Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poll Results

The Emmys were rebroadcast here. Which show (incl. their actors/actresses) should have done better?? 

I don't think everyone is as much a tv nut as I am :).  There were six responses spread across the board.  Two votes for The Office, one for Two & a Half Men, one Dexter, one Grey's Anatomy and one for "other".  I really wish I could add a fill in the blank answer sometimes!

I do love watching tv at home, and especially since so many shows are available online as well.  However, once you leave the U.S., those shows are no longer available online. Since they are also not broadcast across the ocean (well maybe 1 or 2 seasons behind), it leaves me without my precious tv shows! ;)

No fear - between the local cable channels and iTunes, I've found some new shows to keep up with. 

New shows:
  • From iTunes, I selected 2 of the cheaper tv series that I followed back home: NCIS and 90210 :).
  • Return to River Cottage - This is a new favorite.  Anyone remember the old PBS reality show that had families living back in the days of Little House on the Prairie? This show is a man living somewhere in the UK I believe who has a little farm and makes due with what he has.  He has a cow for milk (and she'll have a calf soon!), a few sheep, 2 pigs now (1 was roasted for a festival), chickens for eggs, fields of hay, a mini-green house with lots of tomatoes and other plants, etc.  He uses everything from his plants and animals to make a living and barter with his neighbors for services.  It's primarily a food show but shows all the aspects of farm living.  For example, last week some neighbors came to cut down a big tree, so he had firewood.  He always helps out to his best ability (not born as a farmer!) and then provided them with a great lamb stew and some cuts of beef I believe, in return for the service. 
  • Mad Men - While I splurged for cable here, I did not elect to pay for it at home.  Luckily this means there are shows such as Mad Men that are a season behind here but are new to me!
  • Fringe - A sci-fi show (which I usually don't care for) with Joshua Jackson that has grown on me. 
  • Robin Hood - I've only started watching this show from one of the BBC networks.  Looks like it will be good though.
  • House - I declined the opportunity to watch this in the U.S. because Dr. House annoys me, but it is a good show and I've taken it up here.
  • Echo and the Elephants of Amboseli - Animal Planet has helped to satisfy my love for the elephants.  This is a fun nature documentary type show that goes along in the life of Echo, a matriarch of a group of elephants in Africa.  Very interesting!

Monday, September 28, 2009


**First two pictures are clearly not my own doing.  These are courtesy of postings by Harry Tan.  Refer to more of his spectacular F1 pics here and his impressive photo blog here.  **

This weekend was the second annual Formula 1 night race in the downtown streets of Singapore.  It is a 3-day event and Saturday I was already in the area after my Mandarin class.  In order to burn some time between my class ending at 5 and the practice runs starting at 7, I headed out to dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant I've always wanted to try.  They served some great jamon and queso manchego, but I probably wouldn't go back for just that. 

At dusk, the crowds picked up and you could start to hear the buzz of engines as you walked the streets of Singapore.  I headed down to the hotel I use stay at when I came to town, it was kitty corner to the actual track and I thought I could sneak up to a high floor to steal a pic from the hallway window - WRONG :).  The elevator entraces where highly fortified w/ hotel personnel bedecked in F1 gear.

Instead I took a stroll down near one of the gates and outside the track.  Here are a couple dark pics that clearly are my own :). I captured some of the sound effects as well via video. 


While I'm not an F1 fan, or even Nascar or racing fan for that matter, I'd have to say it was a pretty awesome feeling, everyone was excited and hearing those cars (I couldn't even see them) just gave you more energy. The tickets come with a hefty price tag (S$1,000 for a 3 day walk around pass - no seats), but next year I may try to get a one day ticket for Saturday or something. Maybe I'll have to become a racing fan after all ;).

I did watch the big ticket race, or at least the first half of it, on Sunday evening.  At one point, I put it on mute, leaned out my window and thought I heard the drone of some race car engines (may have been in my head) - I'm only 10 min from downtown.  Back to the TV... there was a small crash that I saw and it did look a bit more complex, weaving through the streets and not just around an oval. I don't know how the drivers do it.  Also, they said the road was a bit bumpy and you could tell because every few seconds you'd see sparks shooting out from under someone's car since it's so low of a ride.  Yes, talk about low rider ;).  Man that's an old song, but yes, it's in my iTunes and is playing now!

