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Friday, July 27, 2012

Homecoming is sweet

The sun's been unforgiving, jet lag lingers, and I still miss our car.

But being bathed with love does have the tendency to take the edge of things like that :) It's been a wonderful homecoming and as it gradually sinks in that we've moved back to Singapore permanently-- you mean, I don't have to cram every family commitment, social engagement, and food imperative into 20 days??-- it's also slowly feeling more and more like we've made the right decision. In particular, Sophie is SO happy to be here. She wakes up with a smile every morning, asking if she's going to see one set of grandparents or the other today; her face lights up with delight when she's informed that she will indeed be; and she's been so curious and accepting of all the new sights and sounds she's encountered just in the last three days alone. She waves at everyone she sees, asks about the plants she's never seen before, is immensely thrilled by the prospect of one day riding on a double-decker bus ("How do they get up there, Mama?" she asks, eyes widening in amazement...), and asks to translate everything into Chinese, which she seems to recognize as the second most widely spoken language in Singapore.

She still thinks her friends and teachers from daycare are "on their way here"-- I think she didn't really get the whole goodbye Gretchen's House part-- but apart from that, we couldn't have asked for a more wholehearted embrace of Singapore from her. The real test will be when she starts school of course, but until then, we're pretty confident that she's loving her new home as much as we could have hoped for her to :)

Cousin love with Julianne!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Our last day

View of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 1
View of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 1

In the end, it was a fitting way to end our last whole day in the U.S. Of all the things we will miss about this country-- and Northern California in particular-- this is one of the most significant- the breathtaking vision of the Pacific Ocean from Highway 1. There's something in that wild, untameable, almost violent oceanscape that gets me every time, a profound reminder almost, that Life is larger than our immediate cares. Which is sort of how we're viewing the next stage of our lives in Singapore-- the end of one adventure merely signifies the beginning of another; and another will follow after. As our friend, Rachael reminded us today, "Life is long."

The next time I blog, we will be several time zones away. We will miss our life here in the U.S. but a new exciting adventure beckons us in Singapore. We are looking forward to being with family, to reconnect with old friends, and to build a home in a country that hasn't really felt like home for nine years now...

Here's to finding our New Normal.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How we spent our last 36 hours in Ann Arbor

1. Jude and Sophie spent the morning at the Hands-On Museum: We've spent so much time here with Sophie over the years, the attendants at the front desk don't even bother checking our membership card anymore when we visit.
2. Final drop-off at the Salvation Army: I've lost count of how many boxes we've taken to them. Every time we think we've brought our last box, we find enough things to fill another...
3. Gave Tempest a final car wash: It deserved it and we wanted to hand it over to Dan and Wendy in as clean a condition as we could get it.
4. Spent the rest of the day with the people we love and hold dear in Ann Arbor: thank you everyone for braving the scorching heat and coming to our farewell party. Thank you for your kind words, hugs, kisses, tears, and years of friendship. You mean more to us than you can ever imagine. Thank you also for being so enthusiastic about our white elephant game and taking a little piece of us with you, whether it was a bag of binder clips, dishwashing detergent, or batteries :)
5. Did our last load of laundry in Ann Arbor: And as a result, slept at 1.30am getting packing done.

1. Woke up early to do last minute packing.
2. Threw last bulk of trash (including everything that was left in the fridge, bathroom, and basement)
3. Stripped our bed and sent it off with a friend who thankfully allowed us a final night on a proper bed instead of on our quilts or an inflatable bed like we thought we'd have to.
4. Said our last goodbyes to our neighbors: we had an impromptu breakfast in our shared backyard and it was really really nice.
5. Made sure the cleaning lady came and left our keys with her. It was hard handing over the keys to a place you've called home for the past 8 years.
6. Had lunch at Zingerman's. But of course. We had our favorite #13- grilled Sherman's Sure Choice (corned beef, coleslaw, and white cheddar, and a side of mac & cheese. That really made leaving Ann Arbor even harder. Jude likened it to breaking up- "Really, it's not you; it's me."
7. Spent the next couple of hours with the Cooney-Flanigans at their house: we made/ate popcorn, Sophie got in some quality Julianne time (even got to see Ginny, their cat, who she adores), and we just talked. Like it was any other visit we've paid to them. Except it wasn't. Saying goodbye to them was tough- together with the Cooks, they've been the closest thing to family we had in Ann Arbor. And having had them all in our lives these past 9 years has been nothing but a complete privilege. We've been so blessed...

