Friday, November 7, 2014

Life in a tropical rainforest climate

My phone actually adds more detail than one can see with the naked eye.
This is just a short post to show (as best as I can) what a true tropical rainforest rain is like. If you're from the northeast U.S., like me, the clearest comparison is this: The difference between rain in my experience anywhere else and rain in Singapore is the difference between a light flurry of snow compared with white-out conditions. 

When it really rains in Singapore, it's, as the more countrified folks of my grandfather's generation would say, "a real humdinger of a storm." The thunder is explosively loud, and the rain runs down the window like a hose was left on pointing toward the
Thar she blows!

Living in Fusionopolis in a tower facing the southern most point of the island means that I can watch a storm coming in. Then, slowly and gradually, the storm cloud eats the harbor and consumes the buildings and trees closest to me, until finally, I can see very little out my window at all. 

It's rather peaceful when this happens; much like one would imagine it to be like if one were living in an aquarium. The insulated stillness (and the fact that all construction work grinds to a standstill) lends to a pleasant environment awash in white noise. 

The times I've been caught outside in it have been far less peaceful. An umbrella or a raincoat won't help you. I've gotten soaked standing under covered walkways - I've even gotten rained on standing ten yards from an open-air window. 

It is rain like I've never known.

Here is a poem I wrote in homage to the thunder one day as I waited out a particularly window-rattling storm between classes. A visit from a thunder-god was the only explanation for the noise that came that day in addition to the torrential rain:

When Thor arrived in Singapore,
He threw his hammer on the floor
And shook the heavens door to door
And brought about the rain.

He rattled windows, shook the trees
He made the folks go wobble-kneed
For from the heavens he had freed 
His power to the land.

When Thor took leave from Singapore 
He took his hammer up once more.
Despite the rain, we still adore
That wild Asgardian.

~ A between-classes poem ~ (c) 2014 Amanda Lohiser

Monday, October 27, 2014

Autumn videos from home

Autumn is my favorite season in Western New York, and I miss it sorely while I'm here in Singapore. I miss the changing of the seasons as a whole, to be honest, and the shortening days, the turning leaves, the gradual crispness that comes to the air and the descent into the cold, dark, cozy winter is a journey that I enjoy every year.

Knowing this, my mom sends me an annual Autumn video. She's awfully creative and a really good storyteller, and I thought I'd share her handiwork with you. Whether you're a Singaporean who is curious about what Autumn is all about, or an American expat who would like a little reminder of home, these videos are for you. 

We start with this year's "Autumn Colors in the Country;" set to The Violet Hour by the Civil Wars, this video evokes the haunting, ancient rhythm of the winding down of the year, the twilight that ushers in the night of winter.

We continue on to "Autumn Days;" set to the O'Neill Brothers' rendition of the old Quaker hymn Simple Gifts, this video shares the simple gifts we see as we take in one autumn day from dawn to dusk to moonlit night.

Finally, we end with "An Autumn Drive", set to Rod Stewart's rendition of Blue Skies. This video invites you along on a convertible drive - with the seat warmers on, because it's chilly! - past the neighboring houses and farms to enjoy the rustic beauty and whimsy of this time of year.

I hope you enjoy these videos as much as I do!

DISCLAIMER: The music you hear in these videos are songs that my mom purchased. She means no copyright infringement in placing them as the soundtrack to her autumn pictures and I mean no copyright infringement by sharing her home videos on my personal blog. If you like the songs you heard in these video clips, please follow the link on each song title and download the songs from Amazon for as little as $0.99! If you feel I am violating a copyright that you hold, please send me a private email message and I will remove the video immediately. Thanks!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Just when I thought Singapore Airlines couldn't get any more wonderful...

I know it's been a little while since my last post; in truth, this semester has been pretty crazy (in a good way). I'm teaching four classes with a total of 220 students (I did the math on the number of assessments I'd grade by the end of the semester and came up with 2,648. Some things you're better off not knowing!). I'm enjoying every crazy minute, but it leaves little time for other things.

