Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Long Day Wanes
by venitha

Of the many books set in southeast Asia that I read before setting myself here, ' Malayan trilogy, The Long Day Wanes, is the one that looms seductively in my mind. Other excellent and compelling books are somehow impossible to reconcile with the modern day: The Singapore Grip, set during World War II, and even my latest favorite, The Things They Carried, a haunting American memoir of the Vietnam War.

But The Long Day Wanes, its forehead-mopping heat, its shoulder-shrugging futility, its lounge-in-bed-all-day melancholy, struck a chord deep within me, and its utter inescapable truth wafts provocatively through Singapore. Scenes from it whisper, lines from it beckon, thoughts from it caress; for six months, I have almost, but not quite, snatched quotes out of the thick air.

I cursed my imperfect memory and searched the library's catalog to no avail. Even the enormous and glitzy Borders on Orchard Road could not accommodate me - Sorry, lah - without an exorbitant order fee. Still Burgess teased and taunted, pulsed and throbbed, and like a tiger, lay in wait. In the dusty loft of a used bookstore run by an American in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I was surprisingly unsurprised to unearth from disheveled shelves this brilliant book written by a Brit and set in pre-independence Malaya.

I re-read the first book of the trilogy, Time for a Tiger, almost immediately, underlining and starring, boldly jotting in the margins of my pre-dog-eared copy, which will surely live on my bed's headboard bookshelf for the rest of my life in Singapore, if not beyond. I'm not the kind of person who re-reads books, or for that matter, keeps them, so this is both a distinct compliment and a decadent treat, even more delicious now because I understand all of the book's elementary Malay.

How did I love this book so well, how did it etch itself so deeply in my mind, before I knew it to be so true?

The following are my favorite quotes:
The humidity could be blamed for many things: the need for a siesta, corpulence, the use of the car for a hundred-yard journey, the mildew on the shoes, the sweat-rot in the armpits of dresses, the lost bridge-rubber or tennis-set, the dislike felt for the whole country.

He had found the Malay term Tida' apa useful when she spoke like that. Tida' apa meant so much more than It doesn't matter or Who cares?. There was something indefinable and satisfying about it, implying that the universe would carry on, the sun shine, the durians fall whatever she, or anybody else, said or did.

Again he felt hopeless. This was the East. Logic was a Western importation which, unlike films and refrigerators, had a small market.

As she made up her face, cursing the sweat that clogged the powder, she was sick for London, coolly making up for a dance in the evening, or for the ballet, or for a concert. Civilization is only possible in a temperate zone.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Random Lacks: He Said
by jima

Now it's my turn. Some random things I miss:
  • Good beer. Beer here isn't significantly more expensive once you do the math. A six-pack of Tiger in Singapore run about SGD$15, roughly USD$9. Comparatively, a six-pack of Fat Tire in Ft Collins can usually be had for USD$7. There's a big difference, though, in the quality; while I actually kind of like Tiger, it's not Fat Tire or 1554. Not by a long shot. And paying more for a decidedly inferior beer tends to make you want to cry in it.
  • Q-tips. They do sell cotton swabs here, but they're anemic compared to the original Q-tip. The shaft bends quite easily, thus pathetically reducing their ear-cleaning power. Maybe this explains why so many people pick their ears on the MRT?
  • Burritos. My co-workers back in Colorado may remember my home-made lunches of the past several years: bean burritos. I made a week's worth at a time, so prep-time was short, plus they were yummy and healthy! In Singapore, I, along with everyone else, eat out. Granted, the lunch options are incredible and delicious, but finding something that isn't fried can be a challenge.
  • Biking to work. I love Singapore's mass transit system, and I've no complaints about the extra reading time my 45-60 minute commute provides. Still, I miss the feeling of arriving to work on a cool morning, chilled, refreshed, and wide awake.
  • Donut Thursday. OK, so toss all that talk of healthy lunches out the bus window. I'm not a nut about it, alright?!? My division in Ft. Collins used to have donuts brought in on Thursday mornings, getting everyone out of their cubes for informal chatting and, well, [Homer Simpson In-A-Trance Drooly Voice ON] mmmm.... dooonuts... [HSIATDV OFF]. It's hard to imagine Singaporean management coughing up the money for weekly treats, and when I think what my co-workers might want, well, let's just say I'm better off dreaming of [HSIATDV ON] donuts [HSIATDV OFF].
  • Pulcinella's pizza. A Ft Collins favorite, Pulcinella's makes the two best pizzas in the world: a thin-crust vegetarian and a double-crust spinach w/black olives. In Singapore, I live across the street from Pizza Hut. 'Nuf said.
  • Cubicle walls. The office in Ft. Collins has 5-foot-high (1.5m-high) walls around the cubes, which cuts down on the office noise and makes it easier to concentrate. It also makes it easier to screw around undetected, but that's not why I miss it. Really.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Goodbye, Rooster! Hello, Dog!
by venitha

We braved the crowds in Chinatown last night to bid adieu to the Year of the Rooster and to welcome in the Year of the Dog.

