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Turns out my neighbor friend is a sommelier by day and a chef by night.  Score!  He’s also a sweetheart. Last night he invited Ash and me over for a Mediterranean dinner.  On the menu: labna yogurt cheese, falafel, couscous w/harissa and a fresh cucumber & tomato salad – ALL of it made from scratch, paired with a lovely bottle of red wine.  Not only was it the best Mediterranean food I’ve had in Singapore, but the company was lovely too!

Hot yoga is a no-go, so I’m going back to half-marathon training as my preferred form of working out.  Some of my coworkers and I have signed up to run the Singapore Sundown Half-Marathon in May, so now I’m officially on the hook.  I think it will be a challenge to figure out how to train in the city, especially once the rainy season is over and it gets really hot again.  My inclination is to do the shorter weekday runs on the treadmill in the air-conditioned gym and then do the long-runs on Sunday mornings in a local park.

Suggestions? Advice?

Fresh Squeezed – right into the bag…

What have I gotten myself into?

Last week I told my friend Brenda over a couple of drinks that I wanted to try a yoga class in Singapore, and she enthusiastically recommended her yoga studio to me.   She also warned that it was a Bikram yoga studio, or “hot yoga” studio.  What’s hot yoga, you ask?  It’s basically a series of 27 poses practiced for 90 minutes in a room that’s 105 degrees (or 40 degrees Celsius).

“No problem!” I told Brenda whilst holding a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (pinky finger out, looking utterly pretentious I’m sure).  “I’ve been going to yoga classes in North Carolina for years, and the room always gets really hot.”

Brenda just looked at me in all my arrogant glory: “Okay!” she laughed.

I signed up for the beginner’s week pass, since it was only marginally more expensive than the single class fee.  Big mistake.  When I walked into the yoga studio on Saturday, I braced myself for the heat, but nothing could have prepared me for the intense odor of a room that has been heated to 105 degrees and filled with the perspiration of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of sweaty bodies over many years.  I can’t even really describe it to you.  And actually, I wasn’t prepared for the heat at all.  About 10 minutes into the class – and I’m not exaggerating here – there was literally a pool of water surrounding my feet from all of the sweat pouring out of my skin.

I wasn’t sure what was going to kill me first: the dizziness from the heat, the harsh voice of the drill-instructor yoga teacher, or the nausea from the stench!  But after 90 minutes I survived, re-hydrated and actually felt quite good for the rest of the day.

Determined to get my money’s worth, I went back the next day for another class and found it was a little easier, but no more enjoyable.  I still have 5 days left on my beginner’s pass, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to go back to the torture chamber again.

I think I’m over Bikram yoga.  I miss Lori!

I’m watching the candles burn down on my menorah and I’m thinking that it’s been a surprisingly fun and eventful festival of lights in the city so far.  I spent the first night of Chanukkah at Chabad this past Shabbat, where I met lots of nice Jewish folk and had a lot of delicious food!  I’m sorry, Asia, but your fried rice and noodle soup can’t compete with my challah, hummus and cholent.

Most of the Jews here are exchange students or Israelis selling Dead Sea products at the malls, but apparently there is a small community of Safardi locals somewhere.  One of the Israelis I met the night before invited me to join them for drinks in Clarke Quay on Saturday night, so we all went out and partied until the wee hours of the morning in my old stomping grounds.

On Sunday I was invited to a “Mulled Wine and Mince Pie Christmas party” by a British girl I had met at Thanksgiving, and when I arrived I discovered that I had already met a third of the people on Friday/Saturday nights.  What a small world!  Singapore has nearly 5m inhabitants, but I guess the ex-pat population must be far smaller.

Last night I had dinner with Malavika, Eric & family., watched the kids open their Chanukah gifts, and then sped off to another Chanukah party thrown by some of the exchange students.  I don’t know if I (or my liver) can handle 2 more nights of this.

I think I need a Christmas tree…

I’ve been having some pretty entertaining conversations in the local dialect lately: shop owners, taxi drivers, bank tellers , etc.  The folks here speak a version of English called “Singlish,” which basically sounds like English in a Chinese accent (think Mrs. Swan).  It includes little oddities like instead of saying “yes” they say “can” and instead of saying “no” they say “cannot.”  And they add “lah” to everything.  I’m not sure exactly why – maybe someone can get back to me on that one.

At the advice of a friend (thanks, S) I’m starting a series called “Conversations with Singaporeans” where I will relay some amusing convos to you all.  May you chuckle as much as I do!

Sunday afternoon: I walked into the 7-eleven to buy a box of chocolates for a dinner party, and I asked the Singaporean man behind the counter if he had any stamps:

Me: “Hi, do you sell stamps?”

Man: “Oh nooo lah, I don’t have stamp.”

Me:  “Oh you don’t?”

Man:  “Cannot.  I no carry stamps here, la.  On Monday you go to cornah pos office.”

Me: “Oh, ok great thanks.”  I turn to leave…

Man:  “Why you want to buy stamps?  You send Christmas cahd?”

Me:  “Yes, something like that.” I turn to leave…

Man: “Where you send Christmas cahd?  You send to international?”

Me:  “Yes, local and international.”  I turn to leave…

Man:  “Tsk…Why you not send email, lah?  Ees fastaaahhhh.  Eet no cost you monaaayyy.”

Me:  “Well, I think people like to open cards.”  I start backing away from the counter…

Man:  “Yes this what I saayy.  Why the people send emails?  The people not liking to open emails.  Very cold.  The people no listen to me, lah.”

