Friday, 29 July 2011

Another Day, Another Mile—Or Ten

Over the past three months, Brad and I have adopted a fun tradition: labeling the odd things we overhear or witness as “quotes of the week” or “images of the week.” Images of the week have included a goobery American expat with a fierce-looking sunburn wearing cut-off jean shorts (imagine The Village People) and Teva sandals with socks; an 80-some-year old Chinese guy dancing and hip-thrusting in the park to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems But A B**ch Ain’t One” (and with a tinge of sadness and humor, I realize that as his age, there’s probably a lot of truth to that); and pretty much any one of a hundred or so people who line the riverbank every morning doing Tai Chi—especially the ones who are able to “harness” their chi and start quaking all over with their eyes eerily rolled back in their heads.

And then, of course, there are the quotes of the week. Brad was in Japan all week, and emailed me his from Tokyo: “That bowl of pink sauce is for dipping your ox tongue in.” And mine comes from a cab driver who, after I told him where I needed to go, asked if I was Australian. Oddly enough, this isn’t the first, second, or even third time a local Singaporean has asked me this. I sound nothing like an Aussie. When I tell him I’m an American, he shrugs and says, “We Asians all look the same to you, and you all sound the same to us.” We both laughed.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve received wonderful emails from friends and family, generally asking the same two questions: You haven’t posted in a while… is everything okay? And, What is a typical day there like?

In many regards, these two questions fall hand-in-hand. So in answer to the first question: I’m doing okay… most days. Things have been a little rough here, with Brad traveling a lot and Dagny having lingering issues from her bout with scarlet fever. She wakes up every couple of hours screaming during the night—from what I can only surmise are nightmares—and refuses to take naps during the day. I probably don’t need to explain in any detail how exhausting this becomes after a while. And I think every mom out there knows what I mean when I say that right now is one of those times when I find myself wondering why I slaved for a 4.0 GPA in high school and went to college at all, just to find my days and nights devoted to diapers and Dr. Seuss. There are wonderfully rewarding aspects to motherhood, but there also LONG stretches of time when you forget what your own thoughts sound like, or if you even have any personal thoughts and opinions left at all. So I’ve amped up my search for some help, to no avail. Babysitters here charge $20-$30/hour, and part-time preschool or daycare runs 5 days a week—which I don’t want. I’ve met dozens of other expat wives here, and they all say the same thing: “You’ll eventually give yourself over to having live-in help. You’ll realize the way of life in Singapore pretty much forces you to do so.” This sentiment simultaneously frustrates me and makes me all the more determined to not go the live-in route.

Okay, so what exactly is the Singapore way of life? What is a typical day like here? Up until now, I’ve never responded with much in the way of detail to this question, basically believing that my days are fairly tame—borderline boring—and not really worth chatting about. There are, of course, some peculiar little differences. For instance, there are still language hurdles from time to time, even though most people speak English. The thing is, it’s not American English… for the Singaporeans, it is something called Singlish, and for the multitude of Aussies and Kiwis here, it’s… well, just sort of odd. One afternoon, a mom from New Zealand told me she bought too many “nappies” at the store and wondered if I wanted some. Thinking “nappies” was short for napkins, I said, “Oh, no thank you. I stopped buying them years ago. I pretty much only use paper towels now.” And she gives me this incredibly confused look, and we just kind of stare at each other for a second before another woman at the pool puts two-and-two together for us and says to me, “Nappies means diapers.” Ohhhh…

And I run into other strange little nuances on a daily basis, for example:

This is what some of the public toilets look like. Ladies, start toning your quads. Notice no toilet paper? There’s one communal role on your way in… take what you need and hope it’s enough.

There’s no Dr. Pepper here. Oh, how I miss my Dr. Pepper! But they do have this stuff… Kickapoo. What cracks me up is what it says at the bottom: “Original USA Joy Juice Recipe.” Ummmm… Does anyone back in the USA ever remember drinking something called Joy Juice?

Okay, back to the rundown of a typical day… It starts with coffee (a strange Middle Eastern brand because Starbucks is $25/bag… and you thought it was overpriced in the US) and a load of laundry. Our washing machine is tiny and since anything you wear basically needs to be peeled off your skin by the end of the day, laundry becomes a daily chore. And since we don’t have a dryer, I go the pilgrim route of hanging them on lines with clothespins. Next come the dishes. Endless. Freakin’. Dishes. No dishwasher or garbage disposal, so I find myself bent over the kitchen sink for far longer than I would like. I know, I know… it’s not like I’m having to lug my laundry and dishes down to the river and wash them with leaves and rocks as I squat on the shore, but it all still takes some getting used to.

