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I was in the US recently taking on some new work. Two things really struck me about being back in the US. The first was ERMAHGAWD, WINTER. Apparently I forgot what that felt like. The second thing was how the political atmosphere had changed. Marriage equality, healthcare, guns. It’s all happening. I submit this picture I took while entering the office as evidence.

Dear America, don't bring your guns to work

Dear America, don’t bring your guns to work

So strange to see these signs around, and even stranger that other people didn’t think they were strange. Or maybe 3+ years abroad has made me the strange one. Now there’s a philosophical question for you.

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One thing about living in hot climates is that you often see people napping out in public. And why not? With all the heat, you are bound to get a little tired – especially if you work as hard as some of the foreign workers in Singapore.  I’m just not sure you should do it so close to equipment marked as dangerous. Or perhaps he’s guarding it?

 

Singapore foreign worker on lunch break

Singapore foreign worker enjoying a snooze on his lunch break.

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So you’ve arrived in Singapore and you’ve done a bit of homework. You may know a few of the areas around town, that drugs are punishable by death (don’t do drugs, kids), what a hawker market is and that it’s summer year round. You may even have figured out how the hospitals work and how to file your taxes. In that case, you are a step ahead of me.

But of course, there are inevitably things you don’t know. You just have no idea what type of things those are. Unknown unknowns, not to get all Donald Rumsfeld-y on you.

Anyway, here are some things I wish somebody would have told me.

ATMs

Your ATM situation just got complicated. Singapore is more of a cash society than many of us expats are use to. Many times you have to have cash or this thing they call a NETS card. Personally my will hasn’t given in to the NETS thing, but from what I can tell it’s this card you get from certain banks that you have to load money on to and then use. I feel like my money is my money until I spend it, I shouldn’t have to load it onto a card that I have to keep track of. That’s what a bank is for. Let’s not complicate it all with another system. But anyway, back to the point. ATMs.

If you are from Europe, you may be conditioned to use any ATM you find. If you are from the U.S. you may be conditioned to try to look for your ATM and then if you can’t find it in an emergency or fit of laziness, give in and pay the outrageous fees another bank’s ATM and your bank’s ATM add on top.

In Singapore, if it’s not your bank’s ATM or within a group of banks that your bank has joined forces with, your stuck. You can’t withdrawl money. At all. Not if you agree to ridiculous fees, not if you kick the machine, not if you yell at the person at 7-11 when they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM machine that takes your card is located. (Don’t yell at the locals.) You just have to hope that the people you are out with that you just met through a friend of a friend, some expat meetup or some work do will loan you $15 to go home and another $50 for your bar tab.

The first time this happened to me I had to leave where I was to rush around for half an hour trying to find an ATM that took my card. 50 SGD doesn’t go that far even though it sounds like a big number, so consider that when you make your withdrawal for the evening. The exception is a night out at the hawker market. Also, some cabs take credit card, some don’t. I always try to have a little cab fare in my purse for an emergency.

Tip #1: Keep your home country’s bank card on you for emergency as any ATM will take a foreign card and happily charge you for the privilege. You may want to do this at least until you are a bit more comfortable with the area and have an understanding of how much cash you should carry on you at any time.  It could help you out in a tight spot.

Tip #2: Your bank likely has a cell phone app that will tell you where there is an ATM you can use nearby. I have found these apps not to be very useful, but others like them.

Tip #3: Places like Cold Storage usually let you do a cash back, minimum $50.

Cell Phones

Or Hand phones as they call them in Singapore. I assume that when you got off the plane and got over your jetlag the next morning, you got a pay as you go phone. Your intent was to keep that until you could get settled in, have a paycheck and get on a plan. Well, don’t go getting your business cards made with that number. The phone company won’t let you take it with you. You’ll have to get a new phone number when you get a plan.

Riding Buses and MRTs

Navigating buses is tricky anywhere new. Sometimes it’s easier to go underground and just pop up like a whack-a-mole when you get to your destination. Unless you are near that Ion/Patterson link/ Orchard Road/ Scotts Road mess. You’ll know what I mean when you experience it. Don’t worry about that for now.

Anyway, buses can sometimes be much quicker than the MRT since the MRT has lots of transport dead spots. Just remember to tap the card in when you get on AND out again when you exit. In Singapore, they charge bus fair by a GPS measured distance you’ve traveled.

While we are talking about public transportation, I should tell you that to recharge your EZ link card you need at least $10 cash. In London, I used to load up my Oyster card with whatever change was at the bottom of my purse. That doesn’t fly here. If you get stuck, you can buy a one time use pass. It takes a $1 deposit and you pay exact fare to get from point A to point B. Point is, carry some cash.

