Singapore Adventure

Friday, March 31, 2006

Our flight time tonight will be...
by jima

I don’t consider myself a frequent traveler. That must sound odd to those who read this blog regularly, but before I took my current job, my life was very... stationary. Sure, there was the occasional trip for work and the occasional vacation to Europe, but mostly I stayed close to home, both when home was frigid Wisconsin and later, when home became still-frigid-by-Singapore-standards Colorado. So be forewarned: this, too, could happen to you!

A previous job took me regularly to Japan, and at three overseas trips a year, Tokyo became yawningly normal, and I became world-weary. But still, I didn't consider myself a traveler. No, I knew the real road warriors, my co-workers who made the roundtrip from Denver to Tokyo once or twice a month. I didn't envy them, and I still don’t. Sure, they dined regularly at the best teppanyaki restaurant in Roppongi and had more frequent flyer miles than they knew what to do with, but closer examination revealed depressed-to-be-single guys in their 30s, with houses they rarely saw, barely furnished, and never called home.

Last week, passing through customs in Taiwan, I got a wake up call. My passport was full. This week, at Singapore's American embassy, as I waited for my number to be called and avoided George W. Bush's portrait gaze, I closely examined my own story, revealed in the stamp-filled pages of my passport.

While I am traveling for work a great deal, almost always to Taiwan, I am also seeing Taiwan and much of the rest of Asia with my blogging partner. My passport contains evidence of many business trips: the Japan of old, the Singapore of recent years, and the Taiwan of today. But there are also Germany rectangles, Malaysia triangles, Thailand squares, a couple of full-page ads for Indonesia, and, finally, the straw that broke the passport's back, a big sticker for India. In this job, there is no escaping the business travel, but it's the other countries, the pleasure travel, that make life in Singapore worthwhile.

The first visa in my brand-spanking-new
extra passport pages
will be from Shanghai, where I go both for business and for pleasure, as my lovely bride has the freedom to accompany me. Despite all the ROC stamps in my passport (courtesy of Taiwan), this is the first time to China for both of us. We're nervous and excited. We've been reading Lonely Planet Shanghai. Chinese friends and co-workers are full of endless advice: where to eat, which town to visit on the weekend, which sites to see...

So maybe I am a frequent traveler. But with so many places yet to see - not to mention so many blank pages in my passport - it's not too frequent.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

by venitha

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, bad news travels quickly to Singapore. We learned of Jim's father's death over the phone, of his mother's stroke through instant messaging, of Maggie's kidney failure by e-mail. Engineering trumps time and distance when it comes to sight and sound, but it's not enough: I want to touch.

In times of crisis, I crave long hugs, tightly-held hands, and simple physical nearness, desires which, frustrated by distance, race chaotically around my Singapore apartment in frantic search of an escape. They land, of course, at last, on Jim, and have transformed our relationship, adding an unfamiliar physical dependence. He approaches me sitting and hugs me from behind. I walk past him and draw a hand along his shoulders. We sleep and press against each other, spooning.

Thankfully, our bad news has so far had good timing; while all arrived in the dark, Jim and I were at least together, had each other to lean on, to cling to, until with the sunrise, we packed up our emotions and soberly decided what to do. The answer may be easy, but regardless, the wait is brutal. At best, 48 hours elapse between receiving the bad news and delivering the pent-up hug.

Before returning to Singapore last week, I stored up months of loving physical contact. In saying good-bye to Marilyn, I hugged her and kissed her cheek, soft and smooth despite her years, and I was reminded of our Indian driver, Jittu.

He, too, spends seeming eternities away from loved ones and isn't lucky enough to enjoy all the benefits of technology that we do. Spotting his best friend, a fellow driver, in an oncoming car, he stopped and chatted in animated , smiling widely through his open window. After several minutes, he laid his hand gently against his friend's face, then dragged his fingers in a slow caress as he reluctantly accelerated away.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

by venitha

It's been far too long since this blog has been worthy of the anonymous hate-mail it receives, so to feed my gluttonous and venomous critics, I've slaved in Singapore a hot kitchen and cooked up a very special Thanksgiving feast...

I was already in bed, though not yet asleep, when Jim returned home, flush from a pleasant holiday dinner with dear friends and their new neighbor, a recent arrival from the US and a big runner.

"And how does he like Singapore?" The big dollop of whipped cream innocence did nothing to disguise the thick slab of pumpkin pie sarcasm beneath. I know from my own sweat-drenched experience that a runner new to Singapore is not giving thanks. Stuck in this same state myself, I'd been unable to face this gathering, had begged off sick and tired: tired of donning a positive mask, sick of Singapore and myself.

Last week in Colorado, again and again, the tables were turned. I was asked this same question, "And how do you like Singapore?" Unlike me, my friends are kind, and this question was delivered with hopeful expectation, a thoughtful server's "Dark meat or white?" when it has not occurred to anyone that I might be a vegetarian.

My standard response: "It's hot." People eye this information, a cold glop of lumpy mashed potatoes, with warranted suspicion. A temperamental hostess, I'm inconsistent in offering up the gravy of elaboration.

