Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Vacation From Vacation
by venitha

For the first time since moving to Singapore, I'm having too much fun to take time out to blog.

Pedicures, Christmas shopping on Orchard Rd, conveyor-belt sushi, Singapore Botanic Gardens, dim sum, the Night Safari, the Swiss Dream Circus, fun in our condo's pool, hiking around MacRitchie Resevoir, fine seafood dining at Newton Hawker Centre, a rooftop barbecue with our neighbors, Sentosa Island, Chinatown, Din Tai Fung...

Having our family here is absolute heaven. We may have to kidnap them and never let them leave.

We're all seven off today for a vacation from our vacation: four days at a beach resort on the nearby island of Bintan, Indonesia. Even more fun and more memories to be made. Jim and I are very glad to have stayed here for this.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tax Error In Your Favor: Collect $13800
by venitha

Just in time for a mammoth Christmas shopping binge, my final paycheck from Agilent, for two weeks of half-time work, was US$8800. It was followed shortly by an unexpected final final paycheck for US$5000. At this rate, not working for Agilent was an excellent financial move. No, I did not finally come to my senses and quit; my group was part of a recent spin-off, and is now called Avago Technologies. A vaaaaaah' go.

A quick survey of the four, count them four, accountants provided for Jim's and my tax consulting pleasure (one from each of our employers from each side of the world) reveals that there has been just a slight tax error. They know all about it, and I do, of course, have to give the money back. Immediately, if not sooner, though these same words cannot be used to describe when exactly they were going to bother to let me know about this.

Returning my newfound riches is a bit more complicated than it might seem:
  • I no longer work for the offending company, so garnishing my future wages is not an option, even were my salary so exorbitant.
  • The money was direct-deposited into my one account in the US that I cannot transfer funds out of and cannot automatically issue a check from. How convenient.
  • The end of 2005 is fast approaching, and, as I am not on GW's Christmas, er, holiday card list, Uncle Sam is likely to be less than understanding about this little shortfall in my withholding.
This brush with seeming embezzlement is not improving my opinion of our tax situation here, and it was fairly bleak to begin with. Long, tedious conference calls in the US were followed up with long, tedious in-person meetings in Singapore. It all left me and Jim with unsurprisingly similar thoughts:
  • We want to kill ourselves.
  • Our jobs are not so bad, in spite of the facts that our offices are not atop posh downtown highrises and are not serviced by elevators with beautiful white-gloved assistants who push the buttons.
  • We are completely at the mercy of these people if they want to rob us blind or rob the government, either one, blind and pin it on us.

Monday, December 26, 2005

by venitha

In a shockingly short amount of time, I have gone from being a person charmed by swimming with to being someone who regular eats them. We took our visiting family to Newton Hawker Centre today for lunch, and although the kids preferred the murtabak, the adults were, like me, quite taken with the stingray. Served up beneath a tasty layer of spicy chili, what's not to like?

Stingray is easily my favorite new seafood here in Singapore, and there's no more appropriate accompaniment than spicy kangkong. The first time I heard the word kangkong was in Malay class, where it was one of many veggie vocab words. When I asked for its English translation, I was told that it was, ummm... kangkong. Having now bought some fresh kangkong myself and tried it as a salad green, my guess is that the English translation is, ummm... grass. Tasty fried up in chili, though. Go figure.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!
by venitha

The best Christmas present ever...

Merry Christmas to all!


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Trick Or Treat
by venitha

Aren't these adorable?

But even if I tell you I'd rather eat a dozen more bamboo worms than take a single bite of one of these fruity gems, you can't believe me, and you still want to try one for yourself, don't you? Welcome to the insidious world of the Asian dessert. Epicurean torture and disappointment that you fall for again... and again... and again. For the record, bamboo worms, deep-fried, are essentially potato chips with a slightly unpleasant powdery after-taste.

