Singaporean Observations

“Singaporeans love to queue!” exclaimed our Grab driver. His funny, self-aware, cultural joke was not wrong. For weeks now there has been a queue waiting for the Swatch store to open. I have no idea what they’re waiting for but it must be “exclusive.” Shopping is a sport here, seriously, and I’m sure the love for queueing partly comes from that. During our own shopping adventures I’ve noticed so many people with luggage. My first assumption was there must be a sale at the Tumi (high-end goods or bust). But then I realized it’s how the shoppers transport their goods from store to store. I mean, there could also be a sale at Tumi but I think it’s just the practical Singaporean way of shopping till you drop.

Speaking of high-end goods, the love for luxury is real. I was reading a post on Facebook recently in which the poster was asking for suggestions for gifts to bring from Singapore. Someone, jokingly, said to bring everyone a Chanel handbag. It’s true. And it it isn’t Chanel it’s Louis Vuitton. And if it isn’t Luis Vuitton it’s Gucci. I have a Gucci watch from when I worked in jewelry. It was part of a mega blow-out sale of items that were long past their “fashionableness” and I also got a discount. I probably put it on a credit card. That is how I came to own a very small piece of Gucci.

Another uniquely Singaporean trait is how quiet everyone is. I’m sure it’s not true for the entirety of the country and, once I did see some men fighting in the street (you wouldn’t believe the shenanigans I’ve seen at 6:30 in the morning) but on the whole it is so quiet here. We Americans are loud.

Singaporeans also walk at a snail’s pace though I’ve determined that is why they never look like they’re sweating buckets (like me). They walk at a leisurely pace so as to not break a sweat which is almost impossible but I rarely see a Singaporean looking as disheveled as I feel 1000% of the time. As soon as I can learn how to manage my time better I may stand a chance of not always looking like a drowned rat when I walk to appointments. Side note: Did not give myself time today. Showed up to yoga disgusting.

This next one I only came to understand because of another expat’s Instagram page (@alisoninasia). Because the weather never changes here (hot and humid) it would be silly to make small talk about it, such as we do in the States. Instead, Singaporeans make small talk about “taking meals.” The first time I was asked if I had eaten yet I wondered if I was about to asked on a date. I laughed and said, “Yes, I’ve had breakfast,” followed by awkward silence and then a hesitant, “Have you?” because it’s a weird question to be asked by a stranger and I didn’t know what to say. Now that I’m aware, I find it quite endearing though I’m still trying to figure out the best way to respond. Like, in response to “Have you taken breakfast?” do I give a full rundown like, “Yes, I had two eggs and some fruit and then I was still hungry so I had some toast but I accidentally burned it so I had to start all over and then I discovered that we were out of butter and jelly and so I had to eat it plain which was just the worst.” Or, should it just be a simple “Yes” or “No”? Is it rude not to ask the question back? I could use a little guidance on this one.

Finally, one last observation. Singaporeans are cautious. The indoor mask mandate has just recently been lifted and we are no longer required to wear them in most places with the exception of hospitals, public transportation, etc. I predict most will continue to wear them. When the outdoor mask mandate was lifted in April (we had to wear them outside unless exercising and yes, it was brutal) there still remained a very large majority of people who wore them when outside. Even still, after all of these months I would guesstimate it’s 50/50 those who wear masks outdoors and those who don’t. I am curious to see how long it takes the majority of Singaporeans to feel safe enough to not wear a mask indoors. Of course, it is quite convenient the indoor mask mandate was lifted considering they’re gearing-up (pun!) for the Formula 1 in September.

That’s all I have for now. I’m sure as time goes on there will be more observations. I am hopeful that without the requirement of wearing masks it will be easier to gauge how friendly Singaporeans are. Are they smile and wave to strangers people like we are from the southern States? So far, I say “no” to that but wearing masks makes any sort of interaction difficult. To be continued…

Singapore Hospital(s)

Years and years and years ago, I was traveling through Tijuana, Mexico with some friends, on our way to Rosarito and we passed by a hospital. At that moment, we all made a pact to not do anything that would ultimately lead to a stay in a Tijuana hospital. Because we were all very mature, young adults we made it back to the US unscathed though certainly not without some stories.

Anyway, this is all to say that there have been more than a few times I’ve been in a foreign country where a hospital visit would be less than ideal (though really, is a hospital visit ever ideal?). I am happy to report that Singapore is not one of those places. Also, I cannot believe that after a mere seven months of living overseas I stayed in a hospital for the very first time, with the exception of giving birth. The girls have had a few accidents that led to ER visits but were never actually admitted.

The story actually begins almost a week prior when we went to Malaysia. Soon after arriving our youngest started to complain of her back and side hurting. This is going to sound neglectful but we thought she was just being herself and trying to control our time. Up until this point she hadn’t complained of anything else though we had noticed her appetite had dwindled. Looking back, there were some big red flags but this is the kid who is notorious for digging in her heels so hard during family outings that we have frequently have to abort our plans.

After about five days of off and on complaining she fell ill with a fever. This was problematic for a few reasons, the biggest being we were supposed to board a bus back to Singapore. While the borders are open, traveling via public transport requires a health declaration which specifically asks if you or your dependents have a fever. All it would take is for one person to look at her and you would know that our kiddo had a fever. That said, she had COVID about three months ago and we were fairly certain it wasn’t COVID but a fever is a fever and we had no idea what was going on.

Once it was clear we could not travel home via public transportation we changed our plans and hired a private driver to bring us home (I had wanted to do this anyway so was kind of glad to be able to ride in luxury). Traveling via a private car does not necessitate a health declaration and you drive through the border checks rather than having to disembark.

