Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Very Happy Birthday to Me!

As it turns out, we actually did go to the Indonesia beaches this weekend. We just thought, “Let’s go lie on a white sand beach under the palm trees in Bintan tomorrow.” While just a few weeks ago this thought would have been happening only in my wildest dreams, this is my reality now! So, we got up at 6 a.m., took a cab to the ferry, and less than eight hours after we had actually decided to go, eight friends were on a boat to Indonesia.

…but even the best of plans…Less than an hour after we arrived in sunny Bintan…the skies fell and it began to poor…hahahaha…now that’s Alanis-Morissette-style ironic! We’ve seen very little rain the whole time we’ve been in South East Asia, and the one day we go to the beach, it storms. Oh well, the temperature was still very warm so we spent most of our day swimming in the rain in both the ocean and the resort’s infinity pool. We played a couple games of BS and BSed a little ourselves.

The friends I traveled with were Jayme, Neil, Lisa, Joe, and Jacob (all PiAers), Donny (a friend of Joe’s just traveling through, and Glen (a PiAer on his way to a post in Thailand). I feel so blessed to be here having this experience with these people. I know I will be able to learn something from every single one of them. They each have their own special bit of knowledge to offer, and each seems to be in my life for a very distinguished and very special reason. I cannot say enough about the amazing people with whom I am sharing my journey. I know these will be the people with whom I cry about frustrations, with whom I share horror stories about my first week of school (maybe every week for that matter), and with whom I laugh until it hurts. We’ll share our time, our talents, our memories, our experiences, our emotions, ourselves, and a very important part of our lives.

Indonesia was just one of those experiences, and we shared all of those things. We even shared a little food (I ordered Indian vegetable curry for lunch, and I can always count on Neil, an ex football player who didn’t want to spend too much money so he stole rolls from the buffet in the morning for lunch, to finish my meal) and a little drink (and by “little” I mean Jayme and I shared a giant drink that came in a watermelon of all things!).

The Indonesian trip was a great experience, and I feel even closer to the other fellows. I will certainly return to Bintan when life in Singapore gets a bit hectic. However, I hope to travel to different places in Indonesia that will give me a real cultural experience. Bintan is a resort town, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I’m looking forward to spending some time in “real” Indonesia. (As a random side note about Bintan so you understand what I’m saying: The area has barbed wire fences separating it from the rest of the island to keep Indonesians out of Bintan, Indonesia. As a person who has a passion for people and the opportunities they should be allowed as fellow human beings, I found this fact made my heart hurt.)

I was exhausted after my day trip to the beach. The “sun” really will wear you out, you know. So, I spent Monday morning lounging around and reading a book for several hours. I can’t remember the last time I allowed myself that kind of pleasure. This city seems to do that to me though. I seem to feel all emotions more intensely than before. Pleasure, for example, is doughey and malleable, almost like I can touch it and mold it like a skilled baker kneading bread. It is as if I am more alive than before. And that is exactly the thought that drove me out to experience the sensory pleasures of the Botanic Gardens on Monday afternoon.

Jenny, a fellow PiAer, and I spent the afternoon roaming through the Botanic Gardens and National Orchid Garden. We waited out a storm under a small eve, enjoying pasta as we watched the rain fall gentlyish onto the patio. Talk about awakening your senses…taste, touch, smell, sight, sound…all fully receiving and processing and grasping and feeling pleasure until the cycle begins again. It was a lovely afternoon.

Tuesday morning began with a trip to the gym with my “recently arrived in Singapore and still slightly jet lagged roommate, who wakes up at 5:30 because of the jet lag roommate” Stephanie. We had spent the previous evening sharing stories, beliefs, ideas, and, after a glass of red wine, a few embarrassing stories…and hours later it was like we were dear old friends…I guess a glass (or two) of red wine will do that.

My mentor, Mrs. Tan, took Stephanie and I and some of her other mentorees to lunch at a nearby Hawker Center. Mrs. Tan introduced us to some new foods, my favorite of which was this rice paper-like dough ball stuffed with lotus flower jelly…oh the things they come up with here…like someone thought one day “maybe I’ll make rice dough and shoved some smashed up flowers into it and sell it as dessert.” But however absurd…it was DELICIOUS!

We had a seminar on the Singapore insurance system this afternoon. Then Stephanie and I roamed along Orchard Road, stopping occasionally to ogle at something or other in the windows of Prada or Carter. I bought some fresh baked bread in a bakery that smelled in the best possible way like my Grandma Arlie’s kitchen used to when she baked apple pies. Stephanie and I were even feeling extra adventurous and…… (an extra long pause is needed for dramatic effect) shared an ice cream sandwich. Yes, those ice cream sandwiches. The kind with red bean, roasted corn, or yam flavored ice cream smashed between a hunk of pink and green bread. Our flavor, however, was mango, and the bread tasted strangely like Angle Food cake…ok not so bad and one thing to check off the “must do in Singapore” list. But don’t worry, if you come to visit I promise I will take you to get some.

