Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fierce Creatures

We have learned that not everyone here loves animals. Some people have religious reasons. That I appreciate, though I do not understand. Others are simply unreasonably, pants shittingly terrified. Here are a few examples from the last couple of hours:
The condo that we live in is being sold. This is not a big deal in general. There is a clause in our lease that states that we will continue to live hear at the same rental price for the duration of our lease, regardless of who the owner is. A while back we had a number of people come and see the place. Today, an appraiser from the bank came to look around. She rang the door bell, and I picked up Benson, anticipating that afraid or not, she might not want a strange dog jumping on her. So I open the door, Benson in my arms, and she comes in, looking a little nervous. Then she saw PJ laying on the floor, and attempted to climb the nearest wall to get away. To be clear, PJ was doing what she always is doing if she is not begging for food... lying around on the floor. In order for her to come in the house, I had to put the cats in the two separate bathrooms, and assure the appraiser that the cats could not open the doors. Then she needed to see that bathrooms, and she had to go back outside, while I moved the two cats to the guest room, which she had already surveyed.
Later this evening, after dinner, Erin took Benson to the second floor walking area for a little walk and bathroom time. From our apartment on the fourth floor, I could hear a child scream at the sight of Benson. As anyone who has met our pets knows, they are not exactly frightening creatures.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Zoo

Yesterday we took a trip to the zoo. Erin and I had been once before, when we visited last year, but we thought it would be fun to go with Zach and his entourage. It is a holiday weekend here, so the place was pretty crowded, but we had a good time. Below are a couple of highlights and observations:
This is Zach at the Pygmy Hippo exhibit. They are incredible, adorable creatures, but Zach was intrigued by the turtles. To be fair, the turtles were cool as well, and more active than the Pygmy Hippos.
Cheetahs have pin heads. Really... I don't care how fast they run, they look dumb.
Malaysian Sun Bears are the smallest species of bear on earth. They also (a) have the coolest name, and (b) are ridiculously adorable. This one is sleeping in a tree, and nearly falling out.
This scene struck me as funny. There is a line of people trying to use a vending machine that is clearly identified as being out of order.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Frustration and Podcasts

I have a confession to make: I am having kind of a hard time adjusting to life here. For lots of reasons. I am bored. I want a job, and I feel frustrated that I am not getting more responses than I have received. I could complain, and wish for better, but there is an expression about wishing in one hand, and well... I know which hand will fill up faster. So despite the frustration I keep looking, and keep being nice to people, and keep taking advice, even if it makes me uncomfortable, like calling or emailing their friends who may or may not know someone who may or may not be willing to talk to me. Actual jobs are never even mentioned. And then there are the agencies, tons of them that post the same jobs, and I apply to them all, and do not hear anything from any of them. Yes, its frustrating, and sometimes I let it define me. I don't hear anything, so I must be a loser. Other times, I know that I am a pretty decent guy, who really wants to work and can do a really great job. And maybe people just can't see that from my CV.
And we miss home. The New York Marathon is this weekend, and right now I am torturing myself, thinking about how great it would be to be able to see my big brother and my good friend Matt run this race in the city at the center of the universe. And the following weekend is the Richmond Marathon, and that is like a high school reunion for me... better, actually, because I like the people that I ran with.
So that is the bad. I get a little bored, I get a little crazy without the structure of having a defined goal (i.e. a job to do with tasks to accomplish). Which is nonsense, of course. I have goals. I am supposed to be training for a marathon here, which I may or may not be running. I cook dinners, and take care of pets, but I wonder if I can be completely content doing only those things day after day. I know one thing that will help. I run a Bloomberg like ticker of airline ticket prices when I start missing home. That is probably not helping, and I need to stop. I find myself saying things like, "Erin, ANA is down to $1200 with fees included, I'm moving it from my hold list to my buy list, this thing is hot... HOT!" Its like living with that Mad Money dipshit.
So what do I do to feel good about being me today? I hang out with my friends, and we drink coffee, and laugh and joke. I go to the gym, and I read, and I do my favorite thing in the world right now: listen to podcasts. This time in my headphones makes me so happy. I learn things. I can be on a crowded train, and completely unaware of what is going on around me because I am so engrossed in what I am hearing.
Sidebar: I am surprised that more people here do not miss their train stops. Allow me to explain... People here work insanely long hours, and are therefore ridiculously tired when they get on the train in the morning. It looks like Mardi Gras, the morning after on the train at 6am, minus the vomit (usually). People slumped over, eyes closed, seemingly unconscious. I am surprised that these people do not have to be rousted when the train reaches the end of the line, but somehow, people get where they are going.
Okay, back to me. My favorite podcasts include the usual line up of This American Life and the Moth, along with Freakonomics Radio and Planet Money. Who knew that I guy with no interest in finance, and who is in fact quite bad with money, would find so much joy in listening to stories about economics, the financial industry, etc.
And even better, these Podcasts point me to other media, like books and television that I might enjoy. I was listening to another favorite podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, and he interviewed Patton Oswalt, who raved about Battlestar Gallactica in a way that made it appealing even to me (decidedly not a sci fi guy). We are currently making our way through the first season. On another occasion, Ira Glass highly recommended the book The Big Short, about the housing market disaster... I loved it.
And the best part of all is that this incredibly smart, hugely entertaining stuff is available FOR FREE. And the ones that are not free, like archive episodes of TAL, are available for next to nothing.
Any one have any other favorite podcasts to suggest to me or the halves of dozens of other readers of my blog.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Busy Week... Sort Of

We have been pretty busy this last week, by my new standards of things anyway. Friday night we had dinner at Kudeta, on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands. The view was amazing, even if there was a ton of smoke in the air from the fires in Indonesia. The restaurant has apparently only been open for a few weeks now. The food was great, and the company was as well. I ordinarily do not enjoy getting dishes for the whole table to share, but our de facto host suggested that we do this, and I was glad that we did. We got to try a lot of different dishes, things I might not necessarily have ordered, and enjoyed nearly all of them.
This is the view. Pretty amazing, right?

