Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zoo Time

Yesterday was a national holiday, so we decided to take advantage of the day off and go to the zoo. Unfortunately, it seems that everyone within driving distance shared those thoughts. It was extremely crowded, and it was hot.  And sticky.  I think I'm going to just change the name of the blog to, "It was hot.  And sticky."  Because two or five or fifteen years from now when someone asks, "So, how was Singapore?"  I'm going to say, "It was hot.  And sticky."  (Sidenote:  It's also wonderful; we're really enjoying being here.  I'm not exactly complaining about the heat.  I just want you to know that it's not like we're in some sort of 78 degree weather warp where we have cool breezes and low humidity.  We have 89 degree weather, which would be tolerable, if it weren't 97% humidity.  Ever been in a sauna?  Yeah.  Every Day).

Where was I?  Oh, yes. The zoo.   Despite the crowds (and the humidity), AK and B3 had a great day.  Each time we would leave one exhibit and head for another, B3 would sign and say, "More?  More!" as he ran after his sister down the path. 

The orangutans were favorites.  They're more or less free-ranging; they have ropes going from one side of the path to the other, cris-crossing a large area.  It wasn't unusual to look up and see one right overhead.

We happened to be in the right place for their feeding time, too.

We saw giraffes,


gigantic tortoises,
and much, much more.

But of all the things we saw, B3's favorite might have been this one

the crane.  Also known in our house as Skinny, thanks to Mighty Machines.  Or Scary Snort, if you're a fan of Are You My Mother?  The boy loves construction equipment!

They both enjoyed the carousel (B3 insisted he wasn't finished riding, but, he certainly was).

B3 asked about elephants all morning, and we finally decided the only way to see them was to go to their show. He asked about them; he called them.  Finally, he saw them, and he was thrilled.  Until one trumpeted.  Into a microphone.  He was done.  He announced that they were "finished", even though they had yet to begin the show. He loudly told them , "bye bye"  over and over.  And he would not look at them at all.  Even a day later, he shakes his head no if I utter the word "elephant". 

Today we went early and stayed too late, which meant we felt (and perhaps looked) a little like these guys:

Since we bought season passes, we'll definitely be back to see the animals we didn't see yesterday and to see shows, including the elephants.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do You Know the Chicken Man?

My grocery delivery experment was a success, and the day after I shopped, my trolley full of groceries arrived at my door.  I had no idea how they would arrive, so I was surprised to see this after the delivery guy left:

Encouraged by the success of delivery, I decided to conduct another shopping experiment inspired by months of internet research.  I've been reading several Blogs about Singapore life for a few months, and this blog post is bookmarked on my tool bar.  I refer to it several times a week, if not daily. 

In case you're not a link clicker, the link is to a post detailing a lengthy list of helpful information for Singapore. She gives the contact information for a chicken delivery guy, known far and wide as "The Chicken Man".  The very idea of The Chicken Man intrigued me, and I couldn't wait to give him a call.  First, I had to get a phone, and my very first call (other than a call to Ben) was to The Chicken Man (It should come as no surprise that he was my first call. No, Not because I'm such a chicken fan, but because I know no one on this island to call).   His prices are about 1/2 of what our closest grocery store charges, and he delivers.  Sign me up!

 The day after I called, my doorbell rang, and there he was. The Chicken Man. Chicken in hand:

 As we chatted, he actually referred to himself as "The Chicken Man", and I couldn't help but laugh. I did try not to think about the similarity between his red bag and the biohazard bags we became familiar with in our Appendicitis/RSV hospital experiences earlier this year, but I got over it as I calculated our savings. 
I'll definitely be calling The Chicken Man again soon. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Experiments in Shopping

***anyone know why the pictures won't import?  Help me!***

Today, B3 and I went shopping and filled a cart with laundry soap, bottled water, cereal, crackers, and baking supplies. 
Then, we came home empty handed.  We're trying out the Carrefour home delivery service for the first time. I realize that grocery delivery is nothing new, but it's certainly new to us.  I admit, it felt a little peculiar to leave $240 worth of stuff in our trolley, but I'm confident that it will show up on our doorstep sometime between 9am and noon tomorrow. Unfortunately, I'll still need to go to the store again tomorrow since they don't deliver fresh or perishable foods. There are other stores that have online ordering and will deliver all items, and we'll be trying those out sooner or later. 

