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Posts Tagged ‘Asia’

 

Durians.jpg

Durians in Chinatown.

 

 

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mandarinLearning Mandarin made its way onto my long and winding bucket list in 2012 when Husband and I relocated to Singapore. Sadly, even though it was on the list, I can’t say it was much of a priority as it was a good intention.

I watched friends try to grasp the language with mixed success as I made “yeah, I’d like to learn too” comments. I then engaged myself in other activities instead: teaching yoga, volunteering, travelling, writing, working full time and oh yeah growing a baby.

In 2014, Husband even made learning Mandarin his New Year’s Resolution, asking me if I would learn with him. I happily agreed. Then we watched 2014 come and go.

So when I got an email from Elite offering me the chance to take a 12 week Mandarin course a few months ago, it finally felt like the perfect opportunity. It’s like someone read my best intentions and found a solution to my poor follow through! I signed myself and Husband up and we began our adventure.

“Woe, you are learning Mandarin? Isn’t that really hard?” asked a few friends when we told them the news.

“Sure,” I answered. “But I’m not naïve. I don’t expect to be fluent; I just expect to be able to communicate better with the Mandarin speakers around me. For example, some of the taxi drivers, some of the older Chinese Singaporeans who may not have learned English that well, and some of the people at the Hawker Market.”

This is when I learned that Husband’s mission was entirely different. He had visions of one day being able to effectively communicate on a business level in Mandarin. I suppose this is where our differing backgrounds come into play.

Having grown up in Europe, he speaks Spanish almost fluently and French as necessary. Having grown up in the US and taken 3 years of German in high school followed by a short study abroad there, I can just about ask for the toilet and order an egg for breakfast. I once injured my arm skiing in Switzerland and failed miserably to get directions to the doctor.

Skiing in Switzerland

Skiing in Switzerland Using My Really Poor German Skills.

So who is meeting their intentions best? I would say that it’s too early to tell and will likely depend on our individual dedications to the task. A few weeks in and we are both finding it easier to understand the culture around us.

For instance, I now know why the shop clerks sound so angry to me when they sell me things- it’s all about the tonal nature of Mandarin. “Sell” in Mandarin has an abrupt tone while “buy” is the same word but sounds like a question. They continue this way of tonal communication even when they speak in English. While it can come off curt and rude to a Westerner, it’s all very normal to them and they have no idea why I am upset by the interaction. A little understanding of such things can make transactions much easier for all involved.

Another thing is a shyness in Chinese culture to give a blunt yes or no. Susie, our teacher, explained that if someone asked her on a date, she would say something along the lines of “Oh I am very busy this week,” rather than “No, I am not interested,” and the person would get the hint.

The lights finally went on in my head. THIS. THIS is why I feel I can’t get a straight answer sometimes. Knowing this can save me some serious frustration when I can’t indicate whether the answer is yes or no.

There’s also the lack of verb tense in Mandarin, which explains why we often hear funny expressions in English or native Mandarin speakers feel like us Latin based language speakers use too many words.

And then the Chinese culture of “sounds like” and word plays that just comes off as quirky. For instance, the similarity between the word for oranges and the word for gold mean you get loads and loads of Mandarins heaped on your door at Chinese New Year.

Photo Not Mine

Photo Not Mine

Acknowledging these subtleties, Husband asked me why it took us 3 years to finally take the plunge and learn Mandarin. We really could have made the cultural integration thing easier on ourselves.

“I guess the right opportunity had to pop up,” I answered. “Better late than never,” I reasoned.

“True,” he answered.

Now if I can only figure out why I have so much trouble communicating with the taxi drivers. That would make the time and energy more than well spent!

Editor’s note:

If you are interested in enrolling (and I encourage you to consider it!), Elite Linguistic Network offers corporate, private and several group classes a week in Mandarin. Group classes are held at both Bugis and Jurong East and are currently $420 for 12 sessions. They offer a steal of a trial lesson at only $3 if you would like to check out the group courses prior to enrollment. Classes are 2 hours long and average between 6 and 8 students.

Elite has graciously offered an exclusive promotion to TexasOnThames.com readers of 15% off for two person / 10% off for one personKindly quote “ELN-TEXAS” when you call in to enroll at 6565 7166. 
To learn more about Elite’s language courses, check out http://www.languageasia.com/
Laura’s tuition was provided free of charge by Elite while Husband’s tuition was paid.