Jim tells people, "It has its days." If his response is a Thanksgiving dinner food, it's jellied cranberry relish: I don't get it either.

Pressed to expand beyond the heat, I initially gorged myself on anti-Singapore ranting, but eventually, I served up details about Singapore and my life here for which I am indeed thankful. Eventually, too, I shall discard the Thanksgiving leftovers and indulge in a feast of conveyor-belt sushi: plate after plate of the many things I love above Singapore. Right here on this blog. Eventually. I'm giving plenty of warning as I don't want the shock to kill anyone, least of all the anonymous cowards critics.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

by venitha

"Winston, ah?"

Oh, God, not again.

I moved here with an aversion to the telephone (IM me, SMS me, e-mail me, but please do not phone), and Singapore has only made it worse: the low quality connections, the difficulty in understanding and being understood, and this guy Winston.

"Winston, ah?"

It is impossible to spell in Latin letters and html emphasis the word(?) ah, for it is nasal and harsh and rakes down the spine like nails down a chalkboard.

"No, there is no Winston here."

"Winston, ah?"

Three times is my limit, and I hang up. I've been through this far too many times before. I have no idea who Winston is, but the guy gets more calls than I do. At least his admirers call only during the day. Or so I thought.

Last night the phone rang at two in the morning, causing both Jim and I to leap up in alarm, for we are already concerned for the health of loved ones back in the US, and when is a call in the middle of the night ever good news?

"Winston, ah?"

Jim answered the phone, but I could tell by his calm and measured response in spite of our wildly beating hearts that the call was not for us. Jim is so much nicer than I am, though to be fair, as he is rarely home on weekdays, he has not been through this a times already.

"Winston, ah?"

He told the caller very patiently and with perfect pristine precise pronunciation that Winston was not here, has never been here, will never be here. We do not know him, have never known him, do not want to know him. To my amazement, Jim actually appeared to have a conversation with the inhuman shriek.

"Winston, ah?"

Finally, though, his patience exhausted, Jim hung up.

"Apparently Winston owes someone some money." The bastard.

I smiled ruefully in the dark as we headed back to bed. This is more information than I had gleaned in nine months of wrong numbers. You really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

But who wants flies?

Me, I have my golden honeyed moments, but deep down, I am vinegar. And the potent combination of the middle of the night, annoyance, relief, and the screeching ah has cooked up... something new. Now, I am piss and vinegar.

Next time they call, Winston's dead.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Romance At The Amber Fort
by venitha

On a trip to Ireland ten years ago, Jim and I discovered an odd incompatibility that no amount of pre-marital counseling would have revealed: he has a much bigger appetite for castle ruins than I do. A boyish enthusiasm remains from a family trip to Scotland in his youth, and he imagines cauldrons of oil poured through gaps above doorways, fiery arrows shot from rampart walls, manly men in chain mail clutching greasy turkey drumsticks in their fat fists. Okay, that last one might be what I imagine, but you get the idea.

Jim has made valiant efforts to infect me with his zeal, but even his swagger and raucous shouts of Off with her head! don't distract me from the appalling lack of sanitation, the hideously uncomfortable undergarments, and my own undoubted bottom-of-the-dung-heap status.

Thankfully, our twin passions for Guinness and pubs left us with plenty of common ground in Ireland. In India, we love our lassis, but this morning indulgence leaves us plenty of time to tromp through each city's requisite fort, and it was with some trepidation that I followed Jim up the steep and winding cobblestone path to our first ruinous destination, Jaipur's Amber Fort.

Begun in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh, the Amber Fort is a hilltop aerie, which today towers majestically over the modern pink city of Jaipur on the plains below. The streets of an ancient, yet still-inhabited, neighboring village meander haphazardly, foreshadowing the fort's maze of stately chambers, regal courtyards, and curving sloping passageways.

Up a staircase, round a corner, and through a narrow vestibule, I was astonished by an enormous brightly-tiled facade and charmed by a gaggle of uniformed schoolgirls mugging for my camera.

Within, I was completely captivated, ooh-ing in the marble-columned audience halls and aah-ing in the white-washed pleasure halls. Cooling, calming water trickles down a fish-scaled slide; Italian stained glass windows cast a rainbow of playful lights; mirrored mosaics of Belgian glass undulate with the shadows of the 's women.

Unlike the swashbuckling Henry VIII, Jaipur's maharajas practiced polygamy. Man Singh himself had twelve wives, richly-ornamented maharanis so laden by their golden and bejeweled garments that they could not move and relied on an army of fawning eunuchs to serve them. And, of course, what good are hidden corridors and secret alcoves without a harem of lovelies to tempt a manly man into them?

Seduced by the romance of the final bewitching private chamber, just as at the Taj Mahal, I was reluctant to leave. My imagination brought the enchanting room to life with the flicker of reflected candles and the soft wave of billowing curtains. I covered the cool marble floor with plush carpets and strew sumptuous pillows all about. Seriously, they should rent this place out.

But when I looked for my maharajah, he was across the courtyard with our guide, talking of elephant fights or tiger hunts or some such similarly macho topic.

