Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Love Boat
by venitha

"Hi, there!" Brian's good-natured tenor skips playfully down the boat's railing and into my cabin. He's performing his usual graceful routine on the balance beam of charm, dipping first a bashful tippy toe, next a tickling twirling finger into the bay of smarm below.

"How are you tonight?"

I can't hear a response, and I wonder as I lie in my post-hike, post-swim, post-shower, pre-nine-course-supper siesta to whom he's talking. Perhaps it's smiling, soft-spoken Bay, whom Brian has dubbed Captain though he is clearly the Vietnamese love child of purser Gopher and cruise director Julie and flashes, inexplicably, bartender Isaac's smile. Or maybe Brian's merely spotted a flasher of a different sort, Jim, through the angled slats of our bathroom wall.

"How much for a big water?"

Woo hoo! It's a guest star! Flashy perhaps, who's strapped on her flamenco guitar and rowed an enticing display of Oreos, Pringles, and ChocoPies out to our boat, currently anchored for the night in a peaceful lagoon along with several dozen other cruisers.

"Twenty!" Mock horror. "That's very expensive. I paid much less in Hanoi."

"Is that beer? How much for the beer?"

"How about thirty for one big water and two beers. No? Okay, well you just let me know if you change your mind."

"Go Brian!" Jim encourages from our shower. I take a swig from my own water bottle, then snuggle deeper into my pillow, softly singing The Love Boat theme. Before I even get a chance to wonder what comes after We're expecting you, however...

"Hel-lo! Are you ready to negotiate again? How much? Oho! That's more than where we stopped before!" That silly Charo.

Jim and I both laugh aloud, and from within Brian's cabin emerges a very loud cough.


The next morning, returning to the Pacific Princess Dragon's Pearl from our shore excursion to the amazing caves of Hang Sửng Sốt, I pause along the jetty for some Kwik-E-Mart raft shopping of my own.

"How much for a big water?"


"Will you take ten?"

The raft-clerk shrugs and tilts his head in the universal signal for Yeah, sure. If I say no, you'll keep walking, and as I pass down the money, he passes up the water.

"Thank you. Er... cảm ơn."

"Okay, so in about ten seconds, you just got the same price Brian had to bargain for for how long?" Andrea shakes her head.

Yeah, but I think Brian probably had more fun. I mean, Charo! Cuchi cuchi!


Sunday, October 29, 2006

by venitha

"We'll be coming from HarborFront, probably around 5."

Andrea gasps. "You're going to ."

I wish I could deny it, but it is the sad truth. "Yes. Yes! I admit it." I hide my head in my hands. "But it's not what you think."

I have not been taken over by a Singaporean pod person, desperate to hit the latest greatest hugest shopping mall before most of its stores have even opened. Nor has HP cut off my air con, driving me the cooler temperatures of public venues on the weekend. My excuse, and I do have one, is that I'm surprising Jim with tickets to a film - Even this sounds good, right? It's a film, not a movie - at the European Union Film Festival playing at Golden Village in VivoCity. See? I'm being forced to VivoCity. Dragged there kicking and screaming, completely against my will.


"So what are we shopping for?" I ask Jim. Half an hour early for our movie, we have wandered through the mall, fighting our way through throngs of shoppers and gaudy congratulatory floral displays to one of the mall's few open stores, VivoMart.

"A sense of youthful optimism?"

"I don't think they've got that. And there's no sarcasm either. But, hey! Look! in bulk!" You learn to take what you can get in this country.

VivoMart, the mall's superstore, is incredible if only for its likeness to stores in the US. Wide aisles, towering shelves, and vast selection... if it wasn't for the smell of durian, Yesterday wafting from the loudspeakers, and the arctic blast of the aircon, I'd almost think I was home.

VivoCity itself also boasts a Gap (Singapore is unbelievably excited about this), a Levis store (called, creatively, Levis Store), and guys in yellow hot pants racing around on Segways, which I admit is darn close to a sense of youthful optimism, but I don't think they were for sale.


Jim wiggles comfortably into his assigned movie theater seat, then leans over, kisses my cheek, and smiles widely. "Thanks for bringing me to a movie, Mia. You're a really good wife for me." He licks my earlobe with a smacking slobber, and I shoo him away like an annoying bug.