We were served two of these too too cute little pears in Bangkok at the end of a fabulous many-coursed meal, by far our most expensive meal in southeast Asia. They arrived with ceremony on a tiny little plate alongside the coffee and dessert, relatively rave-worthy bananas in warm, sweet coconut milk. Served at this point in a posh Western restaurant meal, the miniature treats would have been liqueur-filled chocolates or Jordan almonds or after-dinner mints or something similarly decadent and wonderful, no?

Tragically, in Thailand, these are thorougly revolting, so disgusting in fact, that I discouraged Jim from even trying his. The only thing I can conceivably compare them to is butter beans, but butter beans are much tastier and much much sweeter. I hate butter beans.

We saw these "candies" again on the street in Chiang Mai and giggled wickedly to watch other Caucasians fall for them; they really are irresistibly cute, especially nestled in among the deep-fried, pickled, and visually unappetizing street goodies. The people we watched take the plunge made suitably hilarious faces to have been taken in by such a darling package of such extreme yuckiness.

I regret now that I didn't think to buy a bag of these colorful treats for our visiting niece and nephew's Christmas stockings. <insert evil laugh here> One must not rest on her laurels if she is to maintain her vaunted "favorite aunt" status.

Yes, I hear the chorus, led by no less than my mother, who loves me: "Are you the only aunt?" Here, Mom, I have some Christmas treats for you! Aren't they adorable? Meeeerrrrry Christmas!


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Chuck Taylor
by venitha

Jim's trademark Chuck Taylor tennies are all the rage in Taiwan. In an excessiveness worthy of America, a girl in Taipei sported ultra super extreme high tops, pale pink and flowered, as the perfect complement to the Hello Kitty ornament dangling from her handphone.

Jim, a budding thanks to the Agatha Christie novel he'd just finished, pointed out Chuck Taylor tracks in the damp ground leading up to a shrine in Taroko Gorge. "And they aren't mine!" he said triumphantly, holding up and wiggling his hiking boot-clad foot. A t-shirt and jeans kinda guy, he's inordinately proud of his new role as fashionista.

Jim's Chuck Taylors, of course, come from the US, as we've found nowhere here that stocks his size. We've been laughed at, or to be more accurate, Jim's feet have been laughed at, when we've inquired at shoe stores in myriad southeast Asian countries.

Of course, Singapore's weather is hard on shoes, but have no fear. Just as I'm preparing to toss Jim's yellow tennies down the rubbish chute when he isn't looking, his mother will arrive bright and early tomorrow morning (12:43am!) with a new pair. I bought them months ago on ebay, the US incarnation, where size 12's abound, and had them shipped to Marilyn for Christmas hand delivery. I don't remember what color they are, but somehow I doubt they're pale pink and flowered. Bummer.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

All Has Been Revealed
by venitha

I would have loved to make my favorite American Christmas treats to share with my co-workers, but just the thought of hunting down ingredients was exhausting and frustrating. In practice, mere inquires about pistachio pudding for my beloved ambrosia were met with enough confused incredulity and squeamish expressions to nix any nostaglic notions I might have been harboring. Pistachio? Like the nuts? And it's green? Jell-o pudding?

So I decided just to buying something. Not a problem. Or was it? Choosing what to buy was actually non-trivial, as what appeals to me is quite unlikely to be popular with my co-workers. Tit for tat, as the snacks the natives bring to work are frequently downright revolting to me. Many contain dried shredded pork (for sure), and sand and chalk (my suspicion, admittedly unconfirmed).
Yoong Han's response when I asked what kind of treat he would like revealed that Singaporeans and I, or at least he and I, are decidedly two different species.

"Not chocolate."

"Huh? Singaporeans don't like chocolate? You've got to be kidding."

"Well they like it, but... they think it's fattening."

Now, given that I am significantly larger than most Singaporeans, I don't exactly have a leg to stand on in an argument about what's fattening and what isn't. And I admit that sand and chalk probably...

