Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Off to Phuket

Jeff came home early yesterday with some good news and some bad news. The bad news being that his project isn't launching this weekend like we thought. The good news is that he's taking Friday off so we can go away this weekend.

These setbacks are pretty frustrating. At least at VSA, the busy season was confined to a finite period of time. But these things are out of our control and it doesn't help to be rigid. On the bright side, now Jeff can take this weekend to recharge with a little r&r — and plane tickets to Phuket are way cheap.

Although it won't be all rest and relaxation. Since Jeff and I still feel a little weird going to Phuket post-tsunami, we're planning on spending part of the weekend on Phi Phi Don volunteering with the kind folks of HiPhiPhi. I had to find workgloves and waterproof shoes today to bring with us. And if our hands aren't enough help, we're told our tourist dollar certainly will be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I've married a bowling god

Someone, possibly Mattie, once remarked that Jeff's good at everything. He's just a natural at sports, with an inherent ability to be really good with practice. Lord knows I don't have that. With his genes, there's hope for our future kids.

But even I wasn't prepared for the bowling strike streak that Jeff pulled out on Saturday night. We'd reserved a couple lanes to bowl with Jeff's crew, and I'm proud to say that I started the games off with the night's first strike. And Jeff picked up the momentum and just kept it going. I know he didn't break 200, but it was mighty close.

Strangely, Shawn and I both favored the pink ball that night. Unfortunately, I just didn't have a consistent game even with my strong start. I think maybe my approach might have something to do with it. In the end though, I would have to say the best part of bowling for me that night was that somehow my shoes matched my outfit.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Happy birthday Teagan

I honestly can't think of the last time I've been to a birthday party for someone under 10. So it was pretty cool of Francis and Cindy to invite us to their daughter Teagan's 2nd birthday bash. Lots of Jeff's crew turned out, plus a few of the kids and folks from our building.

The birthday girl, resplendent in denim.

The ladies of Fraser Suites.

"I'm still thinking up my wish."

Tian, Pradeep, Preethi and Karen smile and watch as Teagan grapples with the birthday candle concept. As luck would have it, Preethi & Pradeep are going to be in Chicago while I'm home. I'll be taking them out for a veggie dinner.

Jeff's coworkers are all so close. That's Shawn, recently named by CLEO magazine as one of Singapore's most eligible bachelors, cozying up to Francis.

Marisa, Jimmy and Crystal. Jimmy & Crystal are an awesome couple that have an amazing story of surviving the tsunami that hit Phuket.

Little Teagan got lots of very fun presents. I did notice that Barney is still pretty popular with the small fry. Happy birthday Teagan!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dance of the Grand Opening

As I was leaving the apartment today, I saw my first lion dance!

I really heard it first, as the sounds of brass and drums in Singapore usually mean that there's a Chinese ceremony/parade/celebration nearby. A new restaurant, Gourmet-Cellar, opened across the street from us and was celebrating their grand opening. For as modern as Singapore is, the Chinese can be very superstitious and the lion dance and musicians are thought to scare away the evil spirits and bring good luck.

The guys wearing the hazmat-like suits should all be martial artists, as the dance is supposed to be an extension of Chinese martial arts.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Travel for Chicago booked

I got my tickets this morning for my trip home. I'll be back in Chicago on August 2nd, leaving August 17. I ended up having to book with horrible United, but they really do seem to be the lowcost carrier lately. Plus I got rid of one plane change and layover, which cuts the trip down by several hours.

Now if only they can keep to the schedule and not lose my baggage.

Weekend with my honey

Jeff didn't have to work at all this weekend which meant I got to spend two full days with my husband! That may not sound like a big deal, but given all the hours he puts in, it is.

On Saturday, Jeff surprised us both by being up and showered by 9am. I had this idea that we should go to Ming Village, a kiln which supposedly makes antique reproductions of Chinese ceramics. After taking the MRT to the west side of the island and finding the correct bus to get us to Ming Village, we discovered the blasted place was gone! The building looked like it was going to be demolished with no signs posted saying they moved or were temporarily relocated. So we stayed on the bus and took in the west side, which was a mix of industrial shipyards and HDB estates.

We finally ended up in the Jurong East hawker center, where I read and ate fried oysters and Jeff drank some Tigers while he played with his new Canon camera.

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain's book A Cook's Tour and have been inspired to eat everything. Which led me to order a fried banana-shaped fish cake (pictured above). "You order this? You sure?" from the vendor lady should have tipped me off. Fishballs and fishcakes are made of minced fish paste, shaped into little balls and cakes, then deep fried or boiled. It's quite tasty when you order it as soup with noodles and vegetables, but never have I sat down to just a log of fish cake, cut-up with scissors and put into a bowl. Lordy, I don't know what I was thinking. Fortunately, Jeff is like Mikey — he liked it.

Later that night we went to a fancy farewell dinner for one of Jeff's colleagues. The first wave of people are finishing up their work on the project and leaving to take the long way home to the States. Rebecca was going back to SanFran by way of Thailand and China.

