Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Culture clash

We have a friend here who tried an experiment in China. He went into a KFC and ordered a sundae with half chocolate, half strawberry. He was told that was not possible. "Yes, you can do it" he told them. "It won't taste good" was their reply.
"I'll be the judge of that. Just give me half chocolate and half strawberry." It was a lengthly battle finally won. He did it to test a strong cultural bond in China - the whole idea of changing the rules, thinking independently. It's extremely hard for many of them.

I find the same kind of thinking here as well sometimes. Yesterday I was shopping and wanted to try on a white shirt. I got the old stonewall, "Cannot."
me: Why?
Shoplady: Cannot. Cannot.
me: (let's try Chinese) Wei shenme?
Shoplady: (Don't insult me, I can speak English) Company policy.
I thought, "Now of all the colors I feel like it's safe for me to try on, it's white. That's the one color I won't get deodorant on." But then I reasoned, "Well, maybe it's to avoid getting make up on it," but I was still a little perturbed.

Later, I wanted to try another white shirt, so I asked her again, this time hoping for an actual REASON, "Why?"
"Cannot. Company policy." But WHY? That's the thing that gets me - they won't tell me the reason beyond what has been told to them.

I realize this isn't quite the same as what my friend encountered, but it grates on the cultural nerves because it's the idea that I should be satisfied with this level of reasoning. The rule is there, so you should be content with that. Curse my American upbringing which taught me to question everything!

In another store, I found their encouragement of this rule amusing. It simply said, "Please don't let our clothes ruin your make-up." Now we're getting somewhere.

Our fairy princess Megan

More signs of the times

Here are some of the interesting signs i've seen around:

In passing an office called SSi Technology, which boasted the slogan, "The domain of experts" I found it ironic that the office was completely empty. I'm talking it looked like these people skipped town overnight and didn't bother to vacuum. It can't be good for the rest of us.

Several places I've seen ads for an English program called (again appreciating the irony), "Speak Good English" accompanied by the phrases, "Speak clearly" and "be understood." I really hope a lot of people respond to this ad, because I have to say I still have a hard time with the Singaporean accent, particularly the taxi drivers. Smile and nod doesn't work well when you're hoping for a specific location.

Finally, my favorite, the signs you see upon entering the subway, or MRT as it's called here. These signs tell you what you will be fined for on the MRT and they are as follows: no food/drink (fine $500); no smoking (fine $1000); no flammable goods ($5000) and no durian (no fine, but probably lots of dirty looks).

Friday, December 24, 2004

I don't understand, but I'm COLD

I was standing in the post office yesterday where, despite the fact that due to air con it was already about 18 degrees Celcius (which is . . . I don't know . . . it's COLD, I know that). And on top of that, there was a fan blowing. Right on me. So here I am, Minnesota born and bred, freezing my tail off on a tropical island. Perhaps fitting given that it was December 23rd.

But it brought me back to this baffling question - why do they keep it so insanely cold inside? There is no reasonable explanation. It's not like these people transplanted from Alaska and can't handle the heat. Do they like to waste electricity? Do they like to spend money on a whole second wardrobe to wear indoors? Is this a silly way to demonstrate wealth? Do they just not like wearing shorts?! (side note: I have had almost no luck finding shorts here, even capris).

To add oddity upon oddity, many of them don't run their air cons at home - they just leave doors and windows open. I am at a loss to explain this, but I am really wishing now that I hadn't sent all my winter clothes back to the states. If you plan on coming to visit, don't forget your jacket!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Creative, but . . .

So when the kids were having "room time" today (Megan in their room and Ethan in the office, supposedly resting and doing "quiet" activities), I heard Ethan say to Megan, "Ok, Megan, so here's what we're going to do. I'm going to tie this rope around you . . ." which was the point when any good mother should intervene.

Turns out that Ethan had a great idea during room time, drew a picture of it, and then wanted Megan to join in the fun. I have to give Ethan points for creativity as well as putting a plan into action (that shows initiative) but I had to put the kabosh on this one. See below for evidence. Megan is the one hanging off the bed.

Ethan's depiction of fun with Megan

Monday, December 20, 2004

Almost like home

A friend of ours from work has lent us her car this week. So it would seem that a trip to the grocery store this morning would have been just like it is at home. You know - pile the kids into the car, drive there, park, go in, get stuff, pile the stuff and the kids back in the car and you're home free.

Well, it was almost like that. Except at home I don't have to sit down and ponder maps of the most unorganized country I've ever been in (why can't the streets just run north/south, and east/west? Why are there so many one ways?) to figure out how to get somewhere that's one subway stop away. And at home, I don't have to drive chanting the mantra, "Stay left! Stay left!" and wonder if I am going to scrape something with the left side of the car.

And at home, no one bothers to separate out my groceries by category, a practice here that annoys and amuses me simultaneously. I specified that I didn't mind if my bagger put all my groceries together, but I still got my fabric softener, my apples, and my bread in three separate bags. And one gigantic bag that could have contained both my children but instead only held toilet paper, kleenex, and pull-ups. What a waste of plastic.

I don't know if you can turn on red here (so I didn't) but I do know that there's an unwritten norm that everyone - and I mean everyone - should back into their parking space in the carpark (but I didn't do that either). I was happy to be able to park at all sitting on the right side of the car. Both times I parked I was pretty crooked. It's the wrong side I tell you!

I only got lost a little. And I only got one dirty look from another driver, which I returned because I thought it was his fault, but then I realized later that it was mine so I felt a little bad. I think my children are convinced I am insane with all the audible muttering I did. "Mommy, who are you talking to?" "Shh! I'm driving!"