I sighed along with a dozen queens and countless courtesans, then strode easily and briskly to catch up with the boys. Ah, romance.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Harper's On Colorado
by venitha

  • Number of days I spent in Colorado: 10
  • Number of days that it snowed: 5
  • Number of miles I drove: 813
  • Number of miles I flew (roundtrip from Singapore to Denver): 18739
  • Radio voice I've missed (and continue to miss) the most: Bob Edwards
  • Radio voice I've missed the least: George W. Bush
  • Artist most commonly gracing my rental car's CD player: Dido
  • Number of suppers I ate that included asparagus: 4
  • Number of Wendy's Frostys I ate: 1
  • Number of Girl Scout cookies I ate: scads
  • My/Jim's/Kalyn's/no one's favorite Girl Scout cookie: Caramel Delites/Thin Mints/Caramel Delites/Reduced-fat Lemon Pastry Cremes
  • Calories in one Caramel Delite cookie, in spite of its clever subliminal spelling: 70
  • Number of babies (born in our 9-month US absence) I kissed: 2, Kate (precious) and Sarah (adorable)
  • Appliances I could have kissed good-bye: the lightning-fast 15-year-old washing machine, the gas grill, and the treadmill
  • Number of nearly sweat-free miles I ran: 35
  • Number of doctor's appointments I had: 4
  • Number of times I loudly and publicly said the word fuck upon being informed that United Healthcare claims my health insurance was terminated at the end of 2005: 5
  • Number of times I have loudly and publicly said the word fuck in Singapore, completely unrelated to my nemesis, United Healthcare: scads
  • US dollars that United Healthcare has deducted from my 2006 paychecks in premiums: 169
  • Best present I brought back for myself: 1Gig SD card
  • Best present I brought back for Jim (my take): manly man-purse
  • Best present I brought back for Jim (his take): Thin Mint cookies
  • Number of nights Jim and I both slept in our bed in Singapore in March, including last night, when Jim arrived back from Taipei at 8pm and I arrived back from Colorado at 2:30am: 3
  • Number of days Jim and I both slept in our bed in Singapore in March, including today (far less exciting than it sounds): 2


Friday, March 24, 2006

Karni Mata
by jima

My most common refrain in India: Try not to think about it.
    "This menu is filthy." Try not to think about it.

    "Why are all the lassi shops infested with flies?" Try not to think about it.

    "Can you imagine a worse job than carrying stacks of dried cow dung on your head?" Well, my job has its moments, but let's try not to think about it.

Little did I know that the rest of India was just a dress rehearsal for the mother of all things not to think about, the Karni Mata Rat Temple.

Now you may be envisioning a temple adorned with an endless array of rat carvings. Or perhaps your imagination conjures an enormous whiskered rat god atop an altar. Or perchance you're hoping that rat has another meaning in one of the multitude of Indian languages.

If only.

Karni Mata is home to hundreds, maybe thousands, of live rats. They run in out on over under through the beautiful and exceedingly smelly marble temple. The walls are punctured with holes to allow rats easy access, and the open courtyard is covered with wire mesh to protect the rats from avian predators. Pilgrims, and there are many, buy holy food offerings from nearby hawkers to feed to the rats.

The story is that one Karni Mata, a miracle performer, used her you-might-say-limited powers to reincarnate her drowned son... as a rat, then decreed that henceforth her descendants would no longer die but would instead be reincarnated... as rats. And this was a good thing. Now, more than 500 years later, the rat temple is a sacred shrine to which people make annual pilgrimages (we met some), newlyweds make post-nuptial visits (we saw some), and tourists come to gawk (we were some).

Three auspicious things might happen to you in the temple:
  • A rat may run over your feet. Shoes are not allowed inside, though Venitha bucked the bare-footed trend and wore socks. Bidding on eBay for the socks begins tomorrow. One rat did brush against my foot; I'll let you know when the luck kicks in.
  • You may see a white rat. White rats are special as they are the reincarnation of Karni Mata herself. Our driver, who showed a disturbing interest in this temple, located our heroine tucked away in a filthy corner in a mangy ratty pile.
  • You may eat a holy food offering after it has been blessed with holy rat saliva. I'm not making this up.
My recommendation: Try not to think about it.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Light Years Away
by venitha

Morning dawned early on our last day in India. After a fretful night of tossing and turning, sniffling and hacking, we were up with the sun to journey the last few hours back to Delhi, allowing ourselves sufficient time to stop at our driver Jittu's home and to see the , which we could not imagine how to pronounce and therefore dubbed with surprising suitably "the Q-tip".

With the remaining cash on our Buck Rogers-ish SM card, we called both our mothers on the other side of the world. My mother didn't answer, so I left happy 72nd birthday wishes on her answering machine, my cold and the sober morning hour preventing me from singing my family's usual off-key greeting.

Jim's mother we caught at home, and she pressed Jim for details of our travels, expressed appreciation of our recent blog entries, said she couldn't wait to see pictures. Marilyn's older sister Lucy traveled to India a lifetime ago; her tales, her photos, and her souvenirs brought this foreign and exotic land to glorious and colorful life. I treasure the lovely silver-embroidered stole that I inherited from Lucy's India far above anything I bought there myself.

