Sunday, December 17, 2006's a SNAKE!

Yes it finally happened. While out exploring park with the kids, Dad and Maureen we came across our very first snake. Now I have known for some time that there are snakes living in Singapore but was quite happy never to have actually met any face-to-face. There we were, walking past a brick wall in Labrador Park, when Niels casually said “hey, there’s a snake”. There with its head nestled in a drainage pipe its tail hanging out was a very beautiful black and white patterned snake. It had a yellow pattern on its head and was about 1 metre long, but quite thin - about as thick as a man’s thumb I guess. Obviously possessing a great sense of occasion it obligingly uncurled itself and gracefully slid vertically up the wall, giving us plenty of time to admire it and take photos. So behold, our first serpent encounter.
This will be my last entry for a while as we are flying to Holland tonight for Christmas. We’ll be back in the New Year, no doubt hanging out for sunshine and well stuffed with yummy Dutch Xmas goodies.
Have a great festive season everyone, I’ll be in touch in 2007!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

All together now...aaaaaaaaaw aren't they gorgeous!

Today the God-sent surrogate mother for my rabbits, Liesbeth, sent me some new pictures of Rocco and Ashley chilling out in their luxury villa in Eindhoven. Famous for its football team (PSV Eindhoven), being the base of the global Philips electronics concern, its university specialised industrial design and of course the rabbit rescue centre Konijnenopvang Franky (, Eindhoven is located in the south of Holland about 90 minutes drive from our home in Lochem. Liesbeth and I have been friends with a shared interest in all things lapine (that’s bunnies to you), Monty Python, beer, and silly jokes. You may have read some of her comments on this blog, which of course she reads out loud to Ashley and Rocco whenever a new entry is posted to keep them up to date with what their crazy humans are up to.
It’s just as well that Liesbeth has a great sense of humour because I imagine that otherwise there would be days when her work rescuing, caring for and finding homes for dumped and unwanted rabbits – and sometimes other small animals - would really drive her crazy. When people think of animal shelters they think of cats and dogs. What many don’t realise is that all types of animals are the regular victims of our frivolous throw-away society where it is deemed acceptable for anyone to breed and sell (or give away) pets, and for owners to refuse to take responsibility for providing a good quality of life for them. Every year countless rabbits are bought, often for kids, then “released into the wild to be free” when the kids can no longer be bothered caring for them or the parents are sick of the hassle. Freedom means almost certain death for any animal as thoroughly domesticated and in-bred as domestic rabbits are, whether it be through thirst, starvation, disease, being hunted by cats and dogs or run over by cars.
Take a close look at my ‘fluffy kids’ (Mum calls them her Grandbunnies, isn’t that gorgeous?). Rocco is the large brown and white male, a total snuggle-bun with a magnificent set of whiskers, who loves to have his ears scratched and learned to follow Carl around like a shadow vacuuming up the dropped cookies and raisins that little kids tend to shed. Rocco was ‘given up’ by his owners because they complained that he dug up their garden. DUH! A rabbit that digs, what a surprise!
Ashley is the sleek blue-grey lady giving her man a kiss. She was simply chucked into the street with her siblings, dumped by an owner or breeder who didn’t even have the humanity to hand them into a shelter. She was terrified of people when we first got her (can you blame her) but has learned to trust a few of us and is as contented as any bun could possibly be in their safe loving home and with a buddy to snuggle up to. Can you imagine anyone dumping these rabbits in the street?
Next time you are thinking of getting a pet, please check out the rescue centres near you. They’re listed in the phone book, can be found on the internet, or otherwise ask at your local vet clinic if they know of anyone who rescues animals nearby. They all deserve a good home and it’s our responsibility to make sure they get it.
P.S. Thanks Marijke for taking the lovely pics of my long eared kids!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hey Mr Tally Man, Tally Me Banana…

Yes I’m talking about food again. I know that it seems to be a recurring theme, but hey – I like to eat. And to cook, so it’s always interesting to try out local foods and try and figure what’s in them. A recent adventure revealed few clues as to the contents of most of the dishes we were eating, but the abundance of chilli peppers and spices were not shy in revealing themselves. Holger took a colleague and his wife, plus Mum and I out to dinner at Samys, an Indian restaurant which he had visited for his work a while ago. The restaurant is located in an old colonial building left behind by the British. It’s a large white plastered place, with a covered veranda on all sides to keep the rooms cool during the day. Round tables had been crammed into the large interior dining room and lined the veranda outside. Having been buffeted by the heat and noise when we walked in, I made sure the waiter seated us outside where we would at least have a chance to hear each other talk and hopefully catch a breeze to cool off our chilli-induced sweat.
Like many Indian restaurants, the meal started with awaiter slapping down a large square piece of banana leaf on the table in front of us. This was our plate. As soon as he stepped back a swarm of green and white uniformed waiters swooped down on us, each with a steaming pot of some mysterious concoction. After barking “lamb!, prawn!, fish! calamari! potato!” they would barely wait for a nod of agreement before placing their offerings, side by side, on our leaves. In no time at all we had a colourful collection of dishes in front of us, accompanied by pickled cabbage, cucumber salad, poppadom and garlic naan bread. Let the feast begin!
This may be a good time to explain that I am not into spicy food. I used to make a mean Mexican chilli at university but I’ve gotten out of the habit, and curries were never my thing. However we were all keen to give it a go and Holger’s taste buds have apparently been galvanised by the local food he eats at work every day. There’s no doubt that he certainly sweats with the, how can I say this nicely, aromatic pungence of someone who enjoys a nice garlicky chilli Monday to Friday every week. We all tucked in and it was tasty. Mum was able to get through most of hers, and our guests did too (he was a vegetarian so I enviously watched him scoff a plate of deepfried cauliflower as I downed buckets of water to cool off my fiery tongue). I did my best and as far as Indian food goes, I’d have to say it was better than any I’d had.
We managed to take Mum out to quite a few restaurants during her trip, each featuring a different style of food. One thing you can certainly say about eating out here – it’s never boring!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sinterklaas steams into Singapore

