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Cambodia: Artisans of Angkor Silk Farm

On my second full day in Siem Reap, I visited the Angkor Silk Farm.  It was threatening rain all day, and after getting heatstroke the day before from spending too much time in a tuk tuk, I decided to book a car.  The drive out to the farm took around a half hour.  Traveling in a car meant that I was more distanced from Cambodia, but it also meant that I could chat with my driver.  He also has a daughter around Rhiannon’s age, and we chatted about school and education for Cambodian kids.  He told me about growing up in Cambodia in the civil war and the aftermath.  I saw rice fields, women making palm sugar, and what the average home looks like.

Arriving at the farm, I was taken on a free tour.  I saw Mulberry Trees, which food for the silk worms.

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I got to see the worms at various ages.  Then I saw the baskets in which they spin their cocoons.  About 20 percent of the worms are allowed to survive, while the other 80 percent of the cocoons are placed in trays and then put into the sunlight to kill the worms inside.

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The cocoons are separated into raw and fine silk.  Ravi (if I recall correctly–the memory is starting to fade) is the exterior silk of the cocoon.  The fine silk is the interior.  The types of silk are separated as in the picture above and the two different silks are processed.  They boil the silk/cocoons and then spin the silk into thread.  Thread is wound thicker and into skeins.

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If needed, the silk is dyed.  The three types of thread to the left are raw silk, the one to the right is fine silk.

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The silk is woven in a large room.  The tassels on some types of products are rolled by hand.

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You then exit through a museum (pictured) and a gift shop.


I really recommend this tour if you have any interest in silk production.  Artisans of Angkor is a company that reinvests profit into the educational training it provides to young Cambodians.  They are bringing back the traditional art forms that were almost lost in the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the Civil War, and those who they employ are paid a fair wage.

You can see the rest of my silk worm farm photos  (and some videos) here.

Legoland Malaysia

This week Emily and I took the five year olds to Legoland.

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.49.04 pmsource

It’s ironic, really, that the border to Malaysia is closer to my current apartment than my favorite mall is to my in-laws house but until Monday I had never crossed it.  I read up on the process of driving to Malaysia and asked for advice on Facebook, but I definitely had anxiety as we embarked upon our journey.

In the end, I needn’t have.

On a Monday morning there is no real traffic or delay at the border.  You drive to the checkpoint that looks a lot like a toll plaza.  The border guard takes the passports and your identity cards.  You tap your cash card and are sent on your way.  Driving across the long bridge between the Singaporean and Malaysian checkpoints reminds you that Singapore is, in fact, an island.  You complete the same process on the other side, minus the Singaporean ID cards.  They don’t charge you a fee there–about a kilometer past the checkpoint is a toll booth where you can buy a Malaysian tap n go card for tolls (although that is the only toll booth between Singapore and Legoland).  The toll there was 7.50 ringitt.  My friend Sammi gave me photos of the turns needed to go to Legoland, but it’s pretty straightforward and took less than a half hour from the border.


We parked at the mall next to Legoland.  It’s actually attached to the entrance to the amusement park, and only cost me 1 ringitt for eight hours (less than 50 cents Singapore).  It was convenient for us to go back there after lunch to drop off our morning stuff and our souvenirs and to pick up our things for the water park.

IMG_7958My biggest concern about Legoland, and the reason we hadn’t yet visited was whether Elanor was tall enough for the rides, and if there was any point in taking Rhiannon at all.  I learned that if your child is under a meter, there is very little they can do.  Elanor happens to be about 96cm, but while there are stands with minimum heights, no one was enforcing them.  So while 4cm would have been a huge issue in Singapore, she was allowed on the rides in Malaysia.  I would not, however, recommend doing this with my 88cm two and a half year old.


The first thing we say when we entered the park was someone dressed as Emmett from The Lego Movie.  Thanks to this, I have been singing “everything is awesome” for days.  However, this and some kits in the souvenir shops were the extent of the movie merchandising–which surprised me.


Before we went on any rides we explored the miniature lands.  Here Elanor and Aiden examine a Lego Singapore, complete with Merlion.  My favorite parts of these scenes weren’t the large buildings, but rather the small details.  In Kuala Lumpur there were two figures changing a flat tire.  In miniature Angkor Wat there were monks exploring the temple.  The scenes are all Asian, and I’m curious to hear from friends if the ones in Florida are all American and if the ones in Denmark are all European.


Our first attempt a ride was a bit of a failure.  About two-thirds of the way through , it stopped.  Here we are, being escorted out off the ride on foot.



