Saturday, May 28, 2005

Curbside Recycling

One of the things we enjoyed in China was that if we needed to dispose of something, we just put it outside our apartment door. Whatever it was - pizza boxes, maternity clothes, old shoes, poor copies of pirated DVDs - within hours, sometimes minutes, it was gone. We called it "curbside recycling."

We felt pretty good about it because we knew that the people who took everything needed it. One man in particular who we called Sneaky Man we believe often took most of it. He was retired and spent most of the time shuffling up and down the stairs in search of goods.

Here, I'm sure you'd be fined if you just put something outside your door. What to do? Today we took our first trip to the Salvation Army. So weird to have things like that here. I'm glad they have it, but I have to say it wasn't nearly as satisfying as curbside.

Holy heat batman!

I just checked to see what the temperature outside is right now. As I suspected, it's 90 degrees, but it "feels like 102." The UV index is 9, which means you pretty much just shouldn't go outside.

In contrast, I just checked my hometown temperature. Granted, it's 11:20 at night right now, but the thermostat reads a cool 50 degrees but feels like 47, UV index 0. As I look ahead to the 10 day forecast, I see it doesn't even top 75. All I can say is, "Awesome! I can't wait."

And here ends what I think may be my most uninteresting post to date.

Celebrity Look alike

Yesterday the kids were riding those coin rides outside the library. An older Singaporean gentleman snuck up behind me and said over my shoulder, "Take picture! Very nice!" I wasn't sure if he was offering some kind of service but he said again, "Very nice! You take picture!"
I said, "I don't have a camera."
"Use hand phone!" (which I have to say might sound like a broad assumption but I may be one of the few people in Singapore whose phone does not have that feature)
"I don't have a camera on my phone," I replied.
"Oh. Very nice," then, pointing to Megan, "Princess Dina! Princess Dina!"

Now, I think my daughter is pretty darn cute, but I have never for a second thought that she resembles Princess Diana. Erik said maybe there' s a Princess Dina somewhere in the world that I don't know. But I'm going to chalk that one up to the Singaporean accent.

So my daughter's had her first celebrity look alike comment. I've had some - none of which I trust. I think they were all due to my hairstyle at the time and/or someone's excessive desire to flatter. Because I highly doubt that anyone can look like Neve Campbell, Molly Ringwald, AND Mia Farrow. Especially not me.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Five Fruits You'll Meet in Heaven

Ok, I don't really think that you'll meet any fruit in heaven, or at least that's not what I'm anticipating. But I was walking to the market today and was dreaming about what heaven will be like and one thing that I feel certain about is that there will be no durian in heaven. How could there be, when it is a place without pain and tears, where there is only joy? Nothing that smelly could make it past the gates. I've posted a picture of durian so that you know what I'm talking about. If you ever see this fruit, run away.

Durian stand

Proud Mommy Moment

Ethan grabbed a piece of paper today and started writing words - dog, cat, pig, fox, on, no, and a few I couldn't make out. I asked him if he was copying them from somewhere and he said, "No, I'm just sounding them out in my head and writing them down."

Yeah, I'm proud. And feeling pretty peaceful about the fact that this child has not been to one day of preschool or one enrichment class. I love seeing him learn!

Ethan's words

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Heebie Jeebies

So tonight when I came back from our church Bible study, Ethan realized he hadn't brushed his teeth before we left (our kids fall asleep at our friends' house because we don't get home until 11). When we turned on the light in the bathroom, we had an unwelcome house guest. We've had unexpected geckos - they freak me out, but this was a cockroach. This was beyond freak. WAY beyond freak.

In China, we had cockroaches, lots of them, but the biggest they ever got was about an inch long and not even a centimeter wide (look at me mixing measurement systems). Often you'd stare at a little spot on the carpet for a long time, waiting for it to move so you could determine if it was a cockroach or a piece of dust.

Not so with this one. This was one of those special imported variety from America where everything is super sized. I suppose it came in tonight because it knew Erik was gone. I searched the bathroom for a weapon. A box of kleenex was the best I could find. I thought maybe I could chase it out of the house, but it wouldn't cooperate with my herding. When it went into Megan's room, my mother bear instinct kicked into high gear. I chased it into Ethan's room, where I called for reinforcements, "Ethan, get the vacuum!" I was hoping that the mere suction would kill it, but these American boys don't give in easily. When I took the vacuum back out to the storage room and dropped the attachment, it fell out on its back. In the process of running for one of Erik's shoes, it had righted itself.