Well, this explains a great deal: the sad desserts, the rampant anorexia extreme thinness, and the missing smiles.


For what it's worth, Yoong Han was completely right. I bought slices of a variety of cakes, including walnut torte, blueberry cheesecake, fruitcake, oreo cheesecake, chocolate truffle cake, chocolate torte, and tiramisu. Flavors remaining at the end of the day were chocolate (some of both kinds) and fruitcake (all of it). All the leftovers for me! Bwa ha ha ha!

Actually, I didn't eat the fruitcake either. Apparently some tastes are universal.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

by venitha

"What were your first impressions of Singapore?" Naveen asks.

His tone makes me pause and look at him. He's dead serious and is, for once, not smiling at all. He wants the sordid truth. But I cop out.

"It's hot." My standard response.

Ranting, for that is what a more true response would quickly and easily degenerate into, will win me no friends among the Singaporeans. While Naveen is himself an expat, having moved to Singapore from India several years ago, he's not the only other person at our lunch table, and, racist as I know it sounds and probably is, he's not an expat like me.

The Singaporeans among us laugh, their standard response to my standard response, and I continue on in this my standard vein, attempting to change the subject. Just like the conversation that starts with the question "What are the bad American words for us, you know, like ang moh and ferengi?", this is not a discussion I'm comfortable having.

"But it's been much nicer lately. How long will the cooler weather last?" Cooler is, of course, a relative term, but remember my commandment, Thou shalt not rant in front of Singaporeans, and my goal, changing the subject. Everyone here likes talking about the weather, and everyone here likes educating me.

Naveen, however, is not deterred.

"For me, it was smiles."

"Smiles?" I'm perplexed.

"No one here smiles. At me. Or says hello. In India, people welcome you. They make room for you on a bench. Even in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, Americans were friendlier toward me than anyone in Singapore. I don't feel welcome here. I'll never feel at home."

Crap. Naveen missed the commandment memo. Or, more likely, had a recent experience so crummy that today he just doesn't care. He's not angry; just sad. I smile at him ruefully, but I say nothing. This is a game I just cannot play.

"You guys are different," he reassures the silence that greets him from our table, and he really means it. I know, because it's true. They're different, because they know him. It's those other 4 million people...

"I know what you mean," I say at last and, thankfully, break the spell of silence. Now everyone talks at once, questioning, answering, pondering, reassuring. My co-workers are kind. They're good people. They want Naveen to be happy here and to be at home. I want to think that this is true of all Singaporeans, that the stony faces, the cold shoulders, the out-and-out ignoring, are just simple miscommunication. But I don't honestly believe that. And I know that Naveen doesn't either.

In lieu of being able to make all right with the world, I resolve to smile at Naveen a great deal. He's so handsome that he's beautiful, and he has the most winning of smiles. Perfect white teeth contrasting splendidly with milk chocolate skin, his smile lights up his whole face. I can't believe this is a smile that anyone could help but return, and it seems a crime that someone who offers such a smile to the world should ever be short-changed.

Names changed to protect the innocent.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Oh, The Places You'll Go!
by jima

I look at the shelf in our living room that contains our growing collection of travel books and shake my head in wonder. The books, propped up by Venitha's favorite souvenir from Thailand, span more than half the shelf and more than half a continent, too!

As we near the end of 2005, we're proud of some big successes (Venitha's lasting through the company spin-off at work, our lasting six months in Singapore) and eagerly anticipating some wonderful rewards (our first visit from family, some hard-earned time off from work over the holidays). It's astonishing to look back at what we've accomplished, what we've gained, what we've lost.

In the light of this reflective glow, these books are both mementos and portents. They represent the many new places we've travelled this year: Singapore(!), Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan. They're symbols of the many wonderful foods, cultures, sights, sounds, smells, and foods (did I mention foods yet?) we've been lucky enough to experience and now treasure in our memories. They also represent some of the places we're planning trips to: India, Vietnam, America(!). Do they map out the next six months? Or twelve months? Or eighteen months?