Alright, so, to make a longish story short, we took a private car and made it home to Singapore at about 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon. Marcus and I walked to his office to pick-up a laptop and we moseyed our way home. I even insisted on a latte. Upon entering the apartment we were greeted with a child who had been sick to her stomach. I cleaned it up and put her on the couch and on a whim, took her temperature. It read 40 degrees Celsius, or, for those of us who only know the Imperial measuring system, 105.4 degrees Fahrenheit. I was stunned. I tried my best not to panic but immediately, I pulled together a few items and called a car to bring us to the hospital.

Marcus carried her downstairs and put her in the car and the driver immediately asked what was going on. I was worried he wouldn’t want to drive us knowing she was so sick (you know, ‘rona and all) but instead, he asked if he could pray for her. I told my dad later that he would have liked this guy as he prayed and we listened to his Christian rock station. I am not a person of faith but I appreciated that he must have recognized the look of a very worried momma and did what he felt best.

We arrived at the emergency room, called the A&E (Accident and Emergency and called such probably everywhere else in the world except the States), and were quickly triaged. As we waited, at one point, the little abruptly woke-up from her cat nap, delirious as hell, and with her eyes glazed over said “I feel fine now. I’m fine. Can we go?” Bless her little heart. The doctor soon arrived, quickly examined her, asked a few questions, and then went through the few procedures she wanted to run in order to be able to diagnose her properly. All the little one heard was “blood tests” and she was rooted to her seat. All I heard was “admitting you” and I knew we were in it for the long haul.

Luckily (not really), the little had a 105 degree temperature so she didn’t have much fight in her and we were able to coax her into a wheelchair and up to a room. They drew blood, took a urine sample, and inserted an IV in order to pump her with fluids. Again, looking back as the guilt flooded in, I understood why she had been guzzling water like never before; I should have realized just how high her fever was.

So, after being admitted, working through the guilt of having not recognized how sick my baby was, and waiting to hear from the doctor about the plan for care all we had to do was sleep, watch TV, and eat. The eating was, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, pretty incredible. It was a mix of Asian and Western which included local favorites such as nasi lemak and savory porridge along with pizza and hamburgers. Not to mention, the three, THREE lobster dishes you could choose from. I ended up with lobster thermidor one night because A. I didn’t believe we’d still be there and B. I could hear Marcus’s voice in my ear saying, “I know you don’t like lobster but, get the lobster!”

After five days of sleeping, watching TV, and eating, we were finally released (they wanted the little to be fever free for 48 hours). Up until that moment I felt like a caged animal, not wanting to leave my child’s side but desperately feeling the need to escape. Given that she was hooked-up to an IV the little couldn’t go far though we did go for a thrilling walk/run through the hospital on her way to the radiographer (nobody walks fast in Singapore with the exception of the orderlies in the hospital, I could barely keep up). All of the nurses and the attending doctor were as nice and helpful as they could be. Everyone was invested in getting our girl’s fever down and making sure she was hydrating.

The only thing left to do upon being discharged was, of course, paying the bill. In Singapore, health insurance is a combination of publicly funded healthcare and private sectors. All Singaporeans are required to pay into the government healthcare plan. For many reasons, the healthcare here is effective and the average life expectancy is longer than anywhere else in the world. As expats we do get to enjoy the efficiency of the healthcare. On average, we may wait for about 10 minutes to see a doctor. Even the dentist is pretty amazing. On a recent visit it was noticed that one of my fillings had fallen out. Instead of having me schedule an entirely separate appointment to get it fixed the dentist just took care of it then and there and then cleaned my teeth (by the way, the dentist does all of the work, not the hygienist).

Even though Singaporeans have a fairly robust health care system that doesn’t mean we, as expats, get to take advantage of that. Instead, we pay out of pocket and then file a claim. There are local health insurance providers for expats but we just stuck with what we had. Also, our experiences have been largely positive because we use our overseas healthcare therefore we almost exclusively go to private clinics. The hospital we were in was a private hospital as compared to a public and, since I have yet to be in a public hospital, I won’t even try and compare the two. I will say that paying a hospital stay out of pocket was a bit of a hard pill to swallow (ha! medical joke); it hit differently than it would have back home when we would receive a statement of benefits that explained just how much we didn’t have to pay.

Toilets in South East Asia

I’m just going to say it. Bidets are a big deal here. Toilet paper is hardly even a thing (outside of Singapore, Singapore has toilet paper). Therefore, learning to use a bidet has become necessary. I would emphasize starting to practice in the privacy of your own home rather than winging it for the first time while traveling.

We were recently in Malaysia and I was waiting for my girls to come out of the bathroom when I heard peals of laughter. “They’re probably spraying each other with the bidet hose,” I said to Marcus. I wasn’t too terribly far off as one child (I won’t name which one to save from any future embarrassment) waddled out of the bathroom, quite upset because she had tried to use the bidet hose but had not pulled her bottoms down far enough and now had sopping wet underwear and shorts. I had to walk away because I couldn’t let her see me crying with laughter.

Now, here’s a riddle for you: Not all bathrooms do not have toilet paper, but all bathroom stalls do not have toilet paper. Got it? Generally, if toilet paper is provided, it is in a dispenser on a wall near the stalls. It’s definitely in your best interest to travel with some sort of paper product in case it is not provided or, like me, you frequently forget to check if it was on a wall as you walked in. Or, if you’ve already done your practicing at home, use the bidet hose that is available 99% of the time.

