Sunday, December 23, 2007

Back in the Groove

The bummer about being sick--other than the sick part--is losing my groove: the feeling normal and/or productive groove, the parenting groove, the errands groove and exercise groove and writing groove. By default, grooves that fall a lot further down the list, like the blogging groove, remain AWOL long after I get better.

But there are good things about being sick, such as:

-The glorious feeling of being well again;

-Sympathy presents from your spouse--namely, a nine-foot Christmas tree that fills our front room with majestic, twinkling splendor. And if that sounds overblown, then I'm not even close to doing it the justice it deserves. I love, love, love it.

In other news, now that the kids are on school break we've been looking for things to do. Five minutes from the house is a new little zoo shaped like a life-size reproduction of Noah's Ark. They have tigers, monkeys, birds, a petting zoo, a crocodile, lizards, and...

an orangutan!

I think the kids were there too, and I'm pretty sure I got cute pictures of them with bunnies and stuff, but this is the part I'll never forget. It was awesome. One of the coolest things I've ever experienced.

I might have to go back again next week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Road Trip

We went for a Sunday drive a few weeks back to escape the city. We made a huge loop, going east and then south through the mountains and skirting a lake called Laguna de Bay, returning to Manila via the SLEX, or South Luzon Expressway.

After six hours we were awfully tired of the car. But the mountain air and the constant sea of green made it all worthwhile. Along the side of the road you could buy coconuts, wicker furniture--even Christmas decorations.

The view:

These cuties were selling quail eggs when we stopped at a lookout point to take pictures:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Question (thanks, Angela!): How come it's common practice not to talk to your neighbors [in the Philippines]?

Answer: I have no idea! We tried introducing ourselves/engaging in small talk a couple of times, especially when a new family moved in across the street. It was perfectly friendly, but did nothing to establish any sort of neighborly relationship. People still prefer to stay within their enclosed spaces. Most of them honk their car horns when they come home, wait for their domestic help to open their huge front gates, then pull into their driveways while the gates are closed behind them. Gives you warm fuzzies, no?

Last month the Vice President of the Philippines attended a party a few houses down from ours. Apparently there were security personnel swarming all over the place. I heard about it second-hand, though, since I was tucked safely away within our own little walled fortress and had no idea anything was going on.

In contrast, the people you do see on a regular basis are the domestic workers. They're out walking dogs, gardening, tending children, or chatting with each other. They smile frequently and some of them are on friendly terms with our kids.

The antisocial stuff is obviously a learned behavior of people with money here, whether it's a matter of security, privacy, or just plain being uppity (or maybe some combination of those). It's all about perspective, I guess. Compared to the circumstances in which most Filipinos live, our way of life is wasteful in the extreme. Yes, the company pays our rent, and it's an amazing perk, and more house than we could ever afford on our own. Yet it's not so different from the standard of living we're used to in the US. But to those outside the village walls, it might as well be the moon.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Tricks and Treats

Halloween in the Philippines is hilarious, and slightly surreal.

Trick-or-treating does take place, in a weird sort of way. Many of the malls and businesses sponsor trick-or-treat events, usually a few days before the actual holiday. But the house-to-house routine really only happens inside the villages.

A village is a community of very large houses surrounded by a ginormous barbed-wire, cinder-block wall and a gate with guards. There are at least a dozen villages just within our little corner of Metro Manila. The villages are home to politicians, diplomats, executives--and foreigners with expat packages. Each individual house is surrounded by its own wall and gate. You interact with your neighbors as little as possible. The only family within our village we speak to and see on a regular basis is the American family down the street.

So. On Halloween each village opens its doors to trick-or-treaters from all walks of life, regardless of race, economic status, age, or the presence of a costume. Our village cheated and did this three days early. But the village down the street, where our good friends the Openshaws live, waited for the 31st and we were all about getting the authentic experience. Except not cold, dark, or spooky. We settled for hot and humid, and controlled chaos. And a marching band.
It works like this: The home owners (those who participate) send their house help to stand outside the gate with a basket or sit at a table and pass out treats. No Snickers or Reeses or Skittles or even Tootsie Rolls or Dum-Dum pops, unfortunately. Imported candy is expensive here, it melts, and there are HUNDREDS of trick-or-treaters, at least half of them well past puberty. Instead they pass out local treats: little bags of chips or hard candies or wafer cookies or whatever. All KINDS of strange stuff. Tiny cups of gelatin (very popular here), gummies--even something called Totoy Tongniks Crunchy Corniks (garlic flavor). It's a plus for our kids, though. Keeps Mom and Dad from raiding their stash.

