Observational

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It’s pretty grim when, on day four of a blog writing challenge, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for blog ideas. Never fear, dear reader. I’m hoping that delightful observational insights from Singapore will keep you entertained until tomorrow. After all, there’s only so many times I can write about weddings, PhDs and my cat.

In Singapore, there’s a different seating hierarchy on public transport (hoooo boy, a public transport post already!). There really is though. In Australia, it’s pregnant women, people with disabilities, and older people who get the seats. Not you. Stand up. Go on. That’s the way. You get a warm fuzzy, the person in need gets a seat, not so complicated. Here in Singapore though, it is more complicated. There are significantly less seats. And those seats are taken way more seriously.

In Singapore, the MRT (and I really cannot speak for buses) seating hierarchy goes pregnant women, people with disabilities, kids then older people. Yes, kids are in on the seating chart here. In Singapore, people will give up their hard-fought seats for kids. Children. As in those small humans with bouncy bones and young legs. Yeah, them. They get priority over an older Aunty with two fistfuls of shopping bags. But the Aunties love it, they smile and coo, all the while eyeballing the person on the seat next door. They’re happy to give up their seat for a kid, but if they do, they damn well want yours to make up for it.

They say that the fastest you’ll see a Singaporean move is when there’s a spare seat on public transport. I’m not sure if that’s true, but what I have definitely observed is the number of people I’ve seen leap out of their seats for someone who they think is more deserving. I do hate to finish on a warm fuzzy but it’s a Friday night and I’ve had a few drinks. Happy weekend, readers!

Community cats: best thing ever.

Yet another excellent thing about Singapore is the phenomenon of community cats. Ahh, community cats. Australia truly is a backwards society, you know.

As a cat enthusiast (we don’t like the term ‘cat lady’), I have been known to bestow love on needy albeit flea-bitten street cats. Ugly cats need love too. Despite the risk of rabies and parasites, I have chased cats all over the world: from the alley ways of Ho Chi Minh City to the streets of Cape Town. Here is no different but most street cats tend to be friendly and well-fed here. How can this be, I wondered. Does Singapore have some kind of advanced cat welfare system? Meow for the dole? The answer came on a trip to Tanah Merah. After meeting a delightful street cat, I noticed a sign explaining that dogs were banned from the area because one had attacked one of their beloved community cats. Community cats. The answer.

The vast majority of people here live in high density housing, huge blocks of thousands of apartments, it makes sense to have communal pets. I was impressed: damn Singapore, you think of everything! But the true potential of the community cat wasn’t revealed to me until I turned into my street at the end of a sweaty run. A lady was empty a tin of cat food onto the footpath much to the delight of two hungry kitties. This probably sounds unhygienic but, trust me, the cats are clean eaters and gobble up every speck. There’s never any fishy surprises underfoot when you walk to the train. Such potential though! We have community cats in our street! A different evening revealed the full extent of our community cats. Walking home from dinner, we found a lady dishing up cat food to a horde of cats and kittens. At least 10 or 15. She was a bigwig in the community cat community apparently. It was amazing. I felt like this:

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So I’ve been wondering how to break in to the community cat racket. Is it as simple as buying some extra cat food and dumping it on the footpath? Or do you need to amass some followers first? Should I poach those followers from the bigwig cat boss or is that leaving me open to retribution? Will I wake with a severed mouse head on the pillow next to me? You can understand my conundrum. So for now, I’m restricted to my one private cat plus one loyal street cat affectionately known as The Cat. The Cat is barely older than a kitten and lives between our apartment and the train. We see her when it’s cool, usually in the late afternoon. She has taken to ignoring other suitors to trot over and say hello to me. It isn’t much, but it could be the start of something. A community cat colony the likes of which have never been seen before. Excuse me, I’m off to force Tippy to sit on my lap so I can pet her evil villain-style.

The Trailing Talent’s Guide to Expat Life

(Alternate Title: So You Followed Your Husband onto a Plane)

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Ah learning. If it wasn’t so much fun, we wouldn’t keep doing it, amiright? I found myself at an expat “welcome to Singapore” morning tea about a week ago, having finally been coerced into attending despite being here for three months. And goodness gracious me, did I learn a lot!

Having charged past the mingling groups to the coffee pot and filled my cup, I sat down at an empty table. Honestly, who can network pre-coffee? Not me. While caffeinating, I was joined by three women, probably mid-to-late thirties, wearing florals. I had missed some sort of memo apparently.

The first thing I was asked was how many kids I had. Fun. I managed to suppress a hysterical shriek and smile politely, “Oh me? Teehee, I don’t have any children, I’m much too young!” That’s what I meant to say anyhow, what really came out was a snort of coffee and “No.” The next question I was asked was what my husband does for work. Hmm. Another head-scratcher. Again I was tempted by the low road, “I don’t see no raaaang on this finger!” Instead, I told them what my partner did for a living, and they were most relieved when I eventually used a male pronoun.

