Sunday, May 27, 2007

Happy Birthday Niels

Last week was Niels 6th birthday, a much-anticipated event in his calander. This is the first year he has looked forward to his birthday with such excitement; he made up a list of presents he wanted (Lego, an army jeep, superheroes…), agonised about who to invite (limited to 6 kids by his parents but eventually extended to 8), and even dictated what he wanted to eat! (hotdogs, pizza and hot chips).
This year Niels decided he wanted to invite a girl from his class, so we suggested he invite two to keep each other company if the boys’ games didn’t interest them, and that worked well. Niels had long ago decided that his birthday cake should be a tank, so that kept me busy on the morning of the party.
The day was a great success. We decided to have the party from 10am until 1 pm, because it was a pool party and if it’s going to rain over here, then that usually happens in the afternoon. As it turned out it was a gorgeous sunny day so we needn’t have worried. To keep the kids busy I bought a huge floating ‘island’ for in the pool which about 6 kids could fit on, and they played with it non-stop. After about an hour I brought out a big bag of water pistols, enough for everybody, and they were a big hit too. Later, after a noisy meal I brought out the bubble making machine which was also a big hit, and then suddenly it was time to go home. Never mind worrying about entertaining little kids, with a pool and some simple toys they do it all themselves.
Earlier in the week he'd had his birthday shout at school, providing blue cupcakes with smiley faces and flags with his name on top for his class buddies and being made a fuss of by the teacher. He was allowed to choose a couple of special things to do; he choose to light sparklers and have a story read to him. Carl was there as well, providing moral support for his big brother and very proud to be able to sit in the big kids class for the event.
It’s hard to believe he’s six already although of course he thinks he knows more than we do by now. Every second sentence seems to start with “Actually,….” He can talk for ages about his favourite subjects like knights, vikings, pirates or Superman, reciting every fact he has ever been told. After a bit if a bumpy start at this new school here he’s scored a B and an A in his last two tests and is shooting ahead, while soon, with a bit of luck, he will have his Swimming Diploma. Fortuantley he is still a cuddly kid and loves to snuggle up for a hug. When I tucked him into bed the night of his birthday party I asked him “Are you still my scrunchy munchkin?” he answered sleepily “Yes…but actually, I’m a big kid now”.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Update From Rocco And Ashley

Recently Liesbeth moved Rocco and Ashley into larger living quarters at her bunny utopia in Eindhoven, Holland (see My furry kids love their new home, which they will share with another bonded pair on an alternating basis, month about, rotating between the pen pictured left and the enclosure next door.
They will be especially pleased because in one of the pens, Liesbeth has constructed a system of underground tunnels which they can run through and hide in to their hearts content. She’s also buried a layer of wire mesh about 60 cm underground so that bunnies can’t dig out completely (important unless you want your bunnies to move to the neighbours one night). She calls it ‘Colditz’ for obvious reasons. They have plenty of opportunities to dig, which is my bunnies idea of heaven. Apparently nothing is quite so satisfying as getting your claws into the dirt and sending it flying out between your back legs, sending it shooting at least a metre in all directions. Digging is what rabbits do. OK not all rabbits, but I reckon that given the chance, almost all bunnies would love to dig regularly. After all, in the wild it’s what provides them with shelter, exercise, and a chance to impress to the girls.
My very first bunny was Fudge, a magnificent glossy back lop-eared male with a cute flat nose and a passion for digging. This was a little unfortunate because we lived in a third floor apartment at the time. However he was nothing if not innovative and fairly early on he found a favourite spot on the linoleum that he started to dig at. When he was very young he could squeeeeeeeeze under a radiator in a corner of the kitchen, but as he grew he no longer fitted. Solution? Simply dig under it. That rabbit would dig dig dig dig for half an hour at a stretch, the steady “scritch scritch scritch” of his claws announcing that he was hard at work. He had the shoulders of a street fighter and probably the cardiovascular fitness to match, but alas he never did succeed in digging a hole under the radiator. Being three-legged for most of his life Flopsy was never a digger, although he would attack things like carpet, wallpaper, lino, telephone wires, speakers etc with his teeth to great satisfaction. That’s his satisfaction obviously, not ours.
Once we moved to our house and the bunnies were given the run of the garden, their true natures emerged. Flopsy’s new mate Coco (who succeeded Fudge when he died), and subsequently Rocco and Ashley have all proven to be fanatic diggers. Apparently that was the reason why Rocco was dumped by his previous owners; he “messed up the garden”. Personally I find that a couple of burrows add character to the back lawn and for entertainment value few things in life compare to watching two rabbits work in turns like a professional tag team to construct an underground fortress in the kids’ sandbox. So come on all you bunny owners, let your bunnies mess things up a little, it will be worth it for all of you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tough discipline

