Bintan Lagoon, Indonesia


We were told that this year there is a “bumper crop of holidays” built into the school year, and that we should take advantage of every long weekend to explore.  So last week when the kids had Thursday and Friday off from school for teacher inservice days, we took off for Indonesia.   We all needed to get away from the busyness of Singapore.  We needed to get away from the crowds, traffic, and concrete and find some peace & quiet,  sand, and salt water.  And we found that just a short ferry ride away!

Image

A one hour ferry took us  across the Singapore Straight and landed us right on the white sands of the Bintan Lagoon Resort, Indonesia.   We weren’t sure where we were going or what to expect, but we knew almost immediately that this would be a nice relaxing night away from home.  We had 90 degree weather with blue skies, a lovely fall day on the equator.

Image

ImageImageImageImageImage

We snorkeled,  played with little hermit crabs, threw sand on each other (well, only Shane & Cale did that),  took a banana boat ride from hell (the crazy driver spun us in circles for 15 minutes straight and even made Maria cry),  got sunburned, drank at a swim-up bar in the pool  (don’t worry, the kids only had fruity drinks),  slept in rooms with large numbers of biting ants, ate way too much food,  invited to karaoke with the band  (we refused because they would  had love ballads on their playlist & no 80’s rock)  and returned home all in the space of about 36 hours.

DSCF0525 DSCF0518

Some highlights of the trip:

1.  No Wi-Fi !  Oh the kids were distressed, and desperately tried to tether into Trents iPhone,  but without great success.  It would kick them off quickly, and so Trent & I really enjoyed having conversations with the kids and just being technology free for nearly two days.

2.  The banana boat ride was exhilarating.  When I say it was a  tube ride from hell, it really was.  I joked on the way to the tube that the 15 minute ride we paid for was probably going to be 14 minutes too long … perhaps I jinxed ourselves.  I swear that everytime we gave the drive the “thumbs down” sign, meaning to slow down, he would instead pick up speed!   Maria was literally crying, her fear of being thrown into the depths of the oceans with the great white sharks was taking over, and she was paralized with that fear.  Shane and I were in the front of the tubes (it was two banana boats tied together) and between the salt water clearing my sinus cavities, Maria crying, and Shanes non-stop commentary, I laughed like a maniac for the entire 15 minute ride.   Maria wanted off the thing for 15 minutes straight, but the minute she was, she said, “that was fun!”

IMG_0333

IMG_2638

3.   Two jelly fish!  We only saw two jelly fish .. but they looked different from any other jelly fish I’d ever seen.  They were dark in color.  So I talked with some locals … and they said … “if jelly fish have short tail, no dangerous.  if jellyfish have long tail, like this (holding their hands wide apart) then very very dangerous.  you get very sick, very fast (with eyes wide)”.  Okay then, I proceed to use hand motions and description to describe the tails that I’d seen, and came to the conclusion that ours were safe, and so Maria happily posed for some pics with the two jelly fish (but those pics didn’t come out)

DSCF0489

4.  Italian dinner!  We passed on the seafood buffet and opted instead for the Italian restaurant onsite.  Of course, with the maiden name  “Oliverio” , you better believe that I’ll vote for Italian food every time.  However, everyone else in the resort passed on the Italian.  We five Blinkmans were the ONLY patrons in the restaurant.  For the entire meal.  It was silent, and awkward, and we had too many servers attending to our every need, but the food was delicious and we will never forget the night we had an entire restaurant to ourselves.

5.  Maria made an awesome 14 second video of koi fish singing.  I’m gonna post that next.  This video alone made the trip worth it. Here is a teaser photo:

IMG_0123

6.  The south china sea!!  The water was emerald green, no waves, with squeaky sand.  Lots of sand dollars, and fun hermit crabs.  And  very few people.    We snorkeled around some beautiful coral (but not as colorful as the caribbean coral reefs) and saw some fun fish.  Yes, I did see an eel … and I lifted my head out the water to scream, and when I looked back down, the thing was gone.  A bit creepy but very exciting!

