October 31, 2010

Halloween Singapore Style

Halloween is the first day we've spent here that held any sort of tradition for us back home. The boys spent every year we lived in our Houston home trick or treating with the same group of neighborhood friends. They went from sweet and adorable firemen and power rangers to not so sweet ninja warriors and creepy people in the six years we were there.

As Halloween approached here in Singapore, it became obvious that costumes went at a premium and enormous bags of candy were extremely difficult to find. Halloween is not a holiday that most Chinese recognize so there's not an abundance of decor and costumes to be found. People were having grandparents ship in costumes or husbands traveling to the states make Party City runs to stock up.

I was extremely thankful for a neighbor that has lived here many years and her knowledge of a costume store nearby where I could attempt to pull something together for the boys. My rule has always been that I don't mind them dressing up and having fun, but they are not allowed to be anything demonic or scary. Garrett finally settled on being a jazz musician.

Nathan went as a hip hop/rap something or another. Honestly, he found a couple blingy necklaces and just made it work for him.....he was waaaayyyyyy too comfortable in his costume.

The school has Halloween parties for the classes and they went all out. Teachers were dressed up, there were costume parades, games, food galore....it was a lot of fun. Many parents even dressed up which is great, but I'm not sure dressing in a full-on catsuit with 4 inch heels, tail, and cat ears is very appropriate for an elementary school party. Meow, meow was in a 1st grade classroom........just in case anyone for a second thought I was talking about myself. Because me dressed in a catsuit with 4 inch heels would have broken my own rules about costumes not being scary. Just sayin'.......

This is Nathan's class and his teacher is the mime in the back. I had the privilege of being in charge of collecting material for the Halloween Mad Lib for the class and reading the final story to them. Let's just say it was very 4th grade appropriate which means it wasn't very appropriate at all, but they loved it.

Saturday night was the party at our condo. I was interested to see what riding an elevator from floor to floor to trick or treat was going to be like. If you were participating, you unlocked the elevator to stop on your floor. Our building has 3 different elevators and 25 floors......let's just say it took some time to get it all done. My friend Tiffany, and her girls, came over to hang out with us. Her husband is currently back in the states eating Mexican food every night....we kinda hate him right now.

Cramming on the elevator after stopping at our floor.......so glad I wasn't the designated parent holding the door open!!

Garrett came up to me at one point and with the saddest look on his face he told me that it just didn't feel the same. This was not what Halloween was supposed to be like. I quickly informed him that we would be trick or treating in a real neighborhood Halloween night and it would feel just like home.

Boy, was I wrong.

Our school is located at the very northern part of the country. You can see Malaysia from there. That part of Singapore is called the Woodlands. It is a good 20-30 minutes from town and has a good size neighborhood next to the school that is heavily ex-pat populated. We looked at a house there and in some ways, it felt just like being in America. Kids riding their bikes, neighbors out socializing and located just blocks away from the school. The houses are all pretty large and cost the same if not less than many apartments in town. We were extremely tempted to live there, but decided that if we had a chance to try out the urban lifestyle, than we ought to take advantage of it while we could.

I had been hearing about Halloween in the Woodlands and how crazy it was, but I'm not sure that I fully comprehended it. It is the ONLY option for neighborhood trick or treating in Singapore that I know of and there aren't any fall festivals or other activities to take the place of trick or treating. My guess is that almost every ex-pat in Singapore, and many locals, were there tonight. It was incredible.

I have a good friend that lives in the Woodlands and she invited me, Tiffany, and Lisa and our kids to come up for dinner before the madness began. Tiffany normally dresses up every single year and her girls were very sad that she didn't this year so she painted on a cat face and looked adorable. Nathan informed me that I looked like a farmer's wife in my denim shirt. Unlike Tiffany, I wasn't trying to be dressed up.....Nathan got 3 boxes of Nerds taken away from him for that comment.

The official start time for trick or treating was 6:00. Seems a little rigid to you? Just wait......

