Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Not Gonna Miss That
by venitha

"Will you miss it?" Jenn asked as we started down the stairs.

"No," I told her without a thought, and it was only later that I realized how true that is. It didn't even occur to me to cast one last glance over my shoulder at the majestic Singapore skyline and our gorgeous rooftop view.

Not gonna miss that.

It's become a mantra these last weeks, when a car pulls forward with no purpose other than to obstruct my path, when the guy sitting next to me at the bus stop lights up a cigarette, when the woman at the hair salon cuts my bangs crooked one last time.

Not gonna miss that.

When people rush to board the MRT without allowing anyone first to get off.

Not gonna miss that.

When my cellphone crackles in and out of reception.

Not gonna miss that.

When I buy grapes and a yogurt at the grocery store and have to intervene to leave with only one plastic bag.

Not gonna miss that.

Stuffed with The Last Supper from First Thai, we nonetheless lingered over four shared sinful desserts, reluctant in the face of one last inevitable good-bye. Finally, Bailey's soufflé demolished, profiterole plate cleaned, overpriced Evian drunk, we tearfully hugged dear friends outside Raffles City, then headed on our separate way for one last ride on the MRT.

Jim's arm 'round my waist, I leaned my head on his shoulder. "Saying good-bye to people I love... Definitely not gonna miss that."

Posted from Narita (Tokyo, Japan)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Harper's On Packing Out
by venitha

  • Number of boxes shipped: 100 (14 by air, 86 by sea)
  • Language spoken by packers: Malay
  • Number of man-hours put in by packers: 32
  • Number of weeks before we'll see any of it again: 3-4 weeks air, 6-8 weeks sea
  • Boxes and packing paper saved from our shipment to Singapore that were reused: none
  • Estimated value of shipment: US$65000
  • Estimated value of baby gifts in shipment: Astounding. What do we say, Zoe? Thank you.
  • Most useless item shipped here, unused, and now shipped back: a coatrack
  • Contents of the under-the-sink cabinet that - whoops! - didn't get packed: 8 tubes of Crest toothpaste and 5 bars of Dial soap.
  • Number of episodes of The West Wing, Season 7, Jim and I watched while performing our taxing supervisory role during our two pack-out days: 3
  • Rank of Alan Alda, Jimmy Smits, and GW Bush in our preference for US president: We disagree. I'm glad to be returning to a country where women are allowed to vote. That's called sarcasm, and what I'm really glad for is to be returning to a country where I don't have to label it as such. Returning to a country where GW Bush is president, hmmm...
  • Number of times I claimed to be "Mr. James" on the phone in order to close accounts: 2
  • Number of bags we moved to the Marriott: 12
  • Number of bags we plan to fly home with: 9. Hmmm....
  • Number of these bags I can't lift even when I'm not pregnant: 2
  • Number of laptop computers and ipods included in these bags: 3 and 1
  • Number of Singaporeans who expressed disappointment that none of these items were included in our virtual garage sale: 2
  • Highrise city view demotion in moving from the Pasadena to the Marriott: 19 - 6 = 13 floors
  • Distance-to-the-MRT promotion: 10 - 2 = 8 minutes
  • Most popular Marriott mini-bar item: Ritter (German) chocolate, S$4.80
  • Most unexpected Marriott mini-bar item: men's dress socks, two pairs S$7.50


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dead Or Alive
by venitha

In talking with friends last weekend about skiing in Colorado, I recognized an old friend who's never visited me in Singapore: passion. Enthusiasm, from a joie de vivre to a simple smile, is absent from this country. Or at least, it is for me. And if the expressions on the faces around me are any indication, I'm not alone.

While my pre-Singapore life certainly had its share of going-through-the-motions hours days months years, it also had regular jolts of sun-kissed glee. Blazing bombs down mogul runs, Sound-of-Music twirls atop mountain peaks, waltzing spins that left me dizzy in Jim's arms: moments when there was no denying that I was alive. And while I knew that I was giving up certain specific loves in moving to Singapore, I naively hoped that I might discover something new and exciting to replace them. Alas, however, the pursuits that fill the hearts of many Singaporeans with rapture leave me cold: shopping has never been my thing, and while I do adore conveyor-belt sushi, it's hard to get too excited about food when you're just plain not hungry anymore.