So it was almost like home. But I don't think we'll be buying our own car anytime soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

quirky things in the Singaporean movie theater

I'd like to point out three oddities about the movie theater we frequent here:
First of all, it is the coldest place in Singapore, aside from Snow City. Possibly nearly as cold as Snow City. The first time I went, I made the fatal mistake of wearing shorts and a tank top. When I left the theater, my body had that burning feeling you get when you heat up too quickly in a Minnesota winter. I couldn't feel my toes for about 1/2 hour.
Last night, I dressed smart - sweater, jeans, and I brought a pair of socks. I really could have used a blanket though. It reminded me of watching movies in my parents' basement in the winter.
Second, there is a concession stand in this theater much like other concession stands. You can buy the bigger popcorn for pennies more (Though they don't actually have pennies here). But the funny thing is the big signs on the doors of the theaters, "No food or drink allowed." I watched a guy stand and eat his nachos just right outside the door. So I guess, come early if you want to snack.
The third thing is that both times I have used a movie theater bathroom, I have happened to get the one squatty potty stall. Squatty potties to me should be a thing of the past, so there's some technological dissonance in my mind when there's a motion detection flush feature to the squatty. I just don't know what else to say about that.

So what movie did we see? National Treasure. I have to give it an, "Entertaining, but Nicolas Cage annoys me more every time I see him" critique.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Love in action

I have seen something recently that amazes me. It shouldn't amaze me, because it's simply love in action and it should happen everywhere, all the time. But it doesn't.

It is in witnessing an old man and what I assume is his granddaughter. She is probably about 1 1/2 years old and seems mentally impaired. Every day he takes her outside to play on the playground, go swimming, or just walk around pointing things out to her.

What amazes me about this is the look on his face. It is a look of pure joy and devotion. It is like there is nothing more important in the world to him than taking care of her. I want to cry every time I see him, because he is loving her so well. She is growing up surrounded by his kindness and grace to her and I know that it will impact her life forever. It is powerful and encouraging. It is the way I picture God caring for us and it is beautiful to see.

Ethan quotes of late

Recently, to Erik, "Dad, we're white people!" (followed by a long and confusing conversation about the various colors of people in the world).

Today, after sniffing himself, said, "I smell like skin!"

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Just like China!

Last night I felt like I was in China again. And yet, not. Erik and I ventured down to Orchard Road for reasons which are now unclear - I think we were going to do some shopping. You know what Target is like the day after Christmas? This was worse. Which is what made it feel just like China!

It started in the subway, where the flood of people trying to get on the elevator was such that you could probably just pick up your feet and let the crowd carry you along. It's really tempting to moo.

Then on the streets, we felt like we must be walking the wrong way because there were so many people walking in the opposite direction. After awhile we figured out that part of the problem was that we were walking on the right side as opposed to the left (it's just like driving!). But even then, it's the most defensive walking I've ever had to do. You can't do much else besides just focus on not running into someone.

It wasn't like China though in the fact that most people actually were paying attention as well. In China, it's very common for someone to be walking toward you reading a paper in that kind of traffic. I guess the theory is, "Everyone else is watching, so I don't need to."

It also wasn't like China because along the crowded sidewalk there was an entire life size nativity scene, complete with explanations of each part of the Christmas story - who were the Magi? What did the angels say? What is the nativity? The fact that there were lights and trees and Christmas carols everywhere was one thing, but you would never see a giant nativity scene in China.
But another "just like China" moment came in the bathroom of a department store. The woman who came out of a stall before me was an older Chinese, and I noticed that she had left both lids up. Which means, for those of you who don't live where squatty potties are prevalent, that she squatted over the toilet. There are some things you just don't miss.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Singapore national pastime

I'm sitting here bummed because it is pouring down rain (and by pouring I mean POURING) outside so I can't go shopping.

Shopping, I'm told, is the Singapore national pastime. This wouldn't be hard to discern apart from actually being told, because there is about 1 shopping mall for every 100 people in this country. I had planned on going to the north side Orchard Road, which is sort of main street downtown. One weekend awhile ago I hit the south side - it took me a whole day and I think I hit at least 6 Esprit stores. I'm suddenly, after about a 15 year hiatus, in love with Esprit again. I remember buying two complete Esprit outfits in 7th grade. By I digress . . .

Living here and having access to such an abundance of shopping opportunities has, I've realized, done a nasty number on my heart. A week or so ago, I realized that I was carrying around this constant level of stress. When I examined it, most of the things that were stressing me were things I felt I needed or (more likely) wanted to buy and didn't have the time to purchase.

Finding contentment in a land of plenty is something that hasn't been an issue for me in a long time (because I lived somewhere where there wasn't much to buy!). It's a good challenge, but a frustrating one as it is a constant struggle. I hate the obsession. These things are temporal, not eternal. They will pass away as quickly as they come, and what will I have to show for it? I am so grateful that because of Christ I have hope beyond this life, that I have eternal things I can fill my life with that won't pass away. I just hope I can remember to keep them my focus.

Friday, December 10, 2004

snow city

So today we gathered up any warm clothes we had and headed to a place called Snow City. Truth be told, it should be called, "Snow room with small hill." Price of admission included pretty nappy jackets and boots, and rented pairs of mittens (far too big for my kids). Side note: maybe the people there have grown accustomed to the overwhelming locker room like smell, but they need to seriously invest in some deodorizers for those of us who aren't.

Despite the foot odor room spray, walking into the "cold room" felt like a wave of pure goodness washing over me. It ministered to my midwestern spirit. For about 15 minutes. Then the cold sank in. Normally for temperatures like that, I would have been dressed much warmer and enjoyed it. So would my kids. They enjoyed a few inner tube trips down the snow hill, playing in the igloo (the wooden igloo) and climbing on the playground. Megan even had a few minutes of glee scooping up the only free snow (everything else was packed rock hard) out of a large box and throwing it in the air.

Ethan lasted longer than Megan, who was crying to go home after about 30 minutes, but by the end they were glad to get back out into the air conditioning that suddenly felt like a heater. Maybe we'll try it again sometime more adequately clad.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Maybe our children would have liked the "snow" if they were dressed like this cutie.