Then finally, did I plan on working? Yes. Easy. What do I do? More complicated. I swept what was left of my dignity up off the floor and cupped it in my hands. “ACTUALLY, I’M ABOUT TO UNDERTAKE DOCTORAL STUDIES IN THE FIELD OF DEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNICATION.” A mild exaggeration, I may not have applied for anything yet, but it sounds good. I was met with polite smiles and nods. They were much better at this than I am.

Mercifully, the presentation started. I learnt more than I ever cared to know about schools and good children’s health care. I picked up a few tips on managing overseas finances and converting your drivers’ license. I also learned my place in the expat hierarchy. “We understand that the trailing talent market is completely overlooked by employers.” I’m sorry, the what now? Trailing talent? Really? I swung around in my chair, searching the audience for incredulous faces and shared “is she serious?” looks. Nope. Everyone was listening politely, some were jotting down notes. Eish. We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Trailing talent sounds like something you used to be good at. Hey, I used to speak fluent German but I’ve kinda let it slip, it’s my trailing talent now. I tuned back in to the presentation, the lady was now explaining the careers section of their website. “We understand you and your circumstances! That’s why we predominantly advertise jobs that are part time (because we know how you feel about leaving the kids with your Indonesian ‘helper’)! But there are other jobs too, if your husband feels like a change!” It was along those lines anyway.

I was starting to feel like an undercover agent in a cheap disguise. Soon my fake moustache would peel off at the corner and they would realise I was an interloper. I’d be tied to a chair with statement jewellery and pistol-whipped with oversized clutches. I’d disappear for a week to be re-educated and emerge a perfect, floral-clad trailing talent.

The presentation wrapped up and we were invited to linger for lunch. At an Australian pub. In Singapore. No thanks. I said my goodbyes (“Lovely to meet you, lovely to meet you, see you next time!”) and bailed. While the ladies lingered, waiting to be picked up, I stomped through the puddles to the train. Expats are a strange breed of people, but I guess this is what moving overseas is all about: getting to know new cultures and people you wouldn’t normally mix with. Even if those people happen to come from Brisbane.

Singapose?

Thanks to a combination of working from home and the omnipresent heat, I have joined the cult of Ceebs. Short for CBF, which is short for Can’t Be Fucked. Ceebs: when you’re too lazy to even use a three-letter abbreviation. The Ceebs garb consists of whatever is on the floor, today it’s a pyjama singlet and a hand-me-down skirt from a former housemate. The cult of Ceebs is non-committal on issues of hair. Long hair, don’t care. Short hair, don’t care. Hair, don’t care. Proper bras? I’m sorry but you’re not an ideal candidate for this religious movement. Deodorant? Well, actually yes because it’s 32 degrees and 95% humidity, show a little consideration!

My cult of Ceebs has had little uptake here in Singapore though. It appears to be limited to me and elderly Chinese grandpas. They rock the knee socks and sandals combo, often paired with no shirt and safari shorts, like no one’s business.

No, appearances are a big thing here. Labels, designers, malls at every train station. The constant, relentless pursuit of what is new and trendy. Do people still say trendy? Anyway, as Barney Stinson would say, “New is always better”. He could have been talking about Singapore rather than boobs.

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I think I have cracked it though. The reason for the constant shopping and reflection-checking. The holy grail of “New is always better”. Bow down, sinners, and drink from the sacred, everlasting cup of Selfie. The Selfie reigns supreme and we are its mere followers. Repent your invisible, undocumented, offline existence, and you too can be saved! Testify, Tweet and praise the name of the Almighty Selfie. Blessed is thy profile, Facebook be thy name. Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is on FourSquare. Forgive us our daily down-votes, as we forgive those who have down-voted against us. That was fun, but I’ll stop now.

Case in point:

A friend was visiting so we went to a hawker centre on Marina Bay for dinner last night. It was a beautiful spot, looking out over Marina Bay Sands (boat hotel), the Singapore Flyer (Ferris wheel), and the merlion (still not sure what it is). The group on the table next to us were taking photos. Fair enough, it was a touristy spot and very photogenic. But they weren’t capturing the bustle and colour of the hawker stalls, or the city lights reflecting off the water in Marina Bay, they weren’t even Instagramming their food. Selfies. A girl whipped out her telescopic selfie stick, extended it to a good metre in length and snapped flattering, high-angle shots for most of their meal. Not capturing candid moments of friends sharing a meal, or even the beautiful view in the background. Just themselves. It was deeply weird. It makes you wonder about the barrage of images their online friends and followers must be battered with. To quote Facebook: “I don’t want to see this”, “Hiding post…”.

