Singapore Bucket List #2: Marina Bay Sands

I am not a person who is wowed by architecture.  I can see that some buildings are more appealing than others and I quite like art-deco, but the only architect that readily springs to mind if I was ever asked to name one is Jorn Outzen (he designed the Sydney Opera House but walked off the project before it was complete, on case you’re wondering).

And there endeth my architectural knowledge.

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Marina Bay Sands Intergrated Resort

However, I defy anybody to not be gobsmacked by Marina Bay Sands.  A ship perched upon three 55 storey high skyscrapers is impressive and has been on the Singapore Bucket List since before we arrived.  As I am The World’s Best Wife and “allowed” (tongue is most definitely in my cheek!) my husband to go fishing in Australia for a week over Chinese New Year, meaning I was solo parenting for a 4 day weekend, I treated the Missies and myself to a night at MBS.

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The Little Missy in the pool – 55 storeys up!

I forked out extra for a Club Room, which gave us a high floor and included breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails/canapes.  As we are Singapore residents we also got a few other bits and bobs thrown in as part of their “Staycation package”: faux ice-skating, sampan ride, $50 gift shop voucher.

It was a fun weekend and we got our money’s worth, especially as we all ate so many canapes that dinner was made redundant.  I may or may not (but absolutely did) have eaten ELEVEN lamb loin with mint pea puree canapes.  Given the price of lamb in Singapore this was a very smart move.

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Mmmmm…lamb loin with mint pea puree. Come to Mamma!

If I had the chance would I stay there again?

No.  I prefer my hotels smaller and more personal. MBS has over 2000 rooms and the lobby more closely resembles a train station than a hotel lobby.  The MBS crowning glory – the infinity pool on the roof – is pretty cool. It’s also VERY crowded, not deep enough for me, and chilly!  But it was pretty awesome to be swimming up that high.

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Singapore Bucket List #1: Threading

The longer I’m in Singapore the less things seem to be “unusual”, so instead of “Unusual Singapore Things” I’m going to be occasionally posting about things that are on my Singapore Bucket List.

Ever since we’ve arrived I’ve wanted to have my eyebrows threaded.  I’m not sure why as I have been a confirmed eyebrow plucker since my teens, but it seemed like something I should have done.  And if you’re going to to do it then I figured I may as well get it done in Little India given Serangoon Road is lined with beauty parlours, and for the bargain price of $5 I had nothing to lose but my eyebrows.

I was on my regular fruit & veg run to Tekka Market and summoned up my courage and finally had my eyebrows threaded.

To remove hair via threading the beautician uses a couple of entwined strings that are rolled over the hairs.  The hair gets caught in the threads and is yanked out.

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It hurt (and still hurts 10 hours later but that’s more to do with my uber-sensitive skin, I think), but you do get a much more defined brow than you do via plucking or waxing.

Will I do it again?  Unlikely due to the pain (damn sensitive skin) and my need to be in control – it’s all but impossible to control how someone shapes your eyebrows given you have to close your eyes!

The Sweet Spot

About a year ago there was a whiff of moving somewhere else and I asked an online expat friend what we should do.  She replied that in her experience it would be sad to miss the second year as it was the best year.  You weren’t new, but you weren’t in moving out phase.

The sweet spot.

That’s where we are now.

I know pretty much how things function and things that once seemed insurmountable like grocery shopping are now normal.  To all intents and purposes life is very much like what it was in Australia before we moved.

Just with added humidity.

For those of you who are still in that tumultuous first year I can assure you that life does get better. I promise. Just keep swimming, Dory.

Thaipusam 2013

Thaipusam is my favourite Singapore thing.  Witnessing last year’s festival blew me away and opened my mind to the beauty and wonderment of a celebration that is far, far removed from anything I had ever seen before.

Thaipusam is (according to the font of all wisdom, Wikipedia) a Hindu celebration which is celebrated mainly by Tamil’s. Devotees walk a pilgrimage carrying a burden (kavadi). A kavadi can be as simple as a pot of milk (often held on the head) to the other extreme of self mortification where the devotee is pierced with spears. Devotees undergo an intense preparation that includes fasting and celibacy for weeks leading up the the festival.

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Thaipusam is celebrated on the full moon in the month of Thai (according to the Hindu calendar), which fell on a Sunday this year. The Thaipusam walk begins at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India and as anyone who has been in Singapore longer than a month will tell you that the one place you do not go to on a Sunday is Little India, so I had been vacillating about going in the days leading up to the event.  But I knew that I would kick myself for the next year if I didn’t duck down for an hour or two and headed up to Little India at about 9am on Sunday morning.

As soon as I got near to Serangoon Road and could hear the drum beats and the joyous singing and saw a man dancing while bearing an enormous kavadi IDSCF2874_zpsd067eec9 knew I’d made the right decision.

Thaipusam lifts my soul in a way that no other religious celebration I’ve witnessed ever has.  Sure, opening presents on Christmas morning lifts my soul but that’s more to do with instant gratification and consumerism than religion.

