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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

Folks, I feel as if I do owe my loyal readership a bit of an apology.  A month’s long absence with little explanation is quite the transgression after several months of on-the-dot posting, every Monday1or Sunday night for the US morning.  In fact, the Sunday night thing2see the aside is rather pertinent.  As soon as football is over, when I am no longer competing with Al Michaels and his wordy partner, I go dark, silent.  What happened, wonder the readership?  Has he gone to Vietnam and never returned?  Has the computer, this trusty device upon which I pound out my craft, finally gone tits up?  Did he – horror of horrors – give up writing and flee back to world of IT and its boundless fuckery and restarts?

No, no.  Worry not, gentle reader.  All is well.  All is calm.

This just in the rear-view mirror weekend saw a monumental milestone reached by yours truly.  While the western states were watching Golden State lose its fifth game to my Portland Trailblazers, while Damian Lillard lit up the scoreboards – and the Warriors – with fifty-one points, I was in Joo Chiat, hunched over this little grey best friend of mine, writing the final scene in the first novel I’ve ever written.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  This is a major deal.  The book is far from done, it’s only a first draft and a rotten, barely sensical thing at that, but just under a year after arriving in a new country, hell, a new continent, halfway across the world, I’ve finished something that I thought perhaps too big for me.  Of course, it’s only the first step – the first wave of the challenge, the initial climb only to see the rest of the mountain that was obscured by the timberline and the switchbacks in front of you.

But it’s a complete step.

Also, make no mistake.  Part of me is really pissed that I missed watching Dame drop 50 on the Warriors.  I would have given my soul for a chance to watch that game with my father and his friend in Petaluma, drinking amazing Californian beer3Oregonians, fear not, we have the best beer overall, but nobody can deny that there are some amazing beers being made in Sonoma County. and laughing with delight as Dame dropped three pointers from across I-5.

Part of me also realizes that had I watched that game, the jinx was on, and we’d have lost 130-92 and the world would have shrugged.

So let’s talk about writing, the dream, the goal, all of that.  And by talk I of course mean, I write and you read and maybe two people leave comments and I’ll feel validated as a blogger.  Wait.  Never mind.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  I’ve got plagiarism in the blood.  But it’s true.  I would write terrible, terrible science fiction stories about being sucked into video games, where the protagonist was no longer a fat Italian plumber or a young elven boy in a green tunic or a space-pirate ass-kicking woman but rather yours truly, chronicling the oppressive policies of Bowser upon the Mushroom Kingdom, or fighting for fairies’ rights in Hyrule4seriously, fairies get a raw deal in Zelda, they get chained to lakes, and later small pools in caves, just to hand out magic to a kid in a over-sized green shirt.  Okay, mostly I just wanted to be as badass as Link or Samus Aran, or uh, yeah5Sorry, Mario, you’re a lot of things but badass ain’t one of them, buddy.  Have a slice-a pizza on me, holmes..

The point being is that I’ve had the stories in me and the desire to tell them.  But like any dream, it never feels real until you start trying to live it.  I’m not even below the surface, yet.  I’ve written a draft, but that’s the fun part.  Now comes the reality – I need to rewrite it, again and again, until it gleams.

And then I need to rewrite it some more.

Most importantly, the next several months will decide something more concrete; I know I can write, but can I write something people will want to buy?  Will enough people want to buy it to do this a job?  Can I sell this book to someone, or will it just be lost in the shelves, another fantasy novel with a gratuitous cover image?6No, Emma, I am not putting Fabio on the cover.

But those are concerns for another day, another medium, away from this space and the need to stretch my writing muscles in other, non-fiction7As the protagonist in my book is named Jest, I might use the term non-Jestiction.  Don’t judge me.


So let’s write some non-fiction.  Quite a bit has happened in the last month.


One thing that’s a constant in expat life is the arrival of new friends and of course, because everything must have its antithesis, the departure of friends made.  Such was the sad experience last week when I said goodbye to our quiz teammates and dear8older friends, Paul and Deb.  Their time in Singapore came to an unexpectedly sudden end due to work, but they were both happy about heading back home, to the English countryside and the life they had built there.  Nobody wants to be sad when someone is going home, it’s ultimately a very good thing, perhaps best in life, but it’s nonetheless bittersweet to say goodbye to newly made friends.

