Christmas Glow | 12-181216

About

Urban Gardening. There’s a gigantic sweet-smelling jasmine among myriads of other plants in my street, a jungle spilling out from the downstairs windows, and then the abundance of greenery sprucing up in our own house – from exotic trees on the balcony floor to dried lavender, chilies and herbs in the kitchen window sill to Spanish moss softening up the bathroom to cacti in the shadiest of nooks and crannies to boughs of holly hanging from hooks in the corridor to the white orchid reflecting the window light at the end of the corridor to the many vases stuffed full of eucalyptus in the guest room. Christmas in the tropics is different from what I’m used to, I think I have established here by now, and from the evergreen lushness in the streets to the investment in house plants, I’m quite hopeful about my newfound interest in flora to help create a nice atmosphere, regardless of seasonality. My boyfriend is in Manilla most of this week, visiting a convent in the suburbs on Monday before attending work meetings in the city centre the following days, and he sends me photos of a limoncello Christmas tree, merry priests surprising sisters with local Christmas carols and beautiful gardens…

How I Built This. This week’s audio entertainment on my runs and walks to and from barre, work and Christmas shopping is an NPR podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists, each telling their story about the hugely successful services and products they founded, such as Airbnb, Instagram, Vice, Spanx, Dermatologica and Patagonia. Each episode is a narrative journey marked by triumphs, failures, serendipity and insight, and the tales of terrible downs – periods of living on half a shoestring, ramen and no sleep while facing every imaginable obstacle and rejection – measured against the comfortable knowledge of the eventual reward and recognition, fill me with equal measures of adrenaline and warm feelings. Same appeal as with Desert Island Discs or Chef’s Table, just without the music and photos, but I’m entertained well enough as it is.

Full Moon Burning Ritual on Saint Lucy’s Day. Synchrony of rituals from Singapore to Scandinavia, a subtle sign of human connection – winter solstice or not, we all want to celebrate light. On Saint Lucy’s Day, the 13th of December, a feast day particularly popular in the North, on which girls in white dresses walk slowly through schools and churches with wax candles in their folded hands, or (for those lucky enough to be the queens heading the processions) in pine needle wreaths resting on their heads, singing a sweet hymn in celebration of the light-carrying saint, I go to a friend’s full moon burning ritual, a highly-esteemed Search Inside Yourself and yoga teacher at Google, whose Instagram name is youcarrylight. It is very beautiful and special – calming and invigorating. Sitting in a circle on the roof of a large, white office building in Gaylang, below the moon, with the sweet, earthy smell of cedar tree oil surrounding us, we chant five different sounds that symbolise such powerful things as the true nature of reality, compassion, kindness, removal of obstacles and good vibrations. Think of what we want to release from 2016 and our intentions for the new year. Make offerings by throwing rice and paper notes into a fire coming from a circle of tea candles. I was curious about what it would bring. What might happen there – and in me. For me, consciousness, awareness, has always had a lot to do with concentration – focusing – immersing myself fully in work and activities. It is new to me to really meditate, at home as well as in groups. I have so much to learn. All the way down to keeping my feet still and grounded throughout a session, while I listen to my breath or exotic instructions. I was intrigued by the natural glow that seems to surround this teacher, to whom I was introduced by my boyfriend a while back. She’s really good at what she does, which is spreading some of her natural light to the people around her, all the kind people sitting calmly around the fire. It rains awfully when I get there, but the minute we step outside, it stops, clearing our view of the moon.

Vietnamese Yogi. My Vietnamese ex-colleague, who quit her job to start up her own yoga centre in HCMC, is moving just before Christmas, and so this week I meet her for one last meal before her departure. Lunch at Tiong Bahru Club. I love the vibe there – sitting outside in the walkway and watch life pass by on that lively corner by the Market, the old school style, the heavy iron fans in the ceiling, the pastel coloured furniture and folding doors… Chatting about yoga, pilates, mindfulness, travel and love while we’re tucking into heaps of tender chicken liver in a tangy gravy, spicy rice salad and a thick dal. Washed down with ginger tea (me) and strawberry lassi (her). It being weird to say goodbye, we extend the date further with a cup of coffee at the bakery down the road.

Affirmats. Winning my barre studio’s Christmas Challenge, I get to pick my own affirmat to take home and place next to my boyfriend’s green Aussie version of a luxuriously thin yummy yogi mat on our balcony. “Affirmats adds an emotional layer to Yoga by wrapping form, function, and a dash of inspiration in PURE LOVE.” The print on the one I pick urges the user to ‘Breathe in Love’, a fine thing to remember in your downwards facing dog, pigeon pose, plank or toe tapping exercises.

Al Et Clar. Another prize is $50 to spend on clothes from a lovely young Singaporean clothing brand, established by three cool girls, one of whom studied in Denmark, where she fell in love with minimalist, good-quality, sustainable fashion, which she and her partners are now trying to interpret, introduce, make work in Asia. So, so cool! From their pop-up stand in the barre studio, I pick a white dress that lends a slightly more stylish, tailored vibe to my usual plain Cos-look, and a gorgeous navy blue silk tank top with some fine transparent details. In a space where people are usually only seen in sweaty yoga pants, I’m now waltzing around in the most elegant of outfits, focusing as much on my posture as I usually do in that room but chatting to the teachers about other topics than mindful exercises for the first time ever. The clothes come to slightly more than the value of the gift voucher, but in return I get to be served by the designers themselves, who subsequently join the barre teachers and me for drinks at downstairs Vasco.

