30 April 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Moving sucks.  But you know what sucks worse than moving?  Waiting to move.

Right about the time I started ironing pillowcases, I realized I had a problem.

The brown dog watched me with an expression that can only be described as a combination of confusion and panic, like that point right before your kid realizes you're taking him to the dentist, not to the ice cream shop.  The white dog presented me with a dried-mud-encrusted ball.  Clearly, the white dog is not offended by the moving process.  However, over the past year it has become (painfully, annoyingly) evident that the brown dog considers the act of moving a personal affront which requires her strict, obsequious vigilance so that she will not be left behind.

 Dear Mom: Please don't forget to pack us.  Thanks.

Let's back up a bit.

During the past few months, I've done more than my fair share of waiting.  At first, it was waiting to hear back from the gazillion jobs that I'd applied to before the Christmas-New Year-Chinese New Year trifecta of holiday doom chaos joy hit.  (News flash: I didn't get the jobs.)  Next, it was waiting to find out which job offer within Husband's company would turn out to be the best one for Husband (and for me).  Then, it was waiting to find out whether we would stay in Singy or haul ass to Portland.  Then, I waited while Husband jetted first to Denmark and then to our new home in Portland. 

Finally, I waited for the movers to come.  When they did, I witnessed a strange exasperation-inducing ballet as the movers ineptly packed our belongings to three times our allotted shipping volume, stared glumly at the sad lopsided square of overlarge packing material, and eviscerated several cardboard containers in an effort to reduce the size of their mistake.  All while barefoot.

The movers left with one cubic meter of our worldly possessions, and I returned to my sofa ass-groove to continue hitting refresh on people.com (in my defense, Charlie Sheen was just hitting his #winning stride).

For a few days after that, there was not a lot of waiting.  There was, instead, a glorious flurry of DOING: organizing, packing, vacuuming dog hair, throwing stuff away, tearfully parting with my beloved food processor (don't hate), vacuuming dog hair, vacuuming dog hair, and vacuuming dog hair.

And, after 15 hours of virtually uninterrupted (and only mildly drug-enabled) stress, napping, Japanese airports, and yes, more waiting, and 5 hours of awesomeness chilling in a urine-soaked dog run at LAX, I arrived in Portland with one live brown dog, one live white dog, and one serious case of the munchies.

At the end of all this waiting, what am I left with?  Well, besides perfectly ironed pillowcases?

I'll tell you what: I've got some great cliches to work with here.  I've got a few good friends in Singy, BKK and Australia who I miss desperately.  I've got two years of unforgettable travel and life experience.  I've got a million memories of places and people frozen in time.  I've got a greater appreciation for a part of the world I never imagined visiting, much less inhabiting.  I've got a renewed appreciation of Indian and Thai food.  I've got an ever-deepening love for Husband, who asked me to take a risk that I'm glad I took.  And, perhaps most importantly, I've got the ability to haggle with a tuk tuk driver over the price of a $2 ride to the airport.

Maybe waiting isn't so bad after all.

(Just try to tell that to the brown dog.)

17 December 2010

Runnin' Down a Dream

Sometimes I think I might have a masochistic streak.  Running is not something that I particularly enjoy, yet I keep signing up for races.  Maybe I just like races.  I'm pretty convinced, though, that mostly I just really like the free T-shirt and (new, welcome development), the finisher's medal.  Although by "free" I really mean "paid for by my entrance fee."

My latest adventure in jungle running was the Standard Chartered Half Marathon.  The most interesting part of this story is actually not the race itself; it's how I got hold of a race entry.  When we arrived in Singapore, the last thing on my mind was running outside.  After my first day sweating it out here, I started planning a nice solid eight months of quality time with treadmills, ellipticals, and their ilk.  This plan proved short-sighted when, a couple of months later, I decided that running was actually doable (albeit in a slow, zombie-like shuffle).  By then, the entry period for this race (a legitimately cool half marathon that would allow me to have a reasonable training leadup) was over.  Boo!

