Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Last Farewell to Singapore

Ah, you thought you'd heard the last of me, huh? Well, it turns out I have a couple more posts left in me after a four-month hiatus from blogging! I want to tell you about my bittersweet last week in Singapore. And I also wanted to let everyone know that I'm going to keep blogging, but at a new URL that I'll share stay tuned!

So I left Singapore at the very end of July, 10 days after Bryan had already departed for the US. It was a strange time for me - I was running all over the place, trying to wrap up work and get all of our affairs in order before leaving. I was so busy that I hardly had time to process the fact that I was really going back to the US. But I did take the time to take myself on one last Singapore outing.

The Blog Awards occurred my last Saturday in Singapore (nope, we didn't win, but props to Spin or Bin Music and all the other winners!) I went solo to the Blog Awards, which took place on the Singapore Food Trail. Honestly, it wasn't the time of my life - it was hot and crowded and I couldn't hear very well. But it was cool  to see some of the other bloggers, especially the super adorable little boys who won the Best V-Log category. But for me, the big highlight was the free ride on the Singapore Flyer that came after the awards ceremony was over!
Flyer from afar

The Singapore Flyer is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world (well, technically it's an observation wheel, but whatever). It's one of the most noticeable landmarks on Singapore's skyline. I'd been avoiding it for the past three years because Bryan's not a big fan of heights and the cost for a ride is a bit high (SG$33 per person). But of course, I'm always game for a free ride!
The wheel's rotation brings it right down into the building where you board the Flyer.

A visit to the Flyer starts with a walk through the melodramatically named "Journey of Dreams," a little museum. There was a hodgepodge of interesting stuff in there, including a funky art installation by artist David Chan Kien Wai.
Oneiroi's Orb, made of 1500 everyday objects
Also featured was a miniature Flyer.
Singapore loves miniatures. I support this obsession.

I didn't spend much time in the Journey of Dreams since I was eager to move on to the main event. I passed through a turnstile and onto the "flight deck," which had a cool view of the giant space-age capsules that you ride in.
Each capsule holds up to 28 people!

The wheel turns really slowly and doesn't stop for people to get on and off. You just have to hop on and watch your step! The loading platform is really long and curved, so there's enough time for the people in the capsule to get out, and for new people to board on the other side. So I piled on in with about 15 other strangers.
The capsule ahead of us, just as we start the ride
Doesn't look very secure, does it?!

It was a gorgeous, clear day, so the visibility was great. One of the first things I noticed was that the aerial view of the new Gardens by the Bay was really awesome.
The famous supertrees
Supertrees and greenhouses
Me up in the air!

Looking back down on the building that I was just in was a bit dizzying!
You can see how someone with a fear of heights might not love it...
Looks a bit fragile from this angle!
Looking inside and outside at the same time was trippy too!!

It's amazing how much you can see from the flyer on such a crystal clear day! It really made me realize just how small Singapore really is.
Downtown - MBS off to the left
The Esplanade with the spaceship-esque Supreme Court building in the background
ArtScience Museum

Remember how I said that there are tons of HDB buildings in Singapore?
I wasn't kidding.

After I had my feet back on solid ground, I decided to walk over to the newly opened Gardens by the Bay, since it would be my last chance to check it out. It had looked so close from the Flyer, but it turned out to be a bit of a walk, especially because you can't cut across Marina Bay Sands areas to take the most direct route. It was a hot day, so I ended up stopping in at MBS for a cold drink, and eventually I made my way to the Gardens by going down to the MRT and following the signs from there. It's so frustrating to be able to see a place but not to be able to get to it! But in the end, it was worth all the hassle.
Dragonfly sculpture at Dragonfly Lake

The supertrees were much more impressive up close. They're massive in scale -  there are 18 of them, and the tallest is 16 stories tall. There are over 150,000 plants comprising more than 200 species planted all over them, and if that's not impressive enough, they light up at night!
Supertree Grove
There were a LOT of people there

The supertrees were amazing to behold, but the areas around them were crammed with curious onlookers, so I wandered into a less crowded part of the garden before long. The conservatories are also pretty beautiful close-up, but since the gardens had just opened they were really popular so I decided not to go in.
So futuristic...I expected lasers to start shooting out at any second

There were lots of neat sculptures scattered around the gardens, which made aimless wandering interesting and rewarding!
In the India-themed part of the garden
Off in a quiet corner that I had all to myself!

