Posted in ex-pat confidential, Travel, Traveling with Madeline

the farewell tour

On Wednesday at breakfast, I sat staring at my empty iced chai latte cup and thought, "I'm going to miss this place." I was sitting with my kids at a Starbucks on Orchard Road in Singapore. There is a very good chance that I'll never be there again. 

I can't remember how many months we were into our life in Bangkok when we first visited Singapore, but I do remember that it felt soooo good! The streets were clean. I spoke a common language. There were familiar things – organized traffic, playgrounds, parks, shops, etc. I took a photo of the view from our hotel window and thought that it reminded me of Vancouver. 

Singapore is easily the place that we traveled to for a family-oriented getaway the most during our six years in SE Asia. It's only about a 90-minute flight from BKK and Saigon, and plenty of the discount airlines in this region fly there. I think that we kept going back to stock up on shopping (baking ingredients! vitamins!) and because there are were more quality things to do with children. 

Usual highlights from our trips:

  • The wildlife parks: Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, and the newly-opened River Safari. There is a zoo in Bangkok and there's also one in Ho Chi Minh City, but the ones in Singapore are modern, spacious, educational, and  conversation-minded, and they do not dress the animals up in costumes for exploitive photo ops. 
  • Botanical Gardens, because 1) the flowers in SE Asia are lovely and exotic to my eyes and 2) it has a terrific playground area.
  • The Forum: This is a small shopping center that has a lot of retailers focused on children. There's a Mothercare (a UK-company that carries a lot of baby apparel and gear that is hard to come by in SE Asia – things that I bought there include packages of onesies (nicer than Old Navy, actually), See Kai Run shoes, and a SwaddleMe)). There's a shop called Vitakids where I've found other things that were a challenge in BKK and Saigon: children's vitamins, supplements, and safer sunscreen/shampoo (they stock TruKid, among others). My kids are fans of the children's bookstore called Bookaburra, and there's an Early Learning Center toy store next door. On the top level, there's a Stride Rite and also a Toys R Us (though it doesn't stock the same quality of merchandise as the stores in Canada, it's a lot better than the TRU in BKK).
  • SEA Aquarium on Sentosa: This is quite new, and is marketing itself as the largest aquarium in the world. Madeline was thrilled to see about a half dozen exhibits on jellyfish, and I was happy to have a (flash-free, of course) photo of a clownfish in an anemone. I have a four year-old, so Finding Nemo still heavily influences our aquatic interests. The aquarium is located in Singapore's maritime museum, and I wish that we'd spent more time looking at the exhibits because the did look really cool (and very hands-on).
  • Gelatissimo: Madeline's dearest request for our last trip was that we go for gelato because she really wanted more of the green apple gelato that she had the time when we checked out the Singapore Flyer. The Singapore Flyer was out of the way, but luckily, there was a Gelatissimo outlet on Orchard Road that we could walk to. And they did have green apple on the menu on that day!

I picked up a second-hand "things to do with small kids in Singapore" book before our final trip, and there were more than a couple of museums that earned kid-friendly marks, and a science center that sounded like something my girls would be into, though we didn't have the time to check it out. We've been on the Singapore Night Safari, so we saw a lot of animals sleeping, and we've been to Universal Studios on Sentosa, but it wasn't as interesting to our younger kids as a Disney Park is.

We've sometimes had difficulty finding taxis for return trips back from places like the zoo, so on my last trip, the kids and I  got around using the MRT and the SAEx coaches and it was inexpensive (as far as Singapore goes) and easy to figure out. I also saw one of those double-decker sight-seeing buses, and thought that would have been a practical way to navigate between several of the tourist attractions. Wish I'd known about that before … 

So, yeah, I was a little sad to have my farewell tour of Singapore come to an end earlier this week. I always felt a little bit more like my old self there, like I was slightly less of a foreigner than I was when in Thailand or Vietnam (and maybe even Newfoundland, you know). I will be glad, however, to never again feel the frustration of trying to search out a hotel that had rooms that could accomodate more than two adults and one child simultaneously. Oh, Asia 🙂

Posted in ex-pat confidential, Little Person Updates, sadie the sequel, Traveling with Madeline

how i spent my summer vacation: a study in awesomeness

At the beginning of August, my family loaded itself onto a Qatar Airways 777 and flew across the Atlantic. We spent a lot of our summer vacation in transit – it's a long flight between HCMC and Doha, and an even longer flight from Doha to Washington DC. 

