Monday, September 19, 2011


I loved writing Snippets From Singapore.  I have over 6000 views of the blog, many from complete strangers.  It's evident from the posts viewed that seeking information about shopping in Singapore was the most common reason for stumbling upon my blog.  But I also know that this blog had many dedicated readers.  I write for them.  I write for you.  But I also write for me.  Because I enjoy it, and it helps clear my mind.

So as promised, I have started a new blog called Going Om.  I owe the name to both my favorite cafe as well as my wonderful partner, Terry.  He suggested I name it this.  It made complete sense.  The URL for the new blog, Going Om, is  Please visit, read, follow, and enjoy.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Going Om

One year ago from today, we were bound for Singapore.  My teenage daughter, Terry, and I had six suitcases, a guitar, two carry-on bags each, and high spirits.  A blog can't come close to describing the year we had - it was incredible.

Today, we are home.  In Canada.  In Newfoundland.  With an 8 week old baby.

Our last few weeks in Singapore were fantastic.  My folks made a visit so we did the touristy things that tourists do in Singapore... double decker bus tour (amazingly, I already knew almost everything the guide was telling the tourists about Singapore!), shopping, $26 Singapore Slings from Raffles Hotel (where the sling was invented), East Coast Park, brunches, restaurants, walks along waterfronts to see the crazy number of ships in the harbour, etc., etc.  Jet lagged and sweating, my folks lapped it all up while my daughter and I enjoyed showing them where we lived for the past year.  We realized how much we had learned about the culture, government, people, and place.  We realized we would miss Singapore when we left the place we spent a year of our life.  We realized how lucky we were to have the experience and to be able to show it to my parents.  My mom drank Kopi and my dad got invited to play that Chinese game that looks something like checkers with the uncles in our community.

My daughter went home with my folks and Terry, baby and I spent the last 2 1/2 weeks saying good-bye to a wonderful country and great friends.  One of my favorite cafes is called Going Om.  It's laid back, has inspirational quotes painted on the walls, boasts live entertainment (jazz the night we were there), serves great fruit drinks (as well as alcohol:), AND has meditations upstairs!  I didn't know this until my last visit there!  I bought a Going Om t-shirt and met the owner.  I guess he liked me because he gave me a free Going Om key chain when I told him I was moving back to Canada.  If you visit Singapore, make sure you visit Going Om - it's located around Arab Street (also my favorite area of Singapore).

Terry and I rented a car a couple of times during our last days.  We saw a part of the city that was concrete.  Hundreds of HBDs lined the streets.  Indeed they were grey, but the buildings in Singapore usually have some color.  Each one had yellow or green or pink or blue painted onto the grey.  It could be to brighten up the area, or maybe to determine which one is yours because they all look the same.  Thousands of people will live in this new area called Punggol, and a beach area is being made.  The area has a beautiful walk way and you can watch the sun set from a wharf.  Singapore has a way of creating communities.

We finally visited The Divine wine bar.  It was pretty awesome.  Ceilings were about eight floors high and decorated ornately with brass.  Paintings were the height of the walls and the furniture was extravagant.  The wine angels (waitresses) fly on a harness to retrieve a bottle of wine.  I'd like to have a masquerade ball there.

We spent our final days doing some of our favorite things... drinking fresh juices, eating from our local food courts (making sure we had black pepper crab, laksa - for Terry, steamboat, satay, pancake, kopi, lime juice, authentic Indian food, and other of our favorite dishes and snacks).  The one thing I did not try was durian - a smelly fruit that is so smelly it is illegal to have in some places.  We did, however, try many fruits that you cannot find here in Canada.  We also hung out by our pool, walked the reflexology circle (this is not my favorite thing to do!), and roamed parks.  We managed to get in some new things too... drove through Kellang, where men dress as women, and I found a Sai Baba Centre!  I guess you can't experience everything in one year.

Saying good-bye was bittersweet, as I expected.  We'd made some good friends.  And we'd fallen in love with some aspects of our life.  But we were also happy to be 'going om'.

We've been back in Canada for three weeks.  And we all have very fond memories of Singapore.  We miss the daily sunshine, but love the fresh air Newfoundland gives us.  We miss the many varieties of restaurants, but love our home cookin'.  We miss our friends and acquaintances, but love being around family.  And this is how it is for an expat.  Life is exciting but home is home.

A new adventure has begun.  And a new blog will begin.  I'll send the URL soon.

We'll have more adventures overseas, I'm sure.  But for now, we've gone om.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Everyone Loves Baby

The wait is over - the baby is here!  She arrived almost three weeks ago completely healthy.  The Singapore hospital experience was a little different than the NL hospital experience I had over 17 years ago, but everyone here loves babies just like everyone there loves babies.

I had a scheduled Cesarean, so we knew exactly when we'd go to the hospital.  From arrival to room and nursing baby, about 2 hours passed.  I received detailed information about what the epidural would be like - that was a plus.  Terry, however, was not allowed in the OR until after I'd already received the epidural and the cutting had started.  I consider myself fairly independent and brave... but boy, I was glad to see him!  The anesthesiologist had the role of photographer so we got OR photos, unlike last time.  My teen and Terry followed baby while she was weighed, cleaned, etc. while I was sewn up and recovering from surgery.  They both fell in love at first sight.  I love that my teen was able to participate like that.

Throughout the hospital stay, I was treated by many wonderful nurses and nursing assistants.  Everyone was shocked that I had a 17 year old and a newborn and the comment every time was, "Such a big gap, lah!" with an occasional question, "Why wait such a long time?" and the common comment, "Ah, a good helper, lah."  One nurse loved my teen, thought she was beautiful.  She came in around 4-5 am to take my blood pressure and temperature and would have a chat with me while my daughter or Terry (they took turns staying the night) slept on the companion's couch.

I also am not one to take medication unnecessarily.  So when nurses came with handfuls of pills, I asked what they were for and why I need to take them.  I am not sure they are used to such questions. I turned down some meds - I'm not sure what they thought of that.  It's private health care here, so you pay for everything and I guess prescriptions are easily handed out.  The docs prescribed three pain meds, meds to treat stomach upset from the pain meds, trouble sleeping meds, meds to relieve itching from the after effects of the epidural... I didn't take most of it.  And I was down right confused at the thought of a new mom taking a sleeping pill!  Maybe it's just me, but I can fall asleep the instant I have the opportunity to do so!

I was told the food at this hospital was fabulous.  Hmmm.... I would not consider it near that.  My companion (my teen or Terry) and I both chose our meals each day.  There were a few decent meals once I was on solids, but they were not fabulous by any stretch.  I also got tea or Milo (a local drink something like hot chocolate) for mid meal snacks.  And each afternoon I got the best snack of all... a confinement meal of fish and papaya soup!  It's considered 'heaty' and I ate about 1/2 of my first dish but it was really 'fishy'.  Apparently it helps your milk production.

All in all, the hospital stay was decent.  We ended our stay with a photo with some of the nursing staff.  One nurse wants us to visit her at her home.

The attention a baby brings is the same as home.  Everyone says hello.  Everyone smiles.  People goo-goo and ga-ga over baby.  Aunties just adore the baby!  They come up to us and say, "Ah, so cute, lah!  Boy?"  One of us responds, no, girl.  "Ohhh, one month old?"  Nope.  One week.  Two weeks.  "Ohhhhhhh......." *Concerned look and frown on face*  As I mentioned in an earlier post, most babies and moms go in confinement for a month so it's quite frowned upon to bring baby out before that.  And my beauty has been out and about all over Singapore!  One auntie actually stepped backwards as if in fear she'd infect the baby when I said the baby was less than one month old.  We get lots of smiles and lots of frowns and concerned stares.