Away from the main supertree grove is a smaller area with just a few of the impressive structures. I was able to stand and quietly admire them for a few minutes without being jostled by hundreds of other onlookers.
So geometric!

There's a nice view of Marina Bay Sands from the gardens too. It was weird to see it from the other side. The Garden area had been closed for a long time since it was under construction, so I'd never seen MBS from this angle.
Fancy pants

I hadn't been at the Gardens very long, but it had been a long, hot day, so I headed home. As I sat on the MRT it occurred to me that this was my last big hoorah. I had lots of work to do over the next few days, with wrapping up my job and with getting my stuff packed and trying to tie up all the loose ends associated with vacating a country. I wouldn't have time for any more big adventures. It was strange to think about, but I was glad that I'd spent the day taking myself out on a date in the city. It was a nice farewell to the country that had become a second home.

So that was it! I headed back to Ohio a few days later, and started making preparations for our impending move to St. Louis. Compared to our previous international moves, a move to St. Louis seemed like a cakewalk! Now that we're back in the US, I plan to start another blog. Once it's up and running, I'll post one last update here. Thanks to everyone who followed our Southeast Asian adventures over the past few years - we loved sharing them with you!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ten Things We'll Miss

With less than a month left before Bryan heads back to the States for good (I follow soon after), I thought now would be a good time to share some of the things we'll miss about living in Singapore:

1) Our friends. We've made great friends here. Sometimes the friendships you form when you're far away from your family can be especially strong. We'll miss you, Brian, Andrea, Jayasri, Claire, Tei, Tomi, Assad, Jim, Nancy, Martin, Hen, Mara, Garrett, Sean, Laura, Swati, Gaurav, Eliza, Michael, David, Sarah, Amina, etc., etc., etc.

2) The monkeys. Don't laugh, it's true. I've spent so much time with them over the past few years that it's hard for me to imagine not being around them. It'll be strange to have to go to a major effort to see monkeys in the wild.
It's hard to have a bad day when you're hanging around these comedians

3) I know I've complained about the food on occasion - some of it is seriously weird, and I've gotten sick from food more here than anywhere else I've ever lived, for sure. But there are definitely foods we'll miss. I'll miss iced Milo, pandan chiffon cake, curry puffs, vegetarian kway teow, popiah, masala dosai, Chinese New Year cookies, kaya waffles, and Hello Panda crackers. Bryan will miss chicken tikka, satay, Thai green curry, and laksa. We'll both miss readily available, cheap, insanely delicious Indian food, 100 Plus, and more.

4) Building on #3, Bryan and I will miss our favorite restaurants. Singapore is nothing if not overflowing with eating establishments.We'll miss lots of them - from the vegetarian stalls (especially the one in Canteen B at NTU!!) to the fancy places (Original Sin being my top choice for special occasions). Al-Ameen, Anjappar, Spizza, Brewerkz, Jaggi's in Little India, Din Tai Fung, Marché, and even the little KJM Curry House right next to our apartment - we'll miss it all. Sure, we'll be glad to get American food back, but I'm sure it will only take us a few months before we start saying "Man, I could really go for some good dim sum right now."
Hangin' out at Brewerkz, one of our favorite restaurants

5) Our apartment. It's true that the place has its drawbacks, including being a bit far from the MRT, but it's been our home for the past three years. I'm looking forward to having an oven and a bathtub, but I'll miss the huge kitchen, the ample closet space, and the reminders of happy memories we've shared here.