Today was a Very Big Day for the kids - Sinterklaas arrived in Singapore this morning, in his steamboat. The entire Dutch community turned out to welcome him at Pasir Panjang ferry terminal and it was an hour of frantic excitement, screams of delight, cries from the over-sugared over-heated littlies and sweaty fumbling by parents to snap pictures while stopping junior picking up pepernoten cookies from the ground and stuffing them in his mouth. Above you can see the boat arriving and Niels shaking Sint's hand, a very proud moment for him. Notice the kids sweaty faces and Holger's dripping wet shirt! Left is a great shot catching the mounting tension - who is more excited, Carl or his father??
Here’s a very brief description for those of you who are not Cloggies. Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas, patron saint of children, the underworld and thieves – what a great combination) arrives in Holland on his steam boat from Spain every year around this time accompanied by hordes of Black Peters (Zwarte Piet), his slightly naughty, brightly dressed, black-painted little helpers. He stays until his birthday on December 6, and on the night of December 5 he delivers presents just like Father Christmas. It’s basically the Dutch version of Christmas and is especially focused on children, with lots of nice songs and yummy food and a build up even bigger than for Christmas. So today was his big moment to arrive in Singapore, a huge relief to Niels who was slightly concerned that he wouldn’t be able to navigate so far without a pilot and a 747 jumbo jet, and to the bewilderment of Carl who is still a bit young to understand what all the fuss is about.
You couldn't get a bigger contrast with Holland - my main memories of this event are of freezing winds, often accompanied by wet snow and/or hail and rain. After an hour of standing on frozen cobbles in frigid weather we stagger home with the kids strapped onto the bicycles and try for the rest of the day to thaw out our frozen feet while hoping the kids haven’t got hypothermia.
But today…it was over thirty degrees and quite humid, a blue-skied day with the tropical sun beating down on the little boat as Sint and his Peters puttered up to the pier. We were all undercover on the jetty, but poor old Sint must have been roasting alive in his suit, especially with that big white beard. There were plenty of Peters there to keep him company, hand out pepernoten and sweets and sing along with the kids. The entire Hollandse School including teachers were in attendance. The Dutch Ambassador was also there, following Sint in a jacket and orange tie would you believe, while the rest of us were in shorts and t-shirts and sunglasses! As soon as he could he stripped off his jacket and he was literally dripping with sweat and looked like he was about to pass out.
The kids had a great time and are so excited that Sint is on the Island. Tonight they’ve each put a shoe by the door so that the Peters can put sweets or toys in it, a tradition we will repeat a few times before December 5.
So we may be far away, but some things certainly don't change. One minor detail is that the Dutch community will celebrate over the weekend of December 2/3 instead of December 5, because obviously Sint needs a few days to get over to Holland in his boat!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When It Rains, It Pours

This morning I was chased out of the swimming pool by deep rumbles of thunder, with a dark bank of ominous cloud swelling on the horizon. It seems that the rainy season has started, right on schedule. Every day we wake up to nice sunny weather, but by about 11am it’s clouding over, and by 1 pm we’ve had the first rumble of thunder heralding the torrent that’s coming our way. When the rainstorm finally arrives it’s usually accompanied by a huge CRACK of lightening and incredibly loud thunder, enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth. Mum is over here visiting us at the moment and the force of the storms makes her quite nervous. That and all the stories of people being struck by lightening.
My friendly Kiwi hairdresser, who has lived here for six years, knows countless tales of death-by-lightening-bolt in Singapore. One of the most dramatic was five tourists who were enjoying a round at the exclusive Singapore golf course. The rules clearly state that you are not allowed to wear metal cleats on your shoes, yet they ignored not only that rule, but also the one about immediately leaving the course when the rain alarm sounds. As the first drops fell they chose instead to take shelter under a handy tree, no doubt clutching their metal golf clubs, standing there in their metal-cleated shoes…well you can guess the rest. None was directly hit but the charge travelled through each and they were killed where they stood. My friend has also witnessed the swimming pool at her condo being struck by lightening, just moments after her kids and everyone else had climbed out. She said that although the weather was fine to begin with, dark clouds started to roll over so she told the kids to leave the pool. Suddenly, while she was drying the kids off and without a drop of rain having fallen, a huge bolt of lightening struck the pool right in front of them. All of the hair on her youngest boy’s head stood straight on end, the pool completely lit up and she said they could all feel the charge as there was an ear-splitting crack-boom. Unbelievable that no-one was killed, considering they were all dripping wet and standing so close. Needless to say she is very, very paranoid about her kids swimming if there is a cloud in the sky and it’s certainly changed the way I think about it too.
Storms start up so quickly here, one minute it’s hot and humid, the next there is a gust of cooler wind, the palms start to bend and flutter then WHOOSH, down comes the rain and the thunder and lightening starts. The monsoon drains fill up, the world darkens for quarter of on hour, then often, as quickly as it started the rain stops, although the cloud cover lingers until evening. The good news is that it has cleared away the haze caused by the forest fires in Indonesia, so I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cocktails at Dawn

Today is a Big Day. Today, our first real visitor is arriving: my Mum. She will land at Changi Airport at around 8.15pm, where Niels and I will be waiting to whisk her away to our apartment where her room is ready and waiting for her.
The kids are positively fizzing with excitement, and this morning at 3.30 am Niels appeared at my bedside wanting to know if it was time to go the airport yet! Half an hour later he did the same thing, this time banging my door so loudly as he stumbled his way back to bed that he woke up Carl, who took up residence in my bed (Holger is away for a week on a training course in Holland). Carl then proceeded to keep us both awake until daybreak, at which point I gave up all attempts of trying to get back to sleep and started breakfast. At least they were ready for school with plenty of time to spare!
This is not Mum’s first trip to Singapore. Way back in 1995 when I first headed off to Europe for my Big OE (Overseas Experience for those non-Kiwis out there), Mum came with me as far as Singapore and we enjoyed an eight day holiday here before I continued on to London and she returned to New Zealand. We did pretty much all the tourist things in that time, including of course going to the famous Raffles Hotel and enjoying an iconic Singapore Sling in their beautiful garden bar. In fact it was so good, that despite the $30 price tag we had a second one. As I had spent months scrimping together enough cash for my ticket etc Mum paid, and now at last I will have the wonderful opportunity to return the favour.
Holger and I stopped in at Raffles and enjoyed a Sling back in June, and yes they taste just as good as ever! While most people have heard of this drink, I guess that few of you have actually tried it. It will be my personal mission to ensure that everybody who visits us gets to down at least one of these delicious, satisfyingly large pink cocktails during their stay. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, and I'm more than willing to make that sacrifice!
Below is the original recipe from Raffles, and the official background as published by that fabulously over-the-top establishment (you can check out this beautiful historic buliding at their official website:

"The Singapore Sling was created at Raffles Hotel at the turn-of-the-century by Hainanese-Chinese bartender, Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon. In the Hotel's museum, visitors may view the safe in which Mr. Ngiam locked away his precious recipe books, as well as the Sling recipe hastily jotted on a bar-chit in 1936 by a visitor to the Hotel who asked the waiter for it. Originally, the Singapore Sling was meant as a woman's drink, hence the attractive pink colour. Today, it is very definately a drink enjoyed by all, without which any visit to Raffles Hotel is incomplete."

