The Shining City & Stinky Shoes: Singapore

Ashlee is up bright and early in this final morning in Bali. As I start running the hot water for my shower I hear her scurrying about the kitchen through the thin walls of the Balinese villa, rushing to prepare some breakfast before we leave to catch our early morning flights. I hear the sound of a knife slicing what I presume most likely to be watermelon, the clinking of dishes being set upon the table, the spatula scraping the bottom of the frying pan, the fridge door opening and closing intermittentIy, the water rushing from the kitchen faucet as she washes a dish or two. I can visualize the efficiency of her work as though the walls aren’t there at all.

Now I do have to tell you a thing or two about our “Icredible Smash” as we affectionately call her. She is our oldest daughter, and like I just said, she is incredible. She is like a whirlwind or a sudden passing dust storm, except that instead of wreaking havoc, she puts everything in order. She can plow through a workload singlehandedly  that would be daunting to a group of six.

As I start my shower I think about when Ashlee was a mere 12 year old girl, how she could pack our entire family on any type of vacation imaginable. If we were going to the beach in Mexico as we did each spring, she would make a menu, pack all the food items we needed to bring, all the kitchen essentials, all the beach gear, all the kids clothes, and anything necessary for a smooth trip including packing lunches for the road. If we went skiing she did the same thing for that, making sure each kid had hats and mitts and boots and ski gear….all I ever had to do was pack my own gear or shop for the necessities that she handed me a ready made list for.

Sometimes I try in my head to understand how she became this way. Did I expect too much from her? Was I too demanding?

I hearken back to when we lived in Finland. She was the happiest child in the world when we lived in Reisjärvi, and I mean the happiest!

We were expecting baby Stefan in August that year and I think since our youngest child, Aundrea, was already turning 5 it was the most exciting news to her and all of us. Ashlee was so excited about the baby (as were the other kids) that she saved any money she had to buy gifts for him, and at 4H she sewed him toys and pillows and blankets. Every waking moment was spent in anticipation of this child.

You may know in Finland every new mom gets a big box of baby clothes and supplies from the government as a gift to welcome the baby. When that box arrived the true excitement began. The neighborhood kids would come over frequently and everyone would inspect all our baby clothes and supplies to squeals of delight and exclamations about how tiny and cute everything was.

As the birth approached David and I had decided that one thing that we  wanted regardless of cost was a beautiful European buggy for our baby, and an Emmaljunga was going to be it. So I picked up a thick glossy brochure that had beautiful pictures of happy moms and their delightful babies, and you could custom order the pram of your dreams. You could custom order your buggy  by selecting the style, and the inside fabric, and the outside fabric.

Beautiful images flitted in my head about us proudly pushing our new baby in this beautiful buggy…walking amidst the gorgeous fall colors with golden leaves gently cascading down around us, a rain cover handy just in case the weather changed…and baby’s first snow fall and how the buggy would roll easily through the accumulating snow, and how I would gently brush the snow flakes off the cover taking care that none would fall on the baby….and how in the deep winter days we would bundle up the baby and place him to sleep outside in the buggy as only Northern Europeans do…..of the spring that was sure to follow winter in the dramatic way that it does in the great north country with ever lengthening daylight….of the exciting anticipation of the sweet splendour of the Finnish summer…..and we would push our baby in our beautiful stroller on long walks as our souls delighted in all these things. It was such a delightful image.

This enchanting glossy Emmaljunga brochure, as it came to be, was in Ashlee’s hands every night when she went to bed and every morning when she awoke. Every day she would show me the fabrics she wanted for our baby with dreamy eyes sparkling with delight. “This one for the inside,” she would say with great passion, “and this one for the outside!”

Then the unthinkable happened. The horrible, most horrible unthinkable thing. Our baby boy, whom we had already named Stefan, whom we were expecting to come to be our greatest delight in just a week or so…..he died.

Instead of purchasing this European buggy to place our little babe upon, we were purchasing a teenie little casket to place our little babe within. We were purchasing a tombstone….and clothes for a funeral….

Our grief was all consuming, all encompassing, completely enveloping our souls in deepest despair. These were dark dark days in our little family and a dark, long oppressive Finnish winter was pressing upon us.

Honestly, I don’t know how I survived that winter. My sorrow was so intense. And not only did I have my own sorrow, but I had to carry my husband’s sorrow, and the sorrow of our five beautiful and innocent children; children who were not supposed to have such grief in their life’s plan.

And I think that’s when Ashlee began to carry my sorrow, to try to lighten my load. She wanted me to be the mom I used to be, not this sorrowing, bleak person who could scarcely make her way from one day to the next.