Given to me by my grad school advisor upon graduation, Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go! is not on our Singapore bookshelves, but I've read it enough times to know how it goes and to take some encouragement from it.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Right of Way
by venitha

Buried well inside Thursday's free Today newspaper was a brief news item about the recent death of a South Korean badminton player. In Singapore for an international competition, Kim Mi-sun, a 15-year-old girl, was hit by a car.

I'm saddened but not surprised. If anything, it's incredible that such accidents aren't far more common, for the pedestrian does not have the right-of-way in Singapore. It doesn't take more than one near-death experience for the pedestrian to become quite clear on just where his walking shoes fit in this hierarchical society. Like all of Asia, Singapore is excessively status-conscious, and someone possessing a car, that most visible of , ranks far above the lowly pedestrian.

From my vantage point on the bottom rung of this ladder, I've developed the unavoidable scathingly low opinion of the Singaporean drivers towering above me. A distant car speeds up and changes lanes to intercept me as I jaywalk across the road. A taxi edges two feet closer to the lorry stopped at the corner in front of him, effectively preventing my path across the alley. A single motorcycle speeds recklessly out of a parking ramp while two dozen people wait.

My co-worker Yoong Han recently pulled me out of the way of oncoming traffic as we crossed the street for lunch at a hawker centre: Venitha! This is Singapore! I thanked him, of course, and vowed to pay more attention, but as I queued at the Indian stall, I again became lost in my thoughts. How, I marvelled, can Singaporeans not run people over left and right when they drive in other and - I can't help but amend - more civilized countries?

When I voiced this thought, minus its judgementalism, aloud to Yoong Han, who has driven during several business trips to Colorado, he giggled and smiled nervously and never answered my question. Perhaps I should alert my mother-in-law in Ft Collins about his upcoming trip.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Reality Bites
by venitha

Just when I'd decided that public toilets with seats that I might actually sit on were something dreamt up by my humidity-addled brain, Taiwan's Chiang Kai Shek airport provided stalls with Western toilets and paper seat covers. Amazing. I also suspect that I've imagined salad bars, hotels that provide bathroom washcloths, and shoes with arch support, but unfortunately none of our travels have dispelled me of these notions.

It takes mere minutes in the cooler climates of Taipei and Chiang Mai, and I cannot believe that such an oven as Singapore truly exists. I look in hotel room mirrors at a hairstyle still intact after a entire day outside, and I know that Singapore's humidity and the last six months of hating hating hating my hair are just a girlish nightmare.

Back in Singapore, ironically, the reality of the stifling weather actually adds to my sense of unreality. The mind-numbing heat overpowers even the pervasive Christmas carols and lavish Orchard Road holiday decor, making festive cheer seem freakishly out of place and Singapore a land infested by cruelly displaced elves. It's still summer!, my mind protests. And it's an endless summer, one that's lasting centuries instead of the usual three months, an inverse time warp I'm perfectly willing to accept as just a manifestation of my unhappiness.

Some mornings I awake in Singapore, stirring reluctantly out of a dream of Maggie or of skiing or of a really great haircut, and reality bites. Some mornings the only thing that gets me up and out of bed is the thought of Bob Newhart stirring awake next to... Emily? Some morning, I thank God, I'll wake up cozy in my waterbed in my lovely blue bedroom in Colorado, and I'll tell Jim that I've had the strangest dream.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fruits of Paradise VII
by venitha

The six months of summer in Singapore are like

The eight months of summer in Singapore are like

The ten months of summer in Singapore are like

The usual weather in Singapore is like that first week of August in Wisconsin, the one when as kids, my sister and I laid on the floor in front of fans, moving as little as possible as we watched one soap opera after another. This last month, however, has been a refreshing change. Don't get me wrong: it's still miserably hot and humid. But it's like a week in late June in Wisconsin, the one when we played catch outside only because freedom from school was still so new and the lake temperature had not yet caught up to that of the muggy air.

