Thursday, 3 January 2008

We weren’t sure which location to file this entry under. We left Rwanda Thursday afternoon, but wouldn’t arrive in Singapore until the evening of Friday, the fourth. Thirty hours in the air or at airports, a no man’s land.

Our flight from Rwanda was moved back to a 5pm departure, so we had plenty of time to squeeze in another school lesson and pack ourselves up. Charles met us for lunch at the hotel, where we discovered that Benji had a 101.5 fever. He laid his head in my lap and took a little nap after we cut an Advil in half and he swallowed it down. Swallowing pills is no longer a problem after weeks of taking his malaria pill. For some strange reason, I did not pack any children’s Tylenol, but we figured half an Advil would be okay. After we finished lunch, Charles drove us through the city one last time before we headed to the airport. We saw a different part, different slums and a downtown area with big buildings, as well as a bargain market where things can be bought for less. Somehow we managed to leave Rwanda with nary a souvenir, quite an accomplishment.

Benji’s fever lifted once the Advil kicked in. We said goodbye and thank you to Charles, and Nate told him, “If I ever come back to Rwanda, I’m going to ask that you’re our guide!” He’s so used to having a “guide” while we’ve been in Africa, he didn’t understand that Charles is just a regular person who was kind enough to take us around. He seems to know someone wherever we go in this town, maybe since he’s a pastor with a fairly large congregation and lots of ties to the local community. I told him he’s like our neighbor Kenneth, who sells insurance and also seems to know someone wherever he goes. Charles smiled and said, “I sell life insurance, too. Eternal life, the policy never expires, and it’s free.”

The kids flipped open their games and we settled in for a two hour wait before our plane arrived. Our flight changes meant we’d have to skip our one night and twenty four hours in Dubai. Our last minute flight changes also meant that we’d be flying business class for the first two legs, including the long overnight flight. The kids were thrilled, they’ve been coveting first class seats since day one, as we walked past the luxury of first to the reality of economy for each flight. They dreamed of all the lavish amenities offered behind those curtains, and drilled Clay on his days of business and first class flights back when he traveled more often and racked up miles. They’ve asked us to repeat the story of our first class flight on our honeymoon over and over again. “What kind of dessert did they give you? What was in that packet of stuff they gave you for free? How far did your seat recline?”

Today was their lucky day, and they could hardly wait for the pampering to begin. Unfortunately, we were flying Ethiopian Airlines, a fine airline, but not as high class as some others. We did indeed enjoy our reclining seats, Benji settled in and slept most of the way both legs, his fever raging on. We had a four hour layover in Thailand and enjoyed the first class lounge area, with free food and drinks, comfy chairs and mood lighting. We wiped ourselves with steamy hot wash cloths, dawdled over the courses of our meals, and pushed all the buttons available to us. Heavenly.


Friday, 4 January 2008

After thirty hours of travel, we arrived in Singapore in the evening with full bellies and our internal clocks all wacky. On the drive to the hotel I marveled at all the big buildings, a beautiful Ferris wheel that soared over the city, and a highway with busses and cabs and cars. No donkeys or goats or people carrying things on their heads. We weren’t in Africa any longer. After checking into the hotel we all went to bed, sure we’d wake up bright and early in the morning, ready to discover a new place.


Saturday, 5 January 2008

Clay and I didn’t wake up until 9:15, and the kids slept until 10:30, when we administered their wake up call. We slept so late we missed breakfast, I can’t remember the last time we slept past 7:30. We got ourselves together and brushed our teeth in tap water. It’s been forty days since we’ve allowed ourselves to come into contact with tap water, and it was wonderful. I have been the tooth brushing police, making sure the kids use their bottled water at all times, we had a whole system worked out but it stinks to have to think about brushing your teeth. 

We headed into the city to find some lunch, and restock some of our dwindling supplies. We’d read in our guide book that Singapore is known for eating and shopping, so we decided to cross number one and two off our list this first day. Benji was feeling a little better, though his appetite still wasn’t back. He’s skinny enough as it is, when he doesn’t eat for a few days he really looks pitiful. We brought some Advil along, but by that afternoon he was fever-free, and we figured his appetite would return soon enough.

It began to rain as we wandered from mall to mall. The rain left us dripping on shiny marble floors, but our travel clothes sure do dry nicely! Nobody stared at us. Nobody called us a “muzungu”. Everyone spoke English. I was struck again and again by the differences we encountered. Downtown Singapore is full of malls, we found them every block or so, and some blocks had two or more. It seemed a strange and marvelous thing, these stores upon stores of merchandise, many of the names and brands familiar. Alayna is truly on the cusp of her teen years, her eyes sparkled and her steps bounded as she shopped, acquiring a new t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and a pair of pants. She’s grown the most of all the kids, and her ego was sorely aching after tromping around in high-waters and too-small shirts.