He shakes his popcorn, examining it for that bug or a prize, tosses a kernel in the air, picks it up from his lap, and pops it in his mouth. "We get to go shopping again after the movie, right? 'Cause I don't wanna miss anything. VivoCity is super cool."

I lean my head against his shoulder as the lights go down. Who needs to shop? Optimism, sarcasm, a really good husband for me: I've got everything I need right here.

This was two weeks ago. There are surely lots more open stores at VivoCity now, though the guys in yellow hot pants may be gone. The Finnish film Mother of Mine was excellent, though completely devoid of both optimism and sarcasm.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Trekking Cat Ba
by venitha

Our trekking guide, Mat, smiles across the table at his four charges and tips his cigarette in greeting. He is slim, trim, and muscular, dressed in a and baggy khaki trousers. He's a bit too tall for my stereotype, and hey! Where's his green ? I, on the other hand, am playing my role to perfection, strongly resembling the too-many lumps of cheese, three cream-and-sugar coffees, and two crumpled almond croissants I had for breakfast. Slathered with sunscreen, doused in bug spray, and sporting overpriced branded tennis shoes, I am a vision of American tourist loveliness.

Mat, pronounced Mah in the nasally twang of sheep and durian hawkers, sets a fast pace on an overgrown path. I dismiss my nagging thoughts of landmines and quickly sack Jim's testosterone and its manly insistence on keeping up. Mat won't ditch us, at least I hope not, and installed in second place myself, I try to keep Mat in my sights while I breath more easily and enjoy views other than those of my filthy tennies.

When the path starts to climb, however, in the severe Asian we-don't-need-no-stinking-switchbacks method, my feet re-absorb my attention as I scramble for solid footing among loose dirt and wobbly rocks. Mat sprints effortlessly ahead, perfectly agile in his plastic flip flops. He pauses again and again to let us catch up, clearly oblivious to the mantra in my head: Slow and steady. That's fine with me, as it probably means he also can't hear the mantra it's drowning out: Follow the dink; you're in the pink. I listen for Mat's mantra, but hear nothing. The man's not even breathing hard.

At the top of a steep rise, Mat stops, arms akimbo, to watch us climb. I smile at him, he smiles back, but before I near him, he continues on. I nearly laugh aloud in admiration of this move I thought was mine. If only we were on skis and at altitude, buddy. And if only I had never moved to Singapore. Okay, that's not so funny. Plus it's really frickin' hot here. I think of Brian's favorite shop in Hanoi, Master Bake, and let the sunny light of juvenile giggles disperse the gathering storm cloud.

At our destination, a peak boasting stunning views of the limestone karsts of Halong Bay in one direction, the wild jungle expanse of Cat Ba National Park in the other, Mat crouches in a pose of which my body is incapable and lazily smokes a cigarette. He is completely dry, every hair on his thick dark head in place, while I am drenched - absolutely drenched - in sweat, a frizzy, smelly, dripping mess, wishing for nothing more than to be transported three hours forward in time, directly past the nine-course lunch awaiting us in the village, and to be deposited, already-sopping clothes and all, into the cool clear green waters of Halong Bay for the afternoon swim we've been promised.

As I follow Mat down the mountain, like countless Americans in Vietnam before me, I curse technology for letting me down. My current beefs: no time travel, no transporters, and, worst of all, no effective deodorant. Understandably, Mat keeps his distance, and again and again, he melts silently away. Just as I wonder which way to turn, I spy him through the trees, standing still, waiting patiently. He then saunters on casually, arms slung loosely at his sides, absent-mindedly twirling the silver watch fastened loosely round his wrist. I scramble after him, grabbing roots, trees, rocks, anything within reach that might stabilize my descent, and my wrist has swollen, my watch cutting off circulation.

Mat stops to assist us one-by-one through a steep, eroding drop, and I look at him as he reaches out for me. He is completely unaffected by our two-hour trek, and I smell neither his cigarette, which gave American troops away, nor nuoc mam, which gave the Viet Cong away. Smelling hugely terrible myself, like sunscreen, like perspiration, like over-consumption of dairy products, I quaver onto more level ground, check my balance, and let Mat's smooth brown hand slide from my sweaty grasp.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ode to the
by venitha


"Do you have a little dong?" Andrea asks me as she returns from the 's restroom, where there is apparently a little charge.

"Yeah, but maybe you want to ask the guys."


"Can you pay for this?" Jim asks as we climb into an Old Quarter cyclo. "I've got no dong."


