Monday, February 28, 2011

Thoroughly enjoyed my last days in Singapore. Went to the Singapore Turf Club on Friday night, thanks to an invitation from the Fairmont Hotel, where I stayed. Actually, they invited Mike, who's on their board, and he brought Paula and me. Had a great time. It was "Canadian Night," for some reason and it happens that a lot of the principals at the Fairmont are Canadians. We enjoyed a buffet dinner and all drinks we wanted (I had both beer and wine). You didn't have to go outside to view the races, as there's a overhang behind glass with easy chairs and drink holders. There's also a huge televised race view. We all bet a bit and Mike and Paula won--not much, however. I lost fifteen bucks, but didn't care in the least--it was such fun. After, the president of the club took us down to see the horses as they walked for viewing, then to drink champagne with one of the winning owners.
The next day--my last in Asia--I partially packed in the morning, went out for a bit, then the whole entourage came over to the Fairmont. Although it rained on and off, Mike and the kids went in the pool. We then had them eat dinner there--at The Alligator Pear, which is next to the pool--after which, Vicky took them home. Mike, Paula, and I then went up to dinner at a wonderful Chinese restaurant that is located right on the third floor--I never knew it was there. I wanted duck and we had that for appetizer, along with noodles, a wonderful soup, and other delicacies.
At Mike's suggestion, I settled up the bill--much less than I thought it would be for such a long stay at this wonderful hotel--and he and Paula left.
Got up at 5:00, Mike came an hour later to take me to the airport, plane left for Tokyo at 8, had a layover, then boarded Continental, which landed at Newark at 4:30 pm. Was picked up, stayed over up north after a good chicken dinner, and driven home; was in before 8:00. Have unpacked all, assembled some stuff, am continuing washing clothes, called Betty, and generally getting back to normal.
Much as I loved the luxury of Singapore, I enjoyed as much the more Spartan lifestyle of Tokyo. As for Vietnam, it was fascinating for a variety of reasons. The whole trip was the experience of a lifetime. Wish I could have stayed a month--oh, that's right, I did stay a month. Wish I could have stayed two months.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Went back to the National Museum in the morning and enjoyed what I saw--I'm afraid I maligned it unjustly, as this part was better: old photos, different foods of Singapore, etc., which I enjoyed.
Later, went on a riverboat cruise yesterday, along with Mike, Vivian, Violet, and nanny Grace. It rained quite a bit, but we didn't mind. It was great fun going down the Singapore River for 45 minutes. After, went back to Mike's, hung out, had dinner, then to hotel.
Today, went with Mike and Paula to Vivian's school, for a "student led" conference. Well, maybe "conference" should be in quote marks, too. We met the teachers, but essentially, just chatted with them. Vivian showed us around, then showed us her papers and so on. According to her parents, they have little inaction with the teachers when it comes to Vivian's progress.
After, I took Vivian to the library while Mike cleaned up some work at home. He and Vicky then picked Violet up at school and we met at the restaurant downstairs from my hotel. Surprise: Paula happened to be there at a meeting, so she joined us. Violet, however, was tired and cranky, and kicked up a fuss. Mike banished her home and Vicky went with her. I had a lovely linguine with clam sauce lunch and a nice time.
Mike and Vivian went home and I'll go back to the hotel for a rest and to get showered and changed--going to the races tonight!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Note: I finally realized I've been mispelling the name of my hotel: It's "Fairmont," not "Fairmount).
Spent the early part of the day at the National Museum, not far from here. It's okay, but kind of oddly laid out, not easy to negotiate, and dimmer than I like. It's not as mediocre as the Art Museum here, but close.
Took a cab to Mike's about 3:30. He was home and I hung out, enjoyed seeing Vivian interact with two friends she had over, and Violet being her usual spirited self. Paula got home about 7 pm. She had been in Bejuing for 24 hours and regaled us with an account of her presentation to the hotel person (successsful) and the dinner and obligatory "Mai Tai" drinking and big, fat cigar smoking after. (She had some of the former, but not the latter, at least.)