I suspect that shopping and food provide insufficient elation for most locals, too, as I'm not the only one plodding through my life here without a smile on my face and without emotion in my heart. All too often, I'm surrounded by, and in tragically excellent company with, the walking dead. So I was stunned to hear my friend Sara's experience at church in Singapore.

"It's like the difference between being alive and... well... dead," she said, comparing her church here with her church back home in the US. "It's amazing."

"And the 'alive' church is in Singapore? Attended by Singaporeans?" This is simply... unfathomable.

Not that I have any argument for the dead description, as I've attended a significant number of church services for which it is only too apt. But alive can be in no one's top ten list of adjectives for anything Singapore. (My guess is that clean and green would top the list, and if the adjective-challenged Singaporeans were included in the survey, nice would be on it several times.)

My own Singapore church experience is limited to a mere three services, and I unfortunately can't honestly describe a single one of them as alive. Although my sister quite correctly pointed out after one that if I wanted people to smile at me in Singapore, I ought to attend church more often, the other two services can inarguably be described as near lethal: one because TPTB armed a crowd of bored congregants with lit candles for nearly an hour; the other because of excessive - and I mean really excessive - length.

Part of me is disappointed that our few remaining Sundays in Singapore didn't leave time to accompany Sara to her church and to witness this phenomenon, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. I didn't find my passion in Singapore, and it's not because I didn't look for it; it's because it isn't here.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Four More Days
by venitha

I realize that killing myself at this point because I hate my hair would be a bit extreme, but I don't know if I can stand four more days of this.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Breakfast of Champions
by venitha

Reheated leftovers in hand, I track Jim down as he fills out an inventory sheet and cranks some tunes in our second spare bedroom, also known as Mexico, thanks to its bedspread's country of origin (spare bedroom number one is India), now jam-packed with our ocean shipment (India is our air shipment).

"This would go really well with a glass of red wine." Pasta with vegetables and an obscene amount of garlic. I've concocted some pretty crazy meals as I've cleared out our food this past week, but things improved dramatically once I started using up the garlic.

"Sorry lah," Jim says, glancing guiltily at the claret-filled Spiegelau goblet perched precariously on a cardboard box. He's having more fun clearing out the cupboards than I. He's even nervily planned a going-away gathering with co-workers at Cafe Iguana, of margaritas-as-big-as-your-head fame.

I accused him of cruelty, but in his defense, he says, he didn't think I'd want to go, and he's right. "You'd be bored," he assures me.

"You think? Surrounded by engineers I don't know and unable to drink?" Tragically, Cafe Iguana's nachos are nothing to blog about.

While it does seem harsh not to be allowed one last sip of a macho margarita - frozen, with salt, thank you very much - alcohol has been surprisingly easy, and unsurprisingly lucrative here in Singapore, to give up. I should have started Zoe's college fund with the pile of greenbacks (bluebacks? orangebacks?) I've saved. Jim, on the other hand, is salivating in expectation of toppling the over-priced and over-watery and over-sized Tiger Beer from its unmerited position as king of the mountain (sultan of Bukit Timah?) with a hard shove from a less expensive and vastly superior six-pack of Fat Tire, the undoubted accompaniment of our much-anticipated inaugural supper at home, Pulcinella's double-crust spinach pizza.

In the meantime, there's supersweet Taiwanese wine for Jim and a whole lotta garlic for me. The breakfast, the lunch, and the dinner of champions two expats who pack out tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Short-Timer's Syndrome
by venitha

Jim and I are clearly suffering from Short-Timer's Syndrome. The symptoms: irritability, the sense that time is passing e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, and a venomous hatred for all things Singapore. I know you read this and wonder how I detect a difference from my normal state of mind here, but trust me, this is far worse.

Every day for a week now one of us - or the other of us - or both of us - suggests it. "Let's just go to the airport right now. Get on a plane. Leave all this behind." Who wants it? Who needs it? Who cares? We just want out.

Away from the heat. Away from the piles of things to be packed. Away from the customs forms. Away from the elaborate dance required to close accounts.

