• Tag Archives Singapore
  • Ready.

    Beltane                                                              Early Growth Moon

    Got my soil test results back from International Ag. Labs.  I plan to follow their recommendations and have sent an order into their local supplier.  Our goal here continues to be the same:  sustainable gardens producing high quality food using no pesticides and only biologically justifiable soil amendments.  This is a different approach from either permaculture or organic growing.  On the one hand it emphasizes soil optimization, reaching that goal through amendments whether organic or non-organic that support that end.  The end is a soil that produces high quality food in a manner sustainable over the long run.  Makes a lot of sense to me and I’m eager to get my order and start using it.

    Last night at the Woodfire Grill Mark Odegard talked about a mushroom hunter friend who said that as long at the lilacs bloom, the morels can be found.  Our lilacs are still in bloom, so I wandered back in our woods.  First thing I saw when I entered the path was a giant morel.  I scooped it up, went looking for others.  Couldn’t find any.

    I didn’t do a thorough search though due to my recent switch to a lower carb diet.  In the process I’ve lost about 15 pounds and my jeans, conformed to a higher carb me, now slip around my waist with no belt.  Which I had left upstairs.  So, with Gertie and Kona racing around, I wandered a bit, looking at the ground, grabbing my pants, looking some more.  When it started to rain, I gave up and came back inside, promising myself that I’d get that belt and look more methodically when it was dry.

    p.s. More on this later, but I heard a news report about Singapore yesterday relating to urban agriculture.  In this case it’s vertical, four-story ag with, they kept emphasizing, no soil.  I know this is possible because I have a hydroponic setup myself, but it flashed through me what a tragedy it would be for the human race if we lose that primal bond with mother earth.

    Don’t get me wrong.  I think this is a great idea.  It uses the energy of a 60 watt bulb, they recycle all the water and grow fresh vegetables with a very short garden to consumer trip.  My concern is that its prevalence might make us forget the planet which gave us birth and which receives us after death.

  • Video Phone a Reality At Last!

    Spring                                                            Bee Hiving Moon

    Technological victory today.  Mary (Singapore at 10:00pm), Mark (Ha’il, Saudi Arabia at 5:00 pm) and myself (Andover 9 am) on the same video call.  Three little screens with our talking heads beaming in real time (or whatever you call time in the instance where all of us are in different times).  Skype premium at $99.00 a year allows for up to ten individuals on one call with no additional charge.  Even when separated by thousands of miles and the International Date Line.

    (screen looks something like the pic above)

    That was my entire nuclear family on one video call.  Remember when video-phones were sci-fi what ifs?  Not any more.  And, there’s no phone.  Nothing but net.

    Over the last year Mark and Mary and I have moved closer together, seeing each other in person last July and now communicating more regularly than we ever have before.

    Mark describes Ha’il as like northern Arizona, Flagstaff/Dine homelands/Grand Canyon/polygamist Mormon country.  Come to think of it Islam allows 4 wives.  Maybe it’s the weather?

    Mary says Singapore is hot.  When asked how hot, she said, “Oh, I never know.  But it’s really hot.  I know that.”  According to Weatherunderground the current temp in Singapore is 81 with a dewpoint of 77.  That last is the kicker.  By contrast it’s 84 in Ha’il with a dewpoint of 14.  Just to be complete it’s 54 here with a dewpoint of  48.   Of course that’s a daytime reading for Andover, a night time reading for Singapore and an early evening reading for Ha’il.

    Both Mary and Mark are at the ends of their terms, with exams and grading and all that fun stuff on the other end of the teacher-student relationship.  Mark has a classroom full of cement workers.  Mary teaches students at Singapore’s National Teacher’s University.   Mom would have been proud.

    Forgot to mention on the call, but I have a tour for ESL students tomorrow.  Both Mary and Mark have ESL backgrounds.

  • A Third of the World Between Sibs

    Winter(?)                                  First Moon of the New Year

    Both sibs have sent photographs recently.  Mary has taken several pictures of elephants in a series placed around Singapore.  They’re part of a fund-raiser to help Southeast Asian elephants.

