Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lower Selatar Reservoir

We’re always on the lookout for places to take the kids to burn off some energy in the weekends. Recently we decided to check out what was at the end of the road leading to the Lower Seletar Reservoir.
There are several water reservoirs in Singapore although the vast majority of its water is pumped in from Malaysia. An ongoing source of friction between the two nations is that untreated water travels through a pipeline to Singapore, is treated and purified here, then sold back to the Malaysians. It means that Singapore always has enough water and Malaysia doesn’t need to build an expensive water treatment plant, but it’s still a source of much mud-slinging by Malaysia. Capitalism in action I guess.
As we arrived we passed a golf driving range on our left. A wizened little man was driving round in a specially designed vehicle with a massive scoop on the front collecting golf balls.
Fortunately there was a roof above his head as at least twenty golfers showed absolutely no intention of slowing down their shots while he was busy as work: our boys were both thrilled and horrified at the thought of the guy being mowed down in a hail of white dimpled bullets.

Parking the car we made our way up the slight hill to the edge of the reservoir, giving a large troop of monkeys who were intent on breaking into a primate-proof rubbish bin a wide berth on the way.
The kids were thrilled to discover a huge rocket ship resting on the waters edge, seemingly prepared for take-off. This hollow concrete structure hides a spiral staircase for an easy climb to the top and views out over the reservoir. There was a lovely cool breeze blowing across the water, heralding a change in the weather.
From the shore of this large man-made lake you look straight across the water to the Singapore Zoo on the far shore. The eerily straight paths were the perfect place for Niels to practice riding his new scooter, and the kids playground kept both he and Carl busy for half an hour. At the far end of the breezy walkway is a rain shelter and toilets, which we were quite grateful for as it started to spit with rain just as we discovered a second, smaller playground nearby. Fortunately for once the skies didn’t open to a downpour and we headed back to our starting point, spotting at least five eagles on the way.

The reservoir is definitely worth a visit and is an easy way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday if you’ve got kids or are interested in the birdlife. We’ll be back to explore further on a sunnier day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

From the mouths of babes

There are many bad habits in this world which can cause us pain or embarrassment and one of the milder of which I am guilty is swearing. I don’t know why this is such a problem with me: as kids we were never allowed to swear. Even the work ‘bum’ was considered off limits. My parents didn’t, and still don’t, swear and yet for some reason as I grew older it became a habit.
As every parent knows, swearing, like toga parties and Tequila slammers, is a habit that you have to lose with kids in the house. It’s just not right to turn the air blue in front of your kids because guess what? They will remember everything you say and repeat it back to you, probably in front of their primary school teacher or in your mother in law’s church.
I’ve grown better at taming my tongue since Niels was born. A perfect example: this morning I was trying to remove the empty 19 litre bottle from the top of the water cooler in our kitchen. It was stuck so I gave it a mighty yank and it flew off and smashed into the bridge of my nose with a CRACK!!! Convinced that it was broken and in considerable pain I was standing there with my hands pressed to my face to stop half of it sliding off and falling onto the kitchen floor with a wet splat and muttering fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck quietly when Niels came running in. “What’s wrong Mummy?”
“NOTHIIIIIIIIIING!” was my highly restrained reply. How’s that for self control?
Of course the occasional slip up is inevitable. One rainy afternoon I was driving to the supermarket. At a set of traffic lights road works had funnelled the traffic into one narrow lane. I was at the head of the queue and as I came to a stop a suicidal scooter rider – one of many who totally disregard the traffic rules – rushed up on the wrong side, and squeezed ahead of me, narrowly avoiding ending his day under my front wheels. “Stupid asshole” I muttered under my breath, wondering yet again how it’s possible that there are any scooter riders left alive in Singapore. As the light turned green we pulled away from him and Carl – who I had forgotten was sitting quietly in the back seat – leaned up against the rear window, fixed the scooter rider with a steely glare and screamed at the top of his voice: “YOU STUPID ASSHOLE!!”