"And just exactly what information will my husband provide that I cannot?" I ask in exasperation when the drone on the phone refuses to cancel our credit card. Nothing, of course, but this is Singapore, and rules are rules. His Majesty Jim, aka The Man, must call himself. I toy with the idea of calling back with a deeper voice, maybe even with a slow southern drawl. Mornin', little lady. But I decide that the zillion buttons that would be pushed, both the phone's and mine, before I'm again allowed the pleasure of speaking to an actual person would too likely result in the phone's abrupt transformation into killer litter.

I add cancel credit card to Jim's list, and I IM him at work:

Meet you at the airport in 20 minutes?


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Toto, Too?
by venitha

I crank the bedroom's air-con to 18, yet I toss and turn for hours, much too hot to sleep. It's hard not to view the baby within me as the fiery Heat Miser, flaming red hair inherited from grandma, charming personality inherited from me.

I throw the flimsy blanket off, then on, and contort my body in search of a non-existent cool spot. It's hard not to view this bed as the devil's maw, an evil embodiment of the last two years, for our purchase of it, roughly two years ago and shortly after I broke my knee, is a demarkation point, beyond which there was no denying that all hell had broken loose. I woke early this morning to a mere week of nights left to sleep in this bed and in this room. And how much longer, I wondered, shall "all hell" last?

I rolled onto my back and tried to calm my mind, to cool my body, with thoughts of the wintry weather we'll return to on January 31st and the blissful comfort of the waterbed I haven't slept in in what seems like forever. Ah, the glory of sliding smoothly under layer upon layer of heavy blanket, the pleasure of warming ice-cold feet against Jim's calves.

And, oh, that first morning to wake up in my own bed and in my own room, light softly filtered through filmy swaths of slate blue. I'll snuggle deep beneath the weight of the down comforter, only my nose peeking out for arctic fresh air. I'll spoon close behind Jim - or, given my current condition, he'll spoon close behind me - and I'll tell him, "I had the strangest dream. You were there... but, oh! There's no place like home!"


Friday, January 19, 2007

chicken coup leg tragedy
by jima

A year-and-a-half later, Extreme Tracking is still cooler than sliced bread.

Wondering just who, if anyone, was out there reading, Venitha installed Extreme Tracking on this blog fairly early on, thereby creating an addiction, a turnabout-is-fair-play satisfaction (you are, after all, reading our, or at least Venitha's, most intimate thoughts), and a great source of amusement. It shows specific visitors (Hi, Mom!), it lists numbers of hits based on country of origin (major spike after our trip to India last year), and best of all, it displays the web searches that have led people to this blog.

I've been saving the good searches, and, with less than two weeks left to this adventure, it's finally time to share. The following are the top ten searches that led people to this blog:

10) Massage. These searches are more common than propositions in Chinatown. They range from the normal:

javanese massage, singapore

to the off-color

"spa singapore buttock massage"

to the downright pornographic, which I did not save. Sorry lah.

9) Context. The searches that make me think I need to pay more attention to what Venitha's writing.

Davenport of despair

cowboys in skintight wranglers

miss singapore transvestite contest

Acrobat lounge waitresses uniforms

8) Names. With a name like Venitha, it's not unfathomable that people might look for her and find this blog. Oddly, I recently saw that someone had arrived here after searching for my generic name. Yes, in spite of all the Indians dismissing Venitha as a dime a dozen and enthusing, "Jim! What an interesting name!", my first name, my last name, and, lamentably, the combination are all quite common in the US. We'll be naming the baby Beelzebub to make her life easier.

7) Bizarro. Searches that really really make me wonder about the general searching public.

Eat eyeballs

Eat stingray cook
Lots of unidentifiable stuff at hawker centres, but this takes the cake.

what color bulb should i use in a chicken coup
Nope. Not making this up. Not even the spelling error.

Caning of mandarin orange
Singapore is harsh. What crime exactly does an orange commit to warrant caning?

And now the searches that deserve individual praise, both for the searcher and for the blog that's found:

6) T
Searching for the letter T on google produces about 3 billion results. And they found us! Such an honor!

5) dealing with a macho husband
Clearly, Venitha was searching.