Singapore Sling
30ml Gin
15 ml Cherry Brandy
120 ml Pineapple Juice
15 ml Lime Juice
7.5 ml Cointreau
7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
10 ml Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry... and enjoy! mmmmmmmmmmm

Monday, October 30, 2006

They Are For The Kids...Honestly!

Back in June, when Holger and I visited Singapore for a week to find an apartment, visit the Hollandse School, and generally prepare for The Big Move, I picked up a copy of a magazine called something like “Fun for Kids In Singapore”. I figured (rightly as it turned out) that without our friends and family around it was going to be important to try and organise myself and the kids into events and meeting places to try to create a new social network. That is still a work in progress, but while flicking through the mag I did see an advertisement for gorgeous floor rugs for children’s rooms from a company called Tinderboxx, which is basically a woman called Elsebeth from Denmark who designs unique rugs and accessories for children’s’ rooms, based right here in Singapore. I fell in love with her work immediately and this week, finally, we have become the proud owners of two of her rugs: a vibrant swash-buckling pirate ship for Niels, and a swooshingly-cool plane for Carl. Check out the photos to get a glimpse, although they don’t do justice to the real things: multi-textured, with tons of detail imparted using different lengths of fibre, different textures, even sparkly wool for the wheels of the plane – when you see them for real you can see the many-textured and layered detail which is truly beautiful. Anyway, I just wanted to share the moment with you as the boys are as pleased as punch, with Carl enthusiastically dressing up as a pirate to get into the mood before I took his photo.
At Niels swimming lesson this afternoon a voice called out to me “so what did they think?” and there was Elsebeth, watching her young daughter in the pool. It seemed the finishing touch to be able to tell her in person that the rugs, which she designed herself out of frustration of not being able to find anything for her own kids and which generated so many comments from her friends that she has now turned them into an international enterprise, come from just around the corner and I will see her every week.
Check out her website if you are interested,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

School holidays are last!

Thank goodness, the school holidays are over. Admittedly it was only the autumn break, which meant 11 days (which included two weekends) of home-based fun. However this was the first time I’ve…what’s the word….endured both kids at home for the holidays as usually I’ve worked three days a week and the kids kept going to daycare as usual. Now that we’ve been here for about 11 weeks we are slowly building up a circle of friends for Niels to play with, but we really miss our network of family and friends in Holland who were always willing to jump in and take one or both of the kids for an afternoon or longer if we needed a break. Now there’s just me, and Holger on Saturday afternoon and on a good weekend, for all of Sunday as well (not lately though).
Carl is too young yet to go to a friends house to play – at two and a half he is just starting to get to grips with the concept of playing with friends instead of just alongside them. He’s at the frustrating age where he clamours for every brightly coloured thing regardless of who owns it or happens to be holding it at the time – he’s like an oversized magpie with an endless appetite for other kids’ toys. Likewise, when Niels has friends over to play, Carl wants to be included in the party and claim the new-found friend as his own. Of course Niels thinks he is far too cool and grown up to play with his little brother in front of others so the scene dissolves into a screaming match between the two of them with Niels trying to physically eject Carl from the room and Carl sitting down on his bottom – I swear he can actually suction himself to the floor – refusing to budge and give up pride of place alongside the coveted visitor.
Needless to say by day 11 the atmosphere was a little fraught. Holger took Tuesday off work to spend some time with the kids as he is flying to Holland tomorrow for a week, and by lunchtime he was muttering about “never taking a day off again”. I hope that was an idle threat!
So Mummy is trying to polish her patience skills but they have been sorely tested. We're counting down the days now until my Mum arrives (next Tuesday, just 5 days to go!) which will provide some welcome relief. By that of course I mean relief for the kids from having to put up with me. They both looked extremely happy to be getting back on the scool bus this week, our trio of smiles must have made the bus driver think we had had the most relaxing holiday ever!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Goodbye to Homesickness

Maybe I’m a little outside-of-the-ordinary when it comes to emigrating because I’ve done it more than once, but it seems that unlike many people I talk to, the more differences I discover in my newly adopted homeland the more I like it.
I am so OVER being homesick!
To be honest I can remember that when I left New Zealand back in April 1995, I did get awfully homesick for the little Kiwi things that made life unique there. Perhaps first off I should explain that by homesickness I’m not talking about missing your friends and family, because obviously that never ends. You’ll miss those who are dear to you whether you live an hours’ drive away or a days international flying, end of story.
What I’m talking about is the kind of homesickness where you crave certain foods or magazines or TV programs…but mainly foods. The first few years I lived in Holland I used to crave Marmite, Milo, hokey pokey ice cream, roast lamb, mint sauce, beef steak, Mum’s stuffed roast chicken, Weetbix, Pinky Bars…all sorts of stuff that was the everyday food of life. Over the years that diminished, although I would have been seriously disappointed if each visit by Mum or Dad didn’t include some Pineapple Lumps for me and jellies for the kids. Over the years I have had custard powder, baking powder, chicken stock and even an entire delicious beef fillet steak (no kidding, it looked like half of a dead cow in a suitcase and it was by far the best smuggled contraband yet!) brought over from New Zealand. Yet as time goes by I came to enjoy the local treats instead, like olie bollen, stroop waffels, Dutch cheese and white asparagus.
Now I’ve reached a stage in my homesickness evolution where I can’t be bothered missing any of the old things and am just loving trying out all the weird and wonderful new treats that Southeast Asia has to offer. OK, I do draw the line at some things. To the person who commented on a previous posting that cockroaches pickled in brandy are considered to be medicinal in China – yeah right. I draw the line at bugs, reptiles, and endangered species. But who couldn’t be charmed by the guy who handed me a big mug of sugar cane juice yesterday, freshly extracted from the pile of woody stalks piled up on his stall at Tangs Market? And the smiling Chinese lady with the missing teeth who sells handmade Pau (steam meat-filled dumplings) next door? Today at the supermarket I spotted Japanese Steam Bread – just put it in your bamboo steamer for ten minutes or if you’re me, in the microwave next to a bowl of boiling water for 1 minute and then enjoy this slightly sweet, ever so delicately flavoured pure white loaf.
Sweet smoky satay cooked over an open flame, the tiny local lobsters rubbed in sugar and garlic, piles of nasi rice flavoured with soy sauce and prawns, steamed chicken and barbeque pork, Hainaese chicken-rice with a steaming bowl of broth to wash it down, buttered crab so big the beast won’t even fit on your plate, the dark treacle-like fermented soy sauce called Ketjup manis which is so sweet the kids lick it off their fingers….it’s all part of the fun of living in this new country. Discovering local cooking secrets is also fun, like cooking food in banana leaves and how to flavour your rice with long grass-like panadana leaves (most of you will have tried Pandan rice at least once – now you know what it means!).
Introducing the kids to local food is part of the adventure, and we’re never sure whether they will eat something or not. Niels is less adventurous, being the oldest his tastes are more set already. But Carl will eat anything – or at least try it once – and loves prawns, siew mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), duck and any sort of noodles.
I admit I’m a foodie and for me a country’s identity is inextricably connected to its food. As a life-long lover of Asian food, it’s like I’ve died and gone to culinary heaven to be living on the island which is a rich soup of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian cuisine. So for all of those who are planning to visit - welcome to the afterlife and don’t forget your chopsticks!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Finally, the Singapore Slinger gets it on!

