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#TopSecret (part 1)

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So, big apologies, I have been completely remiss in my updates. I’ve got some good (and some not so good ) excuses for being away. Lots of changes in our lives the past few months. We’ll have to get back to China adventures with Aunt Mac in a bit.

First off the big, exciting, super awesome, happy fun time news….Paul and I are Married!!!!!!

That’s in part because of our other big news, we have moved to London!!!!

Those two event are intertwined so bear with me for a bit of a story…..

We had been planning on moving in 2016, with the idea we were headed to Seattle. Why Seattle? Why not? We visited a few years ago and liked it (it was the pre Singapore destination in fact) But then, over dinner out with co-workers Paul found out about a job opening in London. Now, in the past when discussing places to move expensive cities were always ruled out, so no to NYC, and no to London. Paul came home and we talked about it, but felt no, London was not the place for us. This went on for a few days until one Wednesday morning, Paul says, are we sure London is a No? Well, over a bowl of Cheerios we decided, what the heck, let’s do it! and Paul put in that morning for the position. Really, it was like that. A week of no, it’s not for us, to OK, let’s do it, just like that. And the saga started.

One of the key factors in our decision was that un-married partners could come on the type of Visa Paul was getting and thus I could work. Great! So the interview process starts. And it continues. And continues. And Continues…….you can go grab a cup of coffee if you like, cause it Continues for quite some time. This was in August.

As some of you may or may not know, I am notorious about having trouble keeping secrets. This is especially true about happy secrets as I love hearing and sharing good news. So, after the second interview, I was BUSTING to tell someone about the news, but Paul was much more reserved about sharing until the ink was dry on the new offer and since that goal was taking FOREVER I was really having trouble keeping this under wraps. So…I had start telling someone so I started telling people, but then told them it was #topsecret and they could not tell anyone. Now the problem with that is that I did not tell just one person. I told a LOT of people, and soon #topsecret was the #worstkeptsecret in town! sigh. A career in the CIA is not in the cards for me.

Time marches on the corporate wheels slowly turn and low and behold Paul gets the job! (well done sweetie). We are now in September. As a side note, what felt like an eternity for us apparently¬†was considered ‘a fast track’ by the corporate team. Is this what Einstein by time being relative?

So, next step, visa applications. We speak with a visa consultant and he says for unmarried partners we need to provide some original documents that show our intertwined lives. Easy enough we think, we own property together, have joint bank accounts, ect. We look into getting past statements from the bank and the consultant drops this bombshell on us. When he said original, he means ORIGINAL. As in the ones that come in the mail. As in W.T.F.?! first off, most of that comes by email in this day in age, and second, who keeps two years of records?! sigh. So, slightly panicked, we ask what happens if we are married? Oh, that’s easy we are told, 10 days application, review, and approval barring any problems. But, he says, no need to panic just yet, let’s see what we can do. So, about this time, we have unexpected holiday in Singapore due to elections (elections are a public holiday there) and Paul was able to get us a room a the Conrad in Maldives. That Friday before we leave, we are having dumplings at Din Tai Fung. Hemming and hawing about what the visa guy had just told us, I finally laid down the law. 1) either we are able to use documents that we can obtain easily to prove our un-married status or 2)

this is when Paul interrupts me and says “or we cancel London and head to Seattle” I kid you not, that was his suggestion. Keep in mind, he’s been offered and accepted the job at this point….

I say, no! 2) we get married and be done with it. Of course we are not going to abandon London. Now eat your dumpling and stop being silly.

Now, I know, that’s is not the most (or even close) romantic thing. Really, I do. It reads worse than it really was, I promise. We had talked about marriage on and off for some time, but since we could not in Singapore, and it only became legal nationwide in the US in 2015, I think we assumed when we headed back to the USA we would tie the knot. This just pushed our plans up some. Keep in mind we have been together for 13 years, so we weren’t going anywhere at point ūüôā

So, the next day we head off to Maldives. More on that later. Saturday morning we wake up and as we head to breakfast, Paul says to me, he says “come on let’s go to breakfast and we can start planning the wedding”

Wait, what?