Megan and Erik play with the "snow" at Tanglin mall

Sunday, December 05, 2004

eyebrows on dogs

Most of the dogs we saw in China were of the size and temperament that stirred in me a strong desire to either drop kick them, or flip them over and use them to wash my floor. We've been pleasantly surprised at the lack of this type of dog here. In fact, we've seen very few dogs. Mostly, we see cats. Tailless cats, but that's another story.

There is one dog we see regularly though on our walk to the MRT (subway station). He normally lives in a house in an alley, and watches us walk by his open door. He's a nice looking dog – a larger, short haired tan and white dog which I'm sure there is a proper name for but that's the best I can describe him.

Yesterday he had a change of venue. He was chained up in the alley while his owner was cleaning something. And that was when I noticed something I hadn't seen in the dark doorway of his house. This dog has two thick black arches drawn over both eyes, like clown eyebrows. This is a complete mystery to me. Is it just for fun? Do other people do this? Is it some strange religious ritual? Does it wash off? Does it bother the dog? Does PETA know about this? There are just too many questions.

If anyone has any insight, please let me know. Poor dog.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Accept no substitutes

Despite being climate challenged in the winter department, Singapore tries its hardest to make it look like Christmas around here. Orchard Road is probably consuming, on a nightly basis, the electricity needed to fuel a large metropolitan area with all its lights. Clerks everywhere are wearing Santa hats. Every major shopping mall is hosting someone dressed like a large cartoon character. I saw a Christmas tree on a bus a few weeks ago. Not just someone taking one home - it was all decorated and taking up space.

And every night at the Tanglin mall (read: high priced expat mall) they have an "avalanche" and a "snowstorm." Being the devoted Minnesotans that we are, our bodies gravitated toward it like homing pigeons. Turns out (and we knew this but couldn't really picture it) they just pump out a bunch of soap suds at eager, rain gear clad children who romp around in it until they are soaked.

All except our children. Ethan took one look at it and proclaimed, "Well, I don't want to get all wet!" Megan just kept whining about the bubbles in her shoes. We hung around for awhile and tried to get them interested, but it wouldn't take. When you've seen the real thing, there's just no substitute. For the first time in Singapore, I walked away from something thinking, "These poor deprived Singaporean children." For those of you who have the real stuff, spend a little extra time in it today for us, ok?

the days of yore

I was feeling a little nostalgic today for the good old days. By that I mean my childhood, which I am realizing is gradually falling into the "long time ago" category of my mind. And probably everyone else's too.

The reason for my nostalgia started with making omlettes for my children. That reminded me of mornings at grandpa's, when he would make hands-down the best pancakes in the history of the world. It was the only place, aside from Perkins, where I was offered strawberry and blueberry syrup, in addition to the incomparable Karo syrup. He also made eggs, sausage and bacon, hence the trip down memory lane.

After the omlettes I ate some m&m's and am I the only one who misses the light brown ones? Am I the only one who remembers the light brown ones for that matter? I also miss how m&m's used to come packaged in that funky paper that was only sealed around the ends, not all the way around like now.

And has anyone seen the new Strawberry Shortcake dolls? They look like something out of Chuckie, the movie. When I was a kid, they were fun, non-scary toys. Sounds like a bad example of groupthink to me, "Hey, let's make the Strawberry Shortcake dolls again, only this time let's make their heads twice as big!" "Yeah, sounds good, pass the doughnuts!"

I know what you're thinking, "Those are nice stories grandma." I'm just sayin' is all - sometimes things used to be better.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Ethan and his friend Bayley took an unauthorized dip in the courtyard fountain on Thanksgiving Day

The kids had a great time with their friends on Thanksgiving!

Erik and I on Thanksgiving Day

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

How to feed a family of four on US$3

There is a place across the street called a Hawker Center (or Centre if you want to be technical). There are outdoor eating areas like this found all over Singapore. They consist generally of a sheltered area with many small eating shops. Since we are so close to Little India, ours is smattered with several Indian places amongst the Chinese ones, though I'm not sure if this is the case everywhere.

So when it gets to be 6 p.m. and you realize, "Hey, I have no inkling whatsoever to make dinner and I highly suspect that nothing is going to materialize on my table by itself" you grab your wallet and head out the door.

Such was the case tonight, so while Erik took the kids swimming, I went first to the Indian Muslim place where I bought some lamb curry and potato curry with yellow rice (S$3) and swung over to the Tong Siew fried rice stall to get the kids' favorite dish (S$2). The couple there was serving it up at such a frantic pace it reminded me of the fish and loaves story from the Bible - where was all that rice coming from? They were also jabbering at each other in what I can only guess is Hokkien, the local Chinese dialect. I tried some Mandarin on them but it didn't take.

Really, it's so cheap we should just eat there every night, but I think that might be a little more curry that our bodies can handle. So for now it will just remain a convenient standby.

Just when you thought I couldn't say any more about tropical fruit

I know, I posted twice about Durian alone, but I have to put in a blurb about Rambutans, because they are native to Singapore and I know I've never seen one before. I also have a special interest in Rambutans because our MOPS discussion group is named after them (each group has a fruit name).

As you can see from the pictures below, it has the same outward appeal as the Durian - spikey and frightening. We got this one free from our fruit guy, so Ethan and I decided to check it out. The shell is tough, but you can cut it with a sharp knife (or probably a fingernail, but who wants to try that?). The inside is clear fruit that feels like a hard grape. Turns out it tastes a bit like one too, only sweeter. Once we got over the looks, Ethan and I discovered that we really enjoyed them! If you ever see this tropical fruit in your area, give it a try!

What do I think of this Rambutan?

A peek on the inside (the fruit is on the left)

how does it taste?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Megan was laughing at daddy in this picture.

Ethan's getting to be a fish!

Megan needs her baby, her Elmo, and her Strawberry Shortcake with her every night!

whatcha doin' Ethan?

Ethan and Megan by the fountain

Thursday, November 18, 2004

bu hao yisi! (how embarassing!)

Today I witnessed what I hope was a man's most embarassing moment. If he's had worse than this, well, it's a miracle this man has picked up and moved on.

