Friday, August 31, 2012

Meditations on Americanism: Fireflies Dandelions and War

I wrote this a while ago but I just happened upon it and thought - them there's blog material!   I am alive, I am writing, mostly poetry at the moment.  I hope anyone who reads this is still alive and well too.  Here is something a wee bit more substantive and fit for online webitry than the expletive-filled poetry I've been turning out. I am a couple of weeks away from my Australian citizenship appointment (must get to studying: golden wattle, opal, three year Prime Minister terms, oh my!)   


I suppose no one can ever really know us, hurtling as we are through life, alone and without repair, but when you live outside the culture of your birth you are both innumerably enriched yet in no small way also bereft of something many people take for granted.  This loss occasionally fills me with nostalgia and ennui.  Sharing a culture with someone.  It must be easier for people who have spent their lives entirely in one city, one state?  To be able to say, “the X played terribly on the weekend”  to a stranger on the bus and have them nod in understanding.  For some of us, we’ve grown up in so many cities, countries, cultures, capitals that is all begins to blur.  We’ll mention things, use words, get our cricket and football seasons confused, and people stare at us blankly, or just don’t get our humor, and it feels like we’re walking alone.  I wouldn’t change a thing; I’d just like to describe it all; perhaps, it is in some way universal.  My culture?  I consider myself irreparably American although I’ve lived in-country only 60% of my life.  I am like Australia.  The people living on me now are largely inconsequential when compared to the thousands of years of wiping winds, eroding waters, jettisoning fault lines and the blistering red dust that shaped me at the beginning of my life.   I grew up being hiked around the desert in El Paso, spending summers stomping tall grasses in Texas, watching fireflies light up the summer sky in Virginia, mountaineering in my backyard with jump ropes tied to pine trees, eating dubious fruits in the woods while finding abandoned tree houses and wondering if people lived there, if we could live there. Walking home with the street lights haloed and shimmering from hours of steeping my eyes in chlorine at the pool,  only to watch my freedom fade and shrivel (along with the leaves, depending on location) in light of August, the chill in the air, first buying school supplies and then shortly afterward preparing for Halloween with such fervor that I would inevitably, every year, wake in a panic that the Holy Day had come and gone and I had missed it, been unprepared, without a costume.  I sometimes measure my American-ness with Americanisms, many of which are tied to our consumer culture; advertising.  Like the Queen in Tom Robbin’s Still Life With Woodpecker, I am a huge fan of “Uh-Oh Spaghetti-O”.  Say that to someone who is not an American.

I do not have the same nostalgia for the places I have lived subsequently as I do for American things, authors, places, heros, feelings, poems, TV.  In Germany I fell in love with the food, air, trees, roads, music, people, castles, rivers, drugs, and found something in life to love even though for approximately 800 days I did not know if I would ever recover from leaving my life in the U.S.  Though they bring me pleasure, my memories of weisswurst and brotchen, walking down the Hauptstraße and spying on intriguing Germans do not sustain or inform me the same way as my memory of running after the ice cream truck through our leafy neighborhood with my brother when I was 10.  The demented jingle of the truck, the pink ice cream dribbling down his face, but we all do that growing up, don’t we?  There is a sub-culture that I am a part of that is no small slice of the American population and does not depend on where you grew up.  These people only have to imagine the twin towers in flames and probably the same images play, like an old war movie, through their heads.  I imagine myself sitting in math class in Texas while we watched it, only to be then sitting in another math class in Germany one year later while my dad was in the Middle East waiting, fighting, sitting, dying, laughing, crying, wondering, missing with so many other parents of my comrades, compatriots. A curious sub-set we are; viciously patriotic and yet poignantly aware of America’s follies.  We speak in such a way of our country as to illicit cries of “non patriot” from our overly nationalistic, non-militaristic, small-minded brethren, wincing; they don’t know what loving a country is until you give her up, give in to her, in many more ways than one can count.  Yes, my dad is alive but there is a part of him, and my family, that will never be repaired; relinquished to war, to freedom, to irony, to America.  Whenever you go back to something, someone, anything, it’s never what it was, or what you dreamed it was while you were away but maybe that is what makes the memories and recollections so important.  They become the place, person, country, while the real thing is hurtling ahead through the atmosphere continually changing, truly inscrutable to the extent that even speaking about, writing about it, becomes a farce with only a glimmer of truth.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Singapore Day 1/6

Travel Blog from our trip to Singapore in 2010.