Mike showed me pictures of Nanny Vicky's farm in the Philippines. I was amazed; she has mango, pineapple, and other fruit trees, a herd (?) of ducks, water buffalo, goats, chickens, rice paddies, and a host of other farmy things, as well as a husband. He lives on, and runs the farm. They have a house there, too, which he's building in part or in whole; it's in cement, which makes sense in a tropical country. It's a work in progress, but will be very nice when finished. Vicky commissioned the carving of two wooden doors that are beautiful. One has a peacock on it, the other an eagle, along with Vicky's first and last ("Ibe") name. She has several people working for her and what's more, owns two other farms.
We had a great dinner, thanks to Vicky excellent cooking--fish in onion sauce, salad, rice, greens, and others sides--and had a little farewell party for Nanny Grace, who is moving to Denmark. Mike and I went to the mall to buy a cake and we all enjoyed it.
Speaking of leaving, well, somebody else is leaving somewhere and going to another company and another country--who could that be?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Arrived back in Singapore the night before last (Monday, here)to be greeted at the Fairmount drive-up by the director of sales and two of her assistants, all of whom accompanied me to my room. When we opened the door, there was a young woman in a silken gown in the foyer, holding a silver tray with a glass of pineapple juice and a cool cloth. Both were refreshing after the trip from Vietnam. This is the kind of wonderful surprises the Fairmont has treated me to since I got here.
Yesterday, Mike worked, so I hopped on a "hop-on"--a sight-seeing bus. Got off at various stops, including the botanic gardens, the riverfront, Chinatown, and Orchard Road. Had lunch at the latter, then hopped back to the hotel. Took a shower, dressed, then Mike came in and we went upstairs to the wine and appetizer Hospitality Room. I just made that dinner, enjoying pasta, delicate little ham slices, rice, and fruit, along with white wine. I was surprised that the staff didn't challenge Mike; in fact, they greeted him enthusiastically, as if they knew him. While we were eating, Mike was greeted by two men, the general manager of the hotel and another executive. Mike introduced me and they chatted. I found out that Mike sits on the hotel's board of advisers--hmm, guess that's why I'm paying about half the going rate for my fabulous accommodations.
After our delicious--and gratuitous--meal, I asked Mike if we could go across the street to the Long Bar at the historic Raffles Hotel to have a Singapore Sling. This has been a lifelong ambition of mine. (Well, it's been an ambition since I started reading up on Singapore the first time I was here about eight years ago.) Anyway, we went and sat in the Long Bar, which was crowded and noisy with other sucker tourists. I paid close to thirty bucks for a Singapore Sling and the privilege of throwing peanut shells on the floor. Mike doesn't drink and just had water, but sipped a bit of my Sling and said it tasted like cough syrup.
But so what? I saw Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward as they hoisted a few at the next table; Graham Greene strolled in to join them, and I was in the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in the Orient drinking a Singapore Sling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Mihn City) on Friday and will return to Singapore tomorrow (Monday). Having a wonderful time--Vietnam is so different from Singapore and Tokyo. Went today to the Chu Chi(?) tunnels, where the Viet Cong hid out for so long. They cover an incredible 150 miles underground and show such ingenuity and skill, it's no wonder the Vietnamese prevailed. Yesterday, we went to what used to be call "The War Crimes Museum," but now has a less combative name. It's sobering to see the death and destruction that humans inflicted on other humans, including carpet bombing and agent orange.
Also today, went to several old, old Chinese temples, but also have been enjoying great Vietnanes food at wonderful restaurants.
Very crowded streets; for every car, there are probably 500 motor bikes and crossing the street is worth your life. But it's so much fun here and so interesting to be in a Communist country, albeit with very friendly people. They're poor, though, and just starting to come up in the world.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mike went to Hong Kong today for a meeting, as he does frequently (four-hour flight there, four hours back), so I was on my own. Had an enjoyable day exploring various places. Went to the Singapore National Library, a large building with all the latest in library amenities. Am now in an Internet place where you pay to dollars (Singaporean) for a half-hour on the computer. There's a free one at the hotel, but for some reason, it won't let me sign into this blog--I did yesterday's entry at Mike's.