The marching band

We had a blast. The atmosphere was festive. Giddy, even. I couldn't keep up with the eight-year-old. The five-year-old's feet got tired. The one-year-old was done after a couple of houses. But they looked so cute! And they got something so far and yet still so very close to the authentic experience. (Mom and Dad even got chili and hoagies at the Openshaws afterward.) Next Halloween when we've moved home and the kids are complaining about the cold, I can pull out these pictures and remind them of the trippy, tropical Halloweens half a world away.

Kellie, Amaya, and Avery

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our Birthday Girl

Our little girl turned one this week. We're still pinching ourselves, trying to figure out how the year zoomed by without our permission.

She wasn't too into the cake, though in fairness it was past her bedtime. I was expecting a lot more mess.

I had fun buying girl presents. I've been waiting 25 years to buy a Cabbage Patch doll. The Barbie Dream House and Easy Bake Oven will have to wait a little longer.

Happy Birthday, Princess!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

No Safe Place

This is the mall where we took our kids to see Thomas the Tank Engine not so long ago. The mall where the boys have gotten their hair cut at the kids' salon, where we've seen movies and eaten at restaurants and attended birthday parties.

Nine dead, more than 100 injured.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bomb yet. Police say it could be a precursor to a larger attack.

It's not a mall we visit frequently. But it hits way, way too close to home. And I don't want to leave the house.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


This will be our fourth Halloween overseas. Sadly, the first three were jack-o-lantern free. You just don't find pumpkins in the Philippines.

But lo and behold, what did we find at the store today? Actual pumpkins imported from the US! They were puny and a little deformed and there weren't very many, but...PUMPKINS! I did a happy dance right there in the store.

It's been a good day. I got up early (for me) to pick up a document for the adoption, and things have been going swimmingly ever since. The line at city hall was short, and no one tried to charge me more than the actual fee, and a couple of guys behind the counter actually FLIRTED with me. I nearly dropped dead of shock right then and there. Dear husband gets flirted with on a regular basis, because that's just the way things work here. For me it took 3 1/2 years.

So between the pumpkins and the flirting and the short lines, life just doesn't get much better.

Oh, and an update on our rat problem:

Rat 4, People 0

We're dealing with one cunning rat. I wanted to avoid poison if at all possible, so we tried a cage-type trap. Result: food gone, no rat. Twice.

Plan B: We picked up a few of the traditional mouse traps (industrial sized) and baited them with cheese and Chips Ahoy. Twice more: food gone, no rat. Grrrrrr.

Tonight we break out the poisoned rat treats. Sorry, Mr. Fluffybuns. It's us or you.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

If all goes well, our adoption petition will go to the courts this week. It's been a long road, with its share of setbacks and heartache. But the joy of having our daughter with us throughout the process has made it worth every moment. We've learned a lot. We're stronger and hopefully wiser than when we started. We've nearly cleared that final hurdle, though a court date could still be several months away.

And now we wonder what the future holds. Will love and honesty be enough? What questions will she ask when she's older? What issues will she face as an adopted child? How will we handle those who are curious, or prejudiced, or misinformed?

Already we've had plenty of practice with the well-meaning but misguided, "Isn't she a lucky girl?"

That's an easy one. We let them know that we're the lucky ones. And we'll let our daughter know it too, every single day.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sad but True

I'm reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird this week. Here's a quote from the introduction:

"My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested."

This book is laugh-out-loud funny. The conversations in her head sound a lot like the ones in my head. It's good to know there are other mentally unstable writers out there who still manage to live productive lives.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ant Warfare

I've blogged about bugs before. It's a topic worth revisiting. Because they just keep coming back.

Forget A Bug's Life. Forget the gentle, heroic ant in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. (How old am I?) Pay no attention to that catchy little song The Ants Go Marching.

Ants are evil.

They launched a full assault on the house today.

