Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hanoi

I wrote this when we first got back and forgot to publish...We just got back from a five day trip to Hanoi. Matt has been there several times for work, but Sam and I went for our first time. We all absolutely loved it. We spent the first day and a half in Hanoi, then we drove to Halong Bay, spent a day there, back to Hanoi, and another day there before we came back.

Hotels are key to a SE Asian vacation. We have changed our style a bit since we moved here. When we first arrived we backpacker-styled it and weren't too upset when we got bedbugs (multiple times...) and bragged about the value we got for $10-$20 per night. Then we realised that if you just spend a wee bit more (like $30-$50) you get a LOT more. Then we had a baby who crawls around on the floor and puts everything in her mouth and we realised that you can get fabulous five star hotels in SE Asia for a steal, so we went a bit fancier. Okay - we don't usually do five star, but at least four (and they're cheap). So our first two nights we stayed in this totally random hotel - the Elegance Hotel group has about six in Hanoi, and they are basically the top 10 on Trip Advisor (the best site out here for hotel recs). It was $100/night for a suite (though the balcony was nothing to write home about - see photos). Totally clean. Totally did the job, and had the best breakfast we have had in months. They had a menu with scrambled eggs, omelet, pancake, french toast and a sandwich, and Matt ordered them all, other than the , The night in Halong Bay, most people stay on boats, but I get sea sick and was terrified of my baby floating away, so we stayed in a hotel. Back in Hanoi, we decided to splurge and stay in the Sofitel Metropole which is a super old French Colonial hotel. It was way fancy, but it also helped us recognise the Haimish Line (okay - it didn't - the service at both places was really good - but when I read that article today I thought about how going fancy isn't really that worth it, as long as the other options are clean). Going back, we would definitely stay in the Elegance Hotels (we were in the Saphire) the whole time. And we are - going back.

The food we had was yummilicious. Our favourite meal was with Hang, my friend from INSEAD. She ordered everything delicious, and we loved it. Sam was an adventurous eater with yogurt and some other random veggies. We were a bit nervous about giving her too many new things for her super raw tummy (that just started eating food about two weeks ago...). The best part of Vietnamese cuisine, if you ask me, is the coffee (iced Vietnamese coffee with milk) and the pan chocolate. Holy yummy. My stomach is growling at 11:04 pm just thinking about it.

This city has so much energy. The shopping is great. The people are so nice (and they LOVE babies! More on that later). Walking around is much easier than in Ho Chi Minh City. The architecture is absolutely gorgeous. The vibe is just great - and to be honest - though we love living in Singapore (mostly) it has exactly what Singapore lacks.

We spent our first couple of days in Hanoi exploring different neighborhoods and generally just looking around. We saw the beautiful cathedral, the big, central lake, the downtowny area (and even Matt's office in Hanoi), and we got to see Hang and her beautiful belly.

Though most people go to Halong Bay on a tour, we weren't sure how we would be able to go according to someone else's schedule - i.e. if Samara needs to sleep and she doesn't, I don't really want to be around her, and I'm guessing other strangers may agree. So, we hired a car to take us out there. We had organised through our hotel there to take us out on a boat, again, on our own time. So we had assumed it was a small boat, to explore Halong Bay. There must have been some sort of mis-communication, because we got on a boat for about 40. Two decks. At least eight tables that seat at least 6 people. It was nuts and a huge waste of resources, but we enjoyed it. We sailed all around Halong Bay for four hours. Truth is that we have been to Krabi/Ko Phi Phi area in Thailand and Palawan in the Philippines. While this looked similar to both, we kind of thought that it might have been a little too similar to impress us too much. That's not to say that it's not one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. It is. But we're super jaded.

Back in Hanoi, we walked around more, ate more yummy food and generally explored.