We restocked on books and other essentials throughout the day. Clay and the boys even got haircuts at a funny little place in one of the malls. The shop was just big enough for three barber chairs, you put a ten dollar note in a machine and received a plastic card. This was your “ticket” for your haircut, it proved you paid when your turn came up. Clay and the boys all had their hair cut in fifteen minutes, their heads were vacuumed for stray hairs, and any hair on the floor was swept to a vacuum on the wall that sucked it all up. They each received a plastic comb when they were done, it reminded me of the plastic combs we used to get on picture day at school. Very neat and efficient. Very Singapore.

For dinner we found a great place, where we could watch dumplings being made by hand in an assembly line. It took six guys to make one of these delectable things, the edges crimped precisely eighteen times, each one the same size and shape as the others. Those dumplings are representative of Singapore itself, neat and efficient and delicious.

For dessert we sampled a dumpling filled with crushed sesame beans, I think. It looked like black, grainy deer poop, but it was delicious. We noticed you are given chopsticks, and must ask to get a fork. No napkins are provided in most eateries, and we saw several patrons pulling out a Kleenex from their own personal stash to use as a napkin. For dinner the kids were given a glass of hot water, Clay and I were given hot tea. We were never asked if we would like something else to drink, and when Clay asked for a bottle of mineral water, we received another glass of hot water. Funny thing, the kids drank it (once it cooled off). They slurped up noodles covered in unidentified things, fanned their mouths from spicy things and took another bite. Even Benji, of little appetite, tried everything he was given.

Our first day was a big success. We ate, we shopped, we saw Singapore. So maybe we didn’t do the boat cruise on the harbor, but we still had plenty of time.


Sunday, 6 January 2008

This morning we went to church. Clay had Googled it the night before and discovered a Methodist church just around the corner that looked like it would be great. The kids were overjoyed to discover a Sunday School, where they met some friends who all spoke English. One boy in particular captured the boys’ attention, he informed them that he was on is eighth cell phone (they said he looked about Nate’s age), all the others had broken. This led to long discussions where the kids touted the merits of cell phones, and their reasons for needing one, none of which were convincing.

The sermon talked about the fruits of the spirit, which was really cool since we’ve been talking about them with the kids. We really enjoyed the service, and the people were so friendly. So many of them shook our hands and genuinely seemed interested in us and our kids. We got some tips on the best place to get chicken rice (a typical Singapore dish) and the location of some nearby hawker centers. Hawker centers are where a bunch of food vendors gather in one place with a central seating area. We decided to try one out for lunch, and got the aforementioned chicken rice. It was rice and chicken, nothing special, but there’s something satisfying about experiencing something you’ve read about, something everyone knows about and talks about when they hear the word “Singapore”. Check another thing off the list.

That afternoon we headed to the zoo, we had read it was one of the best zoos in the world. It was pretty amazing, there were free-ranging orangutans that swung in trees above our heads, the most venomous snake in the world was busy shedding its skin, and a white tiger savagely paced back and forth, eyeing the gap between us and him carefully. After reading about the tiger that escaped in the States, we were all a little creeped out. As evening came we went next door to the “Night Safari”, another park that you experience after dark. It is full of nocturnal animals that you usually don’t see during the day. We started with a tram ride, but exited mid-way because we were sitting in front of an obnoxious loud lady. It was a little cheesy anyway, trying to simulate a safari ride when we’ve just experienced the real thing.

We walked in the dark along dimly lit paths, listening to lions roaring somewhere in the distance. It was nothing like our time in Africa, but it was still pretty cool. The kids and Clay went into a bat place where giant bats flapped their creepy wings, I opted out. We saw a caracal, a snow leopard, and some half naked dancers, and then we called it a night.


Monday, 7 January 2008

Today was doctor day. Last summer, Benji and Nate both broke out with something called molluscum, a virus that causes little white bumps on their bellies, they looked like white moles. The dermatologist put something on them that made them fall off, but she warned us they may come back. Benji’s did, about two months ago, and this time they kept spreading. They made it to his knees, his wrist, his elbow and ankle. We decided Singapore would be just the place to have them removed again. In the meantime, Alayna had two pesky warts pop up that she desperately wanted to get rid of, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and take them both in.