What do you mean? Planning the wedding?

He says, yeah, we talked last night, about getting married right?

At this point I’m quite confused. I said yes, that was Plan B. He tells me Oh,I did not think Plan A would work, I figured we would go on to Plan B and get married.

Me at this point: ‘WE’RE GETTING MARRIED?!” I repeat that a few more times before giving him a big kiss.

Seriously, this is how it happened. Over Din Tai Fung soup dumplings and before breakfast at the Conrad Maldives. Sigh.

So, now we are engaged and Paul has as new job. It’s all down hill from here right?

Coming soon…part 2 AKA who in their right mind gets married in Chicago in January and the birth of #topsecret2

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Let’s start with the good news first. I have a new job. I will continue to reside in Singapore, pay my bills, and put brown pellets into Mittenz’s bowl.

Now, you may ask “Ryan, didn’t you already have a job?” And you would be correct.¬†Especially about the phrasing the question in the past tense.

Remember that show on VH1, Behind the Music, where you get the inside scoop on bands? They were selling out concerts across the nation, double platinum, top of world, but behind it all was a downward spiral of sex and drugs and bad choices? My story is like that, only not nearly as dramatic.

On the surface things at my first job in Singapore seemed great. I worked uber hard to get the interview, using connections from DC and charm to get the meeting, and it was the job I really wanted. In fact I had received another job offer from a different company, and accepted it, before the offer for this showed up and I had to call back company B and tell them I had changed my mind. Still with me?

Alas shortly upon arrival, the woman who hired me, left. Two months into my new job, and 6 months into it for her, she left because it was not working out. As Scooby Doo would say, Ruh-row.

Things have not been that great since then. Like dating, sometimes regardless of how attractive two people may seem on paper, the chemistry just does not spark. The same with my job, we never seemed to speak the same language to one another and it was painful for all parties involved.

In fairness, the company was not getting what the needed from me, and for me, I was not getting what I expected when interviewed. There are still lots of good people there, but ID group underwent a lot of rapid changes, and are still undergoing changes, and it was becoming clear I would not have a place in the sandbox anymore.

So, our hapless hero finds himself embarking on a new journey once again. Somewhere in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, my parents are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads wondering where they went wrong with me. It’s OK, I promise.

My absolute feeling on work is this: Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success, if you love what you are doing, you will be successful.*

I would like to give credit for shaping that idea to my former company in DC, it was thru working there that I got a better sense of my priorities in life. Work with good people, the rest will follow.

So, a new (new) journey here in Singapore begins. I start the first week of January, and in the meantime, there’s the pool, the gym, and having dinner waiting for Paul each day to attend to (home cooked meals, yay!), and a trip to Bali to attend to. As they say, when life gives you lemons….

* Side note, this quote is sometimes given credit to Herman Cain, former GOP candidate, but others say Albert Schweitzer, so who knows, regardless, it’s a great concept.

Ho Chi Minh City

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I’m just back from a one night stay in Ho Chi Minh¬†City (henceforth HCMC¬†to the locals). I got a call on Wednesday to go, a ticket purchased on Thursday and an on arrival visa waiting for me on Sunday when I landed. Not too shabby. Paul and I and a friend visited HCMC a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Like Bangkok there’s a grit and buzz there that Singapore doesn’t quite have. Great to visit, great to come home. One thing I had forgotten was the constant honking of horns (scooters and cars alike) that fill the air. The scooter adventures proved to be a much fun to watch as I remember. They swarm around cars like a school of fish around a shark and are fearless in their pursuit of getting to their final destination. One thing I find amusing considering¬†how often we see them break the rules (running lights, pulling out into traffic, driving up the wrong side of the street) is hat everyone is wearing helmets. There’s a who fashion culture of¬†scooter helmets there that¬†no one else can touch yet.¬†Each is unique, some brightly colored, some with fashion logos¬†(I didn’t know YSL made scooter helmets?) but everyone has them.

