Go big or go home…

Archive for February 2009

Today is our one month anniversary. We’re in our new flat but not online, so I’ve gone all the way to an internet café to mark the occasion (who knew internet cafés still existed! I thought poor people and backpackers would all have iPhones by now).

We haven’t seen much of the city yet – our time has been taken up with admin and housekeeping. On that front, our little home is making me very happy, even though there are no sockets for shavers and all the cupboards are too high or too low.

My favourite house things:

• The view, and how it changes through the day.

After dark it’s a mess of twinkling lights. Early in the morning there’s just haze, crystallising into city as the sun sharpens.

(Right now it’s raining, and the top of the CBD is lost in the clouds.)

• The big telly!

The TV itself (all 42 inches of it) is neither here nor there. J and I decided we weren’t going to get one, not realising they’re standard in furnished Singapore flats. So we’ve done the only sensible thing, and hooked the PC up to it. And *that*, as the kids say, is made of win.

• The ice tray.

Yup, really. The freezer has a built in ice tray; once the cubes are solid you twist a lever and they drop into a drawer below. Estimated ice cube capacity: 150 – all neatly stored in the pull-out bucket. This kind of organisation is going to take my martini mixing to dizzy new heights.

Food porn

Things I’ve tried:

• Carrot cake (ibid)

Takoyaki – octopus balls. For want of a better explanation, mini seafood toad-in-the-holes. Really good.

Rou gan – dried pork slices, a bit like biltong. Also really good.

Things I’ve not tried:

• Hotdog prata – wtf!

Pig organ soup. Ummm…

Other experiences

Medical exams; mandatory in order to secure gainful employ. I had mine today, and rocked up at the hospital with the tocsin of civil liberty sounding faintly but distinctly.

Neither my employer nor the hospital volunteered any information about what I would be tested for, but I asked a nurse and she said HIV, diabetes and kidney disease. Which doesn’t explain the chest x-ray, and begs the question, “What happens if anything comes up positive?”

The rest of the exam was basic: height, weight, b.p., except that the nurse giggled when she weighed me. And earlier today, the receptionist at my new agency said, “You’ll soon find the hot weather will melt all that fat off you,” while smiling benignly, as if she’d just told me she liked my shoes.

Fortunately I’m reasonably immune to stuff like that, although I had better get used to feeling Amazonian; a lot of SE Asian girls are teeny-tiny and very body-conscious.

Yours, hen pang Elle
xx

(57.2 kg in case you’re wondering. I think that’s bang on 9 st.)

I’m starting work in nine day’s time, after five luxurious weeks off. I have landed myself a job in the Asian hub of an international ad agency, as a creative in their healthcare department.

Read the rest of this entry »

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• A pregnant lady got on the MRT (tube) the other day and three people instantly jumped up to allow her to sit.

I have seen pregnant women get on in London and ride six or seven stops without anyone offering a seat. The standard response is for seated commuters to bury their heads deep into a newspaper, thereby excusing themselves as they “didn’t notice she was there”.

Whenever I saw this happen (for it was sadly common), I would spend the six or seven stops trying to decide whether I should intervene on the pregnant lady’s behalf. I never did.

• The banks here are retarded!

This country is supposed to be the financial jewel in Asia’s crown, but it really is the worst place I’ve banked (previous countries banked in: n=1).

My ATM and debit cards are separate entities (the second of which I had to apply for in writing), my savings account is managed with a passbook, and I had to go into a branch to get a device that allows me to bank online.

(Actually, that last bit’s unfair. The internet banking is really good, and the device is a random number generator that’s linked to my login, so it’s super-secure.)

Quick update on other stuff: Life is good, getting the keys to our flat in two day’s time, and starting work in a week and a half. More about the job to follow.

Also, I have permanent contact details now, so if you feel compelled to send me a parcel or make an expensive long-distance phone call, drop me a line and I’ll provide the means.

Yesterday was slightly stressful, but by tea-time J and I had secured ourselves a place to live.

The process was rather portentous though. It all started to go wrong when I turned up at the bank to get a cashier’s order for the landlady (in lieu of a chequebook). I’d allowed half an hour for this task, surmising that few people could have urgent banking needs at 11am on a weekday.

How wrong I was! The queue moved torturously slowly, and I was 20 minutes late meeting my agent. She was good natured about it, but I did see her jaw set into a slightly harder line when I informed her that I’d also forgotten the letter of intent.

