Monday, August 26, 2019

K+A Thirteen on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Well *this* was a long time coming. The whole purpose of our trip, coming back to our old home, where we left just a short 7 years ago with our baby Hamish. But truthfully, after front-loading our trip visiting HK, Vietnam, and Cambodia, it felt unfortunately a little bit like an afterthought, an "okay, one more country, *then* we can go home". This is kind of reflected in our journaling from our time there. That said, we (adults) were very excited to be back, and Hamish was also pretty excited, wanting to tell strangers we passed that she was born in Singapore! And our friends saved the day, stepping up in every way to make us feel welcome and loved.

Before I get into that, I promised I'd report our home exchange. It was interesting. We knew that we would have the upper floor of a family's home, but we were told it was really two different apartments. I assumed that meant separate entrances, but it did not. When I arrived after dark, I knocked on the door at the home address, and the family's helper answered the door. She was not expecting me until the next day for some reason (I double checked correspondence and we were correct on dates), and was confused for a moment, but then realized we were the exchangers. I'm still asking her "ok, how do we get upstairs?" (looking for an external stairwell), and she of course invites me in. Bottom line, the parents were gone on their trip, and they left their two children with their two helpers (the live-in maids that are very common in Singapore). We had the upstairs to ourselves, but we had to go through their living room to get there, the refrigerator was downstairs, and the helpers still came upstairs to clean up after us and such. It felt kind of strange at the outset, but we learned to accept that it was just a little more of a shared space than we had anticipated. And that the helpers were happy to do our laundry or leave us fruit for breakfast (definitely an upgrade from the average home exchange experience where our goal is to leave no trace, essentially). We did have a door to our upstairs area that we could close and lock. We did so the first night. However, I made the mistake when we left the next day of pulling the door closed behind me. It wasn't actually locked-- the deadbolt was not set-- but there was no knob to turn on the outside and thus no way to open the door again except with a key-- the one I left inside as I wasn't intending to lock the door. We did not realize this until returning from our day, and one of the helpers said no big deal, grabbed a hammer, and had successfully destroyed the lock in no time. So... we didn't have that problem again. Clearly they never shut that door. So they also weren't concerned about the lock being broken. There were also some additional interesting things- they had a swing in our living room, 
which the kids quite enjoyed, and a zipline in the living room downstairs. Almost every time we passed through, the younger daughter (5) wanted to know if ours could play. Unfortunately, she was on a late schedule, and we were usually passing her on our way to bed. The zipline was still used several times.

(Friday, June 29)

We had a good night's sleep once we got in our place. I think most of us were up about 7, and Alli was reading to the kids while I finished my snooze.
We were a little concerned about coming downstairs and waking someone up too early, but after a while we came down and made use of the cereal and fruit left for us, and figured out how to get tea and coffee prepared. I was actually not feeling too great this morning. I said before that we all stayed pretty healthy for the whole trip, which is true, but I seemed to pick something up somewhere in Cambodia that was never bad enough to really cancel plans, but was making my mornings unpleasant... On this morning, I said I wasn't ready to venture out into the city, So Alli took the kids and headed straight for Orchard, partially with the intent of picking up some MRT cards. Thankfully, in addition to picking us up from the airport and procuring our dinner, Germaine brought us prepaid SIM cards, so once again Alli and I could contact each other easily, call taxis, etc. Even though we have a sort-of-joke "rule" about not leaving each other in foreign countries, we find that being able to text one another, find each other's location, etc. is so valuable when on vacation. Sometimes we text each other from the front to back of a taxi, because we are discussing something that we don't need the kids weighing in on. 

Alli had her taxi take her to Takashimaya, just one portion of many interconnected sprawling malls. Alli and I used to meet in the basement food court for pho with some regularity. I had also suggested getting some Ya Kun Kaya toast, and this was available in the basement here. She and the kids mostly wandered through the malls at first.
And she snapped a good photo of the rule followers that are Singaporeans.
I tried to rest longer, but I felt pretty guilty and like I was going to miss out, so as soon as I felt able, I got myself up and came to meet them in the Takashimaya basement for lunch.