Another aspect of apartment living here that takes some getting used to is the cleaning schedule. There are no seals on the windows and doors, so you wake up every morning to floors and countertops covered in humidity-soaked grit. Likewise, there is no AC in the bathrooms, only screen-less windows, which invites in lots of mildew, mold, ants, cockroaches, and salamanders. So yes, just like the laundry, the apartment needs to be cleaned pretty much daily. This has served as a breaking point for many-an-expat wife.

Dagny enjoying breakfast with a baby salamander... or is it a HUGE salamander climbing the apartment building next door? You be the judge.

Hands down my favorite part of my day right now is the morning, after I put in a load of laundry and mop the floors, when Dagny and I set out for an hour or two to explore our peninsula. She gets to lead, which takes us to some pretty fun, but also pretty weird places. One day she found a hidden picnic table beneath a beautiful grove of palm trees. Another day she led me to the underground dumpsters. It’s a crapshoot with her.

Follow the leader.

Dagny likes to clear all the flowers, leaves, and palm fronds (pictured here) off the path while we walk. 

Not so easy.

We always end up walking past the coy ponds, and if we get there early enough, we sometimes get to feed them.

This is a reflexology path… they are everywhere here. The wide, more rounded stones are for beginners. The smaller, more jutted ones can be a little more difficult—and painful. But after you walk over them, your legs feel kind of tingly and rejuvenated.

We usually walk the fitness trail that winds through our complex, stopping at all the different stations for Dagny to play. She’s already tackling the balance beam and tries to do pull-ups on the parallel bars, which is hysterical.

This is the upper-level baby pool, and behind the pavilion you can see the playground. By the time she turned 18-months, Dags had this playground officially conquered. She can climb the ladders and go both down and up the slide. Same with the waterslide at the pool… my little adventurer.

And then the day moves on. A couple of mornings a week, Dagny and I visit the wet market, which is a 3.5-mile roundtrip walk from our apartment, entirely accessible by the bike trail that runs alongside the river. The wet market is like a local farmer’s market. I wouldn’t necessarily say the food there is cheap, but it definitely costs less than anything you would find at the grocery store. You can find a pretty big selection of flowers, fruit, vegetables, and fish here.

Pictures of a typical wet market. There is a roof, but no walls.

This is a hawker center that is next door to the wet market (in case you were wondering what a hawker center looks like when I talk about eating lunch there). Again, there aren't really any menus, you just point to something that looks and smells edible. Generally the food is really good (and really cheap) but you definitely need to go with an open mind. It was only 10am when I took this picture, so it wasn't very crowded, but by lunchtime it is packed. A difference between hawker centers here and food courts in America is that everyone sits side-by-side at the tables, whether you know each other or not.

Now, visiting the wet market takes a little getting used to, for several reasons. First, I find it’s best to breath through your mouth and not your nose while you’re there. The smell of raw fish on one end of the market competes with piles of durians on the other, which, as Brad and I have already explained, smell awful. Imagine rotting vegetation soaked in gasoline… that’s what durians smell like to me.

Another thing that takes some getting used to is that many of the fruits, veggies, and fish are different here than what we are accustomed to seeing back in the States. And the mystery surrounding the strange fish or spiny fruit you’re staring at is intensified by the fact that there is very little, if any, signage (and any placards you do find are usually written in Chinese).

The third thing that takes some getting used to is bartering. I’m terrible at this. I generally just pay what the people running the stands ask, even though I’ve been told prices are hiked up for anyone white. Now last week, I was buying some lychee for a picnic for Dags and I, and the man wanted to sell me a kilo for $5. I told him that was way too much, meaning I didn’t want an entire kilo of lychee (that’s about 2 pounds). But he thought I meant the price, and said, “Okay, how about $2?” So my first attempt at bartering was a success, and I didn’t even mean to barter! For our picnic, Dagny and I ended up walking away with fresh kiwi, papaya, lychee, and a 6-pack of sami rolls… all for $5.