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Myth of Abstinence - Just Saying No Doesn't Work

I have to admit that I’m quite taken by Oprah Winfrey’s ‘O’ magazine. After all, as a thirty-something with an education, two young kids, a reasonable disposable income and interests in books, health, food and clever ways to appear more like a twenty-something, I fit squarely into her target group. Plus she really does have some excellent columnists, including Dr Phil (go on, you know you love him really), and Suze Orman (the blond with the great financial advice).
In the April issue there were two articles which grabbed my interest. Firstly, a swag of recipes and ideas for including coffee in everything from chicken to chilli.
Secondly, there is a most interesting article about the promotion of abstinence to American teens. Titled Sex & Teens: Why Abstinence Isn’t Working*, it explains that since 1996 the American government “has poured more than US$1 BILLION into abstinence-only education programs in the belief that teaching kids not to have sex until marriage is the only sure way to prevent teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV infection.” And this would obviously work in the same way as telling people not to smoke, take drugs, drive SUVs or leave the toilet seat up would work, right? In fact the article goes on to point out that not only does telling kids to “just not to do it” not work, it’s actually endangering those same kids by exposing them to higher rates of pregnancy and disease!
“Last year a study out of the University of Oxford reviewed 13 abstinence-only HIV prevention programs involving more than 15,000 US youths and found that not one was successful at decreasing rates of HIV infection. Compared with control groups (which included students receiving no intervention at all or attending safe-sex courses), abstinence-only programs did not lower the incidence of unprotected sex, the frequency of STDs and pregnancy, or the number of partners students had: not did it get them to use condoms more often, or ironically enough, pursue abstinence.”
Remember, that’s one BILLION dollars we’re talking about to achieve this pitiful result. Even more shocking, some of the largest abstinence programs actually provide medically incorrect information.
In comparison, programs which do seem to work are those that are so-called comprehensive or “abstinence plus” programs, which emphasise celibacy but also teach about STDs and contraception use. When 56 of these programs were investigated two thirds were shown to have a positive effect on at least one risk behaviour, while abstinence only made almost no difference.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the government of one of the most developed nations in the world truly believes that telling their hormone-fuelled teenagers simply not to have sex will work. It’s my personal belief that this is almost impossible in any country but it’s absolutely laughable in a country whose culture is filled with erotic imagery in music, tv and all forms of media. The sexual exploits of so-called role models such as politicians and religious figures – who are after all adults – are exposed by country's media with glee so why do they expect their children to be any different? It's time they realised that sex is a normal part of human existence and teaching teens to do it responsibly without putting themselves or others at risk is a moral duty for all those involved in raising kids. Obviously leaving it up to the government, no matter how big their budget is, won't work.

*Credited to NB, which according to the magazine’s colophon is probably Nate Berkus.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Xacti What I need!