So I stopped thinking about it and moved on to other, shorter races.  But then, as the race date approached, I thought, hell, maybe someone will sell me their number.  I asked Husband to ask around at work to see if anyone was signed up but unable to run:

Day 1
Me: Do you mind asking?
Husband: No problem.

Day 2
Me: Did you ask?
H: Oh... no, I forgot.  I'll ask today.

Day 3
Me: Did you ask?
H: Oh... no, I forgot again.  I'll ask today.


On the fifth day, I got an email from Husband, who was at work: "I asked.  Nobody here runs and they said to tell you that you're crazy."

Point taken - except Husband forgot to ask the one girl in his office (our Finnish friend Raisa) who actually runs.  I emailed her to ask.  She didn't get back to me right away... but then about 2 weeks before the race she had an answer.  She had a number for me!  Here's how she got it: her friend was supposed to run but then she caught her nanny/maid stealing.  The nanny/maid was summarily sent packing back to the Philippines.  The friend had two infants, a large dog, and a husband who was planning to run the marathon portion of the race.  The moral of this story is: always prioritize your race training over your husband's; otherwise, you'll be stuck watching the kids and the dog when your maid gets caught swiping cash from your dresser.

Ah, Singapore... the place where every self-respecting expat has a multitasking maid called a "helper."

... and that's how I trained for a half marathon in 2 weeks!

Race number firmly in hand, I met Raisa at Harbourfront (a mall near the start point) at 5:30 am on race day.  It was extremely early, but we saw lots of people milling about - people dressed for partying, not for running.  We soon discovered why: there's a 24-hour McDonald's in Harbourfront.  Fun fact: Singaporeans enjoy a post-clubbing McDonald's breakfast just as much as Americans love their IHOP (or Waffle House, if you swing that way)!

Thus refreshed, we walked onto the bridge to the race start.  The race ends in beautiful downtown Singapore, but it starts on Sentosa Island (well, if  you can call a sandbar infested with man-made beaches, resorts and a theme park an island), which is just off the "main" island of Singapore.  After about 10K, the race route crosses a bridge onto the "mainland," then skirts the southern shoreline before heading inland towards the CBD.

Race start!

The first half of the race - on Sentosa - went really well (except for the strangely numerous hills and the detour through a parking garage at Universal Studios).  As I mentioned before, people here really get into a race: not necessarily by running fast and pushing themselves to the limit, though I'm sure some do, but by carrying cameras with them to take photos of the crowd, stopping to take random photos of the race route or of their own sneakers, posing with Shrek at Universal Studios, taking home movies of their friends running next to them making badass faces, etc.  I saw more than one guy running with a full DSLR kit dangling from his neck.  They also got into it by pinning handmade signs to their backs: motivational ("Don't give up!"), challenging ("Try to catch me"), informative ("Just married"), and... just plain unpleasant ("I ate many onions last night").

The second half of the race, though, was not so fun: the sun was officially up and we ran on a baking, raised highway for many, many kilometers.  No shade.  My knee started to twinge.  That pesky internal monologue started up in my brain:

Me: Stop and walk.  Just for a minute.
Brain: No... push through to next water stop.
Me: It'll be so comfortable...
Brain: You ran the Boston Marathon.  Stop being a pussy.  [Note: this is now Brain's standard response whenever I feel like wussing out].
Me: Oh my God, there's a guy on the side of the road puking his guts out from heatstroke!  I have to stop and walk.
Brain: Nah, you're several minutes away from heatstroke.  Keep going.

...the usual stuff.  Sometimes I listen to the monologue and sometimes I don't.  I was tempted to ignore Brain and side with Me.  Unfortunately, though, I had a running partner with me.  If you've ever run with a partner, you know the one crucial rule about running with a partner: you must run faster and farther than that person, otherwise you are a fucking loser.  My monologue began to take on an annoyingly Finnish accent.  (Just kidding, Raisa!)

