Monday, December 29, 2008

Ups and Downs

So here we are, back in the Netherlands at last. My mother in law had turned up the central heating to a welcoming 20 C, bought a Xmas tree and made sure there was plenty of food in the cupboards. We stumbled off the plane at 5:30am to a night as dark as pitch which seemed to stretch on endlessly as we drove across the country towards Lochem. Would the sun ever rise again? Just as we were starting to despair of ever seeing light again the darkness lightened to a misty grey, and trees and large boerderij farm houses emerged from the still, clammy fog. Perfectly flat countryside stretched away on both sides of the highway, interrupted only by the straight silvery lines of drainage canals dug into the loamy soil. The highway, busy at any time of the day with streams of lights rushing upon us then receding into the distance, bypassed villages faintly visible in the dim light, each punctuated with a central church spire like a pastoral dart board. We were home.

Things that are great about being back in Holland:
  • Good wine for 5 euros a bottle - or less! (eat your hearts our, Singaporeans!)
  • REAL Dutch cheese which doesn't costs Sing$60/kilo (yes that's 30 euros!)
  • Ollie bollen, apple bignets, real bread (swoon!)
  • Forests - the kind you can run through with the kids without having to battle undergrowth or worry about standing on a snake
  • Other people's kids being as noisy and active as mine

Things I already miss about Singapore

  • The weather: it's -10 degrees C tonite!!!
  • Rice: instead of a choice of over 40 varieties and packet sizes at the supermarket, here you can choose from 5 varieties which have all been processed to death and are guaranteed to be totally sterile and not stick together...how are you supposed to eat that with chopsticks???
  • Seafood so fresh it's practically flopping on your plate
  • The swimming pool - the kids are bouncing off the walls already
  • Our apartment...when did our house shrink? When did my kitchen become so small????

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Final Goodbye

The day has finally arrived: today we leave Singapore and return to the Netherlands. If I had the time I may have been able to think of something witty or reflective to amuse you, but as it is life has been so hectic these past two weeks that I just want this moment to be over. All that remains now is to try and fit our mountain of luggage into 5 suitcases - we thought we'd be done with 3! - and get through the next few hours.
The kids have had their farewell at school (see pics) and are getting their heads around the idea that they will have a new school to start in a couple of weeks.


The boys are a bit pensive about the move, and although they are keen to get back to NL to see family and friends they too are sad about leaving this amazing island which is, basically, one huge playground for adults and kids alike.


Yesterday we gatecrashed the Orchid Country Club for the final time, enjoying the hosipitality, cafes and pools that normally only members get to enjoy (it's been our little secret for the past 2.5 years!) and as it is, fittingly, raining today it's been a day indoors for the kids while I desperately try to figure out what we can leave behind and what we'll take.


I'm not sure how I feel about it; at this point I'm just tired and flustered and hoping I haven't forgotten anything really important. I hardly slept last night - I checked my clock for the last time at 4.40am so hopefully I nodded off after that. We won't have internet at home until at least Jan 2, so here's wishing you all a Merry Xmas, a happy and healthy 2009, and I'll be back again, less flustered, in a few days.


Au revoir!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Couldn't Resist...



Click on the pic to enlarge.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Raffles - Simply The Best




Ok I don't know about you but I'm sick of talking about ships and moving. So I'll tell you want I did last Sunday with the boys instead. I booked us in for high tea at Raffles Hotel, that iconic landmark that is quintesentially colonial yet at the same time so Singaporean it's at the top of almost everybodys list of things they recognise from this island nation.

Holger and I have fond memories of celebrating our wedding anniversary at Raffles Grill, the very formal strached white linen and silver service 'posh' restuarant on the ground floor. We've also had a great meal upstairs at Doc Chengs, and saw a fantastic performance of Hamlet in the Jubilee Lounge a few months ago. High tea is held either in the Tiffin Room or the Bar & Billiards Room, which is where I booked the boys and because it's more casual and the kids were less likely to upset any patrons looking for a quiet cuppa and scone there. The food was Christmas themed, and the boys made short work of tiny pandan and coconut macaroons, delicate sandwiches, home made eclairs and plates of freshly chopped tropical fruits. The bowls of marshmallows were also a favourite, while I loved their freshly baked scones, still warm from the oven, served with strawbery conserve and clotted cream. Mmmmmmmmm.


Predictably the kids were finished in half an hour, and as I'd ordered a private car to take us there and back we had some time to kill so wandered around the gorgeous shops on the ground floor. We picked up some Christmas trinkets to hand on the trees, and a stuffed toy replica of the forbidding looking Indian gentleman at the front door. The kids had instantly taken a liking to him and he kindly posed for photos, so they were very happy to have a souvenir of him to take home. The Christmas decorations at Raffles are always stunning soit was the perfect time to visit with children.


As with all little boys shopping bordeom set in fairly quickly so we settled down in the garden bar where I whipped out some paper and pens so they could do some drawing, which they happily settled down to while I enjoyed a Singpore Sling. Well, when in Rome, as they say...

I hope that in years to come they will remember some of this visit and feel the same fondness as hubby and I do for this grand old institution, and indeed for this entire country.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just A Little Bit Frazzled...

Aaaaaaaarrrrghhhhhhhh! Moving sucks!

Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Now that hubby has sailed for Egypt via the charmingly nick-named Gulf of Pirates, I'm here holding the fort as it were as we enter our last week of living in Singapore. Our belongings have been shipped and are also on their way to Europe, due to arrive a week after we do. Our 'camping' location here at the Wilby has started to look suspiciously permanent as the kids seem to acquire new toys by the day and I'm not absolutely certain that our remaining stuff will fit into our suitcases.

Today I have to give back our lease car (nooooooooooooo!), I've handed over all our passports and residency permits to be cancelled (sniffle) and picked up the paper work to close our bank accounts. It's all looking so final.

The kids however are fully immersed in the last week of school, and having narrowly survived the feverish sugar-fuelled adrenaline crazed sleepless week that was Sinterklas, we now get to do that all over again for Christmas. Plus farewell parties again for both at school on Friday. Oh, and did I mention I'm cooking pancakes for Carl's class Christmas party lunch, and stabbing cocktail sausages onto sticks for Niels Christmas dinner on Thursday night?