I was not about to let all that effort go to waste. I beat that thing with everything in me. It is now a smear on my storage room floor. My son thinks I'm a hero. I think everything that touches me now is alive.

Thoughts While Driving

I know what you're thinking. "Gina's obsessed with this driving thing. Doesn't she realize that the rest of us do it every day?" Yes, I'm aware of that. But keep in mind that often driving is a highlight in my day. Without it I would probably be talking about Dora the Explorer, or whatever else seems to be occupying our house at the moment.

So here are some random thoughts from the salad bar of my driving mind. First, I realized while driving today that my car doesn't have cruise control. My car in the U.S. didn't either, which really stunk when we had to drive 14 hours out to Colorado. But from here, if you drive 14 hours, you'd be in India. I think it takes 1 hour to drive across the whole island. Anywhere that gets you up to speed will be like driving on Hwy 100 in Minneapolis - not far. Top speed is 90 km/hr which I think is around 55 or 60. So I don't miss cruise.

Another thing I've noticed related to speed is that if you aren't sure what the speed limit is, you're pretty safe driving the same as everyone else and remaining under the speed limit. People just don't seem to feel the need for speed. And why should they? Speeding cracks me up. If you drive 15 miles over the speed limit for say, 30 minutes, what are you going to shave off - 30 seconds? Did you have big plans for those 30 seconds?

But I digress. Sorry, hot button. So Singaporeans don't really speed is what I'm saying.

I've started radio surfing. Do you ever hit the search button, then forget and realize a minute later that you don't really like what you've landed on? That happens to me quite a bit because I'm concentrating hard on not hitting other drivers, and inevitable the station I've found is in another language. Singapore radio gives equal air time to all languages, so finding an English station can be hard. My usual response is, "Yikes." I didn't realize how much I was using that word until Ethan used it on a Chinese station the other day (it was some weird slow song - I couldn't blame him for saying it).

Ok, final comment about driving. I hate motorcycles. I could elaborate but let's leave it at that.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Other Side

Several people have asked me if it's hard to drive on the left side of the road here. The truth is, it's not, for several reasons:
1. I haven't driven for the better part of six years, so I'm not stuck in a habit.
2. Many of the roads here are one way, so you just follow the traffic.
3. Everyone else is driving on the left side, so it would be quite obvious if you started driving toward them.

The only real danger we've found is if we try to turn right and stay right on a big road where there's a median. It would be tough to turn around once you pass the median. Fortunately, the few times we've been tempted, we've caught ourselves in time.

The differences are minor - turning on the wipers instead of the turn signal, since they are switched, or expecting someone to be coming on my right when I'm turning right (I don't know why I think this). When we go back to the states in a few weeks though, I think I'm going to need someone to drive with me for the first few days, just in case. If you live in the vicinity of Rochester, MN, you may want to avoid driving from June 6-8th or so.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Does anyone have a good caption for this photo?

Where are you from?

My recent post about country of origin, and my brother-in-law Andrew's comment about it got me thinking about the fact that most Americans don't know their origin. It's false to say, "I'm just an American" because in actuality, we are all something-American. Aside from native Americans, all of us emigrated from somewhere else.

Me, I'm a mutt like most. My father's side is Norwegian. My mother's father was German, my mother's mother traces her roots back to the Mayflower. Literally. So I could join that hoity toity society if I wanted - Daughters of the Mayflower. As a child, my grandpa would sometimes speak phrases in German to us, but that was the extent of our exposure to his culture. My grandparents might be said to have Norwegians accents, but they could also be classified simply as classic Minnesotan accents (Yah, sure, you betcha!). But at their house I ate lefse, lutefisk and krumekaka - traditional Norwegian foods. I suppose I was influenced by other aspects of their culture that were less identifiable.

I think it's tragic that people don't know where their families are from. I think this because the stories my dad has gathered from our genealogy give me appreciation for what my ancestors went through to get to the States, and a greater appreciation for the freedoms and privileges we have as Americans.