I was taking the kids to the market in the double stroller. When the elevator door opened, there was a man in there wearing a shirt and what I thought at first was a Speedo swimsuit. He appeared to be struggling to put on shorts. As I pushed the stroller in, I realized, "That's not a suit, that's just plain old cotton bikini underwear." He was apparently getting dressed in the elevator. Not only that, but in his haste, his choice of underwear wasn't exactly containing all that it should have been. Yikes!

Once I realized what was happening, I was already in the elevator and the doors were shutting, so I turned around to face the front. This would have been a good plan, except that there are mirrors on all sides of the elevator, so I could still see my embarassed acquaintance. He was facing backwards saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." You're sorry? I'm sorry! If I possessed reflexes faster than a sloth, I might have had the good sense to turn around and leave you in your public dressing misery. Thank God my kids didn't see enough to ask questions.

To add insult to serious injury, as we left our complex we saw a van leaving our basement, and the same man was running after it screaming, "Wait for me! Wait for me!!!!" I don't think he caught them. He probably walked to work, the whole way thinking, "I would have made it if not for the lady with the two kids!"

After that, this man has nowhere to go but up. And I'm going to be a little more cautious when I enter the elevator.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My chicken people

One fun thing about outdoor markets is how over time you develop certain people you buy from consistently. You get a "fruit lady" and a "vegetable man." Here, I have my "chicken people." It's a little mom, pop and son business. Usually I buy several chicken breasts when I go, and little mom (tiny Chinese woman) slaps them on her cutting board and deftly pulls off the skin and cuts off the bones, and little dad throws them in a bag and asks for S$1.10 each. Occasionally I speak to them in Chinese, and they speak back and compliment my skills, which is nice and overly gracious of them.

Today, I branched out in my chicken experience by asking for a whole chicken. This was a job for the son. He chopped off the head and feet, and offered them to me (I politely declined). He stripped off the skin almost in one movement, and chopped it into chunks for my cacciatore. The whole chicken was S$6.50.

I've heard the chickens are fresh each morning, and they are all kept waiting in a glass case. So I try to ignore when little mom has a bandaged finger which she's using to cut my chicken, or there's a little Chinese size cockroach (significantly smaller than the American variety) running nearby. They're my chicken people, and they'll always get my business.

Monday, November 15, 2004

This does have something to do with the price of eggs in China

In China, I could get a pound of eggs (about 8) for 3 kuai (35 cents). When we moved to Singapore, it was right in the middle of a bird flu epidemic in Malaysia, where most of the eggs here originate. Naturally, the shortage drove up the prices. At one point, I saw a dozen eggs for S$6.60, which is roughly US$3.90. That's (if my math is correct, which it usually isn't) 10 times more than what we paid before. You had to reallllllly want eggs.

I mention this simply because this morning in my stroll down the market, I noticed eggs are back down to a reasonable S$1.95 (US $1.20 or so). I can't remember what we paid in the states anymore. Is that good? We had omlettes for dinner. :)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Mustafa Center

Most people I have met in Singapore are familiar with Mustafa center (which we cannot help but say funny every time because, hey, it's a funny name). This is a large store in the middle of Little India where you can buy just about anything, and about a 10 minute walk from our condo.

It was quite crowded today as there is a national holiday right now, and after all, it's Saturday. I am back to being in the place of not understanding what others around me are talking about - I think I heard at least four other languages being spoken while I was there. I highly suspect there were a few times when they were talking about me.

In many ways, Mustafa is just like a big Walmart, only in a smaller space with about five floors and narrow aisles. You could easily get lost. I can find things I recognize like Crisco and Orville Redenbacher's microwave popcorn, and (my mom will laugh at this because she just about sent me some yesterday) holiday mint m&m's. But then I'll be taken aback by something like the Pillsbury dough boy on a package, proclaiming, "Instant Nashta." Instant what?

Why do I write about this? Well, just want to give you an idea of how I shop here. It's new, it's different, but I like it. And it's fun to say too. Mustafa!

Oh for cute

One of the cutest things to be seen around our neighborhood is little Indian girls dressed in traditional clothing - I believe it's called a Sari or a Kameez, not sure. This consists of colorful, light weight, loose pants, and a long fitted top that is usually very beautifully decorated. They also wear a matching scarf from front to back around their necks. I wish I had a picture of this - they look like beautiful little Indian princesses. We have seen children dressed like this much more frequently lately as there was an Indian holiday on Thursday - Deepavali, the festival of lights. As we say in MN, "Oh for cute!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

taking the plunge

Ethan announced yesterday that he wants to learn to swim without his water wings. While excited, we did try to convince him that it wasn't simply a matter of taking the wings off and swimming away. But he was so excited that he waited until Erik was home and we had eaten dinner (so at about 7 o'clock) and convinced Erik to take him swimming.

They swam for close to an hour, and Ethan did brave it without his wings. Erik would give him a push toward the side from about 6 feet away from the wall, and Ethan would paddle like a crazy dog. If he were willing to put his head under without plugging his nose, everything would go a little smoother. As it was, he just had to fight madly to keep his head above water.

But all in all, a good step. We'll have him swimming by Christmas!

Monday, November 08, 2004

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Going grocery shopping today felt a little bit like the Twilight Zone. There was garland and ornaments hanging from the ceiling, and the clerks were wearing santa hats. Outside the store, it was possible to purchase a variety of ornaments, snow spray, even fake Christmas trees.

In America we complain that Christmas stuff comes out too early - well, at least you have Thanksgiving as a little detour. Apparently Singapore is plowing ahead toward Christmas full speed. I've heard rumors of Christmas decorations and activities being up all over the city. It all feels so completely wrong, as there is no snow on the ground and everything is green!

I'm sure there will be more posts like this from me in the coming weeks as I adjust to my first Christmas in a place that couldn't look less like home. Sing with me, "I'm dreaming of a freak snow storm . . . way down here at the equator . . . "

Friday, November 05, 2004

Groundhog Day

Every day I wake up, and the weather is pretty much the same. I look at the weather forecast, and each day says 87-89, with a 60% chance of thunderstorms. It's like that movie, Groundhog Day. I can't describe how surreal it is to look at the calendar and read, "November 5th" and yet it feels like the day we came two months ago.