Here is a picture I took one afternoon this week:
Partners in crime, these two are.

Tuesday, Erin and I went to see Vampire Weekend at the the Esplanade Theater. They put on a great show, and played almost every song from both of their albums. Musically, they are as good as their studio stuff, which is impressive, and the vibe of the show was nice. There were a lot of well behaved teenagers their (for the most part), and it brought a really good energy to the show. Lots of kids from the international schools.
Other highlights from the last few days: Last night for dinner, I made a Boyce family favorite... Crunchy Meat. It probably goes by other names, but it involves boneless pork loin, pounded flat with a mallet, breaded, and cooked. I was pretty nervous making this, as I have never breaded anything in my life. I had to confirm with Skip three or four times the exact order of things, and some of the specifics. In the end, it turned out well. And it was delicious.
And finally, Benson got a bath today.
As I said, busy by my standards, but not all that exciting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sumatra is Burning

Since saturday, there has been a smokey haze over the city. This happened once before, just for a day or so, and we were told that it was due to fires in Indonesia. This time there was no question as to the cause. Not only does the air look hazy, it actually smells like smoke. And its only gotten worse. I have tried to take pictures, using my phone, but t never does the haze justice. Here is the best one that I have gotten, taken five stories above ground from the pool at my gym.

Its hard to even tell that those are buildings in the background. I saw a newspaper today that said this was the worst air quality the city has experienced in years. Its probably the worst air quality I have ever seen, with the exception of being in Florida once, very near some forest fires, and there was actually ash visibly floating in the air. Erin tells me that people at her office have been sick all this week. That can't be good for any one. 
I was thinking earlier today that this would not be good marathon weather. Hot, humid, and the air literally thick. 
Tomorrow we are having dinner at the top of the Marina Bay Sands, so we are hoping that there might be some improvement in the conditions between now and then. The big draw there, in addition to the food, is the view. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Personal Training

I know that I am not in the very best shape of my life. I do, however, like to assume that I am in at least relatively good shape. I am not running as much as I would like. The heat is a bit stifling, and the humidity makes me feel as though I am running in soup. I do run though. I think that should count for something.
When Erin and I joined the gym recently, we also purchased three personal training sessions each. We thought, "we are paying for the gym, it would be good to know how to use all of the equipment, and do it right." The first session began with a fitness assessment. Think middle school gym class... One minute of sit ups, one minute of push ups, sit and reach, chin ups, running, balance, and my favorite, the body fat percentage. Mercifully, unlike middle school gum class, our gym does not use the fat calipers to take a pinch of the arm and leg to make the calculation. You simply stand on a scale and as though by magic, it spits out a number. All of these various components are added up. The total score for the entire assessment is out of a possible 24 points. Mine... Well, not so good.
And then the real work began. Legs, arms, chest, shoulders, abs, back...
I woke up the next day in pain. Terrrible, awful pain. That was Sunday. Friends helpfully reminded me that Monday the pain would likely be worse. It was. On Tuesday I returned for my second session. This morning the pain is only kind of bad. I think that is likely due to me spending as much time as I could in yesterday's session stalling. I took a little longer at the water fountain than was necessary. If that didn't work, then I just laid on the floor with my towel over my face in between sets and grunted at my trainer if he suggested we move on. I will surely be in perfect shape in no time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I wish I was cooler than I am

When I was back in the States, I went through my CDs and imported a bunch of songs that I did not previously have on my computer. When we moved here, I had to leave the CDs, and I missed some of the music. So when I come back to Singapore, I am listening to some of the music on the computer, and playing some of it for Erin. A lot of it was stuff that I haven't listened to for a long time, and in many cases, music I thought I was simply too cool or too sophisticated for these days (not that I think that my current tastes are all that sophisticated). I want to believe that I am too cool to listen to Jimmy Buffett, but as I was playing it for Erin, and thinking about how I still know every word, I realize that I am not as cool as I think I am. When I was younger, I would listen to music for hours at a time, usually late at night while playing video games. I would listen to Jimmy Buffett's boxed set, or Peter Gabriel's greatest hits, or a handful of others... and I knew every word to every song. Twelve or fifteen years later, I still do. And I still love it. Its maybe not as much who I am anymore, but its still part of who I am. And thats okay. I would probably rather not admit that I have seen Jimmy Buffett in concert 5 times, but I have, and there was a reason. I loved that stuff. I do have to wonder, though, if I might not have done better in college or graduate school if my brain were not filled with song lyrics and other facts and information that I filled my head with in those days and still can recite today.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Benson and the red poodles