The great thing about going on a weekday is that lack of lines.  We did the 4-D ride, which was the only time int he regular park that we had to wait in line.  Here Emily and I are on the observation tower.  We also visited the Duplo land, which is under a tent covering and one of the few things Rhiannon could do. The kids rode the jousting ride twice and would’ve ridden a third time had we let them.  Our final ride of the day was the roller coaster, after which the kids were ready for a break.


Our last stop before heading out of the park was a dance party in the castle area.  Aiden and Ellie are trying to follow the steps, but the real star of the photo is the blonde kid.

We stopped back at the mall to have lunch at Burger King and to grab our swim stuff.


I left my camera in the car while we were at the water park, so I don’t have any pictures of it specifically.  But you can see it in the background of this shot from the observation tower.

We did the half-day cabana rental for 175 ringitt.  For the cost you get a private cabana–think big private tent.  Inside the tent are two chaise loungers, two more chairs, a fan, a safe (think typical hotel safe), and a fridge.  In the fridge are four bottles of water, two of coke, two of sprite and two of lemon tea–all complimentary.  There are also two souvenir towels provided.  It was a fantastic base of operations that allowed us to rest and regroup as needed.

The few family waterslides we tried were great.  The biggest issue was the brick blaster.  After waiting over 30 minutes for a raft, it was absurdly heavy and we barely managed to drag it to the top of the slide only to find out that there was a max of three people.  By contrast, the Red Rush has a tool that takes the raft up to the top for you, so you need only climb up the stairs.

My favorite part was the build a raft river.  We didn’t have much luck building a raft that didn’t break apart under Elanor, but we certainly had fun trying.  Even without a lego raft, we did a few circuits around.  I probably would have done another few, but we were running out of time and the kids wanted to play at the Joker Soaker play area.  So Emily and I chilled out in the cabana and kept an eye on them from the comfort of our chaise lounges.

We stayed until the park closed.  By the time we changed and got back to the car it was closer to 6:30 or 6:40.  The drive back to the checkpoint was fast.  We didn’t wait on the Malaysia side, but there was about a 20 minute wait on the Singapore side–closer to 30 to clear immigration and have our boot checked by customs (which is standard).

If you have a child around six and over a meter tall, I’d definitely encourage you to take a weekday off and go visit.  It will give you a quieter day at the park than you’ll probably have on a weekend.  If it’s possible, drive yourself so that you’re not tied to any bus schedules.

Having successfully driven us into Malaysia, I’m not nervous anymore and am now ready to go check out the outlets on my next trip.

Full set of Legoland pictures here.

A tale of two readers

Last week marked Ravi’s and my eighth wedding anniversary (and our 5th we’ve celebrated in Singapore).  Ours is a love story of Star Trek and Babylon 5, of travel, and of Boston.  But it is also a love story of two bookworms.


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Ravi and I with books as kids.  I’m getting some for my birthday, Ravi is ignoring Europe because there’s reading to be done.

When you have two people who grow up with such a deep love of books as we did, you don’t end up with someone who doesn’t read.  From our first exchanges, books were a big part of how Ravi and I got to know one another. We actually spent some chunk of our first date discussing an author we both enjoyed—Mercedes Lackey–and just where she’d gone off the rails in her Valdemar series.  This took up easily an hour of our first date.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.30.49 pmOur wedding favor was a bookmark

When we moved in together, and then as we have shifted apartments throughout our marriage, managing books and trying to keep them from overtaking all our other possessions was always a struggle.  Something like half the container that GNB paid to ship to Singapore was books, and that was just a small fraction of our library.  My in-law’s basement is filled with boxes of books, and the spare bedroom that the girls have used has two bookcases overflowing with Ravi’s books as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.18.08 pmShakespeare and Company, a bookstore in Paris that we visited on our Honeymoon

We have never been on vacation without stopping by bookstores and bringing home books.  When we visited London in 2006 for our Honeymoon and again in 2009 I collected all seven volumes of the Harry Potter series so that I could have both the US and the UK editions, among other things.  As a couple we’ve been to bookstores on four continents, and have never come home without at least one addition to our library–if not more.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.49.31 pmWho us?  Just hanging out in Middle Earth….

How much do we love reading?  Ask our children….

Elanor—is from The Lord of the Rings.  Elanor is a type of flower found in Lothlorien.  Her name is also for Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor Roosevelt and my great aunt Eleanor.  But the spelling is pure Tolkien.

Athena–Elanor’s middle name is Athena.  Ravi and I are such nerds that right up until the delivery we were arguing over Athena versus Minerva–the Greek or Roman version of the same mythological character.  Why Athena–because she’s the goddess of knowledge.

