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.

Just How Safe is Singapore?

This is more of a social commentary on the two worlds I currently know: The United States and Singapore. It also may, or may not, go off on a tangent but bear with me. Having just moved from the U.S., where we are a young, immature society slowly coming to grips with our past, I know just how fortunate I am to be a white woman in an upper-middle class family. That said, I am still a woman and have plenty of stories from my youth of managers rubbing my shoulders or strange men brushing their hand against my derriere. Despite that, I’ve always felt very lucky as I have definitely made some very dubious decisions and managed to escape unscathed (we’ll just leave it at that for the sake of my parents).

Anyway, apparently there was a recent Tik-Tok where a woman went step-by-step on how she gets ready for maintenance men to enter her apartment, e.g. putting out a pair of men’s work boots to imply her husband is around, not dressing in a manner that may be too revealing, etc. and all of this caused a bit of a stir. People were upset and saddened because she felt, as a woman, that it was necessary to protect herself in such a way. On the other hand, some people thought she was going a bit overboard. It definitely got me thinking about the differences in our American culture and the Singaporean culture.

But first, a story! This is the tangent part…

Before we moved to Singapore we renovated a 130 year old Victorian home (Sligo, check her out!). As I have been on maternity leave for the past 9 years I was frequently the one meeting contractors and discussing work at the house. Even before that, given I was the one home, I would be the one inviting random strangers into our house for various jobs. Never did I ever consider the harm that might come my way. Call me naïve or call me privileged but it never occurred to me that I might want to stash a can of pepper spray in case one of the accredited and on someone’s payroll men would attack me in my own home. This isn’t to say that this could never happen but I do question the odds of it happening.

There has only been one instance, while renovating Sligo, that I felt wholly unease with a stranger. I was meeting a man to go over some of the historic attributes of the house. At some point I had to walk away and when I went back to meet him he was urinating, right there, not concealed at all, at the edge of the driveway. To be fair, when you gotta go, you gotta go, but most people make an attempt to hide themselves away, that was what was so weird about the whole thing. This is probably where the story should have stopped because I should have said something but (I guess you can call me naïve after all) I kept up with our meeting. Thankfully, at just the right time, another man who I knew well showed up to mow the lawn.

I continued to show the house to the stranger and eventually we made our way to the basement which, at the time, had every window boarded up, the exterior “door” was a piece of plywood drilled into the frame, and my only other escape route was through a door that was currently being blocked by a stranger who stood head and shoulders taller than me and certainly weighed more than me as well. It was at that exact moment, as I was assessing my situation, that I decided I would never meet a strange man at the property by myself. I truly feel that if it hadn’t been for our friend showing up, well…I won’t go so far as to say something bad would have happened but they always say “follow your gut” and my gut was telling me I was in a bad situation. Eventually, I maneuvered us out of the basement and all was fine but the heebie-jeebies feeling didn’t leave me for long after and I can still recall it today.

Now, here we are, living in Singapore which, according to Statista, is the “third safest country in the world.” Already, Marcus and I have given our children more freedom, though we have yet to send them off on the bus or in a taxi by themselves. Statista quotes that in 2021 there were 89 crimes against a person which range from “hurt to…murder” and 1,480 cases of “outrage of modesty” which includes unwanted physical touching (I’m not clear on where sexual assault falls). The highest crime rate in Singapore are Internet scams and fraud which I think is an insightful comment on the culture.

Singapore also has one of the highest rates of Closed Circuit TVs (CCTVs) in the world with 108,981 cameras for 281 square miles. Couple that with a culture that seems to always have their phones recording or taking pictures and the chances of being caught doing something even as mundane as jaywalking are high. So, honestly, our biggest concern for our children living in Singapore is that they follow the rules and not find themselves being recorded doing something unbefitting (such as jaywalking) because they are Americans and they need to set an example (and at least give the illusion that most of us Americans aren’t hooligans).

