Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lessons from the Equator

As I mentioned on Facebook, there are some things you learn quickly when you live one degree off the equator and in a new culture.  Obviously I still have much to learn, but here are a few starters.

Nothing should ever touch your skin if it isn't cotton or linen. This includes watches, jewelry, bras (obviously), backpacks, fanny packs, shoes, you get the picture.  These things stick and in my book, being sticky is worse than being hot.

When looking for a place with a real estate agent, there is a tiny, tiny room with no a/c they will call a maid's room right up until you say you will not be hiring a live-in maid.  From then on, it is called a small bomb shelter.  

Singapore is not as pet-friendly as Switzerland, but it has more to do with sensitivity to all religions.  Your strict Muslim neighbors will appreciate your thoughtfulness if you wait until the next elevator or carry your pup in small common areas. The Swiss are just heathens. 

When finding an apartment, ask about the electricity rates.  We've been running the a/c almost 24/7.  Who knows what awaits us when the Man comes calling for his payment.  

Every bathroom and kitchen has a switch called "water heater".  It is recommended to leave it off until a few minutes before your shower and dishwashing/laundry and then turn it off afterwards.  I've taken a few cold showers before having this lesson burned into my brain.  

"No frizz" shampoos and conditioners might work in Minnesota or Kansas, but they are a waste of S$57.80 in Singapore.  

Chinese weddings typically serve a 7-9 course meal, not including the desserts.  You might want to be in the restroom for one or two courses:
Not my preferred perspective to eat a fish.
These courses are mingled with toasts, blessings and the newlyweds greeting each table.  Instead of a wedding gift of cutlery or potpourri pouches, the guests are expected to find out how much their "seats" cost (available on the hotel's website) and give that much and more in cash to the couple in a red envelope ("hong bao"). The color red is to symbolize good luck. These weddings are a lot of fun but do not eat for a week leading up to the reception.

Daytime rain storms are always welcome since they last about 20 minutes and cool the air off by about 5 degrees.

5 degrees can be the difference between "I'm not going outside" and "A quick dog walk near the water should be ok."

And, as always, dog people are the same the world over.  Auggie has been my conversation starter, my ambassador to the Asian world.  There is at least one other woman in our neighborhood with a shiba inu and as soon as she returns from her holiday in Switzerland (?!), we will be meeting up with the pups over a cup of iced coffee.

Stay tuned as I learn more lessons.  I'm sure my ignorance will be entertaining.

Monday, November 23, 2015

first impressions, a small pictorial

People are asking me how I'm settling in.  I gotta tell ya, like a duck to water, baby, a duck to water.  Most of you reading this probably remember the way my face would screw up and my voice would crack when you asked how I liked Switzerland in the early days.  I felt isolated and unable to communicate, even with some of the other English speakers.  At this point I haven't felt even remotely that way in Singapore.  I know there will be transitions, but right here, right now, life here feels incredibly normal.

The most immediate thing I've had to learn here is to make sure I look the correct way crossing the street and walk on the correct side of the sidewalk.  I am anxious to learn more of the local customs, but it is hard to know where to start when the local customs cover Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Malay and lots of others.  The great thing? I can ask and read about them IN ENGLISH!

While people aren't randomly hugging me, there is plenty of small talk. I've been asked about Auggie numerous times, asked for directions and best yet, an elderly Chinese woman asked me to reach for cookies on the highest shelf in the grocery store. Another kind woman taught me how to use the fully-automated dry-cleaning closet.

The British influence is still very strong here.  It can be seen in the restaurants (fish & chips), the street names (Clarke Street) and even the shops (Hello Marks & Spencers and Topshop!) When you see another expat they are typically British with the Aussies not far behind. 

The thing that has surprised me most is how beautiful I find the island.  I've never been a city girl, but the skyline at night is impressive. 

I had never thought I would find man-made stuff particularly cool, but the originality is stunning.

Marina Bay Sands by day
The Marina Bay Sands infinity pool by night

Gardens by the Bay

Of course there are still traditional buildings...

and natural beauty...

 and even a mix of both man-made and God-made.

Oh, another adjustment for me to make.  See those mosquito sculptures? Those are life size replicas when pest control has not been maintained.  

