maandag 1 september 2014

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Singapore Night Festival

We took the toddlers to the Singapore Night Festival (the museumnacht) and we learned several important things.

* The Substation is much better at distracting hungry toddlers from their belly pangs than the Peranakan Museum.

* The Peranakan Museum however has a brilliant ledge outside for climbing and dancing.

* Finally, somebody in this family loves spring rolls just as much as mummy does!

* The flying purple trapeze ladies in front of the National Museum were a great hit, as was the tent made out of coloured strings at the festival village and the tiny houses out of white umbrellas on the steps of SOTA.

* But in the end, it was all about the owl shaped fan.

vrijdag 29 augustus 2014

Finally, a triathlon (sprint edition)

Triathlon take away #1: I RULE on a bicycle. Eat my dust, all you intimidating athletic looking females in your fancy triathlon suits.

Triathlon take away #2: I SUCK at transitioning (getting changed between sports). Do other people not mind if they get sand in their shoes? (EWW, gross, no, not going there.)

Triathlon take away #3: It's a fantastic feeling to run hand in hand with the entire family, the three year old beaming with pride in her Elsa T-shirt, man Tamtam carrying a jumping toddler J. on his back, but it didn't say much for my running speed.

Triathlon take away #4: A cycle speed of 28.7 km/hr is apparently not slow, and a running speed of slightly less than 10 km/hr apparently is. I got that backwards.

Triathlon take away #5: I don't know how to swim. But drafting certainly helps.

Triathlon take away #6: I am faster on subsequent laps. Diesel for life!

Triathlon take away #7: No, man Tamtam, it was not because you gave me such a good bike. But the years of indoctrination with cycling lore and training tips came in very handy. (Yes, I listened. I do that sometimes!)

Triathlon take away #8: I will do this again. But maybe a nice cycling race first. I like that zooming feeling.

Triathlon take away #9: Those tight triathlon suits work surprisingly well across a range of body types. (Yes, one intimidating athletic looking female in a fancy triathlon suit, right here, looking awesome.)

Overall: 34th out of 87 finishers.
Swimming (750m): 44
Cycling (18km): 13
Running (5km): 48
Transitioning: 42 and 51 (yes! You get marked for the speed with which you change your shoes!)

ps. Man Tamtam took all these amazing pictures - it's hard to capture a fast-moving target!

woensdag 27 augustus 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: Discounts

Never ever buy anything without a discount, my colleagues told me. Shoes, clothes, washing machines, houses. There is always room for negotiation. And Singaporeans are masters of the art.

Take for instance the property market. Right now is supposed to be a renters' market in Singapore. There's lots of units for rent, lots of landlords desperately looking for nice tenants, there are apparently even short term leases on offer!

But if you go on PropertyGuru, our local funda with all the properties listed for rent or for sale, you won't find any bargains. On the contrary, over the last few months we have steadily seen the advertised rents rise and rise again. 

Then a friend alerted me to this nifty little website, which has a listing of all the ACTUAL rental contracts for units in condo's and properties in Singapore. It's run by the URA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, also responsible for the Singapore Masterplan of building (you can go and have a look at Singapore's future in the Singapore City Gallery near Chinatown).

By now, the prices listed for the units in our condo on propertyguru and the prices actually agreed upon in contracts are roughly a third different, i.e.: what you actually end up paying is two-thirds of what the agent is asking for publicly. 

So, when supply goes up, the price goes up - only to come down again after a discount. The tenant is happy, because they got a discount, the landlord is happy because the discount is less than it could have been. Everybody happy! 

This is in fact a classic negotiation tactic called 'anchoring'. The agent puts up a price, and all discussion from that point onwards will be starting from that anchorpoint. This means that if the original anchor/price on a unit it 5.500 SGD per month, I will feel I have gotten a good deal when the agent drops it to 5.000 SGD per month. Even though I know that similar units have gone for 4.500 SGD! 

Singapore is an expensive city to live in. There are many reasons for this, chief among them land scarcity and a lack of resources. But you shouldn't get your wallet out too soon! 

Being Dutch, we pride ourselves on being sensible with money - but that also means that if we do need something, and if it is good quality, we are prepared to pay the sticker price. We still have this icky feeling about spending too much time and effort on shopping, on something so materialistic, on pure consumerism.

But for Singaporeans, it is quite the opposite. Pure consumerism is the non-thinking way of buying. The Singaporean way of shopping is to go to great lengths to get as much value out of a dollar as possible. Shopping is performance art, and getting the right price an exact science. 

Paying the sticker price - that's for expats. 

maandag 25 augustus 2014

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Reading habits of Toddler J.

There are certain things in life that J. loves. Balls. Music. Food. Running. His sister, usually. And yesterday I realised that his reading habits are a perfect mirror of his other fascinations.

In order of adoration:

"Les instruments du monde" (with sound effects)

"Op een grote paddenstoel" (illustrated children's songs)

("In de maneschijn")

"Puppies" (nearly autobiographical)

"Ollie" (wear and tear due to it being deeply pre-loved by E.)

"Disney's the little mermaid"

No points for guessing this last book. Or J.'s favourite page.

All of these books were gifts, with the exception of "Puppies" - but I only bought that, because J. wouldn't let go of it in the shop and I wanted to leave (incidentally, the same reason why E. has a small Ikea children's lounge chair in her room). So a big heartfelt thanks to Marion, Eva, Ilse, Jasleen and Wies: you clearly know your way around a little boy's mind. 

maandag 23 juni 2014

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Desaru, again

So we thought of going to Melaka again, and ended up going to Desaru, again. This time, we didn't even rent a car, we decided to take the ferry. This is actually much more convenient, especially since nobody else does it, so there are no queues, no waiting time and lots of immigration officers to coo over hyperactive blond toddlers.

