Thursday, 29 September 2011

The worm turns

Finally in the past couple of weeks something inside me has clicked and I've started to feel that I'm at home here, that I have a place in Singapore.

A few very silly things seem to have made the difference. I've bought saucepans and am able to cook whatever I feel like. This has resulted in a riot of casseroles, stocks and meat balls. Of course, typically, as soon as I bought them several different people told me about the fantastic wholesale saucepan restaurant suppliers they'd got theirs from. Why is it always like this? Probably because usually I don't start conversations about saucepans but have recently been saying, 'oh it's such a relief to finally have saucepans!'. Saucepans don't usually crop up in conversation, do they? Perhaps never in interesting conversation.

There have been graduations in settling in. We both definitely felt more at home as soon as we were in the flat. Then when our bikes and all those useful high heeled shoes arrived in our boxes from the UK there was another shift and now with saucepans and a hand-blender at last I am at home.

I have another more important reason as well. I've got a job. I'm going to be teaching drama to kids with a drama company here. I went for an interview on Thursday last week, observed all Saturday and received my formal offer today.

I feel validated. A huge, invisible weight has lifted off my heart. I've had a constant, low level, nagging kind of guilt about not working. An unemployment hangover. I've felt that I shouldn't be jaunting around Singapore visiting interesting places and that I ought to be sorting the flat out and applying  for jobs. So I've been largely sorting and applying and not really jaunting. Which is right to some degree but was making me a bit miserable.

So a couple of weeks ago I took myself aside and had a stern talk with myself. I said I needed to be a bit nicer to myself. I needed to give myself some treats - trips to the cinema, swims in the pool, visits to art galleries. I should perhaps mention here that both the DFP and my mother have been saying this sort of thing for ages. The DFP, like all of humanity has his downsides, but has been hugely kind and supportive to me in my wildly fluctuating (and very annoying) states. He's told me I can aim higher, that I'm doing all right and that he'll support me as long as I need. I've continued to act like a crazy person. Let's not tell my future employers about any of this though, eh?

Anyhow, I'm making up for lost time now. So toodle-pip everyone. I'm off to the National Museum of Singapore! 

Monday, 19 September 2011

Big Brother is watching you....

There is something a little bit Orwellian about Singapore. You notice it first in the names of things. The tube/metro is called the MRT - Mass Rapid Transportation system. The Government agency that deals with work related issues including visas is called the MOM, theMinistry of Manpower, frighteningly similar in name at least to Orwell's 'Ministry of Truth'. Workers from other countries are referred to as 'Foreign Talent'.

As everyone knows Singapore is a benign dictatorship, a largely sensible dictatorship. Almost everyone I told I was moving here quoted, laughingly, the law which forbids chewing gum. In my parent's opinion this is a very good rule and to be honest it is rather nice to be able to sit down on any public chair without standing up and finding yourself unwittingly attached to it by someone's grubby gum.

It amuses me that while pornography is illegal, prostitution isn't. I can't work that one out. I can understand why the government could think that porn, like chewing gum, is essentially bad for your health but it seems strange to me they don't follow that through to prostitution.

I wonder what else they should ban. Diet coke perhaps? That's very bad for you and very addictive. Smoking? I'm sure they'd love to get rid of that. And perhaps they should think about introducing some health giving legislation? Obligatory broccoli? Enforced jogging?

There is censorship. I'm not sure to what extent. I was watching 'The Line of Beauty' on a TV here and found all the gay sex scenes had been neatly removed. The male characters would move into each other and suddenly the plot would snap brightly on to the next day. The censorship itself takes place at a charming looking building on the riverside with brightly coloured shutters at each window. You could imagine Anne of Green Gables living there or perhaps Mr Kipling baking his cakes.

Homosexuality is, as in many countries, illegal. Howevere, while it is clearly not smiled on here there is a very openly gay presence often seen. While in many countries at the moment life is getting worse and worse for gay men and women with anti gay laws becoming even more vindictive and the death penalty performed with frightening ease, here there is merely a disapproving frown from the authorities, as far as I am aware.

We went to see a play about a young, gay boy and his family coming to terms with his sexuality, revealed only after his death. There was a government enforced warning about the homosexual content the play contained announced before the play started. However the announcer played with it cautioning us as well to prepare ourselves for 'hetrosexual' content in case we might be shocked.

Criminals should be aware that there is a death penalty and sentences for many crimes the lash. Someone told me one person a week is hanged, but I find this hard to believe. And while the elections always return the same result and the same party to power there are whispers of change. The opposition party is becoming a more feasible option and their opposition more allowed.

