Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Financial Times
by venitha

Just as we are being escorted (Who can afford a car?) into the poorhouse by our US condo and by our US accountants' embezzlement taxes (and by my not working and by my excessive consumption of overpriced alcohol and by my library fines and by my mango addiction - hmmm... perhaps I'm the one driving after all), Singapore comes to the rescue in a most American fashion: a credit card.

Now, if you're in the US, you're thinking, Give me a break! I could tile my kitchen with the credit cards I've received this week alone! But this is Singapore, and despite the kitchens being teeny-tiny, our two lonely Singaporean credit cards (Jim and I each have one for our single account) wouldn't cover more than a single wall.

We have been hot in pursuit of a local credit card not in an effort to check off another one of (Cash, Car, Credit Card, Condo, Country Club: we are doing abominably against this list. Shall I change it? Child, Cat, Career, ... Well, Crap. Hey!), but in the frugal desire to avoid the 3% international fee, on top of the crappy (See! I'm good at this one!) exchange rate, that American credit cards charge. One year, several application forms, and a letter from Jim's employer later, we have captured the prize and shall commence to charge at will.

First up: Soup Restaurant (Whaddya know! It works!), where we thoroughly enjoyed the Samsui ginger chicken (cucumbers, tender chicken, and minced ginger that you wrap in lettuce leaves) and thoroughly poked at the snow fungus jelly. (Andrea: "Hmmm...three different textures, none of which I like." Venitha: "I may need chocolate to make up for this.")

Nestled in my wallet next to my shiny new Singaporean Mastercard and my well-worn American Visa is something even cooler: Australia dollars. Just like the sexy Aussie accent, Aussie cash leaves bland American dollars and pale Singaporean money crying in their beer while it seduces all the girls. Boldly colorful and indestructible, the notes are adorned with women; the coins sport kangaroos. I'm going to love this country. Or at least I'm going to love spending its currency. I'll surely spend some on an internet café, should I stumble across one; regardless, we're back on Monday.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Anything But Ordinary
by venitha

Back in January, a hundred years ago, a quick run to Cold Storage with my sister-in-law left her wandering the aisles in delighted curiousity. It left me, on the other hand, outside the check-out with my groceries wondering where I had lost her.

I wasn't worried. You might call Cold Storage a supermarket, but honestly, the place is not that big, and I know from experience that a red-haired, freckled ang moh cannot become invisible in Singapore - even if she wants to. Sure enough, before long I spied her, examining first the spices, then the rices (an entire aisle for rice). I quietly watched her and was left to ponder: When did this become so ordinary?

Today, I sing mindlessly along with REO Speedwagon (or is that Air Supply?) as I stock my basket (never a cart, for I have to carry this home) with my usual oatmeal, bananas, and eggs (brown, not white, in Singapore). I regularly purchase such exotic items as palak paneer, persimmons, and pecks of pickled peppers (not really, but I was stuck on p's). I tut-tut calmly over the ever-changing, but always tragic, salad dressing offering. I shrug at the unsurprising information that no, Cold Storage doesn't carry Indian pickles, which really are pickled peppers; Mustafa, here I come. I sagely acknowledge a friend's Singapore grocery shopping rule: If you can get 75% of the items on your list, it is a smashing success.

Of course, such a been-there-done-that attitude is a sure sign that all hell's about to break loose. Or at least that as I paw through the containers of durian ice cream in search of the ever-unpopular chocolate (Bwa ha ha ha! All the more for me!), I'll find something worthy of "Jim, look at this! How much do you think we'd have to pay Matthew to eat it?"


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?
by venitha

I'm willing to accept any number of reasons for it. Lower testosterone levels. Cultural differences. The fad - please tell me it's a fad - of the metrosexual. My being way off. Still, these facts remain: there is a distinct lack of macho in Singapore, and I am going through withdrawal.

Like the prim and proper girl with the strict religious upbringing who crashes and burns on the hedonistic freedoms of college dorms, I do best with moderation. Deprivation ultimately leads to over-indulgence. Alongside the very real possibility that Singapore's high alcohol prices are paving the road to Alcoholism, USA, I have recently laid a new concern: what will be the effect of the missing macho?