Off the phone, Jim slammed the remainder of our shared glass of Smecta, made a face, and passed on the exciting news from his mother, our personal mailman.

"Guess whose 20th high school reunion is this summer?"

"No way."

"Hhhhway," Jim replied with a line from a nearly as old as my high school diploma.

Wow. I pictured my hometown, on some distant planet, and my teenage self, an alarming alien.

Occasionally over the years of our life together, as Jim and I have found ourselves in strange and outlandish situations, I've regarded Jim and struggled with reconciliation. "So you're Jim Xxxxxxxx."

This was a first, however, for me to look in the mirror and to feel that same unreality toward myself. "So you're Venitha Xxxxxx."

Oddly enough, the date of the reunion is bizarrely convenient for my attendance, for my summer plans include a trip to the US and a visit to my family in , light years away.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Your Average Indian
by venitha

Jim loves luxuries, and I am crazy for the latest fashions, we were told by a astro-palmist. He was certainly not basing these observations on our appearance: we were dressed very simply, in t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, and were, by our standards, completely filthy. Since our last showers, we had gotten up close and personal with a camel, had spent a night in the desert, and had tromped through many narrow, winding, far-from-clean city streets.

Two hundred rupees poorer, I laughed about the complete untruth of our readings. Jim, in his usual good nature, pointed out that they were worth the entertainment fee (~US$5) and that relative to your average Indian, he does enjoy luxuries and I may well be a fashionista.

I don't buy it. And anyway, we were both also told that our educations were substandard. Say what you will about Wisconsin's public school system and its notable omission of geography lessons on the half of the world we now inhabit. Relative to your average Indian, we have no room for complaint.

We settled comfortably atop a rock wall at the local vegetable market, gobbling up a huge serving of people-watching while Jim peppered Kailash, our guide, with questions about . The history of the half of the world we now inhabit is another notable omission from our substandard educations.

A local musician, stepping smoothly between the enormous bowls of produce, caught my eye, and before I knew it, he was sitting beside me, welcoming me to his beautiful golden city and happily practicing his already perfect English.

"Ooooh, you are very smart," he cooed when I answered his query about my job.

"No," I corrected, "I am very educated. I'm no smarter than someone who learns English merely by talking to tourists."

He responded with that Indian head wobble that I absolutely love and that surely means No argument here, but you are full of shit, ma'am, but aloud, he disagreed agreeably. "English is easy. Don't need school."

"The lack of education, of opportunities, here in India, is very sad to me," I told him.

He looked straight at me and smiled widely. "But I am happy. Playing music. And talking to you."

Such bold and corny flirtation, when I was sitting next to my obvious and oblivious husband and was filthier than I have been in I-don't-know-how-long, made me smile widely in return. And made me happy, too.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cultural Difference
by venitha

Two questions I was asked at church this morning:
  • What does Singapore think of the US?
  • What language do you speak in Hong Kong?

This recent post on a Singaporean friend's blog (we've never met but have been avid readers of each other's blogs for many months) provides answers of sorts to these questions, painfully illustrating both what Singaporeans think of Americans and also our communication problems in spite of our sharing a common language, English.

My take on Cobalt Paladin's current situation is that the buyers who have expressed interest in his company are not trustworthy, but regardless of whether or not you believe that the mysterious American partner exists, it's depressing how easy it is to believe that he does, depressing what convenient and deserving scapegoats Americans make these days. Ever more arrogant foreign policy and endless ethics scandals have painted us with disheartening accuracy as supercilious and unscrupulous.

Regarding Cobalt's Singaporean view of the standard American "How are you?" greeting, it's fascinating to me that this meaningless salutation is so easily interpreted as pretentious and insincere. Conversely, I find the Singaporean "Have you eaten?" annoying, a rude comment on the fact that I am significantly bigger than the toothpick-thin Singaporeans, so I'm thankful for Cobalt's etymological explanation and am gratified to learn the correct answer to this common question.

My typical response is "Yes, I'm fine, thank you," delivered with obvious bewilderment. Jim says he's actually told Singaporeans in detail about his last meal and received the same stunned speechless silent treatment that Cobalt got when he gave an honest answer to the question "How are you?"

The people of speak Cantonese and, to a significant extent, English. Jim and I live in Singapore, where the official languages are English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay.

Click here for a map that shows both Hong Kong and Singapore.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

by venitha

For the first time since Jim created this blog ...
    My initial response: A what? Who's going to want to read that? And who's going to want to write that? Do you not have enough to do? Because I've got a looooong list right here, my friend...

    My current response: Mea culpa, my beloved.

... I am yearning for anonymity.

I feel creepily spied upon by stalkers "friends" from a lifetime ago. I feel over-exposed to co-workers whom I don't know well (No, of course, I don't mean you). Worst of all, I feel the need to censor the information I provide about family, about Jim, about myself.

And yet! This blog is such a glorious connection. Co-workers enjoy our India pictures, and we laugh about the movie-like unreality of riding a camel. I call a friend in Colorado this week to catch up, and she already knows I'm in town, was hoping I would call. I speak of my happiness and relief at being able to drink Singapore's water, and my sister-in-law nods knowingly: I remember you wrote about that. I am amused and frustrated by the irony of having wrung interesting stories from my boring and ordinary life only to discover that, thanks to this blog, I've already told them all.

