Merlion symbol of Singapore

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bhutan part 1

Traveling to Bhutan was like a trip back in time to a magical place. Things are starting to change there, but they still wear traditional dress, turn prayer wheels at every opportunity and don't have a Starbucks on every corner. It is a magical place with temples built on the edges of cliffs and tops of mountains. People still herd yaks and thresh rice by hand, although we did see the introduction of some small threshing equipment, harvesting is still done with a sickle.

Paro Dhzong, county seat of both government and religion

 Bhutanese architecture has beautiful carvings and intricate paintings
 Prayer wheel turned by water
 Hiking to Tiger's Nest, the temple in the background at 10,000 feet (getting the building material up there is quite a project)
 Rock cairns built in the stream
 Girls on the way home from school in their traditional dress
 Bundling rice
 Monks getting ready for prayers, the one boy is sneaking some food from the offering table into his mouth
 Jesters at a small village festival
 Children at the festival
 They loved having their picture taken and then being able to see it on the iPhone
 Mask dancers at the festival, a day of songs and dancing and celebrating for the whole village
 Village near the festival, up a dirt road into the mountains
 Walking on a chain link fence over the river

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Back in Singapore

After a lovely three weeks in California, I'm back home in Singapore, at least for a few moments. It was great to see friends and family again and I got to do a few new things as well. Helping Rob and Cindy celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in Yosemite was a highlight. I'd forgotten how majestic the park is and we had beautiful views and waterfalls that are so rare in October. We did the hike from the valley floor to Glacier Point and back and I was pleased that I can still do hills after the flatlands of Singapore. I was also able to join the Los Gatos Biker Babes on their ride down Hwy. 1 from Santa Cruz to Cambria to celebrate Gayle's birthday.
Here we are starting out from Santa Cruz. The weather was perfect; clear and warm with amazing views along the coast. I even surprised myself and made it up the hills which was more than I expected to be able to do with the lack of training. It was great fun to connect with the group again and perfect timing to end up down in San Luis Obispo in time for Homecoming celebrations there and to see Cameron. She's all moved into her house and I enjoyed seeing old roommates and meeting the new ones.

Coming back into Singapore actually felt like home this time and either the weather is getting cooler or I'm getting more used to it. The orchid that our landlady gave us in April is flowering again-a real surprise for me as I usually manage to kill any green plant within a few weeks. To keep this one alive and actually have it flower again is a shock.
I'm off to Bhutan via Bangkok this afternoon; hoping the airport stays open with all the flooding they are having there. I'll be back in two weeks and will post pictures and stories when I return.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Holiday Weekend in Langkawi

View from our Villa
Bob had a meeting in Penang, Malaysia on Friday and the following Tuesday was a holiday in Singapore so I joined him in Penang and then we flew on to Langkawi for a long weekend. Langkawi is a group of 99 volcanic islands, most of them pretty small and only a few are inhabited. They are on the west coast of Malaysia, very near the border with Thailand. They are primarily a tourist destination with mostly Europeans and Malays visiting. Its a bit like Hawaii on a much smaller scale, but with a mix of budget hotels all crowded on a beach to a Four Seasons and other high end properties with their own beaches. You can get there either by ferry or by prop plane, we opted to fly as we were only able to be there for two nights. An airline I'd never heard of called Firefly is the main carrier and the flight was very easy. A very small airport so you just walk out on the tarmac to get to the plane, but they have real flight attendants and pilots and seemed very professional. We stayed at Tanjung Sanctuary which is a group of 26 villas in a forest area with lots of birds and monkeys. They had a nice pool area and bar and restaurant where breakfast was served each morning and the evening happy hour cocktail. Each evening they had a choice of cocktails for the day and an appetizer tray that was served while you watched the sunset. These are our two choices for each day.

