Friday, February 26, 2010

The Red Love Seeds

These are red love seeds.

I've been collecting them for the last couple of weeks to help put some color in our home.

A lot of the ladies in our neighborhood have been collecting them too. They gather thousands of them and put them in clear vases, candle holders and other decorative containers. It's a cheap and easy way to bring a pop of color into your room.

The seeds are hard, shiny and bright red in color (in case you're blind and can't see the photo). You can only find these seeds in this area of the world though. They come from the Saga Seed Tree which is commonly found in India, China and various regions of Southeast Asia.

The tree has long green pods that grow from the branches and in the Spring, the pods dry up and break open, releasing the red seeds all over the ground.

The locals call them red love seeds because red is the color of love and when you pick them from the ground, you're also supposed to gather thoughts of the one you love.

You know what I think about when I pick them up?

1. Holy crap, my back hurts from bending over and picking up these frickin' seeds.
2. I really hope no one is looking out their window at my big butt in the air.
3. It would really suck if a snake scared the bejesus out of me and made me drop all these seeds.
4. Isn't there a red love seed store?
5. My vase is gonna look awesome when I'm done picking these up in five years.

I spent 30 minutes back behind my house yesterday picking these things up off the ground. This morning when I woke up, my hamstrings were sore.

Explain that to me.

I've been going to spinning class since November and I don't get sore until I spend 30 minutes picking up seeds!

What is that about?!

For more info about the seeds, their uses and why the heck I'd even care about them, here's some sites:

The Red Love Seeds

Saga Seed Tree

Wikipedia: Saga (tree)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm not even worried about the MSG anymore

This is what my friend Sandra found in her lunch today:

(WARNING: This picture will gross you the eff out.)

No, that's not a raisin. It's a fat, juicy fly swimming in the sweet and sour sauce. (Sorry it's blurry, we only had a camera phone available.)

It was the grossest thing I've seen since a Chinese grandmother hawked a lougie on the sidewalk a few months ago.

I think this is going to deter me from visiting hawker stalls for a while, especially the one at my office.

If you remember, hawker stalls are like the American equivalent to a food court in a shopping mall, only they're a little more on the rustic side. It's pretty common for certain stalls to pre-make their food and then set it in big containers under warmers. If you're having trouble picturing it, here's a visual:

They'll put food behind the glass for display or to keep it warm. The problem is that some of these stalls don't have glass to surround all sides. That's when the flies start buzzing around. Since most Asian dishes are served in a sauce, you can imagine how easy it is for them to get trapped and stirred into our food.

I mean their food.

I'm not eating it anymore.

Sandra was pretty shaken up about it. Several of us in the office have vowed to bring a paper bag lunch for a while.

Or maybe forever.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Giant Durians

This area is referred to as the Esplanade. Up until I did the research for this post, I incorrectly thought that the building was called "The Esplanade".

I was wrong. It doesn't happen very often, but alas it has happened.

I'm totally kidding, by the way.


Anyway. The building is actually one of two identical buildings in the Esplanade area and is correctly referred to as "Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay".

But I've never heard anyone call them that. That's just too many words.

I always hear "the Esplanade" or the "giant durians" as in the nasty smelling fruit that my brother made me eat for his birthday.

The buildings look a lot like that fruit that is oh so popular in this part of the world.

I still don't get the appeal.

On a side note, I'd like to express my extreme excitement over the fact that the local grocery store I sometimes go to has stopped carrying durians and thus I no longer wish to rip off my nose when shopping for produce.


One down, 50 more to go.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Birthday in Singapore

Today is this guy's birthday. I'm pretty fond of him.

It marks the last birthday we will celebrate in Singapore.

I have mixed feelings about that.

Aaron does not. He's ready to celebrate birthdays with Boulevard Wheat again.

That's not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.

Bring it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Iconic Singapore photo: The Merlion

It only took me two years, but I finally went to see the Singaporean equivalent of the American Statue of Liberty.

This is Singapore's Merlion. It is has the body of a fish and the head of a lion. The head represents the original name of the country: Singapura, which means "Lion City". It is said that the founder of Singapore, Sang Nila Utama, gave the city its name after seeing a large beast resembling a lion. Today's experts will tell you that lions probably never inhabited Singapore and that the beast Utama saw was most likely a Malayan Tiger.

Eh. Can't win 'em all. It's a good story though.

