Sunday, January 29, 2006

Lanterns at Chinatown

Ethan's holding pussy willows - I'm not sure what the significance of them is, but you can buy them everywhere right now. Behind him is the main drag through Chinatown.


Most auspicious

This afternoon when I discovered I had no sugar to make brownies, I went across the street to the little Asian strip mall, hoping there might be a store open (since it's New Year's Day). Our trusty 7-11 was, and had one bag of sugar left. It also had a line about 40 people long, not waiting in line to pay for things (thank God!) but to buy lottery tickets.

You see, this is probably the most auspicious day of the year to buy a lottery ticket. I mean, it's the first day of the new year - how can you not win? It took me by surprise a little because I kind of thought that though they talk luck and fortune and how you aren't supposed to do all these things because they'll bring bad luck, I didn't really think they actually took it seriously. But it looks like some of them believe it enough to endure an hour long line to throw away money on a lottery ticket. Too bad only a few people will experience the "luck" of that move.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy New Year! Congratulations and get rich! No, I'm not a month late in entering 2006. I'm just on time to enter the Year of the Dog according to the Chinese lunar calendar. In celebration of a holiday that really means nothing to me, here are a few observations about Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival. I've learned a little since last year.

The official color is red. There are red decorations everywhere, because red is the color of happiness. You often see, in addition to traditional Chinese lanterns, lots of fish and pineapple. The fish is because the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for happiness. And I think the pineapple is because it is the color of gold, but that's just my guess. I know that's why they pass out a lot of oranges - mandarin, not navel. And always two at a time, because odd numbers is not lucky. So when it comes to handing out hong bao (red bags) of money to children, you should always give in even numbers. Including the number 6 or 8 is lucky, but 4 is bad (Chinese words sounds like the word for death).

On the homefront, it's very important to do "spring cleaning" before the new year, and not after. Afterwards you're likely to sweep away all the good fortune of the new year. I've heard people also buy new clothes and sheets, as I can attest to as I did both quite coincidentally.

The day of seems to be spent with family, or on holiday somewhere off the island. Erik has a few days off this week and we'll do our best to avoid places with high numbers of people. We leave on Thursday for Thailand, so we'll miss the Chinggay parade which is held the 8th day after Chinese new year. We will be having a BBQ with our small group from church so that will be good enough for us.

This holiday is bigger than Christmas for Chinese - it's their most important holiday. You'd think we'd be old hats at celebrating since we've been in Asia for 7 years, but we were usually out of the country at the time so we're just now understanding it all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


At the front of our complex they have installed a metal bar about four inches off the ground in between the in and out lanes. Theoretically, this is to keep people from driving across and hitting oncoming traffic. Never mind that there were already silver markers deliniating the lanes - we needed further reinforcement to keep us in the right place.

Yesterday, when I came home, I was directed to enter in the "out" lane because some brainiac had driven his nice white sportscar over the bar in such a way that he was stuck there.

You might think that this will cause the management to rethink the decision to install the bar. We fear it will lead them to installing a fence.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Programmed TV

We have a new intruder in our house in the form of cable television. We finally broke down and decided to get our own internet connection instead of sucking off unknowing souls nearby. Erik also wanted a different mobile phone plan, and we found a place where we could get phone, internet and cable combined for less. So we went for it.

We were fully aware that being able to watch television at any time (something we haven't been able to do for the past 6 1/2 years) might be hazardous to our mental health. We tried to justify it by saying things like, "Yeah, we can watch the news, and Discovery channel." So far I've spent a good deal of time watching Golden Globe coverage on the E! channel, and about 1 minute of news. We only signed up for the kids' channels, the educational channels, and some basic entertainment channels, but they have cleverly given us all the channels so that we will become addicted and beg for them at any cost once they snatch them away.

The interesting, and often maddening part of this is how our children do not get the concept of programmed television. I can't begin to cover the variety of questions and comments that betray their lack of understanding. After explaining it one day, Ethan said, "You mean it's like the TV at Nonna and Babba's house?" Yes, son. Now your grandparents and we are the only people in the world with programmed TV. Megan went to the bathroom one day during the middle of Blue's Clues, and was almost in tears screaming, "Stop the movie! Stop the movie!"

