Thursday 30 October 2014

They have arrived!

A nomad that dreams of having her own backyard farm. That sounds a bit strange, right? Well, that’s me. This week a lifelong dream got fulfilled: I got my own hens. 

This wasn’t easy to achieve in Singapore, a city where most people live in high-rise flats or polished marble houses. They don’t have a garden, let alone raise their own livestock. Singapore’s kampongs with their free roaming chickens are long gone, and keeping poultry is now only allowed in a confined run. Which brings us to challenge number one: building the run.
Obviously, since no one keeps chickens, there are no ready-made coops for sale. DIY is not our strong suit either, so we needed ‘a guy’. As the hens won’t be allowed outside, the run needs to be spacious, and off course predator proof. To my big relief Singapore does not have foxes, but there are plenty of other lurkers on the loom. I don’t know if our monkeys will actually attack chicken, but am pretty sure they will appreciate the eggs. And then there is the big bad python, and other, smaller, sneakier snakes. Not to mention the huge monitor lizards, I am not even sure what those eat.

I won’t tell you the exact quotes that we got initially for getting this built, but they blew me away (ok, I will tell, one asked 8000 dollar)(++) After we finally found someone to do it for a slightly less extravagant number it took time, debate, redoing, and delay by massive rainstorms but finally: It was ready!

Which brings me to challenge number two: getting the chicken. You can’t just buy them at a pet store, nor anywhere else for that matters. Smuggling them in from Malaysia, where they are freely available at any market, did not seem a good plan either. Thanks to the Internet I met a fellow crazy expat who kept chicken and behold, she knew ‘a guy’, who knew a guy who had a chicken farm. After a delay of only a few days (some issues with farm regulations, off course, this is still Singapore) he delivered. Six brown fat hens now range across our run. 

Observing the chicken has proved a lot of fun. Not only we like it, the curious monkeys love using the top of the run as a trampoline, and seeing how far their arms can reach in. Birdie, our free ranging cockatiel, does not seem too bothered that the hens have taken over his temporary residence, and he has found a new perch in a branch above. The wild cockerel has gotten exited too, strutting his stuff circling the run. Both parties seem pretty miffed at the barrier between them.

Off course there are challenges with keeping chickens coming from a commercial egg farm. 
These girls have been living in a small cage all their life. They have not seen a vegetable in their life, and the looks I get when I put some in their feeding dish are very much the same as those my kids would have given me. They sleep under, rather than on the perches we so carefully constructed in the henhouse, just like they have no clue what to do with the fancy nest boxes. They lay where they walk. And laying, these ladies can! 

We all enjoy the clucking, cackling, squawking, and cooing. We observe our new hens, which are a great addition to our urban safari lodge. And, most of all, we enjoy our farm-fresh eggs.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Prepare to be amazed

A weekend city trip with 3 young kids can leave you with an acute need for a quiet vacation on the beach. But that does not mean it is not amazing. 

Our trip started in chaos, running around Changi airport to buy a last minute Bangkok city guide before the gate closed, and me racking my brain to dig up all those great tips that people shared in the last few weeks. After an elaborate study of the guidebook on the flight, in between games of Uno, hangman and reading Stickman for the fifteenth time, we settled on the museum where the Royal White Elephants used to be kept for that first afternoon. 

Bangkok is a busy, full city, and after our taxi, flight, and taxi ride to the hotel we walked, rode a sky train, and a tuk-tuk to get to the museum. When we arrived it was 3pm. The museum was closed.

Hot and weary, we rambled around the park, clutching the guidebook, unsure what was next with three overheated, worn-out kids. All of a sudden hordes of Chinese tourists, wrapped in colourful cheap sarongs over shorts, swept us up. Groups of them followed umbrella-holding guides to a large, renaissance style building. The tourists, guides nor the locals seemed to speak much English, but we took our chances. We bought tickets. 

More in-depth scrutiny of the guidebook revealed that we were in the Royal Throne Hall, which was even more impressive on the inside than the outside, with golden domes and ceiling frescos of naked angels, elephants and garudas. The hall was cool and vast, and housed an exhibition of gold and silk handicraft by royal artisans. The vastness of the golden halls silenced even the tourist groups, even our kids, into a serene site of glitter and glamour. We were amazed. There were golden boats, intricate woodcarvings, luminescent embroidered silk tapestries, and much, much more. The children were awed, and so were we. Our Bangkok trip had kicked off with a bling. 