Don't get me wrong. I am a very happily married woman, and this has nothing to do with my handsome, sexy, studly, plenty-macho husband. Nor is it an intended slight to any of the other hot hot hot men I've had the pleasure of spending time with this past week. I'm not saying that I want to have a mad passionate affair with an Adonis straight off a romance novel cover. Or that I want to touch the rock hard pecs of a suntanned lifeguard. Or even that I want to look at a sexy cowboy or two wearing tight Wranglers, an enormous belt buckle, and a come-hither grin. Well, okay, looking would be nice, but really, I just want the assurance of knowing that manly men - and lots of them - exist.

Of knowing that there are men bigger than I am, taller than I am, stronger than I am.

Men who can fix things around the house without requiring three levels of management to lord it over one small sad non-English-speaking grunt who hasn't a clue what he's doing.

Men who cook meat on backyard grills wearing aprons that say Kiss The Cook, and you want to, to take his head in your hands a plant a big wet noisy smooker in bright red lipstick in the middle of his forehead.

Men who hug you hello and good-bye, enveloping you in warmth and affection.

Unattached men who make you wish you knew more single women.

Men who don't like to shop and who don't have cars for pets and who don't read self-help books and who don't use more gel than, well, than - I'm sorry, but what the @#$! is with all that gel?

Men who love dogs and football and beer.

Men who flash straight white teeth in frequent smiles.

Men who are equally comfortable in flannel and in fleece and in a baseball cap.

Men who are sarcastic, appreciate irony, have a biting wit and a quick sense of humor.

Men who read novels, have rhythm, who make me think and make me laugh.

Perhaps all of this is just the result of my getting older, and this in-want-of-macho world is where I live now that I'm a 37-going-on-50-year-old woman who hasn't had a good haircut in God-knows-how-long and who is larger than what-seems-like-everyone else, including all the men, and who dresses plainly and soberly in a scandalized reaction to the popular bling-bling-is-not-just-for-teeny-boppers / is-she-a-prostitute-or-is-it-just-really-hot wardrobe of the women around her and who is unhappy.

Nah. It's much more likely that I'm just thinking too much and that all I really need is to kiss my husband passionately in the elevator and to join a gym that will provide some eye candy. But as I tick off the kilometers on my condo's lonely treadmill, my iPod quivers with Paula Cole's lament: Where have all the cowboys gone?

I hear ya, sister. I hear ya.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Nasty Little Buggers
by venitha

You'll see monkeys in Singapore, I IM to 8-year-old Kalyn, adding the escalating ee-ee-ee-ee monkey emoticon.

"And monitor lizards," Jim says aloud over my shoulder.

"We can save that for later. I want her to come."

"Monitor lizards are going to seem like chopped liver after crocodiles."

"Yeah, I don't really need you to remind me of that."

A week from now, Jim and I will be in Australia, which is bound to provide a menagerie of entertainment, though at this point I'm really wishing I hadn't read Bill Bryson's alarming In A Sunburned Country.

Beasty highlights:
  • Crocodiles. I'm actually really looking forward to these, and we are guaranteed to get up close and personal with plenty of them in Kakadu National Park.

  • Kangaroos. Wallabies and wallaroos, too; who knew? I'm keeping my fingers crossed - please cross yours, too - as there are no guarantees that we'll see any other than on menus. Will we eat them? Yes. Or does that hurt our chances of seeing them?

  • Flying Foxes. They sound cooler than cool, right? Then you read the fine print and discover their true identify: really frickin' huge bats. Ugh! I don't even like the fruit bats at Singapore's Night Safari, and please don't anyone tell Kalyn about them.

  • Frilled Lizards. Apparently the frill only opens when they're pissed off, so either I don't really need to see one or I need a really long .

  • Cane toads. In spite of having seen a stellar documentary on them, cane toads had totally slipped my mind until I stumbled across this news article earlier this week. Do we have good timing or what?

  • Koala Bears. Nope, no koala bears in Northern Territory. Nor are there any in Western Australia, the capital of which, , is the other Australia destination that's reasonably close to Singapore. Ah, well, my little sister, who owns a -playing stuffed koala bear from her time as an exchange student in New South Wales, claims that koala bears are nasty little buggers anyway. Apparently that's going around in Australia. I guess I'll stick with the crocs.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Minutes To Spare
by venitha

"How are we doing timewise?" Jim asks as we pass the No No No No sign and break into our bag of dried mango.

