Sunday, 11 December 2011


"Hi. My name is Lauren, and I'm a sporadic blogger."

"Hi, Lauren."

"It's been six weeks (or so) since my last post and— wait, why are you all gasping and shaking your heads like that? ... I've been busy— I swear!!!"

Honestly, it HAS been a very busy couple of months, though not of the particularly "blog worthy" kind. I've been scouting out nursery schools for Dagny, getting her involved in play groups, and readying the family for our return trip the States. The past few Friday nights, I feel like I should be collapsing on the couch with the kind of triumphant exhaustion that comes with saying, "This week I saved the whales, found loving homes for 40 orphans, and solved the US debt crisis" ... when in actuality, I'm telling Brad, "I located a new place to hang the laundry so it doesn't get soaked by the afternoon monsoons, found a local nursery school where the tuition doesn't rival what I paid to attend Ohio State, and taught Dagny how to put on her own sunscreen." See? Aren't you all glad I decided NOT to blog for a while?

Okay, now take a sip of coffee, wipe that sleepy river of drool from the side of your mouth, and prepare yourself for a fun expedition to the Deepavali festival in Little India! (Yes, like so many of my blogs anymore, this one is being written retrospectively... very retrospectively... since Deepavali actually took place back in October)

Deepavali (also called Diwali, or the "Festival of Lights") is a celebration of the Hindu faith, the "lights" referring to displays of clay pot candles and fireworks. I'm told the fireworks are ignited in order to ward off evil spirits, but I'm beginning to think all Singaporeans, no matter their religion, just really love fireworks and will use any holiday as an excuse to set them off.

Celebrants of Deepavali wear colorful clothes and oodles of jewelry (mostly bangles). The dress alone made me feel like I'd stumbled onto a fantastical party located at the end of a rainbow. The air smells like fruit and flowers (which is nice, since sometimes the Little India crowds coupled with the heat can produce a far less pleasant fragrance) and locals are passing out lots and lots of sweets, which means Dagny (with her winning smile, huge blue eyes, and unusual copper-blonde hair) is on a sugar high within five minutes of our arrival, thanks to all the freebies the shopkeepers can't wait to push into her chubby little cheeks.

We actually made two separate trips to the festival, once in the afternoon, a week or so before Deepavali (Little India is decorated for most of the month) and another time in the evening, on the actual day of Deepavali, in hopes of watching the lighting of the candles and fireworks once the sun went down. The first visit was great. The second was a bit of a mistake.

The first time we went, Dagny and I didn't have too many crowds to deal with, and were able to peruse the shops without being jostled. I bought a few items for my family back in the States, but found I much preferred to just wander around while eyeing jewelry and fabrics from a distance. Why? Well, there's a funny thing about Little India... nothing is marked with a price tag. So when I ask the woman running a shop how much something costs, she has me wait while she hollers for her husband, who magically appears from behind a wall of fabric, glances me up and down, and tells her what to charge me. Which, as it turns out, was about three times more than the Indian woman beside me is being quoted for a nearly-identical item. I know, I know... I'm supposed to haggle. The shopkeepers expect it. But that doesn't mean I'll ever be comfortable with it. And each time I told a shop keeper that I would think the purchase over and maybe come back, they would immediately, without fail, lean toward me and whisper a new "special price," just for me. Wow, really? JUST for ME???

As you can see, I really don't like haggling. I don't respect the practice from either side of the shop keeper's table.

Once Dags and I were done exploring and perusing, Brad joined us for lunch, and I'm glad he did. Brad's been to India, and knew just what to order us to eat (I can be picky when it comes to curry). We had a pretty amazing spread, loaded with chickpeas and colorful pastes that I'm not sure I could have named even while I was eating them, never mind nearly a month later. There is no customary flatware at the table, which I'm used to here in Singapore, but there also are no chopsticks. There's just naan, an absolutely delicious kind of flatbread (we ordered garlic, cheese, and plain). To eat, you first dollop some food onto a banana leaf (this is also a popular way to eat fish in Katong, a Malay district near my apartment). Then you rip off a piece of naan and pinch the food with it. Clever. And also pretty fun! Brad challenged me to eat like a true Indian, which is with just one hand (the other hand is used for, ummm, sanitary purposes throughout the day, and therefore is not considered proper to handle food with). I didn't think this was going to be too difficult, until he informed me that I also had to tear my naan with just one hand. The Indians seated around us made it look so easy... but it's NOT! Give it a shot next time you're eating dinner and find yourself bored.

