Saturday, December 29, 2007

We're Back

Yes tonight our plane touched down at about 4.30 pm and we have now been home for a few hours. Within 10 minutes of reaching the apartment Niels and I were in the pool, soaking away the tiredness and stale air of a long haul flight. It's lovley to be back, despite the fat heavy rain drops which plunked down on our taxi during the ride home. It may get wet here, but at least it never gets cold.

Now before you all start sighing collectively I am not going to complain about how cold it was during our trip back to the Netherlands. Actually it was refreshing and invigorating to experience a season other than summer again, and if the frigid cold air caused me to break out in cold sores and for the skin to start flaking off every surface of my body and my hair to resemble something usually associated with feeding horses and haystacks, then it was a small price to pay.

The kids played outside constantly - the first couple of days when the temperatures hovered around freezing they would run around or play on their bikes and then race inside to thaw out for 10 inutes before repeating the process. After the weather became milder they were able to stay out for ages and both thoroughly enjoyed being back 'home'.
Hubby and I enjoyed being in our own home, sleepingin our own bed, and catching up with all the family and friends we miss so much.

Fortunately I took some photos during the first couple of days during the fantastically beautiful frosts which turned the whole country into a picture postcard. The temperature only dropped to about -8 C at the worst which is pretty mild really and for the last week they stayed mostly above freezing, so no, I'm not complaining.
It's lovely to be back though.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Number Two Is Growing Up

Friday was Carl's last day as a pre-schooler. Because he turns 4 years old in February, he will be joining the intake of kids moving up from the Jip & Janneke pre-school to the Hollandse School after the Christmas holidays. It's hard to believe that he is about to start 'real' school. The past four years have flown by and he has never shown any inclination to be "all growed up" as he puts it. When he wants a cuddle he still sidles up to me and whispers "I'm your baby bear" in my ear, and if he's feeling particularly generous he exuberantly shouts "You're the best mummy in the whole world...and all the planets too!"

Carl and a few of his class mates who are also being moved up to group 1 next year celebrated with a farewell party. I made cupcakes, another mum put together a goodie bag, another a present for each of the teachers. The three women who work in his class are really going to miss him and were a bit tearful at him leaving. Very early on he had developed the habit of holding their hands tightly, looking deeply into their eyes and saying "you're my friend". You could hear their hearts melting across the room.

There are certain physical charcteristics in women that Carl definitely prefers, even at his tender age. He LOVES Asian women. Every day he would shower Serin, the Singaporean woman at Jip & Janneke, with compliments. Everything from "you have beautiful hair" to "you have a beautiful dress" to "you have beautiful toes". He also appreciates a generous bust size. Whether it's because he was breast feed or just a general appreciation of the female form, since he was 2 years old Carl has told me during our cuddles "I love your boobies". For the last six months I've been trying to dissuade him from saying this and I suspect at pre-school they have been working on it too. A while ago he moderated what he said to "I love your whole body" which is I guess a bit more acceptable. However often he sneaks in a little add on at the end when I'm giving him his last cuddle in bed at night: "I love your whole body Mummy.....

....and your boobies too".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wintery Holland

So here I am in chilly Brabant (that's in th South of the Netherlands for those of you not in the know), where it's currently -3 degrees C. Much to Niels delight it was snowing lightly as we drove here, a welcome change to the humid warmth of Sweatypore.

We've been back for a few days now and are getting over our jetlag, so it was time to head to Eindhoven to visit Rocco and Ashley at their luxury Rabbit Recluse in Liesbeth's back yard. Attached are some pics of the wintery landscape, absolutley beautiful but best seen from indoors!

The rather charming ginger tom cat who appears to be standing on my head is Karel, who is overseeing proceedings and making sure we didn't forget to include him in the photos. After all, surely I didn't come all this way just to photograph some rabbit...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Still Heading South...Or Maybe Out To Sea?

For those of you who are wondering whether Niels has assumed a normal sword-free status, the short answer is we don't know for sure but think the answer is yes. After all this time of hovering whenever he needed to go to the loo to check if it had gone through his system, I turned my back for 5 minutes this morning to start packing our suitcases and suddenly I heard a toilet flushing. So all evidence has disappeared without trace.
Since he is obviously not suffering from a perforated bowel and is in no discomfort we're going to assume that it's safely passed out of his system. Of course, Murphy's Law would dictate that in the small hours of tomorrow morning, when we are flying at 32,000 feet on our way to the Netherlands, he will suddenly grip his stomach and start howling in pain. We prefer not to think about that option at the moment.
On the bright side the doctors said that it would take a maximum of 52 hours to go through and we are well over that by now.
My next posting will be from chilly Holland, where the kids are hoping for snow, hubby is hoping for a big plate of boerenkool with Dutch sausage, and I am hoping to give my bunnies Rocco and Ashley a big smooch. And no frost bite of course.
Will report from the flip side soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heading South...

