Friday, July 30, 2010

Everyone's Got an Opinion II

I remember when Liba was really pregnant in New York, she told me that everyone had an opinion about her belly - if it was a boy or a girl. I didn't go out with her too much, but she told me this a few times, and I said, "yeah, yeah. I'm sure they all have an opinion."

...Until we went out for dinner, which included walking down the street, three days before she gave birth. We stopped in to CVS for a second, and the lady behind us in line gave an unsolicited pat and told her she was having a boy. The cashier got in on the conversation and also let her know that she was having a boy. Someone else walking down the street also told her she was having a boy. The kicker, though, was the totally drunk lady who was lying on the sidewalk. She was not conscious, yet she sat up, said, "it's a boy," and then went back to being passed out. Honest. I was blown away. Who knew that so many people cared?! Well...maybe that's just New York City where everything is everyone's business.

Nope - it's Singapore also. A couple of days ago I saw a woman in the elevator, and I always see her walking around my floor. We were going from the 8th floor to the 1st floor. We introduced ourselves, we told each other what we do at the bank. She asked when I was due, and I told her October 2nd. She said, "it's July, and you're due in October. You're huge! Have you been feeling alright?" Well, lady - I just met you five seconds ago (seven floors up...), and it's the END of July, and the baby's due at the BEGINNING of October, and yeah, I feel great. What's it to you?

The next day I was meeting a bunch of my ex-colleagues for lunch, and I showed up, and they said, "you're not even big! We thought you would be huge by now!"

I'm big, I'm small, I'm pointed, I'm rounded...

Another day this week I was having lunch with a friend and a whole bunch of containers happened to fall on me. They were empty, and it was no big deal at all, but the ladies at the restaurant (all Thai ladies at a great Thai restaurant) starting freaking when they saw that I was pregnant. They were all over the belly and told me it's a boy. Just clean up your containers and let me get back to my green curry.

Overall, I think over a hundred people have told us that they think it's a boy. I have two opinions that say it's a girl. How do people know? Why does everyone want to guess? I keep telling them that I'll let them know in a few months.

Another ex-pat lady in the elevator said, "oh, you're pregnant. So exciting! When are you due? And I bet that everyone here tells you you're having a boy? Yup - that's what they told me too, and I had a beautiful girl."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Old People in a New Country

One of the things that always struck me in Israel, when I lived there, was when you see old people, and you think, "wow - they must have been around before Israel was a state. Maybe they even had a part in building the state." When you talk to old people in Israel, everyone has a story about the fight for independence, and what they did in the wars in 67 and 73. It seems that people there feel that they built the country - together with the rest of their generation. They're proud and empowered.

On the other hand, I also think about that here. Singapore in the 60s looks NOTHING like Singapore now - and the way it looks is way more drastically different than how Israel looks. Singapore has a big downtown with skyscrapers (nothing like Tel Aviv), and basically the whole population has moved from living in kampongs/villages to HDB flats/public housing apartments. We often ask old people where they grew up, and they tell us they grew up in a village somewhere, which we literally can't imagine. I think I read in the paper that there is one village left in Singapore...but, the attitude of the elderly when they talk about the past and how different it is now feels totally different than in Israel. In Singapore, it seems as if the country were built around them - almost as if they were victims/silent participants. The people we talk to don't seem to feel as if they were a part of it, rather that it was all from the top, and some like it, and some don't. It's possible that we're not talking to the right people, but I don't think we have access to those people!

I know that the reasons for existence of these two countries is drastically different, and development in Singapore was definitely specifically economic development, while in Israel there was much more idealism, Zionism, and a fundamental belief that the country should exist. I don't know if I'm explaining it well, but they do feel different. So I understand that we're not comparing apples to apples, but it is interesting to note the differences.

In other news I must highlight four of the articles in today's fabulous paper.
1 - on the front page there is an article about a new campaign about picking your nose and "littering" the boogers. Apparently the government's new campaign is to get people to stop littering - and a sub-campaign is about littering your boogers (which I'm sure creates HUGE problems - you know those piles of boogers...). They want to show that it's gross. I can't even comment on this. It's fricken hilarious.

2 - unfortunately a person was killed in their car last week due to a random falling tree branch. So, yesterday there was TONS of traffic, because the government was out in full force trimming trees all over the island. I understand that emotionally, people like the government to have a response when someone is killed, but if they would just look at the statistics about how many people are killed from falling tree branches, and how many people are killed from, say, sitting in the back of an open truck...there might be more effective ways to save lives?

3 - apparently some jay-walkers are over the age of 50 and not quite as agile, but they're still jay-walking. This warrants an article?

4 - there's a great article about how many Singaporean men are choosing to marry Vietnamese young wives. Apparently it's just easier, because you don't have to take the time to get to know them - you can just marry them quickly, so you can "get going" on creating a family and settling down much faster. Hmmm...sounds a little not so sustainable to me. I can't wait for the follow up article in a few years.

