Friday, November 28, 2014

'Tis the Singapore X-Mas Season

X-Mas music is playing everywhere in public spaces and malls. My internal music machine is overwhelmed. I'm humming more than just "Good King Wenceslas" now. The wreathes and hangings around our condo complex look like they've been around for quite a few years.

We stopped by Ikea yesterday and the artificial trees were all gone. Live trees were flowing out of the store. Even our local Japan Home store had small artificial trees for sale. The white tree above was in Liang Court Mall and is made up of dolls donated for a charity drive.

The downtown streets were nicely lit up. Even the river boats were decorated with trees in the bows.  Great World Mall has a ceiling display of large cherubs flying around a tree.

Ray and I have been gathering gifts to send back to the U.S.A. I fear that the postage will be more than the value of the items in the box. Think entering "gifts" on the customs form will be sufficient or do I need to declare what I have bought? Kind of takes away from the surprise when the box lists the contents. Like the birthday present Ray got from his daughter and family that said coffee mug and candy on the form.

Next year we are back to Amazon shopping, I think. Maybe they will deliver via drones by then.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Southern Ridges Hiking

We took an easy hike through the Southern Ridges of Singapore this morning. No monkeys and no mud this time. We started the hike at Mount Faber's Henderson Wave bridge and snaked around on the paths and along a elevated sky way over the tree tops. The city views from here were amazing.

We stopped at a World War II  museum at Bukit Chandu which was the scene of the last battle of Singapore in 1942 when the Japanese successfully invaded the island. Sad times but like all Singapore museums, the displays were interesting and innovative. Alas we did not do a very good job of tracking where we were and where the geocaches were because we missed an easy one. Rats.

We continued along into Kent Ridge Park, another park along the Southern Ridge. Found one path along a pond filled with birds and squirrels. Need to find out what kind of birds we saw but by the sign posted here bird thieves lurk.

The squirrels here are small and brown with racing stripes along their sides. Too quick for me to photograph them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A hiking weekend 22 & 23 Nov.

Ray and I had two really good hiking days this weekend, walking in between rain storms. We only got caught once coming home Sunday and we got drenched in just a few moments as we scrambled to get our umbrellas out.

A few weeks ago we hiked the Green Corridor with some friends. I was not able to finish the whole way then so we rode a bus out to the spot we stopped at and finished the corridor on Saturday. Because of the rainy November here the Green Corridor could have been renamed the Brown Corridor or the Mud Corridor.

Footing was tricky in many spots. This stretch of the corridor is not quite as interesting as some of the other sections. This last stretch took us right up to the crossover bridge into Malaysia.

We've never been up to the Northern area of Singapore until Saturday so the area called Woodlands had a bit of a different feel to it with all the traffic going across the border. Lots of rules and signs like this one. Not quite sure what's left that can't turn. Airplanes?

We hiked about 3 miles on Saturday and then enjoyed a cold Tiger Beer at the local hawker center and a walk through the markets. Always enjoyable.

Sunday morning we took off early to hike part of the Bukit Timah Nature Park which is part of a large reservoir in the center of Singapore. This park is known as one of the most wild and natural forest area.

We saw lots of interesting plants and animals and ended up walking about 7 miles. We didn't really plan on being in the really hot forest for quite that long but the paths were not all marked clearly. We saw some really tiny monkeys but like all little ones, they were too speedy and energetic for good photography.

Both days of hiking were loads of fun even if I crabbed at Ray many times about being hot. Sorry, Ray...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Busy Birthday Week

Mid November is a busy birthday time for our family. Today is Ray's birthday, tomorrow is Jenny's birthday and Tuesday is Drew's birthday. Lots of celebrating going on here. Jenny planned a kids party for Drew last Friday.

Drew and I made a chocolate cake from scratch and found out my convection oven works just fine. Glad to know that. The oven has been glaring at me every day since we moved in here like a dark mysterious cave filled with who knows what - bats, Golum, snakes. Now it's my friend and I can get back to baking and cooking, just not a 15 lb turkey.

Yes, that is a Minecraft-inspired decorated cake. You'd think after all these years that Wilton's cake products could come up with a food coloring that doesn't stain. The kids all walked around with green teeth all evening.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Living Abroad - Decisions & Dilemmas: Mobile Phones and International Travel

Some of our friends have asked about the plans and decisions we made before selling our house and car and moving out of the US. So we started writing down the kinds of decisions we had to make and what we found out. We thought we would add some of the things we discovered and the decisions and dilemmas we dealt with.

