Thursday, May 28, 2009

singapore, part 4

10th day, Weds: Another long teaching day. Followed, though, by an outing with Marissa, her TA Wafa, and Wafa's boyfriend Ian. Went out for some amazing Indian food in Little India (duh). Awesome masala chicken. MOST AMAZING biryani I have EVER EATEN. Sandalwood. Then we had a taste experience that wasn't so much amazing as disturbing: durian fruit. A fruit stand with outdoor seating (so you don't have to be in a confined space while eating durian fruit: which might be a sign, you know? if a fruit is so pungent you can't be in a closed space with it?). Marissa thought the inside of the fruit looked like bodily organs. Like a patient anesthetized on the table. Once you start eating it you kind of get used to the mushy pungent nature of the beast... but then once you stop, you really don't want to pick it up again.

11th day, Thurs: More workshopping in class. Long day. Followed by our first Indonesian food, which also came in the form of a food court in a mall. This time a "younger" feeling mall -- apparently where all the kids hang out. Then, like teenagers, Marissa and I went shopping. Specifically, dress shopping. I also found earrings. And it was good. What also made it good, was a vodka lime at the Dubliner bar we found.

12th day: Our last day off... morning we had kaya toast, then went on what we described as a job interview for a position we never applied for, and didn't know we'd even want. At the Singapore American School. A little marketing on our morning off. Then: a bizarre trip to Malaysia. Through customs, not only did we get our temperature taken remotely (like what cops use, those speeding detector guns?)... we also had it taken through our ears, as, because we had American passports, we raised swine flu flags. Even though we hadn't been in the US in the past 7 days (incubation window). Fucking ridiculous. My blood sugar was too low at this point to deal. Marissa witnessed my hissy-fit-like response. And then I ate a donut. And it was good.

So Johor is a weird border town. We saw a cool building that serves as the train station. Walked through the red light district with our guide, Ian. Sipped cold beverages after getting overheated. Visited a shopping mall (hey, it's ALWAYS THE THING TO DO). Walked the industrial beach. Had a hell of a trip back. Long lines at the border: another hissy fit. I believe my exact words to Marissa were: "I can't do this." Especially when our line suddenly dissolved and we had to get in a NEW line to have our passports scrutinized. Marissa assured me that not only could I do it, I would HAVE to do it. So we shared my ipod and listened to some Mgmt for inspiration. Ate some fig bread as clearly part of the problem = low blood sugar (isn't that always part of the problem, if not THE problem?).

Then, utilitarian dinner, Vietnamese (spring rolls! green mango salad!) on our street, to go.

Last teaching day! It was good, overall... some last minute revisions, some staging of short stories, some balderdash, a little collaborative writing (or that was the goal, at least). Altho., the last hour or so, was chaos: as I graded journals and the kids worked through their exhaustion and sugar highs. But they are terribly endearing.

Final night! Marissa and I went with Mr & Mrs Lim to the Republic Plaza for a RIDICULOUS view in a CRAZY opulent building. Followed by dinner at the Cricket Club. And grocery-souvenir shopping to spend the last of my Singapore currency.

The trip out was looong. Luckily got kaya toast with Marissa once more. Had a 3.5 hour flight to Hong Kong. Two hour wait. Got on the plane, after two hours of "mechanical problems" with the fuel gauge, we had to get off the plane. Never good when your pilot is like, well, they're going to check it out once more, but hopefully we'll get a new plane. Then two hours, during which I ate a gross sandwich, but used the rest of my mechanical-failure-provided free meal money to buy some decent chocolate cake (the cake itself = dry. but the FROSTING...). So, after a grand total of 6 hours in Hong Kong's airport, I finally got on my 12 hour flight to SF. Watched Happy Go Lucky (good, Mike Leigh doing comedy). Watched Slumdog Millionaire (fun). FINALLY HOME!

Luckily Steve met me at the airport. Because I had five minutes of a baffled interaction with the BART machine... and it took someone else's intervention to put a stop to it. Then dropped off bags, took a quick shower... went out for beer at the Monk's Kettle, and an amazing dinner (sole! and morel mushrooms!) at Range. And some sort of mixed drink. And rhubarb tart, with cardamon ice cream. I love unusual ice creams. And I think the combination of the homeopathic no jet lag meds, the alcohol, and the being thrown back into cold, grey SF, helped get me to sleep at a normal Pacific time.

