Monday 27 May 2013

Turtle race

Part of the beach is fenced off with red and white tape. People have collected on either side, leaving a wedge-shaped strip of sand. In the middle stands an Indonesian man with a microphone and two big blue buckets.

He tells us about sea turtles. About how they lay eggs on these shores, but are threatened, how a nest of eggs has been dug up by villagers and hatched in a nearby hatchery, for protection. Today, the day-old baby turtles will be released. He needs volunteers. Tijms looks up at me, eager. I nudge him, raise your hand. Tijm’s hand shoots up, the man’s eyes rest on him but then move on.

Five kids get handed a baby turtle and release it on the beach to crawl to the big blue sea. They don’t waste time looking around. Unperturbed by the cheering crowd they plough away at the sand with their tiny flippers. Not before long applause sounds as the first one hits the surf. The brave creatures plod on, flapping their flippers, up and down on the gentle waves.

Back at the beach, the man with the microphone is looking for new volunteers. Who knows what type of turtle this is, he asks. A ten-year-old Australian girl knows the answer: hawksbill, and gets to cross the rope. The question what poses the biggest threat to turtles hears many answers. Foxes? Seagulls? Sharks? A Singaporean girl gets it right: humans. And the development of large beach resorts, like this one, I think, but not out loud. That would be hypocrite. We are staying here too.

One last volunteer, the man calls, and I point at Tijm, but an American mother next to us shoves her toddler over the rope before questions can be asked.
The toddler drops his turtle from a height, and the crowd gasps, until after a minute the motionless creature, slowly, hesitantly, stretches his limbs.

We follow the turtles down to the sea. The crowd has spilled over the ropes, following the turtles into the sea, closing off the wedge so the turtles have to swim between feet, dodging camera’s and groping children’s hands.

Normally, only one in a thousand of these tiny creatures will grow to adult size, and life a live that may last over a hundred years. Will these ones have a better chance, having been protected from predators by the crowd on their first, dangerous trek? Or will they start their lives stressed, disoriented, by the noise? Conservation is great, and this whole batch reaches the water safely. Still, it makes me feel uncomfortable, turning what should be a natural, quiet occasion into a circus.

We rush back up the beach where the last batch is being released. Tijm pushes forward and receives the very last, tiny hatchling to be released today. With a big happy smile he sets it on the sand, gently, and we follow it racing down to the sea, overtaking his siblings. Tijm, Linde and Jasmijn cheer, ours is winning! 

Bravely it conquers the surf, paddling legs and Linde's hands. It swims on and on. On the horizon we can still see it’s tiny head bobbing, like a marble floating in the setting sun, on and on it peddles, towards an uncertain and dangerous future.

We wave, and we hope it will be a real winner, and survive the predators, the fisherman, we hope we have not freaked it out too much, and that it will grow old so it can return here, to the beach of Bintan, and lays eggs once more in the golden sand.

Sunday 5 May 2013


I have not been feeling well. I really wanted to tell you earlier about all the important things that happened the last few weeks. That we have a new King. That Linde turned four and started primary school. That we, the Dutch expat community in Singapore, celebrated for days, clad in orange, showing the locals just how crazy we can be. That we watched the coronation in a champagne bar downtown, that served free hutspot (potato and carrot stew) as a barsnack. That the kids emptied their piggy bank to raid the kids free market at the Hollandse Club. That our new tv communicates with the computer, and showed the coronation again, on Sunday morning, on the big screen, and together with the kids we again admired beautiful Queen Maxima, in royal blue, with the three little princesses. Real princesses, with blond tresses, but miles away from the plastic Disney variety, with plump cheeks, yawns, and so much more real and perfect in all their imperfections.

So much festivity yet I, since I was not feeling well, could not really join in, not as much as I would have liked. Off course, feeling off is never an excuse for the mother of a little girl that turns four and needs a party. Nor for that of a five year old who has been promised that his mama will help out at the school with the old fashioned Dutch games. Nor the two year old who wants it all.

So I organised the party, where the children made their own crowns, decorated cupcakes, dressed up as little princes and princesses, played, played and played, sang Happy Birthday in two languages, and ate home baked strawberry cake. We went to shop for Linde’s present, her new bicycle without stabilisers, and there were tears because, mean, mean mummy did not want to buy the Disney princess one. It was just one princess too far.

