Sunday, December 27, 2009

Updated Video

Apparently YouTube did not like the song I added to the end of my previous Christmas video - copyright issues - and muted it.  Guess I need permission to use others' songs.  So, I've now removed all non-original content and re-posted.  The link below should work. 

Oh - and seems I should have a new refrigerator on 8 January! It will be bigger and with three doors. I'm curious to see it.  The landlord picks it out and is having it delivered.  I'm sure I'll post pics.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I hope when everyone wakes up tomorrow morning they have a wonderful Christmas Day with those they love.  I couldn't be at home with my family this year, but I still feel very, very loved.  Thank you to everyone for their Christmas wishes!!

I know Christmas is not about the presents, but as I mentioned, Santa did stop by Singapore.  Since I couldn't be home to share it with everyone, I thought I would bring it to you!  I've put together a short video of my Christmas morning.  Short is arguable since it's almost 10 minutes.  I know my mom will love it, but for those of you who would like the short and dirty version - the pics below tell it all.

My Uncle Craig and Aunt Mary sent me some wonderful Ghirardelli chocolates - dark chocolate, peanut butter, white mint and caramel.  They all sound wonderful!!  I also received a new pair of earrings, which are much needed.  I'm plain-Jane when it comes to jewelry and once I find something I like, I tend to wear it forever.  So I needed some new earrings.  Love them - thank you!!

My mom sent a big box from the family back home with lots of little presents.  I have a new calendar of shoes! A new pair each day, which will be very fun to check out.  I got my customary stocking with all sorts of candy bars: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, M&M's, Snickers and Hershey's bars.  Some Christmas socks, snowman poop (marshmallows) and reindeer poop (chocolate covered raisins) round out the other goodies.  Not pictured are some freezer pop containers.

I got some more earrings from mom along with a very cute jewelry box.

Rounding out my mom's box of gifts are several books.  I also got a couple books of my own yesterday - hoping to get some reading done while I'm off next week.  Mom sent me Dan Brown's and John Grisham's newest novels.  She also sent the magnet in the middle, Have a Little Faith and the 10 Best of Everything.  The 10 Best book lists the top 10 for various travel categories (e.g. golf courses, walks/hikes, islands, tennis venues, etc.).  I'm very excited to check all these out.  I got for myself The Economist - which I do enjoy reading; the Kite Runner based on a suggestion from Prevention RD; and the Secret Life of Bees (have not seen the movie, but saw the cast on Oprah and it sounds good).

Thanks Mom, Dad, Katie and Curtis for all the great stuff!!

Grandma sent along some new p.j.'s for me.  Always good to have :)!  Thank you!!

Last was Shaun's gift.  I think everyone is trying to get me to gain back the weight I've been able to lose since arriving :)!  I have so much chocolate!!  This picture doesn't do it justice.  Here's one where I've put it all in Tupperware.  It is overflowing from all of my Tupperware bowls!  I'm going to have to hide it all from myself so I don't blow up.  Thank you though!!  Candy here is so expensive I don't indulge.  I'm really excited about my York peppermint patties :).

That was my morning in a nutshell.  I only ate 4 donuts so far - with 7 still calling my name I thought that was a big success :).  It looks to be fairly sunny out, with the clouds moving in and out.  If the sun can stay around, I'll be at the pool this afternoon reading some new books. If the clouds win, I may try to see Avatar.  (I got in an hour of pool time before it started pouring with no end in sight. Now it has turned into a big thunderstorm.)

I know there are a couple of cards still on their way - the holiday season must have caused some delays.  I'll let those people know when I've received them. 

Hope everyone has a beautiful day tomorrow!!

*Here is the video.  The volume is pretty low and quality so-so because I had to take it with my camera.  There is also, unintentionally, an "oh my gosh!" theme throughout. :) Please enjoy if you choose to watch it; but be careful at the end - the final song gets a little loud.  It should pump you up with Christmas spirit though!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the Night before Christmas....

...and all through Singapore people continued to shop :).  Well I was only out until ~7:30, but there were plenty of people still out and about.  It's now 10:00 though, so Santa should be coming soon.