Hamish was excitedly surveying the food stall options and interested in all of the noodle dishes. We tried a few different things-- noodles with chicken, wanton noodles, kaya french toast (I'm a fan, they don't slather the kaya (a pandan-based jelly) on as with normal kaya toast but provide it as a dip). The kids tried it all and generally enjoyed noodles. We ventured from here to get our MRT passes. I think we were considering taking a bus or MRT back home for naptime, but as often turned out to be the case, a taxi was only slightly more expensive for the family and much faster.
So we did our midday rest thing. Then we had our first outing to meet friends Bryan and Kris and kids, followed shortly thereafter by Amanda, her helper, and kids. We met at Gardens by the Bay, which was finished after we left Singapore. It is a large area with way more than we got to see, but our friends advised at first to just meet at the free kids splash pad.
Bryan and Kris brought us Old Chang Kee curry puffs and assorted treats for the kids. 

The kids made pretty fast friends, as they do, and enjoyed the water play.
When the sun got low in the sky and blinded the adults, we all moved from water play into an adjacent area with sand, slides, and climbing structures, and the kids played on and on. Before long we walked a short distance to an outdoor food court. We had a feast of satay, grilled swordfish, chicken and rice (a distinction, the chicken rice stall was closed, this was chicken *and* rice, so different), followed by iced kacang. The kids mostly sat at their own table so the adults could converse.
After dinner we walked to the supertree structures for a light show to the theme of Toy Story 4. It was kind of neat, but Manimal kept asking if the show would start soon... He was anticipating more of a movie he could watch, not a 10 minute light show. Finally we were in a taxi back to our place to drop Alli and the kids off to bed, while I carried on in our taxi to a nearby grocery store, where I managed to buy a few things on our list in record time, arriving about 10 minutes before the store closed.

(Saturday, June 29)
We continued to sleep in, later and later with each passing day. The kids had their own room with many sleeping options. Twin bunk beds and also a mat that could be pulled out so someone could sleep on the floor. Manimal wanted top bunk, and we weren't quite comfortable with this (very hard floor), but Hamish didn't want to climb up there. Nobody was interested in the floor. They mostly slept like this.
We continued our morning routine of cereal and fruit, now using some of what I'd purchased on my grocery run the night before. Then we were off in a taxi again to Hort Park to meet James and daughter, Kelvin and son, and Reuben and kids. It was a good choice (thanks for planning, Germaine!) where the kids ran around playing in several different playground areas while we could chat and try to hide from the sun.
Once we were all sufficiently sweaty, we moved on to a big dim sum lunch. Most of our group met Germaine and baby, Ruth, and Bryan and Kris. Reuben had a church commitment, but he left his oldest to spend the day hanging out with us.
We ate heartily, the plates kept coming.
The kids kept playing.
And nobody let us pay for a thing!
We had our midday rest back at home. The girls played cards with our host's youngest while Manimal and I napped.
And then, once we woke up, of course, we reconvened for food. Mega-food. A DG barbecue at James and Germaine's place to put our old ones to shame. So much good steak. Bacon and mushrooms, scallops, shrimp, more satay, hot dogs, sausage. Non-stop grilling for a couple of hours, and in honor of the situation with kids and everything, it was just a grab-as-you-like, no need to wait until we can all sit down at a table together style party.
Randy and James did all of the cooking for us. There was also pasta salad on the side.
As additional fun, we bought gifts for all of the children. Of this group, our Hamish was the first baby. Now there are 10, with one more on the way. It was so cute to see them all playing together in their matching outfits. And it was a lot easier to find them amidst other concurrent grilling parties.
A little rainstorm blew in and ushered us all inside, where some Paw Patrol entertained the children
And we also got to celebrate Bryan's birthday with some cake.
It was great being back together with everyone, getting a glimpse into what the DG has evolved into now with the need to "feed" kids and adults. We also got to hand out some random gifts we had shipped over-- food treats from Trader Joe's and specialty coffee.

A sad part about the rain was that we did not get to eat the durian Kelvin brought me to share (it's not allowed in James' house).

Eventually it was time for us to make our move and rest for Sunday.

