Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas in the Lion City

I've been away from home during Christmas before, but never this far. This year's Christmas was celebrated with Katherine's family in Singapore. Here are my observations.

Unlike in the United States, where 76% claim adherence to Christianity, Christmas in a country where only 18% of its residents are Christian is understandably a different experience.

Since most Singaporeans are buddhists, the observed holiday is mostly secular. However, there are traditional midnight masses and Christmas Day services for christians wishing to attend.

In general, the materialism of Christmas is not hyper-inflated in Singapore. Shopping malls have modest decorations of garland and some lights. Most malls do not have a humungous Christmas tree. Also absent is the ubiquitous Christmas music prevalent in the States. The main shopping district, Orchard Road is festively decorated with Christmas lights. But also curious to note was the Chinese New Year (Horse, Jan 31) decorations a few blocks away in the heart of China town.

Gift exchanging is not common. If there is an exchange of gifts, it's focused on the children. Even then, it's a modest affair.

The Christmas Eve dinner celebrated at my brother-in-law's household had a turkey and stuffing, but it also had pineapple fried rice, and we contributed a balsamic Waldorf salad. Interestingly, because most Singaporeans do not have ovens -- too much heat in the kitchen -- the turkey was catered in. I was actually quite surprised, and a bit delighted, to have  a traditional turkey dinner in Asia. From what I gathered, it's not too uncommon to have turkey for Christmas here. The bird was quite tasty, and also to my delight, not dry.

Christmas Day is an official holiday in Singapore. Government, banks, and most non-retail businesses are closed. Retail, however is a different thing. In fact, contrary to the States, on Christmas Day, malls are open at normal time and are bustling with shoppers. Entertainment venues like movie theaters and amusement parks are also packed. Singaporeans are hard working folks. Holidays are a treat to get out and enjoy it.

Katherine and I spent the afternoon with our niece at a water themed amusement park. 

Christmas decorations on Orchard Road

Santa in a carriage pulled by horses. Rudolf was drowning his red nose in a Singapore Sling down the road at the famous Raffles hotel. 

China town is ready for the year of the horse (Jan 31). This lead horse was pretty ginormous; about 50 other horses nearly as big galloped behind 

A suspended stream of coins symbolizing good luck and fortune followed the horses 

Smaller horses spotted on side streets of Chinatown district

Christmas Eve's turkey was followed by Christmas Day dim sum. 

I passed on the frog

Christmas day at Wild Wild Wet water park with Katherine and our niece Gwen

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Long Haul

There's really nothing graceful about flying economy coach from Omaha to SE Asia. The cabin space is congested with people all around you. Meanwhile, everything on an airplane is small: small seat, small tray table, small seat pocket, small bathroom, small pillow, small blanket. Fortunately, many asians are of smaller stature. And because they're also generally polite, encroaching on your space isn't very common.

The distances travelled are big. Long flights. Long layovers. When flying to SE Asia, you're in for at least two international flights over seven hours, and one lengthy layover. For example, on this recent trip, it was 12 hours from Denver to Tokyo and another seven more from there to Singapore. Add in the layovers (and domestic legs) and more than a day of your life has just passed.

There are some things that can help improve the situation. Book early and claim an aisle seat. Get up and walk lots. Pack a snack bag and an empty water bottle. Fill it often. A washcloth and a small toiletry kit. Personal headphones. Compression socks.

During the flight, I make an effort to take in the various cultures of people around me. What they wear, how they eat, etc..  But my favorite is listening to the Asian flight attendant's sweet voice speaking Japanese over the PA system. And thanks to the 80s hair band Styx, I know at least one word of Japanese. Still, that doesn't prevent me from attempting to translate:

into, "the Captain has asked that you return to your seats and put your seat belts on. THANK YOU."

By far, the worst part of international flying is trying to get sleep. I'm envious of those who can pull this off.

Once, there was this petite Asian woman who slept in the "crash position" from Houston to Moscow (11 hrs) and again from Moscow to Singapore (12 hours). For the entire trip she didn't eat, drink or get up. Ever. I wondered if she had died or had become a member of the undead shortly after takeoff. (She hadn't.) Later, when I saw her moving quickly to the terminal's toilets, I also wondered if she had begun to develop a urinary tract infection. (Prolly).

I typically take a 15 minute power nap on the first long leg. After the layover, and several hours into the second leg, exhaustion takes over and I shut down hard. I fall into a violent, semi-hallucinative dreams accompanied by uncontrollable appendage failings. At best, it's embarrassing. Fortunately, I haven't punched anyone. Yet. Seriously, it scares me to the point that I literally seatbelt-lock my arms to my body. And the legs? Well, the unfortunate person sitting in front of me is at least somewhat protected by a reinforced steel foot-cage. Uh sorry, petite Asian lady in the seat in front of me.

Oh wait, she's that zombie with the UTI assuming the crash position. We're good.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Many of you know that I ride the city bus to work on a daily basis. I gave up driving to work years ago so I could have extra time to work out. At first that meant running home from work. But within a couple years, Omaha Metro added bicycle racks onto the bus. I've been bringing my bike along ever since. There are many other benefits to riding the bus. It's a low stress commute. It's green. It saves me money. But best of all, I have a community of (bus) friends that has developed over the years.

My buddy Scott is one of these friends.

Scott is a special needs adult. I've never asked him, but I believe that he has some sort of autism. He's highly functional. He's 30 something and has worked for more than ten years as a busboy/dishwasher at local restaurant. He takes the early bus to get to his workplace by 9:00 AM, easily over an hour before he's required to clock in. He's a dedicated employee, but doesn't necessarily do this to be to work on time. He gets to work early so he can devour the Omaha World Herald Sports section while sitting at the bar with an unending supply of Mountain Dew.

