Monday, 26 May 2014


We have a new cleaner on my floor at work. I'm worried that his predecessor might have died. There is no welfare state in Singapore so old people do the jobs that no one else wants to: clearing the tables at hawker centre and cleaning our offices.

Well, I say cleaning. The cleaners don't do very much actual cleaning. They empty the bins, occasionally hoover and mop parts of the floor, never the whole thing but patches. This is considerably less cleaning than was done my last company and says a lot about this place, an organization where to send a letter you need to fill out a form and get the HOD (Head of Department) to sign it. Not for something to be couriered mark you, I'm talking about the price of a stamp. Crazy.  

Anyhow, I have bought a squirter of Cif, sponge scourers and ant traps for my desk. The last cleaner was so withered and wasted that he looked as though he might snap when he bent over to empty the wastepaper baskets into his binliner. It was clearly painful for him. His gratitude when I emptied mine into his binliner for him was embarrassing. His replacement is mildly disabled but far more sprightly though still well over the age of 70. When I try and empty my bin into the liner for him he won't let me, so I'm reduced to nodding and smiling, my most reliably fallback until the Mandarin lessons kick in.

This will take some time. My teacher (laoshi) is also an extremely old, shrivelled man. Last lesson someone asked him what would happen at the end of the course. Could we move onto Conversational Mandarin Beginners Level 2? He looked extremely surprised and said no one had ever asked him that before. Usually, he said, he just goes back and repeats Conversational Mandarin Beginners Level 1 over and over. No one ever wants to continue. This isn't very shocking. He's a rubbish teacher and the class is extremely dull.

You know that stage babies get to when they chatter conversationally without any actual words but it almost sounds as though the chatter means something because they've got the cadences and rhythms right? Well I'm a really long way from getting that advanced with my Mandarin. I need to find a better teacher. I need to learn fast. Half my students are Chinese I need to understand as a matter of urgency. The comments that float. You can understand why.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


The rain has finally come. Singapore, parched since January, is drenched.

In England, home, people live and die by the weather. It levels us all. It's more democratic than our democracy. The British are governed more by the rain, the cold and their resulting effects on the garden, than anything the Government do. In the end. This is why, unlike the rest of Europe, we've never risen up in revolution against our ridiculous monarchy.

In Singapore the niceties are framed around food, have you eaten yet, have you tried this place or that? Unsurprising when the weather flattens into hot or wet over months. We've had the haze again too. The smoke from Indonesian fires burning in the back of Singaporean throats. The horizon blurred. Reality is softened. A taste of burning in the air. People complain. I rather like it. Shhhh.

Work is busy. Often stressful. Often wonderful. It's an old truism, but teaching is a privilege and I am falling in love with my students. Less so the accompanying paperwork. There's a lot to fix. It leaves less time for everything else. Less headspace. I haven't been here since December. My writing in general is suffering. My hard won habit of writing every day has disintegrated. The battle with my head is hard for me.

But so many aspects of life now are good, very good. So much better than they have been for years. I love this job, warts and all. I want to stay in it and change things. Make a difference. Don't we all?

It's amazing how a job can change your whole perspective on a place. My view of Singapore has altered. I feel at home here. I like everything about it more. The people, the weather, the possibilities. I am still uncomfortable with some aspects and always will be. I hesitated before showing students an extract of a fantastic DV8 piece, To be straight with you because of, what would be described here as 'homosexual content'. Hesitated, but then showed in anyway. I will stand behind my beliefs.

I have booked to come home again in the summer and am looking forwards to it, but not with the desperation I've had in the past. I need to find better ways to manage my stress levels and make sure I write. To keep balancing priorities. But on the whole, life is good.