A Quick Trip to Malaysia

A couple weekends ago we took a day off to visit Malaysia. It would have been a quick trip, but it felt like most of our time getting there and back was spent in passport control since we had a baby and couldn’t go through the automated lines. Thankfully, after spending about half an hour in one line that moved maybe two feet, an officer took pity on us (and our screaming baby who definitely feels he has better things to do in life than stand in queue for hours at passport control leaving Singapore) and shunted us through a more quickly moving line. Oddly enough, for being so much more developed than its neighboring countries, Singapore has the slowest moving immigration lines ever. Malaysia got us through much more quickly.

Once we finally got through immigration and got on the bus again and got off the bus in the city, we got some sketchy Malaysian food that surprisingly didn’t make us sick but was extremely spicy, and then got a taxi to go to a palace that had been turned into a museum. Jared had checked it all out beforehand, and on the internet it said that it had been closed for renovation in 2013 but was open to the public in 2016. Well, as soon as we got there we saw a giant sign in front: “Close to Public.”  Apparently, Malaysians are quite bad at updating their websites, as the guard told us it wouldn’t be open until late 2017.

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That plan put on hold, our taxi driver suggested another museum that he knew of. So off we toddled, and found that this one was actually open.

Their main activity was playing some traditional Malaysian game whereby you move marbles around a tray. Whoever still has marbles left at the end wins–although they didn’t mention that fact until Jared had moved all his marbles into the main area.  JQ didn’t care about winning–but he loved moving all the marbles around.

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They also had a really cool skylight shaped like the Malaysian flag.

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The rest of the museum was full of random trinkets and posters about the sultans of Johor Bahru back when it was its own Sultanate. Fascinating stuff if you happen to be a student of Malaysian history and speak the Malay language. Unfortunately, neither of those is on my CV.

JQ, of course, had his fair share of admirers among the guards at the museum. He wasn’t quite sure what to think, though.

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So after that, we took some pictures outside the museum.

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And some more pictures.
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And Abel goofed around a little.

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And looked handsome.

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Then we walked to the bus station and marveled at the lack of sidewalks and the masses of unfinished buildings, stood in line for another two hours at immigration, and made it home happy to be living in a city with sidewalks and crosswalks and all the other amenities of civilization.

How to Eat a Durian

Don’t. Just don’t.

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Why not? Well, reason number one, and possibly you’ve heard of this before, if you’ve even ever heard of a durian before, is the smell.

English needs more words to describe smells. We have so few! Let’s just say that smelling a durian up close and personal is kind of like smelling a flower. It’s a nice fruity mango kind of flower–that’s gone bad. Maybe even mixed with a little onion and a little fish? It’s the kind of smell that was endemic in grocery stores in China, always making you wonder what exactly they kept in the store that had just gone off (Spoiler–it was durians).

But. In spite of the smell, we persevered. This is a favored fruit in all of Asia, and especially popular with Singaporeans, so this was a valuable cultural experience. Aren’t you glad I was experiencing it for you?

The outside of a durian is hard and poky. Very very poky. So poky that the people who cut them up wear gloves. We had a glove-wearing person cut ours up for us.

Actually, Singaporeans love the durian so much they call this building the durian: it’s round and spiky and was apparently supposed to be a microphone. The architect was quite upset they called it a durian because he’d never heard of one!
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But to get back to the edible kind. There is a small amount of edible fruit in each half, and it looks kind of like mango. Not so bad, right? If you can keep from gagging as you approach.

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Those who love durian praise the buttery texture, the smooth melt-in-your-mouth sensation as it slides down your throat.

This was not my experience. Sure, it was kinda buttery…mixed with stringy. Oh, and did I mention the smell?

But to get to what you really want to know–how does it taste?

Jared put a small bite on his spoon. I put a small bite on my spoon. I offered it to JQ like the good mother I am, and he turned his face away in disgust. He was not going to join us in this adventure.

Then we took deep breaths (turning our noses away), stuffed the bite in our mouths, and chewed.

