We had an overnight layover in KL on our way back to Singapore, and it was cool. The food was still good.
We had an overnight layover in KL on our way back to Singapore, and it was cool. The food was still good.
Our friend Cynthia asked if we would like to join her, her husband Monty, their son Zephyr, and his friend Nicholas on an eco-tour in the jungles of Borneo. Cynthia and Monty are among the most adventurous travelers we know so we were more than happy to piggyback on their vacation. It never would have occurred to me to journey to Borneo (indeed when we went to get vaccinations before our trip the nurse admitted she didn’t know which vaccines to recommend because “No one ever goes to Borneo!”) but it ended up being a fantastic experience. The kids were delighted, especially with their new, much older, way cooler friends. I was delighted with the food: lots of fresh tropical fruit, curry, noodles, spices, yummy things I love.
We traveled by boat from Sandakan to Selingan Island, aka Turtle Island, to watch a sea turtle laying eggs and hatchlings released into the ocean. This was definitely a highlight of the whole trip but one of the lasting effects was unexpected: I inadvertently turned my kids into coffee fiends. Dozens of turtles waded onto the shores of Turtle Island every night to lay their eggs, but the timing of when tourists would be allowed to watch a particular turtle was unpredictable. After dinner we had to wait in the cafeteria for a park ranger to summon us to the beach, and the summons could happen anytime between 8pm and 11pm. After several early mornings and long travel days, I was worried about the kids getting too sleepy; we had paid all this money and come all this way and I was damned if I was going to let my kids fall asleep during this once-in-a-lifetime event. Who knows if sea turtles are going to exist anymore when they grow up? I fear we will all be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland by then. So, I mixed a half cup of coffee with plenty of milk and sugar for each of them and they downed their cups and smacked their lips. They’ve been hooked ever since and always beg for sips of coffee whenever they see me drinking it now.
After Turtle Island we visited an orangutan rehabilitation center as well as the Borneo sun bear conservation center, and then made our way to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge. The kids thought it was the coolest resort ever. Over the next few days we boarded multiple river cruises on motorboats in search of wildlife in the rainforest. We also went on lots of nature hikes and toured a stinky bat cave, sidestepping armies of roaches scurrying over layers of poop from thousands of swallows fluttering overhead.
Overall it was a wonderful adventure, enhanced by wonderful company: awesome friends, an awesome husband, and two awesomely intrepid little explorers.
We had always regretted not staying longer in Singapore during our first visit in 2013, and decided to make it our home base for this summer’s expeditions. We stayed at the Swissotel Merchant Court each time, with its distinctively funky, dank basement smell so common and familiar throughout Asia. Although the food was as tasty as we remembered, we didn’t remember Singapore being so freaking hot. Granted, we were practically on the equator in the dead of summer, so it was scorching HOT. The kids fared reasonably well, the girl more so than the boy, who constantly begged to call an Uber.
We did all things Singaporean: chowed down on hawker stall food, visited Gardens by the Bay as well as the Cloud Forest Dome, ordered Singapore Slings at Raffles Hotel, breakfasted on kaya toast, roti canai, and teh tarik, meandered through Clarke Quay, checked out an art museum, saw a light show at Marina Bay Sands from Merlion Park, feasted on black pepper crab, chili crab, salted egg crab, all kinds of crab!
This was the birthday party to end all birthday parties. Not that it was some epic affair by any means. It was a fairly pedestrian, Pokémon-themed event, although there was a pretty cool animal presentation by a Safari guide. No, it was the birthday party that literally made me not want to throw birthday parties anymore. As I was stuffing stupid goody bags with useless plastic objects and noisemakers, things I knew parents hated and immediately threw away because I hated them and immediately threw them away, I was overcome with disgust. Why were we participating in this senseless ritual just because other people did? How awful was it to be contributing to landfill waste and environmental pollution just to entertain a bunch of 7-year-olds for a split second? Was my son even going to know or remember any of these kids after elementary school? The party was supposed to last three hours and after an hour in the company of over a dozen loud, rambunctious boys, I was counting down the minutes until they left. I vowed never to assemble another stupid goody bag again.
My introverted tendencies already hamper my kids’ social life. I can’t be bothered with play dates and we rarely do kid-centric activities. Kid stuff bores me and Tom and I live by the philosophy that kids should conform to adult preferences and not the other way around. We’re not total jerks, though. So we came up with the idea of offering the kids a choice each year for their birthday: a party or a trip. The thing is, we know how to make traveling so fun that it’s not really a fair competition. If my kid picks a stupid Pokémon party over a Hawaiian vacation next year then I have not raised him right.