6) The easily accessible nature. Despite being a big city, Singapore has awesome nature and it's easy to get to. Hop on a bus or the MRT and in no time you can be in the wetlands, the rainforest, at the  beach, in the mangroves, at a lake, a garden, and more. It's amazing. Bukit Timah and Sungei Buloh are favorites of ours, and will always have a special place in our hearts!

7) This goes hand-in-hand with #2 and #5 but it's a little different. We'll miss the wildlife. It's abundant and fascinating, Working on this blog has allowed me to develop some expertise in identifying Singaporean wildlife. I'll miss seeing the cool wildlife when we move away, but I'll also be sad that all the knowledge I've acquired won't be getting put to use any more.
At Chinese Garden, a 15-minute walk from our apartment

8) Singapore is one of the safest cities in the entire world, and I've felt a deep sense of security while we've been here. I'll miss feeling like I can walk down the street alone at 2 in the morning, confident that I'll be fine. I certainly won't feel that way in any American city - I mean, even since I've been here, someone in the US stole my credit card info and my brother's house in the US got robbed. It doesn't really make me feel all safe and secure.

9) Easy travel opportunities to exotic locations. I mean, you can hop on a ferry and be on the beach in Indonesia in an hour. You can get a cheap plane ticket and go to Phuket for the weekend. Wild orangutans, the ruins of an ancient civilization, stunning ocean views - all of it is a short plane ride away from here. We'll miss being able to take advantage of all that.
We'll miss doing stuff like this over long weekends!

10) Our jobs. Bryan and I are off to other opportunities, but we'll miss the jobs we've had here. Bryan has enjoyed his colleagues and his research at IHPC, and I've loved being a full-time monkey chaser!

Despite all this and more, Bryan and I are really looking forward to getting back all thing things we've missed over the past three years! I think it will be interesting in time to see whether I've done a good job of predicting what we'll miss - maybe I'll update everyone in a few months to let you all know if we're jonesing for something unexpected!

There's still time to vote for us in the 2012 Singapore Blog Awards!! You can vote once a day until June 30th!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Silly Signs Eleven: The Australia Edition

The signs in Australia weren't silly so much as they were terrifying. Around every corner was another sign warning you of the dangers of doing anything: walking, swimming, breathing. It was scary at first, but after a while it just got kind of funny.

First came the crocodile signs. They were posted near anything that could remotely be considered a body of water: rivers, ponds, billabongs, streams, brooks, large puddles, etc.
Swimming is risky when giant, hungry crocodiles lurk nearby
The crocodile will toss you around like a ragdoll before eating you for breakfast.
What's that? Oh nothing, just another sign warning you
of your impending death by crocodile.

If you're not eaten by a crocodile, you'll at least be munched on by some bloodthirsty insects.
The Australian government wants you to stay bite-free, and to dress modestly.

And if you manage to survive the crocodiles AND the biting insects, you still have to get past the asbestos and avoid developing a horrible lung disease.
Ummm...shouldn't there be a fence or something?

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the lasers and the bombs. Good luck dodging those while you're trying to escape the man-eating crocs, angry mosquitoes, and scary asbestos.
The "no trespassing" seems unnecessary after the exploding bomb graphic...

Guys, if you make it through all that, you're in the clear. But ladies, you still have one more obstacle to handle.  Nabulwinjbulwinj, the angry spirit, wants to kill you in a very peculiar way. The sign says:
This is Nabulwinjbulwinj. He is a dangerous spirit who eats females after striking them with a yam.
Seriously ladies, watch out for those yams. RUN AWAY.

Sometimes I think it's funny when Singapore gets all bent out of shape about their big "monkey problem" when places like Australia have to deal with crocodiles, dingoes, kangaroos, and wild horses.
So many animal warnings! But seriously, watch out for those kangaroos!

Apparently the Northern Territory floods like crazy, but the locals are troopers and they just drive right on through the water! Some of the cars even have snorkels on them!
The indicators went up to like 3 meters!
Flooded roads are no problem for a JACKAROO (an actual car in Australia)

Australia may not have the funniest signs, but it certainly has the scariest!