After our Carrefour shopping, we went to Daiso, which is a Japanese dollar store. Everything costs $2, and they sell everything from craft supplies to porcelain dishes. One day, when I have packed more snacks for my sidekick, I'll take pictures of some of the more interesting things I've seen there.  I'll just leave you with one picture I managed to take today. 

Why, yes, that is a terry cloth toilet seat cover.  No, not a lid cover.  A SEAT cover.  Christmas is coming....who wants one?

The Renegade Trend Setter

In the two weeks we've been here, at least 4 strangers have stared at, pointed at, or petted AK's head.  It seems that her bows are quite a novelty.  In the Ikea ice cream line (it was free!  do they do that in the States??), one lady nearly pulled her pretty pink bow out trying to get a better look. 
"Is it clip?"  She asked, after she yanked. 
"Yes, it's clip", I responded, as I silently prayed for AK not to squeal at the curious stranger.
"Oh!  So Nice!"  She smiled.

On Back to School night, I was talking to one of AK's classmates' mom.  "Oh!  You're AK's Mom!", she said.  "My daughter loves AK!"  She went on to say that her daughter had begun to want to wear her hair pulled back, on the side, in a clip, just like AK, instead of her usual headband.

I'm not sure what the attraction is; I've seen small bows for sale here.  Maybe it's the Southern Big Bow style they're after. 
Perhaps I see a business opportunity...

She's been wearing a navy bow everyday so far. Navy because it matches her uniform.  Navy because her mother is a rule follower and read that "hair clips should conform to the color palette dictated by the uniform policy".

AK, however, has taken every opportunity to point out that navy is dull.  Navy is boring.  Navy isn't pink or even green or lavender. Her brother calls navy "gack", which is B3 speak for black. 

"See, mama?  He can't say black. Or even navy.  He can say pink.  Please, mama, can I wear a pink bow?" (He can't really; it sounds more like a sound a pig might make).  She's been campaigning relentlessly for a week.  "My friend wears a pink bow or even a red one, and our teacher doesn't complain..."

I caved. Tomorrow, she's wearing a pink bow.  Because secretly, I agree.  Navy is boring. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Market Time

I love a market. The people watching, the vast range of products for sale, and the smells combine to present a unique view of the neighborhood around you. Most Singapore neighborhoods have a wet market that sells fruits, veggies, and meats of all kinds. Most also have shops selling household goods, clothes and shoes. Each one is unique, and I couldn't wait to find the one closest to our house.

B3 and I decided to find it one morning after AK went to school.  It was a nice 15 minute walk down the river, and I wondered what we'd discover when we got there.  Fresh produce can be quite expensive in the grocery stores, so I was looking forward to saving a few dollars while enjoying the neighborhood market. We finally found it, and guess what?

It's closed!  It's being renovated, and it won't open again until at least January.  It was such a disappointment...mostly because I was drenched in sweat and had nothing to show for my efforts. 

There were just a few bins of veggies beside where the market usually is.

Not easily deterred, we set out the next day to yet another wet market that's fairly nearby.  It's a 20 minute walk, but getting there requires walking along a busy road and crossing 8 lanes of traffic.  Twice. Not my idea of a leisurely stroll.

I was hesitant to take too many pictures, but I'll be back with my camera in tow.  If they remember me next time, I want it to be because my kid waved at them and I bought their broccoli.  I don't want to be known as the tourist with the camera (although that description fits).

As we walked the aisles of the market, we kept meeting the same woman who loved to talk to B3.  She was a Grandmotherly type, and she'd bend down and say (quite loudly), "Handsome Boy!" as she shook his knee. Over and Over Again.  You may know that B3 is a boy of few words, but by the time we met her for the 4th time, he was pulling up his legs into the stroller and shaking his head, "NO", grinning at her all the while.  He didn't quite know what to do with all of the attention.  I was thankful that, at least for today, the attention was not gained by his expressing his dislike of the stroller/train/mall. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Sunday School

Yesterday was our first trip to church as a family since moving. Ben and I visited a service in July, but AK and B3 had not yet been.  Both were exited to take a taxi across town, but AK was less than thrilled to be there once we arrived. She's been talking about Sunday School all week, but when we got there, she was stuck to me like a sock sticks with static in the Winter time.  I could barely fill out the registration forms; she simply could not peel herself off of me!  She was uncharacteristically clingy when we found her classroom, and I had to walk her in.  After she spotted the playdough, she finally managed to let go and find her way to the table. 

