Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eye'll Be Seeing You...

Yesterday I had my one-month post operative check-up with Dr Jerry Tan, the guy who did the laser surgery on my eyes. I now have “better than perfect” vision in my right eye (equivalent to 20/15, when 20/20 is usually considered ‘perfect’), and 20/20 vision in my left. It means I can read on the eye chart at twenty metres what others can read at fifteen metres. My right eye – the second one fixed – is better than my left, as expected. This is why he insists on waiting at least two weeks between doing each eye: based on how the first eye heals, he can ‘tailor’ the lasering of the second eye to get the best possible result.


It’s absolutely amazing to get up in the morning and not have to put on glasses. I can read the clock at night without squinting, can jump in the car and drive without checking I’ve got my glasses handy, can actually see in the swimming pool – it’s like being born again. It feels fantastic.
If any of you are thinking about getting your eyes lasered, don’t hesitate a moment more – this is one of the best things I have ever done. Check out Jerry’s website for full information: www.jerrytan.com, as there are several different technologies available, even for weird shaped eyeballs like I had with astigmatism, which basically means your eyeballs are more or less football shaped. He even altered the contour of my eyeballs to achieve the best result, as they were an 'abnormal' shape! All without using a knife - the Intralase machine uses a new type of cold laser to create a three-sided flap which is then lifted, and a second laser removes a microscopically thin peice of your cornea to re-shape it to achieve perfect vision.
The best technology such as Jerry uses - Lasik with Intralase - actually corrects pre-existing conditions such as night blindness and glare problems while correcting your vision! The technology has leaped ahead in the past couple of years so the old clich├ęs about it not being permanent or causing glare problems are well and truly a thing of the past, if you choose your surgeon carefully.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dinner Party Time Again



Glancing back over the past few weeks I realise haven’t talked about food for at least a day so it must be time to breach that favourite topic again. And for good reason: last night we sat down with a couple of friends and ate The Crayfish. Yes, the last remaining monster crayfish which has been lurking in the freezer scaring old ladies and small children. My sister Christine brought this and a similar one from New Zealand when she visited last month, a magnification 2+ kg Pacific rock lobster caught in person by my Dad (thanks Dad!), cooked in fresh sea-water, frozen and lovingly flown over in February.
We’ve been looking at it regularly, tempted to thaw and eat it, but it was a daunting task which required at least four people so we waited until we had people for dinner. And last night: behold, our first dinner party and yes, they were impressed. As our friend said last night, “I always tell hubby after we go to someone’s place for dinner, ‘now you’ve got to top that’. However I don’t think I can honestly say that to him this time, how on earth could he top this??”
It was fun to have people for dinner again. We’ve had a fairly constant stream of visitors since we arrived but having people pop in for dinner is somehow different. We are used to doing this fairly often back in Holland and so we’ve missed it a bit. Sometimes it’s nice to just chuck something together but since this was our first time here, and of course because we had The Crayfish, I wanted to make it a bit special.
I started off with a smooth prawn bisque to which I added whole prawn tails and white fish chunks, and topped with a swirl of cream. This was followed by grilled New Zealand green-lip mussels basted with garlic butter on a bed of greens. For the main course we had of course the crayfish, with some monster ginger and garlic coated tiger prawns for company, accompanied by a green salad, a minty salad of baby potatoes and a big bowl of home made salad cream (the kind made from condensed milk, yum!). And finally I finished with a lychee and lime sorbet which was quite frankly divine: if anybody wants the recipe I will be happy to pass it on, or check out this month’s BBC Good Food magazine.
A couple of bottles of Louis Latour Chablis washed it all down nicely and I’m pleased to say the only left-overs are a bit of salad, some sorbet and…all the legs from the crayfish! Yes it was too big for even four adults to eat, so guess what we’re having for dinner tonight…..yummmmmm!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Our Uninvited Guests


