Friday, April 25, 2008

This is what all the fuss is about?

The famous Durian. The King of all fruits. A fruit so pungent, it's illegal to bring it on the bus in most of southeast Asia. When you move to this part of the world, the first question you get from most foodies is, "Have you tried durian yet?"

Let me give you an idea of the experience.

The fruit is spiky, but not sharp enough to break your skin. Pretty solid for it's size. It takes a pretty hefty knife to crack it open, but once you do, you've got pretty easy access to the waxy flesh inside.

Then the smell hits you. I've heard it described as "a rotten smell" or "like dirty diapers", but that's not really right. It's a unique smell. Pungent. Not pleasant. Not pleasant at all. Clearly a defense mechanism developed over thousands and thousands of years. A smell that says, "Go away, there's nothing you want here." The first guy who ate one of these must have been really hungry.

As far as flavor, I'd have to say it's similar to the smell. Not quite a rotten taste, but more akin to the fruit version of stinky cheese. Combine a older brie cheese with fermented tofu and you might start to get close to this flavor. You're first reaction is, "This doesn't belong in my mouth." The real bitch of it is that you can't get the flavor out of your mouth. An hour later I could still taste it.

I'm told it's an acquired taste.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the "business" dinner

I've never eaten out so much in my life. I'm sure part of it is due to the fact that I'm all alone out here, but the number if invitations to lunch or dinner with clients or co-workers is a lot higher than I've ever experienced before. I feel like I'm being purposely fattened up for the slaughterhouse.

Don't think that I'm complaining; I'm not. The food and the company are both great. Singapore is a great place to eat. Lunch yesterday was a 6 course Chinese meal. Peking duck, great fried fish, was delicious. I'm just so used to eating a sandwich and reading a book on a bench outside that I'd kind of like a break.

There's a "business" meal for pretty much any excuse that can be offered. A client is upset..."Let's take them to lunch." A client is happy..."Let's take them to lunch." A co-worker is visiting from overseas..."Let's take him to dinner." Someone just got hired..."Let's take them to lunch." The price of oil just dropped 3 cents..."Let's go for dinner." You get the idea.

I've only put one of these on my expense report. It wasn't insanely expensive, but it wasn't cheap either. I'd love to know how much we spend on meals every year. I'm sure I'd be surprised by how much money it is. Of course, we don't hold a candle to most of our clients.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Damn it!

It finally happened. I left work today pretty pissed off. It took three and a half weeks; much longer than I thought it would. It was the first day that I understood enough about what was going on to be angry about something that happened.

There's no way in hell I'm going into any detail in this public forum. That's the worst part about being in a new office. In Houston, I'd developed 12 years worth of relationships that allowed me to go into a friend's office and vent for 15 minutes when I was angry. I've said things to my old VP that I know I shouldn't have, but he knew I was just venting frustration and let me blow my top without repercussions. In a new office, those relationships don't exist. I haven't felt this alone in my workplace since my first week at ABS.

I know what I need to do to fix things. Now I just have to man up and do it. It's just not as easy to tough it out at work when you don't get to go home at the end of the day and get a hug from a beautiful six year old boy who thinks you're the greatest man on earth.

I miss my wife.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, "The Blogging Tremblays!"

I was going to write my own post about this, but how could I do any better than my sister-in-law, Liza. Click here to check out her post about our experience on the radio waves.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


There's a great new walking bridge that just finished construction near my office.

Every time I see it I'm impressed. It's really quite beautiful when it's lit up at night. As an engineer, I think it's a pretty impressive structure as well. The tilted arch counterbalanced by the cantilevered walkway is very interesting. It was installed as a link between two parks that are very near each other, but separated by a major road.

My boss ( boss' boss) has a very different opinion though. Every time we've driven by it on the way to lunch, he sort of grunts and shakes his head in disapproval. Then he mutters, "Over designed."