Speaking of yesterday, nanny Vickie, assisted by nanny Grace, made a wonderful dinner of chicken cordon blu (dunno how to spell it) last night, accompanied with rice, a big salad, other sides, and wine. 'Twas delish.
And, okay, speaking of wine, I just came from the Fairmount's every-evening wine and appetizer spread on the 23rd floor. I just made the appetizers--pasta, ham, little rice squares, plus chocolate fondue and other desserts my dinner--heavenly!
Tomorrow, Mike, Paula, and I have lunch reservations for a fancy restaurant down by the waterfront. Also tomorrow (evening), Vivian will join me at the hotel for a sleepover--what fun! Then we all live for Vietnam on Friday.
Note: I really like Asia. It still seems a mysterious and somehow hidden part of the world. Singapore's first language is English, which makes it easier to get around in than Japan and, of course, I'm being greeted everywhere by smiling, courteous people. But what are they thinking?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

After a seven-and-a-half flight on the wonderfullest airline ever--Singapore Air--arrived in Singapore on Sunday evening. Have spent some great time here, especially with my two darling granddaughters. Today, went with Mike and Paula to take little Violet for her first day of pre-school. She wasn't what you'd call enthusiastic about it. Saw Vivian off on her school bus, then Mike and I had a sumptuous breakfast at my hotel. After that, he took me to the waterfront, where we enjoyed the scenery; he had to go to work at noon. No problem, as Singapore is very easy to navigate on foot. Went to the famous Raffles Hotel complex, right across the street from the Fairmount, where I'm staying. Saw their museum and walked in the hallowed footsteps--I told myself--of Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward, who used to hang out here.
After, had lunch at The Alligator Pear next to the pool. A club sandwich and glass of Tiger beer was--gulp!--$37 dollars. Freshened up a bit, then walked to the Singapore National Library; very large and lots of dedicated readers there.
Got a cab to Mike's, where I am now, and offered my condolences on the death of Musha. The little warrior (her name means that in Japanese) was 17 years old. They found her in Savannah, on a bridge, in the rain and she lived with them in Savannah, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Rest in peace, Kitty.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Still having a wonderful and whirlwind visit. Went to the Edo/Tokyo museum yesterday with P., N., N. and N.'s mother. ("Edo" was Tokyo's earlier name.) When you come from the U.S., it's easy to forget the centuries and centuries of history other countries have--and Japan is ancient. That's evident when you see artifacts of the emperors, shoguns, and other forces behind modern Japan--but learning about how ordinary people lived is even more interesting to me. However, you'd never know a place like Pearl Harbor existed if you relied on the information here. WWII "occurred" and "China was invaded"--not a word about who did the deeds. Well, it's a government museum, after all.
Went to an "Italian" restaurant last night and it was--well, nice but a little funny. It's so easy to laugh at the unfamiliar, but believe me, I smile fondly about things like this in Japan. You don't get bread, butter, or Parmesan cheese with your spaghetti, which I ordered with meat sauce. Son laughed when I asked if I could get angel hair pasta as the base, but it was good, if not exactly like what I think of as spaghetti. We were amused by the music playing, too: The Chieftains, an Irish group singing Irish songs.
Today, we went to a (free) wartime museum, which was absolutely absorbing. The fact is, I remember this era and the museum is very well done--not too large, either, which I always like in museums. There were all kinds of items and information that concerned ordinary people. One that struck me in particular was a snapshot of a Japanese soldier and his family. When I was a kid, the Japanese were demonized just as Arabs are today; we never thought of them as having families. These displays made no bones about the fact that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or, of course, about the atomic bomb. I learned a lot about the Manchuria invasion I hadn't known. Didn't realize a number of Japanese were encouraged to relocate there. Then, many went back to Japan after they lost the war. Will start studying WWII when I get home.
This is my last full day in Japan; I leave early tomorrow for Singapore. Have had my best vacation ever, thanks to dear older son and his sweet-natured wife. I'm a lucky woman.
WIDER: He's gone! Congratulations, Egypt!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Just a quickie today. Had a lovely time yesterday on a full-day bus/boat Tokyo tour. It included a number of local attractions--the Meji shrine, for one, A.D. 649--and a great lunch in the twelth floor restaurant of a beautiful hotel next to the river. Took lots of pictures, of course.