The tropical fruits are even more sensitive to these subtle weather changes than I am, and rambutan and longan have given way to their rainy season cousins. Fortunately, pineapples and mangoes, our favorites here, appear to be in season year-round.

  • Dried Persimmons. I love fresh persimmons, so I had to give the dried ones a try. My first purchase, though, from an outdoor fruit stand, likely ruined them forever, as they were revoltingly infested with small flies and tiny wiggling white worms. Ewww. When I finally rallied myself to try them again, they turned out not to have been worth the effort, as they were mushy and grainy and browish-orange in a way far too similar to candied yams for comfort. Dredging them in powdered sugar, like those we saw in Penang, might help, but I'm going to stick with the fresh ones from now on.

  • Kumquats. Teeny tiny oranges, which seem like a good idea until you want to eat them. You can't seriously be expected to peel this thing? And it's got seeds, too? Sheesh! I enjoyed kumquats much more after I decided that the rind and the seeds were edible and just popped the whole thing in my mouth. It tastes like a not-very-sweet orange, though it has a nasty bitter aftertaste.

    A friend at work informed me that kumquats are popular for the Chinese New Year, which is coming up at the end of January, and he claimed that the best way to eat them is to mash them up and drink the juice. At the end of another hectic week at work, he gets no argument from me; mash up a bunch of them in the bottom of a rocks glass, add a spoonful of sugar and three inches of rum, and kumquats would rock.

  • Passionfruit. Jim warned me that his fellow breakfast buffet-ers in Hsinchu expressed a distinct lack of passion for the passionfruit, but for all I know, these same people probably enjoy bowls of fish floss, and anyway, how can I resist that name? From the outside, passionfruit looks quite boring, just a largish dark brown egg. But cut it open, and wow! You eat the slime-covered seeds, and they are soooooooour! Which, I happen to love. Yummy yummy yummy.

    Too bad it was so expensive ($2.50 for one) and yielded so little in the way of edible fruit. I'll surely buy another, though, if only so I can eat it the correct way; you're supposed to lop off one end like you would a soft-boiled egg and scoop out the insides with a spoon.


  • Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Breakfast of Champions
    by venitha

    Our last morning in Chiang Mai found us unable to face yet another morning of our hotel's less than appealing breakfast buffet, so instead we headed out to throw ourselves on the mercy of Chiang Mai's street vendors. Given the number of pineapples and bottles of fresh-squeezed orange juice we'd already happily consumed in three days of eating our way through the moat-enclosed city, we were unlikely to starve. Of note: We also tried fresh-squeezed(?) carrot juice (not particularly recommended beyond its novelty), but we resisted beetroot juice. It was beautiful, yes, but you've got to be kidding.

    Jim's caffeine cravings were subdued with the so-very-Asian coffee-in-a-bag, and our sweet-tooths were sated with the ever-popular mango on sticky rice, served here with a little bag of sweet and creamy coconut milk. Mmmm....

    My happiest purchase, however, for a mere 20 Baht (less than US$1), was a som tam salad in a bag, concoted in front of me using a large wooden mortar and pestle. Best of all, I got to use my newly acquired skill, learned just the day before in a thoroughly enjoyable Thai cooking class, of getting my Thai food made just the way I like it: spicy.

    "Seven," I told my chef, holding up my fingers to indicate the number of deadly little Thai peppers I would like in my salad, and I was quite quite proud of myself at the tasty result.

    Jim was not quite so enamoured with me. "It's breakfast," he complained.

    "Yes... it... is..." I agreed, licking my fork in smug satisfaction, then adding, in the spirit of compromise, "That's why I got seven and not nine."

    The number of peppers, Meow had insisted, must be odd. Meow is sort of what our instructor's name sounded like to me, but "You can call me Miss Beautiful." My tingling taste buds thank you, Miss Beautiful.


