We are not in Singapore any more but the adventures continue.

If you are interested pop along to http://www.sarahisnotinjoochiat.wordpress.com

Easy

x

millie in bali

It’s finally arrived, the last post on Sarahinjoochiat. Maybe I’ll do a SarahinKent but somehow it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

I’ve mapped this last post out about ten times as there is so much to say, but here goes.

Millie has found living here a challenge; but she has never given in. One of the things she found the hardest was that the Singaporean girls on our condo simply don’t want to know her. Unlike Ned, who fell in almost immediately with his Thai, French and Indian crew, the Singaporean kids don’t play outside much and are glued to their huge TVs and phones on a diet of Korean soap opera and K-pop. Add this to the timetable of school, ‘enrichment’ classes and homework and you find an insular group of kids with little time to play. Millie has always found academic work and school difficult on top of this and as a mother, I have cried a few private tears for her solitude.

After we had been here a few months she came in from one of her wanders around the condo quite breathless and said that Marika and some of the other helpers were having a birthday party outside and she was invited and could she have her tea with them and “oh, they want you to come too”. I should explain here that in Singapore most families (Singaporean and expat) have a live in domestic ‘helper’ who cooks, cleans and looks after the children. I have never had a helper which I think has kept them amused…. So, I found myself outside eating some rather nice food and being introduced by Millie to Marika, Dena, Lily, Ro-may and the others. I realised that they had taken Millie under their wing and for that I am very grateful.

picnic with the helpers

marika

As the months have gone by these ladies have plucked Ned out of the fish pond (again), plaited Millie’s hair, soothed her when she came off her scooter and invite us to their picnics. “It’s not spicy” Millie would assure me after I once spluttered on a piece of chicken. Thumping me on the back Dena had said “Really Sarah, this is food for children!” Over time it dawned on me that I knew all the helpers by name and would pass the time of day but I didn’t know any Singaporeans on the condo either. It wasn’t just Millie.

As a final swansong goodbye to SE Asia we decided to go to Bali. My Australian friends and readers may wish to skip the next part, but I looked at where Kuta and Seminyak were on the map and chose the furthest point in Bali away from there. So we found ourselves in North East Bali in a village called Amed. It is a poor part of Bali, under-developed in terms of tourism, and for Millie and Ned witnessing poverty up close for the first time was shocking.

On our first walk in the village a group of boys asked Ned to join in watching the cock-fighting (it took a restraining hand to lead him away) but Millie found the noise of the mopeds, the dirt roads, the children wandering around, the hens, cockerels and dogs all jostling each other, too much after Singapore. She went very quiet and after we had settled to eat in a little cafe she asked the question “Why do we have so much when they have so little?”. It was a big question and one that deserved a real answer. So we talked about poverty, the global distribution of wealth, inequality, dignity and happiness. She kept coming back to this all week and eventually asked “Where are Marika and the helpers from?” “From the Phillipines, Indonesia and Myanmar” I replied. “I thought so” she said. “It’s not fair and when I grow up I’m going to do something about it.”

I truly believe you will.

It is hard to describe just how beautiful Bali is after Singapore. Singapore feels pasteurised – it lacks texture, passion, heart and soul. In Bali, there is an overwhelming sense of serenity and peace despite the mayhem. Each corner was brimming with life and vitality and I don’t think any of us will ever forget it.

village in bali

rice terrace

On the beach, after a huge downpour, a group of cheeky boys rounded the corner…

beachceremony

…followed closely by the whole village. It was a privilege to witness their procession and this deep sense of community and ritual and will stay with us always. Millie and Ned had their mouths wide open at the sheer beauty of it.

beach ceremony2

On the last afternoon Millie watched a group of Balinese kids jumping off a wall into the sea shrieking with laughter. “I would rather play with them” she announced “than the girls on the condo.”

“Me too”, I reply.

