Go big or go home…

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Except we don’t break our necks. We somehow stick to the surface and everything is mostly ok.

Yesterday was our nine month Singapore anniversary. I never used to notice time much, but now it’s measured in missing friends, family and home it’s felt more keenly.

A few thoughts from the past three months:

1. National identity.

I still can’t pin an identity to this strange city. Sometimes it seems like the glittering skyscrapers are a mirage, borne by the heat haze.

I’ve embarked on a mission to better understand the place where I live, which involves getting my head ’round a complex, sensitive past.

The population here is ageing, like most affluent countries, so there are still plenty who remember the Japanese occupation, and the torrid 50s race riots.

Events like that must shape a new-born nation. I’m gonna try and talk to a few people and see if I can understand more – watch this space.

2. Work.

Takes up most of my time, and I dedicate fewer hours to it than many colleagues. Even so, my desire to sleep 10 hours a night means some days I don’t do anything except go to work then go to bed.

I’m learning a lot, which is good, but the curve is occasionally precipitous, which is hard. Sometimes things click and I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, but there are still days that feel like big fat fuck-ups. I’m trying to keep the fuck-ups in proportion though – at least I’m not a brain surgeon.

3. Autumn.

I’m crazily homesick for autumn. Obviously for a completely romanticised, in no way realistic autumn, where the leaves are always golden and every morning is crisp, cold and bright.

Autumn is by far the best season for cycling, especially at dawn and dusk. Coming home from work in London meant heading straight into the setting sun – at once beautiful and dangerous.

And it’s the season when cooking steps-up a gear. Long dark evenings mean eight course dinner parties that go on until 4am, Christmas is just around the corner (I hope you’re all feeding your cakes) and lots of gorgeous English veg is coming in to season.

My cravings seem to be tuned to this – last month it was apple cobbler and plum cake, now it’s kale and red cabbage. Ooh, and game, goose, Jerusalem artichokes, vacherin!

I remind myself that autumnal bicycles (baskets full of squash) pedal inexorably toward winter. The season of eternal darkness and frozen toes. Drizzling, grizzling rain and frayed January tempers.

Looks like it’s going to be 32 C and sunny here again today. I guess there isn’t TOO much to complain about.

Yours, ever-so-slightly homesick elle

I wrote this a week and a half ago and only just got round to proofing it. How can such a simple life leave me with so little time?


Wow. Six months S’pore-side!

The anniversary was last Wednesday – true to recent form I didn’t post at the time.

It’s amusing how predictable moving abroad proved. My expat friends all shared the same forecast: first months good; next months bad; by six months it would be great.

They were bang on the money. For the past month or so life has been damned good.

I’m finally settled in my job, having been confirmed as a permanent employee. I enjoy the work, the office is full of nice people, and I’m learning a lot.

And J and I have met tonnes of lovely folk. We are making friends, finding a place in various social circles, and starting to feel like we fit.

Also exciting is the fact that we’ll have so many visitors between now and Christmas. I’m looking forward to sharing my shiny new life with old friends and family.

I think partly because I am proud of myself for schlepping half-way round the world and making a go of it, but seeing people I no longer connect with face-to-face is the main appeal.

But… most important of all my six-month milestones: I have my kitchen mojo back!!!!!

I barely cooked for the first five months here, and when I did it was unsuccessful, unenjoyable or both.

I always thought cooking soothed me when I was stressed, but apparently it’s the reverse – a symptom of happiness.

I have been on fire for the past two weeks. I’ve finally cracked mayonnaise (after five years of failure), and embarked on a campaign to buy friendship (caramel shortbread and angel cake = hard currency).

I have plenty more S’pore thoughts to share, but right now they comprise a mess of half-written, half-edited posts. Tell me about your lives instead!

Much love,

Elle xx

Singapore is a bit confused when it comes to gay sex.

Lesbian sex is allowed, but outdated legal policy means hot boy-on-boy action is outlawed.

There was some excitement at the start of the year when India, which shares the same penal code (inherited from the colonial British), repealed Section 377 and decriminalised gay sex.

