Saturday, December 26, 2009

Global Warming??

Is this evidence of global warming--  snow in Singapore?

Not exactly.

As I described in my blog entry in November, Elaine's step-father Ron collapsed the day before my arrival in Singapore, and a week after Elaine had arrived.  We are currently in Boise (arrived 12-19) on a family-emergency leave and will be here through mid January.  Our friends Keith and Candy have kindly agreed to house us during our stay.  Because of HP's corporate shut-down policy Elaine does not work for the two weeks of the holidays, and will work remotely (from Boise- seems strange to describe it that way) for the following weeks.
Ron's diagnosis is a high-level Glioma brain tumor.  Ron received surgery and has stabilized, and has been moved to a care center in Boise.  It is unlikely he will be able to leave this facility.  Our visit has allowed us to visit Ron and provide some support and comfort for Barbara during this difficult time.  Elaine's brother Robert has come to visit from Bend, Oregon, and her brother John will be visiting in January.
The visit is bitter sweet.  It is wonderful to be in Boise during Christmas, and to visit with friends and family that we have said our farewells to only a few weeks earlier.  This was certainly unexpected.  However, it is sad to see Ron in his diminished state of health and mental awareness, and realize our time with him is short.  We are grateful for the opportunity to share this precious time with Ron.

The weather in Boise has been fabulous for those of us that actually enjoy colder temperatures--  a white snow blanket covered the Boise foothills, highlighted by bright blue skies.  Extreme cold temperatures (below 0F) hit Boise in the week prior to our visit, which wouldn't have been so good.

Christmas in Singapore would have been a new and unique experience, but deficient without any family or friends with whom to share it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shopping Extravaganza: Promotions,Bundles, and Cirque du Soleil

Shopping in Singapore is quite the experience.  It is apparently the national pastime, which is still a puzzle.  Professional salaries, and salaries in general are lower here than in the US, the rate of savings is higher, the cost of living is the third highest in the world (most everything here is more expensive than what we are used to).  Yet there are stores and shopping malls everywhere, and they are all packed with shoppers.  How do they stay in business?  Of course it is holiday time, so any conclusions and judgment should be tempered by seasonal considerations.  I'll check back with you in late January for an updated report.
Shopping malls are more than just a place to purchase goods.  They are a destination, a place for entertainment, a place to take the family.  Each mall seems to try to out-do the others in order to attract shoppers.  I like them, and suspect this is a major draw for others, because they are air conditioned, and a good refuge from the heat and humidity outdoors.  (Have I mentioned it gets very hot here?)  They are also generally very noisy.

To bring in shoppers the malls will often host entertainment events.  This past weekend we were touring the shops and malls along Orchard Blvd.  This is the POSH area of Singapore, and major center for high-end shopping-- Prada, Gucci, Armani, etc.  All of the Italians are here, and many of the Swiss--  Rolex, Tag Heuer, etc.  We wandered into one of the many malls along here called Orchard Central, for no particular reason.  (As an aside, this mall happens to have an interesting attraction of an indoor climbing wall.)  Although it was adjacent to our former service apartment, we had not spent much time in it-- I think I went in once.  There was a crowd gathering and a small stage set up in the "pavillion" of the mall (most malls, including this one are open to all floors in the center, and the area is used for special events or promotions).  We discovered that a show was about to begin.  The show turned out to be a version of Cirque du Soleil, and we were treated to 30 minutes of AMAZING choreographed gymnastics.
There was a large hula-hoop like device, that a gymnist used to do some stunts, rolling around on it.  (Doesn't he get dizzy?)

No-- not one of the Chippendales.  This was an amazing act, where this buff gymnist performed, using the hoop device.

Then three men came out with what looked like plastic pipes, bundled together.  This turned out to be a springy version of a balance beam.  Two of the men held the ends of the pipes on their shoulders, and the third proceeded to perform flips and such on the flexible beam--  much like a 4" wide trampoline.
The next act was classic Cirque du Soleil-- an aerial gymnastics/ballet routine on rope-like curtains with a man and woman gymnists.  They performed the act blindfolded!