My visa situation is the tip of this iceberg. I have been lucky enough to have lived in a society where I have taken my rights and freedoms for granted. One of the good things about living in a different country is that it wakes you up to those rights and freedoms. I will never again take for granted my right to work; to live with my partner without being frowned on into marriage; to free healthcare and of course, to porn.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Festival of the Moon

For the past couple of weeks there have been celebrations for the festival of the moon. Isn't that a magical name? The celebrations have included frenzied buying of mooncakes, music and drumming and last weekend a red dragon danced down our street.

There is a shop on the way to the station which sells moon cakes. The week before last there were long queues outside it everyday. I planned to do a Monet like study of the queue throughout the day - the queue at 7am, 10am, noon and so on. Taking photos rather than painstaking oils observing the different qualities of light. But last week the queue had suddenly gone and I was too late. Here are a couple of snaps I took of it anyway. As you can see it's quite a long queue so the cake must be really good.

Although a great cake lover I am not overly fond of moon cakes, despite their delicious name. They have a thick crust a bit like a pork pie and inside translucent lotus seed paste. They can also, if they are particularly auspicious, have salted duck eggs inside. Very much like a sweet pork pie. Three salted duck eggs means that the eater is due for a long run of good luck.

There have been large open tents put up all over the place. In one we saw about 50 large tables set out ready for an enormous feast. Smaller tents hold stages where Chinese opera is performed. You can see the backstage area as you walk past sometimes. The performers getting ready painting their faces thickly into characters masks of bright white and red.

I came across a performance in full swing on Tuesday night opposite the Monkey Temple in Tiong Bahru. It was raining lightly and there were a group of four or five people in the audience outnumbering the performers. An old man held a blue umbrella over his little grandson as they watched the performance. People tell me it's a dying art form because the younger generation aren't interested. Here are some pictures and the video at the top (if it works) is of the performance.

I think you can get the idea from the photos that it's very brightly coloured, though a fairly bare stage. There's lots of singing and yowling and dancing using the long sleeves in a significant seeming way. It made me think of pantomine or music hall.

I loved it. It also reminded me of the workshop I did with the French 'Theatre du Soleil'. They are very influenced by Eastern theatre -Balinese masks and Chinese opera. It felt really exciting and enriching to wander past a street corner and find theatre going on as a part of people's lives. It's a shame that people don't seem as excited by it as the cake, but I am.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

This American Life

I, long time radio 4 devotee, have been converted. A lifetime worshipping only at the shrine of radio 4 and in one short week my allegiances have completely changed.

This is the website

I particularly recommend

You're welcome.

And no, this has nothing to do with Singapore.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Durian lingers....

Walking around Singapore, particularly some areas, particularly Geylang, you will smell a very particular smell. A sort of overripe, slightly mouldy smell. You sniff your armpits. They seem fine. You eye your companion suspiciously and wonder how many days he's been wearing that t-shirt. And then you realise. It's not you. It's not him. It's Durian.

The Durian is Singapore's national fruit. I haven't tried one yet, I have to admit the smell has put me off, but they are extremely popular here. Mounds of them on stalls on street corners. In fact, whole stalls selling nothing but Durian. If you eat at a posh restaurant your desert may very well be accompanied by Durian flavoured ice cream.

So, for your delight and delectation, some Durian.

And partially obscured by the traffic light the wonderfully named shop 'Durian Lingers'. It certainly does.

I went to the doctors to get my prescription for thyroxine which I don't have enough of. It was extremely easy. I walked in and asked 'is this a doctor's?' The woman said yes, asked to see my Visa got me to write down what medicine I needed and my name and address. Within 5 minutes I had an appointment with a doctor and within 10 the prescription for my thyroxine.

The doctor himself was both very nice and very insulting at the same time. He clearly wanted to show me how much he knew about thyroxine related disorders.

Dr      Come in! Come in! Sit Down. So thyroxine....
checks my throat, (severe lack of  thyroxine can cause a goitre on the throat)

Dr    So, you haven't had an operation.

Me   Oh no.

He asks when I was diagnosed and what the symptoms were and he chuckles and nods knowingly at each one. Ah yes, tired. Ah yes put on weight. Then

Dr   Yes it's very common in women after the menopause.

pauses, perhaps noticing that I am looking fairly stunned.

Dr   You have menopause yet?

Me  No, I'm still menstruating.

Dr   So, how many children you got. Two?

Me  No, I haven't got any children.

Dr   Never mind, plenty time yet. How old are you.

Me  35.

Dr   Ah.You married lady?

Me  No. I...

Dr   Don't worry! Don't worry. Nothing to be embarrassed about.

Me  I have a long term boyfriend ...

Why did I say that? Why did I feel the need to self justify? He has backed me into a corner of his social expectations in the most cheerful and friendly way imaginable.