"8:30. Minutes to spare." We're both looking forward to the bright red cherry atop our Father's Day sundae: our weekly 9:00 dose of motherly love.

"Want to walk?"

I stuff another piece of dried mango in my mouth and change direction, veering away from the escalator that leads down, under the street and toward to bus stop. I aim instead for the one that leads up, out into the heart of , athrob with life as Singapore gyrates riotously through its last hours of Sunday freedom before Monday's responsibilities mire the ground.

"Actually, I think we want this one," Jim says, escorting me in a gentle crack-the-whip about-face to the third exit and deftly relieving me of the mango bag.

We ascend silently into the soft warm evening, lost in our individual thoughts, and emerge amidst dozens of empty gaping coaches, waiting in the gloom to swallow thousands of Indian workers and regurgitate them upon their worksites for another week of sweaty physical toil. "I'm glad they're not after me."

We swim against a stream of rambunctious children - "Where are their parents?" - and I am captivated by a little Indian girl with enormous brown eyes, pierced ears, and a merry, tinkling laugh. The hair that has escaped her Pebbles 'do sticks damply to her face and neck. I lift my own hair off my own neck, then release it. "It's really very pleasant tonight."

The sharp, industrial incense of fresh tar fills the air, and our sandals grow sticky from the refinished pavement in spite of the wide berth we give to the workers re-topping Keng Lee Road. Our proximity to their tar stove and its open flames no longer astound the litigious Americans in our hearts, now buried beneath Singapore's humid blanket of... "personal responsibility or unvalued life or evolution at work: you decide." Our fairy godmother, a man scatters reflective powder on bright white crosswalk lines. "What did you wish for?"

We grow bored with the unchanging angry red man glaring at us across a deserted street, stride boldly though the intersection, and round one last corner to our home. Dawood nods good evening - "How 'bout those Hurricanes?" - and bathes us in his familiar cackle. As the elevator whisks us to the 19th floor, we lean back facing each other with tired but contented smiles, and I look at my watch.

"Minutes to spare."


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Flu Shots And Hana Maki
by venitha

I toss my bag over my shoulder, still achy from my hour-old flu shot (it's winter, and therefore flu season, in our destination of the month, Australia) and head for the escalator.

"That may be my most expensive lunch here yet," Jim says, tucking our Sakae Sushi receipt into his wallet.

I shrug with the blasé mien of a woman who hasn't earned a penny in months and yet is unsurprised to find herself happily satiated with sushi at 1:15 on a Tuesday afternoon.

"But it's well worth it for a nice lunch out with my beloved," Jim croons with a moony sigh and leans forward from the step behind me to lose a kiss in the frizzy chaos atop my head. No, it's not the flu shot; he's always like this.

"Yeah, yeah." I say, shrugging off his intrinsic sappiness. No, it's not the flu shot; I'm always like this. "A year from now I'll take you out for a sushi lunch in Ft Collins, and we'll be lucky for a bill that's only double today's. And - here's a sad thought - there won't be a conveyor belt. And worst of all," I conclude as we step out into the muggy afternoon heat, "they may not have hana maki."

Free-flowing ice water and - here's a concept - napkins and - here's a really bold and cutting edge concept, so brace yourself - good service, all glorious treats that we take for granted in Ft Collins restaurants, will, of course, compensate for a lot. But at the thought of no hana maki, I am bereft. I want to march right back up that escalator and inhale another dozen plates of the scrumptious morsels.

Instead I remind myself that I have another year to indulge this passion and that I am loved by someone who shares it. I take Jim's hand and recklessly swing my flu-shot arm with him all the way to the MRT.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

by venitha

It's amazing what seems like a good idea after a two three several who's counting who can count margaritas as big as your head. Another margarita? Sure!

Jim, who oh-so-responsibly cut himself off much much much earlier than I did, has been in grave danger of driving me to mariticide with his unfathomably cheery, downright gleeful, disposition this morning. Complaining, whining, nagging, moaning: all of it has gotten me nowhere; he smiles brightly (Couldya turn that thing off?), gently kisses my forehead, and tells me that last night I was labelled. Huh? And I thought Singlish was obtuse.

