Homey Team Dinner. Ranging among the most beloved tunes on my family’s soundtrack, Yiruma’s River Flows In You was introduced to the chart by my brother, who plays it with as much soul and intensity as the South Korean pianist and composer himself, and I listen to it so often, when I’m at work, out running, or chilling at home, as much for general relaxation and pleasure as for the sentimental comfort it gives. As such, I put it on on Monday night as my team is over for dinner. I hurry home from work an hour before everyone else to chop up a pumpkin and carrots, rub those orange pieces in oil, spices and generous amounts of garlic and put them in the oven, where they acquire a nice, golden tan next to a tray of finely sliced chicken breast, gaining flavour from tomato, herbs and lemon juice. A green salad, fresh sourdough bread from the bakery, a plate dotted with dollops of hummus, tahini and almond butter, some olives… a random selection of wine… wax candles… all arranged in the dining room just as the guests arrive, carrying a hostess gift of pineapple and grapes. Golden hour sun rays start streaming in across the table via the balcony just as we sit down. Butterflies in my stomach – I’m not used to cooking, and simple as this is, I still wonder if it’s all right. I do enjoy it, though, for sure. The joy of having guests over! The bunch of friends last week, and now my sweet colleagues – one from Saigon, one from Seoul, one from Chiang Mai, one from Batam and one from Hong Kong. They all compliment the airy and spacious flat, the decor – and, luckily, the food. And drink all of the wine, as we chat away. Everyone talking and listening passionately, curiously and engaged. Not about work as such, but then the conversation does flow around all of our different languages, phonetics, linguistics, cultural differences and similarities, and about travel… so, really, everything that our job is about. As a remarkable departure from last week, Christmas doesn’t really come up as a topic. None of them celebrate it. I think about this briefly, the exoticism of it, and realise that this evening is just as much about the central Christmas concepts and messages as any, with all of the love, kindness, good spirits and cosiness flowing around the table. When, on top of that, they all, unlike any of my Western friends, recognise, know and love Yiruma, an unexpected, lovely circle ties the exoticism and familiarity together completely.
Leafy Advent Calendar. The girls behind the Danish botanist magazine, Blad, which I translate and proofread, have made the sweetest advent calendar, presenting each of their contributors in daily headshots flanked by gorgeous nature images. Here‘s the one of me. A Danish girl living in Singapore from where she works on making a Danish take on something as universal as botany accessible to an international audience. Another example of everything coming together. I’m growing up and circling in on my strengths, my reality, my opportunities, my challenges, what I want to nurture, perfect and learn and what I have to let go, most importantly of all, the nagging feeling of inadequacy. Whenever I’m losing my balance between narrowing in on elements to focus on and broadening my horizon, and I’m too caught up in feelings of restlessness and bad conscience, it can be helpful to take a superficial approach. Look at this girl in the picture, and see where she is, what she has got, what she can do and where she can go. Priorities. Work, home, exercise, creative hobbies, relationships, orientation, keeping an open mind, taking one day at a time – it’s always advent; there’s always something good on its way; always something to look forward to; always some lessons learned and memories to bring along on the constant ride; and I want to remember to think of other people, their situations, their outlooks and their achievements as sources of inspiration; purely positive energy.
Dance Show. On Tuesday night, one of my barre teachers is performing in a super edgy, intense and expressive contemporary dance show. I go alone. There’s a thrill and feeling of freedom about that. After work, at dusk, walking along the bay, crossing the Jubilee Bridge, gazing around me, one of those moments when I think that Singapore is magical. As I enter the magnificent Esplanade performance arts centre, it occurs to me that this is the first show I’ve been to in Singapore. And what a show! Groups of young graceful and energetic dancers from New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore coming together to express myriads of emotion, with such humour and technical skill. Wow! When they bow to the audience and disappear, I venture up to the roof terrace to smile at the skyline of the city.
Disgraced. The next evening brings on a different type of performance, this time at the Singapore Repertory Theatre in Robertson Quay, making it ideal to meet for a glass of wine beforehand at nearby Wine Connection with the friends that are joining me. The Pulitzer Price-winning drama is as intense as thought-provoking as promised in all of the marketing material, and just as it’s remarkable how the at times highly profane and hateful dialogue is unaltered and uncensored for Singapore, it’s also quite noteworthy how little dialogue there actually is – the five people on stage talk a lot at each other; no one listens or tries to understand one another, although they are supposed to be close and important to each other. Crossing the red bridge afterwards to get home to Tiong Bahru, the play’s take on its central themes, religion, politics, radicalisation, assimilation, culture, identity and communication, are churning around in my little head. My favourite part of it was probably the, quite heated, post-show discussion, which really went to show that it is possible to get people to actually talk properly about these topics.