I know in her little 12 year old heart she wanted to ease my burden, and she devised a way to do it. She would wake up early every morning and make us a multi course breakfast complete with china and napkins set out in the finest fashion. She would bake cookies and cakes. She would clean and polish and shine. She would guide and direct the kids and they would play games together in a way that I think children today no longer know how to play. And this is a way that she worked through her own sorrow, and a way that she hoped to ease mine, and a way that she could help the other kids work through their pain.

This, I think, is how it came to be that Ashlee turned into this incredibly hard working, efficient and driven young lady. She was my right hand from sunup to sundown.

Now surely I don’t mean any disrespect for anyone who has actually really lost a limb, but when Ashlee left home, I lost my right hand. I don’t think I have completely recovered yet, but as time has passed I have had pangs of guilt about how much responsibility she assumed as such a young girl. About how she had to carry my heavy burden of sorrow at such a delicate age.

Now as she is scurrying about in the kitchen of our little Balinese villa, the pang of guilt strikes like lightning. I must hurry. I can’t make her do all the work! I shower quickly so I can go help her finish making breakfast.

“Wakey wakey, shaky bakey,” I pronounce loudly to the twins, both of whom had fallen asleep in our room. They snap to attention and clamor out of bed quickly. We have had many early flights on this trip and they know that they must rise in a moments notice to catch the plane.

I make my way to the kitchen and see that Ashlee has pulled together a considerable breakfast with the bit of food we have left over. There’s a big batch of scrambled eggs, some Wheatabix, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast, and coffee.

Pretty soon there are many bleary eyed travelers at the table. Made, our cook, arrives. She was supposed to come for 6:30 to lock up after we leave, but she is here a 1/2 hour early.

I don’t know if you have ever had this happen to you. I want to go make some more scrambled eggs so I grab the carton of eggs I had just bought at Carrefour the day before. When I break the fourth egg it splats into the pan in a disgusting smelly and runny mess! I remember my mother teaching me as a young girl that a runny egg is a sign that it is spoiled. As soon as that thought passes through my mind, the most putrid scent imaginable assaults my olfactory senses! The egg was totally rotten. I have never smelled anything so vile and disgusting, and quite honestly I have never seen a rotten egg in all my life and never want to again! I feel nauseated, and can’t get that horrid stench out of my mind!

That stench sticks in my nostrils as I climb the steep steps to our room. I am not sure if the nausea is from that lingering stench of rotten eggs that seems to have mired itself in my nostrils, or if the nausea is from what lies ahead. I am very acutely aware that our adventure in Southeast Asia is drawing to a close. I am very acutely aware that I will be leaving my two girls and my son-in-law and they will return to Finland. I am acutely aware that we won’t be all together again for a very long time.

But I must stop fretting about that and pack the kids bags, and double check that we haven’t forgotten anything. Just as the clock strikes 06:30 we are all ready to go…..but our driver Kadek is nowhere to be seen.

After a bit Made starts frantically calling him, but he does not answer. In my mind I am thinking he ditched us because he is mad that we didn’t hire him for our hiking and snorkeling tour.

Now, we are down a long narrow alleyway and the nearest place to grab a taxi is probably about 1/2 a mile away. And the chance of there being three taxis ready is pretty unlikely. And there’s no way to explain to the taxi how and where to pick us up if we call one in. We need to start cruising if we are going to get to the airport in time. Just as we are ready to make a breakaway Kadek answers his phone. They are just five minutes away.

By now we are already running 45 minutes behind schedule, so we rush away, down the alleyway to the waiting cars. In my frantic rush I forget to thank Made, I forget to tell her how much we appreciate her, how delightful she is….

On the way to the airport we stopped at an ATM to withdraw 3 million cool ones. Johann left his debit card in his suit pocket and left that in luggage storage in Singapore. He needs some more money for Lombok. We arrive at the airport and some of us are still pretty sleepy. We unload our bags from the car. I do notice that here in Southeast Asia when you unload your car at the passenger drop off zone you don’t have security guards hurrying you away like we do at the Phoenix airport.

This is the moment to say goodbye that I have been dreading. Ashlee gives a hug to her baby sister whom she loves dearly. The younger kids have spent two summers at Ashlee’s place in Finland where she has taught them to love nature, learn the Finnish language, and the value of hard work. Look how big Annika is! It makes me distraught. How can I keep my babies little? I can’t! And soon enough they will be off and away living their lives who knows where… is breaking my heart just to think about it. Well, you might say it is my own fault…..if you teach your kids to travel when they are young then how do you expect them to stay living close to home when they grow up?