Regardless, our beautiful baby girl is surrounded by love.  Even the locals frowning upon bringing her out love the baby.

New life is precious.  Babies are brilliant, aren't they?  Worries go away in those moments you look into a baby's eyes.  Babies don't judge and don't care what others think.  It doesn't matter where in the world they are, they just ARE.  They are completely present.  I try to live like this and I've raised my teen to live like this, but our new family addition is a beautiful reminder.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Wait

I have to admit that when my 17 year old daughter was growing up, I had quite a bit of patience; however, it dwindled over the years.  I'm not proud of this, of course.  That said, I think this past year has helped me regain my patience - good thing since there's another little one on the way!

I've been waiting for my visitor pass to be approved - and today it was!  Yahoo!  I've taken several steps to get here, and I've had help from wonderful people (including Terry and the hospital staff).  During my wait, I learned my daughter's student pass would also expire - the same day I'm scheduled to be in the hospital having a baby!  I drew on my patience again and took the necessary steps to straighten it out... and it looks like her remaining stay will be approved as well.  Surely, this is the universe's way of helping me relearn patience so I'll have in when I need it with a growing child.... not to mention giving me a true expat experience.

Waiting when you get responses to calls and emails quickly is not so bad, though.  I've been in communication with schools, governments, hospitals, etc. and even if I have to wait for things to happen, I get a response to tell me I have to wait.  This is not always the case at home.  As an expat with a child who is changing schools, I have plenty of scanning, copying, emailing, and paperwork to complete in order to depart one school and arrive at another.  People respond in Singapore... even if it is to say I will receive a proper response within 24 hours.  Some people at home need several emails and calls and I'm still not getting responses.  The school closes next week and if things aren't in order, we have to wait until September to straighten everything out.  Oh well, there's my challenge to work on my patience some more.

After living here for nearly a year now, I can say that when an expat arrives in a completely foreign environment, he or she has to wait for several months to feel settled.  As we settled here, we also starting finding things/places much easier.  Now, we're finding all the things we couldn't find last Fall - and we're leaving.  We're also seeing/experiencing new things and not getting overwhelmed by it all - in fact, we're trying to lap it all up before we leave.

Speaking of new things... I've mentioned before that Singapore constructs new buildings fast and frequently.  There's a new condo close to ours that is full of windows.  It's high end.  It's modern.  And you can see right through the windows into the showers and bathrooms!  I've noticed that privacy in the medical system is quite different than home.  It's not uncommon for your ailment to be shouted out into the waiting room in a doctor's office.  But surely there will be something done with these windows??  Stores also close and new ones open within a day - not much waiting.  A fruit drink stand that my daughter likes at the MRT station closed one day and the next day a bakery was there in its place.

One of our lessons taken from our struggle through culture shock is to just wait.  Be patient with ourselves as we adjust to new surroundings.  Know that in time we'll make friends, know how to get around, figure out where we can find the things we need, and feel at home in our new environment.  We do feel at home now.  (When I say 'we', I mean my daughter and I... Terry's lived so many places he doesn't recall culture shock:)  My daughter is even having her friends visit our 'home' for a BBQ and swim tonight.  Our move back to Canada will be a little bittersweet.  But we're getting excited about that now too.

Oh, and yes, we're patiently awaiting our new arrival as well.  Not much longer... I have one more pre-natal yoga class, one more free weekend, and one more week before our wait will be rewarded.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Makes Three

This morning I was putting dishes away in the cupboard when I saw a little stick looking thing hanging out from the fan/hood over the stove.  After analyzing the situation carefully, I wondered... Crap, it's the leg of a cockroach.  Our maid was in the kitchen with me (telling me to stop putting the dishes away because she'll do it), and I asked her if she thought it was a cockroach.  Yep, it was.  And she would just get rid of it.  We had a good chuckle about how scared I am of the little (big) critters.  She isn't afraid at all.  Well, she's from a tropical climate... I'm from Newfoundland!  What does one expect?

So there it is.  Our third cockroach... in the apartment that is.  I've had several nearly crawl over my feet while walking around.  And such is the life in the tropics.

Three is the magic number today.  I have three weeks before our new arrival enters this world - if all goes as planned!  I think I'm nesting... my energy seems to have doubled lately while I do laundry, pack bags, purchase last minute items, and start to prepare and freeze meals.  What's happened to me?!

Last night, we bought the most groceries we've ever bought here - ingredients for the many frozen meals I'm going make (planning anyway).  You can collect stickers for discounts at the grocery stores I frequent.  Usually, outside the grocery stores, an auntie or two wait in anticipation... hoping the customers will relinquish their stickers.  We always do.  The lady serving us last night told us that they've had so many problems with the aunties arguing over who gets the stickers and other incentives, that they have had to cut out one of their promotions (but the stickers we always get were still in effect).  We have actually had this happen to us... one of the aunties asked us for our stickers, which we gave to her, and the other got mad at us because they were supposed to be her stickers.  Ooops.

By the way, aunties and uncles also sell tissues around MRT stations and tunnels and in coffee shops (Kopi Tiams).  Local restaurants do not give out napkins.  And several bathrooms in these places don't have tissues either.  I always have a stash in my purse.

I'm not only 'nesting'... I'm taking full advantage of my baby-less time.  Singapore offers amazing international theatre, art, and dance - something we'll miss when we leave.  And we've gone to many shows.  Last weekend, we attended a dance show... but in all my years of dance... loving all forms from classical ballet to modern hip hop to creative artistic dance... I've never seen dance like this.  I'd call it dark art on stage.  The music was loud and techno and shrill.  The 'dancing' included incredibly slow movements making bodies look deformed at times.  One 'angel' character creeped slowly around the stage, stared eerily into the audience, and then screamed a high pitched shrill as if being tortured, which echoed throughout the auditorium.  Another guy squirmed on the stage - it kind of looked like he was floating.  Another guy squirmed on a bench... naked.  There were performers doing the Haka - a traditional native New Zealand dance - throughout the show.  They slapped their thighs, stamped their feet, and shuffled around the stage in perfect unison.  There were video images of famous faces, and another piece of art hanging that at some point looked like blood was being poured over it.  Overall, the show left us feeling dark and confused.  We stayed for the post-show talk by the choreographer, which we usually do, and this shed some light on the show's meaning.  It was meant to be deeply political, addressing the issues of global fear post 9-11.  The guy is brilliant for sure... but we didn't get the right meaning from it at all!

Next weekend we're going to another circus - seems to be a spin off from Cirque du Soleil (hoping it's a comparable quality!)... much lighter than last weekend's show.

I have three weeks left to soak in Singapore.  I expect the 4-5 weeks post baby will be more baby focused, although we'll still take in what we can.... maybe some local postpartum activities (of course, all the other newborns will be in confinement!)... and maybe I'll finally have that Singapore Sling the Raffles Hotel is famous for creating (hmmm... baby may not like that in her milk... maybe I'll just have a sip).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pass the Pineapple... or Just the Pass

Every mom or soon-to-be mom knows that you get lots of free 'advice' from others about being pregnant and parenting.  I think I actually get more 'advice' here in Singapore than I did in Canada.

