Tuesdays with Mahjong

16 01 2012

I’ve taken up a new hobby, as one tends to do when they have nothing else to do, and that is the game ‘Mahjong.’  It’s a Chinese game that could be compared to rummy except it’s played with tiles instead of cards.  I’ve heard that it’s fairly addictive and many of people have gambled away their savings and worldly possessions but don’t worry, we don’t even play for points let alone money.

The dealing is the most complicated part of the game.  Without going into great detail, everyone begins with 13 tiles except the dice roller, who has 14 and discards first to get the game going.

We move through, drawing and discarding in the hopes of putting our tiles into groups of 3.  You aim for 3 of a kind (called a pong) or a run (chow) and one pair.

My winning hand

We have a regular group that gets together Tuesday morning (we’ve started Thursday mornings now too – I guess it really is addictive) and we begin with tea and snacks before we get serious.  We’ll often get 8-10 games in before we must go for lunch.  It is quite fun and I find myself looking forward to Tuesday.  We’ve even discussed a game night where we’ll stick the men in one room to play poker and we’ll do mahjong – I know, we’re pretty wild.


Funny Little Story

11 01 2012

It was a friend’s birthday yesterday and a group of us ladies decided to go out for a late afternoon drink to a little place downtown on the water.  One of the ladies ordered a gin & tonic but emphasized that she’d like just a little gin (they have a tendency to pour half and half here.)  We drank our drinks and when it came time to go we began to break down the bill.  We noticed the server had forgot to charge for the gin and being the good people we are, we let her know so she could fix it.

Well she explained to us that the gin was free because it was just a little .

I saw it and it was clearly a full shot in the cup.

Lessons learned –

Alcohol really is cheap here.
Next time I feel like a highball, order ‘just a little’ and the booze is on the house!


An Evening with the Ladies

9 01 2012

Expat housewives are always looking for something to do, particularly, another social event to organise.  We tend to do a ladies night every couple of months which switches up our normal morning cafés and it gives us something to look forward to.  This time, our Japanese friend proposed a dinner at her house and invited the women who walk in the morning.

Generally, we each bring a dish and wine or champagne to drink.  This time I decided to make a cheesecake.  Like, a real one.  I’ve made a few things that call themselves cheesecake but they’re really just dessert with cream cheese in them.  I knew it was a bit ambitious as I’d never made one before and I had heard they were a bit finicky but I felt I needed to make a proper showing.  Many of my housewife friends here are fantastic cooks and they always seem to have something delicious to bring.  I, on the other hand, am new to this housewife stuff and while I can certainly cook, I wouldn’t say I’m great at it.  I usually opt to bring an easy appetizer or if I can get away with bringing beer or wine I’m even happier because I’m never very confident about sharing what I make.

I kept my fingers crossed while rounding up the ingredients hoping everything I’d need would be in stock.  It was… but it certainly wasn’t cheap.

This cheesecake was going to cost almost $60 to make!

I joked with my friends that it had better work out or we were eating anyway and they would smile and tell me it was fantastic regardless!  Luckily, it was a success!  Aside from a few cracks when cooling (I’ll do a water bath next time) it turned out perfectly.

It tasted better than it looks here…

All in all, we had a lovely night and delicious food was brought by all.  I even boosted my baking confidence a bit!

Christmas In POG

28 12 2011

This year, we spent Christmas in POG and it was certainly much different than any other Christmas I’ve experienced.  Normally we’re in cold Canada, sipping caesars, playing games, opening stockings, watching movies and eating A LOT with our family.

We started the Christmas weekend off with a dinner out with friends December 23.

Chez Jimmy with friends

Christmas Eve was spent at a friends house.  Each of us brought a dish and drinks and we chatted, ate and laughed the night away.  When I looked around the table it was evident just how multicultural our lives have become – Joe and I represented Canada, our hosts were Japanese and we also had Indian, Indonesian and British couples.

Christmas day, Joe and I woke up and watched “A Christmas Story” downloaded ahead of time, ate cinnamon buns made by me, and relaxed.  Later on we spent a few hours on the beach before returning home to make Pad Thai.  Certainly not very Christmassy but fine nonetheless.

Beach time

However, I did enjoy something Canadian…

I’d been saving that “Caesar Pleaser” packet since August when a fellow Canadian gave it to me to try.  Not near as good as the ‘real’ thing but did fine in a jam.

New Friends?

26 10 2011

Since we returned to Gabon, I’ve been walking with a group of ladies.  I know it doesn’t sound like much but in Port Gentil it is.  We walk a long the ocean as it’s really the only place in town where there is a semi-sidewalk and the road is fully paved so we aren’t dodging cars.  In 30+ degree heat, at the end of our 45 minutes, we’re drenched.

We often walk first thing in the morning in hopes to avoid the more intense heat later on in the day.  A few weeks in, 3 stray dogs joined us on our walks.  They were quite nice and didn’t bother us at all.  They’d tag a long and when we reached the beach area they’d take off running and swimming and catch up to us again later.  Then they disappeared.  We walked for a week with no sign of them so we figured they’d moved to a different area of town.

One morning we walked our normal route and half way down the beach there pops up one of the dogs that used to walk with us.  He ran over to join us and we laughed as we realized that that particular morning, he was in a pack of 9.  All 9 came followed him.

So there we are, walking down the street with 9 dogs taking up half the road trying to walk alongside us.  We passed a police checkstop and they started by congratulating us on our exercise (not normal to see a group of white women walking) and then laughed as they commented on our ‘friends.’  Taxis honked and other expat friends who happened to drive by killed themselves laughing at the site of us.

