Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Bryan and I were lucky enough to make it back to the States for Christmas this year.  He's with his family in Montana and I'm with mine in Ohio.  We're both freezing to death, but loving the snow and the time with our families.

I've spent the past couple of days squeezing in all the Christmas-related activities I could think of- seeing "A Christmas Carol" at the Canton Players Guild with my parents, reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and about 20 other holiday stories to my niece after baking a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies, drinking a Starbucks peppermint mocha, wrapping presents with my niece and nephew, and seeing this awesome Christmas light display:

The display was really neat- you drive up to the house and they have a sign up in the front yard telling you which station to tune the radio to.  The lights are synced up to a whole bunch of songs- we sat there for about twenty minutes and never saw/heard the same one twice.  If you're in Canton, Ohio, you should check it out- it's on Saratoga Hills Dr, off of Werner Church.  Take a toy with you- the family that set up the display put a box out front, and they're accepting donations for Toys for Tots.  There's a news story here on the light display, and on a couple of other houses doing something similar.  My favorite part of the story is the quote by the owner of the house- "This is how Americans do Christmas."

It's been fun seeing the light displays in Ohio, but on our way out of Singapore, we also got to check out the decorations at Changi Airport, which, I must say, were elaborate but kind of weird.
Christmas ornament/rocking horse pegasus/fish?!
Ah, the traditional Christmas teapot
Bryan, Crystal, and the magical holiday teapot
Happy Holidays from the USA!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Just When I Thought I Understood...More Miscommunication

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that I've gotten pretty awesome at understanding Singlish, and at making myself understood.  Clearly I'm delusional.  Recently, one of my American colleagues and I had the following experience:

We walked outside of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, where I recently started a new job.  We were walking across to Singapore General Hospital for a smoothie.  Upon walking outside we noticed that the air was thick and acrid, and the smell of smoke was harsh.  It was the first day of a haze that hung over Singapore for several days.  The haze was a result of smoke blowing over from wildfires in Indonesia, but we didn't know that at the time.  Naturally we were curious, which led to this ridiculous conversation with the Singaporean smoothie girl:

American Pal: Hey, so do you know why it's so smoky outside?
Smoothie Girl: Wah?
American Pal:  The smoke?  Outside?  Where is it coming from?
Smoothie Girl: Wah, cannot smoke inside.  Must go outside.
Me: No, no, no.  We don't want to smoke in the hospital.  There's smoke in the air (pointing outside) out there.  Like fog or haze.  But smoke.  Outside.  Have you seen it?
Smoothie Girl: No, lah, cannot smoke inside.  Not allowed.
American Pal: We understand.  We just want to know why the air is so bad outside.  It smells smoky.
Smoothie Girl: (speaks to other smoothie girl in Mandarin, probably saying something to the effect of "What the hell are these chicks saying?  They want to smoke in here or something.  Can you make them shut up?")
Smoothie Girl #2: Cannot buy cigarettes here.  Must go to Seven-Eleven.
Me: No!  Not cigarettes.  Never mind.
American Pal: Noooo...the smoke outside (points vaguely to the window)...OK.  Never mind.  Thank you for our smoothies!

One day not long after that, I realized that my miscommunications aren't exclusive to my interactions with Singaporeans.  Sometimes I even have trouble understanding my fellow Americans.  Take, for example, this exchange between Bryan and me, one evening while we were cooking dinner:

Bryan: (sheepishly) Can you help me find the ring?
Crystal: (prolonged silence as I attempt to digest the enormity of this statement and then handle it without jumping up and down and terrifying Bryan) If you feel like you need help, of course, I'd be glad to.  When do you want to do it?
Bryan: After dinner?  Wait...what are you talking about?
Crystal: What are YOU talking about?!
Bryan: The ring in my video game.  It'll help my character go faster but I can't find it...seriously, what are you talking about?!
Crystal: You're mean.
Bryan: What?!
Crystal: I thought you meant an engagement ring.
Bryan: (laughter)
Crystal: So mean.  So, so mean.

Yeah.  I think Bryan found his video game ring, but my left hand is still naked.  But what's a girl to do?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Things We Find in the Woods Part Six

It's been awhile since I've posted about the fun and unusual things that Bryan and I encounter on our ramblings through Singapore's wild spots, but never fear.  Your dose of wildlife is back.

Let's start it off with the creepy crawlies!!  On one day in Bukit Timah, Bryan and I found two spiders we'd never seen in Singapore.  This one is some sort of orb weaver spider, but I couldn't find it in the guide to common Singapore spiders that I typically use to ID the spiders I find around here. The web was really eye-catching, and I can just imagine being mesmerized as I flew directly into it, trapped myself, and got swallowed right up by the crafty spider.
Fancy web stitching.  Well done, little guy!

The other spider was impressive as well, because of its size rather than its handiwork. I found this one when we were standing on a path.  The massive web was suspended about eight feet in the air, and when I saw its huge inhabitant, I exclaimed "WOAH!" causing Bryan to back up right underneath it, just as a stiff breeze caused the web and the spider to shake, making me deeply concerned that Bryan was about to have a spider for a hat.  Luckily it hung tight and he managed to scoot out from underneath it.  No luck identifying this one either.  Any input?  Any arachnologists out there?
What Bryan saw when I said "Look up, honey, but don't freak out."

