The FRRO part 2

Beer tastes better when you’ve earned it. After a tough but fun sports session, or on a Friday after a long week at work, that first beer is extra sweet because you know you deserve it. On the flip side of that is the sympathy beers. They don’t taste as good, but they dull the pain of loss or failure. Not in the drink-your-sorrows way, more of a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on, even if you shouldn’t really need it. Tough week at work but it’s only Monday? Sorry, that’s a sympathy beer.  Fight with the spouse when you know you’re wrong but too stubborn to admit? Sympathy beer. Let me tell you, the beer I’m drinking now is up there with the most sympathetic I’ve ever tasted.

Gather around friends, for this is not a drinking story, not yet anyway. Lend me your ears, and let me tell you a tale of our favourite government department. The one we love to hate. The FRRO! Boo, hiss. At this risk of being a one-trick pony-blog, here I am again.

My fieldwork has started, it’s going well. I’m on the verge of getting stuck into interviews based on all the observation I’ve been doing. The juicy stuff. But my nemesis, the FRRO had other plans. If you remember, I did suspect I’d have to fight another battle in this war. The warning drums sounded yesterday, “You need to go to town, they want to see you.” Ok, no problem, I’ll head in first thing tomorrow morning. Town is an hour away, plus I need to take all my documents.

“No. They want to see you now. The car’s here.”

Right. Ok. So off we went. Winding up, down, and around steep peaks and valleys blanketed in clouds and tea plantations, the drive was absolutely beautiful. When we reached town, the brightly-coloured houses terraced their way down the hill, smoke puffing from their chimneys. The smell of tea was heavy in the air, it’s roasting season. It really was an idyllic scene. But we accelerated straight through that, following the severe-looking signs that directed us to the “Police Superintendent”.

I idly wondered what an Indian police station was like. It’s not something you ever hope to see here – the inside of a police station, or a hospital, for that matter – but seeing as I was there on, hopefully, non-criminal matters, it would be quite interesting. We were escorted into a plain building with whitewashed walls and an air of superiority. No jail cells, just white tiles and white walls. We entered an office where a man behind a sad-looking desk flicked his wrist in our direction. Our local guides fell over themselves greeting him, “Good afternoon, sir. Thank you, sir.”

My fellow FRRO victim, an American who was completing her exit proceedings, nudged me to sit down. Without looking up, Lord Almighty of the Wonky Desk, called, “Passport.” I blinked, unsure as to who he was talking to but the American and our guides had sprung into action. He flicked through the paperwork and the passport, still not making eye contact.

“The date is wrong. When did you enter India?”

The American tripped over herself to explain but His Excellency held up his index finger.

“It’s a simple question.”

Crestfallen, the American answered with a specific date.

“You should have known better,” he had turned to our guide at this point.

Our guide murmured some apologies and some more “sirs”. The paperwork was thrust back towards him.

“Where is the transfer certificate? She is violating the terms of the visa without it.”

My turn, I guessed. I opened my mouth but our guide gave me a look that was both a warning and a plea not to get us all into trouble. And then we were shown out. It took all of five minutes.

“Wait, what just happened?”

We were suddenly back outside, and I was completely thrown. The American, who’d apparently had a very positive experience, was almost skipping.

“Yeah, he’s just like that. I had to get mine transferred from Delhi, hopefully they can do it without you having to go there.”

Uhh, ok. Then we got back in the car and drove back. For an hour.

Following our guides advice, I dutifully mailed the university who helped me register in Hyderabad in the first place. They came straight back, said they would do their best, but it’s a long weekend so they’d only get to it on Tuesday. Great. No problem!

Not great. Kind of a problem. The next day, I informed our guide of my emailings and he nodded, seemingly satisfied. Went up to work as per usual. But then there was a phone call. I heard my name. That is never good.

We had been summoned.

“Where is your transfer certificate?” the NGO woman-in-charge demanded.

I explained what I had told our guide, also her PA, that morning.

“We need it now.”

She’d just been on the phone to His Imperial Majesty, and Tuesday was Not Good Enough™. Ok, sorry, I can try to call them?

“No, you have to leave. Today.”

And that’s the story of how the FRRO got me kicked out of an entire district of India.

So here I sit, sipping my first beer (ok, technically now I’m up to the second) since I arrived weeks ago. Nothing has driven me to drink, nothing has distracted me from my work, until now. I’m in need of a sympathetic ear beer. At the risk of cliché, I’m sitting at an airport bar, drowning my sorrows and planning my next move. Going to Hyderabad might be a retreat, but I hope it’s going to be a strategically advantageous one. Tomorrow is a new day. The FRRO may have won this battle, but the war ain’t over yet.

My first wedding magazine

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Oh boy, it begins. I have my first wedding magazine. It was gifted to me by a friend who is getting married in 10 days and has no further need for its whimsical dresses and bespoke chopping boards.

I’ve only flipped through it at this stage, I’m planning on saving it for my upcoming long-haul flight as a bit of mental fairy floss once I’m sick of movies. Even the most perfunctory flipping reveals a few things. Lots of white girls with long hair in perfectly tousled waves. Forests. Forests are hot right now, or at least they were in February. There are lots of pictures of impossibly beautiful couples holding hands in the woods as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to hike in a white gown and suit. I wonder how their guests find these places, do they provide GPS coordinates? Or a map and compass? And what about toilets? Do they hitch a donkey up to a Portaloo and drag it into the bush or do they provide their guests with shovels to dispose of their waste more naturally? That adds a whole other dimension to the whole bridesmaids-helping-the-bride-pee thing. “Dig me a latrine, maids!”