As for Ned, this photograph sums up how he faces the future. He is the one who wanted to come here the least and who has loved it the most. Ned stands back and watches for what seems like an age, and then heads right into the biggest wave.

ned on beach

And Dom and I? We are glad we came to experience life here; we are more than happy to leave. I am eternally grateful we went to Bali, it is has given both of us a shot of spiritual peace, just when we needed it most.

So it only remains to thank you for stopping by. An unbelievable 2,500 times people have popped in here to see what we’re up to across 32 countries.

Thank you, you have no idea how much I have enjoyed writing it.

Love Sarah x

glittery horse

Yes it’s the Chinese Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival and it is celebrated across this region with bells on starting on January 31st for fifteen days. The date changes each year depending on when the second moon after the winter solstice occurs. There is something very poetic sounding about that although I’m sure any astro-physicists reading (unlikely) are putting their heads in their hands in quiet despair.

Welcome to the Year of the Horse.

Some of the decorations outside the flash department stores are all a bit bling but we decided to go into Chinatown and see the celebrations up close and personal. Aside from the crowds (oh my word!) it was a huge dose of tradition slamming into modern culture. It does take your breath away. The horses in Chinatown are cleverly wired in the air and although they look striking in the daylight…

daylight horses

…as the sun went down they are lit so cleverly and sway in the breeze and they look like they are galloping down the street.

at night

Then it was less about the poetry and more about the celebration in Chinatown and it was good fun.

chinese lanterns

everything red

new year barrels

I was also told that I was born in the unluckiest year of the century so far. When a friend of mine – also born in the same year – married, his future wife’s family had to make more offerings at the temple to try and counterbalance the bad luck his birth year would bring. So there you go. The jury is out whether that explains a lot or proves it is nonsense.

There’s a lot of red in these photos and the condo here is covered with red banners and lanterns and when the kids asked, it was time to find out. Here, as always, is my version of the myth.

This time it is written for Jacob, because he likes stories.

Once upon a time there was a fishing village in China that was surrounded on one side by a fierce sea and on the other, by a huge mountain. Every year, on the second moon of the winter solstice a terrifying monster, Nian, would come to the village and destroy their crops, take their hard earned fish and steal their children. Every year, without exception he would come and he was too strong to fight; too terrifying to even look at. He had the head of a lion and the body of a bull and he was so big that even the strongest of the villagers cowered in fear. On the eve of Spring, the villager would hurriedly pack their belongings and try to find a safe place to hide. They were never sure if he would come from the mountains or appear suddenly from the sea.

One year, as people hurriedly packed and panicked, an old monk called Hongjun Laozu came to the village. But no one had the time to offer him food to eat or a place to rest. “We must hurry!” they said as they pushed past him. Eventually an old woman took pity on the monk and stopped her packing and helped the monk to rest. As he sat there he chuckled to himself and said to the old woman “Why are they running from old Nian?” They should be celebrating the New Year”. And so he told the old woman how to fight Nian. The old woman sat next to the monk and they both enjoyed their meal with all the villagers shaking their heads in disbelief.

That night, the villagers watched Nian come down the mountain and approach the house of the old woman. Suddenly, red lanterns lighted up the house until it looked like it was on fire and the loud crack of firecrackers could be heard across the sea. Nian reared up in fear. As the lanterns burnt the sky red Nian fled to the mountains. As the villagers came back, the monk told them that Nian feared three things – the colour red, fire and noise. Every year since, to keep Nian away, each family lights red lanterns and sets off firecrackers.

There is so much more to say about the Spring Festival – about the ritual spring cleaning that is embraced across much of this part of Asia, about the traditions for each of the fifteen days and about how in another version of the myth it was actually the fact that Honjun Laozu was wearing red underpants – that he flashed at Nian – that scared him away. But it is late and I still have to do my own spring cleaning before all the mops and brooms must be put aside on New Year’s Day. You must not sweep away your good luck as the New Year dawns.

(Three days left, I’d better get a wriggle on).

Yes, it’s the post that answers the questions that I’m most frequently asked – who have you met? Have you found it easy to make friends? Are expats dreadful?

What are they like indeed? The worst was the Dutch man who, less than 48 hours after spending a joint family day together hiking, said ‘sorry, do I know you?