Today while out to lunch with a friend and her son, I ordered fresh pineapple juice.  One of the perks of living here is the incredibly delicious and huge variety of fruit and fruit juices!  The waitress paused... then she said, "Maybe you shouldn't have pineapple juice... it's really not good for you right now."  I'm very obviously pregnant and even though this is my second time around, I'd never heard about this.  Neither did my friend who has two young children.  The waitress didn't know why it wasn't good for me.  So I had to google it of course (don't you love that google is a verb now?).  It's an old wive's tale that pineapple brings on contractions... and there is some evidence that large amounts of it can.  I love pineapple.  I ate a big plate of it last weekend for breakfast.  Anyway, to avoid the 'look' of judgement and just in case she was right, I ordered green apple juice.  She felt this was a good choice.  Then I ordered coffee.  Her response was, "We have decaf..."  My response, "Umm, no I indulge in one thing and that's coffee - I'll have regular."  *smile and giggle*  Thankfully, this was a restaurant frequented by expats so getting normal coffee with fresh milk on the side was not a problem (although the milk is always heated and I like mine cold).  By the way, the waitress was actually really sweet and was just acting out of concern for me.

Last week while in a taxi, the driver asked if I was going to be in confinement after the baby is born.  I said no.  He looked at me like I was absolutely nuts... crazy... it must be my 8-month pregnant hormones talking!  Terry added that this is my second child.  Ohhhh..... well, that's not so bad then... but he still seemed concerned.  It's customary around here for new Chinese moms and their babies to go in confinement for one month (it's 44 days for Malays and 30-40 days for Indians).  The belief is that your body is out of balance that first month and you need that time to re-energize and recover from giving birth.  Many people hire a confinement nanny, a pui yuet, who assists with all you and baby need.  

Sounds good, lah?  Wellll..... there are rules to follow during Chinese confinement.  You must stay inside.  You must not wash your hair.  You must avoid cold elements such as cold water or air conditioning (it is believed this is a 'cold' stage due to loss of blood and energy).  You must bath only with water specially prepared with specific herbs.  If you follow these rules for retaining heat in your body, it is said you will avoid other health issues later in life.

Although the idea of confinement is attractive health-wise, I will likely go for daily walks with baby in my carrier, wash my hair (if I have the time and energy), and bask in the air conditioning.  Today I was going to update my Facebook status to say, "I am a furnace."  I am looking forward to cooling off - although that may not happen until I move back to Canada.  

Other things have been heating up these days besides me.  After my employment ended, my Employment Pass was terminated and I had a 30-day Social Visit Pass.  I traveled to Hong Kong via plane, and when I re-entered Singapore, I had another 30-day Social Visit Pass... which expires this coming weekend.  I applied for a Long Term Visit Pass and was declined.  Apparently, the route I took for my Long Term Visit Pass last Fall can only be taken once.  Now I need a local sponsor - which I do not have.  I appealed my application and included a letter from my doctor saying I need to stay here for medical reasons until the end of July.  My appeal was denied.  

Earlier this week Terry and I went to see someone at the Immigration Checkpoints Authority of Singapore.  The lady was... ummmm... rude.  Maybe she was having a bad day.  Maybe she didn't believe in our situation of not being married.  Maybe she was dealing with some serious personal issues.  Whatever the reasons for her poor service and lack of compassion, I have to admit I started to stress a little.  At the end of our conversation (which started to heat up since Terry was floored at the lack of help she was giving us), she mentioned something about the hospital helping us.  So we made our way to Thompson Medical Centre.  Indeed, they have a service to help with applying for Permission to Deliver in Singapore.  Who knew we'd need permission when I've been living here for almost a year?!  It all stems from not being married... we've considered just doing the deed to streamline this process, but, well, you know me;)  Anyway, the lady who is now helping us is soooo super sweet and compassionate and helpful.  She said for me not to stress.... Singapore is not so cruel to kick me out when I'm just about to deliver.

Upon her recommendation, I've applied for a 30-day extension to my Short Term Visit Pass.  That brings me to a couple of days after my delivery date - if in fact it is approved... I'm still waiting to hear.  We also need a Marriage Certificate for this application.  Since we do not have one, we need a letter from our Canadian Consulate stating the status of our relationship.  Turns out they won't provide one, but we can submit an affidavit stating our relationship.  And this needs to be notarized.  And the Notary Publics must be really busy these days because they aren't very available and it might take some time to get this accomplished... oh, and they don't necessarily accept all affidavits.  Today we'll submit our affidavit and see how it goes.

So right now, I'd be happy to pass on the pineapple, pass on the coffee, and get a Pass that allows me to stay in Singapore until we leave at the end of July.  Otherwise, I'm not sure where they'll send me since no airline will let me fly with them at this point in the pregnancy.  I'm trying to meditate and tell myself this is all going to work out fine... don't waste my energy on worrying about something that will probably not happen (thank-you Wayne Dyer for your book Your Erroneous Zones which I read several years ago).

Hmmmm.... if my 30-day extension is granted, maybe I should run down to the market and pick up a few pineapples.... I'll be able to fly 30 days after birth.  Shockin', wha?!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Three Steps One Bow

Three thousand people gathered at our community running track Monday evening for Three Steps One Bow.  It was Buddha's birthday yesterday (Vesak Day and a public holiday here to celebrate Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death) and the celebrations overtook our community for days!  Another tent was erected in our community square for prayer, and chanting hung through the air.  The tent was filled with candles and flowers and many Buddhist quotes.  The whole affair was fabulous!

The 3 Steps 1 Bow event was a procession of a group of people who took three steps forward, got down on their knees and bowed, and got up again to repeat.  They repeated this for three hours.  A rhythmic chant with bells and chimes repeated throughout the procession.  We observed rather than participated due to my 'bigness' (my belly that is), but it was peaceful and energizing at the same time.  The purpose of the activity is to aggregate compassion, devotion, repentance, and gratitude, and offer these blessings to themselves, their families, society, Japan, and the World.

I have to admit it's been my favorite religious activity I've observed so far.

This practice is typically done as a pilgrimage for days... in silence... bowing in and for peace.... learning about yourself and others.  I read of a couple of monks who did this for three days taking no food but relying on strangers to feed them along the way.  An amazing practice of dependence and vulnerability.  People who have experienced this pilgrimage observe their thoughts to increase awareness, and their thoughts certainly include ones of food!

I think of food a lot these days.  Why does a 7 1/2 month pregnant woman think of food so much?  Indeed, I am hungry more frequently than 'normal'.  But even when I'm not hungry, I'm thinking of food.  In fact, I've been thinking of cheezies for weeks... and I can't find real cheezies in Singapore.

We missed the Dharma talk on Sunday evening past, but apparently there are Dharma talks at the Zen Centre here.  These talks might help me find the purpose of my obsession with food these days.  No seriously, I think attending a talk could help guide one towards their purpose in life.  Since we moved here, we've learned a lot about other cultures, traveling in itself, other people, and ourselves.  We've had a lot of change, and I've also had a very different experience than first intended.  I'm accepting, going with what is presented, and growing (in more ways than one!).  The next couple of years will bring much change and a little guidance for the future could certainly help.

Happy Birthday Buddha!  Thank-you for your teachings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ants In My Plants

I know I am very late writing about our recent travels in Bali, Hong Kong, and India.  But lately, I have something else on my mind....

When we first arrived in our condo, we spent weeks furnishing it to be homey.  Terry bought lots of plants and my daughter had her own couple of colorful cacti - Petunia and Clementine.  Singapore is full of greenery... the government has planted trees and plants everywhere - on highways, on top of buildings, in parks.  So when I look out my living room window, which is floor to ceiling, it's a wonderful green view.  However, having plants inside is relaxing and makes me feel closer to nature.

Last week, my daughter lifted her little Petunia and ants came sprawling out like a tsunami!  Petunia and Clementine were both full of them!  And we had to throw them out.  Terry's plants also underwent some strains when we were traveling, including having bugs, and although he tried several survival techniques, we now are plantless.  Since we are moving home in a few months, we'll just remain plantless until we get home.