YES YES YES YES YES! Finally I have some music back in my life after months of living in a tuneless vacuum. For those of you who are not ex-colleagues, you probably don’t realise that at work my pseudonym was ‘The iPod Queen’ because my gorgeous black 30GB iPod has practically been surgically attached to my head like one of those weird undeveloped Siamese twins ever since I was given it last year. I know that addiction is a serious issue, and who am I to trivialise those who really can't live without their fix – but the relationship I have with my iPod is so close that hubby once told me he has the feeling that if iPods came with a vibrating attachment, he’d be out of a job.
Let’s just say I’ve got a pretty good idea how badly a heroin junkie craves their next hit after I forgot (just the once!) to take my iPod to work. Quite why I love that cute little gizmo is as much a mystery to me as anyone else, but I get such a thrill out of downloading music and listening to all sorts of new bands and artists that I would spend hours doing so, if only I had that sort of time to spare.
As I said, I was given my little black friend last year, and although I don’t want to sound mysterious (ok that’s a lie, I do) it was a gift from a man other than my husband by way of thanks for services rendered…and I can’t say any more than that! A lot of you already know the story but out of good manners I’m not going to incriminate the guilty parties here. Thank you, R, for sparking what is bound to be a life long addiction. Hubby may be slightly less grateful, but hey, Apple aren’t making that attachment yet!
Anyway, I digress. The reason that today is such a fabulous occasion is that our budget has finally developed enough slack between furnishing the entire apartment and forking out a small fortune each time we fancy a bottle of wine (and let’s face it, the empties are mounting up) that I was able to buy speakers for my iPod. A seriously momentous day.
When I left my job in Holland my colleagues generously chipped in to buy me a cool little gadget called a Belkin TuneBase which allows you to dock and charge your iPod in the car while broadcasting your music over a dedicated FM radio frequency into the vehicle. Pretty cool, huh? However due to the difficulties in ordering it in Europe I was given the cash and decided to buy it here. Once in Singapore however, it transpired that I actually hardly ever use the car because hubby dearest takes it to work everyday. I tend to potter around in taxis which are ridiculously cheap and make use of free home deliveries when necessary. Today for instance I went to the supermarket, paid, and popped into a cafe to have a coffee. I was just getting in the taxi to come home when the home delivery guy called to say he was on our doorstep and where was I! How’s that for quick service. So I don’t really need a car. However music is another story.

Yesterday I did my final research in stores and on the internet and finally decided on an Altec Lansing inMotion IM3C mobile speaker in sexy black from the Apple Store online. It cost Sing$299, roughly 150 euros or NZ$300. For those of you who are interested (and in my twisted reality it is inconceivable that there may be living breathing people out there who are not) this is the link to view my latest plaything: Apple Store Warning: this website may induce excessive drooling on your keyboard.

So now I had to sit back and wait, potentially for up to four days, before my sight-unseen purchase would materialise. But lo and behold, last night at 8pm I got a phone call from the Apple Store delivery man and he was …downstairs with my purchase! YES! YES! YES! and YES! all over again. Delivery within 7 hours of ordering - God I love how efficient this country is.
With a mixture of trepidation and mounting excitement I started unwrapping the incredibly small package and finally, there it was in all its glory. But surely this unit was too small to produce a quality sound? In the midst of me removing the lovingly wrapped components with shallow breath and trembling hands, hubby returned home from a work function and his chit chat was greeted with either silence or a monosyllabic grunt - the foolish man should know better than to get between a woman and her iPod. Finally the moment of truth had arrived. I docked my iPod, hit the play button on the tiny yet elegantly proportioned remote…and wow! What an incredible noise! OK I have to admit I’d neglected to adjust the volume and it was on full so I woke up both of our kids, and our upstairs neighbours who are in the midst of Ramadan must have been jerked out of their meditations in the most unholy of manners – but what a great sound. Gutsy enough to belt out HIM and Black Sabbath, balanced enough that even the famous soprano solo from my favourite opera Lucia di Lammamoor played faultlessly, and yet still fantastically small and sexy. The ultimate accessory.
As I leaned back on the sofa, fully satisfied that I’d made the right choice, I felt all the scene was missing was someone languidly smoking a cigarette.

Alright hubby, now you can talk.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hazy Days

Phew, it’s hot today. Obviously hot is a relative thing when you live in the tropics, but it really feels extra hot and sticky today. When Holger gets up in the morning he turns on the airco in the kitchen and living room so it’s nice and cool by the time I stagger out 15 minutes later, and I don’t get an accurate idea of the outside temperature until I venture outside. According to the experts, the average temperature in Singapore is 26-27 C all year round, but during the last couple of weeks we’ve had temps of 32-34 C.
On top of that we are currently engulfed in a wave of smog – or ‘haze’ as they call it here – caused by massive forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesia), our neighbours. The sad thing is that the fires are lit deliberately despite widespread international condemnation as pristine forest is sacrificed under the slash and burn tactics carried out by poor Indonesian farmers to clear more farmland for the rubber, palm oil and wood pulp industries. Because the land – which supports the millennia-old forests in perfect balance – is actually quite infertile and unsuitable for farming it becomes useless for that purpose within a short time, so more forest is burned to clear land again each year. These huge fires, which smoulder for weeks, are now an annual event and an ongoing tragedy. Over twenty National Parks are ablaze and the fires show no signs of stopping – I can’t help thinking about all the magnificent wildlife which is dying. According to Greenpeace, the forests being destroyed are home to some of the world’s most endangered animals like the Sumatran rhinoceros, tiger, Oranga Utan and the Asian elephant. Plus the forests are host to countless different types of plants, many not even documented yet. One of the most disturbing reports is that large companies have started most of the fires in recent years in their greed to expand their commercial crops.
For us the direct impact is drastically reduced visibility, grey skies, sometimes a smoky smell hanging in the air and a reddened sun shining through the haze. If the wind blows the right way it clears, but as it’s been quite still today we’ve got another grey oppressive day. The schools are monitoring the daily government postings on the air quality level and when the air pollution is too high they won’t let the kids play outside. We haven’t reached that stage yet but some kiddies with asthma are having some problems, although Carl, who was on asthma medication for a year up until about May 2006, hasn’t had any problems so far.
The local airports have had to cut back on flights due to poor visibility, and a flight landing in Kuala Lumpar last week ended up parked on the grass after the pilot overshot the runway in the thick smog. Shipping is also affected with the visibility being so poor, so the widespread economic impact is significant and growing each day.
It’s hard to believe as I sit here looking out window at towering apartment buildings and ultra-modern high-rises in one of the worlds most developed cities, that just a few kilometres away peasant farmers who live in little more than shacks exist in a world so poor that burning down rainforest to plant a few meagre crops each year is a normal way of life. Or rather existence, because existing is what these people are struggling to do against overwhelming poverty and lack of opportunity. We live in a world of stark contrasts and glaring inequalities. In Holland we would feel guilty if we threw a newspaper in the rubbish bin or didn’t drop a glass bottle into the recycling bin. In Indonesia families clear the forest with fire and their bare hands and use water buffalo to plough the ash into the dying soil in order to eke out a meagre living. It kind of puts those “just gotta have that new pair of shoes” cravings into perspective, doesn’t it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Message For The Masses