I was surprised by his reaction, so I asked him why he thought that way. "So much steel. There's no need for all of that steel. So wasteful.", was his response. "It's not about the steel," I said. "It's nice to look at. Isn't that worth the steel?"

"No. It's wasteful. A simple bridge would do."

Well, he couldn't be any clearer than that.

We're both engineers, yet we had entirely different reactions to the design. Aside from many decades of experience, the other main difference between he and I is that he is Japanese and I am American.

I mentioned this to a great Japanese engineer who works for me. His reaction was immediate.


Um..what was that again?

"Mottainai." he says, "It's a word for an old Japanese concept. Don't waste. Don't take any more than you need."

I looked it up. It's defined on Wikipedia as "a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized." Could a definition be any more Japanese? And we thought we Americans invented "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." The Japanese have had a better catch word for thousands of years.

Coming here from Texas has been a culture shock in many ways, but one of the issues that sneaks up on you is the way that most things here (except for bridges apparently) are designed so much more efficiently. Home air conditioning for example. My house in Texas has one big central AC unit that blows cool air throughout my house. I set the temp, the AC turns on and off trying to regulate the temp of the entire house at once. In my condo here, there is a different AC unit for each room of the house. Each independently powered and controlled. If you know you won't be in a room for hours, just turn off that unit. You go back in there, just push a button and it cools off in 5 minutes. HUGE power savings over time.

Another example. The cleaning lady comes into my office every morning to empty the trash. She then picks through my garbage to make sure there isn't any paper in it that can be recycled. Most people here are pretty good about putting used paper in the recycle bins, but every day after cleaning the whole floor, she's got a trash bag full of paper that she dumps into the recycle bin. I'm sure this woman doesn't get paid squat. I'm sure someone cleaning trash bins in Houston for $6.25/hr wouldn't bother. But this old lady does it with a big old smile on her face.

Don't worry. I'm not about to get all preachy on you. I'm just thinking that my family and I will be learning a lot from all of these little cultural differences over the coming years. Hopefully some of the better things we learn will stick.

I still think it's a beautiful bridge though.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A special kind of wrong

While I know I'm interested in food, I didn't think I'd be posting about it this much. There's just no way around it. I work so much that the only time I get out is when I have to go shopping for things. When I'm in the mall, I usually grab something to eat.

Last weekend, I tried what seems to be a Japanese burger chain. Their gimmick is their chili. They put it on most of their products. Who'd have guessed...Japanese chili burgers, chili dogs, chili fried mussels. It may not surprise you to learn, I didn't order the mussels.

I got a MOS Burger (edible), MOS dog (quite good actually), fries and a drink. The chili was not very spicy and too sweet for my taste, but it can be honestly called a chili burger in this humble American's opinion. As my brother and his wife own a burger restaurant (, I can be a bit critical about burgers. As far as a taste rating goes, I'd rate it above Burger King, but below Wendy's.

Now here's the freaky part. As I'm sitting there munching on my MOS Dog and fries, I take a closer look at the advertisement on the wall next to my table. After swallowing what was in my mouth, I put down my food, stand up and read it again.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, an octopus burger. Not just any octopus burger, but an octopus burger served with chili on a rice bun. WTF!

I'll eat pretty much anything. Sea urchin in brown gravy?...tried it. Jellyfish salad?'s actually kind of good. Big bowl of pickled seaweed?...ate so much I got food poisoning. Durian (spiky fruit who's insides smell like poo)?'s on the menu for this weekend.

Octopus burger with chili on a rice bun...that's crossing a line I didn't know existed. I guess I've just got a moral objection to using the words "burger" and "octopus" together. If they called it the "chili octopus rice sandwich" maybe I'd be less opposed.

Either way...that looks gross.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Slammed in the backside

So I'm driving to work on Friday morning and I'm not having any fun. It's raining and my 35 minute commute looks like it's shaping up to be about an hour of bumper to bumper traffic. I'm kind of zoning out listening to the BBC news radio program talk about how much America sucks when all of a sudden....HONK!!!!....BANG!