Tip: Google and gothere.sg can tell you how long it takes you to get from point A to point B, the fastest route and price. Sometimes it just makes sense to take a cab. They are fairly cheap. If you’ve come from somewhere where cabs are expensive, it just takes a while to adjust your mindset.

Cabs

While we are on the subject of cabs, some cab drivers do not have a clue where things are on this island. As someone new to the country, you probably don’t either. Smart phones are good if you can get the cab driver to look at the map function. Also, addresses and names of establishments often mean nothing. Note the name of the building they are in and the street that building is on. That will be more recognizable for the driver.

Cab drivers are also often choose-y about where they will take you. They will roll down the window, signal for you to tell them where you are going in a panicked manner and by the time you’ve figured out what is going on and open your mouth to shout out “Tanjong Pagar!”, they’ve driven off. It’s a test of patience.

Tip #1: Get an app for ordering cabs. I use one by Comfort Del Gro. You can skip the taxi cab lines this way or order one to your house. The GPS on your smartphone will tell the cab where your location is.

Tip #2: Good luck with finding a cab in the rain. Start trying early.

Scooters and Motorcycles

To ride a scooter in Singapore, you need a motorcycle license. This takes 2 days in the US to obtain or 6-9 months in Singapore. God bless the U.S.

Singapore law requires you to have the motorcycle license for a year first in order to convert it to a Singapore license. If you think you may want to move to Singapore in the future, consider getting your motorcycle license in whatever country you currently inhabit. Since I’m not a bike fanatic, I think of riding a motorcycle as a skill set I need to have in life. Like changing a flat tire or knowing how to swim.

You may have to arrange your day around the rain, but a scooter or motorcycle may be the right option. Prices of cars here will make your mind explode and there can be serious public transport black spots.

Walking

People will think you are crazy for wanting to walk somewhere. After a while, you will start to understand why as a 20 minute walk in intense sunshine is not your 20 minute walk in London or NYC.

I’ve had people argue with me about how I couldn’t walk somewhere because it was too far when I simply just asked for directions. When you arrive sweaty and exhausted having gone the wrong way first you may understand why. Of course, if they had just told you where to go in the first place, you might not have got lost and ended up sweaty and exhausted. But that’s the way it goes. It’s Singapore.

Tip: Umbrellas are for sunshine and rain. Get a compact one and carry it with you. It goes in your bag, even if you don’t think you will need it.

Mall Food

People eat mall food. It happens here and is not looked on as weird or gross. In fact, people eat everywhere. Even the movie theaters have extensive food selections and not just popcorn, soda and nachos with imitation cheese. Singaporeans eat. That’s their thing.

Yes Sometimes Means No

OK, so maybe people don’t mean to lie, but the local culture has a real thing about not wanting to tell you no. Sometimes they just don’t want to disappoint you. This can get really confusing and frustrating. Use your Spidey Sense. If the person on the phone or at customer service twitches or inflates their voice weird or perhaps doesn’t expand with logic and reason to the answer, then ask the question again in a different way. If it sounds to good to be true or suspicious, it may well be. This has happened to me with the bank, when asking people for directions, with scheduling installation of products… the list goes on.

Well that’s probably good for now. Go see how all that treats you and report back. All cultures have quirks, it’s part of the experience and excitement to learn to navigate them.

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It’s the monsoon season here, or as some like to call it, “winter.”

Although the temperature hasn’t dropped that much, there is a sense of coolness associated with the monsoon. The sun blazes down on you less frequently and I swear I actually got a chill from under my umbrella the other day.

The rain gets heavy and usually happens in the late afternoons. I’ve been told this will go on through January.

Other than having to run outside to tear down the washing from the line, I think the rain is quite pleasant. Afterall it doesn’t happen all day long. For those that love the sun, there’s always a few hours of it a day to soak up.

Watching the rain from the patio.

Watching the rain from the patio.

The problem that I’m having is mold. With 100% humidity, it seems to creep up everywhere.

The furniture, the Blackberry holder, even the robe hanging in the bathroom! It doesn’t take long and it appears. I spread humidity absorbent containers around and have carefully treated the furniture. It’s just too pervasive. It’s everywhere. I’m scared of where I will find it next, some forgotten container smothered to death by the furry stuff.

The other day I found some on my Vivienne Westwood skyscraper heels. You don’t mess with a girl’s shoes. This is officially war.

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Sun. Paella at La Pepica. Roman architecture in the city centre. Spontaneous street parades. Independent designer street vendors. Reflexology from my beach chair. 14 girl hen / bachelorette party. Sangria. Cava.