OK-- not the aerial act.  I was only able to take these two pictures.  However, you can see the tower and rope-like sheets hanging from the tower that was used for the aerial act.
The final act was performed by two men and a woman on  a trampoline, next to a wall with some varied height platform areas in it.  (Sorry, no pictures of this).  The gymnists proceeded to do flips, wall walks, and synchronised routines on the trampoline, and on and off of the stages.  No spotters, no nets for any of this.  (From my perspective, there also was an escalator that seemed dangerously close to the trampoline--  no mis-haps while we were watching).
The show was free-- anywhere else we would have needed to buy tickets.  What a treat!
 Promotions and Bundles
Another popular scheme here for drawing customers are promotions.  We would call these sales, or specials.  However, they seem to be a daily thing, and they are everywhere and for anything.  Again, perhaps an artifact of the holiday season.  Promotions come in many forms--  a reduced price for limited time, a free "gift" when you purchase an item, or a set of raffle tickets (depending upon the dollar amount spent) giving you the chance to win a car, a cruise, or a holiday stay somewhere.  I purchased an iron, and lucky me-- received not one but two T-shirts, each with a euro 1 cent coin in the package.  (Why euro?-- the iron was a European brand).  Elaine has acquired two Christmas coffee mugs because of our copious shopping spree.  And we acquired a "free" network router (which we didn't need)when we signed up for our broad-band service.  Promotional items such as this often require a separate trip to somewhere else (e.g. a warehouse) for redemption-- I needed to go to a different shopping mall after a particular date to receive our router.
Bundles are also big.  Instead of buying the Brand X tea kettle, you can buy Brand Y's tea kettle, which is bundled together with their toaster, for the same or a slightly higher price.  Of course Brand Y is a lesser quality than Brand X, and you really didn't need the toaster-- but hey, who can pass up a nearly free toaster?

Of course having promotions, bundles, and events requires getting the word out.  There are newspaper ads, people wearing advertising T shirts, and flyers handed out at MRT stations, escalators, and on the street.  Also a variant of the old-fashioned sandwich boards...

21st Century sandwich board advertisement--  walking along Orchard Road.

Another common activity, particularly in the tourist areas is touting.  Shop and restaurant employees lurk outside the entrances of their establishments and attempt to lure prospective customers, typically with promises of free this or that, or special prices. ("Promotions").  We went to one restaurant where we were promised free drinks with our dinner.  Oddly enough the drinks showed up on the bill, which then required some effort to get corrected. The barage of touts from the touters can be very fatiguing when there is a large density of shops or restaurants along path of travel, and you are seeking a relaxing evening out.  (Some malls and places forbid "touting") 

I am not  a big shopper, but perhaps I will become one while we are here (Jim-- realistically, you will need a job first).  Ironically there are public service ads in the MRT stations about the ill effects of gambling addiction on families and people.  Are shopping the promotions another form of addiction?

Singapore Flyer

One of the key tourist attractions in Singapore is the Singapore Flyer.  This gigantic ferris wheel (described as an "observation wheel")  is currently the largest in the world, with a height of 541 feet (165 m).  Other similar wheels are the Eye on London (443 ft) and the Star of Nanchang (525 ft).  The wheel itself is 492 ft in diameter, with 28 capsules that each can hold 28 passengers.  Thankfully they are air conditioned too.
Last weekend Elaine's former manager was in town, so we struck out to see the town, and took a ride on The Flyer.  The Flyer provides spectacular views of the city and beyond, provided you are not acrophobic and can manage to have your eyes open.  The ride lasts one full rotation, which takes 30 minutes.  Other options for rides include a champagne flight, a dinner flight (2 full rotations), or special group outings.  In my opinion it is worth the visit.  Although we took our flight in the day time, I hope to return for an evening flight to enjoy the lights of the city.

The Flyer

The Flyers

More Flyers-- Elaine w/ Karen

The Flyer is located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore.  This is the Floating Platform, a multi-purpose event center,and (obviously) soccer field.  The twisty looking thing in the foreground is a walkway bridge, under construction.  We wondered how many soccer balls go swimming...

Marina Bay

Aquatic activities going on in Marina Bay.  The small boat at the top is a Dragon Boat, similar to the polynesian outriggers.  There are clubs in Singapore that race these boats.