When it comes to household pests, I am the first to run for the can of bug killer at the mere mention of a cockroach or mosquito. However there are some “uninvited guests” whom I am willing to put up with and even enjoy. The local gecko is one such example. The local name for them is pronounced chi-chak, (note: the correct spelling starts with “tj” and goes down hill from there so I’m sticking to my version, and it’s pronounced “chee chuck”). These cute little reptiles seem to grow to about 15 cm in length, but most of the ones we see inside are 7-10cm. They are found in every house over here and are completely harmless.
Chi-chaks are fairly flat, with a soft pinky-brown skin and big suckers on their toes which allow them to shoot vertically up walls without a problem. Their enormous dark eyes enable them to find insects easily but also give them a really cute, ET-phone-home kind of expression. I think they come in here when I open up the windows in the mornings, although I’ve also seen them slip under the back door, through a space that must be only 4-5mm high.
I can’t imagine that they could survive inside for long; between the air conditioning and the lack of insects the odds are seriously stacked against them, so hubby and I always try to catch them and release them outside. Now this is actually incredibly difficult – these little guys can move so fast, often you don’t even know which direction they have run in! It’s like something out of a cartoon; one moment they're there, the next they are gone. To make matters worse you have to treat them gently because they are soft and squishy (yes I’ve stood on one), and if they are convinced that you really are going to catch and eat them, their tails drop off as a last-ditch effort to escape.
One memorable – in a fuzzy kind of way – evening Holger and I returned home from his work Christmas party to a quiet house. Mieke and Jan Willem were visiting at the time so they had babysat and as we crept in we saw a chi chak shoot under one of the couches. Being more than slightly inebriated obviously the only logical action was to try to catch it RIGHT THEN. So we spent the next 15 minutes stumbling round giggling and trying to corner the poor thing while not waking anybody up. I don’t know how we managed it, at one stage we were both flat on our faces under a couch - God knows what Mieke would have thought it she’d walked out to see only our feet sticking out – but I’m happy to say that we did catch the chi-chak without causing it mortal harm - the alcohol fumes had probably aneathesised it anyway - and it was released onto the balcony.
Anyway, a couple of days ago I was in our bathroom when something went shooting past my head. That woke me up, I can tell you. Turns out there was a chi-chak inside the glass shower – don’t ask me how he managed that – so I grabbed a plastic container and caught him. Just before I released him I thought to grab a photo to show you what they are like, and to warn you that if you visit, you may have to share your bathroom with this guy.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Attennnnnnnnnnnnnntion!

Recently we all jumped in a blue cab and headed downtown to see the changing of the guard at Istana, the presidents residence. It’s a display put on every month and with two testosterone charged little boys, we knew the combination of police, soliders, guns and a military brass band would prove a big hit. We weren’t disappointed - just look at Carl's tense-but-excited face (left).
Istana (which means palace in Malay) was built in 1867 but I can’t tell you what it looks like because it’s set 750 metres back from Orchard Road, surrounded by lush tropical gardens. It is open on public holidays – Dad and Maureen popped down there at Christmas - when you stand a good chance of seeing Mr Pres. on those occasions.
The changing of the guard takes place at the ornate front gates which open directly onto Orchard Road.

The changing of anybody’s guards can be pretty ho-hum, but what made this worthwhile was the performance by the Precision Drill Squad of the SAF Military Police Unit. These guys performed a very snappy routine, displaying their skill as they whipped to attention with a click of the heels and then executed a complicated series of moves in unison, swinging their rifles (and sometimes even throwing them through the air), all preciesly timed and in-synch. Imagine an Indian Wave which lasts 15 minutes and includes the option to use lethal force plus a bracing soundtrack of military music, and you’ll get the idea.
It’s obviously very difficult to do and one of the guys close to us – he only looked about 20 – made a small mistake and quickly glanced to the guy on his right before correcting the position of his gun. After that we could occasionally hear him counting to himself as the group performed. Niels entered into the spirit of the occasion, marching on the spot with his chest puffed out and quietly saying “hup hup hup” (almost) in time with them. As he got more enthusiastic his voice rose to “hup!, hup!, hup!” and I tried to shush him up. He certainly wasn’t making the soldiers’ job any easier by counting loudly just slightly out of synch. As little beads of sweat started to drip down the soldiers' face and his own counting became slightly more audible we couldn't tell whether the pressure of performing or his efforts to ignore the out-of-time "hup! hup!" from Niels was the cause. However the team completed their display without a hitch, still looking very sharp and cool despite the tropical heat and humidity.