We arrived safely last night at around dinner time, and I know everyone told me that it would be hot here, but I didn't think they meant like this. It is a tropical, humid, sweltering heat. I quite like it! Makes it feel like holidays. I think it's about 32C but with the humidity factored in it's around 38C+.

Our hotel is pretty nice; a bit nondescript but very clean. The city, from what I've seen so far, isn't as "clean" as I've heard, but Australia is very clean, so it's hard to compare. It's probably cleaner than other Asian countries, and definitely cleaner than Italy. (My feet aren't BLACK after walking around... hello Florence and Rome.)

Onto the first meals:

We went through this little market near the hotel, and everything was pretty overwhelming at this point. I had never been to Asia before so it was a bit of culture shock for me. I'd read that Singapore is very multicultural, and indeed it is. There are a lot of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian people. Most everyone understands English which is a life saver.

I managed to grab a bubble tea on the way to a little outdoor restaurant.

(We are right off the airplane/hotel so don't JUDGE.)

Russ ordered some tiger beer, which was gigantic. It came with peanuts, jalapenos (odd) and a mystery sauce.

For dinner he had sting ray (Steve Irvin complex, maybe?) which was ridiculously tasty. Very spicy (Russell was sweating) but he's a good sport. I had the red wine pork (tried to stick to something familiar for the time being.) It was also delicious.

I can't wait to get a little more settled and try some strange foods like durian fruit (I saw smoothies yesterday at the market), that chili crab and maybe fish head curry from little India.

Singapore Day 6/6 - Little Arab World and Little India with Henna and Khulfi

Today we stayed near the hotel and explored Little India and a small
area filled with Lebanese/Arab shops and restaurants which I’ve
renamed Little Arab World due to street names such as Arab Street,
Baghdad Street, and Sultan Gate. Definitely thought of you Dad.
I think it might have been as hot as Iraq! Less Iraqis though.

Dad in Middle East

Little Arab world was interesting, it has Masjid Sultan, the
principal mosque of Malay and Indonesian communities. We could not go
in due to dress, and it has limited visiting hours due to five prayer
times a day. We sat outside and listened to the sounds of the service. The area has tons of shops packed tightly together, the number of people combined with lots of road traffic made for the hottest day so far.

Masjid Sultan

We ate lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, it was nice but I've had better Lebanese food in Texas.

view of seventeen aircons from the restaurant

Little India was a short walk away. We stopped here to have Khulfi
(North Indian ice cream made using Ayurvedic principals with only
natural ingredients: milk, honey, walnuts and fresh fruit) at a
recommended place. It was really interesting in flavour, I had
strawberry khulfi mixed with nuts and some type of cereal. I could
taste a lot of cardamon. Russell had chocolate with banana.
Definitely a spicy but refreshing taste, unusual.

Typical street in Little India

Also in this area they had tons of stalls selling what looked similar to Hawaiian leis. Lots of women were buying them but none wearing them; I think they are actually used in temples as offerings. I bought a tuberose one to wear, these are the same kind of flowers as my wedding lei was in Hawaii, and I just love the smell. Totally looked like a tourist, but I think the white skin, backpack,
sneakers and camera around my neck give it away anyway.

henna done at an Indian beauty parlor

The humidity broke for a little bit and it really poured this afternoon!

Overall, I highly recommend a visit (or two!) to Singapore. It's a great place with seriously amazing food, excellent and cheap public transport, great shopping and unique experiences. It's also very close to Australia compared to other travel destinations.