    Mary lives within short walking distance of the Botanical Gardens of Singapore, a delightful collection of Southeast Asian plants placed on large grounds.  In fact, she used to work there when her university had its campus on the grounds.

    The fund-raiser reminded me of the Charles Schultz cartoon characters St. Paul had up a few years back.

    Singapore is an unusual place, a city-state like days of yore, think Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, Venice.  It refers to itself as the air-conditioned nation.  Mary refers to it as Asia-lite.  I enjoyed my visit there a great deal.

    Mark, on the other hand, is in a much less humid environment, Saudi Arabia.  He is in his fourth month teaching English in Ha’il, a former caravan serai on the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  It sits in the northern third of the Arabian Peninsula, near the center and has some elevation, about 3,000 feet.

    He has settled in there, having taken trips into the desert three times over the last couple of months.  The first time he went dune bashing in motorized vehicles. The second time he  visited a camel breeding operation run by a student, black camels, and in his most recent foray wandered the desert where this photography was taken.

    That puts me in the heart of the North American continent, Mary at the tip end of the Malaysian Peninsula, near Indonesia and Mark in the sands of storied Arabia.  That must be about a third of the way around the world to each sibling.


  • A Reunion

    Mid-Summer                                                                                              Waning Garlic Moon

    As the garlic moon wanes, the leaves of the garlic plants begin to brown from the bottom up.  When half of them are brown, I’ll pull a couple to see how they’re progressing.  I plant more garlic than we use; for some reason it appeals to me as a crop.  Partly because you plant it in the fall and harvest it in the summer.  A contrarian.

    A Latin day today, perhaps tomorrow, too, after I see to the queen excluders in the colonies from which I removed them this weekend. I’m looking for movement of the workers up into the honey supers, starting to lay in honey there rather than in the hive boxes.

    Into the city tonight to discuss the slightly revised issue selection process for the 2012 legislature.  We’re moving up our process by a month to allow for better campaign planning, gathering of allies.

    My exercise commitment, once rock solid, has slipped in these past three weeks with many evening meetings.  I’m going to shift my workouts to the morning, see if I can get a new rhythm established.

    At the end of July my sister Mary will travel here from Athens, where she gives a paper, then reverse field back through London to Singapore.  My cousin Diane, who stood up for me when Kate and I got married, also, by chance, will be in town for another reason, so we’ll have a Keaton and an Ellis reunion right here in Andover, star of the northern burbs.  Diane lives in San Francisco where she churns out a weekly newsletter, highly regarded, on the pulp and paper industry.

  • Wanderers

    Winter                                                                  New Moon of the Cold Month

    My brother, Mark, is a traveler, a wanderer, a planet.  He can’t sit still, a powerful urge to move comes over him, an urge with plenty of family reinforcement.  Dad took to the road all the time, as often as he could, as long as he could, even if it was to run down the story of a river that went underground only to pop up somewhere else.  He hunted down the ordinary extraordinary.  Mark takes the sensibility a step further.

    He has crossed Russia on the trans-siberian railway, picked olives in Turkey and worked on a kibbutz in Israel.  When he finally hit Southeast Asia, over twenty years ago, something clicked.  This was a place he could use as a base.  And he does.  Teaching English in Bangkok, but setting out for journeys into Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam.  He reminds me of the writers who took off on tramp steamers to see the world.  Now, he’s antsy again, wanting to move, needing to move.  Who knows where he’ll go next?  He doesn’t.

    Mary, my sister, travels a lot, too:  Tibet, India, Dubai, the Caribbean, England, Greece, Malaysia, Indonesia.  She, too, has a base in Southeast Asia, Singapore, or Asia Lite as she likes to call it.  She teaches, too, at the National Institute of Education, Singapore.

    They both have lives that are very exotic compared to Andover, Minnesota.  I’m glad to have their vicarious adventures in my life.

  • The Buddha

    Lughnasa                                   Full Artemis Moon

    No.  Not that Buddha.  A small, bald, slightly pudgy baby Buddha.  That was what we called my sister when she was still an infant.  Mary had an inscrutable baldness going for her.  Now she lives in the land of the Buddha, the oldest Buddhism of all, Theravada, and has long since shed her Buddha appearance.  She’s traded the robes, or the diapers, of the Buddha for academic regalia, Indiana for Singapore, North America for Asia.

