Friday, May 30, 2008

State Of The Union - aka Happy Anniversary

This time eleven years ago I was going through the whole rigmarole of getting my hair, nails and make up done, hoping I'd fit into my wedding dress and trying not to rip a hole in my stockings. Holger was probably sitting quietly but nervously having a coffee, having taken all of 15 minutes to put on his suit and comb his hair.
D Day had arrived.

When I was sitting here thinking about what I could say about the past 11 years all that kept popping into my mind were lots of funny things, stuff which is probably trivial to anyone else but had us in stitches at the time and we still chuckle over. That's got to be a good thing! Being from different cultures has always been one of the defining facts of our relationship. New Zealanders and the Dutch are basically similar of course but we approach things differently. I tend to be a bit more spontaneous (a.k.a. disorganised) whereas I've always called hubby my 'long term planner' because that's what he does; he plans things out. On our very first date he told me "I never thought I'd end up marrying a Kiwi". Frankly it's a miracle that I agreed to a second date after that chestnut but hey, he was right at the end of the day.

When I rang my Mum to tell her I was dating a Dutch man she was aghast. "But how do you talk to each other?!" she exclaimed. Hubby spoke quite good English even back then so it wasn't a problem, but language is a topic that frequently pops up, as we both have become fluent in each others native tongue and try to understand the finer points. We have each made some funny mistakes. I remember hubby telling me that he could just reach something on a high shelf if he "stood on the edges of the fingers on his feet". Another time he was attempting to explain to a lesbian friend the importance of integrating yourself into the Dutch bureacratic system and told her "it's really important that you get penetrated in Holland".

Once his ship was in port for a day and I couldn't go to see him so his Mum said she'd go. I gave her a letter for him and I thought I'd written on the envelope 'for my hedgehog', a joke about his prickly whiskers as he only shaved every second day when he was at sea. However I misspelt the word egel as eikel and instead wrote 'for my penis'. To this day I've never been able to mention it to his Mum, who knows what she thought at the time. Being a man hubby was no doubt quite proud of it; in some respects there are no cultural differences between the male species at all!
At the end of the day I guess it's our differences that attract people, the fun and occasionally challenging task of figuring out what makes the other one tick. Wouldn't the world be a boring place if we were all the same? Marriage would be anyway.

Happy anniversary honey xxx

Thursday, May 29, 2008

iPhone-a-say; OH YEAH!

I'm so excited I can hardly sit still! Yes yes yes yes and yes! Before any of you start worrying that this is about to turn into an X rated blog I'll explain.

Isn't it wonderful that after being married for eleven years (tomorrow is our anniversary) hubby can still surprise me? Yesterday evening when he got home I was anxiously waiting to see his reaction when he first laid eyes on my anniverary present for him: a gorgeous lamp which I'd painstakingly picked out on a morning out with a couple of girlfriends to the Dragon Kiln (more on that at a later date). I admit, I was feeling pretty chuffed with having found the perfect gift; it's elegant, arty, utterly gorgeous and will last forever as long as the kids don't knock it over.

After finally getting the kids settled in bed I sat on the sofa with a cup of coffee when hubby strolled past and casually dropped a plastic bag in my lap with a mumbled "here you go". Clearly declarations of (continued) undying love and an eternity of marital bliss are as common as the appearance of wrapping paper and ribbons in the Dutch male culture, but believe me, there are compensations.
Curiously peering into the bag I pulled out a heavy matt-black box, turned it over and it was......AN iPHONE!!!!!!!!!!! Only the most utterly fantastic gadget on the face of the planet which I have been lusting after ever since seeing Phils' at the Beerfest back in 2007. It didn't have anything to do with the amount of beer we'd consumed because these gadgets are just downright sexy. Sleek, stylish, designed for beauty as well as functionality, the iPhone is for me a perfect melding of phone, email, camera, video camera and iPod. It has a 16 GB memory and a 2 megapixel camera. Somewhere in there is also the capacity to download maps and get on-line travelling directions and god knows what else. The large touch screen is simple to use and the technology downright stunning.

