Singapore Adventure

Friday, September 29, 2006

Good Luck, Lah
by venitha

Skirting the tented stalls of the Bugis pedestrian mall, I'm avoiding the half-hearted precipitation and admiring my new watch, wondering how long a $5 watch's battery is destined to last, when a flash of blue - blue! - catches my eye, and I stop agape at a rack of those ubiquitous Chinese charms.

These silly fetishes are typically pale queasy you-don't-look-so-good green or grubby tarnished teeth-grinding metal, and they're always but always on cords of bold jarring whore's-lipstick red. They're never ever ever the lovely sedate ol'-blue-eyes blue that soothes my soul, which, I admit, should have been a damn good indication to me how I would feel about Asia before I moved here.

"Bring good luck, lah."

I smile at the small Chinese woman next to me. I can't disagree: one is fortunate indeed when a Singaporean stranger is friendly. And if the sullen and bored woman examining her nails at the back of the stall is any indication, Lady Luck is not an employee.

"Does it work?"

"Yeee-eeessss!" She proudly shows me her oversized purse, its every zipper boasting a charm. I ooh and ahh, point out the one I like best, then turn back to the rack to fondle my beloved blue stones, suspended, of course, from thick bright red cords.

"This one best. So many coins." She draws my attention to a tawny tobacco-stain amber number with a bell birthing a bonanza of little coins, definitely not one that I would choose myself. "Suc-cess in ev-ry-thing you do."

I grasp the mass of dangling honeyed coins, then exchange a smile with Lady Luck before she moves away, leaving my fate in my hands.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cambodia Favorites: He Said
by jima

Favorite temple: The Bayon. A crumbling pile of rubble from a distance, the Bayon is transformed when you draw near. Enormous, tranquil faces grin from almost every vertical surface. They spy on you through carved doorways, boldly confront you as you round each new corner, and laugh together behind your back. You wander mesmerized through this compact temple and can't quite believe you thought it mere stones.

Favorite non-temple activity: The Pchum Benh carnival we stumbled across near the floating village of Chong Kneas. We strolled through the crowds, marveling at the similarities to our childhood hometown summer festivals: a clanky rusty ferris wheel that no American would go near, win-a-stuffed-animal booths manned by unkempt carnies, guys wearing Buffs t-shirts and Berkeley ballcaps, endless food stalls selling... ummm... Okay, so the similarities only went so far.

Favorite food: Someone already stole the hands-down favorite, amok, for this category, so I'll opt for a distant but delicious second, the Khmer Kitchen's "pumpkin piece in oven". I'm not a person who usually appreciates gourd-based dishes, but as this restaurant was touted as the most authentic Khmer food in town and pumpkin is common in their cuisine, we decided to give it a try and were astonished to like it! No, really! Pretty much a good, old-fashioned, midwestern (US, that is) hot dish, it was baked in a metal bowl, with onions and cheese and eggs and God-knows-what-else. We finished every last bite but passed on the pumpkin and potato pudding dessert.

Favorite street food: Snake. Stuffed, coiled, skewered, and roasted over an open flame. As Venitha pointed out, it's probably not that bad - just roasted meat, right? - but you do have to wonder where they're getting all the snakes. And then we crossed the road to walk on the side away from the river.

Favorite purchase: My new coffee mug! I don't think Cambodia is particularly known for its pottery, but this mug is a great remembrance of the beautiful and colorful dragonflies we saw everywhere.

Favorite quote: "The sugar cane was all cut off below my waist." Kim Rieng, our excellent guide, was born in early April 1975, just a week before the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. It's amazing that he's alive, let alone that he's a responsible, friendly, well-educated adult. His tales of his childhood first under the and then during the Vietnamese occupation/civil war, were moving, disturbing, and awe-inspiring. The quote above was how he ended his description of the morning after he spent a harrowing night in a sugarcane field while troops battled with machine guns over his prone body.