On Sunday, we pulled another early one and joined Bharat for breakfast at Nosh. Bharat is another of Jeff's coworkers returning to the States, but I think we'll be seeing him again soon. After breakfast, Jeff and I went to the Clarke Quay Flea Market, which is a lowkey and small collection of vendors selling secondhand collectibles like old coins, stamps, etc. After that we walked to Chinatown and wandered through some antique furniture stores, just happy to look at cool Chinese wedding cabinets and chests. We'd of course love to bring home some of this beautiful furniture, but by the time you ship it and pay taxes and duties, the final price is nearly twice what you originally paid! Although, I'm told that once you buy a container, you pay buy volume not weight, which means you can stuff and nest items inside each other. That might be something....

We finished up our afternoon with tea and char siew pau at Tea Chapter, which is my favorite way to take afternoon tea.

Afterwards I attempted to pick out a little Yixing clay teapot for myself but the variety of choices bewildered me. Aside from the traditional little teapot shape, these pots can be small works of art, with shapes ranging from fanciful animals to strikingly modern pieces. And then I'm told you need to decide on your tea cup size BEFORE you pick out the pot. I need more time to think about this.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Furry mutants roaming free

Back home at Fort Albany, Jeff and I have seen our fair share of alley cats. Most of them are battle-scarred bruisers that look ready to beat me up when we cross paths in the garden. A little rough around the edges, but still pretty much whole.

And here in Singapore there is a fair number of strays haunting the coffeeshops and restaurants, hanging around for some spare morsels to come their way. These aren't bold animals, just cats pussyfooting around, under tables and bushes. From what Jeff and I've seen, stray cats are a pretty common sight on the streets throughout Southeast Asia.

But something's different about these Singaporean cats. Their tails are gone. Clean off. And those cats that do have tails left have little stumps or something weirdly kinked. It's the rare cat that has a full, long tail. And that's been troubling me — what's happening to all the tails? Is something sinister afoot?

My friend Reagan, who's a local, thought it might be part of some neutering campaign to control the stray cat population. That explanation didn't quite add up for me, so I searched (ok, googled) around for another reason.

As luck would have it, this is just another case of good old-fashioned genetic mutation. Turns out that native Singapore cats are of the tailless or bobtailed variety. Their tails come that way!

Whew! That's a relief. I was worried how I was going to explain this one to Kismet and Sabrina.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Can I get a whooHOOO?!

I'M COMING HOME!!! Jeff just told me that I've been granted a few weeks leave to come home and take care of some of our personal affairs. Unfortunately, he has to stay in Singapore and work, so this is going to be a solo mission. I still need to figure out travel dates, but it's likely I'll be in Chicago for a couple weeks in early August.

The plan is that when I get back to Singapore, Jeff will be wrapping his project and we'll finally get to take our long-awaited honeymoon. So the answer to the million-dollar question is....Jeff and I are coming home for good in mid-September!

Did I mention that I'm SUPER excited about that?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Chicago Folk & Roots Fest 2005

Hmm, what would Jeff and I be doing this weekend if we were back in Chicago? Why, that's easy! We'd be at the annual Folk & Roots Fest, organized by my sis-in-law Colleen for the Old Town School of Folk Music.

I understand Chicago weather is still ungodly hot, so bring some sunscreen and a cooler to Welles Park and check out the music scene. And since you're likely to run into my in-laws, Jenn, Colleen & Mike, please give them a hug from me!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Overwhelming and exotic Bangkok: Day 3

For our final day in Bangkok we really only had time to take in Wat Po and the Reclining Buddha before leaving for the airport. My dad and I had planned to get thai massages, while my mom (perhaps still smarting from her reflexology experience) decided to sit this one out.

For being such a basic operation, the people at the Wat Po Thai Massage School are really world-class. As I described during my birthday post, everything takes place in a large, very simple, non-airconditioned room with rows upon rows of plaform beds. The masseuses chat softly with one another as they stretch and knead their clients. Since I returned to S'pore, I've been trying to get Jeff to stretch and pop my back the way I remember my masseuse did it. Unfortunately, it seems this is one of those things that can't be recreated and faking it just doesn't work.

After Wat Po, we took the water taxi back up the river to our hotel and dashed off for the airport, where I bought a few duty-free bottles of wine to bring back. Wine is outrageously expensive in Singapore, so you take advantage of it while you can. We were back in Singapore by 6:30 and drinking Guiness with Jeff by 8. Oh yes, we have Guiness here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Overwhelming and exotic Bangkok: Day 2

My friend Preethi and her in-laws raved about the Damnoenssaduak floating markets, saying this was not-to-be-missed. So for our second day in Bangkok I booked us all on a full-day tour, complete with aircon bus and guide.

And a full day it was. We left the hotel at 6:30am and got to experience a weekday morning in Bangkok. As ordinary as that sounds, I found it fascinating because the streets were a picture in controlled chaos. Wok slingers cooking for their first customers, parents taking kids to school, saffron-robed monks collecting alms and offering benedictions. And the truly insane, orange-vested motorcycle taxis zipping passengers to work, some even with ladies riding side-saddle!

Damnoenssaduak was about a two-hour drive from Bangkok, so it was late morning when my mom and I found ourselves sitting next to each other in a longtail boat careening down a canal to reach the floating market.