I have to say that it has been an absolute delight to have our Aundrea along with us for our trip. Aundrea is by nature very easy going, and one who can smoothe the wrinkles out of any situation. She is a peacemaker. Not that we have needed a peacemaker along for this trip or anything. Having 3 adults and 3 kids ended up being the perfect combination because we were always able to pair up one adult with one kid. For instance when we rented motorbikes, or when we were worried about losing a kid on a busy metro.

I don’t know how soon we will see her again, as she is heading back to Finland to continue her studies where she has already been for the last two years. You may already know this, but Aundrea has the most incredible singing voice I have ever heard, and of course I am not biased at all! When this young lady sings she can lift your spirit and make your heart soar to places that you never even knew existed.

You may wonder why she is studying in Finland, and that is a good question. I sometimes wonder the same thing myself, because ideally I would love to have her at home. She is studying voice and to become a music teacher in Oulu. The reason she is there is kind of multi-faceted. First it is financially a wise decision, since Finland greatly values their educational system. School is free for her there, and the government also provides her with housing assistance and a monthly stipend for spending money. Second, the arts are alive and well in Finland including her chosen genre of music which is classical. And third, she has an amazing teacher. Her teacher is Soile Isokoski, a world renowned soprano opera star, and no I am not exaggerating. So for all these reasons I have to resolve myself to a life with my little girl thousands of miles overseas.

Maybe some day she will come home again…..goodbye my darling little Aundrea… kind hearted, forgiving, understanding, easy going little munchkin…..I hope you have a great school year again, and maybe we can get you home for Christmas… angel of music….

I wish I could take Ashlee with me, too. She lives up in northern Finland in Kuusamo by the Russian border with her husband where they have built a life together. Somehow I don’t believe they will ever move back to the U.S.  Ashlee loves nature and the forests and lakes and rivers of her hometown. She got her RN license at a very young age before she got married, and works in Kuusamo in a small clinic hospital there. As you might suspect she is also going to school, studying for her master’s degree in nursing education. In January she is going to Esbjerg, Denmark to study for 6 months. Yes, you guessed right….the Finnish government is paying for her studies there. And of course we are tempted to go visit her there, but as you know we have plans to do zero vacationing for some time…..

Ashlee has a sunny disposition, which I guess is a good thing for those long dark Finnish winters. Goodbye, my darling…..come visit in Arizona…..we can hike the Grand Canyon…..or kayak some wild untamed rivers…..or climb a mountain…..or dangle off some rock cliffs…..well, maybe you can, I think I am getting too old for all that.

As a parting gift to Johann I peel off 3 million cool ones from my pocket that I am loaning him until he gets home….now can you imagine how that feels? I am a millionaire in Indonesia! I hand him the thick clump of bills. I notice in the background that the drivers are eyeing the thick wad of money. Later I realize that perhaps they were hoping for a tip? I don’t know, Southeast Asia is supposed to be a non-tipping culture.

And so it is that David and I with our three munchkins head off to Singapore. Hennu and Holly are coming on the same flight, but they are leaving to their respective homes later today from Singapore. Ashlee, Ville, Johann and Aundrea are going to Lombok for about another week and plan to climb up Mount Rinjani. I had to save a climb up Mount Rinjani for another day…..when I am old and feeble….maybe. Goodbye my loves!

Now I am sure that you have thoroughly enjoyed my kid brag fest. And so it goes, we check in for our last Air Asia flight. Now I do want to say that I have been incredibly impressed with this airline. It is a low cost carrier, and we got our ASEAN passes for an incredible deal (just $169) for up to 10 flights. They have been consistently on time with the longest delay being only 10 minutes. They load their planes quickly and efficiently. They allow for one carry on item up to 7kg (14.5 lbs) and one handbag per passenger. I fully expected them to be very particular about carry on luggage, as would be the case with American low cost carriers, but Air Asia never once weighed our bags until this very last flight. David’s bag is too heavy, and he has to unload a few items into a plastic bag that we carry on the plane separately. Kind of dumb, but hey…..

So kudos to Air Asia for their fantastic service and incredible on time track record for all ten of flights. And thanks also for helping to make this trip a reality, because I doubt we could have made so many places without significant expense if it weren’t for our ASEAN passes.


The flight to Singapore was not full, and so it was that a man moves in behind me at the window seat, and his travel companion takes the window seat on the opposite side of the plane. The two of them yell across the aisle to each other the entire flight in their foreign tongue, and I mean literally yelling. After two hours I have had enough. I turn around and ask the dude, “Do you need to yell the whole time? Can you please stop yelling!” I quickly glance back and notice that he looks surprised that someone would confront him, and he shuts up as if I had struck him. That was the last peep I hear out of him for the rest of the trip. I am kind of done with loud mouths……

You may ask why we are going back to Singapore for one night, and I have a simple answer. When I booked our overseas tickets I booked us arriving into Guangzhou, China and flying out of Singapore, Singapore. I don’t want to miss our flights home, so we are arriving back into Singapore one day early to make sure that we don’t have any unexpected travel glitches that would make us miss our overseas flights back home. I mean, don’t forget, we wouldn’t want to miss another day of work, or anything!