At the new school there was a party too, where queen Linde sat in the circle on her blue throne, demure and a little shy, the red paper crown with the big cardboard 4 perched on her blonde hair. Treats were handed round, the same popcorn bags we made for the farewell party at the preschool the week before, and no, I was not allowed to pick her up. Her majesty would take the bus home. When asked how it was, this second day at school, she answered it was fun. Pressed for details she shouted, I told you it was fun, and ran up the stairs to fetch her new princess dress.

When I saw my consultant, at the private Singaporean hospital that looks more like an expensive hotel, and told him the recovery after my surgery took so much longer than expected, he was not surprised. Rest, he recommended. So now I am resting, that is, lying on my bed resting all of my body but the tips of my fingers tapping away. The parties are over. The princess is back at school. The queen will take her beauty sleep now.

Running the Wall

Today I share with you a story that is not my own, but that of my friend Joyce. With a group of friends she will brave one of the great challenges of Asia: the Great Wall of China Marathon. And she asks for your help. Because they do not only run for themselves, they run for charity. They 'Run for Rett'

Please read Joyce's story below and help, if you can, her niece Chelsea and girls like her who suffer from Rett Syndrome, a rare disease affecting little girls all over the world.

Great Wall Charity Challenge: ‘Run for Rett’

On May 18th 2013, Nienke, Jetteke, Anneloes, Jolanda, Judith, Saskia, Peronne and Joyce, all Dutch expats in Singapore, will be running the full, half and quarter marathon on the Great Wall of China. A physical challenge for all of us. 

We started training together in August last year, just for fun, because we wanted to enter the Run for Hope (3,5 or 10 km) in November. Some of us had never ran before, most of us had a little or more experience.

During training we discovered not only that running was good exercise, it also was 'gezellig' (that weird Dutch word for ‘fun’) to train together. To give us goal to run for, we decided to go to Beijing for the Great Wall marathon. We did not exactly know what we were getting ourselves into. The Great Wall Run does not only mean running a long distance, it also means climbing approximately 2600 steps. For Anneloes, the only one who is doing the full marathon, it means climbing almost 5200 steps!

This means we need two kinds of training: Running and climbing steps. On Monday nights we run in the Botanic Gardens, and on Friday mornings we practice climbing steps. We go to Kent Ridge Park, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Labrador Park, Mount Faber Park, or just go to a high building to run up the staircase.

Is that fun? Not always, it is hard work and it can be boring. But putting on some music whilst working out, doing it together with friends, and having a goal to work towards really helps. Your body needs quite a lot of training to get used to running long distances, and if you keep going and build it up carefully, you will find you can do so much more than you thought.

Next to the physical challenge, our run has a purpose attached to it: we intend to raise a vast amount of money for little girls with Rett Syndrome. Joyce's niece, Chelsea (16 years old), suffers from Rett Syndrome and is pictured below.

Rett Syndrome is a rare but devastating neurological syndrome that strikes at random in early childhood, primarily affecting girls. The symptoms of Rett are severe, including autism, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's, epilepsy and anxiety disorders... all that in one little girl. Rett Syndrome Research Trust (RSRT) funds research to find a cure for Rett.

Amazing results have been achieved already. Rett syndrome has been proven reversible in the lab. Funding research for Rett will also provide us with invaluable information about more common disorders like autism, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, which could be helping millions of sufferers all over the world. All funds raised by us go directly to RSRT, as the running team covers it’s own expenses.

And we need your support! We are proud that Nike will sponsor our shirts, and that we have found companies that are supporting us (like Flow traders, Finder Financials, Van Oordt, and more to follow). The Chinese press is being contacted to cover this run for promotion and awareness campaigns on Rett Syndrome.

If you would like to donate to our cause, please visit our firstgiving page to make your contribution. Alternatively, you can donate the money on RSRT’s website by referring to ‘China marathon’ under the heading ‘dedication’. Please note that payments can be made in US dollars only. 

For more information about Rett Syndrome and the work of RSRT, please visit