Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Autograph anyone?

I like to think of myself as the bashful, introverted type, and then I wake up from my dream and realize I am the nosey Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched. It was my inner busybody that landed me in a film being shot in Singapore about children being forced into arranged marriages around the world.

Three weeks ago, I was walking with some friends in the Chinese Gardens when we happened upon a film crew and my big yap asked if they needed any extras.  I didn't expect the director to say yes, but she needed some bodies for a wedding scene in the upcoming weeks and asked if I had friends."Do I have friends? Hecks ya."

I even look like Mrs. Kravitz
I put the call out to some of my Singapore mates and told them to gather up their saris because we were going to be heading to Little India to be the crowd at an Indian wedding. None of us knew what the film was about but it didn't matter because it sounded like first-rate fun. We all just hoped it wasn't a porno movie, but this in Singapore. No chance of that!

If you have not been to the enclave of Little India, you are in for a feast for the senses. Little India is a loud, messy mishmash of spices, flowers, produce, meats, clothes and food.  Every corner has a restaurant, a market full of aromatic, handmade garlands and Hindi music blaring.  I have been to several cities in India and this is as close as you get, minus the animals running on the road, rooting through the trash.

Our lady in pink
The director, Natasha is a whirling dervish, full of energy from New York City, making films in Singapore for the next three years. She is originally from Iran, as is her Director of Photography. They are making films that highlight many of the injustices in the world, such as young children being forced to marry creepy old men. Imagine our surprise when we were introduced to the bride of the scene. Farrah is about 12 years old and the groom looked to be about 35. I don't think it was hard for Farrah to "act" sad or upset about this role. It was downright pedophilic  We were told to be happy, happy while this poor little girl looked so far out of her element, she was on Mars. If you were put in this position, you would be confused, terrified and wanting to run for your life. The groom was told to act proud because he had such a young bride.

Luckily my friend knew what to do!
Besides meeting the tweenagers in this movie, I met more expat extras, some local Singaporean woman and Cameron, the sound man from Virginia.  Of course, we mustn't forget the Indian men that wandered up to me in the park and asked to take their photo with the redhead in the blue sari. Good lord, can I not get away from the photo taking?  My friends thought it was hilarious and suggested I give out autographs.  These men became such a nuisance that we had Cameron chase them away. Luckily he was a big guy, not used to taking no for an answer.

The shoot itself was fun but also exhausting. I didn't think I would get so tired, standing in one spot, and who knew your cheeks would hurt from take after take of the “wedding crowd” smiling. The second she yelled, "cut," the smiles would droop off our face and the sweat would run down our backs. 

The "stars" of the movie
It was a blessing that it had rained before the shoot because I am certain there was a huge salty, puddle beneath me from the sweat running from my head to my toes, one drop at a time. I was one of the lucky ones because my Sari was a cheap 5.5 metre piece of cloth wrapped around me several times. I only spent $7 on the tatty fabric and like any big sister, my sister Lori Facebooked me and said I looked like I was wrapped in a bed quilt that my parents had in the 70s.  Leave it to the sister to tell it like it is. Some of the other ladies had authentic saris and they were hot and heavy compared to my thin cloth. As wonderful as they looked, you knew they were melting with the silken sheaths.

Me and our bride, melting
I am not sure I looked like a duvet cover, but I do know by the end of the shoot I looked like someone had wrapped me up in $1 store wrapping paper. All of the hard work my friend put forth in making me look respectable was for nothing.  We were all so hot and ragged that when the director yelled, "That's a wrap," there was a collective sigh of gratitude.  So much for my film career as an extra.  One day was more than enough for me. 

Natasha told the actors and crew to head to Little India and grab lunch at one of the delicious spots for authentic southern Indian food. We were happy to head anywhere that had air con and a place to rest our weary legs.  To make the meal even better, our petite leader picked up the tab as we gorged ourselves with food I can’t name. I never knew standing around would make one so famished.

