River Flows in You | 20-260217

Oasia. After picking up my Indian tourist visa at the International Plaza on Monday afternoon, I drop by its neighbour on my way home, the red gherkin-shaped (!) building in Tanjong Pagar, which I’ve so often goggled towards on my walks in the area, marvelling at the spidery red construction with all of the greenery peering out from the sloping heights, and now finally enter, just to check out the lobby, as I have a weakness for fancy hotel lobbies – busy yet calm ambience, elegant yet functional interior design, soft lounge music, well-styled tourists and business people purposefully coming, going or just hanging out. Here, hefty potted plants and panorama windows give pleasant airiness to the spacious area, which is separated into an elegant lounge section, defined by the niftiest beehive patterned carpet in soothing shades of green, and the Marmelade Pantry with picture perfect copper and marble furniture, palm tree wallpaper and an extraordinary, dusty pink rhombus-patterned ceiling. Very pretty. I stay here for a while to wrap up work, before heading home in the golden hour.

Sunset Dinner. As the sun disappears down below the red roof line across the street from our flat, my boyfriend and I chew on colourful poke bowls in the wide open windows of our balcony, washing down the raw-marinated fish swimming around in quinoa, seaweed salad, shredded carrot, pineapple and cucumber chunks, cherry tomatoes, edamame beans, flying fish roe and sesame seeds with a thick and tangy homemade pineapple smoothie, while chatting about the importance of being aware of whether your thoughts, opinions, gestures and mannerisms are original or imitations, and if the latter, whether you really identify with them and whether they really resonate with you (which may, for the most part, be how close we get to having an original voice) or whether they are quite shallow echoes, and if the latter, why you feel the need to adopt them. Imitation vs. inspiration. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – insofar as it’s based on, what, something healthier than insecurity, laziness, stress and mindless habit… blah, blah, I forget who’s got which thought (!), and eventually we just shut up and gaze upon the light growing dimmer and dimmer down in our quiet, leafy street.

Creamy Oysters and Craft Cocktails. On Wednesday, a friend and I celebrate her new job with fat $3 oysters and basil-cucumber gin and tonics at Humpback, after which we sink down into deep, smooth leather armchairs at D. Bespoke, where we watch our suited-up bartender friend craft us a pair of perfect gin cocktails made with fresh, in-season kumquat and passion fruit. I love both of these places in Tanjong Pagar – featuring high-quality Western and Japanese vibes respectively, behind pretty Peranakan facades, and so close to home.

Taco Thursday. The following evening, I come home to a music and smoke filled kitchen, where my boyfriend is moving joyously around to party music while cooking his signature dish, chicken and black bean hard shell tacos. I set the table, open a bottle of wine, blend a smooth yet chunky guacamole, chop up veggies for a salad and pour jalapeños, pre-made salsa and shredded cheddar cheese into bowls. At 7:30pm, guests arrive – three of our friends who’ve never met each other before, but who get along excellently, just as we’d imagined they would. Such a happy evening – full of clever conversation, deep laughter and a nice general ambience, with everyone giving and taking just the right amount of space.

Forty Hands. Friday morning I work from my favourite Tiong Bahru cafe, which, as something new, has introduced free wifi along with the launch of a new courtyard with fashionable plant-covered walls. Ahh..

New Flatmate. Later that day, an English friend moves into our guest room with 10 suitcases, a large framed poster from Sri Lanka, as well as bits and bobs – such as a pile of striped beach towels, a tea pot and a Tarzan-shaped plastic wine opener, with the steel hook spiralling out between his muscular legs – for us to keep. Moving back to London in a month’s time, she has to leave her own flat today, so I’ve offered her to stay with us for the last bit of her two years out here. With three of our mutual best friends in town living literally around the corner, this is a great way to say goodbye. Plans of wine and coffee drinking, walking to work together, doing yoga together, dinners and movies with the girls, maybe painting at the weekend… My boyfriend helps her up the stairs with all of her belongings, while I light some candles in the dining room, pour some wine and mash some baked sweet potatoes to add some substance to the taco leftovers, which we eat while catching up about her motivations to move…

National Teas. Before heading to bed, she offers me a nightcap in the shape of caffeine-free Earl Grey. The hot, fragrant liquid is wonderfully soothing – it would be a nice little ritual for us to have every night for as long as she’s staying here. She places the classic black Twinings box in our tea and coffee basket, and I smile to myself as I realise what’s surrounding it: green tea with rhubarb and lemongrass/licorice root tea from Denmark, masala chai from India and Stumptown coffee from America, i.e. all home countries of our small family represented in flavours.

Morning Bliss. Saturday morning. Run along the river. Cold Shower. Boyfriend on the side, cap on head, coffee from the bakery in hand for a walk to pretty Populus for more coffee and a mountain of fresh shredded crab meat, sautéed veggies and a runny egg on toast. Chatting and laughing and kissing. Moving on to Duxton Plain Park, where I lie flat on my back on a bench surrounded by rose bushes, reading my book, while he’s sitting next to me, playing his healing pipe to the intrigued pleasure of several old Chinese couples, who crowd in front of him to enquire about the instrument. Last stop of the morning, Yoga Movement back in Tiong Bahru, for an intense hot core class with a friend. So good.

