So Much For a Five Year Old’s Logic


The above picture is from an earlier post “Hiking Singapore Style”  of a snake Aidan found while hiking in the MacRitchie Reservoir.  He was proudly holding the creature and stated it must not be poisonous because it did not bite him.  Well thanks to his grandmother’s research it turned out he was wrong.  Grandma Diana contacted the Nature Society of Singapore and they identified the serpent as a Twin-barred Tree Snake which is in fact venomous. Fortunately its bite is only harmful to small rodents.  Let hope our talk about not picking up unidentified critters made an impression!  Here is a copy of the information they sent from the ecologyasia website.

Twin-Barred Tree Snake

This beautifully patterned snake is rarely seen. It is easily identified by the reddish upper body colour and the black-edged white bars. The flanks are light brown speckled with white, and the ventral surface yellow-white.

As with the Paradise Tree Snake, this species is able to glide considerable distances by inverting its ventral surface and launching itself from the tree tops.

It is a mildly venomous back-fanged species, with a quiet temperament. The species ranges from southern Thailand to Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, Riau and Java.

The Twin-barred tree snake is strikingly patterned – the above specimens are from Singapore’s central forests.
Species : Chrysopelea pelias 
Maximum Size : 75 cm

Rules Gone Wild!!!

On February 14th our family experienced a loss. Admittedly we never met these individuals but yet their demise is still painful. The fallen are four bottles of a beautiful ruby-red 1998 Aussie shiraz that Andy had purchased online to celebrate the year we were married. To make a long story short, they were not properly labeled for delivery to an age appropriate person and they were destroyed (aka poured down the drain) by the local police and alcohol commissioner lest they go down to gullet of some poor vulnerable minor. They were blameless victims of society that often replaces reason with bureaucracy.

Ironically the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred not in Singapore which has a reputation for having many strict rules but rather in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire. The event led me to reflect on some of the reputations of the laws and crime in both countries.

We have been in SIngapore for two months and I can tell you that the culture is very “rules” orientated. There is not much room for flexibility. It starts early in the young. Last week we were at the Children’s Garden and Aidan was playing in the dirt as usual. Around him gathered a group of pristine looking preschoolers none of them were playing much in the sand or grabbing at his toys.

Contrast that with my own American child in his brand new school picture clothes this fall.

The most frequent question heard when I told friends I was moving to Singapore was “Isn’t that the place where you can’t chew gum?” It is true gum is not sold in Singapore. The ban on chewing gum actually had a logical beginning. Singapore invested a lot of money in a subway system and when it was newly opened a few doors were broken by wads of chewing gum. This happened once or twice which was a few times too many for the government.

“Gum control” however is loosening up. One can bring in a small amount for personal use. You can legally chew gum just don’t throw it on the ground when you are done. Apparently, to the locals it does have a forbidden quality. I recently tried a Supa Street exercise dance class at a local gym. The teacher was a young man dressed in a hoodie and sporting an elaborate goatee. When he entered the room I saw a woman slip him a baggie. “What’s this?” he asked. The response…”Bubble Yum from the States.”

Wrigley's sells mints instead

Singapore has an international reputation for being very strict on illegal substance use. To put it mildly drugs are a definite no-no. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting a set weight of drugs. For example having just over a pound of marijuana. Possessing these quantities is deemed as prima facie evidence of trafficking. In other words, if you possess these quantities (and possession means you had control of them), you are deemed to be a trafficker and therefore subject to the death penalty. For better or worse, the law has been effective in keeping out drugs in a country just a little over an hour from the Golden Triangle.

One of the most valuable aspects of travel is the mirror that suddenly reflects back on own culture. America certainly has its peculiarities, foibles and stereotypes. One area where our reputation is particularly bad is the level of gun related violence. A woman from New Zealand told me she wants to visit the States but she is afraid of getting shot. Is her fear that invalid? On Facebook this weekend I read of one gun related injury and a suicide at a North Beverly Massachusetts Starbucks I pass on my way to work everyday at home.