Well, my knee took matters into its own hands (knees?) after a while, and I had to slow down to rest it before continuing.  Once it felt marginally OK again, I resumed my run (I've dubbed it the Singapore Shuffle) and made a triumphant comeback to about 100 meters behind Raisa.  Then I slowed again, grabbed four cups of water from an aid stand, gulped two and dumped the other two on my head like a nomad who'd been stranded in the Sahara for weeks.  Resuming my Shuffle, I gutted it out to 20K: only one more K to go!  This is when your body is supposed to summon some elemental strength from within and propel you heroically across the finish line.  Or, if you're me, your body says "screw it" and slows of its own accord (Brain was by this point no help whatsoever).  The only thing that sustained me during that last kilometer was the fear of being passed by this guy:

Somehow I found the strength to pass him.


I found Raisa at the finish corral (she was only about 30 seconds ahead of me - whew!), and we collected our hard-earned medals and took a celebratory photo, which I've titled "Photo Finnish" because I'm hilarious like that:

She's Finnish: get it?

Raisa: thank you for putting up with me and for being such an excellent running partner!
Heli: thank you for the race number!
Onion guy: thanks for giving me the motivation to pass you!

P.S. I am a nerd:

25 November 2010

The Thing About Running Is... It Effing Hurts.

Last weekend (well, 10 days ago now - time seems to have gotten away from me again in that delightful way that it has) I ran in a race.  Not a big race, mind you - nothing that would inspire an epic 7-month training regimen and an underdog-makes-good video montage set to the Chariots of Fire soundtrack.  Just a little race: 12 kilometers.

This was not my first Singapore race: about a month ago, I ran in a 10K (Mizuno Something Or Other).  It sucked, but not as badly as I thought it would.  Or maybe I was just hallucinating from the heat and blacked out all the bad parts.  It's definitely possible that, in my postrace jungle-humidity-drenched fever dreams, I somehow decided that I had won that race and was now invincible.  At any rate, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to DO.  IT.  AGAIN.  So I did.  Only this time, I upped the ante to 12, count 'em, 12, kilometers.  I know.  I live on the edge.  For the non-metrically inclined, that's 7.45 miles.

This race was held at MacRitchie Reservoir, which was part of the reason why I chose it: an easy way to get to see a part of the island I might not otherwise drag myself to (it is in no way close to our house and I am phenomenally lazy).  It was also sponsored by Salomon, which I thought was cool because I think I used to own a pair of their shoes once.  Maybe.

The morning of the race dawned: dark, damp, hot.  Yes, even at 6:30 am here, it is not cool.  I don't care what the locals try to tell you.  The temperature here - at all hours - resembles nothing so much as being stuck in a steam room with the door locked.  I was sweating before I got to the bus stop.

The following is a list of things I learned, and pithy observations I made, during this race (helpfully recorded on my iPhone on the bus ride back for posterity):

Lesson #1: When the race website says that the race will be a "trail run," this means that there will be an uninterrupted 4K of uphill on a 4-foot wide trail.

Uphill.  Please note that I am not an asshole like the one I so eloquently excoriate in Lesson #9; all of these photos were taken by race photographers.  So they get all the credit/blame.

Lesson #2: When the race website says that the race will be an "out-and-back," this means the race officials will not have notified hikers that there is a FREAKING RACE on the trail that morning, so in addition to running single file UP, and dodging the super-fast runners coming DOWN, the average runner (read: me and 5,000 of my new best friends) will have to navigate around curious (and delightfully slow!) day-hikers out for a morning stroll.  And did I mention the 4-foot-wide trail?

Lesson #3: When the race course is described in the race packet materials as a "difficult hiking trail," it would probably be best to train on hills beforehand.  At least a little.  In fact, it would probably be advisable to investigate the race packet a bit sooner than the night before the race.

Lesson #4: When the race program says that the men's race starts "promptly at 7:30" and that the women's race starts "promptly at 7:35," with a firm cutoff for both of 9:30 am, what it really means is that the mens's race starts promptly at 7:30 and the women's race starts at 7:55, and oops, I guess you ladies don't have that extra half hour after all, so you'd better move your asses.

