Archives for the month of: August, 2013

We’ve been living in Singapore for 3 months – and it’s not been without some turbulence. It’s been fun sharing with everyone what life is truly like and made easier by instagram, facebook, facetime, skype and emails. In fact, I think we may have short-changed people at home with the less exotic aspects of our life.

The Singapore that people expect to see is this:

night pic

night 2

And it’s here, we just don’t live in that Singapore. We live in this one.



When we were kids living abroad my mother would make us make cassette recordings for family at home. They are still around – we’d sing carols at Christmas and read diary entries and tell stories. At family parties they are still played to peals of laughter.

Then, when I lived abroad in the mid ‘90s there was still no home technology – nothing, nada, zilch. We kept in touch with pen, paper, envelopes and stamps. Receiving a letter was a holy grail moment, it was that exciting. You believed that you were actually living on the other side of the world. The world seemed huge and daunting.

Before I left for Japan a friend gave me a plastic planet spinner – you could twist it round to your latitude and map the stars. He showed me that at times, we could see the same constellations in the UK and halfway around the world. I remember vividly thinking, in that second as he explained how it worked, that the world was smaller than I thought.

In 2013 it’s all a bit different isn’t it?

Now the world has shrunk so much I can pick up news from home and chat with friends with a click. The irony is it makes you more homesick. Way more homesick. Because in your head and virtual world you are still local; then you turn off the computer, radio 4 podcast, BBCiplayer, put down your phone and look up and remember where you are. It takes an enormous amount of effort to disengage from our old life and embrace our new one.

On the upside my mother has my UK iphone and has learnt to send text messages. When the first one arrived I thought I was hallucinating. She uses it like an alarm clock with texts like ‘you forgot another birthday’, ‘your father didn’t buy any sherry,’ ‘Have you found a hairdresser yet?’ When she signs off a text she always signs off ‘mumx’. The spellcheck on the iphone always changes it to ‘minx’.

When I get a text from minx, it always make me smile.


gossiping rabbits
I love this photo that I took at the Singapore Art Garden. They are definitely female, and definitely at the school gates don’t you think? Ah, the school run. The school run takes no prisoners the world over it seems; groups of women with invisible cauldrons.

I’m expected to make friends at the school gate. Oh, how I hate this. I can never help myself saying something flippant or (accidentally) really inappropriate. In my head I tell myself I have wonderful friends – they just happen to be 16000 miles away. Not the best role model for the kids. Shall we say I could probably try harder?

Making friends doesn’t get easier with age, fact. At our wedding my dad made a lovely speech about how sitting at each table was a friend from each part of my life and that a gift I had inherited from my mother was making lifelong friends.

So I gave myself a virtual slap and decided to unclench.

I found myself smiling politely listening to two women having a verbal spar about who had the best life summer holiday, when I caught a look in the eye of another mother that spoke volumes. All it took was a ‘new too?’ Five minutes later we had dissected with clinical precision that:

The weather here is dodgy (we are both English, the weather is our default conversation of choice)

What we thought of the school (early days)

How we will avoid being press-ganged for the PTA (an instant bond)

Numbers exchanged, coffee arranged.

I’m a gossiping rabbit.

I honestly never know what to cook these days. I love cooking but in Singapore I walk into a supermarket and go blank, really blank. I’m faced with an array of beautiful fruit and veg I’ve never seen before in my life and ingredients I can barely pronounce. I have no idea how to prepare and cook them in a way the kids would not clasp their throats and claim I was ‘poisoning’ them, again.

I am calling this phenomenon ‘menu amnesia’.

We had this phenomenon when I lived in Japan too and my friend Alice famously went grocery shopping for lunch and returned with a lettuce and a loaf of bread.

So, I am on a mission to get to grips with this. I am going to be helped by a very lovely Thai lady who lives on our condo. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is going to give me SE Asian cooking lessons. She invited me for lunch and it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten. When I asked what she had cooked the chicken in she said ‘pandan leaves’. Righty ho.

So, in the supermarket Dom and I decided to buy something completely at random and cook it. We chose these…

choyoto 1

A little bit of googling later I discovered that my vegetable is in fact a fruit (though used as a vegetable) and is known as a choyote, choko, merliton, vegetable pear and a bangalore brinjal. Excellent, I have managed to buy a fruit with an identity crisis.

Later that day I was browsing through my number 1 guilty pleasure – Expat Living Magazine. Sssh, but I love it. It couldn’t be further removed from my expat life but if I ever need some botox while the kids do yoga I know EXACTLY where to go. But then, hold the phone, look what I found…


Now I will forgive Expat Living for its lack of fine-tuned editing and the fact that the list of ingredients didn’t quite match the recipe because it turned out like this and do you know what? It was rather good….