I also am beginning to have ants in my pants.  I'm 32 weeks pregnant and am ready to get on with it all.  That said, we're enjoying our last bit of time here... and have decided that having a baby in Singapore is an international experience in itself.

The medical system here is quite different than home.  First of all, there is no waiting - big bonus.  But you pay for that - it's private health care.  The total cost of having a baby and all the pre- and post-medical treatment required will cost the down payment of a small house.  Canada really should give patients invoices showing the amount our government has paid for our medical, don't you think?  It would certainly give us an idea of where our taxes are going... and maybe how we can improve efficiencies too.  I'm sure we all know our health care system can be 'leaned up'... but I digress.

You go to the doc every 2-3 weeks here when you're expecting.  And you get an ultrasound at every visit.  It's really quite wonderful to have more accurate information about that living creature growing inside you.  When it's time to get your blood work, it's accessible (clinics located all over the place - the one I went to was right outside my condo!) and fast (virtually no line-up/queue).  The hospitals are like hotels.  The private rooms are simply lovely.... with lavish bed clothes, LCD TVs, CD players, soft lighting, aromatherapy, couches/chairs and, in some rooms, a table and chairs for eating meals.  Your partner can room in with you, and if you get the more expensive room, so can your other children.  Alternative therapies and delivery methods are widely used and accepted.  One delivery room in the hospital we're going to is specially outfitted with hydrotherapy equipment.

I've probably mentioned how the government is trying to get more couples to have children.  The birth rate isn't what they want it to be so there are programs and incentives for having babies.  Maybe having comfort and ease throughout the process is part of that.  What is interesting, though, is that so many expats come here and have children!  The common comment is that "there's something in the water."  Anyway, we've fallen into that category now too.

Of course, we are moving back home after baby is born.  That means quickly getting the necessary papers submitted for a passport.  The Canadian Consulate says it takes 15 business days to get a passport processed.  We can register the birth in Singapore at the hospital, though.... so that should be pretty straightforward.

So I have ants in my pants now.  I just want to get everything done.  We've pretty much decided to not move our furniture back home since that also costs the down payment of a small house... that means we have to somehow get rid of the furniture.  At home there are many places you can donate your furniture and household items.... that doesn't seem to be so easy here.  At least we have already gotten rid of our plants.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Left... Left... Left, Right, Left

Talk about messing up your neuro-networks!

In Canada, it seems we tend to automatically move to the right when walking.  We drive on the right hand side of the road.  Escalators are usually on the right side.  And when passing people while walking, everyone automatically moves to the right so it's an easy, mindless activity that runs smoothly. There are collisions, but in my world, it's usually because I'm not paying attention.  It doesn't work like that here for me.

As you know, you drive on the left here.  Escalators are usually on the left, although not always.  I'm trying to figure out ever since I moved here whether people automatically walk to the left or if there is actually no norm at all for walking.  And I'm paying attention!

I've been testing this out for months.  I started to purposely walk to the left once I realized I was encountering head on collisions with people when I walked to the right.  This seems to work... for the majority of the time... which is 50+% of the time... but not necessarily 60% or 90% of the time.  So that leaves my neurons shaking almost half the time!  Being less agile these days with a big growing belly, it's not as easy to jolt over to the right after purposely walking to the left but the person aiming for me is not moving.  So I've been having a lot of these left, no right, no left... just stand here and let them pass.... moments.

I am actually wondering if there is indeed a norm, but it's so multicultural here that the norms are different in different parts of the world, so we have a mixture of people automatically moving to the right and people automatically moving to the left.

This is a big enough wonder for me these days that I'm dedicating a blog entry to it.  I even did a little research and found that there is actually research done on oculomotor activity while walking!  Apparently, you can know which side the on-comer is going to walk on by where he or she is directing his or her gaze.  If your on-comer is looking to the right, your brain will tell you to move to the left, and vice versa.  Hmmm.... maybe my oculomotor activity ability has decreased during this time of pregnancy.  Orrr... maybe in this culture, people don't gaze so directly, and I just can't figure out if they are looking to the right or left.

Regardless, my daughter and I seem to be the only ones that have noticed this phenomenon.  Maybe it's just me, actually, and I'm influencing my daughter.  I am certain though, that my flip flops are wearing out.  I've slipped on the left flip, nearly flopped, and cut my right toe in the exact same place - twice.

Terry and I are off to Hong Kong tomorrow, while my daughter is galavanting around the Himalayas in India. I wonder if they walk on the left or the right in Hong Kong?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do We Have a Mop?

You know you're starting to live the ex-pat life when you say to your partner as the air conditioning leaks on the floor, "Do we have a mop?"  And his response is laughter (and his advice was to use this as my next blog title).

So I admit that we have a maid (and, yes, I forgot we had a mop!).  Of course, many of my friends from home also have house cleaners, so it's not unusual.  But having a 'maid' or a 'nanny' or both is completely commonplace here in Singapore.  Many expats travel with their nanny in tow.

I have other strange (for me) new behaviours too.  I have wiped ants away from a piece of cake and ate the cake anyway.  Well... it was chocolate cake!  Ants have become my friends... the little tiny ones.  You just shoo them away and carry on (we have ant traps too).  And every now and again I naturally say 'lah' at the end of a sentence.  It's similar to the Canadian 'eh'.  I also think my feet have expanded due to wearing flip flops 99% of the time... maybe being 6+ months pregnant has something to do with that too.

One of phrases I've started to become accustomed to is, "Have you had your lunch?"  The first time I heard it was on my way into the bathroom at work.  Auntie (the cleaner) was sitting on the stairs and she said, "Have you had your lunch?"  I was confused... didn't know why she was asking... and I responded with, "Ummm... no, not yet." *confused smile*  I've heard this a few times since.  One of our security staff asked me a couple of days ago as I left our condo facility, "Have you had your lunch already, lah?"  And I smiled confidently and said, "Yes, see you later."  This question is used as we use, "Hello, how are you?"

Now, this does not mean I understand Singlish.  I still struggle with it quite a bit actually.  But I'm learning to use as few words as possible... take out prepositions and such... only use the absolutely necessary words to get your point across.  I was out for dinner with friends last weekend and we had this same discussion (they, of course, were drinking margaritas and I was drinking water)... however, they are much more advanced than me in their Singlish skills - they've lived here for around three years.

Being an expat also means you have to have a pass to be here, of course.  I had a Long Term Visit Pass and then an Employment Pass.  Now that my Employment Pass has expired (due to the end of my contract), I have a 30-day Short Term Visit Pass.  This means I either have to acquire a Long Term Visit Pass or leave the country every 14 days via road or 30 days via plane.  In trying to get my Long Term Visit Pass, it turns out I'm not really eligible for one... not sure how I got one last time!  Anyway, I'm working on it - I don't really want to have to leave Singapore a day or two after my baby is born.  I need a mop to clean this little mess up, lah.

Before that, though, we have my daughter's drama production and trip to India.  Trip to India.  Yep, another great advantage of living here.  We also saw Justin Bieber last night - he not only sings, you know... he can play the drums, play the guitar, woo the teenage girls, and dance.  I wonder does he have a mop?  Anyway, it was another great show we had the opportunity to see in Singapore.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

And the Winner is....

In my last post, I talked about skipping on the train and Singaporeans' desires to be 'first'.  Well, it turns out there is an official term on this attitude - kiasu.  It's Hokkien Chinese for 'afraid to lose'.

