Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween in Singapore? Like Christmas in July: weird but a guaranteed blast!

I’m reading this book right now called “Everything Bad Is Good For You.” Unfortunately, it says nothing about a recent scientific discovery that a diet consisting primarily of chocolate cake, gin and tonics, and ice cream can actually contribute to weight loss and lower your risk of developing cancer, but it does raise some rather interesting points about popular culture, especially video games and television, and how, contrary to popular belief, it is actually making us smarter.

In one particular passage the author, Steve Johnson, refers to John Dewey’s idea that “Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.”

It is with Dewey in mind that I taught 80 (yes, 80), 14-year-olds (yes, self-conscious/awkward 14-year-olds) a lesson on the American cultural tradition of Halloween and subsequently introduced them to some pretty sweet moves from Thriller at school on Wednesday. It isn’t exactly that I wanted them to memorize the history of Halloween, nor that I expected them to develop the dancing skills of Michael Jackson himself, but I do hope they left with a greater appreciation and understanding of the Halloween holiday and the ability to understand the talent required to “walk like a Zombie.” At least they had fun, which I was able to judge by the cheers from the “audience” as the selected 20 students performed the dance at the end of the workshop (included in the group: three boys who actually volunteered to play the part of Jackson himself…hip thrusts, spins and all). It was one of the more rewarding days I’ve had at school. I’m really looking forward to further daily interaction with the students next term.

As for the rest of the week, it was post-exam activity week this week at school. This means the students have finished their exams for the term and came back to school this week to celebrate with various learning journeys or field trips and workshops (hence the Michael Jackson dance party). In addition to a tribute to the King of Pop himself, I also accompanied the students to Singapore Repertory Theatre’s production of “Lord of the Flies”, helped to monitor a spelling bee, played some general knowledge games, and went to the end of the year awards ceremony/play/dance performance.

The performing arts have been a predominant aspect of my week, as on Monday evening I attending “A Ballet Gala Evening with Paloma Herrera” at the Esplanade. The famous American Ballet Theatre dancer shared the stage with two dancers of the Tokyo Ballet, two from the Staatsballett Berlin, a principal dancer from the New York City Ballet, two dancers from the San Francisco Ballet, and (my favorite part) Sascha Radetsky of American Ballet Theatre and also the star of the movie “Center Stage.”

It was a truly magical evening, as going to the ballet always is for me; finding myself caught up in the whirl of the movement but unblinkingly still, holding my breath while at the same time pacing my breathing with the dancers themselves, feeling every emotion so acutely yet feeling nothing at all. I’m always exhausted after a ballet performance, as if I’ve actually been the one on stage performing Sleeping Beauty Act III Pas de Duex, the White Swan Pas de Deux, or Raymonda Act III Solo, though I’ve done nothing at all. Mentally, physically, emotionally it captivates me. Nothing is comparable. I would try to describe it like this: It’s like one of those rare, intense, amazing workouts at the gym when you catch a runner’s high and just can’t stop. The endorphins come in such large, powerful quantities that before it’s even over you’re already planning the next time, because you know the feeling will inevitably end and you just can’t wait until it happens again.

Thus, it is still in this exhausted state that I find myself Tuesday evening, eating hummus, couscous, and falafel on the floor in an Arab street restaurant with most of the other PiAers, Leslie, and, PiA’s director, Anastasia, who happened to drop-in for a visit. Despite being tired, and maybe because the beer tower (yes, it is as sweet as it sounds) was constantly being refilled, I truly enjoyed catching up with everyone, learning about some of the “first week horror stories” that are still happening in the sixth week, and also, happily reliving some of the amazing memories we’ve already made. I mean, there isn’t really a better way to spend time when you’re tired than sprawled out on pillows colored in rich maroon and gold, sharing food, stories, advice, and the bottomless beer tower with your friends who are practically family in Singapore.

The rest of the week flew by in a sort-of whirlwind of post-exam activities, grocery shopping, planning a future trip to Cambodia, and, of course, preparing the all-important Halloween costume for the weekend. For now, Stephanie and I have a brilliant, but secret, idea that will be revealed in full tomorrow at our Halloween party and subsequently in pictures on this blog. Hint: It is the symbol of Singapore and hilarious.

Besides the Halloween extravaganza that will certainly ensue tomorrow evening, the weekend plans include a co-workers birthday party tonight, which I am really looking forward to as I am always thrilled for the opportunity to get to know my co-workers outside of the cubical-and-business-pants setting in which I typically interact with them. Also on the agenda: Saturday morning dance class, a Spinning event for the Breast Cancer Foundation in the afternoon, a costume party/club-filled evening, and a double-feature movie day with Jenny on Sunday (showing: “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Love Happens”).

Off to slather on a face mask and bask in the warm, glowing happiness of Friday afternoon.

TIA, Cheers and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beauty, life, regret, and toilets

In his 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning feature article, journalist Gene Weingarten tells the story of famous violinist Joshua Bell’s street performance experiment. ( This incredible musician positioned himself in a high pedestrian traffic area of Washington D.C. discreetly, if you don’t count the priceless instrument emitting heart-breakingly beautiful music produced by an internationally renowned musician whose playing has been said to do “nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live." The gimmick was the brain-child of the Washington Post; an effort to see if people can or are willing to recognize and appreciate beauty amidst the stressors of everyday life.

The result? Of the 2,004 people who passed Bell on that busy morning on their way to work, 27 gave money, some gave pennies, every single child tried to stop, straining to listen only to be pulled away by a hurrying parent, seven stopped to listen for more than a minute, and one of 2,004 recognized Bell for the famous musician he is.

I read the Washington Post article yesterday. I stopped to pick a flower on my way to work today. I had never noticed them growing there before. Before I pinned it in my hair, I buried my nose in the soft pink petals and inhaled, letting the sweet scent fill my lungs.

Beauty is an ambiguous concept by nature. Can we really define it? If it is beautiful to me, is it beautiful to you? Is it beautiful if no one is there to see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it, love and appreciate it? What makes one thing beautiful and another not? Is beauty limited to the physical world? Can we really define it?

Maybe not. But I do want to know it. I need to know it, and see it, and hear it, and touch it, and taste it, and smell, love and appreciate the ambiguous it everyday. We all do. We need it to survive amidst the evils and ugliness the world can sometimes hold.

I tried to find beauty in my everyday activities this weekend; jazz, yoga, sun bathing, gym going, and movie watching with friends and the girls. I promise it’s there, just waiting for someone to look, to notice.

