Ballerina. More posture work this week. I swim in the sunrise each morning and go for barre pilates with a friend each evening after work – at a newly opened, small boutique studio in a pretty pink building on Hong Kong Street (right opposite my favourite coffee shop, Ronin). I bought a two-weeks-unlimited pass, and despite my general aversion to booking fitness classes, I find that there’s nothing stressful about this at all, quite the opposite. It’s a very happy place – the owner and instructor, Jessica, is super cool and sweet; the design is beautifully light and hip; the classes take me back to when I was a little girl in a ballet studio (I loved it but wasn’t any good at it, and finally chose/succumbed to sailing instead) and add a bit of romance to normal pilates.
Chinatown. All of the evenings after barre I walk home through Chinatown a bit later than usual and find that it’s more magical at 8-9pm than straight after work at 6pm. Buzzing yet peaceful. Red lamps lighting up the darkness. Families having dinner outside the coffee shops. A lower level of activity in the mysterious medicine and specialty shops along the way makes me peep in instead of just hurrying past. All of those alluring dried herbs and fruits and packagings with signs I’ll never learn to decipher. One night I buy a beautifully illustrated bag of steamed and peeled chestnuts. I enjoy the serene ambience of these evenings – and the odd sensation of eating the sweet nuts that are moist on the outside and mealy on the inside.
Lunch Dates. Generally this week I eat even less locally-themed food than last week and just pick what’s easy: the three times I go out for a meal it’s for a rye sandwich at the only Danish cafe on Raffles Place with my Swedish friend who works at a small consultancy around the corner, a quinoa bowl with seared tuna and veggies at Grain Traders with two Danish friends (lifestyle blogger and lawyer respectively) and a seafood pasta dish at a average Italian eatery in Tanjong Pagar with my team and a delegate from Boston and Beijing. All good, but also not very adventurous… oh well.
Solo Meals. Most meals I enjoy alone. Overnight chia pudding made with unsweetened, organic almond milk, organic oats and (most likely not organic) fresh fruits and berries from the office for breakfast. Salads and spinach/kale wraps for lunch and dinner from overpriced joints where the assistants know my name by now, proudly prepare the order before I even open my mouth to echo myself and smilingly give me increasingly generous discounts. Dragonfruit and kaki fruits and mangos for snacking. It works and keeps me going in a light way.
Friday Eve Components. Ballet pilates. Walk home through Chinatown. A Danish friend pops over for a glass of Australian Shiraz from the Foodie Market down on the corner, some strawberries and a lovely chat about everything from the insanely luxurious cars on Ocean Drive, Sentosa, the only place where foreigners are allowed to purchase land in Singapore … to how much we both love to play the piano … to her drive through the pagoda-dotted countryside of Myanmar on an electric scooter with her boyfriend last weekend … to Bali bliss. My flatmates are in Bali this week, actually. It’s fun being home alone and having a friend over. Makes me feel like such a teenager. She leaves at 9pm when I dial into a video call, which is then followed by another one. (Teenage feeling over.) In North Zealand, absolutely everyone (beautiful, tanned, glowing) is dancing, cycling, swimming, sailing, barbecuing, singing, posing and smiling their way through the (brief) epitome of perfect sun-kissed summer in Denmark idyll at Musik i Lejet. And all of my EMEA colleagues are working remotely from their parents’ houses around the region (an Israeli girl on one of the calls is interrupted by her dad calling to ask if she wants a falafel from town) while the aircon is being fixed (!) at the London office. I’m happy for all of them, but still grounded where I am – in general, and on this Friday night.
Johor Bahru. Earlier on Friday, a colleague tells me to remember my passport tomorrow. Confusion arises. We were just supposed to meet for lunch in Tiong Bahru, right? After which I was going to work all afternoon. Turns out she’d said Johor Bahru when inviting me earlier in the week. Not exactly Tiong Bahru; in fact, it’s in another country. She’s already booked a table at a restaurant as well as a slot for the Thai massage we and another colleague are having afterwards. In Malaysia. In a mall in Malaysia, to be precise. This last detail I only discover when we walk across the bridge between the border controls, after which I expect to be embarking on a rustic village adventure. It turns out we’re headed for the huge shopping centre that’s linked to the checkpoint by a roofed bridge between the two concrete/steel/glass buildings. I decided to postpone the work I was intending to do in the afternoon to another day, thinking that these are the things that I’m supposed to say yes to – well, I had already said yes. Realising I’m not spending the afternoon exploring the rich culture (or, I guess…) and nature of a country I’ve never been to before, but actually just hanging out in a mall, I have to work a bit more on the justification and on downplaying my absentminded ignorance (I should have paid better attention instead of just being thrilled that someone else had done the planning for once so I could just go with the flow). Luckily the adjustment comes easy: it’s great spending time with the girls; the laksa is yummy and spicy; the massage is excruciatingly painful; it is cool that you can just take a little walk to another country, a trip that’s more scenic on the way home in the evening when it’s too dark to see all the trash in the sea – all we do see is the sea of light from the skylines of the two nations. When I was a child, people in my hometown would drive the short way to Germany to buy cheap soda, sweets and liquor at the border kiosks – in Singapore, you stroll across a bridge to Malaysia for a cheap massage (cautiously, as the bridge is only paved on the Singapore side: the 500-700 Malaysian metres are crossed directly on the highway).
Weekend Morning Bliss. Saturday I buy long-stemmed white flowers at the market (‘three dollars-lah, miss’) and a long black at the bakery, which I carry home along the long, slim, red stems of the palm trees that so prettily match the fluted art deco roof lines above them. Pale morning sun. Place the flowers in an old coconut oil glass jar on my bedroom floor. Drink the still-steaming coffee while reading some news at the dinner table. Still home alone. Sunday I read in bed for a while before running along the river. Stop at Toby’s Estate in Robertson Quay, which is on this fancy list of coffee places with reliable free wifi, for a cold brew coffee and a bit of work. Blissful solitude for the first few hours; blissful company of happily brunching families for the following.
Learnings of the Week. I wanted there to be a neat little section at the end of each post to sum up the essence of what I take away from the week – a nice little collection of things I’d picked up, been wowed by or that educated me in some way or other, from Southeast Asia, from friends or colleagues, from my favourite on- and offline media channels. This Sunday I’m too exhausted to think of anything, though. Instead of frantically searching my mind for inputs on which to reflect, I just long to hit publish and curl up in bed with my book. It’s dark and it’s raining heavily, I’ve brushed my teeth and applied night creme to my face, it’s 21:30 and I’m sleepy, happy to identify a feeling of excitement about waking up tomorrow – going for a run and a sunrise swim, followed by barre pilates and Ronin brekkie with a friend, followed by an exciting to-do-list at work, followed by a lovely meeting after work. As such, what impressed me most this week – despite yet another bout of terror attacks and various angry and fearful reactions towards them, glossy family speeches at the US Republican Convention, the fact that a hawker hall stall has been awarded a Michelin star in Singapore (oh, and Rhubarb, where my team and I had dinner a few weeks ago!) and having had many interesting interactions (relative to how much alone I’ve also been on my own) with smart/fun/lovely/warm people that I’m lucky to call my new friends – is that 12 weeks in, I really love my days here and am hungry for more; there are still various areas of Singapore that I haven’t even been to – and neighboring nations beyond their malls and beach towns.