Singapore Adventure

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Eliza's Minions
by venitha

Rain gushes from the darkened sky, cascades down the steps from the roof, seeps in through the leaky bedroom window. Thunder and lightning send physical jolts through my apartment. I can't make out a single one of the thousands of buildings forming my normal incredible 270° view.

I love storms.

I turn off all the lights, open lots of windows, and marvel at this wonderful world.

And then I remember the last time that it stormed like this. When the electricity in our apartment was out for nearly 24 hours. Unable to locate the source of the leak that allowed water to flood through the circuit panel, Eliza's minions still haven't fully repaired it.

I vote an emphatic No on a repeat experience. I am not spending the night here alone with no electricity. Jim's in Taiwan. Our nearest friends who would easily put me up for the night have just departed for a US vacation. No one in their right mind (only a gazillion stop-and-go drivers on the CTE below me) would go out in this weather anyway. Definitely No.

I retreat to the bedroom, giving the electrical closet a wide berth, turn all the lights on (Whew! They work.), close the windows, jack up the air-con, and say my prayers.

O, beautiful newly installed extra bright fluorescent bulb above me, please forgive my recent aspersions. I was momentarily blinded to your myriad unparalleled charms by your dazzling luminosity. I beg you not to make me face this dark and lonely world without the beacon of your radiant glow to guide me. Thank you for inventing dried mango. Bless Eliza's minions. Amen.


I wake to a murky sky and a day made for napping. The bedroom is awash in the soothing splash of traffic on wet pavement. Raindrops have accumulated in the corners of the bedroom windows in a way most reminiscent of snow.

Emboldened by the daylight, the thought of snow, and my survival through the night, I emerge from my wintry oasis and tiptoe down the hot and humid hallway. When I open the electrical closet, water spills out and traces long slim scary fingers down my pretty blue wall.

Oh, Eliza! On the phone.

Can! She'll send her minions over today, probably this afternoon. In the meantime, might I determine which trunk is leaking? I shouldn't have to crawl inside the closet; just stick my head in to see where it's dripping.

Yeah. Here's a good rainy day activity, kids. Especially great for when you're home alone. Or, you can turn down the job of minion... and nap.

Bye-ee! I hang up, return with relief to my 18° bedroom, and snuggle deep under the covers.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Many Rivers To Cross
by jima

Years ago, Marc, my big brother, made a tape for me that shaped my musical tastes. A collection of songs by Jimmy Cliff, a pioneer of both ska and reggae, the tape featured music from Cliff's albums released in the late 60s and early 70s and contained all the elements that make early reggae so much fun: heart-wrenching anguish (Trapped, later covered famously by Bruce Springsteen), defiance (I'm No Immigrant), and American-pop-with-a- no-problem-mon-Jamaican-twist (a cover of Cat Stevens' Wild World).

Last weekend, by sheer luck thanks to my lovely wife, I got to see Jimmy Cliff perform when, along with everyone else in Singapore, we attended WOMAD, a festival celebrating the music, arts, and dance from countries and cultures all over the world.

We skipped WOMAD last summer and endured raves about it ever since, so this year we made plans early, opting only for Saturday night tickets for the 3-night festival because, well, we're old. Venitha looked up the line-up the day before the show.

"Some guys, some band, some Hispanic-looking name, and... Jimmy Cliff? He's still alive?"

I'm happy to report that not only is Jimmy Cliff alive, but he was excellent. He dances with enough vigor and style to put most 20-year-olds to shame, and his voice retains the clarity and soul that made him a star. His performance took me back... to a late-night drive on a country road, Many Rivers To Cross (here rendered more appropriately Many Rivers I've Crossed) blaring on the car stereo... to a mountain bike ride cool down with my brother and nephew, all three of us singing You Can Get It If You Really Want... to a resort in Jamaica, where Venitha and I transposed Jitterbug moves to a reggae beat...

As we left Fort Canning after the fourth encore, however, I was abruptly returned to Singapore when I realized that this may have been the only Jimmy Cliff concert ever during which the air was not filled with pot smoke. What kind of scrutiny do you think Jimmy Cliff and his band received in customs?


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Plodding Along
by venitha

Out for my morning run from my childhood home, I plod along the deserted highway. The lake is glass, and while I appreciate the view, I'd prefer a breeze: I'm running, not water skiing, and Wisconsin in late July may as well be Singapore.