One story about how crazy our gun laws are has stuck with me. A few years ago in Massachusetts an eight year old boy shot himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun show. It is apparently not illegal for a child to fire an extraordinarily powerful automatic machine gun as long as a parent gives permission and there is someone with a gun license nearby. His father, ironically an emergency medicine doctor, was standing right next to him, so all was fine minus the wound to the boy’s head. I would argue that the laxity of America’s gun laws is a little bit more messed up than restricting the sale of bubble gum to or maybe even capital punishment of drug dealers.

The other area that I get a questions about from foreigners pertains to our health care. People are especially interested when they find out I am a family doctor. A woman from France was surprised that in a country as wealthy as America everyone does not have health insurance. Unfortunately this blog entry is already too long to delve down that path. To begin the scratch the surface would take me days to write.

For now we are simply trying to stay out of trouble. Let’s hope we have no more run-ins with the law and drink one tonight for our poor lost “friends”…

AIdan proves he just clears the height requirement for the water park at the zoo

Hello Elly! An Introduction to Theater

Today I took the children to their first play.  Actually, I have to qualify that it was their first professional performance.  Aidan reminded he was in a wonderful production of Scrooged this Christmas at Brookwood School.  Nevertheless, we went to the Esplanade Recital Studio to see Hello Elly!

Syd Had to Wear a "Tutu" to the Play

The play is inspired by a story called the The Elephant and the Tree written and illustrated by Singaporean author Jin Pyn Lee.  I was not familiar with the book but we purchased a copy at the production.  It is simple but nicely illustrated in black and lime green.  It tells the story of an elephant and a tree that grow up happily together, then watch their forest destroyed by man and finish their days in captivity recounting a better time when they were free.

The elephant has to work hard labor for humans and the tree becomes a wooden saddle strapped to his back.  Kind of an darker version of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstien from my youth.  .

Fortunately, the play was much lighter.  The actors sang songs about elephants and the production was based on Elly the Elephant and Tree’s quest to find words that begin with each letter of the alphabet.  The children sat on the floor instead of in chairs and there were many aspects that involve their participation.

Sydney Grabs a Colored Ball Representing a Rainbow

The program stated the show was for 2 to 4 year olds.  Aidan was on the older end of the audiance spectrum but he enjoyed it.   It distressed him though when the cast member described first as “the hunter” was looking for Elly and we were asked not to tell where the elephant was hiding nearby.  The two year olds of course kept yelling “He’s Over There!!!”  Aidan kept telling them to shut up so the elephant could be free.  Definitely a difference in developmental stages.

The "F"lower Plays the "G"uitar

Fortunately the “hunter” turned out to be a  park ranger and the deforestation of the trees could be undone by clapping and singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  Aidan astutely asked if the buildings were gone where then do the people live.  Ugh, too many questions for a ABC play maybe that is why 4 is the upper age limit 🙂

At the end of the play Aidan said “That Rocked!!” so I took that as a big thumbs up.   In April they are staging a production of The Magic Seashore where you join the lead characters Ling and Peppy to learn the ups and downs of prepositions!?!  Only in education obsessed  Singapore are the preschoolers learning prepositions in America we are happy if our toddler say “up” and reach somewhat in the proper direction.

Little India: A Food Lovers Nirvana

Little India as the name suggests is the bustling center of SIngapore’s large Indian community.

Saturday afternoon we decided to have lunch at the Spice Junction which is known for their southern Indian food.   One house specialty, Meen Pollichathu,  is white fish marinated with spices; wrapped in banana leaves and broiled on an iron griddle.   It was wonderful.

Little India is well known for its markets.  The streets are lined with carts selling fragrant flower garlands.  The aroma is so sweet and unique it brought back wonderful memories of the time I spent in India in 2001.

The Tekka Market has such quality and diversity I have read even Michelin starred chefs collect ingredients for meals in virtually any type of cuisine.