Last chance for . Beware, however, that it's got lots of fat and is very bad for you.

Yellow pomelos (PAHM-uh-lows) as big as your head.

What did those ducks ever do to you?

Lest you think everything in Chinatown is exotic and unfamiliar...

It wouldn't be a festival in Singapore without lantern statuary.

By midnight, we'd retired to our rooftop garden to enjoy the fireworks.

This morning at breakfast, I read aloud the paper's translations of new year dog couplets.

"The golden rooster alerts us to dawn; the jade dog ensures peace on earth. This is a roundabout way of wishing someone peace and harmony."

Jim's response: "Very."

I'll stick with the tried and true: Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Gong Xi Fa Cai
by venitha

Christmas trees and poinsettias have given way to the flora of Chinese New Year: blossoming cherry trees (depressingly fake), potted kumquat plants (unexpectedly real), and feathery red and gold celosia (annoyingly difficult to name).

The 4-ft tall plant in our condo's lobby is adorned with red packets, which, filled with money, are a typical Chinese New Year gift. I've been told numerous times that the tradition is for the married to give cash to the unmarried, though if these were hints, they were lost on me. This new year is not my new year, and at any rate, I am currently exceedingly cash poor as I try to secure funds for our upcoming trip to India at the anemic trickle allowed through the dam of my US ATM card: S$500 (=US$300) per day. One night at the Lake Palace Hotel in : US$420. No, we're not staying anywhere so grand, but you get the idea.

Chinese New Year, known as the Lunar New Year to the politically correct and as to the Vietnamese and to American crossword aficionados, is the holiday in the Singapore. The celebration is colossal, and the festivities continue well into February. Our Singaporean friends are busy tonight with the obligatory family reunion dinner; tomorrow will be filled with visit after visit to relative after relative, and they will dutifully exchange Mandarin oranges.

We've been told again and again that everything will be closed - everything - and that come 6pm tonight, when the reunion dinners start, everything will be deserted - everything. I find this impossible to believe, and yet I await the change with excited anticipation: Singapore transformed into a ghost town, festooned gaily for a party for which no one has shown up. It was with some disappointment yesterday that I noted Cold Storage's posted holiday schedule (limited hours, but still open), and I was downright annoyed early this afternoon to notice workers wandering the construction site across the street.

"Go! Trade oranges! Gamble! Celebrate!" I encouraged them from my 19th floor kitchen window. But the construction workers are Malay and Indian, and this is no more their holiday than it is mine.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Random Lacks: She Said
by venitha

In no particular order, some random things I miss:
  • Double rolls of toilet paper. I don't know why it's so embarrassing to carry rolls of toilet paper, but, well, it is, isn't it? I stand out here already, and I can't even imagine the comments that drivers must make as I jaywalk across a street busy with rush-hour traffic armed with a 10-roll pack of toilet paper. Please post what you have said (yes, that was me) or what you would say (should you ever have the pleasure). I've taken to adding toilet paper to the shopping list any time Jim offers to make a quick run to the store. Heh.
  • Good low calorie salad dressings. For a while there, the salad dressing choices were so dismal that I actually stopped eating salads, very strange behavior for me, and a move that my waistline is still paying for.
  • NPR. Yes, I can listen to whatever I like via the web, but the extra steps beyond just flipping a switch on the radio are surprisingly prohibitive. For a while I thought I'd convert to the BBC, which is broadcast by radio in Singapore, but the time difference means that I'm subjected to lengthy cricket scores or depressing in-depth analysis of rebels battling in [insert a war torn country].
  • Football. One of my happiest Thanksgivings was the one during which Jim and I did nothing but lie on the couch and watch football. I don't think we even ate turkey, let alone made one. On Sunday, day four of the long holiday weekend for those of you unfamiliar with American Thanksgiving, as we once again dragged ourselves from the bed to our comfy nests on the couch, I remember saying, "Okay, but we have got to take showers today." Ah, bliss.
  • The library. Its organization. Its wide selection. Its simple web site. The fact that it's free. Yes, Singapore has a library system, but it's paler than me in comparison.
  • Free shipping from Amazon. I don't like to shop, so I miss the ease of buying over the internet in general, and I really miss free shipping. Yes, my favorite web vendors ship to Singapore, but they also charge a premium for it.
  • Crest toothpaste. Someone actually warned me about the lack of Crest in Singapore before we moved here, and I thought, "Get a grip! Toothpaste is toothpaste!" I was wrong. Mea culpa.
  • Wearing sweatpants. There's just a certain level of relaxation that cannot be achieved unless you're wearing sweats. See Football above.
  • The Sunday paper. The newpaper here is pretty sad in general, but Sunday, when I crave a hefty tome crammed with scads of comics, themed crosswords, and bristling editorials... when I have nothing better to do but lounge around and digest the paper slowly all morning and perhaps even well into the afternoon... Well, Sunday's paper is of particular disappointment. See Football and Wearing sweatpants above.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What Will You Eat?
by venitha