Pinterest has been a great source of mirth for Partner 2 and I: particularly with its suggestions of “21 things you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE AT YOUR WEDDING!!!!”. Those things invariably include Grandmas as flower girls and writing your menu on a mirror.

There just seems to be a lot of things that, all of a sudden, you desperately need to have. Monogrammed napkins for example. Seating plans, shirts that say “Wifey”, wedding diets,  cutesy poems explaining to guests that you don’t give a shit where they sit (hey, I haven’t seen that on a chalkboard sign before!), garters, favours, a theme! The theme of the event is wedding. Wedding. It’s a wedding. That seems like a very unnecessary thing to have to specify: please come to my event, the theme is birthday.

In normal, everyday life, these things are ridiculous, indulgent non-essentials. The domain of rich people with too much time on their hands. But suddenly when you’re getting married, they are somehow supposed to be your entire world. It honestly makes my mind boggle and my eyes roll involuntarily. I may yet give myself a migraine from overly aggressive eye-rolling.

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As a disclaimer, all power to the people who want these things in their weddings. As sarcastic and snarky as my tone is, I truly do not mean any disrespect. This is a big time ‘good for she, not for me’ situation. All I want from our wedding is it to look like us. I can appreciate the beauty and romance of all the stuff: the photos in the magazine are gorgeous. But staring lovingly into Partner 2’s face while we frolic in a pine forest while dressed in clothes that cost more than two month’s rent (Singapore rent!) just isn’t us. We do name-calling and street food and wrestling on beaches and poo jokes (I now know what a waffle stomp is, thanks babe) and chasing our cat and tuk-tuks, not flower crowns or “curated food stations” or choreography. At the end of the day, and I am aware of how clichéd and cheesy and sanctimonious, the important thing for me is to end up married to Partner 2. Plus we have a trip to Vegas coming up so there’s always that…

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!

Vegetarian FAQs

I will eat you and all of those you cherish, happy eggplant.

As a relatively new vegetarian, I’ve found myself answering the same questions over and over again. It’s interesting that people suddenly take an immense interest, sometimes even offence, to a lifestyle choice I’ve made. Buzzfeed has a good summary. So, as to ease the pressing questions, many people seem to have about what I ingest, digest, draw nutrients from, and expel, here’s a handy FAQ guide.

When did that happen?

It happened just after I moved to Singapore.

Ahh, so the meat’s not good there?

It’s not great, but that’s not the reason I stopped eating it entirely. Most of the meat here is sourced from the around the region: Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia so on, and most of these countries don’t have the best track record of animal welfare. That was my initial line of thinking, it then progressed to me realising whole meat industry does not have the best track record for that kind of thing.

Are you eating enough protein? What sort of supplements are you taking?

Let me answer your question with another question: have you ever heard of anyone being protein deficient? Iron deficient, certainly, but protein deficient? Nope. I do appreciate your concern though. I’m not taking any supplements. Fortunately, I regularly eat my body weight in Asian greens and tofu, both excellent sources of protein. Also, though trying to generally reduce my intake of animal product, I am definitely not vegan and continue to ingest inhuman amounts of cheese and Greek yoghurt. Thank you again for your concern.

Is this a weight loss thing?

Really? What exactly are you implying? But no, absolutely not. That’s the dumbest reason ever to remove entire food groups from your diet, I’m talking to you non-Coeliac, non-allergy, gluten haters!

But you’ll have a big steak when you go back to visit Australia, right?

No. Steak is meat.

What about barbeques??

Veggie burgers are delicious and come in many forms. I have an awesome recipe for chickpea patties actually. Plus salads, bread, beer, etc. Rest assured I can still enjoy many barbeque staples and I won’t ruin your good time, promise!

What about the plants? They’re alive, they might have feelings too.

Ok. Oh. Kay. This question makes me conclude that you’re being facetious and therefore an arsehole, or you’re legitimately asking and therefore you’re an idiot. Firstly, plants don’t have central nervous systems so it’s pretty safe to conclude they have no pain receptors. Furthermore, plant are generally fixed in one place and can’t escape predators which also lends itself to the pretty solid theory that, seeing as they make no effort to avoid it, plants don’t feel pain. Also, I hate you.

What about your poor partner?

My poor partner, I hear that a lot actually, I wonder what that means? Anywho, as I mentioned, he is still resolutely carnivorous. This however is a trait that is increasingly incompatible with his aversion to cooking. I cook most nights so he eats vegetarian most nights. If he wants meat, he can cook it himself, the freezer is well-stocked. He still orders meat when we eat out and has it for lunch most days, just not so much at home.

You’ll get over it.

Thanks for the support, Mum!

Hawker centre special: Huh?

No meat, no seafood. This dish, no meat. Just vegetables! Yes, no meat! No crab, no seafood, just vegetables. Tofu is ok. Just vegetables? Ok? Ok. Good. Thank you, Auntie.

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.