Tea Party. Hands loaded with brown paper bags of expensive vegan chocolate bars, moist brownie and shiny lemon tarts from Plain Vanilla down the road from the yoga studio, we hurry home to take a quick shower, put on, respectively, a flowery dress from Bali and a short-sleeved shirt, light some candles, create a soothing playlist, arrange the treats and make a pot of coffee and tea, before a couple of my boyfriend’s friends from Hong Kong, he’s Indian and she’s Singaporean, knock on the door. Polite greeting (it’s the first time I meet them), followed by a gradually heartier and more natural conversation. She grew up in Tiong Bahru and has some funny stories about the area. He grew up in Kerala, and they both have interesting perspectives and pieces of advice to prepare me for our trip to my boyfriend’s parents’ home in the state next week…

Nimble/Knead. Near the end of the afternoon, we pop down to the luxurious-looking massage parlour next door to our flat, adding an hour-long deep-tissue couple’s massage to the accumulating pile of treats today. Walking past the place several times a week, occasionally stopping to pick up the yellow frangipani flowers that always fall right in front of its glass doors (to use as decoration for tables, window sills and plates), I’ve peeped in so often and thought how lovely it would be to go here for a thorough treatment… and it lives up to my expectations of a good, solid round of kneading.

Yiruma. The biggest treat comes a few hours after the massage, though, in the shape of my surprise for my boyfriend. A few months ago he suggested we start doing mystery dates, and my first attempt at arranging one takes us to experience pianist and composer Yiruma playing live at The Star Theatre. I was first introduced to his (I do not know how/whether to categorise it?) music by my brother, who plays it so well on piano, and then thrilled to discover, through my colleagues here in Singapore, how popular he is in Asia, particularly among young people. The gigantic, modern theatre is full to the brim, and mostly with people in their late 20s/early 30s. Any nervousness I had about whether my boyfriend would like it or not, calming myself thinking that if not, he could just sleep through it, is washed away the minute the charming South Korean genius starts playing. To anyone watching and listening, the whole visual and auditory image is just so impressive – the stunning simplicity and grandeur of one small man in an indigo-coloured outfit sitting at a piano at the centre of that splendid space… I’m pleasantly surprised to discover how talkative and charming he is, introducing his pieces with mock critique and passion, ‘yes, they all have quite corny names, but it’s really more about the music than the words’, he points out, explaining that they only become real songs when we, the audience, use our imagination and fill them with our thoughts, memories, ideas, images. Combining a lot of the songs in improvised pairs, he goes on to admit that in order to avoid being bored and depressed, he has to restructure the repertoire now and then, creating as he goes along  – ‘they are my compositions, so I get to play them how I want’, he justifies sweetly. For someone who can just about read notes, after 13 years of weekly piano classes, it’s so breathtakingly impressive to experience this degree of musicality – the way he drifts in an out of each piece, effortlessly weaving recognisable fragments into new flows, and in that way creating a very authentic and animated experience. He clearly loves what he is doing – which makes the audience love it too. When he plays my favourite piece, River Flows in You, near the end, after saying that he does wish he could just play that song over and over again all night, tears start streaming down my face – happy tears, caused by memories of my family and awareness of the present, with my boyfriend, who is as gripped as I am.

Lime Soda. Coming back to Tiong Bahru after the concert, we take an outdoor seat at Tiong Bahru Club to wring the last bit of juice out of a fantastic day, i.e. enjoy a glass of fresh lime juice, soda and lots of ice.

Danish Seaman’s Church. I’m half awake for a few hours before getting out of bed on Sunday morning – it’s a lovely situation, it’s raining and raining and raining, and in my mind, the soft sound of the torrential showers play a symphony with various tunes, tones and fragments of melodies from Yiruma’s performance. Ahh, how blissful! As the rain subsides around 7am, I finally get up, do four sun salutations with my boyfriend, go for a run along the river in fresh, clean-washed air, come back and take a quick shower, scramble some eggs with some onions, spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes, blend some frozen black berries, bananas and ginger slices into ruby-coloured smoothies and watch my boyfriend make us some chai tea. After breakfast, we drive down to the spacious white villa in the Southern Ridges that houses the Danish Seaman’s Church, for a short and cheerful service followed by the celebration of Fastelavn in the beautiful garden surrounding the villa, where heaps of cute little dressed up expat kids get in formation to beat sweets out of brightly painted wooden barrels (in the olden days, rather than sweets, the barrels would contain black cats, and you’d beat on them to protect yourself against all kinds of evil). Somehow, the pedagogical way in which the priestess succeeds in engaging the kids in the tales from the Bible, the various old rituals carried out with calm informality and the general amicable atmosphere fill me with pride. Rather silly, sentimental national pride. Next weekend we’re joining his – Catholic – family for a memorial service in Kerala, and the motivation for our outing this morning is to have a Christian – albeit Protestant – piece of my culture fresh in our minds for that event. Even if I don’t consider myself religious, and my boyfriend doesn’t understand a word of the sermon, prayers, hymns or, for the special occasion, nursery rhymes, all of which I know by heart, we both have a lovely time, and as we walk across Henderson Waves in the clear sunshine afterwards, him munching on an old-fashioned fastelavnsbolle, we agree to come back for a normal service someday.

Lego Batman. That night, we watch Danish and American legends meet in the cinema.

Ichiban Boshi. And have delicious Japanese food.

Netflix and Ice-cream. And walk home to watch and episode of Black Mirror and eat vegan ice-cream made of water, cashew nuts, vanilla and agave sirup.

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