Sketch. The next evening I stay in and sketch a ballerina for our creative corridor wall.
Friday Night In. And the evening after that, I meet an English friend for barre after work, after which we go home to TB (she lives around the corner from me), sweaty in our yoga pants and tops, order some carby food at PS (pizza for her; prawn/crab/crumb pasta for me), and take that home with a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio, to enjoy at my beautiful dining table, while we chat about small and big things, my boyfriend joining the party after his TGI Friday drinks at work.
Kapok Barre. Starting off the weekend on an energetic note, we step outside at 8:30am on Saturday, wearing training outfits and clutching our yoga mats, the pale morning sun shining brightly, the yellow birds chirping in the light green trees, the Muslim uber driver staring nervously as we climb into his car, two joyful yogis, going to the National Design Center for a barre event in Kapok. This is my boyfriend’s second session, and I’m glad to see how he appears to enjoy it, the fast-paced, demanding, immensely invigorating bootcamp, taught by Jess, the managing director of the boutique barre studio, where I’ve gone as often as I’ve had the chance over the past six months. I love the teachers’ refined variations of exercises and routines, the slowly burning chiseling of tiny muscles, the attention to detail and the development of my balance, flexibility and body awareness. Throughout December, Jess and her team have arranged lots of great events, this one, at the design center, in collaboration with Ashley & Co and Rumi X, combining many wonderful things. Before leaving for breakfast at Curious Palette after the class, we have a nice little chat with the teachers, browse around the cool concept store and check out a new exhibition of Singapore’s impressive, innovative architecture in the exhibition hall next door. Great start to the day! And with that vibey class, as well as two consecutive ones on Sunday, back at the studio, with one of them integrating some yoga elements (I do my first shoulder stand ever, haha!), I’m very close to winning the Barre2Barre Christmas Challenge, which runs until the 12th…
From the Barre to the Ballet. That evening, I take my boyfriend with me to the Esplanade building, this time to enjoy the Nutcracker, feeling goosebumps cover my body throughout the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Like barre, this is one of my favourite expat phenomena of the year: this month, thousands of little girls are watching the Christmas ballet with their parents in all greater cities from San Francisco to Saint Petersburg. After nodding along with the dramatic music and clapping at the impressively controlled and flexible movements, we step out onto the roof terrace like I did on Tuesday, to take in the view and the silence together.
A Great Little Spot. Leaving the great jewel-resembling building, we cross the curious Jubilee Bridge, which can seem superfluous right next to the Esplanade Bridge, but nonetheless is the preferred walkway: it’s a lot busier than its neighbour, in complete accordance with Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s intention for the bridge, as providing a friendlier connection between the Merlion Park and the waterfront esplanade. Reaching the other side, we take a romantic break at the feet of the great white mythical creature, sitting closely together on the steps that disappear into the water, following with our gaze the white foamy fountain water flowing from the creature’s mouth and into the sea, which is pitch black, save for the yellow reflections cast by the Singapore Flyer, the landmark hotel, the moon and the CBD skyscrapers.
Christmas in the Tropics. Being a big fan of Christmas, all of the lovely ideas it represents, but mostly of my dark, cool and cosy European Christmas traditions, I have been curious to see what December would feel like out here. I’ve always spent it in Denmark or London, or skiing in the Alps, and I have so many lovely memories attached to these locations during this particular season. At the same time, I wanted to show myself that I’m open-minded and curious enough to skip it, or at least view it from a new perspective. Which, to some extent, is what I am doing, while also realising that some of the things that I cherish about the season can thrive in a setting that’s fundamentally void of seasonality. I’m still surrounded by love here, in so many ways – partly facilitated by the internet, mail service and globalisation. While I’m not really embracing alternatives to Christmas, I find that it’s not a struggle to enjoy some of the old spirit here. It works perfectly well to listen to this year’s American Christmas song compilation on YouTube while running along the Singapore River in 30 degrees; this week I’m getting lovely responses to the greeting cards that I sent last week; my boyfriend and I enjoy cosy mornings with homemade breakfast, chai tea drizzled with cinnamon and candles on the table; there’s the barre and ballet; the Christmas Party themed Housewarming that we’re hosting next week; my brother coming down to visit from KL… lots of things to be grateful for – with or without a Christmas label, which is probably the vital angle.