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.