Outside a Hanoi ATM, Brian surveys the boss: "How much dong you gonna need tonight, baby?"


Jim puts some serious thought into it when I ask for his Vietnamese food impression. "I appreciate the challenge food. Dog meat and weasel coffee? Very creative. And that 15-dong soup Brian had? Whoa."

For the record, no way am I eating dog meat, we all loved the weasel coffee, and Brian thoroughly enjoyed his 15-dong soup.


Andrea is extraordinarily kind when the third atrocious singer finishes her third atrocious song. "They need an editor."

Jim is not so kind. "They need Chuck Barris and a gong."

Gong, dong, close enough. And truly, if I manage to save anyone's dong from exposure to Hanoi's Central Circus, it's well worth the thematic departure. Seriously, stick to the .


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Must Make Dong Joke
by venitha

"So I got a bunch of cash but I didn't have a chance to exchange it for ."

I can see Jim's mind race... must...make...dong...joke ...but he's silent long enough that I give up and head down the hall to the packing-strewn bedroom.

A minute later, his response limps in. "We can exchange it at the airport tomorrow."

Wow, he must be really wiped out. I add the Vietnam Lonely Planet to the massive pile on our bed and mentally assign some homework for the six-day weekend.

Jim: recover sense of humor
Venitha: get over crud
Singapore: get over haze
You: send good dong jokes

Due Tuesday.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Yearning For Rain
by venitha

"It needs to rain," Andrea said. "Singapore is starting to smell."

Drenched in sweat after our morning run, I'm hardly in a position to criticize. And I don't imagine the dog doo (few dogs and even fewer pooper scoopers in this oh-so-clean country) in the grass next to us is helping much either.

But two weeks of no rain to wash away this fetid haze, and Andrea's right: Singapore is starting to smell. And even worse: it's starting to fester. Jim's shingles pain ("I'm now being stabbed with needles instead of screwdrivers"), waves of nausea and chills that I can't seem to shake ("I'm not even hungry for sushi"), a lethargy that's settled heavily onto both of us...

Jim sits beside me on our bed, his chin in his hands, and I run my fingers through his beautiful hair, scratching ever-so-lightly.

"Oooh, I like that."

"Well then I won't stop. You've gotten significantly grayer in the last year." I kiss the back of his neck. "And four months and six days." Like my passport number and the lyrics to Tainted Love, I know this without even thinking.

Jim smiles ruefully up at me, and I don't know until he speaks if it's his graying hair or my extraordinary math skills that have earned the tired look in his eyes.

"It's hard not to be exact when people ask how much time we've got left here. Seven months, twenty-five days." Wow. Even I don't have these numbers at my without-even-thinking disposal. Though I admit I've thought about adding a countdown timer to this blog; I discarded the idea out of fear I'd do nothing but watch it. I've also wished I could locate that millennium clock my mom gave me. After January 1, 2000, you could reset it to count down to any date. I wonder briefly now if maybe Jim's got it, but this is not a time for accusations: That clock was mine, old man!

"Sorry lah."

"Me, too."

My feet don't reach the floor from this bed, and I feel like a little kid as I swing my legs. I lazily caress Jim through his graying hair, and I look across his bent head to a soft white sky and an utterly unfamiliar skyline. The downtown has vanished, the trees of the Istana's stately grounds are a choking charcoal smudge, and the towers of nearby Little India and Bugis loom eerily out of focus, bleak shaded backdrops to some depressing black-and-white documentary about poverty, disease, pollution, and starving children.

There are no clouds in this hopeless sky, yet I yearn for rain. I crave a massive soul cleansing, stench quenching, lethargy lifting downpour. I want lightning to emblazon Singapore's majestic skyline, to shock us all wide wide awake, to ignite a smile in Jim's eyes. I ache for thunder that rocks our apartment and shakes this nausea from my gut. I long for a storm so powerful it washes away the haze, this attitude, those damn counters, and all - all - 80s song lyrics.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

If I Had A Hammer
by venitha

Vietnam looms large on our southeast Asia map. Pretty in pink, it arches in a graceful layback spin, its delicate wrists dancing seductively into China, the toe tips of its pompom-ed skates whirling up a typhoon in the South China Sea.

Before we moved to Singapore, Vietnam was the only country I could have accurately placed on this map. I'd still have been mostly guessing, but hey, I can pass the US 3rd grade.

