Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Marketing Singapore-style

Normal media advertising is all fine and well, but there's something to be said about getting live actors and models to work the promotions. I like the buzz it creates and personally, I think it's a whole lot more memorable. For example, when the movie "The Ring 2" came out, or "Samara" as it was called over here, an actress walked around Orchard Blvd (Singapore's answer to Michingan Avenue) dressed as that creepy Samara, freaking people out and getting folks talking about Samara sightings.

In a more tranquil approach, Jeff and I passed this sleeping beauty last weekend promoting the beds and frequent customer program for a local hotel. Yes, she's sleeping standing up on a sidewalk, a feat I've rarely seen accomplished before.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Valley of Eternal Spring: Part 2

On Tuesday we managed to squeeze in a visit to the BOH tea plantation before our 10:30am bus back to KL. As luck would have it, our taxi driver actually grew up on the plantation with his mother working as picker and father in the factory. He pointed out where his old school used to be, the spot where the kids played football, and even his old house (see below). According to him, life as a tea plantation worker is quite good, as the company provides free housing and garden plots, free healthcare and schooling for children. On the flip side, pickers work six days a week and earn about US$1.20 per day.

At the factory, we got the first tour of the day and were taken through the different stages of production: withering, rolling, drying and sorting. Then, as all good tours end, we were led right into the gift shop. Being discrimating tea drinkers, Karen and I decided to sample our tea before choosing what to take home. In case you were interested, we decided on the Palas Supreme, a Flowery Pekoe.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Valley of Eternal Spring: Part 1

On Sunday from KL, the group split up with the men and Cindy going back to Singapore, while Karen and I went on to the Cameron Highlands. Since arriving in Asia, I've gone crazy about tea, and the Cameron Highlands is known for its spectacular scenes of tea plantations, English cottages and rolling green fields.

After a dirty, but bearable four-hour bus ride, we arrived at the most charming hotel called The Lakehouse, where they greeted us with spicy ginger welcome drinks. This hotel was to be our base for the next two days.

On Monday after sleeping in, Karen and I decided to walk and find breakfast along the main road. After walking for about 30 minutes along a twisty road not made for pedestrians and finding nothing, we finally decided to cross the road and turn back. Apparently, all we needed to do was be on the proper side of the road because the local bus promptly pulled over and we caught a ride into town.

Once in town, we arranged to take a countryside tour to see all the major sites, which included a Buddhist temple, flower nursery, strawberry farm, butterfly and insect garden, tea plantation, and bee farm. As you might guess, the Cameron Highlands is mainly a farm community, growing vegetables, flowers and tea for local consumption. Just check out that corn!

At the Rose Centre, our guide showed us the hideous green rose, the most ugly rose in all the world, too awful to capture on film. Then he told us to run up the seven levels of flower gardens to make it to the hilltop and catch the view before the sky dumped rain on us, which it did anyway.

The rainstorm forced Karen and me to take shelter in a shoe until the worst passed. No, really, I'm serious. The old woman and her kids were out, so it was fine.

Once at the Strawberry Farm, I learned that the organic method of growing strawberries is to grow them in pillows of coconut husks placed on stands about waist-high. So no strawberries touch the ground and nobody has to bend over to pick them! Obviously we had to have a taste, so Karen and I shared strawberries & cream and got to know Susan, a Canadian woman on our tour who was on holiday from her teaching position in Korea.

Unfortunately, because it was Monday the tea plantation that I was looking forward to was closed and not covered during the tour. Instead Karen and I had to make do with tea and scones at our hotel, which we enjoyed during a knitting session.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Couples weekend in KL

Our second time out of Singapore came last weekend, with a group of us spending the weekend in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Francis and Andy work with Jeff, and I hang out with their wives Cindy and Karen quite a bit. We took a 4-hour bus ride up to KL on Friday night and spent Saturday and Sunday checking out the city.

Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, and we spent most of Saturday at the Museum of Islamic Art, which is probably the only way I'm going to get to see Islamic art in person for a while. The collection of calligraphy, textiles and illuminated Korans was seriously beautiful.

After the museum and lunch, we visited the National Mosque, which required us to put on proper attire. That meant robes for the men, and robes plus head scarves for the ladies. The mosque was very peaceful, even with the men joking around a bit.