When we picked her up, she couldn't wait to tell us that one of her friends from school was in her Sunday School class!  Her joy was evident; it was "just like North Carolina," she reported.  Even the story of the Good Samaritan was familiar, so all was well.  I think we'll be a little more eager to go next week.

B3 seemed to enjoy his class, too.  We had to laugh when we peeked thru the one way mirror at all of his class without their shoes and socks on.  Our class was strangely reminiscent of our first Sunday School visit at Carmel. When we first visited in 2004, the class we went to was full of couples just like us - new to Charlotte. Many of the people we met yesterday had been in Singapore for only a few weeks, just like us.  Several have been here for a few years (or forever!), so it seems like a good fit for us. We'll see.

Later in the afternoon, we took a walk to the mall to buy an iron and some groceries.  The one that came with our apartment is cute and pink; unfortunately, "cute" doesn't really matter when I'm ironing.  So, we bought one that will (we hope) actually remove wrinkles from our clothes.  While we were there, AK and B3 enjoyed some ice cream from Burger King.  Normally, B3 doesn't get to partake of good stuff like ice cream since he and dairy products don't usually agree with each other, but we simply could not resist a boy who says, "Me!  Burger King Ice Cream!"  Besides, it isn't fair to AK to never have a treat because her brother shouldn't have it, either.  So, ice cream it was!
I don't know if BK in the States still gives out crowns, but let me tell you that these 2 are certainly  now fans of BK.  I remember loving the crown as a kid, and it's obvious that it hasn't lost its appeal in 30 years. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just Two Weeks

Today marks the end of our second week here in Singapore. Ben and I were discussing how it didn't feel like 2 weeks at all. To him, it feels like we just got here.  To me, it seems as if we've been here for months.  We've settled into our home, despite its borrowed beds and flimsy sauce pans. We're thankful that we were able to just move right in and not have to spend weeks in limbo waiting in a hotel room for our stuff to arrive.  After just one week of Kindergarten, our routine is working. We haven't missed the bus yet!

It's been a smooth two weeks, but there have been bumps in the road.  Each of us have had a moment (or three) of dissapointment. Maybe even a little thought of "Oh what HAVE we done?"  For Ben, his moment came in his first visit to his new office.  It's a small office, and he already knew that the few real offices had been claimed. Cubicle life is nothing new, but he did expect to have a few more than the sixteen square feet of floor space allotted to him. But, he's close to the coffee machine and there's McDonald's in his office basement (and Burger King, too!), so all is well.

My first moment (yeah, I've had more than one.  Two, to be exact).  came the day we moved in.  We had no hot water.  None.  It was tepid,  and dishwashing water should be scalding hot.  We don't have a dishwasher, so I spent what felt like hours running water, just waiting on it to get hot.  It didn't. All I could think about was our second choice apartment - the one with the dishwasher, the brand new one.  The one with the shiny new everything.  The one we didn't choose to call home. I tried not to think about how to clean dishes with warm water.  Meanwhile, Ben was annoyed by the faucet aerator that sprayed the entire kitchen everytime he turned it on. So, he modified the faucet. No more spraying.  And guess what?  HOT WATER!  Problem solved. 

AK is generally happy wherever she is, so she's adjusted beautifully.  Her saddest face came in our first week as she, B3, and I went on a little lunch and grocery shopping adventure. I commented to myself that I saw a McDonald's, mostly as a frame of reference for where to catch the bus.  "Nah," she said.  "Do they have a Chick Fil A here?" she said, obviously hopeful that there were nuggets, waffle fries, and an ice dream in her future.  She spent most of the next  two hours lamenting the fact that the closest Polynesian Sauce was a 24 hour flight away.  It doesn't help that Nachos aren't the favorite food of Singapore, but she's learning that Chinese food can be good.

And B3?  Well, let's just say there are train carfulls of people scattered all over this island who are glad he doesn't live at their houses.  The novelty of the train has worn off, and he does not appreciate the "no snacks' rule.  On Friday, we had to go to AK's school, and I let him take a toy with him.  Big mistake.  I'm fairly certain that his neighbor did not enjoy having a matchbox car driven allover his newspaper. Disaster. He's doing fine, but he reminds me daily that he's two.

There are sure to be more bumps in the road, but for now, the sailing is smooth.  We'll see how the next two weeks go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oh, How I Miss You, Harris Teeter!