Hi there! Our blog is a finalist in the Singapore Blog Awards! You know you wanna click this link and cast a vote for us. Nabulwinjbulwinj will strike you with a yam if you don't!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

We're Leaving

Bryan and I are moving to St. Louis, Missouri at the end of July. I'll be starting a PhD program in Anthropology (focusing on monkey studies!) at Washington University. Bryan is still looking for work in the area, but we're hopeful about some of the leads he has.

Leaving Singapore will be bittersweet for us. By the time we leave, we will have been here for almost exactly three years. We are unbelievably excited to move back to the US, and to experience all of the things that we've missed so much. We especially can't wait to be closer to our families and friends, to be able to call them whenever we want, to get back home without flying for 30 hours through 13 time zones, to eat all the Mexican food we can get our hands on, to drive cars, to snuggle with our cats, and to wear sweaters, build snowmen, and drink hot chocolate.

But after three years in Singapore, there are things that we'll miss about living here as well. We've made some excellent friends here, and we will miss them so much. It's been a joy working, laughing at monkeys, playing board games, eating delicious food, watching movies, and drinking Tiger with all of them. We hope that our Singapore friends will feel welcome in St. Louis, if they ever happen to be on the other side of the planet.

It'll be hard to say goodbye to our non-human friends too. As silly as it may seem, I've gotten attached to the monkeys here and it will be sad to leave them. We'll miss seeing all the amazing wildlife of Singapore, but we'll miss the monkeys most of all.

And of course, after three years of jet-setting around Southeast Asia, chilling on the beach in Phuket, admiring the ruins at Angkor Wat, trekking through the jungles of Sumatra, snorkeling under the waves in Bali, watching the wallabies in Australia, and getting engaged in New Zealand, we'll certainly miss this crazy lifestyle.

Singapore will always have a special place in our hearts. It's the first place Bryan and I moved as a couple. It's where Bryan had his first job after earning his PhD. It's where we were living when we decided to spend forever together. It's where I finally figured out what to do with the rest of my life. We've made memories and friendships here that will last a lifetime.

While we'll always look back on our time in Singapore with happiness, we look forward to continuing our adventures in the newest chapter of our lives - as a married couple in St. Louis!

Ready for the next phase of our lives - in the good old USA!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Australia Day Five: One More Day in Darwin

We had pretty vague plans for our last day in Darwin. We slept in and checked out of our hotel pretty late. Our flight out of Australia left in the early evening, so we had almost a whole day to spend hanging around. Our first order of business was food, and I was eager to try a place I'd been eyeballing on our map since we arrived in Australia. It was called Simply's, and specialized in healthy vegetarian food. Bryan was less enthusiastic, but good-naturedly allowed himself to be dragged along. Man, I was SO glad we found that little place. It was THE best meal I had in Australia, and I didn't even have to feel guilty about eating it! Bryan seemed to enjoy his falafel, although he was perhaps a little less enthusiastic than me.
Mexican pie and SIX kinds of salad. Curried pasta salad was my fave.

While hanging out at the restaurant, we dug through our wallets and admired all our Australian cash. It's so pretty! I think every country has more colorful currency than the US!
Like Monopoly money, but with kangaroos on it

After lunch, we walked over to a little Irish pub and had some cider while we watched bowls on TV. Have you ever seen bowls?! Apparently it's some huge thing in Australia. It's kind of like bocce ball, except that instead of doing it casually at a cookout with your family like Americans do in their backyards, Australians do it professionally at bowls clubs and they are DEAD SERIOUS about it. It was pretty fun to watch, so I see how people get so into it.

