Weeks 20-23: A Day in the Life
(05/14/06)

It has been five months since our trans-continental everyday-life-altering family relocation to Singapore. Five months. Even though my attitude, on occasion, tends to stray to the slightly negative, what-oh-what-have-we-done side of the fence, it is hard to believe that we have been here that long. Don't get me wrong, I am still counting the days until we return to the land of honest-to-goodness buffalo wings and made-from-scratch mashed potatoes, but the time has passed quickly - more quickly than I thought it would. Although I hesitate to say it, for fear of jinxing myself, I think I have finally adapted (as much as I am likely to adapt, anyway) to life in the Far East. There are still things - many things - that I miss greatly, and that I will continue to miss until they are available to me again. That's just the way it is. But there are things that I like here, too - amenities to which I have grown quite accustomed, some that I am even fond of, that I know I will miss when our Asian tour is over.

Richard, for one. The Woodlands' version of the local milkman, Richard is the beloved neighborhood provisioner - the provider of provisions. Because so many people rely on public transportation or walking and biking to get where they're going, none of which are conducive to carting purchases around town, most retailers in Singapore offer delivery services. I order both meats and organic vegetables over the telephone each week, and the friendly drivers bring them right up to my door. For everyday groceries, though, I have Richard: a wonderfully cheerful man with an infectious smile who calls me every morning but Sunday at 9:30 on the dot to see what we need. I rattle off a grocery list that is perpetually missing at least one crucial item, and he arrives around 5:00 each evening, brings everything I requested into the house (he quit knocking a long time ago), sets it all on the counter, or in the tiny refrigerator, as appropriate, and races back out the door, all in less than a minute. It sounds rather immoderate doesn't it? I don't care. I love it. I can't remember the last time I went to the grocery store.

Of course, I'd give Greg's left arm for the opportunity to drive myself to Whole Foods or (sigh) Target. How I miss Target. And driving - another item on my most missed list is a readily accessible and self-directed means of transportation. I was quite attached to my vehicle back home: a nice, conservative, albeit rather self-indulgent, mid-size SUV. Fully equipped with all of the safety accoutrements that set my heart a-flutter: third row side curtain airbags, a boron steel cage - with vertical and horizontal beams, mind you - an electronic stability control system, super-duper crumple zones, and a camera that engaged when the gear shift hit reverse, enabling the driver to see anything lurking behind her, including small children and trash cans. Safety First - that's what my car was all about. It's also the number one Bennett Family Rule. A rule that I drill into the boys' heads at every opportunity, even while they're sleeping sometimes. There's nothing wrong with a little subliminal parenting, is there? Really. Is there?

Paradoxically, the inability to drive myself around not only frustrates me, it liberates me. Because although our decision to not get a car has been quite inconvenient on numerous occasions, I like not having to deal with the hassles that go hand in hand with vehicle ownership: I don't have to buy gas; I don't have to pay for car insurance; I don't have to search up and down and around for a parking space. I can hop in a taxi at my front door and alight at the door of my destination. On the few occasions Greg and I have had the opportunity to go out alone, we each were able to have a beer or two (or three), because we sure weren't going to be the ones driving home. It is, in a sense, a lessening of responsibility. Plus, I really wasn't a very good driver to begin with - an assessment with which Greg wholeheartedly agrees and of which I am not at all ashamed. Each of us has our own talents, after all. Driving just isn't one of mine. Neither is volleyball. If only the taxis in Singapore could be equipped with a boron steel cage…

Having just prepared dinner for my family, I should add kitchen appliances to my list of wish-I-hads. Not since my glorious days as a tenant in Ms. Anne Hebert's house have I lived without an automatic dishwasher. And I don't care for it, frankly. Nor do I care for the curious and infuriating absence of a garbage disposal. One really should have at least one of the two, don't you think? And the refrigerator. Mercy. Back in Texas, our great big, beautiful piece of cooling workmanship was my hands-down favorite household item. It could thaw a steak, cool some wine, and dispense cold, filtered water into your sports bottle in the blink of an eye. It held a week's worth of fruits and vegetables, fresh and frozen beef and poultry products, and enough ice to chill every neighbor's drink. Our current fridge, on the other hand, can store two days' worth of milk, three carrots and a carton of eggs. Period. And half the time the eggs inexplicably freeze and burst. It's pitiful.

And, not to ride the complain train too much, but did I mention that our washing machine does not have a hot water option? There is one connection, and it supplies cold water only. So, clever ang mohs that we are (that means Caucasian to those of you unfamiliar with Singlish), we purchased a hose that runs from the kitchen sink to the washing machine, a mere three meters really, to supply third-degree burn level hot water to our filthy, filthy clothes. A functional but frustrating solution, since the hose has to be attached for every warm-water load, then promptly removed, so we can still use the sink. Heaven forbid the dishes and the clothes need to be washed at the same time. It's a pain, I tell you! It wouldn't be such an issue if I didn't have to do laundry every single day - I have no idea what the boys do at school to get their unreasonably white uniform shirts so dirty.

The government almost makes up for our personal cleaning imbroglio, though, by doing their part to maintain our home environment: here in Singapore, we have garbage collection every day of the week. Including Sundays. It never piles up. It never gets the chance to stink, waiting in the can for collection day. You don't even have to bring your trash bins in from the street - there would be no point, really -  because they're coming the next day to take it all away again. That, I like.