It was a quick trip, but I was at the Park Hyatt near where we were last time, and I was on a mission to find a Banh Mi to bring home. The little nice lady we got the from last time was not there, but LUCKILY the next day walking back from a business meeting we passed one and I stopped all my co-workers so that I could purchase two to bring home! My boss thought I was crazy for both buying it off the street and for wanting to bring it home.

My Suitcase coming back from HCMC

My other secret stash was to bring home (10) Bottles of Hot Chili Sauce. Yes, you read that correctly. Like BBQ sauce there are all sorts of flavors out there, and this one is delish. It’s also only available in Vietnam. So….I went to the market and got myself 10 bottles. (2) are reserved for our friend Ryan (yes, another Ryan) when he comes to visit, the rest are mine, all mine! er, ours! to enjoy. But if you find yourself in this part of the world, we could be convinced to share a little of our joy with you.

Shanghai

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One of the perks of my job is for sure the travel. I got to spend the week in Shanghai, along with two days in Nanjing which is about a two hour train ride away from Shanghai. During that time we took a tour of 11 hotels in the city in addition to walking around the area where our project was. There was not much time for sight seeing, but the hotel tours proved to be quite nice. I must say the Waldorf Astoria was the best that we saw while there.

For those back home looking to disband the EPA, please stop by Shanghai and see what happens when you don’t regulate industry, lots, and lots, of smog. Hazy skies and air that’s hard to breathe. I was warned about that, until you see it, it’s hard to believe.

Smoking is also alive and well in Shanghai, despite all the no smoking signs posted. I walked into the public restroom in one hotel to find a guy smoking in the corner and in another we got into the elevator at the 39th floor and there was a guy smoking in the elevator! He knew it was wrong, but did not care, he needed his fix I guess. We looked at him and he just said “in peace, in peace”

Shanghai prove to be quite hot. With the heat and smog it was not always fun to be outside. Like the other parts of Asia it was a strange mix of old and new. You see this in both the buildings and the people’s attitudes. While waiting in line for a train ticket, I saw people repeatedly walk up the front counter and cut in line to get their ticket, no one said anything. When it was my turn, about 3 people jumped in front of me before I could purchase my ticket. Spitting is still seen indoors and on the street. I can’t say I was charmed by Shanghai just yet, I think I liked Bangkok better, but I look forward to going there again and getting to see the city more.

Also, useful travel tip, if you pull up a map on your iPhone or iPad, you can take a snapshot of it by holding the round home button and pressing the power button at the top just once. Your screen will flash and it will take a snapshot of your screen and save it into the photos folder. This works from any screen iPhone or iPad, so you can do it from emails, or the internet as well. The reason this is handy is that if your driver does not speak english you can just show him the map photo which will pull up regardless off internet access since it’s a photo. We used that for several hotels and I even use here in Singapore since sometimes the¬† cabbies don’t know where a place is.

Award Winning Dim Sum Brunch

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For my birthday the hotel not only sent a birthday card, but included a gift certificate for brunch at one of our restaurants.  Ryan and I went to Cherry Garden for brunch this past Sunday Рit was a real treat.

The menu said unlimited Dim Sum and your choice of Soup, appetizer, entree and dessert.¬† Ryan and I were looking for a buffet –¬† how else would you do unlimted dim sum??¬† Well not at Cherry Garden, each dumpling is made to order.¬†¬† Thank God that Sabrina, who took such good care of us¬† at the breakfast restaurant when we were living in the hotel, was doing a shift at Cherry Garden.¬† She explained how the ordering works and made recommendations. She told us the chef’s sepecialties¬†were ‘must try’ and we should try¬† them all¬†before we could leave.¬† So we ordered about 4 items and she asked what more???¬† we order a few more and she reluctantly left the table…. we must have ended up with about 15 courses (all small portions of two dumplings each).¬† They were all scrumptious!