***Read the update to this posting as the bottom...
For ages I’ve wanted a new video camera to take clips of the kids and life in general. With a holiday in Bali coming up and prompted by Carl’s fourth birthday – they aren’t going to be small and cute forever! – I bit the bullet and started to look into what I really wanted. Back in Holland we actually still have our first handy-cam, a huge brick of a thing which records onto clumsy tapes which then have to be painstakingly edited via your tv and 15 km of multi-coloured cabling onto old fashioned video tapes. It was so much effort it put me off using it. Every minute of footage required ten minutes to get it onto tape. And these days, who even has a video machine??
Living in Gadget Land means that we are bombarded daily with marketing telling us how much we need the latest thingy-ma-jig, and High Definition (HD) tv, camera, videos etc seem to be the way of the future. Having spent some time looking on the internet and reading specialist magazines about video cameras, I set off with great trepidation to Singapore’s electronics Mecca: Sim Lim Square. **Read the update to this blog below.
For those of you who are going to be visiting Singapore in future and want to buy cheaper electronics, here are some words of advice. Firstly, avoid the tourist traps on Orchard Road such as Lucky Plaza in favour of Sim Lim Square, a 7-storey shopping mall filled exclusively with electronics stores. Once there, avoid the shops located right by the doors filled with predatory sales teams and browse the businesses further inside the building.
Secondly, decide more or less what you want to buy before you arrive – saving $200 on a camera is a dubious bargain if it takes half a day of your valuable holiday time to make the deal.
Having said that, I turned up expecting to buy a Sony HD camcorder with either 30 GB or 60GB internal hard drive. The first shop I visited was more than happy to sell me the 60 GB model (“special price for the pretty lady”) for about $2200 with a ‘free’ UV filter chucked in. Hmmm.
Further inside I came across Square United Cam, a modest business in the corner on the 1st floor. A very helpful (ie not slimy) sales guy actually listened to what I wanted to use the camera for and what my expectations were, then recommended the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG65. For those interested in the technical stuff, it’s MPEG-4 6 megapixel with a 60 x digital zoom. The lens is AVC (made by Sony)…and it’s NOT an HD camera. As the guy patiently explained, HD is fine but most people aren’t set up to work with it – it wouldn’t be possible to burn my movies onto DVDs without a special editing suite so I’d have to pay to have it done at a shop every time. Plus without an HD tv and DVD player you can’t see the benefits anyway. Also, can you imagine what your pc would do if you tried to download 60GB of video onto it??? A 4 GB card will record 5 hours of video plus different users can use their own memory cards so you don't mix up your holiday flicks with hubby's fascinating ship construction momentos.
At the end of the day I’m no expert and who knows if it was the best deal I could have got. But I am deliriously happy with my teeny weeny camera which also takes 10 MB photos (even while you are filming if you want!), has a voice recording function for when I’m doing interviews, and weighs about as much as an egg. Seriously. It’s the shape of a gun grip without the barrel and very simple to use. The fold-out screen is big enough to see what you are filming/photographing clearly with ease.

The price: complete with 3 free batteries, a hard case, two 4GB memory cards and 1 GB card (for voice recordings), and a cleaning tool… $1300. Now that’s what I call a bargain!
***Actually that's what I call a rip-off: I was actually conned when I bought this camera. A few months later I bought the exact same camera for my sister as Paris Silk in Holland Village for about half the price. Ouch.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kidnap Scams In Singapore

As a parent it's hard to imagine a more horrifying scenario. You receive a phone-call mid week and an unknown voice hisses down the phone line "we've got your child and if you don't pay up we're going to kill him". Before you can even start to register what's been said, 'your' child starts sobbing and screaming for help, begging you to save them before 'they' hurt them any more. This is followed by demands for money - lots of it - which need to be paid immediately to have your child returned. Does it sound like a movie script? This is what literally dozens of parents have been through here in Singapore recently as kidnap scams have hit the usually peaceful and law abiding city-state. Thankfully all of the calls have been hoaxes, although I read in the Straits Times that some parents did hand over up to $50,000.

Kidnap scams have hit Singapore before and have made a comeback, apparently run by Chinese nationals according to the Straits Times. The 'kidnappers' only ever speak Mandarin, as do their victims who are all Chinese. In one day the families of three girls from the same school were targeted. However nobody has actually been kidnapped, it's a cruel hoax.

Fortunately parents are usually able to get in contact with the children quickly - how many high school kids don't have a cell phone these days? - but it's still a scary experience and you must be left wondering why you were targeted, if it will happen again, and if the situtation is going to escalate.

Monday, March 17, 2008


If there's one thing I love it's a good thunderstorm. Fortunately we have LOTS of them here in Singapore, and in fact on a recent walking tour I did the guide claimed that Singapore is the most lightening-prone place on earth. Is it true? Who knows and really who could prove it anyway, but we do have some fantastic electric light shows. This afternoon I was working away, mindng my own business when a distant rumbling heralded the impending approach of a storm. It barely registered on the edge of my consciousness since we've become used to the sound of the condo next door being smashed to the ground in a dusty pile of rubble, nor did the first few flashes until CRACK BOOM!!!! an absolutely enormous bolt of lightening touched down nearby with an almost simultaneous roar of thunder. The floor shook and I swear my chair wobbled. That got my attention.

So I stood at the window enjoying the show for a while and it was only when things started to quieten down a bit that I thought to grab my camera and try to capture it on film. So here's a rather feeble ending to what was one of the best storms I've been in. Next time I'll be a bit quicker off the mark.