The second trip Dags and I made to Little India for the festival was on the actual day of Deepavali, and Brad was out of town. Well, this turned out to be a very short-lived adventure. The district was PACKED! I finally had to fold up Dagny's umbrella stroller (which is as tiny as they come) and carry it over my arm because there was no room in the streets for it. The crowds were pushy and the drivers of delivery trucks just honked and honked and honked at the immobilizing masses. It really wasn't much fun. I found us a couple of quieter side streets to wander, and one nice little perch where we hung out for a while to people watch, but within an hour, we were weaving our way back to the MRT station.

Dagny stopping to admire some pools on our way to the MRT station.

Little India at the start of Deepavali... stores and stalls setting out trinkets and flowers.

Anyone in the market for some replicas of Indian gods and goddesses?

I complain to Brad that I hate department stores because I find them to be overwhelming. There's so much to look at, I don't know where to begin hunting for, say, a dress. But, wow... Nordstrom's seems a whole lot more navigable to me now.

I was tempted to ask to see the strand of flowers at the very top... no, a little more to the left... now the right... oooh, or maybe that one ten feet over...

At one point, I got a neck cramp. Seriously. And believe it or not, I actually bought one of these for Dagny's bedroom. I have no idea how I picked it out. In the swirl of colors and bells and swinging tassels, I think I just pointed vaguely upward and said, "I'll take that one."

A very kind shop owner giving Dagny her first set of Deepavali bangles. She was in heaven.

Deepavali in the evening. Getting a little crowded.

Soon after ditching the stroller. "Mom, where did all these people come from?"

A SIDE NOTE: I actually wrote this blog back in November (believe it or not!), but my site was one of the many Blogger sites that was plagued with an inability to upload photos for a while. Brad, Dagny and I have since made our pilgrimage back to the US and are once again home, safe and sound (though still jet lagged) in Singapore. More about our trip later...

Monday, 24 October 2011

To The Ladybug!

"To the Ladybug!" is a relatively new phrase here in the Lodge household. I shout it every time we all three pile into the car to go somewhere (which is only once every few weeks, so I continue to say it with gusto). Brad would prefer I used a more manly name than "Ladybug," but when we're driving around town in a tiny, BRIGHT red Mazda with black trim, I'm not sure there's a more appropriate label to be found. And besides, Dagny giggles every time I say it, so of course the name is as good as etched in stone.

Brad had to be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last Monday, so we decided to turn his meeting into an excuse for a little family getaway. It's not always easy traveling with a toddler, but sometimes you have to throw headaches and dreams of "packing light" to the wind and (as Nike would say in all their infinite wisdom) just do it. 

So just do it we did... and in the Ladybug, no less! Some of our friends here thought we were a bit crazy for attempting such a venture, and warned us to take plenty of money to pay off the cops that were sure to pull us over for "undisclosed reasons," but nothing so scandalous took place and I'm really glad we decided to drive... it gave us a wonderful opportunity to see the Malaysian countryside, which is quite a bit different from Singapore. First, Malaysia is surprisingly mountainous in areas. Secondly, there were palm tree plantations stretching over rolling hills as far as the eye could see, which was pretty cool to look at (Malaysia is a major exporter of palm oil).

The traffic was a little different than in Singapore, as well. SO MANY MOTORCYCLES! I mean, seriously, they were EVERYWHERE... zipping up the medians, weaving between cars, buzzing and darting this way and that. And in closer to KL, several stretches of highway had no painted lane lines! Yikes! There were times when we were careening along at 120 km/hour with two cars to our right and two trucks to our left, all merging and angling without any clear idea of who belonged where and just praying all the way that we wouldn't hit any of the motorcycles flowing around us like red blood cells through a vein. 

But Brad did GREAT! In my best Rain Man impression: He's an excellent driver. The trip took about 5 hours in total, including an incredibly long wait at customs, a few scheduled rest areas and one unscheduled stop along the side of the highway to clean baby vomit out of the backseat of the car. Poor Dags-a-roo. Note to self: Never again buy milk from a Malaysian roadside rest stop.

