Search This Blog

Thursday, August 29

A Post To Make You All As Hungry As I Am... Or Not

As you all might have guessed, my family and myself are not nervous creatures when it comes to trying something new.  This makes food in foreign countries that much more interesting and fun to us, if not sometimes incredibly alarming and appalling.  I try to present every dish to the kids in a positive light and have them try at least one bite before throwing the towel in on something new.  Yes, even the wee one.  He knows the deal and realizes that dessert (however odd that may be too… he’ll eat it) isn’t coming until he does the compulsory bite.  Kimono Peanut is actually a very adventurous eater, so I don’t even need to play it up for that one.  I know some of you will disagree with my food choices and my rules for my children, but make your own choices and your own rules in your own home and leave me to it.  I’m doing my best to raise well-rounded, healthy children here and being an all-organic, all-the-time, vegan just ain’t gonna’ cut it here in Singapore. 

That said, let me explain food in Singapore.  To do so, know that the population is 76% Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian and 2% British/other European/Americans.  Therefore, food is an eclectic mix as well.  I guess it would have to be when you take 5 million different people and put them on an island about three times the size of Washington, DC.  You can find each individual cuisine if you so choose, with Western food being the least of its own ‘Western’ flavor, but generally, food is uniquely Singaporean… a mix of all Asian foods.  ‘Asian fusion’ is the trendy term at home.  Well, the Singaporeans?  They invented it.    

Like everything here, the food is Expensive.  I should say this in all caps, because it is indeed the most expensive place to dine I have ever come across with most restaurant meals averaging $85 SGD ($66 USD) for our little family of four, and this is before a single drink is added.  However, I won’t completely capitalize on the expensive part because of one of the greatest places ever invented and its prevalence here... the hawker centres.  These places were created because when Singapore stopped being a small jungle village and revved up its urbanization in the 50s and 60s, the powers-that-be began to look for a way to change the unhygienic and unlicensed food industry of street hawkers into something clean and safe for the fast growing masses.  Government agencies now own the hawker centers here and each stall within is given a grade for cleanliness.  I was told to stick with all “A” or “B” grades although it would be rare to find anything lower anyway.   

I was also told that if there is a line at a stall, while the food may be good, it might not be the best of its type in the center.  Apparently when Singaporeans see a line, they tend to queue up because they want to see what’s so important to wait in line for.  I’m not sure I buy that train of thought as I have since arriving waited in many lines and thought the food was fantastic and just adequate at others!  Then again… I’m no expert.   

The other thing with stalls in a hawker center, they each specialize in one particular food, perhaps with slight variations, but one food type.  So the stall that sells the unofficial Singaporean specialty of chicken rice, which my children could live on, they might have boiled chicken or roasted chicken, but that’s about it on the variation.  And I personally don’t recommend the boiled.  I find nothing appealing about the boiled skin part.  Ack. As for the picture, yes that is chicken feet, but no it is not the norm to have it served this way.  I still think the woman did this only for the foreigner as I didn't see feet with nails in any other bowl leaving her stall.

One of my favorite cakes in the whole world is carrot cake.  Imagine my surprise to see it at a hawker center!  Except... nope.  Seeing the picture wasn't enough to make me not want to try it; it actually made me want it more.  I'm not sure how it gets it's name because I didn't see a single carrot in the dish, but it is a pan fried cake with I-don't-know-what in it and then mixed with egg or sweet black sauce.  I choose the dish with both on it and still can't tell you which kind I liked better.  It's not mama's carrot cake, but it was delicious.

Now here is where the weak of spine should stop reading now.  I’m going to show some more of the oddities I have found in hawker centers.  There are 42 centres that I know of and I have been to three.  My goal is to hit them all.  

This first one, even the adventurous eater in me is going to pass on.  Although, it does remind me of that God-awful hog maw that is popular with those Pennsylvania Dutch back home. 
Fishball soup seems to be popular here.  I haven't tried it... yet.  But you know I will.

Chicken feet salad.  Now it is rare that I see any "back home" normal garden variety salads here, let alone many salads at all... but this is one I am going to skip.

Frog legs... sure.  I'll go for it.  And to use a word like porridge just makes it sound like all sorts of Goldilocks fun, doesn't it?

Duck is delicious!  And I'm banking on this being a decades old recipe from a Chinese family who knows how to make good duck noodle and duck porridge. 