My day was good.  I got to sleep in and wake up nice and refreshed.  Unfortunately, it was rainy outside.  I checked out the moving listings and the new Sherlock Holmes movie was playing at 10:45.  With the rain and the early showing, there were hardly any tickets sold (you can check online).  So I got myself going and went to the movies!  I really enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking for something to do this Christmas weekend.

I had to take a quick work call and headed back home.  I immediately checked my mail.  Still no cards or packages from anyone.  Bummer.  Although, I did have a voicemail from the first recipient of my online gift giving activities.  So glad you liked it!!

After my call, I caught up on a couple tv shows and looked around on the internet for somewhere to go next week.  THEN....the doorbell rang.  It was Santa disguised as a Singapore postal delivery guy!!  I had 2 packages!! 

Having recieved some packages, I now needed milk and donuts for a successful Christmas morning.  I headed back out, but at least now the rain had stopped.  Before leaving my apartment, I had to re-check my mail box for any other surprises.  Sure enough! one last package. 

Thank you soooo much everyone for thinking of me and taking the time to fill out the customs forms and ship it :).  I am waiting for tomorrow morning to open them all.  Then, make myself some breakfast - eggs, french toast, donuts and American 2% milk.  I had to go get donuts and milk tonight so that I won't have to run out in my p.j.'s tomorrow morning.  Don't they look soooo good??  I only ate one tonight - the peanut butter one.  It has peanut butter filling and is only good while it's still warm.  I know I bought way too many - but I do love my donuts.  Plus, I'm without all the Christmas cookies, fudge and candies that you all are probably indulging in.  I say that in a good way - LOVE Christmas sugar :).

I had also purchased some hummus while I was out.  I poured a glass of milk, got my pita bread ready and looked for a movie to watch.  I intended to watch Family Man, the only Nicholas Cage movie I like, but it must have been one of those DVDs that was stolen and I haven't re-purchased.  But instead, I came across Elf.  Such a cute movie for adults and kids!!  I ate a lot, watched the movie and now I'm bloggg before bed.  Not my typical Christmas Eve, but a good day nonetheless.

I hope everyone gets their last minute Christmas shopping done today and then enjoy the holiday and time with family and friends.  Safe travels to all of you driving, flying or just walking to the mailbox!  Heard there's a bit of ice back home.

See you tomorrow for Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 does a body good!

BAM!  I found it!!  Some American milk. 

All thank you to another blog that I often check, written by a fellow expat in Singapore, Fish Tale.  Since my trip to Singapore last spring, I became painfully aware of the lack of American milk - or even something that tastes close to American milk. 

I don't know how to explain it but the milk here is just a little off.  I did find a brand that I could get use to on my cereal.  But the days of a large glass of cold milk were history.  Until now :)!!

The milk here actually comes from Australia, New Zealand, Japan - I'm not sure where all but it's not really Singaporean.  Sometimes it tastes a bit sweet or like there is vanilla added, almost like it's a sort of treat rather than a normal every day beverage.  Plus, they get the fat content messed up - either whole, no fat or a "milk beverage" which kinda mixes the two but definitely can not be classified as milk. 

Well I read about the California milk on the blog and sure enough - it was right in my grocery store this weekend.  I finished it this morning with a bowl of cereal.  Wonderful and I can't wait to buy more!!

My fridge is only half working - keeping it cool, but not cold.  So I was afraid to buy more than one carton in case I would have to drink up and dispose of the rest.  Turns out the freezer is cold, but not frozen and worked well to keep my milk from spoiling for 2 days :).  I'm working on getting that problem fixed. 

Note: Don't under-estimate the significance of this new find.  I grew up having a glass of milk at lunch and dinner before I was allowed to get something else to drink (usually that was pop).  I've been hooked on milk ever since and back home I go through a gallon in a few days.  I LOVE my MILK :)!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poll Results

I was buying cheese and thought I'd get everyone's opinion.  For six of you who responded, some of the favorite cheeses are: Swiss-4, Cheddar-4, Provolone-4, Monterey Jack-4, Muenster-3, Mozzarella-2, Feta-2, Brie-1 and Bleu cheese-1. 

