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Friday, December 20

A Brunching We Will Go

No matter where life finds you, there are certain places you simply must play ‘tourist’ at in your country of occupancy.  The biggest ‘tourist destination’ in Singapore stands out in a brilliantly-blinking, architecturally-rich, wondrous way…Marina Bay Sands.  While the inspiration behind it is supposed to be three decks of card, I think it more resembles a massive ship parked on top of three towers.  Whatever you make of it, this building can’t be missed.  When we were still staying downtown, we would sit in our 31st floor apartment at Great World and watch the seemingly daily light show going on from the roof of this grand spectacle.  While I can only imagine what airline pilots think of the flashing laser lights shooting across their path as they approached or departed from Changi Airport, we personally couldn’t wait to visit this modern wonder. 

This is a pretty new place on the Singapore destination landscape.  The project was only fully completed in early 2011.  Our research prior to moving to Singers had repeatedly shown us the image of the infinity pool on the roof.  We have since discovered that you can actually only go see said pool if you have a room booked at the hotel.  Alas, this is sadly still on the to-do list.  But like any place here in Singapore, there is a mall.  Now, this mall is nothing to scoff at.  Think indoor Rodeo Drive and way beyond my means.  But mweh… another mall… whatever.  More interesting to me is the casino!  On the August day that we went, we didn’t actually get to go in as we were touting around two little men who had no interest in gambling, nor did the casino have any interest in hosting them either.  I’m totally not a big gambler as I prefer the bargain-basement tables and I doubt there were any of those in this particular casino, but on that big day when Kimono Hubby and I get to return there… alone… we would like to play our hand just to cross it off the list of things we never thought we would do in our lives.  For now, we had to be content with a simple stroll by just to say we saw it. 

There was one part of the mall that I am remiss not to have yet mentioned… the indoor canal, complete with gondola rides!  Adding to the beauty of this indoor spectacle, there is a Rain Oculus that collects the down-pouring waters and shoots it into the river below.  Now that is design I admire, when you can connect your man-made structure intrinsically with nature’s glory.  And trust me, the rain storms here in Singapore are glorious.  There is also a decent-sized  theater in side of which we more recently went to see Mickey’s Magic Show at and I got to see my dear Kimono Peanut’s face when they ‘cut’ a girl in half.  I do wish I could erase that image from his young and impressionable mind, because I totally see him attempting that one someday, probably soon.  Perhaps blanket apologies now to the girl he attempts it on, hmm???  Pray he uses his foam pirate sword.

Now our original trip to Marina Bay was for something quite grand… and I don’t just mean the grand price tag we paid for it!  We were there for a brunch at the world-renowned restaurant KU DÉ TA.  Made even more special and momentous was the company we were with, new and very dear friends that we had made by the pool at Great World.  These are totally our kind of people as they didn’t hesitate to say a hell-yea to the $178 per person for the free-flowing cocktail and champagne version of brunch.  That is only $140 US dollars after all!  Okay, yes.  I too gagged on the price.  But once in a lifetime!  Woohoo!  And… raise a glass and you forget all about the price!  There was one bonus… all the kids were under 6 years old so they were free.  See??  Not so bad, then, right?  Right?   
So there we were.  57 floors up.  A waist high glass wall is the only thing separating us from the amazing 360 degree view of Singapore we are perched to take in.  Comfy chairs and pitcher after pitcher (after pitcher...) of sangria coming our way, along with the occasional random cocktail and maybe a shot to celebrate new, international friendships.  We were there from something like 11:00 til 3:00.  You would think we tried everything on the menu in that time frame, but honestly we got so distracted in conversations and laughter, that we only ordered a handful of menu items, most of which the kids ate.  Inside was an amazing buffet spread of crudités, pastries and desserts of which after the second hour, our kids were freely returning to and filling yet another plate.  The staff there was so lovely and friendly to all three of our young brood.  I honestly can’t thank them enough for that blessing.  We had been seated in a quiet corner off to one side, surely in anticipation of potentially wild Western kids, but they were all so well-behaved and spent their time either staring in wonder at the ocean and shipping vessels beyond or engrossed in a game or a Peppa Pig episode on the IPad that dear Jaqui was smart enough to bring along.  I honestly don’t think we would have left when we did except we were bumping up on the hour of the next big reservation influx.  Not wanting to give up a kidney for a second bill, we sadly called it a perfect brunch/day and headed to our individual homes/hotel rooms.