It was significantly less sweet than expected. In fact, what it most closely resembled, in my opinion, is caramelized onions. Caramelized onions with a healthy topping of rotten mango and black pepper. If this sounds appetizing to you, by all means, you may eat up all the durian you wish. Just not in my house.

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There’s a reason they’re not allowed on public transport or in hotel rooms here!

Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Always Summer and Never Christmas

I’m sure they do have Christmas here—we arrived just a few days after, and many businesses still had Christmas trees up, though they certainly looked incongruous in the tropical heat.

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The Durian Building and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel

I’m going to confess now: I just can’t love the weather here. I’ve always been a winter lover. Those first cool breezes announcing the arrival of fall after the heat of summer are the best, especially when they’re followed by piles of snow so you don’t have to go out of the house. Yes, I’m as fond of temperate weather as the next person, but the problem is, everyone defines temperate a little differently. I suspect my definition would start around 55 F and keep going down from there. Which is why it’s almost heartwrenching to live here—where the only cool breeze I’ll ever feel comes from my air conditioner at night, where people tell you cheerfully, “Oh yes, nobody here even sweats any more!” as you drag your drowned-rat-sweaty self down the street trying to look cool and collected and failing miserably.

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Parliament Building

I’m just feeling a little robbed of my winter this year. It was just starting to cool off in America by the time we left—we had maybe an entire week of almost winter weather in Oregon where it doesn’t know how to winter—and now we’re plunged here, where “winter” means there’s thunderstorms that drop three inches of water in an hour most afternoons.

It’s so hot here that I immediately start sweating if I even think of going outside, and yet, in the interests of saving on our energy, I try to run the air conditioning only half the day.

And, to a native Coloradoan, the humidity here is nothing short of obscene, generally bringing the heat index up nearly twenty degrees.

I get it—you can’t live on a tropical island without, you know, actually living in the tropics. But I can’t say I’ll be sad when we go back to winter. Let’s just hope I haven’t acclimated by then!

Living in Virtual Solitude: Or, I Have no Wifi

Singapore.

DSC_0262 It’s the land of much heat, beautiful buildings (mostly), almost no mosquitoes (they wiped them all out when Zika showed up), some slightly scary wildlife (which we haven’t seen any of yet), and many interesting foods. It’s also the place where getting wireless internet is more bureaucratic than renting an apartment. Which is why we’ve had a house for almost two weeks now, but still have no wifi. DSC_0246

Of course, living a life free from the distractions of Facebook videos, Netflix, Instagram, and all other web browsing (although we do still have data on our phones) has some obvious benefits, such as spending more time with people (consisting right now of exactly two people, Jared and JQ, since I’m not exactly flush with friends here), spending more time reading books during JQ’s naptime (I’m at around a book a day, so far), spending time playing violin, and spending time cleaning the house when I’m not being a slave to JQ’s every whim. I would even say I’ve been spending time cooking, but I’m still adjusting to grocery shopping here, which is always a hard part about moving. Not only do you have to figure out what’s affordable in stores (pro tip: don’t expect lots of dairy products in Singapore), but you have to figure out how to cook with each country’s kitchen equipment (yes, we’re back to the toaster oven here). For now, it looks like we’ll be eating a lot of rice, green leafies, and tropical fruits.

However, in spite of all the benefits, I’m still a millennial. I miss having wifi. I’m kind of getting anxious about getting back to work (this house ain’t gonna pay for itself), and all day interaction with a small human who has just started bleating “Maamaa” in the most piteous way, while fulfilling, is not exactly restful. At least he naps for about three hours a day?

We should be getting wifi any time now since Jared finally has his official Student Pass. I’m sure it will be nice to get back to working a few hours a day and not feeling quite so disconnected from the rest of humanity (the humans that I know, that is. There’s loads around here that I don’t know). I know the benefits of living a more connected life will be there, but I hope I can remember the benefits of being minimally connected as well. And of course I’ll still be teaching my small bleating wobbly human.