I have a good friend whose family is from Luxemburg. That's awesome, if for nothing else than a trivial fact about herself. Where are you from? Do you know. If you don't, find out.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ethan's gift

Ethan brought home the picture below today from Sunday School (Erik's wonderful gift to me was to take the kids to church and out to eat without me so I could have absolute silence! Then later he made a great slide show of the kids with me. It even had music). They were told to make a picture for their moms to celebrate Mother's Day, so this is what he drew.

The dots in the river down the middle of the picture represent salt. So the salt water comes from the lake into the water treatment plant, which contains, "Powerful good germs that get rid of the salt." The water then continues to your house where you can drink it.

This is not the first time he's drawn water schematics. It may be strange, but we think it's great. This one's going in the keepsake folder. Happy mother's day to me!

Ethan's Mother's Day gift to me

Tribute to my mom

Aside from all the feeding, clothing, changing, loving and various baby needs my mom met when I was a child, today I got to reflecting on the myriad ways my mom poured into our lives throughout the years:

When we were at home, she was home. She made us fabulous birthday cakes in requested shapes, she taught us crafts, how to bake, how to sew. She bundled us up and put plastic bags in our moon boots, and instilled a love for reading, and encouraged our imaginations so we made up games like "Highway to Heaven" and "Library" and "Going to California."

She let me try dance, gymnastics, art, Latin, music, writing, 4H, theater. She gave me freedom to choose things from clothes (from the sounds of it I had some strong opinions from about age 2), to boyfriends while wisely keeping her mouth shut. I'm sure her tongue must have been bleeding at times from biting it too hard.

She cared about our spiritual upbringing, teaching us about God, sending us to Sunday School and VBS and Bible camp (except I really hated Camp Cherith), and switched churches so we could be in a good youth group. She was discerning in what we watched and listened to, and knew who my friends were.

Despite all her great efforts to cook, which I know she didn't really enjoy, I have to say my favorite Brenna family meal was popcorn and apple slices on Sundays nights when we'd eaten out that day. I'm glad we didn't eat out much, and that when we went on vacations we'd pack lunches - I've learned that doing so is not only frugal, but it breeds gratitude for special times.

From the day I left for college, she has called me every Sunday night (that's 14 years now). She sent packages - not just then, but even now when we are overseas - at every opportunity, and when we go home, there is always a pile of special things she has collected for us and our kids.

I could go on and on about the ways my mom has poured into me and my siblings, but this post is already long enough. Mom, thanks for being a constant, supportive, giving presence in my life.
I love you, Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Easier than I thought

After a little over one week of driving in Singapore, I have to say it's easier than I thought. People have asked about driving on the left - it's not that hard when you haven't really been driving for the past six years. Singapore has these great map books that, albeit frustrating because you can't see the whole country on one page, can help you navigate easily. I think having been more observant of late in how to get places, so I'm a lot more at ease finding my way around. If I miss a turn (which I've done several times) I know where I can turn around. To me, missing a turn isn't really a mistake - it's just finding another way not to get somewhere. And potentially finding a new way to get somewhere else.

We've also managed to find a way to avoid the dreaded scraping corner in the garage. Good thing too, because I still haven't heard the end of it from my kids. The other day when Ethan was twisting his loose tooth he said, "Mom, I don't like to twist this tooth because it reminds me of the car scraping." Will you let it go already?!

Questions of Origin

Here's a conversation Ethan and I had in the car yesterday:

"Mommy, if you grow up in Singapore, does that make you Singaporean?"

"Well, if your parents are Singaporean, then you are Singaporean."

"Mom, am I going to grow up in Singapore?"

"I don't know, honey. Maybe."

"Then will I be Singaporean?"

"No, you'll be an American who lives in Singapore."

"Where am I going to grow up?"

"I don't know. We'll just have to see where God calls us. Remember how you learned in Sunday School that God told Abraham to go to another country? Well, God asked us to go to Singapore. Who knows where He'll ask us to go next."

"Maybe He'll ask us to go to America next!"


"Yeah, I think He'll ask us to go to America."