The cake, so to speak, was an e-mail from my friend Claire inviting me to Sunday afternoon, ladies-only tea and homemade cookies. And the icing?...the link to an article from “Yes” magazine online titled “Now I Become Myself.”

The introduction to the article by Parker Palmer reads as follows:
“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been. How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity—the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.” (

Wednesday evening I had the privileged of attending a preview party for “Asia 360”, a new economic and political magazine covering 28 major Asian nations to be launched next year.

There are moments in life when you realize you are exactly where you should be, doing exactly what you should be. Surrounded by prominent journalists, investors, and professors from all over the world, I had one of those “this is exactly where I’m suppose to be moments’ (and I don’t think it was the beautiful venue, free snacks or open bar either). I have an incredible passion for the art, the science, the field of journalism, and this experience, teaching, writing, learning in and exposing myself to Asia, is exactly the path I should be following at this point in my life. Like being slurped up by a big helium balloon and then floated softly around, chest all puffed with excessive joy, on this random Wednesday night in October I felt closer than I ever have before to finding Palmer’s seed of authentic vocation. On a path, discovering a deeper identity.

Back to the violinist. Among those seven who paused to listen to Jason Bell play his violin that morning, was John Picarello, a supervisor at the U.S. postal service who, in his youth, had studied to be a concert violinist. When he was 18, he gave up his music studies for a more practical line of work.

In his award winning feature article, Weingarten writes of Picarello, “When he left, Picarello says, ‘I humbly threw in $5.’ It was humble: You can actually see that on the video. Picarello walks up, barely looking at Bell, and tosses in the money. Then, as if embarrassed, he quickly walks away from the man he once wanted to be.”

After I finished the article, this particular section struck me. It scared me even. It was my biggest fear manifesting itself in a complete stranger. I have, since I was young, promised myself I would never look at another person and realize they are who I once wanted to be. What I hope, is to look in the mirror and realize I am the person I once wanted to be. I’m here to grow, evolve into and reveal that person.

I try to go to my hot yoga classes with a mantra. Not only does it seem very yogic and worldly of me, it also prevents me from falling over when trying to hold these ridiculous balances in the 95 degree heat. Tonight this will be mine: “Find beauty everyday, constantly seek your true and deep identity, never regret, you can be the person you always wanted to be.”

But of course I cannot close this serious, personal and heartfelt glimpse of the private workings of my brain for the last week without a lovely story about, what else but...

Toilets. I actually can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this topic before. They really have been an integral and interesting part of my life in Singapore. A perfect example: Just a few days ago, I had a very in-depth Skype conversation with Tim about what exactly would be the correct method to plunge the toilet in my apartment that just doesn’t seem to be flushing correctly lately.

Another random toilet phenomenon, are these signs that are posted in most of the “Western” bathrooms in Singapore. Basically there are pictures of people squatting, literally on the toilet, with a red X through them like the “no smoking” signs in America. The correct way of sitting on the toilet is shown next to the wrong way. At first this seemed ridiculous. I mean who would actually squat on a toilet?

Um…people that have never seen a Western toilet before of course. You see, in much of Asia, toilets are holes in the ground build for squatting over, and you can imagine the confusion of someone who has never seen a Western toilet before encountering one for the first time. In addition, if you really think about it, squatting is much more sanitary than sitting your bum on a toilet seat that a complete stranger’s bum had been sitting on only moments before. So if you aren’t accustomed to the Western toilet, it would only seem logical to you to squat on them.

Now don’t get me wrong. Singapore is certainly westernized, but if you really want them, Asian toilets can be found in almost every restroom in the city. There are even these squatter toilets at my school, and I’ve been in situations in the suburbs, at the soccer game on Tuesday night, and in Malaysia where the squatter is my only option. Never did I anticipate the years of camping and bonfires in small town South Dakota and Wyoming would teach me such a useful skill.

One final note on toilets: When my students ask me if they can use the restroom, it typically goes something like this, “Cher, I need to go toilet please?” To me this sounds equivalent to, “Hey you, I have to pee,” but when translated to English from Singlish, it actually means something like, “Teacher may I please use the restroom.”

May you find beauty everyday, may you constantly seek your true identity, may you never regret, and may you learn how to squat to pee if you come to visit me in Asia.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Chickens in Melacca...right next door?...a chicken rice restaurant!...yum
Chinese Temple in Melacca

The museum in Melacca

Luxury bus
Steve and I enjoying tarts and coffee on the roof of our hostel


The entrance to the fort.

Steve at St. Paul's

My street artist

On the way up the hill to St. Paul's church, a beautiful view of the Portuguese area of town, the ocean, and the farris wheel

Neil eating his breakfast

Jonker Street

Lisa, Amy, me, and Liz outside one of many pineapple tart shops

Hanging out in the Hostel
Me, Lisa, Jacob, Joe, Amy, Liz and Steve enjoying Capital Satay...not pictured: Neil

Digging in

Liz with her selection from Capitol Satay

Rickshaws galore

Random animals

Me at Christ Church in the red Dutch square
Flowers in Melacca

Oldest Chinese Temple in Melacca

Watching a movie on the "big screen" at Dan, Trevor, and Mark's pad.

The rest of the gang: Will, me, Mark again, Jacob, Neil, Steph, Steve, and Lisa

Neil and I showing some mid-west love

The gang: Mark, Liz, Aaron, Irene, Trevor, Ana

Will, Mark, me and margarita

Stephanie and I out in Holland Village


A giant mooncake of course!

Showing the Buddha some love.

Futball game with the boys: Dan, Peter, Colin, Mark, Neil, Andrew, Steve, Jayme and I

On the boat to Semakau Landfill

Semakau design
A random fishing hut off the coast of Semakau landfill.

Tour of Semakau Landfill

Italian Train Wrecks in Singapore

Just when I start to think there is no way I could possibly feel more comfortable and at home in Singapore, someone comes by my desk with the “Girl Guide” cookie order form. “Would you like to order some Girl Guide cookies to support our troop?” I hope she wasn’t offended when I looked at her like “are you kidding me, you are asking a proud former Girl Scout of six years who also happens to have an incredible sweet tooth and a special weakness for chocolate, if I want to buy some soft, chewy cookies smothered in chocolate and filled with smooth cream…of course you idiot!” After about one-point-three seconds I had decided to order one package of each chocolate hazelnut, mint cream and chocolate cream cookies from Singapore’s version of the American Girl Scout. No wonder Singapore is rated as one of the top twenty expatriate cities in the world in which to live…they have Girl Scout cookies for gosh sakes.