Oh we have met some revolting people but also some fabulous people we will know all our lives.

Last year, the artist Grayson Perry wrote a BAFTA winning documentary about the class system in the UK. What was particularly interesting was his idea that you can break class down into ‘tribes’. And each tribe likes to stay within its perimeters. The upper middle class is based upon intellectual snobbery, unhinged financial values and a desire for social superiority against your neighbour.

A lot like the expats then.

Here are my worst and best.

The most common excuse I have heard to justify rude behaviour is from the long term expats. They seem to think that you get emotionally bruised by making friends and having them constantly leave you to go home. Apparently it makes you very wary of ‘giving’ yourself to new people.

#1 The Lifer

Lifer “How long have you been in Singapore?
Me “About 2 months or so.
Lifer (laughing) “Oh God, I just can’t handhold somebody else that is new in town.
Me “I’m 44 and really don’t need you to hold my hand.
Lifer (now talking to her equally manicured friend) “Don’t you just wish people would have a sign telling you how long they’ve been here?”.
Me “Do you go to the school coffee mornings?”
Lifer “Yes, are you going to go? It’s a great way for you to listen to us talk and find out about Singapore.
Me “No”.

#2 L’Oreal – because I’m totally worth it.

On being introduced L’Oreal (fully decked out in tennis gear and diamonds) she turned to me and said,

L’Oreal “Do you belong to the British Association and do you play tennis?”
Me “I don’t play tennis and am not sure yet about joining the other.”
L’Oreal didn’t reply, she just turned on her (very white) tennis shoe heel and walked away. To her back I called out “I think I’m pretty decided now”

#3 The Do-Gooders

Do-Gooder “I’m collecting pencils to take to an orphanage charity in India I’m going to visit”
Me” Oh ok, do the orphanage need just pencils or are you collecting other things for them?”
Do-Gooder (ignoring me) “Me and Yan are going to take Hansel and Gretel there so they can see their little faces light up when we give them the pencils?”
Me (slightly persistant) “But do they need 3000 pencils? Have you TALKED to them?”

I was dismissed at this point, probably quite rightly as I think I was getting a bit punchy. I did have to laugh into my hand though when they reappeared after the holidays and marched into the school fully resplendent in all their new indian floating silks….

Nice aren’t they? But for every person you meet that makes you want to start walking and not stop you meet the people that you hold very dear.

#1 The Holiday Romance

We met Sharon and Eric waiting for a minibus to take us to the jetty in Malaysia to visit an island for a few days. Sharon is Singaporean, educated in the UK and now lives in the middle of the US. She has the poshest English accent I have ever heard! She and Eric are full of humour, wit and fun. We propped up the beach bar while the kids played wildly with the lovely staff at Rimba and I don’t think any of us stopped laughing.

beachcombers rimba

#2 Kids!

We walked passed Adam and Dimity on our way to our hotel room in Penang last Christmas. Millie took one look at their daughter and a friendship was born that was so immediate, and so fluid it still makes me well up. For the four days we were in Penang with them, Millie and Darcy were inseparable and so we got to know Adam and Dee and had one of the best holidays. We kept in touch and saw them again this Christmas in Singapore for a fabulous 2 days. Millie and Darcy needed no introduction.

The Real Deal #3

When you are finding your way in a new country when you make a real friend it is an unbelievably good feeling. Liz and Paul were our surrogate family over Christmas and we have had (sans kids) sunk many a frozen margherita with them. Liz also told me the most important fact about living in Singapore. She told me that when you buy a chicken here they still have their heads and feet attached. They cleverly fold them in – designed to give you a heart attack every time.

Kim and Bill have lived in Singapore for a long time. Kim is as happy floating elegantly around the malls on Orchard Road as she is wandering around the supermarket with me. When we met on a sort-of-husbands-work-social we got halfway through our 2nd drink when Kim announced she was taking her heels off and putting her flip flops back on. Our last afternoon out involved going to a park by the canal and a massive monsoon drain. It was empty as not many kids seem to go the park (a different post!) and nearly every bench was taken up with construction workers sleeping. The kids had a ball with Kim, her daughter and the fat dog and we both took a picnic. Out of Kim’s basket she pulled a chilled bottle of wine – enough said!