OK here's an update on my stunt-sons sword swallowing adventure (see yesterdays blog if you don't know what I'm talking about). So far Niels feels fine and is showing no ill effects of having swallowed the plastic sword. As far as we know, it hasn't passed through his system yet, 30 hours after being swallowed. He is however getting a lot of mileage out of the story AND he lost a tooth tonight so his bodily functions are a source of ever-increasing wonder to the little guy.
I took the kids to school this morning and explained discreetly to his teacher what had happened so that if he complained of pain she would contact me immediately. I didn't want to make a big deal of it in case he was embarressed. However during 'kring' (circle time) this morning as soon as class started he loudly declared: "Who can guess what's in my stomach? It's not food and it not drink!" Apparently his buddies were kept busy for ten minutes trying in vain to guess what the mystery object might be, and Niels eventually triumphantly had to put them out of their misery and tell them. One can only imagine the awe and wonder that passed through their six years old minds when they discovered that a genuine sword swallower was in their midst, cleverly disguised as an ordinary little boy.
The story soon spread and other Mum's were coming up to me and asking "did he really....??"
When I asked Niels how he even managed to swallow the thing his dead pan answer was "it just fell in my mouth". Duh.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Son The Sword Swallower

This evening at about 5.10 pm Niels, our 6 year old, walked up to me with a stricken look on his face. "My throat it's a bit...well I can feel it...I didn't mean to....I swallowed a sword".

Now my kids have been known to tell a few tall tales in their time - everything from jet fighters flying past the windows to the mess in their room being made by little green monsters who came running out of the closet - but I could see that Niels was serious.

"You've swallowed what?"

"A sword"

And indeed he had. A Playmobile sword to be exact, the kind that comes with those little vikings and knights with the warning not to give to children under THREE YEARS OLD due to them containing small parts. And now one of those parts was heading south down my 6 year old sons gullet. I looked down his throat - nothing.

"I can feel it down here now" he whimpered, tears welling up in his eyes and pointing to his upper chest.


Wihtin 10 minutes I'd rung a taxi, found an identical plastic sword to show to the doctor, shoved 4 peanut butter sandwiches and a bottle of water in my bag (it was almost dinner time and Carl was bound to start yelling for food), turned off said dinner (which was going to be slow roasted New Zealand lamb shanks in a creamy tomato and red pepper sauce, 'sigh') and headed downstairs. Stuffed kids etc into taxi and headed for the KK Womens and Childrens Hospital which is conveniently located 5 minutes away down Bukit Timah road. We're familiar with this place becuase Carl needed four stitches in his chin after falling by the pool last year...but that's another story.

Tried to ring hubby: mobile phone suddenly on the blink. Shit shit shit. Tried texting, that still worked:
[off to hospital niels swallowed playmobile sword]

Almost reached the hospital when hubby's frantic text came back:
[which hospital??]

Now something you have to know about Singapore's health system is that their hospitals are BRILLIANT. We took a number and less than five minutes later were being whizzed through triage by a masked nurse who bribed Carl into silence with lollies while trying not to smile at Niels predicament. I popped over to the desk next door to pay ($75), then back to the triage nurse who handed me a form she'd conveniently filled in for me in the mean time, then it was into the x-ray department next door (no waiting) for a quick x-ray. Out again in less than 5 minutes (yes really), then asked politely to wait until our number flashed up on a screen. Taking a breather on a plastic chair I texted hubby again:
[dont panic niels needs xray he feels fine]

Phone still not allowing me to make calls, shit shit shit shit.

No response from hubby, so I'm soon having visions of him hurtling along the rain soaked roads and crashing into a lamp post...there's our number so we're whizzed in to see a doctor who points to Niels x-ray hanging on the light box on the wall.

"Are you sure he swallowed something?" he asks suspiciously. The x ray shows no foreign objects, and is especially empty of sharp pointy bits of sword shaped plastic. Shit shit shit shit shit.

I take a long look at Niels, and he looks back at me. "Yes he really swallowed it."

The doctor heads off to consult the head physician on duty then comes back with the final verdict: take him home, give him dinner, bring him back in one hour.

Hubby turned up about then, sans lamp post, and we head home. At the moment Niels is peacfully asleep in bed and we are officially on poo duty. Yes, he is expected to pass said sword within the next 52 hours, so guess who will get the lovely job of searching for the missing sword amongst you-know-what?