 Natasha explained these short films they are making will be entered into many worldwide film festivals so who knows? Maybe the other love-of-my life Robert Redford will see me at Sundance Film Festival in Utah, but if he doesn’t, this is his last chance because I am officially hanging up my sari and retiring from being an Indian as well as an extra in the movies.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Puzzles, punching and excuse my Spanish

They say as you get older you should engage the head in activities that stimulate and keep the brain fresh such as Sudoko or maybe Pictionary.  I am not sure my brain has many cells left after a lifetime of tequila and kids driving me mad but I do believe in the philosophy. My Grandpa Kat was a puzzle man and as kids it always gave us great pleasure to try to stump him with the most challenging puzzles we could find; the best one, as I remember was Spilt Milk.  He completed it with ease, and we never managed to rattle him. He had great patience to deal with dozens of grandchildren and to complete even the most brain busting game.

In Singapore, because it is difficult for expat spouses to work, we are always searching for new ideas on how to keep the cerebellum on an upward spiral so we don't become complacent and die of boredom in the heat.  Yes, "Wah, Wah," says the expat wife, and I will forgive you if you don't feel sorry for me.

Take that, girlie man!
My latest pursuits are a little off the beaten track when you think of Asia. This continent conjures up the idea of the mysterious Orient, heavenly spices, mythical creatures, bizarre medicinal remedies and exotic ladies dressed in Cheongsams. None of that nonsense for me though.  I have decided to take a self defense class while here to keep my muscles confused.  Before I came to Singapore, I spent half of my life in a sweaty, testosterone gym and since leaving, I have turned into gelatinous goo.  I do bike but I can only ride so many kilometers before I fall off the island and end up in Indonesia.  I thought self defense would be a great way to keep mentally alert and toned at the same time.

When you think of Asia, you think Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid, graceful Tai Chi, or ear piercing “Hi-Yahs” in Judo. Not my bag. I decided to take an Israeli self defense class called Krav Maga that is comprised of kicking, biting and punching your way out of any situation, including a paper bag. What Israel has to do with Singapore, I have no idea but I am never the one to take the traditional route.

Can't tell you whose face I am imagining
There is nothing sexy about Krav Maga.  It isn't for show, belts or the fighting ring like Muay Thai.  It is just to survive in case of an attack. The only problem with taking the class, as much as I enjoy hitting the instructors and breaking free from a choke hold, is that I am now looking for people on the MRT or the bus to nail after the class is finished at 10:00 p.m.  

I walk away from the class with bruises, and cuts, so whilst on the subway home, I am begging people to mug me or get frisky with an Outrage of Modesty incident.  No such luck.  I have taken to walking down dark alleys but Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world so the chance of any type of attack is less than zero. I will have to suffice with punching the bags, beating the pads or giving my instructors a good smack now and then. I have noticed when I arrive home, both R2 and Man are safely tucked into their beds for fear I want to show them a newly learned technique.

A few of my texts for class
The other activity that I have taken up, which makes no sense in Asia, is Spanish. I pay a private tutor more money than my son’s college tuition to teach me “Hola, dos cervezas, por favor.”  I can't be satisfied to learn Malay, Mandarin or even Singlish for that matter.  I can't say "lah" at the end of every sentence or cut phrases to a minimum by saying, "Can, can," or "Can not" as they say in Singapore.  I had to hire an expensive tutor from Spain to teach me Latin American lingo.  You must remember I live with two Spanish men but they seem to forget they are Spanish speakers when I enter the room.  That is why I pay the hefty fee, do a ton of Spanish homework, and hope one day I can survive in a Latin country without sounding like a complete hick town girl, from Canada. “Mi nombre es Dora la Explorer,” well, you get the picture.

I  mustn't be too hard on R2 and his lack of language teaching skills. I have for a fact, become incredibly adept at swearing and blasphemy with every combination of sinful words available to me. For some reason, I pick up these words like a duck to water, I can prattle them off at any situation.  I am not sure why I am so fluent in expletives but it might have something to do with every time there is a futbol game on the computer, I hear words that would make a Mexican bandido blush coming from the office, where R2 is holed up trying to get any soccer news from home.

I am not sure where Krav Maga and Spanish will take me.  I know that I am frustrated that I am not as agile as I used to be so it makes Krav Maga more difficult, but to date, all of my pearly whites are still intact, and I do come home with some skin left on my arms so that is a bonus.  

