Please Welcome…

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Newborn Maggie for Blog

… Baby Maggie to the world! She arrived the first week in June – two days earlier than her estimated due date – at 11:28pm on a rainy evening at Gleneagles Hospital, weighing in at 7.5 pounds and 21.5 inches (99th percentile for length, baby! I’m hopeful she’ll someday be a Lacrosse center). She has blonde hair (as both her father and I do), blue eyes (for now), and to my great consternation seems to have inherited my giant schnozz. She is named after my two grandmothers, including my grandmother Margaret who was also born in Asia (more than 100 years ago!).

Labor was about 20 hours from start to finish, but that includes about 9 hours of bearable, crampy contractions and I labored at home for most of it (props to my exercise ball, Netflix and Avon for his support while the hubs wrapped up some meetings at work). I only labored at the hospital for about 5 hours, and I was able to meet my goal of getting through without an epidural, thanks mostly to the hubs’s awesome coaching. I was very happy with the tremendous support of my OBGYN Dr. Choo, and a bit less thrilled with some of the nurses at Gleneagles (please don’t ask me about my knee surgery in 1997 as I am throwing up, and don’t try to push me onto the bed when I am very obviously getting through a contraction by standing up. Kthanks). All in all, though, the hospital was great and the post-birth service was fantastic.

At 1 day old

At 1 day old

The first week at home was the toughest so far — I got very little sleep overnight due to feedings every 1.5 hours or so (all the sleep books say you have a “honeymoon” period during the first few days with newborns where they’ll sleep 18-20 hours a day; Maggie obviously didn’t get that memo), and unsurprisingly we were all just sort of trying to figure out a rhythm. Since then, though, overnights have been pretty good (mega KNOCK ON WOOD), as has breastfeeding, which was probably my biggest concern beforehand.

Another positive is that Avon ADORES Maggie, and has from the moment he first heard her emit a little squeak from her carseat (which we placed on the table when we came in, since she was sleeping). He bolted across the room with his head tilted, as if to say “What on EARTH is that sound?” then jumped up to the table for the first time ever to investigate:

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He is pretty much always within a foot of her, and is quite gentle. He likes to lick her feet (and tries to lick her face, much to our chagrin), and absolutely LOVES to walk alongside her stroller. One of our neighbors actually commented that he looked proud to be trotting alongside it. Honestly the biggest challenge is that he sometimes wants to be close to her and we have to push him away, but it makes me so happy to see how gentle he is, and hopeful that as she grows she will come to adore him just as much.

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It’s been really good getting out of the house, and I’ve tried to do so every couple days. One of our first outings was to the US Embassy, where we obtained Maggie’s passport at the age of 5 days. The poor girl has maybe the world’s worst passport photo – and she’s stuck with it until she’s 5 – but she was such a champ during the interminable 90-minute wait at the Embassy (all for about 5 minutes of oath-swearing and paperwork).  The obvious reward was the mini flag they gave her at the end of it (although she looks less than psyched in this photo):

US Embassy

Many, many thanks to Crystal, who in her blog addressed the totally unclear instructions on the passport application form (they make it sound like you need to list every international trip that you’ve EVER taken, but for citizens this isn’t actually the case). I think that saved us about six hours of work, which is fortunate since my brain was still totally fried at that point.

After the Embassy we grabbed lunch at Chili’s (it seemed only fitting to celebrate Maggie’s American-ness). I joke that as part of her Singapore upbringing she needs to visit as many malls as possible. In her first month of life, by my estimation, she’s visited seven so far (Tanglin, The Forum, Parkway Parade, I12 Katong, Raffles City, Marina Bay Shoppes and Milennia Walk). She even took in the Annie Leibovitz exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. I’ve been pleased to discover that most of the malls have really nice nursing rooms, and also that Maggie is totally amenable to cruising around them in her ErgoBaby carrier (which is a bit too hot for outside with the infant insert, but is nice and cozy in all the hyper-air-conditioned malls).