"What will you eat?" I asked my co-worker, Z, as we discussed her Chinese New Year plans.

She had asked me the same question a month ago, regarding my Christmas plans. My response: a spiral-cut honey-baked ham, procured at excessive expense from the nearby Cold Storage. It was exactly what we'd have had at home in Colorado, and it was worth every penny.

"Pig stomach. And pig trotters. You know, the hoofs? Mmmm... so good."

I greeted this with stunned silence and tried to stifle an incredulous and skeptical look.

"It doesn't sound good, I know. But, ooooh... The best is barbecue pork. Mmmm..." Z brings her fingers to her mouth and pretends to nibble, smacks her lips.

"The flat square pieces at those shops in Chinatown? I think I've had that."

"Yes, but don't buy it now. Very inflated prices now because of Chinese New Year. Mmmm... so good."

"You just eat it plain? You don't make a sandwich or anything?" I asked. I've only tried the small free samples from the shops, and I was fairly unimpressed. It's essentially pork jerky with a sweet and/or spicy glaze.

"No, just nibble." She makes more yummy noises. "It's got lots of fat. Very bad for you."

Singaporeans frequently make remarks like this, and I always paste a smile on my face as I struggle not to take it personally. It's like because I'm larger than they are (Z, in particular, is toothpick thin), they assume I don't know how to eat healthily. I assume that my body contains internal organs, you know, like intestines and kidneys and a stomach, that their bodies obviously don't have room for, but do you see me lecturing them about the dangers of this black-market organ harvesting scheme that they're clearly all in on?

Jim assures me that I'm completely over-analyzing and that this is merely a common topic of Singaporean conversation, just like the cost of absolutely everything, from my watch to my condo rent to my airline tickets to India. And just like diarrhea.

Thank you, Jim. Now, regardless of whether or not I believe him, food fat-content lectures and diarrhea are forever linked in my mind, connected by a neural pathway parallel to the one tying to fecal urgency.

I somehow think the next time I hear very bad for you, my smile will be genuine.

Our neighbors have since given us a package of BBQ chilli pork from Lim Chee Guan, and I was wrong, wrong, oh so wrong. What was that about a slow, sultry burn? The only way I could have enjoyed it more is if I hadn't known that it has lots of fat and is very bad for me. FYI, it did not cause diarrhea. I know you were wondering.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Terrible!!!
by venitha

Yesterday I walked down my local Cold Storage's beverage aisle and was struck anew that, in Singapore, one is almost always spoilt for choice. Desserts, of course, are excepted, but the drink selection is truly amazing.

The assortment of canned beverages we stocked for our party about a million years ago now (yes, I actually wrote them down, anal freak intrepid blogger that I am): lime juice drink, soursop juice drink, longan drink, mango juice drink, pineapple drink, Sprite, Coke, Vanilla Coke, Coke Light (aka Diet Coke), chrysanthemum tea, barley drink, soya bean drink, Kickapoo Joy Juice, aloe vera juice, grapefruit juice, guava juice. The only one that's still in our fridge today is the aloe vera juice. It has floaters. No, thank you. We couldn't even trick Matthew into drinking it.

My canned and bottled beverage of choice in Asia is soya bean, which I would call soy milk in the US. It's probably sacrilege for a girl from Wisconsin to like it, but I do. Slightly sweet, it's usually served cold with a cup of ice. It's also really good hot, which is how I buy it in the work cafeteria many mornings.

Beverage containers are frequently labelled with Chinese and Malay and English and a usually* helpful picture. While this hasn't resulted in a sudden miraculous ability to read Chinese, it has improved our fruit vocabulary and has perhaps even taught us some slang. A recent can of Kacang Soya (Soya Bean) shouted Rasa baru, lebih hebat!!! According to one of our dictionaries, this translates literally as New taste, more terrible!!!