Much harder than assembling the jigsaw puzzle of this map, however, is fitting together the disparate pieces of Vietnam's history. I have an overwhelming assortment of shell fragments and bombing debris, ten times more than can possibly fit in one slender country, even one as war-torn as Vietnam. None of them - how can this be? - go together. I need a hammer. Or several aspirin.

There's the country of ancient Confucian traditions, where mandarins and the educated were revered, merchants and the wealthy despised.

There's the country colonized by the French that sent its sons to study in Paris, that romanized its alphabet, that learned to bake baguettes for breakfast.

There's the jungle hell my sister-in-law invoked when we found ourselves hiking in Vermont in its biting black fly season. "My God! This is what Vietnam must have been like."

There's my university (Go Badgers!) where student war protestors rioted, were beaten with clubs and gassed in the very dorms and classrooms where I would later live and learn.

There's the country devastated by war that somehow mustered an army to oust the Cambodian regime infamous for its killing fields.

There's Young's restaurant in my Colorado hometown, where I fell in love with spring rolls and lemongrass, and I discovered the world of Asian food beyond chop suey and sweet and sour pork.

There's my friend Stephanie in Colorado, who as a baby was a Vietnamese boat person. I'm embarrassed that I learned this fact about her more than 5 years ago, but I only this month bothered to learn just what it means.

There's the Vietnamese embassy in Singapore where I got our visas: no security, a filthy paper-strewn room, and a sweaty man who furtively put my cash in his shirt pocket.

There's the lovely modern-day Hanoi I will enjoy next week: its cafés and its water puppets, its and, what Jim highlighted in our Lonely Planet guide, its bia hoi (fresh beer).

But mostly, there's the biggest piece, the Vietnam War, which just doesn't fit at all. It's a jagged rusty scrap of shrapnel shaped like gritted teeth, like a broken heart, like a clenched fist, like an ocean of tears and eyes too empty to cry, like a ditch filled with bodies and a flag-draped coffin, like a nightmare, like futility. It's got the don't-fall-for-it boyish charm of JFK, the stab-you-in-the-back treachery of , the weak-stomached queasiness of Lyndon Johnson. It's missing limbs, and its skin is burned off, and it's blind, and it lives on bark and lizards and fervent belief in flawed political systems.

I need a really big hammer. And several aspirin.

Clearly, I've been doing a bit of reading. I can highly recommend The Things They Carried, The Quiet American, and The Sacred Willow.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Love, Hate, Name Something You Ate XII
by venitha

  • One thing I love about living in Singapore is...
    ...the bus. For our first year here, getting around was all about the MRT. Year two arrived, and without fanfare or notification, we graduated; now, it's all about the bus.

    I recognize street names, so I can glance at posted routes and know that the approaching bus will work. I know my way around, so I no longer fear wandering in overheated frustration if I embark more than a block from my destination. I recognize city landmarks, so I no longer pay attention every second, worrying that I'll get lost or that I'll miss my stop. I know the routes that run from Orchard Boulevard to Holland Village, I know where the hole-in-the-wall stop is just down from Mustafa, and I know not to be caught dead without a book. My ease has brought an opportunistic spontaneity and a spice-of-life variety to my outings, and I love it.

  • One thing I hate about living in Singapore is...
    …the haze. Indonesia has wrapped its forest fire smoke in an enormous smoldering box and sent the gift of dangerous air quality to its friends(?) and neighbors. Like that rock-hard fruit cake your crazy aunt sends every year, the haze is an annual problem, and this year it has resulted in the worst air quality in Singapore since 1997. Unlike the fruitcake, however, which at least inspires humor, the haze has no discernable upside. If you think that obscuring the sun might mean cooler temperatures in Singapore, I've got a two-year expat stint you might be interested in.

  • A new thing I ate recently is...
    … roast duck. My lovely neighbor Mei highly recommended the nearby Rocovo Restaurant, of wanton noodle fame, for its excellent roast duck, and she was sooooo right. The smiley(!), friendly, chatty chef cuts the duck off the bone, while the scary, stern, disapproving auntie bags up the delicious sauce (plum?). I tote it home licking my lips, eat it licking my fingers, and clean up licking the bowl. Delicious!