(Sunday, June 30)
After the typical morning routine,
we made our way back to Adam Road Presbyterian Church. It wasn't entirely clear how many of our friends we would see at the same service, but we did see James and Germaine and kids. Most excitedly, our old pastor continues to faithfully preach the gospel message as he reviewed what had been taught at their church camp. Included in his sermon was Psalm 139, including our verse for our time abroad, 

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

He recognized us from the pulpit and excitedly came over to say hello, remembering us and only having forgotten our names. We chatted with him a while and then walked over to Adam Road food center, where we first had lunch with James and Germaine many years ago. I waited in the long line for nasi lemak while Alli, Germaine, and kids ate fresh fruit and juice and prata and more satay. I think I texted asking whether I should be buying more than one serving and received guidance that the kids had eaten pretty well already. 
Wrong. They ate 90% of my nasi lemak that I waited in line for close to an hour for. Well, I was happy that they enjoyed this local specialty anyway. Hamish counts it as a favorite thing discovered on our trip.
After lunch, Manimal and I returned to our home exchange while the girls proceeded to tea at the Fullerton Bay Hotel. This was where the girls had thrown a baby shower for Hamish years before. They had a grand time.
Apparently they will just keep bringing you more of those plates full of food.
After eating until they couldn't, we all reconvened to meet friends Jiazi and Bingjun and kids for dinner. Of course. 
We had more good food and antics.
It was great to see them and catch up. Once again, nobody would let us pay for our food.

From here we left for the night safari at the zoo. I was tempted to call this idea off, knowing how late it had already gotten and how late we would be out if we carried through, but I knew it was this night or never, and it did sound like it would be a fun memory. 

Our home exchange included a vehicle, so we drove out to the zoo that night and I got to do my first Singapore driving. It was fun to try out, but in the end, we may have been just as well off sticking to taxis. For instance, on this night, we knew that we'd need to pay to park. They have this great electronic system that pays tolls and parking in most lots, kind of like our fastpass and similar. But you have to top it up when it runs low, and if you don't have it connected to your credit card and all, you need to do this manually. Oddly, you can't buy the cards needed to top this up at gas stations, but you can at 7-11's. On the way to the zoo, we had to find a 7-11, which took us significantly out of the way, and then once we found it, there was nowhere to park, and it was in a residential area where people were parking on the street, making many 2-way streets single-lane. I had to drop Alli off and drive around in this mess while she got a card.

And then, the funny thing was that when we arrived at the zoo and parked, it said "welcome, season pass holder". They had free parking. We tried to avoid the lines at the zoo by purchasing our tickets online. It was a long walk from parking to the entrance to the night safari. Perhaps 5 minutes into this 15 minute walk, we passed the ticket line. Hooray, not for us. Right? no, of course not. What we purchased was not tickets, but like reserved tickets. Something stupid, I had to walk the 10 minutes back, wait in line just as I would have if we'd simply come in off the street, and then walk back to the entrance. The line moved pretty quickly, but I was really irritated by the advertisements for buying tickets online: "Skip the line, buy online!" (this is possible, but they only allow you to make online purchases on their website for like multi-park passes). Luckily, there was a fire breathing dance show going on at the entrance when I got back, so everyone was entertained while waiting for me. I think it was 9 p.m. when we were finally *starting* the night safari. We took the tram ride around and enjoyed seeing the animals. We went for a walk to see some more, but we just had to cut it short due to the time. It must have been 11:30 by the time everyone was home and in bed.

(Monday, July 1)
We dedicated the next day to visiting our old neighborhood of Toa Payoh. This time we finally used the bus instead of taking a taxi. Along with the swimming pools we saw in Cambodia and Vietnam, this bus ride will probably be a highlight in the kids' memories.
We got a double decker and were able to get the front seats, and the kids were very happy. They are wearing matching merlion shirts that Germaine got them (they're not jammies). Once reaching Toa Payoh, we were on our way first to see our old home, but someone needed to go potty, so we detoured to the library. This was a highlight of our living in Toa Payoh, definitely a feature that helped Alli when she saw our home and its location, to say yes! I could live here. We decided to make good on our library time and read a few books.
Next, since I could smell them from within the library, I wandered out to investigate the durian options. I put that on hold and hopped into Bata to check out some shoes. I used to walk right by and sometimes through this store on my way to and from work every day and thus purchased a few pairs of shoes there. Well, the family caught up to me, and someone else *neeeeeded* shoes of his own.
Often when asked about his Asia trip what the best part was, our Manimal points to these flip flops. Sigh.
I got some black dress shoes that I needed for an upcoming wedding and one more pair of fun shoes. Then we bought some durian and had a snack in the open space.
The kids both tried it. Neither was in love, but encouraged by my enthusiasm, they each asked for 3rd and 4th bites. They were intrigued. It wasn't the best one I'd ever had, but it was pretty yummy.
After this, we hit the local McDonald's, because some children decided they were hungrier now. I think we just had some fries and nuggets. Then finally we walked to our old apartment.
We walked up to our old door, which was closed, and snapped a quick photo standing in front. Hamish's first home in the world! Nobody surprised us by opening their door and asking our business.
We walked from here to a nearby very tall apartment complex, stopping to play at the local playground a few minutes.
Our Hamish girl is strong! (though she fell one time right on her tailbone and was a little injured for a day or so)
We went up to the 50-somethingth floor and took in the view and constant breeze, and then back down to the sky garden, which is only on like the 12th floor. Still a decent view.
The masses were getting peckish again, so we decided to go into the HDB hub in center of town and down into a food court where we used to get juice with some regularity. Sadly (and unsurprisingly) the juice guy was gone. However, the famous rojak stall was still in place, and I waited in the line to have a try (while Alli read to the kids. We made it through 6 or 7 read aloud books on the whole trip).