Advertising is a funny thing, isn’t it? I’ve worked in publishing for nine years and in that time I’ve seen a lot of thought provoking, silly, and sometimes downright ridiculous advertising that should never have seen the light of day. My all-time, Number 1 Favourite, was from a Dutch agricultural company. They had paid top dollar to have a full colour, full page ad in a magazine yet, displaying the blinding stupidity and stinginess which characterises so many companies whose margins are growing faster than their business sense, they chose to translate the material from Dutch to English themselves, i.e., into Dinglish. The message they wanted to convey was that they took such good care of their customers, that no-one else could do a better job. What they actually printed was (and I’m not kidding, this is true)…. “We Couldn’t Care Less”.
Here in Singapore the government is also keen on producing it’s own particular brand of advertising, especially when it comes to getting across moral messages to the general populace. Something which strikes me after living here for a couple of months is that there is a very strong sense of communal belief and behaviour, a sort of herd mentality that drives people in the same direction and – I’m guessing – represses individual behaviour and encourages conforming to ‘the norm’. It’s kind of a strange contradiction to what I was talking about in my last post, the extreme tolerance and understanding for different cultures and religions. On the one hand you are free to express your own opinions as an individual, but on the other hand you must conform to the group norm. They strongly believe that it is only through a concerted group effort – a kind of mass consciousness that drives them in one common direction - that the country can progress, and hey, given the dramatic economic progress the country has made since declaring independence in 1965, who am I to argue? Compared to its surrounding neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia, this is a utopia of democracy and wealth. And yet…you know those mass co-ordinated displays of unity you see on t.v. from China with everyone wearing red pyjamas and doing Tai Chi together? I could imagine that happening here, although the people would have a polite smile on their faces.
Anyway, I digress. I was talking about advertising, and specifically the local government advertising. Anyone who has been to Singapore will remember the signs “$500 fine for littering”, $1000 fine for possessing chewing gum!” (seriously), “$500 fine for not flushing public toilet”, etc. OK these aren’t strictly ads but I’m talking about general signage as well.
Then there are the little gems which I suppose fall under the umbrella of community messages. Large billboards instruct you to “help the elderly” and offer them your seat on the MRT (the Singaporean equivalent of the Underground). And my two personal favourites so far: a billboard of a car running a red light with the message “YOU MIGHT BEAT THE LIGHTS…BUT YOU CAN’T BEAT FATE”. How cool is that? Although considering that probably over half of the population believe in pre-determination** that’s kind of asking for a rebuttal, don’t you think?
And my all time winner so far, although I am willing to revise this if I find a better one: A reckless motorbike driver is pictured swerving around a car in the face of oncoming traffic, with huge red-lettered text beneath: “YOU CAN BEAT THE TRAFFIC…BUT YOU CAN’T BEAT DEATH”.

I just wish they had included a cool little black silhouette of a Grim Reaper, that would have made it perfect. Obviously I haven’t been raised in the respectful and law abiding culture that the locals have been because these signs just crack me up. Not doubt some of you reading this will be thinking “what’s so funny, that’s a serious message” and for you all, I apologise. Humour is a funny thing, and when it comes to tickling my funny bone, you can’t beat death.

**In Eastern philosophy, the predetermined nature of life is sometimes referred to as the law of karma. Whatever happens is considered to be predetermined. There is no freedom. According to the predeterminists, the fact that you may feel free is irrelevant. How you feel has nothing to do with what actually is. Your feelings and actions, like anything else in nature, are predetermined.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Live And Let Live

Singaporeans definitely have a different way of seeing the world than we do. That might seem like stating the obvious, but in lots of different ways their culture has fleshed itself out with little quirks and traits that are just somehow…different.
Perhaps I should point out that the fact that there is such a strong sense of being Singaporean – a palpable national pride which drives the people here in a common direction and sees them striving to meet the same basic goals – is remarkable because they are a mix of several vastly different backgrounds and different cultures, all living closely together on this tiny piece of land and sharing a range of different religions. Where else would you find Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and any other number of religions all living together so peacefully, successfully, and frankly thriving in a way which is the serious envy of much of the developed world?
Here’s a classic example: this week there are three major religious celebrations taking place: The Chinese Harvest Moon Festival, Ramadan, and Deepavali. That means that Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jain, Sikh and Buddhists are all having a good time doing their thing simultaneously. All three festivals being celebrated and enjoyed around the island with no fights, no protests, no marches or religious fundamentalism stirring up problems. In fact in true Singaporean style the locals are having fun and making a tidy profit at the same time by selling moon cakes, fireworks and incense.
The first of these festivals to start – on October 6 this year - was the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival. All over the city delicious moon cakes with a detailed picture of the lotus blossom embossed into the delicate pastry are being sold. In China and throughout many Asian countries people celebrate the Harvest Moon on the 15th day of the eighth month of their lunar calendar. The Moon Festival is a day of family reunions similar to the American Thanksgiving. Chinese people believe that on that day, the moon is the roundest and brightest signaling a time of completeness and abundance. During the Festival, children are allowed to stay up past midnight, parading with multi-colored lanterns at night and families take to the streets or city parks to moon-gaze.
Deepavali (also known as Diwali) is a major Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist festival/celebration and lasts for five days. Known as the "Festival of Lights," it symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. Celebrations focus on lights and lamps. Fireworks are associated with the festival in some regions.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It's a time of worship and contemplation and a time to strengthen family and community ties.
As an outsider to all of these events, they are merely a colourful addition to our lives that we can watch and learn from and which the locals are more than happy to share with us. This morning as I was waiting to catch a taxi back from a park we had visited, we walked past a brightly painted Hindu temple adorned with figures of animals and deities. The place was full and we paused to watch the faithful, barefoot and dressed in their finest saris, lighting incense and offering wreaths of bright yellow chrysanthemums to the various demi-gods depicted inside. Chubby priests in half-togas were chanting prayers for the faithful and burning sheets of paper on which prayers are written in the various shrines inside the temple. The smell of incense hung thickly in the air and the atmosphere was busy with a bubbling of chatter and well wishings, a million light years from the few hushed Christian services I have attended in my life. Out the back a large extended family covering what must have been four generations were cooling off in the shade , fanning themselves to cool off. As we walked past – three pink-cheeked whiteys and fairly obviously ex-pats – they waved and greeted us enthusiastically, smiling at the boys and happy to enjoy a pleasant word on a sunny day. We couldn’t have been more different but to them it didn’t matter – and that’s what seems to characterise the national culture here. Tolerance and acceptance has led to the freedom to enjoy and express personal religious beliefs without the urge to become defensive or aggressive.
The government plays an active role in keeping the peace. Cults are expressly forbidden under Singaporean law, and apparently near the top of the back list are the Scientologists. So at least we won’t have to put up with Tom Cruise and his stick insect of a wife calling in!