A great weekend in a beautiful city with a wicked group of ladies. I really do love Spain. Although Seville is so far my favorite Spanish city, it does lack a beach, a quality Valencia delivers highly on. Unfortunately my fancy pants camera is in the shop. Again. Well, technically it’s not in the shop anymore. It’s being held ransom in UK customs. Here are a few shots I took with my extremely vintage iPhone. Let me know what you think.

We were greeted at the airport by these lovely gluten free, vegan hen cupcakes. What a great way to start our journey.

Valencia has a thriving night life and the old city at night is absolutely breathtaking.

The silly sunglasses man made out like a bandit on us. Here is the normally gorgeous Anna giving the rest of us a fair shot at looking beautiful too.

Valencia Beach. If you get a reflexology on the beach, pick the lady with the Dora the Explorer bag and flowered hat. The rest pale in comparison. Kind of like standing next to Anna when she's not wearing those ugly glasses.

After some partying and beach time with the ladies, I took a later flight so that I could explore the old city myself. I am so glad I did as I ran across many spectacular moments in the short span of a Sunday afternoon.

The Cathedral.

The Cathedral.

The Cathedral.

Torre del Micalet.

Couple at Torre del Micalet.

City view from Torre del Micalet..

Fountain in Plaza de la Virgin

Child vs. pigeon standoff in Plaza de la Virgin.

A bit of modern architecture mixed in.

Valencia street view.

Random street performance. These ladies were amazing.

Clarinet player in the street performance band.

Costumed men joining the street performance.

And now I’m finding it difficult to get back to the mundane tasks that life is requiring. I guess that’s what Monday is all about. What do you think the people of Valencia are doing right now? With a current 24% unemployment in Spain, perhaps I should stop day dreaming and get back to work…. for now.

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Rain and wind Sunday caused Londoners to ditch their damaged umbrellas while traveling on foot.

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I always thought December was winter. White Christmases, pine trees, cold weather. If I would have thought about it, I might have logically matched up the changing seasons with the appointed dates and realized that winter doesn’t start until late December (December 22nd this year to be exact.) Or maybe I would have noticed the bright colored leaves crunching under my bike wheels and feet and known that it was autumn. In Texas, you can’t expect to align with the rest of the world’s ideas of a proper calendar so you just don’t try.

This is all part of the experience of living my first autumn/winter. It’s cold, y’all. And not in a “Oh I can’t go outside” kind of way. Just in a “It’s annoying to go outside” kind of way. The sun is scheduled to set at 3:50 pm. 3:50 PM! That’s still considered afternoon! Google kindly reminds me that is only 3 hours and 50 minutes from when I’m typing this and that sends a sense of panic up my spine. I can’t function under these ridiculous time constraints.

At work I get confused. I don’t know whether to answer the phone “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” I find myself jumbling them up, saying good evening in the afternoon and good afternoon in the morning. I catch myself midway through the greeting and what comes out sounds more like “good moraghdernoon,” to which the client replies “Uh…. hello?”

Please excuse me while I adjust to the existence of seasons.

We’ve installed special lightbulbs in our house to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hope they start working soon.

The sun doesn’t seem to be travelling through the sky. It’s advising me to do the same, to stay close to home where things are safe. The low light filtered through the orange brown leaves and a foggy urban haze cause the entire cityscape to take on a dusky glow. Beautiful? Yes, but something else I can’t place my finger on too.

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Since my move to London, my wardrobe has had to go through a harsh adjustment. The winter months were tough as I was  always cold and absolutely clueless on winter fashion. The summer months are difficult for another reason. The ladies are out in their spring dresses and flowery clips while I am still in full trousers and a jacket. Yet again, I am always cold.

In Texas, I developed a summer uniform. 60 consecutive days of 40° C will drain the effort out of you about the same way that too many days of dreary 5°C weather will. All you want is a short hike and a lovely cold spring to jump into. Hence, you travel light. Black tank, bikini, Reef flip flops. Before you leave the house, you check your pocket for your wallet, phone and keys. Sunglasses rest on your head. You are out the door headed to Barton Springs.

Let’s compare that to London spring/summer fashion. All of a sudden I’m not travelling very light anymore.

Rachel, a fellow former Austinite, was visiting a few months ago and commented on London street fashion. “It looks great, but there’s no way I could even think of putting together some of those outfits. It’s like they just keep adding things and somehow it works.”

