Friday, January 3, 2014

I Am Mentioned on GOMI

I have been MIA for a variety of reasons: traveling (we are still in the United States), family drama, me getting depressed again...I do miss blogging and hope to get back to it soon, at least once the stars align/things are more settled.

I checked my blog yesterday for the first time in ages (like two weeks?) and was surprised to see a sudden spike in traffic coming from here, which is a "snark site" (ie, one that people go to to make fun of bloggers and other people).

I knew about Get Off My Internets before and have read there from time to time. It's like most Internet forums, sometimes the comments are funny and can even be impressively insightful, sometimes they are frighteningly mean spirited or mind-bogglingly idiotic. Usually it's just like gossip in real life, fundamentally petty and personal (of the "Look at that bitch eating crackers!!" variety) and ultimately reflecting mostly badly on the person saying it.

Anyway, I was initially kind of excited to realize that strangers were having a discussion nitpicking me and my blog. I love constructive criticism  (how else am I going to improve? obviously I think I am doing exactly the right thing already, or I wouldn't be doing it). Also, while I don't have any kind of disorder or diagnosable problem, sometimes social cues are a bit hard for me, like the things that most people assume as standard, instinctive knowledge aren't that way for me. I tend to have a kind of list in my head of "things you are supposed to do/say" to guide me in the socially appropriate path. Even so, I will often come out with statements that kind of surprise people or take them aback (though as I've gotten older this happens a lot less often, thank goodness). It's not even things that are offensive, more like talking about how I really want to own a mobility scooter so I can spend longer at the museum without getting tired (which is apparently weird: I thought it sounded really practical). Basically my assumptions about what's normal or average or transparently obvious are just really different from most people's (and I think being an expat doesn't help, at least in an American context). So getting feedback from other people is more important to me than it might be for more socially tuned in types.

I was pretty disappointed with the outcome so far though (of course I read all the stuff about me, there's no way I could resist the temptation!). They did mention that I am socially awkward, which yes (see above), although what to do about it I don't know. Most of the other comments weren't useful, like saying I am mean for saying Singapore isn't cool (I mean, really??? Even Singaporeans think it isn't cool) or that because I dislike it when my child is ill, I shouldn't have any others (what a weird thing to say).

I know that some of the opinions I've written here are strange, controversial or not socially acceptable. But I'm not interested in presenting "an edited representation" of myself where I make myself and my life look impressive and approval-worthy (as was suggested by a GOMI person). For me, the point of having a semi-anonymous blog is 1. to be honest about my feelings/thoughts/opinions and 2. to discuss them with those who are willing or interested.

So if you have feedback, let me know. Maybe I will even learn something? I know I can certainly stand improvement :)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Images of Singapore

 R and I visited Images of Singapore with some friends a few months ago. This museum, located on Sentosa, displays the history and culture of Singapore with "multi-media displays, multi-screen theatre presentations and lifesize tableaus depicting major events in Singapore's history". It's kind of a re-imagining of the museum as theme park attraction. In addition to history, the museum also showcases festivals and cultural practices from the different ethnicities that make up Singapore's population.
They have an old-fashioned bicycle delivery cart outside the museum that R enjoyed climbing
It's somewhat successful: I enjoyed seeing many of the displays, especially the section on children's games. It does give a useful brief introduction to Singapore's history (albeit the government-approved, heavily edited one). And it is a great place to take children, especially ones slightly older than R (who still enjoyed her visit thoroughly).
R checking out the different peoples of Singapore signing a treaty
Singapore as a port city, with multi-ethnic population
Traditional life scene (kids are playing capteh)
The downsides: most of the exhibits are of the diorama-with-lifesize-wax-dummies variety (which can get old/creepy after a while). The choice to up the "entertainment" factor in the museum has meant that a lot of the content has suffered: in other words, it's been dumbed down/simplified/omitted. This may have been intentional, however, as the museum is government-run and free speech is not an important value here, especially when it comes to discussing historical facts. And maintenance of the exhibits was not perfect (a problem at most technology-heavy museums I have visited worldwide, to be fair).
R and her friend especially liked the firewalking display (which is done annually here for certain Hindu festivals)
Chinese opera display: so colorful!
Overall, it's not a bad way to spend a couple hours if you are already in Sentosa, especially because the museum is all indoors/air conditioned, and can thus serve as a safe haven from the weather. It's probably not worth a special trip, though (unless you are a museum completist like me).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tea Highlands in Sri Lanka: Madulkelle Tea Eco Lodge