It is inevitable that my camera will get me into trouble before we move from Singapore.  There are too many photo opportunities every single day.  If I'm shopping, I'm constantly thinking that I should have my camera with me.  Recently, I finally had it with me in a grocery store. I was in a hurry, so I didn't think I'd take the time to take pictures. But, I learned very quickly that Sunday afternoon is the time when everyone in the neighborhood decides to go shopping.  Since the store was packed, I found myself with lots of time to take pictures. Each time I got stuck in a trolley (See?  I'm learning the lingo!) jam, I'd just take a picture and wait for the crowds to clear.  So, join me on a little shopping trip.

First, we need to get to the store.  We have a few options. We could walk to Cold Storage, which is a really nice yet expensive grocery store located in a mall.  It's about a 10 minute walk away, and there's a shuttle bus that sometimes runs there as well.  So far, we've done most of our shopping there.  We only buy what we can carry, so our trips are frequent. 

Yesterday, I wanted to visit a different store, called Fairprice Finest, that is a few miles down the street. There's a bus to that shopping area as well; it costs S$1.50 each way.  B3, AK, and I took this bus last week (with a stroller, diaper bag, cooler bag, and grocery bags) to a different store, so I was somewhat familiar with the drill. 

Here's our bus.

In every store, you have to rent your trolley.  In this Fairprice store, the produce/frozen/meats are downstairs and the rest is upstairs.  So, there's an escalator in the middle of the store.

There's no shortage of things to look at in a grocery store.  For example:

Really?  Wouldn't it be easier to label what ISN'T an Asian selection?

If I were from the great State of Vermont, I'd be offended. 

Soy sauce, anyone?  This is about 1/3 of the selection.  I need a Sauce Primer, because they all look the same to me. 

Need tofu to go with your soy sauce?  Again, they all look the same to me.  Not that I spent much time investigating this area.

Eggs.  Unrefrigerated. Does this give you the heebie jeebies? Be honest!  

Craving some Chunky Monkey?  No problem; Ben & Jerry's is quite popular here, too. 
Only S$19.75 for 2 pints. What a bargain, right? 
For reference, today's exchange rate makes that $16.42 for 2 pints.

Ahh...who had the fever for the flavor of a Pringles? 
It's so nice to see familiar brands...even if the green can is Seaweed flavor.

Ever wonder how little kids learn to eat with chopsticks? They use the beginner versions.

I'll leave you with one last picture.  Imagine trying to outfit an infant at these prices.  These are regular, everyday Carter's onesies.  Not outfits - single onesies.  S$16.90.  Each.  Yikes.  I'll be looking for a local consignment sale soon!

There are sure to be more pictures to come.  Stay tuned!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The First Day

We've been thinking about Kindergarten forever, but I didn't imagine it would go quite like it did today.
I didn't imagine leaving an apartment. 
In a Taxi.
Without carseats (B3 loves it; he's going to be sad the day we finally get a car and can strap him in).

To ride on the wrong side of the road.
In crazy city traffic.
To walk onto a campus where she knows no one.
With a girl wearing a uniform that says, "International School".

Where at least 3 languages (probably more like 8 or 10) can be heard at any given time.

But, parts of the morning were exactly as I pictured them...
The grin on her face as she said good morning.
Her inability to eat breakfast.
The cuteness of her standing there in her uniform.  Twenty minutes before she needed to be ready.
Her excitement as she marched towards her classroom with that big pack(and an Angry Bird) on her back.

A  halfhearted hold of my hand.
The way she marched into her classroom without even looking back. 
With only a little, tiny hug goodbye. That was far more my idea than hers. 

I can't wait to hear about her day!

All four of us went to school with her this morning to drop her off, and then Ben took the train to work from there.  B3 and I did a little shopping and then came home on the the rain. 

Then, B3 and I rode the train back to pick her up.  Again, in the rain.  Now I know why those rain covers for strollers are so popular - so you don't have to help your 2 year old hold the unbrella as you're walking...

She had a great day!  She met us with a grin on her face and stories to tell. 
Her three favorite things were (in order):
  1. Learning to say, "Ni hao" = "hello" in Chinese
  2. Art
I fully anticipated a tired girl, but she was incredibly hyper until well after her bedtime.  I think we sent her to bed at least 3 times before she managed to stay there.

