Friday, November 30, 2007

So This Is Christmas...

The American-style elves-and-Santa setups are in the malls. The swankier stores are decked out in swags of silk greenery, poinsettias, and lights. Outdoors, the five-story-high fake Christmas trees clash horribly with the tropical foliage, though nobody seems to mind. But there’s still one problem: it’s hot.

I’ve largely refrained from complaining about the weather here, mostly because I actually like it. But now we’re experiencing the unbearable stickiness of our first rainy season. I thought all the rain might mean cooler temperatures, but instead, the heavy clouds hold in the damp heat, pressing it down on anyone who dares to venture outdoors. And our fragile air-conditioning system, flummoxed by the change in season, has responded by producing warm, steamy air.

Plus the bugs are coming out of the woodwork, or wherever they’ve been all year. We barely noticed them before, but now they’re launching daily campaigns to breach our doors and windows - anything to get out of the rain. (Clearly, they’re spoiled; we have nothing like the floods and monsoons elsewhere in the region.)

All this I could have ignored, were it not for the necessity of putting up Christmas decorations. Even after all those Christmasses in Florida (which, admittedly, were drier if not much cooler than this), it’s the first time Christmas has seemed like such an act of will. First was the lugging of decorations down from storage on the “air-conditioned” third floor, which had reached about 100 sticky Fahrenheit degrees. Next was the battle with a very large cockroach while in the storage room searching for electrical converters so as to light up the decorations without shorting the power grid.

Then there was the garland. Determined to make it feel “like Christmas” in our Singapore home, I’d rashly planned to wrap a faux pine garland all the way up the stairs to the third floor. (The woman at the garden store was baffled. “I know it’s on sale, but where will you put 64 feet of this stuff?”) Unfortunately, while a pine garland seemed warm and comforting in New Jersey, I quickly discovered that in Singapore’s temperatures I could barely stand to hold on to such scratchy prickliness – the equivalent of hauling a thick wool sweater around Miami in June. The homey, festive experience I’d hoped for quickly gave way to a sweat-drenched struggle to wrangle my 64 feet of garland into place on the stairwell before passing out from the heat.

Just at the top of the second floor, I ran out - not of garland, but of energy. That was the point at which I gave up and went downstairs to watch ice-skating on TV with an enormous glass of ice water. Gradually, I started to feel just a little cooler. But it still took me a long time to feel in the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fruit of the Month Club IX

It’s themed to Thanksgiving, it’s slightly quirky, and nine out of ten people probably don’t think it’s a fruit. It’s also our second (and perhaps our last) fried fruit of the month. Our fruit of the month for November is . . . pumpkin tempura.

Yes, folks, while you were eating your tasty Thanksgiving leftovers of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, we were beginning to realize that when you don’t cook your own Thanksgiving lunch, you have an empty fridge at dinnertime, when you just want a bite of something to finish off the day.

So what did we do, resourceful expats in Asia that we are? We went to Sakae Sushi, of course. But I am not a sushi eater myself, and I still had Thanksgiving on my mind, so I ordered my first pumpkin tempura. It’s not made with the “traditional” pumpkin but with a lighter, sweeter Japanese pumpkin, tending more toward the butternut squash camp. Still, it’s yummy, with a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture and just a hint of the autumn we were craving.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Remembering Florida

Recently, I’ve been editing and writing Florida-related passages, and some of them have vividly reminded me of what it was like growing up there. A week or two into the work, I found myself homesick for someplace I haven’t lived in a dozen years or so. True, we have steamy heat and palms and mangroves and shore birds and lizards here in Singapore, too. But there’s much that I miss, at least the way I remember it.

I miss the clack-clack of high-heeled sandals in the tiled, fountain-filled courtyard of the Columbia restaurant in St. Augustine. I miss Ybor City, Tampa’s historical district and home of amazing Cuban food and atmosphere. I miss hearing the rolling syllables of Spanish after every English announcement.

I miss watching the east-coast beaches shimmering during thunderstorms. I miss the beaches at night. I remember getting up in pitch blackness and reaching the beach just in time to see a massive sea turtle crouching over a hole in the sand, dropping dozens of eggs the size of golf balls before shuffling imperturbably back into the sea.

I miss playing one-on-one basketball and shell games with the dolphins just up the road at Marineland - nothing in the world lifts the spirits like delighting a dolphin, especially when no one else is around - before some stupid kid threw something dangerous in and they had to put up fences.