So if you can’t reach us on the first Sunday evening of the month, now you know where we’ll be!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

...And Then There's The Shopping

I’ve tried to talk about a wide variety of topics about life in Singapore; the people, the cultures, the food, the religions, the food, the sights, the food, etc. And yet most people, when asked why they would like to visit Singapore, usually say that shopping is a top priority. Frankly it’s world famous for shopping and it isn’t hard to see why. While most cities have a few shopping malls to complement the well known high-streets, Singapore city is basically one long procession of ultra modern, air-conditioned multi-level shopping malls, each bigger and better than the last.
Shopping is a national hobby, with the locals being just as keen as the tourists on getting out there and hunting down a bargain or checking out the latest fashions. While I’m trying to keep hold of my disdain for the throw-away materialistic consumerism that seems to have many of us in its grip these days, I have to admit that sometimes the siren call is too strong. Everybody needs a bit of retail therapy once in a while, and then it’s time to whip out the credit card and, to quote my Dad, “stroke it ‘til it smokes”.
Today was one such day. To be fair, it really was retail therapy, not just wanton greed that set me off. That kicked in later. I’ve strained my right foot and each time it flexes when I walk I get a painful burning sensation deep inside. Because it’s not tender on the outside and there’s no bruising I think I did it stumbling around in one of my cheap pairs of shoes. As any of my girlfriends who have been shopping with me would agree, I am a bit of an anomaly among women (apparently) because I don’t really like buying shoes. Since we’ve lived here I’ve stuck to ‘cheap and chic’ sandals grabbed on the run, much to the detriment of my tootsies, I’m sad to say. So today I headed off for some decent footwear. I ended up at Isetan, fabulous department store and iconic Orchard Road venue, fast becoming one of my favourite destinations. I’ve taken every female visitor we’ve had there and by now, I should be betting paid a commission.
As I entered, searching for shoes amongst the accessories section on the ground floor, I saw it. Literally stopping me in my tracks it was a Fornarina tote bag so utterly perfect for me it was as if it had been tailor made and placed on display for my personal gratification. Big enough to chuck all the gear in I need when I take the kids to the park, strong and sturdy material in a won’t-show-the-dirt-easily colour, with colourful cutesy bits and baubles for detail. Behold: it is The Bag.
Giddy with joy at the sheer bliss of possessing the perfect bag (obviously the greed bit had kicked in by now and my morals are out the window), I floated over to the shoes, tender tootsies barely touching the floor.
Yes, I found a pair of extremely comfortable orthopaedically correct shoes from Scholl which will cherish my feet on said walks through playgrounds and parks. And yes, I did once again succumb to the shopping demon who put me in the way of a gorgeous little pair of black heels with leather bows (!), totally perfect for when we go out in the evening. Check out the photo and tell me you’re not jealous! They will be a welcome replacement for my only other pair of black heels (affectionately called my “slutty secretary” shoes by hubby) which don’t fit comfortably in this warmer climate.
On the way back to the car I managed to ease my conscience by finally finding a gift for a friend back home, so I hope that it in some way restores the karmic balance.
But frankly, armed with The Bag and planning when I can first use The Shoes, I really don’t care.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ashley Shows Who's Boss