My week has been a perfect example of the opportunities this city has to offer. Monday evening was spent enjoying a quiet meal of sushi and frozen yogurt with Stephanie (it was pay day after all) in Holland Village. The meal was followed by a movie with friends which they projected on their giant white wall, movie-theatre style. Tuesday evening I enjoyed my first ever hot yoga class (AMAZING!), and Wednesday evening I partook in Hatha yoga followed by a two-hour jazz dance class at my studio that is really starting to feel like MY dance studio. Yep, this is my life.

I know it sounds like I’m doing nothing but dancing, eating and yogaing my life away, but I actually do go to work as well. I invigilated several exams both Monday and Tuesday, and I evaluated oral exams on Wednesday. I’ve also marked (graded) 212 comprehension sections of the English exams for secondary two express classes this week. Yes, it is as tedious as it sounds. Thirteen questions multiplied by 212 students is…well a lot. (I’m an English teacher, not a maths teacher after all. And, no, “maths” is not a typo. Singaporeans call it maths after the British English spelling.).

Only moments ago, I entered the final student’s grade into the class template, and am now waiting to go take my English Language Department staff photograph to be included in the annual yearbook. This week I’ve really felt like a real teacher: marking, invigilating, planning for post-exam activities, and being photographed for the yearbook and all. While waiting for my close-up, I’m enjoying some warm bean curd that looks a lot like floppity, white, opaque Jell-O floating in a watery yellowish liquid. Believe it or not, I didn’t exactly choose this appetizing concoction out of my own desire to eat it. Because today is a marking day and it is Friday, or maybe just because it is a day in general, food has been provided at work. My vegetarian option includes rice, mixed vegetables, curry and, of course, the bean curd. The jiggley, half-liquid/half-solid is really quite good though, and I’m sucking it down like it is some sort of bean-flavored yogurt complete with chunks, as my “uncle” coworker tells me for the forty-first time this week I am “not a typical U.S.”

This co-worker is a rather noisy, opinionated, older gentleman from Hong Kong who likes to be called “uncle” as it is typical to call your elders this in Asia. I think he particularly likes me to call him “uncle,” because he knows I’m not totally comfortable with the term yet. This “uncle” is also an “expert” on U.S. culture as he spent a brief stint in Canada (obviously this qualifies him an expert), and he is regularly informing me of American customs of which I was not previously aware. For example, all Americans eat bacon for breakfast, love McDonalds, have a lot of money, and are afraid to try new foods, especially spicy Asian cuisine.

It is because not one of these particular qualities apply to me that he tells me on a daily basis, in his very loud, very Singaporean accent so the whole staff room can hear, “You are not a typical U.S.” Initially, I tried to convince him that his “expert” theories on American culture were not overly accurate or logical and did not necessarily apply to the population as a whole. However, that effort has failed miserably as he is so certain he is correct when it comes to evaluating the culture of the United States, and obviously I have no idea what I am talking about. So, recently, I’ve taken to nodding, smiling, and quietly agreeing that “yes, I am not a typical U.S.”

As frustrating as these encounters could be, I often find myself laughing out of pure exasperation when he walks away from my desk, all triumphant that he has won our argument; which he typically has as I tend to give up easily. He really is no different that many U.S. citizens who have so ingrained Asian stereotypes into their ways of thinking that they refuse to change their beliefs and see the culture for what it really is: a beaded necklace of food, traditions, ideas, celebrations, religions, and values designed by people who are connected to others all over the world by the common string of humanity and the ability to feel the same raw emotions of joy, passion, grief, devastation, anger and, of course, love.

And now, while it is an incredibly comfortable place to stand, I must step down off my hippie peace and love soapbox, back to earth from where I can tell my Chinese Embassy story. A story, not at all about the commonalities of all of humanity, but rather about the frustrations that inevitably occur when you are traveling and cultures clash. This is one of those experiences that you don’t really look back and laugh about later, but rather you learn a real lesson from and are just as valuable, if not more so, than those stories that do give you a good laugh.

Ironically, as I reflect on my Chinese Embassy experience that occurred last week, the first thing that comes to mind is my 2007 trip to Florence, Italy. While studying abroad in London in the spring of 2007, my roommates, Amanda, Heather, and I decided to take a weekend trip to Italy. We spent one lovely afternoon exploring the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then exploring the pizza of Pisa, before hoping a train to spend the rest of the weekend in Florence. Unfortunately, there is this little rule in Italy (that is actually a really big rule written in Italian on the back of the train tickets) that you are supposed to stamp your train ticket at the departure platform. This law is logical as it prevents people from using their tickets to make several journeys. However, if you are from America where the conductors come through the train and stamp your tickets for you, where you don’t speak Italian, and where you don’t really ride on to much public transportation to begin with because you are from South Dakota (picturing anyone in particular?), this Italian rule isn’t exactly what we would call obvious. However, the Italian police at the platform in Florence seemed to think it was, as we tried for over an hour in broken Italian on our part and broken English on theirs to explain that we didn’t know we had to stamp our tickets at the departing platform. We do not speak Italian and have never traveled by train in Italy before. And we do not want to pay the fine of one hundred euros a piece…please? Finally, after much bargaining, we managed to convince them to let us go for 20 euros a piece, which was still a big chunk for students traveling on a budget, but at least I wasn’t going to Italian jail. It was one of those experiences that you don’t really look back and laugh about, maybe give a weak smile, but you certainly learn from. All travelers are bound to have at least one, if not several, of these, as I like to call them, “Italian train ‘wreck’ experiences.” So it was only a matter of time before I had mine in Singapore.

It happened last Friday. I had an Italian train wreck in Singapore. I was granted an hour and a half work leave to go to the Chinese Embassy to obtain my tourist visa. I needed it not only for Beijing in December, but also because I planned to go to Shanghai October 16-19 to visit my friend from Wyoming, John Paul, who is working in China until the end of the month. The embassy’s passport/visa department is only open Monday to Friday 9-11 a.m. This should have been my foreshadowing of disaster. I mean seriously, who can go during these times? In addition, the embassy had been closed all week in reflection of the Chinese mid-autumn festival and Chinese National Day. So, the Chinese Embassy was open on Friday and was also opening for two hours Saturday to make up for the back log that would inevitably result due to the holiday. However, I planned to travel to Malacca, Malaysia early Saturday morning. So, my option was to get my visa Friday or Friday.