Shit shit shit shit shit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Singaporeans Rank Stabilty Higher Than Free Press

Many Westerners seem to perceive Singapore as being a repressed society ruled with an iron fist by an authoritarian government. While it's true that the government has a more active rolein what I would call social control than some other governments, apparently this is not major concern to the local populace. A news story out today reports that Singaporeans rate social stability as being more important than freedom of the press, and what's more, they feel that government-run media does a better job of reporting news than private companies.
Of the 14 countries surveyed, Singpaore, India and Russia were the three that ranked social stabilty as being more important than free press. Taking the turbulent histories of these nations into account, I don't find the result very surprising.
Interestingly, in the US and UK - the countries most often clamouring for right for freedom of the press for other nations - citizens surveyed were the most critical of the quality of their national news reporting. Personally I find this no surprise at all. During my (admittedly short) stay in the US a couple of years ago I couldn't believe how sensationalist some of the news reporting was. It was edited down into 30 second slots complete with flashy titling, loud music and special effects. In the UK, where I have lived for a while, the tabloids are not only hugely popular but people actually belive what's written in them.
However I digress. It was an interesting item and if you want to read the whole story, click on this link:

Friday, December 07, 2007

Aint Life Tough...

Take a close look at the blissed-out eyes peering out through the froth of bath foam.
Mmmmmmmmm, can you smell the fragrant foam as it sensuously massages your warm skin, can you feel the steam rising gently through your hair, can you hear the tinkling pop and rustle of millions of incandenscent bubbles as they brush against your thighs, sense how your facial skin is relaxing and revitalising under the caresses of the fruity herbal mask....

....actually this isn't me.
It's my Mum, who should be in ecstasy encased in a luxurious bubble bath tonight but is actually convulsed by giggles at the whole experience. I thought it would be a nice relaxing start to the weekend for her, and since hubby has obligingly headed off to the Chanel counter at Isetan in preparation for our early Xmas celebration tomorrow, it seemed the perfect chance to let her indulge a little.
I'd give her a glass of wine but apparently there's no room left behind all that foam. In fact, she just yelled out that she "can't even find her bits under all this foam". What a life.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Oom pah pah

This is a photo taken at the Octoberfest we went to last month showing me and a distinctly Asian looking fraulein. It's a cool photo for two reasons. Firstly, it was a great night out with good freinds, good food, and good beer (Erdinger), although my head was a bit sore the next day. White beer just doesn't agree with me unfortunately.

The second reason it's a cool pic is that it was taken on an iPhone. For those of you who have never had the chance to play with one of these amazing devices, you really don't know what you are missing. It's at the top of my wish list (and likely to remain there indefinitely considering the ridiculous price) not just for the sexy design but also for the incredible functionality of it. If you're looking at an image on the comparatively huge screen, and you tip the iPhone on its side, the picutre tips too so it's still upright! You can put two finger tips on the image and pull them apart and it causes the phone to zoom in. Drawing your fingers apart will zoom out again. Think how cool that would be if you were looking at a street map or a schematic diagram? It's made of course by Apple, the people who created the iPod, the ultimate toy without which my life would be devoid of meaning at least several times a day. (Follow this link to judge for yourself how attached I am to my iPod:

Hubby's colleague Phil had bought his a day before the Beerfest so I had ample opportunity to play around with it. I was showing all the functions to Holger ("look honey, isn't this amazing? And look! And look! And look! I've got to get one of these! How much was it? $1000? Wow that's a lot. Isn't this cool honey?")

Holger turned to Phil and said drily, "yeah, thanks Phil".

I guess I can't expect an iPhone in my Xmas stocking this year.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mosaic madness

Anybody who likes mosaics has to check out the Merlion Walk on Sentosa Island. I’ve been through there twice and each time I’ve noticed different things about it which are just so cool.

This time I had both kids in tow and we’d taken my Mum up the Merlion on a day trip. It was of course hot sticky weather so the kids stripped off down to their undies and jumped in the water. They weren’t the only ones, as there were about a dozen kids speaking a handful of languages giggling their way up and down the waterway. A rainbow collection of children to match the fountain!

It was great fun for them exploring all the nooks and crannies and trying to catch – or avoid - the jets of water which shoot out of different places along the length of the mosaic fountain.
The entire thing is quite long – maybe 50 metres or so – and has an ocean theme. Every now and then you can spot an octopus or an anemone or sea shell built into the seemingly random forms. There are also tunnels and caves, waterfalls and sprayers.

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the Merlion Walk but it would help if you don’t mind getting naked in public.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bollywood Bling 2

As promised, here are some more pictures of the ANZA Bollywood Bling night.

If we're all looking a bit red in the face it's due to the combination of tropical heat, extremely spicy Sambal Fish and Chicken Masala, and a healthy dose of alcoholic lubrication!