   Fish Stew.  And this is much different than fishball soup, as in there is real fish and not just the fish's balls.  I kid.  Fish don't have balls!  Ha!  Don't worry.  I'm slapping myself for going there.  Anyway, I'm loving this stuff.  It's actually quite healthy too with a clear broth and fresh boiled fish, vegetables and herbs in it.  Although, I do pick the skin off the fish in it.  I just can't do skin. 

Desserts are a part of our dinners.  I mean, how else will I get my kids to eat some of this weird crap without some reward at the end?  It may not be cake and ice cream for my kids, but I think the desserts here are tastier and a whole lot healthier.  The longon in many of these is a little fruit.  Lychee, another fruit.  Coconut is prevalent.  And the jelly in everything?  Well, I am not quite sure what it is, but my kids now assume it's jello.  Let's go with that, shall we?  The far left dessert?  The one with the heaping of bright colors?  That is called ice kacang and it is wonderful.  Shaved ice with flavorings poured down it and sweet red beans inside.  I like it when they pour milk over the top too.

Drinks are sold at separate stalls.  Note the 'Kopi Museum' which I am guessing is coffee.  I have no idea why they spelled it that way when everyone else in the centre spelled it right.  But what I can't get enough of are the fresh juices.  I know juicing is the trend in the US, but I would much rather have pure and fresh watermelon juice than to mix it with spinach and kale.  Just saying.  I drink the green stuff too, but I am having a hard time thinking of ever going back to it now that these juices are at every place I go.

I've talked enough about food now.  I've got to go get something to eat.  This is why I can never be a food blogger.  *sigh*

Tuesday, August 27

Tuesday Tidbits

I am completely addicted to the fresh juice here.  I don’t care how much it costs… I.  Must.  Have.  More. 

We have yet to take a train here.  I know this is a serious faux pas when you live in a country with a thriving mass transit system.  Go ahead and judge.  But taxis are so prevalent, so cheap and so easy that it seems silly to take a cab just to go to a train when the cab can get me there in half the time.  Plus, the best part is that every time we get out of a cab, Kimono Sweet Pea tells the driver, “thank you!  I love you!”  They each do a double take and look at me as if to confirm, that yes, my little one just pledged himself to you.

We have taken a bus.  We did so with two new (adult!) friends, both from different countries than myself, and a total of six boys and one little girl, all under the age of 6 and all running in different directions.  We must have been a sight, particularly when my oldest melted down on the bus because he didn’t get to sit next to his new friends as the seats were full.  At least I know how that system works, but I will need to get my boys a lot calmer before I attempt that mess again.

I have learned that I need to listen to my oldest when he says he sees something.  For example, he came running to tell me there was a gecko in Kimono Sweet Pea’s room.  I said, very patronizingly I admit, “sure baby, there’s a gecko in there…” thinking he is talking about the stuff geckos I had bought the boys at a funky shopping mall the day before.  Nope.  There was a gecko.  On the wall.  Then we went to MacRitchie Reservoir this weekend and he told me as we were not two minutes into are visit there and had just entered the outdoor restaurant area, “look!  There’s a monkey in the vines drinking a soda!”  I patted his wee head and gave him another, “sure honey… there’s a monkey above us drinking a soda.”  Then the monkey dropped the soda can directly at our feet.  Dolp. 

We do not have a house yet.  This is through no fault of my own.  I haven’t had a ‘home’ since we left Rhode Island at the end of June.  This hotel living is about as old as it will ever get to someone, so you can bet your booty I am doing everything I can to move us forward, but mostly I just have to sit on my hands and be patient.  If you know me well, you can rest assured that I am really good at that. 

There is a bright light in living in this hotel/serviced apartment.  Every day when the kids get up from their nap, we change into swimming gear and spend an hour in the pool downstairs.  The timing is brilliant.  Every other expat with kids shows up at the pool at the exact same time.  We all sit on the sides or play in the pool with our kids as we talk about where we are from, what we are doing here and what we think of it so far.  It is incredibly bonding and beneficial to our hearts that ache from missing family and friends in our homelands.  The funny part is, despite having become good friends with three women, I have met only two other American families here and I only met them because they work for the Navy like my husband does.

Speaking of my husband’s job, for the first time EVER, he okayed me saying where he works.  I think most just figure we are military like everyone else that moves overseas.  We’re not.  The funny thing is, with the okay, I still feel odd talking about it.  Talk about a well-trained dog. 

