Friday, April 29, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Alright, minor accident aside, we just bought this car and we can't leave it sitting in the basement just because I had a moment of freakiness. So in a little personal Fear Factor episode I decided that I would drive around the carpark until I had mastered that corner.

And it would have worked really well if, when I went out to the car, it had started. My car was totally dead. No response. No lights, nothing. I couldn't imagine how that had happened, but I realized that we left one of the interior lights on. Wimpy battery! So much for a trip to the park.

My friend Ann came and tried to jump start it. At first, it just made clicking sounds when I tried to turn it on. After about five minutes of charging, it gave in and started. Chalk one up for Gina and her pit crew! I drove around three times, and feeling confident, we drove out and puttered around town while the battery recharged. We stopped at a friends' house to say hi and came back. Later, we went all out and drove to the airport to pick up Erik.

There's no turning back now. I have conquered the machine. At least for one day.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The new Butzmobile!

An unfortunate event

Joy of joys, our car arrived today! Our car man (for lack of a better term) drove us down into the car park, and showed us all the features of the car. Although I haven't converted my driving license yet, since I plan to pick Erik up from the airport tomorrow I thought I ought to put some "petrol" in the tank. (Look at me all Singaporean).

I chose an easy route - there's a petrol station or two quite near to our home. I thought, "What could go wrong?" Try getting out of the car park. Due to the placement of support beams in our basement, getting out is like navigating an obstacle course. To add to the element of difficulty, the direction in which car man parked the car was the worst possible way to get out directly.

I backed the car up enough (I thought) to get around the crucial final corner, but it became quickly obvious that I was too close on the right side. I backed up and heard the scrape that makes you cringe. Starting to panic, I realized I had to go forward. Scrape once again. At that moment, complete and total panic set in. I started hyperventilating thinking, "I am going to have to physically move my car. What if someone comes and wants to leave the carpark? I'm blocking them in!" and all sorts of other things while I am frantically trying to get out the locked passenger side. My kids were quiet and compassionate - Ethan threw his arm around me from behind the seat.

Finally I got out and nabbed a couple of workers I had seen drive into the car park. One of them took my keys, climbed into my car and put my car into reverse like he could have done it with his eyes closed, while I was insisting, "I think you're just going to have to pick it up and move it!" After he got it out I said, "Could you please just pull it around the corner for me?" He smiled and obliged.

Our trip to the petrol station went well, although I wasn't far enough over at the first one I encountered to pull in. No problem - there's one every mile or so here. When we got back to the carpark Ethan said, "Mommy, maybe this time you should try not to scrape the car."

So what's the damage? Not much - the black plastic guards on that side all got scraped off, and there's a little paint missing. In certain lights you can see a slight dent but I think it will be covered by the black guards once replaced.

Someday I know we'll laugh about this - I'm kind of laughing already. But mostly I'm just sort of wallowing in the idiot pool right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What if . . . ?

A friend of me had a "what if?" kind of question on her blog today, which reminded me of my favorite what if? question, which is this:
What if you could instantly speak, with fluency, five languages other than English? What would you choose? They don't have to be practical in any way.

So here are mine in no specific order (with my reasoning):
1. Chinese - hey, 20% of the world speaks it
2. Norwegian - my homeland, or at least the homeland of 50% of me
3. Spanish - I love speaking Spanish
4. Gaelic - it's so beautiful, and how cool is it?
5. Swahili - again, just sounds really stinkin' cool

I'd love to hear what other people would choose. Partly this is also a lame attempt to see if anyone ever reads my blog, aside from Erik's brother, Andrew, and my parents. :)

I may never want to leave

Some people out there, my parents in particular, may not want to hear that with each passing day, I come to believe that I may never want to leave Singapore. This thought train has taken a long time to pull into the station.

Most of the pleasures here are material, some are aesthetic, some are convenience. Aside from the pervasive Asian culture, our lives here are a dramatic difference to life in China. I've come to think of it as America without a lot of the problems.