And then I left the store slightly puzzled…with no stamps…

Headlines from Friday's "My Paper"

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve spent the past week in Cambodia with Jen and Beth, and it was incredible!  Rather than write a novel about my experiences (and believe me, I could), I thought I’d give you some highlights in two parts: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap.  You can see all of the Siem Reap and Angkor Wat pictures here, and in the meantime, enjoy a handful of stories:

1. Running the Angkor Wat International 10K. I wasn’t quite sure I would be able to finish this race after my two-week battle with the Singaporean flu, but low and behold I ran the whole way and crossed the finish line at 1:11:00.  Nothing to write home about, but the actual race itself was incredible!  We were up early enough to see the legendary sunrise over Angkor Wat.  The course took us through the beautiful temple grounds, and all of the race proceeds went to benefit landmine victims.  You can read about the race in this nytimes article.

2.  Hiking a mountain to see The River of a Thousand Penises. Because really, how could that NOT be a highlight?  Ok so actually it is called the river of a thousand lingas, which is the male phallic symbol.   After running our race in the morning, Beth, Jen and I trekked up the jungle mountain in the afternoon to see the ancient Hindu carvings.   Don’t even bother – we’ve already made all possible jokes related to this adventure.

3.  Climbing the temples to see the sunset. And in the evening, we put our quads to the test and climbed up Preh Rup to see the sunset.  See pictures below:

4.  Market Massage. After a grueling day, we went into town for some dinner and a little shopping at the night market, where Jen convinced us all to have our feet massaged for $3.  Heaven!  Nobody was enticed, however, by the “fish pedicure” tank, where not-so-tiny fish bite the dead skin off your feet.  I’m skeptical.

5.  More Temples. We spent our last day “temple hopping” Tomb-Raider-Style and soaking up bas-reliefs, incredible architecture, and breathtaking scenery.  I feel like we only skimmed the surface of this amazing place, and I would go back in a heart beat!

I’ve spent the past week in Cambodia with Jen and Beth, and it was incredible!  Rather than write a novel about my experiences (and believe me, I could), I thought I’d give you some highlights in two parts: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap.  You can see all of the Phnom Penh pictures here, and in the meantime, enjoy a handful of stories:

1.  Taking a tuk-tuk to see a shadow puppet performance. A tuk-tuk is basically an open-air carriage pulled by a motorcycle.  Traffic organization in Phnom Penh is ridiculous – there isn’t any.  The highlight of this particular ride was that our driver had no idea how to get to the place we wanted to go.  We pulled over and asked strangers how to get to ‘Savana Phum,’ used cigarette lighters to look at maps, and went up and down the same street with the same stenchy stream of sewage 4 or 5 times.  Finally, exasperated, I told the driver one last time in my awesome Asian accent that we wanted to go to ‘Savana Phum’ and miraculously he understood – it was like he had a revelation.  “Ahhhhh! Savana Phum!  Why you not saaaay?!  I know Savana Phum!”  Fortunately we arrived at our destination, and in time to catch the last half of the performance.

2. Eating Tarantulas. How to upstage a chicken foot?  A tarantula, of course!  After stumbling across the local insect/vermin/reptile street vender (see below) and reading in my guide-book about how Cambodians eat tarantulas like potato chips, I obviously had to partake in this pastime (though I opted to do it at a respectable restaurant).  I must say, the legs taste remarkably like French fries, but the body is more like a dry, chewy chicken nugget.  I’m putting this delicacy with chicken feet on the list of things I will never eat again.

3. Visiting the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. It’s tempting to forget that you’re visiting a country that was devastated by war and genocide only 2 decades ago.  To learn a little bit more about the history of the Pol Pot regime, we took a somber trip outside the capital to visit the site of the mass graves where the Khmer Rouge senselessly killed millions of Cambodians.  Each of the holes you see in the picture below was once a mass grave.  As you walk along the pathways between the ditches and see the trees where soldiers smashed the heads of children and babies and used palm tree pieces to decapitate the country’s intellectuals, what you think are stones and garbage are actually bones and the remains of clothing.  Very sobering, indeed.

4. Mekong River ‘Cruise’. For $5 we got to take a ferry on a short little turn on the waters where the Tonle Sap River meets the Mekong River.  What was most exciting about this trip, however, was the Cambodian pop music blasting from the boat.  Imagine someone belting out Akon, Justin Timberlake, and Rhianna in Khmer.  Are you imagining it?  It’s worse.

5. The Forest of Thieves. On our way out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, we stopped outside the town of Kampong Thom to visit Sambar Prei Kuk, the site some of the oldest temples in Cambodia.  You can see my picture album here.  As we’re walking around the forest with our guide, who spent the majority of our two-hour tour giving us a pitch on why we should give her $300, dozens of kids swarmed around us trying to sell scarves.

“Laaadyyyyyyyyyy! You want scarf, laaadyyyyyyyyyy?”

After a couple hours Jen leans into me and whispers: “You didn’t happen to bring a long, white sock, did you?”

Me: “No, why? Wait, is this a dirty joke?”

Jen: “How about a shower cap?”

Me: “I don’t think so…”

Jen: “Great.  Look over there.”

I turn around and the kids are each sporting items that obviously came from some poor tourist’s suitcase.  Socks, shower caps, shopping bags, dollar bills – Jen, Beth and I were crossing our fingers that none of us were that ‘poor tourist’, and after a brief yet traumatizing experience with a squat toilet, we hurried back to our car and gratefully made our way to Siem Reap with all belongings in tow.

Stories from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat coming soon…

December 2009