Yet, I have to admit, the weather is growing on me. People have described Singapore as being "hot and humid" which to me translates to, "miserable." But it's generally quite pleasant. True, I don't usually go out in the midday hours, but the morning and late afternoon are not bad. And, as I mentioned in a previous email, I love thunderstorms! In China, it didn't often decide to really rain - more like a bunch of really weak people spitting on you. But here, the skies commit to all out dumping, complete with lightning and crashes. It makes you want to curl up with a good book and a drink.

One of the reasons I have been reluctant to say I really enjoy the weather here is that I am afraid I will become one of those wimpy people who leaves the north and loses their cold weather edge. Minnesotans generally have a small measure of pride about being able to endure cold temps. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger right? Well, although I know that going back to Minnesota someday will take some adjustment, I'd still take that climate over this in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I'll enjoy my groundhog day.

what I saw on an early morning run

When I walked out my door this morning at 6:20, it was still dark. The first time I did that, I was a little nervous, until I saw primary school children sitting in their uniforms waiting for buses on every corner.

What you find in my neighborhood in the morning is an interesting mix of wealth and poverty, east and west. There are duplexes with Mercedes sitting in the driveways, a block away from buildings that have seen better decades. Many doors are open - looking in you may think you are peeking into a Buddhist temple. They are, in fact, simply peoples' homes with a wide variety of idols surrounded by candles. I saw one man stop and bow briefly toward an open door. Maybe he saw a friend in there, but I missed that.

The hawker center (read "open food court with many small shops selling good, cheap food) is already buzzing with Asians and Indians primarily. The basketball courts are dotted with people practicing Tai Chi, and other Chinese calesthenics. Just to make me smile, there are several old women slapping various parts of their bodies and twisting in odd ways. In contrast to China, there are other runners who are actually dressed in running atire (and, I have to admit, some of them were running much faster than me!).

Running in the morning here is really quite pleasant. Although humid, it feels like it's in the 70's and there's a good breeze. Next time I'm out that early I'll try to take some pictures to share.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

the best things

I've been meaning to get around to my top ten favorite things about Singapore, so here it is finally (in no particular order, because that would require too much thinking):
1. thunderstorms
2. libraries
3. English
4. my kids being best friends
5. the swimming pool
6. MOPS (mothers of Preschoolers)
7. affordable western products at the grocery store
8. public transportation
9. the people we work with and live near
10. green

The list could go on. I admit there is a big part of me that is reluctant to love Singapore for various reasons, but it grows on me every day. How could it not with these kinds of perks?

living like tourists

If you've ever traveled to Singapore, you've probably been told that one of the things you have to do here is go to the Raffles Hotel and drink a Singapore Sling. So Monday night Erik and I decided to act like tourists and do that. After disembarking at the wrong subway stop and wandering around awhile in light rain, we found the hotel. We also found that it costs you $16 Sing (about $10 US) to buy a Singapore Sling. Being the heavy drinkers that we are, we bought one between the two of us. What's the verdict? Enh. It's a drink. But now I feel like I can say I've really been to Singapore. It's kind of like going to China and climbing the Great Wall, only more expensive apparently.

watching the election

I am extremely grateful today to the inventor of the internet (wait, isn't that Gore?). Without it, I would be unable to watch the on-g0ing election results. It's strange to sit quietly alone here in our office, on a fairly hot November day, watching, and thinking of all the tv sets across America with crowds gathered around them. My friend Michelle said they were having a bi-partisan party at their house. My mental picture is that it would be like watching a Packer/Viking game with an equal amount of people from Wisconsin and Minnesota, the results of which we would be doomed to discuss for at least the next four years.

So much of the biggest news that has happened in America in the past 6 years I have watched from afar but not participated in. It's a strange feeling, like watching my neighbors from behind one of those one way mirrors where I can see in but no one knows I'm there. I'm there, but I'm not.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

signs of the times

You can tell a lot about a place by reading its signs and observing its shops. From this surface level observation, these are some of the things that seem to be valued here:
1. shopping - I have never seen such a congregation of malls in my life. They say the national pastime here is shopping and it's not hard to believe.
2. Weight loss - there are ads and clinics for this everywhere!
3. Control - do this, don't do this, you will be fined for this, you will be charged for that. Makes a person nervous is what it does.
4. success - use our products and you will be rich and powerful!
5. Personal development - and starting from the beginning. A mall near us has several floors dedicated to classes, mostly for children, including music lessons (with those miniature violins - how cute!), and kindergolf. Because every five year old should be able to wield a 5 iron. You can learn anything here if you have the time and money (and I mean money!).

Ironic or just plain frustrating?

Several years ago there was a popular song called Ironic. Whenever I heard it, I thought, "Rain on your wedding day? That's not ironic - it just stinks!"

Well, today when I went to my mailbox and pulled out our absentee ballots, the ones my dad requested sent to us at the beginning of September but which apparently didn't actually leave the states until October 25th, I thought, "Is this ironic, these arriving on election day so there's no possible way I can send them back within the next 24 hours? No, no, I think this just stinks!!"

So needless to say, we will not be able to vote this year. But you had better believe someone in Olmsted county, MN, is going to hear about this one.

Friday, October 29, 2004

thoughts of home

Today I was reflecting on what life would be like right now in Minnesota. This is the time of year when snow starts to appear, and cover the dry, colored leaves of fall. It's the time for football games wrapped in blankets, and carving pumpkins and smelling winter in the air.

I am still baffled by the lack of change here. If I didn't look at the calendar, I wouldn't have any idea what time of year it is. Well, I might think it's December as a friend of mine told me yesterday that IKEA was putting out their Christmas stuff this week (there's no Thanksgiving here to side track them). It's downright sad that people here have never seen snow. Some of my best memories of childhood involve snow!

