Letter from Sierra Leone. In the Monday morning mail I receive a photograph of four girls running along a red dirt track framed by palm trees. On the back is a note from my friend and colleague, one of the depicted girls, ‘Dear Camilla, I’m back from an eye-opening, mind-blowing, goosebumps-inducing trip to Sierra Leone. My 1st marathon was tough but incredible – a hot, humid and hilly course through villages and jungle, cheered on by locals and gambolling goats! I finished in 4:12, and loved every minute! So wished you could have joined me! I also visited Street Child’s projects and have seen that your donation will be wisely spent, providing sustainable support to keep children off the streets and in school. With your help, I raised £3000. The UK government is matching donations, so that’s a massive £6000 towards Street Child’s #GirlsSpeakOut campaign! It costs just £20 to educate 200 communities on the value of girls’ education, so think how many we can help! I hope you’re well – look forward to food/coffee/exercise when I see you ❤ —‘. Thinking about our idyllic little 10k fundraiser run in Richmond Park the week before I moved here, I make a mental promise to sign up for the 2017 race in Africa with her. When we talk on Skype on Tuesday afternoon, I repeat it out loud. The only condition is that she swings by here beforehand. We sit in each our small conference room, she in our EMEA HQ and I in our APAC one, she with her iced morning coffee and breakfast bowl prettily decorated with thin slices of strawberry and a generous dollop of nut butter, and I with my afternoon coffee. Nice catchup about everything that’s most important in our worlds, including topics as diverse as the looming Brexit, the blood orange-embroidered espadrilles she’s wearing (I order the flamingo ones after our call) and how her dog, Strudel, is going to handle the flight when moving to Austin, Texas with her parents in a few months. Finally, we plan which coffee places to go to when she visits in October.
No Boxing. That evening I was supposed to go boxing with my flatmate, but I have to cancel because of an array of late meetings. I’ve never tried boxing before, but it seems to be hugely popular among girls here. I’ll join next week if I can – my arms are still embarrassingly sore from last Saturday’s bootcamp so clearly more attention should be paid to the training and toning of them.
Life Events. One of my best friends gave birth last week; this week it’s another friend’s turn. Looking at the Snapchat/WhatsApp shots of those tiny creatures, I think how remarkable it is that you can love someone you haven’t even met. I will meet them soon, though. The baby shots are followed by a wedding invitation from a third friend – I now have to go to Copenhagen in October. ‘Have’ to – want to, of course.
Boy on a Hill. Love the little green oases around town. Every morning I run or walk up the lane behind Ann Siang Road, and at the top of the hill, in the tiny green square behind the shophouses, I always pass by a young Chinese guy who’s either boxing into the air, skipping with a brightly coloured robe or in the middle of some intricate tai chi routine. Focussing on my podcast and on staring as straightly ahead as possible, I jog past him ever so swiftly so as not to disturb him more than necessary.
Lunch & Learn. About once a month an inspiring person is invited into the office to present themselves and whichever interesting projects they are working on while my colleagues and I indulge in a delicious company-provided meal. Lovely and enriching as the initiative is, whenever the topic is serious or sad, I always find the setup a little bit awkward – the speaker is talking passionately about supporting homeless children while the audience does its best to divide their attention appropriately between the goodies on their plates and the horror-filled slideshows on the screen. This month’s presentation, which takes place on Wednesday of this week, is perfectly cheerful and uplifting – we can all tuck into the yummy spicy mango salad, vegetarian noodle dish, dim sum and sauteed broccoli without feeling the slightest pang of guilt or discomfort.
Reading Night. Coming home from work, loving the walk, loving the flat so much. It’s calming. Just as it’s supposed to be. My flatmate is watching rugby. I eat my dinner between the potted plants on our dining table while reading an interview with Charlotte Gainsbourg about moving to New York and being new in a city where you don’t know anyone. Then go to bed and read something else until I fall asleep. That’s on Wednesday.
EU. On Thursday I watch my friend who is a reporter for MarketWatch in London talk on Danish tv about how all of London is quivering nervously today. Around me in the office no one seems to care that the UK is a divided union presently voting to leave the EU, something the economic, practical cultural and historical impact of which most of us can only speculate about. I watch the interview with mixed emotions – partly worried, but also super proud of how cool, collected and pretty she appears on screen. Seeing her makes me miss her and think nostalgically about our carefree years together in London, where we could just come and work freely as Europeans… ahh.
Chilli Crab. In the evening, I go for an industrious dinner with a Korean, an Indonesian, a Thai, a Japanese, a Vietnamese and an American colleague. Sitting around a circular table, we use increasingly greasy steel tools and fingers to wrestle free the sticky tomato sauce-sweetened, stir-fried mud crab meat. Listed as number 35 on the World’s 50 most delicious foods compiled by CNN Go in 2011, it’s not the most sociable thing to eat – everyone is busy catching the best claws in the pot and working hard and unskilled to get rid of the thick shell. Anyway, we do have quite a lot of fun in the process, and do take quite a few breaks to chat while sipping our ice-cold Australian sauvignon blanc. Walk home along the river together in the sunset (dinner was very early), awfully romantic.
Luxe Brunch. On Friday morning I go back to Luxe for a hearty breakfast with a Danish girl I met the week after I got here but haven’t seen since because she and her boyfriend have been travelling so much, to Tokyo, Denmark and Sydney. The friend of one of my close friends, she’s very funny and we have a good time talking about career and travel dreams, and about all the things we want to do and see in Singapore, continuing the conversation as we walk through Chinatown to work downtown.
