Weeks 4 & 5: Settling In
(01/09/06)

The beautiful, tiny, bat-ridden country of Singapore currently houses an uncomfortably large number of black spitting cobras and 4.4 million people. Of those, the 2000 census states that 76.8% are Chinese, 13.9% are Malaysian, 7.9% are Indian, and 1.4% are "others." Our bank account application form classifies us as others. I have noticed though, that most of the others in our category are not like us - most are either European or Australian; very few are American. By virtue of Greg's insanely large collection of UT and Texas t-shirts, I think we have met most of the Americans in Singapore by now, including one Aggie family. :)

Being in such a vast minority is a different, but also quite amazing, experience. We stand out in every crowd. With two children who look just alike, we stand out even more. But our obvious foreign status has not been an uncomfortable one - although we attract attention everywhere we go, it has been consistently positive attention.

During our first week here, we were approached by a man at the bus stop who noticed the boys, and came over to talk to us. After complimenting the children (and patting them on the heads - everyone here seems to want to touch them), he asked us how we, as Americans, perceive Muslims. He quickly launched into a passionate monologue, telling us that they are not all violent, that most are peaceful people. He was very concerned that we might think everyone of his faith held the beliefs of the radical extremists who seem to dominate the news, and he was determined to ensure that we do not suffer from any such  misconceptions. He never raised his voice. When he finished, he shook the boys' hands and walked away.

In our third week here, the boys and I visited one of the many public parks in Singapore, most of which are bigger than Zilker Park in Austin. While we were exploring one huge playground area, it started to rain, as it does almost every day. We found shelter and lunch at a nearby McCafe - there is a McDonald's of some sort on virtually every corner, some with a delivery service (yes, it's called McDelivery). When we were ready to head for home, I realized that I did not have my cell phone, so I asked one of the employees where I could call a taxi. Rather than rolling her eyes and directing me across the street and through the deluge to a public phone, she called the taxi company for me; and once it arrived, she made sure another employee walked us to the cab with an umbrella so we wouldn't get soaked. Amazing.

Everyone in this interesting little country has treated us with kindness and respect since we arrived, despite the semi-barrier of language differences (English words spoken with a Chinese accent sound very different from the same words spoken with a Texas accent). Each new person we encounter, from the taxi drivers to the grocery clerks, is anxious to know how we like their homeland, and eagerly answers questions on any topic we present. This experience already has proven to us over and over again that the world really is one big community, and that we need to do our part to maintain its relationships.

Speaking of communities, we moved out of the serviced apartment and into our rental house the Friday before New Year's Eve. That afternoon we met one of our new neighbors, who has a son the boys' age, and he invited us to a cookout. We got to eat grilled chicken and hotdogs, and we got to hang out with five families who live nearby, one of which is from Houston, and all of which have at least three children. Most of them seem to work for the oil/gas industry, but there are a few from Dell, too. All of them have extensive expatriate experience, and they offered lots of good advice on living abroad.

After living in the new house for a week with rental furniture, the slow boat to China arrived with all of our belongings. As the very polite and patient crew of ten brought in and unpacked box after box of furniture, clothes, toys, and all of the other crap we own - most of which we didn't even miss for the first five weeks we were here - Greg and I both were a bit ashamed at the excess of it all. Although we went through everything very carefully before we left, and pared down our stuff to what we thought was the bare minimum, the necessity - or lack thereof - of much of it was all too evident after living quite happily without it. I am now feeling a bit like Leona Helmsley, as she refuted charges that her lifestyle was excessive: "I was simply furnishing a home. I love music… and I don't think a $130,000 indoor-outdoor stereo system is extravagant."

So, as we go through the tedious process of putting everything into an appropriate place, with virtually no storage options (each bedroom has a very small clothes closet, but there is no garage, and there are no other closets in the house), we are reassessing every shirt, plate, and lego, and setting aside what we won't use or don't need for a local charity. We have a long way to go…

We also have a way to go on our food tolerance and enjoyment efforts. I think I have - finally - become desensitized to the mysterious and unpleasant aroma that seemed to hang in the air everywhere we went for the first few weeks; and I find myself actually enjoying some of the local food. Greg has been eating like a local every day at work, and is no worse for the wear, although he says that he would do just about anything for some Tex-Mex enchiladas (Jorge's #5 lunch special). :) Cameron continues to eat anything we put in front of him, but Alec insists that "everything tastes different here," so he has been surviving primarily on cashews and pistachio nuts. Surely he will adjust eventually?

The highlight of this past week was, of course, the national championship win for the Longhorns. Greg claims that this long-awaited victory was the pinnacle of the sports world for him, and he is taking at least partial credit for the victory, since he says it probably wouldn't have happened if he was in the States. Quite the pessimist, lah.

The boys start school Wednesday, and I am looking forward to their first day with great relief (and a little guilt at the extent of my relief). As much as I love those strong-willed little people, having sole responsibility for their care, entertainment, and discipline during the day for nearly six weeks has worn me out. I think I may just sit in a chair and stare silently at the wall all day Wednesday. And maybe Thursday.

Overall, things are going well in Southeast Asia. The only things we are missing right now (other than comfort food and the dishwasher) are our friends and family, and we miss you all terribly.

Take care,
Shannon et al.

 

Alec and Cameron, right after the Longhorns' National Championship victory

Cameron & Alec


Cameron


Alec


Cameron


Alec

Cameron

 

Alec, catching bubbles

Cameron

 

Alec

Cameron

 

Alec & Cameron

 

Cameron & Alec