Malaysia in the distance

Thursday, December 10, 2009

P.P.P.P.P.P. {You guess the acronym}

With any move, even with the best of planning and organization, there are bound to be surprises, and some disappointments.  Although we are still some way away from being 100% settled and moved in, we have already had some of these.  Given that we had to plan for:
  1. Items going into storage in Boise and unavailable for two years.
  2. Items graciously taken in by friends and neighbors because they couldn't be stored or shipped, or we may need access to them.
  3. Items going with us immediately in luggage to Singapore.
  4. Items being shipped air freight (about 5 day delivery) to Singapore.
  5. Items shipped by boat to Singapore (Up to 9 or 10 weeks).
There were bound to be some omissions, errors, and just bad decisions.  We also anticipate traveling to some other climates, aside from Singapore's, which may require something different in the way of clothing.  So this had to be taken into account as well.
We've been fortunate so far--  Elaine did a superb job in the planning and organization for household items, with some really excellent foresight on what we would need.  There have been a few strange surprises of things that ended up here, I suspect with some help from our movers.  I expect we will find more.
  • Elaine's back country ski boots.  No skis, poles or other ski gear-- just the boots.  (Can we use them as book-ends?)
  • Carbon water filters for a coffee maker that is in storage.
  • A butter dish for a refrigerator that we no longer own.  (Might be put to use)
  • A 120 volt appliance (HP Printer) that, despite best efforts of elimination, made the journey. (See The Smart Electric Grid).  As a post-mortem to that blog entry, a moment of silence for the power supply of that printer-- yes-- up in smoke.  Should have double-checked.  (Use it now as a desk "in" box?)
  • A press coffee pot, DOA (many pieces of glass and bent metal).
  • The lid to a small glass jar, also DOA.
  • Several articles of clothing that will have no purpose here (I was thinking travel--  remains to be seen if they do anything more than take up precious storage space)
  • We also broke one plate-- one of the good ones brought along, while the ones that are chipped were carefully selected to remain behind in storage.
All things considered, it's all been good.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Smart Electric Grid

For anyone that has traveled outside of the US, dealing with the variety of house voltages that are used around the world is nothing new.  Having been to Europe a couple of times, I've experienced some of the differences in electrical plugs and outlets in use.  However those were visits, and not moves, and perhaps this changes the level of the game (More stuff needing to be plugged in).  It seems to take quite a bit of hardware in order to get the juice out of the wall here in Singapore.  I've discovered that apparently a good part of the GDP of the country is generated by trade in electrical adapters, extension cords, and other paraphernalia necessary to connect to the electrical grid.  Here, nearly any hardware or electronics store carries a wide range of adapters and such.

As most of you know, the U.S. the standard house voltage is 115 volts, 60 Hertz (Hz), whereas here the house voltage standard is 240 volts, 50 Hz.  Thanks to advances of electrical engineering technology (switching power supplies) many appliances are now universal-- particularly small appliances with the external power supplies (e.g. phone chargers, etc).  With the proper adapters these can be safely used just about anywhere on the planet.  Not true for everything however--  bad things happen to those devices installed into an incompatible house voltage.

Prior to our move, I made a careful inventory of all electrical appliances and gadgets that we might consider taking along, noting the acceptable voltage and frequency ranges.  Almost everything with a motor in it needed to be left behind.  For those things making the journey I planned the purchase and use of adapters.  My surprise was discovering that after purchasing some appliances locally, they also required a type of adapter.  Those who have done a lot of traveling may have this knowledge-- I was clueless.

Here's how it works.  Thanks to the influences of the British, all electrical outlets (240 volt/50 Hz) look like this.  (Every socket has a switch by the way)

Most appliances have plugs that look like this.  (Three prongs, rectangular.  No problem-- works well with the sockets)

However, some appliances have plugs that look like this (Two prongs, each cylindrical)

Now if the two-prong plugs would fit and work in the electrical outlets in the house, no problem.  But they don't, at least not the ones in our apartment. (I have learned that there are "two-prong friendly" outlets.  I wonder how commonly available they are?)

Should you come to visit Singapore (or where ever else in the world this system is used), here's the secret.  You need one of these--  a two-prong adapter-thingy for a 3 prong 240 volt socket.  Note that this is pure plastic, no conductive metal anywhere.  I have yet to discover how these work, or why one should be needed.  But they do, and they are.

Perhaps the nations of the world attending the Copenhagen summit can start small by agreeing on a world standard for the electrical supply and its components, before moving on to the bigger problem of green house gases.  Think of all the plug adapters we wouldn't have to buy when we travel (or move).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Keeping your cool

Yesterday's temperature:  30C (82F).  Here's the forecast for the week (in F):
  Sunday:    82 / 76
  Monday:  86 / 76
  Tuesday:  87 / 76
  Wednesday:  87 / 76
  Thursday:  86 / 76
  Friday:  85 / 76
This apparently is pretty typical scenario for the year-- not much variation.
However the real story is the humidity.  Since the arrival and unpacking of our house goods, I now can track the humidity level at the apartment with our electronic weather station.  Today's humidity:  72%.  Yesterday it measured 81%.  This has a dramatic effect on the "effective" temperature.  Have I mentioned in any of my blog postings that it's hot here?  By the way, we are in monsoon season-- so its "cool" now, relative to coming months.