The DC-area is where we experienced the first awesome things about our summer vacation. Starbucks! Iced chai lattes are one of my favourite things in the world, and I have to travel to other countries to find them, so yes, that was a big deal. I had my first iced chai latte of the trip the day that we landed. Another awesome thing: TLC – a channel we don't get here! I totally indulged in garbage tv on our holiday. Whenever we were staying in hotels, I watched a lot of Say Yes to the Dress and Toddlers & Tiaras. I threw in a little HGTV on the side when I was feeling more adventurous. Another awesome thing: I went to an actual Athleta store (yay Tyson's Corner!) and tried on the Nectar dress that I've been admiring for about two years. Turns out it looks absolutely horrible on me, so it's a good thing that I waited and didn't spend a crazy amount of money shipping one to Vietnam. I bought a pair of Dipper shorts instead, and they are pretty terrific. Tyson's Corner also had a store where my children spent their birthday money buying their un-Canadian dolls outfits that cost more than the ones that they were wearing on their very own bodies. But that's what birthday money is for, right?

Part of the attraction of heading back to North America over the summer is the opportunity to fill up on some of things that we miss while we're living overseas, like family and wide open spaces. We stayed with Chris's sister in Maryland for a few days, and it was just lovely to watch my kids play in a fenced backyard, take them to a playground, and even just eat a picnic lunch outside on benches. (The part of this visit where Madeline conspired to play with her five year-old cousin to the near-exclusion of the other three kids was unplanned, though).

Wegmans! We stepped into a Wegmans somewhere in Maryland and Virginia, and it was crazy to be in a regular grocery store again! Gosh, it was spacious and well-stocked in comparison to the types of places that I get to buy groceries here in Saigon. Despite accusing me of going overboard in Target (where I re-stocked our medicine cabinet for the next year), he went a little crazy in the snack-and-drink aisle at Wegmans. The drink where pellets dropped down into the bottle for mixing was kind of neat, but I passed on his super-sized bag of crystallized ginger. 

Part of heading back to an English-speaking county during the summer is about shopping, but the longer that we live overseas, the more content I am to live without a lot of the consumer items that I used to haul back to SE Asia in my suitcase. This trip, we mainly brought home pharmaceuticals, birthday/Christmas gifts for the kids, and a few odd things that I can't locate in Saigon, like duct tape, cork sealer for my Birkenstocks, and sport laundry detergent because my regular clothes were beginning to smell too much like my gym clothes. 

On this vacation, I learned that my kids are generally cooperative enough that I can take them swimming by myself without being way out of my supervisory-and-water-skill league. The first time I took them solo was in Pinehurst, NC when Chris was off golfing. I did get a little nervous when the water they were playing in got deeper than I was comfortable in. This was an awesome development, especially since the alternative would have been hanging out in the hotel room for the entire day instead. This also paid off again when I hung out with my kids at the beach and hotel pool when we were in Hilton Head Island and Chris was off elsewhere in South Carolina watching a professional golf event of some sort. No one drowned, my kids monopolized the water slide at our resort as much as they could, and we came home with new pool noodles and sea shells. 

I also have to mention here that the cleanliness of the public HHI beach was awesome. I certainly wasn't imagining that we'd find an un-ending stretch of sandy shore with no litter or rocks or general ocean sludge. I'm not making this up – it honestly looked like this:

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My eleven year-old self (who used to watch Space Camp on a near-daily basis) would have thought that our vacation was totally awesome because we visited the National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and saw this:

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Awesome is the only appropriate word.

One aspect of this holiday that I was day-dreaming about before we even left Vietnam was the food. There is a distinct lack of southern BBQ here. However, it wasn't hard to find in the Carolinas. Our first stop after crossing into North Carolina was at some dive in Raleigh where we enjoyed chopped BBQ pork sandwiches and collard greens and stuff. In Charleston, we polished off a helping of boiled peanuts:

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And learned exactly why peanuts are a legume instead of a nut. 

