Thursday, January 31, 2008

There's Something Under The Bed...

Actually this is true more often than you’d expect in our house. Fortunately when we hear an odd scratching sound, an eerie tapping or an ominous gnawing we know what’s happening: Houdini and Sweetpea are under the bed again. This is one of their favourite places, mainly because that’s the only place in the house that we don’t want them to be. Strangely enough this is not unusual with rabbits in my experience: the more desperately you don’t want them in a particular space, the more diligently they will work on getting in there.

It’s also true that the tastiness of a plant increases in direct proportion to how much money you paid for it. So pansies which you paid five dollars a dozen completely unappetising, while an exotic shrub costing fifty dollars which you planted with love and lavished with attention in the garden…that sucker is going to be eaten within hours. Or maybe just a bit of the stem. The bit just above ground level.

Bunnies are great pets but like all of us, they have their quirks. The reason we don’t like them in our bedroom is not that they scare the living crap out of me when I’m working intently and a furry ball suddenly headbutts me in the ankle, or because they make me jump when they sneeze under the desk. It’s because this is the only room with electrical cables at ground level. Namely my computer; aka my link to the universe, email, friends, and on-line shopping. And don’t think I’m worried about the bunnies getting electrocuted, because just like the Rabbit Law Of Determining Plant Value, there is another rule called the Rabbit Law of Safe Cable Destruction. This law states – and it’s been proven by several of my rabbits over the years – that it is possible for a bunny to safely chew its way through any electrical cable without getting electrocuted. Every time. In fact those brave guys who fix high voltage power lines could do away with their fancy safety gear and go to work on live wires with nothing but a rabbit attached to each hand and never worry about getting a shock.
We’ve now brought the baby gate out of storage and have fitted it across the doorway to keep the buns on the right side of the law, so to speak.

Our wonderful uber-bun Flopsy, bless his cotton tail, chewed through at least ten telephone cables, two sets of speaker cables, and three of the computer cables in his life time. He also devoured the entire rubber edging around the balcony door, most of the living room carpet and a piece of a chair. It didn’t even make him burp.

On the bright side I am now a dab-hand at rewiring phones but I’m glad that here in Singapore there are no cables at ground level, except for my lap top in the bedroom. Now officially the most bunnylicious room in the house.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hello America...

Alright, I admit that curiosity is killing me. For the last two months between 16 and 20% of the readers of this blog are located in the US of A. So I am driven to ask...who are you people? I know of only about ten people in the US, dear family friends and a beloved ex-colleague, so who are you guys? Somebody put me out of my misery and leave a comment by clicking on the 'comment' button below........

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Burns Night

Oh oh oh I've been busy lately so I've been hugely negligent in entering the blogoshere for the past few days. Plus I left my camera on the table when we left the Burns Night on Friday (couldn't possibly have had anything to do wth the amount of wine we drank!), although it was fortunately picked up by a friend and returned yesterday.

Yes, Friday night saw us once again putting on our glad rags to attend Burns Nights at Fort Canning. This annual event is a highlight of the social calendar for many people whether they are of Scots origin or not. Regardless of ancestry it’s bound to be a night of fun and drinking. Usually an excess of the latter ensures plenty of the former.
This year was the 10th time that the local Burn Night had been organised by the Sportsman Bar, and again it was hosted by the highly eloquent, infinitely funny and incredibly crude Donald Finlay, QC. Yes that's me standing next to him in the photo. Dressed to impress in one of his colourful dinner jackets which seem to be his trademark, Finlay opened his speech in typically blunt fashion by first grandly welcoming the crowd to the prestigious event then announcing that “if any of you here tonight are easily offended, fuck off now. And if you’re an undercover journalist…fuck off anyway!”
Having set the tone for the evening we braced ourselves and weren’t disappointed. The food provided by the Grand Hyatt was lovely – a Scotch broth followed by haggis with neeps and tatties, then braised Wagyu (Kobe) beef cheeks in a port wine sauce. All was washed down with wine and of course the obligatory whiskey.
A traditional Chinese lion dance kicked off the entertainment and a round of toasts.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Burns Night, it’s a Scottish tradition which celebrates the life of one of their greatest poets, Robert Burns. He was born on 25 January 1759 and died at just 37 years of age having lived a full life. He has become a symbol of Scottish national identity and wrote poems filled with wit, irony, romanticism, bawdy humour, and an endless admiration for women.

