Central Fire Station

Every Saturday morning from 9am – 11am every fire station in Singapore (apart from Jurong Island) has a free open house. The public can go along and learn about the Civil Defence Force.

I’d been wanting to go for some time. Ok…a couple of years but I finally got my act together a few weeks ago and made it down to the Central Fire Station on Hill Street. I chose Central because it’s a great olde worlde looking fire station.

I enjoyed looking around and taking photos but didn’t like how structured it was with one man with a megaphone leading a MASSIVE group of people around from area to area so I wandered around on my own instead. I’ve never been keen on tour groups!

It’s worth the visit as it’s free and after the talk the kids did get the chance to hold a real live working fire hose!

Fire Station (21) Fire Station (27) Fire Station (42) Fire Station (61) Fire Station (67) Fire Station (68) Fire Station (75)You can find more information on the Fire Station Open House here

The Leaving Season

We are in the thick of The Leaving Season. Not our own personal leaving season, mind you, we have no plans to move anywhere soon. Which now that I’ve written that sentence it’s incredibly likely the husband will appear with THAT look on his face. Well not THAT look (get your mind out of the gutter!) but the look that says “they want to know if we’re prepared to move to *insert random country*.

Anyway, it’s almost June which is the end of the school year for the northern hemisphere people (who, by the way, are always completely surprised that the southern hemisphere has summer at a different time of the year, and therefore a different school year) and June is also the end of the tax year in Australia. I have no idea why this makes it a good time to leave, as when I hear the phrase “tax year” my brain fills with white noise.

At this time of the expat year every second conversation features the sentence “did you hear that XXX are leaving?”. Which is immediately followed by “No, where to? Home? Or somewhere else?”

Former neighbours who moved to Singapore after us are repatriating.

Someone I only met the other Friday night announced the following Monday she was leaving. I assume these two things are not related…..

Three kids out of 21 in the Big Missy’s class are leaving, including the close friend she’s had since the day we arrived.

I guess the longer you are here the more people you know so Leaving Season seems bigger.

But I also know from emails that have come via my blog that there are lots of new arrivals, too.

If you’re reading this and heading to Singapore feel free to email me (you’ll find my email address in the side bar)!

Helping out with Habitat for Humanity

When we moved I was very keen to do some sort of volunteer work, but somehow almost three years have gone by and I hadn’t found a good fit. Riding for the Disabled is popular but when you don’t like horses it’s probably not a great idea. I met with the Women’s Council with a view of doing some computer tutoring, but the other tutors had trouble understanding my accent so I didn’t think I would add any benefit to the organisation.

A couple of weeks back a notice popped into my Facebook feed that the parents’ association at the girls’ school was after volunteers for a one day Habitat for Humanity project.

And so it was that I spent the past Tuesday cleaning up a hoarded one-room flat for a family who were unable to bring their newborn daughter/grand-daughter home from hospital until their dwelling was in a better condition.

Habitat for Humanity have many different ways of helping the community and this particular project is part of Project Homeworks, which cleans up one-room flats for the elderly and others in need. A one-room flat comprises a “living hall”, about the size of a small living room in Australia, with a kitchen area and bathroom in a separate space at the back. This is by no means a large living space, but is equivalent to what I would term a “studio apartment” in big cities.

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A one-room flat, post clean up. (photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Singapore).

The process is pretty simple. A team of 10 or so people spend five or six hours sorting (throw or keep?), organising and cleaning.

What is not so simple is putting aside your judgements. I personally kept telling myself “do, don’t think”. I was very happy to not be assigned the bathroom and the volunteer who took charge of that did a magnificent job. The kitchen crew also did a sterling job of making the kitchen suitable for food preparation, even if it did take two hours of work before the kitchen sink was functional.

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The kitchen before. (photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Singapore)

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The kitchen before. (photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Singapore)

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The kitchen after. (photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Singapore)

I spent my time in the living hall where I sorted out the families belongings and made multiple trips to the dumpster. It was confronting and weird to touch and assess someone else’s stuff. I was conscious of not wanting to throw out things without approval and I feel like I spent the first couple of hours walking around in circles moving piles from one place to the other without achieving a great deal. I’m quite happy to chuck out my own belongings, as I love a good purge, but these weren’t my things and although many of them looked beyond salvation to me I had to stand by the homeowners’ decision.

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THe living hall before. (photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Singapore)

After many, many trips to the dumpster (I think we filled three?), and the town council also hauled away old furniture, it was time to get down to the cleaning. Walls were wiped of years of grime and nicotine, floors were swept to get off the top layer of dirt and then it was good old-fashioned scrubbing down on my hands and knees. It’s amazing what a bit of elbow grease can achieve!