Note: I have shamelessly stolen the information about the religious festivals from various places on the internet. However as I learnt during my days working as an editor for a huge multi-national publisher: To steal from one is plagiarism, to steal from many is research!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bombs Away

My god, would somebody please tell me want it is about Singaporeans and leaf blowers?! I hate those machines and they have become the bane of my life. Our living room and kitchen look out over some historic properties, three large “black and white” colonial houses set in large private gardens. The view is lovely and green and private, and actually one of the main reasons we chose this apartment. The downside to living anywhere near a piece of grass on this island however is that some guy gets paid to haul out a noisy leaf blower and blast every…single…leaf off said grassy patch every single bloody day. Take it from me, it takes a long time and the noise they make is enough to drive you crazy. If labour is that cheap, for goodness sake employ two guys with rakes and give us all some peace!
On Saturday I was in Labrador Park with the kids and again, I would swear I was being stalked by leaf blowers. Maybe I should invent a name for them, Blawkers. It’s probably because we are always at the parks early – Holger works until about 1.30 on Saturdays and I like to jump in a taxi with the kids by 9am and go and explore a new park each weekend, then return home before it gets seriously hot. We don’t have a playground or a lawn for the kids to run around on so during the week they make do with the school facilities and the swimming pools, and on Saturday we go exploring.
Incidentally Labrador Park is fascinating for any of you who are interested in seeing some historical artifacts while over here. I found it in the book which has become my official Bible, titled ‘Fun Singapore’ a brilliant little work purporting to contain info on 245 places and wrapped in a shamelessly hot pink cover. Anything that useful in such frivolous packaging gets my vote.
Anyway Labrador Park has bunkers, a fort and tunnels dating from World War 2 set in a jungle-like nature reserve and bordered by the sea. From the top of the hill you look out over the water to what looks like a huge car park for ships, but is actually the Straits of Singapore and hence the world’s busiest shipping lane.
The all-time highlight for the boys which is now at the top of their list of things to do in Singapore (thanks guys, forget the S$245 we spent on a family ticket to the Zoo) was a gun/cannon measuring about five meters long which fired six-inch diameter shells that they could climb all over, turn wheels and knobs for, and generally pretend to be blowing those ships out of the water with. There were even statues of soldiers cleverly crafted to look like they were about to put live shells into the gun. Niels and Carl were in seventh heaven, yelling and making explosion noises and pretending to be shoving those shells into the barrel and screaming “FIRE!!” at the tops of their voices.
Niels just loved spinning the wheels that used to change the elevation of the gun barrel and soon had an entire storyline going about an imaginary battle. Now that he's five and a half he can get really involved in his own imaginary scenarios, and acts them out very convincingly. After a while Carl got bored with taking orders from his big brother and decided to explore the base of the gun which is a huge circular platform (this sucker used to rotate 360 degrees and weighs over five tonnes). Small metal doors concealed alcoves for the ammo to be stored in and he wandered along trying to open them while I continued my usual monologue for when we are in the bush: “don’t stand on the ant trail, don’t pick up that pile of rotting leaves and discover a millipede nest, don’t walk into the spider web because their might be a 10- kilo tarantula in there…” etc etc. All the time I’ve go my fixed, slightly crazed smile on my face that basically means “yes aren’t we all having fun you go ahead and be adventurous little boys” while I do my best not to make my kids paranoid and just let them enjoy themselves. After all, the chances of seeing a snake here are probably fairly small. You never see any warnings about them and given the regulated nature of society over here I’m sure I would have seen a sign about them or at least a warning of a stiff fine for disturbing them if there were snakes.
Carl finally found a door which would open, just when I was happily convinced that they were all locked. With an exultant “ah-ha!” he flung to door open and in a blur of scuttling slithery panic I saw what I was convinced was an eight foot diamond headed cobra shooting towards my baby’s head!!! I hadn’t realized until that moment that it is actually possible to scream without making any noise. Thankfully it doesn’t slow your reflexes one bit and I scooped him up so fast it’s amazing his shoes were still attached to his feet.
As all the blood drained from my face and I felt my heart beat what surely was it’s last desperate thump Carl looked down calmly, pointed a chubby finger and said “chi-chak”. Indeed, it was only a lizard. To be fair it was a fairly large one (o.k. about 15 cm), and completely utterly harmless. It sat there blinking in the sudden light with that look in its eyes that said “what does a lizard have to do to get some sleep around here” and then padded off vertically up the wall to curl up in a crack.
Sorry mummy chi-chak, I know how you feel.