We were lucky to find a doctor close by who could see us that morning, such a nice man. He gave us some cream for Benji, froze off Alayna’s warts, and we were out again in under an hour, with plenty of time left in the day. Unfortunately, thirty minutes after we left the office, we noticed a rash on Nate’s legs. Big red bumps, and they were itchy. What timing! We couldn’t bring ourselves to return to the doctor again, so we hoped they would go away on their own and carried on with our plans.

We decided to go to a park we had read about, a park with an adventure playground and a zip line, despite the rain that began falling outside the train window. Maybe it wouldn’t be raining on the other side of the island, we carried on. Sure enough, by the time we got to the end of the line, the rain had stopped, and we ventured forth into a new part of Singapore. This felt like the real Singapore, kids were walking around in school uniforms and we passed row after row of apartment homes. They looked like rows of cereal boxes, with big numbers painted on the sides. Laundry poles bristled from the balconies, sticking out straight, flying their flags of clean shirts and undies. This is where the majority of Singapore lived.

We walked, and walked, and walked, looking for the adventure playground. We passed men fishing in tiny squares of fish farms, we passed stagnant water in a drainage ditch, we saw the ocean for the first time. We found a tiny playground with swings for babies and a slide shorter than me, but this wasn’t what we had read about. Zip lines, adventure. We finally found it, a big, beautiful park with old trees covered in moss and a huge playground spread over lots of land. The kids ran and played for an hour or so while Clay and I rested our tired feet and talked to each other with no interruptions.

Alayna warts swelled to the size of grapes, then burst as she energetically climbed and played. Nate got itchier and itchier, the sun began to set. We decided it was time to head back to the hotel, and took a “short cut”, surely there was a faster way to get back to the MRT train. We ended up in the middle of a huge complex of apartment buildings, but Clay found the train station using his Blackberry phone. It has a nifty little application that can tell you exactly where you are, anywhere in the world, a little “you are here” dot on a map. It actually found us, in a suburb in Singapore, and it moved as we moved, slowly, slowly down the street. Clay said it’s part of Google Maps and uses cell phone towers instead of satellites, but it really accurate. It was a weird feeling, watching it track us.

We headed back satisfied that we had seen a new and different and very real part of Singapore. Alayna feels a little better about her school uniform back home after seeing what some of those kids had to wear, turquoise pants or a mint green jumper with matching shirt. I wondered about all those thousands of people living in those cereal box apartment buildings, Alayna said she thought it would be fun if you had a lot of friends who lived in the same building, you could see them all the time.

For dinner we tried a restaurant we’d read about in our guide. This place had some weird stuff, a pork organ stall where giant, full-color pictures left nothing to the imagination. Further down the line slimy fish balls floated in broth (how do they make fish balls?), a deep-fried fish head rested on a bed of rice, eyeballs and all, and a cow’s stomach was on special. After studying these pictures while waiting in line, I just couldn’t stomach the grisly meat I was handed, and opted for my white rice, plain and dry. Clay got luckier with his meal of veggie Phad Thai noodles, my dinners have been hit or miss here. This one was a miss for me.

We went home and slathered Alayna’s burst warts with anti-bacterial cream, who knows what she picked up at the playground. Then we tried to locate all of Benji’s bumps and put a different cream on them. Nate furiously scratched at his legs, poor guy, the rash wasn’t going away. We decided if it spread in the morning we’d call the doctor’s office back. In the morning, Alayna and Clay have to get up early and head to the American School in Singapore so she can take the ISEE test, the entry exam to get into school in Austin.

We decided to give the boys their tests, too, so they’ll all be done with testing at the same time. As we got ready for bed, I snuck a few mini-snickers left over from Christmas treats, white rice just wasn’t enough for dinner.


Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Today Clay and Alayna got up early and caught a cab to go to the American school, while I waited for the boys to wake up on their own. When they did, I was dismayed to see that Nate’s rash had spread to his arms, his scalp, and it was creeping down over his forehead, already covering one eye lid. He was itching like crazy and the rash felt hot. After making a panicked call to Clay we decided to call the same dermatologist and pray he could see us again on short notice. The sweet lady who answered the phone said if we didn’t mind waiting, we could come that morning and hope for an opening. The three of us wolfed down some toast in the restaurant and headed out the door, with books and boys’ tests in tow just in case it was going to be a while.