To add to the confusion, Ethan now thinks that all countries are islands, and he still asks us frequently if he's Chinese American since he was born there. Now I think I know why they don't allow you to be president of the U.S. if you weren't born there. You're too confused about your origin to run a country!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Permission or forgiveness

Erik pointed out to me yesterday a key cultural difference between (and i'm generalizing here) Asian and Western societies:

In America, we tend to assume that we can do something unless we are told that we can't do it. And usually we won't ask before, because "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission." So when you're driving and you want to do something, you figure you can do it unless there is a sign or law stating that you can't. And even then, we find ways around it.

In Asian cultures, people tend to assume they can't do something unless they are told that they can. For example, it is safe to assume that you cannot make a U-turn here unless there is a sign saying you can. This came up when we were wondering whether or not you can turn left on a red light (remember, that's like turning right on a red light for most of you). We figured since there's no sign saying you can, you probably can't.

This affects not just driving, but the way people operate in other areas, like work. Singaporeans are known as maniac hard workers, but are not known for their ability to think outside the box. I don't know this from experience, but I'm told by friends who work with Asians thatthey will do thing strictly as they are told. If they come upon something outside of what was expected, they'll either wait for you to tell them the next step or quit (usually without telling you, because that would cause one or both of you to "lose face.").

I'm no expert, but that's what it looks like from where I stand. So there's your cultural insight lesson for today.

Who placed bets on 29 hours? That's how long the tooth stayed in after my last post.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Call Me Crazy

The weather in Singapore lately has defined hot and humid. I went for a walk this morning from 6:15-6:45 and I came back drenched in sweat. There isn't a wide variation in temperature throughout the year, but when the sun shines and the wind doesn't blow, it's a scorcher.

By contrast, it snowed in my hometown on Sunday, May 1st. Snow? Unbelievable. But it makes me so look forward to those first few days back this summer. Call me crazy (and it wouldn't be the first time) but I am dreaming of taking a walk from 5-7 a.m. just after the sun rises in Minnesota (it rises at 7 a.m. every day of the year here) and it's so cold that even in June you can still sometimes see your breath in the morning. I want to have to wear winter gear to take a walk in the morning. I want to feel cool breezes that make me suck my hands up into my sleeves. I want to feel cold air in my lungs waking me up.

I'm sure it will only take a time or two of that to shake the craziness out of me. I can't wait.

Culture of Convenience

On Saturday I wrote what was my most heated blog to date (which isn't saying much) after watching Supersize Me. If you haven't yet seen this documentary about the influence of fast food on our society, you should. It covers life of a guy who chose to eat at McDonald's exclusively for 30 days, how his body went to pot as a result, and a slew of other ways that McDonald's and other similar places are wrecking havoc on us all, making America the heaviest country in the world.

You may think, "That's strange. I, a faithful reading of Gina's fascinating blog, do not remember such a post." That's because the internet wasn't working when I typed it and Erik inadvertedly shut the computer off so it was erased.

But the gist of it, brought to mind again today by my fabulous car, is that we are addicted to convenience. I am convinced that the reason there are so many overweight Americans is because of this culture of convenience. We are so used to having things fast and easy that we reject anything that doesn't fit into those categories and accept anything that does without thought.

So we don't exercise because it's hard and we eat fast food because it's fast, easy and cheap. It's why the Atkin's diet is (or was) so popular - fast results with little effort. I read a book in college called the McDonaldization of Society that was both strange and interesting. It said this same thing - the values fast food places promote have infiltrated our society. I was a little annoyed this morning that I couldn't find a parking space close to the door of Mustafa, so I had to carry really heavy groceries about a block (with the kids complaining about the bags I made them carry). I thought, "What do you do about this in the States again?" Oh yeah, you push your cart out to the car and drive into your garage. Or at least I did. I'd do it here too if I could. The human body is hard wired for the easy route I think. Or maybe it's just Americans.

This hits me again whenever I am back in the States. I remember seeing butter for cooking that is now soft right out of the refrigerator. Thank God, because I tell you if I had to get out one more bowl to microwave my butter for 30 seconds, I think it might have pushed me over the edge. All in the name of convenience.

I don't write this to diss Americans, because I am one of them. Just to point out what I think should be obvious - a culture of convenience has its downsides.

I'm taking bets on how much longer this tooth will be in Ethan's mouth!