Having killed off at least half of my brain cells, my blogging quality will surely be taking a steep dive, but you'll be happy to know that we finally got to celebrate our Sing-iversary in the much-anticipated Cafe Iguana style. Traditional lime margaritas to toast the milestone, a mango margarita to toast the wonderful new friends with whom to celebrate it, and a blueberry margarita to cheer the happy news that my big sister Valerie and my fabulous niece Kalyn (8), not to be confused with my fabulous niece Cailin (19), are coming to visit!

I could only be more jazzed if I were not so hungover. Finally, I'll have an excuse to spend a day at Sentosa, to make my annual pilgrimage to the machine outside the science museum, and, I hope, to go to Tioman for some snorkeling. Not to mention that after a month in the US this summer I'll have incredible incentive to return to Singapore (this morning's annoyingly exuberant Jim is chopped liver), as Val and Kalyn will come back with me, just in time to enjoy Singapore's National Day fireworks from our rooftop. Of course, margaritas as big as your head are a draw as well, and maybe by National Day I'll have recovered sufficiently to want another two three several who's counting ...


Friday, June 16, 2006

by venitha

Can you believe I've conned Jim into supporting this lifestyle? First I get to surf the web all day instead of going to work, then I get to go to Bali for eight days of non-stop massage, and yesterday... well, yesterday, I topped it all: I went on a tour of Yakult!

For those of you not in the know, is a fermented milk drink that contains lactic acid bacteria. The company headquarters is in Japan, but there is a large manufacturing facility here in Singapore, as Yakult is quite popular here. Most importantly, they do free tours, and you get to see the manufacturing line in operation, though unfortunately Lucy and Ethel were nowhere to be seen. Here's the scoop, all of which I happily recounted to Jim last night, glad to have something to tell him about other than which Simpsons character is most representative of which US college football team (Barney Gumble, you have to admit, is perfect for the University of Wisconsin):
  • Each little serving of Yakult contains 10 billion K-boys! And Yakult should really invest in a new educational video every, oh, ten years or so. Not that I'm complaining, as they do give away free samples.

  • The new apple, Yakult should be consumed one a day. If you really love the taste (sweet, sour, orange, and just a hint of chalky - it's pretty good, especially for something that's supposedly good for you), well, okay, then you may have up to three a day. But no more.

  • The little bottles (100ml) of Yakult available in Singapore are actually larger than any that they sell in any other country, including "California".

  • Singapore is the only country where Yakult is available in flavors (orange, grape, and apple) other than the original. And here I thought the original flavor was pretty much orange.

  • The coolest machine in the factory was not the one that fills the bottles and not the one that puts the foil lids on and not the one that plastic wraps them into neat little rows of five. Nope, it was the one that makes the bottles. Sixteen at a time, every couple of seconds, by plastic injection molding. I could have watched that machine for hours.

  • Pneumatic tubes are exceedingly cool. Vacuum tube lifting systems are exceedingly cool. Little bottles all in a row moving snappily down a conveyor belt are exceedingly cool.

  • After a year of being allowed, and often encouraged, to take photographs in places of worship and museums [Pictured: a painting from the current Philippine art exhibit at The Substation Gallery], I was unpleasantly surprised not to be allowed to take pictures at Yakult. Lactobacillus is a religion all its own, I guess. That'll teach me to ask for permission.

  • I nearly asked someone to pinch me (We cannot possibly be in Singapore anymore, ) when there was no Yakult gift shop at the end of the tour. No Yakult t-shirts, no stuffed K-boys, and no lactobacillus postcards. They're missing out on some major promotional opportunites here.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate X
by jima

  • One thing I love about living in Singapore is...
    The exposure it gives me to different interests and different ways of life. I always enjoy - even if they don't - getting to know my co-workers better by finding out how they spend their weekends. The list of activities in Singapore is notable for both its similarities and its differences from Colorado: rollerblading is fairly routine, bird photography is a bit of a stretch, and competitive badminton is something I would have had a hard time taking seriously had I not seen it myself.

  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore is...
    The effect that expensive alcohol has had on my hangovers. As hard as it will be for my college roommates to believe, my hangovers have gotten worse in the last year. Less alcohol + less time spent drinking = longer lasting + downright brutal hangovers. Most smart people would do the math. "And drink more," Venitha insists, as only someone who grew up in Wisconsin and is clearly not suffering as I am can.