Would Singapore follow suit? The locals were hopeful…

Nope. In a baffling statement, Law Minister K Shanmugam said 377 would stay, because Singaporeans do not accept homosexuality. Huh?

It’s ok though; Shanmugam added “We have the law. We say it won’t be enforced. Is it totally clear? We, sometimes in these things, have to accept a bit of messiness.”

Yep, totally clear. You think the law is wrong, but you aren’t going to change it. Ok.

What does that mean for Singapore’s gay community? The city ain’t no Folsom, but during the noughties it has waxed (and waned) as Asia’s gay capital.

To find out what life is like now, your intrepid reporters hit gay club Play on Saturday and indulged in a little vox popping (although we were mostly there to dance and drink beer).

J sometimes denies his aptitude for journalism, but he’s too modest – he was off and away, grabbing men and demanding of them, “Are you Singaporean? Are you gay? What’s your life like?” Fortunately most guys were happy to stop and chat for five minutes.

Here’s what we learned:

Everyone was out to their friends and family.

White-collar workers tended not to be out at work, either because they felt it would affect their job prospects or because they didn’t consider it their colleagues’ business.

Air stewards *are* out at work. (This guy lived in London, and has also lived in Sydney since leaving Singapore – he said he wouldn’t move back to Asia.)

People are happy with the degree of freedom and acceptance they have. They describe the community as strong and see it as an important part of their lives.

It’s possible this picture was a little one-sided – when you’re out having a drink and a laugh with your friends life generally looks most rosy – but it was nice to meet so many cheerful young men.

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.

Here’s a suggested itinerary. For the best results, get two lovely friends to fly into Singapore on a Tuesday evening, and out again on Wednesday evening. Remember to take the day off work!

First, stay up until 3am on Wednesday morning, drinking pink Champagne, eating wedding cake, looking at wedding photos, watching wedding videos and giggling. (NB, this part of the tour works best if one or more of you recently got married.)

Get up at 8.30am with a hangover.

9am – Pop down to the pool for 10 reviving and invigorating lengths. After four and a half lengths pretend you have finished and get in the jacuzzi. (If you’re an unfortunate soul without a pool or jacuzzi perhaps you and your friends could run around the block and then shower together. Nothing weird about that.)

10am – Head out to Clarke Quay. Catch a riverboat cruise from Sir Stamford Raffles’s landing place.

Messing about on the river

Messing about on the river

12pm – Stroll through the CBD to Lau Pa Sat. Hope to beat the lunchtime rush. Fail. Force your friends to eat carrot cake.

1pm – Become hot, bothered and too hungover to cope with the sun. Decide air-conditioned pursuits are a good idea and take a taxi to the National Museum, to see the History of Singapore exhibit.

3pm – Attempt to catch a cab to Haw Par Villa. After the first empty cab drives past, move to a better spot. Once the second empty cab fails to stop, find an official cab rank. Get in a cab and immediately get ejected by a driver who’s about to change shifts. Reject the next cab because it doesn’t take Nets. Take the next cab to your destination. Remember, don’t accept anything less than the fifth empty taxi!

Haw Par - you have to go there to really understand the craziness

Haw Par - you have to go there to really understand the craziness

4.30pm – After delighting in the absurd kitschery of 70-year-old morality statues, make your way to Raffles Hotel for obligatory cocktails. Realise that the hotel is next to the museum and that maybe the order of your itinerary is flawed. No need to say anything! Stash that map in the bottom of your bag and your guests will be none the wiser.

6.30pm – To bastardise Dorothy Parker, one martini is too many, two is never enough. Hey, you should, like, eat, or something? To the Banana Leaf!

7pm – Singapore is famous for many different dishes. If one of your guests is a recovering pescaphobe, why not pick fish head curry as the dish to showcase.

Fish head curry

Fish head curry

8.30pm – Enjoy a leisurely stroll through Little India, before returning home to pack.

9.30pm – Wave your friends off. It’s common for grit or dust to get in your eyes at this point, don’t worry if you find them watering.

Congratulations! You are now a Singapore tour guide!