The final awesome thing to say about our road-trip holiday is that Madeline and Sadie were good little passengers. They didn't complain much at all about how we strapped them into the back of our rental vehicle for some very long hauls. Madeline usually read or was content to stare out of the window, and Sadie napped or watched Doc McStuffins over and over again on Chris's iPad.  I remembered how I felt about road trips when I was a little kid, and was expecting a lot more tears and tirades. But they didn't happen, so … Awesome. 

 

Posted in ex-pat confidential, Traveling with Madeline

if the jolie-pitt clan can do it, so can we …

Five years ago, we were living in Calgary again (briefly), in-between our relocations in Newfoundland and Bangkok, and amid trying to coordinate having vinyl siding put on our garage and making trips out to the dumpster in our driveway, I had this thought: "Hey, we're going to be living close to Cambodia! I want to see Angkor Wat!"

And a few months later, we were living in Thailand. And it was hot. More than I really realized. And Madeline was just three years old. And there looked like there were a lot of places for her to fall off of those really old Cambodian temples. 

(evidence of the potential for falling to one's death:)

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And then Sadie arrived. And it was still hot, and hot weather and tiny infants don't go together. 

And then we moved to Saigon, on the other side of Cambodia. Still hot, everywhere. Madeline's nearly eight and pretty agile. Sadie is three-and-half, regularly trips over her own (kinda big) feet, and she's pretty fearless. It's still hot, but we don't know if we're going to be living here in twelve months time, so this time, we just decided to go. 

 Our trip worked out better than both Chris and I were expecting, actually. We booked a guide and a vehicle for the mornings, and toured Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and a few temples beyond, and after lunch we'd usually take the kids to the pool at the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap, and it worked out really well because it had a cafe serving ice cream, a swimming pool that was half-shaded, and no rule that the maximum occupancy of a room was two adults and only one child (we regularly struggle to find two-adults-two-kids per room hotels in Asia, for some reason). 

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No children fell off of any temples, despite there being lots of opportunity to do so. Sadie enjoyed finding sticks to carry around and climbing on all the ledges that she could find. Madeline grumbled softly about her displeasure over being dragged out sightseeing, but refrained from asking when we were going back to the hotel every ten minutes (Aside: I'm going to have a great photobook full of photos of her frowning on our holidays, though). And I got to cross something off of the list of things to do in SE that I started five years ago 🙂

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Posted in Traveling with Madeline

suitcase, the epilogue

I chuckled a little when I looked up what I posted the last time I actually posted something here, and saw my suitcase, pre-trip. My gosh, that suitcase was stuffed to the gills on our return to Saigon from Canada. Usually I stock up on pharmaceuticals and health care-type items that are hard to find here (as they were in Thailand), and this trip was no exception, but upon unpacking the other day, I realized that the stuff I brought back fell into three other categories

a) craft foam and foam stickers (I have nearly an entire shopping bag full – how embarrassing!)

b) t-shirts for me (How did I end up with six new tees? I love them, of course, but now I have to toss out six older tees to make room for them. And clothes are heavy to bring back!)

c) birthday and Christmas gifts for Chris and my kids (The selection of toys here is rather small, and we already have a lot of My Little Pony and Playdoh).

Aside from the Children's Advil and sunscreen, the most practical thing that I brought back were school shoes for Madeline (why her school specifies a style and colour of shoe that is hard to come by here in Saigon, I will never understand!).The strangest just might be the bottle of wood glue. The most ridiculous might be a huge package of Fruit-to-Go that I swear weighed 1.2 kilograms. At least, it's a year's supply … 

 

Posted in Traveling with Madeline

origami practice

So, I've started to pack for our upcoming trip halfway around the world, and this is our suitcase so far:

Suitcase

It's over halfway full, and I still need to put a few outfits for myself in there! I am not sure that the shopping spree in Canada that I've been day-dreaming about is going to play out as I imagined it!