Just as we take a cart through the aisles of Dominick's, the floating markets used to be how local Thai shopped for groceries in the morning. Only they paddle a boat through a canal.

Now the floating market is mainly for tourists, with the same old souvenir scene that seems inescapable no matter where you go. No matter, it was still a site to see.

After the floating market, we piled back onto the bus and went to a teak woodcarving village and then the first Buddhist temple built in Thailand. Along the way, the tour guide explained to us some of the grammatics/phonetics of Thai language (very similar to Mandarin), as well as some detail about Buddhism in Thailand. For example, he and our bus driver used to be monks! As he explained it, most Thai men at some point in their lives become monks to honor their parents. And after a few years, they can rejoin their family, get married, have kids, and start a totally different life.

Our final stop was at the Rose Garden, a beautiful estate that has the distinction of being where Jean-Claude Van Damme got married! You might remember him as the legendary Frank Dux in the hit movie "Blood Sport". When Jeff and I were in Bangkok for my birthday, I was desperate to see a muay thai boxing match, but never did (Jeff was scared). I really miss my boxing class in Chicago. I hate that I can only find sissy cardio "kickboxing" in Singapore.

OK, enough of my aggressive rant. While at the Rose Garden, I got to ride an Asian elephant! Yes, it was a little like riding the ponies at the zoo, but I thought it was the coolest thing ever!

After that, we saw a Thai village culture show with folk dances like the fingernail dance. Plus, there was a mock thai boxing match and hand-to-hand combat with swords and stuff. I think my brother Matt would have liked that.

And finally, our aircon bus took us back to Bangkok where we got to experience city traffic jams. Oh my, I thought rush hour on the Ike was bad! Bangkok has very poor mass transportation for a city of 10 million and being caught in it requires a lot of patience. I don't think my parents or I will soon forget Bangkok traffic.

Overwhelming and exotic Bangkok: Day 1

It was my privilege to show my parents Bangkok last week. After placidly sterile Singapore, the contrast with Bangkok was pretty stark. When we saw Jeff after we got back, he asked Mom and Dad to describe Bangkok in one word. "Overwhelming" was Mom's choice, "exotic" was Dad's.

Bangkok literally has hundreds of temples (wats), so for our morning outing on the first day we took a river taxi up to Wat Arun, or the Temple of the Dawn. I'd say the river taxi (or bus maybe a more apt description) gave us as much to see as the temple, because so much city life is bustling on the water and shores. That's not to say Wat Arun wasn't magnificent — it was.

Wat Arun is covered in ceramic mosaics, which is most impressive from afar. Viewed up close, the mosaics reveal themselves to be ordinary plates and dishes which I believe are donated by citizens for the temple's upkeep.

To view a Buddhist temple, people are asked to dress respectfully, meaning long sleeves and pants. But the heat and humidity in Bangkok was so intense, that after viewing Wat Arun, we had to shower again and change clothes before our next outing.

Our afternoon outing was to Jim Thompson's House. Jim Thompson was ex-CIA who settled in Bangkok after WWII. He's credited with reviving the Thai silk industry and for being host to the world's glitterati during the 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, in 1967 he disappeared during a holiday to the Cameron Highlands and was never seen again. I'm glad my holiday to CH wasn't that exciting.

His house, though, lives on as a quiet oasis in the middle of Bangkok. Mr. Thompson managed to acquire and reassemble six traditional Thai houses into a compound. See, Thai houses are all rectangular with a framework and walls specifically designed to be disassembled and moved to new configurations. By American standards, the houses are quite small, which is probably why he found six houses necessary for his household. And his collection of antique Thai and Chinese paintings, statue, ceramics and furniture. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the house, only outside in the garden.

Jim Thompson kept to all the Thai customs, even down to performing a ceremony to locate the spirit house for the guardian spirit that watches over and blesses the home. As you can see, the daily offerings are still kept up, even though no one lives at the house anymore.

I'm practicing my Thai cooking now with the new Jim Thompson cookbook I bought. When Jeff and I get home, my next party will serve Thai food!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

God Bless America

No 4th of July celebrations in Singapore, which may be the first time in my life that this holiday's gone unnoticed. I don't think any of us even remembered this was a holiday weekend until it was time for me to fix dinner on Sunday after a day of packing. I ran across the street to the grocery store and realized that usually I'm eating hotdogs and hamburgers at a backyard cookout right about now. So I grabbed some brats and potato chips and improvised a 4th of July dinner, albeit without a grill. Sure did miss the Langenbergs' volcanic dip, though.

Mom and Dad left early on the morning of the 4th to return to the States and Jeff & I had to move our stuff back into a 1-bedroom apartment at Suites (we'd leased a 2bdrm at Place for their stay). I never mind moving, it's the packing and unpacking I hate. But Jeff took his first day off in weeks to help move and we got to hang out together all day, which was wonderful. It's been three years exactly since I first met Jeff at a 4th of July bbq at Mattie & Laura's house!

I've still got to post pics and details about the trip to Bangkok last week with my folks! I feel like I'm still recovering from that and the move, but it'll be up shortly.