One day I'll sit down and record all the amazing lightening strike stories I've heard since living here, although they never have happy endings of course! Needless to say at the least hint of thunder I chase the kids out of the pool.

30 mins later...

WOW! That's what I call fast feedback! Thanks to Tracker who just published a comment on this post, including the following weblink: about lightening activity in Singapore.

The Site says: "Singapore has one of the highest rates of lightning activity in the world. Lying near the Equator, the weather is hot and humid almost all year round. Conditions are favourable for the development of lightning producing thunderstorm clouds. An average of 171 thunderstorm days (days when thunder is heard) are recorded annually in Singapore. "

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cool Pool Toy II

For his birthday Carl received a really cool inflatable racing car from his Nana (my Mum) in New Zealand. We've been through a few pool toys in our time here - after all the kids swim every day - but this is one of the best looking ones. Carl is still learning to stay on it as a bit of balance is required but Niels has it all figured out.

The best part of course is when they 'crash' and Mum tips them off...

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Lion Dance

The fifteen days of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations recently ended around the world. Here in Singapore, with Chinese making up around 70% of the population, it’s a big event with all sorts of festivities across the island. I’ve posted on this before but wanted to share with you one of the highlights of the New Year celebrations, the Lion Dance.

Every year a Lion Dance is organised at school for the kids to enjoy. At that time of year you often see little trucks decorated with flags carrying the Lion Dance teams in their brightly coloured costumes to venues where they perform this traditional ritual.

Legend has it that long ago in China, the people were attacked by a fearsome beast called the Nian (“neen”) on the same day every year. The people marked the end of a year by his visits to the human civilization, which is where the Chinese word for year came from. This happened for many years until a wise man thought up a plan to scare the monster away. He constructed a lion suit from brightly coloured material and danced around it in to frighten the monster away. He was aided by the clashing of symbols and banging of large drums to make him seem even more frightening. The lion successfully chased away the Nian and the Lion Dance has been done ever since.

An important part of the dance is the offering of a plate of vegetables and oranges (considered to be lucky) to the lions. The lions ‘eat’ these and then toss them into the crowd – catching a piece is supposed to bring you luck.
Below is a video clip of the kids enjoying the Lion Dance at school. If you look closely you’ll see the lions eyes blinking and the ears moving. The dancers are judged by how well they can make the lions “come to life” during the dance.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Singapore: Crane City

If you live for any length of time in Singapore it's bound to happen: one day the building next door, or just down the street, disappears. Almost over night. The economy is super-heated over here and the building boom has to be seen to be believed. Cranes prick the skyline from horizon to horizon as ever taller condos and office towers are built. Unfortunately the condo next to ours is now suffering the same fate. Like a high tech dinosaur a demolition machine is biting chunks out of the doomed building, reducing it to rubble while spraying water to dampen the dust.
We'll probably be gone by the time construction begins so won't have to face the prospect of a forty storey condo being perched next to us, but it does give us a chance to watch how quickly a building can be demolished.

Monday, March 03, 2008

High Season For The Tooth Fairy

Bless his cotton socks, but Niels does look cute with half his teeth missing!

So far he's lost six baby teeth, with only two adult teeth having grown back. It makes him lisp a little bit and it's just so cute!
I can vividly remember losing my baby teeth, being unable to resist wiggling each loose tooth until it loosened enough to fall/be pulled out. Niels is much braver than I ever was though; no sooner is a tooth a bit wiggly then he grabs it with his fingers and yanks it out, leaving just a bloody hole in his satisfied grin. Perhaps he's just in a hurry to get the Tooth Fairy's fee.
When he lost his first tooth he was a bit anxious. Having bits fall off his body was not cool. So I explained to him the marvellous wonder of the tooth fairy turning up and exchanging his extra bits for cold hard cash. Money was just starting to become important to him as he realised what you could do with it, and the idea of someone/thing giving him cash for body parts he no longer needed had a strong appeal. You could see the cogs in his mind whirring as he considered this, then he looked at me with a mercenary glint in is eye and asked "is there a hair fairy too?"