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I feel like a crack-addict today, now that I’m finally getting my internet fix after being without a computer for the 3-day weekend.

Yesterday I got my first real case of the blues, triggered by the malfunctioning of my 2-month old computer which no longer turns on.  No internet, email, music, movies, contact, etc. = meltdown.   When the endorphins from my morning jog didn’t lift my spirits, I did what any good Singaporean woman would do: I went shopping!

Shopping is practically the national sport in this country.  You can literally find a 5-story mall on every other city block, and if you ask a local if they have any hobbies, they’ll most likely tell you: television and shopping.  No joke.  In fact, Singaporean kids have a big problem with myopia because they don’t get enough sunlight. (Don’t judge.  After 5 minutes outdoors here, you’d understand.)

So my retail therapy began with a trip to the Funan center, home of all things digital.  This place is 7 levels of cameras, computers, software & electronic gadgets and accessories.  Fortunately I didn’t drop big bucks here; I simply left my precious MacBook in the hands of the Sapura center folks who assured me they would fix it in 3-8 business days.  I’m skeptical.

Next, I headed to Orchard Road, the Mecca of Malls & Materialism.  Ordinarily this crowded street makes me really uncomfortable, but I was in the shopping spirit.  Imagine being 2 feet taller than everyone, looking over a hundred heads and seeing where you want to go, and walking there at a snail’s pace in the midst of flashing lights and advertisements.   Actually, just picture your local mall, multiply it by 20 more malls, add 3 more levels to each one, and put them all on the same street.

One black dress and a couple household items later, I emerged alive and made my way to Chinatown in support of Operation MWGH (see previous posts) to find some herbs.  I asked a woman at the health store for something to help my cough and runny nose, and she looked at me and said:

“You have too much heaty in body.  I give you sumting.”

Great.  I’m thinking she’s going to try to sell me a $500 piece of bark, but instead she came back with tea bags in a box labeled, “Heat Expulsion Powder.”

“You put in hot watah. No more cough.  No more heaty.”

Sold. Closer inspection of the Heat Expulsion Powder box reveals that the tea promises to “nourish the stomach-yin, remove dampness, and clear away heat for temporary relief of bad breath, sore throat, and minor symptoms of aphthous ulcer.”  I’m not sure if medicine lady was trying to tell me I was too sweaty or too stinky (maybe both?), but I’m not coughing this morning…

I rounded out my day of shopping with some fresh-squeezed orange juice from Ami at the corner fruit store, and now I’m ready to face the week!

Move over, Santa!  You’re not the only one who sees us when we’re sleeping:

On Wednesday night Amina drove us back to her house in her sweet Allahmobile (is that PC?) and we all had a tasty dinner to celebrate Hari Raya Haji (Eid).  It was really nice to spend some time outside the office with all of my fun colleagues.  Gal forbade me to eat chicken because, “it’s a ‘heaty’ food and bad for cough,” and she also forbade me to sit at the corner of the table.  I looked into it.  Apparently if you’re single and sit at the corner of a square table, you won’t get married for the next seven years.  At least someone’s looking out for me!

Thursday was a lot of fun too!  After work I met up with Preston and his American friends for a Thanksgiving dinner, which was just what the doctor ordered.  Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, good wine – all in the middle of Singapore!  It was my first “American” meal since arriving nearly a month ago, and I ate so much that my stomach hurt and I had to put on PJ’s as soon as I got home.  A lot of the Americans I met were in finance or investment banking.  Is it just me, or are all bankers in their 20’s as intense everywhere in the world that you meet them?  Even my banker friends in NYC do everything to the extreme: they work 10-11 hour days, make time for a hard-core workout, and then get hammered in the evening, only to do it all again the next day?  Hmm…  In any case, I also met a delightful Scotiish woman, Colette, who is a yoga instructor here and has promised to help find me an acupuncturist and a yoga studio!

