Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Melting Pot

I’ve talked before about how Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures and religions, and today I learned a bit more about the Muslem population living here by talking a walk through the Arab quarter, known as Kampong Glam*. It’s one of the oldest parts of Singapore city and home to many Muslims of various ethnicities, mosques and historical sites.
One of the most interesting was the Sultan Mosque, Singapore’s largest. Topped with a large golden dome, the mosque is open to visitors everyday except Friday, which is the Muslim holy day. As long as your knees and shoulders are covered – a long cotton over-jacket is provided for those women who haven’t dressed appropriately – you are welcome to walk around and take a look inside this majestic structure. Typically of most things here, it is very inclusive and Muslims from lots of different nationalities come to pray here. Originally built in 1852 it was re-built in 1928 in its present form and can accommodate 5000 people. Apparently when a mosque is being built the local Muslims are obliged to contribute. At the time, the poorest people in the area could not afford to donate money so they collected glass tomato sauce (ketchup) bottles and by lying them on their sides constructed – would you believe it – the dark ring upon which the golden dome sits. If you look closely (probably not visible in the photo) you can see the round bottoms of the glass bottles. An ingenious idea which in the true Singaporean spirit made sure that everybody could be part of the project.
As an interesting aside, before the Imams are allowed to give their ‘sermon’ each Friday it must first be read and approved by the Singaporean government to ensure that they approve with what is being preached. A very pragmatic solution to some of the shit-stirring which has been happening in other parts of the world, don’t you think?
We also passed the Kampong Glam Cemetery, which is actually a piece of Malaysian territory smack in the middle of the city. While it is no longer possible to be buried here it is bristling with the traditional Muslim grave markers, which I had never seen before. According to our guides the dead are wrapped in white cloth – 3 layers for men, 5 for women – and lowered into the ground on their right side (without a coffin) and facing Mecca. It was a remarkably peaceful spot amongst the buses and cars of busy Arab Street.

*Kampong Glam is Malay, meaning village (Kampong) and tree (Glam is a tree related to the Australian Eucalyptus from which the leaves can be ground to obtain a medicinal oil)

Sunday, January 28, 2007


One of the things I miss most here in Singapore is my bookclub. Way backing 2001 a few friends and I started up a bookclub which meets ten times a year. Six years on, four of the original founding members are still going strong.
Usually there are about 6 or 7 of us, and we take turns to pick the book, and to host the meetings. Over some wine and yummy snacks everything and anything is fair game for discussion, including – eventually – the book of the month. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a highlight of all of our social calendars. Last December, during our brief visit back to Holland, I was really chuffed when the club organised a meeting over dinner so we could all get together again. What great fun catching up with everyone!
We were also lucky enough to see more of Fran’s original writing, this time in the form of a poem written in honour of the bookclub which she included in her beautiful hand-made Christmas cards.

Book Club Friends by Fran Oosterbaan – Clarke

It occurred to me the other night,
As I lay in my bed,
That all my friends, and folk I know,
Are like the books I’ve read.

You never know what is inside,
By the cover or the title,
Though first impressions mean a lot,
It’s the contents that are vital.

Some give warmth and comfort,
Like a cozy fireside glow,
Some invigorate, and inspire,
And you’re happy just to know.

Some are hard to understand,
And take a lot of trouble,
But every story is unique,
The rewards are often double.

Some are fun, and full of laughs,
Or passion, love and mystery,
But best, a blend of everything,
With just a dash of history.

