Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

I'm not much for celebrating Halloween. It's a take it or leave it holiday for me. The thought of making my kids wear costumes when they don't really like dressing up, letting them see lots of stuff that's scary, and teaching them to take hoards of candy from perfect strangers isn't really part of my development plan for them.

But this year we were invited to a party in a part of Singapore called the Woodlands. It's where the American school is located so there are loads of expats there. We were told it's something you have to experience at least once. My kids have found costumes they did want to wear of their own will, so we gave it a shot.

Ethan was Batman and Megan was either Mrs. Incredible or Violet Incredible - she looks more like Mrs. Incredible with her red hair. I tried to convince her that she would like to wear the fairy princess costume we already owned, but she insisted on the Incredibles so I ran over to the Deepavali tent today and bought her a cheap one. She loved it. She was quite proud (pictures to prove it coming soon).

We had pizza at our friend's house and headed out. It wasn't bad at first, with more of the younger kids out. By 7 p.m. (we started at 6) the older kids were out without their manners (forgot those at home I guess) and our kids were getting bowled over. Ethan started asking how many more houses we had to go to, which was my first clue that it was time to go. Erik was going to come pick us up, but it was nearly impossible to drive in. I had to call a taxi. He hadn't heard of Halloween so it all seemed quite bizarre to him. He asked, "Can everyone go to any house?"
"Can!" I replied (how very Singaporean of me).

I asked Ethan if he had fun. He said no, then qualified it with, "It was fun until the end." Erik and I already sorted through the candy, threw away the worthless stuff, and kept a few choice goodies for ourselves. Did our parents do that to ours?

Sunday, October 30, 2005


I'm sorry I haven't written much lately. It's not that I have been too busy, but that I've been busy doing nothing of interest I guess. Until Friday.

Erik and I recently came into some gift money, so we thought we would spend it on some last things for the apartment - a small console and a large mirror. Since our furniture is Asian style, we went on a tip from a friend to an area that specializes in that.

We thought when she said, "Dempsey Road" that it would be like a strip mall. Instead, it was a collection of one story stores clumped together ecclectically out in a wooded area. It was a bit of a walk to get from the entrance to the back stores. It felt a lot like wandering a camp where the cabins had been converted to furniture, carpet and idol stores (you get a lot of stores that sell primarily idols here).

Here's where the spoiled part comes in: Erik and I had to keep telling ourselves that the prices we saw on the furniture were not in kuai (Chinese money) but Sing dollars. We are so accustomed to being able to buy this kind of furniture at rock bottom prices that it was hard to believe anyone would pay that much for something. We couldn't bring ourselves to think about buying any of it, especially when I asked a man if a mirror could be smaller, and he said sure, because he has them custom made in China and sent here. We're kicking ourselves now for not buying more while we lived there.

We walked away with nothing, paralyzed by our cheapness, and also not finding anything that we wanted enough to take it home.

As a post note, in the afternoon yesterday I went to Novena Square, which is just a typical shopping mall close to our house. At a fun store called Picket and Rail, I found a large mirror that was exactly what I had been imagining, and a bed. Yes, a bed. We don't have a formal bed right now - just the bottom metal frame with a box spring and two mattresses on top (long story) and I saw one that I just loved. Everything in the store was on sale "less 20%" as they say here, and the prices were already really low. In fact, I'll be really local and tell you that we got both the large mirror (80x130 cm) and the bed for about $400 US. Now that felt like shopping in Asia.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Evil Skier

Confession time: Many of the movies I've watched in the past 6 years I didn't see in a movie theater or rent from Blockbuster. They were purchased at rock bottom prices from what appeared to be legitimate stores but who are we kidding? I could give you a lot of reasoning and justification, but that's not the point of my story. The point is that there are many amusing things about watching them. Often they are taped in a theater, so you find yourself wanting to say, "Down in front" to no effect, since you can see someone's head in front of the camera. And you get the studio audience feeling, listening to the laughter in the theater. One personal favorite experience of mine was after watching The Truman Show with some friends. Halfway through the credits, the movie cut to a shot of a dead fish on plate right in the middle of someone's dining room table. It was like they taped over some home video.