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She is just starting to enter that phase where she smiles (mostly at books, sometimes when she’s done eating) and every time it totally gets me. The days seem to pass in the strangest way; on the one hand I feel like we barely leave the house and she spends most of her time on her baby gym either playing with rings, doing tummy time (I prefer calling it “baby Pilates”) or being read to, yet each day flies by. I’m amazed by her little smiles and grunts and head lifts, not to mention how much she’s grown (she’s approaching 12 pounds already!).

Maggie's first 4th of July

Maggie’s first 4th of July

As expected (and to my eternal gratefulness), our helper LL has been nothing short of phenomenal. The hubs and I joke that she’s magical, as she seems able to effortlessly halt crying just by picking the baby up, no matter how fussy she’s being with her father or me. In the first week at home when my brain was scrambled eggs, LL kept the house from falling down around us by walking the dog, cooking our meals and doing laundry. In the subsequent weeks, although I try to spend as much time with Maggie as possible, it’s been amazing to have someone take her while I eat dinner, or nip to the gym for 45 minutes on the treadmill. We are so very lucky, and again, grateful.

I’ve got about two months left on my maternity leave (how have six weeks passed already?!), and hopefully will be able to get in a few more blog posts in that time. I meant to spend my last days pre-baby writing about exercise during pregnancy, so hopefully I’ll get around to that one soon. For now I will continue to marvel at my baby’s intoxicating smell, deliciously chubby arms, adorable coos, and even her silly little grunts, and to revel in each and every lovely cuddle. Life with Maggie is full of wonder, and absolutely wonderful.

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Cha-cha-cha-changes

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Dog is my navigator

Dog is my navigator

My poor blog.

I think of it often, but for some reason I just cannot make myself sit still long enough to sit down and write posts. There are so many things I want to write about, but I can’t get my act together. I feel particularly bad about this since I LOVE reading other people’s blogs, and almost feel guilty at my consumption-output imbalance.

But I don’t foresee my behavior changing anytime soon, at least not for a while. So this week, while I’ve scrounged up a bit of motivation, I figured I’d do a life update on some of the topics I’ve been meaning to write about.

  • We got a helper… about a year ago

I’m way overdue for a post on this, perhaps in part because I felt uncomfortable writing about it for a while. The subject is such a lightning rod, and I just wasn’t sure I wanted to enter the fray. Crystal at Expat Bostonians has covered the subject of helpers – pros and cons, government initiatives, local vs. expat attitudes, and much more – thoroughly and I highly recommend checking out her blog for more in-depth info. Her own experience with a helper definitely gave me a lot to think about before we made the decision to hire one ourselves.

Helpers are a big part of the social fabric here in Singapore, but I find it’s nearly impossible to explain their role to friends and family back home. I would never use the word “maid” because I picture someone from Downton Abbey waiting on me in a uniform. Generally, we tell people that we have a live-in housekeeper because that’s something they can maybe sort of picture, but LL is much more than that (if we’re extending the Downton Abbey example, she’s Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Anna & Nanny all rolled into one).

I think it’s fairly uncommon (though not unheard of) for childless couples to have helpers, but this all came about early last year when Avon’s doggy daycare informed me that they’d be shutting down. I’d had a tough time finding dog walkers on the East Coast to begin with, and dreaded having to reinitiate the search. Meanwhile, we were using the cleaning service Mrs. Sparkles to clean our apartment once a week. We were very happy with the job they were doing and the responsiveness of the management team, even if it did cost a bit more ($80/week) than what some of our friends were paying to people under the table.

We’re friends with a couple that also has a dog and had a helper, and they never stopped singing the praises of having someone to cook, clean and look after the dog. We started toying with the idea, particularly since the monthly cost of a helper actually came out to about the same (or maybe even a little less) than what we were paying for doggy daycare + once-a-week cleaning. So I put the word out to a few of the helpers and families in our complex, and asked other friends to be on the lookout to let me know if they heard of anyone looking for a transfer.

