Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Save the Date: Saturday, October 15

Boys and girls, you're all invited to Amanda and Jeff's next party. Details will follow, but for sure we're doing it up at Fort Albany. And 20 bonus points go to those who knew Oct. 15th is also Jeff's birthday.

By the way, we fly into Chicago on Friday, September 23rd.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Almost ready, not quite

The past few days have been a rash of bureacratic nonsense in preparation for our departure. Turns out American Airlines won't issue tickets to people outside America, requiring three overseas phone calls to reserve our booking and then a trip to a local travel agent to actually purchase the tickets. I really thought AA was a much more global company than that, but I guess not.

Then the boxes that I thought would be no big deal were held up at customs because I didn't itemize, weigh and provide the value of every single issue of Wired magazine that we sent back. I don't even want to say what my valuation of said dust-collecting items would be compared to Jeff, faithful subscriber and collector since God knows when.

For a while we've been concerned that Jeff would have trouble leaving the country as his work visa expired earlier this month, even though we submitted the renewal paperwork months ago. Come to find out the new visas have been waiting to be picked up at some Ministry office, but we never received the letter of declaration saying so. No letter means no visa. We had to get lawyers involved to speed up the process, requiring more company letterhead allowing them to (hopefully) pick up the visas on our behalf — ONLY after I dropped off our new health declarations signed in blood (just kidding), passports and old visas.

So here I am taking care of all this very "official" business and I get to this lawyer's office this afternoon and there's not a soul in sight. After I started hunting the halls for a live body, I found a hapless worker-bee who informed me that it's lunchtime so everyone is out. It was really the strangest thing, even the phone system shut down for lunch, as I couldn't even leave a voice message for our lawyer. I ended up waiting until 2:15 until the office receptionist came back and I could leave our things with her.

Tomorrow I get to go back to the lawyer's office and collect our things, although this time I'll try to avoid naptime.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Eating our way out of Singapore

There is some food that I'll never have again that I miss so much. My grandmother's homemade tomato soup for one, the light and perfect pancakes my grandpa used to make are another. I'm starting to feel this way about all the local food we eat here.

I know that Jeff will miss his canteen at work where he gets lunch every day from one of the many food stalls. I've never been, of course, but it sounds like an enormous food bazaar. He'll come home raving about one of the vendors, telling me little stories about them and the awesome food there. One day he insisted that we get a juicer when we get back, because he loves the fruit stall where he always stops to get a fresh fruit juice. Another time it was the loving way the old couple that runs the soup stall acts with each another as they serve the orders.

I don't have a personal attachment to any one place for my food, because in Singapore you're never far from a kopi tiam (coffeeshop), hawker center or food stall. When I first got here I discovered kaya, a marvelous coconut-egg jam that is so popular here that coffeehouses sell it on toast as a snack. In fact, McDonald's is trying to compete against them and has come out with the kaya bun, which just looks gross. I'm stocking up on jars of kaya to bring home because I'm afraid I'll never have it again.

Coffee here is amazing and just as complicated as ordering at Starbucks. There is kopi-O, kopi-C, long black and flat white, to name a few. My choice is the local coffee, or kopi-C, which is thick coffee with evaporated milk stirred in. But I usually stick to Chinese tea because sometimes I can't remember the difference between all the coffees.

Jeff and I love congee, a rice porridge, although I prefer to eat it for breakfast while Jeff likes it for dinner. It doesn't seem too hard to make so we'll be having it at home. But I'm not sure if I'll attempt laksa, a spicy rich soup of coconut milk, noodles and seafood. This was the dish that forced me to learn to eat like a local with chopsticks and a spoon. Meaning that you use both sets of utensils at the same time or else your food ends up splattered all down your front. It was either that or a bib.

Frankly, I rarely cook anymore because it's so cheap and easy to go out to eat. Food is always made from fresh ingredients, although I would bet I've ingested a healthy amount of MSG since I've been here. My favorite way to eat dinner and get more vegetables (surprisingly difficult) in my diet is to order nasi padang, which is simple home-style Indonesian/Malay food. You get a plate of coconut-steamed rice and then choose from an array of meat and vegetables. At first I liked that I could just point at the foods I wanted, because it saved me the embarrassment of having to ask what each thing was. Sometimes I'd get food that I'd never have ordered, if I'd known what they were. Now I usually get the chicken curry, chili-fried green beans, eggplant, and peanuts with sambal ikan billis (anchovies), with a big dollop of sambal chilli sauce on the side.

Singapore is the country that taught me that I could eat spicy food. I really used to be a wuss and make a fuss about anything that was remotely spicy. Now I love to have pickled jalapenos on the side of my Hainanese chicken rice and duck noodle and pour padi-chili flavored soya sauce on my steamed rice. But the real credit goes to the delicious and messy Chili Crab, one of the national dishes of Singapore that epitomizes finger-licking good. This dish is SO fiery, but SO good at the same time. You can't help but love it.

Aw, man. Now I've made myself hungry. Time to find something to eat.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Welcome Gavin Parker Eddy!