Singapore Day 5: Juroung Bird Park and Durian fruit

Today we went to the bird park. While feeling kind of proud of ourselves for not doing a tour (meaning we had to take the subway all the way to the western area of Singapore, and then a bus, which saved us about $20.00 each) we’re now totally exhausted! Russell wants me to mention that in this part of Singapore no one spoke English anymore, luckily people were around to translate. The Singapore people are very friendly and helpful like that. However, Russell ordered a juice today and receive an ice cream sundae instead, complete with whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, fresh fruit and mango ice cream. So there was a little bit lost in translation.

The bird park wasn’t my favorite part of the trip. I found it a bit sad to see all these nice birds in tiny cages, and a lot of them (ostrich included) were missing huge patches of feathers, due to picking them out from boredom I assume. Also they had an arctic owl area where the owls were in a concrete cages painted white to resemble snow, really sad I thought. (Especially when compared to the Night Safari where there were no cages. Both attractions have animals taken out of their natural environments but I felt the Night Safari made a bit more an effort to take care of its animals.)

However, there were interesting parts too.

I liked feeding the lorekeets, there were so many of them! Inside the lorekeet section there was a little Australian info area including outback “dunny” replica. Due to all the plants and waterfall (extra humidity!!) this was the hottest day so far, really like being in a rain forest.

The Rhea birds and I made a little connection, I think they thought I was there to feed them.

Also there was a real live Bald Eagle here. I took the opportunity to instruct the europeans and Australians around that this is what a real national bird looks like. Very regal and beautiful. Ok I didn’t tell them, only Russell. But I did admit if we had Emu’s in America they might be on our emblem too because they are just so weird looking....


After the bird park we came back into the city for more... Asian food! We finally tried the infamous durian fruit. They had little cute pancakes made fresh with durian filling for $1.50 so we figured, why not? Well, it was An Experience. I thought that it tasted at first like really strong garlic, and then kind of like how baby poop smells, and then finally a bit of a Warhead candy kind of flavor. Russell thought it tasted like “spring onion and just... horrible.” The aftertaste is much worse than the actual flavor. I’m not convinced it’s actually a fruit. Definitely worth a try, but we didn’t manage to finish the pancake.

Tomorrow is our last full day here, not sure what we'll get up to yet.

Singapore Day 4 - Sentosa Island, The Merlion, and Snakes

Today we tried to visit China Town but ended up going one stop too far on the subway and ended up the Harbour. From here we could see Sentosa Island, so we decided we should just go over there since we were "so close." Well, Russ wanted to take a cable car over there (which he’s done before) so we went on an hour long walk to the cable car tower, only to find out they were down for maintenance until July, so after another very long hot walk back we found the Monorail station and took that over. The trains and other public transport are very organized, clean and efficient here (best I've seen in the world), but the problem sometimes is actually finding them from above ground which is made more for cars than walking. (The mall we were walking around to find the trains and cable cars is 3 MILLION square feet.... no wonder I was cranky...)

View of Sentosa Island from Vivocity Mall


So, the Merlion is half lion half Mermaid/Merman, I can’t tell you much more than that, but it's a well known symbol in Singapore. He’s on Sentosa island. By this point of the day I was referring to him as either the “prawn cracker” or “prawn tiger” as I wasn’t sure all the effort was worth seeing him up close. (He’s visible from different points on Singapore.)

Sentosa island is actually quite cool though and worth the trip; they have beautiful gardens and lots of attractions including a universal studios theme park. I didn’t want to go to this, but we heard that 17 out of 30 rides are currently down anyway!

Luge and Sky Rail

luge carts as seen from the sky rail

So Russ wanted to do something fun so we went on the luge. However, you can’t buy a luge ticket on it's own, you have to buy a luge and sky rail ticket together. So we did, it was twelve dollars per person to ride both. The luge was really fun! They are kind of mini go-carts and they get some speed on them! I didn’t really know what the Sky Rail was, it looks like a ski lift, and I thought it stayed pretty close to the ground. WRONG it was SO SO SO HIGH. I was so terrified I couldn’t take my hands off the rails to take a picture of Russ while we were in it. After that we decided on some drinks by the beach to relax.