Most people seem to have heard caning is used for punishment in Singapore. I have to admit before we moved here I thought it was a barbaric thing to do and many Western countries have over the years tried to apply pressure to the government to have the practice stopped. However…once you’ve lived here you quickly realise that this is one of the few places where you can walk around the city at all hours of the night without being harassed, mugged or in fear of your life. It’s a common sight to see women walking on their own at night – I’ve often popped down to the local supermarket at 10pm – without any concerns for their safety. There is also no graffiti, no vandalism, and a much higher degree of respect for people than anywhere else I have lived. Not all of this is down to caning of course but I’m willing to bet that if the little bastards who keep spray painting the church in Lochem knew they would get a good wallop if they got caught, graffiti wouldn’t be a problem there. Anyway, I’ve done a bit of research for those of you who are interested in the facts because lots of our visitors have asked about it. The original source is
Interestingly, the article contained this quote: “The idea that criminals might be reformed has been explicitly abandoned, at least by the most senior member of Singapore's judiciary: Chief Justice Yong Pung How has said, "Rehabilitation is something I have never understood [...] Compassion went out the window a long time ago. Now I just deliver justice." ("Hard stand on crime and punishment", The Star, Malaysia, 5 May 1996).” How’s that for a hard line!
For caning the recipient is bent over a wooden frame and their ankles and wrists are restrained. Padding is put over the lower back (to protect the kidneys) and below the buttocks (to protect the genitals) so only the butt cheeks are exposed.

“The Singapore Criminal Procedure Code lays down that 24 strokes is the maximum that can be ordered at any one trial. The strokes must all be inflicted on the same occasion, and not in instalments. The Singapore Prison cane is made of rattan. Unlike bamboo, this is very flexible when wet. In some pictures the soaked rattan appears to be so bendy that it may be understandable that some observers are said to have mistakenly thought the implements were actually leather whips. The size and dimensions of the cane are prescribed by regulation. For adult men it is 1.2 metres long and 1.3cm thick, thus about as long as a broom handle and as thick as a man's little finger. A smaller cane, the "light rattan", is used for boys under 16”.
“There are dozens of offences for which a man might be given the cane in Singapore - from serious violent crimes to some non-violent offences that seem relatively minor in the West but are regarded as serious in Singapore, a highly authoritarian state where the importation and sale of chewing gum is an offence (though not a caneable one) and where people can be prosecuted and fined significant sums for dropping litter, smoking in public places, or failing to flush a public toilet after use."
"Caning in Singapore is mandatory for over 40 different offences. These range from serious crime, such as rape, robbery, or drug-trafficking, to lesser offences - possession of offensive weapons (such as a knife, dagger or sword), vandalism (including spray painting or a second offence of affixing a poster to a wall), or the sale, transport, delivery, or import of fireworks.
Men who enter Singapore illegally or who overstay their visas by more than 90 days automatically receive a minimum of 3 strokes of the cane. In some cases a mandatory minimum number of strokes is required -- up to 15 for certain offences."
"Caning is optional for many further offences including rioting, extortion, living off the earnings of prostitution, manslaughter, and causing hurt. It has also been introduced for a third offence for certain road traffic offences, though there are few reports of this being applied in practice.
Since the 1990s, moreover, the highest courts have been more inclined to impose sentences of caning even where it is not mandatory. Examples are in cases of rape; "road bullying" where grievous hurt results; hiring of persons to assault another; and molesting women.
The Chief Justice has stated that in cases of "outraging the modesty of a woman" (indecent assault), all courts are expected to order a minimum of 9 months' imprisonment and three strokes of the cane if the offence involves touching the woman's private parts.
In a few instances, Singapore legislation requires that male employees be caned for offences committed by a company. The Dangerous Fireworks Act requires that a manager, director or owner of a company which deliberately or negligently imports, delivers or sells dangerous fireworks must be caned.” (Given the Enschede fireworks disaster I can understand their logic here). Prisoners can also be given up to 12 strokes for misbehaving. Those int eh armed forces may also be caned for disciplinary reasons.
“A former employee at the Drug Rehabilitation Unit in Changi prison said six strokes were given for drugs in the urine or for homosexuality (illegal in Singapore), and three for fighting.
The Singapore High Court is empowered to order the cane for boys under 16 although this is rare. In July 1999 the High Court ordered three 15-year-olds to be caned for offences committed while one of them was still only 14 (a rape trial). Three months later the Court went even further, sentencing a boy still only 14 to five years in jail and ten strokes of the cane for kicking and robbing an elderly man. Ten strokes is the maximum for boys under 16 and the caning in such cases is applied with a "light rattan".
If you want to watch an 'educational video' designed to scare kids straight called Prison Me No Way, follow this link for a mock-up of what would happen during a real caning:

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Up, Up, and Away!

Back in February Carl turned three and we really hoped to toilet train him as soon as possible. Anybody who has had kids will know that this is Priority Number 1. It’s the holy grail of early childhood which symbolises parents freedom from bags of nappies and wipes, the expense of buying said items and of course the indignity of having to clean another persons’ bum. Frequently.
One of hubby’s colleagues was telling us recently that they have finally toilet trained their third child. He gloomily mused that they have been changing nappies for eleven years and he reckons it has cost them 7,000 euros!!!
For us it was going to be a particular challenge because hubby and I have never actually succeeded in toilet training a child before. Aha, but what about Niels, I hear you ask. It’s time to confess – we didn’t do the job ourselves. Instead we called in a professional: my sister Christine. We were in New Zealand at the time – Niels was 3 years 8 months old - and despite our best efforts and utter despair Niels applied his particular style of pig-headed stubbornness and refused to comply. My sister said “leave it to me, he can stay here for a couple of days. And don’t leave any nappies”.
Filled with awe at her self confidence and a hefty dose of scepticism we left Niels with his cousins on the farm, wondering how it would go. Christine fixed him with a steely glare and told him “I don’t have any nappies in this house. If you need to go, there’s the toilet. And you’re not having any more rides in the tractor until you do everything in the toilet”.
Would you believe it, he was instantly toilet trained? DAY AND NIGHT! He never wore a nappy again, and only had a couple of wee accidents at night in the following months. Amazing. And also obviously incredibly infuriating for his parents who had tried everything up to that point to get the same result.
We’d already warned Christine when she visited in February that her expertise would be required again for Carl, but he has surprised and elated us by deciding that yes, actually he is a big boy now and no, he doesn’t need nappies!! OK there was some bribery in the background. He wanted to go up in the DHL balloon, the worlds’ largest tethered helium balloon which is in downtown Singapore. No problem, I said, but the price is that you have to be toilet trained. Well, in the last couple of weeks he has done just that. Our little boy is a man at last. I’ve included some photos of the balloon trip – it rises to 150 metres on a tether and the views are amazing.
For those of you who may have the impression that we don’t really live in a city, I’ve put a big red dot approximately where our condominium is (behind the white building a bit). We are lucky to live somewhere very quiet with lots of greenery around us, but as you can see we are in the centre of Singapore City. There are about 4.8 million of us on this little island!

So here’s to Carl, our little champion who still melts hearts by sidling up to people with a grin and declaring “you’re my friend”, who refused to smile for the camera even though he loved riding in the balloon, and who several times a day clasps my hand in his and bursting with pride says “no more nappies, heh?”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Just Another Day At The Office

I’m not usually one to boast. When something good is happening in our lives I think we should appreciate it, enjoy the moment and take time to savour the good feeling for as long as possible, storing away the memory like a favourite book kept on a shelf to be dug out and dusted and read through once more in less fortunate times.
However, today I was thinking that I would share with you what I’ve been up to and why I’m so happy about it. Check out the photo. This was my office this morning as I sat typing this blog and editing articles about the poultry industry (hardly inspiring topics, but hey!...the surroundings made up for that!).
Thank God for laptops and internet and email and all the wonderful modern gadgets that make the world a much smaller and more accessible place!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More Wildlife