Now, was the food worth the astronomical price?  No, of course not.  But!  That view, the experience and spending quality time getting to know some amazing people… worth every penny.  THIS is one of the most sees in Singapore.  And if you don’t want to pay the price at KU DÉ TA, did I mention there is a free Sky Park one floor down?  Yes.  That is probably where you will find us the next time around. 

Monday, December 16

To Win or Not To Win...

Sooo... I'm trying something I have never tried before.  I entered into a blog writing contest.  There were rules and it wasn't in my usual style of blog writing, but here it is anyway...

Top 8 Truths About Moving to Singapore

Family, friends and loyal readers, do you think you would be so kind as to check this out and leave a comment on it of 10 words or more?  It will ask for email verification just to make sure that spam messages are making it into the contest.  Just check your email and verify your comment.  I will love you for doing this!  Oh wait... I love you anyway.  But this gives you extra kudos in my book of shiny, happy people. 

One last thing... wish me luck!

Monday, November 4

Trekking: The Singapore Zoo

When I found out I was moving to Singapore, there were two questions I was repeatedly asked: 1) Do you know how hot it is there? (Answer: Yes.  As hot as hell-fire.) And 2) Do you know how awesome the zoo is there? The answer was no, but they would all assure me it was the best in the world.  You know what?  They were totally right.

There are three sections of the zoo – the main zoo, the Night Safari and the River Safari.  We haven’t been to the River Safari yet as they are in the process of building it.  As we have some time here, we’re waiting until it is completed to do it.  But we have been to the other two.

Now, I tell you this in the perspective of a Singers newbie mom with two little kids who tend to crash around 8:00 pm or turn into whining, maddening little beasts.  So don’t get all crazy as I explain my Night Safari experience.  Well, actually two experiences, although the first was kind of a non experience as we went on a Singaporean holiday.  There are two things you don’t do in Singapore… go to markets on Sunday or go to the zoo on a holiday.  The crowds are intense as everyone that works six days a week is out and about and you will find yourself trying not to lose your wee ones in a throng which threatens to sweep them away from your loving arms forever.   So the first night that we went happened to be one of these holidays.  After waiting only a half an hour in a line that moved only ten feet in that time, then being told it would be an hour to buy tickets and the train lines would be over an hour and a half long, we bailed… and bribed our kids to come with us with ice cream.  It worked. 

We returned a few weeks later on a random weeknight to much better results.  Err… of sorts.  Here’s the thing.  The night safari trains only start moving at 7:30 pm.  Remember when I told you about my wee lovies to beasts at about this same time?  I can entertain them for a spell, but when we pass the witching hour there's simply no holding off the beasts in them.  We were in line by 7:00 thinking we would be one of the first ones on the train.  Umm… wrong.  When we did finally get on the train and start rolling out, it was late enough that getting off the train to meander around and catch the nocturnal animals doing their thing in the night was just not going to be the wisest of possibilities.  So we sat.  We listened to the talks the zoologist was giving about each animal as we peeked at them from our perch on the train, but we really were… underwhelmed.  We loved seeing that there are no cages around the animals.  Just moats and great divides to keep everyone safe.  But it was the type of animals you can see from the train.  What I recall fully… deer, deer and more deer.  I can hang in my parent’s backyard and see deer, thank-you-very-much.  This was the first time we were inside the zoo and if these are the animals here, I just wasn’t certain it ranked the ‘best zoo in the world’ comments.  This is why we went back… to see what the fuss was all about.

Oh la la!  Like I said, you folks weren’t fooling!  Our third trip back to the zoo was made even more special by an extra little purchase… tickets to a special breakfast with orangutans!  Let me tell you… this is so worth the cost, and even that isn’t bad at $29 for adults and $19 for kids ($23 and $15 in US dollars).  The food is good too!  Not great, but there is a nice mix of Western, Malay and Chinese dim sum to please everyone.  While you eat, the orangutans swing through the trees all around you, and then come… somehow??... when they are ‘called’.  They all climb down onto this big tree clump area where they sit quietly while the zoologist talks about them and a few other furry visitors they bring in to the area for the morning.  After you learn about them, you are invited to stand in front of them, no touching allowed, and get your photograph with them.  They even used my cell phone to take pictures so I didn’t have to pay for the overpriced photo in a cheap frame that they sell!  That’s service! 