Kim and Liz, I couldn’t do this without you.

Well here we are in 2014. Hello to you and goodbye to 2013; it was quite a year.

For us 2013 started on a plane on our first trip to Singapore as a family. Ned was a complete monster on our maiden flight and I can remember thinking we would have to stay in Singapore because I’m not doing this again. By the time we moved out here in the early summer the kids and I had racked up 5 of those long haul flights and were all still speaking to each other.

2013 was a year of change; and change is good isn’t it?

This is not going to be a post about how wonderful it is to get out of your comfort zone.

We have had time on our hands to think about what makes us happy and what makes us tick and every conversation we have about where we want to be always takes us back to the same place; and that place is home.

What I’ve learnt in 2013 is that home for me is a much wider space than the four walls that keep the four of us safe at night. For me home is a much bigger deal, in fact it’s a HUGE deal. My dad often says we have two homes as I extend my sense of home to their house as well. We are always there. I’m also lucky that many of my oldest friends live so close to my parents giving me the very best of two worlds. My parents have a welcoming home like no other. I want more than anything to create my version for our children.

My favourite thing in the world is wandering around our garden with a cup of coffee on my own making plans – things to see, friends to invite over, jobs to do. It’s a family joke that no plant stays in the same place in the garden as over time you see how the light filters and the shadows fall, and the first place is never quite the right place. When we moved into our house in Kent it was rundown beyond belief. It was filthy and unloved. The garden was as diseased as the house and it took me the four years we lived there to coax it back to life. Once I’d managed it we spent so many happy times sitting outside with our family and friends. The home I miss is full to busting. Home here in comparison is a lonely place.

set table for dinner

garden

What we have embraced instead as ex-pats is a culture that I don’t like (or understand) very much. An ex-pat life makes people very brittle and surprisingly fragile, although this is often masked by generally quite appalling lapses in social niceties. My experiences with ex-pat women will be a separate blog post – worth waiting for! Suffice to say here that we are all different and what makes me tick does not make the ex-pat lady tick. I don’t have much spare cash so am neither groomed nor glossy. I don’t want to eat out all the time, I don’t want to shop. I would like to do yoga, go running, hang out with my friends drinking coffee but for me these things are accessories to a busy life; they are not ‘life’.

Without this wider sense of home you end up on a constant promenade. The ex-pat life is constantly moving and shifting as everyone tries to fill the void. Much like those plants in my garden at home everyone is trying to find their right spot in the world. We have just realised that we were in our right spot all along.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some friends for life on the Little Red Dot of Singapore and these friends make me laugh a lot but I am ready to go home now, we all are. It’s been an incredible adventure. The best gift this Christmas we have given Millie and Ned is their lack of fear of the world, and the world can seem a scary place. We have no doubts at all that Ned will travel when he’s older. He is wild; a chameleon that can fit in wherever he goes and with whoever he is with. Millie is a home body. She is adored by everyone on the condo for her chatterbox ways (never letting a language barrier deter her) but she never likes to stray like Ned. She, like me, wants to put down her roots and not be moved again. Dom has rediscovered his love of running while we have been in Singapore. He spends his quiet time looking at trail runs that he can do at home in Kent where it will be him and the odd early morning dog walker unlike in Singapore where each path is already crowded. He fuels our idea of home even further with his deep love of countryside and coast. Dom reminds us about how beautiful and blessed we are with what surrounds our home – these are the fields through the gate in our garden.

fields behind the house

And I am glad he took us on this asian road trip; he is our true adventurer. Millie summed it up in her own way ‘Singapore has been a really great long holiday, and we’re really lucky aren’t we, but I’d like to go home now and see granny and grandad’. And that’s what we are going to do.