Leon, the guy with the turban, won the prize (a bottle of wine, appropriately enough) for the Best Dressed Man. A woman whose husband had hand-painted her arms won Best Dressed Woman - the rest of us just bought the $3 stick on decorations found in Little India.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Getting FAB wtih ANZA

Last night hubby and I joined in an ANZA (Australian & New Zealand Association) event, organised by the volunteers in the FAB (food and beverages) committee. The evening was a ‘Bollywood Bling’ night hosted in the gardens of The Shophouse up in Gillman Village.
Naturally, it was expected that we would do our utmost to get into the spirit of things and dress the part. It’s quite easy and lots of fun to pop into Little India or the Arab Quarter to pick up a sari for just a few dollars here. I headed in with a few girlfriends and we picked out our favourite swatches of brilliantly coloured cloth, took a quick lesson in how to tie them on, and then shopped for the stick on body-art that the Indian women adorn their bodies with. Some glittery sandals and a cheap pair of glitzy earrings completed the look – the men are easier to dress in their long flowing shirts.
It was a great night, with a yummy Indian buffet, a demonstration of Bollywood dancing by a professional dancer who was in stitches at our attempts to copy him and good company with the Aussies and Kiwis present, each with their obligatory chilly bin (or eski if your from Oz) by their feet to keep the drinks cool. There were a lot more photos taken so when I get some I'll post them - the girls looked great in their outfits and some of the men were pretty spectacular too. Can’t wait until the next FAB night!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

See...She Really Is Mine

This is a photo which I just received from Liesbeth and I simply have to share it with you all. For those of you who are thinking there are too many blog entries about rabbits: REALITY CHECK! There is no such thing.

It's sunny yet chilly in Holland at the moment and Ashley and Rocco are enjoying this perfect bunny weather. Dosn't it just make you feel all smoochy-woochy?

Friday, November 16, 2007

She's Mine!

I defy any of you to look at these pictures and not say “aaaaaahhhhhh”. Here you can see my bunnies, Rocco and Ashley (the blue/grey female in the background), who are currently living it up large with their professional bunny-sitter Liesbeth in Eindhoven, Holland. They are in the pen on the right – on the left is one of Liesbeth’s own bunny kids saying hi. Or more likely: “I’d bite your face off and take your woman if this stupid fence wasn’t in the way”.

All bunnies tend to think they have the build of a rottweiller, the speed of a cheetah, and the jaws of a lion when it comes to defending their territory. In reality, when challenged by another bunny they stomp around uttering piggish grunts, flicking their big floppy ears and generally looking like a very angry piece of shagpile carpet.

As you can see these are outdoor bunnies. I know there is some debate about whether rabbits should be kept outdoors but it comes down to common sense. If you are going to leave your rabbit locked up in a hutch in the back garden to swelter in the sun and freeze in the cold and lead an isolated life, that’s a cruel and stupid thing to do. Bring it inside and enjoy a fascinating friendship with these active and highly sociable little guys. However if you’re going to construct a large, safe enclosure with shelter and room to run and leap and dig and socialise with their mate, let your bunnies live outside! (Obviously this is climate dependent: here in Singapore the heat and humidity make it unsuitable to keep rabbits outside. There are no naturally wild rabbits here, only dumped ex-pets who soon die from dehydration, starvation, or being eaten by snakes if they aren’t rescued in time. Again, common sense should prevail.)

Rocco and Ashley love to get their paws dirty by digging holes, moving them around the pen day by day just for the fun of it. They jump on haybales, leap in and out of their sleeping quarters, or just lounge in the sun or shade as the mood takes them. What a life. Just when you think it can’t get any better… Liesbeth comes along and gives them a piece of toast for breakfast. Bunny bliss.

If you live in Holland or Belgium and would like to consider adopting one or a pair of rabbits who need a good home, check out the website for Liesbeths rabbit rescue centre at this link:, or just check it out for lots of really useful bunny info.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mandai Orchid Garden

One thing that can be said about living in Singapore: your social calendar quickly fills up! We’ve been lucky enough to have a few great outings with hubby’s work in recent weeks, including a very memorable Beer Fest night complete with oom-pah-pah band and Bavarian white beer (Erdinger for you aficionados out there).

We also got together with the team from the Kuala Lumpar office for a company dinner at the lovely Mandai Orchid Gardens, situated next to the Singapore Zoo (

Attracting some 200,000 visitors per year, the ten hectare garden was started in 1951 by the late John Laycock for his ever-expanding orchid collection. A few years ago the place was further developed with the addition of the Vanilla Pod restaurant, featuring “orchid cuisine” which includes the use of orchids in many of the signature dishes. How many of you knew that the vanilla plant is in fact an orchid?