The kids all ready to go.

Nathan's best bud, Matt, showed up at the house right away so off they went.

Garrett found a friends very quickly and went off with them. I got to hang out with all the girls. It started off pretty tame, but within about 30 minutes, it looked like this which is exactly why they don't start until 6 or you'd have people camping out in front of the homes at 4 in the afternoon!

This picture does not even do it justice. There were people EVERYWHERE. Up and down every street, crowding the gates leading to the houses. We assisted 2 lost children in finding their parents along the way.....it was nuts!! I have never seen anything like it. The fun part was running into people you knew from school, church, our apt building. From what I've heard, there's apparently over 2,000 people that go through that neighborhood every Halloween.

The award for best group costume easily went to the jellyfish group. They even had a bubble machine with them to make it seem real. Loved it!

I had been commenting to the girls about the fact that the most common candy I steal from the Halloween buckets are anything Reeses related and how I had seen none since living here. I had no sooner said that than the girls hit Reeses jackpot at a house. It must have been a home with someone that had recently been in the states. Tiffany's daughter, Caroline, does not like peanut butter so she offered up her Reeses to me. I almost wept out of sheer excitement. I ate it right there on the spot and loved every bite of it.

Lisa scored one too.

We were happy, happy girls. Hot, sweaty, and overwhelmed....but very happy!

An hour and a half later and it was time for the bidding wars to begin. The most crucial part of the evening was when trading opened up at the dining room table and pixie sticks were being exchanged for Snickers and Twizzlers exchanged for Laffy Taffy. It was heated at times and definitely fueled by a killer sugar high, but everyone walked away from the table friends.

For a holiday that has never really been my favorite, I have enjoyed the parties and even the craziness of tonight. It felt like a community and community feels like home.

I better start stocking up on Laffy Taffy for next year!!

October 26, 2010

Here, There, and Everywhere

I am not even sure how to put into words what the last 6 weeks have been like. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling - 2 trips for Scot's job and a trip to Thailand for Fall Break.

Yes, we get Fall Break here.....which is funny because there is absolutely nothing Fall-like about Singapore right now. No pumpkin patches, no decorations anywhere, and weather that continues to be hot and humid every single day. I have seen a few pumpkins here and there at grocery stores with price tags that make your innards turn into pumpkin pie filling. We did splurge on two pumpkins at a cost that made Scot's eyes bug out of his head, but I have been mourning my decision to not bring any of my Fall decorations with me to Singapore so he gave in. But it hurt him. A lot. And he may have peaked into the pumpkin to see if it was filled with gold, but don't tell him I told you that.

These last six weeks have also rocked me to the core. I have asked God many times if He remembers that I am here in Singapore. That maybe I fell off His radar and He forgot where I was.

He quickly asks me the same question.

Do you know that I am here?

Garrett has been struggling since we moved here, but the extent to which he has been struggling was not known to us until 2-3 weeks ago. I was naive in thinking that because he wasn't crying into his pillow every night, he had adjusted to the move. Boy was I wrong. His struggles with adjusting just looked different than I thought they would. We have been working hard with him and I am just so thankful that Scot has been home. When Scot isn't busy hanging the moon, he has been spending loads of time with Garrett......nothing makes Garrett happier. There is absolutely nothing worse in the world than watching your child struggle and not being able to fix it for him.

I am here.

It seemed that I was going to lose my Grandmother this past weekend and realizing that I couldn't get to her, or my family, was so infuriating and frustrating that I didn't know whether to throw something, pull the covers over my head, or just start screaming. It fully hit me how far away we really are. I was devastated.

Keri, I am here.

I have felt so incredibly insecure about the dumbest things and as irritating as it is, I still give in to it. It's the struggle between starting a new life and hanging onto the old one. It's being "de-friended" by someone that wasn't even really a friend and having it rock my world much more than it should. It's meeting new friends and walking away kicking myself for saying something stupid. It's watching my old life go on without me. It's trying to stay connected but knowing I'm not doing a good job.