4) Squat on toilet leg severed
Whoa! I'm not a big fan of squat toilets, but I had no idea they could be this dangerous!

3) "the jeff tobin"
Pre-pending the the takes googling yourself to a whole new level. Impressive.

2) hottest singapore blogs
Undoubtedly, the most appropriate search to end at this blog.

And, finally, the best search ever:

1) turd milkshake
Actually, maybe this one's more appropriate? Makes me laugh every time I read it.

Thanks for playing. If you can find an outrageous search that lands here, let me know!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Personal Space
by venitha

"Personal space," Jim amends the growing list of what we're looking forward to at home, then laughs when I take an exaggerated step away.

"Not from you two, silly!" He pulls me back beside him, leans to kiss my ever-expanding belly.

With his daily commute to and from work, pressed against commuters on a crowded bus or MRT, Jim suffers from this over-closeness more than I do. But I can relate. The book in my bag to give me patience in endless queues, the river of slow-moving shoppers flooding Orchard Road, a view arrested by highrise next to highrise: all have become the norm.

The following morning, a rare Monday when I've got an early appointment, I remember our conversation as I'm packed tightly among my fellow passengers on the MRT.

The crowd thins at Dhoby Ghaut, and I gratefully snag a single empty seat, tucking my bulk and my too-many packages between a svelte young woman dressed all in lime green, furiously SMS-ing with one thumb, and an old man, dozing peacefully.

As the train speeds on, its momentum presses me firmly against the softly snoring Rip Van Winkle. The warmth, the human contact, is pleasant, is reassuring, a welcome connection in this busy, distracted, impersonal city. I yawn widely and stifle an exhausted impulse to rest my head against a fatherly shoulder.

The train arrives at City Hall, spurring a mass exodus. The commotion jolts Rip into consciousness, and he looks frantically out the window to identify the station, then stares sidelong at me in wide-eyed alarm before propelling himself smoothly across three just-vacated seats, down the blue plastic bench to fall back asleep immediately, snuggled against a cold metal bar and a hard plexiglass barrier, far, far from me.

As the train accelerates toward Raffles City, I move my bags from my lap to the empty seat beside me and take comfort in the caress of the tunnel's cool wind.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Chocolate Buffet
by venitha

"What a beautiful umbrella!" Brian greeted me at his door.

"Isn't it? Makes me feel like Mary Poppins." In truth, Mary Poppins had dissolved slowly but surely on the too-long too-wet journey from my apartment to his, her spirits dampened first by the little girl cowering behind her parents on the lift (She's afraid of what? My freckles?), doused further by the astonishingly-long rush-hour wait in sideways rain at the bus stop, and then extinguished entirely by the drenching wade up the Wilkie waterfall.

By the time I arrived at Brian and Andrea's, dripping with both raindrops and sweat, I was the Wicked Witch, or at least a flying monkey, a minion devotedly on Elphaba's side.

"Poor wicked witches," I told Brian as I removed my waterlogged shoes in a vain attempt to leave the wet outside. "They don't stand a chance in Singapore."


Several hours later, umbrellas safely ensconced in plastic condoms, four slightly damp ladies descended upon the Fullerton Hotel's much-anticipated chocolate buffet, leaving soggy footprints...

from the entree table (cakes, tarts, candies, cookies, mousses, and, of course, grape soup)...

to the chocolate fountain (fruits, croissants, and swirled marshmallow concoctions provided for your dipping pleasure)...

to the meltery (choose your poison - mmmm...hazelnut - then have it enchanted before your eyes into an adorable and steaming cup of vastly-superior-to-Milo hot chocolate).

Of chocolate-y note:
  • La crème de la crème: The one indulgence that was universally ooohed over was the Acacia Honey Chocolate Shooter, an incredibly creamy Bailey's topped with slivered almonds. Do you drink it or do you use a spoon? Impossible to decide; best get another one to study the matter further. We all also made our share of yummy noises over the Fullerton Chocolate Cake and its unidentifiable layers. "Nuts?" "Graham crackers?" "Wheat germ? But not in a bad way..."