As you all know the subject of wildlife is one that occupies much of my time here – most notably praying I never come across another cockroach (yes there really has been only one) and chasing geckos around the house trying to catch them. However there is a lot of wildlife here that we see which some of you may not be aware off.
Monkeys are abundant in Singapore – not around our condominum thankfully but there are plenty in wooded areas such as around the Dutch school, and the route Holger takes to work goes through an area bordering a nature reserve which is full of them. Now I know that monkeys are quite cute and clever etc etc but to be honest I’ve never really liked them. OK from a distance, but if I never have to get closer than 10 metres to one for the rest of my life then I’d be quite happy with that. For a start, they bite, are territorial, make an awful noise and I suspect they quite calculatingly combine their toilet routines with warfare. Any animal that considers poo to be a valid weapon of deterrence is low on the list of creatures to be loved in my books.
Another interesting local creature which I also plan to keep a healthy distance from is the crocodile. Now until last week I didn’t even know we had crocs here. Before you get worried, no we didn’t find out the hard way while swimming at Sentosa. Hubby came home from work one night and said “guess what I saw at work today!” Apparently he looked over the side of the ship and saw a 3-4 metre crocodile swimming past! Still, I wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t kidding until last weekend when we took the kids to Sungei Buloh wetland reserve for a walk. The photo on the left was taken from oneof the 'hides' which you can climb up to enjoy the view. In the foreground are some of the park's mudflats, in the background you can see the city of Johor in Malaysia, just over the Johor Strait. (This photo illustrates well how close Singapore and Malaysia are, you can almost wave to people over the border!) The reserve is full of mangroves and mudflats and…signs to watch out for the crocodiles. Also handy tips on what to do if you encounter one lying on the path (“don’t step over it”….duh!). Unfortunately despite an hour of intensive croc hunting we didn’t spot a single one. Better luck next time I guess. Mind you we did keep a close eye on the kids - can't you just imagine a croc leaping out of the mangroves to grab Niels as he posed for this photo!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Koninginnedag (Queens Birthday)

Yesterday was the day that all of Holland and it’s far-flung ex-pat populations celebrated the Queen’s birthday. This is always a day when national pride and tearful flag waving reaches fever pitch for the Dutch, although to be honest they really don’t need much encouragement to don bright orange clothes, silly hats and boas to indulge in a bit of ‘orange fever’ at any time of year. The absolute over-the-top hysterical climax is whenever football is involved, but Queens Birthday is also a favourite day for cloggies at home and abroad.
This year of course we’re here in Singapore and as in often the case with ex-pat populations, the cloggies here seem to be trying to be more Dutch than their home based family and friends. This is a phenomenon I often saw when I was living in London. The Kiwis and Aussies over there go crazy for anything antipodean, drinking in Kiwi/Oz pubs, staying with people from ‘home’, only socialising with people from their own country who they really wouldn’t give the time of day if they were back in their own country. It’s all a bizarre but very common occurrence for ex-pat populations, their need to reassert their national identity multiplied by a factor of ten when they are living abroad. Perhaps I’ve lived abroad for too long but I’ve never felt the need to join New Zealand clubs or visit people who recently returned from their holidays there to drool over photos. Sure I miss lots of things about the country, but why make yourself miserable or pretend that if you were still living there that packaged ‘local’ things would have any special meaning to you?
I digress. Queens Day was duly celebrated here on the equator with orange fever hitting the Dutch School. It is of course lovely for the kids and a big part of their national identity. It was also a lot of fun with everybody dressing up in orange or red/white/blue and gathering in the gym (air conditioned thank God) to watch the Singapore and Dutch flags being raised and the national anthems sung. Actually no-one was game to have a crack at singing the Singapore anthem in Malay, but we all dutifully listened attentively. I’ve always found the Wilhelmus – the Dtuch anthem – a bit odd as it more or less starts off with the words “I am German” but since this isn’t a history lesson I’m not even gong to go there.
The Dutch Ambassador and his wife were in attendance and he gave a short speech about Queen Beatrix (known as Trixie in our household) before presenting the school and pre-school with fluorescent orange cakes to be shared amongst the kids. Ironically the massive hit of sugar and food colouring would have been perfectly timed to go off like a time bomb about the moment the kids were expected to sit quietly in the school buses going home.
The pre-school (called Jip & Janneke) stood on stage and sang a cute little song, and I was able to get a pic of Carl as he waved his flag like a trooper. Niels was in the front wearing a big hat with the rest of his class so was also easy to spot. A good time was had by all and the cloggies seemed satisfied with their fix of orange fever.
Here’s hoping we’ll still be here to celebrate this day next year as well – bottoms up Trixie!