It's not unusual to observe greed around here.  One day in the queue at my favorite salad restaurant, a lady skipped me in line.  This has become somewhat normal, albeit frustrating at times.  Then her friend joined her!  And, they not only had their own two orders, but they had their colleagues orders as well.  They saw me.... I was right there in the queue.  I guess they were demonstrating kiasu, while I practiced understanding and letting go.

Nobody holds the door open around here either.  In fact, they'll squeeze through before you and let the door slam in your face.  When us Canadians hold the door open, the locals are either expressively grateful or simply confused.

I've read a few articles in papers and have heard taxi drivers give their input about this behaviour.  They say parents drive and push their children to win, to be first, to be the best.  In their minds, anything less means failure and hardship in life.  Young adults strive to be accepted into the best schools with scholarships so they can get the 'best' jobs.  Young children are pushed to reach excellence in everything they do.  There is no room for anything less.  It can be incredibly competitive and stressful.  The overall belief is that if you don't 'win', you're going to have a miserable life.

It's understandable that adults want more and more prestige and higher levels of status around here.  In this culture, it means they've succeeded.  I don't feel the happiness in the air, though.

These attitudes seem to have caused some issues in society.  This lack of graciousness is widespread and the government is trying to change it.  The Singaporean government promotes gracious behaviour via videos that you can find online.  I've started to notice signage reminding people to clear their tables (it's completely common and normal to leave your garbage on your table).  I think government is realizing that winning is not about the material things you have.  Health, community, and mindfulness are becoming more important.  And government wants to build that kind of nation.

That said, it might have been government's past behaviours that have led to this type of thinking in the first place.  Regardless, understanding kiasu has lessened my frustrations when faced with it.

In our culture, we like to win too.  Some people also regard prestige and material items as signatures of success.  However, many people value health, family, relationships, and true happiness as success and signatures of winning.  It doesn't mean you can't have a fancy car sitting in your driveway if that's what you like.  But human connections, growth, and a vibrant life are what gives a person meaning and enhances their contributions to society.  The fancy car is just a fancy car to enjoy, not a measurement of success (of course, that's not what everyone in our culture believes).

This week, my dear friend is a winner.  She had bypass surgery at only 36 years old, and is alive only because of chance timing.  She's a wonderfully positive and beautiful person and has definitely won both with her attitude and her second chance at life.  Again, I'm far away from home and can't see her, but my thoughts are with her and her family.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tales from the (almost) Tripped

After several days of celebrating my grandmother's life, my aunts, uncles and cousins are returning to their provinces, countries, and continents to get back to 'normal' life.  I hear it was quite the weekend - tears, memories, music, beautiful ceremonies, laughter... and new memories.  Fifteen of the 20 grandchildren made it home for the wake and funeral.  I was one of the five that didn't make it home and definitely felt the distance.  But I am grateful for Facebook.  I received fairly regular updates and could be there vicariously through photos and short chats.  Technological advancement can be very good.

In fact, advancement in many forms can be very good.  I think I advanced my personal empowerment last week when I gave my notice and left my job.

After six weeks of feeling completely out of alignment, I confronted my boss and suggested his organization needed something different than what I can give at this time - he needed long-term change management (and if you saw my growing belly, you'd know I don't have long-term availability).  He invited me to return after baby is born, but I'm going back to Canada.  I learned.  I met some great people.  I experienced a completely multi-cultural environment.  I got some insight into a whole new industry.  And I really think I made a slight impact.  It wasn't all bad at all.  But each day, I started with a renewed spirit and returned home deflated and de-energized.  It would have been a great challenge to stay long-term and lead change, but it really wasn't the right place for me.  Once I made the decision to move on, I felt empowered.  I really stuck to my values.  On my last day, I said my good-byes to everyone and I think it was the most energized I felt in six weeks.  It was the right decision.

My days began with trying to fit into clothes.  I LOVE this new invention called a Belly Belt!  There were no Belly Belts 18 years ago.  All was well until I hit the train station each day.  After talking to people who lived in Shanghai and London, I learned Singapore got nothin' on them for the train madness.  However, at peak hours, it goes like this.... squeeze, skip, push, shove, skip, rush, skip... then, after missing 2-3 trains, stand like a squished sardine for 45 minutes.  It's much worse than Tokyo.  People are generally pleasant and polite in Japan.  Oh, but I discovered another route.... it took 1 hour and 15 minutes, but I most often got a seat.  (Would you believe that most women here wear stilettos to work?  I had blisters wearing flats or pumps!  They are decked out like a fashion show too - complete with jewelry, make-up, etc.)

A highlight of my workday (if I got a seat) was reading on the train.  I had over an hour in each direction with dedicated reading time!  Woohoo!  I most often read the local newspaper in the morning, but I read my business and  psychology books in the evening.  I kinda needed the inspiration.  I tried... I really tried... to read some finance magazines to learn more about the industry I was working in.  I couldn't keep my eyes open.

I worked in the financial district of Singapore.  I quite liked the environment.  I found a couple of fabulous restaurants in the area and had some nice chats with people I worked with when we went out to lunch a few times.  Eighty percent of the time I had these amazing salads for lunch.... a lot of expats seemed to go to this salad place... it had everything you can imagine for salad.  Fantastic!  And crowded!  In true Singapore style, though, there were three queues (one for ordering, one for paying, and one for receiving), and once you got the hang of it, it was quite organized.  There were benches outside overlooking the river - a magnificent environment for eating lunch.... but there were never any free benches to sit on.

During my six week stint, the building I worked in got a bit of an overhaul.  They put a coffee/snack bar in the main lobby along with an indoor jungle and security stations that locked you out AND IN if you didn't have your security card.  I'm not really sure why they needed the reconstruction and enhanced security, but that's Singapore.  Buildings are constantly being torn down and new ones built.  When my building 'unveiled' the indoor jungle, they had a bit of a fancy 'do'.... must have been a bit of a big deal.  I think it was the first indoor jungle... they like being first around here.

My workstation changed places four times.  (That was far from the issues I faced.)  My last location had a great view of the famous Marina Bay Sands... yep, the hotel everyone emailed photos of to me before I moved here... it has the infinity pool on top and was featured in The Amazing Race.  Anyway, it was a great view... much better than my first workstation where I had three chairs, a stool, three umbrellas, and the storage area all in my little corner space with no viewing of the rest of the office (or outside).  People regularly came to my desk to use the binding machine or went to the storage area for supplies.  (I did have little chats with people when they 'visited' though:)  One lady, a temp, would sometimes sit on one of the chairs and do nothing but stare straight ahead while she waited for her 'boss' to tell her what to do.... yes, a chair in my space - and she didn't talk.  I found it all a bit strange.

So I didn't trip on the train - although if I was wearing stilettos maybe I would have.  And I didn't trip in my personal or professional development.  In fact, I think I've risen a wee bit.  Now, I'm searching for a volunteer gig... if a paid one comes along where I'm in alignment, great!  But I can't just work for a pay cheque.  For me, right now, that would be tripping.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Far Away From Home

I have not written in over a month.  I have lots to share.  And I will.  But today, I'm honoring my grandmother.  She peacefully passed yesterday... well, this morning NL time.

We've heard so much about the world's turmoils, and being in this part of the world makes you think and feel a bit differently about it all.  The tsunami/earthquake in Japan struck a chord when we saw television footage of places we'd been to just a month earlier.  We were planning a trip to Thailand when we learned of flooding there.  We were considering an opportunity to move to Cairo this time last year and are thankful now that we did not move to Egypt to be amidst the protests and civil unrest in that part of the world.  We've sent our thoughts, we've donated, and we've felt our deepest empathies for people suffering.