    She’s been over there a while now, a long while, living a good part of her adult life on the Malay Peninsula, first in Kuala Lumpur and now in the Air Conditioned Nation of Singapore, a city state like days of old.

    The life of an ex patriate had no texture, no reality for me until first Mary, then Mark ended up in Southeast Asia, both spending at least two decades there, plus a little.  That left me the only stay at home, still rooted in the Midwest.

    As things go, however, I developed an ongoing interest in Asia art and from that Asian history and, in particular, Chinese philosophy, so we all share a common fascination with the Far East, though mine is more bookish and museum oriented while theirs is everyday life.

    Mary has gone faraway and built a life in a land with lifeways and assumptions often very different from our own.  It’s an impressive achievement and as she nears her 58th birthday I wanted to acknowledge it.  Happy Birthday!  Dr. Sis.

  • Expatriate Kin

    Beltane                                       Waxing Planet Moon

    Expatriates.  Both my brother (see below) and my sister live the expat life in Southeast Asia, Mary in Singapore and Mark in Bangkok.  I’ve only been over there once, in 2004, for one month, they have both been there over 20 years.  That’s a long time to live in another culture, to live politically disenfranchised from the community in which you work and have your home, to live in a place where the familiar cues of home are either non-existent, weakened or have a different meanings, to live far from the places where you grew up and the people you knew then, including family.

    On the other hand it gives you an opportunity without parallel to become a global citizen, to take in the lifeways of persons whose basic assumptions about life are different than your own.  It gives you a chance, if you take it, to get to know yourself much better, for the you that you are stands out in bold relief in places radically different from your own.

    It exposes you to the kind of danger Mark experienced over the last few weeks when his host country, a place he lives in because he loves it there, turns feral.  Not only that, the wild citizens set up the zoo right outside his soi.  Scary.

    The expat life interests me, but I view it from a distance.  The closest I come to it is the life of a Hoosier in the Gopher State.  Sometimes it can come pretty close to that expat feeling, except I felt like an expat in Indiana, never in Minnesota.  Except when they crank up the music for hockey or start hauling those ice-fishing houses out.  Then, I feel a bit lost.

  • Changes

    Fall                           Waxing Dark Moon

    The leaves have finally changed color in our yard.  It happened almost over night.  Many went dry before they turned, but more have become red, gold, yellow.  The colors of fall are as much a part of our landscape as the snowdrops and daffodils are of spring.   Fall’s color gives us one last Times Square moment from the vegetal world before the emphasis moves to the monochromatic grace and elegance of winter.

    Sounds like Dr. Mary Ellis may visit over Thanksgiving.  The Singapore government nixed an earlier visit due to the H1N1 virus.  Mary’s had a lot going on over the last four years.   Working and finishing a dissertation has never been easy; it consumed extra time and holidays.  This would be the first Thanksgiving I can recall in a long time that she would be here.  It’s always good to have family around during holiseason.

    Kate comes home today.  Her primary exercise for the next bit of time will be walking.  Yes, she’s up and about.  No 100 yard dashes in the near term, but moving is good, real good.  She cannot twist, so no Chubby Checker’s music on the CD player.  She also has to bend at the waist, no flexing of the back.  She will need percocet for a few weeks.

    Fortunately hand work is how Kate spends time while listening to lectures at continuing medical education so she has projects to keep her busy.

    As soon as she’s able (maybe right now), she can also start using the treadmill.  5 minutes at first, then more as she heals.

  • Where to Buy Japanese Gardening Tools? Home Depot!

    69  bar falls 29.56  5mph WNW dew-point 53   Summer, pleasant with fluffy cumulus gathering

    Last Quarter Flower Moon

    When in Hawai’i I noticed the Filipino gardeners at the Hyatt had small, sickle like tools.  One of them had a serrated edge down and a cutting edge up.  The other had a slightly curved blade and a very sharp edge facing down.  They used them to easily uproot weeds, edge grass and other plants.  I asked the guy where I could buy them, “Home Depot.”  Of course, where else?