Tomorrow, she rides the bus to school.  I tried to avoid the bus; in fact, we signed her up at the very last possible minute.  I've been dreading it.  Until today.  After 30 minutes in a S$21 taxi ride and 2 wet, sloppy hours to go back and get her on the train, the bus is looking better and better.   Couldn't we have taken a taxi back this afternoon to get her, despite the cost?  Well, actually, no.  It's nearly impossible to flag a taxi on the street when it's raining, and I don't  have a phone to call one (not that calling is any easier in the rain).  Tomorrow, the bus will pick her up at the same time we'd leave if we were taking a taxi, the train, or driving, and she's scheduled to get home about 40 minutes before we got home today. There's a "bus nanny" who will make sure she's buckled in and well cared for.  I'll miss hearing her stories on the ride home, but B3 will actually get to nap instead of fussing on a train/in a taxi.  We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Going Native

As we have walked around Singapore, AK's questions have been frequent and entertaining.  Today's favorite was, "Do babies in Chinese places born speaking English AND Chinese?"  She still doesn't believe that, if she had been born into a Chinese speaking family, she would speak Chinese.
 "Too hard for babies!", she thinks.

She's also asked why we see so many women walking with umbrellas when there's not a cloud in the sky.  When I explained that they are using the umbrellas for shade, she was obviously inspired.

the clouds were threatening this  morning when we left for our school visit, so the umbrellas went with us.  She was positively thrilled when we walked home from the train station in the bright sunshine.  
"I brought my OWN shade!", she laughed.  
I have a feeling that the umbrella will get quite a workout - even on the sunniest of days. 

School Preview

Today, at approximately 9:30 am, I had a shocking revelation.

Our Girl starts Kindergarten on Monday.  As in, two days from now.  Monday.

I knew it was coming; I bought the uniforms.  I've been talking it up for months.  I've filled out the forms.
But today, it hit me. Kindergarten?  Kindergarten!

It became a little more real today when we visited her school, Stamford American International School for a day of orientation.  We got there early, so we were able to sit down for the speeches and presentation of the teachers.  Unfortunately, they were about 15 minutes late in starting and the speeches were too long. We finally made it to AK's classroom where she played games and met some of her future classmates.

She's looking forward to Monday  when she'll put on her uniform and officially become a Kindergartener. No doubt about it; she's ready.  I hope we are, too!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Singapore Flyer

Today, we took a family trip to the Singapore Ministry of Manpower Employment Pass Services Centre.  That's a fancy name for "Place that Makes Us Official So That We Can Get a Car".  When you think of government offiices, "Speedy" and "Prompt" are not normally words that spring to mind. Fortunately, we weren't at the DMV or Post Office today, and prompt they were.  In fact, we arrived early and were leaving at our appointment time.  Piece of Cake.  We don't yet have the actual employment pass (it will arrive on Wednesday), but we're one step closer.  One step closer to a car.  To a bank account.  To a cell phone with a local number, which might be nice since we our home phone isn't functional yet, either. 

 Did I mention a car?

(Really, we've managed quite nicely thus far (7 days) without a car, but it would be nice to buy more than one bag of groceries at a time.)

The office was adjacent to Clarke Quay, and we enjoyed watching the boats on the river. B3 especially liked them..."Boat!!!"...."Water.!!,"  He yelled. Over and over and over again.

I've been in awe of these windows since I saw them on Pinterest , so I was thrilled to spot them across the river.  I'm going back someday to go gawk up close. AK calls it the "rainbow house", and she was a big fan, too.  Click HERE to see an incredible shot of them. 
After our appointment, we ate lunch and walked over to the Singapore Flyer.  Since we can see if trom our condo, we thought we might should experience it while we had a chance. AK had already asked about it - more than once,  and she announced that it was "a good way to celebrate the start of Kindergarten!"  I wonder if she'll still be dragging around that excuse to celebrate at Christmas?

The Flyer is the world's largest Giant Observation Wheel and stands 165 meters tall.

 Heights normally don't bother me at all; I've ridden the similar London Eye (twice) without so much as a second thought.  But today, it was a little scary.  OK - I was a bit freaked out.  Maybe it was seeing B3 ricochet from side to side of our little capsule, banging on the windows and doors.  Or, perhaps it was the conversation we had with our realtor about the one time the Flyer has stopped.  The time when the people in the cars had to rappel down. 165 meters. Rappel. Did you get that? 

The views were really great, even though it was a hazy day.  It was fun to get a different perspective on all of the parks and buildings that we see out of our windows at home. 

Our building is the blue one with horizontal white stripes. 

 Tunnel under construction

Birdseye view 

 Ben's office complex - Suntec City

Formula One race track with our apartment in the background.

AK has already asked if we can go back for another ride.  It's a little too expensive for us to go often, but we'll be ready for another flight when we have visitors.  Who's first??