Archives for category: neighbourhood

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

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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.

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.

We’re super spoilt here for eating out. Honestly, if I wasn’t (as you know) now best friends with the treadmill and the pool I would seriously need to elasticate all my waist bands.

This is the weekend so far…

Friday night. We meet up with some friends at The Trenchard Arms. Now here’s an oddity – an English style pub that manages not to be ridiculous alongside all the street cafes but stands its ground. The craft beers are all brewed in Singapore and apparently you need the ice to dilute the gin in the gin and (dash of) tonic – always a good sign.

Then we fancied a curry (as you do.) Zaffron Kitchen is further down the East Coast Road. It specializes in North and South indian cuisine. Blimey I thought, that’s an entire sub-continent worth of specials! When we sat down the very efficient manager said ‘we don’t do South Indian food.’ So, that solved that one. North indian food here we come. Chicken tikka wrapped in spinach, chana masala and roti bread. No idea if that is a north indian speciality but it was so good. And spicy. So spicy Dom got hiccups and my eyes watered.

Today, in need of a restorative tonic I wandered to my favourite juice bar in Parkway Parade. Slighty revived by a watermelon, apple and ginger juice. Nearly had to put my sunglasses on to approach the counter but got by with just squinting.

juice

Hmmm peckish now and shopping is hard boring work. On the Joo Chiat Road is the best Vietnamese cafe. I ordered a light nibble – these prawns are wrapped with vermicelli noodles, shredded lettuce and centred around a strip of salad onion. You dunk it in a peanutty chilli sauce. God, it’s amazing.

fat angel

Later on, I suggest cooking some supper. Greeted with a general raspberry from well, the whole family, so noodles it is. Off we go to a backstreet noodle cafe. Fei Fei Wanton Noodles. God the kids love it here. It’s been going since Grandad Fei Fei started it in 1949 and it’s still in the family. Wanton Mee is what they do and it’s always packed. 24 hours a day.

millie at fei fei

Oh lordy, I’ve just realised it’s only Saturday! That is half-a-weekend. I am going for a little lie down…

temple

Best advice I was ever given; to discover a place you need to get lost in it. I didn’t particularly need this advice because I have raised wandering aimlessly to a new art form.

I recommend it.

Last night we took an accidental left and saw this Hindu temple on a suburban road.

Singapore is not what you think.

joo chiat road

Things I have learnt since arriving in Joo Chiat:

  • It’s a hotch potch of shops, street cafes, posher restaurants and karaoke bars. By day, it’s artisan bakeries (baguettes on a weekend morning with a takeaway latte), my favourite Vietnamese cafe with it’s bowls of herb filled noodles, home-made ice cream shops and bucket supermarkets.
  • If you shut your kitchen window and cut a baby gekko clean in half, it is a lot like snapping a kit kat.
  • It is stressful finding a live gekko in your underwear drawer. Almost contemplated not wearing any but that would guarantee falling over in the street (every surface is a trip hazard and I am super clumsy).
  • Everyone likes to chat; it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s not the same language.
  • Kids are like chameleons and adapt much easier than their mother.

And lastly, in the UK you think nothing of a 30 minute walk to anywhere (usually to warm up), here you can last for 10 minutes before you wilt. Literally.

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