Today, we went to the pool. It's a very large, indoor (of course) one with lanes for lap swimming and free-form. It's heated, of course, and also has a sauna, two hot tubs (one warm, the other warmer), automatic showers, clean and spacious lockers, and other amenaties. It was great and interestingly, right across the street is a incinerator. It's completely encosed by a concrete building, so you would never guess what it is, but it provides the heat for the whole large pool complex. Ingenous.
No time for more now.
NOTE: Took my BP at the pool: 122/68.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I'm attracted to anything that has to do with food, so this was a terrific day. Patrick and Natsue took me to the fish market section first, then to shops that specialize in artificial food.
First, we took three different, very crowded trains to arrive at the fish section in Tsukiji prefecture. The narrow streets are lined for miles with open-air shops selling an incredible array of seafood. I never dreamed there were so many kinds and so many methods of preparation. Fish was for sale whole, chopped, pickled, dried, shaved, and spiced in what seemed an endless variety. The shrimp alone constituted an education: A number of shops displayed tubs filled with graduated sizes, from almost microscopic to huge prawns. There was shaved bonito, entire shark heads sticking eerily up from beds of ice, preserved whale meat, flounder, and cod, and puffer fish parts on skewers. There were offerings of ghastly looking octopus, and jelly fish that was--well, jellied, along with seemed to be every other inhabitant of the sea known to man. I sampled dried tuna with sesame seeds, spicy hot salmon, and a few items I never even identified. The whole area teemed with people, who had to get out of the way of the many carts, bicycles, and mopeds that shared the streets, and the general hubbub was enhanced by the merchants vigorously hawking their wares. It was chaos and wonderful fun!
As Patrick pointed out, Japan is an island nation; fish and other bounty from the ocean form the foundation of most of their native dishes. I appreciated that little nugget at lunch when I had tuna sushi, so freshly made it was practically twitching.
We then went to the kitchenware section--yes, there is one--and I fell in love with shops selling artificial food. It isn't the kind of artificial food we actually eat in the U.S.--highly adulterated frankenfood--but finely crafted depictions of the food a small restaurant might sell. These are put in display windows in front of almost every restaurant in Japan, to inform the public of what is served there. The shops sold artificial noodles and sushi and toast and eggs and prawns and vegetables--in fact, just about every food imaginable. I was thrilled by the soft-serve ice cream so real you would swear it was melting before your eyes. Also loved the incredibly realistic depictions of beer in a number of beer glasses, from pilsners to mugs. I would have bought some, but they're very expensive. Patrick explained they're made by hand and it's a very exacting, labor-intensive skill. Reluctantly, I left them there and contented myself with a photo of the food displays of a nearby restaurant.
We went on the Tokyo boat tour today, too, so had a full day. Tomorrow, we're taking bus tour of the city.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

We went to the equestrian park yesterday, where the 1964 Olympics were held; saw riders exercising horses and toured the flower garden. Then went to the Plum Blossom Festival. We were gong to walk back--about 2 1/2 miles--but my foot started to bother me, so we took the train. P. and N. dropped me off and I freshened up and rested, then P. came back and got me. Went to their place for dinner and had a delicious one of rice with raisins and spices, a vegetable curry stew, and a yogurt based salad with fresh peppermint and other greens. Soon, we'll be meeting Natsue's parents for lunch--I hope they like me.
Just enjoyed a Skype call with Ellen, who will soon appear on My Strange Addiction. She's addicted to vacuum cleaners and just bought another one.
Note: What I'm writing here is just the bare bones of my excursions here and there in Tokyo. The city and the country itself--and, most important, its people--are much more interesting, but I'm not yet prepared to include my impressions. So different from U.S.--and so like it.

Friday, February 04, 2011

I'm here and having a wonderful time. Plane trip was pretty long, gruelling, even--but bearable and I had no problem. P. and N. met me, we took four trains to get to my hotel, and they live only mile or so from there. No time for a detailed report, but here's a rundown: Took four trains from the airport to get to my hotel, only a bit more than a mile from P. and N.'s apartment. I'm there now, having walked down here this morning. Waiting for Natsue, then we'll go on an adventure.
