Good things

 

There’s a lot of pretty average things going on in the world at the moment, to say the least. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, wars and bombings. It takes a lot of stomach to read the news without wanting to rest your head on the kitchen table and sob. Adding to that, we’ve reached the back paddock of the year. We can see the end, we can see holidays, but we’ve still got a field’s worth of shit to wade through before we get out.

In an effort to circumvent all of this unpleasantness, I’ve been thinking about the little things that are good. Not in a cheesey “a child’s smile” kind of way, but just those every day, mundane things that make life just a little bit brighter. I am, of course, extremely wary of coming across as one of those Instagram positivity banshees who post pictures of sunsets or the ocean with a vague quote plastered over the top of it.

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I think it’s time to aim for a middle point between the reality of this messed up world and the proliferation of overly filtered portrayals of how great everything is. We need to tone down the Everything is Awesome!/#blessed/#soblessed/500 days of gratitude and tune out some of the barrage of terrible news we’re faced with every day. That’s not to say it isn’t important to be informed and engaged with the issues facing us as a society. It is. Now more than ever. But I think there’s scope for a little corner of our minds, or in my case the internet, for appreciating the everyday things in all their mundane excellence.

So here it is, my three average things that are absolutely nothing special. They don’t make me #soblessed or #grateful enough to post about on Instagram, but they are also not highly contagious diseases with high mortality rates or radical militant movements. They’re just good things. And sometimes that’s enough.

So here we go:

3: Singaporean carrot cake

You’re not really a carrot cake! Where’s the cream cheese icing? Where’s the walnuts? You’re not even sweet! Is there even any carrot in you? You are more like an omelette than anything else. Cake? Pfft. No, you’re a savoury, sneaky bastard but dammit, I love you.

2: Cats.

Shocker, I know. It seems like every day I creep a little bit closer to crazy cat lady territory. I’m embracing it though. I am unashamedly grateful for cats. For my own cat who has a huge attitude problem and is responsible for the cat hair tumbleweeds bouncing down the hall. I am also thankful for our community cat, affectionately known as Catniss Neverclean. She is always so happy to see me and runs down the street to say hello. She is, however, only available between the hours of 6am-9am and 4pm-8pm, otherwise it’s too hot. Even though I’ve stopped carrying cat food in my handbag, much to the relief of FS, Catniss doesn’t hold it against me and is always up for a pat.

1: Binge-watching TV series

Gone are the days of waiting a whole week for the next episode of a great TV show. What a time to be alive. I’m currently working my way through The Office, the American version, and it is pretty excellent. Being able to watch a full season of a TV show in one sitting is an absolute privilege for which I am so very #grateful.

They’re not much, only tiny stupid things, but watching my cat chase a tuft of her own fur and ordering a cheap plate of delicious hawker food are all it takes to put me in a good mood. And that’s all I need.

 

Resolutions for the new year

It’s monsoon again here in Singapore. It’s cool and rainy, and there’s a sense of resigned calm. Construction workers sleep and play on their phones under makeshift shelters, people huddle under umbrellas and stand on their balconies, waiting for a break in the weather. It’s a fairly gloomy way to start the New Year, but perhaps an apt one.

2014 was a pretty shitty year. We’re supposed to have reflected on what we’ve achieved and learned, and then set some well-meaning resolutions for this New Year. But 2014 sucked. It was a year of fear and suffering: Daesh, Ebola, the endless conflict in Syria, airplane disasters, thinly-veiled and institutionally-sanctioned racism. It sucked. 2015, so far, hasn’t been much better.

I had a conversation with a friend on New Year’s Eve about 2014. She’d had a shitty year on a personal level as well, so I told her vehemently that 2015 would be better.

“It has to be,” she said. It was said without self-pity and without melancholic longing, just a statement of fact. A resolution in itself.

It’s the time of year when we’re supposed to be writing lists about how we’re going to start exercising and drinking less and about how we’re sticking to it this time, dammit. But the only resolution I have is to make 2015 better. There’s not much I can do on a global level. But I can refuse to be intimidated. I can learn more about those who are misunderstood and misrepresented. I can smile at strangers, I can mean it when I ask how you are or when I tell you to have a good day. I can call my family and friends more often. I can be there when they need me, even if it’s from afar. 2015 will be the year of making the best of things. 2015 will be doing what we can with the hand we’re dealt, even if it’s just throwing the cards into the air and laughing.

It’s still raining outside but, in the manner of those who live in the tropics, I’ll shrug and get on with it. It’s good weather for thinking and writing, for eating noodles, and going for a walk, believe it or not. It’s cool, a rare respite from the exhausting humidity. There’s an upside, there always is. And despite the rain, life goes on. It has to.

SWF: “Against a Tide of Evil”

The past few days I’ve been swanning around the Singapore Writers Festival. I say swanning because that feels like what you should do while amongst the creative community. Quite so, quite so.

An aspect of SWF that I’ve really enjoyed so far is variety of events that are on. There are the usual wanky “What is a writer?” type shindigs, workshops on how to write realistic fantasy dragon characters or whatever, and the ubiquitous authors plugging their books. There are, thankfully, meatier aspects of the programme, like explorations of the changing face of journalism, to Asian feminism, to realistic insights into the publishing industry, and even explorations of terrorism.