Rhiannon–Rhiannon is not only a Celtic moon goddess, she’s a character in the Mabinogion–a collection of Welsh stories.  The character of Rhiannon is thought to be the inspiration for the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legends.

Arcadia–is from Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  She is a super smart teenage girl in a time when women were fairly absent from science fiction (the 50′s).

You could also ask our cats Gandalf (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by Tolkien) and Kerowyn (By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey).

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.40.24 pmNeed to teach Elanor to not pull Lady’s tail?  Use the book “Tails are not for pulling”

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.47.21 pmSilly Daddy, don’t you know there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo?

We have read to our kids since they were in utero.  We read to them in the hospital.  We read to them almost every night.  While our physical collection of books here in SG has shrunk and moved into our storage room as we have gone digital (our Kindle collection is within striking distance of 1200 books), the girl’s collection has exploded.  Their books have taken over the living room as well as in their bedrooms.

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 11.45.28 pmReading time with Daddy

While our reading tastes are actually pretty dissimilar—I read a lot of mass market fiction and random non-fiction, and he stays fairly firmly in Sci-fi/fantasy–we still pepper our discussions with tons of literary references.  Our children see us reading on a daily basis–sometimes on our phones and sometimes with physical books.

tangoWe love books

If Ravi and I have done one thing right as a couple and as parents it’s sharing our love of reading with each other and with our girls.  After 8 years of marriage we still haven’t run out of books to discuss, and I hope that remains true for the rest of our lives.

Happy (belated) Anniversary, Ravi.

Cambodia: Sunset at Pre Rup Temple

The most popular place to observe sunset is the top of Phnom Bakheng looking back at Angkor Wat.  But honestly, by the time sunset rolled around on my first day I was just over the big crowds and I asked my guide if there was somewhere else he would recommend.  Also Phnom Bakheng requires that your shoulders and knees be covered and I had long since changed into cooler clothes than the ones I wore to Angkor Wat.  The idea of pulling them back on was just too much to bear. Did I mention it was like 40C—over 100F–and I’d been outside and was feeling the effects of heat stroke by the point?  It was and I was.

My guide said that we would go to Pre Rup Temple, which is a quiet but growing in popularity location.  You can’t see Angkor Wat, but there is a spectacular view.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.46.16 pmI realized, going through my photos, that I didn’t have a wide view of the temple, so I found this photo here.

The first thing you should know about Pre Rup is that the stairs are seriously steep.  The stairs are so steep I was clinging to the wall, and using cracks in the wall to anchor my fingers so I would feel safe going up and down.  If you have mobility issues of any sort–and arguably, given my knee I should have taken the advice I’m about to dispense–you should probably skip this temple, or at the least skip climbing to the top level.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.47.06 pmIt looks like there’s a drop off, but the stairs are just that high and steep.

We reached the top a bit before sunset and there weren’t that meany people there.  By the time the sun set a small crowd had formed, but nothing on the scale of Phnom Bakheng, which has throngs of people from what every website and person told me.  Since we were there, I was able to set up my tripod and pick my spot.  This was the day I had a guide, so he hung by my tripod and I walked around the top level a bit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.53.56 pmHere is one of the parts of the temple at the top that are blocked off (for safety? I think?)

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.53.38 pmA carving over a door

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.53.46 pmStatue

But you’re here for the sunset photos, so let’s get to that.  I’ll start with a shot of what I saw when I first got there and progress though some of my favorite shots.  Full set will be linked at the bottom.

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I’m starting with this photo to give you an idea of the light I was dealing with just before sunset.  After this shot, I mounted my camera and got the series of shots I’m about to show you by messing around with things like longer shutter speed, lower ISO etc.  If you look at the set on flickr, you can see what my fstop/ISO/shutter speed etc I was using in each shot if you care.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.05.35 pmJust a note–this particular shot is from my camera phone and was shot using the “sunset” filter/settings

Somewhere between the last two photos I noticed the person to my left shooting behind us, which seemed odd.  So I glanced back and saw that you could see the moon rising.  I turned my camera and a did a few shots.  But my battery was dying so I’ll include a camera phone shot there, too.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.13.29 pmYou can see the reds of the sunset reflecting off the stone (same building as above-second photo)

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.14.06 pmIt didn’t get this dark, I was just messing around with shutter speed and so forth to really get the moon to pop

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.14.19 pmThis is a camera phone picture and is more true to what the lighting actually looked like at that point

I know that I definitely am guilty of the “nothing impresses me” / “I must be sarcastic or ironic at all times” and so forth that plague my generation.  But after we finished watching the sunset, we were all so happy and impressed by nature that we spontaneously applauded.  And it felt right to do so, although I don’t think I’ve ever done something like that before.

