Go big or go home…

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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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.“

I’ve spent a lot of time moaning about missing autumn – time to redress the blog karma. It’s a balmy, misty 29C today, and it’s December!!! Weird but wonderful.

Ten months is just enough to have covered a full range of seasons here. I arrived during the Northeast Monsoon – people told me it was uncharacteristically cold and dry. Having fled the coldest English winter of my lifetime, it was obvious the Singaporeans were wrong. That shit was hot! I fainted twice during my first two weeks, from dehydration I think.

From May it dried out and temperatures started to creep. I was forced to reconsider my idea of hot. Sidewalks shimmered, aunties took off their cardigans, I even switched from walking on the sunlit side of the street (tourist) to the shaded side (local). I forgot it had ever rained, and a trip to the UK mid-summer confirmed I would never live in temperate climes again.

Come autumn, those temperate climes lured me with their siren songs. The thought of being away from England as the days darkened (I NEVER thought I’d write this) seemed impossible.

But at some point in the past few weeks that changed. The Southeast Monsoon arrived. The days are cooler, breezes dance round the clouds. Each morning I’m greeted by a quintessentially perfect English summer day, the sort that could only be conjured by Wodehouse or Richmal Crompton.

I look at the sky and grin. My first tropical Christmas is less than three weeks away!

This is *exactly* what I can see from my living room window.

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?

Quick & dirty blogging…

On being a tourist in Singapore:
MacRitchie [National Park] is amazing, so beautiful and with great reservoirs named after great architects. And our zoo is the best in the world. Also the flyer [ferris wheel] is the largest in the world, but in China they are building a bigger one. It is always the way.

On independence:
Singapore is only 40-some years old. I was born just after independence so I consider myself very fortunate. Since I was born Singapore has been getting better and better.

What do you think it will be like in another 40 years time?
Even better than it is now. We don’t have any natural resources but our brain is our resource so we will keep striving to improve things.

What do you think is the best thing at the moment?
Definitely the security. You can walk anywhere at night on your own and it is safe. It is a great achievement.

Yeah, it’s quite different to London in that respect.
Ah, but Mr Lee wanted to model Singapore on London. He was inspired by new-stands where people just left the right change for their paper. We are not that honest in Singapore, but one day we will be.

Is that why you have the Kindness Movement?
The Kindness Movement is very important. I think Singaporeans are happy at the weekends, but during the week they work long hours and it makes them unfriendly.

Turning onto Serangoon Road:
Little Indian is amazing, so lively. I have been coming here for 20 years, since before they built Mustafa Centre.

How has it changed in 20 years?
Mustafa Center changed it. Now there are more people and more shops that stay open in the evening, once there was only a few small restaurants. It is such an amazing lively place.

My life in Singapore is very lazy and indulgent. I don’t think this is a bad thing – I have been blessed with just enough Protestant work ethic to hold down a job, and I suspect that secretly we all aspire to lazing about.

There are a few tangible side-effects. I think I’m more relaxed, because I’m mentally and physically engaged with fewer things. But I also know I’m more prosperous, as the locals would say. In other words, I’m getting fatter.

This is not intended as a reassurance-seeking feminine wail: “I’m so fat, I’m so ugly, why don’t I look like the girls in the magazine?” It’s just a statement, based on the fact that clothes that used to fit me are becoming a struggle to do up.

I was slightly surprised when I noticed this – my dress-size hasn’t really changed since the end of uni, despite a lifestyle that’s never been ascetic. Pondering this in bed last night – do I buy new clothes or diet, does this happen to everyone at 30 or is it my lifestyle? – it struck me how incredibly inactive I am now.

Or rather, how active I was in London, without even noticing it. The obvious difference was that I biked everywhere. Switching my commute from bike to train dropped 5 hours of exercise every week. Then there is the lack of yoga – no more morning classes is another 4 hours lost.

But I also cycled to all sorts of places besides work, or walked. I would often walk two or three tubes stops, which seems unthinkable in Singapore. The distance would be roughly the same, but I would turn up sweaty and red, having only saved about £2 on taxi fares.

I still do about the same amount of resistance and cardio – interestingly the gym-based stuff that requires most commitment and dedication. It is all the accidental or fun stuff that has slipped, with a deficit in hours per week that is easily in double figures.

Besides barriers like heat or cheap cabs, I think my lifestyles in different places have been internally modeled differently. In London I took a strange pride in being busy – always out of the house, seeing friends, thinking nothing of leaving for work at 0640 every morning.

In Singapore, I expect a life that’s languid. There is no reason I couldn’t go to yoga before work, except that it seems impossible. Instead I lounge around at home for two hours, writing navel-gazing blog posts about how fat I’m becoming.

And indeed, how fat this post is becoming. Who’d have thought I could write so much about being lazy, especially as I only started to test whether I could render hanzi? Incidentally, the title should say hen pang, or very fat.

Right, I’m off to eat pie. Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival to you all!

elle xx

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Tonight is the Ghost Festival. The doors between heaven, earth and the lower realm creak open, allowing deceased ancestors to return to their families.

Many traditions accompany the occasion; food is prepared and incense lit. The air chokes on the smoke from burning paper.

Ask yourself as the sun settles, do that shadows always shift in quite that way?

Yue Laan celebration

Yue Laan celebration