Ladies' start.  Only a few minutes late...

Lesson #5: Wear a poncho, because there's a lot of close-range spitting going on up in here.

Lesson #6: Bring your own water.  Apparently Singaporeans are truly accustomed to running in jungle heat, because there were only 2 water stops.

Lesson #7: When running uphill in a single-file line because the trail is too narrow for more than 1 person to run in each direction, please yield to oncoming traffic.  If you do not, I WILL CRUSH YOU.

Lesson #8: When running uphill in a single-file line because the trail is too narrow for more than 1 person to run in each direction, please do not pass someone only to slow down to a walk directly in front of that person.  If you do this, I WILL CRUSH YOU.

Lesson #9: When running uphill in a single-file line because the trail is too narrow for more than 1 person to run in each direction, please do not pass someone only to slow down, stop, turn around, and start taking pictures of your friends coming up the trail behind you.  If you do this, I WILL CRUSH YOU.

Lesson #10: When running uphill in a single-file line because the trail is too narrow for more than 1 person to run in each direction, and if you are faster than I am, please find a way around or wait for a gap instead of elbowing me out of the way to pass me only to immediately slow down because we just came to another soul-crushing hill.  If you do this, I WILL CRUSH YOU.

Lesson #11: If there is a guy with a prosthetic leg in the race with you, it is always best to sprint past him at the finish line.

Lesson #12: Bring your own water (see Lesson #6, above), bananas, energy gels, carbs, etc. for the end of the race, because although the helpful and nice race officials waste no time in handing out finisher's medals, they don't seem to put as much stock in providing sustenance for exhausted racers dragging themselves across the finish line because they pushed themselves too hard at the end sprinting past the one-legged guy.  Sure, the medal is awesome, but can it cure heatstroke?  If I eat my medal, will it prevent me from stripping off my shirt and wringing droplets of sweat into my mouth in a desperate (and, some might say, humiliating) attempt to replenish my sodium levels?  I ask you.

 Finish: nary a water bottle in sight.

All that said, however, the race volunteers were lovely and helpful and encouraging, and it was certainly a beautiful course.  MacRitchie has some great trails, and I'm hoping to be able to get back there to hike (rather than run) some of them soon.  I'd just rather look like THIS at the end:

Middle girl: Yeah, I'm happy and ridiculously fit!  That wasn't a run, it was just me turning over in my sleep!  (Coincidentally, the guy on the left is the one with the prosthetic leg.)


 Ugh.  Why?  WHY??  Oh, the humanity!  Screw it, I'm walking.

Did I mention I got a medal?  Yeah, I'm cool.  If you're nice to me I'll let you try it on and take inappropriate photos with it.

11 November 2010

Happy Deepavali... to you...

The Indian holiday of Deepavali (also called Diwali) was last Friday.  In an attempt to be somewhat culturally aware of the most important annual festival for Singapore's third-largest population, I did myself a little research.  Turns out Diwali is actually a pretty complicated holiday.  I'm not going to go into great detail, but here are some fun facts I put together about this colorful, noisy, and crowded popular event.

Fun Fact No. 1: Diwali marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness.  It is celebrated by lighting clay oil lamps, visiting family, making offerings, and eating special foods.

Fun Fact No. 2: Diwali decorations include dangling shiny things, mango leaves hung in doorways, aromatic garlands, and... Ganesh (obvi):

Fun Fact No. 3: Everyone buys new clothes during this time.  Too bad i have no idea how to wear this stuff without it looking like a Halloween costume (or a bizarrely inappropriate and offensive Hindu Barbie).

Fun Fact No. 4: in the days leading up to the holiday (which is actually about 5 days long), everyone goes out to party, light firecrackers, toss confetti, and generally hang out with 100,000 of their closest friends.

Fun Fact No. 5: Henna tattooing is also popular at this time.

Fun Fact No. 6: There are a lot of interesting odors in Little India during Diwali: smoke from fireworks, incense, sweet jasmine, freshly cooked curry, spicy snack crackers, discarded food offerings, and, oh yeah, thousands of sweaty people crammed like sardines into Mustafa Centre and the Festival Market.  People!  Have you never heard the term fire hazard?