Here’s a pic of Dags mowing down on lychee and sami rolls. Sami rolls are basically tubes of fried honey rolled in sesame seeds, and lychee tastes a lot like grapefruit (in my opinion).

Sidebar: Okay… notice the whole “kilo” versus “pound” thing mentioned above? This is another aspect to living abroad that takes some getting used to. Weight is in kilos and grams, measurements are all in centimeters, the clocks are on a 24-hour read, distances are in kilometers, and temperatures are listed in Celsius. I’m finally starting to get used to this, but for a long time my brain literally hurt from doing constant conversions (p.s. - I didn’t go to college for math). When I got home from Dagny’s wellness checkup at the doctor, Brad asked how much she weighed and how tall she was. I told him I had no idea… The doctor might as well have said she weighed 11 googlemapoos and been 50 kerfloppies tall.

Once we get back from exploring and visiting the wet market, Dagny and I have lunch, clean a little more of the apartment, and then usually duke it out over whether or not she’s going to take a nap. She usually wins. By mid-afternoon, we can be found lathering up in sunscreen, outfitting ourselves with water bottles, and heading out to run errands. This is another glimpse at “the Singapore way of life.” Taking public transportation everywhere is nice, but it also takes forever! First we have to walk ¾ of a mile to the MRT station, make a transfer or two, walk to whatever store or playgroup meeting place we need to go, and then amble all that way back home again. I have to be choosey about what I buy and when, as I need to be able to carry it all back with me. I think that's the biggest issue for an average mom to contend with here: errands that were once so simple and took at most an hour back in the States take up an entire afternoon or more here.

Making a stop during some errands in Boat Quay for Dags to cool off in a fountain. Fortunately, they have a lot of these "splash pads" all over the island for kids so they don't get heat stroke.

By late afternoon, once the sun has dipped behind a few of our buildings and the pool isn’t quite so hot and glinting, Dagny and I usually head to the pool for an hour. This is also fun, but never relaxing. She’s obsessed with the slide, playing on the stairs, and sprinting (as much as an 18-month can sprint) back and forth between all the different pools. Any conversations I attempt to have with other moms or nannies who are there end up being pretty disjointed.

After swimming, we change our clothes, I load Dags back in her stroller, and we head to the grocery store (another mile and a half, round trip). This is a nightly routine because food goes bad quickly here, and again, I can only transport what I can carry. The evening walk is usually pretty nice though… I really don’t mind it. The river glows red at sunset, the patio diners are coming to life, and kids are out riding bikes and laughing all along the boardwalk. It’s a beautiful atmosphere.

Dags trying out her new scooter one evening. Believe it or not, this girl can really get going on one of these! She's not real good at steering yet, though, and frequently ends up in the bushes. We had no idea she had any interest in scooters until she swiped a girl's at the playground one day and took off on it! When we went to buy her one the next day, the salesman at the store said she was much too small... it was for 3-year olds at the very youngest. But then she hopped on the floor model and started scooting around the store and I thought we were going to lose the clerk... He starts shouting, "That's amazing! That's the smartest baby I ever seen!" Okay, I personally think that might be pushing it a little, since she can't speak three languages and already do math like most of the local 18-month olds here (no joke), but she definitely does kick some serious diaper bootie on a scooter!

Once we are back from our evening walk, Dags has dinner and then we read books—sometimes for almost an hour. The girl is a straight-up "cardboard-page-turnin', iPad book tappin', snuggle down with a smile and a story" bibliophile! I love it... what parent wouldn't? 

I don’t usually start making dinner until after Dagny goes to bed, because it requires my full attention. I’m working with food I’ve never eaten—never mind cooked—before. On the days I’m feeling adventurous, this is great. But on the days that I’m worn out and just want to plow through a plate of something simple (like lasagna or burritos), there is none to be found. I’ve stopped making grocery lists because, just like Dagny’s little quests around the property, going to the store is a total crapshoot. Crackers aren’t big here, so if they have Ritz or Goldfish on the shelves for Dags, I snatch them up—because sometimes weeks will go by before they have any in stock again. There have been times that the store is out of anything familiar for her, and I’m left looking at my options and wondering, Would Dagny eat seaweed crisps? Or puff-dried baby shrimp? Maybe she would, who knows? I’m never brave enough to buy them… but last weekend she ate an entire plate of scallops in pear sauce, fried rice, and kang kong (a veggie kind of like cooked spinach)… so maybe she would have surprised me with the Asian variety of crackers.