We could have sat there all evening watching the sunset and the ocean, but off to dinner we went. We had rented a small rent-a-wreck car that was great for getting around the island, but hardly fit in with the fancy cars at the hotels and restaurants. Luckily our hotel had a car park at the top of the hill and then they had golf carts and vans to shuttle you to your villa. One day we toured the island and did some hikes to waterfalls, typical Asia in that they have lots of stairs going up the side of the hill.
We also checked out other beaches and hotels along the way. The Datai hotel was in a remote location and we walked along their paths down to the beach and pool area, what a lovely secluded place if you wanted to get away from it all. On our way back we must have taken a wrong turn and ended up on the main road. Luckily one of the hotel staff in a golf cart came along and realized we probably didn't want to be there and gave us a lift back to the hotel even though we weren't staying there. Luckily our rent-a-wreck was parked in a more remote parking lot, probably where the workers parked as it looked like it fit in. The second day we hung out at our beach, reading and swimming. The water is warm and totally refreshing. We were surprised to see an animal swimming off in the distance, looked a bit like an alligator. It saw up onto the beach and then wandered off into the jungle. We were relieved to find out it was a monitor lizard and they have no interest in people, only fish.

Our last day we had a lovely lunch of chicken satays and lamb and potato samosas. The presentation was beautiful and the food was delicious. Their specialty was smoked banana ice cream, which we of course had to try and it was worth it.

All in all a great place to visit and we hope to go back again soon.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tango in Singapore

Who would have ever guessed they have a tango group in Singapore? They are mostly Chinese, but enjoy learning the dances and the music. The group was performing in the Botanical Garden here in Singapore on a Sunday evening. A lovely setting with a covered stage in the middle of a lily pad filled pond surrounded by lawn and trees. We packed a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine, along with some chairs and headed out. It wasn't raining and the trees provided shade making it bearable to sit outside. They had classical music playing while we ate our picnic and then the dancers performed several numbers. Buenos Aires has nothing to worry about, but it was a very nice evening to be outside eating and drinking. You know me, any excuse for a glass of wine! They had a good turnout of all different age groups, more young children than I would have expected, but they seemed to enjoy watching the show and being able to run around at the same time.
Bob at the picnic site with the Gardens in the background

The stage and pond in the background

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Singapore Driver's License

So today I passed the basic theory test and now actually have a Qualified Driving Licence which is good for the next five years, not that I plan on being here that long but you never know. You have to make the appointment to take the test several months in advance and I bought the study book in May, but July seemed like such a long time away that I really didn't start studying until yesterday. They are big on signs and knowing specific meanings like the difference between a gated and ungated train crossing. I don't think I've actually gone across any train tracks since I've been here, but just in case you need to know the difference. Also, the sign with one bump is for a road hump ahead, but two bumps means uneven road ahead.

They are very concerned with politeness in driving and several of the more interesting bits in the book include "before opening the door of a vehicle, make sure that it will not inconvenience anybody on the road or the foot path" or "tailgating makes the driver in front nervous and can cause him to be involved in an accident." For the road boulders "Road-Hogging hinders the flow of traffic behind and may cause others to pass dangerously on the left; stay to the right if you wish to drive slowly." Or "you may not drive if you suffer from sudden attacks of giddiness;" wasn't that what we had in eighth grade? They also have lots of different markings on the roadway

with things like yellow zig-zag lines and white zig-zag lines that mean different things about parking and stopping at certain times of the day. They also ask trick questions about what the double white zig-zag lines mean; there aren't any, but the double yellow zig-zag means no stopping at any time. The last bit I really had to work on understanding and memorizing were the hand signals from the policeman, none of it seem intuitive.

You are only allowed to miss four questions out of 50 to pass and when you are done the computer either gives you a big green light that you've passed or a red light that you failed. At least I got the green light and was able to move onto the next queue to complete the paperwork and pay more money. Now all I have to do is coach Bob through it, but we have another eight months to work on that.
Happy driving

Friday, July 1, 2011

Father's Day in Singapore

Bob at our lunch spot
They celebrate Father's Day in Singapore, same day as the US, but it's mostly about eating here. That's not surprising given that most everything here in Singapore is about eating; I've no idea how they stay so skinny!

