With Love from Bangkok. On Monday morning, my Thai team mate gives us all a small pale blue silk purse from her weekend trip home. So thoughtful of her. She’s started a bag business with her sister, and this purse along with a variety of other designs is what they’re going to produce – in Thailand – and sell online. She’ll be travelling to Bangkok once a month for material sourcing, product development and catch-ups with her sister, who lives there, and I’m planning to go with her one of those times.
Kløvedal. This week I’m watching a rerun of a miniseries made by the Danish seafarer Troels Kløvedal about his expedition to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. When I was a kid, this was the most exciting and exotic thing to watch, and now it’s both nostalgic and relevant. The passionate old hippie sits there in the cockpit of his century-old ship Nordkaperen, with wind blowing through his blonde hair, which waves so beautifully like rays of sunshine against the azure blue ocean in the background, and claims that to a seafarer, Singapore is the absolute centre of the world. Sailing into its harbour from Malacca, he points in the direction of Vietnam and China, draws his finger further west to indicate Thailand and India, with the West and North beyond, and turns around and points in the opposite direction to the biggest archipelago in the world, Indonesia. To him, coming to a new place and taking it in is not about going to the fancy restaurants, manicured parks and maybe an occasional museum. He talks to locals, finds little traces of history all over (history removes the absurdity of life, he finds) and seeks out the most niche and authentic experiences imaginable. Quite impressive, really.
Lion City. On Tuesday, my morning run leaves me alone by the merlion statue by the Fullerton Hotel, a place that’s usually full of selfie-stick tourists. Sitting on the wet steps in front of the icon, I watch the sun come up over the ferris wheel while listening to my podcast and allowing a feeling of pure happiness to settle upon me.
Birthday Bash. This Wednesday’s Ladies Night is at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, or rather, in the pavilion in front of it, which houses the magnificent tapas bar Catalunya. The theme makes me miss my Spanish friends in London, my tapas-loving Danish friends and my parents, who are currently in Spain, but I’ve got very good company: celebrating my flatmate’s birthday with all of her very sweet friends and 2-for-1 glasses of good Spanish red wine.
Female Power. When I walk or run this week, I listen to a selection of very cool women on Desert Island Discs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is so modest and honest when talking about her life, achievements and ambitions. She picks Here Comes the Sun and Imagine. When asked to choose a luxury to take to the island, she says that luxury is not really something she indulges in, but if she has to pick something, she’d like a bush full of roses that change colour every day – and so, ironically, she manages to select the single most extravagant item in the history of the program (the others pick photo albums and guitars). Dame Judi Dench, who’s got such a comforting and warm voice, and picks I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and Dorothy Collins singing The sun comes up / I think about you / The coffee cup / I think about you. Kylie Minogue, who picks Dancing Queen. Then there’s a mental health campaigner, a prize-winning architect, a forensic anthropologist, a space scientist, the CEO of Lloyd’s of London and an engineer and expert advisor on the nuclear power industry. Such an impressive bunch, al so admirably passionate about what they do and hardworking. And all of them talk about the love of their lives – because of course that’s what you do when you have to select 8 songs to be your sole company for the rest of your life.
Night Call Routine. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I have work calls from 9pm-midnight. I want these days to be as balanced and social as the other days. I go into the office at 9am and leave at the end of the afternoon, walking slowly home through Chinatown while taking in the sights. The evening scenes in Tiong Bahru – family life in front of the Chinese coffee shops, the sunset over the softice blocks. Come home, brush my teeth and dial into the meetings from my bed. On the way home on Tuesday, I spot my flatmates having drinks outside the Tiong Bahru Club and stop to chat to them for a bit. Before that day’s two late meetings, I Skype with a friend on maternity leave in Copenhagen, and another one coming home from work in California. Thursday I just go straight home and listen to the news before that night’s calls. Friday, I meet two Danish girls at a speakeasy just opposite my office, Bitters and Love – the girl I went for brunch with last Friday and then another lovely girl she brings along, who works at the Danish embassy. We have delicious mocktails garnished with ginger and half an egg shell filled with olives. The lights are dimmed and they’re playing the heartbreaking ’90s music that seems to be generally very popular here in town. When I come home, my flatmates are waiting with food and wine. I have one glass of the outstanding Amarone before crawling into bed with my laptop.
Men Looking at Birds. Of course Tiong Bahru has its share of hip street art. One of the pieces depicts an old Singaporean hobby – so-called bird-singing corners, where men display their prized birds for all to see and hear. The unique activity is slowly dwindling, but still very much alive at for instance the Kebun Baru Birdsinging Club, where a big lawn is filled with hundreds of poles with ropes attached. Men come early in the morning and hoist their darlings in colourful cages up onto the poles. Some of these creatures are worth thousands of dollars, and the cages are made of finely-carved ornate wooden furnishings, some with blue-jade water bowls. The tradition is born from the days of catching birds in the kampong – or from a sub-culture involving shorts, singlets, cigarettes and a cup of coffee. I take a picture of this mural and smile at the idea of the beauty in the tune and the communal spirit, the friendly competition, the romance of it all, and the inherent pun too.