Crossing the bridge from Singapore into Malaysia.

No laughing... I know these are pretty terrible! I kept trying to capture images of mountains, but every time I would try to take a picture with my phone, it would never actually register the shot until a massive tree entered the frame, totally blocking my scenic view!

Palm trees. Lots and LOTS of palm trees.

Palm oil plantation. At several spots, we could see where some of the plantations workers lived... very cool looking shanties on stilts, tucked in among the trees.

Our GPS decided to crap out on us once we reached Kuala Lumpur (which is a very modern and very cool city), so for the final leg of our journey, Brad and I had to set our sights on the impressive Petronas Towers near the heart of downtown, knowing only that our hotel was somewhere close to them, and simply tried to weave our way to their doorstep like a mouse in a maze. It's strange to say, but we actually had a lot of fun that last half hour. Even with a naked toddler in the backseat and trash bags full of vomit-soaked towels around my feet, we were all three laughing and screaming (in a good way) by the time we rolled up to our hotel.

Our hotel. Wow. As it turns out, things cost a whole lot less in Malaysia than Singapore, and Brad and I found ourselves welcomed into the lap of luxury for four days upon entering Traders Hotel (of the very posh line of Shangri-La hotels).

This was the view out our hotel room window. Those are the Petronas Towers... until 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world. Look familiar? They were in the movie Entrapment, with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The night view. 
"Thank you for staying at Traders Hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Lodge. Would you like a large slice of awesomeness with your stay?" Yes we would, thank you. 

And who could ever leave little Dagny Pie out of "the awesomeness?" That's a MASSIVE playground and splash pad just below us. Spent a good bit of time there.

Dags on the swings. This was just two hours after painting the backseat of the Ladybug a lovely shade of white and tangerine. What a trooper.

Outside of going to Indonesia (which doesn't really count, since Bintan is more or less just a resort island), I've never visited an Islamic country before. It's really quite amazing... I'm not accustomed to seeing religion dictate the everyday aspects of a person's life. Everywhere in KL, the women wore long skirts or pants, scarves and head coverings. Many were dressed in full burkas. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was watching Dagny run around with a little Malay girl on the playground, playing follow the leader up ladders and down slides. The girl's mother stood next to me, dressed head to toe in a black burka. I couldn't even see her eyes. We spoke no common verbal language, and neither did the girls, but we still all somehow found a way to communicate. The mom and I would point and laugh and gesture. The girls hugged a lot. I feel like there's a profound statement in there somewhere, wrapped up in a strange but beautiful moment that I can't really put into words. 

Another Islamic aspect to Malaysia is there is no pork (at least none that is served in any restaurants or local markets) because of the kosher lifestyle and belief that it can contaminate one's body via the air.

But the prayers to Mecca were by far the most amazing aspect of the Islamic culture. While we were playing on the swings our first night in KL, hidden loud speakers all over the city suddenly blared to life, and prayer chants filled the air. It was so amazing, listening to the beautiful sounds while the Petronas Towers glowed silver above us and the sky turned the most fairy tale shade of purple I've ever seen.

Brad noticed the goofy smile on my face, and said, "Enjoying yourself?"

"Totally. I love the prayer chants." He didn't say anything in reply, just nodded and kind of... smirked. 

"What?" I said. "You don't think they sound pretty?"

"No, I do," he replied, still smiling in that cryptic way. "Very pretty."

"Then what?"

"Nothing. I'm just glad you're having fun, that's all."

Well, at 5:00 the next morning (and every morning after), I was jolted awake by that very same, though far-less melodious sound. 

"What the—? What is that? The tv?"

"Prayer chants," says Brad, and even though it's pitch dark in our room, I can actually hear that same smile from the night before in his voice.

"You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"

"Yuuuuup." (smile... grin... ear to ear... Cheshire Cat style)

We spent Sunday at an incredibly fun place called Aquaria. Dagny's eyes about popped out of her head when we walked inside, and came face to face with a wall of piranha and thousands of other fish of all shapes and sizes.

Dagny and Daddy at the Touch Pools, petting a bamboo shark. Wow, go Dags!

This is actually NOT a beaver! It's a water rat... or for anyone who has seen the Princess Bride, an R.O.U.S. from the Fire Swamp.

Dagny and Daddy popping up inside the sea otter exhibit!