By simply touching your finger to the screen you can choose between functions and menus, zoom in and out of photos, literally flick through the albums in your iTunes folder, and physically move picture and maps around by moving your finger over the screen. If you turn it sideways the image flips over so that it's still upright, even if you flip the phone upside down. For a better idea to to the Apple site and click on iPhones for a tour but be warned! Excessive drool is a hazard for your keyboard.

As a non-techie I can't even begin to figure out all the other functions on it without downloading the on-line manual but believe me, I'll be doing that today.

So next time you get a text message from me, you know its been typed out in style. Now I've got to rush; iPhone-a play with my new toy!!!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Psssst! You Distract The Human...

Here are the latest pics of Rocco and Ashley, living it up large in Eindhoven with their very patient and long-suffering bunny foster Mum, Liesbeth. The furballs were recently relocated into a new run and apparently, Rocco has decided he wants to go and check out who the new neighbours are from outside the fence. Or perhaps he simply wants to eat as much of the garden as he can before being caught - check out the size of his bottom!

I love the first picture, it looks like he's giving last minute instructions to Ashley before he makes his big break. Thanks Liesbeth not only for sending the pics, but also for thinking to snap the Great Escape while Rocco headed for the garden. Did I ever mention that one of her bunny runs is called Colditz?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tabitha Foundation

Living in Singapore can be a very privileged existence. As an ex-pat you move in circles and in an environment which many local people don't share, and it would be easy to close your eyes to the reality of life for the 'average' local. Of course there is exceptional wealth here among the local Singaporean pouplation as well; we've never seen so many Ferrari, Porche, Lamborghini and Msserati cars in our lives. Sit at the traffic lights and take a look at the vehicles around you and the sum total could well be more than most of us will earn in a life time. This only serves to highlight the large gap between the haves and have-nots, and yet the 'average' Singaporean is far better off than many living in other Asian countries. Here they have guaranteed housing, health care, and education. The government has provided a social welfare system, even if it is extremely tough to access that system and the demands on the individual to care for themselves - or their less capable family members - would be considered excessive by those of us used to living in welfare abundant states like Holland.

Volunteers and charity work play an important role in this part of the world. Extreme poverty in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma to name a few demand attention. The international schools all raise many thousands of dollars each year for projects, as do the social organisations like ANZA. Individuals are also often motivated to do their bit.

If you are what's known as a trailing spouse - that awful term which implies you are a piece of flotsam clinging to the coat-tails of your bread-winning husband (or wife), the opportunities are endless, whether it's volunteering time or money. One worthwhile and successful charitible organisastion I've come across is the Tabitha Foundation. Founded by Canadian born woman Janne Ritskes in 1994, the Foundation "has worked with over 500,000 Cambodian people in the poorest communities in the country. Tabitha's philosophy of self-help is designed to promote self sufficiency and dignity through savings, counseling, and goal setting programs. Families typically graduate from Tabitha in 5 - 7 years after which they have food for their children, clean water to drink, shelter and a source of income. More importantly, they have achieved a sense of dignity and, with their heads held high, can now look into the future and see hope for their families."

This is from their website. The Foundation helps Cambodians through a range of projects including savings schemes, cottage industries, house building, providing pigs, and building water wells.

I came across the Tabitha Foundation through it's twice annual Silk Fairs. Held at The Shophouse, these three day events are held to showcase and sell the fabulous hand-dyed Cambodian silk products made by hand by women in their villages. Apparently the three day event in November 2007 raised $97,000! While that is a lot of money so much more is needed as there are thousands of families who desperately need help. Visiting the fair it's not hard to see why the fairs are so successful - gorgeous vibrant silks are sewn into dozens of different items and sold at reasonable prices. Even though we are spoilt for choice when it comes to buying good quality silk in the Far East, the Tabitha range is truly exceptional. So it's understandable that I went just a little crazy...