Hope everyone else had an enjoyable weekend!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Xièxie! Zàijiàn! (Thank you! Good bye!)

Today was my first day of Mandarin classes, "Gateway to Mandarin Level 1".  It is 10 sessions of a 3hr class on Saturday afternoons.  It is put on by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and a pretty fun building as you can see in the pic.  I arrived plenty early to pay up my tuition and grab the first seat.  The next person to arrive was another American who's been here about 8 months already.  Out of a class of almost 20, we are the only 2 Americans - my table partner was from Thailand, there were a few people from India, one from France, the UK (I think) and then other people who appeared to be Eastern Asian but I'm not sure where from.  So a good mix of us!

Our instructor came in, "Wo shi Peng Bo", and kept repeating while we looked at her like "huh??".  Finally we figured out that it is "I am Peng Bo", " ne?" -->"and who are you??".  The first five minutes of class, she spoke no English and kept having everyone introduce themselves only half understanding what we were saying.  Then she finally broke into some English explanations and I was a bit relieved.  The 3 hours flew by and she made it quite fun.  (Using "quite" has been something I've picked up here in Singapore.)  When we had good conversational exchanges with our table partners, she would say "very terrific", "sounds like Beijing local" and "so good"; although I know we had to be big time butchering everything.  I probably said one sentence ten times and in a different way each time.   Here are some of my notes.  I'm excited to go back next week.  My table partner from Thailand actually had a year of Mandarin back when she was in school and she's married to a Chinese man now, so she knows some of this easy stuff and helps me out :)  Here are some of my notes from our first lesson.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poll Results

Candy is expensive here - if you're splurging, what is your must have??

Ten people weighed in this time, must like candy more than critters :)!  Multiple votes were possible but the favorites came out as follows:
1 vote - Twix
2 votes - Kinderbueno
3 votes - M&M's
...and tied for 1st with 4 votes each - Snickers and Reeses' (pieces or cups)
I abstained from voting on this one, but so far have purchased some Milky Way (which they call Mars here; and Milky Way is 3 Muskeeteers - odd) and some sugary, sour candy.  I haven't been willing to shell out for any of the contenders above because they are all more expensive.  I'll have to stock up when I'm home next!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Food for Thought

The wonderful thing about living in Singapore is that you can find almost any kind of food right around the corner and/or have it delivered!  I am sure my mom will be shocked by the foods I am trying based on how picky I was as a kid.  But as I work my way through, whether it be one bite or several servings, I thought I'd share with everyone. As I try new dishes, I'll update and re-post. *Also will try to attach pics or link to one elsewhere on the web.

In no particular order:
6. Thai dinner - I went with a co-worker, her husband and one of his friends.  They like going with other people so you can order more dishes and have a little bit of everything.  It was very good! I still am not craving rice, so I don't over-do it.  I don't remember what any of this is...and that's why I like going with them, so everything we order is good :).

5. Bakkwa Asia's version of jerky!  I mush prefer it to the American version.  It's sweeter and not quite as tough and dry.  Sooo! expensive though (almost S$20 for 500 grams; about 8-10 slices).  This was my personal treat over the weekend.

4. Century egg It didn't taste like much, looked more scary though; that along with all of the looks from the locals seated around my table :). I ate half of a slice. No problems getting it down, but not ready to gobble up the second piece. In my defense, I don't like hard boiled eggs either. The century egg is basically preserved in the ground or somewhere rather than refrigerated and comes out black, jello-like and green/grey in the middle.

3. Black sesame soup This was a dessert course and did look like black soup. It was suppose to be sweet, and it was a little. Not quite up to my sugar standards though. Still have my U.S. taste buds :).

2. Guava At first, I thought I was selecting an apple. There are fruit stands at all the food centers here and it's cheap to get two slices of watermelon (~US$1), have them chop it up and take it away in a plastic bag and skewer stick to eat on your walk home. I select these white, curved slices assuming apple. Take a bite...not apple. Much drier, not as sweet, but not awful, just unexpected. On reading some other American blogs, I find out that it is likely I ate a guava!! Still not what I expected, but good to know for next time :).