He takes my blood pressure.

Dr  Your blood pressure is very low!

Oh great. Of course my blood pressure is low.

Me  Yes, I have been told that before.

Dr  Don't worry. Lots of people different pressure is normal.

And so it goes on.

But I got my prescription. I was surprised though, how quickly I was drawn into his world view. 'Single' ladies here are definitely thought of in a slightly derogatory way. There must be something wrong with you if you're 35 and not married. Can't get him to commit perhaps? Or still worse actually single.

And yet in terms of work Singaporean women are extremely high powered and all have jobs. As childcare is cheap it's the done thing to work. But clearly marriage and children should still be every woman's dream and top priority.

I, unmarried, without children or job, on a lowly Long Term Visit Pass sometimes feel I am at the bottom of the pile. For my health insurance the woman asked what I did. I said I was looking for work. She wrote 'housewife'. I only noticed later or I'd have made her change it. I'm afraid my greatest fear is happening. I'm becoming an Expat wife.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Disposable Pants and other stories

Can somebody explain to me please why it is that Fair Price, the government endorsed supermarket, sells a bewildering variety of disposable pants for both men and women, but no lamb or beef, no oregano, parsley or thyme either dried or fresh and no feta cheese? I wanted to make Nigel Slater's lamb chop recepie, one of my UK staples and couldn't get any of the ingredients except the lemons. Had I wanted disposable pants there would have been absolutely no problem.

I'm feeling a little disconcerted. I've just had the landlords and the two estate agents round answering our list of things we'd like fixed at the end of our  first 30 days of tenancy. The oven has been fixed, I've been given a key to lock the grills on the window, the leaky pipe under the sink has been replaced but we have discovered, or rather I have discovered as the DFP has yet to do the washing up, that there's no hot water supplied to the kitchen. I spent quite a long time trying to find the right switch. I put it on my list of things to be fixed and kept not receiving a reply. They say it's normal for the kitchen not to have hot water here and that they won't supply it.  I had a conversation with the estate agent where she insisted that she had told me while showing me the flat that there was no hot water and I said no she hadn't and that it was certainly something I would have remembered. Anyhow, all done now. I'm just left with that unsettled feeling in my stomach.

The other reason I am unsettled is because I am starting to realise how difficult my work situation may be. I have started to have responses and interviews with kids drama companies and realise that if I had managed to get a dependent's visa it I would be able to do bits and pieces of teaching work here and there but with my lowly Long Term Visit Pass I can't. In the UK for most of my working life my work was made up of lots of different bit and pieces. I don't think I've ever had only one job. Here if I am to work at all I need to find one company to employ me for more than 15 hours a week. Or I can start a company, but I think this doesn't mean that I'll be able to do bit of work for other people. I'd have to create work for myself. I feel worried. But you never know what's going to happen or what will happen if the obvious doesn't work out.

There has been a lot of burning going on around here recently, (see below for some examples). Big rubbish bins at the side of the road, little shrines with tall, red joss sticks or candles, cakes coloured with the brightest and most artificial dyes imaginable. And not only cakes. Quite often on these shrines you'll find what looks like a whole ready meal in a polystyrene box. A bit like if we got a kebab and put it up on the alter for harvest festival for Jesus to enjoy in heaven. God loves kebabs.

You can buy all kinds of special things to burn. The idea is that these things you burn get sent to your dear, dead ones in the afterlife so you burn paper copies of the things that you think they might be missing. (See below). My favourite thing  I've seen for burning was a set of two brassieres, because after all one will still need good support for one's bosoms in the afterlife.

It's important to be sweet smelling and well coiffured in heaven, you never know who you might bump into!

Heaven would hardly be heaven without a Gucci handbag and a Rolex watch.

The orange thing is a cake. It makes fondant fancies look healthy and homemade.

Big burning...

Small Burning...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Our Friend in Foreign Places...

The DFP went to put something in the rubbish. Our flat has, as is common to most flats in Singapore a rubbish shoot situated in a sort of utility area where the washing machine is and a little toilet and cold shower 'for the maid'. It's known as the 'maid's room'. There's also a regulation 'bomb shelter' which all flats have following some mid 80's law. It has no windows and a big heavy door so might be useful if bombs were dropping. And confusingly it has a TV socket. Apparently this is where the maid sleeps, in the windowless black hole that is the bomb shelter.

But going back to the DFP and the rubbish shoot. It is exactly what it sounds like. A very Roal Dahlish shoot all the way down from our flat to the bins. Tonight the DFP said, 'ugh, there's something on the handle'. I went to get the bug spray but first had a look at what I was going to spray. And this is what it was:

He looks a bit worried by it all himself.