So far, we've been less than impressed. Turns out you can have 100 channels in Asia and have nothing to watch, just like in the U.S. But I'm hoping that having this will bode well when the Olympics are showing next month.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God's in the little things

I hate organized games, particularly at birthday parties for children. My children have had great birthdays with lots of kids, but no party games. I try to make up for the lack of activities by decorating in fun themes and creating impressive looking cakes.

This year is no different. A few weeks ago, Ethan and I started talking about his birthday at the end of February. This may seem premature, but we will be gone from February 2-19th at a conference in Thailand, and his birthday is the 23rd. So if he wants anything at his birthday that can't be purchased here, I have to plan ahead enough to have someone bring it to Thailand.

At first he wanted a Buzz Lightyear theme, for reasons unknown, since he's never shown interest in him before. Then he decided Batman would be good - a little more doable in my mind. Then he settled on dinosaurs. I spent a good amount of time looking online for dinosaur supplies to order and send to someone coming over. I found some that were just great, but before I ordered, I thought I'd try The Concourse.

The Concourse is this treasure here in Singapore. At holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year (right now) the basement is filled with inexpensive decorations. Other than that, it has several party supply stores. They're filled with lots of cheap toys and candy - nothing much you'd see in the States honestly. But I thought there might be a chance we'd find something.

The first store we went to had 4 themes - 1st birthday boy, 1st birthday girl, generic birthday, and the exact same dinosaur decorations I looked at online! Ethan was thrilled, though disappointed that we couldn't buy every single item available.

So for those of you who might have doubts about whether or not God cares about the little things, I beg to differ. It may not make any big difference in the world at large today, but the heart of an almost 6 year old is flying high, and I think that's enough for Him.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Crossing the channel to Johor Bahru, Malaysia

We saw miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers, depending on where you're from) of these trees.

Always have to include the "view from our room" shot

Our incredible dinner

The boat dock

Relaxing on the river - see how low the tide is? You can see the line of salt on the leaves where high tide is.

A fishing dock in the river

Me waiting at the boat dock for someone to come get us!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Salamat Datang!

It's happy hour right now at our house with music provided by Megan. She's singing herself to sleep. I'll be joining her soon in la la land as I'm having a hard time keeping my eyes open, but I just had to blog about our latest adventure to the country north of us.

After dropping the kids off at a friend's house on Friday ("Mommy, when are you going to leave?") we packed our car and drove to the border. We hit a bit of a snag when we didn't have the departure document we didn't know we needed. We parked our car, filled out the forms, and Erik went and stood in line (with the cars) to get us into Malaysia. Salamat Datang! (Welcome!) We saw signs that said that everyone. They're a very welcoming people, those Malaysians.

We assumed we would spend a little time driving around lost, which we did, but it didn't take too long to get on the right road. Our destination: Pulai Desaru Golden Beach Resort. We'd heard it was anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 1/2 hours away from Singapore so we drove without any concept of when we'd get there. The drive was beautiful, despite seeing our first monkey road kill.

Since it is the monsoon season, we seemed to be the only people there. Literally. It was a bit creepy actually, like everyone knew something we didn't. But that night we had the best dinner we've had in a long time (I'm a lousy, uncreative cook). We took a walk on the beach after dinner, then drove into "town" hoping for some kind of a night market (we later found out that they call markets "mini klan klan" or that's how it sounds at least). We found only local stores and restaurants so all that surfaced from our outing was some giant posterboard and a pack of oreos.

Desaru day 2

Despite my late night (got caught up watching Castaway while I was waiting for the music down in the lobby to get quieter or just plain stop), we only slept in until 7:30. Actually, that is sleeping in for us since we are normally up at 5. Yes, that's right, we're insane. But back to Desaru . . .