I actually never recall being much a fan of rojak, but I thought it was pretty good this time. Rojak is a kind of fruit/vegetable salad that comes in many varieties, but includes cucumber, pineapple, a fried bread called youtiao, a sweet/tangy/spicy dressing and lots of crushed peanuts. It may have helped that this stall asked about how spicy, and since ordering for family, I said very little. This may have had something to do with my liking it less on prior occasions. The kids ate it decently well. We added some chicken rice from one of the stalls (nothing famous, but ok food). And there was a different juice stall that still had pretty good offerings.

The highlight of this eating trip was definitely the traybots though.
There was a small army of them driving themselves around this food court, asking for your used trays. Their eyes lit up and they said thank you when you gave them one. If you got in their way they would politely and repeatedly ask you to move. Here is a backup of 3 of them in a row. Even the robots are over employed...
Finally we left Toa Payoh and headed to City Hall, where we visited the National Gallery, which has a bunch of free exhibits for kids. The kids subway-surfed on the way.
They were just talking about this yesterday.
We let the kids just wander and play with the different exhibits for a good while.
Hamish did some screen printing. Manimal quite enjoyed learning about Karung Guni Boy.
From here, we made our way down to Clarke Quay to take a bum boat ride, which follows the river out into the harbor with good views of the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, downtown Singapore, etc.
I think at this stage of the day there was a high level of whining about having to take another step. So we bribed the children with ice cream again.
I was looking for the traditional ice cream sandwich guys. I was looking for them the entire time we were in Singapore, and I never found one open. I saw their carts around Clarke Quay, but apparently they wait until later in the evening to open and hit the real tourist crowds. So we went to the Turkish ice cream guy, which is stupidly overpriced, but also pretty entertaining. The whole thing is using a very cold metal spatula to hold the ice cream, joking with the customer and repeatedly pretending to give them the ice cream. Manimal was especially happy to participate in this game.

We were going to get tacos at a place we used to go a lot. I believe back then the tacos were $3 each, little street tacos, maybe still not dirt cheap, but ok. Now individual tacos were $7 and $8, so we kept walking, finally stopping at a pizza place. Then we headed home again.

After the kids were asleep, Randy, Tee, and KeHui came over for late-night drinks. We visited late into the night, and around about 2 a.m., we convinced Tee to play a little guitar, and we sang "As The Deer" for old time's sake and prayed together.

Miss those friends.

(Tuesday, July 2)
The plan for the next day had been for me to head back to my old lab first, visit a while, and then meet Alli and kids out for lunch with my boss and some old lab mates. However, my boss's lunch plan changed when his favorite places were closed, and he decided to order in. Heading to bed Monday night, Alli asked me if she and the kids really needed to come, pointing out that they were just overtired, not necessarily being their best, kind of getting under my skin, and that while everyone would love to see them, their stamina for having a lunch with people they didn't know and listening to anything remotely science talk was pretty low. So we decided that only I would go.