I have been meaning to write about this story for a while, though, so I will tell you about an amazing experience I had flying home for the 8 day break between the end of the summer session and the beginning of the fall.

As you know from previous posts, I always fly Singapore Airlines, because even in Economy, the flight experience is second to none. Good meals, complementary beverages ("More wine?" "Why, don't mind if I do!") and tons of movies and TV shows to choose from. If I sound like I'm writing an advertisement, ask anyone who's ever heard me talk about SIA - I always sound this way.

Anyway, I had just started my journey and flew from Singapore to Hong Kong. I got off the plane for the mandatory customs check, and was getting back on the plane when something bizarre happened. I handed my boarding pass to the gate attendant, who glanced at a screen, and tore my ticket in half. I felt my eyes widen and I was just drawing a breath to ask what had just happened to me, when she handed me a different ticket and said, "Have a nice flight!"

"Thank you...?"

I took the ticket and started walking down the boarding gate when I stopped dead in my tracks (nearly causing a passenger-and-luggage pileup behind me). On the ticket was printed "Dr. Amanda Lohiser" - but it was a different color.

It was blue. Blue, I was to discover, was the color of joy.

The Golden Blue Ticket
Blue meant Business. I walked to the seat number that had been assigned to me, and it was, sure enough, in Business class. The chair was wide and plush. And there was a place to put my feet up! A little ledge that held my feet. At this point, I was holding on to my ticket with a death grip, waiting at any moment to be told there had been a mistake, but when I hesitantly called a flight attendant over to ask if this was, indeed, my seat, she smiled and said, "Yes! I guess you're lucky!"

OMG. 'Lucky?' Blessed, more like. This was a gift, you see, a gift from the Travel Gods that every frequent flyer dreams of but never hopes to achieve. I had been upgraded.

So, maybe I am crying a little bit.
I tried taking pictures, but to be honest, it was dark in the cabin and I didn't want to be completely obnoxious by turning on lights and standing in the aisle to take a million pictures (there was, also, a mien of "calm and cool" that I was trying really hard to maintain, despite the fact that I thought I might weep with joy at any minute).

So what's so great about Business?

I have to say first and foremost was the fact that sitting in the seat meant I could put my feet up. As someone with severe vascular problems in my legs, long flights are pretty painful (and yes, I've tried the stockings, and no, they don't work for me). Usually about halfway through the flight, I have to ask for some ice in a bag and try to somewhat curl my legs up in a way that they're elevated a little - pretty impossible to do in Economy. But in business? I stretched right out. I had zero pain that flight. That itself was without question, the best part.

I'm sorry the pic doesn't do it justice.
The second best part happened when a flight attendant walked by and asked "Would you like us to convert your seat into a bed?"

At first I smiled because I honestly thought she was joking - like she was going to whip out a wand, Hogwarts-style, and POOF, transfigure my seat into a bed.

And then I realized that that's basically exactly what happened, only without a wand. When she was done shifting and flipping and tugging straps and fixing blankets, she stepped away, and there was a cot. An honest-to-goodness, lay-down-and-curl-up cot with plush pillows and a soft, fluffy comforter. My tummy full of good food (more on that in a sec) I lay down, and for the first time in my life as a passenger on an airplane, I slept. I didn't just sleep, I passed out for 6 hours. That was the second-best part. No pain, and I arrived at my destination actually feeling rested and ready to jump into my day.

Oh, and did I mention the food yet?

This is the part I have some pics of. I had salad, I had fruit. I had veal and pasta, I had chocolate mousse. I had French wine and I had a cheese plate (a cheese plate!) and I had a 10-year-aged tawny port that did actually did bring tears to my eyes. It was absolutely lovely.