I'd say that I won't miss the heat and humidity when we go home, but, with central Texas as our post-Singapore destination, who am I kidding? At least it never gets up to 112 degrees here. In fact, the temperature rarely exceeds 92 degrees Fahrenheit, but it hits that number pretty much every day (or at least it feels like it does), and the humidity is exhausting. All part of living (essentially) on the equator, I suppose. This brutal weather pattern is one of the things to which I have had the most trouble adjusting (I don't drink enough water, I've been told), and the thing which has most plagued our visitors.

Our most recent guest, the woman who cared for the boys every bit as much as I did during the first three years of their lives - beginning a mere one week after they came home from the hospital (the longest week of my life) - lamented the temperature every day she was here. I do think Hanan, or, as the boys call her, Naynay, enjoyed her visit, though, despite the oppressive climate conditions. It was obvious to all of us how much they have missed her the first night we had dinner, as Alec repeatedly leaned way over into her chair, gazing lovingly at her face, and breaking into spontaneous hugs every other bite. They love their Naynay. 

And all of us loved the Raffles, a world famous hotel just off of Orchard Road where Hanan, Greg, and I threw back Singapore Slings and Tiger Beers, the boys shelled and ate an astonishingly huge pile of peanuts, and all of us feasted on an a la carte seafood medley on the hotel's open air patio that was, by far, the best meal I have had in the past five months. Maybe longer. We will be taking all subsequent visitors to the Raffles.

As for evening entertainment in the land of the black spitting cobra, there aren't a whole lot of options, mostly because the only babysitters I have been comfortable using are visiting family members. So, we've been out on a few dates, but mostly we watch TV. I was hating the programming choices our first month here - of course, I was hating everything our first month here - but now it's not so bad. We faithfully watch two reality shows every week that have completely hooked us both: American Idol (Taylor is our choice, of course), and the Amazing Race (I like Ray and Yolanda, Greg likes the hippies). I am a little embarrassed to say that I just can't wait for the season finales. The comedy shows are all years old and boring, but the dramas are good - we partake in Grey's anatomy (season one) and all of the CSI flavors, at least one of which is on almost every night. You gotta love Jerry Bruckheimer. 

When the television has nothing to offer (and even when it does), Greg works on work, and I read or work on our family budget spreadsheet: a detailed accounting of every Singapore dollar that we spend, from taxi fares to Tiger beers. It's something else. We track all income and expenses, with a bar/line graph showing the delta and margin, for lack of a better term; we track month-to-month variant expenses, including the percentage spent on dining out vs. home-cooked meals; work-related vs. recreational transportation costs; and the total amount spent on each of 30 grocery categories, including milk and, as I mentioned, beer (neck and neck expenses most months). No penny spent goes unrecorded. I am not sure whether I love it or hate it.

To liven things up during the weekend days, and in hot pursuit of an activity that would require the expense of some of our children's boundless energy, we signed the boys up for T-ball and joined the American Club. It may seem nonsensical, and counterproductive to the whole multi-cultural experience goal, to journey to a foreign land and join a group of people native to your own, but this place has a great pool (and the best cheeseburger on the island). Plus, only 51% of the members have to be American, so, technically, we are branching out. We spend almost every Sunday afternoon watching the boys swim their little hearts out, then we go home for an early dinner and a pre-dusk bedtime for everyone under the age of six. It gives them some much-needed rest, and gives us some much-needed down time.

When school lets out for the summer (am I the only one with Alice Cooper singing in my head when I say that?), we probably will spend the majority of our time at the club. I, for one, feel a bit ambivalent about the impending vacation. Although we have a few weeks of abbreviated summer school planned, we will have a lot of "free" time to ourselves, the three of us, just waiting to be filled with all manner of entertainment, the specifics of which are a complete mystery to me. The boys' teachers, though, are eager for the break, I am sure. Although they seem to care a great deal for our little ones, I have no doubt that they are looking forward to a little relief from the clever rascals who draw anatomically correct body parts with coloring more true to life than I ever would have imagined possible from Mr. Sketch markers ("So I can remember what it looks like, Mommy").

Next August they will start kindergarten, and shortly thereafter they will turn six. Where has the time gone? Before I know it, our 30 months in Singapore will be over, a fact that excites and saddens me at the same time. I can't believe how quickly life moves sometimes. I know we will look back on this whole expatriate experience, once it is irrevocably over, as one of the best of our lives, so I am trying my best to slow down and enjoy each moment, as it is, and not try to change it into what I think it should be if I were a perfect parent or if this was the perfect place. I'll let you know how it goes…

Take care,
Shannon et al.

p.s. For those of you wondering about the other Bennett Family Rules, and to record them so I don't forget them myself (although the boys can recite all of them, along with a little color commentary about each one), here they are, in order of establishment:

  1. Safety First
  2. Treat other people the way you want to be treated
  3. Do everything you can to help your community
  4. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all
  5. Hook 'em Horns
  6. All people are created equal
  7. Always tell the truth
  8. Take responsibility for your actions

:)

Hanan & Alec


Cameron


Alec at the American Club


a "Singapore Sling" from the Raffles Hotel


Cameron at school


Alec

 

Cameron, Hanan, & Alec

 

a baseball secret?

 

Alec being a superhero at school

 

Hanan & Cameron

 

Alec

 

another secret...

 

Hanan & Cameron

      

Alec & Zachary at school

 

                 

Alec

         

a demonstration of some sort...

 

Alec

 

 

Alec

              

Cameron

          

waiting to bat