We knew Lotus Beach Resort Desaru (or LBRD, for short) is huge, caters to Malaysian and Singaporean families, has three pools and imported sand on the beach. We were expecting crowds and laughter and huge buffets filled with nasi lemak, prata and noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were looking forward to pool time, beach time and general child time on the huge lawn in front of the buffet restaurant with endless views of the ocean, soft breezes and the quiet murmurs of the sea.

We hadn't expected that on that big lawn, there is now a games arcade, a trampoline trapeze thing and two extra restaurants, one of which features a live band. On the beach itself, the resort has built a cocktail bar.

"All new", the management gushed. Indeed.

The wonderful thing about children is that they have no sense of how things ought to be. Both of our toddlers adored riding around the resort in the golf buggies and running around the reception area with the luggage carts. Elsemieke fed rabbits at the petting zoo and Julius poked a rooster. Elsemieke tried to take a small Chinese child home from the swimming pool ("But she likes me too!"). Both blondies decided to drink fresh coconut water and eat huge helpings of fried rice and prawn omelet. Julius adored the live band and dragged us over to dance to their songs every night. (The band adored us too.)

They had a fantastic time. We had a great time. Who knows - we might even go back. Again.

woensdag 18 juni 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: dressing for rain

Last Thursday I realized I had not brought a jacket.

Last Thursday I realized I do not actually own a jacket, by which I mean a functional one, not a decorative one. (I own three decorative jackets.)

Which in Singapore does not really matter. However, in the Netherlands when it starts to rain, it does and I happened to be in the Netherlands at the onset of an icy drizzle.

A functional jacket will keep you warm in chilly breezes, will protect you from the onset of a rain shower and sometimes (depending on the quality of the jacket and the density of the shower) also from the shower itself. You can shove your hands in the pockets, pull up the collar and stride to wherever it is you're heading.

There is no such thing as a functional jacket in Singapore, because there is no use for such a thing.
Firstly, all breezes are warm.
Secondly, when it rains, it pours, so unless you're wearing the kind of protection those guys on the Deadliest Catch are wearing, you'll be soaking wet. 
And lastly, it is not actually cold during a rainstorm in Singapore. Basically, the weather changes from hot and humid to hot and wet.

Still, wet clothes and aircon are a recipe for disaster, so people do prefer not to get wet.

The answer is to always (ALWAYS) carry an umbrella. And by umbrella I mean a foldable rain shield, not my cute flowery black&white Hema contraption which did not even last one proper Singapore shower without wilting away. The cutesy ones are generally used to shield the carrier from the sun. 

Also, always carry flipflops, as you do not want your fancy shoes to get soaked in the overflow from the drains. No need to worry about your clothes: you were wearing shorts, a skirt or a dress anyway. And if you do wear anything longer, you weren't planning to go outside.

So there I was, last Thursday in the Netherlands when it started to drizzle.

My first instinct was to run for cover, then I searched in vain for my trusted Singapore rain shield.

Looking outside, I saw people in jeans zipping up their jackets, a few dainty ladies unfolding their cute umbrellas, everybody walking briskly onward to their destination. 

And I knew, as I sat shivering at the busstop in my T-shirt and flipflops while the drizzle went on and on and on: my instinct has adapted to Singapore.

maandag 26 mei 2014

All the small things

I have a tablet now (S. has this weird ability to read my mind when it comes to giving me presents).

I love my tablet, lying on the couch in the evening, checking facebook, reading my blogs, idly clicking through the world wide wonder of the web.

I hate writing on it though. Also, I am lazy. So I don't want to get up, connect the laptop, wait until it powers up and Write Stuff. Before I had a tablet (or a job) I would spend lots of time idling on my beloved laptop (I still love you, big black beautiful beast, but I'm not IN love with you anymore). Writing stuff then followed quite naturally, and didn't require much will power. Now Writing Stuff is an actual decision, not something that I accidentally fall into.

I have the same with running. I have a hard time getting prepared and clothed and all and then leave the house to go running. So much easier to lay on the couch with my shiny tablet friend. But if I bring my running stuff to work and then run home, it's not such a hardship to get ready. I love going home. In fact, once I get up to my old self (i.e. the one before Blondie, which is about 45 months ago) I should in fact be faster on foot than on any other form of transport (thank you traffic jams!).

But I miss writing, like I missed running during the past 45 months.

Last week, I finally reached that zone again, the one where my body carries me so naturally I forgot I was running and I was aimlessly wandering around my own mind, thinking leisurely thoughts. If you combine that with a bit of green on the side and a slight breeze while soaking in the view of the sky and the setting sun, it's just pure bliss. It only lasted a couple of seconds, but the next time I ran, it was there again.

So, I'm going to keep on running.

And I'm going to get back into writing. I know that same zone is hiding in between the letters on my screen. I found it again recently, when I sat in a coffeeshop with my notebook (it took me three hours to actually sit my ass down and open that notebook, mind, so after I had joyously scribbled for ten minutes the phone rang, and the small people on the other side of the line enquired if mama was planning on coming home for dinner?) 

So many excuses not to run, not to write. But none of it matters.

As Yoda says: "Do or do not. There is no try."