Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Grandma has landed

It's Christmas eve in Singapore and we're all looking forward to Santa's pending arrival.

Our other arrival this week was Melissa's mom, Chris. Jack has been very happy to have his Grandma here for Christmas and everyone has been staying busy. While I've been working, Melissa, Jack and Chris have been all over town.

On Friday, Jack had his class holiday party. Melissa and Chris joined the party in the classroom with many other parents and had a great time.

Another trip this week was to the Jurong Bird Park.

Tomorrow is the big day and then off to Club Med for 4 days.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ox-Tail Crumpets

It's now holiday season, when people eat their favorite holiday treats. Your favorite cookies, grandma's apple pie, egg-nog, chestnuts roasting on an open fire...whatever was a favorite in your house growing up. I'm one of the few people in the world (me and my Dad are the only ones I know) who likes that heavy old fruitcake. The ones made by the Trappist Monks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Oregon are the best. Unfortunately, Christmas monk cake is hard to find in Singapore. I bought a locally made one I saw in the grocery store, but it was horrible. There were actually little crunchy pieces of eggshell in it.

As I sit here and wallow in my cake-less state, I received an email this morning my friend (now ex-friend) Jeff sent out to a few of the boys from back home.

You know around the holidays how people leave random treats and stuff out for people to sample? Someone brought in a box of these Trader Joe's "Candy Cane Joe Joe's". Basically they're oreo cookie with a filling that's a mix of oreo cookie filling and candy canes. Freaking insanity! If you have a Trader Joe's near you, I highly suggest you buy yourself a box. Matt, perhaps you can swing by the local Trader Ming's and pick yourself up a box of pickeld oxtail crumpets. Just as good.

Jeff can bite me. First of all, everyone knows that ox-tail is for breakfast in Asia, not dessert. Second, what the heck is a crumpet. You have to be English to know what a crumpet is.

The worst part of all of this is that he's not all that far off the mark when it comes to dessert in Asia. I'm very open minded about food, but people here like some crazy stuff.

1) We've now learned that you should never buy the rolls at the bakery that have sesame seeds on them. Apparently sesame seeds mean, "I'm a horrendous dessert item. This bun is full of some sort of crazy bean paste."

2) Chendol = coconut milk, brown sugar, red beans and "green starch strips." Yes, I tried it. No, I don't know what green starch strips are made of.

3) Grass jelly. Yup. Grass jelly.

4) Durian does not taste any better when you make a cake out of it. Trust me.

5) Just get the fruit plate or the ice cream.

I think I'll try to make an apple pie for Christmas.

The Mind of a First Grader - Volume 5

When Jack was sick last weekend, the doctor tried to cheer him up by telling him HFMD was one of the best things a kid could get.

"It's the only disease where you're supposed to eat as much ice cream as you can," said the doc.

On Saturday, Jack didn't eat anything. On Sunday, things were starting to improve. He had two bowls of ice cream for lunch and another for dinner. By Monday, he was feeling a lot better, but I'm sure you know what's coming.

Matt: Feeling any better this morning buddy?
Jack: Yeah, a lot.
Matt: How about some scrambled eggs for breakfast?
Jack: The doctor said I'm supposed to eat ice cream.
Matt: That was for when your mouth was hurting.
Jack: It still hurts.
Matt: You just said you were feeling better.
Jack: But not 'a lot' better.
Matt: You JUST said, you feel "a lot" better.
Jack: But DAD! The doctor said I could!
Matt: How about we start with eggs and if you finish them, you can have a little ice cream.
Jack: That's not what the doctor said.

Monday, December 15, 2008

HFMD = bad times

About a week and a half ago a letter came home from school with Jack that said a member of his classroom had been diagnosed with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD). We'd heard it had been going around the school but what are you going to do? Cover your kid in plastic wrap?

About 2 days later (Wednesday), Jack says his cheek is hurting him at dinner time. We take a look, but don't see anything. "Stop whining. Finish your vegetables."

The next morning, Jack takes his first bite of breakfast and winces. The cheek again. He opens his mouth and I take a look. There's three tiny blisters on the inside of his cheek.

"OK buddy, no school today. You can go watch TV."

Melissa took him to the neighborhood doctor that morning. As he only had blisters in his mouth, and not on his hands or feet, the doctor said he couldn't be sure, but he thought it was HFMD. He said that if the symptoms change, we should bring him back in, but otherwise, take some Ibuprofen and tough it out.

(Quick info on HFMD. It's not the same thing as hoof and mouth disease. Different animal (cow) different virus. HFMD is a highly contagious, painful, but mostly harmless viral infection usually limited to children under 10. Painful blisters appear in the mouth and/or on the hands and feet. It usually lasts about 3-4 days.)

By the next day, Jack was miserable. The three little blisters had turned into dozens all over his cheeks and tongue. For almost two days, he barely ate or drank anything. When you offer a starving 6 year old a milkshake and he won't even consider it, you know he's in pain. It hurt so much for him to talk that he basically didn't speak for 2 days. He just kept his mouth shut and grunted and pointed to communicate.