Posted in Traveling with Madeline, Vent

hitting turbulence

Dear Singapore Airlines

Last Wednesday, my two children and I flew on your afternoon flight out of HCMC to Singapore. A little over halfway into the flight, my two year old crawled into my lap, laid her head against my arm, and fell asleep. The seatbelt sign was off, so I thought this was fine (and preferable to her being tired and irritable, trust me!). 

About ten minutes later, one of your flight attendants came over and insisted that I put her back in her seat and secure her seatbelt. I was sad to do this, knowing what was coming, but like any good passenger, I complied. Sadie promptly woke up and began to howl. She didn't want to watch anything on the inflight entertainment system, she didn't want anything to eat or drink, she didn't want anything to do with anything that I'd packed in my carry-on bag to pass the time. She wanted to be held, obviously still sleepy, and fought with all her strength against her seatbelt. 

She didn't, as the FA suggested, "get up too early this morning". She's little, and takes an afternoon nap.

The FA came by about half an hour later to offer more assvice about my unhappy toddler, and I noticed something strange onboard our aircraft. "You know," I said, "I don't understand why I had to put my daughter down half an hour ago. The "FASTEN SEAT BELTS" sign hasn't been on at all during this time!" 

She looked surprised, offered some weak comment to the nature of "preparing the cabin for landing" and scurried off to turn on the darned seat belt sign (to vindicate herself, I presume). We landed about fifteen minutes later, with my child unhappy for every one of those minutes.

Singapore Airlines, I usually heart you, but I am kind of angry that my sleeping toddler was the first item onboard to be "prepared for landing". A more compassionate FA might have taken care of collecting the headphones, drinking cups, and raising the window shades before picking on a tiny sleeping child who was not in violation of the seat belt policy. I am not sure what sort of service to expect the next time my family flies with you (but we might just opt to spend our $$ on Air Asia instead). 

Regards,Laura the Still Upset
#singaporeairlines

Posted in sadie the sequel, Traveling with Madeline

blizzards, airplanes, and a certain little toddler

This winter (such as it is, here in Vietnam), we'd been feeling that there wasn't enough challenge or excitement in our lives. So, the obvious remedy  was to take our two children, one of them a twenty-six month-old, on a eighteen hour flight. 

I remember how anxious I was when I first started flying with Madeline, usually between St. John's and Edmonton. She happened to be two year old at the time. Four years later, she could probably fly herself. Okay, maybe she still needs some assistance navigating the airports, but honestly, she is such an easy child to travel with. She packs and carries her own carry-on backpack, and is pretty happy to write in a journal, occupy herself with an activity sticker books (like these), or watch inflight programming. That's largely why I haven't posted much at all in the last couple of years about flying with her. It's very nearly like traveling with my husband, only she carries much less in her pockets  so I'm not waiting while she takes a really long time to get through airport security screening 🙂

But then, there is Sadie. She isn't really interested in stickers, colouring, or books, which is what her older sister occupied herself with on long flights at the same age. Sadie likes running, climbing, bubbles, playdough, and making things out of blocks – none of which really lend themselves well to air travel. I was either an optimist or an idiot, as I was carrying around about ten pounds of stickers, crayons, markers, and snacks in a large backpack. The great majority of those items never saw the light of day during our twelve-day trip. The keys to surving a long-haul flight with the toddler seem to come down to two things:

  1. Taking a night-time flight, so that 6-10 hours of the flights are absorbed by sleeping and do not require entertaining (or restraining) her.
  2. Having the Toy Story films on the inflight entertainment system. She could watch Buzz Lightyear and Woody all day long, I think.

 This actually worked out well on our out-going flight, leaving Hong Kong in the early evening. Our return flight was scheduled to leave NYC at 9:15 in the morning, which was quite a concern as there was a distinct possibility that she'd be awake for sixteen of those eighteen hours back to Saigon.

But hurrah – NYC received a dump of snow on Boxing Day!!!!! Our flight back on New Years Eve was delayed by something like six hours; we probably were the only passengers on flight CX841 who considered this to be the best news ever! And yes, the toddler slept for most of the flight. Thank goodness.