It is a regular reminder that expat life is a ephemeral thing, that ultimately us expats have not moved, but rather are travelers, blessed with the means and privilege of being able to see the world on someone else’s dime, but are of course subject to the needs of business and employment.  I think it’s something of a blessing in disguise; when you’re unsure of the future, you tend not to stagnate but are more apt to experience what lies around you.  All told, it’s a life that I am incredibly grateful to have a taste of.

Friends, and especially those living in the United States, where geography limits the ability for international travel, if you’re lucky enough to have the chance for expat assignments, don’t stop to think before saying “yes.”  Well, unless that assignment is in Mexico.  Or Afghanistan.  Of course, if you’re being assigned to the latter, you’re not an expat, you’re a soldier.  God bless, and you’re not likely to have the ability to say “no.”  No sir.  Sir, no sir?

Our midterms came and passed with few incidents.  I developed an unfortunate case of the flu, which of course the entire island shared.  It seemed like everyone I know got a touch of that nasty bug.  Singapore is sometimes like kindergarten, if one person gets sick, it’s not like you can spread out and wait for their body to contain and destroy the bug.  But, I soldiered through as best as I could after our trip to Bali, taking a few days to recuperate while I let my parents lead the way, giving me the chance to see how well they’ve learned their way around town.

Beverly had a unique opportunity pop up during their visit – some folks at Nike organized a climb up Mt. Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, in Bornean Malaysia.  She invited my father to join her, and along with a fellow from Beaverton who arrived the night before, the three of them met in Kota Kinabalu, and then, they climbed a mountain.

Kinabalu, as I understand it, is a two-day trip.  You spend the first day climbing to a camp halfway up the mountain where you spend the night.  Everyone tucks in early because the following day you wake up at two in the morning so that you get a chance to see sunrise from the summit, not unlike the experience at Haleakala.  Unlike Haleakala, though, you don’t drive to the summit, but rather walk up another kilometer-plus in elevation and a few more kilometers in distance.

While the mountain climbers were doing their thing, my mom, Larry and I took in some culture.  Peranakan culture, to be exact.  We visited the Peranakan museum here in town, something I had been told is a must-see.  I was not steered wrong.

I’ve written about Peranakan cuisine before, but I hadn’t really explored much of the curious blending that resulted in what could very well be described as Singapore’s only native culture.  Singapore, for its entire modern history is an immigrant state.  Stamford Raffles found a barely populated island full of marshland and within years, the British were inviting laborers and merchants from India and China over to help run their new Asian port.  Those people, mostly Hokkien Chinese, brought with them their home cultures which merged with more local Malay customs, creating a new hybrid culture and cuisine, the Peranakans.

What we saw was a history of great Peranakan people that helped shaped the modern harbor and eventually the city-state.  Of course, most famous of these people was Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, but the museum’s exhibit of “50 Great Peranakans” was eye-opening of the wealth and power this culture enjoyed/still enjoys.  They are simply put, Singapore’s local elite, and the trappings of life’s exiquisite moments in the old days made for amazing art work – ancestral tables, wedding table placings, the traditional wedding bed and the wedding procession outfits.

I think largely, my parents loved Singapore.  My dad of course adored the wet markets and access to Chinese herbs and teas.  I’m sure I’ve written about the wet markets here, but it’s worth stating again, for anyone that loves to cook, the wet markets are like a toy store to a ten year old.  Especially the larger ones where you can find wide varieties of meats and fish, places that take hold of your imagination as you imagine yourself like a regular Bobby Flay.  Or whatever.  I don’t have a grill so my similarities with Bobby end with fairly superficial attributes.

We did try a few more attempts at selling them on hawker food.  Satay and char kway teow from Adam Road were tossed on to our table and the reactions were predicable.  Larry loved the chicken rice, but not as much as the plainer, less seasoned rice from Holland Village.  My mom loved the char kway teow until I told her the ingredients9to be fair to her, she misheard ‘blood cockles’ for ‘blood clots’, which my dad had spent the last twenty minutes talking about his own, so yeah, I’d be squigged out too..  My dad ate everything with gusto.  He really took to Southeast Asian cuisine, and why not – the food here is amazing.