For all my friends at home that read my blog, we will see you very soon. Much love to all of you in my virtual space and a very Happy New Year.

Xmas tree

Yes, it’s THAT season so it’s ‘happy holidays’ to you all – you see, I’m very transatlantic, even global with my greetings these days.

So, as is customary for a 44 year old mother of two, here is my letter to Saint Nick. Saint Nick, not Old Nick… though when I’m preparing for Christmas with often murderous thoughts, a letter to Old Nick may be more appropriate.

Dear Father Christmas,

However bad I’ve been, please please don’t let me have to go again this year to:

VivoCity
ToysRus in Tampines, the basement of Takashimaya or Daiso.
Malls with scented gingerbread candles
Supermarkets (actually that one is a year round wish)

Please can you also stop the children from re-writing their Christmas lists because they aren’t getting half the stuff from the first edition, let alone the 65th version?

These lists are not helped by the fact the best fun Ned has had all year was wearing a bucket on his head while his friends shot Nerf gun bullets at it and pelted his armoured head with lego. I’m not sure how we move on from that present wise.

ned with bucket on his head

Also, if one more pink toy enters Millie’s bedroom, we will all need therapy. Her online course in ‘breaking gender codes’ will start in January.

Although I don’t blame you entirely, it does seem that the majority of presents may well tip Dom over the edge as they need:

Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to get into the box
Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to remove toy from the box
Knife/scissors/screwdrivers to then get it to work

I am delighted that you have a sense of humour too as there is also stuff that needs:

Parental interaction

This list is not exhaustive but appears to include:

Board games *shudder*
Skateboards – I understand that they will not master this until at least next Christmas
Lego. Bloody lego. This year I will be firm and vacuum up pieces left on the floor. Unlike last year when I spent an hour rescuing Anakin Skywalker’s head from the Dyson.

I realise that our Christmas tradition of consuming enough prosecco by 10am to bring down a rhino may not help any of the above.

I also need to point out to you that being British at 3pm on Christmas Day we listen to the Queen’s speech. This is a time when all good parents put a napkin over their head for a quick and deserving snooze. In Singapore, am I expected to power through?

If I am, there will need to be an extra sleigh delivering more prosecco. With thanks

Love Sarah x

ps Any chance of it not raining and being damp and unbelievably humid while I cook a roast dinner with all the trimmings? I would be very grateful.

pps I secretly love it, but don’t tell the elves.

waterpotplant

It’s rainy season. With bells on. It is marginally, fractionally, just a smidge cooler though after a blustery shower which makes wandering around a little less hot and bothersome. In fact, I actually felt a bit chilly the other day. Saying that though, today is a scorcher!

Now, Minx is saying that she isn’t getting a feel of Singapore from the photos I am sending home. I should point out that we lived out here as a family 40 years ago and the Singapore my mother loves so much is gone. Maybe that is why I spend so much time looking for ‘old’ Singapore, perhaps it is some early childhood memory I’m trying to find.

This photo perfectly sums up the change. Gentrification is everywhere. I don’t mind that, I just wish it always didn’t all look the same. I wonder if these neighbours speak. I doubt it somewhow.

old and new

Shopping malls are another part of Singapore life – the largest one I have ever been to in my life is called Vivo City at Harbourfront. It is absolutely enormous. It’s the kind of place that I go to thinking ‘Let’s go to Vivo City, all the shops are in one place, brilliant idea’. Then you get there and realise that the shop you want is 5 escalators and about 2km away from the entrance. Bleugh. The last time we went there Dom was going up an escalator in a daydream and looked at the brushes at the side of the step bit. You know the ones I mean – the bristles that stop any rubbish getting stuck in the sides. Dom thought ‘I wonder if that feels nice if you brush your foot against the bristles’. Of course the pharmacist is MILES away from where you are as your foot gets sliced and bleeds everywhere…. Millie rightly said ‘You won’t do that again, will you daddy!’