Erik had brought his bike, so he wanted to explore the trails around our hotel. I gave the gym a try. It wasn't bad - I walked and ran on the treadmill for awhile listening to my ipod. I felt a little stupid walking on a machine facing a wall of glass that separated me from the beach I could have been walking on. But the beach wouldn't tell me how many calories I was burning or how high my incline was. Mostly, it wouldn't make me walk faster than I wanted to. The beach can be so inconsiderate sometimes.

We squeezed in the last few minutes of breakfast before they closed at 10, then spent about 4 hours on the beach reading and walking. We were the only people there! It was glorious. I had a bit of nap in a hammock there too.

The hotel we stayed in offered a wide variety of activities. We chose to do a river boat tour. We thought we could maybe save some money and go when we wanted to by taking our own car, but decided it wasn't worth it and joined the "group" (which consisted of two other women). Our car is thanking us profusely because the road to the boat dock would have certainly done considerable damage to it.

It was low tide and because of the recent rains the river was fairly muddy, but it was wonderful to take a lazy ride down the mangrove lined river. Erik and I sat on the top and enjoyed the sun slowly going down.

Back at the ranch we ordered up some chicken wings and fries to make up for our early dinner, and watched some HBO. Sometime around 10 they started entertainment downstairs. I mean entertainment. Normally, I'm a big fan of 80's music, but not when I'm going to bed and it's directly below me. I called the front desk - not sure how coherent I was - and asked if they could please turn it down. They apologetically told me it would go until 1 a.m. I'm not sure, but I think that might be why at some point I reached out and knocked the lamp and accompanying objects off my bedside table in the middle of the night - some kind of latent anger coming out.

Desaru day 3

Erik has not learned that throwing open the curtains in the morning will in fact wake up his wife in such a way that she cannot fall asleep again, though he will have no problem falling asleep again himself. Such was the case this morning. So much for sleeping in - once the sun is up, so I am.

So we headed down to breakfast at about 7:30. After that, I tried to talk Erik into joining Billy Blanks and me for a little Tae Bo (my latest kick, no pun intended) but he's taken on the crazy challenge of doing a triathlon in June so he decided to do a mini-triathlon of biking, running and swimming.

Once we had cleaned up we spent a short time near the pool soaking up the clouds, me taking a last walk on the beach with my trusty ipod. After lunch we went in search of a mini klan klan (market). We were told mini klan klan could be found in Kota Tingi, a small town we had to drive through on the way home. What we really wanted was some pewter handicrafts we had seen in the hotel but deemed too expensive. Anything found in a hotel can usually be found only steps away at fractions of the cost. Or so we thought.

The mini klan klan did nothing for us aside from finding a man who told us pewter was sold at City Square in Johor Bahru. But if I wanted to dress like a Muslim Malaysian woman, that mini klan klan would have been a jackpot.

We did track down the pewter store in City Square, but being in a department store kept the prices nice and high. They weren't indecent prices, but it's a basic principle that when you travel to countries like Malaysia, you don't want to buy something unless you feel like you're really getting a bargain. So no pewter for us.

We thought, since we were only a kilometer from Singapore that we could easily get back to pick up our kids a little later than the 5 o'clock we had told our friends. It was, after all, 4:40. At around 6:10 we pulled into their driveway. It's amazing how long it can take to drive one kilometer, when half of Singapore is trying to drive back with you at the same time.

We're back safe and sound now. Megan is now reading books to herself in a whisper. And in the dark, which is a trick. Time for me to switch out of vacation mode and back into regular life.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Recent Outing

The week after Christmas Erik took off and we made a trip to the Science Center. They have a new outdoor exhibit that is all water (they even have locker rooms just inside). The kids were having a great time when to our surprise, our friends the Wilsons (of Bintan adventure fame) came in!

That was icing on the cake, so we had a blast together. The funny thing was, we had already planned to spend time with them the next day at the outdoor water park at Jurong. It was a friend filled week!

Look who we found!

Aaron and Ethan playing around

This picture is a reminder that the sun does shine in Singapore sometimes. Just not this week.