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    Home-made "fusion" cuisine. Supper a few nights ago consisted of tender spicy red curry chicken sliced up and rolled within a garlic roti with salsa. That's Thai, Indian, and Tex-Mex - unlikely, I admit, to start any trends, but it was quite tasty.

  • Something I recently bought is...
    Nothing! The Great Singapore Sale has been on for three weeks now, and I haven't got a thing to show for it. I hoped Venitha would bail me out here, but I guess wild shopping sprees just aren't our forte. She did brave the crowds on a recent weekday afternoon to buy a pillow (20% off! What a bargain!) for the beautiful Indian cushion cover given to us by some terrific new friends here in celebration of our Sing-iversary.
  • Singlish o' the day:
    Win oreddy lor. An argument ender that essentially means "Uncle!" Or for the more verbose among you: "I give up, you win already, and let's end this foolish discussion because it's getting us nowhere."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I Am Extraordinary
by venitha

Up three hours later than intended, I can't escape the thought that it's going to be one of those days. In line with my high expectations, my usual trick, mining the laundry basket, turns up damp running clothes too odious for even my bottom-rung Singaporean sweat reekage acceptability standards.

My eyes search my closet fruitlessly, then settle on the top cabinet, where all the skinny clothes have been sentenced to exile, leaving me and the chocolates in peaceful commiseration. I jump gracelessly several times (and you wonder how I've broken all these bones) and liberate a pile of sleek running clothes down onto my head. If only the body that goes with them were so easy to excavate.

My POS MuVo (it has earned the current top spot on my list of things I would love to jettison from the roof thanks to its trick of randomly turning itself off and thereby losing its place in my book) is not worthy of accompanying my snazzy new look, and I'm unable to bear any more of Don Quixote anyway (What was I thinking?) so the iPod it is, and I give thanks to Abhishek, iPod tutor extraordinaire (and he thought I was drunk), and make a playlist of snappy tunes from the summer of 2003, the last summer I was truly happy. I vaguely wonder if this isn't Singapore's sad explanation for the ubiquitous presence of sappy 80s love songs (So now I come to you! With o-pen arms!) and the conspicuous absence of smiles.

Liz Phair reminds me that I am extraordinary, and I dance riotously round the elevator until - oh, crap! - it stops at the tenth floor and ushers in a middle aged Chinese man in khakis and a polo. I smile at him, then at the new old me in the elevator's mirror. I've got to wear this color, light blue, more often, I telepath to the beautiful blue eyes that gaze back at me.

In skintight running shorts and an only-slighty-less-skintight sleeveless cropped tank top, humming along with the bright white iPod clutched in my hand, I present myself to Wati for the gym's air-con remote and am greeted with a double raised eyebrow look. She clearly thinks I've found religion, though not (she is Muslim) hers. I opt not to share with her Liz's
se-e-e-cret beauty routine
(does that song have to be so catchy?) and skip off to my hot date with the treadmill.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Another Massage
by venitha

"I may not need another massage," says Sue as we loll poolside, soaking up the decadent beach portion of our Bali tour. We're stretched languidly on lounge chairs with books, with journals, with postcards. My wrist is adorned with an iridescent pearly black bracelet, a recent purchase from a beach-combing tout, and my sarong is tied loosely round my waist. Even without the requisite foofy drink - Oh, barboy! - it is very tempting to stay put.

Jim, I can't help but think, would love this.

"I mean, what can compare?" Sue brings me back to the glorious present, bereft though it is of Jim, with this reminder that she has luxuriated in three massages in four days, following two heavenly massages with Wayan, the guru's assistant, at Ubud's BodyWorks with a "healing" massage in our room in Munduk. The tension has languorously melted and lazily oozed from her shoulders down her arms. Teardrops of stress quivered reluctantly on her fingertips before falling, falling, falling... and landing with a viscous splat on the ground, where they were trampled insouciantly by prettily pedicured feet.

As for me, I enjoyed Fabio in Ubud, but too-fast-too-furious Helga in Munduk left me bruised and feeling more than a bit abused. "I can't go out on this low note. I definitely need one more."