This has me particularly worried, as the trips I've made where I am outside for considerable periods of time result in a complete melt-down for me.  I don't do heat well.  I look and feel like a dish rag that has been rung out.  I become a little self conscious about my appearance-- I'm dripping wet, but oddly everyone else around me seems to be perspiring only modestly.

My sister Lois indicates that I will adjust to the humidity over time, and things will feel normal, but it can't happen soon enough.  Expeditions about town are best if kept short, and interspersed with frequent stops in shopping malls and/or MRT stations (if air conditioned).

This afternoon was a beautiful day-- it rained all afternoon, keeping things pretty comfortable.


The Chinese (Jurong) Gardens

With Elaine's work schedule, and our need to find and feather a permanent residence somewhere, we really haven't done much sight seeing.  With Anne and Wendell's arrival, we found a good reason to do some.  We headed up to northern Singapore on the MRT (subway) to visit the Chinese Gardens.  This is a beautiful park, that is directly adjacent to the subway station, and thus very easy to access.  There are various areas to the garden, including a Japanese bonsai garden, tea house, and The Garden of Abundance, an garden theme of the zodiac characters of the chinese calendar.  There is also a seven storey pagoda, which provided needed refuge from the rain when a sudden cloud burst occurred.
Although bonsai is the Japanese word for the miniature gardening technique, the Chinese actually practiced this style earlier.  Their word for it is penzai.
The gardens were beautiful.  The weather was--  steamy.  Perhaps one of the hottest days since my arrival.

7 Storey pagoda.  Nice breezes at the top, and a good shelter from the rain

The boat house-- from the top storey of the pagoda.

The Japanese Gardens-- Penzai or Bonsai Gardens

Year of the Snake

Year of the Monkey

Year of the Goat

The Big Move

Well, blog followers, you've probably wondered what has happened-- no postings in quite some time.

We've been a bit busy--  we moved out of our service apartment (hotel room with a kitchen) and into our permanent apartment.  Furthermore we've been entertaining guests-- our first guests in Singapore.  Our good friends Anne and Wendell stopped on their return trip to Boise, ID after trekking in Nepal for 6 weeks-- pulled up a planned lay-over in Singapore by a couple of days, which was great.  It was really wonderful to see some familiar faces.  They arrived just in time to assist us with the Big Move, which was extremely fortunate for us.
Another source of the blog silence has been some delays in getting telecom (broadband, telephone, cable TV)  established and set up at the apartment.

There are still some things yet to be done.

Elaine, Anne, and Wendell at the Singapore Chinese Gardens

No-- this is not Singapore.  This is a picture (posted without permission) from A & W's trekking tour (Annapurna Loop) in Nepal.  You will need to visit with them for stories and some spectacular photos of their trip.  I'm posting this to think cool thoughts.

Our new apartment is in a complex called The Pearl.  (See Mount Faber Park and our possible new abode) All buildings have names here as well as block numbers, and perhaps a floor and apartment or space number as well.  This is a remarkable system.  Many of the taxi drivers seem to know all the buildings by name, which has me particularly impressed since I can't  remember people names, much less the name of buildings.  We initially intended to get moved in over the weekend, but ended up spending the weekend cleaning the apartment before we could move in.  (The clean-up done by the property manager was not particularly great).
Moving required transferring five suitcases and two dish-pack moving boxes (about a meter high with a 1/2 meter square base each.  Yes, we use meters here, not feet).  That's what we arrived in Singapore with.  But then there were some bags of groceries, bags with the new toaster, electric kettle, and a few other things we've already accumulated.  I arranged to have a mini-van (7 passenger) taxi pick us up and do the deed.  However there were four of us, and with the taxi was loaded to the roof it was necessary to get a second taxi.  We convoyed over, and voila--the whole thing was over in about 20 minutes!  Sadly, no more maid service.