Eventually we peeled ourselves away from a riveting bowls match and walked over to the Esplanade. There's a path along the Esplanade that meanders along through a park area and along the water, but there isn't really any beach to lounge around on. We did see some neat stuff, including some more birds.
Rainbow bee-eater
Two zebra doves

In our aimless wanderings, we meandered into a historical district with cool old buildings and neat sculptures. One of the most impressive buildings was the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral, built in 1902 and still in use as a church today. The church even survived being hit by a bomb during World War II!
Christchurch Anglican Cathedral

The sculptures scattered around the historical district were pretty cool. These were two of my favorites.
Reminded me of demons!
Tawny frogmouth owl sculpture named "Chinute Chinute"
by amazingly named artist Koolpinyah Barnes

We wandered town a while longer, but the historical district was really the last interesting thing we saw before heading back to the airport, where we had a very strange dinner at Fannie Bay Ale House. We got nachos that had....marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese?! Probably the strangest interpretation of nachos I've ever seen. It's like something I'd come up with when we're running low on groceries.

After dinner and a very thorough security screening (Australia does not mess around about airport security), we boarded our Jetstar flight back to Singapore. It was very strange - that flight was the last time that we would be flying back into Singapore! But more on that later...

Oh yeah! Did I mention that we're finalists in the Singapore Blog Awards?! It would be super if you'd vote for us!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Australia Day Four: Kakadu and Darwin

On our last day in Kakadu, we enjoyed a quiet morning, sipping coffee and listening to all the nature sounds just outside our door. Around mid-morning, we reluctantly lugged our bags out to the car. But we had a surprise: a wallaby send-off party! In the clearing where we'd been night-time wildlife watching the past two nights were four wallabies, placidly grazing.

After a while, the wallabies noticed that they were being watched. They hopped closer to the forest edge, stopping every few hops to glance back suspiciously at us.
Hey! Quit lookin' at us!

We decided to leave the wallabies in peace, and headed out. We were planning to head back down the Arnhem Highway to Darwin, but first we decided to swing by the South Alligator River one last time, just to see if we could spot any of the crocodiles we'd heard so much about. We didn't have any reptile luck, but we did spot a very exciting bird - a kookaburra!
Blue-winged kookaburra

I immediately started singing the song:

♫ Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, kookaburra! Laugh, kookaburra!
How gay your life must be ♫

I think it's kind of funny us American kids grew up singing this song at school - none of us had any idea what a kookaburra was!! But now I know that the kookaburra is a very large kingfisher that's well known for their propensity to eat snakes - I've come a long way since second grade.
Fly, kookaburra! Fly, kookaburra!

The kookaburra was the most exciting bird around, but it wasn't the only one. As usual, there were magpie-larks hanging around. And below the kookaburra's tree was a purple swamphen. We'd seen those birds around in New Zealand, and it was neat to see one again.
Purple swamphen

After some time spent admiring the birds and the river, we got started on our journey back to Darwin. We took it slow and kept an eye out for wildlife. We were pulling into little side roads along the way, hoping we might see something interesting.
One of our random detours

We got lucky right away when we saw some more wallabies - and one of them had a little joey in its pouch (a WALLABABY)! We stopped and the mom looked up at us, then reached down and shoved her baby all the way into her pouch! I thought it was cute to see her being so protective, but apparently her baby didn't appreciate it very much. We could see him wriggling around inside the pouch, and pretty soon his head popped back out.
Mooooom, let me OUTTA here!

Further down the road we stopped again to watch a flock of galah that were hanging out on the shoulder. They're such beautiful birds!
For obvious reasons, also known as the rose-breasted cockatoo
So weird to see cockatoos in the wild!

We all know how much I love abandoned stuff, and there was some cool abandoned stuff along our route, including the burned out car we'd passed on our way in.
Probably one of the best abandoned cars I've ever seen
Banged up barrel to match the beat up car

We often saw huge trucks on the Arnhem Highway that were longer than any semis we'd seen before - they were like regular semis, but they were pulling three trailers behind. They had big signs on the front that said ROAD TRAIN. It was kind of scary when they passed us, because they made a whump-whump-whump sound.
The signs should say TRUCK MONSTER instead of ROAD TRAIN

