Singapore Haze

Korea has Psy,  the USA has Jay-Z

Singapore has PSI & Hay-Z

Have you seen the news?  The haze in Singapore has reached record levels.  What haze? Where is it from?  Trent has been talking to us about this for days now, and I’ve been following it pretty closely on the internet.   I’ve had a few people ask me about this, and it seems  there is little to nothing on our news here in the USA about this.

It’s caused by seasonal burn-off on Sumatra island started by plantation owners and farmers to clear land cheaply.

The smoggy haze has affected Singapore and Malaysia in years past,  but the severity of this week’s conditions has hit record levels, and has strained diplomatic ties.  Singapore’s pollution standards index (PSI) tipped the scales at 401 at noon on Friday, the highest ever recorded, and the government warned that the lingering haze could last for weeks.  The previous record high was in the 200 range.

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The National Environment Agency warned the elderly, pregnant women, children and those with heart and lung conditions to remain indoors as the index hit an historic high. An index reading above 300 is defined as “hazardous” and is regarded as potentially life threatening to the ill and elderly.   Singapore is completely sold out of air purifiers, respiratory masks, and simple masks.  Everyone is wearing them now, it’s a must to be healthy.   I saw this photo on a twitter feed, and while it breaks my heart that the air is this bad,  I just love that the spirit of the people in Singapore, that life goes on, deal with it, make the best of it.  YOLO, right?  (you only live once .. it’s what all the kids are saying)

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Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong warned angry residents  about the smoke wafting in from Indonesia that they may have to learn to live with it, for now.   He says that there is no way to know what is going to happen, it depends on the burning, it depends on the weather (monsoon season),  and it depends on the wind.  It could linger as long as September or October.   Considering the fact that they are putting out the fires with buckets of water and brooms to beat the flames, I’m thinking that a heavy rain at the beginning on monsoon season will be the answer.

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While schools remained closed in Singapore for the summer break, more than 300 were shut temporarily in nearby Malaysia due to the haze. Many office workers in the city-state, meanwhile, struggled to get to work through the haze-shrouded central business district.   Here is a picture sent to Maria by her new friend at the Singapore American School.

 

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Singapore — which prides itself on its good air quality and green credentials – — has blamed Indonesian commercial interests for causing the smoke problem.

“Singaporeans have lost patience, and are understandably angry, distressed and concerned,”  Singapore’s Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote on his Facebook page.  “No country or corporation has the right to pollute the air at the expense of Singaporeans’ health and wellbeing.”

Side note:  I find it interesting that this man has a facebook page, however, everyone is so techie these days, I guess it does make sense to communicate via social media.

He says that Jakarta has pointed the finger at Singaporean palm oil ventures.  They are being blamed for causing the smog by clearing land to make way for plantations that provide the feedstock for city-state’s refining industry.  A slash-and-burn technique being that is said to be  used is the cheapest land-clearing method.   But supposedly this practice is also widely used by local farmers in Indonesia as well.   Three Singapore-based palm oil companies with land concessions in Indonesia  said this week they had “zero burning” policies and used only mechanical means to clear land.

Clearly this is becoming heated (no pun intended) and tensions are rising between the countries.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee said the city-state had provided satellite data to Indonesia to help identify who was responsible for the fires. I found this photo on a NASA site:

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I am worried about Trent, because he was not able to get a respirator, despite the fact they are a 3M product.   He is staying indoors as much as possible, however, he says it smells inside his office and also inside the Sheraton.  The Sheraton?  Yes, he has been living at the Sheraton since late April!!  This is a beautiful swanky hotel, however, to keep costs down, they turn the air con off for about 4 hours each day, usually in the wee hours of the morning, and then they crank it back up again by 5 am.  It normally doesn’t bother anyone, however, now with the haze & smoke,  those few hours of not having clean air vented and circulated in the high-rise has effected the air quality inside.  There are reports that this smog/haze/smoke is toxic!  Trent says that it hasn’t rained there in days, which is unusual, so I’m praying for a much needed rainfall for Singapore!!