The Merlion is a popular icon on all Singapore souvenirs and has become the international symbol of Singapore. The country actually has five different Merlions that are recognized by the Singapore Tourism Board.

This one is the most popular...I think.

Yep. We're going to go with that.

I've seen the most popular Merlion in Singapore. It's just one more thing I can check off the long list of things to do before we leave.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Mosquito Fog

Yesterday, I was pretty sure that a forest fire had broken out behind my house. All I could see when I looked out my back window was a thick, smoky fog.

Rather than grab water or call the fire department, my first thought was "Oh crap! I need my camera. This'll be awesome!"

Yeah. I'm that kind of person. I blame J-school.

Record the moment first; seek help later.

So anyway, I went to grab my camera, fixed the settings and ran back to the window to open her up and shoot away.

And there was nothing. No smoke. No flames. No excitement.

It turns out that it was just the pest control people fogging for mosquitoes.

Wah. Wah.

Stupid skeeters killed my excitement for the day.

In Singapore, the climate is so wet that mosquitoes are a big problem. In our area, they must fog quite frequently to make being outside even remotely comfortable. They also do it to inhibit the breeding of the Aedes mosquito, which carries Dengue fever. I talked about it a long time ago here.

To make up for my lost photo op, I did semi-stalk the pest control dude from my window hoping that he'd at least fog something again.

Instead, he dropped his stuff and took a walk.

I thought the fogger looked a lot like a futuristic leaf blower. (Ignore the stupid light post that was in the way.)

So...I'm sorry I couldn't get you guys a forest fire. I know that would've been way more fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bad burger, Good burger

When I first arrived in Singapore two years ago, I had a major Asian food phobia. I was terrified to try anything from local restaurants and food shops. I blame the fact that most of the food either had a head still attached and looking at me, or at the very least, bones or shells to clog my esophagus. (Unless it's fried chicken, Americans don't do bones in our dinner.)

So one of the first foods I tried in Singapore was as American as it comes: a burger. I got it at the most American sounding place I could find too: New York, New York.

And it was the most disappointing American thing that I have ever eaten. I've never been so sad to be away from Midwestern cows.

I don't know why it is, but the Australian ones just aren't as delicious. (Sorry Aussie cows.) There's a weird flavor to the meat that I just couldn't get past.

I steered clear of burgers for a long time after that. Two whole years, in fact.

Then, Aaron brought me home lunch one day. (Which was incredibly sweet since it was a surprise.)

But it was one of those weird Singaporean burgers.

This one was even weirder than the first. See that there? That's white mystery meat again! The same crap they tried to put on my pizza a few months ago. What's even worse is that after I took a bite, I still couldn't decipher whether it was chicken, turkey or pork.

It was that bad.

I just threw it away. I couldn't even make myself eat it.

After that experience, I told my American friend at work about my sadness over eating bad burgers here.

And he knew of a cure:

Hello Carl's Jr.! I forgot all about you! Silly me.

And you have a Guacamole Bacon burger?! Sign me up!

See that kids? That's American beef, baby. And it's delicious.

So the quest for decent burgers ended at an American fast food restaurant. Not perfect, but compared to the competition, a distant number one.

On a side note, I haven't tried the burgers at Chili's, TGI Fridays or the soon-to-open Applebee's yet. I bet they're good; I'm just a little scared to see what the Singaporean prices are for a hunk of beef on a bun at these places.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chinese New Year: Year of the Tiger

While the Americans are swooning over Valentine's Day and buying chocolates for their sweethearts this weekend, the Singaporeans over here are getting pumped up for Chinese New Year.

I mentioned some information about this Chinese celebration last year, but since I have more Chinese friends now, I thought I'd share some interesting customs and traditions of CNY.

Chinese New Year is a very colorful and important holiday to Singaporeans, especially those of Chinese decent. This 15 day celebration gets them two full days off from work and begins at midnight on Sunday this year. (12AM 14th February to be exact) To mark the importance of this holiday in their culture, think of it as the equivalent to Thanksgiving for Americans, minus the obsession with turkey.

They do have certain foods and traditions that are always followed for this celebration every year. As I mentioned last year, traditional foods and customs of CNY usually rhyme with words that you'd like to associate with your life in the new year. Words such as prosperity, luck, abundance, fortune, wealth are all things that are associated with traditions for CNY.