That is all!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

singapore, part 3

6th day (Sat.): Had kaya toast and kopi (the local coffee with condensed milk) for breakfast, headed back to lesson plan... Had a very quick lunch on the corner at a sandwich place (good bread), had class, and headed out to the botanical gardens afterward. Amazing place. Orchids. We took pictures. And carried around the fruit that C. had given us earlier that day. Because even though we had planned to pack light that day for school, M.'s parents thwarted us by giving us gifts. Forget what we had for dinner: really cheap Chinese food at the food court? I *do* remember laughing hysterically over the fruit gifts, while we planned the weekend. Mangosteens are *weird,* folks.

7th day: Free day! As the Malaysian adventure didn't seem like it was going to work out, we headed up into the Bukit Timah nature preserve -- some of the last original rainforest left in Singapore. I bought sandals on sale. Which was good, because the ones I was wearing, not so good for hiking. Didn't see any monkeys unfortunately, but did see a very shiny metallic looking skink, and a freaking monitor lizard. Size of a small dog, kid you not. Sauntering across the path. We took pictures.

Needed food like crazy after that: Newton Center for greens in oyster sauce and bbqed stingray. Also amazing.

Dinner with M.'s parents, L. & C. Adorable couple. Ordered, again, amazing food (Chinese this time): pork and veggie dumplings, lotus salad, brown fried rice, and my favorite, a beef noodle soup.

Then we headed out for what has been our one and only drink thus far, at the Raffles Hotel -- old colonial fancy pants place. Had something coconut/white chocolatey. Endured music that belonged on a soft rock greatest hits of the 90s station (actually, that's been the soundtrack in all of Singapore thus far). But we endured the music while enjoying the veranda that we had basically to ourselves. We took pictures.

8th day, Monday: Free day again! Headed out to this island, by taking the MRT, a bus, and then a ferry. Rented bikes. Got caught in a monsoon. Crazy shit. Waited under shelters, finally said fuck it, we're going to get wet. Tried the muddy paths, but as it was high tide, didn't go all the way. Instead went a paved route to see across to Malaysia. Rainy like that Ray Bradbury short story. Biked back: caught a ferry, then a taxi, took a very long hot shower.

Then back to the real world -- lesson planning. And dinner. Food courted it (this time, mad cheap vegetarian food, noodles and fried tofu and greens).

9th day, Tuesday: LONG HAUL DAY. First day of being at school for 9 hours. It was draining. Some of the morning activities went really well, I think. Some could use some tweaking. The afternoon was difficult because some of my students are DONE with their stories, and others are just beginning. They're due (in drafts) tomorrow. So we had supposed 'silent sustained writing' time, with me conferencing with those students who are finished. This wasn't entirely successful. Middle schoolers after 8 hours at school, "managing" their time. You can imagine. But the one on one was good, I think. I hope I'm making suggestions without overly steering them.

After another food court dinner (wisma atria again)... noodles and "pick out your toppings" all boiled together in a common brew, snacks (kopi, local candies, asian pear)... I think it's back to lesson planning. adieu...

Friday, May 15, 2009

singapore, part 2

First full day: Hotel breakfast. You can go with local breakfast items (like bee hoon, something noodley with something green like kale; or rice porridge, which is basically watery rice) or with the British inspired side (baked beans, many types of meat, boiled eggs). It started raining around noon -- right when I wanted to go out exploring and find lunch. I wandered around Little India in the pouring rain, found a place with butter naan, soon felt very sick to my stomach, had my food poisoning out, fully recovered. So for dinner, I went with safe -- a food court on Orchard Road called Food Republic. Don't judge: lots of the best food here happens to be in food courts. Promise.

Anyway, managed to stay up till a normal hour! Mildest jet lag EVER. Maybe because I had the luxury of dozing for like 12 hours and still having a mad early start to the new day... and the homeopathic no jet lag meds from Vincent.

Second day: Marissa & I had breakfast in the hotel... lesson planned... went with Ming Yang and his father to the cricket club for lunch (weird: old colonial)...went to the school. First day was ok, I think, although not finessed... Teaching middle school girls is *difficult.* I tend to try for teaching by having them *do* stuff (showing, not telling), and I'm not always sure the message is getting across. Dinner: AMAZING vegetarian Indian food downtown, Bombay Woodlands. Then an "ice" at Food Republic: iced strawberry with passion fruit jelly. Merrie, you'd love it: they cater to people who like jelly things! Imagine, a snow cone meets gummy candy...

