Saturday, April 24, 2010

See ya later Singapore

The time has finally arrived where I must say goodbye to my little corner of Southeast Asia. As you read this, I am groggily sitting on a plane back to Kansas where my very giddy parents are awaiting my arrival.

I've greatly enjoyed my time in Singapore. It has been one of the best learning experiences of my life. I was able to try new foods (although that part wasn't always positive, ahem, durian), meet awesome people, learn a way of life that was very different to my own, see some beautiful places, and enjoy constant warm weather for 24 months.

When I originally set out on our adventure to Singapore, I was supposed to be there for three years. After about one, we decided that we had other interests back in the States that we wanted to pursue. So that's why we're headed back earlier than I originally told you all.

I apologize for originally leading you astray.

I feel that I got a very fulfilling experience in my shortened two year adventure. Another year of constant summer may have permanently ruined me for winter forever.

So as I leave, I want to send a big thank you to all of you who came and read my ramblings over the last couple years. You have taught me so much and given me a wonderful community that really helped me live this life in Singapore. I loved reading the emails, comments and all of the feedback you left. It was so much fun.

You guys are awesome. Thank you.


In closing, I've gotten a lot of questions as to whether or not I'm going to continue blogging. I will finally answer you all.

Duh.

I will definitely be continuing the adventures of this roller coaster life we lead on my new blog:

Walking in Ruby Slippers

There I will share our stories as we relearn how to live in Kansas...and America in general.

I hope you visit us there. The Kansans are going to think I'm weird when I start jumping up and down in the dairy aisle over a huge tub of ricotta cheese for US$2. But you Singapore, you will completely understand.

In the words of my wise friend Sheryl,

See ya later, never goodbye.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew

In our continued quest to use up all items in our pantry, we discovered an unopened bottle of wine tonight.

How this bypassed my attention until now is beyond me.

So we immediately set out to have it with our random half-Asian, half-American dinner of Teriyaki chicken, bean sprouts and corn.

One small problem though.

The movers packed not one, not two, but all three of our wine bottle openers.

That's what you call a predicament right there.

So we did what any 20 something would do and consulted the all-knowing, ever wonderful Google.

And as expected, Google delivered. We found this video.

This is our version of that video (only in the much more elegant setting of my bathroom).

video

I wish I could tell you that after all of that work, (there was about ten minutes of banging the bottle against the wall before this clip) we just popped the cork out and enjoyed our wine.

I also wish I could tell you that we didn't have to get out pliers, break it into multiple pieces, and jimmy rig a wine strainer in order to drink it without pieces of cork floating in our plastic cups.

But I cannot.

These types of things are best left to the Europeans. They're much more experienced wine drinkers than Americans.

However, we will continue to class it up by opening it with shoes in our bathroom and drinking it out of plastic cups.

Always keep it classy. That's my motto.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The American Girl Cooks Phad Thai

I finally made phad thai from scratch last night.

It was an interesting experience.

Not only did it take close to an hour to find the ingredients in Cold Storage, but the cooking portion was quite "colorful" too.

First off, while shopping for the ingredients, we had to ask an employee to help us because we couldn't find anything other than the bean sprouts.

Lesson learned: Palm sugar is "gula malaka" and tamarind is "asam paste". Thank goodness that guy could understand our American accent. It seems that the Malay word is always preferred over the English word when labeling foods in Singapore supermarkets. (Also to note, I've never seen "Bok Choy" in Singapore. They have it, but I have no idea what the Malay word is that they use to label it. I'm also not worried enough to Google it.)

It makes sense to use the Malay words, in retrospect, considering a large number of the population here is from Malaysia. I just wish I'd thought to look up those words before we left.

Eh well.

To figure out how to cook this dish, I found a very helpful YouTube video that teaches Westerners how to make it at home. However, some of the ingredients in the video were a little different than the ones we found.

It wasn't a big deal though.

You know what was a big deal?

The stench that cooking phad thai produces in your kitchen.

It smelled of things that I can't even discuss on a family friendly blog such as this.

And it was totally the fish sauce's fault.

I now totally get why they don't have air conditioning in kitchens in Singapore. After cooking with something like that, you have to open a window to keep from gagging.

Or dying.

It smells something retched and dead.

On a more positive note, the finished phad thai tasted really good despite the nose-killing fog in the kitchen. Once it was finished and removed from that area, it didn't stink at all. It even tasted very close to the yumminess we had in Thailand.

It was surprisingly good, even considering that some American chick made it.

But.

I don't know if I can handle a kitchen that smells like that. If I had people over for dinner and they smelled that, they'd run and hide. This may just have to be one of those dishes that we order in.

Please God, let there be somewhat decent phad thai in Kansas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Inevitable Shopping Day

After two years of procrastination, I finally own authentic Singaporean items.

Why is it that when you live somewhere, you purposely avoid all things that are remotely associated with being a tourist?

For example, my cousin has lived in New York City for years and when I visited her two and a half years ago, she still had never been to the Statue of Liberty.

As a resident of Singapore, I don't shop. Shopping is one of the things that the country is known for and I avoid it like the plague. It seemed like every mall I went to was crowded and expensive. So I just didn't do it.

I kept thinking, "I'll get that cute tablecloth sometime before we leave," or "I will stock up on those Chinese wine bottle covers before I ship out." I lacked a sense of urgency in the whole matter.

Then when I realized I was two weeks away from leaving, my excuses lost their footing. If I didn't break down and buy something already, I was going home with nada. Zilch. Squat.

That would make me very sad. It would also make my friends back home wonder if I'd even ever lived here because I lacked the physical evidence.

So I did some shopping research. Luckily, I found out that not all of Singapore is crazy expensive like I'd thought.