I know very, very little about Hinduism but the vibe I get from Thaipusam is that is very family oriented and inclusive. Bystanders are not made to feel unwelcome (although I did see a few who I personally felt were too close to the devotees) and at the various free drink and food stations along the way everyone is encouraged to partake, not just the participants.  I don’t think any oDSCF2904f the major religions in Australia would be happy for spectators to come into their place of worship with their cameras and their curiosity in the same way the Singaporean Hindu community do.

Last year I moved from one devotee to the next, but this year I stood to the side and watched one gentleman (and his family) ready themselves for the pilgrimage ahead.  It was an honour.  I tried to pay particular attention to the rituals involved and whilst not understanding the language I could tell that these were rituals that had been followed for many, many years.  Here is his journey (which is really only a small portion of it, of course).

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The man was lying on the ground, arms extended. A group of men (family, I assume) were crouching over his back and praying/chanting.

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When the men stood up I could see that they must have been praying after placing these hooks in the skin of his back.

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His family helped him to stand, and I want to stress here that at no time did he appear to be in pain and there was no blood. Not a single drop.

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Offering prayers. The dignity of these people blows me away.

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A bowl of holy ash. This is dabbed on the site of each piercing.

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Piercing his cheeks.  His family/friends crowd around him and chant as this is being done.  I assume this is to help the devotee keep focussed?

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Tongue piercing. Not the patch of holy ash on his tongue.

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At this point he was giving and receiving a blessing to a lady who I assume is his wife.

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The man gives blessings (using the ash) to the members of his group. There were people of all ages involved.

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Blessings.

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Prayers before he moves off.

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Prayers.

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Blessings which involved flower petals being showered over him.

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One last prayer to the altar of the temple before the party leaves for the 4.5km trak through the hot streets of Singapore.

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He leaves the temple pulling his burden, surrounded by his chanting and singing family.

 

I consider it a massive honour to be able to watch this beautiful, colour filled, joyous celebration.  What my photos can’t capture is the joy that radiates from this event.  the pride that the whole family takes in showing their devotion.  It’s amazing.

Thank you to the Hindu community in Singapore for your inclusiveness and your beauty.

PS: Conicidentally, I photographed this man last year, which you can see in last year’s blog post.

Multinational Shopping

Once upon a time I refused to buy imported fresh produce. I bought Australian fruit, veggies, meat and seafood only.

I also did my absolute best to buy “Australian Made” products from the rest of the supermarket and I had a handy dandy book to help me out with this.  There’s always been a big push in Australia to do this, particularly as ownership of many products has now gone overseas.  We can’t help where a corporate owner is based unfortunately, but by buying products made in Australia it helps to keep Australians in jobs and keeps some of the money in the country.  (I was initially pleased and then concerned at the low prices in supermarkets and Kmart/Big W.  The long term damage low prices do to the suppliers and manufacturers is a concern – but that’s not what this post is about).

So, in Australia I would come home from the supermarket with the majority of my stuff originating from Australia.

Now my eco bags are as multicultural as the country in which I live. If I were to only buy “Made in Singapore” products I’d starve to death. Quickly. I believe there is a chicken farm that sells eggs but there is no mass primary production in Singapore that I know of (please leave a comment to correct this if I’m mistaken).

Here’s a selection of my multinational shopping bag this week:

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Eggs from Malaysia. Saddens me that “free range” isn’t readily available here.

 

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Feta from Denmark.

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Oranges from the US.

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Nectarines from South Africa.

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Kiwi fruit from New Zealand (of course!)

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Strawberries from Korea.

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Very ordinary apples from South Africa.

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Brinjal (eggplant) from Malaysia

Home

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Home home.

We are back home after having Christmas at home.

Meaning we are back in Hot Home after spending Christmas at More Home. We also drove past Home Home, just to make sure our tenants hadn’t burnt it to the ground.

Or we are back in Singapore after spending Christmas in Australia.  We also drove past the house we used to live in and still own.

Confusing for other people but perfectly understandable to other expats.

When you move out of your country the definition of home expands.  Home is the residence where you live in your new country but home is also your home country.

It’s where my heart is but it’s also where my stuff is.

Shopping Advice

Our bathroom hoard.

Our bathroom hoard.

I’ve posted before how shopping has brought me to tears more than once.  And that’s just regular, grocery shopping.  Clothes shopping here when you have a ‘built for comfort’ Western body is pointless and ego damaging.

Anyway, grocery shopping does become easier over time and one of the big tips I give anyone is that if you see a product you like or use regularly then you should buy as much of it as you can!

 

The vast majority of goods here are imported and arrive by the container load, so while the supermarket is fully loaded today there is no guarantee it will be tomorrow.  And once a product has sold out you have to wait for the next shipment.  That could be tomorrow, next week or several months time.  There was a Vegemite drought last year that caused issues for Australians, and there was much Facebook rejoicing amongst my American friends when a random shipment of Frito’s (Honey Barbecue flavour) flooded every Cold Storage in Singapore.