More Late.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Yoicks! Today's the day; guess I'm ready as I'll ever be. Set the alarm for 4:15, but woke up at 3:30. Stayed in bed until a bit ago. First leg of my long journey coming up at 10 of 6: Walter G. is taking me to the Toms River Bus Station, where I'll get the Airporter.
Yesterday, I finished up the myriad last-minute things. The one up north came to say goodbye and I got a Bon Voyage message from daughter, Ellen, phone calls from sister Betty, Marge, and several friends, as well as Skype calls from P. and N. and Mike--twice for Mike, in fact. As ever, loved seeing Vivian and Violet--will see in person all the Asian contingent soon.
Lucille B., my Avon lady, stopped in to bring me my new mascara and stayed to visit with almost-four-year-old Jenna. Lucille played one of my two daughters in Riders To The Sea, and she's a wonderfully talented actress, it seems to me. The reason she hasn't been active with the theatre group lately is because she doesn't ever get a sitter for Jenna, and never has. Now, she's going through a divorce besides, so that must cut in on having her husband be with Jenna at times. In other words, she takes Jenna everywhere she goes, all the time. This was terribly off-putting when we were rehearsing for Riders, and is the major reason she didn't get roles in other productions. Lucille also intends to home school Jenna. Whether all this mommy time is good or bad for the kid, I don't know. I do know it's a bit wearing to try to hold an adult conversation with Jenna around. Anyway, I like Lucille a lot and hope her marriage situation evolves all right.
So long, goodbye, I'm off!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Got my hair done in the late afternoon. Leanne did a nice job of the color; it had been too blonde for my taste and she darkened it just enough. Also did a blunt cut, which looks good.
Went to our first Our Town gathering at 7:00. How wonderful to be back with theatre people! Oh, I know, this is just a little community group, but there was such a warm, convivial fellow feeling. We're a group of people committed to the success of a creative enterprise and it's good to be part of it.
We didn't actually rehearse last night, but received our schedules for rehearsals, and how well-thought-out and organized it is. That bodes well for the success of this huge undertaking, it seems to me.
The play includes a lot of characters, some of them with only a single line. My role, "Mrs. Soames," is meatier, but is certainly not one of the major roles. What I find amusing is that I appear both living and dead--several of the more important characters do,too.
It's interesting to observe how different the structure, language, and general ambiance Our Town is, compared to Steel Magnolias. The latter is what's known as an "ensemble" play, which means the characters are, to a large extent, equal in importance and have a similar number of lines. There are only six, all women between 25 and about 70. Our Town, on the other hand, includes at least thirty characters, men, women,and children of all ages, although some have no lines. Anyway, they're entirely different types of plays.
NO SNOW--at this point, anyway--thank heavens!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Got up to New Egypt at noon to find adorable little Tristan and Robert inside a big box. They had a ball pretending to hide, rocking it back and forth, an scrambling in and out. After chatting for a time with N., we all left for lunch. Went to the very peculiar restaurant on Main Street: no customers, oblivious waitress, mediocre food and a lot of it. Anyway, we had a good time laughing and talking. Stopped in after and left about 3:30.
Other than that, nothing going on. I was happy to get an e-mail from director Tonya that our first rehearsal is tonight. Looking forward to being back with my fellow thespians.
WIDER: This from "Fearing The Reaper Drone" from Anti-War.Com. It's about surveillance of American citizens in this country by police:
"As with any other kind of military creep, Americans will likely get comfortable with the idea that the drones will be deployed for “specific missions” like busting cagey marijuana growers and tracking down dangerous suspects. What they won’t know until its too late, is that departments across the country will want to deploy them as much as possible, because they can, and as WaPo points out, operating a drone costs half as much as a black helicopter. So don’t be surprised if they start to replace traffic cops. In fact, they’ll give “neighborhood patrol” quite a new name."
For the whole harrowing piece:
http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2011/01/31/fearing-the-reaper-drone/
And be very afraid.