A few friends told me of these great deals and steals.

First Stop: Dilip Textiles, Arab Street

My coworkers got me a gorgeous tablecloth and scarf as a departure gift. I loved them so much that I decided that I needed more textiles to go back to Kansas with me. My military spouse friends told us to head to this place for such things.

They were right. This place was awesome. They have so many different types of cloth and for so many different uses. I got a six person rectangular tablecloth for S$26 and a long silk scarf for S$10. I love the stuff I got. It's all hand-stamped and in gorgeous colors. If I were going to be here a little longer, I would have totally gone back for more. They also have bedspreads, wall coverings, carpets and sarongs.


Second Stop: The Blue and White Store (that's not the official name), Ubi Street

The Blue and White Store has been a topic of conversation among military spouses in Singapore for as long as I've been here. The gals make a trip there at least once every couple of months. As a working girl whose free time during the day is limited, I had a little harder time finding my way here. Also, this place doesn't advertise, so it's not easy to find solo. The people who've been there only know about it because they found out from someone else who's been there.

Even once you find out the address, it's still a little tricky to find.

This is the building it's in.

I would have never guessed that an oh-so-popular pottery shop was nestled in here. It looks like an industrial warehouse building. Not a place that sells pretty pottery.

Nonetheless, I trusted my friend's instructions and took the lift up several stories.

And then it appeared.

Not the fanciest of digs, but the prices more than make up for the appearance. I got two vases, a dozen ceramic decorative balls, four oversized square coffee mugs (that are suprisingly very modern), five mini saucer cups, and some other stuff that I can't remember now because it's in a crate somewhere over the ocean. (Yes, I forgot to take pictures. Apparently, my brain turns to mush while moving.) But the important part is that all of that only cost me S$30. I've never gotten such nice stuff for so little. I was super excited.

Shopping day was a huge success. I had never been so unstressed during a shopping excursion here.

Then to top all of that off, my good friend Sandra gave me some wonderful presents to take back with me as well.

My Kansas house may just end up looking like a little Singapore by the time I get everything unpacked.

Now, I just need to grab some more recipes to accompany my new stuff. A special thank you to those who have already sent me some great ones! I'm excited to try them out on our unsuspecting relatives.

(As always, I have not been paid to talk about the above establishments, nor do they know that I have a blog to write about them on.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Moving a Family from Singapore to Kansas: Part 2

The movers showed up at just a hair past the crack of dawn this morning.

Actually, that's a lie.

They got there at 9am. It just seemed like the crack of dawn to me because we were up until 2:30 in the morning getting things ready for them to arrive.

We are fortunate as a military family to have the government pay for and arrange for our things to be packed and shipped back to the States.

You'd think this perk would take the stress out of moving.

But it doesn't.

The movers they hire are professionals. They pack stuff up fast. And they pack everything. No jokes. If it's out where they can find it, they will pack it. We've heard stories of ladies' purses getting packed, the family hamster getting packed and even a girl's sandwich was packed when she left the room.

So we spent the entire night last night grouping together anything and everything we'd still need until the day we get on the plane. This means all toilet paper, shampoos, and plane tickets needed to be out of sight.

We, unfortuately, forgot about the plane tickets. They are currently in a crate somewhere headed off to a big boat.

Oh well. At least those can be reprinted.

To illustrate the speed in which they work, here's a visual. When they first got here, I called my mom on Skype. By the time our 30 minute conversation was over, this is what my house looked like.

I was a bit taken aback. This was also around the time I realized the plane tickets were long gone.

So I started paying a bit more attention.

The coolest thing that I found that these guys did was this:

Many people in Singapore live in multi-story buildings, so I'm sure stairs start to really suck after a while for movers.

I really liked their solution.

They had a guy at each landing to intercept the package and send it along to the next guy. It was like watching a well-oiled machine.

So even though packing hasn't been completely smooth sailing, at least I was entertained.

Not that it's a hard thing to do.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Moving a Family from Singapore to Kansas: Part 1

It is almost here. Moving day is just within arm's reach.

I know this because I found this on our landing when I got home from work.

In case you're wondering, that's not where that stuff is supposed to be. I think the moving men forgot our phone number and so they didn't call us to come home and let them in. Instead they just left it in our stairwell for our neighbors to walk around.

So there it sits. Next to an open window. In a major rainstorm.

Awesome.

Now normally, my stubborn self would just let it sit there to make a point. However, even I know how absorbent cardboard is. I also know just how ridiculously humid this place is even when it's not raining.

Moisture + cardboard + dark storage container = vicious black mold that will eat all of my Twilight books.

Oh hell to the no.

I mustered up the motivation to nag my husband until he moved it all here:

It was a lot of work.

By the way, I'm totally kidding. I helped carry it up too. I'm not that sucky.

Now we wait. And organize. And determine just how much stuff actually fits in my suitcase.

Yikes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

American things I have forgotten

In Singapore, there are no gas lines that connect to each house or apartment.

*UPDATE* Apparently, our military housing is one of the few places that has this problem. Not the entire island of Singapore. Other places do have gas lines.

Therefore, if you have a gas stove (which I think is what most people have here) and no gas line, you have to get a can of gas from the gas company.

It's very similar to what Americans get for their outdoor gas grills. The tanks come up to the top of my knee and are crazy heavy.

Ours sit in our laundry room behind our kitchen and the gas line runs to our stove through the wall. I rarely even think about those tanks back there.

Until they run out.

Which they did. The night before Good Friday. When businesses in Singapore close down.

Super.

That's when I panic a little. I can handle a day or so without an oven or stove, but three and a half days makes me get a little irritable.