But my all time favorite, recurring snafu of late is "evil skier" credits. I guess some people were too lazy to stay and tape the credits, so they've selected the credits from some random movie to slap on anything. The cast, in order of appearance, is a bunch of skiers, the second being "evil skier." We've seen these credits on everything from Princess Diaries 2 to Bourne Supremacy.

Today the kids watched the end of the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There was a moment of black after the end of the movie, and I knew it was coming. "Evil skier credits!" I cried. Sure enough, the familiar music started (a bit like the Bear in the Big Blue House theme) and up scrolled evil skier. Erik and I laughed heartily. See, you just don't get this experience with regular, full priced movies.

Seasonal Confusion

I went to the market today to buy some pot roast supplies, but there was no one there. Instead there was a big sign that proclaimed, "Spring Cleaning! October 24th." Hello? October 24th people. Last time I checked we were north of the equator. Maybe no one's explained that the "spring" part of spring cleaning refers to a season rather than a ritual.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Talking in my sleep

Since I was a senior in high school, I periodically freak out my current roommate by waking up and trying communicate with her (or him, as the case has been for the past 8 years). The first time I did it, I wandered into my parent's room and tried to tell my mom that my marching band squad was missing. Not many days later when she tried to wake me up for church I told her I couldn't get up because it was National Pecan Day and I hate pecans.

What's happening here is that I'm a light sleeper. I dream a lot. Very vivid dreams. So vivid that sometimes I wake up, still thinking that my dream is reality, and try to involve the nearest person in that reality. So I know exactly what I'm saying, and I really believe what I'm saying, and I think the person with me is an imbecile for not understanding me. Later, when I wake up again, I realize that the night talker has struck again.

Erik has been subjected to this numerous times. He says I adopt this staccato voice that makes it obvious to him that he shouldn't try to understand but just get me to shut up and go back to sleep without making me so angry that I hit him. The way for him to avoid this is to try not to smirk at me. That's always my clue that I'm doing "that thing again" and I get embarassed and want to slap him into next week for laughing at me.

I tell you all this to give you context for telling you that Ethan has also become a night talker. Several times in the last few weeks he's woken up crying, and when we go to comfort him and ask him what's wrong, he says things like, "I don't want one!" or "I'm just . . . I'm just . . . " with the same voice I use. Last night he walked out into the living room and just stood there until we picked him up and took him back to his room. I think this is an argument for the nature side of nature/nurture.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Land of Make Believe

The world of make believe is alive and well in my house these days. It gives me great joy, because there was a time in Ethan's life when I feared that he had not a creative bone in his body. This was evidenced when his friend Ellee played with him for the first time (both age 3 then) and she said, "Let's take the baby to the doctor!" to which Ethan responded, "What doctor?"

But maybe due to Megan's influence, or just because it's a natural part of childhood, he's now a professional make believer. I am always being told by both my children that some ordinary object is something magical and different. Megan specializes in playing "Sweetie" where all of her stuffed animals are her children that she dotes on. They are usually crying and she has to comfort them. I don't know what that says about how she perceives our house. What cracks me up the most about it is that she'll rope Ethan into playing daddy, and she'll say things like, "Honey, it's time to go!" to him. So I guess I use that word a lot.

Ethan will tolerate Megan's games, but he tends toward other play. Right now he has a wonderful lego train going in his room, complete with a watering hole for the animals. The other day at a friend's house there was an elaborate game of war going on with all five kids (four boys and Megan, who was loving it). Ethan's games tend to involve building of some sort, or travel.

This reminds me of a quote I often hear, being a parent, "We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." I hope my kids never grow old.

A new form of torture

I've discovered a new form of torture, particularly suited to people with high structure needs like me. Give a child the person's watch and let him lose it somewhere in the house. The watch will continue to beep once every hour - just enough for the person to hear it, but not long enough for them to find it. Now, not only are you succeeding in depriving them of their great need to know the time, but they are regularly reminded that the watch is still out there somewhere, taunting them.