Our apartment cleaning exercise uncovered one surprise about the apartment.  No hot water in the kitchen.  At first we thought something was wrong with the water heater, but upon determining a good supply in each of two bathrooms, I checked the sink plumbing-- both sides of the faucet (normally 1-hot, 1-cold) were connected together!  Furthermore, the "maid's" bathroom (approximately 3-feet square-- a small shower stall with a toilet and hand shower) is not plumbed for hot water either.  Elaine has conferred with some of her work mates, and we have learned that this is very common, when the apartment is structured for maid quarters.  Live and learn.
The lack of hot water in the kitchen is neither appealing nor convenient-- we have contacted the property manager, and are investigating the installation of a small point-of-service water heater.  This is also apparently a common retro-fit over here.

One of the salient features of our apartment is the Bomb Shelter.  One of the building code requirements for apartment/condos built between about 2001 and 2007 was the inclusion of a small fortified room, for civil defense. In 2008, the building code was changed, and now apartments/condos have this emergency shelter area located in the stair wells.  I was told that Singapore emulates many of the building codes of Switzerland (?), and this was one of their requirements.  The room is about 1.5m x 2m, with a steel door, and very robust hinges and lock-- looks like the door on a bank vault.  It would be just big enough to fit a twin size bed mattress, and doubles as the maid's quarters, if you have a maid (which we don't).  The existence of a bomb shelter in an apartment is a good indicator of the age of the building of any apartment you may be considering renting.  Our building was constructed in 2003.
I'm not sure who might be attacking Singapore, or what type of ordinance this shelter would protect us from, but I don't like the thought of being in a small enclosed room on the 8th floor of a concrete building during any type of emergency.
I could see this as the ideal time-out room for parents of particularly willful and misbehaving children.  (A modern day replacement of the dungeon).

On friday, Dec 4th, our shipment of house goods arrived and was moved into the apartment.  The movers arrived promptly at the appointed time, and it was a orchestrated team effort.  Boxes and items were brought up from the car park and handed into the apartment in fire brigade fashion.  Once placed in the rooms, the boxes were each opened, and the contents neatly arranged on the floor (we have few furniture items just yet). Even the bomb shelter contents were VERY neatly arranged.
I wonder if these guys can come to the states and straighten up my garage/workshop when I return?

Anne, Elaine, Jim, and Wendell celebrate Jim & Elaine's move to The Pearl

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Baby Boomer Farmers - Elaine’s first blog post

I heard a piece on the news the other day that makes me realize that there are lots of other 50 something people wanting to have post retirement jobs working on the land.  There is apparently a movement in South Korea where workers who have retired, either voluntarily or involuntarily, are looking for new careers growing food.  If you Google the topic “second careers in farming”  you will find there are web pages devoted to the topic, newsletters to subscribe to, scholarly studies on the trend, etc.
As I have moved into my 50’s it has become increasingly obvious that the years of working at a desk and sitting in front of a computer are taking their toll on my health and well being.  I’ve been dreaming of a job where I get to stay physically active by joining this new back to the land movement.  So it’s nice to know I’m not alone.  I’m here in Singapore for two years but even here I am seeing that there are people on this side of the world that can relate to my future goals.  

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some like it ... humid

Singapore is renowned for it shopping-- there are shopping malls everywhere, and they seem to be packed with people all the time.  Of course it is the Christmas holiday season, so this is no different than in the states, where malls are packed to overflowing once given the green flag, the day following Thanksgiving.
We have joined the crowds and visited a number of the shopping malls in our preparation to buy some of the items we will need to settle into our apartment here in Singapore.  Because house current here is 240 volts / 50 Hz, virtually no electric appliance from the states, other than small electronics, are compatible, so these were left behind.  We will need to replace a few of them.
As a tropical climate Singapore has no distinctive seasons, other than the monsoon season (now) when it rains more, and is thankfully a bit cooler.  The temperatures range from 22 °C to 34 °C (72° to 93 °F), and on average, relative humidity is around 90% in the morning and 60% in the afternoon. It can reach 100% with persistent  rain.  Contrast this with the 25% to 40% humidity we experience in Idaho.
It was thus with some amusement that we came across this appliance for sale here--  I'm wondering how many are sold.  It's a humidifier-- a pretty high-tech one at that. (Why???)

We're expecting to find electric space heaters in the shops here any time now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Christmas time in the city...

One of the fascinating things for me going on at the moment in Singapore is the excitement and promotions occurring for Christmas.  As Thanksgiving is strictly an American holiday and not present here, the ramp-up for Christmas starts (only a bit) earlier here than in the states.

