Timeout. Mon-Wed I spend at home with a fever, sore muscles and a pretty insisting cough. I’m not so sick I can’t work though, so I perch myself up against big pillows in my bed to type and chat away on my laptop from there. I guess it’s just the typical thing: big change in my life; many new impressions; the body and brain need a break to digest it all. Or, it might just be something to do with adjusting to the climate: e.g., on Sunday, in hindsight, pushing a hungover body through exercise in 36 degrees, swimming in below 20 degrees, sun bathing in nearly 40 degrees and finally sleeping in artificially dry 22 degrees may not have been the gentlest cure after all. Now, during these three days, all the exercise I get is from shuffling in pendulum motion to and from the kitchen for water, and a few head-spinning sun salutations on the mat on my floor, and as I’ve turned off the aircon, the temperature changes come entirely from within. Most likely not dying, I actually kind of enjoy this timeout, and I’m super productive in my isolation, wrapping up projects with deadlines later in the week and active on all the late night calls. Not totally alone, though – my flatmate works from home as well, coughing away as my choir. He’s been doing that for weeks now so I may actually just have caught whatever it is that I have from him.
FW/LB. When once or twice a day one of us ventures out into the outside world, we text each other from room to room asking if the other wants a coffee – being Australian, he of course orders flat whites. I have gotten used to Americanos being Long Blacks here. When it’s my turn, beyond dragging my weak being all the way down to the bakery on Eng Hoon Street, I also make it to the market for strawberries and raspberries. All I eat from Monday morning till noon on Wednesday is oats with berries. The complexity of making or consuming anything else would push me over the edge.
Malaysian Delights! Monday and Tuesday I work until midnight, but Wednesday I finish early in the evening. As I feel slightly better by then, I decide to not cancel a dinner date with a Singaporean friend of a friend. I finally feel like real food, and this girl opts for Malaysian at a place near Orchard Road. As we stand in line outside the restaurant, black and white spots start interfering with my vision, and I suddenly feel very light-headed. My new friend fetches me a drink and gets us permission to skip the queue. Once we’re seated and I swallow the apple juice, the blur disappears and I feel ok. My date rapidly deducts which types of meat and carbs I prefer and orders a number of small dishes that arrive just a few minutes later. Everything looks so delicious: tender chicken breast, a few steamed and raw vegetables, fragrant rice, colourful dippings, juicy satay sticks, flat noodles with some seafood and egg concoction, even a dessert of smooth glutinous rice balls with a rich sesame paste in the middle. I have a little bit of everything but quickly become very full because I haven’t eaten or moved a lot these past days. It’s really lovely to be out, though. As with everyone I’ve met so far, I can easily see why our mutual friend would get on so well with this girl. Actually, in this case, we’ve all met through working for the same company: our friend and I five years ago in London, and the two of them here, during my friend’s two-year stay here. None of us work there anymore, and fortunately we don’t really need the reference point; we’ve got lots of things in common, and as it’s clear to both of us that my escape from bed was premature, we finish early and agree to meet again soon to walk her King Charles Spaniel and go to some concerts. She gets me a taxi, and I promise to text when I’m home safe.
Not So Quick. I go into the office on Thursday, but as I’m shivering below the merciless aircon one moment and boiling hot despite it the next, and quite apparently annoy my new colleagues with the only very slowly subsiding cough, I realise I’m still not quite all right. Now that I’m there though, I stay put the whole day to get things done, and once I do get home late in the afternoon, the cleaner has left my bed crisply clean and fresh, ready to be climbed into for an early night. Work deadlines are met for the week; I’ll take Friday off and put a definite end to the illness.
Doctor. As with everything else in Singapore, getting someone to listen to your lungs, light up your ear to determine your temperature, measure your blood pressure and prescribe you some multicolour medicine is as straightforward as anything. On Friday morning my flatmate sends me to see his doctor, who practices just around the corner, opposite the market. I’m there when they open at 9am. Tell the assistant my name, my flatmate’s name and our address. She shows me directly into the doctor’s office. He does his tricks and asks his questions, a row of gilded certificates from 1967 hanging above us on the wall. At 9:10 I leave the place with a bag of bright yellow antibiotics, peach-coloured, mega-sized paracetamols decorated with Chinese signs and some pink-blueish tablets for the cough, all deemed likely to cause drowsiness. I go home with lovely intentions of reading at least a few books, but end up sleeping the whole day away.