The entire experience was the best 14 hours I've ever spent on a plane, and I am grateful I got to have the experience. It came at the right time, as I had been feeling a bit blue about being away from home - don't get me wrong, I felt lucky to be going home for a few days, but in the back of my mind remained the greedy reality that I'd be picking back up and leaving again - missing home, missing my family, missing my friends. And then I got this 14-hour gift. This reprieve full of comfort and luxury. It was a blessing.

Now, here's the thing. It's not as if traveling economy in Singapore Airlines is like a horribly disappointing experience after this. The food is still very tasty; although admittedly not the variety that you're getting in business, it's still really good, and runs (flies?) circles around the "food" I've gotten in Economy on other long-haul flights (*cough*airline-that-breaks-guitars*cough*) and you're still getting the same movies and TV and comforts like a complementary blanket and pillow. In fact, when I describe my experience flying Economy on SIA, people in the States assume I'm flying Business ("But you said 'complementary wine!' You said 'ice cream!' You said '200 movies!'" "Yes, yes I did...") As I said, the biggest joy for me was the fact that I could stretch my legs out, and the fact that I could sleep.

And did I mention there was a cheese plate and a tawny port?

All in all, a fabulous experience, and I thank the Travel Gods (and Singapore Airlines) for the gift!

Thursday, July 24, 2014


My current henna artwork. Mine for two weeks!
Something that's become a favorite tradition of mine in Singapore is "getting henna done." Henna is a plant-based dye that is used to draw intricate designs on skin. The dye actually permeates below the surface layer of the skin, so the design stays on your skin for nearly two weeks. (For reference, if you were to draw on your skin with a pen, the ink stain would sit on the top-most layer of your skin, so it would wear/wash off within about a day. A henna tattoo goes into a layer below that, and a needle-and-ink tattoo places ink into your skin yet another layer down, so that is what makes it more permanent, although even that form of skin tattooing still fades over time).

You can watch this video to see the quick, talented artist at work.

L to R: Me, Nesh, Meera, Janice, Vaynii
In any case, henna art is a way that women of any culture (but predominantly Muslim and Hindu cultures) celebrate holidays, weddings, birthdays and life in general. This is typically a tradition enjoyed by women together, and I feel lucky to have found a "henna buddy" here in Singapore, my past student Vaynii. About a year and a half ago, Vaynii invited me to her birthday party, where I had henna done for the first time (and also wore a traditional Punjabi suit, as the theme was "Bollywood" and I was encouraged to go shopping in Little India with another past student, Zena, to get myself something fun and new to wear!). I found the process of getting the henna painted on absolutely mesmerizing, and the process of letting it dry absolutely painstaking ("Is it dry yet? Can I wash it off and see the design?" "NO! LET IT DRY!").
Nesh admonishing me to LET IT DRY.

After the paste is COMPLETELY dry (it sets in about 10-20 minutes, and is dry to the point that it falls off within 2-3 hours), the design is light at first, and then darkens over the next 12 hours into a beautiful adornment.

Selamat Hari Raya!

Vaynii surprised me on Sunday with an invitation to a festival for the Muslim holiday Hari Raya. We went to a festival market where there were all manner of beautiful clothes, carpets, household decorations, shoes, jewelry, odd assortments of computer gadgets and more for sale in tents lining the streets. And interspersed among the sales tables were henna artists. I had this design painted on for $5. It is five dollars well spent for days of joy and a reminder to celebrate every minute of this wonderful life experience I've been blessed to have in Singapore!
"Henna buddies!"

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jet lag: A sketch.

**Note: This is an abnormally long post. If you don't want to read a long post on the details of jet lag, then you might want to skip this one. If you're interested on learning more about jet lag, read on!

If you’ve been keeping up with my recent blast of blog posts, you know I’ve arrived safe and sound in Singapore. I thought I’d take this post to detail something else that I’m frequently questioned about: Jet lag. It deserves its own post. And since I’m currently severely jet lagged, I thought now would be a very opportune time at which to write.

Is jet lag one or two words? 