Highlights:
  • Literally anyone who helped us get into a car put our carseat in the trunk.
  • I tried hard to order the yummiest ice coffee with milk at a local place. I ended up with iced tea and hot coffee with milk. I didn't want to waste my caffeine intake for the day, and I knew I couldn't explain how to add ice (really - very limited English/Vietnamese interchange), so we paid and left. We felt rude, but she probably thought we were just crazy.
  • I have commented on this multiple times, but walking around with a baby in SE Asia is hilarious. People literally can't help themselves. Some stop walking, turn around, grab Samara's hands, dance with her, give her a kiss and then walk away. There's no way to fight it. You have to just embrace it - and we did. She caused at least a few hundred smiles each day, and she is super flirty, so she engaged. At dinner, the waitresses (or waiters) would come up, hold their arms out, and if Samara leaned towards them (which she inevitably did, they took her away. Often, they took her out of sight. She loved it!
  • We don't have a car here in Singapore, and our longest drive here is usually about 20 minutes (tops). We took a road trip when we were back in Michigan, but we're not too familiar with babies in cars. They're magical. Sam went to sleep automatically almost every time we got in the car. The thumb went in the mouth. Her eyes started to glaze, and within a few minutes she was gone. It was awesome.
  • We went to see a water puppets show. It was 50 minutes, and it was a proper show in a proper theater. I did not know what Sam would do and what people around us might think. The people at the hotel didn't seem to think it was a problem that we had a baby...Samara LOVED it. She cheered. She pointed. She danced. She sang. She watched the entire thing, either standing or sitting on my lap. She absolutely loved it.
  • The handiwork - like the quiltwork and embroidery was literally breathtaking. The quality and beauty was beyond anything I have seen before. I wanted to buy a whole new house - pillows for the couch, bedspread, wall hangings, even embroidered flowers. I don't get impressed by stuff, usually, and I do NOT like shopping, but I want to go back to Hanoi just to shop. BEAUTIFUL!
Overall, we had a great time, and we only fought crossing the street about four times (if you have been to Vietnam - and crossed the street, you probably did the same with your spouse).

Here's a link to photos and a few videos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Culture of the Working Mom

I grew up in a house where my mom didn't work when I was younger, and even when she went back to work, she was really around. While I think most of my friends' moms either didn't work or were teachers, so they were around after school, I was SURE that I would be a working mom. It didn't really seem like an option. We (girls) all went to school and believed that we could do anything, so how could we stop whatever it was that we accomplished at work to raise kids? I can only think of one friend of mine in the States that doesn't work (though I have to admit that I have lost touch with a whole lot of people...).

It's also so clear to me that your 30s really matter in your career. I see that the women at my office who have really moved up ALL kept working, and kept working hard (like most evenings and many weekends as well). Granted I work in the most aggressive field - finance, but still. I very firmly believe that if I get out of the workforce I will pretty much lose any career momentum that I have gathered (even with a top MBA degree and a good public university degree or two). Yes, I can probably get a job again, but I will have already shown that my first priority is not my work. While you can SAY whatever you want about your priorities, when you leave your job to raise your kid/s, you have spoken very loudly. This is something you will have to bring up in an interview, whereas if you keep working, you can choose to bring up the fact that you have a child or not. This is a message that I may be comfortably sending at some point, but it's a really hard decision.

Yet - I really don't get how we can be moving forward in traditional careers (both Matt and I work in banks) raising good children who are good and respectful communicators who listen, have opinions, feel confident and proud of who they are, and who do things that challenge their development (my baby sits at home - or in the playground or mall - all day with Rose, and while Rose is FANTASTIC, it's just not the same as fun classes, mommy-baby groups, etc.). That's not to say that it can't be done - I just don't get how it will work. Will anyone else teach my kids manners? Will they discipline them? Teach them not to whine? Interesting also is that the person who is taking care of my baby is from a very different culture. Trying to teach her not to go to Sam when she cried (when we were sleep training) was painful. I make sure she leaves Sam alone with a few toys and books so she can play by herself at least a few times a day. This would never happen in the Philippines (or at least not in her village). I don't even know about other differences that I may not be aware of.