  • Something I recently discovered is...
    …that I have not won the war against the ants. The Terro I brought back from the US to eliminate our ant problem cleared the little buggers out of the kitchen faster than Pol Pot evacuated Phnom Penh. They wasted no time organizing a serious resistance force in the jungle of the dining room, however, working together in ant, er, globules in a new and most disturbing way. In the equally disturbing traditional American response to such a development, I napalmed them with three more Terro packs and enjoyed a blissful ant-free month, entertaining smug thoughts of victory thanks to superior American fire power.

    Alas, these ants are tenacious as the Viet Cong, and this is their country, not mine. When I discovered scouts in first the bedroom, then the kitchen, I half-heartedly dropped more Terro, resigned myself to a stalemate, and gave thanks that, in a bold departure from traditional American military planning, I came into this war with an exit strategy.

  • Singlish o' the day:
    Woo: the Chinese term for winning - or "going ". We finally learned to play this very fun game last weekend and therefore also learned some new Chinese characters and vocabulary. Woo is what you say when you win a hand, and like all Americans, with the probable exception of my mother, we couldn't help but pronounce it Woo! or even Woohoo! Yoong Han, our excellent teacher, laughed and said that no, no Chinese would woo like us, particularly when he wasn't actually gambling, which we weren't, and even more particularly when he had won with lamest possible hand, which I had. Woo!

fruitcake quotes:
The easiest way to make a fruitcake is to buy a darkish cake, then pound some old, hard fruit into it with a mallet. Be sure to wear safety glasses.

Fruitcakes make ideal gifts because the Postal Service has been unable to find a way to damage them.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thumb Wrestling in Cambodia
by venitha

"You know they're full of bean paste."

"Yummy! Probably egg yolks, too. Just humor me. It's not like we have to eat them. I'm curious. And it's important to stimulate the economy."

The main thing we stimulated at the Siem Reap roadside stand was great confusion in the salesgirl. Shock that Caucasians would buy such goodies? Difficulty in jacking up the prices and adding them together at the same time? The universal hand signal for I'll take this one isn't actually universal? I can't say.


Back at our hotel, we freed our booty from cocoons of plastic, arranged the three unidentifiable treats on the bed, and wished we had a knife. Jim bravely took the first bite.

"It tastes just like it looks."

"Like masking tape?"

"Well, now that you mention it... but I meant chalk. And grainy... bean... goo."

"But there's no egg. I'm so disappointed."

The tragedy was short-lived: numbers two and three delivered on the egg front. But not that short-lived: they were just as yucky.

I looked in disgust at the detritus strewn across the faded bedspread.

"I can't believe that not one of these is worth a second bite."

"I can't believe you're surprised."

We slid the mess into the trash can, and I went to find the Pepto Bismol.


The next morning, we pooled our dwindling financial resources on our unmade bed. With three strikes against us, we were almost out.
  • Our hotel doesn't take credit cards. A sign claims the machine is out of service; first in English, then in French, and then laminated.

  • ATMs are less than common, and the one we found and used in Siem Reap felt so shoddy and took my card so suspiciously slowly that I was very relieved to get it back and fervently wished I'd read beyond the headlines of all the recent skimming news.

  • Cambodians like their cash in good shape. In a strange contradiction for such a raggedy, war-torn country, no one was willing to take a $100 bill with a 2mm tear in it. Nothing was missing from it; it was just a tear. But I don't think we could even have given it away. A young girl in the market followed us for a block complaining loudly after we'd purchased her exorbitantly expensive postcards. Jim finally figured out the problem and exchanged the offending dollar for another. "So there you have it: beggars can be choosers."

We slowly stacked our remaining cash against our remaining expenses. $43/night for the hotel, plus $12 for our restaurant bill, plus $5 to get to the airport, plus $30 in airport taxes. Jim was still clutching a stack of $1 bills. Woo hoo! Breakfast! I had visions of a frothy mocha latte and crusty French bread, treats a former French colony can deliver in style.

Oh, wait, our massages! We'd scheduled an inedible treat before our late morning departure. Jim slowly counted ten ones onto the pile. We both looked at the lone remaining dollar in his hand and laughed.

"I'm sorry I squandered our limited funds on yucky desserts. What a bummer."

Jim kissed my pouting lips. "Thumb wrestle you for the masking tape."


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hey, Mikey!
by venitha

"I really like this, Mei. Especially with the chilli. But you've got to come up with a better way to sell it. It just doesn't sound good."

She nodded in agreement. "It's my comfort food." Scrape off the goo, and I can actually see this, the Asian equivalent of my mashed potatoes or Jim's saltines.