My favourite piece has to be the large blue bean bag with the red gecko, which was made to order (there were about 40 colours to choose from) and delivered in about four weeks. The scarves are all to die for; nothing makes you feel more like a million bucks than a gorgeous silk wrap flowing over your shoulders when you go out in the evening. I also bought piles of lovely sunglass cases and Post-It note holders - if you're family or a close friend I'm sorry but there is no surprise in store for you when your birthday comes round! However it was all in the name of a good cause.

The next Tabitha Silk Fair will be coming up in about four months, so keep your eyes peeled if you are in Singapore. It's well advertised in places like Expat Living magazine and in the events section of various club newsletters and magazines.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Party Party Party

If you think your weekend was busy, imagine have 12 hyperactive noisy boys invading your home for three hours! That's what happened here on Sunday, when we had Niels 7th birthday party.
To be honest birthday parties have never been easier for us now that we're living here in Singapore, since we just hope for good weather (hasn't failed us yet) and let the kids go crazy in the swimming pool.
If you've never been around a bunch of seven year old boys who are in full-on party mode, you probably can't even imagine the amount of noise and chaos they can cause. There was so much testosterone floating around I felt like I was at risk of entering early menopause just by standing in close proximity. That and going deaf.
Happily nothing makes boys happier than constant activity and stimulation and pool parties provide plenty of that. Intervening about once every 30 minutes to either poke food or a new pool tool at them, hubby and I even had time to sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee while the boys burnt off enough energy to power a small town for several hours.
Of course no birthday would be complete without a birthday cake, and this year Niels' request was for a replica of his large wooden ship. Hmmmm. It seemed easier than last years tank but still....
Fortunately I recently discovered a baking supply shop nearby who were able to provide ready made icing which is generally a better texture than home made: stiffer and easier to mould. (Once I've caught my breath I'll tell you all about this little gem of a shop which is just down the road.)
Finally, Niels birthday is over. His Star Wars Lego has been built, twenty iced and decorated cup-cakes (chocolate or banana) distributed to his class and teacher, and the final package unwrapped. The week long festivities have ended at last.
Now Carl is already making up his list for his next birthday.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy 7th Birthday Niels!!!!!

Today is Niels birthday!!!!! Happy birthday my blue eyed boy, our first born, full-on, out-doors, country-kid, Star-Wars obsessed, water rat gorgeous son. I can't believe that he was born seven years ago, on a brilliant crisp sunny spring day at Zutphen hospital in Holland. He's grown up so much in the past couple of months and seems so much wiser than he did even half a year ago.

Niels is a very sensitive boy (he cried with me when we read the end of Charlottes Web) and yet he loves to play the solider and re-enact all the Star Wars battle scenes. His favourite part of school is gyn and playing outside, yet he loves to read and will spend hours in the school library if I let him.

Pictured you see him with a Y-wing space ship from the Lego Star Wars collection, something he has desperately craved for months. Now that's a happy face!

Happy birthday to a wonderful son, brother, cousin, grandson and great-grandson. You are much loved, and have always given unconditional love in return.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Naming Ceremoney for Aoka Mizu

Yesterday the official naming ceremony was held for the FPSO Aoka Mizu, after almost two years of construction activity. It was a fun day with plenty of ceremony, one of the highlights of which was a tour of the vessel. Hubby was officially a tour guide for the day, which was a fairly significant change from Marine Superintendent, but he rose to the occassion and herded his groups up and down stair wells, in and out of the accomodation block and around the processing deck without losing anyone. Unfortunatley it POURED with rain throughout and we all got thoroughly wet, but on the bright side, no-one got struck by lightening which seemed like something of a miracle at the time. This explains why Holger looks like a drowned rat in the photo!