The only drawback to the bidet is, of course, the amount of water that gets on the floor. And the toilet seat. And the walls. I mean, part of you thinks, “it’s only water.” Then the other part of you thinks “Dear Lord, it’s water with probably pee or poop mixed in and what the actual hell has been going on in here, did someone take a shower?!” This is also a good time to teach your children not to let their bottom half garments fall to the floor completely.

There are also squatty holes that you can use if you’re ultra brave which I am not but one of my girls was, in desperation. I was impressed. It also made me grateful for all of those early teaching moments when we would be out in the middle of the woods and they had to learn to go in the wild. God, they’re going to be so embarrassed when they read this one day. But you know what, ladies? Everybody poops and pees.

There you have it. My not-so-comprehensive list of using the bathrooms in South East Asia. If you have learned nothing else I hope you take away the need to travel with toilet paper. And maybe practice spraying yourself with a hose. You can thank me later.

Owning a Vehicle in Singapore

Have you ever wanted to experience the thrill of driving on your own for the very first time, again? Picture it, your best girlfriend in the seat next to you, TLC’s “No Scrubs” blasting through the speakers via a CD player that you have connected to the car by a cassette tape adapter (remember that fantastic work-around?), cruising around in a vehicle that honks when you make a turn. Those were the days…

Before moving to Singapore, I’m fairly certain my exact thoughts on owning a vehicle, let alone driving one, were: Don’t need one/don’t want one/have no intention of driving one. I’m a good driver but I know my limitations and driving in busy cities has always been an intimidation for me. Marcus is usually the one who does the driving through cities or unknown territories. Part of this is because he’s more confident. The other part is I tend to get overly irritated with the drivers around me and as a result my girls have a more “well-rounded” vocabulary.

We knew for a fact we could not bring our vehicles from the United States. Singapore has strict guidelines on the importation of cars: They must be no more than 7 years old and the steering wheel must be on the left. Neither of our cars ticked those boxes by a long-shot. There are also safety and emissions standards that imported vehicles must meet. So, for anyone looking into bringing a vehicle into Singapore there are no less than three different websites you should look at first: OneMotoring, Land Transport Authority, and Singapore Customs.

As with many things involving numbers and/or more than one step in the process, my brain shuts down and as such the various rules, initial costs, and recurring fees with owning a vehicle are about as clear as mud to me. From all that I gather it is expensive to own a car not just in the purchasing of one but also the maintenance, the taxes, the insurance, the fuel, the parking fees (city living), and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) (similar to the U.S. system of tolls) add-up quickly. I think being that Singapore is such a small country it benefits them to make it pricey to own a car. Plus, the mass transit system here is easy, extensive, inexpensive, and nice. It may take you an hour to get to your destination via mass transit but it’s totally doable.

Also, I was always under the assumption that cars cannot exceed a certain age in Singapore but the more I look into it the more I realize that is incorrect. There are stipulations to the age of a vehicle depending on its use however, if it is a private vehicle then there is not an age limit. What does expire is the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) which is something you must bid for, lasts for ten years, and can be renewed. This is probably how I got confused about the age of vehicles.

There is also a Vehicle Quote System (VQS) which manages the amount of new cars allowed to be registered in Singapore. This is tied into the bidding of the COE and, my eyes are crossing, I think what happens is you bid for a COE and only if the quota has not been exceeded for that month then you are able to procure a vehicle. It’s not at all confusing and probably a very effective way at keeping traffic to a minimum because people like me would have given up by now.

Finally, if you are an expat, you will have to eventually take the Singapore driver’s license test. Apparently, you can drive on your home country’s driver’s license for one year in Singapore but after that you will have to obtain a Singaporean driver’s license. For some reason I also felt like we were told if you wait for more than six months to purchase a vehicle upon arrival then it gets harder (probably for all of the abovementioned procedures)…but, I was half asleep when we first arrived and I’m not finding verification of that online.

This is all to say that shortly after our arrival in Singapore Marcus found the car of his dreams, one even older than what we left behind, a 2002 Toyota Previa. Picture this (and if you’ve ever seen our previous cars this won’t be hard to do): A sideview mirror so rusty the previous owners attached two secondary mirrors, a shaky start-up with an engine that may or may not stall at a red light which is always a fun game to play, an early 2000s body style (though we have recently discovered the captain’s seats in the middle have foot rests and the sliding door windows roll down), and, most recently, a dead battery (fun fact, nobody owns jumper cables because nobody has a 20-year-old car). It blends in nicely with the Mercedes and Lamborghinis in the parking garage and I’m sure our status as the Beverly Hillbillies has been sealed. Ultimately, the reasons we purchased the vehicle was because it was cheap, buying one sooner would be easier as opposed to later, and, worst comes to worst and she goes belly-up, we can say we tried it and it wasn’t for us and we wouldn’t be out a ton of money.

So far having a car has been nice especially when we want to go places that can take an excessively long time to get to via mass transit or would be excessively expensive to take private transport. The max speed limit is 90 km (55 mph) so nobody is going anywhere fast though there are the motorbikes which breeze between cars and which scares the shit out of me. With the girls going back to school it will be handy to have it in the case of emergency pick-ups (looking at you, youngest child of mine who knocked her head so hard on a concrete block that the nurse had her come home because she was bleeding so profusely).

I have driven a handful of times now though always with a navigator. My girlfriend was the first guinea pig because it was shortly after our move into the new apartment and an Ikea trip was necessary. She met me at the apartment and after a stall out, we were on our way! She was a better navigator than Google Maps as she prepared me to be in certain lanes and helped me look out for buses/motorcycles/other cars/pedestrians/UFOs. There were only a few tense moments as I recall. My biggest mistake that I still deal with is the turn signal lever is on the right and the windshield wiper lever is on the left. I’ve definitely turned on the windshield wipers every time I drive.