We were a very large group and so enjoyed a buffet style dinner which was tasty but sadly didn’t feature any of the signature orchid-based dishes. However it was a great night, not least when live entertainment in the form of the ‘Good Old Boys’, featuring the company’s very own Barry, kicked off with their own brand of rock ‘n roll. A great night and another lovely venue to visit if you are looking for something original in Singapore.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Carl's Throne

While prowling through Kampong Glam – also known as the Arab Quarter – a couple of weeks ago I spotted this beautiful little rattan chair at the basket shop on the corner of Arab Street. It was the only one there, dwarfed by stacks of brightly coloured woven baskets, trays and platters, and looked absolutely perfect for Carl. The dusty price tag said $75 which I thought was a bit steep so I went up to the shop owner and above the din of passing traffic and pedestrians asked him if he would take $65 for it. “Last one left lah – $60 ok” he said. Wow! That’s the only time I’ve had a price haggled down by a shop owner!

Upon returning home I presented it to Carl and with a slightly doubtful look on his face he lowered his butt into it. It rocked backwards and he jumped in fright, thinking he was going to tip out. However within half a day he was hooked, and now he won’t sit anywhere else. When visitors arrive he even lifts it up, drags it to his favourite spot and announces “this is MY chair!” to make sure no grown up tries to pinch his throne. As if we could fit even half a bum into it!

So this is a typical picture of Carl these days. As he munches away on an ice cream, doesn’t he just seem to be saying “life's not to bad here in the tropics”

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Deepavali 2

Today hubby came home with some great photos of our Deepavali dinner with his colleagues and friends which I thought you'd enjoy too.

It was a great night for all the families who attended and we were grateful for the opportunity to share the occasion.

The pictures show us arriving...

Carl playing...

Niels drawing...

and Niels showing the project manager exactly how he thinks the ship should be completed...on time and on budget!

Monday, November 05, 2007


A large part of Singapore’s population is in the throes of celebrating Deepavali. This is a major annual Indian Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist festival/celebration. Known as the "Festival of Lights," it symbolises the victory of good over evil, light over dark, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. We were honoured to be invited to share in the celebrations with lots of hubby’s colleagues at the invitation of some of their work contacts who hosted a large buffet dinner at the Banana Leaf Apollo restaurant in Little India.
This part of the city is busy on any Saturday night, but during Deepavali it is absolutely packed. The atmosphere is great – everybody is cheerful and excited, and as we arrived just before 7pm crowds were lining the streets to watch the annual parade go past.
Night comes suddenly in the topics: by 7.30 it’s completely dark, and the brief dusk brings little relief from the heat. Standing four or five deep along the street the crowd was a hot, noisy, constantly moving mass and we struggled to keep the kids high enough to watch what was happening. The banging of drums and gongs signalled the start of the brightly lit parade as musicians and performers slowly moved along the street beneath the brightly coloured lighting displays hung overhead.
After a short while we gave up and joined our friends in the restaurant, although I did get a few photos. Singapore is a safe place but the fear of losing one of the kids in the crowd always niggles in the back of our minds as they would be quickly lost amidst the forest of legs, and even Carl’s blond hair soon disappears in the dark.
Dinner was a tasty buffet of Indian food. I wish I could describe what we ate with any detail or give you the names of the dishes but unfortunately my knowledge of this type of food is very limited. There was a heavenly dish of creamed spinach with cubes of a type of curd, tandoori chicken, chilli-spiked fried cabbage, seared fish and plump prawns coated with a spicy red paste. All was washed down with large cups of fresh chilled lime juice, and topped of with platters of fresh tropical fruits.
Afterwards we walked slowly through the crowds enjoying the lights until we managed to flag down a taxi and headed home, with the boys exhausted, heads hanging, yet too wound up to fall straight asleep when they finally got to bed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Boys, Boys, Boys

OK I know it’s been a while, but we’ve had a house full of visitors again and it’s just hard to find the time or inspiration to write anything interesting on a blog in times like that. It’s a poor excuse I know, but have pity…we’ve had our first kids coming to stay with us and we have had 4 – yes that’s FOUR – boys in the house for the past fortnight. In addition to my two little terrors, their cousins from Sweden have been staying with their Mum. Now fortunately these kids are older, 11 and 13 respectively, so quite independent. And Niels and Carl absolutely hero worship them. Followed them around, wanted to swim with them every day, completely ignored me when they got home from school, rushing in and demanding “where are Anders and Pieter?”
For hubby and me it’s also been a glimpse into our own future. Who knew that teenage boys could eat so much? Read non-stop for hours on end or indeed sleep in a virtual state of hibernation for more than 14 hours at a stretch? Growing up in a house full of girls I have no experience of boys apart from the crash course I’m currently enduring, but I can see that males are a very, very different species. At least they don’t giggle I won’t have to learn to braid anyone’s hair.