There are only so many things you can buy for the microwave in Singapore. The locals aren't quite as in love with microwave dinners as we Americans are. In fact, many of them think it's weird that we enjoy frozen, canned and boxed food so much.

They're all about "fresh".

We're all about "fast".

I'm all about being able to not sweat my butt off in that hot kitchen. "Fast" is my favorite. But even "fast" sometimes needs a flame from a stove.

Luckily, we didn't have to go too long without our major culinary appliance. I was able to procure a partially full replacement until the company was able to deliver a new tank on Monday. The whole ordeal got me thinking though.


Megan: "Why is it that we never had this problem back home?"

Aaron: "Uh, because we have natural gas lines underground at home. We don't use tanks, silly."

Megan: "Oh my gosh, I'm dumb. I completely forgot about that."


There are so many things that I've had to rewire in my brain to get accustomed to my Singaporean life. Everytime I find myself remembering little conveniences of home, I get really excited and giddy. And I also feel a little nuts because honestly, it's only been two years. How do I forget so much?

Here's another thing that always shocks me: power lines. Has anyone else noticed that they don't exist in Singapore? That's because they're buried underground.

Whenever we've gone to another country that has overhanging power lines, I get really nervous and fascinated like I've never seen them before. I just can't quit looking at them. It's been so long since I've lived around them that their very presence grabs my attention.

My family is gonna think Singapore made me crazy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Daawat Tandoori has won me over

My work colleagues celebrated (is that the right word?) my farewell lunch last Friday. Since it was a lunch in my honor, I got to pick the place.

Those are the worst words an indecisive eater ever wants to hear. I have a hard time deciding what to cook for dinner. I had no idea where to pick as my "Last Supper" as a working girl in Singapore.

To avoid having to make a decision, I told them that I wanted to eat local food and I didn't want it to be expensive. Those were my only requirements.

And with that, I was off the hook. Ha.

They first picked a Chinese-style restaurant. After I checked out the restaurant on HungryGoWhere.com, I vetoed it. Because I like to be difficult.

No, not really.

Even though authentic Chinese food tastes good, it's a lot of work. This particular menu featured a lot of seafood and meat dishes. The problem I had with that is they leave the bones in the meat, the scales on the fish, and the heads and shells on the prawns. It wouldn't be that big of a deal if all that stuff wasn't then coated in sauce. It's difficult for an American girl to peel a shrimp with chopsticks.

I just want to eat my lunch. Not wrestle it.

So I suggested Indian cuisine. Indian has quickly become one of my favorite food genres since I arrived here in Singapore. I love the spices, the sauces and the yummy breads that they seem to always serve.

Even amongst the groans of the older American guys in the office, I stuck to my one decision of Indian cuisine. Americans tend to have an irrational fear that Indian food is overly spicy. I used to be one of those people. It's not true. You can order spicy things at an Indian restaurant, but not everything is spicy.

My Singaporean coworkers made the final call on where we were going. They chose a North Indian restaurant located on Upper Thomson Road called Daawat Tandoori.

And I just want to say this: Daawat Tandoori is AH-MAZING.

As in, fall on the floor fantastic.

I had no idea just how much I loved Indian food until I ate at this restaurant. I was so mesmerized by the super delicious Butter Chicken we ordered that I forgot to take pictures before we nearly ate everything.

This is what was left after about five minutes. This is cheese naan, mutton briyani with gravy and Aaron's empty plate. We also had paneer naan which is naan with cottage cheese inside.

For the Americans out there, naan is an Indian bread that I would consider a cross between a tortilla and pita bread. When they stuff it with cheese, it's like an Indian quesadilla. It's heaven in your mouth. We ate two orders.

It's that good.

Like I said though, the Butter Chicken is worth it's weight in gold. We're going back to this place before I leave specifically to eat that again. I'm going to see if I can coax a recipe outta somebody too.

So yeah, I'm a fan of North Indian food.

I was told that this type of cuisine is often prepared with yummy stuff like yogurt and ghee and has a little bit different flavor than South Indian food (the kind I'd had up until this point).

I know that I definitely like both styles, but this restaurant is awesome. Go get some Butter Chicken...now.

(As always, no one paid me to say these things about this establishment. I just thought it rocked.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Adjustment to Life as an Expat in Singapore

Now that I'm in my final days as an American girl in Singapore, I wanted to share with you my honest to Jeebus experiences of expat life here.

And I will be honest. I feel there are too many people who paint the picture of a perfect Singapore and a continuously happy life for everyone that lives here.

I'd like to say that those people are full of it. I'd also like to know if they get kick backs from the Singapore Tourism Board.

Now, I'm not saying that Singapore isn't a great place to set up shop. I'm just saying that there is not one single place on this Earth where everyone is happy. There are cool places to live and neat experiences, but not everyone is happy...all of the time.

That's what I experienced and I felt very alone in my experiences of a less than perfect Singapore.

Gregory Trivonovitch, a Researcher and Associate Director of the Culture Learning Institute at the East-West Center in Hawaii, has determined that most expatriates experience four different emotional stages of acclimating to their new culture: The Honeymoon Stage, The Hostility Stage, The Integration/Acceptance Stage, and The Home Stage.

When I first read about these stages in the first year I was here, they meant squat to me. I just knew that I was (insert random emotion here) and I was fairly sure I was going to feel that way forever. Or until I left this island.

Now that I'm in my last moments of expatriate life, I am able to look back and form a more accurate assessment of my time in Lion City, as a whole.

I'll go through each of the stages as I experienced them.

1) The Honeymoon Stage - characterized by excitement, exhilaration, and anticipation. The newcomer will be fascinated by everything new to them in their new culture.