But it's been hard for me to enjoy, for a variety of reasons. This past Sunday though, our pastor preached from 1 Timothy 6:17-19, where we are commanded not to put our hope in riches, which are so uncertain, but also to enjoy all that God has provided for our "enjoyment."

I haven't allowed myself to enjoy a lot of little things here (like thinking, "I'd like some of the saran wrap that sticks to the bowl without wrapping around" and voila! there it was at the store. That didn't happen in my life for about 5 years). I feel spoiled, distracted by earthly things, and sorry for those without these luxuries. But does me not enjoying them help those things?

I need to learn to enjoy these things "as though not engrossed in them." I want to fully enjoy all the blessings we have here, but not put my hope or my heart into them. I want to carry them lightly, and with joy.

Nanny 911

I currently have in my posession several TV shows that were taped from the states, random shows someone sent to a friend here. One of them is Nanny 911. I'd heard of this show, so the kids and I watched 5 minutes of it today (I was curious to see what they thought of other children behaving badly).

I think my kids were a little stunned at watching children completely out of control. I was terrified to my very core. Please, someone out there tell me that these are extreme cases and not indicative of American families in general? My word. Talk about a child-centered environment.

On the other hand, we've had quite a pleasant day since then. I'm feeling really good about life. My kids in comparison are stellar! No chaos here, at least not today. And I'm a rock star mom! It's all relative right?

If anyone out there hopes we will return to the States someday, you have to give me promises that I can find children for my children to befriend who are not raised in the manner of the children on this show. Otherwise, we're not leaving the house until they're 18.

Are these my only choices?

After Ethan endured a shot this morning at the doctor, we went for ice cream. Perusing the popsicles, I saw that there were three kinds: Durian, red bean, and sweet corn. What happened to chocolate? Or strawberry? Or that weird blue kind that was supposedly raspberry, even though I've never seen or heard of wild blue raspberries? Freaky.

We bought chocolate and vanilla cones that have nuts and chocolate on top. They make me think of my grandpa John - chocolate and peanuts together always does. Maybe the sweet corn would have reminded me of family picnics, but I wasn't willing to risk it.

What were they thinking?!

As I am keenly aware of all moving vehicles these days in anticipation of our car (I swear, it feels like we adopted a kid and are waiting for him to arrive), I notice not only the car we did buy, but all the ones we didn't.

One in particular, I'll have to take a picture and post it, is the ugliest car I think I've ever seen. It's like a little armored truck but in a wide variety of obnoxious colors. The back end, which has no windows, is shaped like a box. Yet, this car is quite popular. I had been justifying our choice of the Hyundai Matrix with the phrase, "Hey, 100,000 Singaporeans can't be wrong!" because there are so many out there. My thought with this other car is, "Maybe 100,000 Singaporeans are insane," because it seems there are an equal number of these.

Is there a car like this in the states right now that defies logic? I was never a big fan of the PT Crusier when it came out a few years ago in the states. It looked like something out of Dick Tracy, the cartoon version. There's no accounting for some peoples' taste.

"Use it, don't lose it!"

I am flaming jealous of the people here who can switch back and forth from English to Chinese without batting an eye, even within in a sentence. What is more baffling is how they know who to speak Chinese to and who not. Now me, blazing white girl, it's obvious, although I can be deceptive and whip out some hua yu when I need it (hua yu being what Singaporeans call Chinese). But take this morning at the clinic as an example. Most of the people walking in were Asian looking, and the nurses tended to speak Chinese, except with a few. It usually depended on who began the conversation and in what language. But I've found I can't assume that someone who looks Chinese can speak it. Somehow, they know.

Despite my limited ability to converse in Chinese, I don't tend to use it here. The reason is this: when I do, this conversation always ensues:
"Wow, you can speak Chinese!"
"Well, a little. I lived in China for five years."
"You lived in China for five years and you can only speak a little?! You should be fluent!"