So here’s my founding theory as to WHY jet lag is unpreventable. We are humans. We were designed as a social animal, an animal that might wander a fair distance from one’s cave, perhaps cross large spans of land or sea at some point over many years of one’s life; at the heart, a creature that was designed to travel and pursue the horizon – but by foot.

Then we went and got fancy and made cars. Okay, so far, so good. We’re getting there faster than on foot, but we’re still getting a chance to take in the change as we go.

Trains, same deal, albeit far more exciting than cars (I have a Sheldon Cooper-esque love for trains). And chronologically, I know trains occurred before cars, but I’m going in order of relative speed and travel-maximizing potential. In any case, you can still take in your changing surroundings.

Ocean liners? Boats? Again, same deal. Time to observe change. Time to see and feel the differences in the nuances of the world around you.

Then we went and got really full of ourselves. Let’s fly. Flying sounds great. Imagine the distance we can travel! And so, the sheer desire to outstrip our previous accomplishments being both the beauty and the drive of humanity, we did.

And then we harnessed that power to go from one side of the earth… to the other.

In a DAY.

Poor Homo sapiens was not built for this. Our brains and our bodies were meant to observe change, take in progressing daylight differences, gradually move meals earlier and later and so forth.

Then we go and rocket ourselves at 38,000 feet up across a planet.

And you think that drinking “lots of water the day before!” is going to FIX the shock that that action is going to have on your body and your mind? I think not.

(I mean, drink lots of water, anyway, because it’s good for you. But not too much, because hydrotoxicity is a real thing.)

If you make a trip like this, you will be jet lagged. Here are my tips on how to handle it, combined with what to expect, because I can’t make two lists right now and I think just smooshing them together is a good way to go.

