Saturday, October 18, 2014

Settled in

We've been in the new place for about 6 weeks and I still haven't posted the photos.  These pictures are a few weeks old, but at least they are from before we started making a mess.

Here's a few pictures to give you an idea of the apartment.

Entry Hallway
Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom
Master Bedroom
Jack's Room
Game Room in the hallway
Utility Room
Melissa's Craft Room
We love our patio
Having a drink after work 
We've got a great view from the 41st floor
That's McRitchie Reservoir in the distance
We can even (barely) see the ocean on a clear day

We are getting used to apartment living again.  After living in our great house in Texas, it is a big change to be living on the 41st story of a huge building.  We even park on the 4th floor of the garage.  Of course, the best part of apartment living is the crazy neighbors.  As you can see from the sculpture on the porch downstairs.

I don't get it either.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boy Scouts and the Blue Mountain Kelong

One of the ways that you maintain a bit of normalcy in your life after moving to the other side of the world is by participating in activities that you are familiar with. For Melissa, that is her scrapbooking group, for me....mostly work.  For Jack, it has been getting involved with the BSA Scout Troop in Singapore.

By the end of his first troop meeting, he had been elected to be the troop librarian and an assistant patrol leader.  Talk about jumping right into things.  Scouting is something Jack knows and it is something he and I can do together that doesn't include video games and such.  As much as I travel for work, when I am home, I like to spend as much time as I can doing this kind of thing with Jack.

The first troop camp-out of the year was a big one.  One of the older boys was doing his Eagle Award service project.  He had organized a big project to paint a small school at a kampung (small village) in Indonesia.

As you can tell by the pictures, this little village isn't exactly well funded.  Most of the people who live there work as local fishermen scraping out just enough to survive.  It turns out that the little school in the village was built by a Singaporean doctor who wanted to give something back to a nearby community.

Through a few tenuous connections, one of the scouts in our troop knew this school was here and needed some help.  He arranged for a group of scouts to come from Singapore with all of the supplies needed to re-paint the entire school.  

The trip to Indonesia was more of an adventure than I had expected.  From Singapore, we took a large ferry to Batam Centre on Batam Island.  Batam is a pretty big island that is only about a 45 minute ferry ride from Singapore.  From there, it was about an hour in a van to where we met our second boat of the trip.

While it wasn't the most sturdy vessel on the sea, it did the trick and we made if to our destination on one piece (and mostly dry).

While in Indonesia, the boys stayed at the Blue Mountain Kelong. A kelong is essentially a house or platform built on stilts, primarily for fishing. The Blue Mountain kelong has added a number of guest rooms that they use mostly for eco-tourists and other who just want to get away from the city life for a while.

While simple and bare, it really was a beautiful place with a lot of charm and very wonderful people. The rooms were neat and clean the the food (served family style) was local and delicious.  Aside from fishing, the kelong had about 200 acres of land that was used primarily for farming papayas.

One of the special memories of the trip was that the troop essentially adopted the young son of the family that ran the kelong.  While he spoke very little English, Artie spent most of his time that weekend hanging out with the boys and enjoying the rare company of a group of kids.  The troop liked Artie so much that he was made an honorary member of Troop 07 on the morning of our departure.

Overall, this was a great experience that we would only have the opportunity to attend living here in southeast Asia.  While the scout camping is very different and a bit more difficult to organize, it is worth the it for the experiences that we would never get in Texas.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A little fun before the finish line

The end is in sight!

We are almost finished with the move that feels like it is lasting forever.  Tomorrow at 2pm, Melissa and I will take over the keys for our new (to us) condo in Singapore.  We've been cooped up in this little serviced apartment for about a month now and we're very ready to move into our permanent place.

We've got about a week of overlap between the two places so that we can take all of our deliveries and move in.  Our sea shipment as well as the furniture we are leasing locally arrive on Friday.  I will unfortunately be in Japan on a business trip that day, so Melissa will be handling that full day on her own. (I can see this trip to Japan becoming it's own story a mile away. I've already been asked to come up with a speech for an authentic Shinto ceremony. Stay tuned.)

We still have to set up internet, cable and a few other details, but we're planning to spend next weekend unpacking and getting completely out of the temp apartment.