But nothing strikes closer to the heart than the passing of a loved one...  the head of the family.  When you can't be near your grandmother to say good-bye and be part of the collective family healing, you feel far, far away from home.  And that's one of the drawbacks of living so far away.

My grandmother was a woman of great strength and independence.  She was loved incredibily by a big (and growing) family.  She lived in her own apartment at almost 88 years old.  She loved to shop - and return things.  She loved playing cards and the people she regularly played with.  She made connections with beautiful people.  She spoke her mind.  She was involved with her community and church.  Her smile lit up a room.  She remembered everyone's birthdays.  Although she underwent several medical issues over the years, she lived life.  She was planning her outing to the drugstore for Seniors' Day for yesterday - the day she left this physical world.  She'd spent over 50 days in the hospital recently but was shopping and playing cards just weeks after her arrival home.  She learned new things in her 80s... like learning to test her own blood sugars at 87 years old.

Yes, Nan was a great woman and lived a beautiful life.  A beautiful family mourns her loss, and I wish I could be there with them right now.

Namaste Nan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have a Seat

All over the world, expecting mothers are given priority seating, parking, and other perks for carrying around an extra 30lbs or so in order to help sustain the human population.  Well, yesterday I got my first priority seating when a lady got up from her seat in the train and told me to have a seat.  Yippee!  I wasn't going to take it, but hey, I already have a good 10-15lbs on and have started losing my balance on the train... not to mention feet swelling in this heat.

So this baby bump is becoming more and more noticeable.  One way to meet other expats when you're in a new country is to join associations, groups, or coffee clubs.  And yesterday my bump was noticed by a lady in one of those coffee groups.  Oh thank gawd, I don't just look like I've gotten fatter anymore.

A friend of mine (who is from Newfoundland, living in Singapore, knows a mutual friend who tried to connect us, but we met in a bar before we met through him!) is part of a coffee club for expat women and asked me to join them.  I went yesterday morning and, I have to say, had a grand time!  The ladies are all from England (except us Canadians) with one having moved to Australia 30 years ago.  Their husbands work here in Singapore, while they are along for a great ride and await their husbands' retirement.  They all smoke.  One is getting cosmetic surgery this week.  They love to shop.  Most are divorced and onto their second marriages (well, who isn't?!).  They've traveled all over the place and can provide recommendations to almost anywhere.  And they're all hilarious.  We may be in totally different places in life, but funny is funny at any age.

My days and weeks are finally filling with activity and more friendships.  If you're reading this blog, you know I gave up on finding work here.  I've been focused more on personal development and social and cultural activities.  I now have the energy to run more than first trimester and go 2-3 times a week.  We've been traveling.. our next trip is this weekend to Bali, Indonesia!  We've taken in a ton of cultural festivities with Chinese New Year being as festive as Christmas is at home.  I'm meeting more friends.  I'm starting to feel more natural getting around, i.e., I don't get lost as much.  I started to knit (well, have taken it up again - I used to knit years ago).  I read by the pool.  I'm cooking more.  My daughter and I joined guitar lessons at the local Community Centre.  I am one step away from registering for a couple of courses.  Life is full and getting more and more exciting.

Well, have a seat.  Because guess what?  I have a job.  I applied for a couple after I returned from Christmas holidays.... and I got one of them!  So I'm getting my international work experience afterall. 

Surprisingly, it's a really good time to begin to work in this new environment.  My burnout is gone.  I'm pretty comfortable getting around in the city.  And my 45 minute train ride won't be standing up because of my newly noticed baby bump.  Thank-you very much, I'll take that seat.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arigato Gozaimas

Arrigato gozaimas.  Thank-you very much (Japanese).  And that goes to the universe and to all the people in my life that have helped me to get here.  Japan was fabulous.

After a seven hour flight, we started our adventure on a one hour train and then a shorter subway and 5 minute walk with luggage to our hotel in the outskirts of Tokyo.  Taxis are a small fortune, and it's common to walk around with your luggage anyway.  I nearly knocked over a few bikes along the way, but other than that the trip went smoothly.

Our days in Tokyo were big city.  We saw the lights, the action, the crowds, the kids dressed up as anime characters, a couple of people giving out free hugs, vending machines everywhere, temples, the red light district, narrow streets with pubs... and we ate at fabulous restaurants and, yes, rested at Starbucks.  Service was excellent.  People were friendly.  And nobody stared in the subways - refreshing!

Shibuya Crossing is apparently the busiest intersection in the world - and it sure looked like it. Harajuku is where you watch trendy people and can buy pretty much anything.  Shinjuku is commercial and colorful and full of crowds hustling and bustling... and great Japanese signage.  Pachinko and slot establishments were everywhere (even in the small towns).  Fashion was... from trendy to nutty to questionable. 

The Tsukji fish market is something everyone should see while in Tokyo.  Guys drive around in these carts pulling fish boxes, and they are fast.  We had face masks (definitely blend into Japan while wearing a face mask) in case the smell was too much - but we didn't need them.  There was seafood of every kind imaginable in this huge market.  With rolled up pant legs we roamed through and when we were finished, Terry was smiling ear to ear and my teen had a look on her face like a boiled boot. 

We rented a car for the remainder of the trip and visited a small village in the mountains called Tsumago where we stayed in a traditional Japanese minshuku (ryokan).  The roads leading to this place were windy and the views were mountainous - it was incredible.   Once we arrived, we had robes, slept on the floor on thin mattresses, wore slippers in the rooms, and ate traditional Japanese meals.  Many places in Japan have public baths - this ryokan had a private one... Terry, of course, got a bath.  My daughter and I opted not to since it was absolutely freezing everywhere except in the rooms.  The view was spectacular.  The owners were wonderful.  And the town was quaint and preserved its heritage wonderfully.  We explored the snowy town the next day and drank it all in.

After some tradition, we made our way to Kyoto.  We spent a full day temple viewing.  We spotted Geisha - we think some were authentic (you can dress up as a Geisha and wander around so we think we saw some tourists dress up as well).  Kyoto is pretty.  It's a much smaller city than Tokyo with a population of 1.5 million as opposed to 12.5 million.  Temples and castles fill the city, and most have beautiful gardens.  Seeing it in Spring with the cherry blossoms must be amazing.

We ate in a Japanese diner in Kyoto... that was fun.  We also visited a castle... it was OK.  I liked the squeaky floors it had... this was built into the castle on purpose so the royalty would know if someone was sneaking in.  The floors were called Nightingale floors.  Big Buddhas high in the hills were common.  We met a monk in one temple we visited and he sang the Canadian anthem for us, stating he thought it was much nicer than Japan's.  So of course, we asked him to sing Japan's, which he did, and it was not so bad.  He knew were Newfoundland was and told us how popular Anne of Green Gables is amongst the Japanese.  He was a lovely soul. 

My daughter was Queen for a day and her choice of activity was Universal Studios in Osaka - another city close to Kyoto.  So, off we went.  Being 4 months pregnant at the time, I couldn't go on any of the rides except the carousel!  Some of you know how much I love rides... but I lived vicariously through my daughter and Terry as they went from ride to ride and came off each one with big smiles.  I people watched and, frankly, seeing the after ride smiles was good enough for me.

Our final stop was another small, traditional town called Shimoda, which was near the ocean.  We stayed in a hotel but the room was a traditional Japanese style with mattresses on the floor.  Everyone in the hotel roamed around in the same robes.  At first I thought they were from a group.  But, no, the robes were in the rooms and they put them on and hung out in the hotel.  There were public baths (separate male and female) in this place.  Again, Terry took that in.  Maybe if I wasn't pregnant I would cross that threshold, but there was no way my 17 year old daughter was going to.  Surprisingly, we found an amazing R&B pub to eat at - Japanese pub food, which was quite good.  It was a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours after driving half of the day. 

