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.