Right off the bat, my downstairs neighbor said one of the helpers in our complex who was working for a local family would be looking to move after her contract expired in a few months. The only problem: the helper didn’t have a day off, wasn’t allowed to have a phone, and couldn’t access her passport. Can you believe she was interested in changing employers?

I tried on a few occasions to talk to the helper – usually while I was out walking the dog early in the morning and she was hanging laundry – but she was so terrified of getting in trouble that we could never talk for long. I told her she could knock on our door anytime to come for a chat, and gave her my number if she wanted to text me, but after about six weeks of clandestinely trying to track her down the whole thing felt kind of ridiculous. Although it would have been great to easily hire her to transfer and live within the same complex, she ultimately decided that she wanted to go home to Indonesia when her contract was up, and I certainly can’t fault her for that.

In the meantime, I interviewed a few friends of helpers in our complex, as well as a helper who lived next door to a friend elsewhere on the island. Another friend mentioned to me that the niece of his helper (who worked for his family when he was growing up in Singapore about 20 years ago, and with whom he’s still in touch) was in Manila but looking for a position. She’d previously worked for a local family in Singapore but went back after her contract was up.

I started texting with this woman, and interviewed her over the phone. Of all the people I interviewed, she was the most prompt and forthcoming (a couple others flaked on me when we were supposed to meet up) and, unbeknownst to her, totally got my attention when she said she loved to cook and watch Food Network shows in her spare time. I also met her aunt, who is so sweet and lovely, and liked that she would have family here to help offset homesickness. Finally, I got a good reference from her previous employer (as any red flags would have of course given us pause).

Ultimately, the hubs and I decided to hire LL (I’m not going to share her full name), even though it added a bit of work and extra cost on our end to coordinate the immigration/work permit stuff in comparison to hiring a transfer helper already in Singapore. What shocked me most was all the stuff I was told by various employment agencies (it’s nearly impossible to coordinate the immigration stuff yourself); from what I can gather there just seems to be corruption and extra cost at every juncture, from the handlers in the helpers’ native country to here in Singapore (where we have to pay a monthly $265 “levy”). And the helpers see none of this extra cost. One agency told me we could avoid hefty charges in Singapore by having LL enter the country on a tourist visa (essentially she would have to lie to the immigration officials who apparently conduct sweeps of Singapore-bound flights in Manila). Another told me they had a priest in Cebu who could bring women into Singapore as “religious workers.”

This was all far too clandestine for our taste, as we certainly didn’t want to break laws nor get LL into any trouble. Ultimately we used Universal Employment Agency to coordinate the paperwork. I feel like we paid them an awful lot considering we hired LL directly, but they were efficient and above-board, which we appreciated. It’s still crazy to me that helpers are expected to cover much of these costs (often they pay the first 8 months of their salary directly to the agencies) in what basically amounts to indentured servitude. We didn’t feel comfortable with this and covered all the costs directly.

LL arrived last March, and pretty much from the moment she walked through the door (when she bent down, smiling, to meet Avon and happily scratched him behind the ears) she’s been wonderful. She really is an amazing cook (I can give her any recipe and, like magic, our kitchen is filled with delectable smells when we come home from work at night. We eat so much healthier because – unlike me – she can competently cook vegetables and put together tasty salads). She keeps the apartment tidy. She walks Avon during the day and at night when I have to stay late at work or go elsewhere (and he loves her). She has alleviated so much stress from our lives, and at the same time totally enriched them.

LL is honest and trustworthy and kind, and we feel very fortunate that the situation has worked out as well as it has (knock on wood!). Very rarely something might get lost in translation, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that I am managing an employee, but she is smart and has been patient enough to roll with my sometime-forgetfulness. I definitely want to give a shout out to Naomi, who provided me with lots of fantastic tips on setting the ground rules in our relationship and creating a structure and routine that works for everyone. Her tips have been invaluable and really helped us get off on the right foot.