I did not vote on the above, but usually buy swiss at the store for sandwiches.  I am not afraid to admit that I love Kraft singles back home (even though it got zero votes).  I snack on Kraft singles all the time.  But my favorite cheese to eat just as cheese is Queso Manchego - a cheese I discovered in Spain.  Especially with some roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes and olive's wonderful! :)  You should try it if you get the chance. 

This poll was really in line with the theme of my last post on grocery shopping.  All cheese here is pretty expensive, a lot of it coming from Australia and New Zealand.  I try to stay under S$10 per block.  And for whatever reason, the Kraft singles here are not up to specs - so I avoid those. 

I'm taking a short break on polls while I try to come up with some better questions :).  Have a good weekend!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Got Food?

Shopping is one of the national past times in Singapore, but grocery shopping is of course required.  When I first arrived, the struggle was to figure out how to shop without my car.  Back home, just lugging the groceries from my car to apartment was a pain.  Imagine then navigating the bus/train with all of your first-time grocery needs.  Not fun :).

My cupboards were bare for quite a while.  While they still aren't that full, it's not for lack of shopping but lack of cooking enthusiasm.  I've found a few options for me:
  1. Make many small trips where only 1-2 bags need to be carried home.
  2. Buy groceries and take a taxi home.
  3. Order online and have them delivered.
  4. Shop in the store and have your purchases delivered.
I have tried all four to some extent, each with their positives and negatives.  I tend to do a mixture of 1 and 4 - perishables require individual trips and get carried home themselves; non-perishables get bought in bulk and delivered.  The taxi can work, but you still have to carry all your purchases from checkout to the taxi queue (pronounced "Q"; British word used here for line) and then wait for a taxi, which may or may not be quick.  Option 3 is similar to 4, but I don't like it because I don't feel that my options are the same online and I just really enjoy shopping in the store (I'm not a big online shopper for non-food items either). 

This past week was a prime example of my new shopping habits.  Tuesday night I took the bus to a nearby grocery store that has a good deli. 

Sidebar: There are 3 main grocery stores in Singapore - FairPrice (similar to a Cub foods or Sullivan's - cheaper store with the basics), ColdStorage (similar to Kroger - big chain with a little nicer experience and greater selection), or Jason's Market Place (similar to Schnuck's or another high-end organic grocer - it has the best shopping experience along with the most expensive prices).  With each step-up, the variety and availability of Western/American food items increases along with the prices. 

I like to go to FairPrice for generic items - bread, milk, juice, fruits, sweets, etc.; but when it comes to deli meat for sandwiches and real cheese, I go to Jason's.  On any given trip, it probably takes about an hour for me to get there, look through all the aisles, check-out and get back home. I try to keep it to one bag and bring my canvas bag to re-use.  Tuesday night I needed deli meat and therefore went to Jason's.  Came out with wheat bread, raisin bread, shaved turkey, feta cheese, two large roasted red peppers (called capsicum here), oranges, apples, tomatoes, an avocado, salsa and Tostitos.  I think that was about it.  Total bill ~S$40  (cheese and peppers were almost S$10 a piece).   Carried in one bag to the bus stop to get home.  *This store is near the #2 on the map below.

Saturday I went to Carrefour for my non-perishables.  Carrefour is our local equivalent to Wal-Mart (i.e. it has more than food).  I found out that if you spend more than S$150, you can get free delivery; otherwise, it is S$8 - which isn't too bad.  Saturday I loaded up on drinking water, milk (I get UHT boxed milk that sits on the shelf), juice, honey, cereal, peanut butter, laundry detergent, softener, cans of soup, new trash can, paper towels and hangers (along with some other little things).  I've been slowly changing out my closet hangers since the move - about 5-10 per trip to Carrefour.  I think I should be almost complete by now.  Space is limited in Singapore, so Carrefour is a two-level store.  Foods and personal products on the top, clothing, hardware, toys and electronics on the bottom.  There is an escalator to connect the two floors.  When you go down it, the cart wheels lock into place on the floor, so no concern about rolling away and smashing into someone.  Then at check-out, simply say it's for delivery.  Everything comes out of the cart to be scanned and goes back into the cart without being bagged.  Then you go to the counter right outside, fill out the paper work, leave the cart and wait for it to be delivered in about 24 hours.  My shopping trip ended ~8:30pm and was to be delivered between 4pm and 9pm on Sunday (actual arrival was a little past 5pm).

