Monday, November 23, 2009

A 50 year storm, a request to be the school landscaper, and Thanksgiving at work

Three brief stories from my school this week:

1. This past Thursday, it started raining. Like really raining.

We're in the rainy season here in Singapore, but that doesn't usually translate to rain all the time but rather just an afternoon thunderstorm every other or every third day. These storms are amazing because it cools everything off and you can finally stop sweating. Then, on last Thursday, the normal afternoon thunderstorm started at 1pm.

By 1:15pm, the entire sky was black.

By 1:30 pm, it was raining so hard that it was literally like a thick fog; you couldn't see more than about 15-20 feet in front of you outside.

By 1:45 pm, I started to get nervous, because I had a class at 2pm that was a 10 minute walk away. Time to get wet. I started walking towards my class, and was able to stay under covered walkways for the first 6-7 minutes or so of the walk. Finally, though, I reached the last road that I needed to cross to get to my classroom; unfortunately, the road was covered with knee-deep water. I walked along the road in both directions for several minutes and found that all roads surrounding this road were also knee deep in water - it was a verifiable river flowing through campus. Luckily I also ran into my students who were also stumped by the river, and so we all were able to converse about what to do together.

As I was about to tell them to follow me to another building, I turned around and saw half of them had taken off their shoes, rolled up their pants, and were wading across the river to our lecture location. Meanwhile, they yelled, "We're doing this for you, Mr. Zoller!" Needless to say, it was a pretty good feeling. Apparently they cared enough about my class to wade through torrential rain and knee deep rushing water in their school clothes, before having to sit through a 3 hour class with me. I eventually found a path to walk around the river (after wandering around for a good 15 minutes).

I later found out that this storm was a "50 year" storm, or something that only happens once every 50 years in Singapore; the storm was so intense that it reached local newspapers (Bukit Timah is the town I live in). Between 1.20pm and 1.50pm alone, 92mm of rain fell. Overall, 110mm (or 4.5 in) of rain fell throughout the 2 hour storm, almost HALF of the monthly average for November (a rainy season month). It was incredible.

2. A request to be the school landscaper

This morning, I was sitting at my desk when my office neighbor, with whom I usually barely speak with because he's very eldery and I didn't think he spoke English very well (because he barely speaks to anyone), stopped by. He noticed my four mini cacti that I have as a decoration on my desk, and asked "You like plants?" I responded, slightly startled because I'd never heard him talk, "Oh, umm, yea, I do." He replied, "Come with me." I got all excited because I thought he was going to take me to some place to get some cool plants for my cube.

We started walking towards the greenhouse; I got even more excited. We walked inside the greenhouse, and he started pointing out different species of exotic orchids, cacti, bamboo, and ginger plants. Then he pulled out the garden hose. At which point we proceeded to water the entirety of the greenhouse for 45 minutes, and during which time I was attacked by a thousand mosquitoes. (Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be at my desk as I have a ton of prep work to do for next week's classes.)

Ok, fine, I thought, he's just getting his excitement from showing me all of the different plants that he works with everyday. I enjoyed his excitement, because my co-workers here take a lot of pride in showing us around the town and around their various areas of expertise. So as we finally left the greenhouse, I was still fairly pleased that he had taken me around his area of pride.

Then, he turned to me and said, "So, you liked these plants a lot?"

"Yes, I did. They were quite nice," (a standard Singaporean phrase to describe food or other items).

"Well then, can you water, fertilize, and add pesticide to all of these plants (about 2-300 in all) once a week? It will only take about 2 hours each week and you can work up a great sweat!"

I was taken completely by surprise. ".... Uhhhh ..... These plants are quite nice but..... uhhhh.... well, the thing is ..... uhhhhh" I was stalling; I had no idea how to say no without offending him. People here often ask us to do a lot of tasks, because I think they know we can't really say no, but I thought that this task was way over the top. Finally, a perfect excuse hit me:

"Well I'm really allergic to pollen (I am, really, but not that bad), and with my asthma and all, I don't think it would be such a good idea for me to do that..."

Phew. Trivial, menial task smoothly avoided, feelings left unhurt.

3. Thanksgiving at work!

Today, I spent Thanksgiving at work (well obviously, because clearly Singapore doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving). BUT, our department had scheduled a pot luck Thanksgiving lunch in our honor! So last night, I prepared a sweet potato/marshmallow/brown sugar casserole recipe, while other colleagues prepared the turkey, stuffing, vegetables, and an assortment of traditional Indian and Chinese dishes, including a loaf of bread stuffed with chicken curry, and a duck/vegetable soup. We also had chocolate fondue, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies, and an assortment of other desserts and side dishes that rounded out a more than fantastic Thanksgiving feast. My dish was very popular and none was left by the end, and I was continually complimented by co-workers on how "quite nice" my sweet potato dish was.

I will upload pictures soon.

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