Fear and Loathing in Parc Vista

Its been a rough last few weeks. Emmet and I are both going a bit stir crazy. The haze has returned on and off usually at least one day each week is too bad to go play outside or even to go swim. Everything smells like ash, there are times you can taste it with each breath. The days it is bearable the is at least a fifty percent chance of rain since that is the season we are in. For those that don’t know South East Asia has two seasons that I can discern, hot and hot and raining. But the worst days are those that it is not raining or hazy that we stay inside in a form of self imposed exile from the outside world.

The signs have gone up around the neighborhood, the warning dots on them red. The inspectors have visited the condo complex at least twice. Handing out insecticide, emptying flowerpot basins, and checking drainage on the porch. The teams of government workers scour the sidewalk drains and fields with nets and testing supplies. Dengue has risen its tiny ugy head in our neighborhood.

A viral infection born by the a small day biting mosquito, it causes fevers, rash, and anemia. Supposedly it is mild in children than in adults, yet Emmet goes nowhere without a citronella patch on his shirt and few dozen spritzes of OFF. A friend of mine once had dengue and described it as the worst experience of his life. Mind you this is a friend of mine who served with me in Iraq so he has a wealth of bad experiences to draw from. One of the moms’in our group of friends came down with it last week. A strong athletic woman, Sybil was confined to bed for 3 days with what she described as constant pain in her bones. Fitting since dengue is nicknamed “break-bone fever””.

From what I have heard the health council has pinpointed the mosquito resevoir in the neighborhood. The old police station on the corner behind our condo has been abandoned since before we moved in to the complex. It sowed in the grounds. Grass grown to waist height and gone to seed. Drainage ditches clogged with leaves. A leaky roof causing large puddles in the interior. In other words mosquito paradise.

This week saw cleaning crews overhauling the grounds, the signs dropping to yellow as the number of new cases drops, and Sybil back on her feet although still looking careworn and tired. Our complex is fairly mosquito free due to fogging twice weekly, but it still worries me to have E out and about sometimes. I’m not usually a worrier like this, I leave that to the wife, but dengue is not something to trifle with. Hopefully when the signs come down and the immediacy of it has passed we can go play again. I have bought five boxes of citronella patches though, I think we’ll both be wearing them for the foreseeable future.

Edible Expedition

Singapore is a culinary delight in many ways. There is no shortage of international food to be had. If one desires Malay, authentic Chinese, Indian, fine French, or even yes good old American fast food it can be yours. All in the same day within walking distance of each other in most cases. However there are a few instances where this delightfully delectable little Island falls short.

Sometimes it is due to cost or availability. I have resorted to making my own hummus, which I don’t mind since it is usually better than store brands due to cost (Eight dollars and fifty cents for the small tub of Tribe is too much). And the scarcity of hearty bread, and especially bagels have brought out a latent baker in me that I long disavowed any knowledge of. To those that know me I have shunned baking for its demanding exactness and unforgiving nature. I have found, to my delight, that bread is much more lenient on the less measurement minded of us kitchen types.

My latest noshing need has unfortunately been unfulfilled to date. It started about two weeks ago. I was in the kitchen making lunch. Emmet had, in the infinite wisdom of a child, decided on this sweltering thirty three degree (I’ll let those of a Fahrenheit persuasion do their own conversion since writing the number pains me) with ninety percent humidity that grilled cheese was a good idea. I had a few pieces of ham in the fridge so I added it to make Monte Cristos and while munching the craving hit me. What this sandwich needed was rye bread, and Swiss instead of American, and a salted meat that wasn’t ham, and Thousand Island, and kraut!

That’s right out of no where the Reuben truck had hit me…..hard. As we all know a food craving once initiated is like a bad song stuck in your head, The only way to get it out is to listen to, or in this case ingest, said earworm. So thus began my search. Deli corned beef has been a no show, but I did find pastrami. Rye bread has also been a no go, but I did find a market with a fairly hearty wheat loaf that will make an acceptable substitute. Thousand Island dressing is surprisingly handy in the supermarket. The killer has been the kraut. I have searched high and low. I have perused the high end ex-pat grocery stores, I even went so far as to look up the only Kosher market on the island, which disappointingly was also barren. Not surprising since the small but strong Jewish community on the Island is mainly of Middle Eastern not European origin. However I do posses the power of Google and have found that sauerkraut is easy to make at home. Cabbage, salt, caraway (optional thank God!) , and a jar.

In three to seven days I should possess enough homemade kraut for a couple of sammiches. I hope my home fix tastes good, because I really need to move my tastebuds along to a more easily satisfied pursuit, like Japanese curry.