In between trying to get telephone and cable organised for Holland - don't even ask me what I think about a system that takes A MONTH to hook up a phone line - we also will have to go grovelling back to our former cable tv supplier whom we told to shove their cable up their asses when we left because they were such bastards - because apparently we live in no mans land and digital tv doesn't broadcast to the twilight zone. Strange when you think that the Netherlands is a VERY SMALL COMPLETELY FLAT COUNTRY and yet digital signals magically stop once you get beyond the 50 km zone of the nearest city.

Am I sounding stressed? Surely not, why would I be??

Here's a nice calming picture for you instead, of the Aoka Mizu underway. It was taken during the sea trials last week. Can you see Holger waving cheerily from the bridge? I'm not saying his job is easy but just think: your own cabin where no one comes in to demand you pull silly putty out of your toy monkeys' tail or wipe strings of snot off their chin when you are sitting on the toilet. No one bursting into your bedroom at some godforsaken hour of the night to ask if Sinterklas will come back tomorrow? The day after? What about the one after that? How about the one after that? No turning around when you're shampooing you hair under the shower to see two forlorn little eyes watching you and a trail of pee on the floor indicating they didn't quite make it to the loo on time. No one shouting "You're so mean, you're the worst mother in the world!!" because we've run out of peanut butter.

I know, I know, I should be looking on the bright side. After all, next Monday I get to sit on a crowded plane for 12 hours with my two little kids! What could be more fun! If only we get our passports back before then...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

All Hands To The Bridge


Hubby is away on board the Aoka Mizu at the moment while they carry out sea trials. The kids are starting to miss him, and unfortunatley he wasn't hear to join in Sinterklas, so it was just the 3 of us.
These are two pics taken a couple of months ago when hubby showed the kids are the ship, including the bridge and his office.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lightening strike at Wilby

video

For a while I've been trying to make a short video of the amazing electrical storms we get in Singapore. Today I almost got more than I bargained for. I was just a bit too close to the action! Watch this video I shot from our balcony - then watch it again, and take note of exactly where the lighting is going in the first couple of seconds.

Now that was close!

Monday, December 01, 2008

We Are Sailing...




Yesterday the Aoka Mizu finally set sail, heading out to sea on the high tide to undergo sea trials offshore. We stood on the jetty by Bottle Tree Village and waved as she went past, dwarfing the two tugs who pushed up against her hull to keep her on course.


Hubby was at the wheel on the bridge as he went past and was able to see us through his binoculars. He talked to the boys as they waved frantically from the beach. Niels thought it was really exciting. Carl however couldn't believe Daddy was drivng the big boat, but entered into the festive spirit of the occasion by making animal noises down the telephone at him.

'Twas The Month Before Christmas...


...and already the carol singing is driving me NUTS! I mean they started at the end of October, for gods sake, how long are we really expected to suffer through songs about 'jingling through the snow' and having a white Christmas when it's 32 degrees outside and 95% humidity?? At the risk of sounding all bah-humbug-ish, I'm really, really not a fan of Christmas carols. To be fair I have an excellent excuse. So before you start yelling "Scrooge!" at me, let me explain.


Way back when I was 15 years old my first job ever was stacking shelves at the local New World supermarket in Matamata, New Zealand (also known as Hobbiton now that part of Lord Of The Rings was filmed there - The Shire to be precise). Back to the supermarket; it was during the summer holidays that I decided to take on the hither-to unexplored realm of seeking paid employment, a fatal mistake which I've never been able to rectify. The school summer holiday in New Zealand, of course, fall over the Xmas break. So there I was, in my bight blue polyester smock and feet aching from standing on concrete floors for 8 hours a day, unloading cans of spaghetti and fruit and having to listen to the same 60 minute tape of Christmas carols over, and over, and over. Yes I admit I'm old enough to have lived through tape decks, for all you teenagers out there, they probably would seem about one step up from a hand-wound gramophone. The trouble was the supermarket only owned one tape, and they played that damn thing right though December and half of January,by which time it was so stretched that it was playing the songs with a long, drawn out intonation about as jolly as having nails driven into your spine. This experience permanently imprinted a loathing of carols into my brain that even that ravages of time and a lifetime of gin and tonic abuse hasn't managed to erase.

I do however love Christmas lights, and nowhere does it better than Singapore. At least they don't go in for pouring fake snow on top of everything.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sinterklaas & Pepernoten: Serious Stuff

Yes Sinterklaas has rolled around again, once again the Dutch community is held in the thrall of the old white haired guy who steams over from Spain with all his 'black Petes' to check out which children have been naughty and which have been good, distribute huge quantities of sweets and little sweet biscuits known as pepernoten, and finally leave a pile of presents on the doorstep on December 5.
It's three weeks of feverish excitement for kids as the 'black Petes' make appearances at school and there is a tv show (The Sinterklaas Journal) broadcasted daily at school to keep the kids up to date with what the mischievous Petes have been getting up to, and to hear a few words from the wise old man himself.
Each year there is a drama caused by some errant Pete who just can't seem to follow the rules or simple instructions. Last year they lost one of the Petes and all the Dutch kids were sitting on the edges of their seats, waiting for daily news about where he had been spotted; he finally turned up on Sentosa Island, apparently having mistaken it for 'Sint-osa' Island. Very exciting stuff!

This year it's the mystery of the silver pepernoot. This huge and tasty creation was apparently stolen by one of the Petes on the day Sint arrived in his boat at Keppel Marina. Each day clues are revealed at school and the kids are searching Singapore looking for it. They've also been asked to make a 'missing' poster and to stick it up in a prominent place somewhere on the island. Carl got straight to work, and stuck his work of art on the side of his school bus. You can tell by his face that he's very proud of it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Veges Just Keep Getting Weirder

Now that we've moved to our new apartment I've got a whole new neighbourhood to explore. I do miss Balmoral; we knew almost everybody in our condo and loved living there, plus we had a supermarket, 7/11, pub, pizza joint, chicken rice shop and a masseuse right on our door step. What more could you want in life? However this end of Bukit Timah Road isn't too bad. We usually take the kids out for dinner on Sunday nights and we've walked to two nearby restaurants so far; Tin Hill and Fresca Pasta. Both were ok, family kind of places and very convenient for being so close.

