Saturday, May 16, 2015

Updates: I Am Pregnant

I just learned I am pregnant with my second child. I am really happy about this, because I have been longing for a second one since R was around two-and-a-half (R is 4 now), and for the last year in particular. We actually started trying in December of 2013, briefly, but then I had my mental breakdown and all such plans had to be tabled until I was more stable. Since the beginning of this year I have been much better, but B was very hesitant about having a second child at this time. In the end I convinced him (mostly because he saw how sad not having one was making me, rather than because of the intrinsic merits of having a second child right now). We started trying a month ago and to my surprise (since I am 36, almost 37) I got pregnant immediately.

I didn't start blogging until R was already born, so I think it would be nice to record more permanently what being pregnant was like (at least the second time around). I also miss blogging and regret not recording R's current preschooler cuteness more thoroughly. She is a delight to both B and me, as well as one of our favorite topics of conversation (we are those people, who like to sit around discussing their children even when enjoying childfree time).

R is currently learning to swim (she can swim about six feet so far), write (so far she can only write Os, Es and Ts, but is trying her best), recognize letters and numbers, sing in Mandarin and cook (with her father's help: she recently made cupcakes for everyone in her class). She is outgoing, cheerful, energetic and confident, and while sometimes she tires me out or maddens me, she is a constant source of joy.

Since our trip to Japan, we haven't traveled much. We went to Malaysian Borneo for a stay at the Shangri La, which has an onsite nature reserve complete with baby orphaned orangutans, for B's birthday, to Batam's Holiday Inn for a weekend yet again, and to Phuket, Thailand for a long weekend to celebrate Mother's Day. All three trips were to fancy resorts, which while relaxing is not very exciting. We don't have any firm future travel plans yet, but we may go for an extended trip to the US this summer, followed by another stop in Japan, this time to Kyoto.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Books Read: December and January 2014

December 2nd: Commodore Hornblower, C.S. Forester. Entertaining addition to the Hornblower series. The series suffers a bit as Hornblower becomes more successful though, I preferred it when he was less established. Grade: B+.
December 3rd: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman. Really interesting exploration of a previously unknown culture to me (Hmong culture), the immigrant experience, medical anthropology, and how cultural expectations affect medical care. Grade: A.
December 6th: The Wine-Dark Sea, Patrick O'Brian. An excellent entry in the Aubrey-Maturin series, this one featuring volcanic eruptions, treks across the high Andes, iceberg dangers and much more. Grade: A-.
December 12th: The Commodore, Patrick O'Brian. Aubrey and Maturin finally make it home, only to deal with personal dramas of the most painful kind; they are soon off again, this time to Africa to suppress the slave trade. Another excellent book. Grade: A.
December 14th: Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, Naguib Mahfouz. A truth-obsessed man investigates the life of the "heretic Pharaoh" Akhenaten, who founded the world's first monotheistic religion. Was he a genuine visionary, a cynical charlatan, or something else? Good concept, interesting topic and yet a little disappointing. Grade: B-.
December 17th: The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler. Entertaining noir fiction with a complicated and somewhat convoluted plot. Grade: A-
December 18th: Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, Spencer Wells. Book about how DNA evidence can be used to shed light on prehistorical and historical quandaries, such as the origins of peoples and human migration over time. Kind of a dry read, despite the fascinating topic. Grade: B.
December 18th: The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O'Brian. A less action-packed entry than usual, Aubrey worries about his career while Maturin continues his anti-Napoleon schemes. Still excellent. Grade: A-
December 24th: The Hundred Days, Patrick O'Brian. Yet another O'Brian entry, this one with Aubrey and Maturin trying to stop a shipment of gold ingots from North Africa. Great scenes in the Atlas Mountains. Grade: A.
December 27th: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach. Funny, quirky and enlightening about the things that happen to human bodies after death. A quick and entertaining read, but the best kind, where you learn as you laugh. Grade: A.