It wasn’t a perfect job. We didn’t have time to organise their belongings but we did leave the flat looking brighter, cleaner and more livable. The family got to bring the baby home that night, so while I personally felt there was more to do we achieved the aim of the project.

I have to admit that this was an emotional day. It’s quite overwhelming to witness people living in these conditions but I kept reminding myself that this day was just one step in part of a bigger process. The clean up was just one link in a chain of actions to help these people to help themselves.

I think for the family it must have been massively confronting, too. Having ten strangers come into your house and start ripping it apart and throwing stuff away because the way you live is not acceptable must be incredibly awful and humiliating. I admire that they were co-operative and welcoming, with the grandmother giving us all big hugs at the end of the day.

Whilst it was a physically and emotionally draining day with my clothes and my body  requiring a very long and very hot wash I would absolutely do it again.

If you’d like to know about Habitat for Humanity or to volunteer you can check out their website.

My friend, Naomi, was also volunteering with Habitat for humanity last week and you can read her very inspiring story here.

The Expat Guess Who?

The husband and I were sitting in Bussorah Street devouring a delicious lamb pide and observing the passing crowd. Ladies wandered pass in headscarves, brushing shoulders with backpackers wearing not much at all, who were walking alongside men on their way to the mosque for evening prayers. As the crowd moved along we spotted a couple, and the husband and I looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed ‘Australians’ to each other.

I’m in the process of writing a university assignment centred around national identity and I’ve been struggling to define what Australian national identity is but, somehow, I can usually spot my own countrymen in a crowd with above average accuracy. The only sure-fire identifiers are Southern Cross tattoos or a football jersey (from any code!), and maybe the wearing of rash shirts when swimming but the other clues are less objective. More ‘the vibe’ of the people. Perhaps the way they’re dressed? Or the tan? There’s just something about the way your own people look that makes them stand out amongst a crowd.

I have less success pinning down the nationalities of other people, but I still like to play “Expat Guess Who?” every time a moving van pulls up and starts unloading out the front of our condo.

Shipping container? New arrival to Singapore.

Local movers? Been here a while.

The next step is to try and read the surname scrawled in black marker along the side of each and every box. At the very least this will indicate if they are from Asia (written in characters) or a Western country.

Bicycle with wooden child carrier on the front? Dutch (outside chance of German).

Sleek, pine furniture? Somewhere in Scandanavia.

Tiny bikini bottoms worn at the pool? Brazillian.

Electric voltage transformer boxes? American.

The woman screeching at her children, overwhelmed by the stress of the whole moving everything and everyone to a new country? Australian. Me.

Can you pick your own nationality out in a crowd? What about other nationalities?

 

 

 

 

Panguni Uthiram

Panguni Uthiram is a Hindu festival that is celebrated in Singapore at the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple at Yishun. It is celebrated during the month of Panguni (March-April) and is held to celebrate the marriage of Rama and Sita. (I am always hesitant to explain the backgrounds of traditions for which i only have a rudimentary knowledge so you can read more about the tradition of Panguni Uthiram here.)

To the outsider the Panguni Uthiram festival shares many similarities to Thaipusam. Devotees carry kavadis and/or milk pots and walk a set route or pilgrimage. Unlike Thaipusam, which begins and ends at different temples, the Paguni Uthiram route begins and ends at the same temple. The procession begins on Canberra Drive, moves along Canberra Lane, then Canberra Link before ending at the temple in Yishun Industrial Park A. As with Thaipusam some devotees choose to prove their faith by piercing themselves and the festival is imbued with the same sense of pride, tradition and joy that I’ve witnessed three times at Thaipusam.

What I found to be different to Thaipusam was that for the short while I was there I was the only outsider. Thaipusam has many spectators, but Panguni Uthiram had very few from outside the Hindu community. Ok, as far as I could see there was just me although a gentleman (who seemed to be an organiser) advised that the best time to see the big kavadis was after 4pm. I arrived about 8am but there was still plenty to see and experience.

I’ve ummed and ahhed about whether to post my photos of the day as I couldn’t ask permission from the participants to take their photos, and I specifically focussed on faces, but I do think the photos show the pride and dignity of the Hindu community. If anyone does recognise themselves or someone they know and they don’t want their photo included please leave a message and I’ll remove it pronto!

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DSC01123DSC01124 DSC01126  DSC01131 DSC01115 DSC01141 DSC01144Panguni Uthirami is held at Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple at 10 Yishun Industrial Park A, Singapore 768772.

Tiong Bahru Bird Corner

I’ve blogged before about bird singing areas when I visited the Kebun Baru Bird Singing Club in Ang Mo Kio, and since then I’ve noticed a couple of other smaller bird singing areas around Singapore.

