Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Magic Years

When R was younger, she did some pretend play (making believe to talk on the telephone, for instance), which at the time I thought was charming and creative: but compared to her elaborate fantasy life now, it was small potatoes. She now spends many of her waking hours inhabiting other worlds via her imagination. She especially likes imitating books and TV shows she's seen, where she is usually the heroic main character and I am one (or all) of the supporting characters. Favorites include Dora or Diego from Dora the Explorer, Cubbi from Gummi BearsFrances the Badger, and Tintin.
Sometimes she is "Super Zora", who saves everyone (especially baby animals, who I have to imitate), sometimes she goes on picnics with all the stuffed animals (what she's doing above, thus the picnic blanket), sometimes she does the dishes (her plastic ones, in the bathroom sink as the kitchen sink is too high for her to reach)...Lately she's been wanting to reenact upsetting situations. Today she got in an argument with an older boy at the playgym (he was tearing down some stuffed blocks, Zora told him to stop, he didn't and so she pushed him--he was maybe 2-3 years older but Zora is not very timid). I scolded her for pushing and told her she had to use words: then she wanted to reenact the whole scene with me as the boy, I suppose as a kind of practice so that she could behave properly next time.
It's to the point that she rarely plays with her (many) toys, except as props in the fantasy games, when they are usually something else (pens become syringes for giving shots, books become birthday presents, the stuffed animals are all alive, etc, etc). And if B and I were cooperative, she would spend all day long playing pretend games, with us as the supporting cast. Unfortunately for R, our endurance for being Chang or Gusto or Boots is limited: usually I can only last for about 30 minutes before feeling like I will go crazy out of boredom. Sometimes I dread the little voice ordering me, "You be X".

Mostly, though, it's totally charming. I love it best when she is immersed in her fantasy play, quietly talking to herself as she acts out the different scenarios (like in the picture above): there is something so pure and beautiful about it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Books Read: March and April 2014

March 3rd: For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Alice Miller. Interesting book detailing how childhood trauma or abuse might create self-destructive and/or violent individuals (most notoriously, Hitler, which I found to be the most compelling part of the book). Well written and convincing, but completely speculative: despite her authoritative tone, the author has almost no evidence for anything. I found this a bit misleading. Grade: B-
March 5th: Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian. First in the 20-book series about a ship's captain and his best friend, a naval surgeon (and spy), during the Napoleonic Wars. The best series of historical fiction I have ever come across and a must-read for anyone who enjoys this genre. Grade: A.
March 10th: Post Captain, Patrick O'Brian. Even better than the first in the series, thanks to the inclusion of female characters and showing the characters in more diverse situations. Grade: A+.
March 14th: H.M.S. Surprise, Patrick O'Brian. The third in the Aubrey-Maturin series, and another wonderful entry. Highlights include Stephen's time in India and the battle scenes, which O'Brian does incredibly well. Grade: A+.
March 20th: The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey. I love books about daily life in the past, and this one is a good one, including all kinds of minutiae (like how monks communicated despite vows of silence, what people ate, and how they dealt with not having buttons). It's short, easy to read and highly informative. Grade: A.


April 16th: The Mauritius Command, Patrick O'Brian. Fourth in the Aubrey-Maturin series, with some interesting psychological studies, particularly that of Lord Clonfert. Grade: A.
April 18th: Desolation Island, Patrick O'Brian. Spying, adventure on the high seas, shipwrecks...the fifth in the series is exciting as always. Grade: A.
April 18th: The Fortune of War, Patrick O'Brian. Another wonderful entry in the Aubrey-Maturin series: the middle part does lag slightly (but only slightly). Grade: A-.
April 20th: Tigers in Red Weather, Liza Klaussmann. Two WASP cousins and their families experience various travails from the 1940s-1960s. A typical book club read (and in fact read for that purpose), it was OK. Grade: C.
April 21st: Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Very short novel about two Englishwomen in India, one in the 1920s who has an affair with an Indian prince, one in the 1980s who, while doing research on the first, has affairs with first an English Hindu convert, then her married Indian landlord. Sounds kind of sordid but is actually evocative and well written, with interesting, unconventional female characters. Grade: A-.
April 24th: The Surgeon's Mate, Patrick O'Brian. Excellent as always: the scenes in a French prison are particularly humorous. Grade: A.
April 28th: The Ionian Mission, Patrick O'Brian. A bit slow compared to some of the others, though the ending section redeems itself. Grade: A-.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Surabaya: Trowulan, Ancient Capital of the Majapahit Empire

Wrigin Lawang, the Banyan Tree Gate
The main reason I wanted to visit Surabaya was to tour Trowulan, the ancient site of the Majapahit Empire. Most people have never heard of either the site or the empire (including me until recently), but Majapahit was one of the greatest Southeast Asian empires, ruling over much of Indonesia and Malaysia during its heyday.

