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?