The seafood variety is wonderful both fresh and dried.

A multitude of small dried fish.

Aidan however did not think the smell in the fish area of the market was as pleasurable as the ones by the flowers.

This is as much of a smile we could get out of him near the "smelly fish"

I have to give a special shout out  to the fruit stall where I met my new love, the Mangosteen.  I actually tried it on a tour of the market with Sharm our relocation liaison the first day I was in Singapore.  I am so obsessed with the taste of this sweet purple fruit that I actually looked up the calorie count to make sure this is really heathy and not some secret weapon sent to destroy the fitness goals of unsuspecting westerns.  Fortunately they are in fact “good for me” so I continue to indulge.

Here is the first meal I make in Singapore.  It was a Wagyu Beef Stir Fry.  The veggies and fruits are from the Tekka Market.  You can see there is a mangosteen on the plate.

Tonight’s dinner, which was leftovers with the kids, must have been extra special because I ate two :).

Angkor Thom: Ancient Khmer Capital

On our last day we toured the spectacular Angkor Thom whose name translates into the “Great City”.  This last and most enduring capital of the Khmer empire lies about a mile from Angkor Wat on the right bank of the Siem Reap river.

The city was heavily guarded, fortified by a moat, wide embankment for solders and guard towers. Enclosed were the residences and administrative centers of the priest, palace officials and military. The first sight as we approached  Angkor Thom was the  imposing face of the 75 foot high tower gate.

The bridge is still a very functional entrance for an assortment of transportation vehicles be it tuk tuk…

or other…

Angkor Thom was first founded in 899 but a majority of the structures were constructed by Jayavarman VII who reigned from 1181 to 1220.  He was also the ruler who built Ta Prohm which I explored in the previous “tree temple” post.   Andy called this man the “Cambodian Donald Trump” which given the amount of buildings attributed to him seems accurate.

The ornately decorated Bayan was the official state temple and stands in the center of Angkor Thom.  From a far it looks chaotic especially when compared to the stately and symmetrical Angkor Wat.

Once a top the terraces the beauty of the Bayon expresses itself magnificently.  Especially impressive are the stone faces that look out in each direction from the towers in all there were 216 present.

In a Playful Moment Aidan Goes "Nose to Nose" with one of the Ancient Men

The temple was originally dedicated as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine, later rulers altered it to Hinduism and later back to Theravada Buddhist before being abandoned back into the jungle.  Today there is again some evidence of its religious importance.

This shrine was in a corridor of the Bayon

This impressive Buddha was located adjacent to the temple

The Baphuon is a temple located northwest of the Bayon.  It was built in the mid-11th century not by  “J VII” but by another ruler whose building style was not as sturdy.  By the 20th century most of the structure had collapsed but in April 2011 after 51 years it was reopened.  Unfortunately it was deemed to steep for children under 12 so we viewed it from afar.

However, nearby was Phimeanakas which was also quite steep but deemed accessible for adventurous 5 year old boys.  Aidan was more than happy to climb to the top while poor Sydney had to look on enviously from below. Legend has it that the King had to lie with Nagini, the girl with a serpents body, every night in this temple before going to his wives and concubines.  If he failed to perform this duty even one night the kingdom was doomed.  Hmmm-maybe that is why Andy offered to trek to the top while the girls stayed below…

Allegedly the view from the oversexed Serpent Ladies

Sydney would scream with delight at each passing pachyderm…

I preferred the stoic Elephant Terrace with its spectacular carvings.

At the end of our tour we finally took a photo with all four of us.  Usually the photographer is left out.

Once again the vastness, expanse and intricacies of the Angkor Complex are overwhelming and stunning.

Cambodia’s Fantastic Cuisine

Ten years ago  I worked at Lynn Community Health Center just north of Boston where I cared for a fairly sizable Cambodia immigrant population.  On occasion the staff would order from a local restaurant.  I remember fondly the spring rolls which were wrapped in delicate rice paper and filled with fresh carrots, mint and glass noodles.  I knew then the food was wonderful but I was unprepared for the diversity and fantastic creativity of the Siem Reap dining scene.