It's had an immense influence in the region: Indonesian art, architecture, and literature are all directly traceable to Majapahit, including most of Balinese culture. The Indonesian national flag is derived from Majapahit's royal colors, for example.

The capital of Majapahit was Trowulan, which is located an easy drive away from Surabaya. It was destroyed in 1478, and today only ruins remain, surrounded by rice fields and countryside. Excavations are still underway: the government has submitted the site to UNESCO for inclusion on the World Heritage List and hopes to make Trowulan into a major tourist destination. When I visited, though, I was the only Westerner and even the Indonesian tourists were few, despite it being a Saturday.
Candi Tikus
Candi Brahu

Bajang Ratu
There is a small onsite museum, though English captions are few (and in fact captions/explanatory text is general was rather sparse). The museum as a whole definitely needed some infusion of professionalism: it was not really ready for international visitors despite the sweet staff. Even finding an English map of the site was a challenge.
The museum building
Grounds with reliefs collected from the site
I thought they were quite beautiful
Reconstruction of a typical commoner's house

The ruins themselves, while highly interesting to me, are not spectacular in the way that, for example Borobudur or Prambanan are. Perhaps as the excavations continue, more will be unearthed and a fuller picture of what the ancient city looked like will emerge. More explanatory text or printed guides would also be helpful and add to the experience.
Some of the excavations
More ancient walls
I was happy just to be on the site of the ancient city and to use my imagination to reconstruct the past: if this is not one of your pleasures though, Trowulan currently leaves something to be desired. I hope that the government's efforts result in a more appropriate showcasing of this very important site.
Happy as a clam at my favorite activity, ruin viewing

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Surabaya: Hotel Majapahit

I liked Surabaya for its energy: but there is no doubt that it is a relatively ugly city, with all the problems that poor cities tend to have: horrible traffic, overcrowding, chaos...Luckily for my spirits, our hotel was a real gem and the nicest place I saw in the city. I highly recommend a stay to anyone visiting Surabaya, especially because it is reasonably priced (under $100/night).
R likes the hotel too!
The Hotel Majapahit is one of the grand colonial hotels built by the Sarkies brothers (also responsible for the Raffles in Singapore and the E&O in Georgetown) and like the others has wonderful colonial architecture, all-suite rooms, and excellent service.

 The grounds provide a restful oasis from the intensity of the city, and the pool is a great break from the hot, sticky weather.

Classic car in the lobby

I loved the detailing especially
R in the garden with some bronze geese
I felt like our trip was almost worth it just to stay here!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flashback Friday: 2002 Kinmen, Taiwan

From our trip to Kinmen (Quemoy), a small island off the coast of Taiwan. It was one of the major places Chinese immigrants came from, and the successful ones returned and used their earnings to construct showy Chinese-Western fusion houses like this one. The tower is partially defensive: to scan for pirates (a constant problem until the modern era).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Weekends in Batam, Indonesia

Running for the pool
So far this year I have been to Batam, Indonesia, twice: once overnight for a trip with my girlfriends, once with R and B as a quick family getaway.

Going to Indonesia for the weekend SOUNDS very exotic and jet-set-esque, especially to an American like myself. However, because Singapore is so small, it is actually less of a trip than say, visiting Tahoe from the Bay Area.

Batam is an island without any features of note: it is not especially physically beautiful (in fact, it's quite built up and resembles a suburb more than a tropical paradise), has almost no interesting monuments, attractions or historical features (though its actual history is interesting, as it has been inhabited for aeons and was once the stronghold of the rapacious and frightening China Seas pirates). While the population is around 1 million, it's still too small to have any of the alluring qualities of a city.
R enjoying the huge pool: the mushroom is part of the water play area
Its reason for being is that it's very close to Singapore, less than an hour by ferry, and yet in third world Indonesia, meaning that everything is much cheaper there. So basically the Tijuana of southeast Asia, including the rather seedy reputation (one of Batam's main industries, at least until recently, is sex tourism: obviously I did not explore this side of things personally).
R and B on the water slide
I had a great time on both trips nonetheless. The first trip would have been great regardless of the location, being the first overnight trip without children or husbands for me and two of my closest friends in Singapore (and actually the first overnight trip away from children EVER for the other two). We ate crab, chatted, got pedicures, and vegetated: it was awesome (and so relaxing I didn't even bring my camera!).
Part of the grounds complete with cheery frogs
The other was really R's ideal of a perfect vacation: short travel trip on a novel mode of transport, time in the onsite playgym, swimming, sliding down the water slide over and over, big buffet breakfast (she loves those), and staying in a two-bedroom hotel apartment with "my own bed and toilet" (we stayed at the Holiday Inn, which gets top points for its child-friendliness). B and I enjoyed it too, though it's a bit dull for my personal taste. Cheap though! so probably we will return soon as a quick-and-easy getaway.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Books Read: January-February 2014