When I arrived, after taking a $20/30 minute cab ride, because it was faster than public transportation to the embassy at 9 in the morning, I was greeted by a line almost 400 meters long. And that was just to get to the door of the building. But with my visa being an urgent matter, I had no choice but to get in line. By the time I had reached the window, my hour and a half work leave time was up, and I was supposed to be back at school to invigilate an exam. Needless to say, I had to call the school and tell them I wouldn’t be able to make it back to invigilate, and I probably wouldn’t be back for at least an hour after my invigilation would have been over. To make matters worse, it isn’t exactly like I’m an experienced teacher who has put in my dues and deserves to have time off. I mean I’ve only been working here for five weeks. They seemed very understanding, but I’m not sure if they really were fine with my absence or if they were just doing that whole Asian thing I’ve heard so much about: that whole pretending not to care even though they are really angry just to save face and to prevent you from embarrassment thing.

I did eventually complete the series of steps necessary for visa application and return to my school in time to do my afternoon invigilation. As is the case when you apply for any visa, I happily left my passport at the embassy, agreeing to pick it up with my visa inside on Monday. It was only at 4:30 that afternoon that I realized I would obviously need my passport to travel to Malaysia the following morning. As I had a bus ticket for 8:30 a.m. and as the embassy didn’t open until 9 a.m., I had no choice but to rush down to the embassy and beg for someone to open the passport/visa room (which if I haven’t mentioned closes at the ridiculous hour of 11 a.m.) to get my passport for me.

This tactic did not prove to be overly successful. The guard at the door spoke absolutely no English and forwarded me via telephone to a man who did speak English but only the rude kind. He basically told me, in between my own pathetic pleas for help, that this was my own problem, there was absolutely nothing he could do to help me, he didn’t really want to be talking to me in the first place, and then I’m pretty sure he swore at me or called me some horrible name in Mandarin before hanging up the phone with a loud click. What if this was a real emergency and I had to fly out of the country that evening, because someone died? Isn’t there someone there with a key? Or someone you can call?…I mean this island is like twenty five kilometers long for gosh sakes! Then the non-English speaking guard smiled at me, as the tears started to roll down my face and gave me this shoo, go away gesture. Talk about kicking you when you’re down.

I lost it. I walked down to the bus stop, and just stood there, on one of the busiest streets in Singapore, bawling. Red face streaked with blotches of black mascara, I stood at one of the busiest bus stops in Singapore and cried and cursed the Chinese and Asia in general and cried and wished for my mom and kept right on crying not caring at all about the sideways glances I was receiving from the hundreds of passersby. Then quite suddenly, the tears stopped. I wiped my face and quite a lot of black mascara on my shirt sleeve, climbed on my bus, and said to myself, “That’s quite enough. Now that you’ve had that little episode, it is time to be logical about this. You need to sort out this Italian train wreck of a situation, and then have a stiff drink.”

And that’s exactly what I did. Liz had decided at the last minute to come to Malaysia as well, so I sold my bus ticket to her. I decided to pick up my passport with our without my visa at the embassy at 9 a.m., hop on the 10:30 a.m. bus, and meet everyone at 3 p.m. at the hostel. Then, I went to Holland Village and had a drink.

But it wasn’t over. Saturday morning brought its own set of struggles. I arrived at the embassy at exactly 8:45 a.m. and was one of the first in line to pick up my visa. After a long explanation to the “boss” I was able to obtain my passport, which actually already had my visa in it, for the additional fee of $50. A fee which I had not anticipated and had to get out of line to withdrawal from the ATM down the road and then come back to the embassy to pay. A ridiculously large fee, but a small price to pay to insure I would never have to come back to the Chinese Embassy again. (And here’s the real kicker: There was no need to rush to get my visa, because I’m not even going to Shanghai this weekend because by the time I decided to buy my plane ticket the least expensive flight was completely booked and a three day weekend wasn’t worth $500. John Paul will be back in Shanghai in February though, and my double-entry visa is good through April. We are going to try to make a trip work sometime this spring.)

Back to Saturday morning. While I was rolling around in the mess of embassy garbage, I found out my friend Steve had forgotten his passport for the 8:30 a.m. bus ride with everyone else and was going to catch the 10:30 a.m. bus with me to Malacca. This circumstance, though annoying for him, was a huge relief to me as I was going to have someone to ride with on the four-hour trip to a strange country and with whom I could figure things out when we arrived. I did manage to reach the bus on time, and just when I was starting to breathe again…more bad news. Steve hadn’t been able to find his passport and was not going to make it for the 10:30 a.m. bus. But he would be on the 11 a.m. bus, and we would meet at the station when he arrived.

And so I slept most of the way to Malacca, waking occasionally to stare in awe at the lovely tropical jungles through which we were passing and blissfully unaware of the challenges still ahead. You see, when we left Singapore, the bus stop consisted of two trailers with a few of buses parked in front of them. Kind of like a simple city bus interchange. The bus station in Malacca was more like an airport. I’m talking corridors running in all directions, what seemed like a million bus drop off points, shops, restaurants, and crowds of people. My only hope was that when Steve arrived he would think to go to the taxi stand.

So there I was, sitting at a taxi stand in Malacca, Malaysia, munching on several giant pieces of fresh mango that I bought for the equivalent of U.S. fifty cents, being unabashedly ogled by random men, praying that my friend would find me in this mess, and thinking about what an incredibly Italian train wreck experience I was having…when Steve appeared out of the crowd, sauntering in his laid back way, smiling from ear to ear, and ready to give me a much needed hug. All I can say is thank God for lucky coincidences and good friends.

From this moment onward my weekend improved a hundred fold. Steve and I took a taxi to our hostel where we met Howard, our welcoming Asian hippie host, who conveyed a message from the rest of the group about when and where to meet them and offered suggestions of things to do in the meantime. Steve and I took the opportunity to clean up, do some wandering, sample some delicious pineapple tarts on the streets of Chinatown, and reflect on how our morning experiences had made arriving in Malacca just that much better. We then met Jacob, Joe, Neil, Liz, Amy, and Lisa, all fellow PiAers, at Capital Satay for dinner.

It was definitely a hands-on dinning experience. Basically there are a bunch of different vegetables, meats, and tofu on sticks, and you pick the ones you want and dunk them in this random pot of hot brown boiling liquid for specified times depending on the type of food you choose until it is cooked. And in case you don’t think it is a great restaurant by simply tasting the food, all you have to do is look at the line of at least 60 locals waiting to eat as soon as you’re finished.