January 6th: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson. An American diplomat and his family react to late 1930s Berlin, full of Nazis and ominous forebodings. Interesting but overly hagiographic to the subjects (for instance, the fact that the main character seems to be an extreme racist is never discussed, despite the book's Nazi setting). Grade: B-.
January 10th: Connected Parenting: Transform Your Challenging Child and Build Loving Bonds for Life, Jennifer Kolari. Despite the subtitle, a parenting book for everyone. Really excellent. Grade: A+.
January 11th: The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta: Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer, David Waines. Fascinating topic, about the great world traveler Ibn Battuta, whose wanderings took him from sub-Saharan Africa to China, but very dull book. I would love to read Ibn Battuta's book though! Grade: C-.
January 13th: Allskin: And Other Tales by Contemporary Czech Women, Alexandra Buchler. Short stories varying in quality by Czech writers. Most are not very good, though there are a few happy exceptions. Grade: D+.
January 15th: Blue at the Mizzen, Patrick O'Brian. Last in the Aubrey-Maturin series, and one of the weakest. Not much happens and the book (and author, perhaps?) feels a bit tired. Still entertaining. Grade: B.
January 19th: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. Book about a girl co-raised with a chimpanzee: things in the end go south, and the story details her response to that. Funny, well-written and thought provoking, though the end is a bit weak. Grade: A-.
January 20th: Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata. Haunting and atmospheric book about a hot springs geisha infatuated with a rather worthless dilettante. It's also a bit dull and portentous. Grade: B.
January 21st: Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful, Louise Bates Ames. There are a whole series of these books describing the "typical" child at a set age. They are all the same: forthright, no-nonsense, a bit dated, but still useful. Grade: B+.
January 22nd: Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh. Sweeping story of interconnected lives in British-dominated India, representing a wide variety of colors, classes, castes and ethnicities, but all connected by the opium trade. Fascinating stuff, and I enjoyed the quirky Anglo-Indian vocabulary used. Grade: A.
January 27th: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand. Raved-about book that I found hard to get through. Reminiscent of a movie-of-the-week (OMG this was SO INSPIRING!!) and with overly cliched characters, even though it's nonfiction. My favorite section was the penultimate one, describing some of the struggles the characters faced in reintegrating into civilian/"normal" life. Grade: B-

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

R Learns to Swim

Enrichment classes for children are a huge industry in Singapore. Almost all Singaporean children take classes outside of school (known as "tuition") in various academic subjects. Art classes, music classes and language classes are all popular too. Personally I am not really a fan of children taking lots of extra classes, because unstructured playtime is so important to cognitive and social development. However, R does take swim class once a week since I want her to 1. be comfortable in the water and 2. not drown.
We take it at one of Singapore's many private clubs (in a very British way, Singapore has a great number of country clubs, sorted both by nationality, profession and institution: the American Club, the Swiss Club, the British Club, the Civil Service Club, the Ceylon Sports Club, etc. This one is the NTU Alumni Club), even though we aren't members. The location is convenient and the facilities are nice.
Class starts with some stretches and exercises. It is very humorous to watch R trying to do jumping jacks.
Then they practice kicking
and splashing around in the water playing ring-around-the rosy.
Then it's time to move to the deeper end of the pool, where they do some actual swimming.
R is pretty comfortable in the water and willing to dive right in.
Then she practices swimming back to the edge of the pool.
She still isn't "water safe" (meaning that she could be left to play unsupervised in the water), but she's getting there. I really like watching her swim around like a little otter.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hoi An, Vietnam

Back in July of last year, we went to central Vietnam as a sort of birthday present to me (B and I don't give each other presents: the best kind of gift is an experience, especially when it involves travel). B and I spent a month in Vietnam many years ago, and it was a pretty disastrous trip, including a Japanese encephalitis scare, getting chased by a knife-wielding maniac, B getting punched at the train station, and an attempted pickpocketing with feet. But many people I've spoken to loved Vietnam, and I wanted to give it another shot. I am so glad that I did.

We started out in Hoi An, which is a UNESCO-listed riverside town of great charm. It was a major trading port from the 15th to 19th centuries, and its decline in the late 19th century meant that many of the buildings and streetscape have remained mostly unchanged since then. There's not a lot of major sites, but we had a wonderful and relaxing time strolling through the streets, visiting the temples and other architecture, and boating on the river (we enjoyed this so much we did it two days in a row: one of these times R got to steer the boat, which she took very seriously).
R at one of the temples built by overseas Chinese immigrants
Sadly on our third day there I lost my camera along with all the pictures I had taken (including the ones of R steering, such a pity). The ones in this post were therefore taken with my cell phone (which has a terrible, very slow camera) and don't really do Hoi An justice. It is more charming than reflected here!
R bowing at the temple shrine: she loves Chinese temples and always insists on visiting them. I think she likes all the color and vibrancy.
R with one of her adoring fans: everyone always wants to pose with her! This woman was a Vietnamese tourist.
Me at the single most famous sight, the Japanese bridge (dating from the 18th century)
R and I on the river, pirate Izzy (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates) accompanying us
R enjoying the water
What our boat and boatlady (they are all women) looked like

We spent three days in the town of Hoi An and two days just outside of town at a beach resort. The distance between the ocean and the town is a short car ride (maybe 15 minutes) or a scenic boat ride (maybe 90 minutes). The beach was pretty great and relaxing: here are my sandy toes as I luxuriate reading a book (R is digging in the sand in the distance with B).