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While a pregnancy spent in a diverse environment like Singapore may invite unwanted opinions and suggestions from every culture and subculture on the island, it also subjects a mother to a large spectrum of worldwide birthing and pregnancy celebrations.

And why not celebrate?

A cruise through Pinterest got me all giddy about a full belly decorated with henna.

While we all might associate henna with Indian, Middle Eastern and North African weddings, it’s also quite common to adorn expectant mothers in these cultures as a blessing to both mom and baby. It’s also a super awesome way to make a mom to be feel really bad ass about her exquisitely round shape.

Make sure and do your research to get good quality natural henna. Pre-made tubes sometimes contain toxic materials.There are routinely horror stories appearing about people receiving poor quality henna and having bad reactions, so let me say it again- ask questions if you are using an artist’s mix. (Also, prenatal henna is not recommended for those with conditions like Advanced Anemia, Hyperbilirubinemia, a G6DP Deficiency, or a significantly repressed immune system.)

My decoration was done by Mona, who charges $75 and up for belly designs. The henna will last from one to two weeks.

Belly henna

Husband and I were having a celebration the next day with our friends in honor of the upcoming addition, so we invited Mona back to decorate our guests. She charges $8 for a simple design and upward from there.

Shanna getting foot henna

Shanna’s Henna

Her work was definitely a hit!

See also:

What to Expect When You are Expecting in Singapore: Opinions and Practicalities 

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Tanjong Beach

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Shopping in Singapore can be traumatizing for us non Asian ladies. How many times have we walked into a store to be told some version of “Too big, lah.” Or how many times have we ordered the XL to realize that’s likely the equivalent of an XS in our home country. If you need proof, the online expat forums are full of tearful tales of women made to feel poorly (perhaps inadvertently) about themselves for their size.

Swimsuit shopping can be particularly hard on us ladies on the best of days, much less while doing it in Singapore where sizes run small and most salesclerks are not trained to deal with our Western customs for commenting on body sizes or the general sensitivity needed in addressing us when it comes to our size.

Add pregnancy to this equation and I knew that I was in retail trouble.

My only semi fitting bathing suit was wearing thin and when you live in Singapore, having a working bathing suit at all times is imperative.

I started doing some research and sites like Honeycombers raved about August Society. I know how PR works when it comes to brands and internet promotion, so I approached it with some healthy skepticism.

I stalked August Society like an ex boyfriend for a few weeks. I knew they had a great return policy with free shipping and returns in Singapore, I knew the bottoms and tops were sold separately, and that many designs can be mixed and matched. However, at $89 to $119 SG for individual bottoms and tops and no idea what my body would look like post pregnancy, I still could not take the plunge.

That is until I received a standard $50 off code in honor of SG50. “OK,” I thought, “let’s try it.”

I’m super glad I did. First of all, since I am pregnant, I can later just buy an individual top or bottom as needed when my body does change again. Second of all, the suit is super cute and good quality. Third of all, the customer service was FANTASTIC.

Best of all: I promise you they’ve given me nothing to tell you this and they had no idea that I had a blog to rave about them on.

Toni at August Society was not only super responsive, she went above and beyond when I wanted to trade a size up for the bottoms, making an exception in time schedules to send a courier to my house with my newly sized bottoms before I took off for the long weekend.

So thanks, Toni and August Society for making an 8 month pregnant lady feel nice not only while wearing a bathing suit, but while purchasing it as well.

augustsociety

8 months pregnant!

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My first trip to China was a long weekend in Shanghai last year. At the time I was still freelancing and I accompanied Husband on a business trip. Definitely an international city, I found myself intrigued by Shanghai’s style and culture.

I started my time in Shanghai with a walk down the Bund, the colonial riverside of Old Shanghai lined by historical buildings on the west and the Huangpu and financial district on the east. In the morning, the air was clear but by 4 pm, the haze had rolled in and the buildings weren’t very visible. Luckily, I had a chance to snap these shots in the morning.

Along the Bund.

Along the Bund.

Still along the Bund.

Along the Bund.

