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Western New Year? One day.  Jewish New Year?  Two days.  Vietnamese New Year? Three days.  Chinese New Year?  FIFTEEN DAYS.  You might ask: What’s the big deal?  I might tell you: The big deal is that I have a little issue, and I’ve just realized that it’s now a 15 day issue:

I’m addicted to Chinese New Year cookies.   Seriously.  I. need. help.

They’re absolutely everywhere and I can’t escape them!  There is a cookie bakery at the corner of my MRT stop, so every day I’m starting my morning by smelling the buttery goodness (probably more like “ghee-y” goodness).  Even in the office there are dozens of cookie jars, strategically located about 10 meters away from my computer, so I’m forced to stare at them any time I go to the printer.  If I go to a meeting, the secretary will put out bottles of water and…you guessed it…CNY cookies.  People give me cookies as gifts.  One day I tried to swear off all Chinese New Year cookies and then (a mere 2 hours after my vow) an 80-year-old woman insisted I taste one of her home-baked pineapple tart cookies.  Just try saying no to a Chinese auntie!

Consider this my admission of a problem.  Is there a second step?

[photo credit: James Carrier & Simply Anne’s]

I spent the afternoon being touristy and snapping pictures at the Botanic Gardens with Mira.  Who knew there were so many different types of orchids?

We also managed to find a really good cup of coffee – quite a treasure around these parts!  For all my SG pals who’ve been complaining about the cafe situation: visit Villa Halia.  A bit pricey (SGD $6) but well worth the indulgence!

There is a puzzlingly high number of instructional signs around the city showing just how to wash your hands, but my favorites are right outside the hospital:

Like the backpacker webpage above, I too was going to make a snarky comment.  Something to the effect of “Only in Singapore.” But while I was sitting here typing this blog and laughing to myself, I stumbled across this gem from the CDC.  It turns out my own government has a “Clean Hands Save Lives” campaign.  With instructional hand washing.  And goofy signs.  Damnit.

That’s right – Chinese New Year begins on the 14th.  So what does the coming of the year of the Tiger mean for me?  Two days of vacation and an excellent excuse to lounge at the pool.  I looked into the possibility of taking a trip, but it turns out a lot of other people had the same idea and ticket prices were exorbitantly expensive.   I’ve been told that, starting on Saturday night, the country will effectively shut down until the following Wednesday.  That means no grocery stores, no restaurants, no museums, no excursions, no shopping, and a great excuse to veg for a few days!  A solar new year AND a lunar new year?   Do I get to make new resolutions?

In anycase there’s much to be grateful for and excited about, including (but by no means limited to):

  • an upcoming trip to Hong Kong to see Kellie & sisters
  • successful abstract AND manuscript submissions
  • a new watch that I’m in LOVE with
  • the possibility (fingers crossed) of Chloe & Lissi coming to visit
  • NEPAL in April
  • “official” marathon training begins next week
  • and approval to work from the States for a couple weeks in August and be with my family!!!

Happiness. Anyone else have a new year coming up?  I’m quite at my leisure!*

*yes, I’ve been watching P&P.  A lot…

I’ve just finished reading Paul Theroux’s travel narrative, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.  Phenomenal.  He’s one of those authors who is able to put words to things you already knew, but never knew how to articulate.

The most interesting part of the book (for me) was his visit to Singapore, particularly because I enjoyed reading such a negative piece on the country.  Not because I dislike Singapore, mind you.  It’s just nice to feel like you’re getting balanced opinions, and most of what’s available in the local press is approbative criticism. 

To give you some context:  Theroux taught English at the University of Singapore from 1968 until he was fired in 1971 (or technically speaking, his contract wasn’t renewed).

You can really feel his bitterness when you read his portrayal of Singaporean men:

Little tinky-winky Singapore was unrecognizable, the most transformed of any city I had ever known in my life, a place twisted into something entirely new; and the people, too, like hothouse flowers that are forced to grow in artificial light, producing strange blooms and even stranger fruit.  But I was disarmed by the feline good looks of Singapore women, soft, pale, kittenish girls with skinny arms and fragile bones; vulpine women, fox-faced and canny, quick-eyed, tense with frustrated intelligence.  In great contrast, the toothy men hurried clumsily after them, down futuristic streets, giggling into mobile phones, pigeon-toed in their haste.