I left the store with nothing but my receipt and purse.  It was wonderful.  It was a nice evening out, I had on my tennis shoes and I decided to walk along my bus route until I was ready to hop on the bus.  I've included the map below (courtesy of the "route mapping" function from Nike+), which shows where I started on the right (took the bus here) and where I end (at home) on Alexandra Road.  The walk was good and so I never made it to that bus.  All in all, it turned out to be a 3.2 mile walk home.  I did stop for a snack pack and fountain Coke at McDonald's around mile 2 (the numbers are the mile markers).

Sunday, I only needed to be home when my purchases were delivered.  The only issue is that I have to do this shopping on Friday night or Saturday so that I'm actually home to receive it.  It's a great way not to have to carry around a bunch of crap though.  And here's my to put it away :).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Elephant mess

I got home from shopping today (hope to do a separate post on that topic) to find my first mini-disaster in the apartment.  Okay, so I exaggerate a little....

It begins with the pictures on the wall.  So when I moved in, I asked my realtor about using nails.  He suggested I just use the sticky hangers.  I noticed that any nails in the current walls the landlord already had things hanging on (I count a total of 4 nails in the whole apartment). So I did come across some 3M velcro strips that are for picture hanging.  I thought I would try to follow the rules.  I've used the 3M wall hangers in the past for bathroom mirror and such, so I figured these light-weight pics were no problem.  I got them all velcro-ed up and there they hang nicely as seen in the pic above.

Until....I came home today after being out for about 3-4 hours and the middle picture had disappeared to the floor.  Yep, the sticky just popped off the wall (still in tact on the frame as you can see).  Yes, the glass holding it in is gone now too.

It shattered all over.  I was walking around in my socks before I realized it.  There were big shards but also lots of little pieces, even dust-like.  I found pieces across the floor in about a 6ft radius.  You can see the broom I've inherited.  Looks a bit scrawny, but works well.  To be safe, I think I'll wear my flip-flops around for a while.

So....the time came for the first use of my vaccuum.  Yes, I've been here over 3 months now and have not used the vaccuum.  This will not be a surprise to most readers :).  Although in my defense, all the floors are hard surface and I have been using the broom fairly regularly.  This vaccuum is Samsung and was in my closet when I moved in.  I've only owned a Samsung TV, but turns out they do vaccuums well also.  It has a retractable power cord, can be wheeled around, the hose connection pivots and it's got some pretty good hoovering power behind it.  It is also pretty small and fits neatly into the closet.  I may need to use this more often!

I took the other two pictures down so they would not suffer the same fate.  I'm guessing it must be the humid air??  I may try nails, but I did try that in one of the bedrooms and it was a no-go.  Don't think these walls are your regular drywall ones from the U.S.  Back to bare walls for the moment. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poll Results

Without cheating, how long was my recent 3.2km run?  All four of you selected 2 miles, which was correct.  It's about 1.99 miles. 
I haven't gotten a lot of the conversions down yet.  Here are some key differences:
  • My weight should be in kilos, not pounds
  • My height in meters, not feet or inches
  • Meat at the deli counter is in grams, not pounds
  • Electricity is 220v (or 240v?), not 110v
  • The marathon is in kilometers, not miles
  • The freezing temperatures back home must be described in celsius, not fahrenheit
  • Seasons are hot, more hot and really hot, not spring, summer, fall and winter
  • Lights on flip down, not up
  • My deadbolt turns counterclockwise to lock, not clockwise
  • Allen wrenches/screws are in metric, not English
  • Clothes sizes can be almost anything - don't get stuck on a number
  • My shoes are 39/40, not 8.5/9
  • Walking and driving are on the left, not the right
  • Work days are closer to 9 to 7 than 8 to 5
  • Football is soccer, not football
  • Christmas is Christmas, not a politically correct "holiday"
These are most of the main ones that come to mind.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's really December??

