to leave her again, this time with her more seriously ill and this time without Jim; and I can't even contemplate the effect on my psyche of adding abandoning Jim in Singapore to my growing sense of guilt and failure.

Jim very correctly reminds me that this same situation, his prolonged absence and Maggie's deterioration, would have me depressed in Colorado, too. Unsurprisingly, though, this knowledge doesn't help, for if the here in I hate it here isn't Singapore, then where is the exit?

This calm and overwhelmingly melancholic state of mind is new. It's a relief not to be throwing things (I have broken both my muvo and my curling iron) and not to be stifling constant impulses to hit people, but this last week's frequent and seemingly endless tears and miserably morose resignation are hard to see as a positive change.

I stopped at a produce stand in Toa Payoh on my way home from work and splurged on some fruit, an edible Singaporean therapy. A few persimmons for me, a bunch of bananas for Jim, and several mangoes for both of us. I didn't bother to stop the vendor from packaging each of my small purchases in its own individual plastic bag, and when I had to wait 11 minutes - 11 minutes! - for the next train, I resignedly pulled my book out of my pack and leaned dejectedly against the wall, wishing I had just gone straight home for yet another meal of oatmeal. I still have not been able to bring myself to face the Christmas music at Cold Storage.

The mangoes are not yet ripe, and the pleasure derived from eating the persimmons, sweet and succulent, was fleeting and has long since passed. I now have a stomach ache and a bitter taste in my mouth. Whether this is the result of the fruit or the experience of buying it or this long and discouraging week I don't know.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mother Nature: Pulau Ubin
by venitha

We joined a Nature Trekker hike at the nearby island of Pulau Ubin on the night of a full moon, and the creepy crawlies were out basking in its glow: spiders, scorpions, beetles, geckos, even wild boars!

The thing that sent shivers down my spine, though, was the earnestness with which our fellow trekkers treated the paranormal. Our guide chose our route specifically to avoid an area of "known" supernatural activity; our group was small, only about a dozen, and this was apparently not sizeable enough to protect us from I don't know what. We were also all encouraged to take photographs within a deserted shack, as others, we were told, had previously captured images of ghosts not visible to the naked eye. Crushingly, my trusty HP digital camera let me down.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate VI: Hsinchu Edition
by jima

  • One thing I love about living in Singapore Hsinchu is...
    ...the very nice hotel I'm staying in. It has great facilities, gives you fruit and chocolate when you check in, and is all-in-all a pleasant place to stay, with the exception of...

  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore Hsinchu is...
    ...the breakfast buffet. It's your typical Asian breakfast buffet, but combine my all-too-frequent stays here with the travel that Venitha and I have been doing (meaning oh, yay, yet another Asian breakfast buffet), and it's starting to wear on me. Far past the point of starting to wear is the guy who carries the coffee around. I can't get him to stop at my table without a full check-block, and then he says, "Coffee, no problem," in a tone that leaves me wondering whether he's mocking me or just repeating a rote phrase in a language he doesn't speak too well. True, I can't even say coffee in Mandarin, but getting between me and my morning java fix is just rude.

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    ...the funky drink, a really thin orange yogurt, that they give me with lunch. It's not exactly tasty, but it is refreshing, and most importantly, no floaters. The color is a bit toxic and a bit chalky, and I'm always glad I can't read the label; I'd rather not know that it's soylent orange.

  • Something I recently discovered is...
    ...that you can order long-distance train tickets in Taiwan on-line and in English. How very cool! Fill out the web forms, click a button, and get a reservation form. Take that to any train station and, viola!, get the tickets you need! Very handy considering that the train station sign board may read like this.

  • Singlish o' the day:
    Go figure that Singlish is not particularly useful in Hsinchu. I have been getting a bunch of mileage out of a few Mandarin phrases, though: xie xie (thank you) and ni hao (hello).
Hsinchu, Taiwan, is roughly 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Taipei. Click here for a map that shows both Singapore and Taipei. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fruits of Penang
by venitha

I'm back from Taiwan, where, tragically, there was not a single pineapple to be found. I'm not complaining, though; Taiwan's guavas are uncommonly sweet. As I survey my empty refrigerator today, wishing for something, anything, to magically appear, my mind is drawn back, however, to the new fruits we encountered in Penang. I'm not wishing any of these were now in my fridge, but I'd probably opt for them over yet another bowl of oatmeal. Well, maybe not the nutmeg.

