Merlion symbol of Singapore

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!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cooking continued

I'm still working on how to cook over here. Between the temperature conversion; Celsius is great for chemistry, but I cook in Fahrenheit, and the controls, I'm at a loss for what to do. Luckily the appliance manufacturer, De Dietrich offers once a month cooking classes for owners. I attended my first class on Saturday and a local restaurant chef, Jeremy Choo was our instructor. The showroom has a demo kitchen and eight of us watched Jeremy and his 10 year old son and helper make Caesar Salad, John Dory (fish) with vegetable sauce and chocolate sponge cake with green tea mouse. He made it all look so easy, but the best part (besides getting to eat all of this) was he gave me more information on how to use the oven and the inductive burners. This is what the controls on my oven look like
The instruction manual tells me what each of the settings is, like top heater, or economical setting, but not what you would use it for. It does mention Ecco is good for poultry and the one with the loaf of bread next to it is good for bread-like I'm going to be baking much bread over here! The rest are your choice of a heated fan with or without heat from above and below, medium and low grilling, rotisserie and warming. With my new knowledge from Chef Jeremy I've been able to roast vegetables and grill beef skewers so far-progress. The inductive burners are great for doing sauces and searing meat or fish. They heat up very quickly, but you can turn them off just as quickly. Its more getting the feel with where to start; the choices are 1-15 and how much to turn it down when it gets too hot. After the class I stayed a bit to ask questions and Chef Jeremy gave me a packet of supposedly easy recipes and tips on using the oven as well as some left over cake to give to Bob. He keeps hoping we'll have it for dessert every night; it was delicious. All of these dishes only took an hour and a half to make, which probably translates to three hours for me; but they weren't complicated and tasted great.
John Dory with roasted carrots and vegetable sauce
Chocolate sponge cake with green tea mouse filling. Chef's son watching in horror as he was sure his dad was going to make a mess of cutting it.
The three of us after the class, I'm a giant over here!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Medical Clinics

Our latest project has been to learn more about medical care in Singapore, at least it wasn't an emergency. Luckily I had received a flier at a welcome coffee about a clinic offering western medical care. It is close to our home and is open on Saturday, even better. After looking them up online and sending an email requesting an appointment that morning they called when they opened at 9 to ask if we could be there by 9:15. We scrambled to get out the door with passports, employment cards, immunization records and insurance cards. Since it turns out we aren't eligible for local care and we weren't sure the procedure for our US insurance, we were somewhat in limbo. The clinic was most helpful and Bob has gout in his thumb. Normally it appears in a big toe, so at least he can walk and put shoes on without pain. The prognosis is good and they were able to dispense meds there at the clinic that should have him as good as new in the next few days.

The best part of the morning was discovering a grocery store downstairs from the clinic that has a great produce section and a meat market, complete with deli meats-not something I've seen much of at other stores here. It clearly caters to the expat community; which although I'm trying to spread out beyond my food comfort zone, it's nice to be able to cook with stuff you recognize. It's not far from home, just in a different direction, so I will be heading that way more often. There is also a video store in the complex that has movies in English. We have been struggling with the lack of TV or movies to watch. Movies are strictly controlled here and you can't get Netflix, Hulu or YouTube, it is all blocked. The TV has some movies that we have been watching, but mostly things you have never heard of before. Some good documentaries and Asian history stuff, but not the selection we are used to. You can go to the movie theaters and we recently saw Water for Elephants which I enjoyed. Most US movies are action films like Fast and Furious 5 and Thor are all the rage. At least the new Pirates of the Caribbean will be here next weekend, can't wait.

Since bike riding is out as shifting gears is limited with a sore thumb, we headed to a local reservoir for a hike. We arrived just as the lightening and thunder rolled in and a downpour started. After taking a short break in the shelter for the storm to pass we headed out into the jungle. Its amazing how quickly you can get away from all the buildings and noise of the city and feel like you are miles away. We did an 11 km loop, mostly through trees with some open spots along the reservoir and a golf course. The reservoir is set up for kayaking and canoeing, but that looked very hot. They have huts along the trails every couple of kilometres that look like bus stops. We realized these are shelters from the occasional downpours that happen most days. We had brought along umbrellas, but you still get soaked trying to get to the shelter. Luckily the rest of the day was cloudy with only sprinkles. You learn to appreciate cloudy days over here as that means less hot; the sun shining, especially after the rain makes for a sauna!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms, I hope you enjoyed your special day. Mother's Day is celebrated here in Singapore, although less with cards and gifts and more with family outings and a meal; after all Singapore is all about the eating! I planned an adventure for us, mountain biking the trails of Bukit Timah Natural Preserve, a rain forest near our home. After we spent the first kilometer walking the bikes more than we rode them we realized this was not for our skill level and we turned back. Luckily there are lots of hiking trails in the park, so no excuse for not getting exercise. The tallest natural feature in Singapore is the summit of Bukit Timah, at a whopping 537 ft. We walked to the top, which in the heat and humidity here is still a challenge. Lots of monkeys; which they warn you not to bar your teeth at them as this is a sign of aggression, and 2 foot long lizards which sound much bigger when they are going through the underbrush. Supposedly all of the tigers that roamed the area have left, luckily for us hikers and bikers. After sweating our way around the park we came back for a swim, a much more civilized version of exercise in this part of the world. It still feels like we are at a resort with all the plants, flowers and palm trees along the pool.