Favorite "I did not know that" fact: The Khmer empire at its peak was vast, ruling much of present-day Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. Of course, this golden age was about 1000 years ago, but that only makes the grandiose and exquisitely-adorned temples all the more impressive.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cambodia Favorites: Photos
by venitha

Like the demon stealing away with the beautiful Sita, Cambodia's rainy season absconded with the incredible sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, and optimal lighting conditions around which most Angkor Wat itineraries are planned. Not that I'm complaining. We were duly compensated with cooler temperatures and sparser crowds, and we still had a surprisingly hard time narrowing down our favorite photos to only ten.

Scenes from the Bayon...

Deities of the underworld at the Leper King Terrace...

The Elephant Terrace...

Banteay Srei...

Dancing at Ta Prohm...

Angkor Wat...

Channeling the apsara dancers...

Downstream to the Tonlé Sap...


Monday, September 25, 2006

Cambodia Favorites: She Said
by venitha

Favorite temple: . I loved the drive through the Cambodian countryside to reach it. I loved the russet tones of the red sandstone from which it is made. I love that its name means Citadel of the Women and that it was thus named because the delicate beauty and the intricate detail of its carvings are "too fine for the touch of a man". I loved the scenes from the depicted on its pediments. I loved the girls wandering around it in... Do you think they know those are pajamas? I loved the tranquil calm that descended on it as closing time neared.

Favorite non-temple activity: Wandering the city. From the peaceful shaded walk along the river to the bustling chaos of the Old Market, from the good-natured and joking tuk-tuk drivers to the raggedy and hungry children, from the scooter-packed streets to the deserted back alleys, Siem Reap captivates with its complete contrast to its nearby temples.

Favorite food: Amok. A friend mentioned amok in passing the night before we left for Siem Reap, and thank ! Fish in a thick coconut curry, amok was the first thing we ordered for every meal and the one dish we always finished. My favorite presentation? In a young coconut.

Favorite street food: Glutinous rice and something scary - for peace of mind, I'm going with the theory that it's banana - wrapped in a banana leaf and deep-fried. It looked... interesting, but I was happy to live by our travel rule: If no drinkee the water, then no eatee the street food.

Favorite Purchase: Bamboo tonettes from the young girl who provided a haunting seranade on our approach to the Angkor Thom temple, Phimeanakas.

Favorite quote: "You like only the big girls." Cambodia is poor, and while I'm not a fan of beggars, I frequently buy whatever kids are selling and give something to children who have smiled into my camera. When this creates the inevitable mob, however, the party's over, much to the despair of a little girl who followed us for several blocks, petulantly repeating this single line. Her will ran out before mine did, but I sure wish I had a dozen of her bamboo bracelets on my wrist right now.

Favorite "I did not know that" fact: Cambodia uses US currency. Prices are posted in US dollars, and even ATMs disperse greenbacks. The only Cambodian riel you'll get is in bills worth less than US$1, which is a shame, because the notes have lovely drawings of the temples.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

A what?
by venitha

We've returned exhausted but happy from Cambodia, land of steep staircases, unphotogenic food, and overcast skies. And, oh yeah! You might have heard of this old temple there: ?


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Swimming To Cambodia Off To Cambodia
by venitha

Just me, Jim, and more smiling Buddhas than you can snap a camera at, though we'll do our best. Back on Sunday.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

And Another Thing!
by venitha

In a bad hair day mood, I attempt to cheer myself up with a popiah (extra chilli, having here) in a nearby basement food court, and afterwards I rack my brain for an easy errand to make the outing more worthwhile.

Hello Kitty crap paraphernalia? No. All stocked up, thanks.

Maternity clothes? No. In spite of the astonishing number of maternity shops in United Square, I am not pregnant. And thank God, because where would I find clothes? In the treacherous depths of my mind, I store away the hideously depressing thought that these maternity stores may actually carry clothes that fit me now, a standard non-pregnant Western woman being about the size of a pregnant Singaporean woman.

Beauty supplies? Well, I certainly could use some pampering to counteract the funk induced by that last thought. And yes! Shampoo! I need shampoo! Upstairs, I unearth a familiar green and white bottle from a bottom shelf.