I’m currently completing a university assignment on Tiong Bahru and was struck by the bird singing corner on the corner of Tiong Bahru Road and Seng Poh Road.

Tiong Bahru (2)What struck me was the EMPTINESS of the corner. Not a bird in sight on any of the times I’ve been down that way.

According to the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail the history of the bird corner goes back to the early 80s when the owner of the coffee shop on the corner noticed the crowds that gathered to hear the birds at the pet shop across the road and  built a structure outside his shop to attract business. It didn’t take long for the bird corner to become a popular spot for both locals and tourists.

Back in the day!

Back in the day!

Sadly, the building that house the coffee shop was ‘redeveloped’ in 2003 and the bird corner was also demolished. Although the owners of the hotel that now stands on the site reopened the bird corner in 2008 the bird owners have never returned, and the bird corner stands empty and forlorn.

Drought

We returned to lovely green Singapore in mid-January and have seen maybe 20 drops of rain since. Lovely green Singapore has turned brown and crunchy. The usually lush ferns that sit in the forks of trees are brown and droopy. The grass crackles when you walk on it.

February was the driest month since 1869.

I really hope it rains soon.

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Emily Hill Park. The top photo was taken on January 29th. The bottom one was taken today (March 7th).

DSCF4384 DSCF4387 DSCF4382All of these photos were taken today (March 7th) at Emily Hill Park and if you click here you can see what the park was like in late-January.

Ponderings

Before moving to Singapore I would have assumed that after 3 years living in a place that things would make sense. That I would innately have some insight and understanding into how the country and its people operated, but I keep getting surprised.

Last week I had to go into the National Library in order to access the Singapore Collection to research a university assignment but, lo and behold, the whole floor of the library that I needed was shut. There’d been some issues with the windows and they needed reinforcing and the whole floor was shut for a month. To me and my sensibilities this just seems illogical and inconvenient when there are (I assume) other alternatives that would have been available that would inconvenience library users less.

This post isn’t to argue about the logic of this particular situation but this incident (and another one which involved an ‘interesting’ interpretation of the Dewey decimal system at another library) made me wonder – can you ever be completely at home in a country that you were not raised in? If you move to a place in adulthood will you ever get to a point where the whole place makes sense?

I’ve made some headway with this. I know that if I book a tradesman or a delivery that there is a better than average chance they will turn up EARLY so I put away 40 years of conditioning of tradies/deliveries turning up LATE and make sure I’m home at least an hour before they say they’ll be here (even then I have returned home to find the air conditioning men sitting on the front step).

But can you ever get to the point where a country and its idiosyncrasies stop surprising you?

Boon Teck Road Water Kiosk

DSCF4362Along Balestier Road on the corner of Boon Teck Road stands a cart hosting a couple of urns – one of clean, fresh drinking water and the other with Su Teh tea (it apparently relieves the effects of heat.

In times past when fresh water was a luxury a few of these kiosks sat around Singapore, but this is the last one remaining. The kiosks have always been maintained by charitable institutions and the one on Boon Teck Road is maintained by the charity Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sin Sia.

DSCF4363The water kiosk is on the corner of Balestier Road and Boon Teck Road in the Balestier/Moulmein area. Both water and tea are free, but BYO cup!

Reference: Balestier; A Heritage Trail, 2011, National Heritage Board.

Off The Beaten Track #9: Bidadari Memorial Garden

When we first started geo-caching our very first geo-cache was in the fork of a tree in the middle of a vast open field. It was criss-crossed with footpaths and had lots of big established shady trees and I didn’t for one second stop to wonder about how unusual it was that there was so much empty land in a country where empty land just doesn’t happen!

It turns out that the geo-cache was in the land once occupied by Bidadari cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1907 and when it closed for burials in 1972 over 147000 Christians, Muslims and Hindus were buried there. In 1996 the site was targeted for housing development and the exhumation of graves took place between 2002 and 2007. The development of Bidadari Estate should start in the next twelve months.

DSC01003The original gates of Bidadari Cemetery and 21 headstones were moved onto a new patch of land behind Mount Vernon Sanctuary, but will be moved to a new location once the housing on the old cemetery grounds is completed.

We’ve been having a bit of a drought in Singapore with no decent rain for at least 6 weeks, so the garden was not as lush and green as it would normally be but it was still a lovely, peaceful place. The gates are very impressive and the grounds are extremely well maintained with lots of information boards from the Singapore Heritage Board detailing the history of Bidadari.

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Singapore Heritage Board information board.

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The tombstone of Koona Vayloo Pillay.

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Muslim grave markers.

DSC00987 DSC00998 DSC01002Bidadari Memorial Garden is currently located on Mount Vernon Road. The gates are open daily and entry is free.

* information taken from The National Heritage Board website.