Go big or go home…

Archive for the ‘armchair psychology’ Category

One of my ver’ good friends from the UK is married to an Australian. They lived together in the England for a while, and now live in Oz.

She said a while back, “The problem with truly managing to make a new place your home is that from then on, wherever you live you’ll always miss somewhere else.“


Just spent an awesome two weeks in Europe.

Had so much fun, saw so many people, ate so much food. Especially drank so much booze – I expect my liver now resembles Champagne-scented fois gras.

It’s a good opportunity for comparisons. I mentioned psychological contracts in the post below, and I think these constitute the easiest thing about England/hardest thing about Singapore.

Spending time with people I know inside out is great because it’s so socially easy – getting to know people in Singapore is a more tentative process.

The other thing I loved about being back in London was the diversity. Singapore thinks it’s diverse because it’s vaguely multicultural, but really it has no idea what the word means. London teems with cultural identities, personal identities, brass bands,

goths on bicycles, dogs in hats – every stupid thing you can imagine. On Saturday morning I saw a guy on the tube, pilled off his tits, discussing Murakami with an Australian woman in a twin-set.

Singapore has (chooses her words carefully) rather less individual identity, although there are good side effects with that – no beggars (if there are homeless people here I don’t know where they go – they certainly don’t beg under cash machines), no shootings, no glue-sniffing 12-year-olds (again, not that I’ve seen).

Even so, I expected to feel pretty sad leaving the UK yesterday, and certainly for the last hour of the plane ride I was quite down, but I had a lovely sense of home when I returned to my flat here. Even driving out of the airport into the late evening sunshine, I felt a bit of a smile return after my previous brooding.

To bastardise Tibor Fischer, after I die and they split open my heart, they will find a tiny model of London inside, but that shouldn’t stop me enjoying other cities while I’m alive. I think infidelity suits me.

As you may have gathered, I’m back in Europe for two weeks. I’ve been very excited about this, mainly because it’s been six months since I saw my friends and family. I’ve also been looking forward to being a tourist in my home town – when I lived in London I spent most of my time working and my holidays elsewhere.

It’s a natural stock-taking point, not least because I’ve spent the past four days answering questions about how I’m getting on. So, how am I getting on?

I’m enjoying myself – it’s a good, easy, happy life – but there is a ‘but’. We’ve made some really lovely friends, but we are conscious of trying hard to fit into a slightly different culture. For me the main difference is sense of humour, for J it’s interest in politics.

I have been thinking of these differences in terms of reference frames. I have grown up playing different games, watching different TV, reading different books, and those things affect how I see the world and my place in it.

I was discussing this with a guy I met yesterday and he talked about the same thing in terms of a psychological contract, so that the focus is not how one person interacts with his world, but how two people interact with each other.

This is really obvious yet I haven’t considered it before. Whenever we interrelate we have expectations – it’s acceptable for you to do this, it’s not acceptable for me to do that. This is true of any situation – going to work, buying a bus ticket, meeting friends in a bar.

Except that these contracts vary, for all the hundreds of reasons I haven’t really gone into here (culture, psychology, history &tc), so that often in Singapore people don’t act in ways I’d expected, and likewise I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond.

This is definitely challenging. It’s really noticeable how easy it is to chat to strangers back in the UK, but the flipside is that you consider your motivations and responses more when there isn’t a fixed schema to drop into.

J and I both guessed his age as 50. He claimed to be 68.

Eat good food.
Do tai chi every morning.
Make love every night.


Singapore life is good. It’s sunny, the food is great, my new job promises to be interesting. I can take taxis everywhere and go to the beach at weekends. But is it all soy milk and honey? Not quite.

The first month I was here I was too busy to be homesick. It was only when I started work that it hit me – the routine threw into relief the differences between life here and in the UK.

It hasn’t been awful. I’ve had no sense that I’ve made a mistake, no panic. The best way to describe it is fleeting claustrophobia. I think about someone from the UK, imagine the journey from my London flat to theirs, and suddenly I’m thinking about 12 hour flights and feeling trapped.

An existential (Daoist) version of this: even if I went back to London now, it wouldn’t be the same city I left. Life is flux; we change in step with our environment and don’t notice the process. Once we leave we fall out of step, diverge.

So the London that I remember is already gone. Thinking in those terms feels sad and final, but the flip side is that the same would be true if I’d stayed. Perhaps I would have had a kid, moved to the suburbs, who knows? But the life I was living was changing, day-by-day, imperceptibly.

When I think of it that way, it makes me glad that I took charge, insofar as I can, and left on a high.

I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that looking backwards can make me feel trapped because I can’t return to the things I remember. But looking forwards puts that into perspective.

Next time: kittens and pink things! Promise.