After dinner, we wandered around Chinatown, occasionally stopping to browse in one of the antique or souvenir shops lining the carnival-like Jonker Street. We also enjoyed the street karaoke, at which random people were just performing, singing or dancing, on this giant stage in the middle of all the shopping, eating, and general Saturday evening socializing. Liz, Amy, Jacob, Joe and I stopped to enjoy an hour of head, neck and shoulder massage and foot reflexology for the equivalent of about twelve U.S. dollars. Our group then met Howard, the Asian bike-riding, guitar-playing, hostel-owning hippie and others who were staying at our hostel (including a German businessman, two women backpackers who were each traveling on their own for six months, an Australian making his way around Asia before moving to the U.S. to live with his girlfriend, and a British couple on vacation) for a beer in a gay club.

There are moments in Asia, when I simply cannot believe that this is actually my life. Sitting outside a gay club in Malacca, looking at the amazing people and environment with which I was surrounded, having just had a wonderful massage, and feeling that rush of genuine happiness snaking up my spine, was definitely one of those surreal moments. Everyone had a story, or twenty, to tell and tell stories, both real and slightly exaggerated we did late into the evening.

Sunday morning was spent at the Stadthuys, the Malaccan history museum. There, we learned about the history of Malacca from its time as a small fishing village, to major porcelain trading hub, to fall to Portuguese rule, to Dutch then British colony, to Japanese occupied during WWII, and finally to independence in 1957. Malacca has an incredibly vibrant and varied history, and its peoples, traditions, architecture, religions (there are several places where you can find a mosque, a Buddhist temple and a church all on one road) and food are a result of this history.

After the museum, the others had to catch a bus, but Steve and I spent the rest of the morning wandering to Malacca’s historical sights. We saw the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, an old Dutch church turned burial grounds with a wishing well the locals believe brings good luck. Steve and I, of course, made a wish. We couldn’t afford to take our chances with any more bad luck. We also saw the entrance to Fort A Famosa. The fort was constructed by the Portuguese in 1511, and it suffered severe structural damage during the Dutch invasion. The plan by the British to destroy it was aborted as a result of the intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, in 1808. The only area left is the entry way. We also explored the beautiful red town square, where rickshaw drivers constantly bombarded Steve and I with questions like “Ride for the lovely couple.” We found this rather hilarious. And we enjoyed watching toursists pose for pictures with iguanas, snakes, parrots and the like.We also bought some street art from a local artist who was painting the scenes near the historical landmarks.

The afternoon was spent shopping for more art, souvineers, and food. In addition to two more paintings, I bought a few boxes of pineapple tarts to bring home and share with Stephanie and my mentor at school, a t-shirt designed by a Malaysian artist, and some kaya jelly, which is a Malay coconut jam. Steve and I also sampled the local cuisine. Baba-Nyonya cuisine, is a mixture of Chinese and Malay cooking with some influences from the Portuguese, Dutch, Indian and British cultures. We quickly discovered that most dishes are spicy, including the as the famous Nyonya Laksa that I had for lunch. It is a very spicy, brothy noodle soup with onions, cucumbers, and a random half-develed egg on top. We also tried the chendol, or shaved ice with brown sauce and green beans as I like to refer to it, for dessert.

Steve and I spent our final hour in Melaka, sun bathing on the roof of our hostel, snacking on pineapple tarts and sipping coffee, listening to the drums calling the people to worship, and watching the city slow down for the evening. We enjoyed a quiet, sleepy bus ride home in what looked like the luxery suite at a five star hotel, and arrived back in Singapore much more relaxed than we had left it.

And so, my week began. Now, as it is ending, I am sitting outside at a candel-lit organic vegetarian restaurant, reflecting on the past week and planning for the weekend. I’m sipping a glass of rose wine and enjoying my pesto, pine nut, asparagus, olive and brocolini pasta immensely. As I sit here alone on a Friday night and absolutely content, I realize this is one of the first meals I’ve ever eaten at a nice restaurant by myself and felt completely comfortable in my own skin. I don’t feel awkward in the least bit, nor am I wondering what the couple next to me is thinking. I am truly enjoying the company of my own thoughts. Maybe this is what it feels like to grow-up. If it is…bring it on.

Goodnight and TIA,

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Even my knees are laughing

I saw a monk on a moped this morning. I was just minding my own business, sulking to the bus stop, cursing the hands on my watch that were mockingly informing me that it was 6:37 a.m. and, even without the sun, the temperature was approaching 90 degrees, and I would soon be at school invigilating exams for hours on end being mocked by these same watch hands and plagued by this same heat. And I saw a monk on a moped.

Sometimes I think God has a pretty good sense of humor. I mean here I was with the worst case of early Thursday morning blues, and God decided to send a monk on a moped, a hot red moped at that, screeching around the corner for the sole purpose of cheering me up. Or at least that’s how I like to look at it. God was sitting up there on his big white thrown, probably eating a far better breakfast than the granola bar I was munching (probably some eggs on toast, hash browns, and blueberry pancakes with warm maple syrup), and He decided I needed a little reminder that I was on the adventure of a lifetime in Asia going to a school I love with colleagues and kids I love even more. I may be invigilating exams today, but I’m invigilating exams in Singapore for gosh sakes. Not only that, but I’m also planning a weekend trip to Malaysia for gosh sakes. So, God sent a monk, in a robe, on a hot red moped, with his long white beard flowing in the wind screeching around the corner in front of me.

I chuckled. The chuckle turned into a giggle. Before I knew it my giggle turned into full fledged laughter…we’re talking the kind of laughter that boils up from deep in the heart of your belly and then bubbles so your shoulders start to shake; you’re no longer breathing, because the laughter is replacing every other natural function and is taking over every square inch of your body…I mean even my knees are laughing. Minutes earlier I had been glumly making my way to the bus stop, cursing everything from the high heels I was wearing, to the hands on my watch, to the stick that I was sure the tree dropped for the sole purpose of tripping me.

Then, the monk. And here I was laughing so hard there were tears starting to well in my eyes. I was literally laughing out loud now as I thought about the funny little way the monk perched himself on the moped’s seat, robe arranged just right as he straddled the bike, bald head glistening in the heat, and, oh, that long white beard flowing out behind him so it almost became his own cape. People were starting to look at me now. I haven’t laughed like this in awhile, at least not alone. Maybe I’m delusional from lack of sleep and minimal breakfast. Maybe I’m approaching that overly emotional time of the month. Or, maybe I’m just feeling all emotions particularly intensely this morning; the over stimulation tends to do that to me in Singapore. But then I think about the monk again, and I’m overcome with yet another fit of laughter. No, I don’t need to justify this laughing attack by anything except to say that that monk on the moped was seriously, ridiculously funny. So I look around at the starers, and keep right on laughing my little heart out all the way onto the bus and out of sight. “I’m not the crazy one people! Didn’t you see! A monk on a moped!”

