Otters

I don’t tend to spend a lot of time around the Marina Bay area, but I’ve found myself there twice in the past weeks. Once, with the bike ride from my last entry, and this week with a new walking group. Marina Bay and exercise twice in a few weeks. Unprecedented!

On this walk (which was very looongg and blazingly HOT) I was thrilled to finally see OTTERS!

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This bevy of otters were sunning themselves in a sand patch opposite Tanjung Rhu condo. There were 8 or 9 and were much bigger than I expected. This is probably the Marina Bay otter family, whose patriarch died last week. They looked pretty chilled but the loss of the patriarch means there is, according to news reports, a turf war happening. The Bishan otter family have twice swum down the river to try and poach some extra territory from the Marina Bay crew.

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Otters are native to Singapore but had all but disappeared over the years as humans encroached on their environment. In the past decade numbers have risen, as the government sought to clean up the environment. But, not everyone loves the otters, as the otters in Sentosa Cove have been known to feast on the ornamental fish ponds of the houses and hotels. One resident lost more than $60,000 worth of fish!

But for me, seeing the otters was a real treat. Although Singapore is very green it’s also incredibly urban so it’s rare to see wild animals outside of the nature reserves. I hope this isn’t the last time I stumble across them!

Bike riding

Early last year we moved house. We are now further away from Orchard Road, but right near the Missies’ school. Cheaper and more convenient. One of the things we were all excited about was being able to ride bikes, as our apartment is near to the Park Connector Network (PCN) which joins up parks throughout Singapore. The fly in the ointment of this plan was the lack of a bike. The girls both have second hand bikes, but the tyres are perpetually flat. Rubber and this climate are not a match made in heaven!

In the last two months bikes have begun to appear EVERYWHERE in Singapore due to the opening of three bike hiring/sharing businesses. And I mean EVERYWHERE. Bafflingly there are seemingly no designated areas where bikes can be left, with the directions just stating a ‘safe’ location. As such bikes are left in the weirdest places, like the middle of the footpath or out the front of someone’s house. The country is littered with yellow and orange bikes at the moment!

Whilst this means Singapore is not looking as tidy as she usually does, I was keen to try out the system to see if the bikes and the PCN are as great as I thought they were!

Once I downloaded the app, paid a deposit and added credit hiring a bike is very, very easy. I headed from Toa Payoh along the PCN to Marina Bay. Within 10 minutes I hit my first, unexpected hurdle.

 

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An overpass with three flights of stairs on each side. This was unexpected as I thought a Park Connector would have ramps and underpasses to avoid stairs. There was no way on earth I was going to do as the sign suggested and carry the bike up three flights on this side and down four flights on the other! However, hiring a bike had the added advantage of leaving this bike on one side and hiring a new bike on the other!

Fortunately, this was the only overpass from Toa Payoh to Marina Bay Sands but there are lots of roads that need to be crossed. The bikes are pretty heavy with no gears, so even a slight incline requires some serious leg power! But the route is interesting, particularly once you are near the Sportshub area and you have the city view.

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It took about 2.5 hours to ride from Toa Payoh to Marina Bay Sands but that was with lots of stops along the way. I tried to track the distance but the app messed up but it’s probably about 12 or 13 kilometres.

The real bonus of a hire bike is that I didn’t need to ride home! I left the park amongst other hire bikes and caught the MRT home.

(Note: I do not do any sponsored content on the blog.)

What’s the weather like there?

Every time my husband speaks to his parents they ask him ‘what’s the weather like there?’. And every weekend he gives the same one word response = HOT.

Yesterday I went out in the car (which is air conditioned) to collect some dry cleaning. Sounds easy, right? Nup. For whatever reason (possibly that I had to reverse parallel park in front of a crowded cafe?!) I arrived home a hot, sweaty mess with my t-shirt clinging to my back.

I find that when I get overheated like this it’s almost impossible to cool down. I’ll be hot for the rest of the day, regardless of how high the air con is cranked or how many showers I took. Yesterday afternoon was spent complaining about the heat and drinking so much water I was awake every 90 minutes during the night.

Anyway……. at about 5am this morning I was woken by the tinkle of rain on the stupid aluminium awning over our bedroom window (least favourite feature of this apartment). Whilst I cured the interruption of my sleep the rain has made for a lovely cool day, which even has a BREEZE. A breeze is almost unheard of in Singapore, so I have sat by the open windows wallowing in a coolish breeze for far too long this morning. Revelling in the feeling of cool air on my skin.

It’s a shame my husband won’t speak to his parents today as he’d be able to give a different answer to the ‘what’s the weather like?’ question.

Six Years and a Day

Yesterday was May 14th, the six year anniversary of our relocation to Singapore. SIX YEARS. Which is double the amount of time we signed up for, but I think we always knew that we’d be gone from Australia for a while.

It’s been wonderful. And hard. And sweaty. And tiring.

But after six years my one big feeling towards Singapore is ‘normal’.

This is our normal life. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t quite understand. Our life now very much resembles our life back in Australia, just with added sweat. It’s not a holiday. It’s proper life. We don’t spend the weekends exploring like we did in the early days. We spend them thinking about doing stuff but end up sticking to our tried and trusted routine of not doing much at all.