Wednesday, August 21

New Heights

When coming up with ideas of things to do here in Singapore, newbies like us are never at a loss.  It seems like there are a thousand and one things we want to do.  Right.  Now!  But knowing how we are such high fliers, and all (haaaa!), we had to get ourselves over to the Singapore Flyer. 

We first saw this amazing ferris wheel as we were driving towards our downtown hotel from the airport on that very first late, dark night.  This giant glowing ring loomed in the distance, looking as if it was missing all the spikes that would actually hold the wheel’s structure in place.  As we pulled up to it in a taxi on this bright, sunny day, the spokes gleamed white with the large glass pods stuck to the outsides of the ring.  The line for tickets only took a minute or two.  The price, like everything else in Singapore, is… pricey… at a little over $100 US dollars for the three of us.  The Pea was thankfully free.  An escalator took us up a level where we took a trek through a dark and neon lit museum before depositing us into a long line that snaked up the ramp to the Flyer.  I’m not really sure what happened next, because as we stood in the line, a man came, opened the chain next to us and pulled us and a few people behind us out of the line, and then had us walk past 20 or so people directly to the next pod.  I assume the group now behind us was together, but boy did it feel awkward to jump up the line like that.  I try very hard to not stick out when we are in foreign countries, so walking purposefully past a long string of Asians for front of the line privileges is most certainly the opposite of not standing out.  But away we went! 

The pods hold 28 people and I would say ours had about 20 in it.  It was fully air conditioning.  Thank God as the bright sun shown down into the glass structure and would have been like a giant people pressure cooker if not.  This is the world’s largest observation wheel (ferris wheel for us simpletons) and rises the 28 attached pods 42 stories high for a 30 minute ride.  At its highest point, the panoramic views are unrivaled… the funky boat hotel called Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Grand Prix Circuit, the Supertree Grove at Garden by the Bay, hundreds of shipping boats and so much more.   

I will tell you, it rocks when you get to the top.  It wasn’t enough to turn my stomach, just enough to give me pause.  My mother would have been on the floor cursing our existence though.  As we descended, KH and I both agreed that our next visit will be at night. 

My kids seem to eat every five minutes these days, so they were hungry by the time we got to the bottom.  I guess they are tiring of our continuing rotation of noodles, rice and unidentifiable meats as they immediately pointed at the Boston-themed bar in the corner.  You can take the boy out of New England, but you can’t take the New England out of the boy.  But you sure can mix in some Singapore to make ‘em really interesting.  We’re giving that our all!

Tuesday, August 20

My Big, Fat 40th Fireworks

It’s no secret that I am a pretty adventurous person.  What might not be so obvious, however, is that I am also a very big homebody.  I don’t want to roam every day.  I like being able to stay in my jammies all day, only to put decent clothes and some makeup on just before my husband comes home.   And when I do want to get out there and experience everything I can, I also want to come home at the end of the day to be with my favorite things and favorite people around me.  Moving here, I only got to bring three of those people.  I can’t tell you some days how much my heart breaks that I don’t get to be with the rest. 

I turned 40 a few weeks ago.  I wasn’t worked up about the number at all.  I actually relished it as I know myself better now than I ever did in my 30s.  What bothered me, though, was that I felt so entirely alone.  I know.  I know.  I had the three most important people with me!  And they helped.  But I am grateful that my girlfriends all got together for a fabulous night out last month as I did replay those hours in my head.  A few of my closest friends and my family all called to talk and that helped immensely.  Thank God that overseas communication has gotten so much easier with each year and each move!  However, I have since insisted to my husband that we STOP moving just before my birthday each year.  It’s getting old. 

What did we do for my 40th?  KH and the boys got up in the morning and found a cake and some flowers for me.  We looked at a few houses… didn’t like any.  We ate lunch… nothing fancy as the househunting was midday.  Back in our hotel room, a cake had been delivered from the hotel.  While the overly tired kids napped, I admit I wallowed a bit… and ate much of the second cake on my own.  It really wasn’t just about the birthday, but more a buildup of the recent homesickness compounding the day.  No matter how fun and exciting a move like this is, there is another side of confusion and difficulties to be faced and I just didn’t have much energy for it on that day in particular. By dinner time, I didn’t care less that the boys chose pizza for us.  I even insisted it be delivered so I could continue to wallow while I had dinner and even enjoy a bottle of overpriced wine I bought at the grocery store below us.  And here is where the day turned around…

Apparently, the officials in Singapore heard that I was new in town and having a rough spot.  Those kind people put on an air show for me and fireworks!  Helicopters went past our window pulling the flag for our new country and jets swooshed through the air in formation.  From our balcony, we continued our pizza, birthday cake and wine binge (me and KH on the last one… not the kids!  We’re not European.), all while watching the grand show in being put on for me! 