But comfort food or not, it sounds awful, and it doesn't look much better. Mei's original description of shui kueh, delivered with enthusiasm in the taxi on our way to Tiong Bahru market, was "water rice with fermented turnip". Her expat husband Russell, she assured us, hates it.

Jim and I exchanged a glance in the rearview mirror. We'd both really wanted to accompany our neighbor Mei to her favorite wet market, the one where she procures the delicious fruits she's always giving us, unbelievably juicy Chinese pears and sensuously vivid dragonfruit [pictured]. But we hadn't expected a Singaporean breakfast.

"It sounds interesting," I told Mei with a smile. "You'll have to show us what you like." Maybe Russell is a British Mikey: he hates everything. And on a relative scale, how bad can it be? I've eaten fried worms.

And grilled bees, Jim reminded me telepathically. They were chewy, and I would not recommend them.

Shui as in feng shui, means water, and I haven't a prayer at pronouncing it correctly. Kueh means cake and is not kooey rhymes with gooey as I've been mispronouncing it for the last year, but kway, and is of course not to be confused with quay, as in Clarke Quay, which is pronounced kee - got that straight? Here, have some fermented turnip; it'll clear things right up.

Add it all together, and, obviously, shui kueh is steamed rice cakes, soft and warm and smooth, topped with pickled Chinese radish, salty and tangy and, in our case because we added chilli, spicy. Jim and I eyed it curiously - it kind of... jiggles - and took tentative first bites.

And enthusiastic second bites. Hey, Mikey! We like it!


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Festering In The Tropics
by venitha

"I don't know, Jim. I think it's getting worse. It's not as red as last night, but it's... puffier. And it looks like there are blisters."

"So, what? I'm oozing puss?"

"No. But you're definitely going to the doctor."

"No argument there. This," he turns and displays two red spots on his chest, "is new."

I tenderly soothe the war zone of his back with aloe vera, then scrupulously scrub my hands while we discuss the possibilities. What started out looking like a nasty bee sting has marched boldly across his back and is now accompanied by guerilla attacks of numbness.

An allergic reaction? To what? ?

Malaria? True, we were just in Cambodia, but we also just finished our maladrone.

Dengue fever? Nope, no fever.

Bird flu? I don't know the symptoms of bird flu, but he's not bawking like a chicken. Always a good sign.

Poison ivy? Does Singapore have poison ivy? Is there poison... I don't know... frangipani?

I'm mulling over the trifecta of alien abduction, voodoo, and my morning alarm clock curse - A pox on you! - having missed its target when Jim surrenders his favorite Singaporean scapegoat: "Not enough alcohol."

He officiously insists on examining me in all my naked glory. "But I drank all that Bailey's last night! Oh, okay, but no touching. You're... diseased."

I am thankfully pox-free, unless you count my zillion or so freckles, and I wave him off to work amid his promises to see the doctor as soon as possible. "Try not to infect anybody, honey!"


"Shingles," he announces later on the phone, leaving me a moment of silence to wonder whether I didn't get the whole story on his, ahem, massage outing with the guys last week in China.

But no, apparently is merely a reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox, a cocky little -type that decided to swagger out and attack because Jim is really run down. Poor guy. I should take better care of him. Buy him mangoes. And rub his back. Well, not now, but in general. In spite of tragic wifely neglect, he would likely recover soon all on his own, but his doctor prescribed an antiviral drug, because, in what is sure to become a common phrase around our house, "These things can fester in the tropics."

I hang up the phone, and I itch everywhere. According to the doctor, though, I'm perfectly safe, as I've already had the chicken pox. At least I think I have. But, no kidding. Seriously itchy here. Mom?

To save myself international postage, I'm just posting my secret here: I desperately want someone to pimp a mooncake.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I Was Born To Run... I Was Born To Dream...
by venitha

Driven to the great outdoors by my condo's broken treadmill, I mop the sweat from my brow and remind myself of advantages of this situation...
    I get to use all my pretty handkerchiefs. Jim assures me that I am highly fashionable with a colorful handkerchief tied round my wrist: "You look like you're in ." My favorites are delicate batiks from Thailand, but I also have a colorful hibiscus batik from Malaysia, a blue nankeen block print from Shanghai, and an Aboriginal dot pattern from Australia. I wish I could find a handkerchief in the over-popular Singapore Airlines fabric [pictured] to round out my collection.