To better illustrate the traditions, I called my friend Cat to ask her what some of her family traditions are for this celebration. Here's what she told me:

  • We cannot sweep our floor on the first day of Chinese New Year. By doing this, it will sweep away our luck for the new year.
  • My mother will not let us wash our hair on the first day of CNY. The Mandarin word for hair rhymes with prosperity, so therefore we believe that washing our hair on that day will wash away our luck.
  • The same goes for getting hair cuts. We must do this before or after the first few days of CNY.
  • At the stroke of midnight on the first day of CNY, we open all doors and windows in our home to "let in the God of Fortune". Some people will even visit an astrologer to more accurately determine the exact time that the God will come. My family sticks to the midnight time.
  • You will also see a lot of people with joss sticks standing outside of the temples right before the first hour of the new year. They believe that the first person to place a joss stick at the altar at the first hour will have good luck for the rest of the year. (A joss stick is similar to or the same as a stick of incense.)
  • People are not encouraged to wear black or white during CNY as these are not auspicious colors. Most people will wear bright reds and oranges.
  • We eat a lot of traditional food that is based on their Mandarin pronunciation. We eat shrimp because the Mandarin word for shrimp is "ha" which sounds like laughter. We eat fish because the Mandarin word sounds like abundance. We also give Mandarin oranges because the word sounds like gold, thus meaning we wish wealth to their family.
  • The first two days of the CNY celebration are usually spent visiting friends and family and having big meals together. You will also see a lot of people at movie theatres too. People are laying low, but doing things together.

These are just some of the things that my friend and her family either witness or participate in while living in Singapore.

If you are Singaporean and have other traditions, please feel free share in the comment section. I'd love to learn about them and so would some of the other American readers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Voice of the MRT

I have this weird thing: Whenever I hear a recorded voice, I always want to know what the person looks like.

This goes for cartoon voices, movie voice overs, and public service announcements played over speakers in public areas.

It's like a game.

The best part is that usually the person looks nothing like what you picture in your mind from hearing their voice.

So I was pretty excited when I found a video on YouTube of the lady who is the voice on the speakers in the MRT trains and stations.

For the Americans who've never been to Singapore, here's a video of one of her announcements on an MRT train:

And this is what she looks like:

Surprisingly, she doesn't look that different than what I imagined. She's quite pretty.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Victoria's Secret in Singapore

Among the many attractions and shops in Resorts World Sentosa, one of my favorite stores has opened their first location in Asia.

Singapore, Vickie's has landed. Get ready to live.

Of course, it's a much smaller version compared to the two monster stores that I'm used to, but as the saying goes "Beggars can't be choosers". It'll definitely do.

Because I'm my mother's child, I decided to do some price comparisons even though I didn't plan on buying anything.

As you can see in the above photo, the original US prices have been marked out with a Sharpie.

The new price is listed on the ledge.

I braced myself for some sticker shock. I was pleasantly surprised though. The original price was $16.90 US. The new price is approximately $22.56 US. Not too crazy of a difference. If you figure in how much it'd cost in shipping to get here, it's almost a bargain.

All in all, it's a cute little store that has a sampling of popular Victoria's Secret merchandise.

I was a bit confused by one missing component though:

There is not one bra to be seen anywhere.

I'm not even kidding.

Hello?! That's like opening an ice cream shop and only selling sprinkles and hot fudge.

I have no idea why they wouldn't sell bras in the only Victoria's Secret in Asia. I only own bras from Victoria's Secret because they're so awesome (and my best friend used to work there). I think these girls in Singapore should get to experience them too.

Aaron says it's probably because Victoria's Secret doesn't make bras that small.

Very funny. Mean, perverted boy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Resorts World Sentosa, as of now

Yesterday, Aaron and I decided to go check out how things were coming along at Resorts World Sentosa.

This has been a major project for Singapore and has been under construction for almost three years now. It is expected to be a major attraction for tourists, visitors and locals for nightlife, restaurants, shopping and vacations.

It's still not completely finished, but they're allowing people in to see the progress.

The design of the entire place is very modern with Asian and Western tones. The entire complex was primarily designed by American architect Michael Graves. He's one of my favorite designers and I own several of his house ware goods that are sold at Target.

When I heard he was taking on a huge part of this project, I was very excited to see it.

The complex is enormous and could keep someone busy for hours and hours.

Perhaps the biggest attraction and the one we first heard about was the casino.