Mom, dad and I got a chance to take the ferry to Batam and play a round of golf.  That was quite the treat for them; dad could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of going to another country for only a few hours just to play golf.  The experience at Palm Springs was amazing.  Despite my disturbing propensity to lose balls, I did finish with a par, and having just three of us on a weekday, we flew through 18 holes.  We rewarded ourselves with lunch after, where my father had laksa for the first time.

Laksa is one of the signature dishes of Singapore.  A Peranakan staple, laksa is a spicy soup broth typically served with rice noodles and fish and/or prawns.  The broth sometimes has a bit of curry flavor, speaking towards the blended culture that produced the dish.  It is, amazing.  For my dad, I think it was a bit eye-opening.  He swore that he was going to make it, and make it better, perhaps, back home.  Considering the access that California has to fresh seafood, I think that’s solidly doable.

Speaking of the football that I had once competed with in time slot, Bev and I enjoyed a rare treat, a Super Bowl party at 7am on Monday morning.  Fortunately, Super Bowl 5010no roman numerals for this one fell on the first day of the Lunar New Year here in Asia, which is a public holiday.  We drank with other Americans and their friends who were collectively scratching their heads at the game. I spoke to one chap from India, his buddy a Denver fan, who did appreciate the drama and tension that American football provides.  Soccer has its moments, as the clock is ticking down and the thought of goals loom like a low-lying cloud, as does basketball when mere seconds turn into dramatic moments that seem to last a lifetime.  But nothing, outside of the World Series, provides as much tension and build up as football, does it?  The pieces set, the general barking out orders at the line, the “do or die” moments when one either rises to the challenge, or gets strip sacked for the third time.

Poor Cam.  I really like the Panthers team.  They play amazing defense and their offensive ability amazing.  I genuinely like Cam Newton, love his energy and showmanship and how much emotion he shows.  Compare him to Tom Brady who ever shows anger, a Jordan-esque mindset that makes him the best, for sure, but with Cam, I feel like he’s putting himself out there, as an entertainer as well as an athlete.  I like that. Better than Peyton, who is more of entertainer than any NFL player, ever, who after he climbed the submit pitched two of his brands and rode off into the sunset in a Buick or whatever car contract he has.

What a whore.

Drama and judgement aside, having the day to watch football, bitch about the halftime show and look up commercials on YouTube, only to be drunk and ready for a nap by noon was amazing.  We were dog/house sitting for Bev’s coworker that weekend, and her house has a wonderful pool which we took full advantage of, soaking it in while sobering up, as the dogs sniffed at the water, and Mini tried to screw up the courage to jump in after us.

Oh, yeah.  Chinese New Year.  That happened.

So, for those unfamiliar, the Lunar New Year is a big deal in Asia.  Chinatown here is completely done up in decorations for the Year of the Monkey, businesses have incredible sales as the ideas of prosperity and luck enter the thoughts of finishing and starting the new year strong.  And then the first week of the new year hits.

And the fucking city shuts down.

Seriously – I’ve never seen a city so dead before in my life and I grew up in Petaluma.  Everyone gets out of town for Chinese New Year.  Shops close up as Chinese families go to travel to spend time with each other, expats all flee towards places that are still functional, and Indian and Malay taxi drivers rub their hands with glee when events like the Super Bowl coincide and suddenly there are a few hundred drunk Americans needing cab rides.

But it was fun being here, getting Indian delivery and walking/driving around town with nobody about.  Going to Cold Storage and being the only one in the store, buying tortillas and cheese and starting the Year of the Monkey off with burritos because why the hell not?


Well, folks, we’ve reached the end of this wild, flowing, confusing dump of words and reporting.  I can only blame being out of practice in writing unless writing about a red head and her fuck-all large sword.  Seriously, this has been representative of the last month, jumping from one activity to the next, all the while taking time to write, write, write; and to answer plot questions.  Does it make sense that the story motivator stays in town long enough for the protagonist to find out what she needs to find?  Why doesn’t the antagonist just do X?  Why doesn’t he just kill her?  Does the arbiter of the whole thing need a bigger part, etcetera, etcetera and so on and so on.

Seriously, I need to expunge this story out of my mind for a week or two.

But rest assured, baring being kidnapped by separatist rebels or Gods forbid, poets, I shall be here, week in and week out, to provide to you a few different words about living in Singapore, none of which you’ve asked for, but some of which you might like.

It’s good to be back.




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