    I don't have to loop. To combat the negative attitude I'm always accused of (can't imagine where you all get this idea), I've been concentrating lately on the positives unique to my life in Singapore, and along with cheap sushi, this one pegs the scale. No loops, no out-and-back, no limiting my route to accommodate Jim's shorter running time. It's completely liberating! I can end up wherever I want and take inexpensive public transportation home. And, of course, this means...

    I make lots of friends on the bus. As popular as I am in general (no one ever wants to sit by the ang moh), you can just imagine the boost to my self-esteem that's provided when I'm drenched in sweat. In my defense, I inhabit the standing area when I'm in my post-run glow, and I do my best not to touch my fellow passengers. True, there was that incident when I lost my balance stretching... So, really, it's not so much that I make friends as that I provide entertainment, which I feel is my duty since everyone likes staring at me so much.

    I might discover a dead body. Seriously! Monday morning, a body was found floating in the Singapore River at UOB Plaza, a favorite on my running route because of its chubby Botero sculpture. The picture in the paper shows the man floating face down, so I can't be sure, but I have this strange feeling that it's Winston.

    I get more time to pick fights with Jim, my oldest running partner, and more time to gossip with Andrea, my newest running partner. Unfortunately, I still miss the super cute floppy ears of my most faithful running partner.

    It's excellent incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Part of me wants to be supportive of my working spouse and to keep a similar schedule; but the rest of me smothers that bitch with my pillow, rolls over, and goes back to sleep. Attempting to beat the heat, or at least the sun, motivates me to arise with my beloved in June Cleaver-like wifely perfection. Of course, it's all downhill from there, unless, of course, Andrea makes me run up Mt Emily.

    I no longer have to listen to Don Quixote. Safety dictates no ipod when playing in traffic, so I've been saved from forty over hours of complete inanity. What was I thinking?

    I am finally starting to - gulp! - acclimatize. After only one month - can it really be? - the outdoor weather is ever-so-slightly less miserably hot. Unfortunately, the indoor air-con is more than making up for it at the other extreme. What are they thinking?

    I'm getting an invaluable city orientation. If taking an exacto knife to a street guide was a great leap forward, running through downtown Singapore is a long jump worthy of . And she's definitely on steroids, too, because either I'm getting bigger (a tragic likelihood in spite of all this running) or Singapore is shrinking: I can cover a shocking amount of this city in a one-hour run.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Charlie Murphy
by venitha

Stuffed to the brim with one last amok, we fend off the hungry drivers, opting instead for a walk. As we amble hand-in-hand toward our hotel, we people-watch, negotiate a morning wake-up time, and finally stumble across a supermarket.

In any Asian city, the wet market is where it's really at, but the grocery store holds truths of its own.

Burning questions are answered. Who graces the tabloids? Far far too often, Britney Spears. Do the women use tampons? Very rarely. Do they like oreos? Everyone likes oreos. Do they unplug the freezer case every night? You think I'm joking.

Little-known facts are revealed. Even the scuzziest dive in India sells Parle-G biscuits. Bananas are outrageously expensive in Australia. Peanut soup exists. Even chocolate is scary when you can't read the label.

In Siem Reap, we happily embark on a scavenger hunt.

"Good diet soda." I stare wide-eyed at a shelf crammed with a dozen different brands, all, of course, sold by individual can.

"Cheap beer," Jim drools. He loves this aisle, too.

"Oooh, here's a new one: almond juice."

"What does a cow have to do with papaya? I'm just sayin'."

Hot pink pickled blinds us from the dairy (?) case. It's beautiful and... frightening.

Pringles cans form towers of epic proportions. Given the limited selection and paltry supply in most Asian supermarkets, this is shocking, and yet I'm disappointed with the same-old-same-old flavor selection. Where's the tom yum, the udang, and, dare I say it, the durian?

In the freezer case, an unbelievable find: Johnsonville brats! Right next to the glutinous rice balls.

Scavenger hunt successful, Jim gallantly carries our liquid prizes, bottles of Bailey's and French wine at heart-stopping prices, and raucously informs all Siem Reap that Charlie Murphy's cooking Johnsonville brats... Johnsonville brats... Johnsonville brats... I tune out the echo, unwrap a stick of Extra! Lemon Fresh chewing gum and am thankful that he doesn't appear to remember the Pringles jingle.