There is still a lot about the helper situation in Singapore that baffles, even disturbs me. These are women who leave home (including, often, their own children) to work hard and support their families through incredible personal sacrifice. And yet local attitudes sometimes treat them at best like children who can’t think for themselves, and at worst like sub-humans.  I know some of our neighbors think we’re crazy for letting LL have a day off every week (um, it’s the law), or giving her a cell phone. They might be shocked to hear she has her own bedroom with TV and Internet. The way the hubs and I see it, we appreciate the hard work that she does, we want her to be happy and comfortable in our home, and it’s as simple as that.

  • We bought a car

It depresses me to think of what kind of car (or cars!) we could have bought in the U.S. for the same price as our used Volkswagen. As the hubs pointed out to his parents a few weeks ago, we could have comfortably purchased a house in Cleveland for the same price! But alas, Singapore’s got the 100% import tax, and the super-fun COE. As of a couple weeks ago, it costs between SGD $70,00-$80,000 to register a new car, and that 10-year registration is pro-rated even for used cars. We find it’s best not to dwell on all of this for too long, lest we fall into a deep depression.

So why did we do it? Well, we love it here, and don’t have any plans to move back home in the next few years. This feels like putting down roots. We wanted the flexibility to explore more on the weekends (especially with the dog), and to commute to work together. The lack of etiquette on public transportation has nearly made my head explode on a few occasions (more on that below). Singapore is already a convenient and efficient place, but having a car has so far upped the convenience factor considerably.

And last but not least …

Week 26 with Avon

  • We’re growing our family

Yup, much to Avon’s chagrin, we’re expecting a baby [girl] to arrive in a few months’ time, in early June.

The hubs and I are so happy and excited. Pregnancy is another thing about which I’ve wanted to write dozens of blog posts, but at the same time just didn’t feel quite comfortable going public with it. The first 12 weeks are so tough, because on the one hand the news is new and exciting and you want to scream it from the rooftops, but on the other you live in constant fear that you could lose the baby at any moment. (As an aside, I can’t recommend highly enough the book Expecting Better by Emily Oster, if for no other reason than the page 72 chart “Miscarriage Rates by Week of Prenatal Visit” provided a useful countdown to alleviate my fears as the first trimester went by).

A few of my close friends here gave birth in the past year, and a couple others are due right around the same time, so it’s been nice being able to seek out lots of advice and wisdom even though our families are on the other side of the world.

I think I’ll do a separate post with more pregnancy-related specifics and the requisite week-by-week (in my case it’s more like month-by-month) bump shots, but a few quick thoughts on being pregnant in Singapore:

Compared to the U.S.: Obvs I’ve only been pregnant here, but apparently the fact that we get an ultrasound during every monthly doctor’s visit is pretty crazy, since in the US most normal pregnancies seem to only entail two or three.

While there is plenty of baby crap available for purchase here, it is NOTHING compared to the U.S. I’m mostly thankful for this so as to avoid being overwhelmed, although stuff in the U.S. is also a lot cheaper and more readily available (part of why I’m going home next week for a baby shower/shopping trip).

Again I can’t yet say how people in the U.S. would treat me, but I can say my Chinese co-workers, neighbors and the security guards in our condo all clearly think I’m crazy for running on the treadmill (or really doing much exercise as all). I plan to do a separate post about exercising during pregnancy (spoiler alert: I’ve felt great throughout and I think it’s a big part of why I never had morning sickness and avoided the brutal fatigue that so many people experience) but needless to say I think it’s one area where Western and Eastern attitudes greatly differ. (Perhaps the most glaring example of this: in a childbirth class at a local HOSPITAL, my friend was told that the more soy sauce she consumed, the darker her baby would be).

The biggest difference from home, though, is the much-welcome presence of LL. All that scary stressful stuff you hear about bringing home a newborn – you never have time to sleep, or shower, or cook, or clean the house – seems a lot less daunting because she’ll be around. This is not to say that we don’t plan on taking care of the baby overnight and handling feedings around the clock or anything, but it’s SO nice to know that someone will be there to take Avon for a walk, or clean messy clothes or sheets, or watch the baby for an hour if I feel the need to take a nap. I feel so grateful knowing we’ll have that safety valve.