You may think you don't know any Burns poems but who wouldn't recognise these immortal words?...

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who's That Trip-Trapping...

I thought I’d mention a fun afternoon out Mum, Carl and I enjoyed when she visited late last year. We visited Singapore’s one and only goat farm, called Hay Dairies. It’s located in the north-west of the island off Lim Chu Kang Road – if ever there was a location which you could describe as ‘beyond the black stump’ in Singapore, this would be it. That said, this is a small wee island after all so it was only a 25 minute drive to get there.
The farm is a commercial dairy goat operation with 500 goats producing 250 litres of milk per day. You can see the goats being milked if you arrive before 11 am, and one of the barns is open for visitors to go in and get up close and personal with the stars of the show. Frankly I wouldn’t want to get too close to the stinky Billy goats, but the nannys and the kids were very cute. For $2 you can buy a bag of lucerne hay to feed them, and believe me with those big eyes and droopy ears you’ll soon be making friends with the adorable little kids who bounce around their pens hoping for a snack.
I’ve never seen such well cared for goats – the pens and barns are spotlessly clean, the animals glowing with health, the place is cool and airy and fresh smelling (not easy with Billy goats in attendance) and the general atmosphere is one of calm professionalism.

I highly recommend a visit to the farm, especially if you’ve got young children as there are not many opportunities to see farm animals on the island. With its no-frills functionality Hay Dairies avoids feeling like a tourist attraction but is well set up for visitors. Toilets and good hand washing facilities are available, plus a basic refreshments shop.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Homeland What??

A Seattle (US) news site reported this incredible story and I read it on one of my favourite blogs, (“A Directory Of Wonderful Things”). Incredibly STUPID that is – a prime example of why so many people who travel regularly, including us, will never fly through the US (in transit) again.

A five-year-old boy was taken into custody and thoroughly searched at Sea-Tac because his name is similar to a possible terrorist alias. As the Consumerist reports, "When his mother went to pick him up and hug him and comfort him during the proceedings, she was told not to touch him because he was a national security risk. They also had to frisk her again to make sure the little Dillinger hadn't passed anything dangerous weapons or materials to his mother when she hugged him."
It's a case of a mistaken identity for a 5-year-old boy from Normandy Park. He had trouble boarding a plane because someone with the same name is wanted by the federal government. Mimi Jung reports from Sea-Tac Airport.

Boing Boing summed it up very succinctly: “You know, if you wanted to systematically discredit the idea of a Department of Homeland Security, if you wanted to make an utter mockery of aviation safety, you could not do a better job than this”

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Wet Market Wonders

Shopping at the Tiong Bahru wet market is one of my favourite outings. Ideally I like to go once a week to stock up on fruit, vegetables, fish and occasionally chicken, but in reality I get there about once a fortnight. The freshness of the produce sold there has to be seen (and eaten!) to be believed. The fish is almost still twitching, the veges crisp and glossy, the fruit fragrant and ripe.
For an earlier blog entry about Tiong Bahru, click here:

Today I discovered a couple of new things I’ve never seen before. The first was a very dark green circular vegetable, which seems to be a spinach-like plant growing from a central point. They looked like a dark sunflowers piled up but the little Chinese man who is always happy to try and explain to me how to cook his veges in a mixture of pidgin English and Chinese, with a strong accent not helped by the fact that he has no top teeth, assured me that a bit of garlic and oil would transform this strange plant into a tasty side dish.

Next on the list was a long hard green stem vegetable – if anybody out there knows what this is, please let me know! Apparently I need to peel it then slice the stem into discs and stir fry.
The final two are by now old favourites: the round pinkish balls are absolutely the most delicious passion fruit I have ever eaten. I’ve only ever had the traditional dark purple ones before, which need to be wrinkled and dried out before they are ripe. These luscious orbs are ready to eat at this stage, when they are plump and pink. Inside the hard skin is a thick layer of spongy pith, rather like the inside of a grapefruit, and the rich yellow juice and flesh holding the crispy black seeds is pure nectar.

Finally there are lady fingers, also known as okra. They have a wierd kind of geometric shape when you slice them through the middle and look great mixed with other vegetables. Stir fry these with ginger, garlic, and plenty of chilli for a yummy side dish!

