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.