So for lack of anything else, I'm playing John Denver. I know, I'm not from Colorado or anywhere near it. But it reminds me of the beauty of my home and campfires and places where you need to wear warm clothing outside, not inside.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Durian revisited

You might think that one post is sufficient to explore the mystery of this tropical fruit, but I beg to differ. It's the food that baffles. Imagine this smell: you left half a melon in your igloo cooler for 3 days in the back of your car during the summer. That's durian! We were bombarded with this smell during our trip to Chinatown (one of the aspects that made it very un-China like. Don’t get me wrong - China has bad smells, but nothing like this).

To look at it, you would instinctively want to use it as a weapon, regardless of how violent you naturally are. I mean, it's a spiky ball with a convenient handle! It doesn't get any easier than that. I highly suspect that early settlers of Singapore used it for this purpose, until the day that someone hit too hard and they saw that they could possibly eat what was inside. So in that sense, it's quite dual purpose. Maybe someday we will discover that it is also the secret key to a magical, mystical land, not unlike Narnia itself. Then again, maybe it's just a stinky, funny looking fruit.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

relaxing in the pool

Got milk? A recent visit to the dairy farm

Ethan getting brave at the pool

Megan, our budding artist (she likes to explore a variety of mediums and surfaces, including couches and windows).

Friday, October 22, 2004


Durian: "The fruit . . . having a hard, prickly rind and soft pulp with an offensive odor but a pleasant taste." This is a fruit native to Singapore that "smells like hell and tastes like Heaven." I don't know if I will ever get past that smell. I'll be walking along, minding my own business, and then, BAM! somebody hits me with that durian stench. It's just not kind. Something about a fruit that could kill you if it dropped on your head, and smells that bad - it's a wonder anyone tried to eat it in the first place.

more unexpected joys

One of the best unexpected pleasures of living in Singapore is how it's changing our family. Our kids are suddenly each others' best friend - they play together constantly. I love hearing their voices in play, pretending various games together. Megan's first question every time she comes out of childcare at church is, "Where is my brother?" (or sometimes, "Where is my sister?" She doesn't quite have the genders down yet).

I've also been hit by a new adoration for my kids (not that I didn't love them before, but I'm just really enjoying them!). We've been having such a great time exploring our neighborhood and trying out new places. They both are at such fun stages of discovery and the things that come out of their mouths frequently crack us up. Yesterday Ethan set up a Chinese checkers board with all but one peg on one side. The last peg he put out a few rows and said, "Look, mom, the people are listening to Jesus."

So there you have it - another proud mama post. It really is an answer to prayer though, that I would take these days when my kids are young slowly and soak in the moments with them. They really are precious days.


One of the unanticipated pleasures of living in Singapore is that there are thunderstorms. That might not seem like much, but I grew up in Minnesota, and there is nothing like a good summer night's thunderstorm to put you to sleep.

There weren't really thunderstorms where we lived before - hey, we were happy if it rained at all - so I am loving the nights (and days!) when lightning flashes and thunder booms. We're entering the rainy season now so maybe in a month I'll tire of it, but for now, let it rain!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Can, lah!

I have to comment on two phrases I hear often here that crack me up. The first is, "Can!" in response to any question. Not, "Yes, you can" or even, "You can," but just "Can!" I suspect this is because in Chinese, you will hear, "Keyi" (kuh- yee) a lot, which literally translated is just "ok" or "can." Since a lot of people here also speak Chinese, it comes out just "can."
"Can I use my ATM card here?"

The other phrase that I don't quite know how to employ myself yet is "lah." You'll hear it at the end of a phrase, such as the woman at IKEA last week who shouted at her kids, "Stop fighting lah!" Or my friend's doctor, when she was in labor and asking for more drugs who said, "I'm giving as fast as safely can lah!" It must be for emphasis. I don't care - I want to use it! Can I? Can lah!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

they're everywhere!

At our cross-cultural training before we moved overseas, we were taught an exercise to help us decipher different behavior we observe in a new culture. I've tried to apply this to a strange phenomenon here in Singapore and I had, up until last night, been unable to draw any conclusions. My observation is this: There are pregnant Singaporean women everywhere. As I've observed this I've wondered, "Is it a good zodiac year? (that can account for it in China), Is it because there are such cute maternity clothes here? Is that how they stay warm indoors? (see post below). Do they just like being big?"

Last night, Erik gave me what I hope is a reliable answer. Apparently, the government gives people financial incentives to having children - you get $9,000 Sing for your second and a whopping $18,000 Sing for your third. This supposedly is in response to Singaporean women having fewer babies and focusing instead on having a career. So hey - if you want to earn some fast cash, bring a couple of souls into the world. I'm sure a lot of thought went into this program and I'm oversimplifying, but it reminds me eerily of the one-child policy in China. It's frightening when something as precious as life becomes reduced to a society remedy.

the seasons of Singapore

We have discovered that there are two seasons in Singapore. Now, I'm not talking about the rainy season, or the "cold season" (where the temperature dips to a balmy 85 as opposed to 89). I'm talking about the two obvious ones - indoor and outdoor.

Outdoor, you can generally count on temperatures somewhere between 85-90, depending on whether or not it's raining and what time of day it is.

Inside, you can count on temperatures dipping down to 17 degrees Celcius. That probably means nothing to you Americans - wait let me look it up. Yep, that's pretty cold. Ok, actually it's 63 degrees. But when you just came from 90, you're not properly attired for 63 degrees!

Case in point - last night I made the dire mistake of going to a movie wearing capris and a sleeveless shirt. On the drive home, we had to make use of the car's heat, and you know that feeling in a Minnesota winter where you've been outside too long and your body gets so cold that it stings when you heat up? Yeah, I had a little bit of that. Honestly!