On public transportation: I briefly alluded to this above, but I would say that people offer up their bus/train seats (yes, even the specially-designated priority seats for pregnant women, the elderly, handicapped, and small children!) less than 50% of the time. I guess their mobile phones are just far too fascinating! On a few occasions I’ve just blatantly asked people to give up their seats, but sometimes I’ll just stand there and stare incredulously at the 22-year old guy who pretends to be so engrossed in his phone that he doesn’t notice my protruding belly inches from his face. Sometimes I’ll snap photos of these offenders and tell myself I’ll start a Tumblr of SMRT shame; even that doesn’t get their attention, though! This has by far been the most frustrating aspect of being pregnant in Singapore. I feel like people in New York or Boston would be more polite about this, but obviously can’t say for certain. I will, however, call total bullshit on the recent government claims that 94% of people would give up their train seats. The fact that the LTA even needs to launch a “graciousness” campaign speaks volumes about how rude people can be on public transport (yes, even when pregnant, I continue to get elbowed and shoved in the butt by old ladies who just HAVE to be the first one off the bus. KIASU OR DIE!). Ok, rant over. Like I said, having the car has ameliorated this issue and I’m grateful for it.

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So yeah, I’d say our lives have changed a great deal in the past year, and they’re sure to change even more in the coming months. It’s crazy to think we’re approaching our 3-year Singapore anniversary, and even more nuts that we’ve now been living abroad for going on five years. Five years ago I never would have guessed this was where we’d be, but I can say I’m extraordinarily happy, and grateful, to be here.

2012: The Year in Travel (Part 3)

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Yesss!! At least I’m wrapping up the series just one year later, rather than two. (After I published part 2 last night, the hubs read it and was like, “Wait, didn’t you go to Hanoi, like, two years ago? And you’re only writing about it now?” Cue embarrassed face).

August: Hong Kong

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I flew through Hong Kong once before, but this was my first legit trip there. I went for a couple work meetings, then the hubs flew up to meet me so we could explore the city over the weekend.

Where we stayed: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. As you may have gathered by now, the hubs and I kind of have a thing for staying at great hotels. In Hong Kong we figured that meant staying at either The Peninsula (the original!) or The Mandarin. While we might have slightly preferred The Peninsula because we love the whole historic grandeur thing, it was undergoing renovation and the open part was fully booked, so our decision was made for us anyway (guess we’ll just have to go back some time!). Anyway, our room was very nice (favorite amenity: the roll-on relaxing jet lag balm), service was excellent, and the location is ultra-convenient to Central Hong Kong. There was a lot of construction going on around the hotel so that was kind of a drag, but we still had a very nice stay.

What we did: Took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour; walked around Kowloon; rode the crazy-long Escalator up through the Mid-Levels; had Friday night drinks in totally nutso Lan Kwai Fong (I’ve not seen so many sloppy drunk British people since I went to uni in Edinburgh); had shoes (Jimmy Choo & Christian Louboutin knock-offs) made to order at Lii Lii; took a taxi to the top of The Peak and rode the tram down.

Waiting for the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour from Central

Waiting for the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour from Central

What we ate: I went out to a fabulous dim sum lunch (pictured at the top) with my co-workers, and also enjoyed some ultra-delicious black sesame soup (one of my very favorite desserts these days!). The hubs and I enjoyed what I would consider probably a Top 3 meal of my lifetime at Bo Innovation, which I initially heard about through No Reservations. Every single dish on the tasting menu was so incredibly inventive (and tasty!). Finally, on the Sunday morning before we left we also had traditional Sunday morning dim sum with my colleague Rainbow. It was fun eating at a big round table and seeing all the families getting together around us.