You do get that it wasn’t for me, right?  Anyone that knows me know I am not that vain.  My birthday, however, will be celebrated in style each year we are here as August 9th is National Day in Singapore.  This year, Singapore celebrated its 48th year as a country.  When we lived in Japan, I used to laugh at how short American history was in comparison and now I find myself in a country with an even shorter history, and one that it must take a whole lot less time in high school and college trying to memorize before a test.  On our television, we watched the same national show that we could see at a distance on the balcony, a show with a mix of oddball Asian humor, pomp and circumstance as well as some oddities like a faked SWAT team taking down terrorists in the crowd, complete with firing blanks into the air.  As many of you know my husband’s background in law enforcement, you can imagine how we both cringed watching that.  In the back of our minds, we kept expecting one of the bullets to be real and to take out someone important.  Although Singapore is one of the safest countries on the planet, this is still a scary world we live in, you know? 

Off the track, but speaking of scary, a week ago, our hotel did a fire alarm test.  Prior to this, they notified everyone in the building by leaving notes in their apartments.  Guess which apartment they missed?  It was about 3:00 pm and the boys were napping and was rocked to the core trying to figure out how the hell to get two groggy boys to ground safety from our upper floor positioning.  See?  9/11 has indelibly left its mark on my heart.

Anyway, I’m shaking off my fears and the homesickness will fade as I get my three favorite people settled into our new home.  Of course, we haven’t found one yet, but it is close.  More details to come as we hammer out the details.  For now, I’m taking my 40th year slow and steady, and with a drink in my hand as I sit by the gorgeous pool here at the hotel.  But not one of those Singapore Slings.  Those drinks just aren’t very good. It’s a rough life, but someone’s got to live it.   

Tuesday, August 13

The Real House Hunters International

With every move comes the obvious house search.  But when you are operating in a foreign country, how that search is going to go has everything to do with how flexible you can be.  That flexibility is just about the house either!  It’s the whole process. 

I greatly under-researched this process AND the houses prior to setting foot on Singaporean ground, but that isn’t entirely my fault.  The original plan was to skip the house hunt this time around and just take a place on base.  I chose this route for various reasons… the knowledge that we can only have one car that we would share to get one to work, two to school and me to wherever the hell I was driving everyone.  There was also the knowledge that when you are living out of the country on government orders, the rent and bill paying can give you one very big headache and your bank account a bigger stretch than anyone would choose to do.  While I love the idea of living in the real world wherever I am, I didn’t relish the work involved for me if we lived out in town.  Here’s the glitch… there is no ‘base’ in Singapore.  They call it a ‘place’.  And the rules to get a house are unlike any I have ever encountered.  I’m not getting into the politics of it, but we decided that we best thing for our family was just to get out there and check out the rental market or go back to looking for a large enough cardboard box for us all to live in… and it just rains too much here for cardboard. 

Not really sure where to start, we randomly called a realtor to show us a place we had found online.  He said he would pick us up the next day.  We only found out after meeting him that when you start with a realtor, you stick with a realtor.  You don’t use multiples like in Japan.  Thank goodness the guy wasn’t an idiot, because he is ours for the duration of our time here in Singapore.  Actually, I quite like him and his very Singaporean ways of describing everything with a twinge of negativity.  It amuses me that what he sees is the exact opposite of what I see.  Spending time with him allows me to see the flip side of the coin.  And he really is a good guy… a family man who drives his wife to and from work every day so she doesn’t have to take a train, he also even delivered a cake to our hotel the night he found out it was my birthday, and when I rescheduled an appointment to view houses because the kids were sick, he offered to drive us all to whatever doctors we might need.  And most importantly, he has an easy first name which, thank God, because I have no idea how to say his last one.

To date, we have seen nine houses and what we have learned is this: most Singaporeans live in HDB housing, which is basically like a highrise condo; there are also cluster houses that are like townhouses but with WAY more stairs; and there are a very few semi-detached homes available that are like one big house but split in two.  The last category is where we have decided to focus our efforts.  The first two categories are more likely to have pools and other recreational facilities.  A semi-detached will likely not have that access and most Singaporeans would not choose to live in these. 