This may explain why I have been fairly unsuccessful in finding shorts here in Singapore. I keep thinking, "We're on a tropical island? Why does no one wear shorts?!" Answer: they all work inside. Maybe I should have brought more of my Minnesota clothes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Tonight we drove (yes, drove - our friend is lending us her car) to Pasir Ris, which is along the north border of the country. From there, we could look across the water to Malaysia. On a map it looks farther away. You could swim it easily.

The drive there was shaded with beautiful tropical trees, and the park at Pasir Ris is gigantic, with more children's playground equipment in one place than I've ever seen in Asia. It's amazing to be in this kind of paradise.

It's beautiful, and I'm grateful, but this is nothing compared to what is to come. Someday we will look back and think, "We were satisfied with that?" This move to a cleaner, greener, nicer place has reminded me that the best things, the things that satisfy the most, aren't things you can see. Temporary things satisfy temporarily. I want to remember to enjoy what I see, but not to rest my heart in them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Look ma, no tooth!

Monday, October 11, 2004

The land of hard

I had the impression that Singapore is really green, which it is - if you look up. But what you walk on is pretty hard. We've been discovering this primarily through our children making contact with the hard. For those of you with small children, you know that when little bodies and hard surfaces make contact, the hard usually wins.

Exhibit A: Megan. She currently has three scabs on her knees from a pretty decent trip on concrete which made us run through bandaids like water on a hot day. The right side of her face is primarily one large bruise with a red dot in the middle that looks just like a spot on the playground.

Exhibit B: Ethan is the proud new owner of a space between two teeth. Tonight as we were walking back up from the pool, he tripped on his towel and planted his face on the tile steps. From my viewpoint it didn't look like he'd even hit the ground, but when I heard him say, "Mommy, my tooth came out!" and I saw it laying there on the floor, I panicked a little too!

Fortunately, this is the tooth he knocked in last year, which he subsequently had root canal work on in February, and whose days were numbered already. I'm guessing it came out that easily because the root was gone. None of his other teeth are loose either, praise God. One of our staff friends is a dentist and gave us advice on what to do (he'll probably need something to keep the space open for awhile).

Ethan was brave enough to still go out to dinner with us and friends, but he stuck to his chocolate milkshake and chocolate ice cream (by the way, Megan pounded down a piece of chicken, carrots, french fries, ice cream and part of a brownie - where did that come from?).

Tonight Ethan is awaiting his first visit from the tooth fairy. I'll never forget when I found all my teeth in my dad's dresser. What a shock. They lied to me! And here I am perpetuating it. :)

So if you come visit us in Singapore, enjoy the green, but watch your step.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Ethan's shirt

If you are wondering what on earth Ethan is wearing in this picture, it's his "Ultra man" shirt (he has a cape as well but he had shed it by this point). Our son, who rarely enjoys dressing up, decided of course that he had to be Ultraman at the park. Carpe diem!

the kids swinging at MacRitchie Reservoir

code 46

I recently saw a movie called Code 46 (not to be confused with Ladder 49). I don't recommend the movie. Although from a purely amoral standpoint it was well-done, it was extremely disturbing.

But the point is, in the movie, which is futuristic, English is the common language of the world but other languages have become mixed in, as greetings or other common words.

This morning as we were out, I noticed that my children are also forming their own world language between the two of them. When jumping, they say, "ready, steady, jump!" which they picked up from Australian friends. They speak of the "lift" instead of the elevator, like they do here. Older women are all "ayi" as they are in China. "Ai-yo!" is their exclamation of choice. And at Sunday school this week, Ethan (and this saddens me greatly) learned how to play "duck, duck, GOOSE." I feel as though a part of my childhood has died. For those of you outside of Minnesota, USA, we grew up playing "duck, duck, grey duck." Yes, that's right. Infinitely more fun.

But I'm happy to have my little globe trotting kids and I hope they continue to pick up bits and pieces from other cultures along the way.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

who is this child?

Tonight a four year old boy walked into our apartment with four new library books. They covered the topics of sharks and dolphins, the weather, what makes it rain, and natural disasters. I thought to myself, "Whose strange child is this who enjoys learning about these things?" Oh wait, that's MY son. Yep.

Hungry Ghost Festival

After living in an essentially atheistic country for five years, we are struck by how religion permeates the Singaporean culture. Everyone, it seems, believes in something. We live close to an area called Little India, which, as you might imagine, is filled with temples. Down the hallway my neighbor is really into Feng Shui. (if you've ever looked at a book on Feng Shui, you might come to the conclusion I did, which is that good Feng Shui translates into "aesthetically pleasing." You can spiritualize it if you feel the need, but your couch just looks better facing that way). Others practice Buddhism, Christianity, etc. but no one is void.

About a month ago, just when we arrived, Singapore was in the middle of a month long festival called the Hungry Ghosts Festival. This is a Chinese Buddist tradition, where they believe the gates of hell are opened and lost souls wander the earth looking for food. So people burn a variety of things to "feed" the ghosts.

During that time, Ethan noticed the numerous trash cans on the streets that were burning and asked why. It was a good opportunity to explain to him that people worship different gods, but that there is only one true God. He wondered why people would worship other gods, and we told him sometimes it's because they have never heard how much Jesus loves them.

Yesterday morning, when Erik left for work, Ethan said, "Daddy, don't forget to tell the people about Jesus, because i saw a trash can burning."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Warning: I plan to use this entry to brag about my four year old, so if you get annoyed with people who go on about their kids, you may want to skip it.

All over the MRT (subway) there are emergency stop buttons with the ominous warning, "Improper use results in $5,000 fine." Naturally, Ethan was quite curious about them as all children are about things they shouldn't touch. When I said we should only push them in emergencies, it started a strong interest in what exactly IS an emergency.

Yesterday afternoon, he asked me again, "Mom, what's an emergency?" We talked about it being an urgent need for help, and went through a few examples of what constitutes an emergency. We also talked about how the ambulance might come for an emergency to take someone to the hospital. He thought about it for a few minutes and said, "Mommy, if the astronauts are on the moon and one of them gets hurt, will the other ones carry him back to the space ship and take him home to the hospital?"