Graffiti Blues

Isn’t it amazing how quickly kids can get up to mischief? Turn around for a moment and they are into something they shouldn’t be. On Tuesday night we went to the Hollandse School for a parent/teacher evening for Niels. This meant the boys were with a babysitter for the first time – Nancy, the Philippino woman who also cleans for us on Mondays.
All went well and they had a great time coloring in pictures, reading books, playing with Lego and who knows what else. And because it was Nancy and not their awful mother looking after them, they even went to bed and stayed there, something previously unknown in our experience. However at some stage Carl must have smuggled the felt-tip pens into his room. The next morning at breakfast I was sitting groggily at the table still 80% asleep when Holger came in (perky and chipper and wide awake of course) carrying Carl. I thought I was hallucinating – Carl looked like one of the tattooed gang members from the movie Once Were Warriors! His legs were completely covered in dark blue pen, his arms were coloured green from above the elbow down to his hands and there was a green goatee around his cheeky little smile. The “oh my god” hadn’t even left my lips before Holger asked accusingly “did you know he had pens in his room?!”
Yes honey, that would be me, the mother who gives her two year old pens to play with unsupervised in an apartment that is painted completely white.
Back in Lochem something similar once happened. I was colouring in pictures with the boys and stopped to get them drinks. I could hear them giggling and when I came back Niels had coloured both of their noses black! And I mean BLACK. All over black. They looked like two big puppies sitting there giggling, Carl going cross-eyed trying to look at his blackened snout.
Either that or frost bite victims.
Of course it is really difficult to get that ink off lily white skin like Carl’s. We put him in the shower and scrubbed him till he was pink all over but it still wouldn’t come off. Only the green goatee disappeared, he must have put that on last. Later in the day I went to the supermarket, strapping Carl into his buggy so he didn’t have to walk because it was so warm. The whole time people walking towards us would look at Carl, look at me, then look down at Carl again with an expression of “okaaaaay, definitely an amateur parent. Poor kid”. I felt like I was the one with pen on my face, the words BAD MOTHER scrawled across my forehead. When I got home I discovered that he had also covered the soles of his feet green and red. Because we hadn’t scrubbed those they were still as bright as when he’d coloured them and as he sat in his buggy with his bare feet poking straight out that’s the first thing people had seen.
Almost all of the white kids we see in Singapore are accompanied by a Philipino nanny, we really are an exception in not having one. I could just imagine what people were thinking when they saw my multi-coloured little graffiti-hound waving his feet around. The looks in their eyes said “just employ some professional help lady”.
Score: Carl 1, Mummy 0

Friday, September 15, 2006

Papa - You've Lost It!

Carl is now at that great age of two and a half where his vocabulary is expanding rapidly – at the rate of around seven new words a day I read somewhere – while his understanding of the context in which to use words and phrases is also growing. He has an insatiable curiosity about knowing the name for everything, and some days seem like an uninterrupted stream of “What’s that? What’s that? What’s that? And that?”
His pronunciation is still a bit hit and miss – Weetbix gets called ‘Beetbix’, my computer is the ‘pooter’ and marshmallows are ‘marmos’ – but some words come out perfectly formed and all grown up like ‘marmite sandwhich’, ‘school bus’ and ‘no way!’
Carl is also capable of yelling “NO NO NO NO NO!” about thirty times in succession without seeming to feel the need to breathe, an admirable feat admittedly but one for which the novelty value has long worn off for his weary parents. Even the way he squeezes his eyes shut when he yells to stop the sheer force of his words making his eyeballs pop out of his head, then slowly opens them while remaining motionless when he finally stops yelling to check that we have indeed been watching, are suitably impressed and of course accept his superior judgement, has started to get stale. But sometimes he comes out with a classic.
Last night he was sitting on the loo to have a pee before getting into the bath. Minutes passed, the conversation had wandered from what he did at preschool that morning to oohs and aaahs over the new plant in the bathroom, until finally we broached the subject nearest and dearest to any males heart – his genitals. Like any male he thinks they are the eighth wonder of the world and just to impress upon his jaded mother what a miracle they really are, he decided to start on his favourite game again: naming things.
“Whats that!” he asked in a voice filled with amazement at the sheer wonder and perfection of it all.
“Your willy” I answered, knowing full well that wishing for this to end quickly so he can pee and finally get into the bath before the water is cold is completely pointless.
“Oh. What’s that?!”
“Your balls sweetie”
“Oh. What’s that?!”
“That’s also your balls”. By now patience is wearing thin. “Come on Carl, focus!”
Carl looked up at me, maybe realising the exasperation in my voice means a complete malfunction of my patience chip is imminent.
Looking down between his legs again, he clenched his little fists and yelled: “Focus, willy!”

His father also doesn’t escape these little gems of linguistic quirkiness. As my nearest and dearest will testify, I am not my best in the morning until I have had a shower and a cup of coffee, preferably two. Niels and Carl are exactly the same (minus the coffee) so the whole breakfast and getting ready for school ritual is carried out on a knife edge as we carefully negotiate trying to get everybody ready for the day without them noticing it. Since we moved to Singpaore we are also experiencing a strange and totally foreign phenomenon in the mornings: Breakfast Papa. This may seem like a small thing to most of you but for the past eight years, hubby has either been leaving the house at 5.35 am to go the office during the week or he’s been at sea. So Breakfast Papa is an unfamiliar creature to us, particularly because he is one of those rare individuals known as a morning person. Not only does he awake BEFORE dawn, he also gets up then and is fully functional by 7am. This for me is proof that men are indeed from a different planet.
This week I was drooping over the breakfast table encouraging the kids to get ready while Holger was in the bedroom doing that guy thing of yelling “where’s my mobile, where’s my short’s, where’s my ………….(fill in the blank with any of a thousand different things that are probably sitting right where he left them) that they do. Carl looked at me over his half eaten Weetbix and asked “what’s Papa (doing).”
“Papa’s just lost it” I mumbled.
At this Carls’ eyes popped open, he jumped out of his chair and he ran down the hallway, stopped at the corner where he could see Holger in our room and yelled: “Papa - you’ve lost it!”
At least the laughing woke us all up.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I Shop Therefore I Am

Finally, I actually officially exist in some form in Singapore. I have my own Ikea store customer loyalty card. This may seem minor to you, but it’s the first thing I’ve managed to actually get my name on since we moved here. I am a shopper, here me roar.

One of the (many) weird things about living here is that because Holger is the one with the work permit, I’m seen merely as a dependent and I don't appear to have any status as an individual in my own right. Of course Singapore is a very polite society so even when they are snubbing you they do it with a smile, but everything from getting a mobile phone to opening a bank to signing on with an email provider has to be done by Holger. His permit number is sacred – mine is an afterthought to prove I’m not an illegal immigrant. As our friend Mandy said, being a white foreign woman means that you don’t really exist here. Welcome to the twilight zone.

It’s a strange feeling for someone who’s grown up and lived in western societies their whole life. I’m used to working, paying taxes, arranging everything myself. Maybe I am more acutely aware of the contrast because Holger has always travelled for his work a lot, sometimes for weeks on end, which means I have always been the one at home “holding the fort” and organising things. I’m used to getting stuff done, picking up a phone, being taken seriously. Over here, I even get called “Mrs Holger”!

When we opened our bank account – or rather Holger opened the account and I was accepted as a secondary signatory – the clerk turned to me with a polite smile (there it is again!) and asked doubtfully “and are you working in Singapore?” Of course the answer is no. So in the space for occupation she wrote in large letters “HOUSEWIFE”.

Needless to say Holger was killing himself laughing. He raised his hands in the air, looked to the sky and sighed “finally!”