You might be interested to know that as the sun set a security guard came to the top to ensure that everyone got off the building before the light was gone and we were trapped or someone got hurt trying to get down.  Getting down those narrow, high stairs in the semi dark was unnerving.  My guide gave me the occasional hand.  Perhaps I should’ve just gone down the stairs on my butt like little kids do before they feel confident going down the stairs.  But I’m still really glad that I did it.  However, if you go through my zillion Cambodia albums, you’ll notice this is my only sunset photography, and there is a reason for that.

As I was getting in the tuk tuk I looked back and the sky was almost uniformly pink and purple, as in the last sunset photo but even more saturated.  However, my camera and my phone were dying, so I only have a mental picture.

I definitely recommend Pre Rup for sunset photography and watching.  Full set of photos here.  Feel free to look, and to share–but please do credit me (either as Crystal or Expat Bostonians) as the photographer and drop me a line (expat bostonians at gmail) if you use the photos on your blog, tumblr, pinterest, etc.

You’ve gotten your PR letter–now what?

Some quick background.  We applied for permanent residency in Singapore in December, and received our notice that we had been granted PR last week.

pr letterNow what happens?

If you get approved for PR, you get an in-principle approval letter that is valid for two months.  But first there are a few more hoops to jump through before you have your formal Permanent Residency.

Make your appointment with ICA

This can been done on their e-registration site.  We didn’t do this first and I wish we had.  I assumed that it would be no problem to get a fast appointment, but it actually turned out that we will need to wait about a month to file our paperwork.  If we had known that, we wouldn’t have rushed to get our medical paperwork done, as it turns out that it wasn’t at time critical as I thought it would be.

Medical Report

Singapore requires that you get a blood test and a chest x-ray to prove you have neither HIV nor Tuberculosis.  In our case, we called our doctors and they were able to organize it as a single appointment.  We go to the IMC clinic at Camden, and they did the blood draw for the HIV test in office and then sent us to the second floor for our chest x-rays (Singapore General Hospital has a satellite radiology clinic there).  It should be noted that most health insurance plans don’t cover this expense.  We’re trying to see if ours will–the plan doesn’t really say if it does.  If we end up paying for it out of pocket, I’ll let you know what the cost was.

Fill out the paperwork

Fairly straightforward stuff to get your PR card.  Similar to what you filled out for your work permit or dependent pass.  Name, birthdate, address, etc.  No questions that threw me upon first glance (which, for the record was all I’ve given it).

Passport photos


Form for your work to sign off on

When you apply for PR, you need a form from your work, so they already are aware that you’ve applied.  But once PR is established, you do start contributing to CPF (that’s a whole other post and it can be a bit complicated) and your work needs to know that as they’re the ones who pay you and are required to contribute x percent of the monthly deposit.  This form says it must be signed within two weeks of your appointment, which will be tricky for us as GNB’s human resources department is not in Singapore but Ravi isn’t terribly worried.  However, I figured it was worth bringing up.

That’s it, until the appointment

Once we have our appointment, I’ll let you know what that was like and the fees and so forth.

What about Primary 1 registration?

Phase 2(c)–the phase we’re eligible for as PR’s registers on July 30th.  When Ravi told me we couldn’t get an appointment before August 18th, I panicked.  The MOE has a hotline for P1 registration questions and I called them to find out what I could/should do as we have the in-principle letter but won’t have the physical identification cards in time.  They told me I could register her with the in-principle letter and if the school had questions that they could contact the MOE.  So that is a big relief.

Wordless Wednesday–Our PR Answer

pr letter

I’ll be posting more about  this another day.


I’d also like to say thank you for all the support my post “And Tango Makes a Banned Book” has received.  I’m humbled.

Rhi has been sick since Saturday so apart from attending the read-in at the NLB, my bandwidth has been mostly absorbed by her.  I’m trying to pull together a post on the NLB read-in, a post for my anniversary, and then one on the PR process and one on P1 registration.  Bear with me as I’ve not gotten much sleep since Saturday afternoon and I’m behind on a number of things.  I’ll be getting those up as soon as I can.

And Tango makes a banned book

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Dear “concerned parents” who challenge this book

I too, am a parent.  I too have had my children bring over books that I am not comfortable with them reading at their current ages.  The difference between you and I is that I tell my children to put the book back because it’s not right for our family,  while you choose to tell ALL children that they may not read the book.  Your preferences don’t trump mine.