Fun Fact No. 7: Little India is one of my favorite parts of Singapore.  In addition to being probably the most authentic "ethnic" district in this (mostly sterile and largely personality-free) city/island/nation, it's also the most interesting.  There are always lots of people around, moving, fetching, building, praying, eating, buying.  The word "bustling" comes to mind.  It's got dilapidated (well, dilapidated for Singapore) buildings, stray cats, random groups of men chilling on sidewalks eating lunch and listening to Hindu pop on their portable radios, about a zillion great Indian vegetarian restaurants, stores selling $3 blue jeans and sandals, crazy-looking gold jewelry, stalls selling nothing but bindis and sequins, and of course the colorful ziggurat-topped temples with their riotously writhing statues of gods, goddesses, and... cattle.  It just feels like a real place (albeit kinda surreal as well), which is pretty much awesome.

* This particular temple is actually in Chinatown, but i like this photo because it shows the cows, gods, AND a blue sky.  =)

Fun Fact No. 8: In preparation for Diwali, Hindu families spend weeks cleaning and renovating their homes.  I actually got kind of excited about this particular tradition, because I figured I could use it as an excuse to get Husband on board with a full-scale apartment master cleanse (I'm anal that way), but all I really got was him, standing in the middle of the kitchen, holding a broom and looking confused.

Husband: What's this?

Me: A broom.  Don't pretend.

Husband (still pretending): I don't understand.

Me: We need to clean all the things.

Husband (eyes widening): Clean ALL the things?

Sorry, Kids, No Jack-o-Lanterns This Year

And this is why we didn't carve pumpkins for Halloween in Singapore:

25 October 2010

Rumors of My Blog's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

It all started a couple of weeks ago when, in the middle of dinner, Husband stopped eating and looked at me beseechingly.

Me: What?

Husband: Your public needs you.

Me:  Huh?

H: Your blog.  You're losing fans.

Me: I only have, like, three fans.

H: All the more reason to keep at it!

So here I am.  Back from the dead.

They say it's best to begin at the beginning.  Actually, I don't know who "they" are, and since I don't know, and since I don't care, and since beginning at the beginning is basically impossible because I don't have a photographic memory and am basically too lazy to write down ideas when they hit me, I'll have to choose the path of least resistance and begin in the Middle.

For those who are fuzzy on the concept, this is what the Middle looks like:

Beginning ------------ Middle ------------- End

If only I was slightly more talented at photoshop I could have drawn an actual picture.  =(  But you get the idea.  I am in the Middle of a lot of things: Husband's third rotation overseas, writing the Great American Novel, training for a race that I will eventually curse myself for running, treating the White Dog for her third ear infection in two months, deciding whether to put law on hold and try my hand at knife-throwing as a viable long-term career, etc.

The Middle is kind of exhausting.

One benefit of beginning in the Middle, though, is that it gives new perspective to things that happened way back in the Beginning.  Case in point: a scenario that has come to be known around these parts as The Incident.

At the time of the Incident, Husband and I were just settling into our shiny new apartment in Singapore.  After what seemed like YEARS of looking, I had found a place I thought was pretty close to perfect: quiet neighborhood, modern furnishings, grassy areas for the dogs, walking distance to a dog park, and within radius of McDonalds delivery (Husband's requirement).  We moved in, had several borderline-ADHD buying sprees at IKEA (sample dialogue: "Holy crap!  They have Flognut!"  "But over here - whoa, Sprocken!  Nobody has Sprocken!"  "Let's get five of each color."), and generally congratulated ourselves on being masters of the rental market.


Conscientious employee that he is, Husband was up early to shower for work.  Unemployed slacker that I am, I was still in bed, hoping that Husband would not wake me up by singing Michael Bolton songs while he splashed water all over the bathroom (he celebrates the guy's entire catalog).

I prefer to picture the following scene through a lens of "Paranormal Activity"-level graininess for maximum effect.