I know that this form of torture is effective because it is currently being used on me. Fortunately, I have another watch I can use, but it doesn't have all my fun features like the date, the timer, my alarm. At first I thought I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning because my watch is my alarm, but I found a travel alarm that is actually more effective. I'd grown immune to the other one.

On another note, you should all know that the stuff in your eye when you wake up which you may call crusties or eye boogers, is called sleepy seeds. Ethan told me that, and Ethan is quite smart. Speaking of seeds, we have managed to grow two small plants in his bedroom. They're flower plants. We're not sure which ones are really growing - we planted three kinds and did our best to make sure they didn't get mixed up but they did. So we'll tell you what they are when they bloom.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Crazy Deepavali

Last night the kids and I had the pleasure to eat out with some old friends of mine from my single days in Mankato. Afterwards, we drove back down Serangoon Road, which is the main street of Little India. If I haven't mentioned it before, Little India on a Sunday is crazy. Buses of Indian men come from all over the country for their day off. They fill any available open space, talk, eat, shop, and generally enjoy each others' company.

Despite the rain, all those people were there, plus everyone else out celebrating Deepavali. The actual holiday isn't for a few more weeks, but it's kind of like the month before Christmas, when everyone's out shopping and getting excited for the big event. As a result, it was nearly impossible to drive down the road. I almost hit at least 3 men who just ran out in the road (it's a four lane, one way road) in front of me. Where I normally turn left to short cut to our road, I couldn't, because the road was just filled with people. Ethan's appropriate comment was, "What are all these people thinking?!" My thoughts exactly. But I did spy a "Deepavali bazaar" that looked quite fun. I might just brave it one of these nights when Erik is back.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The best part of my day

I have a good life. Every day I experience a thousand little joys like gifts from God, reminders of His tender love for me. But one experience I treasure every day and it is this: at night, before I go to bed, I creep into the rooms of my children and watch them sleep for a minute. Sometimes I lay down next to them and kiss them or hold their hands. On ocassion I even pick them up for a minute. But Megan will sometimes wake up just a little - just enough to realize I'm there - and will wrap her little arms around my neck, maybe even stroke my hair or my back. If I could bottle the joy of those moments and sell it, I'd be the richest person on earth.

Theology according to Ethan

I've had a few interesting conversations with my son about spiritual things lately. Here's his take on the enemy:

"Mommy, when I sin, it's because Satan's on the throne in my life."
"Well, actually honey, when you belong to Jesus, Satan doesn't have that place in your life. So when you sin, it's really you on the throne. But it's because you're believing a lie. Satan lies to us. Like when you hit someone, you're listening to the lie that to get what you want you have to be unkind."
"And mommy, when Megan hit me, it was because Megan was on the throne. And Satan told me to hit her back and be on my throne and I said, 'No, Satan! Jesus is on my throne!' "

"Mommy, Satan throws dirt at us, and Jesus sprays it away with water!"
"Really, so what is the dirt? Is it like lies that he's telling us?"
"Um . . . yeah, dirt lies."
"And what is the water that Jesus uses?"
"Um . . . it's from a hose."

So there you have it. Theology from a five year old.

Monday, October 10, 2005

We passed!

Erik and I are proud to say that we are now driving legally in Singapore. We took our driver's tests this morning, showed them every important document aside from birth certificates, poured a few more dollars into the Singapore government bank account, and now we anxiously await the arrival of our new driver's licenses.

We're breathing a little easier also because I don't know what the fine is for driving without a license in Singapore, but I'm certain there is one and it isn't something you could cover by fishing some coins out of your couch. And guess what - we actually learned a few things about driving while studying for the test! If you come to Singapore, we will be able to explain to you the subtle differences between the various colors and types of lines painted on the sides of the roads (And they are legion). If that doesn't make you want to come, I don't know what will.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Community Education

We were saved a week ago from spending about $250 U.S. to send Ethan to 10 weeks of gymnastics classes. We were about to commit this gross act of reckless spending because Ethan really wanted to learn, we aren't spending any other money on education for him at the moment, and that's about par for the course here in Singapore.