As a way to have some fun before all of the heavy lifting starts, Melissa, Jack and I spent the day at Universal Studios Singapore today.

The park itself is very nice and in pretty good shape.  The biggest drawbacks are that it is quite small (compared to American parks) and the signature roller coaster has been out of commission for over a year after having a number of technical problems since it's debut.

There are about seven or eight sections to visit, ranging from Shrek to Sci Fi to Egyptian Pyramids.  Each section usually has a signature ride as well as one smaller ride for the kiddos.  For the most part, the rides are pretty short and tame based on US standards.  




We made it around the whole park in about four hours. That includes going on most of the rides.  The lines were pretty much nonexistent though because we elected to go with the annual pass with the "express" (cut the line) option.  The lines today didn't look to bad compared to Disneyworld, but after riding the little, short rides, I'd have been frustrated about waiting for more than 30 minutes to ride most of them.

Without a doubt, the best two rides were "The Mummy" and the "Transformers 3D" rides.  The Mummy was very similar to the Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom, but a lot darker and faster.  The Transformers ride was similar to the Star Wars ride at Disney Studios (ex. MGM Studios) but the car you were in drove around from screen to screen.  Pretty cool.  That was the only ride Jack and I went on twice.

One last story before I call it a day.  

After riding the obligatory river raft  ride that is at every amusement park in the world (here it has a Jurassic Park theme), we got nice and wet but didn't mind too much because of the usual Singapore heat.  As we came out of the ride exit, we saw this:

That's right, it's a big blow dryer dryer for your whole body! S$5 to get blasted with hot air in a town drowning in hot air!  They think of everything in this town.  If someone ever figures out outdoor air-conditioning, it will be a Singaporean.

That's it for now.  Hopefully the next post will be pictures our our new condo.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A week goes by quickly/slowly


Sometimes a week can feel like it has gone by in a blink, other times it feels like it drags on forever.  I guess I feel somewhere between the two right now.  We've been here in Singapore for about 10 days now. When I think about everything we've done since we arrived, I'm impressed with all we've accomplished.  When I think about how much longer we will be stuck in the serviced apartment until we move into our permanent place, a week feels like a year.

The two biggest stories of the week are that we went to the open house at Jack's school and we made an offer on a condo.

The school was great, just like we remembered it.  Judging from the picture above and the picture below, Jack is what has changed the most over the last 4 years.

We met most of Jack's teachers and were thoroughly impressed by everyone.  From English to band to science, all of his teachers seem great so we're hoping for a smooth transition to 7th grade.  We even ran into Jack's 2nd grade teacher who is his favorite teacher ever.  She recognized him right away and came right at him with the biggest smile and a hug.

One big change from the public school in Texas is that every student in the Middle School gets issued their own computer. Homework, classwork, tests, etc. are all done on the laptop.  I agree with the school that this will help the kids learn the computer skills necessary in today's world, I just can't imagine that Jack can make it through the rest of his life without his penmanship improving.  Tuesday is the first day of school, so wish us luck.

House hunting was the other big activity of the week.  The day after we arrived, we met our real estate agent, Heleen.  Heleen is from The Netherlands, but has lived in Singapore for about 20 years.  It was nice to be able to work with someone who knew the island like a local, but could understand your perspective like a Westerner.  We spent a lot of time looking over the span of a week and saw about 20 different places in locations all over Singapore.  We were having a hard time deciding where to live while balancing distance from work, school, the subway and other local amenities like the grocery store.  You have to plan a bit differently than you do in the US when you only have one car and it's too hot to walk very far to the store.

While we never found a place we all thought was "perfect," we are pretty happy with the decision we made.  On Friday, we put an offer on a condo at Sky @ Eleven.  It's pretty much dead center in the middle of the island, and while the subway is not directly out the front door, it's only a few bus stops away.  We are going to be on the 41st out of 42 floors, so I hope the elevators aren't to busy.

We should hopefully confirm the contract this week and the place is move-in ready. If all goes well, we'll be able to move in right when our sea freight arrives during the first week of September.  Once we settle in, I'll get some pictures posted online.

I was also able to move into my new office this week.