I definitely have a lot of these “monk on a moped” moments in Singapore, more in the figurative than the literal sense unfortunately though. It’s like I just start to get in a grove and feel really comfortable, and then the universe decides to remind me I’m in Asia with something totally unexpected or out of the ordinary, and I realize “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” A situation that might be considered mundane at home becomes an obstacle. Completing an everyday task becomes a small personal triumph. I’ll pause now to offer explanation by means of examples.

Our washing machine is full of water. Not only is it full of water, but until I rung them out with my bare hands over the balcony, it was also full of my towels; towels that probably won’t dry for at least 72 hours seeing as the ones that don’t miss out on a spin cycle still take at least 24. Yep, our washing machine will not drain on the exact day I am out of socks and desperately need to clean a load of whites. And here’s the real kicker: I can’t even walk upstairs to my house mother Judi’s room and ask her to please call someone to fix the sorority washing machine immediately...please.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that living in a sorority house isn’t exactly the “real world,” but living in Asia isn’t exactly the “real world” I know how to function in either. I’d like to see you try to call the building maintenance line from your apartment in Asia and try to explain to the woman on the other end of the line, who is very nice but barely speaks any English, that your washing machine won’t drain, you live at Blk 210 room 04-214, and you won’t be home from work until three. In case you ever need to know though, this is how it goes:

Me: “Hello. My washing machine won’t drain and I was wondering if you could please send someone up to fix it after three today.”
Her: “What?”
Me: “My washing machine is broken”
Her: “What?”
Me: (sigh…what is the simplest way to explain this)…”Washing machine dead.”
Her: “Oh ok! What room?”
Me: “Blk 210 04-214.”
Her: “What?”
…and it goes on like this until I say the numbers individually, very meticulously, and slowly. Then she asks, “What’s problem?”
Me: “Washing machine dead”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. But, I think after a few more exchanges like this she knows “what’s problem” and where I live. Now I just have to tell her that I won’t be home from work until three, so please don’t send anyone until then…easy enough…right.

Well, not really. And so the conversation goes and goes until I’m finally able to convey that I won’t be home until “tree,” which is how she, along with the majority of Singaporeans, have learned to pronounce “three.” (In fact, even my jazz dance teacher counts the music, “one, two, tree, four” and so on.) As frustrating as it may be at the time, though, little occurrences like these result in the most overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I mean, all I really did was tell someone my washing machine is broken and asked them to come fix it, “after tree please.” But a task that would be simple and unfulfilling in my “normal” life, becomes a beautiful connection with another human, who may not understand me nor I her, but for a few brief moments we’re able to communicate. A monk on a moped moment.

Another example of this phenomenon occurred at work this morning while I was invigilating exams. Invigilation is a very common thing that occurs everyday in U.S. classrooms. Basically, the teachers walks around the classroom watching the test-taking students and giving the evil eye to any student who looks like he/she might cheat, is thinking about cheating, or has ever even considered cheating in his/her life. And so I went about my invigilation as any teacher anywhere in the world would, walking around and glaring at students. But it wasn’t long before I was shocked back into Asia mode. When I went to my second invigilation for the morning, I realized there were 39 students instead of 40 in the classroom. The teacher in the room told me a boy had been taken out of the exam because…brace yourself…his hair was too long. Yep, you read right. This boy’s sideburns weren’t up to protocol, and he was taken out of the exam to have a haircut before he could complete the test. By whom? I’m not really sure, but let’s just say, I doubt it was a professional stylist. Definitely a “monk on a moped” moment, though not necessarily a positive and definitely not a laughable one. But, TIA after all.

While there are definitely some striking differences between my mother culture and this new culture to which I’m adjusting, some things just don’t change. Like?...Monday night football of course. On Monday evening, I spent an enjoyable, though not quiet or relaxing, evening cheering on a local Singaporean soccer club complete with eight of my guy friends, a small but loud, die-hard fan section in which everyone was dressed head to toe in the team’s signature green color, and drums, cowbells, foghorns and, what else but beer. Yes, surprisingly similar to American Monday night football with a twist.

And Monday night football night was quickly followed by Theatre Tuesday. Before meeting the group of eight PiAers who I was joining to see “Defending the Caveman”, a Singapore Reparatory Theatre production, I arrived a bit early to explore the theatre district. During my wandering I stumbled upon (and by stumbled I mean searched out like a hound dog following an irresistible scent) a little chocolate shop that my mentor, Yui Yun, said serves the best hot chocolate in Singapore. Waiting for my friends, I sat along the waterfront and watched the runners with their dogs zigzag along the river and over its many bridges all the while enjoying the richest, most decadent cup of hot chocolate I have ever tasted…hot chocolate spiked with hints of coffee and amaretto and so thick and creamy it remains coated on the spoon until you lick it off. This stuff would give even the Swiss a run for their money. After the sensual experience of letting warm melted chocolate play on my tongue and coat my throat with its sweet nectar, how could I not feel completely pleasured and satisfied? So it was with this demeanor I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the light comedic theatre production which was to follow. “Defending the Caveman” was a one man show comprised mainly of cliché jokes about the relationships between men and women, and although predictable, funny none-the-less.

Wednesday night held yet another fun activity. Jacob and Stephanie came with me to try a hip hop class at my new dance studio. While it was a great class at which I definitely improved my crunking and pop-and-lock skills (as much as one can in one hour and with years of graceful ballet habits so engrained in her body that it refuses to “crunk” in certain ways), the best part was experiencing Stephanie’s first hip hop class and Jacob’s first ever dance class with them. Now, comes the part of trying to convince them to bust out their newly acquired moves at a club this weekend…something tells me this won’t be hard.

While I’ve spoken quite a lot about my extra-curricular activities this week, I realize I haven’t spoken too much on the lines of school. A few notes: This week has been an unremarkable week as I’ve primarily observed lessons designed to review for exams. Exams started today (Thursday), and so my classes have been canceled, and my time has been devoted to invigilating exams. Next week, marking of the exams begins. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but Singapore is an exam oriented society.