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Revenge Is Sweet...But Kinda Toxic

OK, so I have returned to a more rational state after my encounter with The Mother of All Cockroaches. After making sure the culprit was really dead, I dragged the corpse out from behind the fridge, secured it in a plastic bag, then disposed of the body in the refuse chute. I'm sure the janitor will see it land in the refuse container - having looked up to see what the dull thuds were as it clanged its way down six floors - and he will shake his head and give a low whistle at the sheer scale of the disgusting beast.
Holger has thoughtfully rung twice to make sure I have calmed down. Poor guy, apparently when I called him my first words were "something terrible just happened" and he immediately assumed something had happened to one of the kids. Every parents worst nightmare and if I'd been a bit more sensible I would never have started off like that and given him such a fright. The darling has promised to look in all the scarey dark nooks and crannies where any more roaches could be hiding when he gets home and to strategically place the traps I bought from the supermarket.
In the meantime I've sprayed outside all around the doors with a Super Nuke 'Em and Kill Everything spray which promises to kill roaches for up to three months. The kids aren't allowed out onto the landing because we're always afraid that Carl will try to climb up onto the balcony railing to peer over the side and...well you can imagine the rest. So for now the only thing apart from roaches at risk from my chemical warfare is the paintwork which has bubbled alarmingly over the last hour. I really hope it doesn't peel because that would be pretty hard to explain to the landlord.
Having worked on ships all of his professional life Holger thinks it's hilarious that I am slightly phobic about roaches, and seems to be quite amused by the whole scenario and not at all phased by me finding one in the very place where we prepare our food. I have become something like the slightly mad relative who you invite over at Christmas to keep everyone entertained with their nutty behaviour.
I've been reduced to entertainment value and have only myself to blame. And one Mother of a roach.

The Devil Has Six Legs

Hi folks,
We've been living in Singapore for a month now and I thought it was time to give you all a general update.
By now we've all more or less acclimatised to the weather. In the mornings once the kids are off to school and Holger has gone to work I turn off the air co, open the windows to try and catch a breeze and the air co doesn't usually go on again until around dinner time. Of course we still feel the heat if we are outside, but then so do the locals - Holger takes a perverse pleasure in pointing out locals who are also dripping in sweat when it's really hot and humid outside - I guesss it makes him feel less of an outsider to know that we aren't the only ones finding it hot!
Carl seems to feel the heat a bit more than Niels, although with his fair colouring (just as 'strawberries and cream' as the day we arrived) it's not surprising. Niels has tanned to a deep brown all over now thanks to the hours he spends in the swimming pool and playing outside at school. Only his little bum is still white when he jumps in the shower at night!
I am trying to be healthy(er) by swimming for half an hour most days and I'm definitely fitter. On the days Carl goes to pre-school on the bus with Niels I'm in the pool by 7.50 which is great, just me and the birds and the sun still to come up over the trees. It's a lovely peaceful way to start the day.
We continue to be amazed by the wildlife - although there isn't that much in our central city location what we do see is fascinating. The large gardens bordering one side of our condo are a haven for all sorts of living things, not all of them cute and furry. I was heading off to catch a taxi with the boys in the weekend and by the fountain at the lobby entrance we spotted an ENORMOUS locust sunning himself. No wonder they say those things can be roasted and eaten, there must be as much protein as a KFC Hotwing on one of those suckers. It had vibrant yellow splotches on a glossy black background and the Carl especially couldn't believe what he was seeing. There are a few squirrels leaping around in the trees outside and judging by the noise at times some frogs as well. However the most infamous and numerous of Singapores wild creatures had remained thankfully absent...until today.

This morning is the first time Nancy, our new cleaner, came to work for us. She cleans for a French couple upstairs and was recommended to us by Sedu, the friendly Indian ex-police security guard at the condo next door who knows everything about everybody here. He and I usually chat while I'm waiting for the school bus in the afternoons and he is a wealth of information about everything from the best parks to visit, to the shops to stay away from to avoid being ripped off as a foreigner - graphically demonstrated by drawing his finger across his neck to illustrate how ruthless they are! He is also full of interesting tid-bits about the residents of both our condo and next door's, and gave me Nancy's phone number to arrange for her to come and work for us.
So this morning I was tidying up before she got here and had just finished when there was a knock on the back door and there she was. We met last week already to get to know each other so I told her to come in, we started chatting and because my hands were wet I grabbed the tea towel which was hanging on the oven door. Something HUGE and dark coloured flicked off the cloth, collided into my arm and then hit the ground and honest to God I saw the worlds biggest ugliest cockroach anyone has ever seen. How something that big could move so fast is beyond me but in the blink of an eye it had shot across the kitchen - narrowly avoiding Nancy's feet - and disappeared under the fridge. Of course I did what any sane person would do and SCREAMED. Nancy just looked at me and asked in her gentle calm voice "where's the bug spray?" Using the two functioning brain cells I had that hadn't seized up into panic mode I remembered a big can of industrial looking insect spray that fortuitously was in the apartment when we moved in and thrust it into her hands. She calmy set about nuking THE ROACH FROM HELL from various angles as it tried to scuttle away while I stood there ready to leap up onto the bench if it should head my way and wondering if it would be rude to just flee the property and let her deal with it.
The thing is I am not normally a squeamish person. I have kept rats and eels and Axolotyls as pets, I've patted snacks and possums and don't mind catching spiders and lizards to release them outside. But there is something so abhorrent about cockroaches - even though they don't bite or sting, just the disgusting hunchback shape of them and their scuttly crawly legs, those quivering antennae and the horror stories people love to tell about how if you squash them a million fertilised eggs will burst out and how they will be the only living things to survive a nuclear all just adds up to make them my No.1 pet hate. The devil has six legs and a shiny brown shell.
As I am writing this (at the other end of the apartment with my feet up on my chair) I can hear Nancy cleaning in the kitchen and can only hope that:
a. She doesn't think we are disgusting filthy people who live with cockroaches. After all, given the size of the bug I woudn't be surprised if someone came and painted a cross on our door with the word 'unclean' scrawled in red underneath;
and b. She doesn't think I am a complete head case.
When I rang Holger at work to tell him he thought it was funny, at least until he heard how upset I was. He reassured me that there are cockroaches everywhere in the tropics (which I know is true), that if we really were being invaded or facing a major infestation we would have seen more of them, and that of course we can expect to get the occasional one (which I know is also true). However I am a long way from seeing this as funny, especially since one of the reasons we choose this apartment is that it's fairly new at just two years old and therefore in theory cockroach free.
Anyway, I'm off to the supermarket to buy some traps and sprays and anything else I can find to kill bugs. I'll post again when I'm in a more rational state of mind.