The Bo Innovation tasting menu

The Bo Innovation tasting menu

At Bo Innovation: "Bubble tea" with mango, hawthorn and chili

At Bo Innovation: “Bubble tea” with mango, hawthorn and chili

I enjoyed Hong Kong, and was certainly eager to visit since it so often seems to be compared with Singapore as the other great Asian financial capital for expats. While it certainly feels a bit more like a real city and had the energy and grittiness of New York that I sometimes miss, I still prefer the tropical languor and greeness of Singapore, I think. (I also like our airport better). I love the gorgeous views afforded by Hong Kong’s hills, though, and envy the hiking they can do on nearby Lantau. And I loved being able to check the baggage for my flight at the Airport Express counter right in the middle of the city. The multiple typhoon warnings and never-ending subway tunnels (seriously, it takes like 10 minutes to get from the street to a subway platform)? Not so much.

September: Boston (with a quick stopover in London). 

I covered my trip home for my Grandmother’s funeral last year so won’t re-hash it again, but who would’ve ever thought the 7-hour flight between London and Boston would come to feel so brief?

October: Bangkok

The hubs and I went back to Bangkok for a weekend lacrosse tournament, played with the Singapore Lacrosse Association (which is totally booming these days if any players out there are keen to join in!). The men’s team won both their games, while unfortunately us women lost in overtime to Hong Kong, 9-8. Ah well, it was still fun to get out there and run around. We stayed at Sofitel So Bangkok again (I told you I loved it!). The only thing I don’t like about the hotel is that it’s on Sathorn Road, where traffic can often grind to a painful standstill (like, sit at the same light for more than an hour), and it’s not convenient to the Skytrain. It’s an easy walk to the subway and Lumpini Park, though.

The view we woke up to at Sofitel So Bangkok, not bad amirite?

The view we woke up to at Sofitel So Bangkok, not bad amirite?

On Sunday morning before flying out we hit up Chatuchak Weekend Market, which has got to be one of my favorite spots in Bangkok (besides Health Land Spa, of course).

November: Bangkok again & Siem Reap, Cambodia

Thank goodness Thailand gives visas on arrival; I can’t imagine traveling there as often as I do and having to go through the annoying process of, like, Vietnam or something. Anyway, the hubs and I went for yet another weekend for his firm’s Asia-wide lawyers’ retreat.

Where we stayed: The Sukhothai, a lovely resort-like hotel that’s actually right down the street from Sofitel So on Sathorn Road. (Jackpot! I could walk to Health Land!). The hotel is low-rise and has a very mellow, boutique feel that makes you forget you’re surrounded by skyscrapers in a business area. I thought our room was very comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was great.

What we did: While the hubs was in meetings got a couple massages at Health Land (seriously, THB 280 / ~$8 for an hour-long foot massage?! THB 500 / $15 for a 2-hour traditional Thai massage?! In an upscale, comfortable setting that all my Thai clients personally recommend?! YES PLEASE!). If you should find yourself in Bangkok and looking for a good foot massage, get thee to Health Land asap.

But I digress. We also had a very nice private dinner at Vertigo Restaurant on the roof of Banyan Tree Bangkok (right next to The Sukhothai) — fortunately it didn’t rain. The rooftop definitely offers some of the awesomest views of anywhere in Bangkok.

We also did an “Amazing Race” team building activity that took us down the river and through some interesting markets. The overly-competitive side of me took issue with a few parts of how the company runs the competition, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon (until a torrential downpour flooded the streets and we had to ride through them in tuk tuks — but that’s Bangkok for you). It was nice of the firm to include spouses and children in the activity, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with some of my husband’s work colleagues.

At the end of November we returned to Siem Reap, Cambodia to run in the Angkor Wat Half Marathon (10k) again. Because the race is so popular, flights from Singapore sell out months in advance so we actually had to leave on Wednesday even though the race isn’t run until Sunday. Not that I’m complaining; we got a chance to re-visit one of our very favorite hotels, ate lots of good food, and hit up some further-afield sites we hadn’t seen before.