So with all this free time until I start marking for hours on end next week, I’ve decided to busy myself with extra activities this week. Friday looks like it will be a night out on the town. We are planning a trip to Malacca, Malaysia for Saturday and Sunday. And, before I get too far ahead of myself, tonight is a “Big Lebowski” movie party complete with White Russian mixers and all. Off to hang out with The Dude.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Food Glorious Food

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I eat a lot of food at work. I might eat more often than I teach to be completely honest. And to be completely honest, I don’t really mind...ok, not minding is kind of an under-exaggeration…I totally love it. The Food Network is my favorite television channel after all, and because I don’t have a T.V. here, I have to settle for the real thing. I’m actually learning a lot about Asian/Singaporean culture through these little food extravaganzas. My colleagues not only fill me in on exactly what it is that I’m eating (this is not always clear at first glace), but also offer the entire history of the food including but not limited to its country of origin, the festivals with which it is associated, and, from the Chinese teachers, whether it is a hot or cool food and the Chinese traditional medical practices in which it is used. On today’s menu: pomelo, Chinese tea, durian flavored ice cream moon cakes, curry, and Kueh Pie Tee…a mini fusion of food in our own staff room.

For those of you who are interested, a brief overview of these foods follows. For those who are uninterested, I don’t know what is wrong with you for not loving food with the sort of wild passion that ignites when you’re first falling in love (not really an over-exaggeration for me), but feel free to let your eyes glaze over for approximately the next four paragraphs.

First on the list: pomelo. Pomelo is a fruit of the citrus family, and reminds me quite a bit of a grapefruit in the taste category. Although, in the looks category, it is basically giant, we’re talking like 12 inches across, round, and hard with a greenish-yellow rind and a light pinkish fruit center. So, while I tasted something like grapefruit, as I stared wearily at the giant green basketball, I was second guessing my conclusion as to its relation. This conclusion, however, proved quite accurate when the Chinese teacher sitting next to me, after quietly providing instructions on how to peal the tough skin off the fruit so I wouldn’t lose face in front of all these experienced pomelo eaters, informed me that the pomelo is, in fact, the cousin of the grapefruit. The pomelo is in season from right now until Chinese New Year and is thus associated with the Chinese moon cake festival. My Chinese pomelo informant, also told me that the rinds of the fruit can be cooked down, and the juices are used by women to make their hair shinny. The juices are also used to do something after birth that I didn’t quite understand and probably don’t want to. In addition, I was informed not to eat too many pomelos because they are a heaty food, and may give me a cough. I stuck to two pieces. I think that should be safe.

I cannot provide any interesting information about the Chinese tea as I’ve not tried it, but rather I took a packet to make at home later this weekend. I do not have a clue what kind of tea it is, because all the writing is in Chinese. I decided to risk it, and take one without asking for a translation. How to judge which packet to take?...the prettiest wrapper of course.

I can, however, address the durian-flavored ice cream moon cake. Moon cakes are basically a pastry with a thick, creamy, jelly, and rich center, and, well, we all know what ice cream is. So far…a winning combination. My only hesitation came from the flavor choice. Durian. Durian is that random, tooth-pasty and stringy textured fruit that native Singaporeans seem to love despite the strong smell of gasoline it emits as vendors, on every street corner of the city, literally yell at you to buy some. I haven’t worked up the courage to try the “fruit” yet, but I have to admit, the durian-flavored ice cream moon cake wasn’t so bad. It was actually quite good. I wonder if the pastry and delicious ice cream were masking the durian’s true colors?

Curry has become a pretty common staple in my diet here. Its most general definition is that it is a mixture of spices and is most often associated with Indian cuisine. In the West, we are generally familiar with Tamil curries from India, which is typically the curry you get when you buy pre-made curry mixtures in the grocery store or eat at an Indian restaurant in the states. Really, curry can be and is anything; the word just refers to how a dish is prepared. There are coconut and wheat curries and rice, vegetable, and meat curries. Thai food offers red, yellow and green curries, not to mention all the sweet butter and cream based curries. I think of curry as salsa’s distant cousin. Salsa comes in sweet, savory, bitter and salty and it is good on almost anything, just like curry. Today the curry in the teachers’ room was of the spicy variety (big surprise), and I ate it on some bread. Like I said, anything goes.

Finally, and I saved the best for last, Kueh Pie Tee. My colleagues told me that dish is traditional of Singapore, which is a rare and special quality to find in a food, because so many of the dishes here originated in India, Malaysia, China or the like. I would describe Kueh Pie Tee as a flat bottomed, savory ice cream cone that you stuff with some warm sliced vegetables, crushed peanuts, chili, and scrambled egg, then drizzle with random black sauce and top with a sprig of Chinese parsley. Probably not the most technical definition of the dish but pretty accurate all the same. I like to think that one day, a little old Singaporean lady found she had may left overs from the family’s holiday feast, and needed to feed her family one more time before they all returned home after the holiday weekend. So, she stuffed all the left over food into some ice cream cones and feed her family one of the most delicious meals they had ever eaten. From then on, the family always enjoyed this dish the day after the big holiday feast. Ok, so maybe not the most accurate story (in fact, I created in my imagination to try to explain how all these ingredients ended up together), but technical all the same. Regardless of how Kueh Pie Tee came about, it is really quite delicious. Now, I must go back for more moon cake ice cream (I’ll stick with hazelnut- flavored this time) before invigilating an exam.

And with the weekend came yet another wonderful food experience. After my Saturday morning dance class, I joined some of my colleagues for a Hari Raya/birthday party celebration. A fellow English teacher hosted her joint Hari Raya (a Muslim holiday) and birthday party at a chalet on the east coast of the island. (As a side note, it is common for Singaporean families to rent chalets for the weekend to barbeque, swim, play, and generally escape from the city life…a sort of upgraded version of camping I suppose.) The theme of the party?…purple. So dressed in the only purple shirt, in fact the only purple anything, I own, I joined my new friends for a homemade Malay feast all served on purple plastic plates with napkins and décor to match. The list that follows includes the technical terms for the foods we ate of course: We had rice “cakes” with a vegetable coconut curry, noodle soup with crunchy things, bean curd, soy beans and vegetables in a spicy sauce, potato cakes, and a random black vegetable concoction that no one really knew how to translate from Malay into English for me. There was lamb and chicken for which the birthday girl’s (Siti’s) mother had ground each individual spice by hand. There were also plenty of toppings, sauces and curries to try. This, all before desert!

