Feb 9, 2013

The zoo

We've bought a membership to the zoo. I always like to go to zoos, even if they are a little bit sad because the animals have no space and generally appear less than perfectly happy. But with a 2-year old, living in the western part of the island, close to the zoo, a membership to the zoo seems a must.

We've had it less than a month and already visited the zoo at least four times that I can recall. It's part way between us and downtown, so sometimes we just pop in for a snack and see some monkeys.

The Singapore Zoo is famous for not using obvious fences and animals appear to roam freely. The orang-utans are a good example. You can see them climbing up high in the vines above the path and aping around. But a closer examination shows electric wires on trees, to prevent them going too low or too high. And the males are banished to a little island with some dead trunks. Since they're heavier, males are not prone to monkeying around high up in any case, and I suppose the babies need to be somewhat protected from potential masculine hormones. It's still a great sight, and you can have breakfast with them.

The monkeys are generally the best thing about the zoo, as is the Splash World event with an active sea lion - at least, it impressed my 2-year old. Today, though, we discovered a very new part of the zoo which was truly wonderful. It's a section that has butterflies, ducks, weird looking birds, parrots bats, lemurs and some sort of tiny deer running around among the tourists and visitors. The lemurs are very comfortable just hanging around next to you - my hubby was able to take a picture from less than 30 cm away, without it running off.

The other fantastic part of the zoo is Kids World, where kids can splash around in ankle deep water, with hundreds of fountains, sprays, tipping buckets, and a number of slides. It was busy there today - a nice hot day in Singapore, Chinese New Year, etc. I invested in bathers for my son and myself and off we went. We had a ball.

We've learned some tricks. You bring your own camera because you really don't want to pay $35 for a badly taken photo of you feeding bananas to the elephants. You should bring your own towel, because the $10 ones they sell at Kids World barely covers my head. The food at the zoo is generally bad, unless you invest in breakfast with the orang-utans (is my guess, since we've not done this yet). The rest is bad versions of hawker foods that have been drying out in their hot-trays for several hours before it gets to you. And the boat ride is definitely not worth it.

Today's surprise is that even if you have a membership that entitles you to a free tram ride, that, apparently, does not count on a weekend. Strollers a definite plus, therefore.

Jan 30, 2013

Campus Life

We've been here 2.5 weeks. Just three days after our arrival, we moved into our apartment on campus. There are many advantages: close to work, inexpensive, nice community of families with kids, etc. So it's not the impressive expat house one might imagine, but that in itself makes it feel like a humble option. To compensate, we promised ourselves that we'd do the best we could with what we had.

What we have isn't all bad. Three bed, two bath, around 1600 square feet. The kitchen is quite big, though empty. We've invested thousands of dollars in new electronics, including a fridge/freezer, a stand-alone stove, washer, dryer and a host of smaller items. To make our kitchen feel somewhat more like a working kitchen, we invested in several Ikea stand-alone counter tops with wire racks. I can't wait for my pots and pans to arrive to occupy the space and make it look lived in. The rest of the place has yucky green and brown furniture. Again, this will go as soon as our things arrive. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday. The boat was delayed.

There are some oddities. We don't have hot water in the kitchen or plugs in the bathroom. None of the sinks have cupboards underneath, so there is nowhere to stow toilet paper. Both kitchen and bathrooms are tiled floor to ceiling, so there is no option to put up shelves. The consequence is that half our toiletries fall off the counter every time we brush our teeth. And of course, the decor isn't to our taste, but at least the rest of the rooms have white walls and off-white floor tiles, which we can work with.

We've adopted the whole of campus as our backyard. There are playgrounds next to every apartment and the one opposite our building seems to be the choice spot for toddlers and young children. By now, he's made his way down the big slide, which he vehemently refused on the first day.

The university sports centre is right next door, with an Olympic sized swimming pool. There are also diving platforms. And a toddler wading pool where the boy and I spend most of our afternoons. He loves it; a real water baby - no surprises there.