In other news, Matt and I have agreed to purchase (we haven't yet handed the money or received the goods) some beautiful furniture. It's our first real grown-up furniture of our lives. There is a couple going back to the UK, and they're selling BEAUTIFUL stuff, so we got an incredible antique-style wooden Chinese dining table with six chairs, a matching coffee table, a gorgeous and comfy king size bed and a chair. It's beautiful, and I'm excited. We went to a warehouse place that sells Balinese furniture (CHEAP!) yesterday to see what we can get to supplement, and we found a few other pieces that we might try to get once we actually have an apartment and know what it will look like. Favourites include a beautiful Balinese daybed trundle (so we need a big guest room!), and some gorgeous living room/foyer pieces. We would still need a big comfy sofa...

In yet other news, we also looked in baby stores for the first time yesterday. We have our list of what we absolutely need before the baby comes, and most of it is stuff we can get at Carrefour or a supermarket, but the rest were a car seat, a stroller/pram/trolley/pushchair and some newborn clothes. My mom brought some clothes, and the Hildebrandts (who arrived last night) also brought some clothes, but we went a-looking for the rest, and we decided on a car seat/stroller situation that we think will work. We still don't HAVE anything in our house, since they were out of stock on the stroller, and we decided to wait on the car seat to see if it goes on sale (the stroller was on SUPER sale), since we still have about a month and a half before we NEED it, but we're getting there. The fetus was excited and therefore doing somersaults all day long.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Lombok is a few hour boat ride away from Bali, and while everyone knows about Bali, many people don't know about Lombok. Lombok seems to be one of the thousands of hidden gems of Indonesia. I absolutely love that country. Everywhere we have gone there is different and amazing in its own way (Medan and the surrounding areas including the Batak people and orangutans, Yogyakarta with its amazing temples, Mt Bromo and the beautiful volcanoes of east Java, incredible diving in Manado, east Sulawesi, crazy beauty, intense Islam and tsunami destruction in Pulau Weh and Banda Aceh, and of course Bali - which I'm on the every-six-months-plan for).

The very little that we saw of Lombok reminded me a bit of Bali, but it was also really different. The island itself seems to be a bit more hilly/mountainy, and the Gili Islands, which are north west of Lombok, are just white sand beaches with nothing to do but dive, snorkel or relax. There were a whole bunch of Hindu temples (like Bali) around west Lombok, at least, though the island is apparently 90% Muslim. Please note that we spent a total of three days in Lombok and 2.5 in the Gili Islands, and in Lombok, we really only saw a few places in the west, so my perspective is really limited.

Our first stop was an amazing hotel near Senggigi that was recommended by two friends. Qunci Villas was one of my favorite hotels ever. The bathroom was the coolest bathroom I have used, and the service at this hotel was unmatched (even by the 5 star hotels in Asia). All of the dudes know who we are, say hello, and are super friendly. We asked about transportation to a temple, and after we got back, we had three different people asking how the temple was. At breakfast they knew our names, what we liked to eat and drink, and probably our birthdays. The place just makes you want to sit by the pool and read. All day. So we did.

The Gili Islands was a totally different story. It was a bit rugged for a lady who's seven months pregnant, and while it was super relaxing, it was a bit of a letdown from Qunci Villas. We had been spoiled. Our hotel on the Gilis was on the main island, but totally removed from all of the other action (which is good). We had our own little Javanese hut, which looked really cool, but in practicality there were a few problems. The lights were so dim that we literally couldn't read or see anything (though that gave us the opportunity to watch part of the BBC Planet Earth series we brought with us on the trip...), so we were sleeping by 10pm each night. The bathroom was another cool, outdoor bathroom, but though we were paying over USD100/night, we didn't get hot water (or fresh water...though that's not their fault - I don't think they have it on the island), and there were stairs going up and down to get to the bathroom. Not ideal when you're pregnant and going to the bathroom six times per night. Finally, while the four-post bed was really cool looking, in reality it came with bed bugs, and since I can barely reach my ankles to scratch, I'm just not interested in bed bugs. On the positive side, the view, the salt water pool, and the banana pancakes at the hotel were superb.

Other than the hotel, though, we really enjoyed relaxing and doing nothing. The first day we took a super long walk (until I literally got sick from the sun and exhaustion) to check out the rest of the island and what we should do while we were there. We decided on a lot of reading plus one snorkeling trip around to the other Gili Islands. Overall, it was super relaxing, and our biggest decisions were where we were going to eat our next meal.

Generally, the pregnancy thing wasn't too much of a problem. The biggest challenges were fitting on a really crowded snorkeling boat (my ass must be bigger than it was...) and getting onto the boat to leave the island. I had my big backpack on my back, and I literally couldn't take a big step up onto the back of the boat. I was just too heavy. I tried about five times, and I didn't know what to do. Finally I could reach to the top of the boat and pull myself up with my arms. Thank goodness for yoga and all of those downward dogs. I also had to walk a lot slower and drink about four times the amount of water that Matt drank.