It was lovely to have them all stay and despite the reticent mono-syllabic grunts which seem to make up the vocabulary of teenage boys we think they had fun too.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What A Life

Carl (3 1/2 years old) got off the school bus at 12.30 this afternoon. With a world-weary look on his face, I asked him "how was it today at Jip and Janneke (preschool)? Did you have fun?"
Wiping his hand across his eyes he looked at me with an exaggerated look of tiredness and said in a hushed voice: "Wow, I'm tired. What a busy day".

If only I'd had his social life at his age.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dance Festival 2

On Sunday night we went to our second Da:ns Festival event; ‘Waves of Love, The World of the Whirling Dervishes’ by the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble. This was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard before. Because this is something I knew absolutely nothing about before booking the tickets, I’m going to quote the evenings program to explain what it was about.

“The ancient sacred ritual of the sema performance of the Mevlevi order of Sufism is regarded as one of the most beautiful and mesmerising expressions of spirituality and art. With origins in Turkey and inspired by the great 13th century mystic, poet and philosopher, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, the ritual seeks divinity and maturity, carrying his message of love, brotherhood and tolerance…[Performed] by the Istanbul Historical Turkish Music Ensemble as part of the world’s celebration of the 800th anniversary of Rumi’s birth, an event recognised by UNESCO.”

In silence a group of 20 men slowly stepped in single file onto the stage, each pausing to bow to a red sheepskin which was placed on the opposite side of the stage. The men – singers and musicians – each slowly made their way to a slightly raised podium at the rear of the stage where they sat and picked up their various Turkish instruments, most of which were unfamiliar to us. The singers stood like statues at the back. When all was still again, the process was repeated by the 8 dancers and their two ‘leaders’, who very slowly and rhythmically moved into the places on the stage and began a slow pacing, in step, in a circle around the stage, accompanied by the haunting unaccompanied voice of a lone singer.

“…the sema is a ritual conceived…as a form of prayerful meditation. Mevlana’s followers, the Mevleviye, adopted this ritual and are today commonly known to the English-speaking world as the Whirling Dervishes (semazens) for their practice of whirling as they meditate. Indeed, the whirling rituals of the Mevleviye have endured through time, and have become deeply entrenched in Turkish culture and heritage.
"Similar to the established order in nature, from the atoms in materials, cells in living bodies, our life cycles to the planetary systems, sema engages the semazens in a shared experience of revolving motion.
“The sema ceremony represents a spiritual journey that unifies the human mind, emotion, body and spirit…With feet firmly on the ground, left hand turned towards the earth and right hand outstretched to God in prayer, the semazen is the point of contact between God and the earth, the channel through which divine blessings flow. Revolving from right to left as he silently prays, the semazen embraces all creation.”

With the musicians and singers performing the dancers began their graceful whirling, turning on the spot with the right foot spinning their bodies as the left remained firmly in place. With heads leaning to one side the dancers remained perfectly poised and balanced despite having their eyes shut the entire time. Their hands rose slowly along their torsos until reaching above their heads, they slowly lowered the arms again to achieve a horizontal position, one hand cupped upwards, the other down.
It was a very unusual yet spell binding event to watch, one which on the one hand was completely outside our world of experience and so made us feel like complete strangers, yet which was so engaging and transfixing that you couldn’t help being drawn into it. The repetitive ceremony, the ‘salutes’ (bows) offered throughout, the flowing white clothes and haunting music all serve to transfix the audience. Above all the message conveyed through the ritual is one that embraces all people regardless of race or religion and touches a chord in any human soul.

“Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper, or the idolatrous, come!
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are”

"These worlds by Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, maybe said to encapsulate his original Sufi doctrine of unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dance Festival

Singapore is in the midst of its annual Dance Festival (actually they call it Da:ns but my spell checker hates that). During last years Festival we went to the ballet Carmen which was fantastic, so this year I thought it would be good to attend at least a couple of events.

The first event we attended was ‘Stars of Russian Ballet’, a ballet gala with Prima Ballerina of the Marinsky (Kirov) Ballet, Ulyana Lopatkina. Reviews of Ulyana have praised her “diamante brilliance” and “divine” portrayals. She is said to possess a “perfect ethereal figure” and has won many international awards. This gala was an interesting event, a mixture of classical and contemporary dance. In all eleven pieces were presented by Ulyana and her fellow dancers Anastasia Lomatchenkova, Evguenia Obraztsova and Yekaterina Osmolkina, plus the male lead dancers Ivan Kozlov, Anton Ploom, Vladimir Shkliarov and Alexandre Klimov.
It was a great night out, although as before the contemporary pieces left me cold. Although I like watching dance (having absolutely no natural talent in this area myself watching is as adventurous as I will get) I never buy tickets to modern dance performances, and the pieces showcased in the ballet gala reminded me why. The first modern piece was quite interesting, even sometimes a little humorous. However the final piece was sheer torture! Discordant violins which made it feel like your ears were bleeding screeched while on a blackened stage, two dancers dressed also head to toe in black danced in and out of pools of light with tortured moves and grim faces.
I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it required an enormous degree of technical skill and months of practice to perfect but frankly, it’s just not me. In contrast the Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet was fabulous, and ‘The Dying Swan’ performed by Ulyana literally brought tears to your eyes, it was so beautifully and emotionally rendered.
Next on the agenda was the Whirling Dervishes from Istanbul – an entirely different experience! More on that later.