A new find at the grocery store DIY salad. They don't have bags of lettuce, but this kit includes two types of lettuce, a cucumber, cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds. Everything you need for an instant salad except the dressing, which I discovered is relegated to a small back shelf. I never did find balsamic vinegar to try and make my own, maybe next week.

A few photos from our bike ride last week on the park connector trails that go through the city and connect various parks. A nice blend of city and parks without having to ride on the streets. The hardest part was weaving through the bus stops and the people getting on and off the buses.
At an old quarry site
The city part of the trail, notice gas at $2/liter

Our version of a mountain bike trail

Friday, May 6, 2011

One Month

So as of today I have been in living in Singapore for a month now. On the one hand it has gone by very quickly, on the other hand it seems like I've been here much longer. The apartment is starting to look like home and I no longer turn on the windshield wipers every time I try to use a turn signal. I'm still surprised when the windshield wipers come on by themselves, seems we have a car with automatic sensors-didn't even know they had such a thing. Shows how old our cars are. I'm getting used to the grocery stores, but still have a deer in the headlights look when I'm trying to find stuff. The big ones are further away and have more choice, but I can't even begin to find what I need so I wander from aisle to aisle. The small ones are working better for me at the moment; when there are only 6 aisles it doesn't take long to figure out what your options are. I tried a yoga class yesterday and thought for sure I had accidentally signed up for hot yoga; but no, that is just what you get when there is no A/C and you go at 1:00 in the afternoon. I'll be looking around for some other options. Swimming laps is much cooler, but don't know if I have the motivation to do that everyday. At least it is right out the front door, so I have no excuses. Still working on meeting people, only a few people have moved into the complex, but every weekend brings another family, so I'm hoping to connect with someone here. I did buy my first two bottles of wine today, decided on Australian as my first try. I also bought tickets to a Food & Wine Fair to be held nearby later this month, much more my style.  Here's to 23 more months in Singapore-cheers!


Alas, the temporary housing budget has ended and so have the expense account meals. I've been attempting to cook this past week-hence no blog posts. As most of you know, cooking isn't one of my strengths and doing it in a foreign country has added its challenges. I have a two burner gas stove (hob as they are called here) and a two burner inductive hob. Of course none of the pans I brought with me work on an inductive burner, so off to IKEA I went. Luckily it isn't too far from home, but it took several attempts just to find the parking lot. Never having been to an IKEA in the states, it has become my go to store for everything I need here. I got nightstands for the guest room, shelves for the office, plants, trash cans and the inductive pots. Several trips later I was set to start assembling, even had to assemble the pots. So much for dinner that first night, I hadn't even made it to the grocery store! Having never tried an inductive stove before, they are amazingly fast and they don't heat up the kitchen, which is critical here in Singapore. A pan of water boils in less than a minute, and since we don't have a microwave we've been using it a lot. The other odd thing is they aren't much into electrical outlets here. There are two in the whole kitchen and they are right next to each other and on the small counter. This is also true throughout the apartment which is surprising given that they are into electronics as much as we are. We have been buying multiple surge protectors and have wires strung throughout. Next trip was to the grocery store. Luckily there is one close by that deals with expats, so I don't have to buy a whole fish or chicken. Hard to imagine me trying to cut the head or feet off of said animal. In the local markets you can actually buy a package of chicken's feet, doesn't seem like there would be a lot of meat on there. Luckily the veggie selection is great and I've mostly been doing chicken or beef stir fry or spaghetti. All easy ingredients to come by and can be prepared quickly. As I'm still driving Bob to work and picking him up, we usually get home around 7:30 and I need something that I can prep ahead and then cook up when I get back-I'm always open to suggestions as well. I have now also purchased a rice cooker and can set that up to cook the rice while I'm driving to get Bob. I may have to look into a crock pot, but that seems like it would heat up the kitchen, not something I need help with. At least Bob is enjoying the home cooked meals and we don't have to figure out where to go for dinner. Next up is figuring out the exercise plan.