One bonus of living here is that our new 'local' supermarket is the Fair Price up at Bukit Timah Plaza, a 5 minute drive down the road. The place is a mixed blessing; it's a great supermarket with an excellent range of fresh food but the car park is way too small for such a mammoth shop so I only like to go there in the evenings when it's a bit quieter and there's no queue to get into the car park. The other day I had a great time in the vege department, finding all sorts of weird and wonderful things. First was a big leaf of edible cactus, which was pretty gross actually so I probably wasn't cooking it right.
Second was a bunch of these things. The sign said they were some kind of bean but I don't know. You know how you get those praying mantis insects that look like a leaf to fool predators into not eating them? Well that's what these things reminded me of, like a vegetable pretending to be a bug in the hope it wouldn't get cooked. It didn't need the camouflage actually because they also tasted pretty disgusting. Rather like praying mantis, I imagine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Un-bearably Cute!

I know, I know, I'm seriously overdoing the cutesy theme and what is it with my obsession with bears at the moment??? Anyway bear with me (ha ha) for a while longer while I share with you some pics of Carl and his new best friend. By the way that's face paint on Carl, not pizza.






















When he jumped off the school bus with a furry brown bear and its substantial luggage (who said animals travel light? Obviously Paddington isn't the only bear with an extensive wardrobe) I figured Carl must have swiped the furry fellow from someone at school. But no, this is Boris, mascot and friend of Group 1B at the Dutch School. Boris gets to go home with a different kid each weekend, to be subjected to a crazed weekend of non-stop partying, beer swilling, drinking games and general debauchery. Or in our case, pizza on the sofa and a day locked in the car while we watched Sinterklaas arrive at Keppel Marina on Saturday.
Boris comes from the Build A Bear Workshop, a place which we ourselves discovered recently and which is a hugely fun venue for young children. The kids get to pick out what kind of bear (or other animal) they want to make from a wide range of pre-sewn 'empty' bodies. They then help to stuff it with the help of a very cool machine which blows soft stuffing into the beast through a hole in the back. An assistant then gets them to pick out a red satin heart, make a wish with it and then poke it inside the toy before it is quickly closed up. They then get to 'bath' their new bear under an air shower, after which comes the fun part - picking out an outfit. There are literally hundreds of different accessories available and if you thought the price tag of a basic bear, at $32, is quite cheap that's because they sting you on the extras. Who can resist the little miniature wellington boots, pyjamas, handbags, back packs, hats, tiny Eskimo outfits, superhero costumes and sailor suits, all made in bear size? I limited the kids to two outfits each but still, the bill was pretty high.





















Ironically a week later both boys have stripped their toys naked, although they do have pride of place snuggled up to their pink little cheeks in bed at night.
Before we went to the shop I explained what we were going to do and we visited the shops website a few times, mostly to get Carl to decide which bear he wanted because he is chronically indecisive. Eventually he announced he wanted a husky dog, not a bear. Was he sure? Yes. Totally sure? Yes. When we got to the shop was he still sure? Yes. Once the stuffing was in was he still sure? Hell no, now he wanted a frog. No, a turtle. No, a frog. Eventually he chose the most appropriate beastie for him: a monkey. He is after all our little 'aapje', and was born in the year of the monkey. It figures.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Panda-ing to Your Soft Side

Hubby sent me an email from work the other day and instead of the usual photos or clips of disasters involving ships or happening at sea, it was a bunch of pics of a panda cub explosion in China.














No, there wasn't black and white fur flying everywhere, it was a population explosion! Rarely have I see something quite so smoochy-licious as these pics so I had to share them with you.














Apparently the Sichuan Wolong Panda Protection and Breed Center is dealing with the results of a breeding boom where 16 pandas have been born. The brood includes five sets of twins. The cubs are weighed and measured every five days (see the photos), with the heaviest weighing in at just over 24 pounds, while the lightest weighs about 11 pounds.














The pandas are due to stop suckling soon - just about the time they'll start learning to walk. Once weaned, the panda cubs will attend panda kindergarten- wouldn't you love to work there! In the meantime, more little ones are expected at the centre since 38 giant pandas were artificially impregnated.
(Wow,someone had a sore wrist!)















If ever there was a place where it must be a box of fluffies to go to work everyday, this is it. How they stop the employees going home with their pockets stuffed full of pandas I don't know! I'm guessing once they hit the 500 kg mark and their claws are four inches long pandas aren't quite so cute any more, but as babies don't they just make you want to dip them in chocolate sauce and gobble them right up?













Click on the images to enlarge them, then put your face really close to the screen and imagine you hear this guy sighing as he drifts of to sleep. He's had a hard day of playing and being cuddled, after all. And based on the statistics, all he's got to look forward to in adult life is a hot date with a lab technician and a test tube!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yokohama Quilt Show

Now before you all start laughing and pointing out that I am the sewing fraternity's equivalent of an illiterate red-neck, I'll point out that I am not claiming to be able to quilt myself. In fact I'm not particularly gifted when it comes to little crafty things at all, although I did a hugely satisfying book covering course today (and I will gloat over the results in another post shortly, don't worry). Also I'm still ridiculously proud of my efforts at a recent glass fusion and silver jewellery course where not only did I produce something wearable, I didn't manage to trip over and throw myself into the kiln in the process.