Third day: More hotel breakfast. More lesson planning. Lunch with Ming Yang and his father at Food Republic (again!). I had Malaysian food: grilled stingray and some sort of amazing rice and what they call "spinach" (in the grocery store, it's called "slippery spinach"). More teaching. Went to the Esplanade for dinner -- mall, food, and arts center on the river/bay. Amazing local food: Simply Peranakan. We tried the green mango salad... some sort of fish/coconut/spice concoction...more of the slippery spinach in egg and sauce. Wandered around by the water.

Fourth day: Yet MORE hotel breakfast. Lunch at another mall: Takashimaya (the mall) and Toast (the restaurant). Great salads (had the tofu and pumpkin). Highest percentage of westerners. More teaching. Ended up going to the same mall for dinner: seaweed salad and nyonya dumplings (filling inside rice wrapped in leaves -- kind of like a Chinese version of a tamale?). And cake.

Fifth day: And yet more hotel breakfast, because I was busy with not only lesson planning, but also the presentation Meredith is giving for me in Franco's class. Hurried repeat lunch at Sprout again -- this time, wild rice with raisins and granny smith apples and nuts. More teaching -- I went off the grid this time, and I think it went a little better. Started thunderstorming right after we talked about melodramatic presentations of emotion. I'm hoping they got that the second round, the round where we *didn't* give away the emotions of the characters, was the better aesthetic... Dinner tonight was the new favorite: an Egyptian place in Little India. We had a salad (ok), shish kabobs (best lamb I've ever had), and the MOST AMAZING EGGPLANT YOGURT. Followed by wandering around, getting lost in the district's mall... so many people trying to go in every direction down the vegetable aisle of the supermarket... so many aisles of imported chocolates...

Now... exhausted.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

arrived: singapore!


My first trip to Asia -- second trip outside of the U.S. -- is underway. No disasters (ie, lost luggage), just lots of realizing that nothing is intuitive without training. The trays work by different mechanisms on Cathay Pacific's planes, meaning that I fumbled the handle so ineffectively that the woman next to me on the way to Hong Kong had to intervene. They drive on the "wrong" side of the road here (as a former British colony).

Time changes are crazy: my flight left SF at 1:20 am and I was exhausted. Ended up with a window seat as a couple wanted to sit next to one another. Nice. After an hour or so of sleep, we had “dinner.” Then I dozed for about 11 hours of the flight. Then we had “breakfast” (pitch dark still). Then I watched most of the Frost Nixon debate movie. Then we landed in Hong Kong: local time, 6 am. on SUNDAY. Next flight didn’t leave till 9 am. Had plenty of time, even with strange airport employee waving me off in the wrong direction. On that flight, I had a whole row in the middle to myself. And I ate another breakfast. Oh, yeah: if you have a choice of eggs/hash browns/ sausage vs. chicken/noodles on a flight in Asia? GET THE NOODLES. Then we landed in Singapore, local time, noon. Basically, I had a long night and two breakfasts.

Swine flu is freaking people the fuck *out* here: about 2 in 3 people seemed to be wearing face masks (eastern Asians mainly, I didn't see any white folks donning surgical masks). One girl actually had a *hello kitty* surgical mask. And they take your temperature en masse as you enter the passport checking area of the airport (as in, some sort of gun thingy not unlike those used to catch speeders. Strange, right?).

Anyway, the coordinators were right there waiting for me. It is fucking HUMID here. I love the heat, hate the humidity. But whatever, after SF cold for months, it’s kind of nice to have reliable heat. Anyway, we all went to lunch – they seemed worried about my white American palate, so I was told to get American fare or this chicken dish, which I had, along with the various sauces (hot and not). They decided I’m food-adventurous. Finally got settled in the hotel: it’s sweeeet. I’m on the tenth floor, a room with windows and a little nook by the bed.

So the goal for the day was to get on local time. I walked around, kinda disoriented, to the main shopping district, through some parks… Not a lot of white people here. It’s interesting. Then I picked up some food – experimenting with more seaweed… got some cookies I can’t stop eating…a single serve packet of snowpeas (ingenious!). Then I took a swim in the pool, which no one else was in. Then I went down Killiney road for dinner: got green papaya salad from a not-cheap Thai place (don’t want to risk it… luckily they rate the “cleanliness” of restaurants here and post the info). It was SPICY. My mouth was BURNING. Not just the inside, even my LIPS. It was great.

Now one more cookie. And then I think I’m calling it a day. Cuz it’s 8 pm here… but like 5 am in SF.