I still thought it was pretty good.

* I write usually because I have a complaint to register with the beverage can artists' union regarding the cruelty of the similarity between the depiction of my beloved soya bean and that of the alarming peanut soup in a can available in Taipei. Talk about floaters! Soya bean, in spite of the above helpful picture, is completely floater-free.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Disorder in the House
by jima

Friday afternoon. A really long, really bad week. I’m finally on the way home, standing in a packed car of commuters on the MRT.

Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster's falling down in pieces by the couch of pain

Through my headphones comes a rockabilly rave-up. Warren Zevon, on his final album. A song that is simultaneously sad and funny. A cry of despair delivered with a sly wink. I turn it up.

Disorder in the house
It's a fate worse than fame
Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed

I'm exhausted. I've been on the road for one project, while trying to keep the other, problem-prone project, from spinning into the gutter and missing the pins completely. Add to that an interminable string of teleconferences interrupted only by several awkward hours trying to clean up after some co-worker misbehavior, and I've had enough.

Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down

I ride up the escalator into the palpable heat of the city and start the short walk home. Warren's gravelly voice warns of impending doom, the penalties of sloth, the wide-spread effects of entropy, and zombies. Gotta watch those zombies.

I just got my paycheck
I'm gonna paint the whole town grey

Zombified Singaporeans stream by, and I, too, am in my own world. My feet follow the rhythm and propel me toward home. In a trance, I wait to cross the road as the bridge of the song kicks in.

Disorder in the house
All bets are off
I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair

Minutes later, I collapse on our sofa, and Venitha comes to rub my back and comfort me. This is neither the "davenport of despair" nor the "couch of pain", but I'm grateful to Mr. Zevon for that little bit of energy that saw me home today.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

by venitha

"She said we have to stay til Christmas," Jim reported with resignation, lying dejectedly down in bed beside me.

It was the evening of what was easily my worst day in Singapore, and at the end of it, I hadn't been able to rally myself for our weekly call to Jim's mother, Marilyn. Instead, I had lain quietly in bed listening to Jim make excuses for me. I concentrated on Andrew Weil's breathing method - in four, hold seven, out eight - and cursed myself - is it hold seven or out seven? For God's sake, I can't even breathe right!

Weekly phone calls to Marilyn, who lives in our Colorado house, are a welcome taste of home, a necessary opportunity to go through our mail, and a pleasurable morale boost and sanity check for all three of us.

"She called it the trip of a lifetime," Jim added.

I groaned aloud. Marilyn, 79, was coming to visit for the holidays, at that point more than two months away. Aside from Jim, there is no one else who could then have asked me to stay in Singapore whose desire would have held more sway, would have held any sway. But I adore Jim's mother, knew what a special gift she was to me even before this last year, when she rallied after her husband's sudden death to be my . She drove me to endless doctor and physical therapy appointments while my knee slowly healed. She took me for long walks in my wheelchair while winter turned to spring. She stayed with me while Jim was in Singapore trying to salvage his job after one last pre-lunch bomb down White Out sabotaged our scheduled April departure.

I love her, and I owe her. And in no small part because of Marilyn's request, we lasted in Singapore until she made the trip of her lifetime.

Thank you, Marilyn, for your wonderful visit, for your son and for your family, for everything you do for us in Colorado, and for giving us the necessary incentive to stick it out here. We love you!


Friday, January 20, 2006

Harper's Index
by venitha

  • Length, in feet, of our friend Timo's new yacht: 28
  • Number of lovely Sunday afternoons we've been lucky enough to spend sailing: 1
  • Chance that a reported pirate attack in 2004 occurred in Indonesian waters: 93 of 325
  • Number of nights Jim spent in Taipei this week: 3
  • Number of times Jim was propositioned on a two-block walk outside his Taipei hotel: 6
  • Number of our two tall blonde German male friends here who refuse to go to Singapore's Little India because of all the men there who hit on him: 1
  • Number of nights Jim spent in a hotel in 2005, not including one month in a service apartment: 89
  • Chance that a book I read in 2005 related to Asia: 31 in 50
  • Chance in 2004: 7 in 44
  • Number of packages of "Naughty Pepper" iron eggs that Jim brought back from Taipei: 2
  • Number of these eggs that I intend to eat: 0
  • Number of Grandma's special chocolate Christmas cookies remaining: 6
  • Number of these cookies I ate while she was here: more than 6
  • Number I ate while Jim was in Taipei: 0
  • Weight, in pounds, I gained over the holidays: 3
  • Number of minutes I run daily: 32
  • Temperature, in °C, to which I set the air-con in the gym: 18
  • Lowest outdoor temperature, in °C, ever recorded in Singapore: 19.4
  • Number of NFL games Jim and I have watched on television this season: 0.25
  • Number of NFL team mascots represented on the Chinese zodiac: 3 (Cincinnati Bengals = tiger; Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts = horse)
  • Number represented by Western astrological signs: 2 (St Louis Rams = Aries; Detroit Lions = Leo)
  • Super Bowl XL kick-off time in Singapore: 7:25am Monday, February 6th
  • Number of Cold Storage Royal Doulton stickers we have accumulated: 86
  • Chance that the first person to request our stickers by e-mail will be given them: 1 in 1