Stephanie and I then made yet another trip to Ikea to buy kitchen supplies and a few other necessities (like a house plant…haha). After the incredibly exhausting three hour Ikea trip, we spent the evening reading, lounging, snacking, and sharing yet more life stories. At this rate, we are bound to know every little detail about one another before this is over!

Also that night, we ate whatever we happened to have in the apartment for dinner. Among the array were baby carrots, plain yogurt, peanut butter on crackers, and sliced cheese and apples. We also had a piece of an Indonesian dessert that Mrs. Tan had given us. It looks like a big piece of cake, but you have to slice it very thin because it is very sweet. I’m glad Mrs. Tan told us that first or I would have just taken a big bite. It tastes a lot like very thin coffee cake with a hint of pumpkin pie…yum.

…and it just keeps getting better. Yesterday was my birthday, and I couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant day. I know pleasant sounds kind of plain, but that is exactly how I would describe my day…it was pleasant in the least plain way pleasant can be. I woke up early on Wednesday and went to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM for short…yes that is what they actually call it) to get my work pass photo ID. The acronym makes sense though, because they really take care of you and all the little things just like moms do.

I spent the rest of the day at VIVOcity, a shopping mall. I’m living in the city of food and shopping after all. VIVOcity isn’t exactly the kind of average shopping mall you find in major U.S. cities, however. It is just one of many MEGA malls in Singapore. I spent at least two hours just trying to find my way around the place and to see what stores the mall had to offer. I bought a few new dresses for school as birthday presents to myself.

I also had the most enjoyable lunch on a patio overlooking the Singapore harbour (not a spelling mistake as Singapore was once a Brittish colony and this is how they spell "harbour"...I wonder if they spell color, "colour"?). I ate sushi and drank a glass of white wine…see…pleasant.

When I arrived home I found I had received a beautiful bouquet of orchids from Tim. Whether I’m in Wyoming or Singapore, no matter where I am in the world in fact, he manages to send me flowers on my birthday. How sweet! They are so beautiful and are currently adding a nice splash of color to our otherwise incredibly WHITE dinning room.

I also received a gift from Stephanie. She told me she wanted me to have at least one thing to unwrap on my birthday (isn’t she amazing…I get so lucky when I travel with the roommates with whom I live!). The present was a box of crazy spoons that hilariously roughly say “Make your life fruity” when translated…hehe. We laughed about them for awhile.

Stephanie also brought home something else…durian. If you don’t know, you may not want to. Durian is a “fruit” and it smells like………. (long pause for dramatic effect)……gasoline! I know, you thought I was going to say something sweet and delicious, but no, this stuff actually smells like gasoline and people eat it and ENJOY it. To give you an even better idea about how horribly it smells: There are basically two signs about things you absolutely cannot bring on the MRT or train. One is weapons, the other is durian. There is actually a picture of the stuff with a giant X through it in all the stations. But, Stephanie thought it would be a very Singaporean thing to do to try some. Little did she know that leaving it in our fridge while we went out for the evening would smell up the whole house, and when we got home we would have to open all the windows and put the durian on the balcony! I think Stephanie tried some this morning. I’m still working up the courage. The idea of smell-taste kind of freaks me out a bit. Things usually taste like they smell. Well, apparently that isn’t the case with durian. But, I’m still skeptical. Maybe this will be a story for a different day.

The evening festivities kicked off with a pre-bar drink at our apartment. We then met others for dinner at a Thai restaurant in Holland Village. Holland Village, as my English friend Hannah would say, is a very “posh” area of town. It is an up-and-coming bohemian area where the young artsy crowd lives and hangs out. Dinner was really good, and I even got a present from the restaurant. Not exactly a free dessert like in America, but cool all the same. They gave me a giant coffee cup (like I could use this thing as a mixing bowl) with the name of the restaurant on it!

After dinner, we went to dbl O, a night club near the Singapore River. It was Ladies Night so that meant free entry and drinks for me and all my girlfriends! We had a great time dancing, meeting new people, dancing, getting to know one another, dancing, listening to a cover band, and, did I mention…dancing. A very successful birthday indeed!

Upcoming events: a dance and Thai festival, a visit to my school for the first time and a day trip to Singapore’s Sentosa Island!

Cheers and TIA,

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