In less than a mile, I'm drenched in sweat and have arrived in town. In spite of its population explosion since I left twenty years ago, from my vantage point, it's definitely shrunk. It took my adolescent legs forever to walk from the high school to church, to bike from my house to the pool, to be picked up when I called home after junior high dances; as an adult, however, I run circles upon circles around the entire town, astounded by the apathetic progress of my watch.

I nod a greeting to Vickie, an old neighbor. I wonder if she recognizes me and marvel that she looks so young. My mother has informed me that her son, one of my brother's fellow delinquents, just had an angioplasty. I pick up my pace and hope that Jim, halfway around the world from me, is getting some exercise of his own.

I run past the church where my brother got married, then the pharmacy where his bride used to work and where, on his wedding day, I bought him hairspray to quell his fears of a last-minute bed head attack. He looked great.

The bar that would lead to my older sister's sure divorce if she ever moved back here belches a cloud of stale beer, and the restaurant where she worked as a waitress oozes a haze of stale grease. Ah, the scents of Wisconsin. And you thought it would smell like cheese.

I leap clumsily over the just-cock-eyed railroad tracks that led to my first crash on my first ten-speed bike, then jog through the park where I ate dozens of chocolate ice cream cones thanks to year after year of June Dairy Days celebrations. I backtrack toward the beautiful white church where my siblings and I were all four confirmed, but where not one us was married. Now sold and stripped of its incredible stained glass windows, it looks soulless, lonely, unloved, but no less so than the nearby hockey rink, deserted in summer.

I continue on past the middle school, from which my class was the first to graduate. It still looks like a prison after 25 years of tree growth. I round the corner to my high school, unrecognizable after a major expansion. It still sports the same unflattering-to-everyone color scheme, and it still compensates with the same super cool panther mascot.

Another block takes me past the healthcare facility where Tammy used to volunteer. Both dateless for our junior prom, we went together. She died of cancer last summer. Then past Stacy's house. We played piano duets for contest. She's now a lawyer, a partner in her father's downtown practice. Then past Shon's. He was always a jerk to me, a spoiled brat. I half expect his graduation present, a royal blue Pontiac Grand Prix now faded and rusty and missing its hubcaps, to be parked in his driveway.

I turn my back on my classmates, my memories, the inexplicable twists and turns of our lives, and I head toward home. Along the highway, my rhythmic breathing and my steady pace clear my mind, and I feel a slight breeze before I see the ripples on the lake.

I spent several days in July with my parents in my hometown of West Salem, Wisconsin, USA.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

I Don't Do Floss
by venitha

A feast is set before us at my favorite Thai restaurant. Nine-year-old Kalyn sits across from me, making faces and whining. I smile into her pained and finicky expression, thinking I should take an oh-so-flattering picture for when I share this experience with her future boyfriends, especially the college ones to whom she wants to appear worldly and sophisticated despite having grown up in Smalltown, Wisconsin.

Kalyn resolutely clamps her mouth closed when her mom encourages her to taste our easiest dish, pineapple rice.

"It's pineapple and rice. What's not to like?"

"Mom, I don't do floss."

Only sweet yellow rice is on her spoon, but there's no denying that the serving plate is topped with pork floss, which, if Kalyn gave a chance, she would probably like. It's essentially sweet shredded bacon, and there's no denying that Kalyn likes bacon. One morning in Phuket, she ate her own bacon, her mom's bacon, my bacon, and would have eaten Jim's bacon if Mom's caffeine hadn't kicked in.

Mom, my big sister Valerie, doesn't like spicy, and according to her taste buds, calibrated in Wisconsin, even no spice at a Thai restaurant tips the scale. She's a good sport, though, and she provides great entertainment. She tries green chicken curry, grimaces, and grabs her water glass. She tries pad thai [pictured], grimaces, and grabs her water glass. She tries kang kong [pictured], grimaces, and grabs her water glass.

"Okay, even I think the som tam is spicy," I warn her.

She tries a sliver of green papaya, grimaces, and grabs her water glass.

I order more water, eat the som tam, and give thanks for yearly trips to Santa Fe, for a good friend from India, for fire-roasted chilies at autumn farmers' markets... for whatever it was that recalibrated my taste buds in the 15 years since I left Wisconsin.