Empty Nest

Mom’s visit has come and gone. Its been almost two weeks since she left and I am just now sitting down to write about it. It was a really fun time. We were VERY busy. Emmet, the wife, and I took mom all over Singapore. And I’ve been tired since!

Mom’s flight got in just past midnight on Sunday and Emmet’s face when he woke up Monday morning and saw her in the house was absolutely priceless! I am amazed we convinced him to go to school that day. But we did, leading to hilarity later in the week. Meimei in Chinese is “little sister”and is pronounced very close to Memere “grandma”in Canuck. His teachers know he is an only child and could not understand why he didn’t want to be in school because his “little sister”was visiting.

We hit the ground running taking mom to the market and food stalls her first morning after bringing the little man to school. It was great to see her expression when she saw our marketplace, I imagine I looked very much the same the first time but since I don’t carry a mirror around I can’t be sure. The sights, sounds, and smells threatened to overwhelm her. Not to mention the coffee. I had tried to prepare her for the sweetness of coffee with sugar and condensed milk, but it is something that must be experienced to be believed.

We crammed all the things we would do in a month into eight days (we took a couple to relax) going to the bird park, zoo, the gardens, shopping in Chinatown, the science center, and even a sightseeing tour by duckboat. The wife I and even got to go out and have dinner like adults, by ourselves…..twice. Which is exactly two more times than in the previous six months.

Unfortunately all good things must end. The three days following mom’s departure were rough on us all. Emmet had trouble sleeping in his own room….alone. I missed having a reason to make a full pot of coffee, and someone to show all these cool places to. And we all missed the nice feeling of family being close again. Now we just have to make it until Christmas when we visit home.

Houseguests

A little over a week from now my mother will be visiting us here in Singapore for two weeks. Emmet is very excited to see Memere, even if he is sketchy on time. I told him at the beginning of September that she was coming. Since then its been the subject of conversation roughly every other day. Three year olds are apparently not good with calenders, who knew?

We’ve been trying to compile a list of things to do while Mom is here. So far on the list we have the beach at Sentosa, E would really like to take Memere for a drive down the mountain like he did during Uncle Andrew’s visit. The zoo for an elephant ride. The bird park, since Emmet loves it, we have the membership, and Mom likes birds. Perhaps a ferry ride to Pulau Ulbin since we haven’t done that yet so it will be a new thing for all of us. And we are still debating a possible trip to Malaysia, Indonesia, or Bali but that’s not a guarantee. We will definitely be taking her to the marketplace for breakfast. Hey if Andrew can find something he was willing to eat there then Mom certainly can.

In addition to planning all the things to do during her visit we are also going through the normal weirdness of someone visiting. Is the house clean enough, is everything put away, did we shop for the right things to keep in the house (I can’t remember if she drinks decaf or not). The cleaning is the part that disturbs me. You would think going from a three floor three bedroom duplex to a two bedroom apartment smaller than one of those floors, keeping it tidy would be easy. Those with toddlers know this is seldom the case. I took Emmet out while the wife did an intensive cleanup of the living room a scant two days ago. It looked great for that evening and the whole next morning while the little man was in school. His school ends at ten thirty. Add the five minute walk back to the house, by eleven her work was all for naught.

The good news I guess is that Mom will more likely be more keen on spending time with E than critiquing my sweeping skills.

A Declaration

When in the course of parental events it becomes necessary for one couple to dissolve the material bands which constrain it and to assume among the powers of the earth, to which God and Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the nature of childkind compel them to declare the reasons for such a separation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that not all toys are created equal, clothes may be outgrown, and that mom and dad are entitled to certain unalienable rights, that among them are Space, Un-clutter, and the Pursuit of a clean apartment. That to secure these rights parents have been instituted among children deriving their powers from biology or other legal guardianship of the governed. That when too much stuff becomes destructive to these ends it is the right of the parents to abolish it.

Ahhh the dilemma of children, they grow out of clothes, they grow tired of toys, and their stacks of stuff just grow. My little Emmet weed has been growing quite steadily, as such many of the clothes we brought no longer fit. If I ever dressed him in long pants most of his jeans would look like capris at this point. Back in the States this was not a problem as we had numerous cousins, friends, charity bins, or yard sales to dispose of clothes. Many of the same for the toys. Here however finding somewhere to donate has proved challenging. Yard sales are difficult when you have no yard, in any event I’ve never seen anything resembling one so I don’t believe they are common. The family is too far away to make it reasonable to get outgrown clothes to them. Luckily we have made some friends in our apartment complex with children, both smaller and larger than E. Recently I went through the little man’s closet and made four piles. Keep, give to smaller children, ask the wife if she has an odd motherly over attachment to this garment, and holy crap this is too stained to give away why have we kept it this long? I gave away two shopping bags full of T-shirts, jeans, rompers, and pj’s to Marcel for his little one. And in the karmic cycle of children’s clothing I received a few days later two bags from Lita that her boy had outgrown of pj’s shorts and T-shirts. These I’m sure will in turn be passed along (assuming they make it through the aforementioned sorting process) to other friends.