  • Chocolate bombs: I have pretty firm beliefs about what should be allowed to contaminate my chocolate. (I may never forgive Singapore Airlines for the mean joke of serving a gorgeous chocolate cake flavored with "Oh, geez, orange? That's downright cruel." Jim: "Yeah, you can have mine, too.") Unsurprisingly, I found lemon, in the form of a frothy meringue-like topping to an otherwise delectable chocolate torte, even less appealing. And in case you were wondering about green tea and chocolate pudding? Ew. Chilled black cherry chocolate yogurt, on the other hand...

  • The chocolate fountain: While delicious, especially coating large succulent strawberries and thin crunchy breadsticks, the fountain, resembling a many-tiered chocolate wedding cake, was a visual disappointment, more of a chocolate fall or chocolate falls in my opinion. Of course, I now realize that my fantasy of an upward-shooting, splashy celebration of a fountain, while more in line with my own feelings about chocolate, would be quite impractical and a bit, well, splattery, and is probably why I'm not employed designing chocolate fountains. Drat.

  • One glaring omission: chocolate cheesecake. There was, however, a scrumptious mango-topped New York cheesecake, about which I have no complaints. It deliciously played its role of palate-cleansing sorbet, and was vastly superior to that abomination they barbarously label cheesecake in Japanese restaurants.

  • I-did-not-know-that fact: One can only eat so much chocolate before she really just does not want any more. Who knew?


By the end of the night, as Andrea and I rushed through the endless downpour to catch the last MRT toward home, I happily noted a new transformation, one induced by exquisite chocolate and treasured female friends, friends who make me think and make me laugh and make me, astonishingly, sad to be leaving Singapore. Miraculously, the Wicked Witch had been replaced, I noted with a radiant smile, by a beautiful ballgown-clad Cinderella.

Or perhaps, I mused, as I slumped, wicked tired and already more than a little chocolate-hungover, on past Andrea's MRT stop, she'd become the rag-clad Cinderella.

Or perhaps, I realized, as I plodded soggily past our dozing condo guard and gawped in the lift's mirror at a damp wreck, chubby cheeked and roundly stuffed with both chocolate and baby, she was merely the pumpkin.


Monday, January 08, 2007

SOS Garage Sale
by venitha

At the SOS (Sumatran Orangutan Society) garage sale in Ubud, we admire a long-sleeved t-shirt sporting a familiar god emblem, sanskrit scribbling down its sleeves.

"It's your colour!" blonde #1 says, an audible wink in her Scottish brogue. Jim and I laugh. The shirt is a blinding blaze orange, a color that looks marvelous on the chocolaty Balinese, but on the Scottish, including our pale hostess and, distantly, swarthy Jim, not so much.

While Miss Scotland chats Jim up, I shop, demolishing first a perfectly folded pile of batik bath robes, then a neat stack of hibiscus-patterned beach shorts.

"Singapore is so clean," she gushes. This the one positive sentiment that everyone makes about Singapore. I roll my eyes at a pretty blue wraparound skirt that can grow with my expanding belly. It does a snotty little so clean dance; I like it. "And how do you find Singapore?"

"It's a good place to travel from," Jim offers, tossing back the audible wink.

Miss Scotland catches it and laughs wryly on cue. "I know what you mean. It's a strange place, isn't it? I'm not sure I could live there."

"Well, it definitely doesn't compare to Bali. We'll be glad to go home."

"Oh, Bali has its moments. But they do have the most fabulous coffee here." I've given up a lot for these ungrateful orangutans, but not, thank God, my cappuccino. She yawns dramatically, garage sale volunteer clearly being an exhausting job, then excuses herself for her mid-afternoon caffeine run.

I move from the clothes to the jewelry, enormous gaudy necklaces and thick silver bracelets. My audible entertainment moves from Scotland to, I later learn, Belgium, where blonde #2 is holding forth an overly-bright one-sided outrageous-French-accented conversation with Miss Indonesia, a local volunteer. Her condescending tone hurts my teeth. I grimace, the local lovely smiles patiently, clearly in the running for Miss Congeniality, and the uselessly-shaped pottery in front of me gapes stupidly.

Jim takes my selections from my arms, then cocks an eyebrow at the lopsided pots. I intercept him before he states the obvious: I only like them because they're blue.

"Passing on the shirt, izzit?"