So while in China throwing out a few phrases made me look like a linguist, here I come as lazy idiot. If my secret is revealed (as it was once in a taxi when I laughed at the Chinese commentary on the radio) I get berated for not using it. I hate to point out that it's not my first language, and barely my second.

I think part of this mentality comes from a message I read on a bus a few days ago. It said, "Use it, don't lose it!" Now, that's pretty vague. You could be referring to a number of things: the ability to ride a bike, your memory, money . . .
But the acompanying Chinese message is clear, "If you can speak Chinese, use it, don't lose it!" It seems that the ability and or desire to speak Chinese here must be dwindling. Maybe that's why the taxi driver was adamant that I use mine. "If we can't get our people to do it, let's bring in the foreigners!" Believe me, if I was fluent, I'd use it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Debate Resolved

It's funny how one minute you're swearing up and down that you will never own a car in Singapore, that it's unnecessary when the public transportation system is so wonderful and cars cost the same as your child's future college education, and a few months later you find that you are now the owner of a brand new Hyundai Matrix. Let me explain how that happened.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the COE (certificate of entitlement) was at an all time low. So we poked around. Poking led to investigating, which led to serious thought, and some wise words of wisdom from Erik's Singaporean boss who knows the car market here (I believe his words were, "If you're ever going to buy a car, do it now!" or something to that effect. He can be a pretty persuasive fellow).

But the straw that broke the camel's back, or at least our bank account, was the day I couldn't find Ethan's ez-link card, so we took a taxi to Plaza Singapura. When we got there, a huge sale was happening so the taxi queue was 30 people long. We took the MRT back, but the machines to buy a one time ticket wouldn't take my money, so I just snuck Ethan through (he's right on the edge of height so they don't notice. And that's all the justification I feel I need to give). When we started up the escalator on the other end, we heard the rain. This was the kind of rain where you walk out two steps and back in and you are soaked to the skin. We waited there for 20 minutes until we could walk the 1/2 mile home. We walked by the Hyundai dealership and I swear if that Matrix outside had been the right color, I would have bought it right then.

So we got hooked up with a great car dealer who is a believer and gave us the best deal he could. We went through the "bid for the COE" process which I won't begin to explain. We changed a lot of money into Sing dollars, and did a whole lot of hoopla, and now we have to wait a week to get the car. It is starting to feel like the longest week of my life. Singapore, the hardest place in the world to obtain a car.

In the meantime, a strange thing has happened to me. The public transportation system I enjoyed before has become the bane of my existence. We went to the park on Friday, and when I saw that an entire school had taken over the playground I thought, "If I had my car, I would drive somewhere else!" but having spent S$7.50 to get there, I felt we had to stay to make it worthwhile. It's things like that. I have discovered a whole new realm of discontent.

The Worst Sound in a Mother's World

They say moms know the cries of their children. In a crowd of people, when one child starts crying, there's not usually a lot of debate about whose child it is because his or her mom just knows.

And of those cries, there is one that strikes fear into a mother's heart. It is the cry of pain. It is the, "Something is terribly wrong, prepare to see blood or protruding body parts" cry. And the most terrifying moment is between when you hear the cry and see the damage because you don't know what you'll find.

I heard that cry yesterday. I heard it approaching our door, and I heard it in full volume once Erik brought in a screaming Ethan. A big part of me didn't want to go see what happened, as though not looking would make it not real.

This hasn't happened often in Ethan's life, for which I am immensely grateful to God. The last time was when he tripped on the stairs and knocked out his front tooth. As a mom, when your child has an accident like that, there has to be a conscious choice to put aside your own instinctive desire to panic in order to calm your child. When I saw the blood coming out of Ethan's mouth this time I thought two things. First, "don't panic!" and second, "There goes another tooth."

What happened is this: Ethan had the end of a beach towel in his mouth, and a friend was pulling the other end (are you cringing yet?). You know how you break the wishbone at Thanksgiving? Something's gotta give. It was Ethan's tooth. Fortunately, it didn't completely pull out of his mouth, but it's quite loose. He spent an hour or so putting gauze on it. We tried to get him a shake from McD's but the one close by only had McFlurry's.

