Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mean Women

I Skyped with a friend across the country this week and listened to her woes of Mean Women in her local philanthropic group.

She ended the story with, "I wish Rachel Simmons did a program for adults!"

I hear this. Fortunately I run from Mean Women as much as I can. As grownups, we can mostly choose who we want to spend our free time with and surround ourselves with people who are interesting, make us feel good or share the same values. Sometimes you just can't and this was my friend's situation.

Some women just thrive on the chaos. And others are just clueless to their role in it.

I counseled my friend that, in my opinion, the Intentional Meanies were compensating for things in their lives they can't control: the actions of their own aging parents, their portfolios, the state of their marriages. She should be proud of herself for holding her head high, remaining true to her values and actions, and ignoring the background noise.

We've all been there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grub in Singapore

Hillary and I did quite a bit of eating!

The first real restaurant she took me was Spruce, sort of a family-friendly mod treehouse. We had dinner there my first night with her husband and daughter. I had ahi and avocado. About halfway through the meal I hit the wall and they put me into a cab and sent me back to my hotel.

When I woke up the next morning we headed for Hatched, a breakfast-spot located in a hostel. $50 bought two egg entrees, one cup of tea, one cup of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and a lot of giggles at the crayon-drawing-style decor.

Dinner that night was at Jones the Grocer, an expat hangout featuring organic foodstuffs, private-labeled products, housewares and Spanish food. Seating was family style. This food emporium had an amazing cheese room, which I suspect Hil frequents given that she is married to a Frenchman.

Similar to with Neeracha in Bangkok, we had lovely tea service in the middle of the ION Mall. We tried to get into High Tea at the historic Raffles Hotel in the Colonial District but were turned away lacking a reservation. It was worth the trip just to see the property, which opened in 1887 and has meticulously groomed grounds, a contrast to the overgrown greenery elsewhere in Singapore. Tea at TWG was good and offered people watching, too; people in Singapore eat alternatively with both hands. I made the mistake of ordering cheesecake, which isn't the same without Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I tasted soy -- not my favorite. Hil graciously swapped desserts with me; her croissant was much better.

Early that day we'd strolled down Arab Street and gone explored the Mustafa Centre, an open-all-hours store heavy on Indian imports: silk saris, gold jewelry, woven textiles. The top floor is all food and there were two entire aisles of Indian spices, a classroom-sized space filled with different types of rice and grain, and at least 50 different kinds of honey. Also in the neighborhood is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, where the Hindus worship. It's one of Singapore's oldest temples.

Not far from there is the Sultan Mosque, the home to Singapore's Muslim Community. I'd never been in a mosque before and this one was beautiful and we had the good fortune to be there during the Call to Prayer.

Our last real meal together was a lunch in Holland Village celebrating my birthday. I don't remember the name of the French restaurant but it was excellent in terms of food, service and decor. Afterwards we rolled ourselves out the door to the Holland Mall and got reflexology massages. We'd done a lot of walking! While we both moaned and groaned during the massages, we both felt much better afterwards.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

And this is???

We got a good laugh out of this, which was on the outer door of the public restrooms in Old Town Shanghai.

It's a timer. It lets the person waiting for the loo know how long the stall has been occupied. And if the occupant takes too long then an alarm goes off. How exactly long that is we're not sure.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Strange

The Republic of Singapore, aka Singapore, is a city-state. It's so small that there is only one airport and it's international because there's no other place to fly.

The Changi Airport is considered one of the world's best in terms of traveler amenities. This includes Gucci, Shanghai Tang, Hermes and Bulgari shops, a swimming pool, a movie theater, showers, playgrounds, 24-hour napping areas and six open-air gardens. I explored one of those gardens, The Butterfly Garden.

It creeped me out. The butterflies eat pineapple. And I didn't much like them flying around my head. But I checked it off my list.

The weather in Singapore is miserable - hot and humid with frequent rain. People carry umbrellas every where they go. Still, the landscape seemed familiar. After a few days I figured it out: I was in Jurrasic Park. Big plants with big leaves. Mud. Little people.

Now on to some of the interesting things in China.

There are 23 million people in Shanghai. Some of them drive. (Our friends Mark and Rosemary have a driver supplied by her employer.) Many more take the Metro. I made space with my elbows on the Metro, a skill I learned by watching my daughters play soccer. It was very useful when forcing my way out of crowded trains. Force is the right word although push would be accurate, too. We saw many people ride bikes and scooters. Entire families (three people -- this is China, remember) rode on one bike. No helmets. No child restraints. Just three people balancing on two wheels, one of whom is pedaling and steering. I shot this picture on the street. Shanghai is cold in the winter and these people know how to keep their hands warm while en route!