  1. Expect jet lag. This sounds obvious, but it’s not. I think that half of the emotional trauma comes from not knowing WHAT IS HAPPENING to you. Here’s a hint: It’s jet lag. Jet lag is like the El Niño of bodily issues. If you've taken a long trip by plane and your body is acting weird, it’s probably jet lag.
  2. Expect jet lag to make you feel and act differently. Forwarned is forarmed, as they say. (Forarmed? I think that’s right). Right now, I’d like you to imagine an average human standing in front of you. Now, give the human a hangover. Stop laughing – visualize it! Now, imbue the human with the raging hormones one might expect to find in a 14-year-old. Got it? Good. Now, make the human a toddler. Make the toddler tired. Make the toddler hungry. Give the toddler a mild flu. Now add a dash of severe attention deficit disorder. Congratulations! You just visualized jet lag! Understanding that jet lag WILL AFFECT YOU is key, I think. It helps you to “get a grip” when you need to. It helps you to be mindful and take care of yourself. Don’t baby yourself, but also be aware that you’re not going to land on the other side of the planet, bounce out of the plane, and set about frolicking around the country. Well, you may for like 10 minutes, and then you’ll self-destruct, Mission Impossible style. I recommend that whatever the time is where you’ve landed, try your hardest to do what others are doing at that time. If it’s the middle of the night, get to bed. If it’s broad daylight, go out and eat a meal. Try to meld yourself into the destination time as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t nap. Naps are good. Naps are crucial (set an alarm – more on that later) – but do try not to sleep for 5 hours straight in the middle of the day. It’s not going to help.
  3. Expect jet lag to make you act differently physically: Expect mild flu-like symptoms. Aches, nausea, headaches, chills and sweats. Expect your appetite to be completely messed up. You’ll go from one extreme to the other: You’ll get yourself a plate of food and you’ll be ravenously pounding it like a junkyard dog snarfling meat up off a hubcap, and then WHAM! You hit a brick wall. Your stomach decides it’s had quite enough, thankyouverymuchplease, and now the mere THOUGHT of your food will make you feel nauseous. Eat small and eat often, is my advice. And you know the old adage “Feed a cold, starve a fever?” I would add: “And give jet lag whatever the hell it wants.” Salad for breakfast? Great! Bacon for lunch? You can diet later!
  4. Expect jet lag to make you act differently emotionally: Remember my joke about hormones? Raging hormones, which put your emotions out of whack, is a good analogy to jet lag. Little things will make you cry. Or super annoyed. Or obnoxiously happy. Expect a roller coaster. Expecting it can help you to control it, so you don’t break down and cry when you unpack and discover your picture frame broke.
  5. Expect jet lag to make you act differently mentally: Simple things will confound you. When I say simple, I mean like ziplock bags. You thought I was going to say ATMs or something? Go back and read #2. Put that person in front of an ATM. See what I’m talking about? Avoid sharp objects and open flames when you’re jet lagged. But seriously, realize that you’re going to be forgetful. Make lists – even if you’re not a “list person”. Realize you’re going to blank out on words. Be patient with yourself. The guy at the front desk was sending something up to my room and asked me what floor I was on. I had to think, not because I had forgotten the floor, but because I could see the number 19 in my head, but I could not remember the word for it. So I took a deep breath, relaxed my mind, and there it was, after a brief search. I was unpacking and searching madly for my chapstick (chapstick addicts will understand). I tore open one bag: All that was in there was my hand cream, my chapstick, my pen, note pad and phone charger. Where is my chapstick?!?! I tore apart two more bags, and checked the first another time before I found it. You know, right there. In the first bag I checked.
  6. Understand that jet lag is not permanent. It will all be over soon. After 24 hours, you’ll notice that the majority of your symptoms have gotten a great deal more manageable. Expect not to feel completely normal, though, until you’ve gone one day for each hour time difference you’re experiencing. Also expect that the more hours you go, the more severe your symptoms will be. If you’re going from Buffalo to California, to start with, the symptoms are going to abate in 3 days. They’re also not going to be as drastic. If you’re going from Buffalo to Singapore, expect maximum symptoms (especially if you go in one fell swoop – this is another reason why I love my stopover reprieve in San Francisco) and expect not to feel 100% until Day 12.
  7. Understand that you’re bigger than jet lag and jet lag does not have to control you. It doesn’t have to win. Eventually, it’ll be over, and until it is, you can function in society. You can work your job. You can go out with friends. You may have a few moments that you’ll have to be honest with yourself (and others) and say, “Hey – sorry about that – I’m really jet lagged”, but you CAN do it. And I say again, expecting it is huge in controlling the symptoms. If you’re going to work on Day 2, make lists, prepare way ahead, and get good food and more sleep than you normally would. Don’t ask too much of yourself, but keep yourself going, at the same time.

Oh, and set alarms. Lots of alarms. Do not put a snooze button within reach of yourself.

“Oh, I NEVER use the snooze button! I always spring out of bed with all the vim and vigor of a cheerleader on homecoming game day!”

Go back and read #2 again, will ya? Would you trust THAT person with a snooze button?
I didn’t think so.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my chapstick.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The finish line...

I made it to Singapore! And that's all I have to say until I get some sleep! Good nightzzzzzzzzzzz...

Making the Trek: Leg 3

I am afraid I've failed you all as a blogger inasmuch as this post will not be accompanied by any other photos than this obligatory wing shot that I took right before shutting down my phone, owing to the fact that I needed to shut my phone down to turn off Verizon and start up Star Hub upon my return to Singapore, and the fact that I left my digital camera at home. But this will be a brief post, anyway.

After 11 hours and change, I've made it from San Francisco to South Korea. Singapore Airlines is my saving grace for these long hauls. I really can't sleep on planes aside from the occasional cat-nap, and I can't read in anything that moves (I was that kid who could get carsick before leaving the driveway). So I pass my time by watching movies. And Singapore Airlines is the airline for that. There are over 200 movies to choose from, which helps to pass the time, and as an added bonus, they feed you very regularly (2 hot meals on this flight and lots of snacks in between)! On this flight I watched Saving Mr. Banks, Brave, Juno, Monuments Men, and The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. Not a bad way to pass time! Meals included hot herb chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, a cold salad, buttered roll, cheese, crackers, beverages of our choosing and ice cream for dessert. That was just ONE meal!