January 11th: Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, Annie Murphy Paul. I actually wanted to read this a while ago, but thought it would make me feel too guilty for being insufficiently healthy when pregnant with R. In the end it didn't have that effect, though I didn't find it as enlightening or interesting as I had hoped either: most of the information was not new to me. Grade: B-.
January 11th: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John Le Carre. A spy thriller and very male in both tone and style, by which I mean not very emotional or personal, and with a tightly-focused point of view. Not really my cup of tea: but for this genre, it's quite good. Grade: A-.
January 12th: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Steven Johnson. Nonfiction about both a terrible cholera epidemic, and how the investigation of this epidemic led to the discovery that polluted water could directly cause disease (and thus to the implementation of modern sewer systems, water treatment plants, and concerns with environmental pollution). Would have been better if the author had restricted his focus more tightly on the Victorians: when he wanders from this period, the book suffers considerably. Grade: B-.
January 24th: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. My all-time favorite book from ages 7 to around 9, I have read this book countless times. This was the first time as an adult though, and I was surprised by 1. the overt religiosity throughout (which I didn't understand before, and therefore just skimmed over) and 2. the extremely puritanical values (one teenager curls her hair and borrows a fancy dress from her girlfriend, and this is presented as a grave moral dilemma). The characters are still great though. Grade: A-. 
January 30th: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Laura Markham. This is really a very radical book in disguise, the premise being parents should not use punishment (or rewards, really) AT ALL. Children are naturally good, and want to please their parents; children who are naughty are actually expressing a need, and the parent's job is to find out what that need is and meet it, which will then eliminate any unwanted behavior. A defiant child is one who feels unloved (or unconnected, in the author's terminology), so the cure is to give them more attention. Sounds shocking, but I agree with almost everything she writes, and think it's a wise and effective method of parenting. I have found it to work wonderfully with R (so far, she is only 3.5). Grade: A+.

February 7th: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, Ernest Hemingway. Memoir about Hemingway's impoverished young days in Paris. Interesting and evocative: will make you want to visit the city. Grade: A.
February 11th: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. Subtle and complex novel about a man whose whole existence has been dedicated to what turns out to have been a corrupt and false ideal. Excellent study of regret and self delusion. Grade: A.
February 13th: Bel-Ami, Guy de Maupassant. By modern standards, this is a rather strange novel about an impoverished but handsome man sleeping his way to the top (via strategic affairs with Parisian society women). His strategy works out perfectly and he has no regrets. Sharp social commentary and some interesting characters. Grade: A-.
February 16th: The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho. One of the most-read books of all time, I have been meaning to read it for a while and finally did for book club. I hated it. Sexist, derivative, and intellectually shallow, it is the opposite of profound or thought provoking. Some vivid scenes, though, even if they are not original. Grade: D+.
February 25th: Until It Hurts: America's Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids, Mark Hyman. The subtitle says it all: a journalist's exploration of the problems with youth sports, with a particular focus on the physical problems. He indicts himself as one of the obsessed parents, sending his teenage son to pitch with a potentially seriously injured arm: his honesty is refreshing and disarming. The whole thing is just OK, though: some more in-depth thought on the phenomenon is required. Grade: C.
February 25th: It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, Heather Shumaker. Easy to read, clear and highly sensible parenting guide geared for toddlers and preschoolers. Maybe a bit facile for my taste, but overall excellent. Grade: A-.
February 27th: Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do, Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy. I find attachment theory absolutely fascinating, so I should have loved this. Instead, I hated it because 1. the authors are devout Christians and several chapters are all about God's love etc: as an atheist, this is of no interest; 2. they writes as if attachment styles in adult behavior was a proven fact, when actually attachment theory applies to young children, and only in particular situations and 3. they discuss "attachment types" in adults as if adults had only one kind, consistent across all relationships, when the best evidence suggests the opposite is the case. This is irresponsible and misleading. Grade: F.