The next few days showed more glimmer and dazzle, when we visited the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Again, neither hordes of tour groups, nor the blistering heat, spoiled our amazement. 

To cool off and chill out we then sailed Bangkok’s canals in a longtail boat, and the river on the ferry. Old houses, and ramshackle shanties were alternated with gleaming mansions and, off course, golden domed temples. Without too much purpose or planning we let a few more of the many, many faces of Bangkok amaze us. We fed fish for good luck.

We ate delicious food, hot, fragrant and spicy, less so for the kids. We relaxed by the pool, and got tortured with Thai massage. Our lack of preparation was not a problem. We were amazed any way. 

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Four Dutch girls, two tandems and 14.000 kilometres

Where I just went backpacking in South America for a few months after I graduated from university, these four young Dutch girls are looking for a bigger adventure. In just over a year they will cycle from Jakarta to Amsterdam. On two tandems. Not only that, they do it for a good cause: to raise awareness for women’s rights. A ‘Ride 4 Women’s Rights.’

A few weeks after their departure from Jakarta Carlijn, Monique, Lidewij and Sophie arrived in Singapore, staying with a friendly Dutch expat couple that took them under their wings. The next day I took them to HOME, the NGO I work for. HOME supports migrant workers in Singapore, and the Dutch girls were invited to join in my Dreams Class, where we dreamed about our prospective futures together with domestic workers staying at the HOME shelter. We found that, although the contestants came from very different countries (the Netherlands, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, Greece and India) their dreams were not that different. We all wanted to start our own companies, build our dream house and be able to take care of our loved ones.

The day after the four girls cycled on, over the causeway to Malaysia, but luckily there was time for a quick interview. I was curious how they got the idea for this challenging journey. It turned out not to be the first time these women, that have been friends since primary school, travelled together. This time they wanted to do something different. ‘It was on our last trip that we realised that students like us are very self-centered. We took all our opportunities for self-development for grated, without stopping to think how special they are. Because we are all quite sporty, we wanted to add a challenge. To be aware, for 400 days, whilst cycling, of women’s rights, will be an unforgettable exploration. So that is how we started the ‘Ride for Women’s rights.’

The four women will visit various projects from Plan International and Care International during their journey, as well as other local projects that support women’s rights, and share their stories on their website. So far the group cycled through Indonesia to Singapore, neighbouring countries but which are worlds apart. Singapore impressed them as being ‘futuristic, grand, visionary, and full of expats.’ The ladies of R4WR don’t like to judge. Their journey is one of exploration. Yet they have to admit that Singapore is more modern, and much wealthier than Indonesia. The visit to HOME showed them that ‘beneath the veneer of Singapore there is a darker area, where for instance migrants rights are not always heard.’

How does the public respond to four cycling Dutch girls? ‘When in the busy Indonesian traffic two red tandems appear, men, women as well as children laugh their heads off. There is astonishment, but we also get positive reactions, when we tell that we will cycle 14000 kilometres from Jakarta to Amsterdam to raise awareness on women’s rights. Four girls cycling? Really…from Jakarta to Rembang? O no, all the way up to Amsterdam?’ They had not expected all these positive reactions, and the sign, conversations and meetings that came forth made a lasting impression on the four.  

Apart from the Far East they will also cross the Middle East. All countries that are not as safe as Singapore. Are they never afraid? ‘In the Netherlands we did training on how to handle aggressive situations. This was also a prerequisite for our parents and sponsors. Safety remains very important to us. In Indonesia we often slept at police stations, a golden concept. In every town or village we’d knock on the door at the local police office. After the first week police offices started to feel like home! Every office we slept at (on our mats) would provide us with a letter of recommendation for the next one. When we arrived at the last one, in Bali, we had 17 letters. Let’s hope this trick will work in other countries too.’

After Singapore, Sophie, Carlijn, Monique and Lidewij will cycle through Malaysia, then Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar before entering the Middle East. If you want to follow their adventures, do check their website at www.r4wr.or or find them on facebook as R4WR.

And if you have suggestions for projects to visit, or places to stay in any of these countries, don’t hesitate to drop them an email at