It's the rainy season, and for some odd reason the ants all want to come inside. They're not even after the food. If they find food, they eat it, but mostly they were just wandering around today making my life miserable. There were hundreds of them swarming around the front door, and from there they split off into a dozen strategic directions. They ambled across the marble floor in the living room, where our baby daughter spends a great deal of time crawling around. They surged through a crack in the kitchen window and set about exploring the sinks, countertops, walls, and cupboards. They had even built a network of roads where the walls meet the ceiling, with steady traffic traversing THE ENTIRE CIRCUMFERENCE OF THE--wait, can a rectangular room have a circumference? Sorry--THE ENTIRE PERIMETER OF THE KITCHEN.

I had no choice but to bring out the big guns: Baygon (the Philippines equivalent of Raid) and Lysol.

The battle is over, but the war will continue.

I also have a bone to pick with those loveable rodents of Ratatouille. Just after battling the ants I walked outside to see an enormously obese rat waddle past.

Let's just hope he doesn't have a friend named Remy.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What's In Your Backpack?

My boys cart their favorite toys all over the house. Sometimes they use backpacks, other times baskets or cardboard boxes. They carry toy cars, stuffed animals, plastic spy gear, action figures, and bits of found objects like coins and golf tees and broken crayons. These are their most cherished possessions, things they take in the bathtub and while riding in the car. They fall asleep at night surrounded by their stuff.

It makes me wonder what I would put in my backpack or basket or cardboard box. If I had to choose the things I couldn't live without, things I would want if stranded on a desert island or in the middle of a traffic jam, what would they be?

  • Laptop (so long as the island/traffic jam has WiFi and electricity)
  • Family pictures (on the laptop)
  • Notebooks and pencils
  • Books
  • iPod (same electricity provision applies)
  • Claritin and Kleenex (says the eternal allergy sufferer)
  • Midnight Milky Way bars
  • Bloom lip gloss
  • A camera
  • Pepsi with ice
  • 24-hour access to take-out from Prince of Jaipur (our favorite Indian restaurant)
  • A horse
  • A piano

All right, some of those are disqualified, darn it. I guess you just can't fit everything in a backpack.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That Daniel Powter Song

[cue the song about the bad day]

You drop your spoon on the floor at breakfast and then you step in a puddle in your socks and pretty soon it feels like the world is mocking you, its cruel laughter following you from room to room. You snap at your kids for no reason; your unmet goals become laughable pipe dreams. You fail to do anything productive before lunchtime and suddenly you've forever marred any chance of a happy life. Your entire future crumbles down around your ears, all because you dropped your spoon (or stubbed your toe, or ran out of Cheerios, or broke your favorite bottle of nail polish).

That was me today. (I made some of it up, but you get the idea.) I'm still in desperate need of some happy quotes. So here we go:

[cue Don't Stop Believin' by Journey]

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." -Eleanor Roosevelt

[cue any Yanni song]

"You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the magic tissue of the universe of your life. No one can take it from you. No one receives either more or less than you receive. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt. You can only waste the passing movements. You cannot waste tomorrow. It is kept for you." -Arnold Bennett

Looking forward to some new, unused magic tissue when I get up in the morning.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Essays and Old Friends

While E.B. White is probably best known for Charlotte's Web and The Elements of Style, I have fallen in love with his essays and find myself returning to them again and again. It's like visiting an old friend.

In the Foreword of Essays of E.B. White he writes:

"The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest." [Much like a blogger.] "...Each new excursion of the essayist, each new 'attempt,' differs from the last and takes him into new country. This delights him. Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays."

White's quiet humor and keen observations frequently amaze me. He wrote for The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine, published a stack of books, and won an impressive list of awards, including the National Medal for Literature.

His citation for the Gold Medal for Essays and Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters says this: "...When he writes of large subjects he does not make them larger and windier than they are, and when he writes of small things they are never insignificant."

When I grow up, I want to be E.B. White.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maligayang Pasko

Merry Christmas from the Philippines! Whaddaya mean it's only September? I'm nearly a month behind on my celebrating, judging by when I heard my first Christmas carol at the grocery store.

The Philippines has the longest Christmas season on the planet. Fake pine trees start appearing in the stores Sept. 1 (though as stated above, the music started even earlier this year).

I kind of like it.

This is a shopaholic country to begin with, but when the Christmas season hits, look out! The malls go all out with decorations and snarled traffic to match. Tiangges, or bazaars, spring up everywhere. Makeshift booths line the side of the road, selling a crazy, blinking menagerie of capiz lanterns and rope-light creations shaped like Santa and other Christmas characters.