I don't know why astronauts came to mind first, but I thought it was pretty impressive that he would apply his new knowledge in that way.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Megan at the playground

pondering the boats off Sentosa

planes, trains and automobiles

Do you know what happens when the pages in your passport get filled up with stamps? You have to get more pages! Mostly that only happens to business people who travel internationally. Our son got new pages in his passport when he was three and a half. So you could say he's no stranger to transportation.

Here, there are ads that say, "trains, buses and taxis" - the main forms of transportation. Today, we used two of the three to get to the library. Previously, I wasn't a big fan of public transport other than taxis. Can you blame me when the bus system where we lived before was like a bad joke? "How many people can you fit in a bus in Asia?" Answer: apparently always at least one more. Not exactly a stroller-friendly environment.

But when I see my son's face light up because he gets to use his ez-link card for the bus AND the subway in one day, it's worth it. And I have to say - it's kind of fun to take the subway here. Not the bus, really, but it's about as fun as a public bus can be. So we took the bus two stops to the subway, and the subway one stop to the library, with a bit of walking to tie them all together.

By the way, we got some great books at the library - Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte's Web, Magic School Bus, the third book in the My Father's Dragon series, etc. And, as always lately, a book on dinosaurs. So the trains, buses and taxis served us well.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

children's library

One of the joys of enduring the most extensive library card application ever is that we are now able to check out books from the children's library across the street. Apparently there are community children's libraries all over Singapore and ours happens to be right next door. The only downside is that it is open daily from 4-9 p.m. Singaporean children apparently have different waking hours than mine.

But several evenings a week we have gone over, added our shoes to the large pile outside the door (praise God for low crime rates here) and spent an hour or so laying on the carpet reading books. Our children still don't understand that checking books out is not equivalent to buying them - one of Ethan's first acts with a library book was to rip the sticker off the side because he felt it didn't belong on "his" book.

So each time we pick something we want to learn about - so far dinosaurs, sharks and skeletons - and bring home a few treasures (unfortunately the world's hardest to obtain library card only allows you to check out four books at a time). This is definitely going on my list of top ten things I like about Singapore. Maybe that will be my next post.

Speaking of posts, please note that the weird times I appear to be posting are not actually true. I did not write the Sentosa post at 1:45 a.m. I wrote it at 2:45 p.m. Singapore time. Just add 13 hours. :)

aliens and strangers here

For the past 5+ years I have been a foreigner in another land, kept here only by the grace of passports, green cards, visas and now, employment cards (most of which I had to use in order to simply get a library card last week).

When I walk down the street I am often keenly aware of the fact that this is not my real home. I know that the people around me speaking other languages never think about the fact that I don't understand them. Do you ever, in the course of a day, consider that you are American? That you speak English and others don't? Of course not - why would you? I never used to.

The longer I am away from America, the less American I feel, which I dislike but can't control. Things like 9/11 and the war in Iraq have happened and changed the national conscience. I haven't been a part of that. But I will never fully be comfortable here either. I am slowly becoming a stranger everywhere.

But isn't that how we are supposed to feel as Christians? The Bible says that we are aliens and strangers here. This isn't our home - our home is heaven. So I guess this is just good preparation for me.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


As if Singapore wasn't tropical and beautiful enough, God had to go create a little island off the bottom of it for us to go and explore. That's just the kind of fun God He is I guess.

So this week we went to Sentosa. Getting there was adventure enough for this home body - walk to the subway, subway to Harbor Front, cable car to the island. Once there, we walked to the Underwater World. I think I had this expectation like everything in Singapore is amazing. I have to give the Underwater World and the accompanying Dolphin Lagoon just a so-so. But we had a good time figuring out the free bus system and watching the dozens of ships off the coast.

Gina and kids at Sentosa Island

Everywhere we go here, I have this mental picture of myself as this little tiny person walking around the middle of the globe on a tiny island and it hits me again, "I live in Singapore." The only thing I had heard about Singapore before I moved to Asia was that kid who got caned here when I was in high school (consequently, I'm fairly paranoid that I'm going to do something illegal here by accident). When we decided to move here, I had to look it up - I thought it was near Fiji. Turns out it's just off the coast of Malaysia and has lots of little islands around it, one of them being Sentosa. And now we've been there. What a funny little life we lead.

it's not the heat, it's the humidity

In trying to convey the day to day experiences of our new life in Singapore, I've decided to start a blog rather than essentially write the same thing to every person I know every day. Before we moved here, we were told that Singapore is hot, humid, clean, and expensive. Let me start first with the weather.

If you look on a weather page, it will say that the daily forecast in Singapore is 88-90 degrees, with a little thunderstorm icon, and a 60% chance of rain. That would seem fairly uniform. In actuality, the weather can feel different every day, primarily based on whether or not that 60% of rain really does fall. We've had pretty comfortable weather here, nice "cool" evenings, and when it's cloudy, it feels good. Yeah, it's always humid, but I come from Minnesota where it's really humid. So far, the weather is treating us well.

As to the clean description, well, I came from urban east asia. Anything is cleaner.

And expensive? Apparently I also lived in an expensive part of Asia, because this seems pretty equitable to the states to me. It is pretty shocking to pay normal prices for produce - no more 10 pounds of vegetables for $2. This morning I had the interesting shopping experience of Mustafa Center, which is located in Little India. As you might imagine, there were many Indian products there I was previously unfamiliar with. I feel like a kid at Christmas here - after five years of minimal shopping, I can walk into a store and find sour cream and tortillas and maple syrup. You really have to live in a place where you can't have something to appreciate it when you do. It's hard to feel the pull of consumerism again. It was so much easier when there just wasn't an option to buy.

Last week I talked with my dad on the phone. I asked him if he was working in his garden a lot now that he is retired. He said he is waiting for it to frost. That is incomprehensible to me here, in the land of perpetual summer. Ask me again if I enjoy the constant warm weather in December when I'm dreaming of a white Christmas and desperate for a reason to drink hot chocolate.