Sidebar: A Change of Plans

The only constant at ExxonMobil is change, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that we were moving back to Houston instead of to The Netherlands. That’s not to say that I wasn’t disappointed. I was. Incredibly so. You wouldn’t believe all of the weekend getaways and elaborate sight-seeing trips I had planned in my head! All out the window with one quick email. I spent approximately 24 hours shuffling between the bedroom and the couch with a box of Kleenex feeling quite sorry for myself. And then I got over it.

So we wont get to live in The Netherlands and explore Europe for the next year, but we have seen a lot of Southeast Asia and I’m incredibly grateful for that. We have approximately one month left here in Singapore and hope to take at least one more trip before we leave: Beijing to see the Great Wall of China. Now that it has bit, I’m sure that the travel bug wont just disappear. We’ll continue to see the world, perhaps just a little bit more slowly than we had planned on.

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Days 178 – 201: There’s No Place Like Home

Singapore surely has Christmas Spirit. Orchard Road was strung with enough lights to make it to the moon and back, and its many malls were home to all variety of two-story Christmas trees and larger-than-life snow globes. Creative shopping centers embraced themed scenes such as ‘Care Bear Christmastime’ or ‘Angry Birds wish you a Happy Christmas’. Without that pesky Thanksgiving holiday to get in the way, radios and grocery stores began blasting Christmas music at the beginning of November. Restaurants, hotels, and apartment complexes imported real Douglas Firs from God-knows-where. The amount and extent of the Christmas decorations was something I’ve never seen the likes of in the United States.

Despite my adopted country’s best efforts to get me in the Christmas spirit, it was being home that really did the trick. There may not have been much snow, but there were heated games of Apples to Apples in front of the fireplace, incredible meals prepared by mom, evenings spent laughing over wine with family and friends, and enough love to warm the very depths of your being. There really is no place like home.

Day 171: Durian, the King of Fruits

Durian

Durian

Have you ever left sweaty clothes in your gym bag on accident and almost upchucked when you went to take them out weeks later? Or gone on a long vacation and come home to rotten onions in your cupboard? If you have, then you have a pretty good idea of what the durian, the so-called King of Fruits, smells like. Due to the offensive odor this King isn’t permitted on the MRT (Singapore’s subway system) and is banned from most hotels.

Michael and I with the Durian

Michael and I with the Durian

The fruit has a lousy reputation among Westerners but for some reason many local Singaporeans love it. Michael and I decided that we would try durian just once so we could make up our own minds about it. When a couple of local friends offered to take us out to try it we readily accepted. What better way to try the fruit than with experienced locals who have a taste for it? They knew exactly where to get it and what variety to try.

With Linn and Peng Fong as our gracious guides, we arrived at Durian Lingers (how appropriate!) in Katong to sample the fruit. After carefully choosing the finest specimen our friends demonstrated how to eat the fruit and watched in anticipation as we took our first bites.

My first bite

My first bite

Michael's first bite

Michael's first bite

The first thing I notice is the texture of the fruit. My fingers sink into the custard-like flesh and what initially felt soft and smooth quickly turns to mush from the warmth and pressure of my grip. The scent of the fruit hangs in the air but as I take my first bite I find that the fruit doesn’t taste as strongly as it smells. The durian’s flesh is both mushy and stringy at the same time and it sticks to the inside of my mouth and throat as I chew then swallow. I find it’s not as bad as I had imagined, so I take a few more bites and finish one section, then grab another.

The durian wasn’t terrible, but it definitely wasn’t good. Which makes me wonder- what’s the draw? It may have some vitamins but it’s full of carbs, calories, and fat. And it’s not cheap. In Singapore a large, high-quality fruit can set you back S$50 or more. I can only assume that there are vast differences in the taste perception between those who like it and those who don’t. If you eat it, you must somehow believe that it tastes good. Otherwise… Why? I’m glad I tried it, as it seems a sort of rite of passage of living in Southeast Asia. And now I’m quite glad to cross it off my list for good!