Selfies are epidemic here. In the strangest places: in front of billboards, waiting for and riding on public transport, in the bathrooms of shopping centres, everywhere. Trying to think of a word to describe is it difficult, vain seems too callous, as does self-obsessed (maybe selfie-obsessed?). It’s almost an national youth identity crisis. The classic case of if a tree falls in the woods and no one sees it, photographs it, uploads it to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, hashtagged #tree #nature #goingdownyellingtimber #fail, and used three different Emojis in the caption, did the tree really fall? The lesson being that the tree is the real winner, especially when you’re too busy looking at your phone to notice said tree looming in front of you. Don’t worry, the girl was fine, she didn’t even drop her phone.

Moving in

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I write this from my couch. Not the couch I’m sitting in at a hotel or an airport or my parents house. My couch. It’s brown and a bit saggy, it’s got a few stains – beer and hydrolyte are two that are immediately identifiable. But it is by far the most comfortable couch in the world. All other couches should kneel at the feet of this majestic specimen. But this isn’t about my couch. It’s more about the fact that my couch is now sitting in my new apartment in Singapore.

Our stuff has arrived and is in the process of being unpacked. It’s very strange to look around and see our wooden giraffes from South Africa, our kava bowl from Fiji and our groaning bookcase from Ikea. Looking to the right though, you’re reminded where you are: you’re sitting about 5 metres away from your neighbour’s lounge room, just across the courtyard. Their maid is hanging washing on their balcony, it’s so close you can say hello to her without raising your voice. You can hear the Chinese family next door either having a heated domestic or a loud conversation, it’s difficult to tell. This is high density living, in Singapore.

My cat embodies the feeling the best: she’s spent the last six hours sprinting from one room to the other with her ears back. She looks manic but then suddenly comes to a stop to jump up and sit on her blanket on the couch, or bite my toes while I’m trying to sleep. It feels as though we’ve been manically rushing around, house hunting, moving and generally getting settled, with a few brief pauses to do normal things like cook dinner and watch TV. Now it’s time for everything to slow down and for us to get on with living, really living, here in Singapore. Home sweet home.

Note: At the time of posting, it has all become too much for Tippy the cat. She is currently wedged behind a wardrobe. She might be stuck.

Eggs.

Whinge alert:

I’m going to whinge about something here, I apologise in advance. In my defence, my whinging is in the defence of chickens.

I’m getting there; so the last few days have been consumed with house hunting, still, and figuring out the day-to-day business of day-to-day life in Singapore. A high point was locating a grocery store and buying groceries. It really is the little things.

Normally, I love grocery shopping in another country. It’s so exciting! So many weird, unfamiliar products, crazy store layout and using money here is still a process (sorry, everyone in line behind me!). An unexpected challenge was eggs. Not in the way that some shops but them in the fruit and veg section, and others in the bread aisle.  Actually purchasing free-range eggs. Something that I used to just take for granted in Australia, but free-range eggs just aren’t sold in shops here.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the greatest animal advocate on the planet, probably not even in this building. I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism but meat is just too damn tasty, dairy is the best thing ever and I think horses are scary. Buying free-range eggs though is just something that is important to me. I don’t need to rant about the horrendous conditions those poor cage chooks are kept in, that’s something we all know. Apparently not in Singapore though, a bit of googling informed me that the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) here bans chickens wandering around outside.

I mean, I kind of get it – bird flu, Asia, densely-populated city, but still? No free-range eggs? I have to go to a fancy-pants store to get it. Apparently they are also significantly more expensive because they’re imported. I have to go to a different store to get my fancy eggs. This is how it begins. The descent into madness and organic, local, paleo, grain-free, decaf, devil worship. Oh well, don’t worry chookies, I’ve got your back.

House hunting

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House hunting sucks wherever you go. But at least house hunting in a foreign country lends itself to some important cultural learnings.

Cultural learning 1:

Bomb shelters. No really, bomb shelters. Probably four out of the six houses we looked at yesterday had bomb shelters. Reinforced doors and walls, no windows, the real deal. Crazy. Practical for storage purposes and also in the event of war breaking out, but still very strange.

Cultural learning 2:

Most apartments have maid’s quarters. This much we knew. What we didn’t expect was how tiny and generally pretty horrible they are. The first one we saw gained approving nods from the real estate agent because it had a window. Fancy. It would not have been big enough to accommodate a single bed, let alone be someone’s permanent place of residence. Granted the maid would have her own bathroom. Another cupboard adjoining the kitchen with a toilet, and a shower that you could only use if sitting or standing on the toilet. The agent assured us this was a very generous maid’s quarters. Some people, he told us, make their maids sleep in the bomb shelter. A sealed, windowless room.

Cultural learning 3:

Agents upon agents. In Singapore, we as tenants have a property agent. The landlords also have a property agent. So when you go to look at apartments, you go with your agent, then you meet the landlord’s agent at the property, then you go inside and you most likely meet your landlord. The entire process is so incredibly convoluted.  Especially when the landlord agent stands in the hallway on his phone while the landlords spruik their apartment and justify why they haven’t renovated the bathroom yet.

The hunt continues today. We convinced the agent to show us some places in the conveniently located red light district. It’s Singapore, how bad could it be?