This isn’t to say that nothing bad can happen in Singapore but, again, we’re from the U.S. We come from the country where you can be shot for being a black person out for a jog. We’ve raised our children in schools that have fire drills, tornado drills, and active shooter drills. If a lost wallet is returned with money still inside it makes the front-page news. We come from a culture where women feel compelled to pretend their husband is home in order to feel safe in their own home. So, yes, I do think Singapore is safe. Now, the conundrum lies in teaching my girls “street smarts” in a world where those don’t apply.

Traveling to Thailand, Part II

Moving on, taking advantage of this sweet writer’s high, let’s talk about our third day in Bangkok. We were near to the Grand Palace and for whatever reason, I felt very strongly that we must go. We grabbed a tuk-tuk, which was by far the girls’ favorite Bangkok experience (aside from all of the street dogs and cats), and we swiftly arrived at our destination.

It was during the tuk-tuk ride that Marcus pulled the most obscure memory from his girl-dad mind and said he was reminded of one of the girls’ books when one of the characters dresses as a Thai princess. After a bit of back and forth, because I truly did not know what he was talking about, we figured out it was from the book Olivia and the Fairy Princesses in which she is trying to set herself apart from all of the other little girls who dress as the same fairy princess. I’ll be honest. I liked that book (and all of the Olivia books). I think the girls liked the book, too. But was it on repeat night after night? Not really. Apparently it was for Marcus.

Excerpt from Olivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer, 28 August 2012.

I had spent some time trying to mentally prepare the girls for dressing appropriately when we went to the Grand Palace (not that they dress inappropriately but it’s always good to warn them that I’m going to make an attempt to dictate what they wear). When visiting the temples there is a strict dress code mostly geared towards women but a few rules also apply to men. For example: No shorts, no ripped jeans, nothing above the knee, no tight pants, no bare shoulders, no offensive words or images on clothes, etc. At the Grand Palace it is so important to dress accordingly that there is a guard who will either allow you in or usher you into a separate room where you must purchase appropriate clothing. For whatever reason, my barely knee-length skirt made the cut but Marcus’s shorts did not (the girls were fine in t-shirts and shorts). So, if you see pictures of Marcus in purple harem pants just know, it was not his first choice in clothing that day.

Once we made it through all of the various check-points we finally arrived on the grounds of the Grand Palace. Most importantly, the Grand Palace is home to the Wat Phra Kaew which houses the Emerald Buddha and is by far the most exquisite complex of buildings I have ever seen. Even the kids seemed to be stunned into a silence as they walked around and tried to take it all in. Gilded buildings, which house the relics of the Buddha and other sacred objects, are just a few of the 100 buildings that make-up this temple. Gold leaf and colored glass adorn the walls. Golden mythological figures and colorful giants stand guard throughout the temple grounds. It is all but silent except for the tinkling sound of glass moving in the breeze.

All four of us removed our shoes and quietly climbed the stairs into the main temple. While in the temple it is important to remember a few things: Never point your feet towards the Buddha, always be lower than the Buddha, do not take pictures, and speak in hushed tones (or better yet, don’t speak at all). The peace and tranquility that washed over me was profound. I made a comment to Marcus about it later and he said it was probably because the kids were forced to be silent, which I agreed with, but the fact of the matter is they sat there, in awe, taking in the figures and murals that surrounded us for a solid 10 minutes.

Surrounding the entire temple complex is a mural depicting the Ramakien epic which was completed in 1797. To give an idea of the scale of this mural, Wat Phra Kaew sits on 234 acres. To be able to walk and look at the entire mural and appreciate it takes about as long as it does to walk around and appreciate the architecture. Needless to say, it was about this time that one of the girls started to lose it (guess which one) and we started to make our way back to the hotel.

Just the tiniest portion of the Ramakien epic mural that surrounds Wat Phra Kaew. I appreciated the female figure eating people.