From there, we attempted to find our way to the Chinatown Night Market to buy fake Louis Vutton and Gucci purses. Big mistake. Don't bother thinking you can walk anywhere in KL. You're better off just finding a taxi and saving yourself some trouble. I think this particular walking adventure involved a train station, a bridge and a construction site. But I did score some Gucci sunglasses for dirt cheap! They're real, I swear.

On Sunday, we managed to get free tickets to tour the Petronas Twin Towers and visit the 41st floor bridge, made famous by the movie "Entrapment." I had a hard time believing it, but the Petronas stand taller than my hometown Sears Tower.

R&R at Bintan Island

I'm not joking when I say Jeff works all the time. Most of you remember Jeff is not a morning person, but now he is out the door for work by 8am, which doesn't stop him from working until after midnight most nights. After a couple weeks of that routine, we really needed a change of pace and scenery, which we found at Bintan Island in Indonesia.

The great thing about Singapore is that it's a hub to all these amazing places. Bintan is only a 45 minute ferry ride away, and yet, it felt like a million miles. Anybody know Bintang beer? There you go. We stayed at a very chill place called Mana Mana, which was anything but fancy, but that suited us just fine. For two days, we played on the beach, kayaked, ate and slept. Frankly, there wasn't much else to do.

Oh wait, how could I forget beating Jeff, not once, but THREE TIMES at pool!

Lovable colloquial differences

Before Jeff got here, the Rimpakone sisters had described Singapore to us as "Asia on training wheels." That's a pretty apt description, because life here is very Westernized and modern, which is pretty remarkable for a country that's just 40 years old.

Because the Brits governed Singapore as a colony for so long, spoken English is influenced heavily by the Brits. For example, I take a "lift" up to my "flat,"and you "alight" from the train. When I first got here, I tried to order carry-out, and couldn't get my meaning across, because I should have asked for "take-away." By the way, I love how the take-away drinks either come with their own handles or in a plastic bag.

A Saturday out with the Razorfish crew

Jeff works with some pretty cool people, who we hang out with when we can. This particular Saturday, Marisa, Crystal, and Crystal's husband Jimmy came with Jeff and me to a hipster flea market I had read about. On the walk there, we stopped at the Tyler Print Institute which had an opening for this very cool Beijing-based printmaker, Zhu Wei, who was showing huge-scale woodblock prints.

Not having reached our fill of art for the day, after the flea market we sought out this tiny gallery in Little India that was having a show someone had recommended to Marisa and Crystal. Supposedly, the featured artist was trying to recall a particular phrase he had read in a book somewhere, and created a piece that represented his search. When we finally found the gallery, the exhibit turned out to be a hand-stitched book filled with mostly blank pages on a card table in a dim room. Yet another case of art imitating life.

Afternoon at the Japanese & Chinese Gardens

Our first weekend together in Singapore, Jeff and I decided to check out the local Japanese and Chinese Gardens. The Japanese gardens had tons of bonsai trees, Zen rock gardens, summer houses and koi ponds.

And all around the Chinese gardens were strange over-sized flowers that looked like they lit up at night, coupled with Chinese statutes of various characters that I'm not familiar with. It was kind of like being in a kiddie park, but there weren't very many kids.

By far the most interesting thing to see inside the garden was the world's largest turtle museum. Years ago, a man started rescuing turtles that had been abandoned by their owners; hence, the museum evolved from his collection. Inside, there's all different kinds of turtles — but only here can you see a two-headed, six-legged turtle! And no, that's not a picture of it below.

A little bit of context

I've got a little catch-up to do for everyone, so the next several posts are going to be of past events and trips Jeff and I have taken since arriving in Singapore after our wedding in March. Once we're caught up-to-date, I promise to try my best to keep this blog current.

First of all, I think most of you know Jeff's company gave us an apartment to live in for the duration of this project. Fraser Suites are serviced residences, meaning we have a housekeeper, shuttle service and other niceties like full breakfast during the week. Plus, there's a pretty nice pool where I swim lap workouts that my brother Matt makes up for me.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I may be crafty, but I'm not scrapbooking crafty

I'm not sure if it was looking at photos from last weekend's trip to Malaysia, or hearing Erika's voice for the first time in months, or possibly just being a little homesick, but whatever it was, Jeff and I are creating this blog to keep in touch with YOU, our friends and family. We miss you all like crazy and this seems like the best way to share this strange experience of being expat-newlyweds in Asia.