Tea Highlands of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is the world's fourth largest producer of tea and over 10% of the population still lives on tea plantations (all tea is hand-picked by very poorly paid women). Many of these plantations are fairly close to the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka's Central Highlands (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The region is spectacularly beautiful and full of rare animals and plants. Even though Sri Lanka is a tropical country, the weather in the highlands remains at around a pleasantly cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit year round (in other words, a climate just like San Francisco! no wonder we liked it).
Lawn and swimming pool of our tea lodge
Traditionally the tea plantations were owned by very wealthy British planters who enjoyed lifestyles of extreme luxury on their de facto mini-kingdoms. They lived in "bungalows" (in California, this means a small, modest Craftsman-style house: in Sri Lanka, it's a fabulous European style mansion with a broad verandah) with armies of servants. (For a taste of this, you can see the otherwise cheesy Elizabeth Taylor vehicle Elephant Walk set in post-WW2 Sri Lanka.)
Lodge interior with fireplace and leather armchairs where you can enjoy sipping cocktails
Our welcome drinks of fresh local organic juice
R with her beloved "bubbly water"
Today many of the tea plantations are tourist destinations, where you can stay in luxurious accommodations while enjoying beautiful rural landscapes. There is something a bit problematic about this though, as the tea plantation workers are still incredibly poor, live in highly substandard conditions and are frequently abused/exploited. Kind of like colonialism never ended!
Vegetarian lunch grown mostly on the property
The local tea: it was really good
Part of their on-site organic farm
So B and I chose to stay at Madulkelle, an "eco lodge" which has many of these benefits (like delicious multi course gourmet cuisine) but is hopefully a bit less exploitative.
You stay in the fancy equivalent of tent cabins, which are quite far from each other to ensure privacy
Entry to our cabin
View from our balcony
Me inside, wearing a cheap sari I bought for temple-viewing modesty purposes: each cabin has its own bathroom (behind the wall)
I don't have the knowledge or expertise to evaluate their success in aiding the local community, but the hotel was definitely completely fabulous. I would love to go back for a longer stay!
R walking through the tea fields (the bushes are kept low to aid in picking)
Goofy goofy
I like Madulkelle!!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What's On My Mind Lately

It's December third already, yikes! Can't believe the year is almost over. Here's what's going on lately:

1. We fly back to the US for Christmas/New Year's next week (on the tenth). I am really excited about seeing my family and doing lots of fun only-in-America holiday activities. I am not excited about the flight, especially because in a (successful) bid to save money, we are flying Singapore-Taipei-Tokyo-San Francisco, leaving Singapore at 1 am. We also have an all-day layover in Tokyo which with an exhausted toddler should be fun! NOT. If only tranquilizer darts were approved for use in children.

2. B and I are going on a three-day trip to Chicago without R (she is going to stay with my parents). This will be the first time I have left her overnight since she was four months old. To be honest, I don't really feel the lack of "couple time" since we already spend so much time one-on-one (for instance, she goes to bed at 8 pm and both of us rarely go to bed before 1 am), though of course I always enjoy B's company. I am more excited about traveling without a small child in tow. I can read on the plane! If the flight is delayed I don't care! I can sleep as late as I feel like! etc.

I have never been to Chicago before so am looking forward to exploring the city. My must-dos so far: the Field Museum, the Art Institute, Millennium Park and Sears/Willis Tower. Plus eating hot dogs. It's my first trip to the Midwest!

3. B and I have officially started "trying" for a second child (which seems like a stupid phrase as actually I am doing less than I was before, because now I don't have to fool around with birth control methods). When I think about it logically it seems like a bad idea (twice the workload, twice the stress, plus additional fun factors like sibling rivalry or potential health/emotional/psychological problems of baby #2). But I really want another and thus logic has no place. I suppose very few people would have children if it was a primarily logical/rational decision.