To round-out our Bangkok experience we took the girls for a Thai massage. I assume it was on the more reputable side because they were happy to accommodate a family with two little girls. If it wasn’t reputable then I guess we all got to experience the sex tourism side of Bangkok and I may need to have a conversation with the kids. Anyway, after the massage I felt a little bad because we just threw the girls into it without much warning about what exactly a massage entails, e.g. they may massage near your buttocks and that whole “don’t let others touch you in your private areas” lesson kind of goes out the window. To be perfectly clear, Marcus and I were next to them the entire time and I have no doubt the ladies were more delicate with the children.

Thus ended our Bangkok experience. Our next stop after this was Phuket which we all were looking forward to as we had stand-up paddle boarding to do, elephants to visit, and boats to ride on. We got to do 3/4 of that.

Traveling to Thailand, Part I

The girls had Spring Break mid-March so we made the decision to travel to Thailand. I made all of the arrangements, which takes effort during these pandemic times. Requirements are constantly changing (all over the world) so please, if you’re hoping to visit Thailand, check https://tp.consular.go.th/ for the latest information.

At the time we were planning our trip we had to apply for a Thai Pass which essentially was providing the following: Proof of having been vaccinated, proof of medical insurance, proof of a first and fifth night’s stay at an approved, government sanctioned hotel, a pre-departure PCR test, a PCR test upon arrival (and only after a negative result can you leave your hotel), and an ART on the fifth day of stay. When traveling via air the amount of paperwork needed for the airline to review can be overwhelming so I went and purchased a small, divided folder which was bursting at the seams by the time we were ready to travel. I also saw folks with three-ring binders and laminated documentation and those are my people. Hello, people.

A family of four’s travel documents.

Anyway, despite all of that hoop jumping we managed to make it to Bangkok with everyone intact and in good health (for now…foreshadowing!). We arrived in Bangkok around 10:00 pm and were ushered onto a van to transport us to our hotel. At the hotel, we were all administered a PCR test and sent to the room where we waited…and waited…and waited for roughly 18 hours before our results all came back negative and we were allowed to leave the room. This was painful and only made us all the more grateful that we managed to escape having to quarantine in Singapore for two weeks.

Having never been to Bangkok I had no clue about where to book a hotel but it turns out, I did a really good job (pats self on back). We stayed at the New Siam Palace Ville II which was located in a tiny alley, around the corner from more tiny alleys which were full of restaurants, shops, Thai massage parlors (which honestly, could have been seedy as hell but the whole city was seedy so who knows?), and plenty of souvenir shops to keep everyone happy. Marcus even ended up having two suits made in the 48 hours we were there which, though it sounds like they should fall apart the second they’re exposed to sunlight, are remarkably well-done.

Since our first full day in Bangkok was a waste, waiting for the PCR test results, it was the second day that we were all I was looking forward to. I had hired a private car to tour us around because heaven knows I’m not driving us around and why put Marcus through that stress? Plus, having a stranger in the car helped keep the kids in-line. Anyway, Mr. Nut (short for Nuthapol and who, fun fact, was a monk for one week as all males in Thailand are required to serve as monks for a period of time) picked us up promptly at 7:00 am and turned out to be a most excellent non-tour guide/tour guide (technically he was just a driver as he explained to us later) who not only made sure we had such luxuries as Starbucks but also made sure he taught us about Thai culture. My biggest takeaway being how closely intwined the culture is with their Buddhist beliefs.

Our first stop with Mr. Nut was the Damnoen Floating Market. We loaded into a boat and were quickly rowed to a line of merchants. Within seconds, Marcus and I found a Chang beer in our hands and the girls had coconut drinks to sip on. Marcus happily taught the girls how to haggle for goods while I pretended not to understand because haggling makes me horribly uncomfortable even in a county where it is expected.

Our second stop was the Maeklong Railway Market which was a curious thing because I’m still not sure which came first, the railway or the market. This was the most busy place we were as it is one of Thailand’s largest fresh seafood markets and, judging by the smell as we walked through, I believe it. Pre-COVID there were apparently seven trains that would run through the market per day. However, at the current moment there are only three which means if you want to experience it you need to time it quite right. Luckily, we had Mr. Nut who made sure to keep us on schedule and we made it in time to walk through the market and experience the train coming through. Having a moving train within inches of your face is quite a thrill though I do feel for the merchants as they have to worry not only about their goods being run over but also tourists making poor decisions.

