Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some Lovin' for the U.S. of A.

At home, I subscribed to three magazines: National Geographic Traveler, Weight Watchers and The Economist. 

(replica pic from the article discussed below)

I discovered The Economist a couple of years ago and fell in love - well love is a strong word I suppose.  But it is the most enjoyable way in which I get the news.  It's quite expensive though and so is a bit of a treat (in Singapore S$15 at the newsstand; in US I think it was aroud $10).  I guess I've always (well since college) been interested in what's going on with the world - sometimes moreso than what's going on at home.  I've heard some criticism about President Obama being too apologetic to the world for being the USA.  When I've been on my travels, I have often felt that way myself.  Someone asks where I from, I say the States awaiting a negative reaction. 

Well...I treated myself over Christmas and bought the Christmas edition of The Economist.....and it helped shine a light.  The article, A Ponzi Sscheme that Works, proceeded to lay out all the wonderful reasons why people WANT to come to the U.S.

The article explains how immigrants can make almost anywhere in the U.S. home.  Think about all the landscapes, climates, lifestyles, etc. that you can find.  Want a big city? You can go north (have winter and summer), go south (stay warm), go east (all business), go west (hug a tree), come to the middle (everyone's your neighbor).  You can pick and choose to find your perfect environment (in Singapore - I have no options of farmland or cold weather). 

Mixed with all that variety, you can find pockets of ethnic groups.  How wonderful to be in a strange new world, yet surrounded by your countrymen.  Take the best of America and the best of home and what could get better??  I can really appreciate that now that I'm in Singapore.  Talking to Asians and making new friends is great but the fact is we're different and you can't always appreciate the same inside jokes.  Talking to other caucasians is nice because they often face some of the same challenges as you.  But talking to other Americans takes the cake because it's like a little bit of home, what you're use to.  There aren't a whole lot of Americans in Singapore - most of the international population is Australia, Europe or other Asian countries.

The article made me remember all the wonderful things about the U.S. and made me proud to be from such a great country where everyone can find a home.  Thought I would share.... :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Changing Seasons

Alas, there is no turning of leaves or light frost in the morning.  The season I am referring to is "peak period", "busy season", the "audit zone". :)  Now some of you may be thinking...oh yes! the year is over and it's time to prepare taxes.  But I actually don't work on taxes - and with my moving abroad, this year (and for the next few) work is even helping me preparing my returns.  I am very thankful for this :).

You will notice that my postings are more sporadic as this time of year does get quite busy for me.  The Asian countries have a reputation for working long hours and Singapore is no exception.  I've heard the horror stories from co-workers of being at clients until 2-3 in the morning (and worse)! and then back again at 8/9am - for weeks at a time.  I will not function on that schedule and luckily my current schedule seems to take that into consideration. 

I will try to keep everyone updated, but my life probably won't be too exciting the next few months.  However, Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival as it's called in China) is coming in February.  It's based on the lunar calendar and last year was at the end of January.  I've heard there are festivities ongoing for like a month.  So I hope to experience some new things next month. 

Coincidentially, it also falls on Valentine's Day - which, yes, is a Hallmark holiday here as well.  Although it sounds like there might be a lot of Valentine's wishes sent via SMS (i.e. texting) rather than mailing of actual cards. 

Happy seasons to all!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I've talked about my bus rides and walking, but taxis are another great way to get around town and they can be fairly cheap, especially when sharing.  For work, many people in my office take them.  However, even though they think I'm nuts, I find myself usually opting for a public transport option if available and I can manage the time.  See which you would prefer based on my pros and cons below.