Campus also has lots of buses much to the boy's delight. "Bah. Bah!" is a constant in our lives. Along with appropriate finger pointing to a passing bus. When there are several, it's almost too much to bear. The shuttle buses are free, so we often hop on one for entertainment and head over to the opposite side of campus where Starbucks lives. A super-exciting event.

I've bought myself a bike to get to and from work. The buses might be delightful to a (nearly) 2-year old, but to a working woman, they're irritating because they don't pass often enough and the stops are just that little bit too far away from home. With my bike, I'm at work in under 10 minutes - a vast improvement over the nearly 45 minutes it took me one morning to make it to the office. Plus, it seems to agree with my waistline.

There are surprises too. A gecko leaped out of my dishcloth one morning. I leaped in response. Today, one was hiding in the waste basket. I didn't jump this time, but it still catches me out. The national air force ensures that we wake up at appropriate times and stay alert all day. I'm not sure if this happens to be an intense training period for fighter jets or if they simply enjoy flying close to Malaysian airspace.

The best thing is that we already know plenty of people. All very helpful and willing to lend us stuff. Toddler boy has a bunch of toys on loan, and had several play dates. It's good for his confidence and social life, and good for ours too. 

First Impression of a Returned Traveller

We've been to Singapore before. About 13 years ago. This time, things are different. We have a toddler in tow. We'll be living on the West part of the island, far away from expat central. Singapore has doubled in population.

Over the past five years, I've visited Singapore a number of times. The first time, I expected things to be the same. It threw me. I would see a stretch of road with buildings and shops I recognized. Then, the next section would be completely unfamiliar. It was as if I was in a bad dream, where my internal expectations didn't match the external sensations. It left me disoriented and disappointed.

Singapore had always been, in my mind, clean, calm, a place Hong Kongers visited for some down time, or "detox" as the expat community used to say. That was not what I experienced in my visit a few years back. Singapore was busy, noisy, chaotic. Far from the organized quiet I anticipated.

So I knew, coming here again to start a new job, I had to set aside all my expectations and expect nothing. Or maybe everything. I would be an open book, with a blank page, willing to take it all in.

Being in a totally different area of the city helped a lot. We arrived here, to a serene campus full of beautiful trees and very little traffic. We walked around in the humidity and heat. These were all things welcome to the senses. Sure, there is still chaos downtown, but mostly we avoid that. Ah. Singapore. My first sling impression is not so very bad, lah.

May 20, 2012


Been remiss in my posts recently. A lot of stuff happening, but all at once it's summer! We had 27C yesterday and up to 36C today. We took advantage of it straight away and spent both days outdoors. The winters in Montreal can be far too long.

Work has been flowing. Still busy, but I submitted a paper to a conference in Africa. Let's see if I make it in. The work warranted a trip by car to the US to interview the founder of the NGO I'm using as a case. Hubby's passport came in just in time, 2 days before the trip. So we went as a family unit, rather than me having to do an 8 hour drive all by myself, and decided to overnight and also catch an old old friend on the way back.

It was a good plan except that toddler boy got sick. And I mean really sick. High fever, up to 39.8C. He never really gets that kind of fever so of course I was worried. He still tried to smile and seemed energetic enough in between the long naps, but the fever wouldn't come down. By evening it had spiked and then he also threw up. At which point we threw in the towel as non-panicky parents and headed straight to the nearest ER. Not necessarily where you want to be handing over your credit card while in the US, but really, we had no choice. Of course, the minute we walked through the door, our toddler decided that the ER was an exciting new place to explore even though (for him) it was in the middle of the night. He perked up, smiled at the nurses, charmed the other patients, and his fever dropped. No more throwing up. They diagnosed him with croup (we already knew that he had that), and gave a fever-reducer plus a prescription for steroids for the croup. We didn't bother getting the latter filled - he gets it all the time and the doctor said it was mild. But it might have been what caused him to vomit since his coughing can get quite violent.