More on the families. We did notice that the families were small and it took some getting used to as most couples we know have two or more children. They were at all the same tourist attractions we were -- just popping pictures of mother and child or father and child. I wonder what kind of coping / negotiating / people skills those only children will have as adults.

In case you are wondering, we came across three kinds of toilets in China. First and found from time to time are Western-style toilets, the same kind you find in your house. Second, and found more of often than not, are squat toilets, sometimes with a ground-level ceramic surround. The third type, which we saw a few of, are Japanese-style washlets or Super Toilets. They are Western-style with additional features such as deodorization, seat washing, bidets and sound controls (to disguise the sounds the user emits). We saw one more feature which is worth a post all of its own.

Also in Shanghai is a tourist attraction that everyone told us to skip. But Dave and I appreciate kitsch so we took The Bund Tourist Tunnel under the Huangpu River. It was supposed to be a Shanghai history lesson. Instead it was five English sentences accompanied by six minutes of flashing lights, much like the walkway between Chicago O'Hare's main concourse and the United Airlines concourse. Dave and I had a car to ourselves. A cable car to be exact.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The View

In Shanghai Dave and I stayed at The Ritz Carlton - Pudong. The thing is, you come to expect a level of service at Ritz Carlton hotels and in Asia, service is even better. Our expectations were high.

I arrived several hours before Dave and had time to explore. And this property did not disappoint. Our room was on the 41st floor with an unobstructed view of the Huangpu River, which divides the city, and The Bund, which runs along the river and is the home of many historic buildings, ones that formerly housed US, British, Japanese, Belgian, Russian, Italian and German trading houses and banks.

Similar to Emporium in Bangkok, a shopping mall occupied the first eight levels of the building, offices were above that, and the hotel took the upper floors. Reception was on the 52nd floor. The infinity pool was on the 53rd floor. We had drinks at Aura one night, with its outdoor patio, the highest in Shanghai. The mall, called the IFC or International Financial Center Mall, seemed high-end to me. Miu Miu, Prada and Versace were our neighbors. But across the street was the Super Brand Mall, with the even more high-end stores! While both malls have IMAX theatres, only the Super Brand Mall had an ice skating rink, too. I liked ours better, though, as it was served by the Metro.

The picture here was taken from our floor-to-ceiling window. You can see across the river to The Bund.

The hotel was done in Art Deco style, my favorite. I emailed my mom: Send children. We are moving in. It had a stand-alone footed bathtub and lots of brown marble. The drapes automatically closed when we left the room and reopened when we returned. From bed we could control the HVAC, lighting and, of course, drapes. The flowers pictured here were in our elevator lobby.

In the end we did check out. In fact, I'm writing this post from Seoul's Incheon Airport en route home. It does get a little tiring greeting all those doormen.



Friday, March 16, 2012

Flying over Singapore

When you read this I really will be flying over Singapore en route to meet up with Dave in Shanghai. But this post is not about that flight. It's about the Singapore Flyer, which Hillary, her 6-year-old daughter, and I did last night.

The Singapore Flyer is the world's largest Giant Observation Wheel. There are 28 air-conditioned capsules the size of transit buses, each able to hold 28 people. It takes 30 minutes to complete a rotation. It sits 165 meters tall and is just four years old.

We timed it for sunset and it was worth the wait until the end of my trip. Today the sun came out and we saw some blue skies. It was also miserably hot, at least for someone like me who is not used to the intense sun coupled with humidity in the 90th percentile.

From the Flyer we could see as far as Indonesia. The cargo ships stretched out as far as the eye could see. In 2011 the port of Singapore processed 57 million containers. Amazing! We could see hundreds of cranes which unload the containers, the ones that look like those two-legged walkers called AT-ST's from The Empire Strikes Back.

The Theatres on the Bay at the Esplanade are called Durian by the locals because the domes look like the spiky fruit. And the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the one with the casino up top and the much-photographed infinity pool 55 stories up, stands alone. There's also a DNA-inspired double-helix, curved bridge over Marina Bay.

 The architecture in Singapore is eye candy. The economy in Singapore is booming and there is much new construction going on. Hillary told me that they don't renovate in Singapore, they bulldoze and rebuild. Much attention is paid to outside spaces and art, and it's a visual delight. I especially like the chubby Buddhas by Taiwanese sculptor Li Chen.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The air is as thick as paint.

