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Bookends

Posted on: June 29, 2010

It was sixteen months ago. The first day of my shiny Singapore job. I chatted to the receptionist while I waited for HR, and smiled when she said her name was Rose. The receptionist at my London office was called Rose – maybe this was a good omen, perhaps I was meant to work here.

She asked the usual questions – where was I from, how long had I lived here? “Only a month,” I said, almost apologising. “Don’t worry,” she replied, laughing, joyful, “the hot weather will soon melt all that fat of you.”

Now it’s a year on. Tomorrow I leave this job. The coincidence of a shared name didn’t turn out to be that good an omen, but neither was it the worst. Everything teaches us something.

I go to say goodbye to Rose. She hugs me and says it’s always the nice ones who leave. Then she steps back and cocks her head, eyeing me critically. “You’ve lost weight. Whatever you’re doing it’s working.” I smile. Skinnier to start my new job. That must be a good omen. Right?

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Happy Christmas! I’m afraid the felicitations are a little late as Twelfth Night has been and gone – you’d better have taken your decorations down! If so much as a few berries remain after the fifth you have to leave them up until Candlemas, otherwise goblins can get into your house (trufax).

Our tropical Christmas was tropical indeed, as we flew to Bali and spent a week diving, eating seafood, and floating in the pool at our private villa. It was pretty strange to find ourselves alone in the sunshine on Christmas morning, but certainly not the sort of strange one should complain about.

NYE was a far cry from the London raves that punctuated the years for nearly a decade, but we stood on a roof, waved sparklers, popped champagne, hugged strangers and had a nice time.

And then?

Our first anniversary is in two weeks’ time. It’s been a hell of a year. The first six months (roughly) were pure honeymoon. I walked around amazed that a city could function so smoothly, that I could live somewhere so nice, eat out so often. I took cabs EVERYWHERE and every time I got in one I had a moment thinking I mustn’t take it for granted.

Then I guess the sheen wore off. The summer months were a private maelstrom of work uncertainty, and once that passed I got down to the job of really taking stock. The eye that beholds such beauty in the bridal suite grows quick to judge. Mother-in-laws show up, there are arguments about bills.

I’m still figuring out how I feel about this place. Truth is, I use words and writing to feel my way through things I don’t understand, but I don’t want to turn this blog to that purpose. It’s erratic – at the moment I’m too quick to jump in and blame Singapore for my ills. It’s ugly, and importantly I can’t substantiate it.

For all that, I’m not unhappy. J and I both go up and down somewhat, and our concern is always the other person. “Are you happy? Do you want to stay, want to leave? I’ll support you,” we reassure each other.

During a recent such conversation, we decided things are only just getting interesting. Our property lease runs to March 2011, so we plan to career along until then. And when you get down to brass-tack no-holds objectivity, there are monkeys here. Wild ones, not zoo ones – you can go for a walk on a Sunday morning and see them chilling in the trees.

I may never leave.

Happy dumb Gregorian calendar New Year! (Everyone knows the real New Year is next month),

elle xx

*Sheng = saint; dan = born; kuai le = happy, merry. This blog is pretty much the only place I practice Mandarin now, which tells you how well it’s going.

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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
xx


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

Long time, no write. Have been subsumed by the strangeness of working here: lots of thoughts on that but I want to get a few things sorted before I share with y’all.

In the meantime – food. Our life here is ALL about food (I bet the Singaporean’s reading are nodding in agreement). We eat out for lunch most days, and for dinner almost every other night. By way of comparison, I went out for dinner in London about once a fortnight.

I can’t really fall into step with the hawker centre, carb-heavy lunches though. I tried switching these to my main meal, but I don’t think I ate that many carbs even for dinner in the UK. Even with a mashed-potato addiction.

So I have replaced most of my chicken rice lunches with fruit. My S’porean colleagues don’t get it at all and assume that it is some kind of protest or destructive eating disorder, but I feel tonnes better.

I’m not starving myself by any means; oatmeal for breakfast (can’t say porridge anymore, porridge is congee) and fruit every few hours at work keeps me full and seems good for my sluggish European metabolism.