Less than an hour later, I'm lying in a flower-strewn room and wearing hilariously large shorts while a lovely young woman stretches my legs in ways I didn't know they went. She dribbles me with fragrant rose oil, then patiently teases the knots from my shoulders and calves, interlaces her fingers with mine and caresses my palms with her thumbs. Low and hollow, bamboo flute melodies waft through the tropical air, accented Bali-style by crowing roosters in the yard, the occasional bark of a distant dog, the intermittent soft patter of rain on the roof.

Ohhh, Jim would love this.

Abruptly, my masseuse jars me from my contented trance, brashly thwacking me - what is she doing? - and making such an impressive percussive clatter that I forgive the discordant transition and strain to watch. I've almost figured out how she does it - palms together, fingers splayed, and is it a roll or a twist or a jerk or a ? - when she suddenly disappears, leaving me to wonder if that was the finale, and if so, where my clothes are.

Before I do anything rash, however, she returns bearing a peace offering: a bowl filled with a thick milky soup. "Body scrub," she announces. "Roll over."

Yes, ma'am, I think, then, Wow! as she drizzles the cool liquid up one leg and down the other, gently rubs its softly abrasive grit into my body, scratching the mosquito bites, invigorating every inch of me from shoulders to stomach right down to little toes.

Ah, bliss. Jim would so love this.


Reunited with my clothing and radiantly aglow, I pay the beautiful receptionist the equivalent of US$10 for the last 90 minutes, extravagant tip and transportation included, and tell her that I may well be back tomorrow.

Sue nods in happy agreement. "I could definitely do another massage."

I returned for a massage and body scrub the next day; Sue did not. I personally gave Jim a body scrub shortly after returning to Singapore; he loved it.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Just Along For The Ride
by venitha

"Gads, Jim, we'd have to rent a car." This is a stumbling block even more daunting than the outrageously expensive flight to (or maybe Darwin), Australia, the current destination of the month.

Having driven ourselves absolutely nowhere in all of Asia, the difficulty of finding our own way around, of reading maps, of deciphering traffic signs and signals, and of arguing over who has to drive (yes, that's right, we both prefer not to drive), now completely outweighs the hassle of hiring a driver and negotiating for payment.

We've received advice from numerous friendly(?) sources to rent a car here in Singapore sometime. Just for the fun of it. Fun like driving on the other side of the road, like the one-way streets, like the traffic circles (one near our apartment called, quite appropriately, Newton Circus), like the changing-on-every-block street names, like the complete non-grid of it all, like the -shmover-leaf expressway accesses. Fun like a friend's tale of dropping her son off at school: the thrill of victory in finding her way there followed by the agony of defeat in realizing she had no idea how to get home.

I think our marriage has withstood enough stress of late, don't you? We're less than a month shy of ten years. Is it really wise to push it?

Of course, the only reason why I would even consider renting a car in Singapore is that there's the safety net of the ever-present taxicab; when we inevitably get lost (within mere seconds), we can always just abandon the rental car and take a cab home. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but this brilliant strategy worked perfectly - and amused our friendly condo guard to no end - on a very dark morning run when we got lost in... well, if I'd known where we were, I'd likely have been able to find our way home, now, wouldn't I? Jim, who has not dubbed himself The anti- for nothing, was of little navigational assistance, though he did a stellar, first-rate, and highly commendable job of flagging down the cab. Not that I'm pointing fingers, mind you, as in my time in Singapore, I've clearly regressed back to the time before I ever got a driver's license, back to a time when my mother admonished me to pay more attention to routes.

Making no statement whatsoever about my mother's driving, I can guarantee that my inattention today is most definitely not laziness; it's a survival skill. Jim and I have taken many many cabs in many many Asian countries, and the only reason I haven't died of a heart attack or developed an ulcer or hideously scarred Jim by digging my fingernails into his forearm is that instead of gasping at the endless risks the driver is taking, instead of cringing at every oncoming head-on collision and wincing at every pedestrian and stray dog and goat and cow nearly mown down, I've learned to enjoy the scenery out the side window and to lose myself in a good book. And in a pinch, I close my eyes and mouth silent prayers.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Hump Day
by venitha

It's a terrible tragedy - Valerie will be devastated - that we're both too busy hacking and coughing and sniffling to go out for the much-anticipated and long-ago-promised margaritas as-big-as-your-head in celebration of our one-year-in-Singapore anniversary.

"So next year, then?"

"Right-o. Let's go to bed."