As someone coming from a northern climate accustomed to snow and cold temperatures in December, there is a strong association of snowflakes and snowmen, reindeer and sleighs, mittens and long winter caps, with the Christmas season.  This has probably been ingrained since childhood, as much of the kitsch decorations prevalent and brought out for display in the Christmas season have this theme.  So it is very different for me to see the same theme of decorations, perhaps with an Asian twist, in a climate of heat and humidity.  Since Jesus, the honoree of this holiday, was a citizen of the middle east with a climate closer to warm and humid than cold and snowy, it only goes to show how far off track this holiday has gone.

Christmas decorations on Orchard Road, Singapore

Imelda M. Reindeer, Orchard Rd, Singapore
Many of the stores and hotels in this area have displays, in a city-led promotion similar to the ice sculptures of the McCall, Idaho Winter Carnival

The Intel Blue People go multi-racial.  OK-- some non-traditional Christmas decor at Ion Mall -- a very POSH new shopping mall

I don't know who this woman is, but this was cool-- she apparently thought it was too.
It is a carved wooden Christmas tree, with small snowflakes that are cascading down on it continuously from the top.
It's yours for about SGD$995
I will replace this picture w/ a short 3 sec video I took, when I can figure out how to post video file formats on BlogSpot.
The store salesman was giving me a few strange looks as I took these photos/videos.
(Seen at a shop in the Ion Mall selling wood carvings from Germany. ( Black Forest (??)).

It is further surprising that Christmas has this much attention here, as Christianity is a minority religion in Singapore.  However, just as in the states and elsewhere, Christmas has become more than a religious holiday-- it's a shopping season, and shopping is king in Singapore.

Religion in Singapore
No religion



As I indicated in an earlier posting, my arrival in Singapore coincided with sad news from Boise.  Elaine's step-dad, Ron, had collapsed the evening of my departure and suffered seizures.  Ron's health and general spirit had been in decline since early summer-- we suspected something was wrong, but a CAT scan showed nothing obvious.  The scan and diagnosis this time was all too obvious-- a Glioma tumor of the brain.  This is the same condition that struck down Senator Ted Kennedy, a fellow New Englander and a person admired by Ron.  Ron underwent surgery last week, and we now wait to see what level of recovery there will be. There is some optimism, but the odds are not in his favor.

As we are 9000 miles away we can offer only sporadic support and comfort, as the time zone differences allow.  Our friends and neighbors, who know Ron and Barbara only by acquaintance through us have visited and provided their support in our absence.  We are blessed to have such friends, and are thankful for your assistance and consideration.

Ron is a gentle, polite man whose personality comes through even in his currently limited capacity, as has been exhibited with recent visitors to his hospital room.  Ron, we wish you well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"It's a small world"

The hotel where we are currently living has a breakfast room, which has been a great place to meet others staying at the hotel.  Yesterday, I met our fellow 9th floor neighbor, Rick.  Rick is an American, (and wife from Bali) who is in process of moving to Singapore, just as we are.  He works for VISA as a software development program manager.

Where is Rick moving from?  Greenbrae, CA.  About two miles (and visible) from my childhood home in Corte Madera.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Does anybody really know what time it is?

I'm coming up on my first week in S'pore, and I'm finding that a common activity is determining the time-- somewhere else.
Both Elaine's job and our link to family and friends require communication with people dispersed about the planet.  Hence "today", "morning", and "10:00 PM" are times relative to where you are.  Phone calls must be carefully considered making it an appropriate time for the parties on both ends of the conversation.   Computation of the time in another place on the globe is not calculus, but it does require some concentration.   It's easy to get it wrong.
I recognized this was going to be an issue for us prior to leaving home, so a quick  project in the shop (before it was packed) was a small "time center" with several clocks that each could be set to time zones appropriate for us to track.  The clocks give some visual assurance that your calculations are correct.  Of course there are widgets for your computer screen, and websites to do the calculations for you, but I thought this would be more fun.  I'll be happy when it arrives, some number of weeks from now.   Our family is perhaps more complicated than most.  (See  SF Chronicle )

Mount Faber Park and our possible new abode

After touring several apartments for rent, both on our initial visit in October, and this past week, Elaine and I are closing in on a final decision for the apartment we hope to rent.  Our home for the duration of our time in Singapore.