We took Benson for a walk this afternoon, and he met yet another red miniature poodle. I don't know what it is about them, but he attracts them, and he has the best time with them. We let him off his leash, and instantly this little guy charges towards us. It is such a great sight to watch B run around and have a great time with another dog.
The weekend has been uneventful otherwise. We had a nice dinner last night at Boomerang, the Australian restaurant on the river where we took Benson and ate kangaroo. Benson had other plans last night, so it was just Erin and me. When we visited there previously, there was a mother cat living in the bushes with two kittens. Three months later, we saw one of the kittens wandering around, significantly larger than the last time we saw it.
Erin had a slightly more eventful weekend, taking part in a walking relay that her company sponsored for charity. Her leg was from 3am to 6am Saturday morning. Erin did discover where the transgendered ladies of the night hang out at the that hour of the night. In case anyone wants to know, just ask my lovely wife.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Back in Singapore... Again

We arrived home from Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, and took it pretty easy last night. Well, Erin took it easy. My life is all about taking it easy right now, so it was mostly a normal evening for me. Benson was thrilled to see us and get bailed out of the kennel. He is becoming quite used to riding in taxis. The cats were starving when we got home, but they always act like that.
When I was back in town earlier this week for a couple of days, I went to a gym with a friend to check it out. Exercise was one of those things that I have been doing, but not to the extent that I really should considering the amount of time on my hands. So I met with a membership person on Monday, and Erin and I have 3 day trial passes starting today. This gym has 9 locations around town. So this morning, after my usual coffee with friends I went to another location to scope it out. I know that my simple observations are probably wearing thin, but its little differences that I find fascinating between my life in the states and my life here. So at the gym, they provide clothes in which to exercise (you can bring your own if you choose, thankfully). In context of the pace of life here, it makes since (I am still not wearing them). People take the MRT into the city in the morning from some corner of the island. Not far, but time consuming. They bring lots of stuff with them every day, and most people do not have a car in which to store all of this stuff. So they have to carry it all on their back in bags and briefcases. In that context, I doubt they want to carry clothes they sweated in at the gym for an hour in the morning around with them the rest of the day. Also, I will never make use of these loaner clothes for fear that an employee will see me exercising, and sweating gallons, and say that I am far too sweaty and stinky to be allowed to borrow clothes.
Another great benefit that they provide at the gym (albeit a strange one) is free sodas, coffee and tea. That alone is enough to sell me on the place. If they had wifi, I would probably never leave.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Hong Kong

This morning I decided that I would go to a local attraction called "The Peak." I had no idea that HK is as hilly (or possibly mountainous) as it is. Before leaving Singapore, a friend had told me about this train that takes people to the top of one of these hills. Its very popular and offers spectacular views of the city. I have to say that the view was pretty spectacular, and my friend was right about another aspect of the experience as well. He told me that the tram ride up and down is VERY steep. I tried to take a picture from the tram to do the grade of the hill justice, but I just couldn't. So here are some pictures from the experience:

Keep in mind that these are GIGANTIC skyscrapers, and I am above all of them.

And the tram I rode in on...

And this is the building that tram drops visitors off at when they reach the top of the peak. This is also the building from the top of which I took the previous pictures...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Out of Sequence Photo

While I would prefer to keep my blog in time order (if not necessarily completely up to date), I took a picture yesterday in Singapore, that I will now post in the midst of my trip to Hong Kong. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I wake up early to take Benson out and feed all the pets. This process usually begins at 4:30 with P.J. beginning to beg for breakfast, followed by between a half hour and an hour or me trying to ignore her while she enlists the other animals to beg and make noise as well. Between 5 and 6, I get up, take the boy out, and slop the hogs. At this point I have two options... I can get back in bed, and sleep until who knows when (and feel not so good about myself) or I can start my day. So start my day I usually do. This involves taking the train to the Esplanade station, walking through the underground link to the City Hall Station, and having a cup of coffee at the 24 hour Starbucks there before walking to Raffles Place where I will have more coffee with friends at 7:30.
This past weekend was the F1 race in Singapore. The race is run at night on city streets. This is a huge undertaking, closing the streets, setting up seats and fences, and then taking it all down again. So yesterday morning I am making the walk from City Hall to Raffles place, and realize that the trip might be more complicated than usual, since all of the fences are still up. With some difficulty, I made it through the maze, and along the way, captured this scene, which struck me as kind of amazing for some reason.

Hong Kong

Erin and I left for Hong Kong this morning... at 6:50 a.m., meaning that we had to get up at 4 a.m. to get ready and get to the airport. On the upside, my jet lag from my return trip to the States was working in my favor. I went to sleep at 8 p.m. last night, and felt relatively refreshed when the alarm went off. The flight was uneventful, and we took an amazingly clean, modern train from the airport to city, and then a cab to the hotel. We have been here just a couple of hours, but I did discover a fun fact: Starbucks in Singapore have Equal but not Splenda, while Starbucks in Hong Kong have Splenda but not Equal. Amazing, right. Also, here they have actual cream for the coffee, unlike some small island nations, that shall remain nameless, that only have whole milk.
Not so fun fact: HK may be even more expensive than Singapore. We had noodles and dumplings at a local place today, and it was $86 HK. Not as expensive as it sounds if you don't know the exchange rate, but still pricey by my new standards of local cuisine.
Below is a picture from our hotel room window here. We are right on the harbor.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back in Singapore