I spent most of Friday hanging out with Philip, as it was a holiday and we had to tie up some loose ends and finish signing paperwork so I can move into the apartment.  We had an awesome lunch at a German restaurant downtown and then braved the rainstorm to explore Arab street and surrounding areas:

and in the evening I went to Jade Cinemas with Suhas and his wife, Siri, to see a Bollywood movie!  The 3-hour flick was called Kurbaan, starring (who else?) Saif Ali Khan.  It was just so-so, but I had lots of fun being the only white girl in the theater and hanging out with some new friends.

Today is moving day!  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

So much for my plans to train for the 10k in Cambodia next week.  I’ve spent the better part of the past 7 days in bed fighting some kind of flu, which can probably be traced back to either (1) the hospital cafeteria where I eat lunch everyday (2) the start of monsoon season, or (3) the “in and out of AC” effect.  In any case, Operation Make White Girl Healthy (OMWGH) involves finding (1) an English-speaking acupuncturist, (2) some ginseng and Chinese herbs from Chinatown, and (3) a dentist.  And maybe a new lunch venue.

In an attempt to escape my quarantine (bedroom), I’m taking it easy and having a relaxing dinner to celebrate Hari Raya with work friends at a colleague’s house.  She’s Pakistani, and I’m hoping the food is too.  Tomorrow I will continue my eat-fest and celebrate Thanksgiving with some newfound American friends (or at least fellow lovers of America).  I’ve been asked to bring “rolls or cornbread.”  Where am I supposed to find cornbread in Singapore? 

Pictures and stories forthcoming…

I should have known better when, as I’m leaving the cab, the driver turns around, hands me my change, stares me straight in the eye, laughs, and with a tone of skepticism that I didn’t appreciate asks: “hey, you like Korea Barbeque la?”  But seeing as how this was the same cab driver who circled the block twice because he didn’t know how to get to the restaurant, I hopped out of the cab and didn’t question him further.

A few minutes later I’m standing in front of a buffet, piling meat and fish onto a plate.

Correction. A few minutes later I’m standing in front of a buffet, pilling raw meat and fish onto a plate.

It’s just as disturbing as you might imagine.  Nothing was labeled, and I was at the mercy of my colleagues to show me what I maybe should or shouldn’t eat. I won’t even address the cleanliness of the establishment, but you can read the reviews here for an idea.  Hindsight is 20/20, okay?

After a little hesitation and a lot of trepidation, I brought my plate of raw carnage back to the table where our waiter had set up a grill and a pot of boiling soup for us to cook our food.

Clockwise from the egg roll, which is resting upon a bed of raw chicked breast, we have raw white fish (maybe Tuna?), a crispy wonton, a black noodle, a raw chicken foot, seaweed, noodles, a raw sausage ball, raw spicy lamb, raw sliced beef and an uncooked crab stick.

Yes, that is a chicken foot. Yes, I actually ate it. Please see below for confirmation.

Will I eat at Da Chang Jin again? Probably not. Will I eat a chicken foot again?  Not by choice.

p.s. Mom, I’m still healthy.

I’m dying to update you all on my experience at the Korean BBQ this weekend, but I’m waiting for a friend to send me the relevant pictures.  Trust me, they’re essential.  In the meantime, here’s a little extra entertainment for you:

This photo was taken after a very satisfying sushi lunch (conveyer belt style) at Orchard Central.  Beth, Jen and I ran into Asian Santa on our way out of UrbanWrite.  Obviously we HAD to have our pictures taken with him, and fortunately Santa was trying to sell us stuff, so the pictures were free. 

UrbanWrite, by the way, is a fantastic store!  For all of you lovers of Papyrus and Levengers (I’m talking to you, AR), you have to look into this store!  It’s an oasis of paper and pens and calendars and lots of kitschy Asian notebooks. 

On another kitschy Asian front…Gal, a secretary in my office, approached me this morning and asked me to send her a picture of myself for the division poster.  “Sure,” I said, and the next thing I know, this was on my desk:

Gal, beaming, asks me in her adorable accent, “Do you like postah? Eees traditionah Malay holiday postah of office!”