Worker

A Chinese worker has a smoke break near the Bund.

In China, red symbolizes prosperity and joy while white symbolizes death and mourning so it’s only fitting that a Chinese bride should wear red. This bride and groom were having their wedding portraits done along the Bund.

Bride

Bride

The riverfront walkway along the Bund underwent a major reconstruction in March 2010. The benefits are clear.

The Bund

Along the Bund.

the bund

Along the Bund.

I took a similar photo of a bull at Wall Street in NYC a few years ago.

Capitalism

A Nod to Capitalism

Continuing my walk, I ran into these fun guys dishing up some street snacks.

Durian

Weird fruit

I stumbled into People’s Park and found a man practicing his Mandarin characters.

People's Park

People’s Park

It took me a while to figure out what was going on with the hordes of people below. Eventually I came to the conclusion I was at a marriage market. Every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m parents of unmarried adults gather to try and play matchmaker. The gender gap in China has widened to make finding a suitable bride more and more difficult for Chinese men. This market has been ongoing since 2004.

Marriage Fair

Marriage Fair

All this walking was making me hungry so I made my way to Jiajiatangbao (90 Huanghe Lu) for xiaolongbao. I arrived just in time to miss the long queue and sat across from a sweet local couple who gave me tips on the art of eating the dumplings without spilling out the precious juices or burning my mouth.

Dumplings

Dumplings

There are plenty of temples in Shanghai. Later with Husband now in tow, we visited the Jing’an Temple just north of Jing’an Park.

temple

Jing’an Temple

temple

Jing’an Temple

temple

Jing’an Temple

museum

Pretty.

After the temple, we settled down into the lovely grass at Jing’an Park where we were promptly booted out by these officers. They were very strict about the “No sitting or standing on grass” policy. A shame, really. The grass was so nice and well cared for. I challenge you to resist temptation to sit on it.

Park police

The Law

We topped the evening off with cocktails and jazz, which is apparently live and well in Shanghai.

Jazz

Jazz

Until next time, Shanghai!

Editors note: Visas to China are required for many countries and can be expensive, particularly for Americans. If you plan on staying 72 hours or less, you may qualify for the 72-hour Transit Visa Exemption Program. Keep that in mind when booking tickets for a quick weekend and you could save yourself a few hundred dollars.

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Singapore low crime rateAround the six month mark of living in Singapore, a friend of a friend was DJ’ing at a local restaurant/bar. I decided to attend and subsequently ended up dancing at some point in the night. Having moved to Singapore from London, and hearing many a tale of purse snatchings in Blighty, I felt most comfortable wedging my small purse in my arm as I busted a move.

The friendly Singaporean girls in the group started to giggle and asked me if I wanted to put my purse down with theirs- across the dance floor, unattended at a table.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

Confused they asked again, explaining to me “It’s Singapore. No one is going to steal your stuff.”

And while I knew this mostly to be true, I just couldn’t let go of the purse. It felt more comfortable to know where it was and to feel its presence than to set it down even if I was assured 99% of its safety.

Singapore’s low crime rate, its safety, is one thing that surprises travelers and divides expats.

My friend Magalie was making a round-the-world trip. She was staying in hostels alone and taking rides by herself in taxis. The second she got to Singapore, she finally felt like she could let her hair down. She knew she wouldn’t likely be taken advantage of if walking home tipsy from a bar or in a cab across town.

If you ask an expat if they like Singapore, they will likely fall into one of two camps: 1.) “yes, it’s so safe and clean here” or 2.) “its ok…. its just that sometimes its so clean and safe that it feels sterile.” It can really make one think. What does it say about our old and new cultures when sometimes we miss the grimey-ness and petty theft associated with home? Perhaps it’s as simple as yearning for the raw creativity that comes with a little graffiti and dirt.

We take advantage of the low crime rate and even complain about sterility, but perhaps this is a white washed view. Sure Singapore’s crime rate has fallen to a 30 year low, but I still wouldn’t leave my cash card in my motorbike while I pop into the shop, or my wallet as a seat holder at the hawker market, or for that matter my purse unattended at a table across the room.

Afterall, as the Singapore government will tell you, low crime doesn’t mean no crime. And the old habits of hanging on to your purse? They certainly die hard.

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