Ayutthaya was our last stop of the day which included three Wats (temples): Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, and Wat Chaiwatthanaram. In the 18th century, Ayutthaya (which was the capital of Siam) was besieged by the Burmese and eventually fell, resulting in the ruins we see today (this is the most rudimentary explanation of what happened and the history is much more complicated and I hope you take advantage by clicking on the links above so you can learn more about Ayutthaya and each Wat). Anyway, it was at Wat Mahathat that Mr. Nut told me something quite profound which was, without Buddhism there is no Thailand. Hence, why he believes someone cut off the head of the Buddha and left it, growing, entwined with the roots of a Banyan tree. Others believe it was a thief who meant to abscond with it but left and never came back. Regardless, it certainly makes for a splendid and unique picture.

Picture of the Buddha in the Banyan tree at Wat Mahathat. Picture taken by yours truly, March, 2022.

Our day finally ended back at the hotel around 6:30 pm with happy children (no small feat) and a new-found appreciation for Thailand. Our time in Thailand didn’t end here but I feel as if this post has gotten away from me and there is so much more to discuss: tuk-tuks, the Emerald Buddha, elephant sanctuaries, and COVID just to name a few. Plus, I have to tell you about the time Marcus really showed his “girl-dadness” when he compared Thailand to an Olivia book. In the meantime, while you wait with baited breath for my next post, please click on all of the links I supplied you with to get a more in-depth knowledge of Thailand.

Grocery Shopping in Singapore

Ah, finally. Peace and quiet. Marcus has left on travel and both of the girls have overcome their cough and are back in school. We did have an emergency pick-up this past Friday because Jo knocked her head on a concrete block during recess which resulted in the tiniest of contusions but the greatest amount of blood I’ve ever seen. It was a moment that had us greatly missing Dr. Uncle Jonas nearby to give us guidance. It was also a moment that made me realize I really need to put-on my big girl panties and learn how to drive here because it costs about $30 SGD to take a Grab to the girls’ school.

Anyway, on to the post at hand. As I mentioned before, we moved from a suburban environment which meant driving to the grocery store, shopping for a ton of groceries in one outing, and hauling everything back to the house. I correctly assumed that the way I shop would change once we lived in a city. Currently, because we’re living the high life and the grocery store is connected to our building, I shop almost every day and only for things we need immediately. In a few weeks, when we move to our permanent housing, we will no longer have the luxury of a mall beneath us. Instead I’ll have a seven minute walk to the nearest grocery store and I don’t see this going well at all and the family will probably starve. I have also been looking into bikes with baskets because I would love nothing more than to haul groceries in a bike, up a hill and if my legs don’t look like Tina Turner’s by the end of this adventure I’ll be pissed.

Before we moved here we heard that everything is more expensive in Singapore, from food and alcohol to even paper products such as greeting cards. I have noticed the prices seem higher but when you do the math they are frequently equivalent to the States (it’s currently $0.74 USD to $1.00 SGD). The biggest difference I have noticed so far (and mind you, I have not investigated even a small fraction of the grocery stores available) are the strawberry and blueberry prices (we love berries). For a nice, neat row of about 12 strawberries you can expect to pay $15 SGD which is about $11.15 USD which is more expensive than even the pint of organic strawberries I could find at a U.S. grocery store.

We also recently celebrated a birthday and an ice cream cake was requested. In the states I could get an ice cream cake for $20.00 USD. In Singapore? I spent $90.00 SGD ($65.89 USD). It was fairly small (which was fine, it was just the four of us) and mostly ice cream with a thin layer of cake at the bottom (the crunchy bits of a Carvel cake were greatly missed). We’ll chalk that up to lessons learned and hope the next birthday doesn’t require an ice cream cake.