7.  With no technology, and with only the cameras on the phones working, there were lots of “selfies” taken (for those of you who haven’t heard this term before, a “selfie” is a self portrait”) .  Here are a few of my favorites:

ImageImage

DSCF0479 IMG_2680 IMG_0329 IMG_0330 IMG_0334 IMG_0261 IMG_0260 IMG_0259

DSCF0483

Clearly, when Maria is without her phone,  laptop or other technology, she manages to get into just about every photo!  She likes to be taking the picture and she likes to be in the picture!  She is a typical teenage girlie!!

Advertisements

Two shoes

Okay, so it’s true, I just figured out how to upload pictures to this blog directly from my iPhone.  This picture is pretty funny, I think  that it is something I really must record in this journal.

This picture was taken on the second day of our landing here in Sing.  We were all extremely jet-lagged, almost to the point of being sick.  The kids and I spent the entire day at their school doing orientation things, while Trent met the movers at the condo, and with the heat & humidity, exhaustion, emotions,  and sheer stress of being moving to the other side of the world,  it was a humdinger of a day.  By now my legs and feet are swelling, still recovering from the 20 hour flight, not drinking enough water, and the heat.

After we finished at the school,   we searched out some western food, and the only place we could find was a McDonalds.  So now, add too all the other torment to our bodies, add greasy food.   I’m proud to say that I was smart enough to bring an second pair of sandals, thinking that I could maybe switch shoes to relieve some of the aches and pains.

But, I wasn’t smart enough to switch BOTH shoes.

After our lunch at McDonalds, we decided to be super healthy and have dessert at Wendy’s (they have a copy-cat blizzard  that’s out of this world), and it wasn’t until we were standing in line that I noticed that I had two different sandals on.

Mercy mercy!

20130917-174630.jpg

Driving with Trent & Siri

Trent is a pretty good driver here in Sing.  He’s downright mastered the aggressive driving piece of it.    But, he has no sense of direction whatsoever.  Well, to be fair, neither do I.    It’s almost comical.   Our brains are so twisted with British style driving,  the traffic,  and all the newness & strangeness of living in a foreign country, that if it weren’t for Siri, we would never find our way anywhere.  

I’m not sure how our good friends Mike & Sue managed to live here without iPhones & Siri helping them.  It must have been a true nightmare.  

Funny story about Siri … we bought our iPhones here in Singapore, and so Siri speaks to us a a man with a British accent.  One of the first days here, when we were so jet-lagged and lost, we were asking Siri to give us directions.  He kept coming back with the answer “I don’t know of that, but I can search the web for you” .  You know what I am talking about, right?  

Trent was so frustrated, and he started yelling to Siri, when suddenly it occurred to me that he needed to ask Siri using a fake British accent.  Once our home address “Woollerton Park” became “Woooollllertin Paaark” , Siri easily helped us find our way home.  

Oh we had the giggles for a long time after that.  We have since reprogrammed our iPhones to the American female Siri, but when I feel like jabbing Trent, I will secretly change Siri back into Mr. London.  

by the way … I have a growing list of places in Singapore that I can get to without using Siri:  Swimfast practice pool at the Anglo-Chinese school, the Giant Hyper (grocery story, love the name right?) and Ikea!!  And that is after a month of being here!!  I’m telling ya, Singapore roads and traffic is overwhelming!!  It feels like this to us:

 

Image

Friday the 13th! I’m not superstitious, just stupid

My morning began as most of them begin for me … get the kids out the door for school, then I drop Trent off at the office.  When I say this, it sounds pretty simple, I just take him to work, right?  Well, it’s not simple by any way.  He office isn’t that far from our condo, but the traffic is so terrible here that it takes forever to get there and back.  A good hour and a half to get there and back.  Gauging by the distance, back home in Hudson Wisconsin, this would take about 30 minutes.  So yes, it’s a huge pain.

But we are a one car household now, and so in order to get my errands (chores!) done, I need the car.  Trent could take a taxi to work, but it would cost nearly $50 sing dollars per day.  So I drive him.

Image

Friday the 13th began as any other day for me … I dropped Trent off at his office.  On the way home, I was listening to the radio and they were chattering about how more women get into car accidents on this day than any other, mostly because they are superstitious and nervous.  I thought, “still stupid women”.  Huh!

That was when I jinxed myself.

A few hours later, I was indeed sitting in my car, shocked and stunned, because I smashed out the back & side windows of my van.   Here is a picture of the back window, taken from the inside of the car.  Yikes!