Anyway, we made it to Ikea in one piece and now was the second biggest hurdle (the first being making it to our destination alive): Parking a minivan in a parking garage with spaces meant for compact cars. I did it with only a few back ups and pull forwards to adjust. I may or may not have hit a pillar, though the car will never tell you because she’s 20-years-old and knows how to keep a secret.

After our adventure in Ikea, we loaded-up and left the parking garage. Easy enough. We chatted on our way out of the parking garage and both of us heard a noise…was it a flat tire? Was the engine about to crap out (again)? Had I hit something? Was I dragging something? The answer to those last two questions was “yes.” Yes, I was hitting and dragging something. Specifically, I was hitting the corrugated wall outside of the Ikea and dragging the left side-view mirror along it resulting in a ballad that could only be the result of metal on metal.

I think my girlfriend just about died from laughter as it evoked memories of cruising around town in that long ago car, the one whose windshield wiper flew off as the rain started or whose brakes gave out, cruising through a left hand turn all while still jamming to that TLC CD on repeat.

I think this is what is referred to as “Wild-eyed excitement.”

Planning a Trip to O’ahu

Some of you may roll your eyes at this because I know it sounds ridiculous but, after being in Singapore for six months, it was a small culture shock coming back to the U.S. (albeit, Hawaii). First of all, I’ve only, personally driven in Singapore maybe three times but more than once I was briefly concerned that Marcus was driving on the wrong side of the road. It also really didn’t help that there is a road in Waikiki that looks like they expanded by adding a lane to the other side of a median so the lanes go from two to three with a treed median between them…does that make sense? I mean, my description. Does my description make sense? In a way, their work-around makes sense because it saved trees and all they had to do was paint some new lines directing traffic so, really, I applaud the ingenuity but it is a bit startling at first when your entire life a median is now, no longer a median.

The second slight culture shock was just how loud it was. I didn’t realize how used to the quiet of Singapore I had become. There is an absolute difference even at the airport. I first noticed it at the airport in Fiji as many of the people who were in the waiting area were American. It was so loud compared to the peace of the waiting area in Singapore. But that wasn’t the only time I distinctly noticed the difference. Everywhere in Hawaii was loud. The people on the streets, the restaurants, the constant sirens (I have a hunch that the Waikiki first responders have to be some of the busiest in the United States).

This isn’t to say that Singapore is always quiet but for the most part, it is. The bus is quiet. The train is quiet. The malls are quiet. The streets are quiet with the exception of the occasional angry honk from a driver. I mean, I even rarely hear sirens. Truly, the loudest thing in Singapore are my children screaming at each other.

Despite these few differences it was nice to be back in the states and I made it my personal mission to find the best tacos in town because I have been missing a good taco. After nearly two weeks of searching I learned that some people have no business claiming they sell tacos. I’m not here to point fingers but please don’t slap two pieces of deep-fried fish in a tortilla with some salad greens and call it a taco (*hint* it’s a blue food truck on Kuhio Avenue). Anyway, I did eventually find my favorite tacos at Duke’s Waikiki and now I need to try and replicate them at home.

Speaking of food, one similarity Hawaii shares with Singapore is that the food is expensive. At least in Singapore you can eat fairly cheaply at a hawker centre. But in Hawaii, even the food trucks are expensive. You can correct me if I’m wrong and maybe we just didn’t look hard enough but we were easily spending almost $200 every day on food for four people. Food costs can certainly be cut by staying somewhere with a kitchen or kitchenette.

Equally expensive are the excursions and fun things to do. I knew I wanted to take the girls to Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace. I thought it would be a good juxtaposition, showing the girls how the United States was the victim in one case but the aggressor in another. As it turns out, Pearl Harbor’s biggest attraction, the U.S.S Arizona Memorial has strict crowd limitations so, what could have been free cost us over $100 for a bus tour which was almost (though not 100%) a guaranteed way to get on the memorial. Tickets go on sale through the National Park Service the day before but they are typically scooped up before you can even get onto the site. You can go and wait as stand-by for tickets but I heard the wait could be up to three hours so definitely, definitely visit the Pearl Harbor website to better understand the current situation.

Iolani Palace, on the other hand, was a breeze though I did buy tickets in advance. With the way COVID changed things it is good to keep in mind that many places require advance bookings and no longer sell tickets “at the door.” In my opinion, Iolani Palace is a “must-do” for any new visitor to Hawaii. You learn about the culture of the native Hawaiians and their previous monarchy. It’s not a very happy story, in the end, but the palace is beautiful and currently they have on display recreations of some of the last queen’s ball gowns which are just gorgeous and which I would wear any day of the week.

Diamond Head is another must-do for anyone with the ability to climb the 560 feet to the top. Diamond Head also requires advance bookings from tourists in order to climb it. Be prepared for it to be hot and bring a lot of water, especially if you choose an 11:00 AM slot like I did. Also, be prepared for a lot of “it builds character” moments with the children. We didn’t actually make it to the very top as both of the girls took one look at the last set of stairs and immediately walked the other way. They liked the bunker just shy of the very top and explored that for a bit before we started our descent. Despite the occasional “I want to turn around” moments the girls did a great job on the trail and were rewarded with their new favorite drink, Jarritos, at lunch.