"You want I show you something new? Better. All natural. No chemical."

Start with a bad hair day, take it for an umbrella-less dash across the street in a fitful drizzle, and then shellac it with the grease of a just-past-the-lunch-rush food court. From within this frizzy masterpiece, I stare at the salesgirl's hair, naturally stick straight. Oh, I know exactly what I want: to hit her, or at the very least, to kick her in the shins. And I also know exactly what I do not want.

I do not want yet another expensive bottle of ineffective defrizzing shampoo.

I do not want the small plastic bag that you'll insist on putting it in, and I really don't want the are-you-from-this-planet look you'll give me when I tell you that I don't want your f-ing plastic bag.

I do not want the whitening creams that will rid me of my apparently-hideous freckle pox.

I do not want the slimming pills, slimming coffees, or strange and scary slimming devices that will rid me of my normal human body shape.

I do not want a two-year membership when all I came for is a one-time visit, and I still don't want it when you discount it to $XX+++, whatever the @!#%?*+++ that means.

I do not want anything floating in my drink.

I do not want that disgusting deep-fried garbage that is sold at supposedly-Western food stalls, and I do not want you to keep steering me toward it.

I do not want to pay S$12 for a bottle of crappy beer.

I do not want beans in my dessert.

I do not want to walk behind you on your meandering cigarette break.

I do not want those worthless flyers you shove at me at the top of every escalator, and I do not want to participate in your stupid survey, not even if you are just a volunteer.

I do not want any more phone calls for Winston. Ah!

I do not want criticism of my attitude from strangers who read this blog and think that entitles them to judge my life.

And I'm not gonna pay for this either!

Okay, that last line worked better when it was Brian's and he had one of those annoying plastic-wrapped wet-wipes to thwack onto the table. (Yes, in napkin-challenged Singapore, many places actually charge for these.) I, unfortunately, had only my bottle of shampoo, which I'm actually quite willing to pay for.

"No, thanks. I'll just take this one. Let me just set it up here straight. Um... sorry."

As I leave the shop, swinging my latest purchase in a pretty purple plastic bag, my hair still looks like hell, but I feel much better.


Monday, September 18, 2006

by venitha

We are in a rut. A profound, delectable, groaning-with-epicurean-pleasure... rut.

Sure, its walls glisten with soft orange salmon, and they're topped with seductively snowy peaks of creamy mayonnaise sprinkled ever-so-lightly with the elated fluorescent zing of roe.

But down in the trenches, we slog ankle-deep through soy sauce murky with slimy green . Its sinus-clearing stench leaves me cross-eyed, I have lost my mildewed sandals in its quicksand, and Jim's size 12 feet make malevolent muddy thwoks as he wearily pulls them from the muck.

I deliver stern lectures about high blood pressure and the likelihood that the human body's vegetable requirements extend beyond seaweed wraps and edamame beans. I cheerlead rousing mantric chants: Variety is the spice of life. Variety is the spice of life. Variety...

But then we spy that familiar conveyor belt chugging merrily along, and our good intentions scatter at our feet, forming a yellow brick road leading straight to the emerald city of Sakae Sushi. ! the waitstaff greets us, and the hana maki melts like butter in my mouth.


Friday, September 15, 2006

by venitha

Women wear black and necklines plunge. Men sport The Hard Man and dress shirts cling. Wine flows freely in a most unSingaporean / très French manner. This may be heaven.

"Can I get you another drink?"

"But, of course!"

"A refill, madame?"

"Ah, oui! Merci!"

I have only once in my life been this good a host at a party of my own; I was labelled a beer wench, and at least one guest threw up in the gutter outside our house. But tonight's supercilious French crowd is far more sophisticated than my usual clique, and, to my knowledge, no one vomits on the gallery's centerpiece, a bronze cast of Rodin's that just sold for US$1.8 million.