On our final day we captured the best views of Mount Fuji.. an awesome spectacle.  That was my driving day.  Terry did the majority of the driving, but I drove that day from Shimoda to Narita Airport in Tokyo.  A little nutty for sure... but having a GPS makes all the difference!

Oh - toilet seats are mostly heated in Japan (and they also play music, have bidets, and play fake flushing sounds if you like).  And... what is with having a ferris wheel in every city?  We drove past several cities and each one had a ferris wheel peeking out.  (Singapore has one too.)

Our week long trip was a bit of a blur.  We experienced lots and loved it all.  Arigato Gozaimas.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Some-bunny is coming!

Next week is Chinese New Year and this new year is the year of the rabbit... or bunny as my daughter prefers to call it.  The city is getting all decked out with red fabrics, lights, and decorations preparing for the big celebrations.  Community squares are setting up stages surrounded with reds and golds for Chinese entertainment and parades.  Schools and businesses are closed for 1/2 a week.  People are bustling around shopping.  And it's a time for travel.

We are going to Japan for a week!  China was discussed but we figured China was crazy busy at the best of times, let alone Chinese New Year.  So Japan it is.  And we are pumped!

This will be one of our last trips of this nature for a while because not only is it the year of the bunny, but there's also a bun in the oven.  Yep, and that bun will be born in the year of the bunny... in fact, according to the Chinese Zodiac, 2011 is the year of the Golden Rabbit.  The rabbit is a lucky sign apparently.  People born in the year of the rabbit are said to be introverted, friendly, enjoy being with groups of good friends, are good teachers and communicators, and they need their own space.  These people are keen, wise, tranquil, considerate, intelligent, and kind.  They are gentle, yet strong-willed.

The year of the rabbit is supposed to be a year for focusing on home, family, security, diplomacy, and your relationships with women and children.  It's a good year to create a safe, peaceful lifestyle.

Hmmmm.... it seems to be the perfect time to add a little bunny to our family.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bit of Canada... bit of Singapore... bit of globalization

The Canadian Association of Singapore organized the Terry Fox Run here in Singapore this past weekend.  We registered, donated to cancer research in Singapore, and had a lovely run in East Coast Park along with the other runners.  About 1500 people ran... much less than the 10,000 or more that ran in the marathon here last December... but it was so nice to be out with runners.  And the cookies afterwards were to die for!  Seriously. 

We all have friends and family who struggle with cancer.  It's all over the world.  I'm happy to say that one of the three people in my life with cancer at the moment has finished her treatments and has beat it!  (I might add that her positive attitude and sense of humor is incredible, which I believe not only doesn't hurt, but helps.)  The Singapore Terry Fox Run raised S$40,000.  Not bad for a small group of 1500 I'd say.  Medical treatments have advanced in amazing ways thanks to events like this and commited, passionate people.  Progress can be a wonderful thing.

Not everyone would agree with that statement about progress.

We rented a car last weekend - which made our transportation to and from the run much more convenient!!  We also drove off the beaten path into areas of Singapore we can't typically get to via bus or train.  It was easy to get a little spoiled having the convenience of a car.

In the northern areas of Singapore, you'll find farms... fish farms, goat farms, chicken farms, and lots of vegetable farms.  One day we ate at a most delicious restaurant on an organic veggie farm.  It was called Bollywood and the environment was laid back, friendly, inspiring, and natural.  Ivy, the owner, came to our table and introduced herself... and an intriguing conversation pursued.

Ivy told us she's half Indian and half Chinese, and her father worked hard and became rich.  He bought land and now she's rich.  She runs this organic farm, calls her staff slaves (although also seems to treat them quite well), has a Singapore movie currently being filmed at her premises, and she promotes a book that one of her staff wrote to help her to also become a millionaire.  We bought the book - it's about a woman's struggles and breakthroughs with cerebal palsy... a seemingly inspiring book and the woman, whom we also met, is inspiring in person too. 

Often people mistake my daughter and me for sisters.  This time was no different... however, the experience was certainly different.  Ivy told my daughter she can come work for her - although it's hard for an expat under 18 years old to get a work VISA (she'd let her work there anyway).  She said she was beautiful.  She wanted to know where her father was if Terry wasn't him.  She told us how she felt about children - hated them.  Never had them.  But she also said that I must love my daughter very much in order to have her and raise her.  She also demanded that we aren't Canadians... we must be Welch or something because of the color of our eyes.... and the fact that nobody is truly Canadian... which of course is true when you consider history.

Ivy recommended a couple of books about Singapore's history and educated us a little.  She has a bit of disdain for the past Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.  Lee Kuan Yew has unified and globalized Singapore.  He has created a wealthy country with many jobs and international relations.  Progress is here.  The nation is prosperous.  But Ivy doesn't like the progress Singapore has made.  She feels her area of Singapore IS Singapore.  The shopping, tourism, city-life, etc. is not Singapore in her opinion.  The cleanliness and perfection is not authentic (I might agree with this part a little).  She even believes the thousands of trees planted on rooftops and along highways and in man-made parks should be more 'organic' and not so planned. 

Although Ivy had a negative nature, she was also interesting and light.  We quite enjoyed the chat and we'll definitely return for the food and atmosphere.  Oh, and Ivy drinks whiskey all day long.

While exploring Singapore, we visited Muslim, Hindu, and Chinese graveyards.  All of which were different.  The Muslim graves were full of trees and nature and exuded peace and beauty.  The Hindu graves were a little more concrete, but they also had lots of green and provided a beautiful place to pray or visit loved ones' resting spots.  The Chinese graves were concrete.  The newer ones were big, horseshoe shaped concrete structures about 2-3 feet high with grass in the center.  Concrete squares and walkways allow for burning things, which is a common ritual amongst the Chinese.  The older ones were not as large, but there was still a lot of concrete.  There were also folks selling flowers at stands (although there weren't a whole lot of flowers on graves... mostly trees)... and you could also purchase cold drinks from a van parked on the side of the road in the middle of all the grave sites.  I guess a market exists there.

Amongst the graveyards you will also find buildings that are designed in columns to hold cremated loved ones.  Because land is scarce in Singapore, this is one solution for efficient land use.

There were also several exhumation offices.  And in the Chinese graveyards, exhumation was in progress.  It's not uncommon for Singapore to exhume graves from sites in and around the city to build residential or commercial areas.  But I'm not sure why these graveyards were being exhumed since there didn't seem to be development in this particular area.

I should also mention our visit to the Dragon Kiln.  This is a pottery and clay studio and store.  The kiln is fired up only twice a year and holds 5,000-7,000 pieces!  It's huge.  And there was so much inventory!  A plethora of vases, plant pots, and jugs were for sale... many more than I would imagine there is a market for.  We asked one of the sales ladies if they export, but I don't think she understood what we were asking.  She did say they had a partnership with a company in China, who sent supplies to them.  We wandered around and found a little warf leading to a gazebo filled with chairs overlooking a pond filled with fish.  It was definitely another zen moment.  By the way, Martha Stewart visited the kiln a few years back.

On our weekend adventures we found a causeway that linked one area of Singapore to another.  Along the four lane highway, cars and trucks were parked.  So we did the same... parked and got out.  Well.... people brought along their lawn chairs and coolers, drinks, and snacks.  Ice cream stands peppered the roads.  Runner and bikers passed.  It was the image of a park!  But it wasn't.  It was a road.  Cement, concrete, and guard rails.  With a great view of the ocean on each side and a wonderful wind.. yep... wind!  We found a windy place in Singapore!  So couples and groups relaxed in their chairs while snacking, taking in the view, and feeling the life of the wind.  We walked along the concrete eating ice cream too.  And there was graffiti on the outer side of the guard rail!  Sacrilige!  Graffiti is an offence here and is severely punished.