Away from the malls though, if you look down side streets you can still see old shophouses open for business. How long they will survive? Who knows. I love them. On a hot (or rainy day) you can walk under the archways keeping cool in the shade.

hardware store

greengrocers

I also want to find the painters that, when refurbishing yet another row of shophouses into posh residences, didn’t paint over this. So grateful.

lucky book store

lucky book store close up

In my quest for space, we took the kids around Macritchie Resevoir. I wonder how much of this has been recently man-made or if it has been preserved as part of Singapore heritage? The following are some pics from there. Hard to believe this is in the middle of Singapore. I am going to point out though that it took a great deal of patience (which I deeply lack) to take pictures without hordes of people in it. The walkers, families, trail runners and meanderers make this a less restful place than it looks…

view from tree top walk

monkey

macritchie resevoir

Singapore now. Singapore then.

Time has been the order of the day this last week or two – I seem to lose it, never have enough of it, or shamefully, waste it. It left me pondering the following…

On Tuesday I had a lovely lazy morning with my friend from Kent, Liz, in Plaza Singapura. This mall contains a Japanese Yen shop, at home it’s a pound shop, so can only imagine it’s called a dollar shop in the States! Now I am not a shopper at all but even I couldn’t leave the pink mango slicer behind. Liz went off and as I had some time to kill before picking the kids up I bought some lunch and headed outside. So, I’m sitting reading and minding my own business when a young lady comes over and says ‘Do you have the time?’ ‘Yes’, I reply, ‘it’s half past one’. She then sits down next to me and I carry on reading. About 5 minutes later she gets up VERY dramatically and clearly quite cross and says ‘I have to go now!’ ‘Ummmm’. Clearly she wanted to know if I had ‘time’, not ‘the time’! Sigh.

As I told Dom later that evening he reminded me of my best incident of confused English ever. Many moons ago, when Dom and I first met, I shared a flat in South London with my marvellous friend Jill. We lived in Tooting; it was a complete cultural carnival which made it very vibrant and a great place to live. The local shop was a ‘Costcutter’ where you could honestly find anything from plantains through to chickpea flour. I was in there buying something very ordinary when an old Indian gent walks in and says to the young shelfstacker ‘you got time?’. The young shelfstacker says ‘yes, quarter to two’. ‘No’ said the old gent in complete exasperation ‘thyme, to put in food’.

Anyway, to get over my lunch incident I went for a stroll and am always cheered up by the legions of tourists photographing the Peranakan shop houses on the road behind us. They are beautiful and the kids call it Rainbow Road. (Aren’t the bins a total shame?)

shophouse3

It reminded me of one of my first taxi trips in Singapore with a lovely old Malay cabbie. I was in no hurry and he was in the mood for a chat. He told me that this is a conservation area now but that the whole of Katong (the area we live) has changed beyond recognition. Shophouses were seen as houses for the poorer classes – now they are home to wealthy expats and posh Singaporeans from what I can see. My cabbie grew up in a shophouse in a lane near where we live and started to tell me about life in Joo Chiat and Marine Parade when he was a boy. It was essentially a fishing village – Katong means Turtle – and he made pocket money as a kid helping at the fish stalls. What is now a huge, soulless shopping mall was once the jetty and there were row upon row of fish hawker stalls selling food and people would come from all over the island to eat here. Only one building remains untouched – it was the old police station and then a tea house – and that too is due for demolition to make way for yet another hotel/ mall.

police station katong

Singapore is changing so fast, building after bland building is being thrown up, and I wish, more than anything, that the urban planners would find more time to think.

lanterns

Apologies, apologies, I’ve been tied up. Actually I’m struggling to remember what I’ve been doing that has kept me so busy but there you go. Life as an expat wife summed up in a sentence for you.

We’re still ploughing through the Halloween haul of sugar and e-numbers. It is very different doing it on a condo. We are one of a handful of expat families here, unlike the condos in the posh areas that are full to the brim of UK, US and Aus families. It made for an interesting halloween. It would seem that parents are happy for their kids to dress up (kind of) and come out to knock on a few doors, as long as it isn’t their own. Weird isn’t it? Luckily, the families out and about on the condo had enough sweets to keep Willie Wonka happy and the kids were young enough to fill their bags and then run around manically for no apparent reason and were quite happy with their lot. I drank Prosecco.