Melissa took this picture before I received my boxes and unpacked, but you get the idea.  It's an office.  However, one of the best perks of this job is the view.

We did try to take a break from all of the work, errands and house hunting too.  Jack and I went last weekend to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  Jack and I both really enjoyed it.  There were plenty of laughs, the action scenes were the usual Marvel goodness and the story was just good enough the keep it all together. Just right for a 12 year old boy and his dad looking to blow off some steam.

I'm now sitting on the couch with a full belly on a Sunday night after going to the hawker center to eat Singapore style with the family.  If you haven't seen one before, a hawker center is essentially an outdoor food court with dozens and dozens of stalls.  In Singapore, each stall has a local specialty, such as roti prata, satay, grilled chicken wings (Jack's favorite), seafood or noodles.

Our back door is less than a 5 minute walk to the most famous hawker center in Singapore, Newton Circus. Because it is so large and well known, it tends to cater a bit more to tourists and expats.  As I'm an expat, you'd think that would be a good thing, but not really.  The prices are a bit higher then most places (but still pretty cheap...maybe a $5 plate instead of $4) and the stall owners are a bit pushy trying to talk clueless tourists toward their stall.

Regardless, we had a great meal and would not hesitate to go back.  We're hoping there is another great hawker center near our new place after we move in. (And also hoping that the weeks start speeding along.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

First Day in Singapore

Well...we made it.

That was a long flight my friends.  Melissa said it best; flying to the other side of the world is like childbirth, if you haven't done it in a few years, you forget how painful the experience is and you're willing to do it again.

Honestly, we have very little to complain about.  The flights were long, but they went just fine.  Everything was on time and aside from one crying baby, there were no troubles on the plane. We had about a three hour layover in Tokyo-Narita.  The whole time we were in the terminal, we were staring at the plane that was taking us to Singapore.  Lucky Jack was able to sleep on that entire flight.

We landed a bit after midnight and (after a quick stop at the duty free) our driver was waiting to take us and our 7 suitcases to our temporary apartment in the Newton neighborhood.  The apartment is a bit small, but it's very nice.  It has a great pool, gym and continental breakfast on weekdays.  It is also only a 5 minute walk to the subway station.

Today (Thursday) we were able to take a somewhat easy day.  We went to Starbuck's for breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning unpacking. We went back out around 2:00 to get lunch and pick up some groceries.  We were pleasantly surprised to find out that our MRT (subway) cards from four years ago still worked just fine and still had about S$20 on each of them. For lunch, there was only one choice.  Melissa has been dreaming about dumplings at Din Tai Fung since we left Singapore 4 years ago.

Jack was even able to practice his chop stick skills.

After lunch, we went to the grocery store and quickly remembered how expensive it is to shop here.  That is going to take some getting used to.

We made our way back to the apartment and went for a quick swim.  We've been talking about making dinner, but I really don't think it's going to happen.  Jet lag seems to be getting the best of us and it looks like we are going to crash.  A quick peanut butter sandwich may be all that happens for dinner tonight.

We've got a big day tomorrow.  I'm going to run into the office in the morning, and then we are going to spend the afternoon looking for a permanent place to live. I think we've got seven different apartments and condos on the agenda for the afternoon.  Wish us luck!

Friday, July 25, 2014


We are getting toward the end of our first day of packing up our stuff for the move. The moving company has a team of 5 people that plan to be here for two days packing up all of our things that are heading to Singapore with us.

While two days seems like a pretty short amount of time to pack for this kind of move, the packing really started months ago.  Since June, we (ok, mostly Melissa) have been cleaning and sorting trying to plan for what we want to go with us and what we want to stay in the house in Texas. It has been a different experience this time trying to plan what to bring. We want to have our favorite things with us while leaving enough in the Texas house so that it is comfortable for anyone staying there.

The word is that the sea freight containers are only taking about 5 weeks to make it from Houston to Singapore, including the time to get through customs.  That's pretty good time.  Hopefully, we will sort out a permanent place to live in Singapore within about a month and the delivery timing should be just right.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Calm Before the Storm

Not a ton of exciting stuff to be posting about these last few weeks.  We’re really in the calm before the storm part of getting ready to go.  We’ve been doing a ton of paperwork and slowly getting the house ready for the packers room by room. There are always more plans to make for all of the little things like bills and mail and such.