We chat pretentiously ...almost episcopalian in its predictability... We feel severely underdressed ...V: Your hair could do that. J: Stay away from my hair.... We enjoy both wine and art: an I-like-it-but-I-don't-know-why Miro [pictured], a this-is-the-one-I-would-buy Kisling [pictured], a woo-hoo-I-know-one-without-looking-at-the-name-plate . We discover , we of course love Monet, and neither of us understands Chagall in the least, not even after downing a very enlightening amount of free red wine.

Fast forward one year. Subtract one opening party, several dozen members of the Alliance Française, and - sob! - all traces of good French red wine. Replace Rodin's pensive poet with Dali's melting clocks. Add one man ranting loudly on the phone in English with a French accent so caricatural it must be a joke.

Hold constant, however, the tour de force that is the Opera Gallery's artwork. It charms and seduces, amuses and perplexes. We easily tune out Gaston as we wander in spellbound silence.

On our way home, we practice our outrageous French accents and compare notes. They've sold my Kisling. Zut alors! I absolutely adore the modern-day , Botero [pictured]. We both prefer Dali's sketches [pictured] to his sculptures. And Jim is starting to appreciate Chagall. Mon Dieu!


Thursday, September 14, 2006

by venitha

With our first year here well behind us, there are times that Singapore seems downright... normal. But they never last.

What would say?

I have no idea, but I'm sure glad they're rectifying the situation.

Also available in Durian and - New! - flavors. And, yes, as is quite common in , that's an egg yolk. I asked.

should sue.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Take A Peek
by venitha

I stared indifferently at myself in the mirror of the door-sized medicine cabinet as the agent did her imitation. "Mmmm..." I nodded in the apathetic catatonia of a woman who had tromped through a dozen too many apartments.

Two weeks later, I unpacked one box of toiletries after another into it. You'd have thought I was moving to a remote jungle village with no indoor plumbing instead of to a cosmopolitan city with two drug stores right across the street. Still, while there are some items I haven't touched in the last fifteen months, there are other supplies that I happily restocked on our recent US trip, and our medicine cabinet is fuller than ever. I should have been vastly more enthusiastic the first time I saw it. Contents of note:

Pepto Bismol. It boggles the mind why Pepto Bismol is not available in a country where diarrhea is a common and acceptable topic of polite conversation. We take it prophylactically whenever we travel and are thankful to have very little to contribute now to the ubiquitous traveller's diarrhea conversations. Knock on wood regarding our upcoming Siem Reap jaunt.

Nyquil. It's not available here as far as I can tell, though I admit that I haven't looked for it in liquor stores. Next time I'm at the airport, I'll look for it in duty free. Right next to the schnapps.

Crest. In spite of the lack of smiles and the seemingly rampant poor dental hygiene, toothpaste is widely available in Singapore. But we all have our favorite brands, no? Carried away this summer with the heady excitement of being in a Target store surrounded by wide aisle after wide aisle of familiar and beloved products, neat and clean and in stock, and me with an enormous cart and a car with a huge trunk to carry my booty home... well, we've now got a lifetime supply of Crest. Know any other uses for toothpaste? Actually, I could probably make a small fortune off it on the Singapore expat black market. Or give it as Christmas presents to my expat friends. Crest is the brand most often mentioned as missed from home. Apparently, we should all buy stock.

Shampoo. What we brought several large bottles of cheap Suave shampoo for, I can't say, but I suspect we're going to ship them right back to Colorado next summer. Jim's penchant for swiping the little bottles of shampoo from hotels means that he will never ever for the rest of his life have to buy shampoo. Lest you think you've found the source of my frizziness problem, rest assured that I spend a small fortune on my own salon shampoo. And yet Jim's hair is never frizzy. Hmmm...

Prescription drugs. Let's just say that Singapore is not Canada.

Sunscreen. I've never been anywhere that I need it more, and yet 50 SPF sweat-proof sunscreen is not easy to find here. I've run across the good stuff only once, and I now suspect that was a dream. Jim dreams of snow; I dream of toiletries.

Lotions. Foofy scented lotions used to be a nice treat in gloriously-dry Colorado, but I've thrown them over for sunscreen these days, and I'm no longer dismayed when locals tell me that I smell like it. Sunscreen: my signature scent.