So, if you see it, grab it! It’s very much “first come, first served” here.

The Glamorous Expat Life

Most people when they close their eyes and think of what “The Expat Life” is like imagine travel, cocktails, pools and glamorous locations.  Lots of pampering, lots of money and lots of time.

I’ve been told more than once that my life is “glamorous” and it seems people really don’t want to hear the full truth but are content in their belief that my life is a shiny, happy one. Quite frankly, that bugged me but I couldn’t quite articulate my feelings, until last night when I was watching the George Clooney movie “The Descendants” and the opening lines really, really resonated with me.

My friends think that just because we live in Hawaii, we live in paradise. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tai’s, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up? Our heartaches, less painful?

I have sipped cocktails. I have travelled more in 18 months than I did in the previous 38 years. I’ve sat by numerous pools and even had a few massages.

But these are just the bookends of my life.

Expat or not, I still referee my kids insane bickering bouts, clean skid marks off the toilet bowl, make the beds, curse every member of my family for their complete inability to change a freaking toilet roll, do the grocery shopping, attempt to keep my children out of the bathroom when I am on the loo, fold the laundry and do all the other bits and pieces that every single person on the planet does to keep their life moving.  Family crises still happen (and there has been the mother of all of crises in my extended family of late), people and pets still die and hearts still break.

It really is “same shit, different country”.

If you’re a prospective expat and are looking forward to the move to escape the “everyday” of your life in your home country, then you’re going to be disappointed.  But if you keep in mind that the “everyday” will travel with you to the new country but still get out and soak in the “newness” of your new destination then you’ll probably do just fine.

If you’re an expat already then I’m certain you know what I’m talking about here.

And if you know me from Australia you should know I am wearing my oldest, most worn out Suzanne Grae shorts with a tank top that has Gravox smeared on the front. Soooo glamorous!

The Expat Marriage

I am no marriage expert. Heaven knows I bump along in my marriage with my fingers crossed that we are going to “make it” (not sure what destination “make it” is? Not getting divorced before one of us dies, I guess) but the past 18.5 months have taught me a few things.

Mainly that moving away from everyone and everything you have ever known will test your marriage in ways which you will not, and can not, expect.  In the beginning stages it’s exciting and new and kind of like a holiday.  In the early days it’s invigoration, with both of you working together to figure out and shape your new life. Exploring your new country of residence is fun and you throw ourselves into playing tourist with gusto.

However, that level of excitement can’t be maintained and you will soon move into “normal life”.  This is the bit where all the “stuff” (good and bad) in a marriage that was there before the excitement of the move took hold will rise up.  Add to that a spouse who is often travelling for work more than he/she is home and a marriage can become wobbly very quickly indeed.

So, the moral of the tale is that your marriage will not get easier when you move overseas.  Just like a having a baby will not fix a wobbly marriage, neither will moving to a new country.

PS: I can’t downplay the stress that moving overseas has put us under but we are together and happy with each other the majority of the time. 🙂

Advice

The strangest thing has happened.  People (via the blog and also friends of friends of friends) are asking me for advice on moving to Singapore.  Not a plethora of people but a few.  It seems a little weird, as to me I’ve only been in Singapore a blink of an eye, or so it seems. But in reality it’s been almost 17 months. Which is almost 1.5 years so maybe I am qualified to dish out advice?

I can not give advice on whether or not people should move to Singapore from their home country as that’s a matter for each individual person.  It’s a hard road, but for us it’s been totally worth it.  My attitude has always been “If it all goes to shit we will pack up and go home again”.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So assuming you have made the decision to jump into an expat adventure here are some tips that may or may not help you:

  • know what your entitlements are before agreeing to move.  If it’s a company relocation check the contract and then do your research to make sure that what the company is offering will cover your needs.  Having a decent housing allowance, top notch medical insurance, school fees and transport allowance will make things much easier.  We wouldn’t have moved if we had been financially worse off, and it;s too late to negotiate an increase once you’ve signed a contract and are in Singapore!
  • a relocation company (ideally paid for by the company) will take many admin errands out of your hands, even though they will at times drive you to distraction. Having someone else do the work permit, customs, shipping and all the other bits and pieces will save you the pain of trying to figure out some of the bureaucracy in a new country.
  • try and do a “Look See” trip before you move as this will help you get a feel for the place.
  • you will cry.  You may even cry in the supermarket.  Or maybe that’s just me?
  • Singapore does not have “one stop” grocery shopping and this was my biggest frustration here.  It now seems normal to scout all areas of Singapore just to do the groceries, but it made me irrationally stabby in the early days (and still does on a bad day).
  • there are no “bad” areas to live in Singapore.  All have their pros and cons, but you will pay more in “Expat” areas and less in “local” areas.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list but it’s enough to get an idea of what people should be thinking about BEFORE they move.  If you have any questions leave me a comment and I can email you back. I don’t use my name or my email address on my blog as there’s too many freaks out there in cyber lan!