Menu Amnesia 0; Me 1

You can substitute my confused fruit for cucumber.

Choyote Som Tam Salad

Choyote or cucumber
Handful of cherry toms halved
3 spring onions sliced on the diaganol
handful of fresh coriander
1 red chilli (remove the seeds if you know what’s good for you)
12 cooked prawns
Some iceburg lettuce and french beans (tho I used sugar snap peas).


1 tablespoon of fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons of groundnut or plain oil
3 tablespoons of lime
2 teaspoons of light brown sugar

Slice it all finely, throw on the dressing and serve. Yum.

hungry ghosts2

As I waited at the bus stop I was approached by (another) granny. She was very keen to know if Prince George was named after his great grandfather (probably), whether we thought Princess Kate beautiful (well, I do like her hair) and whether Prince Harry could be the love child of James Hewitt (hope not, for his sake). Then a man came out of the café behind us and started to make an altar with fruit and vegetables and lit some joss sticks. He then got some fake paper money and made a home-made brazier – all on the pavement and started to burn it.
I noticed up and down the street more people were doing the same.

hungry ghosts1

My granny told me that it is Ghost Month. August is not a lucky month. In fact she said, the gates of hell are open and everyone is coming up top to see what’s going on – to see whether there are souls to steal. The altars are to ensure that your ancestors upstairs aren’t part of this ghostly party from downstairs. You offer your deceased family members food and money that can be used in their afterlife. Then on the 15th of the month there is the Festival of the Hungry Ghost – To appease those ghosts who have no families to make offerings to them, a feast is offered with empty chairs for the ghosts.

As we walked home from school there were piles of burning papers up and down the Joo Chiat Road and the smell of incense everywhere. Kids were intrigued, Millie said it was a lot like Halloween. Indeed (but without all the sweets and kiddie hysteria).

hungry ghosts3

Today’s granny is Chinese but was born in Vietnam. After the Vietnam War she was evacuated but her family were split up – most went to the US, she went to Australia. Despite being incredibly well travelled she said she is still, even now, terrified to go back to Vietnam. Her English is still patchy yet none of her kids speak Chinese. Her eldest son lives in Singapore and she visits twice a year and her other son plays the violin in the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra. She was a delight and it was a privilege to sit on the bus with her.

End Feb - March 2010 004

At last our stuff has arrived!

I have had to re-think and eat some humble pie along the way about the worth of material things. While I was packing up the house in cold, wintry England I realised that we just had too much stuff. It seemed like a good time to chop all the clutter out of our lives. Things that we never used, furniture that Ned had reduced to feathers and firewood – it was time to Get Rid. I enjoyed it, I can’t deny it.

But, when everything had been sold, recycled or dumped we were left in the shell of our home which was now barren, cold, empty and really, really uncomfortable. The house had no heart left. We were still in it; it was just our stuff that wasn’t. That was not what I was expecting.

In Singapore it was the same feeling. We didn’t feel settled in the new flat. It didn’t feel like home and no one could quite put their finger on what felt wrong so we all just put it down to emotional exhaustion from the move.

Then, our stuff arrived. We filled less than 1/2 of a 20ft container. The weekend was a flurry of unpacking, arranging, deciding it looked better in a different place, moving it again and then deciding I liked it in the first place better. Dom is an interior designer; he is a patient man.

front room 2

Everyone suddenly seemed happier. What had we missed the most and what was most cherished when it arrived?

Me: I hate being uncomfortable. I read a lot. I read mostly in bed. I missed my bedside lamp (it’s Terance Conran with an IKEA shade) and my bedside table to put my cup of tea on. Happiness has been restored for me.

our bedroom

Dom: Dom insists I threw most of his stuff away. I’m going to ignore that comment. He spent most of the weekend putting up our pictures. Despite the swearing, that has made him happy.

Millie: Millie has by far the most stuff. She is a hoarder. When asked to pick something that made her feel like she was home she chose this picture. I bought this as a scrapbook page from ebay when she was a baby. On the page it was signed by a girl called Mary Grove and dated 1851. She loves it as much as I do.

millie's pic

Ned: Need we ask? Swords of course. (He also managed to swing the bigger bedroom.)

Ned's room

I have a stronger sense of what possessions I truly value (except for a lot of the kids junk – sorry!) and no doubt we will add to this flat too during our time in Singapore. I already have my eye on a shop called Bangku Bangku on the Joo Chiat Road. This move has been an exhausting process, I’m glad it’s done.

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