Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas To All

Christmas is here! You can't say that you weren't warned. Some malls in Singapore had their Christmas decorations up before Halloween. Hopefully you've all managed to complete Santa's list for those very special people who brighten our lives on a regular basis.

Christmas has always been full of wonder and magic, but mostly it has been a time of togetherness. Though it can be stressful to journey far and wide to come back to those that really matter, the effort of getting there melts away when you see the delight on the faces of those you have not gazed upon in some time. Due to flight delays and missed connections, it took me over 28 hours to get back home to Portland from Singapore. Now that I am here with family and friends those 28 hours were nothing more than an investment that is now paying off ten fold.

The magic comes from the unexpected surprises that always seem to arise during this time of year. Such it is with the early arrival of Mr. Alexander Taylor-Williams, the new first born child of my friends Jonathan and Nicole. I guess the little guy didn't want to miss out on his first ever Christmas and who could blame him. This will surely make the Taylor-Williams household a magical place this holiday season and for many more to come.

Now the wonder of the season can often be found in many ways. For example: I wonder if I will ever step inside a shopping mall again, I wonder how I am going to eat that slice of pumpkin pie when I am already stuffed, I wonder if Notre Dame will stop playing football after this season's dismantling in the Insight Bowl from the Oregon State Beavers, I wonder if political correctness has run its course and we can once again celebrate and call Christmas by its true name without fear of offending the sensibilities and feelings of hyper-sensitive secular wet-blankets, I wonder if it will snow on Christmas Day (sorry my SE Asian friends -- if it happens where you are, we are all in trouble), I wonder if I will have the time to catch up with all my friends while I am back home in Oregon, I wonder if I can hit "shift-delete" on all my emails that I received while I was on vacation and have no one notice, I wonder if anyone reads my blog anymore, I wonder if I could bottle up the wonderful scent of a freshly-cut Christmas Tree and bring it back to my apartment in Singapore, I wonder what I will be doing on New Years, I wonder what 2005 might look like, I wonder... oh, how I wonder.

Wonder, magic, and togetherness. No Christmas is complete for me without them. I do hope that each and everyone of you reading this entry, and to all my friends and acquaintances from around the world, have a very Merry Christmas. And regardless of faith, ethnicity, nationality, or background... try your best to experience a little wonder, magic, and togetherness this time of year. Guarantee it will make you smile.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A Special Time for Renewal

No better place to find blog inspiration than on the island of Bali

Hiatus, sabbatical, vacation, holiday are all words that describe the simple act of taking a little down time to invest in one’s self and the things that you most appreciate. For me, I am in the midst of this state of mind.

I am lucky enough to have my parents visiting from the States. It is their first ever journey to Asia and I have assembled some trips and activities that will hopefully ensure that their first trip to Asia will be a most memorable one. By the end of their 3 ½ week stay they will have seen Singapore, the Island of Bali, and Bangkok, Thailand.

The best part so far of my renewal was having my family here in Singapore with me on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in most American families generally means getting together and celebrating our blessings through good food and each other. Getting together takes on a whole new meaning however when you are separated geographically by a few oceans and several thousand miles and time zones like our family.

Now my parents may disagree after an 18 ½ hour journey from Portland to Singapore (not including transfers and layovers), but I think getting everyone together was the easiest part. Getting the Thanksgiving dinner prepared this year was more of a challenge, and you will soon read why…

Singapore is admittedly a very western city by Asian standards. Completing the Thanksgiving shopping list can still present challenges. My Mom was pretty industrious and was successful in sneaking several containers of her favorite herbs and spices within her luggage in order to try and re-create the flavors of the holidays. We still had to find the main ingredients however, and I was worried with the recent outbreaks of Bird Flu that we may have difficulties finding a Turkey.

My local co-workers turned me onto a grocery store here in town that specialized in Western/Ex-Pat food and said I would easily be able to fulfill all my holiday needs. Jason’s, the name of the store, did not disappoint. It was like walking into a boutique grocery store back home. I was ecstatic when I walked over to the poultry section and saw frozen turkeys with the ButterBall brand stamped on the packaging. For those of you reading this blog from outside the States, Butterball is an American company that processes turkeys, so seeing this name was like a seal of approval from a trusted and recognized name. We then found corn, potatoes, string beans, and bread crumbs to be used in Mom’s famous turkey stuffing. But when it was time to find the perfect dessert for our festive holiday meal, there was a small challenge.

Typically, pumpkin pie is the traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but I almost laughed out load when I overheard my Mom ask a clerk at Jason’s for where they kept the frozen pies. The helpful clerk escorted my Mom over to the frozen food section where she stood in front of an array of… English Meat Pies! Not quite what my Mom had in mind, so we were temporarily foiled in completing our Turkey Day list. There would be other challenges in completing this special meal.

After work on Thanksgiving Day, I headed to the grocery store that is near my office in one last attempt to find a nice dessert for our family meal. I was so excited when I was able to find a frozen pumpkin pie. And to make it doubly nice, I also found a can of whipped cream to put the perfect topping on our pie. I piled into the cab with my bounty and headed home fully expecting to be proclaimed the Holiday Hero for completing our list. However when I burst through the door to my apartment I knew something had gone wrong.

My Mom was sitting in my chair with a look of despair on her face. There was also a noticeable lack of holiday aroma coming from the kitchen. Mom looked up and said that the oven in my apartment was broken and even after having several people from my unit inspect the situation, there was no way to get it to work, and hence no way to cook the turkey and all the trimmings. Thanksgiving dinner was off, after all the work, excitement, and expectation. I opened up my cell phone directory and punched up Pizza Hut, who I happened to have on speed-dial. We dined on pizza instead that night, disappointed but thankful that at least we were all together.

I didn’t give up on my Thanksgiving vision and was able to get the phone numbers of some oven repairmen from my local Singaporean friends. By the end of the evening I had secured a repairman to come out the next morning. I told him that his job was to help save Thanksgiving. Nothing like a little motivation to hopefully bring out someone’s best efforts.

The friendly repairman showed up, early no less, to help save our holiday. He was able to re-wire the circuitry that was blowing out the fuse each time we turned on the oven. I paid his modest service fee and invited him back for some turkey later on. Mom then swung into full gear and began to turn my kitchen into a Turkey Command Terminal. Dad and I knew best to stay out of her way when she got “in the zone”.

In the meantime, I phoned Tracie, my co-worker’s wife. Tracie’s husband, James, and I were one of the few Americans in the Singapore office. I knew that James was away in India on a week-long business trip and that Tracie would be in Singapore alone on Thanksgiving. I called her up and told her that my parents and I would love to have her join us. Tracie arrived with two bottles of wine and a set of four new wine glasses for me as a gift. She must have known that my normal dinner settings usually came from the House of Plastic.

My apartment never smelled so good, as turkey and all the other holiday ingredients filtered out of the kitchen. My humble dinning table was set with some of the finest food I had witnessed in my short six months in Singapore. I was surrounded by family and friends enjoying a meal that recaptured the flavors and feelings of the holidays. Although Thanksgiving had come one day late, we still came together as a family. We realized it was not so much about the physical date but rather the generous act of bringing together family and friends to share and celebrate. We all truly have so much for which to be thankful.