Once mommy and daddy were done ogling the orangutans, because you know the kids were over it after a few minutes, we moved over to the other creature that was available for touching and even holding if you were so bold… a milk snake!  Now, I will be totally honest and say I am not a huge fan of snakes.  However, I dislike spiders a whole lot more.  I also make it a priority to never let fear stop me from doing things.  I once held a tarantula because of this personal room, so I would be damned if I wasn’t going to hold the snake.  Kimono Hubby on the other hand is only afraid on one thing in this world (well, two if you count losing his beautiful wife) and that is snakes.  He was never going to volunteer to help the boys with this, so big, bad mommy stepped up to the plate.  Thankfully Kimono Peanut with his no-fear-attitude needed no help at all and was only too happy to have this squirmy thing draped around his neck, and even laughed when it squeezed his neck, all the while shouting “take a picture of me, mommy!”  Kimono Sweet Pea on the other hand was a bit more cautious.  From the moment that thing was placed on him, he never took his eyes off of it… even when it snaked its tail into mommy’s cleavage.  I smiled while this happened, of course, but what I really wanted to do was whip the thing across the forest.  I didn’t.  I just waited patiently for the zoo keeper to untangle it from us, which gratefully she didn’t wait too long to do. 

We left the breakfast and moved on through the rest of the zoo.  Like I said, there aren’t really cages for the animals, beyond the ones that need them as a necessity… like penguins need to stay cold, so they live in an icy building.  There are so many opportunities to get up close and personal with different animals.  We got to feed the kangaroos, which must be incredibly well fed as few had any interest in nibbling for the bowl that my boys eagerly held out for them.  In other places, they had feeding times set up when you could show up and watch the zoo keepers feed the animals.  We missed elephant bath time, but I think that would be a fun and silly thing to watch the next time we go to the zoo.  And we will most certainly be going many times again. 

Like every great place here in Singapore, the zoo has a water play area!  There really couldn’t be a smarter idea.  You bring a bag with swim suits and just change the kids in and out of their wet clothes.  It’s positioning in the zoo also happens to be quiet handy as it is just at the my-kids-are-literally-melting-from-the-heat-and-walking point and you can get them nicely refreshed to finish the rest of the path through the zoo.  My only complaint about the water play area is the selection of food there.  Bring your own picnic lunch, because there is a KFC with very limited offerings (and of course, it is totally unhealthy and kind of blech to me) and a Ben and Jerry’s (which is just as unhealthy, but I am not going to knock on a cone.  Evah.)

All in all, the rumors were true.  If you are just visiting the country, don’t miss this gem.  Your kids, or the kid inside of you, will thank you for it. 

Monday, October 28

Home Sweet Singaporean Home

Do you know how many people asked for pictures of my house?  Here’s what I have to say to you all… come visit and see it in person!  Okay.  Okay.  I know only two or three of you will, but I seriously wish we had more people to fill these empty rooms.  What empty rooms, you say?  Well, we settled on renting a five bedroom (plus helper’s room which we use for storage), six bath monstrosity that is obviously way too big for our needs.  After many weeks of negotiations though, we talked the price down and included a few extra important bits into the monthly price, so we decided to go with the house that was less than a block away from the preschool, 6 minutes drive to Kimono Hubby’s office, 4 block walk to the mall and grocery store. The big ole lap pool didn’t hurt when we factored it into the equation too.  We are only here temporarily, so why not live like we are on holiday for a few years, even if I have to clean all that square footage all by myself.  I just make the kids walk around with mop shoes on to get our floors all sparkly clean! 

Here begins your virtual tour of my humble *ahem* abode…

After entering the security gate, you first arrive here at our pool… complete with an adjoining bar and an upper deck where I can lounge the hot days away under the fans above.  If you aren’t a pool or drinking person… well then you just can’t be my friend.  But if you aren’t, there is still a TV to watch above the bar and surround sound that connects to your IPhone and will play your favorite tunes throughout the house. 

After removing your shoes, as this is an Asian home, you will find yourself in the living room with a 40+ inch TV and again more surround sound… which is great… except that if you are watching a good movie with your darling husband late in the evening and the music implodes at that crucial scene, you WILL wake the children sleeping above you.

A few steps up and there is the dining room with its Italian tree trunk wall.  Pass by that and there is the entertainment room which we use as a play room.  It really is underutilized with its projector screen movie capabilities, karaoke machine and other various Chinese entertainment equipment which I mostly just dust and then ignore as I have no idea how to work the lot of it.