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Oompa-Loompa: Bo Bo Cha Cha
by venitha

I'm tempted to stop right here. How can I possibly do that title justice?

Bo Bo Cha Cha's redeeming qualities: A light, sweet, creamy, warm coconut milk broth; and, of course, an awesome name.

Bo Bo Cha Cha's not-so-redeeming qualities: The vegetables, yes, vegetables, swimming in it.

I had never had Bo Bo Cha Cha before the Oompa-Loompa day, but the guys I work with frequently seem to enjoy it. When I pressed them for the Bo Bo Cha Cha low down, they told me that it's sweet coconut milk with, ummmm.... stuff they don't know the English words for and that they're pretty sure I won't like. Now that I've officially had the pleasure, I gladly give them credit for being absolutely, completely, 100% right.

I have no idea about the strange green and pink jellied stuff, but my best guess for those other tasty morsels is potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams: foods - and there are those who would argue that I'm being generous calling sweet potatoes and yams food - that, I'm sorry, just do not belong in dessert, no matter how cool a name you give it.


In the interest of full disclosure, I did once, and only once in my entire life thus far, enjoy sweet potatoes in a dessert. I suspect, however, that that dessert was made with far far more butter than sweet potatoes, far far more brown sugar than butter, and far far more love than brown sugar. Thank you, Eldon.

Then again, that may have just been a strange dream brought on by seven months of Asian dessert torture and chocolate deprivation.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Oompa-Loompa: Iced Kacang
by venitha

Iced kacang's redeeming quality: A tasty and colorful snowcone.

Iced kacang's not-so-redeeming qualities: Snot topping Creamed corn topping Not peach topping Unidentifiable flavor topping and a bed of the same scary stuff atop the cendol: green worms, black cubes, and red beans.

This iced kacang was advertised as w/durian, so we dug suspiciously for the king of fruits, to no avail. I finally asked the auntie manning the stall and was informed that the topping was durian syrup! Wah lan! The next words out of my mouth were even more shocking: One bowl of durian syrup, please!

No one had yet insulted our iced kacang's topping beyond the obvious: What is that? Confronted with an entire bowl, however, the rotten/burned/old sock fragrance was unmistakable, and I was forgiven for having omitted durian from the conga line of fresh fruits that had brightened our breakfast table.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Oompa-Loompa: Cendol
by venitha

Cendol's redeeming quality: A sweet and creamy bed of ice, tasting not unlike a rootbeer float.

Cendol's not-so-redeeming qualities: Not-in-the-least-sweet toppings of green worms (tapioca flour with green food coloring), black jell-o cubes (herbal grass jelly), and red beans. No kidding.
In spite of his father's insistence that the cendol's toppings are far more innocuously tasteless than they look, Matthew, for the one and only time during his more-than-two-week visit, extorted cold hard cash from Jim before he would try something. I don't blame him.


Jim and I enjoyed cendols at the famous dueling alley cendol stalls in Penang with some natives we befriended.

Cendol-loving Malaysians: Request extra toppings, let the ice melt, and then stir.
Our reaction: Exchange amazed looks and stifle revulsion.

Once-bitten-twice-shy Americans: Insist firmly on no tasty toppings.
Their reaction: What's the point?



Monday, January 16, 2006

Oompa-Loompa: Intro
by venitha

Our recent family visit brimmed with enough chocolate to make even Willie Wonka raise an eyebrow. Maybe, just maybe, we all got a little carried away. We started out with everyone's favorite, Grandma's special Christmas cookies (pictures do not do this mouth-watering confection justice), moved on to duty-free Toblerones for our stay in Bintan, then recklessly ignored any New Year's resolutions by indulging in amazingly thick chocolate bars from Mustafa upon our return to Singapore. And, of course, all of this was punctuated with scoop after scoop of ice cream from Ben and Jerry's. Is it any wonder we were all so happy?