Hair defrizzing products. You name it, I've tried it, I've cursed its inefficacy, and its nearly-full container is now sitting on a shelf in my lovely medicine cabinet. If I mix them all together, these fine products will a) explode b) finally work c) dissolve my hair, resolving this frizzy problem once and for all.

YouTube is being uncooperative. Here's the video I wanted to include.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Old Mac Don Ald!
by venitha

"I think these guys would even beat your dad," Jim murmurs in awe.

Well, yeah. We've both lost every game we've ever played against my father, even those he's played left-handed, defense only, and blindfolded. Okay, maybe he wasn't blindfolded, but you get the idea. He kicks butt. These players today, though, the top ranked in the world, could teach even my dad a thing or two, in particular that cool jump serve.

To console myself for missing the opening kick-off of the NFL season, I have roused Jim from his hangover and dragged him to the Toa Payoh Sports Hall for the Volkswagen Open Singapore Table Tennis Tournament. Table tennis is a serious sport, and today's prize money is US$100,000. A quick perusal of the player roster confirms what I already knew: Asians, particularly the Chinese, are dominant. There is a single entrant from the US; her name is Gao Jun.

"Who are you rooting for?" Jim asks as the men's doubles final gets underway, and I give this momentous decision some thought. The team from China, or the team from China? No help there. How about the team with the best names? No, they both have a Mr. Ma. I finally opt for the pretty purple and blue uniform. Unfortunately, my support curses them, and it's the team of Mr. Ma in China's predictable red and yellow that emerges triumphant from their complex weaving and bobbing dance. Among amateurs, doubles table tennis must be a contact sport.

The singles games, with their faster rhythm and longer volleys, are far more fun to watch, and the women especially play with grace and finesse. The Chinese duo victorious in the women's doubles plays each other in the women's singles final, and I throw over Miss Pretty In Purple for the smiling - smiling! - and perkily pony-tailed underdog, the lowly fifth-ranked in the world. The stoic Miss Numero Uno, however, is not to be ousted, not even with the audience raucously backing her opponent.

"! Old Mac Don Ald!" I'm happy to cheer along, and I'm looking forward to learning just what animals are on the Chinese branch of the old man's farm when Jim interrupts with a laugh and the fact that the cheer is "Wang Nan xxx yyy," where Wang Nan is my smiling player. xxx yyy, well, he doesn't know, but it's likely the Mandarin equivalent of something like rah rah. I'm duly impressed by this deduction from someone whose other accomplishments for the day include lying in bed wishing he were dead well into the afternoon, spilling a bottle of water on his laptop, and splattering himself and his sympathetic wife with soy sauce. So apparently a hangover makes Mandarin more understandable. Noted.

The men's singles final gets underway, and it's quickly apparent that they've saved the best for last. Soaring lobs, smashing attacks, and lightning-fast volleys mesmerize us, and we're treated to a thrillingly close match, a country rivalry (China vs. Chinese Taipei), and what is undoubtedly the best hair of the finals, women included.

"Who ya rootin' for here?"

"Oh, definitely the guy with the hair. Old Mac Don Ald!


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tiger Moon
by venitha

A delicate breeze wafts through Holland Village, and we bask in the competing lights of the full moon, neon beer signs, and the nearby fluorescently-lit hawker center. Seated outside Gem and Rashid's new shop, the four of us are enjoying some beers and catching up after a long summer apart.

When the conversation turns to the relative merits of the local brews, Carlsberg and Tiger, and I actually have an opinion, I know it's time to cut myself off.

"I like Carlsberg better. It's smooth."

"Tiguh so bittuh," Gem agrees, setting down her glass. Just as in the movie we saw earlier in the evening, I see an English subtitle, Tiger is too bitter, at the bottom of the screen. Yep, definitely time to cut myself off.

Luckily, Jim and Rashid aren't as refined as their wives, because at these prices, it's a sin to let beer go to waste. Jim cheerfully takes over my glass, while I make a run to the 7-11 across the street. Ice-cold water easily trumps Tiger.