However a friend recently visited Japan to attend the Yokohama Quilt Show. In my ignorance I never realised that there were international events arranged around what I thought were basically bed spreads which just took a lifetime to make, but my eyes have been opened. These quilts are quite literally works of art and when I saw the photos I couldn't believe the detail and imagination that goes into producing them, let alone the thousands of hours of painstaking work.
I don't think these things are for sale - and frankly who could bear to part with one after spending so much time making it - and I can only wonder what happens to them after the show is over.
Take a moment to have a peek at these - click on the photos to enlarge them, it's worth it.















































Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forest Adventure x 2

One of Niels favourite activites in recent months has been Forest Adventure, a kind of high-altitude obstacle course which has been constructed on the bank of the Bedok Reservoir. Basically it's an adventure course of ten or twelve wooden walk-ways, all different, strung 5 metres above the ground. There is an adults course (for 1.4 m tall and over) and a kids one (1.10 m tall minimum). Adventurers are strapped into a full harness and wear a helmet so it's all perfectly safe. They are clipped onto the course with a safety line at all times, and it ends with a flying fox which whooshes them down to a soft landing.
A couple of weeks ago I was measuring Carl and lo-and-behold, he is just on 1.1m! So to his great delight, he's tall enough to have a crack at the course. He was so excited to be doing something which he's only been able to stand and watch Big Brother do up until now. Holger took him along, got him strapped up, and Niels followed him through the course to help him with moving his safety clip along the top line, something which can be a bit difficult until you get the hang of it. He had a few nervous moments - some of the wooden 'pathways' were too difficult for him as they swung so much and at four years old his legs are only just long enough - but he did pretty well. You can see by the look on his face in the photo that it was a bit of a challenge for him but he was keen to go back and do it again, so he was still having fun. When they got home he rushed in and his face was absolutely glowing with excitement, he was so proud of himself for having done it! What a great confidence booster. In fact I know plenty of grown-ups who wouldn't have the guts to do it and we're really proud of him too. It's hard to believe how fast they grow up!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Power Of Advertising

I was reading through Gulliver, the business travellers blog which is published by Economist.com, this morning and couldn't help having a laugh-out-loud moment when I saw this piece. Any of you who have ever booked a holiday based on a photo in a guide, beware! You never know what what that photo of the room with a scenic view may not be showing. Modern decor, en-suite bathroom...nuclear power station....WTF??



Check out this photo from Photoput.com if you don't believe me. Talk about looking on the bright side!








Monday, November 10, 2008

The Tooth Fairy - a play for kids



You know that old saying about waiting for your ship to set sail? Well, that is pretty much the reality for us at the moment. One of these days (allegedly!) hubby's ship will sail so we're making the most of the family time we have left before he disappears over the horizon. This meant he had no excuse not to join the boys and I at a play put on by The Little Company who perform at the DBS Arts Centre - Home of the Singapore Repertory Theatre down on Robertson Walk.

It was a play aimed at kids "from 2 - 12 years old" based around a kid who loses a tooth, and is waiting for the tooth fairy to turn up. It's an entertaining story with good guys, bad guys, flashing lights and simple special effects, and the boys loved it. At one stage early on I was a bit worried that it was going to be too 'girly' for them to enjoy; then the brother character thumped his sister in a pillow fight and did a rap song so all was cool again with our lot.

The DBS Theatre is small enough to feel intimate and fully engage kids which is ideal, and they absolutely loved it. If you're looking for a fun show I would recommend this for kids up to about 9 years old. It runs until December 14, check the SRT site or Sistic for details/tickets.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Off To Hospital Again


We'd only been in the new apartment for a couple of days when it was time to make yet another unscheduled trip to the hospital. I guess it's only fair: since we've lived in Singapore Niels was the only one of the three guys not to have received stitches. His hospital experience was limited to x-rays and observation following his sword-swallowing incident and I guess he felt that unless it leaves a scar on the outside of your body, it's not a real injury. After all, Carl received four stitches when he fell over and split his chin open by the swimming pool. And hubby needed three stitches after Niels jumped on top of him and split his Dad's head open with his chin. So now it was Niels turn. Not surprisingly, a swimming pool was involved again.


The three of them had headed off for a post-dinner dip on Sunday evening, leaving me with a few precious kid-free moments to update my blog (what else?). When they returned hubby was holding a towel pressed against Niels upper shin. "You'd better have a look at this".


Hmmmm, a surprisingly deep cut about 2.5 cm long was gently oozing blood. Definitely too deep to just stick shut with a plaster. The two of them headed off to KK Women's & Children's Hospital - our usual haunt - and returned two hours and umpteen text messages from Niels later, with three stitches in his leg to show for his trouble.


At least they all have matching scars now!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

When It Rains, It Pours

The rainy season has well and truly started. Although the days dawn bright and sunny, by around 2:30 in the afternoon the sky darkens to a sullen grey and thunderheads starts to form over the island. The humidity rises so high that it forms a layer of moisture on your skin even more cloying than the sweat which has by now coated your body if you are standing outside. Before long the palm trees start to sway as the first breeze stirs the hot damp air, offering the promise of a reprieve.
Suddenly there is an ear-splitting CRACK as the first lightening streaks across the leaden clouds and the thunder builds from a deep ominous roll which vibrates through your feet to a window-rattling bombardment within a few minutes. The rain comes with a sudden force which is always breathtaking - from a few fat drops which steam on the hot pavement to sheets of water which fall so hard they bounce back up into the air, rendering umbrellas useless and drenching anyone caught exposed within a couple of seconds.
Most thunderstorms are over within half an hour but they are ferocious and breathtaking and utterly spell-binding to watch. I love nothing more than watching from the relative dry of the balcony or an open window as lightening forks down to the ground and the earth shakes with pent up energy when the island seems to be trying to shake off the oppressive heat of the day with a defiant display of raw energy.
Then it's all over. The growl of thunder recedes into the distance, lightening flashes high in the thinning clouds but no longer reaches the ground, and the rain lightens then ceases altogether. For a few minutes the palms continue to sway, shaking off their heavy coats of rain while every living thing draws in a deep breath of unusually cool air. Then the sun breaks through the dissipating clouds, the temperature begins to rise again and the tropical heat returns. Until tomorrow's reprieve.


video

Monday, November 03, 2008

...The Long Goodbye



And so the Long Goodbye contniues. On Friday we exited our lovely apartment, our own little piece of Singapore - or so it has seemed for the past 2.5 years.

Not without some drama I have to admit. Neither hubby nor I anticipated that it would take so much work to pack up and move. In the end the removal company packed up our lives into seven...yes SEVEN...cubic meters of boxes. At least one cube was reserved for my handbag collection of course, and it has to be said the lamp I bought hubby as an 11th anniversary present will receive it's own crate and so seems even more enormous than before.

However, finally the job was done. I gave away all of our furniture, some to friends and the rest to strangers who responded to my ads on freecycle, a marvellous website if ever there was one.

Hubby ended up driving at least eight times backwards and forwards to our new apartment dropping loads of stuff, so we had way underestimated how much we would end up with here as well.