4. We are staying in the US for a month! Which should be long enough to do most of what I want to do. Our last trip felt so rushed (we were only there for two weeks, which with an 18-hour flight and horrible jet lag is just too short). I am most looking forward to seeing my niece little DD, who is just over a year and cute as a button.

5. On the way back to Singapore we will be stopping over in Japan (again, same as last year). Yay! because I love Japan. We haven't decided exactly how long we will be there (at least a week, possibly longer) or where we are going. Somewhere in the country, in the north. Possibly Hokkaido: I am leaning towards the Japanese Alps currently. I want to see this:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Playdate at the Zoo

We haven't been to the zoo in quite a while: these pictures are from almost three months ago (I have a tremendous backlog of photos thanks to erratic posting). I will have to make it a priority to go sometime in the next two weeks, before we leave Singapore for the holidays.
These waterlilies can supposedly support up to 70 pounds: I was really tempted to test it out using R but managed to restrain myself. How bad is it to use my kid as a guinea pig, though? I still want to... 
R already wants to do it: she is a pretty daring child
The zoo has all kinds of cool animals of course, but it also has many interesting plant exhibits. Everything grows well in Singapore thanks to the climate: one of its official nicknames is "the Garden City". 
Educational display about durian, a supposedly delicious fruit notorious for its smell (which closely resembles vomit). I have never eaten it for that reason. 
R in a rare moment of posing cooperativeness: I love orchids so much!
We visited the Fragile Forest again, which is maybe my favorite exhibit at the zoo. The lemurs were the main attraction for R and her friend, but I still prefer the bats. They don't frighten me at all (though this seems to be a minority view: my father-in-law wouldn't even enter the bat exhibit when he visited). I find them totally fascinating. Mammals that fly! And live large portions of their lives upside down! So interesting.
The Fragile Forest dome has all sorts of free-ranging creatures: butterflies...
lemurs of course... 
my favorite bats...
and the ridiculously small mouse deer, the chihuahua of the hoofed animal kingdom.
You can get really close to all the animals: here's R's friend for an example
I love seeing R interact with her friends because I find it hilarious. When she was smaller, all interactions were of the "parallel play" variety (where they just copy each other without directly acknowledging each other's presence). They still do this, but now they will also have conversations and joke with each other. I suppose the next step is interacting independently (ie, without any adult involvement) so I should enjoy the chance to spy in on her relationships while I still can.
Copying while apparently ignoring
Discussing the ducks swimming
The most popular thing to do together: run around shrieking and being goofy

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Millennium Elephant Sanctuary: Thoughts on Captive Elephants

The Millennium sanctuary
Elephants, elephants...I have never seen wild elephants (though B and I went looking for them in China), and while Sri Lanka is apparently a great place to see them, we couldn't do it on our trip, both because of time constraints and health concerns (the countryside in third world countries is much more disease-laden than cities, while medical care is much worse: I didn't feel entirely comfortable exposing R to this since she is still so small and vulnerable).