What's great about the taxis:
  • Super quick (w/o traffic jams) - like home from work in under 10 minutes for under $10.
  • Call and have them pick you up whenever and wherever - usually within 5 minutes wait.  Only had a problem once.
  • Roomy - you would not believe the leg room in these cabs.  I would venture to say that most any long-legged American man or woman would be comfortable. 
  • Clean - always clean; not worried about what I might sit in or what that nasty stain is from.  I have never been disgusted or felt uncomfortable getting into a Singapore taxi.  Sometimes you even get surprised with the Mercedes white taxi :) (the others are usually blue as you can see from the picture)
  • No trickery!  I hate being taken advantage of but even though I still don't know my way exactly around Singapore, I never have problems with the drivers here taking me the "long way".  I know because while I haven't learned the road names, I do know my major landmarks.
  • Taxi stands (queues) are easy to find near well-travelled places.  Also, during non-peak, you can usually flag down a taxi pretty easily, especially at bus stops.
Some reasons why I prefer other transport options:
  • Calling for a cab in peak hours, adds $3.50 to your bill - for a short trip, that can be 50% of your overall fare. Pick-up for non-peak is $2.50 I think.  Comparatively, the bus and/or train is almost always under $3.50 for the whole trip.
  • Drivers don't have GPS and don't always know you're address.  I think the public has allowed the drivers to become use to being told where to go - which is not helpful for someone like me that doesn't know where she's going. :) I've always made it in the end, but I make sure to have a specific address or look it up on a map before going.  I have had drivers "phone-a-friend" to find the destination.
  • Car sickness - I get it really bad in Singapore even when I'm not doing anything.  Some drivers like to tap dance on the accelerator and it's very stop-go.  In Bali, the whole day practically in the car and I was reading when we were stopped by traffic, and not a hint of car sickness.  I'm convinced it's the Singaporean taxi drivers (no issues on the bus either).
  • No podcasts.  I like to listen to my iPod while travelling. Due to the fact that I need to give directions or confirm addresses, I can't really turn on the iPod and listen to it. And, I've really come to love my iPod.
  • Impatient drivers.  Some are fast, some are slow, some yield more, some less, but all seem to want you out of the car as soon as they've collected payment.  I'm rarely in the cab with less than two bags and yet as soon as I've recieved my change or signed my credit card receipt, they're saying "Thank you, have a good day" and are ready for you to be out.  I usually get at least 2-3 "thank you's" before getting out of the car like I'm not trying to extricate myself as fast as possible. Good thing tipping is not expected.
  • Taxi drivers can not tell which side is up or down on my black credit card.  Apparently the black card camoflauges the magnetic strip needed to process payment.  I bet 8 times out of 10 the driver uses the wrong side multiple swipes and can't get it to pay the bill.  Okay - I might be mean here - but c'mon it doesn't seem that difficult.  I mean the other side of the card has my name punched through it, so only one side is smooth.  Wouldn't you deduce that that side has the magnetic strip?!

Pictured is the system that cabbies use to get their next call.  If they are in the area, it'll pop up and they can accept or decline.  In the morning, I'm Ms. Wena on their computer screen :) - guess I didn't enunciate my L for Lena.  Many also have automated voices that ask you to "Please buckle your seat belt" when you start and say "Please pay XX.XX dollars" when you've arrived.

For me, the cons out-weigh the pros, if I have flexible time.  The time factor makes or breaks it.  Usually though I do end up taking the bus, walking or the train - in that order. 

One interesting item of note:
I have not confirmed this, but was told that only Singaporeans can be taxi drivers.  This is completely different from my experiences (although not many I must admit) in the U.S. where it doesn't seem like many drivers are actually U.S. born.  My apologies if that is a very narrow-minded, stereotypical assessment.  It was not my intention but only my observation from the few taxis I've taken.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back to Bali

I definitely need to plan another trip back to Bali! 

The resort I stayed at was very nice - quiet and private which was what I wanted.  But it also meant I was pretty far from anywhere else on the island.  I think there would be a lot of fun things to get out and do on the island.  So, my next trip will be a more active one for sure.  And this time I'll read ahead of time so I have a plan.

I have been able to post a full set of pics now with commentary and all from the trip.  Here are some other neat things that I learned/experienced along the way.
  • You don't need to get a travel Visa in advance, but you do need S$17 to get in the country for less than 10 days. (oh and money to get back out of the country as well!)
  • The island of Bali is in Indonesia.  Yes, the same Indonesia as Jakarta, but it's tourist friendly and I stayed in a Japanese resort (staying clear of the Marriotts in Indonesia).
  • The Indonesian currency is IDR (Rupiah) and comes in big bills.  The cost of most things is in the thousands - my lunch, 220,000 IDR.  It was weird carrying around nothing smaller than a 2,000 bill.
  • I took out IDR 1M at the ATM...I was a millionaire! ;)
  • The hotel rang a big gong when I arrived - more startling than anything.
  • My free drink ticket was for juice! I opted for a margarita which ended up being more reminiscent of a martini.
  • There were lots of creatures. Two frogs outside my door one night, ran smack into a spider web complete with spider (it quickly fell thank goodness), every night there was a bird or something outside that between 10-12 would make some crazy noise, camels on the everywhere.
  • Lots of white people, but few Americans. Maybe that's because it was a Japanese resort.
  • I had one dinner with some obnoxious families who did not control the kiddie table.  I think they decided to take a vacation from parenting as well.  Sorry - but me still single with no kids - I get to make judgements like that ;).
My rest and relaxation mode allowed for a lot of reading. 
1)  I finished my new John Grisham book of short stories - each of which left me wanting to read more. 

2) I also read Kite Runner after my friend at PreventionRD recmmended it a couple of times.  And it was marvelous!! It had me crying at the beach, crying in my room, but it was good.

3) Before I left Singapore, I watched an Oprah episode (they are about a year behind here) about the Secret Life of Bees - sounded good and I bought it.  Finished that one before vacation was done as well.  Also a good book - I think only a little crying.

4) Another Christmas present was Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol - but it was too big to pack with me.  I figured the other three were enough.  They weren't, and while at the airport (I was really early) I found Angels & Demons, which I hadn't read.  So I picked it up, and before I went back to work, it was finished too! Of course it was a great thriller.