The toys present a more difficult challenge. The stash seems to keep growing, as if the toy box were populated not by plastic and wood but by little toy gerbils that multiply exponentially in the night. How to rid ourselves of some of them without causing a complete meltdown is the question. Invariably when I have gone through them post bed time and set some aside, the next morning is when that one thing that has gone unused for a month is the one that is being looked for. There is no market for used toys among the other parents either, as they are likely in the same boat.

One of these days I will have to just bite the tantrum bullet and pare down the stock. This tiny apartment simply cannot support the burgeoning ecosystem of playthings at its current growth rate. Today, however, is not the day. Yeah buddy I know where your half broken hoard of cheap plastic trucks are.

Places With Benefits

There are a lot of things to not like about living here in Singapore. The isolation from family and friends, the lack of good cheese at decent prices, the horribly expensive wine. There are, however, quite a few things on the plus side of the equation as well. The weather (once one gets used to the heat), the diversity of people and food, and a perk we recently took advantage of.

Singapore’s location on the end of the Malaysian peninsula makes it a great jumping off point to visiting other places. It is a three or five hour bus ride respectively to Johor Baru or Kuala Lumpur. A mere six hour flight to Bali. And as we found out a pleasant two hour flight to Thailand. Spending only about seven hundred dollars US we spent from Saturday to Wednesday in the beach town of Ao Nang. That figure included flight and hotel. It was a great long weekend.

If you have ever visited Rhode Island, Ao Nang is reminiscent of Narragansett or Block Island in the summer. Plenty of souvenir shops and little cafe’s along the beach. Plenty of people selling advice, tours, and trinkets. Where it differs is the multitude of tailors and massage parlors. Also the food which was plentiful and very good.

The restaurants in particular were interesting. The menus resembled more something Hemingway would turn out than a dinner selection. They were thick, heavy, and confusing….in a good way. Almost every place had such a varied selection that I pitied the kitchen staff and buyers. Almost every place advertised wood fired pizza, in addition most had a selection of Thai and Indian dishes. The more ambitious few included pasta. One had all these plus steaks and burgers. It was mind boggling. At the same time it was a delight. On our short stay I had Green Curry Seafood, Pad Thai, Gorgonzola Gnocchi, and Braised Lamb Shank. An absolute delight for the taste buds.

We also took the opportunity to take a boat ride to one of the pristine islands for the day. Beautiful scenery,clear water, tropical fish swimming around you, and beers on the beach. Apart from the wait for the boat, we had apparently picked one of the less popular islands and had to wait for six people before they would take us out, it was a perfect day. The next day we visited the Tiger Temple. It was a breathtaking display of Thai Buddhist architecture and history. There is supposedly another temple at the top of the mountain that the one we saw rests against. It is one thousand two hundred and thirty seven steps to the top. The steps are knee high on me and shallow. We made it about two hundred before it was decided that this was not a kid friendly pursuit, no matter how awesome the view and temple at the top would be. I went out one night by myself to the night market in Krabi town. It was pretty cool, lots of things to eat and see. The best part of the market was getting to pet and feed an elephant that was hanging out with her handlers on one corner.

We spent the next two days hanging around the town, window shopping, and playing in the pool. We also got to go out one night and have an adult dinner, thanks to the hotel babysitting staff! The wife and I each took some time to go out separately and get massages on the beach. I can’t wait to be able to visit again, even if its only to sit on that beach one more time!

Family Meal

hariraya1 hariraya2I’m sorry to all you culinary types who might have found this post by its title and to Steve, no I haven’t gotten a job in a restaurant. This is actually about a meal with a family, not that bacchanalian feast before service. We were invited to a celebration by the woman I have affectionately called my vegetable lady. Her real name is Zul, and her husband Endon. They are Malaysian Muslims who amazingly saw fit to have the wife, Emmet and myself visit their home for a family celebration.