"Yeah, there's just not that much deer hunting in my future. Hey, look at all those lamps!" He's right: we don't need any more blue dishes. To his chagrin, I add two small ones to his load.

"Orang utans are a good cause," I tell him, pronouncing the word appropriately in its language of origin, Malay. Jim nods with mock sagacity and wisely says nothing, transporting my purchases to Miss Belgium for her talent competition, excessive wrapping. She's good.

Momentarily, Miss Scotland returns, triumphantly bearing two steaming cups of cappuccino. "It's really hot out there today. Look at me, all sweaty! And I just went to get coffee."

I look at her. She is sweaty. If this is her talent, Miss Belgium's definitely got her beat.

She turns to Jim. "You must be used to the heat now, after all this time in Singapore."

From the picture frames, I join in Jim's laughter. "I don't think you ever get used to it. Hot is hot."

Miss Indonesia takes an innocent sip of her cool blended fruit juice, then moves to restore order to the havoc Typhoon Venitha wreaked on the clothing tables.

Before the frothy cappuccino grows cold, I resist the lamps and finish browsing. Miss Belgium totals our purchases, and Jim, recently thrilled by his millionaire status, pays her tens of thousands of rupiah.

I turn to Miss Scotland and flash my best Miss America smile. "Now where's this fabulous coffee shop?"

Jim and I spent six glorious days in Ubud, Bali, in December.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pizza Cantik
by venitha

Jim looks down with satisfaction at our pizza cantik (pronounced chahn-tee, meaning beautiful), spinach and egg atop wholemeal crust, and takes a lip smacking sip of his Storm Ale.

"We've come a long way, baby, from a six-pack of Old Milwaukee and an Uncle Jim's pepperoni." This the standard college fare in Madison, something that neither Jim nor I would ever turn down. Truth be told, however, what I could really go for is that other Wisconsin mainstay, batter-fried cheese curds.

"Cheers!" I clink my Fanta soda water against Jim's beer bottle. "To a very long way. Though I expected no less of you. I remember thinking, the first time I saw you... Here is a man who will one day voluntarily order spinach pizza in Bali for me and his unborn child. I'd better snap him up fast. Big hair, be damned."

Jim laughs. His hair is no longer big, in spite of the best efforts of southeast Asia's humidity, and we knew each other for a very long time before we became more than friends.

"And wholemeal crust. Don't forget the wholemeal crust." Jim serves me a slice of pizza. "Which does look like whole wheat." We'd debated this, does wholemeal mean whole wheat, and concluded it was likely that or grubs, but definitely something we could view as healthy.

As we make yummy noises over our shared lunch and discuss our plans for the afternoon (V: Another massage? I'm shocked! J: Another nap? I'm shocked!), my attention wanders to our fellow diners, two bronzed Caucausian women discussing the menu animatedly with their hands. Avoiding my gaze are pale blue eyes, alive with laugh lines, set in a face rugged with outdoor fun; staring openly is a bare back, below a head wild with dirty blonde dreadlocks, bound messily in a batik-patterned scrunchy.

These two could easily be in Madison, window shopping at the head shops on State Street or sipping a beer on the union terrace. And they'd be right at home at a ski resort in the mountains of Colorado. Not Vail, of course, or even Steamboat really, but they would flirt with snowboarders on the lifts at A Basin, and they would savor the springtime sunshine at a tailgate party in Mary Jane's Utah Junction parking lot.

Every last bite of our pizza savored and several fingers noisily licked, Jim and I make our way hand-in-hand past the table of muses. I listen for their conversation, hoping to catch their language, but they are suddenly silent, blinking up at me. "Dude!" I want to say, but I have nothing more, and before I know it Jim and I are standing among scattered temple offerings on Jalan Hanoman, roosters crowing, scooters beeping, men hopefully offering "Transport?". Next to me, a statue wears a black-and-white checked skirt, hibiscus blossoms behind each ear; across the dusty road, shoots of rice stand at perky attention, attended to by farmers ankle deep in mud.

Blinking up at Bali's hot afternoon sun, I squeeze Jim's hand. We've come a long way, baby.

Jim and I spent six glorious days in Ubud, Bali, in December.