Here are a few photos I found of some well-known Singapore landmarks taken by web-cams.

 

 

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And here’s a cute one of the Merlion with a respirator!

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To follow real-time PSI readings and  twitter feed  #sghaze:  http://dashsell.com/sgpsi

 

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Culture Class for Laura

The last thing I wanted to do on a beautiful summer day was attend a 7 hour culture class.  Nope, not interested.   But, knowing that I set the example for the kids, and their day of learning is next week,  I figured out a way to make this day-long class a happy occasion:  by inviting the instructor to my home, where we sat on the porch sipping ice-teas and  ordered take-out while she taught me all about Singapore!  And, it turns out, I really enjoyed Culture Class!!

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Here are some interesting tidbits about Singapore:

Singapore land area is 263 square miles (the main island-city/state with 63 offshore islands) with nearly 5.5 million people.

Singapore was originally covered with tropical rain forest & mangrove swampland, however in the last 2 centuries human development has altered most of the original landscape in line with the ever-expanding housing and industrial needs.  Only 2% of the island is forest, 2% agricultural, more than 50% is housing & office space, and the remaining 46% is marshland or undeveloped land or protected parks.  However, in an effort to increase the inhabitable land area of the islands, hills are being leveled, swamps drained & filled, and many of the small inlets and reefs have been enlarged or joined to form larger islands.

Singapore is hot and humid all year, with a low of 65 and highs in the 80’s.  It rains every day in short heavy showers!

76% are Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian and 2% other

Two official language: Mandarin & English but other common languages are Malay, Hokkein, Cantonese,  Teochew, Tamil, and mother-tongue dialects.

Religions:  42% are Buddhist, 15% Muslim, 9% Taoist, 4% Hindu, 5% Catholic and 10% other Christian.

Unemployment rate = 1.5%

The kids school is in the northern part, in the Woodlands.  This is also where most of the Americans live, however, we have chosen to live in Holland Village, which is more central, near Bukit Timah.  This is also where the kids swim team practices.  Trents office is in Yishun, and the airport is in Changi.  The island is so small that it only takes 30 minutes to get from the Woodlands to Sentosa Island.

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I was told that there are no poisonous snakes or spiders in Singapore, however there are snakes and big-as-your-hand spiders.  Yikes.  Flying squirrels and monkeys (but no flying monkeys), and peacocks!  We did see a pair of peacocks on our visit, but the Chinese consider them to be good luck, and so the children chase them in attempt to pull out their long tail feathers.  It’s really a sight to see, and I found it nearly irresistible to  not join in the fun… I mean, isn’t that on your bucket list?  To chase a peacock and pull out a long tail-feather?  It’s on mine, that’s for sure!!

I learned all kinds of great information about Singapore history, the people of Singapore, their government,  Chinese, Malay, and Indian family & women,  education, how to meet and greet, gift giving,  expectations when invited into their homes, weddings & funeral customs, holidays & festivals, leisure activities,  foods & eating etiquette, health risks, laws & safety, and many many other topics!  ( look for future posts about these topics!!)

One of the items that I find to be most interesting is how the people of this country have been taught by their government to live harmoniously with each other.  In 1979 the Prime Minister launched the “Courtesy Campaign” which was designed to bring people together with harmony among multi-ethnic groups and to improve everyday courtesy.   Then in 1996 the Prime Minister launched the “Kindness Movement” after a speech directing Singaporeans to be a gracious society by the 21st century.

The children are taught about all the religions of the world at a young age, and taught to be accepting and supportive, so when they are in public and they see someone practicing their religion, say kneeling at prayer-time at an open temple, it doesn’t faze them.  They accept it, respect it, and don’t think twice about their differences.  If they do mock someone, any adult has the right to publicly chastise and punish that child!

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Trent returns home finally on July 20th!   He didn’t have the chance to take a culture class because he was sent off so quickly, and he thought that he didn’t need to spend time with a teacher.  After all, he has traveled to Asia frequently, and now he has been living there (albeit in a Sheraton) since April.  When when I quizzed him last night during our Skype conversation, it became very evident that he should make time for this.