    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    Rubbing Me The Wrong Way
    by jima

    As I lay face-down on the table, the masseuse kneading the soft-ball-sized knots in my shoulders, I smiled inwardly in blissful relaxation. This was thankfully very different from my last tragically ill-fated massage.

    I have been a fan of massage for years, treating myself occasionally to reduce stress and to reduce the size of the knots in my muscles. My US massages ran the gamut in location, duration, and attitude, ranging from a new-age-y salon with aromatherapy and tinkling bells to the spare bedroom in a fellow snowboarders's house under a No Pain No Jane poster pinned to the wall.

    Massage has a bad reputation, though, and this is particularly true in Asia. Singapore massage parlor evokes mental images that are not clean, not relaxing, and definitely not new-age-y. But my job in Singapore is very stressful, and the wonderful and relaxing massage that I got thanks to Venitha's lucky draw prize convinced me that regular massages need to be part of my life here, so I started looking for a place nearby, a place with long hours, a place that's cheap, and I was thrilled to find not only all of this, but they can also fit me in right away. It's almost too good to be true!

    Of course, all of you reading along at home realize that this is too good to be true. But in my defense, I was suckered in by the proximity, the convenient hours, and the low low price, and all I thought as I made the 5-minute stroll down the block was that I really wanted this to work out, that I wanted something in Singapore to be easy for once.

    It didn't feel right as soon as I was shown to the room. In retrospect, it was painfully obvious what the place was, but at the time, I thought back to a recent discussion with Venitha and overruled my instinct to run. Years of living in a culture give you an inner sense, great instincts, and the ability to sum up a situation in the blink of an eye. Being thrust into a new culture, though, leaves you slightly off, and that initial read you get from a place, person, or situation is often completely wrong.

    Unfortunately, not often enough. I lay face down, very very tense. My masseuse set to work, giving me a lousy massage interspersed with a few attempts at banter that did nothing to ease my tension. Shortly, my instincts proved accurate after all, and I was completely unsurprised to be propositioned.

    "Want any extra services?" I'm certain she was confused and disappointed to have me decline. I do wonder how often she gets turned down.

    I returned home sheepish, contrite, and ashamed, and Venitha (God, I love her) nearly fell off her exercise machine laughing. Until she realized how upset I was. It's only now, over a month later, that I can write about this and see the humor and appreciate having learned some valuable lessons. This afternoon, as I reflected on the experience while I lay on a nice clean massage table in a dimly-lit cubicle with not too much privacy, thank you very much, and some pleasant new-age-y music tinkling in the background, I decided the following:
    • If it seems too good to be true, it is.
    • You get what you pay for.
    • My initial instincts, while they might be fooled at times, are still working, and I need to pay attention.
    • A good massage is a wonderful wonderful wonderful thing!

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    Thai Massage
    by venitha

    Massage has never been my thing. Jim, on the other hand, is something of a connoisseur, so when I won the lucky draw (door prize) at an event several months ago, I gladly relinquished my prize, a free massage at a posh spa, to my supremely stressed-out better half. Karma is apparently alive and well in Asia, as I was richly rewarded for my generosity. While Jim had the softball-sized knots in his shoulders kneaded out, I spent a lovely hour dissolving my tensions in my own style, sipping a frothy coffee and doing the Sunday New York Times crossword at the cozy and soothing café next door.

    Our recent trip to Chiang Mai provided plenty of coffee, but the NY Times was nowhere to be found, and even my ticklish feet can't argue with the fact that no trip to Thailand is complete without a Thai massage, without the thumbs, as a fellow tourist laughingly and appropriately dubbed it.