1. Durian Can't say I've had any since my arrival, but I did try it my last time here. It was memorable for the wrong reasons and I wish it was on video because I don't think it will ever be recreated. It does stink, but I could actually get past that without too much disgust (maybe the farm smells growing up helped here). But the taste, texture, everything together combined for a bad experience. I don't care for foods of mushy consistency, no matter the taste usually (beans, yogurt, squash). This fruit has a very thin covering, almost like dried cover you get on pudding (yes - pudding is okay; must be the sugar). And inside is this custard-like substance that I can't even remember the taste to describe but I had an immediate, violent reaction to which made everyone laugh. I did swallow it down, but it was rough! Good to try and say you've done it, but no sequel necessary.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I awoke this morning to thunderstorms, but to peek out my window it didn't really look that bad outside.  But the thunder kept booming.  Shortly therafter the rain started and I fell back to sleep. I woke back up a bit later.  Rain stopped, not too cloudy but not bright and sunny.  Then after I've been up for about an hour, without much change it the view out my window, the big thunder booms start back up.  I'm thinking the storms must be behind me.  It is weird though to be having such big thunder booms and not cloaked in black clouds like we would be at home.

Introducing the Kitchen

Based on this evening's events, I feel it is now time to introduce everyone to the kitchen. 

Came home for dinner after being out of town (India) for the last couple of days.  Tonight I'm ready to hunker down on the couch, catch up on TV with my DVR and have some comfort food.  With no cash and no desire to go run about, it is a) delivery or b) make something.  I'm leaning towards Pizza because the only other delivery I know at the moment would be McDonald's or KFC (most everyone in Singapore delivers!).  I had Pizza Hut in the Bangalore airport last night, pretty good actually but not ready for night 2 of pizza.  Remembered I had some pasta and sauce and decided to make that. 

Here are my cupboards and fridge - you can see I don't have much going for me.

I'd made mac'n'cheese with these pasta shells previously, so I figured use the open bag of pasta.  Get everything going, thought I saw a speck of something... nope, nothing.  Add a can of mushrooms.  Stir it up and OH! what's that?!?  Two boiled up little black bugs, yes bugs.  EEWW! Well that was thrown to the sink and sure enough they're crawling all over the bag - it's in the sink too.  What else? My open box of cereal? rice? Those both looked good as I emptied their contents into ziploc bags.  So disgusting, will have to be more careful going forward.

The kitchen hasn't gotten much use.  It's easy and cheap to eat out and hard to keep stuff fresh in the kitchen.  If I get to using the kitchen more, I'll let you know as I'm sure that will mean stories. I did get a rice cooker - I of course went for the up-sell and now my rice-for-one barely covers the bottom of the pot! Oh well. Made rice once, need some practice. Bottom layer was a bit hard. Bought a cook book for Asian Rice Dishes. Haven't felt the need to try it out just yet.  Here are some unique aspects of my kitchen that I have figured out:
  • Not meant for air-con.  It has a separate door to shut it off from the rest of the apartment and then another door and window that open up to the utility area.
  • No oven.
  • Have to turn on 2 or 3 switches to get the gas on, igniter light (or whatever it's called) and fan blower on.
  • All cupboard doors have one door with an inner lip; so you have to be careful opening them up.
  • No dishes = more washing :). I've been good though and all the dishes you see on the counter are CLEAN! (so that is not what's bringing in the bugs).
  • No hot water.  It's warm, but you have to heat it if you want hot.
  • The microwave is ancient!! I've hidden it under the stove and am refusing to use it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Dress! :)

Last weekend my shopping slump (for clothes) finally ended! I found a department store with clothes that can actually fit me, not ugly, big selection and more reasonable prices.  Clothes are still stinkin' expensive, but I've decided I'm just going to have to get use to it!