So who's ready to come to Bali with me??? :D

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Technology is Wonderful

And I'm not even talking about my Skype phone to call over the internet or my air conditioners that turn on and off at the click of the remote.  I'm talking about refrigeration technology!

Some of you may be aware that the fridge here when I moved in was not so hot (or rather not so cool).  It wasn't working well - probably a couple of months ago now - and the repairman came.  He "fixed" it.  That lasted about a week when I noticed it wasn't too cool anymore.  Crank up the temperature dial....oh, wait, it's already up as high as it will go. 

Well my apartment was a disaster - dirty dishes, a dining table full of random crap, mail everywhere, shoes all over, you name it. So I wasn't about to call the landlord now.  I don't really cook anyway, so no big deal right?

It probably was that way for about 3 weeks or more [gasp!].  Yes, I know I'm super lazy about cleaning.  Until one weekend I cleaned and emailed the landlord. The next day the fridge motor was soooo loud, I had to close the kitchen door.  The following day, super had died.

Luckily the landlord agreed a new one was in order and last Saturday, one day back from Bali, I got a new fridge!! Lovingly decorated with all your christmas wishes :)!

I've got some ice cream (cookies'n'cream) that will actually not turn to mush now.  I've also made some ice cubes - ooh big accomplishment I know. :)

I went to the grocery store tonight, so I've actually got a little bit of food back in the fridge.  I've got my milk, juice, deli meat (turkey), cheese (havarti and mild cheddar), left over KFC, hummus and red peppers (in a jar). It's got a weird LED light and the top tray is for meat.  Apparently there is some light in there that is suppose to ward off bacteria.  No meat yet, so it will have to be tested another day.

And here is the surprise bottom drawer! It's for vegetables - don't you love all my veggies! ;)  I mean don't tomatoes, avocado, oranges and apples qualify?

I didn't know what I was missing without a fully-functional fridge.  Had to share my happiness :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Still on Vacation

Earlier this week, on Monday night, I left for Bali, Indonesia.  I did not take my computer and thus have not blogged for a while.  I've been home a couple of days now, but find myself being pretty lazy and still on vacation :).  Thus, no blog updates.  Here's a quick overview of the trip and I'll try to post more details later.

While I had heard of Bali, I did not really know where it was.  So, here's a map for everyone's benefit.  It's about a 2.5 hour flight from Singapore - so pretty close, which is good because I would love to go back!

I stayed at a resort, the Nikko Bali, which is pretty much at the southern-most tip of the island.  It was very nice, but a bit secluded from the rest of the island.  This was perfect for me though as my main priority was relaxing and not running all over like most of my vacations are. I had nothing planned when I left Singapore :).

I arrived late on Monday and left late on Thursday - so I had 3 nights and basically 3 full days.  Day 1 was at the beach and pool, Day 2 was in a car exploring the island and Day 3 was back to the beach.  I did wear my sunscreen, but still got burnt.  Most of it has seemed to fade away by now though.  It's rainy season (monsoon season in December) here, so I was worried about the weather.  It was beautiful for Day 1 and 3 on the beach but rainy for Day 2. 

Following are some pics to highlight my mini-holiday :).

View from the main lobby out to the Indian Ocean.  Yep, I can now say I've been in the Indian Ocean :)!  Open water scares me, so I can't really say I "swam".

My building, which was a garden view room.  I had the first floor - I think all the way to the left. 

My spot that I scoped out on the far end of the beach.  I had it all to myself on Day 1!  You can't tell too much from this view, but it was a pretty steep walk down to the water from here.  Gave my calves a good workout - especially in the sand! :)

For my drive inland, I hired a driver for the day - cheaper than trying to do a package tour.  It wasn't the best of days, but more of that in my next post.  It finally cleared up after 4 and we drove through some of the countryside - rice paddies.  I find it so interesting how they grow rice, must be the farm girl in me.

The driver taking my picture while waiting for the bench to free up from other tourist photo-takers.  Hopefully it's not too obvious that I was a little annoyed.  This was our last stop before going back to the hotel.  It's a temple in the background, Tanah Lot.

A better side of the back of the hotel.  The hotel is built into a cliff.  The lobby was actually on level 2, one floor above my room.  There is a separate building from mine that has all of the beach/pool view rooms.  From lobby level 2, you walk to level 15 of that building - so you can imagine the size of the "cliff".

A view of the pool and beach from the observatory tower above level 15.  It was really neat.  My beach spot actually isn't in the picture above.  It's to the right of the tree in the upper right corner.  They had several pools.  The big one you see had two volleyball nets and a basketball hoop along with a real sand beach for the kiddies.  Yes, the big wet spot is a small beach. 

I leave you with an awesome blue sky.  I don't know how I got the colors to come out like they did (I'll thank mother nature on this one), but I love the sky in this picture!!  I took this with my new Nikon D5000 - my first DSLR.  I'm still figuring it out - thus the buildings and such aren't as sharp as I would hope.

Hope everyone had a safe and wonderful New Year!!
*I was on my flight home for the countdown to midnight.