The staff packs up our leftovers, and our shared dessert of mango w/sweet rice transforms Valerie's grimace into a smile. Kalyn refuses so much as a taste, but we don't mind a bit as we finish every last bite.

Kalyn starved in neither Singapore nor Thailand, and she found plenty of food to rave about. Send me your favorites, KK, and I'll post them here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me
by venitha

My stellar birthday presents:
  • Early morning good-bye hugs from my sister and niece.
  • Going back to bed until eleven. Eleven.
  • Finishing one book and immediately starting another one.
  • A beautiful vase from Singapore's dragon kiln (orchids courtesy of our hotel in Phuket).
  • Pretty purple running shoes and - even better! - the time for a run in them.
  • One perfectly ripe Thai honey mango.
  • Supper at my favorite sushi place with my favorite guy.

With this start, it's bound to be a great year.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Indecision In Phuket
by venitha

What was your favorite thing that we did yesterday?

Kalyn: "I can't decide. What did we do again?"

We saw gorgeous ocean views...
Jim: "You slept through that part."

And we went to a Buddhist temple...
K: "Oh, yeah! I liked tapping gold on those guys."
J: "Those guys were monks."

And we saw that place with all the elephants...
K: "And horses. And cats and dogs."
J: "Sleeping together! Total anarchy!"
K: "What's anarchy?"

And we had that awesome lunch at that restaurant with that great view...
K: "Where I had all that caffeine."
J: "Where we all had all that caffeine. I loved that place."

And we walked through that market with fruits and vegetables and seafood and frogs...
K: "The smelly market!"
J: "The cool market!"

And we hiked to that waterfall...
K: "I wanted to go camping there."
J: "I wanted to throw you in there."

And we went to that night market where you got that cool popsicle and we got that fresh-squeezed orange juice...
K: "That I liked and that my mom didn't like."
And that fresh pineapple...
J: "That your mom liked that you didn't like."
K: "I liked it; I just didn't want anymore."

And we had supper at that reggae bar on the ocean...
J: "With all the hookers."
K: "The what?"
J: "The piña coladas in coconuts."
K: "Oh, yeah!"

So what was your favorite?

K: "I can't decide. It was all my favorite."

Mine, too.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Phuket Massage
by venitha

Massage for four, please!

One hour and one massive oil slick later...
Kalyn: "That was the best massage I ever had." [Editor's note: Kalyn has had numerous massages in her short 9 years, so this is no small praise.]

Valerie: "It was all right. I would have liked more on my shoulders."

Venitha: "I may actually get completely comfortable with full-frontal massage at just about the time that we leave Asia."

Jim: "Ahhhhh... Back again tomorrow?"


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

by venitha

I'm smooshing water toys into my suitcase when a key turns in the lock. Seconds later, I've claimed my familiar spot in Jim's arms.

"My God! Home alone!"

But not for long. The birthday girl and her mom ditched us tonight to put the finishing touches on Sentosa, and Jim and I enjoyed entire minutes alone together before our bookclub descended, complete with good Asian dessert (thanks, Yoong Han!), which left me so shocked I forgot to take a picture! Don't worry; I'll track down the bean-free marvel and write all about it next week.

In the meantime, the girls (that would be Venitha, Valerie, and now-9-year-old and vastly more sophisticated Kalyn) ditch Jim and head tomorrow to the tropical paradise of Phuket for poolside lounging, gibbon ogling, and - oh, yeah, my favorite! - shopping.

Don't worry. Jim will catch up with us on Friday, in plenty of time for Thai massages, wicked spicy food, and one exceedingly cool reggae bar.

Back on Monday.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kalyn's Favorites
by venitha

In celebration of her 9th birthday - Happy Birthday, KK! - here are Kalyn's Favorites of Singapore...
  • Indian food: naan
    "Garlic is best, then plain."
  • Chinese food: soup dumplings
    "I call them little basket buns."
  • Singaporean food: chicken rice
  • Breakast food at Aunt Venitha's: "I can't decide between hot chocolate, hard-boiled eggs, and waffles."
  • Tropical fruit: pineapple
  • Dessert: coconut crème brûlée at Brewerkz
  • Sentosa show: 4-D Magix
  • Sentosa ride: Luge
    "The Luge-ous Lizard!"
  • Sentosa animal: pink dolphins
  • Zoo animal: Siberian tigers
  • Shopping destination: Chinatown
  • Singapore attraction: science museum
  • Fireworks display in last week's competition: France
  • Souvenir: Chinese outfit
  • Public transportation: MRT
  • Statue: Raffles
  • Orchid: red with freckles
    "Just like me!"