We rented a house in Miami to vacation with another family over spring break. The owner called it a “villa” but really it was just a big house with a pool. We picked the house for its proximity to the beach; it was supposed to have been walking distance but we attempted the walk only once because street construction by the house was horrendous. There was a massive pit right outside our front door. So we ended up having to drive and park everywhere, which was precisely what we were trying to avoid. That was my biggest gripe.
My second biggest gripe about Miami was that when Tom took me to dinner at a swanky hotel restaurant for date night, the waiter manipulated me into ordering crab claws by telling me they were about to be taken off the menu. As soon as you tell me I won’t be able to have something it becomes infinitely more enticing to me. So I ordered the crab claws as an appetizer. Then the waiter asked, “Do you want one or two?” Who the hell orders one crab claw? Nature created them in pairs. I gave my husband two children, I deserve to have my own crab claw without having to share that too. When the bill came at the end of the meal I saw (2) crab claws – $70. On what planet does a single crab claw cost $35?? Maybe Mars, where water might exist but crab claws definitely don’t. But Miami is surrounded by the ocean, did this restaurant have Martian crab claws shipped in? WTAF.
Despite these hardships, we actually managed to have fun in Miami, and got lots of cute pictures of the kids.
We booked flights through Singapore Airlines for our summer vacation and ended up on their promotional mailing list, which meant receiving fare sale alerts every so often. The fare sale to Tokyo was too good to pass up so I ended up booking a random week-long trip for Tom and myself over Valentines. Japan had been a life-altering experience for me and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return. I wanted to visit areas we hadn’t seen yet and decided on Osaka, known for its food scene, and Hakone, known for its hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji.
Japan is and will always be a phenomenal place, but if I’m being honest…it wasn’t quite as phenomenal the second time around, for a variety of reasons that weren’t Japan’s fault. It’s not you, baby, it’s me. First of all, it was cold as fuck in February. Note to self: if you live in Denver where wintertime temperatures are frigid, maybe avoid traveling to a country with an equally frigid climate? Maybe opt for a tropical destination if you’re trying to escape the cold? I have no idea how I lived through so many New England winters during my formative years but I do not handle the cold well, at all. If the temperature drops below 78°F I want to be immobile underneath a down comforter. That’s not an option on vacation, so I donned multiple layers and my trusty L.L. Bean fleece parka, which is basically like walking around in a sleeping bag. Long gone are the days of sacrificing comfort for cuteness. I looked like some forlorn arctic voyager wandering the streets of Tokyo and Osaka.
The food bar had been set so high during our first tour of Japan that Osaka turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The local cuisine, like takoyaki (octopus balls that were unexpectedly mushy inside) and okonomiyaki (a pancake/omelet/pasta/frittata concoction that was also mushy), was fine; we just didn’t enjoy it as much. The city itself was grittier and more industrial than Tokyo and not nearly as impressive. Tokyo itself wasn’t as impressive because the novelty had worn off and being there without the kids made me ridiculously sad. Whenever we had a really cool experience, I kept wishing the kids were with us so they could experience it too. I missed them like crazy. This was the first vacation where I realized that I didn’t want to vacation without my kids anymore. Being without them was like going back to black-and-white after living life in technicolor.
The highlight of the trip was definitely our stay at the ultra-lux Hakone-Ginyu. I was so impressed by our experience in Kyoto that I was eager to stay at another ryokan. Hakone-Ginyu blew our prior experiences out of the water. It was unbelievably gorgeous. Every vista, every corner was a sumptuous feast for the eyes. I could not stop taking pictures of everything I saw. Japanese aesthetic sensibilities are on a level beyond anything I’ve seen elsewhere. And the kaiseki meals at Hakone-Ginyu—to die for. Add the luxurious hot springs onsen (the piping hot outdoor water bath) and I was in heaven.
We bought the Hakone Freepass which allowed us to explore popular sights by train, cable car, cruise, and other fun modes of transportation. But for the cold temperatures it would have been the perfect getaway, and I would love to return to Hakone in the spring or summer. I would love to return to Tokyo as well, except I know it will have to be with the kids. I can’t wait to introduce them to Japanese culture and cuisine. This is a society that prizes its food like jewels on display. As you can tell from my excessive food pictures, I’m obsessed with eating delicious things. On many occasions we would finish a meal and immediately get in line for our next meal. Maybe the reason why I’m so drawn to Japan is because the enjoyment of food is not only perfectly acceptable, it’s a priority.
We decided to throw a joint birthday/house-warming party because we thought it’d be fun to destroy our new home in celebration of the girl’s 8th birthday.