As we hail cabs an hour later, I press a no-longer-ice-cold water bottle on Rashid. "Drink it on the way home." He's the only one of us who has to get up and go to work on Sunday, and after my recent WOMAD experience, I have renewed sympathy for hangovers.

Back at home, Jim is no longer cheerfully bourgeois. "I'm going to regret this in the morning."

While I perform our newest nightly ritual, rubbing Tiger Balm into Jim's sore lower back, I search my memory for the afflictions against which Tiger Balm is supposedly effective. Along with the to-be-expected muscles aches, flatulence is on that list, though Jim has admitted that even applied in the current you-would-think near-optimal location, it hasn't made a difference. And even in the interest of science and even when he's this drunk, I doubt he's willing to get any more optimal in this regard. I know I'm not. But I digress. Hangovers that would kill small farm animals, unfortunately, is not on the Tiger Balm remedy list.

I get him some aspirin and kiss him goodnight.

Gem and Rashid's new shop, ManyMoons, is opposite 7-11 in Holland Village. It's loaded with lovely jewelry, pashminas, and other trinkets from India; please check it out.

Jim and I both thoroughly enjoyed Singapore Dreaming. Check it out, too.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Success! Woo Hoo!
by venitha

I write today as Singapore's - if not the world's - foremost expert on armpit stain removal. And you thought I was just frittering away my leave of absence with nothing but frequent flyer miles and whiny blog posts to show for it! No, no, I have been hard at work, and after entire minutes surfing the web a great deal of dedicated study and one crushing laboratory failure after another, I have at last, after two arduous and laundry-filled weeks, succeeded in removing actual stains from the actual armpits of actual clothing.

To appreciate my triumph fully, you must envision my lovely wardrobe of sky blue and cloud white, its happy Western sizes, its complete lack of sequins and beads and fringe. You must feel the heartbreak of this glorious treasure trove, irreplaceable - I'm not kidding - in Singapore, slowly wasting away with the cancer of one tragically yellowed armpit after another. You must imagine the despair when on my recent US shopping sprees I cruelly denied myself my heart's desire and opted instead for un-stainable colors: dark blue (not so bad), black (great with my hair, but sure to lead to spontaneous combustion in Singapore's afternoon sun), and - in a fit of foolish inspiration - sweat-stain colored (just kill me now).

After the unsurprising fact that I look plum awful in sweat-stain-colored clothing, the most important knowledge that I gained on my quest to rescue my wardrobe from the rubbish chute is that I'm an idiot, for that's the only possible explanation for why, when I regularly completely drench entire articles of clothing, especially all those pristine white running shirts, in sweat, I believed that a stain confined to the armpit area was caused by perspiration. The sad truth: it's caused by antiperspirant.

Jim, ever supportive, kicked my self-esteem as it slunk onto the floor.

"Like your antiperspirant has a chance in this climate anyway."

He then performed "My Speed Stick Is Just Deodorant", a snotty little superiority dance which is an armpit-focused cross between traditional Balinese legong and the .

So while I'm not sharing the secret of my success with Jim, and while I'm definitely not scrubbing the armpits of any of his clothing, I'll gladly share my hard-won expertise with you.
  • Mix one tablespoon cream of tartar with three white uncoated aspirin (crushed) and enough warm water to turn it into a paste.
  • Scrub the paste into the stained area with Jim's an old toothbrush, imagining yourself as . Sure, you're scrubbing a filthy cinder-strewn hearth now, but a beautiful blue and white ballgown wardrobe awaits!
  • Let it sit for half an hour.
  • Rinse in warm water.
  • Repeat as necessary.
  • Revel in your success. Woo hoo!

An aluminum compound in antiperspirant causes these stains, so obviously the best way to avoid them is not to use antiperspirant. You can still use deodorant, though. Other stain removal solutions I tried include vinegar (completely ineffective), hydrogen peroxide (it gave me hope for the whites but is obviously unusable on colors), and baking soda (even less effective than vinegar).