I hate heights, and Russell hates snakes. I had to get him back some how.

Singapore: Day 3

Went to a little restaurant call Hand Burger where the gourmet burgers were made by hand. Like all eateries here the kitchen is within full view so you can see the cooking process, which makes the food very enticing! Most days we are out of the hotel for 12 hours straight in estimated 100F/38C heat (with humidity) and this is why I think it’s ok to eat all the time, we’re just replenishing all those lost calories. Root bear float and New Zealand beef burger for Russ.

Takoyaki at Gindayo

While browsing a hawker center I saw this huge line start to form for one of the stalls so I quickly jumped in, having no idea what they sold! It turned out to be Takoyaki, which as far as I can tell is a dumpling with all sorts of yummyness in the batter (veggies, onion?) with a big bit of octopus thrown in the middle during cooking. Yummy! With Pork floss and mayonnaise to top it off. 6 pieces for $4.80. Russ had satay chicken skewers for the 8th time :)

Night Safari

That night we went to the Night Safari. We rode an open sided tram all around the park through 8 geographical regions of the world, and saw tons of animals just after dusk. The animals are kept just off the track without cages or fences (they have holes around them) and it was the most amazing animal experience I’ve ever had. Just after dusk is when many animals are active so unlike the regular zoo where everything is asleep, everything was out! Unfortunately, flash photography is not allowed as it disturbs the animals, so we’ve only got one semi decent photo of the rhino. Seeing the rhino was spectacular! There were two, kept separately as they are very territorial, and they look like gigantic armadillos. I’ve seen them before but without cages is entirely different.

In the flying squirrel enclosure the squirrel flew dramatically from one side of the cage to the other as everyone gasped in disbelief!

And in the hyena area one of the laughing hyenas was really having a ball. When we walked past, doing the optional walking tour after the tram ride was over, he was zooming around his area laughing crazily. He reminded us of our dog when we have visitors.

Singapore: Day 2

We woke up starving so we decided to simply go for the buffet offered at our hotel. It seemed a little pricey at $24 S a head (compared to all the other little treats for 3-5 dollars you can get in the city, but oh well....)

Can you pick whose breakfast belonged to whom?

I had a breakfast curry (when in Rome), carrot cake (think potato/carrot omelet), dumplings (sooo good), fish, dragon fruit (like a less flavorful kiwi fruit, it's the white one with black seeds), and Russell had, well... a full Australian breakfast plus some egg rolls. The quality of food is still surprising me though; it's outstanding!

We went to a Hawker Center last night; these are basically open air food markets. We had our first taste of chili crab, which is famous in Singapore. It is what it sounds like, but they take a lot of the meat out for you already and make a kind of stew out of it. We also ordered these delicious buns to go with it that you dip into the stew.

Before coming here I saw a travel/food documentary about chili crab and it said that a lot of the crabs in Singapore are from Sri Lanka, where they live in the Ganges river and they actually eat the dead (human!) bodies that are in the river. I guess I imagined that we would have to "seek out" something like this, but our server came over for a chat after the meal and mentioned that their crabs are from Sri Lanka. Yay. Still yummy though but super spicy.

Russ pictured in front of the Raffles Hotel, he was not allowed in due to looking like a dag. (Apparently armpit hair and singlets are out at Raffles!) We wanted to make reservations for their famous high tea, but they were really unfriendly; when I went in alone they gave me a number to call to reserve. They wouldn't let me stay inside long enough to reserve. Rooms start at $1,300 a night I believe so I guess guests are paying not to have to look at commoners like myself and Russell. We'll definitely be giving high tea a miss.

Ion center is one of the big indoor shopping centers, we spent a great part of yesterday in there. I took a 1 hour master makeup class with an international makeup artist from Urban Decay Cosmetics at the Sephora inside. Russ signed me up for it!

Tomorrow we're hoping to catch the night safari and probably another tour of some kind.