One would think that such sugar-coated bliss would satisfy any sweet tooth. After two weeks of feasting at a smorgasboard of Southeast Asian cuisine, however, the two food requests for the last day of the visit were the following:
  • A second helping of Din Tai Fung soup dumplings. In my opinion, completely understandable.
  • A taste test of some Asian desserts. In my opinion, completely insane.
Over the past two weeks, Jim and I had successfully steered our loved ones clear of lemon grass jelly after Chinese dim sum, black glutinous rice with coconut cream after fancy Peranakan fare, and even mango pudding (trust me) after conveyor-belt sushi. Above all, no one had so much as caught an offending whiff of the dreaded durian.

But if Asian dessert is what you want, Asian dessert is what you shall have, and on our way to the Raffles Hotel Long Bar for some free peanuts and some very overpriced cocktails, we stopped off at a Food Junction dessert stall to satisfy curiosity if not cravings.

Our intrepid Asian dessert virgins were a bit overwhelmed by the many choices, all mostly unidentifiable and none, of course, chocolate, so I ordered three items that I know have some redeeming, and some not-so-redeeming, qualities...


Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Challenge
by venitha

Dawood, our kind and constantly smiling condo guard, keeps telling me, "Now I've met your husband's family. It's time for your family."

"They're my family, too," I assured him the first time he said this. "My mother, my brother, my sister, as well." But I have since dropped this tack, lest he get the wrong idea: that we are from Appalachia and not just very close in heart.

It occurs to me now that he is issuing a challenge to my family, an appropriately-timed challenge now that, along with the regular season, our football pool is over and our weekly contest and trash talk have come to an end. I am victorious in the football pool, though I have to share with my brother-in-law my Supreme Football Goddess title, the cash prize, and the bragging rights, all of which are little compensation for the depressing 4-12 Packer season.

Major compensation, however, would be a family visit, including an in-person pay-off of some international gambling debts. I'd even accept Singapore dollars if they were delivered by hand. Heck, if the Bears win the superbowl, I'll buy your airline ticket, Dad.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Red Hair, Freckles, Eat Your Chaat
by venitha

We went originally to try the pani puris, but we fell in love with the location... and the paneer. Bombay Woodlands, four floors below the International Medical Clinic, is a bright cherry lollipop after a shot with a hypodermic syringe. We're now slowly savoring our way through the vegetarian Indian restaurant's menu, and no visit to our doctor here in Singapore is complete without the follow-up reward of relishing another delicious dish.

Our favorite, in the face of fierce competition and robust health resulting in a sadly small sample of the menu - Hmmm...Is that a fever I feel coming on? Don't worry; I'm still hungry! - is the paneer . We may be partial, because it seems concocted just for us: I love garbanzo beans, called chana in Indian cuisine, and Jim loves paneer, the moist, delicate, white Indian cheese.

The chana and paneer flirt seductively, the drum and the flute of , and are animated by the glissando of the sweet and sour tamarind sauce, the crescendo of the thick and spicy mint sauce. Jim is irresistibly drawn into a reverie, and I kick him savagely under the table.


"You're here in Singapore with me, Jim. Red hair. Freckles. Eat your chaat. If I hurt your leg, I'll help you up to the clinic."

Staffed with pony-tailed athletically-trim Aussies, the International Medical Clinic is a haven of bright smiles and sassy accents. Though there are no Bo Derek look-alikes, a visit there never truly requires scrumptious compensation. It's dealing with the black hole of United Healthcare's international insurance claim process that requires a reward. And unfortunately, even the perfect of Bombay Woodlands' paneer chaat is insuffient: I need a shot of tequila. And make it a double.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Avago Jackets
by venitha

Avago recently gave us jackets with its spiffy new logo. I originally found the choice of jackets to be fairly amusing in Singapore, where one never needs one, but I now find myself, like many of my co-workers, wearing it around the office, where the air-con is always set on arctic. It's an odd reversal to then take my jacket off before heading outside.

At home in our condo, I gaze out the windows at incessant rain and overcast skies which belie cooler temperatures; I long for sweatpants and long sleeves in spite of the heat. To accommodate my new wardrobe, I'm indulging myself with a lower setting on our own air-con and am thankful that I don't pay the bills around this place. Energy crisis be damned. The 2006 Venitha incarnation will no longer machine gun the tide, so to speak, though I doubt I'll ever be comfortable discarding aluminum cans.