I met Zul shortly after moving into our permanent apartment here in Singapore. She has a stall in the local market and sells vegetables and freshly ground coconut. She was the first person outside of our condo in the local community to take an active interest in Emmet and me. She is always helpful in identifying local produce, She gives me cooking tips, she loves Emmet (well who doesn’t?). Most importantly she is a genuinely nice person. She greets every day with a smile and a positive attitude, and she was nice enough to extend her hospitality on can arguably be called the most celebrated of holidays among Singapore’s Muslim population.

Hari Raya Pusua is the Eid (feast) at the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month in the Islamic world where one fasts between sunrise and sunset. With very few exceptions nothing passes the lips, not even water of the faithful. At the end of this month of sacrifice celebrations are held in many households. There are evenings with friends, with family, nights where one visits others. Aunty Zul asked our family to celebrate with hers. We were completely taken aback and honored to accept

Allow me to focus for a moment on most, and yet somehow least, important aspect of the evening…..the food. There was a cornucopia of Malaysian delights all prepared in the home to sample. Small cakes and cookies began the evening. Emmet was partial to the rainbow cakes that were a spiral and could be unraveled, I however fell in love with a small cookie. Reminiscent of a butter based shortbread it is a small ball dusted with sugar and filled with cashews and spice. I could have eaten the the whole jar, skipped dinner and left feeling satisfied. I didn’t, let’s not get crazy there were too many other things to sample. Spiced chicken, vegetables in green curry, beef randang, chili prawns, and the most adorable little rice pillows to soak up the sauce that everything came with filled the table. The green curry chicken was probably my favorite, the to go bag that was packed for us included a healthy portion of it I’m happy to say, soft and light with a perfect amount of spice it is something I could eat every day if only she would share her recipe. I’ll have to work on that.

The unequivocal most important part of the night was her family. Aunty Zul picked us up just before eight and we were the first guests to arrive at her home on this evening. Good news for us since it gave us first crack at the buffet. We were greeted in the car by her and her eldest daughter who is probably about our age perhaps slightly younger. She works for the ministry of education in the early childhood development section and took an immediate liking to E. When we arrived at her home her youngest daughter was there as well as her husband. Emmet seized on the Voltron figure on the hutch which the girls took down and played with him. Endon (the husband) a man who is likely in his sixties wasted no time in getting on the floor to tickle, tease, and play with Emmet. I hope his sons and daughters give him grandchildren soon, as he is a man perfectly suited to being the indulgent, happy grandfather. He spent more time with E than with anyone else at the party.

Perhaps an hour after we arrived the family proper got there. There were aunts, uncles, cousins (some with children of their own) and Zul’s aunt (her mothers sister) the only one among them who could not converse in English but none the less had smile for us and a hug for E. It was warm and welcoming. I can only equate it to a Thanksgiving open house in the States with different foods. We sat and talked and drank tea until ten that evening with the family. When it was time for us to go we were given a ride back to our place even though I insisted we could get a taxi so no one had to leave. As we were leaving Emmet was given a red packet from Aunty Zul and from one of the cousins. Red packets are traditional gifts. Small envelopes with a few dollars in them, a gesture of goodwill and giving to children and family. The amount is inconsequential, the gesture meant everything. It was overwhelming to be so completely absorbed into this family’s celebration. Quite honestly it was the best thing that has happened to us ( at least in my opinion) since we’ve been here. Without reservation we were invited in and made to feel at home during an important time in their year,.

If for the rest of the time we spend here we simply go about our daily routine, Emmet goes to school, I cook dinner and do dishes, the wife goes to work. This evening will have made it the move worth it. It is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Extra Extra

The long awaited post about our celebratory dinner will be up soon. I just need to upload some pictures to complete it.

Come Fly The Friendly Skies

Three weeks ago the wife asked me an odd question. “Have you ever considered going home for a visit just you and Emmet?” I thought for a moment, a short moment, and said”No, twenty six hours on a plane alone with a toddler never crossed my mind.”. I was not prepared for her to up the ante.

Her next sentence was “Well he should see his cousins while they are on summer break, and your sister has an extra Buffet ticket for next weekend.” The annual Jimmy Buffet concert is a tradition in our family. Twenty or so people attend. She has learned well the art of one upmanship from me. So from a conversation on a Friday night Emmet and I were embarking on a trip back to Rhode Island on the next Wednesday.

Singapore to Hong Kong. Hong Kong to Chicago. Chicago to Boston. Twenty six hours total travel time, me and the little man.