We made it back the following day - toddler-boy was still recovering but acting like a true champ. I, on the other hand, had barely slept (since we shared a bed and I relegated hubby to the kiddy cot in the hotel room). Since then, kiddo fully recovered, only to catch a cold shortly after (more croup, naturally). This time, he managed to infect me too, and I'm suffering a major head cold.

Still, I can't complain since the weather really is so gorgeous and it's a long holiday weekend. Tomorrow I'm off, and will be cleaning the house for oma's arrival on Wednesday. Not much work on the horizon, I imagine!

Meanwhile, toddler boy continues to pick up more signs. This week, he nailed 'cat' and 'bath'. He also understood the sign for 'shoe' and copied it. Add that to his favorite 'hat', his ex-favorite 'again', and the other ones he knows: 'milk', 'sleep', 'music', 'dog', 'all done', 'up', 'out', and 'no no no', and 'drink', we're now coming close to 15 signs. And very occasionally, he'll say something really clearly like "Hello Velcro" (to the dog). Most of the time it's just nonsense lingo but semi-accurate signing. Not bad to have 15 signs by 15 months. 

My favorite, though, is when he decides to wear his hat (or helmet, which is also hat to him), and checks himself out in the mirror. For a while now, I've noticed that he likes to look at himself in the mirror. I assumed he couldn't yet know that it was him, even though he'd say hi to himself (adding his own name), but I'm now beginning to suspect he knew as early as 13-14 months. That seems young, to me, but then, he's also taught himself to whistle, and he can kick a ball while on the run. My little fella.

Mar 24, 2012

A week of spring

The weather this past week has been phenomenal. Mostly I've loved it. I started running again (yay!), and achieved a 3.6km with baby chariot on Monday, a 4km run with chariot on Wednesday and a 5km run (solo) on Thursday. I think I even picked up a bit of a tan. The snow has melted, but the canal still has plenty of ice left in it, which is astounding considering it was 27C on Thursday.

Climate change is happening, it would seem. The weekend is appropriately cold again at 2C this morning, so it's been a bizarre adjustments of windows open/closed, radiator on/off, spring clothes out/winter coats back on, etc. No one seems to know how to dress these days.

Work was hectic this week. Two visiting speakers yesterday, talking at precisely the same time. I had to pick one, but had lunch with one and dinner with the other. For the rest, some internal clashes (more appropriately, stupidity by one idiot) has generated a whole bunch of extra work for me. Oh well, such is life. It's rolling off me like water off a duck's back.

When I'm at home, toddler-boy demands total attention. He's adorably cute. Loves to laugh, dance, clap and other things. He's finally clicked on the sign language and keeps pointing at stuff to get the "words". I'm gonna have to beef up my own skills beyond "dog", "again", "cat" and "sleep", it seems.

Mar 18, 2012

Hit and miss

The sleep is hit-and-miss. I still regularly wake up at least once, sometimes twice, a night to either give toddler-boy his pacifier, or spend a good amount of time rocking him. The latter seriously disrupts my sleep pattern and hence the reason for a 3 a.m. post. Little one woke up at 1, then again at 1.30, and then 1.45. I finally decided to do the rocking for a little longer and he seems to have settled back in. But of course, by this time, I'm now wide awake.

Lots on my mind, maybe, and that could be the reason for failing to fall back asleep. So much for planning a nice long sleep in and a general sleep catch-up.

Weather should FINALLY be warmer tomorrow. Here's hoping that spring is around the corner.

Happy St Paddy's and all.

Mar 4, 2012

About sleep

Get all your anti-jinxing devices handy. I'm about to talk about toddler-boy's sleep. Toddler is now the appropriate word for him, because he's really changed over the last month and a half. He's become incredibly self-sufficient, inquisitive, and even mindful. 