There are a few things to consider--
  • Is it large enough?  (We would like to get a 2 bedroom)
  • Is it in a "cool" area of the city--  one that gives us the flavor of Singapore big-city life style?
  • Does the kitchen meet specs?  (Some apartments have small kitchens, some w/ no oven)
  • How far is it from the MRT (subway)?
  • How far is it from Elaine's office?
  • Are there wet markets or other convenient shopping nearby?
And....  is it within our allotted housing budget?
Since we do not have a car, proximity to shops and/or transportation systems is important.

So today, (after watching BSU give Idaho a good spanking in football) we headed out to check out the area around the apartment that has moved to the #1 position in the selection list.  The apartment is in a complex on Mount Faber Road, which is the access point to a small park in the south end of Singapore.  It is directly next to a large shopping complex (Vivo City), and the access point to Sentosa Island.  (More about Sentosa later). There is an MRT (subway) station 15 minutes away (500 meters), and Elaine's office is 2.7 Km away.

The Apartment...
Here is a view of the candidate apartment, from the street.  Ours would be the second one down from the top.  And it has a large balcony, a big plus for apartments.

Other amenities:
-  Swimming pool
-  Exercise room  (yeh, right!)
-  Meeting room
-  BBQ area

Mount Faber Park
As noted, this apartment is adjacent to a small park.  The park is a hill that rises from the harbor area.  On top of the hill is the terminus of a gondola car that connects to Sentosa Island, via a large building (don't know the name).  The park and hill provide a great vantage point of viewing Sentosa, part of the harbor area, and some of the surrounding buildings of Singapore.  Here are a few pictures...

Elaine at the steps (at the bottom of the hill).  There were plenty more steps to reach the top.  Walking in 85 F / 90% humidity takes some adjustment when you are not used to it.

A view from the top--  this is the building, mid-point in the gondola that goes to Sentosa Island.

It's a jungle out there...

House plants not in the house
It appears to be diffenbachia, growing along the pathway leading to the top of the hill in Mount Faber Park.

Sentosa Island
(Where the construction cranes are. Resort under construction on the island.)

The buildings in the foreground are adjacent to Vivo City shopping mall and the MRT station.  You will also note a cruise ship-- the cruise ships dock here too.  There is quite a bit going on, all only 15 minutes walk from the Faber Park apartment.

Vivo City Shopping Mall  A view from outside the mall, along the deck.  Sentosa Island is in the distance (with tower).  Vivo City is apparently the largest shopping mall in Singapore.  And there are plenty of malls.

Inside the Mall  Vivo City--  It's Christmas time here, or nearly so, and Christmas decorations are popular.  I'll post some pictures later of the elaborate decorations that have  been erected along Orchard Road, a very popular and POSH shopping district--   similar to Times Square in NY or Ginza in Tokyo. 

BSU 63 Idaho 25

Today Elaine and I arose at 4:30 AM to watch a football game-- not something I thought I would ever do.  However, this is THE big game-- the rival game-- and we have been BSU season ticket holders for several years now.

The amazing thing about this is that ESPN is available here on cable, but not this game-- on ESPN-2.  Thank you Internet.   After subscribing to Bronco Web ( we were able to watch the streaming broadcast of the game on the laptop computer, our major link to everything right now.  We are thousands of miles away, yet we are back in Boise.

Our neighbor Patti had passed along some e-mails with some the smack that some Idaho fans were talking about "taking down" BSU from their quest of a BCS bowl game.  Not this year--  BSU gave Idaho a spanking from minute #1 of the game onward.   Joe Vandal, isn't that 11 straight years?

Update  (11/17/2009)

If we were in Boise for this game, we would be tailgating with friends and neighbors at the game.  Our neighbor Patti kindly sent along this picture, published in The Idaho Statesman.
We're a tolerant bunch-- we allow both Vandal and Bronco friends and family at the tailgater.  Wish we had been able to be there.

Candy--  The Davis Aggies had a better showing than the Vandals!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Traveling to the Lion City

Hi all. This is my first experience with this blog, and I'm not quite sure where to start. I'm also not sure who will be interested in reading this, but here it goes.

Why We Are Here
As some background, Elaine is working for Hewlett-Packard. A recent decision was made to transfer logistics work that had previously been done in Boise, Idaho (our home) to Singapore. Elaine was selected to help transition the operation here, and provide training to the new team. This is only part of her assignment, as she will also be working on new process development, with a globally-located team. Very, very busy.