Questions I asked him?  Why do the Asians have what we Americans considered a “limp” or “weak” handshake?  Why do they not make eye contact?  Why should you never use your left hand?  Why is it that you should never let them see they soles of your feet?   Why is it that he should expect months and month of unproductive meetings?   Why is it when Asians say “yes” it doesn’t necessarily mean “yes”?

Stay tuned for the answers to these questions &  more information about my host-country as I continue to learn!  The kids have their culture class next week, and I cannot wait to see what they are taught, what they find exciting, and not so exciting!  Our departure date is quickly nearing, and the pace of our lives has quickened as we rush to see everyone, do fun things and make memories, and get packed up!!!

 

Hudson Schools : End of the Chapter

Today was the last day of school for Maria, Shane & Cale.  But it was also their last day of school in the Hudson (Wisconsin) School District.  It was bittersweet … the kids are feeling a bit blue and sentimental on leaving Hudson Schools and their friends here, but at the same time are very excited to attend Singapore American School.

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Maria started kindergarten in Chicago, but we moved over Christmas and she finished that year in Hudson.  So she has had 9 years in this school district, more than we thought she would get.  The boys have had all of their 7 years of schooling in this district.  We always knew that there could come the time where we would maybe move again, and we always said that we would not move when the kids were in junior high or senior high.  It’s just too hard on the kids to leave their friends behind, to try to fit in and make friends at a new school could be traumatizing.   This opportunity we have to make an international move is too irresistible.  And so here we are, pulling the rug out from under our kids, right smack in the middle of their junior high and senior high school years.

All three kids attended Houlton Elementary … the “country” school in our district.  With only two classrooms per grade, and a student:teacher ratio of 15:1 being the norm, it was a fantastic experience.  My kids thrived at Houlton Elementary, and will always name their teachers from this school as their favorites.  (Natalie Thorson, Tess Rizzardi, Mary Wicker, Lisa Wasson) .

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Today the kids finished up their years at the Hudson Middle School.

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I can hardly believe that Maria had her 8th grade “Fare Thee Well” ceremony yesterday.  Where has the time gone?  My baby girl is now a freshman!  She will complete at least the next two years of her high school experience in Singapore.  How is my teenage daughter feeling about all this?  She says she is very excited and looking forward to it.  But the idea of starting a new school in a new country is very romantic … it sounds wonderful, but realistically it will be very challenging.  Maria is very smart, and excels in her studies, and is extremely outgoing.  I have no doubt that she will do well in class, and make lots of new friends.  We will work hard to continue to nurture her relationships with her American friends.    With all the technology the kids use these days, it makes the world seem a lot smaller.   I am so thankful for that!!   Maria will be encouraged to use technology to stay connected with her friends here in Hudson.  Facebook, Instagram,  Facetime,  Skype, texting, emailing …  the tricky part will be the 13 hour time difference.  Here is a picture of Maria (in bright pink) with only a few of her girlfriends.

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Today the boys finished up their 6th grade year, the first year of junior high, with a field trip to the Minnesota zoo.  I was invited to be a chaperone, and I have learned that when the kids want me to participate, I drop everything and go.  I had 8 boys in my group, and I loved every single minute of it.   We spent a lot of time watching the monkeys, (here we go with the monkeys again) , in the food court and then the gift shop, where all the boys bought the 7 foot long stuffed snakes.  They proceeded to wrap the boas around their necks or smack each other non-stop with them for the rest of the day (but wisely refrained from belting me with the plush critters).    When I say these boys had swagger, it is an understatement!!     Here is a pic of some of their friends.  (yes, they were drinking mountain dew, yikes).  Shane, Cale, Cordell, George, & Cole.

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Shane & Cale are very much looking forward to their adventure in Singapore, and will also use technology and social media to stay in contact with their Hudson friends.    These kids aren’t as much into it as much as Maria and her friends, so it may be a bit more challenging to stay connected, but I feel confident that these boys will make it work.

