Go big or go home…

Archive for the ‘mental health’ Category

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?

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.

Daily life

Posted on: June 7, 2009

And just like that, a quarter of a year turned into a third.

Month three was the worst so far in terms of being homesick; the fourth has certainly felt easier. I am more settled into daily life now, although my sister has pointed out that she doesn’t have much idea of what that means.

Here are the three questions she thought most pertinent:

1. Do I wear socks?
2. Do I eat chicken?
3. Do I own slippers?

These probably tell you more about her than they ever could about me, but for your delectation and delight:

1. Yes, I wear socks sometimes. When I first arrived I couldn’t imagine ever wearing anything except flip-flops and strappy summer dresses but now I wear jeans and everything, complete with shoes and socks. Only when it’s cloudy though.

(A point about the heat and weather – the air con in our living room cools the room DOWN to 26 C, which feels quite chilly when I first arrive home.)

2. I eat chicken but I hardly ever cook it. Lunch is now my main meal, eaten at one of the food centres near work, so I’m never really hungry when I get home and just eat salads or cheese and biscuits.

Favourite lunchtime chicken dishes include chicken rice and dosa. However, my sluggish European metabolism is struggling with all the carbs and the lack of veg so I’m trying to eat more packed lunches.

3. No I don’t own slippers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given I didn’t in the UK either.

It’s customary here (as with much of Asia) to take your shoes off before going into someone’s house. I’m not sure of the exact reason (internetz has suggested respect or fung shui), but J and I have adopted the habit at our flat. Our reason is that the floors are tiled and quickly get gritty if you stomp around in outdoor shoes.

A positive aspect of this habit is that you can wear beautiful but uncomfortable shoes to house parties, safe in the knowledge that you won’t be crippled by them for too long. The downside is that it’s embarrassing if your feet smell.

So, what else do ya want to know?

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.

One of the more urgent items on our to-do list is to rent out our London flat, as we’re definitely not flush enough to keep homes across the globe.

We’ve registered with an agent, and were hoping we’d find a tenant within the next few weeks.

Until we arrived home on new year’s eve. The main entrance was padlocked and chained, and the ground floor launderette was reduced to a smouldering, blackened abyss.

There are three flats above the launderette, one on each floor. Fortunately all the occupants were out – the fire brigade said no one would have survived all the smoke – but there is water and smoke damage, and the firemen were forced to kick all the doors in.

First floor hallway, at least the corrugated metal matches the wainscoting

First floor hallway, at least the corrugated metal matches the wainscoting

Our flat mostly survived. Our front door refused to explode like the others so the firemen came in through a window (meaning we are still fairly secure – the other flats have had their entrances boarded up with corrugated steel), and the smoke damage is minimal as we’re on the top floor.

Second floor hallway

Second floor hallway

A good professional cleaner and decorator should get the place sorted fairly quickly, but I think the burned out shop and padlocked street access might put off the more discerning renter before they even make it upstairs!

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We… I say ‘we’, perhaps I should introduce us first. My husband J and I, got the news that we’re leaving about a week and a half ago.

He’s being transferred out with his work, I’m accompanying him as the little woman (I rather like the sound of ‘expat wife’, more glamorous than ‘her indoors’). While being kept does sound vaguely appealing (perhaps I could join a golf club?), I’m looking for work too.

We’re noticeably both scared and excited by the thought of leaving our nice safe London nest, but we’re dealing with it in very different ways. J tends towards the insular when he has a lot to think about, whereas I seem to have flipped myself into a very manic phase.

I’m not sure this mania is a bad thing – I’ve certainly got a lot done in the past week – but I don’t know how sustainable it is. The longest guess in the sweepstake is two weeks, which falls a bit short of the seven weeks I have left in the UK.

Two weeks feeling this insane does seem like a long time when you consider I’ve been bouncing off the walls, surviving on four hour’s sleep a night and driving J mental, but so far it’s been really good fun!

I’m sooooo smiley and happy along with the insanity that I think I could see it carrying me through until I leave. Trouble is, I know myself all too well, and wouldn’t be surprised if I get to Asia and then suffer the longest comedown of my life.