I experienced this stage from the moment I got to Singapore and for about two months after that. I wanted to see everything, do everything, and learn about everything. I loved the weather. I loved the Chinese New Year celebrations. I loved every green palm tree that lined the side of the street. I just loved loved loved Singapore and the fact that I lived somewhere so exotic and far away.


2) The Hostility Stage - characterized by frustration, anger, judgmentalism, fear, and sometimes depression.

Unfortunately, this stage came on for me at month three and stayed around for many, many months. I even remember the exact day that it came on in full force. It was an unsuccessful trip to the grocery store. Followed by three other unsuccessful trips in the same day. I could not find any ingredients for the things that I knew how to cook. I also did not have a car. So a quick trip to the market to pick up items for a potluck dish I was bringing to a get together, ended up being a six hour ordeal that ended with me in tears, empty handed, at our front door.

Going from a lifestyle in which a grocery store is a five minute drive from your house to a place where it's a two hour trip on public transportation is a big change — to say the least. Add in the fact that Singapore is insanely crowded and public transportation is a claustrophobic nightmare during rush hour. I had a tough time.

I had a tough time for a long time. There were many tears shed in my house, and on the walk home from the bus stop, and at work, and various other random places in Singapore.

I'd never lived outside of the States. So the culture baffled me at times. I didn't get why people shoved me on the train. I didn't get why customer service representatives didn't want to make customers happy. I didn't get why I had to wait in line for everything.

I just didn't get it.


3) The Integration/Acceptance Stage - characterized by the person feeling more comfortable and relaxed in their new surroundings

This stage, for me, came about a little while after I got my second job in Singapore, almost a full year after I'd arrived. It was after that time that I finally felt a sense of familiarity with Singapore and I had finally realized my most important lesson.

I needed to stop trying to make Singapore into my version of America and appreciate it for what it is.

I know for most people this is a "duh" statement, but for me, it took a little while to realize. Instead of me searching for every American restaurant I could find and being depressed when I couldn't get a Taco Bell Gordita or a Wendy's cup of chili anymore, I needed to embrace what Singapore did have to offer. It was then that I learned that I loved Indian food, briyani and mutton curry to be exact. I found that I really enjoyed Asian-style bean sprouts and iced Milo. I also loved the Love Letter cookies during Chinese New Year. If I hadn't finally opened my eyes to what was actually around me rather than looking for what wasn't there, I would have never found out any of this.


4) The Home Stage - this occurs when the person still retains their allegiance to their original culture, but also feels "at home" and functions well with their new culture.

I'm not quite sure when I slipped into this stage, but I know I'm in it. When we returned back from our trip to Thailand, I called my mother to tell her we were "home". It was the first time I'd ever referred to Singapore as "home". Of course, she promptly corrected me and told me that home is Kansas and that I'm merely in Singapore. My mom's pretty protective like that. :)

To me though, it was a pretty big deal that I used that word. It spoke volumes to me about my comfort level with this culture I've submersed myself into. I was proud of myself. As self-absorbed as that sounds. I was.

I still miss my family and the wonderful things back home (like Target, Five Guys burgers, and Cold Stone Ice Cream), but I'd come a long way from the person I was two years ago.

And now it's time to go back. It's bittersweet. But I think I'm ready.

But you better believe I'm not leavin' until I hoard boxes of Milo powder, some tablecloths from Arab street, a few pieces of Blue and White pottery, and various other things I may never find again.


In conclusion, I want to note that
Trivonovitch says, "these four stages are cyclic in nature, not linear, and a person will encounter periods of adjustment continuously as he or she moves from one situation to another." I completely agree. There were many times when I felt like I was fully in the Integration/Acceptance Stage and I would completely lapse back into the Hostility Stage after a lousy day.

As an expat, you may experience your stages in a completely different order or in a completely different way. Your expectations are the most dynamic tool that shapes your experience in this new culture.

Expect to be happy. Honestly believe that you will be. And most likely, it'll happen.

In the meantime, feel free to comment or email me any questions, concerns, or frustrations you may have in your experience.

I've been there too. And if I haven't, I'll listen. (or read.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Numbers Game, take 2

I did a post like this about a year and a half ago. For fun and because I pay attention to totally different things now, I did another one.

656 : number of days that I've seen rice on the menu for every meal (also the number of days I've been in Singapore)

7 : the number of new Asian fruits that I have voluntarily eaten

19 : the approximate amount of hawker/food stalls that we've visited since moving here

989 : the time in hours I have spent traveling to work on public transportation in one and a half years

31 : the number of books I've read while taking public transportation to work in one and a half years

365 : the number of days it will probably take me before I will be able to eat rice again when I move back

2 : the known number of gray hairs I've accumulated as a Navy spouse

315 : the number of blog posts I've written as An American girl in Singapore


Whew. I'm exhausted just calculating those numbers. I think it's safe to say that I've been here a while.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter Singapore

Today is Easter Sunday. It marks the last holiday that I will spend away from my people back home.

There's little else I dislike more in the world than being away from family on an important holiday. It just doesn't feel the same when those people aren't around.

So, I'm pretty excited that this is the last time I have to do it.

To celebrate, I made Easter cupcakes.

Unfortunately, they look less like Easter cupcakes and more like something rejected from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

They don't really do a whole lot of pastel colors over on this side of the pond.

Oh well. It's sugar all the same.

We also hard boiled some eggs, but Aaron wouldn't let me dye them.

"I don't want to take a pink egg down to work with me for lunch, Megan."

Party pooper.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful and colored egg filled Easter anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The "Happy Ending" Massage

It's pretty common knowledge in Asia (and among Asian masseuse parlors in the States) that the ladies sometimes do "extra" services.