“Gal?” I respond. “Did you marry me to someone in this picture?”

“Oohh, this eees professah.  He come maybe two, tree times.  Good husband.” Still beaming.

Needless to say, this masterpiece is now hanging prominently at my desk.  And I officially love Gal.

Little India is perhaps one of the few remaining neighborhoods in Singapore that is still raw and unpolished.  A lot of this city can feel like Disney World at times – colorful, sleek, clean, efficient, new, modern.  But Little India has a grimy charm that I find appealing.

After strolling around the streets for a couple of hours, stocking up on cheap Bollywood movies, and managing to walk through nearly every incense-soaked store just for a little relief from the heat, I found a tiny little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and ordered the vegetarian meal from north India. I was told it would be less spicy then the south Indian meal.  Let’s just say that I don’t want to know what the South Indian dish tasted like… I ate like the rest of the folks in the restaurant: with my right hand only and no utensils – it was awesome!  I was squishing together rice and shoveling it in my mouth and nobody thought it was weird.  Thanks to my NC neighbors for teaching me that little skill!

I also ventured shoeless into the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (below). I wish I could have taken pictures of all the people praying to the images of the Hindu goddess, Kali, but I felt like that would have been in bad taste.  The inside is just as ornate as the outside, where the gods and goddesses are adorned with flowers, incense and flashing christmas tree lights.


Temple in Little India

Two new friends from work, Beth and Jen, took me downtown to see the Central Business District (CBD).  We walked along the Marina, ate at a tapas bar on the roof of the esplanade, and took some pictures with peace signs (apparently this is essential in Asia).




Another highlight of the week was seeing my first Chinese opera.  Okay, the highlight was not exactly that I watched the Chinese opera, but more that I got to go backstage.  Jen asked if she could perform with the troop, and amazingly they said yes!  So Jen (in black as a male soldier) and Beth (in green as a rich woman’s maid) got all made up and got to stand on stage.  Too bad none of us speak Mandarin…


Chinese Opera

Because I was on my way to a BBQ with my future flatmates, I opted to be the photographer.  Speaking of flatmates – I found a place to live!  It’s a brand new condo in an area called Boon Keng, and I move in on the 28th.  There are three other people in the apartment: two Indian sisters from Mumbai (Apurva and Ash) and a French guy (Paul) from Paris.  I’m taking over the room of a very nice German guy, Philip, who is moving back to Europe in a couple of weeks.

Last night was Paul’s birthday, so the roommates organized a BBQ down by the pool and there were Frenchies everywhere – I can’t escape them!  It definitely made me miss my favorite Frenchie roommate in Chapel Hill!

I had some errands to run today and in between I allowed myself to get a little lost in the city to do some spontaneous exploring.  (Okay, so maybe those of you who know me when will figure out that I wasn’t exactly “voluntarily lost.”)  I started off my day with a 6:30am jog through Fort Canning Park, which is a pleasant little jungle retreat on a steep hill in the heart of the city, complete with a spice garden & tasting bins, shrines, memorials, and lots of old folks doing Tai Chi before the sun becomes unbearable. Here’s a shot from my sweaty jog:


Then later in the morning I made my way down the river to the Ministry of Manpower to get my employment pass.  Success!  Well, not quite – I still have to go back on Friday to pick up the actual card.  But technically I can start working (don’t tell my boss).  Then I headed out to open in a bank account in, where else?, a mall.  I spent about 25 minutes going up & down a ridiculous maze of escalators before I finally found the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS).  10 minutes into my walk back to the MRT I discovered I was walking in the wrong direction.  Fortunately I bumped into the Singapore Art Museum, and saw this cool little exhibit of Li Chen sculptures:

and I also happened upon a Singaporean food court for lunch.  Everyone eats at food courts here – you can get some of the best food in the country at these unpretentious little places.  I tried the Chicken Vermicelli Soup (above) from the Vietnamese stall, primarily because I was too afraid to try anything from the neighboring stall, “Wang Ji Pig Organ Soup.”  Ewww.  Now I’m off to meet some potential new roomies.  We’ll see how it goes…

Maybe it’s time to self-indulge a little and give some thoughts on my first impressions of the Lion City!  I haven’t had a lot of down-time until now to let everything soak in: as in – “holy cow, I just up and moved to Asia.”  But now I’m sitting at some swanky coffee shop next to a French couple, across from a monk, watching a little Singaporean birthday party, and taking some time to update you on my life.