It is cloudy and dismal when we arrive in Singapore, perhaps to match my mood. We have a long wait in customs again at the airport. When we finally maneuver our way through we take the metro to our dingy hostel in the Little India neighborhood so that we can shed our bags. They have good reviews online and that’s why I picked this place…..what we find is an overpriced bunk room for five people that we paid $98 USD for, which has a shared bathroom that smells of urine. The Wifi signal is weak, and you have to pay to rent a bath towel. Grrrr…..I am a bit testy……and have to get a hold of my frustration…..I have to think positive….staying here saves me at least $60 compared to the cheapest hotels I can find.

Once we have downloaded a map onto my phone with the very weak Wifi signal, we decide to hop onto a random double decker bus that stops in front of the hostel. This is the only thing that Kristoff wants to accomplish today…..riding a double decker bus. We sit upstairs and ride to the end of the line, somewhere in some random neighborhood, where we find a sushi shop, which is one more thing that was on Kristoff’s must do list. The sushi shop has a good deal for Singapore’s 50th birthday….you can buy packages of four sushi pieces for just $0.70. We stuff ourselves. 
Then its back on the metro and downtown we go.

By downtown I mean down to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is just such an engineering marvel…..

When we were here last David ordered pannacotta from the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. He has been dreaming of it ever since, and we make our way there to order more. When our pannacotta arrives we notice it is brown in color, not cream like it was last time, and it tastes incredibly disgusting. Soon the manager of the store comes to see what is wrong, and upon inspection she notices that indeed the pannacotta is messed up…some kind of production error? She gives us two free desserts to enjoy instead.

We set off for a walk around the bay front and downtown.


Dusk is setting in as we walk, and we enjoy watching the city light up.

Singapore turns 50 in just a few days. We wish that we could be here to see the festivities, because they have done some serious planning for an incredible celebration.


We hang out on the bay front to watch a water show.

Next time we come to Singapore I want to go see the Gardens By The Bay……this place looks really interesting.

It’s getting late. Of course we never got any dinner, so we head over to Little India. We ask some locals for a good restaurant recommendation, one where they make good naan bread. Since Singapore is a city that never sleeps it is possible to find many restaurants open at 11:00 pm. Look…..fresh naan bread…..


David ordered some pricey spicy lamb, which kind of breaks the budget at $17. Everything else on the menu was only about $5 so we didn’t expect the lamb to cost so much. I use up almost all of our Singapore currency to pay the bill and I don’t want to withdraw more since we leave home tomorrow. That is actually more terrible than you might understand, because I only have enough money for our metro pass to the airport and for the rental of one and a half towels for our morning showers! Oh well, that naan was delicious!!

I daresay it is late. We are only going to get 5 hours of sleep so we better hurry back to our dingy hostel and crawl onto the hard plastic mattresses……

When we get back to the hostel a new horrible odor is mixed in with the bathroom urine scent. The entire hallway on our floor is permeated with the most vile and disgusting scent you can imagine. I know that I am not sleeping in the hallway, but I do have to do an inspection to see where this vile odor is coming from. As I round the corner I see the source…..our fellow travelers have placed two pairs of shoes outside their room, presumably because the stench emanating from them was making them gag in their room. ICK!  I can’t breathe.

Now, bear in mind it is well past midnight and we are making this awful discovery, perhaps making too much noise in the process already. There is nothing that can be done. I could knock on their door and make them take their shoes back into their room…..I could get a plastic bag and wrap them up in the bag……or I could make a sign to shame them…..And what do you suppose I chose to do in my sleep deprived state of semi-crabiness?

I make a sign…..and I place it on top of the shoes….I don’t care if I am teaching bad manners to my kids who are chuckling about my sign, and express an element of surprise that I actually place my sign on top of the shoes…..I wonder what these people look like who would have the audacity to smoke us out like this….I would love to see their faces when they see the sign in the morning…..I wonder if they will tell the story about their smelly shoes for years to come….

As I fall asleep I am chuckling to myself. David just shakes his head. I think he is glad he won’t see these people in the morning. I think he is secretly glad that I found someone to direct my angst at, and he is spared from being the recipient. I know one thing that doesn’t make him glad for sure, and that is tomorrow….leaving back home….going back to the old grind….day in and day out, same old same old….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.