I can speak to Caterina in Spanish
Spanish, well that is another story. I guess I should have paid more attention in Grade 9,10 and 11 French class but our 300 pound pedophile teacher was more interested in staring lecherously at the young girls, handing out chocolate bars when you won French bingo, and having the students make "snack runs" to the local store, than teaching us anything useful. Had I only knew how to conjugate French verbs and understood the masculine/feminine thing that goes on in other languages, not called English, I might be a wee bit more successful at Spanish.  

We are on countdown mode to leave Asia and we have no idea where we will end up. For four years the Canadian Government has held up R2's residency for reasons we will never understand. I have come to learn that Mexicans, even well educated, highly sought-after professionals, face great discrimination across the world and Canada is no different. You never know how my Spanish will come in handy while living in Mexico, and my Krav Maga, well, that will keep the bandidos at bay while we wait to return to Canada.  Meanwhile, these new activities may or may not be keeping me on my toes but I know my body and my brain need a constant diet of Tylenol.

G.L. & Steve are ready to Protect
For anyone interested in taking Krav Maga, Muay Thai or Boxing, I would highly recommend Protect Singapore. Senior Instructors Steve and GuanLong (G.L) are fierce competitors and well trained in these disciplines. They are tough, and when you hear them kick a heavy bag, you know it. They are also both extremely patient and work you at the level you need to be; not under and not over. They both look like a couple of gentle, Singaporean gentlemen, but believe me, you would not want to be in a fight with them.  I can almost guarantee, you would not win.

The particulars for the studio are below.

Protect-Singapore -  11D HongKong Street (5th Level), Singapore 059654
Contact number - 8250 4361

Friday, 9 November 2012

Don't steal my thunder

I had my sun hat on, preparing for The Bahamas

When R2 and I got engaged five years ago, we wanted to throw a Tommy Bahama party because we were on our way to Nassau to celebrate the upcoming nuptials, to buy a wedding band in the jewelry laden country, and let's face it, to get out of the bitter cold. We invited our guest to don board shorts, Hawaiian shirts, bikinis, flip flops and anything else that reminded them of the beach. What we didn't bargain for was-42 C weather.

R2 had only landed in Canada in May so it was his first winter, and as far as he was concerned, his last. We had already made a trip to Mexico in December but by the end of January, we were ready to escape again so the trip was booked and a party was organized. Many guests made the party but it wasn't the full house we thought it would be due to the bitter cold. We all made the best of it and toasted to the brave souls that thumbed their nose at Jack Frost.

My plants were waiting for the guests on the roof
Fast forward five years to Singapore and not Saskatchewan. R2 and I decided to host an international party and invite all the people I have met since living here. What I didn't tell him was exactly how many I asked. I assured R2 no matter how many showed, on our garden rooftop, we would find the space.

It may sound like a piece of cake to host a BBQ; we all do it in our home country, but you must remember, we have no car and I had no idea where to buy buns, burgers or a piece of cake, for that matter. We had to remember the non-meat eaters, the non-pork eaters and the non-beef eaters. I scoured the city for chicken and veggie burgers.  Luckily a local friend knew of a bakery that would bake me the white, sweet hamburger buns - all four dozen of them.  There is no Costco or Walmart so if you can only find white flour buns and processed, plastic cheese, so be it. As long as we all got together, it would be fun.

Friends from Singapore and Japan
 I felt quite cocky on the day of the party. I told R2 and Man that our day was going to be perfect with no rain in sight.  The past days, we had buckets of rain, but not a drop fell on party day, Saturday. At 6 p.m. we were going to set out the chairs on the rooftop when Man pointed to the sky and told me in Spanish the sky was very dark.  "Oh no, nothing is going to ruin this party. We have over 40 people coming so the rain isn't invited."

No sooner than I said this, the sky opened up, the lightening streaked through the sky and thunder shook the house. Then the phone started, and the texts and the Facebook messages and the emails asking, "Is the party still on?'  Come on people, this is just a little rain; yeah right.

The rain pounded the house, pelted the windows and bent the trees. The party goers were having difficulties getting taxis, the roads were flooding, and our elevator broke down. Nothing like a five story hike to the top of the complex to get a party started. The people arrived with sweat and rain dripping off their ruined coifs.

I lost control of the party and the greeting of the guest because we opened up another door to our penthouse to try to help the people not capable of walking the flights. R2 was greeting them at the front and I was at the back.  Food appeared out of nowhere, Susan, our helper started to "BBQ" in the kitchen, Man tried to entertain and introduce himself in his Spanglish and we ran to get the guests drinks, if not towels.