He seems not much worse for wear, and I am realizing that what mothers fear most can be endured (again, thank God it was nothing worse!). I did start teaching him how to sing, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" just in case.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Megan's birthday party out in the courtyard

Megan and her friend Faith on Megan's birthday

Enjoying Megan's birthday at the zoo

Saturday, April 16, 2005

We're not in Kansas anymore

Just when I think I'm living in what could be the States, something jumps out and slaps me with its Asian-ness. Yesterday the kids and I were eating at the KFC in the amazing zoo (see what I mean - that's America right there!) and there were signs everywhere for "Curry Crunch," I guess trying to appeal to the Indian contingency. I'm a big curry fan, so I was tempted, but I went for the Oriental Chicken Salad instead.
Another example - we were eating a pretzel last week from one of those soft pretzel stores (it's a chain from the states but I forget what it's called) and they had seaweed flavor. Has anyone in the U.S. ever thought, "Man, I wish Pretzel Mania carried seaweed flavor!"? My guess is no.

But to add to my list of "reasons I love Singapore" let me say, "Red seedless grapes." We could sometimes get really big grapes in China, but they always had monster seeds. They were also the cause of my losing a game (what's that one with the cards that drop and you have to act out what's on the cards?) with my Chinese friends. The word was "grape" and the girl made it look like a banana - she peeled it and took a bite and spit out the seed. I was stumped. Too much effort to eat those.

But I digress. We bought red seedless grapes today at our market for the bargain price of $6 Sing/kg. That sounds like a lot to me, but when you break it down to pounds and U.S. dollars, it's about $1.30 a pound. It's the little things . . .

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Jurong Bird Park Adventure

Friday the kids and I hooked up with some of our new friends here to hit the Jurong Bird Park. This is located across the parking lot from the infamous Reptile Park I wrote about earlier. We've heard a lot about it so we had high expectations.

First of all, it's a well known fact that the higher the temperature, the lower your enjoyment of any outdoor attraction will be. I think it was 90 degrees and 80% humidity yesterday. Ok, maybe not that bad, but kids make it feel worse. We started in the penguin house and we maybe should have stayed there, or kept going back to it, because it was hard to enjoy the other birds in the sun.

We watched part of the bird show, then opted for the monorail. We thought that would give us a great view of all the birds, but it just gave us a view of the tops of their cages. Still, it's not hard to ride in an air-conditioned cab with new friends looking down on beautiful tropical vegetation!

We stopped at a gorgeous waterfall which I would post a picture of if I could figure out why my windows explorer won't let me turn my pictures anymore. Later we stopped and stayed awhile at the water park. We could have spent hours there I think, with the big playground next to it. That was worth the whole trip for all of us!

Waiting for our friends to pick us up.

We went to look at birds, but the boys found bugs!

This was a great way to cool off on a blistering day!

Jurong Bird Park

Who's your market?

A marked difference between Singapore and the States is what we choose to name our cars. In the U.S., cars are named Expedition, Land Rover, Explorer - anything to make you feel like you are on some grand adventure, instead of what you are really doing, which is driving to the library to drop off some books. They should call them what they are - the Toyota Grocery Getter or the Mazda Carpool.

Here, we're trying to figure out who their market is when cars are named Jazz, Stream, Sunny, Wish, and my personal favorite, Picnic. These cars would never sell in America. They just don't sound tough enough for the man who wishes he were climbing mountains but is instead just driving a mile to work.