And so my Christmas wish for you,
“May your shelves be overflowing,
And may your cherished library,
Continue to keep growing.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


On Sunday Niels lost his first baby tooth. After days of being wiggly and having him poke it with his tongue and fingers, umpteen assurances of yes I will be careful brushing your teeth, no I’m not going to poke it, and yes another one will grow back in it’s place, the tiny little nipper came out early yesterday morning. He marched into our bedroom at about 6 am and announced dramatically “My tooth fell out!”
Once again hopes of a sleep-in were dashed, but on the bright side at least he didn’t swallow the tooth.
Niels had been a bit apprehensive about losing the tooth, and to be fair, it is the first piece of his anatomy that he has witnessed falling off. God knows we all have to get used to it as we get older, but the first time is a bit of a shock. He’s never been one to let go of his personal property easily. He HATED having his hair cut until he was about four years old. At the local hairdresser they still remember the day I eventually gave up and carried him, rigid and screaming, out of the salon with half of his hair trimmed. We were both red and drenched with sweat by then and I couldn’t take the glares of passers-by any longer who were obviously thinking “what is that woman doing that poor child in there?” I called it quits, bought hand clippers and did it myself from then on. He’s grown out of that phase thank goodness and now loves going to our hairdresser in Singapore – a Kiwi girl from Auckland who works from home. And no wonder – with three kids her house is full of toys and she plies the kids with lollies and ice blocks.
Toilet training also took ages with Niels, perhaps another sign that he doesn’t like to part with what he sees as his personal property. So I was very careful to explain to him why baby teeth fall out, how new ones grow in their place, etc. Then there is the tooth fairy! In exchange for your precious tooth she will leave some money which you can spend how you like, isn’t that great!
Carefully digesting this news, Niels thought about the implications for a while, then looked at me with a mercenary glint in his eye and asked “Is there a hair fairy too?”

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Bad Case Of Wind

Most of you will have either heard about the storm which swept across much of Western Europe in the last few days – or have lived through it. We may have thought we were safe from the 150 km/hour winds all the way down here at the equator but that proved not to be the case. Fortunately the damage to our property back in Holland was fairly minimal compared to some, and especially compared to the 30 odd people who were killed in various countries.
A house in our neighbourhood had its whole roof blown off. We lost one roofing tile which landed in the gutter, and the three remaining Cyprus trees on our property took a real hammering. One blew completely over and had to be removed. The other two, which were pushed over. have been straightened up and should survive their ordeal.
Actually these trees have an interesting story behind them. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, almost everybody seems to know our house because of the Cyprus trees outside. The original owner, who built the house back in 1995 or so, had a very particular taste and because he just LOVES this type of tree, paid what seemed (to us anyway) an exorbitant sum to have six fully mature Cyprus trees shipped up from Italy and planted around the house. They were duly planted with a great deal of fuss and care, and then promptly proceeded to die. Unwilling (or unable) to take the hint, he then paid to have the same thing done all over again! This time, the transplants were successful, and operation Cyprus Relocation (a.k.a. putting the wrong trees in a stupid place) was complete.
When we (I’m using the royal ‘we’ here as actually Holger handled everything) were negotiating a price for the house he made several mentions of the trees and how much they were worth (to him anyway). We suggested he could take his tree with him if he dropped the price, but somehow that didn’t wash.
We duly bought the house and lived with the trees. Until I was pregnant with Carl, and we realised that the Cyprus which was planted in the driveway, preventing us from opening one of the rear doors of the car, was a royal pain in the arse and we chopped it down. In time, we got sick of the two huge trees in our fairly small garden, and wanting to put in a sandpit and playhouse for the kids, we contacted the former owner and told him we planned to get rid of the trees. Within a week heavy machinery (a huge flat bed truck, massive crane, plus small bobcat digger) turned up with a crew of 4 or 5 professionals including a tree doctor, and the two trees were removed, the garden fence carefully moved first out of the way then put back, the holes filled in with top soil, and we were all happy. We had to give the guy credit, when he does a job, he does it properly. Now alas alack, another Cyprus has fallen victim to nature’s whimsy. And then there were two….