I took a few items in to try on.  1) Dress too small :(.  2) Skirt that fit, but a bit too long for me (yes, hard to imagine when I'm one of the tallest people walking the streets here) 3) second dress - same size but fit like a glove!  It was amazing and just made my night.  With a 15% discount I could talk myself into paying the +S$100 price tag.  Also, I knew this would be my first clothing item from Singapore and it'd be with me a while.  (I still have several items from Spain, which was back in 2002!!)

Introducing my new dress......(shoes came from home, but work well together!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Poll Results

Which living creature have I NOT yet seen in Singapore?  The answer is....butterfly!  One person got it right with the rest of you splitting your vote fairly equally amongst dogs, frogs, cats and a gecko.  No one guessed snail and it was one of the first critters I saw! 

There are dogs and cats here just like home, maybe not quite as populous, but you still see them about.  Dogs are usually with their owners while cats tend to be "strays" which are taken care of by all the neighbors.  The frog was hopping along and crossed my path from the MRT (train) to my apartment.  And the gecko was right in my apartment!  Don't freak out, this is quite common.  They are in and out of all the cracks.  I've only seen one and it ran from under the chair to under somewhere - haven't seen it since. 

I also saw my first spider the other night.  Luckily not big, hairy or scary.  So, pretty normal - I'll let you know if I come across anything exotic though ;).

**It seems I've lost my ability to spell check with this new version of blogger.  Please pardon any current or future misspellings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Money under the Mattress

I'm wondering if I shouldn't just adopt this investment strategy. It took me almost 2 weeks before I got approved for a local bank account and credit cards and another week to receive everything separately in the mail (credit cards, ATM card, check book and account pin). I did it once and got rejected, try to do it a second time and found out my 6 month employment pass was no good, but third time is a charm once you have a 3 year employment pass and meet with a competent representative.

I have a step-up account that requires no minimum deposit as long as I am direct depositing my paycheck each month. No problem! Then, I earn a minimum amount of interest. If my balance increases each month, my interest rate goes up. But, if the SGD/USD rate is good and I make a big transfer home, I get bumped back down to the minimum interest rate and start at the bottom of the ladder again. Different concept than I've seen before and there is a maximum rate, but mostly the no minimum balance is what got me in. The other banks wanted S$2-3K Also, it's with Citibank, so it will be easier to deal with from the U.S. when I'm back home.

As I mentioned, took a while to get this up and running. Meanwhile, I received my paycheck for September and 8 days in August. With no account, I sat on the checks. This week my account is up and running. Today at lunch, I go to the local Citibank right near the office and there's an express deposit kiosk! I'm reading the sign as another expat gets behind me in line. I nicely let him do his business as I have no clue what I'm doing. He checks between the two slots in the kiosk (kinda like a post office mail-box) and drops a slip of paper (check I assume) into one. He leaves and I look closer, one slot is for corporate accounts, the other customers. The sign says write your account, name and contact number and make your deposit. The back of the check was fill in the blank, so I had it written out already. BAM! Two checks into the box. Hmmm....should I maybe have taken a copy of them? That was quite a bit of money I just dropped into a box that I'm not 100% sure where it goes. Hmmm...too late now, let's get lunch.

I haven't figured out how to log-in online or memorized my ATM pin (6 or 8 digits instead of 4). I will surely let you know if my money does not appear in my account. Cross your fingers!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Introducing the Utility Area

It's outside! Just off the kitchen. I have a little patio area, although well covered within the building, where all the laundry items are and off of that is a storage room with slider curtain. Pretty straightforward area right?

There are little quirks though.

-Everything is a step down. Step down to the kitchen, another step down to the laundry room. Same goes for bathrooms. I guess if I flood it will be somewhat contained ;).

-Instead of regular doorstops there are giant magnets to hold the doors in place so the wind doesn't send them flying (since you are outside).

-Took me a week to figure out how to wash clothes!

-First, flip on the electricity to the outlet. Every outlet has it's own turn-on switch here that needs to be on before anything plugged in will work.

-Second, turn on the water. Yep, there's a valve into the wash machine that needs to be on. This tripped me up big time :).

-Third, requires "low suds" detergent since it's a front loader. Thankfully I was told this before hand and didn't mess it up.