So today we went car shopping. Well, you could maybe just call it car looking because we're in the curious stage still. We're interested in the Hyundai Matrix (which is about the fiercest name you get here) but like I said, we're just looking right now. With names like the Nissan Prairie, (this is a tropical island - where's the prairie?) I wonder if everyone everywhere is trying to live out their dreams vicariously through a car.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Great Debate

To buy a car, or not to buy a car? That is the question. My initial reaction was, "Absolutely not! Doesn't it cost like $100,000?" Turns out it's not that astronomical, but it's a fair chunk of change. There are some definite advantages. Aside from the basic convenience of having your own ride, it would free us to explore parts of Singapore without having a set destination. This appeals more to Erik, Mr. Adventure, rather than Gina, Ms. Known to Not Leave Her House for Days at a Time.
Ethan is another reason. Not just that he daily asks if we can have a car, but many of his favorite spots in Singapore are far away. They require either hour long combination subway/bus rides, or expensive taxi fares. Plus, many of them are located where picking up a taxi to leave is nigh on impossible. Since we will probably be homeschooling him for kindergarten, I'd like to be able to do lots of field trips to far off places.
Speaking of education, the school we hope he can attend for 1st grade would require a more than one hour bus ride both ways. Granted, driving him every day takes up my time, but that's a few hours I'd gain of time with my boy which is priceless.
As we get more involved in our church, and visit many people who live in houses where taxis are only accessible by calling one (adding to the fare), we long for the freedom to come and go on our own.

But I don't have to remind you car owners of the cost and care of a car. There's something nice about using someone else's all the time. Or driving right up to the door of a place without having to find and pay for parking. And it's not like the public transport system here is lacking. Choices, choices, choices. Feel free to give me your opinion. Maybe we should take a poll.

Future aspirations

I asked Ethan yesterday what he wants to do when he grows up. He said he wants to make money, "as much money as I can." The whole point of making lots of money is so that he can buy the Thomas the Tank Engine pieces that he lacks, which is I'm sure a part of everyone's Great American Dream, maybe further down the list after big house and oversized SUV.

I said, "But what do you want to DO to make money?" That question stumped him. I gave him some examples like doctor, lawyer, builder . . .
"Mommy, I want to do two things. I want to be a builder and a money maker."
"That's great, but honey, I don't think there's a job that's just 'money maker.' The way it works is, you do a job, and then your boss gives you a check for the money you made. Then you put the money in the bank and take it out when you need it." (or that's how it would go in a world where people were financially wise).
Unconvinced, he talked more about how he would go the money machine whenever he needed money, revealing that he thinks like many people - ATMs are machines that give money to the needy. No one knows where the money comes from, but they hope it keeps coming.

When it rains . . .

On my way to Mustafa this morning by myself, I thought, "What a pleasant, cool day." It started to drip a bit by the time I got there, but when I came out, it had turned from pleasant and cool to an absolute downpour.

I always think it's interesting to observe people in rain. There are the "I got caught without my umbrella and I'm not only soaked but angry" people, and then there are the "let's make a break for it and hope for the best" equally wet people who run into shelter. Others, like myself, wait in vain for it to let up. It didn't - it only got worse. It's frustrating when my house is within eyesight, if you knock a few buildings down, to take a taxi home from Mustafa. I thought, as I stood with others comtemplating their own strategy for tackling the rain, that I could walk. I had brought my trusty metal shopping cart that bangs my right heel wherever I go, and I had an umbrella. Plus, finding a taxi during a rainstorm is about as easy as finding jeans that fit - it'll take you hours, maybe days.

But it seems many people chose today to come to Mustafa, so I caught a cab within minutes. I was glad I did, because in the time it took me to throw my stuff in the back and get in, my shorts were soaked and I knew that if I had walked, I might just as well have jumped into the pool. The driver pointed out that it was raining so hard, most of the other taxis had pulled over and were waiting it out. We rounded one corner and drove through a six inch deep, 10 yard long puddle. I have never been so grateful to have a carpark under our complex! When I got home, I discovered that Erik and the kids didn't fare as well as I did coming back from the market - both kids were stripped of their wet clothes and were huddled under a blanket watching Discovery channel: Snakes.

I tell this story just to give you a piece of life in Singapore, where when it rains, it really pours.