High fivein' a gecko.

"Hello, Mr. Coatamundi. Would you like to come back to Singapore and be my new bedtime snuggle buddy?"

Dagny very appropriately wore her new fish sundress from Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Kim and Uncle Geoff.

The underwater walk.

Dagny didn't say peep (nor did she blink) the entire way through.

Out to dinner outside the Petronas Towers.

Dagny konked out after a long and fun-filled day. She had a new friend from Aquaria to keep her company (and apparently still some ketchup on her cheeks for midnight snacking). How's that for a lady-like pose?

Hmmmm.... What else to say about KL? Not much. We actually spent a good bit of time around the hotel, eating free food and drinking delicious wine that was (gasp!) affordable! We don't have a bathtub in our apartment in Singapore, so Dagny enjoyed multiple bubble baths while we were there (ahhh, the simple pleasures in life). And Brad even treated me to an hour's massage, which was fantastic... nothing like my last massage. I'll admit, I was a little leery upon entering, when instead of asking about any medical conditions I may have, they asked what my astrological sign was so they could taylor a massage to my designated star chart. I actually paused before answering... Should I lie and say Gemini or Aquarius, in hopes that I receive a massage that is soothing, like air or water? Or do I tell them the truth, admit I'm a Capricorn, and hope to the heavens they don't do a "goat prance" on my spine?

I ended up telling them the truth, and the massage turned out just fine. At one point, I actually caught myself drooling and nodding off to sleep.

The drive back to Singapore was lazy and storm-ridden. And uneventful, which was nice. I'm so glad Dagny and I had the opportunity to accompany Brad on his little business trip, but like I said before, traveling with a toddler isn't always easy. And one generally uses the term "vacation" very liberally when doing so. We were all three pretty tired by the time we got home, and ready again for our own beds and, though beautiful, no prayer chants at 5:00am.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

America Seems So Young

Status: I'm missing autumn, especially when I see pictures of my Stateside friends going apple picking or Halloween costume shopping. It's a strange and kind of funny sensation, but I've discovered that my seasonal body clock continues to tick whether I'm part of a seasonal change or not. The weather here in Singapore hasn't changed at all since the summer months, and yet I feel an urge to put on jeans and eat more carbs. Weird.

So I seem to have fallen behind on my posts again... hiccups in the fabric of time seem to be constant anomalies when it comes to motherhood. When I could swear I've been sitting at toddler playgroup with Dagny for the better part of an hour, I look at my watch and realize it's only been ten minutes. And when I think it's only been a couple of days since my last post, I log on to my computer and discover it's actually been a couple of weeks. Oh well. I do the best I can.

Brad, Dagny and I had a great time in Kuala Lumpur the past four days, but I'm actually going to save detailing that trip for a later post. I will TRY to write about it this weekend... yup, sorry... TRY is the best I can do right now!

Instead, I'll play a little catch up by highlighting Dagny's and my Adventure Wednesday trip from last week to the Asian Civilisations Museum (if you make it through the entire tour like we did, you'll see why it topped our "List of Must-Sees"). It was a hot morning, and crazy-humid, so I was a bit cranky when, after two train transfers, we wound up lost. I'm not a fan of iPhone 4, or at least the GPS feature, which is pretty much imperative to my existence here in Singapore. The little locator pin bounces me around all over the city, at one point on our trip even trying to convince me I was standing IN THE MIDDLE of Marina Bay... as in, walking on water. Hmmmm...

But, as I've said before, sometimes the journey ends up being half the adventure. I wander streets I normally wouldn't have found, traverse weird tunnels I never knew existed in hopes of getting someplace familiar, and on occasion, find some truly remarkable stuff. For instance: on this particular trip, I got us crazy lost and ended up cutting through a park where I found this unbelievable tree! I have never seen anything like it before, and Dags thought it was pretty cool, too.

This is called a Cannonball Tree (quite appropriately). The top looks like any typical deciduous tree, but where the branches start, there is an unusual clumping of palm-like leaves, and then even farther down the trunk, you run into above-ground roots. Such a crazy looking tree!

These giant fruits really are about the size of cannonballs, and are very hard.

The flowers of the Cannonball Tree are very fragrant, and are used in Hindu worship.

Finally!!!! The Asian Civilisations Museum.