So now we are settling in to our new home, a serviced apartment quite close to the boys school. They are extremely pleased because it's a much larger condo, with more kids, a bigger pool, and a playground. It's inconceivable that life could get any better than that if you're under ten years old.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kevin works his chemistry at Blu restaurant


As part of what we are now calling The Long Goodbye - our lengthy and protracted exit from Singapore which is being conducted at the languid pace befitting such a tropical location - we're doing the rounds of our favourite restaurants. Last night we decided to return to Blu. We've never visited mid-week before so I called first to check that Chef Kevin Cherkas himself would be cooking. After a brisk walk up the hill to the restaurant - it's just far enough to make you grateful for the air conditioning as the exotically dressed doormen whoosh open the huge doors leading to the marbled lobby - we were ready to sample a couple of martinis, purely in the interests of stimulating the appetite, of course!

Once seated Kevin soon made an appearance, as cheerful and exuberant as ever. Don't you envy people who get a kick out of their jobs? His enthusiasm for the food, the preparation, for every detail makes you appreciate the amount of thought and inspiration that goes into every morsel which emerges from his kitchen. And one of the best parts? He has the waiting staff sample all the dishes as well, so when you ask the waiter how the Foie Creme Caramel is prepared, he can tell you. It's is one of my pet peeves that the staff at some restaurants don't understand how the dishes are made and what they taste like. By contrast our waiter was full of information, even stopping himself halfway through his speech about the starters by declaring "sorry, I'm talking to much"

"No" we encouraged, "go on! Tell us more!"

My creme caramel was served in a pot-bellied shot glass. A layer of liquid caramel infused with roasted thyme leaves and lavender was topped with a foie gras mousse and capped by paper made of...something yummy (almost tricked Kevin into telling us how he did it but he caught himself at the last minute) was paired with hubby's fabulous brie served with black truffle.

We both opted for The Egg Came First entree, an egg cooked in the shell at 73 degrees for eleven minute, then cracked into a pan and fried briefly on both sides, topped with "crumbs made of all things yummy" and served in a roasted onion broth studded with onion marmalade. Sheer bliss.

Hubby chose a melt-in-the-mouth wagyu steak while I decided to break with habit and order salmon. Normally I don't because it's easy to cook delicious salmon at home so why bother in your favourite restaurant? - but I'm glad I did. The waiter presented me with a wide bowl cradling a plastic wrapped parcel which looked like a money bag. "We didn't know when your birthday was so we thought we'd just give you this now" he smiled, snipping the top off the bag with scissors to allow the most incredible puff of aroma to waft into my face. Woodsmoke, salmon, truffles...the mix was intoxicating and the dish was absolutely divine.
Dessert was lovely but the highlight was yet to come. Kevin bounced up again to tell us that he had a surprise for us, an item not on the menu but which he liked to prepare sometimes and which he'd like us to try. A large insulated pot containing liquid nitrogen was placed on the table, the heavy super-chilled condensation slowly swirling around the top. He disappeared, then returned with two little white pots just a little bigger than egg cups filled with a creamy chocolate liquid. Standing up in each one was a skewered marshmallow-type confection. Following his instructions we plunged the skewers into the nitrogen, causing it to pop and crackle loudly, and counted to ten together...then "quick pop them into your mouths!"
Well you only live once so we did! It was an amazing sensation, and fortunately not at all like having your taste buds killed by frostbite which is what I had feared. First a crackle of frozen chocolate, then a chewy marshmallowy sensation, then sheer bliss of something creamy. Hmmmmm...I don't know what it was but chemistry lessons were never like this when I was at school!

It sounds like a feast but the portions are not huge so you don't over-stuff yourself. We walked outside onto the terrace to enjoy our coffee looking at the lights of Singapore city. We are really, really going to miss this place when we leave. Surely we must be able to squeeze in another visit before we go...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Every cloud...


Well it seems that we now have somewhere to live so we're officially no longer homeless. The movers will come next Thursday and pack up our stuff, and we'll move into a serviced apartment for the final few weeks (?) that we will live in Singapore. In some ways it's actually a relief, to finally be doing something rather than having sit and wait for a date to be set. The place we're moving to is quite comfortable and I think the kids will love the fact that there is a new swimming pool, a playground, and lots of kids living in the condo. Plus packing our stuff up now while we're all here is a much more attractive option than having to do it alone if hubby is out at sea. So despite the stress it might turn out to be a smoother exit from here than we'd anticipated.

I can just here my father saying one of his favourite quips: "As the undertaker said, every shroud has a silver lining..."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Looking On The Bright Side