There's an Ann Arbor-shaped place in our hearts that no other city will fill. Bye bye A2- you have NO idea how much you'll be missed.

Bye, house!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bye bye, Gretchen's House

Huge hug from Harmony
Big goodbye hug from Harmony

It was a very strange jumble of emotions-- sadness, wistfulness, gratitude, and an odd sort of pride-- as we bade farewell to Gretchen's House this evening. It didn't feel like that long ago when we first visited GH to decide whether or not to send Sophie there, or her first day in the Baby Room 2.5 years ago. It's been her second home since then and she knows the place-- and the people-- pretty much inside out. Sophie knows all the teachers by name, almost all the children in her wing, their siblings, and often, even their parents too! We would choose to send Sophie to GH again if we had to things all over and I really can't think of a better place for Sophie to have spent such a significant part of her life.

Everyone there has taken such wonderful care of her, even if they weren't her primary care givers, and it is obvious that everyone knows her, as in really knows her-- not just her name, but her personality, likes (the Muppets, dinosaurs, sand, and the color purple) and dislikes (spiders, tornadoes, and "scary things"...) And that's where the pride thing comes in. At pick-up today, not only did all the teachers and principal come up to us to say their goodbyes, they were genuinely sad to see Sophie go. Everyone clamored to give her hugs and kisses (sometimes multiple times), some even teared up, and we were made to promise to send emails and photo updates of how Sophie does at her new school in Singapore. Everyone just stood there, morose at having to let her go. And strangely, that was the moment that made us feel that as her parents, we must be doing at least something right. That Sophie's a child people would miss, whose positive presence was something others were sad to see go.

I think a part of Sophie was sad to leave GH. She understood that it's her last day at school; which is why I think she took some time to hang out in the Baby Room, the place where it all started (see here)...

Re-visiting the Baby Room where it all started
Remembering her time in the Baby Room way back when

But the other part of her also couldn't quite understand what the fuss was all about. Her teachers and I were probably more emotional about the whole thing than she was (I started crying the moment we walked out of GH- ask Jude). Sophie knows we're moving to Singapore, but she also told all her teachers and friends that they'll be moving with us. And that they'll be sleeping in her Singapore school ;) So maybe that's why the real sadness of separation didn't really sink in for her. She was more than happy to receive hugs and kisses from everyone and was free and generous with hers, but whether or not she truly comprehended the profundity of the goodbyes, well, that remains to be seen. Who knows if she might wake up one morning a month from now in our apartment in Singapore and start demanding to see her teachers and friends at GH preschool?...

More photos here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A very Singaporean farewell

[click for full album]

1. My wonderful co-workers!!!!, 2. Surprise!!, 3. Hand made Singapore flag banners!, 4. American "classics" I had never eaten before

No one has cooler co-workers than I did. NO ONE. Because if you did, you'd have had a Singapore-themed farewell party thrown for you. Did your co-workers throw you said party? No? See, that's why my co-workers are the best!

It was a party befitting a research center-- no one there knew anything about Singapore, and so what did they do? Research! In the end, everyone's place card was of a famous Singaporean-- Dick Lee, Kumar, Lee Kuan Yew, Phua Chu Kang, etc.-- and there was a string banner of handmade Singaporean flags (which I don't think I've actually ever seen in Ann Arbor), complete with painstakingly hand cut stars. My co-workers had shut me in my room and I had no idea what they were doing. So imagine my utter surprise and delight when I walked in to see what they had done- it was so so so wonderful :)

The menu was as diametrically opposed to that as possible, though- the food theme was "American Classics Serene Has Not Yet Eaten" ;) And so on the menu was an old school tuna casserole (complete with canned corn, Campbell cream of mushroom soup, and shredded cheese), Sunny-D orange drink (I hesitate to use the term "juice" because I'm not sure how much juice there actually is in Sunny-D), mac & cheese from a box, jello salad, all manner of Hostess cakes, banana pudding, and other processed American delights :) Everything pretty much looked like it was the same color-- Basic Beige-- and I didn't even want to know what the calorie, sugar, and sodium content of some of the foods were; but it all tasted delicious because it was put together with so much fun and good cheer.