Nate was really embarrassed by his big red blotches, and I watched people eye him in the elevator. I’m sure they were wondering if he was contagious. I was wondering if he was contagious. “I’ll be glad when we get to the dermatologist’s office,” said Nate, “because there you’re supposed to have a rash.” We were so fortunate, we only waited maybe twenty minutes and our turn came up. The doctor took one look and proclaimed they were hives. Sigh of relief from mother. We aren’t sure what caused them, the doctor said since they came on shortly after leaving his office, they could have been caused by the aromatherapy in the building. He said there were lots of essential oils and scents in the air. He wrote us a prescription for an antihistamine, and we headed out the door. Clay mentioned that putting something in your waiting room that gives people hives is a great way for a dermatologist to generate business.

Back at the hotel, I waited to hear from Clay while I gave the boys their tests. They did great, although Nate’s essay was a little wacky. I filled out the rest of the applications and forms needed to apply to school, it was nice to have that work behind us. Alayna got back around 1, and she said her test went well. Second sigh of relief from mother in one day. Rain had been falling all morning long, and nobody was in the mood to go anywhere that afternoon, so we mostly stayed indoors. We did get Nate a new pair of shoes, pair number three. That boy is so hard on shoes!

We also found a donut place in a nearby mall, something we haven’t had since August. Nice, fresh donuts. This stall had the longest line of any in the mall, and the flavors were awesome. One was iced with chocolate and filled with dark chocolate syrup that dripped down your chin when you took a bite. Another had a fluffy dollop of espresso on top of it, still another was filled with peanut butter, and another was iced with hazelnut and chopped nuts. It was the stuff cravings are made of, I am sure I will remember those donuts for years to come. Of course there had to be a bizarre flavor, there was one filled with spicy cheese. We passed on that one.

After donuts and shoes, we settled into the hotel room, the kids watched Evan Almighty on TV, Clay and I worked out in the hotel gym, Alayna read Jurassic Park and Nate started on Harry Potter number six. It was a relaxing afternoon, nothing to write home about, but here I am writing about it anyway! There were still so many things in Singapore that were on my list of things to do and see. We hadn’t seen the marina by boat yet, there was the Jurong Bird Park and Sentosa Island and the Science Center. My feet were itchy but the rain and the general feeling of lounging convinced me to put the list aside, we still had one more day.

Dinner was fabulous, we ate dinner at the hotel for the first time, and it was great. Especially the desserts. We winced at the bill, ate some more marshmallows doused in the chocolate fountain, and reminded ourselves of the cheap meals we’d found at the Hawker Centers. It all balanced out.

A friend of mine in Texas had emailed and given me the name of a friend of hers that lived in Singapore, who has three girls. I had been able to contact Christine by email, and we settled on meeting at the Science Center in the morning. The kids were excited about meeting some other kids, especially Alayna, who beamed at the thought of three girls. She’d finally outnumber the boys. That night before bed we applied various lotions and medications to the three kids. Nate was sad to find out his medicine tasted gross, but he took it like a man. The doctor gave us two big bottles of it, “Just in case you need some later in the trip.” We’re crossing our fingers this is it for Davis kid skin problems, and are thankful we were in Singapore where we could find good doctors and good medicine.


Wednesday, 9 January 2008

This morning we met Christine and her three girls, and then spent a happy few hours bouncing around this cool museum, chock-full of hands on exhibits. Those are the best kind. There was an eleven-year-old girl and Alayna and her paired up right away. Christine was meeting a few other mothers who are also all expat’s, so there were even more kids for ours to play with. Clay and I really enjoyed talking to all of the mothers, about what it’s like to actually live in Singapore.

 It turns out when Christine lived in Austin, they lived on a street close to where we used to live, such a small world! We talked about returning to America. For us it’s in May, for some of them it’s a year away or more, for some of them this summer. They all seemed to enjoy their time here, and in the other countries they’ve been. They were full of stories and so are we, so we had some great conversation. Several had lived overseas for five or six years. It’s fun to think we may run into them again someday, back in the States.

We said our goodbyes around 3 and headed back to the hotel to grab some packages that needed to be mailed. We found the post office, Clay found a bank to cash some traveler’s checks, and we started to pack up. Tomorrow we’d leave for Cambodia. Clay and I watched a movie and stayed up too late to get up at 5:30AM, we had been enjoying the movie channel on the hotel TV. Several nights we stayed up past midnight, Clay would work on the Africa pictures for the journal and I would cozy up in bed with pillows and air conditioning and just veg out watching some movie I’d never seen. Who knows when we’d see another movie?

There are many things we didn’t do here, many things that were never marked off my list. But we shopped and ate and saw real people living real lives. We got lost, rode public transportation, and took a breather before heavy duty sightseeing resumes in Southeast Asia.