Singapore Day 3: Turtles, Tortoises & Taking Michael Jackson’s Kids to Lunch

December 10, 2012 in Asia, Singapore, Travelogue


“You know, Mom, raising us like you have makes the food thing a lot easier,” Hannah mused as our lunch arrived, arranged on banana leaves instead of a plate: stewed chicken of some sort, a yellow vegetable curry and a red lentil and beet chop, with sliced onions in a yogurt sauce, dal and rice on the side.

Eating what you’re served has always been important in our family, on both sides.

It’s not that a person can’t have preferences, but eating what you’re served is a sign of appreciation and respect for your host. It’s just good manners. We’ve always required a “no thank you bite” when our kids were little. Now that they’re big, they’ll tuck into just about anything without more than an eyebrow bob of, “Well THIS is interesting looking!”

My Dad once drove the length of the continent to deliver a ratty old Land Rover to a missionary friend.

It’s a long story, but if you need crappy trucks driven to godforsaken places, and you’re not too picky about the details, my dad is the man for the job. His companion, on this particular journey was a young man named Bobby, who was about five minutes out of college with exactly zero life experience. If you’re looking to dive into the world with both feet and you’re not too picky about the details, my Dad is exactly the man you’re looking to road trip with.

He has lots of “Bobby” stories from that trip and gets a lot of joy out of retelling them. Perhaps his favourite is the series that feature Mr. Bobby not eating a single meal that was placed in front of him as they traversed the Pacific Coast of Mexico. By the third day or so, when the little woman would come out of the kitchen with a worried look to find out why the big gringo wasn’t eating her carefully prepared food, my Dad had taken to explaining that Bobby was not his son; he was actually Michael Jackson’s son, and had been raised with bad manners as a result. The hostess would nod her head in sympathy. My Dad was off the hook as the potential patriarch, and the embarrassment was Bobby’s alone.

It was a long, hot, beautiful walk through the Chinese Garden to the Turtle and Tortoise Museum.

  • Ez chatted excitedly about his hope for a snapping turtle. We recapped the difference between the two creature cousins.
  • We pointed out Confucius, presiding on his pedestal and discussed the fine line between a philosophy and a religion.
  • We noted the similarity between the dragon wrapped poles flanking him and the Inuit totems we saw in British Columbia last fall.
  • We watched for the renegade monkey, who’s mug shot and a warning not to feed or encourage him was posted on the gate house.

The museum is not free, as we’d read online, but at $5 a head it’s not ridiculous either, the bundles of greens to feed the inmates were worth every penny at $2 a newspaper wrapped handful.

We saw turtles of every sort:


And tortoises too:

Yes, this guy is chasing me! He ate my celery stick and then took a chomp at the hem of my dress… don’t laugh! Tortoises have scary beaks!

This poor guy had been wrapped with wire as a baby to make his shell grow into an “8” shape. He was a rescued tortoise, just like most of the ones we saw at the museum.

We watched the Koi in a pond hidden in the center of a pagoda that was the very postcard of all you imagine Asia to be.

By the time we got to lunch on banana leaves we felt like we’d done our work for the day and could be wrung out like wet dishrags from the heat and walking in the city.

  • Hannah was concerned she was coming down with my cold.
  • Gabe was so hot he wasn’t hungry and pushed the rice and curry around his plate. This is out of character for the kid who normally floats like a carrion bird over my plate hoping I’ll leave him some scraps.
  • Elisha was so captivated by the Bollywood movie playing loudly in the corner that he forgot to eat.
  • Ezra was crying hard, he “accidentally ate a bean,” which is the kids’ euphemism for a hot pepper, after Hannah mistook a long green one for a bean in Chiang Rai this summer.


Our charcoal coloured host appeared at the edge of the table… was everything okay? Did the children not like the food? Why was the little one crying? We tried to explain: hot, tired, unwell…

Tony just shook his head, “Looks like we’ve taken Michael Jackson’s kids to lunch today.”

Everyone laughed, and tucked into their rice and curry, for there’s no greater insult around the dinner table in our gene pool.