The heat has not bothered either of us, though Auggie is suffering.  The coolest it has been is around 78 the middle of the night. We try to walk early, a very quick mid-day outing and another walk around the block at night.  The air-conditioning is left on mainly for her.  That might change once we are paying for our utilities. None of my sources hyperbolized the humidity.  It hovers around 90% while sometimes dipping down to 80%.  Locals have told us we arrived during the "cool" season. I'll keep you posted on the "hot" season. 

I've already applied for a few jobs, one out of my reach because I do not speak Mandarin, but the majority of positions I've seen do not have language requirements. 

So that's where we are our second week arrival anniversary.  Mr. Shoe is settling in nicely with work and we've found an apartment we like and have made a move on it.  Until then, I have learned when to be gone so that Housekeeping can clean our serviced apartment.  

Things wrapped up well in Swissyland, things are going well in Singapore. We know we didn't do it on our own, we know we are incredibly blessed. I know that I have to avoid falling back into routines that can spiral down quickly.  Showering, writing and taking photos are good steps in making sure I take care of myself. Letting myself enjoy an easier life as an expat is also important. Finding a doctor is the most important step in remaining healthy and this isn't my first rodeo.  I'm not spending these first months planning my escape.  It's time to make Singapore another one of my homes.  

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to head to the pool on a Monday that feels like a Saturday.   Me and the Dowager Countess of Grantham do have this in common.  Weekends?! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

We Have Arrived

The Singapore years have started.  It is a new dawn for this blog. First, we shall start with food.  (I always start with food.)

It has been 35 days since I've cooked dinner. Eleven days in Switzerland with good-bye dinners and no kitchen equipment.  Fifteen days in the States, eating out with different friends and family.  Two days in a Zurich hotel. And seven glorious days in Singapore, exploring my new host country.  It has been a delicious 35 days.

We landed on Tuesday, November 10 at 6:00 a.m.  As we drove from the airport to our temporary place, I spotted Chili's, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Popeye's Chicken, Starbucks and 7-11.  (By the way, there are a kazillion 7-11s.  Not only is there one on every corner, there are two or three on the way to the corner.)  It was at this point that mr. shoe and I agreed to a month-long moratorium on going to American restaurants.

We checked into our serviced apartment and went down for the free breakfast - mostly fruit aside from a salad bar (?).  After unpacking and exploring and napping, we had a welcome reception for the conference mr. shoe would be attending.  It was here that I started trying not to ask what I was eating, but simply trying whatever was offered.  I would love to tell you what I had, but unfortunately not asking what you are eating means you never really know.  I can tell you the first appetizer looked like tiny tarts with some sort of fish in them.  Wait, there were also crispy fried prawns.  I might have stalked that waiter. 

Blind eating is hard for me.  I might have mentioned my distaste for vegetables, fungi and, well, anything that wasn't served in Joetown, Missouri. My first "American" Chinese food was in college.  My first sushi was well into my thirties.  This week alone has broadened my horizons farther than I ever imagined. 

The first couple of days were easy enough.  Satays (meat skewers) are popular here.  Bacon wrapped salmon with wasabi, bacon wrapped pork with jalapeno sauce and chicken skewers in peanut sauce made up my first meals until Wednesday night's dinner, a catered event.  Nothing really stood out until dessert.  Double boiled white fungus, ginko and papaya soup was the star of the table.  That was too much for me.  If only I had avoided the menu card, I might have had a chance.  I'm embarrassed to say I stuck with the dragon fruit and mini pastries.

In case you think I'm making this up.

A couple of days later we upped the ante with fried squid, razor clams with wasabi, fried soft shell crab and an amazingly huge chili crab.  Our host insisted I take a claw that was the size of my face which actually made since because I ended up with crab meat all over my face.

On Friday we met our real estate agent and the local foods got real.  A native Singaporean, she started making a list of things we must try.  First up was a dish I had read about in my move preparation - laksa.  

Frau's first laksa

According to Wiki, laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup in the Peranakan cuisine, which is a combination of Chinese and Malay cuisine. Laksa consists of rice noodles or rice vermicelli with chicken, prawn or fish, served in spicy soup; either based on rich and spicy curry coconut milk, or based on sour asam tamarind. It can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Southern Thailand.  According to me, it is good if you ignore the bean curd (tofu) and egg (just weird). 