Monday, January 15, 2007

Uninvited passenger

Today I want to share with you a very strange little story which appeared in The Straits Times, the highly respected national paper. They have a regular section where they print small items sent in by readers, accompanied by a photo they send over their mobile phone. Left is the photo that appeared with the story, which I have nicked off the columns site (http://www.stomp.com.sg)

“Uninvited python-ger?
Look what the rains brought in – not just flash floods, as Mr Toh Kok Send discovered, but a 2m long python.
The 42 year-old lawyer was shocked when he got an afternoon call from the building management team at Capital Tower last Thursday, telling him the snake was coiled beneath his car.
Although no one actually saw the snake emerge from the car, the management was sure it came from within.
“They joked that the python could not have taken the lift up to the seventh story,” said Mr Toh.
Over the past few days, he had heard strange noises from inside the car, and even stopped once to check underneath, but found nothing.
“Now I wonder if I’ve been ferrying an additional passenger these few days,” he said.
The snake was handed over to a pest control company. It is quite common to find snakes in car engines, particularly during the rainy weather said Mr Felix Tan, director of pest control company Alliance Pest Management."

Ummmm….hang on. Did they say this kind of thing is common?? I can guarantee you that if I ever hear a strange noise coming from under my car, I won’t be the one sticking my head under there to see what’s going on!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Getting To Grips With The Lingo

Last weekend, my Dad's partner Maureen was looking after Carl while I got my left eye lasered and Dad took Niels to his swimming lesson.
The best way to keep our kids entertained is to chuck them in the swimming pool for an hour or so, which she did until Carl got sick of that and wanted to go back upstairs. Because Dad had left with the only house key they had to wait for his return before getting back inside, so they sat chatting beside the pool.
Peering underneath the brick barbeque, Carl pointed and yelled “A snake!”
One can only imagine what effect this had on Maureen who had up until that point probably been quite relaxed in the warm sunshine, but suffice to say she was no doubt hugely relieved to point out that no, it wasn’t a snake, it was “a piece steel” which was part of the barbeque frame.
“Oh” replied Carl, his standard answer to any new piece of information while it’s being assimilated into his memory chip. Shortly afterwards he got bored with sitting by the pool so they moved to a seat on the low wall by the fountain out front, where Carl could wave enthusiastically to Mark (the security guard) and watch people coming and going. In due time a workman walked past with a large crowbar over one shoulder.
“That’s a big crowbar” said Maureen, “I wonder what he’s going to jimmy with that?”
To which Carl replied scornfully “That’s not a crow bar, that’s steel…just like the snake”.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Acclimatising. Or not.

Christmas probably seems like a long time ago to everybody now, and it does feel as if the past two weeks or so have flown by. We spent the festive season in Holland, back in our own house, sleeping in our own beds. Aaaaahhh, if only it were possible to shrink our beds and fit them into our suitcases to bring them back here. A couple of days ago I asked Niels if he was happy to be back in Singapore again. His answer was positive, so pushing my luck, I asked him if he missed anything from Holland. There was a thoughtful pause, and then he said with all the blunt honesty only a five year old can muster “I miss my bed”. So there you have it, it’s a longing that settles in well back in our formative years before we can blame age, bad backs, and aching muscles.
Of course when we were home there were plenty of things that the kids found they missed, especially their two sets of grandparents; Oma and Opa, and Jeanette and Derek. Yet they slotted back into life there as if we’d never been away, enjoying play dates with their little friends and scooting around town on the backs of our bikes like the little Cloggies they are.
The only thing they (and I) struggled with was the cold. Thank goodness Holland is having an unusually warm winter so far, so temperatures were only down to about 2 degrees and we didn’t see any real frost. But it was so bone-chillingly COLD! Niels slept with a hot water bottle in his bed and Carl had an electric blanket in his. We all wore singlets and socks to bed and huddled under the duvets as if we were part of Scotts expedition. All except hubby of course, who scornfully called us ‘watjes’ (wimps) and insisted that it wasn’t that cold after all.
Secretly I was quite pleased that the kids Kiwi genes were finally coming to the fore – let’s face it, living in such a cold damp climate is plain unnatural! My great-great-great grandparents didn’t run away from Scotland for the sunny climes of New Zealand for nothing after all.
I managed to spend half a day visiting the bunnies, Rocco and Ashley at their long-term holiday residence at Liesbeth's house in the slightly warmer (ie more Southern) city of Eindhoven. Rabbits love the cold, provided they have enough shelter and preferably a buddy to snuggle up to to keep themselves warm, and Rocco and Ashley are no exceptions. Their fur has become so dense that when you burrow your fingers into it your can feel the tips heating up. Ashley, who has always been - well kind of rotund would be a nice way to say it - is now almost completley spherical and feels like a wombat with her dense winter coat and a layer of lard to ward off the chills. Rocoo's moustache is as magnificent as ever and no doubt serves a double purpose of keeping his toe-tips warm as he snoozes the winter days away.