No Burmese Delights. In the evening, I was supposed to meet another Singaporean friend of a friend for dinner at a supposedly amazing Burmese place. She wanted me to meet her whole group of friends, and also her mum, who are all joining as well. Our mutual friend has told me that this girl’s parents are really energetic – always up at 6am to run 10k and always happy to cook hearty meals for their daughter’s friends. Wish I could have joined the party, but instead I take a cool shower and go for a short evening stroll among the white blocks to buy some still-fresh dark bread from the bakery to spice things up after eating oats twice that day. I spread a thin layer of vegemite on two slices and wash it down with water – icing on this glamorous cake of a Friday.
Nylon Coffee Roasters. On Saturday… finally… I’m feeling well. That is, after sleeping until noon. In fact, I’ve got a slight headache from lying down so much; my neck is all tense. I get up and meet a Canadian friend for coffee at a stereotypically pretentious hipster coffee place hidden away down some invisible lane in a residential complex. Very minimalistic interior design, glass walls and Scandinavian artwork, sophisticated indie magazine selection, very pronounced emphasis on brewing methods, and then they shut up the place two weeks a year to travel out and source superior beans. I love it. We stand across from each other at the tall wooden communal table cutting through the middle of the airy space and sip our Brazilian brew from tiny glass cups.
Local Faves. Once that’s done, we take a walk round Tanjong Pagar – pretty Peranakan shophouses, shade below lush palm trees, cool vibe – where he lives, and he points out some good restaurants, juice bars and wine shops, before showing me the idyllic garden on top of his building where he’s throwing a bbq party tonight.
Keong Saik Carnival. On my way home to have a little rest (ok, I’m still getting there), I swing by a little street carnival in Chinatown that’s meant to display the charms of the area by letting the past inspire the present and traditions meet contemporaries: a ’60’s acoustic band is playing romantic old tunes in one end of the street, while an electronic dj dominates the other end with a more upbeat house repertoire, and tourists and locals walk around among live art installations, visual projections on the art deco houses and street vendors selling everything from intrinsically patterned fabrics to gourmet hotdogs. The photo booth in the middle of it all seems particularly popular.
Golden Hour. I spend my siesta outside the Tiong Bahru Bakery. Coffee, fresh juice, a book, my back against the wall, my face turned towards the last bit of sun. There are flower bushes and lucky golden pineapples between me and the families eating outside the Chinese coffee shop on the opposite side of the lane. Perfect peace and quiet.
D.Bespoke. On my way to the rooftop party a few hours later, I stop by a sleek little Ginza-style speakeasy on Bukit Pasoh Road, where the son of one of my mum’s best friends works as a bartender. I’ve known him my whole life so it’s quite nice to think he’s down here in his formal attire crafting outstanding cocktails every night.
Rooftop Party. I watched as the beer keg was set up in the afternoon, and I now know the good places to get wine down the road, but I don’t want to mix antibiotics with alcohol and so spend my first rooftop party in Singapore sober, yet in a really good mood – and more rested than I’ve been for ages. I only know the host, but several other guests appear to just show up alone as well, and everyone is very chatty and open. They all work in consulting, new media or tech-startups, just as my friends (and their friends) at home. Singaporeans, Canadians, one British girl, one German guy. All have their ideas of the must-go-to places around Southeast Asia. I take notes, listen to the stories, smile at the mobile pictures of mountains climbed and reefs dived through. We dance below pretty frangipani trees and white condo lights in the pitch-black tropical summer night.
