Monday, 30 January 2012

A quiet supper

For my new job I am obliged to attend training courses on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7-9.30pm. Although this is quite a big ask in terms of time commitment on the whole I don't mind. I am a big fan of one of the teachers in particular and even though I feel I largely already know what he's teaching me, there's always more to learn and he is extremely entertaining. On the other hand anything that conflicts with lying on the sofa watching 'Masterchef' will sometimes feel like a bit of a burden.

My nearest food court is just across the road in the basement of another shopping centre called Orchard Towers. Many shopping centres in Singapore are themed by what they sell. The one I work in has lots of toys shops and amazingly expensive clothing for children, another sells electrical items, there's one you can go to if you need a bike. Orchard Towers is affectionately known as 'four floors of whores'. You shop there for a very specific product. Quite often Thai. Sometimes not quite the gender you may have been expecting - or perhaps it was after all.

Anyhow, that's where I go to eat my lunch, and supper on the nights I stay late if I haven't been organised enough to bring a lunch box. Not the upstairs with the ladies of the night but downstairs at the food court. Usually it's just any old food court though I was once there and noticed some extremely young looking girls sitting around a table with some older men. The girls were dressed in what looked like wedding dresses, or white prom dresses. My colleague raised his eyebrows and murmured 'four floors of whores'.

I popped over there this evening for a quiet bite before my training started and was greeted by this instead. At first I felt grouchy and put my fingers in my ears as the dragon and his three loudly drumming friends passed. Then I softened and enjoyed my suppertime entertainment. Well Toto, we're not in Canvas anymore...

Here we see our friend the water dragon checking out the noodle stand and thinking about what drink to get.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Continuing the theme...

This is not what I bought at the wet market this morning. The lady standing next to me as I took this video was the recipient of the lovelies we see being scooped up. I bought a smiley red snapper and some sheep which is, even as we speak, becoming mutton curry.

They're snails in case it isn't clear.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Wet Market

Shopping is Singapore's favourite national passtime. In a country where the weather doesn't change from hot and humid all year round the seasons are marked by the changing decorations in shopping centres. Last week they took down the christmas trees and replaced them with spring trees in the shopping centre I work in.

This weekend we celebrate Chinese New Year. This is the really big celebration here, much bigger than Christmas. Everywhere there are red dragons and red lanterns. Dragons because are about to move into the year of the dragon. Red is supposed to scare away evil spirits.

The big celebration will be on the eve, this Sunday night. People visit their relatives and children are presented with red packets filled with even amounts of money. You have to be careful to get the sums right. I think 4 means death so clearly a no go. Even numbers are usually good. 8 is particularly auspicious.

We wondered if we should give out red packets. I checked with colleagues at work who told me categorically no. Older, married people give envelopes to younger people. The initial idea is that the younger people have travelled to visit their older relatives and this reimburses them for their travel costs. However I've been told that the children I teach will come back to class next week and tell me how much they have received and that these sums can be anything up to $S1000, about £500 GBP.

I have also been warned that everything will be shut and am planning on stocking up with food in advance. Shopping for food I often end up going to three or four different places. For meat and basic vegetables I go to the wet market. I am, almost without exception, the only westerner there.

The wet market sells meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, spices and coffee at different stalls all under a huge roof, though not enclosed with walls. There's usually a food court next door. They're called 'wet' because the floors are washed down with water to get rid of the blood.

I realised quite how far I had left vegetrianism behind me when buying lamb (sorry, sheep) there one day the man at the stall hacked off the bone and a small part of it flew up and landed in my hair. I didn't flinch.

There is an amazing atmosphere at the wet markets. Colourful, vibrant and bustling. I enjoy shopping there for the atmosphere and find people very friendly to me and curious about me. 'Where are you from?' they ask. 'What are you doing here?' and if I chat for long enough 'Why you no married?' (a question I get asked again and again. That and 'How many children have you got?') The wet markets shut down by 10am or 11.30, so you have to get up earlyish on your day off if you want to shop there. Or be an expat wife.

Then for dry goods I go to one of the government supermarkets 'Fair Price' which has a lot but not everything.

If I want to get fancy western items like rocket, lamb chops, tampons (yes it's true), feta cheese, salami, greek yoghurt or homous I would have to go into town and go to an expensive western supermarket: Marketplace, Cold Storage or Jasons.

 These were taken quite late in the day, say 11am because I am slow moving in the mornings and it takes me a long time to get going. You don't get a true impression of how bustling and busy it can be.

It was my birthday and I held myself a french/moustache themed birthday party which went well. A decent amount of people who I genuinely liked turned up. It starts to feel as though I really have a life here.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Back to School

"Why is your nose big and pointy?" not one, but several of my students asked me today. At the time I was pretending to be a cow from the land of the ning nang nong who had lost his bong. The kids were trying to cure me (the cow). It would be very imprudent to pretend to be a cow if teaching 7 year olds in London, but in Singapore you can get away with it.
Well, almost get away with it. Except for "Why has this cow got a pointy nose and red watch on?" I (the cow) explained that naturally this is how all cows are in the land of the ning nang nong, where cows go bong, except when they are ill and have to have small helpers visit the pharmacy for them.
So yes. I am finally working again. My long, unintended satatical is over and at the moment I have to say I'm very glad. I'm really enjoying working. Enjoying the teaching itself, pretending to be cows and trolls and travelling in flying taxis with a thousand seatbelts. (Saftey first! This is Singapore, remember. A law for everything.)
I finally, finally have my EP and can no longer be sneered at by shop assistants for only being on a Long Term Social Visit Pass. I'm loving having somewhere to go every day; making friends with my new colleagues; just having people to have a casual chat with on a daily basis. I've missed mundane chat so much. I realise to what extent I am a social creature.
I take my hat off to the self employed who work from home, not only for managing their time and motivation, but also the loneliness that goes with it. All that is behind me now.
It's made me think a lot about the right to work and how not being able to work legally makes you feel. You feel disenfranchised and useless. Your energy is zapped and motivation diminished. It's made me think about assylum seekers and how not having the right to work is yet another way they are stripped of their dignity by the countires they have turned to seeking refuge from atrocities.
Of course it's been nothing like that for me. I have been generously supported by the DFP. I have had amazing opportunities to travel and explore fascintating places. But there have been hard moments, lonely moments. I have missed people. Missed my friends, my family, my colleagues at work, work itself, having my own money, gossip and banter.
Travel and exploration is a wondeful thing. But without the anchor of friendship and love it's pointless.