Monday, January 08, 2007

One down - one to go

Well here I am back behind the laptop, with one eye lasered. The procedure went very well and with the exceptional level of before and after treatment care I feel really pleased to be able to have had the procedure done by Jerry Tan. My eye is not painful at all, but the vision is still slightly blurry and will probably remain so for a few days until the cornea flap which is made so the laser can reshape the cornea, heals. I have to wear a plastic shield over my left eye while sleeping for a week to make sure I don't rub my eye during my sleep and put in eye drops, but that's a minor inconvenience. Despite the blurriness, I can already read the small text in the newsbar on the bottom of the BBC World News tv channel with my left eye, while I can hardly even see the bar with my right eye! So that'a already a big improvement, I can't wait to find out what the final result will be.
Tomorrow at 8.30 am I'm back at the clinic for a check up.
Dad and Maureen just jumped in a taxi to head off to the airport, so it's a quiet evening over here. It will be strange not to have any visitors in the house for a while. The next one is Christime (my sister) who will be celebrating her 40th over here next month. Party time!!!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

'Twas the night before...

OK, this is a big day. Firstly I should say a big sorry to those of you whom I should have contacted before now to say that yes, we are back in Singapore, yes we had a nice Christmas and yes we are all well. BUT, there have been bigger fish to fry. Issues to mull. Eyeballs to laser. Whatever.
The point is, this is the last time that I will be writing this blog while wearing glasses. Yes…tomorrow I get my first round of optical laser surgery!!!! Yaaaaaaayyyy!!!!!
For those of you who may not realise it, I have wanted to get my eyes lasered for years and years and years, but the cost has always been a big hurdle. However my Dad very generously offered to pay for me to get it done as a Christmas present, so I hurriedly phoned around in the week we had before heading off to Holland in December and found the best clinic here.
Last Monday I spent 5 hours at the Jerry Tan Eye Clinic (http://www.jerrytan.com) being assessed and tomorrow morning, at 9 pm, my left eye will be surgically corrected from short-sightedness using Wave Front Guided Customised Lasik surgery, hopefully forever. In a couple of weeks I’ll get the right eye done. (In case you are wondering I will wear one contact lens in the meantime). There are good reasons for doing your eyes one at a time, the main one being the surgeon can carefully monitor how the first eye heals, and depending on the result after a few weeks when healing is complete, can fine-tune surgery for the other eye accordingly. This gives the best possible chance of achieving 20/20 vision or better, as everybody heals differently and it may be best to over or under correct the second eye to achieve the ideal result.
In the mean time I am just about bursting with anticipation. Dad and Maureen are leaving here late tomorrow night so we have just managed to squeeze all of this in while they are here to look after the kids for the day. And pay of course.
So I’’ll keep you updated. From tomorrow we will be visitor free for a significant period for the first time since October, so I’ll also have more time to focus on my blog which has been sorely neglected, at a time when there has just been so much to say. Never fear, I’m prepared to wax lyrical for as long as anybody out there is prepared to read it.
Well I’ll blog again soon, next time will be as someone with much better vision – at least in one eye.