Barre to Bar. Sugar free, spicy and just perfect cocktails, served in generous amounts and at generous prices to create a great barre to bar atmosphere. Seated around a big round table, the Al et Clar girls, my fellow barre practitioners, who all turn out to be sweet girls my age, working for travel and tech related companies as well, from all over the world, and the teachers, incl. the founder, and me, a very like-minded bunch, getting to know one another, chatting about our passions, the BarreAmped method, classical and modern dance, orthopedic stretching, yoga and Pilates insights, where we are from and how we got to where we are, the foundation of the studio earlier this year (I was one of the first few customers), and all of the exciting events and collaborations that they’re establishing with various quality-conscious equipment, fashion, skincare, food and other brands as well as other boutique exercise studios and cocktail bars, for barre to bar socialising nights. Danish-owned Vasco, where we are now, is a favourite of mine. I first went here with my boyfriend months ago, and have kept coming back since, with him or with friends, for the Peruvian/Spanish-inspired sharing dishes, the superb cocktails, the romantic yet raw vibe. It’s the first time in ages that I’m drinking more than a glass or two of wine, and walking home way past midnight, I can’t even remember the last time I went through Singapore tipsy and on my own. It’s kind of exciting and life-affirming. Welcoming me home with a big hug is my boyfriend who just landed back from Manilla moments before I left the bar. More than ready for a good, deep sleep, he still smiles happily and listens patiently when I tell about my wonderful evening. I don’t know what it is – the three barre classes I took that day, the quality of the alcohol, the amount of water I drank to complete those classes, the pure happiness of having found and become part of that barre community, or some harmonious combination, but when I wake up in time for the am barre class the following day, I feel light, strong and totally fine.

Morning Glory. Chat about everything and nothing. Laugh. Breathing exercises. Morning sun and fresh, hot air streaming in through the rows and rows of open windows. He makes chai tea. I light a scented candle and fry some eggs. I admire the new homeware he brought back from Manilla. He admires the plants I purchased while he was away. Small improvements. Upwards turning spirals. Healthy routines. Pleasure.

Æv. My brother calls me at 6am on Saturday morning to say that he’s sick and can’t make it for Singapore. For the first time ever, we’re spending Christmas without each other and our parents, so this weekend was going to be our chance to enjoy some Christmassy spirit together. However, he woke up with an intense case of food poisoning and sounds all weak and sad on the phone. I find the numbers of a few different doctors, and one of them comes to his house shortly after our first of many chats with some pills and Coca Cola. He’s all alone in KL, while we could have had a good time together here, and I’m ready to jump on the next plane there or have him transported here to be taken care of, but he assures me he will be fine on his own. Wow, are we both growing up this year!

And So This Is Christmas. Having done most of the shopping on Friday night (testing after work hours spent in IKEA and Cold Storage), we have a chilled Saturday morning, waking up with Christmas thrills in our stomachs and a nice meditation session to calm and prepare the mind and body. The day of our big Christmas Housewarming Party, bringing together new friends, with a decorated house, traditional Danish Christmas smørrebrød with pickled herring and boiled shrimp, eggs and potatoes, tropical chicken tacos with salsa, heaps of guacamole and corn on the cob, festive aperol spritz, homemade gløgg stuffed full of peeled almonds, raisins, star anise, cardamum, cinnamon and cloves, craft beer imported from a small Danish brewery by some of our friends and a super eclectic Christmas playlist. He and I are getting to know each other so well these days, and it’s all joyful and easy. After a rich, ritualistic acai bowl and chai tea breakfast, we go to the market for fresh bunches of ginger lilies, hipster leaves, cacti, fruits and veggies, to 7-Eleven for a big bag of ice and to the organic shop for dried fruits. Back home, we put on music, arrange furniture and candles strategically and nicely, bake rye bread and chop, chop, chop, boil, peel, sauté; the first time that we’re cooking together. For 25 people at that! While most of our friends have already left for the holidays, we thankfully still manage to gather a fun crowd. At 5pm, we prepare welcome drinks with clove-studded orange slices for our merry guests. The following 9 hours melt together in one big glowing light of great conversations, laughter, pleasurable eating and drinking, sweaty dance, and lots of hugs and smiles. Everyone loves the house, and as such it’s blessed with warm waves of positive energy.

MacRitchie. As our cleaner spends a few hours getting the house back in shape on Sunday morning, we go for a blissful walk along the reservoir in the rainforest covering the centre of the island, admiring the shapes of the trees, the wonders of the nourishment-hunting roots and leaves, the rejuvenating shades of green, the feeling of moving our tired bodies and getting some fresh air. Ahhhh… and there’s leftover chicken tacos and guacamole when we get back to our shining home!

Love Actually Is All Around. The week ends with leftover open rye bread sandwiches eaten on the sofa in front of my favourite Christmas movie of all times, starting off with Hugh Grant’s comforting voice hovering over loving reunions at Heathrow, a movie that isn’t just brilliant in itself, but also brings back so many lovely memories of Christmasses past – all the way back to when it came out, in December 2003, when my family and I went to London for the first time, in awe over the lavish Regent Street decorations, the busy buzz in the streets of Covent Garden, the view from the London Eye, the readymade sushi at Pret, the cute terraced houses around our hotel in Paddington, the Christmas lights covering Harrods. Magical. A warm, fuzzy feeling that flows in a straight line to this evening, where I’m lying comfortably on the sofa with my favourite person in the world, slightly hungover, a rainstorm beating on our windows, singing along to the soundtrack of the movie, laughing loudly at every remotely comical scene. Bliss!

 

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