If there are any locals out there who can tell me the names of the first two veges I’d be really grateful, plus of course if you have any recipes for me I’d love to know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ssssshhhhhhhh! Don't Tell Anyone...

...but I've bought a new handbag. I can already hear hubby's groans of dismay ("what do you need another one for???") but hey, you can never have too many and it is, indirectly, his fault.

He asked me to post something for him so I had no choice but to go to Orchard Road. Anyone who has ever been to Orchard Road will understand; the gorgeous shop displays and twinkling lights are irresistible beacons, the gentle hiss of the automatic doors a siren call to enter the realm of air conditioned comfort, and it just seems so right that you should have a look around. Only looking of course. Just to be polite.

On the fringes of my mind I remembered that I do need new shoes so it was only logical to go to Isetan, one of my favourite department stores. The problem is I don't like shopping for shoes, hate the whole process of trying them on and picking the right colour, and to get to the shoes at Isetan you have to go past - or preferably through - the handbag department. SALE! SALE! SALE! the signs blinked, the post-Christmas purge is underway and all the more reason to slow your steps to get a closer would be rude to rush afterall.

And there is was, a replacement for the black Elle handbag I bought last year which has literally fallen to pieces on me - honestly it's proof that it pays to buy decent brands. So Pierre Cardin was obviously a smart choice which would actually save money in the long run! Reduced from $249 to just $89 - eat your hearts out girls! This baby is mine.

If hubby complains I'll just point out how much money I actually saved by buying this bag. Now let's see how long it takes him to respond...I'll soon find out whether he actually ever reads my blog!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Upper Peirce Reservoir

Recently we discovered a great little get-away-from-most-of-it place to take the family, go for a peaceful walk or cycle, or enjoy a picnic. It's called the Upper Peirce Reservoir, and the access is off the Old Upper Thompson Road, or as we like to call it; The Monkey Road. Bordering the MacRitchie reservoir there are LOADS of monkeys in the area and you often see people feeding them from their cars, sometimes even while they are parked in front of the huge brightly coloured billbaords which say DON'T FEED THE MONKEYS. Go figure.

Anyway I digress. I've been wanting to take the kids and hubby for a picnic to the reservoir ever since Mum and I discoverd it more or less by accident while I was taking her monkey spotting during her last visit. Yesterday was fine and sunny and we had no big plans so it was the perfect opportunity. I packed up some bagels stuffed with ham and salad and lots of juice and stuff into our big chilly bin (cool box), we chucked everything in the car and off we went.

Being Sunday I had expectd the place to be heaving with people but actually it was very quiet, and in some places we were the only ones there. Heaven, on a small and densely populated island like Singapore.

The reservoir was created in 1975 when the Kalang River was dammed to create a large catchment basin to supply some of the populations water need. Bordered by rainforest on all sides, the area is a wildlife haven and very peaceful. Apparently it's a great spot for eagle watching although we didn't see any yesterday; in fact I've seen more eagles and other bird life while floating on my back in the swiming pool, but it was probably just the wrong time of day. There were unfortunately a couple of packs of wild dogs hanging around - you see these occasionally in Singapore and it makes me nervous having the kids with me. While we haven't heard of people being attacked by them I've read enough news stories of children being mauled by pet dogs in New Zealand to be nervous of wild ones roaming around. Of course there are also lots of monkeys which are not a problem as long as you don't leave any of your gear unattended: they may not eat your shoes but that doesn't mean they won't carry them away or use them as a toilet!

Looking out across the reservoir itself you can see the Buki Timah Nature Reserve on the far shore and, helpfully singposted with two huge communication masts, Bukit Timah Hill. This is the highest point in all of Singapore at 164 metres. You can see it behind Niels in the photo above, amost over his right shoulder.

The side of the dam is grassed and descends very steeply down quite a distance before levelling out to a perfectly flat open grassed area, which edges the Lower Pierce Reservoir. It's perfect for kicking around a ball or letting the kids run wild. Niels loved running down the slope, screaming "My brakes are on fire!!!!" (see the last photo).

Although we didn't notice it on this trip, there is a 900m boardwalk through the forest from the Lower Pierce Reservoir through mature secondary forest, whcih is part of the central catchment area and covers 2000 hectares of primary and secondary rain forest. And you all thought that Singapore was just a city!