While that culture of MUST WORK was what I think was imprinted in my brain, I now live in a place where I have nearly no friends who have young children and work, so this makes me challenge my assumptions on a daily basis. Literally.

This piece in the New York times has brought up the issues that I have been thinking about and struggling with for months (probably like every working mom!).

As we think about moving back to the US (at some point...? it's been FOUR YEARS, and we came for ONE!!), and I try to imagine what our life would be like there, I really can't. I can't, because I have never really seen it. I don't know what a kid's life is like when his parents are not available from 7:30 until 6:45, as is our situation now. What do you do for the summer? Are there camps for the entire day? I don't know how the kid copes (especially when they're a crazy sleeper, like my kid), and I don't know how the mom/parents get everything done. When do we make the food? For us? For the kids? Do the laundry? Clean the house? Shop? Will I ever go to my kids' sports events? Will we have healthy dinners? I just totally don't get how it all gets done. It sounds totally impossible, and even if it's possible, it sounds like no fun at all. Yet everyone does it.

Whatever I/we decide, I will regret in some way. Whatever I/we decide I will have to justify to someone (and myself) for years to come.

The clear answer seems to be to either have a job that requires fewer hours or have a job that is more flexible and on your own time. Who knows - lots of stuff to think about - what I want personally, what's best for our family (as a whole and each of us individually), what's culturally acceptable (ex-pat Singapore culture? American culture?), what will make me happiest, what we can afford or choose to afford. Not easy stuff.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Indian Feast

I was moved to cook a small Indian feast today. Mostly I cooked because I never cook anymore (thanks to the awesomeness of Rose), I took an Indian cooking class, and I LOVE Indian food! After I had already made my decision to try out some new recipes I realised that it's also a day designated for cooking curry.

Apparently a family from China asked a Singaporean family to stop cooking their smelly curry. This started an online movement to cook curry today - Hey! We're Singaporean, and we live here, and we cook curry, and you are guests!! (That was the Singaporeans speaking, not me). So, I cooked Indian food that smelled really good - but I didn't use any curry leaves. I was halfway there.

I took an Indian cooking class with my team at work, from this woman. We learned to make two chutneys, daahl, potato filling and dosas. I warned my team that dosas were not a good thing for cooking classes, since we will never make them at home, but they wanted it. We did enjoy eating them, and we did make them, so that was pretty cool, but I will never make them at home. Since that class, approximately ten days ago, I have been dreaming about this green chutney. So, today I made the green coconut chutney (which is South Indian), and I made a chickpea dish and potato and pea dish - both North Indian. I stopped at the chappati guy on the way home from tekka market and got fresh chappatis to eat with it all. This means that I made Indian fusion - all North Indian plus that southern chutney. Holy yum.

I documented my cooking with some not so beautiful photos. But it can show how actually accessible Indian cooking is.

The first photo is the chutney - grinding lemon, chillies, spring onion (green onion), coriander (cilantro), mint, and coconut. First I ground it a while (though my mortar and pestle are a wee bit small for this chutney), and then I put it in the blender. After I tempered, adding some oil, mustard seeds and cumin seeds (cooked). Poof! Done and AMAZING!!

The second photo shows some preparation for my potatoes/peas and chickpeas (separately). You can see the end product of the chutney in the grey poupon jar in front of the toaster (did I mention yum?). Then there's my masala set in front, plus some prepped spices in the front right, and my fresh mint and coriander (cilantro) in the front left. Don't forget the baby formula in the back right.

The last photo was when I put mustard seeds in a dry pan, to make them pop and then add the oil, garlic (front row, left), onions (back row, left), ginger (front row, middle)...some spices and the potatoes (back row, right). After this, I added the peas, a bit of water, cooked, fresh mint, and DONE. YUM (after a bit of salt...).

If anyone wants recipes, email me, and I'll send them to you!

Lost in Malaysia

Ruthie sent me a note on facebook yesterday, that the brother of someone she knows is lost in Malaysia. Then I started to see this all over facebook - everyone was looking for this guy. Apparently his parents had been in daily touch with him since a trip to Asia started in June. After six days of not hearing anything, they contacted some of his friends and asked if they could mobilise facebook. Turns out he was in Taman Negara in Malaysia.