Days 163 &168: Learning to Cook Indian Food (and a Short Rant)

At first I balked at the idea of doing all of the cooking, laundry, and other domestic duties by myself. Women in America have had a long, hard battle for equality and I want to stay equal, dammit! After a couple weeks of being incredibly stubborn on the point, I began to relent. Michael’s assignment brought us to Singapore and he’s the one working 60+ hours a week. And me? I do yoga three times a week… I also have a very full schedule of lunches and coffee dates with other expat wives. But somehow these activities don’t take up nearly 60 hours per week. As much as I didn’t want it to, it just made sense for me to take care of the household.

The fact that I’ve always loved to cook must have been forgotten in my temporary inequality rage. Since arriving in Singapore I’ve really enjoyed planning our weekly meals and venturing out to various local supermarkets and wet markets. Recently, I’ve taken a few Indian cooking classes to expand my recipe collection. The first was at the local community center where I had taken other classes in the past. I liked the instructor so much that I took two more classes, both held at her home. Michael was thrilled when I put my lessons to use and made him a dinner of pelak paneer (spinach curry with homemade cheese), saffron rice, roti prata (pan fried dough similar in taste to naan), and chicken masala.

Homemade Indian Food!

Homemade Indian Food!

I feel like I’m really starting to earn that “Homemaker” check mark that I fill out on the customs form under “Occupation” each time I travel. Even if the feminist in me secretly hopes that the customs agents think that I actually MAKE homes instead of cook, clean, and walk the dog. Because we women are equal, dammit! And I could totally make homes, if that was what I wanted to do.

Note: Never once has my husband said “I bring home the bacon, you better make me dinner!” or anything along those lines. This has been an entirely internal struggle for me. And while I do the majority of the household chores, he definitely helps when he can. He’s a pretty great husband!

Day 157: Thanksgiving in Singapore

Thanksgiving in Singapore

Thanksgiving in Singapore

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays back home. A four-day weekend spent with family and friends watching football and eating great food. What’s not to love? Naturally we would want to try and recreate the holiday here in Singapore, although the circumstances aren’t quite ideal.

The first (and worst) difference is that since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, there’s no four-day weekend. Not a big deal for me since I currently have unlimited vacation, but a huge bummer for Michael. The next difference is that due to the 13-hour time difference from EST, football games are generally played while we’re fast asleep. Again, not a huge deal to me (I love Michigan football, but I don’t care too much about watching other teams) but a big bummer for Michael.  Finally, ingredients for the Thanksgiving meal that are readily available in the US have to be purchased at the Expat (read: expensive) grocery store at a ridiculous mark-up. French’s Fried Onions for S$9? Give me a break!

Despite the obstacles, my friend Hannah and I attempted to recreate the holiday feeling here in Singapore. She took on most of the cooking, having been fortunate enough to find an apartment with a normal sized oven. I cooked a couple of the sides in my mini microwave/convection oven and brought them over to her place.

The meal was an astounding success! We had all of the required foods: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, and pumpkin pie. And it was delicious. Hannah did a great job with her first solo turkey and Jon turned out to be an excellent bird carver. Michael and I enjoyed the traditional meal with our new friends, followed by an evening of Tiger Beer, Wine, Chinese Rice Wine and board games. All in all, a great Thanksgiving in Singapore!

Day 148: Ladies Brunch at the Raffles Hotel

The Raffles Hotel

The Raffles Hotel

I’m thankful to have a friend here in Singapore that will do all manner of girly things with me that my husband wouldn’t be caught dead doing. One of said girly things was to attend brunch at the Raffles Hotel. The Raffles Hotel is a beautiful colonial-style hotel that opened in the late 1800’s and was named for Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. The hotel was originally seaside, but after years of land reclamation the hotel is now situated nearly 500 meters from the sea.

In the early 1900’s Raffles was a favorite of locals and travelers alike, who would gather to eat, drink, and dance in the hotel’s ballroom, restaurant, and bars. Despite its popularity, the hotel didn’t fare too well during the Great Depression and was closed. Toward the end of World War II, the hotel was used as a temporary camp for prisoners of war who were being released. In the late 1980’s the Raffles Hotel was declared a national monument and underwent a two-year restoration project, returning the hotel to it former grandeur.