I've always felt it helps to have a positive outlook on life. They say that positive people get sick less often, recover faster when they do, and generally lead happier lives so that's something good we can always strive to. However sometimes it can mask the way you really feel about something. When I was speaking to a friend lately she said something that really stuck in my mind. "But you sound like you're always having a great time and it's a bit of a piss off".
Flicking back through my blog entries I can see she is absolutely right. It seems that I only ever write about the interesting, funny, or enjoyably unusual things that happen in our lives. Partly this is out of respect for the country and culture where we are, of course, only guests. Partly it's because I suppose I have an in-built resistance to sharing the depressing, mundane, annoying and downright shitty moments, days or events that happen to us. Who wants to read about when I've had a bad day? If you've gone to the effort to read this blog, why should you be subjected to bad news? And largely it's because it takes a very conscious effort to make the most of an ex-pat assignment. The main reason for assignments failing is not because the employee (in this case hubby) doesn't like the job but because his/her family doesn't adjust. Stories of failed assignments because the spouse hates the country or the kids can't adjust are common and you have to put in 100% from day one to make damn sure you won't become one of the those.
Truth be told there are many less than fabulous moments to living an ex-pat life. Our families are far, far away, as are all the long term friendships we treasure so dearly. Nothing reminds me quite how far away they all are than a week when the kids have been driving me utterly bat-shit and I long to be able to drop them with a grandparent for a day (or even better, overnight!) and get some breathing space. They've also become quite clingy since we've lived here, especially Carl (4 1/2 years) who has grown up to expect that Mum will be there all day, every day, and becomes extremely jealous of anyone with whom I have a conversation of more than ten minutes.
We also don't know how long this posting in Singapore is going to last. Originally we were told 14 months, 16 tops. Now two years and two months down the track our apartment lease has expired, our landlord decided to pitch us out by the end of the month and we are, for all intents and purposes, homeless as of 1 November. Whether we find somewhere we can live week-by-week, perhaps month-by-month, until we finally leave remains to be seen but I can assure you it's extremely stressful. Worst case scenario is that the kids and I will have to leave the country without hubby, for God knows how long. Nothing sharpens your focus like the prospect of having your family split up.
Meanwhile there are other issues clamouring for our attention. My rabbits, long and lovingly looked after by my good friend Liesbeth, need to be rehomed and that is a challenge from the other side of the planet. Fortunately more good friends have stepped up to help me out (a whole team in fact, thanks a million!) and the problem has been solved.
We've got an empty house sitting waiting for us, gardens that need caring for, a job I can't fill and for which I still can't give a firm starting date, schools that are wondering what the hell we are doing with our kids and not to mention the removal company which rings me every week to demand "don't you have a date yet???"
My Dutch driving licence has expired and I swear if I have to go through that whole Dutch driving test experience again I'm going to drive straight over the top of the next 'ambtenaar' I meet.
Every second phone call ends up with a long and repetitive conversation about whether we are or aren't leaving soon. We can't plan any holiday or time off or even buy tickets to a show because we don't know which country we will be living in next month. Friends organising a party? Sounds great, but don't count on us, we may not live here by then. Christmas with family, what a great idea, but which country will we be in by then? When we leave our apartment for alternative accommodation such as a serviced apartment in two weeks time we can't even ship our belongings home because of the way the law works: if we don't leave the country, neither can our stuff. Endless streams of paperwork follow us wherever we go, folders four inches thick of documents and paper trails must be lugged along wherever we move. Have you got copies of all your documents, have you backed up every important email, letter and certificate in your life not once, but twice plus made hard copies in case something goes wrong like we've had to? Ever wondered what it's like trying to pay taxes for two people in two countries and have you any idea how much paper work children entail? Can you imagine the frustration and dozens of hours of work involved when your health insurance company makes an enormous cock up and refuses to pay any of your family's health care bills for eight months like ours did, and you have to sort it our from the other side of the planet? How do you get your car serviced? What happens when a tree in your garden falls over and how should you respond when complete strangers email you asking if they can live in your empty house?
At the end of the day it's been a great experience and we wouldn't have missed it for the world, but no, it's not all plain sailing, it's not all fun, and it's not all easy. It's just life, intensified by a factor of ten. With an equatorial twist.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pasir Ris Gets A Facelift


Recently we revisited Pasir Ris Park, which has always been one of my personal favourites although we haven't been there for ages. In Singaporean terms it's quite far away from us: about 25 minutes in the car on the east coast of the island.

The park is well established which means it's lovely and shady with hundreds of mature trees providing shelter from the sun. Being on the coast means there's often a sea breeze to help cool us down as well. The last time I went with the kids was about 6 months ago when there was a lot of building going on. I guess that's what put me off going back until last Sunday when we jumped in the car and headed down there, the main attraction (we thought) being the bicycle hire place. Niels is craving bike riding since our trip back to Holland in August when he got a new bike, and there are fairly limited opportunities in this busy city state.

On arrival we figured the best plan would be to let the kids play in the playground first to let off some steam then tackle the bike riding. What a pleasant surprise we got! The playground has been massively expanded with all manner of activities for kids, from toddlers to more adventurous 10-12 year olds. The original existing equipment such as the flying foxes and climbing frame have been moved around and lots of exciting new stuff added like climbing nets, a wobbly bridge, obstacle courses, a maze and a play area for the littlies.

The kids went crazy and for the next hour or so hubby and I were more or less redundant, sitting on tree roots swatting at marauding ants and occasionally topping the kids up with water. They quickly made friends with a bunch of local kids and were racing around enjoying themselves with the unselfconscious abandon that only children can achieve.

Finally they seemed to be slowing down a bit so we headed to the bike rental place and picked up three bikes in pretty good condition for about $15 for two hours. The park is perfect for cycling because it's completely flat and there are loads of paths to choose from. The size of the park and it's long, thin shape mean you can happily cycle for 20 minutes or so before having to make choices about where to go next. You can even join a park connector which will lead you to other parks in the area, by-passing roads and traffic. We stopped at the mangrove swamps so the kids could run up the observation tower and look for birds, and again at the end of the cycle way (behind Wild Wild Wet) to look at all the ships in the marina. Then it was back towards the main part of the park again. When they'd finally had enough we had lunch at the very basic Chinese seafood restaurant there, filling up on seafood fried rice and lemon chicken. As is typical in Singapore, the food was tasty, cheap and perfectly safe and we washed it all down with icy mugs of fresh lime juice. Feeling like we needed a sleep we could only shake our heads in disbelief as the boys raced off to the playground again. Hubby succumbed to the heat and his full tummy and crashed out on the grass for a while until it was time to go. Wiping away the sweat dripping from their red-flushed faces we bundled the kids into the car, turned up the air-con and headed home. Pasir Ris Park has moved firmly to the top of our favourite parks list and we can all recommend it if you have kids of any age, if you fancy jumping on a bike for a relaxing ride, or even if you are one of those mad people who enjoys jogging and are looking for plenty of pretty, shady space to run around in. Just don't trip over the sleeping Papa's.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Octoberfest Hits Singapore


Yes even these tropical climes are not immune to the beer-swilling, sausage-scoffing, singing and dancing party zone that is the Octoberfest. Last year we attended an event downtown, which was where I first glimpsed - and lusted for - the iPhone. This year however we really did it in style. We'd seen a huge temporary pavilion being constructed across the road from the kids school at the Swiss Club, and it turned out this was the venue for this year's Octoberfest.
With very little encouragement indeed we secured a couple of tickets together with some friends and set off on Saturday 4th.
Nothing about last years event has prepared me for how much fun this one would be. Having attended the real beerfest in Munich it's hard to be impressed by an imitation, but the Swiss Club did a damn fine job.