I have been slightly obsessed with this story for a few reasons. One, I just became a parent, so now I relate to different parenting behaviour - like freaking out if you don't know that your child is totally fine. Also, I think that the parents of everyone who travels through Asia, or anywhere really, are sort of waiting for something like this to happen. It's clearly everyone's worst nightmare.

The second reason is because I have traveled all over Malaysia and lots of South East Asia, and I can totally see how this guy hasn't been on the internet. In Taman Negara (the BIG national park in Malaysia, where apparently the guy is hiking until Tuesday), there is no mobile signal. And, you kind of get caught up in traveling or doing whatever you're doing and you just don't really think about it.

Well, I am the first to admit that I know almost nothing about this situation, this guy or his parents or anything else, but I definitely think he will regret that he didn't tell anyone where he is (assuming he is fine and he just wasn't in contact...). It is kind of crazy that he will come back to loads of people who thought terrible things could have happened. I bet his voicemail is full (and maybe even hacked by those British journalists) and his facebook wall is overwhelmed with love. Just an interesting situation.

Clearly, the bottom line is that it's great that he's fine, whoever he is, but it just made me think about a whole lot of things.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Don't you...

I have blogged before about signs in Singapore. I find many of them to be hilarious. I have also talked about fear campaigns. We have all learned that Low Crime is not No Crime.

I had seen an ad in the newspaper a few years ago where there was this nice family, and the mother was watermarked out. Basically, the FULL PAGE ad was saying that "this could happen to your family" if you don't take precautions against dengue. On the way to the MRT now, there are these two ads, one in English and one in Chinese, both with super cute kids playing with toys. I thought they were cute, but I was always in a hurry, and I didn't stop to read the super small print (showing that the message of these posters probably isn't communicated to 97% of their intended audience...).

Yesterday, after a great Melanie-morning, including yoga, going to get my mac fixed (apparently bottoms come off MacBooks, and they fix them for free!), running a few other errands, and generally just doing what I want for a few hours, I walked by this poster. I had the time, so I stopped to check it out. Just in case you can't read the text, this is what it says:

"There will be no comfort. i am here to disrupt. if there is a way into your home i will take it. Your precious child her nightmare is about to begin and for the family too. Protect your loved ones from the pain and suffering of dengue. All it takes is just a small portion of stagnant water for the Dengue carrying Aedes mosquito to breed..."

Oy.

My second funny/horrible sign of the day is slightly more on the funny side. In our condo, there are lots of people (something like 950 apartments - LOADS OF PEOPLE ALL THE TIME). Lots of people create lots of trash. Many people don't seem to know where the trash chutes are, so as a result, there are often bags of trash next to the chutes (that's a confusing one for me) and next to the small bins on the first floor, by the elevators. The management has recently put up signs with photos of bags of trash next to the bins, and the photos have lines through them. Clear message - do not put your trash bags NEXT to the trash bin. This morning, on my way back from getting coffee with Sam, we saw bags of trash next to the bins. Next to the photos that say not to do that. It was just funny. Maybe you had to be there? Maybe it transfers through photos?

In other news, Sam is doing better with eating. She's still not really getting calories from food, but she's trying lots of things. She tried challah yesterday morning, and this morning she went to town on a raisin bagel with lots of cream cheese. She has dived into watermelon and tried applesauce a few times. She didn't like lentil soup (probably too salty). But overall, she's gagging way less and even enjoying eating. She also enjoys feeding her mommy and daddy. It's so nice that she shares her soggy, nasty mush with us.