Speaking of food and grocery stores, below Dr. Pepper on my “missed items” list, add Mexican food, red meat, and cheese.

That about concludes a typical day here. I’ve already balded a pair of running shoes with all the miles we cover in single day (I kind of wish I had an odometer for the BOB so I would know just how much ground Dagny and I have covered in our 3 months here). I’m on the search for a new pair of shoes, but have given up for the time being… I’ve gone to 7 different stores now, and when I tell them I wear a 9, they look at me like I’m a martian and tell me the largest size they carry is an 8. Apparently I’m a freak of nature over here. Cirque du Soleil is currently in town at the Marina Bay Sands, and when Brad saw the ad on TV, he suggested I go look them up and see if they have a spare set of clown shoes I could borrow… So even though we are having moments of wanting to click our heels together and scream for the Wizard of Oz to let us go home, you can all rest happy knowing we still have our sense of humor firmly in tact!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Green Eggs & Ham... And Squid

Guest author - Brad

Hello faithful readers.  Like many of you, I look forward to Lauren’s near-weekly recounting of our adventures and misadventures here in Singapore. With her encouragement, (and hopefully judicious editorial support) I will try to entertain you with some of my epicurean exploits. Two quick disclaimers: first, I’m not half the writer Lauren is, and second, if you are squeamish or vegetarian, this might not be the post for you.

I should start by saying that I am lucky to have one of the most interesting jobs I can imagine. As part of my job, I get to travel throughout Southeast Asia meeting with our customers, distributors, and potential future partners in search of ways to develop and grow our business. Nearly everywhere I go I am fortunate to be met by gracious hosts who enthusiastically introduce me to their culture – which almost always includes a banquet full of traditional dishes and local specialties. Last week in Kaohsiung, Taiwan I was treated to a very memorable Teppanyaki meal on the 77th floor of the Tuntex Sky Tower. 

Teppanyaki is a Japanese style of cooking where the meal is prepared in front of you similar to the Hibachi Grill in the US. The meal started with a warm salad, which consisted of a tomato slice covered with a raw egg and mixed greens in a bronze bowl.  The bowl itself is mounted in a wooden base, which allowed a flame to warm the bowl and thus cook the egg while you eat. Next there was a soup course followed by a plate of grilled mushrooms. For seafood we had cod, oysters and live lobster; (live that is until the cook split it down the middle, slapped it on the grill, and waited for the legs to stop moving). Each course was artfully prepared in front of us and presented on individual plates. The meal continued like this for more than two hours before finally concluding with red bean crepes… or so I thought.  We moved to a more comfortable room to enjoy coffee and crepes; there we were each served a huge platter of mangoes, watermelon, pineapple, ice cream, and puff pastries.  What a meal!

The Asian approach to dining is slightly different than western customs. Even though western restaurants are trending toward louder dining environments with tables packed close together, loft-style hardwood floors, unfinished ceilings, and kitchens that open to the dining room, it would still be considered a boorish offense for your dinner party to make a scene by being too loud and obnoxious. Most restaurants here however have several small private banquet rooms, which facilitate both private conversation and boisterous laughter and hullabaloo. Your wine or beer will be constantly re-filled and several toasts will be made throughout the evening, thus making private dining rooms more of a practical necessity than a luxury. Rather than order individual meals from a menu, the host will order several dishes for the entire party to share. Without fail, the host will order way more food than should or even could be consumed in one sitting. Most dishes are placed on a turntable in the center of the large round dining table; some will be served directly to your plate. Don’t expect a pretentious place setting with multiple forks spoons and knives, as you are likely to only have a set of chopsticks and a porcelain spoon. Occasionally there is a small bowl on the table that is meant for washing your hands… or it could be soup. I can never tell so I just wait to see what the others do with it.