I was actually quite surprised this book isn’t banned in Singapore because Theroux really lets rip on the government:

No one was fat.  No one was poor. No one was badly dressed.  But many Singaporeans had (so it seemed to me) the half-devil, half-child look of having been infantilized and overprotected by their unstoppably manipulative government.


Singaporean’s personalities reflect that of the only leader most of them have ever known, and as a result are notably abrasive, abrupt, thin-skinned, unsmiling, rude, puritanical, bossy, selfish and unspiritual.  Because they can’t criticize the government, they criticize each other or pick on foreigners .

Ouch.  Talk about lexical evisceration.  I must say, I haven’t had a similar experience with the locals.  Barring a couple crazy taxi drivers, everyone I have met has been really kind and friendly and helpful.

In any case, I did learn something very useful:

It was a place without solitude.  Cameras everywhere, snitches too.  You can be arrested and fined for being naked in your own house, if someone gets a glimpse of you through a window and reports you.  This is an inconvenient law, because being a place with no privacy, Singapore is also a place of great loneliness and fear, the apprehension of people who know they are forever being watched.  Singaporeans are encouraged to spy on each other; rats are rewarded.

Whoops.  I’ll have to remember to close the curtains tonight!

[Image Credit: Thanks, Tamar!]

In the ongoing series, Conversations with Singaporeans, I relay some of my more entertaining exchanges with the locals.

Wednesday morning, late for work.  I hop in a cab and am cheerfully greeted by Sam, the taxi driver.  I swear I don’t make this stuff up.

Uncle Cab Driver: Goo moning!  Where we going?

Me: SGH block 7 please.

UCD: Ok can!  How long you living here?  You like Singapore?  Where you from?

Me: America.

UCD: Ahhh Americaa.  You boyfriend living here?

Me: No. No boyfriend.

UCD: Ahhh Americaa.  You boyfriend living in America?

Me: No. No boyfriend.  Single.

UCD: Animated. No boyfriend?  You so preteey lah!  You not have boyfriend you working too hard lah.  I sink you need find Ay-si-yan boyfriend.

Me: Incredibly amused. Oh yeah?  Asian boyfriend?  From where?

UCDThoughtful. You know Japan?

Me:  I need a Japanese boyfriend?

UCD:  Tsk. No lah!  Japanese too manpower.  They controlly the girl.

Me:  Ok no Japanese.  What about Indian?


MeTaken aback. Oh, ok…no Indian?

UCD:  Oh I not know Indian.  Deep in thought. Better you marry Chinese. Chinese okay. You parents very young?

Me:  My parents are in their [insert my parent’s age here].

UCD:  Yes very young.  You make childrens here bring back to Americaa to your parents.  First find boyfriend. You working hard make moneey?

Me: Working very hard.  First make money, then find boyfriend.

UCDAghast. Ohhh nooo lah!!  You so preteey you not need moneey. Swinging hands. You know tiger?

Me: Confused.  Where is this going? Tiger?  Like year of the tiger?

UCD: Still swinging hands. Yes! Also crazy this Tiger he do golf.  I not understand.  Boy also like.  Girl also like.  Everybody like Tiger.  He have money get crazy.  Boy also like. Girl also like. Tsk tsk tsk.

Me: Pondering this . Hmm. Oh! Turn right here please.

UCD:  What about your countrymen?  You like?

Me:  Americans?  Yes I like.

UCD: Laughing. Ohh not so good lah.  American mens not very generous.  Not taking care of you.  Singaporean better.  Tomorrow you call taxi I pick you up we get married!

Later in the morning I told G about my taxi ride with Sam and she burst into giggles.  Her mocking response?  “Why you not say yes, lah? Everyday you have chauffeur!  …Wait. He good looking?”

What better way to escape the hustle and bustle of Singapore but to lounge on a beach of white powdery sand and clear turquoise water whilst reading a good book and sipping fresh fruit juice with lovely girlfriends?

Apart from the monkey that tried to steal my book, everything was absolutely perfect: sunny skies, coconut milk, plush sheets and luxurious bathrooms, fresh mangos and two super fun frenchies!.  So nice to spend an entire weekend doing NOTHING.

Ahh, c’est ca la vie!

February 2010