Bob and I decided to explore a new bike path along the East Coast Parkway, a parklike setting along the beach. Families were out in force with kids on bikes, trikes, razors (remember those?) and roller blades. They have a bike/roller blade path and a walking path, although no one seems to pay attention to which path they are supposed to be on. For being so into rules here, somehow they are very selective about which ones pertain to them.

The weather was great, slightly cloudy with a few sprinkles which keeps it from being unbearably hot. The families set up BBQ and small tents; I can't tell whether they are to escape the sun or the rain, but I think either way they would be like sitting in a sauna. The ride goes along the coast and then along the airport. The runway seems to go on forever... We stopped along the coast at a cute spot for lunch, they were handing out coupons for free soda on the bike path and that seemed like a good excuse to stop for a break that turned into lunch (again, it's all about the eating). Finally at the end of the airport there is another park with more families and lots of fishing. At this point we could either turn around and go back the way we came, or continue on more inland along the park connector network. We opted for the adventurous route, which was a mistake. Not only did you have to pay attention to lots more turns and crossings; it was way hotter inland as well. We learned our lesson on that ride and will stick to the coast when possible. It seemed forever to get back to the car and all told we did 60 km, which doesn't sound like much given that it is completely flat, but it felt like a lot and Bob was yet again convinced I'm trying to do him in. Happy Father's Day!
Note all the tents in the background and in the distance are all the ships lined up to get into port

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stairs, Stairs and More Stairs

We have gone on some great hikes here in Singapore; for being such a small place they have set aside areas as national parks and preserves. The trails are well marked, with huts for rain shelters; and more wildlife than I expected, although mostly monkeys and lizards. The one thing I didn't expect was all these stairs. Although they don't have tall mountains, there are lots of hills and they don't believe in switchback trails here. I'm not sure if it because of erosion issues, or they just want to make sure we get plenty of exercise-no need for StairMaster here. Here are just a few of the pictures of stairways on a recent hike.

We typically do from 4-7 miles each hike and this last weekend the hike included a suspension bridge through a tree canopy. It was amazing how many more birds you could hear when you are in the tops of the trees. You would never guess that you were so close to a major city. The monkeys jumping overhead still unnerve me, they sound like huge animals crashing through the forest, but are actually quite small, just noisy and aggressive. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Home Sweet Home

We are making progress getting the apartment set up and I figured it was about time to post some pictures. The elevator opens into our apartment, there are only two apartments on each floor on opposite sides of the elevator.
As you turn the corner and go through the front door you see the dining room at the end of the entryway with the balcony on the other side of the glass
To the left of the dining room is the living room, basically all one open room. We watch TV here and I spend a lot of time on my computer and looking out the window. This is the view of the living room from the kitchen.

The kitchen opens up to the living room and has glass sliding doors if you want to close it off, but we haven't ever done that. I suppose if you had a maid and wanted them to be cooking in the kitchen while you were entertaining it would be useful, but it makes the place seem even smaller.

Another view of the kitchen with the storage room/bomb shelter/maid's quarters at the end. The laundry room is around the corner on the left, not shown in this photo

Across from the kitchen is the master bedroom and bathroom. We also have a small balcony off our bedroom that is connected to the one off the living room.

Note the bathtub inside the shower area, I haven't tried the tub out yet, sort of an odd, enclosed feeling.

Down the hall are the guest bedroom and the office with a sofa bed and the guest bathroom. Plenty of room for visitors, just don't all cram into the bathroom at once.

So that is our new home. We brought some of the furnishings and all of the pictures from Los Gatos, but a lot of the furniture is from craigslist, eBay and IKEA; all great places to shop for things here. With the island being so small and having a car that has cargo space we've been able to take advantage of what is available. We still have patio furniture left to figure out, but we've spent less time out there than we expected as May and June are the hottest months and they have been having record heat. It's great having A/C!