-Fourth, the dryer's lint trap has screens all around the dryer opening and if you don't wipe it clean - you end up with lint all over your clothes!

-Dryer's in fact aren't that common. Instead, many people hang up their clothes to dry. I assume that is part of the reason for the outdoor utility area. I have two curtain rods on my ceiling with ropes to drop them down and take them up. I can easily hang stuff out to dry - it's quite nice actually. Although with the humidity here it can take a day or more to get things dry.

-The store room is pretty big. It has my luggage now and when my bed arrives on the cargo shipment, my current mattress goes in there.

Small area, but works quite nicely. Haven't had my own washer/dryer in a long time. Once I figured them out, it was great! :)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Poll Results

Last weekend I went to the grocery store and shared a few of my purchases with you. I asked "what from today's grocery store trip was most expensive"? Before going further, I'll be talking in S$ (Singapore dollars), which are about 0.65 or 0.70 to US$1.00.

Eight people weighed in and the Froot Loops were the heavy favorite with 4 votes. But alas, no. As much as you may think, this was not the most expensive item. The box lasted me about 4-5 days and was only S$3.20. This is quite a contrast to the same size box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Frosted Cheerios at another grocery store which are S$10.35!!

Runner up was the apple juice at S$2.36 it also is not the most expensive. It actually tasted like real apple juice too. You could tell it was real.

There was a tie between the Reynolds sandwich bags and granola bars with one vote each. Whoever out there selected the granola bar - you are the WINNER!! :) They were S$5.20 (on sale) and those are the cheapest of any brand that I've been able to find so far. Not sure why, but the granola bars are sooo! expensive. The bags were S$2.70.

I'm slowly learning the relative prices of items and which stores are better to shop at. However, a lot of what factors in is how far I need to carry my purchase :). Overall, eating out at local food stands is the more economical approach for me. My small block of swiss cheese today cost S$9!! But my Indonesian BBQ dinner last night (see previous post) was only S$4.80.

Stimulating the Local Economy

Today I was ready to spend some money. Got my new credit cards, got my old apartment deposit and refund and I'm ready to brave the crowds :).

I started this morning by checking the movies online. There's been a new Audrey Tautou movie in the newspaper ads about the life of "Coco before Chanel" and I was intrigued. Got tickets online and even picked my seat, just like on a plane. I had been warned and wore my jeans and brought a jacket. The cinema is as cold, if not colder than theaters back home. But you can buy soup at the snack counter. Big seats, individual cup holders, all for about $7 US. Good movie.

Afterwards, I quickly found a shoe store and made my first fashion purchase. And 50% off! Very excited. While I haven't had much luck with fitting into the clothes here - shoes can almost always work :). The red ones I just loved for some reason. Not practical, but had to have. I needed some other black heels. Here, it's nothing but bare legs and feet. So lots of sandals, but regular dress shoes too. I don't know how the women do it, so sweaty, nasty, ewww! So a must on my list was some sort of open toed shoe and this one fit the bill perfectly.

Next to the grocery store to get some staples: bread, cereal, lunch meat and cheese. Came home for a banana, quick rest and headed back out.

Next was to a different shopping mall, nothing specific on the list but browsing. Didn't have much luck until I happened into the foodcourt. It was dinner time and I was hungry. I wish I took a picture - I found the longest line (best indicator of what's good) and queued up. It was Indonesian BBQ, ayam panggang, which consisted of a chicken leg & thigh grilled with some sort of sauce, white rice with curry sauce, slice of egg tortilla and small bowl of broth. It was really, really good. Interesting to eat with only soup and fork though!

Afterwards, I headed to Carrefour (the local equivalent of walmart). I was good on food items, but the bottom floor had non-food. I browsed some more, needed a can opener for some soup I got last weekend. Found that. Then happened upon a toaster!! I didn't know if there were any here. So happy. Then I continued to find little things and headed home. On the way out, I saw delivery service. Yay!! I've seen you can order groceries online and have them delivered. I don't care for at. This way, I can shop, drop off my cart and for S$8 (~US$5.50) get it delivered to my house! Great day.