After six years even the lure of the swimming pool in our condo has worn off. I’m not actually sure when the last time my kids went for a swim in it. Six years ago they were in the pool every day, but when you can swim every day you rarely do. Or at least that’s the way it is in our house.

Our week days also follow a normal routine, with the kids heading to school and Himself heading to work. My days are spent mainly at home, taking care of the home front (by choice, we have never had a maid/helper), working and studying. I’m possibly close to the least social expat on the island so I’m pretty happy in my own space.

Singapore has tested me in ways I never, ever expected. Those early days were rough. Really rough. I never wanted to head home but there were many days where Singapore just didn’t make sense and everything was just tooooo hard. I always knew, though, if I held on tight I’d make it to the other side of culture shock.

Most things in Singapore make sense now, or if they don’t then I accept them. I have very, very few moments when the country doesn’t make an ounce of sense. Even the smell of durian doesn’t faze me too much now. I’m not going to eat it but I can co-exist being in the same space without retching! I have even passionately argued in favour of the ‘chope’ (tables in hawker centres can be reserved by placing an item like tissues on it) as it’s so quintessentially Singaporean. I’m very fond of can/can not instead of yes/no, but am working my way up to lah.

Singapore also gave me the amazing opportunity to have a book published and to return to study. Both of which I would have scoffed at had you told me six years ago! Every branch of the library here has my book in stock, as well as gracing the shelves at Kinokuniya and Popular, which blows my mind. My local Melbourne library also has it!

Hashtag blessed.

(Hashtag hashtags don’t belong in blog posts)

Six years down the track and I’ve learned so much from our time in Singapore, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Thank you, Singapore!

Thaipusam 2017

Time is a funny concept. One day you’re experiencing your first Thaipusam festival, and in the blink of an eye you are at your sixth.

Despite having insanely pressing work deadlines last week I made room to head to Thaipusam as it is the Singapore festival I have the most affection for. I’m not sure why that is, but I suspect it’s because of the warmth and joy that radiates from it, which is at odds with how it appears in photos. Images of people sticking sharpened spears through their bodies implies a level of gore and horror that just hasn’t been present at any Thaipusam I’ve ever witnessed.

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The very first picture of Thaipusam I ever posted on my blog turned out to be special. By pure coincidence I photographed the same gentleman the following year, and his nephew somehow found my blog post and wrote a lovely comment. Anyway, to cut a long story short his nephew, Muru, was an enormous help with the Indian festivals section of my book. Despite exchanging a number of emails I only finally met Muru at this year’s Thaipusam, where I briefly introduced myself as he helped his uncle prepare to fulfill his promise. This made this year’s Thaipusam one of my favourites (although, really, they are all some of the favourite days in Singapore!).

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I am hopeful there will be more Thaipusams in my future!

 

The Ghosts of Friends Past

The other day a group of women gathered at a restaurant by a golf course and surprised me with a ‘you wrote a book!’ celebratory lunch. I was beyond touched and grateful and all of those other good words.

I looked at my lovely friends and felt such gratitude to know such amazing women, but it was tinged with sadness.

Sadness that so many of the amazing friends I’ve made in the past 5.5 years have already left and, in all probability, I will never see them again. Sure, we all think we will see our expat friends again, but the reality is it probably won’t happen, especially for friends who aren’t from our home country.

During lunch I felt the ghosts of friends past floating around the restaurant. Prompting such strong memories over the next few days that tears sprung regularly. I’m not usually an overly sentimental person but these past couple of days the ghosts of friends past have been my constant companions. Sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

My first expat friend was a sassy Texan, with two girls around the same age as mine. She tells me that in our first conversation I used a swear word and she knew then we were going to be good friends. We bonded over our shared leasing dramas and took a trip to Thailand together within 6 weeks of meeting. I shared two Thanksgivings with them, bewildered that mashed sweet potato with marshmallows was a savoury side dish, but pumpkin was a dessert food. We spent a Christmas in Australia together, watching our girls tear off wrapping paper while wearing pyjamas and bed hair. Within 20 months  they returned to the States.

I’m unsure why but a lot of my friends in those early years were American, but now my friends are almost exclusively Australian or Kiwis. I miss my American friends. The NJ family who lived 9/11, running to catch the ferry home to safety on the day the world changed. Her husband made the best ginger cosmopolitans in the entire world! The Southern family whose home was furnished with amazing family heirlooms, and who made me the one-and-only martini I’ve ever had. Straight spirits with an olive. Ouch! The Utah friend that I never did spend enough time with. The Texan I connected with via this blog before I even left Australia. The Texans who arrived a couple and left as a family, flying back to their home with a toddler and a newborn.

I miss them all.

 

And?

We had family visit us a couple of weeks ago, so the Missies got to have their grandparents do grandparent-y things with them. That’s one of the big things that expat kids miss out on. Those everyday interactions with family that most kids take for granted. They watched the Big Missy play touch rugby in the baking sun and the Little Missy play basketball in a stuffy school hall. Card games were shared and Monopoly was also played. This was particularly exciting for the Missies as Monopoly is, as far as I’m concerned, a game to be avoided at all costs and rarely played.