    In fact, Home Depot did not have them, but Ace Hardware did.  It was your next guess was it not?  The ones I found were $8 and had a bamboo shaft.  When I packed them in my checked luggage, I felt like I might get stopped at security.  First, box cutters.  Now, Japanese gardening tools.

    Yesterday I discovered the the second of these tools was a whiz at cutting back perennials whose leaves had died back.  By putting the blade just into the soil and cutting back toward myself, the leaves came off with ease, leaving the bulbs in mother earth where they belong.  Today I finished the daffodils.  I have a lot of daffodils so their leaft behinds are voluminous.   Into the red plastic tub and then out to the discard pile.  The plastic tubs are also great gardening tools.  Cheap and capacious, they are also light and indestructible.

    Read an interesting article about Singapore in the Smithsonian magazine.  It says Singapore has become fun city.  Well, not quite.  But, compared to the authors first visit 37 years ago during r&r from Vietnam War coverage it was “Laissez bon temps roulez.” Bars in entertainment zones can stay open until dawn.  Theatre has begun to pop up and traveling musicians now include Singapore on their itinerary.

    When I visited in 2004, one of the things that amazed me was seeing women, unescorted, walking the streets well after midnight.  My hunch is that relaxation of the puritan, or rather, Confucian value system may endanger that.

    This “Asian values” idea, promoted by Singaporean political leaders, and rooted in Confucianism veers away from Master K’ung-fu-tzi in one very salient area.  In the Confucian world there was a distinct hierarchy of professions.  The emperor and courtiers, mandarins and nobles were at the top.  Then came landowners, farmers, woodcutters and fisherfolk.  After these, artisans.  At the very bottom, consigned to almost a pariah role, were merchants.  Merchants, Confucius believed, created nothing, adding nothing to the culture, rather they made money moving around the goods and food-stuffs created by the labor of others.

    Singapore, much of Southeast Asia and certainly Taiwan, Japan and China are, in that wise, far removed from the core values of Confucius.

    Off for a nap.  More gardening tomorrow morning.

  • Cool House Plants

    69  bar rises 29.73  0mph NNW dew-point 57  A summer night

                       Last Quarter of the Flower Moon

    This time period, after the iris bloom and the lilacs have died back, we have annuals like petunias, begonias, geraniums and vinca plus the odd Siberian Iris and peony, not many late June perennials in our garden. We await now the Asiatic lilies.  My favorite among our flowers many of the lilies in our garden came from lily fanciers who live in the upper midwest.   Purchased at a lily growers special season sale at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, they come in beautiful colors and many, like the Star Gazer, have scents that beguile.  A bit later the hemerocallis, day lilies, will begin to bloom. They will take us into September along with the Liguria, the bug bane and the bush Clematis.

    It is a clear night.  Stars light the sky, ancient messengers of events and objects of long past. They are deep history, a counterpoint to the now.  Insects chirp.  The occasional owl hoots.  Maybe the sound of some small animal scurrying through the grass in search of food.  A bats quick, furtive flight crosses the moon’s half lit face.

    These nights offer a softness and elegance found only in the natural world.  There is no need for fancy dress, cocktails or dance music.  All you have to do is walk outside and share the company.  Your clothing or lack of it will not matter. Some of the party may find you irrestible, of course.  Yes, unwanted attention sometimes mars a quiet night.  It does show, though, that you have a niche. You are the canape.

    Kate and I spoke to Mary on Skype today.   Arranging a physical connection with Singapore has its modest challenges.  She called us, for example, at 11:00 PM today, though it was 10:00 AM here.  Today has long since turned into tomorrow there.  She’s off this week finishing the revisions to her dissertation.  Then it heads out to her supervisor for one last check, then onto external readers.  More revisions likely.  Finally, the oral defense sometime from now.  Later, awarding of the doctorate.  Pretty cool.

    She may visit the temperate latitudes building at the Botanical Gardens as a treat for finishing.  That’s where they have trees and plants adapted to cold weather, a mirror to our conservatories with their palms and philodendrons and other tropical vegetation.  A strange notion from the perspective of Minnesota.