From stories I've heard, these services are never expressly discussed in the open, but during the massage they will ask if the client would like a "happy ending".

Gross. Illegal. And wrong.

But it happens.

It's something that I always kid my husband about because he loves getting regular massages and is always worried that they're going to ask him for that in the process. It did happen to him once and he awkwardly and politely declined. He's now scarred for life.

So it was really funny when we were in Thailand having a delicious lunch of Phad Thai, and look up to see this place across the street.

Apparently, they don't beat around the bush.

Sorry. That was a bad pun, wasn't it?

I'm not sure if that's exactly what they were going for in the name of their parlor, but I'm gonna guess that sometimes things are obvious for a reason.

Needless to say, Aaron did not get a massage in Thailand.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cleanest city my foot

One of the first things I learned when I got to Singapore was about how the country prides itself on being the cleanest city in the world.

After living here for two years, I must set the record straight.

No, it's not.

It may not have trash littering its sidewalks (at least where the tourists can see), but it'd be a big stretch to call it the cleanest ever.

I've lived in an area of this country that's not frequented by tourists and spent the last two years working elbow to elbow with its local citizens. And you know what? I actually feel less clean when I'm here as opposed to being in the States.

Now I'm not saying that there's a huge pile of garbage hiding behind the jungles or that there's a secret trash stash under Orchard Road.

My issue with the place is the germs.

Growing up in America, I was never the germophobic type, but I had a respect for keeping things clean and sanitary. Our parents and teachers instill it in us from an early age. Wash your hands! Use a Kleenex! Cover your mouth! Don't drink after other people! Clean that with Clorox! We've heard every piece of advice on keeping germs at bay. We've even read countless articles about just how many germs there are in EVERYTHING. There's a fun one here, in case you're curious.

At times I'll admit, we go overboard. For the most part though, we're just trying to stay healthy.

So it was beyond shocking to me that some of the local customs in Singapore are downright germy to the nth degree.

To give examples and illustrations, I've made a list of four specific instances.

1) Public hand towels


This picture was taken in my office building's bathroom. The towel on top of the broken hand dryer is the community hand towel. It rests less than four feet from the nearest toilet. (Which if you've ever read the research, a toilet sprays a teeny, tiny blast of water droplets up to eight feet all around it when flushed.) Despite that, how about the fact that 10 to 20 people are washing their hands and using the same towels for sometimes two weeks at a time? I've even seen some of these people not even bother to use soap.

That's just gross.

Oh and on a side note, the rag on top of the broken soap container is the one our cleaning lady uses to clean the whole bathroom. I'll talk more about that whole issue in a minute.

2) Everybody puttin' their mitts on the raw chicken


This is how a lot of people get their chicken at my local Cold Storage. They take the tongs (hopefully) and select the pieces they want and place them in a plastic bag.

There are two things that I see wrong with this and I'm sure my sister, who's an RN, could name about 50 more. For one, do they sanitize the tongs after each use? I'm going to guess no. Each person that picks those tongs up is also picking up all kinds of harmful germs, like salmonella, and then transferring it to the grocery cart and then to their children in the cart and then to everyone else in the store. What if you forget to wash your hands when you stop by the food court on the way out? You'll be sick as a dog, my friend, and so will everyone else that touches everything else you touched with your salmonella flavored fingers.

And two, speaking of children, what if your toddler wanders over there? They could play in a sea of raw bacteria for quite some time before you finish picking out your ribeye at the butcher station. All it takes is ten seconds of distraction and your kid is covered in chicken carcass juice.

This is just an all around a bad idea.

3) Open utensil grabbing at hawkers


When you visit a hawker stall, these are the trays where you grab your eating utensils. Notice that the Asian utensils are facing all different ways and directions. This requires someone to fondle several pieces in order to get their own set free from the pile. The result is that the person who got their stuff before you has just transferred whatever goobers that were on their hands onto the chopsticks that you're gonna put in your mouth.

And that person may or may not have just picked their nose on the bus.

Sound yummy? Didn't think so.

On that same topic, I also get grossed out when dining as a group at these kind of establishments. It seems that when we order large dishes to share, they almost never come with a serving spoon.

Then people have to do this:


They have to take the chopsticks that they've already put their saliva all over into the community trough. (For the record, the woman in the picture hadn't used her chopsticks yet and they are still clean. She's considerate like that.) I have been in several other situations where people I don't know have plowed their used utensils into shared items.

Nothing makes me lose my appetite faster. I don't know you and I don't know where you've been. Please keep your spit to yourself.

Thank you.

Ok. I've saved the final bombshell until the very end. I did so because it may cause you to dry heave or never visit a public bathroom in Singapore ever again. I apologize ahead of time for feeding you an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Here it goes...

4) Abysmal, horrific cleaning practices of public bathrooms

My dear, sweet friend Sheryl shared this gem of a story with me a couple of days ago and it has haunted my dreams ever since.

She was at Paragon Shopping Centre a couple days ago, which just so happens to be where many of our expat doctors have offices, and she stopped into the bathroom.

While she was in there, she observed one of the cleaning staff cleaning the bathroom. (Not that she was monitoring them, she just happened to see this while waiting.)

First, the staff member used the toilet brush to clean inside of the toilet bowl and without hesitation, moved the brush up and around the seat. Yep. She used the brush, the one full of dirty toilet water, to scrub the part that people sit on.

But here's the kicker! Then, she took a rag, dipped it into the toilet water, wiped down the seat again, rang out the rag and moved on to the sinks.

SHE CLEANED THE FRIGGIN' SINKS WITH THE TOILET WATER RAG.

It's bad enough that she cleaned the seat with toilet water, but then she cleaned the sinks?! I just can't even wrap my head around it.