Hot Yoga & Morning Music. On Saturday morning, I read in bed and then go for a light 6k run to the end of the river, where I stop and do a bit of yoga by the waterfall. When I come back home, my flatmates are having breakfast to the sound of loud, happy music. I stretch my legs on the bench opposite them at the dinner table, chat for a while, loving how nice it is slowly getting to know them better.
Petit PS. Another Saturday, another blind date brunch. This time with a Danish guy and his Singaporean girlfriend. The mutual friend who set us up lived in a small town in Russia for a while and knows what it feels like to want company in a new place. They just did a class at the popular Yoga Movement here in Tiong Bahru, so we meet at the nearby PS Cafe. Such a lovely, lovely place. Cool, dark and full of flowers and wine. My new friends brought along another Danish couple as well, who also just moved here. All lovely, like-minded people. When we’ve eaten (whole foods salad, long black), I take them for the usual loop tour of Tiong Bahru. When we get to BooksActually, I buy Haruki Murakami’s collection of birthday short stories, written by distinguished authors and introduced by him, and say hello to the feline shop assistant.
Squid Ink Baguette. In the afternoon, I get a pitch black, moist squid ink baguette and a freshly squeezed orange/carrot/ginger juice from the French Tiong Bahru Bakery and embark on a sweaty 40-minutes walk to the Botanic Gardens. All in all on this Saturday, I walk 20k to get to and from places. When I get visitors, we will go by uber, as those stretches past endless rows of similar-looking condos are far from interesting, but for me the walks are relaxing, meditative. On this particular one, I throw some men into the DID marathon, namely Bill Gates, who talks about his fruitful dedication to work, and Ben Saunders, the polar explorer, who points out how solo expeditions require upbeat music.
Botanic Gardens. The gardens are wonderful. Curated, super well-maintained, perfectly balancing pretty little scenaries and grandios wilderness. I lie down on a bench in the Swan Lake pavilion and read for a bit. Admire the waterfall in the ginger garden, the orchid plaza and the philharmonic orchestra playing in the bandstand in the lake beyond the palm valley, where 800 palm trees stand tall and strong among the playing children and picnicking groups of friends and families of all nationalities. Spot a Clouded Monitor – yikes! – and smile at all the beauty in the heliconia walk and the frangipani garden. When it’s time to leave, I haven’t even seen half of it – I must come back and enjoy the rest of this manicured beauty, walk down all the little paths, or just come here to hang out, alone, with friends, with visitors.
Ding Dong. That evening I meet a friend of my brother’s for a late dinner. I remember him very fondly from school ski trips, nights out in our home town and lunches at my parents house about a decade ago, and so am pleased to see how well he’s getting on. He’s now based in Switzerland, working for a shipping company, and out here with work for the week. He’s brought a friend along for dinner at the yummy Asian fusion place in Chinatown, where we share a set menu of goodies and drink a few cocktails and glasses of ice-cold white wine while laughing about the old days and highlighting ad- and disadvantages of expat life (mostly the first).
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. On Sunday morning I get an uber and pick up my Swedish friends to go climb the tallest natural hill in Singapore (163.8m). The paved trail below the lush green canopies inclines steadily the whole way and we reach the summit pretty quickly. As they’ve closed off most of the reserve for restoration, we decide to go to MacRitchie for a longer hike after taking our pictures of the monkeys hanging in the fences and walking round to see the beautiful quarry at the other side of the hill.
MacRitchie Reservoir Park. We walk for hours in the rainforest but don’t even get to the reservoir bit of it (must come back!). The winding trails have a light clay floor, and we take care not to slip on it as we trot along briskly, gazing up at the breathtakingly beautiful greenery surrounding us. Wild as it seems here, it’s still Singapore, so of course there are signs everywhere with facts about flora and fauna to be spotted. And then there’s the tree top walk – so much fun! One of the monkeys hanging out on the railing reaches out to grab my camera, as if to say I should stop taking photographs and just enjoy the spectacular views. I really should.
Pool Hang. Really hungover when I woke up, the day’s activities turn out to be the perfect cure: 20k walk in 35 degrees with new friends; fresh spicy seafood fried rice, pieces of fresh mango and papaya and a freshly squeezed ABC-juice at their local hawker hall, Newton Food Centre, to regain our strengths afterwards; and then the climax – hanging by their rooftop pool for the rest of the afternoon. A few lazy laps, reading and snoozing in sun loungers, chatting and drinking iced coffee with our feet in the ice-cold pool water… ahh.
Learnings of the Week. Mastering the balance between reaching out to people at the right time, when I really feel like socialising, and allowing myself to just enjoy my own company from time to time (don’t know if this is the week when I finally get it, but I’m more aware than ever). // Tiong Bahru was the first public housing scheme in the world to have electricity. // Radical Focus: my director encourages the team to read this motivational book on how to inspire a diverse team to collaborate on and commit to pursuing a single, challenging goal. I haven’t yet, but I will buy it soon and hopefully become a master in the field. // If you feed the Singaporean rainforest monkeys you may end up in prison.