Into the worst designed kitchen I have ever seen.  Well, actually there are two.  Yes, two.  A wet kitchen (for messier Chinese cooking) and a dry kitchen (for cleaner Western cooking… but they obviously haven’t seen me cook).  The dry kitchen is first and houses no fridge, but will some have a custom made wine cooler at the landlord’s suggestion.  Not sure what used to be there, but there is a large empty space in the wall so the landlord offered a wine cooler.  Only, there was no wine cooler of that large size to be purchased.  So he is having one made.  I like wine, but I’m not certain I will have 80 bottles of it to fill this thing.  I’m going to take it on as a challenge to drink more wine however.  I also have an induction stove in this kitchen.  This stove literally broke me when we move in.  I cried making dinner on multiple nights.  I wish I was kidding.  I finally begged the landlord to provide me with the manuals and after a lot of research, he delivered.  Of course, the manuals said nothing of how only certain types of pans work with this stove.  Another hard lesson.  I finally can make the thing work.  Not well.  I either cook things way too slow or burn the crap out of them.  Hence why the dinner invites have been slow to happen as I just can’t stand the thought of cooking for more than my tiny crew.  And if you say bake something, I will bite you.  Let’s not even talk about the two ovens which also helped in said breaking of me.  Pass through the door and you enter the wet kitchen… where the fridge is.  And another stove.  This one gas, but not plugged into a gas line like in the US, but plugged into a gas canister under the stove like an outside grill.  Did I mention that to turn it on, you have to flip a light switch to turn on the electric that then allows you to use a match to light the gas stove?  And then you better stay back, because that bad boy LIGHTS!  Ask me how I found out.  Pfft.

Second floor – there are four bedrooms there.  The junior master suite which the boys decided to share so they could get their coveted bunk bed.  They have their own walk in closet, which we use to store luggage because boys don’t really have THAT many clothes.  They have a glass tiled rain shower too which they think is the bomb.  Another bedroom was turned into the guest room and has its own bathroom that is actually hidden in compartments behind a sliding wall.  One compartment – toilet.  Another compartment – sink.  Another compartment shower.  Come visit and stay in your own suite!  The other two bedrooms were turned into a library and an office.  The boys love the library and quiet time in there.  In fact, I think this is probably their favorite room.

And the third floor – now typically Kimono Hubby and I would choose to stay on the same floor of the house as the boys, but when we saw this master suite, we just couldn’t give it up.  Oh… and there is an outside gym across the hall from our room so we can do an early morning workout without interrupting the kiddos from their sleep.  But the room!  We have a velvet wall behind our bed and no I am not kidding.  There is surround sound in this room, but the great thing is the extra large projection screen that drops out of the ceiling.  Family movie night has never been so awesome!  We get to snuggle in bed during a theater experience!  I think this will be a must in at least one room of whatever houses we get in the future.  Here, all the ladies can be jealous and laugh at me at the same time… we have a walk in closet like something off of MTV cribs.  There are closets for high heels, closets for coats, for clothes, clothes and more clothes and where most are empty as I didn’t bring all of my clothes because why would I bring winter stuff when it is always 90 and above, for goodness sakes??  There is a built in vanity where I sit to put jewelry on… jewelry that also sits in individuals pockets in the built in island in the middle of the closet, where the top case is where you can lay your watches out for easy choosing.  Ummm… I have two watches.  It’s one empty watch case.  KH actually fills his side better as he can roll each one of his ties up and put them in their individual compartments.  He even has more clothes than me.  In a country where shopping reigns supreme, there is something terribly wrong with this picture. 
Last but not least is our master bath, where the toilet is enclosed in a glass room with a door.  What the hell is the use of a glass room for your toilet?  If it is purely for stink purposes, I pity the woman that had to live with that man.  Moving on… the bath and shower room are open and the ceiling is glass.  So basically, I can shower night or day and stare up at the sky while I enjoy yet another rain shower faucet… or another rain shower outside as it is pouring right now… again.  Our tub is a massive Jacuzzi which the boys get more use out of than me.  I can’t stand the thought of a hot bath when I have been hot all day.  In fact, you actually have to turn the hot water on in each room that you need it when you need it.  I only turn mine on to wash dishes.  Taking a hot shower is the last thing on my mind here when I have pretty much sweated for the 16 hours I have been awake. Oh, and did I mention there is a TV in the bathroom?  I can shower and not miss the news!

And this concludes our tour of the major perks and downfalls of my new Singaporean home.  While I may joke about it, I certainly can’t complain about it.  I know how truly blessed we are for yet another overseas experience.  And I know how lucky I am to get to enjoy this house for a few years.  I would however enjoy it more if a few of you wanted to come live with me.  Takers?