My favorite Filipino decoration is the parol (pictured). Made from bamboo sticks and colored plastic sheeting, these 3D versions of the Bethlehem star come in all sizes and are a common sight at Christmastime. They look stunning hanging from tall trees, backlit with clear, twinkling lights.

So call me crazy if I lug out the decorations well before Thanksgiving. If I can't have snow, at least I can have my four-month long Filipino Christmas.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stomping Grounds, Part 3

And now to the Utah segment of our trip to the States, where I:

  • Met a new nephew
  • Burst into tears at a small-town parade (homesickness and/or hormones, I suppose)
  • Nearly flung my mother-in-law off the back of a four wheeler
  • Careened down a mountain on a luge at Olympic Park

We had a blast. Exhibits A through F:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Whose Line Is it Anyway?

I used to hate waiting in line. You shift your feet. You wish for a place to sit, or something to lean against. You wonder why the goofball at the front of the line is taking so long. You avoid eye contact with the other people in line. You make small talk with the other people in line when the goofball at the front takes another ten minutes. You rage at the cashier/teller/ticket taker and every other person in the vicinity for wasting your time, for being so slow, for not opening a brand-new line just for you.

But after living in the Philippines, I've decided that lines are my friend. I miss them. I want them back. I crave orderly conduct and respect for personal space.

I went to the bank today. For an hour and a half.

They don't have lines here so much as blobs. Blobs of people who swarm around a counter until they catch someone's eye. But if there is a line, you never make the mistake of leaving a few inches between you and the next person. That's like standing on a chair and screaming into a megaphone: "Wow! Unoccupied space, here for the taking! Act now! I'm not really in line; I'm just here to raise my blood pressure!"

You get used to it eventually. After you move past the disbelief, the shock of violation to your sense of fair play, you swap your good manners for pure survival instinct. No more polite, "After you." No more hanging back until you can distinguish a clear pattern among the blob. Charge right into the fray. Snuggle up to the person in front of you and get cozy for the duration. Demand the attention of the customer service individual.

Walk right into that bank, shoulder your way past the milling crowd, and plop yourself down at the service desk to process your twice monthly transfers.

And bring a book. Because getting to the front of the line is only Lesson One.

Lesson Two: Waiting patiently while something that should take five minutes actually takes an hour and a half.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sittin', Waitin', Wishin'

Some days I wonder if I will spend my entire life waiting. Waiting in traffic, waiting in line, waiting for the adoption to come through, waiting to know which US city we'll be moving to (and when), waiting for agent news, waiting for Son #2 to outgrow his whiny phase, waiting for the motivation to exercise and the inspiration to write more and the courage to live without doubt.

Oh, and while I'm wishing for impossible things, how about a little world peace?

Do we ever stop looking forward to the Next Big Thing? Even as kids we count down the hours to birthdays, holidays, school ending, school beginning, first date, first car, first kiss. I have to keep reminding myself (to borrow words from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) that "this life is more than just a read through." That I should value the moment, embrace the here and now.

So, some things to be grateful for:

Honest lawyers. We found an excellent attorney to help us through the next stage of the adoption. She's a Harvard Law grad and teaches at University of the Philippines. She helped draft the domestic adoption laws currently on the books. She has a kind face and is charging us an extremely reasonable flat fee for the entire process, including the four court hearings in our immediate future. No hourly billing. No conference table the size of a football field. And she says we could be done in 7 or 8 months. Hallelujah!

Amazingly supportive friends. The kind that pick your kids up from school when you're stuck in nightmare traffic with patchy cell phone reception.

Pepsi. With ice.

Edited to add that one look at the date of my post gave me a whole lot of perspective in a hurry. Of course we all remember where we were, what we were doing six years ago when we heard the horrific news. In memory of those who died, and those whose suffering endures.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Stomping Grounds part II

We spent the middle leg of our trip in Spokane, where I lived until fifth grade.

It still felt familiar.

I like Spokane because it seems calm, almost lazy. Laid back. It's pretty in an understated kind of way, and people are friendly. They still have the White Elephant store and the same McDonald's where I won second place in the coloring contest at age 3. Riverfront Park looks unchanged, except for the cool new fountain beside the 100-year-old carousel. I wasn't tall enough to try for the gold ring on the carousel until right before we moved away. Sadly, during our trip Mr. First Born endured the same frustration. But he had fun feeding trash to the metal garbage goat.