Oh crap....I'm not driving on the wrong side of the road am I? Did I just hit someone?

No. I've been rear ended by a kid in a red car that's smaller than my son's "power wheels" dumptruck. We couldn't have been going more than 10 miles per hour in the traffic we were in. How the hell could he have hit me. Whatever. I pull over to the shoulder (the left shoulder) and he follows. Then another car and one of the crazy Singapore motorbike guys pulls over too. I'm thinking, "What's going on here? Are they just volunteering to be witnesses?"

Apparently, the motorbike hit the first car trying to squeeze through the traffic, then that guy hit the red car and pushed it into me. This took about 15 minutes to figure out because everyone except me was speaking Mandarin. If I asked a question, someone would chime in in English, but otherwise, I'm pretty much just standing there writing down license plate numbers.

I was able to get the personal info from the guy in the red car, but everyone else just took off. Thankfully, no one was hurt and my car just traded a little paint with the red car. Hopefully the car leasing company will take care of the red tape for me.

We'll see. Odds are it will all end up being my fault and I'll get to find out what the inside of a Singapore prison looks like.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Back on my back

This is a picture of the small porch outside of the sliding door in my living room. I've been trying to collect things in Singapore that make a home, more of a home. One of the other American ABS families in Singapore is heading back to the US this summer, so they offered me a few of the things that they won't be bringing with them. This outdoor furniture and nice potted plant are some of those things. Take a closer look at that plant.

It's heavier than it looks. Trust me. I've got the back pain to prove it. I knew as soon as I pulled it out of the car last night that something was wrong, but I figured I'd tough it out and get it onto the porch. That was a mistake my friends. I should have just put it down and left it. That way, I wouldn't have missed work today.

I've had problems with my back before. A great physical therapist in Houston taught me a series of stretching exercises a few years ago. I spent an hour lying on my back and stretching before I went to bed. It helped a bit, but not nearly enough. Though I can walk, I look kind of like a 90 year old woman with arthritis in her legs.

So I sent an email into the office to let them know I wouldn't be there. It seems they were very concerned about me. Because they didn't have my home number (it just started working at 7pm tonight) and my cell phone still hasn't arrived yet, they couldn't get a hold of me. So, to make sure I was OK, they sent my real estate agent over to my condo to check on me and see if I needed a doctor. I can't tell you how surprised I was to see her show up unannounced while I was shuffling around in my pajamas.

She offered to take me for some "Chinese Medicine" which I appreciated, but politely declined. I'm kind of thinking now that I maybe should have gone. It would have made for a more interesting blog post.

Hopefully I'll feel well enough to go into the office tomorrow. I feel better tonight than I did this morning. Either way I just have to go in. I'm not all that pleased about missing a day in the office during my 2nd week in Singapore.

From now on, no more heavy lifting without help.

Connected to the world

It's amazing what we take for granted today. Internet, telephone, cable tv. You don't realize how much you rely on them until you don't have them. It took just over a week for me to get "connected" in Singapore. Most of that time was just me getting around to activating the service. Now, that everything has been activated, I might as well be in the US.
This weekend I got online and played Xbox with Jeff and my brothers. I talked to my family on the phone and had a video conference via Xbox live with my brother Mike.
It's an amazing thing. 20 years ago we were all impressed by Cable TV being installed in our neighborhood and having more than 5 channels. Now I can play Guitar Hero with my brother from the other side of the world and it barely surprises me. Unreal.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Would you like toast with your toast?

Sorry for two food posts in a row, but I couldn't resist. That sign is no joke. This is seriously a restaurant that that sells toast. Yup, toast. That's it...just toast. Note the 3ft high pyramid of butter on the left side of the counter. Up close, it's very pretty, but disturbing as well.

I haven't eaten there yet, but I will. From what I can tell, you can get different things on it. Looking online, it seems a favorite is "pork floss."