There aren't a lot of places to stop between Jabiru and Darwin, but we did find a little place called the Bark Hut Inn, where we could get some lunch. Vegetarian options were pretty limited in the Northern Territory, but I got by with some garlicky pita bread, and stole some of the fries that came with Bryan's burger. It was a nice place to eat - the Bark Hut Inn keeps a few animals (emu, cows, etc.) and we sat outside and watched them while we ate. Adding to the entertainment were the huge blackbirds that would swoop in to steal any food that was left unattended for even a second.
Expert food snatchers

After lunch and a little rest, we got back on the road. It wasn't much longer to Darwin. We stopped just on the edge of town to visit Charles Darwin National Park. As soon as we pulled in, we got the feeling that this park might be a bit past its prime. There weren't many people around and everything looked a little deserted. There was a beat up old camper in the parking lot, and it appeared as though people were living there, and there were a lot of signs warning visitors to lock their cars. Kinda strange.

According to signs posted around the park, Darwin played an important role in defending Australia during World War II. Specifically, it was used as a "bomb dump," a repository for tons of explosives. There were bunkers all over the park. Cool!
Old bunker for storing explosives

One of the bunkers was open and served as a little museum, full of artifacts from the WWII era.
Scary stuff
Old-school typewriter

We followed a path off of the carpark and it meandered along, past bunkers, little skinks, and lots of neat plants that I couldn't identify!
Cool twisty plants

Some of the bunkers were open and some were locked up tight. Just as Bryan walked into one of the open ones, I saw some movement above the door. A 4 or 5 foot long snake slithered up over the bunker so fast we couldn't even snap a photo! It was pretty cool to see it, but I'm glad it didn't drop down on Bryan while he was in the doorway!!

 We hiked all the trails in the park before heading back to our car. It was nice to get out and stretch our legs after a few hours cooped up in the car. Back at the carpark, there was an open area that afforded a nice view of downtown Darwin. Unfortunately it was kind of a hazy day.
Downtown Darwin off in the distance

It was late afternoon by the time we left the park, and we were ready to check into a hotel and then go get some dinner. We headed back to the Holiday Inn, where we'd stayed a few nights before. It was a Tuesday, so we figured we wouldn't have any trouble getting a room. Boy were we wrong! The Holiday Inn was full, and the people at the desk informed us that the train comes in on Tuesday and we'd have trouble finding an available room. Uh-oh! We headed out on foot, and stopped at a couple places. We were temporarily encouraged to hear that there was one vacancy at the Novotel, but immediately disappointed when we were told that the room cost FIVE HUNDRED dollars a night. We tried to keep a straight face when the concierge tried to offer us the sweet deal of four hundred dollars a night. We declined.

After a few more discouraging stops, we decided that hotel-hunting would be easier on a full stomach, so we stopped at the delightfully named Hog's Breath Cafe. They had a variety of Australian ciders, which Bryan and I had become obsessed with on our trip, so we were happy to try a couple more.
I liked both, but preferred the Aussie Cider

Bryan and I both had great food. It looked so good when it showed up on the table that I immediately forgot about my intention to take photos, and just dug right in instead. I had an avocado and mushroom salad, which, I was amused to find, had deep-fried potatoes and mushrooms in it. Playin' it pretty fast and loose with the word "salad" there, but it was SOOO GOOD that I didn't mind. Bryan had what looked like something delicious that my mom would make - chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy. He looked pretty blissed out on his side of the table. I think the Hog's Breath was probably the best food we had in Australia up until then!

After dinner, we drove out of the main part of town and stopped at the Vitina Studio Motel. The friendly lady at the front desk told me that they had vacancies, and proudly informed me that they also had the cheapest rooms in Darwin (the rooms were cheaper than a lot of others, but were, in my opinion, still overpriced. That just seems to be the way things are in Australia). Anyway, we were grateful to have a place to crash for the night, so we gladly checked in and got comfortable!

Hey! We're finalists in the Singapore Blog Awards! It would be super great if you'd click this link and vote for us!