Helllloooo, I am here.

I honestly don't know how God can tolerate me sometimes. He is here with me. Has never left me. He offers me security and guidance, just like He's done for years. Yet it's still so easy for my world to be rocked.

Life is hard. He knows it's hard. That is why He sent His Son. So we would know what love really means.

I just wish I spent more time focused on Him than I do focused on myself and the things around me that I have no control over. I can't help but think that He probably wishes the same. It just has to be so much easier for Him to do His job when I'm not trying to do it for Him.

My job is to draw closer to Him every day. To make my relationship with Him a priority. To make sure that I live a life that makes Him proud. To be somewhat graceful when I go through times that are difficult. To actually learn a thing or two and appreciate the end result of a refining fire.

He is here.

We are here together, and I really love knowing that.

To prove that I don't take myself too seriously, I am posting a picture that so perfectly depicts how differently Nathan and I can approach some situations. This would be after Nathan actually kissed the top of this snake's head. That boy has no fear.

October 06, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm......Part 2

It is amazing to me how quickly that which is odd can become normal. I recently read my first "Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm" post and while I still think it's weird that people carry drinks around in plastic bags, it doesn't jump out at me as much as it once did. For the record, I still have not tried a "squatty potty", but I know there will come a time in my very near future when I won't have an option. I have heard so many horror stories that I'm not looking forward to my first attempt at squatting and aiming!

Without further ado, I give you more interesting or strange observations from life here in Singapore!

1. This country is obsessed with acronyms. The freeways here are the PIE (Pan Island Expressway), ECP (East Coast Parkway), and BTE (Bukit Timah Expressway) just to name a few. The boys go to SAS (Singapore American School), play sports with SACAC (Singapore American Community Action Council), do after school activities with EASA (Elementary After School Activities), and take the bus home to the AC (American Club). I have joined the AWA (American Women's Assoc) which meant an instant membership to AAS (American Assoc of Singapore) and love the time I spend at IBC (International Baptist Church) with the WEM (Women's Enrichment Ministries). There are no fewer than 4 banks here that have gone the acronym route. There's POSB, UOB, OCBC, and DBS. We bank at Citibank, which we have shortened to.....well, The Bank. It's enough to make you want to LOL!!

2. Chilis is the only place we've been to so far that believes in free refills on your drinks. This may go hand in hand with why everyone around here is so small. That and the lack of Whataburger.

3. There's no tipping in Singapore. Typically there's a service charge of approx 10% added to your bill at a restaurant but no additional tipping. If you are feeling generous, you can round up your taxi fare to the nearest dollar as a tip and make a driver's day.

4. I do not think it's my own closed mindedness that keeps me from eating some of the strange stuff we've seen here. Some of it is just not normal.

These would be veggies stuffed with Fish Paste. I'm not sure how it turns out so shiny, but that's not the biggest turnoff for me. I just don't think I can eat anything that is a paste of something that was once alive.

5. Apparently, if you have a loved one that has passed on but is really needing a new pair of shoes in their afterlife....or a pack of cigarettes, you can go to a store to buy these items made out of paper. You set them on fire to send them into the universe, and before you know it, Grandma's got a new pair of Adidas. This store was filled with "designer" purses, liquor bottles, jewelry, and shoes.

I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

Notice the razor in the package at the bottom right? Guess you could share it with Moses on a slow day in heaven. A little makeover fun!

6. If you happened to be watching The Amazing Race when they were in Singapore, you will remember the challenge where they had to sell ice cream sandwiches from an ice cream cart. The boys were so excited to try the ice cream sandwiches because they are literally a slice of ice cream put into a slice of bread. And not that stone ground whole wheat kind of bread.....this bread has pink and green swirls in it!

The best part? They cost $1. In Singapore terms, that's practically giving them away!

