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.