@ The Coffee Connoisseur

So the one thing that you can’t deny about Singapore is that IT’S REALLY HOT and REALLY HUMID.  All the time.  From the moment you step one foot out the door, I guarantee you will start sweating.  And the heat is totally killing my appetite.  If I’ve been outside, I don’t feel like eating unless it’s a slice of watermelon.  It’s a little more bearable in the shade or when it’s raining (thankfully (?) it’s monsoon season), but pretty much everything I do (selection of clothes, deciding where to eat, deciding whether to take a taxi or the metro, etc.) depends on how long I estimate I’ll be out of AC.  Singaporeans have gone out of their way to minimize the the amount of time one has to spend without air conditioning.  Everything here is indoors (most likely in a shopping mall) and blasting with AC: taxis, subways, clubs, you name it!  I went out to a few bars last night with some new-found work friends (see below), and even the sidewalk was air-conditioned.


@ Blue Jazz

I’d also like to note, that while I write this, there are a lot of really, really, unattractive American men with really, really gorgeous Asian women walking by the cafe.  Interesting…  On that note, I’d also like to say that I am officially feeling like a minority.  I’m taller than about 95% of the women here, at least 10 shades fairer/pinker, and convinced that I might never find a bra in my size.  Just saying…

Another striking thing about Singapore is how clean everything is!  Granted I haven’t see every nook and cranny, but even Arab street, which is a little seedy, is clean!  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’ll cane you (or at least fine you to death) for littering, spitting, spraying graffiti, etc.  Below is a picture of the apartment where I’m temporarily staying:


My temporary home

Notice how spic and span the sidewalk is for such a busy, high-traffic sidewalk.  I’m not sure my next apartment will be so nice, but that’s a different story.  Speaking of, I’m off to continue my apt. hunting – wish me luck!

I miss you all & thanks for your comments – I love reading them!

After being suckered into attending an 8:30 am staff meeting in the office, I spent the majority of the day trying to procure a SIM card for my mobile, which in theory should have been much easier than it was.  The upside to this fiasco was that I got to see quite a bit of Clarke Quay (pronounced Clark Key), which is a hip, happening part of the river that runs through Singapore.  During the day people stroll or jog along the riverside, or some shop at one of the many pedestrian malls that line the banks.  By the way, there are malls EVERYWHERE here.   Over 250 of them.


At nighttime the neighborhood gets fairly busy, and everyone comes out to the modern restaurants and nightclubs.  When I say everyone, I mean mostly expats because it’s ridiculously expensive. For the time being I’m staying in an apartment that overlooks the river, just to the right of the picture below:


Goal for tomorrow: work on finalizing my employment pass and opening a bank account.  I’m trying to remain optimistic…

I made it!  The 24-hour travel business wasn’t so bad after all.  I was able to sleep a bit and watch lots of movies.  Also – Qantas Airlines serves Quinoa salads.  Amazing, right?   I had my usual bad luck when it came to my “neighbors”: the man sitting next to me on the way to London had really bad breath and desperately wanted to tell me all about all the places he had ever been to in his life (EVER), and the man sitting next to me on the way to Singapore was really obese and shouldn’t have been sitting in economy class.  Someday I’m going to sit next to a normal person..

I haven’t had a chance to check out the city yet, but it is worth noting that there was a special sign in the taxi cab that said “NO DURIAN.”  Click here for an explanation.

I think Eric and Thoa are taking me to Chinatown tonight for dinner.  I’m already excited!

November 2009