This document – meticulously filled out by J and I that morning, and still sitting neatly on our coffee table – was the crux of the whole meeting. It is signed by everyone involved, and means no one can back out without paying at least some damages.

“It’s ok,” the agent reassured me. “I have copies. You and the landlord can sign now, J can sign again later.” So we went up, met the landlady, lied cheerfully to her: Do you have pets? Nope. Do you smoke? Definitely not! Then the moment came to hand over the cash.

“Um, this should be a ‘G’, not a ‘Q’,” the landlady said.

Aaaarrrggghhh!

My agent drove me back to the bank, and deposited me in another hour-long queue. By the time I’d got the right cheque, with the right name on it, the simple task of meeting someone to exchange pieces of paper had occupied me for four hours.

It’s done though, the flat is ours! And the cheery optimist in me thinks that if things go wrong at the beginning they’ll only get better as we progress.

The flat is lovely – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, amazing views, little maid’s balcony. I don’t have pics yet, but here’s the project from the outside:

City Square Residences

City Square Residences

And here are some photos of the surrounding area.

I found myself agonising over egg selection in the supermarket this morning:

Regular eggs (from which there were dozens to choose): $1.60 for 6
Cage-free eggs (a single pioneering brand): $9.50 for 6

Walking back to the hotel, I wished I’d sent the extra $7.90 to Amnesty instead.

• A blind busker with a sign that read “I am sorry I cannot see you appreciating my kind music.”

• A cover story from Simply Her, Singapore’s Cosmo: Don’t fire your maid! Strategies to keep her happy and competent.

simplyher

I read the article slack-jawed. Advice included:

Treat your maid as you would your children. Be patient and always set clear boundaries.

and:

Don’t be rude or abrupt when you issue orders. Try always to say please and thank you.

WTF! I would never ask another human being (adult or child) to do something for me without trying to be polite. But J says clearly lots of people are rude, and at least the magazine is trying to do something about it.

The rest of it was dull as anything, party-line all the way. “How to be more productive in the office.” “How to budget better.” And LOTS of ads, mostly for skin whitening products.

• The nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen:

Orchard Road Maccy D's

Orchard Road Maccy D's

That’s all for now. Zai jian, hao peng you, happy Friday everyone!

We’re one week in and doing well. J had to go straight into work after a single day off, which must’ve been hella hard – he certainly had my sympathy. (Especially as I have been swimming, reading & sunbathing, basically being an expat wife layabout.)

In between expatting and laying about, I have been busy house hunting. This in an arduous task that means asking myself many challenging questions: is two tennis courts enough; how much space does a maid *really* need? That kind of thing.

I’ve been to about 20 viewings in the past week, ranging from enormous but ancient apartments with peeling paint and a surfeit of dark wood to ridiculously pert new-builds with bomb shelters (“Only 30 minutes drive to the subway, mam”).

We’ve settled on one and are putting an offer in today, but I don’t want to say anymore cos I’m superstitious and fear that committing my thoughts to paper might jinx the deal.

We got to see a bit of the city over the weekend. On Saturday evening, one of my best friends from uni’s best friends from school (still following?) took us to Newton Circus for satay and carrot cake.

Both J and I assumed they were talking about the sponge-carrot-creamcheese frosting version of carrot cake, yet neither of us questioned the pairing of high tea components with grilled meat and peanut sauce.

Turns out high tea has nothing to do with it. Carrot cake is kind of a radish (white carrot) omelette, and bloody delicious. We also had stingray – that was for you Fry, now there’s one less in the world for you to worry about.

After that we put away a bottle of shochu in a Japanese bar (the budgeting is going badly), then found ourselves at the quays watching a rather rotund transvestite cover 80s rock classics. We definitely didn’t sing along to Bon Jovi or Guns N’ Roses though, and wouldn’t admit it if we had.

On Sunday a Singaporean friend showed us round Chinatown, where New Year’s celebrations are still in full swing, and took us to dinner at a Korean restaurant where the food came in hot stone bowls (and J ate mushrooms :-ooooo).

Today has been more pedestrian – got a bank account, got a phone, got some work to get on with. On that front, I’m temporarily borrowing my soul back while I do a bit of freelance journalism, and also have a second interview with an ad agency on Thursday morning. Phew on both counts, looks like J might not get paid until the end of March!!

In other news, I still haven’t got bored of saying “Ah, it turned out warm again,” every morning when I step outside. Hopefully I will tire of this before J puts an end to it by punching me fatally in the back of the neck.

Hope you’re all well. I hear it’s snowing in London, bad luck!

Elle xx