And being healthy during the day paves the way for some real fun in the evening: exploring the 8 million (give or take) bars and restaurants here. I’m thinking of posting a few restaurant reviews but I don’t want to try and make this a food blog (got to Chubby Hubby for that) or get too listy & dull.

Easiest thing is to try it and see – coming first, Supperclub.

I was quite surprised when I wrote the one week post, “Really, a week’s gone already?”, and jubilant at one month, “Wow, we’re really doing it!”

But two months passed unnoticed, caught up among making a life. Suddenly we’re more then a quarter of a year in. How did that happen?

I’m not really sure where to start filling you in. There have been a few ups and downs – hence the radio silence.

The big news is that I’m moving to a different department in my company. I was working in healthcare, but it turned out to be more medical education than creative copywriting. Once I discussed this with the firm they were amazingly supportive and I’m moving to their creative team on Monday.

I’ll be covering both health and consumer accounts, which is respectively where I’ve come from and where I want to go. Hooray!

We’ve also had a few guests, visited a few strange tourist attractions and eaten a few strange things.

Long Beach Seafood, folk - yum!

Long Beach Seafood, folk - yum!

Food highlights include black pepper crab, cooked whole in unctuous sauce and pulled apart with our hands, and Indonesian grilled fish. This is barbecued while you wait and served with sweet chilli sauce studded with birdseyes and tiny chewy fish.

Tiny mouthfuls of deliciousness

Tiny mouthfuls of deliciousness

Have also sought out xiao long bao (I believe ‘small basket dumpling’ is the literal translation). They are Shanghainese; soup, pork and crab filled, and probably manna. The Singapore version wasn’t up to the original standard, but pretty damned good.

Over the road we have a nice cheap food centre that sells north Indian food, seafood noodles and chicken rice – it’s impossible for two of us to spend more then $20 here (£9), and that’s if we have a couple of beers.

Further down the street there’s a great Indian restaurant where they’re starting to recognise us, and the next road down boasts a whole string of places selling Singapore’s infamous fish head curry (I ate an eye, I win a prize!).

Over the crossroad there’s a lovely little French place – straight off the streets of Paris, as the snails, fois gras and profiteroles attest.

The range and price of the food out here means we’ve settled into a pattern where we eat out about four times a week.

In other news, I appear to be gaining weight.

Love you all,

Elle xx

Saturday was our first approximation of normal Singapore life. Woke with a hangover, lay by the pool, went shopping, all that jazz.

Our excursion took us to Tanglin Road, to a fancy French café for pastries and iced tea, and then on to the Botanic Gardens for a nice stroll.

A thousand leaves of tastiness

A thousand leaves of tastiness

We persisted with the garden part of the plan, even though the storm clouds were gathering as we got in the cab. Gardens, I’m sure I don’t need to explain, are inherently outdoorsy.

We were only 40 million years round the evolution trail when the heavens opened. Naturally, we didn’t have umbrellas, although I’m not sure they would have helped.

We sheltered among the first ferns, then took advantage of a lull to race for the early rainforest, where the canopy made good cover. We hoped to sit it out around 300 million BC but grew fearful of getting locked in the park.

Thunder rolled and crashed around us – it was definitely the biggest storm I’ve been out in (J says he’s witnessed bigger but was unable to cite examples, which does make his claim somewhat unreliable).

We made a dash for it, tens of millions of years dripping by with each footfall. By the time we got back to the present we were drenched, and decided to forgo our early evening martinis.

Lightning over Singapore

Lightning over Singapore

Instead we went back, dried off, tarted up, and set out. Destination: Home, underground (ish) club near Clarke Quay. Music: D&B; LTJ Bukem, and several good local lads (and one less good – sounded like he was making a mix tape).

It was a great night. The music was awesome, the drinks were cheap (ish), and we met some lovely Singaporeans. Had drinks with them again last night, am building up a good repertoire of Hokkien expletives.

Have also started work, going well so far and yesterday I went out with my new colleagues for an hour and a half lunch in a sushi restaurant – it’s comforting to know that advertising behavioural patterns transcend regional boundaries.