And, oh the dessert!...eight different varieties of homemade miniature cookies, which took Siti’s sister almost 24 hours to make by hand. There were shortbread-like cookies stuffed with ground peanuts, chocolate cookies rolled in peanut butter, butter cookies with lemon jelly sandwiched in between, toffee cookies, and crumble cookies with a layer of chocolate so thin and even it looked as if a machine, not a human hand, had carefully smoothed the chocolate over the crust. There were chocolatey rice crispy-like balls and even Malay sugar cookies so sweet they melted the second they touched your tongue. And then…Siti brought out her cake! A white cake layered with fruit and smothered with whipped cream. We ate, and talked, and ate and ate and sang “Happy Birthday” and thanked Siti’s family profusely, and took pictures, and laughed and complained about how much we had eaten, and stretched out the waist bands of our pants and ate some more. Funny, how similar to our American holiday celebrations!

It was truly one of the best experiences of my Singapore journey thus far, and I will always cherish my first Hari Raya slash birthday celebration with all my heart. I’m so grateful to have had such a wonderful afternoon with my colleagues/new friends. But after the meal was no time to contemplate these facts, for I needed to unbutton my pants and lay on the couch for the rest of the evening in a state of excessively happy food lethargy. The only thing missing at this point?...the American football game!

Now that I’ve gotten all this excitement about food out of my system, though maybe not the food itself, let’s back track to Friday. After invigilating exams, I was off on my teachers-only field trip to Singapore’s landfill, Pulau Semakau. We took a 20 minute ferry ride from Singapore’s southwest coast to the man-made “dump” island. The Semakau Landfill is actually two natural islands joined by man-made cells of trash ash. The cells are lined with an impermeable material to prevent the incinerated trash from leaking into the ocean when it is poured in. Singapore produces almost seven thousand tons of garbage a day, but by incinerating the garbage, they are able to reduce this number by nearly 90% to just over one thousand tons. This incinerated garbage is transported in a three-hour long barge ride from mainland Singapore to Semakau every night. Large trucks then dump the ash into the cells on the island. Unused cells are filled with ocean water until they are needed, at which time the water is drained from the cell.

The beauty of this “dump” island is really quite amazing. The cells that have been filled look like prairies with wild green grass running like barefooted children across their surfaces. Those cells which remain unfilled are actually mini-ocean habitats for now. Much of Semakau’s native mangroves remain in-tact, and those that were destroyed during building have been replaced. There is a very diverse inter-tidal ecosystem on the island made up many varieties of fish, starfish, seahorses, and endangered birds to name a few. There are, of course, the unsightly buildings and machinery necessary for the work, but overall, it is by far the prettiest landfill I’ve ever seen. Our tour guide told us they even occasionally see dolphins jumping off the coast.

Because Commonwealth Secondary is a “green” school, we are bringing the students to Semakau on a post-exam field-trip in late October. We hope they will learn not only about Singapore’s waste management and landfill processes, but also that the experience will inspire them to reduce the amount of trash they produce daily. At the current rate, Semakau will be completely filled by 2045. Creating another space will cost over 600 million dollars. But the National Environmental Agency hopes Singaporeans will follow their “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto to extend the life of the landfill, and Commonwealth knows the younger generation can play a major part in achieving this goal.

Upon returning from Semakau, I joined Stephanie, Jacob, Hannah, Dr. Dan, PiA Jacob, and Hannah and Jacob’s friends Allison and Grace at Wine Connection for a lovely glass of Riesling and even better conversation, much of which related to Semakau because Dr. Dan and Jacob are the environmental scientists type. My evening ended early as I needed to prep, more than I knew, for Saturday’s eating extravaganza.

Sunday morning was spent at the gym for obvious reasons. Stephanie and I went to La Pau Sat for lunch, where I enjoyed popiah (a new favorite and something that isn’t smothered in sauce which is nice for a change). Popiah is very similar to Kueh Pie Tee (see paragraph six) in that it is stuffed with the same ingredients except, instead of being served in savory ice cream cones, it is served in a very thin tortilla-type wrap. Think -- Asian burrito. We then spent a leisurely afternoon wandering through the galleries at the Singapore Art Museum and, don’t think less of me for this, we sipped foamy hazelnut lattes at Starbucks afterward. I know, how American of me! But it is the first time I’ve been there I swear, and despite the temptation of seaweed shaker fries, I haven’t even set foot in a McDonalds yet.

For dinner, we went to Din Tie Fung, a chain restaurant famous for their dumplings, where Stephanie had pork and shrimp dumplings and I enjoyed vegetable, bamboo shot and shrimp soup. We shared some incredibly sticky, smooth mini red bean dumplings for desert. If you don’t think about the filling, they are really exceptionally amazing. And, if you’re coming to visit, make a note and remind me to take you there for some!

After dinner, we met Stephanie’s Australian friend Emma and Emma’s friends for a drink at a 24-hour hawker center. Emma is currently working for a non-profit organization in Cambodia and was visiting Singapore for a fundraising event this weekend. And, once again, I found myself in a ridiculously funny and refreshingly cosmopolitan experience that so fully encompasses the oddity and fascinating qualities that make this city unique: sharing a “world acclaimed” Tiger beer (which is funny because it tastes strangely like Bud Light to me) at a Singaporean hawker center, with an Australian, a Scotsman, an English couple and a California girl, all the while being made fun of by the English couple for how American I looked carrying around my Starbucks bag with my newly purchased coffee mug tucked snuggly inside, and occasionally being serenaded with a sloppy rendition of “We Will, We Will Rock You” by a drunk Indian man wandering around the food court. This is my life.

TIA, Cheers on this lovely Monday morning and to a great week ahead,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

You have to see it to believe it...

I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do pictures yet, but this time I just loaded them directly onto the blog and included brief captions under each pic. Enjoy! Bike riding pictures to don't want to miss these...haha!
La Pau Sat Hawker Center

Typical hawker center fare...only $3 a plate
Just a random jungle by our apartment.

The view from the dance studio where I took belly dancing and merengue...not too shabby

Steph, me and Amy

Trevor, Liz, Lisa, Amy, Steve, me, Steph, and Ana at New Asia...71st story of the Swiss Hotel.

The view from New Asia Bar...spectacular!

Me, Dr. Dan, and Hannah at Chjimes.

Steph and Jacob at Chjimes.

Hannah, me, Will and Stephanie at Hannah and Jacob's house warming party.

Happy Birthday Jacob!

Stephanie and my meal on Arab street for Jacob's birthday...just a lite bite...haha.

Out one night with Lisa, Steph, James, and John.

This is what our apartment looks like when we do laundry.