I'm tempted to give it up, to start a new blog, an anonymous blog, under a smart and sassy alias. Ah, the catharsis of writing with refreshing candor of my xxxxxxxx, of writing with heartfelt venom of my xxx xxxx, of writing with brutal introspection of my xxx-xxxxxxxx xxx xxxx.

Talking with my mother-in-law about my hopes for a leave of absence from work and my plans for the year ahead, I said, "Maybe I'll quit blogging and write a book."

"Oh, don't do that!" She admonished. "I love the blog."

I love it, too. Anonymous or not. Mea culpa, my beloved.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Helmets and Seatbelts and Laws, Oh My!
by venitha

"Put on your seatbelt," Jim said, looking over his shoulder as he eased the car into reverse.

I sighed but said nothing and, a moment later, obeyed. He was right, of course, but it was still irritating to be told what to do. By him, and by the law.

Yet I remember blithely telling a long-distance college boyfriend not to make the two-hour drive to visit me if he wouldn't wear his seatbelt.

I also remember glaring with annoyance at my Colorado neighbor as she waved her unhelmeted son off to school on his bike.

And I remember a police car behind me blaring "Pull the bike over!" on its loudspeaker, causing my friend Shari and I, two teenage hooligans riding double, to nearly swerve into the ditch.

In a mere nine months, Asia has transformed me, and now the US and my former self seem paranoid, hysterical, hyper-vigilant to a ridiculous point.

Jim and I have dug for seatbelts to no avail in cabs in countless countries, only to be assured in a babble of accents that there is no need: it's not the law.

In Taiwan and in India, entire families speed crazily through city streets on a single scooter, Father driving, Mother clasping his waist with one arm and Baby with the other, Big Brother standing boldly upright on the seat in between. Not a single helmet in the mix.

Even in proud-to-be first-world Singapore, bike helmets are a rarity, and it's common to see multiple riders balanced precariously on a single bicycle, racing the dark evening streets of without a light.

As predicted, living and traveling in Asia has changed me in ways unpredicted, but to have transformed me into a Britney Spears defender is truly astonishing.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Angle of Repose
by venitha

In three short days, the cold water shocks of home (the enormity of our master bathroom, the speed of our washing machine, the decadence of a dishwasher) now wash over me in waves of familiar comfort (the short walk with Maggie to the mailbox, the recognizable voices of NPR while I shower, the easy camaraderie of a family dinner).

I keep mentally pinching myself, hard, both to connect my mind with reality and to prevent myself from being lulled into such a state of detached contentment that it's impossible to leave.

We are currently scheduled to depart for Singapore Saturday morning, but like Maggie near the end of a walk, I am dragging my feet. Even Jim thinks I should extend my stay for another week, to enjoy having come up for air in this angle of repose. The easy willingness on both of our parts to do this is ironically alarming; such a separation is what I've viewed for the last nine months as the ultimate failure: my abandoning Jim in Singapore. And it's abandoning him with a casual shrug and a half-hearted whimper after nine months of Herculean effort and hard-won success.

But I pinch myself, hard, and I know that in reality Jim will be in Taiwan next week, so my staying in Colorado is merely saving him from committing the crime of "abandoning" me in Singapore for, oh, the dozenth time, but still. Something feels very very wrong when I think of taking Jim to the Denver airport and sending him back to Asia alone.

To preserve some semblance of my good wife illusion, I nagged my still-coughing-horribly husband into making a doctor's appointment to get the assurance that he doesn't have pneumonia or tuberculosis or worse. Both the doctor and the x-rays claim he's fine, though he still sounds awful. , on the other hand, acted like a puppy today but has been given a blood work death sentence.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Random Musings of an Unfocused Mind
by venitha

There's too much going on for me to write coherently, so instead, some random musings from Colorado:
  • Whoever invented Ambien should be sainted.
  • In the just-over-an-hour drive home from the airport, my butt got sore. Jim's supposition: Our butt muscles have atrophied from not driving. I checked it out this morning in the mirror, and lamentably, this does not appear to be the case.
  • The new King Soopers grocery store near our Colorado home is a revelation. It is vast, has astounding selection, and has aisles so wide that I can walk down them with both arms outstretched and not touch a thing. True, Americans are huge, but this still seems excessive.
  • Maggie was already significantly gray when Jim and I rescued her from the pound 11 years ago. Since we moved to Singapore, though, she's gone from nearly white to... black? Wow, Maggie! Bottle this, and we can put those Grecian Formula guys out of business! Closer examination, unfortunately, reveals that the poor little girl is losing her white hair, revealing the black skin beneath. No, I did not get carried away with overly enthusiastic snout noogies, though I have given her a few; she likes them.
  • Our first supper in Colorado: Pulcinella's phenomenal double-crust spinach pizza. It's just as good as we remember, in spite of our colds dictating that we omit its best accompaniment, Fat Tire beer.
  • People look at me like I'm hysterical (delusional hysterical not funny hysterical) when I tell them about certain aspects of Singaporean life. Filipino maids and their sad sad living quarters in many Singaporean homes, for example. I've got to take a picture of the marvel of efficient space use that is our own Singaporean apartment's maid's bathroom: a small square room just big enough for a toilet, on which you can sit (or squat) and at the same time shower and wash your hands. I wonder how much Fat Tire will be required to get Jim to model.