I am tagging along on the journey, to provide morale support, a dry shoulder, good listening skills (OK, I'm working on those), and some non-work related conversation during her off-hours. It's going to be challenging for both of us, but clearly she has the better skill-set for her side of the tasks. What a great adventure!

Packing to Go, and 29 Years in One City
We first learned of the decision to move operations to Singapore in mid August 2009, and confirmation that Elaine had been selected to go in late August. HP's goal was to have Elaine on the ground in Singapore by the start of the new fiscal year, November 1. This didn't leave much time for anything. It required absorbing the impact of the move, a full comprehension of the relocation/compensation package provided by the company, and just what it means to move internationally.  None of this was successfully accomplished.

Apparently, you never realize what you have or how much you have until you have to pack it. In our case, we have lived in the house for 19 years, and both of us in Idaho for 29. The roots have gone pretty deep, and there is a lot of them (my tree analogy). In our case we are planning to rent the house while we are gone, which requires making it empty and nice looking. Packing a house full of furniture, household items, a very full workshop/garage, and everything else, AND have a comprehensive inventory of it all for the insurance is a daunting task. Furthermore, there are autos and a boat to consider, all of which needed a place to be while we are gone. By the way, there are many items which can neither be stored, shipped, or carried on an airplane, which means they have to go. He who dies with the most toys wins, but only if he doesn't have to move.

Thankfully, we have friends who have themselves experienced an international work assignment, and they stepped up to help when they saw our glassy-eyed gaze. (Thanks Keith/Candy-- couldn't have done this without your help). In all, our friends and neighbors went beyond the pale to assist us in launching our journey, and we are indebted to them-- thank you. (We only hope that our house renters will be nice-- but not too nice, such that you would be disappointed with our return)

Family and friends at my send-off from SF Bay Area
Chow restaurant, Lafayette, CA

Arrival in Singapore
Elaine departed from Boise for Singapore, and arrived on November 2, while I remained behind to try to complete the tasks of readying the house for renters and a two year absence. Elaine was immediately immersed in her new assignment-- hitting the ground running.

I arrived in Singapore a week later on November 9, departing from San Francisco after driving from Boise, Idaho to the San Francisco Bay Area. I delivered my Toyota for my nephew to use while we're gone, and was able to visit briefly with family and friends before leaving. It was a very hectic, and stressful period.

The plane flight from San Francisco went very well. There was some concern on my part that I would miss the connecting flight in Hong Kong, as I had only 45 minutes between landing and departing. However, Cathay Pacific Airlines did well, having an agent waiting at the gate of the San Francisco plane (arrival at Gate 2) who then led Singapore bound passengers, like the pied piper, through the Hong Kong airport to the connecting flight (Gate 32). All went perfectly, and amazingly my three bags of luggage also made the journey successfully. Elaine was waiting at the airport for me and we now begin our two years in Singapore.

As a sad post note, Elaine had learned, while I was in the air, that her step-father Ron had collapsed and had been rushed to the hospital on Saturday evening. It is difficult to cope with family emergencies, and more so when you are half way around the globe, so far from family. We are in contact with Barbara, monitoring Ron's condition, and hopeful for the best outcome.

Under construction

While construction has gone into a coma in the United States, Singapore appears to have missed the message about real estate bubbles, and is moving ahead.  Construction is underway everywhere you look-- it is a part of life here.  The air seems to carry a slight odor of fresh concrete.  The buildings here are no small undertaking-- large multi-story skyscrapers.  It is not possible to walk more than a few blocks without encountering construction occurring somewhere in your path.

On my first visit here I counted construction cranes that were visible from our hotel window--  27.  Our current lodging has less of a view, but  I count at least 8 cranes.

View from our apartment at the Pan Pacific Suites
Construction everywhere!

With a population of ~4.5 million in Singapore, I think 4 million of those must be construction workers to sustain such a level of activity.  Construction occurs 24 x 7--  the sound of back-up alarms on construction vehicles can be heard through the night, as well as the sharp sound of steel being pounded.  Noise ordinances require that the sounds of construction be kept lower during the night hours, and contractors can be cited for disobedience.  Project managers need to consider noise levels generated by certain tasks and constrain them in a construction schedule, adding another dimension to an already complex plan.  I'm impressed.

The construction also adds a new aspect to the ambience of the night sky-- sparks from welding can be seen falling from some of the taller buildings under construction, a miniature fireworks display.

Night view of Singapore at Boat Quay

Demand for apartments/condos and offices is apparently strong.  Who is buying and occupying all of these buildings?