And it's raining, too. It's not the cool, reluctant, gentle rain we get in California. The downpour was loud enough to wake me through the double-paned windows of my hotel room and is so intense that I can't see across the street. It's warm. The drains can't take the water away fast enough so I'm toe deep in it as I walk. It's windy and the water comes at me from all angles. I'm drenched but again, not cold. The experience is like taking a tepid shower.

I'm glad to be in Singapore.

Hillary's happy face greeted me at the airport and off we went into the heavy air. We dropped my bags at the hotel and exchanged goodies. She received six American magazines, Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies, Kraft Mac & Cheese, earrings and books for her first grader. I received a sun umbrella, hand sanitizer, three types of bottled water, almonds and the local paper. We giggled like school girls and went back out into the moist air.

Exactly where do these go on an Apple device?
Lunch was in the food court at the Ion Orchard Mall. There were more than 50 food stalls on the lower floor and, while my lunch was deliberately forgettable in deference to my stomach that didn't know what time zone it was on (food is food after 20 hours in the air), I was fascinated with the decor: eclectic chandeliers, sculpture, food presentation, bright colors. And people eating ambidextrously while simultaneously talking.

The economy on this island is built around shipping; Singapore's position between Malaysia and Indonesia make it one of the world's busiest ports. There are few natural resources here so nearly all goods are imported. Spending money seems to be the main form of entertainment. The part of the city I've seen thus far is store after store after store. Ion Orchard is Eldest Daughter's every fantasy, 300 retailers spanning all price points: Forever 21, Abercrombie, an all Havianas store, a store with just smart phone earphones, stores devoted to just iPhone cases, Converse, Kate Spade, Dunkin Donuts.

Singapore is an easy place to visit, perhaps because English is spoken here. Perhaps because Hillary is my tour guide. Perhaps because I've traveled in Asia before.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Butterflies

In 48 hours I will be on a flight to Singapore to visit Hillary, a friend from college. She moved there just last summer and I am exited to be one of her family's first visitors.

But I also hate leaving The Pinks on another continent. Natural disasters do happen, you know. What if The Big One comes? One of my friends was stuck in Europe when the Icelandic volcano erupted and also in Hawaii on 9/11. I'm not worried about The Pinks' care; my folks will undoubtedly do just as good a job, if not better, than I would.

I've packed very light considering this trip also includes Shanghai, which is, on average, 50 degrees cooler than Singapore. I'm only bringing a carry on so about half is clothes and the rest is things for Hil and her family: books, food, things like Neosporin which she hasn't yet found a suitable replacement for.

Ahead of me are forty hours on a plane. My laptop has 17 movies loaded on it. I have more than enough work to do.

But mostly I have butterflies.

Monday, March 5, 2012

29 Again.

Why is 29 the ideal age?

I have a few ideas:

1. Many women are not yet buried under kids.
2. Many woman are settled into their careers.
3. Many women still have that youthful stretch to their skin, the stretch that isn't yet droop.
4. Many women are in steady relationships and have the means to travel and do things like triathlons and grad school before entering the heavy-responsibility, light-sleep years of parenting.

I spent my birthday at the happiest place on earth: the ski slopes of Squaw Valley USA with my family. Four feet of fresh snow fell the week before we came up and it was the best day of skiing all year, as was evidenced by the parking lot, which filled at 9am.

My brother and his family joined us on the slopes, and for dinner along with some neighbors and friends from Northstar.

And as a bonus, Squaw celebrated SnowFest and we were treated to fireworks the night before and a full weekend of music and Rahlve's Bonzai Tour of freestyle skiing.

The kids kept their comments about me being the slowest skier in the family to themselves. Mostly.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happily ever after

In theory.

We know quite a few couples who have split up in the last few years.

When Thing 1 heard of the most recent divorce, quite close friends of ours, she said, "Mommy, does everyone break up?"

In quick succession I rattled off a list of marrieds: Grandma and Papa, Ga and Pa until he passed away, Aunt Michelle and Uncle Phil, Aunt Kristin and Uncle Barry, the Owles, Aunt Janice and Uncle Bob, Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Mitch, Nini and Sydney, our neighbors on both sides, Neeracha and Sean, Thom and Sara, Dave and Jackie, Amy and Mark, Jim and Mary Claire, Uncle Bryan and Sara, and on and on.

It's a hard thing for a child to understand. It's a hard thing for an adult to understand. In time there will be a new normal. At least that's what they say.