And indeed, I believe that’s how it’s done. That dress is beautiful, but it’s way too cold to be wearing it. Let’s add some tights and a jacket. Also- those shoes? Impractical for commuting. Let’s put a spare pair of flats in your humongous bag. What else is in the bag? Well, first of all the sunglasses you aren’t wearing. An umbrella, because you never know when it is going to rain. Then your oyster card, a book for your commute, plasters (bandaids) for when your shoes give you blisters, your gym clothes because there’s no way you are making it home and then back out again after your day, a snack, and of course, phone wallet and keys. This is a minimum.

It’s taken a while for me to get this down and to accept the fact that the window for summer wear is so short. I think I’m finally getting there. Now if I could only figure out how to lug this bag around without having to see an osteopath later.

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This is the time of the year when the Texas Highway Department forgoes all mowing and the roadsides become covered with fields of bluebonnets. The long car rides between Texas cities don’t seem so dreary anymore. You have more to look forward to than a kolache at the Czech Stop in the small town of West.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you see cars of couples, families and friends with their children and dogs pull over to the highway shoulder and begin snapping away with their camera. Everyone who grew up in Texas has pictures of themselves in a field of bluebonnets somewhere. If they say they don’t, they are lying. Or maybe an orphan.

I remember the year it rained continuously and the next spring was a shocking blast of early blue blooms. Standing in front of the sea of blue, sunshine warm, weather still cool enough, it’s hard to think of things that could make you happier. Probably because it’s hard to think of anything else at all.

It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The short but gruff winter is over and there is a promise of halcyon outdoor days  before the brutal summer turns water side activity into a necessity. Winter and the corresponding Seasonal Affective Disorder is now so far away. All things are right again in Texas.

 

Texas summer survival.

“My fervent hope is that our homes, roadsides, parks – both community and industrial – and public spaces will provide a home for our wildflowers and other native plants where they can provide economic benefits and add to the eye and spirit of their beholders.” – Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson, picture not mine.

That’s former first lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson. She’s a Texas hero of mine. I image if there was an afterlife that her and former Texas governor Ann Richards would be hanging out swapping stories of Texas politics and having a damn good time.

 

The incredible Ann Richards. Picture also not mine.

Lady Bird was responsible for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. It’s intent was to control outdoor advertising and junk on the side of the road. It was met with a lot of opposition. Today Texas roadsides are obviously a compromise but it is a sight when the bluebonnets come out.

I was bummed when I realized I was going to miss out on the wildflowers this year. This was before I knew about the daffodils. I was walking through Green Park one day and all of a sudden they were there. Little yellow buds telling me  winter was nearly over. Now the daffodils are everywhere. People stop in the park to have their photos taken with their friends, families, children and dogs.

 

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit A

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit B

It’s even more stunning when nobody warns you that they are coming, they just appear. It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The long and gray winter with it’s cabin fever, roast dinners and endless cup of teas is coming to an end. There is a promise of a short but halcyon summer surrounded by a cool fall and spring. All things are right again in London.

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My first experience of Battersea Park was in July of 2009. I was in London for a day and looking for something to do. I didn’t want to go to a typical site like the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace and the weather was too nice to spend inside a museum. I was craving an authentic London activity, something that a Londoner might actually attend. I ended up at a Bastille Day celebration in Battersea Park. A party in the park to celebrate another country’s independence day? Sounds perfectly London to me. Plus there was French food, wine, sunshine and music. Sold.

 

Bastille Day 2009

My next run in with Battersea Park was when Husband and I were scouting potential homes. We found the most lovely place overlooking the park with loads of natural light and a rooftop terrace to die for. Husband’s commute to work would have been atrocious and there’s no way we could afford the place, but we were starstruck.

Thankfully we came to our senses before our rental bid was accepted and settled for a much more sensible but extremely nice garden flat elsewhere in London. It was still close enough for frequent visits to Battersea Park.

With the weather as great as it has been this week, I made some time to spend at Battersea Park. Many London locations tend to be swamped on sunny afternoons, but understated and overlooked Battersea park was perfect for finding solitude amongst others.

 

 

Brown Dog

Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of this dog as a memorial to a University College London controversy . A brown terrier was illegal dissected with questionable levels of anaesthetia in front of an audience of 60 medical students. The statue was taken down in 1910 due to political pressure. A replacement memorial was placed behind the Pump House in1985 only to be taken down in 1992. The replacement statue was put back up in 1994, but this time it was hidden away in the Woodland Walk near the Olde English Garden.  I guess it gets less notice and therefore less controversy there.

View across the Thames from Battersea Park

Peace Pagoda

I took some time to meditate near the Peace Pagoda before leaving. Cliche, but I couldn’t resist.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, Battersea Park hosts the Affordable Art Fair March 10-13th. Tickets run from £8 – £15. 120 galleries will be exhibiting art all under £4,000.

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