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Archive for the ‘moving’ Category

I’m out with my friend, Afsan, and someone asks us how long we’ve been in Singapore.

“Six months,” I say.

She looks at me and says “No, honey. You’ve been here eight months. I’ve been here six months.”

Can that really be true? I start to do the math and sure enough, eight months.

I’m not the new kid on the block anymore.  I went to my first going away party a few months ago. Anywhere else in the world eight months might still be new, but in a city where people stay either two years or twelve years, I’m becoming an old timer.

Wow, this happened rather quickly.

Despite Afsan being in Singapore for six months, her husband, Max, only just arrived.  I spent a day with them and another friend, Colin, on a driving tour around town.

Colin jumps in the car and immediately hands over a copy of one of Neil Humphreys books on Singapore. I get a little too excited. “Oh my gosh I’m reading his collection! Insightful, though a bit cheesy at times.” I can’t express quick enough the pride in finding the book all on my own and the many thoughts I have about it.

It’s Max’s first time living abroad and his excitement is charming and infectious. I remember flipping through my Singapore Lonely Planet before I arrived, imagining a land of temples, tofu and adventures yet to be had.

Max has only been here two days and he has lots of questions and a little bit of jetlag. Some questions I can answer, some I leave to Colin and Afsan. I’m surprised at how much I know about this place in such a short time.

“What’s that building over there?”

“It’s an HDB. You can assume that pretty much any ugly building is an HDB,” I answer. The others look at me and I realize my bluntness is laced with cynicism – cynicism that can slay enthusiasm. Now I feel a desire to start checking myself. I want his excitement to last as long as possible.

I want the travelling new experience magic to linger. I want to see my own experience through fresh eyes, not the eyes that deal with finding work, struggling with grocery store food choices, missing my friends around the globe.

I remember what it feels like to talk to people back home about what I am up to, to see my life from their perspective. It all sounds very exotic and exciting to live all over the world. It’s one of the many things I have dreamed of.

I remember that yes, my life is exciting. I am doing the things I want to be doing. I’m living, I’m exploring, I’m learning. The daily grind is just the daily grind.

I start to recall the things about Singapore that I really appreciate. “You get to meet very interesting people,” I say to Max. And indeed, that’s the biggest most meaningful and honest complement I can give.

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As the Olympics and Ramadan have come and gone, so has another event – my stay in temporary housing.

I won’t lie. I was a little nervous about being sent out on my own. It felt comforting and easy to be under the care of a 24 hour front desk with candies and sweet girls who were paid to be nice and chatty with me. Sometimes I even think they enjoyed the banter. I would also miss the pool and of course, the housekeeping.

The housekeeping ladies and I hugged goodbye as I left to the surprise of my eavesdropping husband. When you work from home, you appreciate the help around the house AND the company. Hey, their suggestions on best places for me to live around Singapore didn’t exactly fit with my lifestyle and personality, but their kindness and anecdotes were much appreciated by an ang mo far from home.

More than leaving the only few people I’d managed to connect with in Singapore, even if it was only due to daily proximity, to be out on my own dealing with real un-sheltered life and making friendships that would run at a deeper level was a bit scary.

And then there was the house I was moving into. Would I like it? Would it be a big mistake? A big hassle? Should I have picked a condo instead?

Despite the initial fear, I must say I am adjusting well. I love my house and it’s quirky bohemian charm. Surprisingly, I love it’s size. I always prided myself on being able to live in small spaces. It made me versatile, urban and a bit edgy.

But now we have room for a guest bedroom/ yoga room AND an office, luxuries we could not afford in London. Husband and I can be in the house together without driving each other mad. In fact, he can watch the TV and I don’t even have to hear it.

Plus, we have outdoor space! Outdoor space!

Yes, I do miss the amenities. And the neighborhood. Sure I like the area we have chosen, but I also miss the little places in Kampong Glam that I found and considered my own. And I miss hearing the call to prayer out of my window from the nearby mosque as I worked.

Not only was the call to prayer audible from my air conditioned box in the sky five times a day, but I was able to observe the festivities during Ramadan.

I would sometimes take walks around Masjid Sultan and see the Ramadan market outside, with treats to be sold from tents and rows of tables set up in the courtyard. Groups of people would sit waiting to break the fast together. It was quite lovely to see them and know that although they were so hungry, they were calm and enjoying being together.

I miss observing the beauty in these rituals.

But now it’s time to make my own. Like opening the windows in my office or daily practices in my yoga room. And once we get some patio furniture, the evening and weekend cocktails with friends.