Where we stayed: For the first three nights, the hubs and I stayed at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor (which we visited on our pseudo-honeymoon in 2009 and absolutely LOVED). I’m happy to report that the hotel still has the lovely lobby filled with tinkling music and the scent of lemongrass, and that the gorgeous pool is still a picturesque and lovely place to while away an afternoon. And the staff is just superb — so friendly and gracious (and they gave us a cake to welcome us back on our “anniversary”!).

At the Raffles in Siem Reap. Maybe my favorite pool in the world.

At the Raffles in Siem Reap. Maybe my favorite pool in the world.

Because the Raffles was filled up over the weekend during the race, we moved down the street to Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Resort. I think we just might be spoiled by the Raffles, but neither the hubs nor I was a huge fan of this hotel, despite its ace ranking on TripAdvisor and tons of accolades from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. Granted, the grounds are beautiful, and I was really impressed that the pastry chef left good luck cookies and chocolates in our room on the night before the race, but our room was nothing special, and we had trouble finding open chairs by the pool (which was also less-than-relaxing due to a preponderance of screaming kids). I don’t object to kids playing at a hotel pool, it’s just too bad there aren’t separate areas for kids and adults as there are at many other resorts we’ve visited.

What we did: Aside from the race itself (the hubs’s very first race — I was so proud of him for running it! And I came in third!), we enjoyed a number of delicious meals with some of our friends who’d also come over from Singapore to run the race. I also visited the “River of 1,000 Lingas” with our old guide friend Tek, and we enjoyed a lovely evening of all-you-can-eat Cambodian BBQ with Tek, his wife and daughter. I was hoping to volunteer again with the Ponheary Ly Foundation, but unfortunately the kids were out on school holidays. All the same, Siem Reap is such a fun town and such a pleasure to simply walk around.

December: Bali

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Since the hubs and I knew we’d be going home twice in 2013 for his siblings’ weddings, we decided to stick close by for Christmas. Since he’d never been to Bali, and since the weather seemed like it would be OK (compared to Vietnam and Borneo, which are also on our list), we gave it a shot and were quite happy with how it worked out.

Where we stayed: The Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. I’d visited here once for work and have to admit I was pretty enchanted. Every room is a private pool villa overlooking the ocean, and of course the Four Seasons is renowned for its topnotch service. We loved our villa — between the outdoor living room with daybed (perfect for naps!), the spacious plunge pool, the sumptuous canopy bed, and the outdoor shower, I would have been perfectly content to spend our entire 4-day vacation here. (Don’t worry — we did leave occasionally). Our room rate also came with a free massage, and the spa is amaaaahzing. The downsides: it takes forever to drive anywhere in Bali, and Jimabaran is a bit isolated if you want to go to Seminyak (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away) or Ubud (1.5 – 2 hours). The resort has a few restaurants (expensive for Bali, as you’d expect) but Jimbaran’s famous strip of on-the-beach seafood restaurants are also a short walk down the beach (be careful, these prices can add up too, as we learned when eating lobster on Christmas Eve!).

Seminyak Sunset from Potato Head Beach Club

Seminyak Sunset from Potato Head Beach Club

What we did: Visited BARC Animal Refuge in Ubud with my friend who lives in Bali; went for a light trek around Jimbaran (so beautiful); took a guided bike ride around nearby Ayana Resort (and its famous Rock Bar); enjoyed sunset drinks at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak; went shopping in Seminyak (the world’s best destination for cute dresses, I’m convinced); ate delicious babi guling at Ibu Oka in Ubud; spent 90 minutes waiting to get a visa at the Bali arrival (I’m happy to report that the new airport has finally opened and the visa situation is now much-improved).

Whew! I made it. Fortunately I’m a bit more caught up on 2013 (having already written about my trip to Shanghai in February and a bit about my trek in Nepal in April/May), but hopefully at some point I can recap the wonderful trip we took to Beijing and the Great Wall in July, or even our two trips home in May and August. We’ve got a bit less travel on tap for 2014, but I’m still hoping to visit at least one new country to keep my streak going.

In the meantime, we will continue to be thankful for all the wonderful opportunities we’ve had to travel here, and wish everyone out there a happy, travel-filled 2014!

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