By the way, for this performance we were seated right at the top of the theatre hall in the Circle, at the very back row hard up against the back wall. As we walked to our seats I thought “oh no!” but actually the acoustics were fine and the view was uninterrupted. The Esplanade venue is not so large that you are too far away from the stage, even right at the back. I would not hesitate to sit there again so if you’re trying to get tickets to a show and these are the only seats available, don’t worry, you’ll still have an excellent view and enjoy the show.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Practising For Life On The Streets

This is a photo taken of our youngest, Carl, fast asleep on his bedroom floor last night. Now Carl has a perfectly comfy kiddies bed, the bright red Ikea variety with yellow and orange cats and dogs and a cute little horizontal bar to stop him falling out and tumbling all of 40 cm to the floor and thereby impeding his progress to becoming one of this centuries Great Thinkers. However, he prefers to camp out each night either in his doorway or in the middle of the floor, forgoeing the luxury of a mattress and sheets.

Last night he went to all the trouble of stripping off his pyjamas and then pulling his floor rug up on top of himself. We're thinking of getting rid of his bed and providing him with old newspapers and cardboard boxes instead. Next week I'm teaching him to drink whiskey from a brown paper bag.

At least he took his pillow with him. I told you, the kid has brains.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Hands up those of you who have heard of Freecycle. This is a green movment, purportedly begun in Arizona a few years ago, designed to help people recycle their property by giving it away instead of chucking it into landfills. I think it's a brilliant idea, and since I've just signed up to the Singapore version, I'll let you know how it pans out.

In itself the idea is really simple. A fairly basic web page allows you to post a brief description of your unwanted junk (hey, one persons trash is anothers' treasure, right?) and anyone who is intrested can contact you directly by email to claim it. The stuff has to be absolutely free - no transport charges, commissions, or fees at all. How you pick up the stuff is up to you to arrange once you've made contact with the offerer.

I have signed up after reading an article in a recent edition of The Straits Times, as no doubt thousands of other people will do too. After all, who hasn't had a moment of angst wondering what to do with those piles of unwanted clothes which are in fabulous condition but just don't fit or suit your taste any more? Or those CDs which you listened to ten times a day when you were a student but which have lain collecting dust for the past 10 years in a cupboard? And what about the PILES of stuff that accumulates when you have kids - clothes, toys, books - and which they quickly out grow? We (should) all feel a pang of guilt about just chucking stuff away in this consumerist, materialistic society. So I'm hoping Freecycle will prove a worthy antidote to this.

Apparently there are Freecycle groups all around the world, so check out this link: and see what your local one has to offer, or consider what you can offer your fellow citizens. I truly believe an uncluttered living environment goes a long way towards achieving an uncluttered mind, although there may be the temptation to fill up those newly cleaned out cupboards with treasures you find on the list...

Don't forget it's good for getting rid of stuff you don't want, and for asking for things you do want, all absolutely free.