My stomach can't even get past it.

Thank the Lord above that my rear hasn't touched a toilet other than my own since I got here. I also thank the Big Guy for strong thighs. And hand sanitizer. Lots and lots of hand sanitizer.


Really though, this post isn't to bash Singapore. There are many many people here that are clean and sanitary in their daily practices. What I'm merely trying to find out is why we clash so much on the germ issue as a whole.

Like my husband also pointed out: In Singapore, restaurants are given a cleanliness rating of A, B, or C: A being the best and C being the worst. So basically, it allows them to have a certain level of filth.

C = a lot of filth.
B = just a little filth.
A = clean.

Back home, we have a system too. It's called sanitary or closed.

Granted, I know that the US has its problems in the food industry (and I am getting ready to read Sinclair's The Jungle), but these shops are what the general public can actually see for themselves. Wouldn't you want to keep your shop sparkling clean so people can at least think they're having a safe meal? Why doesn't everyone strive for an A?

(I'm getting off my soap box now. I tend to get a lil' wound up when I'm grossed out.)

Again, I'm really not trying to bash anyone. I'm merely trying to figure out why the vast difference in culture.

Is it that we Americans are just that germophobic?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fray comes to Singapore

I finally got to see my favorite band, The Fray, in person, this weekend. They were here in Singapore as the headlining group for Timbre's Rock & Roots music festival.

I'm positively sure it was their first trip to Singapore. And kind of sure it was their first show in Asia.

But that may be a lie. I'm not positive.

The whole shibang was a two-day festival, but since we only really wanted to see The Fray, we only bought tickets for Saturday.

The shows were held at Marina Promenade, which if you have a chance to check out a show there, go. Actually, run. It is such a cool venue to see a live band.

The stage was set up right up against the Singapore Flyer and off to the left, we had an amazing view of the Singapore skyline. Under us, was the track of the annual Singapore F1 Night Race.

So yeah. It was pretty spiffy.

We had a blast. It was such a great night. Timbre really put on a great line up of artists and that's coming from an attendee who only saw one night.

While waiting for The Fray to come on (and when I finished my massive burrito), we listened to a fantastic band, Opshop, from New Zealand. After that, we watched Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. They weren't my fave, but judging from all the Brits, Aussies and Kiwis going nuts, I'm guessing they're a pretty big deal.

The Fray came out for a 17 song set and concluded a perfect evening. We were only three standing rows back.

Happiness.

...is just outside my window.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Phuket Full of Fun

This past weekend, Aaron and I visited the gorgeous island of Phuket, Thailand. (For the Americans out there, it's pronounced Poo-ket — and not the way you'd think.)

Hands down, it's probably the most beautiful place I've ever seen in my life. I was a very giddy tourist the whole time I was there...

...as you can see.

We started our adventure by venturing down to Karon Beach.

It was extremely pretty, clean and surprisingly calm. We spent the first half of our first day just walking along the beach.

To our surprise, the beaches in Phuket have an optional swimsuit top policy. That was a bit of a shock.

It was also shocking that the participants of this option seemed to be in either the "fairly older" or "somewhat larger" category.

For your sake, I did not take pictures.

You're welcome.

Instead, I took pictures of the locals doing local things.

After the walk, we headed up to Patong to check out the shops and book our excursions.

It was there that we discovered the wonderful world of Baht (Thailand's currency). Baht is the magical money that goes so much further than our Sing dollar and even the US dollar. Approximately 30 Baht is equivalent to our one US dollar.

Suhhhhweet!

In one day, we ate the best meal of Phad Thai we'd ever had for 50 Baht, got a facial massage for 299 Baht, and we went to a fish spa for 99 Baht a person.

(For those of you who don't feel like doing the math, that's US$1.50 for Phad Thai, a facial for US$10, and a fish pedicure for US$3. This can be translated into English as AWESOME.)

This is around the time that I fell in love with Thailand.

Also, just to note, Phuket is considered expensive compared to the rest of the country. So it just keeps getting better from there.

To finish off that first day, we took the touristy tuk tuk ride.

Day two of our trip was by far my favorite day. It was one of those experiences that will forever be burned into my memory. All day long, I kept thinking how incredibly lucky I was to be able to visit and see such an amazing place in person.

We took a day tour of the Phi Phi Islands.

To spare you the same embarrassment that I experienced, Phi Phi is pronounced like "pee pee". Not "fee fee", as I originally thought. Even so, I continually find myself refering to them as "fee fee". I just can't call the prettiest islands in the world "Pee Pee". To me, pee pee is something that a four-year-old does in a toilet. I just don't think "Pee Pee Islands" paints an accurate picture of just what these islands embody.

But I'm a silly American. What do I know?

As part of our tour, we visited seven different parts of the two islands: Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley.

This was Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley.

This is where The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio was shot. It's astonishingly beautiful. The sand is so fine that it feels like walking on softened butter. The water is the clearest I've ever seen. You can stand in it up to your shoulders and look down and still see your toes. You can even see fish swimming all the way up to the sand.

I was awe struck. I am forever ruined for every other beach I visit in my lifetime. I don't see how anything else will ever compare.

After that, we snorkeled at Loh Samah Bay, ate lunch at Phi Phi Don, visited Monkey Beach (you know how much I love the monkeys), saw Viking Cave, gawked at the cliffs in Pi Leh Bay, and relaxed on Khai Island.

It was just a beautiful day. I couldn't stop looking at everything all around me. It was like being in a movie. It doesn't seem like a place that pretty can exist in real life.

The tour lasted until late in the day. So, by the time we got back, we were pretty tired. We had dinner at the hotel and crashed at 10 pm.