After the Gili Islands we went back to Lombok and spent a day driving around the Mataram area, visiting a few pottery shops. Since we came here for 1-2 years, and now we have been here for three and we're clearly not leaving anytime soon, we got a beautiful set of handmade pottery dishes. It was in this crazy house with TONS of stuff everywhere (including a mouse), and we sort of had to look around to find a complete set (they only had three plates of the ones we liked most and then four of the ones we liked second we got six of our third choice, but they're still really beautiful). We got some really beautiful things, including an amazingly gorgeous vase for about USD3.

One of the pottery stores we visited said that their biggest "customer" was Ten Thousand Villages. This is a website that I have bought stuff off of - it's basically a company that brings products made in villages around the world to the masses. They have specific guidelines outlining what "fair trade" means to them, etc. When I have bought stuff in the past, I was sort of skeptical, since I didn't really know where it came from or if it was for real, but learning that this amazing co-op of women potters in Lombok supply to this website made me excited.

Upon our return to Singapore there were two big emotions. Super happiness to be reunited with the Kitty and super unhappiness recognising that I won't leave Singapore until at least November. The longest I have been here up until now without leaving is about five weeks (MAYBE six). I may freak out on this island...but we'll see. Hopefully I will be busy enough until the baby's born to not think about it, and afterwards, I'm SURE I will be busy enough that I won't notice.

Click here for photos from our trip.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reflections at a Year

End of June/early July is a great time for reflecting.

We just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary.
We just marked three years in Singapore (which is one year longer than I have lived anywhere else since I was 18...)
My graduation from INSEAD was one year ago on the 1st.

If I go back to four years ago, I could NEVER have imagined that I would even be living in Singapore. I'm sorry to say that I didn't know where it was or anything about it - except the regular caning and gum stuff.

Going back to three years ago, I was a trailing spouse who had lost my identity. I was about to start a horrible job at a disorganised non-profit, and I was just starting to get to know Asia. I wasn't even dive-certified yet! I had started thinking about the MBA, but I don't think I knew about INSEAD yet, and if I did, I'm sure I thought I wouldn't get in.

One year ago I had just finished the most intense year of my life, I was looking forward to a short trip home - surprising friends and family at Michigania - and then starting a job (that felt wrong in my gut) with toilets. I didn't really feel excited about it, but I thought there was potential. I was also looking forward to a short stint in Israel for Dena and Juan's wedding.

Who knew that now I would be a pregnant corporate woman working in a bank! You can always prepare (and I DO!), but you really can't ever know where you're going or where you will end up. I am someone who loves control and preparation, and I remember Wade, whom I used to work with at GW Hillel said to me - "Mel - just let go. You can't even control the things that you think you can control, let alone the things you can't." That doesn't sit well with me, so I still have to be proactive, but it is worth noting that I never could have dreamed up where I am any previous point in my life. And - the weirdest part is that I'm really happy to be here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Old Labour

It's great that Singapore has initiatives to get old people - okay - the elderly - back into the workplace. There are incentives to hire people over certain ages, there is free training and training subsidies and a whole lot more. Singapore doesn't have social security, but it does require that each working person save a certain amount of money, and the employer contributes, and the government invests it. It seems that it will work well enough for people who are 50s and younger, but I don't know how it works for the older population. You do see old people working a lot here, but the hard part is that they're doing really physical jobs. Many of the older people don't have the education or language skills to work in super sophisticated jobs, but there has to be something better than janitorial work, no?

We have two ladies in our office whom I see everyday - one is at least 75, has three kids, and she has trouble walking. She empties our trashes, vacuums (with one of those big things she has to push all around the office!), has to carry stuff places, and generally works really hard for someone of any age - let alone the fact that she is indeed elderly. The other woman has clearly had a stroke, and possibly something with her trachea - since she has a hole in her neck, and I can't understand most of what she says. She says that she has no family, and she has no money, so she works cleaning our toilets SIX days a week - picking stuff off the ground, etc. She's also super old.

I do think that it's good that these ladies have jobs, but as I sit in my comfy chair at my nice desk everyday - I wish that they had a more comfortable job...

Unrelated, the auntie who cleans up our trash is quite hilarious. She doesn't actually take out our garbage bags each day. She reaches into the bin and takes out the trash with her hands to put it in the bigger bin that she pushes around with her. She has noticed that I eat an apple everyday, right around the time that she comes (right after lunch - it's my dessert). So, each time she comes she asks, "apple already?" If I haven't eaten it yet, she comes back. It made me pretty uncomfortable at first, since she was clearly noticing what was in my garbage, but she doesn't seem to care, and I got over it so now it's more of a joke.

In other news, Kitty just ate a bug. She was playing with it for a while, so I thought it would be spit out at some point to keep playing, but no. She ate it. Yum.