The $90 SGD ice cream cake

Another aspect of grocery shopping in Singapore is that it can be hit or miss. Singapore relies heavily on imports from other countries with roughly 90% of their food coming from other countries. I am beginning to learn that if there is something you seek and you find it, buy as much as you can because it might not be there next time. We had half and half for our coffee for the first week and then, it was just gone. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Half and half has since made a return and I’ve now picked up the habit of purchasing two every time I do a shop.

For the most part I have been able to find just about everything I’m looking for though every now and then I must work with an alternative. Like I said, we love our berries so cutting out strawberries due to their price has been hard but the blackberries are somewhat affordable. We have found a new love for plums as we haven’t found an apple we like (we love Honeycrisp which I don’t think exists here). However, none of these things are life altering and we’re making it through just fine. Oh! Actually, there has been one life altering change for the children and that is the lack of mac & cheese. Specifically, Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese. That has been sorely missed though, thanks to a special Auntie state-side, we received three boxes in the mail recently.

The girls would eat this every day, breakfast/lunch/dinner, if I let them. Which I don’t. Because that would be neglectful. And because I would eat it, too.

So, that’s about it. I’ll have to update you when we do get settled into the new place and I have to actually make an effort to do the grocery shopping. But, in a nutshell, shopping here isn’t too terribly expensive though, I think I mentioned this in the last post, it can be kind of crazy. Think “Black Friday shopping” every day. And, if you can avoid it, don’t shop during the weekend. That is the best piece of advice I can give anyone.

How I Cook for My Family in Singapore (Sort of)

As I trudged up the roughly 45 degree angle incline to the Bukit Timah summit, my two children behind me, aggressively walking and whining for all to hear, I thought to myself, “How else can I torture the children today?” And that, dear friends, is when I began thinking of what we should have for dinner that night.

First, I must give credit where credit is due, this is not an original recipe. This particular version is from a blog called Persnickety Fitness and it was my sister who found it, who passed it to my mom, who then shared it with me. With it also came the promise of it being “kid friendly” but my children are usually up for the challenge of proving such claims wrong.

Before I can give you the recipe I must first give you a detailed and obnoxious account of how I sourced my ingredients directly from nature the grocery store. I went to Cold Storage along with roughly 500,000 of my nearest and dearest neighbors who were also coming up with ways to disappoint their family. As I ducked and weaved through the produce section, I realized that A. Politeness will get me nowhere and, B. The family can fend for themselves.

Now, for this recipe you will need two bags of coleslaw mix because who has time to shred vegetables? You will also need two pounds (or 0.9 kg, who knows? I feel like I only just began to grasp the Imperial measurement standards and now I have to learn the metric system and honestly, now I understand why granny would just say use a “pinch” of this or a “dash” of that) of either ground turkey or ground chicken. I went with ground chicken because it was the first thing I saw and shopping is cutthroat. Later, I remembered I preferred using fresh ginger but didn’t want to risk my life going back to the produce section so I found the ground ginger instead. But, if you value your life less than I do, and really think fresh ginger will make all the difference (it will) then be sure to grab it.

Finally, get in the checkout line and then remember you also need soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Oh, and maybe some brown rice! By the time you return to the checkout line for the third time remember that you also needed milk but life’s too short and proceed with your purchase as-is. Now it’s time to go home and cook a meal that only you and your significant other will enjoy.

Low Carb Crackslaw
(From Persnickety Fitness)

Prep Time:
Depends on if you got that fresh ginger. If not, then like, two minutes prep time.

Cook Time:
20 minutes but if you’re like me, you need to triple that.

Total Time:
Indeterminate because who knows what could go wrong.

Serving Size:
Supposedly 10

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 lbs. ground chicken or turkey (your choice on meat)
  • 2 bags coleslaw mix
  • 4 green onion
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp ground ginger (did I mention that I think fresh ginger is better?)
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Brown the meat in the sesame oil.
  2. Stir in the bags of coleslaw mix.
  3. Add green onion, garlic, soy sauce, and ginger.
  4. Cook vegetables to desired crunch level.