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Heaty Ain't A Word
by venitha

Having come down with my first real cold of this adventure, I've had plenty of time lying awake at night sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever (Do you think they sell NyQuil here? I wonder if it's taxed like alcohol. If not, hey! It's probably nasty mixed with hot chocolate, though. Orange juice? Even worse. It's not so bad just as a shot. Am I keeping you up? I can stop talking and cough some more.) to lament the high price of alcohol, to contemplate the concept of "heaty" foods, and to harass via 2am phone calls into putting me on his surgery schedule without having met me. I know, I know, not so smart to annoy a man who will soon (July 20) be cutting me open, but I actually only harassed his assistant, it wasn't 2am in her time zone, and if Dr. Martin doesn't appreciate such a clever appellation (courtesy, of course, of Jim), I'm not sure I want him succeeding Doogie Howser in seeing my tibial plateau in all its naked re-fused glory.

But back to "heaty" foods. Apparently inspired by the same fuzzy logic that insists that hot soup keeps you cool, more than a few Singaporeans have assured me that heaty foods cause colds when consumed in excess. So have I over-indulged in that most villainous of "heaty" foods, chocolate? No, not possible, and if it were, I'd have been beset by colds fairly constantly for the last 37 years. Durian? Hardly. Mangoes? Wait a minute. Aren't mangoes good for you and, if anything, don't they prevent a cold? Or is all that mango goodness used up in preventing the dreaded feckles? I'm so confused.

"No, no more mangoes. Balance," the fruit vendor announced with authority, "is key. You need cooling. A melon."

"Is there anything you don't sell that might help?" Brenda Vaccaro's voice asked with a wink.

"Green tea."

"Caffeine? Then I'll never sleep. How about blowing this stuffiness out of my head with a tom yum soup?"

"No, no, no! Too heaty. Here. Orange. One set two dollar."

At last, we agree on something.

Other important food facts, all gleaned during a year of rigorous interviews:
  • Consuming pineapples during your period will make it last several days longer.
  • During your month-long confinement after the birth of a child, you must consume lots of "heaty" foods like sesame oil and ginger to replace the heat of the baby or you will have terrible arthritis later in life.
  • "Heaty" foods are masculine and make men more potent.

In spite of its common use in Singaporean conversation and in spite of the regular arguments Jim and I have when one or the other of us finds the word in , is not in the dictionary.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

splash through puddles
by venitha

Determined not to let a little rain sabotage my afternoon, I grabbed my umbrella and ventured out. I mentally added splash through puddles to my errand list, hoping to restore some vigor to my heat-sapped spirits and some curls to my humidity-sapped locks.

A speedy eyebrow threading, a new library book, and a mailed Father's Day package later, I was squeezing the mangoes at the Tekka Centre's burgeoning fruit stalls when I was rescued from the cursed fate of buying more than I could carry by a most alarming facial affliction. The man's face was literally falling off! What can that be? The poor man. To go through life like that! The sight of him was so astonishing, so unbelievable, that my options were to gawk at him open-mouthed or to turn and leave, so I fled into the downpour, juggling my half-open umbrella, two pineapples, a kilo of rambutan, and a lovely bouquet of tawny orchids.

I composed both myself and my rambunctious bags, dripped disconsolately through the Bukit Timah pedestrian underpass, then rode up what has to be the longest escalator in Singapore, newly thankful to have mere freckles, in spite of the plethora of products available here to eliminate and prevent my apparently ghastly pox. (If there actually is such an affliction as the dreaded feckles, please do let me know, and my sincere apologies both to those so infected and to Suki Sushi, the feckles cure purveyor.)

Reveling in my newfound ravishing beauty, I made fish lips to emphasize my Angelina Jolie-cheekbones and was attempting a sexier puddle-splashing gait when I turned the corner and found myself face to face with a trio of Arab or Muslim or Middle Eastern or <insert whatever ethnicity or nationality justly or unjustly screams terrorist most loudly> men, smoking silently and suspiciously loitering between the MRT and the bus stop, interested in neither. Osama bin Laden look-alikes right down to his stony expression, they were dressed identically in white robes, black turbans, and scraggly black beards.

