Archives for posts with tag: lifestyle

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.

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

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

We’ve been away – more on that later but I’ve saved a few of my more choice moments from the last few months. Enjoy.

#1

I was in little Giant. As opposed to big Giant where the other stressful shopping trip occurred.
The kids love little Giant as it’s round the corner, we can walk there and it doesn’t involve hordes of people. It then usually involves a wander to Hoppity’s, our favourite ice cream shop.
I was on my own (a rare thing) and needed a few bits and bobs. I have one of those trolleys that you pull along behind you. What a look eh? I don’t have a car in Singapore so am embracing my practical side. My practical side hates me.

In the queue and minding my own business I lugged my basket onto the till and started to open the trolley. The very nice checkout lady busied herself and I busied myself. Another octogenarian (could have been nonagenarian) was wheeled up behind me with either her helper or granddaughter at the helm.

“54 dollars and 80 cents” said the checkout lady
“How much?” said the old granny
“It’s not our shopping” said the helper
“No it’s her shopping and she’s spent too much” said the granny
“You’re speaking in English!” said the helper (also in English) slightly mortified.
“So” said the Granny giving me a look up and down.
“She’s spent too much, she should look at her basket and put stuff back” announced the granny
I give the old granny a hard stare.
“Does she have children?” said the granny
“I don’t know” said the helper – now looking like she would like to be anywhere else.
“Yes” I said thinking I may as well join in the conversation about my shopping.
“Hmph, she has too much food.”
“I’m not going to eat it all in one go y’know” wondering why on earth I’m engaging in with this.
“Hmph” Not sure how one can write a snort that sounds disbelieving.
“Are her children big, as big as…….”
“Right now, granny, outside….” I mutter, slightly murderously.

#2

Ned “Mummy, on UN day, Oliver is getting to go as Peter Pan!”
Me “You have to represent your country Ned so he can’t just dress up.”
Ned (slightly irritated by my lack of understanding) “ He IS doing his country, he comes from Neverland”.
Me “I don’t know quite how to break this to you Ned, but he comes from The Netherlands, not Neverland”.
Ned “Oh, that IS disappointing”.
Me “Yes, it is a bit.”

And lastly, #3

We live on the third floor, it’s actually the second floor because in SE Asia you don’t have a ground floor – are you following? Right.

During the week our condo is very quiet with everyone out at work or school and apart from the helpers hanging out washing or pottering to the shops it’s lovely and quiet. So, when I got into the lift and thought ‘my top is on inside out’ I then thought ‘oh I’ll just whip it off in the lift and put it on the right way, what are the chances of someone wanting the lift?’

Quite high as it happens…..

raindrops

It’s been a funny old week and I’ve hummed and ha’ed about what to write – how to say what I’m thinking without sounding like I’m sitting in judgement. I’m just watching and making sense of my tiny space on this planet. I don’t have any answers. To give you an idea of where this is going, this is a short sentence that Dom read somewhere – it says a lot about life, particularly about life here in Singapore.

People buy things they don’t need
With money they don’t have
To impress people that don’t care.

During these turbulent times and when things got tough financially, people stopped and thought about how they lived and what their priorities were. Around us in the UK, some carried on with their head in the sand refusing to contemplate any shift in lifestyle; some realised they lived under huge economic fragility but were happy to take the risk; some (us included) took a deep breath and changed some habits.

I read and Dom and I talked and we changed as a family, gently. There are some powerful sources of inspiration out there and it helped me to adjust my view of the world. I particularly enjoyed this one http://www.becomingminimalist.com.

Having experienced a shift in how we lived in the UK, it is quite an eye-opener to come to Singapore and discover just how much one small place can consume. From the billions of plastic bags to the endless ebb and flow of shopping mall after shopping mall, is it a commercial paradise or a place where the pursuit of pleasure has overtaken the search for happiness?

That instant hit of pleasure when we buy something, how long does it last? How long does it take before we desire something new?

If you have a window in your day, pour yourself a drink and watch this

What are your thoughts?

I am still looking, changing, adapting and reading and trying to find my way. The journey to finding happiness has been described as like being on a very turbulent flight through grey cloud and suddenly, just for a moment, you break through the cloud and fly in the clear blue sky above marvelling at the wonder of it. (www.getsomeheadspace.com)

Right now in my life? It’s very, very turbulent.

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.

rambutan

This first appeared on my facebook page when we first arrived. It is now here by popular demand. (Excuse me Facebook people for the repitition!)

So, the kids and I make a solo flight to do a ‘big’ shop. Go to Giant (aptly named) – think Asda, definitely not Waitrose. I am minding my own business yelling at the children, as you do, when an octogenarian Chinese Singaporean Granny accosts me. After much hand waving and shrugging, I work out that she wants my stamps from the check out (think co-op green stamps of old). I don’t believe I said yes, but she joins us anyway. She then waves her arms at me which translates loosely as ‘why are you buying that, you should have rambutan’. I wave furiously back that if she wants to come home with me and make them eat it, great, but I’d rather have my original choice of kiwi fruit. And so it continues.. She then mimes to the children that if they eat all the crap in the trolley they will have teeth like hers. Ned is by now completely sold on the ancient granny with no teeth. I decide to leave them with the trolley and our hijacker while I run around and grab some stuff. I come back to the trolley to see her loudly applauding Millie’s choice of Hello Kitty toilet paper and into the trolley it goes. I then hear much tutting and sharp intakes of breath as I put the beer in, thinking shit, I want gin too. I give up. I will save you the turmoil that was the checkout but our granny got 10 stamps for her pain. As Ned and Millie wave goodbye I point out that I don’t know why they are laughing as they are having rambutan on hello kitty loo roll for lunch………….

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