Price Comparison

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that grocery shopping in Singapore is ridiculously expensive. This morning I was after palm sugar (aka gula melakka) and as I rarely see it in any of the supermarkets here I headed to Tekka Market. Unbeknown to me a lot of the stalls at Tekka are closed on a Monday but there are still a few open and this worked in my favour as it was less overwhelming!

I also picked up  few items of fresh produce that we needed and was dumbfounded at the price. Everything in the photo below cost $11.

IMG_1767I decided to do a price comparison with the two big Singapore supermarkets chains using their online shopping sites and was stunned at the price differences.

Tomatoes (600 grams)  Cold Storage – $4.65 Fairprice – $1.45
Cucumber (2) Cold Storage – $3.50 Fairprice – $1.60
Ginger Cold Storage – $1.95 Fairprice – $1.80
Mint Cold Storage – $1.65 Fairprice – $1.80
Coriander Cold Storage – $1.95 Fairprice – $1.00
Lemongrass Cold Storage – $1.80 Fairprice – $1.70
Small onions Cold Storage – $4.00 Fairprice – $1.40
Chilli flakes (Masterfoods) Cold Storage – $4.70 Fairprice – $4.65
Palm sugar Cold Storage – n/a Fairprice – $3.35
Total Cold Storage – $24.20 Fairprice – $17.95

I normally shop at Fairprice Finest so I saved about $7 by heading to the wet market this morning but if you’re a Cold Storage shopper you’ll pay more than double than you will at the market. Cold Storage also don’t stock palm sugar in their online store.

The wet market can be intimidating (and smelly) but the savings seem to be worth it!

Singapore Stories: Taxi Driver

You never quite know what you’re going to encounter when you hop in a taxi in any country. Whether the driver is chatty or silent or young or old is the luck of the draw. Some easily understand my accent and some have required me to write down or spell my address, and while some find this annoying I’m the first to admit that the Australian accent and our mangling of vowel sounds takes a little getting used to!

Anyway, the Other Half (OH) and were heading out on what seems to have become universally known as “Date Night” but what we still call “going out for dinner”, and as soon as we told the taxi driver where we were going he exclaimed “Oh, red light district!” and spent the entire trip regaling us with all the red light districts he had ever visited. He admitted he was a “naughty boy” but professed to be a reformed character now that he was older.

We heard about Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Philippines but the most surprising was Hamilton, New Zealand. Of all the cities in the world I would never have guessed that Hamilton, NZ, would feature so highly as a city of ill repute. Mr Taxi Driver booked in to a local establishment for a massage and had the choice of standard, fantasy and VIP. He opted for both the fantasy and the VIP service and whilst we didn’t hear details of the VIP option we did learn that the fantasy massage involved two masseurs who entered the room with pink balloons attached to their breasts. Not really my idea of a fantasy but each to their own…..

It wasn’t all a sordid conversation. Mr Taxi Driver shared that he used to be in sales but had recently retired but had grown bored so took up a taxi lease to keep himself busy. He didn’t work all day, every day like most taxi drivers but only worked during peak hours so that he benefited from the 25% peak hour surcharge. As soon as peak hours are over he heads home.

When we reached our destination (Keong Saik Road) Mr Taxi Driver shared that it was a shame that the street full of hipster clubs and restaurants was no longer a red light district…..

The Thing I Miss The Most

There’s a Facebook group for expat women living in Singapore that I follow that frequently has “what should I bring from my home country?” type questions. Within seconds multiple responses will pop up from the opening poster’s fellow countrymen on all the goodies that should fill their container. The responses vary according to nationality but most things are convenience foods and pharmaceuticals. I occasionally join in if it’s an Australian asking, but at the end of the day you can survive here without these luxuries and, to be frank, you’ll probably adjust faster if you don’t bring everything from home with you. Sure, the first bit will be rough but it’ll get you out and about through necessity.

The same day one of these posts appeared on Facebook my friend Kirsty wrote a post about her re-entry into her life in Doha after a long holiday back in Australia, and the bit where she outlines the guards vagueness about why her complex pool was shut caused me to hit upon the one thing I truly miss about home:

CHATTING

Yes, chatting.

The casual chat or small talk that you have with the cashier at the supermarket or the service station or just about anywhere. The sort that usually go:

“How’s your day been?”

“Good. Yours?”

That. I miss that. I miss the casual, meaningless interactions with people I meet in my day-to-day life.

I never appreciated how ‘small talk’ can add warmth to your day nor did I know that this wasn’t something that every country did automatically. We have recently had a months-long airconditioning saga (that may or may not be finished) that meant men who (possibly) know about air conditioning were here at least twenty times, and on one occasion were here for almost 8 hours straight. The most I ever got out of them was “Morning, ma’am” and “Ok, ma’am”. At home, by now I would’ve known their mother’s maiden name, the name of their childhood stuffed toy and what they really thought about the australian government but I don’t even know the first name of ‘my’ aircon men! (The upside is that I never heard them swear, they never called me ‘love’ and they never asked me to make them a cuppa!)

For the first year or so here when I was suffering from quite bad culture shock I followed the lead of the people around me and didn’t chat. As time has gone on, though, I’ve decided to exert a bit of my own culture into my new culture and I now instigate the chat. If I’m out walking I nod or smile or say ‘hi’ to every single person I pass. They are often very busy avoiding eye contact with me but i feel better for having tried. At my local supermarket I now start the chat with the cashier and slowly, but surely, Mary is starting to get used to my overly-friendly Australian way!

What do you miss about your home country?

Off The Beaten Track #10: St Joseph’s Cemetery

It appear I have a “thing” for cemeteries.

I’ve blogged about the Old Christian cemetery at Fort Canning, The Japanese Cemetery Park, Bididari Memorial Garden and now the oldest Christian church remaining in Singapore at St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Upper Bukit Timah Rd.

I’m also studying a cemtery subject at university this semester.

And am planning a research project on cemeteries.

But anyhow…..

St Joseph’s Cemetery is behind St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Upper Bukit Timah and is the oldest remaining Christian cemetery in Singapore. As it is on church land it hasn’t been redeveloped (yet). The cemetery opened in the 1850s and didn’t close until 1984, which is later than every other cemetery which all closed when most burials shifted to the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery complex in the 1970s.

After the closure of St Joseph’s to burials some of the graves were exhumed but there’s still lot of old graves here and whilst I couldn’t read the epitaphs as most were in Chinese I found the variety of grave markers interesting. I had expected to see mainly Western style graves, but lots were traditional Chinese tombs where the headstone faces outward from the grave.

DSC01791 DSC01792 DSC01799The church was founded in 1846 by Father Anatole Maudoit, when this part of Singapore was still deep in the jungle. The Church’s website shares this story of the early years:

By the 1850s, the Church has grown in numbers sufficient to irritate the secret society chiefs who launched a series of attacks on the Christians in the interior, spilling the soil of Singapore with the blood of its first martyrs. Worst still, tigers roamed freely in the interior possibly devouring a coolie a day in the 1850s. When the authorities did not let the body of a poor coolie carried of by a tiger be buried, wanting to use the human corpse as bait to lure the tiger back so that it could be shot. Fr Augustine Perie protested, retrieved the coolie’s body and prepared it for a decent burial, demonstrating that a poor person should never be treated without dignity, in life and also in death.

Fr Mauduit’s tomb was originally inside the church but his gravestone now lies in the grass of the cemetery.

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Rev Fr Anatolius Mauduit was the founding priest of St Joesph’s.

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These three grave markers belong to St Joseph’s early priests.

Saint Joseph Church (Bukit Timah) is at 620 Upper Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 678116

There is free parking onsite.

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.