I miss my maternal grandmother’s house, just across the bridge from the ocean, and the way the sand clung to our feet after a day on the beach. I even miss her refusal of air-conditioning. Now I see it was just an extension of her love of the old Florida ways.

I miss Southern sweetened iced tea, more plentiful than water, always the perfect taste, always ice-cold. I love that my paternal grandmother, no matter where she is in the world, just can’t stop herself from asking for “sweet tea.” I feel the same.

I am going back for a week or so in December, to visit and to try to adjust to the inevitable changes. Even so, when I dream of Florida, I think I will still see what I miss, what I remember.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving, Sort Of

We scheduled our Thanksgiving meal at the American Club for lunchtime, because they were sold out at dinner. I asked Joey, “Are you sure noon would be okay?” He looked at me and shrugged. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Because he didn’t get the day off, that’s why.

So in between meetings, he met me for Thanksgiving lunch. Among our fellow diners were a few American families also celebrating the holiday, but most people there were Singaporeans having everyday business lunches.

There was no Macy’s parade - at least, not until 11 p.m. our time, and then it wasn’t carried on any of our cable channels. There was no kickoff to Christmas; with no Thanksgiving holiday to keep the Singaporean retailers in check, it’s been the “Christmas shopping season” since the beginning of November. And, speaking of kickoffs, there was no American football, either.

Still, as we ate our turkey and trimmings, we counted our blessings. Air conditioning (it’s currently 80 degrees and 75 percent humidity, indoors). Cheap calling cards that make our family sound like they’re next door. Email and snail mail, the source of Thanksgiving cards that made today feel more like a holiday. And, of course, next month’s trip to see many of the people we’re thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ads That Make You Go Hmm...

Found this flyer in our mailbox the other day. At first glance it seems normal enough. Standard aspirational verbiage, the “don’t you want to be like them” approach. What you’d expect from a luxury if perhaps fading brand.

The very last line, what they clearly think is the final kicker, is what gets me. “For less than $119,000*.” I don’t care if that’s in Sing dollars. That’s still $80,000 US. (It might be even more tomorrow, given the dollar’s slide.) And this is for Ford’s entry-class Jaguar.

I have no idea if this includes government tax (import duties are almost as high as the sticker price), the COE (the permit to drive the car, issued in very limited numbers, at auction), and all the other charges. But if not, the total price for the car could set you back more than $160,000 US.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Speedy Delivery

No, not the Mr. Rogers kind - I'm thinking food delivery. Here, plenty of food can be delivered, usually courtesy of guys on zippy mopeds with large boxes on the back. Sure, there’s the standard stuff like pizza, though it’s from a Pizza Hut rather than a Domino’s as you might expect. But pizza is even less appealing here than in the US. And while McDonalds offers delivery almost 24 hours a day, having limp French fries delivered isn’t my idea of dinner.

There are some unusual ones here, but not all of them are great ideas, either. Do you really want your sushi after it’s been sitting on the back of a motorcycle in 85-degree heat? For my money, the perfect delivery foods are Indian and Malaysian foods.

One of the services that has caught my eye is Dial-a-Curry (actual slogan: “You Curry, We Hurry!”), the delivery arm for Maharajah on Orchard Road. Korma, paneers, vindaloos, you name it, paired with naans, parathas, and dosas. That’s food that will still be fantastic when it arrives at your doorstep.

On my way home the other day, I also spotted this delivery truck for Malaysian nasi lemak, otah, and satay. Granted, this is probably for catering, but it’s worth throwing a party for, right? Pizza guys, you’ve got competition!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fruit of the Month Club VIII

I’m a little late in posting this, but here is October’s fruit of the month. We figured, in the month of jack o’ lanterns, what could be more appropriate than a deep-fried jackfruit?

Our friend got some for us to try at the Hari Raya festivities, and we thought, hey, conch fritters! But no, it was a hard jackfruit fried in a thick batter.

The first reaction for both of us on the first bite was, “What is durian doing in this thing?” Trust us, if there is anything you do not want sneaking up on you, it’s durian - a scarier surprise than any Halloween monster.

Once we knew it was there, though, the taste wasn’t all that bad. Jackfruit isn’t quite as punchy as durian, and it’s a smaller dose, so we could mostly enjoy the creaminess of the texture and the crunch of the batter.

Not the healthiest fruit of the month, admittedly. But surely it’s healthier than the large quantities of Halloween candy we have left over after our lone trick-or-treater (a British neighbor) stopped by.