We do a 1-hour stopover in Seoul, South Korea, which is just enough time for the mandatory de-plane, security screening, freshen up a bit, and then to grab a chai tea from the Starbucks right next to the gate while I check my email and update my loyal readers.

In about 5 minutes I'll reboard the plane for the remaining 6 hour trip... what movies shall I watch this time?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Making the trek: Leg 2.5 (intermission)

Every now and then my flights time out where I have a little time to kill in San Francisco. This morning, still running three hours early as I'm still on Buffalo time, I got up and walked four blocks down Clay Street to the Ferry Building. There I enjoyed an awesome breakfast from the various farmer market stalls: bold organic coffee with fresh cream, goat cheese and jam on warm challah, a farm fresh egg and pancetta bacon. Do you see what I mean about San Francisco and food?

Then I took the F-line to Fisherman's Wharf, where I walked through a veritable ghost town, as nothing was open. Even the sea lions were on holiday, having gone down to sunnier shores for breeding. Nonetheless, it was lovely taking in sights, sea air, and just walking, as I know I'll be on a plane for twenty hours later on.

I ended my stroll by passing through Fisherman's Grotto and shamelessly sampling chowder. Satisfied that I had eaten my way through the Bay City, I took the F-line back to the Ferry Building, stopped in to see Alfieri, my favorite merchant who sells chocolate covered salted cashews that are worth the flight alone, and back to my room to pack, nap, and catch a shuttle to SFO!

Oh- and one last stop at Amoure Café in the airport for some falafel and Jerusalem salad. NOW I've eaten my way through San Francisco!

Stay tuned for a post on Leg 3: San Francisco to South Korea for a 1 - hour layover, then on to my final destination: the Lion City!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Making the trek: Leg 2

Well, it's all part of travel, isn't it? Flights get delayed. We were ready to take off and the captain announced there was something wrong with one of the plane's tires and "planes need tires." So there was a delay. Then a rerouted flight plan to avoid some nasty weather. Long and the short of it, my 7:00 arrival turned into 8:30. By the time I got my bags,  got my shuttle and got to my hotel (trying the new boutique Club Quarters) it was 9:30pm.

My original plan had been to catch the F-line to Fisherman's Wharf and have chicken parm at Cioppino's... but remember, it feels like midnight now to my Buffalonian brain, so the Elephant & Castle pub adjoined to the hotel lobby looked pretty swell. Here's hoping for some decent pub grub!

I'll have to get my fill of San Francisco during a morning stroll for breakfast tomorrow before I begin Leg 3!

Stay tuned!

Making the trek: Leg 1

When I tell people that I work in Singapore, I often get questions about the travel itself. What is it like? How long does it take? How do I keep from losing my mind? I thought I'd write a multi-part series of posts chronicling the travel process, and I'm going to try to keep it as "in real time" as logistics and increasing jetlag allow.

Let's address the first three questions:

1.) Arduous, but adventurous, too.
2.) From Buffalo to Singapore, or Singapore to Buffalo, about 30 hours total, give or take. But I always break it up.
3.) Food.

Today I started my day off right - with a breakfast out at Cracker Barrel with my mom and dad. They saw me off at the airport, and then I started on Leg 1. To keep my airfare falling within my allotted travel budget, I opt to take flights that have a few stopovers. This may not save time, but it does save money, and to be honest, I prefer to get off the plane and eat stretch my legs often, anyway. Domestically, I usually fly jetBlue Airlines or Southwest. Internationally, for these trips, at least, I fly Singapore Air. You'll see why when I get to those posts.