I'll let you know how my request for a pet carry cage for Charlie goes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Soldiers seem to be everywhere in Singapore. Not the fully kitted up and armed variety, but national servicemen in their camouflage pants and shiny black boots. In Singapore National Service is the name given to the compulsory conscription which every male citizen and 2nd generation Permanent Resident has to undergo once they reach 18 years of age. The tour of duty lasts between two years, during which the conscripts will serve in the Singapore Armed Forces, Police Force, or Civil Defence Force (fire fighters, ambulance crew, etc). After their tour is completed the men are known as ‘Operationally Ready National Servicemen’, the equivalent of a reservist in other countries. Each and every one of them must report for refresher training for a week each until they reach the age of forty or fifty, depending on rank. When you consider that, it’s quite a commitment and a big chunk out of a mans life.
Before moving to Singapore I had never really thought about conscription much apart from it being something that used to happen decades ago. In New Zealand conscription was in place until about the 1950s I think: my Dad’s brother was conscripted although Dad wasn’t. Now that we’ve been here a while and seen the sheer numbers involved, it has been quite thought provoking. On the one hand some argue that removing these young men from the workforce at a time with very low unemployment when they could be making significantly more money in the commercial sector has a stifling effect on the economy. The governments view is somewhat more pragmatic: if you don’t understand the risks that Singapore faces from its very close and sometimes hostile neighbours, take a look at a map. This country is literally squeezed between Malaysia and Singapore, both hugely populous nations where unrest and strife frequently flairs up and terrorism is a real threat. There is no denying the inherent risks which Singapore faces simply by fact of its location.
Another very important reason that the authorities stick with conscription is that it promotes, in a degree that no other activity could, a sense of national unity. This is a very multi-cultural country made up largely of Chinese, Malay and Indian people. There are four national languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil, Bahasa Malay) and each culture has its own language and traditions. The idea is that these differences are broken down amid the camaraderie of serving together in an NS unit and learning to fight for and defend a common nation. As they say here, ‘Many Cultures: One Nation’. Indeed having spoken to a few locals about their NS experience their responses were very positive and they are proud of what they have achieved. At a time in their lives when New Zealand males would be out drinking too much beer, driving fast cars and generally helping to keep the road toll high, these guys are learning how to handle heavy arms and the intricacies of tactical warfare.
With two young boys ourselves we’ve visited many of the National Service and Armed Forces museums and events that have taken place over the last year or so, and believe me, there are a lot. Our kids just LOVE anything to do with soldiers, running around ‘bang banging’ anything that moves and gazing in wide eyed wonder at the tanks, jet fighters and personnel carriers on display a the recently opened National Army Museum. We can’t help but speculate what it must be like to wave your 18 year old son goodbye when he is conscripted, and know that for the next twenty years, he will be in the firing line if his country needs him.
There is a silver lining to the whole conscription issue here. The other day I was reading the Straits Times and came upon a story about a man who suffered a massive heart attack in his car while waiting at the traffic lights. He crashed without doing any damage but his heart had stopped and he wasn’t breathing when three passer-bys pulled him out from behind the wheel. His rescuers were all strangers to each other but, being men, each had done National Service and having been re-trained every year, each knew the latest CPR and resuscitation techniques. They were able to get his heart started and get him breathing again, working like a team until the ambulance personnel arrived to take over. The patient made a full recovery and was pictured shaking the hands of the strangers who had very literally dragged him back from death on the side of the road.
It’s very reassuring to know that every man above 20 here can do that and is able to help out his fellow citizens in a time of need.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chinese Autumn Moon Festival

We are in the throes of the busy festival season here in Singapore. Depending on your nationality and religion you may have just finished celebrating the Chinese Autumn Moon Festival, or still be in the throes of Hari Raya.
For those not in the know, Hari Raya is one of the most significant Muslim celebrations, marking the culmination of Ramadan. The Arab quarter, known as Kamplon Glam, is decorated with lights and there are street stalls selling yummy treats in the evenings.
Last year we hadn’t been here very long and didn’t realise that taking part in the Chinese Moon Festival could mean more than just stuffing down delicious moon cakes filled with lotus seeds and red bean paste. The celebration always falls on the 15th day of the eights lunar month when the moon is believed to be at its fullest. Chinatown is lit up at night and there are large open air markets selling mooncakes, pomelos, tea and festive treats. To enjoy the fun we all headed down to the Chinese gardens to enjoy the huge lantern display in the evening.

Traditionally the kids carry paper lanterns illuminated with candles. Both Niels and Carl thought that was great until Carl saw someone else’s go up in flames and decided it was too dangerous for kids, and insisted I carry his lantern. Wise boy.

The theme this year was ‘under the sea’, and there were literally hundreds of lanterns – wire frames covered with colourful silk-like material and it up from within. Some even moved, with seals balancing spinning balls on their noses, prehistoric dinosaurs swinging their heads to the crowds and mystical figures waving to the throngs.
It was a fantastic display and I highly recommend it for any one who is visiting in September next year.

Following are a few pics to give you a taste of what happened.
The Chinese Garden is anyway one of our favourite destinations for a couple of hours out with the kids.
I’ve blogged about it before here: can also add that there is a large adventure playground, suitable for kids 6 years and over, located nearby.
Just remember to take lots of water, sunblock and hats because it’s always hot and quite exposed to the sun there.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cool Pool Toy

OK this may not be truly blog-worthy but I found a really cool pool toy the other day. Called a Crazy Coil, it's a long inflatable tube with a permanent curl. Good for hours of fun, and the kids love trying to sit on it and getting chucked off when it rolls over. The only downside is that it takes quite a bit of space to store so is cluttering up our back balcony most of the time, but still, loads of fun.
As we swim every day we are big fans of the multitude of inflatable toys on the market (and no, no sheep here) and this would be one of the more unusual ones we've had.

The Crazy Coil retails for about Sing$36. I picked this one up at Ocean Paradise in Tanglin Mall.