The tent was huge, with over 2,000 people seated and still plenty of room to move about and dance. The 10-piece oom-pah-pah band was superb, keeping the crowd singing, cheering and dancing, and they played almost non-stop from 8-11 pm. The crowd was on its feet, and in fact on the tables, the entire time.
And then there was the food! A sumptuous feast of various German sausages, pork knuckles, sauerkraut, red cabbage, potato salads and lots of stuff I didn't recognise, plus the highlight was a spit-roasted ox.

The beer was Erdinger, one of our perpetual favourites from back home, and we could conveniently buy large dispensers to fill all the steins on the table at our leisure. For some reason they always seemed to be nearly empty...
One of the nice things about the night was the number of locals who attended. I had expected that only Europeans would really be interested but at least half the people were Singaporeans, and they really went all-out to dress the part.

It was a fantastic night, and when we left at about 11:30 the party was still going strong. Wondering how on earth we would ever get home we found a never-ending queue of taxis waiting to whisk us off - all Mercedes, of course.
If you're in Singapore this time next year I strongly recommend grabbing your lederhosen and trying out the Octoberfest at the Swiss Club, you'll have a blast!

Friday, October 10, 2008

More Wet Market Wonders from Tiong Bahru


I had such a good visit to the Tiong Bahru wet market this week. As I've said many times it's just the best place to get fresh fish, pork, flowers, vegetables and prawns. However I'm branching out into more experimental local cuisine which requires me to tackle the tofu and dried goods sellers in the market too. Here I'm at a distinct disadvantage because with fruit and veges, you simply fill up the little baskets with whatever you want, hand it over, then pay. Likewise with fish I can point to what I want, indicate how I want it cleaned with 90% accuracy using hand signals, and my prawn seller speaks good English. However the dried good stalls are for the most part manned by an older generation of Chinese who speak a minimum of English so it's down to hand signals and imaginative pronunciation of ingredients.

I've been inspired by a great little cook book I picked up recently called Simple Treats written by Lisa Yam. She looks exactly like the ideal Chinese grandmother in the book, preparing delicious food using simple yet tasty recipes which are all accompanied by a question and answer session between her and her Filipino domestic help, Ah Ling. It's a friendly chatty kind of book and the dishes look sumptuous.

Fortunately I took the book with me as it's written in both Mandarin and English. I made the rounds of the stands asking for "Chouzhou Sa Cha sauce please. ChouZHOU Sa-Cha? CHOUzhou Sa CHA?" until giving in and showing the recipe to a wizened little lady nearly hidden behind fragrant piles of dried prawn, jelly fish, and pickled cabbage. "Huh?" was the invariable response as they would bend forward to try and read the Mandarin text in the dim light. When I got lucky their faces would light up "Ahhhh! Yes! Chouzhou Sa Cha sauce, I have, can, can!"

Then it was off to the tofu seller who passed the recipe around the neighbouring stall holders until one young enough to read without glasses was able to make out the Mandarin text for bean curd sheets. Each time, without fail, they would tell me slowly and clearly the proper name for what I was looking for and each time I would repeat it carefully, silently despairing of ever remembering any of these words by the time I got home.

I needed a bizarre vegetable called luffa, which looks like a cross bet wen a cucumber and an instrument of war, and there was a lively discussion amongst the vendors what I meant until one old lady silenced the chatter by scornfully rattling off a string of Mandarin at the men gathered round - obviously berating them for being completely useless - before producing one with a triumphant smile and a flourish from a tub full of the upended beasties. The men's' mutterings were clearly running along the lines of "well if the Ang Moh* had said LUffa instead of luFFA we would have understood the first time..."

So I'm well armed with my bean curd, by red dates, dried prawns, soy bean paste, red dates and Chouzhou Sa Cha. My luffa is chilling in the fridge until tomorrow and my bottle of Shaoxing wine is keeping my Pu Ning bean sauce company in the cupboard. My lily buds and lotus root are ready to go so with a bit of luck and lots of help from Lisa Yam we'll be eating even better than ever this week.
*Ang moh literally translates as red haired but is the term used to described Caucasians. I'm sure they've also got a name which translates as "that stupid white chick who thinks she can cook Chinese food, what a joke lah!"

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bollywood Champion

Last night we had a great evening out with a large part of the crew from hubby's work. We had a delicious meal at Aangan restaurant, which put on a buffet of Indian and Bangladeshi food. While the food was wonderful, the speeches interesting and the belly dancing distracting for some, the undisputed highlight of the evening had to be 'I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt' Alex who not only took part in a dancing competition but threw himself into it with a gusto which resulted in his and Martje's undisputed victory. As he later said "If you're going to compete you may as well win." Too right mate.

Enjoy the video, which he has kindly agreed to let me publish here. Ladies, sorry but he's a married man.

video

Monday, October 06, 2008

Big News ladies; A Good Hairdresser Has Been Found!