On that same day, Bryan and I encountered what was certainly the biggest, fattest skink I have ever seen.  It was a common sun skink and when we saw it, it was about a foot away from another, normal sized common sun skink, just emphasizing the fact that the fat one was absurdly large.  After we got home I looked it up in our very worn Wild Animals of Singapore book to see if it had any notes on size differences between males and females.  It did not mention any sexual dimorphism, but it did say that these skinks bear live young, so maybe our fat skink was just pregnant!
Suzie was always proud of her slim physique...
...but Bertha's friends were always telling her to go easy on the grasshoppers.

OK, for the sake of my mother, I'll move on from lizards and spiders now.  How about something furry and cute?  How about a teeny baby monkey, less than a week old?  You might recall Camille's last little girl, Dora, who almost broke my heart when she was killed by a car.  Well, Camille has a new baby now, a little boy and she is very protective.  So far he's very healthy, and I hope to see him grow safely into adolescence.
Mama's Boy

I think he's just as cute as can be, and so do the other monkey ladies.  That's why they're always trying to snatch him away!  Macaque females frequently try to touch, groom, hold, or outright steal young infants.  As you can imagine, the mothers of the infants generally disapprove of such behavior, and often try to snatch the baby right back.  Sometimes this results in a bit of monkey tug-of-war, with a screaming baby as the rope.
Everyone wants the baby but it's pretty clear where he wants to be- look at him clutching to his mom!

Camille's baby is the youngest in the group.  Izzy had the first baby of the recent baby boom,  so her little one has grown quite a bit...but that hasn't stopped him from continuing to act like a helpless little soul.  He clings on to Izzy for dear life, even though he's almost half her size at this point, and whenever she tries to lay down or rest, he's always rooting around to get at her milk.  She's pretty laid-back, so she seems to take it all in stride, but sometimes I anthropomorphize and think she looks really tired.
Izzy's pretty much a milk factory these days

OK, just a few more monkey photos and then I'll move on.  But we haven't seen any of the monkey teens yet, and they're my favorite.  Bryan's been getting in lots of practice taking monkey photos lately, and I think his skills are really improving.  It's not easy to get good photos of the energetic, always-moving juveniles, but he's gotten some good stuff.
Macaques jump super long distances and sometimes just barely reach their goal, but seeing one fall is pretty rare.
People often think "smiling" monkeys are happy, but they're actually expressing fear or submission.
No, I'm not interested in sharing my banana peel.  Go away.

Well, now we have the ladies and the babies and the juveniles, but I can't neglect those big males.  Here's Achilles, the most photogenic male, in my opinion.
What big teeth you have, my dear...

If you've spent much time hiking in Singapore's nature reserves, you probably know that it's quite common to find the macaques, but much less ordinary to encounter any other kind of mammal besides the ever-present squirrels.  That's why Bryan and I got so excited last weekend when we saw this colugo!  The colugo is also referred to as a flying lemur in wildlife guides, but a lot of the locals call them flying foxes, which is really confusing, because flying foxes are actually a type of large bat.  I've never tried to correct them though- not when they call colugos "flying foxes" or when they call changeable lizards "chameleons" or even when they call monitor lizards "Komodo dragons," because if I were a Singaporean that had lived here my whole life and some sweaty little ang moh started correcting me, I think I'd feel pretty annoyed.
Is it a mammal or an alien?

Naturally, we were pretty thrilled by the colugo sighting, but it got way cooler when... a little BABY colugo popped its head out!!!!  LOOK AT IT!!!  It's sooooo cute!!!  How do you not go crazy for a baby whose eyes are half the size of its head?!
I think I'm in love.
Notice the awesome colugo camo.
As we stood there and watched, the baby ever so slowly inched back under its mother's skin flap, completely disappearing from our sight.  The colugo already does a pretty neat job of blending in with the trees, so I was impressed to see how totally and completely the baby could disappear.

Of course, we can't forget our feathered friends.  Sometimes I go for awhile feeling like I must have seen most of the animals in Singapore, because I see the same ones (macaques, bronzebacks, mynahs, monitors) over and over again.  And then some days I see a whole bunch of new things and I realize that I could spend the rest of my life in Singapore and still not catch a glimpse of every species that calls the island its home.  On this particular day, Bryan managed to photograph three bird species he'd never had the opportunity to get before.

Pink-necked pigeon
Olive-backed woodpecker
Black-naped oriole
Well, I could probably stay up all night posting wildlife photos and blathering on about the extreme cuteness of baby animals, but I should really get some sleep.  If I got you in the mood to oooh and awww over baby animals, don't stop here...http://babyanimalz.com/

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tsingtao Then and Now

So if you're a diligent reader of the blog, you probably remember that the kind people who rented us our apartment left behind all of their furniture and kitchen supplies for us to use, which has been awesome.  You may also recall that our landlords are serious packrats, meaning that we have some mind-boggling quantities of things, like big boxes full of clothes hangers, 13 colanders, three rice cookers, and three full-size woks.  Every once in a while we unearth something unexpected from the depths of our cupboards.  This was one of those times.

Bryan was rummaging around, looking for a spare cutting board (you know there's got to be one around here somewhere) when he found a very old Tsingtao bottle.  Yes, Tsingtao, the beer that we bravely attempted to order at the hawker center not long ago.  My parents' love of antiques must have rubbed off a bit, because I was pretty excited by the find.

Old and new

I thought it was interesting to see how the label has changed- the logo is still pretty similar, but the Chinese writing is much less prominent on the newer bottle.  The older bottle clearly says the beer is from China, but the newer one doesn't, and the bottle itself has changed too.  I don't know how old the older bottle is, but if you have any idea, feel free to post it in the comments.  In the meanwhile, I'll be rummaging through the cupboards, looking for more treasures.