Megan and me


Megan makes her way through

Ethan braves the fountain

Another family adventure

Last night on our family night, Erik led us on the faithful 131 bus line to one of the oldest hawker centers in the country. It has high arched ceilings and just about every kind of local food you can want. We wanted a little bit of everything, so we picked up garlic and cheese roti prata, something like a large spring roll (can't remember the name) chicken rice, chicken satay and a fresh fruit shake. I was lamenting the lack of curry puffs when the country line dancing started. Wait, what?! This is Singapore, right? No matter how long we watched it, it just never looked right. Even with guys who had big oval belt buckles and cowboy boots.

But the food was good, and we got to check off another "must do in Singapore" adventure. See pictures below for proof.

A family adventure

Singaporean country line dancing - who knew?

Making roti prata for us

Our big umbrella

One of the oldest hawker centres in Singapore

Lots of great food

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wet and other matters

From Saturday evening until late Sunday night, it rained. It rained incessantly. This is unusual for Singapore. In some ways I like it because it's a good excuse to hole up inside. We had a brief respite Monday morning, but pretty much it's been raining again since yesterday noon (it's Tuesday morning). I'm starting to feel like I live in Seattle.

The Saturday evening rain started when we were in the Expo, which is a huge conference center kind of place here. We went to City Harvest church which has 20,000 people. Normally not much would induce me to attend a church that large - really doesn't appeal to me at all - but some friends invited us to go. Joyce Meyers was speaking. Anyway, that's so not my point. My point is that afterwards we went with our friends, the Monsivaizs, to eat chili crab. It's one of those things you have to do in Singapore, like drink a Singapore Sling and incur a fine.

It was by far the messiest meal I've ever eaten, but good. We would have taken a picture, but no one's hands were clean enough. What made the meal more enjoyable was the difficulty of ordering. It's one of those places where you quickly realize it would have been better for the server if you were speaking Chinese instead of English, but by the time you know this, it's insulting to change. So some hand gestures and pointing were necessary. I also encouraged Erik to try his luck at getting two kinds of juices mixed together. Here's how that conversation went:
"Can you mix . . . "

So we can check chili crab off our list. This weekend we'll be checking Malaysia off our list too, as Erik and I are going to drive up there for the weekend and leave the kids in bliss at the Monsivaiz house. I doubt they'll miss us (they have four great kids who our kids love).

Maybe today we'll see the sun. Yesterday when it was raining my friend observed one of the maintenance men in the courtyard with an umbrella cleaning the sidewalk with a pressure hose. You gotta love it!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

So it seems I'm "It"

Michelle has just cyber-tagged me. Blogging has created a whole new realm to our culture which I'm finding amusing right now, but I'll play along.

So here are 5 interesting things about me (this is funny because I just did a scrapbook page for Ethan's book with 30 things about me that I wrote on my 30th birthday. So I'll give you a few of them).

1. I have never had a cup of coffee in my life.
2. I have published 3 articles in actual magazines.
3. I love speaking in public.
4. I can tie a cherry stem in a knot in my mouth.
5. I would love to be the voice of an animated character.

I don't know who to tag now because the people I know who blog have already done it. I could hope that Christopher might. Would you? Christopher's interesting things would be very interesting I believe.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Megan at preschool

Megan goes to school

Today was Megan's first day of preschool. As you can see below, she gets to wear a uniform. I'll reserve comment about it. You can think of your own. Megan is proud of it though. She was singing this morning, to the tune of "Father Abraham", "I have a uniform, and Ethan doesn't. I have a uniform!"

This morning was short - only 8:30-10. They got a tour around the classroom from their teacher, Miss Yap, who seems quite fun. I left after about 1/2 hour to run to Mustafa with Ethan (the school is a short walk from us - probably 1/2 to 3/4 mile). She was asking when I was going to leave anyway, so I guess that answers the "is she going to be afraid for me to leave?" question.

Faith and Megan wait for instructions

Miss Yap shows them around the classroom

Faith and Megan