I sure hope that if they join us again in the future it’s back to the group of 3 as 9 is just way too many dogs!

What do you do?

20 10 2011

When you meet someone new one of the first things you ask is, “What do you do?”  It’s an easy conversation starter and in our culture, our career is so much of our life.  I defined myself as a teacher before anything else, especially in the first couple of years of teaching, because my profession consumed the majority of my life.

In the expat community, the wives are defined by their husband, their home country, their language and the company they are with.  When you meet a newcomer the first questions you ask are, “What company are you with,” or “Where are you from,” and even, “What does your husband do?”  Here, we’re all housewives.  If we asked one another “What do you do,” I think the response would be “Nothing really.”

Today, after our morning walk, we stopped for a coffee.  A girl I’ve known for quite some time now asked me, “What did you do at home?”  I explained that I was a teacher and she told me that she was a petroleum engineer.  I found it so odd that we’ve been acquaintances for so long now and neither of us knew what each other did, or I suppose, used to do.  Then I started thinking, I don’t know what the majority of my friends used to do.  Even the ones I’m quite close with.  Do all of us have these past lives that we hardly ever talk about?

Friends, Shopping, Eating & New Heights in Singapore

25 09 2011

As you all know, I was especially excited to see my friend Jeanie on our trip to Singapore.  Jeanie & I jive on just about everything and we certainly picked up just as we’d left off.  Jeanie was the perfect host; she always had a list of recommended things to do and she took us to things we wouldn’t necessarily have done.  It was so great to see that she is doing so well even though I did envy her a tad when I saw all of the luxuries she has become accustomed to. (I may, or may not be directly responsible for her ‘newish’ love of luxury items.)

It was a huge surprise when I received a message from an old friend of Joe & I’s who happened to be boarding a flight to Singapore.  Joe & I met Nao the same time we met each other, our first day of university on 1Mac.  Nao is Japanese and he completed his business degree in Canada and returned to Tokyo to begin what has become a very successful career at Goldman Sachs.  We, nor anyone else from 1Mac, heard very much from Nao since then – we knew that he was working like crazy but always wondered about him.

Joe, Nao & I on the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Nao was coming to Singapore for a conference and we arranged to meet each other for dinner & drinks.  I won’t lie, Joe and I were a bit nervous about our evening.  It had been 7 years since we saw Nao and we weren’t sure if he was going to be the same person we remembered.  He was – and our reunion was fantastic.  We talked about all our old friends, our new lives in Africa/Japan and plans for the future.  It was so great to catch up with Nao and to meet his girlfriend and as Joe and I returned to the hotel late that evening, we decided a trip to Tokyo must be put in the works.  (I’m sure Joe has been dreaming of driving Nao’s Ferrari ever since!)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Singapore’s national past time is shopping.  I have never seen so many malls in my life and these aren’t just mini strip malls with a bunch of dollar stores – these are high end, luxurious malls.  Any designer store you could dream of was there, and multiple times:  Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin, Cartier, Gucci, and many, many more.  Just when I thought I found the largest LV store I’d ever seen, I crossed the street and found another.  I have never seen anything like it, not even in Los Angeles.

Orchard Road - ION Shopping Centre from the outside

When Joe was in his course, I spent my time window-shopping and daydreaming.  I tried very hard to reason myself into going on a luxury shopping spree but reality hit – I live in Africa, what do I need from Prada???  My fingers are crossed so tightly for our next location – please let it be somewhere I can bring my Jimmy Choos!

When Singaporeans aren’t shopping, they’re eating.  Because of their diverse ethnic communities, you can eat just about anything you want.  Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and any Western food you could want from hawkers on the street to (extremely) expensive restaurants.  One night we ate satay and noodles at a street market, the next night was sausage and sauerkraut at a German pub and the next, one of the most expensive steaks I’ve ever had (and some delicious NY cheesecake flown in from the Bronx.)  My life was complete when I found Clamato at a specialty supermarket.  (This was possibly where I was cursing Jeanie a little under my breath!)

Joe pondering the menus at a street market.

The only downside to all of this was how expensive it was.  Sure, the street hawkers were reasonable but alcohol sure wasn’t!  To buy a can of beer (local beer at that) in 7-11 was $10.  In a restaurant, the cheapest we saw was $13.  My pomegranate martini at dinner one night cost $26 (it was so good it was worth it.)  I suppose you get used to it – just as we’ve become accustomed to $25 broccoli!

New Heights
Singapore has got some tall buildings and numerous of rooftop bars & restaurants.  We started our exploration of heights with the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel.  We then ventured much higher to One Raffles Place where we took an elevator to the 62nd floor, a whopping 282 m high for a drink (or 2) at a bar fittingly called, Altitude.  There was a glass railing around the perimeter no taller than me, no wire or mesh above that so I could peer over the railing to the ground below – freaky, but beautiful views of the city!

Jeanie & I on the Singapore Flyer

Going up? Heading to Altitude, all the way up there!

The Singapore Flyer on the left and Marina Bay Sands in the centre - both quite a bit smaller than where we were!

Later on in the week, Joe & I went to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel with Nao to Ku De Ta bar.  The hotel is relatively new to Singapore and it consists of 3 towers with a long boat perched on top.  It is really quite impressive to see.  Even more impressive that on the boat there’s not only the bar but also an infinity pool overlooking the city.  Unfortunately, you can’t use the pool without staying at the hotel and the hotel goes for $400 and up a night.  I wanted to stay there so badly even just for one night but my conscience (Joe) got the better of me.  Maybe next time….

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

View from the top of the hotel - the tallest building with the bright white lights at the top was where we were a couple of nights before.