This is the latest photo of my bunnies, Ashley (contentedly lounging on top of her man) and Rocco (who, as any good bloke should, resigned himself to being used as a comfort item and general play-thing long ago). As you can see they are still lapping up the attention Liesbeth is giving them at their holiday residence in Eindhoven. As you may remember, Liesbeth runs a rescue centre for abandoned and unwanted rabbits. If you are interested – and especially if you are thinking of getting a rabbit in Holland – check out her website at http://www.opvangfranky.nl/
There must be few sights in life so compelling as 30-odd rabbits in hutches just waiting for someone to take them home to a loving environment. Every time I visit Liesbeth I get an almost irresistible urge to bundle them all up and fill my car to overflowing with bunnies of all shapes and sizes. Bunnies in the glove box, bunnies on the back seat, bunnies in the boot. Fortunately sanity has always prevailed and Rocco and Ashley are the only adoptees who I have spirited off so far.
Many people don’t realise what interesting animals rabbits actually are, since the only ones many of us see are trapped, lonely and bored, in a hutch far too small for them in a back garden. Given the room they need and a mate to interact with, they run and jump and move about a lot, love to dig and climb under/on top of things, and are very curious. Despite their cute fluffy appearance they can be quite fearless and must be almost the only animal to demonstrate they like you by giving you a headbutt. It usually only connects with your ankle and it’s done with love, so hey, headbutting is ok with me.
Rabbits really need company and a bonded couple will always flop down to rest close to each other (desexing of both sexes is an absolutely priority to avoid the obvious breeding issue but also behavioural and health problems). When we lived in an apartment in Lochem with our first two bunnies, Flopsy and Fudge, their favourite spot was sprawled out in front of the tv, back legs stretched out horizontally behind them, but usually with their butts to the tv. I guess they figured that they had our complete attention because we seemed to be gazing at them all night!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Did The Earth Move For You?

So there I was this morning, sitting at my laptop writing an article about a valve company in India, when it seems to me that my chair is moving all on its own. Hmmmmm, a little too much coffee perhaps? Then the curtains in the room started swaying slightly. I'll be damned, we're having an earthquake! Suddenly I'm inordinatley pleased that we didn't take that apartment on the 26th floor of a condo overlooking Orchard Road.
With its epicentre in Sumatra the earthquake was about 400 km away so there was no harm done - the most exciting footage the local news stations have been able to come up with was water in a fish tank sloshing slightly. Not exactly gripping stuff.
However spare a thought for the poor souls in Sumatra who have been affected with buildings collapsing and all the tragedy resulting from that. As I am well used to earthquakes - I'm from New Zealand after all - it turns out I was the only one in the family to even notice either the first one or the aftershock half an hour later.
Fortunately according to the news reader, the slight tremor we got today is about as vicious as earthquakes get here. Frankly I was quite pleased to hear this. When it comes to feeling the earth move, I'd rather be a more active (and willing) participant.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Peas In A Pod


This is one of my all-time favourite photos, taken recently while celebrating my sister Christine’s’ birthday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here in Singapore last month. All of our lives people have been remarking how similar we are, not infrequently even assuming that we were twins. We always felt this was pushing the similarities a bit, but we are in many respects very alike. We both love to go out and have a good time, both like having people round for dinner, both have two kids, and share the same silly sense of humour.
We also both love seafood, although I have to admit our entire family is like that. Hence the dinner at the Ritz, as they were having one of their famous seafood buffets. As Singapore’s only 6-star hotel we were expecting something wonderful, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. Chris and I heard what we decided must be the best pick up line ever during the dinner. We were watching a chef cook what we assumed was fish (turned out it was slipper lobster – yum!), when he glanced up, saw us standing there and reaching behind him to grab a laden-plate inquired “can I offer you a lobster madam?” Gets our vote every time!
After a fabulous meal of every type of seafood you can possible imagine and several that we were not brave enough to try (just what sort of creature is a sea cucumber anyway??) we left and enjoyed the perfect night-cap – a Singapore Sling in the Garden Bar at Raffles Hotel.
I’m pretty sure that Christine enjoyed the night as much and we did and it will certainly be one of those memories that I revisit often and have a smile and a chuckle over. Happy birthday all over again Christine, we’ll have to see what we can come up with next year!