There was a children's festival the day we visited the park, so the kids got to climb around inside a fire truck, bounce around inside the inflatables, and pal around with Grandpa and Grandma as they collected free loot from all the sponsor booths.

Favorite Spokane moments:
-The First-Born's baptism
-Quality time with grandmas and grandpas and cousins
-P.F. Chang's

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Old Stomping Grounds

Seattle was the last stop on our trip--which makes it the easiest to write about since it's fresh in my memory. We attended the wedding of my darling friend Kendra, whom I've known since we were 11 years old. But we also got to play tourist and see a few of our favorite places (and a few new ones as well).

First off, I was shocked to see the sorry condition of the area where I grew up. Granted, it's been 15 years, but so many businesses were closed or rundown, so many houses uncared for. It made me sad. Most tragic of all was the realization that my beloved Bookworld (a huge used bookstore and mainstay of my growing up years) had become a dollar store. Aaaggghhhh!

But on to the good stuff: Pike Place Market--during its 100-year anniversary, no less--the observation deck of the Columbia building, a Mariners game (woo-hoo! kettle corn!), a ferry ride, and a blissful bachelorette party involving spa treatments and The Melting Pot restaurant. Best of all: the cool, clear air and amazing greenness of the northwest. Heaven.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Whistler's Mother

We're just back from a three-week trip home to the US. It was nice to go, but nice to come home to Manila too.

The First Born learned to whistle about halfway through the trip, and spent the remaining days practicing his technique. Pretty much nonstop. Fun stuff! Cute, though.

Lots of pictures to post in the coming days.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Singapore: Day 4

Sunday morning I ventured out on my own for a few hours. I fueled up with fresh orange/pinapple juice, then took a taxi to the Bugis Street market. I'm a sucker for bargaining in open-air markets, finding treasure among the silly souvenirs. (At Mustafa's I drooled over the silks and batik fabrics and even bought a few. It's never too early to gather decorating ideas for our eventual house hunt next year!)

At the outdoor market I found three spoons for Mom, pretty ones at a third of the hotel gift shop price. I picked up a hand-embroidered shoulder bag in earthy tones, and embroidered mini bags for gifts from the same vendor. This stall was my favorite by far, complete with mystical music and burning incense. Another stall had a filmy Indian tunic in a rich shade of blue--in a "Western" size, no less! Sold. Last but not least: two 5SD watches strung on woven bracelets instead of bands, which tend to get sticky and uncomfortable in the southeast Asian climate. I have terrible luck with watches, but at least if this one stops working I'll be glad I paid $3 US instead of $80 US for the Swatch I was eyeing at Mustafa's.

With the shopping bug mostly out of my system, we all met up around lunchtime and ate at a Chinese hot pot restaurant. Garrett and Kellie, having lived in Shanghai, were old pros. I was totally impressed. I'm pretty timid when it comes to eating, but I tried a few new things and enjoyed the experience. The kids weren't much interested in the food. They built a fort out of chairs in the corner.

Next we took the sky tram to Sentosa island...

...where we rode the luge--some of us more than others. This was actually a lot of fun. The First-Born is a little speed demon. Who knew? Plus the lift system that takes you and the sleds back to the top of the hill was pretty ingenious.

We shopped a little too. I came away a happy camper with a book of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham ("More Far Eastern Tales") and a gorgeous Life magazine publication
entitled "Heaven on Earth: 100 Must-See Destinations." This book will be a guiding force in shaping all future vacations. Bryce has already seen more on the list than I have, but we can fix that. Plus this seems much more manageable than the "1000 Places to See Before
You Die" book that I've paged through but never purchased. Goals are good, so long as the outcome feels attainable, right?

We finished up the day with a babysitter and a meal for the grown-ups at Morton's steakhouse at the Oriental Hotel. It was divine. Inspired. Heavenly. Can I go back?

Day 5: Return to reality.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Night Safari

After the zoo we stuck around for the Night Safari, a separate area where you can either walk or take a tram to see nocturnal animals at their most active. We opted for the tram. No flash photography allowed on the tour, unfortunately, but each area was lit with high spotlights so you could see the critters grazing or roaming around. They encourage hushed voices on the tram while a guide points out animal activity and describes the native habitats. The tapirs were my favorite, round and mellow and standing within arm's reach of the tram as they munched their dinner.