Tuesday, September 10

More of Tuesday's Tidbits

I know I haven’t been in this country very long, but I can already see that I love it.  I love the weather always being in the upper 80s and the humidity doesn’t bother me a bit.  I love the torrential rainstorms and while I wouldn’t go play in one, the thunderstorms seem much gentler than the electrical madness I am used to back home.  I love that natural disasters are not a part of this country.  I love the varieties of food available, even some of my beloved favorites from home.  I love that I can take a cab anywhere and the cost always falls between $5-20 dollars.  I love that I can understand Singlish better than I can some New England accents. 

That being said, there are some oddities and frustrations here.  This is not complaining!  And trust me… the housing stress right now is enough to make me go crazy and want to bitch it out loud and clear and for all to hear!  I also didn’t even complain when I got lost on four different occasions last week… just me and my two little men… and my husband not even in the country to help if he could.  I am simply pointing out things that show I am still on the learning curve here.  The good news is that I definitely think I will be off of it long before I was in Japan.  I guess I should cross my fingers and toes as I write that though.  

Let me tell you about my pretty new Singaporean GPS system!  Every time I program an address, I am never, ever brought to the point where I can actually enter to park my car.  The address will consistently take you to the front entrance, which you can bet will always on the other side of the shopping centre from where you need to be.  And with this point, to get to the car park entrance, without fail it will take you at least 10 more minutes and five more miles out of your way because all streets in Singapore are apparently one way highways.  If you miss a turn, you can bet your booty that you will get a grand tour of the city before you ever get back to your destination.  This simply isn’t a just-loop-around-the-block kind of country.  So if you are running tight on time before you even start out, rest assured you will be seriously late by the time you arrive.  

Another driving point… there are a lot of cards and passes and swipy things you need here in Singapore.  One of the most important is a NETS card.  It allows you to go to a 7-11 convenience store and ‘top-up’ (pay some bucks) the card that will be used in a machine attached to the front windshield of every car here.  Think EZ Pass at home, but not as convenient.  If you happen to not know what the hell you are doing with the card and you put it in the machine upside down, you will automatically earn yourself a fine of $70 for what would have been a $1 fee.  (What’s that you say, Experience and my darling husband?  Screw you both.  And no, I had no idea about the green light coming on when the card is in the machine properly.  Pfft.)

The only thing I really knew about Singapore before finding out I was moving here is that people really like to shop here.  As in… this is one of THE destinations for shopping in Asia.  I expected it to be like every other Asian country I have tried to shop in… simply not made for a Marilyn-Monroe-sized-mama.  I am happily being proven wrong.  I also am totally into the idea that women all wear dresses here, much more so than I was in Japan where I only did so on occasions when I would be going somewhere with a Japanese woman.  Here I actually enjoy donning a sundress and flip-flops pretty much every day.  The only drawback to the fun dress shopping I have been partaking in is that once the saleswomen get you into their dressing room, they are well-versed on keeping you there.  Forever.  Even when your two children are bouncing balloons into the dressing room beside you, high on the candy the sales ladies keep giving them to make them sit still.  Really ladies?  Sugar to make them sit still?  Shrieks of laughter and boys (literally) bouncing off the tiny boxed walls do nothing to stop the constant barrage of “just one more dress for you to try!”  Too often, I just have to insist that I will try nothing else on and I am extremely sorry but the eight bazillion dresses you gave me to try are just not quite what I want.  Believe me, Singaporean sales ladies, I hate leaving your shop empty-handed even more than I hate wasting yours and my time.

The funniest thing I have encountered here in Singapore though, occurred at the movies this past weekend.  It was a kid’s movie at that – Turbo.  Cute and recommended, but the movie isn’t the funny part.  Before it started, Kimono Husband and I sat quietly discussing over the kids heads about whether or not Singapore movie theaters would have commercials prior to the movie like we hate at home.  Seconds later, the lights go down and a cartoon little girl stands head down and alone on a sidewalk.  Her sad words… “Why does mommy have to have SARS?”  Umm… what?!?  She proceeds to tell us how none of her friends will play with her anymore and even the cab drivers won’t pick her and her daddy up to go to the hospital.  I only thank God that neither child asked me to explain SARS as we really don’t try to introduce deadly diseases to our toddler and preschool aged children.  A normal commercial in between and then one more fun one discussing how the world thinks that Singaporeans are so negative (which they are quite frankly).  This commercial went to great efforts though to show lots of Singaporeans around town jumping up and down and smiling!  They are happy! or so the sign says above them.  Considering that the audience is a room full of Singaporeans and a few foreigners, I get the feeling that the commercial isn’t aimed at the rest of the world, but the natives themselves.  You’re trying to convince your own people they are happy?  Interesting.