Husband: Oh. My. God.  OHMYGOD.

Me [under covers]: What?


Me: Is it Gordon?  [Gordon is the gecko who hangs out in our apartment and scampers silently - and unnervingly swiftly - across the walls when agitated]


Me [exasperated]: What is it?


Me [thinking, Michael Bolton would definitely be preferable to this]: Kill it.

H [slight notes of desperation]: How do I kill it?  These things are indestructible.  Right?

Me: Hit it with something heavy.

H [voice rising]: I can't.

Me: What?  Jesus.

[I get up to investigate; H points to top of shower curtain]

Me: Wow.

H: Yeah.

Me: It's huge.

H: In other circumstances I'd say "that's what she said," but I'm completely terrified right now.

Me: Yeah.

H[slightly offended]: It was STARING AT ME in the shower the whole time!

Me [haha]: We have to get it off the curtain and onto a flat surface so we can kill it.  Can you find a magazine or something?

H: OK [leaves; returns with magazine, spatula, pot holder and large reference book].  Just in case.  [Pauses.]  Can they fly?

Me: I think some of them can, but this one's probably too big.  Just get it.

H: [swipes frantically at shower curtain].


Me: Where'd it go?!?

H: OHMYGOD.  It's on the wall.  It FLEW TO THE WALL!

Dogs: Bark!  Bark!

Me: Hit it with the book!

Dogs: Bark!  Bark!

H: No [exits bathroom rapidly, shuts door].  We can just board off this bathroom and use the other one.  Good thing we got a big place.

Me: Oh, Jesus.

Me: [opens door, throws book on cockroach, checks to make sure cockroach does not have the Herculean strength necessary to survive such a blow].  I think it's dead.

H: Just leave the book there and close the door.

Me: What about the shower?

H: I'm never showering in there again.


Later that day, I got a very disturbing text message from Husband, who had apparently shared his own personal "Psycho" shower scene with some appreciative co-workers.  The co-workers, however, had given him some unpleasant news.  The text read: "If you kill them their family and friends will come to investigate."


So, hurrah, a trip to the nearest shopping center was in order to get some industrial-strength bug killer.  No sissy organic, good-for-the-earth bug killer for this girl.  I wanted the kind so potent that it makes unborn babies grow extra limbs.

The closest store happened to be the Mustafa Centre, which is a 24-hour department store chock-full to the brim of awesomeness and cut-price Bollywood DVDs.  It also has a grocery and hardware department.  I asked the sales clerk where I could find roach killer.

Clerk: For roaches?

Me: Yes.  To kill them.

Clerk: To eat them?

Me: No.  To KILL them.

Clerk: Oh, for eating.

Me: No, for KILLING [makes knife motion across throat].

Clerk: Oh, ok.  Second floor!

Me: Thanks!

The second floor was the grocery department.  FOR EATING.

09 September 2010

Always Leave 'Em Wanting More

It's been a while since I wrote.  Let's just say I've been busy.  This whole moving-your-life-from-Australia-to-the-US-to-Singapore-finding-a-job-getting-two-dogs-through-quarantine-in-one-piece-and-navigating-the-ridiculous-Singapore-rental-market thing is kind of time-consuming.  But rest assured: in my absence, I've been collecting lots of stories that I will soon unleash upon the world.  Oh, and they're good.  Really good.  But because I don't have time right this second to get into too much detail, I'll just leave you with some tantalizing photos to keep you obsessively checking this website daily, hourly... until my return. 

(evil laugh)

What is that?  Seriously, what the hell is that?

Am I in China?  What's going on?

No, we moved to India, just messing with you!

Ha ha, very funny, we really moved to Abu Dhabi.  Let's go watch "Sex and the City 2" and laugh about how inappropriate it was for them to film a movie there!

Actually, I just wandered onto the set of "Best in Show 2: Unclipped"

Is this supposed to be Spain?  If so, I want to go to there.

What the hell is THAT? (part deux)

And finally...

Looks can be deceiving.