Somebody call the ladies from housekeeping and tell them to come over!

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“Oh my god, Laura. How are you going to speak over there?” said my manager at one of the gyms I taught at in London when I told her I was moving to Singapore. I gently explained to her that in Singapore they speak English.

“So yeah, how many chickens do you have in your back yard?” That was my brother over the phone when I had been here less than a week. At first I couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or not. He was. I think?

“Just promise me you will behave,” said Blair. “I’m really worried about you. No chewing gum, no jaywalking and please just don’t talk back to anyone.” This comment was a little bit closer to reality than the others. I’ve never been that good at following rules that I find personally irrelevant or keeping my mouth shut when challenged and Singapore does have a lot of rules.

“See you when you have to bust me out of jail!” I nervously joked to Blair and her husband, Patrick, as they saw me off towards Heathrow.

So far I’ve only met one person who’s received a ticket for jaywalking. That person knows of no others.

There’s something important about misconceptions.

For instance, my friends and family keep asking me if I’m having a blast. Yes, having a blast if you love re-orienting to a foreign country’s grocery store, spending a weekend afternoon wondering through IKEA and navigating wholesale furniture sales and arguing with banks and estate agents. It’s interesting and educational, but the word fun might be a stretch.

Mix in the stress of Husband’s new job, no way to commute to work and a recent housefire. There’s excitement, but it is a bit overshadowed by stress.

Jenn asked for photos. I sent her this picture of broccoli juice from the local Carrefour since I didn’t have any glamorous beach shots to send.

Broccoli Juice

Carrefour in Singapore is amazing. It has every stereotype expat product ranging from certain types of fancy Italian pasta to Peanut Butter Captain Crunch. I haven’t had Peanut Butter Captain Crunch in over 10 years, but all of a sudden I NEED it.

So if we are going to get started about incorrect perceptions, I suppose I should mention my own.

I’ve been here one week and I already get frustrated. Frustrated with the bank and how the man on the phone just told me what I wanted to believe instead of the truth without even checking my account. “That’s the culture here,” a banker explains to me. Do I believe him? I don’t know.

I am frustrated with the legal terms on the lease for our house and how they blatantly favor the landlord. “That’s how leases are written here,” says the estate agent. Do I believe her? I don’t know.

Frustrated with the people zigzagging in my way in the MRT malls instead of moving from point A to point B. I have to go somewhere, people. Pay attention!

Frustrated with the people on the MRT who run for a seat or play flashy videos as they wait.

Frustrated with the way the clerks in the shop stand about 6 inches from me the moment I walk in the door. Do they think I am going to steal something or is this their version of customer service?

Frustrated that I don’t know where to buy duct tape or thank you cards not covered in glitter.

Frustrated with how as an expat I am “suppose to” take cabs all the time now instead of public transport when I just spent the last two years trying to avoid taxis.

Frustrated with how the crowds operate and the Facebook profile picture taking that goes on endlessly at what I perceive to be hokey mall events.

Frustrated at my perceptions.

Some people call this all culture shock. Others call it outright rudeness to impose my beliefs on another culture. They are probably both right, who am I to say what’s the correct way to do things?

Be gentle with me. I am new here.

“It would be different if I was on holiday,” I say. “I live here, I’ve got to get things done. I have deadlines.”

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

I see this quote frequently contributed to Anais Nin?

I start to consider all the quirks of my own country.

Did I mention that this is only the end of week #1?

Before I left England, my friend Naomi gave me a Reiki session. “Just try to be curious,” she warned. “You need to approach this adventure with wonder and curiosity, otherwise you will feel frustrated.”

And so I try. Here it goes. Here’s to week #2.

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So we’re in Singapore now.

We didn’t really want to leave London. In fact, London and I had started to have a secret romance. The kind where you lie to your friends telling them you really hate each other but then end up texting in the middle of the night. You start thinking about your next rendezvous and frankly, you have just become attached.

But Husband had an opportunity that we tried to ignore and figure out a way around. In the end, we decided to go for it.

And you know what? I’m embracing it. I’m seeing it less like a break up between myself and London and more like a long distance open relationship. We can see other places. And maybe one day we will find each other again.

In the meantime, I’m going to explore Southeast Asia, eat as much hawker food as possible and try to stop picturing my life for the next few years as lived by some sort of expat character from a Hemingway novel. Oops, did I just admit to that in writing?

So obviously Texas On Thames isn’t going to work anymore. Because, you know. The river Thames doesn’t stretch this far. If you’ve got any suggestions for blog names, I’d love to hear it.

Help a girl out in the comments below.

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