I arrived back in Singapore late Saturday night. Erin was waiting for me at the airport, which was lovely. Upon arriving home and greeting the pets, I collapsed into bed. I woke up early Sunday morning, and met some friends for coffee. I spent the rest of the day with Erin just relaxing at home, listening to music and catching up on Project Runway. We had a delicious dinner last night at Skip's (lasagna... my favorite thing he makes), and by 10 pm I was back home and unconscious.
I was up early again this morning, heading into the business district for coffee with friends, and it occurred to me that I had missed Singapore while I was in the States. Of course I missed Erin and the kids. That I knew. But I also missed my new friends, and parts of my life here. And then I went to Starbucks, got a coffee, dropped my stirrer in the cup, realized it was too short for the cup, had to stick my fingers into the steaming hot liquid to retrieve it, and silently cursed this city.
The trip to the States was enlightening (and bittersweet). I knew it would be strange to go "home," because I don't have a home there. I am a guest everywhere I go. And I have been having a hard time adjusting to life here, with no job yet, and lots of time on my hands. But something unexpected happened. I realized that I had forgotten what I came here for, the goals I had. I said if I didn't have a job, I would spend my days working out, reading and learning. I Have done very little of any of those things.
So once again, when I am faced with a difficult situation in my life, I remember my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies... and I remember that Raymond K. Hessel should start becoming a veterinarian now, and I should stop waiting for things beyond my control to happen to start living my life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Things that go through my head when I run

I went for a long run yesterday at MacRitchie Reservoir, as I did last Monday. I was disappointed last week because there are signs everywhere advising visitors not to feed the monkeys but I saw not a single monkey. Only a giant lizard. Doubly disappointed.
This week I was pleased to see that monkeys really do live in the park. Some moron was feeding fish in the lake with bread or something, and got upset when a monkey showed up for a handout. I am no expert on the habits of Singapore's wildlife, but I learned very quickly that where there is food and a bunch of trees, monkeys will show up looking for a meal.
Running here on the equator is hot. And humid. And miserable. Until I am finished, and then I think, "I can't wait to do that again." Last week I tried out these trails for the first time, and I did not know that there were lockers and changing areas available. I had brought nothing other than some water, my keys and my iPod. This was not a problem for me, but it was for the other passengers on the train and the bus that I took home. Yesterday I decided to be considerate, and bring a change of clothes now that I new I had a place to store things while I ran. Last week my iPod had not been charged, and it lost what power it had almost immediately, but yesterday I planned ahead and made sure it was charged.
When I run, and listen to music, lots of things go through my head. If I am running a race its all numbers. I look at my watch constantly, and calculate how fast I have to run to make my goal time, etc. I ran a few races back in the spring where I made a conscious effort not to look at my watch. That combined with the shape I was in at the time proved to be a successful strategy for a PR in two back to back half marathons and a 10k. But I am back to staring at my watch. On yesterday's run, I was totally unconcerned about time, only about being on my feet for nine miles, regardless of how long it took me. So my mind was free to wander. The great and mysterious thing about running is that my mind almost always stays in a happy place. I listen to music, and I start making lists of top 5 songs of this or that category, a la one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity. Top five covers, top five true rock and roll songs, etc. So yesterday, I was thinking about songs that are perfect, just the way they are. Songs that could not be improved upon, in any way. These are not necessarily my favorite songs, but they are great, and I love them. Also, when I do this, I have a hard time rounding out 5, so this list only has 4. Also, this isn't necessarily a category that is limited, since its not truly a "top" 5, just a short list I came up with. Here goes:
"Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals - this was the song that inspired the list. I was listening to it, and thought, this song is amazing. Its absolutely perfect.
"Tangled Up In Blue" by Bob Dylan - I have said before that I want to believe that Dylan is over rated, then I hear something like this, and I know I am wrong.
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley - Simply... Beautiful.
"Here it Goes Again" by OK Go - Silly pop can be perfect, too. I may be unduly influenced by the fact that this song has the greatest music video of all time, but I don't think there is anything that could make this song better or catchier.

What have I left out? Comment and share what songs would make your list.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Birds

