Go big or go home…

Archive for the ‘settling in’ Category

The following is quite old. I wrote it when I was frustrated but I’m a happy monkey again now.

I am British.

*hefts leather-bound, gold-edged, old-skool passport onto the table with a resounding clang*

I write like a British person. I would suggest, immodestly, I write rather well. Certainly my blogs provide semi-regular entertainment for literally tens of people.

Conversely, I’m not Singaporean, and don’t write like a native islander.

This is understandable on many levels. For example, someone who speaks both English and Chinese is more conscious of word order than someone who speaks English alone.**

In other ways, this thoroughly confounds me. I will never understand why “persons within the vicinity of” is deemed simpler than “people nearby”.

**One of the reasons English is a successful lingua franca is that its structure is so utterly forgiving. You can treat English like a bitch and she’ll come right back for more.

This explains why English speakers developed beat poetry, for better or worse.

For a grown-up discussion of why English (and Chinese) rocks, I recommend Otto Jespersen’s Growth and Structure of the English Language (1912). Because I love you, here’s a free copy.

Mind you, counter to my argument Jespersen feels it is the degree of rigidity rather than permissiveness that makes English successful.

He sez:

Apart from Chinese, which has been described as pure applied logic, there is perhaps no language in the civilized world that stands so high as English.

Existing as it does at the intersection of these languages, perhaps it’s really Singlish that’s at the pinnacle? 😉

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A short rant about my commute.

Why, why, why, do Singaporean travellers act as if everyone else on the MRT is conspiring to imprison them on the train forever?

Other people are getting off too! Quit pushing, quit tutting, wait your turn. You’ll get off eventually.

And here’s something to blow your mind – even if you did miss your stop, it wouldn’t be a disaster. You get off at the next stop, take a train back, your whole journey is maybe 10 minutes longer than it should be.

The world doesn’t stop turning. Orphans don’t spontaneously combust. You just turn up a tiny bit late for work. So chill the fuck out, mmmkay?

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.

Chop chop

Posted on: June 29, 2009

I have been avoiding getting a haircut, mainly because of the incredible hard work involved in finding a good salon (those 15 minutes of googling can really take their toll).

I gave in last week and the criteria ‘reliable stylist’ and ‘colourist who can deal with naturally blonde hair’ led me to Toni & Guy. Not the kind of place I’d go to in London, but when you have fewer familiar reference frames somewhere that is boring because it’s familiar becomes reassuring for the same reason.

The colour is pretty good. I urged her to err on the side of caution then felt disappointed that I hadn’t been more brave, but that was my fault, not hers.

The cut, well, the cut is less good. I started perhaps a little vaguely – I’m bored, make it look different – which is enough direction for someone who’s been cutting my hair for seven years, but not someone who’s just met me.

Fortunately I know my hair well and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted – long-ish bob, funky choppy layers, lots of volume and movement.

“No,” says the guy.

“Ummm?”

“I’m not taking it short. It’s too long, the shock might upset you.”

“Ooookay. You did hear what I just said? Long-ish with choppy layers, right?”

“No.”

He argued that too many layers would make my hair frizzy. I argued that I don’t have heavy Asian hair so it wouldn’t be a problem. I delight in living in a humid country because my pathetically fine hair finally has some volume.

So I figure I know what I’m talking about, he figures he knows better, and he’s the one with the scissors. After a ponderous 30 minute blow dry it looks ok. A little mumsie, but I’m happy to have lost a lot of length.

My sis is cautious in her praise, “It’s kind of… sensible.”

Hmm, perhaps. I figured the jury would be out until I washed it myself. Which I have just done. The verdict is not good. I think ‘Cute Victorian pageboy with flicky ends’ might be the worst (certainly the most boring) cut I’ve ever had.

(And I once sat down in London, went through the “I’m bored, make me look different” brief, and left looking like a cross between Myra Hindley and my mom. At least I didn’t look dull. Criminally insane, but not dull.)

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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.

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?

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.

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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!

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

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.)