    Thai massage is anything but soothing, relaxing, or comfortable. Pummelling, jabbing, squeezing, stretching: it's a wrestling match that you've no hope of winning and so just lie pliantly inert, hoping you won't be injured too badly. Why submit to such torture? Because it feels so good when it stops. Seriously. Downright painful as Thai massage can be, and I spent a good deal of time during both that I endured wondering what the hell I'd been thinking and how I would possibly stand it for an entire hour, I felt really great afterwards.

    Clearly, I am not alone in this. Massage is enormously popular with the Thai; massage parlors are as common as guesthouses in Chiang Mai, and impromptu shops are erected in shaded alcoves along the walking market and in grassy plots within temple walls. Jim availed himself of three massages in our four days in Chiang Mai, and he spoke wistfully of how it would improve his life to get a massage first thing every morning.

    I told him that I'll strongly consider Thai masseuse for my next career, though at Chiang Mai's going rate of 200 Baht (US$5) per hour, it's going to be far less lucrative than engineering. Regardless, I'm far more interested in Thai cooking school. Forget massaging our tensions away; let's just blow them out of the water with some Thai peppers.

    Sunday, December 11, 2005

    by venitha

    How many times will I walk by this sign before I am driven to purchase this fine new product gracing Singapore's grocery shelves?
    My initial reaction to this advertisement was a disgusted groan and a quick draw of my camera, the same reaction, I now note with amusement, that I had upon looking down into a large basket of skinned pig heads at a wet market in Penang. Jim claims he loves me for this, but he won't let me post the pig picture on the blog, which I have to say is your loss. It's a great shot.

    I walk by this sign daily, frequently several times, and after nearly two weeks, I think if I saw the pudding in the grocery store, I'd buy it just to see if it can possibly be as nasty as I expect. In two more weeks, will I be looking for it, asking the osteoporosis-hunched shelf-stocking auntie if they carry it?

    If I smile when I see the sign and think enthusiastically, Yummy!, will I actually expect it to be good and plan to serve it in place of ambrosia at my Christmas Eve dinner?


    Friday, December 09, 2005

    by venitha

    "Happy sixth anniversary!", Jim greeted me this morning as I awoke.

    I looked up at him standing beside me and stretched luxuriantly, still in bed much later than normal, even on this, my day off from work. "I can't believe we have to do this three more times."

    "The worst is over," he reassured me with a smile and kissed my forehead. I pulled the sheet up over my head, reluctant to face today, let alone 18 more months in Singapore.

    As Jim's tidings suggest, it feels far more like six years than six months, a milestone, for sure, to be marked and celebrated. Yet when I finally did venture up and wander out, I got on a train going the wrong direction, a teasing reminder that six months is perhaps not all that long after all.

    It was tempting to spend the day in that most Singaporean of activities, shopping, going out to lunch for that most Singaporean of foods, , but instead I've occupied myself with the household chores and the errands that will earn us both some downtime this weekend.

    Tonight, however, we will celebrate. We're headed to the Singapore Turf Club to bet on the ponies (thanks to Brian for the recommendation). I'll bet $6 on the 6th horse in the 6th race and spend all my surely vast winnings on that most Singaporean of beverages, Tiger beer, so we can drink a toast to six months in Singapore. Cheers!


    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    A Bouquet For You, Mom
    by venitha

    I firmly believe that my mother would love southeast Asia, its frantic pace, its incessant shopping, its kitschy tourist attractions. Of course, these same features hold little appeal to me, so I seldom wax eloquent about them in this space. Instead, I write about what I enjoy: the spicy food, the exotic customs, the less travelled roads, all of which hold little appeal to her, and she remains unconvinced of Asia's virtue as a vacation spot.

    I was therefore pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail from my mom finally expressing interest in one of our destinations. What captured her attention? Chiang Mai's Flower Festival.

    The festival is not until February, but I thoroughly enjoyed Chiang Mai's lovely flowers and was especially entranced by a morning visit to the Lamyai wholesale flower market.

    Just for you, Mom, a bouquet of flowers from Chiang Mai.