Before the Big Missies sport my dad was standing out the front of Giant supermarket and was bewildered to see a man wheel out a full trolley of groceries that he’d just purchased. Realising he’d forgotten to buy something he pushed the trolley into the corner and went back into the supermarket.

My dad relayed the story to us incredulously.

Our family of four looked at my dad puzzled. I said ‘and?’ wondering what the big deal was.

‘But isn’t he worried it’ll get stolen?’

And that highlighted the change in our attitudes since being in Singapore. We take safety for granted. The chance of the man’s groceries being stolen is minimal. Sure, it could happen but it’s unlikely.

I’d absolutely do this myself in Singapore, but there’s no way I’d do it in Australia. Somewhere during the past five years I’ve developed two different sets of behaviours.

One for Singapore and another for everywhere else.

I don’t even know when this happened as it wasn’t a conscious decision. I can’t say for certain but I suspect it’s quite a common thing for expats.

Expat Currency

Every time we return from travel we silently promise to mark the plastic bags with the name of the currency’s country.

We then forget.

Until the next trip.

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The Book

In the blogger sphere there is a fair bit of focus on stats. Stats of how many people view a blog, how they got to the blog; how long they stayed on the blog; what search terms brought them to the blog; all of these and more discussed and dissected. A good blogger should try and increase their readership and engagement. A dedicated blogger attends actual blogging conferences with actual people. An excellent blogger is able to ‘monetise’ their blog so that it earns actual money.

It seems I am not a good blogger as I don’t give two hoots about stats and whether anyone reads my posts. I’m not dedicated enough to attend a conference. And I’m certainly never going to monetise my blog because I really couldn’t be bothered. In fact, I’ve had a ‘no sponsored content’ stance since I first started this blog, despite offers of chocolate (I’d rather chips), free tickets to events, and – once – a week’s use of a luxury car. There are also a fair amount of spam emails that I somehow receive, which are deleted quick smart.

Despite this rather unconventional approach to blogging it seems people do actually read my blog. I get the occasional email from people considering relocating to Singapore, so folks are interested in my ramblings it seems.

At the beginning of last year I received a most curious email from a publisher. A reputable publisher. They were asking whether I’d consider writing the newest edition of their Singapore guide for expats. I had always harboured dreams of being a writer and so knew that getting a book published was a long and hard journey. Friends who are published authors slaved away for years before they had a manuscript accepted by a publishing house, and yet here was an email offering me the chance to write a book.

After staring at the email for a week or so, I had no choice but to delete it. Obviously, it was spam. Fairly legitimate looking spam, but spam nonetheless.

A while later (a month? Six weeks?) another email dropped into my inbox from the same editor as the previous email but from a private address. He wondered if I got his previous email? So, it wasn’t spam! Oops.

But I was far too busy to write a book. I’d just enrolled in a second university degree so declined his offer with many thanks.

Until a few friends verbally slapped me around the head and pointed out that publishers do not make these offers very often and I would be a fool to say no.

And then I wrote a book.

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Despite not following any of the so-called blogging “rules” somehow my writing and this blog ended up on the radar of a publishing company and I was handed an amazing opportunity.

So, thank you to every one who has ever read this blog.

And thank you to the amazing team at Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) for choosing me for this project!

(I only received my copies of the book yesterday so it isn’t available in book shops yet , but it is listed on Amazon if you want to pre-order it here.)

Bucket List #6: Joo Chiat

The school my kids attend has just started a regular photography walk for parents, which takes the participants to photographic areas of Singapore. When they posted that August’s walk was around Joo Chiat I was keen to join, as Joo Chiat has been on my Bucket List for a number of years. After 5 years you’d expect that Bucket List to be well and truly ticked off, but I’m always adding things to it. For a small country Singapore has so much to see and do!

Joo Chiat is named for Chew Joo Chiat, who owned plantations in this area which resulted in many of the areas roads being named after him. The area was mainly plantations until the early 20th century, when wealthy Peranakan  people began to move out of the crowded downtown area, and it’s the beautiful shophouses of the Peranakan’s that make Joo Chiat great to photograph. Well, at least in the daytime, by night Joo Chiat is renowned for its terrific food and other *ahem* types of nightly entertainment.DSC03048 The area is also home to lots of interesting shops. I’m not much of a shopper but I did spy lots of shops that firmly targeted the expat market such as a German bakery and a shop selling ‘chalk paint’. There were also temples, local provision shops, KTV lounges, youth hostels and the like. There’s also street art by Ernest Zacharevich. Pretty much something for everyone!

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But, it’s the shophouses that draw most of the photographic spotlight in this area, and they didn’t disappoint.

Joo Chiat Road is the backbone of this area, but most of the best shophouses are located down side roads. If you’re keen to find them download the URA Katong and Joo Chiat guide, which features lots of information plus a very handy map.

Just a note that these are homes, not museums. The homeowners seem to tolerate photographers well, but always be respectful and you’ll be just fine!