Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sundays from Singapore: Attack of the Marble Staircase


{Note: This message was written just after 9/11. I had a very hard time of it being so far from "home" and was very emotional for quite some time. Machine-gun toting guards were provided by the Singaporean government to stand in front of places like the American Club and the American School, which was very unnerving, to say the least.}

People have commented that I haven't written in a while and were wondering if I was still making observations about living in Singapore or had I become "one of them." Truthfully, life here is still as incomprehensible as ever, but the recent events in the US have admittedly left me speechless. I'm sure one of the taxi drivers told someone over the phone that he was carrying a carload of zombie-like Americans. Just kidding.

Quickly, we are all just fine here, but missing the US and everyone we know terribly. We have hit what we were warned was the inevitable skids, a time when the newness of an exotic location wears off and you miss all the things and people you took for granted back home.

Food is still a major problem, with the local food still unrecognizable and the ingredients for home cooking all tasting a bit "off." Who knew that ketchup could be so sweet or that sour cream had a distinctly lemon flavor and could be poured? I have sent my provisioner running to find American products I know how to use so that my stroganoff doesn't come out tasting like a dessert mousse with beef and mushroom chunks. With all the family favorite recipes turning out to be more of a culinary adventure than they can handle, ice cream and brownies have been elevated to an official food group. So instead of becoming svelte from all the walking, the "spread" continues. Sigh.

I bet you are wondering about the title of this message. Sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery, right? Actually, it refers to a dangerous and embarrassing tendency of the household staircase to assault climbers without warning. In this tale of suspense and horror, the afore mentioned stairs permit safe passage between floors on a daily basis, all the while on the lookout for the clueless one who forgets to remove their socks before ascending.

Slippery suckers!

The victims, so far, have been limited to my children, both of whom believed the greatest danger lay in descending the slippery, uncarpeted steps. Yesterday's attack was most sudden and alarming, with Almost Grown almost achieving the midway landing, before losing her footing and literally rolling down the stairs. My heart stopped as she landed with a splat in the living room as I desperately yanked at the recliner footrest handle. Through the confusion, Almost Grown managed to blurt out that she was okay. A survey of her injuries revealed two badly bruised knees and the humiliation of having reenacted the most classic of B movie falls. Not Quite Grown has also been victimized by the same perpetrator, but escaped without being catapulted out of the stairwell completely.

I'm sure that Nancy Drew would have seen justice done, but I had to content myself with giving the treads a vicious Swiffering as my revenge. Signs have been posted alerting the unsuspecting public to this nuisance and the instigation of a "No socks in the house" policy.

In other news, the girls and I are taking a Mandarin language class. We like the instructor very much, as she goes out of her way to explain why things are the way they are and does not ridicule us Westerners who have trouble with some of the sounds. Come to find out that Chinese people who speak what seems to be broken English are really just using Chinese sentence structure. For example, most of the time in Chinese, the words indicating "time" come at the beginning, and you don't use the verb "to be" before an adjective. So, instead of saying, "I was happy yesterday" you actually say, "yesterday, I happy."

The girls and I wrestle with the pronunciation of some of the consonants and combinations, such as "zh" (pronounced "jew") and the letter "c" which is pronounced "ts." Never in all my life have I seen so many z and x and q words. They also don't have any words for yes or no, only confirm or deny. I can't talk without those two!! We were given Xerox copies of what I suspect to be a child's placemat, with the letters and pictures of words that use those letters on it. After sounding out and explaining all of the pictures, we were assigned the task of formulating sentences for homework.

Given that we only had 5 verbs to use, our sentences will have little daily use. Almost Grown came up with "wo ting kuai le ci wei," which means "I hear a happy porcupine." I wrote the much more useable "wo bu chi yu mian" or "I don't eat fish noodles." Might actually try that out in public sometime. I don't know how often I can say "tamen de sheng da niu," they won a big cow. Not Quite Grown contributed "chi le ma?", have you eaten? and "ni ting gang qin ma?", you hear piano?

I am determined to learn as much as possible in the few class sessions there are. Around here, the price of things from a local vendor depends considerably on how "local" you are or can pretend to be. Shop often and wish them good fortune, is my motto. But I have broken the code on the reason Chinese people have such chiseled faces. It's hard to make these sounds and it makes your face hurt!

I hope everyone at home is safe and well. I am going now to whip up some "mei quo cai" or American food.

Love to all.



Celticspirit said...

Love your Singapore stories so keep on writing them. I'm gonna get back to blogging regularly now and reading other blogs too. I've missed reading yours.

Penny said...

Hi Lisa,
thanks for the insight on why a lot of Chinese speak in English "backwards"! Also, please go over and check out my blog, I have nominated you!