We don't know what we don't know until we ask questions of ourselves and our environment. Here is Ray's take on the technical issues of cellular or hand phones:

Interesting how important mobile phones have become to all of us. Without them we feel like we are cut off from our friends and the companies we do business with. Traveling overseas can be a real problem when trying to keep in touch.

Pat and I had service with AT&T for many years. I didn't want to change carriers, primarily because I had been with them long enough that my data portion remained unlimited, having been grandfathered in. I have talked to several people that remain with AT&T because of their grandfathered, unlimited data plans. Guess what! We changed and don't regret it at all.

While we were in Charlotte, planning our move to Singapore, Tom told me about talking to T-Mobile and that I should go see them. I did. I cancelled our AT&T service and paid the penalties for early termination and paid off the phones. I took our existing phone numbers with us to T-Mobile and that change happened before I left the T-Mobile store. Oh, and our total bill went down!

We now have no roaming charges when we travel the world, including unlimited data. If we are somewhere with wifi, calls and texts to, and from the U.S. are free! Otherwise, the cost is $0.20/minute. That is also the cost of calls to/from non-U.S. numbers. One of the best advantages is that my data applications I rely on work every where with no additional costs. I don't have to turn off my email, texting and other apps, just because I am not in the U.S..

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Singapore Green Corridor Hike

Before we came to Singapore and were researching it to see what to look forward to, we read about the Green Corridor or the Greenway. It is a railroad track no longer in use that runs through the island. It was the original train line going into Malaysia and is about 16 miles long.

Our hiking group.
We made two short walks on it just to get a feel for it. Then in October we met several women on a cemetery tour who also mentioned wanting to walk the Corridor. So Gwenn and I started emailing each other until we set up a date and she got other friends (professors at National University of Singapore) to join us.

Yesterday was our planned hike. It thundered and rained all night so there was a flurry of emails and calls before our planned 8am meetup time to see if everyone was still game for the hike.The rains stopped just as Ray and I walked out of our apartment building and our bus pulled up 1 minute after getting to the bus stop. Two really good signs.

The weather was perfect for a hike - overcast and breezy. Definitely not a normal S'pore day. Most of the old train tracks have been pulled out but there is one nice depot building and two trestle bridges with the tracks left in place.
Bukit Timah Railroad Depot

After we stopped for lunch the sun came out and alas the humidity caused me to bow out about 1/2 hour from the ending point at the Malaysian border. Ray and I plan on finishing it - hopefully next weekend. 

Things I learned from this hike:

1. Take more water than you think you need.
2. Once you step into the huge puddle the rest of the walk is easy. It's the first squishy step that is weird.
3. Walking with a bunch of people makes the time and the miles go past quickly.
4. Don't sweat the sweat marks on your shirt, everyone has them. It's part of hiking in Singapore.
5. I never thought I'd hear bull frogs that sound like cows.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Out for a Beer Tasting

Pat and I went around the corner (literally), to a restaurant named "Lee Tai Fu". This place has a very nice selection of craft beers from around the world, especially Australia, United Kingdom and the U.S..

Tonight, Pat drank a Siren Craft Brew's Middle Finger Discount (from the U.K.) and I had a Bevertown Brewery's Gamma Ray American Pale Ale (also a U.K. brew). Mine was a very typical hopped-up American pale ale, while hers was a very smooth pale ale. I liked mine, Pat liked hers, but we both agreed hers was easier to drink.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Internet Connections

This is post is a compilation of a couple of Facebook entries I have done recently.

Sitting here in Singapore with a fast internet connection, makes the following article even more depressing. This needs to change in the U.S. as soon as possible (it would be nice if it could happen before we come back in 2016).…/why-the-us-has-fallen-behind-in-in…

Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability

Here in Singapore, the the minimum internet speed option we could get from StarHub was approximately 100 Mbps. In Charlotte, we were supposed to get 18 Mbps from ATT Uverse, but most of the time it was around 13-15 Mbps. The U.S.A. is way behind in internet infrastructure.

Of course, this is for a local connection - connections back to the U.S. are slower. Here is the results for a connection back to Wilson, NC (a site I usually used, just before I called AT&T to complain when our internet got too slow to use). This is still faster, especially the upload speed, than what we had in Charlotte.

Our cable costs UD$48/month, and includes basic TV and 100 Mbps internet!

Jen went with a fiber connection, rather than the standard cable we have. Their speeds are much higher than ours. I recently tested a new router they bought (and I installed) and I saw download speeds approaching 750 Mbps! Unbelievable!