This morning I've just flown from Buffalo to Boston. I've gotten to know different airports by their food. I have a theory on traveling and food. All other days of my life, I try to save money. When I'm traveling and hungry, all bets are off. Here's the thing: You can eat fast food in the food court, but it is probably not going to be very good, and it's probably going to be pricey, anyway. Why not go to a nice sit-down restaurant and have a really decent meal? You're probably not going to look back at the end of the day and say, "Wow, I'm glad I saved $20 and ate that McWhatever for lunch." But you MIGHT look back and say, "Wow, that lobster roll was delicious!"

And if you're gonna be in Bahston, you really should be eating lahbstah.

So when I'm in Boston, I make the most out of my 2 hour layover and go to Boston Beerworks in the airport and get myself a lobster roll. You can't beat it. It's $17 well spent. And I always feel better about getting on a flight - especially a domestic flight where the food can be slim pickings - with a full, happy tummy.

Next leg: Boston to San Francisco! Oh, there's food to be had there, too!

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Whirlwind Trip to Japan!

Whew! Well, it's happened again - the semester is flying past me before I have a moment to breathe! I had the amazing opportunity to visit my friends in Japan a few weekends ago. They generously hosted me and took me to see the Winter Festival in Sapporo! After a few weeks in Singapore's equatorial heat, I was thrilled to get a little time to go walkin' in a winter wonderland! It was a whirlwind of a trip; I took a red-eye flight on Thursday night, arriving in Tokyo at 6am on Friday morning. From there, I met my "Japanese mom and dad" and we flew together up to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost (and coldest!) point.

Once we landed in Hokkaido, we hit the ground running! We left our bags at our hotel and set out to explore the snow festival. This was the 65th Snow Festival in Hokkaido. At a high of 8°F each day, I was glad I brought layers (and added a few more along the way!). This was one of those experiences where being a little cold to see something this utterly amazing was worth it. When I heard "snow sculptures," I wasn't really sure what to expect. Certainly nothing of this size! There was a replica of the Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daula crafted meticulously out of snow, and standing at 12 meters high and 23 meters wide and was lit up at night with colored lights. There was a slide made of snow for children to climb on. There were larger-than-life characters from children's television programs, and a bas-relief mural of winter sports in honor of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2017 Sapporo Winter Games.

After a few hours of walking around and taking photos, it was time to get something hot to eat. And that's when I had my very first bowl of real honest-to-goodness Japanese ramen. This Hokkaido ramen paid tribute to the crops that this agricultural region of Japan is known for: potatoes and corn. The broth was rich and buttery. As I was eating it, chunks of snow kept falling off my hat into my bowl. I felt like the Campbell's soup kid in the commercial where the snowman gradually melts and there's the boy eating his soup. It was a fabulous experience.

We checked in to our room at the beautiful Tokyo Dome hotel and took a short rest, and then set off for the Shiroi Koibito cookie and chocolate factory. It, too, was a magical wintertime experience. We were able to sample these delicate butter cookies that sandwiched a slice of melt-in-your-mouth white chocolate. We shared some amazing desserts together. I feel like I successfully ate my way through a chocolate factory, I Love Lucy style.

We returned to the city of Sapporo and ventured out to the second major viewing area, the Susukino Ice Festival. These ice sculptures were placed up and down the busy city street, transforming an urban laneway into an icy wonderland. Many of the sculptures were sponsored by advertisers - there was the Coca Cola polar bear next to a seafood restaurant's display of fish frozen in time, next to a larger-than-life ice bottle of beer filled with amber liquid. It was remarkable. We ate a sumptuous multi-course dinner at the Tokyo Dome Hotel overlooking the fabulous Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daula as it was lit up by multicolored lights. Then I positively passed out for the night.

The next day we took a one-and-a-half hour train ride to the base of Mount Asahi where we went to the Asahiyama Zoo. The train ride was in itself a wonderful memory on this trip. It was fascinating to see the changing landscape as we traveled. Hokkaido is to Japan what the midwestern "American heartland" is the USA. Even the use of space reminded me strongly of the American midwest. There was a certain tranquility traveling on the quiet train over the snowy landscape that resonated with me.