R2 was into the Sake with the Japanese ladies
At one point I counted 45 bodies in our condo. We had people from India, Japan, France, Korea, Spain, Canada, USA, England, Scotland, Nigeria, Australia, Philippines, China and Singapore. When the Italians showed up, I sent R2 over to chat them up in a familiar language and make them feel welcome amongst the saturated crowd. Every other language was on their own because frankly, my Gaelic needs a little work.

It was our international student, Man that heard the "Help, help me," wafting from the bathroom. Too bad he wasn't sure what the voice meant. Our condo has heavy wooden doors and thick sliding panels that block off one section of the flat from the next to save on air con.  One of our guests went into the bathroom and shockingly locked the door. What a terrible thing she did.  Imagine, locking the door to a bathroom. This door has been the bane of our existence in the condo and all the guests that visit us are warned about the lock. We already spent money to get a locksmith to un-jimmy the door when we arrived.

Man saved lady in checkered shirt from the loo
All of this action was going on without my knowledge while I pretended I spoke Japanese to assist the non-English speaking Tokyo friends. R2 and Man tried desperately to free our young guest out of the loo. There is no air con in the toilet and I think she was starting to melt.  It was Man's brilliant idea to jump out his bedroom window, in the monsoon, up five stories and leap like Spiderman to the bathroom ledge from a precarious perch.  He then buttered his hips and shimmied through a two foot square window, head first into the shower to jack the door on the other side with a credit card. I asked how a lawyer knew how to pick a lock and he just smiled. That part of English he understood!

After we fed the hungry crowd, poured the drinks and saluted the great turnout, the rains finally stopped. R2 quickly broke off the knob on the bathroom door but we won't mention that to the landlord.  No need to have anyone else lodged in our latrine.

Mexico, Italy, India/Australia/Canada in the house
I was able to usher people to the rooftop and we had space, fresh air and a beautiful Singaporean night. While it is a sweltering heat zone during the day, all the expats and locals live for the nights in Singapore.  The temperature dropped to a cool 24C, there was a breeze blowing from the beach, and for several hours the party continued under the stars, with distant lightening over Indonesia giving us a spectacular light show.

I think most people enjoyed themselves at our first international party. A ton of fun-loving people, a torrential downpour, inside BBQ burgers and powder room drama.  Most people can only dream of hosting such an event.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

White elephant in the room

Before I moved to Asia, I had a love of Dragons that began with R2. He explained that in Asia, the mythical creature is the most revered of all the zodiacs and now that 2012 is Year of the Dragon, everyone wants a "Dragon Baby". The beast is a mix of all the animals and only comes around once every 12 years. We enjoyed dragons so much that in every country we visit, we purchase one, so now I have an extensive collection. While most of them were broken in two or three pieces on the boat ride from Canada, I still have them on display - everywhere from Mexico, to Austria, to Spain to Hong Kong to Vietnam. Thank god for Crazy Glue.

YaYa was not shy
I have never been a dog lover, although I have tried.  I enjoy the look of dogs, but in Singapore, often the poor guys are relegated to a small flat and bark like mad out of sheer boredom. Too much yapping and crapping for me. I love cats and grew up with them, but the felines in Asia are bizarre. The eyes are too close together and only a stump of a tail; it's just creepy. They mostly roam wild and keep the mouse population to a minimum but I don't want to touch them. There are many kind souls  seen in the parks and void decks feeding the strays and if they are generous, pay to have the cat sterilized to keep the population down. A clipped ear signifies a neutered cat, a missing tail, well, we haven't figured that one out yet. 

What I truly love in Asia, since I visited on a holiday three years ago is the gentle giants; the elephants. I ask you, is there anything more beautiful than the wrinkly face, the soft, trusting eyes and the inquisitive trunk of a pachyderm? These regal beasts understand about 40 commands and become attached to humans for 80 years, so why isn't there a Year of the Elephant?