Now this posting is going to seem utterly, totally trivial to those of you who don't live here, so feel free to skip it. For any ex-pat ladies however, it's big news, so stick with me!
About six weeks ago my hairdresser, a wonderfully skilled woman from New Zealand, left Singapore to start a new life in Australia. She left behind a grieving clientele convinced they would never have a decent haircut in Singapore again. Perhaps I should explain. When you are a Caucasian based in Asia getting a haircut is an issue fraught with tension, tears, and usually loads of money. Plainly put, our hair is different to Asian hair. Their hair apparently contains a lot more protein so it is stronger, glossier and thicker, plus...it's always straight. To compound the problem of having Caucasian hair throw curls into the equation and lets just say there are plenty of stories of inexperienced hairdressers just about having to reach for the clippers to hide their mistakes. There are a few businesses catering specifically for the ex-pat market, and as one of my friends told me the other day, she wouldn't have minded paying the $300 + if her dye job had been half-way decent!
The reason I know my Kiwi hairdresser has been gone six weeks is that I need my hair cut every 5 weeks or it's just a puff ball of fluff. Curly hair frizzes in the high humidity of the tropics. Go too long without a hair cut or forget your styling lotion and by lunch time it looks like you've stuck your tongue in a wall socket. So by today, I was DESPERATE.
Before defecting to Oz my hairdresser had mentioned a chop-shop in town which had been recommended to her, so with no other choice, off I headed to Centrepoint shopping mall on Orchard Rd. At 10.30 they were just open and the place was deserted. Yes, I could get my hair cut right away, Angie had cut Ang Moh hair before. I briefly considered asking how much this was going to cost - a large glossy salon on Orchard Rd wouldn't be cheap - but swallowed my words, as I was really past thinking up a Plan B by now. Once seated the assistant, who himself sported a startling spiky cut streaked with bleached highlights, said he'd wash my hair first. OK, so far so good. However instead of leading me away to a basin he tucked a square of plastic over the collar of my blouse, draped a small towel over my shoulders then proceeded to drop a large dollop of shampoo directly onto my head. What??? Next he picked up a plastic squeezy bottle - just like the ketchup bottles you see at cafes - and squeezed warm water onto the top of my head in a steady stream while vigorously massaging the shampoo into a thick foam. He kept massaging and adding water, massaging and adding water...I was sure that at any moment I'd be drenched but he put away the bottle and went to work briskly working up a foam on top of my head, gradually bringing in more and more dry hair until finally my whole head was covered. He then proceeded to give me a ten minute scalp massage and the most thorough cleaning my hair has ever had. Not a single drop or bubble dripped off my head and by the end I looked like a snow cone, my head completely encased in a warm mass of white foam. Then it was off to the wash basins and a thorough rinse followed by another scalp massage. Bliss.
Back in the chair, Angie appeared. All 20 kilos of her. I explained what I wanted - just recreate the asymmetrical cut I've got, while she ahh-haad and nodded.
Finally she said "Ok. Unnerstand, can do. I never do this one before, but is ok." Now be honest, how many of you would have run for the door at that stage?
She then picked up a pair of thinning scissors - a new approach for me - and attacked my hair with a speed I've only seen back in New Zealand shearing sheds. As she progressed Angie became more and more excited, like an artist at her easel. "Yes! Yes!" she started to exclaim whenver she made a final adjustment. "Sorry, I very fussy, very fussy!" she kept saying and I was thinking "what more could a client wish for?"
I won't bore you with the details but less than an hour after I'd walked into the salon, I was out again with the perfect hair cut, i.e. exactly what I wanted! Brilliantly done, very professional. Pulling out my wallet I thought "here we go, brace yourself Joanne..."
The cashier murmured the price and I thought oh, $57, that's not bad. "No Ma'am, that's $37" she corrected me. What?? Unbelievable, an incredibly well priced and professional hair cut, no drama no tears...and no last minute clippers. My day just can't get any better. I should go and buy a lottery ticket.
So girls, if you want a good cut go to Jantzen Salon, #02-22 Centrepoint, Orchard Road, and make sure you ask for Angie; she works every day except Friday. The phone number is 65138805. And no they didn't pay me to promote them but they deserve it. Just don't book in for five weeks time because that's when I'll be back...

Friday, October 03, 2008

I'm Not As Think As You Drunk I Am


The crime: Gathering of The Squiffy Sailor Club
Scene of the crime: Harrys @ Boat Quay
All I can say is that I'm glad I was the one standing behind the camera! And that it was a great night.










Thursday, October 02, 2008

Blowing Your Own Horn


Here's a pic of Carl taken a couple of months ago which I'd chucked into my 'to use' folder on the desktop and forgotten about.




Talk about blowing your own horn...















...and a couple more for the family (taken at the wonderful West Coast Park) so you can see what he looks like these days.






















































Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Room With A View - San Marco, aka The Lighthouse


As I stood on the scales the other day it occurred to me that of all the, ahem, sacrifices we've been called on to make in order to leave our home and come to live in Singapore, perhaps the largest (and most rapidly expanding) has been my waistline. However, I've never been one to shirk my responsibilities, so purely in the interests of research, I found a new restaurant to try out last weekend with hubby. It's a tough job, but someones' got to do it.

San Marco is located on top of the Fullerton Hotel, down town on the river. The Fullerton is an iconic building in Singapore and was originally the General Post Office. It is an absolutely beautiful building and at night it looks stunning, bathed in light and reflected in the river. A pedestrian bridge links it with the opposite bank from where you can get a wonderful view. You can choose to either eat inside or on the terrace, although you do run the risk of being ogled by tourists as they walk along the river bank, which I think would be a little off-putting.

One of my favourite things about the Fullerton is the HUGE fresh flower arrangement they have on display in the main lobby. Each time we go we are stunned by the gorgeous display which is right at home in the opulent surroundings, which boast a towering atrium hung with chandeliers, large carp pools, waterfalls, and sweeping marble staircases. Living in Holland we always had fresh flowers in the house, as they are cheap, plentiful, and of excellent quality. In Singapore however they are a luxury item; too expensive for us to buy often plus between the heat and the rigours of air-conditioning they die very quickly. So I stand next to the huge bunch at the Fullerton, breathe deeply, and think of home instead.
We've tried the Saturday night buffet at the Fullerton before. However until last weekend we hadn't explored any of its other restaurants. San Marco is an Italian restaurant located on the roof. From the eighth floor you take a private lift to the restaurant which is on about the 10th floor I guess. Quite small with an intimate atmosphere, the 360 degree view of the city is simply stunning. It would be easy to rely on the view to bring in customers but fortunately the food was also superb. I won't bore you with the details but our starters (for me a warm sardine tart with a fabulously crispy base topped with a sundried tomato concoction, and hubby's lobster and crab stuffed cannelloni) were to die for.

To finish we opted for a cheese board and I have to say it is the BEST cheese board you will get in Singapore. It's worth going up there just for that. Honestly.
Topped off with great service from knowledgeable staff who took the time to discuss the food - and knew what they were talking about - it was an excellent meal. After we paid the bill we were about to head off when our waiter asked "would you like to take a look upstairs?".
Intrigued, we walked out into the warm night air, climbed a metal staircase, and were treated to a breath-taking view of the city - the photo above was taken up there. It was an unexpected treat which topped off a most enjoyable night. In fact I'd love to take a picnic up there some day. You may recognise the view if you watched the night time Formula 1 race as the cars whizzed past the hotel on the stretch of road you can see.
If you're looking for somewhere a bit special in the heart of the city, San Marco is definitely worth a visit. We'll be taking my Dad there when he passes through next week because this secret is just too good to keep to ourselves.