Another place we visited was Kualoa Ranch which is famous for it’s breathtaking scenery and many movies and TV shows that have been filmed there including Jurassic Park. As a family, we had just finished the entire Jurassic series so I decided to take the girls on a tour of the movies of Kualoa Ranch. Honestly, this one I could have done without but the girls found it to be mildly entertaining. Really, they were most interested in the horseback riding tours that were offered but neither of the girls were old enough. Also, the price to ride horses was astronomically higher than the bus tour.

I did eventually find a ranch that offered horseback riding at a slightly more reasonable price, Gunstock Ranch, so I made a reservation for the girls and I to do that on one of our last days in Hawaii. That was a fun experience as all three of us are horse lovers and to be able to ride a horse is always such a treat. Plus, they had a small petting zoo with a baby cow and some rather rude goats and the girls got their 4-H on by loving on all of the animals.

So, those were the big things we did. We also had some fantastic cousin time with Marcus’s cousin who lives in Hawaii and a cousin who was visiting with her family from Minnesota. It gave the girls a chance to bond with cousins they hardly get to see (Marcus too, for that matter). Other adventures we had were surf lessons for the girls, tons of beach time, and also stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling which gave us the chance to see sea turtles and amazing fish in their natural habitat. I did a little shopping and consuming of adult drinks and driving around in a Jeep (not at the same time as the adult drinks) and, like I said, eating a ton of tacos. It was really a fantastic vacation marred only by the realization that we had a long journey home. Oh! One last thing. In case you were wondering where Marcus was during all of this, he was working for the Navy Reserves. He joined us when he could but for the most part it was just the girls and I.

How to Say “I’m a Real Housewife of Singapore” Without Saying “I’m a Real Housewife of Singapore.”

The question I most frequently am asked is, “…and what do you do?” Since my “I’ve been on maternity leave for nine years” joke falls flat 90% of the time I’ve decided to go with the more shocking “Since it’s summer break, I’m busy trying not to throw myself off the 27th floor balcony” (or either one of my children for that matter, but that may be too shocking to say to a stranger who may not have my sense of humor and who absolutely adores their children at every moment of every day…weirdo).

Recently I’ve found myself contemplating where I might run away to. In the south of the U.S. the common place one would say they’re running away to is Mexico, I guess because it’s the nearest foreign country. But here? The options are almost limitless. I feel like I could truly run away and get lost in Indonesia. Since Marcus is probably reading this I’ll just say “Indonesia” and then go somewhere else. That will keep him busy for a while as he desperately searches to bring me home (at least he better).

Honestly, just like any day back in the states, the time flies. I’ve taken up yoga as a new hobby and go five days a week. I haven’t been running in a few months which is sad and I’m starting to miss it so I need to make time for that again. When we moved to our new/permanent apartment I lost my favorite running path so it’s really just a matter of mapping out a new route. Plus, COVID really did a number on my lungs even though what I had was super mild. I found myself with an elevated heart rate and quickly out of breath for a while after so I’ve been a little nervous to try and run again.

I’ve also been taking Mandarin lessons once a week. I’m learning the pinyin form of Mandarin which makes it a little easier for us Latin based language speakers. I struggle with the memorization and pronunciation of words but in all, the concept of the language is actually simpler than English. The other fun part of this is that the girls are both learning Mandarin so we can quiz each other and have debates over the pronunciation of a word. They are also learning the associated character with each word which will give them a greater advantage over me in the long run.

So, between my yoga and Mandarin, keeping the kids busy, and the every day life of an adult I have quite a lot to do. Luckily, for lazy days there is a pool within the apartment complex plus a playground which the girls are a little too big for but it’s there and hardly used. With that said, it’s definitely different from living on 1.5 acres as we did back home and to tell them to “just go outside!!” is a little less easy these days because to “just go outside” requires: Sun block, mosquito repellant (dengue has been detected in our area though to be honest if anyone is getting dengue it’s going to be me because I am a mosquito magnet), appropriate footwear, a water bottle, masks for riding in the elevator, pool toys, skateboards, shopping bags, maps, rock-climbing gear, hats, driver’s license, medical license…the list is endless.

I am truly enjoying Singapore and, this may sound crazy, but I feel happier than I have in a long time. It could be because I upped my happy pill dosage or it could be because I enjoy the experience of living outside of the United States. Since both happened simultaneously I guess we’ll never know.

What To Do with a Ten-Hour Layover in Fiji

Recently, Marcus left for four weeks, on a tour around the world. His first stop was London then on to Washington DC and finally to Hawaii where the girls and I were to meet him. Meanwhile, in Singapore, I did my best to maintain my sanity with two little girls on summer break by going to yoga and taking them on a few local adventures.

Finally, the time came for us to meet Marcus in Hawaii. Am I the only one who is OCD and must clean the house before leaving for an extended vacation? The very thought of coming home to a messy house is enough to drive me crazy. So, I dragged the girls into my crazy and we I cleaned the house while simultaneously packing.

In my defense I had ever right to be crazy because this was a big day for me. It was the first time I was traveling via air with the girls by myself and this was a doozy of an itinerary. To get to Hawaii we had to fly from Singapore to Nadi, Fiji for 10 hours. We then had a 10-hour layover in Fiji (more on that later). The final leg of our journey was a 7-hour flight from Nadi to Hawaii. In total, we traveled for 27 hours, and the girls did amazingly up until the very last second as we were getting our luggage and then one daughter upset the other daughter (not hard to do) and not even daddy waiting to greet us with leis was enough to cheer anyone up.