I wonder if Yoong Han, a Singaporean co-worker, packed his shiny new Avago jacket along with every long-sleeved shirt he owns for his current business trip to Colorado. By all accounts, it's been an uncommonly mild winter in Colorado, but still Yoong Han complained to me of the cold and of static electricity. I laughed about the static; many young Singaporean men, Yoong Han included, have spiky moussed hairdos that you'd think were generated in a frenzied male bonding bout of carpet shuffling and zapping.

I asked Yoong Han if he had a hat and mittens, and he said that he did, but that the first time he went out in his hat, a complete stranger shouted to him, "Hey! It's not that cold!" His resulting chagrin has conquered the cold: he's no longer wearing the hat.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Holiday Top Ten
by jima

Top ten reasons that having family visit is better than working:

10) Family: Travel to swank beach resort in Indonesia. Work: Travel to polluted industrial park in Taiwan.

9) Family: Eat at nice restaurants. Work: Eat at "Burp".

8) Common family activity: swimming. Common work activity: listening to phone conferences in Mandarin. Note: I know how to swim, but I don't understand Mandarin.

7) Family: Play with cute nephew. Work: Look at cute photo of nephew.

6) Family: lots of cameras and even more great photo ops. Work: lots of cameras but nothing to photograph.

5) Family: Time to read fun novels. Work: Not even enough time to read work-related e-mails.

4) Family: Right there when I wake up! Work: Commute across town every morning.

3) Family: Lots of hugs and laughter. Work: Not much laughter lately, and NO hugging (not so bad, actually).

2) Family: Treats contain chocolate. Work: Treats contain pork floss/beans/durian. [Ed. note: Work treats make excellent photo opportunities.]

1) Family: I'm a genius for being able to communicate with a cab driver. Work: I'm an idiot for missing yet another deadline.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chinese New Year Rain
by venitha

"It's still raining," I sighed, as I signed out the exercise room key and essential air-con remote in Dawood's log book. It rained all day yesterday and most of the day before that, and today does not look much more promising.

"Chinese New Year rain!" Dawood exclaimed with his usual cackling glee.

I've long since stopped suspecting our condo guard's constant snicker of malice, but today I looked up from my illegible initials in astonishment. Does he mean this rain will last until the ? Until the end of January?

But Dawood's back was already turned to me, as he was kindly heading to the exercise room to unlock its door for me. When I caught up to him, he was looking officiously over my shoulder at an arriving delivery van, and I'd missed my chance to clarify his meaning.

When I finished my run, it was still raining. Hours later now, I have showered, and my hair is almost dry. And it's still raining.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Henna Tattoos
by venitha

Just when I was thinking that my toenails could probably use a break from constant polishing, a jaunt through Little India with my niece, nephew, and mother-in-law reminded me of an equally fun form of body decor: . Elizabeth and I opted for lower leg adornment; Matthew, for a tough scorpion on his bulging bicep. Marilyn, my mother-in-law, graciously declined in the face of awesome peer pressure.

Henna tattoos have the advantages of being cheaper and faster than pedicures and of being less painful and less permanent than real tattoos. The artist simply draws freehand on your body using a tube of thick liquid henna. Try not to rub against anything for the next half an hour, which is trickier than it sounds if you're in Little India and next to impossible if you're in Mustafa; then the henna is dry and starting to peel off, leaving behind a brown tattoo.

I doubt this will last until Jim and I go to India in just under six weeks, but it's sure a fun way to get into the right frame of mind. Who knows what other body parts I'll decorate while we're there; maybe I'll finally take my sister-in-law's advice and do a zipper tattoo below my 6-inch-long knee scar.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Back To Reality
by venitha

Amidst many tears, many hugs, many thanks, and many assurances of love, we saw our family off bright and early this morning at Changi airport. Actually, it was not bright, not in anyone's emotions and not in the sky. The sun didn't rise on this dreary day until Jim and I sat glumly side by side on the MRT on our way back from the airport. The sky wasn't literally bright until we arrived home to our silent and abandoned apartment just as the plane was taking off. We drew the bedroom shades against both the caustic morning light and the harsh reality of our family's departure and went back to bed for several hours.

We emerged from a long morning nap to make even longer lists of things to do and to start the gazillion loads of laundry which will undoubtedly still be working their listless way through our less-than-large and less-than-speedy washing machine long after our family is safely ensconced in their own beds in their own homes in Colorado. Jim and I sat at our suddenly very large dining room table next to an appropriately wilted vase of orchids and ate steaming bowls of oatmeal. Our scavenger hunt through the refridgerator turned up an inappropriate breakfast: leftover pineapple rice and pad thai. Did we really eat up all those eggs? Do you mind if I have the last packet of hot chocolate?