I'll try anything once, but I can't imagine telling myself, "You know what would be good right now? Pork floss on toast."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

You want me to eat that?

My brother Mike has a blog called He just takes pictures of what he eats and puts it online. Sounds kinda silly, but people kinda like it. It was my sister-in-law's idea. Mike is constantly talking about the different stuff he's jamming in his pie-hole. I guess she figured this may give him a creative outlet or something. So, out of respect for Mike and at the request of Liza, what you see here is probably the first of many food posts. All of us Tremblay boys are into food. Joe owns a restaurant, Mike blogs about food, and I just eat to much.

Check this thing out

It's called a dragonfruit. I'd actually had it before, but I'd always seen it peeled and cut. I'd never seen the peel before.

It tastes kinda like a mild kiwifruit. The black dots are the seeds. You just eat the seeds like it's a raspberry or strawberry. When you slice it, the peel comes right off. This one was a little under ripe. When ripe, they're really sweet. I had it for dessert last night. Good stuff.

Next challenge, the infamous durian.

You've got mail!

Actual mail!!!! Mail for me at my new address! It makes me feel like I really live here!!!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Good thing I'm a Lefty!

Here she is! My sweet ride for the next few years. It's actually a lot more car than I expected my company to provide. It's a Subaru Forester. If you can't tell from the picture, it's blue with a black and tan interior. It's an automatic, but when you hit the gas, it moves pretty well. The only real problem with it is that the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car.

Pretty much everything driving related is on the wrong side in Singapore. The shifter (?what do you call the stick in an automatic?) is on the left, I have to look left to look in the mirror, even the radio buttons are backwards. When I drive, I find myself drifting left because my body wants to be on the left side of the lane. At least I haven't killed anybody yet.

All kidding aside, I'm picking it up very quickly. I'm having more trouble remembering which way to look when I walk across the street than I am driving. It helps that the road signs here are very good. It's almost impossible to get lost. Of course, when an island country is only 25 miles wide, you can only get so lost. Pick a direction, if you hit the water, you went too far.

The other thing about driving here that is different is that you are constantly paying for little things automatically. See this little beauty?

It's called an "In-vehicle unit" or IU for short. It's got a little radio unit in it that talks with sensors hanging above certain parts of the highway or downtown heavy traffic streets that are considered toll areas. You can't miss them when you drive by, there's a huge sign and the IU beeps to tell you you just lost money.

To make it available for folks not financially able to open a bank account, instead of tying it to a credit card like you would in the US, you buy a "cash card" at 7-11 that you have to put in it for it to work. Of course, if everyone has these cash cards, enterprising people will think of a way to get some of that money from you. Pretty much anywhere you want to park in Singapore, you have to pay. How do you pay? Cash card! The entry to the lot has the same kind of transponder that the highway tolls do. It scans you when you enter and then again when you leave. Usually costs you about S$1/hr depending on where you are. In a week I've been charged about S$15. That's actually about the same as I was paying in toll road charges in Houston though, so I guess I can't complain.

That's all for today.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Glamorous Bachelor Life

Here it is folks. What I call living is style. This bachelor life is not all it's cracked up to be. I wake up, I go to work, I go home, I sleep. Pretty much my life for the next two months. If you look very closely, you can see that I've got my Xbox set up. That's my family for the near future, and I've barely played. I'm just too damn tired.

Work is good, there's just a lot to do. Between settling in and having such a young staff, the folks here will be keeping me very busy. They're a great crowd of people though. So far, I really like them.

I really haven't had a chance to do anything interesting. I'd like to go downtown or to Marina Bay at some point. Maybe I'll go out on Sunday. If I do, I'll post a few pictures.

I just found out that my furniture will arrive on Saturday. The things that you see in the picture are just temporary items that the furniture leasing company lent me until the permanent stuff is ready.

That's all for now. Maybe tomorrow I'll introduce you to the wonder of driving on the wrong side of the street. I haven't run over anyone yet, but there have been some close calls.