It really was the best farewell party anyone could have asked for and I'm so going to miss working with these folks. This was my first real job after graduation and I looked forward to going to work everyday because I loved what I did and I loved the people I worked with. And there really isn't much more a person can ask for in a job.

"Research" rocks!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eating Flying Spaghetti Monsters

Sophie's dinner tonight

This is what I imagine dinner is like in the Ridley Scott household- amidst conversations about aliens and extraterrestrial lifeforms, the Scott children eat whole wheat pasta threaded through chicken dogs ;) I told Sophie she was eating Flying Spaghetti monsters and their monster eggs. And she inhaled dinner like it was her job :)

This was actually my way of jazzing up whatever's left in our fridge for the poor girl. Between purging the house and not having time to cook properly, not wanting to accumulate more food that we might not be able to finish eating, and packing up the kitchen, it's been difficult to make sure that Sophie eats nutritiously and enjoyably. We don't really care if we have to eat take-out for the rest of the week, but I can't imagine feeding Sophie chicken nuggets and hotdogs for the next 5 days.

And so thanks to Pinterest, I decided to make dinner a little fun for her. I broke uncooked whole wheat spaghetti into half, pierced them through chicken dogs that I had cut into thirds, and just threw them into boiling water. Everything took 20 minutes tops, including boiling the peas in the microwave.

Sophie thought it was a hoot and attacked the spaghetti monsters with glee, starting with the "tentacles" and eating her way into the "guts". She had so much fun with them :)

She inhaled dinner like it was her job :)

Monday, July 09, 2012


We leave Ann Arbor in a week and to say goodbye, I made this video to remember our 9 years here. It was wonderful going through hundreds of photos to put this together, but it was also bittersweet, reliving memories and thinking about how much we're going to miss everyone and everything we've held dear over the years.

Thanks, Ann Arbor- you've been great to us...

Goodbye, Michigan from serene koh on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Goodbye, Tempest

Tempest is home, in our parking lot
Our VW Jetta SportsWagen, the day we bought it

As of last evening, we no longer own a car.

One of the most important things we had to do before we moved was to make sure we sold our car to pay off the loan that remains on it. Thankfully, our good friends, Dan and Wendy were on the market for a new car and bought it from us. The papers were signed yesterday and the car now officially belongs to them. But being the fantastic people that they are, they're letting us drive it till our last day in Ann Arbor- told you they're fantastic :)

We love our car-- Tempest, as Sophie affectionately calls it (after its color, Tempest blue). We've never owned a brand new car before this and it took a lot of shopping, researching, and bargaining (mostly on Jude's part) before we settled on a Volkswagen Jetta SportsWagen. And it's one of the best purchases we've ever made. Driving-- whether it's just around town or road trips to Chicago-- has never been more enjoyable thanks to the smooth ride, built-in SiriusXM satellite radio, and the assurance that it's probably the safest car there is on the market.

Sophie sometimes even talks about Tempest like it's a part of the family-- asking whether it needs gas, "telling" it to take us places, "thanking" it for protecting her from the rain and wind outside, and "apologizing" to it whenever she spills something in the car. We just told her that Dan and Wendy are "helping us take care of Tempest" when we're in Singapore (I don't think she quite grasps the intricacies of buying and selling yet) and I think it comforts her somewhat- "Now Tempest will take Julianne and Tobin (their kids) to the store too!", she says :)

We've been casually looking at cars in Singapore and considering whether or not we can afford one. And it doesn't look like we can, not immediately anyway. Cars are obscenely expensive back home; besides, we couldn't buy a model like Tempest even if we could afford to- the VW Jetta SportsWagen is not available in Asia. We've always loved VWs and now that we've been spoiled by having actually owned one, it's going to be hard finding a car that we'll (Sophie included) love just as much... :(

Saturday, July 07, 2012

What Sophie has to say about The Move

T minus 9 days
T minus 9 days

[When she woke up from her nap and came downstairs to see that we had taken down all the posters from the wall and that we had dismantled her lemonade stand] Oh wow, it looks so different!