A couple of weeks ago I was doing some laundry in our outdoor laundry area (the washer is on the porch, and the dryer is in our storage area off the porch), and a bird came and sat on the ledge a few inches away from me. It freaked me out a little, and no matter how much I tried to get him to go away, I couldn't. I didn't resort to flailing or poking at him, for fear of him attacking me, but I made noises, and shooed at him and the like. I ended up going in side, and leaving the laundry out by the dryer until later in the day when the bird had cleared out. For a half hour after I went inside, PJ sat at the window meowing at the bird and batting at the window. Again, no reaction from the little critter (he is a small to medium size black bird, kind of like a really small crow). Flash forward a few days and the same thing happens to Erin. I tell her that I had this experience, and it freaked me out, and she implied that I might be a wimp. Flash forward again to Monday afternoon. Erin and I are enjoying some National Day rays by the pool, and this same bird (I am sure its the same bird), comes and perches at the top of a deck chair right next to Erin, inches from her head. She gets freaked out (I do not imply that she might be a wimp). She eventually shoos him away.
The next morning, Erin is taking Benson out for a walk on the second floor. There are some condos that have patios that face this walkway, and on one of these patios is a small barky dog. Erin stops to talk to the owners, and the bird is sitting on own of their shoulder's. Apparently, they have taken care of the little fellow since he was a baby and fell out of his nest. He is sort of their pet now, but also flies around free, wreaking havoc on people doing their laundry or trying to enjoy a nice afternoon by the pool.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I was reflecting on running earlier this evening, and my thoughts turned to how it all got started. In the spring of 2005, I watched my brother run the Monument Avenue 10k. That year there were about 15,000 runners, I think. It was a big race. We waited at the finish line, and watched the runners come in, my brother among them. It was amazing. I had no idea what it took to run that far. In high school, I had difficulty completing the one mile run. And the best part of the Monument Avenue is the crowd. The finish line is crazy. I was inspired. I thought, "One day, I want to do this." The following year was a big one in my life. I got married, I changed jobs and began my career in Clinical Research, I started doing some things differently, and in late December, 2005, I started running. I am usually not one to make a resolution about some kind of life change and stick to it, with one or two notable exceptions. I was not hopeful that this would stick, but as soon as registration opened at the end of December, Erin and I signed up. We started small. I ran around the parking lot at our apartment complex. I did the elliptical at the gym for 15 minutes. A week before the race, I ran 6 miles for the first time. Like many races, the Monument Avenue asks for a predicted finish time when you register. I had pulled a number out of the air... 55:00. Race day came, and I had done the work. I finished in just under fifty five minutes. That fall, my brother ran his first marathon. Again, I was inspired. I had kept up the running, going six or even eight miles at a time. I thought, "I want to do that, one day." A month later, I started training. And in March of 2007, I ran my first marathon. Again, when I registered, I picked a finish time out of the air. My brother was one of two people I had met that had run a marathon, that I knew of. I didn't know what was fast, or what was reasonable. When asked for my projected time, I thought 4 hours sounded reasonable, having no idea that many serious runners (not olympians, but people fitter and healthier than me) agonize for years to break 4 hours. And I did it.
In the few years since, the Monument Avenue 10k has grown to over 30,000 runners, and its still a great race. I have run three more marathons, and never broken 4 hours again. I have run a bunch of half marathons, coached a 10k training team two years in a row, and traveled pretty far to run some races.
Every time someone asks me how I got into running, I tell the story about watching my brother run the 10k. He really inspired me. I'll never be as fast as him. I can only chase him. He ran a marathon, I wanted to run a marathon. He qualified for Boston, I hope one day I will. He has inspired me. Really. In a very specific way. I can point to this thing in my life, and say, I do that because he did, and I wanted to, and he was a really great example. And because of him, I have inspired other people. Other people have seen what I have done, seen how excited I get about it, seen me at dinner parties, and heard me talk of nothing else when I zero in on the other runner in the group, and maybe they have thought, "if he can do it, then surely I can to." In most cases, they would be right.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Benson Update

We discovered quickly that we learned the names of the dogs at the park very quickly, yet we know none of the people's names. There are Carlos and Emma, the poodles, Timmy and Bobby, the miniature schnauzers, Muffin, the golden retriever, Blue, the chihuahua, Duchess, the shih tzu and Toby, the labradoodle, among many others. I know all of these dogs, and I recognize their owners, but don't know the owners names. And they know Benson. Lots of people know Benson. Today, I was taking him out for a walk, and we were walking through the gate at our condo complex. A man looks at Benson, waves at him, says hello, and calls him by name. Here is the strange part. I don't remember this guy. He is not a dog owner from the park. I described the guy to Erin, and she didn't remember him. We must have met him at some point, but only once, and apparently very briefly, maybe in the elevator. Benson is becoming quite a celebrity around the building and around the park. Maids, nannies, dog owners and others... the boy makes an impression. There is one maid that we see most afternoons who walks a Westie. Every time she sees Benson, she starts calling his name and waving at him ("Ben-Son! Ben-Son! Ben-Son!"), from across the park, until I bring the boy over to say hello to her and the Westie. Other reports from the Benson front: there are grates in the parking lot, narrow things that drain water, and Benson insists on either walking around them, to the narrow piece of the driveway where the grate stops, or he gets a running start and jumps over them. I guess he is getting used to walking on a leash in a new environment. When we take him to the park, he also insists on sniffing every lamp post that we walk past, which is a little tedious, since they are placed every 20 feet or so.
Also, anytime I eat a peanut butter sandwich or a pop tart, he sits next to me and barks until I share with him.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our stuff is here