We were getting to a point where we were starting to worry about dehydration when things finally started getting better. He started eating ice cream and drinking some water on Saturday. By Sunday he was feeling much better and had steak and mashed potatoes for dinner.

Because HFMD is so contagious, they require that anyone who even thinks they may have it take a whole week off from school. There have been cases in the Singapore public school system where the government has shut down entire elementary schools to stop the kids from passing it back and forth. Jack's first day back at SAS was today (Thursday).

He's feeling fine now and looking forward to Christmas. His Grandma Chris arrived from Virginia last night and we're all looking forward to a fun holiday together.

If you ever hear that a kid at your child's school has HFMD, cover your kid in plastic wrap.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Big Easy

My brother Joe is visitng his old stomping grounds in New Orleans right now. He went to school there and fell in love with the city. He's been uploading pictures of food to his Facebook page for a week. The pictures of oysters and Abita beer are driving me crazy. The one shot that pushed me over the edge though was of a beautiful muffuletta sandwich. (If you've never had one, click here.)

Ive been thinking about it for a week. It's been stuck in my head. At every meal I think, "I wish this was a muffuletta." Unfortunately, they're not that easy to come by outside of New Orleans, let alone in Singapore. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands.

I've got a pretty good recipe for Italian bread and I know where I can get some good cold cuts (even though it's a 35 minute drive away.) I had to make the olive salad myself, but it came out very well.

it's best when the olive oil seeps into the bread

Not the best sandwich I've ever had, but damn good. I'me sure the next one will be better.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yuuuuuuuuuuuung Sing!

It's been a while since the last post. It's been a busy 2 weeks.

For both of the past two weekends, I've been attending the weddings of my employees. The first wedding was in Kuala Lumpur, the second, in Singapore.

For the wedding in KL, Melissa and Jack were invited as well, so we made a weekend of it. On Friday at 5pm, we joined a bunch of my coworkers in a coach bus bound for KL. It's not a bad trip. The seats are pretty nice (much nicer and bigger than a plane), and it costs about half the price. The trip takes about 5 hours by bus. Considering all of the security and travel to and from the airport, the bus was a good way to get there.

The Chinese style wedding was a new experience. Let's start at the beginning.

The first thing you need to know is about the gift. You always just give money for a gift. Never and actual item for a present. The trick is, it MUST be in a red envelope. As far as Chinese tradition/superstition goes, this is a big one. Red is a very "fortunate" color. White is the color of death. To hand someone a white envelope on their wedding day is the equivalent of telling them, "I hope you get divorced as soon as possible." Not very polite. Thankfully almost all of my Chinese staff want to look out for their "Ang Mo" boss. I was handed red envelopes all week by the rest of my staff to make sure I didn't screw up.

Weddings usually range from 300 to 400 people. I can't imagine inviting that many people. I don't even know that many people. Most of these people aren't invited to the actual wedding ceremony. That's usually a small affair at either a church, temple or the courthouse. Usually only immediate family and what we would call the "wedding party" are invited to that. Following the ceremony, the rest of the day is spent at different "tea ceremonies". These are held at each families parent's houses and it's where the in-law's accept you as part of the family.

The big event of the night is the dinner. This is when all 300 people show up with their little red envelopes.

Dinner is a long affair. Usually two and a half to three hours long. 8 to 10 courses is standard in the normal Chinese style. You get the expected items... shark fin soup, roasted duck or chicken, steamed fish, stir-fried shrimp, etc. The food is nice, but the meal is so long, by the 6th or 7th item, you're just wishing it would end. Thankfully, when the meal ends, it's over. No dancing or anything else after.

Toward the end of the dinner, a short speech is made by a brother or sister of the couple and then followed by a thank you speech from the Groom. This is followed by the traditional Chinese toast of "Yung Sing" (literally "drink and win"). This can be done either by the entire room at once, or table by table. At the 400 person wedding, the entire room toasted at once. At the 300 person wedding, the wedding party visited each table to toast one by one. It took almost 2 hours. Not good times at 11 pm with a sleeping 6 year old on your lap.

The toast is done done three times, each wishing for different things. (Prosperity, babies and something else I didn't catch.) And you don't just raise a glass and say, Yung Sing. You yell, "YUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNG SING!" as loud and as long as you can. And I mean long. At most times, the "Yung" part was stretched out over 3 or 4 breaths. Cute at first, annoying after hearing it for the 60th time.

More than anything, I was just honored to be invited. Both of my employees who invited me are great young guys that I respect very much. They were great hosts and it was a pleasure to meet their families. Now I just want them to get back from their honeymoons and get back to work.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The little film maker

Jack's uncle Mike is in TV production. It looks like Jack may be following in his footsteps. At school last week, Jack made a movie as part of his computer class.

You can also see the movie at the website for Jack's classroom. This is a good spot to check every once in a while to see what's going on in SAS room P207. click here