Jim is anxious to get to cleaning up: I think I'll go straighten up the love shack. Thus the rooftop bedroom cum office cum storage room has been dubbed. I suspect that what he's really anxious for is basking in any remaining closeness to our adored niece and nephew, who so recently slept in the love shack's twin beds. And he also quite wisely wants to keep himself very busy today, to distract himself from reality.

This is usually my role in vacation aftermath, and Jim has learned, in nearly ten years of marriage, the danger of lazing around while I am busy: my raging temper. Unfortunately and fortunately, he has also learned, in just the last year, the danger of lazing around while I am blue: accompaning me into the abyss. Today, however, I have no temper, and the ground beneath my feet is firm. I'm content to let the signs of the last two glorious weeks persist, to linger in reflection over my hot chocolate, to nap intermittently in sympathetic jetlag. I'm looking forward to the "go through pictures" task in our long list; we'll combine it tonight with our leftover Thai food to create the world's best Saturday night dinner-and-a-movie date.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Laughter Therapy
by venitha

Digital cameras are even more fun than those old photo booths. Perhaps destined to become a knuckle-dragger, Jim has long arms well-suited to this game, but after he conquered sticking his tongue out the side of his mouth, he's now incapable of the multi-tasking required in holding out his arm, smiling, and keeping his eyes open at the same time. After the first two or three shots, we're usually giggling so much that the pictures get progressively worse. Or better, depending upon your viewpoint.
Kind strangers frequently offer to take a picture for us when we're doing this, but we almost always turn them down. Laughter is good therapy.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Best Is Yet To Come
by venitha

Age 35 was not one of my better years. It started with a queasy autumn suffering from an unshakable stomach virus and ended with an inactive summer impatiently coddling a broken pelvis.

So I was happy to turn 36 in August 2004, to put the worst behind me. Or so I thought. I spent an idyllic fall, making extended visits to beloved family, tentatively reclaiming my body for the upcoming ski season, and debating with Jim the pros and cons of moving to Singapore.

Then came 2005: Happy New Year! And all hell broke loose. My list of complaints about the year 2005 is endless and depressing. As I'm currently home alone, I'll play it safe, gloss over the gory details, and merely summarize: 2005 was a most suckful year.

But I survived, and now here I sit in January 2006, happy once again to put the worst behind me. Or so I hope. To quote my father, "Time will tell, as he always does, the blabbermouth." Blabbering aside, if you listen closely, Father Time is quite the sage. What he's taught me so painfully these last few years is that while the worst is likely not behind me, the best, too, is yet to come.

There is no surer proof of this than my mother-in-law. She could make a list of her own bitter gripes against 2005, but instead she planned an expedition to Singapore and dubbed it the trip of her lifetime. In her time here, she has tried new foods (her favorites: mangoes, Jaggi's butter chicken, and spicy kangkong), obtained new stamps in her passport (Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia), and played with some animals she's met before (elephants, snakes, and monkeys - oh, wait, that's Matthew!). Her smile and energy are infectious. These last two weeks, she has positively glowed.

So here's to putting bad times behind you and to glowing with happiness. The best is yet to come.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hey, Matthew! It's Your Birthday!
by venitha

While yesterday was the first anniversary of Jim's father's death, it is today, January 3rd, that will always remind me of Joe. I'm not alone. Our nephew Matthew, currently visiting from Colorado, shares his birthday, today, with his grandpa. While I'm sure Matthew's 11th birthday last year stands out mournfully from the rest, the memory that Matthew spoke of yesterday was one of sitting on his grandpa's lap as the two of them enthusiastically blew out their birthday candles in one big breath.

Our Colorado family shared many blissful January 3rds, stretching our holiday season to enjoy one last lazy day, to trash talk during one last football bowl game, and to indulge in one last holiday feast before school and skiing and endlessly busy lives distracted us from making time for loved ones.

Fortunately today has been devoted to time with loved ones, and I hope Matthew's 12th birthday here in Singapore will stand out dazzlingly from the rest. A lazy day? Check. We slept in, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, our condo's pool, and the Narnia movie. Trash talk? Check. There's no football, but there was plenty of macho swaggering accompanying Matthew's reverse bungee at Clarke Quay this afternoon. A holiday feast? Check. This is Singapore, so our birthday boy is, of course, spoilt for choice. Decisions decisions. Torn between his favorites so far, naan (Indian bread) and (from Din Tai Fung), Matthew opted for naan, and we accompanied it with the Indian version of soup dumplings, delicious pani puris. If he still craves Din Tai Fung, there's always next year. Hint hint.
Happy happy birthday, Matthew! We love you!