*I do typically serve this with brown rice and pot stickers or dumplings because depending on the pickiness level of the children that day at least I know they’re eating something.

Nutritional Content: Calories per serving 116.6, Fat Per Serving 13.2g, Carbs Per Serving 2.85g (Net Carbs 1.95g), Fiber per serving 0.9g, Protein per serving 8.4g

Review

In all reality, the children actually do eat this dinner but it takes a minute as they look at it, try it, and then remember that they like it. For such a simple dish it’s very easy to prepare and quite delicious. Each bite is infused with meaty goodness, excellent fiber, and nutritional vegetables. Adding an additional dash of soy sauce or even a hint of siracha takes this dinner to a whole new level.

Marcus’s gorgeous dinner date, POV.

Riding the Bus POV

Come with me on an adventure, will you? In our current apartment we have a Nespresso machine which is super fancy and luxurious but there’s a catch: You can only purchase the required Nespresso pods at a Nespresso store. We plowed through the first three pods in a matter of minutes and were having to leave the apartment to get a cup of coffee which goes against everything I stand for when it comes to the morning, i.e. I don’t want to get dressed and face the day until I’ve had coffee.

So it was that I found myself going on an adventure to the nearest Nespresso store. It wasn’t terribly far away and walking is an option but it was just far enough away that I knew by the time I got there I would be drenched in sweat so I decided to take the bus. Being a suburban girl, mass transit isn’t my strong suite but I had multiple apps on my phone to guide me and I felt confident I could navigate there and back easily. I put my big girl panties on and made my way to the bus stop.

In general the buses aren’t too crowded and it’s the cheapest way to get around town. Also, as I’m sure you have heard, they’re clean and quiet. I knew exactly where to go in order to get to the mall and it was a quick ride. I confidently alighted and moved less confidently through the mall (the malls here are insane but that’s a story for another day) eventually finding the Nespresso store.

After making my purchase I browsed around the mall and after a bite to eat decided it was time to go home. I pulled up my app and started studying the various buses that I could take to get home. This is where things took a turn. My app was telling me to traverse a particularly impossible road and at one point I found myself stuck on a curb as a million cars pulled into a parking garage. I’m not sure what the term for “stupid white woman” is in Singapore but I was it. As car after car came around the corner I avoided eye contact with any of the drivers, pretending to study the road and my phone in an attempt to look like I meant to be there. It occurred to me later that I was precariously balanced on a curb all while mumbling to myself with frizzed out hair and I’m sure a panicked look on my face and I was not fooling anyone.

To be clear, the app was actually telling me the right thing to do but I was assuming I knew best and made my own map in my head. Also, I’m still confused as to which way is north, south, east, or west (as if I ever really knew). Anyway, now I decide I’m just going to go back the way I came and update the app when I get closer to another bus stop and hope that it tells me which bus to get on. Which is what I did. I found another bus stop, updated the app, and promptly hopped a bus headed for home.

I made myself comfortable towards the back of the bus and compared the bus stops that my app was listing to the bus stops we were actually hitting. They didn’t match. As the city center grew more distant with every mile and we began passing places that I had never seen before I knew I was on the wrong bus. With that said, I continued to reassure myself that eventually the bus would start heading back towards town. I also had visions of being the last one on the bus after hours of riding around, such was my desire to be right.

Exhibit A: The yellow star is where the mall is. The red heart is where home is. The black “no-no” sign is where I ended up.

As you can see in Exhibit A and its carefully crafted symbols, I managed to get miles and miles away before deciding I was not going to be getting home any time soon. It was at the black “no-no” sign that I got off the bus and called a Grab, which is the Singapore equivalent to Uber. I should mention that the black “no-no” sign in no way indicates this was a bad place to be. It just wasn’t where I needed to be.