Barista in the Office. On Friday we have a professional barista making coffee for everyone in the pantry. That’s the only truly uplifting thing about that day.
Brexit. Oh, and maybe also Sadiq Khan’s status update on Facebook, ‘I want to send a clear message to every European resident living in London – you are very welcome here. As a city, we are grateful for the enormous contribution you make, and that will not change as a result of this referendum. There are nearly one million European citizens living in London today, and they bring huge benefits to our city – working hard, paying taxes, working in our public services and contributing to our civic and cultural life. We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us’.
Night Call. Spending most of Friday listening to the radio and live-streamed interviews and speeches, texting with friends and family and reading other people’s emotional statements and analyses, it’s not my most productive of days. In the evening I really need to pull myself together and get some work done. I go home and call into meetings from my bed, blissfully occupied with my work agenda for a little while.
Bootcamp. On Saturday morning I wake up with a sort of heartbroken feeling – can someone please fix the Euroskepticism? – and after a sweaty 6k spring along the river I join an English friend for a rant about the state of the world and a very challenging bootcamp at her gym in Telok Ayer Street.
Ah Bong’s Italian. Back in Tiong Bahru, we have pasta for breakfast, a hot, spicy and very garlicky pleasure, at the little Italian stall that’s open a few hours a day in the Chinese coffeeshop, Two Face – kopitiam by day; pizza joint and taproom by night – opposite the Monkey God Temple. Allegedly, the owner’s fondest memory of Italian food was discovering an unassuming hole-in-the-wall pasta shop in Sicily, and now he’s replicating that rustic feel for locals and hipster tourists to have a delightful experience at this unpretentious spot.
Relax. This weekend I just want to really relax. Saying goodbye to my friend, I go home to lie down and be wholly inactive for a few hours. That’s the physical part of relaxing. The mental part comes next – I run another 10k and walk approximately 15k, listening to the same songs over and over again and trying to think about nothing besides what I see on the way.
Monocle. Pitstop at the wonderful Monocle shop in Holland Village, where I drink a long black in the little tropical garden planted by the editor in chief himself and his mum. Along with the coffee I buy the fat July-August issue with the annual global ranking, which I study eagerly in the baking sun. In ’13 and ’14 Copenhagen was voted the most liveable city in the world. Now it’s fallen to #4, followed by another European city that I instantly felt at home in when visiting last year, Munich. Singapore is #20. London never makes it to the top 25. This year’s winner is Tokyo, a city I shall visit sometime soon. Before I continue my jog, I also purchase their Singapore travel guide, an impressive hardback publication filled with beautifully curated recommendations of all the hippest things that the garden city has to offer, as well as well-written essays and gorgeous illustrations.
Lucha Loco. Late in the evening I meet another English friend for ceviche, fish tacos and pisco sours. The Mexican place at the top of Duxton Hill has such a fun and atmospheric vibe. Lush green outdoor seating area. It’s the sort of place you want to suggest going to.
Australian Wine Merchants. After dinner we meet a Canadian friend for a few glasses of wine. We sit at one of the tables in the walkway outside Wine Merchants down on Duxton Road and laugh at each other’s stories well into the night.
Recovery Walk. The next morning I’m a bit beaten. Stay in bed with my Monocle book until I must leave at 11am, to make it for a brunch date. Getting up and entering the living room, I meet my flatmates who are all sweaty and energised from a hilly run in the Southern Ridges. I put on my headphones and sunglasses, buy a coffee from the bakery and walk briskly towards my destination in lovely sunshine.
Open Farm Community. Meet a Danish friend at the 3000 square metres big farm opposite the Botanic Gardens, where local farmers and creative chefs connect the community to the wild in beautiful surroundings – edible gardens, lawns, idyllic outdoor seating among the flowers and an airy greenhouse-like restaurant building featuring a well-equipped cocktail bar, wooden communal tables and an open kitchen. While not entirely self-sufficient, it’s lovely that the people behind the initiative have teamed up with the social enterprise Edible Garden City to raise awareness of the grow-your-own-food movement and hold events such as community garden sessions and farmers markets. The food is delicious – and beautifully presented on handmade plates from Bali. We order sourdough toast with yummy toppings, and then a virgin Bloody Mary for me and a glass of Prosecco for my friend along with coffee.
Maid Gardens. On Sundays, maids flock to the Botanic Gardens for group-selfie-picnics. Once we’ve downed the second black coffee, we cross the street and join the big groups of happily chitchatting Filipina girls entering the lush gardens. Quick stroll around the Swan Lake – then it starts raining and we hire an uber to take us to Chinatown.
Lepark. Here, on level 6 of the brightly green and yellow People’s Park Complex, we find her boyfriend, German, and a Danish colleague of his (they both work for Maersk), drinking beer outside the hip bar, Lepark. It’s still pouring down, but they’re sheltered under the eaves of the building. The place is a bit dodgy, and for you to want to venture up through the run-down building and out on the rough concrete expanse of a former carpark, you really have to know the bar exists. As with all of those places, once you’re here it’s marvellous. The name stems from ‘lepak’, which means something like ‘relaxed corner’. It reminds me of something you’d find in East Berlin, but with a splendid view of Chinatown and CBD. All three of them drink beer, while I stick to coffee. I’m a bit exhausted, but they’re good company and I’m close to home so I stay for a while before walking home to do absolutely nothing.