  • Coconut. Large coconuts are a frequent and very popular refreshing drink option in outdoor markets, but Jim and I agree that the watery milk within is bland enough that it doesn't appeal beyond the novelty and the campy Gilligan's Island feel it invokes. The sea coconut [right] is equally bland, but maybe it's not really meant for eating. With a squishy exterior wrapped around a center of watery coconut milk, it is nature's very own squirt gun. Jim's insightful comment: breast implants. I wasn't all that disappointed when I accidentally squirted him.

  • Wax apple. Aren't these just irresistible? Pink and shiny and darn darn cute. I honestly wanted to dig my hands in and play with the entire bowl of them. Wax apples have an airy texture and a very light flavor, so they aren't all that fabulous on their own. But, of course, drenched in the sweet sludge and ground peanuts of a (the one below also contained pineapple, jicama, and cucumber), they were as delicious as they are cute.

  • Nutmeg. Penang is known for its nutmeg, available in oils and balms and juices, and I was pleased to find it also as a sweet, sold in bulk along with many other unidentifiable dried foods. When I asked the vendor what the difference was between the two bins of candied nutmeg, slightly different colors, that he carried, he replied, "This one's better." I had to laugh. Well, I guess I'll take some of that, then. Unfortunately, it wasn't better enough. It had such a very strong nutmeg flavor, obviously, that Jim and I both had one of those "Yeah, that was good, but I don't want anymore" responses after the first taste.

Never fear. I will eventually brave the Christmas carols infesting Cold Storage and restock the fridge. And I will eventually blog about Taiwan, the beautiful Taroko Gorge, and the best seafood I've ever had in my life. But not today.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Greetings From Taroko
by venitha

Slaphappy on the train...

Our posh digs...

What we did today...

What we did not do today...

Gotta go...

Happy birthday, Marilyn! We love you!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

by venitha

A co-worker was surprised to see me at work one day last week. "Isn't it voting day?"

I had to stop and think. Yes, I'd understood his question correctly. This is always, unfortunately, the first thing to check. And, yes, today is..., yes, so in the US, it's...


"So what are you doing here?"

Hmmm... working? No, I know better than that. Sarcasm is completely lost on Singaporeans. Instead, I gave him a two-minute explanation that was probably one minute and thirty seconds longer than he really wanted.

First, he was surprised to discover that Election Day is not a holiday, as in a day off from work, in the US. Election Day in Singapore, such as it is, is supposedly a holiday. I'll leave my political commentary to this sarcasm and thereby save myself from being charged with sedition.

Next, he was confused by the admittedly foreign concepts involved in the fact that while I voted weeks ago by absentee ballot, many Americans wouldn't bother voting at all since it wasn't a presidential election or even an even-year election.

Lastly, he was astonished when I told him the long list of things I'd voted for. And, well, voted against. Colorado, full of cowboy mentality if not actual cowboys, does seem not to understand the purpose of a representative government. Colorado does, however, understand the purpose of sedition.

In spite of the surprising length of my absentee ballot, there were a few things missing that I would love the opportunity to stuff ballot boxes in favor of:
  • Jim's not having to travel for work. He's in Taiwan this week and next.
  • Beautiful weather during the next few days in Taiwan's "magnificent and splendid" . We rendezvous there tonight.
  • Maggie's living long enough that I get to give her just one more hug.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mother Nature: Sungei Buloh
by venitha

A bold departure from the rainforest trekking so prevalent in Singapore, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve provides mudflats and lily ponds. Many observation blinds are conveniently provided for patient birdwatching, notably egrets, herons, and sandpipers. Unsurprisingly, the blinds require someone of my height to stoop; I guess I'm a bit taller than your average Asian.