Being Singapore they have thoughtfully provided clean toilets and hand washing facilities, loads of picnic tables, seating, and rain shelters. It's a great place to visit and I recommend it highly, especially if you've got kids who need to let off steam. Even if their brakes do catch fire!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Monkeying Around

It seems we have more in common with monkeys than we thought! A primatoligist here in Singapore has discovered that monkeys are engaged in the world’s oldest profession – paying for sex. The laws of supply and demand are alive and well in the free market world of monkey prostitution, with the females raising their ‘price’ – the amount of time they want to be groomed before they will consent to sex – if there is a scarcity of available females, and lower their price if there’s plenty of competition. The males have obviously figured out that a little foreplay is worth the effort! Below is the complete article.

SINGAPORE - Male macaque monkeys pay for sex by grooming females, according to a recent study that suggests the primates may treat sex as a commodity.

"In primate societies, grooming is the underlying fabric of it all," Dr. Michael Gumert, a primatologist at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in a telephone interview Saturday.
"It's a sign of friendship and family, and it's also something that can be exchanged for sexual services," Gumert said.
Gumert's findings, reported in New Scientist last week, resulted from a 20-month observation of about 50 long-tailed macaques in a reserve in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Gumert found after a male grooms a female, the likelihood that she will engage in sexual activity with the male was about three times more than if the grooming had not occurred.
And as with other commodities, the value of sex is affected by supply and demand factors: A male would spend more time grooming a female if there were fewer females in the vicinity.
"And when the female supply is higher, the male spends less time on grooming ... The mating actually becomes cheaper depending on the market," Gumert said.
Other experts not involved in the study welcomed Gumert's research, saying it was a major effort in systematically studying the interaction of organisms in ways in which an exchange of commodities or services can be observed _ a theory known as biological markets.
Dr. Peter Hammerstein, a professor at the Institute for Theoretical Biology at Humboldt University in Berlin and Dr. Ronald Noe, a primatologist at the University of Louis-Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, first proposed the concept of biological markets in 1994.
"It is not a rare phenomenon in nature that males have to make some 'mating effort' in order to get a female's 'permission' to mate," Hammerstein said in an interview, likening the effort to a "fee" that the male pays.
"The interesting result of Dr. Gumert's research on macaque mating is that the mating market seems to have an influence on the amount of this fee," Hammerstein said.
Hammserstein said Gumert's findings indicate the monkeys are capable of adjusting their behavior to "different market conditions."
Gumert completed his fieldwork in February 2005 and first published his findings in the November issue of "Animal Behaviour," a scientific monthly journal.

By GILLIAN WONG,Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Goodbye Charlie...Hello Houdini & Sweetpea

The irrepresibly lovely and fluffy Charlie has left us, adopted into a new bunny family who had a large angora male similar to her who desperately needed some luvin'. In a desexed, pleutonic kind of way, of course. Charlie blossomed into a total snugglebun during her few months with us, putting on weight, healing her wounds, becoming very affectionate and shedding mountains of fur. The only thing we won't miss about her is finding long, fine grey hairs in our food.

Tonight two new foster-buns arrived from the House Rabbit Society, a father and daughter combination called Houdini and Sweetpea. He is about 18 months old, she is 6 months. Both are obviously desexed. They are of course absolutely gorgeous (they are lagomorphs after all) and hopefully will settle in quickly. Their owners are immigrating to Australia next week so were desperate to find a good home for them and appraoched the HRS for help. In time they too will be found a new permanent home but for now...they're mine!

Here are the first couple of pictures, not very good but they are just settling in so I didn't want to stress them out too much by taking lots of photos. Also a final pic of Charlie, our first foster.

Remember that if you are considering getting a rabbit (better yet a pair!) don't buy them from a pet shop. Every year thousands are dumped at animal shelters. Give a second hand bunny a chance! If you are in Holland or Belgium, check out Opvang Franky for adoptable rabbits and information ( and if you are in Singapore, the US, or in fact just about anywhere, check out the House Rabbit Society or call your local animal shelter to find out where you can find homeless animals who need your help to survive. It's the least we can do.

Monday, January 07, 2008

1st Day At School

The day has finally come: Carl has started primary school. This morning as I got him ready he alternated between excitement and apprehension about taking the Big Step of becoming a school boy. His pre-school days are officially over but he isn't quite ready to give up the fun, games - and the ladies - that made his life at Jip & Janneke so enjoyable.