Sorry, it feels like it's been quite a while since an update.  Two weeks ago now it was Thanksgiving.  I've been preparing for the holiday season to bring on waves of homesickness - but I survived Thanksgiving pretty well :).  A fellow American over here invited me to Thanksiving at their house.  There were a few American families and we had turkey, stuffing, corn casserole, cranberry/apple something (it was really good) and apple pie.  I know there was other stuff but it's been more than a week now and I forgot to take a picture of the table.  Needless to say I wiped my plate clean!  It was great having food from the kitchen, because my kitchen is basically for decoration only.  I provided a couple of bottles of wine for the evening.  Probably for the best that I didn't bring food.  There was no football game to watch afterwards, but it was a really great evening.  AND the next day was a national holiday in Singapore (unrelated to Thanksgiving) so it was nice to have a free day.

One may ask where you find turkey in Singapore.  It does pose an interesting question since many kitchens are without ovens or have only small ovens.  Our turkey was from the local school - a guy has a catering business and every Thanksgiving prepares turkeys for sale.  You pick up your turkey, fully cooked and sliced, yet whole.  Yes, they peel back the skin, carve the turkey so it falls off and then put it all back in place, full skin in tact.  It looks like a whole turkey but is ready for eating.  I thought it was interesting....

The additional day for the weekend was also really great considering that Saturday afternoon I had to fly to China for work.  In China, I was travelling between a few cities.  There is a bullet train that goes between them, but in some cases there was only one train per day, so it limited your travel options.  Still though it was a very convenient way to travel.  Here are some pics from the train station in Beijing and my train ticket.

I arrived in China to a hazy fog and chilly air.  Yes - I got to pull out the few winter wear items I brought with me! :)  In Singapore, it just does't feel like December.  I see the sweaters and boots here in the stores and wish I could get another Grandma sweater like I love :). 

Anyway, because it was so warm I packed my jacket in my checked luggage.  You have to take a tram from the terminal to baggage claim and there was one Chinese woman, waiting for the tram, who looked pointed and laughed at my bare arms.  It was brisk (is that the right word?), but not frigid.  I tried to say "I'm not stupid, my coat is checked" but I don't think it helped much.  I was sure thankful though when got into the well heated tram.  Would have been sweating if I had my coat on.

Driving in China can be dangerous.  At least in India there is so much traffic that your top speed is minimal.  We started through one intersection and then this huge line of dump trucks decided it was their turn (on a red light) to cross the intersection.  Right in front of us like 8 trucks went across.  When they'd finished, our light was now red and the rest of traffic came to t-bone us.  Luckily they stopped.  It was sooo odd though.

Sometimes eating in China can be hit or miss.  They certainly don't waste any products, which can lead to some exotic table dishes (exotic at least to us Americans).  However I ate well on this trip.  Here are a couple of dinners - one Chinese at the hotel and the other Korean at a restaurant.

The dark looking things on the left on lettuce are mini-eggplants. Not my fav.  Next clockwise: A smoked fish, broccoli florets, smaller individual fishies, chicken stomach, some veggie and down in front is I think pork or something.  Really all but the mini-eggplants were good. 

Difficult to see the details here.  We had beef, pork, mushroom caps, sliced sweet potatoes, a broth soup, a spicy rice and beef dish and some other stuff I can't all remember.  The chopsticks here were flat, metal and much more difficult to use.  Otherwise I tend to get compliments on my new found chopstick skills :).

I also had a "hot pot" dinner, which is kinda like fondue, and we cooked raw meat in boiling broth.  There were lamb meatballs, thin slices of various meat types, mussels, mini-squid (these were really funny - flat blobs when raw and little bobber looking white balls once cooked).

I don't know what the deal was but it was foggy for most of my trip. And not hazy, like pollution, actual fog.  At one point we could only see two dash lines painted on the road and could barely get to the train station.  However, it cleared up a little one morning in Tianjin.  Look at the awesome clock they have.  Tianjin looks like a very fun town.

And I'll leave you with a little friend that I often see after a rain.....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Where to Begin...

It's been a crazy last week.  I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving - I did! :)  I'll update more this weekend, but I did get turkey for Thanksgiving, had the day off work on Friday and got to wear my hat and mittens in China.

Have a great rest of your week.