You don't need blinds to see the wild dogs, thankfully not roaming in packs, or the monitor lizards. We were actually appreciative of the protection a blind provided from the alarmingly large and frighteningly fast lizards.
Unfortunately, the birds weren't overly abundant on our visit to Sungei Buloh back in September, though I admit that patience is not one of my virtues. Rumor has it that flocks of migratory birds are passing through this week, however, so braving the lizards could definitely be worth your while.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dire Straits
by jima

We've now been to all three cities that comprised the initial Straits Settlements: Singapore, Melaka (Malacca), and Penang. Visiting historic sites always leaves me yearning to commune with the ghosts of the people who lived then and there. I envision myself as the stately ship captain surveying his domain with thoughtful satisfaction, as the poor indentured sailor tying down the ropes as the British East India Company bigshots made their lofty landings, and as the local Malay fisherman watching with unease? scorn? contempt? hope? fear? as pale, red-haired, big-nosed strangers arrived and forever disrupted their lives.

It's not only the historic buildings that bring the past alive, it's also the great place names: George Town, Batavia, Java, Sumatra. They set an exotic stage for the grand productions in my mind. Of course, the cuisine always does its best to steal the show: here a Portugese-inspired dabel curry, there a Chinese roasted duck, and last but not least, a roti come out for the final bow at our grand Straits of Malacca dinner/dance show.

The Straits of Malacca were and are a major shipping channel between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. So the history of the region is burgeoning with intense tales of terrifying battles at sea, swashbuckling pirates, and heavily-cannoned waterfront forts. The colorful cast of characters in my mind includes Achenese sultans launching raids across the straits, Long John Silver recuperating bawdily after waylaying a Dutch merchant ship, and Bugis sailors doing what sailors do while on shore leave.

Our tourist explorations have taken us through old forts, old churches, and old graveyards, all in some way a part of the history of the Portugese, the Dutch, the British, the Sumatrans, the Javanese, the Japanese, ...well, just about everybody from Cheng Ho to Stamford Raffles to Hirohito. This area is truly the crossroads of the world, and I'm glad for the opportunity to leave my own small tracks and for the exciting history that it brings to life in my mind.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Flied Lice
by venitha

Flied lice, my adolescent siblings and I delightedly dubbed fried rice, back in a time when Indians were mascots, , and retarded was not a dirty word. Today, my Chinese co-workers tease each other on our project e-mail list:

> Soli
Veli soli

I get the joke and would like to play, too, but I fear I am Ludolf Rudolf, unwelcome in these reindeer games.

Like r, the th sound is apparently a difficult one for the Chinese tongue, and my name frequently and humorously falls victim. Venitha, however, is a puzzle everywhere. I am used to its many mangled mispronounciations, and I gave up correcting people long before I landed in Asia. Instead, I've trained Jim to use my name frequently in conversation with new acquaintances, kindly giving them plenty of chances to hear it before they're called on to say it aloud themselves.

I often wish someone would do me this favor in return these days, with Chinese names I just can't get right. But even my tired pick-up line, "I'm sorry. Could you please pronounce your name for me again?" invariably strikes out. "C.K. is fine." "Just call me Z."

My unintelligible Mandarin bats a no-hit inning against the myriad sounds I can't pronounce, and I may as well just take off my cleats and go home when confronted with the innumerable nuances I can't even hear. Composed of tones and inflections, Mandarin abounds with differing sounds that to my American ear are infuriatingly exactly the same. And always always my attempts result in laughter that I struggle not to take personally.

I was guiltily and wickedly amused, therefore, when I finally told Yoong Han, a co-worker in Singapore, that he keeps confusing me by calling Allen, a co-worker in Colorado, Ellen, a girl's name, and he confessed that he cannot hear the difference between the two. Oho! It is a two-way street, -Strasse!

Allen. Ellen. Aaaaallen. Yoong Han earnestly tries and has, of course, far more success than I ever have with Mandarin. I smile at him and resolve never ever to laugh at his efforts. Laughing with him, however, would be nice. I wonder if he's heard of Rudolf.

The exact day that I first notice they've changed the sappy 80s music piped into Cold Storage to Christmas carols, I end up posting a picture of Rudolf to this blog. I just can't say.