RAIN. Sunday morning I’m down by the bakery again, with my coffee and my book, people-watching from a green metal chair in the 5-foot walkway. This time the vibe is slightly different from the previous night as it’s pouring down. One heavy carpet of water, making people move slightly more hectically, looking confused around for something, until they finally just huddle together in the walkway. Masses of expensively summer dressed young European families. Children throwing toy cars out into the poodles. Parents busying themselves distributing croissants, pain au chocolates and little sticky tarts. Trying to keep the coffee trays under the oversized green awnings. There are some young Singaporeans at the tables as well. Less loud, less frantic; they’re just getting on with it, conversing in their funny dialect, peacefully holding their cups locked between both hands. Exactly an hour after it began, the downpour disappears and leaves the air as hot and stuffy as it was before. The sun is shining again and all of TB’s mixed population fills up the pavements and lanes. Sunday chores and activities.
Two Hours Later. An English friend joins me outside the bakery just after noon. More coffee, some fresh juice with a slice of ginger in the jam jar glass. She was on a boat yesterday and is a bit sun-burned. I want to go on a boat too sometime soon! It’s now scorchingly hot. She tells me all of her recommendations for easy weekend trips, while we walk down towards Chinatown. She’s meeting a friend for lunch, while I’m going to check out a cute little museum behind Fort Canning Park.
Peranakan Museum. Southeast Asia has been a crossroads for trade since ancient times, and traders from afar have put down roots as well as anchors here and married locally for many generations. ‘Peranakan’ is Malay for ‘born of’ and refers to people of mixed ethnic origins. Chinese Peranakans are the majority, but there are also Peranakan communities of Arab, Indian and Eurasian origin. Galleries covering the three floors of this beautiful building illustrate the traditions and distinctive visual arts of the Peranakans, making up one of the finest, most comprehensive collections of objects related to their wedding rituals, religion, fashion, food and feasting…
Southern Ridges. Later in the afternoon I meet the girl I met for brunch in Holland Village a few weeks back for a beautiful hike through the hilly parks of Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill and Kent Ridge as well as the Labrador Nature Reserve. As with my trips to the Botanic Gardens and MacRitchie last weekend, this is just a little taste of what the place has to offer. We walk straight through – 10k, 2 hours, no stopping anywhere – and get a glimpse of trails, flora and viewpoints that it would be lovely to return to for a closer inspection, or just to hang out among. The steep hills and shade-giving canopies also make it a pretty perfect place to run, I think. Highlights: The architecture of the elegant Henderson Waves Bridge and the lush, beautifully landscaped HortPark.
Japanese Mackerel. As we reach our end-point, the romantic little pond in Kent Ridge Park, we order a taxi and smile broadly, relieved at each other as the ice-cold interior of the car cools down our hot, sweaty bodies on the way to a Japanese rooftop restaurant near Holland Village. We both choose mackerel in miso sauce with rice, silky tofu cubes, pickled greens and small cups of miso soup with seaweed. Eat in blissful silence. We had such a good time on the hike, chatting and laughing all the way, and now it’s just wonderful to relax and focus fully on the food, while still being in each other’s company, before we take the MRT in each our direction.
1st Month! Four weeks spent half the world away from what’s always been home. I’ve been, I am, homesick, but not in a heartbreaking sense. I’ve enjoyed my own company, and people have been supportive, both from home and here. I’ve met some nice folks, several of whom I’m sure will become good friends. I like the city and climate. I’ve been full of energy. I’ve been sick and I’ve recovered. I like my job – exciting new challenges, safe environment, nice office vibe and great colleagues here and abroad, a flexibility and independence that seems to be quite unique for a corporate expat environment. I’ve eaten some good food, been to some good parties, explored interesting bits. There’s still so much to come. So much to figure out. So much that will just need time and not too much thinking. Everything is entirely up to me: which everyday routines I want, and with whom; where I want to travel, and with whom; what I want my focus to be. In some seconds, from some angles, in a particular light, everything seems easy and straightforward. When I’m tired my stomach begins to ache, and it all appears slightly more overwhelming. Trips. I know I’m going to Lombok and KL in August, a tiny Malaysian island in September and Bali in November. Christmas and New Years are blurry: Indonesia, Thailand or Myanmar with friends from home, or going home to London and Denmark. I want to book weekend trips for myself for June and July. And what about those larger trips I’m dreaming of doing – to India, China and Japan? Next year? I also want to spend lots of weekends getting to know Singapore really well. I want to find and master the perfect balance between taking things as they come and planning what needs to be planned in order to really happen.