The hotel’s major claim to fame is the invention of the Singapore Sling in the storied Long Bar. Raffles also claims to have been an inspiration to many literary talents, touting as guests Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, and Ernest Hemingway. Today, it’s a popular spot for their famed brunch and beverage, attracting businessmen from the nearby Central Business District and tourists from all over the world.

Hannah and I were seated for brunch and decided to pass on the S$30 Mimosas, although they did sound tempting. The brunch spread was impressive: curries, pastas, fish, oysters and shrimp on ice, carved meats, and an amazingly stocked salad bar. The dessert bar was even more impressive: miniature crème brulee, tiramisu, bread pudding, chocolate mouse, and small dishes filled with local fruits turned into beautiful, sweet, concoctions.

Hannah and I at Brunch

Hannah and I at Brunch

Raffles Brunch

Raffles Brunch

After brunch, Hannah and I went upstairs to the Long Bar so she could have a Singapore Sling. I’d already tried it, so I opted for a Summer Sling instead. The Long Bar was much more casual than the dining room for brunch. Rattan fans waved from the ceiling and each table was stocked with a box full of peanuts in their shell, and cracked shells were strewn about the floor. We felt like tourists sipping on our fruity drinks, watching slightly sunburnt Caucasians saunter in with cameras slung around their necks. But unlike the tourists, Hannah and I had both forgotten our cameras. Thankfully we were able to document the outing with our iPhones!

The Long Bar

The Long Bar

Hannah and I enjoying early afternoon beverages

Hannah and I enjoying early afternoon beverages

The rest of my iPhone photos are here.

Days 136 – 144: Stateside for a Quick Minute

Having promised long before our move that he would be a groomsman in the wedding of one of his good high school friends, Michael needed to return to Houston the first week of November for the wedding festivities. And me? I didn’t need to be there per se… but I wanted to go! I love weddings and I love the United States. So, we hopped on a plane for 23 hours and ended up in Houston. It was already evening by the time we arrived and it took all the energy we could muster to stay awake and visit with my mother-in-law, who had so thoughtfully picked up Tex Mex (our favorite!) for dinner.

The Rossow's with their Ladybug

The Rossow's with their Ladybug

After a day of shopping in Houston (yay for American prices!) with Michael and his mom, I packed a smaller bag for my morning flight to Michigan to visit my family and friends. It was Halloween day and my good friend Molly picked me up from the airport with her 5 month-old daughter all dressed up as a ladybug. So. Freaking. Adorable!! I spent two days in the Detroit area visiting good friends, drinking fresh pressed apple cider, and hanging out with the sweetest little 5 month-old baby. Next, I went to the other side of the state and got to spend 2 more days in the great state of Michigan hanging out with my mom and dad. While at my parents’ house, I got a bonus visit from my Aunt, Grandma, and cousins! It was so wonderful to be back in Michigan and visit with so many of my favorite people. I’m looking forward to the Christmas holiday – I’ll get a whole three weeks there and will get to visit with everyone I missed on this short trip.

Momma and Cassie

Momma and Cassie

Daddy (beardy), his new kitchen, and Cassie

Daddy (beardy), his new kitchen, and Cassie

My flight back to Houston was Thursday evening, and Michael picked me up from the airport and we went straight to visit the Leigh’s, our good friends who we hadn’t seen in over a year. Jen and Jared moved to Moscow and then to the Netherlands last year, and moved back to the US just months after we moved to Singapore. We kept missing them both in Houston and in Michigan (Jen is from the mitten state, too!) and we were so happy to finally catch up with them on our one free night in Houston.

Friday evening was the rehearsal dinner for Payton and Katherine’s wedding and we finally got to see all of Michael’s high school friends who were going to be a part of the wedding. After a quick practice at the church, we all headed to dinner at Rico’s – more Tex Mex! The wedding on Saturday was just beautiful. Katherine was a stunning bride and Payton looked so happy throughout the whole evening. We enjoyed the evening’s celebrations, albeit quite tamely since we needed to catch an early flight back to Singapore the following morning. It was a quick trip, but I’m so glad we went! Congratulations to Payton and Katherine – we’re so happy for you two!

Fall on Norwood Avenue

Fall on Norwood Avenue

More Photos!