Saturday, 20 October 2012

Second time around

It's been a while. Mum and my friend M*** have been asking why I haven't written. I'm not sure why. Partly that nothing very exciting has been happening, partly time slipping away and partly that we've had people visiting, which was nice. Also, I've been trying to prioritise finishing my play rather than pootling on the blog. Anyway, I'm back again to pootle.

We're into our second year here and I'm finally feeling much more settled and comfortable, almost at home. Some very good friends are leaving Singapore soon, which is sad, but the happy upside is that we've inherited their plants. At the moment I'm sitting on the balcony surrounded by lovely greenery and a breeze. How long will it take me to kill them? I have a very poor track record with plants.

So things are coming around for the second time and I understand them a little more. The Hungry Ghost has come and gone. He stretches his hungry fingers halfway through September into October. Out after 9pm he could eat up your soul. All those bonfires are to appease him. Last year I didn't know what all the burnings were about. This year I do. My students told me.

The festival of the moon with its mooncakes has come and gone. The temples opposite celebrating with wailing Chinese opera and by setting out enormous outdoor feasts. If there isn't room in front of the building they'll fill up a carpark or even block off a street. A canopy is erected and tens of neatly covered tables set out ready for the meal. Everyone arrives and eats and meanwhile, loudspeaker in hand, someone warbles excruciatingly  The upside of being in Singapore is that at 10 o'clock, on the dot, the wailing stops.

Second time around I'm getting a bit more canny about making the public holidays work for us. As there are so many religions co-existing here there are public holidays not only for Christmas day and Easter, but for Hari Raya Haji, for Deepavali, for Chinese New Year and of course for National Day.

I have just finished a flurry of booking flights. Prepare to feel jealous.

Hari Raya Haji (next Friday) - Malacca in Mayasia. Four hours by bus. One night away. Because we can. Twinned with Penang, a UNESCO site, more aggressively restored, but pretty shop-houses and Portuguese architecture. Ahhh. Old.

New year - Hanoi (Vietnam's old communist capital where Hemingway lounged  in post French colonial splendour and wrote) and Halong Bay or 'dragon descending bay' (you've seen it on calenders)  superbly beautiful, UNESCO protected.

Chinese New Year - Cambodia - Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to see Ankor Wat and the other wat.

March half term - Japan - skiing in Niseko and an overnight in Tokyo.

But before any of those the biggie - the reason I came to Singapore: Burma. Have I told you this story already? I'm sure I must have. Maybe not.

My grandmother was born and brought up in Burma during the Colonial occupation which started in the mid 1800's. Her father was an English schoolteacher. Colonization was not great for the Burmese. While, arguably, some colonized countries benefited from the British and French legal and educational systems and road building abilities, Burma didn't take to it so well.

The British behaved particularly shamefully during WWII abandoning Burma to Japanese invasion as soon as the first planes arrived. The upside was that Burma's national hero, Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, had formed an alliance with them to achieve independence from the colonial yoke. It became quickly apparent the Japanese were no better than the British and at the end of the war he negotiated hard with the Allies and won Burma it's independence once more.

He was assassinated less than a year into independence and the Junta, a nasty group of Generals, took over and ran the country which had been 'the rice bowl of Asia' into the ground with a weird socialism, corruption and greed.

I never knew my grandmother. She died when I was a few months old. In fact I never knew either of my grandmothers. The other died when my father was in his early twenties. I've always felt very connected to them both. My father's mother was an actress and my mother's mother was a writer and a teacher. All the things I've ended up doing.

Growing up I read her books about her childhood in Burma and always wanted to go there. When I was old enough to make the decision I decided not to go while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. Then, as she was released, as the seismic changes that are still going on there now started, the DFP called from a conference in Florida and wondered how I'd feel about living in Singapore for a couple of years.

My parents and aunt and uncle are arriving in a months time. In a months time my lifelong ambition is going to be realised. The house she lived in is still standing. We'll visit it as part of the (eye wateringly expensive) tour we've had tailor made for us.

I am so excited. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am. This is why I came.

And in the meantime life is good. I'm really enjoying teaching. I am finding time to write, though never enough. I've acclimatised to the temperature. I've started cycling to work. Cycling  around a place always makes me feel like me. While I still don't love Singapore, we are definitely on much better terms.