In 2006, Erin and I went to Thailand for the second time. We visited the Northern part of the country with Skip. We rode an elephant, we stayed at the nicest hotel I have ever seen. Then we took a trip to a place called Pai (pronounced By, I am told). We chose Pai because the son of one of Skip's friend's lived there. He played in a band at a club called the Bee Bop. The town was full of young people... lots of Europeans and Israelis. Daniel, Skip's friend's son, lived in a hut, with no air conditioning, and maybe no running water. There may or may not have been electricity. This was an American guy, from a nice family, college educated, and, as best as I can tell, not on the run from anything. He lived there, in the manner I have just described, by choice. I admired him. Not enough to rent the hut next door, but still, I knew that if and when he chose to move back to the States, the comforts of modern western society would feel like... I can't even think of an appropriate metaphor. It reminded me of an experience I had years before, when I was in college (my experience seems weak in comparison, but this was where I learned that feeling). I took a camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the spring (1999, I think). It was just one night, but that was enough. I have never liked camping. I have several camping memories from childhood, none of them great (some of them funny, though, like a cub scout trip with my big brother, which ended with both of us very sick with the flu). Anyway, so this trip as a college student, sounded good in theory, but in practice came off badly. Most of the people on the trip were not really my crowd. They were very nice people, but they did not drink, smoke, and swear, which were my three favorite past times at that time in my life, and the only things that I thought make camping a worthwhile endeavor. So it was decided that rather than just go to a campground where we could park our cars and set up our tents, we would hike someplace, with all of our gear, and there was a lot of it for one night of sleeping in the woods, and then hike back out the next day. I had voted for the campground idea. The location that they decided on was up a very steep path, off of a very narrow road, with no sign indicating what the path led to. We had very vague directions. About a half hour or 45 minutes into the hike, it started raining. We walked a ways further, and decided that the rain was probably not going to stop, and we were probably not going to make it to the top of the mountain to the clearing and scenic view that we thought we were heading to (though I still do not know to this day if we were even on the correct trail for said clearing and scenic panorama). We found a rocky clearing, pitched our tents, and tried to start a fire (remember, it was raining). We had brought a bunch of food thinking that we would merrily warm it over a crackling fire. No fire, and not much food that could be eaten uncooked. I went to bed that night having eaten only a bowl of half cooked ramen noodles. It poured rain all night. The tent that I was sleeping in had been in someone's basement for decades, and began leaking almost immediately upon entering it that night. I woke up freezing cold and soaking wet before sunrise the next morning. We packed up, and headed off that mountain. The group stopped at the first restaurant we could find, a McDonalds, and had breakfast. It was the best meal of my life. One night of discomfort and depravation made that Egg McMuffin taste better than anything else I have eaten in my entire life (and this is only mild hyperbole). I think I went back to the counter twice for more hash browns.
We got our furniture a few days ago. Sleeping in our own bed after a month on an air mattress was kind of like that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life During Wartime

This blog is not a tribute to the Talking Heads. But I tend to contextualize my thoughts with the songs that I love. I have a hard time staying on a normal schedule. Its not so bad when I have a real job, and I have to wake up at a regular time, work all day, and generally act like a responsible human being. Unfettered by such constraints, I revert to my natural instincts, which brings me back to the title of this post... "sleep in the daytime, I work in the night time." My habits always remind me of this song. I don't want my family back in the States to worry, though. I am fine. Let me repeat... I am fine. I am relatively happy and healthy. I just happen to get up at 6:45am, do a few things, have some coffee, and usually sleep from 11am to 2 or 3pm, and then get back up for the second shift from 3ish to around 2am. A little odd, perhaps, but I get things done. Benson seems to enjoy this schedule. He is never more than a couple of hours from a walk. If and when I get a job, he will not be pleased.
Last night I went to sleep around 11pm, and then woke up at 2am, unable to get back to sleep for a couple of hours. I went to the kitchen, and on the way there, I found this scene in the living room:

Strange things happen at that hour of the night.

Today I decided I needed a haircut. I have had my hair cut once since arriving here, but that shop is in another part of town, and, to be honest, the neck and shoulder massage that accompanies the haircut just weirds me out a little (probably wouldn't weird me out AS much if the lady cutting my hair wasn't 55 years old, 5'1" and a solid 185 lbs). So I had passed a bunch of these $10 fast haircut places, all of them located in MRT stations. So I gave one a try, and I have to say, it didn't turn out too badly. I mean, I wasn't as lucky as Benson, who got his best haircut ever here in S'pore, but for $10, at a subway station, I'm not complaining.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Benson Gets a Haircut

Today Benson had his first grooming appointment in Singapore. While there are many ways in which not having a car has had little impact on our lives, this is one area in which our own car would be very helpful. Dogs are not welcome in cabs, buses or trains, so we would either have to hire a pet taxi service, or rely on the kindness of someone with a car to help with arrangements. Luckily, Skip, Erin's dad, was willing to help out. So we took the boy over to the groomer, and they talked about how handsome he is, which is always a good way to put me at ease, and I left. A few hours later, we picked him up and he looks fantastic.

For the trip to the groomer, Skip had gotten directions online. He assumed, as most rational people would, that if you are going back the same way that you came, then you would not necessarily need to look up directions for the reverse route, if you have an IQ higher than that of the common gourd. Well, he, I, and most rational people would be wrong. So the ride back took about three times longer than the ride over there, but Benson was so exhausted from the grooming experience, he remained unconscious for the entire ride. And I don't just mean asleep. I mean, lift a paw, and it fell limply to his side, and he did not even open his eyes. But he has gotten some rest now, and seems genuinely happy to not have hair covering his eyes and not to have mats all over his underside.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Land of Shopping Malls

Tonight for dinner, Erin and I decided to head to a food court at a mall in the downtown area. Since we don't have pots, pans, plates, or utensils yet, this is a frequent and cost effective solution for meals. There are a couple of malls that we have been to several times now that have great food courts, and they are both only three train stops away. We got off the train, heading to one of these, and discovered yet another mall, and this one, like the other two, is also attached by a series of underground tunnels to that single train station. Shopping does seem to be the national sport here. I am not judging, mind you, just stating an observation. What is so unusual is that all of these malls have essentially the same stores. In fact, the one that we went to this evening (the newly discovered one) had two Starbucks, at least, no more than a few hundred yards from one another. One was on the second floor, and one was on the third floor. Again, I am not judging, or complaining. I like not having to move more than a few feet to find my next cup of coffee. I just wonder how all of these businesses can stay open when they are competing with other outlets of the same store that are just a few paces away. And this is just one train stop. Orchard Road, the shopping Mecca here in the city is the same but magnified to an exponential level.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