Sam's other new talents include dancing with her arms up every time she hears music (even in a store - it's quite hilarious) and tapping her finger on pages of books. I think that she is "counting" things, but she keep tapping. She also finds her belly button (but sometimes confuses belly buttons with feet and also noses). It is requiring a lot more energy to hang out with her these days - she's all over the place, and she doesn't just roll on her back with a toy for ten minutes - she needs more entertainment. Swings, playgrounds, walking around outside and sitting on the grass are great alternatives (though SOOO hot, so we can only do those things after 5 or so).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Eating

I haven't blogged in a while - mostly because we had a fantastic trip to the US, and it's been a bit hard to get adjusted to life back here. I haven't been too inspired, unfortunately.

Today, it's Sunday in the middle of the week (Tuesday - it's National Day, so we have the day off work), so I'm a bit lifted. Overall, since we got back we have been busy. We had visits from Erin and Joe, and Talia and Andrew, and they were all great. We got to do fun tourist things, and Sam loved the extra attention (as if three adults and one cat isn't enough...). We haven't had too many visitors, so it was really nice to share our life here with friends. Talia's coming back tomorrow for another day or so, and then I don't believe we have another visitor until October or November.

Once our visitors left (for Thailand and Bali - poor them...), we have tried to get back into life. I've been going to yoga, after a really long break since I was in Bangladesh, India and the US for six weekends in a row! We have relaxed a lot, and we have finally started to see some Singapore friends again.

Today we did our favourite hike (I have written about it a few times) around Macritchie Reservoir with Therese and Vishal. We saw a few monkeys and a flying lemur or something on a tree, and we had a really nice (and to be honest, a bit difficult for me to keep pace with the others!) walk. Sam was super happy for all of it - except for when she was sleeping. She was a champ, as it was HOT HOT HOT!

Enough catching up - so Sam is ten months. When we went to the doctor when she was five months, the doctor said that Samara was ready to eat. She said it would take some "pumping pressure off" if she got calories from food, so she suggested starting feeding her. So we did. And we did this everyday since Sam was five months. Until today (minus about three or four). Sam did not eat. There were two times when she brought papaya to her mouth. But other than those, literally, Sam has never taken food from a spoon. She has never taken a cheerio in her mouth. She has gagged, thrown up, flipped out and overall totally just never eaten solids.

I tried to not worry - babies do things at different times. But then I got home and "someone" told me that we might need to see a therapist and that this is not normal. Then we saw a pediatrician at Michigania, and she sort of laughed it off and said (like my pediatrician here) - KEEP trying.

We always put music on. We danced. We smiled. We sang. We made rhymes. We counted. We looked at colours. We have tried super pureed foods - baby foods, phase 1 and 2, we ground our own food. We gave her overcooked vegetables (at least five different kinds). We tried salmon. We tried many different types of fruit. We mashed. We boiled. We left whole. We seriously tried everything. No success.

A week and a half ago, I got more worried, so I called the pediatrician here, and they said to bring her in. Samara was diagnosed with Oral Sensitivity. She also said that Samara can get all that she needs from formula for a long while, so rather than focusing on how much Sam eats, we should focus on getting a variety of tastes and textures.

So, of course, I google (bad idea if you're a mom or pregnant). Many babies or kids with this don't take hot or cold. They don't put things in their mouths. They don't brush their teeth. Sam's totally not like that. She puts EVERYTHING in her mouth (except food). She likes cold teethers. She doesn't care if her milk is cold, warm, room temperature. She loves brushing her teeth. When she sees the toothbrush, she basically sticks out her cute little teeth. She didn't seem as serious as most of the babies, but there was definitely still a problem.

I think that Sam listened to Dr. Belinda and didn't want to be like that. That was last Friday, and since then, she has almost turned a corner. She put a spoon with yogurt on it in her mouth multiple times. (we don't really try to feed her anymore - we don't want it to become a control thing - so we let her do it herself). She put papaya in her mouth. She ate watermelon and kept going for more. She even ate a bit of baby food for the first time. Today she even ate a french fry. Even though she's still not getting nutrients or calories from the food, at least it shows us that she WILL eat, she does not need to gag all the time (only minimally!), and most likely, she will be totally fine.

It has been a wee bit stressful, though.
video