My preference for these parts of the programme took me to The Arts House last night, a beautiful old building backing on to Parliament House. I was there for a Meet the Author event with Professor Mukesh Kapila. He has written a book called “Against a Tide of Evil” that has been critically acclaimed and awarded the 2013 Best Non-fiction Title by the Crime Writers’ Association. Professor Kapila was also the head of the UN in Sudan during the genocide in Darfur. “Against a Tide of Evil” is his account of the events in Sudan, the UN’s shocking failure to act, and the desperate measures he was forced to take to get the international community to take notice.

It was an intimate event, probably only 10 or 15 people in the audience, in quite a small space. We were introduced to Professor Kapila and he told us about his childhood in Bihar, one of the poorest states of India, his education at Oxford in the UK, his transition from clinical medicine to public health and eventually humanitarianism.

It was pretty clear early on that, even before his work with the UN, Professor Kapila was an exceptional human being. Then we got on to his time in Bosnia and Serbia, then Rwanda in the 90s, and how he came to be Head of the UN in Sudan in the early 2000s. His predecessor only lasted 100 days.

He spoke of the bureaucracy, the UN’s lack of intelligence capacity, walking the tightrope between working with the Government and condemning their actions, and how a pattern emerged of systematic violence against non-Arabs in Darfur emerged.

The warning signs were there and were alarmingly similar to those noted, and subsequently ignored, in Rwanda. He was told to do nothing, to stay out of it. Professor Kapila painted a very different picture of the revered former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, going so far as to say he should be held accountable for his failure to act. He spoke of his frustration and decision to go to the media when the official channels were unfruitful. He flew to Nairobi and broke the story to anyone and everyone. At midnight, New York time, while the rest of the UN were sleeping. Suddenly the world took notice.

In his closing comments, he made it clear he wasn’t aiming to be a role model or a hero or looking for validation in any way. He told us, suddenly looking very small in his chair, that on nights when he can’t sleep he thinks about what he could have done. The torture of the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens were all over his face and his voice was strangled. “I failed,” he said simply, before taking a moment to compose himself.

That was it for me. The problem with intimate Meet the Author events with 10 or so audience members is, if you have to lose your shit and start to bawl, chances are people, including the revered doctor/academic/UN head/author, will notice. Needless to say, when I got home I almost stripped a layer of plastic off my laptop’s keyboard in my haste to order the book, which has sold out in Singapore.

As inspiring and wonderful as all was, the experience has left me feeling a bit hollowed out. Here we have an exception person who has risen from poverty in India to attend one of the world’s best universities and then, rather than living the comfortable life he was and is so entitled to, opted to take huge risks for humanitarian causes. This inherently good man was strangled by bureaucracy and the suffocating etiquettes of diplomacy to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of people. There’s more bad people in world than good people. In my mind, those that do nothing are as bad as, if not worse than, the bad ones. I suppose that just makes the good ones more important.

Job hunting once again

I’m job hunting again. I’ve come full circle: degree, job hunting, degree, job hunting, degree, job hunting. Maybe I should stop studying…

I realise this is a topic I’ve written about in the past, reading through a few of those old posts I’ve noticed how my attitude has changed.

In the past, as a fresh-faced graduate, my approach was to sidle up politely, apologise profusely and generally sing happy songs in my head until the process was over.

It went like this:

“Excuse me… Ahem.. Um excuse me, sorry to be such a burden and to take up any of your precious, precious time but I have a job application I’d like to submit to you if you have time in your busy schedule to possible even accept it. Thank you so much, please accept this pint of my blood as a down-payment for my soul, collectible upon employment with your fine upstanding organisations.”

Bless.

And here I am again. This time though, I am an experienced media/comms/marketing/events professional with post-graduate qualifications. The only difference is I’m in a new country. Far from making me nervous and subservient in my applications, it’s made me a massive snob. Only applying for jobs that really interest me, rather than the blanket approach of my youth. Hell, I’ve got enough savings to sit on my couch for another few months, I’m deciding whether to do a PhD, I’ve got options, man! I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing, but it has kind of come out in my applications…

“Hey you. I am fantastic. I am the most experienced, qualified applicant you will ever hope to have the pleasure of meeting. If you choose not to hire me through some clerical error or organisational quirk, I brought tissues for when the enormity of your misguided decision hits you. There, there. I’d tell you there are others out there but that would be a lie. Only one me. Soz bro.”

Direct quote from my cover letter. Ok, it’s not. But I’ve found I’m far less modest about my achievements. Rather than subtly hinting at them in white font or through postal stamp choice or however I did it years ago, I’m much more upfront what I can and can’t do. Most about what I can do…

Back then, I imagine I inflicted a lot of suffering on recruiters: they must have got hand strains from time spent scrunching up my applications, and migraines from composing polite, yet crushing, rejection letters. Singapore is great though! At the end of each job ad, they state that “Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted”. How good is that? No defeat, no rejection, just a chance to forget about your application then think of it again in a few weeks: “Oh yeah! I guess I didn’t get it, ah well!” This truly is a more advanced society.

Anyway, I better stop procrastinating and get back to it. These applications aren’t going to write themselves. Ahem…. Also to any employers that may have stumbled on this site, this is a work of fiction and any resemblance to cover letters, living or dead, is purely coincidental…. Please visit my LinkedIn page for more samples of my work!

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.