This Thursday, Jack flies off to Boston so that my mother can drop him off at summer camp on Saturday. The lucky guy gets to spend 2 weeks on Lake Winnipesaukee sailing and swimming and just having fun in general.  Camp Lawrence is a beautiful place that I remember fondly from my summers there as a kid. Hopefully, we will get a letter from him this year!

On Saturday, we went out for a nice dinner at The Melting Pot in Houston to celebrate Jack’s good grades this year.  It is a fondue restaurant that Jack really likes.  It is fun to be able to cook your own food at the table and try something a bit different.  The best part is definitely dessert.  You can’t beat dipping fruit, brownies and marshmallows into warm melted chocolate.

While Jack is off at camp, Melissa and I will be enjoying ourselves as well.  This Sunday we are sailing off on a cruise leaving from Galveston.  We are going to be visiting Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We are really looking forward to it as it is the first kid free vacation we’ve had in years.  We love spending our holidays with Jack, but it’s going to be a whole different kind of vacation without my favorite 12 year old there to entertain.

This is also the last real break we’re going to get for a number of months.  After we get back, it will be "Go, Go, Go" until we are really settled in Singapore.  From the 24 hour flight, to starting work and temporary apartments, to finding a new home and starting a new school, we’re about to kick of a few crazy months.  Wish us luck!!!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Packing up the Texas life

This week we said goodbye to our wonderful pop-up trailer.  After moving back to Texas, we decided we would give the camper lifestyle a try.  Melissa's sister's family has one so we knew we'd have someone to vacation with.  After a bit of looking around, we bought this 2000 Jayco that we couldn't have been happier to find.

Over the last four years we spent a lot of great weekends in the camper visiting parks all over Texas.  We even traveled as far as the White River in Arkansas once.  10 hours is a long drive, but Bull Shoals is a great state park and it has even better fishing. I really regret not getting a chance to go back there and spend a weekend fishing with my brothers.

We realized that there is no reason to head off to Singapore and leave the camper in storage, so we made the decision to sell a few weeks ago.  All it took was one listing on Craigslist and a few weeks to find the right buyer.  After about 10 different inquiries and 3 different people coming to look, we made the sale to a nice family on Saturday.  Hopefully, they will enjoy the camper as much as we did.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I'm back!

We'll folks...there's only one way to say it.  We're heading back to Singapore!

Honestly, I can't believe it.  After four years back in the US, I had a surprise conversation with the boss.  I had absolutely no idea it was coming.  I knew that there was a job move in the near term planned for me, but I thought the plan was for my company to shift me to another role in the Houston office I was currently working in.  When the big boss told me I was getting a promotion and a transfer to Singapore, I we pretty much in shock.

It has now been a few weeks since I heard the news and it has finally settled in.  Time to start packing up the wonderful house we have in Texas and planning to start the next school year in Singapore.

I'm a little embarrassed to be back on the blog after it sort of fizzled out during my return to the states.  I only needed to make about two more good posts to really finish it well and close out the record of our two year adventure. 

The return the the US was a lot tougher than we would have expected.  Those first six months returning to the real life in the USA were a real struggle.  I guess it's just hard to go back to the real world after living in expat land.  Jack had  his first experience with the Texas public school system. (Which was tough, but worked out great in the end.) After a ton of looking, we found a house that we really fell in love with in a town that we really enjoy living in.

We're now knee deep in the family decision making that surrounds this kind of move.  What things do we want to bring with us and what do we want to leave behind?  Where in Singapore do we want to live? Should we really subject our 15 & 17 year old dogs to the stress of the move?  If not, then what? Blah, Blah, Blah...

Looks like we are planing to leave Texas on the last week of July.  It's going to be a busy 2 months. We've still got to finish the 6th grade, go to summer camp(s), visit with whoever we can, enjoy a previously planned cruise vacation and oh, yeah....pack to move to the other side of the world.

Wish us luck.  I'll do my best to keep up with our progress online.

I can't believe it...back to this Singapore Thing.