Scott's a rabid sports fan. Of course, the Huskers are his favorite team. I've grown to accept that not even six years of bus rides can come anywhere close to covering the breadth of his Husker knowledge. He's scarlet and cream omniscient. Like, pick a number, say #92, and he'll tell you their name (Kevin Williams), home town (Holland, OH), position (DT) and year (So). He knows who's being recruited, what their rank is and how many recruits have already committed (19) for the next year's class. True story. He was telling me about next year's recruits yesterday morning.

Back in September, Scott told me that a friend of his was taking him to this year's Nebraska/Iowa game (November 29th). Scott was besides himself because not only was he going to the game, but he was also going to be watching from a luxury sky box. Oh gosh. I heard about the sky box practically every bus ride for the next two months.

Well to my surprise, my buddy Shim also had an extra ticket and invited me to the game a few days beforehand. It was my turn to be excited. Despite being a Huskers fan, I had never been to a game at Memorial stadium.

Scott and I had lots to talk about on the bus the next day.

The game itself turned out to be a bust. Iowa beat Nebraska at Memorial stadium for the first time in some 73 years. Despite a dreadful first half of poor field position and two interceptions, the Huskers were still in the game in the 3rd quarter. The crowd got behind them, and for a moment, the HUSKER POWER! cheer seemed to be working. The team was gaining momentum. Then a failed fake punt deep in Husker territory, another turnover (fumble), and a few personal fouls shut it all down. By the fourth quarter, a rout was underway and the only voice in Memorial stadium still yelling HUSKER POWER was Shim, and he was wearing Hawkeye black and gold. I failed to mention that Shim's an Iowa grad. Jerk.

It got worse. Head coach Bo Pelini had another post game press conference meltdown, saying that the referee made a chickenshit call (personal foul) when Bo swiped his hat in front of the ref's face during a heated argument. That, and Bo telling the press that the NU admin could go ahead and fire him if they wanted to wasn't exactly how you want to conduct a press conference. It was ugly.

On Monday, I met Scott at the bus stop. He was happy to see me. He asked what I thought of the game. I grumbled for a good minute, renouncing my allegiance to Pelini, to the Huskers, and to football in general: college, Pro, powder puff, you name it. I wasn't going to waste another minute of my life on football.

When I was done, Scott leaned in, dipped his head and said, "You just got discouraged, Brady. It's okay. You just got discouraged. That's all."

Now let me tell you, those words were the tonic I needed. And I'm not just talking about the Huskers here. Yes, that was part of it. I was bleeding Husker red. But other recent disappointments -- stuff at work, personal relationships, bike races -- these also lost their discouraging sting when I thought about his advice.

Now how could that be?

It way the way in which he said it. His tone. He offered hope for the future while giving permission to be momentarily discouraged. It was solid wisdom.

It's funny how giving someone permission to be discouraged can actually be encouraging.

Thanks Scott. Go Big Red. Happy Friday everyone.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Not too long ago, Katherine and I were down in Kansas City. The occasion was my brother John's birthday. Most of the family was there, including my parents all my siblings, in-laws etc.

Anyway, John and Connie had us all stay in their home. It's spacious and comfy and stuff, but there were lots of people there. In the room next to us was younger brother Brendan and Karen and their two year old, Charlotte. Charlotte's my godchild. She's nearly always adorable. I say almost because 99% of the time she truly is a bundle of joy. That other 1% is when she gets hungry. And when she's hungry, look out.

One such hanger fit occurred at about 5:00 AM Sunday morning. Bless her dear little heart, screaming bloody murder for a cracker or something.

Anyway, once carbed up, she was all charm.

I suspect that the hangry gene runs in the Murphy family. There's no doubt in my mind that Charlotte inherited most of that from Brendan. For one, he was exactly like that when he was Charlotte's age. But even as an adult, he can still be that way. Don't get me wrong. My kid brother is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. But when he's bonking, watch out.

Like that one time we ran 19 miles together in the rolling dairy land of the Wisconsin country side. It was supposed to be an easy seven mile jaunt before a family reunion. Eight miles later, we realized that we had made a serious mapping error: our round trip was going to be more than 15, quite possibly 20 miles.

At around the 12th mile, we stopped at a convenience store to ward off some pre-bonky feelings. Fortunately, Brendan had a few sweaty dollars tucked away in a pocket, so we had enough for two cokes and one Snickers bar.

That Coke and Snickers bought us about 20 minutes of happiness before things started going down hill. The heat was taking its toll. There was no breeze to speak of. We were both getting fussy. A melt down was immanent. The funny thing was how it was triggered. You'd think it would have been somebody yelling or throwing garbage at us from a passing car. Or a farm dog chasing us. Or a billboard of Rush Limbaugh sneering at us for a country mile. Nope.

It was simply the sound of my breathing. Only a few moments before, Brendan had picked up the pace without saying a word. He later explained that he was trying to drop me because my laborious breathing was annoying him. But at the time, not a word. He just started running faster. The plan probably seemed legit in his bonking stupor. But his folly was that he didn't count on me sticking with him at that fast clip. The faster pace only made my breathing louder.

Suddenly he stopped, turned and screamed in my face that my breathing was driving him nuts.

You see? Hanger gene dominance

We talked it out for a few minutes along the shoulder of that county highway. In the end, we decided that I'd go a half mile up the road before he started running. We soloed in the rest of the run that way.

An hour later, we were stuffing our faces with pulled pork and chasing it down with cold beer. All smiles. Yeah, pretty good. Hanger curtailed, we were good buddies once more.

Happy Friday. Thanks for reading.