On Sunday we were in for a treat.  After the last of our home viewings, Joon took us to a local market that had lines out the door.  Inside were local, multi-generational families, enjoying their time together and their food.  The focus of their eating and of the restaurant was chicken rice.  It is exactly as it sounds, simplistic but delicious.

come to mama
Here it is served with prawn dumplings and lime juice. I ate everything you see here.  All of it.  

I'm looking forward to continuing not to cook and more eating adventures. 

Those adventures will of course involve THESE!!!! Viva la Singapore!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Corrections has an awesome feature.  It's called "Corrections: What Slate Got Wrong." When you click on it there is a literal list of all of the mistakes, misspellings of names, wrong citations and incorrect bylines.  It's like saying "Here you go.  We screwed up." I have kinda been feeling like that lately. This is my correction or, better yet, my explanation to anyone else who has the depression. I don't want you to feel alone, like I got it figured out and left you in the dust. I do want to get healthier and I know you do too. But man, we have to be patient and kind to ourselves.  That is what I am learning right now.

You might remember my previous post and if you don't, click on that link.  I'll wait right here. Good.  You might remember my previous post that you just read...I was gung-ho, wasn't I? I was a burst of sunshine and optimism. And the fact is, I was...that day. 

There is an author that I read and follow on FB, her name is Glennon Melton.  I'm not going to link to her because I would just be spoiling you at this point.  Look her up on your time, not mine. ;)

So, Glennon also has the depression from time to time. One day she talked about a tip for those of us who see professional help.  She said to write down how you feel on your bad days so that if you are having a good day when you see your doctor, you can tell her what your bad days are like and do that work together.  A couple of weeks later she reminded herself to do the opposite too - list how awesome things can be on your good days so that you can read it on your bad days.

My previous post was just that.  A note to myself (and you) about how I feel on my good days. There was no exaggeration there or lying.  But for some reason I find myself not there right now.  Everything and I mean EVERYTHING is falling into place pretty goodly and exactly as I had it in my head.  Yet I am wracked with anxiety. I cannot settle into a comfortable place this week. Last night I dreamt that I missed all of my appointments today because, even though I was aware that I was no longer working, I went back to one of my old companies to see a former co-worker who was foaming at the mouth and had a mysterious disease.  (C'mon Brain, it had to be rabies.)  I kid you not, in the midst of my dream I thought, "I hope this is a dream because I cannot afford to miss my psychiatrist appointment today."  How is that for self-awareness?

That is just how my scattered I am right now.  There is no focus to be found.  Mr. Shoe asked me to run upstairs and grab something on Saturday.  I ran upstairs and immediately started doing something completely different. He came up after a few minutes to find me working on the computer.  We laughed, but it starts to get scary when you can't retain something from one minute to the next.  (Do I need to tell you that I can't remember what he asked me to get?) I immediately wrote myself a mental note to talk to my doctor about it.  

Today: Went to the doctor.  Talked about my head that won't shut off at night.  Talked about how I truly am excited about Singapore, not just pretending.  Talked about my anxiety and how to confront it.  Talked about saying good-byes and those emotions.  With about 15 minutes left, I was hit by a bolt of lightning.  


We ate up another 5 minutes laughing hard. 

Her answer? Sleep, even if it takes a prescription.  Do something kind for myself once a day. Realize that if my body isn't healthy, my head isn't going to be.  Make lists of what is left.  Go one by one and mark them off.  Make lists of what I am worried about and what I'm doing to solve it or how it has already been solved...and mark it off. Spend time with Mr. Shoe that isn't focused on tasks.  Eat delicious food and pet my dog. Write to myself.  (Sorry, roped you in to it too, dear Reader.)

Most of all, enjoy the good morning kisses from Mr. Shoe. Focus on the trees changing colors, the first sip of coffee, quiet time with God, and Auggie curled up at my feet. Think about my upcoming time at home with family and friends.  Remember that control is an illusion, perfection the enemy of good. Remembering all of that might seem hard right now, but these things are what will get me through this season of change.

I hope you will remember what makes your good days "good" and be kind to yourselves. If you are struggling or see someone else struggling and aren't sure how to help them, hit me up.  We can make a list to remind each other. 


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