A guest poster (Mr. First-Born) recalls the animals we saw: "I really liked it when I saw the fast animals. We saw rhinos. We saw a sign for flying squirrels, but I don't know why they didn't show them. We drove through water and they said to watch out for the crocodile, so we stayed near the middle. We saw deer come near the tram and then we saw elephants again. We also saw a boy elephant with big tusks. And then we arrived at the tram station and we got off the tram and we went to look around at the really nice stores. And we went home to the hotel."

That pretty much sums it up! Our good friends the Openshaws were such great sports, and perfect travel companions:

Next up: Sentosa Island.

Singapore Zoo

Day 3: Kellie, Garrett, and I went shopping at Mustafa's, a crazy, insanely huge, 24-hour shopping destination in Little India. Bryce watched the kids at the hotel, earning an instant pass through the Pearly Gates for his unselfish act. (Although the guy's in Paris at the moment--without me--and the fact that it's a business trip does nothing to soothe my jealous soul.)

After lunch we took taxis to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. The zoo was incredible. They take great pains to create natural habitats for the animals--sprawling affairs drenched in greenery, with most fences carefully camoflaged. Crowds were light, so at times it felt as if we had the place to ourselves. We ate Ben and Jerry's. Kellie and the kids rode an elephant. We got very warm and drank a ton of water and/or Coke, but since we were there in the afternoon the temps cooled considerably toward closing time.
The pic with the boys and the zebras makes me smile. We usually get either cheesy grins or wandering eyes. That's okay though. It makes for funny photos. And we didn't plan the matching shirts; it just happened. Little turkeys. I hope they never forget our fun day.

Singapore Part 2

Connected to the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which requires a small entrance fee and is totally worth the price. 700 species of orchids and 2,100 hybrids, according to the guidebook. Stunning.

We had dinner by the towering Fountain of Wealth near Suntec City Mall, then waited in the taxi queue for about two hours before we made it back to the hotel (the women and children, that is). It took the guys another hour to get home. Lessons learned: Call a taxi ahead of time. Don't wait for the mall to close. Don't let the kids get so tired that they're bopping strangers in the face with helium balloons and begging to be carried. 'Nuff said.

Pretty flowers, no? Okay, okay, they're blurry, but look at all the pretty colors! I blame the camera.

Next stop, Singapore Zoo.


I couldn't miss posting on such a memorable date. And I figured this was as good a time as any to post photos from our Singapore trip.
Here's the view out our hotel window. The early light, tempered by a few stray rainclouds, gave this pic a rich, rosy glow. I loved that even the most developed areas were thick with greenery.

We arrived on a Thursday night, marveled at the clean, spacious, efficient airport, checked into our hotel just off Orchard Road (they warned us about the tiny rooms, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was room enough for the boys to sleep on the floor under the desk), then had a late dinner at a nearby restaurant and collapsed into bed.

We spent most of the next day finding our way around. The kids enjoyed breakfast at McDonald's (where else?) and visiting not one but two toy stores, including a huge Toys R Us. Then it was the grown-ups' turn to choose the entertainment. We found a hop-on/hop-off tour bus and rode the complete route to get a quick look around the city. (Plus I think it was a welcome break for Kellie, our travel buddy, seeing as how she's six months pregnant and all.) That's when I managed to snap three whole pictures out the window of the bus.

This photo and a few even less thrilling pics are the sum total of the bus experience. But look--we're driving on the left side of the road! I never did get used to looking left first before crossing.

Singapore is full of unique, interesting buildings. Strange angles, bright colors, gorgeous landscaping, etc. We never actually carried out the hop-off portion of the hop-on/hop-off tour, though, so I didn't snap a single one. Ah, well. One more reason to go back for another visit.

The tour ended at the Botanic Gardens, where you can wait for another bus or wander your way through lush, green pathways and breathe in the clean air, perfumed with exotic blooms and a curious absence of Jeepney exhaust. Guess which one we picked?

Inviting paths tempt travelers to wander, ponder, and of course make their way to the inevitable gift shop and cafe. But that's Singapore in nutshell: rampant commercialism and the cleanest, greenest streets you'll see anywhere.
To be continued...