Our odyssey started at three in the morning with a taxi ride to the airport. Emmet was very excited. He was going to see so many people. Tucker and Bekkah, Matthew and Elena, Memere and Pepere (for those not of Canuck descent that is Grandma and Grandpa), Grumman and Pepere, he could barely contain himself. Problem number on…..a three year old has little to no sense of time. He did not understand why we were at the airport and not seeing everyone already. Problem number two was that, for some unknown reason, Burger King at the airport was not making pancakes at four am. Really who wants a Whopper and not hotcakes that early in the morning? OK twenty year old drunks, but really everyone else wants breakfast food.

I have to say I have never had better customer service from flight attendants than this trip. I’d like to think its because United has just stepped up their game, but I know its because those irresistible hazel eyes have a melting effect on on any woman between the ages of seventeen and sixty. Emmet got juice and crackers before takeoff. I was , unsurprisingly, not asked if I had any needs. For long flights there is a screen on the back of the seat in front of you. This is a lifesaver. There are cartoon shows (Doc McStuffins was watched a lot) movies, and games. This in addition to the coloring books and stories we brought actually made the flight go painlessly. I have discovered Emmet is an exceptional traveler. There was one minor freakout somewhere over Alaska when he wanted to open his window shade. The problem being everyone on the plane (except us) was sleeping and it was a VERY bright morning outside that little plastic flap.

The only other issue we had (coming and going) was Chicago. Not the city specifically, I’d hate to disparage a whole city I’ve never actually visited, but O’Hare airport. We had a two hour layover morph into a five hour layover on the way to the States and an extra three hours on the way back. I have decided that O’Hare is the worst place on Earth. Bad food, too many gates, inevitable delays, the only saving grace is a phenomenal children’s play area in terminal two. Its almost like they know you are going to be stuck and need somewhere to go.

I have to say though he was a trooper. He slept well, he was polite and well behaved both ways, and we had a great trip home! I’ll write more of our adventures home soon.

Author’s Note: please excuse any typos or rambling in this post. It was written under the influence of Duty Free Bombay Sapphire gin.

The Nanny State

Someone watching over you at all times. Keeping you safe, clothed, and fed. Paid to make sure you don’t injure yourself and you’re overall well being is maintained, but not necessarily concerned with your upbringing. This is the Singapore I’ve noticed recently. I have become increasingly annoyed with some of the children in our complex during Emmet’s nightly playtime. Mostly they are good kids, but they can be little heathens. As all children can at times. The problem is we live in a nanny state. Not in the way radio talk hosts in the United States mean it. In a much more literal way. There are evenings where of the twenty or so children at the playground I am the only parent in sight. Most nights there are only one or two more. If anyone accompanies the child it is the nanny, or Helper as they are called here.

There are basically two ways families treat these women here. The first, and unfortunately most common, is as a servant. The children are brought up knowing that the Helper is a hired hand of the family and treated much like a useful tool. They are cared for, in the sense that they are housed, fed, clothed, and paid by the family. The children also know that they carry no real authority in the household and their words have no weight or impact on the child’s life. To this end it can create an atmosphere that William Golding would be proud of. The strong and fast lord over the small. Toys are taken at will and games are exclusionary. What is odd is the immediate change in behavior of “Jack” or “Ralph” when the parents do happen to be there. They become little angels of civility. If someone else they see as an authority figure corrects them they also modify their behavior accordingly, at least for the fifteen minutes their five year old heads can remember to. The Helpers, however, are powerless to correct them. The Helpers know it and worse the children know it.

The other less common circumstance is when the Helper becomes “part” of the family. They are still hired help but take on the feel of more of an aunt or grandmother. One shining example of this is Ruby. Ruby is the Helper of our friends Adam and Sybil. Ruby has been with them since the birth of their son Ethan who is now five. Ruby shares meals with the family and genuinely loves Ethan and his little sister Elisa. Both children have been raised to respect her and listen to her. The parents are involved in the kids lives and Ruby is not “just” a hired hand to them. I rarely see Ethan acting out at the playground, at least not any more than one would expect from a little boy.

It frustrates me to have Emmet there and see this but I guess it is all part of the learning and growing experience here. The cleaning ladies, guards, and groundskeepers all love E. Mostly because he says hello to them, gives them high fives and talks to them. I expect him to treat them all with dignity and not as pieces of machinery. I don’t think they are used to it. The lady who cleans around our building in the complex Emmet calls “Orange’s Friend” because she care for the big orange kitty who hangs around. Emmet always has a smile for her, sometimes a hug. He has even given her one of his school art projects. It seems odd to me that she greets us and not everyone else she passes from our building, but then again most of them don’t even acknowledge her presence. I refuse to let Emmet grow up with a sense of entitlement like that.