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.