Image

And here is what I backed up into:

Image

I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I can understand why my back up sensors on the van didn’t “see” this.  Regardless, this little accident scared the daylights out of me …I had no idea that a shattering window or two could make so much noise!!

So … back to traffic in Singapore!!  Yes, here we drive on what I call “the wrong side of the car” from “the wrong side of the road”.  British style.  The knobs and dohickies inside the car are all backwards too.  For the first week, every time I went to turn on my turn signal, my windshield wipers would go instead.  I finally got that all sorted out,  and as long as I am not first at a red light, I am all good.  If I am first, and I am making a turn,  then I really have to think hard about which way I am to turn.

The traffic here is insane.   Add to the confusion of driving british style, I have also had to get used to the crazy Malaysian motorcyclists.  They come into Sing each morning to work via a bridge, and at the end of their long workshifts, they drive back to their country.  I don’t blame them on bit for being in a hurry to get home.  I would be too.  But, their driving skills are truly frightening.  They weave in and out of traffic, and ride the middle line, and Lord have mercy, if you are changing lanes, you really need to check over and over and then one more time in your rear-view mirrors to be sure there isn’t one of these speed-demon risk-taking motorcycling Malaysians coming up from behind.

ImageImage

Image

The taxi drivers here are crazy too, and there seems to be thousands of them.  They are aggressive, pushy, and rude, and they will not hesitate to cut you off, beep their horns, or anything they can think of to intimidate other drivers.  Yes, I fear taxi drivers.

Local drivers are crazy too.  They have no choice but to be aggressive with their driving skills.  I learned this the hard way a few weeks back.   I dropped the boys at swim practice, and thought I would zip up the road to a book store to pick up a map of Sing.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, you haven’t heard of Newton Circus.

Image

It’s basically the meanest round-a-bout EVER.  Seven exits.  Count em.  Seven.  Four+ lanes of highway,  AND it’s counter-clockwise.  I was basically stuck on the Newton Circus roundabout for a good hour.  Yup.  I’d get on, miss my exit, go around again.  Get pushed inside of a lane or two by aggressive drivers, taxi drivers, and Malaysian motorcycle men,  then not make it back to the outside edge by my exit.  Around I go again.  I’m tellin ya, I was dizzy by the time I managed to find my off the thing.

So anyhow,  my van has already been repaired  ( i know!  it only took TWO days!  ) and while there is no sign of the damage I caused to the van that day, there is still loads of personality going on with that vehicle.  I have a nice scrape on the front bumper, plus a large dent by the side door.  The kids think I should have it all repaired, but I think that all the damage on my van is a nice warning to the other drivers … I’m not afraid to bump a little bit, so look out!

Ikea Singapore

Furniture.  We need some furniture!  3M gave us an furniture allowance, and so I need to make this allotment furnish as much as possible.  I check out some local furniture showrooms, and find the prices are so high!  A couch for $7,000!  Oh my!  How can I possibly furnish our condo on the amount given?

The answer?  Ikea Singapore.

2734781569_585dd125e7_b

The first time we headed to Ikea was the day after we arrived.  Unfortunately, we went on a Saturday.  We didn’t realize that it was also a national holiday, and it seemed like nearly half of the population was shopping at Ikea.  I am not exaggerating, there must have been nearly 5000 people in Ikea.

In our jet-lag fog, I kept thinking, if all of Singapore is this crowded and busy, I’m never going to adjust to this.  I needed some space.  Nobody here has a bubble of personal space.  It was unbelievable.  People standing so close to you that you could count whiskers, or smell what they had to eat last.  And while everyone is in each others space, no body invades each others privacy.  They don’t look at each other, talk to each other, help in any way.   Its amazing.

Well, it turns out, Singaporeans LOVE Ikea Meatballs.  Here is a picture of the Q, everyone waiting patiently for their meatballs.

images-1

 

images-3

And here is a quirky ad that I found, couldn’t resist posting this:

images-2

We did survive our first visit to Ikea, and in fact, I have been back many many times.  In fact, I have been there so many times, that in this land of 5 million people, where you don’t see the same person twice, the nice lad at the pick up counter has become quite friendly, giving me high-fives and helping me to load my van.  (we have had great difficulty getting all the boxes to fit into the mini-van at times, it took both of us to push and shove, on several occasions).  I suppose I represent job security to him.