I texted Marcus to guess where I was so when he said “I don’t know, where?” I could say “I have no fucking clue” but he didn’t play along and actually continued to guess where I was which is fair…considering I’m a kept wife and all I could have been anywhere having the time of my life. Anyway, a million mile bus fare and S$17 Grab later and I had a very nice tour of the east coast of Singapore. It had a more suburban feel with fewer high rises and more “landed houses.” Eventually I would like to explore out that way but maybe with more of an itinerary.

For anyone exploring Singapore and wishing for an app to help you along your way: MyTransport.SG, SG NextBus, Citymapper, Grab, and good ol’ fashion Google Maps are all solid choices.

How the Children Are Handling Change

A big part of our wanting to experience living overseas had to do with our children. We wanted them to see the world, experience other cultures and foods, and basically just see that there is more out there than just Virginia, U.S.A. Also, Marcus and I wanted to be able to do some traveling so it wasn’t totally altruistic.

For our oldest child, change is nothing. She easily and readily adapts and faces new challenges with a smile on her face. On our third day in Singapore she happily woke-up and said she would go down and get the family breakfast. After Marcus wrote down the order and instructed her on how to use the credit card she left and was back within minutes, so proud and happy for herself. She did forget the croissant I had asked for but remembered the coffee so I eventually forgave her.

Meanwhile, on the third day in Singapore, our youngest held the family hostage and refused to get dressed and leave the room. This isn’t a surprise. For one, she has anxiety which manifests in stubborn behaviors and really comes out with the changing of seasons. When the temperature changed in Virginia I struggled to get her to wear long pants instead of shorts. Battles were fought and lost and sometimes unhappily won but eventually she came around to the idea of covering her legs when it was cold.

So, for a solid five days of being in Singapore she wore the same outfit every day. The same one she had been wearing in Virginia when we left. In her defense, it is a particularly cute pair of distressed jean overalls. But, again, she wore them for five days straight. Through airports. On airplanes. On city, public transportation. Walking through the heat and humidity of Singapore. I think she also wore the same underwear because for some strange reason all of her other pairs of underwear inexplicably shrunk in-transit. Either way, and I’m not a psychiatrist, I do believe she feels like she has so little control over the rest of her life that this is one way to control something. Unfortunately, it often means controlling the family as we prepare to venture out for the day.

But all that is nothing compared to when she has one of her more epic meltdowns. The previous scenario is merely an annoyance that we eventually overcome. It is when she truly has bottled everything up inside and lets it out that is the bigger problem. This is when she tantrums.

One of my fears was realized the evening before school started when the youngest had her biggest tantrum since we landed. It pains me to write about our 9-year-old experiencing tantrums but we’ve run the gamut of counselors, psychologists, neuropsychologists, etc. with varying success in helping her overcome her anger and anxiety. After a solid 30 minutes of her screaming at the top of her lungs, hitting us, and kicking us I cannot believe that someone did not call the police. I actually wish someone had as maybe an embarrassing moment, such as it would be, would help her work through her feelings in a more productive manner.

I have no doubt that all of this has manifested due to school starting. It’s a scary time for a kiddo and I get it. I was the most shy child and I can remember entire school years of eating lunch by myself. I believe the youngest suffers from that same shyness though she is better than I was at making new friends.

I am certain that overcoming this hurdle of being in a new country will help all of us grow as a person. Already I have seen out of my children some wonderfully unexpected growth. Both girls have become more assertive and more sure of themselves. They are now responsible for their Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) cards and their Trace Together tokens and they use them with ease. We recently had lunch at a hawker centre which is an open air food court and can be loud and overwhelming. I watched as my oldest confidently ordered herself a juice at one stand and chicken rice from another. It was amazing because I, as a child, would never have had the courage.

Update:

Day 1 of School: Children unloaded from the bus with tired eyes but smiling. Both were happy and excitedly told us about their day.

Day 2 of School: Children unloaded from the bus smiling, lulling us into a false sense of security. One is currently crying in her bedroom and the other is moaning and flinging herself around the living room because we, the parents, know nothing. This is way more normal than the Stepford Children from yesterday.