I don't think I've gone to bed that early while on vacation in seven years. Yikes. That's a sad realization.

Speaking of our hotel though, here it is.

This is the Pacific Club Resort in Karon Beach. We loved our time there. They had three different restaurants to choose from (one in the hotel and two accessible by hotel shuttle), a roof top infinity pool, and gorgeous views. The even better part: it costs less than US$70 a night.

The great thing about a trip to Phuket is that you can make your trip as cheap or as expensive as you want. There are hotels and hostels that rent rooms for as low as US$10 a night. There are also the hotels that rent rooms for several hundred. The same goes for food. There's cheap places and street food carts and there's also five-star dining establishments too. We pretty much stayed "middle of the road" for most things on our trip. I'm a pretty frugal person, but I also appreciate nice things while on vacation.

I am definitely glad that we stayed in the Karon Beach area though.

It had enough things to do to keep us busy, but was a lot less crowded than the Patong Beach area to the north.

The view was also much more exciting.

This was our last big trip in Asia. I'd definitely say that we ended it on an all-time high note.

I was so sad to leave our newly-found paradise, but also kind of glad that we hadn't discovered this place until we're about to leave.

If we had gone sooner, we would have spent all of our money trying to get back there every other month.

That's what you call a blessing in disguise.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Can I use my EZ Link card, like you said, please?

In the past year, SMRT introduced these handy little boxes in the white SMRT taxis of Singapore.

The purpose of these things is to allow passengers to pay for their taxi fare by tapping their EZ Link card (the card we use in Singapore to pay for buses and trains) on top and having the total subtracted from the balance currently on the card.

In theory, these things are awesome. They further aid to streamline the public transportation system into one system in which you use one card for payment, no matter the mode.

However, these machines are falling flat, in my opinion. In the last ten SMRT cabs I've been in, only one had the machine turned on. (The one in the picture is also not powered on. Big shocker there.) The problem with this is when it's not turned on, it takes nearly ten minutes for it to boot up, if it does at all. I've had two fail to boot up for me which caused me to have to run up to my flat while the cabbie waited outside to grab cash.

It's not a big deal, but it turns something that supposed to make life more convenient into something that's a huge pain in the tuckus. I'm guessing that that wasn't their intention here.

No one likes a pain in the tuckus.

So basically, I'm hoping that we might actually get to use and enjoy these things sometime soon.

Hello? Anyone listening at SMRT?

Bueller?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Little Hot Water Heaters

This is one of the three hot water heaters we have in our home.

Obviously, it's installed at the top of a wall in our storage closet. This one supplies the hot water for both of the bathrooms in our flat. The other two are installed in a similar spot near the ceiling in the kitchen and laundry room.

This is quite different for me. In the States, it's most common for a home to have one big water heater that supplies the whole house with hot water, rather than several small ones scattered about. Also, these types of things are put in our basements or laundry rooms and are tucked out of the way where you don't see them as easily. I'm sure the layout and older construction of our current residence made a large water heater difficult to install in a semi-secret place, so they gave us three, all out in the open.

It's fine with me, most of the time.

However, the water heater for our bathrooms is located in a storage room right above where we store our luggage. We found out very quickly that it leaks.

It didn't ruin any of our rolling bags before we broke them first, thank goodness, but we do have to constantly check back there to make sure there's no standing water. (You can get fined in Singapore for having stagnant water in or around your home as it aids in breeding problematic mosquitoes.)

Then, on top of that, we realized that when both of us want to take a shower in our own bathrooms at the same time, hot water lasts for about two minutes. The small heater is just not made to handle two pokey shower takers at once. It's a no bueno type of situation. Nothing puts me in a crabby mood quicker than a cold shower...no matter how hot it is outside.

I'm not complaining though. From what I've discovered, a lot of people in Singapore don't even have what we do.

They have something like this:

It's a hot water heater that is installed inside your shower. That square-shaped thing is the tank. Can we say TINY? Imagine how quick those hot showers must be. I'd be an angry elf everyday.

How do you take a hot bubble bath with that thing? Do you fill it a little at a time? Wouldn't it get cold before you even get it full? Do they just not take hot bubble baths? How could you live in a world without hot bubble baths?

I just can't accept that as an answer. They must have another way.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Men with Purses

Ok, so I'm just going to put this out there.

What the heck is up with Singaporean guys carrying their girlfriend's purse around town?


There's a word for guys like that where I'm from.

And it rhymes with "zissy".

Just sayin'.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Gecko Chronicles Continue

As you can imagine, I'm still a lil' shaken up since the poop in the cereal incident. Before that, the gecko drama had been slowly building for a while, but that day sort of sealed the deal. I no longer think that these creatures are cute or endearing of any sort.

I'm over them.

What I didn't tell you last week was that something tragic happened at our home a few days after the "incident". I've been holding it back out of fear of judgment and PETA coming to bust down our door. But I think it's time I opened up about it.

I killed one.

On purpose.

And it was ugly. I didn't take pictures because it was a grizzly scene. And ya know what?

It felt awesome. (Not in a pre-serial killer kind of way, but more of a "Hey, your friend took a huge dump in my breakfast and I'm not cool with it" kind of way.)

The story goes as such: Remember the guy that lived in Aaron's bathroom?

Well, I can't be positively sure if it was him, but it looked a lot like him.

I went into Aaron's bathroom while he was still gone to do some tidying up so that I could improve my running in the Wife of the Year category (not really, but it sounds nice). As I entered the bathroom, that creature jumped out of his hiding spot under the window trim and scared the frickin' crap out of me. Because this happened like two days after the Poop Loop incident (thank you Gordon for coining that phrase for us), I was a little high on rage. Basically, I'd just had enough. I'd had enough fear, poop, reptiles, and crawly things that whole week. I was done.