One of our final stops was to a delicious Japanese restaurant.  The service was fun and friendly, the food was fantabulous, and the conversation with other Singaporeans who sat next to us was refreshing.  We sat at a group table with most of the table used as the cooking station.  The cook was from Malaysia.  He knew his food.  He was funny and provided great comic relief in addition to education.  Our neighbors were Singaporeans and had too much rice so shared it with us.  They'd been to Canada... Toronto of course.  Most people around here think Toronto is Canada.  The experience was just whetting our appetite for our trip to Japan next week!

It was a great weekend.  And I think progress is good (I also think preserving history and culture is good... always about balance).  I must go for a run around my man-made lake now.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Spear me

Last Thursday night we witnessed the Thaipusam parade.  Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration of thanks for prayers being answered and is in honor of Lord Subrahmanya, who represents virtue, youth and power.  The celebration is full of sacrifice and rituals and is open to the public!

Although the event was jam-packed, we managed to find a decent place to watch the parade.  The main spectacle is the many men who have spears pierced through their skin - backs, chests, legs, tongues - and either carry a cage-like structure adorned with colorful decorations and pictures of Hindu gods or pull an altar of sorts by hooks pierced into their back.  Ouch!  Women carry pots on their heads.  Families bring water and food and move through the parade together.  The journey is 4.5k... this is a long journey for these men.  At times they need to sit - a stool is provided and help is given for them to rest.  We saw one young guy... maybe a teenager... with a huge cage and many spikes get water given to him as he rested.  In addition to just walking this distance with sharp skewer looking things spiking through their bodies and much weight being carried, they danced.  Yes!  They did a little ritual dance and the families sang and drummed and chanted... it was a fanatastic spectacle.

The full celebration lasts for days, with fasting and offerings being made to Lord Subrahmanya.

In this case, pictures are definitely worth a thousand words.  It was difficult to capture on camera with the action and crowds, but here are a few (I apologize for the sideways photos... they aren't sideways on my computer, but I can't figure out how to post them here correctly)...

Walking on nails

One of the cage-like structures attached with spikes/spears

See the spiked tongue?

Each spear is driven into his skin

Water break

The event was vibrant and full of energy... just how gratitude should feel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Maple glazed salmon, garlic mashed potatoes & sautéed asparagus

That's what I cooked for supper last night.  Hard to imagine, but I'm cooking quite regularly these days.  I pretty much stopped cooking for several years.  Didn't have time for it and rarely had enough food in the house for it.  Those that met me in recent years cannot believe that I cooked gourmet meals and baked exquisite desserts years ago.  It seems moving to Singapore has brought some stabilization to my life and, yes, I'm cooking!

Now that jet lag has subsided - it took a week to get back to normal sleeping! - I've also started running or walking in the early mornings.  Mornings are quite lovely here.  The air is cool this time of year... sometimes there's a slight breeze.  It's only around 28 degrees or so.  And people are out and about... young professionals on their way to work, aunties and uncles out for their walk or meeting friends for Kopi, grandpas and grandmas walking with babies in their arms, young mothers playing with their children by the pool, people running and biking, women buying vegetables and fruit in the markets, groups meditating... and groups flowing through their tai chi routines.  I have come to like my morning exercise.  I feel a part of the city's life. 

One morning I got caught in a torrential rain storm.  Within minutes I looked like I jumped into the pool with my clothes on... water dripping into my eyes from my hair.  As I made my way home, I crossed the community square... and there was a guy hosing down the concrete tiles... in the torrential rain.  I'm really not sure why.  He was a foreign worker, and some think it could be because his boss wouldn't let him do otherwise.  At least it's warm rain.

One of the highlights of living in Singapore is access to shows and events that we wouldn't have access to at home.  We went to the Rocky Horror Show last Friday night.  My daughter and I were 'virgins' (Terry was not but he saw the movie - phhtt!), but there were people in the audience who knew what to do.  Some were dressed up as the characters in the show... or just wearing wacky costumes.  Some knew when to shout what and we caught on pretty quickly.  And there was the dance... that was pretty easy to follow too.  We weren't allowed to throw rice or water, but someone in the audience threw toilet the right time.  It was great fun and all three of us were dancing and singing at the end having a blast.  Then... the most amazing thing happened.... the show received a standing ovation!!!!!!!!!!!  This does NOT happen in Singapore.  We've been to some outstanding shows... and no standing ovation.  Terry said it's only the second time he's witnessed a standing ovation in Singapore.

Later in the weekend Terry and I had our 'date day' and went to the Botanical Gardens.  If you're ever visiting Singapore, I highly recommend it.  We strolled around for three hours and it was beautiful and peaceful and zen-like.  It's a happy place.

So things are cooking here on the other side of the world.  I almost have my weekly (daytime) activities finalized.  Although the art course I was going to do is S$900!  For eight classes.  I kid you not.  Needless to say, I kyboshed that.  Maybe I'll end up in a tai chi class with all the aunties and uncles instead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When in Rome... errr... Asia...

We're back!  We had a terrific time in Canada... Newfoundland... home.  And as anticipated, I've returned to Singapore a little more rejuvenated and a little heavier (so much fantabulous food!).  I ran in the cold a few times... I knew I missed it, but I missed it more than I knew.. but it wasn't enough to negate a little bit of weight gain.  'Tis all part of it though, right?

I was ready to return when we did.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not so hyped up to return.  That said, we had a little adventure on our way home... cancelled flight in Halifax... delayed flight in New York (and big fat snowflakes fell straight to the ground... absolutely delightful.... so we decided to plan a trip to NYC for next year)... and a missed flight in Tokyo, hence an overnight there.  That was great fun and we really liked the little bit of Tokyo that we saw.... mostly airport and hotel and the sights in between. 

Three days and four airlines later, we arrived in Singapore to Terry sporting a sign with our name on it at the airport... oh, and a welcome back sign in our apartment - we have pretty bare walls so I kept it there for a temporary decoration.

It's good to be back.  We have plans.  We have things to do before we move back home.  Places to see.  And a neck to fix.

Yes, I'm back to the bad neck.  It's never gone away.  Travelling for three days doesn't help it.  So yesterday, I decided to drop into a Chinese Medical Centre and ask about acupuncture.  English was minimal.  But so was the wait!  I was in and out of there with a treatment for only S$45 in 1/2 an hour!  No waiting for weeks or months to get an appointment.  Yippee!!!

Who said acupuncture doesn't hurt?  Most of it does not, that is true.  But with about 6-8 needles in my neck/back and four in my hands, it was not exactly the best feeling in the world.  The neck/back needles didn't hurt.  But as I waited under a heat lamp for 20-25 minutes, the doc returned a few times to twist the needles in my hands... and, yep, that hurt.  She twisted and I winced... and I'm voluntarily paying for this??  What is wrong with me?  I need more treatments - maybe not only acupuncture:)  Chinese medicine is sooo accessible here... I'm taking advantage while I can.  Bring on the needles!  And pain if that's what it takes.  I'm ready to fix this neck thing.

We're here in Singapore.  And we're drinking in the culture and opportunities in front of us.  That's what we came for.  And we don't have a whole lot of time left.

I just read about an event being held here on January 20th... the annual festival of Thaipusam.  It's full of rituals and sacrifices... and we're lucky enough to be here to witness it.