7. The Mid-Autumn Festival just ended. It is a celebration of the moon and everywhere you go you see a delicacy called mooncakes. Typical mooncakes are made with lotus seed paste in the middle (which I am pretty sure will make you fail a drug test) with 2 egg yolks from salted duck eggs baked in to represent the moon. They are dense and not the yummiest thing I have ever tasted. They are round and imprinted on the top are a description of what's inside the mooncake along with the name of the bakery. Apparently, back in the day, they were used to distribute messages used to coordinate the Han Chinese revolt. I am convinced they could have actually thrown the mooncakes at people and done some serious bodily harm.

8. It is extremely popular to go eat at Hawker Stalls. It is essentially a large area with many different booths serving all kinds of food. It is very popular because you can eat very cheaply at the hawker stalls. If you have any desire to step out of your comfort zone in the food dept, this is the place to do it. You won't lose a lot of money in the process. In a move that is sheer brilliance by the government, the stalls are given a grade. This grade hangs front and center in the hawker stall to let you know where their standards lie in cleanliness of the workspace and food. Every time I come across a stall with a big 'ol "C" hanging there, I have a hard time making eye contact with the owner. What shame!

I am 100% an "A" kind of girl. Won't be taking any chances at any "B" stalls!

9. Let's address caning for a minute. I get asked frequently about caning.......a system made popular by Micheal Fay, the American teenager (18 yrs old) that spray painted and vandalized a bunch of cars and didn't want to suffer the consequences and so mommy and daddy came to his rescue. Parenting at its best!

I digress.

Recently we had dinner with a family that are native Singaporeans. At this dinner was a boy that is serving his time with the Singaporean military which is required of all boys after graduating from high school. I asked him for details on exactly what caning meant. It is used for offenses that deserve severe consequences, i.e. robbery, rape or destroying property. It is used with men under the age of 50 and is done with a cane that is about 4 feet long and half an inch thick. It is often soaked in water to make it more flexible. You are caned on your naked hiney with a doctor present in case you lose consciousness. The person doing the caning is required to put their full force behind it, so there's typically more than one caner present for when one gets too exhausted. I guarantee this is a bigger deterrent to crime than 3 square meals a day and outdoor playtime. Every person convicted of a crime here gets their name in the paper along with what they did and what their punishment was. They don't mess around with this stuff!

10. Yes, English is the primary language spoken here. With that being said, it is more accurately defined as Singlish because it's English with a Singapore twist. The most common characteristic is the tendency to add "lah" at the end of phrases and sentences. Throw in a good Chinese accent and suddenly you get lots of practice asking for things to be repeated or just nodding like you understand what's being said. There is no telling the things I have agreed to or questions I have answered inappropriately because of a good dose of Singlish.

I must admit that this country is growing on me. There are days that I ache for the familiarity of home, but we are exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to be here.

That being said, we are getting close enough to Christmas at this point, that I can almost smell Chuys from here!!

October 01, 2010

The Good Wife

I am sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Venice, Italy. I have zero makeup on, wet hair up in a bun, and am wearing sweats. In an hour and a half I have to front and center for our final black tie affair of this convention.

I will bring out all my very best manners while I try to carry on intelligent conversation with people I may or may not have already met this past week.

I will try to remember whether I bow, kiss a cheek, kiss both cheeks, or just shake a hand.

I will draw on my often limited knowledge of world politics, art, and culture and try to be witty and engaged during what seems like my 1,372nd conversation in the last 5 days.

I will know which of the 5 forks to use and politely try every culinary item presented to me while discreetly checking for food stuck in my teeth.

I will sit up straight and divide my attention equally between the people sitting on either side of me.

I will listen carefully to those who speak a different language - trying my best to communicate - waving away apologies for broken English.

I will share about our current living situation without complaint, providing answers for the many questions regarding life in Singapore.

I will glance lovingly at my husband and lay a hand on his shoulder as a sign of solidarity.

I will pay compliments to ladies and tell men how handsome they look.

I will sample my dessert, but avoid the temptation to devour it all.

I will dance with my husband.

I will be a Good Wife.

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