Our first meal was a quick light lunch at the Le Meridian after we checked in while waiting for our room to be cleaned.  Sydney had changed for a brief moment from begging for “Chicken Rice” to “Noodles”.   We ordered an Indonesian style noodle dish and got this wonderful presentation with satays and a fried egg as well.

One evening we went to Sugar Palm which is located in a beautiful house with a large open air balcony and wooden floors.  This restaurant serves fairly traditional Cambodian food.

Fish Amok which could be claimed as Cambodia’s national dish is curried codfish seasoned with coconut milk , paprika, ginger garlic and chills. At Sugar Palm it was presented baked like a soufflé.
Our waiter suggested a roasted aubergine dish.  The vegetable underneath the crust had a rich savory flavor. I am not always the biggest fan of eggplant but I really enjoyed this presentation.

A must try is the Blue Pumpkin which feels very modern and has wonderful fusion food. Our favorite dish was the Fish Amok Ravioli. Unfortunately we devoured the food before we took photos, but I do have a great one of Sydney who approved of the homemade ice cream.
After a long day of touring we relaxed across the river at the  Butterflies Garden Restaurant. There a net across the top tries to contain some newly emerged beauties raised on site.  We saw very few butterflies which was probably fortunate because before we went there Aidan protested the choice. He was afraid the insects  would land in his food and he would eat them.  The owners use some of the profits from the restaurant and adjoining gift shop to support local disadvantaged children which makes it a wonderful place to support.
The final restaurant I went to was Il Forno.  It is actually known for wonderful Italian food.  Unfortunately Sydney complained her “tummy hurt” minutes before the food arrived.  We thought she was hungry until a few seconds later she did her best “Linda Blair in The Exorcist” impersonation all over my shoes.  She and I then spent the next 24 hours at the hotel.  Aidan give high marks to the pizza and the gnocchi Andy brought back to me was wonderful.
One final photo is on the market in Siem Reap where on display were wonderful ingredients used in Cambodian cooking.
Cambodia seems to be emerging not only as a wonderful travel destination but as a culinary wonderland as well.  I am more than happy to see this influence spread further and relish the thought of exploring where this frontier leads.

Tree Temples and Tomb Raiders

Angkor Wat may be the most famous temple but a short distance away lies Ta Prohm  which is more unusual and stunning.  Here fig and silk-cotten trees magically entwine ancient stone temples and carvings.   The beauty of Ta Prohm remains in large part to the foresight of a French Archeological team who in the early 20th century decided the site would be largely left as it had been found as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque”.

Wandering throughout this ancient beauty, I felt as though I had stepped into a Indiana Jones movie.

The site in fact is famous as the back drop of scenes in Tomb Raider released in 2001. I know this because I heard many tour guides discuss this in many languages, “Angelina Jolie” remarkably is  pronounced the same throughout the world.

This is me as not Jolie. I now it is hard to tell. 🙂

Ta Prohm was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and shrine beginning in 1186 A.D. The structures were dedicated in part to his mother.  When I asked Aidan what he would build for me someday he responded he has a few legos in Singapore.  Not quite an ancient temple but I am sure Aidan’s structure will be built with love none the less.

The carvings were fantastic.

Some of them like this ancient face peaked out from between the serpentine vines.

A Carved Face

The children had fun at the ruins. Sydney does a great interpretation of the 900 year old dancers.

The trees in the structure were very soft this contributed to their ability to surround rather than encompass the temples. There were naturally a lot of holes and breaks in the trunks.

There were a few surprises found in the day to entertain us all.

Colorful Temple Lizard

Sometimes the Ruins are a Relaxing Place

This site was fantastic and my favorite day of touring the Angkor area.  The ancient Ta Prohm was eerie, haunting and beautiful.