One of my very bestest and oldest friends had a baby on the 19th and I missed it. Granted, I had begged Vanessa to have her baby boy while I was in Chicago, but instead he decided to come two days after I left. Right on another famous Leo's birthday, my brother Matt's, I might add. However, I'll never forget spending my last night at home with Vanessa and my mom, sitting around the kitchen table, just talking and laughing. I can't wait until we do that again, although next time making a proper place for little Gavin.

Vanessa looked so wonderful and happy throughout her entire pregnancy. Motherhood agrees with her.

What's so funny about hearing this news today was that just last night Jeff and I watched this program on the National Geographic channel called "In the Womb". Jeff was particularly keen to watch it because it featured these 4D ultrasound scans and CG images that give more detail and "live action" to the fetus than ever seen before. It was seriously amazing and beautiful. Babies are still a couple years away for Jeff and me, but the look on Jeff's face as he watched the show and looked at me — that just made me feel simply amazing and beautiful.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Back in Singapore

Flew into Singapore late last night to be reunited with Jeff, once again. Hopefully this was the last time for a long time that we'll have been apart — I find that life is just flavorless when Jeff and I have been separated for too long. Not to say that I didn't enjoy my time back home in Chicago, but Jeff is such a vital part of our home.

And now we're rounding into our final two weeks in Singapore. With Jeff's website launching last weekend, his work is really coming to a close. On my plate, I've got to finish packing up our apartment and ship some boxes of books and miscellania home to Chicago. Most of our stuff came back with me two weeks ago, so this should be a pretty easy task.

Today I'll visit the Vietnamese embassy to apply for tourist visas. Our plan after Singapore is to take three weeks to backpack through Vietnam and Cambodia before coming home to the States. If someone had told me a year ago that I'd spend my honeymoon in these two countries, I wouldn't have believed them!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Return to Phi Phi Island

Just got back from our trip to Phuket. Amazing sums up this experience. We didn't spend much time on Phuket, which was OK because Phi Phi Island was our primary destination. Phi Phi is located just about 40km away from Phuket and is this incredible backpackers' paradise struggling to recover from the tsunami.

On our ferry ride over we met Paul, a Scotsman that originally came to Phuket for two weeks in December, a trip that has now turned into many months, as he's helped Phi Phi set up their medical clinic. He introduced us to Dive Camp, the group that we volunteered our Saturday with as beach cleanup and snorkel patrol. At this point, a lot of what remains is debris, both massive and small on shore and in the bay. Many people are still missing and presumed dead from the big wave, but all the divers and snorkelers are finding now is bones and the occasional wallet or personal artifact. We didn't come across anything like that, as Jeff and I mainly helped dig out and move big pieces of reinforced concrete from the bungalows and hotels that were destroyed.

From what we saw the volunteer effort and spirit of the Thai people have made tremendous strides in rebuilding Phi Phi. Since the disaster, 200 businesses have reopened and this month the volunteer effort will be tapering off. After our manual labor on Saturday, we were famished and had food vouchers for sandwiches at the Garden Restaurant, an establishment built entirely by the HiPhiPhi volunteers (shown in the pictures behind me) and now run by local Thais.

At breakfast here on Sunday, we met Deang a local longtail boat captain who offered to tour us around Phi Phi Ley, the next island over. Phi Phi Ley is also home to Maya Bay, the setting for the movie The Beach.

To get to Maya Bay, Deang guided the boat to a small opening in the rockface. As it was low tide, Jeff and I could swim up to the hole and then clamber over sharp, vivid-colored rocks to get to the other side. From there, it was a short hike through tropical forest to get to Maya Bay, which is so secluded it's a wonder humans ever found it at all. We would have loved to spend all day there, swimming and playing on that perfect beach, but Deang had warned us the tide was rising and we needed to be back soon. I'm glad I've been faithfully doing the swim workouts my brother makes up for me, because it was very difficult (not to mention dangerous) swimming against the tide, trying to avoid the sharp coral and rocks. But we both made it back safely and off we went to see the bird caves.

These caves are home to the birds that create the famous birds' nest soup, an expensive Chinese delicacy believed to have great medicinal properties. Men climb and retrieve these nests from tiny crevices and then clean them up to sell. I've never tried bird's nest, but perhaps the taste of bird spit is good — who knows?

Next, Deang wanted to show us Monkey Beach, where wild monkeys pimp themselves out to farangs for food. I'm not crazy about feeding wild animals, as it teaches them very bad manners among other things, but Deang wanted me to feed them bread. So, picture this: Here I am, judiciously trying to throw pieces of day-old baguette from the side of the boat to a pack of wild monkeys. In a split second, one of the senior monkey males has jumped aboard and lunged at me, ripping the remaining hunks of bread out of my hand! Scared me witless.

After that, we had to hightail it to the return ferry to Phuket. Just got back to Singapore this morning and finished packing for my flight to Chicago tomorrow morning. Can't wait to see all you lovely people soon!