Most of the food I’ve encountered in Asia has been quite delicious even though its appearance or the surrounding ambiance may have been less than appetizing. My advice is to keep an open mind, try (almost) everything, and if it helps, pretend you’re on Fear Factor. In case you never get the chance to sample the local cuisine for yourself, here are some highlights.
  • Thai BBQ Chicken – Delicious, but be prepared to get the whole chicken minus the head. After poking at it ineffectually with a chopstick for a few minutes (remember no forks or knives) I just picked it up with two hands and bit into it like a hungry savage. Spitting vertebrae and bones on your plate is perfectly acceptable.
  • Sashimi – Albacore, Ahi, and Salmon are my favorites. For those of you that don’t know, Sashimi is very fresh raw fish (like sushi). Small bite-sized pieces would seem practical, but for some reason it always seems to come in 5cm or longer strips that are more than a mouthful.
  • Hairy Crab – These little guys are found in the cold waters north of Japan.  I haven’t found a type of crab that isn’t absolutely delicious, but these guys look like no other.  Their shells are covered in little hairs that are actually soft to the touch. Looking for a pet but think a dog or cat is too high maintenance?
  • Sea Urchin – My first encounter was rough - I think it was served raw and it tasted like cold salty rubber. The second time I tried it, it was served on cucumber with soy and wasabi.
  • Goose & Duck Livers – These seem to vary from good to gag-reflex depending on how they are prepared and what type of sauce they are in. The majority of what I’ve sampled has been quite good, so go for it.
  • Bak Kut Teh – This is a traditional Chinese/Hokkien soup that literally means “Meat Bone Tea”. This was a staple diet of 19th century laborers and is still quite popular throughout Malaysia and elsewhere.  You’ll find lots of kitchens hidden in alleyways and out of the way spaces where traditional Bak Kut Teh and rice is the only thing being served.  My first introduction to Bak Kut Teh in Malaysia started with the waiter bringing a pot of boiling water to our table so that we could sterilize our own dishes and chop sticks. This didn’t do much for my confidence, but the food itself was actually very good. It is essentially boiled pork in a broth soup with a complex variety of Chinese spices.
  • Street Food – If you come to Singapore, definitely eat at a Hawker Center.  These are no frills, outdoor food courts with some of the cheapest and most authentic recipes on the island.  The Singapore government closely monitors the vendors to insure sanitary and hygienic practices. The same is not true throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. I highly recommend a walk down a crowded food street to absorb the sights sounds and smells of the local street food scene, but I would not recommend eating there unless you’re trying to loose 4-5 pounds in the next 24 hours.
  • Durian – Sometimes referred to as the ‘king of fruits’ the Durian is a large, thorny fruit, known for its distinctive odor.  Most people find the odor repulsive and describe it as everything from rotting onion to dirty gym socks. Even with its pungent odor, it is considered a delicacy and is found in many expensive deserts.  I have sampled durian and thought it tasted quite good, but not good enough to put up with the odor.  I’ll stick to ice cream, thanks.

  • Stinky Tofu – This should win some kind of award for the world’s biggest understatement. Calling this fermented tofu ‘stinky’ is like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch.  ‘Stinky’ is how I describe Dagny’s diapers; this stuff is an all out assault on your olfactory senses.  It is as if the aforementioned Durian was wrapped in a sweaty gym sock, soaked in formaldehyde, and shoved directly into your nose thorny spines first. I got within 1m of this stuff at a street kiosk before my eyes started to water so much that I had to hastily retreat.  I’ll never try the stuff, but I am fascinated that there are humans out there willing to be around this stuff at their food stands several hours everyday. Amazingly that must mean that there is a legitimate market for this wretched product.  Who knows, it might taste like pumpkin pie but I’ll never get close enough to find out.

The last thing that I wanted to describe for you deserves a paragraph of its own. As an appreciative guest, I do my best not to be a high maintenance, finicky eater. When asked if I can take seafood, I generally respond affirmatively with the caveat that I do not care for squid or octopus. For some reason, both here and in the US, these words trigger the same reaction. “Oh calamari is very good… try some, you’ll like it” or “The squids are in season right now and are fantastic, just try some, you’ll like it.” Last week, mere minutes after stating that I did not care for squid or octopus the very first thing put on my plate was a six-inch whole squid. I looked at the squid… my chopsticks… and my host and said, “What am I supposed to do with this?”  He nonchalantly replied, “You just bite into it.” I’ve read Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham to Dagny several times - I know how these pesky Sam-I-Am types operate, they just don’t take no for an answer. So I looked down at the plate and decided that the head of my squid looked slightly less disgusting than the tentacles. (Remember, there are no knives, so the middle wasn’t a viable option.) I picked up the whole thing up with my chopsticks and proceeded to bite the head off (or what I'm guessing was the head... who really knows for sure?), cleaning the cartilage spine with my teeth as I pulled it from my mouth. Somehow I managed to eventually swallow it while I watched black ink ooze out of its body onto my plate.  For all of my friends out there reading this that might one day play Sam’s role and cajole me into trying squid… I’ve tried it… guess what? Still really gross. 

