Archives for posts with tag: Singapore

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


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…


…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


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?)


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.


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