Instantly chastised, I walked past them slowly, eyes downcast, to claim a dry spot at the back of the bus stop, to inspect my errand list, and finally to smile at a young couple dancing in and out of the traffic's splash, she squealing with laughter and playfully grasping his arm.

splash through puddles, I thought with determination as I followed an adorable Chinese girl with a widow's peak and yellow boots onto the bus. But burned into my mind was the image of the falling-face man, and through rain-splattered windows, I watched the three men as the bus pulled away from the curb.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dah Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dah Dah
by venitha

"This feels so much like Girl Scout Camp."

Evacuated from our Munduk cottage after I blew out its electricity with Sue's hair dryer, we'd clutched toothbrushes and pajamas and followed a burly security guard and his flashlight through puddles and up a dark hill to a new abode, thankful for the let-up in the pouring rain. Beneath a single mosquito net and above a dead mouse, we slept in twin beds and both nearly killed ourselves tripping down steps into the bathroom on midnight pee trips.

The next morning, our cottage restored to its powered-up state, we were happily if groggily reunited with our drying racks of still-damp clothing and suitcases smelling of mildew. I left a camera battery charging for the day, and when we returned from oohing and aahing at picturesque rice terraces and the Eka Karya Botanic Gardens' -like banyan trees and incredible statuary, the electricity was out in the entire valley. My power is awesome. I took a very fast and very bracing shower, which cleared up my delusions of grandeur, and as darkness descended, the hotel staff brought us a lantern, lit tiki torches, and planted candles along the sidewalks.

"How are you doing?" Sue's voice came through the darkness as I rifled through my backpack in search of bug spray. "Amused and frustrated, like me?"

Thankfully, with a good friend, amusement trumps frustration, and we giggled down to the restaurant, adding to the jungle's serenade several verses of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. His name is, after all, my name, too. We toasted to the kitchen's back-up generator with the first of several glasses of smooth Australian wine and set to enjoying a fabulous candlelight dinner of ayam panggang, good spirits, and great conversation.

An hour later, when the electricity came back on, the diners at the small open-air restaurant paused in a spontaneous moment of silence, blinking slowly, waking from our enchantment. Pity I've nothing else to plug in, I thought.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Disneyland On Acid
by jima

I recently had the pleasure of a full day of sightseeing fun with Jazz, one of our more unique and twistedly-humorous friends. Venitha had already departed for Bali, leaving me and Jazz unsupervised - bwah ha ha ha! - and in search of the Singaporean daytime equivalent of my standard Venitha-free activity, bad movie night.

Fortunately, the straight-laced Singaporean government has not banished all-things seedy, tacky, and kitschy from our beloved Island, and Jazz is the perfect companion for things seedy, tacky, and kitschy. One of the many attractions listed in our Singapore tour books stands out as a veritable shrine to questionable taste: .

Haw Par Villa used to be a residence for the Aw brothers (Boon Haw and Boon Par), the inventors of the ever-popular and much-revered cure-all, Tiger Balm. They built an enormous garden on a hill and populated it with statuary depicting, among other things, Chinese legend and tradition. Much of this seems fairly straight-forward (epic journeys where the hero faces many perils on the road to a noble goal), and Jazz and I enjoyed the graphic and somewhat crude displays of legendary tales.

Then we arrived at the Ten Courts of Hell, the depiction of punishments that await those who do not adhere in this lifetime to the straight and narrow. Disrespect your elders and you will have your heart cut out. Urge people into social unrest and you will be tied to a red hot copper pillar and grilled. Gamblers will be frozen into blocks of ice, and prostitutes will be thrown into a pool of blood and drowned. Robbers, murderers, and rapists will have their heads and arms chopped off. Money-lenders with exorbitant interest rates will be thrown onto a hill of knives, while cursers will be thrown merely onto a tree of knives.

Just punishment is, of course, not a completely foreign concept to Westerners, but such graphic representations are quite a shock. It's one thing to threaten that if you misuse books or waste food that your body will be sawn in two, and it's another to show you the tragic fate that awaits.

Suitably chastised, we ventured on into the tribute to filial piety, a much-revered attribute of Asian societies, and rightly so. That said, acting as a wet nurse for your grandmother-in-law and melting an ice flow for your stepmother with your tears and your bare backside seem a bit, um, gratuitous, shall we say.

Toward the end of our hot, bizarre, surreal adventure, we came upon the image I will leave you with. I'll make no comment on this other than I think there's some basic biology lessons that were missed by this statue's designer.