At the beginning…

Anyway, back to Fiji. Because we had a ten-hour layover, we had to clear immigration and leave the airport giving us a chance to see a country I had never dreamed of being able to visit. I booked a tour guide with Mick’s Fiji Tours & Transfers, ultimately going with them because A. They had a high rating on Trip Advisor and B. They responded almost immediately to my query. That said, it was clear that it wouldn’t have been hard find a tour upon landing in Fiji but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, hence I booked beforehand. Also, a quick note about their current COVID restrictions: If you are actually planning to travel to Fiji and stay you do have to take a test at some point during your stay and have proof of booking the test before you fly. Because we were there for only ten hours, we did not have to test at all or have pre-booked a test.

When I booked with Mick’s, I explained our time limitations and they quoted me a price for a tour guide along with entry to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant and the Sabeto Mud Pools. As it turned out, we were there on a Sunday which limited what we could do because many things were closed. Honestly, with two little girls, anything more would have been over doing it.

The first thing I noticed was how warm and welcoming the people of Fiji seem to be. We were greeted with a smiling “Bula!” (“hello!”) at every turn. The girls and I quickly picked up the greeting along with a second, very important Fijian word, “vinaka” (“thank you”). Another thing I found interesting was that almost all of the men and boys were wearing a sarong called a “sulu.” Our tour guide explained that these are worn for important events and official business. I enjoyed our tour guide and hope he didn’t think I was too annoying with my questions.

Bula!!

Our first stop was the Garden of the Sleeping Giant which (this probably goes without saying) is 49 acres of garden located at the base of a mountain. It was serene, green, and breathtakingly beautiful. Originally owned by the late American actor, Raymond Burr who cultivated orchids and other plants, it now boasts Fiji’s largest orchid collection.

We wandered through the gardens, following the rambling paths every which way and attempting to do that Instagram influencer thing where two people hold hands, one in front of the other, and the person in the back videos the person in the front and…it turned out about as well as you might expect. Eventually, we found signs pointing us to the “the view” and as we began our ascent the first few drops of rain began. By the time we reached the top the few drops of rain turned into a downpour. It was a treacherous descent in our completely inappropriate-for-an-impromptu-hike-sandals and the rain-soaked mud and grass.

We finally made it to where we started and were greeted with “You didn’t take an umbrella?!” Honestly, it was raining so hard I’m not sure an umbrella would have helped much. We were drenched but the girls were laughing and (luckily) found the whole experience to be fun. I also knew our next stop was the mud spa, so I wasn’t too worried. I would have loved to see more of the garden, but it just wasn’t in the cards (naturally, on our flight back through Fiji two weeks later it was a beautiful, sunny day).

After sipping on a complimentary fruit juice it was time to head to the mud spa just down the road. It was raining when we arrived but, by the time we changed into bathing suits, the rain had all but stopped. Our guide was one of the family members who owned the spa and she showed us each pool and explained them to us. In total there were five different pools including the geothermal source of heat (which you cannot enter).

The first thing we did was mud-up. The mud is apparently from volcanic ash and was silky smooth and grey in color (very unlike the chunky brown mud with which we bathed the elephants in Thailand). Also, at this point, we were joined by one of the local children who clearly had done this before as they also got muddy and beat us to each successive pool with a mischievous grin. Anyway, after letting the mud dry, we entered the mud pool to wash off most of the mud. From there, we entered each of the other three pools which were progressively hotter, the third (and final) pool being 140 degrees Fahrenheit (pregnant women and I’m assuming anyone with cardiovascular issues are not allowed in this pool).

Mud spa!

I’m not going to lie; I could have stayed in that last pool forever, especially after our ten-hour flight but alas, we had to end our day in Fiji and head back to the airport. The rain started up again as we made our way back and our driver wished us farewell and hoped we might come back again only for longer than 10 hours (which I agreed with wholeheartedly). By this point in our adventure we were tired, hungry, and feeling confrontational (I had to call-out the woman trying to muscle her way in front of us) but eventually we boarded and started the final leg of our journey, a 10-hour flight to Oahu, Hawaii.

Done.

Travel to Thailand, Part IV: That Time I Got COVID

On our first full day in Phuket I was sipping a mojito poolside (my life is terrible), admiring the view of the Phuket Big Buddha in the distance, when I decided to post a picture on social media wishing that the family would forget about me and leave me behind. 48 hours later, in an absolutely perfect example of “be careful what you wish for” they did.

I mentioned it before but a few weeks prior to our trip to Thailand both of the girls were sick with a very productive (i.e. gross) cough. For two weeks they took turns passing their germs around and staying home from school because they weren’t allowed back until they were symptom free. Neither of them had COVID but such are the rules during a pandemic.

Therefore, on our first day in Phuket, when I felt like a cough was building in my lungs I wasn’t too concerned. In order to fly home we needed to get a supervised ART (known as an “AKT” in Thailand so be aware if you do travel there and need to get one). This also coincided with needing an ART on our fifth day in Thailand (which I believe that rule is now obsolete so be sure to check https://tp.consular.go.th/ for the current rules). After our morning adventure with the elephants we made our way to a nearby clinic for the ART and a few hours later we got the results: Marcus and the girls were negative and I was positive.

The first thing we did was inform the hotel who pretty much panicked and immediately started figuring out where to send me. They told me to isolate (shout-out to “Wilson” the lizard who was hanging out on the ceiling of my room and kept me company during this time) and that I would need to move to an approved, quarantine hotel where I would have to stay for 10 days. They said Marcus and the girls would also have to isolate for no less than five days. However, because he and the girls tested negative thus fulfilling the requirement to fly back to Singapore, Marcus moved up their flight and he and the girls went home.