Owing to our 2 a.m. bedtime, we slept late in the morning and let the kids just play with the things around our apartment. I left in a taxi headed for Duke-NUS, and Alli and the kids headed to Botanic Gardens for the children's garden. While I had popiah and tikka masala, they ran through mazes, climbed tree houses, took a tree top walk, and rode zip lines.
Apparently there was even MORE ice cream.
Manimal found a spot to pretend he was an ancient carving of Ta Prohm barely visible through the overgrown trees.
And my old boss made sure we got a selfie together before I left.
Once I finished up at Duke, I took a taxi to Botanic Gardens to meet the rest, and after a short time all together there, we headed on over to the Arab Quarter to find some good hummus and pitas and mint tea.
We walked around Arab Street and took some candid family photos.
From here, our next stop was, of course, to meet friends for dinner. I made the call on where to go for the best chicken rice-- Wee Nam Kee at Novena. We arrived a little early and let Bryan and Kris know we would play on the playground first. They came and met us so we could play together again.
I did tricks to amuse the children.
and did some scooter pushing.
Then we met Nigel and Grace and Cher Ern and Gwen and their oldest for our next feast.
Which of course had to be followed by ice cream at Udders.
And our day was done.

(Wednesday, July 3)
We were all pretty truly done with our trip by this last day. There were still some spots we'd hoped to see and activities we'd hoped to do, but the name of the game now was keep the kids entertained, don't ask too much of them, let's have  a low-key day. We took a taxi over to West Coast Park on the recommendation of a colleague, arriving just in time for a serious downpour. So instead of heading straight into the park, we had our taxi drop us off at McDonald's and had a bit of 2nd breakfast. It was a weird McDonald's. They have the automated ordering screens now, just as our American versions do, but with the typical overstaffing, there were multiple people coming over and asking if they could help with our order. Ronald was in house.
And there were complimentary balloon animals.
And people coming by to ask if there was anything else they could get us. I guess it was nice.

Soon the clouds parted, the sun returned, and we headed out to the playground to play. Some of the allure of this playground is that it has been around a long time and seems to have structures that nobody would deem safe today.
There were also more zip lines and fairly regular stuff to play on.
Three of us made it to the top of the superstructure without injury.
There was also a guy in the park walking his parrots.
The park is right on the ocean, so we walked over to look at the port.
And finally wandered over to a Nasi Lemak place nearby.
Alli wanted to buy a few more gifts that she was hoping to find in Chinatown, but we opted for me to keep the kids and enforce a rest time. Alli left in one taxi, and kids and I left in another headed home. Right after I walked into our apartment, I realized that I had left my phone behind. Worse, it had about 3% battery. I didn't know it's phone number, because it was the one associated with a random SIM. I didn't know Alli's number for the same reason. There was a brief panic as I tried to figure out what to do. Thankfully, the kids travel phones were still syncing contacts and such, so I was able to get Alli's number from there, and I was able to turn on the find my iPhone thing and see my phone driving north toward Malaysia. 2% battery. I made the phone beep and put a message on it saying to return it to our address and left the phone number of the helper at our apartment, who I'd now gotten involved. The taxi driver called her and said he would be back after dropping his current fare. And watching my phone's location and information, I saw the battery go to 0%. Luckily, the taxi driver did return my phone, and all was well. Whew!

Meanwhile, Alli had some fun in Chinatown and found presents that she was looking for.
She was excited to find a Daiso too.
Finally she completed her trip and bought some Cedele to bring home for dinner (my choice as I needed something more bland before our upcoming big day of travel.)

(Thursday July 4)
We woke at 6 and got moving, heading to the airport at 7 for our 9:30 flight. We hit a lounge once more to get some free breakfast. My stomach was quite unhappy that morning despite the bland dinner, but we pressed on.
This is how the kids felt about going home and getting to watch as many movies as they possibly could.
This is how I felt.
I survived, thanks pretty much entirely to Alli doing all things children-related while I zoned out as much as possible. Alli read books, enforced rest time, and then gave in to the movies on the plane. At one point Manimal looked out the window: "Mom! Mom! There's a floating map outside that tells us what the world looks like!!!" We had to explain that was the actual world, not just a picture.

San Francisco was annoying again. Not only did we need to do customs (receiving our bags and putting them back on another conveyor belt), but we did not have our bags checked through at all and once again had to leave security, take a tram to the ticketing gates, wait in line, check in, drop bags, wait in security, and make our way to our gate. I was really hating travel about then and was fairly sure we would end up missing our flight. However, our flight change had moved a little later, we got through security quickly with our TSA-pre status, and we actually ended up at our gate about an hour early. We had another bite to eat here.
Finally we were on our last leg home.
We were all pretty tired by the time we got home.
Like while we waited for Ben to drive around and pick us up, and we needed a nap on the sidewalk.
Finally, we were home. It was quite a trip. Good, yes. Hard, yes.