I have bought dressers, bedside tables, desks, arm chairs, tv stands, kitchen items, glass ware, a funky muffin pan, clocks, laundry items, coffee tables, two out door chairs, some tropical plants, and even a giant 7’ x 5’ canvas photo of a giant wave in Hawaii in beautiful turquoise & sea green colors!

And because I furnished most of our condo with Ikea items, I was able to splurge on two really nice couches that are being custom made in Malaysia, and a gorgeous black kitchen table that is being made in Indonesia.  These will be nice quality, but very much average for the USA, and wildly expensive.   I was told all should be delivered on September 11th!

I have a long way to go before this condo feels like home to us.  It is in no way “cozy” .  The homes here are made out of concrete, I suppose because of the heat and the rain.  Concrete with marble over it for flooring, painted concrete walls.   I will search out some stores other than Ikea to find some nice items, and look for some souvineer type items that we would want to bring home to the states with us.  Not even sure what that would be at this point, thats part of the adventure, right?

 

 

 

 

 

A Monkey takes a dip in the condo pool!

Our condo,  called “Gallop Green” has the most beautiful pool.  Being a family that centers nearly all of our activities around a pool, swimming, or water, this pool was very appealing to us when we were trying to find a home here in Singapore.  The kids took one look at it, and declared that this was the place for us.  Gallop Green would be our home.

From our condo on the fourth (and top) floor, this is the view out of our living room window, as we look down on the pool.

Image

At night, it is all lit up, with lights wrapped around the palm trees, making it feel very Disney like.   It is just gorgeous.  We use this pool all the time, as it is very convenient.  It is 5 steps out our door to the elevator, then maybe 20 steps out of the elevator to the pool.  All the time we say that we cannot believe that we live here.  It is just dreamy.

Image

As you can imagine, we like to look down at the pool.  We are nebby, we are kind of spying on our neighbors, but also, we just like to look at the pool,  see some of the birds flying around (there is a full yellow parrot and a white macaw here regularly).  During the first week here,  while the kids were at school and Trent was sitting on the sofa doing work stuff on his computer, I took a break from unpacking and looked out the window.

You can imagine my compete surprise when I noticed a monkey sitting on the edge of the pool!   A monkey!!  I screamed to Trent, who practically threw his laptop, and we stood there in complete shock watching this monkey, casually dipping the end of his long tail into the pool water and then sucking on it.

I could see Lim, one of the guards at our condo, walking towards the pool, ready to shoo away the monkey ( he had his phone in hand, taking a video ) and I screamed again, “NO LIM!!! Not yet!  I need a photo!!”  Of course, he couldn’t hear me, and I ran to get my  camera, which was still packed away.

Trent couldn’t take his eyes off the monkey, and I was throwing things out of boxes, into the air, over my head, desperate to find my camera and attach the long lens.  I finally find it, take the lens cap off, make a mad sprint to the window, just in time to see the monkey jump out of the pool!

Apparently Lim scared it, which made it jump into the pool, do a quick doggie paddle, and it jumped out of the pool, down the concrete, behind the building, and up into a tree.   It was the most exciting thing ever!!

No, I didn’t get a photo, as when I took the lens cap off, it fogged up with the cold air conditioning air.  What a bummer.

Trent and I giggled like school girls for about 10 minutes, and then we had to meet the kids at the bus stop.  So we made a stop at the guard gate, to speak with Lim, who was also giggling like a girl.  He showed us his video, which he was thrilled with.

According to Lim, it’s been nearly 3 years since the last monkey siting on Gallop Green property.  They are seen quite regularly in the neighborhood, but not at our pool.  Lim said that he had to scare it away, and do so quickly, because all of the school buses were due to arrive any minute.  Usually the kids scream because they are so excited to see a monkey, which in turn makes the monkey scream, and then the kids get scared and scream even louder, and then the monkey could become aggressive.  Lim also told us that if we ever do see a monkey again, not to smile, as showing teeth is a sign of aggression to them.  Who knew!!

Anyhow, I wanted to share that story with you.  I just cannot believe that we saw a wild monkey within our first week of living here!!