I won't bore you with the details of the day but it was topped off with a sumptuous lunch and we were given an awesome gift as a momento, as well as a huge bunch of fresh orchids. I made tonnes of video but have to figure out how to convert the files into a format which Blogspot can use, and this may take a while.
Meanwhile here's a couple of pics, one showing Hubby on the bridge (a position he's going to have to get used to pretty soon) and one of the lion dance which welcomed the guests to the dock side.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mothers Day

This Sunday is the one day a year when the whole world is supposed to stop and be grateful for the million and one ways our Mum's make our lives great. Here's a big thanks to my Mum! The photo on the left was taken about three years ago when Carl was about a year old.

Click on this link to see a classic video that could probably be a summary of the average daily conversation in just about any household with kids. I guarantee you'll be breathless by the end.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

May The Force Be With You

As you've probably noticed if you're a regular reader of The Singapore Sling, Number 1 and Number 2 - it's just so hard to remember the kids names - are absolutely mad about Star Wars. What started as curiosity sparked by their deviant mother who has always had a Trekkie buried deep inside her has blossomed into an all-consuming, totally absorbing obsession. I can't blame them really. After all, I can hum the entire theme music to Star Trek (Next Generation of course, I couldn't tolerate that ridiculous twit Captain Kirk, thought Deep Sapce Nine was so-so, and as for the Voyager series, puh-lease!).

My fascination with sci-fi dates back to when I was a little girl. I can remember finding a battered and dusty collection of Arthur C Clark and Orson Wells books in the library at intermediate school when I was nine years old and practically devouring them. The first time I read War of the Worlds I was around ten, and by then I'd already listened to the album - on real vinyl in those days! - a dozen times, breathless with excitement. Remember Day of the Triffids when it came on t.v. way, way back in the 1980s? I'd already read Wyndams book several times by then. The new worlds that sci fi opened up, the endless possibilities they seem to propose, were addictive. Many of those old authors thought we'd all being living on protein pills in bubble shaped houses by now, a perfect planet of ageless beings who had conquered hunger, poverty, and conflict. If only they'd known! One of my lasting impressions is the generally optmistic tone of so many of those books, with a few exceptions of course. At the end of the day humans always beat the aliens, justice always prevailed, and the future was guaranteed to be a better place.

So yes, I like my sci-fi. Somewhere in the past 15 years I seem to have gotten off track, or more correctly I got a life, and haven't read any particularly memorable sci-fi for ages.

So I'm quite pleased to plant the seed early in my kids, although I will draw the line at dressing in space suits for school or talking Klingon at dinner. Carl seems to show the most promise. He was playing with the neighbours' Darth Vader mask when I took this photo, and shortly after he announced to me in all seriousness: "I've gone over to the Dark Side".

As if we didn't know already.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Koninginnendag (Queens Birthday) Again

Well ok I know it's a bit late but it's been a BUSY week or so. Last week was the Dutch Queen's birthday (cheers Trixie!), an occasion which is celebrated in exuberant style across the Netherlands and with even more fervent devotion by Dutch ex-pat communities around the globe. Here in Singapore there is quite a substantial Cloggie Community and they love nothing more than to dress up in orange and have fun with their national celebrations.

At the Hollandse School the kids all wear orange and gather in the gym together with Mums and Dads and any stray relatives who may be visiting to hoist the Singaporean and Dutch flags, sing the national anthems, and listen to the Dutch Ambassador make a short speech. A long standing tradition is for the Ambassador to present the school with some large cakes which are divided among the classes later on.
This year the festivities included games for the various Groups organised in classrooms and supervised by Mums. There seems to be an endless capactiy for the school to organise jobs for parents here so there's always plenty of volunteers needed. I was in charge of 'koekjeshappen' which in the absense of Deventer Koek was replaced by marshmallows (basically the kids have to try and bite a marshmallow off a string without using their hands).
The combination of excitement and sugar had an interesting effect on the bunch of 7 year olds I was supervising and I can only say I'm pleased I got to leave at midday!
It's always a fun day though and one the kids really get into. At least they'll know what it's all about when we return to Holland.