I will help pack my kitchen set, and my books, and also my work table. But I cannot do the work table by myself. It is too heavy. It is a Dada job.

[As we're sorting through her books and deciding which ones to bring with us first and which ones to go with the movers] I think "10 Little Rubber Ducks" will go on the ship. They can swim if they fall off the ship.

I know what- I have a great idea! Let's bring my dinosaurs to Singapore too! Then Mr. Triceratops can see the Merlion spit the water out!

[When we ask her if she's going to miss her friends and teachers at Gretchen's House] No. Because they will come with me to Singapore. And they will sleep in my Singapore school.

I am happy to go to Singapore. But also a little bit sad.
[When we ask why she's a little bit sad...] Because I'm not a lot sad.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Thinking back

In front of the Union
Us in front of the Michigan Union, 20 August 2003

This is us, nine years ago, hanging out on a campus that we were just getting to know. We had been married less than 2 months and you could say that this was the beginning of a very long extended honeymoon away from our families... :)

Packing up our house and saying goodbye to people has naturally gotten me thinking about our first days in Ann Arbor, and surprisingly, I remember them quite vividly. It was 10 Aug 2003 and I remember our flight out to Detroit from Singapore being really early in the morning, which meant that I had to be at the airport by 3.30am. And yet, despite the ungodly hour, our nearest and dearest friends and family turned up to see us off. It was a significant crowd which was wonderful and yet so sad, because it made saying goodbye just that much harder. We had no idea then that we'd end up staying for almost a decade, but even just a couple of years away from home seemed such a long time then...

We arrived in Detroit on a Sunday and had to check into a motel in Ann Arbor-- the Red Roof Inn on Plymouth Road-- because we couldn't collect the keys to our apartment on a weekend. Our first meal was at the Big Boy's next door- Jude had a meatloaf meal and I had the Caesar salad. Don't ask me why I remember... They tasted unremarkable. I think we were really tired by then, American classics, or not. Not knowing what our breakfast situation would be like, we bought some fruit strips and granola bars from CVS, the pharmacy close by, and ended up really eating them for breakfast the next morning.

We make it to our one-bedroom apartment the next day and it was pretty much what we expected. It was fully furnished-- very retro '70s without meaning to be retro-- and nothing to write home about. I do remember being constantly perturbed by the poop-brown carpeting though. Anyways, we make it to campus to officially matriculate and get our student IDs all sorted out. We would keep those same ID cards for the next 7 years (before we were issued new ones after graduation). We had lunch at the Union where I foolishly ordered pad thai from the now defunct Magic Wok, thinking that it would remind us of home. Like I said, foolish. It tasted like rice noodles fried with soy sauce with peanuts crushed over it. I was not hopeful at that point about the availability of good Asian food in Ann Arbor. Thank goodness the years have proven me wrong.

In the evening, we decided it was time to stock up our apartment with household supplies and we walked over to Kroger, the closest grocery store to us. We bought toiletries, toilet paper, a frying pan, cooking implements, two mugs, a bunch of other things, etc. And dinner. A roast chicken. This I remember vividly. What I also remember vividly is sitting in our spartan apartment tearing into the chicken with our bare hands because we hadn't bought utensils. And cleaning our hands on toilet paper because we didn't buy paper napkins or kitchen towels. There were also packets of ketchup we had "taken" from MacDonald's. Fun times... :)

Oh, and then two days later-- after moving almost 10,000 miles away from home to a firstworld country that is widely-acknowledged to be the only super-power left in the world-- we get caught in the great Northeast blackout of 2003, the second most widespread blackout in history that affected 45 million people in the U.S.

Now *that*, was fun...

Some photos from those early days here.