As for the homes themselves, they are much more modern than I would ever choose.  Basically, none of our traditional or antique styled furniture will make sense in any of them.  The builders like marble on the first floor, wood for the stairs and upper floors (and there are MANY upper floors in most of these homes), closets are built into all bedrooms, each bedroom has an attached bathroom, and that bathroom has a glass shower room, no tub and likely some fancy sink in it.  To me, that all just means a hell of a lot more cleaning for me to do.  And no, I have pretty much made the decision that I will not be getting an amah or helper (in other words, live-in maid) like everyone else here to do these jobs for me.  I just can’t do the whole stranger in my house thing.  Sorry.  I have also learned that many homes have a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen.  This is because Chinese cooking is stinky.  They cook it outside in the wet kitchen and the dry kitchen is for simple, more Western cooking.  The homes I have seen do have an oven.  I can’t bake a full size cake in it, but I can make bread.  When it comes to Thanksgiving this year, I think I will just roast a stuffed chicken and call it a day.  Many homes also have a granny room.  I have found out that this is indeed a room for granny.  Because she is old and feeble and can’t walk up all the crazy ass flights of stairs in the house.  So yes, Mom’s, this room is indeed for you.  Plus, it puts you next to the kitchen.  So see?  My maid is taken care of.  (Just kidding!  Or am I? Come visit and find out!)

So far, Kimono Hubby and I are not settled on any of them.  There is a gorgeous front runner, but we are negotiating prices.  There is so much negotiating here with landlords.  I am really not into that.  Tell me a price.  I pay.  (Even if I gag a little when I hand over all. that. money.  And if you know anything about real estate, think beyond New York City prices.) Anyway, I pay.  End of discussion.  But remember how I mentioned flexibility?  Even though the system drives me crazy, I am doing it all the Singaporean way and negotiating my terms. 

Without being able to share a home that we have chosen yet, I will instead leave you with shots of the ones we have seen.  But you know how they show you three tidy little homes on the show and the happy househunters pick one and sign a sheet of paper and it is theirs?  Yep.  It ain’t nothing like that.
Oldest kitchen we saw in the most traditional semi-detached house we saw (shown below).  And Indian family lives there right now.  It smells strongly of curry and incense.  And I emphasize strongly. BUT... it had a 12 x 12 square of grass that serves the purpose of a yard.  That's rare.

 This is a kitchen in a brand spanking new cluster house we saw.  Yes, those are glass walls and a glass door will shut the poor fool in the kitchen with no air conditioning.
Notice the all glass walls of the same cluster home above, where the neighbors can stare in all night long.  But the cool feature is straight ahead.  You open those doors and you step directly into the pool that goes all around the complex.  Like in Venice where you use a boat to get to and from your neighbors home, here you use a pool noodle.  Awesome if it were just the husband and myself, but one kid slips out the door without us knowing it, and I die of heart break.  Pass.
 It's hard to see in this picture above, but right in front of my husband is two marble steps down.  To the left, just a big old cliff of marble.  Apparently, this is a popular Chinese feature.  All I see are broken bones as the kids forget it is there and go flying off the wrong side. 
 In the foreground, the dry kitchen and where the man is standing outside, the wet kitchen. 
 Looky!  We found a yard! 
 Prime example of a bathroom, but this one does surprisingly have the bathtub.  I was told that tubs are dangerous, so they shower their children.  How the hell do you shower a baby?
 This house was truly beautiful.  But it was approximately 4,000 square feet.  When we saw the two bedrooms on the mid floor, I laughed because we all could live in one.  Then we go upstairs for two more and I realized that if we chose this house, we would have a whole extra floor that was completely unnecessary. 
 This is the dry kitchen, with two burners.  Really?  Two burners.  To the right of the stove is a little hallway that takes you back to the wet kitchen where there are more, but I still find this odd.  Oh.  And that is a microwave and an oven.  A little oven. 
 Kimono Sweet Pea is standing in the shower with a look on his face that says, "really mom?  I refuse your stinking shower."
 Looky!  Another yard!  With our very own palm tree!
 The houses are deceiving.  We only looked at the right half.  This is a semi-detached.  It looks small, but this house was over 3,000 square feet.
 This home was a bit of a dream.  I love it and would move in in a heart beat.  I pictured myself with those windowed walls completely open and enjoying the breeze with a drink in my hand every day of my Singaporean time. There is even a triangular shaped pool to the left that you can't see.  But sadly, the price could not be negotiated to where we could do it. 
 Bye bye dream house.  Hope someone treats you real good.