We arrived at the zoo and walked to where many people were lining up, waiting for the "penguin walk." I really didn't know what to expect; I knew I'd be seeing penguins, and that was enough to fill me with the same level of excitement as a six-year-old at Disney World. We all lined up with our toes behind a red line. We were told that the penguins needed exercise during the winter, and so they would be let out to walk down this makeshift lane that we had created by
lining up at the ice. If they didn't want to go out, they didn't have to; this wasn't a performance, rather, it was an opportunity for penguins to take a leisurely stroll, as penguins like to do. And... out came the penguins! It doesn't get much more up-close and personal than this! It was a delight. 

After a delicious lunch and a visit to the polar bear, hippopotamus and giraffes, we took the train back to Sapporo. That evening, I had another cultural first - SUSHI at an authentic Japanese sushi restaurant. There was so. much. good. sushi!

We spent a fun evening shopping around the underground shopping center (this is a uniquely Japanese concept - entire malls can live under airports, train stations, city blocks - beautiful, bustling, brightly lit malls.). I had to use great restraint not to buy more than my limited luggage could handle going back to Singapore!

I was sad to see my time in Japan come to an end, as I had enjoyed seeing my "Japanese parents" and I've truly come to love Japan like a second home-away-from-home. I feel lucky that living in Singapore has afforded me the ability to jet out to another incredible part of the world for a matter of a weekend. And I feel especially lucky to have such special people in my life who would invite me to do so and make it all possible. As I journeyed back to the tropical Lion City, it seemed hard to believe that this snowy wonderland even existed. Was it all a dream? Until the next time - Sayonara... for now!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Odd change...

I just emptied my wallet and found myself amused at what I have been carrying around in terms of coins. It made me pause for a moment and take in the bizarre, global lifestyle I'm so fortunate to be enjoying.

I've got American coins, from having just passed through San Francisco from Buffalo (no doubt change from buying some yummy falafel in the fabulous San Francisco airport), Korean coins, from my traditional 1-hour layover in South Korea (dash through customs, use the well-appointed rest room facilities, browse a gift shop or two then grab a latte from Starbucks to drink while I quickly check and respond to emails before reboarding the Singapore-bound plane), and naturally, lots of Singaporean coins - both this most current 2013 release and ones from years prior, from day-to-day spending. Change from Cold Storage, the grocery store I shop at, change from a vending machine selling isotonic drinks, change from a taxi driver (called "taxi uncles" here), change from the book store, change from a local kopi shop...

...And it also might explain why I've been so stymied when, under pressure, I've tried digging in my wallet for change for purchases!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year!

Hand-cut paper art representing the Year of the Horse
I'm going to blend New Year customs and celebrate the incoming Year of the Horse with a resolution: I shall make the time to update my blog more regularly so I can keep on sharing my experiences living and teaching in Singapore. To do this, I've come up with an idea: Shorter, more regular posts.

New Year gift from Fraser Place
When I write posts that attempt to capture every. single. experience. that I have in a given semester, they become very long posts. Then, I feel like each time I write, I must achieve the same length and breadth of the previous post. Then, when I find myself getting super busy (which just seems to happen a lot!) I just don't post at all.

I'm planning to break this chain! So expect more regular posts, but short 'n sweet! Like this one on Chinese New Year.

The year of the snake is on its way out, and the year of the horse has begun! Red and gold decorations have turned Singapore into a blazing, dazzling display of festivity. I returned from school the other day to a gift from Fraser Place, the serviced apartment that is generously provided for us.

The package contained traditional shortbread cookies (yum!!!), two oranges (two being an auspicious number) and two plush, winking oranges.

Last night I went to dinner with a past student, Zena. We went for dim sum on Sentosa Island and took an after-dinner stroll to see these gorgeous, massive horse lanterns up close. They're absolutely stunning.

Larger-than-life horse lanterns on Sentosa Island
Stay tuned for more updates on my life in the Lion City!

How many visits?