Jim's addition to my random musings: Asparagus makes your pee smell funny. Grilled asparagus was our second supper, and although it has not yet effected the desired bronchitis cure, it has apparently made Jim's pee smell funny.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Good Sport
by venitha

As the sun set on the long and lazy day that we returned to Singapore from India, our proud accomplishments included napping, unpacking, napping, laundry, and napping.

"What do you think about going for sushi tonight?" Jim asked.

Aha! Proof that the man can indeed read my mind.

"That's just what I was thinking! But..."

In unison: "We have to take showers first."

Jim was a good sport. "I'll get right on that."

In spite of Jim's understandable inclination to have everything we owned fumigated after two weeks in India, our bodies had somehow eluded the radar. As Jim disappeared into the bathroom, I wondered if the miracle of a shower would be enough. I felt a bit like I should be taken in for detailing.

In less than an hour, however, we were squeaky clean, popping beans into our mouths, and using chopsticks laden with salmon maru to toast to the things we love about Singapore. Yes, believe it or not, there are things I love above Singapore.

Near the top of the list is this marvelous ability to go out for conveyor-belt sushi, with two great places just a short walk from our apartment. On the night we arrived home from India, however, atop the list, towering far far above even the sushi: the ability to drink the water.

Full and happy and meandering our short route home, which had mysteriously grown longer in our two-week absence, we were joking and smiling up the underpass escalator, when our giggles were stifled by one thing I decidedly do not love about Singapore: each and every person riding down facing us was staring stonily at us and not smiling.

"We're not in India anymore, Toto," I told Jim, and he nodded soberly in agreement. In India, I stared at everyone. Everyone stared at me. All of us smiled. I felt happy and welcome and accepted. In Singapore... ugh.

"What the hell..." I was too tired and too discouraged and too depressed by this experience to go off on my usual rampage.

As ever, Jim was a good sport. "You've got to take the bad with the good."


Monday, March 13, 2006

Blue Eyes, Green Dollars, Gray Skies
by venitha

From the posh LAX United lounge, where I ate - and forced the still-hacking-up-lungs Jim to eat - all the oranges...

My impressions:
  • Americans are huge, and the women have enormous breasts. Wow. And blue eyes are beautiful beautiful beautiful.
  • Americans talk annoyingly loudly and, of equal annoyance, they speak a language I can understand. It's much easier to tune out the chaos in Asian airports, where my mind filters the cacophony of languages into subdued variations on Charlie Brown's teacher.
  • Public restrooms here rock. God bless the USA.
Jim's impressions:
  • That cool blast of air between the plane and jetway was not aircon. I may be in heaven!
  • US airport security is out of control. Take off my shoes? And my watch? And get out my laptop? Not a single foreign airport I've been through in the last year even comes close to this level of scrutiny.
  • It's odd not to be a racial minority. No one is staring at me, which is strange, but nice. And no one is giving me special treatment, which is also strange, and would be nice if United hadn't just cancelled the third leg of this 24-hour journey.


From the cold and snowy Denver International Airport Hertz rental car lot, where I lost the virtual coin toss and found myself in the driver's seat:

"Hey, hey! I'm driving! Whee! Look at me! Wait - shit! Which side of the road do I...?"


From a slight detour on our way home:

Proof there is a God: I got to hug Maggie today.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Grilled Asparagus
by venitha

I'm chopping a yellow bell pepper in the kitchen, willing Jim to stop coughing and fall asleep, and trying to organize the chaotic jumble of tasks in my mind, when an actual fun item for next week's list occurs to me: Eat lots of asparagus.

While Colorado's ski season is the last thing on my mind, we'll have to eat, and March is perfect timing for cheap and fresh asparagus, marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and pepper, grilled, and served hot with an ice cold bottle of Austrian . Mmmm... I can taste it already.

Epicurean distraction aside, yes, I said Colorado and next week, and indeed we are headed home tomorrow. The end of this crapful (Jim's unfortunately appropriate word) week culminated in a frantic purchase of over-priced airline tickets to enable a one-week ill-timed whirlwind of tearfully hugging lots of beloved friends and relatives and one very special little dog, visiting one medical professional after another in an attempt to catch up on our woefully neglected healthcare, and shopping at the two stores I miss the most in Singapore, Target and Eddie Bauer. Oh, and we're going to work, too. And did I mention that Jim has bronchitis? Admit it; you wish you had my life.

By the time I finish making our salads, double whammy strikes at cleaning out the fridge and shoring up our sagging health, Jim has given up on a nap and is standing in the kitchen doorway smiling widely and holding a warm fuzzy fleece jacket. He trades the jacket for me, treating me to yet another hold-yourself-together hug, an enveloping squeeze that seems intended to shore up my body's perimeter lest it give way and allow myriad stressors to fall splashing to our lung-covered floor. Then he breaks away to hack up yet another lung.