Monday, August 14, 2006

Whine Whine Whine
by venitha

Over a year of whining about Singapore's weather is finally paying off. It is actually pleasant outdoors, and I don't just mean in that five feet at the open doorways of air-conditioned shops.

Of course, Kalyn, my almost-9-year-old niece visiting from , is doing her damnedest to undo all my hard work.

"I'm co-old," she whined last night, smiling teasingly at me as a cool breeze, obviously straight from heaven, stirred the bright pink tablecloths of our Starlite Dinner Cruise aboard an authentic .

"Whine whine whine." What is she, related to me? I glowered teasingly back, resisted the urge to toss her into the Singapore Strait, and looked around for some duct tape, to no avail, to shut her up. I mean, really, if you're going to whine incessantly, there's no reason to do it aloud.

Just start a blog.


Watch this space for guest commentary courtesy of my favorite almost-9-year-old. Odds are quite good that it will be whine-free: we're having an awesome time, and even my whining has been drowned by raves, laughter, and Kalyn's gleeful cackles.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Seventy Cents
by venitha

"Oh, wait. I've got the 70 cents," I tell the Home Depot clerk, who is without a doubt Ashton Kutcher researching an upcoming movie role. I dig a handful of change out of the bottom of my bag, glancing about for Demi Moore. Surely she's in the power tool aisle, bare shoulders and cleavage enhancing her orange apron as she demonstrates first the DeWalt, then the Ryobi, power drill.

I liberate all the silver coins from my hand and stuff a fistful of pennies back in my bag, making a mental note to keep an eye out for a gumball machine, a marvel of which Singaporean children are tragically deprived. I set two quarters and two dimes on the counter while Ash stares vacantly at the open cash register drawer.

"That means you get... seven dollars back?"


I take the bills, and one by one he dully thumps each coin with his index finger, counting v-e-r-y slowly, silently mouthing numbers. Twenty-five... fifty... sixty...

"Long day?"

"Long night is more like it."

"I hear ya." Drinking for two ever since Jim departed for Asia, I consumed an impressive number of margaritas myself last night, and while I am not currently arithmetically impaired, it's not for lack of effort.

"I hope your shift's over soon."

"Thanks." He shoots me a queasy smile.

I grab my bottle of Goo Gone, pleased at not having been offered a bag, even if it's merely hangover-induced oversight and not Home Depot's token effort to compensate for the solvent I'm about to release into the environment.

There's something symbolic about my suitcase's attempt to implode here in Colorado and to expose beneath some decorative (at least I hope they're decorative, as I've removed them) straps a sticky goo that gloms onto everything: , as my trusty (until this point) Samsonite shall henceforth be known, wants to stay here in Colorado, too. Always one to note and then to ignore such subtle messages, I do my best to put Humpty back together again and employ the brute force of Goo Gone to clean up his act.

I am tempted to wipe Humpty clean, to strip him of his colorful sticker storybook of airport security validations, immigration and customs certifications, and three-letter abbreviations for Asian cities next to smudged bar codes. But I don't. Like the slight hangover that reminds you all day of a night well-enjoyed, a little baggage is not a bad thing.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Not Even
by venitha

I don't want to go back to Singapore.

Not even to sleep in my own bed.

Not even to stop living out of a suitcase.

Not even for welcome-back sushi.

Not even for Thai mangoes and pineapples.

Not even to live without a car and to be oblivious to $3/gallon gasoline.

Not even for the bliss of not hearing GW on the radio every day.

Not even for our National Day party on Wednesday, enjoying the fireworks from our rooftop with all our wonderful Singapore friends.

Not even for the next three weeks in Singapore and with my sister and 8-year-old niece.

Not even for Womad.

Not even for the travels Jim and I have planned for the next year, to Cambodia, Vietnam, India, and Indonesia.

Not even to have interesting stuff to blog about.

Not even... to be with Jim?

Well, hell. My shuttle leaves at dark o'clock tomorrow morning, and 24 hours later, I'll be back "home" in Singapore.