Trent and I pray that Maria, Shane & Cale are able to make this transition to a new country & a new school easily.    Sometimes I worry about this move … my kids are excelling in their school work, have wonderful, kind, like-minded friends, and are in every sense, thriving in the Hudson School District.    Why would I mess with such a good thing?

And with that,  the Blinkman kids closed this chapter of their lives, ready to move forward to the next chapter.   Singapore American School begins August 12th  for them.  Our very short summer begins tomorrow, and we will kick off  Summer ’13 at Valley Fair Amusement Park!    Stay tuned!!

 

Whirlwind

What a crazy, exciting, exhausting, busy, stressful week we had!  Our week in Singapore was a whirlwind!   I figured that I would pack extra bags and be a “pack mule” for this trip, jamming in as much as I could in these bags of things I could just leave in Trents office until we made the move.   Never in my life have I traveled with so much luggage!!  Image

The flight:  It was 12 hours to Tokyo, and after going through their customs and grabbing something to eat, we hopped on another plane for another 8 hour flight to Singapore.   I struggled to sit still for so long, and was quite stir crazy by the time we landed.   The kids sat next to each other (the boys tolerated Maria schlumping on them while she tried catch a quick nap)  and I sat in the next aisle over, and ended making friends with the passenger next to me.  When you sit next to someone in a tight space for hours on end, you inevitably chat a bit, and it turned out that I had a lot in common with “Newt” .  He is also a swim parent!  His kids swim for Minnetonka Swim Club!   Oh we had a great time talking about mutual friends,  our teams, our coaches, the meets, and our super talented swimmers.   It’s a small world!  Image

 

Housing:  We found a place to live!!  We searched for two and a half days, and viewed houses all over the country.  We looked at stand alone housing, cluster housing, and condos.    We saw some really great places, and some not so nice places, some near the school, some near Trent’s office, and others near where the swim team practices.  With perseverance, lots of caffeine to fend off the jet lag, a sense of humor, and three kids who wouldn’t give up, we eventually found the perfect place for our family  … A condo that is near the swimming pool!  Image  

The new School:  The kids will be going to the Singapore American School, and on Wednesday we checked in there for a tour, orientation, a math placement exam for Maria, class scheduling, and uniform fitting.  This school is one of the top American schools in the world,  and let me tell you, it is off the hook amazing.   All three kids were impressed and excited to be a students there, and the boys were especially impressed that there is a Subway in the cafeteria.  Need I say more?  yes, I know you want to hear more about SAS, so I will write a separate entry about the school later.  

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Swim Team:  Yes, we found a new swim team too!  SwimFast Aquatics, coached by David Lim (who is a national sports celebrity) and Gary Tan (who went Brigham Young with my friend Nikki, they were on the swim team together .. remember, small world, right?)

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The kids were welcome onto the team, and practiced with the team twice.  All the pools in Singapore are  50 meters, which is long course size for Americans, aka Olympic size.  In Minnesota there are not many pools of this size,  so my kids have never practiced in a long course pool, let alone an outdoor long course pool.  It was a thrill!  And for me too!  As Trent and I were sitting in the stands, we could see a distant storm rolling in, and bolts of lightening every so often.  Coach Lim told us not to worry, they have an advance warning system, and siren will go off when dangerous lightening is nearby.  And of course I am taking pictures, mostly with my iPhone, but now it’s starting to get dark, so I switch to my Canon to get some better shots.  OMGosh, the flash goes off, all the kids in the pool scream, scrambling to get out of the water!  They all realized quickly that it was just my flash, and then several parents came over and introduced themselves to me, telling us that was the most excitement they’ve had at practice in years.  I had the giggles for a long time after that …

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We successfully completed all the tasks on our to-do list for our week in Singapore, finishing up Saturday morning.  We had the afternoon free to do some touristy things, so of course we went straight to Sentosa Island and then the Singapore Flyer!   

We returned home on Sunday, and are recovering from our whirl wind week in Singapore and our jet lag.  I’ll write posts later in the week about the housing & school, and some highlights of our week.  Thank you for your prayers for traveling mercy!  

 

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