Friday, January 30, 2015

Flashback Friday: R at Seven Months

This is R at seven months, shortly after we'd moved to Singapore. She has grown up so much! It's really incredible to see the difference.
R three days ago, talking up a storm as usual.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Books Read: October and November 2014

October 1st: The Diving Pool, Yoko Ogawa. Interesting and highly creepy short stories by a Japanese author. Grade: A-.
October 8th: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, Gabor Mate. A bit disappointing, this book about addiction began really well but peters out into jeremiads on the author's pet theories. Grade: B+.
October 11th: The Happy Return, C.S. Forester. Excellent entry in the Hornblower series as Horatio deals with sea battles and crazy power-hungry dictators. Grade: A.
October 12th: The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, Shefali Tsabary. Parenting book too hippy even for me, which is saying something. I also found it repetitive. Grade: C-.
October 16th: Messer Marco Polo, Donn Byrne. Very charming tale of Marco Polo's (mythical) affair with Kubla Khan's daughter, as told by an Irishman. Grade: A-.
October 17th: Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem. Detective fiction starring a misfit adult orphan with Tourette's syndrome. Quirky, funny but occasionally veers into cliche and caricature. Grade: B.
October 28th: My Alien Self: My Journey Back to Me, Amanda Green. Autobiography about an otherwise rather ordinary middle class Brit with Borderline Personality Disorder. Self published and it shows. Grade: C-.
October 29th: Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. Wonderful historical fiction: vivid, accurate and fascinating. A must-read if you like this genre. Grade: A+.

November 3rd: A Ship of the Line, C.S. Forester. Another great entry in the Hornblower series. Grade: A.
November 3rd: A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh. Very good novel about morally degenerated upper class Brits, though this means every character is unsympathetic and vaguely repulsive. The ending scenes in the jungles of Guyana are especially fine. Grade: A-.
November 6th: Sherlock in Shanghai: Stories of Crime and Detection, Xiaoqing Cheng. Chinese detective fiction inspired by Western models, in particular Sherlock Holmes. Most interesting for the setting of 1920s and 1930s Shanghai. Grade: B.
November 13th: Flying Colours, C.S. Forester. Hornblower becomes a prisoner of war, then escapes and goes on the lam in Napoleonic France. Drags a bit but overall excellent. Grade: A-. 
November 15th: The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obreht. Magical realism set in the contemporary and 1940s/50s? Balkans. Beautiful writing and some haunting scenes. Grade: A-.
November 17th: Red Mandarin Dress, Qiu Xiaolong. Another Chinese detective story set in Shanghai, this time in the early 1990s. Setting is great, the rest not so much. Grade: B-. 
November 18th: Dark Matter, Michelle Paver. Seriously creepy ghost story set in the wintry Arctic. Characters are interesting and the supernatural elements are extremely well done. Great example of the genre. Grade: A. 
November 19th: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson. Slight but fun fluff about a life-changing day in the life of a middle-aged unsuccessful governess. Grade: B.
November 26th: Frankenstein, Mary Shelley. The classic is much more Romantic and emotionally overwrought (two things I don't really like) than I remembered. The plot is also ridiculous. But some scenes and images (monster and creator pursuing each other via dogsled in the high Arctic, for example) are fantastic, as is the concept. Grade: B+.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

R in 2014

I spent most of last year either being or recovering from being mentally ill. Among other, more important, things, this meant blogging took a serious hit. I didn't blog at all for long periods (like nearly the entire first half of 2014) and only wrote 38 posts for the entire year. This means a lot of things didn't get blogged, including our trips to Myanmar, Phuket, and Vietnam; R's third birthday; most things about R's three-year-old self, etc.

I plan to blog about the trips separately, but for the rest here's a photo dump about R in 2014.
She loved pretending to go on trips in the mountains to find the Yeti: her obsession for a while was rescuing Chang (from Tintin in Tibet). All set here with snow boots, jacket and "noculars" (binoculars)
 Her third birthday party was at her preschool on a weekend
Everyone singing Happy Birthday to R: we had around 17 kids there plus their parents
Three Year Old R
With her birthday cake, a Hello Kitty one 
Blowing out the candles
She did it!
R at the SEA Aquarium: we got memberships here and visited many times
Swimming on Sentosa
At the zoo pretending to be a baby elephant: she loves elephants, maybe because Ami is one
Decorating a present for Father's Day: R chose this egg and spent a long time painting it
Visiting the fire station and getting to use the hose was fun
But pretending to drive the truck was her favorite part
We visited the offshore island of Pulau Ubin several times. Here's R with a coconut she found.
It's one of the few places she can experience nature in Singapore 
Running amok at the children's section of Singapore Botanic Gardens
Hugging one of her little friends: R has a large acquaintance because we are out so much 
At 3.5 years old
She loves swimming in the pool, which we can do almost every day thanks to the climate here
Me and R swimming
She became good at climbing this year and enjoys doing it at every opportunity
Playing at Labrador Park