I've really developed an affinity for Buddhist art since moving here. The Buddhist faith originated in India, and spread to China around the 3rd century BC via the Silk Road. From there, it continued to flourish throughout Southeast Asia, thanks mostly to trade routes. Every region has its own traditions in their depiction of Buddha, which I love. This statue of Buddha is from Thailand and is made of bronze. The "spire" on Thai Buddha's head represents flame of enlightenment.

This is a Cambodian Buddha, and dates all the way back to the 11th century. Naga, king of mythical serpents, is protecting this Buddha from the floods. On this Buddha, the long earlobes and tight hair curls with the protuberance are symbolic of his enlightenment.

On the left is another Cambodian Buddha, which dates all the way back to the 7th century! Dagny and I started a game at this point on the tour... to see if we could find the oldest artifact in the museum. 

These are called Mukhalingam, and they represent the Hindu god Shiva. That is a third eye at the center of their foreheads, and they also have the elongated earlobes and tall top-knot (or jatabhanda) as signs of enlightenment. These have been carbon dated to the 8th century. Sorry, fellas... you were close.

I'm diggin' these gold earrings on the right. Yowsa!

We have now moved on to North Vietnam... it was very cool the way the museum was laid out, with different rooms dedicated to different regions of Asia. Each exhibit opened with a description of what life was like there before, during, and after Chinese influence... everything from writing and cultivation of rice to language and religion.

Vietnamese Buddha.

The multi-armed Quan Am, which is a female version of Buddha that was very popular in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). She had the power to alleviate all forms of suffering.

Hilltribe jewelry from Thailand. Earrings and neckrings with a "soul lock" hanging from them. Silver jewelry was a way of investing a family's wealth to be passed down as heirlooms.

Okay, this guy was seriously cool, and pretty big. It is a Makara processional vehicle (or the head of one). It is a very rare surviving piece from Hindu culture in Malaysia.

These wooden masks depict Aso, a powerful Dayak dragon goddess of the underworld. Dayak Malaysian mothers used to wear these to scare their children into obedience. Hmmm... I wonder if that would fit into my mom's "Parenting With Love & Logic" program. Maybe we could call it "Love & Logic & A Little Bit of Pants Wetting."

Hilltribe headdress. 

Belt buckles! For real! The one on the far right was as big as my midsection. I totally want to go to Texas now wearing one of these, and saunter up to some guy in a saloon-type bar with a giant "Everything's Bigger In Texas" belt buckle on his pants and be like, "You call that a belt buckle? I guess some things are even bigger in South Niam."

Okay, these two pictures are for my loyal guy readers... weapons! Unfortunately it was so dark in this part of the museum that the pics didn't come out too well. These swords used to belong to Sumatran princes, and the keris (the wavy-bladed knife) originated in Java. 

I mean, seriously, how bad a$$ are these things??? I imagine Stephen King's infamous evil magician, Flagg, carrying a keris.

If only you could all see these in person... they stand about 12-feet tall! Dags was totally enthralled (thank goodness... it could have easily gone either way: enthralled or horrified). These are used in the Taiwanese and Chinese Mazu Festivals, in honor of Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.

And now for the biggest treat of all... the main reason Dagny and I ventured out the Asian Civilisations Museum in the first place. We wanted to view the temporary exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors! Yes, this was beyond amazing, to see up close and personal a little of the astonishingly beautiful and sophisticated art from the very militaristic and highly controversial First Emperor of China.

Everything used to be painted in vibrant colors.

These are all life-sized, and have features of rank and function.

In the four pits at the dig site (not here, obviously), over 7,000 soldiers and more than 500 horses and multiple chariots were unearthed. Again: LIFE SIZED!

So as it turns out, the Terracotta Warriors were the oldest artifacts we found in the museum, dating back to 200 BC. Leading up to them, Dagny found a small Buddha statue from the 5th century, but the room was too dark to get a very good picture. It's funny to think that one day, Dags will go on a class field trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, and will probably say something to the tour guide like, "I'm sorry, you actually think the cotton gin is considered old?"

Heading out of the museum with my adventure buddy. 

Dags wasn't too sure about this guy at first, until I petted him and showed her he was very friendly!

It was another fabulous day, and we learned a lot! Hopefully you learned a little bit, too!