The casino is a big deal in Singapore. It's the first of two planned casinos in the country and will be segregated. (*UPDATE* After digging a little deeper, it appears that the segregation only takes place upon arrival in order to gain fees from locals. Once through the entrance, everyone plays on the same casino floor.) The fee that I mentioned is for Singaporeans and PRs. They are required to buy a S$100 day pass or S$2000 for a yearly membership pass to be able to even enter the casino. There's also a list of approximately 29,000 Singaporeans who will not be allowed to enter the casino because of known gambling problems.

Drah-ma. I'm not even going to get into it.

The complex will house six hotels in total, but only three were open as of yesterday.

Here we have the Festive Hotel.

and the Hard Rock Hotel

I really loved the decor in this hotel. It was edgy and modern.

My favorite of the three we saw, had to be Hotel Michael, obviously designed by Michael Graves.

It was gorgeous. I loved it and all I saw was the lobby and waiting area.

So aside from the really cool hotels, the upcoming oceanarium and the casino, the other big anticipation is Asia's first Universal Studios.

They were testing the rides while we were there and the rumor mill says that they're planning to open by late Spring/early Summer. Just in time for me to miss it.

It's ok. I'll live.

I thought the whole resort complex was really cool and fun to walk around even without everything being opened.

It was actually pretty refreshing to be able to walk in Singapore without being smothered by other people. I'm sure this will change when the rest of it opens.

So all in all, I think it'll be a great place for families, younger people and everyone in between.

I'm only slightly jealous that I won't get to see it in all of its completed glory.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Side Car equals Awesome

Someone in Singapore drives a side car.

And I am incredibly jealous.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thaipusam, version 2.0

Saturday was the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam in Little India. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll recall that I went to this last year.

I wasn't going to go again this year because it's really one of those things that your stomach can only handle once.

Then, my friend Danielle reminded me about the sweet DSLR camera my husband got me for my birthday and said that it'd be a great way to get some good shots in. (She got one too this year.)

I caved. I desperately needed camera practice.

So we went and I am now sharing my favorite shots of the day:

I found the experience much more enjoyable on my weak stomach this time around. The shock factor was gone and it became all business as I was still learning my camera.

Even though I got another sunburn, I'm loving the shots I got.

Yay new camera!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hang them out to dry

I hate laundry. I hate it so much that I own more than a month's worth of underwear just so I don't absolutely have to do it so often.

Yes. I consider underwear the one thing that cannot be worn more than once between washings. Everything else passes a sniff/stain test.

Call me gross, but I guarantee that I get to relax way more often than you do as you shuttle back and forth to the washing machine with your basket full of almost clean jeans.

Much like everything else in life, Singaporeans do laundry a little different than we do.

You see those poles of damp clothes hanging out of the window of the HDB flats?

That's the Singaporean equivalent of a dryer. Most of the country's residents cannot afford a dryer (and sometimes a washer) and have to tackle laundry the "old-fashioned" way. However, since nobody has a yard to put a clothesline up, they have to attach poles under their window and hang the clothes to dry that way.

So naturally, this rose up all sorts of questions inside of me. Big shocker there, right?

I asked the girls at work my random, crazy, American girl questions:

Me: So what if your clothes fall off the pole?
Them: Why would they? You attach them with clips or loop the sleeves through, lah. It rarely happens.

Me: Doesn't it take forever to have to wait for it to dry before you hang more up?
Them: No lah! You do a little everyday only so that it doesn't take so much time all at once.

Me: Will you ever buy a dryer? It's quicker, isn't it?
Them: They're very expensive here. Plus, the electricity bill would be to the roof. (Electricity in Singapore is about five times more expensive than it is in Kansas. That's also the reason most people don't have air conditioning.)

Me: Don't birds poop on it?
Them: No, crazy girl! That never happens. What I don't like is when the people above me hang their dripping wet sheets over my clothes that are almost dry. Ai-yo! I get so mad.

I actually could probably handle this part of Singapore life. I tend to hang dry most of my clothes on a clothes rack even though I have a dryer. I find the clothes don't shrink, lose their shape and generally last a lot longer that way.

I could not live without a washing machine though. When I do finally do laundry, I want to spend as little time as possible on it. I have no patience for soaking, scrubbing and wringing bedsheets.

I don't even think I have the muscles required for that kind of work.