I think we’ll have to bring visitors to experience this … hint hint ūüôā

Check out the photos and the link to the website describing the award we won.

http://www.mandarinoriental.com/singapore/news/

OMG Bangkok

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Well our first trip to Thailand proved to be a great success. There was a 3 hr boat tour, walking thru the city, staying at the famed Mandarin Oriental, a 12 course small bites dinner for Paul’s birthday featuring¬†modern Thai cuisine (is that Lychee foam I see?), an excellent shopping trip to a weekend market where we purchased a very cool¬†orange lacquer¬†Buddah, a visit to the Jim Thompson House, and last a visit to a small part of town to purchase a handmade metal monk’s “begging” bowl.

All of which means we have enough pictures¬†and stories to fill several blog posts, because to try and¬†cram all that fun into one post would be shameful. Plus its¬†lots of fun remembering these things to type up, so I’m going to stretch it out. Bear with me.

Let’s start with the boring stuff first. I was there for work. The meeting went well. Getting there was a bit more of an adventure.

No red squiggles appeared, I assumed it was ok…..

Perhaps I should have taken it as an omen when I misspelled¬†fragile 5 times on the two large boxes I was bringing¬†with me. That’s right, I misspelled fragile 5 times, per box, by spelling it ‘fraigle’ Luckily, our Malay-Chinese office manager stopped by when I was done and pointed out my mistake…..how nice of her.

Upon arrival, I had schedule a mini van, because¬†the boxes were too large to fit in a regular¬†cab. But for what ever reason, I met the driver and then we both proceed to walk thru the airport, across the bridge, and to the open air parking lot (large boxed on a rolling cart) to get to his van. I never got a clear reason why he did not pick me up at the door…..

Along the way to the hotel, where my boss was waiting, my driver was kind enough to clip another truck while merging on the highway…no damage to me, but a scuff to the van. We had to pull over and wait about 1 hr for the cops to show up and sort things out. Welcome to Bangkok.

Luckily my bad luck ended there. The meeting went well, the client was pleased, my boss was pleased, and I was now free to enjoy the weekend, with Paul arriving Friday night I headed to the Mandarin Oriental to meet him. Let the fun begin.

When you look this good, you should get an award

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My company had its Summer Picnic this weekend. I went solo because¬†Mr.Paul¬†was off exploring India with our dear friend Annette and her daughter Alma. But I’m not bitter.

Actually¬†I’m not. One of the absolute joys about being flung half way around the world is that we are now much closer to the other half of th world. So, while work prevented me from getting away this time, knowing that India only about 6 hours away we’ll consider Paul’s very brief visit to the Continent a scouting mission.

So in the meantime we had our party. It was at a resort¬†on an Island called Pulua¬†Ubin. Funny thing about Singapore, it’s more like NYC than Bali. With all the shipping and the cramped space there is not a resort/beach culture¬†vibe here. Everyone is too busy working for their¬†BMW’s and Jimmy Choo’s to relax on the beach. To get to Pulua¬†Ubin, you go out to near the airport, then take a 10 min boat ride. The resort was nice enough, but it’s all very…..artifical….in way. The have to create a lagoon, and bring in some rough shell sand in order to make a small beach, because the water around Singapore is full of fuel and god-knows-what from all the big ships passing thru. The resort had a series of cabins/hotel rooms and I saw inside one, it reminded me of¬† a place we went as kids for summer camp….but that’s OK.

The theme was Hawaiian luau. Our company started in Hawaii so that’s make sense. You would think people here would had all the Hawaiian/surfer shirts they could want, but no that was not the case. In fact, my shirt was the best shirt there. Proven by the face that I won for best Hawaiian Shirt….so there!

There was not much to do really for this party, and it’s pretty hot anyway so all you can do is find some shade, grab a beer, and catch up with your co-workers and their¬†families, which proved to be quite nice. The highlight of the trip was the visit to¬†“fish spa” have you tried this? We did it in Cambodia a few years ago, it’s pretty wild feeling. You put your feet in the water and all these fish SWARM to your feet where they proceed to eat the dead skin off you toes. It’s one of the strangest feelings out there. And even worse to watch. but when you are with a group and all doing it, it can be quite fun. At least it was in the shade.