I'm pinning my hopes on the restorative power of grilled asparagus. Prayers and hugs will help, too.

Before all hell broke loose, I uploaded more India pix here. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Dear Abby On India
by venitha

We're indebted to our friends who provided excellent advice for our India trip. Now that I've had the pleasure of two weeks traipsing through the streets of Delhi, the lakes of Udaipur, and the sands of Jaisalmer, I've got some advice of my own.
  • Beware shopper-napping. Absolutely everyone, from our host to our driver to every last city guide, had an absolutely great shop with absolutely quality merchandise at the absolute best prices that we absolutely had to see. Indians prey on your naïveté and your good manners and before you know it, you've spent lots of money on something you don't even want that is never going to fit into your suitcase.

  • Bring an extra suitcase.

  • Carry socks in a plastic bag in your day pack. This is good advice if you're touring temples anywhere in Asia. Many many religious sites require you to remove your shoes, though most will allow you to wear socks. Of course, you're sacrificing a bit of the spiritual experience by severing that all-important skin-to-temple connection, but I can't think of anywhere it's less advisable to go barefoot than India. Stay tuned for Jim's post about the Karni Mata Temple, after which I threw my socks away.

  • Bring things to give away so you can easily resist the temptation of doling your filthy socks out to someone in need.

    For the first few days, Jim and I wished we had something to give to begging children besides, of course, dirty socks rupees. Ultimately, however, we decided we could make a more lasting difference through a reputable charity or two; please let me know if you have recommendations.

    For adults who were kind to us, we wished we'd each brought a dozen watches. Jim gave his inexpensive watch to our terrific guide in Jaisalmer and then pestered me for the time often enough that I wished I'd given mine to the lovely woman who and painted a gorgeous mehndi pattern on my leg.

  • Print out star charts for your camel safari, particularly if it's the night of the new moon. The midnight desert sky is absolutely breathtaking.

  • Take a water filter and iodine tablets. You cannot drink the tap water, and the trail of plastic bottles you leave behind is depressing.

  • A lassi a day keeps the doctor away. Years ago, my brilliant and beautiful food scientist sister-in-law dished up some excellent advice: To get your stomach back after being sick while travelling, eat yogurt. We made daily pre-emptive strikes with big breakfast bowls of yogurt and, of course, we endured one medicinal lassi after another.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My... God...
by venitha

Izzit, my Indian co-worker Raghu's favorite phrase, has competition from a close second: My! God! Spoken vehemently and as two separate sentences, the words convey a sense of bold outrage and confident self-righteousness that only a certain of his superior pedigree is capable.

While the annoying Izzit has been banned from my own household, Jim and I both regularly have experiences worthy of Raghu's My! God! Like white rappers, however, our imitations are lame; at least we have the sense to feel shame.

In my first few days in India, I discovered that it's not the phrase that's wrong, but my mimicked intonation. A suitably pale, though equally wracked with emotion, cousin of Raghu's, my own My... God... was soft and sober, amazed and astonished, alarmed and appalled.

The mind-boggling insanity of a street packed with cars, motorcyles, buses, bicycles, auto-rickshaws, cows, goats, dogs, monkeys, and people. So many people. My... God...

The double-take shock of a family of four crammed onto a scooter, a sari-clad mother riding side-saddle, a baby clasped at her hip, a toddler standing to peer over dad's unhelmeted head. My... God...

The sickening dismay at people sleeping on sidewalks, washing in gutters, urinating in corners, begging on the streets, unabashed in their homelessness, their nudity, their appalling lack of everything. My... God...

The astonishing beauty of brightly colored saris billowing in the breeze as women gather cow patties in a dusty clearing, crouch round a cooking fire next to a ragged, precariously-tented tarp. My... God...

The lip-licking pleasure of that first tangy creamy sweet lassi. My... God...

The jaw-dropping splendor of that first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. My... God...


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

by venitha

"Sweets for the sweet," I tell Jittu, handing him a small newspaper-wrapped packet of two procured from a Bhatia Market sweet shop in .

Jim and I had bought three ghotua ladoos from the famous Dhanraj Bhatia Sweets, and they were so yummy that I immediately ate Jittu's myself and even stole a large bite of Jim's. These guilt-flavored replacements aren't from the famous shop. They look the same, but of course, there are no guarantees in India.

"Thank you, ma'am," Jittu tilts his head with the appreciate Indian jerk to which I am growing accustomed, then turns our attention to the nearby English Wine & Spirits shop.

"Camels. Dancing. Stars. Is very nice. Need nice drink."

Our camel safari is tomorrow night, and apparently we should take some booze. Unfortunately, we've already cased these joints and been sadly disappointed. They stock whiskey and, um, whiskey, and a nasty Indian red wine. In spite of its recent destruction at the hands of the cheapest wines to be found in Singapore, my palette was offended by India's house red.

Jittu's disappointment in my lack of enthusiasm is clear.

"Everyone drinkee. You no. Sad." He doesn't believe me when I tell him I don't like the wine and even offers to buy it himself. This from a man who has told us that he earns 2500 rupees per month, about US$65, driving tourists through Rajasthan, a job for which there is demand only six months of the year.