The next morning, as I watched my family walk down the path to their taxi, not even able to hug them “good bye,” I started feeling sorry for myself. Eventually, my taxi for the quarantine hotel showed up and I was quickly ushered out. As I walked through the resort (which was completely outdoors), I was told to wear two masks and my escort, who walked about 10 yards ahead of me, shooed everyone out of the way. Eyes grew large and the staff quickly jumped to the side and, I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I think this must be how lepers felt.

I was brought to the Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach as my quarantine hotel. The staff very kindly showed me to my room and told me how things would work for the next 10 days. I was listening but not really hearing what they were saying and I soon found myself making a tearful phone call to Marcus because it was all of a sudden hitting me that I was sick and alone in a foreign country.

After hanging up the phone with Marcus I started to take in my surroundings. Maybe things weren’t so bad. The room was huge with a king sized bed and a TV with at least one English speaking channel. Off the bedroom was an equally large bathroom with a modern shower and a separate soaking tub. A small balcony overlooked the pool and Makham Bay which was an even nicer view than what we had at the previous hotel. As it turned out, this hotel was perfectly situated to host both COVID quarantiners and tourists who were required to isolate before being allowed to move about the country and as a result, I was able to move freely from my room to one of their pools and the bay.

Makham Bay at dusk. Or it was at sunrise. I can’t remember.

For the first few days I did feel a bit lethargic and had symptoms that made me think of allergy season. I sneezed a lot, had dry and itchy eyes, and a stuffy nose that never actually ran. I never had a fever nor any of the more common symptoms. Because of that I didn’t fully appreciate just how effected by COVID I was until I came back from the pool for the first time. My room was on the third floor so I had two flights of stairs to climb and by the time I made it, my heart was pumping and I was completely out of breath. Being a runner I know my level of cardio strength and two flights of stairs might have elevated my heart rate a bit but this was more than that and I am still struggling with this six weeks later.

Also, during my quarantine period, there were a myriad of things taking place or about to take place: My birthday, our new apartment was available for us to move into, we had to move out of our temporary apartment (it was amazing how much we accrued in just a short while), our home goods were being delivered, and Marcus had leave for a two week travel to the U.S. I vainly hoped to go home on day seven of my quarantine which is when Singapore would have allowed me to come back but after a PCR test it was clear I was still very COVID-y and Thailand was not going to let me leave until I had served the full 10 days.

Ultimately, I spent my birthday by myself on a tropical island. The hotel staff sang me “Happy Birthday” which was very sweet and brought me a cheesecake with a candle in it. Marcus was in charge of moving us out of the temporary apartment and into the new apartment all by himself and I might have felt bad except for all of the times I moved us out of and into new housing when the girls were babies. Of course, by the time I got back the new apartment looked like our shipping container vomited in it but whatever, the hardest part was done.

My daily schedule revolved exclusively around the three meals a day I was provided and my routine looked a bit like this: 7 am, wake-up and pound no fewer than two cups of coffee, 8 am, breakfast is delivered and watch movies because the English speaking channel played some legitimately good movies, 11 am, lunch is served and continue watching movies, maybe, maybe go to the pool or read a book for a bit, take a nap, shower if necessary (or not, who cares?), 5 pm, dinner, English speaking movies suddenly and sadly change to a Thai game show so TV gets turned off, maybe go for a walk along the water, read some more, make some U.S. phone calls and texts, 10 pm, go to sleep. I did have a goal of clearing the entire beach of any and all worthy sea glass, coral, and seashells and I think I did an adequate job.

I am of the opinion that Thailand’s 10 day quarantine is an economic boost along with the desire to keep their people safe and well. Tourism is a great contributing factor for Thailand’s economy and, due to the pandemic, they have suffered. During our tour of Bangkok it was clear the place was quieter than usual and we felt grateful for the chance to essentially have the various destinations to ourselves. Phuket especially relies on tourism and one of their largest tourist populations are the Chinese who have been banned from any “non-essential” international travel. It’s no wonder, then, that they mandate a 10 day extended stay to those who become infected with COVID. It brings money to the hospitality industry as well as medical who write-up the medical release form allowing you to leave or come to the hotel to administer PCR tests. There are also the cab drivers who “specialise” in COVID transportation and who are paid directly. It isn’t enough to completely bring the economy up but hopefully it helps.

To wrap this all up in a neat little bow, my 10 day extended stay in Thailand was quite delightful, COVID notwithstanding. I’ve been trying to give pro tips along our adventures and this is what I’ll say to you: get COVID in Phuket, Thailand. You won’t regret it.

Dining Out in Singapore

I’ve tried writing about having COVID in Thailand a million times and I recently came back to it only to discover that my most recent updates didn’t save so I’m frustrated but feel as if I should write because I haven’t written in a long time. One thing I have been thinking of lately is the cost of food which, I know, we already covered here, but, we can revisit it. Also, this is more specific to dining out and takeaway, which, as it turns out, is expensive.

There are certain places where the food is good and cheap and for the most part those are at the Hawker Centres. But going to a restaurant, even those you would assume are fairly inexpensive, are expensive. Case in point: Pizza night.

Friday nights have traditionally been a pizza and movie night with the family. After months of meticulous research, we found the pizza we like to be from Little Caesars. The same Little Caesars that offers “$5.00 Hot-n-Ready” in the United States. In Singapore, for a family of four (one of whom will only eat cheese and the other will only eat green pepper and we’ve discovered that Singapore isn’t big on custom orders so we’ve learned to overcome by ordering one cheese and one green pepper pizza and Marcus and I don’t get a choice, but I digress). The point is, a family of four, Little Caesars, two pizzas, plus cheesy bread which I now regret introducing to the girls, plus delivery costs, a tip, and I’ve spent no less than $64.00 SGD which equals $45.90 in the US and which should, in theory, get me 9 pizzas.