Dozens of elephants walk for hours carrying tourists
I was like most tourists and didn't think much about the elephants. All I wanted to do was claim I rode one while in Malaysia. The first elephant I rode was apparently in the movie, The King and I with Jodi Foster but for all I know, it could have been in Dumb and Dumber. I only felt sadness after I handed over my Ringgits and rode that poor creature. I didn't tell R2 my feelings because while in Langkawi, I dragged him, all over God's green earth to ride that exhausted fellow. He proceeded to book me another trip in Jaipur, India, not knowing I was sickened by the abuse of the elephant and that we were contributing to it.

What we experienced in Jaipur made Malaysia seem like a picnic for the elephant.  In Jaipur, there were about 50 elephants all painted and decorated with Mahouts riding them on the neck, up and down Amber Fort. An elephant has a weak back so it is only advisable to ride on the neck. This was not the case here; there were baskets and often you would see three or four people loaded on the backs while the elephants climbed a steep 1 km trail to the top of the fort. I thought I would die when I saw a man beating the elephant on the head with a bull hook. Again, I didn't tell R2 about how upset I was, but in retrospect, I know he was as saddened and sickened as I was about the treatment. As sure as the sun rises, I know that R2 puts me first in everything he does. While riding an elephant up a huge hill is not his cup of tequila, he did it for me. I didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him I was distraught over this madness.

I have seen the tourism elephants in Thailand and I have seen the posters advertising the shows where they dance, bow and perform for the tourists. I have seen people parading the elephants up and down the congested streets in costumes and paint while the travellers pay for a photo with them. Now that I have worked with and researched elephants, I refuse to help the people that benefit from the abuse of the beasts.

Hello YaYa...I am Layna
What I did find in Phuket, Thailand warmed my heart to a select group that make money with performing elephants. We met a man on Mai Khao beach that had a two-year-old baby named YaYa. We were lounging by the pool, when R2 shot up and yelled, "Follow me." I don't ordinarily see R2 move that fast unless there is a buffet line involved so I didn't question him, as his long legs raced down the path to the beach. What we found there was the most beautiful sight.

The man had his wrinkly, grey baby and to make money he asked for 100 Baht ($3 CA) to feed her a huge bunch of bananas. We had left so quickly we didn't have time for money, so I asked him if he could return the following day. A male elephants eat about 250 kg of food per day so I had no problem paying to feed this gorgeous girl.

Too many kisses
Sure enough, the following day the man and YaYa came back. I hugged and played with her as much as I could, while she covered me with elephant slobber from her trunk. She had bristly hair sticking out all over her head and she was a flirtatious delight.  She lapped up the bananas and grabbed them out of my hand if I was too slow to feed her. I gave her 100 Baht and she put it in the man's pocket.

YaYa stuck around the beach for a long time that day; maybe business was slow or the man was enjoying the cooler weather.  R2 ventured into the ocean and was surprised to come out of the water, right beside YaYa. She had wandered into the Andaman to refresh herself.  All R2 saw was a grey periscope above the surf. He had never been so close to an elephant before and was charmed by her.

The baby was getting sleepy
We sat near the ocean, waiting for the famous sunset of  the JW Marriott and YaYa stayed right there with us. I watched as the man tried to hose her off after she rolled in the sand, like a dog.  She is still a baby so she refused to get clean, like many babies do.  He had to scold her until she slowly came forward for a bath.  Typical kid, doesn't want to take a shower.  She played with the man by licking his face with her gigantic tongue. He blew into her trunk and she squealed in delight. At one point, he sat on the grass and YaYa stood overtop of him. No matter where he would go, she would run after him.  I was grinning from ear to ear to see this display. He was kind and gentle with her; never did he strike her with a hook or treat her in a rough manner.

Finally the sun set and all the tourists called it a night on Mai Khao beach. So did the man and YaYa.  Before he left, I walked to him and said, "That elephant really loves you,"  He replied in broken English, "I really love her."

 Sunset means home time for YaYa 
I hope the man always cares for YaYa and keeps the bull hook away from her.  I hope she has a chance to procreate and isn't made to amuse the tourists indefinitely and I pray the man always loves her the way he did on our last day in Phuket.  

Please remember and be discerning when it comes to elephant treks.  Like the trapped barking dogs in tiny Asian flats and condos, not all are treated with dignity and respect, and have the room to grow and exercise, the way they were meant to. The elephant population is reduced significantly in the world.  There is a very real fear they will quickly become extinct, so being raised by man may be the only way they will survive poachers and game hunters.