We took him to his classroom, Niels playing the big brother role by lending a suporting hand on Carl's shoulder and showing him how to put his lunchbox in his locker, then it was time for a quick photo and goodbye. Carl clamped himself to my leg and refused to let go, not quite crying but with his bottom lip trembling and a look of rising panic on his face. His teacher, Juf Janny, was very sweet and helped to talk him into staying with her while peeling his fingers off my leg one by one, and when I left the last thing I saw were his big tear filled eyes watching me pleadingly as he clung to her hand.

With a lump in my throat I took Niels to his class then a reinforcing cup of coffee, so I could check back on Carl after a little while to make sure things were going ok. I couldn't hear any crying so that was a good sign. By 9am I figured I would take a final look at my wee man, the baby in the family who is afterall only 3 years and 11 months old. Was it too soon for him to be at school? Would he be traumatised by his first day and face the rest of the week with dread and a feeing of abandonment? Would he ever forgive me? I peeked through a window to see how this emotionally upheaving event was affecting him....

....there was Carl, perched on his teachers knee for all the world like the new king holding court. Having firmly establisehd that the only woman in the room was obviously his he was clearly relishing the attention and having a whale of a time. So much for trauma! Now if only his mother could get over the experience as quickly.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sleep, Blessed Sleep

Finally, finally, after a week of broken sleep and fragmented nights, the kids are over their jet lag. We knew that it would be bad - it always is - but Carl's inability (or downright refusal) to adjust back to Singapore time was literally driving me crazy. Sleep deprivation, frustration and plain desperation had reduced me to a screaming banshee, and the neighbours surely must be sick of me screeching "get back into your bed NOW!!!" at all hours of the night.
According to (I kid you not) the effects of ongoing sleep deprivation include tremors, slurred speech and irritability. Of course if the original lack of sleep doesn't cause these effects a few weeks of knocking back several gin and tonics a night to dull the pain probably will.
However we're all back into a more or less normal routine which means Niels and hubby sleep like blocks of wood all night while I wake up at every little noise and Carl comes to visit most nights around 3am to tell me he needs to pee, has just peed, or simply that he's awake and doesn't need to pee. Sometimes he can't find a toy in his room which means I have to roll out of bed and stumble around in the dark trying to find it - usually by painfully standing on it in the middle of his floor.
New years resolution No. 1: learn hypnosis to drop Carl into a peaceful trance for twelve hours a night.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe it but 2008 is now upon us. I hope that this year proves to be one filled with happieness, health and good fortune for you all!

We decided to see in the New Year in style this year, forgoing the usual fireworks parties with neighbours in Lochem to join the party at the Equinox Restaurant 70 stories above Singapore's Marina Bay. As this may be our last chance to expierience a New Year in this wonderful island nation it seemed only appropriate to make the most of it.

Following a sumptous six course dinner with friends at the restaurant, we moved up two floors to the New Asia bar to wile away the final hour or so of 2007 before looking out through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls to enjoy the specatuclar fireworks display at midnight. From ground level the huge explosions of fire and colour would have been amazing enough, but imagine what it was like having them explode literally at eye level! With the Singapore River and downtown laid out below us in a glittering carpet of lights it was a very special night which we will always remember.

Two bottles of champagne and a couple of hours later we declared the night a huge success and grabbed a taxi home to our weary baby sitter.

Both Niels and Carl were awake to greet us, as they are still trying to shake off their jet lag following our through-the-night flight from Holland on the 28th.

Today (after a very gentle and hushed start to the year this morning) we headed off to West Coast Park, our current favourite and a big hit with the kids, to kick back with the locals. The park was packed with literally thousands of people but becuase it is so vast it really didn't matter. The grass was liberally sprinkled with families enjoying the cooler weather, the chance to let their kids run wild in the various playgrounds, and of course to eat. The smells of Indian, Malay and Chinese picnics wafted around us and frankly suggested that whatever they were eating rivalled what we had indulged in last night. It was a great, relaxing way to usher in the year, wishing "Happy New Year" to the kids and their families of every shade and hue. The boys ran around playing with new friends and inventing games before we headed home for a swim.

Who knows what the new year will bring but I'm sure it will be as full of surprises and opportunities as the last one. Grab it with both hands and enjoy every minute because remember: if life hands you a full glass, make a Singapore Sling!