Another place where I spent an exorbitant amount of money, and I can only imagine the look on Marcus’s face as he reads this, was at Five Guys. The girls and I ordered from there on Mother’s Day because A. Whatever, B. I wasn’t cooking, C. Marcus had left on travel, and D. I wasn’t cooking. We got two burgers, a hotdog, two fries (should have only gotten one in retrospect not that it would have saved me much money but we didn’t come close to finishing them), and two shakes (also shouldn’t have gotten those because the girls had au pain de chocolat at breakfast but they like to take advantage of my short-term memory and I didn’t remember that until well after the fact). After all was said and done I had spent $105.29 SGD. $105.29 SGD! Now, to be honest, I haven’t eaten at a Five Guys in the U.S. in years so I don’t know what the cost is these days. And maybe, in the U.S., $75.51 USD is a reasonable price to pay though I have my doubts.

Obviously, the problem is, we’re ordering out from Western restaurants. Establishments such as Indian or Thai are comparable to what we spend in the U.S. Looking at my most recent orders from either an Indian or Thai restaurant both were about $80 SGD which is relatively comparable to the $57 USD. That said, I have yet to find an Indian or Thai restaurant that I want to order from continuously so if anyone has a lead on that I’d appreciate you letting me know!

I’m slowly learning my lessons and have recently picked back up the homemade pizza tradition we had from years ago because, in the end, I would rather spend $64 SGD at another restaurant, not Little Caesars. Also, if you noticed, my math includes a tip which some would argue that I don’t need to tip because a 10% service charge is automatically added to a restaurant bill in Singapore. However, I don’t know how that works for delivery services such as Food Panda (my favorite for obvious reasons, it’s a panda) or Grab. Anyway, it’s a habit I can’t break and I like to think maybe my food gets here just a little bit faster?

So, long, slightly rambling story, short: Some food is more expensive than others. Just be aware of that.

Traveling to Thailand, Part III

On our third day in Thailand we boarded a plane from Bangkok to Phuket which is located in south-west Thailand. The girls were particularly excited for this portion of the vacation because we had plans for paddle boarding, playing in a pool, hanging with elephants, and snorkeling. We got to do about 3/4 of that plan.

I made reservations for us at The Mangrove by Blu Monkey which the girls proclaimed as “the coolest place we’ve ever stayed!” I tried not to let that go to my head but I do regret not having it recorded to play in the future. We had an entire, two bungalows at our disposal with queen sized beds covered by mosquito nets. Each bungalow had it’s own kitchenette and bathroom.

We spent our first full day in Phuket on the resort which offered a swimming pool, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, a playground for the kids, and a beach. The girls were thoroughly entertained by a swing in a tree that was over the water. Marcus and I were thoroughly entertained by the mini bar.

The girls playing on the swing at high tide. When the tide was out the swing was out of the water.

On our second day in Phuket we went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket for half a day. This was, hands down, everyone’s favorite experience. We met each elephant, who ranged in age from 12 to 62 (roughly), and who had all been rescued from around Thailand. Our first task was to feed them watermelon and, for the particularly senior ladies who were missing most of their teeth, they got watermelon without the rind. Then, we learned to make vitamin balls and which we fed directly into their mouths (instead of them grasping the food with their trunk) which allowed us the chance to really get up-close and personal.

Feeding the Grandmama of the elephants. Notice the sunken look of her face as she is missing most of her teeth.

After feeding them, we learned how to weigh them without the use of a scale and which must be done every day because it indicates how healthy they are. Even the slightest loss in weight may be a sign the elephant isn’t getting enough nutrients in her diet. After that, we got in our bathing suits and all of us, elephants included, headed to the mud pit.

Going into the mud pit was gross but it was worth it (we were also promised glowing skin but all I got were bathing suits with a slight muddy tinge to this day). We scooped bowls full of mud and splashed them on each elephant, then rubbed it into their skin. Being so close and touching the elephants was amazing; their skin is rough and dotted with wiry hairs.

After the mud bath, we took them to a pond where each elephant was scrubbed down with fresh water. Many of them laid their bodies down in the water, fully submerged, with their trunks popping up on occasion for a quick breath of air. This was the highlight of an already amazing day. Everyone was laughing and smiling as we made our way to each elephant, scrubbing them down, wondering where a trunk might pop-up, and just enjoying the proximity to these amazing animals.

After ensuring each elephant was squeaky clean, we humans got cleaned up and were treated to a Thai buffet for lunch. I will say this: As I was in charge of the planning I made the judicious decision to spend a little bit more money for the half day experience and it was worth every penny. We all walked away with some really incredible memories of getting to love on these amazing creatures.

Since it was our fifth day in Thailand, and two days before our flight home to Singapore, we had to take a supervised ART (or AKT as it’s known in Thailand and which caused a bit of confusion…also, technically, the ART for the fifth day in Thailand did not need to be supervised but since we needed it to be in order to travel home, we opted for a supervised ART…it’s confusing and I’m just grateful to have a second half who is really good at the detail work). Anyway, we took the test and headed back to the resort.

A few hours later our results came in and that is when, as they say, all hell broke loose. Marcus and the girls all had negative COVID tests. I, on the other hand, had a positive test.