You argue that it is oppositional to your faith.  I would counter that all religious texts are oppositional to mine.  Yet I am not asking the library to remove children’s bibles or children’s ramayans because they have no place in my faith. (Nor do I want to, for the record.  We even own some.)  Your faith does not trump mine.

You say that this book promotes a “homosexual agenda.”

  • Firstly I am curious what you think a homosexual agenda is.  I’ll let you in on a non-secret–I’m bisexual (we put the B in LGBT) and nope, marrying a man didn’t magically make me straight.  Today my homosexual agenda was to take everyone to school and work, try to get some household cleaning done, pick up my kids, sit through How to Train Your Dragon 2, put them to bed and then watch some Netflix.  SHOCKING, right?  It’s almost as if I have the same boring agenda as most other stay at home moms.
  • Secondly, I know enough about your politics to know you hate abortion.  In the case of And Tango Make Three, the zookeeper gives an egg containing a chick that would have died from neglect before hatching to a pair of male penguins to hatch and raise.  Pick one–dead baby penguin or live baby penguin raised by two male penguins.
  • Thirdly–exactly how does this promote anything?  It is a non-fiction book, and like it or not, much as you want to call homosexuality “unnatural” it occurs regularly in nature, including in the Central Park Zoo.  Two male penguins hatched an egg that would have died otherwise–the end.  No promotion–fact.

Your hysteria doesn’t trump reality.


At heart if Tango promotes anything, it’s adoption.  That you don’t need to have given birth to a child to love or raise it.  To say otherwise is to negate all adoptive families, all step families, and all the friends and relatives who are raising children when parents can’t for whatever reason.

And Tango Makes Three has often topped the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books in the US, usually because it “promotes a homosexual agenda.”  Sometimes those involved even succeed in getting And Tango Makes Three, Harry Potter, Diary of a Part-Time Indian, or other frequently challenged books removed from public schools or even public libraries.  But there’s one institution that the literacy police don’t get books culled from, and that’s the Library of Congress in Washington DC.  As the national library of the United States, and one of the largest book collections in the world–numbering over 32 million items, it does not bow to partisan pressure.  It remains a neutral repository of knowledge.

Zechariah Chafee wrote an article called “The Freedom of Speech in Wartime” which was published by the Harvard Law Review in 1919.  In it he says “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” (often mis-attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes).  I would paraphrase this wise man and address all the other parents who have ever or shall ever exist– Your right to pick books that are appropriate for children finish where your children end and other people’s children begin.

We have owned this book for years.  We own a huge personal library full of books that celebrate the diversity of life in all its confusing and messy beauty from families with two same sex parents to princesses who don’t want to get married at all to religious stories of many traditions (including some Christian tales like The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe).  But we are lucky to have the financial wherewithal to buy whatever books we can’t find in a local bookstore or a local library through other means.

So why do I care?  As a child I couldn’t have every book I wanted because we couldn’t afford every book I wanted.  I relied on my school and my library to provide me with a window into a much wider world.  Without the library I never would have met Pippi Longstocking, visited Dickensian London, or solved mysteries with a Siamese cat named Koko.  I care because kids don’t deserve to have their choice of books narrowed, even by a single title (or five) because their parents can’t afford to buy those titles for them.

I don’t always make the same parenting choices that my mom made, but there is one choice she made where I pride myself in following in her footsteps, and that is the freedom to read whatever I wanted without fear that it might make me a bad person.  Reading Gone With the Wind didn’t make me want to own slaves.  Reading Flowers in the Attic did not teach me to hide my kids in the attic and poison them with arsenic.  Reading Sweet Revenge did not make me a jewel thief.

One last word of caution for you parents who enjoy banning books and who believe that you should restrict choices for kids other than your own—banning something only makes it more enticing.  You may win in some dimension–you may ensure that the poor kid who relies on the library can’t read The Bermudez Triangle.  But in truth all your actions do is raise the profile of a book that you don’t like.  Plenty of books go on to get much larger readership because they were challenged–now everyone wants to know “what this terrible book is and why do you hate it?”  Your own kids will now be curious what the hullaballoo is about and go sneak a read of Are you there god, it’s me Margaret  because they’re now curious about a book that they might never have been interested in otherwise.  So be forewarned that your efforts can backfire.


A concerned parent

***The National Library of Singapore has pulled And Tango Makes Three and several other books from its shelves and is destroying them.  As an expat, I am not allowed to be political, which is why I have chosen to discuss the matter within the context of criticism of this book in the US.  Kirsten, on the other hand, has no such limitations.  She has written specifically about the actions of the National Library of Singapore and how their choices affect her as a Singaporean.


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