Jim and I withstand the pressure at the first liquor shop, and Jittu promptly drives us down the street to the next, which offers exactly the same selection. Jim wisely recognizes this as battle not worth fighting, a la the ancient Hindu maxim Waiters leave you in peace when your teacup is full.

Jittu insists on purchasing three enormous bottles of beer, alcohol content 8%, one for each of us, for he will enjoy some rare downtime while we camp under the desert stars.

"You big man, boss. Need maximum beer." Jittu doesn't accept Jim's professed lack of tolerance, but Jim stands his ground, fixated on how much more enjoyable the desert sunrise will be without a hangover.

On the short drive back to our hotel, with Jaisalmer's spectacularly lit-up fort glittering majestically in the rearview mirror, Jittu tells us morosely that he misses his family, his wife and two young daughters. All through India's winter, he drives for one two-week road-trip after another. If he's lucky, he's home for one day in between.

"Love is life," he declares grandly, but sadly, without his usual laughing good humor.


"Do you think Jittu was drunk?" Jim asks as we make our way through our hotel's stately lobby.

"Nah. He didn't smell like alcohol."

I pause in thought.

"But maybe those were ladoos. In India," I quote Jittu, "everything possible, boss."


Monday, March 06, 2006

Rajasthani Olympics: Photo Finish
by venitha

I'm sure I'll be blogging about India for days, if not weeks, to come, but it was our pictures and not my journal that captivated me today. I tried very hard to award gold, silver, and bronze medals to our India photos, but in the end, I gave up and went for the top ten. Perhaps I'll be more successful at identifying the top three foods?

Pigeons at Delhi's Connaught Place...

That first breathtaking glimpse of the Taj Mahal...

A street scene in Jaipur...

Lakeside in Udaipur...

Whirling dervishes in a ...

Men await the local bus...

A sari shop in Jodhpur...

Could this be anywhere but India?

Mother India...

Delhi's ...

I also adorned our blog posts from India with photos, so please page down to have a look. I promise real stories starting tomorrow. Stay tuned!


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Home Again, Home Again
by venitha

We arrived home in Singapore early this morning, dirty and exhausted, but having thoroughly enjoyed an incredible two weeks in India. That's us! At the Taj Mahal! Can you believe it?

Our most welcome greetings:
  • Venitha Ma'am: Pristine modern public restrooms. I've always been a fan of Changi Airport's bathrooms, but after two weeks in India, I was ready to erect a shrine.
  • Jim Boss: Our bed. 11 different beds in 14 nights is a bit much. 12 in 15 if you count the airplane seat on our Air Sahara red-eye flight.

Our least welcome greetings:
  • Ma'am: The weather. A humid slap in the face after the lovely arid desert of Rajasthan.
  • Boss: 417 work e-mail messages. It's back to reality tomorrow (and to our normal titles instead of those bequeathed us by our Indian driver), but it does appear that HP Digital Cameras survived Jim's absence during our extended field test. We returned with over 1400 pictures despite my having become a brutal in-the-camera editor.

Ma'am venitha Boss - heh

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rajasthani Olympics: Coverage from Jaisalmer
by jima

We're heading into the action-packed finals for all events here in Rajasthan! With just a few more days remaining of this most exciting of Olympiads, here's a round up of the most promising contestants we've enjoyed here in the golden city of :
  • Event: . The lassi competition is fierce here in Rajasthan, much to the enjoyment of the judges. Jaisalmer's makhania lassi from a "world famous" shop was topped with and pistacios. Delicious!

  • Event: Poor decision-making. Unfortunately, we have a sadly strong entry from me in this event. While on our camel safari, I foolishly decided that riding the same camel as Venitha was preferable to having my own stirrups. It was, of course, thoroughly enjoyable to share this amazing straight-out-of-the-movies experience with my beloved, our close proximity allowing us to marvel together both at the natural beauty and at the tourist carnival surrounding us. My backside, however, paid, and continues to pay and to pay and to pay, a hefty price. As luck would have it, I had plenty of time to examine my poor decision-making on the bumpy 6-hour car ride from Jaisalmer to Bikaner today.

  • Event: Quotes. "What you want, ma'am? Toilet paper biscuit chocolate mintee cold water pepsi memory card film battery drinkee toothpaste tissue sweetee..." The list never stops, just fades from hearing as we wander the narrow winding streets. The come-ons from Jaisalmer's shopkeepers are impressive.

  • Event: Dancing.

    The evening entertainment at our camel safari camp site near the Sam Sand Dunes featured an 8-year-old boy who balanced 7 pots on his head, scaled a narrow pole forming a make-shift ladder, crossed a high-wire 20 feet from the ground, and then decended a similar ladder on the other side. And he did all of this without touching the very heavy stack of pots with his hands. Quite a show! And if you think all of this pot-head [sic] balancing is merely for show, think again; much of Rajasthan is a desert, and it is quite common to see sari-clad women balancing pots of water on their heads and babies on their hips as they head home from the village well.
Stay tuned to Singapore Adventure for more of our exciting Rajasthani Olympic coverage!