I do miss the celebrating the 4th of July. Its probably my second favorite holiday of the year. Today, sort of in honor of the holiday, at least, thats how I feel about it, we did a little patriotic sightseeing. Thats right, her in Southeast Asia. A new friend of mine is retired from the Navy, and staying here in Singapore for a short time on between merchant marine trips. This friend had captained a hospital ship for the U.S. Navy (the USNS Mercy), during the tsunami relief effort. He invited a number of people to take a tour of the ship while it is stopped here in Singapore between missions. I had heard it was pretty impressive, and I have to say, I was not disappointed. It has the capacity to house 1000 patients. Its big. And they do some really great work. In addition to disaster relief, they also do humanitarian missions, which is what they are doing right now. They are doing work with Operation Smile, operating on children with cleft palates. The ship has operating rooms, and even an interventional radiology suite. Pretty impressive.
Getting to the ship reminded me once again reminded me how far one can travel on such a tiny island. Two trains and a cab, and it took us about an hour to get there. I don't know how thats possible. But seeing new parts of the island is always interesting.
Tonight we had dinner with an acquaintance of Erin's from high school ( a good friend of her brother) and his fiance. They are a lovely couple and great company. I knew the guy was smart, but when he told us that he had taken the MCATs because he had some free time after he finished college, I knew he was on a whole other level. We had dinner at a "gourmet British pub" and watched the Argentina/Germany World Cup game. Everyone in the place was rooting for Germany, even though no one was from Germany.
I hope that everyone has a great Independence Day, and eats a hot dog and a hamburger in my honor.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Where is that large automobile?

The other day I woke up from a dream... I don't remember what about, but the first thought I had when I woke up was, "do I really live in Singapore, or was it a dream?" I really do live in Singapore. It is still hard to believe sometimes. I was interested in the land area and population size of Singapore, so I did a little research. Singapore is not a huge city, but big. About five million people. Thats a little bigger than San Francisco, Santiago, Chile, or Baghdad. No where near the size of New York, Tokyo, or Mexico City. I have to say I was a little disappointed. I was thinking that I had moved to a giant metropolis, and here I find out I am no where near the top ten.
On the the other hand, while it may not be the biggest of cities, its still pretty far from home, and its big enough, and there is a lot going on. I look around at the huge buildings, I realize its not Richmond Virginia. In the process of doing my informal research I also realized that Singapore is in the Indian Ocean. I never imagined that I would see the Indian Ocean... in my life. And now I live on a city state island IN the Indian Ocean. I don't know if I ever even imagined leaving Richmond, to live any way. I couldn't imagine moving to the Northeastern U.S. and now I live literally on the other side of the world, twelve (depending on the time of year) time zones from where I was born and raised.
I take public transportation. I don't own a car. I don't have a back yard, so I have to pick up my dog's poop in a plastic bag. I live in a high rise apartment building. I take my dog outside with the aid of an elevator. I have to buy groceries in small quantities because I can't put them in the trunk of the car, but instead have to carry them home by hand.
Not to mention the fact that I am not working. The thing that I have most feared for the last 7 years, since I started working after grad school: unemployment. And I chose this. I left my job with no job to go to, and move to the other side of the world.
None of this is bad, mind you. I have my Erin, my cats and dog. I have what I need, and I am making some new friends. I just find myself asking, "Well, how did I get here?"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The New Place

We moved into the new place yesterday, a little earlier than expected. I was a little bit apprehensive after our first night here. We had been living very close to a lot of restaurants, and other business, and a short bus ride to practically everything (except for quarantine). Last night, maybe because I was a little more tired than normal, I started feeling antsy, like we were so far from everything, and like our neighborhood is really depressing (I don't know how I arrived at that last conclusion).
In the light of day today, I gained new perspective, and after a few trips around town, I realize that we live in a great neighborhood, close enough to everything.
I took the bus into town earlier, from right in front of our building. There is only one bus line that runs from our place, and it comes about every 15 minutes. Tonight we walked to the MRT station (about a 10 minute walk), and took the train three stops down into the heart of downtown. I timed the trip home, from a wonderful food court, and it took a total of 34 minutes, door to door, and that included a stop at 7-11 for snacks, and a six minute wait for the train.
Before dinner, we took Benson for a walk in a park across the street from our building. There were tons of dogs, running around off their leashes. The owners were a great bunch of people from all over the world. Obviously they were nice people, they are dog people. One lady told us that there are groups of people that all walk their dogs at the same time every day, morning and evening. Not a formal meeting, but they get to know each other. That alone is enough to make me love the neighborhood. Also the dogs were really friendly, and Benson got along with them all. Dogs of all sizes... Golden Retrievers, a miniature poodle, a husky, a lab. Side note: red poodles are popular here. Miniature ones. They are adorable.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Pets are Out!