My only real advice for dining in Asia is to bring and open mind, a zest for adventure, some pepto-bismol, and most importantly be smart about what you eat and what you refuse.  You’re actually far more likely to get sick from ice made from contaminated water in your Coca-Cola than the boiled Chinese tea you were offered first.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Fevers, Surrealism, and Giants... Oh My!

I can finally breathe again. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I realized I hadn’t really breathed all week. Dagny fell ill with what the doctor believed was scarlet fever—I’d already been worried (not overly so) in the days leading up to her appointment because her fever was steadily rising while her appetite and playfulness steadily diminished. But then to hear the doctor say the words “scarlet fever”… that’s when my lungs started only taking in very shallow amounts of air.

There is no worse feeling than having a very sick child—I know that now. For the past 18-months, I’d been blissfully unaware, living day to day with a daughter who only had a couple of runny noses (and those were due to teething, not being sick). So it wasn’t until last week that I had my first real dose of Frantic Mother With A Sick Child Syndrome—this is where a mom finds herself torn between two very ugly worlds… In the first, she is every pediatrician’s nightmare, jumping the gun and rushing her child to the hospital at the first sign of fever or discomfort. In the second, she is her own worst nightmare… the mom who is missing important signs and isn’t taking the right steps to make her child better. Roll that in with an inability to understand exactly what hurts on your baby, an inability to make her feel better with a kiss and some Tylenol, and an inability to get any sleep, and you’ve got yourself one bleary-eyed, emotional wreck of a woman.

Fortunately, the medical system here is AMAZING. When I called the doctor, they told me to bring Dags in right away… they knew I would be coming on the train or taxi, so they didn’t stress me out any further by assigning me an appointment time. They just said they would see me when I got there. And when I arrived, I only had (brace yourself) ONE medical information sheet to fill out! Dagny’s name, address, and a blank line to list any known allergies or medical conditions.

The doctor was incredibly kind and good with Dagny. On my way out the office, a prescription was already waiting at the counter for us, and the nurse even had her first dose of painkiller ready to go for the cab ride home. And this is perhaps my favorite part of all: they bill everything at once to the insurance company… prescription, tests, visit… all of it. I was speechless! A year after Dagny was born, the hospital was still billing me for items vaguely labeled “Miscellaneous Supplies.” The receptionist laughed when she saw my face, and said, “You must be from the United States. All Americans are amazed when they see how easy we make things here.” Umm… yes, easy is an understatement.

Actually, I take back what I just said… the billing system is my third favorite part of the medical system here. The first was that when I got home and filed Dagny’s report, I realized (looking at the clinic’s information) that they took me in after they were technically already closed for the evening. Maybe it was because they knew there was a scarlet fever outbreak on the island and Dags fit the bill. Or maybe they’re just that kind. And my second favorite thing about the clinics here: the doctor calls you with all test results within 24 hours!

The rest of the week wasn’t easy, especially with the remodeling that is STILL going on in the apartment above us. It’s been three weeks now, with the crews working all day, Monday through Saturday. The apartments are only 1000-square feet… do the math, and you’ll understand my frustration, which turned into Frantic Mother outrage when the workers kept waking my poor, feverish daughter up from her naps by jackhammering marble. One time was actually kind of funny… she woke up Thursday afternoon shrieking and I went in her room to find her standing in her crib with a If-Looks-Could-Kill scowl on her face, expressing her anger in her adorable Dagny babble while pointing at the ceiling… with her middle finger. That’s my girl.

But by Saturday, Dagny’s antibiotic had kicked in and she was starting to feel better. By lunchtime, she had rolled her stroller to the front door, climbed in with her sippy cup, and was shouting “Go, go, go!” We’ve been living like Rapunzel in her 14-story tower all week. I quickly second her demands to Brad. We collectively decide 48 hours on the antibiotic is probably good enough—we aren’t going to further infect an already-infected island—and we head out for the afternoon.

Brad and I want to keep her in air conditioning, so we decided to visit the Art & Science Museum in Marina Bay. Soooo cool… and only one stop away on the MRT.