As part of growing up, his sleep patterns have changed. At first, the biggest change came during the day. Instead of his usual thirty-minute naps 3-4 times a day, he began to shift down to two naps - very suddenly. Of course, two thirty-minute naps were nowhere near enough to do his sleep needs justice, and I started to notice he was sneaking in an hour here, an hour there. And, even more so, when he would wake, he seemed rather sleepy and with a little encouragement, might even continue his nap. The nanny also noticed this, and both of us encouraged him to take longer naps. In the last week or so, this has meant successful 2+ hour naps on a daily basis, and a similar 1+ hour nap in the afternoon.

Soon after this daytime shift, I started to notice a change in toddler-boy's nighttime too. He slept a 7 hour stretch the night before his first birthday. Of course, I only got about 4 hours because we were up decorating the house for him and getting all his presents ready. Still, I was super-excited but not holding up my hopes because he'd done longish (5 hour) stretches before, for a day or two, and then reverted right back to his usual "wake every 3 hours" routine. Even if I was no longer feeding him at night - in fact, weaning him from night feeds temporarily made him wake up more often, because he'd wake, I'd rock him back to sleep, and 15-30 minutes later he'd realise he'd not been fed and wake again. 

And although 5 hours of continual night time sleep is considered "through the night" by lovely authors such as Pinki McKay (Sleeping Like a Baby), it's still not fantastic from a parent's point of view. But I wanted to stick to my guns. The cry-it-out method was not about to happen in our house. 

I was amazed to find that toddler-boy repeated the 7-hour stretch again the following night, then woke frequently for 2 nights, followed by another 7-hour stretch the next night. In the preceding few weeks, he'd had a bad cough and cold, with some fever - his sleep pattern was awful. So I was very very glad for this change. At this point, he went to the doctor for his 12 month check-up and three vaccinations later, he promptly went back to awful sleeping patterns for about 4-5 days. But then, to my big surprise, the 7-hour stretch turned into an 8-hour one. And that was counting from the 10.30pm "dream-feed", not from his 8pm bedtime. 

Happily, he's been doing that for about a week now. Once in a while, there is still a possibility of a more wakeful night. I notice that when hubby is or has been out of town, toddler-boy's sleep seems a bit off. But all in all, it's a vast improvement.

The best part is that I never engaged in any kind of sleep training, in the tradition sense of "cry-it-out". I was still nursing him to sleep and then putting him in his bed.

Now, it seems another change is happening. He no longer falls asleep when I nurse him in the evening time. He decides to nurse till he's full, then looks for his pacifier. As usual, he completely ignores or even pushes his "snuggy" away (this is supposed to be his attachment object - obviously THAT never worked but I continue to put it in his bed with him, to hold an extra pacifier so that toddler-boy knows where to find it). He then proceeds to wriggle around the bed some, changing his sleep position about ten times and not falling asleep. I then carry him to his bed, still half awake, and lay him in it. I stay with him for a minute or so. I try not to touch him too much, although sometimes he insists by reaching out for me, either waving his hands in the air in search of my face/hair, or poking them through the spokes to feel for my legs. With a half-broken heart, I disengage when I think he'll be ok, and calmly leave his room. I tend to rumble around in the bathroom for a few minutes, waiting to see if he peeps. Then, I go to the living room. 

Invariably, he seems to fall asleep by himself. Occasionally, he will call out about 30 minutes later, either stood up in his bed or not: I give him a pet, or rock him a bit, and put him down again. So far, it's worked well.

It feels weird to do this, the walking out when he's still awake. I know that many experts say a baby is supposed to be able to put themselves to sleep; it's helpful somehow (I can't recall why). I also can't recall if Pinki's book recommends this.

I do worry about one thing -- perhaps he's what's considered an "easy" baby, and by not calling out, he's "pleasing" me, but still hurting inside. I hope that's not the case. The fact that he used to scream his head off in protest if I even stepped away for a moment makes me think he doesn't fall into that category. But, I suppose one never knows. Perhaps this newfound self-confidence is simply harder on me than it is on him. I'm his mom, after all.