So I started throwing Aaron's size US 14 shoes at him.

I managed to knock him off the wall and do little else but scare him really well.

But that just wasn't enough for me. I retrieved more shoes and kept chucking them at the little Geico mascot.

Finally, five shoes later, I grazed his side and immobilized him.

That is when the rage came to a head.

I took Aaron's big military, steel-toed work boot and slammed it down on him.

It wasn't pretty.

But revenge is a dish best served cold.

It's all fun and games until someone eats a bowl of poop. Am I right?

So anyways, after that day I thought that I'd feel better and things would calm down around here.

The geckos had other plans. Apparently their threshold for revenge is much larger than my own.

I don't know what happened when I crushed that reptile two weeks ago, but I can only guess that his whole family heard his little gecko screams that night.

Since that day, I've found three new geckos inside our house. A record, even for us.

It's made my gecko disdain into what is now becoming an obsession. I can't let it go either.

Whenever I find one now, I stalk it, photograph it and dispose of it. Like I said, I'm done with them.

Here are the current, documented perpetrators:

Gecko A:
Location found: On our kitchen floor (The mess around him are the things I unsuccessfully threw at him to scare him off. Obviously, it didn't work.)

Did you notice the Satanic glowing eyes? I did too.

Current residence: In the jungle behind our flat (Aaron flung him back there with a broom after I refused to leave the kitchen until he was gone.)


Gecko B:

Location found: The backsplash in the kitchen.

Current residence: Heaven. (An unfortunate misunderstanding of where the tea kettle was being placed is to blame. Mwah ha ha ha ha.)


Gecko C:

Location found: Scaling the living room wall.

Current residence: He is injured and hiding under my couch as I type. I knocked him off the ceiling with a broom and magically, the fall somehow did not kill him. The bugger scurried under the furniture before my broom could squash him.

It's a very frustrating battle I'm faced with.

I just told Aaron the whole sordid tale of my latest conquest and he was not at all willing to help.

He just shook his head and said, "You are a forest fire."

You know what? I like that. I'm going to adopt that mantra for my life in general.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hot and Spicy Shaker Fries

Tonight was a lazy dinner night. Neither of us really felt like cooking or leaving the house to scrounge up food either. So we did what any other lazy American would do if they had the choice...

We got McDonald's delivery.

It's the ultimate fat kid's dream. You get to have McDonald's french fries and you never even have to leave your couch (except to get the door). You don't even have to find your cell phone that's wedged between the couch cushions somewhere. They have a website to order from too.

It's scary easy how fat you could get if things got out of control.

Anyways...To make up for our lack of ambition for a dinner adventure, we decided to try McDonald's special of the moment: Hot and Spicy Shaker fries. McDonald's in Singapore pushes out a promotion every month or so that usually caters to the Asian palate. Shocking! I know.

I think the last one was the Prosperity Burger (which I did not try because it looked like a McRib with nasty black pepper sauce on it) and not too long ago, I saw a Wasabi Fish Sandwich with Seaweed Shaker fries (I also did not try this, but Aaron says the fries are really good).

This month it's a Double Spicy Chicken sandwich of some sort and these Hot and Spicy fries. We just got the fries because we cannot handle spicy McDonald's sandwiches. I learned this one the hard way when I got a McSpicy Chicken Sandwich last year. I couldn't taste food right for two days. I no longer challenge spicy Asian food. They win. That Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich that made me feel "oh so cool" for eating without a Diet Coke back in Kansas is nothing but kiddie food over here.

Ok. Back to the fries.

It's somewhat of a process. They bring you a little shaker kit to make the fries into Hot and Spicy fries. I love projects so I was pretty excited. And because I'm a mean wife, I made Aaron wait to eat for ten minutes while he took pictures to document the process.

First, they give you a small, folded bag to put your regular fries into.


Then you take your Hot and Spicy (and slightly blurry, sorry) Shaker packet

and shake it or tap it over the fries.

Then you fold up the bag to ensure that it is sealed and no fries will escape the Hot and Spiciness.

And then, you shake it like a salt shaker.

I really like that part....if you can't tell.

The fries end up with a good coating that's just right.

The flavoring tasted a lot like the stuff on Barbeque chips in the States, only spicier. It was really yummy.

It was so yummy that I forgot to use ketchup.

That never happens. I think a miracle has just occurred, people.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An herb naming issue and I feel dumb

Photo from: Viable Herbal Solutions

As a resident of Singapore for the last two years, there have been many North American cooking ingredients that I've been unable to find. As a result, I've had to tweak many recipes or avoid them all together.

One thing I've never found: cilantro.

It was a difficult thing to go without since I cook Mexican food about every other day to make up for the lack in the entire country. (I consume enough to even us all out. Don't you worry.) Cilantro is a very important ingredient in a lot of Mexican dishes, including PW's Homemade Pico de Gallo that I wanted to try back in January.

So I sucked it up and tried my best to get by without it at all. Then, I even had Aaron's sweet Aunt Debbie mail us some dried cilantro to get by.

It seemed Singapore had a cilantro famine and I had given up all hope of finding it.

You know what herb they did have everywhere though? Chinese parsley.

Do you know what Chinese parsley is?

It's cilantro.

Someone just told me about it. After two years of living in the Cilantro Desert.

It is the same frickin' thing, just with a different name.

I've gone two years without this tasty herb in my Mexican cooking because of a simple naming discrepancy.

Is this common knowledge to everyone but me? Does everyone talk about this at all the dinner parties I don't go to?

What else do people in Singapore talk about that I don't know? Where to find Sonic cheeseburgers? Where the real sour cream is?

What else do you people know?