    Perhaps I am my mother's daughter after all?


    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    Asian Breakfast Buffet - Part II
    by venitha

    I've come to the conclusion that I need an attitude adjustment. I admit that this is true in general, but right now, I'm speaking specifically about the breakfast buffet. I've been far too caught up in expecting to eat the food, when in reality, the food is there for my entertainment. So just as I once maximized my enjoyment of soap operas by rooting for the bad guy, I'm now firmly on the side of inedible, disgusting, and here-Jim-you've-got-to-try-this.

    Also bring on, if you will, the ever-popular "My God! Look what that guy is eating!" In Taroko, we gaped at an alarming number of people eating plates piled high with fish floss and only fish floss. I don't object to a light crispy sprinkling atop my som tam salad, but eating this stuff by the spoonful? I'm sure now that I missed out on what must have been the world's finest fish floss, but that's just a sad fact I'm going to have to accept.

    My new buffet strategy is to load a plate with all of the items (notice that I don't call them foods) on the buffet that I can't identify for sure, and then we have to sample everything. Just sample. Trust me that this is not a plate which either of our mothers would encourage us to clean.

    Unfortunately, we have yet to be rewarded with a Hey, Mikey! He likes it! moment, but we did finish the cooked rice cake pictured below, probably because I wisely snagged one topped only with green onions, passing on those filled with corn and beans. The rest of this, while highly entertaining, was completely unpalatable, and that includes the banana.
    Yes, that's a banana.


    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    Asian Breakfast Buffet - Part I
    by venitha

    Jim and I agree that the appeal of the Asian breakfast buffet is decidedly on the wane. Foods that mere months ago were exciting and different have now become mundane and unappealing, if not downright disgusting.

    There's congee, occasionally, to our bemusement, labelled gruel, and the Japanese voluntarily eat it, in spite of not being orphans on the streets of Dickensian London. A soupy rice porridge, it may be topped with dry shredded chicken or fish floss, dried ummmm... seaweed?, and various unidentifiable and revolting pickled condiments. I am qualified to use the word revolting only because, yes, I have actually tried them. [Side note: I no longer have to try anything pickled. Chiang Mai really pushes one's tolerance in this regard.]

    There's always Chinese stir-fry, comprised of various noodle and rice dishes, which, if my Chinese co-workers are any indication, are common breakfast foods. Of perhaps more morning appeal to a Westerner is the pau (steamed bun), though the quality (doughy and dried out?) and the filling (sweet bean) make these very easy to resist.

    In Malay hotels, there is nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk, which has its appeal, though its condiments are downright perplexing to an American's breakfast sensibilities: hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, other and larger dried fish, chili, cucumbers, peanuts, and very heavy and spicy gravies.

    Even salads, which I am occasionally able to talk myself into for breakfast, are fairly repellent when the two toppings for the iceberg lettuce are cold kernels of corn and kidney beans.

    Nestled innocently in among the bad and the ugly, there is also the good, and we approach each new hotel's offering with the hope that something will measure up to the ambrosial coconut milk muesli that we gorged ourselves on at Singapore's Shangri-la back in January.

    Our favorite discovery outside of Singapore is kaya, a regular addition to the Malay breakfast buffet. A local jam made of coconut, it is vastly superior to orange marmalade. The challenge, however, is to find something to put it on. Breads and pastries, of course, abound at these buffets, but left exposed to tropical humidity, they quickly lose their appeal. We were even treated to stale, and I mean really stale, Ritz crackers at the breakfast buffet at the Taroko Gorge's Grand Formosa Lodge, a 5-star hotel. They were labelled biscuits.

    The one redeeming quality of each and every breakfast buffet, and thankfully one that stifles my complaints and impels me to load up my plate, is platters and platters of fresh and delicious papaya, watermelon, rock melon, dragonfruit, kiwi, grapefruit, oranges, guava, grapes, ... and, of course, our favorite here, pineapple.