The pets got out of quarantine today. It is so good to have them with us. They seem to be doing pretty well. Lucy is hiding out, but she is doing okay. PJ and Benson seem, for the most part, unphased. I took Benson for a walk by the river behind the apartment a little while ago. He came back in and wallowed on the cool wood floors. Here are some pictures of Benson and PJ. Lucy hides every time I try to take her picture, so more on that later.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

On the menu

Last night Erin and I went walking in search of somewhere nice to eat. I had passed some places along the river earlier in the day while out for a run and suggested we check out some of those. We ended up at an Australian place called Boomarang. The place was packed because they had several flat screens, and it was after all, the first night of the world cup. I think people were staking out their tables hours before the game started, planning on just staying for hours, probably.
The food was great. There were a couple of interesting items on the menu, including peppered kangaroo loin, and pizza with kangaroo meat as one of the toppings. When I was little, my sister told me that Steak-Um, the mystery meat that we would sometimes have for dinner, was made of kangaroo. LIttle did she know that were it actually kangaroo, you could charge $40 a plate for it.
One other interesting thing about this restaurant... they allow dogs. Its an ope air place, and sure enough, people had their dogs lying on the ground next to their tables, or sitting on the bench between a couple at a booth. Needless to say, we will be back.

Friday, June 11, 2010

East meets West

It is about an hour trip each way to visit the animals in quarantine. I will be so glad when they are able to come home. Just two more days. Yesterday I listened to my iPod the whole way there and back. There is something wonderful about listening to distinctly American music, like Jerry Lee Lewis or Jay-Z, while riding a bus through a large Asian city. Its a great soundtrack, and a great accompaniment to my feelings... the usually loud American, alone on a bus full of locals, sitting quietly with obnoxious, fantastic music blaring secretly into his ears.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Camera Cord Found

I finally have been able to track down a cord to attach my camera to the computer, so I can now post pictures. Unfortunately, I have not been taking many pictures so far. Here is a good one, though.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Working Out

I have often said that if I did not have a job, I would run and exercise all day long. For the time being, I am going to have to live up to those statements. So far so good. Running in Singapore is not the easiest thing to do, but with six months until the marathon here, that I have already signed up for, I need to get used to it. Yesterday I made it 2 and a quarter miles, before deciding that I did not want to risk getting lost. Today, Erin and I were at about 2 and a third when thunder and lightning sent us indoors. I finished off the workout with 10 minutes of rowing. If I keep this up, and don't indulge in food quite as much as I would like, I might end up in great shape (especially considering that stepping outdoors is like taking a steam).

Day Three

We are beginning our third full day in our new city. I woke yesterday morning, and went for a run. I made it 2 and a half miles, which, given the heat, was an impressive accomplishment. We have looked at apartments, visited our pets in quarantine multiple times, and had a number of delicious meals, and all before we have passed out from jet lag immediately following dinner. I really want to post some pictures, but am still looking for the cord that attaches the camera to the computer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just a few more days in the States

Erin worked her last day in the States today, and at the conclusion of this holiday weekend, we will be on our way to our new home in Singapore. I have no job and no car. And as of today, no motor scooter. The house is almost empty. We are sad, and scared, but still very excited. We are missing our friends and our home already. Its not the easiest thing that we have done, but we have no doubts about our decision.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Believe the Hype

Went to New York this past weekend. It was pretty great, as New York is known for being. I haven't been since I was 17, and then did not stry too far from midtown, as out of towners from Virginia tend to do. I flew into JFK, and my friend Matt picked me up at the airport. We drove through Queens to his place in Brooklyn, past streets and places that I have heard of, but never seen. Everyone knows a little about New York, even if all you do is sit at home and watch Law and Order reruns. Queens Blvd. Astoria. The BQE. Williamsburg. Flatbush Ave. These are all part of my pop culture vocabulary. As we were crossing from Queens into Brooklyn, there was a sign over the road... a public, city funded sign, mind you... that reads "Brooklyn. Believe the Hype." What a fantastically New York slogan for a fantastic outer borough. I wish I had taken a picture, but I am self conscious about doing such things for fear of looking like a rube. That may be a fear I need to get over if I want to share my travels with others. All weekend, I took a grand total of one picture.
Upon arriving at Matt's place, we went for a short run around Park Slope, and then had some smoked brisket sandwiches for lunch. Then it was time to head into Manhattan to pick up our race packets for the half marathon. The New York Road Runners Club is headquartered in some super high dollar real estate in the Upper East Side, in a converted brown stone. That was the only time we spent in Manhattan above the Village. Back downtown, we had some chinese noodles in Alphabet City, and then headed back to Brooklyn.
The race on saturday started at 7 am. Bag check at the race was a stereotypical exchange with New Yorkers. We arrived there at ten minutes to seven, and apparently thats when bag check closed. I went to the table corresponding to my bib number, and was informed by a shouting man that bag check was closed, not to even try to hand him my bag, and that I needed to take it to late bag check.
The race itself was amazingly organized, with water stops every mile, an incredibly well marked course, and a fast pace on my part.One observation of note: New Yorkers are not nearly as likely as Virginians to run shirtless... fyi. Who is the bad ass now, Brooklynites? The race ended in Coney Island, on the Boardwalk. Luckily, I brought a shirt to wear after the race, because riding the train through Brooklyn shirtless in short shorts might have been ill advised. Matt assured me, though, that if I chose to, he had my back in case anyone tried to start something.
The rest of the day is blur of happy memories of tired legs, good food, China Town, the West Village, more good food, and good times with a good friend.
Brooklyn is awesome. Believe the hype.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Today was my last day at my job. I am officially unemployed until we make our big move. To my great surprise there was a cake and a card involved.
Tomorrow, because I am now a man of leisure, I leave for Brooklyn, New York. Why not celebrate a lack of income with a little vacation. Saturday I will be running the Brooklyn half marathon.