Here is a photo…. Oops no, I can’t seem to upload it, shame. Will do when I’ve worked out what WordPress is doing. It’s a good one – it’s a taxi queue with everyone holding and plugged into a smartphone. So it should be a Halloween photo don’t you think? Everyone plugged in to their phones like zombies.

drones

Spending as much time as I do on the bus here I’ve been AMAZED at how addicted everyone is to their phones. All – the – time. One thing though that does make me laugh out loud (or drive me crackers), is noise pollution. If you like the weird man’s voice saying ‘divine’ on Candy Crush, well just turn up the volume – you don’t need headphones… . Fancy watching that clip on YouTube? No headphones, hell watch it anyway! But my absolute favourite, was when an old man sat next to me with a very large bag. Out of it he pulled, like a magician and a white rabbit, an old fashioned transistor radio. He then turned it on (at full volume), tuned it in and sat with it on his lap. He was tapping his feet and humming along and I’m thrilled he was enjoying it. Alas I most definitely didn’t feel the same way.

In the UK, there was a sudden spike in the number of kids getting knocked over by cars and the blame was put squarely on using their phones on the street and ignoring the world around them. I wonder what that statistic is in Singapore? I hate to think.

I like to think I’m quite adventurous about what I eat but actually, I’m not. So far I’ve had some wonderful food and I’ve avoided what is possibly still wonderful food, I just have no intention of eating it. Ever.

The first – Yes, it’s the fish head curry. I’m sure it’s delicious and it’s a local speciality. This place is always packed and I keep telling myself to go and experience it but then that little voice in my head sings…. Pop goes the eyeballs.

fish head curry

The second is another speciality restaurant that we see as we stroll to the shops. There are two tanks outside – one is full of live crabs (Chill crab, don’t mind if I do!), the other is full of frogs. The kids think these are pets and Ned is quite keen to keep one in the shower. I don’t have the heart to tell him they are the key ingredient in Frog Porridge. It almost sounds like you’d eat it in a michelin starred restaurant as a taste sensation and not in a backstreet cafe for breakfast. Either way I’m going to complete my time in Singapore without consuming a frog or keeping one as a pet.

When I was in Japan I was taken out by one of my lovely group of ladies that lunch (and study English conversation really half-heartedly) and they insisted I ate a live sea urchin as part of a posh lunch. I’ve never quite recovered. I definitely remember drinking barrels of beer to wash it down, and then singing a lot of karaoke and after that it all fades into a distant hazy fishy drunken memory.

On the flipside

One of the best things I’ve eaten here is at a chain of restaurants called Din Tai Fung. (This chain is also in New York and Australia making it less exotic as I write). It serves Taiwanese steamed buns amongst other things called xiaolongbao. I was taken here by Aly from Thailand and her gorgeous mother when she visited Singapore from Chiang Mai. There are some people in life that are real ‘ladies’, proper ladies, and Aly’s mother is one of them. When we entered the restaurant you can see the chefs preparing these tiny buns ready to steam. Our conversation went roughly like this.

Aly’s mum: I wish someone had told me how to eat these when I first came here as I totally didn’t know what to do!
Me: (Feeling very suspicious that there was going to be a sea urchin involved) What’s the deal?
Aly’s mum: Well I was hungry and popped the whole thing in my mouth and bit it. And you know they very cleverly insert soup in to it so I scalded my mouth and ran around the restaurant screaming. We’ll get Aly to show you how to eat them as I’m a bit clumsy at it.
Me: Aly, how do I eat the soupy bun without squirting it over your mum?

So it transpires that you lift it delicately out of the steamer into your spoon where you then carefully insert your chopstick into it piercing the bun. The soup then streams onto your spoon. You then sip the soup and eat the bun. Delicious! And in all the countries I’ve visited no one has ever told me how not to make a total arse of myself in public so beautifully.

dai tai fung

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