That is, until we found out that they have gymnastics at community centers. These are, I'm discovering, the equivalent of community education in the U.S. There are centers all over - in fact, there's one across the street from us - but not all of them offer every course. The gymnastics course we found for Ethan is a bit of a drive by Singapore standards (about 13 minutes) but it's a mere S$140 for 10 weeks (about $85 U.S.) We went for the first time this morning and he loved it! He said it was, "Fun but hard." I was full to bursting with pride for my little boy doing his best out there. I'd say he's a natural, or at least highly coordinated for a 5 1/2 year old.

We tried a ballet class for Megan on Monday night at the community center nearby. It was for 4-6 year olds and all the other girls besides her two friends who were also trying it out had been in the class before, so it was too difficult for her. She was disappointed because she really wanted to be with her friends, but I think if she waits until the next session she'll do well.

As for me, I'm eyeing the tango classes and in a few weeks some of my friends and I are taking a one time course on cooking Indian food. This is quite exciting for me - I feel like a whole new door has opened for interesting activities in our lives.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Higher Standards

When you live in a developing country, it's always a good principle to lower your standards. (by the way, when you say that, it sounds best if you use a game show host voice). Garbage pile right outside your front door bother you? Lower your standards! Don't like it when people spit on the street? Lower your standards! (and watch your step). You get the idea.

Well, after living in a highly developed country again for a year, I've recently realized how much my standards have gone back up, maybe higher than before. Things like the fact that the same little leaf has been on the landing in my stairwell for a week, or that the beautiful tropical trees growing over the bridge from the poolside to the barbeque/fountain side of our courtyard need cutting back because I have to duck have me wondering, "Who are we not paying around here?" (they're usually crazy about cleaning). Even my son has picked it up. He's quick to comment on public restrooms (and private as well, so clean well before we come over) that need some freshening.

I have to say that within our house itself, the standard is going the opposite direction. I used to think in China that I was a super mom. Now I know I was just a mom with a helper. That's the only reason my house was clean. Without one here, and with children at home and in homeschool, I still have to stop myself sometimes, look around at the mess and say, "Gina, lower your standards!" And then I feel better.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

American Singaporean

I've been thinking about the fact that you often hear of people who are something-American. Like Chinese American, or Japanese American. But you don't hear about, for example, an American Chinese or an American African. Maybe you do, but I don't.

Ethan's asked me before if he grows up in Singapore will he be Singaporean. Maybe it's the difference of whether or not we give up our citizenship. But do you think that would make him Singaporean? I guess my question is - what would it take for your kids to really be another nationality? Maybe it's a personal decision, maybe it depends on whether your host country even allows you to gain citizenship (I don't think China does).

I suspect my kids will grow up not really feeling like they are any nationality, which I lament at times, but not too much. I hope it will make them focus on their true citizenship, which is eternal and not dependent on geography.

Cough drops are not candy!

In both China and Singapore, cough drops can be found in the candy aisle. True, some kinds are no better than candy, but God help the kid who chooses menthol flavor over cherry.

Today my friend Karen and I took our kids to a nearby Depavali tent sale (more in future posts) to get their hands painted with henna. The henna lady was gone, so we wandered around looking at cool Indian-style skirts and shoes (I got a very fun pair). A woman came to us, recognizing that the crying little white girl must belong to the only foreigners there. Megan had stopped a few stalls back and was crying for me. When I ran to comfort her, the woman offered her own comfort - a Vicks Vapor drop in original menthol flavor. While I appreciated the sentiment I thought, "Do their kids really like these?" I put it in her pocket. She wanted to eat it later, but I told her it was "spicy" which it what she calls anything peppermint-like. I wasn't sure how to explain it to her but that was close enough. I feel a bit of a sore throat coming on too so I thought I'd save it for its true purpose.