Sri Lanka also has a large number of captive elephants, which are much easier to see. I knew, however, that  most captive elephants are very badly treated, so I did not want to go to just any elephant tourist attraction. I rode elephants in Vietnam (before I knew about widespread abuse of elephants) and it was amazing, one of my life highlights at that time. But since then I've learned that howdahs (the chairs used for riding elephants) are very bad for elephant health and cause horrible wounds. How to repeat, without encouraging elephant torture?
B is bathing the elephant: they love the water!
I thought that Millennium Elephant Foundation offered a perfect compromise. They rent captive elephants from their owners and then keep them at their reserve where they can be offered regular medical care and be free from abuse and heavy manual labor. You can ride (bareback, as this is much better for the elephant), bathe and feed them (the costs from tourism help support the elephants). I could thus do the cool tourist elephant things without feeling guilty.
R was a little frightened of the elephant and wouldn't touch him
It was a great experience and we all loved it! It was really amazing to get so close to these magnificent creatures. And the elephants obviously had a much better life than most captive elephants I have seen in Sri Lanka or elsewhere (like Thailand).
Since our visit though, I have done more research about captive elephants (partly because I wanted to write this post) and now I am not sure that it was such a good idea. Basically all captive elephants have been kidnapped from their families in the wild (elephants breed very poorly in captivity), and to "tame" them is in most cases done by extreme abuse until their spirit is broken. So even though all this abuse already happened, I wonder if by patronizing captive elephant attractions (and thus indirectly creating a demand for them) I am thus encouraging such abuse?
You take a casual stroll through some rice paddies: we got an extra-long walk for free, because R is cute
Also, many mahouts (elephant trainers) truly love their elephants and treat them well. The ones at Millennium didn't seem mean. But like all mahouts they carry sharp pointed sticks to control the elephant (though it was not used at all while we were there). That's because there is no other way to realistically control such a huge creature you are in such close physical contact with, if you want it to actually obey you (as opposed to doing things it feels like doing anyway). To have a truly cruelty-free elephant interaction means you cannot get too close (more like observing elephants from a jeep, not bathing them).
Here you can see the mahout's pole better (the thing in his other hand is a piece of reed for snacking, not a weapon)
I have heard wonderful things about two elephant sanctuaries in northern Thailand (Boon Lott and Elephant Nature Park), so when we visit that area of the world I will try to visit one of them. Otherwise, perhaps I will have to give further tourist elephant adventures a miss, despite their obvious attractions.
Elephants aren't really that well suited for captivity in some ways: they prefer to spend up to 12 hours daily walking, prefer to live in groups of at least three, and male elephants go through a period called "musth" every year, when they become highly aggressive and temperamental. That is what is going on with this elephant (doesn't he look grumpy?) and why he was chained up: elephants are extremely dangerous at this time.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reasons I Hate Disney

I hate Disney and thus have never shown R any of their movies. However, Disney is ubiquitous and so she's been exposed to all the characters over time, especially Mickey and Minnie Mouse. She's also seen Mickey's Clubhouse occasionally (on TV once or twice when we were on vacation, on my phone a few times as an amusement measure while in the car). Of course she loves them.

Despite my feelings, Disney is really popular (and not just in the US, everyone here loves it too). I began to think that maybe I was being an elitist snob. With so many die-hard Disney fans, there must be something to it, right? I like magic! and fairy tales! and imaginative stuff! I thought maybe I was missing out, and even worse, R was missing out by proxy.

So I decided to take her to Disney Live! Mickey's Magic Show where she could "see Mickey Mouse". It seemed a good fit, especially because she's been very interested in magic lately (and will regularly pretend to enchant things, waving her "wand" and saying "Abracadabra!").

OMG what an AWFUL idea. I hated it so much. 

1. It was really expensive. I have taken R to many other concerts, plays, dance performances, etc etc (she's probably been more than 20 in her two years of life). This one cost almost twice the cost of all the others: and we bought the absolute cheapest seats.

2. As an adult, it was stultifyingly boring. The "story" was mostly non-existent, the human characters were incredibly annoying (whenever they were onstage I was counting the minutes until they would go away), and the music was not good. (Which is strange considering lots of Disney songs are pretty catchy.)

3. The horrible, grating sexism. There was a chorus line of sexy babes who regularly came out and jiggled in sync (so strange to have this in a kid's show). All the magicians were male, who performed tricks mostly on scantily clad women. The overall message seemed to be that women are passive and all cool stuff is done by men. 

4. The cloying, dishonest sentimentality. The "moral" of the show was "Never give up", as highlighted by the continuing efforts of an incompetent magician to succeed at his tricks. This is a stupid moral: sometimes you should "give up"/redirect your efforts in a more productive direction. Also, if you try to do something and it doesn't work, that is a sign you should do things differently next time. Instead, the Disney universe was advising behavior exactly fitting the popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 

5. The magic was pretty cool (I really like magic tricks, personally) but somehow the inclusion of the Disney characters made things less magical, I guess because it seemed to just be part of their universe and thus not surprising. It would have been more impressive had it been a traditional magic show where the tricks could have stood out more.

R liked it of course (and paid close attention the whole time while sitting properly, though that is standard for her at most performances at this point). But honestly I think she liked the Ramayana better. Truthfully small children like everything--their tastes are definitely not discerning--so choosing activities solely based on their "kid friendliness" seems like a stupid idea. Next time I will just choose performances I want to see. 

At least I am confirmed in my hatred of Disney. It really is that awful (overpriced, intellectually vapid, sexist and tacky). Guess I can avoid taking R to Disneyland, ever, in good conscience!