The Marina Bay Merlion. He may be smaller than the one on Sentosa Island, but this guy shoots water. Pretty cool.

Military ships practicing for National Day.

Marina Bay.

The Art & Science Museum. It was designed to resemble a lotus flower.

Brad and our little trooper crossing the bridge over Marina Bay.

Not every place is stroller-friendly. We actually do this quite a bit... go muscles!

We visited two and a half exhibits while we were there. The first was the one I’d really been dying to see: Salvador Dali. I’d seen an exhibit of his at the Cleveland Museum of Art several years earlier, but this one was totally different. The one in Cleveland highlighted the paintings he created during the Spanish Civil War, while the ones here in Singapore dealt more with his contemplations on sex and religion. What an exhibit to take a kid to, right? Actually, Dagny LOVED it—sure, Dali paints some pretty lurid and nightmarish pictures, but he also uses a lot of bright, vivid colors. I’m guessing that’s what held Dagny’s attention. If not, I should probably think about getting her in to see a child psychologist and resign from the 2011 Mother Of The Year contest.

The fam in front of an interactive, melting-clock-turned-melting-human exhibit in the Dali gallery. No flashes were allowed, but take my word for it... we looked pretty hot. Dagny thought it was hilarious. With her already-huge head, she looked like a float from the Macy's Parade.

The second exhibit we went to was called Shipwrecked. About ten years ago, divers discovered a sunken ship off the coast of Singapore filled with ancient Chinese money, gold, and pottery from the Tang dynasty. Dagny loved this exhibit, too, because the entire gallery was designed to make it look and feel like we were under water. We even let her out of her stroller, and she was so good! She held her daddy’s hand the whole way through and babbled our ears off while pointing at all the treasure.

The half an exhibit we walked through was Van Gogh—not any of his original art, but a tech-savvy audiovisual tour. I’m not a fan of Impressionist art, and we didn’t want to keep Dags out too long on her first day back, so we cut that one short.

Dagny running through the museum plaza. I would love to know what she's thinking when she's waddle-running around, looking down at her feet and laughing hysterically.

Everything since then has been pretty low key. Brad is in Taiwan all week… sent me this picture of his dinner last night. It’s called hairy crab, and although he said it wasn’t great, it was definitely better than the sea urchin and duck liver he had for lunch.

Today is one of those rare days where there is a nice breeze coming off the water. The sky is a gorgeous, cobalt blue, and full of pillowy, swiftly moving clouds—so our peninsula jumps back and forth between sun and shade every few minutes. Dagny and I took advantage of the slightly cooler, more bearable weather this morning to play outside. It was also nice to soak up the relative silence, since for the past eleven days, we had been dealing with an invasion of netballers.

One of the things I enjoy here is watching sports that aren’t played back in the US. Badminton and table tennis are totally entertaining, and though I don’t understand cricket, it’s still fun to watch. I think rugby may be my new favorite… it makes American football look girly by comparison. Plus, the game I watched was between Australia and New Zealand, which is apparently the international equivalent of Ohio State versus Michigan. It was intense!

But women’s netball… uggh. It reminds me of one of the games our high school gym teachers used to make up, like angle ball or boku ball. Actually, it’s almost exactly like angle ball. Despite being the lamest sport I’ve ever seen played, it draws one of the most wild—and annoying—crowds I’ve ever been around in my life. It really was an invasion, and since the tournament took place in the soccer stadium across the river from us, we were pretty much right in the heart of it all for eleven days.

I have no idea who won the championship, but have come up with my own set of awards for the participating countries:

1.  Most Obnoxious On A Subway: NEW ZEALAND
2.  Most Likely To Ignore All Posted Signage: JAMAICA
3.  Most Likely To Receive Sponsorship From Sherwin Williams For Ample Use Of Body Paint:
4.  Most Likely To Run Into A Stroller Or Cause An Accident Because They Are Too Preoccupied
     With Their Wigs And Capes: NORTHERN IRELAND
5.  Most Likely To Keep Singing And Chanting Long After A Match Is Over—And Usually In A
     Crowded Place: AUSTRALIA
6.  Most Freakishly Tall Women I’ve Ever Seen In My Life: ENGLAND

Thank you for visiting, players and fans. Here’s hoping the world netball championships only take place every four years, like the Olympics.

Bye bye, everyone! Or as my buddy Kai Lan says, Zaijian!